Monday, August 30, 2010

Technical Pro PM-22 Podcast Kit Review

Well, my Technical Pro PM-22 Podcast Kit arrived today.
To say I'm disappointed would be the understatement of the decade.

There's no two ways around it. This thing is absolute trash. I'm talking a real piece of worthless shit.
So, I was taking everything out of the box, and at first, I was impressed. The mics felt nice and heavy and well made, the mic stands were solid and the mixer itself felt rugged and compact.

Before connecting it to the computer, I hooked up one of the mics, a set of headphones and turned it on. The sound was nice, but I was only getting audio through the left headphone. I checked to see if the cable was plugged in all the way and was rewarded with a huge crackling sound. It appeared that even breathing on the headphone cable resulted in a burst of static.

This was when I started to think maybe the mixer wasn't very well made.

Well, I played with it for a while and I have to admit, even though it was only coming through one headphone, the sound was quite nice. Having control of the bass and treble on my voice let me adjust it until it was just so and I figured crackling headphones was a small price to pay (and I'd probably find a fix for that with a little time and ingenuity). I was also impressed that from a comfortable distance away, the mic was picking up the full range of my voice, but wasn't picking up the sound of the fan or air conditioner. That's a big deal. I was happy. No more having to podcast in the 95 degree temperatures with no A/C!

Then, I decided to actually try it out properly and record something. I plugged in the USB cable, connected the other end to my computer…

'Noise' doesn't cover it. As soon as it was connected to the computer there was what can only be described as a constant roar. Ever talked to someone who's using their cell's speaker phone while they're driving with the window down?


It was truly unlistenable. It was like trying to listen to the radio with the station just barely tuned in.
So, obviously, the USB wasn't going to work, but all was not lost because the mixer has an RCA out connector and I just so happened to have an RCA to 3.5 mm jack adapter. This mean that rather than connect through USB, I could just run a line from the mixer to the mic or line-in jack on my computer.

So I did, and was relieved when I didn't get any noise…

…at first.

Suddenly, I can hear someone talking. I look over and the TV isn't on…

The mixer was picking up a fucking Spanish radio station. I wish I was kidding.

This is a piece of audio equipment that is so badly shielded that not only does it get a ton of interference from the USB connection it needs to work, it's picking up Spanish radio.
The more I played with it trying to find a solution, the more and more I realized just what a badly made piece of shit it was. The headphone connectors were crap and loose, there was a ton of play in the USB connection, and you'd set your volume, bass and treble just right and they'd randomly change.

Obviously, this meant I was going to return it, but as I've mentioned before, if you get a defective unit, you send it back and get a replacement. If they do it for free, no harm, no foul. Instead, while I was looking online to see if I was doing anything wrong, I stumbled across a ton of reviews of this piece of shit that had the same problems. It appears that the single positive review I read (on the site I purchased it from) was the one guy who got a decent unit (of he just has really low standards and thinks a recording with deafening white-noise all over it is acceptable).

So I wanted to return it, I wanted my money back (I didn't want them to send me another one)…and luckily the site I bought it from has a 15 day, no questions asked return policy, so I was relatively happy…until I read I had to ship it back to them at my own expense.

What really pisses me off is for forty bucks less I could have bought a Behringer mixer that's received nothing but absolutely glowing reviews that compared it to much higer-dollar mixers, but I'd nixed that idea because I'd have had to order a second mic and stand separately. It would still have worked out a couple of dollars less, but I figured it was worth it to get everything in one box.

Turns out I was wrong.

If you take nothing else away from this review, take this: The Technical Pro PM-22 Podcast kit is a useless piece of overpriced crap. It's not worth the $140 price tag, it's not worth a $20 price tag. It's a device that simply can't do what it was designed for. Avoid it at all costs.

[Edit - I talked to B&H (, the company I ordered it from, and after explaining the situation, they immediately emailed me a return form and a pre-paid shipping label. The product may be a pile of shit, but I can't fault B&H's customer service.
I'm exchanging the PM-22 for a Behringer Podcast studio bundle, which works out at the same price when you factor in an extra mic, cable and stand. I'll let you know how it goes)

(Edit 2 - I posted my experience as a comment on the 'ad' for this on  Technical Pro's youtube video. Two hours later, they had deleted it. I posted it again, the deleted it. I tried to post again, and they'd banned me from commenting. No response, no apology, just deleting anything negative. I wonder how many other comments they did this with?)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Have fun PROPERLY damn it!

Well, my missus' last post was about all the things I don't understand about her, but her first part of the post, the part about her liking to play GTA has opened a can of worms.

When Sunny plays GTA, she doesn't actually play the game, she just likes to walk around and explore the city.

I can completely understand her having no interest in the missions because, at least to me, the missions are only a small part of the enjoyment of the game. With any GTA game, 90% of the fun is just running around and seeing what you can do (Leaping from a helicopter without a parachute, doing a massive jump on a motorcycle, firing a rocket launcher at a busy intersection, etc.)

The thing is, when I say Sunny walks around Liberty city, I mean she walks. In a game called 'Grand Theft Auto', she avoids driving cars. This is mostly because she has difficulty driving them (I don't think she ever got her head around how the right trigger is analogue and works like a gas pedal, so in effect, she's either completely off the gas or has her foot down all the way).

When I tried to teach her this and get her to drive some cars, Sunny took that as me trying to get her to do what she's supposed to do rather than what she likes to do. I can understand her reasoning. To her, running around the city is fun, driving isn't, so why would she want to drive? I'm stopping her having fun to try to get her to do something she doesn't like.

But that's not it at all. I'm not trying to get her to play the game 'as intended'…I just know from experience that if she perseveres with the controls a little bit and gets the hang of driving, which would take ten or fifteen minutes tops, it opens up a ton more options and makes the game even more fun.

So, when I'm watching Sunny play a game, I try to show her something and her response is usually along the lines of: "Look, I don't want to do that, I'm having fun like this. Why can't you just leave me to it?"

The honest answer? I can't just leave her to it, because it's so frustrating. I know she's having fun, but she's not having anywhere near the fun she could be having.

I know that makes me sound pedantic, I know it makes me sound like an idiot jumping up and down because she's not having fun properly…but what it boils down to is Sunny wants me to leave her alone when she's playing a game because she's having fun and she sees me as trying to get her to do something that is less fun. I, on the other hand, know that if she'd put up with the 'less fun' bit for ten minutes, it'd open up a whole new experience that would blow the experience she's having right out of the water.

In my defense, you really have to understand Sunny's personality. Most of her favorite TV shows now are ones I introduced her to, and she downright hated every single one of them the first time I tried to get her to watch them. Through fair means and foul I gradually introduced them into our TV schedule, until today, some of the shows she absolutely despised (Such as Doctor Who, Little Britain and Leverage) are her absolute favorites.

So, yeah, this isn't me getting frustrated because Sunny isn't playing games 'properly', or that she should enjoy things in the same way I do…it's that, like with the TV shows, I know she'll absolutely love something if she perseveres with it for a little while. There's this whole awesome experience I want to share with her.

It's like taking someone to a restaurant that has awesome food from all over the world that serves hundreds of dishes that they've never tried before, but you know they'll absolutely love. You're excited about getting to introduce them to this stuff and you can't wait to watch them try all these delicious dishes for the first time. It's going to be amazing, you've got all these things you can't wait to share…

…Then they order a burger and fries…and you're like "No, try the Chicken Jalfrezi! You'll love it, I promise! It's got all the spices you like and comes with…" and they cut you off and say "Look, I like burgers. I know I like burgers. Why can't you just leave me alone and let me enjoy my burger?"

"But they've got this thing that you'll…"


"But it comes with this awesome…


"But if you just tried…"


That's what it feels like.



My Cat Sounds Like a Tribble


Seriously...she does this ALL THE TIME.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Social Media Smacktards

One of the things I've seen a lot of over the past year or so is a massive glut of people who refer to themselves as 'Social Media Experts'.

I hate to be the one to break it to these douchebags, but do you know what you need to call yourself a Social Media Expert? A Facebook and a Twitter account.

There are a ton of websites and 'Consultancy Services' set up by these assholes, claiming to be able to teach you (for a fee, of course) how to 'leverage' social media and make a ton of money. At best, heir advice is ridiculously basic (with such gems as 'create a twitter account and tweet about your service', or 'set up a facebook page for your service')…but mostly, these idiots just give ridiculous and counterproductive advice.

Here are some of my favorites:

"A twitter message is free, so send as many as possible and use lots of different hashtags. It doesn't matter if the hashtag isn't related to your product, lots of people will still see it!"

Translation: Spam the fuck out of everyone you can. I don't know about you, but the one thing that's guaranteed to make me buy things from someone or generate lots of good will is for them to clog my timeline with irrelevant bullshit. Hey, it obviously works for all those herbal Viagra emails.

"Go viral!"

That's literally all the info they provided on this one and it smacks of someone throwing out a buzzword when they have no idea what it means.

"Comment on other people's blogs and provide a link to your own site. It's easy, just comment with something like 'interesting post!" and you'll generate lots of traffic!"

This one made me want to track his guy down and stab him in the center of his forehead with a dirty fork. Yes, you'll generate traffic, from angry people telling you to fuck off. Does his twat think people will appreciate it when you comment on a post you obviously haven't read in the hope of stealing their traffic?

