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Recently by Ryan

Robo Chic

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Here we have a stark contrast to the robots I encounter daily which rumble on kicking up dust, flipping through corroded copper wire and Soviet-era munitions. Instead, a blend of Daniel Faraday and GQ, clinical demonstration with minimally exposed innards. This fits everything I want in modern day robotics, an amalgamation of polish and lack of control bottled to order, ID card still unbent and shiny.

[Robots, part III - The Big Picture]

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Karakuri Somersault Doll

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Look in horror as it tumbles. Tumbles for you. You don't know why you bought it. Perhaps the promise of "a centuries old secret artisan technique" combined with the self-satisfying DIY gratification making that one clock brought. Little did you realize that this back-wrenching monster is the stuff of nightmares, a real life ode to Puppetmaster with a conveniently translated instruction manual.

Go back to your LEGOs, man. Go back to your solder and breadboards. This way is madness.

[Karakuri Somersault Doll - MakerSHED]

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Does He Look Afraid?

"The Jawas have a tendency to pick up anything that's not tied down, Luke, but remember, they're basically afraid of their own shadows."
-Owen Lars

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My Bag, Let Me Show You It

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A couple of years back Lifehacker ran a series of posts displaying user-submitted shots of readers' Go Bags (what you grab and haul every day) and their disgorged contents. I sat entranced for hours, leering over this voyeuristic yet impersonal display of things usually hidden away. Eventually I made my own.

More recently several editors shared the contents of their laptop bags and a similar spell was cast, I simply had to know each and every gadget and velcro wrap and oh my my is that a stainless steel thumb drive?

Hit the jump for a taste of madness. Or better yet share your own Go Bag over in the Weekly Geek Flickr Pool.

continue reading "My Bag, Let Me Show You It"

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New Author's Version

Kupperman - New Author's Version

Michael Kupperman writes:

A gentleman in Connecticut had been buying magazines- mostly men's magazines- for several decades, from the forties to the early seventies- and deconstructing them. He would take them apart, and then he would make a new magazine from the remnants of several, arranging the pages to highlight certain stories and downplay others. He would staple the pages back into the cover, and then he would cross out whatever stories weren't in his version with a wax pencil. Finally he would stamp his name on the cover and number the whole thing, presumably for his "library."

Quite a sharp contrast to the scanned comic backups I've been consuming this month. Absent are the yellowed pages, dog-eared spreads, and general abuse / defacement that naturally translate to affection. I'll take what I can get out here but it's like comparing a fluorescent buzz to the sun.

I agree with Mr. Kupperman (certainly you own and treasure a copy of Snake 'n' Bacon, right?) in the value of his score, an inorganic snapshot of a different generation combined with one member's personal interpretation by way of amorphous grease pencil and personalized stamp.

As I type my external hard drives grow hot to the touch and I imagine the satisfying drag of a melting was pencil across its aluminum chassis, making my mark should any happen across it decades from now.

You can see more of these scanned covers, an admitted source of inspiration to one of my favorite comic authors, here.

[via Michael Kupperman]

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Dear Otterbox

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Podcaster, life streamer, and long time friend Jessica Mullen has a few things she wants her broken Otterbox to know:

Dear Otterbox,

I can't believe it's over, just like that. One day, things are going fine. Sure, you're dirty, but I always know you're clean on the inside (cream on the outside?). Then you start changing. Falling apart. Losing pieces of your self. Your cute little rubber port protector flaps, it almost seems like you have that disorder where you want to be an amputee. Then one day (at the beach no less), I discover a chunk of your skeleton is gone forever. Maybe I was too rough with you. But you begged for it! I could drop you from the top of the fridge and you liked it. Yeah, your rubber started getting a tiny bit stretched out. But your delicious skin was the most comforting fidget device I didn't realize I needed so bad.

My new case is a bitch, total rebound case. She has like, zero traction. You always stayed firmly connected to the surface you were on, this CapsuleRebel slides around like a floozy. A floozy with oozing sores on her plastic peeling face. Did I mention her face was self-adhesive?! Christ, I want a sturdy case because I'm clumsy! Do you really think I can get that sticker on straight, sans cat litter?!

Otterbox, I think we should give us another chance. I feel lost and vulnerable without you ...and your bulk.

Take care of yourself ok? Get that crack patched up and maybe we can talk.

Devoted love,
Jessica

ps. didn't you say you had a sister? a PINK one?

In the 2 years I've been sporting Otterbox cases my evangelical wiles have seen no less than 8 converts to this ruggedized religion. While several of my ilk inhabit harsh, unforgiving climes (there are 4 such cases not 20 feet from where I am typing) it was Jessica that was able to utterly destroy what I previously marked as indestructible.

DearOtterbox_Right.jpgThe product's finer points are addressed above, and I'll maintain that the latest case design remains a sound buffer between my iPhone and the super-heated talcum-powder dust bath it's exposed to every day. Aside from a change in the belt clip between 2G and 3G/3GS models there is little room for improvement for those seeking a stout protection for their most often used gadgets.

Suggestions should be made, however, to the folks over in R&D at Otterbox. Forget military contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan when stress testing, seek out instead Austin-based super users like Jessica to see if your gear can stand up to trials of real rigor.

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Insectobot Overlords

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via The Big Picture

This is a robot attached to the brain of a silk moth, sensory input transferred and interpreted to mechanical activity by way of electrodes and algorithms. Scientists in Tokyo are experimenting with this insect-machine hybrid as a method to "steer" the apparatus towards whatever it is a silk moth is attracted to.

I work in sight of unmanned aerial vehicles being piloted from half a world away, satellite dishes belch terabytes not 20 feet from where I now type, and I feel as though the Gibson I've been reading is more in line with this tech than anything seeing action in my locale.

And why shouldn't it? The same cockroaches I battled daily in college have been walking this earth for something like 300 million years and their ilk have learned a few things along the way. Equally useful is the lack of insect interest groups, exclamatory protests of cruelty and abuse absent as the test subjects lack the anthropomorphic features and perceived intelligence that spare larger mammals from the test slab. Why create something new when a time tested, nature approved template is available in ready supply?

Today's coal mines demand new canaries, chitinous exterior a plus.

Further reading exposed me to existing projects, such as the DARPA funded HI-MEMS which is

"...aimed at developing tightly coupled machine-insect interfaces by placing micro-mechanical systems inside the insects during the early stages of metamorphosis."

We have scientists growing insect cyborgs folks, taking advantage of an existing evolutionary process to yield low cost, highly effective hybrid machines to do our terrible bidding. Surely it won't be long before swarms of these Insectobots patrol our airports seeking out chemical traces of explosives or casually infiltrate the previously private world of high level commerce like in The Fifth Element.

I, for one, embrace our future Insectobot overlords.

__

Each morning brings a bevy of information as the substantial girth of my RSS reader swells the night prior, periods of inactivity marked in unread counts that threaten to overwhelm no matter how much careful feed pruning is enacted. As such there are few sites I check religiously, daily content that is actually anticipated and consumed in a manner opposite the pulse and glide technique I employ for sites lacking the same prestige.

Subscribe to The Big Picture, you will not be disappointed.

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On Failure, Obsession, Inspiration

For your approval, a steam engine of enthusiasm in black, defining light source replaced with twin beaming orbs framed in plastic. I give you mine own Muse, Adam Savage.

A while back the nefarious Ross linked Mr. Savage's talk on Obsession, in which our hero reveals not one but two rainy-day craft projects gone awry that exemplify his own power of focus and palpable will of force. He proceeds to make something out of nothing.

It's times as these, sinking in a pool of writer's block and isolated at a timeless swamp, that I listen to Savage talk and find inspiration. In the above clip he speaks on Failure, an odd topic in light of his own widely recognized success in model production, special effects, and, of course, television.

