Amusing Adventures in Variety!

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, October 29, 2010 11:00 AM

Video games provide something every grad student needs but can't get out into the world to get. No, it's not sunlight (though I could really use some of that, I assure you). It's variety. There are many days when my classmates and I have said, "I have not been out of my [insert living space here] in [insert number] of days." It gets tiring and, for me and my roommate (whom I will refer to only as D here, for no particular reason), video games are a way to escape monotony. And escape I did! And it was craziness all around.

Fable III, if asked, would say that it is about revolution, but in my eyes it's about discovering how many awesome things the game will allow you to do. The first half or so of the game (which both D and I are currently playing) is amassing troops to overthrow your brother, the king. The second half, one would presume, is what happens after the revolution. Today in Fable III, I did the following things:

 1. Married a pawnbroker so that I could start a family and get a better deal when trading to boot.  But my soulmate/one-stop shop was kept away by his job (read: he was programmed to stand in the same place for 24 hours a day) and was unable to be lured to our bed to consummate his marriage with his hero princess wife. So I divorced him and he ended up hating me (typical, right?) and giving me a worse deal on all of his goods.  I went on to immediately start dating the Town Crier.

2. Belched at children and danced with strangers.

3. Bought up property like the recession never happened.

4. Played on a miniature D&D board and participated in a narrated adventure.

5. Cross-dressed with a beard and a suit of armor.

Fable III is enough to give anybody variety. The game is seriously addictive and is the kind of crack cocaine addiction that ends grad school careers. With the voices of John Cleese, Simon Pegg, Stephen Fry, and a dozen others, it's hard not to find it charming on top of all of the variety.  But lo, I did not stop there!  I had to have my dose of Halloween scariness and play Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare.

Picture it: it's 1911 or so, and you're in the dying Wild West - the last remnants of a bygone era. You come home to your wife and child and one of your farmhands is missing, having gone to town hours before. There's a storm outside, so you hope for the best that your farmhand, who is like family and is called "Uncle," has found shelter from the storm and isn't lost.  Then, in the middle of the night, Uncle stumbles in, growling and clawing and chasing after your wife.  You don't understand what has happened to Uncle yet, but you will soon realize that he is a zombie. You go out and shoot him, but not before he is able to put your family in danger.  You are now on the hunt to find out what happened and whether there is a cure.

The following things happened in Red Dead Undead or while playing it:

1. Called Blackwater, one of the towns, "Undead Hell," to which D replied, "I think this is more like 'Undead Heck.'"

2. Laughed at the signs reading "CLOSE THE DAMN BORDERS!" and one of the survivors claiming it must be the Mexicans who have infected the living.

3. Accidentally got my horse killed.

4. Whistled for a new horse and got my old horse, recently undead.

5. Screamed when a zombie bear attacked me. (To be fair, I always scream when the bears attack me in this game, especially when they sneak up from behind.)

6. After the bear attack happened, I said, "Dammit, I thought I was going to be an adult for this."  To which D replied, "I'm sorry, did you just become a little girl?" as he turned on his electric razor.

7. After I screamed and jumped at the sound of the razor, I decided it was probably time to call it a night.

8. Felt my adrenaline start pumping mmediately after having two scares in a row and hearing the creepy Red Dead Undead music, which is basically two echoing piano notes being played.  Even the damn music is desolate.

9. Turned off the console and turned on a light.

Happy Friday, and a Happy Halloween!

Because I'm a geek.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Wednesday, October 27, 2010 9:32 PM

The next two videos are for the video games I'll be playing for the next few weeks (once my head is above water) - at least until my one true love in the third video comes out.

Happy Wednesday!

Taking a Break with the Golden Girls

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, October 25, 2010 8:41 PM

Good laughs all around.

Happy Monday.

Annotated iTunes: 13 over 75

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, October 22, 2010 11:00 PM

I listen to music a lot. I am one of those people who does not consider a day successful without music, and I constantly have something going in the background or (when I can) full blast. I have diverse tastes, but I have a tendency to listen to songs over and over again that I love or hit that part of the brain that loves addiction. I thought I would show a window into that part of my brain and show you the 13 songs in my entire library that are rated five stars (through an external program that rates on frequency and number of plays) and have more than 75 plays since July 2009 (which makes most of these songs recent discoveries, which in turn actually skews these results a lot).  Each song is listed in ascending order.

"Hans, are we the baddies?"

Posted by Whit Barringer , Wednesday, October 20, 2010 11:24 PM

Happy Wednesday. :)

The creeping sensation that is my coming sports addiction.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, October 18, 2010 11:39 PM

I have never been a sports hater. I played basketball and softball for most of my middle school, junior high, and high school days, so I have a fondness that comes from my actual understanding of the games if nothing else. While I found the machismo on display in the NFL and NBA off-putting, and that the complete dismissal of the WNBA as a legitimate professional league depressing, I have always had a soft spot for baseball (its counterpart was my favorite to play), though I hardly ever watched it. The only time a sport would come across my radar would be in the case of some huge event (e.g. Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the early 1990s, the home run race between MacGwire and Sosa, etc.).

But that was before I went to an SEC school, where sports are religion. Now that I am at one, it's hard to get away from it. My grad school classmates are obsessed with sports. Every gathering turns into a recounting of recent sports events that, being on the fringes, I could only eavesdrop in on and randomly impress with (or show an embarrassing lack of) my knowledge. It actually became a sore point, considering that my limited sports knowledge made me have to sit out of at least half of the conversation at every social gathering.

But it really wasn't by lack of choice that I began to take an interest. Even with my obvious social disadvantage, I didn't set out to do research like some anthropologist trying to understand a foreign culture. I just started paying attention. The 2009 World Series, when the Phillies and the Yankees faced off, was the real turning point. My roommate wanted to watch it and I was unopposed. Neither of us had a vested interest in the outcome (besides the fact that, as everyone in my program proclaimed, "no one who has a soul wants the Yankees to win"), but the series was really entertaining and dramatic, and that sucked us both in. By the end of it, we were heartbroken when the Phillies lost, even though I hadn't spared one second to think about them before the series began.

On a lark during the summer, I decided to not leave an SEC school without having gone to an SEC football game and bought season tickets. I felt absolutely crazy doing it, but I knew spending the money would ensure that I go the extra distance to go to tailgating and games. Three games and a team hat later, I am riding the highs and lows of being at a school obsessed with its worst sports team (at least this year).

And because I watched the 2009 World Series, I actually care about the Phillies. I recognize their names and faces, know some of their stats and, if they are pitchers, their best pitches. And because of the normal ebb and flow of professional sports, I now follow the Rangers, who were traded (in a roundabout way) Cliff Lee (pictured above), who I first saw pitch for the Phillies in the Series and is a native of Benton, a town only forty minutes away from my Arkansas home.

I know people hate sports for different reasons (usually having something to do with them being boring, rich, overwhelmingly male, or all of the above), but, as skeptical as I used to be, I opened myself to the drama and excitement of sports and was affected in ways that I could not have predicted even a year ago. While I haven't brought myself to buy a Cliff Lee or Chase Utley jersey, that doesn't mean that a very stubborn, very Grinch-esque part of my heart hasn't been touched... or that I won't splurge on those jerseys in the future.

Happy Monday!

Obligatory Filler Post

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, October 15, 2010 11:00 PM

I was on the road Friday and couldn't post, so I allowed the podcast to count as >1.

My Friday absence, however, is duly noted.

(Posted Monday, October 18, 2010)

Sex, Lies, and a Murder Mystery in Mississippi: The Scandalous Tale of Blanche Webb [AUDIO]

Posted by Whit Barringer , Wednesday, October 13, 2010 11:00 PM

It's my first solo podcast, everyone!

Here's the PodBean description:

I am a history grad school major, and I’m currently in a research class in which we’re reading the daily journals of a semi-prominent Mississippi pastor who wrote between 1851 and 1902. I am responsible for reading the journals covering years 1891 through 1902. This podcast covers one very specific but very interesting and revealing event that takes place in 1891.
This is my first podcast ever!
It runs rather long (around 19 minutes), but it's because I got into it and had some fun.

Hope you enjoy! Happy Wednesday!

Suicide, Hatred, and the Intersection of Exposure and Escalation [Updated]

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, October 11, 2010 11:00 PM

Gays and lesbians committing suicide isn't really a new thing, but the current level of exposure kind of is. We've entered a more-than-likely short-lived era where people at the margins committing suicide means something to the mainstream. It's hard to tell if it is spectacle, sympathy, or shock, but getting the images of suffering young men (and perhaps women, though this current news cycle has few if any) into the heads of those who mistake design for choice, psychology for stubbornness, is a good thing.

Yet there is always a reactionary pull that would rather put us in the stone age than endeavor to understand our fellow man. That pull is gaining strength, tensing, ready to spring. A devastating high-exposure hate crime in New York, where nine men tortured one man and two teenagers because they were gay, has been revealed to the nation, and the nation is taken aback. But is the nation flinching? Is there any sense of responsibility among those who have helped perpetrate the kind of thinking that would lead to such a crime being possible?

Perhaps in the case of Zach Harrington, a 19-year-old who stood up for something and could not bear to live knowing what had risen to meet him, a direct line of cause and effect can be seen by those who have refused to see much else. As in the case of the men who committed a hate crime and the man who committed suicide, no one made them do what they did. No one forced them to the point of harm. But to disown the rhetoric that helped to justify what has happened is in many ways as dangerous.

There are at least two movements that will result, or at least gain force, from what has happened. One is positive. People are banding together, trying to give a support net to those who feel they are alone and trapped in a hostile world. Athletes are speaking out against bullying. Hundreds of people have dedicated videos to those needing to hear a supportive voice. These are good things - one seeks to remove the reasoning for some of these suicides, while the other seeks to help those unsure of the value of their existence.

But the other, more sinister movement is one that thrives on misanthropy. This is the one that feeds off of deplorable hate crimes and the thought of less like-minded individuals on earth, even if it results from an unbearable suffering. This is where exposure and escalation meet, with each extending in opposite directions. Time will tell the effects, but we will see at least a few more waves as a result of what has happened, both negative and positive, before the media's waters lie still again.

It's hard knowing that it always gets worse before it gets better, that there will always be suicidal actions borne out of feelings of anguish and self-hatred, that not everyone will change. But we can hope that out of the tragedies and sick actions taken against people who seek only to be themselves, good can come.

Until Wednesday.

Update: This is one of the best "It Gets Better" videos I've seen, and it illustrates my point about disowning rhetoric.

Sarah Silverman:

Convalescence in Oz and Other More Worldly Places

Posted by Whit Barringer , Friday, October 08, 2010 11:23 PM

Today was kind of a sick day for me. After going to the class for which I TA, I headed back home and started cleaning the living room. For my entertainment while doing so, I cracked open my 70th Anniversary Wizard of Oz Blu-ray. As soon as the movie started up, I was transported to my childhood in the early 90s. When I was a wee little thing, my parents had taped the 1989 50th Anniversary TV Special, which had a very neat documentary about the film narrated by Angela Lansbury. I remember the commercial at the beginning telling people to fill out their census. I remember the fast food commercials in between featuring fish sandwiches in clam shells (which I'm pretty sure were narrated by Eartha Kitt). I remember the Salad Shooter commercial. I remember watching it with my grandfather until the tape was nearly worn out.

It was that last memory - sitting beside or with my grandfather in his chair, watching and singing and laughing along with the movie - that was most with me when I was watching today. It was what I remembered at key moments in the film, and what made my eyes sting with tears that never actually came. The only other movie I watched with him more was the second VHS tape of Titanic. That one I would stick in the VHS player and my grandfather would always ask, "Are we sinking the boat again?" To which I would always reply, "It's the best part!"

I have run my self to the bone these last few weeks. I felt my limit coming on Wednesday night when I was staying up late trying to finish an assignment that was a few hours past due. When I woke up early then next day, I felt like I was physically hollow yet heavy. It's a familiar feeling, one that I've encountered many times in undergrad after pushing myself too far to be functional anymore. After my class (where I was basically told that I had been assigned the wrong book) and after disappointing news from work (work harder to get the same amount of pay), I felt it was time to let go for a day or so.

I went to bed somewhat late last night (I've almost become nocturnal, so it was hard not to), went to class this morning, came home, watched the Wizard of Oz, and felt like I was five again. I fell asleep during the movie, and ended up taking a nap directly afterward. It was glorious.

When I woke up again later today, I knew I had things that needed to be done, but I took my time working on them. I'm still not done, but with my sleeping schedule, it won't be a problem to finish them soon.

So a retreat to Oz and back and a convalescent period in my living room has gotten me from about 25% to 80% or so, which is pretty damn good for one day.

Happy Friday, everyone.

(If you want to help me out by giving me fodder for blog posts, don't be shy to use I won't answer/write on everything, but you never know what I'll use.)

Michael Jackson has become my patron saint of productivity.

Posted by Whit Barringer , Tuesday, October 05, 2010 11:48 PM

Working hard on grad school work. I've written 26 pages in two days, and I'm only a little over halfway done. If only I won some sort of prize for hitting 40 pages in three days. Listening to Michael Jackson on repeat has simultaneously done wonders for my productivity and ensured that his songs are still playing on a loop in my head even if I don't have the music on.

Happy Wednesday.

A Promise to Myself and #59

Posted by Whit Barringer , Monday, October 04, 2010 11:04 AM

I've been lamenting my absence from this blog, considering it's my only official persona online anymore (all of the others being defunct or abandoned). Since I know people who blog every day, and I have been reading the 120-year-old diaries of a man who wrote nearly every single day of his life for 51 years in the 19th century, I've felt a creeping inspiration. 

So. I've decided to split the difference between blogging every day and my inevitable laziness and promise to post three times a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I can't promise that they'll be much good at that rate, considering how hectic my life is now, but they will never be a one word post.  I'll give you something good, whether it's a story link, a video, a picture, or an actual honest-to-God blog post.  There will be many times this semester when sparse posts will take every ounce of my being to post due to how much of my time is spent doing grad work (on the aforementioned diaries alone, I'm spending about 22 hours - that's reading and then doing a written exploration - on each diary year every week). But it's my promise, more to myself than to anyone who's reading this (you're more than welcome to come along, however).

To make good on my promise and make this more than just an update post, I thought I'd update you all on how #59 is going.

I decided to try whittling and carving as a way to pass my time in the apartment (where I am 95-100% of the day) that wasn't video game related. From what I knew of the hobby, I really didn't need much, so a small investment would get me pretty far.  Once I developed some skill, I could decide whether I wanted to get deeper into the hobby or go ahead and do my mastery project (I'll explain in a minute) and call it done.

I made several mistakes when I decided my approach to #59. The first was my underestimation of the hobby itself. Whittling and carving is pretty intense. Background noise while working is okay, but it requires concentration and time.  Almost every project that I could do that appeals to my standards for carving takes days, weeks, or even months to complete.

My second mistake was honestly thinking whittling and carving were the same thing. They most certainly are not. Carving has a refined connotation that whittling does not have, due to the methods that are used to achieve the final product. Whittling is about controlling your knife but not worrying about the rough edges. Whittled pieces look blocky and have a lot of flat planes on them. That comes from mainly using one kind of straight-bladed knife throughout the entire project. 

