I’m not a video gamer anymore.
It’s a strange thing for me to say because I have been a lifelong gamer. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of playing Nintendo. As a child I sucked at sports (to put it mildly), but video games were the one thing that I dominated. They were a critical part of my life.
The last two years I have spent far more time listening to Adam Sessler pontificate on video games than I have spent with a controller in my hand. The man is brilliant. His take on the video game industry as well as the culture that has emerged around it over the course of my life is more compelling than the time commitment required to play most games.
I eagerly await the weekly episodes of Sessler’s Something and Casual Friday on Rev3 Games, and watch them immediately (Address the Sess is too long).
At the same time, I have a stack of unplayed games dating back nearly two years. I have stopped buying games because as much as I think I want to play them, I don’t actually play them… Except for the few weeks I spent recovering from a horrible case of food-born illness this past Spring. I stopped playing games the week before South By South West 2012, and haven’t played much since. My Xbox 360 is a Netflix machine, and I never bothered unpacking my PS3 when I moved back in September. I don’t miss it. I have no plans to acquire a next gen system.
While this is not one of my finest posts, I needed to take a moment a reflect on both how much I have changed, and how incredible Adam Sessler is. If you find gaming interesting in any way, you should give him a listen.
Contains spoilers to The Cabin in the Woods (2012), if you haven’t watch it go do it. It’s the best horror movie in decades.
Walking through Princeton, NJ with an old friend, we happened upon the window on the nifty toy store, JaZams. While JaZams is very kid-friendly, they screwed up a bit when the put this terrifying unicorn in the window.
This got me thinking… There should be a Cabin in the Woods prequel featuring everyone’s favorite murderous mare.
It would have to be a prequel… You know why.
We’ve got the plucky band of government bureaucrats: Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker, even intern Tom Lenk. They are hellbent on saving the world by voyeuristically, and ceremonially murdering a bunch of attractive teens. Except this time the plan comes together.
Our teens go down into the basement and find a toy unicorn, summoning the magnificent horned beast. Maybe it has a creepy little girl companion (not featured in the previous film), but who can deny the positive impact of a creepy evil little girl on a horror plot? That’s right, you can’t.
Horror hijinks ensue. Lots of impaling; a touch of slashing; a bit of stabbing; a pinch of one-liners; and some goring.
Maybe they release it as a series of web-shots Dr. Horrible style (perhaps a Bad Horse cameo?). They can probably do it on a smaller budget since the sets and many of the effects were designed for the previous film.
I’m not saying that this is high-brow, but I trust Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon to come up with something violent, yet poignant. They already did it once.
That’s all I want for Christmas.
I can’t tell you how to groove like BB King, rock like Van Halen, shred like John Petrucci, solo like Derek Trucks, or do whatever the hell Gabriela Quintero does with a guitar… But I can tell you how to become an amazing beginner guitarist.
I’ve been playing the guitar for over six years and this past August was the first time I felt like I stopped being a beginner.
You see, I have zero natural ability. I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m actually proud of it. Everything I have learned on the instrument has been a result of persistence and perseverance.
With that in mind, here are the eleven things that I wish someone told me before I picked up the guitar.
1: It’s gonna hurt
I’m not talking about a metaphorical hurt (although that happens too). I’m talking real physical pain. Pressing guitar strings against the fretboard creates a special kind of pain for beginners. It’s not unbearable, but I didn’t see it coming.
You’re going to have to play through the pain and build calluses. Once you do, it’s painless to play.
- Patience – Play for 15 minutes a day until the pain goes away.
- “Summer of ’69″ it – Play until your fingers bleed. This wasn’t an option for me. When I started learning I was running a Fortune 50 website for a living, and needed to type a lot. My fingertips were already raw enough from 15 minutes a day, and my boss would not have been ok with me calling out while my bloody stumps healed.
Icing your fingers will help, but not as much as you’ll want.
Most people who buy a guitar don’t make it past the three-month mark because they don’t play through the pain. Don’t be that person.
2: Get an electric guitar
This seems counterintuitive to new players, but electric guitars are much easier to play than acoustic guitars.
- The strings are lighter, so you don’t have to press them as hard
- The necks are thinner
- It’s lighter to hold
- The body is thinner so you can more easily wrap your arms around it
- An amplified guitar with a little gain masks a lot of mistakes (don’t worry if you don’t know what gain is, you’ll see the knob)
- They’re just cool and fun
Also, buy a guitar that you think looks cool. This won’t make playing any easier, but it will make you want to pick it up more.
Some good starter options:
- Fender Strat Pack – This was what I started with
- eBay – Guitarists, like photographers are frequently selling gear to trade up
- Craigslist – There are also lots of beginner guitars on the market from quitters
You’re going to be shocked by how much time you spend tuning your guitar.
Everything knocks your guitar out of tune; especially playing it and minor changes in humidity or temperature (no joke). This will be made worse by the fact that you’ll probably be playing a starter guitar; they aren’t famous for keeping a tune.
Two critical skills:
- Recognizing when you’re slightly out of tune
- Tuning up quickly
How to tune:
When you’re tuning start from the low E string, the thickest one, and go from there. Make sure that the strings are really close to tuned, then make a second pass trying to get each string dead-on. It’s important to go from the thickest strings to the thinnest because the thicker ones put more tension on the neck and can impact the tuning of the thinner ones more.
Checking your tuning:
After you tune, try to play a E minor chord. Strum on that for a while and make sure that everything sounds good. E minor is probably the easiest one to fret correctly so it’s a good test.
Buy a vibration tuner. There are plenty of tuning phone apps, but none of them will match the ease-of-use and precision of a vibration tuner. It’s one of the best pieces of gear you’ll ever buy.
4: Learn a few basic chords and a scale, then learn a song
You’d be shocked how many songs you can play with the following:
(via Guitar for Beginners)
Once you have those down, find yourself a few songs to practice. Bob Dylan has a lot of great and simple stuff, but chord sites and YouTube are packed with entry-level songs to learn. Find something that suites your style.
5: Focus on your strumming and picking
The way you strum and pick is going to define you as a player. You can take the same notes or chords, and strum/pick them in different ways with a wide range of results. It’s pretty incredible. Explore it.
Get your strum down. It is the motor that keeps your playing going.
Longterm you’ll be able to pick up new chords and scales pretty quickly once you can control your strumming and picking on the basics.
6: Learn from lots of places
YouTube, tab websites, and lessons are all great in their own ways. I learned from a big mix of the three.
Many of the most valuable lessons I learned came from playing in guitar jams. The tips I picked up from the veteran players were amazing, but even better was that feeling I got when I made music with other people. The first time I locked-in with another player we were jamming on “The Weight” by The Band. That chordal riff in the chorus was a total pain in the ass to learn, but once I had it down it was magical. That night where it came together for me is a treasured memory.
Playing live, unaccompanied, and at my friends’ wedding was what pushed me out of my perpetual state of beginner. Knowing that my butt was on the line to perform was the kick I needed to really put everything I had into practicing. It was one of the most terrifying and rewarding experiences of my life.
7: Leave your guitar out
Get a guitar stand and leave you’re guitar out in a place that is constantly in reach. Pick it up often, even if it’s just for a couple of minutes.
A guitar in a case is a guitar that isn’t being played.
8: Crappy tone
It’s going to take a while to get your chords to sound correct.
When you’re starting out, you’ll have problems putting the proper pressure on the strings, so they won’t vibrate correctly. Similarly, you’re going to accidentally touch strings that you don’t mean to, and this will stop them from vibrating.
Be mindful of this, and keep pushing yourself to get a full sound out of each chord.
A good way to tell if you’re fretting your chords correctly is to pick each string in the chord individually. If something isn’t vibrating properly, you’ll hear an icky dull sound. Those ugly sounds should fuel your fire to make pretty noises.
Once you’re comfortable with some basic chords, trying learning to play an F chord. Give yourself time. For me, learning to play an F chord on command was dreadful. I could not do it… But I got there. Once I did, most other barre chords became pretty easy.
10: Gear (toys)
You don’t need a lot of it. Don’t bother with pedals, and lots of expensive stuff.
Once you’ve got your calluses and are committed to playing, you might want to upgrade your electric guitar, or get an acoustic.
Don’t go nuts on gear. If you have disposable income, it’s really easy to buy lots of stuff… And better guitarists will secretly covet all of the crap you bought and resent you for not having a clue how to use it. A better guitar will have a minor impact on your overall abilities. It won’t be dramatic.
While we’re on the subject of gear…
11: It’s not your gear
You really do suck.
Your fingers aren’t too thick. Your fingers aren’t too thin. It’s not your guitar, pick, or amp. Your playing sounds bad because you’re terrible.
Eric Clapton could pick up a cheap starter guitar and make amazing music with it. Never forget it.
Accept the truth. Give yourself permission to suck, but don’t quit.
Practice. Get better. It’s a wonderful and worthy journey. The beauty of the guitar is that you will never run out of things to learn.
I accidentally discovered that “Airplane Mode” is the most useful feature on my mobile device.
