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Keyboard and Mouse Hygiene: How to Survive in the Modern Workplace

Hygiene. The second greatest achievement of humankind. Cake is vastly superior however and shall remain the greatest of the divinely inspired gifts for all time. This is not debatable.

Okay, those previous statements are over-exaggeratedly hyperbolic, but hygiene is important. However, the moment a keyboard or mouse are introduced into someone's life, their prior respectable standards of cleanliness disappear. It immediately becomes a surface to butter your toast on, collect all the crumbs from your meals at your desk, and catch the boogers you're skillfully prying from your schnoz. The wretched hive of scum and villainy that Obi-wan was talking about was not Mos Eisley, but actually your nasty keyboard. Okay, he was actually talking about Mos Eisley, but allow me to help you prevent your keyboard from becoming as disgusting as said nefarious spaceport.

  1. Wash your hands. Pretty easy right? A surprising number of highly educated software developers just can't get their minds around this one. Make a mental note of those people and avoid shaking their hands and using their keyboards at all costs. It's also a great way to get the excess oil off of your hands so your keyboard won't wind up with that old keyboard shine.
  2. Get your finger out of your nose. There must be something instinctual that triggers people to immediately start digging for gold when looking at powerpoint slides, but it's nasty and inexcusable. If you ever see a keyboard with a random green globule on it do not walk or pass go, but run the other way immediately...
  3. Don't use your keyboard as a placemat. Do you know how much bacteria is on there? With your germ coated epidermis touching it all day the answer is a lot. Like an 18 story parking garage lot size. So don't help those microbes thrive by eating directly over it. If you've got room in your cube, slide down a few feet and eat there instead. If you don't have room in your cube, it's either time to ask for a promotion or look for a new job.
  4. Clean up the crusties. Crusties are those dark but crunchy spots that occur when you drool on your keyboard because your monotonous manager turned a fifteen minute meeting into three hours (please just be slobber and not other bodily fluids people release while browsing the internet). Please take the 30 seconds to get a slightly damp cloth to wipe them up. If another person were every to touch your nasty human interface device the crusty may try to eat them.
  5. When it doubt, set it on fire. A fantastic tenet to live by and most certainly applies to keyboards and mice in the workplace. It's far easier to explain to your manager why your mouse is now a cute little plastic puddle than to explain to your insurance company how a keyboard devoured your left arm. Requesting your supervisor purchase you a new device is another approach, it just lacks the grandeur that a modern office requires.

So there you have it, extremely simple steps to help you not catch Syphilis-of-the-keyboard or other human interface device transmitted infections (HIDTIs for all you stylish people with your fancy abbreviations). Not only will you be healthier, but your coworkers will stop looking at you like your forgot your deodorant... You did remember your deodorant right?

Oh yeah, and that part about cake, that's all true.

Gaming Lifestyle: Insulate or Incorporate?

There seem to have been a lot of "games are a total waste of my time so goodbye forever suckas" posts going up recently, so let me assure you right away that this is not one of those. Games are and will remain my escape. I don't like TV, books are a bit overrated when the internet exists to assault the brain with information (slight exaggeration for argument's sake), and there's only so much you can do outside when it's below freezing. Gaming is my preferred way to pass the time, blow off steam after possibly costing the company half a million dollars, or achieve something after a frustrating day in the office. Yet for some reason, I expertly quarantine it from the rest of my life.

Keeping everyone except the most important insulated from my favorite recreation most likely comes from a fear of being judged. Games are still the youngest medium out there and wildly misunderstood. Sensationalists continue to label them as the cause of violence around the world. World of Warcraft continues to grab headlines with horror stories of it causing divorce and child neglect. There have even been stories of employers immediately rejecting candidates if they have anything to do with games. With so much negative attention to the platform, identifying myself as one of the brainwashed, murdering psychopaths doesn't quite seem like the smartest play.

Yet this is my medium. I've written games for myself and my siblings since I was 6 and continue to do so. Heck, my career most likely grew out of writing those little games as a child. Raptr tells me that I still play twelve to sixteen hours per week. I spend $80 per month on my hobby even after getting married. It's an important part of my life, why would I keep it secret?

Being married means I don't have to make outrageous statements like "I've never touched Bad Company 2, unlike your looser ex-boyfriend" anymore, yet I would still make a similar comment out of my embarrassment over the perception of games and gamer "culture." Outside of potential future employers, there are not many people I need to impress for the rest of my life. Again, why should I keep it so separate?

