Bah, humbug

It’s the last day of the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, and I’m having mixed feelings about things. I realized today that this is my longest stretch of time off from work this year, except for my five days off with COVID, and that definitely doesn’t count as a vacation. And I haven’t done much with the time.

It’s been a mostly relaxing four days. I had a bit of a wobble yesterday, when they started playing Christmas music here in Somerville, too loud, and I started getting the shakes. I’m half-kidding about that, but the multiple “Christmas music playing all night” incidents here on Main Street have definitely scarred me a bit. So any holiday spirit that had started percolating up in me was quickly tamped down.

I’ve read some actual, printed, standard size, physical comics this weekend. I haven’t touched my “to be read” comics box in quite a while. From my notes, it looks like I might not have read any “real” comics since… Halloween 2021? (That can’t be right.) Well, either way, it’s been a while. (I’ve read some digital comics this year and last year, and some physical graphic novels, though.)

I read all twelve issues of Brian Bendis’ Legion of Super-Heroes run earlier in the weekend. I’d been looking forward to that. It was… OK. I was disappointed with certain aspects of it, and found it overall a bit frustrating, but there were some fun bits. I guess that, if I want to read Legion comics like the ones I read when I was a kid, I should just go back and re-read those.

Today, I read the first six issues of Warren Ellis’ The Batman’s Grave series. I’ve always really liked Ellis, but I haven’t read anything by him since mid-2020, when all the… unpleasantness came to light. At that time, I’d already bought about half the series, and was pretty much committed to buying the rest of it. I don’t think he’s done any comics work since this, so this might be his last long-form comics work? It’s pretty good, honestly. I’m a big Batman fan, but sometimes I get tired of of the character. I don’t think I’ve read any Batman books since this one, around two years ago. (And I notice I mentioned “Batman fatigue” in my review on that one, so I’ve really been cutting back on the Batman stuff, apparently.) Anyway, I’m finding this series a lot more satisfying than the previously-mentioned Legion series. It’s a lot of fun, with some nice banter between Bruce and Alfred, and some great art from Bryan Hitch.

I just googled Bryan Hitch to see if I was spelling his name right, and found out that he’s one of the founders of Ghost Machine, a new comics company that I was vaguely aware of, but hadn’t paid any attention to. It looks interesting, but of course the last thing I need is more comics!

The search also turned up some news about the recent casting of the actor who is going to play The Engineer in the next Superman movie. Again, I was kind of vaguely aware of this, but hadn’t given it any thought. I’d forgotten that The Engineer was created by Ellis and Hitch. I imagine the movie folks will want to play down Ellis’ role there. I can’t say I’m too excited about the movie, but maybe it’ll be interesting. It’s been hard for me to work up any enthusiasm for DC-related movies lately.

And, as usual, that search got me off track from whatever it was I was meant to be writing about here. I think I was going to mention that I had drowned out the Christmas music yesterday by watching Netflix’s Bodies mini-series. I was going to mention that it’s based on a comic that looks interesting, and that I’ve added to my Amazon wish list. I noticed that the comic isn’t available digitally, which is kind of unusual. I have no clue why that is, but I may give in and buy a physical copy at some point.

I’ve noticed that reading comics this weekend has caused me to add a bunch of other comics to my wishlist, and has also moved me to buy a handful, via Amazon/Comixology. Some of that is from books related to the ones I’m reading, and some is from seeing stuff in house ads in the comics, and thinking “oh yeah, I wanted to buy that.” I think the problem here is that I went (mostly) cold turkey on new comics in mid-2020 or so, and that’s when these books I’m reading came out. (And Amazon has some big sales going on this weekend, so I can get stuff cheap.) The Legion books led me to Future State: Superman, which was on sale for $3. The whole Future State thing is one of the reasons I stopped buying comics. I wasn’t opposed to it, per se, but it made for a good jumping off point. But for $3 for a 400+ page book, why not give it a try? I also bought N.K. Jemisin’s Far Sector collection for only $2. I’d actually wanted to pick that up, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. I saw a house ad in one of the comics I read today, so that reminded me, and got me to check the price on Amazon. I also bought a few more books that were on sale for $2 or $3. I don’t feel too bad about any of that, since I’ve bought so few comics this year. Still, my Comixology “to be read” list has 239 items on it right now…

It’s 1:30 PM right now, and I don’t hear any Christmas music outside, so I might be lucky, and yesterday’s music was just a one-time thing  for Small Business Saturday, and not a daily thing that I’m going to have to put up with until December 25.

no more Comixology app

It was announced recently that the Comixology app is going away, and the Kindle app will be the only way to read comics purchased from Amazon. I kinda knew this was coming, of course. But it still seems worth making note of it and blogging about it a bit.

