Saturday, July 31, 2010

We have the weirdest life…

On Friday, Sunny had a 2pm appointment in Charleston to get her Visa. It's a l-o-n-g drive.

Because Sunny works nights and was scheduled to work the night before, she took the day off so we could get some sleep the night before.

According to Google Maps, the drive was supposed to take four hours, so we figured we'd leave the house at 8am, which gave us two extra hours in case there was traffic and we had difficulty finding the place. Missing the appointment wasn't an option. Missing it meant starting the process over again (which also means coming up with another thousand dollars)… and we'd been stung by Google's travel time estimates before.

So, the plan was take the night off, get some sleep, drive to Charleston, arrive about an hour before we needed to, get the appointment over and done with, maybe grab something to eat and head home.

The first spanner in the words came in the form of our body-clocks and Lucy-Fur, our cat. Sunny and I are both nocturnal. Trying to go to sleep when you're usually just getting going for the day is a problem. It wasn't helped by the fact that, just as we were falling asleep, Lucy decided it would be fun to climb up on top of a high piece of furniture next to the bed, and do a daring double back-flip onto the bed. Having a furry bowling ball land on your head just as you're starting to float off doesn't do much to help you sleep.

By 4am, we gave up and got out of bed.

We set off bang on schedule at 8am and, for once, Google was spot on…and even though we stopped on the way a good few times, we pulled into the parking lot at exactly noon.

Now, before we'd left, Sunny had told me about a seafood place (Charleston is right on the coast) that we could go get lunch at. I'd told her lunch was doubtful…dinner maybe, but not lunch. From my own Visa experience I knew that if they said you have a 2pm appointment, they really mean about ten or twenty people have a 2pm appointment. I figured we'd get in at 2, sit around for a couple of hours, finally get seen, and probably get out at around 4-5.

Instead, we arrived at 12, went into the building to find the suite we needed to go to, they told us there was no need to wait and we were done and back in the car at 12:15.

So we went and had lunch. Water's Edge in Charleston is a good place to eat. The food was good, and we were at a table overlooking the water. We could see dolphins swimming alongside the boats coming into the harbor and pelicans scavenging for food. Unfortunately, our waiter was a bit of an asshole. You know those waiters who try to be way too friendly? This guy was the exact opposite of that.

Trust me, waiter guy…when the most expensive thing on your menu is twelve bucks, you don't get to act that snooty and stuck up. I don't care if waiting tables is what you're doing until your movie career takes off, when I ask you for a refill on my diet coke, I'm asking you to walk to the soda fountain, not take the one ring to Mordor.

Anyway, we finished lunch and wanted to go for a walk around the bay, but it was oppressively hot a humid, at least 100 degrees and humid enough to make my glasses steam up when I got out of the car. So we decided to have a drive around instead.

By 3pm we were on our way home, but having been up for nearly 30 hours after just 4 hours sleep was starting to show. After sitting in the car with the A/C full blast and loud music on the radio for what felt like 12 hours, I looked at the GPS to see we still had nearly 150 miles to go. Realizing that if we carried on we'd end up at the ER or the funeral parlor instead of home, we pulled into a Days Inn and got a room for the night.

Well, I say 'for the night'. We checked in at around 5pm and fell asleep almost immediately…well, Sunny did. A few days ago my headphones for the PC finally crapped out, after having one headphone held on with duct tape for about six months, the left speaker finally stopped working, so after our meeting, we'd stopped at a CVS to get something to drink, and I bought a pair of cheap noise cancelling headphones…so for half an hour after Sunny had fallen asleep, in my sleep deprived delirium I sat in the room like a lunatic, turning the headphones on and off: "Now I can hear the air conditioner <click> now I can't <click> now I can <click> now I can't."

What can I say? I'm easily amused. The sound quality wasn't as good as my old headphones (I didn't expect them to be, considering they were about 1/5th the price of my old ones)…but the sound cancelling feature and compact, fold-down design will make them perfect for our eventual plane flight.

We were awake again at 1am…so we went for breakfast at a nearby Waffle House, watched a crappy movie in the motel room, and finally decided to head for home at 4am.

So our plan was to drive to our appointment, be there for a few hours, grab lunch, drive back.

Instead, we drove to our appointment which took 15 minutes instead of two hours, watched porpoises while eating shrimp, drove around looking at rich-people houses on the beach, spent an unscheduled night in a motel…and drove back home at 4am.

One thing I can say about life with Sunny…it's never predictable.

(Oh, and PS…I just uploaded Episode 3 of our podcast…you can find it at, or just search the iTunes store for 'Watermelon Helmet'…we think this is our best episode by far. Go give it a listen.)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


So, last night, Sunny and I recorded episode 3 of our podcast to go out on Saturday.

I think it's by far our best one yet. Episode 2 wasn't that great, but it was a huge learning experience. Trying to make it to an hour (which we had to do so we could place the ads properly…ads that it turns out we didn't need to run), meant we'd run out of things to say, went off on a tangent and started having a serious, straight discussion that neither of us were prepared for. If you listen to episode 2, feel free to stop listening at about the 30-40 minute mark, all you'll be missing is a disastrous trail off.

This time around, we decided to keep it as light hearted and funny as possible, and just bail out when we started to lose steam regardless of the time. We figured (amazingly) that people would prefer a shorter podcast that was entertaining the whole time than a longer podcast that we had to pad.

Something else that helped immensely is down to two fellow bloggers and readers.

Firstly, Evan contacted me with a joke from his daughter to see if it would make Sunny laugh (this was after the first podcast where we talked about Sunny's weird sense of humor) which gave us the idea to make it a regular feature. Basically, I'm asking the listeners to email in their dumbest, silliest jokes and if Sunny laughs, you win FABULOUS PRIZES!

I also contacted MC Etcher and asked if he'd be interested in writing 'Credi-Bull', a semi-regular feature on his blog, for the podcast and he agreed!

I can't stress enough just how much this helps out. First of all they're very entertaining, and second of all, having a couple of regular features help break up the chat and give us something to switch to when we start to run out of steam. Also, it's been a great opportunity to include some listener interaction.

Now, this is the point where I usually tell you to go listen…but today I'm not. I'm going to suggest you wait until Saturday and listen to episode 3, because episode 3 is the closest to what we've wanted this podcast to be all along… and I can honestly say it's a hundred times better than anything we've done up to now.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In which I draw more boobs

I think I've mentioned before that I have this drawing exercise where I do a semi-random google image search and draw whatever comes up.

Well, one of the things I absolutely suck at drawing is hair. I'm not even talking about rendering realistic hair, I draw hair that looks like a bad wig or weird helmet.

So, a few nights ago, I fired up the googles, typed 'hair'…and after I stopped throwing up from all the pictures of hairy vaginas that looked like badgers that had been on the receiving end of a shotgun blast, I then turned safesearch up to strict, searched for "fashion hair' and found a picture of a girl with a really intricate hairstyle, complete with ribbons, ringlets, the whole works.

I sketched it out in about 15 minutes and liked it.

So, last night I did something I haven't done in a while. I decided to break out the Bristol Board and actually try to make a 'finished' drawing instead of a sketch. I wanted to see the difference between a twenty minute sketch on my crappy sketchbook paper (It really is awful, it's smudgy and really low quality) and the same drawing that I've taken a lot of time and care over with decent materials

Suddenly, I noticed something about my sketch I hadn't noticed while I was drawing it. You see, I tend to listen to a podcast and completely zone out while drawing. But this really took me by surprise.

I'd just sketched the head and body really quickly to focus on the hair, and when I looked at the sketch, it hit me.

Damn, I've drawn those boobs really huge.

I mean, seriously. I wondered how I'd managed to make a mistake that…ahem…big. It was like a midget with a couple of basketballs duct-taped to her chest.

So I pulled up the original image to compare…and realized I had made a mistake…I'd actually been a little too conservative and drawn them too small.

Unfortunately, I deleted the image before I thought to write this post, and I can't find it again…and I've no idea who the model is…so all I have is the drawing, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Poor girl, at least she'll never have to worry about drowning.

Monday, July 26, 2010

It’s like paying $1000 dollars for an oil change.

Since I bought my very first PC about 15 years ago (my first PC, not my first computer), I've always thought the continual drive to make computers as user-friendly and idiot proof as possible has been a really bad idea.

Windows Operating Systems have become like over-protective parents. Want to delete a file? Two or three levels of 'are you sure?' …Want to run a program? Two levels of 'Are you sure?' and if Windows doesn't like that program or thinks it's suspicious, you're either shit out of luck, or you're gonna spend the next twenty minutes navigating through a maze of options to turn the damn nanny off.

For example, Sunny's laptop got infected with a pretty nasty virus that copied itself and changed its filename every time you tried to delete it. With Windows XP, the solution was simple. You ran the virus checker, it would recognize the virus but not attempt to delete it…but would delete it during startup before it started running, and therefore get rid of it for good.

I tried that on Sunny's Vista laptop, and after waiting an hour for the virus checker to finish, and selecting the option to erase it during startup, I reset the machine only to find Vista has blocked the virus checker from doing anything. Why? Because programs that try to run during startup are 'suspicious'.