This all comes from my recent decision to create a Twitter account to follow peeps I'm interested in instead of going to all of the individual's feeds. It then evolved into an aggregator for my own thoughts on gaming to distribute them among the sites I frequent. It's only a matter of time before non-gaming friends find the account and start following me. Yet I still feel like I should keep it all separate.

How integrated is gaming in your life? Do you bring it up in casual conversation with non-gamers? Do you update your Facebook posts with your gaming exploits? Is your gaming habit an insulated or an incorporated part of your life?

Fascinating Letter from Venezuelan Gamer

If you live in the States, you're a lucky one. Hugo Chavez's government in Venezuela has passed legislation that now makes it illegal to sell, import, or produce video games with a stiffer penalty than providing firearms to minors. If you have a few minutes to read, it is well worth it:

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/11/05/venezuela-chavez-adm.html

I ain't here to discuss politickin, but how some of America's (referring to the broader sense of North and South America) political figures see Chavez as a saint instead of the tyrant he is confounds me.

GameFly vs. GameStop Trade-In Smack-tacular Showdown

(Important Note: The next section must be read- wait, shouted- in the deepest, most masculine, gravely-est WWE voice you can muster)

That's right you pre-pubescent, teeny-tiny, highly effeminate girly men (and ladies), are you ready for the ultimate battle between the ultimate cheap-gamer contenders? Of course you're not, but you're getting it anyway!

In this corner, we have the reigning champion and king of gamer wallet friendliness, the Gamestop trade-in service! Can you feel the dollars?!

And in the other corner, one of the few services keeping the US Postal Service from going into bankruptcy while providing mailed satisfaction, the GameFly rental service! I can taste the joyful tears of postmen!

FIGHT!

If only this were a wrestling match, it might be a bit more interesting. Instead, my future brother-in-law asked me to break down my GameFly experience and compare it with his Gamestop experience to help him decide if he should switch from his Trade-In approach. There are unfortunately a lot of assumptions that have to be made. For example, we determined that he traded-in about 18 games over the last year while I received about 16 from GameFly. Additionally, it's difficult to know how much he was purchasing the games for or how much trade-in cash he got for them. With those challenges in mind, here we go:

Chris at Gamestop:
Games played: 18
Estimated game price: $50
Estimated Trade-in percentage of value: 40%
Estimated Total Cost: $540
Estimated cost per game: $30

Dave at GameFly:
Games played: 16
Monthly cost: $24.42
Games at a time: 2
Total Cost: $293.04
Cost per game: $18.32

It's easy to see that GameFly comes out way ahead and also really easy to blame my estimated numbers. In order for the prices to be comparative, you would need to get a trade-in cash back percentage of around 63%. From everything I've seen and read, it takes a miracle or a sweet deal to get that much for your trade-ins. However, each service does come with some problems, and the very first one on GameFly's list will likely disqualify the service for many people.

GameFly Caveats:

  1. You don't mind waiting a few months to play that new game. If you miss the new game's ship date, you're likely to not be able to get it from GameFly until a few months down the road. With how quickly games are forgotten, this may not work for you. This is unquestionably GameFly's biggest problem.
  2. You don't want to keep a lot of games. Having a huge collection is nice and all, but if you never crack open Star Ocean after the disappointing purchase, what's the point? If you do want to keep a game though, you know that the 75% or more off the used Gamestop price is far better. Plus there are those enticing rewards they give you every 3 months!
  3. You don't mind not being able to make impulse purchases. There is a certain allure to buying whatever you want when you want it, but you've got those compulsive urges under control.

Gamestop Caveats:

  1. You only play "the good stuff." Instead of taking a chance on a crappier yet also fun game like Afro Samurai or Star Ocean, you'd rather wait for the reviews to come out. You wouldn't want to risk loosing your "good taste" Gamespot emblem now would you?
  2. You don't mind being harassed to pre-order Fantasy Story 14: More Fantasy that Isn't Fantastical every time you want a new game. Those nice clerks are just doing their job, even if it is borderline criminal harassment.

So there you have it. GameFly is the winner. And no, I don't get anything for posting this blog I promise.

