Category: Reviews


Engage!

Yeah, yeah, been awhile. Lots happened in the last few months, nothing I really feel like going into right now, but I’m busier, happier, and doing way more now than I was a year ago.

But no, I’m here to talk about some good nerdy things, namely Star Trek (and really, how fitting on Star Wars day :P)

Netflix has allowed all of Star Trek for streaming and in my spare time, I’ve been revisiting the show. When I was growing up, Voyager was the current show on and I loved it. My mom and dad both enjoyed The Next Generation when they were first married, and I remember them citing the episode when Picard was transformed into Locutus of Borg as a favorite of theirs. I don’t remember if it was them or me who wanted to watch Voyager, but it was a favorite pastime for seven years until it ended with quite a bang.

I remembered bits and pieces from the show, high noted mostly. Holodeck sequences, Borg attacks, random alien races, and while I never knew what they were specifically, I kept saying how much fun they were, how big a part of my childhood it was, and how nice it would be to watch them again. Until Netflix, DVDs were the only way to watch them legally and they were nearly $100 perseason, thou they have since gone down.

I decided it was time to make my way through Voyager again. I had a couple seasons, but now I could watch the entire series online and in the last three months, I made my way through all of Voyager. You know what I realized from it? Just how deep it is compared to some other sci-fi that I’ve watched. I mean yes, I always knew on some level how deep Star Trek went based on how fanatical people can get over it, but the richness of the entire universe just puts others to shame. The politics, the adventures, the huge cast of characters, Star Trek manages to include so much that breathes a lot of life into the universe. Star Wars has great movies, but most other fiction that helps flesh out that universe is ancillary to the six films. I have found Star Trek that much more engaging than most other fiction right now. With Memory Alpha close at hand, I can dive deeper into information that I may want to find out about an alien race or an event and get pulled in.

Voyager rekindled a passion for Star Trek I had long lost, and now, I’m making my way through the other series. Even as I type this, I’m watching Deep Space Nine and enjoying the character of Odo or O’Brien, or finding out what the hell a Trill is. I feel like I’ve missed a huge part of nerd culture than I’m somehow just catching up to. Rewatching this also makes me miss my dad, because in some ways, he had his nerdy quirks. Im sure both he and my mom helped get me to watch Star Trek, I returned the favor years later by showing him Firefly. I’ve found a touchstone to my childhood, as well as a potentially long term enjoyment down the road.

Now if you’ll excuse me, this Quark fellow is trying to get more gold-pressed latinum.

A Champion Has Entered The Battle…

Part of the bane of my current existence, and most of the cause of a lack of updates, has come from a sudden, painful, and passionate love affair with the game known as League of Legends.

The Sad Mummy

A lack of updates makes me sad...along with everything else.

For those of you who don’t know what the game is, League of Legends is a free-to-play game that plays somewhat like a real time strategy game. Instead of commanding vast armies, collecting resources, and overwhelming your enemies, you only have direct control over a Champion unit with powerful abilities. The goal is to destroy the enemy’s nexus, and there are turrets, minions, and enemy Champions trying to stop you. Teams of five square off to try and win, and it lends itself to some fun and interesting strategy.

This kind of game is not unique. It is based off of an old custom Warcraft III mod called Defense of the Ancients, and DotA spawned several games from itself, including League of Legends, Heroes of Newerth, and the upcoming Dota II from Valve. The really nice thing about the first two games here, LoL and HoN, is that they are free to play, which means you can check them out, and there is suspicion that Dota II will be free to play as well.

Snow archer and midget bazooka cannon against a yeti-riding maniac. Yeah...this is League...

The Champions available for you to choose are varied. From your standard fantasy characters like paladin-ish Champions, elvish-ish archers, mages, etc…the folks in charge of League have a character for everyone. A clockwork woman with a giant robotic ball. A scorpion made out of crystal. An emo mummy. A steampunk sniper. A court jester assassin. League offers a champion to fit your aesthetic flavor, and the thing I’ve noticed since I started playing is that they are all perfectly valid choices. Some might be tougher than others, but there seems to be a great sense of balance, in my experience, in keeping the characters fair. That makes me feel great, because I can pick a character that appeals to me aesthetically or mechanically, and I don’t feel like I’m penalized as a result.

