Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Otakon For Non-Otaku

A good deal of my weekend was spent at Otakon in the Baltimore Convention Center. Otakon, as it’s publicity states, is the largest anime and Japanese pop culture convention on the east coast. They rent out the entire convention center for three days and attract 22,000 paying attendees. I was there at the behest of my 15 year old son who reads manga, watches anime, and plays videogames way too much. When he begged to go, I let him throw me in that briar patch.

I am the veteran of four science fiction conventions including Magicon, the 1992 World Science Fiction Convention, so I thought I knew what to expect. At science fiction conventions the costuming is a minor but significant part of the convention activities. I enjoy the bizarre costumes and like to go to the cotume constests. In fact, I thought the last science fiction convention I went to a few years back in Philadelphia had a fairly lackluster Masquerade. But nothing had prepared me for Otakon.

In addition to the run of the mill anime and manga fans, Otakon seriously courts people into cosplay. Of that 22,000 attendees, about half come in some level of costume ranging from Halloween-lite cat ears and dyed hair to full blown hand-made leather costumes with props. At no time was I out of eyesight of someone attempting to look like some anime, movie or videogame character.

The most disorienting aspect was that I rarely knew who or what most of these people were trying to be. Other than well-known touchstones such as Star Wars or Harry Potter, only a few of the shows featured had bubbled high enough on the pop culture radar screen to be identifiable. I eventually learned that any guy all in red leather with spiked blond or bleached hair was Vash from Trigun and I could spot the Sailor Moon squad, but I couldn’t tell you Sailor Venus from Sailor Neptune if my life depended on it.

I normally take a camera to science fiction conventions to get pictures of writers I admire or other quasi-celebrities. But since the Puffy AmiYumi line went on for several hundred people and I didn’t recognize any other name in the program, I took pictures of the attendees instead. Fortunately that seemed to be encouraged and almost de riguer, so I didn’t quite feel like the pervy old man I otherwise would have been tagged as by taking lots of pictures of scantily clad complete strangers.

Actually most of the costumes were fairly tasteful and modest given the lasciviousness of some of the source material. Thankfully so, in the case of some of the attendees. (That was a little uncalled for.) Otakon tries to stay as family friendly as the hormone level of the target market allows and all the “adult” oriented panels and activities were clearly marked with ID required.

Here’s where you, the unsuspecting blog wanderer, come in. I have posted the less blurry pictures I took on Flickr and set up a separate set for just characters. Since I am completely clueless, please leave comments stating who the character is and what show they’re from, or let me know in the comments of this blog where I should go to get better acquainted with these shows without having to BitTorrent hours of Cowboy Bebop.

You’re help in my education is much appreciated.

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Monday, August 29, 2005

Rock Is Dead, What Else Is New?

For a few years now, mostly as devil’s advocate, I have advanced the thesis that Rock Is Dead. Now this is not an original thought with me. The exact date of rock’s imminent or recent demise has been a bone of contention at least as far back as Elvis joining the Army. Other possible milestones are Buddy Holly buying the farm, Yoko getting jiggy with John, or Kansas® deciding they need to be a brand.

I personally place the toe tag on the body at the moment Run-DMC crashed through the wall onto Joe Perry. By making a clear link between hip-hop/rap and rock as a young Turk/elder statesman comparison, the stage was set for the rise of hip-hop and the waning of rock music as the predominant musical cultural force in our society.

Not that rock will ever truly die. Like jazz, classical, Gregorian chants, and Mongolian throat-singing, there will always be fans and practioners of rock music. It will just become increasingly irrelevant. Rock is what I grew up with, but the point of popular music is to annoy your parents and rock is a poor weapon to use against the baby boomer or proto-punk generations.

The latest person to come by and hammer a few nails in the coffin is David Segal in the August 28, 2005 Washington Post Magazine. His article, Memoirs of A Music Man takes the stance that as the Major Rock Concert has become more tightly arranged and staged, the resemblance between rock music and musical theater is becoming increasingly blurred. He cites the prevalence of supposedly spontaneous “stunts” during a show as being against the true spirit of rock.

