Category Archives: The Cartesian Theater

How to Read Star Wars Comics

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Are you trying to find a guide to reading Star Wars comic books online? You’ve come to the right place. And obviously — Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Lucas Film just released the second teaser for Star Wars VII. My wife and I found ourselves tearing up as we watched it on her ipad, demonstrating that nostalgia is the only thing stronger than the Force.  We are of the generation that first saw Star Wars in a theater in the 70’s. We remember a time before Star Wars existed and yet it has always been the background myth of our lives as we grew up. What Gilgamesh was to Mesopotamians or Siegfried and Brunhilde to Germans, Luke, Han and Leia are to us.

Timed with the release of the teaser, Marvel Comics has added a ton of Star Wars related comic books to their digital comics service Marvel Unlimited. These comic books span a period from the 90’s to the present in which Dark Horse Comics started spinning up stories from the Star Wars expanded mythology (many based on the books) that fill in gaps left by the movies as well as extending the storyline beyond Star Wars VI. In 2015, Disney, which owns both the Star Wars franchise as well as Marvel Comics, moved the Star Wars publication rights from Dark Horse Comics to Marvel Comics, which is apparently how these classic Dark Horse comics are now appearing online.

 

accessing the digital comics

 

If you want to know what happens in Star Wars after the battle of Endor (but before J. J. Abrams retcons over it) then this is your opportunity. You can even do it for free if you want. Go to the Marvel Unlimited website and enter the promotion code starwars to get one free month – though I’d recommend skipping this and getting an annual subscription for $69. Marvel Unlimited has a decent web interface, but the best way to use the service is with the iPad app.

(Scott Hanselman has a good but critical review of the service written in 2011 that deserves to be read. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the service as well as the UX have greatly improved over the past four years.)

Once you have your subscription your main problem is going to be seeing the trees for the forest. There are thousands of comics in the Marvel catalog and they tend to be listed in alphabetical order. This is sensible, but not particularly helpful if you want to read the continuing Star Wars saga in mythologically chronological order. Additionally, while Marvel is offering large chunks of the Star Wars graphic novel canon, there are pieces missing. This is an additional difficulty in trying to get the full story straight.

 

reading in the correct order

 

While there are lots of comics available through the subscription that are contemporaneous with the events in the movies, in this post I’m just going to try to help you to read the Star Wars comics being offered through Marvel Unlimited in the correct order starting just after the battle of Endor.

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The first comic of the New Republic Era available is Star Wars: Boba Fett – Twin Engines of Destruction (1997) — I’m using the titles as they are listed in the “browse” tab of the Marvel Unlimited app and including the year to highlight the difference between the chronology and the publication order. I’m also heavily indebted to Wookieepedia (you read it right) for all the correct timeline information.

The story picks up with what is known as the Thrawn Trilogy. In Marvel Unlimited, these are cataloged under three different series of about 5 comics each:

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Star Wars: Heir to the Empire (1995 – 1996)

 

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Star Wars: Dark Force Rising (1997)

 

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Star Wars: The Last Command (1997 – 1998)

 

This leads us into the Dark Empire Trilogy in which the emperor turns out not to be as dead as he could be. Dark Horse’s first Dark Empire series is also in many ways what first made the Star Wars comics attractive as a vector for transmitting expanded universe stories. A few comics slip in between Dark Empire II and Empire’s End of which only the Boba Fett story is currently available on MU.

 

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Star Wars: Dark Empire (1991 – 1992)

 

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Star Wars: Dark Empire II (1994 – 1995)

 

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Star Wars: Boba Fett – Agent of Doom (2000)

 

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Star Wars: Empire’s End (1995)

 

Boba Fett grew as a character mainly because he had an awesome costume and fans just wanted to see more of it. The same could be said of the main character in the next two series. Crimson Empire follows the exploits of one of Emperor Palpatine’s elite bodyguards.

 

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Star Wars: Crimson Empire (1997)

 

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Star Wars: Crimson Empire II – Council of Blood (1998-1999)

 

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The Chewbacca series (2000) is a commemorative four issue run with stories told by Chewbacca’s friends because he is dead at this point in the Star Wars chronology (::sniff::) which will be overwritten by J. J. Abrams faster than you can unsay “Kaaahhhhhn” as J. J. retcons the expanded Star Wars universe.

At this point we leap a century forward and get into the Star Wars: Legacy comics where we follow the adventures of Cade Skywalker, Ania Solo and lots of other people with familiar-but-not-quite-right sounding names. MU lists three collections in the browse tab.

 

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Star Wars Legacy (2006-2010) – 50 issues!

 

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Star Wars: Legacy – War (2010 – 2011) – six issues

 

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Star Wars: Legacy (2013 – 2014) [aka Star Wars: Legacy II] – 18 issues

 

then what … ?

 

And that’s as far as it goes for now. If you need more to read, you can go back in time and start pounding the 55 issues of Knights of the Old Republic digital comics which will provide the Jedi back story from thousands of years before the movies. On the other hand, you might also want to branch out and see what else MU has to offer. Here’s some other books on Marvel Unlimited that I would highly recommend.

 

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Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD #1 (1968)

This single issue written and illustrated by legend Jim Steranko changed the game in comic books. Even as pop art was bringing high art low, Steranko lifted the comic book genre and opened the possibility to start considering comics an art form – or as we prefer to say today, start considering “graphic novels” an art form.

 

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Marvel 1602 (2002-2003)

While there have been many takes on alternate Marvel timelines, Neil Gaiman’s turn with these eight issues is one of the most interesting. He imagines the classic Marvel heroes finding their place in 17th century Europe.

 

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Eternals (2006)

In the 70’s, Marvel experimented with making Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods the basis for a comic book and had mixed success. Decades later, Neil Gaiman came along and wrote a seven issue series based on the earlier work to create an amazing story of aliens turning ancient humans into super heroes for their own mysterious purpose. The aliens in question, by the way, happen to be the Celestials who are part of the back story for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie. See – everything ties together in the Marvel universe.

 

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Guardians of the Galaxy (2008)

The comics are as good as the movie. There are a few more characters and the ones you know are slightly different. Rocket and Groot are the same, though.  This run of the comics basically revives a bunch of Silver Age characters, modernizes them and throws them together to amazing effect.

 

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Annihilation: Conquest – Starlord (2007)

But if you want to do it right and find out how Peter Quill aka Starlord first meets Rocket, Groot and Bug (who’s Bug you ask?) then you might want to also read the four issues of Annihilation: Conquest – Starlord which is just a part of the much bigger Marvel space event called Annihilation: Conquest. Really, all of Annihilation: Conquest is worth reading because then you’ll get to know more about Quasar, Ronan the Accuser, the Heralds of Galactus, and the Nova Corps.

