Anthony upgrades to Xubuntu 11.04

Screenshot of desktop taken 4/30/11, running Xubuntu 11.04
Late last night, I upgraded to Xubuntu 11.04, running the newest version of XFCE. As I’ve previously noted, not much caring for the changes to regular Ubuntu (nor GNOME), I thought I’d give moving to XFCE a try.

Installation went reasonably smoothly, and I’ve since customized Xubuntu by installing a few of the GNOME programs I’m used to. While Xubuntu has some OK defaults, a few didn’t pass muster for me (gmusicbrowser ‘s preferences seemed anything *but* simple, and thus I installed Banshee and Rhythmbox instead). I also changed the default theme, of course (to the lighter-colored menus of Clearlooks, as well as different icons).

Observations so far:

  • Xubuntu’s installation doesn’t give a final “are you sure you want to do this?” screen the way Ubuntu provides before going through with installation. This feels like a flaw to me…
  • XFCE fortunately plays nice with/makes use of various GNOME/GTK libraries and programs, making moving over to it easier. Still, it could use an XFCE-based menu editor, instead of relying on GTK-based Alacarte, which doesn’t seem to completely edit the menus as well as I’d hoped—one or two menu items stuck from my previous Ubuntu install are still present, with no clear way of deleting them.
  • The trackpad lock button actually works under XFCE/Xubuntu, unlike the past several versions of Ubuntu. Another plus.
  • Startup, and especially going from the login screen to the desktop, is a lot faster than in Ubuntu. However, Firefox (upon auto-launching at startup per preset preferences) doesn’t display the preset home page I chose, instead throwing up a “failure to load <what’s the wrong site>” window.

I’ll have more to say about Xubuntu as time goes on…

Action Comics #900 released today, plus previous anniversary issues

Action Comics #300
Action Comics #300.

Today sees the release at comic shops of “Action Comics” #900, an anniversary issue of the long-running Superman-starring title.

Per a few other sites also taking a look at noteworthy or anniversary issues of “Action,” I thought I’d do the same and remark on previous anniversary issues of “Action.”

Action Comics #100 (September 1946)

Plot: A “sleuth who never fails” is convinced Clark Kent is Superman, and tries to reveal Clark’s secret identity.

Comics.org’s description of this Golden Age story claims it’s the basis for many of the “Lois tries to prove Clark is Superman” stories of the late Golden Age through Silver Age. While I’ve yet to read this story, it certainly sounds like a possible prototype for such.

Action Comics #200 (January 1955)

Plot: The son of a Native American chief asks for Superman’s help in getting his father to pass a series of tests set up by an evil medicine man.

Comics.org says this one’s a rewrite of a plot from the 1950s “Adventures of Superman” TV show. The cover is reflective of the 1950s’ obsession with Westerns in any way, shape or form, with Superman easily shrugging off a series of tomahawks being thrown at him by Native Americans.

For DC multiverse fans keeping score, this one presumably takes place on Earth-1 (though it could’ve taken place on Earth-2, or on both Earths). While the general dividing line is the first appearance of the Martian Manhunter in November 1955, several other sites seem to agree this one’s an Earth-1 adventure.

Action Comics #300 (May 1963)

Plot: Superman is tricked by the Superman Revenge Squad into breaking the time-barrier and traveling a million years into a future, where Earth’s sun has turned red (rendering him powerless/stranded on an Earth without any humans left).

This one’s one of the all-time classic Silver Age Superman stories (and deserving an anniversary issue), complete with a distinctive cover. This story takes advantage of the then-recently introduced idea of Superman getting his powers primarily from the “ultra solar rays” of a yellow sun (like Earth’s). Since Krypton had a red sun, Superman has no powers under a similar environment. Other stories from the Silver Age (even through today) make use of Superman being forced to visit red-sun-orbiting worlds, villains using devices that emit “red sun radiation” to drain Superman of his powers, etc.

Action Comics #400 (May 1971)

Plot: Superman plays caretaker for an alien child with bizarre shape-shifting powers.

I haven’t read this one, but doesn’t seem too noteworthy to me, especially given the more interesting storyline going on in the “Superman” title at the time, the popular “Kryptonite Nevermore”/Sand Superman story.

Action Comics #500 (October 1979)

Plot: Superman recounts his life story at the Metropolis World’s Fair while Luthor uses the occasion to hatch his latest scheme.

This one takes advantage of being an anniversary issue by recounting the Silver/Bronze Age (or Earth-1) version of Superman’s life story in some detail. Of course, there’s later series that added to this issue’s account, including the 80s Superboy series and the “World of Krypton”/”Phantom Zone” miniseries.

Action Comics #600 (May 1988)

Plot: Several stories about various adventures involving Superman’s supporting cast and friends.

This one, the first post-Crisis anniversary issue (hence Lois having brown hair), offers several stories involving Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, Wonder Woman, and others.

Action Comics #700 (June 1994)

Plot: Lex Luthor’s plans to destroy Metropolis come to a climax, as he, well, destroys Metropolis. (Yes, it gets rebuilt, via magic… don’t ask…).

This one was a part of the “Fall of Metropolis” storyline, which at the time seemed OK, but suspect it wouldn’t hold up as well upon re-reading.

Action Comics #800 (April 2003)

Plot: “In a mix of different flashback sequences, we see who inspired Superman to be a hero, and what an inspiration Superman is for other people.” (Quoted from comics.org)

I haven’t read this one, but it apparently wasn’t a part of an ongoing storyline, surprisingly enough for a modern superhero comic. Though this apparently came not long after Dan DiDio came onboard at DC (and just before he brought about their current endless spate of nonstop year-long crossover storylines).

Action Comics #900 (April 2011)

Plot: Several stories are in this one, though the one that’s gotten the most attention is this one: Superman renounces his US citizenship in favor of being a “citizen of the world.”

In the Silver Age and Bronze Age, there were several stories showing that Superman has honorary citizenship in all United Nations member nations, as an honorary gesture by the countries of the world for all he’s done. While I’m not sure if this carried over to current continuity (I suspect not), I thought it was an interesting plot idea, and acknowledging even back in the Cold War that Superman’s a hero (and cultural icon) of the world, not just the United States. Not following the current Superman books, not sure how this modern version of “Supes as a global citizen” will play out. Of course, since the Fortress of Solitude’s located in the Arctic, I suppose (if its location were publicly known) that’d make Superman a Canadian resident/citizen…

Nook Color finally gains Android 2.2 upgrade, Flash, the long-promised app store

Barnes and Noble today has released a major upgrade for the Nook Color. Not only has it been upgraded to Android 2.2, but it now comes with the long-promised Barnes and Noble app store. Flash has also been included in the upgrade. More information may be found here:

http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2011/04/nook-color-gets-froyo-flash-facebook-and-angry-birds.ars

While I’d imagine those of us who rooted our Nooks won’t be reverting back to a stock install just to run 2.2, I do think this is a good upgrade for the Nook. A slightly more modern Android version, Flash support, and a basic app store are all good features for the general public. Several caveats, though: for Flash fans, Engadget, in its own review of the Nook Color upgrade, notes that so far it’s *not* the “fastest plugin alive.” There’s also no Android Market, of course, though that’s available for the rooters.

For the general public, this will make an already-nice ebook reader/basic tablet much nicer. Not sure how much pressure this will put on the Kindle, however.

The Best of Anthony: Easter in animation

It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie BrownOn this Easter, I thought I’d link to my previous posts about the holiday:

  • Easter animated specials that pass/fail the Bechdel Test: What the subject says. Apparently, the only one I could find that did pass was “It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown!” thanks to Peppermint Patty and Marcie’s hilarious subplot. As far as I know, this special wasn’t rerun on TV this year, but it is available on DVD, coupled with one of the odder “Peanuts” specials, “It’s Arbor Day, Charlie Brown!”
  • Rankin-Bass special “Here Comes Peter Cottontail” merited a few posts, one about its Valentine’s Day portion of the time-travel story, and another about the Washington’s Birthday portion.

