September 30, 2003

Design Update

Ok, so I adjusted things a bit in the CSS to hopefully resolve some issues on monitors set to resolutions less that 1024x768 brought up by several very kind folk in my previous post. Thanks again to everyone who offered feedback.

Did the adjustments I made solve those issues where the right column was sliding underneath the center one? Any other issues?

Also, Kathleen brought up a good question in her assessment:

is there a particular reason (and I'm really asking here -- this is an issue about which I am ignorant) why you've specified pixel widths for your columns rather than percentages? It seems to me that percentages would scale to whatever monitor/window size...?

At the time, I couldn't think of a reason, but a quick look at how I set things up in the CSS to get the white borders to line up (the 'windowpane' effect) reminded me. In order to set exact spacing (to prevent too little or too much white space), I have to create a pixel width for the two columns, and then set the margins of the center column to those pixel widths.

So, in the (newly adjusted) CSS, my left column is set to 190 pixels and my right to 200 pixels. The center column then has the following style:

margin:0px 200px 0px 190px; /* top right bottom left */

with a border of 2 pixels of white on either side. The actual background of the entire page is the darker gray on the left, while the background image is the lighter gray on the right - an image 250px wide and 1px high of that color, and set to only tile on the y-coordinate (vertical) and positioned top right. That gives me the two-tone background.

Ok, I'm convinced I've bored everyone by now ... point being, if I didn't use exact pixels, I wouldn't be able to control the white (or, in this case, gray) space between the columns. In any case, the center stretches with window expansion, while the two outside columns are set with absolute values.

If someone could figure out how to accomplish the same feat with %, I'm all ears (or, er... eyes).

Posted by Jason at 10:06 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

and now for something completely different

My list of Things to Do just threatened to leave if I added one more thing.

But I couldn't help it. For later:

The 9th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition

Obviously catching up on my /. reading during my lunch break...

Cat Mother Open-Sources Game Engine

Posted by Jason at 3:26 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

As Everyone Else has blogged, has launched, starting with their game September 12th., headed by Gonzalo Frasca, editor of, looks to use games as an explicitly critical tool.

I haven't had a chance to play September 12th, but the premise calls to mind the critical game version by Natalie Bookchin of Borges' The Intruder. Bookchin's game only allows the player to progress by doing harmful things to the female avatar on screen (dropping her into manholes rather than allowing her to leap over them, for example). The player implicates him/herself in the demise of the woman in Borges story, sealing her fate as the player must shoot at her from a helicopter in order to finish the tale. A really amazing use of a game to provide a critical reading of a story...

Posted by Jason at 2:58 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

No Wonder I Hate the Beltway

D.C. Has Third Worst Traffic in Nation, Study Finds (

Even more disturbing:

More than half -- 53 percent -- of local backups are recurring, meaning they stem from simply too many vehicles crammed onto roads unable to handle them, while 47 percent come from collisions, broken down vehicles, truck spills and other incidents.

Makes me long for a nice quiet country road.

Posted by Jason at 2:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2003


I'm writing my paper for the AoIR conference. The process has been somewhat daunting - everytime I look at my proposal, I experience something akin to what Liz describes as writer's amnesia.

What the hell was I thinking when I wrote this thing?

I have a feeling the final version (personal deadline: draft due tonight) is going to look remarkably different from my proposal. My outline sure looks different.

Posted by Jason at 10:23 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Rubies of Eventide

Rubies of Eventide is a "new" MMORPG. I use the quotation marks because while the game is only 10 weeks into its current 3D incarnation, it started as a MUD some nine years ago. There's a write-up on the game at RPG Vault.

Something that I find particularly nice about this game - the program is a free download with a free trial period before a monthly subscription kicks in. Much nicer than paying $50 to play the game for a month before frustration sets in (my experience with more than one MMORPG).

Looking forward to trying it out once I finish a few key projects...

Posted by Jason at 10:02 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 28, 2003

New Design

Well, I got tired of the old one, which was the default "Trendy" MovableType template. I pretty much decided on the colors and the main image up top a while ago and had been playing with drawings on my morning Metro commute on and off. I drew some useful help from Blue Robot's 2 column template, as well as some inspiration from the CSS Zen Garden (which is where I got the idea of the slight white lines for the window-pane effect, as well as the second green tone).

I've tested the new design in Opera 7.02 and M$ Explorer 6.0 on a PC running Windows XP. I don't have the resources available to me that I used to, so if folks using other browsers on other platforms would be so kind to point out issues, I would be much obliged.

And I, of course, would love to hear what you think - what works for you, what doesn't, etc.