Still Savage's relation of professional failure, often in the grip of a crushing deadline, only makes me like him more. If he has failed, and persevered, then maybe so can I.

Both talks bear watching. If not now then perhaps later when you need a lift, a middle-aged fiery-haired catalyst to jump start your creative doings. Save this on your iPod, a virtual defibrillator to be applied in case of emergency.

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The Threat is Real

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The Pirate Lobby will not be ignored.

[via The Official WhiteHouse Photostream]

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Create a GUI Interface using Visual Basic VS Generation Kill

Last week we received an interesting mailbag from WANTED outlining a particular flavor of displeasure I completely relate to. While the origin of my own ire varies, the frothy foam that flies from my gaping maw like so much volcanic ash as I vent primal anger is very likely the same.

That scene in Swordfish with the (wine/dancing!?) coding cube, the magic image enhancement flaunted in so many episodes of CSI, and easily half the shit pulled in Hackers (alright, the rollerblades were super hot). Why does this bother us geeks so much? Lightsabers, photon torpedoes, and time travel are gravy but damn the production that allows our hero's clip to magically hold 500 rounds.

Examples of such deviancy permeate every genre, doubly so if an area you happen to have as a profession is the topic abused. For WANTED it was the impossible image enhancement, for me its just about any military film of late. Hell, seeing characters in BSG with their uniforms all open and disorderly was enough to make me cringe. And they were in the future. Fighting robots. In space.

Just as gross exaggeration fuels frustration, a square hit on a niche topic lends incalculable credibility. One such example is the 7-part HBO mini series Generation Kill.

continue reading "Create a GUI Interface using Visual Basic VS Generation Kill"

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The Weekly Geek - Swagger Like Us

As a recent transplant to the greater Seattle area fortune quickly dropped me at the doorstep of The Weekly Geek Headquarters. With vision blurred from the incessant bass rhythm pulsing out the door and nostrils stinging from an indescribably foreign yet appetizing odor I gulped a few calming breaths and prayed they wouldn't be my last.

The door opened, reality spliced.

While there are actual people behind the voices you know and love their physical bodies have been duplicated in a hellish mockery of synthetic bone and flesh. They send these mechanical doppelgangers to their day jobs, out to the market, or downstairs to accept shipments of oddly soiled wooden crates and tiny, paper wrapped bundles of hard to find meats.

It's genius really, and appears to be wildly successful as no one has yet uncovered their cosmic ruse.

The real Chris, Jinny, and Qais were sitting on opulent thrones of Persian pillows, each calmly snacking on a a variety of unsavory morsels piled at their feet. Standing behind them, as silent sentries, were their robotic doubles; twin animatronic likenesses staring blankly as if awaiting instruction.

"Play for us, RYAN G. BIV" they cried in unison, "Play for us FOREVER."

Before I could scramble for the door the robots had thrust a Rockband guitar in my hands and computed the password to my gamertag. Terrified, I plucked for the first time the notes that would ensnare a part of me long devoid of Sheer Enjoyment.

Join me in the video above as I play for my life, powerless to resist the sheer force that is The Weekly Geek and their twisted, evil Rockband Bots.

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Bread. Butter. Cheese. Victory!

I've got a thing for fandom. While usually reserved for deeply layered characters, niche creations, or historic franchises just about any (well executed) public display of enthusiasm seldom fails to please. Though my own attendance at various conventions, midnight movie premiers, or sordid book signings has typically remained content driven I can imagine several scenarios appealing to a broader audience, harnessing a sort of universal sensory appeal which lures aficionados and passers by alike.

I speak of Grilled Cheese.

Admittedly we have a history, hours spent in dimly lit spaces hunched over a lease-violating hot plate patiently watching the subtle reactions necessary to achieve that edible, viscous gold. I'd gently prod the intentionally burnt spillage whose bubbling surface signaled the climax of a reaction entirely vital to the reproduction process.

This level of devotion is pleasant but unnecessary.

Look now through the above portal for a brief account of the 2nd Annual NorCal Grilled Cheese Invitational. Witness the screaming throngs, manic man flashing, and overall spectacle centered around this universal act built on the simplest of culinary combinations. While the event organizers and participants are undoubtedly hardcore the energy bursting from attendees is what strikes me as the purest. I can easily imagine a casual passer by - whose thoughts of grilled cheese do not border on sexual - suddenly alert, nostrils flared and body in tune with the siren song of sizzling skillets. They act on pure instinct, joining those already present in a wordless worship of both simple and complex mastery.

They likely don't frequent food blogs, drool over the glossy pages of a favorite chef's cookbook, or swap recipes in their off time. Yet they are fans still, devotees if only for an afternoon caught up in either the spectacle or experience of a mob whose immediate goals are perfectly genuine. While levels of fanaticism certainly vary I doubt the outside observer would be able to discern any difference in the antics displayed above.

It's pleasing to know these events exist, transcending the norms of obsession and morphing to a kind of inclusive flash mob whose only defining characteristic is enthusiasm.

[via Laughing Squid via SFoodie]

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My Name is Bruce (Don't Call Me Ash)

I'll never forget my first exposure to Bruce Campbell. Over a period of months during my freshman year of high school a new friend shared out his VHS library, one tape at a time. We'd make the swap before first bell, lack of explanation intentional as the tape changed hands, and I'd spend my insomniatic weeknights engrossed in the works of Kubrick, Argento, Tarentino, Stone, and Lynch. The morning after Reservoir Dogs brought a brief discussion, mostly about the tip scene, and of course another swap. This time it was Army of Darkness.

Having already run the Monty Python gambit in grade school and just starting to feed a burgeoning enthusiasm for horror this flick satisfied deeply and remains my favorite film to this day.

Over the years I've seen Bruce Campbell's movies, read his books, and - much to the eye rolling of my friends - managed to ask the sole question during a Q and A session (following a Bubba Ho-tep viewing) that didn't elicit a good-natured yet clearly mocking response.

You could say I'm a bit of a fan, but I have some reservations with the term. Fandom exists in degrees, tangible levels distinguished not only by enthusiasm or dedication but an understanding of the etiquette of devotion. Sure I might have a drive filled with Brownlee/Ross slash (and isn't it time for another?) but you don't see me bringing that to the podcast or comment fields. Fans are, by their very nature, often embarrassing personifications of what a creator in all probability likes least about their work. Yes, we all like Invader Zim but you don't ask Mr. V to sing the doom song. Come on, folks, creators don't like book tours, conventions, or signing endless stacks of paper to be inserted in the much sought after limited editions. Buy their merch, show your support, and try to lay off the creepy.

As a horror icon Bruce Campbell gets the worst of this and, impressively, retains at least the appearance of gradual acceptance for this phenomenon as outlined in his first book (which I highly recommend, his second not so much) If Chins Could Kill as well as his documentary short Fanalysis. I've seen first-hand the unending Evil Dead 4 questions and inane requests (Will you say "Thank you very much") expertly fielded ("I might say that, if I were your little monkey.") and could only laugh when I heard of the upcoming film My Name is Bruce which just saw DVD release here in the states last week.

The film begins as only this type of thing could, a duo of Hot Topic'd youths each entrenched in their self-made set of exaggerated ideals en route to a cemetery while rehashing one liners that have no place in daily congress. What follows is a tongue-in-cheek experience tailored to the über fan's palette as a self-mocking Bruce Campbell plays a caricature of himself and is involuntarily enlisted to play the role of Ash, in real life, to save a small mining town from a supernatural evil.

What follows is a series of ultra-niche references, slapstick, and intentional camp that viewers will either love or hate. One of my favorite scenes depicts the hallowed offering of an iconic, fan-made weapon - one guess at what it is, Deadites - which naturally isn't accepted as the adoring fan intended. Are they ever?

