Saturday, August 25, 2012

Superman, Batman, and Modern Comics

I realize this hardly qualifies as a post, but I'm kind of a big fan of what I'd call "authentic" experiences: things that really happened, happened naturally, and that illuminate some truth (large or small).  This truth is small, but here it is:

Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett's run with Superboy in Adventures of Superman back in the mid-90's sure started off with a bang.  In a nearly perfect first issue, they introduce a few new characters and set up an entire story-engine. 

I went to my local comic store today and my kids and I raided the quarter bins for something for my three-year-old son to look at and tear apart.  We left the store with several DC books from the mid-90's:  Robin II #1, Superman something or other ("Massacre in Metropolis" is the cover blurb), Adventures of Superman #501, and Batman Adventures #9.  During a lull in the chaos of two children, I read the Adventures of Superman issue, and I genuinely enjoyed it.  It didn't blow me away the way, say, Miracleman did/does, but it was almost impossible not to read the whole issue.  The story and art were both clean, serviceable, and entertaining.  By "clean" here, I mean that they were both accessible to someone who hadn't read the preceding stories in ten+ years, they both left me wanting to pull out the next issue, and both still satisfied me that I'd gotten a "whole story" even though it continued into the next issue.  In other words, the story had a wrapped-up A-plot and several continuing B-plots, while the art let me see Superboy, gave me dynamic shots of him, but also told the story clearly.

Now, to be fair, the "Massacre" issue of Superman seemed dull and pointless in comparison.  At the same time, at least my children can read the issue without having nightmares about decapitated heads or asking me uncomfortable questions.

I didn't bother with Robin II, as that mini-series' hideous multi-cover over-printing is still a sore-spot with me, and I paged through Batman Adventures simply to admire the art of Mike Parobeck, but by that time my children required attention, so I left them.

As I think about all of the New 52 issues and series that seemed interesting enough to try (few) and those with which I've stuck (far between) and those I'd let my children read (none), I miss those sweet-spot comics like Adventures of Superman #501:  truly entertaining for all ages.  Where have they gone?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Switching from Android to iPhone 04: Second Impressions

So, yeah... I'm switching from Android to iPhone.  I kind of thought I'd keep a little journal of what the switch is like and whether I'm likely to stick with it.

Second Impressions
And so ends my first day of using the iPhone. I don't think the second day was as revelatory as the first, but here's what I noticed:
  1. Syncing over wifi might actually be easier on iOS after all.  I turned my computer on and started iTunes so that I could listen to music.  With absolutely no prompting from me, iTunes found the iPhone and synced with it.  I don't know how well that will work repeatedly, but that was pretty darned awesome.  Yesterday it seemed buggy.  Who knows?
  2. It seemed like I went through the battery quickly.  I have my brightness turned way down, but I know the iPhone can chew through cellular data very quickly.  I've apparently chewed through 20MB already TODAY.  Well, that's not going to continue.  I've just turned off cellular data.  I can connect when I need to by turning it back on.  Still, that's a bit disturbing, as I have used no more than 100MB per month in the past two years.
  3. I realize that music listening is strongly subjective (which is why HydrogenAudio makes such a big deal of requiring double-blind tests), but I'd swear that my music sounded better in the car.
  4. At the same time, this particular case (the Ballistic one) has a small and inflexible hole over the 3.5mm headphone jack.  I had to buy several cords at both Best Buy and Target before I found one that has a small enough "grip" to fit through the hole.  Now I get to go take the others back tomorrow.  (I use a double-male 3.5mm cord to connect to the AUX jack in my minivan.)
  5. Siri isn't nearly as cool as I thought she would be, even if she does call me "Batman."
  6. I took some photos and videos with the camera, and as I write this I'm realizing I don't know how to get them off the iPhone.  I thought I'd told iTunes to sync photos, but apparently that's not what "syncing photos" means.  I'm off to Google how to do this, since it's not patently obvious to me...

    Oh, well.  I didn't realize that the iPhone would actually deign to show up in Windows Explorer as a camera.  There those photos and videos are.  That took all of thirty seconds to figure out.  Hooray.  Now, let's see how they look...

    Meh.  Blurry despite good lighting and tap-to-focus.  Color still seems washed out.  I guess I won't be replacing my point-and-shoot anytime soon for "important" photos.  What a disappointment.
Well, other than the annoyance of having to redownload all my content for the various apps (Nook, Audible, etc.), it sure seems like I've got a smartphone.  I have to say that it's not as "cool" as I'd hoped it would be.  It's not like I expected an iPhone to solve all my problems and make me popular or anything, but the feeling of "I don't have an iPhone and I'm missing out" that I've had for all this time seems to have been false.  It's a good smartphone, but it's not head-and-shoulders above modern Android, even if it is smoother than my two-year-old Samsung Captivate.

