Archive for February, 2010

I’ve been meaning to buy a slow cooker (a.k.a. a crockpot, although I think that’s a brand name) for a while now. It’s actually a long story as to how I got to this place, but suffice it to say that I feel like I’m advancing up the cooking tree limb by limb, and even with a few falls on the way, I think I’m doing pretty well.

The branch structure I’ve decided to explore (because man, you could spend your whole life learning how to cook, and maybe I will) is what you might call “quality easy” — lately, I’ve been trying to come up with some easier ways to make food that’s usually tougher to do. For example, instead of deep frying things like fries or buffalo wings, I’ve been working on baking them. I’ve been buying premade ingredients, and cooking and mixing them together in new ways. And I’ve been slowly incorporating and getting myself familiar with more actual chef’s tool: For a while there, I was on a stir fry kick — just a wok-style pan and some oil — but then I realized I had an oven in my kitchen, and started using that. I had lasagna tonight, and I’ve baked chicken, baked potatoes, cooked veggies, made some bacon wraps, and so on. I still don’t think I’ve fully explored the oven and all of the things it can do, but I think I’m ready to move on to another appliance.

And the one that I’ve landed on is the slow cooker. I’m kind of excited about it — I work from home but usually have my attention focused on work, so my plan is to wake up and add ingredients on the various times I take breaks throughout the day. I’m not quite sure what you cook in a slow cooker besides chili (which is what I’ll do first), but I’m sure I can come up with some things. Meatballs, right? Some kind of roast, I know that (though traditionally, I’m not that into roasts, but I’m open to ideas). Oh, and there’s probably some kind of awesome BBQ I can put together, no?

Clearly I’m taking my sweet time with this. I’m sure, just re-reading that last paragraph, that some of your are already pasting your favorite recipes into your email, thinking I’m crazy for not knowing 50 things I can make in a slow cooker. How can I be a meat eater and not know the paradise of slow-cooked BBQ pork, you’re thinking. And if you do send me recipes, I’ll appreciate it, and when I have a chance, I will try to cook what you send.

But really, I’m not too bothered. Cooking, for me, has become much less about the mastery and more about the experience. When I was younger, I would try to make cookies, and I would make a mistake somewhere in the mix, and when the batch was ruined, I would get discouraged and never make the same thing again. But lately, it’s much more about the iteration — I enjoy thinking about the recipe beforehand, and even as I do it, I think what else I could do with it. “This recipe is good, but next time I’ll try some oregano.” Half of my thoughts are on what I’ll do next, so when the final product comes out less than exactly perfect, it’s ok — I’m already thinking about what I’ll do differently the next time. And by the third or fourth try, I’m finding I can make stuff that’s really good. The iteration is the thing, not the instant mastery. Which is the way it should be, I think.

So that’s my plan with the slow cooker — take it easy, experiment a lot, and hopefully through some trial and error, come up with something I like that’s reasonably good for me. And then make that a few more times just for fun.

I’m no chef, obviously. But lately, I cook like the guy painting the sunset at the park with a canvas paints — the painting may not be very original or good, but I’m happy just to be out there watching the sun go down anyway.

They’re here. To be honest, I don’t find these quite as odious as just selling the in-game items, at least you’re getting something actual and real for your money other than pixels. And to be honest, $25 isn’t too bad — you could pay a lot more and get a lot less in terms of a pillow shaped like an animal. But I’m still not quite sold. Not that it matters — like I said last week, I’m sure Blizzard made yet another mint on these already.