Basically, when I started using computers, there was a certain level of knowledge required to use one. Today, not so much.

This isn't techno-snobbery… because the problem is that, today, we have literally millions of people using computers who know absolutely nothing about them…and that leads to these people being ripped off left right and center.

For example, last night, I restarted my desktop only to find it wouldn't boot up, for some reason it was trying to boot from the network instead of the hard drive.

Now to someone who has never had to learn anything about computers, that's a dead-end right there. This is where the average user calls someone like me (if they're lucky), or if they don't know a 'computer guy', they go without a computer for a while and then pay a service like Geeksquad twice what their computer is worth to fix it…and, yes, you will pay it even though you could get a new computer for less, because the broken computer probably has a ton of stuff you can't afford to lose on it that you never bothered backing up.

I, on the other hand, rebooted the machine, pressed f8 during startup to check my BIOS hadn't glitched and messed up the boot order. This is more common than you think, especially when you're forced to turn off your computer without shutting it down.

However, checking my BIOS settings, I saw the computer wasn't recognizing either hard drive. Now, your average computer user may have the necessary knowledge to look at their bios settings, but very few, if any, would know what to do if their computer just wasn't recognizing their hard drive. Again, off to Geek squad to get shafted.

Instead, I did something that less than 1% of average users would be willing to do…I opened the case to check the IDE cable hadn't come loose, again 99% of the time, this would be your problem.

For me, it wasn't. This left one option, my bios settings had messed up…and the fix was really simple if you know what to do.

I found the bios chip on the motherboard (It's easy to find, it's next to a watch battery). Next to the battery is a little jumper that controls the power to the chip. I removed the jumper, restarted the computer, which also completely reset the bios, turned the computer off, replaced the jumper and restarted. Problem solved.

Now, let me be clear here. I have no idea how a bios chip actually works. However, I know what it does and what it needs to do it… and how to reset it if it messes up. It's like you don't have to know how a DVD player actually works in order to know that it has to be plugged in and connected to your TV in order to play your movie.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the average user should learn exactly how everything in their computer works with absolute detail, but do a bit of reading and learn the basics. Basically, computers are like cars, you don't have to know how an internal combustion engine works to drive one, but today, it's like people buy cars and don't even know how to change a tire or even fill it with gas.

After fixing the problem, just out of interest, I called Geek Squad to see what they'd charge.

I was absolutely fucking amazed.

For example, if you get a virus, you can download virus checkers and removers for free. They're not difficult to use (it's usually a one-click operation)…Geek Squad charged $200 to do this for you, even more if you want them to come to you. So, you can either download something like AVG anti-virus for free off the internet and click 'scan whole computer' when you get a virus…or you can drive your computer to a Best Buy and pay someone to price of a new iPod to do exactly the same thing

So I talked to the guy and explained my problem. He explained that if the computer wasn't recognizing either hard drive, my motherboard was almost certainly 'fried' (his words, not mine) and it would be around $100 just to look at it, about $200 for a new motherboard, and another $50 to install it.

That's $350 to open a case and move a jumper that's about a technically difficult as turning on a light switch.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that once I took it over there, they'd see the motherboard wasn't the problem and probably charge me less, right?


I watched a video recently where, to test out computer repair places, they took a four fully functioning computers, and just unplugged the IDE cable inside (that's a big fat ribbon-style cable that connects your hard drive to your motherboard). Anyone who knows anything about computers would check that first and it would be totally obvious that that was the problem. Missing that would be like taking your car to a mechanic and them not noticing your engine was missing. Then they took these computers in for repair.

Out of the four repair places, only one diagnosed the problem correctly, just plugged it back in and just charged a nominal fee for looking at it. Geek Squad said the motherboard was half dead, and that it was probably caused by a faulty power supply, so charged $200 for the repair, plus the cost of a new motherboard and a new power supply. The other two repair places gave similarly ridiculous and expensive diagnoses.

What it boils down to is that a little bit of knowledge goes a long way…and that so-called 'professional' repair services are actively out to screw you. Even the ones that aren't trying to screw you over are still going to charge you hundreds of dollars that can be fixed with a couple of mouse clicks.

Learn how your computer works.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Just Sayin'

Did I mention that Episode 2 of our new podcast, Watermelon Helmet, is now live?

Just sayin'

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The deal with facebook

If you look around online you'll see that Facebook has become the new devil.

You read some of these articles and you hear stories about how Facebook is evil, steals your data and only a lunatic would even consider being a member.

Let me put some of this in perspective.

Yes, Facebook has very one-sided Terms of Service (That's the thing you didn't read and clicked straight through when you signed up). Yes, they make it difficult to delete your account… but am I completely wrong in thinking that this is 2010 and people should be a touch more web-savvy and think twice before voluntarily putting private, intimate data on the web?

Here's something from one of the articles I read:

"Essentially, they see their customers as unpaid employees for crowd-sourcing ad-targeting data."

Ok, let me point a few things out.

Firstly, Facebook is a business. It's not a charity or non-profit. They mine the data you put on there to target you with ads they think will interest you. Put a lot of info on Facebook about how much you love running, and it's highly likely you'll start to see ads by Nike. This is how they pay their bandwidth bill and make a profit…and it's not a new thing or unique to Facebook. Google Adsense does exactly the same thing. You put ads on your site and google's software looks at your site, and serves ads that will likely appeal to your users.

It's the way the internet works. Most stuff online is ad supported. Your favorite website isn't giving you all that content for free out of the goodness of their hearts, they give you that content for free, so you'll visit their site and look at the ads. They want as much info as possible on you because they want the ads they serve to be relevant so you'll click them.

However, the one thing I really take exception to is calling Facebook users 'customers'. Facebook users are not customers. The word 'customer' implies that Facebook users are paying for a service…but Facebook is free. Facebook isn't 'treating their customers as unpaid employees', they're giving their users free access to their site and all is features and pay for this with targeted ads instead of a subscription fee. If Facebook was a pay service, I would completely agree with all the nay-sayers…it's why I complain about paying 60 bucks for an Xbox game that's filled with product placement and ads.

Again, it's another classic case of people with a massive sense of entitlement being outraged that a business is trying to make money instead of spending millions to give them something for free.

Ok, I'll be completely fair and say that Facebook might not be 100% ethical, and they don't make it explicitly clear that your info is being made available to advertisers…but as I said at the start, this is 2010. If you have deeply personal, private information that you don't want the world to know about just don't put it on the internet.

It's for the same reason that I have a private, unpublished email address that I only give to people I actually know, and use a disposable web address for everything else. It's why my Facebook page only contains information that is already publicly available, and I keep my private information, you know, private.

Friday, July 23, 2010

More Adventures in Podcasting.

So, last night, Sunny and I recorded this week's episode of Watermelon Helmet (Why Watermelon Helmet? Let's just say the randomness of the name fits the randomness of the Podcast).

It was a real learning experience.

First of all, when the new episode goes up on Sunday, I think everyone will notice a drastic improvement in sound quality. We did have a few problems as we only have the one decent condenser mic and had to share it, but I think I managed to fix 99% of that in post production.

Basically, with the mic levels set to where you can hear us both loudly and clearly, you could also hear our fridge running two rooms away and the cricket's chirping outside. Turning the gain down cut out most of that, but then we were extremely quiet on the recording. Basically, until we can afford 50 grand to build and equip an actual soundproofed studio, it's a trade off.

Luckily, Audacity (one of the programs I use to edit the podcast) has an Amplify function that works incredibly well, and after running the audio through a noise reduction filter, then amplifying, compressing and normalizing it, I ended up with a great quality sound file... At least 'great' compared to the first episode, but I think we're at least on a par with 99% of the non-professionally recorded podcasts out there.

As for the actual content…that was an eye-opener.

The way we prepare for a podcast is we usually come up with a couple of different topics ahead of time, but don't actually script anything and make an effort not to discuss it before recording. If we discuss it in detail beforehand, it makes the conversation seem very stiff and boring because we're just recreating a conversation we've already had. The way we do it, we know we're going to talk about x and y, and maybe we know we're going to start at A go through B and arrive at C…but that's about it.

However, there's upsides and downsides to doing it like that. You see, you may start at A and plan to get to C through B, but sometimes you end up somewhere completely different. Sometimes this is awesome and results in a show that was completely unplanned but a hell of a lot of fun…other times you end up taking tangents off tangents and end up at a dead end.

That sort of happened in this episode. It lasts for around 50 minutes and we both really liked the first 35-40 minutes of it…but after that we ended up on a topic we were completely unprepared for, and it was a bit too 'straight' and serious for me…and we couldn't really wrap up the discussion very well, so it just kinda trailed off.

However, this was only my second podcast using this format and Sunny's second podcast ever…so I'm sure we'll get better at it.