I’ve got bad, bad news for Mr. Segal. The rock show as tightly choreographed spectacle goes back at least as far as my youth and definitely much further. When I was a junior in high school, sometime in the 1980-81 timespan, I saw Van Halen in their on-the-rise glory days, and I used to have the baseball jersey half sleeve t-shirt to prove it. When comparing notes with a classmate who saw them two days later at a different venue, we discovered that David Lee Roth’s tequila input is so closely calibrated that he stopped at the same point in the same song during both shows to announce, “I’m so f&$king wasted, I forgot the f&$king words to the f&%king song” to thunderous cheers from the similarly situated crowd. Rod Stewart isn’t the only one whose ad lib lines were well-rehearsed. Rock music has always been theatrical. And staged.

Then David goes on to use Bruce Springsteen as an example of setlist rigor mortis.

A Bruce Springsteen concert is unforgettable because you always get the sense that you just witnessed something so heartfelt and draining that it couldn't possibly be reproduced. To a degree, that's an illusion, since many of the Boss's shows are pretty similar, set-wise, on a given tour. But the guy is such a gifted showman that it doesn't matter if he does a note-for-note replica in the next city. People leave those concerts feeling like they've been given something they'll never lose. And Springsteen always seems like he's having more fun than anyone else in the building.

This is where he loses all credibility. I'm suprised that the folks at Greasy Lake haven’t hung him in effigy for this heresy. Springsteen fans have a statistical compulsion that makes SABER-maticians look like drunk Elbonian accountants. It took me less than five minutes at The Bruce Springsteen Setlist Page to determine that at the two shows I saw of the recent Rising Tour, less that 50% of the material played overlapped. And half of that was obligatory new material. This is from a guy who has 30 plus years of fan favorites to squeeze into just three hours every night. If anybody could carve a greatest hits setlist in stone and set up a tent, it’s Bruce. That he doesn’t, and not just at his 10 night stands on his home turf, is a testament to his need to stay fresh for himself and his fans.

As a counter-example, Segal uses Green Day as ray of hope because they do a stunt where they get audience members to come on stage and play a three-chord, School-of-Rock-101-easy number. I have a co-worker a decade and a half younger than me that thinks the version of this skit that he saw several years back is the Greatest Moment In Concert History™, so obviously it’s a crowd pleaser. It’s still a rehearsed pre-planned gimmick. And gimmicks are tough to kill.

Alice Cooper is still out there with his whole bag of tricks. Even Bruce has to look down every night at a pit full of Courtney Cox wannabes. He usually resists the temptation to pull someone out of the audience unless they have come up with a particularly novel twist on the sign holding gimmick. Even then, because it is done so rarely, it still gets the r.m.a.s.’ers to soil their drawers every time it does happen.

David Segal comes off pretty close to the jaded, hipper-than-thou, rock critic caricature Benn Ray of Atomic Books recently skewered, and I wish he would shut up about his quest for the elusive Live Concert Moment. When I am paying $165 a seat to see U2, I expect a professional well-rehearsed spectacle and I know I will be manipulated into cheering, clapping, singing along, and holding up my lit cell phone. And if I were to see Cathy Rigby on her farewell tour I would clap along to revive Tinkerbell just as hard. If I want spontaneity, I will go to a 200-seat beer hall where I can yell “Freebird” as loud as I want and the band might actually indulge me. In the meantime, David Segal ought to just enjoy the show, because it’s only rock and roll, and I like it.

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Friday, August 26, 2005

Wonks In Love

Just one day after I briefly name-checked Morton Kondracke in a two degrees of separation context in my post about Jules Witcover, I read in the Washington Post that Morton is getting married for the second time. His first wife died after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. Morton wrote a memoir, Saving Millie, which became a CBS movie starring Bruce Greenwood and Madeline Stowe.

His new fiancĂ© is the age appropriate and rather beautiful Marguerite Sallee, who is CEO of Colin Powell’s pet charity, America’s Promise. The story of the two lovebirds seems to be Sleeping in Seattle sappy. Mort even popped the question in front of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (the Eiffel Tower having been tainted forever by Tom and Katie). I wish these two a lot of happiness and it further proves my maxim that love comes in all shapes, colors, sizes, flavors, and ages.

A lot of people now know Morton from The Beltway Boys, which was him and Fred Barnes trying to take their McLaughlin Schtick™ on the road, which I don’t blame them for. Mor-TON in particular seemed to be the biggest victim of Monsignor John’s rather petty schoolyard bullying. Not that Freddy the Beetle faired much better. Or the staff members that filed sexual harassment charges against the roundtable leader.

In indulging my nostalgia (read random Googling®) about the salad days of The McLaughlin Group, I found that the Jump The Shark snarks share my opinion about TMG going into sharp decline after Jack Germond left. I also blame the Dana Carvey Saturday Night Live skits that somehow triggered Johnny to start chewing the scenery even more fervently in a bad life-imitates-art parody.

There also seems to be a lot of uncalled for animosity toward the last remaining panel member from that era, Eleanor Clift. I’m not sure whether the venom is purely partisan reactions to her reliably liberal lip-service (especially during the depths of the Clinton impeachment) or the usual double standard that makes men strongly opinionated pundits and women shrill ideological harpies. For the comic lovers in my audience, check out Candorville for the latest salvo in trying to unseat that hypocrisy.

A shout-out to Wonkette for having a link to the WaPo article. The starving gerbils running the WaPo search engine forgot that they ran a Names & Faces column on August 25, briefly causing me to doubt my own sanity for new and different reasons.

Finally, with Mort at 66 and Maggy (may I call you Maggie?) at 59, they are quaintly close in age for anything resembling a second marriage power couple hook-up. Yes, I’m looking at you Alan and Andrea (the math is left to the student for homework). For the peanut gallery, what is the youngest appropriate age for a man in his mid-60’s to woo?

Update (5/09/06): According to The Reliable Source, Mort and Andrea got married on May 6, 2006. Scroll down about three items for a very nice picture of the newlyweds.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Witcover Massacre

At the risk of becoming typecast as a newspaper junkie (which I am), I must weigh in with my contrarian opinion on the recent firing of Jules Witcover from the Baltimore Sun. As reported in the Washington Post, Witcover was unceremoniously set adrift on an ice floe last week. He was notified by overnight letter rather than in person and barely given the chance to write his one last brief and classy farewell.

Most of the indignation in the press so far has been over the rather shabby treatment given the journalistic legend. It seems he has been subject to a series of increasingly brutal indignities over the past few years. First, he was threatened with losing his health insurance if he did not take an early severance package the Tribune paylords imposed. Then his thrice weekly column was slashed to once a week with a proportionate reduction in pay. Finally came the brief letter saying his services were no longer needed without even a tribute MacDonald’s gift certificate.

Meanwhile up on Calvert Street, his putative bosses, Not Me and Ida Know, are pointing mutually exclusive fingers at each other over who actually pulled the rug out. In the words of Mark Knopfler, “Two men say they’re Jesus; one of them must be wrong.” This was obviously a corporately demanded drive-by and every one involved is desperately trying to wash out that damned spot. The Today section finally covered the gangland shooting as objectively and factually as possible on Tuesday, probably to avoid being scooped by the Post on their own dirty laundry.

Now comes the uncharitable part: Jules Witcover’s column never really survived the retirement of his partner of umpty-ump years, Jack Germond. Jack was the garrulous, Lou-Grant-at-the-water-cooler, slightly left of center voice of reason during the post-Novak Silver Age of The McLaughlin Group. Along with Eleanor Clift, Fred Barnes, Mort Kondracke, and (when he wasn’t running for Fuhrer) Pat Buchanan, he would opine on cue about anything and everything. Of the regulars, Jack was the only one who seemed to realize the absurdity of the show and would regularly deflate McLaughlin’s more pompous pontifications. This sense of playfulness slipped into his joint column with Witcover.

Jules never sought the spotlight, instead writing a series of very well received, but rather inside baseball, campaign memoirs. Post-Germond columns could clearly and concisely summarize any issue of the day and cut to the chase of the real issue like a Ginzu through soft butter. Unfortunately, the prose style became increasingly dry, and the opinions and calls to action came off as muted even though you sensed a lot of outrage under the just-the-facts verbal veneer. Jules had been part of a team, and like Lennon and McCartney, Martin and Lewis, and Shields and Yarnell, the sum was greater than the parts.

Jack Germond used to brag that he may have been a media whore, but at least the rather paltry $500 a week stipend Monsignor MacLaughlin doled out put his kids through college. I still catch Germond making the Sunday blabfest rounds after a particularly bad week at the track. Unfortunately, rather than being sent out to pasture like an aging thoroughbred, Witcover is being given a one-way ticket to the glue factory. He claims he will continue his syndicated column, which is only carried in 30 papers, many I suspect to be small market Tribune captive fiefdoms. Without the flagship Baltimore Sun byline, I suspect some of these will begin tossing him overboard for the more red-state friendly rabid ravings of Cal Thomas and his ilk.

As tragic as it is for Jules, it is just one more clack in the gears slowly dismantling the Sun as a newspaper of national reputation. Since I subscribed to The Washington Post a few years back, the Sun has become increasingly irrelevant in my personal life except for school board meeting minutes and Ravens injury reports. The Opinion page in particular has suffered several other blows recently. When the New York Times bundled it’s premier columnists like Thomas Friedman with a wire services requirement, the Tribune overlords balked at the price and sent readers online for those folks. Their other name syndicated columnists like Michael Kinsley and Ellen Goodman are available in the WaPo and the Sun seems to have deliberately picked the whiniest rock-headed right-wingers available to present “balance.” Even the home-grown talent like Barry Rascovar never seem to have anything to say I think I need to know.

If the Sun is going to continue to race to the bottom this way by icing their last remaining nationally known writer, the legacy of Mencken should just print the high school sports scores, throw them on everybody’s lawn for free, and give the loyal readers that still want original news and opinion their choice of subscriptions to the Post or the Times rather than make us go down to Starbucks.

Update: See EdRants and Old Hickory's Weblog for more.

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Monday, August 22, 2005

Feeding The Blog

I have a whole ritual with the Sunday paper. Naturally, I read the comics first. But before that I sort all the ads that come wrapped with the comics. My wife reads Parade, so I set that aside. I also pull out the Best Buy and CompUSA ads so I can indulge in a little technolust. I usually set aside for later reading the Book Reviews and the Washington Post Magazine section to read after I finish the main paper. Articles in the magazine tend to be very long and more than I want to tackle on Sunday morning.

Lately though I have had to at least skim through it first. I have become a regular reader of Gene Weingarten’s Chatological Humor (Tuesdays With Moron) chat that appropriately enough happens Tuesdays at noon. Gene also writes a humor column in the back of the magazine and this weekly column is now syndicated trying to get it’s share of the Dave-Barry-is-on-hiatus-and-we-need-to-fill-that-newshole-cheap market.

As such, his column is frequently mentioned in the chat. To be current, I’ll quickly read the column on the back page of the WaPo Magazine before setting it aside and returning to the comics. The WPM is also where they hide the Sunday Dilbert, so I have to fan through the magazine to find that.

Yesterday I ran across a headline with the word blog in the title so I stopped and read that too. Joel Achenbach is another WaPo staff writer who keeps an honest to God blog called, either unoriginally or cleverly, depending on your viewpoint, the Achenblog. His article titled The Tail That Wags The Blog, which since it really saw print and thus technically narrowly avoids being a meta-blog post, is the funniest and truest thing I have ever read about blogging.

Keeping a blog current is insanely harder than I thought. At any given time, I have a half-dozen or more good ideas, but finding the time and energy to actually execute the concept can be exhausting. A blog is a ravenous beast that needs to be kept current or it falls into neglect.

I read a lot of magazines lately instead of books. It’s not that I think of magazines as being better than books; they just have a greater sense of urgency. You might as well not read a month old Time magazine, but that 800 page Neal Stephenson novel isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

I probably post to my blog rather than other needed cyberchores out a sense of duty and compulsion. The Achenblog gets thousands of hits daily and regularly collects over 200 comments per post. Thank goodness I don’t have that sort of pressure. How about them sour grapes?

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Comics Curmudgeon Down

I went to do my morning hit and run at Comics Curmudgeon before I walk the dog and found that Josh had exceed his bandwidth allotment and was unavailable. Normally this fall in the same category of problems I would like to have such as "having to stay faithful to my nymphomaniac supermodel girlfriend" and "fending off shady investment brokers that want to manage my lottery winnings portfolio".

