Category Archives: Opinion

Youth and Video Games

While the matter of whether or not parents should allow their kids to play whatever video games they want is an entirely superficial one, and one that I have strong opinions on, the plethora of children playing multiplayer games online – like Call of Duty – is both frightening and pathetic. It’s not that I don’t think they shouldn’t be allowed to play games, though I don’t think a violent first-person shooter is the right game for someone under the age of 14 to be playing, but rather the intense dread I feel whenever I log into a multiplayer lobby and hear the shrill, pre-pubescent screech of one of these bratty little shits.

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the fact that they are almost always better at the games than me. That doesn’t bother me. I play Call of Duty for the 4-player Zombie mode, not traditional multiplayer. It’s the fact that these whiny brats jump into lobby’s (as they are known in the game), throw a plethora of four letter words around (where are their parents and why aren’t there bars of soap on hand?) and then proceed to do everything humanly possible to annoy the other players within the game. This includes, but is not limited to, kill stealing, hogging weapons and in general being a nuisance.

The worst part is that this behavior isn’t limited to the 14 and under club. College students and, presumably, grown adults share in these same activities. There’s a reason I rarely play these games any more, and it isn’t because I don’t enjoy them.

Case in point: I just logged out of a… 1-2 hour session of Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – Zombies. While it was, for the most part, enjoyable, there reached a point where one of the other players began whining about trying to accomplish something (note: something that benefited only him, not the other three of us), and how we weren’t helping. Albeit, teamwork is the name of the game, this never sits well with me. And then I start becoming an asshole.

Immature people exist. I can cope with that fact. Immature people play video games – hell I’m probably not the most mature person in the world. However, the fact that I’m forced to interact with immature people in order to play these games is why, for one, I don’t play some of them, like World of Warcraft, anymore. I’m going to choose to distance myself from these types of players because they make the game unenjoyable for me. Now I just wish there was a way to make sure I never encountered them again.

On a related note: Parents – please pay the fuck attention to what your children are saying and doing on their Xbox’s. Or they might end up growing up like me.

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Returning to Arkham…

Or at least Somerville.

NecronomiCon-Providence ended Sunday, late afternoon, as the stars came out of alignment, and we made our return to the northern Boston area. Now… yes I could have posted Sunday evening, or even Monday – but truth be told I was exhausted and worked Tuesday so I decided to push this off for a day or two.

So let’s start by talking about the convention. First off, it was amazing. A huge thank you and shoutout to Niels Hobbs, Anthony Teth, Carmen Marusich and the rest of the The Lovecraft Arts and Sciences Council. You gents and ladies did an amazing job bringing everything together, despite running around like chickens with your heads cut off throughout the entire weekend. 2015!

Highlights! Well gaming was certainly up there. For those that don’t know, I run a Call of Cthulhu game every other week, and have been running games in general for years. However, I rarely get to play in them and I have, in fact, never played Call of Cthulhu (before this weekend). So that was an amazing part of the weekend. Playing in Jeff Carey’s and Mark Morrison’s games was a unique experience, especially with Mark, who came up with a one-of-a-kind scene on the fly and ran it for the group of us playing with him Sunday morning. We even walked up to Prospect Park up on College Hill to play – a site were Lovecraft used to sit and write.

Beyond the gaming, there were a lot of other amazing things that happened over the course of the weekend. The Emerging Scholarship Symposium panels were unique and interesting (although a bit deep for 9 a.m. And of course, listening to S.T. Joshi speak was a fun experience, especially considering how powerful of a speaker he is.

I also got a chance to talk with some major players in the CoC tabletop universe, like Scott Glancy, Mark Morrison, Tom Lynch and a few others. Oh, and Sandy Peterson was there. Of course, those conversations took a turn toward writing for the most part, and I may have some more interesting news related to that in the future.

For anyone interested in catching up on more information on the convention, Mike Davis of The Lovecraft eZine has been posting videos on his YouTube page, and one attendee, “Steve Ahlquist,” has posted some videos on his own page as well.

Moving on from the convention though… we’re back in the thick of Lovecraft Country, and happy to be home with our cats. Stay tuned for more, soon.


Top 5 Post-Apocalyptic Movies

Post-Apocalyptic TokyoSo, as I mentioned before, I kind of like the “Top 5” post idea, and I figured I’d run with it for a little while, or at least until I run out of things to make lists of.

This week I decided to run with Post-Apocalyptic movies. I’ve written about this before, and as some of you may know, Post-Apocalyptic movies are some of my favorites. And not just in movies, but comics, video games, and books as well. So without further ado, my Top 5 Post-Apocalyptic movie recommendations…

5. 12 Monkeys – A science fiction, post-apocalyptic/time travel film by Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame) based off of the French art-film La Jetée. This movie is just fun. Watch Bruce Willis go/be crazy. Watch Brad Pitt at his wackiest since Fight Club. It’s just a good, entertaining movie. With some rather peculiar social commentary slid in, but who cares about that, right? I recommend this movie almost solely based on the fact that it’s fun. I mean, the acting is phenomenal, the cinematography is phenomenal, and the story is damn good, but over-all I think the best reason to watch this one is for entertainment.

4. The Stand – The T.V. mini-series based on the novel by Stephen King, The Stand is really, really damn good. The acting isn’t… always there, but the story is just good. Take a world ravished by a horrible disease, then add a surprisingly non-stereotypical battle between good and evil, and you get this odd mix of “wow this is really good” and “okay, I actually didn’t expect that.” The Stand also slides in ahead of 12 Monkeys almost purely based on the fact that it’s long. Now, in many cases “long” is a negative way to describe a movie or show, but in this case it works out to be positive. The Stand has a very delicate, well balanced story to tell… and without the length of a mini-series I don’t think it could have been pulled off. If this was a two hour movie? Forget it, you’d end the movie going “meh.” But in this case you end it going “Cool.”

3. The Last Man On Earth – Ahhh… a Vincent Price classic. Almost a heavily remade movie. Many of you probably know it better as The Omega Man or I Am Legend. Not only is this the story of… literally the last man on earth (which is epic as far as post-apocalyptic stories go) but also a story about zombies, or vampires, or whatever you want to call them in this case. Based on the novel (actually, it’s almost a short story) by Richard Matheson – I Am Legend, this movie is not only classic as far as age, but classic as far as quality. There is something about horror movies made in the ’50s and ’60s that really makes Mad Maxme giggle. The best ones are usually a little cheesy, but so original and intelligent that it is impossible to find fault in them. Half the time the acting is atrocious… but I still love them. This get’s the solid number three spot because it’s just… amazing. Simply put.

2. Mad Max – Remember when Mel Gibson was cool? Or at least a good actor? I do… This movie is the pinnacle of post-apocalyptic movies for me. dystopic future, insane gangs of bikers and rabble… and one man trying to hold his life together in the midst of all this insanity… and how he reacts as it falls apart. I think the power behind this entire movie is how well it captures humanity. How we break when everything goes to hell, and how the mindless masses are driven to insanity by the freedom/prison of a world-wide incident. It’s beautiful, really, if you look at it from that point of view. I have to say, that no matter what, this will continue to sit as one of my favorite movies, not just post-apocalyptic ones, for a long time.

1. [Insert time of day/random word here] …Of The Dead – I love zombies. Most of you already know that, so I don’t go too deeply into it, but I felt I had to preface with that. I think more importantly here is that I love post-apocalyptic zombie tales. Put a group of people in a worst-case scenario game, and eventually someone will mention a zombie apocalypse. And George A. Romero is the master of that genre. No one else has ever been able to capture the essence of his films in the same way. Not only are they rife with the fear and dread of trying to survive in a zombie apocalypse, but the social commentary… and commentary on humanity in general, is utter amazing, and spot on. Not to mention how far ahead of their times these films are. And if you truly want my recommendation on these, watch them in order… but my favorite by far is Day of the Dead.

Diary of the Dead

Ah... filming zombies...

And there you have it, my top 5 post-apocalyptic movies. If you want more information on these films, or other post-apocalyptic films that I like… comment.


Top 5 Things I Learned From D&D (or Gaming in General)

Tabletop Gaming at PAXI felt like I wanted to write a gaming post this week, but couldn’t decide what to write about. After Mondays gaming session with Brandon, Crista, Dave, and a couple other friends, I’ve been thinking about how I learned to be a “Dungeon Master” – or for a more general gaming term – “Storyteller.”

