Friday, July 18, 2014

The Yoot Tower Movies Revealed!

Back in November, we revealed the missing movies of The Tower II from which I found. Now, for the first time ever, you can view those videos yourself in a real game.

But before I go revealing a link of which you can use these, some notes:

1. These are for Windows only. I cannot yet find the Mac version. Sorry.

2. Yoot Tower has a plug-ins folder, of which they can be used to cooperate with the game. It would probably be safer if you installed them in a separate folder and put them in the plugins yourself.

3. Everything is in (mostly) Japanese. I don't know Japanese either.

4. You are largely on your own! I was able to extract it as a separate folder and copy the movie files elsewhere. If you have success in installing them in a real Yoot Tower game, please write in the comments. Perhaps if one person does it, the rest of you can get advice at doing it.

If you understand all of that, the download link is here. Good luck!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pac Rarities

This is an old ad I found when my mother was digging through old stuff. I have no idea of the context of this: it's probably early 1980s and the magazine isn't gaming, the reverse side talks about Christmas cookies and refers to a page 155. I have no idea if it's supposed to be part of a series either. The page when I got it was in bad shape (but complete), but subsequent time in storage caused it to tear. I taped back some parts, and I remember that the missing dialogue involved "This iceberg's being hijacked to Greenland" (that's what I remember when I got the page a few years ago, as little sense as it makes). "OK, Clyde, you've finally won. Take the Energizers!" (by the way, they're referring to what turns ghosts blue, not the battery)

(speaking of Pac-Man, this interpretation is hilarious and depressing)

Any help on this comic, where it came from, and it's context, would be appreciated.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Time for a new project

Once again, I'm moving to scuttle another "review" post I was doing, this time on the Chronicles of Narnia. Part of the reason is there's not really not a lot to say that hasn't already been said: like the mysterious disappearance of Caspian's cousin or the inconsistency involving dwarves, or the allegorical Christian themes that become too hard to ignore by the end. The other reason was my notes were approaching a few pages and these types of things are really really boring.

So in the end what I ended up doing was taking a break from Brazos Buildings & Businesses to work on other pages on this site, particularly getting other parts of this site better. I updated the Games list, adding Glider PRO and a few other old EWOG stuff, as well as working on the On the Road section, fixing up the Northwest Freeway page to a reasonable state again (I still haven't added back in that demolished office tower), launched the MacAddict index, and even made in-roads toward that webcomic I've always talked about (not yet). The improvements I made the site are enjoy that!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

On blogging

You'll notice I haven't put anything on the blog recently, at all, not even a review of 2001: A Space Odyssey which I finally watched, but aside from the cultural references ("I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that") it really takes far too long, with long sequences with almost nothing happening, characters that are introduced and never seen again, blatant breaking of any space protocols (like talking while doing work outside the craft) and an ending that makes no sense. After all, Stanley Kubrick was a total madman. Part of this is I feel it's useless to complain, fairly useless to post personal memories or thoughts, etc etc. Heck, I rarely even post on Facebook these days, and my most recent posts have been mostly been food-related posts (sangria, chicken and waffles)

However, not all is lost, as I've been updated other parts. I've been back updating Brazos Buildings & Businesses after an extended hiatus, am updating the games list with new titles, namely Eric the Unready, which I disliked, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which I really liked, though as of the publication of this blog post, there's no link to the Zelda page from the Games page.

Since finishing Console Wars, I've stalled out on good books. Neuromancer struck out, and while trying to (re?)read The Chronicles of Narnia isn't a bad deal, they go by too quickly and I still wish I could get something truly engrossing like Console Wars again, which actually made me dislike the 'Net for a while.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Console Wars

Despite some particularly crushing news in the "I'm looking for a job" front (the place where I worked last year rated me as "mediocre" and ineligible for rehire), I finished Console Wars, a great 540+ page tome my brother bought me as a gift. It recounts the early part of the 1990s from Sega's POV and the team, led by former Mattel exec Tom Kalinske as they went to battle with the Big N and almost ended up winning. It's a tale of underdogs, the creation of Sonic (particularly humorous is the amalgamation that Sonic was conceived of: no spoilers) but instead of winning the big game in the end or at least a moral victory, it also has the fall of Sega: the constant battles with Sega of Japan, the rise of Sony, and how Nintendo was the hated rival (or at least rival) that got hurt before it fought back.

While it ends with Sega's loss following the botched release of the Sega Saturn and talks about a great variety of video game related subjects in that particularly heady area (and of course, since Sega is the "protagonist", it's more on them than the Big N), it also vindicates Tom Kalinske and the rest of Sega of America from Sega's more terrible choices (32X, the early Saturn launches). It also appears to give Sega more praise than it was worth, despite Sega really forcing Nintendo to play their hand and truly make a real video game industry instead of an expensive toy, it downplays what Sega did best: after all, Sega Genesis was really a rather poor system, and because it was released a few years earlier before the SNES it was absolutely inferior in every way, but they managed to make it work thanks to an innovative new game (Sonic The Hedgehog, of course) and some rather effective marketing (like the fictional "Blast Processing" compared to SNES's Mode 7).

