Friday, January 31, 2014

Episode 87: Her Kingdom of ICE-olation

Picture The Ace of Geeks Podcast welcomes Stephanie back for the second week in a row! Woo! We'll sing along with Frozen, the newest Disney animated feature, and Mike and Jarys discuss their favorite movie of this year, Her. Plus, Stephanie and Jarys recently saw a live showing of Welcome to Nightvale, and they try to convince Mike to get on the bandwagon. (Spoiler alert: it worked.)
Episode 87!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Celebrity Letter Writing, as Therapy. By Lauren Harrington

There have been a lot of news stories over the years regarding hate mail celebrities get for small things (like getting married to your long-time girlfriend), and there have been stories about obsessive/stalker fans writing overly detailed letters to their would-be lovers. After hearing about the hate mail Martin Freeman has received following his character’s marriage in the most recent Sherlock series, I hung my head in shame for all of the immature children who send such letters. I think back to a book I read in elementary school, where the main character writes letters (but does not send them) to his favorite author, as a way of therapy and easing the process of writing a diary. Even his letters were tame, and talked of his life more than the would-be recipient’s. Letters to celebrities should be as such, if containing anything more than simple appreciation for the work the person has done. If you would be ashamed to show the letter to your grandmother, then you should reconsider mailing the letter. I have decided to write a letter as an example for all to see, edited for legal reasons involving a case I am currently dealing with. I wrote it honestly, and this is something I would actually send to the actor, were not the postage so expensive for international mail. The letter is as follows:

Mr. Cumberbatch,

I’m quite a fan of your acting, as you may figure from the fact that I’m sending you a letter. You are a very talented and versatile actor, and I quite appreciate the work you put into each role. You likely hear that often, and it’s true. I must say, your reaction to Harrison Ford's compliment on your work was quite adorable.

I admit I quite fancy you, though I was quite disheartened when I learned you’re a fair amount older than I. My favorite nickname for your fans (so far) is Ben-Addicts. But I’m not sending you this letter to babble on about that. I’m sending you this to tell you of my dreams, as I’ve heard writing a letter to one’s favorite celebrities can be therapeutic.

My dream is to make music videos that tell stories that strike deep in the heart, be it with laughter or sorrow, for popular bands and composers. I write and direct them, and am going to college for this in San Francisco. I have had this dream since I was twelve years old—roughly ten years. Nothing feels better to me than being on a set for one of my videos, with the close second being editing them. Unfortunately, there have been a great deal of obstacles in my way, and I am afraid I will never reach my goal.

I was in a rather awful accident at the start of my second year in college. Its effects will be with me the rest of my life. I cannot go into detail about the effects, unfortunately, due to legal reasons, but they have been more harmful to me than I could ever imagine. Even knowing this, however, it becomes harder each day to continue going on. I often ask myself how it is I made it this far, and am always puzzled when I realize it’s because I feel the need to keep people thinking I’m doing well.

The repercussions of my accident have not been my only obstacles. I have had much difficulty completing any projects. One project I worked on, which was not mine, was so marred by its director that the artist required it never be released to the public. The first project of my own was dropped near its completion due to my producer failing to communicate to me that he could not find the final locations, and the band eventually decided to devote its time to working on a Kickstarter project for their next album. I have more projects I am hoping to work on, but I’m not sure I will be able to complete them before the bands grow tired of waiting. Scheduling has been difficult for me, as my time during school breaks has been spent with family and doctors in my hometown (not far from Los Angeles, in the area I’m from), with little time left for much else.

Beyond all this, though, I still work towards my goal, scraping by on the high I get from working on my projects. A great help for me was reading about your parents, and how they worked hard as actors, and raised a son who went on to become world-renowned. Your parents kept doing what they loved, and passed the love they have for their work on to you. It is my hope that, if I do not succeed in achieving my dreams, any child I might have would go on to be great in whatever field of work they choose.

I often preach to those around me that they are capable of changing the world, that they already have in some way—no matter how small. Although I do not feel the same is true of myself, I still dream and wish and hope that I will someday make something that changes someone’s life in a positive way. I want nothing more than to do well enough to ensure that the ones I love are taken care of, and I sincerely hope I will be able to do so by making the music videos I long to create. All the better if I get to work with actors as brilliant as yourself.

I’d like to send you something as a token of my gratitude to you and your parents for inspiring me to continue working towards my dreams. I like to make things, be it by knitting, crocheting, beading, or woodworking. Someday, when I have enough money, I will. Perhaps something of each for you. For now, my thanks will have to suffice.

A gracious fan of yours,

Lauren Harrington

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Time Among the Suits. by Ken Smith

Hello there. Most of you don’t know me yet, so here goes. My name is Ken, and I am what I and a few others call a 'persona furry.' The difference between this and what most people see as “furry” is I don’t wear a suit. I have a fursona (think avatar or PC) named MalKontent.

People who hang out with me frequently have gotten used to my collar and my meows. I express my fur as a way to feel more comfortable in my own skin, and express my emotions in a way that feels more authentic to me. I happen to be in a wheelchair, which has kept me from wearing a Fursuit for a long time, because I need free arms and I couldn’t display a tail. I have also been a Gofer at various Conventions for over 25 years. For those unclear on the term Gofer, think stagehand. (Go for this. Go for that.) It was in that capacity that this past MLK weekend I had my eyes opened in a way I never imagined.

I have been on the fringes of furdom for years, but when two of my close friends invited me on a trip to Further Confusion, a convention in San Jose, I decided if nothing else burying myself in 50+ hours of work would make sure it wasn’t a wasted trip.

For those of you who haven’t read the article this is built upon, where Mike Fatum realized that fursuiters aren’t really as scary as clowns or spiders, please do so now. I went to Further Confusion (hereafter referred to as FC) comfortable in the knowledge that if anyone in a suit bothered me all I had to do was say so and they’d back off. I wasn’t scared but I wasn’t sure how accepted I’d be, considering I had never attended FC and I don’t wear a suit.

