Friday, June 27, 2008

Seventy years of a neverending battle.

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I'd be remiss if I let June slip past without acknowledging the 70th anniversary of one of the world's most iconic characters, Superman.

In June of 1938 the Man of Steel entered the public consciousness and has remained firmly lodged there ever since. When you see a picture of a little boy with a towel tied around his neck, chest out, and fists planted firmly on his hips, you know instantly who he's pretending to be. This even if there's not a trace of the hero's red and blue colors to be seen on him.

Over the years, Superman has been portrayed often as a genial lunk, or, more recently, as a godlike being with a Kansas farmboy's heart. For the longest stretch of time he was simply the man who could do anything, from time travel to actually warping reality with the power of his "super-mind". The stories that I've read from this period, by the way, are particularly dull. How do you physically challenge someone who can push the Earth out of its orbit? How do you outwit someone who can memorize the entire Harvard Law Curriculum in a single afternoon? These were both actual plot elements in the Superman stories I read as a kid. I imagine DC's writers puling their hair out trying to come up with the next month's story. More recent efforts have stepped back from that sort of "Super-Superman" storytelling, fortunately.

But even the slightly scaled-back version of Superman extant today is miles past the abilities of the 1938 version, and philosophically, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's original creation was very different from the guy to whom his contemporaries sometimes refer as "the big blue Boy Scout".

1938 was the very depths of the Great Depression, and Superman could easily be interpreted as an avatar of The New Deal. In addition to the requisite mad scientists (including Lex Luthor with a thatch of red hair on his head) and gangsters that normally constituted the forces of evil in comics and pulps, Superman also came to grips with the likes of callous industrialists, Ponzi scheme con artists, and corrupt politicians. Siegel and Shuster found fodder for stories in issues like prison reform and mine safety, always casting Superman as a crusader for "the little guy", often in danger of being crushed by the system.

Superman lost his political edge during World War II when, understandably, there were bigger fish to fry. The fact that he never got it back once the war was over has been partly attributed to the fact of a changing political climate, combined with DC's efforts to cast themselves as the "safe" comic company for kids. Dr. Frederic Wertham had launched a jeremiad against comics in general, with particular focus on competing publisher EC's lurid horror titles like Vault of Horror, Tales from the Crypt, and other fare aimed at older audiences. Thus Superman went from being a New Deal Democrat to an apolitical guardian of the status quo.

With that change came the increase in power I had mentioned earlier. Superman went from being "able to leap 1/8th of a mile" to flying at supersonic speeds, and a durability to the degree of "nothing less than a bursting shell" being able to break his skin to survival in the hard vacuum of space and taking a sauna in the heart of the sun.

As his abilities went over the top, writers cranked out an increasingly diverse rogues' gallery for Superman to contend with: The city-shrinking android Brainiac, an opposite number in the form of Bizarro (soon to be joined by a planet of Bizarros, all married to Bizarro Lois Lanes), one-noters like the Toyman and the Prankster, and, if that weren't enough, various mutations among Superman's supporting cast. Jimmy Olsen alone became a werewolf, a Bizarro of himself, and even started his own superheroic career as Elastic Lad, where he sported stretching powers akin to Plastic Man. And let's not forget the ever-expanding cast from Krypton: Supergirl, any number of villains incarcerated in the Phantom Zone, and the menagerie of Krypto the Superdog, Streaky the Supercat, Beppo the Supermonkey, and Comet the Superhorse (I am not making any of this up).

Time marches on, though, and before long it was becoming clear that Superman was becoming passe'. He was viewed as camp, a subject of parody in a world growing more cynical. In the 1970's, his only presence outside of the comics was on the Saturday morning cartoon show Super Friends, starring a very much watered-down Justice League of America. They couldn't even throw a punch for fear of upsetting parents' groups, for God's sake.

After a long career of saving the world, things had reached the point where something would have to save Superman. In 1978, "something" turned out to be a father-son producer duo named Alex and Ilya Salkind, who retained Richard Donner as a director and an unknown actor named Christopher Reeve to bring us Superman: The Movie. It was a pitch-perfect film that gave the Superman story both a badly-needed shot in the arm, and a dose of respect not often in coming from even his own company.

Eight years later, DC underwent a massive housecleaning of its continuity, updating the characters that worked, and rethinking the ones that didn't. Superman took his turn with writer/artist John Byrne's limited series The Man of Steel, which presented Superman as more of a human being and scaled down his powers to a more believable degree (for comics). Byrne's work was to become the baseline for the following decades of publication, where the character was allowed to even develop somewhat and - unthinkable in the early days - finally marry Lois Lane.

