Category Archives: Uncategorized

You Can’t Say that on Google Shopping (ctd.)

As per my previous post, I’ve been devoting an inordinate amount of time to trying get Atomic Avenue‘s vast list of comic titles to be accepted for Google’s shopping listings. The chief impediment to this has been Google’s automated content filters, which ban outright any product containing certain words.

In the hopes of (a) helping anyone else who’s treading down this path and (b) embarrassing Google into revising, or at least not placing so much blind faith in their automated filters, I’m presenting this as an ongoing list of words that will apparently get your item banned from Google Shopping.

Note: The speculation as to cause is my own; Google will not disclose the reasons, although attempting to place individual keyword ads gives different error messages as to why they were rejected which offers some help in narrowing in the probably causes.

Animax (for us, a ThunderCats clone comic series, or the name of a Japanese animation company; for Google, apparently restricted because it’s the name of a pet medication).

Archer [& Armstrong] – Best guess: they don’t have an issue with the inoffensive Valiant title, but that the word “Archer” sounds like a weapon to them.

Antabuse  For us, an indie comic featuring, well, ants. For Google, apparently restricted as a medicine name.

Belladonna As in Brian Pulido’s Belladonna. Also the name of a deadly poison, which best guess is causing it to be banned as a medicine name.

Black – Unbelievable. For us, this bans innumerable comics, including Black Widow , Black Ops, The Black Knight, and even Batman: Blackgate. What Google has against the word “Black” is anyone’s guess.

Muse As in 10th Muse or any number of Liefeld-esque spin-offs. Apparently also the name of an ED treatment.

Pandora – For us, another bad-ass female with her own comic book. Not banned because it’s the name of a streaming music service, apparently, but because it’s the street name of some sort of herbal mixture that you can smoke as a “legal high” in Britain under the name, “Pandora’s Box”

Rage – As in Beneath the Valley of the Rage, or the onetime Avengers character.

Revenge – As in Revenge of the Sinister Six or Dracula’s Revenge

Sentinel – As in Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty. Best guess: because it’s also the name of a pet anti-tick collar.

Spawn (and any variants, including Curse of the Spawn). I’m lost on this one.

Sword(s) – Interestingly, there seems to be a strange line drawn here. Titles involving “Sword” are banned utterly; Titles with “Swords” are disapproved as well, but occasionally offer the option of requesting a manual review.

Annals of Bad Customer Relations: Comcast Edition

Try this one on for size: Slip a 3-year (!) contract into a single sentence in the middle of a business internet service install agreement. When customer tries to drop that service after 2-1/2 years, threaten them with massive penalties for cancelling early. Offer to waive those fees if the customer extends the service they’ve had for several years at the customer’s second location, by signing a new 3-year contract there.

But it turns out there’s one the final “gotcha” — the service extension has to be from the same business division (“Comcast Business Internet”) — not just the same company (Comcast). Oh, and did we mention that the business internet group’s starter plans cost twice as much money for a third of the speed as the plans offered by their residential division.

After weeks spent talking with their many tiers of customer support, including liaising with their special group set up by the “VP of Customer Satisfaction”, Comcast was apparently unable to work a deal by which a longtime customer of their business division–trying to become a longtime customer of their residential division–didn’t get punished in the process.

Got the bill today: $964.43. Right below:

“Thank you for being a valued Comcast customer!”

No Free Lunch, Small Business Edition: The New California Paid Sick Leave Act

Last session, the California Legislature, in its infinite wisdom, decreed that all businesses–no matter how small–must now give paid sick leave to their employees. Effective July 1st, 2015, all employees now get 1 paid hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Sounds great, no?

Unfortunately, they failed to pass a corresponding provision which automatically made California businesses 3.33% more profitable. Instead they’ve essentially decreed that labor costs for all California employers have gone up by 3.33%, provided the employees ever get sick–or simply “get sick”.

We’re a tiny business, and we’ve always played it straight with our employees, so we asked them what they’d want us to do about this one. Surprisingly, nobody was in favor of taking a 3.33% wage cut, and I think they realized that there was a distinct lack of Scrooge McDuck-style piles of gold in the office which we’d been rolling around in on our breaks. So the 3.33% cost increase wasn’t simply going to come from some our of petty cash as we wheeled gold ingots from the secret vault.

No, new legislated costs like this would have to come out of our operating capital, show up as deferments or cuts to new hiring, or get raided from my kids’ all-too-inadequate college fund. There’s no free lunch here, no matter how much our glorious betters in Sacramento might like to declare such in their great benificence.

In the end, we decided that the meager paid holidays at the company just became unpaid holidays, in approximate proportion to the number of new “sick days” that had magically been created. It sucks for everyone, and I’m a little heartbroken to have to give up on paid time off between Christmas and New Years–a perk we’d been proud to make happen since we had a single employee working out of our living room years ago. It just didn’t seem right to force folks to work over the Christmas break, and we were proud to be able to give our folks that time off. After twenty years, that tradition just ended.