The one other thing I learned while making this podcast is I have a very annoying habit. When I'm talking I pause a lot in the middle of sentences. If you listen to the first episode, you'll be able to see what I'm talking about. Mos people say "ummmm" or "errrrrr" when they pause for a second to think…I don't. Listening to the episode while editing it, I discovered I talk like this. "Well, what I think about that …(2 second gap)… is …(3 second gap…) that this thing…"

Of course, that was an easy, if time consuming, fix when I was editing…but out of an hour of audio, I cut nearly five whole minutes of silence. It's not a big deal in regular conversation, but on a podcast it's a lot of dead air. Again, it's a trade off. We want this podcast to be off-the-cuff and an honest, real conversation between the two of us. We could get it down to a much higher level of polish if we meticulously scripted and edited it…but that's not what the podcast is about. In fact, in this episode, Sunny makes a point that almost completely changes my mind and makes me look at what we're talking about in a whole new way. That wouldn't happen if we were working from a script.

Anyway, let me end this by thanking everyone who's shown their support. For just the first episode we're up to about 15 subscribers and just over 50 downloads total. For a first episode of a podcast hosted by two 'nobodies', that's not bad at all.

In other news, iTunes accepted the Podcast into the iTunes Music Store…exactly one day after I changed hosts. As I mentioned before, if you don't want to wait until the new feed is made available in the store, there's a link on the main podcast page to subscribe through iTunes or your favorite podcatcher.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Podcast Hosting Blues

Unfortunately, I had to change my podcast hosing service today.

For anyone interested in listening, it can now be found here. Please note that there's buttons right on the page that allow you to subscribe via iTunes, Yahoo and Google as well as an RSS feed so you can use your own podcatcher.

There are upsides and downsides to the change, so I thought I'd fill in everyone who's interested in bit a 'behind the scenes' info.

Unfortunately, at this time, we're just not able to go with paid hosting. With such a small audience it's just not worth it, and with the host I was with, we'd be spending about thirty dollars a month on a package that was just barely adequate. You see, after signing up with Podbean, I was lead to believe (by not reading the small print) that I'd start with 100mb of storage, get an extra 100mb every month and have 5gb of transfer a month (that, at least was plenty, for a 30 minute podcast, 5 gigs of transfer would give us about 2500 downloads a month).

Unfortunately, after checking the fine print, I found I was only getting 100mb of storage total, meaning I'd have enough storage for about three episodes and would have to delete old episodes in order to make room for the new ones. Given that building an audience requires you to keep a full archive, that was a huge no-no. I also discovered that even though I had 100mb of storage, there was a 30mb per episode limit…meaning that all episodes would have to be under 25 minutes. Another big no-no.

Now, my new host solves all these problems. It's completely unmetered, meaning I have unlimited storage and transfer and there's no file size limit.

The advantages of this are obvious. I seriously doubt we'll ever make an episode longer than an hour, but it means I don't have to watch the clock and cut an episode short at 25 minutes because the file size will be too large to upload.

There are two downsides, however. The first you probably won't notice, and that's the mp3s have to have a bitrate of 96kbps and be mono, not stereo. The stereo thing is no problem, as I was never planning to record in stereo. The 96kbps bitrate, however, means the sound quality technically won't be as good as it can be. To be completely honest, I downloaded a 128kbps podcast and converted it to 96kbps before deciding to switch, and I honestly couldn't tell the difference…especially when the podcast is spoken word.

The one thing you will notice, and I apologize for this, is ads.

Luckily, they're very reasonable. We're talking on 10-15 second ad spot per approx 20 minutes of audio, and I get to choose where they go. So for a 45 minute podcast, that works out as a 15 second ad at the start and another at the very end. It's a pain in the ass, but I'll take less than a minute of ads per hour long podcast for free hosting with unlimited bandwidth. I'd just like to be clear, though. Regular readers will know how I feel about advertising on the internet, so bear in mind I'm not getting paid for those ads, they go to the host to pay my storage and bandwidth.

The other good news is that, as of last night, there is a halfway decent microphone winging it's way to us via UPS, so even with the lower bitrate, expect a major rise in sound quality on the next episode.

So far, the response to the first episode has been…limited…but 100% positive. I hope you'll give it a listen and I hope you'll enjoy it.

If you have any questions, or topics for the podcast you'd like to hear discussed, you can leave a comment here, on the podcast site or drop us an email at

Monday, July 19, 2010

I recognize the irony of this post, but…

Well it turns out that Fred 'God Hates Fags' Phelps and his band of retards (also known as the Westboro Baptist Church) have decided that they're going to protest outside the San Diego Comic Con. As well as preaching hate against homosexuals and crashing the funerals of servicemen who were killed in action, he's now decided that comicbooks are evil…(From what I can gather his reasoning is people are reading comics when they should be reading the bible).

Now, I could spend the next five hundred words talking about what a psychopathic, hate-filled lunatic Phelps is. I could spend another 500 words picking apart his logic and pointing out what a clueless smacktard he is. I could also point out that from the way he behaves, he should probably read his Bible a touch more closely…but that would be pointless. So instead, let's take a bit of good out of this and use him as an example.

My attitude towards religion has changed dramatically over the past few years. I was raised as a good Catholic boy, went to mass every Sunday, then decided that the whole thing didn't make a bit of sense, got seriously pissed off about a lot of how the Catholic church was run… and over a period of a few years went from 'mainstream religious', to agnostic, until I ended up where I am now as an atheist.

Yes, I'll admit that I had a real anti-religion phase, I thought the whole thing was a waste of time for easily deluded people and used people like Fred Phelps as a reason for why religion was a bad thing.

Then, about a year ago, I realized I was taking part in something that seriously pissed me off when I was on the receiving end. For example, when gaming came under heavy fire, it used to seriously annoy me that people like Jack Thompson were taking the absolute worst, miniscule minority of gamers and painting us all with the same brush. It appears to be something the human race has hardwired in…we judge any group of people we disagree with by the worst of their number.

I'll be completely honest, it was mostly fellow blogger Evan who changed my mind. From reading his blog for five years I discovered he was a guy who had a very similar world view to me. I also discovered he was the exact opposite of someone like Phelps. Whereas Phelps uses his religion as an excuse to hate, Evan used religion as a reason to do good. Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling the guy a saint or anything… in fact, I think my point here is that Evan is a normal guy.

Which is why I want to use Phelps as an example.

You see, Phelps is proof that no matter how good something is, it can be twisted beyond all recognition. What Evan unknowingly helped me discover is that religion can be a good thing, and the simple truth is that you don't have to believe in any God or Gods to recognize that.

Basically, Phelps strikes me as a downright evil, twisted mother fucker who has taken Christianity and twisted it into something it's not. He uses religion as a reason to hate people while freeing himself from any guilt. He doesn't gatecrash the funerals of servicemen to spread any kind of message…he does it because he gets a sick and twisted kick out of upsetting and hurting people. If he wasn't 'religious', he'd be spouting KKK 'science' that black people are inferior or protesting outside special schools about how mentally handicapped people are genetically inferior and should be culled.

Yeah, I'm going to invoke 'Godwin's Law'. If the guy was around in the 1930's, he'd be a Nazi…not for any political reasons, but because with an insecurity complex as gargantuan as his, he just needs a target to hate and feel superior to.

So what's my point?

My point is this: Don't use Phelps as an example of why religion is wrong. Recognize him for what he is: An attention seeking, sick-minded, pathetic individual who is so weak and insecure he feels the need to hate people in order to feel superior. He's not representative of religious people, he's co-opted religion in order to spread his sick, twisted message of hate.

What I'm saying is don't play his game.

There's only one way to deal with people like Phelps, and that's to deny them exactly what they're after. Attention. Just like Jack Thompson, arguing against him, giving him coverage is giving him the one thing he wants: Power.

While he's in the news, he's a big deal…ignore him and you turn him back into what he's been all along…a lone nutcase shouting in the dark

To close, I'd like to pass along something I heard on a Podcast today that gave me the perfect state of mind to deal with people like Phelps and expose them for what they actually are: The next time you feel the need to argue against someone like Phelps, ask yourself one simple question:

If this guy was wearing a tinfoil hat, would I bother arguing with him?

That's who Phelps, and everyone like him, actually is…just a lunatic who lost his tinfoil hat somewhere.


Paulius's Law : "In any given multiplayer scenario, there will always be players who will game the system and ruin the whole experience for everyone else."

In the past I've written about my frustration at idiotic online poker players who insist on going all in on the first hand before the flop. It's a bullshit tactic.

It makes non-tournaments absolutely unplayable, because a player who busts out can buy back in immediately. The result of this is someone goes all in on every single hand. In other words, you have to risk your entire stack if you actually want to play. In essence, it takes an extremely complex game about tactics, deception and calculated risk and turns every hand into a coin toss. It removes every ounce of skill from the game and winning comes down to pure luck.

It's not quite so bad in tournament play, because once you're busted out, you can't buy back in and only the final three players get a share of the prize pot. It doesn't completely ruin the game, but it does spoil it.

Here's what happens: The first two cards are dealt, and at least four idiots immediately go all in, regardless of what's in their hand. All the normal players fold. The rest of the hand is played out and three of the idiots get eliminated. This gives the remaining idiot four times the amount of chips as everyone else. Then, with a massive chip lead, the remaining idiot just folds every hand and waits for the remaining five players to play normally and bust each other out. As long as he comes in third or better he gets a share of the prize pot…which funds the next few tournaments.

