I might actually buy from Comixology now

There’s still time for your “Ask a tech guy” questions. I’ve already gotten a great question from Elle which I’ll write about on Monday, but I’m happy to answer anything you’d like. Contact me in the comments, or by using the contact button in the blog menu.

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Image Source DeviantArt

Recently digital comics giant Comixology has been signing up publishers to offer all or most of their titles with DRM free backups. Prior to this, Comixology comics could only be accessed on-line, or through an app which stored the comics in a proprietary DRM “protected” file.

For me personally this means all of the comics I actually paid money for on Comixology I now truly own (mostly Star Trek from IDW and Lost at Sea from Oni).

Significant for me among this “second wave” of DRM free publishers is IDW. IDW has held the Star Trek license since 2006, and is mostly responsible for my near definitive Star Trek comics collection always being out of date. IDW has been prolific in its publication of Star Trek titles, opting mainly for a mini-series model of between 4-6 issue stories across a broad section of the Star Trek universe. This can make it difficult to find all IDW titles, since you first have to find the names of all of the mini-series rather than collecting numbers of an ongoing series (though now IDW is also publishing a monthly series involving the new Star Trek cast that is somewhere in the 30’s in terms of issues). Comixology makes everything easy to find, and for half the cover price (if you’re willing to wait a month or two).

I’d purchased a number of IDW Star Trek titles during a Comixology Star Trek sale (just prior to the release of the second J. J. Abrahms movie), but was irritated to learn how these titles were actually provided to me. This was also before I learned that the trick to most Comixology sales is to wait till Amazon price matches the issues and buy from them.

But Comixology has one upped Amazon (even though Amazon owns the company) with DRM free. The comics are provided in CBR (rar zipped image folder) and PDF formats. With the CBR you can extract and combine comics as you like, and better compress them for your own hardware (Hello Star Trek Ongoing Omnibus 1-20). While advertised as a backup, what Comixology has effectively done for me is eliminated the need for using their app at all.

IDW and Oni really make this worth it for me with great titles like Scott Pilgrim, Star Trek and Letter 44. Image was in the first wave, but I could buy DRM free directly from them as well, and usually did. However, Comixology’s purchase mechanism is far faster, and downloads from Image seem to picky about the browser I use, so I may start buying Image from Comixology as well.

Now two publishers are conspicuously absent from DRM free (and I bet you can guess which ones). In fact DC has raised its prices on a number of its graphic novel collections on Amazon from $9.99 to $12.99. *sigh* Guess it’ll take me a little longer to catch up on Fables. Marvel also does not offer DRM free. But DC and Marvel aren’t really the one’s I’m buying interesting titles from these days anyway.

As for the files themselves the PDF’s seem a little bloated (sometimes nearly 200 MB for a little over a 100 page document). My tablet only has about 4GB of space for comics and I have to keep reading them to clear space for more. But the raw CBR does give me the ability to compress to a better size, so I can always make my own optimized PDF.

Overall I’m actually pretty excited about this. Comixology probably has jumped to number 2 in the places I’ll buy my comics (behind Humble Bundle which ironically offered a lot of the Star Trek comics I had from Comixology in a bundle two weeks ago).

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Ask a tech guy

vector-of-a-cartoon-tentacled-monster-attacking-a-man-through-a-computer-screen-coloring-page-outline-by-ron-leishman-14398I write about a lot of random technology subjects, basically whatever strikes me as interesting at the moment. Sometimes people share my interest and other times I feel like I sound a little bit like the adults in Peanuts cartoons.

So here’s the deal, ask me your tech questions and I will try to answer them as clearly and succinctly as possible next week. You can leave your question in the comments, or by using the contact tab on the blog menu.

You can ask me literally anything from “what kind of mouse should I buy?” to “do I need a new computer?” to “what’s the best way to do X?”

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The Ostentatious Writer

I think all of us who have the writing bug have put on at least one of the affectations of the writer. This can be something as small as always writing in a coffee shop (which admittedly I’ve done twice today), to something as gauche as a beret (though that’s more of a poet than a prose thing).

Here’s a list in no particular order of some of the writer-y things I’ve succumbed to from time to time (and some of the realities afterward):

- Walk out in the middle of the night wearing a trench coat looking to observe the world after dark. Spend evening in Buckeye Donuts only to later regret eating a gyro at 2am.

- Write while drinking whiskey.

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- Write when you’re really tired.

- Try to write all night, end up playing video games instead.

- Buy fancy notebook with a leather binding and a Celtic cross pressed into the leather. Fill maybe 10 pages of this, then keep it on your shelf saying you’ll finish it someday.

- Write naked. Stick to pleather office chair.

- Write out on the porch while it’s raining.

- Get yourself all moody by listening to sad music, then write a depressing scene.

- Write without a censor (punch the keys damnit)!

