Monday, March 31, 2008

Cartoon before the feature

Yes, I plan to get to my take on the events of Friday night soon.

In the meantime, for your viewing pleasure:

"Look! Up in the sky!"

Superman, of course, is owned by DC Comics (and, by extension, Time Warner), but these old cartoons are in the public domain. Someone got fired for that one, I'm sure.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Questionable content

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I've just recently finished up DC Comics' series 52, and have now developed something of an obsession with one of Gotham City's lesser-known detectives, the faceless vigilante known as The Question.

Created by Steve Ditko (co-creator of Spider-Man) for the now-defunct Charlton Comics, The Question has an undeniably cool look. Reminiscent of The Blank, a Dick Tracy villain, The Question had a unique way of changing from his civilian identity of Vic Sage to his crimefighter persona: The mask would pop out of his belt buckle, and at the same time Sage would release a "binary gas" that would change both the color of his hair and his suit (both specially treated to react to the gas).

After Charlton folded, The Question and the company's other big properties (Captain Atom, The Blue Beetle, and others) were bought by DC Comics. Upon arrival, the Charlton characters played roles in the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths, but the biggest splash they made was after they were Captain Ersatzed and dropped into Alan Moore's hands to make the seminal series Watchmen. The Question is an easy spot (har-har) in the book, having been transformed into the vigilante Rorschach.

The Question has been a persistent presence in the DC Universe since then, with a few stabs at his own series, and guest starring in other books (for all of the obsessive details of his career, this is probably the best place to look).

So what is it about The Question that has a hold on me? Certainly I love the look. I've always been more of a fan of heroes wearing actual clothing as opposed to the usual longjohns. He also had this "Zen detective" thing going on in his DC incarnation, which he passed on to his successor (as opposed to the Randian Objectivist that he started out as, which I'm not so much the fan of).

Oh, yeah, he has a successor. Picked one out when he found out he was dying of lung cancer. It was attributed to a love of cigarettes, but funny how nobody entertains the possibility that a gas that can change your hair color might also prove to be carcinogenic...

Let me tell you a secret...

We have a pretty good indicator as to how a boxer's going to do in the long term at the gym. It's not absolutely-by-God foolproof, but we've found it to be darn reliable.

Simply put, we watch how they handle losing. It's easy to stay enthused and involved when you're winning. If, on the other hand, things don't go your way, how you respond to it tells us volumes. If, just to pluck an example out of the clear blue sky, you decide to storm out of the ring in a huff after a narrow loss, then that's probably a good indicator that people are not going to want you and your ego around for much longer.

This, pretty much, is why we have a vacant lightweight title at this point. It's baffling to me, in fact, that someone could think he could emulate being a sportsman without having to account for sportsmanship.

But hey, it's a big crazy world...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jetpacks, pulp heroes, and Bettie Page: A word about Dave Stevens

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I don't catch much news from the comics industry these days, so I completely missed the announcement of the death of comics writer/artist Dave Stevens, whose best-known creation was The Rocketeer.

Most people are only familiar with the 1991 movie. Stevens went a lot more in-depth to create a compelling story inspired by the pulp magazines of the 1930's, along with serials like King of the Rocket Men all the while incorporating believable characters instead of the stock cardboard cutouts that populated most such stories.

And then, of course, there's the art. Now don't get me wrong: I loves me some Jennifer Connelly. But going back to the source material, it's hard to imagine anybody on Cliff Secord's arm other than "Betty", lovingly modeled after the famous 1950's fetish model Bettie Page (pictured above; some of you might not recognize her with the gag, and some of you might not recognize her without it).

Add to the mix slickly disguised appearances by Doc Savage and The Shadow, plus a bevy of subtle film references from the era, and a Rocketeer story was a little piece of four-color heaven for me.

So long, Mr. Stevens. Sorry to be one of the last people to tell you that you'll be missed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

No exceptions.

Readers of my FNT posts might find them a bit solipsistic. After all, the posts are usually about my fights, my problems, how I felt, and so on. If anybody finds them to be overly self-indulgent, well, they haven't said. But with that said, where else can I be self-indulgent if not in the "pages" of my personal blog?