Even with all of the ups and downs, Superman has been continuously published for seventy years this month. Seventy years, and every month a new adventure for the character. Hopefully, he'll be around for my kids, and their kids after them.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The ramdisk experiment.

I'm a subscriber to Darling Brody's Quantum Products support group (makers of the Quantum Core and other items of intense fun, including my avatar's eyes), so when she drew our attention to a post on her site about crash-proofing the SL experience, I just had to have a look.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, it's a Windows-centric view, not much use to my Linux-lovin' self beyond general guidance. I already had a memory monitor installed, so it was the second suggestion that caught my eye: Using a ramdisk for the Second Life cache instead of my hard drive.

A ramdisk, as the name implies, is a portion of your computer's onboard RAM that has been allocated to act as another hard drive. Since it is entirely comprised of volatile memory, the disk starts up entirely clean each time the computer is booted. In addition to creating less potential for trouble for SL by not requiring it to access the hard drive as often, Darling also claims a performance boost.

Well, we'll see.

Unlike Windows users, who have to download a separate program, all I have to do is Google the words "ramdisk Ubuntu" and the proper commands to set up a ramdisk can be easily found.

So, I'm embarking upon this experiment. I'm curious as to how it will turn out. Will the machine's overall performance in SL compensate for the 200 MB (out of 2 gigs) that I'm parcelling out here? Will I notice?

Well, we'll see.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Friday Night Tournament: The night we went boxing in Solla Sollew.

... where we had no troubles, or at least very few.

Don't worry. The rest of the post will not be done in Seussian rhyme. The last thing I need is a torch-and-pitchfork-wielding mob showing up in the comment section.

Not that I felt in any way, shape or form that we were in for a trouble-free night. In fact, the omens were all pointing in the opposite direction, and that direct application of Murphy's Law on the proceedings would leave the night a massive shambles. To begin with, there was the problem I alluded to in my last post. After a long, fruitless all-day wait for signups, Karine informed me that a lot of people hadn't seen the notice I had sent, despite the fact that these things usually get routed to email when one is off of SL. Karine re-sent the notice and, sure enough, it failed to appear in my inbox.

Not encouraging.

But after that conversation, names started coming in. Eventually, my eyes stopped rolling back into my head, and I managed to reduce the speaking of tongues to a low murmur. But I still went into the event with a sense of foreboding: Something was going to go wrong. It had to.

Much to my surprise, not much did.

Not that there weren't a few key-slapping slizzards to contend with. First and foremost was the fact that regular card girl/timekeeper Fionna Bracken was having computer trouble and couldn't make it to the event. Having been there myself, there was little we could do about that beyond hoping the trouble would be resolved soon, and casting about for a temporary replacement. Happily, JoJo Nightfire stepped in to temporarily assume card girl duties for all of the matches except for, obviously, her own. The (not unpleasant) sight of our Lightweight Champion strutting around the ring in a snakeskin bikini* had me scratching my head a bit, but then I figured, hey, we needed her help, and if Laila Ali could do Dancing with the Stars...

Our signup difficulties had us down to a lean number of four fights on the card. But aside from a between-round crash on the part of Tony1 Tenk during the opening fight with Juliette Pashinin (from which he quickly recovered), SL largely behaved itself.

And similarly, without the dragging delays caused by crashes and unexpected absences due to same, we were able to keep the crowd engaged and interested throughout the entire event.

So, overall, a good night. Hopefully that, more than SL's hiccups during the singups, was the actual omen of things to come.

* - on sale now at the Averlast Store

Thursday, June 12, 2008

i can haz 36 hour day? kthxbye

I'm just throwing this out there to report that I am not, in fact, dead. Between projects for Averlast, the demands of work, and the occasional need for this thing that men call "sleep" have all conspired together to keep me from updating the blog.

In other news, apparently group announcements aren't quite making it to email accounts. I found this out by trying to put one out about tomorrow's tournament and waiting like a vulture over my email account for notecards that never arrived.

That said, we do in fact have a tournament tomorrow, so let's spread the word about that, mmmkay?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

"When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children?"

I love Bill Hicks. Here he was talking about the scourge of his time, The New Kids on the Block, but he could just as easily been talking about the Jonas Brothers, Hannah Montana, Your New American Idol, or any of the other focus-grouped, prefabricated marketing ploys disguised as musical acts that are running around today.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

This season's political content.

Barack Obama is now the Democratic nominee for the Presidency.

While I'm glad and it gives me hope for the future, things are now about to get really, really fucking stupid.

UPDATE: Well, that didn't take long...

