March 31, 2009

Barack the Barbarian: Quest for the Treasure of Stimuli

Apologies for two comic book posts in a row but this one pretty much proves the worth of the medium.  I give you - Barack the Barbarian: Quest for the Treasure of the Stimuli.  Some plot summary:
In the distant future the story of Barack Obama has become a little... distorted. According to THE MADDOWIAN CHRONICLES he was the one destined to save the great republic of America and dethrone the overpaid despots of the time. Join Barack, Sorceress Hilaria, her demi-god trickster husband Biil, Overlord Boosh and Chainknee of the Elephant Kingdom. Who can the lone barbarian trust, if anyone?
Click through for your comic book requisite Barack beefcake and Palin pinup.

March 30, 2009

NYT Global

New global edition of the New York Times.

Baker's Pharmacy, Where are You?

One of the things that it's been fun to think about as impending fatherhood approaches is the possibility of one day re-entering the world of comic books with my son.  But I don't know if you've noticed or not those things have gotten expensive.  We're talking $3 on average and, as the NYT reports, some of the more popular titles are rolling out price increases to $4.  Comic books are an interesting medium, and one that I don't think is unfair to call niche these days, in that they probably are "underpriced" for the existing fan market (excluding myself and possibly my good friend Miles who is my lone spokesman for the first grade demographic) but perceived as overpriced by the market of potential fans who have so many other, often much more interactive, options with a fairly similar market spectrum.  Here's what the president of Marvel says in the piece:
Mr. Buckley felt that, because of comic books’ origin in the world of pulp and disposable entertainment, the effort that goes into their creation is sometimes underestimated.

“Comics are a legit form of entertainment, and there are highly respected and well-paid individuals creating them,” he said. “People have an affinity for nickel and dime comics from the 1940s, but we’re competing with video games, film and television.” He added, “We need to keep the talent on the books to make them work.”
Their current pricing scheme supposedly subsidizes the cost of the less popular titles by increasing the price of the more popular titles but why not subsidize across mediums.  Why not subsidize comics with the much more lucrative (I'm assuming, I don't claim to know the margins on any of this) video game, film and television productions?  Are comic books even the primary entry point for new fans into the super-hero genre?  All of that to say that my new excuse to my wife as to why those boxes of comics have to stay in our closet is that the medium may not even be around by the time "junior" gets old enough to appreciate them so I've got to hold on to what I've got.

March 29, 2009

Two of My Favorite Things

Two of my favorite things get connected in this piece from the NYT - Wikipedia and Jane Jacobs:
Mr. Lih at one point enlists the urban reformer Jane Jacobs to back up this point. For him, urban stability is replicated through the transparency of wikis — every change ever made at Wikipedia (every discussion as well) is recorded. Ms. Jacobs, he writes, “argued that sidewalks provided three important things: safety, contact and the assimilation of children.” She may as well have been talking about wikis, he says: “A wiki has all its activities happening in the open for inspection, as on Jacobs’s sidewalk. Trust is built by observing the actions of others in the community and discovering people with like or complementary interests.”


1.  Sign the kids up for the summer: cooking camp for teens.

2.  The White House garden story has gotten more press than it is probably worth in terms of it's potential impact on food systems (seriously, have you really been worried that el presidente wasn't eating well?) but I've been keeping an ear open for blow-back from the conventional ag camp regarding all the applause over an organic "first garden" and apparently it's out there.

3.  Colonel Sanders practices a little enlightened self-interest by filling in pot holes around Louisville, KY.

5.  With all the talk of collapsing bee colonies new emphasis has been placed on the role that wild bees play in crop pollination.  Here's a method that I had never seen for encouraging/protecting wild colonies:
Cane came up with the idea of using corrugated plastic totes—available from suppliers of mail and package handling equipment—as nesting shelters, and has tested them during spring and summer in California, Oregon, Wyoming and Utah. His experiments show that the lightweight, rectangular bins, each 23-1/2 inches long by 15-1/2 inches wide by 15-1/2 inches high, serve as a sturdy, inexpensive and reusable shelter for protecting bee nests against wind and rain.
Growers, professional and hobbyist beekeepers, and backyard gardeners who want wild bees to live near and work in their fields, orchards, vineyards or home gardens can use the totes to house nesting materials, such as five-sixteenths-inch diameter paper drinking straws enclosed in cardboard tubes and stuffed inside empty cardboard milk cartons. Wild female bees such as the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria, can use the straws as homes for a new generation of pollinators.
Wild bees are needed now, perhaps more than ever, to help with jobs usually handled by America's premier pollinator, the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. Many of the nation's honey bee colonies have been decimated by the puzzling colony collapse disorder or weakened by varroa and tracheal mites or the microbes that cause diseases such as chalkbrood and foulbrood.
A single corrugated plastic tote can accommodate as many as 3,000 young, enough to pollinate one-half to one-acre of orchard. And, unlike bulky or stationary shelters, the tote houses can easily be moved from one site to the next.