Now, I know some of you are out there reading.  Any thoughts or comments would be appreciated.

Switching from Android to iPhone 03: First Impressions

So, yeah... I'm switching from Android to iPhone.  I kind of thought I'd keep a little journal of what the switch is like and whether I'm likely to stick with it.

First Impressions
I've never owned an iPhone before, and I've always felt like a have-not because of it.  When they first arrived in 2007, they were WAY too expensive and too small in capacity, and I wasn't on AT&T anyway.  My wife got me an iPod Touch for Christmas that year (best present ever, BTW, because I wanted it so bad and didn't expect it at all), and that mitigated the lack of iPhone in my life.  Then, in 2010, the deal on Android was just too good to pass up, as previously discussed.

So here I am, getting an iPhone, and here's what I did and what I noticed:

  1. I put on a screen-protector and a rather bulky "ballistic" case.  Hey, the case was on clearance for $6 and I didn't have to wait for eBay.  I'm super paranoid about cases, especially after the dire warnings from the guy at AT&T when I didn't buy the insurance.
  2. With the case on, the phone's actually rather bulky.  I prefer the feel of my Galaxy S with its uber-cheap silicone eBay case.
  3. Syncing over wi-fi isn't as easy as it is with iSyncr WiFi.  However, cabled syncing is much easier and faster.  (That's not a knock on iSyncr, as iTunes + iPhone is a native connection.)
  4. I need several fewer icons on my home screen in iOS.  Instead of two browsers, two or three different email icons, an "Apps" button, etc., the iOS screen is far more streamlined.  Of course, that streamlining comes with a corresponding lack of choice, so...  Still, Safari works great.  iOS-native email works great with Yahoo!, which the Gingerbread client doesn't.
  5. Notifications are better on Android.  I can see that already.
  6. There isn't much context-sensitive stuff in iOS.  I miss the menu-button.
  7. I love being able to adjust my home-screen in iTunes so that I can use the mouse.
  8. I dislike having the icons automatically arranged for me.  Why can't I turn that off?  I like my custom-arrangements in Android.
  9. Why no widgets?
And with that, it's late.  #3 and #4 above surprised me the most, while 5-9 aren't particularly shocking.  More to come over the next few days, perhaps...

Switching from Android to iPhone 02: Current Options

So, yeah... I'm switching from Android to iPhone.  I kind of thought I'd keep a little journal of what the switch is like and whether I'm likely to stick with it.

Current Options
As of this writing in late July 2012, there are some super-powerful Android phones out there, and just one top-of-the-line iPhone.  I'm a power-user.  While I'm not as "power" a user as some out there among you internet readers, among my friends and acquaintances, I'm a major one, and for some of my friends, I'm the power-user.  I'm not going to settle for anything less than top-of-the-line to buy on contract, as using up an upgrade is a two-year decision in most cases.

The long and the short of it is this:  Android phones are too damn big.  I need to be able to dial comfortably one-handed.  I don't text-and-drive, but I do talk-and-drive sometimes.  If I can't dial one-handed, the unit fails as a phone.  I'm a very average-sized 5'10" with medium hands.  The Samsung Galaxy S III and HTC One X are just too big.  Their 4.8" screens do not fit properly in my hands.  If I could get the HTC One S from T-Mobile with its 4.3" screen, I might be in business, but that's as big as I'll go.

Of course, I also need storage, and Android has suddenly gotten weird with it.  I get by with the smallest data plan I can (I'm currently doing 200MB a month!), so streaming all sorts of stuff on HSPA+ just isn't in the cards.  32GB is the minimum.  The SGS3 has a microSD card slot, so that solves that problem, but it's too big.  The HTC One X is too big AND is limited to a strict 16GB.  Sorry.

The Android phones that are smaller and expandable are too old at this point.  I'm not going to stick myself on Gingerbread for another two years, so goodbye SGS2 and all variants.  I don't have much Motorola to go with, as they've been pretty much exclusive to Big Red all along.

So, if I want a current phone with a smooth and responsive OS that's under 4.3" and will be kept reasonably updated over the next two years, what's my option?  iPhone 4S.

Now, I know what some of you are saying:  "Wait for iPhone 5!  It's only two or three months away at this point!  It'll be a major upgrade!"  And you're right.  However, there are two reasons this doesn't convince me to wait:

First, I want an iOS device with the traditional dock-connector.  I have several iOS-compatible devices--soundbars, etc.--that I want to be able to use.  Buying a 4S gets me something that will work with those for years to come.