Posted by Jason at 7:49 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

September 26, 2003

welcome to my garden

Posted by Jason at 10:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wireless Gameboy

Wired News (among many others) reports that Gameboy soon will have an add-on component that allows players sitting within 5-10 meters of each other to play together.

About time.

It's a smart move for both Nintendo and Motorola (who makes the component), as the article points out, setting them up to take on the forthcoming handhelds from Sony and Nokia.

Posted by Jason at 9:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 25, 2003

MMOG History

GameSpy's From MUDs to Mainstream: The History of MMOGs

First week, with seven more installments to come.

Posted by Jason at 6:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

electronic paper


Two fascinating developments with electronic paper. The first was reported today; the second was in May 2003. Notice that in the second article, they were trying to increase the speed. Amazing what happens in a few months.

Electronic paper reaches video speed: Colour movies might soon be playing on single sheets.

Slim screen can be rolled but not folded: Ultra-thin display brings e-newspapers a step closer.

Posted by Jason at 4:30 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 23, 2003

National Treasure on Display

My regular metro stop downtown is Archives/Navy-Memorial, which is just a few blocks down the street from my office. When walking to work yesterday morning, I noticed lots of activity - lights, power surge protectors, lots of vans. Movie vans. On my way back in the evening, I asked a guy who looked a lot like an FBI agent (and could have been, given that the FBI building is right there) what was going on.

Nick Cage is breaking into the National Archives. At least, his character is, in the film National Treasure, currently in production down the street.

Premise: Modern treasure hunters, led by an archaelogist [sic] (Cage) who is the eighth descendant in a family all searching for the same thing: a massive war chest treasure reportedly hidden by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin as funds for the Revolutionary War, using a secret code found in the Constitution (and a map that might have been drawn on the back of the Declaration of Independence) to find its location. [from Yahoo! Movies]

Filmjerk reviews a version of the script, citing more than a few similarities to the Indiana Jones franchise and noting the difficulty of exceeding that franchise's influence.

Part of the script includes a daring escapade that involves stealing the Declaration of Independence from the National Archives (why? there's a map on the back, of course! In invisible ink. Those wacky founding fathers.). That is, of course, why the film crew is set up in front of Archives this week.

Meanwhile, our founding documents - or "Charters of Freedom" - just got a facelift and are now available to see once again in the newly rededicated National Archive building. At least, until Nick Cage swipes them.

Posted by Jason at 11:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 22, 2003


Papersinvited, self-proclaimed as Call for Papers - Largest listing of call for papers in all areas of specialization. Definately need to check this out when I have some time. [via Liz]

Posted by Jason at 5:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Isabel, We Hardly Knew Thee

Unlike many people, we managed to not only stay dry and avoid falling trees, but we even kept our power. I am convinced that it was my two hour search for D batteries that served as my karma umbrella. Had I not found the last 8 D batteries in the DC area, I'm sure we would have been without power for a month. Or even a year. Amazing, the value of 8 D batteries, in the long run.

Which means that I got a lot of work done, right? Two days off, plus the weekend?

Well, no. Not really. We did get to spend some good time with family and friends, who brought us enough (quickly defrosting) food to last us well into January. Rhubarb pie. Truffles (an odd contribution, since truffles require no refrigeration, but I'm certainly not complaining). And lots of seafood. Our home was part fridge, part media fix. Finally got a chance to watch Punch Drunk Love (which I thought was wonderful), as well as episodes of Iron Chef and Monster House (disco theme, this week). I set up a powerstrip so that visiting, power-less people could plug in their mobile phones.

Lisa made a wicked-good butternut squash risotto Saturday night, after we spent about 5 hours wandering the (thankfully, powered) aisles of the Babies 'R Us, registering for fun things like strollers (a surprisingly difficult choice), bibs, bottles, and baby socks with the caterpillar from Hungry Caterpillar on them. We hit the 21st week this week, which means we are half-way there (although, as the non-carrying member of this troupe, all due credit of course goes to my wife, who is not only a champ, but also gracefully lets me say things like "we," when she is in fact the one doing the work).

The ultrasound pictures, which were taken last Monday, are looking fine - everything is in working order, although we declined to be notified whether or not we should be using "he" or "she" at this moment. So we just go back and forth between the two. S/he is already a pound, which means s/he's growing very fast for her age group (proud papa already). I'll try to scan in the ultrasound sometime in the near future, if only to show off our baby's fabulous "thumbs up" picture, where s/he lets us know s/he's a-ok.

Judging by the size of his/her feet, we might have a soccer player on our hands. Which is good, because her/his mother played varsity soccer through college (I, um, played intramural). In any case, to celebrate, Lisa and I went to watch the US Women's Team totally beat Sweden yesterday at RFK stadium in the first round of the Women's World Cup. We watched many members of the same team four years ago, so it was a lot of fun to return, despite the fact that the US Women's Soccer league was just disbanded - a real shame. Another real shame was the amount that RFK charged for the game - the lowest range was $35, but the highest was $175! Now, not that I don't think it's worth it, but between the cost (in tough economic times) and the hurricane, there were a LOT of empty seats. Really too bad.

The game itself was great to watch. Sweden's team is ranked 5th internationally, so the match was strong. Mia Hamm set up all three US goals, leading to a 3-1 victory. Chastain broke her foot in the first half, unfortunately, but will hopefully be back for the second round of the tourney. The second game we watched was South Korea v. Brazil. Brazil clearly controlled the game; S. Korea showed signs of being a younger, less experienced team. But in the end, I cheered for S. Korea, who showed some true grit and determination. Brazil, on the other hand, disappointed me - the scorer of one goal in their 3-0 win was clearly off-sides (this same player cherry-picked the entire second half), while another goal occurred after the referee seemingly called a penalty (Lisa and I later thought that maybe the whistle came from the crowd, but it was confused by the fact that the ref stopped and attended to an injured player right after seemingly blowing the whistle). The first goal (and only "fair" one, in my mind) was scored by a Brazil penalty kick within the first few minutes of the game.

That's about it. We dodged the hurricane for the most part and even managed to clean the house in the process. Lots of good "home" work done, which paves the way for more dissertating and conference paper-writing in the coming weeks. And to inspire our word-weaving, we have a huge spider-in-residence on our sliding glass door. She is about the size of a quarter and puts up these beautifully spun webs. I googled the description and think she is a Garden Orb Weaving Spider. As long as she stays outside, I'm happy to have her eat our bugs.

Posted by Jason at 11:39 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 19, 2003

Comment Spam?

I'm not sure what's going on exactly, but I have to say that I'm less than thrilled with some of the recent comments - especially by so-called "Melanie Griffith" - on my blog. For some reason, the post on Donnie Darko is drawing a lot of attention - some of it fine, but some of it just plain rude and inappropriate.

So, I'm closing comments on that entry and banning the IP of the moron who thinks dropping the f-bomb nine times in a post is amusing (which, I'm sure, is likely to do nothing except annoy regular earthlink or aol users, if the offending jerk was using regular dial-up ... oh well) ... If any regular users suddenly find their IP banned, feel free to e-mail me.

Posted by Jason at 11:44 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 18, 2003

Isabel, Take Two

NE of DC, things have been relatively quiet. Lots of rain and wind earlier in the day, with fairly moderate rainfall and wind this evening. Friends NW of DC have lost power; apparently 660k or so in the area (Northern VA, DC, and MD suburbs) are without power, according to news sources.

My family in the Yorktown/VA Beach area reports that some areas have seen heavy flooding (particularly those near rivers and water sources affected by the tide). They did loose power, but no flooding for them (unlike with Floyd, which apparently dumped a lot more rain).

Residents of Poquoson (not far from Langley Air Force Base, near Hampton, and about a 10 minute drive from my folks' house) were encouraged to evacuate. My mother told me that a lady refused and is now sitting in her attic, watching 5+ feet of water flood her home and reportedly having seen a small home floating down the street.

I'm waiting to see how the next few hours pan out, but it seems like we got off pretty light overall in DC. News reports show lots of downed trees. I heard chainsaws for about two hours - looking outside, I saw police on BW parkway, presumably clearing trees that fell across the road.

Posted by Jason at 10:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Isabel (Take One)

Putting away lawn furniture and whatnot.

My folks live down towards Virginia Beach in Yorktown, just inside the Bay. Just got an e-mail from my father reporting the beginning of some rain and gusts. When Floyd came through, their entire house was surrounded by flooding - luckily it came right up to, but not inside the house.

I have a picture of my father floating on a raft in front of the house that I'll try to scan later. Hopefully, that won't happen again...

Posted by Jason at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Weather Blog?

I've been following the NWS "Discussions" for a few days now - as Matt points out, they are the best way to get 'real' information about the storm. And you get to appreciate Forecaster Franklin and Forecaster Beven, with their clipped teletype personalities.

But the updates, and (for some reason - I'm not sure why) phrases like "A NEW AIRCRAFT SHOULD BE ARRIVING AT THE CENTER SHORTLY," suddenly struck me as almost personal and blog-like. Which I suppose just forces me to re-evaluate my definition of a blog. I began to wonder how long they had been doing the "conversations" aspect of the alerts ... seems like I need to do some digging...

Posted by Jason at 10:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ahoy Matey!