As for map selection, you’re kind of stuck with one map to play on. Called Summoner’s Rift, the map is apparently a staple of this style of game. There are three lanes running across the map, and you push your enemies back along each lane to reach their nexus at the opposite corner of the map. Interestingly, playing all the time on the same map doesn’t really get boring. There’s a smaller map called Twisted Treeline, but I haven’t played on that map yet so I can’t speak to it. Additionally, Riot Games is coming out with a new gameplay mode called Dominion, more of a capture point match, and by all accounts, it looks great.

I definitely think this game is worth checking out, and with it being free, its hard to say no. You can unlock content without having to spend a single dollar if you’d like, and it allows you to try a different kind of game. I think its clear that free to play games are both here to stay and quickly reaching the quality of regular blockbuster games, and League of Legends proves it. Give it a shot, see what happens. I was terrified of this kind of game, now I can’t get enough of it.
In the interest of full disclosure, this link here is my referral code for League.
If you’d rather not use that link, I understand. This link will take you to the basic League of Legends homepage where you can sign up on your own.

Good luck! If you want to find me on League, I’m Ethereal87 on there. See you on the battlefield!

Podcasts

Part time capsule, part recommendation.

Two Christmases ago, I received an iPod Touch (3rd Gen) from my girlfriend.  I needed a new mp3 player and, being the awesome woman she is, my girlfriend was able to grab one for me.  I stole my sister’s FM tuner the next time I was home and I began listening to the world of podcasts.  My hour commute to and from work (round trip) became a minor annoyance as I could lose myself in whatever new content was delivered to my device.  Even when I ended up with an iPhone, I kept up with my podcast listening and, in fact, expanded it even further.  I’m listening to a podcast in almost all of my free time, or whenever I need some kind of background noise to focus my mind.

Yesterday, I realized my disk space was getting rather low and to help clear up some space, one thing I took care of was the accumulated pile of podcasts in my hard drive.  I got rid of the entire playlist, but they were still in my iPhone.

“Of course.  If I just delete them from the computer, the episodes I have will sync right back into the computer.”

So, after seeing how wrong I was, I ended up eliminating my entire podcast list and I had to rebuild it from memory.   I don’t see this list changing too much, so I partly wanted to create it to serve as a “backup” in case something ever happened and I had to re-download all of these podcasts.

A side benefit is to promote some podcasts that I feel are worth listening to.  A few accept monetary donations, and if I had the money to, they’d all get some because they’re 100% worth it.  I’ve got to go with trying to promote though, until my lottery-playing career pays off.  I listen to at least 13 hours a week of podcasts to break up that drive, and as I said, I love the constant stream of new content.  These podcasts are some of my personal favorites, and I would highly suggest checking them all out.

BackStory

Subject Matter: History, and how it pertains to modern problems/events.

Frequency of Updates: Not sure yet.  Looking at past history, it seems rather infrequent.

Content: I’ve just started listening to this podcast yesterday (04/09) but I like what I hear so far.  Three professors SLASH history buffs debate different points in history and how they are still relevant to our world today.  This episode dealt with the Civil War, and it served as a call-in show for just about any question.  They had some interesting discussions about racism, causes for secession, religious ideals, etc…for the time period and they managed to find neat connections to modern times.  Even though it is one of my newest additions to my list, I like it a lot.

I’ve listened to it for: A day!

Website: http://backstoryradio.org/

 

Best of the Left

Subject Matter: Progressive subjects, liberal causes

Frequency of Updates: Roughly three times a week.