Second, contract-wise, I'm in a unique situation:  I was able to use another line's upgrade on my account to get my iPhone 4S.  I, personally, can upgrade again any time, so I can switch away from the 4S at any time:  today, tomorrow, or in October.  This is really important for me and (in this one case) for Apple, because here's the deal:

iOS has until Christmas to convince me to stay before I sell the 4S for a little profit and switch back to Android.  Some of the ICS updates will have actually happened by the end of the year, so I suppose it's possible that the Galaxy S2 Skyrocket, for example, will have been upgraded to ICS.  Maybe one of the manufacturers will come to its senses and realize that screens significantly larger than 4" are just too damned big for many people and that by not offering a top-of-the-line model in a smaller form-factor they're throwing customers away.

With all that in mind, I purchased an iPhone 4S tonight.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Switching from Android to iPhone 01: History

So, yeah... I'm switching from Android to iPhone.  I kind of thought I'd keep a little journal of what the switch is like and whether I'm likely to stick with it.

I've had a Samsung (Galaxy S) Captivate for the last two years, and it's served me well.  Before that I used the old combo of random cellphone + iPod Touch to work my digital life.  When I walked in to the AT&T store (AT&T is cheapest for me, believe it or not...) two years ago, I meant to buy a 32GB iPhone 4.  It was going to cost me $300 or more.  Instead, I walked out with a Samsung Captivate 16GB and promptly bought myself a 32GB memory card so that I had 16GB more storage than was available from Apple at the time.  Oh, yeah.  I also got the Samsung for $75 + $75 for the memory card, which was a fantastic deal at the time.

For the last two years, I've lived with a strange sense of iOS-envy.  Two years ago, Android wasn't as polished as it is now.  I currently own an Ice Cream Sandwich (4.01) based tablet, and I like it very much.  However, syncing my music was never nearly as seamless on Android as I'd have liked it to be.  I know many people hate iTunes, but I love it, personally.  I tried Doubletwist and Songbird to get away from it, but I couldn't. 

I eventually settled on a little program called iSyncr to get my Android phone to talk to iTunes.  I can't stress this enough:  JRTStudio, the developer of iSyncr, is a class act.  Considering the fragmentation that Android presents developers, they've never been anything but polite and helpful with any problems I've had, and I complain to those guys for even the smallest issue with iSyncr.  The program has improved by leaps and bounds, and it works just great on my ICS tablet while working quite well on my phone.

At the same time, I just felt out-of-the-loop by not having an iPhone or iPod Touch.  (I'd sold my iPod Touch G1 to a younger cousin of mine.)  It always seemed like iOS was smoother, easier, and all-around more efficient than the Gingerbread (2.3) that I was stuck with.  While Android 3 and 4 promised real improvement, I was stuck with 2.3 and its shortcomings.  I've been telling myself for two years that my next phone would be an iPhone, that I wouldn't skimp again.  I also decided it would be a kind of experiment to honestly compare both OSes.  I'm not a fanboy for either.  Android has some real advantages over iOS.  How would the two compare in my view?  I've been curious to find out.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Ultimate Universe is Dead to Me

The long and the short:  Ultimatum was a "Rocks fall, everyone dies" moment for anything good about that universe.  Everything else after that has been the rotting remains of a corpse.  FWIW, I'd be fine with Miles Morales in a different universe.  I'd have been fine with him showing up next to MayDay.  But the Ultimate Universe is that dead to me.  Just so everybody knows.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Avengers and Adoption: My Official Take

Some people don’t seem to understand the problem with Thor’s “He’s adopted” line from 2012’s The Avengers movie, so I’m going to explain it as concisely as I know how.  I’m also going to deal with some common responses and explain why they’re wrong.  Here goes:

Context:  Black Widow has just finished criticizing Thor for Loki’s actions, arguing that because they are from the same family, Thor might be just as dangerous and evil as Loki.  Thor’s response is, “He’s adopted.”  Now, there are about three different possible meanings to this so-called joke:
  • First:  “Loki is not truly part of my family because he was adopted.”
  • Second:  “Loki is a murdering fiend because he is adopted.”
  • Third:  “Blood will tell, and Loki’s race is responsible for his evilness.  I am not of that race, so I am superior.”
Every single one of those responses is used enough in relation to adoption and adoptees that they are old and tired clichés--clichés that have lost any so-called “humor” value--for many in the adoption community.  Just like not every racial joke offends every member of a given race, this joke does not offend every adoptee or adoptive parent.  However, that doesn’t make it inherently inoffensive or funny.

