Thursday, April 30, 2009

Showdown: Obscure X-men vs. '80s hair metal bands

Wolverine: X-men OriginsImage by Satsukiame via Flickr

The X-men got big in the early 1980s. So did glam metal rock. That probably expalins why so many X-men codenames sound like the Saturday arena playbill at the New Jersey State Fair. Seriously, if you weren't a comic book fanboy, a line-up of Storm, Havok and Nightcrawler sounds like three acts that could open for Poison or Motley Crue.

Don't believe me? Take a gander down this list of 25 names, each of which is either an obscure X-man or an '80s hair metal band--and in some cases, both. See if you can tell which is with before scrolling down to see the descriptions.

Names:
Descriptions:
  1. Great White - 80s hair band famous for the single "Once Bitten, Twice Shy" and for killing 100 or so people when their pyrotechnics display burned down a nightclub in 2003. Despite the death count, they should not be confused with the Batman villain, who appeared in the same year.
  2. Marrow - X-man grows bone-spurs through her skin that she can rip out and throw like daggers. Is that '90s enough for you?
  3. Petra - Both the name of both the first Christian Rock Band inducted into the Hard Rock cafe, and the name of a retconned rock-manipulating X-man.
  4. Maggott - X-Man who has two giant pet maggots that, when they eat anything, give him super-strength. Seriously. Also the nickname for Slipknot fans, but the less said about that, the better.
  5. White Queen - X-man Emma Frost, a diamond-fleshed telepath who used to be a villain until she started boning Cyclops.
  6. White Lion - Glam metal band known for the hits "Wait" and "When the Children Cry."
  7. King Kobra - Hair metal band famous for recording the title song from the movie Iron Eagle. Not to confused with the DC comics supervillain cult leader Kobra or the Marvel Comics supervillain cult leader, Cobra .
  8. Lifeguard - X-man capable of generating whatever power is needed to solve a problem, thanks to lame writing from Chris Claremont.
  9. Caliban - X-man who can sense other mutants; too bad he's a hideously ugly albino. There is a band called Caliban, but they're a German metalcore group and very much a product of the '90s.
  10. Vixen - All-girl glam metal band known for the single "Edge of a Broken Heart." There is a superhero named Vixen , but she's a DC property and Justice League member.
  11. Red Queen - X-man title shared by many, most notably of Madelyne Pryor, an evil cone of Jean Grey. Also an alternate universe Jean Grey. And an alternate universe Psylocke. There are a lot of Red Queens, okay.
  12. Omerta - X-man of Italian-American descent from Brooklyn who, when he discovers he is super-strong and invulnerable, tries to take over the local mafia. Somehow, this endears him to the X-men, who recruit him.
  13. Hurricane - Both an evil mutant enemy of the X-men as part of the Dark Riders, and a glam metal band known for the 1988 hit "I'm On To You."
  14. The Stepford Cuckoos - X-men group of invulnerable mutant quintuplets who share one hive-mind, bereft of emotion. Yeah, this is pretty obviously a Grant Morrison thing.
  15. Exodus - Both an early '80s thrash-metal band, and Magneto's insane, immortal, psionic second-in-command who, in an alternate universe, was a good-guy X-man. Yeah, another '90s creation.
  16. Nocturne - X-man daughter of Nightcrawler and Scarlet Witch from an alternate reality. Yes, there are lots of parallel universe X-men love-children. Why do you ask? Also the name of many songs and a 90s metal band.
  17. Jetboy - Glam band who got famous by having three singles on The 'Burbs soundtrack, "Bloodstone", "Locked in a Cage" and "Make Some Noise."
  18. Penance - X-man that was really a hollow invulnerable teenage-girl body that housed the minds of three separate teenage-girl X-men. Strangely, not a Grant Morrison invention.
  19. Stryper - Christian glam metal band from the '80s known for mainstream hits "Calling On You", "Free" and "Honestly."
  20. Stringfellow - X-man ally with the ability to temporarily turn your bones to spaghetti. Somehow this is scary.
  21. Nitro - Glam metal band known for lead singer Jim Gillette's ability to shatter wine glasses with his voice. There is a Spider-man villain named Nitro, be he isn't a mutant or an X-man.
  22. Helix - Canadian metal band known for the single "Rock You." There is a supervillain team called Helix , but they're from the DC universe and have never met the X-men.
  23. Giant - Glam metal band and one hit wonders known for the single "I'll See You In My Dreams."
  24. Trixter - '80s hard rock band perhaps best known for the single "Give It to Me Good." Not to be confused with the non-mutant supervillains who fought The Flash.
  25. Tuff - Mid-80s glam metal band known for the popular video to "I Hate Kissing You Goodbye."
If you passed this quiz with zero errors, you're defintely a child of the '80s--one who seriously needs to get out more.
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Monday, April 27, 2009