7.  Something for the kids: MS Office 2007 Ultimate for $59.99.  Ok, not just for the kids - you just need a .edu email, enrolled in a class somewhere (or be of low moral character), and use a PC.

March 25, 2009

Obama and Global Poverty

The Judeo-Christian tradition compels us to prioritize the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, whether in our own country or internationally. Not only is this the right thing to do, it is the best interests of our nation that we reach out to the rest of the world at this time. President Obama's administration represents a new opportunity to restore our moral standing in the world. Recognizing and responding to the increased hardship in developing countries caused by an economic crisis not of their making will be the first test of the administration's commitment to addressing global poverty.
Ruth Messinger at the Huffington Post.

Journal: Food Security

Inaugural issue of the journal Food Security is free online.  Norman Borlaug writes the forward, on this his 96th birthday, so you know a bit of the direction they lean.  Looks interesting.  (via)

March 24, 2009

Shorts: Planting, Eating, Fighting

1.  In a move that brings climate change right into your own backyard, the USDA is in the process of updating its plant hardiness zone map to reflect the gradual shifting of warmer climates to the north.  In addition to drawing on a much more robust data set than the 1990 version the new map will be much more sophisticated and nuanced:
They also describe the new map as much more sophisticated than the 1990 version, which was based on a data set covering only 13 years (1974 through 1986 for the U.S.). The revised map draws on 30 years of data and uses a complex algorithm to factor in other variables that affect local temperatures, such as altitude and the presence of water bodies.

"All we could really do earlier was draw a straight line between data points, but now we're trying to input a lot of other information," says USDA spokeswoman Kim Kaplan. "We'll pick up more heat islands and cold zones, and the edges of zones will be defined more clearly."

The new map is being developed by Oregon State University's PRISM Group, a team of modelers that also produces climate maps for other state and federal agencies. Unlike past versions, the 2009 map will be GIS-compatible, storing and linking layers of information in a digital version that can be read with widely available GIS (geographic information system) viewing programs. It will have a resolution of 800 square meters, so users will be able to zoom in on their hometowns or zip codes and see where they lie within zones.
This last quote sounds like a t-shirt waiting to be made:  "All gardeners are in zone denial."

2.  From Duncan Green: food prices for the poor aren't coming down.  The Senate Foreign Relations Committee was hearing much the same thing today.

3.  Tyler Cowen dubs Paul Collier's new book, Wars, Guns and Votes, a "must buy" of the year.

March 21, 2009


1. "Tyler Perry is simply reflecting the thinking of a lot of uneducated, working-class African-Americans.'' Anecdotally, I know that sentence to be untrue, I work with plenty of educated African-Americans who love Perry, but ever since we moved to Atlanta, the center of his "empire," I've been fascinated by him. His show "House of Payne" comes on 2-3 times a day here on a local affiliate and it is amazingly bad. It is quite literally the TV equivalent of a train wreck and I can't look away. The man is a genius. He filmed 100 episodes of the show in a year, doing almost 3 a week so that he could get into syndication faster and make the real money. The cast was showing up to the set and seeing their dialogue for the first time on the day they were filming. And believe me, you can tell. Horrible acting, dreadful writing (not, mind you, horrible actors or writers, but people being asked to do the impossible) - you would think it was farce if it didn't take itself so seriously. The man is making money hand over fist and seems to be a gaming the system to perfection.

