Tag Archives: Entertainment

Manga Carta

I like Bleach.

No not the laundry product, but the sword wielding, evil spirit banishing, manga series. Manga, for those who are not familiar, is the Japanese equivalent of the graphic novel, or long form comic book. Manga series often come in volumes about 180 – 240 pages long and can span dozens of volumes (Bleach is in the 50s I think). The art is mostly black and white, and the size is smaller than your standard comic book we all know and love, about the size of most paperback books.

If you follow a number of series that much manga starts to take up a lot of room (I have 3 front and back shelves full with more stacked on top), so it would seem like the perfect thing to read on a tablet. And in fact you can.

On the Nook.

If you want to read manga on the Kindle you are largely out of luck. Though they have about 1000 titles listed, most are either hentai or yaoi (suffice it to say “adult” content of various varieties), or are from obscure series or authors. The reason you can read manga on the Nook is their partnership with Viz, which publishes such popular series as Fullmetal Alchemist, Rurouni Kenshin, Bleach and Naruto.

The reverse is true if you are a fan of DC graphic novels, which are only available on the Kindle. Because of this exclusive arrangement Barnes and Noble pulled those DC comics affected from their brick and mortar stores.

Both situations are victims of platform exclusivity, something that is running rampant in our emerging eBook economy. When I’m buying an eReader, I really only want to evaluate the technical specifications of the device, how big is the storage space, how long is the battery life, etc. But as anyone who has purchased one before knows, you also have to consider the store you are making a partnership with.

And even from a technical side there are some quirks. Manga is available only on the Nook Color and Nook Tablet. But it is in BLACK and WHITE! The reason is that most comic or magazine eBooks are a little more sophisticated than your standard eBook. If you click on the individual panels of the page, they zoom in closer to make them easier to read (necessitated for comic books because the screen is smaller than the original page).

But manga is different. It’s only a little bigger than readers like the Nook or the Kindle. For most people it would perfectly fine to read on an eInk reader, and again it doesn’t usually require color for anything except the cover.

There have been some attempts made at cross platform comics and manga, the android app comiXology being one of the most notable. But even this service has yet to sign a partnership with Viz or Dark Horse, two of the bigger manga publishers, both of which seem to only work with BN.

Barnes and Noble does have a good price point for manga, mostly $4.99 a volume, roughly half what a printed copy costs, but I don’t want to buy a Nook to get them.

For me the model is obvious, and one I’ve highlighted before. When you buy a book from BAEN publishing, you get it in all the popular eBook formats, DRM free. Why can’t Viz and all of these others do the same thing?

Ultimately for me the solution has been to just buy the physical books (usually used from HPB). For graphic novels, and manga too, there really isn’t anything like having the actual book in your hands. I purchased Batman: The Long Halloween from Amazon a while back, and ended up returning it because it didn’t seem to consistently work (a whole other technical discussion for another time). Practically the same day I found a print copy at HPB for the same money, as well as the other successive volumes. Physical books are still the best cross platform solution.

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Filed under Books + Publishing, Trube On Tech

By Gamers, For Gamers?

The Smithsonian recently opened an exhibit devoted to the art of video games. The featured games were chosen by popular vote from a list of 240 and narrowed down to 80. The final list demonstrates some of the problems with a popular vote when trying to determine what is “good” art.