Batten down the hatches - there be storms coming here!

If you are looking for a "D" sized battery anywhere within 100 miles of D.C., just give up now (actually, the Dollar Store had a few left).

The Federal Government shut down. Metro is closed as of 11 am - high winds (over 40 mph) prevent the trains from riding above ground.

The only candles available for sale - scented.

Given recent history with the strong thunderstorms these past few weeks, I suspect the greatest danger - loss of electricity. Or, maybe, the frenzy of shoppers. I think the shoppers scare me more.

Posted by Jason at 10:10 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

September 17, 2003

Duck Marge! Here Comes Another Set of Links!

Cleaning out old e-mails. A list of things I don't want to forget, but my e-mail quota won't allow me to save.

Terra Nova Blog
from the e-mail circulated:

Authors are Hunter and Lastowka (authors of "The Laws of the Virtual Worlds"), Julian Dibbell (author of My Tiny Life and Wired contributing editor) and me (author of "Virtual Worlds: A First-Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier"). The purpose of the blog is to report and comment on critical
developments in the area of emergent collective reality spaces, aka virtual worlds. Our focus is not on the worlds themselves but on the economic and legal implications of the behavior they generate.

An Intentionally Selective and Incomplete Bibliography of Play and Video
Games by Christian Sandvig and David Brandon's column on Chris Crawford, game designer.

"Playing the Story, Computer Games as a Narrative Genre" by Jonas Carlquist

applied media and simulation games center (amsgc)

Journal of Virtual Environments (formerly: Journal of MUD Research):

Materials from "Academic Day" recently held at GDC Europe (and pictures on Jason Della Rocca's blog) website

Matteo Bittanti - game blog

And finally - a slew of resources generated from the GamesNetwork Listserv "Games vs. Movies" Thread (to be sorted through later - and all credit to the list for submitting these): (caution - zip file)

Posted by Jason at 6:14 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 12, 2003

Media Notes

Johnny Cash (1932-2003)
John Ritter (1948-2003)

Chuck shares a recently discovered blog: gangstories. Only looked at a few entries so far, but it struck me as powerfully written.

Movies I Want to See (if we only had the time):
Lost in Translation
American Splendor
Dirty Pretty Things
Matchstick Men
Once Upon a Time in Mexico

TV Show to Tape:
Carnivale, HBO's new drama about carnies, healers, and bearded ladies that is set in the Dust Bowl days of 1934. Begins this Sunday at 9:45pm (EST).

Meanwhile, Lisa and I are consuming Law & Order and other crime dramas with a ferocity that would stun a heroin addict.

Fun Read:
A friend lent me Neverwhere, a novel by Neil Gaiman. We follow Richard, a young businessman, who helps a woman he finds bleeding on the street only to discover that doing so opens up an entirely new world while closing another. A good, quick, and fun contemporary fantasy read that plays off of some neat aspects of London geography and culture.

I can't get enough Coldplay lately.

To the rustle in the wind as millions of people simultaneously give RIAA the finger. Yeah, great, pick on children and grandparents. Poor you, getting stolen from, you price-fixing robber barons. Because we all know that a CD costs $20 to make, and that all that extra cash goes straight to the artists. [ok, stealing is wrong - and I never used Kazza or Napster for the record - but that doesn't mean the RIAA isn't a bunch of punks]

Posted by Jason at 3:04 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 11, 2003


Not having the eloquence, or the wisdom for silence, or the vertigo of personal memory, or the passionate disquiet to commemorate the day, I'll only offer a poem by W.H. Auden, which was read during a remembrance ceremony held collectively by the NEH, the NEA, and IMLS.

The reading was book-ended by The Sunrise Quartet's striking renditions of Mozart's "Andante" (from Divertimento in D. Major, K. 136) and Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (from String Quartet, Op. 11) and was preceded (and delayed) by an evacuation of my building in downtown D.C. due to a "suspicious package."

Posted by Jason at 2:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Blogger Pro For Free

Slashdot reports that BLOGGER Pro is now free (previously, the Pro service cost $35 annually).

Interesting. Definately improves Blogger if you want to use it for educational purposes. They claim to offer daily archives, so hopefully that will help with the problem I often run into when trying to permalink to a Blogger entry...

Posted by Jason at 10:16 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 10, 2003

LOC Book Festival

The Library of Congress National Book Festival is set for October 4, 2003, on the National Mall.

One exhibit I'm game for (from the press release): " Paige Davis and Frank Bielec of the cable TV program "Trading Spaces," are among the authors who will appear in the "Home and Family" pavilion"

Maybe Frank'll come over and redo my office.

