Stuff I liked in ’05

In no particular order and by no means comprehensive:
(items with links are available for free online)

Eastern Standard Tribe, by Cory Doctorow
Everything Bad Is Good for You, by Steven Johnson
Mindscan, by Robert J. Sawyer

Audioslave – Out of Exile
Ra – Duality
Harvey Danger – Little by Little

Sin City
Batman Begins
Kung Fu Hustle

Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS)
Burnout: Revenge (Xbox)
Guitar Hero (PS2)
Gun (Xbox)
Urban Dead (online)
(And an honorable mention to Halo 2, which I still play on the Xbox just as much as when it was released in November ’04)

One year down, many to go

I am a sucker for year-end wrapup entries. I won’t go all out as much as I have in the past, but felt like putting a few thoughts down.

What was my life about this year? In a word: change. A second related word would be travel. And I’ll throw in community as a third.

I started 2005 one third through grad school. I had just started blogging in the last week of December ’04, and had no idea how it would steer my life in ’05. I’m a bit proud of myself for sticking to it all year. And, I have no plans to give it up any time soon.

So I went to class, I worked, I saw friends, and I blogged. Then, on Jan 27th (aren’t giant e-mail repositories fun to search through?) I sent an E-mail to Michael of TameTheWeb, introducing myself. I wish I could remember how I found his site, but it was the first library-related blog I read. Through him and links on a few other librarian blogs, I slowly stepped into the blogosphere. I read alot about the Computers in Libraries conference, and somewhere along the way I learned about the possibility of student discounts. So I found out details, signed up, and flew off to DC. There I met great people and made connections. For the first time I realized how much of an asset my background in computers could be to a library. I returned to Pittsburgh and went back to class, my head spinning.

Sometime later in the spring, I was asked to bring a student perspective to a panel of librarian bloggers at the ALA annual conference in Chicago in June. Again taking advantage of student prices, I attended. While there, I thought why not check out the job placement center? I talked to half a dozen employers that I never would have otherwise. That led to two job offers, one of which I gladly accepted.

Thus began the great cross-country (well, North to South anyway) driving expeditions. My Dad met me in Pittsburgh, and we drove to Huntsville. Spent most of a week picking out an apartment. Things looked bleak for a while, but I ended up with a beauty! We returned northward. A few weeks later, I drove back South on my own with a Subaru packed full of my worldly belongings.

I settled in, but not for long. The Last Call Poker ARG picked up pretty soon after my arrival, and I ended up flying to DC and driving to Atlanta for related live events. God bless Independence Air and their amazing sales! Unfortunately they’re due to go out of business next week, but I still highly recommend the airline.

Earlier this month I returned to Chicago for the Gaming in Libraries conference. There I reunited with people I’d met all year, at conferences and in games and online.

At the beginning of 2005, I told myself that I had to make sure to go to one new place this year. I did a bit better than that:
-DC (outside of the standard touristy stuff)
-Chicago (x2)
-Everywhere between Rochester, NY and Huntsville, AL
-Huntsville (outside of Space Camp)

Not too bad for someone just starting out, if I do say so myself.

But the most amazing part is that none of it would have happened without blogging and communities from online games. I had zero awareness of conferences I could go to before I started blogging and reading blogs. I never would have made the effort to go to CiL or ALA otherwise. But the library blogger community drew me in. Similarly, the community of Last Call Poker and Alternate Reality Games in general had me hooked. I watched for affordable travel deals that I never would have kept an eye out for on my own, and ended up knowing people when I got off the plane or stepped out of my car. A year ago, my world was New York and Pennsylvania. Throw in my dispersing college and high school associates: Now I’ve got friends and colleagues all over North America, with the financial ability to go visit them.

What’s next?

Review: Guitar Hero

Product Image: Guitar Hero
My rating: 5 out of 5

Guitar Hero is not just a game. It is an experience.

My brother Todd purchased this game for himself recently with some Christmas money. He was generous enough to let me rock out with it this week. To the left, you can see him demonstrating how to play.

In case you’re not familiar with Guitar Hero, here’s the basic concept: DDR, but with a guitar instead of a dance pad. The ‘frets’ of the slightly scaled down guitar controller are five brightly colored buttons. For each note or chord the correct combination must be pushed at the same time the ‘strum’ lever is activated with your other hand. A whammy bar comes into play for bonus points.

The concept is all well and good. But as with any rhythm game the song selection is what makes or breaks the idea. Thankfully, developers Red Octane and Harmonix outdid themselves! The song list includes David Bowie, Megadeth, Hendrix, Queen, Black Sabbath, The Ramones, ZZ Top, and many more. Here’s a full song list. I’m particularly addicted to Ziggy Stardust.

The recordings are cover bands, but excellent ones. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear most of them are originals. These Boston-based bands get to shine themselves with original tracks unlockable later in the game. And unlike songs in Dance Dance Revolution, all the game’s tracks are full length. Including bonus songs, there are 47 available to play!

In a nice touch, completing certain note combinations will increase your ‘star power’ meter. Once full, raising the guitar into a vertical position triggers a sensor and your points are doubled for a time. Meanwhile, the crowd goes wild.

Guitar Hero does an amazing job of convincing me that I am indeed a rock star. Unfortunately, I highly doubt my newfound guitar skills would transfer over to the real deal.

Guitar Hero will run you about $80 for the game and one controller. Extra controllers are roughly $40. We haven’t obtained a second axe yet, but hope to be dueling soon. The game is becomming hard to find at some retailers, and as far as I can tell the separate controllers are available only from the game’s official site.

Alas, GH is only available for the PlayStation 2. But, it makes me seriously consider picking up a used system for myself. Yes, it is That Good!

Meanwhile, Todd is heading out of town for a few days while I remain here. More time to hone my skills! Party on, dudes!

ALA and the Charging Speakers Fiasco

There’s been much said lately about the fact that ALA requires members to pay registration for a conference they are speaking at, yet does not charge non-members.

Here’s a sampling: Michael, Jenny, Steven. There’s also many more well-reasoned pieces that I’ve read.

I’m a bit late to the party, but I agree with what the majority are saying – this is ridiculous! Isn’t the whole point of holding a conference to attract attendees? How do you attract them without speakers? I always assumed that getting your speakers in for free was just standard practice and part of the overhead involved in setting up an event.

Do you think the President gets charged ticket price to throw out the first pitch? Or that the Live 8 bands had to pay admission? These are grand examples, sure. But the principle is the same.

Alternate Reality Games – CNet Explains

This made my day.

That link is to a CNet article, focused around an interview with author Sean Stewart, on the topic of Alternate Reality Games. I’ve played two of them now, including Last Call Poker which is mentioned extensively in the article, and often have trouble describing the concept to others. They’re bunches of fun, and amazing community building tools! I won’t try to describe the concept here beyond calling the games a combination of scavenger hunts, social experimentation, puzzle solving, and a whole lot more.

Plus, I’m the librarian mentioned (but not by name) about half way through page 1 🙂
I solved a very cool puzzle on my lunch break one day, using an obscure hymnal stored in our microfiche collection to crack a code.

ARGs are a niche genre, to be sure. But they’re amazingly deep, intelligent, and involving. I’ve made some great friends through the communities to boot. Can’t beat em!

Google and Yahoo – Together at Last?

Gmail added a feature recently where “web clips” show up along the top of your Inbox. Really, these are headlines pulled from various RSS feeds.

As I was checking my mail tonight, I noticed something odd. Take a look at this screenshot.

Notice where the web clip comes from? The new Ask Yahoo service. Apparently Google selected this Yahoo feed as one of their defaults.

I wonder what the thought process was behind the decision to promote their rival’s new service.

Speaking of Gmail, I’ve been meaning for a while now to update my contact info for, well, pretty much everyone I know. If there’s any info you’d like me to have (e-mail, phone, mailing address, IM name, etc), send me an e-mail to the address you can see in the top right area of the screenshot.
I’m so sneaky.

X-Play Vidcast

Despite my general feelings about the G4 network, which is supposedly devoted to video game programming after rising from the premature ashes of TechTV, it still has one show worth watching: X-Play.

X-Play is simply a video game review show. A heavy dose of cheesy (but mostly well done) humor and obscure references help it stand out. The show isn’t perfect, but hosts Adam Sessler and Morgan Webb have helped me discover a game or two that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Despite the outward trappings, the reviews really do identify the cream of the crop pretty accurately. They aren’t afraid to call a game crap if that’s what it is. I’ve really been missing the fact that G4 isn’t part of my cable lineup on Knology just for this one show. Not enough to pay extra for it, but still.

Anyway, to the point. You can now get downloadable vidcasts of their reviews! The show’s official site has a link on the left side to the feed in iTunes as well as generic rss feeds for your app of choice. Each review is nicely segmented into its own file.

This was a great surprise to end my day on.

Did you send me an article?

At 12:36pm Central Time, I received a full text e-mail copy (via Proquest) of this newspaper article:

ERIC SCIGLIANO. Seattle Post – Intelligencer Seattle, Wash.:Dec 11, 2005. p. G1

It is identified as “sent by 003RF3J8QG at SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY”. The e-mail’s subject line is “Critical Piece on Seattle Central Library”

Was there a reason someone wanted me to take a look at this?

First time I’ve gotten article spam 🙂

DDR Advice for Libraries

A number of fellow attendees at Gaming in Libraries were asking me questions about Dance Dance Revolution. What console to get it for, what dance pads, etc. Now I’m not nearly as well versed on the topic as someone like Eli and the other presenters. But, here’s my two cents from the player’s perspective.

For starters, get yourself a Playstation 2. It has the widest variety of DDR games available, and can also play versions designed for the Playstation 1. Each game has a different song set, and after a while you’ll probably want to move on to a new one.

However, do not buy the Playstation 2 off of Ebay or the like. The small bit of money you’ll save is outweighed by the risk of never receiving the system and being unable to verify its condition prior to purchase. If you’re looking to start out low budget, borrow one. Odds are that a library employee, one of their kids, or one of your kids’ friends has one. Explain to the owner of the system what it will be used for, and I’ll bet they’ll be more than willing to help out. Trust me: Nothing lights up an accomplished DDR player’s eyes like the prospect of group play.

If successful, invest in your own new system. They’re $150, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the price drops in the next six months.

Buying used games, though, is probably ok. And in the case of older versions of DDR it may be your only option. Check out your local Electronics Botique or Gamestop and browse their pre-played selection. I’ve never had a problem with a used game not working, and stores usually take them back if there’s a major issue (just be sure to ask before buying).

Lastly, the dance pads. If you really, really need to keep the budget low the first time out, try the $15-$20 foldable pads you’ll find in any video game store. But, I guarantee they will fall apart and/or stop registering steps correctly before long. The next step up are inch-thick foam pads such as this one. $99.99 each. I have this one personally, and like it a lot. But again, eventually they will break down under the pressure of sustained group play.

In the end, for long term use you’ll be best served by the Cobalt Flux hard metal pads that Eli uses. They’re on sale a bit at the moment, $569.99 for two. An investment yes, but it will pay off in the long run. And players will love you for it. Oh, whatever style of pad you decide on – make sure you’re buying it for the correct console.

Hope that helps.