As my Galaxy Nexus from December of 2011 (I know, I know… it’s a relic) aged, the battery started sucking more than it already did. In order to combat this, I started to put it on airplane mode on the subway, in meetings, at lunch and dinner to conserve the battery while still allowing it to function as my watch. In doing so, I made an important discovery.
When I put my phone on airplane mode, I stop worrying about it.
I stop experiencing phone-schizophrenia. Symptoms include:
- compulsively grabbing the device, and turning it on to see if anything new came
- feeling phantom vibrations (yeah, you know you feel them too)
- hearing the ringtone when no one was calling
- and ignoring friends and loved ones
As a result I started to pay more attention to the people around me, and it’s wonderful.
One thing is clear in my new world of airplane mode socialization. Most people lack self-control when it comes to their devices. Even people who complain about how everyone has their face buried in their phones.
The more I attention I pay to the people around me the more I notice how many phones are just sitting on bars or tables. Their owners casually and compulsively checking them without even realizing that they are doing it. Now that I’m more aware of it, I notice when I do it. I never used to notice.
Kill your signal from time-to-time. If you’re spending time with someone you care about, you’ll have an even better time if you’re devoting your full attention.
Trust me, the world won’t end. It wasn’t that long ago that we weren’t all in constant contact with one another. I promise your texts, emails, and tweets will wait. That’s the beauty of asynchronous communication; it doesn’t require an instant response.
And don’t worry about that missed call, they’ll leave a message. I promise you their phone will be on when you call later.
Last week it came to light that the NSA has been snooping on the personal mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Following the revelation, President Obama spoke with an understandably angry Chancellor Merkel, and assured her that the United States is not monitoring her now, but wouldn’t comment on the past… Which means we were obviously monitoring her.
This is clearly messed up.
This isn’t 1939, and the leader of Germany isn’t Adolf Hitler. Chancellor Merkel is the leader of one of our closest allies… But believe it or not, this isn’t the scary part.
Two terribly possibilities
I’m not naive. Espionage and diplomacy are two sides of the same coin. They have been since the birth of nation-states. However, there are two possibilities here. Either…
President Obama knew this was happening, or he did not.
He claims he did not know that the NSA was spying on her.
If he knew
If the President knew that his spooks were spying on the Chancellor, this is scary because the implied paranoia is scary. Really scary.
It also means that he’s lying.
If he didn’t know
If the President was truly unaware of the NSA’s snooping on the leader of Germany this is completely terrifying.
Every time a new NSA abuse has hit the press, Mr. Obama has claimed that he didn’t know what was going on, and would have to ask them what they were up to.
These abuses have been surfacing for half a year, and still the President isn’t up to speed?
It’s reached a point where it’s clear that the President is:
- Playing dumb, and lying
- He really has no control over the NSA
Both options are terrifying. The latter is much scarier.
It baffles me that the President doesn’t recognize how insane it is that the United States built such an expansive surveillance system that the President doesn’t even know when we’re spying on his allies.
The leadership of the NSA needs to be cleaned out, and a full audit of that system needs to happen. The American people shouldn’t be learning about these abuses through leaks, and the President of the United States sure as hell shouldn’t be learning his own administration’s behavior through leaks.
Something’s rotten in DC.
Strange as it may seem, there is a legal reason why there are so many super hero movies. No kidding.
Before we dive into the movies, let’s talk about who owns these characters.
Comic character ownership
With the exception of a few franchises like Hellboy, Kick Ass, and Judge Dredd, most comic super heroes are owned by Marvel (a subsidiary of Disney) and DC (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers [which is owned by Time Warner]).
- The X-Men
- The Fantastic Four
- Captain America
- Iron Man
- Black Widow
- The rest of the Avengers
- Ghost Rider
- The Punisher
- Silver Surfer
- Nick Fury
And in the comics, all of these characters interact with one another on a regular basis (except for Blade… Marvel loves to forget that he exists because he is way cooler in the movies).
- Wonder Woman
- Green Lantern
- The Flash
And in the comics, all of these characters interact with one another on a regular basis (seriously, DC keeps trying to make people like Aquaman).
Marvel / DC Comics Crossovers
Crossovers between the two companies have happened, but they pretty much take a Constitutional Amendment to make them a reality… And the stories always end up being monuments to creative compromise.
DC movie rights
DC owns the movie rights to all of their characters. Nothing confusing here.
Marvel movie rights
Marvel on the other hand does not.
Back before the boom in super hero movies, Marvel decided to sell off movie rights to production studios which resulted in some hilarious terrible and little known movies such as:
- Nick Fury: Agent of Shield (1998) starring David Hasselhoff
- Captain America (1990) with an obviously plastic shield
- Fantastic Four (1994) which I haven’t seen, but have on good authority sucks badly
This method also produced X-Men (2000) and Spider-Man (2002) staring Toby Maguire. The success of these two movies marks the beginning of the super hero movie boom.
DC produced Batman Begins, and then took a bath in the ocean of cash they made.
Marvel woke up and realized that they were sitting on a gold mine. However they already sold off movie rights for many of their characters.
Sony owns Spider-Man and most important associated characters and villains.
Fox owns The X-Men and the Fantastic Four (including the Silver Surfer & Galactus) and most important associated characters and villains.
Disney / Marvel
The Avengers, SHIELD, and all associated characters and villains… Along with just about all other Marvel characters not listed.
WTF does this all mean?
Disney / Marvel
Disney has built a massive movie-verse where all of their characters live and interact from time-to-time. At the moment it’s helmed by Kevin Feige and Joss Whedon, and culminated in The Avengers.
Clearly they made a good decision.
They have a highly organized and ever-expanding long-term plan to continue pumping out super hero flicks. Their current movie pipeline that goes years into the future, and they are constantly expanding farther.
On the success of The Avengers, Fox has allegedly decided to make their own Marvel movie-verse featuring the X-Men and Fantastic Four. They brought in comic writer Mark Millar who has written successful runs of both franchises in the comics to consult.
They also have to keep putting out movies with these characters, or the rights will revert back to Marvel. So while they don’t have much of an announced pipeline past the next X-Men movie, you can expect Fox to flood the market over the coming years.
If they lose the rights, they will be gone for good. Marvel won’t be selling movie rights again, you can take that to the bank.
Sony is in the same boat as Fox. They own the rights to Spider-Man, but they have to keep putting out movies or the rights revert back to Marvel (which was why a Spidey-reboot came so quickly).
Spider-Man is in a movie ghetto of sorts. It would take a monumental legal arrangement for him to appear in any other comic franchise movie (which is a big disappointment to many fans).
The folks at DC aren’t in a legal rush. They have no expiration dates on their characters, but they do want to make Avengers-level cash. Which is why they plan to create their own movie-verse featuring Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and some other Justice League characters.
… So you can expect them to proliferate like crazy as well, beginning with the recently announced Batman vs. Superman (2015).
The strangest pieces of all of this insanity is that there are two characters where the movie rights are owned by both Fox & Disney/ Marvel.
The Scarlet Witch and her brother Quicksilver are Avengers (and will be in The Avengers 2), but they are also the children of Magneto… Making them X-Men characters. Quicksilver (as a different actor) will appear in the upcoming X-Men movie as well.
This chaos also results in disappointments for fans (beyond Spidey).
- Ellen Page plays Shadowcat in the X-Men franchise.
- Shadowcat is Joss Whedon’s favorite character.
- Page would love to be in a Shadowcat movie written & directed by Whedon.
- Lots of fans would (myself included) would love to see that movie.
- It won’t happen for the foreseeable future because Whedon is under contract with Disney/ Marvel while Shadowcat is owned by Fox.
Whether you love them or hate them (I have mixed feelings), there will be lots more super hero movies in the coming years. There will be lots more movie crossovers, and TV spinoffs. Get used to it.
Also, Spider-Man fans… Get used to disappointment. You won’t be seeing Spidey crossovers in other franchises anytime soon.
Snapchat doesn’t fulfill on it’s promise. It can’t, and it won’t. Not now, and not in the foreseeable future.
Self-destructing pictures only work if another copy can’t be made.
The obvious problem: screen shots
They kind of solved the easy problem of screen-shots by logging and notifying the sender if one of the receivers takes a screen shot.
It doesn’t eliminate the threat that a photo can be stored, but it does mitigate the risk a fair amount.
Now onto the less obvious, and much larger problem…
How to secretly copy a Snapchat pic
- Receive a Snapchat photo
- Take out a second phone/camera
- Open the Snapchat photo
- Take a picture of the screen with the second device
Et voila… You now have an undetectable, savable and resendable copy of the previously private Snapchat.
We live in a world full of cameras my friends. Never forget it.
If a Snapchat photo is unopened, it still lives on Snapchat’s servers, and can be turned over to the authorities. Which has happened about a dozen times.
Dishonesty in the product
Let’s be real. There are a limited number of use-cases for self-destructing photos. Sending unimportant photos to friends, and sending really, really private photos to friends.
Snapchat sucks. It cannot do what it promises, because what it promises is not achievable through software. Full stop.
There is no such thing as a private photo delivery system.
If you don’t want people seeing a particular photo, then don’t take it, and certainly don’t send it to someone. Once you do send a private photo, the only security that remains is the integrity and respect of the receiver.
Practice safe computing.
(image via Wikipedia)