It also made me realize why Sonic hasn't been doing too well in the last 10 years or so, compared to Mario, despite being long in the tooth, still manages to make money: Sonic was conceived as a "cooler" alternative to Mario. But while Mario is fairly timeless, Sonic just feels too much like a product of the era and was never able to really shake that impression.

All in all, I really loved it, although I wish that there was something like it for the rest of the console wars that followed. In the bittersweet ending, Sony's PlayStation goes onto a big success, but it doesn't even get to the release of the N64, which does not fare too well either against the PlayStation either. The other intriguing thing is that while Sony and Nintendo had parted ways soon after the "SNES CD" debacle (which isn't discussed terribly deeply, either, and why Philips didn't make an add-on to the SNES instead of Nintendo licensing their most valuable characters for Philips to mangle, isn't discussed), Sega had tried to court Sony to release a 32-bit console together, and that actually came close to happening. Imagine if they did. That would definitely put Nintendo in the dust.

I wondered if in pursuit of the 32-bit partner, if Sega had ever contacted Apple, which could've resulted in a far better console than with the Pippin.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Road trip stuff failures

One of my random memories from childhood include a book that may probably still be in the attic--it involved "Things to do on long road trips". Written in the days before you could entertain kids for hours with some Disney DVDs and probably designed for the unfortunate souls who cannot manage to read a book in a car (especially if you're in a place with bumpier highways--I remember how in Louisiana the road would be a systemic ka-thump-ka-thump-ka-thump as it ran over concrete sections.

Many of these things don't work properly on Interstate highways if at all, so any trip involving that was out of luck. These often included road sign findings and other businesses, but the way Interstates are designed you'll only see large commercial developments (malls and their ilk, including chain restaurants) if anything at all. There was also using stoplights by watching the other light turn red so you could accurately say "CHANGE" and watch the light turn green again.

I got the feeling it was made in the UK (no Interstates, a much smaller place to travel over all) since it was a UK publisher and had other idiosyncrasies like lights being "amber" instead of "yellow".

The old quote "Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel across the country from coast to coast without seeing anything" from Charles Kraut does work here.

Anyway, just putting this out there in case anyone remembers it.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

A review on Captain America: The Winter Soldier which I watched a few years ago, which I felt was better than the previous few films from the Marvel Avengers juggernaut--it didn't create more problems than it solved (Thor: The Dark World) or didn't focus on the adventures of a superhero with PTSD (Iron Man 3). Captain America: The Winter Soldier still follows the kinda-depressing post-Avengers problems with more on the personal problems of the superheroes, and stuff does happen in this film, with a large part of the plot figuring out who the real villains are and focusing on Cap and Black Widow as they drive around Cleveland (er, greater "Washington D.C." area) while evading a revived HYDRA. While not affecting the greater problems of the storyline, there's too many places where CATWS breaks the Willing Suspension of Disbelief makes it even less plausible than is acceptable for a superhero movie. OK, so Cap himself managed to get himself injected with a super serum that makes him go from a shrimp to well, Captain America, and gets frozen for over 70 years, sure let's go with that. But when you ask some insane things like:

- The Winter Soldier himself is Bucky Barnes, missing and presumed dead by everyone else. While cryogenic freezing is used on him as well, he's been active, shaping history by carrying out assassinations. You'd think that freezing/thawing wouldn't be too good on the body and aging (it certainly isn't good for food), as opposed to Captain America, who was frozen once and thawed. Try to not keep in mind that both men are in their late 90s but still fight like they're in their early 30s

- S.H.I.E.L.D. is a top-level government agency but they weren't aware that HYDRA had been infiltrating it and influencing it for decades? This is even more egregious since S.H.I.E.L.D. gets the best toys that the Armed Forces, the CIA, and the FBI never get.

- Absolutely no one at S.H.I.E.L.D., including the Avengers, Nick Fury, the late Phil Coulson before he died, and the President of the United States never really figured this out? I mean, they have to learn all this from Arnim Zola, who transferred his mind to a series of 1960s-era databanks, which presents another problem. It's clear that someone has been going down there, seeing how he's been upgraded at some point with a USB port, but those tapes deteriorate. Wouldn't it be better if someone replaced those parts? And he's apparently destroyed by HYDRA as collateral damage--wouldn't it make sense to make backups of him?

So yes, it has problems. A lot of problems. It was still fun, though!

In the meantime, I'm going to be upgrading the "non-blog" components of this site, including...

• A dedicated page for Games
• A semi-professional page for On the Road
• A collection of scans and other fun stuff, some from TWR
• A new project I'm working on

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Super Mario Brothers

Happy Easter, everyone, there's a few updates I want you to be aware of: there's not a lot of work done to trying to finish up school (which is sadly why the full-scale webcomic I'm planning is on hold, partly), but I'd like to share my feelings with a film I saw recently (no, not Captain America: The Winter Soldier: that was actually pretty enjoyable, but that's for another time). This is far older: the 1993 live-action Super Mario Bros. movie starring John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, and Bob Hoskins.

Super Mario Bros. is a great example of how difficult it is to mash a video game's plot (oftentimes simple and inane as the Mario series is) to adapt to a movie (and the mainstream crowd). There is another discussion on the whole "video game movies" genre, including the Hollywood/video game culture clash, and probably mention both Uwe Boll and Raul Julia, though in completely different terms.

The Super Mario Bros. movie is silly, stupid, confusing, and inconsistent. It's fine to take some liberties when designing movie characters, but what they did was just sad. So the plotline is that millions of years ago, when the meteor hit and all the dinosaurs were destroyed, not all of them were, creating a parallel dimension where dinosaurs evolved into humanoid creatures and live in a dystopia called "Dinohattan", surrounded by desert.

You'd really have to watch it in some way or another to really get what I'm talking about (and that includes you Nintendo fans, everyone else can ignore it), but aside from the obvious nitpicks, which are there many: why is Bowser Dennis Hopper with blonde cornrows and referring himself as "Koopa" (like all the DIC Mario cartoons did)? If they were using the Japanese name of Bowser (which is "Koopa"), then why did they use Daisy as the heroine instead of Toadstool, whose Japanese name was always "Peach"? Where's Luigi's moustache? Why is it that the Mario Bros. don't even get their iconic costumes until halfway through the film, and that's still only loosely based? If "Dinohattan" evolved separately from the "human world" then why do they speak English and have human mannerisms and culture? If "Dinohattan" is in another dimension, why is it underground, while the surrounding desert has a sky? And once you get done, there are even more questions--why is Toad, post-devolution into a Goomba, still helping our heroes? If Daisy really is of the dinosaur world, shouldn't she have noticed she has an aversion to cold, or something?

There are major problems with it, and the film ends with a sequel hook when Daisy shows back at the door (resembling Ripley) asking for the Mario Brothers' help once more. "You're not going to believe this" she asks in a take straight out of Back to the Future, and we never find out what this was, until a webcomic written with one the original writers started to be published in 2013, and is still ongoing as of this writing (see here). The webcomic attempts to explain what exactly the problem was as well as try to patch the more confusing elements of the movie.

This doesn't save other parts though--the lead actors were given a different script that wasn't the one that was really filmed, the film's pacing still isn't great (remember when I said that the "Mario and Luigi" costumes don't come into play some 66 minutes into the film?), and the whole thing feels a bit strange.

For more mixed feelings on Mario, check out the newly-added page for New Super Mario Bros. which is not yet added to the Games Page as I'm planning to do a significant revamp to it which won't be hosted on Blogspot.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

006 - College Life

Probably the last comic I'll do in this style, as the current blog format isn't very accepting toward pictures, I'm starting to work on a new series with a grounded setting and better art. I also found that AppleTree did close a store in Austin in 1990, which was long before the bankruptcies hit, so I'll have to basically scrap the format I have and start over, or at least modify it.

Friday, March 28, 2014

005 - Getting Served

Exaggerated, and not exactly what happened, but still something.

In other news, a lot of the pages have been updated. Here's what's new:

- The Games page has Spectre added to the main page. I deliberately did not add Evil Genius, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or either of the SimCity games. Those I want to do something special with.
- I went ahead and updated the AppleTree, Kmart, and 290 demolition lists. None of which I really did what I wanted to with, but they're there. The AppleTree list mostly has the Waco locations, which all became Winn-Dixie stores before going onto new lives (a closed supermarket, medical offices, and Atwoods)

Friday, March 21, 2014

004 - At the Video Game Store

Based on a true story. The only thing I changed was some dialogue and my reaction.

Speaking of which, I do plan on updating the Games and other sections above, but I'll wait until I complete a bunch of stuff, then batch-upload it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Break and Other Stories

I've only gone to Dallas just a few times, the first one that I remember a decade ago and one other since. So I got to Dallas again. While I sadly didn't take a lot of pictures or explore enough off of the downtown and surrounding neighborhoods to gauge which is a better city (important to note that Houston is much, much larger geographically while Dallas is hemmed in by suburbs), there are a few notes to take.

- Watched Joe Versus the Volcano, one of the last comedies Tom Hanks did before Philadelphia (see: "Tom Hanks Syndrome"). If you haven't seen it, it's a light comedy with some stabs at how miserable being a working stiff can be (however, it's only at the beginning but is undoubtably the best part of the film). If you have seen it, it has an awfully high body count for what could arguably count as a romantic comedy.
- Went downtown via DART and explored. Ate a hot dog from a food truck on top of Klyde Warren Park, an urban park built over a depressed freeway.
- I also saw the Dallas Museum of Art, which I didn't explore all of (the museum is about four floors, and they actually recommended taking the elevator, though because of a continually ramping first floor isn't at all difficult without elevators). One of my favorite paintings was something called "Sardine" (that one with the cat) by Charles Webster Hawthorne though I can't find anything on the Internet nor even the museum's website about it. Very strange.

