Dramatic comics

A 1965 Judge Parker daily comic strip panel by...Image via Wikipedia Whatever happened to the dramatic soap-opera type comics that used to be in the daily papers? Probably fifty years ago some families would follow these sagas from day to day as the tensions built, and unwound. Today the Oregon still has Judge Parker, but it's been banished from to comic section, left to wander the classifieds.

Meanwhile, Mary Worth, Mark Trail, Rex Morgan MD, Apartment 3-G and Steve Roper drift along, still drawn, but drawing hardly any attention.

Here are some panels I clipped from those odd strips in the 80's, when they'd already lost readership. The story is frozen in time...

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How bad is Microsoft's Internet search?

ballmer with hands wide openApparently it's this bad. Microsoft has been paying people to use Live.com for searching since May. Now Wired.com reports:

TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld points out, a small initial boost in Microsoft’s search share in June nearly evaporated by July. According to Comscore, Microsoft had 9.2 percent of the search market in June, up from 8.5 percent in May. But in July, Microsoft was back down to 8.9 percent of the market.

It may be that we are creatures of habit when it comes to search or that Microsoft has not marketed its cashback service well enough to woo prospects. Or, it could be that Google’s product is just better. Either way, Google has held steady with around 61.8% of market share since May.

I'm not surprised, considering the problems I've had with MSFT's Vista search.
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Observations on Japanese Culture - Part 7 - Cute

When I was a kid and saw the cartoon Speed Racer for the first time I immediately fixated on the eyes. Why are they pupils so large? What's the deal with the way they draw Spridle and Chim-chim? Eventually I learned the show was from Japan, so I thought that explained everything. "Oh, it's just some weird Japanese thing," was what I thought every time I saw another imported cartoon with the large eyes. As a kid you just accept things, so I never tried to analyze the "big eye" style of the early anime, but later I heard people say that they thought it was influenced by a difference in perception between the shape of Asian and Caucasian eyes. I think that idea is bogus. In general, people think big eyes are cute, and this is simply a reflection of "cuteness" in Japanese culture.

The word "kawaii" (可愛さ, kawaisa?) is ubiquitous in Japanese conversation. During my trip I heard all sorts of people say kawaii, usually when they were talking about my kids, but also when they saw a baby, or a cute outfit, or a cell-phone charm, or whatever. In fact, I heard it a lot. I knew the word from Gwen Stephani's Harajuku Girls, which was probably what she was cuing in to in the song lyrics.

But people weren't just saying things were cute... things really were cute. And people everywhere had gone out of the way to make them cute. On the way through customs going into the country the sign warning about quarantined plants or animals sported a cartoony hound as the spokesdog. In Kyoto the garbage bags had a cute mascot.

We saw cute apple juice...

A cute mall in Utsonomiya (La La Square!)...

And of course we'd never be able to watch out for terrorists without this little fella

I can understand lots of cute characters at this amusement park in Ueno Park in Tokyo

Doraemon (the earless cat) and Anpanman (with the red nose) are both native Japanese cartoon characters.

Astro-boy, known as Atom in Japan, is a combination of cute and cool.

A bakery in Yanaka ginza is also an Astro-boy museum.

Here's a "life-size" Astro-boy at a candy shop in a mall in Utsonomiya.

In some cases one had to wonder whether people might consider the cuteness sacrilegious. For example, we purchased a cell-phone charm with a sitting Buddha with Hello Kitty's face. The photo shows some cute buddha food at the daibutsu in Kamakura. I wonder how would people react to a big-eyed Jesus blissfully smiling on a stylized cross?

This mixture of cuteness and religion completely confuses me. For example, Anpanman appeared to us on Miyajima Island as a concrete buddha. On TV and in the comics Anpanman is a character with a bready head filled with sweet bean paste.

Cute has been standard in Japan for a long time. Here's a pretty old sign teaching school kids the proper way to cross the street (stop, look, and then raise your hand so the drivers will see you). A friend of mine says this really old-school.

Finally, here's something that's of questionable cuteness. At least, not something one would see much of in the US:

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We clumb Humbug 2008

Here's a map of the trails up Humbug Mountain. The park is on the Oregon south coast, just south of Port Orford. There's a nice campground near the base of the mountain, and a clear, cold creek that runs through the campground into the ocean. We like to visit the beach there for the occasional weenie roast and watching the sunset.

