Archive for 2011|Yearly archive page

the Melt challenge

In Just for fun on June 2, 2011 at 11:38 PM

The Man Vs Food guy, Adam Richman, came to Cleveland a while back and took the Melt Challenge. You can check out the video here:

3 slices of bread, all 13 cheeses, and a heaping pile of fries and slaw. Altogether, it’s about 5 pounds of food including almost 3.5 pounds of cheese. Giving dangerously cheesy a whole new meaning.

After hearing about this challenge (and Adam Richman’s success), my friend Todd decided to try to attempt it. So yesterday a few of us went up to Melt, although only Todd planned on tackling the big cheese. Melt is always pretty packed so we wound up sitting around or a while, taking in the eclectic mix of decorations, from xmas and easter lawn ornaments to video game posters and more traditional beer ads. Our menus were pasted on the backside of old record sleeves, a nice touch.

Our waiter gave it his best shot to dissuade Todd from taking the challenge, including vague warnings about the hazards of mixing so may diffferent cheeses together. Undeterred, Todd ordered his $22 challenge plate (and a pepsi). I went for the Parmageddon, which included a couple of potatoe and cheese peirogies  slipped right into my grilled cheese. Pretty delicious.

By the time Todd’s plate was up the rest of us had finished – all we could do was watch his steady descent into extreme discomfort. I say he was doomed form the start – he had filled up on Pepsi and was immediately reluctant to “dive in”. He insisted on using a fork and knife to tackle the sandwich even though the cheese was getting harder every minute. Speed was the name of the game, hadn’t he seen Man vs Food? Well, as it turns out, Todd hadn’t even watched that episode. Jesus, Todd.

After about an hour he had succeeded in taking in about half of the sandwich, one gooey mouthfull at a time, but he had barely skimmed the top layer off the fries, let alone the slaw, Worst of all, every minute the cheese was becoming more and mor elike a solid brick wedged between greasy slices of bread. After about twenty more painful minutes of groaning and pecking Todd called it quits. In the end, he had barely finished half of the challenge. I scored big on leftovers though.

I guess it just goes to show you that you can’t walk into these things cold – serious training is a must. I would suggest throwing down about a pound of cheese a day before attempting this challenge, the more variety the better. And also, do wind sprints. Cus you know, calories.


“In a basement rollin’ dice… I’m a wizard”

In Uncategorized on May 6, 2011 at 1:10 AM

I DM a 4e group for some friends every summer. None of us had ever played before this edition so I guess we’re a part of the wave of new roleplayers flooding basements after cutting our teeth on console MMOs.

I’m new to the die-rolling scene, but my personal nerd history is long and diverse. Taking those things into account, I love videos like these:

This was only posted a few days ago but it has been blowing up! About 100,000 views at the time of this posting; we’ll see where it ends up.

Also, classic

 I actually saw a few 4e books in Target the other day, which was a new experience. Not really the natural habitat of the creatures that devour that sort of material, at least in my experience. Then again, I’ve done a fari amount of my D&D-related purchasing either online or at Borders (before, you know).

It’s hard to beat the atmosphere of your local hobby games store though. You know, where funky chicks and dudes hang out eating pizza and playing MTG all day. Good times – let’s not get too mainstream, ok?

Getting Started with 8-bit Music

In Games/Tech, Music on May 2, 2011 at 1:37 AM

some items used in making chiptunes (from web)

I recently became interested in making what is usually called “8bit” or “chiptune” music. There is a lot of it out there, and some of it sounds pretty good. Some bands with an 8bit sound like Anamanaguchi ( have actually developed decent followings in the mainstream. Alright, but what is it?

Basically, 8-bit involves using the capabilities of early electronic gaming consoles, e.g. Gameboy, Famicom, or NES, to mix and perform pieces of music. You wouldn’t necessarily expect it, but this hardware can produce a pretty phenomenal variety of sounds ranging from the characteristic bleeps to relatively complex drum kits and dubstep-like basslines.

The beauty of 8-bit is that it is relatively accessible. You don’t need a physical instrument or specialized skills (beyond a general knowledge of music). The first thing you’ll want is tracker to allow you to mix the tunes. For the gameboy, a good choice is Little Sound DJ (LSDJ) ( The physical cartridges to put in your gameboy are relatively hard to come by and maybe a bit pricey, but you can get the newest version as a file direct to your PC for $2.00, which beats the hell out of buying a keyboard. The file is worthless by itself though – you will also need a gameboy emulator which will simulate the gameboy on your PC. A good, free choice is Visual Boy Advance, which you can get at (make sure you’re downloading the actual file at the bottom of that page – there are some misleading advertisements on that site; sigh).

Once you’ve got your ROM and emulator, you’re ready to make chiptunes. Open the emulator and open the LSDJ file from there – this will bring yo to the starting screen:

LSDJ starting screen

My mission in this post is just to get you started, so I won’t go into the specifics of manipulating the tracker here. I can direct to several tutorials that I found very helpful though! Take a look at these:
…and you’ll be making your own music in no time! Be sure to check out other people’s garage creations on It’s a good place to post your own tunes (once you’re ready) or just check out other talent for some inspiration! There’s a good forum as well.

I hope this was helpful – I had a bit of trouble when I first looked into this a few weeks ago, but I’m having a great time now. I find the whole prospect very interesting – music created and performed exclusively digitally might just be the future. LSDJ is impressive in its own right, but we also have autotune, synthesizers, MIDI, and software like Symphony. Now I’ll admit that people don’t always have the nicest things to say about some of those things, but think about what they have to offer. Even if you aren’t a gifted singer when it comes down to your concrete vocal chords, you might have beautiful things to say ayway. Technology like autotune helps you to find a voice that people will want to hear.

Our self-expression is getting more and more technological, at least in my appraisal of the situation. What this means is that more and more people are getting the opportunity to connect with others in an artistic way. You might be thinking that our conventions are the problem – we should applaud singers like Bob Dylan and Tom Waits precisely because they go against our common conceptions of beautiful singing voices. In that regard, technology like autotune is harmful because it locks-in arbitrary restrictions with regard to what sounds we find appealing. These are reasonable fears, but I think that our technology will open up whole new avenues of expression – although it sometimes constricts, it also liberates. We can’t forget that this is about access and opportunity.

Kinect and the Future of Music

In Music on April 28, 2011 at 2:28 PM

In a previous post (“Minecraft and Creative Space”) I tried to point out the contributions that technology can make to our creative pursuits. The idea was that software like Minecraft allows us to do things we could have never done otherwise, although it requires that we do those things in certain ways (i.e. with colorful little cubes).

There is a great website out there called KinectHacks ( Let me start off by saying that the Kinect is an accessory for the XBox 360 which allows users to put down all the little devices and become the controllers themselves. Instead of buttons and joysticks, a player navigates menus and games with their body’s movements and spoken commands.

Some industrious hackers (in the good sense) have dismantled the Kinect’s basic functionality in order to apply it to diverse new contexts. In addition to Dance Central, we’ve now got motion-controlled robots, interactive advertisements, Minority Report-like computer screens, and even medical imaging applications. There’s a lot of really great stuff on there that I could mention, but I want to hone in on a few musical contributions.

Ever heard of a theremin? It’s like that but way cooler.

People can use their movements to produce music. Granted, that statement describes singing or playing just about any instrument pretty darn accurately. I will also grant that, strictly speaking, these performers are just modifying the characteristics of music that is being played by an external device. Set your reservations aside.

I think that something special is going on here. The idea that people can get up in front of camera and move around and have that translated into a different expressive medium is pretty exciting. We can listen to their movements in a way not quite as pure as the movements themselves, but it’s getting closer. Movements become sounds, tastes become tactile sensations, sounds become smells. That last one is a little weird, but I think the point is still interesting. What if our technology could allow us to produce art that engages all of our senses?

This is what actual life is like – we are constantly surrounded with overlapping sensations of sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell, and it can be hard to differentiate (and why do that?). What our technology has failed to do so far is accurately replicate this holistic experience; it has always required well defined limits between audio, visual, etc.

The Kinect hackers have offered us a glimpse into the future wherein these superfluous distinctions can finally be abandoned.  The more refined our technology becomes, the more genuinely it reflects actual life – we’re talking about restoring sight to the blind and creating whole new virtual realities! That’s pretty cool to imagine, and we won’t have to imagine for much longer.

Minecraft and Creative Space

In Games/Tech on April 28, 2011 at 1:40 PM

People like Jaron Lanier ( worry about the limitations which technology places on our creative pursuits. The staple example is MIDI, the music system which demands precisely-defined musical notes with a digital context that computing software can understand.

The problem with this, according to Lanier, is that life as experienced through human consciousness is not precise and transcribable; cramping it up in a piecemeal system does violence to human creative potential. Practicing what he preaches, Lanier provides many flighty, humanistic metaphors like, “Being a person is not a pat formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith” (5). That sort of statement doesn’t fly in an operating system (or a dictionary for that matter).

There’s certainly some truth to Lanier’s fear. The tools we use will always have a limiting effect on our production. Violins work woderfully for certain types of music, synthesizers for others. Nevertheless, I think Lanier might focus on the wrong end of this process when he laments the loss of creative capacity which comes from selecting a particular tool. When I choose to use a blog rather than writing on paper, my product will obsviously reflect that decision, and maybe some things are sacrificed. But at the same time, choosing this particular tool affords me a wealth of new creative opportunities.

Take for instance the sensational game called Minecraft ( This game independently developed by Mojang enjoys an enormous cult following despite its simplistic graphics and basic gameplay.

Minecraft allows players to harvest simple blocks of resources which they may then use to construct buildings and other structures. This premise is ridiculously limited – players literally only have access to a bunch of colorful cubes (similar to MIDI’s precise notes?). Nevertheless, players are able to take these little blocks and use them in awe-imspiring ways. How uniquely human and creative are entire cities made of blocks? Or a giant, blocky version of the earth? Even a 1:1 scale model of the starship enterprise?

The point I’m driving at is simple: while our technologies do confine us within certain parameters, no matter what medium we are discussing, they also open up new creative avenues which we would be unable to pursue on our own. I think it’s pretty cool that I can log on to Minecraft and build a city. What makes our technology so human is its contribution to our basic biology.