Vader Omnibus – Volume 1 Review

I’ve heard a lot of good things about the Vader comic book series, and it was recently recommended to me by Patrick of Make Dad Read Comics to read it – I had a $50 gift card burning a hole in my pocket so I finally picked up the first 12 issues, collected in Vader Omnibus – Volume 1.

If you haven’t come across this comic book before, the general idea behind it is that it follows Vader’s antics immediately after the destruction of the first Death Star.  It joins the long standing tradition of comics and novels filling in the space in between films, which I can always get behind.

I finally finished the book over the weekend, and I can say that I really enjoyed it.  One of the interesting things that it does is knock Vader down several notches.  He’s somewhere in between his status in A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back; he’s still taking orders from other Imperial officers (Tagge, this time), but isn’t quite as fearsome as he appears in ESB.

What’s interesting is that the Emperor is really displeased with Vader in this comic series.  The destruction of the Death Star at the end of A New Hope is a big failure for the Empire, and for Vader in particular.  At this stage in the comics, Vader must really prove himself to the Emperor again, while being placed under the supervision of an Imperial officer.  What results is Vader taking it upon himself to gather his own covert forces to track down Luke Skywalker.

There are several cool flashback moments in the comic that re-contextualize Vader a little bit.  It made me realize that he was probably thinking of his past at a few different points in the movies, even though the prequel trilogy came much later.   But the real highlight of these first 12 books are Captain Aphra and her droid factory (I’m hit or miss on Triple-0 and BT but more on the hit side than miss).  I just found out today that she’s going to have her own comic book series – and I think I want to check it out.

I would gush more, but I need to give this another read through.  Especially since I also just learned that the second volume is coming out Feb 28th, so I have another book to pick up soon.  Suffice it to say that the Vader series is well-written, well-drawn, and is fun to read through.  I definitely recommend it!

I really want to meet Robert Picardo and Ethan Phillips

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This is going to be largely another podcast recommendation, but if I’m ever asked what celebrity I’d most like to meet, it’d be Robert Picardo and Ethan Phillips, together in the same room.  Those two are downright funny, and also (mostly) down to earth.

Apparently they know each other quite well since starring together on Star Trek: Voyager, and have crossed paths several times.  I learned today that both Picardo and Phillips were cast in Cowen Brothers movies – and I specifically want to seek out Inside LLewyn Davis now.

I would definitely want to meet both of them, but if I had to choose, probably Robert Picardo.  Anyway, if you want to hear some proof of their genius together (and apart), have a listen to some episodes from Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast.  I’ve listed them in order of newest to oldest.  Don’t worry, inside jokes are kept to a minimum.

“That is why you fail.”

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I was recently introduced to MyFitnessPal’s Calorie Intake Report as a means for tracking progress with my weight goals.  I already subscribe to the notion of CICO – Calories In, Calories Out – but have had middling success implementing it in day-to-day life.  I understand how it works and everything, but my weight is fluctuating up and down constantly (which is expected, since I’ve been less than disciplined with my eating habits since Christmas/New Year’s).

weight-chart-90-days
My weight over the past 90 days.

Looking at my weight over a 90 day period, I’ve mostly made progress that I’m happy with.  It’s the up and down business of the last month and a half that I could do better with.  For a solid two months from November to December, I was hitting all of my goals every week.  Since then, I’ve not had the best results.

So I looked up my own Calories Consumed report.  Immediately, I can see why I was set up to fail by my own habits.

calories-consumed-90-days
Calories Consumed over 90 days. Blue = my calories, red = goal.

The red line isn’t the most accurate – as my goal hasn’t been the same over 90 days; it’s actually gone down quite a bit, so some of the “high” days are probably closer to their target than they appear.

Still, I can clearly see where I faltered.  Yes, there are some days there that are showing way under my calorie goal, but I’ll be the first to admit that there are many days where I under-reported my calories.  A common theme for those days – and I know this is true – I often overate or was too lazy to figure out how many calories I ate.  I have a streak of 376 days – most are legitimate log entries, but I probably shouldn’t have such a long streak going.

In fact, I was going to let that streak die today.  I was sitting eating my lunch, leftover from dinner out last night, and hadn’t yet entered anything for breakfast, or my daily weight check-in.  I was mentally prepared to take a “skip” day, and let the streak die.  Take the weekend off.  I know MFP would probably send me a notification, gently reminding me that if I don’t login before midnight, my streak will end!

I was okay with that.  Ready to start a new streak, or at the very least get into a new rhythm.

But then I read that reddit thread above in /r/loseit (which is a fantastic resource, by the way!).  Consciously I know that my weight fluctuates constantly, and I’m not hung up on the day-to-day number – I just keep it because I’m tracking my numbers independently of MFP, so I don’t need to pay to extract my own data.  But looking at my progress this way aligns more with what I’m trying to accomplish with my weight loss efforts.

fu0mna2
My weight loss chart, from my Bullet Journal.

I’m trying to keep to a weekly calorie goal; this is easy in theory, but MyFitnessPal forces you to track daily.  I think keeping tabs on the calorie intake report (which I can pull for 7 days), and adding a column to my chart to include how many calories I’ve had vs my goal, will help me better manage my CICO efforts.

I’m going to wait until Monday to put this practice in full force, because I want to have 7 days’ worth of uninterrupted data to match with my tracking dates.  But I’m going to modify my weight loss chart as of February 27th – as I’ve already written it out until the 26th.  I don’t like scrapping perfectly usable tables.

