Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The New Mob Rule

One of the impressive things about the current age of technology we're in is how quickly information can get around.

One of the even more impressive things is how quickly misinformation can get around.

Let's look at examples of both.

First, let's take a look at an article on Digg today. For those of you who don't know, digg is an extremely popular "social bookmarking" site. People can submit stories and also vote for (or "digg") other stories that they find interesting. An algorithm on the site determines which are the most popular (I assume via some function of how quickly an article receives diggs and the number of those diggs, but I don't know the details) and puts them on the "front page". When an article makes the front page, the site in question gets absolutely hammered with visitors, because a lot of casual users like myself only browse the front page to visit interesting things.

Today featured an article about a small town Snohomish. The citizens of Snohomish love their high school football team. Even more, they love the tradition of firing off their cannon before football games and after touchdowns.

Well, unfortunately a student got badly hurt by the cannon some time ago. A member of the high school ROTC, the student was part of the team that fired off the cannon, and it exploded, almost taking off his leg. At one point it looked like they were going to have to amputate his leg entirely.

Based on the article, it looks like the kid didn't get a lot of sympathy from the town. In fact, he actually got threats.

It would appear that, afraid they might lose the tradition of firing off the cannon due to safety concerns, the town went a little nuts. Some folks threatened to "blow off his other leg", and a collection to help pay the steep medical bills (including putting a titanium rod in his injured leg) yielded a sum of $200, nearly all of that coming from other schools.

Enter digg. Once the article got on the front page, the enterprising commentors discovered the school's football website. An innocent poll there asks visitors how many games they plan to attend.

So far over 100,000 (and rising fast) have replied "none".

Will any of this do any good? Who knows. Is the article biased? Probably. I would've liked to have seen more reaction from kids in his class.

But is it funny to see that many people (along with, I'm sure, more than a couple of scripts doing the voting) visit a little homegrown school website and express their displeasure through a pointless poll? Yes.

Second, let's talk about internet hoaxes. If you have an email account (that should include one or two of you), you know that people love to circulate chain letters containing erroneous information. These may include a gent from Nigeria claiming he wants to send you money. These may include people encouraging you to buy a junk stock.

They also may include completely falsified rewritings of history for the purpose of a political agenda. An example of this would be the Oliver North "testimony" which claims that Ollie identified Osama Bin Laden as "the most evil person alive".

Osama Bin Laden is evil. I'm not disputing that. But what is easily disputable is the testimony. The blasted thing was circulated so much that the US Senate even thought to include a refutation of the entire thing on their website.

But that's the internet for you. Perhaps for better or worse, the internet allows us to see "news" now already filtered through the lenses we prefer. There are plenty of bloggers and "news" websites out there that will tailor to your political views, whatever they may be. That's nice because it is often pleasant to read things that we already agree with.

But it's a heck of a lot more challenging... and more important... to read points of view we don't agree with. And as more and more people turn to these alternative news sources (and for the love of all that is holy, chain emails should never be considered "news"), the responsibility falls on us to do our fact checking.

Frankly, that's not something at which people have proven particularly proficient.

Update: It appears the poll has been taken down. Too bad, I would've liked to see just how high the count got.

Update 2: It should be noted that was on this story first. Credit where credit is due.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Lessons Learned Losing

Back in June, I posted the story of my dodgeball team and our Cinderella run to the finals after a regular season filled with losing.

I still proudly display my medal at work.

My fiance and I decided to join dodgeball again for the Winter season (that's right, there are actually multiple seasons of this thing), but due to scheduling conflicts we had to join a different team this time around.

Our former team (Average Jay's Gym) went on to completely dominate the competition all season long.

Our new team (The Hurlers) won just one game.

I wasn't particularly concerned. After all, in the previous season with Average Jay's, we only won two games before going on our improbable streak to the finals. Every team makes the playoffs, so really the only point of the regular season is to determine seeding. The important thing was to get everybody some time on the court, and we'd get better every week. Right?

Well, not exactly. Last night our team got absolutely pounded in round one of the playoffs (by a team named "The Chins of Chuck Norris", no less). We got shut out 4 games to zilch.

As for me, my dodgeball technique actually regressed this season. I think I lasted a total of 30 seconds in the games I played last night.

What's the point of all this? Simple. Failing teaches you things. When you do something you're good at, you don't tend to learn much from the experience. It's only when you do things that fall outside your comfort zone that you really learn. In fact, you learn a lot more about a person when they lose... especially if that person is you.

In fact, I think there's something rather strange about a person who is only interested in winning. That type of person is unlikely to participate in activities where they perceive they have a weakness, and that means that they stop developing at a certain point in their lives. They put an artificial cap on themselves and their realm of experience.

I am not a talented athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I know it might be hard to believe, but writing code for a living doesn't translate well to activities that require a great deal of physicality.

But for the past few years (largely due to my fiance's influence), I've tried out things like flag football, dodgeball, and hopefully basketball in the near future. I'm actually playing racquetball tonight with a fellow from the team.

It should make for good comedy. But you can't be afraid to get a beatdown once in awhile. You can't be afraid to lose. Because once you are afraid of failing, you stop learning.

In the link above about the old dodgeball team, there is a quote:

If it wasn't for failure, we wouldn't have succeeded.
- Lucas Hellmer

I don't think that's always true. There are a lot of talented people out there that are just good at certain things. But if they don't try things they might not be good at, they'll never realize their full potential.

So I encourage you to get out there and try something you've never tried. Better yet, do something you know you're not good at. You'll learn from the experience... even if all you learn is that a dodgeball to the face doesn't leave a mark (unless you consider shame a mark), that's something.

Friday, December 01, 2006

50,000 Words Later

Although I already outlined a lot of my thoughts about this process in a previous post, I figured I'd add a couple more things now that I've reached the finish line of NaNoWriMo.

I've experienced a few distinct phases since uploading my work and receiving my winner's certificate.

Phase One was elation. I mean seriously, I have never written so much fiction in so little time at any other point in my life. That includes school. For some of the veterans of this event, 50k is nothing. They go into the hundred thousands on their word counts. But for a schlub like me, there were definitely times I didn't think I'd make it. If you look at my progress during the course of the month, you can see that I came tearing out of the gate with 10k in five days, but things really took a nosedive in the middle of the month. Initially, when I had lots of outline, I looked forward to coming home and fleshing out those ideas. But it didn't take long for the outline to run out (I'd guess around the 8th of November: note the four day gap), and that was when things really got interesting. I knew where I wanted the story to go, but without the safety net of the outline, it became harder to know just what I should write on a given day.

Phase Two was relief. Now I can finally relax, I thought to myself. Now when I come home I can sit down and fire up a game or the TV without any guilt whatsoever! And speaking of games, my moratorium on video games can finally come to an end!

Phase Three was realization. Even at 50k, my novel isn't done. In fact, realistically I'll probably need another 20-25k words to finish a full first draft of the thing. The ending isn't written yet, and damn it, I want to know what happens.

Finally, Phase Four: resolve. The moratorium must stand. December must be treated just like November. If I don't get this thing done now, I'll never get it done. I've proven to myself I can write 50,000 words in a month.

Now I need to prove to myself I can finish.

So Final Fantasy XII will have to wait.

And you know what? I'm okay with that.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

I Did It

I'll write something more informative here tomorrow, but right now I'm just going to go to sleep and enjoy it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Halfway Point

Last night I reached 25k words in my attempt to reach the finish line of NaNoWriMo. The entire experience has been eye opening on a number of levels, and I've learned (or relearned) a couple of things.

The first and most obvious lesson is something I knew already, but had forgotten over the past couple of years: writing is hard. Back in college, I used to wait until a couple of hours before any given deadline and crank out the requisite number of pages at that time. This resulted in pretty good grades (when I actually handed the paper in), and deadlines tended to spice up what was otherwise a pretty dull activity. I can distinctly remember one time writing the first word of a 20 page final paper 4 hours before the deadline, and getting it done with a half hour to spare.

For some reason, that kind of "academic" (the quotes are extremely intentional) writing came pretty easily to me. Most times I didn't take it seriously because, quite frankly, I didn't find it that difficult to throw up a smokescreen analysis wrapped up in pretty language for the purposes of getting a decent grade.

However, I once took a poetry writing class and the experience was entirely different. It was a lot more difficult to BS my way through things. This might sound strange, because poetry is such a subjective thing... surely I could've just spit out some free verse and handed it in and passed. But for some reason I took it a lot more seriously. When writing in "academic" tones, I was just arguing for argument's sake. When writing poetry, it was a lot more personal. What I wrote said something about me.

So it is with fiction, I suppose. When I started this I didn't think 1667 words per night would be that difficult. It is. I've had to let go of making things perfect, and just write. I always knew that writing was difficult: whether or not I like John Grisham or Tom Clancy, I've always respected that they have the discipline necessary to sit down and engage in the act of writing.

The second lesson I've learned applies to a broader scope than just writing. When someone hears I'm writing a novel during the month of November, the thing I most often hear is: "I wish I had time to do that."

Now, some of those people are definitely busy. I have no clue how people with kids and a full time job are capable of doing NaNoWriMo (although there are plenty that are if you read the forums). But there are just as many people that easily have the time. They've just chosen not to prioritize it.