 

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Annihilation (2006 – 2007)

But if you really really want to do it right, then you’ll read the Annihilation comic event before you read either Annihilation: Conquest or Guardians of the Galaxy. This is where Peter Quill first gets retconned into the contemporary world. In the case that you are fully committing to the effort, the correct order for reading most of the back story for the Guardians movie would be:

Annihilation Prologue (2006), Annihilation (2006 – 2007), Annihilation: Quasar / Annihilation: Nova / Annihilation: Ronan / Annihilation: Silver Surfer / Annihilation: Super Skrull [these are all overlapping series], Annihilation: Conquest Prologue (2007), Annihilation: Conquest (2007), Annihilation: Conquest – Quasar / Annihilation: Conquest – Starlord / Annihilation: Conquest – Wraith / Annihilation: Conquest – Heralds of Galactus, Guardians of the Galaxy (2008), The Thanos Imperative: Ignition (2010), The Thanos Imperative (2010), The Thanos Imperative: Devastation (2010).

It’s totally worth it.

 

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Agents of Atlas (2006 — 2007)

Agents of Atlas, like Guardians of the Galaxy, is an instance of Marvel retconning characters that were abandoned in the 50’s and brought together for a series in the 00’s. Interestingly, this is the second time they have been retconned. The first time was in a What If? one-off from the 70’s. FBI agent Jimmy Woo leads a rag-tag team of super-powered beings against the nefarious criminal organization known as the Atlas Foundation. His team includes Namora of Atlantis, the goddess Venus, Marvel Boy the Uranian, Gorilla Man and M-11 the robot. Chronologically in the Marvel universe, Jimmy Woo’s team is actually considered the original Avengers formed to rescue President Dwight Eisenhower from the clutches of Atlas and then later mysteriously disbanded. This series of six issues from 2006 uncovers what really happened to the team. Another series of 11 issues of Agents of Atlas was released in 2009, which was followed up in 2010 by a five issue series simply titled Atlas.

 

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Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.

A twelve issue S.H.I.E.L.D. parody written by comic legend Warren Ellis and beautifully drawn by Stuart Immonen. Super powered heroes discover that they aren’t working for the good guys after all, but that their organization are actually the baddies. They decide to do something about it. Ellis said of the series, “It’s an absolute distillation of the superhero genre. No plot lines, characters, emotions, nothing whatsoever. It’s people posing in the street for no good reason.”

 

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Runaways (2003 — 2004)

Misfit, middle-class teenagers discover that their parents really are evil after all when they accidentally witness them performing a human sacrifice to Elder Gods. They also come to discover that, like their super-villain parents, they possess super powers.

 

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Journey Into Mystery (2011)

The god of mischief Loki is dead but a young boy appears claiming to be Loki reborn. He struggles however because, being Loki, everybody hates him and nobody trusts him. Written by Kieron Gillen, this is the story of how Loki attempts to redeem himself. It is by turns hilarious and heart breaking. Start with issue #622 if you can and try to at least get to issue #645 which wraps up the Loki story.

 

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Secret Avengers #20 (2010)

The entire Secret Avengers series is great. I would especially recommend that you read issue #20 which follows a single storyline in the life of Natalia Romanov, aka Black Widow.

 

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Marvel Zombies (2005-2006)

Marvel Unlimited gives you every variation on Marvel zombies you could possibly want, from the original series to the five follow ups to Marvel Zombies Christmas Carol to Marvel Zombies vs. Marvel Apes. I recommend at least having a taste of the first five issue run.

 

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Secret Warriors (2008 — 2011)

In the first comic of this 28 issue run, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. discovers that for his entire career, his arch enemy Hydra (“Hail Hydra!”) has been secretly controlling  S.H.I.E.L.D. itself. The last 60 years of secret wars have been a farce scripted by the Nazi Baron Strucker. (This is actually the basis for the storyline in the film Winter Soldier as well as the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series.) But Nick doesn’t give up. Instead, he pulls together a team to take Hydra down once and for all.

My daughter the sword swallower

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My fifteen year old daughter, Sasha, publicly performed her sword swallowing act this past weekend at the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in Gatlinburg, TN for Sword Swallowers Day and in the process officially became a member of the Sword Swallowers Association International.  She is currently one of about 25 female sword swallowers in the entire world.

There are three common questions that arise when people find out about my teenage daughter’s unusual hobby:

1. How did she tell you about it?

2. How did she learn to do it?

3. How do you feel about your daughter being a sword swallower?

1. How did she tell you about it?

My wife and I were watching TV in the living room when my daughter came down from her room and said “There’s something I want to show you.  Don’t freak out.”

2. How did she learn to do it?

Over the summer we sent Sasha to Los Angeles to spend time with some of her relatives on the west coast.  Her Vietnamese grandmother took her shopping in one of the more interesting areas of L.A. which included a small Chinese curiosity shop where she became fascinated by a dusty, aging volume simply called The Book of Swords.  Among other things, the book provides drawings and instructions on the ancient art of sword swallowing.  When she got back to Georgia, she practiced quietly and diligently in her room for weeks until she was ready to show us what she had learned to do.  Surprisingly, her younger brother and sister knew about it but managed to keep it a secret from me and my wife.

3. How do you feel about your daughter being a sword swallower?

At first I freaked out.  I didn’t want to see it when she wanted to show me what she could do and instead asked for a reprieve of a few days while my wife and I researched it.  I learned that sword swallowing is in fact dangerous – but it is also an art that, when practiced correctly, allows the practitioner to accomplish remarkable feats.  And then when I finally saw my daughter perform …

A father worries about his children harming themselves.  He worries that they will get involved in unsavory things or end up with unsavory friends.  He worries about his daughters more than his sons out of a perhaps chauvinistic belief that his daughters are more likely to be taken advantage of, will have more trouble standing up for themselves and saying no, are more susceptible to peer pressure, etc.  A father of teenage daughters lives half his life in fear and I am no exception.  Yet, when I finally saw my daughter perform …

I was amazed.  I learned that my daughter can accomplish anything she puts her mind to.  I learned that, unlike many people her age, my daughter has no body image issues whatsoever and in fact is in complete control over her own body and emotions in a way I find enviable.  I realized that my daughter will never have troubles saying no to anyone because she freakin’ swallows swords.  My daughter is fierce and wonderful, and I never have to worry about her being her own person and doing whatever she wants to do. 

I learned that I worry way too much.