I also went to a Fiesta store, which was more of a Hispanic-oriented supermarket than the stores I'm typically used to. There was cheap apple fritters and torta bread (both delicious), some interesting meat products (including a tub of pork fat, which was very greasy, even on the outside), and a little packet of dried shrimp that cost $5 (that I didn't buy, but the apple fritters and torta, yes)

I saw many unique and awesome things along the trip (including some very interesting gas stations) but I'm glad to be home again.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

003 - Spitting Image

This one I drew a few weeks ago but never got around to posting it (still learning my way around image editing programs). I have some better ones coming up, some of which are based on real life, some not.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Hyrule Historia

While I am still playing The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, I recently read the entirety of Hyrule Historia, a tome that Nintendo released a few years back. It is wonderful, yet leaves you wanting more. Let me explain. There are three main sections of the book: a lot on Skyward Sword (which I have NOT yet read, need to play it first!) the storyline and the design documents/artwork. The storyline obviously includes all of the games (except the Zelda CD-i games for obvious reasons), which starts with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, then The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap, Four Swords, Ocarina of Time, then splits into three with the "Hero's Defeat" line (A Link to the Past, Oracle series, Link's Awakening, and the two NES Zelda games), what happens when Link continues as a child (Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess, Four Swords Adventures, or the Adult Link era (The Wind Waker, Phantom Hourglass, and Spirit Tracks).

As interesting is that is, it still feels pretty loose, and I can't shake the feeling that the whole thing was cribbed from fan theories (a similar timeline was created by a fan just prior to when this was released, incidentally). Too many races appear and disappear--the Rito and Zora really shouldn't be connected, the Minish should've gone extinct, the lineages of the Master Sword and the Four Sword (the Oracle Series is after Link to the Past, but the Master Sword is supposed to sleep forever after that--made even more jarring in the fact that it's the same Link, although you could argue that putting the Master Sword back "forever" was after the Oracle series). It's pretty obvious that they had no idea what they were doing when they made it, and the increasing "where it fits" every time a game was released make it problematic.

TVTropes states that "The fact that the official timeline presents about as many problems as the average fan timeline is an example of how snarled the series' continuity is. The reason for this is probably that in many cases, not even the games' developers seemed to be aware of the timeline placement of the game they were working on, especially when it comes to the games developed by Capcom."

But there's also some design artwork, including crazy things you didn't notice. Besides some sketches that indicated the developer team liked Tingle way more than you or me (lots of detail there--including some notes on his chest hair), there's also the relation between Ambi and Ralph (spoiler alert--Ambi is Ralph's ancestor, which plays a role in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, but in the official art, their eyebrows are identical. There's also some early design for the dungeons in the original NES Zelda. All of these are fascinating--and given how secretive Nintendo generally is, seeing this probably required a lot of pulled strings.

There's some stuff missing--they talk about "rare Zelda games", such as the The Legend of Zelda: Collector's Edition title and the BS Legend of Zelda games (Satellaview). And while Nintendo would rather forget the CD-i games ever happened, there's no mention of Link's Crossbow Training (which was to be a full "gaiden game" akin to Majora's Mask), nothing on the "third game" of what would be the Oracle series, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master Quest (much less Ura Zelda), or even the very strange Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland? It would've been cool to see some Zelda paraphernalia as well over the years (remember the Zelda board game? No?)

I'd love to see stuff for other video game series (SimCity, Pokémon) but we can't have everything...

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Consoles and PC Games, and why the former is dying

I have been of the camp since 2011 (when I gave up for good my unrequited love of Nintendo and faced the future) that the PC is superior to consoles in nearly every way. There's a lot of talk about the "death of consoles", and I don't think that mobile devices are to blame in any way for that (otherwise we would've surrendered to Game Boy and its descendants a long time ago), consoles are killing themselves.

Back in the 4th and 5th generation of video games (the 1990s, from the SNES and Genesis to the N64, PlayStation, etc.), while playing games on DOS or Windows computers did offer a ton of variety and could offer superior graphics than the console offerings at the time, required mucking around with settings to make them run properly, while the other consoles required just a disc or cartridge and you could be off in new worlds in minutes.

In the 6th generation, things got more complicated for consoles, offering new menu features and still loading off of discs. After the GameCube failed to impress, the Xbox and PS2 moved ahead with new features like hard drives, Internet connections, and ultimately patches, which would make them more complicated but also ended up killing what they did best--the plug and play experience. With patches, it allowed developers to use console gamers (much like PC gamers had done) as unpaid beta testers, and everything got worse. Meanwhile, online play undermined the experience of more than one person playing on the TV (you can't do that on a PC), which Nintendo continued to capitalize on and run with when others had abandoned it. It makes even less sense that while N64 and PlayStation utilized split screen, today's consoles are fast enough to run split screen with no lag, and today's televisions can easily give a decent split screen experience that is clear, crisp, and large enough to see comfortably. Meanwhile, as consoles continue to evolve into less of a game console and more of a set-top box that expands the use of your TV, it should make sense that they ought to be more usable than a traditional computer. But I don't make the rules, I just play the games. In the meantime, I can hope I can install the proper drivers so that the PC side of my MacBook isn't a 16-color, 640x480 nightmare. I just downloaded the latest version of the "Network Add-On Mod" for SimCity 4. I heard they included BRT, too. That's cool.

