Monday, November 28, 2005

World of Warcraft SUCKS!!!

Just kidding. It's a really good game. I added the "sucks" part to the title so that it would show up on search engines and get people to read. If you've mistakenly clicked your way here thinking that this was going to be ill-considered rant on World of Warcraft, you're wrong. Ha!

In my adventuring across the Azeroth (the fantasy rip-off of Tolkein's Middle Earth the game takes place in), I have enjoyed many battles and victories. I have made alliances, broken them, and remade them. WoW (World of Warcraft) is fun and interesting for many reasons. First, it's is a completely self-contained social network, complete with cultural references, pop stars, and classes.

WoW is the most-played game on the internet. Due to this popularity, an enormous amount of articles, scholarly papers, and rants have been written in an attempt to discuss why the game is so popular, its value, and what people's interactions within the game tell us about people's interactions out of the game. Go look up some of these articles, they're really good reads.

The things I've been interested in, are the strange and humerous aspects of game. These are the parts that people who don't play the game may not may not know about.

1. Cloudsong (just click watch this movie) - NSFW

There is a dispute about whether this comes from WoW or from some other game. Some people claim the player in question was playing "Dark Ages of Camelot" another MMoRPG. Others think, "The Cloudsong is like one of the most UBER Weapons of DAOC and it drops off a specific mob with a real long respawn time(Like maybe every 24 hrs after he is killed)." I don't even know what that means, but the audio is authentic, and that's the funny/true part. If you think people don't get into these kinds of games, just listen to the clip.

2. Leeroy Jenkins

The game allows you, the gamer, to control an avatar - a representation of yourself. Some people's avatars gain noteriety for being especially smart, experienced, or mean. Leeroy Jenkins (the name of one such avatar) is one of the most famous examples. So famous in fact, that this guy's character appeared as a question on a recent episode
Jepordy. The video shows a bored WoW player screwing over a group of people while screaming, "LEEEERRROOYYY JEEENKINNNSS!!!!" Watch the entire clip. Even if you don't understand what you're seeing, you can still hear the aghast reactions of his fellow teammates. Classic WoW.

3. A funny, yet insightful article on WoW

A quote from the John Cheese article, "There are more people playing World of Warcraft in the U.S. today (two million) than had indoor plumbing 100 years ago. There are more people with blogs today than had internet connections ten years ago. Thomas Edison said it best: "Change happens with ball-flattening speed.""

4. Gamer Killed over Virtual Sword

People take these games so seriously, it seems, that they are willing to kill each other over things like the theft of virtual property. Also note that this article is not an isolated incident. Google the subject some time and marvel at the number of people who've done this.

5. Progress Quest

One of the big complaints (if you could call it that) is that games that require monthly subscription fees are designed to eat up a player's time in order to keep them playing longer. These are called "time sinks" and they really do exist; in WoW and any other service that makes you pay monthly subscriptions. The developers of the game have to have a way to keep the players wanting to play, it's good business. Progress Quest is a parody of on the whole MMoRPG. Basically, you do not play the game. You just load the game and it plays itself. Over time you aquire status, equipment, slay dragons, etc. But you never actually do anything. The Quest is Progress. GET IT???

6. Wow: Treasure Hunt
7. WoW: 'Virtual' Virus Sheds Light on Real-World Behavior

A couple random NPR articles about different aspects of the game. That's it. I find this stuff really interesting. If you have any funny/random WoW videos you want to share, comment away.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Le Pratt Est Mort, Vive Le Pratt!

Mandy has already posted a wonderful memorial to the lovable Limey, so I won’t tire you with another. Instead, I’m just going to give a history and few accounts of some of the good times we had together.


