Monday, August 3, 2015

New Blog Location

From now on, I will be posting to

I’ve migrated all my old posts to the new site, but you can read them here if you like. I’ll leave this site up for nostalgia.

Blogger has never done me wrong, but it’s about time I moved on to a self-hosted, more customizable site. Also, you never know when Google may pull the plug on this service like they did with Google Reader.

Here’s to a fresh start and hopefully more regular posts. See you at the new site!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Write to Smash: Ness

I want to Smash.

Ew, not like that, you pervert. I meant that I want to play Super Smash Bros. Since the latest installment of Smash was released last fall, my controller has been glued to my hands (I may need surgery to remove it).

It’s hard to admit, but I’ve spent more time with my favorite characters than I have spent with my family. I feel as though my bond with these virtual fighters transcend the boundary between the real and digital world.

As I control their movements, I tell them, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you get through this fight. We can do it together.” I speak through button inputs and we converse with combos. They praise me with victory and they teach me through defeat.

I’ve spoken their language since 1999, but I wish they could speak mine.

I know! I will write a letter to them and post it here. If somehow, someway these digitized words travel through the most inner tubes of the internet, I can let my most favorite Smash companions know they are excellent fighters and they are appreciated.

This series of blog posts will be labeled “Write to Smash.” I’ll start off with a letter to one of my main characters.


We met 16 years ago in the first generation of Super Smash Bros. From the start, I knew you were special—you were the most difficult character to unlock for my eight-year-old self. I didn’t know much about you because I didn’t own any of your games. I did, however, learn about you though your play style. Your baseball bat and yo-yo showed me that you like playing games like any other kid.

Via Axels-Grrl

But your psychic powers showed me that you aren’t like any other kid.

We were acquaintances back then. I spent most of my time around Pikachu and Captain Falcon. Their speedy style suited my personality back then. I was an eight-year-old with too much energy and not enough patience to learn your techniques. Even today, I’m still getting used to your powers.

In the latest Smash title, we developed a floaty style that relies on heavy aerial attacks. When we knock our opponents airborne with our yo-yo, we spam them with PK Thunder. As they fall towards us to avoid being juggled, we redirect the PK Thunder to ourselves, launching our electrically charged body into our opponent for a sure KO. Sure, our strategy borders on gimmicky. But if it works, it works.

We can always use the salt from our opponents to season our sweet victory. Who doesn’t love a sweet and salty mix?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn't appreciate you at first, Ness. I knew you were from a game called Earthbound for the Super Nintendo, but I never had the opportunity to play it. Earthbound was initially a commercial failure in the US due to poor marketing. After your Smash debut, demand for Earthbound soared and it soon became expensive and inaccessible. It wasn’t until 2013 that I finally downloaded a virtual copy of the game to try it out.

I was awestruck.

I knew you starred in an RPG, but I didn’t know it would be so quirky and memorable. The world is vibrant and expansive, but it also carried dark undertones. I got to know your friends, family, and even your enemies. It all began when we found a mysterious meteorite. We learned that a powerful alien named Giygas is trying to take over the world. According to Buzz Buzz, a bee from 10 years into the future, we were humanity’s only hope. Of course we were.

Via Christopher Furniss

We saved a town from zombies, we explored pyramids, we navigated through caves, and we fought dinosaurs. We eventually shed our mortal bodies to travel back in time to battle Giygas in The Cave of the Past. At our darkest moment, when our chance for success was bleak, you acknowledged my presence behind the controller. You called upon me to help you in a way that I had never experienced before in a video game. You and I defeated Giygas and saved the world.

Ness, I depend on you in Smash as much as you depended on me in Earthbound. Your techniques and abilities create music; I am simply a conductor. Together, we produce the symphony of our enemy’s destruction.

If there’s one thing I would ask of you, it’s this: keep your head down so you don’t get nerfed in a future update.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Brave New Internet

Via Santi VillamarĂ­n

I started this post because I read a couple articles that lament the future of the web. They argue that it’s becoming the new TV, that our culture of consumption has transformed diverse and interconnected web into one that is more uniform and intraconnected.

As I wrote, I found myself venting about the current state of the web. I pick on Facebook and BuzzFeed and explained how they are affecting the rest of the web. But as I compared past arguments about television and present arguments about the web, I conclude that the comparisons don’t hold up, and that we should be cautiously optimistic for the future.

Also, my new favorite word is “listicle.”