Unfortunately, it probably means Josh has to shell out money for a bigger allotment to pay for a sideline he probably started as a lark. He's not PvP or Penny Arcade or any of these sites where fanboys that need ironic black t-shirts spend their allowance. We haven't had any new roll-outs of Cafe Press items in a while which has to mean there can't be that much cash in them.

The difference between a job and a hobby is that a job is what people pay you to do and a hobby is what you pay to get to do. Fortunately, this blog hasn't cost me anything yet except time and aggravation. I did shell out $25 for the FlikrPro account, but I credit that against the money I saved on photo processing by going all digital on my last vacation.

It is minor annoyances like these that make you realize how totally dependent on technology we are and how totally unprepared we would be for a real disaster. Back in my youth I read all the classics of post nuclear holocaust fiction and realized that I was one of the people that would be looted and shot in the first chapter while the survivalists were still cleaning their stockpiled Army surplus semi-automatics. I am very fond of civilization, the Unibombers and Luddites can rant all they want. They can have my mouse when they pry it out of my cold dead fingers.

This is the second outage of a site on my daily hit list this week. A few days ago the fine folks at Drink At Work had server problems that left their fans wandering lost in the dark for a few hours. Other than through the CC website, I have no way of hearing about or from all the people I know only by deliberately cryptic username aliases. If any other Cardinals, acolytes, or just plain lurkers stumble over here because my blog is still somewhere in their history file, make yourselves at home until Josh oils the hamster wheel and buys more Squirrel Chow® to get more bandwidth up and running.

I'll roll out some yoga mats in the cafeteria and start an extra pot of coffee and we will wait out this cyber-outage together and tell each other ghost stories until we can move back home and clean up the water in the basement.

UPDATE: Our long national nightmare is over. The Comics Curmudgeon servers are back up and running as of about 4 pm EDT. Now back to your regularly scheduled snark.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Walter Monheit Lives!

In fondly remembering the late lamented Spy Magazine (I intend to do for the "late lamented" epithet what Spy did for "short-fingered vulgarian") for my Blogrolling post, I also remembered another feature called Blurb-o-Mat: Capsule Movie Reviews by Walter Monheit™, the Movie Publicist’s Friend. In it, a fictitious dandified monocled movie reviewer gave alarmingly gushy reviews to extremely bad movies. Two of the trademark bits were that everyone deserved an Oscar® (Walter's keen nose would "smell Oscar®" on about anything) and the horrendous adjectives that he would coin using "-iscious" and "-abulous" rather unsparingly. Every movie got 4 monocles and Walter Moheit became industry short-hand for the amazingly large swarm of fawning small market movie reviewers willing to plug anything for a few free movie tickets.

It seems there were turkeys that even these hip-pocket reviewers wouldn't praise, so Sony invented David Manning of the Ridgefield Press, a real newpaper, but a fake reviewer. An industrious ambulance chaser recently won a class-action lawsuit on behalf of the befuddled moviegoers that went to see The Animal starring Rob Schneider on David Manning's advice. Having made a quick thirteen bucks on the recent CD price fixing class-action settlement, I wanted my share.

Supposedly the form to claim you money is at the lawyers' website but all I could find was the class action notice. It seems that in order to collect, you have to swear you saw either “The Animal,” “Vertical Limit,” “A Knight's Tale,” or “The Patriot” in theaters. I've only seen one of these even on video, and I won't confess to which one. Something's just aren't worth the money.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Blogrolling In Our Time

The late lamented Spy Magazine (the one from the '80's and '90's, not this one) had a monthly feature titled "Logrolling In Our Time" where it documented authors trading overly flattering book jacket blurbs. Wikipedia declares that the internet term blogroll as being derived from the word "logroll". The influence of Spy Magazine is not documented in internet lore.

A blog roll is a list of other blogs that the blog author finds interesting for one reason or another. The blog roll is usually in the sidebar with the other permanant and semi-permanant links. One popular blogging add in, aptly called Blogroll, automates the task of updating a blogroll for those too timid to edit HTML code manually.