I met Pratt at Quixtar; a giant conglomerate that preys on the weak-minded by offering them a infinitesimal chance at fame and fortune through their convoluted pyramid-scheme, named Quixtar. Both he and I were contracted by another awful company, Manpower, who acts as the world’s leading proprietor of white-collar slavery, to be first-tier technical support people. You know that bitter voice on the other end of the phone? The one that tells you patiently yes, in fact, there is a num-lock key on your keyboard, and that you need to plug your computer into the wall in order to access the website? That’s us. Oh! You want to know why we were bitter when you called with computer problems so simple that a 5-year-old could figure it out? It’s because we hate you. It’s true, we really hate you.

Neither of us were particularly business-minded, we knew full-well what we were getting ourselves into. The first day of our employment, within six hours of being ushered through the endless, gray cube farm to the small, windowless cell they use for training, our trainer and a new employee launched into a verbose discussion about their sex lives and how they were beaten as children. This was to be a common theme at Quixtar; strangers loudly sharing entirely too many details about their private lives. Pratt and I looked at each other, showing both fear and confusion at the exchange we were witnessing. He leaned over and quietly said, “Strangers with this kind of open honesty make me go a big rubbery one.” His first comment to me: A perfectly chosen quote from the amazing film “Fight Club.” I loved the guy immediately.

Within a few weeks of employment, Pratt was chosen to be taken off the phones and placed on the “Testing Team.” We hadn’t spoken a great deal up to this point. He had his cube mate, and I had mine. I inquired as to what happened in the little room Pratt had been moved. The only answer I received was, “I don’t know. They test… and they don’t have to take calls.” He had discovered a way to get out of having to listen to hapless IBOs throw tantrum about how their computers no longer function because they had mistakenly dumped a 5th of whisky in the case. The limey! Always one step ahead! I pursued a testing gig with full vigor.

A few months later, I was promoted to the testing team to work alongside Pratt. I finally discovered what was happening behind the closed and ominously labeled “TESTING” door. Mostly we played games of hearts, threw a rubber ball around the room, and bitched about how much we hated our jobs. I loved it. Every now and again, we would do real work. Testing, it turns out, is a job where you get to break websites, tell people how you broke them, and let them fix the problems. I had discovered a job where my entire task was to use my hacking skills to break websites. The bonus was I was breaking the website of a company that I absolutely despised – which made finding an error all the sweeter.

Pratt absolutely adored the job. His nimble, wiry mind could come up with the strangest possible attack vectors. The webmasters could never keep the testing environment up because he was so damn good at breaking it. For example: When the team wanted to stop working and leave for a smoke break, we’d ask Pratt to break the site so horribly that we would have to stop working. He’d spin in his chair, type with blurring speed, and give a little sarcastic laugh. The site would die a terrible, terrible death and the team could go smoke. One time he broke the site so completely they couldn’t get it up and running for three days.

Under the gifted leadership of Mary T., the testing team continued to grow, acquiring more brilliant, cocky, and unique minds. We collectively poured our bitterness and hatred into the site, causing it to break continuously. The best part? We were paid to perform this task. The company saw value in finding new ways to make the site more stable, and rightly so. Eventually, the team grew to such size and renown that it became its own department, and eventually many were hired on as salaried employees.

Pratt was not hired.

Seeing as he was the brightest and most adept of us all, it makes complete sense why the company wouldn’t hire him (ed: this is sarcasm). Quixtar, it turns out, is in the business of making the worst imaginable decisions based not even on the slightest semblance of logic. You’d have to work there to fully understand how petty and illogical the leadership of the company really is.

Eventually he quit and was not rehired, many employees quickly followed after him. He stood as a kind of nexus that we all revolved around. What was the Quality Assurance Testing Team without Pratt? Shortly after he left, Mary (our boss) was fired in another of Quixtar’s colossally horrible decisions. People started dropping off like flies after that. I quit not more than 6 months later, giving up my comfy, salaried, well-paying position for one much less stable for the simple fact that I could no longer reconcile my conscience and the job I held.

After he left Quixtar, we kept in contact. We would occasionally go out for a beer or see each other at parties. He eventually moved to Florida to get away from the bleak Michigan winters and to start anew. While in Florida, we would communicate only occasionally, so I don’t really know much about the doins’ that transpired down there. When he returned to Michigan, we talked and emailed on occasion, always attempting to find time in our busy schedules to get together and catch up.

Then he died. Suddenly, there was no chance of chatting, drinking a beer, or reminiscing about the Golden Age of Testing. Something had come along and pulled the rug out from under him.

Some Anecdotes:

Pratt was born in England and later moved to the US with his family. To know Pratt, you have to understand his sense of humor which is, needless to say, unique. It was sort of a combination of pissed-off white American male angst and Monty Python. He was intensely sarcastic, to the point of making people break down to tears. When he swore, as he often did, he would usually hold on the second expletive before saying it. This gave the impression that he was so filled with rage, he couldn’t even bring himself to curse. For example, “God damn it.” Would come out as, “God………….. DAMN IT!!!!!!”

As previously stated, he was brilliant. He coded in multiple languages, tested multiple platforms, built his own computers, and read continuously. He customized his cars, cell-phones, gaming systems, and shoes. He told me that one of his favorite things to do at parties was to frustrate people by taking their opinions, switching the word order and subject-verb agreements around, and using it against them. They would get so pissed off, he said, because they didn’t realize he was making the same argument as them, only with different words. If you asked him a question, he would occasionally respond by stating the answer in reverse, so you’d have to decode it to understand. The word smart doesn’t come close.

When I first started working with him, I could never get my PC to print anything correctly. All the printer would yield were pages and pages of gibberish. He collected these print-outs, decorating his corner of the testing lab with the randomly generated printer art. I knew that he knew how to make the printer stop doing it, but he wouldn’t tell me because he loved the “art” function of the printer more.

He often listened to Autechre, Plasticman, or Aphex Twin while working. I’ll try to describe this music for those of you who are unfamiliar. Autechre, for example, is famous for saying that they have never written a note of music. Essentially they write mathematical formulas that drive their musical equipment, creating something that sounds like slightly ordered static. There is no discernable beat, there are no lyrics, and the music never arpegiates. It just crackles, gargles, and flutters like alien wind. He would listen to this “music” for hours and hours while working. He said that it turned off a part of his brain so he could concentrate on the task at hand.

The cafeteria at Quixtar was poisonous. The cooks would handle food with their bare hands after handling money. People would often get stabbing stomach pains from eating their hamburgers. Pratt, however, seemed to love eating the cafeteria food. He would buy one of their cheese-burgers and sit for the rest of the day groaning in pain. I once asked him why he did it and responded with, “So I can sit here and say, “God…….. DAMN IT!!!! I HATE THESE………. FUCKING BURGERS!!!”” Which I still don’t understand, but I thought it was pretty funny at the time.

When the weather was too nasty, Mandy (my wife), Pratt, Kleiner, and myself would often take walks around the interior of the warehouse adjacent to our offices. The warehouse is amazing. It has 200-foot high ceilings, fully-automated conveyer belt systems, and robotic inventory movers that would beep at you if you got too near. Painted along the walls of the warehouse are large, black squares that, as far as we could tell, served no purpose whatsoever. Over the course of our years of walking around the interior of the building, a story concerning the use of these mysterious black squares developed. It turns out that they are doors to another dimension. At night, when all of the machines have quieted down, and the workers have trudged out of their gray cubes and vanished into the slush of Michigan winters, these black squares would slowly open. Little gold and blue midgets would emerge. These “Quidgets”, as they were dubbed, had little, sharp golden teeth. They would giggle, cart-wheeling through the warehouse making bottles of LOC and Double X for Master (the loving name we gave Quixtar). They were animated, Pratt explained, by the branding of the letter ‘Q’ on their blue foreheads. It’s dark power filling the little bodies with a kind of hellish joviality. Pratt had a very active imagination.

Pratt also had a side that we only occasionally saw in single, flashing images. One night, while hosting a party with my roommates at Camelot (my old house), Mandy received a call from Pratt.

“Mandy… it’s Pratt…” He said in a hushed voice. Mandy looked at me then back at the phone.

“Yeah, I know. What’s up? You coming over or what?” She asked.

He whispered back, “Can’t. Hiding.”

“Hiding? From what?”

“Cops. We drove our car into a lake. The cops are looking for us. I’m hiding in some bushes.”

“Oh. Can we help?”

“Ahh!!! Gotta go!” He hangs up. About five minutes later we get another call.

“It’s Pratt.”

“Yes, I know.” Mandy said.

“Never mind now. I’m in the back of a cop car.”

“Limey…” She said.

“I know, I know.” He said.

“Are you going to make to the party.”

“Yeah. You want anything?”

“Pick up some beer.”

“Cool. See you in a few.” He showed up about an hour later with beer. He somehow talked himself out of a ticket.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

In loving memory of James Pratt

Quixtar is where the adventures with James began. I would sit and watch him because he was so young when he started, but most times his maturity level would be level or above his peers. He intrigued me from the start with his accent, ability to baffle managers with his level of speech and writing, and his interesting clothes. He would get constintly harrassed for being from a British background, which inevitably meant he lived in a pete bog. Our pet name for him was the Limey, which he wore even after he left Quixtar.

There were many times when a manager or supervisor would have him type up reports and letters, not because they were giving him menial work, but because they knew that he could make the documents sound so much better with the words that he used.

James had many acquainences, but I think he liked to present himself like a porcupine. He would be cordial to most everyone, but never let many people get very close. Luckily, he allowed me in for a few years. Our deepest talks never involved philosophical or political questions; we only talked about what mattered to both of us: our friends and families. Although he told me of some of the arguments that he had with his mom, dad, and brother, he always would end it with "You know I love them, right?"

I spoke with him shortly in September, but have not seen him in a long time. Yesterday, I came home and my husband told me that he had died on Friday night suddenly. I was, and still am, dumbfounded. My mind kept telling me there was some mistake. How can a 24 year old man with so much potential and love of life die?

Then the guilt set in, which will take awhile to get over, I am sure. How come I didn't try harder to get a hold of him? We could have found him and invited him to our wedding - we know he would come if he was physically able to. This is so not fair!!

I am not sure how I am going to survive going to the visitation and funeral today. I hope that in some way it allows me to find the peace that he needs to rest in my head.

James Pratt I will miss you so much. Goodbye Limey!!

James Pratt

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

They're just dumb...why don't they listen - Overview

I have decided to start a series of some sort named 'They're just dumb...why don't they listen.' Yes, I thought of this idea when I was exhausted and just about to fall asleep, but I am awake now and still writing about it.

I intend to use these postings as a time of ranting about politics, education system, medical insurance cost, privacy rights....Heck! Whatever I want to rant about will be posted right here. And like the rest of the blog I am hoping friends, family members, enemies will respond with comments. I understand that putting my opinions out will undoubtably be ammo for some people to shoot me down, and I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is if someone writes a comment that looks like this:
You are so $%*# dumb and your ideas are stupid!

If you write something like that here, without any reason behind your statements, your comment will be deleted. If you have reasons to back up your statements then by all means write them down.

I am not sure how long the 'series' will last but I am sure it will be good. Look for my first installment shortly.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Corporate office living

It is a beautiful fall morning. The shimmering sunlight bouncing its gentle rays off the colorful leaves on the trees. I get out of my car and fall into step with the rest of the herd which is making their way into the small funnel opening of the building. As the doors opened I could smell the stagnant, ink saturated air and step inside. The plethora of fluorescent lights produce a cold radiance and a humming sound that fits right into the environment. The long line of never ending cubicle walls are situated in front of me. I weave my path to my hole that I will be in for the next 8.5 hours. My "office" is very sparse. I have two picture printed off on 8.5 x11 paper - one of my husband, Matt, and one of our two cats, Ocyrus and Athena. My coffee cup (usually filled with tea) is present along with my lotion and water bottles. I have strategically placed papers on my desk which gives the illusion that I am actually working. Home away from home?

Needless to say, I don't really enjoy my job. One good thing that I can be assured of is that this is a temporary position. This thought is my second hope which drags me through the day. The first is that I have a wonderful loving husband whom I am helping support through college. This statement is not meant for anyone to say, look at me I am so generous and self-sacrificing. In fact, I feel very privileged in helping him progress in his studies, and I find joy in the ability to encourage him. I know he would do the same for me!

Due to the ever-present drab, monotonous, banal environment I work in I am often found trying to understand why a person would stay working here for 20+ years. Shortly after that though pops into my head, I am reminded how I was sucked into a similar, if not worse, environment when I worked for Quixtar. There were jokes going around, when I was hired in, that I was a "lifer". I kept laughing at it until one day I found that I had been working at this company for 5 years. I know that is a drop in a hat when some people work for a company for 20 or 30 years, but this experience gave me an understanding of the complacency that most people are compelled to within these situations.

When you are in this type of situation, you find a lot of the time you are going through the motions. You busy yourself with "important" meetings about up-coming projects, power lunches, and walks with co-workers. These habits gets a person into a routine, which generally allows them to become comfortable.

A lot of times people find that the more "friends" they have at work, the easier it becomes. Then, instead of just going to work for a set period of time, you can look forward to seeing all of your office "friends". The reason that I use quotes is because most of them are not really your friends. What would happen if you got fired? There would be some people who call or email, but most of them would forget your name within a couple of months. I found this first hand after leaving Quixtar. Invitations to our wedding was either accepted and they did not show up, or the RSVP was not sent back at all. At first it hurt my feelings, but after I realized what type of "friends" I associated myself with I was able to overcome the hurting.

After finally hauling myself out of the Quixtar life, I now can see that I do not want to work in an office for any time longer than I have to. I utilize this time on creating and accomplishing goals. I working here because there is a paycheck every other week, my husband and I have health insurance, along with the fact that I can see some end of the tunnel of corporate office work. I am glad that I was able to see the "fluorescent light" before I woke up one day at 42 hating the life that I had been living.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Starting a club

Matt and I have been tossing ideas back and forth about starting a club. Seeing that we are friends with people that have lots of different tastes, opinions, and ideas it is kind of hard to pinpoint where to begin. Here are the ideas in no particular order...

Dinner club: getting a group or couple of people together each month or twice a month to try and review different restaurants in town. This would be fun and come to think of it Matt and I could probably get away with doing this along side one of the other clubs.

Cooking club: kind of like the dinner club. There would be a set idea or country and then each person involved would be instructed on what course they would need to make (appetizer, entree, dessert, etc.). This would be a fun way to have a planned potluck. The only challenge I see is that many of our friends don't cook that often :(

Book club: getting a group of people together each month with the objective of having read and being able to review a book. This could be a challenge with many of our friends not having a ton of time to read, but it might work.

Debate-ish club: getting a group of people and discussing world view, philosophy, environmental issues, how to toss a midget correctly and get the most distance, etc. This would be fun and easy because we do this with a lot of our friends now. The challenging part would be to make sure that there are differing opinions represented.

Crocheting club: ok, I know I'm pushing it. I don't think any of my friends would be interested in this.
Computer Gaming club: This would be for Matt, although I have been known to frag some peeps on Battlefield 1942. Basically, this would be a scheduled LAN party.

Gaming club: This would be for people that are not as into computer games. A group of people get together and play board, trivia, and other games.

I know there are more clubs that we have discussed, but these are the ones that come to mind. We should be making up our minds soon, and when we do I will post what we have decided.