Interuption in Blogging due to Snow Storm

I’m throwing something up here today so that I don’t break my chain and lose the challenge, but I’m going to give myself permission to not do my best work this time.  It’s not that I’m not inspired, it’s that I’m just tired.

I’ve spent the last week in Florida.  It was just supposed to be a long weekend, but the snow storm here in Boston extended it by two days.  And I cried about that all into my chilled beer while I sat on the beach in my home town.  Being back home during the dead of winter was surprisingly awesome.  Not because it was warm but because everything was super laid back.  I forgot how different the pacing can be from up in Boston, where everything is life and death.  “Hey asshole, this is my section of the sidewalk!  Drive somewhere else!”

The reason I’m kind of phoning it in today is that I have had the longest teak back I think I’ve ever had.  I had a layover in Buffalo for some reason.  I swear to God that is a made up place.  There’s nothing their and my southerner brain believed that everywhere in the north was super amazing and not near as desolate as all of our home towns.

And, because layovers are awesome, my four hour layover was extended to five and half.  Fun!  This is where I should tell you I’ve been running on five hours of sleep.

“But you could sleep on the plane.”  No. Fuck you, person I just invented to make a point. I can’t sleep on planes because my lizard brain is convinced I’m going to fall out of the sky.  Even though I’ve had to do it twice today, I couldn’t relax enough to go to sleep.

I did however relax enough to work on a fiction project that I’ve been meaning to get back to for a while now, which is why I didn’t write this post on the plane.

So here I am.  What is normally a three hour flight took me nine hours and then I had a late train getting back to my house.  But I got back to work on a project I haven’t written on a while, and, as I am now well over 300 words, I didn’t break my chain on this blog.  The challenge continues.

Technology and Music, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Spotify

When I was in high school, I talked my family into getting me a full high fi stereo system for christmas one year. It was one those old school component systems that everyone used to have back in the day with a separate CD player and amp that drove two large Cerwin Vega speakers.

This was a really big deal for me because music was pretty much my life back then.  I wasn’t really a musician.  (I could kind of play bass.) But I simply loved to listen to music, I loved the culture around music, and I love the technology that allowed you to listen to music.  A full stack stereo system was all of those things.  It was a symbol of music culture – like a studded leather jacket – and it actually did something – played music really loud.

It was everything a young punk could’ve wanted.  I played that thing for hours every day and I’d have friends over just to listen to albums or make mix tapes.

That last sentence sounds like this was a million years ago, but it wasn’t.  I got the stereo in 1999, and digital technologies like MP3 players were still a ways off from supplanting something like a high fidelity system.  In fact, there is still a presence from  a thing like that nothing else can touch.

But that level of equipment was supplanted.  Not because the alternative sounded better, but because it was more functional at playing music.  My stereo had a 200 disc CD changer, which was mind blowing in college, but my girlfriend has an iPod that can hold 100 times more music in a package that could almost be swallowed if you really tried.

So in 2008 when my amplifier finally broke, I never got it fixed.  I always meant to.  In fact, I still have all my old gear, but life got in the way and for a long time I could hardly make ends meet.  Fixing something like that just wasn’t a priority because I had all my music on my phone.

But I noticed something over the years. I wasn’t listening to a lot of music and hardly any new music.  I buy a song our album here and there.  But buying things on iTunes always felt weird, like I was cheating on record stores. Then podcasting took off so I started listening to this emerging art form when I was running around town and not any music at all.  So even if I wanted to cheat on record stores, I couldn’t really justify it.

Also listening to music was kind of a pain in the ass.  I didn’t have good speakers on my computer, and headphones chained you into place.

Let’s talk about headphones.  What the fuck has happened to headphones?  They used to be an awesome speaker set that you strapped to your head, now they are tinny, little things we jam into our ears that have a sound quality just above an analogue phone.  Luckily, I had a nice set of Bose headphones, but the act of putting them on required such a statement of intent that I never really used them for serious music listening.  Like a lot of people, when I’m on a computer, I’m either writing or reading, which isn’t something I can really do when I have music blasting directly into my ear.

Music dropped out of my life for a while there, and that’s when you really start to age.  And fast.  I have opinions on tax codes now.  It’s fucking horrible.

That’s what mainstream music technology is now: practical and sensible. People don’t even have dedicated music players any more.  It’s an app on their phones.  It’s an afterthought. Hell, for a lot of people the one time they hear a song is when their ringtone goes off.  That’s what it was turning into for me.

I wanted the rock and roll part of myself back and it wasn’t until I released the connection my brain made between music and technology that I could do anything about it.  I was following the mainstream music technology path – which was never very great – and that wasn’t my thing.  I was big, in your face stereo guy.  I was the show off.  “Come look at my epic stereo and we will listen to the music of the Gods.”

I was a lot more stable in my life now so I could do something about this, but I didn’t want to just fix my old stereo.  I love it and what it was to me, but I my gear needed an update.  Music technology had evolved since then and I wanted to be where to new music nerds are.  So I did some research and found that wifi speaker systems are finally where I always hoped they’d be.

A few months back, I picked up my first Sonos system.  It’s a high fi speaker that using Wifi instead of bluetooth to talk to your mobile devices, which is good because every bluetooth speaker I tried was garbage.  Most of them sound like crap and bluetooth is a pain in the ass if you want to switch control devices.

The first time I used my Sonos speaker was a fucking religious experience.  Any song I had I could play on a speaker that had some balls to it.  And I got the cheapest one.  It sounded really good and worked exactly the way I wanted it to.

I now have three of the things and can throw music all over the house.  They don’t have demon’s scream quality of my old stereo but they sound great and make listening to music really easy and fun.  Which of course lead me to updating how I got music.

I finally bit the bullet and got a Spotify account.  As with the stereo, I wanted to do things in the most bleeding edge way I could.  The thing I’ve discovered about Spotify is that it returned what I really liked about getting music: the discovery aspect.  I could crate dig again.  Albeit in a digital form, but when I’m done, I have a really cool playlist created, or I’ve finally gotten into a bands I’ve always been meaning to get to.  I’m a Rush fan now. Before I wouldn’t pick up one of their albums because I wasn’t sure which ones where the best and I was just kind of intimidated by the whole thing.  Spotify just lets me listen to their entire discography for the same price I’m paying for everything else. It gives me the freedom to just try stuff that I wouldn’t want to spend the money on otherwise.  Only so much music you can afford when you are only paying for one song or album at a time.

So I’m finally back.  I listen to a lot of music again and it’s always on and around me now, which is how I always saw my life as an adult being when I was that high school kid getting the coolest fucking christmas gift in the world.

Picture via Flickr

I Got a big boy URL

So last night I was researching things for my blog and decided to put money where my mouth was and actually by my domain name for this site.  It’s something that I had been wanting to do for years but I never felt justified because I didn’t post on here much.

But that’s the rub.  I wasn’t blogging because I didn’t have the site I wanted and I wasn’t getting the things to make this the site that I wanted because I wasn’t blogging.  The setting the blog year challenge was a great thing for me to do but I think I need to put effort into developing the site itself as well as actually posting on here.

Part of what I like about blogging is the content management / web development part of the equation.  I like building websites.  It’s something I’ve been doing pretty much since high school, so I think if I was going to stop, I probably would have done so by now.

That’s why I’ve finally have gotten around to getting an actual domain name for the blog.  I have more plans for stuff that I can do on here.  I probably will move this site over to my own installation of WordPress, but not right now.  I’d like to build up a few more posts first and use working with the technology as a reward for how much content I’m posting.

Image via Flickr

Three Podcasts You Need To Listen To

So it’s about 10:30 as I’m writing this and I’ve had one Guinness, I’m listening to some White Stripes on my Sonos, and I thought I would write about a topic that is very near and dear to my heart:


I’ve talked about this before, but I thought I’d do something a little different this time. I’d like to go over three radio drama podcasts that are totally worth your time.  Now radio dramas are something that’s been with us for about as long as radio has, but these three are something a little different.  They were created specifically for the Internet and they are independently produced, which is, I think, a big part of the Internet spirt. “Get up there and do something weird.”

These three shows breath new life into the form and give it a strange veracity that I don’t think they would have if they weren’t produced directly for an Internet audience.

Tales From The AfterNow

This one is kind of a cheat because it isn’t technically a podcast.  It predates the form by about three years, but it shows what you can create when you simply just want something to exist.  It’s a great precursor to the army of podcasters who were just going to put up experimental content and see what stuck.  It was, however, produced directly for the web and available for download directly from Rantmedia – the production company’s site.