Blog-related sites like Technorati and Blogroll even keep lists of the most popular blogs on the web. There doesn't seem to be much purpose to blogrolling these major sites on these lists except as an act of brand self-identification, like wearing an Ambercrombie & Fitch t-shirt or a Nike shoes, since these large sites have their own agendas to persue

The main purposes of a blogroll seem to be to:

  • define the context of the blog by highlighting similar blogs
  • hang with the cool kids by cross blogrolling with your friends
  • desparately try to increase site traffic by hoping others will blogroll you

Since I am a pretty small fish, there is no reason for me to link to Boing Boing or Daily Kos, since most people can find them on their own. No, I have decided to prime the pump by putting into my blogroll the people that may not have huge sites, but those that I have stumbled on or have been kind to me. Afterall, blogrolling is a rather cynical application of the Golden Rule. That is, if it's done right.

If you see your blog on my webroll, consider returning the favor. Or, if you add me to yours, let me know and I'll give yours a plug. Of course, I reserve the right to limit the total size of my blogroll and to be arbitrary, petty, and vindictive about who goes in and who comes off. Otherwise, where would the fun be?

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Focus, Focus, Focus

Part 2 of a series on What Makes A Good Blog?

One of the keys to a successful blog seems to be a relentlessly narrow focus. There seems to be no topic too obscure for a blog. My favorite blog, as shilled here repeatedly, is The Comics Curmudgeon, which has developed quite a cult following among people who either take comic strips way too seriously or not seriously at all, as the case may be. What is even more surprising is the level of fanaticism over at The FOOBiverse!’s Journal dedicated to a single comic strip, (albeit an immensely popular one that has an enormous website of it’s own). This FOOBiverse folks do a daily dissection of each panel and then get dozens of comments per day.

Among the professional blogs, the Gawker Media Empire has honed this subdivide and conquer strategy to a fine art. They have blogs about politics, entertainment, gadgets, travel, and gambling among many more. The Baltimore Sun recently ran a feature on people who have taken their celebrity blogs to astonishing levels of popularity. Some of them have made the quit-your-job leap into professional blogdom.

My other blog is deliberately limited to just my pictures from my summer vacation because I feel the overlap between people who want to look at pretty pictures of Vietnam and those that would want to read my meta-rantings is fairly small. While working on Asia Trip 2005, I often look for other blogs on Vietnam travel and find the field rather wide open, although there are a lot of good travel blogs out there.

One site though merits particular attention. Noodlepie is a great blog written by a British journalist that focuses strictly on food in Vietnam. The site is fascinating with pictures, descriptions, and even video of all sorts of exotic dishes. It probably gets thousands of hits a day and is even inspiring competitors. Truly, no niche too small.

Will this blog ever get that focused? I doubt it. I have always had too many wandering thought patterns to focus on one thing that intently. I will try to keep things moving and look up from my navel every now and then. And even if no one hears the tree fall, I’ll just keep the one hand clapping.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Alligator Mouth, Hummingbird Rump

Gil Thorp from August 11, 2005
The extremely bad comic strip Gil Thorp had a teen-age jock character call the guy threatening him for trying to date his ex-wife (don't bother trying to parse that, the strip is not worth it) as being "all bluster. Alligator mouth, humming bird rump." From the context where it's used, the phrase seems to mean someone is all talk. Equivalent to "all bark, no bite" or "all hat, no cattle."

The folks over at the College don't think that's the way a real teenager would talk, so I did a little google searching and came up with the following results:

Fun with Google®:

  • "alligator mouth" and "hummingbird ass" - 632 hits including at least one rap song
  • "alligator mouth" and "hummingbird butt" - 170 hits
  • "alligator mouth" and "hummingbird rear end" - 42 hits
  • "alligator mouth" and "hummingbird rump" - 0 hits

It seems no one, teen-ager or otherwise, talks like that. Obviously the writer is using a euphemism that does not naturally fit with that phrase. This is a great opportunity to experiment frack with Google. I am going to challenge the College to try to up that hit count by posting that phrase on other websites and check back in a week to see if this meme has taken root.

Check the current count.

If you want to play along at home, post on your website, or someone else's (as long as you play nice), the phrase "alligator mouth, hummingbird rump", preferably in a meaningful context. Just don't start any flame wars. Remember the key word is "rump" since "ass", "butt", and "rear end" are already well represented here. Link back to here, leave a comment and I will try to list the other places where it appears.

Also, I have added as a technorati tag for whatever good that does.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Yesterday about 2 pm, after I posted, I got hit by about 36 visitors in one hour. All of the referring URL's came from the blogspot.com domain. I must have hit some sort of jackpot in the random site generator. Then just as quickly, the blogstorm went away. The sad part is that I got more hits and pageviews than when I actually went out and solicited them.

The phenomena puzzles me and I wonder what triggered it and how often I can expect it to occur. Most hits were just pass throughs, but a few lingered and read a little. I do a little random blog surfing and link through the keywords just to see what everybody else does and eventually I guess some people will come her through that. All are welcome to read and comment.

Update: Another blogstorm rolled through at 3 p.m. today (8/10/05) for about exactly and hour. About the same number of hits, fewer total page views. I guess this post wasn't as interesting.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

New Template

For the 88 of you that have seen this site before, this is a brand new Blogger Template. The official name is Thisaway(Blue), but I prefer to call it Goodbye, Blue Monday. The orange on the old template began to bother me and the font was way to large in the post bodies.

I know, I should be designing my own stylesheet in CSS and that way it can look how I want it. Well, there's a reason to use templates and that is to keep things from looking too ugly too soon. I want to futz with this one a little bit and make the header text a little larger and not so blue.

AOL is often called the Internet on Training Wheels. Well, Blogger.com is blogging for newbies, and I'm OK with that now. Someday I'll be ready for WordPress and have my own domain. Kinda the Web version of the American Dream. Until then I'll rent and let the landlord take care of the yardwork.

I did manage to transfer the sidebar links intact and keep the Sitemeter going, so I'm not totally useless. As long as it can be done with Cut and Paste, I do all right.

Update: I did change the font sizes in the title. Looks great, if I do say so myself. I also had to shrink the comic in this post to 300 pixels wide to keep IE from FUBARing the block borders. Of course, Firefox handled it fine. Just click on the comic to get it to a legible size. Next is to edit the generic arrow in the title to look like a Vonnegut "assterix".

Monday, August 08, 2005

Vonnegut Links

Since the name of this website is a tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, I figured it should have some Vonnegut related material on it. In researching this post (read googling "Vonnegut"), one site complained that most Vonnegut pages are just lists of links to other sites with a list of links. I think that's true of most fan-based web pages no matter who the subject is.

This site is not now and never will be a Vonnegut fansite. Way back in the mid -90's when I first wanted to do a website, Vonnegut seemed to be a natural topic. I had read all his books as well as several books about him. I had great bibliographical information on him from researching first editions of his books. Then I found a web page by Chris Huber that was on a Duke University web site and all the wind went out of my sails. His site did everything I had hoped to do and more, so I abandoned the hope of ever becoming the web's foremost authority on Kurt Vonnegut (the web was a lot smaller back then).

I recently stumbled upon a link to that duke.edu site that was dead and felt a little loss. Lo and behold, the author of the site had moved it to a new domain and had continued to update it. The Vonnegut Web is really the premiere site for anything Vonnegut. It's got biography, bibliography, chronology, and the most up to date FAQ. Most KV FAQ's on web stop at 1996 when George Cooley quit maintaining it. It's nice to see Huber carrying the torch.

I added a few other links to the sidebar link list that merit attention. It would be pretty negligent not to include his Official Web Site even if it mostly justs hawks his silkscreen designs. I love the "assterix" in the URL line. Great minds think alike. I'll continue to add some more links as I find unique sites that add to the knowledge base, but anyone can do a search and pull up all sorts of minor sites if they care to.

I also found a link to an essay KV had written recently called Cold Turkey. It's good to see he hasn't lost any of his vigor in his old age. He also has a book coming out this fall that collects his "post-retirement" writing titled A Man Without A Country *. I'm afraid it will be a little like the endless repackaging of greatest hits rock groups like The Who do with their fans. Still, recycled Vonnegut is better than most other writers.

* The book link is to Amazon, but I am not an affiliate and won't get any money from you if you buy it from them. I would prefer you buy it from an independent bookstore like Atomic Books, but I can definitely understand if you only have big box retailers in your area.

Stupid Blogger Tricks

On Thursday of last week, I pulled a stunt over at Comics Curmudgeon to goose my site visits to see if anyone would bite. I am glad to say it worked like a charm. According to Sitemeter, I had 14 visitors on Thursday and 36 visitors on Friday. It has since died down to the normal one or two a day.

I guess I shouldn't brag about how unpopular this site is, but I am still on a major learning curve about how and what to blog. I will refrain from crying wolf until there is more truly interesting content.

I did receive my very first comment ever and it was from none other than Francesco Marciuliano, who is the writer of the comic strip Sally Forth. Unfortunately it was to correct an accusation I had made in the comments on his blog, Drink at Work. (See the whole debacle here.) I apologize profusely for writing something without checking the facts, but if everybody did that, the internet would be a much duller place. In penance, I have added Drink at Work to my bloglist.

I have also added The Mobtown Shank to the bloglist because Benn Ray is a wonderful community service in the name of a locally owned off-beat bookstore in Hampden called Atomic Books. I get the Mobtown Shank by e-mail and live vicariously through the really bizarre hipsters that populate his world.

Friday, August 05, 2005

What Makes A Good Blog?

There are a lot of blogs out there and they fall into about three catagories. There are the professional for-profit sites like Wonkette and Defamer. These sites are self-supporting off of add revenue and the blogger's primary income is from the blog.

Then there are the serious hobbiest sites. I think most political blogs (which get all the press) fall into this category. Josh and Drink at Work and most webcomic sites also fall into this niche. They run ads and sell merch, but most of that has to be eaten up in overhead.

Then there are the novelty and vanity sites. I definitely find into this category. I have been on the "web" since the first Windows version of Prodigy. I've seen a lot of internet fads come and go.

Blogs and their related message forums are pretty much straight line descendants of local dial-up bulletin boards I was surfing in the mid '90's. These hobbiest boards had fiercely devoted memberships and often were strongly influenced by the personality of the board operator.

So with a dreadful signal to noise ratio in the blog world, what makes a blog popular? I think there are three elements: clever, crisp writing; relentlessly narrow focus; and frequent updating and posting.

People decry the loss of literacy the internet is mid-wifing, and you definitely could get that impression if you spent any time at all in an AOL chat room or browsing gaming forums. The good blogs though have a terse snarky style that makes paragons of tight writing like Entertainment Weekly or People look like Thomas Pynchon. If you can't get your point across in three paragraphs, you have lost the random surfer. And if you don't have something fresh to say, no one is going to bookmark you and come back.

This post is probably too long already by those standards. I will definitely come back to this topic. So bookmark this page and come back in a few days.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Gollum With Glasses

At joshreads.com I recently changed my signature line to:

yellojkt (imagine Gollum in glasses)

which refers to a recent Foxtrot strip where Jason, the boy genius geek finds out that his Worlds of Warcraft partner is actually the girl next door. These two have a long history of mutual antagonism which obviously means they are meant for each other. The Gollum reference is hilarious in context, because any girl that can name check Tolkien is the perfect match for Jason who just won't owe up to his own attraction to her.

I find Jason to be very funny since he represents an archetype I am way too familar with, both in my youth, and now as the parent of a technically oriented child (PC euphemism for nerd).

In a blatant ruse to up my page views, I challenged the Comics Curmudgeon Community to find an online photo of me. If you found this page, and that shouldn't be hard since it is linked from my CCC profile, a picture would be just around the corner. It was taken on a tour boat in Halong Bay, Vietnam on my recent "secret mission."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hospital Ordeal Over

My son is home from the hospital after nearly two weeks for an appendectomy and the resulting complications. During that time, I spent about every waking minute either at the hospital or at work. The Medical Industrial Complex is a strange sub-culture that defies explanation. I'm jsut glad it is over with for now.

One of the first things he did was post to HIS blog on Xanga. This blogger site seems unduly populated with graphic intensive teenager blogs that all cross link to each other in a garish melange with video, music and blinking lights. Some of these are nearly unreadable both content-wise and sheer sensory overload. To each their own.