Then there’s the effect on the relationship between the employees and the employers. When paid sick time isn’t part of the employment deal, wondering about motives is rarely an issue. If you called in sick, we sent wishes for your speedy recovery, and tried to juggle things at the office as best we could to keep things running without you. No work meant no pay, so we didn’t need to question your motives too much, if ever.

Now, the incentives have changed, and frankly, any employee who doesn’t take every hour they’re entitled to is the sucker.  I guess we all get to look forward to endless rounds of calls which start with “<Cough!> <Cough!> Gee, I’m feeling sick today and can’t make it in…”, along with the mutual looking the other way and trying not to wonder whether we should feel bad for the employee, or vaguely resentful they were shirking.

So let’s see: more distrust between employees and workers, less predictable work schedules, pro-forma sick-call acting sessions, and cancelled holidays.

Great law, folks. Well done. Well done indeed.

VacationBlogging: Places to Go in the Southwest?

My family and I are starting to plan out a road trip from San Jose through the Southwest, going as far as Texas. I’m hoping to take son Neil on some college tours, view the Houston Space Center, hit Universal Studios and a few other things, but if any of the folks reading this have suggestions for amazing local things that we shouldn’t miss, please drop me a line at



…And speaking of Music: David Byrne’s “How Music Works”

Son Neil gave me a genius Father’s Day gift: a set of audiobooks, including David Byrne’s “How Music Works”. The book, by the former Talking Heads frontman, is a thoughtful and thought-provoking analysis of how music and people interact, how the business of music is changing, and how technology has shaped music production and recording. He weaves his own experiences writing songs, recording, and performing with Talking Heads, as well as his myriad solo projects.

Byrne’s influences are widespread–sometimes almost bafflingly so–and his career has bounced from minimalist art-pop to afro-cuban-infused dance music to full-blown Latin salsa/cumbia band/singer albums that had to have left more than a few fans of his previous work scratching their heads. That said, he clearly knows his music, and he’s had a lot of time to think about it.

One of the things Byrne has going for him is that–though highly intellectual–he mostly avoids the trap of lecturing the audience about the correct social and political points of view, preferring to ask pointed questions instead of merely browbeating the audience into accepting his views. He’s also fairly objective about the mechanics of the recording industry’s various profit-sharing schemes–warning about the dangers of certain recording contract and advance arrangements, while acknowledging that there are trade-offs in regard to promotional budgets and marketing exposure. In short, that the record business is actually a business, with all sides needing to see advantage in an arrangement in order to succeed. It’s not solely comprised of noble musicians and greedy record company executives–a cartoon view espoused by too many others.

That said, he does allow flashes of anger to color his commentary from time to time, and clearly sees the usual suspects: Bush and Cheney, as horrific people for doing the things that he silently accepts–if a little uncomfortably–from his new hopebringer Obama. He also singles out liberal bete noir David Koch as an awful person for…contributing to the funding of an art center–to his mind, an act of expiation for the moral sins of… he never says. It must be assumed that the crime Koch must be assumed to be atoning for is that of being David Koch. Still, Byrne avoid the sort of long tirades that would turn a musical treatise into a political one, and manages to preserve for the most part, the observational tone of the book.

Byrne comes off as generally insightful, but there are a few suspect bits (were disco mixes actually specifically mixed to sound good on amyl nitrate?) and he credits the “disco sucks” feeling on anti-gay and anti-black sentiment on the part of traditional rock and pop crowds. I have a far less sinister explanation from my personal experience as a teen at the time in question. The modern racism/homophobia explanation is revisionist nonsense. None of the people I knew were the slightest bit concerned with it being “black music” and most of us didn’t really know what gay was–much less have a phobia of “gay music”.  We simply didn’t want to have to look like idiots trying to dance in front of girls.

Sure, most of us jeans-and-t-shirted young men could emphatically head-bob and even do a slow foot shuffle when we were really getting into the latest Led Zep or Van Halen tune, but the idea of having to bust out some sort of shiny clothes and play Jr. John Travolta on the dance floor was frankly terrifying to us. Girls will  happily dance to anything (and look great doing it), but competing in this brave new musical arena involved a host of new skills that few of us were equipped for, and at which we knew we were unlikely to succeed.

We welcomed disco about as much as union auto assemblers welcomed industrial robots. And the auto assemblers wouldn’t have to face the additional humiliation of having the girls they’d been oogling laughing at them, then going home with the robot. Little wonder that the idea of slam dancing or headbanging seemed infinitely preferable to many of us. There’s no need to invent a motive of racism or homophobia for male teens, when sheer terror of looking bad in front of girls was a near universal phenomenon of the times.

Politicians are Evil Bastards. Amateur Politicians are Even Worse

Facebook has become a minefield of political vitriol, where all too frequently, I have to brace myself for some random bit of highly heated (and repeated) political propaganda making the rounds whenever I want to merely stop by and see what my friends are up to.

Most of the time, there’s just no sense getting into things with friends–after a youth where I delighted with mixing it up with friends over matters politic, I’ve gradually come to recognize the wisdom that politics, sex, and religion are not topics for polite conversation.Nobody’s mind ever gets changed in an online political discussion, and the discussions that follow inevitably generate more heat than light–and risk straining friendships held together by too-delicate strands strained by time and distance.

Every so often, however, I do the foolish thing and respond to some new political meme being circulated by a friend I consider generally reasonable, in the hopes that I can point out that some “shocking new study” originated by an advocacy group is little more than lightly disguised propaganda before it gets circulated enough that it passes into group memory and morphs into common knowledge. After which point, it will be repeated endlessly, no matter how many times calmer heads point out that there’s no basis in fact for the now “unshakable fact”.

In the best case, wading into these things gets folks to slow down and consider for a moment whether 1 in 3 women on college campuses is actually raped; whether 1/2 the garbage in the world is actually generated by America, etc. etc. etc. We never run out of invented and easily disproved statistics which much of the world is absolutely certain are true, because people they trust told them so. The malevolent bastards in politics and the media invent phony “wars on women”, “attacks on the environment”, “racist conspiracies” and countless other crimes against all that is good because they know that the mere thought of someone doing such things makes us angry. Any when we’re angry, we seldom stop to think whether the attack in question is actually what they say it is.

Politicians lives are built around spreading despicable nonsense like this, and the more they can rile us up and get us mad at “those evil <members of the other party>” who apparently exist to commit every societal ill for the sheer fun of it, the more we get out to vote for them, the more we send them money, and the more we pass their crap along on Facebook.

At least (most of) the politicians–and their adjuncts in the various media outlets which act as their propaganda arms–know that the full truth is at best far more complex, and too often, completely the opposite of what is being stated. They lie for the power it brings them, and they like the fact that it pits normal folk against each other by labelling half of them as enemies. It’s called “energizing the base”. J.A. Schumpeter put it best when he famously stated, “The first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie.”

But for the “civilians” who are not professional members of a political party, advocacy group, or media outlet, we’re far too uncritical when we pass along things that we’re told are true by these same outfits. We trust that the media have actually vetted the facts, so we’re outraged by the insensitivity of friends who might have managed to get a different part of the story in our increasingly partisan and one-sided media culture.

Too often, when friends say something we disagree with, we don’t ask, “What makes them say that? Have they heard a version of the story we haven’t?” but instead assume that however well we thought we knew them all these years, they must have secretly been, “one of THOSE folks” who are ignorant/evil/racist/homophobic/etc. all along. In a worst case, friendships of years have been dismissed in an instant over opinions on some political talking point. More frequently, folks simply “tribe up” with similar-minded folks and repeat each other’s never-questioned viewpoints, or learn to shut up and not say anything at all. In all of these cases, the politicians win, and normal people lose.

We shouldn’t play their game. If you hear a fact that’s “too good to check”, ask yourself how the other side would argue their point of view. In today’s world, even major media outlets will monolithically present only one side of a story, and much of what we “know” about a side’s point of view comes not from listening to that side, but by listening to what ideological opponents of that side say their point of view is.

As an example, ask a Tea Partier what he cares about, and you’ll hear a lot of talk about controlling government spending and adherence to constitutional law; Ask a member of far left what Tea Partiers stand for and you’ll hear a lot of talk about hating blacks and poor people. Similarly, ask a Democrat what they care about, and you’ll hear talk about empowering the underprivileged and controlling the abuses of business; ask a member of the far right what Democrats care about, and you’ll hear about class warfare, taxation, and using the power of government to reward special interest groups. When the news media you listen to report only stories which sound exactly like the talking points of the people standing against one group or another, you’re not likely being fed a straight story.

Over time, you’ll amass countless “facts” put out by these same media which support the narrative, and if you never do the legwork to authenticate them with either original source material or the statements of the other side, you’ll find yourself hitting the “Unfriend” button the next time an acquaintance with a different view on plastic bag bans voices a concern, since only a monster could not want to ban plastic bands when you know that a gigantic mass of plastic bags the size of Bulgaria is killing the whales After all, the Surfrider foundation had that heartrending animation of the whale beaching itself on the floating refuse island, and you’ve heard numerous media outlets confidently report that we’ll destroy everything if we don’t “Ban the Bag”. The same outlets never take down the whale animation after the scientist behind the “100 million tons of plastic garbage in a giant floating island”  theory later recants and revises his estimates down to something more like 7,000 tons…oh, and it seems the sun was breaking that up into tiny particles, much the same way it disintegrates any plastic toy left out on my back deck for a couple of summers.

My latest wade into the treacherous waters FaceBook politics ended on a happier note than some. Cooler heads kept the conversation respectful, although it was clear that our worldviews–shaped by the media we’d been fed–couldn’t have been more different. And although politicians and their media counterparts seem to exist to tear people apart, I’m reminded that there are still things: family, kids, or a shared love of Rush albums–which bring us together–even when the same folks would normally be on the opposite side of the latest political meme-war.

Politicians are evil bastards. We should always be willing to stand up for what we believe, but we lose our humanity when we let ourselves be so easily manipulated by people whose job routinely involves playing games with the facts to gain power.


Constantine Trailer

Huge fan of the comic… hope to heck they don’t make the same hash of it that they did with the atrocious “Constantine” movie.