Archive for March, 2012

-I have to go get a haircut, just because if I don’t, I’m probably not getting another one for a month. And given that I’ll probably meet a lot of foreigners overseas, I should really look my best.
-I need to do laundry. I’m only packing a few days of clothes, but almost all of them are dirty, and if I clean everything, I can pick my favorites to bring with me.
-I need to stop by CVS and pick up a few extras: Toothbrush, first aid kit, maybe some soap. Have to make sure I can bring whatever I buy on the plane, otherwise I’ll just buy it when I get there.
-Have to sign some checks to pay bills and rent for the month that I’m gone. Just because I won’t be living here in America doesn’t mean I don’t have to pay for Internet, phone, and the apartment, unfortunately.
-I have two improv shows tomorrow evening, and my team is hosting the night at IO West. So after everything else is done, I’ll drive over to Hollywood and do those.

-This is packing day — I’ve already got my Tom Bihn Brain Bag all ready to get packed up, but on Saturday I’ll take some time making sure I’ve got room for everything, and making sure that the bag isn’t too heavy to haul through the world’s airports and train stations. I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to ditch it from time to time when I go touristing, but at worst I’ll need to just carry it on my back, so it’ll have to be as light as possible. Saturday morning is where I’ll probably make my final cuts in terms of what’s going.
-I need to run and make some final safety copies of my documents, just in case.
-And I need to stop by the bank, and see if I can get some money. Probably some British pounds to start. Pounds of what? I don’t know.
-Later on Saturday evening, some friends and I are getting together for dinner, and I’ve got one more improv show, and then probably drinks after that. It’s a going away party of sorts, but I’m only going away for a month.

-I’ll have to cook breakfast — I’ve tried to time out my spoilable foods in order to clean out the fridge before I leave, but we’ll see how this works. I don’t want to have to throw out uneaten eggs if I don’t have to, but that’s probably better than leaving them alone for a month.
-Hopefully by this point I’ll be all packed. I might do a Tipoaa podcast on Sunday morning if T is around, or maybe I’ll just record a video to show you all what my setup looks like. Other than that, hopefully everything will be taken care of by then, so I’ll probably just hang around, clean the house up before I go, feel nervous, and try to get some work done.
-My flight on Virgin America actually leaves at 5:45 in the evening. I’ve never checked in to an international flight, so I’ll probably give it a few hours and bring a book. So around 2, my friend will probably pick me up from the apartment. I’ll show him the place, give him my keys so he can come get mail and make sure it hasn’t burned down every few days or so, and then we’ll go to LAX.
-I’ll check in, board the plane, read, sleep, and work for the better part of a day from a plane seat.

And then twenty or so hours later, around noon British Standard Time on Monday, I’ll arrive at Heathrow. I have a hostel to check in to that evening, and then goal number one will probably be to deal with the jetlag.

As I’ve said, I’ll be writing here on the blog every day during my trip. I am bringing a camera for videos and stills as well, and I’ll probably embed some maps as well. In fact, let’s try one. Here’s where we’ll be doing the meetup in London next Friday:

View Larger Map

Pretty snazzy! In short, stay tuned — you’ll be able to follow me wherever I go. I’m nervous already for this trip, but I know that it’s really going to be something wild and wonderful. Three days left.

Well there you go.

After eight months of working on my free time on nights and weekends, I am proud to finally announce that Apple has approved my iPhone game Antithesis, and it is now available to download from the store itself. In fact, you may have already seen it — I’ve been Twittering about it all day long, and both Touch Arcade and AppAdvice have kindly put together posts about it:

“The concept for the game is cool too. It’s a Pong battle, so to speak, where you control a black paddle and defend against a stream of black balls, while an AI-controlled white paddle does the same. The line in the middle shifts back and forth between both sides depending on who is playing better in a series of waves. Like most game jam titles, it isn’t the deepest game in the world, but it’s really cool reading the whole process and seeing the game in various stages of development then finally playing the end product.”
Touch Arcade

“Although I have yet to experience Antithesis fully, it looks like the perfect game to pass the time. Besides, Schramm’s very funny iTunes page alone makes the game something to consider.”

How great is that? I am a guy who writes about iPhone games who has had people kind enough to write about my iPhone game? And now I’m writing about their writing about my iPhone game! IPHONE WRITINGCEPTION!

On a serious note, I am really glad to have this released. Over the last year, I have had two big goals to try and meet: The first one was to finally release my ebook, and I did that with The Shape of Teeth a little while ago. And the second was to actually turn this game, with my limited coding knowledge, into something I was proud of releasing, and get it approved by Apple. Ladies and gentlemen, done and done. Thank you so much for all your support — if you want to play Antithesis, you can download it from Apple’s App Store now. The next goal is going to Europe for the first time, and my plane leaves on Sunday.

I have a few things to tell you about the game: First, there is one bug so far, and that is that I messed up the sorting option on the leaderboards. There are two of them, one for the longest time the game’s been played, and one for the most cycles survived (play the game if you haven’t yet to figure out what those two things mean). Unfortunately, I set a setting on those that counted them from the lowest score up (as in golf) instead of from the highest score down (as in baseball). Obviously I want the people who have the highest scores in those cases to be on top of the leaderboards, so I apologize — right now they’re not.

But if that’s the bad news, I have good news as well: I will fix that issue, and a few others people are having, in Antithesis 1.1! Yes, I wasn’t sure if I would bother with any updates for this app, because I wasn’t sure how people would react to it. But the response has been great already, and so my very next goal will be to get out a point version update.

In addition to the leaderboard fixes, the update will include fixes a few other issues people are having (there’s an issue with backgrounding the app that should be fixed as well). I’d also like to add an options screen, because quite a few people have asked for a “Right hand mode” to play it from the other side. Multiplayer seems a little hard for me to actually promise right now (though there’s a chance I may still try to work it out), but I can promise one more big thing for 1.1: Universal iPad support. I went back and forth about supporting the iPad before release, and in the end decided I was basically just done with the app and wanted to get it out. But because people have been so interested and because people have asked for it, I will go ahead and put in the extra few hours it will take to get the game running the way it should on the iPad.

I have also had a few other ideas already, and I’m generally a much better coder now than when I started the game, so you can probably expect a few more fun surprises in the 1.1 update as well. The one caveat is that you will need an Online Pass subscription to play it, but fortunately for you I’m just kidding. It will be completely free to anyone who’s bought the app.

Thanks again for your support. If you haven’t yet bought the app and you have an iPhone (or an iPad — remember, universal support is coming, and the game is plenty playable now at 2x), please do buy it. And if you have bought it, please drop me a rating and/or a review in iTunes. Really appreciate it. Enjoy the game!

Every once in a while, I ask for questions on my Twitter and Facebook accounts, and then post the answers here. I’ve got two big things going on in my life this week. First up, the first product of my programming hobby is finally arriving on the App Store: A game I put together called Antithesis is coming out as soon as this evening. You can see the beginnings of the project right over here, and I’ll put another post together on it when it finally releases.

Second, of course, as I’ve been blogging about lately, I’m headed to Europe — getting on a plane on Sunday and going to London, Paris, Berlin, Munich, and Amsterdam. So here are some answers to your questions about both of those things:

@stefanhayden asks, (regardless of either of those subjects): What are your top concerts you want to see before you die?

I always wanted to see The Police in concert, and I lamented for a long time when I was a teenager that they had broken up. Then they got back together, and when they announced they were coming to Wrigley Field when I lived just about three blocks from there, the only tickets I could find were about $200. I probably should have just paid. I did buy the DVD of that tour, and it’s great to watch, but I do kind of regret I haven’t ever seen them.

Other than that, I don’t know — I’ve been to Lollapalooza to see Nine Inch Nails, Rage Against the Machine, and Radiohead all in the space of just three days. That’s probably as good as concerts will ever get for me. As for bands I’ve been listening to lately, I wouldn’t mind seeing The Shins or The Decemberists perform. I’ve never seen Tom Petty — that would be cool. But I’ve already seen most of the bands I really love: Bad Religion, Cake (so many times), Guster, Okkervil River, and so on.

@markusn (who helped me out immensely on this game, and is thanked in the credits) asks: Is Antithesis a game about relationships?

Antithesis isn’t that great a game, to be honest. I feel kind of bad — people are telling me that they’re excited to play it, and I think people will like it, but if you expect it to be something really awesome, like Journey or Jetpack Joyride or any really serious great games, then you’ll be disappointed. The whole point of the project was to help me learn how to develop games, and then actually publish one on the App Store, and to that extent, it’s been an overwhelming success. I haven’t even sold a copy, and it’s been a really great experience for me.

All of that said, if you want me to put my philosophical game critic hat on for a second and wax elegantly about what Antithesis is, I would say it’s a metaphor for life. (slight spoilers here, if there is such a thing for this game…) It’s troubling and confusing at first — you do the best you can and hope that’s what you’re supposed to do. Then things get complicated, and you get under attack in ways you didn’t think you could. You learn to fight back, and you actually have some success at first, but eventually you discover that there is no winning, really. The game ends, and you find that even though you basically lost, you have a strange peace with that. After all, you’ll do better next time, right?

I have a lot more to say about the design of Antithesis, and I’ll be doing that in a few different places going forward. And oh man, wait until you see my next project. I will say right now: There is a small easter egg in Antithesis that reveals what I’m working on next. I have very little faith that anyone will actually find it.

@philhassey asks: What was the funnest bit about making the game? was this your first game ever?

The funnest bit about making the game was the moment I first put it in other people’s hands. While I was making it, I didn’t actually have an Apple developer account — I did everything in the iOS simulator in Apple’s Xcode app. I did show it a few people then, but they didn’t really get it — the mouse/touchpad on my Macbook Pro was just a standin for the actual touchscreen, and while I was able to play it, nobody else was.

About three months ago, though, I finally had the app working the way I wanted it to, and I paid the $100 you need to pay to actually become an Apple developer and run your code on the iPhone itself. I loaded up my code and went to meet my friend Mark Alderson for lunch, and I offered him the chance to be the first outside of me to actually play the game.

The second I put that device in his hands, I was astounded. Some things I thought would be completely unclear he picked up on right away, and things that I thought would be the easiest to get across, he didn’t understand at all. Bugs that I didn’t think anyone would ever notice, he found immediately. And while the whole experience was probably pretty mundane to him, for me, it was amazing. It was like actual telepathy — I had spent months basically putting these ideas and these mechanics together in my head, and watching him play, I actually got to see the signal coming back.

Since then, of course, I’ve shown it to maybe fifty or sixty people, and it’s gotten to the point where I’ve memorized, almost to the second, what people are thinking when they play the game. A lot of the issues Mark had, I’ve fixed. And some of the issues people have had, I just decided to leave in, not because I was necessarily lazy, but because I thought they got it right. I do think that the game, as is, does what I want it to do. It could probably be better, yes, but I think it’s communicating my thoughts in a pretty accurate way, and finding that point was really, really fun.

Here’s my entire game design resume:

  • I learned to program in Color Basic for my old Tandy Color Computer. I remember writing an app once for one of my babysitters that would ask her name, and when she typed it in, the computer would return, “HELLO DANA! HOW ARE YOU?” She was so thrilled with that, and you could probably credit that evening with my hot babysitter as one of the reasons I love computers so much.
  • I wrote an address book app for a Basic class in elementary school. My teacher was so impressed he asked me to help teach the class. No one ever used the app, but it did take addresses, and then save them to and from a floppy drive.
  • I also once programmed a text adventure game on my TI-82 calculator. Yes, a text adventure game. Yes, a calculator. No one but me ever played it, and it’s been lost to history. But I do remember drawing up a map and actually programming in room descriptions and even a few puzzles for the text adventure. You could move north, south, east, or west, and I believe the final puzzle was standing in front of a big tree near my high school and typing “YELL PASSWORD” to get into the final room.
  • After that, I didn’t really do any programming until around 2008 or so. I have read a few books over the years — I once tried to learn C++ — but none of them ever took. But I always had it in the back of my head as something I’d really like to do, not necessarily as a job, but definitely as a hobby.
  • A friend and I were sitting around and made a card game (for use with a standard playing deck) called Bombs a few years ago. Maybe someday I’ll turn that into a video game.
  • Last year, I finally started trying to get serious about game design — I made a few games using a few simple scripting programs. After that, I started reading up on Cocos 2D, and I have a few prototypes that I made that I haven’t really gotten to pan out yet (though I may someday try to actually make them — there’s a few good ideas there).
  • And finally, I went to 360iDev last year, first and foremost to cover it for TUAW, but secondarily with the idea that I would join the Game Jam and actually try to get a game prototype going. I did a fair amount of work that weekend on the game that would eventually become Antithesis, but it was still in a barely playable state at that point. After that, I spent most of my spare time in the last four months of last year and the first three months of this year trying to get the code working right. I would say that I actually had the game done right around GDC this year, and then most of the work after that has just been making sure everything works for the App Store.

So I don’t know — Antithesis is definitely my first published game, my first thing I’ve made out of code that I’m selling to people. But I’ve had a long history of unsuccessful coding, and the recent run with Objective-C and iOS development has taken me at least a couple of years to actually figure out. Speaking of…

@steeljaw asks: How did you get started developing for the iPhone? Any tutorials/online training?

Oh man, I tried everything. Here’s how you learn to code for iOS, starting from zero knowledge at all:

1) Learn Objective-C. If you don’t know anything about computers, you probably have to go back even further than this, maybe learning Ruby or some other relatively easy programming language. Technically, I started by learning BASIC way back when I was a kid. But that’s procedural programming, not object-oriented programming, and that’s been my biggest issue with all this stuff so far. So yes, learn Objective-C, probably from this book. Buy it, read it a few times, and do all the exercises in it.

2) Learn how to use Xcode. If you just want to make an iPhone app, you can use Apple’s Interface Builder to create all of the buttons and menus and things, and that is a whole lot easier, let me tell you, than actually coding your own game. This book is another good one to read a few times, and it will definitely help with how Apple has you doing development and how to hook into Apple’s operating systems. It’s funny — you learn Objective-C using variables like “x” and “index,” and then once you actually break open the sample code in Xcode, everything is actually an NSNumber or an NSInteger. There’s theoretical programming (which is what you learn from that first book, when all of your variables are clear and clean), and then there’s the reality (which is what you learn from Cocoa Programming, when most of your code is just calls to pre-built methods and properties). So yes, learn how Objective-C should work first, and then learn how it actually works.

3) If you want to make a game, you’ll probably be using Cocos2D, which is what I used, and what I’m using on my next project, and is generally the standard for 2D (and even some 3D) games on iOS. You can’t really jump in here if you’re really a beginner — I tried, and got completely lost before I had to back up and start over again a few times. It’s relatively simple to do once you figure out all of that NSInteger stuff from Xcode, but again, you need that theory before anything else. If you do want to learn Cocos2D, Ray Wenderlich’s site is just incredible. That guy is amazing, and I probably can’t count how many great app developers he’s probably responsible for.

4) Finally, two pieces of advice, one theoretical and one practical. The practical one first: Take a class! I only took one class throughout this whole ordeal, but I probably should have taken way more. For me, actually hearing this stuff out of the mouth of a human being was extremely helpful. A friend of mine, who also taught herself programming, told me that she just went to a local college and audited a few classes for free, and I really wish I’d thought of that before I bought all of these books and started doing all of this reading. If you really don’t know how to program, definitely consider taking a class, because having people around you is probably way less frustrating than what I actually did.

Second: Don’t stop, ever. I think programming is intrinsically frustrating: You write some code, hit run, and then what you really wanted to happen doesn’t. Usually, it breaks apart spectacularly. And while it is exciting to finally get your program doing something right, realistically you never actually get that “aha!” moment. Most of the time, you just realize how stupid you’ve been, fix the problem, and then the computer smugly does exactly what you wanted all along, no apology at all for those hours you just wasted. In other words, don’t give up — it’s tough, and if you really want to do this stuff, you just have to keep doing it. When I first started, I strategically picked and planned out my time programming, trying to work on exactly the right thing to help me learn. But I’ve since learned that’s all bunk: I learn a ton no matter what I’m doing. So I don’t worry about it any more — I just sit down to program, and then do whatever I want.

Sorry, this is really long! But only a few more left:

@JssSandals asks: Are you going to Belgium, specifically Bruges? If so go to Cambrinus, it has 400 beers available & tasty food.

I don’t know exactly where I’m going in Europe yet — right now, I have the first week planned in terms of where I’m staying, and after that it’s one big blank. I do want to get to London, and Paris, and Berlin and Munich and Amsterdam, and I presume there’ll be plenty in those cities for me to see already. BUT, if you have a day or two in Europe and don’t mind coming to pick me up and drive me around, I will happily go wherever you recommend. I’m open. I don’t know where Bruges is or how far it is from Germany or Holland. But Google Maps tells me it’s kind of in between those two? If you want to come give me a ride, I will happily buy the beer. Not all 400, but at least a few!

@Nicktv asks: What is the price going to be for Antithesis? Pretty excited for it!

So here’s the thing: I was originally just going to release the game for free. I really just wanted to make an app and release it, and I didn’t want to take money from anyone for it.

Then, development took way longer than I thought, and was pretty frustrating. Plus, I paid $100 for the developers’ account, so I’m already down $100. And the new iPad came out, and I want a DSLR camera. So there’s that. Plus, I’m going to Europe, and probably paying for 400 beers. So now I kind of want some money. Not a lot — it’ll be 99 cents.

I don’t expect to sell that many copies, to be honest — someone at GDC told me I’d probably sell about 20, and I think that’s probably about right. I’m not promoting the app or advertising it or anything. I will send promo codes out to a few of my fellow app reviewers, but really only because I know them, not because I want this thing reviewed. I have no idea what Touch Arcade would say about my app officially — I bet it wouldn’t be very nice.

But I could definitely see an argument that says I’m crossing a line here releasing this thing as a developer, given what I do for a living (basically, write about games and iOS). I don’t know. Obviously, I think I can be objective with apps that I’m technically competing against. And while yes, you could argue that I have helped make the App Store popular with my writing and thus shouldn’t try to profit from it, I would argue that Apple didn’t need me to make the App Store popular. My editors have agreed with me — I believe I will even be writing a post on TUAW about what I learned from the whole process, though obviously it will have a clear disclaimer that I am the developer of the app in question.

So if you want to yell at me for crossing a line by releasing an app, go ahead. I’ve thought about it a lot, and I feel that I’ve been careful and will continue to be so, and that releasing an app won’t hurt my objectivity when talking about Apple, the App Store, or any other apps. But yes, Antithesis is going to be 99 cents at launch. In the (very, very, very) unlikely scenario that it blows up Angry Birds-style and I make way more money than I think it was worth, I will probably drop it to free.


@prenden2 asks: Are there any travelling-in-Europe clichés that you’re looking forward to recreating? Holding up the Leaning Tower pics, etc.

Honestly, I’m kind of looking to avoid most of the European trip cliches. I will see the Eiffel Tower and all of London’s famous sights, but I’m more interested in soaking in the culture — sitting in the cafes working (and coding) on wi-fi, and just walking the streets to see just how different they are from the streets I’ve lived all my life on. The one exception is that I am definitely going to 221B Baker Street as soon as I possibly can. I know it’s a tourist trap, and I know nothing actually happened there. But Arthur Conan Doyle and his detective have had such an impact on my life that I have got to hit that tourist trap right away. I am really excited about that one.

Oh, and smoking weed in Amsterdam.

I’m kidding! I don’t do drugs. If I did, I probably wouldn’t post about it on the Internet anyway.

To tell you the absolute truth: I’m a little scared.

I’ve reached the point here where most of the events I’m starting to hear about are all happening in April. On Facebook, I’m getting invites to parties and shows, and in my email I’m hearing about work events to demo a game or hit up a convention. And it’s starting to become very apparent to me that if anything happens in the United States of America in April of 2012, I won’t be a part of it. I’ll be overseas, farther away that I’ve ever been from my stuff, my friends, my world, and my life.

And to be honest, that’s a little scary. I wouldn’t say that I planned this trip on a whim — I’ve wanted to do this for over twenty years, and it was almost eight months ago now that I actually decided to make the leap on April 1. But at the same time, there’s really no pressing reason for me to go. I’m going just because I want to, just because I’ve never done anything like this and I’ve decided it’s time. And I almost wonder if that’s presumptuous of me — if maybe the world will decide that no, it would rather keep me in Los Angeles for now.

I have this kind of feeling before almost any big trip, the thought that maybe I should just call the whole thing off and play things safe. This afternoon, I went to the bookstore to finally look through guidebooks to see if there was something I should buy or use, and the enormity of what I’m going to see in the next month hit me pretty hard. I don’t think I’ll have too many issues in England, and France, I think, is enough of a tourist destination that even without a strong knowledge of the language, I’ll probably be able to play the stupid American and make it through. Even so, that’s two full weeks — I can’t remember ever being away from home for that long since college, at least.

And after that, things will get tougher, I imagine. I’ll be headed into Germany, where I don’t speak a word of the language, where even the smallest bits of culture and tradition might be different from what I know. Amsterdam is even more foreign: I looked at the names of the streets in the guidebooks, and there’s not a “Maple” or “Main” among them. Even German streets, I know, are strasse. Amsterdam’s are things like Herengracht, Zeedijk, and Oudebrugsteeg. Oudebrugsteeg! It’s like a cat walked across the keyboard, and that’s what the street name turned out to be.

I’m scared of the usual things, too — I’m a little scared of getting lost (though I am usually good about that), and I’m scared of not having a place to stay one night, or getting robbed, or worse. I have the first week’s nights (well, the first few nights, at least) planned out in a hostel in London, and just the idea of hostels themselves seems less than safe. I worry I’ll miss something, my bag will get stolen, and I’ll lose everything. Maybe I’ll end up in the middle of a foreign city, penniless and alone. Or even worse, maybe I’ll get hurt. I can barely stay healthy in the US as it is, apparently.

And after all of that worrying, I get yet another invite from a friend, reminding me that they’re having a party right in the middle of the month, or I get invited out to go see PAX East for work, which I’ve also never gotten to see or do. Late at night, sometimes a little panic will hit me. What am I doing? Am I making the right choice here? Going on vacation is one thing. Setting out across another continent, heretofore unseen, is something else.

But I’ll conquer that fear, I’m sure. I get on the plane in exactly one week — in fact, as I write this, one week from now I’ll be hurtling in a metal tube somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. So yes, I’m a little scared. But I’m going anyway, and I’m sure, on that second flight one month after that, it’ll all have been worth it.

Here’s what I’m bringing to Europe with me:

  • A Brain Bag from Tom Bihn to carry everything in. This thing is gorgeous — I emailed Tom Bihn asking if they would help me out with a bag in return for writing a little something about them as I traveled around Europe, and they sent me this beauty of a backpack. It is perfect for what I’m planning to do: I have a bulkier suitcase (with a handle and roller wheels) that I use for traveling around to conventions and things, but I figured that would be too much of a pain to haul around the European continent with me. This backpack seems just right, though — it’s really excellent and sturdy, there are plenty of pockets and places to keep all of the stuff I’m carrying around, and it’s roomy but compact enough to put on my back if I decide it’s not safe to leave anything in the hostels where I’ll be staying most of the time. I am really looking forward to getting this bag all put together and really putting it to good use.
  • A Runnur “backpack-olier.” I bought this thing at Macworld, and it seemed like a good idea at a time — it’s a strap with a whole bunch of pockets in it and a carabiner on the bottom. It will probably either be the best idea I’ve ever had or the worst — my plan is that I will be able to leave my pack somewhere safe, and then just carry this thing around all the time, with all of my various important items stored on it. But the few times I’ve tried it on, I basically look like a goober. It’s pretty unwieldy. So I don’t know. I will probably bring it, because it might be helpful. But it may end up just living at the bottom of my backpack if it doesn’t work out.
  • My MacBook (and a power cable). I practically bought my iPad 2 last year with an eye towards taking it to Europe with me and leaving the laptop behind, but in the past few months, that idea has seemed less and less intriguing to me, to the point where I’m now planning to take the laptop and leave the iPad at home. The biggest reason is for work — I am planning on taking some time off during the trip, but much of the time I’ll still be posting things online, and of course I’ll be updating the blog here with my writing. I do have a Clamcase for the iPad, and that works relatively well, but I just don’t like typing on it nearly as much as typing directly on my MacBook. It’s weird — my iPad in theory was supposed to be a very portable computer, but in practice, it’s much more of a housecat that I expected. And the last nail in the iPad’s coffin in terms of bringing it along was that I’m hoping to spend my vacation doing some coding in Xcode, which obviously requires the laptop.
  • My iPhone. I am planning on keeping airplane mode on for the entire month that I’m gone — I have no interest in spending tons of money on phone roaming charges (unless I have an emergency need to do so). But I will use the phone as a camera, and as a games console, and as an e-reader, and for the various apps I’ve installed on it. The phone is sort of my concession — I’d like to bring the iPad for all of that stuff, but I just think it’ll be too heavy to haul around all day, and obviously the phone was built for a pocket.
  • Four days’ worth of clothes. This might be the riskiest thing I’m doing in terms of packing — I read this idea written up by Rick Steves a while ago, and I really liked it. I don’t want to haul a full month’s worth of clothes around with me, and there’s really no need to do so. What I’m going to do is pick a few good t-shirts, a collared shirt or two, three good pairs of paints, and then socks and underwear for a few days, and then that’s all I’ll carry. Steves recommended actually washing these in a sink, but I am thinking I’ll probably seek out a laundry somewhere when I need to. I really think this will be good enough to keep me going, and will keep my footprint small when I’m moving around. And of course, I plan to pick up a few pieces of clothing while there, so I’ll eventually have those, too — if I really need anything, I’ll buy it.
  • Shoes. I just recently bought some new tennis shoes, and they’re not 100% broken in, so there’s a small possibility I will take my old and very beaten up pair. But I will be walking a lot on this trip, I’m sure, and comfort is going to be important, usually moreso than looks. If I bring the new shoes, they’re pretty black and subtle, so I don’t think I’ll bother with anything more formal.
  • A few sweaters and my hoodie jacket.
  • Passport and ID, of course.
  • My 80 GB iPod. The iPhone won’t hold all my music, especially since it’s full of apps, but this guy does.
  • A notebook and pen, just in case.
  • A first-aid kit. I’m clumsy!
  • Hand wipes, tissues, and sanitizer. Other sundry toiletries — nothing the TSA won’t let me fly with.
  • Maybe my DSi and charger. It might be too much to bother carrying around, but c’mon, I need games.
  • My Canon Powershot A520. Maybe. Honestly, I don’t like this camera very much — I bought it like 8 years ago, and it’s very old and slow, and it’s only 4 megapixels. The camera on my iPhone is better than this camera, basically. But I also don’t want to go on a once-in-a-lifetime trip of Europe taking pictures with a cell phone, smart as Apple’s engineers are. I kind of wanted to buy a nice DSLR, but they run $500 at minimum, and there are a few problems with that. One, I borrowed my friend’s camera to see what it was like, and it’s just too big and bulky to really carry around all day. I’m pretty sure that I’ll break it, or get it stolen, or just stick out like a tourist. Second, I don’t really have half a grand or more to spend before this trip as it is. It’s a shame, really — I do want to get some solid pictures, but I just haven’t found any cameras of the quality I’m looking for within my price range that seem right. Maybe I will buy one before I leave still.

That’s what I already have. These things I still need to buy, and recommendations are welcome:

  • A power converter. I know outlets overseas are a nightmare, and as I said, I will be using my computer a lot, so I’ll definitely need to invest in some kind of all-in-one solution that works in France, England, Germany, and Holland at least. I don’t know if that exists, but if it does, I’ll have to find it.
  • A guidebook. I have only done a little looking for this so far — most of my research has just been online. But once over there, obviously, I don’t know how often I’ll be able to find wi-fi, and without roaming on my phone, I will probably need a good old dead tree resource for maps, finding hostels, and things like that. Honestly, I’ve been thinking I might wait on this until I get over there — I don’t know if it’s smart for me to buy a guide to all of Europe until I know exactly where I’m going to be. I may just go local, and buy guides for the specific areas I’m visiting when I get there. But we’ll see — it probably wouldn’t hurt to have at least one book with lots of info in it, just in case I get completely lost somewhere.
  • A coat. I actually don’t own a winter coat — I had a really nice one back in Chicago, obviously, but right before I left it was misplaced in a bar, and then I moved out to LA a month later. I’ve never really needed once since then. I am not sure what weather is like in Europe in April — I’m sure it’ll be a little more chilly than LA, obviously, but it’s probably Spring-esque, right? We’ll see. I’d hate to buy a big coat, bring it, and then never need it. I may just plan to buy one over there if needed.
  • Money. Well, I have money, of course, but it’s all stored up in ones and zeros right now. I need to check in with my bank and see if my regular cards will work overseas, and what the conversion rates will be like. Obviously I won’t be carrying a ton of money around all at once, but I have heard that most conversion places will charge per conversion, so I’ll have to be smart about that. Hopefully, my bank will offer a card or maybe a special account. Seems like there must be a good solution for that, right?
  • Anything else? I want to travel as light as possible, obviously, but if there’s something I’ll constantly use, it’ll probably be better for me to have it than to run around worrying about where I can buy it and with how many shillings or deutschmarks or whatever else these strange people use to purchase goods and services.

It occurs to me that this list will probably sound naive, eventually — here’s me planning for what I believe are all possible contingencies, and of course I’m sure as soon as I step off that plane (or even get on it — I’ve never flown for that long before), I’ll run into all sorts of things I’ve forgotten and have no way to deal with. But that’s the fun, I guess. That’s really what this trip will be, I expect: A series of problems that I either have prepared for and know how to solve right away, or that I have to grow and learn and figure out how to deal with right there on the spot.

I guess the fact that sounds exciting to me means I’m doing this the right way.

Oh, one more thing: I will start off the trip in London, and I’m planning to be there from April 2 (when I arrive) until I leave for Paris around April 11. If you’re in town and want to meet up, please get in touch with me, either via email ( or over on Twitter (@mikeschramm). I am looking to do all sorts of things in London town, including eat out at some great restaurants and drink a lot of beer, so if you’re interested in showing me good places to do either of those things, please let me know. I also won’t have a car, but I do want to see some of the countryside, so if you want to do some driving and touristing, I’m very interested.

And if you are free on Friday, April 6, I am planning at least one big meetup, for anyone around and available. My friend Turpster tells me that the Oxford Circus tube station at Oxford and Regent Streets is a place with some cool bars and restaurants around it, so we’re going to meet there at 5pm on Friday April 6 if you want to come out and get some dinner and drinks. I’ll be around all week, so if you can’t make that, like I said, I’m down for other stuff for sure (you can see the last post for a list of what I’m looking to do). But I think it’ll be fun to meet some lovely British people all in a big group, so come by on Friday if you can. If you can’t be there right at 5, I’ll tweet where we decide to go, so you can follow along.

Less than two weeks to go! I’m going to Europe!

So I haven’t done much planning for my trip to Europe next month (which I originally talked about in the last post, and will be writing about more, both before I leave, and then every day while I’m gone). As I explained last time, I want it to be fairly spontaneous — I want it to feel like a once-in-a-lifetime event, and since I’m going to be by myself for most of it, I want to take full advantage of not worrying about making sure someone else knows where we’re going. If I want to spend the entire day just people watching in a Paris cafe, I want the freedom to do just that.

But of course the flip side of that is that I worry that I’ll miss some things. I mean, of course I’ll miss things (there’s no way I can possibly see everything I want to see, even in a month), but I’ve certainly gone out on adventures before, even when just getting used to a new neighborhood that I’ve just moved to, and not realized that just two streets over there was a street market which was awesome, or a pizza place which would turn out to be a classic. The first time I walked up to Chicago’s Andersonville, for example, which later became one of my favorite neighborhoods, I didn’t even find the actual main drag.

So I am planning just a little bit. So far, my planning has taken the form of a list, just a wish list, of sorts, of places I’d like to go, and things I’d like to see and do. This is of course not at all complete, and every time someone recommends something to me that sounds good (or I find it recommended in a list online), I’ve added it here. So far, here’s what I have for the places I plan to visit:

things to do in london:
-221b baker street
-have a curry
-have a chinese
-go into the country for a few days (Yorkshire)
-big ben
-Globe theater
-westminster abbey
-visit dublin?
-leeds, newcastle
-shoreditch – pubs, nightclubs
-greenwitch from embankment station
-portobello market
-st. Paul’s cathedral for the view

-eiffel tower
-work/write in a cafe
-notre dame
-Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
-stroll the seine
-go into the south of france for a few days

-more bier
-grunewald (forest park)
-reichstag/holocaust memorial
-Charlottenburg gardens

-St. Peters

-Anne Frank house

Some of those things, as you can see, are pretty common. Of course I want to visit the Louvre in Paris, and yes I should probably see Big Ben at some point. But some are way more experiential. I want to drink bier, not beer, in a German biergarten. And I want to not just eat some indian curry in London, but I want to actually “have a curry,” as I understand they say there. I have no idea what I’d find, for example, in the south of France, but I know I’ve heard it’s good, and I think I’d like it there. I don’t even know if there is a spot along the Seine river where you can actually stroll it, but man I want to find one, and do it.

And the other thing that really strikes me about this list, so far, is that it basically sounds like fantasy. I might as well have written “Visit Hogwarts” or “Explore Rivendell” on here for all that these places mean to me. When I was a kid, I discovered the works of Arthur Conan Doyle in one big book, and I read that book about fifty times, marveling at Holmes’ adventures told in Watson’s past tense prose. Obviously, 221B Baker Street is probably just a tourist trap these days, a meaningless little loft where they charge you too much to see a fictional person’s apartment, but for me, just the name of that place has a huge meaning, and it’s amazing to me that I’ll get to see it in person, after reading and thinking about and dreaming about it for all these years.

The Globe Theater is another one — Shakespeare for me, is, well, Shakespeare, a legendary name attached to what probably isn’t even a real person, whose writings literally shaped the language to their own classic ends. To stand in the same square block where he actually stood? Unthinkable to me.

The age of the place throws me off as well — here in the US, the oldest buildings you’ll find anywhere are barely 250 years old. I’ve stood in Independence Hall, and smelled old wood and mold in various old houses on the East Coast. But something like Westminster Abbey was built in 1245 — that’s almost eight hundred years ago, four times as old as any building I’ve ever been in. Imagine the meaning of a place like that, the history! That’s a church that I’ve never experienced before, a whole social era that I’ve never seen with my own eyes. There are an estimated six million people buried in the Paris Catacombs. That’s twice as many as live in the city of Los Angeles itself, and nearly half as many people as live in the entire LA area. These are things that can only exist on a fictional level in my mind right now, like great stories in old fantasy books, and I’m going to see them for myself.

And finally, I don’t mean at all to make light of the Holocaust and World War 2 by suggesting that they’re not real to me — obviously these are terrible events that are a frighteningly real part of our history. But I’ve only experienced it through films: The Sound of Music, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List. What will it be like to stand in those very places that those things really happened in? I have no idea.

But I do want to go and see them. So now, I type them in on this little list in my text file. And for now, they mean almost nothing to me — a reference to a film I once saw, or an author I really liked as a kid. In less than a month, I’ll be there, and see these things. And even I couldn’t tell you right now, just what they’ll mean to me after that. is cc 2004-2006 Mike Schramm.
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