Archived entries for consumerism

Their customer reviews can sometimes be a thing of boundless insanity:

Well, it’s been over a year since my last review. Since then my husband died of cancer in September, and my house burned down 20 days ago. Rough year, to say the least. Anyway, I came back to my review only because since my Sony’s burned with my house, I’m buying another pair.

From here.

Yesterday Amazon announced that they are setting up a Kindle marketplace for fan-fiction about approved properties. Their first test partner is Warner Brothers, which has licensed Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries to be part of the experiment. Since those are all CW shows, there is not a lot of damage to be done to them by some not-very-good fan-fiction, but there is a great potential for some decent fan-fiction to make a boatload of money. The marketplace will open with 50 or so pieces of commissioned fan-fiction from approved authors, and will open up for public submissions at the same time. Of course, there will be content restrictions to keep this whole endeavor from drifting out of fan-fiction territory into slash-fiction territory.

But, considering Fifty Shades of Grey came from Twilight slash-fiction (on Amazon, too), I don’t think it will be long until people are slipping in works that skew more toward an R than a PG.

I really have to applaud Amazon for trying a lot of different things with digital publishing. They were the first to really open up their marketplace for user-published material, and their rates have always been more than fair. They are trying to coax the serialized story model back to life with their Amazon Serials and now they are embracing the ugly duckling world of fan-fiction. Now if only they would get around to selling me a digital deluxe version of a physical book that included a one-time use Kindle code for the same title…

Oh, Twenty Twelve, what a sort of year you were. It was the year the Mayans may or may not have tried to kill all of us with our own media. It was the year I watched not, once, but twice, as our elected officials decided that talking points were more important than the world economy. It was the year that I turned thirty. It was the year that my birthday dinner turned into monthly culinary explorations. It was the year that I did pretty much nothing creatively. It was the year that I went to Disney World and rediscovered what creativity was and why I need it. It was the year that I closed one door and opened another.

But, more importantly than anything else, it was the year that I got married to the love of my life.

And, for that alone, I’ll always look back on it favorably.

Before we go, here are some leftover bits of recommended consumption from the end of the year.

Three Comics You Should Read

SagaBrian K. Vaughn + Fiona Staples - This is BKV’s first large scope book since the end of Y: The Last Man, and Staples’ first book to get her the attention she’s been deserving for years. It is a space-opera about star-crossed lovers that is charming, frightening, exhilarating, small and huge all at the same time.

FataleEd Brubaker + Sean Phillips - The team that brought us Sleeper, Criminal, and Incognito is doing an “ongoing with an end” that’s pretty much Lovecraft meets noir gangster fiction. So, simply put, peanut butter and chocolate in horror comic form.

The Manhattan ProjectsJonathan Hickman + Nick Pitarra -Hickman is taking apart 20th century’s super scientists and sticking them back together into something that it too complicated to explain, but completely approachable and completely him. It doesn’t hurt that Nick Pitarra’s art is utterly gorgeous and reminds me of a less restrained Frank Quitely.

Sidenote: Three books, all on-goings, all with top-level talent, all creator-owned, and all published at Image and not the Big Two. Expect more of this as time wears on.

Three Video Games You Should Play

DishonoredThe third outing from France’s Arkane Studios, and their first internally created IP. Dishonored is what happens when Deus Ex: Human Revolution, BioShock, anything Steampunk and the Combine from Half-Life 2 are put in a blender. What comes out is absolutely delicious, if just a little flat on the back-end.

XCOM: Enemy UnknownFiraxis’s re-do of the classic PC strategy game is an awkward masterpiece. Masterpiece because the unflinching brutality of the original hold firm to the new sleek, modern bones of the update, but awkward because you can tell that somewhere along the line this got upgraded from being a direct-to-download title to a AAA holiday contender. Some of the edges could use a bit more time to be smoothed off.

Borderlands 2The sequel to Gearbox’s smash-hit that no one saw coming is honestly a little less fun than the original, but an absolute improvement on the formula. The game manages to hit emotional highs and lows that should’ve been impossible, but pulls them off with aplomb. And Handsome Jack may go down in history as one of my most hated villains ever, which might also make him one of the most successful.