Then, today, I discovered an even more bullshit tactic.

One online poker site allows you to 'sit out' during tournaments. The reason for this is if you're playing a long tournament and the phone rings or you need a break, you can sit out a few hands. Technically it's fair, because while you're not having to pay any blinds, you're not able to win anything and grow your stack. Unfortunately, I tried to play in three separate tournaments to find, in each, around three or four of the nine players sat out the entire game. In other words, you let everyone actually playing poker bust each other out, but still gives you a good chance of surviving to the final three and getting a share of the prize pot.

It's something I just don't think I'll ever understand. Sure, by gaming the system, you get a better than average chance of winning…but what does 'winning' actually mean if you've not earned it?

Surely the reason winning means anything is because it proves you're better at something than someone else. If the only way you can win is to game the system or out and out cheat, isn't that the same as admitting you're incapable of winning normally?

Basically, if you're cheating, there's no point in playing because your victory doesn't mean a goddamn thing. When you cheat or game the system, all you're doing is letting everyone know you're useless at the game.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

First Podcast is Up!

Well, we finally got around to doing it. You can find the first episode here.

Let me give you a little behind the scenes info.

First of all, I won't lie, this first podcast is rough. We had originally planned for this episode to be just a dry run that we wouldn't put online. After recording it, we decided "What the hell?" and just put it up. In other words, the production quality is just about zero. No music beds, no introductions, no 'stingers'. It's literally just me and Sunny talking for around 25 minutes.

Our other main problem is our recording equipment, in that we don't really have any. I actually do have a fairly decent USB mic, but I only have one, and it's not nearly sensitive enough for two people to share…so instead we just used the built in microphone on my netbook. The sound quality wasn't actually terribly bad, and a few filters got rid of most of the pops and mic hiss…but let's just say the sound quality is closer to a good telephone line rather than crystal clear CD-quality audio.

Our major stumbling block was finding decent hosting. After setting everything up on one site, I suddenly discovered that while I was well within the 100mb storage a month limit, without a 'premium account', you couldn't upload files larger that 30mb (the first podcast was 30.08mb)…so I switched to my old podcast host, only to discover that as well as having to insert advertising in the podcast, the mp3 had to be 96kbps or lower…so after setting it up, and realizing I was going to have to shrink the file anyway, I went back to the first host.

So go have a listen and let us know what you think. Hopefully we'll be able to get a halfway decent mic soon and the next episode will actually have some production values.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Super-Happy-Fun-Time-Chuckle-Podblast 2

As I mentioned in my last post, Sunny and I have spent the past two months trying to come up with topics to talk about so we can record a new Podcast.

We quickly discovered that the things I could talk for an hour about, Sunny had no knowledge of or interest in…and vice versa. The things we could both talk about, we tended to completely agree on, which makes for a bit of a boring 'discussion'. Finally, the few things we could debate over tended to be a bit too serious and heavy, and our idea for this podcast is for it to be light with a bit of humor thrown in. No-one wants to listen to two nobodies talking about the Mexican Gulf oil spill…two nobodies discussing something lighter with a few laughs has a bit more entertainment value.

Then, last night, Sunny and I were watching TV when a McDonald's add for the whole 'Team Edward, Team Jake' Twilight thing came on.

"Ugh." I said. "I really can't wait for all this Twilight bullshit to just die." I said.

Sunny rolled her eyes at me before saying: "Why do you hate it so much?"

What followed was an hour long conversation which started off with me calling Twilight a blatantly obvious Mary-Sue tale. An exercise in wish-fulfillment with a protagonist that is nothing but a two dimensional vehicle to allow the reader to indulge themselves in a teenage girl's wet dream.

In fact, I think at one point I referred to Twilight as a 'PG version of 'Letters to Penthouse' for teen girls', and asked Sunny if she'd like the books as much if Bella was 'Barry' and instead of Vampires and Werewolves fighting over him, it was unicorn riding cheerleaders and hot demon teachers.

Sunny's basic answer was, yes, Twilight was all those things, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

We quickly discovered our main difference. When it comes to books and movies, I care about the artform as a whole. Sunny, on the other hand, likes what she likes and couldn't give a damn about what other people like.

Then the conversation switched gears. Sunny's point was that no-one was forcing me to watch or read Twilight, so why did I care what other people were doing? My answer was that, as a Literature Major, it really bugs me to see something so flimsy get such massive success while other good properties fall by the wayside. On a much more practical level it's these people, 'the masses' who essentially get to choose what gets made next. Those people are the reason that there are reality shows on every channel, but new and interesting shows like Firefly or MST3K get taken off the air.

In short, why make something new and good, when derivative and mediocre sells better? Why sign up a talented band that writes and plays their own music when you can make another disposable Britney or Hannah Montana? Why make a new TV show when a cheap clone of an existing show will sell?

My other big thing was that, for me, the whole thing was like the kids who refuse to read and only watch movies. I'm not looking down on them out of a sense of superiority, it just makes me genuinely sad because they're missing out on so much. For example, except for the first one, the Harry Potter movies have been cut down, spoon-fed versions of the book that flat-out patronize the audience. Goblet of Fire in particular. The book was essentially a big 'whodunnit' mystery, and the movie took the entire mystery out in case the audience didn't get it.

That's how I feel about Twilight. It's an incredibly mediocre story based around a non-descript girl and the two hot guys who love her for no apparent reason…and while everyone is going batshit crazy over it, other good books are falling by the wayside. It's like a movie about a basketball playing dog getting an Oscar while The Godfather doesn't even get a nomination.

In the end, we talked for just over an hour. Then, Sunny got up to get something to drink, and as I started up my laptop, I thought "Shit, we should have recorded that." As if reading my mind, Sunny walked back into the room and said "Well, I think we've got the makings of our first podcast."

Then, we realized the little snag. The actual conversation would have made an awesome podcast, but the two of us trying to recreate the conversation when we both know exactly what the other is going to say, would suck.

I'm considering just fitting the two of us with mics permanently.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


So Sunny and have been considering creating a he said/she said podcast for a while, but we've been having a really hard time coming up with things to talk about. We've come up with a few, but they've tended to be the 'He said - She listened with nothing to say' or vice-versa format.

So, anyone have any ideas or suggestions?

I hate to try and create something and put all the actual creativity on someone else...but we just need a couple ideas to get us started.

So if you have any ideas, you know where the comments are and you know what to do.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


So, I have this thing I do on Twitter where I ask the Twitterati for suggestions on what to draw, then I knock out a quick sketch on whatever they suggest.

Here are some from the past couple of days, and the suggestions that spawned them:

"Dracula Riding Frankenstein's Monster like a horse."

"Something with Vuvuzelas"

Robots Confused by the Softness of Twinkies

Want in on this? Just follow me on Twitter (@Paulius1981) and send me your suggestions.

Sharing is Caring

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on Piracy and commented that while I don't think piracy is the huge, industry-ending monster the RIAA and MPAA think it is, that I didn't understand this new mentality where people are trying to take the moral high ground over their 'right' to steal things.

Last night, I stumbled across another blog by someone saying pretty much the same thing…and some of the comments left me shaking my head.

One comment (that I completely agree with) pointed out that not having the money or means to purchase something doesn't automatically give you the right to steal it:

"I work hard, I have a college degree but I still don't have a Ferrari. That doesn't mean I can just go steal one off a dealership forecourt until I can afford to buy one."

Then came the classic answer:

"But what if you had some sort of magical machine that could copy the Ferrari and leave the original where it is? That's what people don't understand. Piracy isn't stealing because it just takes a copy and leaves the original where it is."

I love that. If you're just taking a copy, it isn't stealing.

I think the basic idea here is that if something is easily copied and isn't a physical object, then it technically has no value. Pirates often claim that downloading a movie illegally is totally different to just walking into a store and shoving a DVD under your jacket…but they're mistaking the content and the container. It costs literally pennies to commercially press a DVD. The thing that has actually has value is the information on the disc.

If you'll allow me a tenuous analogy, saying that downloading a copy of a movie on the internet is different to stealing a DVD from a store is like saying it's perfectly fine to steal a TV as long as you leave the box on the shelf.

Even the guy's Ferrari example doesn't work, because even if there was a machine that could magically copy cars, when you buy a car, the price doesn't just reflect the physical object, it represents the millions and millions of dollars spent in research and development and design.

In simplest terms: A Ferrari's actual intrinsic value is only the few thousand dollars worth of materials. What makes a Ferrari worth half a million dollars is the design, effort and skill of turning those materials into a Ferrari. If you could copy a Ferrari, the original is still there, but you're driving away in half a million dollars worth of design, research and development you haven't paid for. Quite simply, it's why Ferrari patents their designs and don't make them freely available. It's why Ford can't re-tool their factories to turn out Lamborghinis…They wouldn't be stealing actual cars, but they sure as hell would be stealing patented designs.

Basically, there are a million 'reasons' to pirate something. You can't afford it, you don't like DRM, it's not available where you are… but none of these put you in the right or give you the moral high ground. When you take content that is offered for sale and don't pay for it, you're stealing it, plain and simple… and while a thousand downloads don't automatically translate to a thousand missed sales, it doesn't make you right to steal it.