Some Odd Choices

  • Earthworm Jim was selected for Era 3 “Bitwars!” as one of the platform alternatives to obvious choices like Super Mario. Earthworm Jim is a good game, but I think Rayman would have been a much better choice. Rayman spawned many successful titles including the retro style Rayman: Origins, as well as spinning off the Rabbids series. It’s a rough contemperary of “Jim”, but with a much broader mass market appeal (not really violent, and downright silly). Both have a very quirky artistic style to their main characters and level design, but again I think Rayman’s legacy had a much more significant impact.
  • Doom was put up against games like Deus Ex and Unreal. I’m curious as to how many of the people who voted for Doom actually have played it. I’m not saying it’s a bad game, and it did revolutionize FPS gaming (though I think Quake had a much bigger and more lasting impact), but it’s a weird line-up. There is a 7 year gap between Deus Ex and Doom (which in the gaming world is gaping). Deus Ex is a complex FPS RPG with moral choices set in a Blade Runner / Matrix / Ghost In The Shell style future. Doom involves battling demons from hell. Maybe both should be in the exhibit, but they never should be lumped into the same class of games. And if I had to pick one, it would be Deus Ex, not only because of the reasons previously stated, but also its incorporation of literature and complex writing.
  • Halo 2. Yes it’s better technically than Halo but it doesn’t take place on Halo! Why show the sequel when the original is a classic!
  • SimCity and SimCity 2000. Personally I think these games are like economics homework, but even if you like them, pick one!

My Picks

I think the problem with the popular vote is it completely neglected “cult” or critically acclaimed games. Just as in movies, what is popular and makes a lot of money is not always the best. But even some very popular choices don’t seem to have even been considered.

  • American McGee’s Alice – Yes he’s already in the exhibit for Doom, but Alice is a fascinating and somewhat twisted take on Alice In Wonderland. Alice has been in a mental hospital for years after her parents die in a fire, then returns to Wonderland as a teenager to attempt to regain her sanity. Wonderland has been twisted to reflect her own inner turmoil and I think provides a much deeper interpretation of the story than the Disney version. Some of the level design is outright spooky or bizarre (and it’s a tough game even on easy), but it’s a wild ride.
  • Anachronox – I’ve been playing this one a lot recently and while I don’t think it stacks up to Deus Ex, this is a very under-appreciated title. Despite it’s age the levels are engrossing, creating a world on the inside of a sphere where people walk on the walls and the ceilings. And that’s just the first planet. I like games of this era because they create massive levels rather than focusing just on how detailed each area is. The years following saw levels shrinking, and it would take another couple of years to get back to the expansive spaces. The humor, the level design, and the intricate plot, make this a game worth more study (and HD remake?).
  • Max Payne – Despite the horrible movie of the same title, the game is like playing a classic action movie, complete with bullet time and pithy one-liners. What really sets this game apart is the tone, taking place on a cold winter’s night, haunting music in the background, and cut-scenes told in graphic novel fashion. The sequel is equally fascinating and only expands on the first (haven’t played the 3rd game but a little dubious). I also enjoy some of the meta humor, the stories within the game that parallel the action, and the occassional asides to the video game form.

What I Liked

I am pleased to see MYST and Monkey Island as two of the playable games (not selected by populat vote). I also like that the exhibit did span the history of gaming and not just the modern era of better graphics (though I think they may have over emphasized the past). Fallout and Starcraft are obvious but excellent choices, as is Final Fantasy VII (terrible 3D but wonderful matte paintings in the background).

How about you? What games or line-ups do you think were odd choices? What would you add to the list?

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Bonus Friday Post (Pop Culture, Weasels, Oscilloscopes)

Happy Friday!

One of my traditions on Friday afternoons is to listen to the Pop Culture Happy Hour put out by Linda Holmes and the folks at NPR’s Monkey See. The podcast has been in reruns due to coverage of SXSW, but last week’s “rehash” covered one of my favorite subjects, pop culture to share with your kids. You can find the podcast here.

In advance of having kids I am stock-piling some of the shows I grew up with including Darkwing Duck, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the old ones), Batman: The Animated Series from the 90s, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Pinky and the Brain. Some shows have aged better than others (Pinky and the Brain makes a surprising amount of 90s specific references), but I thought it would be fun to make my future kids some DVDs of episodes from each of these shows to have a similar experience to Saturday mornings like mine (including interspersing some Schoolhouse Rock and George of the Jungle).

  • What pop culture do you want to share with future generations?