A little background: I started gaming when I was in middle school, about 13 or 14 years ago. I know people who have been gaming much longer than that (since before I was born, in fact)… but to me that seems like a generous portion of my life. And like most teenage nerds, I started off with good ‘ole Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or D&D 2.0. A very, very heavily modified version, which included many features from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series… and the fact that I was a “half dragon, half water-elemental” with an intelligent, talking bastard sword didn’t help either. It was an interesting game, I’ll leave it at that.

After that game finally went the way of the Dodo, I discovered World of Darkness, specifically Werewolf: The Apocalypse. While I really enjoyed the game world, Werewolf wasn’t exactly my cup of tea. Yes, it’s fun and all, but I’m not big on the “yay, I can turn into a giant monster and rip things in half” aspect. So I looked into the other systems in the World of Darkness, and found Vampire.

Vampire: the Masquerade was definitely my cup of tea. A subtle blend of politics, power-struggle, and dark, brooding angst. Perfect for the socially awkward teenage nerd who likes metal and punk music… Moving on… So I started to devour Vampire, and ran a game for 4 years. The same game. It was epic, and I had players crying at certain plot twists. This is where I really learned how to run a game. Then I went off to college. End of gaming career for 3 years.

During my fourth year of college at Northeastern I moved into this mildly-crummy apartment with my then friend-who-is-no-longer-a-friend-and-shall-not-be-named, and Brandon, whom I had never met. Eventually, Brandon and I got to know each other and became good friends, and he invited me to play D&D with the group he gamed with. I had not played D&D since my early introduction to gaming, so I read up a bit and tried to get into the swing of things very quickly. 3.5 was the edition at the time, so it was a drastic change from what I had learned on, but much easier to comprehend, so I fell back into things very quickly.

Metal DiceTo wrap up this story, since then I haven’t really stopped gaming, except for a few months here and there when I’ve moved and whatnot. It’s become a staple of my life once again. Sadly, when I was living in Delaware the group I gamed with changed games more often than socks… so we never stuck with anything long enough to get a good story going. But now that I’m back in Boston, let the epic gaming commence!

So, now that I’ve ranted for a while about my gaming background… on to the actual point of this post! So, through all of this thinking I’ve realized that I’ve learned five, very important, lessons from gaming. Lessons that, in most cases, translate well into the rest of my life. These lessons are as follows:

5. “Lawful Good” people are dicks. It’s true. Every gamer, at some point in their gaming history, has been in a party with at least one Lawful Good character. And he (or she) is a Dick. With a capital D. Lawful Good characters are the most likely to start an in-party fight. They are the most likely to completely ruin a perfectly good strategy. And they are the most likely to impose their belief system on everyone else around them. Starting to sound like anyone you know in real life? Exactly…

4. Good plot twists generally involve people dying, or at least making everyone think someone died. Look at any Soap Opera. 99.9% of the time the plot revolves around everyone thinking someone is dead, or discovering that they aren’t dead, they’ve just been living in Aruba for 15 years. In any good story, someone dies. It’s bound to happen. It pretty much has to happen. Basically, kill off a major NPC, kill off a minor NPC, kill off your players. Hell, kill off GODS if you want. You’re the Storyteller, do what you want. When in doubt of a good twist in the story, kill something. It usually works. Though, on that note…

3. Combat sucks. Combat is both the most rule intensive and time consuming part of any game. Combat is also, usually, the most liked or disliked part of any game. I know gamers who refuse to play D&D because it’s “combat oriented” and I know gamers for whom D&D is the only game worth playing for that exact same reason. And guess what? Take a step outside and what’s the biggest problem you’re likely to encounter (next to maybe poverty)? Violence. War, gang violence, domestic violence, crimes of passion, etc. So guess what? Violence (combat) sucks. But I do think it’s healthier to deal with it with dice and numbers on paper than with a Glock or Stinger missile…

2. The Players Rule. You might be the all-mighty, all-powerful Storyteller… but without players, you have no story to tell. Or at least no one to tell it to. And important thing to remember in any game is that if your players are unhappy, and I don’t mean “hey, you killed my character” unhappy, I mean “this game is boring and your plot sucks” unhappy, then you won’t be happy. You have to cater your game to the players. Your players love combat? Don’t play a low-combat game. Your players love political intrigue? Play Vampire: The Requiem or some, similar, politics based game. Cater to your players. The same can be said in real life. If you want to actually have, you know, friends, you have to be open to what other people like/want to do. You can’t control every little aspect of your life, because if you do, don’t bother trying to form any lasting bonds or relationships…

And finally…

1. “Don’t be a Dick.” Wil Wheaton said it best. I don’t think I even need to explain how this applies in gaming and/or real life. Just don’t be a dick. DM/GM/Storytellers have the greatest reputation for making or breaking a game based on how much of a dick they are to the players. Give your players some leeway. Don’t force plot points if the players don’t want to go in that direction. Don’t railroad your players. And don’t change the rules at your whim because things aren’t going your way… or rather… are going too easy for the players. If you can’t make a game that challenges the players, maybe you’re the one that needs to fix something. Plain and simple – Don’t. Be. A. Dick. And I really don’t think I need to tie this one in to “real life.” Seems self-explanatory to me…

Thank you, and goodnight.


Top 5 Things I Dislike

Indy SnakeRiffing off of Brandon’s post about how the word “hate” is oft misused (and in following suit, also admitting that I am guilty of this occasionally) this is my list of things I dislike.

This is also going to be short – as I must LOAD ALL THE THINGS onto the moving truck today. So without further ado…

5. Humidity – Seriously. I dislike it. Heat I don’t mind SO much, but humidity drives me nuts… can’t stand it. The humidity is too damn high! (Yes this post is going to be full of meme’s, deal with it…)

4. Allergies – I love cats. I am allergic to cats. I own cats. My allergies bother me. This is my own damn fault… but they are too damn cute, and too damn fluffy, to not love. So I deal… but I still dislike allergies, or at least the fact that they exist.

3. Extremists from any religion – Yes, I’m looking at you WBC. Go to he… wait, nevermind…

2. Bigotry/Self-imposed Ignorance – Anything beyond this statement is a waste of my time. Enough said.

and 1. Snakes. Okay, so not really. I actually like snakes. But it gives me the chance to say two things. A: “Enough is enough! I have had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!” AND B: “Snakes. Why’d it have to be snakes?”

Thank you, and goodnight.


Language Is The House Of Being

HeideggerStarting this off with a quote from Heidegger, as revealed to me by my favorite Philosophy professor was probably an evil thing to do. Because it sets the tone for this post… and any post in which something Heidegger related is the tone should cause you to hate me. Because at worst, you’ll hate me for reading Heidegger, and at best, you’ll just get a massive headache and hate me for that. And, on a very rare occasion, you might be interested in what I’m saying. But that just puts you into the same boat I’m in as I write this… so poor, poor you.

So… Language, a wonderful topic, which Kas picked for our weekly theme. Fascinating stuff, language. I could talk about the “elasticity of language,” but… I think Fry and Laurie already covered that…

But I digress. Language is the house of Being. For those of you who haven’t read Heidegger, there is a reason that the “B” is capitalized here, but that requires an entirely separate post to explain (actually, probably more than one). I will try, probably in vain, to explain the sentence, without delving too deeply into utterly confusing Heideggarian terms and philosophy. So… here goes.

In Heidegger’s Sein Und Zeit (Being And Time), he attempts to address the problem of the “fundamental question of the meaning of Being.” Primarily, how to even ask the question. The entire idea of Being is so complex and complicated that it is a “loaded” question anyway. And Heidegger pushes this even further by demanding that I, the reader, his “student” of sorts, ask the question properly. Of course, the basis of basically the entire 488 page book is how to ask the question properly… so he believes that this is an extraordinarily difficult question to ask. But the most important thing to remember when delving into the book, and the question, is that quote. “Language is the house of Being.”

Now… if I was going to do this properly I would take each word in that sentence and break it down to its roots, getting to the meaning behind the word, before trying to reconstruct the sentence… but again – an entire separate post would be needed. So for now I will address one part… which I hope will convey the complexity of the sentence. And it’s the word that probably raises the most questions in the sentence anyway – house.

Language Family Tree

It makes me quite sad how inaccurate this chart is...

What does Heidegger mean by “house”? Well, house has many different connotations. It can mean a building, which surrounds and shelters. It can mean a home, in the sense of where I “belong.” And it can mean other things as well… But let’s focus on house as a “home…”

A house is, as I mentioned, both a building and an idea. When I refer to my “home” I usually don’t mean the building I live in… I mean a place, or specifically, my idea of a place. If you really want to delve into what that means, go read Brandon’s post, because I think that covers it better than I could here. But yes, an idea of a place. My “home” is where I am happiest. This could refer to a building where my belongings and loved ones are. Or it could refer to the city I love being in. Usually it refers to some combination of the two. Or if I’m feeling particularly pompous Caring, it refers to this planet, Earth, which is my home for obvious reasons.

So what is the house, or “home,” of Being? Why is it “Language”? Well, in relation to Heidegger’s attempt to answer the question of the meaning of Being, this becomes fairly obvious. The only way to properly ask the question, is to properly formulate the question – use the proper language. This is where it gets tricky, because how do I know what the proper language is? Trial and error seems to be my general method… but I digress. Basically, if I don’t use the proper language, I can’t ask the question properly – which seems like a fairly obvious statement, but it goes much deeper in this case. Who determines what the proper language is in this case? Well… that’s what Heidegger tries to do for 488 pages… so I’m not going to attempt it in an 800 or so word blog post… sorry. My suggestions. Read the book. Or rather… forget you read this post. If you read the book you might try to hurt me… I have a feeling Brandon is already going to try and beat me with a shoe now…

Oh, and just to clarify – this was not a philosophical attempt to explain Heidegger’s Sein Und Zeit in laymens terms… it was simply a rambling rant on how language is a fickle bitch. Please don’t assume you know what Heidegger is all about just from this post… hell, I’ve read the book and TAed the class for 3 years and I don’t think I even know what the book is all about.


Writing, an Adventure in Itself

TyperwriterAs a writer, in particular a freelance writer, one has to occasionally turn a blind eye to certain things. Editors making changes to your work you don’t agree with, being paid far less than you think you are worth for certain jobs… etc. But you also get to do something you love – write. Because honestly, who would choose to be a writer if they didn’t love to write. It’s a trade-off. But how do you really get into the writing process? And how do you deal with those little things I mentioned?

As with most creative work, I think it would a fair assessment to say that a lot of people give up after a few attempts at becoming a writer. You get maybe one or two stories/articles published, and then there’s a dry spell, and you go looking for a 9 to 5 job again, and never come back. But then… some of us are stupid crazy enough to keep writing… The ones who end up crazy, broke, or both. So again, how do you deal with this? Drinking is an option, though your liver might decide it doesn’t want to continue its lease at the end of the year… And of course there’s smoking. But are there healthier ways?

I don’t know, tell me if you find one please.

Furthermore, what’s the point of dwelling on it? If you fail, no big deal, lots of people fail. If you succeed, you’re lucky. Just go for it, right? But how do you balance striving for your dream… and starving? At what point do you say “This wall of whiskey bottles and peanut butter jars can be my fortress of solitude no longer?” Well, if you really love it, you don’t. And they find you full of whiskey, with peanut butter smeared all over your face in a frenzied attempt to stave off the purple weasels living in your underwear (which you aren’t wearing).  Or you say “The hell with it, I’m going to sell my soul and get this published…” and make a few bucks off of an article you really only spent 10 minutes on Wikipedia researching. But hey, it sounds good, and they’re willing to give you 25 cents a word for it… right?

Will Write For Food

So really, how do you take away all the bullshit and get to what you really want to do, get paid to write? You don’t. I guess that’s the sad bottom line. You deal with it, or you find something else. Because in the end, if you actually want to make money doing this… you deal with it. And you hope that one day you’ll be lucky enough to be half as rich and famous as Stephen King. But until then, you deal with it to pay the bills.

So what’s the point of this rant? I’m not sure. Part self-motivation to stick with it. Part inspiration for you, my loyal reader (note the singular – hi mom). And maybe part explanation. I write because I love it. I write because there’s nothing else I can think of doing and still be happy. Perhaps I write because there is a problem in my brain… either way I know I’m nuts, but this is what I want to do. And by Cthulhu… it’s what I’m going to do.


A Change of Seasons…

Fall LeavesYes, obligatory Dream Theater reference. So – I’m big on nature, as many of you faithful readers (Hi Mom) may know. In particular, seasons and weather. I love thunderstorms. I love blizzards. And I love fall, or autumn. It’s my favorite season by far, and there are a variety of reasons for that. My birthday is in the fall (October). My favorite holiday, Halloween, is in the fall. The weather cools off (damn heat…) and it gets a little windy. And perhaps most important of all, the fall is the season that most symbolizes change for me.

It’s the only season, I think, that you can really see the world around you changing, constantly. Plants are changing color. People’s wardrobes are changing. The temperature is dropping. Ever constant change… a constant reminder that everything is constantly changing. It’s fantastic, and I love it.

Every day I wake up during the fall I tend to have a smile on my face. I’m just happier during the fall. It’s like the oppressiveness of summer heat has been lifted, and I’m free to rejoice. It’s awesome, in the original sense of the word, not the socks and hotdogs sense of the word. So really, what is so special about the fall?

Well… for one, the blatant weather changes make for a huge difference that’s right in your face. And of course, schools start up in the fall… so you have that, especially if you live in a college town. And there’s sports for those of you that care about them. But what else? Why does the fall seem to have that magical feeling, at least for me?

I think a big part of it is the atmosphere. People just seem friendlier. Maybe they know Christmas is coming soon. Maybe it’s the relaxed weather. Maybe it’s the way the leaves whip around in the wind randomly. There’s just something in the air. Besides smog… And of course there’s the fact that sometimes you get a random light snowfall – and snow always seems magic. At least it does when you don’t have to shovel a couple hundred pounds of snow down your 10 foot driveway…

Autumn Snow the Hollows

Mmmmm... light snow cover...

But in the end, I think the main thing that makes me love the fall is change… and how obvious it is. That “in your face” brutality/finality of it. You can’t avoid it, and you certainly can’t stop it. It’s just one of those forces of nature…


The State of Things

Confused by TechnologySo in this crazy world of constantly updating technology, constantly evaporating employment opportunities, and inflation, how exactly is one supposed to keep up with current trends? You can read about them.

 

Guy 1: “Hey, I was just reading about the new Chromebook, it looks pretty cool.”
Guy 2: “I’ve had one since the pre-release dude, they’re alright…”

But that doesn’t work out too well, does it… Well, you could go into debt trying to keep up with owning the latest e-reader, tablet, laptop, ipod, smartphone, hybrid car, laser watch, Internet tv… But then you’ll wind up homeless and talking to tin cans your best friend about how cool that “new-fangled” Android tablet is… Of course, you could always steal it all… *ahem* ANYWAY!

So how do you keep up? Well, a combination of reading about it and purchasing it is your best bet. Obviously that’s a bit extreme in some situations, so what’s your second option? Demo it. That’s right, go to Best Buy and hop up to the display model and play with it for half an hour. Unless there is a line of people just itching to play with the new iPad2 (ha) I doubt they’ll kick you out. So just go nuts. Make it run benchmarking software, look up youtube videos of cats, listen to music, update your blog, watch porn… This way you know what you’re interested in. What you think will be the best suited “new toy” for you. This is how I found out I hate tablets. I can’t stand the full touchscreen input model. Don’t even like it on phones. I have a snap out keyboard for a reason… But that’s just me. Some people love them.

Some of you are probably thinking the obvious question (if you’re even still reading) though… Why bother at all? It’s all going to change in three months. The next laptop that reads your mind for input and has a holographic display instead of a lcd monitor is just around the corner, so why bother?

Because it’s fun. Why not? If you have some free time go play with a new toy. Maybe you’ll fall in love. Maybe you’ll find out you can’t stand laptops with no optical drive. Maybe you’ll find something else interesting in the store you didn’t even go to look at. “Hey, the new Red Hot Chili Peppers CD is out… I should pick that up.” But that’s not the only reason. It’s a good idea to keep abreast of new technology. No one wants to be the old man shaking his cane from his porch. “Darn kids and your long hair and rolling rock music… back in my day…” No… you want to know what’s going on. What’s new? What’s innovative? What can I rack up more debt buying…

Demotivational - Dean's a Technophobe

And please stop talking to be about your "tube."

So ultimately it comes down to you. What do you care about? What do you want to keep abreast of? My friend Brandon takes random trips to his local Guitar Center just to play with new guitars, fx pedals, etc. Just because he can, and he likes to keep up with what companies are trying that’s new… or just seeing what he likes that is already on the market. It’s a good idea and never hurts. But do yourself a favor and research it for yourself too. Especially if you want to make a purchase. You never want to head to the store and find out you paid twice as much for a knock off of an awesome product… Or got fooled by a store display into buying a crap item…

Bottom line? If you care about innovative technology… read up on it, and try it out where you can. it never hurts to keep up with the changes, and hey, who knows… it could land you a job too


Obsession, a new scent, by the Blogenning…

ObsessionOkay, before I go any further, I can guarantee that I wouldn’t wear a cologne invented by these psychos… But anyway! Obsessions. We all have them. Even if you think you don’t… you do. Some people have unhealthy ones (heroin and booze!) and others have productive ones (knitting, writing…) but we all have them. Some of us *cough* have a lot of them.

One thing that has been both my triumph and downfall for most of my life is my wide variety of interests. I act, I sing, I play piano (and guitar, sax, trombone, etc..), I rock climb, I write, I remodel houses, I play D&D, I philosophize, I play around with computers and techy gadgets… and that list barely breaks the surface. I have a lot of interests, and only so much time to spend on them. So I improvise – I focus on one for a while, then switch. The problem with this is that it gets summed up by the phrase “Jack of all trades, master of none” very well. So how does one get around this?

Jack of All Trades

Bruce Campbell is obviously the exception to the rule...

Focus – Focus on a few interests despite your interest in many. This lets you spend a lot of time on a few… but then you start to feel bad because you’re not stretching your interests. You feel shallow, because you’re not well rounded and exploring new things. This works for some, but not everyone, and certainly not me.

Timeshare – Rotate your interests, as Brandon suggests. Spend a few months on one, then switch. Spend a few months on the new one, and switch to a new one. This works well also, for a number of interests. But when you have “too many,” it falls apart. You end up spending 3 months on one, and then never returning to it.

So how does someone with that many interests handle it? I don’t know… I haven’t figured it out yet :). But what I do know is that I love everything I do. And some of them I would consider myself a “master” of… as much as I believe someone can master anything (which is not at all). So it’s not all bad. The real key is to enjoy what you do, I think. I used to play World of Warcraft – a game that many people call addicting, or an “obsession.” And I used to play it a lot. But when I got bored with the game, I simply stopped playing… and trust me, there are a lot of aspects of it to be bored with. It’s a matter of knowing what you enjoy, and doing what you enjoy.

World of Warcrack

Lovingly dubbed "World of Warcrack..."

In time, many obsessions can be “relaxed.” We call those “hobbies.” But is there really a difference? I’d say no. If it’s something you enjoy doing, and do with some frequency, it can be called an obsession. And on the other side, you can be obsessed with disliking something. I despise a few things… but there are some I’m obsessed with despising. I make sure I know everything about them so I can tear them down. This might not necessarily be healthy… but it sure is fun to come across someone who supports one of those things… heh heh. Yes, I’m evil.

Lately, I’ve finally gotten a breakthrough as a writer. And this is good, because writing is something I’ve never gotten bored with. Sure I’ve taken breaks from it (sadly…) but I’ve always come back around to writing. And now it’s my profession. This I like. I can get comfortable with this. But am I going to sit by contentedly now? No! I’m going to write more! I’m going to challenge myself! Because that’s the other side of the coin for me… an obsession isn’t something you just “do,” it’s something that you constantly strive to be better at.

So what does it mean to be obsessed? A lot of different things… but the trick is to handle your obsessions healthily… and enjoy what you do.


What’s In A Name?

HancockWith the advent of Google+, there also spawned a great topic of argument. I am referring of course to Google+’s name policy. This has spawned more debate and anger than I’ve seen on the Internet in a while, ranging from people who agree completely with Google, to people with legitimate reasons to be against them… to people who just like to argue. But what does it really boil down to? Is Google enforcing a “real name” policy, or just trying to enforce honesty?Lately I’ve noticed a lot of news sites, like Mashable, are reporting on the name bans, citing the Google TOS (Terms Of Service) as saying that “the policy, designed to fight spam and prevent the creation of fake profiles, suspended several high-profile users for using their commonly-known pseudonyms instead of their real names.” Even the top link on Google when you type in “Google+ Pseudonym Ban” comes up with faulty information. Where the sad fact of the matter is… this blatantly isn’t true.

As more discerning members of Google+ are beginning to notice and point out, Google’s TOS does not specifically ban users from using a pseudonym. Rather, it bans them from using an alias which they are not commonly known by. This would, for example, be like me only going by “ravnos” on there. I am known as ravnos to some people, but not commonly. Ian “ravnos” Muller would be more appropriate. The TOS also bans people from going by only one name (mononym). “Ian” or “Muller” would not be appropriate (more on this later). So what is the actual deal?

The TOS states…

“To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of those would be acceptable.”

This does NOT mean you have to use your legal name. That is simply the example that they give. It does mean you have to use your common name, what the majority of people know you by and call you. To use a celebrity example – Lady Gaga. Or 50 Cent. They simply want a first and last name, and what you are commonly known as. Makes perfect sense to me. But is this still an issue?

Artist Formerly Known As Prince

I'm not even sure how to enter that into the name box...

Well, what about Banksy? Or users with a legal mononym? Or hell… PRINCE (the artist formerly known as…)? How are these people affected? Currently? Negatively. One user, who’s legal name (recent change) is simply “Sai” has had quite a few problems getting Google to recognize this, according to a lengthy post he made on Google+. At this point, however, it seems Google is almost too embarrassed to continue trying to solve the issue – their silence is very telling. Which is understandable, they are being attacked by a very small but vocal community, who has the backing of a lot of angry users.

So, is there a simple way to solve this problem and make everyone happy? Probably not, but the best approach right now would be to make an official announcement stating… basically what I just did. Additionally, it might help Google to access their stance on mononyms… obviously they have hit a roadblock there. My personal suggestion would be to have people list their name, as well as a nickname. Then allow people to control which name is visible to the public vs. Circles. This way I can be displayed as “ravnos” to someone who isn’t already in my Circles, but “Ian Muller” to those who are. I would also be searchable by either name. It makes sense to me…

I think the anger towards Google is misplaced at this point, but I do agree they need to clarify things more. Otherwise people are going to continue to be confused, and other media isn’t helping much.


World War Z – No Longer an Oral History…

World War ZIn 2007, Plan B Entertainment (the production company owned by Brad Pitt) acquired the rights make a movie of (the sequel to) the book that one could argue ably say returned zombie to popularity in 2003. World War Z. Long time fans were excited. New zombie minions groaned with anticipation. And then we heard very little. For a while. Then we heard about early leaks of the script, which all looked promising. Faithful to the book. Starring Brad Pitt, which is never usually a bad thing. Excitement abounds! Then Paramount brought another writer in to rework the script. And that’s when things started going downhill.

Paramount, in a press release earlier this month laid down the plot outline for the World War Z movie, slated to be released in December, 2012. And it’s not the book. It’s barely related to the book. Infact, I’m not even sure I recognize any of the character names from the announced characters. Any many, many fans are unhappy about this. I have yet to hear rumors of boycotts, but I’m sure it will happen. You see, fanatics are a fickle group of people. They like things to be exactly the way they want them to be. It’s a slippery slope movie companies have to climb when making an adaptation. On one hand they want to remain faithful (hopefully) to the source material. This makes the fans of the original work happy, as well as the creator of the original work. On the other hand, they want to make money. This is kind of the point of backing a movie (sadly). And when you a cater a movie to the people who were fans of the idea in the first place, you tend to alienate everyone else. So they have to change things to try and make a movie with broader appeal. Sadly – this is difficult to balance, and most production companies lean more towards money making than remaining faithful. So we get movies like World War Z, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (which I still like), and… anything by Uwe Boll based off a video game

Bloodrayne Movie

Really? Ben Kingsley, you should be ashamed. Actually... you all should...

But, returning to World War Z… You take a book that is originally a “Oral History” of the zombie wars… with a interviewer meeting with various people discussing the actions they took and things they witnessed during this zombie war… and you collect these stories into a narrative. Excellent premise, great result. Now take World War Z the movie – A UN representative racing against the clock to stop the zombie pandemic from destroying the world. Stereotypical zombie movie. Guaranteed to fill the box office (if people aren’t sick of zombie movies by now). And also a stereotypical action/thriller. Nothing new, nothing innovative. Boring premise, great result (if the only result you’re looking for in ticket sales). So the original fans get screwed.

RedNow… obviously this doesn’t mean the movie will be bad. Many great movies are based off of other media and make drastic changes to the source material. Just look at Red, a movie based off Warren Ellis’ short comic. They had to make changes and add material because the comic was a oneshot… there wasn’t enough material to base an entire movie off of. But they did a fantastic job and made a good, enjoyable movie, that remained faithful to the feel of the comic. And of course there are others. But with a book like World War Z, which is a best-selling novel and has garnered thousands, if not millions, of fans – why deviate? The book is already an amazing tale with a strong fan base, why change things? Well – movies are of course a drastically different animal than books. It’s easy to be entertained by a book about someone interviewing people. In a movie though… that’s about an hour and a half of two guys sitting in a chair talking. I wouldn’t really mind that… but a lot of people would.

So on one hand there’s an action/suspense movie of a man racing around the world trying to stop a zombie apocalypse from happening. And on the other hand… a bunch of phenomenal actors sitting around being interviewed about a zombie apocalypse that was diverted… Personally… I’d like to see both made. But I wouldn’t call the first one World War Z.


The Great Music War

TurntableOr.. why I choose vinyl over compact disc.

In the great debate over which “physical” music format is better, vinyl or compact disc, the question gets broken into two categories usually. Which format has a higher sound quality, technically… And which format sounds better to the ear. Originally this article started off as an opinion piece. I was going to sit down and chat a little about my enjoyment of vinyl, why I prefer it to CDs, and what makes it such a different listening experience. Then I started doing a tiny bit of research, just to lend some fact and links to the article… and discovered the underground war. Apparently there is a rather bitter feud going between vinyl supporters and CD supporters. With the select few of us who have a preference but use all formats stuck in the middle.

To elaborate. I love music. I have hundreds of CDs, most of which I’ve ripped to MP3, as well as many gigs of other tracks I’ve purchased in a purely digital format. I also have hundreds of albums on vinyl (hundreds of vinyl just sounds odd to me). If I listened to everything I owned, back to back, it would take months (without sleep) to get through it all. And though I listen to most of my music on my computer (and still toss CDs in once in a while for those that I haven’t uploaded yet), I just prefer vinyl. It’s not so much a bidding war for my affection between the three, but an uneasy agreement that all three meet different needs. Vinyl just is, and will always be (for the foreseeable future), my favorite child. Cthulhu forbid I ever have actual children… And yes, I did suddenly throw digitally stored music into the fray. But I will add more to that topic later. For now…

When comparing digital (CDs and MP3s or other compression file types) to analog (vinyl) many listeners will describe the rewarding experience they get from stopping, flipping the album over, hitting play again, and resuming what they were doing. The people who don’t enjoy that experience are the people that don’t like vinyl. It’s an integral part of the vinyl experience… physically interacting with the medium to continue your listening pleasure. To properly care for vinyl you also have to clean it, which adds, again, to this experience. It used to be the case that you could just pop a CD in, hit play, and go off and do whatever – though this function has been nicely replaced with MP3s, making them “music for the busy.” You simply press play and go about your day. This illustrates the biggest difference to me – Vinyl is an interactive experience. If I’m listening to vinyl, I’m committing myself to listening to music. Nothing else I do during that time frame is going to be more important, or at least won’t stop me from immediately flipping that record over when it hits the end. But this doesn’t address the real issue of the format war… Which has better audio quality?

Well, you want an honest answer? Neither. It’s almost impossible to tell which has better “quality” because quality is a subjective term and truly depends on the listener. However, other aspects of the format are measurable. For instance, it is true that digital (CDs and MP3s) records more accurately than analog (Vinyl). But accurate does not necessarily equal better. Accurate means simply that, more accurate sound. But some people would rather listen to an analog sound wave for their music, citing a variety of reasons for it. And even then CDs and MP3s aren’t actually more accurate than vinyl. Uncompressed digital audio is. But in order to fit all the audio information on a CD, or make an MP3 a convenient storing size, the data is compressed a great deal. So you’re not actually hearing the original recording, so to speak, but a compressed version.

Is compression bad? No… not necessarily. When done properly, music is compressed to remove only the silence in a track. This is called “lossless” compression – most commonly represented by the wav and flac file types. Most people aren’t familiar with these however, but the far more prolific MP3 format. MP3s, though, are of the “lossy” compression type, which not only targets silence, but “noise” in the data as well, creating much smaller files – far more convenient for the average listener. But since when are computers always 100% accurate, and how does the computer determine what is “noise” and what is “music?” It gets tricky, and that’s what Audio Technicians are for – people who create the compression software, and study its effect, trying to make it better. But what about the home user? Am I supposed to be able to analyse the compression software as well? Okay… maybe I can, but you? No. Luckily these people are very dedicated to their jobs, and when working properly, high quality (320 kbps bitrate) MP3 compression will not remove anything from the data that the human ear can hear, so it’s a perfectly acceptable format, for most. Go here to read more on compression file types.

Karma Speakers

Owning these might help...

So, theoretically, the only way to really compare the accuracy of digital and analog music is to compare a completely analog recording with an uncompressed digital recording of the same performance. This last part is key, because if it isn’t the same performance of the music you get a variety of environmental factors that affect it as well. And then there’s the equipment used to record… etc. I think you get the picture. None of this is as black and white of an argument as either side wishes. Speaking of…

And opinion article on EE Times degrades vinyl supporters and rails against the arguments of vinyl supporters… without actually offering a real argument or evidence that vinyl listeners are wrong. This is another part of the problem. People like Rich Pell will offer their opinions on the matter, but then offer no proof to back it up, especially when their opinion is that a solidly planted argument uses made up facts… You simply can’t do that without offering proof. And considering that Pell is writing for an engineering news source, it’s fairly sad that A: he doesn’t offer legitimate evidence to support his argument, and B: that his argument is actually wrong. As I stated – compared to uncompressed digital audio, yes, vinyl is less accurate, but this does not make it “worse.” And Pell doesn’t even compare it to uncompressed audio, but CDs – which are highly compressed. Sadly though, I can’t say that the supporters of vinyl usually offer up better arguments… though, from what I have read, they don’t claim that their arguments are 100% truth without proper backup.

Cat's Fighting

Seems like it all tends to boil down to this...

Of course, this doesn’t mean that vinyl will overtake CDs in the near future… Less and less consumers care about the music quality, and more about the quantity of it. The most prolific source of music being, of course, digital downloads. Now, of course, charts still show CD sales as the highest source of music acquirement… but that’s because none of the charts take illegal downloads into consideration. That’s because it’s hard to measure… but based off of estimates, digital downloading is the largest source of music consumption in the US. Followed by CD sales, which are on a constant decline. And in third… vinyl sales. Which are on a constant and massive increase. In fact, as of July vinyl sales have had a 41% increase since January. Not too shabby. But I digress… digital sales are on the rise mainly because it’s cheaper. Why buy one album on vinyl… or two CDs, when I can buy five or six albums digitally, download them straight to my hard drive, and either listen to them on my computer or iPod, which is how I listen to music 90% of the time anyway.

Well… I do have a response to that, but it’s not all that logical. I would rather buy it on vinyl because I enjoy vinyl more. When it all boils down, this is an argument about subjective preference. I prefer vinyl for the listening experience. I still buy CDs, either because sometimes it’s more convenient, or the band hasn’t released the album on vinyl… but usually, if I’m going to buy an album, I get it on vinyl. Besides, with all the streaming music media sites like last.fm, slacker radio, pandora, turntable.fm, etc. it’s hard to justify buying music at all anymore… but I do. Especially if I really like the album/band. I own every Tool album (that has been released on it) on vinyl. I own most of Pink Floyd’s discography on vinyl, as well as most of Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s discographies. All original too… none of this remastered crap. Why not remastered? Well, Brandon N Schory summed this up fairly well for me the other day when he said,  “I prefer originals because I get the sound that the artist was looking for when they recorded… not what 30 or so years of experience has changed their mind about. Not to mention the producer and engineer…”

So the war between digital and analog will never truly end. But most subjective wars based purely on opinion never do… And like Brandon just said to me “It’s not about what you own, it’s about achieving, or listening to, the sound you want.”


Flight of the Bumbling Idiots…

A 747 FlyingSo, originally I was going to say “screw it” today and post some creative work that I’ve had sitting around for a while. A bit of a cheat, but part of the goal of this site is to have an open avenue for creativity as well… But then I read this – “Pregnant Flyer Says TSA Confiscated her Insulin” and I remembered that I’ll be flying the lovely skys in about a month. Now… I’ve never been a fan of TSA, or their safety practices, which are ever-encroaching upon a violation of human rights… And before any of you who don’t know me too well start up with “if you don’t like it, don’t fly” nonsense… think about this first.

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

I’ve said this for a while, and have always stood by it, and encouraged other people to at least consider it, if not agree with it. This is one of the principles that our country was founded on, and as much as I think our country has gone down the shitter in some ways since then… but that’s another story for another day. When we allow organizations like the TSA to control our every move in travel, we lose that essential liberty. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for not dying in a fiery explosion. But forcing a 95-year-old woman who has cancer to remover her Depends? Yeah, that’s going so far over the line you can’t even see the line any more. And of course, they are always up for a good excuse to fondle women

Why should we have to put up with this? Why should pregnant woman be forced to subject themselves to potentially harmful body scans, even when they ask for a pat down? Why should I have to carefully go through my suitcase and carry-on and make sure that, A: everything I’m taking is “legal.” B: Nothing I don’t mind potentially losing is in my suitcase. And C: Even the things that are within TSA regulations aren’t suspicious looking. Of course… in most cases I probably shouldn’t fly anyway considering I’m the type of person likely to do this…

XKCD Bag Check

"But you know I could just snap the earpiece off my glasses if I wanted to stab someone..."

The security measures here have reached the point where, honestly, I’d prefer to not fly. Sometimes it really just isn’t an option though. With gas prices what they are, it’s actually cheaper for me to fly to California than to drive there (which is where I’m going in early September). And, I’m poor… so obviously I have to pick the cheapest route. And taking Amtrak is almost twice as expensive, and there isn’t even a station in San Fransisco. So that’s not an option. When the most convenient, and usually cheapest way to travel is the most violating… I call that bad business. Are we going to get people to boycott flying? No, and I would never even suggest it. But can we try to change things? Yes. And some people are already trying… The Bill of RightsCheck out Ban Strong Hands, a satire site dedicated to mocking the TSA’s ineffectual operations and bring the “actual” security risks to light. They also strongly stress banning people with strong hands from flying. Because, you know… strangulation can be an effective way to kill someone.

There is also a blog over on MSNBC called Overhead Bin dedicated to news reports on TSA transgressions and the ridiculous things they subject flyers to. I mean, hell, let’s not forget the MIT student who was arrestedfor having an LED display with exposed wiring on her shirt (for a school project). She was even informed that she “was lucky she followed instructions, because deadly force would have been used.” And of course some media picked it up as “MIT student arrested at Logan in bomb scare” (note that the Boing Boing article’s use of this headline is mocking the other one). Remind me not to wear this shirt Crista got me for Valentine’s Day.

Travel, in any form, can be stressful, or pleasant. And I vote it should always be pleasant. So let’s make sure the TSA, and our government, know how we feel.


A gaming we will go…

Tabletop Gaming at PAXHello, my name is Ian, and I’m a geek. I’ve been gaming since I was young, probably since I was old enough to talk. My mother and I used to play board games and card games all the time. I was brought up on games, books, and music far more than television (hell, I don’t think we even had cable till I was in 8th grade…). Besides the usual suspects of Uno, Clue, and Scrabble, we played Backgammon, Checkers (also known as Draughts), Milles Bornes (a French card game), and Mancala, a game my mother learned where she grew up – Africa (and a game I used to know as “the bean game”). Now don’t get me wrong, I spent plenty of time outdoors also, I used to love playing in the woods, climbing trees, riding my bike, and swimming. But playing games with my mom is probably my fondest childhood memory, next to reading.
And then, probably a few years after its release, I got a Super Nintendo. Tons of fun, some of my favorite games of all time are from that console. Final Fantasy VI will forever remain the penultimate gaming experience for me… laughing at Gau’s antics, shedding a tear during the Opera scene… ah, the wonders that game introduced to me. And let’s not forget Mario, of course… ah Mario… the howls of laughter at watching my mother consistently drive backwards around the track in Mario Kart (and this is the person who taught me how to drive… frightening). And of course… Lord of the Rings. For Super Nintendo, this game was particularly frustrating, because not only was it almost impossible to figure out how to beat on your own, but many of the copies of the game were released bugged, so you couldn’tbeat the game. I was never able to figure out if ours was the bugged version or not… by the time we got the internet and I was able to look the game up I never got around to playing it again…
D&DAnd then… Middle School. A harrowing time for many boys just hitting puberty. School didn’t worry me. I made friends, I had fun. But this was the year it happened. I was placed in the high school band because I play trombone, and they needed a good trombone player. Here I met a guy named Kyle. Kyle discovered that I was pretty knowledgeable about computers, and told me about an issue he was having with a game he had bought. So after school that day I went over and showed him how to fix the issue he was having. And he showed me his Advanced Dungeons and DragonsPlayers Handbook. I was entranced. A version of Final Fantasy I could play with friends? Where I controlled my character? Where the story could go on forever, and I could change things far more directly through my actions than in any video game (at the time…)? Yes! Sign me up!

This was of course only one of many new games I encountered over the years. From AD&D I discovered White Wolf’s World of Darkness, specifically Werewolf: the Apocalypse, and from there Vampire: the Masquerade… Now, Vampire was I game I could get into. The mix of darkness (and by this point I was a teenager in high school, so I thought my life was pretty dark…), political intrigue, history, and ripping people’s faces off? I was there. I immediately devoured all the material on this game I could and started running a game with my friends. A game that I ran for four years straight. Now… those of you not familiar with gaming might not think much of that, but those of you who are familiar will know that four years is a damn long time to run a game. But I did, almost every weekend. For four years. And it was glorious.

Then came college. I changed a lot in college, as I’m sure most people would say. A lot. For one thing, I stopped gaming. I knew I wanted to do well in school, and focused on my grades. Well… I tried to anyway. Or at least I started focusing on my grades after I changed my major twice… but that’s another story. I stopped gaming. Sure I played the occasional computer game, a little Counter-Strike, but it stopped being the center of my free time. I hung out with people, did a lot of new things. I really dove head first into the whole college experience. Then a friend introduced me to World of Warcraft (thanks Will…). And I was, once again, immersed. A free-form RPG that I play online with thousands of other people? Wow (pun intended). Of course, it wasn’t all fun and games… $15 dollars a month starts to add up… and by the time I had moved off campus and delved into my final choice in major (Philosophy), I was done with WoW. Enough of the late night gaming sessions and wasted hours farming materials for crafting. No more!

And then my best friend, and roommate at the time, Brandon asked me if I wanted to come to his Sunday D&D sessions with him. A new version of Dungeons and Dragons (3.5) and a 10th level rogue/shadowdancer later… I was back in the game.

Now that I’ve graduated, moved away from Boston (for now), and jumped into the “real world,” I still game. Of course there’s XBox 360, and Wii, and PC games still… And I still run a World of Darkness game, or play D&D with friends. And once again I’ve discovered the joys of board games… now that I’m older I’ve discovered all the “adult” board/card games… Dominion, Munchkin, “We Didn’t Playtest This At All,” Catan… But when I look back over the years the thing I remember best is the thrill of a new game, a new character, a new adventure. In an age where children are brought up on television, watered down educations, and books like Twilight, it’s no wonder that geeks are the ones leading the way in innovation. When you think of the most important aspects of the last ten, twenty… even thirty years, what comes to mind? The internet… smart phones, GPS, CERN and their Large Hadron Collider. And who are the people behind these inventions? The guys and girls that grew up rolling dice and slaying dragons in their parents’ basements… in their college dorms. The kids that spent hours jumping on mushroom guys and turtles till three in the morning when they had school the next day. The teenagers who would have rather been learning the rules to that new board game than swinging a bat or throwing a ball.

Don't worry... this isn't mine.

Lately I’ve wondered what my life would have been like without games. Even if you leave the board games there, but take out the Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering cards… Would I be the same person? I couldn’t tell you, because I don’t see how my life could have gone any other way. Would I still want to be a writer? Who knows… I don’t care.

As a final note… take a look over at Critical Table. Soon you’ll start seeing some articles written by me floating around on the site. I recently struck a deal with Courtney, the creator and owner, and I’m really looking forward to joining the team over there and writing for them. And if you’re looking for any advice on new games to try out, feel free to ask. I’m always looking to let someone know about that awesome card game I played last week…


Coffea Arabica… or if you prefer, Camellia Sinensis, or Rubicund Tauro…

Coffee and TeaSo for those of us who love our caffeine… and if you know me, you know I love my caffeine, we have two very important plants. Coffea Arabica, and Camellia Sinensis, or for those of you who don’t speak ze Latin – Coffee and Tea. Now, you might be thinking “hey, I get my caffeine from soda, Red Bull, etc. etc.” and I assure you that I love my Red Bull just as much as the next caffeine addled person, but really it all boils down to these two traditional drinks. (Also for those of you playing the home game, yes there is Coffea Robusto… but we’re talking quality here, not quantity.) So what I’d like to do here is explore these two deliciously wonderful plants, and possibly educate a bit. Let us begin.

Coffee is awesome. Coffee beans are really the seeds of berries, which supposedly taste a bit sweet, and are quite good. The seeds are roasted to get that wonderful flavor that we coffee drinkers know and love. And then of course there is light and dark roast, with a quite a few varieties in between. The basics are Light, Full, Dark (French) and Turkish (charred), in really there are quite a few more. For a full description check out this Wikipedia page. The caffeine level of the beans also goes down the darker the roast, so if you want the most caffeine per bean you’re going to want the lightest roast, but remember the lighter the roast the more acidic it is as well. Personally I prefer a medium roast… something around a City Roast or Full City Roast, which can be surprisingly hard to find in the Eastern United States (or at least used to be). Darker roasts are also used for Espresso, which might seem confusing to the uneducated, because I did state that the darker the roast the less caffeine, right? Well the difference is the concentration. Espresso is a more concentrated drink, so you get more caffeine per liquid volume. Isn’t science wonderful? Generally you can get almost the same amount of caffeine from a shot of espresso (about 51mg of caffeine per 1 oz. of liquid) as you can from 3 oz. of drip brewed coffee (about 18 mg of caffeine per 1 oz. of liquid). So in reality, you’re getting more caffeine from that cheap 6 oz. cup of homebrew (about 108mg of caffeine) than you are from that expensive ounce of espresso from your local coffee shop. And it’s still even more than that 8 oz. can of Red Bull (about 80mg of caffeine). Worth it? Note that the amount of caffeine per roast is actually almost negligable… it might come down to 1mg of difference between the lightest and darkest roast, depending on volume.

And of course, if you really want your caffeine kick you could always order some Black Blood of the Earth – a FORTY times concentrated coffee for people like me… About the equivalent caffeine as a half gallon of coffee. The creators recommend no more than 3.5 oz. per serving…

So why drink anything but coffee if that gives you the best caffeine? Well obviously taste is the biggest factor there. I love the taste of Red Bull. I also love the taste of coffee. And tea. So for me, why pick one just because of the caffeine, when I know I’ll want multiple cups a day anyway? I might as well have one of each! And yes I am looking for a heart attack by the time I’m 40…  Now of course there are many drinks containing a decent amount of caffeine, but you also have to consider the other other ingredients. Preservatives you can’t even pronounce (and neither can I), high fructose corn syrup, that lovely sweetener that rots your insides (this is not scientific fact… just a fairly certain assumption… so don’t complain about that one), and coloring chemicals that have been proven or rumored to cause impotence and other health problems. Just want I want to imbibe constantly. On the other end of the spectrum? Tea.

Tea is easily the healthiest beverage you could possibly drink. It has a small amount of caffeine (about 60mg per 8 oz. of liquid) which (in moderation) is healthy for you. It has antibiotic effects, boosts mental alertness and helps prevent the decline of mental capacity with age, and a wide variety of others. It even has the potential to help HIV patients! So really, if you want to talk about health drinks, just brew yourself some tea, add a little honey and lemon, and drink up. (Please note that I am not a doctor, nor am I a health expert, so do not take my word as fact on these matters.) But what kind of tea is the best? Well, all types of tea actually come from the same plant. The differences actually come from when the leaves are harvested in their life cycle, and how quickly they are dried after being picked. Your typical black teas are allowed to wilt and oxidize before being dried, where as green teas are dried quickly after being picked. Imagine, all those different flavors from one plant. And separating between black, oolong, and green doesn’t even begin to cover the variety and complexity of flavors of tea. And I’m not even talking about herbal teas or fruit teas…

So you’ve figured out your favorite form of caffeine consumption now, yes? Good, if it’s coffee or tea, keep reading. If not, keep reading anyway for interesting informaton.

So now that you know what you prefer, you can just waltz down to your local Starbucks and pick up a cup right? No. No no no. Starbucks coffee is horrible. It’s burnt and overbrewed, usually stale, and nasty. Same goes with their tea. Same goes for Dunkin Donuts. I’ve actually gotten coffee from DD, and had to go back to the counter and ask for a new one because the cup they gave me tasted so bad I thought it would make me sick. Please do yourself a favor and do not purchase coffee or tea from these places. Independent coffee shops are usually really good, same goes for tea shops. But honestly, the best way to get an excellent cup of coffee or tea, is to make it yourself.

There are some surprising similarities to coffee and tea. it should always be stored in the closest to original form it can be (whole beans for coffee, loose leaves for tea) in an air-tight container at room temperature. Coffee and tea do both go stale, so it’s important to only keep around as much as you’re going to use in say… a one month period. Both stay good for longer than that, but why risk it? Also, both coffee and tea get a lot of their flavor depending on the water you use to brew them. That’s right, the better the water, the better the flavor. The easiest way to control this is to filter your water. Some coffee makers have built in filters, but what about for your tea? Simplest solution – Brita filter, or something similar. This way you control the quality of water, not your local water company/well. The water has to be boiled to around 200 degrees (Fahrenheit, I live in the US…). The general rule for tea is about 220 for black, 200 for oolong, and 180 for green. Coffee is always around 200. Okay, so you have your ingredients! Now, the next important thing is how to add them to the water. With coffee, you should always grind right before brewing for best flavor, and grind 2 tablespoons per 6 oz. of water. Tea is similar, with 2 teaspoons per 6 ox. of water. However, a teaspoon here doesn’t refer to the actual measurement, but rather the utensil – a “teaspoon.” In both cases, what you add to the water should be loose, a “gold filter” for coffee, and “loose in the pot” for tea. Most people use a metal mesh to hold the tea in place while brewing, but this actually detracts from the flavor. Tea expands drastically while brewing, and allowing it space to expand will improve the flavor. It is much better to pour the tea through a strainer to catch the leaves, rather than brew them in a strainer.

Okay, so now you’re brewing. Excellent! Allow approximately four minutes for your coffee or tea to brew fully, another similarity. Once it is fully brewed, pour yourself a nice cup, and enjoy.

What what if you want it to go? Easy! Pour it into a carafe or thermos and take it with you. What if you want it cold? The easiest way is to brew it, then let it sit. What if you want different flavors? Add them! You can add almost anything during the brewing process to alter the flavor of your coffee or tea. Just don’t add too much! Remember all things in moderation.

If you want some more information on coffee or tea, check out the Good Eats episodes on both – True Brew, and Trew Brew II – over on Youtube.


Turntable – A new face for social media.

turntable.fm

As the new kid on the block, turntable has been making quite the name for itself. The site is a mashup between a music site and a chatroom, where you sign in (via Facebook, though hopefully they will “fix” that once the site is out of beta) and can hang out in a room listening to other people DJ and chat, or add music to your own queue and give DJing a shot. The selling point? It’s free, You can play whatever music you want (if it’s not already in their extensive library,  you can upload whatever songs you want), and it’s entertaining.

I signed up a few weeks ago and turntable has virtually replaced iTunes for me. Two months ago, if I was sitting at my computer and wanted to listen to music,  I’d open up iTunes, or I would go to Slacker Radio if I wanted it to be a bit more random. Then someone linked me to turntable and I started to check it out. I set up my profile and changed my little avatar to one of the nine basic guys (or girls) you can choose from, and hopped into a room. And no one was in the room. “Okay” I thought, “I’ll just DJ and see if anyone comes in.”  Nope.  And if you’re by yourself DJing  you only get a sample of your song and the site auto-mutes it. Anyone else in the room can still hear it. But you can’t. This is to cover themselves legally,  in the same way that (most) other free internet radio services won’t let you pick and choose specific songs (without a premium account anyway) because of copyrights. So I changed rooms. I went into a random room I saw with over 100 people in the room. “Wow… okay… but wait, no DJ spots are open. Ah… well, I guess I’ll just sit and listen.” So I stayed and listened. And I discovered exactly what makes this site amazing.

As I sat in the room and watched people chat and bob their heads I learned how to use the voting system. When a DJ plays a song, you hit Awesome if you like it and it gives the DJ a point. DJ’s use points to buy new avatars. Or you can hit Lame if you’re sick of that damn song, and if enough people hit Lame (based off of the number of people in the room) it will skip the song, straight to the next DJ. Also, the only way to make your little avatar bob his head is to hit Awesome… and who doesn’t love seeing a room full of bobbing heads. I know I do. And if you don’t… it means you haven’t been on turntable yet. But back to the story…

Okay, so I’m sitting in this room listening, and the first few DJs play their songs. Then one of them steps down and someone else hops up to DJ. And they are horrible. You see, some rooms on turntable have themes. Only this type of music in this room, or this room is only playing 90’s power pop for the next hour. And if you don’t follow the theme, expect to get booted. Well, this new DJ didn’t follow the theme. They let his first song play, and warned him to shape up. But his next song was even worse. You don’t play bad techno in an alt. rock room. So he got booted. I was ready for this, so I snagged the spot quickly after he was removed. My first chance to DJ for a crowd! Luckily, I had four songs before it got to me (rooms usually have five DJ slots, though some can have less), which gave me time to set up my queue. I added a few songs and got ready. And it was good. People liked me. I got my first DJ points. And the people were bobbing their heads! Instant stardom.

But then my next song got “Lamed.” Oh no! Had I unintentionally broken the theme? Nope… just not many people liked the song. It was okay, I was able to redeem myself with my next few songs. And before I knew it I had a few fans. When you “Fan” someone you basically sign up to get e-mail notifications when they are DJing, so if you’re on, you can hop in that room to chat and/or listen to them. Very cool. But then I had to go. Would I be remembered, or would my DJ name (ravnos, of course) be forgotten as the next DJ started to spin… But no! The next night I signed on and hopped into the same room, and was greeted heartily by a few of the same folks from the day before! It was wonderful. Though once again no DJ spots were available I sat, chatted, and waited patiently till I was able to hop up. And that is one of the wonderful things about turntable as well… the user base.

neilhimself's world of odd - one of Neil Gaiman's rooms.Turntable has possibly one of the nicest user bases I’ve ever seen. Friendly, generally respectful, and quick to put someone down for not being those things. A pleasant surprise, considering the internet is full of these sorts of people… (please note I refuse to give their actual website any traffic… sorry, can’t do it). But really, these are some of the nicest people I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with online since the turn of the century (feels weird saying that…).

Are there any cons to turntable? Well… sometimes it’s hard to find a room playing stuff you like. I’ve signed on, none of the DJs that I “fanned” were on, and I ended up bouncing rooms for twenty minutes before I found a room playing music I enjoy. But that’s not too serious of a negative. And you can always open your own room if you want. I run a room for this site (if you are on turntable just search for Aberro Specus, you’ll find it) which is generally populated with a few of my friends, but we’ve had a few random DJs as well, who I’ve come to know and respect.

So next time you’re looking to listen to some music, go to turntable.fm and check the site out. Remember (sadly) you need a Facebook account to sign on, and even then one of your Facebook friends has to already be on there (though more than likely, one of them is). And hop on. Though don’t do it if you need to get something done, or at least don’t sign into a high population room… turntable is a serious productivity killer. Trust me.

And if you’re interested, check out the Aberro Specus room. I’m usually in there in the evenings.


In 140 characters – Why I “Like” Google+

Which side are you on?So in recent days Google has released Google+… and the people have rejoiced. Or at least the people who don’t like Facebook (anymore) have rejoiced. Okay, fine… so it’s mostly geeks rejoicing. Why? Well… you see there is this small problem with social networking sites. They (usually) start off great, then slowly… or in the case of Myspace, quickly, become online gaming venues. And not even good ones. But with the emergence of Myspace and Facebook, a whole new world opened up. Networking on the internet wasn’t limited to e-mail, forums, and instant messaging. Blogs had already evolved beyond LiveJournal into something actually worth looking at… and for some people, the internet had become a viable place to live their lives… or second ones anyway.

So yay for the internet! Or something. But then games evolved… and expanded, or rather shrunk, and on came Zynga. Those of you who don’t know who/what Zynga is, congratulations… it’s possible that you’ve never played Farmville (or Cafe World… or Mafia Wars… or FrontierVille… or… you get the picture). Gaming on social networking sites overwhelmed those of use who legitimately wanted to use them for… well, networking. Keeping in contact with old/lost friends. Finding new friends. Looking for new music… (more on that later). But it wasn’t all bad. Twitter came onto the scene with a bang. Status updates for your life, not just on Facebook? I honestly don’t know anyone who doesn’t at least look at twitter, let alone have an account there (other than possibly my grandmother… but hey, she doesn’t count, right?). And then there’s Tumblr, a little notebook on the internet. I know people that use Tumblr almost like a blog. While I can’t bring myself to use it that way, it is useful for information dumping and randomness. Like a sketchpad for my brain.

Now don’t get me wrong, of course there are “other” social networking sites that still stay true to the original idea. But honestly… they are boring. Ah ha! The Catch-22. Boring… is boredom why the games have infiltrated the other social networking sites? Possibly. But boredom can be circumvented by other means. Better interface, more interesting design. More customization. The possibilities are endless, really, before you sell your soul to Zynga. One would argue music on your profiles, or even just music in general. Ah, but Myspace covered that, remember? And it’s nice… except when I find an old friend… go to their page, and suddenly get blasted by the latest and… worst Top 40 pop hit. Because I want to hear your music? I don’t assume people want to hear mine (though that doesn’t stop me from playing it at potentially deafening volumes… but that’s not my problem… I contain that to my physical world… not the internet). And one might argue that the introduction of music on Myspace was the advent of gaming there… more interactive-ness!

But a thought does occur to me. Isn’t the gaming on these site’s helping the point of them? Connecting with new people… blah blah blah. Yes and no. While I have met new people via Castle Age or FarmVille (yes, I have played the games… a gamer, what do you expect… plus how could I legitimize bashing them if I don’t try them first?), it still hinders the entire “social networking” idea. When I sign onto Facebook my status feed is littered with FrontierVille and Cafe World updates. “But you can ban them” you say? Yes… I know. If I block the game entirely, or the person. But what if I actually play the game, too? Just because I enjoy the game once in a while doesn’t mean I want it to be all I see in my status updates. Is there a way around this? Yes – the obvious one is keep social networking and gaming separate. But for convenience sake let’s take a different approach. Say I have two status feeds on Facebook. How hard would that be? One for game updates, one for legitimate ones. Or even customizable feeds! Oh wait… this sounds familiar…

Enter Google+!Aaron Wood's Google+ Progaganda Poster

With the introduction of Google+, we can do exactly what I just stated. Games haven’t infiltrated the beloved motherland yet, but who knows… they might. But Google is already prepared for that. By allowing me to split up my “Streams” by my “Circles,” I can control what I see when I peruse Google+. “But what if the same people in your ‘Family Circle’ play FarmVille” you ask? Well… if all that person posts is FarmVille updates… I’ll take them out of the Family Circle. And if it becomes that big of a problem… I will just remove anyone that plays games. “Ah ha!” You might think… “I have you there.” Why don’t I just remove them on Facebook as well? Well… because everyone plays the games on Facebook. I think I have one Facebook friend that doesn’t… and he’s about one more FarmVille update away from deleting his Facebook account anyway. So why bother at this point? Well… because the options are there. The glory of the internet (unless big media gets it’s way…) is that it’s free, it’s open, and the options are limitless. So try everything. Scorn nothing (till after you try it…). And pick the option that’s best for you.

Quick edit: A friend just linked me to this youtube video… which I think sums a lot of this up very, very well. What is Google+?

A note from the author: I’m not arguing that everyone should be on Google+. I’m not advertising for Google+. I’m simply stating my opinion that where Facebook and Myspace have failed (utterly) Google seems to be getting a pretty good start. And if you want to try it out and don’t have an invite… let me know. Also, yes… I know this was longer than 140 characters… 😛