The best thing to come away from this Stooge'esque homage is, against all odds, the positive spin that Bruce Campbell manages to put on his fandom. Sure there is a grudging acceptance of a temporary evil that has managed to last decades, like the scab from a smallpox vaccination that just won't fall off, but it came alongside the ability to direct and produce his own movie with a group of friends.

Be sure to catch the DVD special features for a behind-the-scenes look at the film's production which outlines how all exterior shots were done on Bruce's property out in Southern Oregon, not to mention 18 days of shooting plagued with troubles of a low budget ($1.5 million) indie film from rain to bees to poison oak. One of the things If Chins Could Kill did so well was divulge a lot of details on the nitty gritty of film making, which is echoed here as Bruce loads his dishwasher while explaining the benefits of not changing lenses to save filming time.

Certainly not for everyone, but My Name is Bruce will amuse those that get a fake Shemp reference or can appreciate a bunch of friends having a good time making a campy horror film.

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Won't You Take Me To ZombieTown?

TheWalkingDead_Right.pngIf your DVD rack, bookshelf, or gaming library are anything like mine I'd warrant a guess at all three proving that you have already made a move to a town that's right for you. Between movie remakes and video game franchises one need not linger long to feel fetid undead breath close at hand. We have mall zombies, casino zombies, racist zombies, radioactive zombies, thinking zombies, and even playable zombies.

While I've enjoyed the gradual cross-genre escalation, to the point of peeling an Oprah's Reading List sticker from a paperback, saturation doesn't always equate quality.

In the giant bucket of media that has felt the zombie bite Left 4 Dead easily floats to the top, a rich layer of calorie-packed fat teeming with delicious enjoyment. Game play aspects aside the experience remains a finely executed spin on the classic zombie spawned scenario, situation mere catalyst for the senses as both scripted and unscripted experiences unfold. The Hows and Whys are irrelevant, major background history given but a ghost of a whisper with subtle visual cues or multi-faceted graffiti. Of the many steps Valve took in the right direction with this game's creation the deliberate separation of chapters took the longest for me to appreciate.

It's for the complete opposite reason that, in the wake of a recent re-exposure, I'm so fond of the ongoing series The Walking Dead.

Where each of the four "movies" in L4D are split up as to not thoroughly crush the morale of the survivors as they'd escape one predicament only to step in to another, The Walking Dead embraces that very formula to better develop interpersonal relationships in the scope of the ever widening complications of the zombie apocalypse. Where situational dialogue or panicked cries evoke attachment to the characters in L4D, a small part of the whole really, seeing the polar opposite long-haul approach as penned by writer Robert Kirkman elicits an entirely different mindset with a sort of slow-burning dread that fuels the experience uncharacteristically long enough for our main character to grow a beard or whose goals are dynamic and conclusion yet to be determined.

This isn't your afternoon in the mall or road trip to the ocean and as the series progressed, now 57 monthly released issues in, I've witnessed extremely well scripted executions of several "what if" ideas I've always harbored about the zombie apocalypse but are have rarely seen attempted in either the confines of a two-hour production or otherwise.

The image above is the first cover I ever saw and sums up a lot of what makes the series worthy of the praise its received over the years. Here we see our primary character draped in a decidedly non-bad ass quilt, entire composition vastly far flung from any cross-genre depiction (especially in a horror comic) that usually sports a buxom lass, cleft-chinned hero, or oozing monstrosity. That isn't to say that this Romero-inspired epic doesn't sport tell-tale undead gore or the ghastly ultra violence synonymous with most introspection flavored survival stories, both are certainly present, but ultimately The Walking Dead isn't really about zombies.

Comics have long since cast off super hero stereotypes and juvenile themes and while most of my favorites are long out of production The Walking Dead holds a key spot in the zombie genre as a still-breathing series representing some of the best creative content available to sport the pallid skin, rotting flesh, and guttural moaning so many of us have come to love.

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Deconstructing the Frost King in Me

A long time buddy of mine recently came in to a snazzy new Wacom and, in some cosmic act of humoring good will, bestowed his old one to me. Now my friend is an artist of immense talent. He gets paid to paint, hand tooled both my bitchin' tattoos, and oddly remains the only person that never laughs when I casually mention I'd cut off my left hand to have just half of what his right can do. He works in several mediums but it was his recent progression to a digital medium that intrigued me the most.

Needless to say I quickly, despairingly, learned sexy new gear did not necessarily unlock previously inactive floodgates of talent. While this tool has yet to catapult my ill-fated scribblings to any remotely acceptable level it has offered access to a conceptual interface that entices with the strengths only a digital backbone can provide.

Several of these advantages, such as instant color replication or simple layer manipulation, are fascinatingly revealed in the recent videos shared by The Behemoth's Dan Paladin. Though perhaps more suited to fans of the Castle Crashers' aesthetic both this video and the one before it prominently display techniques (alongside splendid musical selections) that are genuinely digital as modular components are moved, cloned, or overlayed in this virtual workspace. Modifications are swiftly deliberate when content can be masterfully deconstructed.

Of the themes I revisit the battle between analog and digital remains the most vexing. Gary's mod is no replacement for LEGO, a GPS unit's functional simplicity relies on communication through space, and that lens flare filter hardly evokes the same wonder as the real McCoy. A Wacom will never stain your fingernails or accidentally mix colors, Photoshop won't reek of caustic developer or unintentionally overexpose, and for some the word processor will never replicate that elegant suction paper has on the blood of a fountain pen.

The battle continues. I found Paladin's process uniquely thought provoking and, more importantly, inspirational. The ability to sample and replicate content artfully transcends medium, as shown in a sketch's progress or the recent chiptune infatuation I've been nursing. This brief pulling back of the veil has rekindled a forced march within my tiny secret sketchbook with the hope of eventual digitalization, a medium dare I say more forgiving for a starter as myself.

[via Offworld via The Behemoth Development Blog]

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Lost Odyssey - Don't Ever Leave

LostOdyssey_Header.jpgIt's been a while since I settled in to the turn based reality of a proper JRPG. This is very likely due to my last experience being both sexually charged yet tragically marred by a girlfriend's decision to walk out with my entire system after bearing witness to some sweet moves in Final Fantasy VII. My heated relationship with Cloud simply wasn't meant to be and I never got him, or my PS, back.

I bet she overwrote my game right away, saving in the same slot over, and over, and over. A scar formed and I became damaged goods, keeping cautiously distant lest a new RPG come along only to be quickly snatched away.

Naturally there has been some progression in the genre since but the original formula still sings in Lost Odyssey which I picked up - beyond all irony - at the recommendation of the same soulless harpy that stole Cloud from me all those years ago.

I try not to dwell on that as the hours with this newer, flashier experience fly by.

Despite a sprawling disconnect with anything recent to the genre the first hour found me at home, entrenched in a womb of familiar battle casting and rich story. Lost Odyssey remains vastly formulaic and really only deviates in two areas which in turn lend to its appeal. The primary protagonist, Kaim, uncovers forgotten memories that span his thousand years spent as an Immortal. These "dreams" are presented as animated text, a lot of text, but offer a surprisingly profound back story I welcomed despite the break (see: hours) from gameplay. The other involves a timing aspect to battle scenes in the form of rings (think materia) whose benefits are unlocked with precise timing.

The rest of the game sports glimmering polish on the rest of its many facets; cut scenes are plentiful as they are beautiful (across 4 dual layer disks), musical score sufficiently reminiscent, voice acting surprisingly tolerable, and menu system instantly usable to a player that hasn't touched a JPRG in a decade. Though not everything was perfect. Some of the navigation involved either stealth movement or obstacle avoidance, low points in the game, but these are brief. Battles are random, a boon to the grinders and a curse to explorers.