  • Hey hey, patch 3.3.5! Called it! So the Black Dragonflight is invading the Ruby Sanctum, and that’s the kickoff for Cataclysm. I’m down for sure — I said last week that I wasn’t sure whether or not Cataclysm held as much signficance for players as the Arthas story did, but one way Blizzard can make that happen is by bringing in the old lore early and often, and it looks like they’re going to do exactly that with this patch. Sounds good to me. There are a few other spoilers released so far, and they do make things interesting, I’ll say that. But I won’t reveal here what they are.
  • One of the things about Warcraft I was actually most excited about this week wasn’t in Warcraft at all: it was the Starcraft II beta. I finally joined up a few days ago, and I have to say, not only am I impressed by the game, but I’m very impressed by the social connections made with the new Finding friends is super easy, and while you can tell the party matching system is definitely still in beta (I’m not even sure their netcode has been optimized yet), I like all the options available: You can leave notes for and about your friends, you can share replays with each other (and I’d imagine that there’ll be a web interface for doing just that eventually), and it looks like you’ll even be able to create and share maps. Very social, and very much the influence of Blizzard’s time spent on World of Warcraft. I’m interested to see what they come up with for Diablo 3 as well — I can’t wait to see new ways to share your character, or keep track of friends as they’re playing.
  • Felicia Day at Farpoint last Saturday. With some good insight about creating media, and a funny story about Vork. Although how much of a WoW nerd is he really if he’s bragging about being 78? Hit 80 already, man!
  • I guess there are going to be “overcloaks” added to the game in the future. I guess that’s cool — it’s actually a step away from the idea of “gear as identification.” We always used to talk about why you couldn’t customize your gear, or just change the look of your gear to, say, your favorite tier while keeping your stats the same: it’s because Blizzard wants your gear to be an identifier not only of who you are, but of what you are: which race, which faction, which spec, and so on. I guess covering up the cloak doesn’t change things too much (I can only ID one cloak by look, and then only because it’s “white and longer than your average cape”), and it does provide a little more graphical flair on the character.
  • Is it possible that people are tired of the Dungeon Finder system already? I guess if you ran the thing day and night when it first came out, you might be a little burned out on it, but let’s not forget that we had five years, five years of “LFG Gundrak plzzzz need healer and tank” before this. Wait times have been a little longer, I’ll grant, but I think that’s just the state of the game at this point — we’re between patches and between expansions, and you have to admit, 2010 has had some terrific games so far. I would laugh if people are going after the Dungeon Finder already, though. We just got it — if you’re already tired of it, you’ve played too much. And speaking of the Dungeon Finder, this is a great move as well.
  • Finally, this isn’t about WoW, but wow. I played Global Agenda at E3 last year and I liked it a lot. But it’s fine to have a differnet opinion of the game — assuming you’ve actually played it long enough to know.

That’s it — a little short this week, but in my defense, I cleared out the feed complete. There isn’t much going on, though I did let a few good drama stories slip by. If only there was a place where someone was collecting and posting those…

I’ve been thinking this week about the strange case of Craig Barth. Craig Barth is (was?) the CEO of a company named Devil Mountain Software that supposedly made benchmarking software for Windows programs and computers — when companies want to know how much time it should take their employees to work with certain programs, they’d run Barth’s program and find out. Barth was used as a source often by the bloggers and writers at a site called InfoWorld (as well as other outlets, including Fox News, and even Gizmodo at one point), usually claiming that Windows Vista was bloated and slow, and that anyone who used it was probably a fool.

There’s only one problem (and no, it’s not that Vista isn’t bloated and slow). Craig Barth doesn’t actually exist. Turns out he was an alias of one Randall C. Kennedy, a pretty well-known guy who also works for InfoWorld as a commentator and columnist (usually also, probably not coincidentally, spouting off various controversial opinions about operating systems). Kennedy actually does own a company called Devil Mountain Software, and he claims that he started the alias simply to separate his blogging and his working personas. Which in and of itself might not have been a problem, except that he was blogging and working on the same things. Using a pen name is one thing, but actually hiding your identity while posing as a source for the exact same publication you’re writing for is really another. He never directly quoted “Barth” for his own stories, but he apparently did talk about the company in third-person without revealing the tie, and he was more than happy to be quoted elsewhere, including on the very site he worked for, under a fake name.

There is some confusion here — Kennedy actually claims that his editors and the writer who sourced him knew all about the dual identity, while they claim that they had no idea (and the publication has subsequently fired him). He also says that it was totally fine for him to use two identities — when he started up the company, “Craig Barth” was an alias that he came up with to keep his public and company personas separate, and it’s only when “Craig Barth” started getting quoted that trouble arose.

Whatever the truth (and Kennedy doesn’t actually seem to care anyway — he claims the whole identity reveal is an attack on him by Microsoft, and that he’s living out the rest of his days on the beach), this whole episode has me thinking about fake identities online. They’re so easy to create — signing up for a Gmail address, a domain with hosting, and a Paypal account is almost enough to make a company out of whole HTML these days — and they seem so easy to keep anonymous that when a situation presents itself where you might want to keep one reputation separate from another, why not be “Craig Barth” instead of Randall Kennedy?