Earlier this year, the layoffs at Comixology were big news, and in early 2022, the revamped Comixology app (based on the Kinde app) was also big news. Amazon has been slowly absorbing Comixology, like a gelatinous cube, oozing slowly down a dungeon corridor. (I tried to get ChatGPT to give me a few funny sentences comparing Amazon to a gelatinous cube, but it didn’t give me anything worth including here.)

I haven’t been reading a lot of comics lately. I’ve been spending most of my leisure reading time working on the Wheel of Time books. I just finished the fifth book, The Fires of Heaven. I started reading the series in March, so it’s taken me about eight months to get through five books. Not bad, really, considering their length and my limited reading time.

But it’s really killed my Goodreads reading goal for the year, which was 75 books. (I’ve only read 28.) I’m thinking about devoting the rest of the year to reading comics. I read two interesting graphic novels this weekend: one from Harvey Pekar and one from Alex Ross. Very different viewpoints in those two, but I noticed that they both briefly mention Sacco and Vanzetti, which makes me think that my next read should be Rick Geary’s book about them, which I bought from him at a con around ten years ago.

I own all three of the aforementioned graphic novels in hardcover, so I haven’t had a reason to open up the Comixology or Kindle app this weekend, but I should do that soon, before they shut down the old app for good, just to make sure I understand what’s going on, and don’t lose track of anything.

Sandman and ChatGPT

I was watching a video on YouTube yesterday, with Neil Gaiman and a few other folks talking about Sandman, and reminiscing about the early days of the comic. It was fun, and it got me thinking about doing a Sandman reread. There’s a podcast about Sandman called Endless, and they’re going through a reread of the book right now, so I could follow along with that while I’m reading.

And that got me looking for a list of the original Sandman issues, with story titles and artist names. The Wikipedia entry has a lot of info, but no complete list of issues. The DC Universe Infinite page shows all the covers, and has all the art teams, so that’s probably good enough. But I thought it would be fun to ask ChatGPT, and some related chatbots, to give me an issue list and see what I got.

Here’s the prompt I used: “Can you give me a list of all 75 original issues of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic, with creator credits and story titles? Format as a table or list.”

And here’s the results:

  • Bing – gave me a table. On my first try, it gave up at issue 8, and told me “and so on up to issue 75.” (So it knew it was giving up!) On my second try, it got up to issue 31, and then just gave up. (And it took a long time to get that far.) Interesting feature: you can open a table from Bing in Excel.
  • Poe, “web search” bot – gave me a numbered list, but lost track of what it was doing after issue 25 and started repeating itself. Then gave up at list item 50. Definitely the worst result I got.
  • Poe, “assistant” bot – gave me a numbered list. Stopped at issue 72.
  • Poe, Claude-instant-100k – gave me a table. Gave up after issue 66.
  • ChatGPT 3.5 – Returned a table. Got all the way to issue 75, but, double-checking it, I see that a lot of it is wrong.

So I guess my conclusion is that this isn’t a great task for ChatGPT or similar chatbots. ChatGPT was the only one that returned all 75 issues, but it got a bunch of stuff wrong. I didn’t check the other results too closely; they looked right, as far as they went. But I just went back and looked again, and they’re all not quite right.

I like the Bing feature that lets you open a table in Excel. None of the other chat interfaces make it easy to do anything useful with the table. I managed to copy & paste the table out of ChatGPT, but it was a bit of a hassle. I’m really surprised that, with all the fancy tech behind ChatGPT, they don’t just have a simple “export to text / Markdown / PDF” button for chats. (Maybe there’s a way to do that, and I just haven’t stumbled across it yet.)

