Category Archives: Life


Apocalarpers stocking up on toilet paper and bottled water

“LARPing” is “Live Action Role Playing” — basically getting together with a bunch of like-minded folks and dressing up as warriors or wizards or vampires etc. and acting out a live game of Dungeons and Dragons (or Vampire: The Masquerade, or what have you).

In our current state, it looks like we’ve decided to engage in a society-wide epic of “Plague!: The Apocalypse”. Although considerably less fun to play than any of the previously mentioned games, it’s become a worldwide sensation. In fact, many states and cities now mandate participation.

After an initial “setup” stage where everyone runs around in attempt to find as much toilet paper as possible, the players mostly just sit on their phones and computers at home, reading news headlines and trying to avoid getting bored. Players are allowed to move to other locations, but only after guiltily forming an excuse as to why the trip was absolutely necessary, and making efforts to stay at least six feet away from the other players (3 times that distance if any of the players is wearing a surgical mask).

Anyone who coughs or sneezes for any reason is a “carrier” and is instantly shunned by the other players. Any location that person has been in for the past two weeks is then shut down and the “carrier” is put in “quarantine”. After the first week of gameplay, however, this matters less since all the other locations shut down too, the entire economy goes into a tailspin, and the players are all effectively living in isolation anyway.

There is no end to the game.

Two Musicians and a Projector = Magic

Uncool confession time: I hated punk rock when it first came out. I thought it was badly recorded, atonal garbage, and failed  to see why anyone would want to pay attention to a bunch of untalented hacks who couldn’t actually play their instruments.

At the time, I was an overly earnest musician who had become entranced by multi-track studio production techniques and the increasingly technical hi-fi adventurism of groups like Pink Floyd. What I didn’t really appreciate at the time, was how closed off the formerly free world of rock music had become in the decades since its founding. As the 70s were rolling to a close, the rock scene had turned into a game which only an increasingly limited number of incredibly talented and well-financed acts could afford to play competitively.

What punk brought was the message of, “Screw you and your decades of mannered musical training and your hundreds of thousands of dollars of studio time! We’re going to spend about $500 to make a record based on little more than attitude and energy! Oh, and our guitarist only knows about 3 chords, our bassist got his crappy amp back from the repair shop on Tuesday, and our drummer is just some guy our lead singer met last night at the bar who’s rubbish at maintaining a steady tempo, but who does have a van that runs.”

The music industry was overdue for a great rebalancing of the old cosmic scales. It was the yin that said only the truly talented few who’d paid their dues and worked their way up were allowed to record an album vs. the yang which just screamed, “Try and stop us!” and let it rip. And yeah, the latter record had a pretty good chance of sounding like complete crap. But at the same time, it was all strangely freeing. I think it was the sudden introduction of the punk ethos  which kicked 70s corporate and soft rock to the curb, and helped usher in the golden age of experimentation and creativity which was the 80s.

The same energy even infected the rock veterans, giving them permission to take crazy chances. Did a lot of the old guard record some terrible albums as a result? Absolutely. But at the same time, that sort of wild experimentation gave us much of the music that we cherish decades later. It was, in short, the sound of a lot of musicians suddenly having a lot of fun. And as it turns out, people like fun–even better than they like perfectly produced albums.

In any creative field, there’s a constant war between the raw desire to create: the emotion, and the more technical and reserved desire to put only the most beautiful and polished work forward: the craft. If you’re among the blessedly balanced creatives, you somehow manage to marry these two forces to create work that’s both authentic and refined. The rest of us fight a constant battle between uncritically putting forth any rubbish idea which pops into our heads, or refining and analyzing our every effort so much that we wind up spending 7 years getting our screenplay together, never really feel like we’ve achieved an acceptable mix of that song demo, and never get around to finishing that novel we’ve been boring our friends talking about for as long as anyone can remember.

It’s the War of Art if you will: the battle creative folk must constantly wage against the blank page, the empty canvas, or the silent red glare of the “record” light. To anyone who faces these challenges as part of your work, I wish you courage. This is not an easy struggle.

But the bottom line is this: real artists ship. And while craft is good, it’s amazing what you can achieve if you just go out there and create things without worrying too much about it. Case in point: a quirky couple calling themselves “Pomplamoose” who has created some of the coolest songs and videos I’ve ever seen using nothing but foam core, a projector, an iPhone, and a not-inconsiderable quantity of creativity and daring:

This is very cool stuff, and by all means, check out some of their other videos. It’s inspiring to see what you can do with so little time and resources if you make your mind up to just go out there and do it. Even better, they continue to get out there and produce new work. It’s the combination creativity, work, and guts that makes them so impressive. Hats off to Jack and Nataly.

And for the rest of us: back to work!

Viva NashVegas!


After weeks of pulling box after box out of POD storage container after POD storage container (6 in all!), we are now officially moved to our new home just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

I’ll likely be living in the midst of U-Haul and comic book boxes for several weeks yet, and a small army of contractors are just now wrapping up the initial work to install the myriad data cables and electric runs our masses of computer and studio gear requires. It’s been back-breaking work (including the moving and stacking of some 320 comic book boxes comprising my 50,000+ comic collection!) but I think I see some cracks of daylight at the end of the tunnel.

As far as the town goes, I am becoming mightily impressed with the Nashville area, and Tennessee in general. The music scene is beyond belief–I even managed to take in a couple of shows already (including She Wants Revenge at Exit/In–a legendary nightspot in town).

Tennessee’s a beautiful place to be sure, but probably the most striking thing is how darn friendly everyone is. I’m even on a first name basis with most of the checkout staff at the local Home Depot…although the fact that I’ve been in there 3 times a day for the past month may have something to do with that.

But despite all the chaos, I am managing to type this on an actual computer, on an actual desk (instead of the the “laptop at Starbucks with the ever-colder coffee next to me” routine I’ve spent the past month with), and with any luck, I should be able to make some forward progress on some of the bigger projects I’ve had to sideline since we started the effort to sell our house move some seven months ago. So Viva, NashVegas–I’m really looking forward to all the adventures you have in store for me!

Bit Rot, Housecleaning, Experience Compression, and Personal Reinvention

Ever feel compelled to do something, then wonder in the middle of things why the heck you’re doing it? It’s been that way for the past month with me and housecleaning–or rather, the throwing away of old stuff.

Not that I’m all that messy of a guy in the first place (my folks might disagree), but I’ve been on an absolute tear lately to throw away objects from my house and office. In the past month, I’ve filled a couple of dumpsters worth of discards, and have donated dozens of bags of books, housewares, and other belongings in a seeming effort to reduce my two story house to something more like the domicile of a Swedish architecture student, or possibly a Trappist monk (albeit one with a taste for music gear and the odd leather sofa).

I also felt the strong compulsion to finally do something about the 300 or so cassette tapes–mostly of old time radio shows like Suspense and The Shadow–which had been staring at me from my office bookshelf for the past four years. Grabbing a high-end dual cassette deck I’d used ages ago for studio applications, I proceeded to hook it up to my office computer’s sound card with a grim resolve to slowly and painstakingly transfer each of the shows to digital form. Suddenly, however, the tape transports of both decks seized up and refused to eject or let go of the tapes. I took a brief look on Craigslist to see what it would cost to get a new tape deck, then looked around online for digital replacements for the shows and discovered that others had already striped enough Old Time Radio (“OTR” to the fans) up to the internet to last me multiple lifetimes. Without looking back, both the malfunctioning deck and the hundreds of tapes hit the office garbage.

The guys at the Human Computing also got dragged into the act, as their old boss returned and immediately started shifting around uncomfortably wondering why this cluttered office space no longer resembled the glass-and-steel design office he’d imagined when we first moved into the place. After a big push to catch up on filing the hundreds of comics that were laying about and clearing down all the front desk surfaces, the guys and I laid into the storerooms and back office this week, clearing out further dumpster-loads worth of excess shipping boxes, comic giveaways from years past (there are still about 500 copies of Jesse James’ Marvel giveaway in the dumpster outside our office if anyone wants them), wonky old office chairs, and even the giant trade show light panels that I so proudly designed eight years ago, but which no longer fit in with our current Comicon setup.

At some point in  this frenzy of destruction, I started to ask myself why? Sure, the house and office were messy and needed a good cleaning, but some deeper animating factor seemed to be behind it all, or I wouldn’t be taking quite so much glee in seeing my formerly treasured belongings hauled away. It also wasn’t so much that I was becoming an acetic and eschewing all worldly belongings, or I wouldn’t have similarly spent so much time in the past weeks updating studio equipment and replacing old office chairs with cool new ones.

No, the real reason for all this is that I’ve been feeling in need of a bit of a reinvention. It had been far too long since I’d really looked around at the various objects in my life and asked whether the promise they held was still part of the life I had now or wanted in the future. Sure I’d spent hundreds of happy hours listening to those old cassette tapes, but would they hold the same magic after hundreds more hours spent remastering them digitally, or would I be better off simply declaring the project done and moving on? Similarly, I’d once been proud as anything at the sounds I’d conjured out of my now vintage studio effects, but would it feel just as good doing the same thing again? Or was it time to move on, use more modern tools, and make something new?

Computer geeks have a term for programs that once worked perfectly, were stored on viable media, but which suddenly become crashy and glitchy when loaded up again after several years. They say they’ve suffered from “bit rot”. In truth, the programs haven’t changed–they have exactly the same 1s and 0s they had when they were stored away long ago. What happened is that while they were gathering dust, the world around them changed. Computers got new hardware and new operating systems–countless little updates that kept them vibrant and alive while the old programs stood fixed in time. Then one day, in a fit of nostalgia, you try to load up the old CD-ROM only to discover that it doesn’t work anymore. It had become incompatible with the new world not because it had changed in some way, but because it had stayed exactly the same.

I’ve been so busy living my life away from some of my belongings that by the time I looked back, it didn’t make sense for me to own them anymore. Those books; that formerly favorite (but now worn-looking) shirt; even those giant light panels–the question was not “had I loved these things?” but “what role were they going to play in my life going forward?” A lot of things made the cut, but a lot of other things headed to the charity shop, went home with friends, or simply hit the dumpster. I don’t have infinite space to store things in my house or office, and everything I keep has to earn its place. Without this sort of periodic housecleaning, the weight of my past dreams starts to crowd out the room I need to live my current ones.

But what do you do about nostalgia? Does clearing out room for the future mean that you have to mercilessly cut yourself off from your past? I’ve hit on a partial answer, which I suppose might be called experience compression.

Just like I might archive old computer files into a big .zip file in case I ever need to get back to them, there’s often a way to leave myself a way to go back to visit my past without it actually taking up much room in my current life. For instance, I’m writing this post not a dozen feet away from a MAME arcade machine (an old computer in a video game cabinet running the “Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator”–MAME–with real arcade buttons and joysticks, and the ability to run hundreds of old games I loved from back when I was a teenager). Similarly, I can now leave myself open the option to revisit a rackload full of old studio effects and sounds via software that runs in no physical space at all on my computer; or pull any album from what was once a bookshelf full of CDs from my MP3 library.

The internet is a wonderful source of “offline backup” should I want to relive the past, as virtually any old book, song, or movie from years ago likely exists in readily accessible digital form, or can be acquired quickly at a relatively low cost to that of storing the same object for years on the off chance I’d want to visit with it again. I don’t need to store things that I can reach out and acquire on short notice at an affordable price. And knowing this makes it possible for me to let go of things I might otherwise hoard.

My wife Carolyn once asked me why I wanted what she considered to be a big house. To my way of thinking, I didn’t want a big house, I wanted a big life. I told her I thought a house was a space for storing dreams, and I just wanted a house big enough to hold all of mine.

Stop staring at your !@#&% phone!

Must-see video from Google of all people. Not sure if the problem is as bad as it is in Silicon Valley, but this one hits way too close to home for me. We’re missing way too much of life while attempting to record it…


Happy New Year!

At the start of 2012, I proclaimed that it was the be “the Year of Awesome” and for the most part, it feels like that’s the way it came out for me. (I say “for the most part” almost entirely based on an incident involving my gall bladder–an organ I barely realized I had–deciding this summer that it wanted to quit Team Pete, and letting me know in a very painful manner).

Other than that little incident, it was a fantastic year for me and the family. I can even report that Human Computing had its best year ever, far above my own best expectations, thanks in no small part to an amazing Holiday Sale at which will be keeping the shipping folks awfully busy when they return to work tomorrow.

This year, I’m stealing an idea from my friend Tony Garot and am making it a goal to do 10,001 push-ups over the course of the year. Having done my first set this morning after rolling out of bed, I can attest already that (a) It’s going to be tough, but probably achievable, (b) I am really going to focus on vacuuming more if my face is going to be that close to the carpet on a regular basis, and (c) push-ups are really weird with a mild hangover. I’ll try to post to let folks know how it’s going.

Beyond, that, there’s the usual goals to lose weight and exercise more. I’m holding off calling  them actual resolutions, since in all honesty, I don’t know how I’ll do once the full chaos of the new year kicks in. I’m going to give it a real shot, however, and will likely go with a calorie-controlled approach combined with a preference for protein over carbs whenever possible. I did some experimenting with the low-carb/however-much-protein/fat-I-felt-like-eating approach this summer, and I can report that while I didn’t really lose much weight, I felt pretty good, wasn’t hungry, and didn’t put any weight on. If I can keep my focus together (always a dicey bet) we’ll see if adding some caloric control to the mix can actually take some pounds off. Wish me luck on this one.

Finally, I’m going to try to blog more. Blogging has been tough here for a while for a few reasons: First off, much of what has me wanting to vent in the last few years has been one outrage or another in the political arena–but I have a self-imposed restriction against political blogging. I live inside the bubble here in California, and I get enough of the rants of others to keep me informed how nothing makes you cool to a person like having them go off on a political tirade. I’ve also acquired a near-universal distrust of politicians in general over the years, which makes me a terrible political advocate. So no, unless I lose my mind, you won’t see political blogs from me, other than to report on how one policy or another is affecting my life.

The second reason that blogging has been tough is that on a professional level, I move in a couple of different circles, and the folks who know me as a comic software creator aren’t often the ones who know me as a user experience consultant, etc. Even if you cared, much of what I work on is “NDA’d” in nature, so I can’t talk about it in any case–even when I have a great story like the design meeting I had to sit in once where someone insisted that a “fiasco” was a Mexican party where you hit a pinata and get candy. (And yes, although I’m not giving it away here, I’m likely to use that one in a screenplay at a future date).

Despite all this, I am going to make an effort to say something interesting as often as I can. And I hope you’ll be here to read it, and won’t hesitate to comment.

Happy New Year!

Comic-Con is Over…Let Summer Begin!

It’s now almost a week after Comic-Con, I’m back in my home office in San Jose, and I’ve managed to clear enough piled up comics, receipts, camera parts, and juggling balls away that I can make out about 10 square inch piece of actual desk. I’ve also managed to cut down the bags of computer cables and Comic-Con swag to a level where vacuuming my office wouldn’t be an exercise in surrealistic comedy.

On Monday, we’ll be launching ComicBase 16 to the world in general, after a successful preview launch at the show. So far, it’s looking like it’ll be a great release for us, and the only technical hiccups we’ve had to date (fingers crossed) have been minor and easily dealt with. We’ve still got some publicity materials to put together (as well as a bunch of web site updates to do), but it looks like it’ll be a great launch of a very cool new version that’s been a long time in the making.

And so, with the chaos of Comic-Con starting to fade, I’m really looking forward to enjoying the summer, as well as the creative freedom that happens when I’m not staring down a product launch deadline. I’m really looking forward to heading up to Sacramento for the State Fair tomorrow, hopefully taking some good shots with my new Canon 5d Mark III, and sampling all the best of the fried exotic foods category. (Last year, I tried both crocodile and deep-fried Oreos–both were delicious in a “man, this has got to be bad for me!” kind of way).

I’m also looking forward to getting back into the swing with guitar playing (which I was actually starting to get a handle on before I managed to rebound a pry bar into my wrist while pulling up an old kitchen floor a couple of months ago, damaging the nerves which led to a couple of fingers in my right hand–ow!). For anyone else taking up guitar, I can’t recommend Rocksmith enough — it’s like Rock Band with a real guitar, and a very nice levelling system that paces the difficulty to how well you’re starting to nail the song phrases. It’s a great way of tricking yourself into doing the thing that’s hardest on any instrument–practicing. I’m expecting my level of guitar awesomeness to take a real hit after a couple of months away (and a semi-gimpy hand), but I should be able to climb up the old learning curve and actually get some of my guitar mojo working again).

Let the summer (all…err 3 of 4 weeks that are left of it) begin!