I think this applies to things like working out, reading books, or just about anything. People love to say "I'd go to the gym, but I don't have time."

Bunk. You've got time, you just haven't prioritized going to the gym above other things. I'm guilty of this myself. I haven't been to the gym consistently since high school. But it's not because I "don't have time." It's because I'm lazy. It's about that simple.

I can understand prioritizing things like family and stuff ahead of writing a novel, going to the gym, or learning to ride a unicycle. But any time you sit down to watch TV or play a video game, you've got time to do something else.

This is not an indictment of playing video games or watching TV. Those things are relaxing, and relaxation is important to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. But I will say this: since November 1st, I have had to force myself to watch less TV and play fewer video games because I've prioritized this over those other things.

Third and final, I'll share something from one of the NaNoWriMo FAQS:

If you don't do it now, you probably never will. Novel writing is mostly a "one day" event. As in "One day, I'd like to write a novel." Here's the truth: 99% of us, if left to our own devices, would never make the time to write a novel. It's just so far outside our normal lives that it constantly slips down to the bottom of our to-do lists.

This goes back to point two about "making time", but we all know that not all novelists are great "artists" whose work will stand the test of time. They're just people who had the discipline to sit down and get done what almost everybody says they'll do "one day".

Perhaps the reason some people who style themselves artists don't have that much respect for "popular" authors is because they seem to believe that they could do what they do "if they had time".

To them, I say this: make time.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Football, Baseball, and Novels

Keeping the thread of personal responsibility alive for at least one more post but switching the lens from gaming to sports, I'm going to talk for a moment about Shawne Merriman.

Those of you who know me know that I love baseball. For the past couple years that has meant trying to sort out the steroid issue and how it factors in to the "purity" or "history" of the game. The conclusion I eventually came to is that there really isn't such a thing as "pure" professional sports anyway, because when that much money is involved, some folks are going to do what they can to get an extra edge. If injecting yourself with steroids means you might be able to squeeze one or two more home runs out of a year or one or two more innings out of your arm, that difference can mean millions of dollars on your paycheck.

Call it what you will, but it is a tempting proposition.

Baseball has been the face of the steroids in sports discussion for the past few years now. Somehow, football has completely flown under the radar.

Those of you who know me know that I'm not a big NFL fan. So I'm clearly biased in this. But Shawn Merriman's positive steroid test and his subsequent excuses smack of good old fashioned BS to me.

Maybe it's not. It's possible he's telling the truth and he really is the "victim" of an overly harsh drug testing policy.

But if he is a "victim" for taking something on the banned list of substances: isn't it pretty clear that he or his trainer just flat out screwed up?

Bored at Life has a nice writeup on just this.

Now, getting back to the important stuff for a moment (namely me). As I mentioned previously (but before the World of Warcraft firestorm), this year I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month. Like many others I'm sure, I've talked about "someday" writing a novel many times, but never actually done it. The goal of this event is to crank out 50,000 words in the month of November.

Just before November 1, I almost threw a giant Molotov cocktail into that plan. Final Fantasy XII was released.

I admit, I almost bagged the entire thing to go out and buy this game. I knew if I did it, I would never, ever, reach the goal of 50,000 words because I'd be playing the damn game every day for at least a month.

So I held off, and promised myself I'd get it on December 1.

Pathetic? Yeah, probably. After all the talk of "addictive behavior" and the "wasted time" flying around here, it would've been pretty funny if I had bagged an attempt at writing a novel for a video game.

Then again, an argument was made in some of the comments that there is no intrinsic difference between spending time writing a novel and playing a video game. Maybe they're right.

I just know that for me personally, buying the video game would've been the easy way out.

5000 words and counting.

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Week After the Madness


No pun intended.

It was a pretty wild week for Soul Kerfuffle. Andy's little guest article sparked an internet firestorm that led to over 1000 diggs and not one, but two slashdottings.

It was obviously way beyond any kind of response we were anticipating. This blog was started by me a couple of years ago for the same reasons most people start a blog: just a way for friends and family to keep up with what's going on, and a place to track meandering thoughts.

I learned some pretty valuable lessons from the experience of all those comments and emails though. For one thing, it has made me a lot more sympathetic to public figures whose every word could land them in hot water with the press. It is so easy for anything that you say to be taken out of context and twisted when every word is dissected and discussed by a great number of people. Since I'm good friends with Andy, I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what he meant by his words from previous discussions: it really wasn't much more than a classic case of someone realizing they had let their behavior get out of hand, and then taking steps to fix it.

What was shocking was the amount of backlash received. One of the commentors linked a message board for a WoW guild called Fires of Heaven, and in an effort to understand the backlash I ventured onto their message board to get their point of view.

Although some there were understandably a little put off at first, there were several good points made.

One point reiterated strongly on the board and in the comments was the issue of comparing World of Warcraft to a drug of some kind. Some people went so far as to say it was insulting.

I believe the issue is, quite frankly, unimportant to the purpose of the original post. Whether or not something is intrinsically addictive or not is for the realm of science to figure out. But I'm pretty sure that it's possible to exhibit addictive behavior towards just about anything. So whether or not Warcraft is addictive like a drug really doesn't matter to me... the fact that some people exhibit addictive behavior DOES matter to me. And it matters to me because the people are important, not the game or the way it's designed or any of those things.

Another interesting point made on the Fires of Heaven message board that I never considered was one of guild burnout. Some of the folks over there clearly care about raiding, and do a lot of work to schedule raids and put in a lot of time to earn the gear. They view it as a personal affront when someone who has spent some time raiding with them, earning gear alongside them, leaves the game because of burnout because it penalizes others who feel they are able to balance the game and real life. Now those people must find someone else to replace the burned out player who let things get out of hand.

Finally, a long long time ago I posted something about game design shortly after I quit playing the game myself. The gist of the thing is that when you look at World of Warcraft and compare it to Pac Man, you see that game design actually may not have come as far as we thought. There is still a kill-loot-reward mechanism in place that probably should have gone the way of the dodo years ago. I bring this up again because this week's issue of the fine online gaming magazine, The Escapist, has a terrific article about how tantalizingly close MMOs are to being revolutionary, but how they are falling short in the author's eyes.

Finally, on the issue of the game or the person being to blame, I'm always going to vote in favor of the person, with the following caveat: a person can be influenced by their environment. That doesn't mean to me that the environment is at fault, but it can be an obstacle to overcome. It is a particularly timely issue, because in other news this week a fellow who happens to play Dungeons and Dragons killed a coworker with a homemade samurai sword.

That the fellow may be schizophrenic doesn't make the headline.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Warcraft: Another Point of View

As promised, from the same guild leadership comes a different point of view which discusses the game in a positive light.

I'm doing the best I can to make sure ALL points of view are featured prominently. I am trying to work with other folks as well to organize their rebuttals of some of the things stated in the article that started this whole wild train a-rollin'.

Without further ado, another guest post from another friend from the same guild.


I never finished a computer game or video game in my life before I started playing WoW. I started dozens of them …. UT, NWN, Donkey Kong, Diablo … and I always got halfway through or close to the end and realized that I was wasting hours a day on something that didn’t matter at all. So I’d put it down and go back to reading or writing or playing music or doing something else that I enjoyed. I figured it was something about lacking that particular chromosome, or possibly being just too practical for my own good. When my friend and co-guild founder convinced me to start playing WoW, I never thought I’d make it to 60. I really didn’t think that the guild we founded with four people (a couple naked dwarves, a human and a naked gnome) after-hours in a little back-office cubicle on Market Street in Philadelphia would get where it is today.

It’s going on two years now, and I’m still playing. Ok, I haven’t “finished” it … Andy’s right about that, there is no end. But why is this game different from all the others that I tried? For me … (personally, not speaking for anyone else here) it’s because it does have an impact on my real life. I got a Masters degree in policy from one of the most difficult schools in the country while at the same time playing WoW and working a part time job. I would come home from a busy day and think about how to use what I learned to make the guild work better. It was a way for me to practice what I was learning and to discover what was involved with leading people (mostly getting all the blame and no thanks, it seems :P). I’ve learned the lessons of clear communication, sacrifice, compassion, tough love ... and balance. I plan to use these skills in my professional life. So in short, I play the game because I get something tangible out of it.

That’s not all. I enjoy it. I like being the very best player I can be; whether I’m playing a priest or a mage or a twink druid, you can bet that I’m crunching numbers and reading theory and strategy and trying to make every action or every cast more efficient. You could say I’m driven, but I feel like it keeps me alert mentally. The same way that I play tetris and bejewled incessantly to work on my spatial awareness, I like reading strategies for boss fights and thinking about new ways to do them and how different people with different specs and strengths can contribute to or change the fight. It’s fun.

I also do it to play with my friends: ones that I would never get to see otherwise because they’re in different states or different countries. I once quit a twink guild because the guild leader said “I don't want people in my guild who have the attitude "screw this guild i'm sticking by my friends" You are NOT welcome in our guild.” (That’s leadership right there, lmao.) Our unofficial guild motto has always been RL > WOW, friends come first. The lesson? If it stops being fun, I walk.