So, anyway, that was all probably a waste of time. I should spend less time screwing around with chatbots and more time reading comics.

Master Keaton

I’ve been thinking about Master Keaton a bit lately. I noticed that all ten volumes of the manga are listed as being banned in a certain school district in Texas, based on this article. I haven’t actually read the manga, but I’m having trouble figuring out how a manga about an insurance investigator could be problematic. (Well, it’s manga, so I’m sure there’s something…)

I have all the DVDs for the Master Keaton anime. I bought most of them in 2006, but have still only watched the first three. I’m thinking about re-watching those first few, and then going on and finishing the series.

And I poked around a bit today to see if the manga was still in print. It is, but apparently only in paperback and not digitally. As I was looking at that, I noticed that apparently Right Stuf is shutting down and getting merged into the Crunchyroll store. Right Stuf has been around since 1987, and I’ve bought a bunch of stuff from them over the years, but nothing lately. That’s partially because I have too much stuff to watch/read so I shouldn’t buy anything new, and partially because I can usually find what I’m looking for cheaper at Amazon. I always feel a little guilty buying stuff at Amazon instead of a smaller retailer, but I often do it anyway.

Returning to the subject of the Master Keaton manga being “banned,” I just dug into that a bit more by searching for it here, and apparently it had previously been classified as OK for middle school students, but has been reclassified as only for grades 9+. So maybe that’s not so bad. I remember the anime as being fine for all ages, I think, but maybe the manga is a bit more violent. Still, I’m sure most middle school kids in America have seen much worse.

some random links

I’m continuing to feel better today (see previous post), though I’m still not enjoying the “Paxlovid mouth” side-effect. I’m currently masking it with some apple juice.

I spent some time at the computer today, paying some bills, and catching up on some miscellaneous stuff I was neglecting while sick. I thought I’d put together a link post, with a few random things I stumbled over today.

  • The Coronavirus Still Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings – from The Nation. I don’t really have anything to say about this, but thought it was relevant to my current situation.
  • The cult of Obsidian – from Fast Company. I’ve mostly given up on Obsidian, and have decided to remain with Evernote for now. But I still think Obsidian is interesting, and I may return to it at some point. I’m a little interested in maybe picking up David Sparks’ Obsidian Field Guide, now that it’s out, though there wouldn’t be much point in that, if I’m not going to use Obsidian.
  • I just saw the news that JHU in Manhattan has closed, via this interview at The Beat. I’ve been going to JHU since back when it was in A&S Plaza. So that’s got to be back in the early 90s, since it was only called A&S Plaza from 1989-1995 (per Wikipedia). I always liked that store, both before and after Jim Hanley retired. Mind you, I haven’t been there in a while. I can’t really remember the last time I was there. In more recent years, I’ve been more likely to stop by Midtown Comics, mostly just because I’m more likely to pass by there on my way to or from Penn Station.

I’ve skimmed some of the news coming out of NYCC, but there’s not much that caught my eye. I looked at the Harvey winners, and there’s some interesting stuff in there. Having just spent a week at home, sick, you’d think I would have done some comic reading, but nope. I didn’t really have the energy for it earlier in the week. Then, on Wednesday, I decided to start watching Only Murders In The Building, and that kept me out of trouble from Wednesday through Friday. (I watched one season per day.) I should probably talk myself into doing some reading today and tomorrow, but I’m still not sure I have enough energy for it.

NYCC, football, booster shots, and other stuff

It’s Sunday morning, and I’ve got a bunch of assorted thoughts kicking around in my head, so I’m going to try to write a rambling blog post, and see what shakes out.


NYCC is next weekend. I’m not going this year. And I’m not even enthusiastic about watching any panels from home, really. I looked at the schedule of what would be streaming via Popverse, and there’s not much that looks interesting to me. I’m pretty sure that NYCC 2021 was the last time I went into NYC for anything. (Leaving out the time in 2022 when I passed through on my way to Albany.)

It’s also occurred to me that I haven’t really taken a vacation this year, and we’re getting near the end of the year. I’ve used up a fair bit of my PTO time this year on sick days, but I could still take a few days. I should probably do that. I don’t need to have a plan to do anything specific, but it would probably be good for my mental health to check out from work for a bit and go for some long walks or something.

