Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What Josh Reads: General

Ars Technica: Ars Technica is Latin for "technological art", and I think that describes the site well. They feature coverage across the tech spectrum, though I mostly read them for their reviews.

Boing Boing: This could have just as easily gone into my Geekery category. Cory Doctorow is an outstanding writer of both essays and fiction.One of the best sites online dealing with free speech tech, geek culture and whatever else they think might be interesting.

Cool Tools: They average about a post a day, highlighting useful or intriguing items that are generally pretty inexpensive.

Cracked:  Sometimes their articles are pretty good, but they are flawed enough (deliberately, I suspect) that they inspire a large volume of passionate discourse. They want eyeballs and controversy brings it. In essence, Cracked is trolling the Internet. And they're good at it. I don't begrudge anyone their success, but I do look askance at people who quote from Cracked articles to make a rhetorical point.

Flickering Myth: I have the vague recollection that another blog linked to Flickering Myth and the article was really good, to the extent that I subscribed to the feed immediately. I can't find that article and I wonder if I didn't imagine it. I don't know why I keep this in my feed.

Lifehacker: Extremely useful site full of tremendously useful advice. Handy resume advice, resume advice and general tips that don't fall into an other category.

PostSecret: From their descriptions: PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard. Some of them are absolutely heart-breaking.

Robotech News: All right. I love Robotech. But the feed is awful. I hear about Robotech cons a day before they start or a week after they end. What's the point?

RogerEbert Headlines: The site has really gone downhill since Roger Ebert died. But Ebert was one of a kind, a pulitzer prize winner and the first film critic to be awarded a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. The inheritors of the site are fine critics, but I can get film reviews anywhere. It's not an exaggeration to say that he defined film modern film criticism.

The Consumerist: Consumer Affairs blog. Reminds their readers twice daily that you're not obligated to show their receipt at the door, which is a rather odd subject about which to be so passionate.

You Are Not So Smart: About the fallibility of reason and our capability for self-delusion. Very well written and solidly researched, but updates on the site are infrequent.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hometown pride - Phillipsburg Edition

I find myself somewhat reluctant to post this, now that I've started writing under my real name.

Our small town is in the news again.Seven (white) high-school wrestlers posed for a photo with a lynched wrestling dummy. One of them is saluting the dummy while two have small cones under their hoods, so they look like Klansmen.

Here's a copy of the picture.

Reaction has been....predictable. Variations on, "I know these kids and they weren't up to anything malicious" from sympathetic students and "Political Correctness is out of control! It's getting to the point where a gang of white kids can't lynch a black dummy while dressed as sieg heiling klansmen without being called racist! Anybody who thinks this picture is racist is the REAL racist."

I certainly wouldn't want to be judged for the rest of my like for something I did when I was eighteen. I've done stupid things, and said offensive things. If you looked at me in the worst of my private moments, I'm sure you could find something that I said that paints me in a very bad light. Anyone, at his or her worst, looks bad.

That said, it's hard to interpret this photo as anything other than pretty fucking racist. It's hard to imagine anything that could possibly make it any more racist, other than adding some swastikas, an actual burning cross or that Nazi-saluting monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

That's not to say that these kids are themselves bad kids, or even racist ones. It's possible to have racism without racists. I don't know how someone can look at this picture and say, with a straight face, "Oh, he's not saluting. It's just sunny in the gym and he's shading his eyes." "Hoodies styled like KKK Hoods? No, there's just an updraft down there." (One thing I can agree with is their claim that the color of the dummy is probably incidental. Not that it makes the whole thing any better, but it prevents it from being any worse than it already was.)

I think that defense by the town is the real problem. This picture happened in a climate where, at best, the kids really don't see what the big deal is. Also, the whining after being suspended after the principal assured them that they would not be: ("When the photograph first surfaced, Principal Greg Troxell assured each of us individually in separate face-to-face meetings, and confirmed to our parents that while we would be disciplined in some manner, we absolutely were not going to be suspended from the wrestling team, and we were going to be permitted to wrestle in the individual championships. Now, for some reason, without further explanation, and despite our repeated unanswered inquiries, the school has done an about face." is not winning any sympathy.