I haven’t given up large amounts of my life to the game. Our guild doesn’t demand a given number of hours or days a week (compared to many raiding guilds, we’re laughably ‘inefficient’ in those terms… but we try to remember that people have lives.) I miss at least one raid a week to go out with friends, go clubbing, or watch a movie with my family. I hardly ever farm. I usually play the auction-house for fifteen minutes before I go to bed at night. I actually gave up herbalism because I didn’t have time for it (and I wanted to DE the stuff my ex gave me when we broke up >.>). If I start feeling frustrated, that the demands of people in the game are getting to high, or that I don’t have anything else to do … I walk away. I go for a walk, pursue one of my other hobbies, or call a friend. Soon enough I’m happy to come back, because I enjoy it and because there are people in the game whom I love and who make it worthwhile for me to play.

Those are my three keys, and whenever someone asks me if I think they should quit that’s what I ask them. Are you getting something out of it? Is it fun? Are you sacrificing things in real life to do it? Basically, do you have things in perspective and realize that it’s a game?

It was on this basis that I told Andy to quit. It’s true! I did. In my opinion, he was taking the criticisms too personally, he wasn’t getting anything out of it (he’s an engineer, not a policy maker after all), it had long since stopped being fun for him, and he clearly regretted the sacrifices he was making in his life to play it. There are many many people that I think can take a lesson from his story, and many stories that are far more shocking and terrifying than the one he told, but the point is the same. Know yourself, keep things in perspective, and keep life in a balance. In all things, not just in this.

So in short, I’m glad Andy quit the game. Our friendship is much deeper now than it ever was before (and let’s ignore for now the fact that I wouldn’t even know him or Yeager or Chuck … or Robert or Brian or Lisa or John or Jim or Shannon or Victor or Kate or Will or Heather or Tim or over a hundred other people if it weren’t for WoW.) It’s a decision that everyone needs to make for themselves, and it’s up to everyone to take care of their own lives. For me, that can include the World of Warcraft … for the time being. ^.^

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The View From the Top: Redux

First of all, thanks to everyone who came from all over to check out my friend's story. The response was overwhelming. I talked to him last night and he seemed a little embarrassed at the level of response, but was very appreciative of the positive comments from people who shared similar stories and experiences.

Second, I'd like to reinforce a couple of key points:
  • I, Yeager, am not the person who wrote the article. Although I have my own story of picking up and putting down WoW, I can not take credit for the story that attracted (and sometimes angered) so many people yesterday.

  • Although I can not speak directly for my friend, I do not get the impression from reading his story (or talking to him) that he wants to sue/ban/hurt Blizzard in any way. He even makes the point that "WoW did a lot of things right," and that he met some great people in the game. The story for me is about someone admitting they had a problem and doing their best to move on. Obviously others took away different things, and that is their prerogative as free-thinking individuals.

  • I agree that moderation and self-control are the keys here. There are ways to enjoy the game for less than 10 hours a week. But I also think that the amount of time required for the very highest levels of endgame raiding can not be balanced with a healthy lifestyle. Before you crucify me, yes, there are exceptions. There are exceptions to every rule. But you're probably not one of them.

Third, in the interest of getting all sides of the story, I am currently trying to persuade another friend (a councilor in the same guild, still playing the game) to write a counter article: something from the other perspective that highlights the positives of the game with suggestions on how to balance WoW with real life.

Finally, here are some highlights from what I thought were some of the most interesting, surprising, and sometimes baffling comments. I make no apologies for taking some of them out of context and the fact that they are listed here does NOT necessarily mean I agree with them, but here they are:
  • I hear you loud and clear - I damn near lost my degree, and did lose the best girl that ever happened to me, as a result of an MMORPG. I look back now and want to cry at the futility of it all - what the bloody hell was I doing?

  • In my case I suffer from at least the same problems with an obsession with startup software companies.

  • Almost lost my wife and three kids to wow... Amen you found way to "hearthstone" out of the game.

  • Even the most laid back guilds who try to stress a "Real life comes first" attitude end up pushing players into the game deeper and deeper. It is unavoidable.

  • World of Warcrack is not to blame for me almost losing my family. I am.

  • Did you actually take up enchanting and DE all those 30 epics into 30 nexus crystals and give them out to guildies? That rocks.

  • I've wasted away a PhD opportunity, over 10 years did not engage fully with my wife like i should of, let my mental life spiral downwards to the point where my abilities are average, gave up a second degree cause it's more important to play, get angry if I don't have a hit from a game.

  • As the poster has shown, if you are unable to make this distinction, it is probably best for you to give it up all together. However, if you are able to control yourself and your life, then an online game can help you be a better person for it.

  • But the truth is, Blizzard (and the like) are COMPLETELY to blame! For WOW alone, they rake in about $140M/month in revenue. They're not gamers anymore. They're "business men" managing serious money. Just like tobacco companies, they design their products for addiction. What's happened in our lives isn't by accident. It's intended.

  • So what do you all think I should do? play an extremely fun game in my free time? read a Bible? Sleep? Hell I don't know but atm i play WoW and darn proud to say it.

  • Anyone who puts WoW before their family, friends and health deserves the bum deal they get.

  • It sickens me to see this go unnoticed in kids, college students, and especially parents. In my opinion, they might as well be smoking crack everyday.

  • Man I wanna take the time to read all the comments and stuff here in this thread, but I've got a raid in 5 minutes. :(

  • It is not comparable to a drug addiction in any way. It's not physical, it's mental. You had the choice to stop at any time. It's only when people started disrespecting your power that you gave up.

  • He said he quit and he feels great. Its not about you - its about him. The fact that you read his story and see yourself in it (or at least implicated in it) means that you have a problem and you don't want to admit it.

  • Somebody get this guy a Snes, so he can get back to DJ'ing.

  • Your argument is completely flawed its like saying you can't win alchohol. You're not supposed to win it your supposed to play it.

  • I still remember the day i left wow even after all these time. I gave away all my possession, and went into the inn of stormwind to take a long nap. I never woke up from wow. And finally woke up in reality.

Update: The first comment on this post is, in fact, from the real author of the article. I encourage you to read it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The View From the Top

The top of what you ask? The height of World of Warcraft greatness.

A few weeks ago, a good friend of mine quit playing Warcraft. He was a council member on what is now one of the oldest guilds in the world, the type of position coveted by many of the 7 million people who play the game today, but which only a few ever get.

When he quit, I asked him if he would write a guest blog post about the experience. What follows is a cautionary tale about the pull an escape from reality can have on you.


60 levels, 30+ epics, a few really good "real life" friends, a seat on the oldest and largest guild on our server's council, 70+ days "/played," and one "real" year later...

Mr. Yeager asked me to write this "guest blog" for him. I figured I should oblige him this request - it was none other than Mr. Yeager who first introduced me to (begged for me to buy, actually :-p) the World of Warcraft. It was the "perfect storm" for me; a time in my life when I was unemployed, living at my family's house far from my friends, and had just finished my engineering degree and was taking a little time to find a job. I had a lot of free time on my hands and WoW gave me a place to spend it.

This could be a many page epic tale, but I figure I'd give you the brief history and pertinent information. The guild Mr. Yeager got me into and with which I became an officer is the oldest and largest on the server I played on. It is around 18 months old and extremely well-versed in endgame instances. I was both the "mage class lead" and an officer. I have many very good friends I met through WoW (in real life - no kidding) and even have been "involved" with another councilor in real life (yes, I know, I'm weird for meeting girls through an online video game but honestly, ask Mr. Yeager, she's head and shoulders better than all the girls I met DJing, waiting tables, in college, and bartending at clubs in Philly). But I digress...

I just left WoW permanently. I was a leader in one of the largest and most respected guilds in the world, a well-equipped and well-versed mage, and considered myself to have many close friends in my guild. Why did I leave? Simple: Blizzard has created an alternate universe where we don't have to be ourselves when we don't want to be. From my vantage point as a guild decision maker, I've seen it destroy more families and friendships and take a huge toll on individuals than any drug on the market today, and that means a lot coming from an ex-club DJ.

It took a huge personal toll on me. To illustrate the impact it had, let's look at me one year later. When I started playing, I was working towards getting into the best shape of my life (and making good progress, too). Now a year later, I'm about 30 pounds heavier that I was back then, and it is not muscle. I had a lot of hobbies including DJing (which I was pretty accomplished at) and music as well as writing and martial arts. I haven't touched a record or my guitar for over a year and I think if I tried any Kung Fu my gut would throw my back out. Finally, and most significantly, I had a very satisfying social life before. My friends and I would go out and there were things to do every night of the week. Now a year later, I realize my true friends are the greatest people in the world because the fact I came out of my room, turned the lights on, and watched a movie with them still means something. They still are having a great time teasing me at my expense, however, which shows they still love me and they haven't changed.