The Best of Anthony: Life (to Date) With Archie

Life With Archie #1In light of the upcoming royal wedding next Friday, I thought I’d link to my previous reviews of Archie’s “Life With Archie” series, in case you’ve missed them:

Overall, I think it’s been an enjoyable (if a bit melodramatic) series so far, and an interesting take on the Archie cast. Since they’re all adults in this series, there’s no reset button as in the usual high-school setting, so the characters are allowed to actually change.

The two-alternate-futures format seems to be working, and I look forward to seeing more of the teenage Jinx stories that were recently added. Apparently, the Dilton subplot ultimately wasn’t needed, as it seems to have been dropped.

I’m still not big on the “teen gossip” filler material (though it might be due to my well-past-teen-years age), but if it sells the magazine to younger readers, it’s tolerable.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: yes, one of these days, I’ll get around to reviewing the original “Archie Wedding” storyline, and comparing it to the “Life With Archie” magazine’s take on things.

The Best of Anthony: My Ubuntu 10.10 post-installation guides

While it’s been one of my most popular posts, I thought I’d link to my Ubuntu 10.10 post-installation tips guides again, before the release of 11.04 next week:

As for 11.04, I’ll have to think about whether or not I’ll update the above posts, given my plans to move to Xubuntu 11.04. Perhaps I could write a similar guide for Xubuntu 11.04?

Comic review: Archie Bronze Age series DVD-ROM collections

Archie Bronze Age DVD-ROMA few months ago, I bought the “Bronze Age” series of DVD-ROMs produced of several 70s Archie Comics series, “Archie,” “Jughead,” and “Archie’s Girls, Betty & Veronica.” The DVD-ROMs, produced by GIT Corp, each contain the entire run of stories for each title released between January 1970 through December 1979, including any annuals. The comics are reproduced as-is, including the original third-party and house ads. (An annoying “Archie” watermark is used on each page, which appears only if you use a non-Adobe Reader program to read the comics.) A followup series was planned, which would’ve featured the 60s comics, but the DVD-ROM line was canceled before that could happen.

It’s interesting to see some of the changes to the characters over the 70s. Betty seems to have changed the most, thanks to the increasing awareness of women’s rights over the 70s (though she still comes off as a bit ditzy at times compared to her modern self). Archie seems more willing to (along with Veronica) make fun of Betty’s quirks in a few stories. There’s also the changes in technology and pop culture, of course… all of the 70s fads are in full display here (as well as some remnants of the 60s in the early 70s stories, such as Archie and Betty annoyed about the then-new movie ratings system in one story). By the late 70s, the covers also change the logo to “Archie Comics Group,” apparently an attempt to imitate Marvel’s logo/name at the time? And of course, Archie has his long-obsolete-even-then Model-T jalopy.

Chuck Clayton also makes his first appearances in these stories, though I don’t think his first appearance was in any of the collected titles (guessing it was in “Pep”?). Nancy also puts in some of her early appearances by the late 70s issues, including a story where Archie and Chuck briefly get into a fight with each other!

The comics are in PDF format, so any reader will be able to open the files (though again, a watermark appears in non-Adobe Reader PDF readers), as well as the comics being readable (and printable!) on any operating system (including Linux). The DVDs were quite cheap on Amazon.com  when I bought mine (for several dollars apiece), though availability might be limited as this series has been discontinued. As for why this series was discontinued (along with the other GIT Corp series for Marvel, etc.), I assume concerns about piracy (since there’s no annoying DRM) and the rise of digital comics stories (which aren’t as good a buy as these DVD-ROMs) are the reason.

If you’re interested in reading older Archie comics in a legal digital format, these DVD-ROM collections are a very good deal.

