So many words, so little time....

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

We Have Moved....

The company I work for moved it's offices, and it's been something else. We're a small company of 30 or so employees, but it still felt like an 18th century safari.

You might be able to visualize it this way. Take the ugliest apartment move you've ever imagined (make sure to include two flights of stairs on each end). Then add a full set of caselaw books, a server lab with 50+ boxes and all the dreck to support them, over 100 desktop computers plus all their dreck, and 30+ boxes of accounting files to it.

I can compress two weeks of this experience into one word: AAAARRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

We actually got the server room (and our website) down, moved over here, installed, and then back up in six hours. I was impressed, especially since we didn't have the installs professionally done. We had movers do the actual hauling, but the only things that real techs did on the install was moving the router and the phone system. The rest was done by seven of us, with only two real geeks (I don't count myself in this one - I just beat on keyboards; I don't twiddle around in it's brains unless forced).

It's been an interesting sociological and psychological study, though. It wasn't just a move from one old office park to another. They've joined the big time. We went from old office park sort of trailing off a big company's skirts to full-on Class A office space with all the amenities. I've been in that sort of environment before, but most of my co-workers have not and they are not all that sure what to do with it.

This company is not a dot-commer. It's been around "officially" since 1992, and in another form for sometime before that. It's a small operation, run by a husband and wife as President and CEO, respectively (we all know who's actually in charge, believe me). Five or six of their employees have been with them for more than 14 years. They aren't the go-getter, type-A personalities. They're used to being in their little low-pressure niche. There's a lot of older technology still in daily use, and the people who ride herd on it are quite comfortable there. The last couple years things have just bloomed, though, with several new products just flourishing. I joined the company two years ago, so I've had time to get to know them.

I really like this company, and I actually didn't mind the old space. But it just got too tight. They just couldn't shoe-horn any more into that shell, and now the company has had to go and find a new one. When they looked at the things they needed they realized that it had became important from a customer relations and from an infrastructure standpoint that it be a more robust facility. They did a great job of getting a good deal and I know some people who work in other offices in this building and it gets rave reviews. But the employees here just weren't sure. Most of them have never been involved in a company that has this sort of environment. Watching them go from a warren of tiny dark shared offices and cubes and computers set up in hallways to a space with actual carpet on all the surfaces that need it and with air conditioning and all the amenties has been both funny and fearsome.

There are adjustments being made everywhere. The CEO is exctatic because someone else will clean the bathrooms and have to maintain all the spaces - no more having to buy toilet paper! The President has room for his model airplanes in his office and has gotten some great feedback already from customers about the new space. The guys that were in cubes are happy because the new spaces are much much nicer than the old and laid out really well. Those who had been hunched into those offices are now ensconced in bright new cubicles with sound-blocked walls and are handling that change with varying degrees of success.

You can tell who's done this before. The old hands know when they need to take a conversation elsewhere but they don't whisper in the halls and they know that the sound of breathing doesn't come over the cube walls. It's a sense of proportion - the others are tip-toeing around like they're in a china shop with really small aisles and are afraid to sneeze. The old hands brought headphones with them when they moved in, new ones went out and bought them after the first day. The cube-veterans knew what to take with them and what to take home because it just wouldn't fit so they aren't trying to figure out where to put that life-sized standing Jean-Luc Picard cut-out. And Jean-Luc is far from the silliest thing the others are trying to find a spot for.

They'll figure it out. There are so many bright spots about this new space even some of the most hidebound old bit-wranglers are already starting to find their own good points. It just takes time and some patience with each other.

I just got up and went to the kitchen. On my way back I saw Jean Luc staring sternly at passers-by out the window by the server room door. I think I like him there.

Monday, April 26, 2004

I am such a writing-l00z0 sometimes...

I've been looking in international phone books for names for my character name generator I'm writing. Basically, I want to be able to choose a nationality or genre and a gender and get a list of names to choose from that are valid but random so I don't just borrow some guy's name. This has been interesting in some of these languages because I have no real idea how to tell which gender. On most of these sites I'm lucky to be able to find the Submit button for a search. Arrgghhhhh....

To see a bit of what I mean, take a look at this phonebook from the Netherlands. Just typing the word "telefoon" is fun, though.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Balance (or lack thereof).....