What do you think? Is my math way out in left field? Am I a super-biased jerkface that just insulted your favorite retailer? Have you found a better way to be a cheap but plugged in gamer?

raptr and the Future of Social Gaming

For those of you who are not aware, raptr (available conveniently at raptr.com) is a mash-up of various forms of internet communication, xfire, and GiantBomb's achievement system (though not as interesting) with some web 2.0 principles attached. It combines instant messenger systems much like how Pidgin combines them into a single client. Additionally the client tracks game playing while the user's individual raptr web page mines for players achievements (unfortunately PS3 achievement mining is broken until Sony can get a better handle on scalable hardware). It can also hook up to Facebook and Twitter-like services to broadcast what the user is currently playing. It's a very interesting push into the future of social networking and gaming and as an example, here is my own raptr card:

The next big coming change to social gaming is coming from the next update to Xbox Live, bringing Twitter and Facebook integration. While PS3 users will correctly argue that they already have Facebook and Twitter on their systems via the built-in web browser, it is not integrated to the core of the system as it will be in the Live update. From what I've seen, it allows you to do things like find friends who may also be hiding their secret 360 love affair as well as walk through people's profiles and pictures with a controller instead of a mouse. (Pro Tip: You can hook up a USB keyboard to your 360 for typing stuff and keep it around for the same thing on your PS3).

In the end, I question the effectiveness of the these two to create a better online community. I haven't met a single person through raptr yet, and while the Facebook stuff on the 360 will reveal a few more people who I can hop on Live with, I strongly doubt that either will foster the same sense of community as a forum or blog site. It is the lack of commitment required to use these services that will hold them back. In either a forum or blog, you are committing at a minimum some of your time and more likely some of your personality (unless it's NeoGAF) that increases the risk/reward to keep you coming back much like actual friendship at a greatly reduced level. These same things will not be provided by either raptr or Facebook on Live.

I don't mean to dog either of these services as they are great tools, but I do question their significance and lasting appeal. For me, the best part of raptr is that it tracks the amount of time I'm spending playing games to help with accountability, and as stated previously I'm sure I'll pick up a few extra friends on Live because of the Facebook integration. But neither tool can currently be used adequately to foster the same sense of community that a simple forum or blog site can provide.

So where does social gaming go from here? Can there ever be an integrator of gaming or are individual games' community sites the way to go? Are "core" games already socially behind the times because of Facebook games? Is community even important or relevant to gaming? What are your thoughts?

Software: Its Power and Misuse

My life revolves around software. If I were a crass person, I would say something extremely derogatory to describe that relationship, but let's go with "cruel mistress". An article published a few months ago that I found only a few days ago describes (what I view) as the fascinating power of it, and its destructive potential. In essence, the article is about the guy who wrote the software used by traders to make millions faster. And now that software is one of the important causes of our nation's current little recession (that's not as bad as '82). Check it out for a good read.

The simple truth is that computers are dumb, but they can do what you tell them over and over again pretty quickly. In essence, that's the power that games use. They take your input, predict what your input will do to the model created in the game, then display that to you. They then use the power of computation to do it over and over again. While more complex in practice, it's essentially the same thing as using an Excel spreadsheet.

This is what software is to me. The attempt to harness the infinite power of computing and make it usable to the average person. This can be taken to an extreme of usability, as shown in the article, where people become adept at using the software at the sacrifice of understanding what the software is doing. This view gives way to the even more dangerous belief that software is perfect. This belief literally kills people, like in the Therac-25 incident.

I won't bore you further with a deeper philosophical discussion of what software is/isn't/its achievements/its pitfalls, but if you've got some free time and want more proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, check out the article.

Scary News

Screw the swine flu, "climate change", and the return of '80s fashion. According to a few reports, Apple is thinking about buying EA.

EA, the publisher once hated and mocked by the gamer community has done a complete 180 in the last year to become what I consider the premiere publisher of quality games. Last year they gave us Battlefield: Bad Company, Mirror's Edge, Dead Space, an actually improved Madden, and the amazing NHL 09.

I see two different routes that Apple could go with this. In reality, Apple is not a software company. They are a hardware company that sells products that execute software. Extrapolating the Apple business model, this could mean that we might see an overpriced console with the Apple logo, motion controls, and expensive hardware refreshes every year. The acquisition of EA would give them a solid first-party lineup to move the platform.

Or perhaps this is Apple's attempt to turn the Mac into a gaming platform. Currently games are one of the few reasons to buy a Windows-based PC. It would surely be one way to up their hardware sales.