Working toward a healthier life is a complete lifestyle change, and it’s hard.  It’s well worth examining what’s working and what’s not working, and constantly changing for the better.  For me, what works best is to analyze things as soon as I start to hit a plateau or steadily climb the opposite direction on the scale without fluctuating up and down.

I don’t think I will ever stop monitoring what I’m doing.  I hope one day I will be a little more relaxed about it, but I know that not being careful at all was what piled on the weight in the first place.  It’s all a matter of finding the right balance, in the end.

Freelance Writing

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I’m always trying to think of ways to earn extra money – my goal for things like my podcast is to be able to run it without spending any of my own money.  So far, I haven’t been able to do that.  At most, I’ve been able to pay for my Netflix subscription and 1 year of hosting for http://www.alternativeairwaves.com with proceeds from SwagBucks (I typically get ~$25 a month, but it’s slow, grinding work).

One thing I used to do – and I honestly can’t figure out where I found the work before – was freelance writing.  The stuff I was doing, I really didn’t like that much.  But it was relatively easy work, and got me I think $20 for 5 articles (which in retrospect, was not very good pay).  I should probably dig up what I wrote to put a portfolio together, even though I have no idea where the things I wrote showed up online.  This was probably 9-10 years ago, too.

But writing is just about the only marketable skill I can think of to sell online.  I wish sometimes that I just had something I could do in 5-10 minutes and sell for $10 a pop.  But I just don’t have the creative, physical skills.  I’ve considered audio-related things, but sometimes that takes longer than what it’s worth.  If I applied myself, I could probably put together a podcast editing portfolio.  I just don’t usually have the time to provide the turnaround some podcast hosts require.

What kind of things have you done online to generate some extra cash?  Or in the parlance of the Internet, “beer money”?  Any suggestions for what I could do?  Just looking to find work to generate $25-50 a month that isn’t so tedious as surveys and offers that pay cents at a time.

Let’s Talk About Ads

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Let’s talk about ads! Not the science behind marketing, blah blah blah. Smarter people than me can take care of that conversation. Instead, I want to talk about ads in general, and things that are ad-supported.

The topic that brought this to mind was a recent post on /r/podcasts about sponsors.  It was what you’d call on Reddit, a “shitpost” – a low-effort post with nothing to say.  From that spawned an actual discussion at least, with opinions being split between supporting ads and being vehemently against them.  Personally, I’m okay with them, and here’s why.

Full disclosure – I work in an industry that relies on advertising to generate revenue (radio).  I am slightly biased, but not for the reason of perpetuating a source of revenue / income.

I am a podcast creator  myself; I don’t use ads in my show, but rather rely on a Patreon campaign.  However, I understand the need for ads to offset production costs.  I have made a conscious choice to not skip ads for a product I am downloading for free.  I do not make the financial decision to donate, so I don’t want to cheat the creators out of ads that they feel are necessary to support their craft.

I understand that listening to ads on a podcast is not an act in itself that will bring them money.  This is more of a moral decision on my part.  But in a similar vein, I also decided to disable adblockers in my browser so that websites I frequent benefit from my ad views.  I understand that there’s whitelisting things you can do, so that terrible ad-based sites suffer, but I would rather just not go to those offending websites.

We live in a strange time, I think.  Younger generations feel entitled to block out all advertising to get what they want.  Some would gladly pay for subscriptions in exchange for an ad-free experience, but I think that might get close to the erosion of net neutrality.  This is also probably a ‘slippery slope’ argument in the making, so I’m going to stop there.

I think that my final opinion on the matter is that I’m perfectly fine with ads, if they are supporting a medium that I’m not paying for.  Radio, podcasts, and web sites – those are great examples.  All of those have options for ad-free experiences as well in most cases.

For radio, there is Satellite Radio available (for which I have a subscription – I enjoy both Satellite AND terrestrial radio); for podcasts, there are a host of options; for websites, ad-free versions have been around for years.  Apps have paid versions as well as ad-supported free versions.

Where it gets less tolerable are services such as Television, where I pay a subscription service and still get ads.  However it is still tolerable, because I realize that the ads are supporting the channels, so it’s really the cable service that I’m paying through the nose for.  TV is complicated, guys.

What are your thoughts?

Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud

I read Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud over the weekend – yes, I typed that correctly; I started the book sometime Friday and finished it Sunday.  If you want to skip my review entire, I’ll tell you straight up that I rated it 4/5 on Goodreads.

As I mentioned, I was able to finish it in a weekend.  Surely I missed a lot of information, but at around 215+ pages, it’s not a very dense work of non-fiction – there aren’t a lot of words, and the bulk of it is juxtaposed next to images to help drive the point home.  It makes for a very quick read, but the material is there to make it a very deep dive if you’re so inclined.

The format is presented in black and white, with one chapter briefly featuring bits of colour (for emphasizing the uses of colour in comics).  Everything was otherwise clear in terms of conveying information, so definitely no marks lost for lack thereof.  In fact, I think the one chapter about the use of colour helped to bring attention to the material at hand.  Releasing it in colour may have diluted the information a bit, maybe.

The book is clearly well-researched.  McCloud knows what he’s talking about, and goes back to information and comics centuries’ old.  There are a few parts where it feels slightly repetitive, but never dry.  I really enjoyed how it made me realize some of the unseen techniques going on with comics that I hadn’t really considered before.

At times I felt a little overwhelmed with some of the ideas presented, and I feel like McCloud went a little far-afield with some of his ideas.  But overall it was presented in a friendly format and is a fun essay to read through.  4/5, definitely recommend.