These changes are miniscule, however, compared to what has happened in quite a few other people's lives. Some background... Blizzard created a game that you simply can not win. Not only that, the only way to "get better" is to play more and more. In order to progress, you have to farm your little heart out in one way or another: either weeks at a time PvPing to make your rank or weeks at a time getting materials for and "conquering" raid instances, or dungeons where you get "epic loot" (pixilated things that increase your abilities, therefore making you "better"). And what do you do after these mighty dungeons fall before you and your friend's wrath? Go back the next week (not sooner, Blizzard made sure you can only raid the best instances once a week) and do it again (imagine if Alexander the Great had to push across the Middle East every damn week).

What does this mean? Well, to our average "serious" player this equates to anywhere between 12 hours (for the casual and usually "useless" player) to honestly 10 hours a day, seven days a week for those "hardcore" gamers. During my stint, I was playing about 30 hours a week (and still finding it hard to keep up with my farming) and logging on during my work day in order to keep up with all the guild happenings and to do my scheduling and tracking for the raids. A lot of time went into the development of new policies which took our friendly and family-oriented guild further and further away from its roots but closer to the end goal. Honestly, what that end goal is I'm not totally sure - there is truly no end to the game and every time you feel like you're satisfied with your progress, another aspect of the game is revealed and, well, you just aren't as cool as you can be again.

There are three problems that arise from WoW: the time it requires to do anything "important" is astounding, it gives people a false sense of accomplishment, and when you're a leader, and get wrapped up in it, no matter how much you care or want people to care, you're doing the wrong thing.

First off, let's go back to the time it takes to accomplish anything in the game. To really be successful, you need to at least invest 12 hours a week, and that is bare minimum. From a leadership perspective, that 12 hours would be laughed at. That's the guy who comes unprepared to raid and has to leave half way through because he has work in the morning or is going out or some other thing that shows "lack of commitment". To the extreme there is the guildie who is always on and ready to help. The "good guildie" who plays about 10 hours a day and seven days a week. Yes, that's almost two full-time jobs. Funny, no one ever asks any questions, though.

The worst though are the people you know have time commitments. People with families and significant others. I am not one to judge a person's situation, but when a father/husband plays a video game all night long, seven days a week, after getting home from work, very involved instances that soak up hours and require concentration, it makes me queasy that I encouraged that. Others include the kids you know aren't doing their homework and confide in you they are failing out of high school or college but don't want to miss their chance at loot, the long-term girl/boyfriend who is skipping out on a date (or their anniversary - I've seen it) to play (and in some cases flirt constantly), the professional taking yet another day off from work to farm mats or grind their reputations up with in-game factions to get "valuable" quest rewards, etc... I'm not one to tell people how to spend their time, but it gets ridiculous when you take a step back.

The game also provides people with a false sense of security, accomplishment, and purpose. Anyone can be a superhero here if they have the time to put in. Not only that, a few times I've seen this breed the "rockstar" personality in people who have no confidence at all in real life. Don't get me wrong, building confidence is a good thing and something, if honed appropriately, the game can do very right. But in more than a few cases, very immature people with bad attitudes are catered to (even after insulting or degrading others "in public") because they are "better" than the rest. Usually this means they played a lot more and have better gear. I'd really hate to see how this "I'm better than you attitude" plays out in real life where it means jack how epic your loot is - when you say the wrong thing to the wrong person it's going to have repercussions and you can't just log out to avoid the effects of your actions.

And people put everything on the line for these accomplishments with which they associate much value. I know of children and spouses being forced to play and grind for their parents, threats of divorce, rampant neglect, failing grades in school, and thousands of dollars spent on "outsourcing" foreign help. For what, you ask? Honor. The desire to be the best for at least one week. To get the best loot in the game. What do these "heroes" receive? Why, cheers and accolades of course as they parade along in their new shiny gear... which is obsolete the first time they step into one of the premier instances. The accomplishment and sacrifice itself are meaningless a few days later. Then it's usually off to the races again.

Finally, when you're a leader there is a call (or more appropriately a demand) for success. Usually those you represent want to keep progressing. They want to keep improving. They want more access to the best things. It is on you to provide it. In my experience, when you fail to progress fast enough, waves ripple throughout the guild and people become dissatisfied. It's your fault, no matter what. Everything you've done to keep things fair and provide for everyone does not mean a damn thing. A few will stand up for you, but when you have 150 people who all want 150 different things, you end up listening to 150 voices complaining about the job you're doing. This volunteer job usually takes at least 10 extra hours a week (on top of regular playing). Towards the end of my year of service, I apparently couldn't do anything right with my class. I had to rotate people to make sure everyone was getting a fair shot. I wrote actual mathematical proofs the allowed for fair and effective (yes, both) raid distribution according to efficiency, speed, and guild class population. I even rotated myself more than any other class member. People still took it upon themselves to tell me what I was doing wrong (constantly) and how their way was more fair (usually for them).

The thing that kicked me in the ass more than anything else was I really cared if my guildies were getting what they wanted out of the experience. I truly thought my efforts would make them happy. I wanted to make a difference to them. The greedy and socially phobic high school kid I thought I could help through the game, all of the couples (both married and not) who were falling apart because of the game I thought I could rescue, the girl who was deeply wounded by a guy who left her for the game but was herself addicted I thought I could save, not to mention a host of others, I thought my efforts were helping. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: I was providing them with an escape from their problems and nurturing the very thing that was holding them back. Oh yeah, it hit me like a ton of bricks after I had changed so much and lost enough of myself that the most wonderful girl I ever met broke up with me.

I remember clearly after fumbling around life for a few weeks that I dragged myself into the bathroom to get ready for work. I was tired because I was up until close to 2 AM raiding. Every week I read though email or I would run into one of my "real" friends and I'd hear "Andy, what's up, I haven't seen you in a while." I looked in the mirror and in a cinemaesque turn of events and a biblical moment of clarity, told myself "I haven't seen me in a while either."

That did it. I wanted to do the things I wanted to do again and be with the people who appreciated me even if I abandoned them for a year and sucked to high heaven as a friend. The prodigal son returned and my friends were happy. The best advice I got was from the girl who dumped me for being a jackass (and after I decided to really quit and be "myself again" became one of, if not my best friend in the entire world), who said "your real friends like you even when you screw up." It's true.

Funny side note was the reaction I got from the guild that I spent a year pouring my heart and soul into. I made my post in the guild forums saying I was leaving (half of it RPing - something that doesn't happen after you start raiding) and that it was time for me to move on. Three days later I didn't exist any more. The machine kept on moving without this gear. A few people asked me over email (and when I logged on to clean out the old bank) when I was coming back (I'm not going to). There are a few others I keep in contact with and am planning on going to visit sooner or later so I can hang out in person and they can finally meet me. But in the end being forgotten about so soon after still left a bittersweet taste. But one that was a lot easier to swallow than the one I chugged down every day for the better part of a year.

Don't get me wrong, WoW did a lot of things right. At times it was a fun game that allowed me to keep in contact with friends who lived far away. More importantly it introduced me to some of the best real life friends I've ever met. However, it did take an undeniable toll on me and is taking a far greater one on many, many people when taken too far.

Update: Follow up to this here, with clarifications on authorship and some of the more interesting/bizarre comments.

Update 2: For an alternative, positive viewpoint on the game written by the person who told the author to quit, please go here.

Finally, if you'd like to read more about this, I can't recommend the book Game Addiction: The Experience and The Effects by Neils Clark enough. It is a thoroughly researched and balanced piece of work that really examines this issue from all angles. It includes discussions with the writers of both blog posts on this topic.

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Very Good Day (Mostly)

Yesterday was one of those very, very good days.

I had originally planned to watch Newcastle United at 11 AM and the Eagles at 1 PM.

I am very glad I didn't.

Instead, I went to the Brandywine River Museum for the "Factory Work" exhibit, which prominently featured Andy Warhol, Jamie Wyeth, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. For a mere $8 it was an absolutely terrific exhibit, and it had been awhile since I just relaxed and took in some paintings. I don't profess to be any kind of art expert whatsoever, but I really enjoyed it.

In particular, there was a picture (I believe by the illustrator Howard Pyle, but I'm not 100% sure) of Benedict Arnold and his wife exiting their house after his treason had become known. It is really well done because there are several people staring at him with accusing eyes, while his wife is on his arm looking up at him with an expression that says, "What is going to happen to us now?"

After that we went the Chaddsford Winery and did wine tasting. Everyone bought a couple bottles and we cracked 2 open with some cheese and crackers and just sat outside enjoying the good weather and even better company.

Unfortunately though, as I was getting ready to go to bed I heard 4 gunshots right outside of my apartment, coming from somewhere in the development. This was quickly followed by police showing up. It was an interesting contrast, and I haven't been able to find any news this morning on what exactly happened. Kind of downer end to an otherwise terrific day.

Friday, October 06, 2006


3-11. After last week's performance, I thought FAULTY was due for a big week... until, of course, I saw the picks.

3-11 though was even worse than I expected.

So that gives FAULTY a season record of 23-37. It's gonna take a couple of big weeks from FAULTY to get back to .500, and this week doesn't look particularly good either. 8-8, in fact, would be pretty good for this week. See for yourself:

On the plus side, the Eagles bucked the FAULTY trend and beat Green Bay last week (big surprise) to put FAULTY at 3-1 guessing Eagles' games. This week ambient noise and skew correction is backing Dallas, so hopefully it will be wrong again.


