August 28, 2003


My good friend Ryan defends his dissertation today. Everyone go visit his blog and wish him well!

Good luck Ry! Rather, CONGRATULATIONS!

The word is in. The defense was successful. Look on Ryan's blog later for details (I'm guessing post-hangover).

Posted by Jason at 10:36 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 27, 2003

Video Games in the Classroom?

Today, August 27, at 2 p.m. (EST), The Chronicle of Higher Education: Colloquy Live discussion is about Video Games in the Classroom?, with James Gee, professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who recently published his latest book: What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

If you can't make the talk, don't worry - the transcript will be at the address listed above.

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An odd feeling. For the past several years, aside from one spent working in the bowels of an underground physics experiment (which, sadly, resulted in *no* superpowers), I have purchased at least one notebook, planned to attend or teach at least one class, and, in short, settled myself into some institution of learning as my primary focus during the Fall months.

Except this year.

Oh sure, I'm working on my dissertation. I have papers to write for conferences, paperwork to fill out for the university, library fines overdue, stacks of books, reams of paper, and a credit hour to pay for. I have mounds of academic work, so no worries on missing out on that. But instead of that annual starting line, I feel like I'm just in the long marathon.

I'm happy that I took on a full-time position. I work in an environment friendly to academic endeavors and supportive of my dissertation work. Being around the NEH has already taught me a lot about the process of successful grant-writing, as well as enhanced my education on the politics inherent in teaching, learning and 'knowledge production.' And it pays a hell of a lot better than my previous job, which had its own rewards, none of which really paid the rent.

With a baby on the way (something we found out after I took the job), making this move seemed serendipitous. It was also a cautious decision on my part - with the academic job market plunging into an even deeper black hole, I decided that I wanted to flesh out my resume/c.v. so that I (hopefully) would be attractive in both academic and non-academic markets. I had read, seen, and heard too many stories about academics - all of them perfectly qualified - not finding jobs, or stuck in the adjunct rut, or taking on entry-level, corporate positions alongside freshly minted BAs, with the same pay, seven to nine years late. These are the nightmares of Ph.D. lore, the dark columns of the Chronicle. And though I have a reasonable amount of faith in my qualifications and capabilities as a scholar, I also have this tendency to acknowledge that the great Academic Machine has rolled over plenty of folks just like me. Best to take some steps to allow me a chance in both worlds. Eggs in many baskets, was my thinking.

But a part of me - the part that gave up years of income potential to attend grad school, the part that loves the joy and stress and thrill and panic of being in front of a classroom, the part that loves research, reading, intense discourse - looks on with (always friendly) envy as friends and loved ones prep their classes, write their syllabi, and worry about the start the semester. Because, for the first time in a long time, Fall won't start for me until the leaves change.

Then again, I do get to work in my own ivory tower.

Posted by Jason at 12:39 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

August 26, 2003


Listening to good music makes the day go faster. Case in point, there's something soothing about Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" smoothing through the speakers, drinking coffee, and doing some work on a favorite novel.

Major props to Fritz, who turned me on to KEXP - 90.3 fm. This is a great radio station - the glories of Internet radio...

Posted by Jason at 11:38 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

August 25, 2003

ISO: New Job Description Writer

A line from a job description I recently read:

"The successful candidate will have the ability to maintain focus and concentration for long periods of time, enjoy repetition and keyboarding."

Well, doesn't that sound appealing?

Posted by Jason at 12:01 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

August 22, 2003

Color Chip

Rad ColorChip PHP Script. Handy for those of us who need help w/ our color schemes...

Posted by Jason at 9:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2003

breaking news?

So, I have M$ Messenger set up on my computer to send me "breaking news" alerts. I did this in the wake of Sept. 11 and then the 'War in Iraq,' mainly because I wanted to know if some bad mo-jo was going down that I should know about (e.g., duck and cover).

So how the hell does "Judge unseals Kobe arrest warrant" qualify as breaking news? There are thousands of such assault cases each year, many involving children, and this one gets profiled because the person accused is a basketball player.

Who cares?

I wish I could better control my alerts. If there's an attack somewhere, notify me. If I should get out of downtown DC because of some danger, please let me know. If yet another celebrity of one sort or another has a personal problem, or it's another high profile case while millions of others not involving celebs go unnoticed, pass me by.

Better yet, I'd like to see some real alerts:

Hundreds of thousands of children go hungry in world's richest nation!

Health care providers raise rates, provide less service!

Posted by Jason at 6:28 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Matrix Revolutions

The Matrix Revolutions trailer is online.

Posted by Jason at 11:12 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 19, 2003

Improved Lunch

The office took the soon-to-be-departing intern to Jaleo for lunch. Tapas, yum. I had monkfish and squid.

Fighting the need for an afternoon nap.

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August 15, 2003


So, I heat up my Uncle Ben's Noodle Bowl (Ginger Chicken) in the office microwave. I happen to hear, towards the end of the 5 minute initial dose, a little sizzle and pop. No big deal. I peel back the plastic top, stir, and pop the Bowl in for its last one minute turn.

Sizzle. Pop. "Weird," I think, not used to this high degree of sizzle pop coming from the Uncle.

So I take the food back to my desk so I can do a little work while I eat. And I take a bite. And something Just Doesn't Feel Right.

My Ginger Chicken is really Chicken Fat and Gristle with a Little Ginger. I got the scraps. The noodles, they just sat there, sullen.

I, of course, decided that maybe I'd eat out. Despite the fact that my appetite followed the Bowl into the trash can, it was 2 o'clock and I was getting a little afternoon hunger-woozy. So I thought I'd grab a sandwich at my favorite local little eatery - something cheap, because the whole point of the Uncle was to save a little cash.

I walk into the eatery and notice how empty it is. Of course, after 2 o'clock, most people had eaten lunch. I walk up to the counter and a very nice lady said, "The kitchen is closed." She pointed me to the counter of ready-to-eat food. There was a browning salad, a few pizzas, cold and wrapped in saran wrap, and a few other not so impressive items, all cashing it at $5 or more which, when you came to work with lunch to save money, and when you've already chewed on a few pieces of gristly fat, just feels like a lot for brown lettuce or cold pizza. Having survived on brown lettuce and cold pizza for a number of years, I knew that $5+ was a bit beyond the cost/purchase ratio.

So, feeling those last few minutes of lunch slipping through my fingers, I did what everyone who just had a generally disgusting and frustrating food day would do.

I bought two hot dogs from the street vendor. $2.50 worth of pork parts. With onion.

The vendor discretely slipped a tidily wrapped breath mint into my bag.

Posted by Jason at 3:23 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

PS2 EyeToy

With the PlayStation 2 Eyetoy, you actually become the character on the screen.

I'm curious to see how this plays out [pun intended, cue laugh track]. I remember when I was in elementary school, my folks took my brother and I to Disney World and Epcot Center(recently opened, I believe). My memory is dim on this - it was nearly 20 years ago - but I remember a purple dragon mascot for Epcot and a game of sorts where you would step into an area and do things that the speaker told you to do: "Run!" "Duck!" "Jump!" On a screen, your image would stand with the dragon and his friends, so it looked like you were running or jumping next to them.

I will be curious to see how well the motion tracking works...

Posted by Jason at 12:59 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Self Portrait

 //^    ^\
   ^ / ^
 |  <.   |
 '| """ |'
  '| ~ |'

The things you do when your wife is out of town...

EDIT: Argh. MT is not condusive to ASCII art doodles for some reason, even w/ 'pre' tags...

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August 14, 2003

Literary Deja-Vu

Matt's recent post points to the joys of rereading - of coming upon again those passages that left you breathless the first time you read them. While I enjoy those moments, I've also found myself encountering more disconcerting scenarios - when I am reading a book for the first time and find myself reading something that I know I've read before. These moments of deja-vu render my reading eyes helpless - they begin to frantically scan the page trying to figure out how in the world I've read this before, the brain fully aware that this is the first time I've picked up this book.

I experienced this just the other day as I was reading DeLillo's Underworld on the Metro. Prior to this, I read Paul Auster's Book of Illusions, and prior to that DeLillo's Cosmopolis. I peppered these with three George Pelecanos Nick Stefanos detective novels set in DC and surrounding areas (it is super cool, by the way, to see the names of bars you've frequented as the local hangout for main character Nick when he visits PG County). In the odd swirl that is my mind, these texts began to meld, mesh, and combine, which is all well and good until a passage in DeLillo's Underworld sent me on an hour long mind-crushing bender trying to figure out how in the world a passage in a book I've never read seemed so damn familiar to me. The matrix was changing. I had read this dialogue (or something eerily like it) before - a conversation between Marvin, a baseball paraphernalia collector, and garbage expert named Brian. Marvin, mainly, spoke on baseball, the Cold War, and the premonitions to be found in Gorbachev's Latvia-shaped birthmark. And it was all terribly, eerily, familiar. I swore I read the same dialogue in one of the other books ...

The best answer I could come up with to sooth my mind was that I had, at some point, picked up the book and flipped through the pages, spending enough time reading that entire section (my mind rationalizes) that it seemed terribly familiar, while the actual exercise of flipping was so mundane that it completely slipped my mind. The book as Random Access Memory and Amnesia.

An aside (as I love them so): I have found myself wanting to criticize DeLillo's recent dialogue for sounding: 1. the same, regardless of character; and 2. affected and odd - "No one," I thought, "talks like that."

So last night I'm having a beer with Brian and I say "You're saying this to me? You said this?" and I think to myself, "Damn. DeLillo's right." Or maybe just infectious?

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August 8, 2003

Oscar, Your Name is MUD

Something to look at later: TriadCity, self-described as "a large-scale multi-user role playing game with a literary orientation, currently in beta". This MUD now boasts an Oscar Wilde bot, wit included. [via /.]

Posted by Jason at 10:27 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Walk Through Screen

Formally called wave (Walk-Thru Virtual Environment), the Walk-Thru Fog Screen is a thin veil of fog and a non-turbulent airflow that protects it from disruption. The result is a relatively crisp screen surface ready for your projection needs.

Imagine having to walk through an advertisement before entering a store... that should capture your attention. [via /. ]

Posted by Jason at 10:14 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

August 7, 2003

Jealousy (the good kind)

I've often wished that I could draw well. Seeing something like Jen Wang's Strings of Fate is downright inspiring. [via Scott McCloud (entry 8/03)]

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A Day for the Birds

Setting: On the metro ride home yesterday, Ft. Totten stop. A mother and her two children board the train, followed by another woman, who had her hands cupped in front of her. The towhead boy sat next to the woman, across the aisle from his mother and sister.

For some reason, the boy - eager and inquisitive, his 8 year old face round and shiny - kept staring at the woman's hands. Oddly, she leaned and blew gently into them, as though to warm them. As she shifted, I saw that she was holding a sparrow, tiny and unmoving. She would open her hands and blow carefully into the sparrow's face, presumably to calm it as the train rattled to the next stop.

"Where did you find it?" the boy asked, staring at the bird.

"On the platform," the woman offered, with a small shrug. "His wing ..." She gestured with her shoulder.

"Are you going to keep it?" the boy asked.

"When she gets better, I let her go," the woman replied.

Looking over at his mother, the boy put his hands together to plead, as if in prayer. He wanted to pet the bird. His mother shook her head. He moved over to her side to engage in negotiations.

"My mother says that sometimes birds carry diseases," said the boy with a sigh, as he settled down next to the woman again. His hand hovered as he leaned in for a closer look.

"It's true," the woman agreed, smiling at the mother, "birds can carry diseases." She held the bird up, blowing into its face with a calm air.


I stopped at the Giant to get some milk (Lisa was making wicked good food, and needed ingredients). Walking to the milk aisle, I saw a flurry of motion above me. A sparrow winged its way to the dried fruit and nut aisle.


Driving home, milk in hand, I heard a stuttering chirping. It sounded like a bird, but the smell of sharply burned rubber told me that someone's anti-lock brakes needed adjusting.

