Archive for July, 2009

I wanted to write a new blog post, but didn’t know exactly what to write about (actually — something just came to mind. Maybe I’ll write that up next time), so I asked some of my Twitterfriends if they had questions. Here are their questions and my answers.

Pikestaff: “Do you have any pets?”

At the moment, I don’t. When I was a kid, my parents had a dog named DJ that I do remember liking (though I was too young to remember much else), but apparently he got a little rough when my brother and sister showed up, so they had to send him off (I believe into the great beyond, unfortunately, poor puppy). When we were growing up, we had a number of guinea pigs and hamsters, and my sister had a few birds (one of which passed away under my care, which I feel really terrible about, but I don’t think I had anything to do with). As a family, we had a cat, which is probably my favorite pet I’ve ever had. His name is KC (pronounced “Casey,” short for “Kitten Colossus”) and he’s ancient but still kicking around with my parents in their RV. Love that kitty so much.

When I moved out on my own, I did get a betta fish a while back, and almost killed him once when my roommate and I left him in my Chicago apartment during a weeklong winter vacation with the heater turned off. I got back, and he was motionless on the bottom of the tank, with the water ice cold. I almost flushed him, but then I remembered that dead fish float, so I put him in my room under the vent with the heater turned on high, went to bed and woke up the next morning with him swimming around like nothing had happened. I never named him, just called him Fish, and a little while after that he was found floating in the tank, but as far as I know it was because of old age.

My current apartment doesn’t allow dogs, but lately I’ve been thinking I might not mind having a mutt to run around with and teach tricks to. I’m planning to move to LA in a few months, so maybe if I get a dog-friendly apartment out there, I might try getting a puppy to take care of. I’ve always thought that I have enough trouble being responsible for myself, but who knows, maybe having a canine buddy would be good for me.

CMSB: “what’s with the avatar?”

My current Twitter avatar is of Paddington Bear, a cute teddy from “darkest Peru” that I (and probably lots of people my age) remember from my childhood. My last avatar was of a very angry Lou Piniella, and it seemed to give all of my tweets a really rough edge, even if I was trying to be witty or tender. So I figured I’d go a little softer with this avatar.

I like it, though I may have gone a little too soft, as a disturbing amount of people have remarked on how cute it is. I worry I may have gone too cute — I don’t want to be represented as an angry Lou Piniella, but a teddy bear might be too far in the wrong direction.

Lots of people have suggested that I use my own face as an avatar, but most of them haven’t really seen my face up close.

divinebubbles: “do you like frank sinatra?”

I really, really do. Back when I was about 14, I had my parents buy me this 3CD set, and I can almost singlehandedly pin my almost encyclopedic knowledge of lyrics to all the old standards to that collection, from “I Get a Kick Out of You” (which I routinely sing at karaoke) to “Saturday Night is the Loneliest Night of the Week” to “French Foreign Legion” to sadder stuff like “Wee Small Hours” and “One For the Road.” Diana Krall helped me with some old standards a little later, but yeah Frank Sinatra is responsible for introducing me to most of the best music written by American hands.

And I learned about booze from him. And why the lady, because she gets too hungry for dinner at eight, is a tramp.

Oh Frank helped me out another way, too: I used to drive back and forth from college in Ithaca, NY to St. Louis, MO many times, and when I had driven for hours that day, and almost couldn’t keep my eyes open, there were a few techniques I used to stay awake on the road. The first technique (defcon 1) was to talk to myself. If that failed, I’d turn on conservative talk radio, and yell at the hosts. And if even that didn’t keep me alert enough to drive, I’d go to plan C: put on Frank and sing along with him as loud as I could. That always worked.

taufmonster had two: “What’s your favorite 5-man, and why?”

I used to say Maraudon, just because I think it’s one of the most underrated instances in the game (everyone hates it, but seriously, two branching paths, and a third segment that you could skip to if you’d already run the instance? That’s pretty innovative for its time). But of course since then we’ve had two expansions of instances. I think my favorite now is probably Utgarde Pinnacle — I like the scenery in there, and I think the bosses are varied enough to keep it interesting, but not so hard that it’s a wipefest (I’m looking at you on that last one, Ahn’kahet). Black Morass is probably my least favorite. Honorary mentions go to Shadowfang Keep, Gun’drak, and Underbog.

If there’s an instance you like but that I haven’t mentioned here, it’s probably because of one of two reasons: it’s too long (don’t like instances that drag on with the trash), or it’s too little (I think no-trash instances like Black Morass and Violet Hold aren’t epic enough). Man, I’m picky. You didn’t ask me my favorite instance, but if you had, I’d probably say UBRS. Or Kara.

And: “What do you play other than WoW?”