Let me give you a personal example:

I used to have an online store where I sold my artwork. About eight months ago one of my customers emailed me to complain that the piece of the artwork that I'd sold to her as a 'one of a kind' (that I'd specifically said would never be offered as a print), was up for sale, as a print, on eBay. I told her she must be mistaken, but quickly discovered that someone had taken the preview image from my store, removed the watermark (badly) and was selling it and passing it off as their own work. I also discovered that the same piece was being offered as part of a MySpace template for free.

Of course, I had eBay shut down the auction, but when I contacted the MySpace guy, I got the usual crap about how he wasn't 'stealing' and that, basically, if I didn't want my stuff stolen, I shouldn't have put it on the net. I also got the usual moralizing about sharing (which really pisses me off as 99% of my stuff I put on the net under a creative commons license…meaning you can take it for free as long as you don't try to sell it and credit me).

But, of course, they hadn't taken the original, so what was all the fuss about?

Now, the artwork in question wasn't exactly cheap to make. I'd bought a Bristol pad, a selection of Inks, Crow Quill holders and nibs, not to mention the other investments I'd made such as a drafting table, lightbox etc. Plus, the artwork itself had taken around twenty hours to complete.

In other words, this artwork represented and significant investment of time, money and effort on my part. I'd also like to point out that this wasn't even a radically expensive piece. I sold it for enough to cover the materials and shipping, with enough profit tacked on to pay for the materials for the next piece.

Now, I'm sure that the person who stole my work told themselves that they were completely in the right because they couldn't afford to buy the piece, so that gave them the right to take it, and that they weren't really 'stealing' anyway, because they hadn't taken the original.

That's complete and total horseshit, and here's why: My artwork has value, both intrinsic and subjective. You know it has value because it's right there in my online store with a price tag on it. When you take my artwork without paying me for it, you are stealing directly from me.

In the case of the guy selling prints of my work, that is absolutely stealing…and while there's an argument that giving my work away for free as part of my MySpace template is less so, it's still stealing.


Because you're taking a product that I invested my time money and effort into creating and you're using it without paying me for it. That's sledgehammer math that you can't argue against. You are taking my work. End of story.

Basically, there's this attitude that 'sharing' is a fine and noble thing…but the part that cracks me up is that the people who claim this only feel this way because they're sharing other people's work.

So, my advice to these people is simple: Go create something, show it off online…and when someone takes a copy and starts trying to sell it, or passes it off as their own, then come talk to me about how 'sharing' is fine and noble. Especially when they try to say they're not stealing because you still have the original

Monday, July 12, 2010

Genius…evil, but genius.

I've always been fascinated by conmen. I'm not talking about the guys who try to sell people a couple of cinderblocks in a high-end TV or speaker box or email some old granny while claiming to be a displaced Nigerian prince. I'm talking about the 'Big Store' cons that are so intricate and clever that they almost stop being a crime and become something more like art.

For example, one of my favorite cons is something that's incredibly simple, but super effective and you have to give props to the sort of mind that could think it up.

Here's the scam:

You send a mass email out to 500 people, claiming to have 'inside information' for predicting the outcome of sporting events (and make vague allusions to the possibility of match fixing). You pick a game and send 250 of the people a tip that Team A is going to win, and send the other 250 a tip that Team B is going to win.

Then, you take the 250 people who received the winning tip and split them into two groups of 125. You send one group a tip that Team C is going to win, and the other group a tip that Team D is going to win.

Then, you do it again with another sporting event.

What you end up with is a group of 60 people who have received three winning tips on the run. Now that you've 'proven' your system works, you offer them a fourth tip…only this time it isn't free, it costs $500 dollars.

Even if only three or four people out of that remaining 60 are willing to pay you for the next tip, you've made around two grand for sending an email.

Of course, you can take it further. If enough people are willing to pay you the first time round, you can still split them up into two groups and carry on. With four correct tips in a row (and, of course, a healthy win from gambling on the game), next time you can charge even more. Plus, even if the next game loses, the 'system' might not be bulletproof any more, there are people still willing to pay for a tip that's four for five.

As usual, the beauty of this con is that even if the victim realizes they've been duped, there's little they can do about it. They can't exactly call the police and claim to have been cheated by someone who charged them for illegal information (which there's a high chance they used to make an illegal bet).

So, the moral is simple. If you get an email claiming to have rock-solid information on an upcoming game, ignore it, even if you get three correct tips in a row.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Would I lie to you?

A few days ago, Sunny and I watched a TV show about 'Layered Marketing Schemes', basically legal pyramid schemes. The show's theme seemed to be based around 'How could anyone be dumb enough to fall for this?'…but I don't think that's fair. The truth is millions of people fall for cons in one way or another, and very few of them are actually stupid.

Before I start, let me give you a primer on exactly what 'Layered Marketing' is.

The idea is that a recruiter contacts you and offers you an amazing business opportunity selling their products (these products are what differentiate 'Layered Marketing' from a Pyramid Scheme and make it legal). However, you have to pay a startup fee, buy demonstration products up front and host parties to sell those products and your own expense.

Up until this point, it sounds like a perfectly legitimate business, but the problem is that the profit margins are tiny. Even if you're incredibly successful and a world-class salesman, after fees, purchasing the products, you only get a small commission on every item sold. Basically, you spend $2000 and work a 60 hour week to make $2100.

This is where the 'layered' part comes in. You know right away that you're not going to be able to earn a living selling these products…but you're told the real money comes from recruiting other sellers, because you get a commission on everything they sell, and when they recruit people you get a cut of those profits as well.

Basically it's a classic pyramid scheme. You're told that if your recruit five people, then they recruit five people and so on and so on, it's only a matter of time before you have a 'sales team' of thousands underneath you and you can make tens of thousands of dollars a month.

…Except that pyramid schemes are based on unsupportable exponential growth. In just five steps of five people recruiting five people, that works out to 15,625 people, that's over three quarters of the population of the town where I live. Once you get to ten steps it's nearly ten million people.

But the problem is that people don't really understand how exponential growth works, and it's presented in such a reasonable way. After all, all you have to do is recruit five people…and you don't need a sales force of thousands. In fact, this is a classic confidence trick where the heads of these businesses deliberately over-sell the idea. The recruiter tells you that you can have a sales force of hundreds and make tens of thousands a month…but the average person realizes that's undoable, and figures that a 'sales force' of just ten or twenty people is enough to make a decent living.

However, finding twenty people to invest thousands in a business is, at best, extremely difficult…and given that you make money from their sales, you have twenty people in the same geographical area trying to sell the same products to the same people.

Plus, and this is the most important part, when you're first recruited, who's to say you're not starting out as the twentieth person?

However, the most enlightening thing I ever read about so-called gullibility was a story written by a young nurse who fell for the classic Nigerian 419 scam…or advance fee fraud.

The way this scam works is you're contacted by someone claiming to need help transferring money out of Nigeria or Iraq or some other far flung country. You're offered a cut of millions of dollars and all you need to do is set up a bank account to have the cash transferred to. Then you discover there are certain unforeseen bank fees or insurance fees you're required to pay. Of course, the money doesn't actually exist and the scammers will continue bleeding you for as long as they can.

Now, it's hard to believe that anyone could fall for the 419 scam, but the people who do aren't necessarily stupid. Think of the number of times people have downloaded a virus by clicking the flashing link that says they've won a new iPod. The simple truth is that it's only obvious when you already know about the scam. Some old grandma who has just got her first computer so she can email her family may just receive an email from a 419 scammer and take it at face value. Why wouldn't she?

Well, that's what happened to this young nurse. She wasn't computer or internet savvy and received an email from a scammer who claimed he'd fled persecution in Iraq with his family's life savings. He just needed someone in the USA to transfer the money to…and if she helped him transfer the cash and get to the USA, he'd pay her two million dollars.

Of course, shortly after she agreed she received a panicked phonecall saying the bank where he'd stored the money wouldn't transfer the money until they'd received a couple hundred dollars for 'tax fees'. All his money was tied up in the bank, so would she be willing to pay the fees for him? After all, she was going to get two million as soon as it was released.

Notice the tactic here. It's a small amount of cash that's going to result in a massive pay off. Of course, as soon as she sent the money, she was told everything was fine and she could expect her cash in a couple of days…until suddenly there were more unforeseen costs.

Now this is the part people don't understand. Why would anyone who's been bilked out of thousands of dollars keep sending more cash?

Well, the answer is they don't realize they're being cheated. Plus, they think they're in a position where they can't afford to give up. As the nurse said:

"I'd sent all my savings, loaned money from the bank and even borrowed from friends and family. Each time is was just one more payment and everything would be fine. When I'd already sent around $15,000 I couldn't afford, was I going to give up when I was just $500 more away from getting my two million and wiping out all my debts?"

The scammers know this. In fact, towards the end game, they use it to ensure you'll keep paying. In the case of the nurse, they told her everything was fine
and gave her a username and password to a fake bank webpage where the money would be transferred. After checking it every day for a week, suddenly there it was, a deposit of just over fifteen million dollars, two of which were hers.