Posted by Jason at 10:15 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

August 6, 2003


I found myself inserting a bunch of asides in front of the book list, so I decided on a separate post. Thoughts:

One: I'm amazed by the amount of stuff coming out, mostly within 12 to 15 months of each other. It's a tad overwhelming to have a tsunami of research hit your research shores as you're trying to write a dissertation (I know, I'm sure it happens all of the time).

Two: Once again, I'm tempted to dust off my php/mysql skills at give a go at a simple online bibliography database. Does anyone use something - preferably *online* - to maintain a bibliography? I would want to be able to enter URL entries as well as print/'traditional media' entries. I have ProCite, but it doesn't seem to be saving me a lot of time, especially since it's not terribly transportable. And nothing is more boring that data entry...

Three: I want custom spider search software, where I built complex searches that might take days to complete, but I get very detailed data that includes textual, graphical, and temporal (like, tracing timestamps) representations of relationships.

Four: DiGRA seems like a great idea, but it kills me that I have to register (and thus pay) just to use the site. I know, I know. I'm cheap. But after years of graduate school, only now a new employee on a regular paycheck (while still trying to write my dissertation), and expectant father, I guess I *should* be cheap. You don't make a pittance year after year and survive without being cheap - especially in the DC housing market, which borders on extortion (I'd give exact numbers on previous years' paychecks but, quite frankly, I get a little embarrassed about how poor I've been).

Five: I need to get cracking on my links compilation. Several text export files of links just ain't cutting it anymore. I'm going mad with disorganization. OCD kicking in hyperdrive ... (brought on by the fact that after I dug through a bunch of research, I remember the website Game Culture, which had compiled some of the stuff I just spent time doing. *sigh*)

Six: Is there one site that holds a comprehensive, data-base driven archive of articles, books, and websites dedicated to gaming? DiGRA might, but lord knows I can't find it on the site... Digiplay has some stuff, as does Game Culture. Anywhere else?

Posted by Jason at 6:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Books of Interest

URLs available where appropriate, forthcoming books have dates in (parentheses). This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list; hopefully one day I'll post a full bibliography. Oh, and don't expect an order. There is none currently.

First Person New Media as Story, Performance, and Game

Edited by Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Pat Harrigan
(November 2003)

Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals

Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman
(October 2003)

Eloquent Images: Word and Image in the Age of New Media

Edited by Mary E. Hocks and Michelle R. Kendrick
June 2003

Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction

Nick Montfort
(January 2004)

The Video Game Theory Reader

edited by Mark J. P. Wolf , Bernard Perron
(August 2003)

ScreenPlay: cinema/videogames/interfaces

Edited by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska
Dec. 2002

Video Games: A Popular Culture Phenomenon
Arthur Asa Berger
Transaction Publishers - October 2001

Handbook of Computer Game Studies
Goldstein and Raessens, eds.
MIT Press (Forthcoming)

Understanding Digital Games
Bryce & Rutter, eds.
Sage (Forthcoming)

Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-element in Culture
by Johan Huizinga
Routledge, 1980

Man, Play, and Games (2001 reprint of 1961 edition)
Roger Caillois, Meyer Barash (Translator)

Digital Play
Stephen Kline, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Greig de Peuter
McGill-Queen's University Press - June 2003

Video Game Bible,1985 - 2002
Andy Slaven
Trafford Publishing, July 2002

What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literracy
James Paul Gee
Palgrave Macmillan, April 2003

Game On (based on the Barbican exhibit)
Lucien King
Universe Books, August 2002

Posted by Jason at 6:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 5, 2003

media notes

Interesting "Media Notes" column on washpost: Persuaders or Partisans (

The part that really captured my attention was the following description of how online newspapers are now using Google's advertising service to match up their readers with appropriate (or, in this case, not so appropriate) ads:

"The technology is not yet foolproof. The online edition of The New York Post, which is owned by the News Corporation, ran an article last month about a murder in which the victim's body parts were packed in a suitcase, and Google served up an ad for a luggage dealer."
Posted by Jason at 5:47 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

MMOG Subscription analysis

Came across An Analysis of MMOG Subscription Growth, which tracks (according to numbers released by the developers, as well as press releases, etc.) the numbers of subscriptions over time for all of the major Massively Multiplayer Online Games.

There are a number of caveats attached of course, many within the document analysis on the website. The number of subscriptions should not be confused with the number of subscribers or the number of active players.

I know several people, for example, who have more than one Asheron's Call account (some people have 5, 10, or more), so while that accounts for, say, 5 subscriptions, it really only accounts for one subscriber. It seems to me that developers should be able to handle this by making subscriptions scalable - buy three characters for $9.99 a month, 5 for $15.99, etc.

The other issue is that while someone might hold a subscription to a game, that doesn't mean that they are actually *playing* the game. I, for example, still have my subscription to Asheron's Call even though I have logged in only once in the past 50+ days (to pay "rent" on my house, so I don't lose it). It might seem absurd that I pay money on a monthly basis to maintain something that I don't play, but considering that I have about 3 years worth of "research" invested in a game I write about, it might not seem so odd.

I do think that a lot could be gained by offering a "character storage solution" - a private company working w/ MMOGs to store character database files for a lower cost, with transfer fees high enough to prevent an easy back and forth.

I hate to know that someday - perhaps in the near future - my characters will disappear into the ether forever (research or no, I'm not willing to keep paying for a game that I have no time to play, especially with other MMOGs to test out and other free games - like Neverwinter Nights - that provide hours of great content with no monthly fee). An odd sentiment, but considering the time investment in previous years, perhaps only but *so* odd...

Posted by Jason at 11:07 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 1, 2003


i *really* hate it when pings fail.

which leads me to wonder - how many of you rely on blogrolls to tell you if a blog has actually updated? or do you actually check?

there are some great blogs - like invisible shoebox - that don't seem to ping (so they never show as "recently updated"). would be a shame if people pay less attention to them because of a reliance on automation (probably an accurate measure of the cultural effect of computing somewhere in there) ...

[EDIT: comments closed because of spam]

Posted by Jason at 4:48 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Donnie Darko

I finally saw Donnie Darko (2001) the other night, after many months of wanting to watch it (my last attempt - with B and D - turned into a nice long gab session, so the film sat in its box). I thought that the film was beautifully done and truly creepy. The lead who played Donnie was able to convincingly switch from awkward teenage boy into sleep-walking lunatic with amazing simplicity, aided in part by the sharp cut in appearances of "Frank," the bizarre bunny who struck me as 33% Mothman (yeah, I know the movie came later, but I saw it first, ok?), 33% of the weird bunny from The Shining (yeah, the scene they usually don't show on the TV version), and 33% Bugs Bunny after a 10 day binge on carrots.

I was very pleased by the fact that I didn't figure out what was going to happen until towards the very end; the film does an excellent job of keeping you in the dark - is Frank an alien? a bizarre traveler from the future? a hallucination? And, as I said, I was *creeped out* the entire movie.

But I have a question that I'm hoping someone who's smarter than me might explain. Donnie, during a classroom scene where he was protesting the mantra of a local self-help guru, makes this big deal about how he believes there are more than two choices in life - more than two emotions (in that case, Love and Fear, the self-helper's proclaimed spectrum of human emotion). Donnie raves about the enormous potential and range of emotion and choice.

So, why, when he does his little time traveling trick, does he think that getting killed is going to do a lick of good? Why doesn't he just time travel himself back to the bedroom scene with his girlfriend and then - instead of going to the house where all the bad stuff happens - why doesn't he just snuggle up close and stay home? The movie seems to say, in other words, that there are, in fact, only two paths to take for Donnie - one deadly for someone else, one deadly for him. What happened to Donnie's vehement arguement about the failure of a binary system?

Now, I realize that this happy ending wouldn't have really suited the film's dark approach, but to me, it made more logical sense. In such a case, I feel like it is incumbent on the filmmaker to clarify this decision, which didn't seem to happen. What am I missing? Was the whole sequence just a dream - a what-if scenario prior to the normal progression of events that led to his death? Or was it "just in the script" that this sacrifice is the one Donnie chose to make?

Posted by Jason at 12:00 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

ascii wars

Now *this* is ASCII art: STAR WARS ASCIIMATION [via jm]

I bet my wife will be glad that my hobbies are a little less.... time consuming.

Posted by Jason at 11:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack