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Monday, February 28, 2011

Songs of the Months - December-February

Okay, I got a little lazy about recording myself playing the uke. To be fair to myself, I'm working on some really hard stuff that is nowhere near ready to be recorded. Also, I did record on video but only the audio really turned out. I'll post it now but will definitely be revisiting that one in the future.

Surfer Girl

Paper Moon

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Song of the Month - November

I used my cellphone camera this time which seems to result in far superior sound quality to the laptop's microphone. Warning: Singing!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

My First Successful (completed) Arduino Project

Since this Halloween we were putting on the Ghost Patrol: BANG and my house was being used as a bad treat dispensary, I wanted to make an exceptionally creepy Jack O'Lantern.  I got a white pumpkin, carved a ghastly grin in its skin with the look of it having been stitched shut, a la Saw or one of the newer ridiculous torture porn flicks. Then I actually stitched it shut with some twine and a big upholstery needle.  For the eyes, I carved cavities in the inside surface of the pumpkin large enough for LEDs.  I stole and modified an arduin sketch, dead bugged together a simple circuit without soldering anything (which led to the final product being a wee bit janky but...), found and modified a pulsing LED Arduino sketch and stuffed the whole works into my pumpkin.  One of those super janky flickering candle LEDs gave the mouth a traditional look while the eyes were red LEDs pulsing on and and off slowly beneath the skin.  It looked freaking awesome.  I wish one of the videos I took came out but the Droid's camera is mostly for show.

Rachel did the awesome Ghosti pumpkin and the melty face terror above. I did the terrified fellow who is rightfully terrified of the melty face terror.

I didn't save the Arduino sketch I used, apparently.  It was just the pulse sketch from the Arduino site library with an LED added and the parameters modified to make it pulse more slowly and creepily.  Cool.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Song of the Month - October

This is my first song of the month.  The song for October is Higher and Higher by Jackie Wilson.  You may remember it as the song that made the Statue of Liberty dance in Ghostbusters 2.  It sounds really buzzy because of the laptop mic but that's okay.  I didn't sing or play the whole song but you get the idea.  Enjoy (while you can, next month might have me singing hahaha!).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

TV Show Idea - Tim Proffitt: Lady Stomper

All right, Fox, this one's a freebie.  You're welcome.

Tim Proffitt is political organizer with a bad back and an even badder attitude. Unwilling and unable to 'bend over and take it' from the man, lest he throw out his back, Tim Proffitt roams the political landscape looking for ladies to stomp and marginal candidates to support. No protester is too peaceful for this lady stomper. An A-Team of one fighting for anti-intellectualism in this mixed up modern world of facts, each episode Tim Proffitt will stomp ladies until some nebulous goal is achieved or not achieved. He doesn't want your government handouts but, well, since you're offering he'll go ahead and take 'em... with prejudice.  This isn't American History X, it's American History eXtreme lady stomping!  Coming soon to Thursdays on Fox!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Team Dynamic

Loxi (lowkey + Desert Taxi) have been working hard these last 4 or so months towards putting on Ghost Patrol: Bust A 'Nother Ghost (BANG 29).  It's mostly the same crew that worked on Ghost Patrol in 2007 and 2008 with some (accidental and highly regrettable) subtractions and some surprising new additions.  Due to being once again overrun with registrations, we opened the event up to people willing to simulcast.  We were very lucky that Alexandra Dixon offered up her wonderfully tenacious and optimistic services to the idea.  Along with Alexandra, Larry Hosken offered up a web app and also his ability to perform soul-deadening, laborious tasks for hours on end to our cause.  In addition, a rogue band of pirates are SNAPing it up in Seattle (Awesome, right?).

Working with new people means working with new personalities.  This usually makes me feel wary, not because I'm worried about their personalities but because I'm worried they will think us a band of raving madmen with little regard for political correctness or each other's feelings.

A little lowkey history - lowkey consists of Brian, David, Matt and Jenn (and, at times, various other friends and significant others).  I'm Matt.  David and Brian are brothers and I've known both of them for more than 20 years.  Brian and Jenn are married and dated for well over a decade prior to tying the knot.  To say we've all known each other for a while is an understatement.  We've all lived together in various combinations and all at once and we've shared extremely tight living conditions.  Our mutual friendships have endured some pretty major insults, hurt feelings, misunderstandings and totally correct understandings of hurtful things.  We've also shared a huge amount of truly excellent times and they are people I'd be happy to puzzle with through most of life.

Our history together allows us a certain loving roughness with each other's feelings.  We all tend to harbor strong opinions and visions and are not afraid to fight for them.  The folks from Desert Taxi seem to fit right into this dynamic and working with them has been awesome.  Greg, Jesse, Jen and Andrew are all awesome people to know and work with, puzzle along side of, and to curse with like especially filthy sailors.

A couple of recent incidents have showcased for me the odd dynamic we take as normal:
-The other night we were having a meeting and Alexandra was in attendance.  She noted at one point that the term "shit ton" was a new one to her.  As in, "We have a shit ton of production to do this weekend so it's all hands on deck."  She made a note of it and I watched throughout the meeting as she quietly made a star next to the note every time "shit ton" was used.  I think it was a shit ton of times.  Possibly a metric shit ton.  Profanity is our bread and butter.
-Another was hearing that one of our puzzle collaborators was offended by some criticism dished their way. What was offered as maybe a gruff suggestion was taken as insult.  This can relate back to my previous post on taking criticism and feedback in a GC setting but it still gives one pause to think they've been injurious to the feelings a friend, even if accidentally.

I was going to type here that I'd like someday to work with another GC to see what their dynamic would be like but, truthfully, organizing one of these things, no matter what the scale, sows a "never again" kind of sentiment in me for at least a few months.  Also, I'm not sure I'd be able to work well in a dynamic where I couldn't feel comfortable making a really raunchy and asinine joke. Or, more likely, a shit ton of 'em.

Puzzle Authoring and Editing In A Game Control Setting

I've had a few conversations recently that have prompted me to get some thoughts down regarding what it's like to be part of a GC, specifically when it comes to authoring puzzles for an event.  My only GC experiences, other than volunteering as site volunteer for others' events, have been with the loxi team.  Loxi is the combination of lowkey and Desert Taxi team members working together.

This unholy union was formed during the run up to Pirate's BATH where lowkey split into two teams (Sloth In A Pirate Hat and Donkey In A Pirate Hat), each responsible for a puzzle.  This was my first time creating a puzzle for an event and was also my first time receiving feedback on a puzzle and in making repeated edits from the suggestions of a GC for puzzle refinement.  That first time was very tough for me.  My team had made something, guided considerably by my ideas, and I loved it.  For someone to tell me it was OK but could be better was hard.  Being told this multiple times for the same puzzle was, as much as I knew it to be an irrational reaction, a blow to my ego.  The end result was a fun, well-received puzzle (which was part of an extremely fun event) and a wonderful group of new friends.

My girlfriend, Rachel, is just getting to experience this for the first time as well.  Rachel is helping us GC for Ghost Patrol: Bust A 'Nother Ghost (aka BANG 29) and has written a puzzle for the event.  As it typical and not at all unusual, she is proud of what she's created and loves having authorship over a puzzle that will appear in an event.  The experience, however, has led her to create what I (perhaps with bias) think is a pretty great metaphor.  It goes something like this: Imagine you are an artist commissioned to create a work of art; in this case, a painting.  Maybe you've been commissioned to paint a bucolic, pastoral scene or perhaps it's a rainy cityscape or a languid nude.  You carefully craft your work of art and present it to your buyer.  Your buyer looks at it and is clearly pleased but shows just a hint of that "this is what you got me for Christmas?" look before saying "It's great.  Really great.  I love it.  But, you know, wouldn't it be a lot better if it had a kitty cat painted down in this corner?"  Ouch.  It's not that they're wrong, necessarily, and they are the customer/buyer so what's the big deal if they want a kitty?  The big deal is that your vision, the artist's vision, did not include a kitty.

Far from my first experience with this was my experience GCing for Ghost Patrol in 2007-2008.  Lowkey (lowkey) had never GC'ed and we all had our own ideas of what the ideal event would include.  Members of Desert Taxi all came with GC experience and were quite good at generally pulling things into orbit with reality.  As we became more comfortable with what our event would look like and how we would go about achieving that vision, we began creating content.  That event had more than 60 puzzles, overall, and at least a dozen more were discarded along the way for varied reasons, generally related to theme and whether or not a ghost would do something, you know, in real life.  Very quickly we all had to get over ourselves and the purity of our individual artistic vision for the benefit of the collaborative vision.  Few of the puzzles I wrote ended up looking anything like their first iteration and those that did were not well received.

Which brings me to a hard truth (for me, ymmv): Puzzles created through collaboration and/or which receive multiple drafts of refinement through editing suggestions from the GC as well as informed by playtests are generally superior puzzles.  Puzzles worked and reworked in a vacuum by an individual can end up over-thought and overwrought and, in my case at least once during Ghost Patrol, broken.

My attitudes toward puzzle authoring have changed greatly from that first Piratey puzzle.  I know I'm not great at authoring puzzles.  That's a limitation I can accept.  Now when I write a puzzle, I tend to write the roughest of idea drafts.  I want, first, to see if an idea will be well-received.  I want and need for my teammates to tear my ideas down to the foundation so that we can start to build something we'll all be proud to present.  This, I would venture to say, is not the attitude of all of my teammates.  Many of them are extremely skilled and creative puzzle creators, fully capable of fleshing out wonderful puzzles requiring minimal editing or tweaking.  That just isn't my forte.  I find that puzzle writing, as well as every other GC responsibility, benefits from the input of the group.

Input, feedback, criticism, these things can be hard to hear and even harder to act on.  Ghost Patrol was year's worth of very hard work and re-work and re-re-work.  Part of what made the experience so exhausting and sometimes so slow was the contentiousness of fighting for ideas, themes, content.  It is hard work to find consensus and hard work to let go of one's ego towards that goal.  It was totally worth it.  It's funny that one of our first puzzles was one related to "Team Dynamics" as our dynamic was one that allowed for some seemingly full-tilt arguing where some ideas won, some ideas lost and we all moved forward as friends.  (This dynamic, I think, can seem strange to outsiders and is one that will merit its own blog post soon.)  In the end, though, we were all able to put out a product that we could all stand behind and be proud to call our own, even with it's mistakes and missteps.

Summation: Puzzles are generally made better through feedback and re-write.  I may not want a kitty next to my languid nude but everyone else does.