What don’t I play? I have a 360, a Wii, a DSi, a PC (obviously), and a Sega Nomad. Games I’m playing right now that I haven’t yet beaten (to my satisfaction) include: Dead Space, The World Ends With You, Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, Splosion Man, MadWorld, Viva Pinata 2. Games I play occasionally that I have already beaten include: Rock Band 2, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, Puzzle Quest, Civ 4, Halo 3, and whatever else crosses my path. I’m not great at completing games, though I’ve gotten better lately — usually I’ll get stuck on something I don’t want to do, a new game will attract my attention, and then I’ll ditch the unfinished game to pick up another one… where I’ll hit a point I don’t want to play, and the cycle will start all over again. But thanks in part to WoW, I’ve gotten better at just grinding out the parts I don’t like and finishing up games more often than not, even if it does take me a while.

And I don’t play games as much as I’d like to, anyway — most of my weeks are taken up with work and trying to get away from work (sitting at a computer working for many hours per day doesn’t exactly prime me up to sit at a television playing for even more hours, so once I’m done with work, I’m usually trying to get out of the house already), so most of my game playing is on the weekend lately. But yes, I’ll play any game that’s good, both because I like playing games, and also because I like seeing what other people are interested in — if there’s a game that all my friends are playing but that I have no interest in, I’ll usually pick it up and see what the big deal is anyway.

Thanks to everyone who sent questions, hopefully this has been somewhat interesting to read. That thing I thought of to write was my wacky relationship to The Time Traveler’s Wife, and since the movie is coming out (this weekend, I think?), I’ll write that up soon.

A trio of appearances to let you know about.

-Later today I’m headed back to Vocalo.org as part of that month-long series of interviews I’m doing with them. You can listen online there or at 89.5 FM in Chicago. I actually have two more appearances left on the station (planned, anyway — I may try to do more with them while I’m still in Chicago). Today at 4pm I’ll be on with a pro gamer named Erik Stromberg, a.k.a. “da_bears,” talking about what it’s like being on the pro Counterstrike circuit, and the history of pro gaming in general.

-And then next week I’ll be back on (next Wednesday at 4pm) with something a little different: we’re going to be running a World of Warcraft instance live on the air. Well, I’ll be running it, with a few guildies, and the host will tune in some audio while we do it. It should be a singular experience for everyone involved — whether you run instances all the time in WoW or have never heard of this before, it should be a really interesting listen. I’ll be playing the game live on the air, and they’ll periodically come to me and I’ll give updates on what we’re doing in the game: downing bosses or divvying up loot or what have you. Should be fun — I’ll post more about it on WoW.com before it goes down.

-And finally, though I actually forgot I agreed to do this, and they haven’t mentioned it much, I will be on the Twisted Nether Blogcast at the end of this week. Fimlys and Nibuca are two of the more impressive personalities in the WoW community, and I’m honored to finally chat with them on their show. I have no idea what we’ll be talking about, but I’m sure we’ll chat about WoW.com and my history with the site, and of course the game and how/why I play it. And I’m sure they’ll dig up something i posted on the Internet long ago that I completely forgot about — not only is that something they seem to do with guests (always with interesting consequences), but I’ve got a nice long archive of posts for them to dig through. Should be a lot of fun, and I’ll get to test out my new Snowball mic on Skype to see if it makes a difference there as well.

So there you go. I’ll still have my usual podcasty stuff — the WoW Insider Show hits its 100th episode this week, and I’m sure we’ll have some fun there on Saturday afternoon as well. But in case you haven’t heard enough of me lately, there’s a few more chances to tune in and/or say hi.

Recorded this one with my brand new Blue Snowball mic (it’s one of the “stuff I want” things below — maybe I should just go ahead and buy everything down there). I haven’t yet had a chance to see if it sounds different or not, but maybe you can tell me.

Notes:
-Twitterers (or at least the ones they tested) are good at spelling but bad at grammar.
-Easter egg for Donkey Kong found 25+ years later. Here’s the original blog post by the developer that kicked off the search for the easter egg. And no, I wasn’t kidding about the Excel flight simulator. In fact, here’s a few eggs in Wolfram Alpha, that database I talked about a few shows ago.
-Will your video get a million views on YouTube and break into the top viewed videos? Short answer: no. Long answer: not a chance.
-The disposable clothes is all my idea (though I’m sure I’m not the first to consider it), but this Japanese designer has some interesting thoughts about printed and cheaper clothing.

 
icon for podpress  The Modern World episode 8: Play Now | Play in Popup

I’m going to be live on Vocalo.org today at 4pm central and for the next four Wednesday afternoons talking with their host and doing some interviews about video games. We’ve got a lot of fun things planned, including today, an interview with a psychologist who’s done research into video games and violence (not to mention that he’s also my gaming buddy), and later on, a pro gamer, video game industry veterans, and at the end of the month we’ll be doing an actual World of Warcraft instance run, right there on the air. It will be a lot of fun for sure.

Vocalo is a sister station of WBEZ here in Chicago, who also produce the famous NPR programs This American Life and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me. I’ve been meaning to get involved with them for a while (they accept audio from everyone who submits it on their website, and I’ve been looking into working with them ever since I heard about them from a friend who works there), but it turns out that this is actually a product of my own work online: they called me out of the blue a while back and said they wanted to do some video game-related events and interviews during the month of July here. Very cool to have my own plans to get in touch with them, and then suddenly hear from them instead.