Content: A really interesting format for a political show.  Jay, the guy who runs the podcast, cuts up tons of different sources and puts the pieces together around a certain subject.  The war in Libya, Congress problems, climate change, gay rights, whatever the “hot button” issue is, Jay usually finds the clips and puts them out there for people to digest.  He adds in his commentary only towards the end, which I like a lot.  It helps keep the show from being bogged down with opinions, but rather it lets everything speak for itself and sit in your mind.  Obviously, it has a liberal/progressive slant, so I know it won’t fit everyone’s point of view.  Personally, I like it because I feel like I keep up on some of the big issues and I get to hear it from sources I usually don’t listen to.  Even though it doesn’t quite line up with my personal beliefs, I think it’s worth listening to.

I’ve listened to it for: Probably close to a year now?

Website: http://www.bestoftheleftpodcast.com/

 

CAGCast

Subject Matter: Video games and savings

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Tuesdays-ish)

Content: A newcomer.  I used to listen to it, gave it up, and came back recently.  They cover new releases in video games, commentary on new releases, and they include really good deals that are available in stores/online.  The thing I like about it the most is it feels very low-key.  Just three guys chatting about video games and having fun.  It is very informal and it feels a bit closer to the “average user” videogamer perspective.

I’ve listened to it for: A month

Website: http://www.cheapassgamer.com/

 

Common Sense

Subject Matter: Politics, independent

Frequency of Updates: Once every two weeks.

Content: To be honest (sorry Dan if you ever read this! :P) I thought this was like a conspiracy theory podcast at first.  A lot of the things Dan Carlin says in the course of an episode, especially in the first one I listened to, sounded somewhat paranoid.  The more I’ve listened though, I can see that isn’t the case.  Dan sees the problems in America and with the way we run our system, and usually he offers a pretty sensible explanation as to why we’re here and what we can do to fix it.  I love his off-beat message and ideas, which keep bringing me back to him.  He sounds VERY independent in his position, going both right and left on certain issues.  He might be closest to a libertarian, but I don’t think he’d ever admit it.

I’ve listened to it for: Eight months

Website: http://www.dancarlin.com/

 

Freakonomics

Subject Matter: General interest

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Wednesdays)

Content: Hard to describe what this is about.  Every episode is about a half-hour around a topic that the producers thought was interesting.  Twitter, molecular gastronomy, the NFL strike, they’re all over the board.  They really do a great job of finding the issues people don’t really think about and bring them to light, or they take a common idea and twist it on its head.  Just an interesting show overall!

I’ve listened to it for: About seven months

Website: http://www.freakonomics.com/


Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Subject Matter: Nerd subjects, mostly through Sci-Fi authors

Frequency of Updates: New episodes every two weeks, old episodes uploaded on “off weeks”

Content: The hosts of the show both are editors for different Sci-Fi/Fantasy anthologies.  For the most part, they get an author on to talk about their latest book and structure the discussion around a theme (traditional fantasy, zombie, supernatural, etc…).  After the interview, they’ll discuss for the second half on their own feelings about the topic, and wrap it up.  I like this a lot because I’ve been exposed to authors I normally would have passed up in Borders.  My “Wish List” on Amazon has tripled because of the different book recommendations.  I’d suggest that if you’re a sci-fi reader, you need to add this to your listening list.

I’ve listened to it for: Seven months

Website: http://geeksguideshow.com/


Giant Bombcast

Subject Matter: Video games, professional

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Tuesdays)

Content: These guys are hilarious!  They work for GiantBomb, a wiki/review site for video games.  They’re big enough to get plenty of attention from the game companies, but they’re not a huge operation when compared to, say, IGN, Gamespot, or even Kotaku.  They riff on video games every week, and you can always count on them to go on hilarious tangents.  If you have any interest in video games, check them out!

I’ve listened to it for: About 1 year

Website: http://www.giantbomb.com


I Should Be Writing

Subject Matter: Aspiring fiction writers, tips

Frequency of Updates: About two a week, one content, one feedback

Content: Mur Lafferty hosts a podcast all about inspiring wannabe writers and teaching them the pitfalls to avoid when it comes to writing.  Mostly, the focus is on motivation and concentration.  Because of her connections, she’s able to get interviews with authors, who then help give their own perspectives on writing.  I’ve always had a secret interest in writing, so I like listening to this in the hopes that one day, I might just end up actually writing a story!

I’ve listened to it for: Four months

Website: http://isbw.murlafferty.com/


Jordan, Jesse GO!

Subject Matter: Comedy

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Varies)

Content: I would use this space to recommend the entire MaximumFun family.  I listen to three of the five or six podcasts they put out once a week.  JJGo changes from week to week, but Jordan and Jesse both invite a guest every week and hilarity ensues.  Crude, but hilarious, this podcast is just pure fun in audio form.

I’ve listened to it for: Eight months

Website: http://www.maximumfun.org


Judge John Hodgman

Subject Matter: Settling disputes

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Wednesdays)

Content: One of the newer MaxFun podcasts.  John Hodgman serves as the Chief Justice in his own courtroom, settling disputes that people can’t solve on their own.  Whether chili is a soup or a stew, if a husband can run a marathon, who should own a stuffed animal, he hears a bunch of crazy cases and he treats it with his special brand of deadpan humor.  Nice little half-hour shows to enjoy.

I’ve listened to it for: Six months

Website: http://www.maximumfun.org


My Brother, My Brother, and Me

Subject Matter: Advice

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Mondays)

Content: I haven’t fully made up my mind on this MaxFun podcast, but so far its been good.  Three brothers offer advice to people who e-mail their problems.  Think of them as three drunk Dear Abbies?  They usually offer a silly/ridiculous answer and then a more serious answer.  Some of the best comedy comes from mining the Yahoo! Answers and trying to answer THOSE questions.  They’re a bit more off and on with my tastes, but like all MaxFun podcasts, worth trying.

I’ve listened to it for: Two months

Website: http://www.maximumfun.org


This American Life

Subject Matter: General interest storytelling

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Sundays)

Content: Ira Glass hosts a podcast dedicated to bringing a set of stories around a single theme.  Usually, the theme sounds pretty simple, but he manages to make different types of stories fit in ways you wouldn’t normally imagine.  Very story heavy, and they vary from serious to absurd.  Usually serious.  I like it for the interesting sets of stories he usually digs up though.

I’ve listened to it for: Eight months

Website: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/


We’re Alive: A Zombie Story of Survival

Subject Matter: Story telling, fiction

Frequency of Updates: Once a week during a chapter (three parts), one week break in-between chapters.

Content: I talked a lot about this last week, so I don’t have too much to add.  If you like zombies and, essentially, audiobooks, check this out.

I’ve listened to it for: Eight months

Website: http://www.zombiepodcast.com


We’re Not Dead

Subject Matter: We’re Alive discussion

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Varies)

Content: WND serves as a nice breakdown of each We’re Alive episode.  It’s a community/fan podcast that the producers have somewhat absorbed into themselves as well.  The voice actors sometimes come on and discuss with the hosts too.  If you really get into We’re Alive, this podcast is a nice companion to help you catch the things you might have missed the first time through.

I’ve listened to it for: Three months

Website: http://www.zombiepodcast.com

Writing Excuses

Subject Matter: Writing tips for fiction writers

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Sundays)

Content: Similar to ISBW, Writing Excuses is a round-table discussion about different issues facing writers.  How to include romance, creating believable characters, etc…ISBW is great for helping the author out with their issues and problems in the real world, whereas this, I think, helps writers with their stories a bit more directly.  Nice and short too (about 15-20 minutes) so you can really get a quick snippet of help.

I’ve listened to it for: Three months

Website: http://www.writingexcuses.com/


WTF @ TFW

Subject Matter: Transformers

Frequency of Updates: Once a week (Varies)

Content: In case it hasn’t come up yet, I’m a huge Transformers nerd.  Yes, I have a collection of toys and yes, I do buy from the toy aisles in stores :P.  This podcast is really top-notch with coverage, humor, and discussion.  TFW is definitely one of the best Transformers fan sites out there, and Vangelus and crew put on a stellar show every week.  Also, the rat bastards talk about some non-Transformers toys and you’ll end up wanting to research and/or buy those too!  Obviously not for everyone, but this was one of my first podcasts I ever listened to, so it holds a special place in my heart.

I’ve listened to it for: Almost two years, even before I had the iPod.

Website: http://www.tfw2005.com


You Look Nice Today

Subject Matter: None?

Frequency of Updates: Sporadic is a very generous term.

Content: Like JJGo, YLNT is mostly a comedy/stream of consciousness podcast.  They talk about whatever comes to mind, no real format or topic, but usually hilarious.  The biggest knock against them is they update…well…almost never.  I’ve subscribed since December of ’09, and in that time, they’ve released four episodes on iTunes.  The last one was in November.  When it updates, its a real treat but until then, its hard to recommend this for steady content.

I’ve listened to it for: Well, TECHNICALLY about a year and a half.

Website: http://youlooknicetoday.com/

 

I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts!  Feel free to share your suggestions in the comments.

 

Peace out.

Pokemans, Life, and Zombies!

Haven’t found a topic yet I want to explore, but I must stick to my two a week (didn’t really last week!)

Playing the HELL out of Pokemon…Pearl! After completing White, my mission is now to have a complete and credited Pokedex with everything I can muster, with the exception of Legendary Event-Only Pokemon (Mew, Celebi, etc…). I tend to break this rule only for the first three generations, as I have an old Action Replay card and I allow myself to hack in the Legendaries that would otherwise be unavailable to me. Deoxys isn’t worth standing around a crowd of children playing Pokemon and looking creepy.

My Pokemans, let me show them to you.

So, I plan on devoting a lot of time to Pokemon in the near future.  Pearl -> LeafGreen -> HeartGold -> White is my preferred order.  Hopefully, I’ll have a complete Pokedex…but I may get bored and give up.  I’ve never really tried to “catch them all” though, so this would be pretty cool if it could work, and since there doesn’t seem to be anything after the Elite Four really in White (caught all the Legendaries) I’m on my own for objectives.

Life…well…yeah.  Looking for work…again.  I’m stuck right now, trying to figure out if I still want to be a teacher or if now is the time to change and do something else.  This last year has shown me a lot about teaching and now I’m not so sure I want to keep it up.  I still need to do some soul searching, but I plan on sending out some resumes and applications this week (I have my goal and with any luck, I’ll hit it).

If anyone’s interested in suggesting a possible career that an English teacher might be able to switch over to, I’m all ears.  Post it up in the comments and I’ll add it to my current list of possibilities (some silly, some not) that I’m considering.

And zombies…more of a review.  Lately, I’ve fallen hard for podcasts.  With a half-hour commute to work every day, I have 18 podcasts I listen to in a given week.  Most update weekly, some update twice a month, some update whenever the hell they feel like it, but I’d like to talk about one of my personal favorites called “We’re Alive: A Zombie Story of Survival.”  Every week, they release a new part of a chapter (three parts to a chapter) about this fictional zombie outbreak and how a group of survivors manages to live in this world.  It plays like an old radio drama, with a lot of the characters explaining things out loud to the listener because everything is audio, and the quality is top notch.

They update every Monday, with a week break in between chapters, and I look forward to it every time I know a new episode is up.  And the zombies…hoo…they are creepy!  The best comparison with the We’re Alive zombies would be Left 4 Dead’s type.  They’re fast, they’re angry, they’re attracted by noise, and *minor spoiler* they are more than just regular zombies (tanks, hunters, etc…).  I love listening to this podcast every week, and I’d recommend looking them up in iTunes or at their website.  They run a tight ship, and I would recommend at least listening to the first chapter.

Thanks for reading all over the place with my brain.  Maybe I’ll have something more…substantial for you later this week!  I might do a series of reviews (more full-on, rather than a paragraph or two) over some of my favorite or currently interesting things.  Later!

Black v. White

Civil rights discussion?  No.

Pokemon discussion?  Heck yes.

Pokemon has always held a soft spot in my heart.  Since I was in sixth grade, I have tried to play at least one game from every generation of Pokemon releases.  My copy of Pokemon White arrived today, and I’ve already put about two hours into it.  I find it insanely fun, even though it is almost identical to the past iterations of the franchise.

OK, I'm not like this......just yet.

Pokemon has always been an interesting game to play.  The idea of collecting my team and building an unstoppable forcehowever I wanted to was always appealing.  The really nice thing about White and Black is that both games manage to make the experience feel new.  You won’t encounter ANY old Pokemon until your first time through the elite trainers, which helps the new Pokemon feel interesting and fresh.

The green one knows he's better than all of you.

Some of the designs are a little silly.  I just caught a psycic pig thing that’s shaped like a kidney, but so far they’re pretty neat.  We’ll see how the rest of the game shakes out, but I would suggest that even if you haven’t played a Pokemon game in awhile, Black and White would be worth checking out.

About two years ago, I heard about the new show coming from the same guys who made The Office, which was (and still is) one of my favorite shows on TV right now.  It was called Parks and Recreation and it sounded promising.  If it could keep the same mockumentary charm that The Office was able to produce every week, I was ready to tune in every week.

And in the beginning, I did.  I kept up with it for the first four episodes of the first season, out of a total of six.  And I just didn’t like it.  Leslie Knope’s character struck me as just trying too much to be like Michael Scott.  The rest of the cast was pretty bland.  The only character worth watching on that whole show was Ron Swanson, the head of the Parks Department.  A no-nonsense libertarian trying to take down the ‘system’ of wasteful spending from the inside.  Every scene he was in, I thought it was a blast.  His no-bullshit attitude with deadpan delivery made the character for me.  Everyone else…not nearly as likeable.  As much as I liked Ron, I stopped paying attention to the show.

"I am submitting this menu from a Pawnee institution, J.J.'s Diner. Home of the world's best breakfast dish: The Four Horsemeals of the Eggporkalypse."

Jump ahead to last Thursday.  The only reason I decided to fire up P&R on the Netflix Instant Queue was mostly for background noise.  I like finding random TV shows and using them as sound while I work on other things (or, more likely, continue my work in Minecraft).  I picked the show because it was recently added as a possible show to watch, and I figured it would do the job while I waited for something else, that I was really interested in to show up on the Instant Queue.  Season 1 was rough to go through, but I made it.  It still had a lot of the, “Oh jeez.  Really?  This is funny?” kind of moments I remembered from a few years ago.  Season 2, however, took Season 1 out behind the barn and shot it dead.  I can’t quite explain what made the second season so appealing, but I was cracking up.  I think they were able to pull the show away from being just “The Office but with parks” and Parks and Recreation finally found their own two legs to stand on.  They still keep some of the same cues, but it manages to be different and hilarious.  The Office had a similar transition, where Season 1 wasn’t that great, but Season 2 managed to step it up.

"Guys love it when you can show them you're better than they are at something they love."

Since starting this trip back through the show, I’m caught up and ready for the new episode on the 17th.  I go through TV shows on Netflix rather fast, but when I can watch an entire show’s run (or up through their most recent episode) in a weekend and change, that’s a show worth recommending.  I can’t stress how much fun Parks and Recreation is and I urge everyone to check it out if at all possible.  I may do similar write-ups for other shows I discover on Netflix, but here’s a nice short list of TV shows I’ve burned through and loved every moment of…

~Better Off Ted

~Sanctuary

~Undercover Boss

~30 Rock

~The IT Crowd

~Doctor Who

~Eureka

~Pushing Daisies

~Fullmetal Alchemist

~Man vs. Food


Take a chance on your Netflix queue, even if you’re not 100% sure.  You never know what amazing show you might discover.