Lord Maitreya's Internet Marketing Adventures

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The Harrowing Survey

Since I am one of the few college students that prefers a grade of A in a class, it should come as no surprise to you, the reader, that I have no problem going the extra mile to get school work done properly.  Because I don’t really have any friends (girlfriend?  What’s that?) and my life mainly consists of work, school, and Xbox, I was delighted when my teacher told me to do some primary research (administer a survey to the public to gain new information).  This gave me an opportunity to shake up the monotony in my life and go the extra mile for a school project, which is my final thesis for my undergraduate degree.  The stakes are high, so I’ll gladly do the work.  I made a simple survey about my thesis topic (in a nutshell: urban gardening and who does it), printed it out, and set off on the ferry to San Francisco.

This is what I thought the day would be like. Jesus... I was wrong.

(Image courtesy of wake-up-art.com)

It should be noted that I suffer from a debilitating disease known as agoraphobia (with social phobic tendencies for bonus points).  Contrary to what most people believe or think they know, this horrible malady is NOT fear of open spaces.  It’s fear of open spaces filled with strangers and being alone.  It’s a large part of why I live a lot of my life indoors except for the few activities I do outside (snowboarding, skimboarding, hiking) where the benefits outweigh the terrible feeling I get when in large crowds.  I knew before I even got on the boat that the farmers’ market where I planned to administer my survey was going to be crowded, and I tried to mentally prepare myself, but it’s not easy.  I don’t just get nervous when in large groups, I feel a little unsafe, exposed, and vulnerable.  It’s a feeling I would not wish on you if you were my worst enemy.  It sucks.

This image actually sums it up pretty well

(Image courtesy of mystarbucks wordpress blog)

Anyways,   I got off the boat with a spring in my step and every intention of being a survey-administering pro.  I was wearing my “bling bling” hoodie, that has a picture of a seagull with those six-pack rings around its neck with the words “bling bling.”  I felt it sent a pretty good ‘green’ message and would aid me in my quest to get more info for my project.  I set myself up on Embarcadero, right outside the ferry terminal, smack dab in the middle of everything.  Then the customary panic attack started.  I’m used to them at this point, but it’s always jarring.  You sweat, you feel like your heart is shutting down, you get dizzy… After it passed, I carefully examined the crowd, only wanting to give my survey to people who were actually shopping at the farmers’ market, not those just passing through.  Armed with my trusty clipboard and a pen, I approached my first target: a man in his mid thirties.  I was met with a sense of indifference.

“Okay,” I thought to myself, “this guy just isn’t interested.”  That first encounter will be among the most polite human interaction I will have today.  The second mark, a woman in her early to mid forties, was walking my way.  I asked her if she was a resident of San Francisco.  She literally said, “F–k off.”  What happened to courtesy?  Eying my third mark, an Asian woman with a bag of oranges, I posited the same question, “Hello, miss.  Are you a resident of San Francisco?”  She went past rude and right into nasty: “Get away from me.”

“Christ,” I thought, “what’s wrong with these people?”  Is this the San Francisco love I always hear about?

I’ll spare you a play-by-play, but let’s just say I got about 19 responses in an hour of asking literally every person carrying a grocery bag who was in the area.  I must have asked well over 120 people.  On a scale of 1-10 of how hurtful the average person was, I’d rate it about an 8.  I was called names (political wingnut, douchebag, hippie loser… the list goes on.  I was told to get a job almost twenty percent of the time), accused of violating people’s personal space (absolutely false), and being a rabble-rouser.  No less than three vendors asked me to leave because I was scaring people away, and then a man identifying himself as security politely told me to, “get the hell out of here.”  Defeated, I wandered the thirty five yards back to the ferry terminal to discover that, as per the weekend ferry schedule, my boat didn’t leave for two hours.  I entertained myself by looking through books at book passage and helping a crazy-but- lovable old woman feed the pigeons.  It was delightful compared to the jarring and soul-crushing experience I just put myself through for the sake of a better grade.

Sixteen dollars and fifty cents is what it cost me for nineteen surveys filled out.    I was astonished at how blatantly rude these people were.  Aside from that, my fear of open spaces put me in a psychologically vulnerable state of mind that these people seemed to perceive and exploit in a dazzling display of nastiness.

To say the least, it was a harrowing experience.  I will now go about the task of putting my paltry data into SPSS, and spend the next few hours trying to remember how to work this stupid program.  Yes, I took a class on how to use it, but I promptly forgot how to use the program about five minutes after the semester ended.

Oh well lol.

September 18, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Motion Blur and You

I recently got an HDTV as a gift to myself for being so awesome this semester.  It’s a 42″ Vizio, 60hz, 5ms response time monster of a TV.  The picture quality is awesome, the color is vibrant, and it has speakers that inexplicably surround the screen (but who am I to complain).  For a lame-ass picture of it, see below:

Image coutesy of Overstock.com

I got the thing as a refurbished model for 599.99 (and I got the 2 year service plan for an extra 80 or something).  That means I got a killer deal, because this TV is normally hundreds of dollars more.  However, these LCD TV’s come with an unintended side effect: motion blur.