As I continue through the fourth disk the experience finds me comfortably satisfied in this world, a feeling of intimacy well established with all the members in my party I find strikingly different compared to any of the characters in either Fallout 3 or Fable 2 despite heavy time spent in both. Thus far I've truly enjoyed my time spent in this technological magic revolution and find myself welcoming boss fights and back story alike. The ring system has managed to keep combat refreshingly kinetic as I pass the 40 hour mark.

So consider Lost Odyssey if you like a good JRPG but keep it close, affection properly digitized and spread over as many mediums as possible. Save game made safe lest some game-playing nymphet appear to tear Cloud, or Kaim, out of your life forever.

Learn from my mistake.


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The Cost of Being Connected

Connectivity_Header.pngThis past weekend found me in an unlikely place. I was contacted to provide technical support in a venue familiar but previously separated by vast physical distance and, more importantly, years of mental repression. While not an active participant in my formative years this place was a backdrop I'd never expected to revisit, a locale whose interior could transport through time with but a smell.

I'd be returning to my former grade school.

I've lost track of the venues supported in my years as an IT Goon, each one providing a minimal chance for exploration once my equipment was in place. Exclusive clubs, fancy restaurants, and sprawling convention centers all quickly blending together in a blur of bad carpet and fake plants. This was one venue I was actually looking forward to wandering, especially in its vacant and slumbering weekend state.

It didn't take long for the differences to surface, the most striking of which is central to the above image. It was taken from a classroom for 5-year olds.

What private schools boast in "value" they almost always lack in funding, this one being no different with enrollment at an all time low. I know that computers are cheaper than ever but I was surprised to see several networked in a kindergarten environment. It makes sense that connectivity, even in a filtered state, should be deemed essential to the educational process.

Given that, for the first time in recent memory, I found myself temporarily lacking both access to WiFi and cell reception I was struck by this need. As someone that up until very recently had all data connectivity costs covered as an expense for work I decided to take a snapshot of just how potent my own requirements were in terms of dollars and cents over the course of a year.

As a self-classified technophile my list of "essentials" has several components.

Connectivity_01.png

But as part of the larger, and highly simplified in this particular chart, picture even the luxury of uninterrupted connectivity over the course of a year accounted for less than 5% of total expenditures.

Connectivity_02.png

While my data rates remain in the low end, and thus vastly cheaper than average, their coverage has been reliably exceeding my needs for both work and play - collective cost on par with any other utility. What was once a luxury (specifically a smartphone data plan) is now essential and, surprisingly, easy to justify as part of the big picture especially given the benefits of real-tim e-mail. I can't imagine these rates getting any lower as quality of service requirements rise and faster connections become not only available but necessities.

It's only fitting that early exposure to connectivity is embraced by even a financially struggling school, but is my own percentage normal? I'm curious if anyone out there justifies higher bandwidth or requires additional services for personal use. You'll notice that television subscriptions are lacking in my own chart, do they justifiably hold a place in yours?

Do you utilize any of the GPS related travel services for piece of mind?

Do you see children with cell phones and question the extravagance?

As always cheaper options will garner more users, functionality becoming normal even if previously superfluous. I'm pleasantly surprised that in this modern era the costs of omnipresent connectivity have reached a comfortable purchase point.

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Acquiring Signal

Signal_Header.jpgI recently acquired a GPS navigation device as a gift, thereby scratching another notch in the pock-marked yet fickle Personal Tech ScoreCard that precludes day-to-day functionality. The iPhone/PDA, the cloud computing, and now the disembodied female voice purring directions based on low orbit satellites. When I finally break down and embrace Eye-Fi, or get my Wacom to produce anything half-decent, I shall embody the pinnacle of evangelical tech symbiosis; lithe, functional, fully jacked in and devoid of restraint.

This came up in a phone conversation with a buddy:

So I installed my GPS today and it's freakin' sweet, but before it was mounted I gave the thing a test run from my glove compartment. Worked great but the phantom voice was a bit unsettling.

I don't trust any machine that has a voice.

Right, but it got me thinking about how I've never really implemented this flavor of tech in to daily life. You've seen those ads for the GPS devices that will send you a text message should your teen run in to a tree right?

So what? You'll just know they're dead sooner.

No dude, you could totally save them. Like in Signs.

Swing Away.

Exactly, but think about it. It's piece of mind. Puts them on the grid.

Yeah, but it's also controlling, micro managing, and ultimately you'll just know they're dead sooner.

A grim outlook to say the least, but this dialogue reminded of time spent back in the day being paid laughable sums of money to enable wireless communications and teaching, among other things, the basics of GPS navigation to a group of irascible users. The tech has certainly improved since but I can guarantee you those same guys are sporting grease penciled, self-laminated maps in hand's reach alongside the latest in GPS electronica.

Tech should support without being a crutch. As a hopeless soul lacking even the basest sense of direction the smallest of excursions require diligent foresight, hand drawn maps often supplementing sprawling print outs for use while driving. While thrilled with side-of-the-street precision in my new device I fear that this will be inline spell-check all over again, the trappings of which have crippled competence in any medium without.

Yet I imagine this reliance as nothing new, sea faring men of old relying on treasured sextants as much as a star-filled clear sky. Our propensity as tool makers is unavoidable, reliance predictable, and desire for implementation natural. Whatever instinctual sense once shared with migrating flocks has since been buried in a deluge of invisible frequency, sterilized from wavelength and rendered impotent by amplitude.

I shall embrace this new device with its far reach communique and throaty imperative. I will continue to sneak glances at my watch's digital compass whenever emerging from the subway, overpowering my geographic ignorance with a discreet confidence not only in tech but my nature as a tool-sporting human. Tell me where to go, invisible space lady, for I am listening.

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When Spoilers are OK*

*This post but tip-toes around the idea of suggesting game content/plot, barely mentioning the games Fallout 3, Fable 2, Bioshock, and Portal. Purists beware.

Spoilers_Right.jpgThe older I get the more my moral palette shifts, black and white merging to a solid gray which envelops subjects previously immune. Increased information breeds a complicating density that cuts facets in even the sheerest of topics, new dimensions compounding earlier standpoints and thereby rendering them obsolete.

One such arena is that of the Spoiler.

Having proudly sported the label of "Anti-Spoiler Purist" (which means zero external input) it was not quietly that I changed camps, only recently allowing concessions that previously contradicted my own personal dogma. There's a one-time magic to discovery in any medium, be it literature/movie/video game, and the preservation of such something I saw as not only critical but sacred to the designer's intended work. Anything diluting that singular experience was to be outright avoided, a task whose difficulty has only increased over the years regardless of medium.

The twist near the end of Bioshock, ending to Braid, or initial exposure to Portal's subversive scrawling are all worthy of such preservation, but with the advance of increasingly dynamic and less linear games there are often experiences that can be entirely absent from the experience unless a line is crossed in to Spoiler Territory.

Take Fallout 3 and to a lesser extent Fable 2. Both offer varied game play based on the player's choices to the point where consequences could be irreversible. While the differences in personal experience are certainly a strength, some of the side quests are not to be missed. Armed with the knowledge that completion of the main story in Fallout 3 would bar my continued exploration of the incredibly rich, sprawling wasteland my game play experience was substantially broadened. Conversely, my ignorance of the consequences of choosing "The Needs of the Many" at the end of Fable 2 has soured my potential enjoyment of the yet unreleased DLC.

It's a thin line and undoubtedly a dangerous one as a single blurb can separate the unacceptable from the enriching. As such I'd prefer to err on the side of caution, relying on carefully crafted hints from trusted gaming accomplices. In truth such suggestions do not Spoil, motivations instead pushing towards a richer appreciation. It is this shift in intent that changed my stance from Purist to Realist.

