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Archive for "Tech"

August 8, 2013

The Good Old Days (of Games Media)

I just shared this on Reddit and thought it was worth reposting here since I often get asked about crazy stories from work. Every detail can be corroborated.

All right, buckle up because this is a long and strange story.

The year was 1999. I think. It might have been 2000. At the time I was writing for a video game magazine. This was in the heyday of the crazy video game press junkets; around this time I’d taken the Skip Barber Racing Course at Laguna Seca twice in a month. Colleagues had flown fighter jets and scuba dived in Hawaii.

Anyway, this wasn’t like that. This was an event for Konami’s Nightmare Creatures 2 (or was it Activision? It’s hazy). We were flown out to San Francisco and put up in a swank hotel. We had no idea what we were in for.

The night started with drinks at the Top of the Mark, a fancy-ass bar at the top of a tall hotel located on one of the hills of SF. I walk in and notice this little guy hanging out in a small group over by the window, admiring the view. It can’t be? It is. Gary fucking Coleman. At the time he was doing a column or something for UGO so he had a semi-legitimate reason for being there. Anyway.

A few drinks in, the PR reps tell us it’s time to go. Go where? It’s a surprise. So we troop downstairs and they put us in limos, maybe four to a car and probably something like six cars. We slide into ours, and waiting for us is this very, very hot lady who identifies herself as, I shit you not, “Roxy.” She is apparently there for conversation? She seems very interested in everything we have to say.

The limos drive us around the city in a weirdly circuitous route, before we finally find ourselves deep in the woods of what I later assumed to be Golden Gate Park, or perhaps the Presidio. We exit the limos in a parking lot. They all drive away.

We’re standing there, looking at each other, wondering what the hell is happening, when suddenly headlights turn on in the woods. Out drives a school bus. Its windows are blacked out. The doors open, and five or six little people come out, dressed as executioners complete with hoods and axes. Without saying anything, they herd us onto the bus.

The bus starts up and drives us out of the woods, following another circuitous route through the city.

So let’s pause here for a second. Here I am, winding through the streets of San Francisco, in a school bus with blacked-out windows, with a small troupe of midgets and Gary Coleman. Everybody with me so far? Good. It gets weirder.

The bus finally stops at a nightclub. The little people escort us in and into the back. In the back is a smattering of TVs and systems running the game, a lavish buffet featuring, among other things, all the sushi you can eat, and four or five cages in which are dancing scantily clad women…with, for some reason, twigs arrayed around their heads like antlers and on the backs of their hands like claws.

It takes me a few moments before I recognize Roxy.

Seeing all this, my colleagues and I (and Gary Coleman) proceed to get very, very drunk. Because, really, what else are you going to do? In the course of this noble endeavor, it becomes clear that Gary Coleman is seriously into my friend Zoe. So much so that he gives her his number. Which she, in her drunken state, proceeds to write on the hand of everyone she knows.

I don’t remember much that happened for a few hours after that, but the night’s weirdness wasn’t over. A hardy group of us went to yet another club after this odd ordeal. After a few minutes there I looked up at the bar and saw a guy that looked eerily familiar. So I walked up to him.

“You know, you look an awful lot like Kirk Hammett from Metallica.”

He laughed. “My mom tells me that all the time.”

So I proceeded to shoot the shit with Kirk Hammett for the next hour or so, until my eyes wouldn’t stay open and my colleagues were all leaving.

Woke up the next morning wondering if any of it had actually happened. Then I looked at Gary Coleman’s phone number on my hand and realized I hadn’t dreamed it.

TL;DR: Strange shit happened when video game companies had more money than sense.

June 20, 2012

Stealing Music, Again

I’m pretty sure anyone who’s tangentially related to the music industry is contractually obligated to weigh in on the Great NPR Stealing Music Fiasco of Ought-Twelve. 

So here are my thoughts, in response to Jonathan Coulton’s very interesting ruminations. This was originally left as a comment on his post, but it’s pretty much guaranteed to be buried, so…

Thought experiment for the Free-Culture and anti-copyright folks out here: Let’s say you make something. You distribute it digitally. And because you believe in Free Culture, you insist that it be distributed for free.

Then someone starts charging for it.