- Write after drinking yourself jittery with caffeine.

- Keep a writing ideas notebook by your bed. Eventually pile Kindle or comic book on top of it.

- Scribble notes on random scraps of paper. Be unable to decipher notes afterward.

- Grow a beard, or a mustache.

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- Talk to yourself.

- Talk to yourself in a public place.

- Talk to yourself and hold both sides of the conversation.

- Carry around a binder filled with a thick copy of your latest draft. Take out a pen and start marking it up. Frown occasionally, sip coffee purposefully.

- Write outside under a tree.

- Pull out three tablets and be checking your draft on all of them.

- Look up to make sure people wonder what you are doing, even though everyone is typing with laptops.

- Drink more whiskey, it’s been a long day.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying one, or even all of these. In fact the writing life wouldn’t be fun without our little pretensions, the things we do to actually feel like a writer. Part of this is about ego, not just the ego that makes us think anybody will want to read what we have to say, but also that we have the creative temperament, that we stand apart from the crowd.

That said, make sure at the end of the day you’re actually doing some writing, and not just playing at it.

*For the record, writing naked is awkward, not so much because of the naughty bits, but because I have a very hairy chest and it’s kind of distracting.

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The Edge

I am writing to you this morning from the edge.

Chances are, sometime today you will encounter “the edge”. Whether you’re like me, and decided to substitute my typical morning dark roast for a pumpkin spice latte, or are simply going to the bank to get a little money out for the week, you are living on the edge.

The edge is where everything happens.

Perhaps I should explain.

As some of you know, my day job is as a programmer, specifically one who works on software that supports medium to enterprise level data-centers. Data-centers these days are almost like a public utility, they are the backbone of every transaction on the internet, every piece of electronic medical data, our spending habits, consumer preferences, etc. are all stored on rows and rows of server racks.

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But it isn’t practical for us to have to talk to a central data-center every time we want to buy a cup of coffee, or track our reward points. A company like Starbucks has literally thousands of stores like this one. My particular bank branch lives in a Kroger in the same plaza, and that also tends to be where I buy groceries for the week. In one little plaza are about maybe a quarter of the transactions I do throughout the week.

So where does my data live?

Well, some of it does live back at that central data center, but the part that interacts with me, that knows who I am when I walk through the door, and knows that most mornings I just go for something like a “venti kati kati”, that part is stored in a data closet in the physical Starbucks store, or in a cash register.

That’s the edge. If our data-center is the hub of a wheel, branches of stores are at the end of each of the spokes. A mini-data center, maybe a single computer or a couple of network devices live everywhere, making it possible for a Starbucks to know who you are when you walk through the door (doubly so if you walk in with a smartphone).

And bad things can happen on the edge.

The Target hack last Christmas was due in large part to someone infiltrating the computer that updated the software on Target cash registers, and loading their own little trojan programs inside. Every cash register is a manifestation of the edge, and this is where millions got their credit card information stolen.

See, a large data-center has pretty good security. To break into its system, you’d often need to have physical access. But the edge by its very nature, has to operate wherever you are. And its often homogeneous, seen one branch computer seen ‘em all.

So what do we do? Well, honestly probably nothing. We live in a society that is moving toward “the internet of things”. Even more devices besides what we conventionally think of as computers will start talking to the net, whether it’s a smart pill bottle, pedometer or even our umbrella. We’re paying for things with our smartphones, loading up coupons on our reward cards, and depositing checks by taking a picture. The only way to support that massive influx of data is a data-center infrastructure that is both centralized and distributed.

And the faster we grow, the harder it becomes to make everything secure.

But that’s okay. We change our passwords, have credit card fraud protection and two-step authentication. I’m not proposing we go to a cash only society, or bring down the net, or anything like that. I just think we should be aware of how our world is continuing to change around us, and at least be able to put a name to it.

So there, you’ve learned the one data-center term you’ll ever need to know.

Okay, there’s also UPS (Uninterpretable Power Source). It’s a big battery that keeps everything running when the power goes out. Now you know two.

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Manga Madness

Well, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now, and finally have a good morning to sit down and do it. As I’m typing my fingers are being gently massaged by my vibrating keyboard as my laptop does burns. Again, these are all books I received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, including Pride and Prejudice which I actually had to request (more on that later).

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Anomalby Nukuharu

51uYmefdybLThis is actually a collection of stories from indie Japanese Authors, published by Gen Manga Entertainment. The cover story is so-so, featuring a man with a hundred eyes all over his body helping a man to see, but then holding that gift over him. “You know those eyes I gave you? Pretty great huh?” We’ve got a detective who solves crimes by reenacting the actions of the murderer and victim with his male partner (so if you like a little yaoi action there you go). The later stories are more interesting, in part because they stray into weirder territory that seems very distinctly Japanese.