But that’s the key here — your identity is your reputation, and while a fake identity may allow you to escape some of your own actions or words some of the time, I’d like to think that even on the Internet, you’ll eventually be held responsible. I can think of quite a few manufactured online identities — this kid who created an airline, Fake Steve, Ferrarro the WoW paladin, EA spouse, Belle du Jour, and so on — and in every single case, we eventually found out who was who. Sometimes, the revealed party was punished, sometimes rewarded with a book deal, but even online, the person hiding eventually had to face the light.

When I tweeted something to that effect yesterday, my colleague Eliah Hecht pointed out that we just haven’t heard about the ones who are still keeping their secrets, which is definitely true. But on a long enough scale, and especially when the identity really is used to circumvent ethical or legal constraints, I believe most major secrets come to light. We eventually found out who Deep Throat was — if a guy who can bring down the President anonymously can eventually be revealed, Joe Blogger who pretends to be as Jane Blogger doesn’t have a chance in the larger scheme of things.

That won’t stop guys like Randall Kennedy from thinking they can still get away with it. Your identity, even in this virtual age, is your reputation, and your reputation is everything. Can you keep your word? Can you be who you say that you are? Can you represent yourself in a worthwhile way, and do and post things online in a way that you’d want to be proud of, rather than hiding behind a secret identity and hoping no one finds out?

I know I’m moralizing here, and I know this could come back around in my face. Maybe someday in the future, I’ll be put in just such a situation where I think it’s easier to hide behind a fake name rather than live up to what I say and do, and I’ll eventually get caught, and someone will come back to this post and call me a hypocrite. I’d deserve it.

And so, while I hope that doesn’t ever happen, I will agree that sometimes, you need a fake identity. To use my examples from before, Fake Steve made his fortune with his, and EA Spouse and Belle du Jour probably would have never written what they’d written if not for anonymity. Brooke Magnanti, a.k.a. Belle, said that the anonymity she used “will always have a reason to exist, for writers whose work is too damaging or too controversial to put their names on.” I can’t argue with that — there are exceptions to every rule, and certainly there are times when names have to be left out if it, if not changed completely.

But I do think it’s best to try and avoid that situation if possible. Even Magnanti admits that once she came clean, it felt much better “not to have to tell lies, hide things from the people I care about.” That’s what should keep guys like Kennedy from doing what they do — not the fear of being caught or the punishment of revelation, but the gnawing feeling that you’re failing your job as a writer to tell the truth whenever you put words down. Even the people who have to hide behind a fake name shouldn’t want to. And if you’re using a fake name to hide something you’re simply not proud of (or that you can get in trouble for doing or saying), you’ve got no excuse at all.

So Mike Schramm is my name, and hopefully everything I do and say, even online, will appear under it in the future. I’ve got enough trouble keeping this reputation going — hopefully the time won’t ever arise when I need to start up a whole new one.

Before I start writing this, I just want to thank everybody for stopping by the Incredible Podcast recording the other day — we had over 100 people show up to listen, which is more than I ever expected for the first show. Just fantastic — thanks so much for your support. We’re now over in iTunes, and we’re blazing up the charts, so if you haven’t subscribed yet, please do. Even if you don’t plan to listen, it helps us out getting noticed and building up an audience (and we need all the help we can get, considering that this is as DIY an operation as it gets so far). Thanks!

On to today’s post:

Five Lessons Learned from Final Fantasy Tactics

Yes, one of the things I meant to talk about on the Incredible Podcast last weekend was the fact that I recently bought Final Fantasy Tactics to play on my Playstation 3. I’ve been jonesing, at various times, for a good old-school Final Fantasy game, a complicated strategy game, and a solid RPG, and FFT is supposed to be all three of those at once, so I figured I’d go back and give it a playthrough. There was only one problem: I am really, really bad at strategy games.

I don’t know what it is (and I don’t think it’s that I’m dumb, though you may disagree), but whenever video game choices get really hard and/or complicated, I stop paying attention. I do love me some Civ, and the factor with that seems to be that even though there’s a lot of things happening in that game, you’re really only making one choice at a time — you’re just moving a unit, adjusting a city, or setting a production queue. And there’s no time limit, obviously, so you can make choices as slow or as quick as you want. Real-time strategy games, however, have nothing but time limits — I just got into the Starcraft II beta tonight, and sure enough, I’m bad at it. Pressured to fight against an opponent, I can’t keep track of units and queues and tiers and all of the other things you need to keep an eye on when you’re playing that game.