2. Layoff, a recession inspired video game. (via)

3. Jac Smit, often called the "father of urban agriculture, has a new website.

4. Is the Big Picture a Bummer Today? Nice single serve ribbing of one of my favorite sites.

5. The New York Times covers the annual angst-fest that is the San Diego Comic Con Hotel lottery.

6. There are some helpful things to hear in Douglas Bowman's explanation as to why he left Google - I see lots of relevance for those working in (and making decisions about) development and community building:
When I joined Google as its first visual designer, the company was already seven years old. Seven years is a long time to run a company without a classically trained designer. Google had plenty of designers on staff then, but most of them had backgrounds in CS or HCI. And none of them were in high-up, respected leadership positions. Without a person at (or near) the helm who thoroughly understands the principles and elements of Design, a company eventually runs out of reasons for design decisions. With every new design decision, critics cry foul. Without conviction, doubt creeps in. Instincts fail. “Is this the right move?” When a company is filled with engineers, it turns to engineering to solve problems. Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. Remove all subjectivity and just look at the data. Data in your favor? Ok, launch it. Data shows negative effects? Back to the drawing board. And that data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company and preventing it from making any daring design decisions.

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such miniscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.
7. I really like the fact that the White House will have a garden again, though it remains to be seen whether or not the Obama's access to fresh, local produce will have any impact on the much more important issue of rehauling the American public's food system, and these pictures released by the White House are great but come on, somebody get that woman some Carhartts.

March 20, 2009

Your Job Sucks

Chances are, your job sucks.  Or so says BusinessWeek in their list of "The World's Worst Places to Work."  It's a list heavy on developing world urban centers - 6 in India, 5 in China and the rest scattered primarily around Africa and Asia - with a cumulative population of somewhere in the neighborhood of 160,000,000 (based on a quick Wikipedia perusal).  Compiled by ORC Worldwide, a global HR firm, the criteria run mainly to poor infrastructure, likelihood of crime/violence, humidity and the fact that "there is little for Westerners in the way of cultural and recreational opportunities."    

March 18, 2009

That's What She Said: Pope Edition

William Easterly has already said everything that I wanted to say about the Pope's comments on condom usage in Africa.  However, here are a few semi-anecdotal asides:

1.  While living in Botswana, my base of operations, Francistown, had the highest HIV infection rate of 15-25 year olds in the world.  There was no shortage of condoms.  Nor was there a shortage of groups advocating for an A-B approach only (that's "abstain" and "be faithful" minus the C, "condom" for those not familiar with the infamous triad).  There was a shortage of groups offering real alternatives and solutions to the 15-25 year olds looking to avoid a positive diagnosis in the midst of rapidly changing cultural and social norms that had the deck stacked against them.  In a culture where women have few if any sexual rights how do you ask a man to put on a condom?  What's worse - the beating that is sure to follow such a request or the possibility of a disease somewhere down the road?

2.  Regardless of where you land on the condom argument the sad truth is that the Pope's statement probably hurt women and other sexually marginalized populations the most as they are the only ones who probably could have benefitted from a more nuanced message from the pontiff.

3.  Somewhere I have a photo I took of a group of boys playing soccer with a ball made entirely of condoms (thrown out by a clinic after they "expired").  Did I mention there were a lot of condoms around?

4.  The problem in my little slice of the world at that time was not condom usage.  It was a lot of things - a healthcare infrastructure scrambling to play catch up with relatively limited resources, finding an effective medium through which to educate a culture that never publicly discussed sexuality about the dangers of sexual intercourse, replacing the traditional sexual initiation/education model that rapid urbanization was demolishing, the necessity of economic transience, etc., etc., etc. -  and none of them were very effectively solved by the simple math of "do I or do I not use this piece of latex."

5.  Balloons.  You see a lot of condom balloons knocking about as well.

6.  To quote the Pope, HIV/AIDS is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems." Nor can it be overcome by the church alone, which even aggravates the problem.  One of the greatest tragedies of my time in Botswana was seeing how unwilling churches and secular NGO's were to work together and realizing how many instances there were where they could have been incredibly effective partners.  The lack of imagination and basic trust from both sides in the face of an unfolding epidemic was depressing to see.  In many places on the continent that has changed some, but not enough.

7.  Am I the only one that thinks the above sentence from the Pope would have been a good time for someone in the crowd to shout "That's what she said."  And if so, does that make me a bad person?

March 16, 2009

Shorts: Pop Culture

1.  It's a strange world:  "Paramount has acquired the rights to a forthcoming Wired magazine article about diamond thieves that J.J. Abrams will produce as a feature film, according to The Hollywood Reporter."  I'm a sucker for a heist movie, so I will of course see this.

March 9, 2009

Shorts: Watchmen

1.  For the moment, Watchmen is the #1 selling book on Amazon.  (via)

2.  The New York Times released its inaugural Graphic Book Best Seller List last week.

3.  Track by track look at the Watchmen soundtrack and its connection to the book by Evie from Awesomed By Comics.