For me this is awful because I disagree with Apple's business model. They have the largest profit margin per unit of any PC manufacturer and have cornered the appearance-oriented consumer. Demand for their products is artificially high because of this, and that demand allows Apple to continue to gouge consumers. Beyond that, Apple still is truly a hardware company. They make their money on hardware and use software to move units. I fear that this approach will introduce basically another Wii.

What do you think this move could mean for the future of EA, Apple, and gaming in general? Are you ready for the MacBox?

Thoughts on Battlefield Heroes

Battlefield Heroes is basically in Open Beta status at the moment, with everyone under the sun able to get beta keys. I've probably put about 10 hours into the game, which is enough to form opinions about it. I know it's still in "beta", but since it is open beta; it is highly-unlikely that there will be any large changes to the core features that these statements are about.

  1. Battlefield Heroes is fun. A simple enough statement, but it's true. The menu music is peppy (and bore-into-your-brain catchy) and the characters are almost- dare I say- cute. Even the evil guys are likable. The pace of combat is quick, but it takes a solid 5 seconds to kill anybody (unless you're a sniper) which makes combat exciting.
  2. Battlefield Heroes can be frustrating. There will be times where you will be killed in one shot by a guy who's played the game for hundreds of hours and spent tons of money upgrading their character. When you're playing against have a dramatically higher level character than you, they will be able to kill you fairly easily. This can be frustrating, but see point 1 about how it will soothe you.
  3. Battlefield Heroes is Battlefield. And if you don't like capturing control points and ticket-life systems, you may not like it. If those are shooter game types that you enjoy, you will be enthralled.
  4. Battlefield Heroes is not for casual players. Unfortunately there is no Xbox Live-like trueskill system that will keep the experienced shooter player away from the casual gamer. This means that there will be jerkfaces like myself that will not hesitate to slaughter the poor casual players. In reality, Halo 3 is a better shooter for casual players than Battlefield Heroes. The reason that it might be called casual is:
  5. Battlefield Heroes can be played in small chunks. In fact, this might be one of the things that it is the best at. The Play Now button puts you in a game normally inside 20 seconds, and the rounds themselves last only five to fifteen minutes. It also makes the game dangerous by having the "just one more" factor.
  6. Battlefield Heroes is not for playing with friends. Last night a friend and I attempted to play, but found that it was extremely difficult to get into the same game. While you can join a game that a friend is in, it's difficult because the game your friend is in will normally be full thanks to the matchmaking system. Basically, the game desperately needs some kind of social network integration.

Without question, it is a game you should play if you like shooters if only to form an opinion about the free-to-play model. I haven't been able to articulate my feelings on it yet, but hopefully with some more experience I will be able to. Luckily, nearly any computer can run it, including my nearly five year old PC I'm running the Windows 7 beta on. So have you picked up your key yet?

Awesome Language Barrier Moments

Working in the non-government software development arena, I work with tons of folks abroad. My least favorite (most favorite to mock) is an extremely over-confident manager in Argentina who's grasp of the English language is equivalent of a wet noodle. This leads to hilarity as he boldly makes statements without understanding their actual meaning.

His latest shining moment of idiocy has become my new favorite. My company is slowly attempting to get more modern, and it was suggested that we interface with our technicians via Twitter. Carlos pounced on the opportunity to display his elite techy-nerd-dom and volunteered to do a presentation about it. He put together a presentation and sent out a meeting invite so he could brag about his tweet skillz. The only problem was a little typo.

He only missed a single character, and being the self-important bastard he is, he didn't check the message subject. The email went out to directors, other managers, a ton of developers and testers.

So, what service do you think Twotter.com provides?

$10 Games at Best Buy

Just in case you weren't aware, Best Buy is clearing out some of their overstocked Xbox 360, PS3, PS2, and Wii games by selling them for $10 a piece. They aren't the greatest titles, but most of them are worth picking up at the extreme discount. My suggested titles include:

  • Soul Calibur 4 - PS3
  • Fracture - PS3
  • Lost Planet: Extreme Condition - PS3
  • Pure - 360
  • Red Alert 3 - 360
  • Bourne Conspiracy - 360
  • Infinite Undiscovery - 360
  • Devil May Cry 4 - 360
  • Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword - DS
  • Samba de Amigo - Wii

There are more titles than this supposedly, but those were the ones featured in their weekly insert. Personally, I'm heading over there on my lunch break to see what I can pick up.