Tiresias for advertising purposes.

Second Life allows for an astonishing flexibility when it comes to how we present ourselves to the world. Unlike our physical bodies, which change only through the application of time, diet, exercise, and/or surgery, SL gives us the protean fantasy of being able to assume any shape or form that our imaginations (or amount of lindens on hand) allow us. I could be a Dalek, Twi'lek, or Hannibal Lecter. A zebra, a zombie, or even General Zod*.

I could wheel through my usual haunts, having taken on any of these transformations, and elicit little more than a couple of chuckles from my friends. It's old hat. Nothing shocking. But there was one transformation that I made that apparently became a 24-hour sensation at the gym. Without realizing the gravity of my actions, I had pushed to the edge of what is acceptable and become the thing that men fear most:


A little clarification is in order. I am not jumping into a female avatar and pole dancing in clubs, or even trying to pass myself off as a woman in any level of interaction on SL. My forays onto the other side of the gender divide have less to do with embracing my feminine side and more to do with crass commerce. As a maker of clothing for both men and women, I often need a female model for things like vendor pictures and posters when there simply are none around to be had. Given the possibilities in shapeshifting available in SL, it only made sense to make my own.

That's really all Abelle (the avatar's nickname**; I'm not sure now if it was Karine or myself who gave it to her) is: A glorified mannequin. But the reaction from certain quarters has been, to say the least, a bit perplexing. I don't know if it says more about me for not thinking it a big deal, or more about the commenters for thinking that it is. Either way, the fact that there have been comments leaves me scratching my head a bit.

Nothing serious, mind you. Nobody's been trying to subject me to some sort of virtual gay-bashing or anything like that. But there seems to be a sort of tacit acknowledgement in SL that, whatever gender you are in real life, the one you present yourself as is the one you stick to. Open acknowledgement of jumping back and forth, even for practical reasons not tied in to sexuality, is taboo. Just make an alt and keep your mouth shut like everyone else.

Not everyone embraces this philosophy, I think. There's already a notoriously large amount of playing with gender in SL, and I think that for people like myself, the rendering of the concept of gender down to an aesthetic choice is simply the next logical step in a virtual world.

*- KNEEL BEFORE ZOD! Sorry, just had to say it...

**- Averlast Coach jony23 Abramovic has suggested "Bela". But while that's anagramatic, it's also best known as a guy's name.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ad Monkey speaks.

Despite the lack of a tournament this weekend, it's been busy as heck for Karine and myself. So I thought I'd document some of the things that have been going on, plus a few developments in SL relating to people whom I know, like, and generally don't pull out firearms when I walk through the door:

1) The Averlast commercial: This baby's been simmering on the pot for a while. Now that it's done and live for your viewing pleasure, it's a relief for me to finally be able to talk about it without fear of spoiling the surprise. It was made by WBA Advertising, an inworld firm that specializes in this sort of thing. We should have some screens up soon for viewing it in SL, and so far people seem to like it. There has been a definite uptick in traffic since the first version of the commercial went live on WBA's servers. I especially like the music, a catchy tune by Therese Nightlife. I wonder if she does live performances?

2) Free stuff on SLX: Another part of our big new publicity push has been to post a box full of our promotional tees for free on the SLExchange. It was Karine's idea, and in terms of publicity, I think it has already started to pay off. Some of the buyers have already come into the gym wanting to know more.

3) New products in the pipe: In addition to building new facilities, Karine has also thrown her energy into some cool new glove designs. Plus I've been at work on a few items that are coming out just in time for summer. I know Karine has found some time for sparring, but I don't know where. Me, I'll probably be an utterly spastic mess when I finally do step back into the ring.

4) Happy Rezday, Dolly!: First Fionna celebrated her rezday last week, and then her partner-in-crime/Outfit Wars rival Dolly Gwynneville threw a rezday bash last night in Callalily Cove. The music was rocking (and gave me incentive to track down a few bands I hadn't heard of before), the champagne was flowing, and a good time was generally had by all.

5) Warren Ellis walks among us: Writer Warren Ellis is the reason I got into Second Life. A futurist by inclination, he posted about his entry into the metaverse a couple of years ago, prompting me to visit the SL website to find out what the fuss was about. Well, we're both still kicking around the virtual world, and of late I've been getting notices through his Army of Filth group that he's commenced a sort of walking tour of the mainland. His dispatches are scathingly honest, and often quite funny. While I look forward to reading more, I'm kind of hoping he doesn't stop by my little shop to offer his aesthetic opinion. You know what they say about asking questions that you don't necessarily want answered...