How does that make you feel? Do you feel that you, as the creator, have the right to determine how your creation is distributed?

I think even more than a practical issue — which, let me be clear, is certainly a big issue — this is an issue of principle. How would you feel if the foo was on the other shoot? Not great, I suspect.


But there’s also a practical element that doesn’t seem to be talked much about. There are a lot of Free-As-In-Beer flag-wavers outraged that the gub’mint might step in and knock out file-sharing centers. “What right,” they demand, “does the government have to determine how culture should be shared?”

But here’s what confuses me: What right do the flag-wavers have to determine how an artist’s work should be shared? Do you presume to know better than the creators of the works how their work benefits them, or benefits society?

We talk about “the music industry” as though it’s this faceless monolith. But the facts are (as usual) a lot messier. Yes, some artists can make a living on the road, and giving away their music (or allowing it to be given away) benefits them. But there are musicians for whom this is exactly reversed: Live performance earns nothing; music sales and licensing are everything. Most are probably in the middle. But are we going to insist that all musicians take it on the road, or give it up? Seems kind of counter-productive to the goal of diversifying art and encouraging experimentation. Do we really want a world where only the one percent (if you’ll pardon the allusion) of musicians can make a decent living?

People, think this through to its logical conclusion. We live in a world where money is necessary. The less money that can be made by making music, the fewer musicians we’ll have. Yes, there will be the super-successful, there will be the ones who do it for love alone, and there will be those — like our esteemed host — who find their own niche and make it work. But I don’t see how it can be denied that fewer rewards for making music will ultimately result in fewer musicians. Is that really what we want? Is that the price we’re willing to pay for “free” music?

Personally, I’d rather pay Mr. Coulton than get Rebecca Black for free.

Am I alone in thinking this way?

For more of my thoughts on the matter, you may be interested in this post from a few years back.

October 6, 2011

A Chain of Causality

I should be working. I’m working on a review, on the Xbox 360 — a system made by Microsoft — a company that probably would not exist if it weren’t for Windows — an operating system that definitely would not exist if not for the Macintosh. Once I’m done playing the game, I’ll write the review (as I’m writing this) on the most reliable computer I’ve ever owned, a Mac Mini.

I very likely would not be doing this for a living if it weren’t for the desktop-publishing experience I had before graduating college. First was high school, where I designed flyers for my first band on an original Mac. (In Zapf Chancery. I know. Shut up.) Then came college, during which I taught myself rudiments of more complex graphical design by laying out my next band’s first CD on a Mac at a Kinko’s. Desktop publishing skills — especially those on a Mac — looked great on a resume in 1996, which probably helped me get my first job out of college, at P.S.X., which later became The Official U.S. PlayStation Magazine. And if they didn’t help me get the job, they certainly helped me succeed at it, and keep it for over 10 years. For that entire time, I worked daily on a Mac. It was my livelihood.

But before that, I learned rudiments of programming — something that’s served me well in critical thinking as well as in basic web design — on an Apple IIe in grade school. For my seventh-grade computer project, I hand-coded an interactive version of Steven King’s The Eyes of the Dragon. For my eighth-grade project, the assignment was to write a program that generated a color picture on the screen. I ended up crafting a pretty impressive (for the time, and the technology) image of Gene Simmons’ face, in full makeup — then went a step further than required by animating it: he appeared on the screen, then turned his head and breathed fire. I still have that 5 1/4″ floppy somewhere.

Last night, I was checking e-mail and reading my RSS feeds on my iPad in between texting my wife on my iPhone. I had music going in the background, streaming from iTunes to an AirPort attached to my stereo, controlled by the iOS Remote app. A notification window popped up on my iPad from the AP News app: Steve Jobs had died. Of course we all knew this was coming, and I certainly felt a sadness for all the ideas that might now be unrealized, a certain concern that Apple might lose some of that creative spark that had made it such an interesting company. But I also thought, “Oh geez, ridiculous hyperbole incoming!” I winced in anticipation of all the maudlin blog posts and frothing overstatement of Jobs’ influence on the world.