View Larger Map

You can see from the map there are two options for the trails. We take the 3 miles trail up, and then the 2.5 mile trail down. Twenty years ago there was a spectacular view of the coastline down toward Brookings and Gold Beach. Since then the trees have grown to block the view, but a couple have fallen so there's an intermittent view of the beautiful Pacific.

The trail is steep at the beginning, quickly climbing 200 feet while you're still in view of the parking lot. But after a bit it smooths out and you can spend as much time as you want on the hike. This time we met a guy who said he was beating his current record of 60 minutes. My Garmin GPS put the top of the mountain at 1760 ft above sea level.

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Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic

Book cover of I'm reading the book"Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness" by Thaler & Sunstein. Their subject is "choice architecture" and how, in the case of difficult decisions with little feedback, choices can be designed to help people choose the best option for themselves without too much analysis. They call this "paternal libertarianism."

In one chapter they remark how people can take things for granted without even noticing them until it's brought to their attention. They choose the Seattle Windshield Pitting Epidemic as an example.

I'd never heard of this. It began in Bellingham, WA in 1954. There were several reports of mysterious pits in car windshields. The police were asked to investigate. The incidences of pits started to travel south to Seattle. People started freaking out and thinking the pits were a result of cosmic rays, radio waves, or sand fleas.

So, what caused the epidemic? The answer is: the pits were there all along. People just didn't notice them until the "epidemic" broke out.

Here's a good account of the full story.

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Weird business model?

Image representing Ning as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBase, source unknown I haven't used Ning, but I was checking it out. It seems they have a weird business model. It's free for you to use, but if you want more control over what shows, you have to pay. You want to control the ads? That'll be $19.95 /month. Want to use your own domain name? $4.95 /month. Remove promotional links that are added by Ning? That'll cost you $7.95 /month.

I know you can get HBO for a subscription price, and skip the ads, but I wonder if other businesses could work that way. Want to shop for groceries, but only want to see the products you'll buy? That's $19.95 /month...
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Anti-sharing Comic = Ridiculous Propaganda

Remember when you were little and your parents taught you to play nice and share with your friends? Now the media monopolies are trying to break you of that habit.

Wired.com has an article on a comic developed by a non-profit called the National Center for State Courts.

Propaganda is probably too light of a term to describe this piece of propaganda.

We're referring to an educational comic strip (fat .pdf) on unlawful file sharing of music developed by judges and professors to teach students about the law and the courtroom experience.

It was produced by the National Center for State Courts, a nonprofit describing itself as an "organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to court systems in the United States."

But the story line here is a miscarriage of justice at best -- even erroneously describing file sharing as a city crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

The moralistic tone of the story reminds me of those scary religious comic-book tracts by Jack Chick. (By the way, here's a weird/funny parody of one of those comics. And here's another: Galactus meets Jack Chick)

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Fox would rather kill Watchmen

Book cover of Book cover via Amazon It appears that the Watchmen" movie, spawned from the most influential "graphic novel" (comic book) in the past 20 years, is in imminent trouble. According to Variety.com:
A judge has denied a Warner Bros. motion to dismiss 20th Century Fox’s lawsuit over Warners’ right to make a film based on the graphic novel "
Fox’s suit, filed in February, says that it never ceded rights to the property. And according to the federal Judge Gary Allen Feess, Fox retained distribution rights to the graphic novel penned by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gibbons through a 1991 claim. Furthermore, Feess appears to agree that under a 1994 turnaround deal with producer Larry Gordon, Gordon acquired an option to acquire Fox’s remaining interest in "Watchmen," which was never exercised, thereby leaving Fox with its rights under the 1994 agreement.
Meanwhile, Watchmen fans were already organizing to save the three-hour cut of Zack Snyder's movie when the current Fox versus Warner Bros. war broke out.
Now that some reports say Fox would rather kill Watchmen than share the profit it generates, comic book and movie fans are threatening a revolt against any Fox genre movies should the studio continue to flirt with its weapon of Watchmen destruction.

(Note: this article generated with Zemanta)

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Bigfoot and Zemanta...

Frame 352 from the film, allegedly capturing a...Image via Wikipedia ATLANTA -- A Web site that claimed two Georgia men had found Bigfoot says the men's claim is a fraud.

SeachingForBigfoot.com has confirmed that the two Georgia men who claimed they found bigfoot were lying.

The Web site said that Matthew Whitton and Ricky Dyer delivered the freezer containing the reported remains of the Bigfoot the day after the press conference that they called for. It also said that Whitton and Dyer were given an undisclosed amount of money from Saerching For Bigfoot before they went public with their find.