Next is a man falling in love with a demon (yokai), who he’s known since childhood. She mainly loves for him for the delicious spells he utters, and even gives him the chance to turn back the clock when he is nearly killed by demon spirits, to live his life again happier. But my personal favorite of the collection is the girl who wants to hug demons (even if they don’t want to be hugged). To accomplish this goal she tries to become head of the demons with the help of her guide, who also happens to be her schoolmate. In this case the demons possess a human carrier, and manifest by being vaguely ghostly creatures with cute pig eyes, a jagged mouth, and little horns. What’s not to love?

The translation on a few of these might be a little rushed, and admittedly none of this is top-grade material. But the art is excellent and varied between the different authors, and the dialog is punchy in spots. There’s probably something for everyone to love in this collection. Most of the stories have a pretty light touch, so don’t expect horror in the traditional sense as you might have assumed from the product description. (4 out 0f 5)

Outlaws of the Marsh (Volume 1)by Wei Dong Chen

51TAHRbPsBLThis is a manga adaptation of an ancient Chinese epic (which is sometimes also known as the Water Margin). This is an epic in every sense of the word (the Amazon copy of one of the more well-known translations of this story is 2008 pages, the sample alone feels like a book). 108 spirits are let out into the world and must be defeated.

The main story revolves around Jin Shi, as he goes from being a brash young man to a trained and disciplined fighter. There have been many inspired manga adaptations of this story, including Outlaw Star (a sci-fi Anime in the vein of Cowboy Bebop). This title does not live up to some of the other works in this genre. It is clearly aimed at children, and the dialogue is painful. Just about every awful foreign film trope is in here. Presumably the original is in better shape, though it’s hard to tell.

The artwork is blurry and again looks like something out of a child’s picture book. Even in the action sequences, you get little sense of the motion of the characters, and their expressions rarely vary. The main benefit to this story is making me aware of the longer epic which I might read some year when I have the time. (2 out of 5)

Pride and Prejudiceadaption by Stacey King

815KJlGdCKLI’m giving this book three stars, which if anybody knows me is like someone else giving it five. I’m not particularly a fan of Jane Austen’s work, but as is the case with a lot of NetGalley stuff, this seemed too weird to pass up.

The artwork is more in the style of Revolutionary Girl Utena, with pointed chins and sour expressions, though I swear the father is cribbed from the dad in Fullmetal Alchemist. The adaptation is pretty straightforward, with bits of humor in tipping the mother into full anime stereotype, with stars for eyes as she dreams of marrying off her daughters into money. The book proceeds in chapters which I assume correspond roughly to the chapters in the novel (though I’ll admit I didn’t pick it up to verify).

Probably the best bits are the little four panels comics in between chapters, that adapt more humorous or speculative scenes from the book. Even as I found myself wondering what the hell any of these people would want to do with each other, these comics gave me a chuckle. Again, if I was going to read Pride and Prejudice, this would be the way to do it. (3 out of 5)

Kamen (Volume 1) – by Gunya Mihara

81W48sIDyrLI actually caught a snippet of this in the Gen Manga collections sold on Amazon and had been intrigued, so I was pleased when I saw this on NetGalley. A man wakes up wearing a talking mask. If he takes it off, he will die, and because it is covering his mouth, he cannot speak. Throughout the whole volume, we learn only about the man through his actions, and the commentary of the mask which can sometimes be kind of funny.

The man is captured and brought into servitude in a castle under siege. The female leader of this group has challenged an outside opponent because of their corrupt ways and now faces the potential annihilation of her people, all while dealing with her uncle and his own political machinations. The masked man takes to protecting a young nearly dead girl and at one point fights off dozens of opponents while carrying her in one arm.

Much more of an action comic, this does fight sequences very well, and the design of the mask is intriguing and even vaguely familiar. I would suggest skipping to the back of the book for the character descriptions and some background information on the time period and geo-political situation. I found this a little confusing just from the information provided in the story. Overall, I’m interested to see where this is going, and was pleased to find Volume 2 now available on NetGalley as well. (4 out of 5)

 

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Pull Your Pants Up, Or Else

Ocala, FL has enacted a law imposing a $500 fine or up to six months in jail for anyone wearing (or barely wearing) saggy pants on their streets*. As you might suspect, this is a law that disproportionately affects young people, and men of a certain racial persuasion. NPR’s Code Switch does a great survey of the potential racial motivations and consequences involved, and the history of clothing discrimination throughout American history.

Not being able to speak with great authority on this side of the issue, I’ve chosen instead to suggest new laws that might counterbalance any perceived racial motivation, and target items of clothing that are no less a threat to our fashion decency. Feel free to contribute any suggestions of your own.

Tiny Fedoras – Unless you’re this guy, or living in the 30s.

