Archive for Random Thoughts

Ads

I’ve toyed with ads on the site from time to time. Right now in my RSS feed there are three ads – a Google block, a GameTap ad, and an Amazon ad for Kindle/eBooks. None of them are doing well, but that’s probably because I only have about 70 people who read that feed. On the site itself, I’ve put up Google blocks and Amazon ads, I had the GameTap ad for a little while and I’ve recently switched over to an Amazon search widget (if you use it when you start your Amazoning, I’ll get a tiny commission from anything you buy). I’ve even thought about throwing up a PayPal donation button, but I would feel terrible about that unless I have at least one semi-popular regular feature (see: Man vs Wife – no really, read it and if you enjoy it, share it with others – the more people who read it, the more I’m apt to write it).

This morning I read this article over at Pajiba. It’s worth reading to get an idea of what goes behind funding a popular website. Now, I’m not popular, but it does cost me around $200 a year to keep this place going – a cost I happily pay because I like having the outlet. Then again, I’m not very heavy on traffic. I don’t get 3+ million page views a month. I get about 800, but it is climbing as I post more regularly. I’m incredibly lucky if I earn $1 a month. My best month ever was when someone used my Amazon link and then went on to buy over $5,000 worth of electronics. No other month has even come close.

VisitChart

Pageviews vs Unique Visitors - Not many people come here, but some come twice a day.

However, one of the main things I wanted to point out from that article was the mention of ad-blockers. Yes, running ad-blocking is probably the safest thing you can do, since ads are an attack vector. However, when you do that, you are also dropping yourself from the “view” count for the ads on the sites you visit. Since the ads are how they afford to keep making the content, visiting a site with ad-block running is, essentially, a form of piracy. Now, I know that piracy is a big scary word that gets tossed around a lot, but it does have meaning and it applies here.

But what if a site has terrible ads full of viruses and not-safe-for-work content that I need to block?

Well, in my opinion, if the people who run a site don’t care enough to provide safe ads for their visitors, then you probably shouldn’t reward them with visits regardless of how awesome you think the site’s main content is, so just stop going. Find another site to get that content from, one that cares about its readers. And don’t forget to send in a nicely worded (don’t be profane) email to the offending website and let them know why you won’t be coming back – they just might decide to fix it.

If you enjoy a site for content, unblock it – most ad-blockers have the ability to “white list” sites to allow ads. Keep your anti-virus up to date, and if you get a warning from an ad, contact the site owner and let them know. They actually want to know because they don’t want to be infecting their readers with viruses. Another option is to browse using a browser like Google Chrome which maintains its own Flash, PDF and other things inside its sandbox and doesn’t allow access outside of the browser. And since Chrome automatically updates itself all the time, you don’t have to remember to check for new updates and you can browse with the knowledge that you’ve always got the latest attack protections the team at Google has released.

Basically, you should seek to reward the sites you enjoy because without the reward they’ll fade away.

Anyway, that’s enough rambling from me for today…

Best Friends Forever

I love apocalyptic films. Especially zombie films, but even when they don’t have zombies. And Best Friends Forever doesn’t have zombies. Instead, BFF is about two girls on a road trip while the world ends. If it sounds interesting, you should consider backing their Kickstarter, which they are using to get the money to complete post-production and release the movie.

You should support it, if for no other reason than to ensure that I get my copy. Because it really is all about me.

A Group Of One

Playing around with EverQuest again, I’m reminded how much I love First Person view for MMOs. I play Star Trek Online in “mostly First Person” because you can’t actually go all the way in, but you can get the camera right up behind the character’s shoulder and eliminate the ability to see behind yourself, and immediately the game gains ten times more immersion. I assume my fascination and love for First Person comes from my love of shooters, especially team based shooters.

However, if the world is going to continue to insist on 3rd person view (probably because retention studies show that people stick around longer when they can constantly see how awesome they look in their latest gear) and that games be playable solo (which I’m not going to get into an argument about), I’d love to see an MMO go full on Party Mode like the old SSI and other RPG games.

Bard's Tale

If you pressed 'Z' on the PC version you got an elemental to join your party.

And I’m not talking about playing one character and having AI controlled mercenaries. No, I mean the player creates and controls a party of 4 to 6 characters.

Assuming that each character would fill a role in the group, the UI really wouldn’t be much different from today. Instead of playing a single tank character who has a couple dozen abilities for tanking you’d have a character in your group who has a handful of tanking skills. Each character, as far as combat is concerned, is really just 3 to 6 abilities on hot-keys. And you could macro so that you can chain abilities from different group members to execute combo moves.

When traveling, you’d control the lead character and choose a formation for the others to follow.

The game wouldn’t be entirely solo (just solo in a way that makes sense), but you could still group up with another player. You’d join your groups together into raids. An odd advantage to this is that since each group is likely to be fully functional (having their own tanking, healing, DPS and other skills) it simplifies the raid interface by accident. Each player manages their own people and the game really only needs to maintain the players in a raid for chat and loot distribution purposes.

Suddenly a “5 man” raid is actually 20 to 30 characters. The raid events can feel more epic while keeping the people-complexity low – it’s easier to herd 5 people than 25 people. This would also allow events themselves to be more complex yet easier, in that the raid can involve fighting multiple targets or doing synchronous goals (2 or 3 players fight a boss while other players solve puzzles or do other tasks) but without needing to manage entire groups of players for each item.

The more I think about it, and if the MMO trend is going to continue in third person views, the more I like this idea. It definitely needs more thought, but I like the direction it is going very much.

Grudges

I don’t get angry. Okay, I do, but I don’t get mad. Well, sometimes, but… what’s a word for being really super white-hot angry for an extremely short period of time and then flaring out? Because that’s what I do.

But one thing I definitely don’t do, not really, is hold grudges. I’ve never seen the point of continuing to be angry with someone for something they did, especially if they aren’t continuing to do it. If someone steps on your foot every time they see you, that’s not a grudge, that’s a response to expected behavior. If someone steps on your foot one time, and then five years later you exclude that person from your wedding because of that time they stepped on your foot, that’s a grudge and you’ve been hauling that around for five years.

GrudgeAs far as I can see, there are only two reasonable responses to being angry:

  1. Get even
  2. Get over it

If someone has done something to hurt you, immediately decide if you want to hurt them back. If you do, then make a plan, put it in a motion and do it. Soon. If you wait too long, they won’t understand the link between the two, and really that is the goal, making that link. “I’m hurting you because you hurt me.” If you wait five years, chances are they won’t even remember what they did, because the big downside of a grudge is that most of the time you were hurt, which isn’t the same as they hurt you – the former is a result, the latter implies an intent. However, since the link, the message, is what is important, why not just do that instead? “Hey man, you stepped on my foot.” “Sorry.” Done. And if they keep doing it even after being told, then it because a pattern of behavior, to which responding is normal and expected – not a grudge. “He’s not invited to the wedding because he stepped on my foot one time five years ago!” sounds insane. “He’s not invited to the wedding because he steps on my foot every time I see him despite being told repeatedly not to do it, and I would prefer not to have my foot stepped on at my wedding.” is a reasonable* response to long-term behavior.

So, your foot has been stepped on. You decide not to do anything about it right now, no action and no words, what do you do? Let it go. If you can’t be bothered to act in some fashion about something when it happens, why carry that around waiting for a time to spring it one someone? Too much effort, and it’ll affect your interactions in the meantime. That person will be part of your bowling league and because they stepped on your foot that one time, you give them only short answers to direct questions and otherwise ignore them. The only person who knows the reason is you, and it wouldn’t make sense if you explained it, and now everyone just thinks you’re a jerk or something because you are pointedly leaving that one person out of conversations. Or worse, other people start giving that a guy the cold shoulder in solidarity (or something) and you push him slowly out of your circle of friends, all because he scuffed your Pumas. Was it worth it?

For me, it is never worth it. Carrying around anger and resentment just makes me tired and frustrated.

 

*for some definitions of “reasonable”

A Different Cover

I really enjoy cover songs. Especially when an artist can take an original and put a spin on it, often by changing the speed of the song, and give the song almost an entirely new meaning. First, the original, “Last Friday Night” by Katy Perry (forgive the format, it’s the entire mini-movie):

Now, the cover, “Last Friday Night” by Julia Nunes:

The first song feels like a party, a celebration of debauchery. The second is the exact same song, the same lyrics, but at this speed and played in this way, now it feels like a song of regrets. To me, it is just so awesome that two very different sounding songs that convey such different moods can actually be the same song.

Anyway, this musical interlude was brought to you by my not participating in April Fool’s Day shenanigans.

You have to play to win!

Mega MillionsThe motto of the Lottery is simple: You have to play to win.

It is flawless in its logic, because you can’t win if you do not have a ticket. I have a ticket. I have several, in fact. The wife and I have a few, and I chipped in $5 to the office pool. I mean, it’s (as of this writing) a $640,000,000 jackpot. As a former math junkie – Okay, fine, not really former, I just hide it better these days – I know that the odd of willing are hilariously small. 1 in 175,711,536 to be exact. However, the entertainment value really can’t be beat.

See, for the low price of a single dollar, you can daydream about how you would spend your winnings (a $462 million payout if you take the lump sum, and you should, because winnings are non-transferable, so if you take the annuity and then die, your family gets nothing). You can share your dreams with other people and plan out how you are going to get the life you want – the life you deserve – if you manage to be holding on to the winning pick. Just in the last three days (including today), that single dollar (okay, $10) has given me at least a dozen hours of joy. Day dreams and fantasies, all with just the remotest of chances of becoming real.

By comparison, it costs $10 or more to see a movie and be entertained for a couple of hours, maybe more if your friends also see the movie and you talk about it, but really, how many movies are worth spending lots of time talking about it? Usually it’s just 2 hours and done.

“Couldn’t you daydream without spending the dollar though?” It’s the question lots of people pose when they object to the Lottery. “It’s a tax on stupid people and poor people.” they might say, or some other way to degrade the people who buy a ticket. And they are right. You can daydream without buying a ticket. Daydreams are free. But the one thing you can’t do without a ticket: win. If you don’t spend the dollar, your daydreams are just daydreams and nothing more, but for the cost of just $1 those daydreams become potential plans.

What are my dreams? What would I do if I won? Well, a lot. I mean, even if the government took half in taxes you’re still talking about $231 million. All at once. If you put it in the bank at just 1% interest, you’d earn $2.3 million a year. That’s a lot of money. But I have tickets, so I have plans. I have lots of plans…

Review Response

Just the other day I was wondering, “Does anyone leave comments on my reviews over at Shakefire?” So I searched through and found that, as expected, most of the time the answer is “No.” Rarely, someone will leave a single comment either in agreement with or disagreement with my review, or some aspect of my review. For example, on a review I did of one of those baseball DVDs that compresses a whole season into a couple or three hours I said it was the best way for most people to watch baseball since baseball can be pretty boring. The comment was that people are missing out by not watching the entire season.

However, one review I did got a number of responses, and I thought I would, rather than reply there, reply here. The review in question was for the album Impulse by ERRA. The main fault of this album is that I hate the genre of growling/screaming music. Since this review, I’ve sorting things out with the guy who runs the site so that I don’t get these sorts of things to review. It’s actually in both our best interests – I don’t have to review something I hate and he doesn’t get a site full of low-grade reviews due to poor product/reviewer pairing. Anyway, the original review is here.

Admittedly, because I didn’t like the album, I went for sarcasm and humor in my review. Like most other reviews, it probably would have gone uncommented on. But someone went and posted a link to it on ERRA’s Facebook page’s wall. As expected, fans of the band didn’t like that I didn’t like the music, and posted comments.

Without further ado, the comments…

Im disappointed in both your review and the website’s decision to give you this album to review. You can’t compare the quality of an album where there are screaming vocals in it to something that doesn’t. It is a genre of music. And your reviews are supposed to inform people about the qualities and the downfalls of a record. Being a journalism major, and being someone who actually wants to write publicly about music, I am disgusted by this review, especially the last half. Pure garbage.

Being a journalism major, this guy probably has some high ideas about what journalism is. He wants to write publicly about music. He can. Blogs are free (which is why, in part, print media is dying). And as far as I can tell, assuming he’s one of the guys who also posted on Facebook, he does have a tumblr account, where my review apparently inspired him to write a review of the same album and give it a 5 out of 5 over a month ago, but hasn’t posted anything since. Allow me to impart a single piece of advice to you: a writer writes. If you really aspire to work as a writer, write, even if no one is paying you.

As for his claim that my reviews should inform people about the qualities and the downfalls of a records – I think I did: there is screaming, and that is the downfall of the record.

You don’t know what you are talking about.

Yes I do. Since I’m giving my opinion on the album, I am, in fact, the only person capable of knowing what I am talking about.

im laughing hard…..

ERRA FTW

I’m unsure of what is going on here. Is he laughing at my review (win!), the other comments, or just in general? He’s a fan of the band, so I think he’s with the other comments and laughing at me (not with me).

Did Shakefire pay you for review this? EY! WHOEVER HELL HIRED THIS GUY, CAN YOU HIRE ME TOO?

Nah, this review was epic. Epicly shitty. If you hate their screamer then you hate a lot of really good low-pitch screamers from hardcore/metal bands, no ?

Come on dude, chill the fuck out. They’re incredible.

Like with many review sites, no, Shakefire didn’t pay me. Well, they gave me a free copy of the album, which is dubious payment at best. They might hire you. Want to know how I got the job? The guy running Shakefire tweeted that he was looking for writers and I replied. Done. Which takes us back to the first guy… want to know how easy it is to get a “job” writing reviews? It’s that easy. Now, getting paid cash to write reviews… that’s another story. And to answer this guy’s question, yes, I hate a lot of screamers from hardcore/metal bands.

You should have gone against your instinct and given this album at the very least an “A.” You have admitted to letting your individual aversion to screaming cloud your review. I’ll chalk up the fact that you gave this an album “a big fat F” as being due to your hearing going progressively downhill since 1974. Listening to music with an objective ear is not a crime, Sir.

“at the very least an ‘A’.” Honestly, looking back and playing a few cuts from the album again (I didn’t delete it because seriously, what’s one album when you a terabyte of drive space?) I think, if I could ignore the screaming, I might give them a ‘B’ if I was being charitable. See, this isn’t a 7-9 scale. We (I) use the whole thing, from top to bottom. As for my hearing, it’s fine, except maybe a little worse after listening to this album from ERRA and the other screamer bands I’ve had to review. And listening to music with an objective ear isn’t a crime, but it also isn’t my job. I’m not teaching a music appreciation class, I’m reviewing, which is a broad spectrum of writing that includes my chosen take: giving my personal opinion of what I experience.

hahahahaha ur such a faggot dude. don’t review this kind of music if you don’t listen to the genre. Its like giving someone who listens to only rap, Carnifex’s new CD Until I Fell Nothing. which is NOTHING close to rap. and don’t say you are use to this genre cuz ur not just admit it. if you still believe you are, then ur mind is playing tricks on you.

I don’t really want to respond to a guy who uses “faggot” in this way, but he does have a small point which I addressed earlier. I don’t choose what to review, I’m assigned it. The boss sends me links by email or physical products in the mail which I experience and then review by the deadline assigned. We’ve cleared up some issues so that I’ll have less of a chance of getting stuff I am biased against, so in the future I won’t be reviewing bands like ERRA unless there is simply no one else to review them.

I give your review a -10 out of 10

So do I. Did you know that all reviews are scored only in Absolute Values? Thanks for the 10!

Seriously, though, when reading reviews or opinion pieces, it is important to approach it from the same direction the author did. One week in Entertainment Weekly, there was a column which I read and thought was hilarious. My wife read it and found it to be despicable. We discussed it, and while I had approached the article from a point of satire because I knew the history of the author’s satirical style, she had approached it as a serious piece, and since part of it was praising the awesomeness of the Twilight movies and how Bella Swan can teach us things, I understand why we had such different responses to the article. But then again, someone who loves Twilight and really does think Bella Swan is a great role model, reading the article in a satiric tone would be harsh.

And that’s what happened here. I listened to music for review that I have zero interest in because I don’t like it. So I took a humorous approach to my review with hints of scathing scorn for the genre. People who like the genre didn’t like my review. Only one of us devolved into name calling. Hint: it was the guys who used the words “faggot” and “douchebag”.

The happy secret to better work

Let me begin with a video. Take 12 minutes and 21 seconds and watch it. I’ll be here when you are done.

I love TED talks. I’ve posted a number of them before. This one, however, struck a chord with me because it touches on ideas that I have had for myself for years.

Be happy now, not later.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short post about my philosophy on work. Whether you saw it at the time, the central premise behind it is that you should be happy with the job you have while you have it, even if you don’t like it and are looking for something else. Being happy with your job, even if it is just being happy with doing your job well although the job itself sucks, is the beginning of a ripple that will affect everything else in your life and everyone around you. You might hate your job, but face it, if the boss pulls you aside to tell you how awesome you are at the job, you feel great. And if your job is managing people, remember that telling people about the good things they do can actually have an impact on places they need to improve. Lead with bad news, then close with a few comments about the good stuff they do. You’ll actually bolster their spirit and that alone may be enough for them to improve in those problem areas. If all you do is yell at an employee, perhaps you should do both of you a favor and let them go, because your constant berating and never telling them anything positive is, for most people, actually going to make them perform worse, not better.

There is an old saying about crying over spilt milk and how you shouldn’t do it that no one these days really understands because who would ever cry over spilt milk? But the point of the saying is another thing I’ve talked about for years. The point is, once the milk is spilt, just clean it up. You gain nothing from being distraught or upset over the loss of the milk. It’s trivial. It’s not like a parent died or anything. Too many people spend too much time worrying about and being upset at things that have already happened and can’t be changed. They wind themselves up in knots, making themselves unhappy over past failures when they should be accepting them, learning from them, and moving forward.

Now, that doesn’t mean people shouldn’t care about stuff that happened, but it does mean that you shouldn’t let it cripple you. And you aren’t going to just wipe it off and move on like nothing happened. No, the point is that you understand what happened, resolve to do better, and integrate the experience into who you are to make you better. Why did you spill the milk? Could it have been avoided? In the future, let’s try not to spill milk.

But how do we get better and being better?

The sticking point for most people is that everything they’ve been taught in their lives has led them to the road described in the video: that happiness comes after success.

I suggest taking to heart the list at the end of the video. You need to actively work at changing the way you approach life. Make sure you take the time to acknowledge and dwell on the positive good things in your life and not spend all your time focusing on problems and the stress of working toward future success and future happiness.

If you need a little push, you might consider giving SuperBetter a try. Jane McGonigal has been pushing “gamification” for a long time, and she’s finally unveiled her new project. This website isn’t going to fix your life, but if you work it you might find that using your old/current mindset of chasing achievements can be redirected into things that may help you be happier now and not later.

I haven’t spent much time at that site, so I can’t speak on its effectiveness. But if you know me, or can sleuth out my email from the site, feel free to hit me up as an ally.

Worth Doing Well

Any job worth doing is worth doing well.

Any job with acceptable compensation (be it monetary, spiritual, emotional or other) is worth doing.

Any job I take on will have acceptable compensation. (I don’t intentionally commit myself to things that I know I will hate doing and gain no form of reward from.)

So, by the transitive property, any job I take on is worth doing well.

If you live your life by these simple rules, it is possible that you might have a job that sucks, but you should never suck at your job. If you find yourself being terrible at your job, you either need to find a way to be better at it or find a job that is a better fit. By knowingly, willingly being terrible at your job, you are choosing to make your own life worse and having a negative impact on everyone you interact with. Conversely, by doing your job well, you will have a positive impact on the people you interact with, and that, in turn, has a chance of making you feel that your job doesn’t suck.

Planning, Packing, and Points Between

I go to Dragon*Con every year. Despite the fact that we live in Atlanta (or near enough to it), we book a room at one of the host hotels and stay downtown for the weekend. It’s like a half-vacation. We go, we have a great time and love every minute of it, but we aren’t really “going on vacation”. Six years ago, I took another non-vacation. An overnight really. We drove to Savannah on Monday, stayed the night, and drove back Tuesday. That was our wedding. A couple of years before that, we did a long weekend in Savannah. You’d have to go back to, I believe, 2003 to find a real vacation-vacation in my life. We went to Cozumel for 5 days. And before that, we went to Mardi Gras in 2001.

On Saturday, the wife and I will be heading up to a little cabin we rented in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We’ll be coming back on Wednesday. Five days and four nights, away from home, in another state. It’s been about nine years but we are finally going on vacation.

When we go to Dragon*Con, the weekend is pretty well mapped out. There are panels and parties. I’m on staff. It is, as far as vacations go, pretty regimented. When he did Cozumel way back when, there was little plan. We had a hotel, all-inclusive, and that was it. I’d been to Cozumel before and mostly just gone to beaches and bars and the usual stuff (I was part of a group of 30 people who went together). But this time it was just us. One day we rented a jeep and just went driving around the island. We found some unoccupied beaches and a little restaurant on the windward side of the island. It was great.

This time around, I’m aiming for something in between. The final day we have to check out of the cabin early anyway, so we are just going to check out really early and drive over to Asheville and visit The Biltmore, and then head back home that night. Either on the day up, or one of the three middle days, we’re planning to spend some time touring the Great Smoky Arts & Crafts Community. We also plan to do some hiking, and of course a little casual relaxing. It’s cold here, and we are going north, so I expect some time spent in front of a roaring fire might be in order. And as weird as it sounds, we are planning to curl up and watch the Academy Awards on Sunday night. We don’t have cable TV anymore, so events like this are something we don’t get to watch at home.

The cabin has a kitchen, and we are trying to plan some meals to cook and foods to take with us for snacking, though we probably will eat out at a couple of places that have been recommended to us. We are driving up, so the only limitation is what we can fit into the Jeep Cherokee.

And then we get to packing clothes. It is still winter, so we’ll dress warm, maybe throw in an extra couple of sweaters and make sure we take our jackets. There are no plans to do anything super fancy so no suits or cocktail dresses.

I’m very excited about the whole thing, probably more than I should be.