Then I thought about the work I needed to do today, and the 360, and Microsoft, and Windows. I thought about that Apple IIe and the string of Macs and sitting in Kinko’s at 11:30 at night aligning pictures. I thought about the music I was hearing, the music I’d sold online, the fact that I was sitting comfortably on the couch with an amazingly powerful and usable computer sitting in my lap like a hardcover book. I thought about the fact that I never again have to take a road trip without bringing my entire music collection with me. And I realized that much of what I’d be reading about Steve Jobs might not be hyperbole after all.

No, he didn’t feed the poor or cure a disease or land on the moon. He wasn’t even the person directly responsible for creating the Apple, the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, or the iPad. But he drove those creations. As a result of that drive, my life is better: I can communicate with loved ones more easily, I can work more efficiently, I can enjoy more pleasurable road trips. He didn’t “change the world” in the sense that, say, the inventor of the printing press did. But what he was in charge of has inarguably changed my world for the better, in many different ways. And he’s done the same for millions of others. And that’s definitely something to be proud of. That’s more than the vast majority of us could ever dream to do.

So here’s to you, Steve Jobs. Thanks for taking the lead on so many projects that have improved my life. Here’s hoping Apple will honor your legacy by continuing your vision. But if not, that won’t diminish the impact you had.

November 22, 2010

How to Make a Playlist of Dead iTunes Tracks

After an epic virus infestation on my work PC, I’m in the process of moving all my work and work processes over to my Mac. Because, really, fuck that shit. But the transfer has not been without some hurdles: Tracking down equivalent software, moving my iTunes folder, so on and so forth. So I figured I’d share some of my experiences here in order to help anyone else making similar moves.

This one goes in the “so simple I’m annoyed I didn’t think of it” file. When I moved and consolidated my iTunes library, there were some tracks that iTunes just absolutely refused to locate on its own — even though it moved everything itself. Yeah, awesome, right? So I’d been manually scanning my library to see what tracks weren’t linking properly to the source files. But I had a couple hundred files that I just could not track down. I looked for scripts to do it (Doug’s AppleScripts was a great source), but the best I could find was one that made a text file of the missing tracks; helpful, but not as efficient as it could be for actually fixing the problem.

I finally stumbled on this post at iLounge which made the whole thing almost stupidly easy. Here’s the gist: You make a regular playlist and put all your music in it (you’ll want to right-click and select Add to Playlist rather than trying to drag or you’ll be there all day). If iTunes can’t find the source file, it won’t put the song in the playlist. So then you just make a smart playlist with the criteria Playlist > Is Not > [the playlist you just made]

Voila, all yer dead tracks in one place, ripe for the locatin’. Simple, eh?

August 13, 2009

New How-To: Bring GarageBand Tunes to Life

Nope, I’m not ready to talk about my big news yet. At the moment I’m aiming for August 24 as the big reveal, but it could be sooner. It could be later. HEY LOOK, LIFE IS UNPREDICTABLE, OK?

Ahem, sorry. Anyway, the reason I called you here today is to let you know that Mac|Life has posted a how-to I put together many months ago, which aims to provide tips for home recording with GarageBand. You Mac owners may enjoy it — and for anyone on Windows machines, I tried to make these tips as general as possible, so many of them can be applied to any recording situation.

So I hope you enjoy them.

May 28, 2009

New Review: Acer Aspire One D250, First Impressions

dsc01371In preparation for E3, I needed to pick up a new laptop to replace the old Vaio that had served me so well for lo these six (!!) years. So I turned to my friend Brad Linder, who runs Liliputing, the leading netbook site on this whole wide interweb, for some advice. And then some more advice. And then just a little more. (Sorry, Brad.) Once I’d made my decision, he asked if I’d like to write up early impressions and a full review for the site. I happily agreed.

So head on over to Liliputing for early impressions of my brand-spankin’-new Acer Aspire One D250. And I should have a full review up sometime the week after E3.

April 16, 2009

Quick Note re: E-mail

So, apparently Gmail has been having issues for the last four hours or so. And most of my various e-mail accounts rely on Gmail. So if you’ve been trying to reach me with anything urgent, please be patient — I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. Thanks.

March 19, 2009

Things That Should Exist

i hate ms wordThis happens often: I realize that something I do regularly could be done a lot more easily, efficiently, and/or quickly with the help of a simple tool. Realizing the obvious benefits of such a tool, I theorize that surely someone, somewhere in the world has already created it. So I take to the Googles to hunt it down.

