Sunday, January 30, 2011

Video Game Records

I get very different reactions when I tell people that I basically study video games for a living, ranging from extreme jealousy to complete disbelief, and sometimes even to offense.  Some people apparently do not believe this is a legitimate way to be spending my time or something for which you should be able to go to graduate school.

This means that I often have to justify or at least explain my interest and why I think what I do is worth it and worth being paid for.  I've got a couple brief one-line responses, like "If culture and social values aren't created in the media forms people use every day, where are they made?", but sometimes I need more ammunition for a longer fight.

Today, I got a little bit more to add to my arsenal (sort of) when I found a Wired article on video game-based records in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Some of these really only matter within the context of video games themselves, such as "Longest Survival on a 6-Star Wanted Level in Grand Theft Auto IV", but others speak to the wider implications of video games that I look into in my work.

For instance, did you know that Sid Meier's Civilization V had an officially recognized day?  According to the article, "Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley declared Sept. 21, 2010, "Sid Meier's Civilization V Day" to honor the game's release and celebrate the strength of the game-development industry in his state, which developer Firaxis calls home."  In my mind, this speaks volumes about the economic impacts of the game industry.

Another interesting record is "First Facebook Game to Cause a Lawsuit", which is held by the game Scrabulous, sued by Scrabble owners Mattel and Hasbro for copyright infringement.  Scrabulous lost, to no one's surprise, showing the ways traditional power structures and legal systems are being applied to the (relatively) new technology of video games.  

Apparently there's an entire Guinness World Records: Gamer's Edition.  I'll have to check it out and see what they've got.  Hopefully they've improved upon the list of "Best Games" they released in their 2009 Gamer's Edition.  I love Mario Kart as much as the next person but best game ever?  I think not.

(Also, as a side note, I love that the #8 bullet in that last link turned into an emoticon. How very Internet-savvy.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Movable Type-- Quality Undergrad Media Studies

I am in graduate school.  By definition, this makes me kind of (really) a nerd about my field of study.  Possibly one of the most nerdy things I've done, and also one of the best, was joining together with a few of my awesome fellow Media Studies majors as an undergrad to found Movable Type, an undergraduate media studies journal for the University of Virginia.

The reason I bring it up today is because the journal didn't close down when the original staff graduated in May.  In fact, it's still going strong, and the second edition is in the process of being released now.  As an online journal, new editions of Movable Type are released a few papers at a time, to keep postings more current.  Even better, all the content is archived and searchable, as well as sorted by keyword.

If you've ever been interested in exactly what media studies majors and scholars write about, Movable Type can give you more than enough insight.  One of my papers on gender and video games, a topic I covered briefly in an earlier post, is up on Movable Type, as well as some of the best work I've read by my fellow undergraduates.  If you're interested in hackers, crafts, Glee, Harry Potter fandom, political campaigns or more, I'd encourage you to check it out, read some material and leave your comments.  It's great to get feedback on work, especially if you're planning to go anywhere with it.

Because the articles and the journal can be a little heavy at times, however, I'll also leave you with "A Media Studies Love Story", a video created by one of the original Movable Type staffers, demonstrating not only her own nerdiness and love for media studies, but a bit of insight into what it is.

In case the video looks familiar, it was inspired by the follow advertisement, "Parisian Love", released by Google for the 2010 Superbowl.  Enjoy!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Kitty! And Animal Shelter Policies

Check out my new kitty! He's so cute!
It may seem that I'm pet crazy, since I just had a post about my fish, but it just happens that I managed to get new pets in close proximity to one another.  I'm not keeping this one though, and if you want him, you can have him.  He is, in fact, my newest foster baby and the first one I've had in Michigan.

Because of my lack of money and my unusual schedule, both resulting from my graduate student status, I can't really afford to keep a pet of my own.  I do, however, love having animals in the house.  To solve this issue, I volunteer for whatever humane society is in the area as a foster mom for cats.  I'd foster dogs too, but they're not allowed in my apartment.

When I lived in Charlottesville, VA, I volunteered at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (CASPCA).  The cats I got were primarily ones with minor illnesses and health problems, the kind that they didn't want spreading to other animals in the facility.  I had a lot of cats with colds and ear infections.  Like this one!
This lovely lady, originally named Posey, was later dubbed "Paula Deen", due to her minor chubbiness.
Here in Michigan, I work for the Humane Society of the Huron Valley (HSHV).  This cat, Stewart, is the first I've gotten, and was fostered out because of his extreme dislike of the shelter.  The first picture I received of him from the foster coordinator, who referred to him as "Turtle Kitty" for hiding under his bed, is below.
While it looks funny, it was actually a pretty serious problem-- he had stopped eating and was losing a lot of weight.  Even after a few days with me, he spends most of his time hiding under the bed and still isn't eating nearly as much as he should.  I've been referring to him as "ShyGuy", especially when he finally creeps out from hiding and then runs away as soon as I look at him.  Hopefully he'll recover the rest of the way soon; when he does come out, he's a great cat.  When you pet him, he leans so far into your hand that he'll actually lose his balance and tumble over, which is really funny to see.

I've been lucky with regards to the humane societies located near where I live.  Both have had great, newly renovated facilities with lots of space, light and air for the animals.  They're actually cheerful places to visit and volunteer, which makes it easier to deal with all those homeless animals and their overwhelming cuteness.  One thing that differs between them, however, is that CASPCA is a no-kill shelter, while HSHV is what they refer to as "open-access".  I'm still not completely sure how I feel about this, so I'll hash out some of the pros and cons for you.

Obviously, the largest pro of a no-kill shelter is that animals are never put down, unless they are terminally ill or injured to the point of no recovery.  Not having to euthanize animals is the goal of any good shelter but is an explicit and solid commitment of no-kill shelters.  Many institute a number of programs to decrease the number of homeless animals in the community, such as rescue services and free spay/neuter clinics.  Others work to keep pets with their owners, through measures such as pet food banks and behavioral classes.

The downside of a no-kill shelter, however, comes from the fact that, in addition to these admirable and very useful programs, the shelters often limit the number of animals they take in.  If they already have five hound dogs, they are likely to turn away another, as its chances of being adopted in a reasonably short period of time are low.  This puts a lot of pressure on other shelters and resources in the area and often just moves euthanization somewhere else.

In contrast to this, open access shelters never turn away animals, allowing them to act as a resource for anyone.  They also provide some essential functions, like euthanizing animals that are a threat to community safety.  And, like I said before, any good shelter, even if it's open access, strives to avoid euthanizing animals.

I guess when it comes down to it, whether a shelter is no-kill or open access is not the factor that is going to affect my support for it.  What is going to change my opinion is the number of programs they have in place to help animals and people in the community, whether that is through rescue programs, spay/neuter clinics, pet food banks or more.  In the end, those say more about the good the shelter is doing than what title it has.  And as much as he didn't like it there, I like to think HSHV did a good thing for ShyGuy by bringing him to me!
What do you think about the no kill vs open access divide?  Do you have strong feelings one way or the other?  Or do you agree with my more case-by-case view of things?  There's this awesome little link below that you can hit to let me know!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bonus Post-- Recipes with Applesauce

Because I'm excited to be back posting (hopefully) regularly and because so many of you are still coming back to visit even after my long break, today you get a bonus post!  Even better, it's in the form of food.

I made a pretty interesting dinner today, so I figured I would share the recipe for it.  As I don't have a microwave in my apartment, something I think I referenced in my earlier post on onions and garlic, the next easiest way to cook is using a slow cooker or Crock Pot, where I can just throw things in and leave it.

Here's a preview of what today's recipe made, with my awesome Eeyore cookie jar in the background.
Chicken and Applesauce
2 chicken breasts, halved
2 cups applesauce
1/4 cup barbecue sauce
2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. lemon juice
The recipe I used also called for 1/2 tsp. of poultry seasoning, which I don't have.  Instead, I used 1/2 tsp. of thyme and 1/4 tsp of parsley.

First, season the chicken with salt and pepper, then brown in oil for five minutes per side.  Then remove it from the pan, cut it into 1" cubes and move it to the slow cooker.
Mix the rest of the ingredients.  Pour them over the chicken and mix it all well.
Cover and cook on High for 2-3 hours, or until the chicken is tender.  Yum!

I served mine over rice (see below), but it would probably be good over pasta as well or by itself.  I even added carrots and cucumbers on the side.  I feel so healthy!

Of course, then I also did have some of the applesauce cake I made yesterday, which might have ruined it.  Quite delicious though!  Check it out.

I actually can't find the exact recipe I used for it again, but this is the closest approximation.

Applesauce Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup chilled applesauce
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves 

Cream butter with sugar. Add applesauce; beat well. Stir in flour, soda, and spices. 
Pour the batter into a greased and floured 8 inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 40 minutes, or until done. Serve warm. 

Applesauce cake, if frosted, usually has cream cheese frosting or caramel frosting. I didn't have the ingredients for these (you can see this is a trend of sorts with me), so instead, I mixed up something on my own. 

I had some store-bought vanilla frosting, but thought it would be too sweet for this type of cake. So I added to it: 

2 tsps. cinnamon 
Dash of ginger 
Dash of cloves 
2 large spoonfuls of flour (to make it less sweet) 

After mixing these all in, the frosting was less sweet and a bit spicy, making it the perfect topping for a thicker, richer cake like applesauce cake. 

So there's your bonus post for this week.  Let me know how you like these if you try any of them out!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Intro to Chinese

My goodness, Wednesday already?  I feel like I need to keep better track of my schedule so that time doesn't slip by me like this.

But anyways...

Recently I've been watching a lot of Firefly, because I got the complete series on DVD for Christmas.  Among other things, it reminds me of one of my close friends, who I met in Chinese class when the show inspired him to take it.  For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Firefly is a science-fiction show often branded as a "space Western", following the crew of the Firefly-class starship Serenity as they make a living on the outer edges of space.  In the "history" of the show, the US and China fused together as the world's great superpowers to create a fusion culture as well.  Characters often mix Chinese phrases into English speech, particularly when swearing.  My friend's sole reason for taking Chinese, he has claimed, is so that he could understand what the characters are saying.

Unfortunately, neither of us ended up being all that great at Chinese.  It's a difficult language, and my problem came with one of the fundamentals.  I do not have the greatest ear for music, and Mandarin Chinese is a very tone-dependent language.  By that I mean that four words can have the same spelling in pinyin, the method for writing characters using English letters, but are differentiated by the manner and pitch in which they're said.

For instance, take the word "ma", the traditional example given in class.  When written like this-- mā-- it is pronounced using first tone and means "mother".  In second tone, má, it means "numb", third tone, mǎ, is "horse" and fourth tone mà means "swear" or denotes a question.  Therefore, if you use the wrong tone, you could accidentally call your mother a horse, something I doubt she'd appreciate.  How the tones are pitched is displayed in the image below.

So in order to say "mother", you pronounce "ma" with a higher pitch, keeping it flat all the way through.  To pronounce "horse", your voice starts at a middle tone, falls and then rises.  For a demonstration, rather than my fumbling description of it, check out this video.  I'm sure you'll hear the difference, but could you imitate it?  Throughout the duration of a sentence?  Harder than you may think originally.  Even after a year and a half of Chinese, I never did get my fourth tone correct.  I was never sharp enough with it or something-- words pronounced with fourth tone are shorter than the other three.

I've been told that the reason for these tones is because has far fewer syllables than English does, so in order to make more words, another distinguishing factor was needed.  On one Chinese 101 website I found here, it says that the Chinese language has only about 400 possible syllables, while English has 12,000 or so.  No wonder it's so hard to learn!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Here Fishy Fishy Fishy

Why hello there!

It certainly has been awhile, hasn't it?  Sorry, I was on vacation.  And then you know how things are after you get back from vacation-- everything that you were supposed to do on break jumps you all at once and you have to struggle through for a bit.

University of Michigan is weird.  Classes restarted on January 5th this year.  It was like being back in high school again.  What college does this?  I am also bothered by their idea of "Michigan time".  Instead of scheduling classes for 50 minutes like a normal school, to provide students 10 minutes of travel time, they instead schedule them for a whole hour, then expect people to be 10 minutes late.  If you expect people to be on time, you have to specifically declare your event "not Michigan time".  Ridiculous.

But ranting about the weird traditions of my new school is not what I intended to do today.  Instead, you get to hear about my new fish!

I've had a small aquarium for awhile, but unfortunately, fish do not move well.  While I was careful with them and they survived the trip from Virginia to Connecticut at the beginning of last summer, the trip from Connecticut to Michigan at the end of the summer did them in.  After that, I was moving in and getting work done, and I never really had a chance to get new ones.  So this past week, I finally made it to the store and picked up some awesome new additions to my fish tank.

A general rule for freshwater fish tanks is that you want, at most, 2" of fish per gallon of water.  This means that the max my fish tank can hold is about six small fish, so of course I got six.

The first two are neon tetras, some of my favorite fish when my family had an aquarium when I was growing up.  A picture of them is below.  They're some of the smallest fish you can get, but completely awesome, because their name comes from an iridescent blue line down their side that really does look like a neon light.  I named them Xenon and Argon.  Those of you who know your periodic table are laughing right now.
The second two are cobra guppies, a breed I actually couldn't find a lot of information on when I did a Google search on them.  I have no idea where they're from or anything.  They do have a snakeskin-type pattern on their sides and tails (see below), but I'm not sure I really would have gone with cobra for the breed name.  However, since the breed designation is not up to me, I went with it and named them Indiana and Sallah.  ("Why'd it have to be snakes?")
The last two are tequila sunrise guppies.  I was unaware this even existed as a breed and again find myself seriously questioning who names these things.  Really, tequila fish?  I do have to admit that their coloring does match the name, though.  So their names are Jose and Patron.  Mine have better tails than the ones pictured below, but you get the general idea.
I know this post is far less informative or academic than most of mine, but I was really excited to get new fish and proud of myself for not killing them when getting them into my tank (the shock of moving kills a lot of fish, like I said).  So I decided to share!  I'll get back to the more important stuff on Wednesday.  See you then!