Get Out of My Face

An old classmate from high school posts racist commentary current events. Blocked. A former coworker spams pictures of her children participating in mundane activities. Unfollowed. A former groupmate from college posts a BuzzFeed article. Unfriended.

Why am I logged into Facebook? Oh right, I wanted to clear that notification off my phone—a notification which turned out to be a game invite. People still send those?

For some reason, I still keep a Facebook profile. The benefits of staying in touch with a few friends and family outweigh the cost of, well, everything else—but just barely. My relationship status with the site has been complicated for a while. A few years ago, I wrote about my unhappy dependence on Facebook and its effect on my identity. Since then, I’ve moved the majority of my online activity to Twitter and Reddit.1

Despite my feelings toward Facebook, the Zuckernaut has only gotten stronger. Over 71% of adult internet users are on Facebook, or 58% of the entire adult population. The site is now worth $245 billion, which is worth more than Walmart. Every month, the collective user base spends 640 billion minutes on Facebook.

For many people, Facebook is the internet. And that’s exactly what the Zuckheads want.

Facebook’s ultimate goal is to create an experience in which users never have to leave—and why should they? Since the introduction of the apps, the news feed, and the trending topics sidebar, users have their games, their friends, and their news conveniently wrapped into a single page. Oh, and it’s free.2

Facebook as a one stop source carries implications that affect more than how users consume; it also affects what users consume. Facebook’s algorithm calculates what kinds of content the user wants to see and delivers it to the top of the news feed. In theory, content creators can tailor their content to become more visible on users’ feeds. We no longer need to seek information. Information seeks us. you hear a buzzing sound?

Feed Me

BuzzFeed is among the most shared content on Facebook, but you already knew that. The sole existence of this “social news and entertainment” company is based around spreading their buzzy gospel across social media.

And they spread. And they spread. And they spread. And they spread. And they spread.

I recently visited their website and was awestruck at the volume of content they post hourly. Clickbait headlines, listicles, personality quizzes, and some current events sprinkled about. While these forms of content aren’t inherently bad (except for clickbait), it is staggering how much of this content is shared every day.

Has BuzzFeed, along with others like them, have found the key to being successful on this medium? Based on their 850 million dollar worth, the answer is: yes. If might is right, then BuzzFeed is very, very right.

However, the popularity of BuzzFeed isn’t a direct result of the website’s influence on internet culture. They are also a reflection of internet culture. Over the past decade, the internet had undergone a major cultural shift from diverse interconnectivity to uniform intraconnectivity.

In November of 2014, blogger Hossein Derakhshan was released from an Iranian prison. After six years behind bars, Derakshan was shocked at how different the digital landscape had become. In his article “The Web We Have to Save,” he discusses how social media changed the way we use the web. He writes, “[The internet] is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking.” This is apparent when we see BuzzFeed and NY Times publishing their articles straight to Facebook, possibly ranking themselves more favorably with Facebook’s algorithm and giving users one less chance to leave.

John Herrman of The Awl asserts a similar idea in “The Next Internet is TV.” He argues that social media centralizes the web in a way that allows media companies market to an already established audience. The people are already there; they just need to be advertised to. For BuzzFeed, that means more writers, more content, more shares on Facebook, and more ad money.

With BuzzFeed’s native advertising strategy, even the line between content and advertisement is blurred. They aren’t in the internet journalism business; they’re in the advertising empire business. And we crave it.

Amusing Ourselves

Our endless streams of content hark back to Aldous Huxley’s soma. We scroll through our feeds not because it makes us happy, but to keep ourselves from ennui. We lose our minds when it’s taken away.

Are we witnessing signs of a digital dystopia? Are algorithms, media companies, and our desire to occupy our minds leading us to a cultural brain drain? Are we allowing others to think for us?

Neil Postman wrote on a similar topic in Amusing Ourselves to Death back in 1985. In his book, he likens television entertainment to soma that evokes our feelings rather than our thoughts. He argues that the oversaturation of information we experience through media renders us indolent; there are too many topics and not enough time to think, much less act. From local news to national politics, the media is in a position to shape our perceptions of the world.

Postman’s arguments are enticing, but was he right?

30 years after his book’s publication, we can hardly call our world a dystopia. We’re living in the best time to collaborate, share, organize, and act in ways which would have taken weeks or even months to organize in the past. We’re reading and writing more than ever with our digital technology. Postman’s arguments are still valuable, especially in the context of the modern internet. We should criticize our technology and the way we use it. The tools that can cause us to languish are the same tools that can empower us.

While I complain about the state of social media and its content, I have to remind myself to be thankful that I have a voice. I have the opportunity to complain without fear of imprisonment. For this, I am optimistic about the future of the web.

Facebook sucks. BuzzFeed sucks. For all I know, my blog sucks. But that’s what makes this whole thing great. Things don’t have to be perfect for us to enjoy them. For many of us, the internet is a form of escapism. A silly listicle can brighten up an otherwise dull day. A quiz result can amuse you. What is the harm in that? Some websites monetize our habits, our impulses, and our need for entertainment. We’re paying for it one way or another.

By nature, the internet can’t become the new TV. Scroll down—the comment section of every piece of content empowers us in a way that television can never replicate. Sometimes there are trolls and flame wars. Sometimes we strongly disagree with the top-rated comment. But we always have a voice.

No matter how uniform and marketable the internet may get, our voice is the main difference between the web and television.

We will have a problem if that ever changes.

1. With Reddit’s recent fiasco, I’m not sure if will I stay with this community.
2. As long as you’re cool with Facebook selling your personal information. I’m sure you’ve heard this before.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

To Radiate Positivity: Homecoming (Part 2)

Feel free to check out Part 1 if you haven’t already!

In Bonnaroo culture, it’s normal to high-five strangers, hug your neighbors, and treat everyone like you know them. Bonnaroovians want the festival to be an indulgent, music-fueled, dream vacation. So it is.

For the rest of America, it’s normal keep to ourselves and mind our own business. We find comfort in our personal bubbles.

Back home again in Indiana...

I live in Bloomington, Indiana, one of the most culturally diverse and progressive towns in the state. There are numerous art festivals and events to give citizens a strong sense of community. There are even homeless folks who come from all over the country because of the town’s hospitable reputation. This town is famous for its friendliness and positive vibes.

But it’s no Bonnaroo. Although it’s not a fair comparison, we can learn from the communities’ differences.

When I walk around town and the IU campus, there aren’t high fives—there is hardly a “hi.” If you’re a stranger, you're barely spared a passing glance. When I make eye contact with someone on the sidewalk, they usually look away or through me.

On my way to work last week, I saw large sections of the sidewalks fenced off for a festival. I tried telling a lady she was walking towards a dead end, but she ignored me. The worst case scenario is a slight inconvenience, so I let her go. I heard her yell, “Jesus!” when she reached the end. I don’t think she was saying a prayer.

That same day, I ordered some lunch at my favorite food truck, Juancho’s Munchies. I was waiting for my food when I noticed the next guy ordered a meal I like. I tried saying, “Good choice, that’s my go-to,” but the man gave me a look and ignored me. Shame on me for intruding on his private affairs.

Until I went to Bonnaroo, I never realized how much we ignore each other every day.

Bloomington is the most friendly town I’ve ever lived in by far. But I can’t help but wonder if our culture has a low standard for a town’s friendliness in the first place. On The Farm, I overhead someone say, “Bonnaroo is nothing short of life changing.” I thought he was being dramatic and deep to a Bonnarookie, but now I understand. This music festival opened my eyes to a new standard of friendliness.

I’m an introverted person. I enjoy time to myself and I’m fine if I don’t say more than five words some days. I understand the desire to be alone. But we’re a social species. We have a biological instinct to be a part of a community. We may enjoy alone time, but we can’t handle staying alone.

Bonnaroo is a symbol of humanity’s social excellence. It’s a vacation from the egocentric culture we’ve all come to accept. Now that I’ve been through the looking glass, I see that our personal bubbles aren’t protecting us; they’re confining us.

If the Bonnaroo experience is shaped by its community, why can’t our communities do the same?

Maybe I’ve got the Bonnablues. Or maybe some of Bonnaroo’s craziness stuck with me. But I’ll try my hardest to Radiate Positivity until I figure it out.

Goodnight, sweet prince.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

To Radiate Positivity: Bonnarookie (Part 1)

Bleachers tore it up. Literally—Jack smashed his guitar.


That’s how people greet each other at Bonnaroo. Along with high-fives, hugs, and the occasional offering of candy. That’s not a euphemism; a couple guys walked up to me and gave me a fun-sized bag of Skittles.

This was the vibe of the festival. The words “Radiate Positivity” are posted all over The Farm, and Bonnaroovians act accordingly. Nobody’s a stranger there; they’re all friends that haven’t met yet. It’s an environment I had never experienced before.

Kendrick Lamar put on one of the best shows of the festival. His set was sick—almost as sick as what I witnessed in the crowd. A guy was frantically trying to exit through a sea of entranced, fully-hyped people. We were stepping aside to let the guy through, and he vomited all over a girl in front of me.

Time stood still for a moment.

The crowd formed a meter-wide radius around the scene. The girl was visibly mortified and didn’t know what to do but scream, “IT’S ALL OVER ME!” The crowd parted open a path to let her leave. It took us approximately three seconds to get back into the show. As Kendrick Lamar says, “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe.” We complied.

That incident is the embodiment of Bonnaroo culture. If something unfortunate happens, we deal with it and we keep the party alive. Through the 90+ degree weather, we still crowded together, jumped up and down, and screamed our lungs out.

Beaker made a guest appearance.

We didn’t bother those who passed out on the grass. We didn’t bother people’s campsites. There’s bound to be some bad apples with 60,000+ people in one place, but the honest folks far outnumber the jerks. The Lost & Found section of the Bonnaroo website lists hundreds upon hundreds of phones, wallets, bags, and keys lost on The Farm.

I had never seen so much trust among strangers in my life.

One night, I was at a “charging tent” where I sat with a handful of folks, our phones plugged to the table. A guy stumbled to the table and plugged in his phone. He was under the influence of something strange. He asked us if we could watch his $500 luxury item called an iPhone while he took care of something. One joker said, “Sure, but how do you know that one of us won’t steal it?”

The thought blew his mind. The joker convinced the guy he wasn’t serious and he would watch the phone. Sure enough, nobody walked off with it. The guy came back and was ecstatic to see his phone. He was happy. We were happy. We didn’t know each other, but we were friends.

After a weekend of some fantastic shows, it was time to go home. My buddy Kelly and I were exhausted and partied out. I looked forward to a hot shower and sleeping in my bed. I was ready to go home, but at the same time, I wasn’t ready at all.

I didn’t realize much I would miss everyone.

Feel free to read on to Part 2!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Less is More

Source: Staffan Vilcans

I come from a family of packrats.

You won’t find them on an episode of Hoarders. You won’t find mummified cats buried under mountains of garbage. But you will find the clutter unbearable to be around.

Growing up, I didn’t notice the clutter. I had always been able see past all the boxes and totes around the house. It was like having an extremely lame version of x-ray vision. I was far too acclimated to this lifestyle, and I never thought twice about it.

My family had moved from a two-story house to a one-story house 15 years ago. You would think this meant we had to minimize our belongings, but we accumulating things instead. Compound that habit with our tendency to hold onto things, and we have a problem.

My dad sees value in everything. He would repurpose anything he could—especially boxes and containers. He does not believe in throwing away food and he always made sure to pour our milk to the very last drop. Thanks in part to his habit to never waste, I’ve never gone hungry and I learned how to stretch a dollar down to the last penny.

My mom is very sentimental about her belongings. Family is the most important thing in her life, and her habits reflect that value. She loves to keep things that remind her of her baby boys, including baby clothes and toys. Unless I have a baby anytime soon, these items will remain in boxes indefinitely. I just have to convince her that I’m way cooler than a baby version of me.

I appreciate everything my parents have done for me. I’ve always had food on my plate and a roof over my head, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them. But their “save everything” lifestyle has led to a cluttered house that seems to be getting more full every time I visit.

Since I moved out of my parents’ house, I chose to live a more minimal lifestyle. I knew I had the same packrat tendencies as my parents, and I did not want it to take over my life.

I tidy up when I notice clutter. I’m quick to get rid of things before I think they could “come in handy.” At least twice a year, I purge my belongings to be sure I only have things that I need and use often.

I even began noticing psychological benefits from my lifestyle adjustment. Whenever I tidy up or reduce my belongings, I get an endorphin rush. I can feel the weight come off my shoulders with every item I throw away. As silly as it sounds, I’m defeating my personal demons every time I tidy up.

None of these changes came about on my own. I coped with my packrat tendencies with the support of my significant other and through research. I found online resources about hoarding and forums dedicated to those affected by hoarding. It’s encouraging to read about how others have overcome similar problems.

I recently visited my parents to help reduce the clutter. I always felt like I had unfinished business in that home, and this was the only way to deal with it.

As I sorted through boxes, I came across an old trapper keeper I used in 8th grade. This very item is an artifact of my own hoarding tendencies. I was face-to-face with one of my demons. Why did I keep this thing? I took a look inside and the memories came flooding back. I vividly recalled bits and pieces of my 8th grade year. I was having a nostalgia attack.

But the memories weren’t special; they were just mundane events that happened ten years ago. Neither the memories nor the trapper were worth keeping.

So I threw it away.

I can see why my parents keep things, but I think they should be more picky about things and memories that are worth keeping. It’s like an unedited video; all the great moments are captured, but it gets lost in rest of the footage. And nobody wants to watch that video.

Their house is slightly less cluttered today, and I’m not sure if it will ever be truly tidy. But at least this packrat has turned into a modest mouse.

What, was that too cheesy? Sorry not sorry.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Time Keeps on Slippin’

It has been a month since I changed jobs. I feel comfortable in my new environment, but I also feel like I just started working there a week ago. My company hired two new people since I started, so I’m not the new guy anymore. Hold on, I need to double check the calendar...

It has actually been nearly three months since I started.

Crap. What happened?

The last thing I remember is my departure from my former job. It felt just like breaking up with a girlfriend: we got along well, we spent a lot of time together, and “it's not you, it's me.” I still keep in touch with a few of my old coworkers, so we’re just friends now.

As for my current job, things are going smoothly. I do online marketing for Solution Tree, a publisher that specializes in professional development for K–12 educators. I’m learning so much about different softwares and processes, it’s no wonder I lost track of time. In fact, it feels like time is passing quickly these days.

I had a moment in the last year where I had to actually think about my age. Like Blink 182, I had to ask: what's my age again?1

Since college, I felt the days get shorter, the seasons shift quicker, the years blend together. The other day I shared a cake with my roommates, feelin’ 22.2 Today I realized I celebrated another birthday since then. In a couple months I’ll be 24—nearly a quarter century old.

After reflecting on my mortality, I conducted some research3 about time perception and I found answers that don’t point towards early-early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Age/Year Relationship

Some theories are based on the assumption that our brains perceive time in relation to our lifetimes. In other words, every year you experience makes up a smaller fraction of your entire life. For example, a year makes up your entire life on your first birthday. When you turn 2, a year makes up 12 of your life. At age 3, a year is just 13 of your life, and so on. The length of a year is constant, but each year makes up a smaller and smaller chunk of your entire lifetime.

Source: The Local Yarn

Logarithmic Time Perception is another example that is summed up with this equation: change=log(age). It takes 10 years for change to go from 0 to 1, but it will take 90 more years for change to reach 2. The idea is that we perceive so much change in our early years that we perceive time to move slowly. The inverse is true in our later years.

Source: Google Graph Calculator

Aging Brain

If you’re into theories that are less math-y, psychologists have studied how aging affects the brain’s ability to perceive time. In these studies, researchers asked participants of various ages to estimate when 3 minutes had passed. The subjects ages 19 to 24 estimated an average of 3 minutes and 3 seconds—an excellent estimation of time. However, the subjects between 60 and 80 estimated 3 minutes and 40 seconds.

The above results are evidence of the aging brain’s slower processing speeds. This is due to shifts in our brains’ chemical makeup as we age. Because it takes longer to process information, an aging brain may perceive the world to be more fast-paced than it used to be.

Of course, the world didn’t speed up. The brain slowed down.

There are many other theories of time perception out there, and they all seem to share a theme: we’re on the fast track to our inevitable demise.

Don’t despair! These theories offer ways to counter the perception of sped-up time.

The most common answer to “slowing down time” is to break routine. When we create new experiences, our brains pay attention to them differently than a repetitive experience. It’s why we stop noticing our daily commute. It’s also why we recall things in relation to memorable events like weddings, vacations, or world events.

Of course, having a novel experience is easier said than done. We’re all tied down with our jobs, budgets, classes, and other responsibilities. But there are little novel experiences that we can take advantage of every day:

  • Do volunteer work
  • Get to know coworkers
  • Try a new sport or hobby
  • Join a club

The list goes on and on. Yes, new experiences are a time investment, but so is everything else in life. You have the right to spend your time however you please—like reading this blog post.

As for myself, I’ll try to focus on breaking my own routines, including my habitual neglect of this blog.4

Thanks for wasting some of your limited time on this Earth with me.

1. This reference is 16 years old. Ouch.
2. This reference is only 3 years old. I’ll take it.
3. Frantic Googling
4. Sigh. I'm working on it.