A Tale from the Snowpocalypse

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“Atlanta, we are ready for the snow.“ — @KasimReed via twitter

The Snowpocalypse of 2014 is strangely not a weather story so much as a traffic story.  One or two inches of snow, after all, is hardly a tsunami, a flood, or even a moderate earthquake.  It may, however, have the singular distinction of being the first time a governor of the great state of Georgia has declared a state of emergency due to a bad case of gridlock.

Which is not to say that road conditions were particularly good. They just weren’t the initial problem.  As first flurries and then larger flakes fell shortly before noon on Tuesday, January 28th, people started to realize it was time to abandon Atlanta.  The digital marketing agency where I work is located in midtown.  The email announcement went out at 12:36 that the office was closing at 1 pm. 

People had an inkling that traffic would be bad.  Even Atlanta’s mayor Kasim Reid has said that as it was happening, he thought it was a bad idea that everyone was leaving at once.  Of course, everyone thought this, which is why they all rushed out of work at the same time to beat everyone else headed toward the freeways and highways to go home to their families – most people who work in Atlanta, after all, live in the suburbs around the city.

As I peered down at the cars filling up the roads around my building like syrup overfilling a plate of pancakes, I decided to hunker down and wait a bit.  This choice was driven more by necessity than forethought as I had a meeting with a potential technology partner and then a performance management meeting.  True forethought was exercised by my friend Wells who simply called in and said he was working from home that day.  After all, we all knew there would be snow.  Our smartphone weather apps told us so.

It wasn’t until 5:30 that I finally left.  The immediate roads around the office had dried up a little.  Additionally the online traffic cameras colored all the routes out of town black so it was unlikely anything would get better in the near future.  I had no idea what a “black” road actually meant, however, so I wasn’t as rattled as I should have been.  I expected a simple three hour commute – which was about the worse I’d ever experienced on the 25 mile drive back home to the city of Lilburn – next to Snellville – northeast of Atlanta where I live.  Little did I know this was only the start of a fifteen hour odyssey through the Snowpocalypse that would give me nightmares for days and show me things about the true nature of my fellow man I’d just as soon never have known.  The performance review went relatively well, by the way – thanks for asking.

Muscle memory is an amazing metaphor for how the mind works.  Whatever the actual biological process, the story of muscle memory says that actions we perform repetitively are stored in a Lamarckian way in our bodies themselves – as if our minds, home to our memories, permeate through and suffuse our arms and legs.  In my experience, though, the notion of muscle memory ought to be extended into geographical space, for surely we leave impressions of ourselves in the places we abide and the routes we frequent much as a person leaves a depression in the easy chair when he gets up from it.

As I headed home, my car followed its own muscle memory around and around the parking deck, then right on Cypress Street, Left on 4th, crossed West Peachtree and finally made another left turn on Spring Street.  And then it was two hours to crawl south on Spring, past J.R. Crickets on my left (established 1980), then past The Varsity on my right (surprisingly good onion rings).  Two hours as the sun went down.  Two hours to struggle down three blocks at which point I reached a decision.  I could either make a right turn onto the I-85 headed north or continue on to the I-75 South, which would take me to the 20 West and eventually the Stone Mountain Highway toward Athens and Snellville. 

The odd thing is that after spending two hours despising the herd of cars around me, when it came time to make my choice North or South I followed the herd.  No one was getting onto the 85 (I discovered later it was totally blocked) so I didn’t either.  Instead I spent another hour crawling even more slowly along to get onto the 75 South.  As the Honda Accord in front of me let in one person after another in front of him (and, of course, in front of me) I slowly seethed.  Since it was taking ten minutes or so to move each car length, the Accord was adding time to my journey, taking time from my life, taking money from my pocket. 

And as I seethed, the lizard part of my brain took over.  I imagined the zombies from The Walking Dead and felt that I was coming to understand them.  I slowly shuffled along, to the extent a car can shuffle along, and tried to stay close to the cars in front of me – even if this was probably an unsafe distance.  I no longer even saw the cars in front of me so much as patterns of tail lights.  When someone appeared to move faster than the standard shuffling pace, the entire herd became hungry and would look toward the sudden flash of movement – only to realize nothing was really happening, there was no fresh meat.

I shuffled forward for a half hour.  Then I shuffled another half hour.  I was now approaching a 270 degree turn on my right onto the 75.  The whole turn was perhaps 600 feet long.  And here we reached a sort of standstill. No motion for another half hour.  I had been texting my wife (at this speed, I couldn’t see the harm) but my phone finally gave out with a defeated beep.  The main excitement during this extended wait occurred when a Lexus pulled up along the right shoulder and sped past everyone making the 270 degree turn.  At first I was angry.  And then I was envious.  Why didn’t I do that too?  This dude was speeding along at almost fifteen miles an hour.  As he reached the 180 degree point, however, he was brought up short, too – and when it came down to it, just thinking of leaving the order of the herd made me anxious.  

Over the turn was a large digital sign.  It lit up the whole area and cycled through something about a new sitcom, then something about a new reality show, then a Coca-Cola spot, then the sitcom again.  All of midtown Atlanta is hooked up for communication, every pocket has a smartphone with a data plan streaming information, every car has a radio allowing our government to speak directly to us.  Despite all this, the massive sign positioned to communicate to hundreds of people in terrible trouble could only tell us was to tune into TBS for a few giggles.  The smartphone, that miraculous device which allows me to call anywhere anytime, dies in less than a day because that’s just the state of battery technology – especially when the GPS is turned on.  And finally the radio, which once a month or so starts bleating, then tells me that it’s only having a test and that if this were a real emergency it would tell me what to do next – the government, the governor, the mayor apparently had nothing to communicate to the stranded motorists, so there was not emergency bleating to be had.  Again, I thought of those zombie movies where lone survivors sit by their radios waiting for news from the army about safe zones and instead hear only static.

More time went by and I was finally on the 75, but now stuck behind a big rig truck.  It was spinning its wheels faster and faster and faster but couldn’t seem to make any progress forward.  At the same time it was freaking out everyone around the 18 wheeler as we imagined what would happen if it the tires actually caught and the truck went flying forward.  As I waited behind this truck, I noticed another rig pull up to its left and get stuck, then another beside that.  Eventually there were four tractor trailers side by side and stuck, blocking all movement on the 75.  For a time I thought they must be getting secret communications from the government and that this was a complex maneuver intended to shut down the Interstate because there were worse things ahead – government and truckers working together for the common weal. 

This was not true, of course, and I found out later that it was mainly the big rigs that were shutting down all the freeways and highways running around and through Atlanta.  They would either just freeze in place or, worse, slide until they were sideways and blocking all lanes.  Things would probably have turned out differently if the people who are in charge had simply called up all the truckers on their radios and told them to pull over.  Then we all might have gotten home, freeing up the big roads and as a by product all the capillaries blocked by people trying to get onto the big roads.