"For some reason." Jesus. Could it be because our little town of 15,000 people is in the national spotlight and we look like a bunch of racist shitheads? It reminds me of nothing so much as a six-year-old whining "But, you promised!" when you tell her you can't take her to the park like you said because your car broke down. Circumstances change. We adapt.

Is the photograph racist? It's hard to argue that it's not. The lynching, the hoods, the salute. You could possibly rationalize any one of those elements, but the three of them together lead to a very clear theme.

Are the kids racist? I don't know. The picture was insensitive and showed monumentally poor judgement, certainly. I don't have a favorable impression of them based on that whiny "We're the real victims" lament, but being entitled doesn't make you racist, either. I'd stop short of calling a bunch of kids racist based on a single snapshot.

As I said above, I make mistakes, just like everyone else. And I believe in redemption. I wouldn't want to be judged by things I said ten or twenty years ago. I like to think I learn from my mistakes. But the first part of learning from a mistake is understanding why it's a mistake. I wouldn't have learned a lesson, if, every time I did something wrong, if my attorney issued a mealy-mouthed passive voice "He's-sorry-if-anyone-was-offended" apology on my behalf while other adults circled the wagons and vociferously attacked the very idea that there was any reason to apologize in the first place.

Except, that's not true, is it?

I would have learned a lesson. Just not a good one.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

What Josh Reads: Geekery

Items in my blog feed that I've categorized as Geekery.

All That Is Interesting: A somewhat boastful, but entirely accurate description of the site. Beautiful pictures of fascinating things, with some great commentary. Among the sites I share most with my friends.

Brain Pickings: Essays on the creative process, dealing with authors as disparate as Ben Franklin and Neil Gaiman.

concept ships: Beautiful images of ships from various SF properties.

Fraggmented: This could have just as easily gone in my blogging category as here. Written by John Seavey, author of the outstanding Gorilla Warfare, from the wonderful Feng Shui RPG. He expounds on a number of topics of interest to geeks. When he's good, he's positively inspired, and when he's not, the result is never worse than indifferent.

Geekosystem: Primarily a site that aggregates items of interest to geek culture. I can give or take their original content.

Global Nerdy: More focused on the tech end of tech geekery, an insightful and well informed blog

Letters of Note/Lists of Note: Another outstanding set of sites. They have a collection of astoundingly poignant lists/letters. I can't do them justice here. Almost everything here is worth reading and bookmarking.

Lovecraft eZine: The blog feed for the Lovecraft eZine. I'm biased, because they published my first story. In my opinion, they've really become the model for what magazines are going to be in the near future. Sure, they have stories, but they also have video interviews, google hangouts, chat forums and links to items of interest. Mike is taking advantage of everything the Internet has to offer. Worth checking out for even the casual Mythos fan.

Overthinking It: They have a regular podcast, which I can take or leave, but the real treat of this site is their essays, which are outstanding.

Roger Zelazny Criticism: Ahhh...psych! I searched for Zelazny feeds and this site came up, though, as far as I can tell, they've never had a post.

Runt Of The Web: Everyone on the Internet loves lists. Collections like The Absolute Best Of Tumblr, are the kind of fun Cracked promises but never delivers.

Science Fiction Times: Mostly silent now, but they were reviewing Zelazny's work with great regularity for a while.

Scott Edelman: I've kind of forgotten why I started following him. Scott Edelman is one of the best known science fiction editors, though his blog mostly deals with his wonderful pictures and vivid accounts of his meals.

The Mary Sue: Marred only slightly by their insistence in casting Benedict Cumberbatch in every role, the Mary Sue is possibly the most perfect site on the Internet. dealing primarily with the intersection of women and geek culture, though it's much more than that. They post often, and even if I've seen coverage of geeky news at another site, I'll still want to read the Mary Sue's coverage of it, because I find they simply do it better than anyone else.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Josh Reads: Comic Book Blogs, part 1

I read a large number of comic book/superhero blogs. Covering them here is a little tricky, because, with a few exceptions, they're similar in tone and there is quite a bit of overlap in material , and without checking, I wouldn't be able to tell you if a post came from Comics Alliance or ComicVine Site Mashup.
This is large enough to split into two parts.

13th Dimension, Comics, Creators, Culture: This is my most recent addition to my reading list. Another comics blog linked to it and I added it to my list. A good mix of commentary, interviews and reviews.

Again With the Comics: A solid blog, mostly commentary, that seems to be dead. It's one of those zombie feeds that hung around as I moved from reader to reader. Which is a shame, because I really enjoyed the writing.

Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun!: A fun mix of comic history and oddball features. (365 days of Kirby tech, 365 Days of DC House Ads) Just a fun site.

Comic Coverage: Another dead blog, though it's fun to swim in the archives.

Comics Alliance: Mainstream comics coverage. It's probably redundant, in that looking at the posts here, I don't see anything not covered by another feed,

Comics Are Awesome: Infrequently updated, lists and mini reviews.

Comics Should Be Good! @ Comic Book Resources: Another blog with reviews and commentaries, though with a tighter theme than most sites.

ComicVine Site Mashup: Good features marred by their terrible reviews. In particular, they love, Love, LOVE Tom Taylor's Injustice. I've never seen such effusive praise for such mediocrity since this quote about George W. Bush early in his presidency. "It must be very strange to be President Bush. A man of extraordinary vision and brilliance approaching to genius, he can’t get anyone to notice. He is like a great painter or musician who is ahead of his time, and who unveils one masterpiece after another to a reception that, when not bored, is hostile." I'd say that there should be some kind of disclaimer that that tells the reader that Tom Taylor is writing these reviews, except, that even though these puff pieces are the journalistic equivalent of a dog humping your leg, they're still many times better than Taylor's work on Injustice, and are therefore are unlikely to have been actually written by him.

DC Women Kicking Ass: Characterized by a large number of short posts. As the title suggests, it's about DC Comics women kicking ass and being awesome. A bit heavier on the Bat Family books than my personal preference, but always solid and not infrequently outstanding.

Dispatches From The Fridge: Le Sigh. Another dead blog.

Every Day Is Like Wednesday: Another site of reviews and commentary. While it covers much of the same material in the rest of the feed, it's very accessible and engaging. If I only read one review of a given comic, I would tend to prefer this sites.

Get-a-Life Boy's LSH Blog: Not dead, but sleeping, hopefully. A blog dedicated to chronicling the appearances of the Legion of Super-Heroes in a given week's comics. Since there are currently no Legion books being published, there is nothing to write about.

Gone & Forgotten: The first comics site I started following. Like a lot of people, I first heard about it when it was featured on National Public Radio's This American Life. It's switched locations a couple time, laid fallow for years and, in general, has died and been reborn more times than Jean Grey. As the title suggests, it's a site that looks at terrible comics and characters that are best forgotten, though it doesn't adhere to that theme as tightly as it did in the earlier days. It's updated with some frequency these days and definitely worth looking at.

Henchman Publishing: I see this blog moved in 2012. Good to know.

Jim Shooter: From the legendary editor himself. It was briefly very active in 2012, and now seems mostly dead. I really enjoyed it. Shooter has a writing style that really appeals to me, and his behind the scenes reminisces were really a lot of fun to read. I hope he returns to the blog someday.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

These moments will be lost in time, like tears in snow

Like any family, we have our good days and our bad days. On paper, this is a bad day. A solid foot of snow on top of the stuff that was already there. (Up to seven more inches coming overnight!) Another day for which neither Jen nor I will get paid. Another day of school missed for Lily, who was loudly proclaiming that she was booorrrrrrreeeeddddd!!! by seven a.m. I'm achy and sore and just worn out.

And yet...

Jen and I shoveled in shifts, with one of us inside while the other was outside doing the shoveling. Jen took a morning shift, and Lily and I made her some pancakes. We used some of the lemon-pepper chocolate in the pancakes and then surprised mommy with breakfast in bed.