Speaking of things to share, I thought I’d post a couple of drawings my friend Brian made back when we were in college. During some of our more … dry … computer science classes, my friends and I would pose a “versus” situation to Brian and he would proceed to draw the ensuing conflict. These drawings come in two “limited edition” series of about a dozen drawings each, and Brian was kind enough to honor me in two of them. You may recognize one of them as my new Gravatar.

Ben Trube vs Oscilloscope

From back when I worked for the Physics Dept.

OSU Students vs Winter

We got a mild winter this year, but not so during college.

And lastly, there are couple of new features on the site:

  • Updated the “best of” with one of the more popular “Forty-Minute Stories”, Purple Crush. Enjoy if you haven’t already!
  • Added a “You may have missed” section for some posts that may have slipped through the cracks.
  • Added a Blogroll for fellow bloggers you might be interested in. More to follow.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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Digital Materialism

I surround myself with a lot of things. In my case, it’s media of all kinds, books, games, CDs, DVDs, graphic novels, manga and comic books (Yes, I’m a geek, hadn’t you noticed?). In addition to my physical material possessions I have a vast digital library of eBooks, MP3 files, video files and digitally download games from GOG. I also pay for cable and a Netflix account, and have from time to time contemplated replacing the cable with Hulu+.

In other words, I’m a fairly typical middle class American.

My acquire-lust started in earnest when I got my first job working for the library as a shelver (some libraries call them pages). Not only did I have my own money to buy things with, I spent countless hours going through stacks of books, CDs and DVDs browsing as I shelved. I like assimilating new ideas, listening to different music, watching TV shows, and reading interesting books and the library accentuated my ability to acquire new things. This desire carried on after that job, and now manifests in me spending a lot of money at Half-Price Books.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the ways we acquire things now, and how the digital realm is shifting away from ownership. Services like Pandora, Hulu and Netflix provide streaming services for music and video, some paid some not. The library now lends digital books and audiobooks and most public domain books can be obtained for free. We’re moving toward a world where we can tap into anything media related, without actually owning it.

My question is this: If digital media shifts even further into this “library” model of listening to content, will we continue to be materialists with regard to content?

Let’s assume that tablets and computers are widely available to the point that 95% of the population has them (maybe 20 years from now conservatively). By this point, while there always be high end hardware, most people will have a device that works just fine for them, much like TV’s are now. Almost everyone has one (some have several), and while some are obsessed with getting a big screen, for most it is just a way to view content and thus not the object of material desire.

It’s this desire that I think is the key point. Right now I would consider myself to be just as much of a materialist with regard to my digital life, as my physical life. Though I have access to a vast amount of streaming content and games, I still desire to own certain things (preferably as DRM free as possible to allow me fuller and more sustained ownership). I curate a small portion of the vast sum of human pop-culture and call it my own. Thus, even if I owned nothing but the computers and tablets that access this info, I would consider myself a materialist.

But if I didn’t own the content, and everyone had access to everything, would my simple desire to consume it be enough to make me a materialist? The consumption of new ideas and thoughts in an of themselves is not materialism. I also think it is possible to own a lot of things and not be necessarily obsessed with acquiring more (I hover in this space now, trying to be content with what I have, and trying to remove some of the clutter.)

I think people will always want things, and even when things are freely available to all, there will be something else that fills the void. But I think it’s important to think about the ways our changing digital society will influence our ideas about those obsessed with materialism.

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Twice Loved Books

I have thousands of books.

Recently, since buying the Kindle Fire, I’ve been trying to assess which books I’d like to keep physical copies of, and which ones can just be digital. This question often leads me to assess whether I will ever read the book at all, and hard as it is, I’ve begun trying to sell off what I will never read.

I’ve started simply, selling off a number of Star Trek Pocket Books which are no more than bubblegum fiction.  I like Star Trek (big shock) and collect Star Trek Comics, but Star Trek novels for the most part are pretty bad, and I don’t have time to read more than a few of them. They’re not collectible, and they’re just taking up space, so I’ve sold some (actually about 60).  I still have at least 100.