"On August 15th, 2008, Tom Biscardi, Ricky Dyer and Matthew Whitton held a press conference at the Cabana Hotel in Paolo Alto, California, announcing that the corpse of a creature fitting the description known as 'Bigfoot' had been discovered. A police officer of seven years, on medical leave, labeled as a hero for being wounded in the line of duty, got up in front of the world and told the world of how he and Ricky Dyer uncovered this creature. This has since been proven a lie. It is notable that Rick Dyer insisted on this press conference and told Tom Biscardi he would not release the 'body' unless the conference was held on this specific date," said Executive Director of Squatchdetective.com Steve Kulls on SearchingForBigfoot.com.

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Zemanta - a way to re-blog?

Image representing Zemanta ltd. as depicted in... Here's a kinda-kool kinda-cheatin' service. Zemanta allows you to post to your blog interesting articles you see on the Internet. But, it also allows you to incorporate quotes from the articles, and places the quotes within template text. So, while it looks like you're incredibly prolific, your actually just blogging smarter, not harder.
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Here's my test for Re-blogging!

I found this fascinating quote today:

WARNING: All of the comics on this list include adult themes, adult language, adult situations and/or violence. Whee!10 Great Webcomics You Should Not Share With Your Kids, Aug 2008

You should read the whole article.

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Observations on Japanese Culture - Part 9 - Toilets

The toilets in Japan are an adventure in themselves. Ranging from a hole in the ground to a high-tech comfort zone, we had quite a few conversations about the facilities.

Here's what most of the toilets looked like in public places

Maybe one third or one fourth of the toilets were Western style with a place to sit.

Apparently going pee for men isn't as much a private thing as for women. In Tokyo Station in one bathroom there were three stalls of the hole toilets, one sit-upon toilet and then a room for changing clothes (replete with a fold-down area to stand on while changing shoes). In that same restroom, and in several others I noticed women cleaning the urinals at the same time men were using adjacent ones. I wondered what exactly was going on there: is it a casual thing to go pee, or is it a feeling that this woman can be ignored because she's cleaning the toilets, or what?

In the same way, some of the public urinals were almost in the midst of traffic. I saw one in Kyoto near Kiyomizudera where you could clearly see the toilet from the the tourist path.

Here's the men's urinal and hands washing area in the hallway at the Taito Ryokan. Not much of a door here.

In all of the hotels and houses I visited the toilets looked more like this "super toilet":

The toilets had multiple features

In addition to a heated seat, this one has a butt spray, a bidet and a flushing sound. The flushing sound was to cover up any other embarrassing sounds and would play for about 30 seconds.

A couple times the toilets came with remote controls

Poo is lucky in Japan. I bought some lucky poo candy. Here's someone else's writeup on the same candy.

Here's a building near Asakusa with what looks like a statue of golden poo?

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Observations on Japanese Culture - Part 8 - English

The Japanese language has four sets of characters: Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana, and Romanji. Kanji are the Chinese characters that the Japanese adopted over 1500 years ago. Hiragana is essentially the Japanese alphabet, and it's used for writing Japanese words phonetically. Katakana is another alphabet, but it's using primarily for writing words adapted from other languages. And finally, Romanji, which is the Latin alphabet used for English.

The three main character sets: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana are all co-mingled on signs, menus, train schedules, everywhere. Linda and Griffin learned the Hiragana and Katakana alphabets, so they could sound out the words. I had to rely on my pocket alphabet, but over time I could recognize which character set I was dealing with, and even started to learn Katakana. If you're planning to travel in Japan, one really useful thing to do would be to memorize the Katakana. Since Katakana is the written version of foreign words, if you can sound it out, then you'll usually recognize the word. ビール (bee-ru) is beer , バス (bu-suh) is bus, ピザ is pizza, and アラカルト is "a la carte". Once I knew some Katakana, all of a sudden I was reading "Japanese."

But, surprisingly, Romanji, and specifically English, was rampant throughout Japan. We went to a mall in Utsonomiya. I was amazed at the amount of English written everywhere. This photo of "Sports Depot" made me feel like I could have been in any mall in the United States

The English translations were sometimes whimsical

sometimes inscrutable. I guess it wasn't so much that the words were supposed to mean something. Maybe one or two words in the sentence were someone's particular favorites, or maybe the design of the letters was just pleasing? At one point we were talking to someone who liked the word "cool" in English. He said it several times to get the feeling, and maybe to savor the sound.

Some of the English writing was just "off"... particularly on T-shirts.

Here are some other funny JapEnglish examples.

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