2010 ROUNDUP OF STUFFDOM


12/01/10- This year has been filled with fun stuff and some not-so-fun stuff, leading me to believe that you're better off spending your earnings on fun stuff while you can enjoy it instead of saving so you can go broke paying folks to empty your bedpans in your twilight years. There are some heavy societal ramifications in that statement, but who wants to think about that downer stuff, eh? Let's talk about something fun, like spending money, hokay?

But first...I should mention that none of the aforementioned fun is in the realm of 1:6 scale stuff. I do miss the challenge and gratification that comes from working on an interesting 1:6 scale project, but I haven't felt driven to make or even buy any new stuff. There comes a point when the latest Hot Toys Predator (or whatever) seems like just another dustketcher to make room for. Making stuff requires being driven by powerful inspiration and a callous disregard for the amount of dust you create. I found that after I'd made the things that directly inspired me (usually, the libido-driven stuff), the next place I would go was to make supporting cast for the original inspiration. In 1:6th scale, it's the "World-building" that gets you into trouble with space. "Completism" is a similar affliction.

This was preciptated by the kick-in-the-butt that the not-so-fun stuff of the real world delivered. I thought I was going to have to give up my toy/work room, so into boxes it went. I was astounded at how much stuff and dust there was... and how difficult it was to sentence it to storage. I kept some of my faves out, moved to the livingroom, which makes the livingroom even more unsuitable for normal folk visitors than it was before: Despite what you might think, a two-foot tall black demoness with huge nekkid hooters isn't much of a conversation starter.

The new fun stuff takes up space, but not the same kind of space; it doesn't spread over every bit of horizontal surface area like a contagion. Space-wise, the worst offender is guitar stuff, but there are fewer larger pieces and they can be blended with most rooms to look relatively normal. Also, I don't plan on acquiring 200+ guitars.

So... since I haven't uploaded hardly anything this year, this "Whazzbinup" series of articles helps to rationalize paying for the webspace. Articles (below) were written throughout the year, starting in March 2010.


Nero would be proud: Let the spending begin!

STUFFDOM | RCDOM | BEERDOM | GUITARDOM


OTHER STUFF
Domain Name Change This should be the last year (finally) for the "jimbobwan.com" domain name; I'm letting it lapse, but keeping the "jbwid.com" ("JimBobWan's Image Depot") domain name. It doesn't make sense to pay for two, and the offshore domain registry outfit who administer the jimbobwan domain have been difficult to deal with. I doubt they'd let me transfer it easily, and would probably demand a hostage-like payment. I've had a couple years to prepare for this, so I'm not really worried.

Bigger Pictures Another (geekish) thing: I'm using bigger pictures (max width is now 800 pixels) at the site in response to the higher resolution that monitors run at nowadays. Through the years, it's gone from 800x600 (width x height), to 1024x768, to...??? About 23% of site visitors run 1280x800, 11% run 1280x1024, 11% run 1024x768... and the rest are spread over 20 other different screen resolutions.

The widescreen thing is kind of a problem because widescreen is good for movies, but not articles. If text wraps at the window's edge (HTML's default behavior), widescreen creates wide expanses of text that are hard to read (that's why the print media invented columns). That can throw off picture placement if an article was formatted for a monitor with a traditional 4:3 aspect ratio, where the narrower column of text would force pictures to display lower on the page. Some websites handle this by tightly controlling the layout with fixed widths and tables that don't adapt to your window size. I'm kinda lazy about that and don't want to spend much time messing with the layout, so I've intentionally avoided "modernizing" the look of this website. That's kind of a necessity since I hand-code simple HTML. I also think it's a cool practical feature of simple HTML that you can resize the window and the layout tries to adapt... until it breaks. I've started putting more images in tables so that the layout doesn't break as easily when the window's resized. However, this site will probably look best (as intended) in windows resized to something approximating a 4:3 aspect ratio.