Carving, however, is a different beast. Carving is all about control, smoothness, continuity, seamlessness, and presentation. Carving tools are designed to make smooth cuts, or at the very least mask where you made subpar ones.  In general (from my brief, mind-boggling look at the books I have), a whittled project is more likely to be painted, while a carved project is more likely to be stained. Whittling is more folksy; carving more professional. Whittling naturally has a whimsical and unrefined feel; carving is dramatic and stately. These are wide generalizations, but it's what I've been able to skim from the top of such deep and ancient skills.

Imagine my surprise when I started ordering whittling and carving supplies and resources only to find out from the books coming in that I didn't buy the right thing. So I splurged when I shouldn't have and experimented with tools themselves without the book telling me what to do. I found out very quickly why most pieces, whether they start out more as whittling or carving, end up using both.  The good woodworker, a voice in the back of my brain told me, would be able to master both.

My third mistake came from my location. I live in an apartment, and noise travels quickly (I got six noise complaints right after I got the newest Coheed album).  Woodworking, at its more advanced levels, refuses to be quiet: mallets start coming into play, as well as drills, sanders, saws, etc. Spacewise and soundwise, this hobby can quickly become incompatible with the fruits of "budget-living." I'm far from the mechanical bit, and I'm still a bit away from the mallets (if only because I can't afford one and the carving tools that come with it). It's the spatial part with which I'm having a fit. My roommate and I barely have enough time to clean or enough room to walk as it is. Building a workstation of the type suggested by virtually every magazine and book I have looked at is simply impossible (unless I put stuff out on the balcony in the cold weather).

My fourth mistake, and possibly the one that will cost me the most time, was overestimating my ability to work on my mastery project. My #59 Mastery, at least on the whittling side, was going to be a chess set. I don't know what it will be on the carving side, or what my whittling mastery project would be if I carved chess pieces, but I have this vague wonderful idea of a detailed chess set with oversized pieces that would become a family keepsake.

I'm currently working on a turtle.  It was a template with a plaster model.  When it came, it basically said, "Go at it and have fun." I've spent three hours on said turtle in total, and it's coming out of the wood. But I have absolutely no creative experience in the realms of drawing, painting, or sculpture. There is a learning curve that I did not foresee, whether because of my own overconfidence, my lack of knowledge, or both, and I have turned what I thought would be a year-long hobby into a multi-year multi-stage possible obsession, in which I apprentice myself vicariously to the men and women who write books on carving and post on woodcarving forums.  This is all to say, my mastery project, the project that, when completed, will allow me to cross #59 off of the list, is a multi-year project from where I stand today. It's all very daunting to say the least.

Feeling discouraged, I decided to just go to town on a block and see what came out of it. I had no idea what I was doing or what it was going to be. I had an inkling that a boat would be kind of neat, so I began whittling it more and more into the basic shape.  I realized that my tools were wrong for carving out the curved middle of the project, so I had to order even more tools. When I finally got them in and was able to really dig in, I was able to make in about two nights a little boat. Misshapen, yes. Crude as well. The inside bottom of the boat is grooved and rough, while the outside is sanded and a little pock-marked.  The bow and stern are not symmetrical. I slashed my hand four times and stabbed my thumb and middle finger twice in the process. Ugly as the whole process was, I still fell in love with my boat.

 The inside of the boat. The piece of wood on the left is about two inches longer than the single piece from which the boat was created.
 The underside of the boat. All of the visible shavings are from hollowing out the inside.
We didn't have any bandaids Paper towels and packing tape was the next best thing.  The bandaid situation has been taken care of with a package of awesome Transformers band aids.

My confidence having been restored, I have decided to soldier on. Once I finish that damn turtle, I might feel invincible.  It's too late to turn back now, anyway.

Any of you get into a hobby that got over your head in about two seconds?