One of the very first things about Jen with which I fell in love was how enthusiastic she gets about some things. From the very first day I met her, I thought she had the most beautiful eyes and I love the look she gets in them when she gets excited. We brought her the pancakes and she pretended to be surprised (but seriously, a grown woman does tend to be suspicious when her husband and daughter hustle her back into bed at eight a.m.) and she got that expression as she tasted the chocolate and the wonderful machine behind those remarkable eyes buzzed and whirred as it tried to figure out what that flavor was.

And I was happy, and I told Lily that making mommy happy makes me happy, and she said it makes her happy too. It's nice to see your good traits reflected in your kids. And we were talking later in the day, and I asked Lily what are good traits for the President to have. She stopped to think and she was really turning it over in her head. "Patient..." she said, "and not shy...generous...and nice...and good with crowds." She got that same faraway look that Jen gets.

And even later, when Jen was taking a quick nap after her second round of snow shoveling, I was watching a movie with Lily. (Lemonade Mouth, surprisingly good.) She had seen it before. Now, the thing Lily hates above all is seeing someone embarrassed. She knew such a scene was coming up and she looked away, as she always does. Except this time, she watched the reflection of the scene in my glasses. Jen will sometimes do the same thing for frightening scenes in scary movies.

I was suddenly overcome by such an inexpressible feeling a love for her. Kids are the sum of their parents, of both the experiences we share with them and of those traits they biologically inherit from us, both for good and for ill. Lily had certainly never seen Jen do this; she would have never been in the room while we were watching a movie that would cause Jen to do it, but whatever combination of nature and nurture in Jen's character that had caused her to think of this tactic was also present in Lily.

Like I said, on paper, this was a bad day. Too often, we concentrate on the needs of the now, and the snowfall and the shoveling and another cancellation all fuse together and we just call it a bad day that's the only thing we remember about it.  But I think I'm going to carry this moment with me for the rest of my life. If I'm someday old and senile and I'm calling Lily's granddaughter by her name in a nursing home somewhere, I'll still have that moment.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What Josh Reads: Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a comparatively small category for me. I only have four sites dealing with it specifically in my feed (though, as it's significant part of geek culture, many of the sites I follow have posts about Dr. Who from time to time.)

Does Steven Moffat Still Suck? How can you not love a site with this name? From the site: "Follow for updates on if Steven Moffat still sucks. Which he does."

Not a Dead Communist: I was searching for reviews of the first Doctor Sourcebook and I came across one at this site. This site, and the reviews my friend Jen writes over at Reversing the Polarity, have done what I would have thought impossible. They've actually piqued some interest in the adventures of the First Doctor. He has a number of posts about the individual companions for each Doctor, but in the context of a role-playing game, speculating as what behind the scene pressures would have led to the creation of the Brigadier as a PC in a Doctor Who campaign. It's an entirely novel approach that I've never seen elsewhere, and it provides a unique perspective on the characters and the seasons in which they appeared.

Philip Sandifer: Writer: Probably the most intellectual analysis of Doctor Who on the net today, with trenchant, literate examination of most episodes of NuWho and every existing episode of Classic Who. Marred somewhat by his bizarre defense of Moffat's feminism, but otherwise outstanding.

Whovian Feminism: I was at a friend's party, and I started talking to her brother's girlfriend about Doctor Who blogs, as happens in all the best parties. She recommended Whovian Feminism. I checked it out when I got home, and it was just outstanding. Very cogent and absolutely relentless in defense of its thesis.

Friday, February 7, 2014

What Josh Reads: Blogs, part one

As promised. This is largest individual category with about sixty entries, though I'll be omitting some of them, either because they deal with strictly personal subject matter or they're no longer updated.

Because of the large number of entries in this category, I'll break it into into several individual posts and stagger them between the other categories. Alphabetically, we have:

A Principal's Reflections: A blog from a grade school chum who went on to become a principal and who recently published his first solo book. I like it because it's by a subject matter expert in an area about which I know little, and I always enjoy hearing about topics directly from the experts, without having their words filtered through an intermediary.

Adventurous Endeavors: A blog by my friend Phil, the Amish Stallion, similar to this one. He writes about random stuff, video games and tabletop RPGs.