The AfterNow takes place in a post-apocalyptic, cyberpunk world where the dead are made into fuel, corporations rule whats left of the world, and even time is copy written. So yeah, it’s up beat.

When I first stumbled backwards onto this show back in 2003, it was like finding punk rock for the first time.  The show’s format is a single voice telling stories with a few background songs thrown in for flavor.  It is a raw nerve of a show, that you will be begging to continue past its 17 episode run.

We’re Alive

I never really got into The Walking Dead TV show.  Primarily because I’d already “seen” it on We’re Alive.  It’s a zombie apocalypse themed drama with a full cast and a great, survivalist undertone that I never really got from the Walking Dead.

Each episode of We’re Alive presents the characters with a problem that if they don’t solve right now they are all going to die.  Right now.  Be it finding shelter, building a water filtration system, or housing more survivors.  The show really shines when it’s shows it’s many characters problem solving.  And yes, there is a lot of humans-are-the-real-monsters style story telling, so if you really like Walking Dead and want to see how the survivors go from A to B in their efforts to survive, then it’s totally worth checking out.

Welcome To Night Vale

This was the podcast that everyone tried to get me to listen to because they knew that I loved podcasts and new school radio dramas.  I held off listening to it longer than I’m proud of for reasons I can’t even fathom now.

If you haven’t listened to this show yet, stop reading this and listen to it.  It’s as good as your friends are telling you it is.

It has some of the sharpest writing I’ve seen in a long time, and some of a darkest humor that I’ve heard in a long time.  It’s a community radio show taking place in a town where every conspiracy theory is true.  The government is out to get you, aliens are real, and there’s a faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home.

The people who put the show together get almost every decision they could make right and it’s so great to watch this show blow up in the way that it is.

Image via flickr

How to Teach People Games Like a Boss

If you like to play boardgames, you are almost always going to run into situations where you need to explain the rules of a game to a bunch of people who have never played the game before. This can easily turn into a sitution where you not only confuse your friends and family, but you also turn them off to even playing the game.  I found through trial – and much error – some tips that work to explain game rules quickly and get people playing and having fun.

Start with the game setting and the goal. The first thing you should say to new players should follow this format, “we are all [what the players represent in the game setting] and we are trying to [goal that lets us win the game], this is determined by [how the winner is determined, usually points] when [end condition].” So if I were to explain how to play a game like Carcassonne I would say, “We are all noble lords who are trying to control the most land of Carcassonne, this is determined by who has the most points when all the tiles have been played.

Making a statement like this helps players get a concrete understanding what they are about to do and why.  Yes we all know that they are all actually going to try and win the game but what you need to do is put that in the context of the game itself.

Show how a typical turn will go.  Now that you laid out the setting and the goals, you should play through a demo turn to show them how the game is played and what choices they are going to make each turn. If you are dealing with a deep strategy game like Lords Of Waterdeep, you might want to stack any decks so that you are presented with the most options because you really only want to run through one demo turn.  Of course, when you are done, you should reshuffle any decks and reset all of the markers to zero. 

This is where you should spend the most of your time explaining things because is actually how to play the game, and you should show them every action they need to know in order to do so. 

Don’t talk strategy. This tip might seem counterintuitive because your initial instinct will be to teach people how to win.  That’s not what you are supposed to be doing.  You should just focus on teaching them how to play, not what to do while they are playing.  Talking about strategy can be very confusing to people who are just learning the rules because they might mistake strategy for the rules. Also, a good game will have many different ways to win so there will be multiple different strategies a player can use.  Let the players determine how they want to play for themselves. 

You can, and should, teach them strategy while you are actually playing.   

Only one person should explain the rules.  This will be the hardest tip to pull off.  Most of the time you won’t be the only player in the group who has played the game and this can lead to people jumping in during your explanation.  This can split the new players’ focus on who they should be getting information from and could confuse them because other players could be yelling out rules at random.

When this starts to happen, it’s best to chime in with a “I got this,” or, if the other person does really know the game well, just yield to them.  You could grab pieces as the other person talks about how to play the game.  It’s totally okay to assist someone else if they really want to take over and they know their stuff.  It’s not about you, it’s about the game.

