second thoughts, and other distractions

So after spending $300 on NYCC tickets yesterday, today I stumble across this article: Coronavirus wave this fall and winter could potentially infect 100 million, White House warns. So, yeah, that October con in New York is sounding like less of a good idea.

I found that article while going down a slight rabbit hole at work. I took a quick break to look at Hacker News, which led me to this notice on Jason Kottke’s blog that he’s taking a sabbatical. That led me to follow a couple of links at the end of his post, to Dave Pell’s and Craig Mod’s sites. And something at one or the other of those led me to the aforementioned CNN article.

I say all that to illustrate the fact that I’m easily distracted, and I’m trying to get better about that. I’m finding a little guidance on that in some of the stuff I’m reading right now, and in some of the guided meditations I’ve been doing recently. But I’m still really distractable. I think maybe I need to get back to using a pomodoro timer. I blogged about distraction about a year ago, and did the pomodoro thing for a while, but didn’t stick with it.

Oh, and to follow up on the financial stuff in yesterday’s post: that’s getting even worse too. See here: Wall Street, dragged down by tech stocks, racks up more heavy losses. So, yeah, maybe I should just live in the moment?

NYCC 2022 and other comics stuff

In addition to the random programming stuff I was working on earlier, I also decided to jump into the queue for NYCC tickets today. The pre-sale started at 10 AM today. I really wasn’t sure I wanted to bother with it, and I did want to go to the farmers market this morning at 10, so that won out. I came home with some radishes, carrots, and pickles around 10:30, and I checked in on the pre-sale at 10:45. They hadn’t sold out, so I jumped in the queue, just out of curiosity, to see how long it would take to get through, and whether or not they’d sell out of tickets before then.

Well, I just left the queue open in a browser tab while I did other stuff, and noticed that I’d made it through around 11:15. By that time, they’d sold out of “VIP” tickets, but regular 4-day tickets were still available. They were also priced at $210, which was a bit of a shock. (But, looking back at my post from last year, I realize that it’s actually a little cheaper than 2021, when they didn’t sell 4-day tickets, so you’d have to pay $240 for four $60 single-day tickets.) I was prepared to close the tab and say “screw it,” but some wild optimistic impulse got me to go ahead and buy a 4-day ticket anyway.

With a t-shirt added on, plus tax and shipping, my total was just under $300, which seems kind of crazy to me. Especially since I’m not even sure if I’ll go. I’m still pretty nervous about COVID and large gatherings. I did go in last year, but only for one day, and I got sick afterward. (Though probably not sick with COVID.) And I got sick after my trip to Albany in March. (Again, probably not COVID.) So I might punt on actually going to this thing.

We’re nearly at one million Americans dead of COVID now. NYCC is in October. I don’t really know what the COVID situation will be then, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be gone, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of people still won’t be taking it as seriously as they should. So going in to NYC for this will be a bit of a crapshoot.

I guess I’m not as worried about losing $300 now as I would normally be, since I looked at my Merrill statement yesterday. Without getting into specific numbers, let’s just say that I lost more money in April than my  total yearly salary in 2010. And May might be even more volatile. So $300 seems like a fairly minor loss, seen from that perspective. And, with inflation, that might not even be enough money to fill my gas tank at this time next year. So why not spend it on a comic book convention that I might not even attend?

(And yes, I know that I didn’t really “lose” any money on my Merrill statement. My total portfolio value dropped. I still have all the same mutual funds I had at the beginning of the month. The value will likely go back up again before I retire. And I’m not retiring for at least ten years, so I’m not cashing in any of those mutual funds any time soon. But still…)

In other comics news, I was saddened to hear of the deaths of two of my favorite artists, Neal Adams and George Pérez, recently. Adams did most of his most famous work before I was reading comics, so I’m familiar with his best work mostly through reprints. I’ve got the nice hardcover volumes collecting his Batman work, and I really love that stuff. I’ve seen him at conventions a number of times, but never thought to get anything signed by him, and I never actually talked to him, though.

Pérez did his most famous work when I was really in that “sweet spot” as a young fan, in the 80s, with enough money to buy a reasonable number of books, enough time to read them, and the right mindset to really get blown away by his work. I really loved his Teen Titans run, with Marv Wolfman, that started in 1980. and I loved his Avengers run, with Kurt Busiek, in the 90s. And so much of his other work was great too.

One more comics-related tidbit: I went to my local comic book store yesterday for Free Comic Book Day. It was pretty crowded, despite it being a rainy day. They limited people to three free books each. I got Red Sonja, Doctor Who, and Donald Duck! The Red Sonja book was a reprint of an old Frank Thorne story, so I grabbed that, even though I’m sure I already have it in a reprint collection somewhere. And you can’t go wrong with Doctor Who and Donald Duck. Marvel and DC, of course, had multiple FCBD books.  But I have no idea what’s going on right now in either the Marvel or DC universe, and I really don’t have the spare time (or the inclination) to get up to speed on all that. It looks like a few of the other FCBD books are available digitally on Amazon/Comixology now too, so maybe I’ll pick up a few more that way.

fun with file formats

I’ve been reading some random old stuff from an old Neil Gaiman Humble bundle recently, and I’ve hit a couple of snags with files. I thought writing up some notes on that might be useful.

First, I was trying to read two old comics from the bundle. I’d loaded both, in CBZ format, to my iPad in the Panels app. Both were black & white comics, originally published by Knockabout Comics. I think they were probably published in a larger format than typical American comics. And it seems that they didn’t do a good job of scanning them in and digitizing them. So they were a little too blurry for me to read. I first tried copying the PDF versions into Panels, to see if they were better. They were, but not by much, and zooming them didn’t work well. Then I got the idea to try the same PDFs in GoodReader. I bought GoodReader a long time ago, and don’t really use it that often. But it turns out that it’s a much better PDF reader than Panels is. So the lesson here is: stick with GoodReader for PDFs.

Second, I decided to copy a couple of the ebooks from the bundle to my Kindle Paperwhite. The easiest way to do that is to email them to the Kindle Personal Documents Service. This service has changed a bit over the years, but, in general, it allows you to email DRM-free ebooks to a special address, and they’ll get converted to Kindle format and pushed down to your Kindle. I had some problems with it this time.

The service is supposed to support both EPUB and MOBI files right now. I’m fairly sure that it didn’t support EPUB until fairly recently. And the support page for it right now says that it’ll stop supporting MOBI files later this year. I’ve always thought of MOBI as the Amazon/Kindle format, and EPUB as the “everybody else” ebook format. The MOBI format was created by Mobipocket in 2000. The company was bought by Amazon in 2005. The original AZW format used for DRM’d Kindle books is a variant on MOBI.

Anyway, I tried sending both MOBI and EPUB versions of the books to my Kindle and they all failed. That led me down a bunch of paths that didn’t lead anywhere interesting. Finally, I got the bright idea to email the files from my PC instead of my Mac. These days, I don’t think there’s any reason the files would be different on the Mac vs the PC, but it seemed like it was worth a try. And indeed it worked when I emailed the files from my PC. On both platforms, I used the web-based Fastmail interface, running in Firefox, so it can’t be a browser thing or an email client thing. So I’m pretty confused about that. I guess the lesson from this one is to always email docs from my PC instead of my Mac when using the Send to Kindle service.

Overall, I think I’ve now spent more time today screwing around with files than I have actually reading anything. But that happens sometimes. And that’s OK. I’m one of those weirdos who can have fun with this kind of troubleshooting.

Not At WonderCon

I was a little surprised to see a mention of WonderCon in my Twitter feed this morning. I knew they were doing an in-person show this year, after skipping 2020 and 2021, but I didn’t realize it was this weekend. I went to the show in 2019, and that was the next to last time I did any air travel. (The very last time was the Microsoft workshop I went to in Redmond in May 2019.)

It doesn’t look they’re doing anything virtual for WonderCon this year. At least, I haven’t seen anything posted. That’s a little disappointing, since I’ve enjoying watching some of the virtual panels they’ve done over the last couple of years for WonderCon and Comic-Con.

After my relatively short trip to Albany recently, and how sick I got after that, I’m definitely not ready to hop on a plane and fly out to California. Maybe next year!

Presidents Day

I have today off from work for Presidents Day, and in typical pandemic-era fashion, I’ve spent it sitting alone in my apartment reading comics. (OK, that was my choice for random holidays about half the time before the pandemic too, but now it’s my choice almost all of the time…) I’ve actually spent most of the three-day weekend reading comics. It’s all been digital books, nothing physical. I’ve been trying to put a dent in the backlog of old digital books in my library, both in Comixology and from old Humble bundles and other sources. This means that I’ve been reading some pretty random stuff. Today, I read a bunch of stuff from an old Dynamite Humble bundle from 2014.

I’ve been going back and forth between using iComics and Panels for this stuff. I blogged about those apps a few months ago. Both apps work fine, though neither one is exactly what I want. One of my main complaints about both is that they don’t allow for nested folders. They both have a “collection” feature which lets you group a bunch of books into a folder, but you can’t create a collection inside another collection. And I still haven’t committed to a regular subscription to Panels, though I probably should.

For both books and comics, I sometimes think that I’m spending too much time reading stuff that was free or cheap, just to check it off my list, rather than reading the stuff I really want to read. I added an “abandoned” shelf in Goodreads some time ago, and that helps me get past the feeling that I need to read everything I “own”. Sometimes, I can read a few pages, then say “that’s not for me” and mark it as “abandoned” and go on to the next thing.

I started this post thinking I might post some thoughts about the actual stuff I was reading, and it turned into another post about how I’m reading. So I’ll say a few quick things about what I’m reading here.

  • I’ve finally started reading Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga this weekend, and it’s about as good as everyone says it is. I read through the first two volumes.
  • I finally read Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet book. It was fun. Definitely one of the better comics he’s worked on.
  • I have a bunch of self-published stuff from Matt Howarth that I’ve bought from him over the years. I read one of his Keif Llama graphic novels today and really enjoyed it. This self-published stuff is obscure enough that it’s not on Goodreads, so I had to add it. (Because if I can’t log something on Goodreads, then I feel like it didn’t “count”. I may have a bit of a problem…)

I guess that’s about it for my weekend comics binge. It’s about time for dinner, and I have to go back to work tomorrow.

Yet more on Comixology

I know this is my third Comixology post in a row, but I thought I’d write a bit more, since they’ve switched off the old comixology.com site today, and that’s really ticking people off.
Here are a couple of new articles on the subject:

I amused myself for a few minutes today by doing a Twitter search on “comixology” and checking out all the complaints. It was fun. People are angry. (Or at least pretending to be angry. It’s hard to tell sometimes.) For myself, I don’t seem to have lost any books that I’ve already purchased. And the new app doesn’t bother me that much. And I guess I can deal with the new Amazon sub-site for future purchases.

I see that my Comixology wish list has migrated over to a new Amazon wish list now, so that’s nice. I may do some cleanup on my Amazon wishlists, if I get bored later. I already have separate lists for physical stuff and Kindle books, so having a third specifically for comics is a good idea.

One very minor thing that Amazon has done that I really appreciate: They’ve stopped spelling it “ComiXology” and are now just calling it “Comixology”. That capital X in the middle always bugged me.

The new ComiXology app

I updated the ComiXology app on my iPad today to the new version, which I guess got released today or last night. It’s not great, but it’s pretty much what I was expecting. I blogged about ComiXology yesterday, but the app update wasn’t out yet, so I’m going to write a quick follow-up with some thoughts on the app.

Overall, it’s basically the Kindle iOS app, with some extra comics-related functionality added in. The main screen just has two tabs, Library and Discover. The library tab is where you view your comics, and the discover tab lists new releases, recommendations, and stuff like that. You still can’t purchase books in the app.

The filtering and sorting features in the library view are adequate, but (of course) I’d like more. The main filters are read/unread/in progress, and downloaded (vs. all). Sort options are “recent” (which seems to push recently purchased, recently downloaded, or recently accessed books to the top), title, author, and publication date. The “author” one is a bit problematic, since most comics are created by multiple people. They seem to give precedence to the writer, which makes sense, I guess. The old app used to let you sort by purchase date, which was sometimes pretty helpful. That option is gone. I don’t think the old app had a publication date sort option, so that might be good.

Search seems to be limited to titles only. I tried searching for some writers are artist names, and didn’t get any matches. So that’s a bit disappointing. (And it’s clearly not a full text search within the books themselves.)

The actual reading experience isn’t that different from the old app. It’s good enough. I don’t like the way they’ve changed certain things in the interface, but I’ll get used to it.

There’s a good article up on The Beat today with some analysis of the new app and the new “shopping experience.” It’s a pretty negative article, and I can’t really argue with anything they’re saying. I think that the overall effect of these changes, for me, is that I’m likely to spend less money on digital comics via Amazon. That’s actually probably a good thing, given how much money I’ve spent at ComiXology, and how far behind I am with my reading.

ComiXology changes and weekend reading

My weekend reading has mostly been random single issues of comics in my ComiXology library, all of which I got for free, mostly in 2014. With the coming changes to ComiXology, I’ve been spending some time organizing my lists of digital comics and finding some old ones that I’d never read.

I mentioned the ComiXology changes in this blog post from November. The changes were initially meant to happen last year, but they were delayed. It looks like the full switch-over will be happening very soon now, though they haven’t given a specific date. This Twitter thread has a number of details. It sounds like it’ll be this week. The ComiXology subreddit has had a lot of talk about it recently, most of it negative. I’m not enthusiastic about it myself, but I’m not as annoyed as a lot of people. (That’s the way Reddit often works, of course. The loudest voices bubble to the top.)

I’m probably most annoyed that all of the old books I’ve moved into my “archive” in ComiXology are going to wind up back in my main library. I’ve generally used the archive to move random old freebies out of my main library, but I guess I won’t be able to do that anymore. That’s also a problem with my Kindle library in general: too many random free books making it hard to find the ones I’ve actually paid for. If I look at my Kindle library right now, I have 1656 items in there. That’s now a combination of my Kindle books and ComiXology books. That’s really too much stuff to manage without at least slightly better tools. Oh well. Hopefully, the new ComiXology iOS app will be good, at least.

Content-wise, I’m enjoying reading a bunch of random first issues of Image and small press series. On one hand, given the number of books currently on my “want to read” list, reading a bunch of first issues is liable to just increase that list. On the other hand, I like reading these little samples of longer stories without feeling like I necessarily need to finish them, or figure out what’s going on, or really get invested in them. And I’m finding it interesting to see where some of these series have gone. Cross Bronx got just one four-issue series. Ultra was an eight-issue series, and didn’t return. Velvet lasted for 15 issues and got collected into three books. Mind The Gap got collected into three volumes, but has disappeared from ComiXology for some reason. Black Science lasted for nine volumes. Those are all examples of Image books that I enjoyed. I probably won’t pick up and read all of them, but I’ll get a few. (I already have all three volumes of Velvet in the Ed Brubaker Humble Bundle that I bought recently. That looks like it should be fun.)

Maus

I’ve been following the news around the school board in Tennessee that banned the teaching of Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I first read Maus back when it was being serialized in Raw in the early 80s. So I guess I read it when I was in high school, a little older than those eighth-graders in Tennessee. I don’t remember much about how it affected me at that age, but I do know that it was the most concrete and specific material I read on the Holocaust to that point. I’m sure I knew something about it, but I don’t remember it being covered much in history class. I think most of my knowledge of WW2 came from Hogan’s Heroes reruns and G.I. Combat comics.

Something like Maus would never have been assigned as school reading when I was growing up. Comics just weren’t taken seriously at that time. I’m fairly certain that there were no graphic novels at all in our school library. But now, we live in a world where assigning Maus as school reading probably seems reasonable to a lot of fairly mainstream people. But still not to the kind of people who find themselves on a school board in Tennessee, unfortunately. It’s actually kind of heartening that this thing is national news, and has stirred up some debate and gotten Art Spiegelman some new mainstream media attention.

Speaking of which, I saw Whoopi Goldberg’s appearance on Colbert from Monday night, but hadn’t heard about her comments on her TV show earlier on Monday, so I didn’t quite have the context on what she was apologizing for. But I could tell she wasn’t doing a very good job of it. I’ve generally thought of Goldberg as being mostly harmless and mildly amusing. She probably shouldn’t be talking about the Holocaust though. She clearly didn’t mean any harm. I’m not going to criticize her, other than to say that maybe this is an example of why more people should be reading Maus.

Getting back to Maus, I followed some links and found myself reading about Spiegelman’s MetaMaus book that came out in 2011. I remember reading about it when it came out, but I didn’t buy it. I really should have; it was $35 when it came out, and it’s going for more than $1000 now. In addition to the original Raw issues, I have the first Maus book in paperback, and the second volume in hardcover. (The hardcover version of Maus II goes for $300 on Amazon right now, so I guess that’s out of print.)

It might be a good time to reread Maus, but of course it’s not a casual read. If The Complete Maus were available digitally, I’d probably buy a copy, just to have one, but no version of Maus is (legally) available digitally, as far as I can tell. All the attention of course has made Maus a bestseller on Amazon, which is nice, but it also means you can’t easily buy a new copy right now.

Another New Year

I missed my usual New Year’s Day post yesterday. There are a few reasons for that, one being that New Year’s Day fell on a Saturday this year, and I decided to treat it like a normal Saturday (mostly) and started the day with my usual Saturday chores and errands (laundry and grocery shopping), then proceeded to spend a bunch of time in front of the computer paying bills and organizing paperwork and stuff. So it was a pretty industrious morning, but after that, I took a nap, and then spent the afternoon in front of the TV, watching Godzilla movies. I didn’t really have the energy left for anything more ambitious.

So today, I’m going to try to spend some time writing a blog post. It’s Sunday morning, I just had a pork roll, egg, and cheese sandwich and a strong cup of coffee, and now I’m ready to sit around and ruminate on the year for a bit.

I usually start these posts with links to the last few New Year’s posts, so here are a few:

This past year has certainly been a doozy. It got off to a rough start with the Capitol insurrection and resulting turmoil, which was the subject for my second post of the year. On the bright side, the vaccines arrived, and I got my first shot in April, my second in May, and my booster shot in December. After that second shot, I started feeling better about things and actually made a trip into NYC in June to go to the Met and MoMA. Then, I went in twice in October, once for NYCC, and once to go to the Met and MoMA again. And that was about it for travel. The Omicron variant started showing up around Thanksgiving, and going out started to seem a lot less safe again. Contrast NYCC in October, which felt pretty safe to me, with Anime NYC in November, where one of the earliest cases of Omicron in NYC was identified. So any thoughts I had of going into New York for another Met/MoMA trip went out the window.

At work, we went through a bunch of different “Return To Office” plans through 2021. They kept setting dates and then pushing them back. In the end, we returned to the office on a one day per week schedule in October. My first day back was October 14. My last trip to the office was December 9. I was sick the week after that, and then we were allowed to work from home for the last two weeks of the year. For 2022, we were supposed to move to two days per week in January, but the Omicron variant has put that on hold. Now, we’re allowed to work from home until mid-January. Then, it’s back to 1 day per week for the last two weeks of January, then 2 days per week starting in February. We’ll see if we actually stick to that, or if things get worse and they have to back off again. I’m thankful that I work for a company that’s been more flexible about “work from home” than a lot of other companies. But I’m a little disappointed that they haven’t been more flexible, especially for workers like me who really aren’t any more effective in the office vs. working from home. At this point, I feel like they should just allow folks like me to go 100% remote if we want and give up our cubicles in the office. It would just make things simpler and safer for everybody.

But enough about that. I usually include a section on my general health in these posts, so I’m going to do that now. I started the year at around 135 pounds. I’ve gradually gained some weight this year, ending up at around 140. I’m trying to hold the line there. I set 140 as my goal weight in Lose It, so any time I go over it, my calorie budget is adjusted down a bit and I eat a bit less until I’m back under. I’d dropped down to 130 pounds briefly in 2020, without actually trying. Since then, it’s just been going up though. I guess it’s mostly due to my habit of going out for a cappuccino and a cookie in the afternoon on most weekdays. There are now three good places to get cookies here in downtown Somerville: Lucid Coffee, Blue Sheep Bake Shop, and Epic Cookies. So that’s kind of a problem. But it’s not a huge one. I’m managing to hold the line at 140. And even if I let myself go to 150, that would still leave me with a healthy BMI.

I’ve been doing OK on exercise. I take a walk outside almost every day. I started doing some yoga recently too, though I haven’t stuck with it. I’ve just been doing it on mornings when it’s too cold out for a walk. According to the iOS Health app, I’ve averaged 49 minutes of exercise per day over the last year, and 491 calories on my “move” ring. My move goal was 500 over the summer, when I was doing a lot of walking, and it’s 450 now. I generally hit my exercise goal most days, and the move goal 4 or 5 days each week.

I’ve continued meditating on a fairly regular basis. I’ve been using Calm all year, and generally do one of their 10 minute meditations every weekday, alternating between their two regular features, the Daily Calm and the Daily Trip. I signed up for a lifetime sub with them during their Black Friday sale, as I’ve mentioned previously. I’ve occasionally tried to get a streak going, meditating every day. The longest I’ve managed is 40 days, from November 1 to December 10. I’m not overly concerned with getting to a point where I meditate every single day, as long as I’m doing it more often than not, but it’s fun to try to see how long I can keep a streak going.

Looking at my history on this blog, I can see that I was posting a lot earlier in the year (7 posts in January and 11 in February), but less later in the year (only one post in December). I don’t know if that means anything, really. I still like using the blog as an aid to organizing my thoughts and reflecting on my life and my choices. A lot of my posts last year were all about entertainment though: comics, movies, TV, podcasts, music, and so on. I think I indulged in a lot of escapism in 2021. I do that every year, of course, but more than average in 2021, I think. It was a rough year. I spent a lot of time alone in my apartment. I don’t really feel bad about that. I’m still very engaged in my work, and I keep up with news and politics and make informed decisions about all that stuff.

And on that “escapism” front, I always like to look back at the books I’ve read and movies I’ve watched and so on and so forth in these posts. My Goodreads history last year is mostly comics. I set my goal at 100 books and read 79. I have a few serious books in there, like Americanah and The Picture of Dorian Gray, but it’s mostly comics and Doctor Who audio dramas. A few highlights would be reading through Grant Morrison’s X-Men run, discovering the Hilda books by Luke Pearson, and finally finishing Brian K. Vaughan’s Ex Machina.

I watched quite a few movies this year too, though I never did make it into a theater. (The Spider-Man movie is really tempting, but I’m probably going to wait for that one to hit Blu-ray or Disney+, like I’ve done with all the other Marvel, Disney, or Pixar stuff since the pandemic started.) My Letterboxd stats show that I’ve watched 108 movies in 2021. I started and ended the year with Thin Man movies, which makes me happy. I love those movies. At the start of the year, I would have been watching them on my TiVo from TCM’s New Year’s Eve marathon. I gave up on premium cable in 2021, so for this New Year, I bought a DVD set from Amazon with the first four movies. I watched the third and fourth ones on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Still looking at my Letterboxd stats, I see that Spirited Away is the only movie I gave five stars to in 2021. That was obviously a rewatch for me, part of an effort to watch a bunch of Ghibli films, then listen to the corresponding Ghibliotheque podcast episode. I still have a bunch of movies to go on that front, and I should get back to that effort at some point soon. My other big watch/rewatch project in 2021 was to work my way through the Criterion Godzilla box set, which I wrote about in my last post.

I usually cover “professional development” in these posts, but I’m going to gloss over that this time. I did learn some new stuff last year, and I could list some nice work accomplishments, but honestly I haven’t been terribly ambitious about that stuff lately. This has largely been a “let’s just get through this” kind of year. And I think 2022 will be more of the same. I discontinued my Pluralsight subscription yesterday, since I haven’t been using it much lately. I still have access to LinkedIn Learning through work and O’Reilly through the ACM, and I think that’s more than enough for now.

There’s a lot more I could write here, but I’m going to try to wrap things up. I started writing this around 8 AM, and it’s now 11 AM. I took a half-hour walk at 9 AM, but I’ve just been sitting here ruminating and writing for most of that time. So it’s about time to stop and maybe go out for another walk. It’s 55º out right now, so I should take advantage of that while I can. I know it’s going to start getting cold again later this week.