You Can Always Tell When Matt Starts Playing A New RPG

In this case, it’s Dragon Age: Inquisition. It was released in November and I know that, had I purchased it then, my NaNoWriMo effort would have been torpedoed and sunk faster than the Lusitania. Fortunately, I had the foresight to delay my purchase of the game until December.

In 2013, I was pretty down about the idea of the next generation of consoles on the horizon. Of course, it didn’t help that the details for the Xbox One sounded uniformly terrible, even to someone who not only has all of the Xboxes but even owns a goddamn Windows Phone. I’m not saying I’m a loyalist but I like my devices to play nicely together and since my Xbox 360 was my favorite device, all my other devices had to build off that. At the time, I wasn’t excited in the slightest about the idea of buying a new console.

But now that the One has had a year to mature, I’ve come around. More importantly, I was able to scoop up a box for a deep discount, which I think made all the difference. I’m past the point in my life where I can spend $500 plus tax on a toy. $300 is a much more manageable chunk of money to justify. It also helps that I have a wonderful girlfriend. I won’t list all the reasons why that it true; I merely want it mentioned here for the permanent record. It is known, as the Dothraki might say.

I’m happy with my shiny box and I’m happy with the new Dragon Age. Dragon Age, of course, is one of the few series for which I am absolutely a huge, unapologetic fanboy. When I met David Gaider, one of the lead writers on the series a few years ago, I pretty much gushed and kept telling him how amazing he is for about ten minutes until he started looking around for a security guard to drag me away (that last part might be exaggerated just a bit).

Inquisition is like a love letter to the fans of the series. It’s deep, complex, full of lore and layers and things to do. It’s also the reason my blog has gone sadly neglected for the past few weeks and why my flood of Goodreads updates has slowed to a trickle.

It’s difficult to know what to write about; I consider a person talking about their personal video game character only marginally more interesting than a person discussing their favorite brand of bagel. That’s not to say that I don’t love video game characters (and weirdly, WoW is the one game where this rule doesn’t hold true) but generally speaking, I don’t want to talk about my character or other people’s characters in any deep way because it spoils the illusion that the Inquisitor is mine. 

I don’t even really acknowledge all the different ways my own Inquisitor could be different based on my own choices. At this point, my Inquisitor is so fully realized in my own mind based on my actions that I simply can’t imagine that things could be any other way. It all just is. And it is because the game world shapes itself to my actions and allows me to maintain that illusion in a flawless manner.

It sounds like an insult to say that I don’t notice all the care and craft that the designers have woven into the game to create branching paths and different narrative experiences. In truth, it’s actually the highest compliment I can offer to a game of this sort.

In Other News, Adult Human Male Fails To Be “Eaten Alive” On Television And Everyone Is Mad

Did you see this “Eaten Alive” stunt that aired on Discovery yesterday? It was pretty hard to miss, with all the promotion that was circulating around the Internet in the weeks leading up to the event. Basically, “naturalist” and “herpetologist” Paul Rosolie decided to raise awareness about habitat destruction by intentionally getting eaten by a green anaconda, because reasons. Scare quotes have been used liberally by yours truly because I was questioning the man’s credentials when the first promotion blast went out weeks ago.

So the plan is to make an indestructible suit and equip it with all kinds of safety features, get doused in pig’s blood, get swallowed by an anaconda, and then get regurgitated. Great plan. Shitty in terms of actual science but amazing spectacle, right?

And all of the hype! All the articles, the previews, it all made it sound like it had really happened. But it didn’t and it couldn’t. And anyone who has even the slightest understanding of actual herpetology could have told you that it was fucking impossible.

So Rosolie suits up in his snakeproof suit, gets wrapped up, the snake bites onto his head and . . . wait, it’s too much, stop, abort! And of course the Internet explodes with rage that “we were promised Eaten Alive, not constricted for a while and then it bit my head.”

But even if he hadn’t called it off, it still couldn’t have happened. It’s just flat-out fucking impossible.

I will state, categorically and unequivocally that it is impossible for an anaconda to completely swallow an adult human male. For the record, once again: it’s impossible to be eaten by an anaconda. It’s not a question of weight, because anacondas do eat animals that are as heavy or heavier than the average human adult. It’s a question of proportions and ours just don’t work for snakes.

Why? Look at any of the actual footage of the snake, in that show or any other. Sure, snake jaws have the ability to expand (they don’t actually unhinge, as a point of fact) but that ability isn’t infinite. Humans have a unique silhouette in the animal kingdom; our shoulders and bipedal build mean that from a head-on perspective, we’re comparatively wider than the animals that snakes eat. There’s no way the snake’s jaws are going to get around a human’s shoulders; honestly, even our relatively large heads are pretty tough to swallow.

That doesn’t mean that an anaconda can’t kill a human adult. They absolutely can do that, if you’re foolish or unwary enough to allow one to wrap around your chest or neck. They are massively strong animals and their coils can generate more than enough force to asphyxiate a person. Assuming one did constrict you to death, you can be certain you’re in for a rather horrific final few moments. But it’s not going to be able to eat you after you’re dead. But that’s only if it gets around you; you’ll notice there are countless images of people safely holding these terrifying monster snakes all over the place.

Could a child or an otherwise very small person get swallowed by an anaconda? Yes, potentially. Certainly it’s very, very unlikely and you’d most likely have to be grossly negligent as a parent for something like that to happen. But a small child would be vulnerable. An adult, however? No. Absolutely not.

One final time: there was no way this Eaten Alive stunt could have worked. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for why Rosolie and Discovery are absolutely egregious pieces of shit for hyping this garbage. Here are a few more reasons:

I followed most of the promotion and prior to the airing of the special, everything Rosolie and his team said in interviews, not to mention Discovery’s own promotion, made it sound like it had already happened, which of course, it didn’t. They basically lied about the success of the stunt to drum up viewership.

Rosolie’s plan to survive was to have “regurgitation induced” but that’s completely ignorant of the fact that regurgitation is an extremely harmful thing for a snake. Snakes generally only regurgitate meals during periods of extreme stress, such as needing to evade a predator. A full snake might expel a meal to remove the bulky prey from its body so it can slither to safety. This is an extreme survival mechanism, however, and it’s only done in times of great stress, when the snake believes it is in mortal danger. The fact is that regurgitation can kill the snake because it can choke to death during the process.

There’s also the fact that, even if Rosolie had managed to be swallowed, that would have killed the snake anyway, because snakes can rupture themselves from consuming prey that’s too large. It’s rare, but it happens. There’s a picture of a Burmese python that ruptured after swallowing an alligator in the Everglades demonstrating exactly that.

So literally everything about this was tantamount to torture for the snake, no matter how it actually played out.

The worst part, however, is that this all perpetuates the demonization of snakes in the popular consciousness. Snakes are still monsters. It’s acceptable to torture them and kill them. People see snakes as villains and cheerleaders like Rosolie and Discovery just keep that narrative moving right along. There’s nothing in Rosolie’s “special” that talks about actual conservation efforts. There’s no effort to describe the actual biology or ecology of the green anaconda. It’s just hype, hype, hype, oh, we’re in so much danger, no wait, we’re not. And the majority of the Internet is pissed, not because of any of the offenses inflicted on the animal itself, but because Rosolie was a lying sack of shit and you can’t get swallowed by an anaconda.

Anacondas are fascinating, amazing creatures. It’s a shame we don’t get too much specials about any of the wonderful or interesting things there are to learn about them.

One final note: if Rosolie really wants to be eaten by a snake, he should look into cloning extinct reptiles. There’s a species called the Titanoboa that grew to a length of around 40 feet and would probably be large enough to do the job. Unfortunately for Rosolie and his nightmare fetishists, Titanoboa went extinct around 60 million years ago.

