Sunday Speculation: For the Love of the Game

Photo by Erik Mallinson/Flickr

There is no denying it: I am a gamer.

I adventure in World of Warcraft. I take capture points and blow up people in Team Fortress 2. My iPad is full of games from World of Goo (SO. GOOD.) to Scrabble to Warpgate to- well, you get the point. Lots of games.

I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at a pretty young age. My mother’s family was big into card games and my friends would play lots of a board games. With the advent of Atari and then later Nintendo, the console game system started to feature into my play activities. A family Commodore 64 was where my brother and I would play even more games. College had a combination of console (Playstation), computer (the first Command & Conquer blew my mind and lots of Quake), and some other games (Hearts and a violent card game known simply as “Egyptian Ratscrew”. Don’t ask.) Post college saw involvement in live action roleplaying games (also known as LARPs) in addition to the other platforms (console, computer, board, card) listed above.

Gaming has been a part of my professional life as well. I worked to co-create a video game collection in my library system. The circulation for the games has been tremendously successful. I’ve been pretty proud of that and work towards giving people a new way to look at the library as well as a chance to see what else we have to offer.

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of articles that talk about the importance of play in development (both human and other animals) and the benefits it has on mental acuity. Personally, I’ve never understood while people give up on play so easily. Or maybe it’s just that the concept of play changes over time for some people.

So, I have a simple question: how do you play? What do you consider to be play? And how has play changed for you?

Why I Write

Adrian: Why do you wanna fight?
Rocky: Because I can’t sing or dance.

Rocky (1976)

For me, writing reminds me of the bleeding techniques of early Western medicine; it was a school of thought regarding the draining of excessive humors from the body in order to reach a better state of health. In applying this principle to my blog, it is a matter of giving voice to ideas, thoughts, opinions, and commentary that would otherwise be rattling around my brain pan, demanding to be let out or returned for use by some other higher brain function.

As much as I grew up being a reluctant reader (I basically stopped at Encyclopedia Brown), I have been a reluctant writer as well until the last couple of months. There was always a willpower barrier that required to be overcome to even start a post, nevermind finishing one. For a long time, a writer’s block would mean that all work would come to a screeching halt until the proper wording, phrasing, or transition had been constructed. Frustration would take hold and the post would live as a draft while the roadblock was dealt with.

From my experience, draft status is somewhat of blog post Purgatory, a limbo in which the fate of an entry is measured by the mettle it would require to finish it. Some drafts never move on to Publish status as thoughts and opinions change on the subject or it is found to be wanting of certain support criteria. Others are able to survive the process and appear as a fully formed and properly birthed internet prose. They do serve as a memory lane for me where I can look at some of the ideas I had before that never made it out of this step.

As time has progressed, I’ve gotten better about the writing process. Fewer posts see time in the draft stage and most will make it out into published status in one sitting (albeit a long sitting, but still). To relate it back to the opening metaphor of this post, I have become better at diagnosing which humors are affecting the body and how best to treat them. My personal epiphany has been to shift my mindset and stop treating writing as a solo act and approach it more as a complete series of steps. As a doctor would listen to the symptoms, perform tests, and make a diagnosis, it is a matter of undertaking the process.

And a process it is, I would heartily agree. My brother, a talented fiction writer of his own right, refers to it as ‘laboring in the wordmine’. Writing the words into the computer would appear to be on the easy end of the entire system. Finding the words, expressing the thoughts, the arrangement of sentences within and how they relate to those that precede and those that follow, the flow of the paragraphs, all in service of an overarching concept or story or point. The construction of everything before your eyes right now is the result of writing, adjusting, re-writing, re-phrasing, and re-positioning. I’d offer a calculation as to the time consumed, but it is nothing compared to the urge to get it to be right in one’s own eye.

A friend of mine asked me how I wrote, what motivated me, and why I wrote. There is no way to answer her simply. I hope that this post offers something of a clue towards her questions, but in closing I can offer her this additional explanation. For me, writing is freedom. I can organize and arrange my words and thoughts in ways that make sense in an overactive thought process. I am more honest, more true to myself here than I am speaking or behaving since I can properly express myself in the perfect vacancy of the computer screen. I feel lucky to have this gift, for it makes me feel in tune with other people and with the world.

For me, writing is life. An expression of myself that is both pure and raw. It is myself on display for all who care to gaze. In public or in private, it is the best measure of who I am and what I believe. It doesn’t get any better than that. And that is why I write.

Selling Myself. Literally.

In creating a Facebook Page for myself, it has afforded me the chance to try something on Facebook that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile: create an ad and run it. (I have similar designs to do one on Google since I read Eric Hellman’s eBook pirating post, but that will wait another month.) I took it as a great opportunity to run an ad experiment and see how it turns out. Perhaps experiment is the wrong term here; that would imply a hypothesis and controlled variables. However, I’d like to get a dataset and use it as a starting point for further refinement. So, perhaps it is more of an adventure than an experiment, but that doesn’t mean that discovery doesn’t happen.

The ad!That’s the ad I designed on the right. I thought leaving the same title and picture as my Facebook Page would be a good start. The only part of the ad that I was uncertain about was the wording of the ad. There are not many times in your life when you are sitting at the keyboard of your computer and pondering the question, “What kind of wording would entice people to click on my ad that features my name and part of my face?” I made a few attempts at some different phrasings (there is a character limit on the ad), but this one seemed like the one that made the most amount of sense considering the content of the Facebook Page. This isn’t a complete sell on the content, but just a bread crumb trail to the main course. So, with the wording done, I moved onto the next section.

Here’s where you get to figure out who you want to see your ads. I set it for the United States without designating a specific area. My low end age would be 23, the youngest age that someone could graduate with a Master’s degree. Gender didn’t matter, so I left it as ‘all’. You can target people by their interests and likes; I was rather unoriginal and picked two words “libraries” and “librarians” as my two words. (It should be noted that as you click on buttons and write in words, there is a sidebar that recalculates how many people your ads could potentially reach.) This brought the number down from 137 million to roughly 250,000 people; for some perspective, according to the ALA there are 150,000 librarians in the US and 192,000 other library staff.  (It should be also be noted that keywords operate on an OR settings. In other words, it will gather up anyone who has libraries OR librarians as a like or interest in their profile.) Sounds like I’m in the right ballpark, so I moved on. You can choose to target certain connections or non-connections on Facebook. I opted to pick people who not already connected to my Facebook page, lowering my potential reach ever so slightly. I skipped by some of the advanced targeted features (no, I don’t want to target people on their birthdays, thank you) and went down to the pricing.

And here’s where I had to get my wallet out. You can set your budget limit on either a lifetime basis or a per diem. Since this was an experiment, I opted for a budget of $30. I picked a date range starting on December 1st and running to December 28th, a four week period. I figured that was a reasonable price over a reasonable time period to see how this works and then fiddle with it. You can buy ads a couple of different ways: you were pay by the click on the ad or by the number of impressions (read: times the ad is run). The clicks are a set amount, but you buy impressions by increments of one thousand.  You can see the advantages and disadvantages of each: pay per click is more expensive but you only pay for anyone who acts on the ad versus pay per impression where I can generate thousands of ads and hope that someone picks my ad.

Since you bid on ad space, this brings up a whole new predicament; you have to set a maximum bid you would offer for advertising space. You can go with the suggested bid (a safe move), use a higher bid to ensure more coverage and more advertising risk, or use a lower bid that is budget friendly but possibly not going to run as much. Since this is an experiment, I opted for the suggested maximum bid and just let it fly. This was $0.71 for 1,000 impressions, a decent number considering the scope of this endeavor as well as the duration. I wanted to see what this would look like over time, so I went with it.

So, after ponying up my credit card and doing the other Facebook ‘paperwork’, my ad was submitted for approval by their ad team. In an hour or so, I got the approval email. And so, I hopped on the advertising interface to see what it looks like when it’s all done. Here’s a screenshot of the impending campaign.

Click to embiggen

Since it started on Wednesday, I’ve checked on a couple of times. The early data is that my average bid is coming in much lower than my maximum bid; my maximum bid is $.71 and my average bid is $.19. At present, the 11,508 times the ad has been displayed and a total of 8 people have clicked on it. I’ve roughly spent a quarter for each click.

Naturally, I’ll be following this as the month goes on. I’m jotting down some notes to see how things pan out, so I’ll see. I’ll certainly be doing a blog write-up on this when it is complete. In the meantime, I’m curious if anyone has seen library or library related ads on Facebook.

(I sheepishly admit that I have an ad blocker on Chrome and Firefox, therefore defeating my own advertising purposes. I wonder how much of a factor that is for the ads that run.)

A Day of Thanks

In giving thanks for the season, I’m reprinting my best man speech from last year for my brother’s wedding. This year, once more, my family is missing another person from the Thanksgiving table. So, hug the ones you love, remember the ones you miss, and take joy in a day of thanks for both.

The months of October, November, and December have not been kind to our family. Over the course of years, we have lost many good friends and family members during this autumn season. But today, I believe, this wedding will mark the beginning of a new era of joy for this late year season. On behalf of the Krafts and the Woodworths, it is my honor and privilege to welcome Meghan to our family. I am very pleased that my brother has found someone to share the experience of the journey ahead.

On your wedding day, I wish to offer you this advice, the collected life lessons of our grandparents, Randy, Beverly, Mary, and Richard.

Follow your dreams and passions, wholly and completely, for they are the true essence of life and happiness.

That judgment and acceptance are mutually exclusive. While the former need not be favorable, the latter should always be given.

That love is boundless and unconditional; it is the product of a multitude of small personal acts.

That separation is merely a temporary illusion; that there are no ‘goodbyes’, only ‘bye for now’.

To the happy couple, I offer you simple and unfettered best wishes.

In looking at it now, it has a different resonance to me. But the sentiments still remain for them, my family, and my friends.

Happy Thanksgiving.

The Persistence of Memory

In fiddling around on Tumblr the other day, I saw a friend had activated the “Ask Me Anything” function on their blog. When you do that, the Tumblr robot sends you the question “What is your earliest human memory?” I don’t know why Tumblr decided it do something like that; perhaps it is some sort of icebreaker. Maybe it is to give people an example of a question and answer when they go to the Ask link. I don’t know about you, but I get enough auto generated questions on the internet; I don’t need another scripted entity questioning me on something.

At any rate, I started to think about my oldest memories. For a long time, I’ve sworn that my memory was crap and that retention was a fickle beast. It wasn’t until recently (within the last few years) that I realized my memory was fine if I gave a damn about it. Otherwise, my brain just treated it like noise. This has lead me to start wondering about what my brain considers to be important for it does not always jibe with my conscious brain. The fact that I can remember what a patron wanted when they came to the reference desk six months ago without an intervening visit sometimes grants me some shocked looks. I can remember minor events with friends from long ago that they have clearly forgotten. I don’t know why I hang onto that kind of knowledge as opposed to theories in biology (the subject I studied for four years in college); it is just another way the human brain baffles me.

I was surprised to find out that my oldest memory goes back to when I was ten months old. It was surprising because when I asked my mother how old I was when this memory happened, that’s the age she gave me. For the longest time I had thought that I was older, but she assures me of the age and the events that transpired. And she has good reason to know, as I will endeavor to explain.

I remember standing in my parent’s kitchen with a little Fisher Price Doctor kit in hand. My mother was on the phone with my great grandmother, talking about things that are now lost to time. I was standing in front of the open door to the basement when I indicated to her that I was going to walk down the stairs.

I may have made the first step, but I did not make the others. The most vivid part of this memory is being airborne, turning and spinning as I fell, looking across the open basement from underneath the bannister. That’s the part that has stuck with me the most (and probably the reason I remember it) is that my thought at that exact moment was amusement. Not shock nor horror nor pain, but amused at the way the world looked different in those few moments as I was airborne. It was a glance at the world in a different way for a split second and in that precious point in time, I was strangely delighted for it.

The Fischer Price doctor kit had come open and spilled the contents onto the stairs with me. I can still see them on their own flight arcs past my vision as we all went down the staircase together. Not quite a 2001 moment, but certainly added to the weirdness of the scene as I think back on it.

With all that said, I don’t remember landing. That glance out of side of the stairs is where the memory stops. What almost stopped was my mother’s heart as she watched me in profile disappear down the stairway no more than seven feet away. She had enough presence of mind to tell my great grandmother, “I have go. Andy just fell down the stairs” before hanging up the phone and flying down the stairs after me. She took me to the hospital where I checked out fine. No broken bones, no concussions, no other trauma than being ten months old in a hospital. I was lucky since neither the stairs nor the basement floor had any sort of give or softness to them.

In the few times we have spoken about it, she and I have very different emotions attached to the event. I remember the aforementioned wonder of the experience, to strange perspective of tumbling through space and how different the world looks. She remembers being a young new mother who watched as her baby disappeared from sight in a flash and the resulting noise as I hurled down the stairs. While we are both relieved by the experience, we clearly have different connections to that event.

Until this evening when my mother set me straight, I didn’t think that this was my oldest memory. And since I’d rather not leave people on a down note of a child in peril, I can actually show you what I thought was my oldest memory.

L to R: Me, Marion, Pete (baby), Mary (aka Oliah)

This picture has a fun story to it. The first being that this picture (and others that came out of the photo session) have been universally discussed and agreed within the family to have not been the best of my great grandmother, Marion. It was August in New Jersey (translation: hot, 110% humidity, dog days of summer) and she was not in a good mood. And for her to not be in a good mood is not good news for anyone else. It’s one of the few times in life that the term “snippy” can be used in a loving manner to describe someone’s demeanor. However, as this was the occasion of all of her great grandchildren being in one place at the same time, the natural inclination of the collected family to get some photographic evidence of this occurrence took precedent.

The second reason is that it represents a relatively normal moment between all of the possible things that go wrong with photographing young children. There is a reason that my great grandmother has her hand underneath the armpit of my cousin Mary (also known as Oliah) seated on her left. It was to prevent her from standing up to throw her dress over her head yet again, much to the consternation of my great grandmother. My younger brother Peter is sitting on her lap. Judging from the way she is holding him, I think he had been making a fuss between escape attempts. And when he was put on lockdown, he resorted to other audio ways of displaying his displeasure.

This left my great grandmother with no arms to deal with me. As you can see in the picture, I was poised to go back to chewing on my sneakers. In an effort to rally through this snafu of family photography, I remember my grandmother leaning over to me and telling me quietly but harshly that I would not get a cookie if I kept putting my shoe into my mouth. I complied for those next few moments, long enough to snap some pictures, before forgetting the peril of my previous ways and went back to happily chewing on the shoe rubber*.

Yes, that’s right. The one memory that I have of my great grandmother is of her being terse with me. Though I don’t remember it, my mom took me over to her house everyday to have lunch with my great grandmother when I was a baby. The house is still stands in Moorestown, right around the corner from where my grandparent’s house was (and where I used to live). It’s odd to drive by the house, to know that someone who loved me greatly once lived there, and yet can’t remember a damn thing about it. But I do remember something of her, which is more than a lot of other people. I’m glad for it, but now what I really want to know now is:

Did I get a cookie anyway?

 

 

* Thus, my long history for sticking my foot into my mouth was born. [rimshot]

Banned Books Week 2010: Footnotes

“[I]f a parent wishes to prevent her child from reading a particular book, that parent can and should accompany the child to the Library, and should not prevent all children in the community from gaining access to constitutionally protected materials. Where First Amendment rights are concerned, those seeking to restrict access to information should be forced to take affirmative steps to shield themselves from unwanted materials; the onus should not be on the general public to overcome barriers to their access to fully protected information.” – Sund v. City of Wichita Falls, 121 F. Supp. 2d 530 (N.D. Texas 2000).

Photo by wajakemek | rashdanothman/Flickr Tonight, I was driving up to Princeton to see Revolutionary Readings at the Princeton Public Library to cap off the end of Banned Books Week. I was winding my way through one of the roads off of Route 1 into the main street area when I noticed a couple holding hands and walking in the same direction on the opposite side of the street. They were two college age men, smiling and talking, making their way down the street as I drove by them. I think that on any other night it would have been wholly unremarkable to me, but in the context of the readings I was going to attend for the second time (I had seen them at the Burlington County Footlighters back in August), it took a different significance.

At first brush, it was certainly something that I take for granted. The most stressful part of holding a woman’s hand was the act of doing it the first time, not where the hand holding was taking place or who might be observing it. Nevermind other simple acts of public affection for that matter. I certainly can’t imagine being a gay teen, even though my relatively liberal high school was gay friendly. I’m probably remembering this through the kaleidoscope of recollection, but I remember the early 1990’s as being a time where gay issues and acceptance were starting to hit the mainstream (with “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” and the Defense of Marriage Act being a response to this particular time period’s movement.  There is a good chance someone will correct me in the comments; please keep in mind that this is what I remember so be gentle.) But even modern more accepting attitudes have a long track record to overcome against the stigma of centuries of bigotry and hate. Although there is progress, there is still a long road ahead.

While I was driving back to my apartment after the reading, I found that there was a question that kept asking myself: what are the true consequences to keeping or removing a GLBT title such as Revolutionary Voices or Heather Has Two Mommies or Boy Meets Boy? In other words, what are the actual ramifications that challengers and supporters would endure if the book was kept or removed? What are the beneficial or detrimental effects associated with either choice?

In examining each side in purely objective terms, I find that the supporters of a title have a more compelling case. Perhaps it is undocumented or less reported in professional, trade, or traditional media sources, but I have yet to hear of the personal, emotional, social, or physical consequences suffered by a challenger when a book was kept on the shelf. In the absence of readily available evidence (anecdotal or otherwise), I would have to presume that there was some sort of negative effect since such a title was so patently offensive in the first place to warrant such action. I am not being facetious in the slightest; I want to know how a challenger was suffered when an objectionable book is not removed from patron availability in its respective community (regardless as to whether it is a public, academic, school, or other kind of library).

On the other hand, supporters of a book tend to be able to demonstrate the value of a title through the benefit it brings to its target audience. Whether it is presenting a tough subject, using the book as a means to answer questions for a young mind, or providing someone with a similar experience to let them know they are not alone, the benefits provided by supporters of having the title available are greater than the detrimental effects (if any) to challengers.

Now, in considering the opposite: what are the benefits to the challenger when a book is removed? I would surmise there is a satisfaction in the successful removal of the title, perhaps relief as to its removal from public availability, but I am perplexed as to other short and long term benefits. What are the benefits, if any? On the contrary, supporters can argue that the lack of access to the book is preventing the benefits they have described in keeping it. Granted, it is not the strongest causation argument. The absence of the book does not necessarily mean that potential users would suffer without it; they might find other books that would do the same as the book in question. However, the loss of benefits argument feels feel more compelling than any benefit a challenger may reap from being successful.

While this objective examination is good fodder for high minded blogging and discussions, there is an undeniable reality. Undeniable they were, two young men enjoying each others company walking hand in hand along the chain fence of the golf course as the setting sun made its way behind the trees in a cool autumn air. And I in the driver’s seat of my car, passing by them unnoticed, wondering if a book like the one I was going to hear would have helped them be comfortable with who they are a few year prior. For them, I will never know. But I do know that it certainly wouldn’t have hurt.

Summer Job

(The NPR radio program All Things Considered has been asking people to submit their stories about summer jobs that they have held. This is my submission.)

For two days one summer in college, I had a job that parents warn their children never to buy from.

I sold stuff out the back of a van to complete strangers.

Exactly like these, but oppositeStereo speakers, to be exact. The kind that you plug into home sound system, full sized and with unknown craftsmanship. Selling these home entertainment enhancements was the only part of the employment ad that was accurate. The full ad advertised the position as being “sales, delivery, and installation”. It also listed a name and a number to which, after a short series of questions, I was given driving directions and an address.

The next morning, I scrutinized my hand scribbled notations as I drove into a very nondescript office park in the next town over. I eventually found the business, tucked between other unrelated enterprises, parked out front, and walked through the front business door.

Anything resembling an office stopped at this point. In front of me was a large open unfinished area with bare cinder block walls. There were half a dozen white windowless vans, all haphazardly arranged near a large rear parking on the back wall. There were rows of cardboard speaker boxes neatly arranged along the walls near some broken couches and a ping pong table.

The manager, whose name eludes, came out of little office that had been constructed within the space. A medium height balding man with a saggy build, what he lacked in stereotypical oiliness in hair he made up for in oiliness of personality. He took me back into his diversely furnished office; an ugly desk, a couple of mismatched chairs, and a sore and worn faux leather sofa across from a out of place state of the art (at the time) wide screen rear projection television.

As I sat in one of the chairs, we talked about the job. Is there delivery? "If you can get people to pay you for it.” Is there installation? “Sure, if you can convince them to pay.” Is this just sales? He simply smiled, a knowing smile, one in which he knew how deep the water was while I’m standing on the edge of the pool. He promised me a training fee, half at the end of the day and half if I came back in the morning, till I made my first sale. Being both curious and dumb, I agreed to try out a day.

Creative Commons is for closers! When we emerged from his hovel/office, I met my new coworkers. It was like meeting the jocks of Glengarry Glenn Ross high school. Muscle shirts, tank tops, wife beaters, and shorts; t-shirts with sayings that were less than acceptable in polite company. Their language was equally as salty, routinely exchanging profanity for where punctuation should be. I was introduced in passing as the manager gave a quick pep talk, then left in the hands of the van crews.

I helped them load the van and off we went through the bright opening of the parking door, a hot sunny summer day. The premise, as the husky guy riding shotgun explained to me over his shoulder was simple: sell the speakers however you can. To whom? “Anyone!” For how much? “However much you can get over $200 each; the first $200 goes to the manager for inventory, van insurance, and other [crap] and his cut.” Won’t people think these speakers are stolen? “No,” he said, his eyes starting to twinkle like an evil genius as he started to explain. Every morning, each crew makes up a new fake delivery sheet that purports to show that the van was loaded with too many speakers than were scheduled to be delivered. The people are told that they can buy the excess speakers for a fraction of the cost (as shown on the sheet). If anyone decides to report the crew, the telephone number goes to the manager who listens to their story, thanks them for their help, and promises to ‘deal’ with the crew. So, how do you sell these speakers?

“Well…”

For a job that I held for only two days, I was more personally influenced by this job than many I have held since then. The major lesson from this experience is that everyone is approachable. Parking lots, stores, businesses, streets, sidewalks, even (and this is absolutely true) driving up the New Jersey Turnpike at 80 miles Like this, only minus the sleeves and add 80 mph.per hour in moderate traffic screaming out the window at other cars, “Hey, you want to buy some speakers? For your house?” (Two different times, people pulled over with us to see what the van had.) Long after I left this fleeting job behind me, I took with me the knowledge that, not only are people more open to social contact than they appear, it can lead to positive experiences. Even if there was not a sale made, they left with a smile on their faces and a good story to tell.

For those two days, it was a roller coaster ride. As the new guy, I wasn’t given a chance to sell the speakers but I did get a front row seat to something strange and memorable. These guys worked hard for their sales (every one of them had a girlfriend or wife or kids to support), telling tales of big commission scores and tough sale droughts. They drove hundreds of miles a day over the New Jersey-Delaware-Pennsylvania area while approaching hundreds if not thousands of people engaged in the midst of their regular lives. We met all kinds and types of people as we briefly passed through theirs with a simple sales pitch. (Including an unmistakable ‘urban entrepreneur’ who had us follow him up the New Jersey Parkway at over 90 miles per hour to the shadiest pizza joint I’ve ever seen in my life.)

Truth be told, I knew after the first day that his job was not for me. I went back for the second day because it was so strange, so enthralling, and so very exciting to see how these guys operated. It was a human safari of sorts, roaming through the urban and suburban, and here I was sitting in the van with the consumer hunters. They sized people up within moments, parlayed their sales pitch, and either went in for the kill or moved on to the next. It was a spectacle to behold, a wonder on four wheel hauling ass down the street, looking for the next sale. It was the summer job that I remember the most, and the one that has stayed with me.

And, honestly, who else can say that they’ve done something like that?