The first thing I learned was how similar we are in our limitations. Between my wheels and their tails, neither of us can turn worth a damn. Secondly, both of us have seriously circumscribed vision, I have a line I can’t see above just like they have one they can’t see below. The third thing is we are both communitarians with twisted senses of humour and a love of panto. Finally they are great with kids- there was a toddler with a ball who would play fetch with a group of Dogs. My education didn’t stop there.

As I was learning about this circle of fandom, they were learning about me and my limits. Once we got used to each other I noticed something odd happen. I started to be treated as one of them and they, when seeing me approach a crowd of people, would point to me then point to the crowd. If I nodded yes they would gently make a hole just wide enough for me without making everyone else stop dead. I also started a running gag with a Coyote who carried a stuffed cream pie, I would steal it and then roll away slowly while he “chased” me. When he caught up to me I’d offer him some and he’d walk away. We did this several times in front of different audiences to delighted laughter.

When I finally started hitting my stride as a GoFur I started to be stationed in a room officially called the Fursuit Lounge, but I quickly learned was called the Guillotine by those in the know. We had this room so people who weren’t comfortable with taking off their heads in public had a private room with a cooling tower they could use to dehumidify their heads while they had a smoke. And I got a chance to get to know both the players and their roles. I learned so much about pantomime there especially from the Deaf Leopard (really he had a sign saying “Deaf Furry. Please Write Sign or Hug”) and about the interspecies politics.

My adoption was complete when, upon learning my 25th anniversary as a gofer was that day, the suiters in the lounge presented me with one of the squeakers used by non-lingual characters to vocalize and a cupcake while singing “For He’s A Jolly Good Gofer”.

The feeling of community was equally strong on the Staff side. When I would be a Gofer in the past we would have to negotiate a corner of the Gofer Hole to sack out in. At FC they rented three hotel rooms for us, one for men, one for women, one for those who don’t fit either category. I was allowed to put in as many hours as I wished as long as the work got done well. And I wasn’t even chided for putting in eleven hours before asking for a lunch break.

These are my second family and I am so proud.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Give Graphic Novels a Chance. by Maro Guevara

Like a lot of geeks, I take pride in my ability to turn other people on to the things I love. I’ve had some great successes (more than a few Battlestar and Buffy converts), but it seems to me that there’s one almost insurmountable hurdle for people sitting squarely on the sidelines of geekdom to overcome: getting into graphic novels and comic books.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Beauty, the Beast, and Stockholm Syndrome?! by Mike Fatum

You all know the song, "Tale as Old as Time/Song as Old as Rhyme/Beauty and the Incredibly Abusive Husband Who Changes Because Belle Stays With Him Against Her Better Judgement." "Wait - what?" I hear you say. But it's true, dear readers, if you ask the Internet. This pops up every five or six years and sweeps the web, filling articles and Facebook posts of people gently shaking their heads. "It's a good movie!" they say, "It's so sad that it sends such a poor message."

That poor message, of course, is that You, yes You, should stay with your abusive husband/wife/significant other/goldfish. If you stay with them, if you really love them, they'll turn into a Prince just through the power of your love. This thesis is insanely dangerous. If that is the message of Beauty and the Beast, then a beloved animated film - the first animated film to ever be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards - would actually be a snake in disguise. A terrible trick created to push an agenda on your children! It'll teach your daughters to be submissive, and allow dominating abusers to walk the earth unchecked! Kidding aside - if that were the central thesis of Beauty and the Beast, I would be right there with the mob on the internet ready to throw everyone involved with it into the pyre of public opinion.

I'm making a metaphor here, kids, go with me.
It's true - if you remove every piece of Beauty and the Beast except for the most basic story - 'Girl Meets Beast, Girl Loves Beast, Beast Becomes Prince' - then yes, you've got it on the head. That's dangerous. That's probably why it took Disney so long to make this film, one they'd been planning on doing since Walt Disney himself was alive. The original fairytale on which the film is based is no help - it's about an ugly guy who locks a girl in a castle and repeatedly asks her to marry him until she says yes. Not exactly modern. But let's take a look at the film itself, the work in question here, outside of the context of its source material, and see what we find.

We'll skip the intros to the various characters, (although I do agree, Internet, turning a ten year old boy into a beast for ten years for being a brat is quite the overreaction) and jump straight into the meeting between Belle and the Beast (who never gets a name, by the way, that seems less than fair) . Beast has kidnapped Belle's father, and is generally being a total dick about it. Belle sacrifices herself for her father, and agrees to stay in the enchanted castle to spare his life. So far, not great. Doing it for the right reasons is not an excuse to stay in an abusive relationship - the father here could be a metaphor for the kids these women and men usually stay for. And if Beast had kept Belle locked in the dungeon, we might have had that story.

But that's not what happens - Belle is put into her own room. Still not disproving any theories here - just because someone is nice to you, sometimes, is NO reason to stay in an abusive relationship. But it's at this point that the story begins to change. Beast, used to having all the power in his world, orders Belle to dinner. She flat out refuses him, to the point where she'd rather go hungry than spend time with him. Hmm. Well, that's different. If this were a story about an abusive relationship, wouldn't this be the point in the story where she begins appeasing him to reduce his wrath? But that's not what we get - Belle, one of the first and finest feministy heroes in Disney canon, seizes control of the situation. She doesn't kowtow or beg, she refuses out right to have anything to do with the abusive monster in her life.

And yes, Belle does eventually get dinner, in one of the most famous musical numbers in Disney history. But let's talk about that - Belle is in a bad situation. Instead of just "making the best of it" and hoping things will work out, she goes out on her own to get help. Lumiere, Cogsworth, and Mrs. Potts have their own reasons to help her, certainly, and not all of the advice they give is good, but Belle still goes out on her own to get what she needs. She doesn't listen to the demands of the abusive presence in her life, she makes her own destiny.

This all comes to a head that very same night. Belle, inquisitive as she is, sneaks into the West Wing. The Beast finds her, and explodes. It's the worst he's ever been - he's terrifying. So here comes the point where Belle falls to her knees, apologizing, right? Nope. Belle says the following words, "Promise or not promise, I can't stay here," before running into the night.

Let's take a look at that again, shall we?

"Promise or no promise, I can't stay here."