But FFT (as well as the tactics genre in general) has elements of both — it’s basically turn-based, like Civ, but you are managing multiple units and queues at any given time. You need to control up to five characters on a tiled board, and you need to move them around in turns to variously attack enemies, heal themselves, or line up buff spells or other items or abilities. In short, I figured it was hard, but it was manageable. I would buy Final Fantasy Tactics, and learn how to strategize, even if it killed me.

And it turns out that I survived — after a weekend of playing the game, I think I have a pretty good grasp on how things work. It took me a lot of lost battles, and a lot of resetting the game, but at this point, I can survive almost anything. I’m still not great at the game — I can’t walk into a new battle and rock it unless I get really lucky — but even if things go wrong during one of the battles, I can make the right moves, use the right items and abilities, and make it out alive.

So I figured, since I spent last weekend learning as much about myself as I did about this game, that I would share some of the wisdom I gained with you. Here’s five things I learned from Final Fantasy Tactics.

1. Attacking is not always the right thing to do. Most of the winning conditions in this game are to “kill all the enemies,” so you’d think that diving in and taking them all out would be the way to go. But not at all — there are lots and lots of times in the game when it’s much wiser to make a move that doesn’t hurt the enemy. That was one of the things I learned right away — while I would see a wounded enemy and think that all I had to do to win was walk up and attack, that attack would miss, the enemy would return fire, and all of a sudden I’d be the one in danger. Once I wrapped my head around the idea that it was always better to consider my options before jumping into the fray, I got a lot better right away. Sure, it sounds obvious now, but lots of my early losses were because I went on the offensive way before I should have.

2. Let them come to you. This is a corollary to the first lesson. On some of the levels, you can see that there are actually waves of enemies — there are multiple groups of powerful, slow enemies that you’re meant to take on one group at a time, because as you’re fighting the first group, the other group will slowly be making its way toward you. If you attacked both at the same time, you’d be overwhelmed, but being patient and using the extra movement time can get you the win. Even on levels where there’s just one group, it’s almost always better to wait and buff up as the enemy comes to you rather than rush out there yourself. Allowing the enemy to try and move in first tends to put you in a much better position to react and return fire.

3. Heal up when you can. This was the other big thing I learned right away — healing makes the difference in a tactics game, because very often, your enemies don’t heal at all. So any time you can take a breather and heal up, you should probably take it. In all of the battles I’ve fought so far, there is no time limit, so taking an extra turn to finish the fight isn’t a problem (I’m sure there will be limits in the future, but first things first). Even if a character is only down a few points, those points could make the difference the next time they get attacked, so use the heal spell first, and then go in for the kill.

4. Strengths on strengths. This is actually something I learned before FFT (in other games, actually), but it’s especially applicable to a game like this: stacking strengths is often better than spreading yourself around. Especially in the case of a game where you have multiple characters with various roles, it’s better to buff up a knight’s strength with his armor and give him the sword that does extra damage (and maybe even throw a strength buff in there, too). Weaknesses are something to keep an eye on, but you can usually take care of weaknesses with other character’s strengths, so stacking in one direction as much as possible is usually more helpful.

5. Read the manual. For most of my life, I wasn’t a guy that reads manuals — whenever I got a new device or a new game, I just flipped it on and poked around until I found what I wanted. But for really complicated systems and games, I’ve learned that it pays to start at the beginning and read to the end. It takes much less time and effort to read the manual than to figure it out yourself or fix a mistake you’d otherwise make. Again, that sounds obvious to you, dear reader, because you’re smart. But it wasn’t until more recently that I figured out that’s the right thing to do, and going through the whole FFT manual and tutorial helped out a lot.

I’ve probably lost most of you by now — “Seriously Mike, you had that much trouble just playing a game?” And it’s not that I had trouble — until this weekend, I’d pick up a tactics game, play it for a few minutes, realize it was way more complicated than I wanted to deal with, and move on. But last weekend I sat down to conquer this complicated genre, and I really feel like I did. I’m about halfway done with the game now, and I already have my eye on Disgaea 3. I’m starting to see patterns in the gameplay, and as you’ve probably already figured out from this post, parallels in my life. By conquering this game, I feel like I’ve built up some new pathways in thinking, some new talents that weren’t developed before. By figuring out FFT, I’ve figured out another part of my life, and I feel like I’ve already been rewarded for it.

All that for $10 on PSN. Good deal.