Something snapped in me.  Fresh vitality came back to my mind and warmth flowed into my fingers.  I pulled around the trucker, I weaved slowly around other cars that appeared stopped, and took the first exit onto Courtland Street.  I drove up to Peachtree Street and then took it all the way to Ponce de Leon Avenue where I turned right.  Ponce is basically two blocks from my office where I started out.  I was about four or five hours into the journey at this point.

Ponce was beautifully clear.  I had left the zombies behind and now felt as though I was on a different, more exciting adventure.  I glided down the beautifully tree-lined Ponce – driving / skating along its winding path.  As I approached intersections, the lights kept turning green for me.  One time I stopped for a red light but discovered it was hard to get moving again once I’d stopped.  I panicked and started pressing harder and harder on the gas.  Then I remembered the 18 wheeler on the 75 and got a grip on myself.  I reversed slowly, the moved slowly forward and was free again to glide.  I don’t know when it happened but I eventually fell behind a White Passat.  Whereas I’d previously secretly despised everyone driving around me, the White Passat became my special friend, and I like to think he felt the same way.  We were comrades traveling through a post-apocalyptic world and nothing could harm us.  Other travelers joined us and were welcomed gladly.  We few, we happy few.

There were whole stretches that felt like we were driving through the Christmas day scene from A Christmas Carol – not the ghost bits but the morning with Scrooge running around wishing people happy Christmas and carolers in scarves and big smiles.  Just like that except I’m driving through Dickensian London in a Toyota Scion.  I even have false memories of snow covered cobble streets lined with gas lamps decorated with ribbon.

And then we finally came to the 78 – Stone Mountain Highway – and my dear friend headed toward Decatur while I continued toward Snellville.  So much had been left unsaid between us.  Perhaps it was better this way.

I was able to go several miles on the 78 without seeing anyone.  And then I started to see cars slowly headed toward me the wrong way on the highway.  It was like a movie in which the protagonist is headed into a forest and suddenly all the birds burst out from the trees and head towards him and then overhead – a clear indication that the protagonist, rather than the birds, are headed in the wrong direction. 

Oddly, I was still hoping to get home before midnight.  The last message I’d sent my wife before the phone died was “Is there food?”  I knew she was worried and hated that I didn’t have a way to let her know I was safe.  And what if things got worse?  Who wants their last words to be “Is there food?” 

Perhaps the headlights coming toward me where a bit too uncanny.  It was at this point – the only point in the whole adventure — that my car started to spin.  I remembered that I was supposed to turn into the spin and looked down at my hands, which had all on their own turned completely in the opposite direction.  Stupid muscle memory.  Of all the stupid things I’ve picked up over the years – baseball stats, D&D rules, obsolete computer languages – knowledge of how to drive in the snow suddenly floated to the top like the submerged pyramid in a magic 8 ball.  Pump pump pump on the breaks, slow down, turn the wheel slightly into the spin – and suddenly I was back in control again.  I’m sure there was a metaphor buried somewhere in that experience that I could have pulled out in order to live my life better and be a better human being, but I was really too tired and hungry to care.

Up ahead I started to find cars turned around in the direction I was headed, sparse at first, but more and more dense as I headed further north until the traffic came to a standstill.  And for the most part that was how things were for the next nine to ten hours.  It was like being in a parking lot lit only by the headlights of the cars in it.  We would be stopped for an hour at a time and then get ten minutes or so of forward motion, then stop again.  No one had any idea what was happening ahead to allow for the forward motion, which by now had become the exception rather than the rule.  I never wondered why we were stopped – only how we ever progressed.

Occasionally during these forward movements I’d realized I was parked behind a completely stopped vehicle.  At first I was dumbfounded by the thought of someone not taking the opportunity to move forward when given the chance, but I got used to it.  People were just stopping in the middle of the highway and going to sleep in the snow like wanderers in a Jack London story.  Sometimes, I’d pass cars that were simply abandoned.  The lights and engines would just be off – surely if someone were sleeping they would leave the engine running to heat their car.  Mostly these cars were well situated.  Early on they’d be abandoned on the right and left shoulders of the road as if someone had taken care to park them carefully before abandoning them. 

Later – at the eleven and twelve hour mark, I’d pass cars that were simply left in the middle of traffic, correctly positioned in an appropriate lane.  Drivers had simply said screw this, turned off their engines and walked into the woods – at least I imagine they walked into the woods because there weren’t really any hotels or houses or stores around us on that patch of highway.  The drivers vanished into the cold.  Later still, as I began to pass the various cars that had created the original pile ups, I found abandoned cars facing a variety of different directions.  Sometimes I’d see one car oriented perpendicularly to another car and barely kissing each other, the result of a slow motion crash in which no one was injured, not even the body work on the cars, but which was no doubt frightening enough – and in slow motion at that – that both drivers just said fuckit and walked off into the snow.

As I passed these wrecks frozen in time – perhaps even still occurring so infinitesimally slowly that no one noticed – I came to realize that getting past a pileup like this was never the end, for just a mile ahead there would be another one, and a mile in front of that another one.  Like a series of dominos, each slow collision between two cars caused other cars to brake badly and slide further behind them and so on and so on.   This was simply the pattern of things and even had a beautiful cadence that I learned to appreciate.

I remember strange moments breaking up the interminable boredom.  The snow occurred during a new moon, so the light during the odd patches when there were no cars around was provided solely by stars and was beautiful.

I remember the people who got out of their cars to walk north along the side of the road, either to see what was going on or to find a discrete place to urinate.  I would wait for each of them to come back and worried when it seemed to take too long.

The stretch of highway going in the opposite direction was empty.  A hitchhiker walked south along that stretch with his hand out and I wondered who he was hoping to get a ride from.  I was also amazed at how fast he was moving compared to me, as if he had wings on his feet.

I was entertained for an hour by a small truck headed in the opposite direction that had gotten stuck.  The engine would rev and over rev and the wheels would whine at higher and higher pitches which I learned to recognize as the sound of futility.  Then the truck would stop for five or ten minutes, gather up courage, and proceed to do the exact same thing again with the exact same results.

For the most part, the massive trucks that are common to Atlanta had absolutely no advantage in the snow and were even more likely to get stuck, for some reason.  Chances are they got stuck due to overconfidence while the cautious tortoise-like commuter cars fared much better.  Those fantastic commercials of trucks driving over glaciers, it turns out, have been lying to us and planting false knowledge in our collective unconscious.  Even sadder, we probably all already knew this.

Occasionally black all-terrain vehicles with S.W.A.T. bumper stickers would pass by and national guardsmen would jump out.  They’d look around for a while and then get back into their trucks and drive on, pursuing their mysterious missions.  They never talked to anyone but each other.

