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Lately

Because I know my readers are so very interested in everything I do…

Shakefire.comI’m a writer for Shakefire, and in the last couple of months here is what I’ve written:

I kinda suck as reviewing music. I like reviewing movies more, and hopefully in the future I’ll be given more movies and less music.

Anyway, in the future I plan to post one of these round ups once a month or so, when I remember to do it.

American Horror Story

American Horror StoryIf you watch the show Glee you’ll know what I mean when I say that Glee includes everything from high school. Seriously, the creators and writers of that show have literally taken every story and stereotype that has ever come out of high school, every personality type and quirk, and found a place for it in the show. It is absurd, and I suppose that absurdist take on high school is what keeps people watching. That and the singing.

Taken from that angle, it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that the creators of Glee also created and wrote Nip/Tuck, which was a show that took every story and stereotype that has ever come out of plastic surgery and mashed it into an absurd take on the profession.

Following in that tradition comes American Horror Story. It’s about a family that buys a house that is haunted. Within the framework of their story, they are taking every story and stereotype of the haunted house and ghost story traditions and mashing them into an absurd wild ride. Perhaps other people will find the show scary, and even I might admit to finding a creepy moment or two, or a scene that makes me jump now and then, but mostly this show is just insane.

We’ve got ghosts of murder victims and ghosts of their murderers, we’ve got previous owners who managed to survive still drawn to the house, we’ve got a family of current owners with secrets, we’ve got crazy neighbors who seem to know the house is haunted and they don’t seem to mind. We’ve got haunted places and haunted people and haunted items. We’ve got people with blood on their hands who know it, and people with blood on their hands who don’t know how it got there. We’ve got ghosts who appear only to some people and we’ve got ghosts who appear differently to different people. And all of it is happening all at once.

I hesitate to call this a great TV show, because I know it isn’t for everyone. But for someone who loves horror, I think I almost have to watch it. The first episode, to me, had some pacing issues -as I find much of TV and movies do these days since so many editors don’t seem to know how to cut transitions that evoke the passage of time- everything seems to happen all crammed together rather than over a period of days or weeks, but later episodes have resolved that a bit. Every actor here is also giving a top-notch performance, even Dylan McDermott whom I normally can’t stand.

All in all, I’m finding it worth watching. And it has already been picked up for a second season. Woohoo!

A Week of Tweets on 2011-06-12

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Dead Island

I first mentioned Dead Island back in October of 2007 because it was mentioned in Games For Windows magazine.  GFW has been gone for some time, and many people though Dead Island was too.  And then there came this…

While I’m pretty sure that the game play won’t be anything like that, the trailer is incredible.  Amazing even.  I eagerly await more news of this game.  And I know I’m late to the party posting this about a week after it appeared, but my posting schedule demands that zombies are on Wednesdays.

If the version above is confusing for you, here is one that plays everything out in chronological order:

Kevin Brooks: Dec. 31st 1969 – Dec. 25th 2010

There was a point in my life when something was missing.  I had no idea it wasn’t there.  But one night sitting at the bar at Rio Bravo on Holcomb Bridge, I met Kevin and knew almost immediately that I’d been missing a best friend, and he was it.  I met my future wife Jodi there too around the same time.  The Rio Bravo bar, as it seems, had a fairly significant impact on my life.  Then for nearly a decade, Kevin, Jodi and I would continue hanging out at bars, talking about movies, books, computer games, history, politics, everything… anything.  The three of us might have been referred to as inseparable.  It wasn’t quite like that, but we did do a lot of things together.

Years ago, somewhere in the middle of our friendship, I announced to Kevin over a couple of beers at North River Tavern that I had no regrets in my life.  He was perplexed by this, I think in part because he, like many people, had several, perhaps many, regrets.  As we discussed the subject I explained to him that a person, for better or worse, is a sum of their experiences.  That who you are today is a result of everything you have done and everything that has happened to you, and by that reasoning, if you were happy with where and who you are in life, you cannot regret anything.  By regretting some mistake you made in high school, you were invalidating everything that had happened to you since because that mistake had ripple effects throughout your life.  The best you could do, I told him, was to realize you wanted it to have gone differently and learn from it, so that it doesn’t happen again.  You don’t dwell on it, you don’t while away the hours thinking about what could have been.  Instead, you take control of it and use it to make your future the one that you want.  His position, if I recall correctly, was that I was full of shit, and we spent hours going back and forth trying to find something in my life I truly regretted.

Most of our talks would be like this.  While on rare occasions we would discuss things in agreement, Kevin liked to take up the opposing side just to make things interesting.  The thing about Kevin is that, at his core, he was an asshole.  He was, what a Texan might call, an ornery son of a bitch.  And I mean in that in the best possible way.  It was actually probably one of his finer qualities.  You could be discussing something with him and even if he was out of his depth and completely wrong in every possible way, he never just took your word for it, you had to prove it to him.  He made you work for it.  It was annoying… it was frustrating… but when you’d made your point, when you’d proven it, it also felt so much better than when someone just acquiesced to your side.

Another of his better qualities was that Kevin was fiercely loyal.  He’d take a bullet for you, even if you weren’t in danger of being shot.  Even when you asked him not to.  His heart always was in the right place even if his actions weren’t.  Sometimes I think he just liked the fight.

Kevin was my best friend right up until these two great qualities of his collided.  My wife, who was at the time still just my fiancée but recently upgraded from girlfriend, had become unemployed and had remained unemployed for longer than she probably should have.  Kevin took it upon himself to hate her for it because he knew I wouldn’t.  He fought with her, and she fought back, and sometimes it got so bad that I had to walk out of the room.  I asked them both to stop, and she tried, but Kevin persisted.  And in the end it was Kevin’s doggedness, his ornery nature, in this matter that drove the wedge between us.

At some point after that, at one of the few times we did get together, Kevin told me he understood what had happened, and, calling back on that conversation we’d had years ago, he said to me, “It’s hard not to have regrets when you are at the bottom, and while I have less regrets every day, I think I’m going to hold on to that one for a while.”  And all I can think right now is, “Me too.”  I regret that I allowed our friendship to fall apart without much of a fight.  And some day I might be far enough from all this to learn something from it, but right now I think I’m going to hold on to this one for a while.

One topic that came up often for discussion between us and a number of our other friends was religion.  I think Kevin loved the topic so much because of its incredible complexity, the tightness to which people hold to their beliefs, the conflicts between differing beliefs, and the fact that so little of it can be proven which leads to everyone, despite how wide spread their views, being equally as right as everyone else.  It appealed to his love of discourse.  In my life, I have varied in my level of participation and belief in religion and God.  I’ve gone to church and I have abstained from going.  I’ve believed in one God, in many gods, in ancient mythic gods, and even entertained the idea of no god at all.  But right now, I sincerely hope that there is a God and there is a Heaven, and that Kevin is there, and that from time to time he’ll get a beer with God, and with a wry smile argue to His face about how He doesn’t exist.

Reforming Cable TV

In the wake of many subscription MMOs going to a Free to Play model, it got me to thinking.  Why can’t Cable TV do the same thing?

Instead of charging me $150 a month for 300 channels, most of which I’ll never watch, how about letting me have “free” cable, where I can watch PBS and other local stations in real time with commercials, and have everything, and I mean everything, available on demand as a pay per episode/pay per season service?  The infrastructure is there.  They already do sell programs on demand, they even ofter free on demand for many network and cable shows.  They already provide Internet service and have the bandwidth.  Just expand it.  Sure, some people might just watch the free stuff, just like some gamers only play the free parts of free to play games, but the people who pay and buy the extras will far outweigh them in the long run.

As an added bonus to this sort of design, TV execs can stop trying to guesstimate viewers and DVR watchers and whatnot and actually get hard purchaser numbers.  Even better, shows can stop competing against each other.  Many shows have tried to go up against juggernauts like American Idol or Dancing with the Stars or even some scripted shows, and even if they get a few million viewers, it isn’t enough to keep the show on the air.  Even when there are lower rated shows on the network, because sometimes it isn’t how good your show is but only how well it did versus someone else’s show.  What if, instead of seeing your show get a paltry 2 million viewers while 28 million tune in to some other network, you could see that within a two week period 18 million people watched your show, 16 million of whom, if forced, would choose another show but when given the freedom to watch whenever they want without being forced to choose will happily watch and enjoy your program?  Wouldn’t that be better?

And really, they don’t even need to go so far… I’d gladly watch the commercials during programs or special “sponsored by” spots before an episode if I could just watch all the shows I want when I want to watch them.  I’d settle for having everything, with commercials, available on demand, and having the cable company charge me for the channels I want to select from a la carte.  Rather than $150 a month for 300 channels, 282 of which I will never ever watch, ever; charge me $20 bucks a month and let me pick 20 or so channels I want to have.  Make it a dollar a channel, with discounts the more I select.

Anyway… those of the rambling thoughts that are rumbling around in my brain today.

Dragon*Con 2010: Day Zero

It’s Thursday, where are you?  If you are local to Atlanta and pre-registered for Dragon*Con, your answer should be, “Reading this on my phone from the line.” because pre-registration badge pick-up just started.  Pre-regs get a nice solid 6 hour jump on everyone else this year, so hopefully that will help with the lines.

Preparation for con is always a big deal.  You have to make sure you pack everything.  Technically there are a few shops around, but mostly tiny stores with seriously jacked up prices.  There is a Publix about 8 or 10 blocks away, but since public transit in Altanta is pretty crappy, you’ll likely be hoofing it, in September.  “Hot and humid” just doesn’t really describe Atlanta well enough.  Long hikes in the city are uncomfortable at best.  But in addition to packing everything, you also need it to be manageable.  You don’t really want to be juggling a dozen suitcases.  You’re best bet is to pack one case (with wheels) of regular clothes (shorts, t-shirts, socks, underwear and toiletries – deodorant, toothpaste, even soap and shampoo if you prefer your own over the hotel stuff), a cooler (with wheels) packed with food and stuff (don’t bring ice, all the hotels have ice machines – and unless you specified in your reservations that you had to have a fridge for medical reasons, you won’t get one, so you’ll want a cooler if you want to keep anything cold), and then a case (with wheels if possible) for costumes and stuff that can’t be packed into the regular clothes.

Case and Cooler (with wheels)

You might have noticed a theme there.  Wheels.  Trust me, lugging around heavy cases just isn’t worth it.  Every year I see some poor schmuck hauling around a half dozen old no-wheel-having suitcases, or standing in line waiting for a bell hop, or leaving the cases at the front desk to have them delivered to the room at some point in the future.  Meanwhile, the wife and I roll on by and head to our room.  The cooler is even more awesome because of the extending handle means we can even stack a couple things on top of it (like sodas or a box of extra snacks) with ease.

And of course, if you plan to buy anything, make sure you have a way to take it home.  (If you aren’t local, there are, I believe, a FedEx and some other shipping store in the hotels or close to the con, and don’t worry about them being closed for the holiday, most of the time you can leave a package with your hotel with shipping instructions and a tip and they’ll send it off for you on Tuesday.)

Anyway… enough about packing… you might be wondering, “If the con begins on Friday, what is there to do on Thursday?”  Well, lots actually.  Plenty of fan groups will have unofficial gatherings on Thursday night (this is why you should find the sites/forums for the various tracks and fans groups, and keep up with them throughout the year), and there are a few bands playing.  Plus, the lobbies and hotel bars will be hopping with people, both out of costume and in.

What will I be doing on Thursday?  Well, for one, since I’m staff this year, the MMO Track is having a little party where the director lays down the law, people can swap shifts and we can let our hair down a little more than we’ll be allowed to during the con itself (not to say we won’t be enjoying the con, but staff is expect to not show up for shifts completely plastered).  Check out our schedule from this nice rundown provided by Krystalle over at Massively.  I’ll be wandering around the hotels pretty much all day, though when not with the MMO crew (or perhaps even with them) I tend to be in the lobby of the Marriott Marquis, not only because it is the hotel I’m staying at, but, in my opinion, it is the best hotel for seeing and being seen.  Perhaps I’ll see you around…

Just as aside… in previous years, I posted at the end of the day with what I did.  This year I’ll be posting in the morning with my plans for the day and my reflections on the previous day.

Facebook wants to turn you inside out.

This is a post I started about a month ago and had left sitting in the draft bin, but due to yesterday’s post and topic, I decided to dig it up and polish it…

Most people, unless you’ve grown up entirely in the Internet enabled world, think of “being social” as joining groups.  You play sports.  You have a book club.  You form a tabletop gaming group.  You go to a party.  You sit at a lunch table.  You go to the company picnic.  Your kids play at the same park.  And so on.  Being social involves joining people doing something.

When I first joined Facebook, it was all about joining groups.  Your college, your high school, your jobs both past and present.  Groups still exist on Facebook, but just barely.  When people post things in the groups I belong to it doesn’t show in the feed, in fact it doesn’t show anywhere unless I go look at my list of groups.  Groups are a thing of the past, now everyone are “friends”.

Facebook is all about getting all your “friends” together from every activity and dumping them all into one place.  Of course, people in general don’t really function that way, and it has caused issues for many folks as they have dived into the “social web”.  Work friends and other friends used to be separate groups, and with a lot of work on your part they still can be on Facebook, but by default they are all the same.  Facebook doesn’t want you talking about things in groups privately among your friends, they want you to put everything in your feed where everyone can see it (unless you’ve taken the time to protect your feed and group your friends).  Facebook wants to take your segregated group, integrate them with the whole and put them on a stage, and they want to put ads on the page in the column next to it.

Facebook, Real ID and other such efforts are slowly eroding privacy.  Is this a bad thing?  Not everyone cares, especially younger folks, but many of them haven’t run into an issue where something they said on Facebook or Twitter or some other forum has cost them a job yet.  Maybe they won’t.  Maybe by the time it matters for them, the people doing the hiring and firing won’t care.

I can see the draw, I really can.  I grew up watching Cheers on TV and singing alone with “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name” and the social web feels like that sometimes, it feels like this intimate group of people who you can talk to, who you can trust.  But can you?  Once you’ve racked up over a thousand “friends” on Facebook that includes former coworkers and employers, current ones, old friends from a decade ago, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends, and all the other random people who’ve come into contact, can you really trust them all with that thought that just ran through your head, down your fingers and spilled out onto your keyboard?  Do you want that random thought to exist on the Internet forever?  I know I actually consider everything I put out there before I hit the publish button here.  I’ve scrapped entire posts because I didn’t feel comfortable with the content, and others I’ve hacked up and removed specifics to keep a level of separation.

What the hell am I getting at?  I don’t know… perhaps I’m just an old man yelling at the kids to get off of his lawn…

Chat Filter Abuse

The other night I decided I’d drop in to Wizard 101.  It is a great game for just jumping in and banging out some combat or quests, then logging out.  It’s casual in the best sense of the word, in that you can play at your own pace and not that it only requires a browser and babysitting.

Anyway, I had forgotten where I had logged out previously and I committed the cardinal sin of Wizard 101: moving before looking.  I stepped backwards into the street and immediately joined someone else’s combat.  No big deal really.  There was only one monster, so I picked a card and attacked.  I picked my card first.  The other guy then picked his, but when it came to casting, he went first.  He threw a damage increase, death +30%, and then I fired off my weakest death spell, which amplified +30% only did about 90 points of damage.  A waste of the damage increase.  Now, keep in mind, when you pick a spell, everyone in your group can see what you picked and what you have targeted.  I picked first.  There was a good ten second pause for the other guy to make his move.  He could have said “Don’t use that.” or something, but he didn’t.

So the round is done and the damage increaser was wasted and the guy says, “your jack o as”.

One of the great things about Wizard 101 is that it is very very kid friendly.  There are two forms of chat.  The first is completely restricted and only allows you to speak in canned phrases like “Help!” and “Let’s go fight [insert quest target enemy here].” and other such things.  The other form of chat is free form typing, however, every word you type is compared to the Wizard 101 dictionary and if it doesn’t exist in there the word will stay in red on your screen and will appear as “…” to everyone else.  What my groupmate was trying to say was “you are a jack ass” but if he had it would have gone out as “you are a jack …” or possibly even just “…”.  I honestly forget how harsh the censoring is.  So, because of the chat filter, a new slang has emerged in Wizard 101 using approximate swears.

Back to the group… he then tells me “fine ill let them kill you i wont attack at all” which was fine with me, even though a second monster joined in I can easily take two at a time in this area.  Of course, he proceeds instead to target everything I target in an attempt to make me not fight.  *shrug*  We win and then he says, “more on” “flock off bench” “your a noob end of story there”.  Translated: Moron. Fuck off bitch. You’re a noob, end of story there.

Flippantly I threw in a “less off” in there in response to his “more on”, and when he was done I said “You’re”.  Which he took for arguing, like I was saying he was a noob when in reality I was correcting his language, his misuse of “your”.  He then followed with lines that included “sheet o face”, “little bench” and he tried to explain to me that “you’re”, “your” and “you are” all mean the same thing.  “master o bait”, “shut the flock up”, “as o hole”.  The really funny part is when he claims that because of my spelling and refusal to type insults around the word filter it is because I’m a little kid.

What?  So, in most MMOs, people spouting obscenities are often younger, less mature players.  But in Wizard 101 I’m being told that proper grammar and not swearing is a sign of immaturity?  Huh?

The sad thing is that the filter while preventing real swearing also prevents real communication.  The guy asked how old I was, and I couldn’t answer because the game would not allow “35” or “thirty-five” or “thirty” or “five” to be said.  In fact, at the end of our conversation he said, “i can tell from your crop of insults your not even third team”.  Since the game splits players between “under 13” and “13 and over”, I assume he meant “13” but had to say “third team” to get around the filter.

The entire situation ended in irony.  This guy was so pissed at me for the one miscast spell and my further arguments about his grammar that he reported me.  If you go to the Wizard 101 FAQ page and click on the question “What happens when I get Reported?” you will find the following text:

When you report someone, or you are reported, a message is sent directly to Mr Lincoln that includes the chat logs of everything that was said before and after that report.

Mr Lincoln then reads the log and assess the situation. He determines how bad the offense was, looks up prior offenses for the reported individual, and based on that assessment he issues sanctions such as muting or banning and sends an email to the offending account explaining the violation and the sanctions.

If the report was falsely made, that is determined as well, and the player who made the false report is investigated as to whether or not they have made previous false reports. False reports are just a egregious as valid ones, and similar sanctions can be levied against repeat offenders of false reporting.

Everything that a player enters into the chat window is logged. These larger chat logs are also routinely checked for those infractions that are not reported.

Under the question “What is considered a Reportable Offense?” you’ll find:

We appreciate that our players want to make Wizard City the best it can be, and we’ve placed the tools in your hand to report players for inappropriate behavior. We ask that you use the reporting feature to identify truly egregious behavior, such as creative profanity (swearing around the filters), solicitation of usernames/passwords, predatory threats, racist comments and other such actions as outlined in the Terms of Use. The old story of “the kid that cried wolf” has a lot of bearing in this situation and we trust that all reports received by players are valid and require support intervention.

So, shortly after my new friend departed (I did add him to my friend list), a pop up window told me I had been reported.  Shortly after that, my new friend vanished, both from the game world and from my friend list.  I can only assume my friend managed to get himself banned.  On the other hand, my account was muted for 1 day.  I asked for clarification and got it.  Apparently, when my friend said “you little sheet” and I responded “Sheet of what?” my use of “sheet”, a common sidestep for the word “shit”, was enough to warrant a 1 day mute warning.  I have asked if any action was taken against my friend, and I emailed them screen shots of the conversation, since I was unable to report him myself.  No word as of yet…

Oh well…

Hello 2010!

I am excited for this new year.  The job is going well, life is good, and everything is swinging upward.  Awesome.

The best part however is that my birthday, being October 10th, will fall this year on 10/10/10.  I don’t want to jinx it, but that is going to be a perfect day.

So, what sort of resolutions shall I make for the new year?

First, losing twenty pounds over the last year has been great, and I want to keep going.  That said, the new year is going to bring an examining of my diet and a look at shaking up my exercise a little.  I also want to run the Peachtree Road Race in July, so I have a goal.  Lack of a goal is usually the hard part.  I lost my last twenty because I wanted to be under 200 pounds, and since then I haven’t had much in the way of a solid goal.

Second, writing… One of the issues I have with writing is that it is almost impossible to do on my desktop PC.  The location of my desktop is not inspiring, and the PC has too many distracting things installed on it.  Luckily, I may have an opportunity to obtain a netbook, one of those little mini laptops, and that should help, allowing me to take my writing with me anywhere.  We shall see… in any event, I want to spend a little more time writing, and to help with that I have vowed not to start watching any new TV shows.  I refuse to get sucked in to shows that get canceled or wind up being mediocre.  Instead, I will only watch shows I am already invested in and new shows I’ll see on DVD or streaming courtesy of Netflix.

Third, programming… I am still, occasionally, working on my little games and my one business idea (see progress meters on the right).  I hope to be able to finish something in 2010.  I think I will try to work on finishing one of the smaller games and get it posted just to see if I can.  It is going to be lame, and for that I apologize in advance, but finishing something is an important step I need to take.

Fourth, the house… yeah, um, I might clean up the yard or something when the weather gets warmer, and there are a few trees I need to take down.  But let’s not get our hopes up…

Not a resolution, but this year will also be my first participating as staff for the MMO Track at Dragon*Con.  I’ve reached a point with the con that most of the panels are retreads of panels I’ve already seen.  This isn’t a bad thing, as newcomers will find those panels to be as exciting as I did when I was a newcomer.  But it means that the last couple of years I’ve been bored in some of them and more willing to skip them altogether when given the chance.  In fact, I pretty much only go to the MMO and Writing tracks with the occasional special event.  So I decided since I was spending so much time down in the MMO rooms, why not volunteer and help out?  I did, and I am.  Should be a lot of work and a lot of fun.

Anyway… welcome to 2010…