Frazz: 99% Perspiration

If there’s a true inheritor of the mantle of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, then I’d say it’s got to be Jef Mallett’s Frazz: Well-drawn (with more than a hint of Bill Watterson’s style), intelligent, and occasionally-off-the-wall, it’s got that tension between childlike fun and cynicism down pat.

The second collection came out last year: 99% Perspiration. The setting is Bryson Elementary School, and our titular hero is the janitor of that fine institution. But Frazz is something of a renaissance man, an avid bicyclist and jogger, he also earns money writing songs. And he’s got a crush on Miss Plainwell, one of the teachers. Bryson is populated by a variety of teachers, from the grouchy Mrs. Olsen to Frazz’ friend Mr. Burke (he and Frazz are just hopeless at basketball, by the way).

Frazz mostly plays goalie for the school’s student population, propping them up when they get run down and giving them perspective when their youthful exuberance and, uh, creativity run away with them. Frazz has a special fondness for Caulfield, a brilliant kid who finds school boring beyond belief, but who loves hanging out with Frazz.

Mallett’s one of the better artists working the comic strip page these days, and some of his gags have a certain wonderful simplicity:

(Click to view the strip)

Mallett’s sense of humor often takes an intellectual bent; you’ve gotta appreciate a guy who can mix zaniness with intellectual/cultural trivia:


Lest the comparisons to Calvin and Hobbes get laid on a little too heavily (and there are plenty more at the Wikipedia article), my feeling is that fundamentally Frazz is a funny, creative strip which feels more textured than most strips around today, and Mallett is just a darned good artist. While there are stylistic similarities, I assume they are mainly an homage to Watterson, whose strip I think Mallett admired (as did we all), as he pays homage to a few other people in the strip, too.

It took a while for Frazz to get my attention, but it’s got it now. It’s one of the gems of the comics page. Funny, charming. Check it out.

(You can also buy the first Frazz collection, Live at Bryson Elementary.)

Map of the Internet

Here’s a very cool “map” of the IP address space circa 2006 in the web comic xkcd.

What surprises me about the map is how much unused space there is. Had you asked me before I saw this map, I would have said I thought the IP address space was nearly filled up.

Here’s why:

IP addresses are 32 bits long, which means there are about 4 billion possible IP addresses. That works out to less than 1 address per living human. Okay, so not everyone is going to have a computer on the Internet – certainly most people in third world countries won’t – but that still works out to about 13 computers per US citizen. Certainly every US citizen isn’t going to have 13 computers, but many people will have 2 – or more – 1 at home and 1 at work. And companies have lots of computers acting as servers, and universities have lots of computers sitting in labs for general use. And on top of that, I knew that top-level slices – 1/256th of the IP space (each with about 15 million addresses) – had been allocated to companies, such as Apple, and therefore that a large slice of the space had been allocated but was probably not being used (if you think Apple has 15 million computers in use on its campus, you’ve got another think coming). Among all of this, I would have guessed that we’d use up the IP address space sometime in the next 10 years.

Instead, about 1/4 of the top-level subnets are not allocated at all.

I think I basically grossly overestimated how many computers there are: Probably there’s less than 1 computer in the US per citizen (there were about 190 million in early 2005), and less than that across the rest of the world. And fewer top-level slices had been allocated to companies than I’d thought, so there’s less potentially-allocated-but-unused space. Plus, the use of NAT on local networks means multiple computers can share a single IP address, which I think is a common setup for home networks where all the machines are clients (rather than servers). This is how my home network is set up, for instance.

I still wonder if we’ll run out of IP addresses in my lifetime, though. Especially if we have some sort of nanotech breakthrough where we have large numbers of very small computers which all need their own unique network identifiers. “I’m sorry, the singularity had to be delayed because we ran out of IP addresses.”

For Better or For Worse: House Fire

Lea Hernandez criticizes the comic strip For Better or For Worse‘s current storyline, which involves the house Michael and Deanna are renting having a fire. Hernandez lost her own house in a fire in September, so this hits close to home for her.

When I read the beginning of the FBoFW storyline – before seeing Hernandez’ post – my reaction was “Geez, isn’t this kind of over the top?” FBoFW’s appeal is mainly that it’s a slice-of-life story about its characters, and while there have been a few exceptional events (Michael and Deanna hooking up because she was in a car accident, for instance), I think this story has the potential to go rather too far. Especially since it’s coming on the heels of an extended episode in which Elly’s father Jim had a stroke. It’s one trauma too many.

By the way, the For Better or For Worse web site is, uh, one of the more poorly-designed pro sites I’ve seen lately: Extremely busy design, so much going on it’s very hard to focus on individual items. And it’s all compacted down to a small amount of screen space. It could really use a redesign to make it more spacious and friendlier.

Apparently creator Lynn Johnston has also been writing letters from the characters for a couple of years, I guess to flesh out the story beyond what appears in the strip. Although I enjoy the strip a lot (I own all the collections), that seems excessive to me; I’m only really interested in what actually appears in the strip. Rather than writing all those letters, wouldn’t it have been more fun (for the readers, and lucrative for her) to have spent that time drawing a FBoFW graphic novel or something?

The comments by others in Hernandez’ post are pretty harsh regarding FBoFW, not unjustifiably so. I think it’s still a fun strip, but it loses its way from time to time. I have read (as commented on in the thread) that Johnston plans to end the strip when Michael’s kids are about the same age as Michael and Deanna were when the strip began (probably in about a year), so I guess one could see the next year or so as being Johnson tying up loose ends. That could be a good thing… or a bad thing. (Having dealt with Jim’s stroke, I think it would be a very bad thing if she decides to squeeze his death into the strip’s final days.)

Mostly I wish Johnston would tone down the traumatic episodes and get the strip back to being a fun slice-of-life piece again.