But my imaginary critics raise a valuable point. Looking over the FNT entry for this past Friday, you would have no idea that a scrappy, never-say-die underdog (in the form of Cheechin Doobie) racked up his first win against a previously undefeated opponent (Allison Tobias). You would not have learned that untested first-timer Marcello Pausch narrowly defeated lightweight champion Pipp McDonnell (now former champion, but that's another story) in a non-title match, or that another fighter making her debut that night, Stacey Kanto, made her mark with a KO win over the more experienced Angel Tedeschi. Highlights, all, and worthy of mention.

You also wouldn't know of the evening's "lowlight", which is the point of this particular post: Our first ever disqualification. The fighter in question was a lightweight who was using techniques forbidden to his weight class. After a verbal warning and restarting the first round, the fighter persisted in his actions and the match was stopped.

Karine, the coaching staff, and I have been making an extra effort this past week to make sure the rules for boxing at Averlast are well known. In addition to verbal reinforcement during the week's sparring sessions, the rules for lightweights, middleweights, and heavyweights are posted at the forums, with a group notice sent out to make sure everyone knows that they're there.

Since their posting, they've gotten all of twelve views, collectively.

These rules weren't put in place to ruin anybody's fun. Quite the opposite, in fact. They're meant to ensure fair fights and keep the playing field for each weight class (and between weight classes) level. And regardless as to whether or not everyone knows them, they will be uniformly enforced.

And if this somehow riles some deep libertarian streak within the reader, suspicious of burdensome regulation, I advise a quick look at the real world. The WBC has a book of rules and regulations that, by comparison, make Averlast's rules look like breezy, easy reading.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Friday Night Tournament: Stuff That Sucks.

Like the rest of the library staff and employees of the county, I had Good Friday off.* Since normally I'm all rush-rush to get home on Fridays, that I may both spend time with my lovely wife and still log on in time for the weekly event, I figured there'd be no problems. I mean, sure, I had one errand to run late in the afternoon, but I could knock that out, get back, and I'm golden.


Innocent fool that I am, I told myself this and believed every word.

Mind you, it appeared that everything was falling into place. I got my ride down to the Wal-Mart, followed my list, got everything on it, and made it back with time to spare. I was literally making my way down the hall toward the computer, thoughts running to the evening ahead, when my wife, unpacking my purchases, made a discovery: The main item on the list, the item which was the entire point of the trip and next to which all other entries on the shopping list were merely gravy, was broken in the box.

And I swear, from somewhere in the shadowed corners created by descent of twilight upon my quiet little home, I could hear titters of mocking laughter.

I mean, this was no casual purchase, no luxury item that we could drop by and pick up the next day at our convenience. We needed this thing in working order as of right now, if not sooner.

So, at 7PM, Eastern Standard Time, when the tournament was kicking off, I was standing in the customer service line at Wal-Mart.

Finally, after achieving a state of customer satisfaction (and this time opening the box before purchasing to make doubly damn sure that I wasn't in for a second return trip), I returned home and all was well in real life.

Which, of course, meant that the next bunch of hurdles lay ahead of me in Second Life.

The events have been doing really well of late, attendance-wise. Between boxers, staff, and audience, it's not unusual anymore to see the sim filled up to capacity. It really behooves anybody serious about attending to get there early, lest one finds oneself shut out entirely from the region.

So, given that I was in fact anything but early, and actually hideously late, SL decided to shunt me elsewhere. It looked like quite a lovely garden, and no doubt the nicely-dressed people there were surprised to see an android-looking guy in camouflage trunks and boxing gloves appear in their midst. I didn't really feel the need to quiz them on the matter, as I scrambled for the "Teleport Home" entry on my World menu.

Through the grace of God (or Philip Linden), I arrived at the gym at long last, where another anxiety I had been having about my lateness made itself manifest: One of the staff members had failed to show up, and it would have been a really, really good thing for me to have gotten there on time that night. After the ensuing shuffle of responsibilities, it was my job for the rest of the night to judge the matches.

Given my normal time constraints when it comes to Friday nights, it really has been a blessing for me to get moved up to middleweight. That means that, no matter what else might happen, I won't be fighting until the very end of the evening. Never have I been so glad of that little fact as I was this past Friday.

As it happened, in fact, I was put down for the very last match of the night. My scheduled opponent was conspicuous in his absence (what kind of night was he having, I wonder?), so once again I found myself looking across the ring at Jihan McCallen, who, despite having just fought to a loss against snake5608 Boa, graciously stepped in for the missing fighter.

Now, normally at this point of the FNT entry, you'd be getting a blow-by-blow account of the match, which rounds went my way, which rounds went Jihan's way, and why, along with complaints about the lag, or observations about the crowd, all of that stuff. And I would be happy to give it to you, if things had gone down that way.

Unfortunately, it was not meant to be.

As soon as the bell rang, Jihan's avatar started to freeze up. She seemed to snap out of it a couple of times, but then she would start walking off in a random direction, or standing like a statue in the middle of the ring. Clearly, her computer was crashing hard.

Early in the second round, she was gone entirely, and her sister JoJo Nightfire passed on the message to the rest of us that there was no way she'd be back in time to finish out the fight.

So the fight was awarded to me by technical knock out. It's a lousy way to lose or win. No skill required, just show up and keep your computer running the way it's supposed to.

Both of us, naturally, were unhappy with how things ended up. Through JoJo, I passed on to Jihan an offer for a rematch for the coming Friday, which she promptly accepted.

Here's hoping for a smoother path next time.

* - Note to people understandably concerned about the Church/State separation implications of granting public employees a day off in conjunction with the holiest day on the Christian calendar: Don't fuck with my day off.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Human judges can show mercy. But against the laws of nature, there is no appeal."

Arthur C. Clarke

Friday Night Tournament: The Exact Moment of My Undoing

There are a lot of reasons why I didn't blog about my first matchup against Derrick Cult. One of them has to do with the fact that my will to blog was at a rather low ebb at that point, all creative energy being effectively sucked up by other projects. Another possibility is sour grapes at my first loss, but I'd like to think I'm a little bit of a better person than that.

But when you get right down to it, I think, the biggest reason I didn't want to revisit that night on this page is the simple fact that, more than just losing, I just didn't do that well at all. Derrick danced around me and seemed to knock me out of the ring at will (this was under the old Averlast rules, where five KOs in a middleweight match meant a knockout win instead of three). I went the distance, but announcing the decision was a formality. Derrick had beaten me like the proverbial redheaded stepchild.

So yeah, not exactly the stuff of pleasant reminiscence. The fact of the loss didn't gall me nearly as much as its manner.

But since then I've grown as a fighter, learning new strategies and techniques (some of them taught to me by Derrick, in fact). Memory of the loss still lingered, though, and I wondered how I'd fare against the guy who is still the best active fighter at Averlast.

On Friday I got my answer, as Derrick and I were called to the ring once more.

As we went through the preliminary instructions and returned to our corners, I'd describe my mood as determined but nervous. I was better, but was I better enough? Did the night portend another thrashing?

The bell rang, and I pushed those thoughts aside. Time to fight.

I don't know Derrick felt about it, but I was shocked to find myself not only not taking a pounding, but actually keeping pace with him. I even managed a good two-point pop on him in the early going, but it was still more of a back-and-forth affair.

Derrick is a hard charger. He goes in and never moves out very far, attacking from as many angles as he can while still staying in close. I tried to counter that by staying wide and looking for openings. It was a contrast of styles that I think the crowd appreciated.

I really dropped my guard only the once, during the second round, but that was all Derrick needed. I didn't even see the punch as I went flying out of the ring at an entirely unrecoverable forty-five degree angle. Derrick had hit me with what I could only call a perfect punch, one that ensured there was no hope in hell that I'd save myself from the ring-out.

I got back in quickly, and the back-and-forth dance resumed. Derrick and I traded blows and, while I managed to get him off of his feet a couple of times, I couldn't answer that second round ring-out.

It was, if I may say so, a hell of a fight, with real doubt in the voices of the announcer and the crowd as to the winner.

Finally the decision came, awarding it to Derrick by one point.

It's easy to get caught up in thinking about how it might have gone differently, and that second round ring-out is the focal point when I do. After all, ring-outs are three points, I lost by one. Do the math. If not for that ring-out, all other things being the same, the reasoning goes, and...

But let's be real here. "Coulda-shoulda-woulda" is a pointless game. Derrick outboxed me, pure and simple. The difference now is that this time I was able to keep up with him. I'm much more satisfied with my performance last Friday than I was the first time we faced off.

So now I stand at 11-2-1. Both of those losses to the same guy.

But between those losses, a world of difference.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Yeah, I'm a little early, but after posting this I'll probably need to lay low in order to avoid the wrath of the Loyal Order of Hibernians...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Friday Night Tournament: Jihan Redux

The attentive reader will note that in my last FNT post, I had said that, after eking out a victory against Jihan McCallen, I told her that I would give her a rematch any time she wanted. I meant it, too. Jihan is a tough, tenacious opponent, against whom it's a challenge to test myself.

This exchange took place in the ring, of course, and well within hearing of Averlast's owner, Karine Koba.

Karine also handles the booking for the Friday night events.

You can see where this is going, can't you?

Yep, the very next week, to kick off the middleweight division's portion of the evening's program, Jihan and I were in opposite corners, getting ready to do it all again.

Circumstances were slightly different this time, though. The time used to take down the sim that I referred to in my last post was used to upgrade the server. While things were not perfect, there was considerably less lag at ringside, despite the fact that we had a full house that evening.

The crowd, like it was in the prior week, seemed to be in Jihan's favor. No surprise there. If I were watching this fight in the stands instead of fighting it, I probably would have been cheering for Jihan, too. I've seen boxers on the wrong side of the crowd's preferences let it get to them. Those boxers usually didn't come back the following week.

So we faced each other again. We got Vox's instructions again. We wished each other luck before the bell rang again.

And then the bell rang, and we tore into each other again.

Aside from the fact that we could both, y'know, actually see what was going on with only a minimal drop in framerate, it started out much like our original confrontation: Give and take. She got her shots in, I got mine in. When I say that Jihan is tenacious, I'm not being hyperbolic. The woman will stick to you like glue if you let her.

If I had to pick the round that made it for me, I'd have to pick the second. I found the openings I was looking for and popped her up a couple of times. She never left the ring, instead landing and coming back in for more, but in that round she couldn't quite answer what I was handing out. And I think that, in the end, it was the second round that put me over. The rest of the time it was catch-as-catch-can, with neither of us gaining a solid advantage over the other.

At the end of the fight, it went to me on points. Jihan and I congratulated each other on another fight well fought, and even shared a hug in the ring. For now, perhaps, this ends matters between us as far as any friendly rivalry goes, but it would be foolish of me to think that I won't be facing her again some day.

Even barring any other considerations, the field of middleweights isn't that terribly wide at the present, to think that another rematch could never happen.

I have noticed one thing, however. For one reason or another, even outside of the FNT posts, Jihan has been something of a presence on the blog of late. I wonder if it would be possible to convince her to do a post on her thoughts on the last couple of weeks?

Friday, March 7, 2008

Murphy's Law

I've been plugging away at other projects this week, mainly things that, once perfected, will sell well in the Averlast store. This has left me little time to spar as the week went on. I had some good sessions early on, but there's enough of a gap between "early on" and "now" to make me a little nervous.

So, last night, I figured I had about a fifteen minute window to get some sparring in as a final warmup before tonight's event. Fortunately, Jihan was around, and without further ado we rezzed our gloves and jumped into the ring.


What happened during this sparring

a.) Jihan knocked me around the gym with
disturbing ease.

b.) I knocked Jihan around the gym with
disturbing ease.

c.) We were as equally matched as we were last
Friday, nobody doing anything with disturbing ease.

d.) Linden Labs picked that exact fifteen
minute timeframe
to take down the sim for a restart, and ended our sparring session just as we were getting warmed up.

If you picked d.), then you've won... nothing. But you have the satisfaction of knowing that you're right.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Paris in the springtime.

I'm someone who's generally more inclined to laugh at Paris Hilton rather than with her.

Unless, of course, it comes to the thing that made her the inescapable monster that she is today: The stupid, stupid media:

Turns out, as some outlets later discovered, the "mystic" was an actor named Maxie Santillan Jr., who has appeared on CSI and My Name Is Earl. And though some accused Hilton of getting Punk'd, the joke's on them: The entire scene was staged for a new show from Punk'd producer Ashton Kutcher premiering Sunday on E! (10:30 ET/PT).
Pop Fiction, an eight-episode series, is a prank show targeting paparazzi and gullible media outlets.

Okay, Paris. Just this once: Here's to you (lifts up fizzy caffeinated nonalcoholic beverage).

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax is dead.

Gygax, for those of you who generally don't run in geek circles, was the creator of Dungeons and Dragons, the vehicle wherein a boy from the suburbs of Minneapolis could, through the easy-to-pick-up rules and a heavy dose of imagination, make the transition from awkward adolescent to shining hero with none of those messy intermediate steps in between (slayable orcs being something of a rarity in the Minneapolis suburbs).

Gygax's brainchild, derived from the addition of fantasy rules to a straight medieval wargame called Chainmail, spawned legions of imitators, some pastiches of the original concept, but more set in just about every genre available to fiction.

But the impact of D&D extended far beyond publishing houses with a taste for funny-shaped dice. Without the inspiration of D&D, there would be no World of Warcraft. The emphasis on encouraging the imaginations of the players also makes it a conceptual ancestor of Second Life, as well.

This would be a subtly different, but far less interesting world for the lack of Gary Gygax in it.

Obituary here.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I got your DOOM right here...

For all of the satanic imagery, gloriously excessive carnage, and overall fright factor that was the original DOOM, this may be the scariest thing to come out of it yet:

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Friday Night Tournament: Oh, no, there goes Tokyo...

First things first, let me apologize to everyone for not sticking around for the final free-for-all. The nice people who provide me with the paycheck that allows me to pay for such things as electricity and internet access tend to appreciate it when I'm not asleep at my desk, hence the needful early exit.

So, on to the events of last night: I arrived a little late, and upon doing so was immediately pressed into judging for the evening by Karine. This caught me off guard, as I was looking forward to hanging around in the back, joking with the other boxers, and cheering on whoever was fighting at the moment. But a lady's request is not to be denied, especially if that lady happens to be someone whom I frequently address as "boss". So I sat my avatar down and, in the real world, grabbed a handy notebook and pen to track the points scored.

Judging is not a task suited to multitasking. Any IMs I got had to be answered quickly, curtly, and, preferably, between rounds. Despite my best efforts, I'm afraid that I may have ruffled some feathers because I just couldn't pull away from watching the fights long enough to give satisfactory answers.

There was good action last night. All of our fighters appeared to be in top form, and nobody succumbed to a knockout in either the lightweight or middleweight divisions.

As I mentioned yesterday, I had signed up for the card as well, and was hoping to put that coveted tenth victory on my record. So it was with great eagerness that I put down my pen and paper and let Karine take over judging for my fight.

My opponent was Jihan McCallen. I've been at ringside in various capacities in the past few weeks, so I've had a firsthand look at the roll she had been on of late. Starting with her first win, a come-from-behind KO of snake Boa, followed in the next week by outboxing former lightweight champ (and newly minted middleweight) jony Abramovic, it was clear that Jihan was not an opponent to take lightly. Not that that's ever a good idea for any opponent, but Jihan's record of late speaks for itself.

As we faced each other in the center of the ring while announcer Vox Mullen did the pro forma reading of the rules, another opponent made itself known: Lag. Now there's lag and then there's lag. This was Lagzilla. And it raised its massive foot at the beginning of our match and stomped on the ring. Hard.

Now even in a crowded sim, such as what we had last night, you can reasonably expect lag to sort of come and go in waves: Some moments of freedom of movement followed by a near-grinding halt of the frame rate. Not so this time. This lag was annoyingly persistent, its only saving grace that it seemed to be affecting Jihan and myself equally as we lurched around the ring, trying to do each other some damage.

Complaining about lag in SL is a bit like complaining about bad weather in real life: You can gripe about it all you like, but there's little you can do about it once it hits. And the lag doesn't much care what you think.

There was nothing to do but soldier on, and we did our best to give the people what they came for. We rattled each others cages and each popped the other up pretty good in the fourth round, but in the end it came down to a back-and-forth ground war. We maneuvered as best we could, each trying to catch the other in the side or on the back, unloading with rights and lefts that either sent one of us across the ring or a small jump off of the ground. One-point hits, and we did our best to deliver them. We neither of us went out of the ring for the whole fight.

The overwhelming lag and the uncertainty of who had the advantage made for a nerve-wracking fight. When the last bell rang, Jihan and I congratulated each other before the decision was read. I was as certain that she had won as she was that I had.

When the decision was finally read, awarding the match to me on points, I could have been knocked over with the proverbial feather. I don't know what the judge's scores were, but I'm sure that it was close. It was one hell of a fight. I told Jihan that I'd give her a rematch any time, and I meant it.

But while it was a good night for me, I'd have to say that the person that it really belonged to was Conan Horan, whom I'd fought to a draw in my last middleweight outing. In addition to a solid win over snake Boa after stepping in for an absent boxer, he went on after my match with Jihan to fight Derrick Cult in a real white-knuckler of a match. The two of them ended round after round either tied up in the score or nearly so. In the end, Conan pulled it off, taking down the guy who is widely recognized as one of the best fighters at Averlast.