Imagine another tired cliché applied to any other long-suffering minority group.  Would that have made it through the movie without comment?  Could Captain America have noted that the helicarrier was infiltrated and nearly destroyed and then “jokingly” blamed it on Nick Fury with the words, “He’s black”?  Could Iron Man have noted that Black Widow sat cowering after being assaulted by the Hulk and then “jokingly” blamed her “cowardice” on the fact that “She’s a woman”?  When the dim-witted Hulk ended up trashing half the helicarrier, could Hawkeye have gotten away with dismissing the destruction with, “He’s retarded”?  Would any of those jokes, which make negative comments on an entire group’s very nature for “humor” value, have made it into the movie without some kind of comment?  some kind of outrage?

Keep those vile jokes in mind as I address some of the responses to the adoption community’s dislike of the line:

“Thor’s just making a joke.”

Okay.  Free speech and all that.  It’s important.  Granted.

But this wasn’t just any random person “just making a joke.”  It was Thor, who in many ways is the Marvel Universe’s answer to Superman.  Should we have Superman making jokes about race?   The Holocaust?  Gender?  Homosexuality?  Jesus?  The Prophet?  Abortion?   Would that go over well?

Also, Thor has spent one-and-a-half movies insisting that Loki is his “real” brother, adopted or not.  I have to say, I really appreciate both scripts’ approach in those scenes.  Why, then, does he all of a sudden turn his cloak here and make an adoption joke?  Aside from the offence that I feel, it’s a terribly inconsistent character moment.

“Thor’s just separating himself from Loki’s actions, that’s all.”

And he does this by emphasizing Loki’s adoption?  That’s his defense?  Not “If your brother sins, are you responsible?  Is your family?”  Not “Loki is seriously disturbed.  Helping him and protecting others from him is a family matter.”  Both of those responses would separate and defend Thor from association with Loki’s actions and be perfectly in character for Thor.  Instead, this line is hideously out-of-character for him.

“Loki’s a frost-giant!  It’s Norse mythology!  He’s naturally evil, and the joke is about THAT, not about adoption!”
If that were true, then the joke would have been, “He’s a Jotun” or “He’s a frost-giant.”  The joke as played in the movie isn’t a joke about Norse myth.  Virtually NONE of the back-story from Thor is presented in The Avengers.  It’s a testament to the overall quality of Joss’ writing that it doesn’t need to be--the movie stands on its own perfectly.  And yet, audiences are consistently cracking up to the line, which specifically uses the word “adoption.”  Conclusion:  It’s an adoption joke.  Figure it out.

“It’s just a comic book movie!  It’s just entertainment!”

You find jokes like this entertaining?  Comic book movies should be immune to social criticism?  Really?

“I’m adopted, and I’m not offended!”

Good for you.  Not every member of every group is offended by every joke.  Does that make the jokes not offensive?

“People are taking this way too seriously!  Grow up/Get thicker skin/Deal with it!”

I do have to wonder what would offend those who use this defense of the line.  SOMETHING would, I’ll bet.  I’ve met a lot of people who say, “It’s impossible to offend me” only to find out later that what they really meant was, “I only get offended when it’s IMPORTANT.  If I’m not offended, then it’s not important.”

It’s also necessary, I think, to recognize that few people are saying, “Joss has single-handedly ruined my life!  It’s all his fault!”  Instead, a lot of people are calling the line what it is:  a needless, throwaway, out-of-character joke at adoptive families’ expense.  They’re bothered by it, and they’d prefer the line not be in the movie.  They’re also surprised that a writer with an ear like Joss’ didn’t catch the negatives of this line, and they’re criticizing him for that, as well.

I hope that clarifies a few things.  As for me, I’m a little tired of talking about the whole issue, but people keep trotting out the same old excuses for this kind of junk that they have since… ever, and I’m tired of those excuses.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Joss Whedon's Avengers: Thor, Loki, and Adoption

I'd really like to thank Joss and company for including the "[Loki's] adopted" joke in the Avengers movie. It was really fun having my daughter in tears in the theater while the audience laughed at the fact that one of the big heroes basically said that Loki wasn't really part of his family because he's adopted. I really enjoyed having my family structure laughed at by a room full of people.

It was also extremely fun explaining to her afterwards that:
  1. some people are just ignorant and make jokes without thinking about how they hurt people;
  2. it wasn't really Thor saying it; it was the actor who went along with the line and and the writer/director who put it in there;
  3. the same guy who makes a tough, pro-female character like Buffy thinks it's okay to make fun of adoptees;
  4. Thor the character would have meant it when he called Loki "brother," but being "worthy" as Thor is, he wouldn't have meant the "he's adopted" joke;
  5. many people are ignorant and say mean things about stuff they don't understand, and many other people are ignorant and will laugh at mean things about stuff they don't understand.

I guess the next movie will make fun of Nick Fury for being black, the Black Widow for being a girl, and the Hulk for being the r-word, and Captain America will be the one making fun of people for things that they can't control and that don't determine their worth as human beings.