Posted by Jason at 12:20 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Game Link resource

Ren Reynolds has a nice collection of links for gaming studies - most valuable perhaps for his list of places to get market data and statistics. [via the GamesNetworks list]

Posted by Jason at 10:55 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

You Can Call Me Al

Simon & Garfunkel announce ''last'' reunion tour, where they will play in 30 cities this fall, including Washington D.C.

I picked up an affection for S&G from my father when I was in high school, after he pointed out that "the guy with Chevy Chase" in the MTV video used to have a "real" partner not so long ago. So, somehow S&G's Collected made it on the playlist with the Violent Femmes and the Connells for several years running.

I wouldn't mind catching their final tour if, you know, ticket prices don't require a mortgage on my first child.

Posted by Jason at 9:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 9, 2003

The Rewards of Blogging?

A lot of intriguing ideas floating around the blogsphere lately. Chuck talks more about blogs as forums for research and as "writing machines". He previously discussed attempting to follow a single "meme" through the blogsphere, tracking how the writing developed - which I think would actually be a fascinating project (in fact, I feel somewhat compelled to experiment with a few tools to see if mapping relationships between blogs is easily possible).

His more recent thoughts spawned from this post at Crooked Timber, where Brian (one of the posters on the group blog) talked about how a paper he recently published came from - at least in part - blogging (both reading and writing). But he wonders:

just how many scholar-bloggers use their blogs to advance their scholarship. Very few have posts directly about their research, and fewer still it seems use their blog as a place to try out ideas, or paragraphs, for forthcoming papers.

To me, blogs are curious creatures - personal scrapbook, creative outlet, public advertisement, scholarly test bed, memory machine, and social connector. And I have used it as all of these things. Since I've taken on a full-time job, I rely on my blog, e-mail, and instant messaging to keep in touch with those people that I normally would grab for a coffee on campus. Blogging, for me, is very much social software. I write with an audience in mind even if and when I know they are unlikely to respond, because part of the time, I just need to force myself to write, and write publicly. To put ideas - no matter how silly or wrong-headed - on paper (virtual or otherwise), so that next time I come back to them, I have a record. Too often in the past, I've had an idea and refused to write it down, convincing myself that I would remember.

And, of course, I don't.

The blog offers a few features particularly useful for the scholar, including a handy search function (how many times have you crawled through your notebooks before tossing them down in disgust?), as well as methods of receiving feedback from friends and strangers alike.

As many have stated before, blogs (like IM'ing, online games, and so on) are a social software system, but they also demand a careful examination as to how they function as social software. Jason's (a different herder named Jason - welcome to the confusion) response to Chuck points out that blogging might be a "peculiarly egocentric mode of discourse" (although I wonder how many discursive models aren't predominately egocentric?).

If blogging is part egocentric self-promotion/self-reflection, and part honest desire for a space to post ideas and solicit feedback, how might they fit within traditional academic spheres? What influence do they really have (or might they already have - good or bad)?

KF, in her post at Planned Obsolescence, finds herself working through difficult issue of the relationship between academic teaching and research - and the systems that rewards (or disdains) one or the other. After finding herself on both sides of the argument in two separate blogs, she writes:

This slip of mine really gives me pause. The origin of my equation of scholarly work and scholarly production is internal, and has everything to do with anxieties about the role of such work in my own life: I had to remind myself all the way through writing my dissertation -- and still have to remind myself, as I'm doing research -- that reading, and talking, and listening, and thinking, are important forms of knowledge-production, despite the fact that not all of this work resulted in writing.

And thus the question gets raised yet again, in another form, of what counts as work in academic lives, what we claim to value versus what we actually reward.

In some respects, I agree with JBJ's assertion that the "blogosphere tends to organize itself into echo chambers" (which he draws from Cass Sunstein's book, which I have not read, although now I want to). KF - in a comment on the same post listed above - has a slightly different concern about an echo - not that it resonates through a singular public, but instead little public at all:

My worry about the blogosphere as the locus of such dialogue, though, is the sense (as one of my colleagues describes it) that I'm shouting down a well -- I can hear my own voice bouncing back at me, but there's precious little other response. This is a public discourse -- but how do you get the public involved?

Her worry is understandable, even though it somewhat ironically came out of a seemingly intense debate between several individuals (no quiet echo there).

Admittedly, several of the blogs that I read are folks that I know personally - one is my dissertation director, others are long-standing friends (some live down the block, while others have moved far away). But several others - even a couple of wordherders - I met only through blogging. Some of my favorite blogs are people I don't even know except through what they write (Invisible Shoebox is a great example of a blog by a complete stranger that I think is incredibly interesting both creatively and academically).

So I wonder - as I try to pull together this three-threaded discussion about research tools, social software, and the academic publishing machine - if blogs, in some fashion, can help us begin to tackle what I see (clearly, as do many others) as an increasing problem in academia: reliance on publication as a reward system while the value of texts, per se, might be said to be on the decline - more books published each year, to an increasingly select audience, while some academic publishers are limiting or closing their humanities publishing departments (in April 2002, U. of California press reduced its humanities publications; other details about University Presses can be found at the Chronicle, including the following interesting article that details problems with University Presses [subscription required, I believe. Sorry.]).

Can comments and trackbacks - in some fashion - lead to a sense of peer review (or do they already)? If not that, what kind of peer review could we imagine if it were facilitated by technology? Clearly, there are issues with ignoring the "blind" review process (and if blogs were the model, blind review would be nigh-impossible); E-Bay style procedures are unlikely to benefit academia, since reputation-based evaluation is hardly an effective measure in an environment that, like so many others, can burn you with a wayward comment. The superstars are unlikely to be criticized, and even the newbies will likely find themselves either coddled (because to do otherwise might ruin their career) or cut [again, the Chronicle has some interesting articles on these issues]. Research on E-Bay (wish I could find the link - anyone have it?) recently shared that their peer-review system was struggling with the same issues, resulting in an inflated grading system (where people hestitated to give bad grades, even for poor service) and a level of fraud large enough to be alarming.

And how would academic discourse benefit or suffer if it began to settle (in part, at least, as it has) into a subtle mix of 0-draft ideas, more in-depth articles, mixed with personal achivements and surprises? What are the rewards and pitfalls of academic blogging?

I have no clear way to end this, so I'll just mention that Ryan just posted a great little piece that somewhat subverts the idealism we sometimes hold in face to face encounters (a response to Chuck's musings, which I already cited above).

[edit: comments closed due to spam; email jason at wordherders dot net if you wish to add a comment]

Posted by Jason at 4:07 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Gives Me Chills

Dave experienced some strange phenomenon last night - listening to the radio late at night, as is his self-proclaimed habit during the night when his wife is out of town, he heard a news story about infrasound: tones below 20 Hz that can create feelings in listeners.

Slashdot recently reported the same, relating that the study indicated that infrasound might offer a logic behind those who believe in ghosts and haunted houses.

From the Reuters report linked to from slashdot:

British scientists have shown in a controlled experiment that the extreme bass sound known as infrasound produces a range of bizarre effects in people including anxiety, extreme sorrow and chills -- supporting popular suggestions of a link between infrasound and strange sensations.

I'm curious how infrasound might be used for games to create emotive effects (especially fear). Along the same lines, I wonder if it has been used - intentionally or not - in other media (dave mentions that the radio show reported that "composers have for some time used infrasound at "apocalyptic moments" in their works").

Posted by Jason at 12:41 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Check your shoes, I think someone just stepped in something...

The RIAA is suing a 12 year old for downloading music. Anyone think there might be some openings in their PR department sometime in the near future? [via /.]

Posted by Jason at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 8, 2003


Two years ago, I married my beautiful wife Lisa.

I am the Luckiest Man Alive.

Posted by Jason at 10:23 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

September 5, 2003

Serial MMoRPGs

I just learned from Klastrup's Cataclysms that Lisbeth received a newsletter from Star Wars Galaxies claiming (quoting Lisbeth here):

Two interesting items: first, they claim they are, after a month, the second largest massively multiplayer game in the US (after EverQuest). And they introduce a Monthly Story which, at least this month, seem to consist of treasure hunt kinda quest.

Lisbeth adds "It could be highly interesting to study how engaged players are and will be in this monthly "story"."

The idea of a monthly story is what captured my imagination in Asheron's Call, eventually leading to about 2.5 years of pretty consistent play on my part. Asheron's Call has had, since the Sudden Season event in December of 1999, a montly update that includes both long and short term story features. So far, they've had several story arcs that have lasted nearly a year each...

So I too will be interested to see how Star Wars Galaxies fares as they try their hand at a serial storyline...

Posted by Jason at 3:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

History of Tabletop Roleplaying

An interesting look at tabletop roleplaying games: A Brief History of Roleplaying, Part One. [via games.slashdot]

Posted by Jason at 10:01 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 4, 2003

September 3, 2003

More Game Articles

In a (strangely) unrelated Google, I came across SIGGRAPH 2001 - Essays, which includes several game related articles from the 2001 conference.

Posted by Jason at 2:11 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The News, In One (Repeating) Act

Scene: News room. The sound of keys clatter on in the background as the industrial grade lights flicker overhead, competing with the glow of monitors. In far corner, a photocopy machine visited throughout by various interns, with backs 3/4 to audience, lots of lifting and closing of machine's top. The slight hydraulic sounds from the photocopy machine should occasionally punctuate the clatter, giving the subtle tone of factory life.

Reporter #1: [enters cube, puts down coffee, waves mouse to disrupt screensaver]: "Hey."

Reporter #2: [without looking up, web surfing]: "Hey."

R #1: "So, what's up?"

R #2: "Nothing."

R #1: "Nothing?"

R #2: "Afraid so."

R #1: "Bully. News?"

R #2: "None."

R #1: "Get out."

R #2: "Seriously." [Punctuated with an audible mouse click.]

R #1: "Enquirer?"

R #2: "Reprint of Billy Bob story. Stole Bat Boy from The Sun."

R #1 [with a sigh]: "Nothing." [Sits and works on computer. After a few moments, receives chime of instant message. Chats for a few moments, then perks up.]

R #1: "Here's something."

R #2: "Got something?"

R #1: [speaking slowly, while typing]: "Friend of mine. Astronomer. Big asteroid."

R #2: "He is?"

R #1: [still typing]: "No. A big asteroid heading this way."

R #2: "Armageddon?"

R #1: "Sans Bruce."

R #2: "Wow. Really?"

R #1: "Maybe."

R #2: "Really? Or maybe?"

R #1: "Maybe really." [types, waits for answer] "One in 909,000."

R #2: [looks at lottery tickets scattered on desk] "People still go to Vegas."

R #1: "People still fear shark attacks. Lightning strikes."

R #2: "When?"

R #1: [stops typing, looks over, faux-confused] "At the beach. During storms."

R #2: "Funny."

R #1: [resumes quick typing, pause for answering message] "Maybe 2014."

R #2: [checks watch] "2014?"

R #1: [quick typing, pause for answer] "He says: 'March 21 2014'."

R #2: [checks watch again] "Plenty of time for a retraction."

[dim lights, except the back and forth light of photocopy machine. clatter continues.]

The Story

And 24 Hours later: Retractions, followed by News about the News Media

Posted by Jason at 12:42 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 2, 2003

Playing the Arbiter

Capcom fighting games are going tabletop RPG, which makes me want to ask the question: What do tabletop RPGs [note] offer us that computer games do not?

This question has been sitting the back of my brain for several weeks now, even since (pardon the geek out moment, for those friends of mine who still snicker at the phrase "twenty-sided dice") my Neverwinter Nights (a computer RPG) druid wanted to protect some animals rather than slay them. The situation? A multiplayer game with myself and a companion (playing a mage), whereby the mage's idiot familiar decided to go toe-to-toe with a bear that I had just charmed in my nature friendly way.

See, druids, they get along with animals (at least in the fabled game world in which they exist). So when your companion wastes it with a healthy fireball ... well, there's an issue, you see. It sort of ruins your ethos.

In the P&P game, it's easy. I would tell my companions to step back; I'd feed the bear some berries, maybe chat with it using a druid-y spell, and then move on. Job done. But the druid's companions in Neverwinter Nights - say, a saucy wizard with a fireball at the fingertips - they will be attacked even if you, as calming druid, are not. Thus, bear for dinner. But what is my druid wants to be a vegetarian?

The computer is programmed to initiate conflict between certain animals and PCs (player characters, for those still snickering about "twenty-sided dice") in outdoor environments. So, in towns, dogs will bark, but not attack. But stroll outside of Neverwinter's gates, and that wolf (or boar, or bear) will bite, although the deer will just run away. In other words - the druid - friend to nature - is more likely to encounter friendly animals in the city rather than in the druid's more natural environments. Presumably, in a "roleplaying" game, you adopt an ethos with your character. In certain classes - such as a druid - the ethos is a bit more clearly defined; generally a friend to nature (though not necessarily to people), druids defend nature's balance. They typically do not, for example, allow party members to blow animals to bits with balls of flame likely to initiate raging forest fires. Perhaps I'm being a bit deterministic about how I think a druid might be played, but the point is, so is the computer game.

Neverwinter Nights, in my estimation one of the more interesting computer RPGs on the market, is based (loosely, at times) on the Dungeons & Dragons 3.0 ruleset. Dungeons and Dragons is a pen and paper game; play is guided by an arbiter - the Game Master or Dungeon Master (GM or DM, respectively) - who interprets rules, depicts scenarios and settings, and plays the roles of the NPCs (non-player characters, ranging from passive barkeeps to a dastardly antagonist). What fascinates me as I play Neverwinter Nights is how the program both limits and evaluates your play - both how the program functions as a DM as well as how programming functionally limits and enhances the scope of the Pen & Paper rulebook.

My druid, for instance, suffered no consequences after participating in such an ecological attack. On the other hand, I was immensely pleased that I was able to non-violently resolve a situation whereby an unusually intelligent wolf was eating the cattle of a nearby farmer, but the game did not reward or punish me for such a play. In other circumstances - when I believed that the social circumstances deemed that a prison escapee deserved another chance, for example - the game clearly determined that I had faulted by adjusting my alignment score towards "Evil" (alignment, for the uninitiated, is a scale, from Good to Evil on one side, and Law to Chaos on the other, that helps shape the personality of a character). Compassion towards animals merits little notice, but clearly Neverwinter Nights believes in a just prison system.

One method that I have noticed that helps the player maintain a feeling of control over these circumstances involve the difference between dialogic and non-dialogic instances. Dialogic instances are moments in which active dialogue between the PC (e.g., you) and the NPC allow for a decision to made. In many cases, although not all, a careful exploration of the dialogue tree (a series of potential conversations that a PC might pursue with an NPC) provides enough information for you to make the "right" choice. If an NPC reveals a certain enjoyment in the violence of their escape from prison, chances are that you can collect the bounty with a relatively clear conscious and little fear of an alteration of alignment. Those who make claims about the open-ended nature of hypertext clearly have not been called "Evil" by a computer game.

On the other hand, there are plenty of times where non-dialogic instances - spaces where the player must make a decision based on evidence and experience, rather than guided discussion - influence the experience of play, if not the evaluated morality of play. Thus, a druid who has no chance to tell the bear to back down - it just isn't programmed into the game - instead enjoys his first taste of crispy bear meat.

Pen & Paper games, however, are almost always in dialogic mode - a constant conversation between Dungeon Master and players that perhaps allows for a more supple roleplaying experience, if a more time-consuming one. In these cases, the mechanics of gameplay - dice rolling, reviewing rules, making such decisions - can be a hindrance in and of themselves.

*A brief NOTE: tabletop RPGs fall generally into two categories whose borders tend to blend. I tend to classify tabletop RPGs as traditional Pen and Paper (P&P) roleplaying games, in the vein of Gygax's Dungeons and Dragons (and its subsequent versions up to the recent 3.5 edition), GURPs, White Wolf, and various other types. Some might assert that tabletop RPGs, per se, are different from P&P in that they are a mixture of strategy and roleplaying, often played using miniatures and sometimes elaborate sets (Warhammer is one such example). While I think that ultimately the distinction is worthy of further investigation, for this little piece I'm more interested in the distinction between human-mediated and computer-mediated games.


personal asides (pay no mind):
- contextualize in relation to AoIR conference paper.
- for future discussion: die rolls and the Wi Flag in Asheron's Call

Posted by Jason at 5:25 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Labor Days

Well, any illusion that I wouldn't feel swept up in the back to school frenzy has been firmly displaced after a long weekend of schoolwork. I spent pretty much every free moment this past weekend finishing an "incomplete" - a final project that I never turned in. In May of 2000, in somewhat of a freakish way that still strikes me as surreal, both of my grandmothers passed away on the same day (a long story that I may, or may not, tell another time). In the week of wakes and funerals that followed, my final project for a Folklore class fell by the wayside. In the way of those things, other classes, comps, and life events superceded the assignment, so I shame-facedly will be turning it in (finally complete!) this week.

I also finally corresponded with the Level Up! conference organizers, discovering that all previous e-mails from them had somehow evaporated into the internether (yes, I think I just made that word up. So, definition: a combination of the words "internet" and "ether", internether is the black hole that absorbs all lost data, never to be found again). So, the rest of the weekend was spent trying to organize possible funding for the trip, the expense of which is far too great for my meager flow.

Did have a few fun moments in my long, mostly work related four day weekend:

Brother-in-law's birthday party, space-themed (he works at NASA). Costumed. L and I went as "Mars" and "Earth" - "we're very close right now." Space Trivia. Space Bingo.

A hot walk through old Greenbelt, which put on a wicked Labor Day festival. Greenbelt is (still) a co-op community planned and built during the New Deal era by Roosevelt's Resettlement Administration. So they put on quite a dig. Ferris wheel. Carnies. Hit the balloons, 3 darts for a dolla! Rides. Spinning cars of The Tornado. Labor Bingo (listened; didn't play).

Celebration for Dr. Claycomb. He borrowed our paper shredder and made a bouquet of his draft. Tossed it off the balcony to a frenzied batch of dissertators (myself included). Lost out to a guy with greater reach and a three hundred page manuscript.

Using a $20 gadget, listened to the baby's heartbeat. Thump, thump.

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