So where do you draw the line? Do you prowl GameFaqs for the hidden areas in Serious Sam? Rely on word of mouth? Or do you isolate the game entirely, prolonging anticipation at the risk of missing something awesome?

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Top 5 Techs Adopted in 2008

TopTech_Header.jpgThere is a unique quality to the coming year not unlike that of a natural disaster, a unifying sense of shared situation despite social standing or personal opinion. In the midst of a power outage or sudden snowfall community ties bloom, people unite, and, mostly, the best in us shines. "We're all in this together!" is echoed on a city bus full of sodden commuters or the brave that trudge hip deep, flashlight in hand. New Years is a similar force of nature in its power of group reflection and collective ambition for the year ahead.

For a few days, at least.

As such I have looked back on my 2008 ventures in tech hoping not only to ensure continued improvement but to reflect on several adoptions that will propel me boldly through 2009. Some were long overdue, others a chance encounter whose advantages are now taken for granted, but all have greatly changed how I functioned daily through the last year.

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Helvetica. Junk Mail. Witchcraft.

Ratio_Header.jpgI can recall my first exposure to a PC, which was early on due to my father's early buy in to the market. It was this indoctrination of regimented syntax and structure (DOS) that provided the groundwork for what has evolved towards an intuitive understanding of the majority of systems I've worked with. Now, many years later, it is only fair that I take up the yoke of reciprocation and return the favor by mentoring the same man that made my infatuation with tech possible.

It hasn't been easy.

Specific processes rooted in detail are one thing, more subjective ones another. Our latest accomplishment is a functional grasp of Gmail Filters, a mix of the two. With the time spent pouring over hundreds of previously unarchived correspondence it didn't take long for the issue of "junk mail" to come up. My father was perplexed, couldn't we just make a filter? He knew that Gmail's built in spam filter was chugging away but a lot of "junk" was still getting through. At the risk of stereotyping the majority of his correspondents as inept adult users I started to outline the criteria I use in my own account, quickly discovering that while both our desired end states matched we were dealing with vastly differing subject groups.

It was at this point we ventured in to the realm of the undefinable, that subconscious rhythm an email can have which immediately sets off sirens. Sure, he knew to look for the tell tale signs of chained FW: in the subject line or rotating GIFs but ultimately it came down to my reliance on "you just know" which was as far from the answer he wanted to hear as the one I wanted to give.

That indefinable rhythm has been bothering me ever since, mostly due to the inability to escape it.

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Evernote: The External Brain

Evernote_Header.pngAs a youngster I voiced my displeasure at a particularly painful headache to my parents. "Why is this happening!?" I yelled, "It hurts!" to which they replied "Well, the little man in your head that goes through all the file cabinets is very busy getting you information, sometimes he starts slamming them shut and that's why you get a headache."

This asshole sounded a lot like the guy in the mailbox, both of whom were relatives of that creepster in the fridge on light duty.

Now, as a jaded twenty-something, I know better than to ask those two anything, yet the image of countless rows stretching past imaginable distance is one that has remained. Day to day dealings involve massive amounts of information and while the little man is now replaced with a frenzied gibbon (he's upgraded to the Minority Report interface, truly a sight to behold) it's a concept I constantly revisit.

Evernote_Right.pngEndless information and all of it necessary. Tiny repositories both temporary and permanent that I need to have in hand's reach when the needs arise. Think tank, shopping lists, and more recently a database of details surrounding a job search. A call can come at any time and while the more mundane route of a pen and paper could certainly suffice for a quick lookup I've found an easier medium by which to navigate these information heavy archives. A singular solution like the ever present Moleskin but with meta rich tagging and scalable, universal access.

I've fully embraced the "external brain" that is Evernote.

Initially discovered as an iPhone app, Evernote first impressed with the ability to sync meta-tagged data be it text, voice, or photo. As I delved deeper in to the cross-platform solution a system unfolded that could combine limitless forms of input from wrinkled post it notes to wall mounted white boards. My "to read" list always at my side, job search particulars neat and tidy, and catastrophically unorganized "Ideas" folder archived and searchable.

At its core the Evernote account is remotely hosted, access offered by means of web interface or local app on your computer or smartphone. Notes of any form are synced throughout in a rich cloud of meta data from geographic location to OCR'd snapshots. Browser plugins allow entire web pages to be stored for later reference, local apps allow webcam video capture, and an account specific e-mail address can be utilized from outside the confines of your own machine. Evernote offers a modern backbone to the note taking process, a customizable road map to your information with directions specific as you want.

You can head over here to the official site for even more uses of this service, which exists in both free and premium ($5) formats, or hit the jump for a more in depth look at a few solutions I've been extremely satisfied with.

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Competitive Gaming? No Thanks.

Competitive_Header.jpgI finally got around to watching The King of Kong, Ed Cunningham and Seth Gordon's masterful documentary (now available via live streaming) that appears to have already been seen by every person I've talked to following my delayed viewing. While a great film with themes that transcend the tight focus on an ultra-niche community, and successfully promotes the spectacle of competitive gaming, it is centered on a concept that I've yet to care for; the ambition of playing a game to be the best.

Achievement in any gaming medium should be recognized whether it's a top slot in a leader board or custom tailored statue but there is a distinct difference immediately noticeable when even a single member of a co-op game is in it purely For The Win - a tangible tone I genuinely understand but can't relate to. These are the people that criticized my DPS choice in a WoW raid (NSFW), lambasted my preference of class in TF2, and sternly reduced immersive game play experiences to little more than a calculated sequence of events. Every once in a while an addictive flash game will catch my eye and eventual perusal of the Top Scores will reveal firm placement in the bottom of the standings, minuscule personal best crushed under staggering multiples laughing downwards at my feeble attempts. I enjoyed making my bunny jump those bells, my towers massacre those filthy insects, and I'm comfortable with the lack of compulsion to excel.

Yeah, sometimes I'll loose a steady brace of machine gun fire at a horde encircling a teammate's pipe bomb in Left 4 Dead, it's an easy way to rack up head shots and kills, but motivations more closely concern placement at the bottom of the leader boards (I kind of suck) than the top. I'm playing the game to kill some zombies, interact with some friends, and maybe get in a quick round of propane tank jousting. Even against human opponents this is enough, the mere act of mutual enjoyment.

There's a biblical quote thrown out in The King of Kong:

"As iron sharpens iron so one man sharpens another."

I'll always prefer lifting with a spotter, running with someone that's faster, or collaborating in an effort where there's a clear schism in skill level. That difference often breeds startling improvement, but I'll never be able to use the competitive spirit to fuel my bowling game or zombie killing tactics.

What have your groups been doing in Left 4 Dead or otherwise? Do you skirt every witch, avoid every car alarm? Make a mad rush for the safe house or linger for one more juicy brain-meat rainbow to erupt from the business end of your shotgun?

Me, I go for that rainbow.

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Prince of Persia: First Impressions

PoP_Header.jpgIt was my first time. Of course I was the only nervous one, fingers slick with sweat and brow furrowed in concentration. I instinctively knew what went where and how movement translated to results but at the same time didn't take the situation seriously. I was young and wanted to play.

As it happened my maiden voyage with a laptop coincided with my first exposure to Prince of Persia. While many of the details have been fogged by time, perhaps for the better, I do recall being particularly fond of that monochrome puzzle game with its falling tiles, fatal pitfalls, and limber protagonist. In all honesty this was not only the first time I participated in the franchise but also the last.

PoP_Right.jpgHaving only recently returned to console gaming I've watched silently as nine iterations have appeared over the last two decades and it wasn't until I saw the leaked concept art that the saliva started to flow. I'd catch trailers as they were released, each exposure instilling fresh anticipation, but it was the latest that ensured my preorder (HD download here).

