Thursday, February 23

Webcomics, Part 1

I would like to share one of my hobbies with you. Webcomics. The online and unregulated counterpart to the syndicated counterpart to the sickly unfunny comics, barring the two I read online, you find in the daily newspaper. Its kind of a niche hobby, since the greater audience and lack of a need to appeal to great numbers allow the comics to gear themselves towards various niche interests; gaming (both video and role-playing) and anime among the more popular. I have grown tired of syndicated comics. They've been sanitized and sunk to the lowest common denominator so they neither offend or amuse anyone. Furthermore, they rarely end. Webcomics break these restraints because they are rarely the principal source of income for their creators and can end, thus allowing for changes to occur within the comic.

I guess this post is prompted by what I see as a renaissance going on in the webcomics I'm reading now. Four of them are currently undergoing what I assume will turn out to be fundamental shifts in the plot direction of the comics. As an art form, these are maturing to the point where they have progressed beyond the joke-a-day format to try new things.

Still, webcomics are a mildly difficult to get into. It takes a lot of time to find the quality comics and then to read all their archives to get up-to-date so the current storyline makes sense to you. Thus, I have taken upon myself to list my personal favorites, the ones I check daily, so you can save yourself a little time. Without further ado, I present...

8-Bit Theater (
A classic. If you're into webcomics at all, chances are you've come across this. Originally, the comic required a fair amouont of video game, role-playing comic knowledge, but, now that it's established (having well over 650 individual strips up) it's more character driven. Using sprites from Final Fantasy I (leading to a text heavy humor), the adventures of a group of anti-heroes are told in 8-Bit Theater. Fighter, Black Mage, Thief and Red Mage consistently amuse me with their failed attempts to work together and random acts of violence against the innocent, undeserving and each other. There is a fair amount of swearing and sexual innuendo, especially between Black Mage and White Mage. Realize that you have been warned.

The Order of the Stick (
A bit younger than 8-Bit Theater but immensely popular, now running in the monthly Dragon magazine I believe, is The Order of the Stick. A group of adventurers wander around a fantasy world trying to beat the bad guy and make sense of the inane rules that govern their lives. Nice, simple, fun. This one requires a working knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons or, barring that, at least of the D20 system, but the pay-off is well worth it. The cartoonist has succeeded in generating sympathetic and unique characters, and his stick art style is clean. I like it a lot, if you haven't guessed so already.

The Boondocks (
The first of the two syndicated comics I follow. You've more than likely heard about this one, the comic about the experiences of a black man and his two grandsons in the suburbs. It's nasty at times (never too much, remember the syndicate), very topical and does tend to treat race as a bigger issue than I believe it should be (that being another post), but it's good, preferable to Doonesbury at least. The art doesn't change much, but it still looks good.

Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire (
Absolutely stellar art is the high point of this webcomic for me. The cartoonist varies up the positions and angles a bit and does pretty good action scenes. The writing is not my favorite, but the story arcs are very good. My biggest gripe about Dominic Deegan is how saccharine it can be. All of the heroes are pure wholly good, no gray areas for them, while many of their enemies to betray decent tendencies every once and a while. The perpetual optimism and generally happiness of the main characters simply seems out of place for some of the horrible things they've gone through or are currently going through. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy sweet and touching, just not that much, that often. Not much humor, unless you think alliteration is simply hilarious, and it's fairly character driven. Be warned that there are over a thousand past strips to work through.

The Last Days of Foxhound (
This one will probably be the most hit-or-miss of the ones I put up because of the specific background knowledge it requires. Not merely do you need to be a video game nerd, but of the Metal Gear series and Meatl Gear Solid in particular. Liquid Snake has just joined Foxhound and learns to live and fight with his eccentric and evil coworkers. Owes a lot to 8-Bit Theater but stands on its own. If you have that though, and many do because it's such a great bunch of games, it's worth a look. The art is more than a little simplistic and goofy, but I feel that just adds to the humor, when these rough and tough characters just look silly. Another warning, there is a lot of swearing, but you should be able to handle it if you've played the games.

There are another six webcomics I'd like to share with you all, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow. I'm tired now, and I doubt anyone wants to read some monstrously long blog this evening. Come back tomorrow or maybe the next day for part two.

Tuesday, February 21

Reflections on Dreadlocks

I had my hair dreaded a few days ago. When people saw me, after voicing whatever their opinion was, one of their first questions was 'Why?' To tell the truth, I don't have a good answer to that. The idea first took root maybe two years ago. It wasn't like some flash of insight. I didn's see some super exemplary guy with dreadlocks and tell myself 'I have to be just like him in everyway.' I imagine I just liked how they looked. Anyways, two years ago was when I first started talking about it. Then, while researching a story about some classmates who were entering a pageant, I learned about a local hair design school, called them up and had an appointment. Let me tell you something right now if you're considering dreadlocks for yourself. They hurt a bleeding lot and took a bleeding long time. There were two people working on my head constantly for around three hours and a third even stepped in for a little while. For that whole time, they would pull tight on small patches of my hair and backbrush for a few minutes. Imagine some jerk kid throwing small rocks at your head and you'll have some conception of how much it hurt. Now realize that you're paying for this to happen, and it all gets a whole lot worse. In the end, I was charged sixty dollars for the hair, which was generous since the lady knocked it down from eighty. I don't know, maybe my stylists screwed up, or she knew how much it hurt. Very quickly I realized that I could no longer wear my bike helmet. My hair was too big, which sucks when the city you live in has a helmet law, and your picture already ended up in the school newspaper as an example of a person breaking it.

I guess another thing that attracted me to dreadlocks, after doing a little research, was that they weren't supposed to require much maintenance. After a little while, the hair is supposed to start growing into dreads naturally and never need to be combed or anything ever again. What I missed was the amount of work that needed to be put in in the first place. For the first four months, before your hair 'matures,' you need to spend a lot of time twisting the invidual dreads and waxing them, so they hold their position. The past few days, I've dedicated forty minutes to working on my hair. This is a big change since I put up with my hair covering my eyes because I was too lazy and cheap to get a haircut and hadn't combed my hair for the past month.

Already I find myself at a crossroads of sorts. Basically, the dreads are taking too well, and I don't want to continue putting in the time to maintain them. Still, I put a rather extensive amount of time and money into this and don't want to give up so early on. I guess my plan now is to use up the sixteen dollars worth of wax I bought and wait to see what happens. What makes this interesting is that a friend doesn't like my new look and is drumming up investors to buy my wax and force me to comb the dreads out. She already has two other people willing to put their money in. Another friend has been maintaing that if I like my hair the way it is, I shouldn't allow her to do this. My response, "It's just hair. I really don't care," which is more than a little contradicted by my decision to get it done this way. I do feel this way though.

You know, I think is actually one of those situations that I can find meaning in. To an extent, I'm glad I tried something different and exorcised the demon that has driven me to do this, but it remains a very superficial and expensive way to demonstrate individuality. Kind of makes me feel selfish, and I want to donate an equal amount of money to charity now. On the upside, people remembered my name when they had something so obvious to remind them of who I am.

Now to send my family and other school friends pictures.

Monday, February 20


I know Valentine's Day was a week ago, but love has been permeating my thoughts lately. I talked about it with a friend at brunch, heard about in in the homily last week, and thought about while running on a treadmill. Now you are going to be treated to the latest culmination of my views on the subject.

Straight up, love is sacrifice. Love is such a high respect and admiration for God, another person, an idea, an organization, a pet, an artistic work or whatever that one is willing to sacrifice their time, possessions, energy and all aspects of their being to it. For me, the ideal is that, in the case of two people, they so fully devote themselves to one another that they don't attend to their own well-being at all because their partner so fully takes care of them. Simple. What do you think?

Their is a rather large flaw in this perception of love in that it doesn't adequately describe God's love for us. Sacrifice requires one to lose something. God is freaking omnipotent and can't give anything up. To some extent this is alleviated by belief in the Trinity and that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are all one and that Jesus is both fully human and divine since humans can sacrifice, but it remains a weak link. Furthermore, how can something completely good love something that is less than it? How can it respect that which it exceeds in everyway? I guess I need to think about this some more, still. Rest assured though, when I discover the answers to it all, I will share them with you.

Sunday, February 12

Baby names

I am just in rut lately with all of these name posts. This ought to be the last for a while though. I'm not quite sure what else I can say about them.

The first time this ever really came up in conversation for me was back in high school. I had some friends who had the more uncontrollable aspects of their lives perfectly planned out. Already they had planned out how many children they would have and what their genders and names would be. Suffice to say, I was rather amused and made fun of them for it. Now, in college, it's come up again. I don't even remember how, but people started talking about what they would name their children and what names they like. I have decided that my opinions that arose during this discussion are of such interest that they must be shared with all.

First of all, I must admit that I have a soft spot for names with classical allusions (as evidenced by my picking of Dismas (the Good Thief) for a confirmation name and Daedalus for just about every weblogin) and the 'a' sound. That pretty much guides most of the choices that you'll find below.

Start off, I'll just put down the names that have no great allusions. I just like how they sound. Darius, Dante, Dominique, Naomi, Leon.

Then there are those with classic allusions. There's the Arthurian legends (Arthur, Lancelot, Galahad, Mordred, Guivere). There's the Greek myths (Daedalus, Icarus, Achilles, Arachne). Finish it off with a little Buddhism, Mara, and Norse, Balder. Demons have some pretty sweet names, which is unfortunate. Kind of stigmatize a kid. Moloch, Mammon, Mephistopheles, Baal, Oni, Kali, Lucifer, Loki.

I once heard that the most common surname is Chang and that most common first name is Mohammed. I would love to name my kid Mohammed Chang Heinrich. Screw with people's preconceptions at the very least.

It's worth pointing out here that I'm serious about these names. When I have kids, I would want to name them like this. Needless to say, my wife will probably end up naming the kids lest they get beat up at school all the time. Maybe I can name the pets.

Shout out

What do you know, but more readers just keeping popping up. I have to thank Facebook for most of that (most all probably), but, hey, it's all good. Anyway, I was thinking that it would be such a huge boost to my ego and morale if everyone who has read Spice of Life would post a comment. Nothing amazing. Just a "Hey" of your own would be cool. Personally, I would like to see real comments outpace those of other bloggers looking to draw me into their site that they're making money off of. I think I need another four real comments to pull that off.

Please. It'll mean a lot to me. Thanks.

Saturday, February 11

My Name

I know I've already done a post on names and everything, but I was kicking around Wikipedia tonight and this stuff I found was just too cool. Or nerdy. Whatever.

My name is Christopher Francis Heinrich, and, as with all things, I'll start at the beginning. Christopher descends from the Greek Christophoros. It translates to "Bearer of Christ," a reference to the legend of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers and an eighteen foot tall giant who once carried the baby Jesus across a river. Francis comes from the Francois, a French name meaning something like "little French person." Finally we come to Heinrich, a Norman variant on the German Haimrich, and means "ruler of the home."

Anyone else see the fascinating dichotomies? Legendary giant and "little French person?" "Ruler of the home" and patron saint of travelers? On top of all this, for coming from a solidly European background, I sure have a lot of diversity going for me with each of my names deriving from a different language. I am just too cool. A walking paradox, it's amazing that I don't explode from all the nomenclatural forces working on me.

Wednesday, February 8

Rousseau and Me

I learned something very exciting last night. I have readers beyond my parents. That is ubercool and energizes me to the point that I want to post more.

After I got over this initial rush of emotions, I became more reflective though. In Literature, we read excerpts from Rousseau's Confessions last week. In my reading journal that week, I spent maybe a third of its fifteen hundred words soap boxing on how arrogant Rousseau was and how much I hated him. Now I ask myself, am I all that different? I'm exposing myself in much the same way. I don't talk about myself as often as he does (in fairness, Confessions is basically a memoir), but I certainly have no problem with announcing my opinions to all who might stumble upon this.

I've spent some time thinking about this because I think it deserves some serious consideration and here's what I arrived at. I'm not like Rousseau. Confessions was written near the end of his life, and he was firm in his ideas. Me, despite flaunting my opinions, I'm sure of very little. If you try, you may very well be able to change my beliefs on more than a few topics. Spice of Life is more like my attempt to learn about myself, discover what I believe and build up a foundation for these beliefs should they be challenged.

Writing these same things in a private place would have the same affect, but I wonder if that, in its own way, wouldn't be more arrogant. Here, I open myself up to and invite criticism. If I kept these thoughts hidden in a journal in a drawer, they wouldn't be contended. On a more practical note though, as I mentioned before, simply knowing people read this causes me to write more. I would certainly less productive if these writings were to be kept secret. Yet another consideration is that I may not be willing to express my opinions on every topic, knowing they exist in this public sphere. Fear of people turning against me would limit my full expression. This could turn into a positive though. It is my belief that I shouldn't be ashamed of anything I do. If I do something, I ought to be willing to admit to it. I readily admit that I don't do this as much as I should in my daily life, but writing here is a good starting point.

Tuesday, February 7

Everything Bad is Good For You

I don't remember the exact circumstances of how I first came across this book, but the cultural web magazine Slate played an important role. The underlying premise of this book by Steven Johnson is that major elements of pop culture which routinely get ragged on like hyper violent video games and sex saturated and morally ambiguous television series are actually good for the public in that they challenge us and increase problem solving skills and social networking abilities. Anyway, Johnson writes or did write for Slate and someother contributor called him on this last year, posting a refutation of the points he made. Well, someone decided that it'd be great to have a more formal debate between the two, and they traded some e-mails which were later posted on the website. Let me point out that this event alone excites me, that two people could openly and reasonably debate each other without resorting to sneaky tactics, ultimately allowing the readers decide the better of the positions.

Enough of what isn't my opinion. I do suggest that people read this book if only for the ideas it proposes. They're outside mainstream thought and are well supported. Personally, I didn't find it worth buying, but it's certainly worth a trip to the library or a generous friend's house. Johnson divides his book into two parts, the first examining how elements of pop culture including video games, television, movies, and emerging technologies are benefiting the masses while the second investigates the first part's contribution to the Flynn Effect, the finding that the IQ of the regular person has increased over time, and why this has all occurred.

After finishing Everything Bad is Good for You, I find myself agreeing with the benefits Johnson finds in video games. He finds great benefit in the processes (which is where he finds the greatest contributions to our minds from pop culture rather than content) of learning the rules of virtual worlds and needing to utilize the skills of probing (a form of the scientific method) and telescoping (a method of finding order). One thing that confuses me about this chapter is his ideas on why we play video games. He suggests we play because the rewards are clear and immediate. We can beat a boss and get satisfaction from that in Mario, but life is much more difficult, ambiguity ruling our actions and their consequences. Does Johnson suggest this is a good thing or merely offer it as an explanation? I can't remember. I guess I could check, but I'll instead use this as a hook for you to check out the book. Find your own bleeding answers! Or I'm just lazy. Find your own answer to that too!

On to the television chapter. My respect for Johnson is at its highest here as he gives a fair presentation of his beliefs, comparing like shows (Hill Street Blues to West Wing and Starsky and Hutch to Survivor, the highbrow to the highbrow and the lowbrow to the lowbrow). Still, this is where I raise the greatest objections. Again, Johnson places great importance on the processes involved in this entertainment, focusing here on the complexity of the characters and plot. He claims that we as an audience are forced to work harder to understand what's going on in series like 24 and West Wing as references are made to things never shown on screen and passing references have integral importance to some of the plot lines. From this point, Johnson asserts he learn to better understand social networks in our daily lives. I'm not ready to fully contest the truth of learning to learn about social networks from television series, but I would like to say that it's limited. The shows necessarily limit our knowledge of these characters. We only see them for brief moments in certain circumstances. It seems like the rejection of those same ideas he presented in just the previous chapter where our unparalleled ability to interact with the environment was a huge positive benefit. How much can we really learn about these characters if we can't test them? On a side note, I found the little tables he made of plot difficulty to be unintentionally hilarious.

What gets me bad is that Johnson never suggests watching the news over these more entertaining shows. What about the complexity of unscripted real life? What about seeing how declarations by the United Nations lead to other events? I fully admit that there are problems with the mass media, but a half-hour of checking out the latest news online kicks the tail of watching forty-five minutes of ER and another fifteen minutes of commercials.

I'm not going to spend much time on the two chapters on movies and emerging technologies seeing as how movies is largely a rehash of the television chapter except for identifying the limits of movies and the latter chapter is a lot like the second take of the video games chapter only our interaction with technology is not as much for entertainment as games. I will point out, however, that I think Johnson cheats when discussing the Lord of the Rings movies and his reasons for it being so massively successful. It is belief that this trilogy is so popular because it resembles a television series in its length and complex cast of characters. He goes on to make a list of the characters. First of all, if I remember correctly, he includes Gil-Galad, a character who doesn't appear in the cut movies, and these characters are much more simple than those he celebrated in The Sopranos and 24. They're either good or evil. It's pretty clear cut except for the notable exception of Gollum.

Here are the two websites I alluded to earlier. The first is a Slate writer's critical look at Johnson's work while the second is their dialogue.

A New Direction

I have decided that Spice of Life is going to start following a little bit more of a method than its standard scatter-shot manner of laying down on the screen whatever has been running through my mind the past few days. I think that the best semi-consistent approach to take with this blog is to post reflections on whatever I've been reading lately. In my Literature classes, so far, we've spent a lot of time working on reading journals. Though the content my two professors have looked for has differed, the core principle remains the same, to display an engagement with the text and cause us to think about it. Well, it works. If I want what I read to have any impact on my life, I should reflect upon it, and this blog grants a great opportunity to do so. There'll still be random thoughts and reflections on the movies I watch, but books are going to be the focus now.

Friday, February 3


This is something that's been bugging me since I got back to college. I started taking Synoptic Gospels this semester and the first few classes were meant as introductory info and an examination into the Synoptic Problem (how the gospels relate to each other). Anyway, first thing we're told is that God didn't write the Bible. I guess I'll have to do a little explaining here, so you can better understand my ignoranc of these issues. I went through a public school, and, even though I went to religious education classes once a week since I was probably about six, they were always about doctrine, not so much the Bible. I never spent much time thinking about it. Ethics and morality were more of my concern. Anyway, back to Synoptic Gospels. Okay, God didn't write the gosepls? I can deal with that. Well pile on top of that the fact the authors of the Gospel are anonymous, there are no original manuscripts, and it probably wasn't an apostle of Jesus that wrote them and believing in the gospels as truth becomes a lot harder.

Why do we do this, simplify and lie to children? The world is a complex, difficult place to live in, and they need to learn to deal with it. Feeding them idealized stories that apply to their everyday lives just sets them up for problems later.

I have a real problem with Santa Claus too. What do we tell children this fantastical story? What's wrong with believing in the capacity for human charity and that those gifts came from people they know and can love rather than some creepy guy who's always watching you?

The Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny just seem like excuses for rampant materialism. Whoa, something happened or someday is coming up. Quickly, let's shower people with candy and material gifts.

End rant.