The leak that wasn’t

Incoming media rant.

I know that online likes to pretend that print does not exist. What I don’t know is why.

Ages ago, print said, “hey, there are things that online does that are immediate and interesting and valid, and we’re happy to tell you about them.” And print changed accordingly; news is not something you will find in any magazine any more, at least not without some other editorial or entertainment slant — interpreting the news or taking it somewhere new. But most online sites act as if print never existed, and that all information dissemination began when DARPAnet made its first connection. When news breaks, print is rarely considered as the source, even when it happens to be the truth.

Case in point: When OXM‘s July 2009 issue started to hit subscriber’s mailboxes over Memorial Day weekend, with a big juicy Mass Effect 2 10-page cover story, a subscriber posted about it to a Mass Effect community forum. No problem there; we actually plan our stories with the first likely subscriber appearance as the “spoil date” for the issue, knowing that when people get it, they will talk about it online. It’s only natural.

Well, that post made it to NeoGAF. Then press outlets like GameSpy and VG247 read NeoGAF and reported on that. Despite OXM being named as the source by the original poster, the online outlets decided that this carbon-copy of a report was not a reader summary of a printed article but “leaked information” by “forum dwellers.” No further research; no contacting OXM to find out if it was true. Nothing that requires effort.

Now, I’m sorry. I’ve worked online too; I know the pressure to get The Scoop and get new information first. But don’t you think that if you were really dedicated to getting all the info you could as soon as possible…you would get a subscription to some of these magazines — the same ones that are always cited as sources for stories that start as rumors and then turn out to be true — and not rely on third- and fourth-generation trickle-down reports? I’m not saying you have to promote the mags, but I do think if you find the information they contain news-worthy, you should cite your sources accordingly. I mean, for fuck’s sake: If you don’t have the time or clout or passion to do your job on the front lines, can’t you at least read the reports of the people who do with your own eyes?

The funny part is, for all the talk about “citizen journalism” and the online revolution, where bigger sites can’t seem to get their sources right or do even minimal research in cases like this, it’s the smaller guys who are getting it done right and showing their work. I wonder what life will be like when the major sites find themselves threatened by the next wave of media outlets, who demonstrate that it can be done both fast and thoroughly.

The media pool is large. We swim in it together. I have contacts at Joystiq and Kotaku that I can ask confirmation of their stories if I’m unclear; they do the same when they need clarification on rumors that involve OXM. It is really not hard for any outlets to take note of a few names and send a few emails when they want to know if something is real or not.

I love online. I use it daily. I have written there and will write there again. But I hate seeing the suggestion that online sites are superior when I see cases like this, where they clearly do inferior work, or no work at all.

By the way, G4 just reported that GameSpy leaked some Mass Effect 2 info. We’re all going to hell.

Amelia

In high school, I told my parents I wanted to learn how to play guitar. Of course, that means getting a guitar — but they called my bluff and said “use your sister’s.” It was a nylon-string folk guitar by Framus, thoroughly inadequate for rocking. I said I wanted an electric. “If you want an electric, you’re going to have to save up and buy it yourself.”

Mom didn’t think I’d do it. To scratch the itch, I borrowed a friend’s Strat copy — a little-known but well-built Asian brand called Yakima — for about seven months while saving up my cash from my job at the record store. My goal was to get a bright red, real Fender Stratocaster — albeit a 1957 reissue from Japan, but at least it would a new one ordered just for me. I’d visited Chet’s Music Store, which was a Fender dealer but didn’t regularly stock anything, and was told to come in when I had $600, which would be enough up front for them to order the $1000 model. Chet was a friend of the family, and while there was no deal to be cut, he was friendly and understood my enthusiasm.

The day after I graduated high school in 1989, I took my $600 in savings and asked my parents to go with me to Chet’s — it was a special moment and I wanted them to be there. Partly that was to rub their noses in it, but my parents didn’t even seem to care that I’d called their bluff; they were happy that I had saved my money and kept focused on a goal for such a long time.

Chet said “Today’s the day, huh? Okay, but before we place the order, I have something I want to show you…” And this is what he pulled out:

A 1979 Les Paul Custom, all original, in a hardshell case. Now, I knew the name, and I’d read by battered copy of the UK instructional manual Play Rock Guitar enough to know what a Les Paul was, but…well, it was almost perfectly wrong. Stratocasters were light and hourglassy and had stinging, biting tone. Les Pauls were chunky and heavy and sounded similarly fat. It was exactly the opposite of what I wanted, of everything I’d been saving for.

“Ooh, that’s pretty,” said my mom. She knew Les Paul from his hits with Mary Ford, and their television and radio appearances. I just knew him as the guy who made the Les Paul. And I had to admit, the wine red finish with the gold hardware was pretty.

We went into one of the student rooms and plugged it into an ancient Fender combo amp. I had meager skills at this point, but my mom asked if I could play Chet Atkins’ version of “Snowbird.” My dad commented that it was lovely and that Chet wouldn’t steer me wrong; if I liked it, I could trust him. I knew I was holding something valuable, but again…it wasn’t my guitar, was it? It had a tiny little bit of buckle rash but otherwise looked perfect. It had barely been played. Chet said he’d sold it to a customer some years back who wound up keeping it in his closet and, when that guy needed money, Chet was a pal and bought it back from him. But Chet wasn’t a high-priced guitar dealer; he made money from lessons. He wanted this thing out of his store for the insurance reasons alone. If I bought it for $700, I’d be doing him a favor, he said.

I looked at my dad. “I don’t think you should pass this up,” he said. He knew nothing about guitars, but as a veteran bargain hunter, he knew a good deal when he saw it. “If you don’t like it, you can always sell it or trade it for something else.” So in the back of my mind, that’s always what I’ve considered doing. I mean, who keeps their first guitar, right?

My parents loaned me the extra $100 — “you saved up the first $600, so we know you’re good for it,” said my mom — and I walked out with it in its heavy hardshell case, almost in shock. I didn’t have that “OMG this is the guitar I’ve always dreamed of” feeling. I had that “what have I done?” feeling. And a little voice in the back of my head said, “This had better go up in value, because I want to get a really nice Strat for it.”

Friends said they’d never seen a guitar like it. It was actually not that uncommon; wine red was a standard Gibson finish and it was pretty popular at the time. But not in Trenton, New Jersey, apparently, because I got nothing but suggestions that it was unique or rare. That summer I did a stage production of Hair, and my hippie costume included a gold-colored airborne insignia with big wings on it. I pinned that to my guitar strap and dubbed the guitar Amelia.

It’s with no small amount of terror that I realized that was 20 years ago this month. Chet’s Music Store was destroyed in a fire some years back; I understand that Chet himself has passed on now too.

The gold on the hardware has worn away in places, the white binding has turned yellow/orange, and there are more than a few buckle scrapes on the back now. Still, it’s in great shape overall; no damage, all original hardware (except for the strap pegs — Chet was the one who turned me on to strap locks as well as “the toothpick trick”), and the pickups still have strong output. I figure the guitar is worth about $2000 on the current market, and will only go up. Guess my dad was right.

Kat took some photos of all my guitars recently. Her shots, especially the ones of the scrapes and dings and wear and tear, made me appreciate everything I have learned on and from this Les Paul.

I think I’ll keep it.

I’m one sick fuck

This time I mean it in the “there’s stuff coming out of my lungs when I cough” way. On Sunday I got a sore throat around 2pm. By 8 that night I was woozy and had trouble walking in a straight line. The rest of this week has been spent in bed, on the couch, or wishing I was in one of those two places. Kat’s been doing her best to tend to me, pouring liquid down my throat and making soup and grabbing meds as new symptoms manifest. She’s a sweetie. She’s also probably the person who gave it to me, because I was that nursemaid to her the week prior.

I hate being sick, but I hate getting sick even more. I always feel like it’s my fault. I exposed myself to something and wasn’t smart enough to take vitamins or wash my hands or something. Chumpy. I rarely have to take time off from work for illness, but I was home four of five days this week, and the one day I wasn’t home…I was on a plane for a developer visit and a feature. Got another one of those next week, so here’s hoping I stop hacking up ectoplasmic residue by then.

I will be polite and not post photographic proof.

The Wired Mystery Issue

This issue (May 2009) makes me so happy. J.J. Abrams is the guest editor, which gave the Wired team an excuse to fill the magazine with small puzzles, coded messages, and a metapuzzle that runs throughout the mag.

I tried to do something like this back at GameProtwice — and it was the wrong magazine with the wrong audience at the wrong time — twice. But I always felt that magazines could do things like this. They could be more than just a collection of articles, if you gave the audience enough credit. You could truly dig into what the print medium does well, with design and type and frankly the expected banality of print conventions, to make for a very rewarding experience for your reader. And of course — and this is the message I keep trying to preach — you create interest in a form of media a lot of people take for granted, and would like to believe is dying altogether. Despite my personal love of puzzles, the marketing angle seems like a slam-dunk if you’re trying to build product awareness, particularly buzz for an impulse-buy print magazine. It’s certainly working for Wired, and I am absolutely thrilled to see them pull it off. As a reader, no single of Wired made me happier, ever. Not even the ones where I wrote some of the articles.

I have more to say on this topic but I think you’ll have to buy me a drink in person to get me ranting about it.

Go buy this issue of Wired you still can. It simply isn’t the same experience if you’re reading all these articles online.

Dan vs. The POD xt Live Squeak

My repair history is spotty. Taking things apart, I’m an ace. Making them work the same, if not better, afterwards? Not so much. But when the volume/wah pedal on my POD xt Live started sticking and making a horrible squeak, I knew I had to take action, even if it looked a little inimidating.

Other people online had complained about the same squeak problem and said they made it go away with a little WD-40. “WD-40 is evil!” screamed others. Someone suggested powdered graphite, which is used to lubricate locks; other said to just loosen a screw. Seemed safe enough. My warranty expired years ago, so it was time to open that sucker up and fix it.

I used a POD xt Live instead of an amp in Fast Times, as did the far more talented lead guitarist, Bistie. Our stage gear looked identical so I put a little lightning bolt on the front of mine with tape, and my stage name on the back. One of the reasons I wanted an xt Live was because it works with the digital Variax guitar that Line 6 also makes — one stomp with your foot changes not only the sound of the emulated amp but the emulated guitar that plays through it. I use a Variax on all the Palette-Swap Ninja songs, so I actually find I’m using this more now than I did when I was playing in the band.

If you’re reading this as someone who wants fix the squeak on your own xt Live, unscrew all the little rubber feet including the two underneath the pedal (which I hadn’t yet removed when I took this photo). Leave the four in the middle alone.

I was amazed at just how clean the build was inside. I like Line 6; their stuff is built like tanks and I figured it would be neat and organized inside…but I didn’t expect that.

This is the actual pedal assembly; there’s almost nothing to adjust. That gold-colored bracket screws into the bottom of the unit for stability and strength. The L-shaped silver bracket sits opposite a sensor that reads its position; there’s no potentiometer like in a regular wah/volume pedal. But the squeal was coming from the rectangular box below it — the hinge.

One side is a hex nut, the other is an allen key nut…and none of my nine allen keys would fit it. So hurray for vice-grip pliers. I was able to disassemble the whole thing (though I didn’t really need to) and shoot some graphite in-between the plastic washers. I’m pretty sure they were the culprit. Some fiddling with the wrenches got the hinge flowing freely, without being floppy (it stays in place if you want it at half-mast) and without that hideous racket.

When I put it back together it worked…with one exception. “Zero” on the volume pedal was no longer zero — I could only lower the signal to about 20%. The pedal was out of calibration, but the fix was easily found with a web search and easily performed shortly thereafter.

So, success. Chalk one up for The Repairdan. I like buying new guitar toys, but not so much that I want to toss my existing gear over small problems like this.