The reason I'm bringing this up is that I've/we've had to/wanted to buy monitors recently, and I'm coding this stuff in a dual-monitor 1920x1080/1440x900 setup. This isn't so great for knowing how the webpage will look in other systems, but it sure is cool for playing videogames!

Video Games Admittedly, I'm not much of a videogamer: I'm more interested in experiencing the current state-of-the-art games than actually playing and completing them in hard-core mode.

It's great stuff. The old Dynamix "Red Baron" game taught me to love visual-range aerial dogfights (and taught me how to lead shots with a real shotgun), so neoqb's "Rise of Flight" let me reconnect with that... but with a huge boost in flight realism.

I have an interest in WWI flight, and thanks to the Internet, found (stole) a pic of the failed "Nungesser Amphibian" that grandpa Jan was involved with as an auto distributor in the 1920s. (Charles Nungesser was a French WWI ace.)

"Rise of Flight" also turned me on to Naturalpoint's Track IR system. That's a hardware/software gizmo that tracks your head movements so that you can quickly and intuitively scan your surroundings while concentrating on flying (and not crashing). It's great for getting a feel of where your plane is, and where the other guys are, a.k.a., situational awareness.

Of course, after sinking money into that, I had to get other titles that could use it. Fortunately, I already had Real Flight's Radio-Controlled flight simulator (works flawlessly, but doesn't make it easier to not crash helicopters) and "GTR Evolution" (racing car simulation).. Some YouTube videos pointed me towards "ArmA II". Wow. Talk about hard core. I've barely made it through the basic training at novice level, and I'm overwhelmed by the scope of the simulation, its difficulty and its unforgiving character. Yep, this this is another game that could devour your life (if you let it). On the other hand, it's got enough really cool stuff that's accessible to a softcore gamer.

And then there's "Call of Duty - Black Ops" (although not a TrackIR title). In single-player Campaign mode, it's like "Mass Effect 2"-- A story, illustrated with cut scenes and player interactivity. You can't fail or the story doesn't get told. Since you can play it at a difficulty setting of your choosing, it's extremely accessible. The online multiplayer deathmatch mode is pretty addictive as well.

That's not to say that the latest and greatest stuff is necessarily more fun than the old stuff-- the games are prettier, more complex and impressive, but not necessarily more fun. Hell, I can have fun playing "Solitaire Hearts". But time, technology, and the need for new sources of revenue marches onwards. As old computers get put out to pasture, they take with them fun games like "Wing Commander", "Commanche", "Dune II", Star Wars titles, etc. Even though I may keep a retired PC around for a while, I don't usually fire it up just to play an old game. Progress keeps the wheels of commerce greased (and gives us stuff like "Wordpad" with pretty space-gobbling ribbons instead of menus -arrrrrgh!!!)

The Boob Tube Similarly, in the world of passive electronic entertainment... I'm not entirely sold on the inevitable digital/HD revolution, and although we do have HD monitors and televisions, we'll probably stick with analog cable TV until it disappears. In reading about the benefits of digital, I'm struck by how most of the benefits are actually for the industry. Yes, it does give consumers a higher resolution picture, but analog static and grain is traded for pixelation and frozen/stuttering motion. Like cassettes versus CDs/DVDs: You can play through a damaged cassette, but a damaged optical disk is a dead thing.

A highly touted consumer benefit is more choice. Personally, I don't need that many choices, especially when most of the extra channels are clutter, to be avoided. Digital's more economical use of bandwidth allows many more channels and interactive capabilities, so it's one of the big selling points of digital cable. This may be a good thing for some consumers who like Infomercials and really narrow-interest stuff... but it's a fantastic thing for the industry.