Motion blur is NOT to be confused with “ghosting,” which is a side effect of buying a crappy HDTV.  The fist HDTV I got over the summer was from Best Buy.  It was a 37″ Dynex, 1080p model for 499.  I thought I was getting a good deal, except that when I plugged in my Xbox 360 and started to move the camera, things would leave trails all over the screen.  Pissed off, I returned the TV within an hour, content that my revenge was already complete, in that Best Buy now had to sell the piece of crap as an opened return for hundreds of dollars less.

So I did some research (LOTS of research actually) and then came upon this killer deal on Overstock.com with this awesome Vizio.  1080p? Check.  Low response time?  Check.  Everything seemed in order.  But then I got it, plugged in my Xbox with my new HDMI cable, and I began to notice something: textures blur a little when the camera moves.  I was apalled.  I was pissed.  I was foaming at the mouth.  So I went to work, where I was on a dispatch shift and I decided to play some games.  We have a 40″ Samsung (which is also 1080p) in the office, and I had always admired the picture quality and resolution on it, which is what inspired me to get an HDTV in the first place.  Lo and behold, the motion blur was present on that TV as well.

Here is the thing: LCD TV’s refresh at a lower rate than your boxy old “tube” TV.  A MUCH lower rate.  This causes textures to become slightly distorted during movement.  The faster the movement, the greater the distortion.  At first, I regretted my purchase of my totally badass new TV.  But then I realized something as I was driving on the highway: in real life, when things move quickly, you CAN’T pick out the textures on them unless you are focusing on them directly, a phenomenon well represented on my HDTV.  If you are playing, say Call of Duty, and you turn while moving forward and keeping something in the center of your vision, everything else becomes blurred while the thing you are focusing on is clear as day.  Isn’t this almost MORE real than simply having all textures rendered at full quality all the time?

While the motion blur is certainly noticeable if you are looking for it (which I kind of am, because I’m scrutinizing the living hell out of this TV), I would hardly say it’s a dealbreaker for me on this TV.  The resolution is almost 3x higher than on a normal TV, and the movement during cutscenes leaves my jaw earthbound.  If I were you, I’d strike now and get a refurbed HDTV for hundreds of dollars less.  I just got a 40″ 1080p (the highest resolution currently available) with a service plan for less than $700.  My family room has a 40″ tube TV that we got about ten years ago for well over double that price.  My family now watches movies in MY room while I’m out at work.

Plasma screens don’t have motion blur, but they cost more, the image burns into the screen, they use more power, and they only last about a third as long.  In my opinion, the motion blur phenomenon is hardly reason enough to avoid an LCD TV.  I say go for it if you’re willing to take the plunge.  Motion blur aside, once you go HD, you can never watch standard definition again.  God, I can’t watch our living room TV anymore.  I can’t even see the pores in John Stewart’s face on that TV.

May 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

All good things must come to an end…

Oh dear, this appears to be my final post for the class.  Like I’ve said before, it’s been a good ride, and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank our teacher, John Stayton, for his exemplary work in teaching this class.  Even I, a traveled and worldly man of the Internet, learned an obscene amount of information about AdWords, the value of social networks, and all of the underhanded (and therefore AWESOME) ways that marketers have utilized the Internet to get the word out.

But since this is my last post, I want to sum things up by talking about some of my favorite (appropriate) things online.  There are all kinds of fun things to do on the web that negate the need for actual interaction with other people, and I have mastered a good portion of them.

"Hey, there's porn!"

(Image courtesy of gognis.net)

But I’m just kidding.  Of course, I’ve talked about Acidplanet, 2leep, HolyTaco, and a slew of other sites, but that’s just the tip of the digital iceberg.  I’m going to talk about some of my favorite things online, and you’re going to listen, damnit!

First off, podcasts are a double-edged sword.  Most podcasts are the nonsensical ramblings are stark-raving lunatics.  But there are some good ones out there that showcase a lot of good music.  Most of the great podcasts are dub-step and world-beat, and they offer a good mix of music for anyone’s musical taste.  I would recommend the Low-End Theory Podcasts, The Secret Archives of the Vatican Podcasts, and the BassNectar Podcast series.  They all have a harmonious blend of hard-hitting techno, electronica, IDM, DnB, and others (genres which I’m not particularly in love with, but the music is great all the same).

I are listening to musics!

(Image courtesy of soaringrabbit.com)

If you already have all the music you could ever want (meaning that your 80gb ipod is full- you don’t even know half of the music you have) then video could be your thing.  Sure, YouTube is a great place.  You can find a lot of what you want on there, but what if you want to watch Rocko’s Modern Life, or Salute Your Shorts, or any of the other shows you grew up with that take you back to an innocent time before you knew what 2girls1cup was?  Well, I’ve got the answers for you: Project Free TV and SurfTheChannel.  These two websites don’t host any content of their own, which is how they get around the various copyright laws they would otherwise be violating.  They allow users to post links to the actual content on their sites.  So any show you’ve ever seen, any movie you’ve ever watched, it’s online somewhere, and you just need to know where to look.  Fortunately, these sites make it absurdly easy to find.  Let’s just say I didn’t pay to see Avatar.  And I saw it before it was in theaters.