A friend pointed out a yearly event to me called National Novel Writing Month (or "NaNoWriMo"). The concept is pretty simple: you sign up and during the month of November (starting on the 1st), you try to crank out a 50,000 word novel.

The goal is not to write a best seller, the goal is just to actually write that many words in that short amount of time. Yes, this means a good portion will be crap, but the fact that you've actually written something in a month as opposed to continuing to put off writing anything until you "have time to write" means that it will, theoretically, force you into a groove.

I have no illusions: this is going to be extremely tough. I haven't written anything of real length since college, but I always did my best (only?) work hours before deadlines. With a tangible deadline of November 30th, I'm hoping I'll get cracking (and hopefully sooner than hours before the 30th).

Besides, I figure I haven't really got anything to lose by giving it a go, and with at least one other person doing it with me, we'll be able to egg each other on.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

It's Over

The playoff run ended yesterday when the Dodgers and Padres both won their games to crush all lingering hope of the Phillies making postseason play in '06.

Today, just to twist the knife a little more, the Phils lost in 11 innings as Danny Sandoval couldn't handle a hard hit ball with the bases loaded.

And so, once again the season ends not just in defeat (that would be too easy); it ends in absolute soul crushing fashion and leaves you looking longingly at various implements of suicide.

I guess now I have to start watching the NFL.

*looks again at the kitchen knives*

Nah, death is better. And it has fewer commercials.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Situation Critical

Not good.

After a rain delay of over 4 hours, the Phillies and Nationals finally started at 11:30 PM. It is now just after 2, and the Phillies have lost by 2 to go down by 2 to the Dodgers.

With only 3 to play.

On the plus side, the Dodgers play the Giants to finish out the season. Dodgers-Giants is a rivalry just as heated as the more famous Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, and the Giants would like nothing more than to ruin the Dodgers' year by knocking them around.

But what's disappointing is that just a few days ago, the Phillies controlled their own destiny. They had a chance to go a game up in the Wild Card race and blew it, and have been losing ground ever since.

What makes it even more frustrating is that no matter what, at this point the Phillies will not have improved from last year. In 2005 they finished the season with a record of 88-74. The best they can hope to finish for 2006 is 86-76 (which was their record in '03 AND '04, incidentally).

Oh yeah, and Jeff Conine went 0-4, continuing what has been a shockingly horrific stretch run. He is now 0-11 over the last two games.

Thursday, September 28, 2006



Not exactly what I'd call "random".

What was an experiment going reasonably well came completely unhinged last week with a dreadful performance by FAULTY that got only 2 games right.

On the bright side, one of those two was the Eagles game.

SO... after 3 weeks, FAULTY has posted a record of 20-26. Not so great, but one good week is all it will take to turn it around.

This, however, might not be that week.

With gems in there like the Jets over the Colts, I'm not too sure we won't see another horrendous week.

The things I do for completely flawed science.

By the way, this week FAULTY picks Green Bay over the Eagles. So far FAULTY is 3-0 on Eagles games. I find it unlikely the Eagles will lose to the Packers, so let's hope FAULTY's streak picking the Eagles comes to an ignominious end.

5 Hours Later

I'm not sure if I'm going to make it another 4 games.

Tonight, after just a shade under 5 hours (4 hours 53 minutes to be exact), the Phillies somehow, someway, managed to beat the Nationals 8-7 in 14 innings to stay 1 game behind the Dodgers for the Wild Card.

It was a game that featured a little bit of everything, and a whole lot of runners left on base. Both sides' lineups combined to leave a total of 53 men on base (that's per hitter, mind you), and Jeff Conine had just about the ugliest line you will ever see:

0-7, 2 K, 9 LOB

You saw that right. NINE FREAKIN' GUYS LEFT ON BASE. This has to be one of the worst games of his professional career.

What's funny is that for the first time in a long time, the Phillies actually put the lineup out there I had been hoping to see for the stretch playoff run: Burrell and Lieberthal were benched in favor of Dellucci and Coste. Now I'm not so sure I knew what I was talking about, as Dellucci continued his to put his newfound futility at the plate on display by going 0-4.

Coste on the other hand went 3-6 with a couple of big hits to raise his average to .332. If Lieberthal starts another game it will be a mistake. It's just that simple.

And get this: Fabio Castro got the save. FABIO CASTRO. Here's a guy who is at the absolute bottom of your pitching depth chart on an expanded 40-man roster. He was a first rounder in 2005... IN THE RULE 5 DRAFT.

The Phillies now lead the league in runs scored AND runners left on base. Will they cancel each other out? I don't know, but I DO know that those two stats add up to heart attacks and a lot of objects thrown at the television.

And by the way, Jimmy Rollins is pretty quietly having the best year of his major league career.

Just four more games... just four more games...

I sure hope there aren't just four more games.

Worst. Idea. Ever.

I don't know how I missed this, but the AFL decided on September 13th to institute a "free substition" rule change for next season.

What this means is the end of the 2-way style of play that made the league so interesting.

I can't even tell you how disappointing this is. When people ask me why I like Arena Football, the first answer that comes to mind has always been the 2-way players that play offense and defense. The substitution rules were a little complicated, but basically 6 guys on the 8 man side had to play both directions for an offensive and defensive series and then you could make some subs (it's more complicated than that, but for the purposes of this discussion it will suffice).

By eliminating this, Arena Football really just turns into the NFL in a box.

Worst. Rule change. EVER.

I already paid for my season tickets, so I'm locked in for next year with the Soul. We'll see how this goes over, but right now I'm really, really disappointed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

What a Week of Baseball

There are only 2 things better than the baseball season when it comes to excellent sporting events: 1) the last 2 weeks of the baseball regular season and 2) baseball playoffs.

In case you haven't been paying attention, the Dodgers comeback against the Padres on the 18th started off the week with a bang. In case you've been living under a rock (or just don't watch baseball), the Dodgers hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs (that's 4 straight) in the bottom of the 9th to tie the game, then Nomar hit a 2 run dinger in the bottom of the 10th to give them the win and help them keep pace with the Phillies and Padres in the 3 team race for 2 playoff spots.

I remember there was a time when Nomar would be mentioned in the same sentence as guys like Jeter and Tejada in discussions about the best shortstop in baseball. Clearly he's not (he doesn't even play shortstop anymore), but it is nice to see him really resurrect his career in LA.

The Phillies actually took the lead in the Wild Card race by half a game over those same Dodgers, boosted in large part by a sweep of the Marlins, which included a small comeback of their own with a 7 run third inning today. This was a great game, and the Phils really appear to be firing on all cylinders down the stretch right now with only a week left to play.

Not to be undone in drama though, the Padres beat the Pirates today with the help of Trevor Hoffman's record breaking 479th save. I actually got chills watching him run out onto the field for the 9th inning with AC/DC's "Hell's Bells" playing, even though I was rooting for him to lose. Particularly sweet was that he got the third out against Freddy Sanchez, the guy who will probably win the National League batting title.

Finally, I also watched Nomar do it again for the Dodgers today with a walk off grand slam in the bottom of the 9th against the Diamondbacks.

So as the dust settles, the Phils still rest 1/2 game ahead of the Dodgers in the Wild Card race, and the Padres stay a game and a half ahead of the Dodgers for the NL West division crown.

Oh yeah, and on another sports related note, I am told that FAULTY had a terrible week this week. Apparently something to do with the lesser sport of American rules football.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


After going 10-6 last week, FAULTY now has an overall record of 18-14. I'm hoping a couple of the picks this week (like Cleveland over Baltimore, for example) will result in a losing week that will bring us back to perfect parity, but we'll see.

So far it FAULTY is 2-0 picking the Eagles, incidentally. Philly fans will be pleased to know that the power of atmospheric noise with skew correction is with them this week against San Francisco.

I promise the next post will NOT be football related.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


Okay, so the first week of FAULTY could have gone better. 8-8 is not really a very impressive total... or is it?

In fact, it looks to be exactly random. So from that perspective, this first week was a resounding success, lending more evidence to my hypothesis that NFL results are completely random.

Yes, I know there is a logical disconnect there. In the words of the Pope, "Too bad."

At least, I'm pretty sure the Pope has said that at some point.

Anyway, here are the picks for Week 2. Will we see another week of perfect parity?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gaming Addiction?

I must admit, when I first read this article, which claims that 40% of World of Warcraft players are addicted, I thought it was pretty silly. Sounded to me like just an attempt at grabbing headlines by Dr. Maressa Orzack by throwing out some exhorbitant number. Perhaps, I thought, she was hoping to scare parents enough to grow her customer base.

Now I'm not so sure. Since then, the good doctor has backed off a bit on that original number, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I exhibited the same type of behavior when playing WoW as when smoking.

Perhaps the biggest indicator was when it began to seem like most people you meet that play this game, as soon as they find out you don't play, start backpedalling about just how much they play. Very few people are willing to be completely truthful about the amount of time they spend playing the game, and that's a little creepy.

I can't blame them, I used to do the exact same thing. It wasn't until I actually used a command in the game to check my total playtime that I realized I had flushed a good chunk of life into this thing... in that amount of time I could've been well along on a novel or a number of other far more constructive activities.

I still disagree with the doctor's claim that games are somehow at fault here.. I think the player is far more culpable. But I also think that the biggest step for folks playing this game would be to look honestly at just how much they play the game. When you look at the sum total of time spent, it's an ugly, ugly figure now matter how you justify it.

I don't think people should stop playing the game... after all, it's a REALLY cool game. I just think they should be honest with themselves about how much time they spend playing it. Most of my WoW-playing friends have found ways to strike a good balance with the game (I think), and I think they could provide some very helpful advice on keeping things in perspective much better than I did during my days in Azeroth.

And now, I present to you the Top 10 most depressing things I saw on WoW Detox, a site where people post reasons to stop playing (these are actual testimonials from the site, I cannot attest to their validity):

10) I grew a cyst the size of a melon on my neck due to little movement for the course of a year and a half. Thanks blizzard.

9) i went broke, i gained 300 lbs, my wife left me and stuck me with the kids. i walk with crutches now because my leg muscles are so deteriorated.

8) There is no way to balance a real life and a WoW life. The game is simply ridiculous. The reason to play is to improve a character as much possible. This means extensive and crippling playtime because of the massive timesinks incorporated in the game... I asked myself why should i care about some purple item in a game i despise but deep down inside still want to cling onto it... Some people may have a strong willpower and can balance and minimize playtime, but the game is so damn addicting those are few and far between.Anything ive had going for me in life has pretty much vanished because of this game and life feels pretty damn dull and pathetic and that is a justified reason to quit. I have encountered and experienced alot of addicting things in my life of all natures, but none as destructive as WoW.

7) My friend came over to my graduation party and left early to go raid Molten Core.

6) I have tried quitting many times, not so many as serious as now, I have had to sign over my account to my friend, make him promise never to let me use it, break my cds, uninstall the game, everything, hopefully I do well in school this year, because I bombed last year because of this piece of shit game.

5) Ever heard of 'thrombosis'? I hadn't, until a couple days ago. I write this from the hospital, friends dropped off my laptop.
Basically, sitting in my chair for hours at a time, 5-gallon Sparkletts pee-jar next to me, I developed a clot in the vein of my leg, which moved to my heart and caused a heart-attack that I barely survived. Doctors orders, no more WOW, much more walking and exercise. I just cancelled my account. I want to live to see 30.

4) If you bought WOW when it was released (Nov 23, 2004 - USA) and played continuously until now (Aug 23, 2006), here's an estimation of how much it has cost you: (21 months x $14.99/month) $49.99 for the game = $364.78. Did you ever think you'd pay almost $400 for 1 game?

3) My brother stopped playing it because i shoved a pen through the screen of his lap top after finding out that the reason for him not taking my dying dog to the vet was because of that dumb game.

2) Because my four year old said When are you gonna be off the game?

1) I lost my wife to WoW.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

FAULTY Week 1 Picks

Info on FAULTY here.


Every year I enter an NFL pick 'em league. It's a lot of fun, even when I don't watch any football at all, just because of the characters in the league. It works on a head to head format: there are 32 teams, one for each team in the NFL. Your schedule mimics the team you represent.

For several years now, I have been the Falcon. Or, more precisely, the "Faulty" Falcon, in that I have the unerring ability to turn the most obvious game of the week into the upset of the week by virtue of my picking them. It got so bad one year that I started writing a column now and again, putting my "lock of the week" on display only to see it come crashing down week in and week out.

This year, however, a number of factors have conspired to keep me from paying enough to attention to the NFL to make educated picks of any kind. I've been watching a lot of soccer since the World Cup, plus the Phils are in the playoff hunt, and I like both of those sports better than the NFL.

So since my picking ability seems pretty random anyway, why not make it as truly random as possible?

Now, random number theory is interesting stuff as it relates to computers. Obviously, computers aren't any good whatsoever at producing random results. In fact, they're designed to do exactly the opposite. So in order to produce near random results, mathematicians have come up with some interesting algorithms that computers can use.

However, these algorithms all rely on a seed number to produce their results... a starting point for the rest of the equation to work with. If you use the same seed number twice, you'll get the same "random" number. So a random number algorithm is only as good as the method by which you obtain your seed number.

In most cases, programmers will just use something like the system clock, since it is going to be different every time. Although good enough for government work, this is not a real great way to do things because the time is predictable, making your "random" results predictable.

So people have come up with all kinds of weird ways to produce "entropy", the unordered stuff from which precious randomness can be gleaned. People have done some neat stuff using things like lava lamps to produce entropy.

In my case, I decided to go with, which uses the following approach (from website):

A radio is tuned into a frequency where nobody is broadcasting. The atmospheric noise picked up by the receiver is fed into a Sun SPARC workstation through the microphone port where it is sampled by a program as an eight bit mono signal at a frequency of 8KHz. The upper seven bits of each sample are discarded immediately and the remaining bits are gathered and turned into a stream of bits with a high content of entropy. Skew correction is performed on the bit stream, in order to ensure that there is an approximately even distribution of 0s and 1s.

Yeah. Whatever, sounds pretty random to me.

Using a quick little .NET script, I make repeated HTTP requests to, getting some seed numbers, all in the eventual pursuit of a 1 or a 2 (or, more accurately, up to 16 ones and twos) to make my picks.

I call the little app "F.A.U.L.T.Y.", or the "Falcon's Automated and Unnecessarily Lengthy Teaminator for Yeager" (props to my coworker for the assist on the acronym).

Ah yes, technology and the NFL. What could possibly go wrong?

Edit: I've actually added a simple XML config file, which can contain a schedule of play. You can enter what week you want to get the picks for and it will spit them out in a nice format. Hmm... I probably should stop wasting time on this.

Monday, September 04, 2006

US Open

With my fiance's mom in town, we made plans to go the US Open in Flushing, New York yesterday.

Let me start off by saying that the experience was pretty fun, overall.
Let me follow that up by saying I am unlikely to ever do it again.

First off, you can't actually drive and park at the US Open. The place is a private tennis club most of the year, and only has enough parking for a few hundred people. So when the US Open rolls around, you've really got no choice but to take mass transit.

NYC is a hike on mass transit if you live in Wilmington and don't want to take the Accela (which you usually don't unless work is paying for it). So it took us about 4 hours each way to make it there by driving to Trenton, taking the much cheaper Northeast Corridor train on NJ Transit, and then hopping on the 7.

Well, the NYC transit system is pretty good, but even it was having trouble accommodating the sheer volume of people going to not just the US Open, but a parade happening at the same time.

When we got there, we had to get right back into another line because you could not bring a backpack onto the grounds. I am told that this is stated clearly on the website, but I don't see it even after the fact. So it's right into another hour long line to check our backpack. So much for that bright idea.

At around noon now, with the coveted Agassi match already an hour old, I am finally out of that line with my bag claim ticket and ready to enter. Meanwhile, Julie and her mom have been standing in ANOTHER line because they have purses, which also need to be searched.

We finally sit down at 12:30, a full HOUR AND A HALF after we arrived at the place. It has taken us a full five and a half hours to actually see tennis.

So anyway, I got a sunburn and saw Agassi's somewhat... uh... "soft" retirement speech, and also saw Roddick win. As the evening rolled around I was excited about seeing Serena, but as I looked around I realized that the stadium was really only half full.

One of the things they do is split the matches into "morning" and "evening" sessions. Now because of the last two days of rain, we got to see an extra match. But 38,000 people were standing outside waiting to get in starting at 7 PM for the evening session, while Serena is playing to a half empty crowd in Arthur Ashe. But no, they stubbornly wait until the match is over at about 7:30, and then ask everyone to exit so they can clean the stadium before the "evening" matches begin (it looked pretty dark to me during the Serena match).

At any rate, when we finally got out of there (after waiting in ANOTHER line to get the backpack), it was about 8 PM and there were 38,000 people STILL waiting to get in. It was quickly turning ugly.

It was altogether the most poorly organized professional sporting event I have ever seen.

I understand that they had a lot of matches to play, and it was probably a logistical nightmare trying to accommodate people who had tickets the previous two days, but altogether I'm just not sure this facility should be hosting an event as big as the US Open. It's probably just as good or better than Wimbledon or any of the other major hosts, but still, it was a mess.

In the end I had fun (despite almost passing out early on due to heat), but the whole thing smacked of New York City-syndrome to me: "you'll put up with this shit because we're New York dammit, and we're better than you."

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


My pal and coworker John pointed out that the internet meme "rofl" is being tossed around a little too lightly these days. People very rarely ACTUALLY engage in the act of rolling on the floor while laughing, and he wanted to see the usage tightened up a bit.

To that effect, I have submitted the new abbreviation "crofl" to Urban Dictionary for review. "crofl" is short for "Courtesy rofl", to be used in the instance that one is not really interested in rolling on the floor laughing, but wants to let someone know they appreciate their attempt at humor.

For example, say you receive the following joke via e-mail:
Hey guys, you'll think this joke is great!

What kind of monkey can fly? A hot air baboon!!! HAHAHAHA!!!

-some jerk

If this person is a coworker, you may not wish to strain your relationship by not responding at all, so you could reply with crofl to let them know that even though you are not really laughing out loud, you appreciate the gesture.

EDIT: I am pleased to announce that Urban Dictionary has accepted my submission.

Monday, August 21, 2006

A New Side Project

A couple of buddies and I have started a page for more publicly facing, sometimes politically oriented rants. I do not recommend you view it if offensive language and occasionally offensive opinions annoy you. In fact, if you are a member of my family and wish to avoid Thanksgiving arguments you should ignore this post altogether.

But if you don't mind the possibility of getting annoyed and/or offended, feel free to check it out. If you want to contribute, drop me a line with your rant.

Engagement Cruise

Sorry about the delay in the update, but I was on vacation last week with Jules. It was quite a trip.

First off, the most important news is that we got engaged. Some are probably saying "Finally!", and I suppose after five and a half years there is some justification for that, but we have always done things on our own terms and that hasn't changed.

Second, the whole trip got off to a pretty shaky start. We were scheduled to leave on Monday, and I picked up the ring after a couple months of shopping the Thursday prior. I brought a change of clothes in my carry on bag and put the ring in the pants pocket.

Well, the first thing I did as soon as we got to the airport on Monday morning was spill coffee all over myself. So that meant I had to change my pants. When I went to the bathroom stall to do so, I promptly dropped my sunglasses in the toilet and my driver's license (which was loose in my pocket) went skidding down two stalls next to me to an occupied stall. The fellow in there was clearly, uh, struggling with his breakfast, and my request for him to kick my license back my direction was initially met only with grunts of distress.

After getting out of there sans sunglasses (still resting in the toilet), I sat back down and tried to relax. I kept the ring on me the rest of the time.

When we arrived in Orlando, naturally my bag did not arrive from Philly. After waiting for an hour or so, we simply had to get going otherwise the boat was going to leave port without us. I filled out a baggage claim and resigned myself to wearing the clothes I had on for the next couple of days, my genius change of clothes plan foiled by earlier clumsiness.

Finally, we got on the boat, and I resolved that I would make the proposal THAT NIGHT before anything else untoward happened.

Lucky guy I am, she said yes.

The rest of the cruise we spent relaxing and enjoying being engaged, since we knew once we got back there would be a flurry of activity (phone calls and the like). On Wednesday my bags finally arrived in Grand Turk, and I got my camera and took some pictures. It was a great time, and certainly a vacation I'll never forget.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

See ya Bobby

Looks like I got part of my wish from back in February.

One of my favorite players on the Phillies (and the one whose jersey I own) has been traded.

The buzz is that this is a terrible deal, although I don't think it's as bad as everybody says. This was mostly a cash dump, and Abreu had a back-loaded contract whereby the Phillies would have owed him a lot of money over the next 3 years. Hopefully that money can be used for something good.

But I do think it's typical that Philly fans are going crazy, when just a week ago they couldn't wait to get rid of this guy. Abreu has never been a fan favorite, despite his consistent play. Yeah, his defense was lazy (don't let last year's Gold Glove award fool you), but the goal of the game of baseball is to GET ON BASE, and Abreu was consistently near the top of the league in that category.

At least football season is about to start. Then Eagles fans can return to complaining about McNabb. Good stuff.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Philly Loses Again

This time it's on the international stage: Philadelphia and Houston got knocked out of contention for the 2016 Olympics.

This means nobody will get to throw batteries at the Ethiopian speed walking team. Very disappointing.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Motivator

Some of you have probably seen this before, but somehow it flew under my web radar and I was only introduced to it this week.

Motivator is a simple web tool that allows you to create your own corporate motivational posters. You know the ones with a flock of birds or something that say "Teamwork" followed by something trite.. uh, I mean inspiring.

Needless to say since discovering this I have wasted a lot of time making my own. I'm sure some of you out there could come up with some gems yourselves.

Friday, July 14, 2006


I hate to link and run, but something about this really moved me.

Maybe it was the music. Maybe it was the idea of a guy just dancing all over the world. I dunno, but I really dug it.

I encourage you to check out this guy's story on the site too... it's pretty interesting.

Note: Thanks to Mia for pointing this out to me!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Perplex City

My search for new and innovative types of games has led me to an interesting little product called Perplex City.

I discovered this game in The Escapist, a superb magazine for the more cerebral gamer. In a recent article about ARGs, or "Alternate Reality Games", Perplex City was highlighted as one of the best of a fledging genre that has, up to this point, largely been used as market ploys for upcoming products and not necessarily fully developed games themselves.

But Perplex City is definitely a fully developed game. The basic mechanic revolves around the purchase of "puzzle cards". There are over 200 unique puzzle cards which vary in rarity and difficulty.. and the difficulty really does go from dog easy to diabolically complex.

Here's an example of a typical card I recently solved: the card has about 20 flags on it with no other real information. I go on the internets to discover that somebody has put together a searchable flag database and begin looking up all of the flags. Once I've looked them all up, I discover that if you read the first letter of each country represented by the flag from the bottom up, it spells out a message that asks you another question about another flag. Go to the Perplex City webpage, type in the answer, and the card is solved.

Another example: You need to find 2 side effects of a fictitious drug called "Ceretin" that is being sold in the alternate universe of Perplex City. The card looks like a typical spam email, and contains an url for "Cheap Ceretin". If you go to the homepage (which is brilliantly designed to look like your typical internet scam), you can follow to the "official website" of the "makers of Ceretin". From there you can find a "Contact Us" email address.. if you send them an email, you get an automated response about Ceretin which includes the side effects. Go to the Perplex City webpage, punch in 2 of them, and the card is solved.

The game is very addicting, because it doesn't stop at the puzzles. There is an ongoing story as well, as other people, both real and fictional, are trying to solve the puzzles as well in order to get clues to track down a mysterious cube... whoever finds the cube gets a real cash reward of $200,000. And there are clues everywhere.. in the cards, in the various websites set up by the game makers, in the newspapers... there is even a music CD that comes with the game that supposedly contains some clues. The whole thing really sucks you in.

There are a couple of free puzzles on the website, and the game tutorial is really cool (you make phone calls and get text messages on your phone!) as it demonstrates all the clever ways the game exploits different real life tech. I encourage everyone to at least try it out.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A True Underdog Story

If it wasn't for failure, we wouldn't have succeeded.
- Lucas Hellmer

The saga that was the 2006 Spring Adult Dodgeball League for Average Jay's Gym has come to an end. Our Cinderella run was halted in the divisional championship game against the #1 seeded defending Delaware state champions, the Polish Mafia.

If you had asked any one of us at beginning of the playoffs how far we were going to go, we all would've told you we'd be happy to get out of round one. After finishing 2-6 in the regular season, we were seeded #8 in the tournament.

As Han Solo said: "Never tell me the odds."

On our way to the divisional championship, we took out the #2 AND #3 seeds... and it took 6 games for the Polish Mafia to finally put us away.

It was an awesome run, and sets the bar high for the upcoming Fall season. Only one question remains to be answered:

Who the heck is Lucas Hellmer?

The team with our divisional runner up trophy and medals is below.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Holiday Reminder

If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball

I play every Monday night in a dodgeball league. That's right, a dodgeball league.

I've never been a top notch athlete, and I used to get picked last on dodgeball teams (or, really, any teams that didn't require spelling) back in grade school.

I'm not much better now either, but fortunately my teammates on Average Jay's Gym (if you don't get it, you need to watch Dodgeball now) are QUITE good.

Last night was the first round of the playoffs. We were seeded #8, and shut out our first opponent 4-0 (you play best of seven games). That meant we earned the right to play the formidable Unknowns that same night, the #2 seeded team.

In between games we prepared by drinking beers and eating. It was a regimen that served us well, as we pulled off the upset of the tournament so far by shutting them out 4-0.

Can you say Cinderella?

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Plump Ump

Sad story in the Philadelphia Inquirer today (which I initially spotted in Deadspin).

It would seem that Philly native and former umpire Eric Gregg (affectionately known as "the Plump Ump") is in critical condition after a massive stroke. He was always a fan favorite due to his sizeable girth and equally big smile.

He lost his job, like many others, after the umpire walkout in 1999. He worked the concession stand at Chickie and Pete's in Citizens Bank Park the last couple years, obviously in an effort to stay close to the game. Fans of the infamous Philadelphia Wing Bowl will also recognize Gregg: he was the commissioner of the Bowl for 13 years.

By all accounts he is a man with a great sense of humor (I guess you'd have to be to survive 23 years of umpiring), who took the loss of his job very hard.

Here's hoping he doesn't lose more than that.

EDIT: Sadly, Eric Gregg passed away last night.

In a season with strike zones the size of postage stamps, baseball needs umpires like him more than ever.

And in a time where cynicism and uncertainty reign, the world needs men like him more than ever.

Former Phillies pitcher Terry Mulholland, who pitched a no-hitter with Gregg behind the plate, shared some thoughts about the umpire.

I also managed to unearth an interview with Mr. Gregg from 1999, given during the umpiring negotiations... just before he lost the job he loved.

Friday, June 02, 2006

A Day at Wrigley

Over the Memorial Day weekend I had the opportunity to attend my first baseball game at Wrigley field. This trip is an important pilgrimage that is a requirement for every diehard baseball fan, and I was excited to do all the things you're supposed to do: ride the L to Addison, drink Old Style, etc.

The Cubs did not disappoint, putting on a showcase that was like a microcosm of their last 100 years.

First, the seats. Julie's cousin did a great job of hooking us up with tickets, and we were on the first base line about 20 rows or so back from the field. The "Friendly Confines" is a great nickname for this park, because it feels like you can reach out and touch the grass from most anywhere in the place. Even though those foul poles are some of the farthest away in the majors, the park FEELS a lot smaller than most.

The game was an absolute slugfest. Some fellow named Jae Kuk Ryu made his Major League debut for the ailing Cubs, and got lit up to the tune of 6 runs in one and a third innings. The Braves were knocking Cubs' pitching silly the entire game: they hit a club record EIGHT home runs.

Point of order: Illinois basketball coach Bruce Weber sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" in the 7th inning.

In the bottom of the 9th, the Cubs came from 4 runs back to tie the game. Very impressive stuff, although I must admit I had seen plenty of the vaunted Cubs fan base heading for the exits in the previous inning. There were still plenty of people in the stands, don't get me wrong, but it wasn't really above average like many folks would have you believe.

Those fans that DID stay were cheering like crazy. You could see the hope in their eyes, feel it in the stadium... maybe THIS would be the game to get them off the schnide and onto a roll. Maybe with a little winning streak they could get to .500, and then from there, who knows?

But, in typical Cubs fashion, all hopes were dashed by horrible defense. Seriously, this Cubs team has got to be one of the worst defensive teams I have EVER seen. I don't just say this based on one game, but it was defense that would ultimately lose this particular game for them. A routine pop up to the third baseman, Aramis Ramirez, proved to be too much as it hit him in the face and dropped to the ground. That runner would eventually score on a two out hit to put the Braves ahead by one, and that would be the game in 11 innings.

Altogether it was a terrific experience that was everything I thought it would be. I don't "respect" Cubs fans any more or less... they seemed like pretty average fans to me, honestly. But Wrigley is a beautiful park, even with the load bearing nets inside holding up the falling concrete. It will be a sad day when the park goes down, which you know it must someday.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Best Promotion EVER

Seriously. I challenge you to find anything better than this offering from the Altoona Curve, a minor league affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates: Salute to Frivolous Lawsuit Night.

The giveaways include:
- A Pink Totebag for the first 137 men age 18 or older
- Lukewarm coffee (to prevent burns) for the first 137 women age 18 or older
- A beach ball with a warning not to eat it for the first 137 kids

There is also "A grand prize drawing in which one fan will receive a 'clue' and their own frivolous lawsuit."

Is there anything left in America as pure as minor league baseball?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Pac Man Online

In case you can't tell, I've had games on the brain a lot lately. There are two major reasons for that:

1) Although I still enjoy playing Dungeons and Dragons with my old pals once a week, our games have started to lose some traction.

2) I have a new surplus of free time that used to be occupied by the ultimately unsatisfying World of Warcraft.

Dungeons and Dragons
After running a majority of the campaigns for my D&D group, I decided I needed a break from being the GM several months ago. To prevent the possibility of future GM burnout, two of my pals picked up the mantle and decided to trade weeks.

This was a good plan on paper, but graduate school has put an increased workload on one of them, meaning he hasn't been able to run (or even attend) the game with the consistency he'd like. This left an increased workload for the second fellow, who works longer hours than a lot of us at a hospital.

Add to that equation things like new kids and job requirements, and we've had a tough time keeping any sort of consistent flow going in our D&D games. This isn't anybody's fault, it's just one of those things that happens as we all get older and have more responsibilities. But it does make it very tough to keep that sense of continuity going that makes a game memorable.

What does this have to do with "Pac Man Online"? I'm getting there. But first:

World of Warcraft
Obviously, I've become far more interested in this game since I've cancelled my account and am able to look at it from the outside. I'm not capable of looking at it objectively because of how crushingly disappointed I still am about what this game turned into, but I think the explanation has something to do with the theory of how games work in general.

In your standard, single player game, it is easy to give the player a sense of control and influence on the game world. After all, THEY are the hero and the game is tailored to respond specifically to their input. From Pac Man all the way to the latest games like Oblivion, the player is in firm control of everything. In Pac Man, you have a direct influence on the game board by moving that yellow guy around and eating stuff. In Oblivion, you have a direct influence on the game through a variety of quests and environments, all of which change in tangible ways based on what you do.

For this reason, single player games are, by their nature, empowering. What separates Pac Man from Oblivion, however, is the sense of accomplishment. That sense in Pac Man is fleeting, because once you complete the objective (eat all the pellets), the board essentially resets.

Sound familiar, WoW players?

Enter the Boss
Later games like Super Mario Bros. started to use the concept of the "boss": an end goal that pretty much meant you had completed the game and reached the epitome of what it had to offer. For SMB, this was Bowser, that lovable spiky dinosaur thing that hopped up and down and shot fire at you.

As a relic of the Pac Man type of game design, once you beat Bowser the game started over again, but essentially you had won the game. Later iterations of SMB (as early as SMB 2) threw away this "continuous play" concept completely... you actually got a "You Win" type screen that basically meant the same thing as "Game Over". You had won, no more to do.

In the best games, ingenious titles like Chrono Trigger and the more recent Indigo Prophecy, there is still value is starting the game over again because you can impact the environment in different ways the next time. Multiple endings and plot threads make the game fun to play numerous times. Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur's Gate 2, and just about any other game you can think of by Bioware provide these kinds of experiences. The player gets a chance to be someone else AND his actions have real, tangible effects on the other characters and the game world.

Despite these advances in single player games, MMOs are trapped in two distinct models. The most obvious of these is the kill, level, repeat model. From Ultima Online all the way up to WoW, very little has been done to improve upon this model except update the graphics. WoW is fun while you are leveling because there is an end goal (level 60). Then you grasp for new end goals. How about killing the big boss in Molten Core? Well, you can do that, but it really doesn't matter because he comes back.

The second model is the player created content model. Games like Second Life and a Tale in the Desert follow this model... there is almost nothing to do in the game that isn't created by a player. In these games you gather resources to create content which allows you to gather new resources to create more new content, etc. Although these games DO allow you to impact the environment, they require a huge time investment to make anything substantial or unique because most of your time is going to be spent gathering the right pixels to make even better pixels.

Pac Man with Guilds
Essentially, despite all it's prettiness, after level 60 WoW becomes a really nice looking version of Pac Man. Seriously. Eating all the pellets OR killing all the bosses over and over and over again is not fun, and you can play Pac Man over a TeamSpeak server for free.

What keeps people playing WoW, as far as I can tell, are two things.

The first and most obvious is the social aspect. I think this is what keeps most MMOs, even the mediocre ones, alive. You can make friends on these games, and with things like TeamSpeak you can actually talk to them and get to know them. For a lot of people, these games are great social outlets... it's like a discount fraternity or sorority. Every month you pay your dues and get to play Pac Man together, perhaps swapping stories about Pac Man in the process.

The second is what I call "moving the carrot". As pointless as doing these bosses over and over again is, after a few months anything remotely tangible you may thought you had achieved (i.e. a piece of pixellated armor or a sword, for example), becomes obsolete in the next patch. By keeping a steady stream of minor content updates, these games keep "moving the carrot", creating the illusion of groundbreaking new content that everyone wants to be the first to try.

So no matter how you choose to look at it, the MMO model as it currently exists, especially in a game like WoW, is really just at its core the most expensive Pac Man sequel ever produced. For this reason, games like Civilization IV, Neverwinter Nights, and the previously mentioned Oblivion will continue to provide a far superior experience to a player like me who wants to feel like he's accomplishing something.

Tying it all Together
I promised I'd explain what this has to do with D&D, and I will now. A good D&D game shares a lot of the elements that those awesome single player games have. There is a building story arc of which your character is a major part, and things you do have tangible effects on the game universe. Plus, there is an end to the story.

I still don't know how the heck that experience could translate into the MMO model... I'm not entirely convinced that it can. People are social creatures, and for that reason MMOs are initially appealing, but nobody has figured out a way to keep that shared content compelling in a computer game. Single player games have an audience of one to satisfy, and so they are able to produce an experience that feels much more rewarding than an MMO.

In a way, World of Warcraft and MMOs like it represent a giant step BACKWARD in game design... we've returned to the time where nothing you do matters, the game never ends, and as such there is no way to tell a coherent story.

The closest anyone came to doing it right was Neverwinter Nights, but the implementation of the GM piece was confusing and unwieldy. Some people are still playing that game in its multiplayer mode with moderate success, but the tools provided kept this type of gameplay from reaching its full potential.

In fact, at this point the closest thing in town to the tabletop experience remains the MUSH. That's right, a bunch of text does a better job of delivering than WoW.

Perhaps most frustrating is I don't have any sort of answer whatsoever. I still have no clue how you can translate the D&D tabletop experience to a real, graphical video game, and all attempts to do so up to this point have been failures. It seems ironic to me that those that come closest are all single player games.