Friday, February 14, 2014

002 - Sad Mario at a bar

It's just a sketch I made about a week ago. It means nothing.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

001 - Navi is Annoying

This was a sketch (unimproved) I did at least three years ago (if not longer). The whole "Navi is annoying" thing has mostly died down (there must've been rage on those late-1990s message boards), but I still enjoy the concept, especially the fact that Link maintains being silent until the last panel.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Comics and webcomics

So I was recently re-reading Calvin & Hobbes, a comic strip that ran for a bit over a decade in American newspaper. As I continue to age, it gets better each time and makes me wish it run a bit longer. I'm not going to go into a full description of it, because there's the Wikipedia page and you probably have already read it before, and if not, you should.

Hidden beneath the facade of Calvin, Hobbes, and his zany adventures both in his imagination and the "real world" was all sorts of commentaries on popular culture (nothing specific to the 1980s, but there was a lot of stuff on the way television has affected people's lives), opinion polls (I think that C&H was the first to use "[something]gate" as a byword for a scandal long before the media picked it up), philosophy (after all, they are named after philosophers), and a lot of criticism on the newspaper comic industry itself. There were a few strips on taking care of the environment but it never got too preachy or heavy-handed. Part of the intrigue of the comic strip is it's never really clear if Hobbes is real (as well as the other things that come about in the strip: vengeful baseballs and bikes, Calvin's inventions) or if it's all Calvin's imagination (there's evidence either way to support it).

But since Calvin & Hobbes is no longer in print (and I've exhausted the collections), as well as other great comic strips (FoxTrot was great, too, but it eventually switched to a Sunday-only comic strip with mostly pop-culture/nerd jokes, not the full strip like before), but since the local newspaper never even carried FoxTrot, it too was mostly limited to collections. The rest of the newspaper strips are pretty unremarkable at best.

A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon and was big into The Comics Curmudgeon which mercilessly skewers the oft-inane newspaper comics but I eventually dropped it, partially because I wasn't able to read the comics that I wanted to read (the Chron used to have the best comics page, with minimal ads and a build-your-own page—now, they don't even have few archives anymore), and most of it was just bad-bad. There's only so much you can take of stuff like Funky Winkerbean even when you're making fun of it. In that time frame, Brenda Starr and My Cage were axed, terrible comics like Reply All were given syndication, and Dick Tracy went from a hilariously awful trainwreck to what amounts to basically Dick Tracy fanfiction (with improved art!)

With the exception of maybe Brawl in the Family and Piled Higher and Deeper I've never really found a webcomic with consistent characters that I've liked enough to follow and archive-binge to follow it through. I've tried numerous strips and either found them too boring or too obnoxious, or both.

There are tons of comic strips today that are political commentaries, but most of them discount (or outright discard) humor, wit, or telling a good story in favor of commentaries that have the subtlety of an rhinoceros and are often extremely mean-spirited (inexplicably, these tend to be pretty popular ones--and no, the TVTropes article on the subject just covers the most blatant examples). The whole webcomic "industry" is pretty iffy too, with nearly every "big" webcomic (even if they still have a day job, which indicates that they haven't made it big--making it big in webcomics means you can sell the merch/ads) with a host of problems.

You could play "Bingo" with most of these problems: the author has a massive superiority complex, they oversexualize women, they indulge their own socio-political views and sexual fetishes, and go for the "Cerebus Syndrome" case in which webcomic authors (often unsuccessfully) try to take the strip into more "serious" territories. As egregious as some of these things are, they're common traps. And it's not just webcomics (though they are more extreme), it's in mainstream comics too.

Oh, and on that last thing, the "Cerebus syndrome", named after an indie comic book series that veered from a parody into an incredibly complex and dark series. While this isn't always pulled off badly in webcomics, it, along with webcomics that do try to pull off the "serious" stuff from the beginning, it always has the effect of a graphic novel that only displays one page at a time and will eventually stop. Half the time it doesn't make any sense as the pages were designed to be one page a day, not in a single sitting. This was noted when I was glancing through that Captain Easy book, which, while decades old, runs into the same problem.

But I'm not here to complain about the lack of good webcomics (or newspaper comics, for that matter), I want to talk about making webcomics myself, which has long been a plan of mine, mostly ending in failure. There were a few attempts launched on and offline. There was a whole spin-off blog from Two Way Roads attempted before I even knew what I was going to do. The idea was that it could be used as a repository for sketches before going into "real" comics (the early days of xkcd are like this), but it never took off. There were a few MS Paint drawings of my reactions to community college that I posted and later removed. There was a series called "The Ex-Fanboy", which would take a look at various video games and video game companies. Those are just the ones that actually got off the ground. Another, more extensive college-themed one was planned.