Four hours later I’m angry, my forehead is red from all the slapping, and I’m completely disgusted. (Also, probably, hungry.) Because either this simple, obvious tool does not exist, or I — with all my intertube experience and Google-fu — cannot find it.

Here’s the latest example: I do a lot of writing for websites, right? But I’m a freelancer, not on staff, which means that most of my writing gets sent to an editor rather than inserted directly into the site’s content management system, or CMS. That means that I have to send over a document file of some type, a document file created in some sort of word-processing apparatus.

And here’s the problem: Every word-processing apparatus I’ve tried is positively horrendous at generating HTML, the code-level backbone of internet writing. Every single one, when you attempt to save a simply formatted text file as HTML, inserts all kinds of crazy formatting information that would be an absolute horror for any editor to have to remove on a regular basis.

This is bad for business.

Continue reading “Things That Should Exist” »

February 26, 2009

New How-To: Access Your To-Do List From Anywhere

0223_todo-2_380If you’re anything like me, your life revolves around a detailed to-do list. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve encountered a ridiculous amount of frustration in trying to find a full-featured to-do list you can access from anywhere. But I’ve suffered so you don’t have to: my Mac|Life how-to on accessing your to-do list from anywhere has gone live. Go, read, enjoy. And stop banging your head on your desk.

February 9, 2009

A Brief History of Internet Gaming

[While trying to help one of my nieces with a school project, I dug up the bit I contributed to EGM’s award-winning Future of Videogames piece from early 2007. But after looking at it again, I realized they had to cut my Brief History of Internet Gaming sidebar down quite a bit to fit it into the mag. This is the original version.]

1969The first ARPANET link is created, building the first strand in what would eventually become the Internet.

1978 – The first multi-user dungeon (MUD) is created. Little more than a customizable chatroom, the MUD is nevertheless the predecessor to today’s MMORPGs.

1985 – Quantum Computer Services launches Quantum Link, an online hub for the Commodore 64, featuring simple multiplayer board games. The service is later renamed America Online.

1991 – Neverwinter Nights, the first MMORPG with graphics, is launched on AOL. It costs $6 an hour to play. Its server capacity: 50 players.

1996 – Quake is released, shortly followed by QuakeWorld, a client for playing the game over the Internet. The era of the online FPS is born.

1997 – Ultima Online is launched. 100,000 subscribers sign up within the first six months, only to be brutally PKed and have their boats stolen.

1998 – The Dreamcast is released in Japan, becoming the first game console to launch with a built-in modem. Also, the last.

1999 – EverQuest and Asheron’s Call are launched, completing (with UO) the unholy triumvirate that has strongly influenced MMORPGs to this day.

2002 – Xbox Live is launched on the original Xbox, setting new standards for communication both in-game (with standardized voice chat) and cross-game (with a unified login and friend list). PS2 and Gamecube also debut online functionality, but neither approaches XBL in popularity.

2003 – EverQuest is ported to PS2 in the form of EverQuest Online Adventures. The gaming world notices, yawns, and goes back to hunting for new Final Fantasy XI screens.

2004 – Halo 2 is released, featuring one of the most popular online components in any console game. Within the next two years over half a billion games of Halo 2 will be played online. Also this year: World of Warcraft launches. You may have heard of it.

2006 – PS3 and Wii are launched. Xbox Live takes note of the systems’ respective online offerings, heaves a sigh of relief, and returns to lounging on its jewel-encrusted throne.

2007 – Halo 3 launches. A crippled Internet limps along under the strain of a few million players all getting online at the same time.

2008 – “Internet2” is completed, offering researchers and universities 100 Gbps transfer speeds.

2009 – Debut of 100-Gbps streaming porn.

2010 – Most metropolitan areas now offer free Wi-Fi within city limits. All that shared bandwidth makes users nostalgic for the dial-up days.

2029 – The Internet, now self-aware, sends a T-800 back in time to kill Sarah Connor.

2050 – Humans move to an internet-only existence, uploading their brains to permanently live in the electronic world.

2112 – Attention, all planets of the Solar Federation: We have assumed control.