Tactical Pistol Shooting Courses and the Case of the Missing Magazine

A couple of months ago, on a whim, I picked up a business card for a place called “Alpha Dog Tactical”, which teaches a variety of combat courses for pistol, carbine, and shotgun. I’d been feeling pretty proficient in my ability to punch reasonably grouped holes in paper targets over at the local range. So the idea of taking an actual police-style pistol training course had the same terrifying appeal that goes with getting on a the biggest roller coaster at the amusement park after spending a day on the kiddie rides.

After speaking to the instructor, Jeff Patane, and getting my $125 payment and liability forms squared away, my next problem was getting kitted out for the much faster-paced shooting involved. Without getting into the details, let me summarize by saying I now own a pair of something called “tactical pants”. (Worse yet, they proved indispensable, particularly as the magazine holster I needed for the course had apparently been delayed by the holidays).

I was rather more serious trouble since the Walther P99 I’d decided to use for the course came with just a single, ten-round magazine. It turns out, the actual weapon (James Bond’s preferred sidearm for the last few movies of the Pierce Brosnan era) is meant to take a fifteen round magazine, and this is how it’s normally sold. Unfortunately, California requires that all guns come with puny 10-round magazines, unless you either had them before the ban in 2001, or you’re a member of law enforcement. The practical effect of this is that I had to ignore the cheap and readily available 15-round magazines available everywhere online, and instead try to track the expensive, hard-to-find “California legal” version at twice the price.

The class called for a minimum of three magazines, but by the time I checked in my gear at the range, I had managed to scrounge only one more, 10-round magazine for the Walther. In a day full of magazine switching, malfunction clearing, and rapid-fire shooting drills, I spent an inordinate amount of time rummaging through my tactical pants for spare rounds with which to furiously restuff my single spare magazine whenever there was a break in the action.

Since much of the training was meant to simulate combat situations, there was also a great deal of emphasis on “situational awareness” of the area around you. We were warned at the beginning of the day that if we had to bend down to pick something up while in an exercise, we’d best do it in a position which allowed us to always be watching our surroundings, or risk a simulated sneak attack by the instructor and a small knife he carried in his pocket. The first time I nervously bent down to retrieve and reload my single empty magazine, I managed to glance around just in time to hear my instructor over my shoulder say, “I thought I almost had you”. Truth be told: if this were a real fight, he would have. Lesson (gulp!) learned.

The biggest revelation for me was how much your skills degenerate under stress–although my shot placement even on a good day might not have matched that of the Glock-toting grandma-type who shot next to me (and whose cool, competent style on the obstacle shooting range was downright inspirational). It’s also hard as heck to train yourself into new physical reflexes (such as a proper defensive holster draw or point-blank “retention shooting”) so that the technique becomes smooth and automatic when the clock is ticking and bullets are literally flying. In a strange way, it reminded me more than a little of the ballroom dancing classes I took before my wedding…except, with guns.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Jeff’s a terrific instructor, with a smile for everyone, unmistakable skill, and an obvious love of teaching.  But before I dare sign up for any of the more advanced classes (and there are many, including the one shown here), I’ve got a fair amount of woodshedding to do…and I’m definitely picking up another darned mag for my Walther.

It’s a Small, Interconnected World

It looks like we might be a little late getting our 1st quarter updates out for the ComicBase Blu-ray Archive Edition. For years, while 50 GB Blu-ray media has been hard to come by in the US, we’ve been sourcing ours directly from Japan. Unfortunately, the nuclear reactor troubles they’ve had after the recent earthquake have forced our supplier to leave Tokyo temporarily for their own safety.

As I read my supplier’s apologetic email this morning, I had to sort of marvel at a world that lets us so personally and smoothly deal with a supplier that’s halfway around the globe–even in the midst of a great tragedy.  We wish them–and all of Japan–well, and hope things turn around for them soon.

Fascinating Graph of the Day

This is fascinating

As always, I wonder about what data points might have been left off the graph, but it’s interesting to ponder at a minimum. Can any readers think of a purely domestic produced good or service that’s been rapidly dropping in price that counts in the other direction?

Coyote Blog also adds in the observation that the poor feel the trade effect even more than the rich, as the goods and services most consumed by the rich (e.g. That nice meal at Paolo’s) are not subject to trade competition the same way that clothing and household goods most consumed by the poor are.