I don’t do too much self promotion on this site — I figure that if you’re here, you already know me and what I do. But the reason I haven’t posted here much this week and last is because I’ve been pretty busy working on the other sites I work on, and there have been a lot of cool things I’ve done you may not have seen. So just in case you missed something, here’s some great posts I’ve done on Joystiq and TUAW lately:

Pretty good week’s worth of work, if you ask me. I’ve also been working on a brand new podcast with my friend Mark “Turpster” Turpin, and you can find the site we set up this week (well, he set it up, I only did some of the background things) over at If you are a fan of our work on the WoW Insider Show, you will want to listen for sure, and even if you don’t play WoW but want to hear me talk about things with a really funny guy, you should tune in and check it out. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I’m making the mistake yet again of apologizing for not posting on my blog, but I apologize for not posting on my blog. After a week’s worth of work like this, I end up out of ideas at the end of the day, and neither of us have any fun if I sit in front of a blank screen for an hour before closing it angrily and going to bed. I will try to think original thoughts over the weekend, and write them down for you all next week. Thanks for reading.

This Sunday. 1pm Pacific (which I think is 9pm GMT). Somewhere on Ustream. Turpster and I are returning to the virtual airwaves together. We’ll be doing a weekly podcast, and while I can tell you it won’t be a podcast only about World of Warcraft, it will be something cool. We haven’t even figured out a name yet The podcast’s name is the Incredible Podcast of Amazing Awesomeness (yes, it is — we figured we’d go a little lower key on the name than we expect the actual podcast to be), and it’ll be us, it’ll be fun, and you will enjoy it. I’m looking forward to it, even though I’m kind of scared to jump in and do something off on our own, without a big site behind us. But we have one requirement: as long as it’s a good time, we’ll do it. We’ll definitely need some emails to read during the first show, so if you have emails for us, please send them along to — that’s what we’ll use until we set up a proper email inbox.

This Sunday, 1pm. Be there, and by there, I mean here — I’ll have a link to our Ustream page by then.

Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve found interesting in the World of Warcraft this past week (actually two, since I was at Macworld and busy last week):

  • Sex advice from World of Warcraft players. This is silly, but what it showed me more than anything is that “Warcraft players” is a huge group of people. Giving them advice about anything, from spec builds to sex positions, is a tough thing to do, just because there are so many different kinds of people in the group that they’re tough to box up.
  • Blizzard announced today that they’ve given $1.1 million to the Make-a-Wish foundation thanks to the sales of the Pandaren in-game pets, and my friend at the OC (don’t call it that) Register was on the scene. Apparently Samwise was drawing characters for one of the MaW kids (awesome!) and they had a big check and everything. Plus, though I could have only told you about Ezra, Blizzard has actually hosted eight different Make-a-Wish kids. Good for them. The cynical side of me wonders what they could have done if they had donated all of the earnings from the Pandaren to charity (instead of just the half), but that’s just the cynical side. Also, boggle at the fact that over 220,000 players bought the Pandaren, one of only two pets to show up on the store that day. Just think what they’ll do with these. Blizzard has yet another money printing press, and it doesn’t even require them to develop a game.
  • Pike is the latest WoW blogger to let the account lapse. I still have my account (though I’ve been too busy to play over the past week or so), and I’m not going anywhere, but we are definitely moving into the hibernation period of the game, with all of the Wrath content out and competitors like Star Trek Online (and even Starcraft II, which opened up a private beta today) knocking at the door. I’m too good at hedging my bets to call it quits, but I will say that Cataclysm represents a big challenge for WoW. Their goal will be to get WoW players who’ve quit once or twice already interested in the game yet again, and the fact that most of their new content will be revamped versions of old content will be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, maybe people who actually miss the Barrens will find new things to do there again. But on the other hand, who actually misses the Barrens?
  • Turns out Blizzard is splitting up with Upper Deck. Lots of people are saying that this has something to do with the Yu-Gi-Oh thing, but really, I’m sure it has more to do with sales and interest — even at GenCon last year, interest in the WoW TCG was way down, and they were even canceling events at the end of 2009. I don’t think Blizzard will start it all up again with a new vendor, though — I think, from the rumors I’ve heard for a while, that they’ll start it up in a completely new way. Probably not one involving a separate company, or those pesky actual paper cards…
  • Larisa wrote a post about Blizzard’s guild program, and her guesses are true: the whole thing is super shady. There’s way more interaction between developers and the top guilds in the game than most people realize. The developers have multiple tools to watch and see what’s going on in the game’s dungeons, and so when they see anything strange or interesting, odds are that they’re either there in an invisible (or even visible) form, or looking through the many logs that Blizzard keeps about what’s happening on the servers. I’ve heard stories from the developers about how on the night after a patch release, all they do is follow guilds through the content, taking notes on what they’re doing and what should be fixed. On a 25-man raid the night after a given release, it’s very likely that you’ve got 5-10 folks on Blizzard campus right there in the raid following along with you. The other reason it’s shady is that communication goes both ways — I won’t say these high level guilds are cheating on the live servers (at least not any more — there was a time when Blizzard would provide server transfers and character re-customization to free to some high level guilds, even before the public could do that for pay), but on the test servers, anything goes. And Blizzard is running any number of test or mirror or special event servers at any given time, not just the ones we see when we log into the test realms.
  • These are great.
  • You’ve all seen this, right? The lyrics are iffy, but I love the camera work and the voices. Very well done.

And that’s all I got for now — there are about 500 more posts sitting in my RSS reader about Warcraft, but I don’t have time to sift through two weeks of stuff at the moment. Stay tuned on Sunday though — we will discuss WoW and lots of other things. If you have something you want to us to answer, discuss, or make fun of, please do email me about it!

I know, I know, I am neglecting my duties here. I have a few different bits of pressure on me lately, some of which I can’t go into, but I will say that I got a little cold, along with a lot of experience, during my trip to San Francisco last week, so I don’t have all the energy to put into writing something good. Or even something, really — you readers know I don’t always even shoot for “good” on this site anyway.

I guess the most momentous thing that has happened to me lately is that I won my bowling league. Well I didn’t win — we did. Two other nice folks and I (who had never met before — we got teamed up together at the start of the league about three months ago) somehow picked up the most points in the league overall, and so earlier this week we were awarded the biggest trophies they had, along with a little magnet that says “USBC league champion.” We did this mostly by having a great handicap — I’m not sure how exactly a handicap makes the game fair, but the way it works is that you’re awarded a number of extra points per week depending on your average, so that lower scoring players are evened out with those who have more experience. My math is terrible, but I guess we were the lowest scoring players of all, so we won.

No, I’m joking, we did pretty well. But most of our victories were simply victories against our average, not actually victories against the other teams. On the last week, we had to win only one point, and on the last of three games that night, I just happened to score 30 points above my average, securing us the victory. It was fun to win, but my biggest worry was actually not celebrating all that much — the other team bowled really well, and we only beat them because of our handicaps.

But just as I didn’t want to be a poor sport by celebrating too much, I also didn’t want to be a poor sport by refusing a victory, so I took the trophy home. It’s quite an accomplishment for me — as I twittered last week, I don’t think I’ve ever actually won at anything even remotely athletic. I’ve competed and accomplished things requiring physical prowess before (and now that I think about it, I guess I’ve contributed to team victories). But winning? Not usually my thing.

And apparently it didn’t appeal to me too much — after much deliberation, I finally told our league organizer and my teammates this past week that I wouldn’t be back during the next bowling league season. I joke about retiring as all-time champion (and certainly it’s probably more fun, if not very sporting, to go out on a win), but really I just want to try something else. Sure, I joined the bowling league to meet people, and I did meet a lot of nice people, but really I just joined a bowling league because I’d never joined a bowling league before. And now, I have — next season wouldn’t be quite as original.

I’d rather do something else — I’m thinking that I’ll take a class of some kind, either an improv or acting class, or a cooking class. I’ve been meaning to learn about wines for a while, maybe I’ll do that.

Maybe I’ll even win a trophy.

Hey folks. Sorry I didn’t get a video up this weekend — my Saturday consisted of me running errands, and my Sunday consisted of making some food and watching the Super Bowl with my family, so I didn’t really do anything that you’d want to watch.

I’m really looking forward to this week: tonight is the last night of my bowling league, and the way I see it, we only have to win one game out of three tonight to win the whole thing. So hopefully we’ll be able to pull that off. After that, I’m racing home and packing up for my first trip ever to San Francisco. I’ve never been up there before, and I’m driving up the tomorrow morning.