Aletheia's Herald: Aletheia is a Greek word that's been translated several different ways. (From Wikipedia: is a Greek word variously translated as "unclosedness", "unconcealedness", "disclosure" or "truth". The literal meaning of the word ἀ–λήθεια is "the state of not being hidden; the state of being evident" and it also implies sincerity, as well as factuality or reality.) This blog is maintained the brother of my friend Karen, the one who loves giraffes. I like it quite a bit, as he deals with video games and science fiction (including some posts specifically about Roger Zelazny), but it's been quite a while since it's been updated. Still, it's fun to dig through the archives.

Bloggety Blog: This is Trent Zelazny's blog. He's been very clear that he doesn't want to cash in on his father's fame, and I have to respect that. Although I enjoy his fiction, that sentiment is the main reason I haven't covered his works here, because I think that would give the impression that I was only covering it because of that connection, and he deserves better than that. I like his writing on the blog a lot as well, and it's worth checking out even if you don't know his fiction.

By Ken Levine: Not the Bioshock Ken Levine, but the Ken Levine who wrote for M*A*S*H and Cheers. Another blog with a fun, conversational tone.

Dean cameron: I really enjoyed him in "They Came from Outer Space", a low-budget TV show from the 90s about two brothers from the Planet Crouton I liked his writing a great deal at first, but less so as he descneded deeper and deeper into liberterian territory.

Design Matters: A blog by my friend Seth about the fashion industry. I read it for many of the same reasons as I read A Principal's Reflections. It's a comprehensive but accessible look at an area about which I know little.

Diary Of Amy Rigby: AMY RIGBY HAS THE BEST BLOG EVER!! Anybody want to hear the story of how I saw her open for Warren Zevon again?!

(I saw her opening for Warren Zevon back in the 90s, and she really struck me as a classy act. She was doing her pre show banter. She's like, blahblahblah, it's an honor to be touring with Warren Zevon, and somebody in the audience shouts out, "ARE YOU SLEEPING WITH HIM?!" and she goes on like she hadn't heard, and I was thinking that she probably gets that shit at every show, and it's a testament to her character that she still keeps touring.)

She's one of those performers (like Zevon himself to a certain extent) who just deserves to be more famous than she is. I love her songs, and her writing for the blog is just phenomenal.

Ephemeris Arturianam monumentum transferens: This is a blog by my friend Doctor Greg, PhD. He must thank his stars every day that the title wasn't already taken by another professor of Mordred studies. I enjoyed reading it, but this is another blog that only lives on through its archives.

Gaming with the Gnomies: What a piece of work is a Gaming with the Gnomies! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The Viscount is my Call of Cthulhu GM for our biennial game sessions. He writes about that, and wargaming and topics of general geekery as well.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

What Josh Reads

I've been jotting down the occasional note for a blog post, but I haven't fleshed out any of them to the point where I want to put them out there just yet. So, rather than be creative on my own, I thought I'd share a list of the blogs that I follow, kind of a "If you like 'Where there had been Darkness', you'll love 'Reversing the Polarity'!"

I follow a large number of blogs, broken down into the following categories:

  • Blogging: Entries in this category are generally people I know or wish I knew, and are similar in presentation to this blog, in that they are conversational in tone and may have a specific topic, but they cover items of personal interest as much as the official topic of the blog.
  • Comics: Comic book and superhero culture, which are increasingly separate things. 
  • Doctor Who: A couple of blogs looking at Doctor Who, new series and old.
  • Geekery: For items that are geeky, but not Doctor Who, Comic Books, RPGs or Video Games.
  • General: Any items that don't fit into other categories. 
  • Humor: Stuff that I find funny. 
  • Law: Legal issues, mostly the US Supreme Court.
  • Local: A couple website covering local news, both for where I live and where I work.
  • Politics: Politics, mostly national.
  • Role playing: Tabletop role-playing.
  • Science: Skeptical websites primarily. 
  • Video Games: Computer, console and MMORPG.
  • Web Comics: I don't read a lot of web comics, but I think they're an interesting form of expression, and they're so uniquely what they are that I gave them their own category. 

In the coming days, I'll look at the blogs in each category and briefly discuss why they appeal to me. I welcome any comments about blogs you follow too!