So yes, please tune in and give us a listen — you can hear it online over at Vocalo.org, or if you happen to be in Chicago, you can bring it up on a radio at 89.5FM. Should be a lot of fun for sure.

Here are all of the pages and articles I talked about in this (extra long, sorry) podcast:

-Keeping news of David Rohde’s kidnapping off of Wikipedia: How the NYT and Jimmy Wales kept a secret from the public and anonymous Wikipedia editors. This is the Wikipedia page in question (now updated, I should note, with the information).
-Danah Boyd says the transition to Facebook from Myspace is “white flight.” She says that MySpace is now a “digital ghetto” and that we should be scared that real-life prejudices and classism/racism have reared their ugly head even in digital social environments.
-Marco Arment, developer of Instapaper, dropped support for Internet Explorer. Here’s his stats (IE makes up only around 3% of his traffic, and according to my logs, it makes up only around 2.89% of this website), and here’s the interesting discussion on Hacker News.
-Finally, I make up for lost time with a nice long interview with Brigitte Dale, video blogger extraordinaire. Here’s a great recent example of the kinds of videos she makes (for ABC Family, anyway — we also talk about her video here, which is a little different than usual). And we also talk about how she is a Ford Fiesta agent, which is a marketing program put together by Ford in which they give free cars to lots of people who are very socially connected on the Internet, and have them doing “missions” which result in them posting lots of media, including videos and tweets and so on. Will it work? No idea.

I mention that my friend is also a Ford Fiesta agent — his name is Alex, and though he doesn’t know it yet, I’m planning on interviewing him on the podcast as well. Not that I want you to buy a Fiesta, but because I think it’s a pretty intriguing way to run a marketing campaign.

Update: The NYT published this followup to the Rohde story this past weekend. They all pretty much agree with what I said: that there are certainly some gray issues here, but that given the outcome, they did the right thing. I agree as well — you can’t really argue that they made a mistake, given that the guy is safe (and apparently his captors even did some fishing for publicity and came up empty because they had squelched the story). But the fact that, even in the world today with all of our news channels and news outlets and citizen journalism, they were able to squash the story at all, is somewhat troubling.

 
icon for podpress  The Modern World episode 7: Play Now | Play in Popup

I’ve been trying to write something for this blog for the past few days, because I’m about to upload another episode of The Modern World, and I thought it would look strange if the top part of my blog was nothing but podcast episodes. A couple of times in succession, I’ve finished my daily work, and then pulled up a blank text box only to find myself unable to concentrate on it and/or think of something worthwhile to put in it. I won’t call it writer’s block, because it’s not; I’ve been writing plenty, and working like mad, very creatively, not to mention that “writer’s block” is really a nonsense excuse anyway. A writer with “writer’s block” isn’t really a writer, since writing makes you a writer, not thinking about writing.

But anyway, that’s a tangent. The point is, I wanted to put something in this space, and haven’t been able to, and so I’m writing this, while my podcast exports itself from GarageBand, so that there can be something in this space.

I have had an idea of something to write, but it’s pretty scary (maybe it should be called “writer’s fright,” more like stage fright). For a long time, I’ve wanted to try a piece of episodic fiction. Charles Dickens, as you may know, wrote many of his books (including my favorite, A Tale of Two Cities) sequentially, with each chapter being published in a magazine or newspaper either weekly or monthly. That style of writing seems like a lot of fun: like a TV show, you have to keep everything super interesting, with lots of peaks and twists and turns. So I’ve been meaning to try and write something episodic and fun, like a medieval action story with each chapter being posted weekly or twice a week.

The problem, though, is that my fiction is bad. Really bad. I’m not a good fiction writer. I can get better — you can get better at anything with practice — but here’s the rub: the main reason I want to do episodic fiction is that I want feedback in the middle of the story. I want to see which characters people focus on, what lines people find interesting, and then I want to try and tailor my story in that direction. You can see that in Dickens’ work as well — he throws in characters that never worked out, and they disappear completely. While other characters end up being very popular (I believe the Artful Dodger of Oliver Twist was one), and they get a much bigger role in the story than originally planned. I like that kind of almost participatory fiction — except to that do that, I have to publish what I write every week.

Thus, my conundrum: if I can’t publish what I write, I won’t want to write it — it won’t hold interest for me (at least in terms of this episodic idea — I’m still working on other ideas separately). But if I do publish what I write, it’ll be bad. Gymnasts don’t practice in public, and that’s why you never see the gold medal winners fall.

Anyway, that’s what’s going through my head. What I need to do is just get over the “writer’s fright,” and start publishing stuff — get practicing and get rolling and get better. Even if it’s horrible (and it will be), it’s on this site: no one will read it anyway, right? So maybe someday in the next few weeks you’ll see my medieval action idea appear here.

And in the meantime, I’ve filled this space with text rather than links and formatting, and the podcast episode is now exported and done. Going to upload it now. Thanks for reading.




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