My 25 favorite Geekend columns of all time

X-wing fighters, with their s-foils closed, in...Image via Wikipedia

As my previous post indicated, I have recently resigned the longest-running writing gig of my career, authoring Geek Trivia and The Geekend for CBS Interactive. As part of dealing with my separation anxiety--and also to incentivize my former Geekend readers to come check out this blog--I've list my personal Top 25 Geekend columns from my four-year run with the blog. Enjoy.
  1. Sci-fi rant: When did Star Wars jump the shark?
  2. Sci-fi rant: When did Star Trek jump the shark?
  3. Sci-fi rant: When did Trekkers jump the shark?
  4. Spock loves Linux, Vader is a Mac Daddy
  5. Sci-fi rant: Why giant mecha robots are stupid
  6. Where Sci-Fi Channel movies *really* come from...
  7. Idiot sci-fi question: Why did the starship Enterprise have such a stupid bridge?
  8. Idiot sci-fi question: Why do X-Wing fighters have...um...wings?
  9. The Top 10 Most Quotable Geek Films...Ever!
  10. Sci-fi rant: What should have happened (but didn't) in Spider-Man 3
  11. The top five sci-fi/fantasy chick flicks
  12. The top 12 sci-fi plot devices geeks love to hate
  13. The Top 12 Comic Book Superweapons
  14. 10 sci-fi technologies that just might happen
  15. Sci-fi and fantasy books that "make you dumb"
  16. The geek movies you're embarrassed you like
  17. No, I didn't watch the "Enterprise" finale
  18. Battlestar Galactica and the "new" sci-fi
  19. Top 10 April Fool's pranks we wish were real
  20. Why 'Star Trek's Prime Directive is stupid'
  21. 50 ubergeeks worth following on Twitter
  22. How much, and how long, would it take NASA to build a Death Star?
  23. 75 words every sci-fi fan should know
  24. Poll: What sci-fi TV series ended in the worst way?
  25. The ultimate trivia Web site
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Thursday, April 23, 2009

Giving up that which defines me

xkcd webcomic 285 entitled "Wikipedian Pr...Image via Wikipedia
For seven and a half years, I've written a column called Geek Trivia. On Wednesday, April 29, 2009, the last issue of that column I'll likely ever write will be publicized in its e-mail newsletter. I'm taking a full-time job with a competitor of CBS Interactive, the publisher of Geek Trivia and its host blog, The Geekend, for which I also write several times per week. I built The Geekend from the ground up, and I have come to regard my Geek Trivia readers (of which there were about 60,000) as not just fans, but in some measure friends. Saying goodbye to them is more difficult than I imagined it could be.

Google my name--Jay Garmon--and you'll find my work for the Geekend in the top two or three results. Google Geek Trivia, and you'll find my work for that column first and foremost. In some ways, Geek Trivia and The Geekend have defined me, professionally. They've opened doors for me that I never thought possible.

My role as a guest on TechTalk radio, I garnered through Geek Trivia. My connections to the wonderful bloggers at SFSignal, I made through the Geekend. John Scalzi noticed--and reacted to--my work there. (And then recalled the incident enough to sign books to that effect.) Writers and artists like Rich Lovatt, Mike Sterling, Valerie D'Orazio, David Gallaher, Lar DeSouza, Steve Ellis, Rich Ginter, Hannibal Tabu, Andrew Hackard, John Klima, Dwight MacPherson, Rich Barrett, Chris Meeks, John F. Merz and Mary Robinette Kowal follow me on Twitter because of my networking done in part through the Geekend. I've been cited as a source in Wikipedia articles because of Geek Trivia, which is a very strange notion indeed.

Ironically, I've "ended" Geek Trivia before, only to have my fans demand its return. Twice. I cannot begin to tell you how gratifying those responses were. The only compliment that comes close is that TechRepublic won't continue Geek Trivia without me, which is equally sad and humbling all at once.

For over eight years, my career and my online identity have been tied in some measure to TechRepublic in general and Geek Trivia specifically. That's a quarter of my life.

And now I'm giving all that up.

It is a strange new world I enter now, one where I have to reinvent myself online. My wife is actually glad of this, as she's looking forward to my having just one set of deadlines (that of the new day job) and me spending the rest of time either away from the keyboard, or writing what I want to write, not what I'm obligated to write. Hopefully, that means my long-neglected personal blog (this one) will get some attention and, more importantly, my long-forestalled fiction writing career will finally get underway.

It's time to move on to the next chapter, but no matter how promising or exciting my prospects may be, I cannot help but be momentarily saddened by what what I'm leaving behind. It has been good to me, and I'm the better for it. Those of you who knew me as the Trivia Geek, please look for me here. I'm not gone, I'm just different. And I look forward to seeing what is to come.

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Friday, April 10, 2009

How to design an unbreakable e-mail newsletter template

classic UIImage via Wikipedia
Apropos of nothing, an old college friend pinged me on Facebook for advice on how to design a usable e-mail newsletter template, since she knew I oversaw a project like that for TechRepublic in the not too distant past. I actually get this question more often than you'd expect, but I never write down my general advice. Thus, I have copy-and-pasted what I told her below for, if not your benefit, than simply so I don't have to retype it up the next time someone asks:

So far as an e-mail template, you can do "pretty" to a point without breaking items left and right. The real problem most designers can't deal with is that you can't use images. For security reasons, all e-mail programs now block images (from new senders) by default, and most people never change the default settings on any application. Thus, most people never see images embedded in e-mail newsletters. (And don't even get me started on mobile/phone mail readers.) Using images in your template is a lot of effort for little gain, but I also know that designers simply won't do without them, so here are a few rules of thumb for (image-addicted) template designers:
  • Most recipients will never see your design, as most people don't open all their e-mail. All they see is the subject line. Write the most compelling subject line you can; it's more important than any headline in the newsletter.
  • Design your newsletter template as an HTML table, with little to no CSS. Gmail blocks most CSS, as do many other mail clients, especially if it calls an external stylesheet.
  • Your template will preferably be single-column, but regardless of how many columns, the entire template should be a maximum of 450 pixels wide. Most mobile mail clients are only about that wide, and lots of versions of Outlook default-lock the preview pane around that width. You don't want users side-scrolling.
  • The masthead (which in a newspaper would say 'The New York Times') should be no more than 20 pixels tall, and should be text-based if at all possible. Again, lots of mail clients preview the beginning of a message, and if all the reader sees is a big broken image or a big nameplate that doesn't say anything about what is in the newsletter, that's a problem. Keep the header small so that actual content makes it into the preview pane in the mail client.
  • Don't use fancy fonts. Stick to Arial, Verdana and Courier. Several mobile clients block the font tag, so your layout will appear in these default fonts anyway.
  • Images should be kept to a minimum, but if they are to be used, they MUST be used this way:
  1. Specify image dimensions of the image in the HTML code. If it's a 45x60 picture, be sure the <img>  tag includes the height="60" and width="45" elements. If you do this, when the image is blocked, it will still take up the same space, and not screw up your formatting. If you don't, the blocked image will become that tiny broken image icon, which screws up your layout.
  2. Specify alt-text for all images, so when they're blocked people know what the picture is supposed to be. Also, if you make the image a link, users can click on the alt-text and still get to the hyperlink.
  3. Right-align all images. People read left-to-right, and since most images are blocked, you don't want the first thing the eye sees to be a broken image. Images aligned right will appear at the end of lines, and not break up natural reading flow.
Hope that helps, and don't say I never gave you nothing.