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September 2008 Archives

Podcast for 09.29.08 | Poetry Slam

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This week's podcast features Qais, Chris, Jinny and Ross discussing various ephemera floating about in the geek sphere. Do you have to have a high def TV in order to truly experience games these days, or does standard suffice? Will Penn and Teller's upcoming tv show on video game violence actually teach us anything new? Why will the movie based on The Sims ultimately fail? Do MMOs ruin lives? Where do babies come from?

We also dip into the mailbag, and announce our PAX Swag Poetry Slam contest winner. Aww yeah.

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Ends Tonight! PAX Swag Giveaway - Weekly Geek Poetry Slam

paxswag1_full.jpgDid you plan on attending PAX this year, only to find that your plane had been hijacked by rabid monkey-men hell bent on ruining your vacation? Did your Oscar Meyer Weinermobile break down halfway through Utah? Perhaps you'd like some PAX swag to heal those wounds. We collected a lot of detritus at the ol' Penny Arcade Expo this year and you can have it for the low low price of no dollars and zero cents!

The prize pack is insane this year. We've got!

  • One (1) Fallout 3 poster
  • One (one) Fallout 3 Vault Boy hand puppet with matching Fallout paraphernalia
  • One (two. I mean one.) Fallout survival guide
  • A set of 3 Dead Space posters
  • One Mirror's Edge poster
  • One Left 4 Dead poster
  • Comics! Mirror's Edge preview comic, Mushroom Men and Legendary
  • One PAX 2008 Guide
  • One Dragon Age tattoo sleeve
  • Matching set of Starcraft II and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King pins
  • One (super classy!) slap bracelet
  • Two Privateer Press pirate bandannas, one in pink and one in swarthy black
  • One Magic: The Gathering mousepad
  • Random things such as flyers and ads and stickers from the show

All you gotta do is write an original poem about The Weekly Geek. It could be a haiku, sonnet, couplet what have you. Whatever method you feel best to convey your love/hatred of The Weekly Geek. Post your poem in the comments of this article and on Monday, September 29th at 7pm pst (that's today!) we'll select the best, and that person will win this fabulous prize pack. We'll even read the top contenders on the podcast. Go forth you beautiful balladeers. You kings of quatrain. You heroes of haiku.

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This contest is open to everyone, no matter where you live. Except if you live in Antarctica. We are racist against Antarcticans.

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Ask Dr. Helmig #7: "Spitzen Sprokzen"

Duck, duck, GOOSE

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Helmig will be a little late this week

What? A German late for an update? Unlikely, but true! Real life has rolled your cartoonist... comicist... Sequential art-smith? Listen, the important thing is the comic will be delayed until Friday-ish. At least until my Heroine and Satanic Orgy Box Social... um... I mean... "Midterm Examinations" (yes, that'll do) are out of the way.

In the meantime, allow the good doctor to "lay down some beats" and get "hip" or whatever the hell it is you kids do whenever you're not huffing acetone or keying Oldsmobiles.

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Live Music Review: Okkervil River - 9/17/08 The Showbox - Seattle, WA

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Last Wednesday at the Showbox, I was treated to Austin, TX band Okkervil River - a group on the precipice of going beyond their cult following to full blown indie stardom.

Opener Zykos, also from Austin, played 45 minutes of straightforward, yet pleasant rock; their success will depend largely on the strengthening of singer Mike Booher's raspy vocal delivery which, at its strongest, reminded me of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy.

Second band Sea Wolf was a real treat. Hailing from L.A., and having found their way into a few big television commercial spots, they played a nice variety of tunes. Half the jams were relentless - with an onslaught of crisp drums, well-strummed acoustic guitars and synthesizer/cello interplay (see "I'm a Wolf"). The other half were slower and heartfelt like the disarming mid-set highlight "Middle Distance Runner".

When Okkervil River finally took the stage, they showed how comfortable they are and how big their fan base has ballooned in the last few years.

With charming southern influenced ballads to hard rocking feedback fests, frontman Will Sheff has obviously surrounded himself with enough veterans and friends to accomplish anything.

Most impressive were Lauren Gurgiolo's guitar work and Justin Sherburn's exploits on keyboards. Both seemed effortless and capable of queuing dynamics through the whole night.

Yet singer and ringleader of the night Sheff was rightly the center of attention. His tortured wails and growls, especially on older tracks "The Latest Toughs" and "For Real" from Black Sheep Boy, were eaten up by the crowd.

I couldn't help but notice their newest songs from The Stand Ins haven't quite cemented in the minds of their audience yet.

Still, between Will's charisma and the band (for the most part) being on point, Okkervil River seems destined for great things. They remind me of fellow indie darlings The Decemberists a couple years ago - like they're one more exceptional record and a couple bigger shows away from being massive.

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Knetwit: Intelligentsia Unite

Knetwit_Header.pngA few weeks ago I met a buddy at the after party for a BarCamp in Chicago whose focus was social networking. In spite of having worked in the IT industry for the last 6 years I was clearly an outsider unable to claim familiarity with either the coding or business aspects that seemed to dominate most conversations. Regardless of this stigma I was briefly chatted up and given free drinks by a would-be businessman who was equally enthusiastic as he was naive regarding my duties as a NetAdmin.

This experience only strengthened my skepticism of Social Networking in its colloquial form. Given its heavy use as a buzz word the term has come to refer more to a specific platform often forced in to creation with the hopes of some quick cash than an actual service. Technically speaking I've been using all kinds of social networks over the years, from online forums to collaborative blogs or mailing lists. A social network is merely the series of relationships one has, the service being the medium which either enables or promotes interaction.

Facebook started out as such a platform available only to Ivy Leaguers and later other college students prior to its evolution into the all inclusive tour de force it is today. Any remnants of the educational background requirements have been buried under pokes, party pics, and a myriad of entertainment driven applications. These features aren't really detractors as the site is wildly successful but its place in any students' life is clearly separate from studies.

Enter Knetwit, the social networking site built on the desire for "a comprehensive resource for studying."

Of the site, co-founder Benjamin Wald says:

"College students see social networking and online research as part of their everyday academic life. As recent college students ourselves, we are familiar with the frustrations that often come with researching information online. And with Knetwit, we strive to make it easier for people to find relevant information around any topic."

Recent studies show 13.74 million college and 12.3 million high school students in the U.S. alone with home internet access, producing roughly 1.92 billion pages of notes each year. Knetwit offers a searchable, meta data filtered repository for this work to which a user's content can be uploaded, rated, and made available to anyone with an account.

Oh, and Knetwit pays you to participate.

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So let's see, an online collective of intellectuals sharing notes in the pursuit of greater knowledge while bypassing geographical boundaries and the need for swanky journals or published studies. These individuals are sharing in the ad revenue from the platform to further fund their studies as part of an open meritocracy of rated content.
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This should have existed years ago.

I'm sure that school is a different experience nowadays with the advent of better web content and the relative cheapness of personal electronics. Having been out of academia for 7 years now the thought of taking a laptop to lecture is kind of exciting, as is the concept of sharing notes with another student studying even the rarest of research topics.

It seems that the founders of Knetwit have created a simple solution to a simple problem while simultaneously finding a way to entice even the wariest of participants. At the same time they provide a means to feed the desire for a functional online community with roots in the education system.

Kind of makes me want to get back in school and, you know, actually go to class this time around.

Thanks for sending this in, Wade!

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Gaymers

Great little segment from Current featuring good friend of the site Mister Flynn DeMarco. Flynn discusses internet anonymity, online gay bashing and attacks on his own community. An interesting and very well-made mini-documentary shedding some light on the big pink homophobic elephant in the room. People on the internet are often jerks, but sometimes we can band together to provide safe spaces for people and build genuinely positive communities.

Of course this brings up a larger topic in my mind: what can we sane, intelligent, tolerant people do to help influence a change in the way people treat others online, specifically over Xbox Live? How do we show the people spouting hate speech that they are genuinely hurting people with what they say, and do they even care?

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Your Personal Soundtrack: Shugo Tokumaru - Parachute

Every once in a while I'll run across an album that is so great I just keep it on repeat. I want to absorb them and pick them apart. The best albums reveal layers the more you listen to them, and Shugo Tokumaru's album Exit has revealed itself to be a gorgeous musical tapestry. He's been likened to a Japanese Sufjan Stevens, which is fairly accurate. Both Shugo and Sufjan feature plucky banjos and twinkling bells in their captivating melodies, and certainly both of their names start with S. Shugo stands on his own, however, without having to compare him to other artists. Check out this video for the first track off of Exit, Parachute.

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Podcast for 09.22.08 | Penguins

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Hi! This week, Chris, Jinny and Ross sat down to discuss things that you may enjoy listening to. These things include Nintendo releasing a crazy amount of good games this week, whether or not World of Warcraft is work, if Portal may lose it's funny and how to keep on gaming during a financial crunch. What is this I hear about a PAX-themed contest? Oh hey! Neat. Look, there's a lot of things discussed this week. We just sort of have a conversation and it's an interesting conversation. That's what we do. In addition, you guys sent a ridiculous amount of mails this week for mailbag, so we read them all. Including the death threats. Yeah. Neat.

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The Ravenous Bibliophage - Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

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In October of 2004, I was enjoying the second month of a semester abroad in Merry Old England. East London, to be exact. And by that time, the girl in the flat above me ('flat' is British for 'apartment,' or in this case, 'dorm,') had become by very best friend. Shortly after Hallowe'en, she put a book in my hand and told me I had to read it, I would love it. Now, I should tell you upfront that being introduced to a book this way -- having it thrust on me and being told I absolutely have to read it because it's wonderful and I'll love it -- is not the best way to get me to read it. I'm just obstinate that way. If someone forcefully suggests something to me, my knee-jerk reaction is to do the opposite, or to ignore the request entirely. But in this case, the book was a three-part anthology including Neil Gaimain's Stardust, Neverwhere, and the short story and poetry collection Smoke and Mirrors. Neil Gaiman has been my favorite dark fantasy author ever since.

I've read pretty much everything in Gaiman's collection by now, but Neverwhere is the one that hooked me. It takes place in contemporary London, except that it's divided into two fiefdoms: 'London Above,' the real-world London that we know, and that I came to love while living there; and 'London Below,' the fantastical netherworld that exists just under the surface. The basic idea is that all the vagrants, beggars and street musicians of the city - all the people you'd normally give only passing attention to, before forgetting about them completely - are people who have 'fallen through the cracks' of normal society, and thus become part of this underworld community where 'normal' becomes an idea of the past, and nothing is as it seems. The two Londons coexist fairly independently of one another, but they are linked, and anything that happens in one can affect the other.

Normally what I look for in a book before anything else are good characters. If I'm not emotionally invested in the people in the story, I'm not going to care what happens to them. The characters in Neverwhere are indeed compelling - the two hitmen, Croup and Vandemar, double as legitimately scary villains and a comic relief duo; the protagonist, Richard Mayhew, is a lost everyman who's struggling to come to terms with the surreality of London Below; and Door, a young girl with a unique power and an unassuming personality, is a refreshing change from the damsel-in-distress staple. However, what drew me to this story was not the characters, but the setting and atmosphere. Delving into a fantasy world set in London while I was living there was only half the fun. The other half was the way that this world was realized. If you've ever been on the London Underground (that's British for 'subway' or 'metro,' sometimes called simply 'the tube') then you've probably taken a double take at the odd names tacked onto the stops. Earl's Court? Blackfriars? Hammersmith? They might as well be names for acts in a trippy sideshow. And in this novel, that's not too far from the truth. Earl's Court is an empty train car that's home to the decrepit nobleman Earl, and his long-suffering band of loyal followers. Blackfriars is a monastery of very secretive and elite monks, always dressed in black robes instead of the usual brown. Hammersmith is a giant - here meaning not just big, but a Jack-and-the-Beanstalk type of giant - who works as a blacksmith at the traveling market held weekly by the residents of London Below.

Sometimes I wonder if Gaiman came up with this story purely as result of wondering what in the world was going on with those names. I'm sure he's not the first to wonder about that, and he probably won't be the last. There are real stories behind the ridiculous names on the London Underground, surely. But what Gaiman gave us is more frightening, more whimsical, and altogether more magical than anything we could learn from a history book.

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Is That Blood on Your Zombie?

FidoMoviePoster.jpgOf all the advances in technology the mail delivery of rental DVDs is among my favorites. Gone are the hours of uncomfortable shuffling between addled rows trying to rush a decision based on loose genre classification and sun-faded box covers. It's a ritual I'm glad to be rid of.

But with ease often comes... confusion. I throw movies in my online queue at the mere mention of potential awesome and am often surprised when they finally arrive, any previous reference forgotten.

One such film was Fido. As a fan of the ever-expanding zombie genre I was puzzled as to why I hadn't heard of it before. Without even glancing at the sleeve blurb I remained optimistic and fired it up.

After suffering through the unholy montage of Lions Gate trailers I was pleasantly surprised with the premise of a 1950's post-zombie-apocalypse setting in which a corporation had all but handled the still occurring threat of every dead person reanimating as a zombie. Once fitted with a device the undead perform a myriad of grunt labor tasks such as delivering milk or household chores freeing up time for those wealthy and privileged enough to have them. Every aspect of daily life is touched by the zombies' presence and potential lethality.

As with any zombie flick there's certainly an underlying commentary but this film performs on a number of levels. Everything is richly colored, heavily saturated to the point where even mundane items scream "Everything is OK!" to overshadow the gray-garbed Zomcom workers picking up the slack.

While the pastel-topia Edward Scissorhands or exaggerated Pleasantville came to mind first I'd say the RomZomCom mash-up Shaun of the Dead is a better comparison movie as Fido transcends the label of a single genre with its strong characters (one of which never speaks), quirky humor, and well timed gore.

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Music Review: Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping

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Kevin Barnes has finally cracked. He's lobotomized himself and let his rainbow colored brain fluid flow out for everyone to see. It's ugly, beautiful, insane, logical - Skeletal Lamping is an extension of his work laid naked and unapologetic, for the critics to pick apart.

If there was one flaw to last year's Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? it's that it was too calculated, too choreographed. For all its exposure into his personal problems, Barnes didn't challenge the listener very much. Skeletal Lamping, however, is vibrantly dissonant, uncomfortably sexual, stripping away any security the audience might have.

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Diablo 2 - Relapse

Diablo2_header.pngThough I can no longer claim the title there was a time when I considered myself a hardcore gamer.

The games and platforms varied through the years but it was those by Blizzard that left their mark more deeply than others. While Warcraft II forced memorization of my modem's INIT string during the hours of agonizing multiplayer setup it was the Diablo franchise that left a visible callus on the ghost of my gamer's heart.

My buddies from high school, the original crew of tower-toting LAN party professionals, instituted a mandatory cross-country gaming night about a year ago. The four of us span two coasts and three timezones, each with vastly different professions and lifestyles. Despite surprisingly full schedules we all set aside a couple hours each Tuesday night to regress back to our Mountain Dew-can-stacking, dice-rolling, stay-up all-weekend selves. We fire up Vent, shoot the bull, and live the dream that is modern day internet gaming.

When Diablo 3 was announced we knew we had to go back and reinstall The Deuce.

The only thing that surprised me more than an eight-year old game still being stocked was the fact that every brick and mortar I rambled in to sported an empty slot. The multimedia strewn announcement for the third iteration was a taste of warm nostalgia to those that had been sober for years, a drop of blood in the shark infested waters thick with previous addicts that went in to a frenzy snatching up new copies to get that old fix. More than a few gamers had the same idea and even drove this classic to the top of Amazon's game sales (it's currently at #75).

And it was addictive. The sound of an item dropping still elicits a tiny Pavlovian rush of adrenaline, the promise of digital riches in the form of stat-heavy weapons and armor only growing stronger the deeper one delves. Blizzard had to know what they were doing, setting the hooks in the Normal mode with the lure of greater treasure in subsequent difficulties of the same game.

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Hack n' slash is good stuff and randomly generated dungeons with steadily increasing difficulty keep that thrill going three times longer than other games dare. Diablo 2 built on the original's appeal and tipped it over the edge in to a more deeply immersed gaming experience which laid a lot of the groundwork for how the massively successful World of Warcraft would be structured years later.

It's taken just under three months of casual gaming for that thrill to wear off. I now maximize game play for a greater loot to time-spent ratio which was what turned me off of WoW a couple years ago. Blizzard kept the new content coming, engaging to say the least, but advancement was measured in the items acquired and that meant dedication with time-intensive logistical planning separate from actual game play in order to tackle dungeons that often required no less than forty people to complete.

Gaming became Serious Business.

So Diablo 2 is getting replaced in the Tuesday night rotation. Each of us will count the weeks we spend clean while wiping the gradual saliva until we can relapse again with a new Diablo.

With new items.

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Ask Dr. Helmig #6: "Hyoooge Hadrons"

Can you feel ze schadenfreude?

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After Microsoft - Revisiting Bliss

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Booting up my virtual PC this morning to test some bugs in Internet Explorer 6, that outdated and decrepit bane of my existence, I sat watching Windows XP chug along as it booted its bloated start up items. Sipping my tea I sat back and contemplated the default desktop image. It's something I've always taken for granted. Pleasing but not challenging, ambient and inoffensive. What were the origins of this image, I wondered? This led to one of my frequent Wiki sojourns, where I discovered the title of the image was "Bliss" and was a photograph of a hill in Napa Valley taken by the photographer Charles O'Rear during a brief respite from the Winter cold. For some odd reason it had never occured to me that this was an actual physical location. After staring at Bliss since installing the Beta of XP on my old HP Pavilion desktop in college, I always took it for granted, assuming that it was doctored or otherwise false.

A few years ago, an art installation was presented in Paris titled "After Microsoft". The artist revisited the same hill in Napa Valley where Bliss was photographed. What they found was a completely changed landscape, immediately familiar. Their research into the origins of the image is fascinating and thought provoking. This is one of the most widely recognizable and infinitely distributed photographs of all time and skewing it as such is strangely jarring.

I love the strange paths Wikipedia leads me down. If I had the option to live on after I die as a brain in a jar with access to nothing but Wikipedia, I'd probably be okay with that.

[link: After Microsoft]

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Podcast for 09.15.08 | Rock Hero Guitar Band 6

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It's the battle of the blogs this week as your hosts are joined by the esteemed Nick Chester, Editor in Chief of Destructoid. We discuss the recent release of Rock Band 2 and how it holds up versus the original and the upcoming Guitar Hero World Tour. But we don't just talk about Rock Band! Okay, we talk a lot about Rock Band. But! We also discuss storytelling in co-op games, reinventing classics and why more "realistic" games made today may not stand the test of time, and Netflix origami! In addition, this podcast marks the premiere of our brand new theme song courtesy of the masterful Tettix, tunesmith extraordinaire. We also read your mailbag questions and announce a new contest. Don't miss it!

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The New Adulthood

cottoncandayThis discussion probably requires tons more academic research and thinking than my anectodal mind is capable of, but this is something that's been on my mind as of late. I am not an adult. I freely admit this. I am not a child, either. I've been called a man-child before, but that description has more of a negative connotation than my lifestyle indicates. I have a pretty good job, I pay my bills, and I've accomplished quite a lot in the short time I've had on Earth so far. While the label "Adult" itself isn't necessarily important, it is important to note that the idea of "adulthood" has changed drastically in this last generation. Granted, these definitions change every generation, but I am of the opinion that we are in the beginning of a new golden age of sorts and we need to accept and embrace change, and redefine who we are in order to succeed and live fulfilling lives. It feels like there is this ambient wave of depression washing over our generation as we struggle to fit into this world, a rampant fatalism that leads to excess and is more focused on the self rather than society as a whole. Is this from a lack of maturity? Are we all just stunted adults, forever doomed to be children and will that drive our society into the ground? I am of course specifically referring to geeks. We're nuts about toys, video games, cartoons and other "childish" pursuits. We are driven by nostalgia, but I wonder if it's just a need to escape to simpler times or a change in the way we define adulthood.

Times are tough. We are mired in one of the most convoluted bullshit wars modern history has known. My whole adult life so far has seen George W. Bush as the commander-in-chief. The world is feeling the strain from having so many humans on it, and global warming and other fears are weighing on the shoulders of society. Life sucks and living in a time when all your concerns surrounded the fate of a rotund plumber in blue overalls is highly preferable to the realities of now. But I don't think it's just the need for escapism that has thrown the modern geek's pursuits into the mainstream but our generation's ability to network. We are very comfortable with the internet and social technologies in general. In the past people would correspond with old friends infrequently, sending letters or making irregular phone calls and yearly visits. Perhaps you had a local club to go to in order to pursue a hobby, and television fed you news nightly. Now we can be connected with friends constantly through instant messages. Our local clubs have become communities on the web, and our news is fed to us from the angry fire hose that is an RSS reader. More than that, there's a new sort of ambient presence fueled by Twitter. With Twitter (and Facebook, to a lesser extent) you can be kept up to date with the minutae of every single one of your friends' lives. A single tweet about making a sandwich doesn't mean much, but a day's worth of tweets and you have painted a picture of what occupies your time. I know which one of my friends is currently traveling and where, which friends are ill and are staying at home. Who is bored and who is busy, who is having a good day and who is having a bad one. I can instantly comfort a friend who needs it, and things like event planning is a breeze when we are all connected. It's just normal to us. We are almost a hive mind and handle it with savvy.

I think that we are very much adults, though some may call us childish. Sometimes our pursuits show a kind of narcissism which can be perceived as negative, however. Fewer of us are choosing to have children, which I think is not the best thing for society as a whole. While we can be immature, we are also often thoughtful, intelligent people. We have an awareness and breadth of knowledge the world has never known and to pass that on to a new generation is an exciting prospect.

Maybe that's what makes you an adult. Perhaps it's when you finally decide to put yourself aside and focus on the life of a small human in your care. The label doesn't matter, anyway. Every generation experiences change such as this, and the differences between who is an adult and who is a child have always been varied. For now, though, I think I'm happy being stuck inbetween.

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Ask Dr. Helmig #5: ...

The healing isn't nearly as rewarding as the hurting!

What happens when Dr. Helmig doesn't get any questions? Well, this. I hope you're happy. Gawd.

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Force Feedback

Clank_Header.jpgIt used to be that hammering out a paper was just that, a tactile bout between man and machine. Each hammer fall a satisfying CHUNK as part of either a slow paper tattoo or furious ink-spraying staccato. I'd play the part of the blacksmith bent over my typewriter forge, pouring sweat across corded wrist muscles that whimpered for a mercy they wouldn't see until the required number of pages were beaten to submission. Progress was ripped from rubber rollers to be tempered in cool air alongside similarly bruised brethren.

It was an assault on the senses, heat and impact and carriage returns the underlying heartbeat.

I was recently trawling through boxes of electronics and unearthed a dusty keyboard from my childhood. It took but one pass and I was rushed to when every key was a tiny double-stroke engine ringing out with sharp cluh-CLACKs at each depression. Back when flipping a power switch was Waking Up God; hard drive winding towards a steady pitch that let you know it was time for action. Productivity peaked with the mind-numbing modulation/demodulation of a screaming 9600 letting all in earshot know it was going down, and it was doing down Now.

I needed to hook this bad boy up and take it for a spin.

Dials need not click anymore. My iPod, a marvel of interface engineering, has a simulated clicking built in. Cameras have shutter snaps emitted from speakers, not a flexing aperture. The sounds are purely aesthetic, intentionally added to tell us that things are working. It's how we used to know.

An oft-used writer's trick is to appeal to as many senses as possible. I still remember the dull whirring of my Playstation's DualShock as I twitched to Resident Evil. At the time it struck me as campy but I can see what the designers were shooting for.

Are clacky keyboards, shaking gamepads, or manual typewriters the answer to a more stimulating experience? Does tactile feedback further enhance immersion? As we glide closer to the interfaces of Minority Report and super-slick motion capture designers will inevitably look to supplement by adding even more sensory input.

For the time being I'll mute my camera and iPod, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit there was something utterly sexy about this keyboard and its auditory stylings.

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The Ravenous Bibliophage: The Southern Vampire Series - Charlaine Harris

dead until dark coverHBO's new series True Blood is up and running: a campy, raunchy, unexpectedly hilarious look at vampires in rural Louisiana. I'm not an HBO series watcher in general, but when I found out this particular show was based on the Southern Vampire novels by Charlaine Harris, I became curious. So in preparation, I decided to have a look at the written series first, the better to point out flaws such as bad casting and altered storylines (one of my snobbier traits, born out of Book versus Adaptation elitism) when the show actually went to air. My conclusion: the show is indeed lacking. But the books are wonderfully addictive in all the best ways.

Alternately referred to as the Sookie Stackhouse novels, Harris's homey, supernatural world centers on a young cocktail waitress with the aggravating ability to read minds (sounds like fun until she has listen in on the horny drunks she serves every night) and her relationship with vampire Bill Compton, one of many vampires worldwide who are trying to 'mainstream' - to coexist peacefully with the humans. The Japanese have perfected a formula for synthetic blood, originally intended to be used for hospitals, but a worldwide side effect of this breakthrough is that vampires have 'come out of the coffin' so to speak and, since they no longer need humans to feed, want to rub shoulders with the regular folks and have a shot at being proper citizens.

One of the things I find bothersome about vampire fiction is the tendency to portray vamps as beautiful and physically perfect in every way. Anne Rice is guilty of this too, as much fun as she is otherwise. In Harris's world, there are a few vampires who follow the classic 'tall, dark and handsome' motif, but most of them are refreshingly unique. One is a Texas cowboy, complete with the ten-gallon hat and string necktie; another is a Civil War veteran with a pronounced Deep South accent and old-fashioned mannerisms to match; there's even a self-declared geek sporting pinstripes, thick-rimmed glasses and oxford shirts.

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to see the vampire myth brought out of the realm of Victorian Gothic romanticism and into the realm of homespun realism. Although it might not be enough to attract readers who aren't into vampire lore to begin with, it is a fabulously entertaining take on what might actually happen in the real world if vampires existed, and how the general populace would react to their presence. In addition to being a supernatural adventure with tons of humor and romance mixed in, Harris's books are a commentary on racism, homophobia, gender roles, and other civil rights issues that we do actually deal with on a daily basis. Vampires are just another group perceived as something other than 'normal,' comprised of beings who have good and bad qualities just like everyone else.

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Podcast for 09.08.08 | Hyped to Hell and Back

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Qais, Chris, Jinny and Ross hit you this week with one very entertaining, very not safe for work podcast featuring a variety of subjects to amuse and delight. Spore released this week and we've got impressions and a discussion (ok, argument) about all the hype and why an 8 or 9 out of 10 isn't a bad review score after all. We talk a little Castle Crashers, a little Soul Calibur IV, and discuss (argue) about video games' tenuous link with science.

We won't mention the bit about the Guitar Hero movie. We don't speak of this.

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New Kaki King + Mountain Goats Single - "Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle"

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It's not often that music and video games come together in a fashion other than the occasional "I'm Addicted to Nintendo" novelty song. Music from video games is fantastic but doesn't ever really see any mainstream appeal. For whatever reason I had never really listened to Kaki King until just last night, when Jinny played the album Dreaming of Revenge for me. The lead-off track "Bone Chaos in the Castle" could very well have been a song straight out of a Metroid game. Kaki King has a stunning sense of melody, obviously inspired by video games.

Pitchfork premiered a brand new track from Miss King and The Mountain Goats today titled "Thank You Mario But Our Princess Is In Another Castle", a nice little track told from the perspective of a frightened Toad, as he waits in the castle for Mario to come. There are many lovingly mentioned bits of Mario lore, and it makes me kind of yearn for an album of story songs told from the perspective of minor video game characters, sitting in the background and quietly composing. Click the link below and check it out.

[link via P4K]

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Sarah Palin prays for a pipeline

The Weekly Geek doesn't get political often, but it should be said that we're all progressive (we don't use the slur term "Liberal" that Bush Sr. invented). Since we're also a blog, we occasionally see things that normal media don't, and I found this on Youtube this morning and am shocked it isn't plastered all over the news. Sarah Palin, praying for a pipeline (since those only go to Christians, apparently).

Oy.

What is worse? A sincere Fundie or an insincere Fundie?

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Ask Dr. Helmig #4: Buttfly Effect

I'm drunk, what's YOUR excuse!

This week the Doctor experiments with Chaos Theory.

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Podcast for 09.03.08 | Fear and Loathing at PAX 2008

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While away at the Penny Arcade Expo this year, Chris, Qais and Jinny experienced sights that astounded the mind and delighted the soul. From the various video game offerings such as Spore, Starcraft II, Rock Band 2, Guitar Hero, Left 4 Dead, Little Big Planet and Shaun White's Pro Barefoot WiiBoarding to the array of panels, concerts and ephemera featured at this giant geek gathering. This episode is devoted to covering the amazingness of PAX2008, which really proved to be the best. PAX. Ever. Reader questions are also answered in funny foreign accents. Running time: 1:12:20

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PAX 2008: Liven't Blogging - Sunday Edition

As sore as my feet were from Saturday, I lived to fight another day at PAX. Walking around on Sunday was a bit like being in a survival horror game full of nerdy zombies - ready to crash (or possibly eat brains) from a weekend of energy drink fueled madness.

Anyhow, the crowds had thinned enough for me to get in and actually play a lot of the games the lines wouldn't permit on Saturday.

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11:01 - Dragon Age Demo - BioWare are apparently "getting back to their roots" with a Baldur's Gate style game. The Mass Effect-like decision tree is nice, especially for a fantasy game, but the novelty is wearing off a little bit. The cut scene graphics are a tad underwhelming, especially when it's postponing action to tell me a generic medieval story. The gameplay itself is fantastic though - especially the huge area of effect magic spells and beautifully gory finishing moves. Combine that with a story that changes vastly based on your class and race choices, and we may just see this title winning over the Baldur's crowd.

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11:39 - Fallout 3 Gameplay - Bethesda may have the best shooting game of the year on their hands. Incredible detail is present even in just the demo builds for the convention. The V.A.T paused targeting system adds a whole new dimension to the genre. I'm amazed by the amount of time investment and the level of detail in the menus; even if they are taking a page out of the Bioshock plasmid tutorial book, it's still the best move that Bethesda could make to build on the multi-console success of Oblivion.

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12:25 - Animal Crossing: City Folk - *Squeeeeeeeeeee* So excited for more cuteness from the only Nintendo franchise I give a shit about anymore. New to this version: the ability to play over WiiConnect (as expected) and finally the ability to skin your animal with the Mii face of your choice - no longer will we have to accept the random animals they spit out at us. The graphics are a nice, neat little step up from the GameCube's Animal Crossing and at any time, you can emote with your cute little bundle of joy. Stomp in anger when you lose a fish or jump up and down when you pay off your damn mortgage to Tom Nook.

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DIY Charging Station

ChargingStation2_01.jpgTo say that I am fond of cable management is a bit of an understatement. When confronted with a tangled rat's nest of wires I can concentrate on little else. Jaws clenched and temples throbbing the world silently fades as my focus gets narrower and more fierce. That mess is broken, and I have to fix it. Why won't they let me fix it? Alternately, each encounter with a tightly velcro'd grouping of insulated conductor proves enticing much like the garter on a lass's upper--

Ahem. Yeah, I like clean cabling, both its aesthetic and efficiency.

My computer workstations at work and home are already upstanding pillars to this interest. However, the myriad of AC adapters for my portable electronics were in dire need of some attention. I needed a charging station.

Off-the-shelf valets run upwards of $30 but are devoid of the home-brewed functionality for what I had in mind. There is no lack of options either at Instructables or otherwise for the DIY solution but while everything I came across certainly hid the cables many seemed a bit lacking in presentation.

I wanted a solution that would mesh well with my living room while keeping the functionality of the other stations. Something that was cheap but didn't look it. Something that was easy to use and eventually modify down the inevitable upgrade road.

Hit the jump for the step-by-step process of what I came up with using $25 worth of on-hand materials.

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The Ravenous Bibliophage: Brian Briggs, The BBook of Geek

The Ravenous Bibliophage

Think you know everything there is to know about being a geek? Think again, true believers: Much to learn you still have. But fear not! Brian Briggs has pulled together a truly delightful how-to guide to help veteran geeks, would-be geeks, and geek watchers expand their knowledge of this multifaceted and richly detailed culture.

Equal parts survival guide and good-natured spoof, Briggs's BBook of Geek has it all. Have trouble keeping up with the bloggers and their idiosyncratic language? This book can help. Still don't know what LARP stands for? You will. The BBook is broken up into helpful genre-specific sections such as literature, movies, and gaming, the better to help the well-rounded geek find what he or she needs quickly. Also, for your entertainment, there are countless lists on topics such as 'Top 11 Signs You Shouldn't Board That Spacecraft,' and many (surprisingly difficult!) quizzes designed to test your knowledge of your fandom of choice. Is 'Boss Nass' a Star Wars character or a Hip-Hop artist? Is 'Red Tornado' a superhero or a household cleaner? Believe me, it's harder than it looks.

There is a wealth of information here that will surprise and amuse you, but a word of warning: there are tongue-in-cheek 'facts' interspersed among the real truths of geekdom. (Example: "LOLcats can be traced back to ancient Egyptian drawings of cats with hieroglyphics that roughly translate to: 'I can haz pyramidz?'") And let's not forget the hilarious newspaper clippings with titles like "Blizzard Selling LifePacks for Scheduled Downtime in World of Warcraft," and "Thirty-Two Arrested in Poorly Conceptualized LARP."

bbookofgeek.jpgThe only complaint I have about this book is that it left me with an unavoidable sense of how little I truly know about geekdom in general. My own geekiness is confined to a spare few areas that I know way too much about--I'm not what you'd call 'fluent' in Elvish, but I can tell Sindarin from Quenya when I hear it--but my knowledge of gaming and comics is sorely lacking. And to that end, I'm glad that a guide exists to help fill in those gaps, at least a little.

It's a rare person indeed who can convey a genuine affection for and kinship with a given culture at the same time that he's shamelessly harpooning it, but Briggs pulls it off. Even if you have trouble separating the real facts from the clever jibes, chances are you will learn something new, and laugh your head off doing it.

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PAX 2008: Felicia Day and Jonathan Coulton singing Still Alive

One of the highlights of PAX was seeing the adorable Felicia Day in person. She is so spritely and cute! You may remember her from Dr. Horrible. Miss Day took the stage during the Jonathan Coulton concert to sing a duet of Still Alive from Portal. Totally. Freaking. Awesome. Thanks to Mack for the video!

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Podcast On Wednesday Evening

Wil Wheaton and the Penny Arcade guys play D+D at PAX 2008

Man. PAX certainly was a crazy geek fest. After three days of non-stop nerdery we here at The Weekly Geek are beat. So, please look forward to a PAX-filled podcast on Wednesday evening instead of the regularly scheduled time. It will be amazing.

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