One time a large truck with flashing police lights came along the left shoulder and told everyone over a megaphone to get out of the left two lanes.  We magically transformed a slowly crawling traffic jam over five lanes into a fully stopped traffic jam over three lanes.  According to the megaphone, we were clearing the way for a salt truck to come through and treat the roads.  He insisted that this was the only way to clear the traffic and that we had to stop traffic to unclog traffic.  Over the next two hours that open left lane was a great temptation but no one took advantage of it.  We believed in following rules and working together for the greater good.  We believed in foregoing immediate gratification in order to achieve a higher outcome.  Like a nasty scab, that open lane begged to be scratch, but we did not.

Until slowly we began to realize that there was no salt truck coming and we just picked and picked at that scab for about five minutes until all lanes were backed up again.  And it felt good.

I mostly entertained myself by listening to AM radio, hoping for some news about what was going on or signs that someone in authority was taking charge.  Apparently, though, no one in authority really had anything to pass on to the stranded motorists.  Home Depot, bless their hearts, were opening up fourteen stores for people to take shelter.  Sadly, though, this didn’t really help anyone out except the people stuck in traffic in front of a Home Depot.

The radio announcer was apparently going well beyond his appointed duration.  He acknowledged that since we were suffering, he wanted to be there right along with us.  He then talked about how nice it was to be at home drinking bourbon in front of a raging fire and wished we could be there with him.  It was actually pleasant listening to him take calls and listen to other people vent about the troubles.  They called in and complained about the poor preparation exhibited by the state of Georgia and the city of Atlanta.  This being AM radio, these calls were followed up by others extolling the virtue of personal responsibility and reminding people they had no one to blame but themselves.  I actually couldn’t follow the logic of these callers since I didn’t know what I was responsible for other than coming in to work that morning and going to a performance management meeting.

Speaking of performance management, the host of the show also passed on comments by the mayor of Atlanta explaining that contrary to popular opinion, the city was actually doing a fantastic job of managing road conditions.  I think I heard this at around the thirteen hour mark.  It occurred to me that people often lie to themselves and others when it comes to performance.  Which led me to dwell a bit on my own relatively good performance review and I realized that when I asked about the possibility of a promotion my boss said let’s wait and see how things go – and it suddenly dawned on me that this is what I say to my children when they ask me for something and I don’t want to say no but I also have no intention of ever giving it to them.

That’s the problem with long drives.  Too much time to think.

As I mentioned, I was curious why the AM radio host was staying on for so long and then I finally understood, as he understood, that he had a captive audience.  He started laying out a theory about James the brother of the Lord being the actual rather than half-brother of Jesus, and then something complicated about Jesus having had to be a historical person otherwise we’d be saying that Polycarp and Tertullian never existed or something.  And slowly it dawned on me that he was simply laying out a Da Vinci Code- liite theory of his own in which Jesus has nephews and nieces with their own nephews and nieces spread throughout in the world.  He never quite said it but this seemed to be where he was headed, and he had a captive audience to spin it out to like a drunk uncle at a family get-together.

He had almost gotten to his point when the thread of the argument was lost due to some real news.  The government (not sure which one) had decided not to do anything further until sunrise.  It was about four-thirty when I heard this and I realized that now I had two hours to go before anything more would happen.  I could actually plan … to do nothing … but having the ability to exercise forethought was exciting.  I looked at the cars around me.  The fellow in the lane to my right leaned back and closed his eyes.  I found this deeply offensive – he had an obligation to maintain the night watch with the rest of us.  He felt my critical gaze, opened his eyes, looked over at me and just shrugged.  Then he went back to sleep.  I looked at the car behind him and saw two people watching a movie on their phone.  Again, what amazing devices smartphones are, so potentially useful in an emergency, and it turns out best used to catch up on two-and-a-half men.  In the back seat of the Lexus in front of me I noticed a small child’s hand weaving back and forth hypnotically.

I snapped awake a little later, slid forward a few car lengths, and slipped back into my coma.  This went on several times over the next few hours.  The logic of waiting till dawn was that the sun would help melt the snow despite the freezing temperatures.  I think it was really an opportunity for a respite and permission for people in authority to finally admit that they were out of ideas.  The fault was with planning, after all, and no amount of frantic response after the fact would really make up for it.  There was also probably something mythological at work.  The dawn chases away evil.  It chases away vampires, werewolves, and even makes zombies less frightening.  Sometimes it even helps us forget bad choices.

Dawn was beautiful when it came.  With the dawn came hope.  A black truck with a S.W.A.T. bumper sticker sped by and moved out beyond the tiny circumferences of the world immediately around my car.  And then ten minutes later cars started moving, just as promised.  I looked at my speedometer and realized I was actually moving at five miles an hour.  I was worried that at those speeds, I would spin out of control – it just seemed so much faster than I was used to.

After passing the gates to Stone Mountain, I was happy to discover that none of these people I had been stuck with for hours were actually headed my way.  So why on earth had they blocked me for so long?  It was another skating drive like I’d had on Ponce de Leon, with familiar streets made unfamiliar by white powder.  I would occasionally pass gangs of curious children out playing, getting supplies, breaking into abandoned cars, whatever.  The rules had changed.  I didn’t even stop for red lights anymore, having shed all muscle memory of traffic regulations in the night.  I simply slowed down at intersections and enjoyed my newfound freedom of movement.

A left turn onto Hewitt road to get to my own street, carefully maneuvered.  I didn’t want to slide into the gutter a mile from home – that would just be embarrassing after all that.  On a tiny two lane street, I finally passed the last signs of the Snowmaggedon.  Seven cars, all turned in different directions, some half on the road, others on people’s lawns, all abandoned.  I’d seen scenes like this all night but in the light of day the abandoned cars were particularly striking and more like the panoramic scenes of a disaster movie.  People who leave their cars in the middle of the road must really think life sucks.

I navigated slowly around these cars, watching for zombies to jump out, pumping my breaks the whole way, and finally made a left turn onto Oak Road.  There had been a single car behind me, matching my speed and following my lead as we passed cars and avoided icy slicks.  I was happy to pass on the survival skills I’d learned in the night to this fellow traveler of the post-apocalyptic highways and byways.  My little buddy, however, went right when I’d gone left, and I was alone again.

I slid into my driveway, walked up to the door, found that my house key wasn’t working and banged on the door, desperately, until someone let me in.  Have you ever played the Xbox game Left for Dead?  At the end of each level you find a safe house and after everyone has freed themselves of their zombie pursuers, you can shut and bolt the door behind you.  That’s how it felt to finally be in my house again after that fifteen hour ordeal.  I was home again, I was warm, and I was loved.

And you know what?  There was even food.

Ghost Hunting with Kinect

Paranormal Activity 4

I don’t usually try to undersell the capabilities of the Kinect.  Being a Microsoft Kinect for Windows MVP, I actually tend to promote all the things that Kinect currently does and one day will do.  In fact, I have a pretty big vision of how Kinect, Kinect 2, Leap Motion, Intel’s Perceptual Computing camera and related gestural technologies will change the way we interact with our environment.

Having said that, let me just add that Kinect cannot find ghosts.  It might reveal bugs in the underlying Kinect software – but it cannot find ghosts.

Nevertheless, “experts” are apparently using Kinect sensors to reveal the presence of ghosts.  Here’s a clip from Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures.  It’s an episode called Cripple Creek and you’ll want to skip ahead to about 3:50 (ht to friend Josh Blake for finding this).

The logic of this is based on some very sophisticated algorithms the Kinect uses to identify “skeletons” – or outlines of the human form.  The current Kinect can spot two skeletons at a time including up to 20 joints on each skeleton.  Additionally, it has a “seated mode” that allows it to identify partial skeletons from about the waist up – this tends to be a little more dodgy though.  All of this skeleton information is provided primarily to allow developers to create games that track the human body and, typically, animate an onscreen avatar that emulates the player’s movements.

The underlying theory behind using it for ghost hunting is that, since when someone passes in front of the Kinect sensor the Kinect will typically register a skeleton, it follows that if the Kinect registers a skeleton someone must have passed in front of it.

skeleton

Unfortunately, this is not really the case.  There are lots of forum posts from developers asking how to work around peculiarities with the Kinect skeletons while anyone who has played a Kinect game on XBox has probably noticed that the sensor will occasionally provide false positives (which for gaming, is ultimately better than false negatives).  In fact, even my dog would sometimes register as a skeleton when he ran in front of me while I was playing. 

Perhaps you’ve also noticed that in an oddly shaped room, Kinect is prone to register false speech commands.  This happens to me especially when I’m trying to watch my favorite ghost hunting show on Netflix – probably because of the feedback from the television itself (which the Kinect tends to be very good at cancelling out if you take the trouble to configure it according to instructions – but I don’t).  I know this isn’t a ghost pausing my TV show, though, because the Kinect isn’t set up to hear anything I don’t hear.  Just because the Kinect emulates some human features – like following simple voice commands like “Play” and “Pause” – doesn’t mean it’s something from The Terminator, The Matrix or Minority Report.  It is no more psychic than I am and it doesn’t have super hearing.

Kinect 2 IR

Similarly, skeleton tracking on Kinect isn’t specially fitted to see invisible things.  It uses a combination of an infrared camera and a color camera to collect data which it interprets as a human structure.  But these cameras don’t see anything the human eye can’t see with the lights on.  Those light photons that are being collected by the sensors still have to bounce off of something visible, even if you can’t see the light beams themselves.  Perhaps part of the illusion is that, because we can’t see the infrared light being emitted and collected by the Kinect, people assume that what it detects also can’t be seen?

Here’s another episode of Ghost Adventures on location at the haunted Talumne Hospital.  It’s especially remarkable because the Kinect here is doing exactly what it is expected to do.  As the subject lifts himself off the bed, he separates his outline from the background and Kinect for Windows’ “seated mode” identifies his partial skeleton from approximately the waist up.  The intrepid ghost hunters then scream out “It was in your gut!”  Television gold.

Apparently the use of unfamiliar (and misunderstood) technology provides a veneer of seriousness to what these people do on their shows.  Another piece of weird technology all these shows use is something called EVP – electronic voice phenomena.  Here the idea is that you put out a tape recorder or digital recorder and let it run for a while – often with a white noise machine in the background.  Then you play it back later and you start hearing things you didn’t hear at the time.  The trick is that if you run these recordings through software intended to clean up audio in order to discover voices, they remarkably discover voices that you never heard but which must be the voice of ghosts.

I can’t help feeling, however, that it isn’t the world of extrasensory phenomena that is mysterious and baffling to us.  It’s all the crazy new technologies that appear every day that is truly supernatural and overwhelming.  Perhaps tying all of these frightening technologies to our traditional myths and collective superstitions is just a way of making sense of it all and normalizing it.

Got an Image Enhancer that can Bitmap?

Every UI platform needs a killer concept.  For the keyboard and mouse it was the Excel sheet.  If you ever watch the rebooted Hawaii Five-0, you’ll realize that for Touch it’s the flick.  Flicking is more satisfying than tapping on sooo many levels.  Birds do it, bees do it, even monkeys in the trees do it.

Gestural interfaces haven’t found that killer concept yet, but it may just be the ability to zoom in on an image.  Like flicking and entering tabular data, killer concepts don’t necessarily have to be clever.  They just have to feel right.

Consider what John Anderton spent his time doing in 2002’s Minority Report.  For the most part, he used innovative fantasy technology (later made real at Oblong Industries) to enhance images on his rather large screen.

Go back even further and you’ll recall Rick Deckard used speech recognition to enhance an image in 1982’s Blade Runner.  This may be the first inkling any of us had of the true purpose of NUI.

It obviously left an impression on the zeitgeist because every movie or TV show attempting to demonstrate technological sophistication on the cheap (CSI being the biggest culprit) managed to insert an “enhance” scene into their franchise somewhere.

And if you happened to have a movie with no budget, there was no reason you should let this stop you.

And while we’re getting nonstalgic for NUI, let’s not forget to give credit where credit is due. Before Leap Motion, before Microsoft’s Kinect, before Oblong’s g-speak, even before Minority Report, there was the NES Power Glove:

And in the decades after, all we’ve managed to do is to enhance that killer concept.

Famous Youtubers: from our far-flung correspondent

Still not recovered from book writing, I have asked my eleven year old son to provide an overview of what’s going on in YouTube land.  My son spends a lot of time working on his own videos – mostly guides to Minecraft and short Lego stop-motion films – and looks up to the sort of people who have managed to eek out a living doing this.  Here are some of the movers-and-shakers in his world:

Hello audience, I am Paul Ashley; son of James Ashley… I am writing this article because of my epic writing skills I gained at school! Oh also because my dad said to… My Youtube account is PaulVAshley so remember to subscribe to me! Or don’t… Let’s begin our Top 5 Most subscribed Youtubers!

#5: Freddiew (Freddie Wong) 3,022,460(as of now) Subscribers.

