Friday, October 31, 2008

This Post Is Unique

This post also breaks completely new ground for me.

It is the first post to this blog I'm writing on an open-source operating system on a computer I own.

After several weeks of research inspired in no small part by my read through The Pirate's Dilemma earlier this year, I took the plunge, partitioned my laptop's hard drive and installed the new release of Ubuntu, a version of Linux.

Linux is a completely free piece of software, and what 'open source' means is that the code is freely available to distribute and alter, as long as you agree to distribute your altered code. So anyone can work to improve it and make it better. Think of it a little bit like Wikipedia: a whole lot of minds working on various parts of a project to try to improve it, and while not everything will be an improvement, it eventually gets there.

There are several reasons one would consider switching to Linux. Security: not really a problem, since my home wireless network is locked down tight and viruses are only a problem online like they are in real life - avoid the scuzzy back-alleys of the Internet and you're fine. Stability: also not really a problem for me. Computers crash, hardware goes out, it happens. Microsoft sucks: well, they're my client so I can't really claim that and I know it's really more of a bureaucratic institution than anything intentionally evil. I'd considered a Mac, but the only thing worse than closed source computer software (which OSX is), is closed hardware. You require me to buy my RAM only from your overpriced store? Go to hell.

But here's the crux of why I switched. Because open source, like Wikipedia, is an entirely different business model and one that I firmly believe is on the rise as more and more of us migrate to the cloud. Old business models are based on consumption, from the end user and from the corporation itself. A company must grow. Right? Maybe. What happens when it doesn't, or when it grows in a different manner? Can a company not only give away its product for free, but give away the secrets to how its product is made for free and let people make changes as they see fit?

Apparently it can be done.

To be perfectly honest, from a practical point of view, this is an experiment. I don't expect to use Linux all of the time, and I know I won't be able to play a lot of my games in Linux so I'll be back in Windows when necessary. But for most of my computing tasks - writing, surfing the Internet, listening to music - there's no reason not to at least try it out.

Oddly enough my tipping point came from a piece of software that can't even run on Linux yet: Google's Chrome browser. I'm a hardcore Firefox user and have been for ages, but I've been doing about 95% of my browsing in Chrome lately because I like the interface and its speed better, despite not being able to do some of the things I want it to do. And I realized that if I was willing to learn a new browser (which is where I spend most of my time on any given computer anyway), then there was no reason not to try something new on the operating system front.

I'm still learning my way around but I like it a lot so far. It's very fast and slick, and so far has done everything I need it to do with ease. I can easily dual-boot back to Windows if I need it. If I end up getting a new laptop this winter, one of the first things I'm going to do with it is put Ubuntu on it as well.

Bob and Angela - you guys ought to be proud.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Game That Matters

Normally I wouldn't spend an entire blog post talking about one Xbox Live Arcade game, but in this instance I'm going to make a massive exception. I pulled out Braid the other night and finally finished it. And I'm happy to say I did it about 99% on my own, without looking at a walkthrough (that last 1%, well…)

Much has been made of Braid's great puzzles, ambiguous plot, amazing look and feel and innovative gameplay so rather than parrot what I've read other places, I wanted to talk a little bit about why I liked it so much. Which was all of those things, but more.

The guys at Penny Arcade referred to Braid non-ironically as 'a game that matters,' and I agree although not because the plot itself is anything that groundbreaking. Don't get me wrong, the plot is great, a puzzle unto itself and is a Nautilus shell spiraling inward with layers of meaning and interpretation (just look at the various attempts to explain the plot online for proof of that.) But the narrative structure itself is what's so groundbreaking and ultimately satisfying about Braid.

At its heart, the game is a traditional platformer. The time mechanic is cool, but isn't exactly 100% original (Prince of Persia: Sands of Time did something like this as well, as a way to fix mistakes, much like in Braid.) But Braid does something no other game has managed yet: it takes the platformer mechanics – including the time-rewind bits and other parts – and actually makes them part of the narrative itself. POP: SoT anticipated this but never fully followed through, and Braid takes it and cements it as a central part of the game.

I'd compare it to a television narrative or play that broke the fourth wall. Doing it once or twice can be funny or make a dramatic point, but when it becomes part of the narrative itself it's something totally different. The best literary analogue I can think of is a live performance of Copenhagen by Michael Frayn, where the audience becomes part of the play's narrative itself.

The thing that's surprising about Braid isn't that the platformer has been changed so elegantly into a piece of the narrative itself, but that it hasn't been done sooner. You could argue that this is what video games – if you take the 'games as art' route, which I don't see any reason not to – have always done. The narrative relies 100% on user input, on decision-making or at the very least pushing a stick left and right to make a character move around. And yet somehow it was always a secondary element to the plot of a game, apart from RPGs that relied heavily on user decisions (Fallout, Torment) or simply 'progressing the story' by moving a character closer to his goal.

Braid even plays with this concept, because as Tim (the main character) progresses through the game his 'goal' gets farther and farther away. I'm not going to spoil it in case you want to play, but suffice to say that even the 'push your joystick to move the character closer to his goal' mechanic becomes subverted and even an important part of Braid's narrative structure – in both traditional and altered forms.

So check Braid out on Xbox Live Arcade or on the web. It's the highest-rated game on XBLA and for good reason. It's a game that matters, because it sets a damn high standard for what can be done with video games, even platformers that may not seem like the most obvious venue for storytelling. I can't wait to see what Braid inspires.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Knight Club

I was discussing art with the Beautiful Competition over a lovely dinner of Italian food, pink Champagne and lemon gelato last evening (it's a difficult life, isn't it?) and we got on the subject of film. I've been thinking a lot about The Dark Knight lately, which I've reviewed before, as a cultural touchstone or artefact: that is, something that captures a certain kind of zeitgeist. I realized that I like Dark Knight for many of the same reasons I like another artefact film: Fight Club. They're excellent films to examine side-by-side.

Fight Club came out in 1999, and managed to capture the late Clinton-era zeitgeist in a way that no other film can claim. The notion of office workers, bored by their jobs and betrayed by promises that they would be ‘rock gods or movie stars' turning to small-scale domestic terrorism to show their dissatisfaction reflected a growing ennui among the young professional class. It was a film born from economic safety, a remote threat of real terrorism (can you imagine Fight Club being released after 9/11?) and a view that the villain is not only likable, he's something to which we might aspire as he's just an aspect of us.

Other images I associate with this time are almost straight out of the film: the pictures of the impotently-smashed windows of Starbucks' and McDonalds during the so-called Battle of Seattle WTO protests. Rather than striking at the true culprits, it's as though the anarchists decided upon direct action for direct action's sake, vandalizing franchises that represented something tangentally associated with the targets of their rage. They struck against the same coffee shops where they purchased their own tall skinny soy lattes, as if what they hated the most was something inside themselves.

Then consider Dark Knight, where a much more separated hero battles a villain who is more like a force of Nature. Bruce Wayne is the military-industrial complex, a do-gooding rich person who feels that the best way to alleviate crime is not to redistribute wealth or fund educational programs, but to physically beat criminals and purchase hotels by writing personal checks. His superpowers consist of nothing more than access to the latest military weapons technology that in turn fuels his vast personal fortune when he's not using it to hit escaped mental patients.

On the other side is the Joker, a literal wildcard who makes quite clear that he wishes only to cause destruction and chaos. He has no logical plan or reasoning – he is, by his own admission, a ‘dog chasing cars, and wouldn't know what to do if [he] caught one' – acting entirely on instinct. His villainy comes not from any rhyme or reason; in fact, it's difficult to even call it evil as it doesn't appear to be motivated by a need to cause harm other than the opposite of the established order. In a way, it's a perfect and safe Western dream: good people in the military-corporate network keeping us safe from forces of darkness that cannot (or we simply refuse to take the time to) be understood.

Don't get me wrong; I loved the Dark Knight but its overtones are difficult to ignore. It's interesting to compare the two films as far as what they indicate of the national mindset, what makes a ‘hero' and what's acceptable both for heroes and villains. In fact, are the villains actually us? How much are we like them? These questions are nothing new to comics or stories, but the ways in which the answers change are very indicative of how our mindset shifts, however subtly. In this case, I think it reflects a growing cynicism, that the ennui of the late 1990s was replaced first with a renewed optimism and faith in leadership, government and military which was the squandered and eventually taken advantage of, creating a reaction possibly more cynical than the previous one.

Oddly enough, it's not the heroes in these films that are the most accurate reflections of the times but the villains themselves. Tyler Durden's rage against the corporate machine manifesting as minor acts of terrorism and simple human empowerment with material denial is a perfect model of the aimless feeling of basic dissent we exhibited at the end of the 1990s. Clinton lied, but he lied about getting blowjobs. The economy looked pretty good. We weren't involved in any foreign wars, and had the full backing of NATO and the UN in Kosovo.

The Joker is us now, rage without focus, the anti-structure. Whatever's in place is bad, because it's inherently corrupt and probably going to screw us anyway. Piles of money in shipping containers? Just stuff to be burned, because hey, the guys at the top have been bleeding it out of the good citizen of Gotham anyway. And we should probably be punished in some way because we're complacent in putting these power structures in place to begin with. The commoners are as much to blame as anyone else, and it's better just to burn it all and start again.

It's hard to imagine a Joker smashing a Starbucks', but it's also hard to imagine Tyler Durden forcing commoners and criminals to face a prisoner's dilemma. And it's hard to imagine us accepting either doing those things, exactly because it would be so out of context of the times.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

My Read-Roll, Updated

About a year ago I posted my read-roll, the list of blogs I regularly read through RSS. I do approximately 99% of my reading through RSS now and I'm taking today to do a little housecleaning, both around the house and around the blog. I realized some elements of the old Puppet Show are woefully out of date, including the Control Panel that still had WizKids page on it (nuked that just now) and the blog roll, which is really just a list of friends.