TV and TiVo

I see from my “On This Day” widget that I bought my TiVo eight years ago. I keep thinking about finally getting rid of it and pulling the plug on cable TV entirely, but I’m still hanging on to it. I only get the basic broadcast channels through cable now, but that’s still useful for stuff, including football, news, and a handful of shows.

Meanwhile, I talked myself into signing up for NFL+ yesterday, mostly because it was 50% off, and because I kinda wanted to watch the Jaguars/Bills game from London this morning at 9:30, and it’s only on NFL Network. So now I’ve got subscriptions to both MLB.TV and NFL+. At some point, I’m going to have to cull some of these subscriptions. I’ve got Netflix, Peacock, Paramount+, and the Disney+ bundle, plus Apple TV+ from my Apple One bundle, and Amazon Prime Video.

The Giants are doing pretty bad this year, by the way, and I usually lose interest in football if the Giants aren’t doing well, but I still haven’t given up hope this year just yet.

COVID and flu shots

I got my COVID booster and flu shot yesterday, COVID in the left arm and flu in the right. My right arm is fine today, but the left arm hurts a lot. It was bad enough overnight that I couldn’t put any weight on it, so every time I rolled left, I got a stab of pain. That made for a rough night.

I’ve noticed that all of the “ceremony” around COVID shots is basically gone now. The person who gave me the shots didn’t ask for my vaccination card or ask me to sit around CVS for 15 minutes afterward. And the old CDC V-safe program was shut down earlier this year, so I won’t get all of those fun text messages this time. So I guess we’re in the phase now where we’ll just be getting a yearly flu shot and COVID shot together every year, and it’ll be no big deal. Oh well.

Social media

Like most sane people, I’ve almost entirely given up on Twitter now. I’m mostly using Mastodon and Threads. I’d hoped that most of the people I followed on Twitter would move over to Mastodon, but that didn’t happen. A bunch of the tech folks moved to Mastodon, but most non-tech folks (and news orgs) have moved to Threads instead. That’s not great, since Threads doesn’t have any third-party clients, and will probably eventually have ads and a bunch of other dumb cruft, but it’s good enough for now, I guess.

Right now, I’m listening to Sleepy Hollow on XPN, and Julian Booker, who used to post the playlist to Twitter, is posting it to Threads. So it’s that kinda stuff that’s probably going to wind up on something like Threads rather than Mastodon, and I guess I need to deal with that.

In theory, Threads is eventually going to support ActivityPub, so there will probably be a way to consolidate my Mastodon and Threads browsing into a single third-party client at some point. (Assuming Meta isn’t pulling a Lucy/football thing and lying to us about ActivityPub support…)

Speaking of Lucy/football stuff, here are a couple of fun takes on that from today’s Foxtrot and an older Off The Mark. And, while I’m posting comic strip links, I liked today’s Cul De Sac too!

wellness day

I’m taking today off from work, as a “wellness day.” (Insert eye roll here.) Wellness days are a new thing at work. We get two of them each year. They’re just like regular PTO days, except there’s a whole separate workflow to request them, and you’re supposed to use them to work on… your mental health, or something like that. I don’t understand these things. But I’m grateful for the two extra vacation days, I guess.

San Diego Comic Con is this weekend, and once again, I’m not there. I thought I’d maybe spend some time today looking at the news coming out of the con, and I have, but there’s not much of interest to me. Due to the writers and actors strikes, a number of panels and appearances have been cancelled. I guess that actually means that there’s more room for actual comics stuff at the con, so that’s cool, but honestly I’m not really following comics news right now either.

I picked up a few interesting bits from browsing the #SDCC tag at Mastodon, including learning that Phil Foglio broke his foot. (Which reminds me: I have a bunch of Girl Genius comics in PDF format I bought in 2020 that I still need to read…)

I started the day with a mental list of things I might like to do today, and of course I’ve done almost none of them. I did do a few semi-responsible things, like finally make an appointment for an overdue oil change, and clean up some stuff in Evernote, and stuff like that.

I also read a few chapters in The Shadow Rising, the fourth Wheel of Time book. I seem to be reading this one more slowly than I did the first three. I’m still really enjoying it, but I’ve been choosing to do other stuff on weekends more often, so I’m usually only getting through one or two chapters at a time, rather than reading 10 or 20 over the weekends. According to Wikipedia, it’s the longest book in the series, so I guess I’m going to be working on it for a while, maybe the rest of the summer.


Wheel of Time

My Pathfinder fixation is on hold for now. I haven’t quite given up on it, but my brother still hasn’t started our campaign up, and I’m a bit tired of reading the rulebook. So now I’m on a Wheel of Time kick. It started out as an offshoot of the Pathfinder kick. You see, I’d read the Pathfinder comics that I had in my collection, and that led me to reading the Wheel of Time comics I had, since both were published by Dynamite and part of the same Humble bundle from a long time ago.

And now I’ve finished reading those, which serve as an adaptation of the first Wheel of Time novel, The Eye of the World. Then, I remembered that Amazon has a Wheel of Time TV show that I hadn’t watched yet. So I watched that.

And then I remembered that I have an ebook for the first novel that gave away for free some years ago. So now I’m reading that. It’s not a short book, and will likely take me a while to finish.

I also have an ebook of the complete Wheel of Time series, all fifteen books, that I got as part of the Hugo packet from 2014. I’m not sure if it’s morally OK for me to read that now, though. The purpose of it was to let Hugo voters read all the nominated works, and I didn’t get around to reading it then. So, if I want to read it all now, I should probably buy the books.

There’s a Complete Wheel of Time ebook available for the Kindle, but it costs $163, which is more than buying the 15 books separately, so that’s kind of weird. Well, it’s going to take me a while to read the first one, and I don’t know if I’ll really want to keep going, so best not to worry about that until I’ve finished the first book. I think a lot of the ebooks are available from my library, so I can always go that route.

I’ve also been enjoying dipping my feet into some of the nerdery surrounding the Wheel of Time. There’s a ton of stuff at the Tor site about it, including this series from someone who is reading the series for the first time, and this series from a different writer, who did a re-read of all the books. I’ve also listened to a number of episodes from the Dragonmount podcast, which were fun.

I’m not sure why it took me so long to give this series a try. I guess I used to be more of a snob about certain kinds of books, particularly “epic fantasy” books. But I’m kind of OK with this stuff now. I enjoyed the comics and the TV show, and I’m liking what I’ve read of the first book so far.

Speaking of snobbery about epic fantasy, Wired published a profile of Brandon Sanderson recently, and it’s gotten a lot of negative feedback from Sanderson fans. (Sanderson wrote the last few Wheel of Time books, after Robert Jordan died.) I’m not sure how I feel about Sanderson, since I haven’t read anything from him, and don’t know much about him, but the profile makes it seem like he’s a pretty decent, down to earth, guy. (Which seemed to be a problem for the guy who wrote the profile…) Sanderson responded to the kerfuffle on Reddit, and his response reinforces my impression that he’s probably a decent guy. I don’t know if I’ll ever make it far enough into the Wheel of Time series to read that ones that Sanderson co-wrote, but I’m curious.

Get Back to Work

From Tom Tomorrow, via The Nib: Meet the Old Boss. This is from 2021, but I stumbled across it again today, and thought I’d link to it here, just for yuks. I guess the deluge of “work from home” vs. “return to office” articles that I saw in the news back in 2021 and 2022 has mostly died out. I don’t recall seeing much about it lately, but I’ve been thinking about it, since we just hit the three-year mark on the start of the pandemic WFH period.

I’m still on a hybrid schedule, two days in the office and three days from home, and I hope I get to stay that way. Today was a work from home day, and I had no meetings today and no tech support emergencies, so I actually got a lot done! And I can stop working and go straight into cooking dinner right at 5 PM!

See also: work from wherever, from 2022.


PDF software and related rabbit holes

The Pathfinder stuff that I’ve been blogging about so much lately sent me down a couple of rabbit holes related to PDF software, so I thought I’d write that up here, for my own reference, if for no other reason.