I actually got to go out to lunch with some old friends today. It really brought things into sharp relief, though. It didn’t take long before I realized that I had nothing to talk about but the children. I felt very alien. I finally just stopped talking. All I could say were things the gang doesn’t really care about, other than the fact that they care for me and were glad to see me.

I have two completely different lives. One, sort of internal, is spent with the children, patching up boo-boos and cleaning up, and with the rest of my family and most of my more parasitic, I mean challenging “friends”. The other, external, is spent at work, doing all sorts of very technical things, and also contains all my social life (at least the parts that I want). I don’t know what I should do with the conflicts between them. The children cannot yet be a part of my external life, and I cannot bring that life into step with my internal life and them.

A lot of dreck out there has been written about the conflict between “work” and “family” but at this point, none of it seems to apply, because of the break out of the rest of the facets of my life (most other people apparently hang their social life off of their non-work life, rather than the other way around). To make matters worse, in the situation I am in, if I want to succeed with the one that matters most to me -- the children -- I have to succeed with the other. In order to succeed with that other, I have to take away from the children. I can’t win. And there doesn’t seem to be any room in there at all for me.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Independent/Online Comics Extravaganza....

United Media and their ilk had a stranglehold for a lot of years on the cartoon industry. Unless you could get syndicated, you just flat didn't get the exposure. Now, thanks to our friend the Internet, anyone with a scanner and some artistic pretensions can get their comic out in front of an audience. I personally think this is great for the industry. These guys are an incredible talent-source for both the classic syndicates and the independent comic publishing houses and provide a lot of enjoyment for the casual browser as well. Besides, we'd never get a funny papers big enough to contain them all.

Once you get off the big syndicate sites, these tend to be very very geeky. If you want to have any idea what these guys are talking about, you need some knowledge of general gaming terms, a 'leet speak glossary and anime terms or it's going to be total gibberish. Well, it kinda is anyways.

A great features of these works is that many of them have been around for quite a while. If you are just now getting into the story, you have a treat in store. Some of them have several years of archives available for viewing. Print-wise, there are several of them who do books as well - DorkStorm Press and Image Comics are great sources. Try your local comic's shop or their websites.

PG or PG-13 rated (if Disney can do it...):

Real Life - "It helps if you think of InstallShield as a very long, boring, linear game." I want a t-shirt that says that. This one's been around since 1999 so you have 1175 or so good geek jokes waiting for you.

Full-Frontal Nerdity - No, read the title again. Carefully. Sheesh! ;) Three pen-and-paper D&D geeks, just being themselves. Yes, this is what a session really sounds like. Sad, isn't it?

Nodwick - Another Aaron Williams comic. It's a classic story of a henchman who gets hired by a party, and then gets folded, spindled, mutilated and used as dragonbait, all while carrying Olympian piles of swag. There are also links to some of Aaron's other properties on the site in the "Nods and Ends" section. He also occaisionally breaks into some Star Wars spoofs entitled "Light Side/Dark side". This one brings a smile every time I read it.

The Norm - Just a normal guy, with a daily dose of normal life.

Lethargic Lad - This one's been turning superhero comics on it's ear for 49 issues now, and there are two large paper anthologies available. My favorite character is Blue Green Boy.

Dork Tower - Know someone so geeky they're completely incapacitated by it? Well, then you've got a great feel for what makes this comic great. Oh, and Carson the Muskrat doesn't hurt, either.

Melonpool - An alien geek named Mayberry Melonpool who's hooked on Earth culture crashlands and is stranded on Earth with the crew of his ship. This premise would explain a LOT of the behavior I see around here.

Older Teen-ish (Mom-sense is tingling!):

PvP - Player vs. Player magazine is our setting, and the cast and crew are the usual eclectic collection of freaks and geeks who people these places. Scott Kurtz has been around for a while now, and his art just gets better and better.

Control-Alt-Delete - Three roommates, a grrlgamer neighbor, a computer and an Xbox turned into a robot. I've read this one on and off for quite a while; usually when it's featured somewhere else. I think I work with these guys....

Sluggy Freelance - Gotta love a strip with a demonic robotic vacuum cleaner subdued by the security system of a paranoid bunny-rabbit. With four years of daily archives to catch up on, you're in for a good time.

User Friendly - The staff of an ISP provide the characters for a look long-running look at the toils and tribulations of geekdom. Penguin-friendly and also includes some great customer service stories by real customer service people.

Obligatory House-ape note: I read through all the archives of a new comic they find before I let my gang bookmark it. With no over-arching editor hanging over their heads there can be some more adult concepts addressed. Reading through gives a fairly good indication of the overall themes and is a fairly reliable indicator of the drawing style. Usually they don't just suddenly break into nudity or whatever mid-run.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Manga Extravaganza....

Manga is a graphic art form that is incredibly popular in Japan, and is slowly leeching it's way across the Pacific to here. In Japan, comics aren't just for kids.

There are many types of manga. If it's done as an animated TV show or movie, it's referred to by the more common term "anime". There are a great many titles out there, and it can be confusing trying to figure out which one you might like. Generally, they are categorized by distinguishing between types of content. For example, if the main characters are girls and the story concentrates mostly on girl's issues, it's called "bishoujo". A classic example you may be familiar with is the "Sailor Moon" series. From the guy's side it's called "bishounen", and a familiar example would be "Dragonball Z" (the actual books, not the TV series). If it's from the U.S., it's usually referred to as "Amerimanga", irregardless of topic. There are several places online where you can get some help on anime terms.

Literally anything goes in the pages of these books. There are many manga that are pointed only at children so you don't see stuff that's too interesting, but there are many titles with more adult fare, too. Unless it's aimed directly at kids you can expect to see anything you would see in a rated R film. What we would call an X rated one is actually called by a different name - hentai. Another issue that can be addressed is homosexuality. Since they are categorized by content, this is easy to find or avoid if you wish. If the characters are mostly homosexual males and the story is usually tragic, it's called "yaoi", whereas "shounen ai" merely suggests the issues without blatantly addressing them and may or may not have a happy ending.

A lot of this stuff is available online - particularly the Amerimanga as there really isn't any other good publishing outlet yet (though the independent comic publishing houses are starting to take notice). If you want a selection of some great work all in one place, I recommend WirePop, which collects 18 exclusive webcomics by independent creators under one roof. You can read the current page of each work for free, or if you want to hit their archives you can subscribe. At the bottom of the homepage they have the update schedule for their books, and I usually just click over there once a day to read the new ones. Another great source to dredge around in for something you might like is Keenspace which currently hosts 5,917 different online comics. If you can't find one that interests you in that forest, let me know what you like and we'll find you a particular tree.

If you really must get your hands on the paper, it can get a bit trickier. It's a heck of a lot easier than it used to be, though. Certain titles you can only get through an importer like TokyoPop. Amerimanga is a little easier to get - you can usually order them through the individual websites, or see an independent comic company like Dark Horse or DorkStorm. A great features of the online works is that many of them have been around for quite a while. If you are just now getting into the story, you have a treat in store. Several years of archives are usually available for viewing all at once. You can just click through them and read it all cover to cover.

I have some favorites I usually peruse online. Here's a few:

Older Teen-ish (Mom-sense is tingling!):

Megatokyo - Holy Cow! That's what all that stuff that's killing my budget up on comes from! This is a beautifully drawn Amerimanga (sort of bishounen and bishoujo at the same time). All the girls look like Sailor Moon and all the guys look like Ikari Shinji (don't get me started about the robot ninja). Steeped in geekiness, though, so bring along the anime glossary materials linked from above and a 'leet speak glossary. Oh, and all the lines with < and > on either side are supposed to be thought of as being spoken in Japanese. Took me forever to figure that out.

Tsunami Channel - In real life he's a researcher/technician studying the mouse genome which is very cool. But he also draws pretty good bishoujo. Still reading the archives trying to figure out exactly what this is all about.

The Kyrian Chronicles - a very lushly colored totally online bishounen manga with a blend of classic 2d drawing and 3d computer modelling. Each page can be rated and commented on by the users. He's about 30 pages into this one and I'm curious how this is going to go. Also, there is a selection of gorgeous single-shot desktop wallpaper available from this site as well.

Not house-ape friendly (Danger! Danger, Will Robinson!):

Under Power - This is what happens when Mystery Men, George Carlin, The Matrix, The Dunwich Horror, and Everquest get together and have a child and the child takes up cosplay as a hobby. Very strange, very violent, but oozing cool from every pore.

Alpha Shade - This is a straight manga about a war (so far). It's only about 45 pages in so it's hard to get a sense for where it's going. Yes, that's a sentient telepathic kitty, and there are kids in the trenches. Pretty common themes in fantasy manga and anime (see the "Here and Now, Then and There" anime series for another example). The blood took this one out of my kids' hands. The artwork is just beautiful, though.

Target - Shounen ai at it's most impenetrable. This one is a recent find so I have no idea what is going on yet but I will say the linework is just gorgeous. This one flirts around a bit with some sexual themes, which is what got it put on this end of the list.

Saturnalia - dark futuristic story about a cop and his partner in 2999 with a couple interesting detours. The art style has an intriguing angular twist that's a little off the beaten path for manga.

Obligatory House-ape note: I read through all the archives of a new comic they find before I let my gang bookmark it. That gives a fairly good indication of the overall themes and is a fairly reliable indicator of the drawing style. Usually they don't just suddenly break into nudity or whatever mid-run. There are some more adult concepts, and it can be fairly confusing (particularly some of the amerimanga) so be prepared for questions.

Thanks to Nuclear_Cloaca for inspiration up on the Fray, where he made his initial suggestion.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Online Comics/Manga Extravaganzas....
Well, that didn't work out so well. Back to the drawing board on THAT one! Let me try that dance again......

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

A Weirdness of Geeks....

This world has gotten to be a more complex place recently. My son brought home a new biology textbook from school, and it says that there are now at least 3 kingdoms in the taxonomy of living things. Some people will go as high as seven. After reading that, I got to thinking. There are other things in this world that have become more complex as time goes on and their true place is highlighted. Geeks, for example.

Please understand that this is not about making fun of geeks. Au contraire. Well, maybe a little. The genesis of this study came about from my own particular geekiness. I saw the Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring 14 times in theaters. On one occasion – I believe it was the fifth - I was strongly tempted to correct someone who was singing an obviously originally composed Sindarin love song to his S.O. in line ahead of us while we were waiting to see it down at the Cinerama. The verse wasn’t half bad, but his pronunciation was atrocious to the point that some of the words were intelligible and he was singing it in a key only dogs can hear (think Tiny Tim doing Enya). I didn't say anything but as I stood there with my friends I thought about it, and I realized that I couldn’t tell which of us was worse off - him for singing it, her for obviously being flattered, or me for understanding it and critiquing it. I have always been fascinated by the dynamics of social groups, so I decided to look into the geek condition a little farther.

Geek History
Back in the day, you had one type – the geek. They went by many names (dork, freak, Poindexter, etc), but they were all characterized by non-standard physical appearance, frighteningly good grades, and odd social habits. You simply shunned them in school, and they went their odd way. Immortalized in films like Revenge of the Nerds, War Games, and Lucas, they were a small but very real part of growing up. Now a days, the field has opened up. Being intellectual isn’t nearly the stigma it was once. The distinctions between them and the median population aren’t as sharp and now you get a continuum of geek behavior. It is publicly applied to more situations, and its practitioners are becoming more and more of an economic force. A reassessment of what a geek is and how it applies to our society is necessary.

I live in very rich country for the observation of the native geek in their natural habitat. They are all over the place. And more importantly, this population is in a geographic and cultural place that doesn’t require them to pretend to be normal quite so fiercely. Behaviors you would never see outside of a game shop’s basement in other cities happen on the streets in downtown. This affords a unique opportunity for the study of what precisely makes up a “geek” and to sort and classify them by the various behaviors exhibited.

What is a geek?
First, geeks are people. They do the same things many of us do. They are old and young, all colors, and from all economic strata. The differences between their behavior and that of the median population seems to be in the matter of degree. To make it more complicated, they are such a varied set it can be hard to find similar characteristics. Preliminary work shows these features seem to cross many groups and both genders:

  • Hyper-focus: We all pay attention to our favorite TV shows, and can name the characters and what have you. However, if they focus in to the point of being able to tell when they re-painted the walls on the conference room set, that is a dead giveaway. Other markers are knowing the episode number, and knowing the names and functions of individuals involved in the show that are not shown on screen – knowing the name of the set dresser and being able to discuss his work knowledgeably, for example. This applies to whatever they choose as a genre. Medieval geeks can tell a long sword from a broadsword by looking at them, and can date the story of a film by the depiction of the armor.

  • Saturation: We all enjoy and identify characters, but a geek will absorb the character into their life. When at a geek event, the ones dressed like characters stand out – pay attention, some of them are as subtle as elf-ears on a person who is otherwise attired fairly normally. They will also take their chosen genre into their daily lives - the lady who wore her Star Fleet uniform for her local Star Trek fan club when serving as a juror at the Whitewater trial is a classic example. Look carefully at anyone who has learned a mythical language (Sindarin & Quenya, Klingon, and Vulcan seem to be popular choices for this). Watch anyone who has learned the music of that culture – singing the poetry of the Galadrim from Lord of the Rings in Sindarin seems to be popular. And don’t get me started about the guys who perform Wagner’s Ring Cycle in Klingon.

  • Disregard for social convention: Abbreviation of courtesy rules until they seem rude is a watchword. If you have ever heard the words “optimization of information flow” used as an excuse for overly direct speaking, you know what I am talking about. Level of use of the language can be a factor – using words like “antediluvian” and “tacit” in a conversation may show up. Inappropriate levels of foul language can also be seen, but this can be attributed to other factors and shouldn’t be used by itself. This also shows up in sartorial selection as well. They may also dress wildly out of class, such as wearing a tuxedo to Star Wars at the local multiplex or wearing a t-shirt and jeans to the opera. Ignoring the weather also comes into play – the stories of Peter Jackson wearing shorts and sandals in the snow while filming Lord of the Rings, for example. Hardcore hair (especially facial for guys) can also be an indicator. Often it is a maintenance-free choice rather than something that requires frequent trimming.

  • Brainpower: Intelligence another possible connection, but I am still studying it. As a rule, it would require a fair amount of wattage just to exhibit many of the behaviors above. Speaking Sindarin is no joke; Tolkien did his job very well. On the other hand, this might be a function of the population I am studying. In the greater Seattle area intellectual property is king, and the working environments here may provide a selection function towards smarts that is skewing my observations. Also, the prevalence of people in the technical fields and their jargon might be adding to the impression.

How can I find them?
So now you're curious. How do you go about your own observations? The easiest way to get an overview of the group is to go to places that would attract them, like chumming for sharks. There are several ways to go about this:

  • Going to movies or entertainment events they like: A “They Might be Giants” concert can be a great start. Movies like Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Spiderman, and Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring all afforded excellent geek-watching. Right now Hellboy is a solid bet. On a surprising note, 3D animated films regardless of topic and first-run Disney flicks are also good hunting grounds - Pixar's newest film "The Incredibles" is coming out soon and the theaters will be half soccer moms with kids and half 30-something geeks. Horror flicks and mindless action flicks can also be good draws – be aware; the population is often heavily infiltrated by more median folks and it can be hard to see your quarry. Go early enough to watch the people who line up hours in advance.

  • Conventions: gaming conventions, Star Trek conventions, comic conventions, Renaissance Fairs, you name it - these draw them like flies to honey. The nice thing about these is that they provide you with a pre-sorted group to watch – comic geeks go to comic conventions; Star Trek geeks go to Star Trek conventions. The ones that go to more than one kind of convention can be hard to classify, but they usually show their true colors by showing more enthusiasm for one specific event. A guy may go to the comic convention and enjoy himself, but when the same geek goes to a Star Trek convention dressed as a Klingon High Councilor with his own name and clan history and starts reciting Hamlet in Klingon, well, then you know where his heart is.

  • Your local game shop: These provide an easy way to take a look at your local weirdness (a pride of lions, a weirdness of geeks). You will also get to look at the next generation, as the younger set filter into the Dungeons and Dragons section with their Mage Knight figures in hand. Ones that have tables to allow playing with miniatures games are particularly fruitful.

  • Supplies: Places that supply their habits are good. Computer stores, electronics stores, video game stores, and used bookstores, for example, can be great places. They too can have a lot of more median people in them, though, so it can take some discernment to see.

I'm still Livin' La Vida Dorka here myself. Never claimed otherwise. I mean, come on. Only a geek would write this. ;)