"I danced around the room, everything had worked out. I could pay back everything I'd borrowed. I called the scammer on the phone and we celebrated. We spent an hour talking about how we were going to get him a Visa to move to the US."

Of course, a day later, she went to the bank's website to discover a hold had been put on the cash. Supposedly some taxes hadn't been paid on the transfer and the account was frozen until someone paid another $5000 to cover it. Being so close, the scammer informed her he'd sold off all his possessions but had only managed to raise $2000, so if she could pay the other $3000, they were set.

That's the other big thing people miss. These scammers don't just use email. They're call you on the phone and develop a rapport with you. At that point, it's not just sending money, if she'd given up, she'd be totally screwing over her now homeless 'friend' who just sold everything he had to transfer the cash... and just $3000 on top of the $10,000-$20,000 she'd already sent would fix all their problems.

In fact, in some cases, the scammer will arrange for you to visit Nigeria or wherever (at your own expense, of course) where you'll be taken to a bank or 'security company' where you'll either talk to a 'bank manager' who will assure you the money is ready to go…or even be shown a great big box of money (counterfeit with a few real notes on top) or gold (spray-painted lead).

People who fall for confidence tricks aren't stupid, they're just fed a story and in the beginning are asked for a small investment for a massive payoff. People do that every week on the lottery because the small investment is worth the risk. Then they're led deeper and deeper into debt until they literally can't afford not to keep paying.

Basically, it's like gambling. When you've lost everything, you can walk away and definitely lose everything, or you can risk one more roll of the dice which could possibly fix everything.

Naïve? Yes. Desperate? Probably. Stupid? No.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Kids These Days…

I've been really getting into 'James May's Toy Stories'.

This is a show on BBC America where each week, James May takes a classic toy and does something over the top with it. For example, he built a full-sized, furnished house out of nothing but Lego, laid a scalextric (slot car) track around a 2.5 mile real racetrack… and my personal favorite, had a custom 1:1 scale airfix Spitfire model manufactured and then put it together with a class of school kids.

It's the Spitfire model episode I want to talk about.

First of all, Airfix models are something I love to this day. I remember being a kid and drooling over all the awesome airplane and car models at my local hobby shop. I remember sitting for hours meticulously putting them together (then like all kids, playing war by blowing them up with fire crackers).

But what really made the episode interesting, however, was the reactions of the kids.

You see, trying to get a bunch of 13 year olds to sit still for a few hours and put together a fiddly model is bad enough. Trying to convince them it's fun is something completely different.

However, it was fun as hell watching these kids looking really put out because they had to put together a plastic model, but the best part was watching their attitudes change. Your first airfix model is pretty much always work. There's always a point where you've been trying to glue the world's tiniest piece to the world's second tiniest piece with only a tube of contact cement, a magnifying glass and a pair of tweezers…and the fifteenth time it falls off you ask yourself: "Why am I doing this?"

But then you finish the model, the glue dries, you paint it and put on the decals…and it looks really cool. Then, you look at the finished piece and think: I made that.

That was the best part of the show. Watching these kids discover the visceral joy of creating something.

However, there was one part of the show that completely blew my mind.

As I mentioned earlier, James May did something that every kid who's ever made an Airfix model has thought about: Is it possible to make a 1:1, lifesize model?

The answer was yes, but barely.

Now bear this in mind. Even if you're totally not into making models, making the 1:1 Spitfire was a world first. It broke the record for the largest airfix model ever made.

…Which was why my monocle popped clear off my face when two girls got halfway through the big build…and then said they were leaving to go to a Beyonce concert.

Ok, I understand that I might as well be shaking my walking stick and telling the kids to get off my lawn, but this model was going to be put on permanent display at the British Aviation Museum. It was going in the Guinness Book of World records. I know 13 year olds aren't exactly forward thinkers, but given the option of taking my kids to the aviation museum one day, pointing at the model and saying "I made that." Or opening the Guinness Book of World Records and showing them the record I broke…or even showing them a recording of the TV show I was on where I helped break a world record trumps going to a concert.

I'm sure Beyonce will be touring for a while…breaking a world record is a once in a lifetime thing.


Thursday, July 08, 2010


Well, in my last post, I commented on how my internet fame stock was on the rise.

Well, just a few minutes ago, I was talking about drawing on twitter, tweeted this pic (that was suggested by Kato late last year) and wondered what Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (That's Gabe and Tycho of Penny Arcade) thought about it.

Minutes later, Jerry retweeted the picture. Just the very idea that Jerry has seen some of my artwork and liked it blows my muthaf**king mind…seriously, there are no two artists I admire or respect more in the world…without wanting to gush…fuck it, I'm gonna gush…just the fact that these guys were vaguely aware that I exist for a second is awesome…and the fact that my artwork went out to over 32,000 people is just icing on the cake.

As usual, Sunny was completely underwhelmed. The whole 'internet fame' thing…but what she doesn't realize is that, in the geeksphere, this is like David Beckham complimenting you on your ball control, Robert De Niro complimenting you on your acting…or William fucking Shakespeare saying he liked your short story.

I'll admit it. I'm on a massive high. This has made my week…maybe even the month.

I seriously can't remember the last time I was in this good of a mood.

[Edit: 30 minutes after posting this, I checked my email to discover an email from Brad Guigar of 'Evil Incorporated', letting me know he was putting some of my fan art on his site. Today just keeps getting better and better.]

Dinner Party

So, this past couple of weeks have been good to me in an 'internet fame' way.

My most recent steps up Mt. Internet fame was discovering that, this morning, in addition to having been mentioned twice on 'Tweet me Harder' (The World's First, Best, Only and Last Talkback Enabled Interactive Audio Podblast), two, count em, two of my tweets made their 'Tweets of the Week'.

I told Sunny this, and she rolled her eyes at me.

I've come to realize that I hold 'internet fame' slightly above 'regular' fame, to the point that I realized that given the option of getting a walk-on role in a TV show, or getting to appear in a Penny Arcade strip…I'd pick the strip without even hesitating. (The only caveat there is I'd probably want to go on TV if it meant appearing in an episode of Leverage in a Parker-heavy episode with Wil Wheaton as a guest star... or if they bought Firefly back.)

I guess, to me, 'internet famous' isn't the derogatory term it is to most of the world. 99% of the people I'd like to meet are 'internet famous', whereas 99% of 'traditionally famous' people, I really couldn't give a crap about. In fact, at my dream dinner party, the only 'traditionally famous' person who would warrant a seat at the table is Adam Savage, and Mythbusters would only make up about 10% of the things I'd want to ask him about.

It's just weird to think that my ultimate dinner party guest list would consist mostly of people the majority of the world have never heard of.

Who would be at my dream dinner party, you ask?

Kris Straub, Mike Kruhulik, Jerry Holkins, Brad Guigar, Dave Kellet, Scott Kurtz, Adam Savage, Jonathan Coulton, Wil Wheaton, Paul and Storm and Mike Rowe

Monday, July 05, 2010

Duel of the Copyrights.

Today, I read this very interesting blog post which is essentially an email conversation between the composer Jason Robert Brown and a teen girl on the internet who was sharing/pirating some of his sheet music. After reading, I just had to throw in my two cents.

Personally, I can see both sides of the argument. Eleanor starts out with the classic argument: "I can't afford his music. If I didn't pirate it, I wouldn't buy it anyway so there is no net loss to the composer and by downloading and playing this sheet music at a talent show, I make more people aware of the work which results in people buying his sheet music, CD's and going to his shows."

To be honest, I can see the logic in that, but Eleanor's argument has he one hallmark I can't stand. Summed up in a couple of her messages:

"In order to download something online legally, a credit card is required and I do not have one of those. As I just said, my parents don't support my theatre and wouldn't give me said necessary credit card. Therefore, I cannot buy it."

This is the first thing I don't like. She can't afford the music or doesn't have the means to buy it…which in her eyes gives her the right to steal it. I found her use of the fact she doesn't have a credit card as a defense to be particularly stupid. If I go to Target without any cash, it doesn't mean I can just take what I want because they won't accept a check. The next message jus about made my brain explode:

"Alright, "Mr. Brown" I have a problem and that problem is your fault. I need the sheet music to "I'd Give It All For You" but thanks to your little stunt (Asking people to stop illegally sharing his music), I can't get it. And I cannot just go to the store and buy it. My parents don't support my theatre all that much and they won't buy it for me. And I need it pronto. If you're actually Jason Robert Brown, what can you do to help me with my situation?'

Let me translate this into normal language instead of the language of someone with a misplaced and massive sense of entitlement:

"Alright, "Mr Brown" I have a problem and that problem is your fault. I need the sheet music to "I'd Give It All For You" but thanks to you asking people nicely to please stop stealing all the hard work you use to support yourself and your family, I can't steal it and I really want it. However, I'd much rather spend my four dollars on McDonalds or something, and I refuse to even entertain the concept of not getting everything I want when I want it, or saving, or going without something else. My parents are being unreasonable by not buying me whatever I ask for whenever I want it and I really want your work right now. I have such a massive sense of entitlement that I think you should compensate me for not being able to steal your work. So send me a copy for free."