Freddie and Brandon are two good friends who enjoy making videos with sweet VFX. I’ve always liked their videos, and I still do. I was first introduced to the channel by my friend ANONYMOUS. Umm… okay… anyway, he wanted to show me a tutorial Freddie and Brandon made on First Person Shooter Videos. I began watching all of his short movies starting with “Mr. Toots.” I have become one of his biggest fans. I also wonder what he has in store for us in “Video Game High School.” He is a great director and he is my role model!

#4: Machinima 4,356,027(as of now) Subscribers.

Machinima is an actual company that employs people to play games all day and occasionally make a “machinima” (A video with voices filmed from a game) from time to time. I think this channel is slightly unfair because they have hundreds of people making their videos. I enjoy certain songs that they make, but most videos I think to be just plain stupid. This is only my opinion though… Overall, I really like them only they sometimes have a video that is “bad.”

#3: Smosh (Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla) 4,464,823(as of now) Subscribers.

Smosh is definitely my personal favorite Youtube channel. They upload new videos every week. Ian has a separate channel for making shows called “Ian is bored,” and “Lunchtime with Smosh.” I was first introduced by a few friends, one of them being Sam. Anyways, we would watch the “Theme song” series (Mortal Kombat, Pokémon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…). That was back in ’07 or ’08. Nowadays, they upload sketch videos. Overall, I love all of their videos except a few crappy ones.

#2: Nigahiga (Ryan Higa) 5,256,220(as of now) Subscribers.

Nigahiga… The most popular, classic Youtuber of all time! He is definitely the most famous among Youtubers. I was first introduced by my friends Shirish, Sam, and ANONYMOUS. We enjoyed videos like “How to be Ninja, Gangster, and Nerd.” My favorite video is “THE BEST CREW: The Audition.” I almost died in laughter. Overall, I like ALL of his videos.

#1: RayWilliamJohnson 5,408,244(as of now) Subscribers.

FINALLY! I’ve been enslaved to write this article for HOURS! So… where were we… Ah yes, lucky number 1. Ray is a Youtuber that makes a web show called =3. I was first introduced by my friend Shirish. Mr. Johnson (hehe) used to entertain me when I was 10, but I’ve grown ever-so bored of his predictable jokes. He also has a channel called “BreakingNYC.” Ahem, now this boy-man is funny to the creepy weirdoes of Youtube. Overall, I hate to sound sketchy but I dislike all of his videos.

YAY! ENDING PARAGRAPH! I like all of the channels I reviewed except RWJ. Okay, bye guys that’s all you get.

-From the insane mind of Paul Vladimir Ashley.

I’m joining Razorfish

I am now an employee of a digital powerhouse called Razorfish.  I’m very excited about this.  Whereas before I wrote applications, I am now writing “experiences” – which is a hipster way of saying that I get to apply all of my experience writing LOB applications in WPF and Silverlight to making cool UX (my private vice is now my fulltime job).

I’m actually working for a team within Razorfish called the Emerging Experiences Group which does cutting edge development with Microsoft Surface, Windows Phone, augmented reality and other neat toys.  If you have seen the recent WP7 launch (or happened to be in Barcelona when the phone was announced) you will have noticed the EE’s work even if you didn’t know who they are – EE wrote the “BAP”: the giant windows phone display used to demonstrate how Windows Phone works back when there were very few devices to hand out to people.

My first incredibly cool week as a Presentation Layer Architect in the Emerging Experiences Group was taken up with helping to build an application experience to be debuted at the 2010 Wired Store: http://www.wired.com/about/2010/11/wired-brings-the-best-of-what%E2%80%99s-next-to-new-york-city-experiential-gallery-open-for-the-holidays-in-noho-shopping-district/ 

You can check out more work by Razorfish’s Emerging Experiences Group here: http://emergingexperiences.com/portfolio/

Anonymity, Identity and my XBox gamer tag

squarepeg

This a postmodern title for a silly problem.  I am trying to consolidate my XBox gamer tag, my Zune Pass tag, and the different Windows Live IDs I use for these tags with the Live ID I use for my Windows Phone 7 and my WP7 marketplace account.  After half an hour on the phone with XBox support, I’m not sure if I’ve gotten any closer to pulling myself together.

The nature of online identities has changed over the past several years.  It used to be that it was a great idea to use anonymous handles online.  The persona one used online to criticize Apple or Microsoft or the US government could hypothetically never be traced back to the real you.  It was even a good idea to have multiple anonymous online handles.  One would use various bogus email accounts to track junk mail, other ones to deal with the mortgage, another one to deal with the bank. 

I was the circus master to an army of anonymous online daemons sent out to do my virtual bidding.

But things changed.  It turns out that the web isn’t just a place to make a nuisance of oneself; it is also a place to garner and horde rewards.  Tying the handle I use to make Amazon book recommendations with the one I use on MSDN forums with the one I use on my blog suddenly started seeming like a great idea, and so three years ago or so I started using my real name for everything.  This was a matter of vanity, of course.

More recently, it has become a matter of necessity.  I have about ten different Live IDs and I am trying to consolidate them all with my open id, facebook account, Blogger account, twitter account, etc.  Microsoft has started tying the Zune Pass to Windows Phone and XBox.  This is all great stuff – but only if all the IDs for these various services are consolidated.

When I got my Zune Pass, I was required to create a Zune tag and associate it with a Live ID.  My XBox gold membership is also associated with a Live ID and gamer tag.  Unfortunately, these are different IDs.  Zune will let me switch gamer tags, but only if the one I want to switch to doesn’t already exist.  XBox will let me associate my gamer tag with a different Live ID, but only if that Live ID doesn’t have a different gamer tag associated with it

Just to make things a little clearer, I’ll provide some names.  My XBox tag is DHTMLKing (I thought that particular Microsoft technology would take off back in the day) tied to my Live ID hotsweats@hotmail.com (a long story).  My Zune Pass moniker is fightclubber3xY tied to my Live ID XamlMarkHamill@hotmail.com (this all became very confusing when I was on the phone with XBox support).  My WP7 Marketplace account is fortunately tied to XamlMarkHamill also.  XamlMarkHamill is the Live ID I want everything associated with, but I want to keep my achievements associated with DHTMLKing and my plays and recommendations associated with fightclubber3xY.  Simple enough.

On the XBox console I can change the Live ID associated with DHTMLKing (yay) but not to a Live ID that is already associated with another Zune / XBox tag (boo).  On the Zune website I can change gamer tags (yay) but not if that gamer tag already exists (boo).  And on Zune for the XBox, I can create a new Zune Pass if I don’t already have one associated with my gamer tag / Live ID but I cannot simply associate my Gold membership with a pre-existing Zune Pass account (boo).  I can link my various Live IDs on http://account.live.com (yay) but this doesn’t really let these IDs know anything about each other – it just provides a link so I can switch between Live IDs more easily (meh).