I’m going up there to cover Macworld for TUAW. I’m not sure what to expect at all. I’ve been to many conferences before, and I’ve covered almost as many as I’ve been to, but I’ve never been to a Macworld before, and I’ve never worked with the TUAW team. This one should be interesting — it’s a weird year for Macworld (Apple isn’t actually there, long story), but TUAW is going all out. We’ll be livestreaming video and posting coverage nonstop on our official Macworld page, so keep an eye there this week if you’re interested in Apple computers and iPhones, and you’ll probably see me doing some interviews and demos.

Other than that, it’s always fun to meet new people at a convention (and to hit up all of the PR parties in the evenings). Posting here may be slim, but I’ll try to keep you in mind, dear readers, and maybe get a picture or a little text your way when I can. I’ll be back to full steam here next week.

Thanks as always for reading. Hope your week is as good as I think mine will be!

Memory 02.05

I took a break from reading A General Theory of Love to read World War Z, but now I’m back on the emotional psychology, and it’s just as interesting as it was earlier. The part of the book I’m reading is talking all about memory, and the role it plays in emotions, and the point that they make is that there is no emotion without memory. We only have feelings for others because we remember them, and it’s that memory, that continuity of feelings and senses and thoughts, that makes up our emotions and relationships.

Pretty interesting stuff. In one sense, it’s awfully freeing — we are constantly creating memories, and constantly taking in what we see and comparing it to what we’ve seen before. The book talks about how we actually remember things, and says that we’re not only explicitly learning things (“1+1=2,” and all of the other things you remember from school), but that we’re constantly and unconsciously implicitly learning how the world works around us. Whether it’s a brand new video game that you’re deciphering the rules to, or a new person that you’ve met multiple times, we’re constantly unconsciously picking up cues and storing them away. You learn that if Mario eats that flower, he can throw fire, or that the person you just met also used to be really into Tori Amos, and millions of other little ideas and facts and even wordless emotions that we’re storing away for a future time.

That’s pretty impressive — we’re all doing that, all the time. When you think of just how incredible and powerful our minds all are, and that we’re feeding each other information and emotional feedback in concert all the time, you start to get a big picture view of just why humanity is so strange and so wild and so amazing.

But memory is also a chain. As much as it tells us, both about ourselves and the world around us, it also ties us down into what we’ve known before. If every time you touch a hot stove, you get hurt, you’ll remember not to touch the stove again. But what if it’s a coincidence that the few times you touched the stove, it was hot? What if the cues you get, and the things you learn, are wrong? We’d never know — everything we know and feel comes from our own memories, and even in the face of absolute clear reason, our memories are what dictate our actions and emotions.

The book doesn’t talk much about this yet (and maybe it will — I haven’t finished it), but I had a memory float up from the murk today that came unbidden, that just rose up in my head unrequested, spawned by something random that I saw or happened to come across. And once it was there, I couldn’t get it out.

My life has changed a lot lately. But then I again I guess that’s what happens when you live long enough — I also read today that as you get older, time means less because you’ve lived through more of it. Nevertheless, I thought maybe that I was a completely different person, that the now was what mattered, and that the before didn’t affect me, wasn’t really a part of me any more.

But of course it was. One memory, and it was all back — the same thoughts, the same feelings, the same emotions and oft-traveled mental ground. Our memories can help us learn all kinds of new things, and they serve (well) as our compiled realms of knowledge, vast libraries of storage about all we’ve seen and all we know so far. But man, they are powerful in the other direction, too. One thought, hidden away for years, can set us right back into old thinking and patterns.

Time once again to share a few things that I’ve found interesting in the World of Warcraft this past week. Including this Horde-etched shot glass, which is only $5 over on Etsy.

  • There’s a rumor going around that BlizzCon is being held in Anaheim later this year, which is probably true, but as I’ve always said, there is no BlizzCon until Blizzard says so. Everything I’ve seen of that event is that Blizzard does it both as a favor and an afterthought for the community — they lose money on it, they don’t waste time planning anything for it until a few weeks ahead of time, and when the time actually comes to host it, it’s completely barebones. They pay to outsource most of the work, and/or they use call center employees as volunteers for most of the staff members. If there is another BlizzCon, I’ll be there — they’re a great time, and it’s awesome to see all of the community people in person. But all of this worrying over whether there will be another one or not, or where it will be, is much ado over nothing. There is no BlizzCon until Blizzard decides so.
  • On the other hand, Blizzard did reveal this week that they’re planning on integrating the Auction House into the Armory (in both its online and mobile incarnations) in a “premium” way. Now that is fascinating — obviously we’ve wanted to have an iPhone app that accesses mail or the AH for a long time, but the fact that they’re going “premium” (which is a code word for they’re charging) is new. I wonder how much they’ll charge — I can’t imagine it would be more than 99 cents or so, maybe up to a maximum of $5 if they’re offering some serious functionality, meaning something like access to the inventory, ways to schedule auctions, and so on. I would never buy any virtual goods with real cash, but I would spend some real money on real functionality, and creating a market for mobile apps under the Blizzard banner could be a cottage industry. A mobile chat client would probably sell, as would an online minigame for Starcraft 2 or Diablo 3 that affected the main game in some way. And while free apps would have to justify their existence (to take away from development time, and so on), paid apps fund themselves. Very interesting. We’ll have to see what Blizzard offers.
  • Oh, and the Lich King is dead, but I don’t care. I’m not sure why — Arthas was a pretty epic storyline. But the ending, spoiled by that cinematic that leaked out, feels cheap somehow. It’s funny — at this point, Blizzard must realize that there’s a flip side to including epic cinematics in their games. On the one hand, they want to have epic events feel epic, and putting together a cinematic is a good way to do that. Obviously, they’ve invested a lot in a team that will help them do that often. On the other hand, cinematics are very easily extracted and leaked out on to YouTube, which means that the most epic events in the expansion were seen by everyone even before the patch finished installing for most of us. I wonder if they’re trying to think of another way to keep epic lore epic (seen by only those who’ve unlocked the moments in-game), or if they’re already programming cinematics in expecting that they’ll be seen by everyone when the patch drops.
  • Now that Arthas is dead, of course, we can probably expect the usual post-expansion valley of interest, at least until Cataclysm fever really takes off in a few months. Don’t forget my prediction, though: I still think we’ll have a full content patch (rep, daily quests, instances) worth of world event material to bring on the Cataclysm with. I don’t think Blizzard will let us sit around for long before some serious Cataclysm happenings start up in the actual game.
  • In game, I’m still mostly just doing random pickup groups, and I’ve found, like Gevlon and Rohan, that groups are extraordinarily patient. I’ve tried to start some group kicks, and I haven’t been kicked myself (yet), but I’ve found that it’s very hard to get anyone kicked for underperforming or even being a pain. That’s probably a good thing — I know I’m often underperforming, and I’m probably a pain as well — but it’s interesting. For all of their reputation about WoW players being jerks to each other, when it comes to random in-game groups, people are actually pretty forgiving. Either that, or they just don’t want to wait for another tank to come through the system and get ready and buffed.
  • Some excellent Warcraft wallpapers over here.
  • Zath (whoever that is) is running a competition for some WoW gear, and I think all I have to do is mention the contest on my blog. So there you go. If I win, I’ll give the prize away here.
  • This is a good question — Blizzard doesn’t always (well, hasn’t ever, actually) made it clear what symbols and flashes and spell sounds are which. Of course, there is a graphic and/or a sound for every single spell, and if you play WoW a lot (which, if you play WoW, is probably how you play it), you can just listen to a raid and hear the rogue hitting their cooldowns, the mage casting their fireballs, and the shaman spitting out Chain Heal. But for players who don’t play (or raid) as often, I wonder if there’s any way to make that a little easier. It might be interesting to see a wiki or something (or a part of WoWWiki) that matches up spell animations and sounds with the spells themselves, sort of a quick reference guide for what kinds of casting are going on.
  • Finally, here are some Healthstone soaps. They look like they smell terrific. If you know what I mean.

That’s it! Until next week, happy Warcraft-ing!

Sorry, I’ve been busy this evening — I watched Groundhog Day to celebrate, and then I saw the Lost premiere (which I’d like to write about, but which I don’t want to spoil for anyone, so I’ll wait). And now, it’s late already, and I’m too tired to write anything.

Instead, enjoy this rap about the movie Aliens.

The Grammys were last night, and there are lots and lots of food trucks in LA that I’ve been meaning to try. Can you tell which is which?

LA food truck or Grammy-winning song title?

1. Vesuvio

2. Hot N Cold

3. Let’s Be Frank

4. Marked 5

5. Ego

6. Twang

7. Nom Nom

8. Pretty Wings

9. Umami

10. White Horse

Food trucks: 1, 2, 4, 7, 9
Grammy winners: 2, 5, 6, 8, 10 is cc 2004-2006 Mike Schramm.
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