It's in this one single piece of dialogue that the entire thesis about Beauty and the Beast supporting abusive relationships falls apart. So many relationships stay together because of a "promise." A marriage, or an engagement - it's one of the many ways that abusive partners keep their prey close. But Belle, the quintessential Disney princess, who's word means everything to her, breaks a promise. She puts her own safety above those words. And that's what makes her strong, not submissive. That's what makes her a hero, not a victim.

We all know the rest of the story. Belle's escape goes badly, due to a sudden case of wolves, and the Beast has to go and save her. That same Beast spends the rest of the movie changing for her. For the rest of the movie, the Beast is never in charge. When he and Belle meet, it's as equals. And yes, I understand. She didn't leave for good - which means, to you, oh Internet, that the message of the film is still about staying and waiting for your abusive significant other to change. But there's one last thing to point out:

Belle doesn't love the Beast until he changes.

If this was truly a story about Stockholm Syndrome, and how staying with your abusive boyfriend or girlfriend will change them, Belle would have been in love with the Beast from the beginning. We would see that it was her love that changed him. But it's the other way around. His change, his compassion, transforms her feelings for him.

That's the beauty of this film, in the end. Belle is one of the few Disney heroines in history that doesn't change. She doesn't have to - she starts the movie as the kind of woman who would reject a boorish brute like Gaston out of hand. And while she does stay with the Beast, we know that the door is open for her to leave any time she wants. She's too strong to be caged, and too smart to believe her love alone could change anyone. The Beast changes because he chooses to change, and in the end, that's what saves him.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Episode 86: Nerdiwinter Nights!

Picture The Ace of Geeks Podcast welcomes back Stephanie Cala, as we dive into her experience with the new free-to-play MMO Neverwinter! Plus, we'll discuss Mike's brief time as a comic book writer, the latest episodes of My Little Pony, the joys of encountering fellow nerds in the wild, and review the Firefly boardgame!

Episode 86!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

What the Hell is a Steam Machine? by Kyle Johannessen

I find myself with more time on my hands these days, so I feel that it’s time to jump back into the Ace of Geeks. Even though Mike and Jarys have never invited me back to the podcast, despite the fact that I’m charming and witty and have a great baritone voice (jerks).  (Editor's Note: He is none of these things.)

Anyway, I’m going to talk about Valve’s Steam Machines today. Let me start off with saying that I’m primarily a console gamer and I lean heavily towards the Xbox. I am not a fan boy. I think the Playstation 3 and 4 were great systems and even had a Wii for a while, I just lean towards the Xbox because I’m a huge fan of Halo, I like the controller better, and I find the user interface easier to manage. I used to be an avid PC gamer as well, as I was a sucker for Real Time and Turn Based Strategy games. I just couldn’t keep up with the cost of maintaining a gaming PC.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Arr Matey! Raise the Black Sails! by Thomas Tan

Full Disclosure: I am a huge fan of all things swashbuckley and have a deep fondness for pirate lore. I’m also a semi-professional stuntman and fight choreographer, so my perspective on the show is not solely from an audience member.

Straight off the bat, comparisons of the new Starz original series Black Sails to HBO’s Game of Thrones will be inevitable. And it would be easier to dismiss those comparisons if Starz didn’t seem determined to one-up HBO at every turn. More violence, more nudity, more political intrigue and backstabbing; it’s almost like a color-by-numbers example of a modern cable action show. Not to say that this pirate adventure isn’t well done, it has incredible production value and fantastic performances by all members of the cast. I suppose I just wish that it didn’t seem so derivative of past shows on Starz or HBO.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Episode 85: Demon: the Descending

This week on the Ace of Geeks Podcast, it's Mike and Jarys flying solo again, and they dive right into Jarys's new roleplaying obsession, Demon: The Descent. PLUS! We discuss the newest Doctor Strange casting rumors, Kristin Stewarts "romantic" new version of 1984, and we receive some fan mail that arrived strangely wet.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Review of American Horror Story - By Jarys

    Imagine a horror story that was longer than a movie, longer than a single episode, a horror story made of horror stories. Now turn that narrative on its side am stretch it along the Z axis. This story has more than highs and lows in a linear progression, it has depth. The characters, yes even the horrific antagonists, are rich and complicated. When a character dies, they are not so much ripped from the narrative so much as evolved. They continue to Influence the plot as the undead, memory, or consequences.  Imagine a horror story with more consequences than death, maiming, and one night of scares. Some characters fall like angels, some are hardened into warriors, while other still are tested and found saintly. 

     If you imagine all this, you have a rough idea of the show American Horror Story. 

You may....want to get that checked out.

     I marathoned  the first two seasons with my cousins over break. I'm letting the third one finish up, for now. What I found surprised me.  While I am a fan of horror, I can be very picky about what I like, not too many jump scares, characters should not be too hopelessly clueless. What I love quite well is well developed writing and this show drew me in with that. While some characters are obviously good, few are obviously evil. Evil in the show is mostly presented as an adjective of human action instead of a noun, where there are inhuman forces, their actions are incomprehensible or neutral. There is, in season two, a demon but the demon is played as fallible and personable (though not sympathetic) as any human character. At one point the Demon is frustrated that a human character accomplished more depravity than it. Humans are the center of this story, and most of the plots arise from human decisions and conflicts. 

     The first season is fascinating. While trying not to spoil any details, I believe I would be fair to say that the story revolves around a broken family moving in to a haunted house. The ghosts of the house antagonize, befriend, and complicate the issues of the family.  While there are some jump scares, the horror is derived from the incredibly rich mood the show develops. There is a sense of mystery, exploration, and illusion. At several points my cousins and I debated who was a ghost and who was not. 

Honestly, it's a beautiful house. So unique. Shame about the murder...s.

     The show set very few procedures, but one I enjoyed was that the scenes before the credits were typically devoted to showing you the history of the house, the demise or development of a character who would factor heavily in that episode. The development and choices of these characters are generally the major plot movements of the episode, or else the development and choices of the established characters on response to those so highlighted. Despite the horror and misfortune, the joyful note on which the season ends is unexpected and enlightening. It is quite the pay off. 