So what happened? Well, two things: one, since a lot of my sketches are one-time things, making a series would be rather steep (even if it's disparate but reoccurring characters) and a second, more pressing thing: I can't draw very well.

I've tried various poses and styles, but nothing ever fully worked. Cars, body shapes, hairstyles, etc. all fall more or less flat. Different hairstyles would be a start, and even the notorious Ctrl-Alt-Del B^U face kind of worked (tilt head to the left), and only gained its notoriety mostly because the author had an insufferably huge ego for a comic strip that wasn't particularly great. But it had readers, it had exposure, and it even had fans.

Yes, I know that webcomics improve over time in terms of art at least. Brawl in the Family started out as little sketches in a GameFAQs thread. It eventually improved art-wise with characters all having a personal spin on them without taking itself too seriously and a few storylines as well. It excellently portrays things common to Nintendo culture (if you've EVER played Pokémon, then you know how useless and weird Cut is). And both BitF and CAD focus on video game culture, an oft-used theme in webcomics, so maybe not the best example for my purposes. With video game comic strips, you either get the generally unfunny Two Gamers on a Couch set-up or some obscure video game reference that only pertains to that game.

So maybe that one isn't going to work. Like mentioned before, xkcd started with more-detailed sketches before drawing stick figures and other relatively simple projects, but then your writing has to do the heavy lifting, but in a way that's better since a lot of well-drawn webcomics can't write.

In the future, I will be posting some older stuff and newer stuff to Carbon-izer, and see what develops from there.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The dark side of light rail

I used to be a fan of light rail projects (and other rail-based mass transit) in large cities like Dallas, Washington DC, and many others, but now I'm not so much anymore. This is partly because it's been hijacked by a largely ludicrous bunch that, in many ways treats their beliefs about transit like a religion.

They're easy to find with Google searches: they are anti-freeway, tossing out fabricated or manipulated statistics to make rail seem cost-effective, and don't take kindly to being called out on. Light rail advocates coldly derided the late "Texans for True Mobility" group, primarily funded by Republicans as a lie, not realizing that they were the ones that were anti-mobility. These people are what I call "light rail fanatics", or LRFs, as I will use in this article.

To avoid pigeon-holing the "LRFs" as a hive mind who talk about the things below, these are common beliefs that run between people, not necessarily that all of the "LRFs" have. If you consider yourself a "light rail fanatic" but find that you disagree with one of the things below, it's okay: that part will not apply to you, but they do go for someone else. There is also a difference between a fan of light rail and a "light rail fanatic". Don't get them mixed up.

Well, for one, LRFs tend to romanticize things. They not only believe there was a calculated scheme to force people to ride buses, but also believe wrong things about streetcars themselves. A variety of TV shows and movies employ the belief that streetcars were far better than they actually were (putting this as fact in the LRFs minds), it also happen to be the same types of universes will people break into spontaneous song and dance. What's less emphasized is that streetcars were slow, broke down at regular rates, and occasionally jumped the tracks. The streetcar lines were already bankrupt by the time GM and its associated companies rolled in. This is held a cardinal belief in the light rail circles.

The second belief that LRFs hold as gospel is a theory known as "induced demand". This is where once a highway is built on previously undeveloped land, sprawl will occur and fill the highway up. But it's false, as sprawl was already there and had a pent-up demand to use it. This theory (and it is a theory) will fall apart under several conditions, proving it (at least mostly) wrong:

1) If induced demand was true, states and cities with declining populations could solve their problem by adding new freeways, thus adding sprawl, and people.

2) If induced demand was true, highways left unexpanded will eventually cause sprawl to stop and build up an ultra-high density core. This means cities with aging highways that haven't had significant updates since the 1960s will have better, higher cores than ones that haven't. But the areas with the tallest buildings have the biggest sprawl.

3) There are so many examples where that isn't the case. Since I run Brazos Buildings & Businesses, I can tell you that the Highway 6 bypass did not "create sprawl". The highway was built sometime in the 1970s (maybe late 1970s). A mall, a few subdivisions, and even a multi-story office building were added along the new bypass in the early 1980s, but it never sucked any life out of the main stretch (Business 6) of town, where all the businesses were located. New stores in the late 1980s and early 1990s, like Target, H-E-B Pantry, Wal-Mart, and Albertsons ALL went for the main road. It wasn't until the 1990s where some big draws started building (Sam's Club, a large movie theater, Lowe's, Wal-Mart Supercenter). It wasn't even until the mid-2000s where hotels, supermarkets, and freeway-fronted restaurants were finally added, wherein the highway finally started to appear like other highways in the case that sprawl surrounded it, but that's because the growth naturally caught up to it as it was expanding anyway (and not even in the DIRECTION of the freeway). These examples are often ignored by the LRFs. Even if it was an anomaly, LRFs and their ilk often cling to that kind of stuff anyway (like freeway removal).

It's rather laughable considering that LRFs are (supposedly) well-educated people, because this is the same type of ridiculously flawed thinking (highways create sprawl) that white supremacists use to "prove" why African-American people are inferior, or the old Middle Ages assumption that rotting meat will spontaneously produce flies.

Dollar for dollar, highways serve more people (and is compatible with their driveways), and even as nice as the light rail is in area that are serviced, the highways are still more popular, because they provide more freedom.

Light rail is designed to satiate a bare minimum of comfort: there's no eating, no smoking, etc.
I can't eat a hamburger in the light rail, or smoke on the light rail (I don't smoke, in case you're wondering), but I can in my car, but if they had eating and/or smoking, the light rail would be dirty, smelly, and generally unpleasant. Cars represent freedom, if you wanted to eat, smoke, or blast music from the stereo, you can. That is one of the reasons why highways are inherently more popular than public transit.

The third belief of LRFs is a lack of understanding for quality of life or different lifestyles. As LRFs are primarily urban dwelling liberals, "different lifestyles" refers to gay and lesbian people, not people who prefer to live in the suburbs, like driving cars, and enjoy having a yard. Coupled with this is a lack of understanding (or refusal to understand) that unless you're playing SimCity, people don't have a constant home-to-work schedule. People stop at restaurants and stores, and go to theaters, schools, businesses, and places all over town. There is no way that a mass transit system could ever effectively cover that as effectively (if at all) as private vehicles do.

The fourth belief of LRFs is that mass transit must be maxed out. Nearly all mass transit systems (especially rail) are public enterprises, which means that don't turn a profit, or at least, not much. Traffic jams on highways are obviously bad and seen by LRFs as a means to "justify" mass transit projects, and if a mass transit system routinely fills up with people packed shoulder to shoulder, it's a "success". If you're crammed next to people who think personal hygiene is entirely optional and you have a problem with that, LRFs will think you're just complaining. The thing is, low ridership tends to be better, have a higher quality of life. And it's not just a quality of life thing, it's also a math comprehension error (see below).

An example of this is the Dallas DART system. DART (the Dallas Area Rapid Transit) built up a fairly extensive light rail network since the 1990s, but it has one of the lowest riderships per mile. That's not a bad thing, and here's why: a bus on a college campus takes 40 people (I'm just making up numbers here for the purpose of example) on a mile journey across to the other side of the campus. A bus going from two major cities takes 40 people 200 miles. That's a fraction of the campus bus. Therefore, the longer bus would be a failure (in theory).

Instead, people LRFs and their sympathizers get wrong conceptions about why ridership is low, and blame the highways. If the highways and light rail system are equally well-built, and the light rail has empty seats, then the highways are superior (and that's why they're built). Light rail fans would rather see highway construction money go toward light rail, the equivalent of having a politician so lousy that he would attempt to undermine his opponent instead of actually trying to be the better candidate.

LRFs would say that it's the other way around, in which corrupt politicians redirect money away from light rail to fund highways. If a politician didn't do light rail for pragmatic reasons (see "Texans for True Mobility", above) and that freeways would serve more people, he is evil. The very reason that rail-based mass transit is found only in very large cities while freeways are as common as McDonald's restaurants is because you need a huge base of people to even have a worthy percentage in the amount of people who ride light rail. A Houston-based forum I go to had a few people deriding the politician that killed a monorail plan in the city while even Sydney's monorail had reached the end of its life after being only in operation since the late 1980s, and was both built and dismantled at an enormous cost.

Again, to be fair to LRFs, they aren't all like each other. Some are legitimately ideologues who think everyone should be forced to ride mass transit whether they like or not, and some are people who would like not be forced to drive every day in rush hour without buses.

I also want people to know that while I came down hard on the "light rail fanatics" and the things they hold as truth, there's nothing here that is inherently opposed to light rail. What I am opposed to is people who demand light rail at any cost and anyone who doesn't nod their head with their theories and wishes is backwards or the Antichrist.

If you'd like, please leave a comment below and we can discuss it further.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's Photography!

The act of taking photos is a pretty broad category, utilized by a broad spectrum of people, from self-important hipsters to kids who've had too much to drink, and everyone in between. People, cats, porn, people, buildings, lakes, mountains, textures, pretty much everything can be captured with a photograph. But I believe it is probably the single biggest technology of the second millennium, even greater than the flush toilet or the steam engine (though they are admittedly also very high on the list). In many ways, it's a crude form of time travel, allowing you to see certain things the way they used to be (and times you'll never experience), in some ways, it allowed a capture of certain scenes that were previously off-limits. Prior to photography, were there any detailed portraits of the poor, at all?