That is the thing I hate about this whole argument. However you want to sugar-coat it, this girl is stealing this man's work… and she's trying to take the moral high ground… like an inability to buy what you want makes it your moral right to steal it. It's the gall that gets me. This girl wants something and is either unable or unwilling to buy it, but the idea of not getting what she wants hasn't even entered into her head.

Ok, this is where people usually point out that it's not stealing because you're 'just taking a copy'…but technically, the paper the sheet music is printed on (or the CD that music comes on) usually makes up just pennies of the actual purchase cost. The valuable part is the content, not the container...but these people refuse to make the connection between downloading content illegally and just walking out of a music store with a CD or songbook under their jacket.

So, I think it's fairly safe to say that at least this one factor of piracy, the idea that an inability to afford or purchase something makes you morally right to steal it, is bullshit…but part of Brown's argument made me think:

"If your parents really won't pony up the four bucks to buy a copy of the sheet music, then you can ask them to take you to the library and you can take out all the music you want, free, and pick the song you want to use for an audition or a talent show, and you can keep borrowing the book from the library until you're done with it or until the library demands it back. My song may not be in your library – you could ask them to get it from another library, through an interlibrary loan (this is common, standard library practice), but if you're in a time crunch, that's not practical – so you may have to just pick another song… The entire record business is in free-fall because people no longer feel the moral responsibility to buy music; they just download it for free from the Internet, from YouTube, from their friends."

Ok, this is where we hit a bit of an impasse.

While I think we can agree that piracy is morally wrong and that artists should get paid by the people who enjoy their work…I think the actual impact that this sort of piracy has is misunderstood by Brown, and the point about borrowing music from the library proves it.

Basically, Brown is saying that while it's wrong for people to download his music online, he's fine with them borrowing it, for free, from the library. The library only purchased a handful of copies of that music, and Brown sees no more money from the people who check it out. From a purely financial and practical standpoint, there's no difference between downloading the music online or borrowing it from the library.

Of course, you could argue that the difference is 'borrowing' and 'keeping'…but if someone borrows sheet music from a library and wants it enough to keep it, I think the majority of people would simply photocopy it, probably on a photocopier at the library, rather than buy it.

It's something I've thought about with my Xbox Game collection. All my games are legally purchased, genuine copies…but only about three of thirty or so games I bought new. The rest were bought pre-owned meaning the developers of these games have never seen a penny of that money. They sell one copy to the store, which the store then sells, buys back and re-sells over and over.

While there's a huge difference morally, and I'm supporting the actual store, my practical, financial relationship with that game's creator is no different than if I'd downloaded an illegal copy.

So, to put it simply, whether Eleanor borrows the music from the library or downloads from the web, it makes no difference to Brown's bottom line, and the only real difference to Eleanor is whether she gets that music instantly with a mouse click or gets a ride into town, walks to the library, finds the music she needs and checks it out.

From that point of view I can understand Eleanor's stance. If she's getting a copy of the music for free anyway, why go to the hassle of visiting a library?

The only other argument of Brown's that I take exception to is his assertion that 'The entire record business is in free fall'. I'm sorry, but this is simply not true. People are certainly pirating a lot of music, actual music sales are at an all time high.

For example, the 2009 Neilson Report showed that while purchases of CDs, especially full albums, are dropping, overall music sales were up 2.9% over the previous year and music sales exceeded 1.5 billion for the second consecutive year.

The entire record business in freefall? Hardly.

Sure, people are downloading music illegally, but people are also buying music online, or subscribing to services like Rhapsody and 'renting' music. People like the RIAA are pointing to closing record stores as a direct result of piracy, but the 'real' culprit is the changeover from physical to digital media. People simply don't want to have to drive to town, find a record store, buy an album on CD that only has a few songs they like…and then come home and rip the CD so they can listen to it on their iPod…especially when the alternative is to buy that music instantly with a mouse-click.

Basically, on this argument, I'm taking almost the exact middle ground.

Piracy is wrong. It's that simple. If you want the content, you should pay for it…and an inability to pay does not give you the right to steal it, or the moral high ground. My inability to afford a Playstation 3 doesn't give me the right to walk out of Best Buy with one under my arm.

However, I think creators are overestimating the impact of piracy on their business. 1000 illegal downloads doesn't instantly translate to 1000 lost sales…and a young musician playing a song from sheet music she obtained illegally probably will result in a few extra sales of that song.

The simple truth is that we're currently in the middle of a major change that's destroying old business models while creating new ones. Some people will adapt wile others will go down in flames.

My advice to Eleanor is that wanting something doesn't give you a right to it, but I'm sure her attitude will change when she grows up.

My advice to Mr. Brown is that the world is changing and the internet's not going away. Musicians claimed recording technology and radio would be the death of live musicians and the exact opposite happened. Then people claimed Television would be the death of the Cinema and the Radio. The internet is not the end of the record business, as the figures show it's been a boost to music sales.

The simple moral here is adapt or die. Let me make one final point.

Mr. Brown said:

"The way I get paid is that people buy the work that I do, and I get a percentage of that money – other percentages go to the publishers, the bookstores, the theaters, the actors, the typesetters, the copyists, the musicians, the designers, the operators, even the libraries"

Under the theme of 'adapt or die', may I recommend giving your music away for 'free' through an ad supported website? It's my belief that the majority of people want to support artists, but few of those people will support you buy buying something they can get elsewhere for free. However, if you give them an option to get something for free while supporting you…that's the route the vast majority will choose.

The truth is publishers, bookstores etc are middlemen. Pre-internet they were necessary middlemen, but the objective has always been for you to get your work to your fans and get paid for it. An ad supported website kills two birds with one stone. Your fans get your work, you collect the ad revenue and the only expense to you, thanks to the lack of middlemen, is nominal hosting costs.

Brown also said: "When I make a cast album or a CD of my own, I do it knowing that it will never earn its money back, that I'm essentially throwing that money away so that I can put those songs out in the world"

Why? Why are you making CD's anyway? Make your ad-supported site and offer that album or CD as a digital download. You don't need a publisher to press thousands of discs, get shelf space in the store, pay for marketing…Make your recording and put it for sale on your site. As well as free sheet music driving a lot of traffic to your site, giving it away free buys a lot of good will. People may not be willing to spend four dollars for sheet music, but buying an album from the artist who's given them a ton of free sheet music?

Adapt or Die. Simple as that.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Watermelon Helmet

A while ago, I read something online where someone said something to the effect of "Twitter is pointless. It's a service just that makes it really easy to say nothing."

I guess the guy's point was that anything you can say in 140 characters or less isn't really worth sharing.

Now, if I was writing a dissertation on this, I'd say that this guy isn't understanding the change over from a culture of media scarcity.

As this is a blog post and not a college dissertation, I'll explain it in a much more simple way:

Up until about fifteen years ago, broadcasting involved a lot of expense and effort. The means to broadcast was only available to a small number of people and it was expensive and took a lot of effort. When getting something 'out there' meant going on TV or printing a book or magazine, it had to really be worth saying.

However, and this is something I've written about before, the internet wasn't just an invention, it radically altered everything. In a very real sense, the internet changed the way we lived just as much as electricity or the internet combustion engine.

So, let me use my little blog for instance. I get around a thousand hits per day, and about 300 to 400 of those people are unique, returning readers. In internet terms, that's a decent readership for a personal blog. However, in pre-internet print terms, that sort of readership doesn't even come close to warranting the time and expense publishing a book or magazine. If I had to print a thousand copies of each post and mail them to people…well, you get the idea.

It's one of the things I've also previously posted about in terms of 'new media'. Whether it's a blog, podcast or video podcast, that content can be aimed towards a small, highly specific audience. It doesn't have to be homogenized for the general public…so internet media is really based around giving relatively small audiences exactly what they want, rather than giving a large audience something 'satisfactory'.

…and that's where Twitter comes in. While I certainly won't deny that a lot of it is boring, inane thoughts… that doesn't matter because it's not really aimed towards public consumption.

For example, I heard something today on a comedy podcast this morning where the host said that instead of cutting watermelons into slices to eat them, you should try cutting just the end off and eating into it…so when you've finished, not only have you enjoyed a delicious snack, you also have a watermelon helmet that protects you from the sun.

Find that funny? No? Well I do and I know the people who follow me on twitter have the same sense of humor. So I tweeted: "Don't slice watermelons, just cut off the end and eat into it...that way, when you're done, you have a watermelon helmet."

In other words, just a pointless, funny thought that I know will make a few people laugh. Not the basis of a TV show, movie, book or worth writing a whole blog post about…but it made me laugh and I know it made a few other people laugh as well.

In that context, is Twitter and this sort of media really a bad thing?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Technological Marvels

Last night I was sitting at my desk when I heard the sound of Sunny furiously clicking on her laptop.

"Come on you piece of shit." She growled at the screen.

I looked over. She was trying to do something on Facebook and the internet connection was a little slow.