Anthony’s picks for Archie Comics for July 2011

Kevin Keller #2Here’s what of interest is coming out for Archie for July 2011. As usual, dates are listed in order of comic shop/newsstand availability:

Comics I’m buying

  • Betty & Veronica Double Digest #193, on sale July 27/Aug. 2, $4
  • Kevin Keller #2 (Veronica #208), on sale Aug. 10/Aug. 16, $3
  • Life With Archie #12, on sale Aug. 10/Aug. 16, $4

Comics I’ll consider buying

  • Archie & Friends Double Digest #7, on sale July 20/July 26, $4
  • Archie #623, on sale July 27/Aug. 2, $3
  • Betty #193, on sale Aug. 3/Aug. 9, $3
  • World of Archie Double Digest #9, on sale Aug. 3/Aug. 9, $4

Comments

Archie continues to bank on new gay character Kevin Keller this month, with his miniseries seeing a variant cover being offered, the one pictured with this post. The main cover depicts Kevin and his military-belonging father, which looks patriotic (but a month late for the Fourth of July).

Speaking of this variant cover, it looks like a bit of a superhero theme this month for Archie, including a digest revival of Archie’s superhero alter-ego, “Pureheart the Powerful” (aka “Captain Pureheart”), along with Betty, Reggie and Veronica’s heroic personas. Meanwhile, Betty’s own comic (which apparently hasn’t been canceled as feared) shows her being flown by Archie-as-Pureheart.

“Archie” sees appearances by “American Idol” and “The X-Factor” (or pastiches thereof, judging from the promotional text). Valerie and Archie on the cover makes me wonder if their storyline from last year will see a conclusion here.

“Betty & Veronica Double Digest” sees not only Sabrina reprints, but also Riverdale’s own comic convention. Meanwhile, “B&V Double Digest” looks like a reprinted/retouched Dan DeCarlo cover.

Speaking of Sabrina, the animated series version of her comic gets reprinted in a trade paperback this month.

“World of Archie” sees the gang, along with newer Indian character Raj Patel, caught up in Bollywood style filmmaking. There’s also another “She’s Josie” reprint.

“Life With Archie” marks its one-year anniversary. However, I don’t see any mention of the Jinx backup; I assume it’s still continuing?

 

How comics and animation handle characters’ aging

Superboy meets JFKSpurred by a recent blog post on Westfield Comics Blog about sliding-scale comic timelines, I thought this might merit my own blog post—the major ways in which comics and animation handle characters’ aging, or (being fictional characters) lack thereof.

The major ways I’ve seen seem to boil down to:

  1. Real time
  2. In-story explanations
  3. The sliding-scale timeline
  4. Editorial fiat
  5. No explanation

To analyze each reason…

Real time

What might seem the most obvious answer is to simply age the characters in real time. Not only is this the most realistic approach, but it also seems easy for other reasons. We age in real life, so why can’t our favorite characters age along with us?

“Gasoline Alley” and “For Better or For Worse” are two comic strips that’ve made use of this. In the latter, the strip went from Elly and her grade-school aged offspring to Elly becoming a grandmother. “Dykes to Watch Out For” also seems to have aged its characters in real time during its run (Raffi went from infancy to being a teenager).

The downside of this tactic: if you view the characters as a money-making franchise (say, if the characters are superheroes), seeing them age into middle-age (or their twilight years) might not make them as lucrative in terms of marketing. It also means eventually killing your characters if the strip should run long enough; I remember some fans of Farley in FBoFW were dismayed to see him die (albeit as a hero).

In-story explanations

In this case, reasons are given for the characters’ lack of aging on an in-story basis. Here, the characters are aware of their lack of aging (without purposely breaking the fourth wall, a la Bugs Bunny), and know why that’s the case. Reasons often given include:

  • Suspended animation (Captain America)
  • Being an alien (some “imaginary stories” positing Superman being very long-lived)
  • A youth serum or “fountain of youth” formula
  • Magic
  • Cloning
  • Technology
  • Time travel

… and so forth. This blog post sums up the full list of in-story reasons pretty thoroughly.

The disadvantage of this approach is that there might not be an adequate or plausible in-story reason to explain a lack of aging, depending on the comic/cartoon. “FoxTrot”, for instance, can’t lay claim to any of these reasons given its somewhat realistic setting. Even in a more fantastical setting, it might run into problems. While Superman being a slow-aging alien might seem fine, that doesn’t do his Earthling pals Jimmy Olsen or Batman any good.

The sliding-scale timeline

This one is the main one used in most superhero comics, as well as the occasional comic strip (and extremely rarely in animation). As I’ve summed up before, all events and characters in the setting stay non-aging, but simply have their pasts (births, weddings, graduations, start of their careers, etc.) move up with them year-by-year. Thus, in 2011 stories, if Superman debuted as Superboy “20 years ago,” the flashback year will be 1991 (with references to the original Gulf War, etc.), while in 2012, Superboy’s debut would be in 1992. Thus, when I was a kid in the 80s, since Superman was the same age as my parents, Superboy’s time-era was, like theirs, in the 60s/early 70s. In contrast, nowadays, Clark Kent was a teenager in the 90s, just like I was 20 years ago. (Yes, I know, Superboy’s only sort-of-restored to Clark’s past in DC’s current continuity, but good enough for this example…)

I elaborated more on this in the blog posts below:

The advantages of this method are several. It acknowledges the characters are, well, fictional cartoon characters. It also allows one to broadly gloss over topical references easily, such as a character meeting the President or being a fan of a particular rock group. Sliding timelines also let the characters stay relevant to the reader’s present, versus becoming long obsolete or looking unbelievable even for a cartoon (say, if Superman’s childhood took place before 1938, the year he first appeared). Finally, the characters stay marketable and, well, alive, allowing for future generations to also enjoy their adventures (and future execs to reap profits).

There’s also disadvantages, of course. Some newer readers are sometimes confused by this tactic. Some continuity problems can also creep up if a previous story relied on a particular now-dated topical reference or event (such as the Justice Society heroes being tied to World War II, or the Teen Titan foe the Mad Mod’s whole shtick). There’s also the characters celebrating multiple holidays, birthdays, etc. within such a narrow timeframe (such as Superman having been an adult hero for only about 10 years, but having experienced way too many Christmases/elections). Related to this is also seeing an increasing number of stories to squeeze into the character’s life/history as the years roll on. Finally, a few fans may either want to see the characters age and change over time, or be particularly attached to a particular time-era for the character’s past.

Editorial fiat

Unlike the above, this one is usually through an explicit declaration of the writer or editor, and may even be said as such in the comic itself. A particular example of this is the “time skip,” or skipping the entire story’s setting ahead in time by x number of years. “Funky Winkerbean” has made use of this particular example *twice*, with the once-teenaged characters now middle-aged with teenagers of their own.

This example gives the editors and writers plenty of freedom, and can often break the fourth wall easily to explain what they’re doing. On the down side, it might make some fans annoyed if they feel things can change on a writer or editor’s whim, per the modern penchant for retcons.

No explanation

This one is probably one of the most common explanations: “who cares? It’s just a cartoon!” The character’s past or age will be of little to no importance to the story, while flashbacks to the characters’ past will be minimal or nonexistent (or with little regard to continuity). This is the default assumption for most humorous cartoons and comics, i.e. “Garfield,” “Peanuts,” “Looney Tunes,” “Family Guy,” etc.