Three Albums You Should Listen To

Murder by Death – Bitter Drink, Bitter Moon - This year’s release from one my favorite bands is their most polished entry yet, which is both good and bad. On songs like Lost River and I Came Around it lets them tell more affecting stories, but when they double track the main vocal on certain other tracks, the result is less compelling.

The Protomen – Present: A Night of Queen - The Protomen took a break from making records about video game people to show the world just how good they are by covering Queen better than anyone ever has.

Make-Up and Vanity Set – 88:88 - An album written for an experimental film that MAVS also did the score for. Wonderful and simplistic yet deeply atmospheric, provided you are into that kind of thing.

And for this year? The Twenty Thirteen? What of it?

No resolutions, because as my wife pointed out on New Year’s Eve, they are simply set-ups for failure. Or, they are limp-wristed, inconsequential things that you probably didn’t need to make in the first place.

Instead, we have goals. Things to achieve and do that will result in objects of substance. For I declare this year to be the Year of the Concrete, the Year of the Tangible, the Year of the Existent.

I have four goals. All simple, yet still tricky.

  • Cook a meal that I’ll never forget.
  • Write a story I am proud to share.
  • Take a picture that came out exactly as I wanted.
  • Then do all of them better.

Oh, and I’ve got one hell of an announcement about where I’ll be spending most of my time, but you’ll have to stay tuned for that one.

twentythirteen

It is the near future, in an aging urban corridor where congestion brought on by antiquated city planning and high gas prices has destroyed the 20th century notion of the car as the great liberator of the modern American.

The city has become a near impenetrable bivouac of occupied human spaces. Residential mated to commercial, with storage and food spaces hanging off them like lampreys.

Between those spaces, there is a noise: the ceaseless thrum of plastic and metal rotor blades pushing against the air.

This is the noise of the drone swarm. Of a million wirelessly controlled delivery and service machines moving products for us. All on modular frames with solar panels and high density battery packs, and nary a carbon toeprint amongst them.

For they are the servant class of the digital age; ferrying our take-out food, our Amazon purchases, our dry cleaning, all of the consumptive bits of our lives, to and fro so we don’t have to. All of it controlled and maintained by a joint commercial and government cooperative to ensure that economic stimulation is as easy as it could possibly be.

But, there is something else in the skies, too. Something newer than the drones in the swarm…something malevolent.

Drone predators.

Instead of being simple pack mules, these drones prey upon their pacifist kin, seeking the profitable treasures held within their cargo nets. iDevices, physical media, designer clothing, anything that can be sold quickly and easily over the local Internet grey market is what the hunters are after, but, in a pinch, the prey drones themselves can be torn down and sold for parts.

Their method of capture varies wildly, from nets to signal scramblers to firewall-penetrating viruses. Some drone predators are even large enough to simply scoop up their prey whole and deliver them back to their criminal handlers, the smaller drone struggling the whole way.

Local and federal security agencies have fielded drone-hunting counter measures, with mixed success. Larger attack drones are able to eliminate the drone predators, but are hard to maneuver in tight urban spaces and destroying drones doesn’t generate leads toward finding the drone’s handler. Interdiction and tracking operations can score individual successes, but tactics used by the security agencies are quickly countered by the handlers and how-tos spread like wildfire through the darknets. Evasion is the most low-tech solution, but it remains the most effective countermeasure. Drone delivery paths can be randomized, destination data encrypted, and redundant protective systems installed.

It is still a numbers game, though. And some percentage is always going to get caught.

Which is why for a small service fee, most retail outlets will gladly insure your package against drone-theft.

This is the shape of the future, and  of the new ecosystems forming in its cracks.

You’ve heard the name in passing, friends or coworkers talking about the curious new artist with the disastrous performance on Saturday Night Live, so you look her up on YouTube.

This is what you find.

A beautiful young girl with a sultry voice that evokes the best moments of Tori Amos from the 90s.

But, there’s something wrong.

The beauty is artificial. Sculpted with a surgeon’s knife and approaching the alienating expanse of the uncanny valley.

The music is crafted so she won’t have to push out of her vocal range, organized into easily editable phrases that can be cut together from multiple takes and written by song writers that know just what strings to tug in their audience.

The video is just like a few others she put out, a mix of public domain footage and moments of her mouthing the words at the camera, head askew in an awkward attempt at demure sexuality.

If everything about Lana Del Ray smacks of artificial, untenable perfection because that’s just what it is.

Her real name is Elizabeth Grant, and she’s a millionaire’s daughter. Her father made his money by jumping on thousands of domains in the early days of the internet and charging people to lease them from him. Which meant that he had the capital to indulge his daughter when she wanted to become a star. He’s hired managers, producers, song writers, stylists and god knows what else to turn his daughter into this impossible thing.

Elizabeth’s been at this for years, trying to find the right combination of things to fit her unique style of might-be talent. It took them five years and who knows how many marketing reps to settle on the Lana Del Rey name

She released her first EP in 2008, then a full album in 2011 – neither of which are publicly available any more because a decision was made by her “team” to pull them so they’d have a clean field for the newest iteration of the Lana Del Rey construct.

Which about catches us up to the slow motion car wreck that was her on SNL.

Normally, I’d be at head of the pack, racing into savage a pop star for their hubris and lack of talent. But, there’s something different here. To me the story isn’t about how she can’t perform live, the story is about how she was made.

With digital recording technology we can already create singing computer programs to power virtual pop idols. With Lana Del Rey, though, we’re now coming at it from the infinite-number-of-monkeys-with-type-writers direction. Provided a person hits every note in a song just once while be recorded, the song can be sutured together with ones and zeroes into something that sounds like it was done in a single take.

And when a creation like Lana Del Rey steps out onto a live stage, how can you expect such a meticulously crafted illusion to hold up? It would be akin to asking Peter Jackson to do The Lord of the Rings live…in one take.

Lana Del Rey does give me a bit of hope, though. Hope that the same technology that was used to build her will be used by more interesting people to do more interesting things, and they’ll be the ones that push the horizon out just a bit more.

(I will admit I’ve found myself humming the hook to Video Games without realizing it.)

I’m sure by this point, you’ve all heard of the Cthulhu dildos. Boing Boing had them, and people were tweeting about them even before that.

I’m not sure what more you need to know beyond the phrase “Cthulhu dildo”, but here’s what I’m talking about if you are (luckily) in the dark.

That bit of eldritch sex toy plastic got me thinking about all the weird mass market tie-in sex toys that have come out lately.

Take the Hustler/Fleshlight alien-vagina-in-a-flashlight-case. It was part of a partnership between the two companies to promote Hustler’s porn parody of Avatar. Think of it this way – if Avatar took 3D filmmaking to a new heights of technology, the Avatar porno was going to take masturbation to new heights of technology as well. Which I guess is great for people that fantasize about watching adult film stars dressed like Thundersmurfs go at it while sticking their bits into the triangular orifice of a piece of molded plastic.

If you ask me, the real technical achievement of the Avatar porn parody was that they managed find body make-up that wouldn’t smear all over everything once the bow-chica-wow-wow started.

But, I digress.

Twilight fans of both sexes can also have their plastic genital needs seen to, as well.

Chief amongst them is what L and I laughingly refer to as the “sparklecock“. (We’ve named a band in ROCK! after it.) It’s a pretty standard dildo, except for the infusion of sparkle glitter to make it match the sparkle that Twilight’s vampires have. Yes, I know, vampires aren’t supposed to sparkle, but whatever, they do in Stephanie Meyers’ head. The other key feature of these things is their temperature retention properties. See, the vampires in Twilight are dead – their bodies are cold. And this plastic was designed to stay cold if you stuck it in the fridge for a while. For the “authentic experience”, as the seller promises.

For those with their genitals on the outside, there’s also the Fleshlight-esque “Succu Dry“, a plastic woman’s fanged mouth. It’s pretty much your standard plastic cavity, except this time the mold is of a mouth and not of lady parts. Branding-wise, the manufacturers are leaning more toward the True Blood angle than the Twilight kids. Probably a smart idea, since most of the male Twi-hards probably wouldn’t want a blowjob anyway, at least not from a girl. But, it is still a sex toy cash-in on the popularities of vampires right now.

It does make me wonder, though. I mean, teeth are a perpetual worry during the specific sex act the Succu Dry is designed to replicate. What sort of laissez-faire attitude must you take toward your sexual well being when you decide that not only are teeth OK, but that bigger more, dangerous teeth are BETTER. It makes me feel that the world is probably better off with that person sticking their penis into plastic that some one else, you know?

Not to be out done by American perverts, the Japanese also have their own versions of a Fleshlight. They call it the “ona-hole”. Yeah. Can’t make this shit up. Anyway. The “ona-holes” get branded just like Fleshlights do here. Except sometimes they go a bit…awry. Like when instead of making the internal part into something that would seem to fit what you’re putting into it, you instead make it into a negative space molding of a famous anime character. An underage, marginally pubescent anime character, at that. I can only assume that the Japanese are training their men to use their penises as lock picks. Because nothing else really makes sense.

“Ona-hole”.

Jesus fucking Christ.

EDIT: Oh god, my friend Katie just sent me a link to the sparklecock in full effect. It’s a plastic dong flying in mid-air, up to you how safe for work it is.

Now that we’ve been over the “What” of Hatsune Miku, let’s go over the “Why”. As in, why she’s important.

Pat commented yesterday that on stage Hatsune’s not that different from The Gorillaz live shows, and that her voice is still based on a real person’s voice. And he’s right about both of those things. The Gorillaz project animated performers onto a screen that masks human musicians, and Hatsune’s voice is built up from the phoneme recordings of a real person.

But her key difference from previous, similar things is that her plasticity, her artificiality, is COMPLETE. Absolutely nothing about her is real.

First, let’s think about her as an animated character.

Animated characters are tied to visuals and to voices. It can be argued that Mel Blanc was more key to popularizing most of the Warner Bros characters than their visual representations. The problem here is that Mel Blanc is a human, and humans, well not to spoil the end of your life for you, die. And when Blanc finally did expire, Warner had several years where they had to convince people that Bugs Bunny really sounded like this new guy, and not at all like that old, dead guy. Same thing with Kermit the Frog, or Tony the Tiger, or any character that’s deeply engrained in the social consciousness and voiced by a real human with an expiration date. Hatsune Miko has no expiration dates. Because her voice is created in a computer by the clever application of a few billions ones and zeroes, she’ll never get die. She’ll never get old, go through puberty, or ruin her voice with smoking and whiskey. A thousand years from now, she’ll sound the exact same as she does right now. She is the first voice of the future, because in the future she’ll sound exactly the same.

Now, let’s think about her as a commercial character.

Ultimately, Hatsune Miko was created as a bit of stunt by Crypton Future Media. They’re sound technology people. So, they made the apex of current sound technology. She was meant to raise awareness of the company that created her, and I’m sure her records sales are a nice bonus. Like Pandora and her box, Crypton’s unwittingly unleashed something on the world. There is no question that most Disney pop stars are trained and groomed from a young age to become billion dollar industries. There is also no question that Disney would probably love to not have said pop stars taking a chunk of their revenue and then spend it on things that get them plastered all over the front of grocery store tabloids. Making a pop star out of ray tracing and vocal synthesizers is one way to do that. And it doesn’t have to be Disney doing it, either. If a relatively small company like Crypton can do it, anyone can. Every new product or initiative could have a fake pop star attached to it, filling the air waves and fiber optic cables. And speaking as a guy in advertising who could pitch that to a client, this is fantastic and frightening

Lastly, let’s think about her as a musical character.

Touched on this a bit in the first one, but Hatsune and the future things like her, are fixed point in space. The point can be fixed as a 16 year old pop idol, or a 60 year old torch singer, or a 20 something folk-rocker. And since they are artificial, and built up by a team of people, they’ll never go off on some bizarre introspective tangent and make a record like Pet Sounds. Their music will be consistent, uniform across all of their releases. And if the people behind them ever get bored or want to try something different? They’ll just whip up a new vocaloid and create a new artist.

Hatsune Miko is important because of the simplicity of what she represents: The idea of an unchanging, easily replaceable commercial entity that you owe nothing to and will never do anything to embarrass or betray you.

While I could put money on their never being an indie-rock vocaloid success (ONLY because the hipsters won’t allow it, not because it couldn’t be good), I can’t put that same money on idorus like Hatsune Miko carving out a niche for themselves in pop music.

Makeup and Vanity Set dropped a new 8 track EP last night. It’s called Charles Park II, and it’s basically him using Goblin’s classic Dawn of the Dead soundtrack as a witching rod to find the right places to dig down and harvest his best jams yet.

Give it a listen, then immediately go buy it. There’s really nothing better you could possibly be spending $5 on.

I’m having trouble spitting out as much content here as I’d like. Brain’s just felt empty as of late. Can’t really put my finger on why, it just has.

So, to try to kick some life into the old thing, as well as keep my fingers moving, I’m going to start…I’m loathe to say reviewing…commenting on the media I consume. Which is, honestly, a lot.

I’m going to try to think of a humorous name for the thing, and try to keep the overall tone funny and light and free of jargon.

We’ll see how this goes, yes?

I’m not sure, but you may have heard about the newest generation of the Jesus Phone. It comes out next Friday from Apple and AT&T. The preorders for it started yesterday.

I was running a fever yesterday. A pretty bad one. So when I say I was up at 4am trying to buy one of these, I want to make it clear that it was because I couldn’t sleep from the fever – NOT because I was waiting for the preorder to come up.

When I attempted the preorder process at 4am, I was greeted with a server time out once I made the jump from Apple’s site to AT&T’s billing servers. Ok, I thought, this is probably just them not syncing up yet. The sale did just go online a few minutes ago. I laid back down and tried it a few hours later, 7am-ish, maybe.

Imagine what it would be like to be in an fighter aircraft in the middle of a dogfight – and lose. Imagine the sounds. The screaming of the bending, ripping metal. The unmuffled roar of jet engine and wind. Because those must’ve been the sounds the servers were making when I attempted to preorder a second time. It didn’t get any better for the rest of the day.

Gizmodo has a pretty descriptive rundown of every thing that went to shit for Apple and AT&T yesterday. From the servers giving you access to some one else’s billing history to AT&T stores resorting to their “fail-safe” pen and paper preordering.

Bottom line, this was one of the biggest clusterfucks in the history of retail sales. And it was entirely AT&T’s fault.

Sometimes, in situations like this, a company launches a product and gets legitimately overwhelmed by the consumer response. A perfect example is Blizzard’s launch of World of Warcraft. Within a week of launch, every single retail CD key had been activated and was in use. The game was kissing 3 million active users, when even the best analysts said it would do good to hit a million its first quarter. Servers were melting left and right. But, they recovered from it and now maintain the largest and most successful online game in history.

AT&T had the same problems with the original iPhone launch. The authorization servers went down and didn’t come back up for almost two days. People had their shiny new Jesus Phones, but they couldn’t use them. Things went smoother for the 3G and 3Gs launches. It looked like while their cellular network might be straining to the breaking point under the weight of all those dataplans, their billing and authorization servers were finally, FINALLY, up to the task of launching products.

Yeah.

Right.

What always boggles my mind when things like this happen is that the retailer is always “surprised” by the amount of traffic they get. Which is funny, considering, you know, they know exactly how many people on their network are eligible for an upgrade deal (which is more than ever because of the special early-upgrade deal they did), they have metrics on how many people will pay the premium to upgrade anyway, and they have previous history to know how many “gawker”-types they are going to have. The numbers are right there. All they had to do was support those numbers plus a little bit more.

And they couldn’t do it. They couldn’t even come close to doing it. Everything was either broken or just flat shut down. There were fucking AT&T stores closing because their only business was preorders and they couldn’t do them.

But all that was yesterday. The tsunami of web traffic has subsided 24 hours later. Things are working now. Except, what’s that? The iPhone 4 is now back-ordered to July 2 at the earliest. Wonderful. Absolutely wonderful.

AT&T is expected to sell 9.5 million iPhone 4s within a month of their launch. Which probably puts the views somewhere in the 12 million range. And while that is a lot, especially if they swarm the server all at once, Blizzard clears more than that same number every day in World of Warcraft. Millions more than that number, in fact. And they don’t seem to have a problem with it.

I guess it really comes down to the fact that AT&T doesn’t have to work for your money. They have the Jesus Phone locked into an exclusivity contract, even if it is killing their entire cellular network. Why should they spend any money on upgrading servers or networks when the simple truth is that people want the iPhone, and will deal with shit to get it.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do at this point. My 3G is more dead than alive, which is why this upgrade was so important for me. But I’m not sure if chaining myself to AT&T, as well as the Apple App store’s black hole, is worth it if things like this continue to happen.

Regardless, way to fuck up, AT&T. Way to fuck up.