So here's my updated read-roll, with the associated reasons why I regularly read these blogs and why you should check them out. Pardon my simplistic classification system. If your blog isn't here, why don't you drop me a line in the comments with a link and I'll check you out?

    Apocalypse Blogs
  • Post-Apocalypse UK News. Post-apocalyptic things - movies, books, etc. - with a focus on the UK.
  • Quiet Earth. Simply put, Quiet Earth is the blog I'd write if I had time to write a blog full-time. Comprehensive in the way only the best news blogs are, it covers every scrap of news about post-apocalyptic and apocalyptic fiction in all of its many forms. Should they ever need a new or additional London correspondent, they should get in touch.

  • The Fate of the Artist. Eddie Campbell, who illustrated From Hell and was kind enough to link to my From Hell Walking/Riding Tour post, blogs here. I cannot say enough good things about him or his art, so I'll let the link speak for itself.
  • Fast becoming an online standard, xkcd is probably the only online comic I read every strip, and enjoy about 90% of the time.

    Cool Stuff - AKA my catchall category.
  • Anacrusis. You may remember this blog from last time I did this exercise, and I'm happy to say that it is as good as it was then if not better. Still an enjoyable daily read.
  • Boing Boing. I get most of the good links if my friends' shared items anyway, but old standard Boing Boing is on my list.
  • Flying Pizza Kitty. I don't remember how I found this blog, but it consists of animated GIFs of a cat on a flying carpet in a variety of situations. Has a very distinctive 8-bit feel.
  • Francesco Explains It All. Francesco Marciuliano, a writer and cartoonist, posts here. His posts are generally that kind of dry, biting humor that makes for an excellent read after a long day at work.
  • Gibson Blog. Author William Gibson writer this blog. It is exactly what you'd expect from that equation.
  • I CAN HAZ CHEEZBURGER. I'm almost ashamed to admit I read this every day, and occasionally even laugh out loud at those crazy cats with their Impact font expressions.
  • io9. Gawker Media's Sci-Fi blog. Comprehensive, thought-provoking and often chock-full of interesting content.
  • Jericho Blog. I keep this in my feeds in the hope that someday it will be updated with news of Jericho Season 3.
  • John Cleese's Cleeseblog. Yes, former Python John Cleese has a blog. Still in its relative infancy, it is rapidly becoming a must-read.
  • Laughing Squid. As noted in the prior read-roll post, I found Laughing Squid during the Vista launch days. I still read it every day, and Scott is an excellent source for various artistic strangeness.
  • Lifehacker. I admit I largely skim Lifehacker as it is far more comprehensive than I have time to read, but there's always some really cool content there.
  • Mashable! Mashable is kind of the 'it-girl' place for the social media industry. If you're on Mashable, you're 'it.' I've never been on Mashable.
  • Mr & Mrs Smith Boutique & Luxury Hotel Collections. Doesn't exactly roll of the tongue, does it? A blog run by a travel company catering to couples and run out of London, they offer occasional deals and more importantly inspiration for travelling.
  • O Chateau Blog | Stuff Parisians Like. A blog by Olivier Magny. My French coworker linked me to this blog, which is routinely hilarious even if you aren't Parisian, French or in either place. It reads exactly how I'd imagine a Parisian's blog to read.
  • Offbeat Earth. I cannot remember how I found this gem, but it's a (mostly) picture blog about some of the generally crazy stuff you can find in this strange world of ours.
  • Paleo-Future. They haven't updated in over a month so I hope everything's alright. Paleo-Future collects old news stories that predict what the future will be like, and compares them to how things have actually turned out.
  • Proton Charging. I'm a Ghostbusters fan, and this site is your number one source of news for Ghostbusters-related things. And yes, there is news for Ghostbusters-related things. More than you'd imagine, probably.
  • Something Awful Frontpage. There's a frontpage?
  • Strange Maps. Another blog that I cannot recall how I found, but I read consistently when it updates. The blogger celebrates strange maps, either fictional, real, or just plain unusual.
  • The Big Picture. I just added this within the last week, through one of my friends' shared items feed. It offers big pictures.
  • YesButNoButYes Stories. I literally just added this feed yesterday. This is another collection of strange and interesting things.
  • Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted). Have science, will travel. A scientist's blog about science things and her travels, although it seems to be more of the later than the former. She also has a cool 'mystery bird' that she posts each day during the week so readers can try to guess/research what the bird is.

    Cricket Blogs
  • One of the two cricket blogs I read in my quest to try to make sense of the sport.
  • King Cricket. And here's the other one.

    Friends and Family
  • Accidentally Jewish. My friend and co-worker Leah's blog, about a variety of things, but often about experiences related to her conversion to Judaism.
  • Become What You Behold. My friend Roger's blog.
  • Being(s) Abroad. My buddy Brandon recently moved to Israel with his new wife, and this is their ex-pat blog.
  • Bhagwan Redux. My friend Scott's blog.
  • Confessions of a Palindrome. My friend and former co-worker Hannah writes this blog.
  • A Doodle A Day. Buddy and fellow Alliterate Stan! posts, as you might guess, a doodle a day here.
  • Dthon. Scott, former coworker and fellow Alliterate, blogs here from time to time.
  • Grubb Street. Friend and fellow Alliterate Jeff Grubb's personal blog.
  • High School Poetry. Angela hasn't updated in almost a year, but I know she will someday!
  • Knit Jenious. I've linked to my friend Jen's blog recently and it's still worth checking out.
  • Nothing good can come of this.... My friend and former coworker Jon's blog.
  • Ober Dicta. My friend Seth doesn't blog much anymore, but I keep his feed warm just in case.
  • Stephen D. Sullivan. Although I've never met him face to face, I owe a lot of my current fiction writing career to Stephen Sullivan and his Blue Kingdoms anthologies.
  • The Monkey King. Friend and fellow Alliterate Wolfgang's blog.
  • Vault. My friend Bob from college blogs here from time to time. I wish I could register to post comments there.
  • Who's Your Baba? A little experiment from my family to see if they could blog. So far, I think everyone's updated once or twice and kind of let it sit.
  • Tipping the Scales. My friend and coworker Amy started this blog, which I'm sure will start to get rolling when she's more into blogging.

  • Adventure Classic Gaming. These guys are trying to keep the spirit of the old-school adventure game alive.
  • Adventure Gamers' Blog. From the site, a community of - yes - adventure gamers, including guys who love the classics.
  • Avant Game. A blog by Jane, an ARG designer who it turns out helped work on Superstruct, where I've been spending some of my time lately.
  • My Xbox 360's Blog. Smart little machine, isn't it?
  • Classic Let's Play. Videos of old adventure games, run by yours truly.
  • Darths & Droids. Hilarious webcomic about gamers and RPGs, set over a campaign spanning the Star Wars films.
  • Dennis Detwiller's Blog. One of my favorite RPG writers/designers blogs here.
  • Fallout 3: A Post-Nuclear Blog. This blog has been tracking Fallout 3 news since the last time I did this post, and will likely shut down once the game releases officially later this month.
  • Gamerscore Blog. Microsoft's gaming blog. More advertorial now than anything else.
  • Grand Text Auto. Calling GTA a 'gaming blog' is a bit like calling the Louvre an 'art gallery.' These guys are into the theory behind interactive fiction, and a whole host of other things too.
  • Grumpy Gamer. Ron Gilbert, designer of Monkey Island, occasionally blogs here.
  • How They Got Game. This blog, although updated infrequently, is always a great read about the history of video games.
  • Kotaku. Hey, I have to get my current gaming news from somewhere.
  • Online Fandom. It's really tenuous to classify this with gaming blogs, but it's the only category I could see as being close. Online Fandom is a great read about events and theory behind interaction online - focusing on entertainment. Which can mean gaming, and ARGs specifically.
  • Play This Thing! Daily (kind of) reviews of games, from video to tabletop and more. A great discovery mechanism for finding new games.
  • Robin D. Laws. Robin Laws is a big name in the RPG industry, and his blog about gaming and writing is consistently thought-provoking. He also does some pretty funny webcomics.
  • Roleplaying Tips 2.0. Not so much a blog as it is a journal, RPGTips2.0 still has really good - you guessed it - RPG tips. I have used a lot of their suggestions as DM in the past, and will do so again when I'm back in America and DMing regularly.
  • The Escapist. I subscribe to this mostly for Yahtzee's reviews, which you can't get in their own RSS feed.
  • Total War Center Forums. Some forums actually have RSS feeds for their news! TWC is my source for news from the Total War series, of which I am a hopeless addict. There's a new one coming out next year...
  • Twenty Sided. Despite being named for a dice, Twenty Sided does gaming news from across the spectrum with insightful commentary as well.
  • Wonderland. Wonderland is run by Alice Taylor, who works on 'social software' - IE, multiplayer games. I'm not sure how I found this blog originally but I find her posts original, insightful and thought-provoking.

  • (pre)texts. I just subscribed to this blog on Friday through a link from one of the other history blogs I read, so I can't much vouch for its content yet. Yes, it's half in Greek, and no, I don't speak Greek.
  • Roman Archaeology. Guess what this blog covers? News about archaeological finds of Roman ruins. Archaeology, specifically the Iron Age, is a hobby of mine so I read every word of every update on this blog.
  • Roman Times. What Roman Archaeology doesn't cover, Roman Times does. Roman Times is more like an online scholarly journal, but updates regularly and frequently.
  • The Archaeology of the Mediterranean World. A grad student authors this blog, which covers his adventures as an archaeologist focused on the Greeks, Romans and other inhabitants of the Mediterranean.

    London Blogs
  • An American in London. She's not in London anymore and doesn't update much, but I still keep her on my read-roll because she was so helpful before I moved.
  • diamond geezer. 'Geezer' doesn't mean 'old guy' in the UK like it does in the US, and as far as I can tell diamond geezer isn't old. In fact, his tours of London neighborhoods are absolutely fascinating, extremely well-researched and a pleasure to read. I learned of this blog because some people at Edelman talked to him once, I checked it out and was hooked.
  • Going Underground's Blog. A blog devoted entirely to the Tube. Yes, and it's probably one of the absolute best London blogs. Annie Mole does an amazing job of collecting news, making interesting posts and taking pictures of people's shoes on the Tube. She's also a very nice person in real life.
  • London Bloggers. The blog for the London Bloggers meet-up group. Transparency notice: I worked with them on behalf of one my clients once to sponsor an event, but was a 'member' of the group before then. Not that there's actual membership, mind.
  • Londonelicious: A London Restaurant Blog. Nothing but reviews of restaurants in and around London. Helpful, since the Beautiful Competition and I enjoy eating out.
  • Londonist. I know a couple of the people who write for it, and it's a member of the Gothamist network. It's also the single-best source for London news online as far as I'm concerned.
  • Prince Charles Cinema. They publish their showtimes as an RSS feed. Isn't that helpful?
  • Rachel from North London. Rachel's from north London, I'm from north London. I can't recall how I found her blog, but I read it faithfully.
  • That Canadian Girl. Blog written by a Canadian ex-pat in London; I found this through Twitter, believe it or not.
  • The Daily Mash. The Daily Mash is The Onion for the UK, except it posts three or four new stories each day.
  • The London Review of Breakfasts. One of my favorite blogs, because the Beautiful Competition and I love eating breakfast together on the weekends.

    Music Blogs
  • Ceci N'est Pas un Blog. Cover songs, but hasn't updated in a while.
  • Cover Freak. An awesome cover song blog. Consistently posts great songs.
  • Cover Lay Down. Another awesome cover song blog that focuses on folk covers. That would be folk artists covering other songs, mind you.
  • Cover Me. Cover Me has an amazing variety of cover songs, and regularly posts stuff I've never heard before.
  • Fong Songs. Cover and more covers. If you're into covers, Fong is a must-read.
  • Hectic City - The Kleptones. Blog for The Kleptones, my favorite mash-up artist(s). This is how I find out about new Kleptones music.
  • My Old Kentucky Blog. This is basically the be-all, end-all of music blogs online. Pitchfork wish they were this cool.
  • Sideshow Cinema. Music from the movies. Of interest because of a project I might undertake...

    PR and Marketing
  • HorsePigCow. When I first joined the digital practice, I asked one of my coworkers about good digital marketing blogs and they suggested HPC among others. I haven't looked back.
  • Bokardo: Social Design. I think this one harkens back to that same request for blogs. Also a great read.
  • CC Chapman. This is his personal blog, but Managing the Gray was a must-listen podcast before I even joined Edelman. I read what's up in CC Chapman's life here. Hopefully that's not creepy, because it's not intended to be.
  • Carsonified. I started following Ryan Carson on Twitter, discovered this blog, and continue to read it. Good stuff.
  • Church of the Customer. A lot of people in PR are coming around to the notion that online PR is a lot like customer service. These guys were on top of it years ago.
  • Edelman Digital. I thought this blog was supposed to be called 'Authenticities' but hey, there you go. This is my company's blog. I contribute there from time to time. So do many other thought leaders at Edelman.
  • Fallon Planning. Another of my must-reads, from the same 'what are some good digital blogs?' question.
  • It's Not A Lecture. I found this through Twitter, and it's a great look at online conversations, with a special focus on American politics and how politicians use the Internet to foster conversation (or don't, as the case might be.)
  • Jaffe Juice. Joseph Jaffe is one of the big hitters in digital PR, and this is his must-read blog.
  • Jazamatazz. I met Jaz at the London Twestival, and have been reading her blog ever since. She's a fellow digital PR person, and she gives me serious neighborhood envoy (she lives in Shoreditch, I live in, um, Holloway.)
  • Magazine Death Pool. I probably shouldn't celebrate the death of the old media, but I probably shouldn't have spent an hour this morning playing Duke Nukem on my Xbox 360 either.
  • Make Marketing History. More marketing than PR, but a great read nonetheless.
  • Managing the Gray. CC's podcast. The very first content related to digital PR I consumed online.
  • MediaShift Idea Lab. A blog about shifting attitudes in media, specifically social media, from none other than PBS.
  • Musing and Marketeerings. Danacea works for a London-based comic shop and is responsible for their online PR and marketing. She blogs here.
  • Neville Hobson. If there's an inner circle of great digital PR people, Neville would be on it's leadership council. If you're in this industry and not reading Neville's blog, something is wrong with you.
  • PR Squared. This is one of those blogs that I cannot remember adding to my read-roll, but somehow couldn't live without. Although I have to say I wouldn't help them with Seth. He's mean.
  • Richard Edelman - 6 AM. Richard is our CEO, and actually runs a hell of a great blog.
  • Simonsays. Simon was a colleague at Edelman in London before he joined the Beautiful Competition at Weber. He's also responsible for getting me thinking about anarchism as it relates to online communities, is a fantastic friend and a major rising star in our field.
  • sizemore. @sizemore isn't really in digital PR in the same way I am, but I don't know where else to classify his extremely insightful and well-written blog. It's a good read on a variety of subjects.
  • Social Media Explorer. I'm saying this right now: Jason Falls will be one of the major thought leaders in our industry in the next few years. He's already making a hell of a name for himself both on his blog and on Twitter, and I expect only great things from him moving forward.
  • Social Media Snippits. I just added this blog a couple of days ago and can't really offer a good opinion of it yet, but it looks promising.
  • Techno//Marketer. Matt Dickman is another big name in our industry, and his great blog is here.
  • The Bad Pitch Blog. I use this blog all the time, mostly to show my co-workers how not to engage with the media. The Bad Pitch Blog is an amazing collection of screw-ups from digital PR people, and regular PR people who think the Internet works like traditional media.
  • The Jeff Pulver Blog. Jeff Pulver isn't a digital PR guy per se, but he is an extremely well-respected thought leader in digital sociology (for lack of a better term.) And for good reason: he's ahead of the curve. He's also one of the most positive people I've encountered online, which is a refreshing change from the typical cynical negativity I see so much online.
  • The Long Tail. Long tail distribution is only tangentially related to my every day job, but I can't think of any other way to classify Chris Anderson's blog - yet.
  • The Marketing Blagger. This blog is run by Andy Bargery, who also runs the London Blogger's meetup. He also writes a highly recommended blog about digital marketing.
  • The Pirates Dilemma. Matt Mason's book completely changed my perspective on what we can achieve online, and has helped shaped how I approach PR - and business in general. And this blog is an excellent complement to the book.
  • The Way of the Web. I can't recall where I found this blog either. It stands out though as a great source for insight.
  • Web Strategy by Jeremiah. Jeremiah Owyang is one of the brightest stars in our industry right now, and is a living, breathing example of doing everything right online. He's one of those people I look at and think 'hey, I want to be him someday.'

  • Authonomy. The blog behind HarperCollins' Authonomy project, which still needs a bit of a push to get off the ground.
  • Jane In Progress. Jane writes for Battlestar Galactica and has written for Firefly in the past. She offers brilliant commentary on the TV industry, but more importantly she offers brilliant tips for writers.
  • Permuted Press. Permuted publishes apocalyptic and zombie-related fiction. 'Nuff said.
  • WEIRD TALES. The horror/sci-fi magazine. I keep hoping they'll publish something other than art, but hey, the art is cool too.
  • James publishes a serial called The Zombie Chronicles. Check it out, if that's your thing.
And that's my read-roll. It's a lot longer than it used to be, eh? Again, if your blog isn't listed here, hit me up and I'll list it. There area few private blogs I read that aren't on here, so if you run a private blog you think I might read, don't worry.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Thinking About Supporting Great Indie Music? Here's a Great Opportunity

I occasionally check the website for my favorite band, Roger Clyne & The Peacemakers, for information about upcoming shows and CDs and such. They put some cool new t-shirts in their store, but I also noticed that they're offing a hell of a deal on their music: The Whole Enchilada, or all eight of their CDs for only $50.

Eight CDs for $50 is damn good, but eight damn good CDs for $50 is the kind of deal you can't pass up. It's got six out of the seven RCPM full-length CDs (there are two digital downloads you can't get there, but you can score them on the site easily enough if you're a completest; the newest album isn't in the deal yet.) The package includes the full versions of their two live CDs and four of their five studio albums, as well as the two studio Refreshments CDs.

I have followed RCPM/The Refreshments (as they were once known) since I was a junior in high school, and will go to their live shows whenever I get a chance. It's honest, good-hearted southwestern Rock and Roll with more than a little 'salsa' feel to it. This deal will also score you 107 songs - that's only $0.46 a song! - or about 7 hours and 5 minutes worth of music - that's only $0.11 a minute!

Seriously, if you're into the Peacemakers casually and held off buying their CDs, this is your chance. If you're a dirty pirate that would steal from small independent bands, this is your chance to do right. If you've never heard of the Peacemakers before reading this post, I suggest you maybe listen to some of their stuff on YouTube - keeping in mind a lot of it is recorded by fans at shows - or listen to some samples on iTunes.

This is a great deal. Don't pass it up!

Five Years Young

A lot can happen in five years. Your friends can have kids and those kids can be in Kindergarten. People get married, divorced, fall in and out of love. Two presidential elections (almost), stories published, an entire career built on a job I didn't know I'd be doing.

Five years ago - five years and a handful of days, since I miscounted - I started this blog.

I still haven't found a consistent 'voice' or topic. I have started two other blogs, both of which are far more consistent in their voices and topics. I started ranting about politics, and after a long break from doing so the two posts prior to this one are rants about politics.

I'm OK with all of that. I started this blog as a way to keep up my writing, at the suggestion of two people I'm glad to count as my friends, Jeff and Jon. It has succeeded at that, and I never intended it to be anything more, although it's certainly become more. A way to communicate with my friends and family and keep them informed about my life, a place to jot down thoughts, and a place to discuss interesting things about my job, writing and gaming. Sometimes all at once!

I toyed with the notion of using it as a professional platform to develop my own 'brand' as a 'PR thought leader,' but then I realized I didn't really care so much about that - and more importantly, I just didn't have anything all that interesting or original to say that wasn't already being said somewhere else. Which took me right back to the beginning of the blog, and here I am again.

It's been a strange, long trip and here's to five more years of running my mouth on the Internet.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Invisible Hand is a Actually a Destrucive Three-Year-Old's Fist

Watching the 'economic crisis' in London has been a bit of a trip. On one hand, I feel strangely distant from what's happening in the US, but on the other hand we're feeling its effects along with the rest of the world. Yesterday, the entire nation of Iceland - considered one of the strongest economies in the world not six months ago - declared bankruptcy, taking £20 billion in UK assets with it. Today, the UK is using anti-terror laws to seize as many assets as it can so it's not a total economic loss.

It would be an error to state that this is 'all America's fault,' but seeing how all the world markets affect each other has been an eye-opening experience. News is reported differently here, and seeing the Asian markets affecting the EU's markets, and in turn the effect that the American market has on all of it is sobering to say the least. I'm no economist so I'll save my opinions about what this all means, whether a 'bail out' will work, and whether it will get better or worse for my own personal musings. I will however copy and paste this paragraph from the Wikipedia article on the Great Depression, which I feel is extremely relevant, especially considering the recent announcement that consumer goods purchasing is at its lowest levels since the early 1990s:

    The Great Depression was not a sudden total collapse. The stock market turned upward in early 1930, returning to early 1929 levels by April, though still almost 30 percent below the peak of September 1929.[6] Together, government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than in the corresponding period of the previous year. But consumers, many of whom had suffered severe losses in the stock market the previous year, cut back their expenditures by ten percent, and a severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland of the USA beginning in the northern summer of 1930.
    In early 1930, credit was ample and available at low rates, but people were reluctant to add new debt by borrowing.[citation needed] By May 1930, auto sales had declined to below the levels of 1928. Prices in general began to decline, but wages held steady in 1930, then began to drop in 1931. Conditions were worst in farming areas, where commodity prices plunged, and in mining and logging areas, where unemployment was high and there were few other jobs. The decline in the American economy was the factor that pulled down most other countries at first, then internal weaknesses or strengths in each country made conditions worse or better. Frantic attempts to shore up the economies of individual nations through protectionist policies, such as the 1930 U.S. Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and retaliatory tariffs in other countries, exacerbated the collapse in global trade. By late in 1930, a steady decline set in which reached bottom by March 1933.
My point with all of this isn't necessarily a post about the economy, but the effect that American policies, be they economic, social or otherwise, has on the rest of the world. Many conservative Americans take a 'who the hell cares what Europe, Asia, or anyone else thinks' approach to politics (and I'm not really sure many American liberals are any better, to be fair.)

This attitude is not just inherently ignorant, it's downright dangerous in a world economy where so many things are linked, as I see played out day after day in the media and online. Simply put: we can no longer afford an ill-informed, ignorant and provincial view of the world. The last eight years under Bush have been, as Green Day rather un-poetically put it, a 'redneck agenda' signified by pandering to this exact kind of ignorance. It's the same agenda that leads to cowboy international relations ('you're either with us or against us!') and it's disastrous consequences in Iraq. It is the same agenda that gave the Bush administration and the Republican Congress of its first six years a blank check to get rich from a false economic 'bubble.' And it is the agenda that lead McCain to cynically choose a running mate thinking she'd syphon votes from former Clinton supporters simply because she was a woman despite the fact that most any woman who would vote for Hillary wouldn't vote for someone who is on record as saying dinosaurs and cavemen existed at the same time.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that Americans should vote based on what the world will think, or how the rest of the world will respond. I believe firmly in Jeff's view that all politics is local. But the image of America as a flailing toddler woefully ignorant of the destruction it can cause as it flails its arms without regard to its surroundings is an apt one. It's not that they necessarily mean harm to their surroundings, but when you look at their motivations, they are as infantile as possible. Not mature. Underdeveloped. Child-like. Example:

The only way to reconcile these two things is that Americans (and the rest of the world) need to rethink policies at the local level with an awareness of how they might affect things at the national and global level. The simple fact of the matter is that nothing exists in a vacuum anymore - no town, no state, no county, no country, no matter how much people might like to pretend otherwise. I'm not even saying that Obama is the answer to this, or that McCain wouldn't be. I'm saying that something fundamental needs to change at the most basic of levels in order to avoid a potentially scary scenario should the world plunge into a major economic depression, which seems like more and more of a possibility with each passing day. As I typed this, the Beeb announced that Vienna's stock exchange has suspended trading. Things are literally happening by the minute now.

It is only if economy and policy are re-examined and more importantly redefined at the local and community levels - with full awareness of how policies affect those around us - that we can avoid the abyss now open before us. To cop a line from Clinton's campaign in 1992, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. The era of trickle-down Reaganomics, neoconservatism, ignorance of fact, unawareness, whatever you want to call it is over. It was tried, and it failed so spectacularly that it has dragged the world to the precipice and is continuing to do so as I punch the keys on my keyboard.

Something's gotta give, one way or another. Let's hope it's the good way.

Update: Another excellent proof point:

Update 2: I want to clarify that I do not necessarily believe that the majority of the American right are a bunch of ignorant, mouthbreathers. Nor do I believe that people who are religious should be in any way barred from holding office. (I do however have an issue with someone who ignores fundamental scientific principles controlling science budgets, and someone who cannot pronounce 'nuclear' with the ability to fire nuclear weapons - that should be a basic prerequisite.) I have the utmost respect for people of all faiths, and liberalism has a proud history of being associated with religion, be it the liberation theology of South America; The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's own pseudosocialist - yes - vision for a united America; or the Founding Fathers' own preservation of religious freedoms.

I do feel that the American right, specifically the majority of the religious right, has been summarily manipulated and cynically controlled by elements within the Republican party who have used religious principles to ensure their candidates are elected and can pass legislation that benefits no one but the elite that drafted it. In fact, I find it doubly abhorrent that Republicans have repeatedly abused the goodwill of the American religious right to gain votes and win elections.

Update 3: I just can't help myself, these videos are gold. I'm not sure what's more telling, that Obama is a terrorist himself and a Muslim according to these people, or the guy just yelling 'Commie faggots' at the Obama supporters.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Adapting Tradition

London has taken on that particular smell I associate with autumn. The air is crisper, somehow cleaner, and fallen leaves crackle as I walk through the park. It's a hint of the oncoming winter, but there's enough nice weather that I don't need my thick coat yet. It's that back-to-school, raking leaves, harvested corn, pumpkins-on-the-porch time I remember from being a kid. Trick-or-treating isn't far off and the last desperate days of playing outside before winter fill afternoons.

Autumn is my favorite season. It's the time when I feel most alive, and I love the world around me more.

It's also the time for one of the few personal traditions I actually follow: my yearly reading of Washington Irving's short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I'm not sure how long I've done this, but I have a distinct memory of reading it in the autumn in the 9th grade, and I know I bought my current copy in 1995, so it's been about 15 years or so. There's just one problem: my current copy is in a storage unit about 9000 miles away from my flat.

So like other traditions, I have to adapt it a bit. This evening the Beautiful Competition made a gorgeous pumpkin pie because she happened to find canned pumpkin one day at the store; she had not seen it there before, and has not seen it since. It may not taste exactly the same, but it's as close as we can get.

And it's not going to be my well-worn Classics copy, but there are at least two different free versions online, so it looks like I'll be able to read my favorite seasonal story - even if it is on a printout or a computer screen.

    In the bosom of one of those spacious coves which indent the eastern shore of the Hudson, at that broad expansion of the river denominated by the ancient Dutch navigators the Tappan Zee, and where they always prudently shortened sail and implored the protection of St. Nicholas when they crossed, there lies a small market town or rural port, which by some is called Greensburgh, but which is more generally and properly known by the name of Tarry Town. This name was given, we are told, in former days, by the good housewives of the adjacent country, from the inveterate propensity of their husbands to linger about the village tavern on market days. Be that as it may, I do not vouch for the fact, but merely advert to it, for the sake of being precise and authentic. Not far from this village, perhaps about two miles, there is a little valley or rather lap of land among high hills, which is one of the quietest places in the whole world. A small brook glides through it, with just murmur enough to lull one to repose; and the occasional whistle of a quail or tapping of a woodpecker is almost the only sound that ever breaks in upon the uniform tranquillity.
Ah, autumn.