Welcome To December

Another NaNoWriMo has come and gone. My winning streak is safe for another year. This year it seemed particularly difficult to keep my momentum going on the story, even though I ended up finishing two days early due to a nice sprint on the 28th. It’s possible that I say this every year; I haven’t looked back at any of my previous blog posts or Twitter updates to see how 2014 compared to 2013 or 2012. Regardless, the month is over and I have another 50,000 words of novel that I’ll now need to do something with. I have the next 11 months to sort it all out. Perhaps I’ll write another follow-up post about the experience, but right now, the idea of writing much of anything is just tiring. It’s time for a break.

It seems that quite a bit happened in November and perhaps you’ve been stopping by expecting my commentary. I apologize for letting you down. There’s certainly a lot of negative things in the world deserving of scorn and well-honed verbal barrages, but you know, I spent a lot of time thinking this past month, when I wasn’t writing and I’ve felt the urge to shy away from posting about the shitty stuff in the world. This blog started out as a way for me to vent my anger, which is really obvious if you look back at the first few months of posts. Well, actually, if I’m being honest, first this blog was just my squatting on my domain name, then I decided to write a blog to vent my anger.

It’s easier to be angry and pissed off and writing about it doesn’t it any better, at least for me. I stopped seeking out things that intentionally pissed me off just so I have fuel to write about. It probably doesn’t make the world any better but I also can’t imagine that it doesn’t make it any worse. And it certainly makes me feel better to not be as angry. So there’s that.

Movie trailers! The Jurassic World trailer and the Star Wars: Episode VII trailer were both released in the same month! 2015 looks like it will be a very good year for movies for my personal demographic (that demographic being “people who are me.” It’s an admittedly small niche) in a way that 2014 was very much a lackluster year. Did I actually go to the movies this year? I can’t recall. But 2015 has me excited. I don’t care what anyone else in the world says; a scene involving motorcycles and velociraptors fulfills one of my dreams. And yes, I do often daydream about riding my motorcycle alongside a pack of velociraptors, usually on my way to work. It’s just a thing that I want to do, because it’s awesome. The Episode VII trailer has me excited for Star Wars once again, although it’s still a cautious excitement; I remember how exciting the trailer was for Episode I. Trailers cannot always be trusted.

I’ve been learning to cook over the past few months and I’m getting pretty good at it. One of those little things about being a vegetarian means that most of your cooking efforts also involve chopping. And slicing. And dicing. And cutting. And whatever other words exist for cutting things in the culinary world. I bought a new knife a few months ago to begin this new journey into adulthood and it was getting really, really dull, so dull that I had trouble with a tomato. I’d learned how to sharpen knives on a whetstone when I was a kid and I was curious to see if I’d still remember how to do it, so I went out today and bought a whetstone and used my dull kitchen knife for practice.

There is nothing more pleasing than taking a practice cut with a newly sharpened knife. It’s liking taking a lightsaber to your vegetables. I promptly went crazy and sharpened all of our knives. I can’t wait to use them back into dullness so I can sharpen them again. I don’t know what this new feeling is; it’s either self-reliance, adulthood, or some combination thereof. I don’t have a word for it, but I think I like it.

Why NaNoWriMo? Some Thoughts On Stories

I gave a presentation on NaNoWriMo at my library this past weekend and one of the questions I was asked by one of the attendees who hadn’t done NaNo before was why I thought it was worth doing. It’s a reasonable question, after all. Why undertake the mentally exhausting challenge of writing furiously for thirty days, especially when it’s very likely that much or perhaps even all of the words that you write will end up being complete junk?

There are a lot of possible answers I could have given; because it’s fun even though it’s hard. Because it’s the one time during the year that writing is a group activity and you can tell people about your novel without being the pretentious ‘oh-let-me-tell-you-about-my-novel guy.’ Because it’s good to allow yourself to be creative.

But here’s the answer I settled on and the one that I truly believe (although when I gave this answer during my presentation, I used considerably less profanity).

It’s a common saying within writing circles that everyone has at least one novel in them. Consequently, it’s popular to retort and say, no, everyone does not have a novel in them in a rather curmudgeonly, get-off-my-lawn-you-damn-kids sort of cane shaking. For the record, that post just happened to be the first one that I pulled up on Google; I don’t actually know if Tim Clare shakes a cane at kids on his lawn. I’m sure he’s actually a great guy and probably really nice.

Regardless, it’s trendy to be cynical and one of the best way to be cynical is to crush the idealism of others by telling them “no, the world doesn’t really need to hear your story. Your story probably sucks.” Even if Tim Clare isn’t saying that, many, many other people are. They want you to know that your story sucks. It’s bad and you should feel bad.

So here’s why I think NaNo is worth doing, no matter what you do with your story after it’s over.

NaNoWriMo is worth doing because it’s a month-long exercise in saying “fuck you” to the cynics.

A lot of people call it the “inner editor” or the “inner critic” or the “inner perfectionist.” You know what I’m talking about if you’re ever tried to create something, ever: it’s that little voice that tells you what you’re doing isn’t good enough or that you’re doing it wrong or that you really don’t have anything worth saying.”

I have a different name for that little guy. It’s my “dark voice.” It’s the voice that arrived in my brain sometime around middle school or early high school, right around the time that I left childhood behind and entered a world that was very eager to tell me how much I sucked, how much of a dork I was, how awkward I looked, and just how bad I was at life in general. The dark voice is always there and it’s always happy to remind me about all the things I fucking suck at in life. Writing. My job. Being a friend. Keeping my house clean. Doing yard work. Budgeting. Calling my parents. Exercising every day. Updating my blog. Blogging in general, actually.

Sometimes, people who sound a lot like my dark voice write posts about how there are too many novels in the world and really, your story sucks and you should just keep it to your own damn self.

Well, fuck those people. Fuck the dark voice.

Telling stories is what makes us human. Every single human who has ever lived or will ever live has at least one story to tell. It doesn’t matter if that story will ever be published. Being published is not the quality-meter that says “your story is worthwhile and has justified its existence.” Don’t get me wrong, being published is great, especially if you want to tell stories and get paid for it (which I really, really do).

But that has nothing to do with telling or creating stories. Creating stories is something we do and have always done as a species because it helps us figure things out. It helps us understand ourselves and the world around us. It helps us grow. Telling stories helps us be better humans.

So write your story. Write it because it’s helping you be a better you. And whether that story is 500 words long or 50,000 or 500,000, whether it takes you 30 days or 30 years, write it because every story has value. Every story deserves to exist.

Stories make us better. All stories do. The world needs more of them. The world needs every story it can possibly get.

And that includes yours. So go fucking write it.

NaNoWriMo 2014 Begins!

Since it’s now November, that means another National Novel Writing Month is upon us. Not to brag (okay, I’m bragging a little bit here) but since I have a five year winning streak going, I think that means I’m now officially required to keep participating in perpetuity lest I break my streak. Each success only makes it harder to consider quitting.

I did a presentation at my library today about NaNoWriMo, which was a decidedly fun experience. I have no idea if the seven adults who attended my little workshop will stick with it or not but getting to talk about writing in a professional setting like that was wonderful. Likewise, I felt great talking about writing and getting to be the voice of encouragement to a group of people who don’t have to listen to me. That’s always empowering.

Perhaps you’d like to join me in doing some writing? If so, head over to the NaNoWriMo site and sign up. We can even be writing buddies if you’d like. Writing with other people knowing that you’re writing is always more fun, which is why we blog and go to coffee shops.

It’s very likely that there will be a halo effect here and the time I’m spending writing will actually encourage me to blog more than I did in October. I needed to take October off, I think. After that Gamergate post, retreating from the Internet for a while felt like the intellectually healthy thing to do. Also, there was this fun two-day thing trying to unscramble a mess involving a hacker, my Xbox Live account, and EA Origins.

All I know right now is that I wrote 3,000 words today on a new story, which is great, and it smells like dinner is ready, which is honestly even greater!

GamerGate Thoughts

I’ve held off on writing about GamerGate, but I might as well speak my piece. It’s not a very large piece.

I’ve followed Anita Sarkeesian‘s videos since her kickstarter. I follow her on Twitter. I haven’t always agreed with her views (in fact, I often find things I disagree with) but I think it’s really cool of her (and really brave) to be working so hard to have a discussion about gender issues in gaming. I’m really glad that she’s done her thing in the face of so much venom. I support her and developers like Zoe Quinn that have been driven out of their homes by threats from a very vicious, very vocal, very venomous group of people.

And that’s nothing new, nothing that many other reasonable people aren’t also saying. “Wait, Matt, you’re agreeing with the idea that it’s wrong to threaten to kill a bunch of people because a woman is talking about video games?” I know, it’s a totally radical opinion I have.

So here’s what I will talk about instead. Let’s talk about gamers. Let’s talk about us.

I’ve been a lifelong gamer. I had the dubious honor of being part of this group during the Nineties when Mortal Kombat hit the scene. You remember Mortal Kombat, right? Violence in games exploded in a big way after that one came out. Suddenly, everyone was talking about those violent video games. Violent games were forbidden in my house. I had to sneak over to a friend’s house to play Mortal Kombat. Considering how much of a super-geek I was growing up, this is literally the only thing I’ve ever done behind my parents’ backs. I played a video game. No drugs, no booze; just that one particular game.

I remember how it went, from Mortal Kombat to Doom to Grand Theft Auto. The issue of violence in games kept growing. Columbine happened. School shooters became a thing. And for most gamers like me, we kept hoping that it wouldn’t get any worse. We hoped that the public tide wouldn’t turn against games. We hoped they wouldn’t end up banned or strictly controlled. We just wanted to play.

Politicians like Lieberman and Pelosi and Hilary Clinton, likely looking to pick up family-first-morality credit, seemed to be in every article, saying how we need to take a closer look at these games, we need to control this. It might be a little ironic that I’m now a vehement liberal who’d vote for any of them, since back then, they were the enemies of gaming.

I remember when I was about ten or eleven, a friend whose parents worked for the local news station wanted to do a story on kids playing video games. At the time, I thought it was the coolest fucking thing in the world. They interviewed us (hilariously neglecting to get permission from my parents) and took footage of us playing games. I remember I had the first twinge of doubt when I offered to show them some of the non-violent games we had. I brought up Mario Kart and explained that it was my favorite, but they didn’t care about that. The reporter said something about how they already had enough footage of that kind of game. So all they wanted from us was the shooters.

I remember being so proud until the segment finally came on and it was an absolute nightmare for a kid who loved games so much. We were painted as being addicts playing murder simulators. Closeups of concentrated faces, hands moving over control pads. At the time, I thought it was because of how good it was at the game. When I saw the segment, I saw how we’d been lied to, literally lied to by the reporter and the camera crew. Fortunately for my younger self, the segment didn’t air until the last fifteen minutes of the evening news, so nobody I knew other than my parents ever saw it. I didn’t get picked on at school for it.

But honestly, I’m still pissed about it. I still disdain the channel that did it, although I won’t mention which news group it was. But I felt like they’d been out to get me. It was an us vs. them. Gamers vs. normals.

We didn’t want to bother anyone. We wanted to play our games and be left alone. As a kid who was picked on a lot, that was my refuge, a place where it didn’t matter that I was awkward and weird.

I remember Jack Thompson’s insane crusade and the mind-boggling amount of media attention he received. He was the universal enemy of all gamers. Even if you didn’t particularly like the games he railed against, if you were a gamer from 2003-2008, you probably had a negative opinion on Thompson. He was our collective nemesis and it felt like justice when he was finally disbarred as a lawyer.

That seemed like a turning point. Gaming had gone from this insular little thing that a few kids did to being everywhere. Suddenly, everyone was a gamer. We weren’t weird anymore, we weren’t different just because we liked games. Of course, I was well into adulthood as this magical change was happening, so at that point it didn’t matter quite as much to my life, but I could see how we were being treated by the general public consciousness. Famous people were gamers! Practically every single male in the world had a copy of Modern Warfare 2! And some females, too, although not as many. That game was a serious bro-fest. Guys that used to pick on me on the playground were lining up in front of me in the GameStop!

It seemed like gamers had proven the naysayers wrong. We weren’t violent, we weren’t maladjusted, we’d grown up and gotten jobs and become productive citizens and kept on playing. More murders have been committed because of something someone wrote in a novel than because of games.

And now, a few years later . . . here we are. Now we’re at the point where some gamers are threatening to commit the school shootings and rape and kill and literally, literally fucking prove every negative stereotype that we’ve endured since the beginning. How the fuck does that happen? How the fuck do you not see how fucking stupid it is to look at the stereotypes men like Jack Thompson heaped on us and say, “yeah, that’s a good fucking way to solve the issue of a woman talking about video games in a way that I don’t like?”

Here’s what doesn’t make sense to me is this; we grew up in a siege mentality. Gamers were used to being the bad guys, we were used to video games being the demonspawned corrupters of souls, the way movies, comics, rock music, etc. were once.

We were persecuted for being geeks and nerds by a hypermasculine social structure that didn’t reward intellectualism over athleticism, that didn’t value wanting to be different and do our own thing. And how, in some dark hilarious twist, instead of saying we’ll be better than that, we’ll be better than the fucking guys that made our lives such living hells throughout our youth that the only solutions seemed to be drugs, suicide or virtual escapism, now we’re just being the same as those fucking guys.

There’s only one explanation that makes sense to me. I can’t believe that any kid who grew up loving games and having that stigma would be doing this to someone else.

So maybe GamerGate and this systemic campaign of harassment and threatened violence against women in gaming is due to the fact that gamers aren’t the same little group of people anymore. Now gamers are everyone and that means that Gamergate isn’t simply a gamer problem, it’s one battle in a larger social struggle against male privilege and patriarchy and the way women are treated and depicted in this culture. That could be it. Maybe it’s not just gamers, but a very specific group of men in general. I don’t know that this would make me feel better about the situation, but it does make more sense.

Or maybe it really is a gamer problem. Maybe the problem really is us and today’s gamers didn’t heed the lessons of the past. Maybe they’re just ignorant of the history of what Columbine did to the hobby that we love so much, which is why they’d literally threaten that very same thing. Maybe we’ve forgotten what it was like to be the ones singled out for wanting to be who we were, for wanting to like the things that we liked. Maybe we’ve forgotten, taken the current status quo for granted, and now that someone else is daring to want to be part of it all, we’re turning on them like rabid beasts.

Or maybe it’s just a case of the echo chamber of the Internet and a small group of voices can be so mind-boggling, disproportionately loud. Maybe it’s the same group of MRA assholes that have been harassing people like Sarkeesian for years and their voices are just now getting particularly loud, their threats particularly egegrious. Maybe for every one idiot who supports the systemic terrorization of women in gaming, there are 99 other gamers who just want to keep quiet and play on.

Regardless, it’s a shitty situation that we’ve found ourselves in. It’s shitty and it’s depressing and it makes me wonder if maybe we weren’t better off with Jack Thompson and his one-man crazy crusade. Because at least when he was around, saying his crazy things, we could just shrug and say, “man, can you believe what this guy is saying?”

Because right now, all I can do is put my face in my hands and say, “man, can you believe what gamers are saying?”

No. I can’t.

I really, really can’t.

Odds And Ends

If you could see the state of the room wherein I am composing this post, you would understand my absence from these parts over the past week or two. Sufficient to say that, yes, I have indeed moved. But that seems to imply that moving is the only step to the process.

It turns out moving is just the first step. Unpacking is the second and, in my case, far lengthier step.

