YouTube and the path of Zen Guitar

I am a mediocre guitarist at best. My technique is downright terrible. The nicest complement I ever received was from a friend who was very technically skilled, who told me that when I played, he could tell just how much I loved it.

So it’s with some concern that I watch the Tina S. videos.  Tina is a teenaged guitarist making waves with her cover of Van Halen’s “Eruption” on YouTube this week. It’s quite impressive:  Continue reading

My new PC, circa 2013

Order placed! It’s my first new PC since 2008, and the first I haven’t built myself since the late 90s. I went with iBuyPower because people I trust had good experiences with them, I can pick up the build locally and not even risk damage during shipping, and because their prices were crazy low — on par or better than me doing it myself. And I won’t panic about bending CPU pins or frying chips with static electricity during install!

For the folks who like to get into details, my goals were silence, a fair amount of future-proofing, and good H264 encoding performance. I don’t overclock. So, after polling some pals and the advice of columnist Nathan Edwards, here’s what I cooked up:  Continue reading

Boots? Let me tell you about my boots

My Drinky Mouse outfit: The slippers look great, but hurt like hell.

If I have learned one thing from years of inconsistent cosplay, it’s this: Don’t forget your feet. I’ve had more fun ruined by crappy footwear. I go to great lengths to get everything right and then an hour into whatever I’m doing, suddenly I’m getting blisters or my feet start cramping or whatever. Sneakers with your Boba Fett armor is something of a cop-out, but I understand why people do it. Still, I have always felt there had to be a way to have quality, comfortable footwear that makes sense with your outfit, no matter what it is. Continue reading

The best TV shows you’ve probably never seen

I finally caught up on Mad Men and Dexter. I’m going to tackle Walking Dead S2 next, and then Breaking Bad from the start, and hopefully House of Cards. There are too many good shows and not enough time to watch them all. So allow me to make things worse by bringing up some of my favorites that I cannot recommend strongly enough. I’d like to go in order of difficulty to locate:  Continue reading

Star Wars “fans” have a thing to learn from Tom Lehrer

No one is more dangerous than someone who thinks he has “The Truth.”

My personal hero in life, Tom Lehrer, said those words in regards to religion, but today I realize they apply to something far more important: Star Wars. 

Today it was reported that Zack Snyder is developing a new Star Wars film, a Jedi tale inspired by Seven Samurai (which itself inspired Lucas when creating Star Wars). We will see if these reports turn out to be true, but it doesn’t really matter, because fans have made it clear that this is a terrible thing and should not exist. A totally random comment from someone I do not know (I just searched Twitter for “Zack Snyder”) is totally representative of the chatter I’ve seen all morning:  Continue reading

Don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining linguistics

Language is alive. Language evolves. Words gain different contexts, alternate meanings, new layers of subtlety.

But just so we’re clear: “Gay,” when used in a negative judgmental context, is still something to avoid. Saying something undesirable is “gay” still draws on its use as a homophobic slur in modern society.

“But ‘gay’ also means jovial and carefree,” I hear the collegiate-dictionary crowd cry. “This is a word that has already been transformed by its alternate meaning. ‘Faggot’ used to only mean a bundle of sticks, too.”

Yes, true — do the language historians you hang out with on Xbox Live use them in their original, archaic contexts often? When these words are used today, it’s with the modern homosexual connotation, or directly derived from it. These words have gained immense power through this association, which is what makes them so desirable to the powerless. When you hear a kid calling something ‘gay,’ he is almost certainly unaware of the light-hearted definition from the 14th century; when he uses the word ‘faggot,’ he’s clearly — if only from the pejorative force with which he’s saying it — not talking about a bundle of sticks from 1550. He only knows the modern American English definition of “gay” established in the 1910s, still in use in his society — and he was introduced to it as an insult, so he’s using it now as a cruel shorthand.

“But I just use the word ‘gay’ to mean something is stupid or bad,” I hear you reply. “It doesn’t mean I hate gay people.”

Well, maybe “hate” is too strong a word for trickle-down linguistics, but…it’s definitely negative, by your own admission. And there’s an entire group of people who self-identify as gay, and have engaged in decades of social activism as they try to establish tolerance and acceptance for everything related to that word. Now that same word just happens to be your new way to say something is not up to your standards or worthy of your respect. Do you really expect me to believe that you are unaware of the relationship here? How ignorant should I assume you to be?

We can play “what-if,” though. Think of any other word that a social, ethnic, or religious group uses to identify themselves or their culture and consider using it in casual conversation as a word that means “bad.” You can’t even choose your word without knowing its modern context. Now consider how offensive (or, depending on how far your imagination goes for this assignment, potentially life-threatening) it would be to take that word into a room of strangers and say “and by that, I mean worthless.” Hell, if you did it with the name of any given sports team, you’d piss someone off.

I suggest that the best way to say something is stupid or terrible would be to use words like “stupid” or “terrible.” But if you want to use words like “gay,” I accept your choice to do that — but you then accept the responsibility that comes with using it. You are always accountable to those with whom you speak, so don’t expect that using a slur as a casual expression will go unchallenged, and don’t play dumb when you inevitably are called out for it.

A rare instance of making a difference as a game journalist

The problem with writing about videogames is that it’s all transient. As soon as someone reads your review or feature, they internalize it and move on to something else. You only hope that what you wrote helped them out in some way; you dream of making an impact.

Years ago I wrote a story for OXM where I tried to create my own XNA game. I failed — spectacularly! — but I thought the article chronicling that failure was worth writing.

I was simultaneously super proud and totally humbled to find that I was right.

Dean’s long-anticipated game Dust: An Elysian Tail comes out this week on XBLA. I’m gonna buy it.

Advice for guitarists

  • Learn to play a song. Doesn’t have to be tricky, doesn’t have to be long — but everybody can play riffs and call themselves a guitarist. Playing songs is what makes you a musician.  
  • Learn to play a song your parents know and would like to hear. They will be proud of you. 
  • Learn to tune without an electronic tuner. Armed with one reference note and harmonics, most strummers will never need anything else ever again. 
  • How you get that one reference note: Buy multiple A440 tuning forks. They are cheap. Keep one in your guitar case, one on your desk/home music area, and if you carry a bag with you every day, keep one there too. 
  • Skill and talent mean more than your gear — but don’t buy crap. If it’s cheap, there’s almost always a reason, and that reason often becomes an excuse for not playing. If you do not enjoy interacting with your instrument — it’s not comfortable, it doesn’t stay in tune, it doesn’t reflect who you are — you will not play it. Save more, spend more, buy quality, and get what you really want. Your playing will benefit. 
  • Don’t end your practice on a bad experience. If you are trying to learn something and you are sucking, end your session with something you are good at playing. Don’t walk away angry or frustrated or you won’t want to come back.