I fell in love with the rendition of a sprawling cityscape, tattered windmills turning with the promise of better times, and elegantly domed towers reaching up as fingers from a shallow grave. The path ahead was thick with wooden beams, mundane avenues all but forgotten hundreds of feet below.

Today I got to play it.

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Turn Your Router in to a 360 WiFi Adapter with DD-WRT

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Connectivity is paramount. The first thing I did after purchasing my new Xbox 360 was snake a cable from the nerve center of my network to jack in to LIVE. While a simple process the proximity of television to router is not one that resulted in a subtle cable connection no matter how creative I got with the staple gun. I knew both official and 3rd party wireless solutions existed but at $70-$100 there had to be another way given that 6 years in the IT business have left me with a treasure trove of miscellaneous electronica.

The initial exposure to DD-WRT, a surprisingly powerful open source router firmware, came from Lifehacker a while back and has appeared a few times over the years, most recently as a way to transform your compatible router in to (among other things) a functional WiFi adapter for one's gaming console.

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Coming from a pretty substantial technical background I found the process an easy one but was a bit overwhelmed in the early research stages as to which version I should be dealing with. Given that I would be flashing the firmware and potentially bricking my device made me all the more wary as I went along. While linked in a few places the version specific details of the process could only be found in the wiki.

I took notes as I went along as my experience varied slightly from the installation tutorial but at project's end was left with a vastly improved piece of hardware that not only filled the gap of Xbox 360 WiFi adapter but left room for future expansion.

After I had the files I needed the whole process took about 10 minutes tops.

Hit the jump for a stripped down version of the process as well as a few notes regarding having to deal with my new ISP's device restrictions.

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This is My Milwaukee

Before reading any further check out the video above. While the prospect of sacrificing eleven minutes is a daunting one, my initial reaction likely mirrored your own - eyes rolling and mind tearing at ephemeral overload, I urge you to leave your inhibitions behind and bask in the light of free entertainment.

By itself the clip is amusing, echoing the false reality often used in sketch comedy while paying tribute to the questionably informative nature of small town tourism videos from days not too long past. For some that is all it will ever be.

For others it is blindingly clear this video has an ulterior motive, quickly setting a tone of intentional camp in the guise of a promotion for what is, to most, not the most thrill-inducing of US cities. Add in the veritable deluge of proper nouns (GoDSEED, BlackStar) via a hesitantly pieced together history and you make the short step in to ARG territory.

We had to destroy Milwaukee to save it, and the survivors buried the remnants of GoDSEED in a sarcophagus deep beneath the canning district.

As is usually the case the video was picked up, shared, and dissected frame by frame immediately by the collective swarm of chaotic fiction devotees. Details regarding the web crawling, phone calls, and proposed theories are over at the Unfiction Forums.

It's nice to see a city other than NY, LA, or SF at the heart of one of these things. There has always been a geographical gap in potential meat space participation for dwellers outside these areas and for me having a sense of spatial relation is what makes these games all the more enjoyable.

Unless you include what always pops in my head at the mention of Milwaukee.

Further Reading:
Official Site
Unforums - This is my Milwaukee
Unforums - Thread What-We-Know List
Unforums - In-game Phone Numbers
Screen Captures of the Video
Martin Pedrick's Portfolio
Synydyne.com
Related Video Thanks nic0!


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A Plea for Decent Wearable Tech

WearableTech_Header.jpgThe thought of a flying car no longer interests me. Once the archetypal litmus test for when one arrived at the FUTURE, it's now a subject that brings to mind retro-futuristic cinema as opposed to science lab. While potentially practical the vast canyon between concept and execution is gaping, the gritty particulars of implementation overwhelming, and link to reality a vague one. There are so many other areas showing tangible, realistic improvement that even the aesthetic of a flying DeLorean fails to pique what was once the be-all end-all of consumer focused lust.

Instead my interests have moved to innovations in interface. The last few years have given us the iPhone, Wii, and Myvue glasses. Equally impressive are the readily available applications utilizing voice and gesture recognition. Gone (well, mostly) are the clunky VR helmets and subsequent segregation between developers and consumers.

But there is one tiny detail that permeates some of the newer tech out there, scarring like a drop of India ink on thirsty canvas; the fact that so much of it makes the wearer look like a tool.

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Lens Adapter Cuts Through Pesky Social Barriers

LensAdapter_Header.jpgAs an amateur photographer there are a few hurdles I am consistently attempting to clear. These range from the easily definable, such as financial limitations, to the more objective complications of social photography. A careful budget and solid research solves the former, but enter a public area with even a modest dSLR with a zoom lens and the vibe is instantly changed. People prepare to pose, security guards crouch to pounce, and reality shifts to fill my viewfinder with subjects that have shed much of their realism.

I've found a radiant aura of confidence (and stealthy wrist strap) helps to smooth over the painfully public process of carting my camera through highly populated urban areas, home or abroad, but even in a bustling metropolis I'm extremely hesitant to turn my glass on what is arguably the most interesting subject; people. It's awkward, raises countless privacy issues, and face it - is a little on the creepy side.

Preferring to err on the side of caution I've passed dozens of scenarios that tugged at the photographer in me, each encounter positively begging to be shot with the promise of something impossible to replicate in any studio setting.

The folks over at Photojojo (a fantastic DIY themed photography newsletter) offer a particularly intriguing solution, the Super-Secret Spy Lens.

For a surprisingly reasonable price ($50!) one simply attaches the device to an existing zoom lens the same way you'd screw on a filter. Sure, I'll be sporting an extra 5 inches of lens (which would equal about 10 at its shortest with my 18-200mm zoom) but with the ability to frame up candid shots I'd never have the chutzpah to take of a complete stranger.

Yes, there are certainly some issues that can be raised well within the bounds of decency regarding the taking pictures of unwilling, or unknowing, subjects. Common sense applies here more than ever and while I'd like to think any respectable photographer knows where to draw the line the fact remains that this apparatus exists to deceive. A point I'm strangely comfortable with given its ability to circumnavigate the tricky social rules of, you know, photographing strangers.

I'll very likely be grabbing one of these and am curious as to how such a device will be received in the photography community.

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Smart Cycle: Kinetic Innovation or Gimmicky Dread Lord?

SmartCycle_Header.jpgAs a devout in the church of digital recording I don't see many live commercials. It was only recently, by some odd twist of fate, that I had some of this calculated marketing thrown my way.

Words and images flashed as I imagined a face-splitting paternal grin focused on a buzzing child as he skipped over to his machine, assuming the obligatory position of undeniable euphoria at the chance to pedal his way to self-sustaining television. Gone was the pasty skin and doughy physique, this kid would be cycling his way to a greener lifestyle while being entertained. Mom would wipe her floured hands on a modest apron and smile as little Johnny powered their home towards a brighter future.

But I had it wrong; this was some sort of kinetically enhanced video game whose focus was, of all things, learning. Despite the jumpy tune, brightly lit environment, and questionably sane toddler I couldn't decide how to peg the device. Home arcade experience or mechanical babysitter churning out super intelligent, thickly calved Über Children?

It didn't take long prowling the Fisher-Price site to see that this was, in the minds of some spendy parents, a cheaper alternative to getting their 4-year olds a Wii. The presence of near-daily reviews also confirmed that, despite a release date nearly two years ago, the niche this toy fits in to remains a strange one. The thing I don't understand is why.

In the U.S. over 30% of children age 2-19 can be classified as overweight or obese. Blame who or what you want, but surely the presence of physically involved entertainment couldn't hurt those numbers for the ones young enough to be "tricked" in to exercising at play time. General consensus is these toys are in fact so stimulating the little tykes have to be pried off or their time limited.

I like that toys like this exist. They remain the antithesis to the infernal Power Wheels (from the same company) I never had (thankfully) in my youth offering stationary advancement in place of whining, electric acceleration. Sooner or later someone will come up with a better formula that combines the slick stimulus of video games with the clever physical ingenuity of say, a jump rope. Perhaps the need to trick tiny spawn in to exercising, like wrapping your dog's pill in bacon, will become less nefarious.

While I personally can't be bothered to waggle a controller to swing a virtual sword I can see a niche of youngsters that would benefit from kinetic video games. It's not like little league teams or school sports are on a decline, but socially this is a whole different environment due for some innovation.

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Web Cams: Watching, Waiting

Webcam_Header.jpgThey are as gargoyles on high, static fixtures in stationary orbit. Staring with an unblinking eye these deliberately framed tunnels connect in real time, stream without bias, refresh as needed. There are more of them than you might think.

With the basest of resources these antiques march on, mid 90's HTML steadfast in its measured delivery of that city square, campus, or landmark. It is only in the basest sense that these grainy windows exist in our Web 2.0 world, geo-tagged and meta-filtered despite any tangible functionality.

But there's still an element of magic.

Nothing impresses like that added fourth dimension. Even the most ghost ridden frame rate treasured for its instant validation, telltale low quality only strengthening veracity and granting instant trust. An added layer of communication, arguably the closest replication of face-to-face interaction no matter the distance spanned.

I've seen a $5 dollar web cam with spotty satellite connectivity bring a gorilla-necked man to tears, first glimpse of the baby he couldn't see born transforming a blank-faced and lethal door-kicker to proud Papa. It's old tech but sound, potential for maximized web communication that seems squandered in flat, time-lapsed images of the Eiffel Tower or a nondescript city skyline.

Quality of service limitations are lower than ever with expanding cell-based data and cheaper portable electronics, services like Yelp and Qik continue to encroach on each other's territories. Eventually functional mash ups will emerge, hyper-local assets for better, more useful web content. Community self-policing will work out the kinks and word of mouth information, the very best kind of information; will bleed over to the medium where it can have the most impact. Where those looking can find it.

So it was with excitement that I installed Worldview from the App Store. If I scroll fast enough through those vigilant, sub-mega pixel refreshes I can almost see the future.

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My Day, Yesterday

It's been a while since I participated in the perpetuation of a meme.

They come in all shapes and sizes, iterations often propagated to the point of over saturation but for a more distinguished crowd rarely inspiring the dark turn to contributor. Recently there was an exception, a fresh departure from the archetypal surveys or photo manipulation. Still an exercise in turning the camera inwards, scratching some sort of narcissistic itch, but to a smoother more polished end. Like the difference between a rehashed trawl through fields of blank text and the careful approach to a tautly stretched canvas. The medium sets the bar.

First exposure was over at Laughing Squid, Garret Murray had shared out the above distillation of the mundane in the confines of a Flickr video, running his new D90 through the ropes. 90 seconds of controlled peep-show access to a mile in his shoes. The subsequent pool developed, users submitting their own creations arguably reaching for validation of gadget choice or music selection, routine or habit. Just another meme, or was it?

I was strangely captivated, but this wasn't the first time.

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A Return with Three Choices

Return_Header.pngIt was as if a looming concrete wall stood in my path, flaunting its lack of hand holds or crevices by which to summit its blank-faced stare. Truth be told I had put the thing there myself, gradually adding layer after layer until the original foundation was all but obscured and original purpose a mystery. It is with this strained metaphor that I relate a past decision to block the way in to modern console gaming, a choice steeped in misguided thoughts of self-preservation and efficiency.

I didn't want to start and be unable to stop, self control fading late in to nights that would inevitably lead to sleepless mornings. It's how it was back in school and my productivity... suffered, but surely that is all behind me. As an Adult I have learned a modicum of responsibility and time management so that wall went a crumbling and just last week I emerged on the other side holding a sleek 360 Elite.

And it has been awesome.

But I'd been out of the scene for a while, the last game I recall purchasing being Wind Waker and before that a used copy of Soul Caliber to replace the one I wore out. Barring the sudden appearance of an aged mentor to whisk me through an appropriately themed training montage (as I imagine was the case with Jinny and Chris) I would have to reach out to the prolific gaming community for the low down on how one avoided the dreaded MSRP.

It appeared I had some options.

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A Walk Through Wired's NextFest

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How fitting that it was actual physical media which first alerted me to this event. A full page ad sporting my city's nefarious "Bean" (lord, I hate that thing) as opposed to bytes of text via RSS. Utterly appropriate given the concept of thrusting tech-related link blog ephemera in to the public's sweaty hands.

Wired's NextFest is a free event that allows said creative output, whose exposure is typically restricted to little more than a blurb or grainy embedded video, to exist in three dimensions and five senses at a free show in Chicago's Millennium Park from September 27th through October 12th. The exhibits consist of several recent breakthroughs in robotics, entertainment, and enviro-friendly innovation.

If you're in the area I highly recommend swinging by. Hit the jump for a few items (such as the above-pictured Modular Snakebot or highly functional yet unsettlingly adorable BeatBot) that caught my attention or peruse the gallery below.

NextFest_BeatBots.jpgNextFest_BrainBall.jpgNextFest_CellPhoneDisco.jpgNextFest_d30.jpgNextFest_ImmersaDome.jpgNextFest_MARCbot.jpgNextFest_SolidInk.jpgNextFest_SnakeBot2.jpgNextFest_Hall.jpg

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Screw the Hamster, I Want Halo

Hamster_Header.pngWhile preparing for an upcoming trip this week I created a checklist of things to do. Some items were specific to travel but most were part of the weekly routine that involves feeding not only my own mouth but also those of a few cold-blooded accomplices that have managed to stick around over a decade of constant relocation.

My current digs are in the same locale I grew up in so the choice of where to acquire the premium of gut-loaded insects was a simple one. I'd be paying a visit to the independently owned pet store not only marked as one of the older establishments in the area but also as the very first distant destination I was permitted to bike to as a child. It had supplied me well on and off for the last 14 years whether I was there to gawk with my GT Performer inverted out on the sidewalk or I needed to special order a questionable toad. As time passed I'd buy crickets from the same guy that sold me that one tarantula I had to get rid of while in college or the lizard that once escaped for an entire winter break only to somehow re-emerge fatter than when he vanished.

The list grew shorter and I eventually pulled in to the pet store's lot as I had literally hundreds of times before. Upon arrival, however, I was not greeted by the oddly satisfying view of windows plastered with faded vendor stickers and condensed seawater but instead with the harsh contrasting colors of BUSINESS FOR SALE signs.

I blinked a few times as a random minivan swerved, cutting through yellow lines of the crosswalk despite the moron standing there staring up in confusion.

I've scoured Pricegrabber for years and typically allow a few days of web crawling when seeking the best deal for just about anything. I've clipped coupons, mailed in rebates, and traded in the old to offset the new while taking an intense pleasure in skipping from stone to stone across the swift rivers of commerce both electronic and physical.

This was different.

If ever there were a brick and mortar location I'd pledge loyalty to this was it. I'd been genuinely sad when the store cat, a multi-colored behemoth named Monty that would unexplainably sit on my foot for pleasure, came up missing. Even while working in a competing pet store all through high school each week would end with me stopping by for dozens of crickets at full price. This place and I, we had a history.

Truth told this wasn't completely unexpected; I've watched countless local places trampled either by the fickle economy or links of ever-expanding chain stores, but it was the response the owner gave as to why he thought that pet stores in general were on the decline that I found the hardest stomach.

He blamed video games.

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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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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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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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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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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.

continue reading "DIY Charging Station"

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Analog Versus Digital

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At 15 I took a summer job in an office. Duties revolved around the preparation and scanning of leasing contracts, hulking file cabinets reduced daily to reflective laser disks. It was easily half as glamorous as it sounds, a monotonous paper-strewn hell.

Years later I was part of a team that implemented a proprietary audio handling system, digitizing a dozen analog voice networks and filtering them through heaving servers and slick fiber optics only to spit them back over their originating hardware. One operator could monitor every radio net via touch screen laptop, simultaneously hearing independent voice in each ear while incoming transmissions were held in queue. It was the future.

And just recently I made the transition from Moleskin to Smartphone, tactile scribbling now synchronized at each of my workstations with information back-lit by brilliant pixels where ink-soaked paper once sufficed.

As a long time IT goon I can personally vouch for many of the advantages Digital claims over Analog ("analog" a colloquialism here, math/music geeks). Information saturation can become manageable if sorting by meta data while a stack from the local bookstore can be made to fit in the palm of your hand. My RSS reader can and will beat the ever-living crap out of your newspaper subscription any time any place without smudging your hands or cutting down a tree.

But even binary has 10 two sides.

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I will never forget the cheap thrill of sliding a comic from its plastic sheath, the first smell of an old book, or the indescribable satisfaction of a well-organized bookshelf. These experiences assault the senses in ways that even the warmest monitor glow never could.

Even with that in mind I, in preparation for yet another move, hastily decided to ditch all my media packaging. Huge piles of DVD cases and album art growing as I marveled at my cleverness and considerable reduction in volume. I briefly considered saving a few choice articles but where to put them? A scrapbook? A cardboard box, one of dozens existing only to be lugged up and down flights of stairs and likely never opened?

At this very moment I have 16 banker's boxes in storage full of books that have moved across this country more times than I care to count. With them travel the assortment of figures, framed prints, wall sconces, and various bric-a-brac of sentiment. I am but one man and something had to be done given my damn near Bedouin lifestyle. So into the trash went the jewel cases, glossy game boxes, and what now strikes as quite the biographical time line.

Retrospect has bred regret.

I flew too close to the digital sun and fell, screaming for my trifold cd cases. My shiny box art. My mint condition Doom 2 manual!

What's done is done and I depart from this reflection wiser. I'll revert to my hybrid stylings, twittering and snapping digital photos while enjoying the sensory overloading delights of wood-pulped media old and new. My mouth still waters at the site of a fresh National Geographic and words won't do justice to how much I enjoyed the first issue recently published by the Coilhouse crew.

At the same time Steam and iTunes are are both reliable forms of media distribution, to say nothing of Hulu or the growing habit of television networks to make recently aired shows available on their website. Print is far from dead and the "paperless office" remains science fiction. Folly only greets those that charge headlong down a solitary path, ignoring the countless forks as our options grow daily.

Now I'm curious how other geeks handle their media.

Do you still clack through alphabetized jewel cases at Best Buy? Store your game packaging neatly or simply exchange to reduce the cost of new purchases? Do your old vinyl and CD cases form vast horizontal monoliths at which you worship?

If there's a mix what determines an exalted place in meatspace versus the wonderland of your hard drive?

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Everything You Need is Already Inside

EverythingyouNeedHeader.jpgOver the weekend I caught highlights from the Olympic marathon. Conditions were less than ideal, the world record holder even declining to compete due to the damage the metropolis of Beijing might wreak on his asthmatic lungs. At just over the two-hour mark I couldn't help but think back to the event's origins, that tale of a lone Greek running the distance from Marathon to Athens to tell of the victory (We have won!) over the Persians.

Aside from the fact that the guy allegedly dropped dead following this exclamation there's an additional detail that lends bearing to the differences of our modern times.

The dude was probably naked.

He would have cast off his armor and clothing for speed, the advantages of which are logical. In fact, the first Olympians competed au naturale, the only addition being a slop of oil for the wrestlers to uh, enhance the experience.

For better or worse times have changed. Not only are our countries' most talented clothed, in some events more than others, their attire is now the product of engineers and scientists as much as fashion designers. While a beach volleyball bikini may not ever see the inside of a wind tunnel (a shame, really) you can bet that Michael Phelps' new Speedo did.

I am all for maximizing the entirety of one's self for increased performance. Were I a swimmer in high school I'd have joined the press of sleek, hairless bodies with the rest of the swim team. I would gladly have gone with short shorts for cross-country, or squeezed in to a mystifyingly masculine singlet as a wrestler. But even the priciest piece of spandex off the rack couldn't compare to the intensive research and development that go in to girding the taut loins of our Olympians.

As toolmakers we human folk are constantly reinventing, those Converse All-Stars might have done the job for the guys in the 70s but modern competitions demand more. Natural talent and training are not the only building blocks for success and those with the resources turn to science for an edge.

So where do we draw the line? While chemical injections immediately raise red flags, altitude training and slick engineering remain the norm. Several extreme runners (these folks laugh at your petty marathons) regularly file their toenails down or have them removed to increase performance so what's to keep them from having their appendix out to reduce their weight? Or something else?

The topic of this article comes from a recent Nike sponsored TV spot for the Olympics, embedded below. Hi-res is here.

The ending image is of course runner Oscar Pistorius, of whom I am a huge fan. Every time I see him in action I can't help but stare in wonder, goose bumps forming as he transcends all existing definitions of the word "athlete." A man without legs churning up the race track fueled by sheer power of will and the marvels of modern science, an inspiration to any person facing physical limitations of their own. However, he is clearly using something that is not "already inside."

I won't delve in to the controversy of his intended competition in the summer games (which was granted but he failed to qualify for, you can read about it here) but he certainly calls in to question existing definitions of who is eligible to compete. Would the verdict have been the same if the body modification was intentional?

2008 marked the high point of the graph in engineered attire and that curve is going nowhere but up. Competitive parameters will get stricter, boundaries more encompassing, and each and every breakthrough will have to be met and evaluated in order to determine fairness. The idea of body modifications obtainable by means other than training may not be too far off. The winter games might unveil some new tech that enhances performance and calls in to question the limits of what is allowed in competition.

Technology continuously redefines and restructures even the basest of human activity, its advancement equally pushing and pulling the standards by which we work, play, and compete. Perhaps its continued implementation will reach a ceiling that purists will refuse to break, a point at which the effects of research and development supersede talent and training.

At that point it will be what's on the inside that counts. And we can expect, dare I say anticipate, a whole lot of naked.

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ARGH

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Please join me in welcoming another new addition to the Weekly Geek writing staff, Ryan G. Biv. Ryan blogs from his ice fortress deep under the Siberian permafrost, gibbering unintelligibly at an indentured translator who relays the information best he can. Enjoy! --Chris

Promotional media is fleeting. Compacted revenue streamlined to fill the seats or your grubby little hand with the latest and greatest. Posters spring up like mushrooms after a rain for upcoming films and are left to rot, sure to be covered over as compost for the next flick that blows in to town. Run times dictate, release dates loom, and you better bold-face that font if you want your gig filled to capacity.

Enter viral marketing, the self replicating strain of publicity that I'm certain gets marketing execs all hot and bothered. They have to place but a drop in the pool and the very nature of their target audience whisks it away in a mad fit of dispersion. It's market specific, geek-friendly, and like any other advertisement can go incredibly right or terribly wrong.

But what if there is a more sprawling narrative? What if a parallel story is related to the product but can exist on its own? What if I can participate in the delayed unveiling through a series of either web based or cleverly placed real-world clues? Now we are in the territory of Alternate Reality Gaming (ARG) and they've been around for years, causing a stir and getting targeted audiences talking about the process, not just the product.

continue reading "ARGH"

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