James Cameron didn't get any of my money

(Image courtesy of photoshopstar.com)

But let’s say you already have every song, and you have a photographic memory that allows you to remember every movie you’ve ever seen in vivid detail.  Well, I love reading articles.  Funny ones.  Ones that are cynical, use foul language, and employ the use of tastefully photoshopped images.  And on top of all that, it needs to be informative on some level.  I want to laugh AND come away with more knowledge than I had prior to reading the article.  BOOM!  Cracked.com is you answer!  To whet your appetite, read this article, about supposedly ancient traditions that are anything but ancient.  Things like this make me happy.  I love articles that are informative and cynical at the same time.  In case you were wondering where I got the format for my blog posts… I stole it from Cracked.

If Cracked.com was enjoyable to you, then perhaps you’d like to mosey on over to what was once one of the most popular blogs on the Internet, Maddox’s “The Best Page In The Universe,” a cynical website which contains nothing but Maddox’s opinions.  There are numerous petitions on the Internet demanding he take his site down, due to his stances on various issues.  He has started an anti-abortion political movement called “the regressive party,” which is “against abortion, but for killing babies.”  Using that information as a guide, don’t be surprised if his site offends the hell out of you while making you laugh until you die of a coronary.  He also promotes his “sponsor a vegetarian” ideology, which entails eating three times the meat that you would normally eat when in the presence of a vegetarian, so that their lifestyle actually contributes to MORE animals dying.  He says to continue doing this until they wise up and become a man.  LOL.

Image courtesy of Maddox.Xmission.com)

I could keep going about my favorite things online, but I feel like I’ve covered a good deal of information.  Unfortunately, I am still mourning the death of Tard-Blog, which was one of my favorite comedy blogs, written by a special ed teacher.  The death of Tucker Max’s Rudius Media Company saw the death of numerous great blogs, like Drunkasaurus Rex, Philly Lawyer, Tard-Blog, and others.

There is great content out there, and it’s up to you to find it, people.

And to play us out… This

HAHAHAHAHAHA

(Image courtesy of Epicwinftw.com)

May 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Persistence is key

I was doing my daily article round-up today, and I came across an interesting article about how people want to attack the Troll problem online.  For those of you who don’t know, a troll is someone who says defamatory and ridiculous things for the sole purpose of having all the attention on them, and to make everyone else super angry and write in ALL CAPS.

It’s easy to be a troll.  Pick a politically charged topic and come up with an absurd stance on it, and post it online.  People get really pissed, and they pay a lot of attention to you.  I’ve done it.  It’s EASY.

But it also costs companies money.  People bashing their products or scaring people out of their message boards (which happens FREQUENTLY) result in a series of missed opportunities for these companies, and they want the trolls gone.  Much like the wild west, the trolls (like cowboys) want everything to stay the same, but the people who have money are bringing the law and commerce crashing down on the heads of trolls everywhere.

How?

Persistent Logins.

It’s not ridiculous, and it WILL happen.  It’s easy to go online and flame someone because you’re anonymous.  That’s part of the appeal of the internet.  That’s really going to change.  In Korea, every internet user has to enter a unique code to use the internet.  Again, it WILL happen here.  The cops will know exactly who is downloading what, and you will have the cops at your door minutes after downloading that Spice Girls album from a P2P network.  Hackers won’t be able to hide behind server proxies, and the people that upload illegal media will be found instantly.  It’s logically safe that you would sign into every single (EVERY SINGLE) website using one persistent ID provided by your ISP.  The internet is going in that direction.  The military is currently working on setting up online networks to do this, and once they have their super-network online, the rest of us will follow.  There is going to be a storm of new laws regulating online behavior and people will finally be responsible for the things they do online.

We’ll have to build a prison just for 4chan members.

April 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Advertising in the video game world

Finally, a topic I can sink my teeth into.  I love video games.  I mostly enjoy role-playing and stealth games, but I like me some action, too.  My favorite IP’s are the Final Fantasy series from Square/Enix, and the Resident Evil series, which I grew up with (a joyous blend of action, puzzle-solving, and ZOMBIES!).  I remember when the Wu-Tang video game, Shaolin Style, came out for PS1.  It was part advertising and part game, with brand new exclusive tracks from the Wu-Tang clan.  Ahh, the memories.

While it’s no secret that the “Big 2” game developers (Activision and EA Games) have insane amounts of cash, it never hurts to get a little help by letting some advertising in your games.  Advertising in games takes many forms, and it’s getting increasingly more sophisticated.  I remember playing the first Splinter Cell game, and seeing “SoBe” vending machines during the CIA break-in mission.  Or how about playing the average racing game, where you select from a staggering list of licensed cars from real-world manufacturers.  Or playing Tony Hawk Or Skate, and seeing real products in the game from real companies.

Pictured: A Chevy during normal driving conditions

(Image courtesy of digitalbattle.com)

This is all well and good, but the world of in-game advertising has gone FAR beyond simply using licensed products and music.  Any way you slice it, people increasingly want games to reflect the world that we actually live in, so we feel less psychologically removed from the real world when we spend hours upon hours staring at moving colors that resemble real things.  Video games are kind of like a drug trip.  You spend hours seeing and interacting with stuff that isn’t there, and then you feel like you accomplished something while doing absolutely nothing.  Be that as it may, people love games, and advertisers are taking notice.