     I was happy to find that the second season, titled American Horror Story Asylum, was a completely different story. It is a multi temporal affair, taking place mostly on the early sixties, with development throughout the season and in the end that takes place in the modern world. This season hooked me especially hard because I find insane asylums, where reality and society are at their most malleable, to a particularly frightening. Specifically, the idea of being unjustly committed to such a prison like facility whose staff norther sympathizes with not trusts you is particularly engaging to me, and I was delighted to find a central character experiences exactly that. (Spoiler) A perfectly sane reporter is institutionalized by the head nun of the Asylum to keep the former quiet about their abuses occurring there. What is more horrifying is that the charge is real: the reporter is committed for her lesbianism, the papers signed by her lover after said nun threatens to take the relationship public. Already this Nun is established as a character of terrible cruelty. And yet, there is the possibility of redemption. (End spoilers).

Get used to this face. It belongs to a great actor.

     This second season also combines numerous different horror elements. Slasher-murderers, demons, alien abductors, and mad scientists all have a part to play. Seeing these antagonists interact injects humor to a show in which humor is no stranger. The plot twists are also more pronounced in this season, trust and sexuality are much larger themes, and navigation of these themes lands characters in surprising situations. Insanity, not as a moral failing but as the expression of a mind under stress, is also a theme. The show initially shows the inmates through the eyes of outsiders, chaotic and frightening. As the show progresses deeper in to the experiences of inmates in the asylum, the inmates (and even the staff) are shown increasingly sympathetically.  The real horror is not the demon, the's how we treat the inmates and how unprepared society was to deal with the psychopathy of the slasher. 
Zachary Quinto is fantastic in both seasons

     I was surprised by how good American Horror Story was, not because people don't speak well of it (they do), but because I could not imagine how it could be this good. This show uses horror in an ongoing television drama better than any other show I have seen. In fact, where other shows fail to continue a sense of horror and interest throughout a season, American Horror Story succeeds. This is mostly in part to the depth of the characters. The antagonists are not unknowable monsters, what is human and sympathetic about them is highlighted.  If they are not sympathetic, they are intricate, figuring them out provides an audience with accomplishment. The show shines in its human and dramatic elements, mixing drama with horror masterfully. I look forward to marathoning the third season eventually, when I can evaluate the claims that that season (American Horror Story Coven) is written in a way that is both racist and unfair to practitioners of voudou. 

Not a practitioner of Voudou

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Why is Net Neutrality so important to you? by Mike Fatum

The internet has been abuzz this past week about a huge issue in politics - and no, we're not talking about closing a couple of lanes on a bridge in New Jersey. Yesterday, a federal appeals court ruled to end an FCC ruling that required internet providers to treat all traffic that flowed through them to the public equally. They couldn't stomp out one particular web site or another based on profit or personal whim. They've been fighting this rule for years, hoping to get the opportunity to squeeze even more profit out of companies like Netflix, who will now have to pay extra to each carrier just to get their content to you, the consumer, at a decent speed. This means we will likely have to pay more for these services as well. Here's a helpful infographic:

The judges in the matter ruled that this rule was "unnecessary", because, and I quote, “Without broadband provider market power, consumers, of course, have options. They can go to another broadband provider if they want to reach particular edge providers or if their connections to particular edge providers have been degraded.”

To anyone who's used the internet in the past ten years, we know this reasoning is complete and utter crap.

First of all, there are huge chunks of the nation where there aren't 'options.' You either pay for internet with whatever company owns the lines in that particular area, or you don't get internet. (Or you can get it, but it has to be through *shudder* dial-up.) In addition, in the big city apartments where a lot of people live, you're stuck with whatever provider the landlord has chosen. And thirdly, now that this is not a rule, every company will be doing it. If I switch to AT&T because Comcast is squashing Netflix, Netflix might be faster but AT&T will be squashing Hulu.

This terrifying vision of the future brought to you by the Federal Appeals Court
 Net Neutrality is the reason the internet has become the huge force for both information and pop culture that it has in the past three decades. With Net Neutrality gone, we're left with a future that's sort of terrifying. Yes, losing access to Netflix isn't that bad. But in a world where the NSA is apparently reading everything we do online, it's not too much of a jump to see a world where we suddenly have China's level of internet "access." Paranoid? Maybe. But it doesn't change the fact that the possibility exists.

The good news is that the fight isn't over, not by a long shot. And while we all wait for the FCC to get their act together, we can help, too. Write your representative. Explain, in detail, why Net Neutrality is important to you, and should be important to them, too. There's a stereotype right now that Congress can't get anything done, but losing access to Breaking Bad might unite us all.

Doing nothing, however, will lead to a future of censorship, pure and simple.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Amazon Drones: Frightening, or Fun?

      With the announcement of the possibility of Amazon using drones to deliver their packages, there have been many a debate about the problems this delivery method might bring about. What many fail to recognize is the possibilities the drones bring for us. There are benefits to having automaton buddies flying around our neighborhoods. Here are some positive things to consider, should Amazon carry through with the drone idea:

Target Practice
Many of us talk about what we’ll do when the zombie apocalypse happens. What most of us don’t consider is how awfully out of practice we are at hitting moving targets. Now, you can take hold of the opportunity to prep for doomsday using the robots zooming about in the air (or on the ground). You’ll have ample opportunity, as there’s bound to be many in every major city daily. Take up arms with your shotgun, machete, or boomerang, take aim, and fire. If you choose to take up a gun, consider how loud it is. Remember: Your neighbors can hear most of those buggers if you don’t use a silencer, and some larger caliber beasts need extra padding to properly quiet the shot. The sound of the bullet piercing the casing of the drone will be audible, so be prepared to run before the five-oh can get you. If you use a flamethrower, try to do it in daytime, and make sure you have enough fuel to go through those metal shells so you can properly fry that circuitry. For sharp-and-shiny lovers, this will be a good time for you to learn parkour.  If Amazon decides to go with flying drones, you’ll have to jump from weird places to hack away. Should Amazon decide to deliver via wheels, running is something to consider making a staple of your daily workout. Either way, you’ll need to run once you’ve taken out your target, because the sound of your blade gutting the enemy will be pretty well heard throughout the block.

Hacking Practice
A lot of my hacking buddies (including my code monkey dad) tout their “mad skills.” What they lack is practice hacking on the go. These moving targets are a great way for hackers to flex their binary muscles. If you choose to try this out, you may want to consider prepping a mobile rig. Your rig should come with a pre-coded program to help you lock on to the droid’s signal, a driver ready for takeoff, and (most importantly) a rig that can handle the high-speed tomfoolery you’ll be attempting. The finishing touch on your chase vehicle should be a fridge filled with energy drinks and sugary snack foods. Because, well, you aren’t always going to see “Access Granted” on your screen. When you do, though, you’ll feel the glorious victory that is being a 1337 H4X0r. Once you’re in, you can make the drones do a jig, pants your older brother, or even pull the wig off of Donald Trump.

A New Pet
Sometimes we get lonely, and not in the way that some alone time with RedTube and tissues can fix. Sometimes, we need a friend who will always be there for us, no matter what. Once you’ve figured out how to hack into your new slave pet, you can reprogram it to co-op CoD with you, fetch your pipe and slippers, and deliver you breakfast in bed. This pet won’t trash talk you or complain about the hard work it does for you. If you prefer your new buddy to talk, you can easily install a speaker system and an AI like Siri who will answer your questions and help you with your homework. You’ll have a Jarvis of your own, minus the snide remarks.

Free Stuff
With no delivery man to make sure the package is taken by the right person, you’ll have an easy opportunity to find yourself a new surprise gift! All you have to do is follow one until it reaches its drop-off, and simply whisk away the stolen package present to your home! You may also use the method of hacking or target practice to obtain your gift, if you prefer to make a sport of it. Did you get a new toaster? Is it a pair of rabbit slippers? Who knows! Just hope it’s not something that you’d find in your mother’s sock drawer.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Bioshock Infinite: Your Argument is Invalid (Part One) by Chris Brecheen

Among many geeks, it is a source of some tenderness that video games are not recognized, and generally not considered a “legitimate” art form. Of course, geeks themselves know this is complete crap. Most sort of roll their eyes at the fact that a bunch of arrogant blowhards haven’t gotten the fucking memo yet. Still, among prudish tweed-jacketed Humanities professors and their slack jawed, drooling zombie followers, there are those who deny that interactive media could ever be true art. They say it in the same tone of voice that was used to say Rock and Roll wasn’t art, that movies weren’t art, that TV wasn’t art, and even that computer animation isn’t art—never realizing that their prejudice for innovation makes them look like a bunch of elitist douchenozzles.

Plus seriously, I don’t really think too many have actually played video games since they were pumping quarters into Tempest and Q-bert.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Episode 84: The Shaggy Dog Joke

The Ace of Geeks Podcast welcomes in the New Year with lots of guests! We're joined by Cyril Mariano, Terry Kitagawa, John Ballas, and Rowan - briefly. We finally get a chance to discuss the Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug! Plus, Mike and Mae Linh have just come back from Disney World and Universal Studios, and we discuss the magic of theme parks, including the awesomeness of Jurassic Park and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! All this and more!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Is DayZ Being Ruined by its Own Community? by Eli English

Oh DayZ, where to begin? You made me fall in love with the idea of survival games. You've made me meet some great friends and have some fantastic times in an unforgiving and changing world, while keeping things challenging in a great way. Yahtzee put it best in his video for the game: "You don't lose because someone is 10 levels higher then you. You lose because he has a gun and you don't." DayZ was made a fantastic game due the random encounters which could play out in hundreds of different ways. I've had plenty of times where I'd meet a bunch of random players who would stop me and go "Hey dude, do you need some food? Here. Have an assault rifle with a bunch of ammo and a military-grade backpack." (The other half of the time, they shoot you and stuff rotten food in your mouth.  -Ed) Without those random and awesome encounters, the game would turn into another FPS that just so happened to have no end goal and zombies constantly on the map. However, a large amount of regularly playing DayZ gamers are also ruining DayZ for the rest of us. Here's why:
1) Shooting on Sight.

Part of the thrill of DayZ is to run around with no clue on what's about to happen. That one guy you see down in a fire station could either become your new best friend and help you survive the days to come...or he could blast your head off with a shotgun as soon as you walk through the door. That's the thrill of the game. There's no scripted events like in other modern first person shooter games. There's no people who you can trust for sure besides a small group of friends, if you're lucky. However, there is shooting on sight. LOTS of shooting on sight. In the first couple of weeks of DayZ, friendly players were rare, but not terribly hard to find. 3 out of 9 players would simply shout out "Hey dude, I'm friendly" when they saw you. They probably wouldn't give you anything, but they would usually leave you alone and go on their own way or maybe even team up with you. Now? In my experience, 1 out of 12 players have been friendly.

This is a problem as it causes everyone to be FAR more aggressive then they should be. There has to be some bad seeds who will shoot you on sight no matter what, but there needs to be less chaos in order to keep the intensity there. Shooting on sight only leads to shooting on sight. I don't care how much you like to play the good guy in games. I don't care how many times you've done a Paragon run on Mass Effect or how much good Karma you have in Fallout. Anyone who plays DayZ will eventually shoot a player on sight due to the fact that they've been shot on sight far too many times and don't want to lose what they've taken hours to collect. Think about it like this; if you were going throughout a town and have taken hours to collect the required parts to fix up a car (cars are incredibly rare in standard DayZ servers) and a random person just ran behind a corner and into your face -- weapon in hand and raised -- what would you do? Before, I would make the newbie mistake of shouting out "Hey dude, it's okay. I'm friendly!" and have been shot in the face almost every time because of it. The one reason I've stated is because shooting on sight is so rampant, but the other reason is also because there's no consequences to your actions. Lets talk a bit more about that as well.

2) No consequences

So you've killed your first couple of players. Congrats, your player model has changed and... that's it. You don't lose anything. You have a great skin that matches to most environments while looking cool (if you're on a server that makes bandits outfits turn into ghillie suits, that's even better) and there's no real way for any players to find out you killed them unless you're on a very specific server. It's almost as if playing a bandit is the only way to go. Think about it. After you've killed a player, you probably have a fresh gun with ammo to boot, a decent amount of food and a couple of bandages while the person you just killed has to start from scratch and forget about all the gear he took hours to find. And even if you are murdered in cold blood and know who did it, very few players will give a shit. By the time you scream out "BANDIT IN ELEKTRO!!!" in the global chat, a player will either be running to the gunshots with his M4 at the ready (usually to kill that player and steal both your shit) OR they'll just note it for later use and move on.

Having no consequences doesn't kill the thrill of the game, but it hurts it a lot thanks to players who just kill whoever they see. Adding some sort of consequence would add more excitement to the game and would make people react with a bit more hesitation when it comes to just killing a player. That hesitation helps the game a lot as it requires you to make a fast choice without the assistance of reloading an old save like in most games. That thrill makes you a better player in the long run and helps keep the games intensity going strong. Without having some sort of consequence for killing another player for no reason, most players will attempt to take down a threat because there's no reason to think things through. Me and my friends have had discussions about what to do when it comes to having no consequences between making trader cities in which bandits are always shot on sight or making trader cities give out rewards for when someone kills a bandit, but currently there is no official way to combat against bandits minus hunting these players down as a team.

In a recent article, the top priorities of the DayZ team, as reported by PCGamer (, are the following:

Server performance, stability and security

Animals & hunting

Cooking & gathering resources

Playable user customizable vehicles

Player created constructions in the environment

More complex interactions with the environment and crafting options

Streamlined user actions and interface

Control and animations expanded and improved for fluidity

Upgraded graphics and physics engine (including ragdoll, etc.)

Support of user mods and more flexibility for user hosted servers and game types

These are all good things and will help support the community for the months to come. Adding hunting to the game will allow a new way to survive for those who don't wanna go city hopping for food, while still giving players stressful situations to deal with because DayZ isn't about the zombies. It's about the human and natural threats. If you don't drink water, you'll start to dehydrate yourself and your ability to sprint will soon be lost. If you don't eat food, you'll start to starve and it can effect your overall health. Keep up a bad diet and it'll effect you in more ways then one (note: diet hasn't been added to the game yet, but it's something the developers have talked about A LOT). Adding hunting, cooking, player made constructions and more interaction with the overall environment is a VERY good thing. I'm a bit worried about customizable vehicles, but as long as they're careful about what they allow players to add to their car, it should be okay.

The article gives me hope that DayZ can become a much better game with less shooting on sight and consequences for those who continue to do so in the long run, but I'm hoping that day comes sooner rather then later. Until that day comes I'll continue to set up hunting parties in order to take those bastards down.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Is the Star Wars Expanded Universe Really Being Destroyed? by Mike Fatum

Much has been made recently of a recent twitter conversation between fans and Leland Chee, one half of Lucasfilm's new Story Group. Leland, along with Pablo Hidalgo and probably many others, are now in charge of the central story of Star Wars. So what has this changed, and what does it mean for the future of the beloved-by-some-loathed-by-others Expanded Universe of Star Wars lore? Hit the jump to find out more.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom - by Mike Fatum

One thing you'll hear me talking about a lot on this blog is how geek culture builds community. It's something that gets a lot of eye rolls from our readers (and some of our staff). Geek culture is a culture about stuff, they'll say. It's not about morality, or community, but just about people who like some of the same things. Mostly, they'll tell you, geek culture is about spending money. And yet, even a money grabbing scheme by the most "evil" of corporations can turn into an experience that brings people together.

Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom is a free - you heard me, free - collectible card game that you can access in the most popular of Disney World's theme parks, the Magic Kingdom. It's easy to miss - you have to take a sharp turn immediately upon entering the park and head into a brick firehouse, away from the beaten path. There, a helpful attendant will hand you a pack of random cards for everyone in your party, a key card, and a map of Disney World with strange symbols marked across it. You place the key card on a lock in the firehouse, and Merlin from the Sword and the Stone appears in a swirling portal.

He explains that some sort of magic crystal ball maguffin has been broken into many pieces, and that various Disney villains are out to get it back. Since you are a Sorcerer, would you mind battling the forces of evil and saving the Magic Kingdom?

You had me at Sorcerer.

My dreams realized at last.
Each of the cards has a different Disney character with a different special attack on it. You journey to different parts of the Magic Kingdom (only Tommorowland has no portals right now), hunt down the keys, and battle villains like Scar, Maleficent, Yzma, and the Shadowman. (And yes, Keith David does the voice.) Each villain has a "story" that follows you through three to four different locations in the park. Each location is hidden in some part of the backdrop - above, you can see how a fireplace used to hide one. Another is hidden in a wanted poster in Frontierland. Each one is revealed when you place the key card on the keyhole, and the battle begins. Each card you hold up, and there are at least 60 so far, creates a different animation depending on the character depicted. Lumiere lights the villain on fire with his candle. Prince Charming swings a sword around. Eve fires a directed laser blast. Your first round through, the nine villains you must face are easy to defeat, although it may take you more than one day to get through it all. On a second playthrough you can engage medium or hard mode, which will force you to use multiple spells at once. (You can play up to three at once, apparently that number used to be nine. Imagine all those animations flying at one time.)

Defeat of all nine villains rewards you with - wait for it - another pack of cards and the chance to go again on the harder difficulties. In other words, Disney has turned their entire park into one giant, Magic-the-Gathering-meets-Skylanders video game. But wait, there's more, and here's the part where you'll start rolling your eyes.

There are t-shirts you can buy that make your spells more powerful if you wear them. There's a tabletop card game (which is sadly way to easy) you can buy to play with your collected cards. And of course, there are super-rare, powerful cards you can only obtain by buying the full game. Not to mention the card folders, the holiday cards that are only available once and never again, and this starts to seem like less of a gift and more of a simple, corporate greed machine money grab.

So what made it different?

While you're wandering the park, battling evil, eventually you end up in a line. It's inevitable. There's a theme park, there's tons of people, you're just not going to be the only one to find a portal at any given time. So while you wait, hoping to not have your next battle spoiled by the kid in front of you, you start to chat with the newbies (those of us fumbling with our cards) and the veterans (the kids and grown adults with organized, color coded notebooks of cards). And what should be an arduous, boring line-wait turns into a gathering of like-minded individuals. The kind of people who would spend their time in a theme park pretending to be sorcerers rather than going on Space Mountain sixty times.

You know, geeks.

And as all of us newbies are pulling out our duplicate cards and trading, and all of the veterans are just giving their stacks of spare cards away, the most magical place on earth gets just a little bit better. You could look at this game as just a way to steal all of our money, and to some people in the Disney hierarchy, it probably is. But to us, it's a way to find other people just like us. And that truly is magical.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Don't get sick!

Hello there!  Stephanie here to bring you the first of two blogs about health and wellness.  In this post I'll mainly be teaching the difference between viruses and bacteria.  I'll also do my best to debunk some myths and leave you with sources so you can do your own follow-up if you're curious.  Expect the second blog post to be about what to do (and what not to do) if you're already sick.  Let's go!

First and foremost, I want to break down the differences between viruses and bacteria - the things that make us sick in the first place!  The media likes to group viruses and bacteria together as "germs" a lot and this leaves the majority of the public with the idea that they are bad things, and that they can be treated the same way.  This is not the case.

As a collective, often viruses and bacteria are called "germs".  If you want a word that encompasses both and doesn't make you sound like you're talking to three-year-olds, the term "microbes" is probably what you're looking for.

Viruses come in many different shapes and sizes, but there are a few things that are constant across all viruses: they all have an outer capsid made of protein and a nucleic acid core comprised of either DNA or RNA.  Viruses, despite having DNA, are not technically living organisms.  Some popular viruses include: influenza (the flu), the common cold, HPV, and HIV.

Bacteria, unlike viruses, are living organisms and fully functional cells complete with organelles, although they do not have a membrane-bound nucleus so their organelles are just floating around inside the cell membrane.  Some popular bacteria include: e. coli, salmonella, tuberculosis and tetanus.

Now that you know there's a difference between the two, we can talk about treating them.  Because bacteria and viruses are not the same thing, you can't cure them the same way either.

In the event that you have a bacterial infection, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics.  However, there is a little danger that comes with taking antibiotics.  If you decide not to take all of your antibiotics when they're prescribed then you run the risk of killing off all of the weaker bacteria, leaving only the strongest of the bacteria to reproduce.  It's very important that you finish your antibiotics - don't just take them until you feel better.

Viruses on the other hand can't actually be "cured".  It's really just best to let your immune system run its course and have your white blood cells kill the viruses off.  You can treat the symptoms to make yourself more comfortable though.  For example, say you can't sleep because your body aches, and you have a runny nose and cough from a cold.  You may decide to take NyQuil which has acetaminophen (a pain killer and weak anti-inflammatory), dextromenthorphan (a cough suppressant) and doxylamine succinate (an antihistamine).  NyQuil will cover the symptoms, but once the dosage wears out you'll feel just about as sick as you did before.

Like the video had mentioned, it can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between a bacterial and viral infection.  It's best to consult a doctor - they're able to take samples and test to see which is which so you can be treated properly.

What can we do to prevent getting sick?

First and by far the most important - wash your hands often with soap and warm water, paying extra attention to your fingertips.  This sounds like a no-brainer, but not enough people wash their hands and even fewer wash them correctly.  Think about all of the stuff you touch every day without washing your hands; when was the last time you cleaned your television remote?  Your computer keyboard?  Your cell phone?  When you don't disinfect these items and you don't wash your hands, you're potentially spreading illness.

Anti-bacterial gel is fine in a pinch, but soap and water is still the best.  Just like antibiotics, anti-bacterial gel won't kill viruses (unless it contains a lot of alcohol in the solution - hospitals usually pack a solution that's between 75-90%).  Also, because you're killing off all of the weaker bacteria and leaving the remaining strong bacteria on your hands, you're doing your part in creating super bacteria...which isn't so super.

Additionally, the "Kills 99.9% of bacteria" claim has been falsely advertised to the public.  In a report by the Wall Street Journal, it was found that "Human subjects, or countertops, in labs are cleaned first, then covered on the surface with a target bug. That is a far cry from a typical kitchen or a pair of grimy hands...Three popular sanitizers killed between 46% and 60% of microbes on the students' hands, far short of 99.99%."  The companies can claim 99.9% effectiveness by counting how many microbes have died, rather than how many different kinds of microbes have died.  It could kill off 6 million units of one kind of harmless bacteria, but it couldn't kill off 1 potentially deadly virus.

The Second thing you can do to prevent illness - you can get vaccinated.  There has been a ton of slander in the tabloids about vaccinations causing autism or poisoning people and it's, for me personally, really something horrible to watch happen.  Science has come so far and now we have people that are refusing medicine because they don't know enough about it.

Let's kick off this section with where the rumor that "vaccinations cause autism" started.
Andrew Wakefield published a study in 1998 that popularized the idea that autism is linked to vaccines. His entire study was proven false, and he was paid by a law firm to publish the fake study so they could sue the vaccine manufacturers. His research was discredited and he was forced to resign from medical practice.  If you want more information about this, you can check out the case studies that debunked his studies here, here and here.

If you're one of the few that don't get sick even when you don't take vaccines, then great, you're the shining example of what scientists like to call "herd immunity".  According to wikipedia:
Herd immunity (or community immunity) describes a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity.[1] Herd immunity theory proposes that, in contagious diseases that are transmitted from individual to individual, chains of infection are likely to be disrupted when large numbers of a population are immune or less susceptible to the disease. The greater the proportion of individuals who are resistant, the smaller the probability that a susceptible individual will come into contact with an infectious individual.[2]
If wikipedia isn't good enough for you, feel free to follow the links that they have sited on their webpage.

If herd immunity isn't a bad thing, then why all the fuss?

The problem arises when more and more people don't get vaccinated.  More people are hiding behind the facade of health and wellness, but in doing so you also weaken the overall health of the herd community. There are some people that have problems with their immune system that render them unable to take vaccines, which means that they're already more susceptible to illness.  If you get sick and you run into someone who already has a weakened immune system, they're likely going to get sick.  People who are vaccinated are the barrier for those who cannot take vaccines.

Herd immunity is a cool thing because it helps to eradicate diseases.  Bacteria and viruses are on a timer - they have to reproduce very quickly before they die.  When someone who is sick spreads their pathogens to another person who is immunized, the pathogen has to take time to mutate so it can successfully reproduce.  Sometimes, when we're lucky, the pathogen dies off before it actually gets a chance to make us ill.  But, enough people need to be immunized to make this happen.  

"Okay, so fine, vaccines don't cause autism, but they're still going to poison my child!"
Please, please, stop.  PLEASE.  

To be fair, a post on tumblr from a supposed immunologist isn't necessarily a credible source.  However, shoutout to canuckfanatic on imgur who compiled a wonderful post about vaccines that helped a lot with my research for this portion of the article, which also help to back up the blogger on tumblr.  Canuckfanatic has also listed over a dozen helpful links with a wealth of credible information about viruses and vaccines.  

In short, please please please please PLEASE get vaccinated.  

But, I'm already sick!  What can I do to get better quicker?

For those of you like me that have already been bitten with a bug this season, I'll be posting another blog soon with some tips to get you back on your feet as soon as possible.  While you wait: continue to wash your hands, drink lots of water, and get plenty of sleep!  Thanks for reading, and I'll be back soon (:

[Obligatory Disclaimer]
I'm am not a medical practitioner!  I have taken college-level biology courses and I work at a science museum, but that's about where my science credentials end.  Because I'm a student (albeit a pretty good one), that basically just means that when I don't know something I'm pretty good at researching the subject and learning about it.  However, if you have a medical emergency or if you have an illness you want diagnosed, please go see your doctor! Don't leave me a comment waiting for a solution - go get it checked out.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

To Laugh at Keanu Reeves - By Jarys

     Last night (a few weeks ago by the time I'm publishing this), a personal hero of mine was ridiculed by a late night host and I'm not even mad. I don't care at all, in fact, I enjoyed seeing this person I looked up to taken down and poked out. It was good times and a lot of that had to do with the sense of pleasant good humor the subject of my respect held. He had a good time, we all had a good time. Do we all like to have our heroes torn down, or do I just really like to see someone take punches on the chin, smile and all?

     Perhaps I should back up and bring some clarity to the situation. Though I get disbelieving looks and dismissive protests about this, the truth is that I hold the actor Keanu Reeves in high regard. No wait, don't leave! I won't try to convince you, but I hope I can open my chest and at least make my good opinion seem reasonable. If not reasonable, than sympathetic.  It may help that I agree with the general assessment that Reeves is not some acting prodigy, that is not why I like him. But I argue he may have been, if the grapevine of the internet can be believed.

Better than his critics would think, apparently
 The first aspect of Reeves that won me over is that his life was horrifically interrupted. He had been acting on stage since he was at least  in his early teens, and at the time he was highly lauded. I read a review written by a stage critic who found Reeves' professional attempt at the role of Hamlet to be the third best he had ever seen (not the movie version from which the above picture is taken). Other articles I duh up suggested that the kid impressed people. Reeves tried to get into Hollywood and found a role on Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (which was thoroughly sweet dude). But was it this airhead role of Wyld Stallion's Theodore Logan that set Reeves on the path toward people summarizing his acting by murmuring the word "Whoa" instead of pondering "words words words?"

     I won't go into much detail, because it is his story, not mine, but multiple sources have affirmed that Reeves experienced a string of horrible tragedies soon after entering Hollywood.  Reading about these misfortunes, knowing that Reeves would only keep going afterwards is the context for my admiration of him. After reading about this, I dropped all expectation for Reeves blow me away with his acting depth, emotional range, or variety, all skills for which he is criticized for lacking. I cannot say he does not have these skills, Hollywood had a way of typecasting those who succeed in particular types of roles (has anyone saved the world or humanity in the last twenty years as Reeves?). He does seem to have suffer a sort of emotional rigidness in interviews, but interviews are not the most emotionally welcoming settings. I basically gave this actor a pass in my consideration, if he wasn't a harlequin of energy and smiles I understood why. Dude had seen some shit.
 Which may have lead to this....or maybe that's one intense sandwich
    But experiencing the unthinkable is not enough to make me a fan of a person, I do not get dopamine from that kind of drama. Instead, it is Reeves' personality that won me over.  Reeves is reported to donate the majority of the millions he makes in his movies to the stunt people and crew of those movies. I found numerous tales of his kindness and friendliness. He eschews a millionaire lifestyle. Reeves is said to be mature, happy, supportive, and amicable. And after all that has happened in his life, this get my respect in a major way. He perseveres in kindness and that model gives me something to mull over when watching his (often horribly written) movies. Most of his movies I can enjoy in a popcorn chewing sense, and some of them, like the Matrix Trilogy and the movie rendition of Constantine I love and thought he did a more than efficient and quite enjoyable job in his portrayals.

I have said it before, only a Keanu can make a stare down with a cat look this interesting
 I quite understand his critics. When my friends speak of him like he's the derpiest derp who ever derped in Derpopolis I don't argue. I don't repeat theories that he is high functioning Autistic or emotionally stunted. Such excuses insult people on the spectrum by tying them to perceived incompetence. Keanu Reeves doesn't seem to lose sleep over his image and why should I? I enjoy him without having to validate that enjoyment.

Seen here being mocked, and loving it.

     When Keanu Reeves came on the Colbert Report recently, to promote his new film, "47 Ronin", he was both soft and simple spoken. When promoted, he would not say much, but was cheery throughout. Such a demeanor does not make for a good interview and Colbert called him out for this through teasing and mimicry. Eventually the host flat out challenged Keanu Reeves to show his acting chops by showing various emotions. Reeves went along with it all with a smile and a twinkle. Ge may have known his behavior was unusual, he may have known he was being made the butt of the joke. He seemed to enjoy himself, took it all without protest, and I was similarly entertained.