First rabbit hole: form-fillable PDFs. The Pathfinder character sheet is a PDF file with fields you can fill in. Then you can save it and/or print it out. My initial attempt to fill it out was on my PC, using the software I’ve been using as my default PDF reader for the last few years, Sumatra PDF. Sumatra is a great lightweight PDF reader, but it doesn’t handle PDF forms. To make a long story short, I gave in and installed Acrobat Reader. I’ve been using it as my default PDF reader on my PC for a few weeks now, and I’m still not a fan. After installing it, I figured out that the PDF reader built into Firefox handles PDF forms reasonably well, so I could have skipped Acrobat Reader and just used Firefox, but I guess I’ll keep Reader installed for now.

I also found out that Reader won’t let me fill in a couple of the fields on the character sheet, but Firefox has no problem with them, so that’s weird, and another reason to give up on Reader, maybe.

On the Mac side, I’ve been using PDF Expert as my default PDF reader for several years. I bought a license for it some years back. But it’s now subscription-based, so my license doesn’t let me use the full feature set of the current version. Specifically, it apparently won’t let me edit the character sheet.

Preview on macOS is actually a pretty full-featured PDF viewer, and includes the ability to fill out forms. So I’m thinking about giving up on PDF Expert, since Preview seems to do everything I need.

On the iOS / iPadOS side of things, I’ve been using GoodReader as my PDF viewer for years, and I’m still sticking with it. I paid for it a long time ago, and it still works fine for me. I’ve experimented with some other options, but GoodReader always seems better.

On a related rabbit hole, I bought an Elfquest Humble Bundle today. I’ve been a fan of Elfquest since the original series was published, back in the 80s. I stopped following it at some point in the 90s, when they were publishing a bunch of stuff that wasn’t actually written/drawn by the original creators, Wendy and Richard Pini. I’m aware that, at some point, Dark Horse got the rights to reprint the older stuff, and that they were printing some new stuff too, but I didn’t pick up any of it. So this Humble Bundle was a chance to get DRM-free copies of all the older stuff, and get the newer stuff too. As with all this Humble stuff, I’m not sure when/if I’ll get around to reading any of it. But I have all the PDFs on my hard drive, for whenever I’m ready.

Humble is sometimes weird about the quality and size of the files they distribute. All of the Elfquest files are PDFs. Some of them are reasonably-sized, but there’s one 4 GB file and one 5 GB file. I’m pretty sure that both could be much smaller, so that sent me off down another rabbit hole, trying to figure out a good way to shrink them. Acrobat Reader won’t let you shrink PDFs without subscribing to Acrobat Pro for $20/month, so I’m not doing that. Ditto for PDF Expert on the Mac side. I’d need a subscription to compress a PDF.

Preview on macOS does allow you to compress PDFs, and I ran it on the 4 GB one and that got it down to 400 MB. But the image qualify went down noticeably. So I’ve been looking around at other options. ACBR Comic Book Reader for Windows lets you convert PDFs to CBR/CBZ files and (probably) compress them. But it choked on the 4 GB PDF and wouldn’t open it.

I thought maybe I’d look at PDFpen for Mac. That’s now owned by Nitro. You can buy it for $130, as a one-time purchase, no subscription. That’s not bad, I guess, but I don’t really know if I need it, or if it would do better at compressing the PDF than Preview did. Maybe I’ll download a trial, if I get bored/curious.

Nitro is also included in SetApp, which is a multi-app subscription for the Mac, for $10/month. I’ve thought about getting SetApp before, but there was never enough in it to entice me. I might be tempted, if there was something in there that could replace Evernote for me. And it looks like there might be, though neither option (NotePlan or Ulysses) has a Windows client. I’ve been thinking about getting off Evernote, since I’m not sure how much I trust their new owner. They just laid off more than 100 people. Anyway, the Evernote thing is yet another rabbit hole, and I probably shouldn’t go too far down that one yet. My Evernote subscription renewed in January, so I don’t need to worry about it again this year, really.

Back to the PDF thing: I still haven’t found a good way to compress those giant Elfquest PDFs, but I’m probably not going to try to read them any time soon, so I don’t necessarily have to worry about it right now. (And the need to compress them at all is based on a guess that GoodReader on my iPad would choke on a 4 GB PDF, but maybe it wouldn’t.)