Because of the speedy, high-capacity digital cameras today, someone could get hundreds of photos to a trip (if not thousands). While it's a bore to sit through them all, isn't it objectively good that they could show you a good portion of what it was like? Back in 1998, I only had one disposable camera to take on my Washington D.C. trip. If I knew better (and knowing what I'd like to see now), I should've taken scads of pictures. My own current photo history includes photos I'm glad I took, and photos I'm kicking myself for never taking. Because I don't have everything documented, I'm often forced to borrow pictures for my better known blog, Brazos Buildings & Businesses. While I missed seeing that last AppleTree in operation, I got to see Dulie Bell (at least the exterior) one last time, as well as G. Rollie, and numerous others (my apologies if you don't know what those refer to).

Just saying something to an underappreciated technology, I guess.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

America in 62 Demographics

So, I'm taking an Urban Geography class, and after reading something, I stumbled upon the PRIZM Clusters, which separates America in dozens of separate categories. It's really cool to see this because you can classify how neighborhoods are made up and what kind of changes neighborhoods go through. As America changes, the classifications change too, with 18 (Young Influentials) being described as "the last of the Yuppies", and Cluster 45 (Single City Blues) the type of lifestyle with cities in the East predominantly being the type of soul-sucking transient lifestyle that give cities a bad name. The grimy and gritty, the type with a seedy liquor store right below a flophouse. Or those little apartments as seen in Rocky. And cities can have more than one, there's both #46 (Hispanic Mix) and #1 (Blue Blood Estates) right in Houston, though Houston is an anomaly in general of cities: it is expansive land-wise, younger than East Coast cities, and with lax zoning rules, so as a result you end up with multiple CBDs, neighborhoods close to the city core that are not only single family homes but also filthy rich. It doesn't take into account America's past (where the now-aged "Gray Collars" are), nor does cover Europe, but man does it cover a lot of ground.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Dismantling memories, one building at a time

In the last past decade, I've been more tuned into my route to Houston from 290, and have come to recognize things along the way (a friend of mine recently fell prey to the fancy-looking entrance to Prairie View as a sign of getting closer), but things have sure changed in the last 10 years. I remember going down the stretch of 290 outside of Fairfield returning home from a school field trip, desperately regretting not going to the restroom before leaving (I managed to make it in time). At the time, the road was a divided four lane highway with a few exurban subdivisions but not much beyond that. Then it became a divided highway, and now there's a giant interchange there that's not even complete. The subdivision has grown, there's a huge new H-E-B, a huge new-ish outlet mall, and restaurants continuing to build. And that's not even the part that depresses me. Things that I had come to recognize: super-high fast food signs at Beltway 8 and 290, holding a Taco Bell, McDonald's, and Wendy's, the same stuff I can get at home, but so much cooler because of where they were. And there was some stuff that wasn't that I came to recognize anyway, like a rice milling facility, a sign manufacturer (a deteriorating McDonald's sign can be seen outside, I've known it for the last past six years), and much, much more. Too bad most of that is coming down for a highway expansion, and it will never be the same again. There used to be a large car dealership in Hempstead, Lawrence Marshall Hempstead, which featured billboards (in the car lot) displaying six brands of cars they sold (Chevrolet, Hyundai, etc.)

Over the years since it closed 5 years ago, I've seen the fabric on the signs fade and fall off. It's depressing, because at one point in the not-too-distant past, every trip had a sort of mystique to it. Despite the somewhat grimy appearance of the continuing inner trip, it really felt like you were going somewhere cool. Heck, looking at the list I created in response to this change that I've posted recently, just hearing something like this while looking at those high-mast fast food signs brings something back.

It's a rather strange situation, since the times when I felt best about these things weren't the best of times. 2008 was not a great year by any means, but because of the trips I took to Houston (and Galveston) masks that. Remember when I admitted that I tended to look back fondly on my high school years, even when the actual evidence suggests that I'm lying myself and scrubbing out some key portions? Stuff like that, for sure.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Dressed to the fours...or the threes...or twos...or the ones...

My brother and I are very different people. He graduated from college several years ago, I have not yet done so. His idea of fun is being outdoors and doing things like rock climbing, while mine is playing video and computer games, and so forth.

One of his criticisms of me is that I dress poorly (he tends to hold this view to his older cousins, who have the excuse of being a computer programmer and telecommuting, respectively). He fails to understand that my wearing a t-shirt and baggy cargo shorts (or jeans, depending on the weather), and a general apathy toward shaving ("scruffy" at best) is totally normal for many in my position. For the females of the "college student" species, the trend has been in the last few years to have long t-shirts and leggings/tights (whether or not they actually look decent in this combo--some do, some do not) depending on weather (boots appear when the weather gets cold, but thankfully the uggs have mostly disappeared), proving that there is a distaff counterpart to the "scruffy college student" look.

While I still dress decently for church, is it worth it to dress better for school? I think I made more tips at my job when I dressed nicer (but wow, was it hard to get around with dress shoes and jeans, especially when I was shuttling carts at high 90° temperatures) but I don't think it has that much of an impact otherwise. What do you think?