It's old news, but addressable cable boxes and pay-per-view made it possible for the industry to earn revenue above what it was earning from advertising and monthly subscriptions, and bulletproof the technology against cable theft of service. That seems to be the holy grail of the industry: Charge for every bit of information accessed, each time it's accessed. Advertiser-supported content is okay, subscriptions are better, but per-access payment is best. It's better if it's sold on a per-view, time-limited, or a platform/device limited basis. They make it clear that you don't really own the content; what you're buying is access to it in a particular format. They've learned a lot through their experience with LPs, cassettes, videotapes, CDs, and DVDs, and a significant portion of developing new technology goes to finding ways to harden the protection of the intellectual property they distribute. It appears that a significant motivation for pursuing the new standards is to advance the protections; it's sold to consumers by offering some seductive benefit, like higher resolution video, or 3D.

The benefits of new technologies to consumers are attractive but come at a cost. Ironically, one of those costs is that it can actually reduce choices by reducing diversity. At some point, cable companies will stop supporting analog cable. The best thing about analog cable is that the cable outputs all the channels (minus ones that are filtered out) and the NTSC tuner is (currently) built into each TV. You don't need cable box descramblers for each TV and if you use a monitor without a tuner, you can buy a generic tuner. That seems to be fading away quickly. I recently bought a TV converter box for my wife's computer and failed to notice that it would only scan for "clear" QAM (unscrambled) digital cable channels or ATSC broadcast channels. Of course, the unscrambled QAM channels were the local broadcast stations plus a slew of community access channels. Woo hoo! It was returned, and a somewhat rarer NTSC (analog) scanning TV converter box was purchased-- good for as long as the cable company offers analog cable.

Although attempts were made to open the market to own-able third party tuners (via CableCard), cable companies haven't been enthusiastic about the federally-mandated requirement, and it hasn't really caught on. For obvious reasons, cable companies like renting cable boxes. For all practical purposes, at present, digital cable requires a descrambler/tuner that you can only rent from the cable provider, that outputs one live channel at a time to a TV. It's a step backwards to a time before they started making cable-ready TVs and VCRs. Despite the amount of time that the industry has had to come up with a solution, we're still not there, and the cool flatscreen TVs you buy today are somewhat like the non-cable ready TVs of yesteryear. Unless that changes, once analog cable disappears, those customers will face a choice: Pay a monthly rental fee for each digital cable descrambler for each TV (or clone that signal to all TVs), or drop the service and switch to free broadcast TV. The reason some cable companies still support analog cable is because they're required to (for a while). No doubt they're aware that some of those customers might drop cable entirely, or switch to another provider.

The TV manufacturers have come up with another option that slightly diminishes the monopoly of cable companies. Many 2010 TVs are "Internet-ready", which means that you can do the Internet version of pay-per-view and monthly service subscription directly from your TV from sites like Netflix and VuDu. If/when this takes off (TVs are much more accessible to the general public than computers), then bandwidth usage will become a much bigger deal to ISPs, and it's likely that they'll all start charging based on the bandwidth you use. If you're a high bandwidth user now, this wouldn't be a welcome change. Cable companies wouldn't necessarily benefit from this (if they're not your ISP) since it could draw business away from their digital cable services.

If you look at this stuff through the perspective of time and change, like videogames, not all technological change is all for the better. (I'm tempted to cite Microsoft as an example, but that would be a cheap shot.) It's all to sell you something new and presumably better, and to establish new revenue streams. Costs like this tend to become entrenched as a cost-of-living overhead in a family's budget. One could argue that cable TV and the Internet are purely elective luxuries, and many people get along fine without them. The same could be said about cell phones, air travel, and automobiles.

I believe that as the number of cable channels has exploded, the overall quality of television has declined (my opinion-- I don't like Infomercials and Reality shows). Is it really worth it to raise your monthly overhead so you can watch a bunch of crappy shows in high resolution? To the industry, yes. I recently rewatched a fairly low resolution version of "The Blue Max" (1966) and was blown away. I think it demonstrates that the quality of the ideas is far more important than quantity and the novelty/glitz of the technology.