I’m not sure whether it was foresight or foolishness that kept me from documenting the process. A week and a half ago, there was no visible floorspace in this room. The living room was “box canyon,” which is the result when a packrat dragon is forced to move his accumulated hoard into a smaller space. I had a lot of stuff that I’ve collected over the years and I had both a full-sized walk-in closet and an outdoor storage shed to house all that stuff.

While cleaning out the stuff, I found $50 dollars in unused gift cards. I found a $25 check that was, sadly, expired. I cashed in my coin bucket for $80 and that’s just the shit I had rolled; the quarters still need to be accounted for.

I’ve pared down the stuff over the past few weeks. I’ve scythed through it. I’ve cut close to the bone. Everything that’s left is either of tremendous sentimental value, such as my very first manuscript or my favorite childhood teddy bear, or is actively valuable and useful, like my camping gear.

At this point, you can see the majority of the floor in my new space. I’ve taken to calling it my study, because I’ve always wanted a study and it sounds much more dignified than my lair or my man-cave.

There’s still a particularly unsightly shelf that will be hauled out once everything has been organized, but the space is usable. My Xbox is hooked up and I spent much of my leisure time playing Borderlands 2 which I was able to purchase with one of my found giftcards. It was ten years old for a company that went out of business, but the company that bought it evidently transferred all the accounts because the card was still redeemable!

The fact that it’s almost November and thus nearly NaNoWriMo 2014 is a thought that fills me with terror and dread. What will I write about this year?

I Still Prefer Books (And Science Agrees With Me)

There’s probably something odd in blogging about the superiority of the physical page as compared to the digital screen. I don’t particularly love eBooks; as I have enumerated before, I don’t own a tablet or eReader of any sort so my experience is limited to reading on my smartphone. And that’s not terribly enjoyable.

Overall, I’d estimate that out of the 125 books I read last year, about 100 of them were physical, 20 were audio, and the remaining five were electronic text.

Fortunately for me, science suggests that from a neurological perspective, this is the preferred way to read:

The debate between paper books and e-readers has been vicious since the first Kindle came out in 2007 . . . But now science has weighed in, and the studies are on the side of paper books . . . A 2014 study found that readers of a short mystery story on a Kindle were significantly worse at remembering the order of events than those who read the same story in paperback. Lead researcher Anne Mangen of Norway’s Stavanger University concluded that “the haptic and tactile feedback of a Kindle does not provide the same support for mental reconstruction of a story as a print pocket book does.”

My own experiences support this. I recently finished Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon and I read it entirely on my smartphone. I noticed one particular advantage: my book was always in my pocket which otherwise wouldn’t be possible given that Cryptonomicon, like almost everything Stephenson writes, is around 1,000 pages. I was able to read pretty much everywhere I went which really helped rack up some extra reading time throughout the day.

But I can tell that I didn’t absorb it as fully as if I’d been reading a physical version. It’s easier to skim on a screen. You scroll through the text and “psuedo-read” what’s there, seeing without comprehending.

As we increasingly read on screens, our reading habits have adapted to skim text rather than really absorb the meaning. A 2006 study found that people read on screens in an “F” pattern, reading the entire top line but then only scanning through the text along the left side of the page. This sort of nonlinear reading reduces comprehension and actually makes it more difficult to focus the next time you sit down with a longer piece of text.

I noticed the “F pattern” creep into my reading experience. It certainly didn’t help my comprehension, even if it did improve the speed at which I plowed through the book (but since I’m reading for my own pleasure, what’s the point of going so quickly that you don’t realize what you’re doing?)

I also noticed that the “F pattern” effect began to recede as soon as I returned to a physical book. My focus was much sharper.

I have another mammoth Stephenson tome sitting in my “to-read” pile (Anathem, if you’re curious) and it will be interesting to see how the experience compares; two very long works by the same author on the different formats.

Leave Only Footprints, Take Only Pictures . . . And Here’s A $1000 Fine For Doing So

I know that it’s silly to assign values of good and evil to various government agencies, but I swear, sometimes those agencies really go out of their way to make you decide. And no, I’m not talking about the NSA who seem to actively delight in seeming evil and are probably reading this blog post right now. No, today my ire is directed at the U. S. Forest Service due to their new plan to charge a $1000 fine for taking pictures in a Federal Wilderness without a permit.

Don’t worry, though. The permits are a bargain: only $1500. I’m certain that won’t affect any student filmmakers or struggling photographers or, really, anyone else who might be operating on a tight budget. Hell, I’ve got $1500 in my back pocket right now.

Forest Service spokesperson Larry Chambers told the Oregonian that permits will cost up to $1,500, and those caught so much as taking an iPhone photo without clearance will be fined $1,000. Liz Close, the Forest Service’s acting wilderness director, told the Oregonian that the restrictions are following the Wilderness Act of 1964, which is meant to preserve the untamed character of the wilderness and prevent it from being used for commercial gain.

So, that sucks. But it gets even better worse!

The Forest Service would make exceptions for breaking news that “arises suddenly, evolves quickly, and rapidly ceases to be newsworthy.”

Beyond the media, the rule would apply to anyone who might use the photos or video to make money while in a wilderness area, be it a documentary film crew, nonprofit, or private citizen.

Sure, you could argue that it’s “only” recognized wilderness areas and not actually “all of nature.” On the other hand, I’m willing to bet that most people have no idea whether the outdoorsy area they’re in at any given moment is considered a wilderness area or not. And speaking as someone who does usually know and has a particular favorite wilderness area, the idea that it’s a finable offense is infuriating!

Oh, but the permit is only required for pictures used for commercial purposes, you say? Well, that should fucking solve it for everyone, won’t it. Wait, is this blog a commercial purpose? Is my picture of a creek that I took four years ago indicative of a violation? I don’t actually make any money doing this blog, but I’m also working on publishing a book, so there’s a very real chance that in a year or so this blog will have a commercial purpose. What happens then?

(Actually, it still wouldn’t be a violation since I took that picture in a State Park, but would you know that by looking at it?)

Maybe I’m overreacting. Certainly, we can trust the Forest Service agency not to abuse this authority to go after people for taking pictures of trees or . . .

I’m sorry, I can’t even manage good sarcasm right now. This is well and truly a shitty thing. We come full circle to my earlier assessment: the Forest Service is evil.

For what it’s worth, I consider the Parks Service to be their good counterpart. So there’s that.

Scottish Independence And How It Relates To My Life

We’re on the eve of the big vote. Scotland awaits word on whether it will once again be an independent nation. It’s an exciting, historic occurrence that we are witnessing from across the pond.

So, naturally, my main concern this: is what does potential Scottish independence mean for me, an American citizen in Arizona? This has the potential to deeply affect one of my very favorite things.

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Pictured above: one of Matt’s very favorite things

What does Scottish independence mean for scotch? 

I’m not the only one wondering about this, either.

Scotch is primarily an export. The market for scotch depends on pretentious scotch drinkers like myself here in America. Will an independent Scotland adversely affect the scotch market? No one can predict how strong Scotland’s currency would be if it pulls away from the United Kingdom. I suppose it could go to the euro. Admittedly, I’m not an international economist but my understanding is that the euro isn’t as stable as the pound is.

Would prices on scotch go up? Would they go down? Either one would be bad for someone. Higher prices would be bad for me, since I already can’t afford to drink my favorite single malt except on special occasions.

But lower prices would be bad for the scotch market in general if they weaken the value of the product and force some of the best distilleries to cut back or close up shop. That seems less likely, given that the demand for scotch is only increasing. But it’s always possible, I suppose.

Most likely, either scenario would happen in the long-term. I doubt my favorite bottle of Highland Park will suddenly quadruple in cost tomorrow. But who knows?

In the meantime, all we scotch drinkers can do is hold our Gleincarn whiskey glasses closely while we wait for the results of the vote.

The Blog and Times of Matthew Ciarvella

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