I was told by the very patient XBox support representative to recover the Zune Pass gamer tag on the XBox (since it only exists on the xbox.com website but has never resided on my game console) and then try to associate that gamer tag with a new Live ID – but I remembered reading something on Yahoo Answers indicating that doing this would also move my Zune Pass associated with that bogus gamer tag to the new Live ID also, which would be self-defeating.

So we went with plan B – I deleted the gamer tag I had just recovered (the second bogus fightclubber3xY one, that is), with the idea that if I could just get rid of that tag, I would finally be able to transfer my good gamer tag to the Live ID I would be freeing up.  Unfortunately deleting the gamer tag I had just recovered doesn’t delete it from the Microsoft databases, it turns out.  It just possibly makes it dormant. 

I’m going to wait 24 hours in the hopes that 24 hours of dormant activity will kill that account.  I’m really not sure.  I think I have to stay away from the Live ID associated with that gamer tag and which I use for forums and my Zune Pass for 24 hours also.  I’ll call XBox support back tomorrow and see if any of this worked.  As far as I know, XBox gamer tags are supposed to be perpetual and are as hard to kill off as Jason Voorhees.

I really don’t want to dump on Microsoft.  It’s been a rough year with the off kilter rumors of WPF being dead and then Silverlight being dead and anxiety about whether the Windows Phone and Kinect will take off as well as they need to. 

But I’m really all in with Microsoft.  I develop on Microsoft technology and they have been very good to me over the past fourteen years helping me to pay my mortgage and clothe my children as a Microsoft-centric developer.  I’m also all in as a consumer with a Zune HD, an XBox, an XBox 360 which won’t play most of the games I bought for the XBox, a Windows Mobile device, a Windows Phone (delightful is the only word I can use to describe it under my NDA with Microsoft) and most recently a Kinect sensor (pure UX sweetness).  Microsoft has been amazing with innovation in the past year and even preparing for HTML 5 seems like a good move to me – change is the only constant … blah, blah, vampire emergency, blah … and developers really need to adapt to the market, after all.

I just wish the stuff that should be easy were easier.  Maybe linking large systems like the Zune and the XBox on the back-end isn’t as straightforward as changing a foreign key on this database table in the cloud or adding an index table between those databases in the cloud.  And Microsoft divisions do tend to be balkanized, even if they all ultimately answer to the same man.

I was really hoping for a person on the phone who could press a button and get all my online identities un-balkanized, though.  I feel like my Zune hand and my XBox hand won’t talk to each other and this is causing an identity crisis for us – for me, I mean.

 

[Update 11/7/2010 – I called XBox support back today after waiting the requisite 24 hours and it turns out that my vestigial gamer tag cannot be deleted.  Also, there is no way to merge the different accounts right now.  This is actually progress since the XBox rep knew right away that it can’t be done.  It’s a known problem!  Admitting you have a problem is, of course, the first step towards curing it so I have high hopes. 

No timeline on when a solution will be available, but apparently lots of people are asking about how to merge their accounts now that Microsoft is encouraging them to use unified Live IDs, XBox gamer tags and Zune passes.]

Thank you Codestock

I greatly enjoyed the Codestock conference this year.  The new venue is definitely a move in the right direction.  Downtown Knoxville is a fantastic area – at least once I got oriented and discovered Market Street.

I mentioned several tools during my Advanced Windows Phone 7 development talk.  Here are the links:

To replace the default Windows Phone image with unlocked WP7 image (build 6176), follow this link:  http://www.multiupload.com/POF771XDFD .  Drop the image into C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft SDKs\WindowsPhone\v7.0\Emulation\Images and rename it wm70C1.bin .

For the application bar icons go here: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=369B20F7-9D30-4CFF-8A1B-F80901B2DA93&displaylang=en

Stephane Crozatier’s implementation of the Pivot Control and Panorama Control (variations on the Hub concept) can be downloaded here: http://phone.codeplex.com/

Laurent Bugnion’s MVVM Lite framework, which includes templates for Windows Phone, is available here: http://mvvmlight.codeplex.com/ 

Be sure to review the Windows Phone UI Design and Interaction Guidelines: http://go.microsoft.com/?linkid=9713252

I also want to point everyone to a fantastic resource for learning Windows Phone Silverlight development I recently discovered.  It is Roberto Brunetti’s blog.  It is in Italian but is nevertheless fairly easy to follow thanks to his excellent use of images and code samples: http://thinkmobile.it/blogs/rob/ .

Danger of Drowning

tybee 002

Habit is often considered a bad thing these days.  It is associated with “bad” things such as smoking cigarettes, chewing nails and eating too much candy.  There are also “good” habits, of course, such as flossing and rebooting your computer regularly.

Aristotle based his ethical system on the notion of forming good habits.  In order to achieve something difficult like “virtue”, he felt, we have to train ourselves to have “good” habits.  This is best achieved by having good mentors and good friends (and it doesn’t hurt to belong to a good city-state) who reinforce the habits we ought to have.

Perhaps too much is made of the distinction, but we currently live in a zeitgeist dominated by Kantian rather than Aristotelian ethics.  In a Kantian system (ours) we judge not good people but rather good deeds.  Moreover a deed is good based not on its results (baby saved from drowning, people can fish for themselves) but rather by the attitude in which it was done.  If an action is done out of a sense of obligation to do good in general, then it is truly good.  If it is done out of a sense of accomplishment – then not so good.

I am making these broad-brush statements about ethics mainly because I am breaking some habits.  I recently moved from my trusted web-host of 5+ years, discountasp.net, to orcsweb.  I have also switched my blog engine from dasBlog to BlogEngine.NET. 

While I firmly believe in the importance of cultivating good habits and am a fervent admirer of the Nichomachean Ethics, I nevertheless sometimes feel the need for a change.

Discountasp.net is great (especially for developers) but I couldn’t beat free hosting orcsweb was offering for Microsoft MVPs.  Similarly, dasBlog has been very nice over the years (though I’m certain I had it configured incorrectly) but it hasn’t been developed on for a while.  Perhaps everything is perfect with dasBlog the way it is.  All the same, I like the idea of a blog engine that is still being worked on and still has room for improvement.  The last update to BlogEngine.NET was three months ago.  We might say that BlogEngine.net is still trying to inculcate good habits into its code-base. 

One of my personal habits is an occasional desire to jump into the abyss.  I call this a habit because, when the notion hits me to try out something new, I immediately get a sick feeling in my stomach.  This is when the habit comes into play.  When this vertiginous feeling overcomes me, long-established habit tells me to leap forward rather than fall back.

It is a small thing and reveals itself in small ways.  Nevertheless, I feel it is a good habit and one worth cultivating.