Set up the game ahead of time.  A mistake I make all the time is explaining rules while I’m also setting up the game.  This cause two problems: one, it can split your focus between two things causing you to do neither really well.  And two, if the game has a lot of different kinds of pieces, it can be really intimidating to some players to see you pull piece after piece out of the box.  

It’s best if you can get all of the players to separate themselves from the play area while you set everything up.  For a game like Elder Sign, it can be a lot less intimidating for people see it all set up as apposed to watching you pull yet another deck of cards out of the box and do something different with it.

Keep the explanation as short as you can.  This should go without saying, but you’re not giving a Paton-like speech.  You are just giving players a run down on the game.  Stick to the basics. You can show more complex moves and mechanics as you are playing, which is where people are really going to start to understand the game anyway.

Don’t just read the rule book out loud.  If you do this I will find you and punch you in the face.  There is nothing more boring than listening to someone drone on while reading a rule book.  If your players are board, they not having fun.  So please, make sure you actually know the rules beforehand and can talk about them off the top of your head.  It’s okay to reference back and read a passage or two, but don’t read the entire book verbatim. 

Resign yourself to losing the first game.  Games really are about having fun and not winning.  You should understand that as the person who is helping show everyone how to play, you are painting a huge target on your back because you are in a position of power because you know all the rules and have played the game before. The other players are going to team up to take you out.  This is fine and you should let them.  Also, you should be giving them tips to help them win even if it means that you will lose.  Your job in that first game is to make sure everyone understands the rules and is having fun.  You’re not trying to win the game, you’re trying to host the game.

You should also let people know that you are there to help everyone.  This means looking at a player’s hand and helping play the best cards.  Don’t use that knowledge to beat everyone.  That’s still cheating.  Plus, after you totally lose, you can always play again now that everyone has the hang of it.

And most importantly: you, and all the other experienced players, are going to go first.  This helps solidify the rules you just explained and everyone should explain why they are doing what they are doing so the new people can get a hang of things.

These are just a few things that I’ve found that work for me. You can tell I used to be a GM, huh?  Just remember that you were once new to whatever game you are playing, so be patient and have fun.

Blog Year

If you’ve been following this blog for the last month, you may have noticed that a) I’ve finally updated it and b) I really wish that I wrote more on here.  So in the interest of writing more and the fact that it is the new year, I’ve decided to do another blogging challenge.  This time I’m going to write one post a week for the entire year.

Here are the rules for this challenge:

  • I have to have at least one post on this blog by midnight each Thursday.
  • Each post has to be between 300 – 600 words.
  • Every post needs to have at least one picture.
  • While I can – and hope to – post more than once a week, only one post counts for that week and doing more won’t count for other weeks.  This will keep me from posting five times one week and then taking a month off.
  • I can use the scheduling feature, but only a week in advance.  This will keep me more present on the blog and keep me from automating the hell out of it.
  • I need to actually revise the posts I’m making.  Last time was really done off the cuff, and there were a lot of typos and errors that should have been avoided.
  • If I do miss a week, I’ll have to post twice the next week.  I owe myself 52 posts.
  • While this post is going to count for this week.  Other posts that are updates on how I’m doing or feeling about the challenge itself will not count as posts for that week.
  • If I get a comment on a post, I should try to comment back to the person.  This challenge is going to be about blogging not just writing.
  • I’m going to be a better member of the blogging community by checking out others blogs and commenting on three posts a week.  This will need to be done by each Friday.

While this might sound ambitious, my last blogging challenge was for 30 days straight and that went really well.  This is only going to require 52 posts which really isn’t that much more than last time and I’m going to have a whole lot more time to do it.

Also, you may have noticed the rules about reaching out to other blogs.  The last challenge was to really see if I could produce that much writing on a tight time-frame.  This challenge is to see if I can become a much more active blogger.  Part of that is sticking to a posting schedule, but another part of that is becoming part of the blogging community.  Lucky for me, WordPress has a lot of great tools for finding blogs and bloggers and reaching out to them.

So this is my new years resolution, and I do think I’m going to be able to stick to it.  I feel pretty good about 2015 and I look forward to all of the strangeness that being a blogger is going to bring.

Image via – Flickr