EDIT: Barely had time to get this up before AT&T completely suspended preorders.

EDIT 2: Apple sent out a press release saying they sold 600,000 preorder units. Which is funny, since you’d assume they’d have more than that. I mean, it’s not like they were trying to sell millions of them this month or anything.

EDIT 3: Preorders now being kicked back to July 14. Stores better be overflowing with retail units come launch day.

I’ve got a friend up in St Louis that’s set up a Cafe Press shop for these shirts. He, like all creatives, is poor and could use some of your money to put food in his mouth.

Male version here. Female version here.

Dear Perverts, Deviants and Friends,

First, the final summation:

Fuck Comcast. Go Hulu.

The reasoning:

I love my TV, and I love my Internet. I have a giant fuck-off television I use to watch it on. I have a very nice computer I use to make money on the Internet. I enjoy using both my TV and my Internet to play video games online with my friends.

However, my ultimate usage of both is fairly limited. I know exactly what I watch on TV, a dozen or so shows across a half dozen HD networks, and three shows on two standard definition networks. That is it. For that plus a horribly unstable internet connection I pay $150 a month. Which is absolutely batshit. Both for me to pay it, and for them to charge it.

I informed Comcast of my feelings, and through their Twitter customer service folks, they gave me an email to talk to. I sent them an ultimatum: find a way to give me what I want for $100 or lose my money.

I just got off the phone with the Comcast person, and they weren’t even going to come close to that. $15 off for 4 months was their offer. $60. Are you kidding me? You force literally hundreds of channels I don’t want down my throat, you have horrible internet stability and you expect me to accept it while you slowly creepy price higher and higher?

The hell with you.

Nearly everything I want to watch I can watch on Hulu.com. The shows I can’t? There are other ways to get them.

So, that’s it Comcast. You were always a shitty company offering a bloated, sub-standard product. And I’m finally fed up enough to do something about it.

I think the rest of you should do the same. Show them that until we can pay for only what we want, not all that excess shit they try to shove down our throats, that we’re not going to keep them going.

The vinyl EP was release yesterday at noon for purchase. The supply is very limited. If you don’t have a record player, don’t worry. The physical record comes with a URL and a code for a digital download of the tracks.

Click the picture or go here to order.

Pick up the limited edition Father of Death poster while you are at it. Only 200 printed. Every one sold helps keep the boys and girls on the road, coming to towns like yours.

Unless you live in Memphis. They fucking hate it here and their shit breaks down everytime they come close to this city.

Don’t turn your back on the city, my ass.

Nextwave

Nextwave

I really need you all to buy this so Marvel gives Uncle Warren lots of money to make more of it.

Metal Gear Solid 4 - Figumates

Yeah, that would be the male characters from Metal Gear Solid, one of the most successful video game franchises in history…transformed into sculpted polyurethane shoeless girls with giant heads.

I don’t even know what the fuck.

This just came across my Facebook inbox from an Arielle Palmer:

I don’t know if you guys heard, but Adam de la Pena (creator of Code Monkeys & Minoriteam) and Dana Snyder (Adult Swim’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force) just came out with a new show called On the Bubble. They will be on a Friday’s Comic Con panel at 2pm. I can get you guys back stage interviews and an opportunity to meet them and the rest of the cast if you would like. I’m interested in seeing the Brain Release Valve community’s feed back on the new show.

In the mean time, check out this trailer of the show. If you won’t be able to take the Comic Con offer, we would still love to know what your readers think of it.

Here’s the trailer she was talking about.


On The Bubble News Trailer from Andrea Valverde on Vimeo.

The first episode is here.


On The Bubble News – Episode 1 from Andrea Valverde on Vimeo.

If any of you are going to Comic-Con, you know how to find me, and I’ll put you in touch with Arielle. If you were wondering what the hell any of this is about, apparently my web foot print is either big enough or malformed enough that people are now valuing my audience’s diseased opinions. Arielle also works for Undercurrent, a New York market research group, so she wants to know how you people think.

So give the stuff a go, and let her know what you think.

World/Inferno

The Society has new merchandise for sale. Go support the insanity.

SCIENCE!

Found on a t-shirt from Amorphia Apparel.

But sadly, only available in Japan.

Official site here.

Via Ectoplasmosis.



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