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Endless Scarves – You’re just hurting the economy. We need scarf turnover so we can keep the garment industry afloat. Scarves were meant to have a beginning and an end.

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Hipster Glasses – Unless you need them to see, are this guy again, or are a girl (which admittedly is pretty cute). This picture actually contains two violations.

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I would have mentioned Crocs, but wearing them is punishment enough, as my co-worker who sliced his foot on a rock whilst wearing a pair of these can attest.

I’d love to hear your suggestions. And seriously, check out the NPR post. This stuff is kind of nuts.

*In case it wasn’t abundantly clear from the tone of the post, I find this law ridiculous and potentially harmful to whole groups of young people. I might yell at a guy to pull up his pants (and often they’re white in my area), but I’d never throw him in jail.

 

 

 

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This is who we are

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry, has been derecognized by California State University schools. 23 chapters (groups) that meet on the CSU and affiliate campuses are no longer recognized student organizations. The InterVarsity chapters affected will no longer have free access to campus facilities, will receive no campus activity fees, are barred from participating in the school activity fair, and are not allowed to include the university in their group name.

The reason for the derecognition? A requirement that leaders within the IVCF chapter affirm InterVarsity’s doctrinal basis and “exemplify Christ-like character, conduct, and leadership.” In other words, leaders of a Christian organization need to be Christian.

Leadership in a Christian organization like InterVarsity entails both spiritual and practical responsibilities. Spiritual duties include discipling younger Christians (helping them grow in their faith and to act in a Christ like way), conducting worship services and organizing outreach to seekers and other non-believers outside the group. Practical matters are the managing of funds received both from private donations and from university activity fees (which usually come with strict standards). Money is primarily used to support the spiritual aims of the group.

InterVarsity does not require its members be Christian. Typically, the only requirement of membership is two months of regular attendance to meetings. As an outreach organization, it encourages all who want to learn about Christ to become part of their group. But because leadership positions are as much about maintaining the spiritual well-being and direction of the group as they are about practical matters of funds maintenance, leaders need to be Christian.

InterVarsity doesn’t go about this in a de-facto way. It’s probably true that they could remove the requirement from their chapter constitutions, but in practice only elect believers as student leadership. CSU might not police the group as long as the official rule is struck out. But this would in effect be lying about the nature and character of the group, something InterVarsity to its credit, has chosen not to do.

Some people have compared the university’s position to allowing a democrat to be the leader of a group of young republicans. Or the leader of a music appreciation group liking Justin Bieber.

(Okay, had to insert some levity in this post somewhere).

Where these kinds of analogies break down for me is that while they get one part of the argument, that it just doesn’t make sense for a group to be lead by someone who doesn’t share the group’s common set of values, they don’t get the scale quite right. Religion is something deeply important to a lot of us. It affects the course of our lives for decades to come. I could mix religions and say something like a Jewish person leading a Muslim chapter, or a Christian heading up an atheist group, but again that almost sounds like political parties.

Here’s what this seems like to me, a drunk leading an alcoholics anonymous meeting. Meaning, someone who is actively and potentially harmfully deviating from the group’s intended purpose. You wouldn’t want someone who is actively drinking to be your sponsor. And you wouldn’t want someone who doesn’t believe in God helping you to understand your faith.

The reason for the university policies is discrimination. They see creedal organizations like InterVarsity as excluding people. But in doing so, they are committing discrimination of a different kind. They are saying that a Christian organization (or any religious group) can’t have a set of standards by which they choose their leaders that is consistent with their faith and the desired purpose and direction of the group.

This makes sense to everyone, right? I mean, really, why would a Christian want to be a leader of an atheist (free thought) group? Maybe the purpose would be to disrupt the group and “get everybody saved”, but that would be infringing on the beliefs of the people who formed that free thought group in the first place. People who believe there is no God should have a place on campus where they should meet, and so should people who do. The CSU case is not unique around the country, though it is significant as one of the largest state schools to create these sorts of policies.

My alma-mater (which has had some struggles in this area in the past) now has a great guideline for student organization registration:

“A student organization formed to foster or affirm the sincerely held religious beliefs of its members may adopt eligibility criteria for its Student Officers that are consistent with those beliefs.”

Again, we get that, right? It’s not discrimination to want to be consistent with your beliefs. And if we’re talking racial diversity, the Inter-Varsity chapters affected by this derecognition were 70% persons of color.

What can you do? Well, for one you can pray for wisdom for University officials and perseverance for the students and staff in California. You can give financially to IV chapters or if you live in the California area you can help transport students, or even just bring food. To rent college facilities absent the recognition will cost the IV chapters $13-30K a year, so every little bit helps.

Related Articles:

IVCF Campus Challenges

Access Concerns California State University System

InterVarsity “Derecognized” at California State University

Wrong Kind Of Christian

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