Advantages of this one include not having to worry about annoying things like consistency, continuity, etc. (“just as long as it’s a funny gag is all that matters, right? I mean, it’s just a cartoon!”) The downside of this approach is if one ever wants to tell a more serious-toned story or setting, or if the writer decides one day that your readers *do* have an actual attention span and decides to write accordingly. “Doonesbury” went through this—in the original 70s and early 80s run, the characters didn’t age, with no reason given. After Garry Trudeau came back from a sabbatical in the 80s, he decided to shift to the “real time” approach above, and started to age the characters mostly in real time (though BD and Boopsie’s daughter Sam seems subject to the “editorial fiat” reason above—she’s still a pre-teen or early teenager, despite being born 20 years ago in real time…).

That about sums everything up. I’ll write more about this in the future, if needed!

PC World on 10 things supposedly killed by the smartphone

PC World magazine has an article about “10 things killed by the smartphone”:

http://www.pcworld.com/article/225372/10_things_killed_by_the_smartphone.html

The list consists of:

  1. MP3 players
  2. Portable game consoles
  3. Point-and-shoot cameras
  4. Personal video players
  5. Voice recorders
  6. Portable GPS navigation devices
  7. Personal digital assistants (PDAs)
  8. Wristwatches
  9. Paper maps
  10. Dialing 411 for directory assistance

Quite an interesting list, though it fails to observe situations where such items are still useful. For instance, paper maps still work in cellular dead zones, and MP3 players don’t rely on expensive cell phone contracts (plus are way cheaper). As for which devices *I* still make use of:

  1. MP3 players: I still have my old 3G iPod Nano and Sandisk Sansa, but I haven’t used either one since getting my Palm Pre. Advantage: smartphone.
  2. Portable game consoles: Not being a big video game player, I never had a Game Boy/PSP/etc. in the first place, nor do I use my Pre to play games. Advantage: neither.
  3. Point-and-shoot cameras: While my Pre’s camera (like the rest of the hardware) is on the low-quality end, even if it were a new smartphone, I would never solely use it to take vacation photos. Instead, I always bring on trips my Kodak EasyShare M340 (which cost about $80). Advantage: point-and-shoot camera.
  4. Personal video players: While the iPod Touch has largely replaced the personal video player market for those who don’t want a smartphone, I can play videos on my Pre just fine. One reason I bought the Pre in the first place was my desire for something with a larger screen (than my iPod Nano) to watch cartoons on. However, I wound up being convinced to go all the way into buying a smartphone. Advantage: smartphone.
  5. Voice recorders: I haven’t had to make use of a tape recorder of any sort in years, plus I’d rather write down messages to myself than hear my own voice reading my grocery list. Advantage: neither.
  6. Portable GPS navigation devices: While I don’t own a car (nor need spoken-to-me directions), I do make use of the Google Maps feature on my Pre sometimes. The mass transit schedule feature of Google Maps is quite invaluable on vacations/trips out of town. Advantage: smartphone.
  7. Personal digital assistants (PDAs): Never owned a PDA, but sometimes use the memo feature on my Pre, which came in useful at last month’s C2E2 comic show to track desired comics to buy, a schedule of events, etc. Advantage: smartphone.
  8. Wristwatches: I still wear a wristwatch. The Pre’s clock is useful, but I don’t have it on me *all* the time (plus the wristwatch battery doesn’t die remotely as often as the Pre’s does). Advantage: wristwatch.
  9. Paper maps: See the GPS entry above (no car, Google Maps), though I’ll occasionally consult a paper map on trips (the ones with tourist attractions listed that hotels/museums give away). Advantage: smartphone.
  10. Dialing 411 for directory assistance: I can look up phone numbers on my own, either via Google, the Yellow Pages app on the phone, or (gasp!) an actual Yellow Pages phone book, though mine gets used more as a footstool than phone number research these days. Advantage: smartphone.

The final tally:

  • Smartphone: 6/10
  • Stand-alone devices: 2/10
  • Neither: 2/10

So it looks like the smartphone’s replaced *most* of the stand-alone devices for my purposes, but I still prefer a stand-alone camera and wristwatch. I do feel, though, that my smartphone’s been one of the most useful purchases I’ve made in recent years (outside of my laptop).