There was a bookstore in Youngstown that unfortunately has since gone out of business called “Twice Loved Books”. As I understand it, the owner had so many books that at one point he simply turned his house into a bookstore. I think I’m well on the way to that path (so is my Dad).

Actually, this bookstore was pretty cool. Every closest, every crawlspace, every nook and cranny, was stuffed full of books. I think it had at least three floors, and the shelves of books were very close together (probably not a place for claustrophobics). It was a treasure hunt in the truest sense of the word. The owner’s cat would wander around freely, and often you would be scanning through a shelf only to see a cat staring at you.

I’ve been to a couple of places since that were similar. There’s a bookstore on 161 that used to be a church that’s pretty cool, as well as Acorn Books (very tight shelves there), and of course the Book Loft in German village (all of which my friend Brian and our wives explored a number of months ago). Probably one of the worst places for my collection was the library booksale at the university a number of years back. Before OSU rennovated the main library they had a book sale in which you could carry out a box of books for $5 and I must have taken out at least 4 (the kind you buy paper in).

I don’t know if the Fire or any subsequent device is ever going to change my love of these kind of places. I know there are a lot of people who get romantic about books, they enjoy the smell of the pages, the weight of something physical. I like that too, but for me I think I love browsing even more, feeling surrounded by the culminated work of thousands of authors. I must like it since I’ve basically recreated the experience in my own home.

What are\were some of your favorite places to buy books?  Can you ever bring yourself to sell your books? How many places in your home are there bookshelves (for me all three floors)?

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No “TV” Dialogue

Aaron Sorkin should never write a book.

Or at least he shouldn’t try to use one of the agents I was looking at this week.

This particular agent did not want to see “material influenced by TV (too much Dialogue)” or books of TV or film “scenes”.  I find this to be an interesting complaint as good TV is probably one of the reasons I became a writer, at least as much as good writing.

I bring up Aaron Sorkin because his dialogue in shows like The West Wing and Sports Night actually caused me to speak differently for sometimes hours after the show. The seasons that were not written by Sorkin are markedly different than those that are. It was TV shows like the later seasons of Babylon 5 that inspired me to tell long form Sci Fi narratives just as much as works like The Foundation Trilogy and Dune.

So what is this agent really complaining about?

It can’t be “too much dialogue” really because effective dialog is one of the best ways for characters to speak for themselves. It allows a character to demonstrate their traits, biases and opinions without a narrator having to tell us. Sure we know that in fiction dialogue should omit things like greetings, conversations where there is no conflict or moving along of the plot, and simple information dumps. But TV knows this too.

My wife and I are watching NCIS regularly now. The show does do “knowledge dumps”, usually after a commercial, summing up what just happened before the break, and analyzing what the characters know at this moment. Anyone who knows this show, however, knows that these scenes are just as much about the various characters demonstrating their own unique traits as it is telling the audience what is going on.

So TV knows how to write good dialogue, what about “scenes”?

This complaint seems even more esoteric, as what are books but collections of moments?  What’s different about a TV or Film “scene” that has no place in a literary book? I use the term “literary” because this agent emphasizes it. By his definition a book is “a published work of literature” emphasis on the last word.

How do we measure whether a book is “literary” or not? I understand the difference between genre and commercial fiction and “literary fiction”, but even in literature is it not necessary to “set the scene”, to have conflict? To me a “literary book” is a lot like an Oscar Winning movie, and genre fiction (mysteries, sci fi, romance, etc) is more like an Emmy winning TV show or movie. So this agent is looking for Oscar Winners. That’s fine. I’m trying to sell a mystery and then a Sci Fi novel, so this guy is obviously not a good fit.

But the attitude that TV influenced novelists produce bad fiction doesn’t ring true for me. There is a lot on TV that is bad, that is poorly written, that emphasizes stereotypes and that lowers rather than raises the intelligence of its audience.

But there are shows that know how to speak.

What other shows do you think have writing that rises to the level of what is “literary”? If you’re a writer, have you ever been inspired by something you have seen on TV? Is Leroy Jethro Gibbs awesome or what?

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