"You know," I said. "You're sitting there using a device that fits comfortably on your lap that has ten times the raw processing power and almost four hundred times the memory of a first generation Cray Supercomputer. You're using it to connect wirelessly to a worldwide network of computers without any specialized knowledge at all and it runs on a battery that would have had to have been the size of a large suitcase twenty years ago. Hell, the machine itself would have taken up multiple floors in a large building and required a dedicated team of technicians along with a million dollar cooling system thirty years ago.

…and because Facebook isn't loading quickly enough, you're calling it a piece of shit when, really, we should just be astonished that such a technical marvel even exists at all. Think about it, that information is coming from all over the world, being routed automatically through thousands of computers to arrive on your screen, alone, out of the millions of other computers currently connected to the internet. How can we, as a culture, be so bored and complacent about something that should totally blow our minds every time we see it?"

"What?" Said Sunny. "I wasn't listening."

"Never mind." I said. "Try turning the router on and off."

Friday, July 02, 2010

Thumb's Up

A few days ago, fellow blogger MC Etcher wrote a post about his wife Michelle's idea about a 'Chuckle Button' for blogger.

In fact, I originally titled this blog 'Michelle's Chuckle Button' until I realized just how obscene that sounded.

The idea is that sometimes you read a post, enjoy it, but have nothing to actually say about it in a comment. Michelle's idea was essentially a Facebook or Youtube style 'like' button, so people could tell you they'd read and enjoyed your post without having to log in, get past the captcha just to say 'nice'.

So, this afternoon, I figured there had to be a way to add something like that. A little bit of HTML or a little script to add it.

I discovered it was a lot easier than I thought. If you have a new template, simply go to the layout options, click 'edit' on your post window and there's an option to turn on 'reactions'. You can set up as many buttons as you like and name them whatever you want...but I just stuck with 'like'.

So there it is, right at the bottom of the post. Feel free to give it a click...then go over to MC Etcher and Michelle's blogs and thank them for the idea (and to read their blogs, they're both interesting, talented people).

For the Love of Gallifrey, NO.

Ok, so I was made aware today of a possible "Hollywood" Doctor Who movie with Johnny Depp playing the Doctor.

Ok, America…it's time we had a little talk. Turn off the TV, come over here and take a seat.

Now, America…I love you, you know that, right? We have our differences, but on the whole, I really, really like you.

It's just…well…you have this habit of ruining our TV shows.

You see, we write a show, it does really well and becomes really popular. So, over here, you decide to buy or license the rights, and then wreck the show by trying to adapt it for an American audience. Have you ever considered that Americans love shows like 'Monty Python' or 'The IT Crowd' or 'The Inbetweeners' because they're british?

We have different cultures and a lot of different values, and when you pick up a show and change it to 'fit', quite often you remove the heart of the show.

Take 'Men Behaving Badly'. This was one of the most popular shows in England in the 90's. It featured two guys who were always getting drunk, getting into trouble…it was hilarious. In America, it never made it past the pilot, because rather than ending an episode with the two guys saying something really dumb and cracking a can of beer…you made it so they 'learned a lesson' and the show had a freaking moral.

You got lucky with The Office. I'll be completely honest, I don't like the American version very much…but I'll admit it's a good show, just not my thing…and it's because as Ricky Gervais said, he wanted to make a show that wasn't 'filled with incident', wasn't a sitcom and got it's humor from the agony of watching David Brent make a fool of himself.

The American version is over-the-top and wacky. It is a sitcom…it's just that it works in this instance. Basically, it's not an American version of The Office, it's a completely different show that just so happens to share a similar setting and character types.

It's not going to work with Doctor Who.

When it comes to Doctor Who, you have to realize that we're not going to put up with that shit. Doctor Who has been running on and off since 1963. That's nearly 50 years. That's not a TV show, that's heritage…and it's a show that simply won't survive being 'Americanized'.

I'm not even sure how the continuity would work. You see, The Doctor has been played by 11 actors so far, but it's written into the story that when The Doctor is killed, he regenerates, which explains the difference in personality and looks. You can't just slap a new actor in there and say "Well, he's played by Johnny Depp in this movie." An actor change means a new Doctor. That's basic. That's Who 101.

So, from a nerdcore standpoint, unless they're planning on killing off Matt Smith after a single season, killing the Doctor at the end of the movie and bringing in a new actor for the next season of TV, it's not going to fit.

Plus, knowing Hollywood, they'll decide that each new actor is a 'new Doctor', they'll have free reign on how to write him. I can already hear the stuffed suits saying "The new Doctor can be a real gun-toting badass"…but that's not how that works. Basically, at some point in the movie, the Doctor will pull a gun on a Dalek…and that's when you'll lose every Doctor Who fan.

Messing with The Doctor is like messing with Santa Claus, or writing a 'gritty reboot' of Sesame Street. Putting guns on the TARDIS is like giving Kermit an AK47. Fans have a hard time adapting to a new Doctor in the series, let alone Hollywood writing and sensibilities.

Doctor Who is about an incredibly deep, complex character with five decades of back story who beats his adversaries with intellect…it's not the makings of a typical summer blockbuster.

So here's the deal, Hollywood. If you absolutely have to make a movie, bring is Stephen Moffat to write it, cast Matt Smith as the Doctor (or go back in time and cast David Tennant or one of the previous Doctors) then keep your oar completely out of the water.

You have a habit of taking what we like and changing it into what market research says we should like…and in that case, you'll turn The Doctor into an action hero who guns down waves of Cybermen then comes out with a witty quip before bedding his companion.

The Doctor is not a character who absolutely cannot be dumbed down for a wide audience. You either like Doctor Who or you don't. A Hollywood version is something that would bore newcomers and enrage fans.

Long story short, look at George Lucas, the prequels turned Star Wars from one of my favorite things in the world into something I actively avoid…and that was with his own material.

Do that with Doctor Who and I will personally cast you into the jaws of the Nightmare Child.

Seriously, Don't fuck this up.

Thursday, July 01, 2010


Earlier this week I was re-inspired by this video to do something I've been considering for about the past ten years…to learn how to play the tin whistle.

Of course, with our move coming up, I figured it would be something I'd leave until I'd got settled again in England. We're saving as much as possible right now and we're having to sell and get rid of so much stuff that we don't really want to be buying more stuff.

However, a quick check online showed I could buy a decent whistle for about eight dollars. In fact, it appeared that once you went above fifteen dollars, you were paying for decoration…or non-essential 'luxuries', like a whistle made from solid sterling silver.

I decided to go for it. I figured it was a cheap way to keep myself entertained (especially as I have even more time on my hands now I'm not spending two to three hours a day looking for work) and with having to sell my guitar and keyboard, it'd be nice to have a small, cheap instrument that I can actually take with me.

So while we were out running errands, we stopped at easley's one and only music store (there are actually three, but two of those only sell guitars) and went inside.

After a few minutes drooling over the guitars, including a classic sunburst colored Gibson SG that gave me a feeling akin to unexpectedly coming across a photograph of an old, deceased fried, I walked up to the counter and asked the guy if they sold Tin Whistles.

He looked at me like I'd grown an extra head.

"What's a tin whistle?" He said. "You mean a recorder?"

"No." I said. "A tin whistle. Also known as a Penny Whistle or Irish flute."

"Uhh…are you sure you don't mean a recorder."

"No." I said, again. "A tin whistle…an English Flageolet"

I reeled off every name I knew for the instrument. The guy looked more and more confused until an assistant said "I think I know what he's talking about."…he walked to a case behind the counter and came back with…a recorder.

At this point, I gave up…but something occurred to me. In my research I discovered that the Tin Whistle and Recorder come from the basically the same 'family'. In other words, what I learned on the recorder could be easily applied to the whistle…and unless I wanted to go online and pay five bucks for a tin whistle…and fifteen or twenty on shipping…a recorder was a decent substitute. In fact, I remembered in high school where if you wanted to learn the saxophone, they'd start you on a recorder, then step you up to a Clarinet, and then teach you the sax.

So I figured it was good enough…especially if I got really into woodwind instruments and wanted to learn something more complicated later.

"Well…no." I said to the assistant. "It's still not what I'm looking for, but it'll do. How much is it?" I asked…bracing for the worst.

"That?" He said. "five bucks."

"Sold." I said.

Within fifteen minutes of getting it home, I discovered it was a lot harder than I thought it would be…but I was having a lot of fun.

You see, there are only about 25 possible fingerings on a recorder. Once you've learned the 25 finger positions, you can make every sound the recorder can make. I could already read music (although I'm far from fluent)…but I had no idea how important breath-control was.

Especially for the lower notes, there's a really small 'sweet spot' where too little breath and the note is unstable and two much and the recorder makes the sound of a cat going to the bathroom through a sewn up butthole,

Basically, it was exactly what I wanted. Difficult enough to be interesting, easy enough to make significant progress without getting frustrated…and common enough to where there's an absolute ton of free lessons and material on the internet.

It was a really weird experience to start learning though. I'm going from guitar where I can think of a song I like, find the music online and just play it…to sitting in front of the computer, recorder in hand and struggling with 'Frere Jaques' and 'three blind mice'.