"Write guest posts. Find a blog in your niche and send the writer a post and ask them to put it on their site. Don't forget to include a link to your own site!"

Because there's nothing I like more that some guy I don't know sending me an unsolicited post that's a blatant ad for their own competing site. It's like going into a McDonalds and asking if you can set up your own table to sell your own burgers in the corner. 'Hey, dude, I know you've generated a large audience by creating worthwhile content, but I want to skip that step and just take your traffic to my content-free, ad-riddled excuse for a website, that's cool, right?'

"Publish a funny image. At the end of the day, people just want to have a good laugh. Publishing a funny image is a good way to help them with that, and it might increase your traffic at the same time. Want some inspiration? Check the pics section on Reddit."

Yes, steal other people's copyrighted content and publish it on your own site even if it's completely irrelevant. A stolen lolcat will really help me take your business seriously. Why not go for animated gifs and looping audio while you're at it.

"Create stickers with your website's URL and spread them around. If you really want to go guerilla, get some stickers with your website's URL and spread them around. Cars, windows, computers, you name it!"

Yes, because vandalism is awesome. I can't tell you the number of websites I started visiting because some douche stuck a sticker to my car's windshield. People love I when people start using their private property as a billboard.

Set your website as the homepage on any computer you use. If you apply this tactic consistently it might actually bring good results. For instance, you could set your website as the homepage of all computers in your school, work, libraries and so on.

(Facepalm) Are you FUCKING SERIOUS? Yeah, because changing the homepage to your shitty website in web cafes, businesses and libraries isn't going to piss off anyone at all. I know when I got to the library and have to click past some bullshit site, it really makes me want to buy things from the guy who did it.

List your website for sale. Even if you are not planning to sell it, that is. The interested buyers will visit your website to check it out, and that is how you'll increase your traffic. If you list your site on popular marketplaces you might actually get thousands of visitors.

Yes, because the important thing is seeing a spike in page views. It doesn't matter if all these page views are from people who spent five seconds on your site and left pissed off because you were just jerking them around. Traffic is traffic, right?

Fake a hacker attack. The community of bloggers and webmasters gets in turmoil every time a website or blog gets hacked. If you fake such an attack (i.e., by putting a weird message in your homepage) you'll certainly receive many backlinks and a bump in traffic.

I'm not even going to comment on this one.

Long story short, 'Social Media Experts' aren't 'experts' in anything. They're douchebags trying to cash in by selling worthless advice to the gullible. If you want lots of traffic, make a worthwhile, interesting website. Sure, you can drive a lot of people to your site with the above advice, but they're not going to stay and you're just going to piss them off.

To close with an example, with the right marketing, you can get hundreds of people into a restaurant on opening day…but if the food's shit, the service is crap and there's roaches everywhere, they're not coming back and none of their friends are going to visit either.


Friday, August 27, 2010

There was a bit of a fuss earlier this week when THQ released a game that had a 'one-time code' for online play. In other words, if you buy the game used, you don't get to play it online.

This obviously upset a lot of people, but THQ's Corey Ledesma added further fuel to the fire by saying:

"I don't think we really care whether used game buyers are upset because new game buyers get everything. So if used game buyers are upset they don't get the online feature set I don't really have much sympathy for them."
"That's a little blunt but we hope it doesn't disappoint people. We hope people understand that when the game's bought used we get cheated."

The first reaction from a lot of people was that THQ was 'disrespecting their customers', but I think Jerry Holkins of Penny Arcade hit the nail on the head by pointing out that if you buy a game used, you're not the developer's customer at all. They're not seeing your money.

However, taking this to an extreme, some people have gone so far as to say that buying used games is 'legal piracy', in that you're playing the game, but the people who made that game aren't seeing your cash.

Personally, I think that's a load of horse shit. When you pirate a game, a single copy gets bought which is then distributed to thousands of people. With used games, a single copy is bought, and then only one other person buys it used (maybe two or three if they trade it in also). But the biggest difference between buying used games and piracy is that money is changing hands. A purchaser of a used game may not be putting money directly into the hands of the developer, but they're giving money to the retail store who uses it to buy new games to put on the shelf.

Plus, if your game wasn't available used, chances are I'm not going to buy it anyway. I buy more used games than new because $60 is too expensive. There is obviously a huge market for used games, so rather than bitch about getting cheated, why not sell your games for $40 and take away any incentive to buy them used? You'd easily make up the shortfall in volume.

The thing is, developers can whine that used games cut into their profits, but at this point, it's hard to take them seriously. Modern Warfare 2 was the biggest entertainment launch in history when it was released. Not the biggest game launch, the biggest entertainment launch period. It sold 4.7 million copies in its first 24 hours and went on to make well over a billion dollars. The lesson here is simple. Make a good game and even with used re-sales and straight up piracy, you're not going to be hurting for money.

Retailers like Gamestop are filling a gap in the market. They're catering to Gamers, like me, who can't afford to drop $60 on every new release. Rather than whine, fill that gap yourself.

The part that I find most annoying is this is the gaming industry setting itself up as the victim and complaining about how unfair everything is. When a major developer can refer to the sale of used games as 'being cheated', I think it's time they look at how they've been treating their customers.

First of all, they could immediately cut down on used sales by selling games at a more reasonable price point. For a game like GTA 4 with 50+ hours of gameplay, $60 isn't too bad, but there are plenty of games that are over in less than eight hours with little or no replay value. Are those games really worth sixty bucks?

How about the games that arrive broken or full of bugs and glitches. Are they worth sixty bucks too?

Of course, you can point out that multiplayer makes games infinitely replayable and definitely worth sixty dollars… but even without one-time codes, developer tactics have made this impossible as well.

I paid $60, full price, for Call of Duty: World At War, but shortly after launch they released multiple add-on multiplayer maps. This wouldn't be a problem, but they didn't include an option in matchmaking to play only the core maps. So you'd try to join a game, and if the first map in the rotation wasn't a core map, instead of the game starting, you'd get booted out and sent straight to the xbox live store to buy the map pack. Three map packs later and it's just about impossible to play online.

Six months after the launch and I never got into a game without at least an hour of joining, seeing and I didn't have the map and having to back out. I also never managed to play two games concurrently.

This isn't a difficult fix. Just slap an option in matchmaking to play only the core maps or maps from the different expansions. The fact of the matter is that the developer doesn't want to make it easy. They want you to have to buy the expansions to keep playing. In other words, they have your sixty bucks, but to play the game you've paid for online, you have to spend another twenty for the expansion, and another twenty the month after that and so on and so on.

Also, developers are very quickly moving towards micro-transactions to nickel and dime their customers. This isn't an issue when they charge for extra content, but in a lot of cases, you have to pay extra to unlock content already on the disc, or sell unbalanced in-game items that you're forced to buy if you want to stay competitive online.

In other words, this is a two way street. Developers can whine about 'getting cheated' all they like, but maybe if they treated their customers better, this wouldn't be an issue.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Well, this week I finally managed to sell my rifle, and early this morning, I ordered my Technical Pro PM-22 Podcast kit with the cash.

I can't wait.

The kit is a four-input, six channel mixer that comes with two dynamic microphones with desk stands and two sets of studio-grade headphones. From the specs and reviews it's exactly what I need. In fact, that's what it was designed for…a relatively cheap podcasting mixer with all the features you need and none of the ones you don't.

It's going to make my life much easier.

When we record the podcast now, Sunny and I have to share a mic. Anyone who's ever tried to produce any audio can tell you what a nightmare that is.

It's amazing the amount of stuff I have to do after recording just to get the podcast listenable. With the mic gain set so you can hear us both, it also picks up the fridge running two rooms away and the crickets chirping outside. Set the gain to cut that out and we'd have to talk for an hour with our foreheads pressed together next to the mic. Also, with everything set to record me perfectly, Sunny is barely audible….with everything set to record Sunny perfectly, my voice shakes the windows. Plus, if one of us leans forward or back in our chairs, or turns our head while we're speaking, the volume and clarity of our voices and can change dramatically.

In other words, the podcast takes about an hour and a half to record…but it takes me close to five hours to edit. Basically, the raw audio sounds like a bad telephone line. Tons of background noise, tinny voices, one voice at a comfortable volume with the other either too loud or too quiet. Plus, while I can use filters and EQ settings to make our voices sound great, our voices are very different and require different settings, which means either Sunny can sound good or I can…or I go for something in between that makes both better but not quite right.

In fact, that sums up the whole podcast recording process right now, trying to find a 'happy medium'…the best we can do is 'adequate'. If we want 'A' just right, then 'B' is way off…so we have to go for a middle setting where 'A' and 'B' are just 'sort of ok'.

That's why I'm looking forward to getting the mixer so much.

Firstly, the mics are dynamic and not condenser mics, and because we can actually be right in front of them, we can have the gain turned down enough to where we can actually have a fan or something running in the room. That's been a huge problem up to now. Because having the A/C and fan on makes the podcast sound like we recorded it next to a running jet engine during an earthquake, we have to turn everything off. Given that it can be 90+ degrees here at midnight, what you don't see (and why Watermelon Helmet isn't a video podcast), is that 15 minutes in, we're burning up and sweating like pigs.

It'll also be really nice to be able to hear the audio as we're recording and not have to watch the recording wave like a hawk. During recording I constantly have to force myself to talk quieter or signal Sunny to speak up every five minutes. That's something Sunny does a lot…she starts out projecting her voice, but when we get into the conversation, I think she forgets we're recording and just has a conversation. This is exactly what we want, a normal, natural conversation…but when Sunny talks normally, her voice tends to go very, very soft.

Plus, and this is a huge deal, I can set the levels, bass and treble settings individually on the mixer before recording…in other words, our voices will be at the same comfortable level with individual settings to enhance our voices. In other words, I can have the bass and treble for my voice where it sounds good without Sunny sounding like an alien and vce-versa.

Another big timesaver is that I can put the jingles/stingers etc into the podcast live instead of adding them in post production…and that extra channel means I could also Skype someone into the podcast. Recording Skype conversations is usually quite complicated requiring extra software, but with the mixer, I could simply start Skype on Sunny's laptop and feed the audio from that directly into the mixer.

So who knows? Maybe a special guest sometime in the future (I'm looking at you, Mike, Michelle and Evan)…in fact, I was thinking the recent 'ping-pong' blogposts between Evan and myself would make quite an interesting podcast episode.

Anyway, our next episode that will be up this weekend should be our last recorded the current way. The mixer is due to arrive this Tuesday, so I'll try it out and post a full review next week.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


So last night, I was watching the new episode of Warehouse 13 on the Sci-Fi channel (I'm sorry, I refuse to call it 'syfy') when a WWE Wrestling show came on after it.

I have to admit, when I was eight, I loved wrestling. By eleven, I'd outgrown it and was enjoying it 'ironically' and by twelve I'd worked out how stupid the whole thing was and completely stopped watching it.

That's what I thought wrestling was. Bright, colorful entertainment for children. I mean, who over the age of twelve would enjoy watching two guys pretend to fight?

A quick glance into the audience for this show proved me wrong.

Let me just point something out. When you're a forty year old guy, and you're in the audience of a WWE show, holding up a sign, screaming at the top of your voice and taking everything super-seriously…there's something seriously wrong with you. I'd like to say the 'older guys with signs' were rare in the crowd, and if there were adults there, they were only chaperoning the kids…but it appeared to be the other way round.

Ten minutes into the show I turned to Sunny and said:

"Help me out here… was I really, really dumb as a kid, or did they used to be much better at pretending to fight? That guy just knocked the other guy clear across the ring with a punch that missed him by a clear two feet."

"I refuse to hold a conversation with anyone watching wrestling." Said Sunny, returning to her laptop.

I remembered all those arguments I had about whether wrestling was 'real' when my age was still in the single digits. There were a lot of camps. Some of my friends said it was all real. Some said it was all fake. Others said some matches were fake, but all the title fights were definitely real.

Ten minutes into this show and I was struck with two possibilities. Either wrestlers today are much, much worse at fake-fighting than they were twenty years ago…or my friends and I were retarded.

But the show left me with one big question:

The average adult wrestling fan, and let's not mince words here, is a fucking redneck. Given the average redneck's 'values'…can they not see how fucking gay wrestling is?

It's two extremely buff, oiled-up muscular dudes…in brightly colored costumes (and speedos)…grabbing and twisting each other into crazy positions for ten minutes (including a lot of moves that can only be described as 'face to crotch'), before one guy pins the other guy onto his back.

Seriously, imagine describing a still picture from a wrestling match out of context and try not to sound gay.

Ok, so the oily dude in the knee high patent leather boots and bright yellow speedo is holding the other muscular oily dude with the ribbons hanging from his arms upside down so their faces are in each other's crotches.The first guy has his mouth wide open and looks like he's screaming.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More Blogger Ping-Pong

Time for yet another Evan-inspired post.

In his most recent post, Evan talks again about how we're 'softening' as a society. I agree with every point he made…and I'm under no illusions that our grandparents and great-grandparents were a lot tougher than we are. As Evan mentioned in his post (in another ping pong, referencing one of my earlier posts) most people today think food originates in grocery stores and have, at best, only a very vague understanding that their bag of chicken nuggets once walked around saying 'cluck' (and in the case of chicken nuggets, probably 'woof' and 'meow' as well).

I can't deny this is a bad thing. We're not just reliant but completely dependent on our technology. As Evan mentioned, if society as a whole was forced to fend for itself, the majority of us wouldn't make it.

But this raised another point, which took my response from 'comment' to 'whole new blog post' level.

You see, on the one hand we can talk about this as the softening of society and call it a bad thing. On the other hand, you can look at it this way: We're not really 'softening', we're just replacing obsolete skills with new ones.

The simple truth is, barring some disaster on a heretofore unimaginable scale, the average person is never going to have to survive 'in the wild'. The average person doesn't have a huge suite of survival skills, simply because we don't need them anymore. We're not adept at working with our hands as our grandparents were, but the truth is we simply don't need to be.

Yes, the average person doesn't know how to survive 'unsupported' and, in theory, this is a bad thing…but that's not taking the flip-side of the coin into account.

Not having to worry about basics like food and shelter has freed us to learn and achieve other things. All this wondrous technology that has vastly improved our quality of life came about because the average person doesn't have to worry about basics like gathering food or just surviving.

Saying we're 'softening' and calling it an entirely bad thing is like saying it's a bad thing that our kids are going onto college after high school instead of ending their education at 16 and getting a job because the family needs the money. Hell, education as a concept came about because of 'softening'. At one point, learning to read and write was considered a waste of time because you don't need to be able to write to work in a field. There was no point in general schooling because you'd apprentice to someone who'd teach you 'everything you need to know'.

I admit, that's an extreme example, but that doesn't make it any less true. People grow up to be great scientists, writers, and musicians because they had the time and energy to devote to it. If we had to hunt and gather our own food, build our own shelter and defend ourselves 24/7, that wouldn't leave much time for study.

Sure, it's easy to say that that's all well and good, but we're 'going too far' with it, but the latest generation is always going to be at the extreme end of the spectrum. I say today's kids have it too easy, my parents said the same thing about my generation and so on and so on as far back as you're willing to go.

Basically, we're not softening. We're adapting. We're trading out skills we no longer need for the ones we do.

We can say today that people think food originates in supermarkets and would be lost if they had to hunt and gather their own…but at one point someone said that it was a bad thing that you could just go and buy a bow or animal trap in a store…and asked what would happen if those stores suddenly went away and you had to manufacture your own bow or traps in the field.

I think the simplest way to put it is that the average teenager in 2010 would be completely lost if they were suddenly in the 1930's…but the average teenager of the 1930's would be completely lost in 2010.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Going Without

As usually I'm playing Blog-post ping-pong with Evan. At this point it's a long standing tradition. As I said to Evan recently, instead of blogging we might as well just email our opinions to each other…our blogposts tend to just be public conversations between the two of us.

Anyway, in his latest post, talking about his grandparents, Evan said:

"I look at how they lived, and I compare them to my generation, and my kids' generation. We're so soft. We don't understand what it's like to do without. If we need want something, we simply go out and get it. When we're done with things, we simply throw them away. If it's hot, we sit in the air-conditioned living room and watch Blu-Ray Movies on our HDTVs. If it's cold, we don't put on a sweater, we turn up the heat."

I have to disagree with this a little, because I think 'going without' is a matter of generational perspective.

For example, I look at kids today and say they've got it made. I didn't use a computer to write my essays for school. There was no such thing as 'google' and researching those essays meant going to a library and flipping through a card catalogue. We didn't have cell phones, 500 cable channels, instant messaging, on-demand movies and all that other stuff that kids today would feel deprived to go without.

But my point is, my parents said exactly the same thing about me… that I didn't know how lucky I was. Four TV channels? A VCR so you can record shows and watch them whenever you want? Portable tape players that run on batteries and clip to your belt? You're spoiled and don't even know it!

Their parents also said the same thing about them, as did their parents. Thanks to the constant march of technology, each successive generation, at least superficially, has it easier than the previous.

In other words, if Evan had been around four or five generations ago, rather than writing about how his grandparents knew what it was like to 'go without', he might be writing something very different…about how his grandparents don't know how lucky they are, with their motor-cars and electric washing machines and gas ovens. Go back far enough and you'll find someone saying how kids don't know how lucky they are to have steam-trains, because when they were kids they had to hitch the horse up to the buggy and that was only if you were rich enough to afford one, or how they had to draw water from a well and put it into the tin bath in front of the fire when they wanted a wash.

Now, this is the point where someone will point out that their Grandparents didn't have a car or washing machine…well that's my other big point, we also tend to assume that because a certain technology is available, that everyone has access to it. I certainly didn't. There are plenty of families today that don't have air conditioning, blu-ray players or TV's. As a kid, and even today, I tend to put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat. I took my lunch to school in an old bread wrapper. I had store own-brand sneakers instead of Reeboks. When compared to my grandparents, that's hardly going without…but that's my point…it's a matter of perspective. A kid born in 2010 will look at our 1080p TV sets in the same way we look at an old 1960's black and white set. They'll see the internet today was we see the old 1800 baud BBS's.

At some point, people will see having to manually drive a car powered by an internal combustion engine as primitive and quaint as we see people having to ride horses in the 1700's. That doesn't make us selfless or noble for doing so, nor does it make the guy in 2070 riding in a self-driving hover-car soft and pampered.

The other point is here is our Grandparents were frugal and went without because they had to. If you could go to any house in the early 1900's during summertime and offer them an affordable air conditioner, I'd say 100% would take it. Offer an Xbox to someone in the 1970's playing on a pong console and of course they'd take it. We have more 'comfort' and technology than our Grandparents because it's available and affordable.

But were things really so different? My parents used to tell me I didn't know how lucky I was because they had to 'make do' with a black and white TV. But in 1960 a 19" black and white TV cost $250, which adjusting for inflation is around $1500 in today's money. We may consider them 'going without' because we have flat screen HDTV's, but whatever way you look at it, they still spending the equivalent of $1500 on a top of the line TV. In 1940, a decent radio cost around $40, which is still over $600 after adjusting for inflation.

In short, compared to us, our parents and grandparents went without…but our grandchildren and great grandchildren will probably think the same thing about us. I don't think there's anything to be upset or ashamed about in that. After all, isn't the whole point of living and having kids to make sure they have things easier than we did and have access to the things we didn't?

When I was your age, I had an iPhone that only cost 800 dollars and didn't have a holographic display! You had to control it with your hands!

Saturday, August 21, 2010


Feeling a little bored today and looking around for something to do, I rediscovered my 'Munchkin' cards. There's a lot to be said for a card game that can entertain you for half an hour, without actually playing the game, just by sitting and reading the cards.

The only thing I don't really like about Munchkin is that you really need three or more players for an interesting game. It's playable, but not much fun with two.

If you've never played Munchkin, it's a simple card game that's a parody of Dungeons and Dragons. As the box says, the point is to: "Kill the Monsters, Steal the Treasure, Stab your Buddy'. It's a game of backstabbing, screwing over other players, making allies and then turning on them just as quickly. The fun comes from the dynamic at the table…you can't get that with two people.

It's really amazing how such a simple game can be so much fun. As I was reading the card (and laughing at the 'Chicken on your Head' curse card.) I remember when my parents came to visit and I got to introduce both of them and Sunny to the game

Introducing someone new to Munchkin always involves three distinct steps: First, the skepticism as they start to learn. Second, the open mouthed look of astonished betrayal the first time you really screw them over (Oh, that Level 2 'Mr. Bones' skeleton you can easily defeat? He's now Humongous (put down card), Ancient (put down card) and there's now two of them (put down card and cackle like a mad man))…and finally, the part where they really get the game.

That's when the fun starts. When the new players finally get that the point of the game isn't to defeat monsters, get treasures and increase your level…but to completely screw over the other players in the most devious and sadistic manner possible.

My favorite moment when everyone finally got it was when my Mum, who'd just been playing to humor me up until this point, said:

"Ok, these Flying Frogs are level two, I'm level four, so I beat them." She reached for a treasure.

"Not so fast." I said, as a put down a card. "I try to help and 'accidentally' hit you with this Electric Radioactive Acid Potion which gives the frogs +5 against you, meaning they're now level seven and can beat you."

She had nothing else to help in her hand and no one else offered any help.

"What?" Said Mum, looking from her cards to me and back in confusion. "Why are you doing that?"

"To screw you over." I said. "If you win the fight you'd have got a treasure and gone up a level. Now, unless you can run away (get a roll of 5 or higher on a six-sided die), you lose two levels."

"You little bastard." Said my Mum.

At this point, Sunny leaned over and said, in a concerned whisper: "Wait…It's my turn next. Are you going to do me the same way?"

"Damn skippy." I said.

"You mean you'd screw ME over as well… ME? Your wife?"

"Absolutely." I said.

"Right." Said Sunny, her face suddenly all business. "We'll see about that."

What followed was a simply epic game of Munchkin. Alliances were formed and broken. Bribes were offered. Backs were stabbed. There were more double-crosses, plots and intrigue than a bad Dan Brown novel. I particularly liked the part when my Mum threatened my Dad with 'real world sanctions' when he went to play a card that would screw her over.

In fact, the game ended the way a good game of Munchkin should, with my Mum winning, despite the fact Sunny had it in her power to stop her… because in Sunny's own words, making me lose was more important than trying to win herself.

They got it. The first rule of Munchkin is it's not to be taken seriously…at all.

If you've never played Munchkin, I can highly recommend it. It's an absolute riot.

Why Most of the Internet Sucks

Take a look at the above image.

Now, if you posted that somewhere, what would you tag it with to help people searching for it to find it?

Well according to the 24 karat douchebag who posted this image, apparently people who put 'Blood', 'bedroom', 'condo', 'painting', 'typography' and 'woman' (among others) into a search engine are actually looking for a picture of a cake with the Old Spice guy on it.

Just look at that tag list. I challenge you to find five that have anything to do with the actual picture.

This kind of thing pisses me off more than it has any right to. What you have here is some idiot who's so desperate for his stupid picture to be seen by as many people as possible that he's just shotgunned popular tags. It doesn't matter that they have nothing to do with the picture, because people are going to see it whether they want to or not.

The worst part is everyone has this idea, which means labeling and tagging content is now effectively pointless. No matter what you search for, you're going to get inundated with completely irrelevant crap that has nothing to do with what you're looking for.

Kids, I know you like looking at your stats and seeing the huge audience your crappy image has reached is a rush... but you're making that meaningless as well. 20,000 hits doesn't mean your lolcat is super popular, it means 20,000 people have landed on it, said "What the fuck is this shit?" and left.

Sure, if I put some meta-data keywords on this blog like "Twilight", "True Blood" and "Justin Beiber" I could probably triple my traffic overnight...but I guarantee every single one of those new hits would land here, read about a sentence and a half, get pissed at me and leave.

Ok, I could be completely wrong here, but for me, the satisfaction of getting a large number of pageviews comes from knowing you've created some quality content that people are enjoying. I don't see how anyone could get any satisfaction by artificially inflating their hit count by tricking people to a page they have no interest in.

But, like so many things today, it's all just about making that number bigger, isn't it?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Learning: A Rant.

Sometimes it's really, really hard not to offend people.

This morning, I got an email in my podcast account that I'm posting here verbatim:


I want to make a podcast as well. How do I do it?"

…Wow... Just wow.

My response was a single word: "Google".

Sure, I like to be a nice guy, and I like to write the occasional tutorial… but it amazes me how people think that a complete stranger is going to take a few hours to write a personalized step by step guide just for them…especially when they don't even include a single please or thank you.

I don't get it. This guy sent me an email, so he obviously has access to the internet…but instead of searching for one of the million or so Podcast guides online (or even looking at the FAQ on my host's website), he just decides to ask a perfect stranger to do all the work for him.

…but I really want to talk about a different aspect of this.

This is something I've been plagued with over my entire life. Someone will see me doing something and then ask me to show them how to do it.

This is where it's really hard not to offend people. They're giving me an impossible task. What they're basically saying is "Hey, take this thing that took you months or years to learn, and give me all that knowledge in a couple of paragraphs or less, using no terms that I don't already understand and make sure I understand every aspect despite the fact you're talking about things that are completely alien to me."

Take podcasting for instance. That's a huge topic. Where do I start? Do I talk about microphone technique, hardware setup, editing? I'm still a journeyman audio editor at best, but damn, I could write two thousand words on compressing and normalizing alone…and this person wants to know all that despite they've never even seen an audio editing program.

Then, I'm in a no-win situation. If I point them to the same resources I used to learn, I get "Why are you being a douche? Why can't you just tell me?" If I try to give them the absolute basics in a nutshell that they appear to want, then I'm being an asshole for not giving them enough effort and trying to fob them off…and if I actually sit down and try to teach them, then I'm deliberately trying to confuse them with big words and jargon.

The other thing is they want absolute black and white answers. If someone asks me what bitrate their audio file should be, I tell them that it depends on their needs. If your recording has a lot of music, you'll want 128k or above, if it's just speech you can get away with 96k, if your podcast is short and server space isn't at a premium, go with a higher bitrate, if you're short of space and your podcast is long, a lower bitrate can really save space. This is a whole topic in itself.

But that isn't the answer they want. They've just been presented with an option and want to know what to click on. I'm not trying to teach them what this stuff means so they can make an educated choice, I'm just being a dick for not giving them a straight answer.

Basically, it's like someone calling you on the phone and asking you how to drive a car. You tell them to put the key in the ignition and they say "Stop confusing me with all this jargon and just tell me how to drive. I don't want to know all this 'ignition' stuff, I just want to go places in my car!"

I think the big problem is that, to the uninitiated, a lot of things seem simple. Podcasting in a nutshell is 'record some audio, put it on the internet'. Photography is 'point a camera at something and press a button'. Using a computer is just 'push buttons and click on things'.

Except it's not. This shit is complicated and the only way you're going to learn is to sit down, open a book or do a lot of research on the web. That's what I did.

Basically, the one response I get a lot when someone calls me to fix their computer or do something else I'm good at, is they look at me in amazement as I run a virus check and say "How do you know how to do all this?"

The answer is simple…a metric fuckton of study and practice. I'm good with computers because I cut my teeth on an Acorn Electron when I was four and have been playing with them ever since. I know how to work with digital audio (to a degree) because I sat down in front of the computer and invested many hours playing with audio editors and reading a lot of tutorials. I actually read the manual when I get something I'm unfamiliar with and learn about it… instead of admitting defeat immediately and calling someone before I even open the box.

The other big problem is that people assume I'm an expert on things I know nothing about. I've had family and friends think that because I'm good with computers, I'll know how to fix their cell phone or DVD player. If you call me around to set up your surround sound system, all I'm going to do is read the manual and follow the instructions…something you're perfectly capable of doing yourself. In that case, all that's happening is I'm doing something because you're too lazy and can't be bothered to do it yourself…and that I refuse to do.

Ok, I don't want to sound like a blowhard or make this sound like I'm an expert making fun of the novices, because I'm not an expert…it just seriously pisses me off the way people expect me to pass on years worth of knowledge in a couple of sentences… and then act like I'm being deliberately obtuse when I tell them it's just not possible.

If you want me to teach you something I know how to do, that's fine. If you're willing to sit next to me for a couple of hours with a notepad, I'll gladly walk you through the basics of the software I know how to use. I'll even answer specific questions that may come up later (although for a lot of topics, my answer will be 'google' or a link to a webpage).

My basic point is that, at one point, I was completely clueless about things I'm now competent at…I learned photoshop by spending hundreds of hours in front of it over a period of years. I learned how to use Audacity by downloading it, playing with it and reading a lot of tutorials. If you've just got your first computer and still aren't sure what the difference between a click, double click or right click is…I'm sure as hell not turning you into an expert in 15 minutes. It'll take me an hour or two just to show you the basics of how to work the interface.

More on Living Forever

About my last post, MC Etcher said:

"All that said, more life is always better than less life. I would accept immortality if I had the option. I would find solace in the people and things around me, while it lasted. If it became too unbearable, there's always a way to destroy the body utterly."

Well, the fact Etcher's left a 'loophole' where you could make yourself die, he's not really talking about immortality, but being extremely long-lived. For the purposes of this post, let me redefine immortality. Immortality is living forever, no ifs, ands or buts. Once you make your wish for immortality, it's irreversible. You could stand at ground zero of a nuclear blast and come away without a scratch.

This is why I think that 'More life is always better than less life' is arguable.

Without rehashing my last post on how I think it would become impossible to form relationships, it goes without saying that eternity is one hell of a long time. There are going to be a million other problems.

My last post was about how it would be difficult or impossible for you to form relationships with other people, but I only touched briefly on why it would become even harder to people to form relationships with you if you were an immortal being.

The biggie here is evolution. People would continue to evolve around you while you'd stay trapped in the same body forever. Neanderthal humans only finally died out about 50,000 years ago…which means as an immortal, in another 50,000 years, you'd be like a Neanderthal trying to live among, and relate to, people the way they are today. Even if we forget long term evolution, the human race has changed dramatically over even the part two or three hundred years.

I remember visiting a historic house in England that was built in the 1700's and I was surprised to see how low the ceilings and doors were. At 6"1 I was having to stoop slightly to get through them. I asked the tour guide why they built them so small and the answer was obvious. Put simply, people were a lot shorter in the 1700's, if you were 5"5, you were considered tall.

Also, considering the average lifespan was around 40-50 years, if someone from the 1700's was transplanted into 2010, it would be like us suddenly finding ourselves in a world populated by seven foot tall people who live for nearly 200 years.

So, for an immortal, 500 years would be enough for us to start looking noticeably different. In 2000 years, you'd be obviously freakish…in 50,000 or 100,000 years, you'd be barely recognizable as human.

Of course, the main argument against 'true' immortality is something I touched on in my last post. The world isn't going to last forever and long before the sun burns out, the planet is going to become uninhabitable. It's inevitable that you're going to find yourself as the last human being alive on a scorched (or frozen) barren planet. Even if you bank on us eventually perfecting interstellar travel, we're talking about immortality here, which means you're going to outlive the universe.

Whatever way you look at it, you're eventually going to find yourself floating in the darkness after every star burns out, the electrical bonds between atoms give way and there is literally nothing left. You'd be there forever, until eventually even the trillions of years you spent before the death of the Universe would be a tiny fraction of your lifespan and would be a dim and distant memory…if you could remember it at all, given that a few million years floating alone in total darkness would certainly drive you insane.

Basically, as relatively short-lived beings, we have a hard time grasping the concept of forever. To us, 'forever' means about seventy or eighty years. The nearest 'experiencable' example I can come up with for immortality is like us living normal lives for about a week, and then spending the rest of our lives totally numb in a lightless, soundless box.

Sure, more life is better than less life, but only up to a point. If I had three wishes, I might wish to live for a thousand years, with an option to 'renew', but living forever would eventually feel like living for a few minutes and then spending eternity in hell.

Living forever

I read today that in a 'Three Wishes' poll (What would you wish for if you were given three wishes) that 'Living Forever' was one of the most popular wishes.

I would hate to live forever for a million different reasons.

There are a few obvious ones, my main one being that in a few million years when the sun burns out and consumes the entire solar system, if I couldn't die, I would then be forced spend eternity just drifting in space…then, when the final heat death of the universe kicks in and there's absolutely nothing left, there wouldn't even be stars to look at… and floating for eternity on complete and utter silence and darkness sounds like my own personal hell

But to be completely honest, the main reason I wouldn't want to live forever is because of something I've termed 'Doctor Who Syndrome'.

If you were immortal, or even if you were just exceptionally long-lived, it would be absolutely impossible to form any kind of relationship with anyone.

Say you get married to someone and have a fifty year marriage before one of you dies. You could reasonably say you spent your lives together. If the average lifespan is around 80 years, you've easily spent more than half of your lives together.

But what if you were going to live for 2000 years? Suddenly, that 50 year marriage is only about 2% of your life, a year and a half to someone with a normal lifespan

But why is that a big deal? Fifty years is fifty years. That's a long time no matter how you look at it.

Except…it isn't. Time appears to speed up the older you get, because we judge the passage of time based on how long we've been alive. Remember when you were a kid and Summer break lasted forever or Christmas took an age to come around again? Notice how, as an adult, it feels like Christmas comes around every couple of months? To a five year old, a year is a really long time…to a forty year old, not so much.

In simplest terms, if you're 20,000 years old, waiting for something for a decade would be like waiting a couple of hours to someone with a normal lifespan. To a four year old, waiting for Christmas is being forced to wait a quarter of your life to date. Of course it's going to seem like a long time. To a fifty year old, it doesn't seem nearly as long because they're waiting a fiftieth of their life. To someone who's tens of thousands of year old, it'd feel like minutes.

To put this into perspective, think of it this way. Imagine you're the only person with a 'normal' lifespan on the planet, and everyone else is only going to live for around two years. Given that they'd be around 8 months old by the time they'd actually be ready to date…how long before you decide that making friends or falling in love is more trouble than it's worth because you know it's not going to last?

And that's if you're only going to live to be 2000 years. If you were going to live forever, it wouldn't be long before a fifty year relationship would feel like it lasted for minutes.

Basically, think how you'd feel if everyone you know and care about was going to die in the next six months… Now imagine you went through that every other year. How long before you stopped seeking out relationships with anyone to avoid the pain of losing them?

But it gets worse. How long before you stopped thinking about people as people at all? It'd be like trying to form a bond with a goldfish. The older you'd get the faster time would seem to pass.

Sure, your first partner would die and it'd feel like the end of the world, but after a few thousand years, that first marriage would be like remembering the guy or gal you 'dated' for two weeks when you were eleven years old.

It'd be like trying to fall in love or forming a bond with someone who lives their entire lives in less than a week. At first you'd avoid forming a relationships because of the pain you'd feel when you lost them…but eventually you'd get to the point where forming a relationship would be downright impossible.

Let's imagine I'm 20,000 years old. A Normal 80 year lifespan would be 0.4% of my lifespan…which means it would be the equivalent of a normal person trying to form a relationship with someone who lives their entire lives in just under four months…and the first three weeks they wouldn't even have gone through puberty yet. What kind of meaningful relationship could you form?

Plus, it would be impossible for the other person to relate to you. They might fall head over heels for you, but what happened when they worked out that they were your hundredth or thousandth partner? Or that, even though they were devoting their entire life to you, that eventually, they'd just be a dim memory who's name you couldn't quite remember? That, from your perspective, their long and happy life with you was the equivalent of you dating someone for a week or so?

It's not just love and friendship…living forever would turn you into either an emotionless zombie or a monster. Would you really bother getting mad at someone if you knew they'd be dead in a week anyway? Or on the other side of that coin, killing someone would become the emotional equivalent of stepping on ants or swatting a bug. If you're truly immortal, a prison sentence wouldn't phase you, going to jail for fifty years would be like spending an hour there.

Why have I called this Doctor Who syndrome?

From "School Reunion"

Rose: "How many of us have there been traveling with you?"

The Doctor :"Does it matter?"

"Yeah it does, if I'm just the latest in a long line!"

"As opposed to what?"

"I've been to the year five billion, but this, no, this is really seeing the future. You just leave us behind! Is that what you're going to do to me?"

"No! Not to you."

"But Sarah Jane, you were that close to her once, but you never even mentioned her!"

"I don't age, I regenerate....But humans decay. You wither and you die! Imagine that happening to someone you-"

"What, Doctor?"

(Long Pause)

"You can spend the rest of your life with me"..but I can't spend the rest of mine with you. I have to live on, alone. That's the Curse of the Time Lords."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


There was something of a furor earlier this week over this Penny Arcade strip.

The reaction was pretty much what you'd expect from knee-jerk reactionaries desperately trying to find the next thing to be outraged about. Rape is a bad thing, Penny Arcade made a 'rape joke', so they're making fun of rape victims…so I'm going to go be outraged on the internet.

When I first heard about this, I had the same reaction Mike Krahulik (the strip's artist) had.

This is the strip you're taking exception to? After everything Penny Arcade has covered over the past ten years, 'raped by Dickwolves' is the line you get offended by?

As Mike himself said:

"What surprised me most about some of the reactions to our Dickwolf joke was not that people were offended. But that this was the comic that offended them. In each case the emails I got started with something like "I've been a long time fan" or "Been reading the comic for years..." and then they go into how this particular comic really bothered them.

I just don't understand that. Did the comics about bestiality, suicide, murder, pedophilia, and torture not bother them? Or how about the fruit fucker? I mean, we have a character who is a literal rapist. What comic strip have they been reading all these years?"

It appears that people are perfectly fine with 'offensive humor' as long as it doesn't personally offend them. It's like me laughing along at a TV show when they make fun of Mexicans or Asians and then getting seriously bent out of shape when the same show makes fun of British people in the same way.

My attitude is, and always will be, either everything is fine to make fun of, or nothing is. You can't laugh at a joke making fun of one subset of people and then complain when your own falls into the crosshairs.

However, the thing that actually makes me laugh about all this is the knee-jerk reactions. Most people get about as far as 'Penny Arcade makes Rape Joke' and instantly decide to be offended. The truth is that the strip didn't make fun of rape victims, and it wasn't even a 'rape joke'. The joke was making fun of online RPGs.

If you've never played a game like World of Warcraft, you'll find yourself doing a lot of quests that sound like "Go collect x number of items", "Go kill x number of monsters" or "Go rescue x number of people"…and because multiple people are doing the same quest at the same time, there will be more items, monsters or people to rescue than you need to complete the quest.

The joke is that when you first start to play a game like that, you might roleplay a bit. If you have to explore and dungeon and rescue five slaves, you may stop and rescue a sixth or a seventh on the way out because, well, that's what heroes do. Once you've been playing an MMORPG for a few weeks (and done an ungodly number of quests), you're only interested in getting the quest finished for the experience or reward…and roleplaying kinda goes out of the window.

That's the strip's joke. You have a big heroic character that storms a castle to rescue enslaved orphans…but once he's rescued the number he needs to complete the quest, he just leaves the rest of them where they are.

It's not a 'rape joke', it's not making fun of rape victims and rape victims are certainly not the butt of the joke. The butt of the joke is the MMO genre for creating universes where supposed 'heroes' will enter a dungeon to rescue exactly five people…and walk straight past other people in need of rescue because they've already rescued enough to complete the quest and get their reward.

Sure, mentioning that the captured slaves that the hero is refusing to rescue get 'raped to sleep by Dickwolves' is in bad taste, but it's there to make the 'hero' look worse and highlight the contradictory nature of an MMO hero. Plus, 'Dickwolves'? Can anyone take that seriously?

Sure, you can cross your arms and say rape is never, ever funny under any circumstances…but all humor is offensive to someone. In all honesty, if you get rid of every joke that could potentially offend anyone, there's just about nothing left.

Either everything is okay to make fun of, or nothing is.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The spiky ones taste of purple.

A few days ago, Sunny got sick with a pretty standard summer flu-like bug. As always, she did her best to keep from infecting me…but as I said to her at the time, we live in the same house, sleep in the same bed, and I have a compromised immune system thanks to the diabetes. If she's sick, I'm going to get it…end of story.

Well, it struck on Saturday night/Sunday morning. We were up until about 2am recording this week's podcast, and I was feeling absolutely fine when I got into bed at about 2:45…but by 5am I was woken up for the fifteenth time by a coughing fit and the need to blow my nose to keep from suffocating.

Sunday felt surreal. Have you ever had a dream where you realize you're dreaming… but you still don't have 100% control and keep slipping back and forth between thinking you're dreaming and thinking you're awake? That's what my Sunday was.

Oh, and on Sunday, I had to edit and upload the podcast.

It quickly became the most arduous and surreal thing I'd done in a long while.

Usually, the basic edit is easy. I open the podcast in audacity, run a few filters etc to get the sound right, then I just listen through and cut out the dead air and the odd mistake.

The uncut podcast was about one hour fifteen minutes, and the first stage of editing usually takes the length of the uncut podcast plus around 10%…I'm basically listening to the podcast, pausing it when I come to something to cut, they just highlighting the offending portion of audio and pressing delete.

I should have taken me about an hour and a half maximum for this stage, instead it took me over four hours…and I have no idea where the rest of the time went.

Did I just occasionally black out at the keyboard and sit there in silence for twenty minutes at a time?

Then, something really weird happened. Not trusting my own ears very much, I put a copy of the final edit into our shared network folder so Sunny could listen to it before I put it online. She listened to it and told me it was fine…so I uploaded it and got an error back saying the audio was in the wrong format. The audio was fine, but just in case I dropped it back into Audacity, and exported it again with all the right settings.

This time it uploaded fine, but when I tried to play it back, for some reason it was playing back at about 80% speed. We were talking in slow motion. Thinking it was a problem with the website, I downloaded a copy through iTunes…which was also playing back too slowly

I opened the file in Audacity, and sure enough, somewhere along the line the time had been stretched...although I have no idea how. I simply opened audacity, drag and dropped the finished edit (which was fine), then went straight to 'export as mp3'. Somehow, Audacity interpreted that as 'make the podcast sound like the Goa'uld Power Hour'

In the end, after a ton of back and forth with no luck, I just tried to reupload the original audio file, (the one that had been rejected as the wrong format) and it uploaded without any problems.

So let me recap. First, a step that should have taken 90 minutes took over four hours for no reason I can fathom, an audio application that doesn't even have time-stretching as an option did a time stretch without being asked to. My host rejected a perfectly valid file for no reason, which it later accepted despite the fact it was exactly the same file and the whole process was filled with glitchy weirdness.

So, for everyone on Twitter yesterday who messaged me asking where the podcas was, there's your answer. It was late because I was sick and delirious…which meant I was editing it with the same skill and precision as a drugged up chimp trying to operate a forklift.

Seriously…I'm feeling a little bit better today, and even as I'm writing this, I feel like I'm drunk (and I haven't even started on the cough syrup yet)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Magic Missile, Magic Missile…you’re both dead.

I have tried, on many occasions to explain Dungeons and Dragons (and role playing games in general) to my missus.

I have not had much luck.

Of course, the real way to introduce a newcomer to D&D is to invite them to a game. Unfortunately, that's not an option as absolutely no-one I know over here plays (or they live several states away).

I've tried breaking it down to the absolute basics. It's an exercise in shared story-telling mixed with a tactics board game. It's really hard to explain further than that because explaining the mechanics sounds boring (and make Sunny's eyes quickly glaze over)…and when you start to talk about the possibilities of a game and all the things you can do, it starts to sounds really, really complicated.

The thing is, it's actually quite simple. You create a character with certain skills and attributes, and throw in dice rolls to simulate chance.

Here's how I tried to explain the mechanics to Sunny:

Say the party comes across a river that has widely-spaced stepping stones you have to jump to in order to get across. The DM (Dungeon Master) has set a 'difficulty' for the jump. Let's say you have to get a dice roll of 10 or higher on one single 20-sided die (a D20) to get across. If you've made a very agile character (with points added to his acrobatics skill, for simplicity, let's say he has a +6 acrobatics skill), you get to roll your D20 and then add 6 to the total. If the result is 10 or more, you make the jump and get across.

However, if you've made a character who's not very agile at all, you may have an Acrobatics skill of 0 which means you don't get to add anything to the die roll. Other things can come into play as well. Your character may have a decent Acrobatics skill, but is wearing very heavy armor that makes them much tougher, but its weight adds a penalty (a minus score) to Acrobatics. In other words, you'd have to roll the D20 then subtract your armor penalty from the total.

That's basically the whole mechanic from the game. Your character's skills are reflected by 'points' that you either add or subtract from the dice rolls in order to simulate actions. An agile character can make a jump much more easily than a clumsy one, and it's harder to make a jump in 50lbs of plate armor than it is regular cloth clothing. However, it still makes it possible (but improbably) for a super agile character to slip and fall, or a clumsy character to get lucky and make it.

However, what makes D&D awesome (and in my opinion a million times better than any videogame RPG) is the freedom you have. Let's imagine we're trying to cross that river again. You can jump on the stepping stones, but you're free to try other things. Maybe you get a really agile character (who can get across easily) to cross the river and throw a rope back over… or, if there's trees nearby, get a strong character to chop one down so it falls and forms a bridge.

When you're fighting, you use a game board and it turns into a tactics board game. It's turn based and each of your turns you get a move, a 'standard' action (hit something, shoot a bow, cast a spell) and a minor action (draw a different weapon, use a potion, etc, etc.)

To be honest, I think it's the level of freedom that Sunny has difficulty getting her head around. I tried to explain it where the Dungeon Master has a basic plot (The characters start at A, go through B and arrive at C) but it's up to the players as to how they get there.

This is where it gets difficult to explain because it makes the game sound super-complicated. For example, a poor DM will have a very 'on rails' adventure. The characters will do this, this and this in sequence and just be told they can't do certain things if it doesn't match up with the adventure. A good DM can adapt on the fly.

For example, say I've written an adventure where a vital clue is hidden in a room under a floorboard that the characters will spot if they search the room. A bad DM will steer the players to that room and basically not let them leave or do anything else unless they find it. A good DM will let them leave and, while they search another room, maybe find a diary or something that steers them back on track, or let them overhear a conversation…or even miss the clue all together.

Basically, D&D is just like reading a really good book or watching a really good movie, only you take an active part in the story and the outcome isn't set. It's also not just about fighting monsters and finding treasure.

One of the best games I ever played was actually a classic murder mystery. The players were invited to a party in his giant mansion…only to discover shortly after dinner that one of the other guests had been poisoned and all the ways out of the mansion had been magically locked.…then the guests started getting murdered one by one. It was tense stuff. We were trying to work out if the murderer was one of the guests, or someone hiding in the house. We searched the place top to bottom, interrogated the guests, tried to lay traps for the killer, discovered secret passages in the mansion (one of which had a nasty gas trap that I nearly got killed by when I tried to disarm it and set it off) and had a ton of close calls, including one where a guest was murdered in an apparently locked room that I was standing guard outside of.


Hopefully, one day I'll actually manage to get a group together and introduce Sunny to D&D properly.


Thursday, August 12, 2010


I really, really hate this time of year in the US.

The weather is insanely hot (in fact, I laughed at my parents the other day complaining about the 'sweltering' 78 degrees they were having to put up with), it's also extremely humid…and if the sun's not beating down on the earth like a drunk on his red-headed stepchild, it's absolutely pissing down with rain.

Know what this means? It means that the grass grows about three feet per hour.

What makes it worse is we don't have a riding lawn mower and I know for a fact that when I cut the grass with a push-mower, I cover over 5 miles just to get about 80% of the grass cut.

In early spring this isn't a problem, in fact, I quite enjoy it. It's good exercise, and I take my iPod with me, put on a pair of ear-defenders over my earbuds so I can actually hear it over the mower engine and just zone out.

In Summer, it's just about impossible. I have what can politely be called an 'Irish Complexion'. Non-politely it can be called a "Holy fucking shit that guy's pale as a motherfucker complexion'. I do not tan. I have never tanned. All I do is burn, turn bright red then go back as luminously pasty-white as before. I don't need long exposure to the sun either. Without factor 100 sunblock, I can get noticeably sunburned in under 15 minutes.

Just to add insult to injury, my diabetes meds make this a hundred times worse. There's warnings all over the bottles to avoid direct sunlight while on the medication…and that's a warning for normal people…not people who's skin appears to be made of translucent parchment like mine.

Now, the savvy out there already think they've found the solution to my problem. If it's so damn hot, why don't I just cut the grass first thing in the morning or just before sunset to avoid the heat?

Well, first thing in the morning is a no-go. First of all, Sunny works nights and wouldn't appreciate me circling the house running the lawnmower less than an hour after she gets into bed. Even if she didn't work nights, until the sun's been up for a while (IE, until it gets ball-toastingly hot), the grass is absolutely soaked with dew…which means cutting about 6 square feet of grass at a time before having to stop the mower and remove the clump of wet mulch that's blocking the gap on the side of the mower that the cut grass is expelled from.

Last thing in the evening? Well, I don't have to worry about wet grass clogging the mower, but it was still 96 degrees here at 10pm last night. Sunburn is no longer an issue, but heat exhaustion is.

Of course, a riding lawn mower would help an awful lot, but the only people I know who own one are in-laws…and while they certainly look down their noses at me for not cutting the grass, the one or two times I've asked to borrow their mower they've reacted like I was a drunk 14 year old asking if I could borrow their brand new Ferrari to use as the getaway vehicle in a daring daylight robbery.

Fuck it…the grass can grow until the weather decides to be reasonable.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Get me my tinfoil hat.

Back when I was a kid, I remember riding the bus home from school, just looking out of the window and daydreaming when I suddenly heard three kids from a few years above talking.

"Well, at least we know there's no such thing as aliens." Said one kid, the sentence instantly grabbing my attention. "Fact."

"How do you know?" Said another.

"It's obvious." Said the first kid. "If there's aliens flying around in space, how come they've never visited us?"

At this point, before I knew what I was doing (I tend to automatically react to bullshit), I said: "That's not proof. You could ask why we've never visited them."

Then, the three assholes laughed and took the piss for the rest of the ride home. Obviously we didn't visit them, because we're not aliens.


You see, I believe in aliens…and that's a hard thing to admit without instantly looking like a tinfoil hat wearing lunatic…so let me explain myself.

I don't believe in aliens so much as I believe in the possibility of aliens. Given that there's an estimated 100 billion stars in our galaxy and around 100 billion galaxies in the known universe, many of which are around sixty-thousand times the size of our own…that comes to an estimated 1 septillion stars (that's a 1 with twenty four zeroes)…I find the odds that we're alone in the universe to be pretty slim.

For example, if we assumed that the chances of life forming in a solar system are one in a billion, and then assumed that the chances of that life being intelligent is also one in a billion…that still means there's a million possible intelligent civilizations out there somewhere…and that's just in the observable universe.

The problem is that when anyone mentions aliens, we tend to automatically think of little green men zooming around in flying saucers. The point I tried (and failed) to make with the kid on the bus is that no-one ever thinks that an alien civilization could be actually less technologically advanced than we are. Maybe the nearest alien civilization hasn't even invented the steam-engine yet. Maybe they're still living in caves. Hell, maybe they haven't evolved beyond single-celled organisms yet.

Do I believe aliens have ever visited earth?

In a word, no. That really is the domain of the tinfoil hat crowd.

But let's get philosophical for a moment. Let's assume for a moment that the universe is absolutely teeming with life. Let's assume that lifeless solar systems are the exception and not the rule. Let's also assume that the majority of life in the universe has discovered a way to break the light barrier and travelling the massive distances between stars is as easy for them as driving to the store is for us.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of a civilization that intelligent and that advanced…do you honestly believe they'd even consider setting foot on our planet or landing and declaring themselves?

I don't.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Saga Finally Ends

Well, regular readers will remember my completely pissed-off post from a few months ago when my stepson, after turning up at our door at 3am with nowhere to go for about the hundredth time…and after us taking him in for the hundredth time, decided to leave the next day with my camera in his pocket.

The camera he took was the Nikon Coolpix Sunny had bought me just a few weeks earlier in order to replace the previous (far more expensive) Nikon he'd 'accidentally' taken from the house, the one he returned about a month later completely destroyed.

Well, today, Sunny went for breakfast with her sister, Nina… the one who's daughter Frank had gone to stay with when he left here with my camera…and long story short, one of Frank's friends had told Nina that Frank had loaned her 'his' camera, which turned out to me MY camera…and the friend, after hearing the story, returned the camera to Nina, who gave it to Sunny who gave it to me.

It's great to have my camera back, but in a way, it's actually made things worse with me…and has put the final nail in the coffin of Frank ever redeeming himself to me.

You see, to this day, Frank has sworn blind that he didn't take it. He's whined to anyone who'd listen that I was being totally unfair by blaming him, and even worse, decided to bitch to anyone who'd listen that Sunny was being totally wrong to take my side and sat and cried to people over the 'injustice' of us banning him from the house for something he 'obviously' didn't do.

The worst thing is I'd assumed that he'd already sold the camera. This may sound strange, but if he'd sold the camera because he was desperate for the money or to finance his drug problem, I'd still have been royally pissed, but I could have understood. As I said to Sunny this morning, if he'd turned up at the house, admitted he'd took it and apologized, I'd have still been royally pissed, but at least that would have won back a little bit of respect. If he'd been man enough to admit he'd made a mistake, I'd have been man enough to forgive him.

Instead, it turns out that after everything we've done for him (which trust me, is a lot), and after taking him in for the hundredth time when he had nowhere else to go, (purely through his own fault, I might add)…he didn't steal my camera because he was desperate and needed the money, he just took it because I was there and he wanted it. Like I said, I'd assumed he'd already sold it and therefore couldn't return it.

I figured if he'd already sold it, from his point of view there was no real reason for him to admit he'd taken it…and maybe that if he still had the camera, he'd have seen the amount of shit it had stirred up and returned it. Returning the camera is one thing, admitting he'd taken it empty handed is another.

All this time he could have brought it back… so it turns out a camera is way more important to him that his relationship with probably the two last people who thought he was worth anything. The fact he actually whined and complained to people about us 'wrongly accusing' him is just the icing on the cake.

Then, he lied to my face, lied to Sunny's face and lied everyone who'd listen about what a total cunt I was for blaming him.

Bear in mind that this is the guy I spent the last six years defending to people. The guy I got into blazing arguments about because I felt people weren't treating him fairly and automatically assumed the worst of him. The guy we gave money to. The guy we consistently took in. The guy who's wife and kids we took in and supported literally for years despite the fact we didn't really have the space or money to do so. Yeah, we went without a lot to help Frank. It was the norm for Sunny to work a 12 hour night shift, come home, drive his wife to work, drive him around all over the place, watch his kids…and after all that, he decided to steal from us.

Oh, and the camera wasn't the first time. So much stuff has gone missing from our house over the years, and Frank always escaped suspicion simply because I never in a million years thought he'd screw us over so badly while we were bending over backward to help him out.

Well, anyway…up until this morning, if Frank had decided to actually be a man, and had turned up here himself, admit what he did and apologized, he'd have won back a little bit of my respect and possibly worked his way off my shitlist.

Now, he's got no fucking chance.

Well, Karma has officially bit him on the ass with this one. With our move coming up, there's a lot of stuff I can't bring with me that I wouldn't get anywhere near my money back on if I sold it, things like my Xbox and 30+ games, my air rifle etc… so I was planning on just giving a lot of it to Frank. So, for the $300 camera he stole, that he doesn't even have anymore, the camera that's finally proven what a worthless piece of shit thief he is, he's screwed himself out of everything.

The funniest thing is I know for a fact that even with the camera back in my hands, filled with pictures of him, he'll still swear blind that he never took it.

Basically, he's just proven himself to me to be a liar, a thief, and worst of all in my book, a complete and total coward.

New Podcast is up.

Hey guys,

This week's podcast is now up

In case you haven't worked out the schedule yet, new episodes go up either late Saturday or early Sunday.

Oh, and if you're listening to the Podcast and you're enjoying it, feel free to sound off here or at the Podcast site. I'd love to know how many of you are listening, but my host only delivers stats on direct site downloads from the main podcast site (and from my mail I know most of you are grabbing the podcast through iTunes or some other podcatcher), so I'd really like to know a rough idea of how many of you there are.

As always, we need lots and lots of stupid jokes for 'Make Sunny Laugh', so if you have one, please email it to us at or send me a tweet to @paulius1981.


Sunday, August 08, 2010


I've been a Windows user all my life. Yeah, Macs are cool, but I resent paying $2500 for a system that I could buy or build myself for less than half that. Plus, personal experience and hearing from Apple users has pretty much proven to me that the whole 'it just works' tagline is bullshit.

Hey, at least Wintel machines have an excuse. Microsoft has to write an operating system that will work with infinite combinations of hardware by literally thousands of manufacturers. Apple is proprietary all the way.

However, I think I'd find Windows machines a lot more reliable if they'd take all the training wheels off and just stop trying to help me.

Recently, my desktop contracted a fairly nasty virus that cut its performance in half. What made it so nasty was that it would install itself by attaching itself to a couple of critical Windows files. Usually, you can get rid of a virus by locating it and deleting it…but the one I had made that impossible by making itself part of a file that Windows needs to run.

After a bit of research, I downloaded a program to remove it that needs to be run in safe mode. It also takes an absolute age to complete its scan (roughly 9-12 hours to scan a total of 400 gigabytes)…but it works.

However, about 24 hours after cleaning it out, my computer randomly reset itself and the same virus was flagged immediately after rebooting. So, I spent another 10 hours scanning, which removed the virus, which was confirmed by the multiple 'normal' scans I ran when everything was up and running again.

24 hours later the same thing happened. I was in the middle of writing a post when my computer powered down and restarted. After booting, AVG flagged the same virus again.

It took me a few days to work out what was going on.


Apparently, system restore is supposed to work by taking regular snapshots of your system and auto saving when you change or install something. The idea is that if everything goes pear shaped, you simply run system restore and everything will go back the way it was before you messed up.

This has never worked for me. I've tried to use it multiple times and it's never fixed a goddamn thing.

As for this virus, what was happening was System Restore was running in the background, and when it detected a change to the infected system file (IE, when the fucking virus was removed), it sprang into action, thought "OMG! A system file's being changed!" and saved a copy of the infected file.

Of course, this meant that the virus would lay low for a while (the system restore partition isn't included in the scan), then re-install itself.

Then, when the virus finally rebooted my system to start running again, I'd re-run the scan…only to have Windows save a copy of the infected file in order to 'protect' me.

Here's the deal, Microsoft…take off the training wheels, stop trying to hold my hand because instead of being a protective parent, you're quickly turning into a creepy uncle.

It's my fucking computer. If I want to erase a file, replace it with an older version or do ANYTHING, I should be allowed to. Ask me if I'm sure, inform me that I shouldn't need to change anything in the System32 folder and that they're vital files…but if I tell you to delete a file, DELETE THE FUCKING FILE.

Hell, I'm running a 12 hour scan in safemode to clean a virus that, fifteen years ago, I could clean by simply deleting the infected file and replacing it with a fresh copy from the Windows install disks…but can't do that anymore because not only will Windows not let me erase the file, the install discs a compressed and encrypted to stop piracy.



I cut my teeth on a PC with zero safeguards…and you know what? I royally fucked it up on multiple occasions…but it was those fuck ups that forced me to actually learn about the machine I was using. What you're essentially selling me is a car with the hood welded shut, because as a 'normal user' there's no reason for me to dick with the engine.

Sure, that makes sense…but it's a real fucking pisser when I want to check the oil, or when I happen to know there's a badger living in the air filter.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Helena and Alice…

Moving to England obviously means I have to leave my rifle and shotgun behind. I won't lie to you, it's heartbreaking. I bought my trusty .22 as soon as I was legally able to do so, and it's been one of my prize possessions ever since. I'm not a trigger happy gun-nut, but buying that rifle felt like a rite of passage after getting my greencard. The Shotgun was an early Christmas gift from Sunny…they both have a lot sentimental value.

It wasn't all bad. My cousin owns and import export business, which means shipping a lot of stuff home is no longer an issue, because he'll do it for free, so I decided I'd sell my guns and use the money to buy something I can bring with me…a decent podcast setup with a proper mixer, etc. The kit I want costs $130 dollars, but the same kit costs about 200GBP in England which works out to around $350US, so it makes sense to buy it here and ship it back to England.

So, today, I took both guns to a local Pawn shop…

Fucking Pawn shops.

You see, we'd bought the shotgun from the very same store for $225, and while my rifle is only worth $120, I'd put a $60 scope on it, which needed a $20 mount and $25 scope rings…oh, and a good after-market $40 30-round clip. So all in all, it's a $120 rifle in perfect condition with $105 worth of accessories.

So I took them in, and the asshole behind the counter asked what I was asking for them.

I pointed out that I'd bought the shotgun from them for $225, so I figured around $125 was more than fair…I know pawn shops don't buy at retail prices and need to make a profit, so I figured a $100 profit for them on the Mossberg was more than fair. I explained how much the rifle cost, and how much all the accessories were, and said I figured he could sell it for at least $180, so I suggested that I wanted around $100 for it.

He looked at me and said "Hmmm, I can do $150."

I said "Each?"

He said "No, for both."

"Come on!" I said, explaining the accessories on the rifle again. "I'm offering you two guns for $225, which you'll make back on the Mossberg alone. I'm basically offering you the Mossberg at cost and giving you the rifle for free."

"$150 for both." He said. "and you'll have to pass a background check again when you come to pick them up."

"Ah," I said, suddenly understanding. "I don't want to pawn them, I just want to sell them…with no risk on your end, can you up the price a little?"

"Sure." He said, smiling. "$160"


It was total bullshit. Sure, I know that re-selling is how pawn shops make a profit, but I was offering him something he could easily sell for $350 or more and he wanted to pay me $160 for them. That's not a deal…that's just robbery…especially when he said he would give me $100 for the Mossberg (to make a $125 profit) and just sixty for my $225 rifle.

The thing was, I was completely over a barrel. I have to sell these guns, because I certainly can't bring them with me…and because the Mossberg is full bore riot gun, and therefore not much use for hunting or sporting purposes, none of my friends or family were interested in buying it, I can't put it on eBay for obvious reasons… and I'm sure as hell not going to put up an ad somewhere and hand over a shotgun to a complete stranger while it's still registered to me.

So, I took the $100 for the Mossberg. It was robbery and less than half what I paid them for it in the first place, but at least it was just $25 below my asking price. As for the rifle, I told him in a very polite way that he could fuck right off. Luckily, one of my in-laws has expressed interest in my .22 at the far more reasonable price of $120… and I only took it to the pawn shop hoping for a quick sale.

Then, with the five twenty dollar bills in my wallet, I decided not to buy the mixer (at least not yet)…and instead bought Sunny the Nook eBook reader she's had her eye on. She's spoiled me so badly over the past six years it's almost embarrassing…so I figured I'd return the favor for once. Given that my move back to the UK is because I've been out of work since I got here, it's not very often I have the means to treat her the way she deserves.

Plus…it's a gadget with buttons and everything…surely she'll let me play with it.

Oh, and as for Helena (Yeah, I named my Shotgun, so what?) I hope the fucker at the pawn shop decides to keep it for himself and she rebels and blows up in his hands.