While it’s true that many games utilize a lot of the same advertising techniques that work in the real world (in-game billboards and stuff like that), some companies are taking in-game advertising in some interesting new directions.  I’m going to tell you about one that my buddies go on and on about in the shockingly popular game, World of Warcraft (which will be referred to as WoW from now on)… ordering food in the game.

(Image courtesy of worldofwarcraft.com)

Yes, that’s right.  Blizzard Entertainment knows that you’re too lazy to get off your ass and GET food, so they’ve partnered with Pandaren Xpress (not to be confused with Panda Express) Chinese food restaurants to allow you to order food from the game, online, WHILE PLAYING.  Seeing as how, in WoW, some quests, called Instances, can take up to TWELVE HOURS to complete, chances are you’ll need to eat at some point.

Oh, and when I say it takes twelve hours, I don’t mean that you’re just passively walking around for that time.  Oh no.  You’re usually with up to twenty other people, fighting hordes of creatures for a WHOLE DAY.

Anyways, all you have to do is type in /panda in the in-game console, and an in-game ordering system pops up, allowing you to quickly select your meal, at which point the nearest Pandaren Xpress restaurant to your IP address will prepare it and then deliver to your home.  Domino’s pizza has a similar deal going on, where you can order pizza from in the game.

As this example shows, companies aren’t simply content with you SEEING their product in a game.  Some companies are actively creating associations between themselves and these virtual worlds.  While Pandaren Xpress has absolutely nothing to do with the goings-on in WoW, players can easily order food from in the game, and become consumers of products BECAUSE of video games.

All I can say is…. wow

April 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A short post today

We talked about publishing video and audio content this week in class.  I figure that, since most of the important stuff was covered, I’d give you a little bit of a background into how I publish my OWN original content on the web.  As mentioned in previous posts and in-class nonsensical ramblings, I produce music as an extracurricular hobby.  I use a variety of software and hardware, and my studio, while modest and low-budget, is most dope.  Trust me, when my sister throws parties, I tend to wind up doing a live performance.

Without further adieu, I will once again post the URL to my content page on Acidplanet, which hosts all of my top-notch tracks (most of the music I produce doesn’t meet my standards for publication).

http://www.acidplanet.com/artist.asp?songs=549210&T=2784

Yes, I produced all those songs.  I know, I’m quite amazing.  Since the odds of ever landing a record contract range from nonexistent to laughably impossible, I post my tracks on there just so people will listen to the damn things.  I never cared about money or fame, I produce music because music doesn’t make fun of you, and it always tells the truth.  I make music because sometimes even my painstakingly assembled vocabulary is incapable of properly articulating my emotions, so I make music that properly conveys those emotions better than words ever could.  Yes, I do have a tendency to get personal in my song descriptions, but that’s my modus operandi.

Now, on to the point of this post.  You’ve seen the content, but you may be wondering how it’s made.  Well, I’ll show you a couple images of software and hardware that makes it all possible:

(I don’t have a digital camera, so my hardware photos are taken from online sources.  Rest assured that I DO, in fact, own this equipment)

First, the venerable Korg Electribe Es-MKii rhythm production sampler- the bread and butter of my sampling ability

Bad-ASS

(Image courtesy of sequencer.de)

Next up, we have my favorite piece of equipment, my Korg PadKontrol.  My chopping abilities would be severely hampered without this amazing tool.  A full MIDI-enabled USB device, it allows full sync with software programs, and since I have it daisy-chained with my Yamaha PS-109 as a MIDI slave, cuing samples, chops, and VST’s is a snap with this bad boy, whether I’m using the velocity-sensitive pads, or the keyboard.

Yes, this thing will rock your face off

(Image courtesy of Thaisecondhand.com)

Next, we have a very old piece of equipment from the ’90’s.  The old-school Yamaha PS-109.  This thing was so obscure, there are barely any good photos of it.  I really only use it for synthesis.  I don’t use any of its built-in sounds, because I already have over 75,000 samples and 100 VST synths.  This thing doesn’t have anything I wouldn’t have otherwise, except for a nice bank of keys from which to cue chops and synth notes. Daisychained with my PadKontrol, destructive chopping is no longer an impediment to composition.

OLDSCHOOL

(Image courtesy of imageshack.com)

Now, onto the REAL tools of the trade, where the magic happens.  Sure, I can make drums on my Electribe and play rhythms on my keyboard, but the software is what REALLY gets things going.  Here are some screen captures of two of my favorite software applications:

First off, Acid Pro 6- This software can be, and often IS, used for podcasting.  The track-based flow of the program allows layering of audio very easily, and chopping, cutting, and pasting is as easy as MS Word.  Just highlight the part you want to alter, and alter it.  Very simple, very intuitive, and it’s the industry gold-standard in audio-editing.  I’ve been using this program since I was thirteen years old.  I could hammer out a professional podcast in less time than it takes me to write this post.

(Image courtesy of… oh wait, it was a screen capture)

Next, we have a program that is often misunderstood.  FL Studio, formerly known as FruityLoops, is an amazing production tool.  Notice that I said PRODUCTION TOOL.  It’s awful for mastering (Acid Pro’s strong point), and isn’t very good for sampling (Audacity and Acid are my go-to programs for that).  FL is perfect for actual production of NEW material, be it synthesizers (Minimogue VST is pictured in the image), chopping (PadKontrol’s dominion), or loop production.  This tool is wonderful, and most of the songs you heard on my Acidplanet profile were made using this program in conjunction with Acid Pro.

(Image courtesy of MEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!)

So, what do the elements of my totally awesome home music studio have to do with podcasting?  Everything!  Podcasting is pretty easy, as it turns out.  All you really need is a mic, some audio software (some hardware if you want to do interviews and the like), and a purpose.

Here’s the flow of a podcast (I’ll try to keep this brief)

Let’s say I wanted to make a podcast about my cat, Lord Oxford Von Peppinsthein III (yeah… that’s his real name).  Let’s say I’ve spend numerous drunken evenings sampling his coarse meowing and purring, and I want to make an appreciation podcast show; and, for my first episode, I want to spotlight some music that I’ve made inspired my my furry feline compadre.

Zeh PEP!

In this case, I already have the music made (the production company I manage my music under is called “Peppinshtein Productions” for god’s sake).  What I would do first is write a script about the things I would talk about.  I would talk about my cat’s insatiable appetite, but unyielding standards for the food he eats (we cook him chicken), his ability to cause untold amounts of destruction, and some theories about his origin (truth be told, he just showed up at our house one day and decided he lived there.  Seriously).

So, I have my script, my sound effects, and my music.  What I would do now is load all the currently existing songs and tracks into Acid Pro and paste them in their proper places, and then I would pick up my trusty dynamic microphone and record the speech segment, using the PadKontrol to cue samples of Pep purring and meowing where appropriate, kind of like a douchy talk show host.

The end result would be a screen full of track information, kind of like this.

Now what?  I have all my tracks where they go, I’ve run a dynamic/compressor filter on my voice, faded the music tracks in and out using volume envelopes, and put vocoders on my cat’s meow to make him sound like T-Pain.  How do I get it online?

Well, you need to render that piece of audio into one file, for starters.  For podcasts, quality is key, and in computer talk, quality is “bitrate.”  The bitrate of a song is essentially how much space per second the file occupies.  A lower size is better for space-saving reasons, but the quality will be noticeably bad, typically shrinking the overall equalization range by up to 4,000hz, effectively making the range anywhere from 4,020hz – 16,000hz  as the working range of the file.  Seeing as how the human frequency range of hearing is 20hz to 20,000hz, this severely shrinks the effective frequency range of your track.  On the other hand, rendering at a higher bitrate, say 320kbp/s (which is ENORMOUS), will take up insane amounts of space on your hard drive, but the audio will retain crystal-clear equalization and sound more organic.  It’s all about how you want it to sound.  I typically split the difference and render at 156kbp/s and call it a day.

Next, you need to post it somewhere.  Acidplanet.com has a podcasting service, so I’ll post there.  You’d go to “add new song/podcast” and select the file from your computer.  You’d then wait for the file to load, and then put in the information, like title, series, episode, and other information.  Then, you’d just have to sit in front of the computer and desperately click refresh every ten seconds in the vain hope that someone comments on your podcast about your cat.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Hey everybody, use Wikia!

I was doing my whole “lounging around with foreign supermodels” thing again last night, except this time I was drinking seven-and-sevens instead of puffing on my fine tobacco.  I decided to take in some leisure reading, because my day was so exhausting, what with fighting terrorists and headbutting robots all day.  Once again, I delved deep, deep, DEEP into the masterpiece of our age, The Social Media Bible and was surprised that, during the reading, I came across a spotlight of one of my favorite online resources:  Wikia.

For those of you who have never used Wikia, I think it would be in your best interest to start doing it right now, or perhaps build a time machine and go back in time so you could have started using it earlier.  Wikia is the shiznit, as the kids say these days (they say that these days, right?).  Imagine something very similar to Wikipedia (the same guy who created Wikipedia created Wikia), but think of a completely different format.  Instead of just one page that gives a good amount of relevant information, imagine a freaking encyclopedia of user-generated knowledge pertaining to a subject in its entirety, with entries detailing individual pieces, Wikipedia-style.  Allow me to demonstrate.

(Image courtesy of oblivion.wikia.com)

The picture that totally just rocked your face off comes from the Wikia page for Oblivion, the groundbreaking RPG from Bethesda Softworks that came out a few years ago.  It’s the fourth installment in the absolutely beautiful Elder Scrolls series of stat-based role playing (basically runs on D&D rules.  You’re not still wondering why I’m single, are you?).  Because this game can take (literally) over a thousand hours of your life from you (its predecessor, Morrowind, could do even more damage), it’s pretty safe to say that there is a LOT of stuff to do in this game.  With hundreds of quests, thousands of people to meet and have full voice conversations with, and seemingly millions of items to collect, it’s a daunting task to get acclimated in the world of Tamriel without a proper guide.  You don’t want to accidentally try to make a healing potion with flax seed or inadvertently insult a big and scary Nord, do you?

Yes, this game is exactly as epic as it looks. Pick a direction and start walking.

(Image courtesy of xbox.kombo.com)

KABOOM!

Enter Oblivion’s Wikia page.  This is essentially your embassy in the world of Tamriel (the setting for Oblivion).  Information for newcomers is widely available.  There are pages for the basics like controls and the flow of the game.  You can get tips on how to create an effective character class and how to properly level your skills.  For more advanced players, there are walkthroughs of… EVERY. SINGLE. QUEST. IN. THE .GAME…  At last count, that number was approaching like 500.  You want to know some history?  Why go to the imperial library in the capital city and (literally.  No, I’m serious) read history books.  You can go on Wikia, and just go to the “Lore” page, and learn about the battles of Mehrunes Dagon, or learn about the Aleyid ruins that dot the landscape.  Research weapons or potions… the list goes on and on, and the Wikia page makes navigating to, finding, editing, and reading all this information almost criminally easy.  It gets REALLY specific too.  Look at this page on the Oblivion Wikia detailing the location and pharmacology of just one of hundreds of plants (and entries) in Oblivion.

More information on an imaginary flower than you'd ever want to know about a real one

(Image courtesy of Oblivion.wikia.com)

But here’s the beauty of Wikia.  Take a game like Oblivion, which has hundreds of characters in the game, many of which play important roles in various quests or sell specific items, or even have secret quests to give you.  Take that ludicrous amount of information… and make a portal online with full backgrounds on every character in the game, every conversation you could possibly have, lists of items that every merchant sells, a REAL FREAKING GOOGLE MAP OF CYRODIL that shows where every quest, dungeon, and secret can be found.  All of these things are under simple tabs that allow you to easily access the information.  Let’s say you just ran across an Imperial named Caius Cosades.  Just go on the Wikia page, type in his name, and up pops a whole profile of that character, and every possible way you could interact with him.

Well, I suppose this is one way...

(Image courtesy of guide2games.org)

Of course, there are other uses for Wikia as well.  I’m a big fan of the TV show Lost. There is a rather large (and very well done) Wikia portal for the show, that has in-depth synopses of every episode, up-to-date histories of each character (and I mean REALLY up-to-date and in-depth), and in-depth analysis of events, people, places, and anything else that has happened on the show.  The smoke monster, Benjamin Linus, the Island itself… they all have entries, allowing you to get the rundown on anything pertaining to Lost that you could ever want to know.  There are areas for discussion, as well, where people can post theories, predictions, fan art, and so on and so forth.

You thought I was kidding?

(Image courtesy of images2.fanpop.com)

And this is all a community of people adding information to create the most complete picture of anything.  There are Wikias for sports teams, television shows, musicians, countries… WHATEVER.  The great thing about this format versus Wikipedia is that Wikipedia is a one-page-at-a-time deal, while Wikia is a smattering of pages that all pertain to one over-arching topic, like Lost or Oblivion.  If you’re a fan of something , there’s likely a Wikia page for it.  Movies, people, places, games, companies… if you really want to get the run-down on something and learn a sickening amount of in-depth information, Wikia is probably the place to go.

April 3, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The stages of disbelief

It’s April first, and we all know what that means: you can’t trust ANYTHING on the internet that’s been posted today.  Allow me to show you exactly what I’m talking about.
A few weeks ago, Topeka, Kansas changed its name to Google, and was going to keep it that way for about a month.  Beyond being one of the stupidest things in history, it set the stage for one of the dumbest practical jokes in internet history.  And this display of infernal stupidity was perpetrated by our favorite company, Google.  If you went to Google.com on April 1st, chances are you were met with this bit of idiocy.

Facepalm

(Image courtesy of mediabistro.com)

I was admittedly confused at first.  My confusion quickly turned to outrage.  A blog post on Google’s newsblog informed readers that, to honor Topeka, Kansas’ temporary name change, Google was changing its name to Topeka.  Permanently.  They even had a photoshopped image of their mountain view logo placard that said “Topeka” instead of Google.  I was pissed.  I was utterly dumbfounded.  My initial reaction was, “Well, that’s it for Google, then.”

And then it hit me.  It was April 1st.  Those bastards.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A relaxing night

I was sitting by a roaring fire in a silk evening robe with a glass of fine Cabernet Sauvignon, intermittently puffing on a fine Amsterdam shag from a vintage calabash in my living room surrounded by foreign supermodels when I decided to do a bit of leisure reading.

This is what my evenings look like

(Image courtesy of sites.lingeriexox.com)

I had numerous choices of reading material.  I still need to finish Shantaram (if you haven’t read it or aren’t reading it, congratulations, you are uninteresting), I recently restarted an annotated version of Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War (every business major should view this book as compulsory reading), and I’m also wrapped up in the genre-defining classic, Oscar The Grouch Kills Osama Bin Laden In A Cage Match (okay, that last one was made up), but I decided to delve, once again, into the brilliant tome of scholarly genius, The Social Media Bible.

I get the impression that, given the content of the reading this week, we’re kind of nearing the endgame of this book.  It’s been a wild ride, filled with adventure, a few chapters of comically unnecessary length, and a seemingly endless cornucopia of do’s and don’ts to consider whilst bounding along the information super highway.  Today’s post comes to you courtesy of a chapter that’s practically smack-dab in the middle of the book, chapter 24- aptly titled “Social Networks.”

The book has a tendency to only portray the bright side of the internet.  However, as I have said before, not everything on the internet is midget laughter and unicorn farts (although those are both awesome).  I’m not going to go on a whole two thousand word post about the terrifying innocence-destroying stuff that’s online, but I am going to talk about some social networks that get a lot of traffic and perform some functions online that the book either doesn’t want to admit, or overlooks completely.  Yes, the internet has some sketchy back alleys and horrifying hallways, but so does the real world, and people explore the real-world ones just as often as the online ones.

Don't be scared, this place totally isn't crawling with mutated clowns with knives for fingers

(Image courtesy of photos.igougo.com)

Yes, I’ve talked before about online furry appreciation communities and Star Trek fan art porn sites, all of which are social networks, in that they encourage their deviant populace to post media pertaining to the… uh… content…. yeah, content.  But the book’s chapter on social media is essentially a rundown of some of the most useful sites, so let’s take one that this class has opened my eyes to, and do a bit of a spotlight on it.

Before this class, I had never heard of Ning.com.  I do not have a profile on Ning, and I don’t want one.  It’s bad enough I’m on Facebook and AcidPlanet.  But Ning has an interesting formula at work.  Instead of a single, over-arching formula for the entire social networking portal, people set up mini-portals that typically pertain to specific topics, people, or ideologies.  This is a good idea, because it allows the user to essentially customize their social networking experience, and interact with all the people that are (apparently) using Ning.

Now, because I’ve spent a good deal of time on this whole Internet thing, my mind is super twisted and dark, which is why I LOVE horror movies.  There’s something about our modern society that makes a lot of us skeptical, especially when it comes to movies.  I can’t stand it when I’m seeing a movie with someone, and the only thing they ever say is “that’s so fake,” repeatedly.  Well, with horror movies, sometimes it’s the little things that do the biggest jobs.  Computer graphics are simply incapable of rousing that fight-or-flight response when watching something horrifying, which is why I especially love the Japanese-style horror flicks, because somewhere along the line, Japanese film producers learned that a tasteful makeup job and some slick editing goes much farther than expensive computer graphics (see The Messengers. The ceiling-walking scene kept me up for DAYS).  Let’s face it, Japan is one of the world’s most ancient cultures.  They’ve had more practice being crazy than anyone.  A cursory look at any of the various Japanese fetish websites will show you that, for a socially conservative culture, they’re into some WEIRD stuff (much of it involving tentacles).  Add to that their pantheon of deities and national folklore, and you have a fascinating clash of storytelling and downright terrifying horror content.  If you haven’t seen Carved, I recommend it.  That is, if you’re fine with never sleeping or talking to strangers EVER again.

A wholesom family film

(Image courtesy of lh6.ggpht.com)

And I don’t just love scary movies.  I’ve been a huge fan of the Resident Evil video game series since I was in middle school.  I remember the first zombie in the first game.  I ran out of the room.  Literally.  I was eleven.  I also love Silent Hill, which is a little more hokey, but the point is, that I love horror movies with a good plot, a terrifying antagonist, and a good conclusion.  The best part about Japanese horror movies is how they often portray the monster or creature as something that is either trying to warn people, inform people, or get some kind of revenge on someone who actually deserves it.  Sometimes, you wind up rooting for the monster, not because it kills people in awesome ways and scares the living daylights out of you, but because it’s actually the good guy.

As you can see, I’m a passionate horror fan.  I’ve seen every Saw movie, I went to see Hostel opening night, and I can sit through Night of the Living Dead without flinching.  But where can a guy like me find some like-minded people to discuss movie murder and mayhem?

Ning, that’s where.

Ning has a community called the Fans of Horror Social Network. Seems simple enough.  But it’s actually surprisingly comprehensive and deep.  Of course, there’s a “front page,” with a collage of scenes from iconic horror films and some updates and discussion, but there’s also a forum with a surprising array of content.  Here you can discuss horror video games, movies, and books, and there are even posting areas for non-horror content, and even a section to post your horror dvd’s for sale or trade with other members.

Now, what does any of this have to do with the book?  Well, let’s break down some of the features of this Ning group, and see what’s what.  First of all, it’s free.  This is important, because it allows like-minded individuals a quick and FREE way to stay in touch and discuss.  While we’re on the topic, it encourages members to post information pertaining to the multifaceted world of horror.  On top of that, this encourages user-generated content in the form of fan art, photoshop images, and Youtube videos.  Seems like a pretty complete package for the horror fanatic.  But there’s another thing.  Even though this community is rather small (137 members), they are all devoted fans of the genre.  It would be in the interest of any producer making a horror film to get some buzz going in this little community, which would generate interest that could ripple outward into the word-of-mouth sphere, spreading through Facebook and Myspace (does anyone REALLY use Myspace anymore?)

So there we have it.  A community built for an existing market that allows fans of a relatively small genre of movies to interact and share information on Ning.

To play us out, a screenshot from Microsoft’s new horror game, Alan Wake, which hits shelves in less than two months.  I have been following this game since 2006, and it’s finally upon us!

The graphics have already won numrous awards

(image courtesy of thatvideogameblog.com)

March 27, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Riders on the STORM

Have you ever wondered where spam mail comes from?  It’s actually underwear-soilingly horrifying.  You’d think that it all comes from guerrilla marketing firms who get paid a few cents for every response to an email that they generate.  That’s… kind of true… but most of it comes from this guy:

This is the face of the biggest douche on earth

(Image courtesy of cracked.com)

This man is Leo Kuvayev.  He is one of the most powerful men on the internet.  It wouldn’t come as a terrible surprise to me if you haven’t heard of him, but it’s good that you’ve heard of him now, because this man is thought to be running the largest malicious botnet on EARTH, known as the STORM botnet, which consists of tens of MILLIONS of infected computers (and yes, Macs too).  He is thought to be the Russian spammer who took down Twitter, Facebook, and other sites with D-DOS attacks over the past few years.  He’s wanted in numerous countries, and is thought to be currently operating under the alias, “Alex Rodriguez,” and has set up numerous domains under that name, sending spam, peddling illegal pharmaceuticals, and probably any other awful thing you can imagine on the internet.  He is still known as the Spam King online, or simply as “Leo,” and some speculate that he is responsible for 20% of the world’s spam.  (All information from Wikipedia and various articles)

I would jump at the chance to knock his teeth out for all the stupid La Quinta Inn spam I keep getting, but there’s a reason he’s still out there: he is dangerous.  He is a real-life supervillain.  It gets a lot worse than you think.  All those computers in the STORM botnet aren’t in underground bunkers all over the world… they’re in your living room.  That’s right, STORM sends out BILLIONS of messages per day, many of them laced with malware that busts right through your antivirus software and converts your computer from an atheist right into the STORM religion.  And you’d never know that your home computer is partially responsible for the spam people are getting, but that’s exactly how it works.  And, to put it lightly, that’s just him messing with people and getting rich.  He sells D-DOS attacks and spam campaigns.  But if he wanted to, he could topple entire economies.

The STORM botnet is widely believed to be powerful enough to knock entire countrywide networks off the internet.  If that doesn’t scare you enough, I can bet that this video of the initial 8 hours of the STORM worm’s outbreak will quickly terrify you.

There’s even more to it than that. According to Arstechnica.com, STORM has gone on the offensive, and even attacked the root servers of the internet, of which there are 13. Guess what? It severely damaged 2 of them. STORM has countermeasures and defenses that are probably more sophisticated than the Pentagon’s.  And even more terrifying, according to Wikipedia, there are bits of STORM for sale, meaning you could start your own botnet with a little tech know-how and a lot of guts.  If the internet was planet Earth, this would be just like selling nukes to anyone who wants them.

And then there’s the bandwidth that this network of zombie computers needs.  Think about it this way:

Imagine that, in your community, there is a den of evil sorcerer spider men from Mars.  Everyone knows where they live and who they are, but they turn you to dust if you come within a hundred yards of their lair (which is on Maple street, in case you were wondering).  On top of that, they come and raid every grocery store in town every day, taking stuff EVERYONE wants, like kitty litter, canned peaches, and those bags of Mexican-style four-cheese medley.  And everyone lets them, because even LOOKING at them wrong will instantly and unexplainably kill you and your whole family.  Would you mess with them?  Didn’t think so.  It would take an army of men willing to be reduced to fine powder to even get close.  Now imagine that the stuff they’re stealing is the finite resource of internet bandwidth.  Or, to put it a different way, it takes up a friggin TON of internet space.  That’s the STORM botnet in a nutshell.  It attacks people who even HINT at tracking them down.  I’d rather be a pet than cattle, so I’m just going to submit to my digital ruler and get it over with.

As if STORM’s existence wasn’t bad enough, it’s only operating at 10%-20% capacity.  That’s right.  If the whole thing came online, and a customer purchased a D-DOS attack (because that’s actually how that stuff works), no entity on the internet could conceivably counter the attack.  If a customer decided they wanted all of Texas to be blasted back into the 80’s, Leo could easily do it.  He can target specific addresses, cities, or whole countries.  If he even caught a whiff of authorities coming for him, the amount of damage he could do in a few minutes could plunge much of the earth into chaos.  And get this… they think he’s either in Finland OR Tahiti.  So, what they’re really saying is, he could be ABSOLUTELY ANYWHERE.  But does it matter?  Does it matter where he is when he could easily trigger deadly cyber-warfare attacks from prison with nothing but a phone call? STORM has undoubtedly collected credit card numbers, Social Security Numbers, and other information on hundreds of millions of individuals across the globe.  Imagine if it just went Fight Club on us and reset EVERYONE’S credit score to zero.  That would RUIN the world’s economy overnight.  Even if he got caught, Leo runs an international cybercrime ring.  He could trigger the worlds most catastrophic disasters from behind bars.  I’m sure he has some awesome code word to start the attack from prison… something like…

"Baby make wee-wee. You know what to do"

(image courtesy of archives.seacoastonline.com)

So, how do we fight a real-life supervillain?  Do we wait for a real-life supernerd Superman to show up?

Don't worry, this guy's got our back

(Image courtesy of randomfunnypicture.com)

NO.  The best defense is almost none at all.  If you don’t want your computer turned into a zombified husk that sends deadly messages to other computers, DON’T OPEN MESSAGES FROM SENDERS YOU DON’T KNOW.  I know, we hear that all the time, and we think it’s a load of hogwash (need to start using that word more), but it’s true.  Don’t open messages from unknown senders.  Study how botnets work.  I think that using the internet is like driving a car.  Some people are better at it than others, but everyone needs to know some basic rules, and one of them was just discussed.  If you take anything away from this post (which you won’t, because you didn’t read it), just take away that one piece of advice.

March 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment