RE: Spenser

This is addressed to all IT professionals who have expressed interest in reading Edmund Spenser’s Fairie Queene.  This work is recommended only for the most advanced English students, proceed with caution.  Please carefully review all proceeding points for best results.

(1) Don’t Panic

Prepare yourselves ladies and gentlemen, what you are about to see may be quite disturbing.  Roughly 90% of the words in Faerie Queene fail to conform to modern spelling conventions. You must resist the urge to copy and paste the text into a word processor and run spell check, the results would be incomprehensible.   Instead I suggest you use the “Clayton Method”, sounding out words in order to derive meaning.  Proceed extremely slowly, associating each word with its modern equivalent.  Reading Spenser is a lot like reading a new programming language.   It may seem baffling at first but you will get the hang of it soon enough.

(2) Get help!

Now you may technically be ‘reading’ Faerie Queene, but you probably don’t understand any of it.  A few hours in you may find yourself asking, “wait, what the **** is going on?” (Zack Goldman, 11/5/2009).  Lets face it, having a non-English major read Spenser is like putting a kindergartner in a graduate level Engineering course.  Don’t be afraid to get help.  Online review resources can be extremely helpful, but they are not a substitute for reading the actual text.  Reading a plot summary of a given Canto before delving into the text will serve to familiarize you with the unknown.  Bear with it!

(3) No. You aren’t going crazy.

So at this point you should be capable of reading Spenser, and maybe even following the plot.  Soon enough however, someone is going to ask you what it all means.  When this moment comes do not be surprised, you will realize that you have been slaving over a roughly 400 year-old poem for hours on end… and you have no idea what it all means.  This is the point at which most people give up, but if you’ve made it this far you have proven to be resilient.  Now is the time to seek the help of Renaissance poetry expert.  You can find one at most major universities.  Don’t be scared, they are just like you and I.  If you mention Fairie Queene to of one of these experts they may faint out of excitment.  Don’t worry; they will come around soon enough (smelling salts expedite this process).  When these individuals do come to they will regale you will all sorts of obscure knowledge, helping you to understand the ever so cryptic allusions.  Now you can drop this knowledge into every day conversations, paralyzing unsuspecting victims.  But remember, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

Armed with the “Clayton Method”, online resources, and a Renaissance poetry expert, you should be able to tackle Spenser’s Faeirie Queene in the next 7 to 10 years.  Enjoy!


-Zack Goldman


A Walk in the Park

I have always been fascinated with the English language.  I am an avid reader, a crossword puzzle fanatic, and I pride myself on my diverse vocabulary.  Recently however, I was at a loss for words when asked to accurately define the difference between game and play.  I knew what both the words ‘meant’ but I couldn’t vocalize the root difference.  I took the logical next step and sought out official definitions of both words, they are as follows:

Game: “activity engaged in for diversion or amusement” (From Merriam-Webster)

Play: “recreational activity; especially the spontaneous activity of children” (From Merriam-Webster)

These definitions do not clarify the difference, as they are nearly identical.  We can agree that both games and play are active, and they are both for amusement, but what sets them apart? In order to explore the difference between games and play I have gone through a step-by-step visualization… just bear with it.

Its Saturday afternoon and you head down to the local park.  The air is crisp and the sun is shining.  You lazily stroll along a winding path until you come upon a group of toddlers.  The small children seemingly wander about aimlessly, but upon further investigation you realize that they happen to be chasing small butterflies.  You think to yourself that these children are at play, innocently engaging in a freeform activity for the sake of amusement.  You continue along the path until you come across jungle gym swarming with 9-year-old children.  The children seem to be participating in a game they refer to as cops and robbers.  At first the activity seems to be completely devoid of structure, but upon further investigation you find that there is a rudimentary rule set.  There are two teams, waging battle, but you would not necessarily consider this a game.  Children switch sides at will and they fail to follow any unified set of conventions.  Soon the activity ends as children begin to wander off.  This seems to be a more organized form of play, but it’s not quite a game.  Once again you proceed along the path until you come across a group of elderly gentlemen playing chess.  Surely we consider this a game.  The men play for amusement, but unlike the younglings they follow a strict set of conventions.  Each piece has a unique style of movement, limiting the player’s options.  The battle is waged turn by turn until one player reigns supreme, there is a clear end game.

Hopefully what this visualization shows us is that a clear set of rules separates games from play.  The toddlers activity is completely spontaneous, it is play in its most basic form.  The 9-year-olds are participating in something slightly more complex, as they are beginning to form a rule set.  Cops and Robbers is somewhere in-between random wanderings and chess.  The elderly gentlemen are completely dependent upon a rule set, and it’s the rules that separate games from play.

Dirty Stinkin Cheaters

For generations gamers have struggled to answer an epic question, what’s the difference between a dirty cheater and a clever exploitive gamer?  To better understand the conundrum we must explore the dark and seedy realm of online gaming.

In the not so distant past Counter Strike, or CS, was the preferred format for competitive gaming.  People dedicated their lives to CS, logging countless hours of playtime.  As a veteran CS player, and CS forum troll, let me tell you that there were two types of people that were universally hated, AWPers and Cheaters.  AWPers were a subset of players who exclusively used the AWP sniper rifle.  The vast majority of AWPers would camp out, overlooking the battle, and take potshots at passersby.  AWPing was an easy way to rack up kills but it required a unique skill set.  On certain maps AWPers would have the opportunity to spawn kill, ending a round in seconds.  There was nothing more frustrating then falling victim to a spawn kill.  AWPers were never respected, but they were not banned for their actions.  AWPing was frowned upon, but the weapon was available to everyone.  AWPers were not cheaters; they cleverly used the in game mechanics to gain an advantage. People would constantly gripe, lashing out at these cheap players but no formal action was taken. Cheaters, on the other hand, were hunted down and exterminated

Certain players used external programs to alter the outcome of online multiplayer matches.  If someone was suspected of using an aimbot (a rudimentary auto-targeting tool) they were immediately booted from the game.  The names of suspected cheaters would be posted in various forums and dedicated moderators would always keep an eye out for the usual suspects.  Cheaters were the lowest of the low; AWPers bent the rules, cheaters broke them.

My experience tells me that in most games exploits are frowned upon but ultimately acceptable.  Glitching isn’t noble but it isn’t a ban-worthy offense.  I don’t respect those who use shady tactics but they are still playing the same game.  When a player changes the game using external exploits they have crossed the line.  Glitchers know the game, cheaters stack the deck.

Zack Goldman

The Pen is Most Assuredly Mightier

Human beings have an instinctual fascination with violence.  We obsess over CSI, we can’t get enough UFC, and we revel in the murder mystery.  When it comes down to it, everyone loves a good fight.  Many different forms of entertainment media have adapted in an attempt to sate our unquenchable thirst for blood.  War is being waged all around us.

As I have stated in previous posts I grew up on the fantasy genre of literature.  Combat in fantasy novels is usually highly stylized and graceful.  Oftentimes these novels climax with an epic duel between two evenly matched foes.  Authors are capable of giving extremely detailed blow-by-blow descriptions, holding the reader on the edge of their seat.  In his 1992 novel Snow Crash, Neil Stephenson fails to disappoint.  Hiro Protagonist, self-proclaimed “greatest sword fighter in the world”, certainly gets himself into his fair share of thrilling combat situations.  Hiro dips, ducks, dodges, and dives, artfully avoiding his enemies blows.   He fights with a measured tranquility, carefully choosing his next move.     A sword fight becomes something cerebral, not so different from a game of chess.  While the reader may have some idea of who will reign victorious (come on… his name is Hiro Protagonist) the duel is still entertaining, each fight is completely unique.  The outcome is irrelevant to a certain extent; the fun is in imagining the battle.   The scale, speed, and style of combat are limited only by the author’s imagination.

In LOTRO the combat is not nearly as captivating.  Avatars move sluggishly through the gamespace, wildly hacking and slashing at nothing.  There are only two types of attack, melee and ranged, each with only a handful of unique animations.  As far as I can tell every single encounter follows the same course of events with little to no variability.  My elf hunter nocks and fires an arrow at an unassuming hostile creature.  The creature proceeds to charge the elf who draws an axe and hacks away, everything is automated.  During the close quarters portion it is unclear as to who is winning.  Neither combatant seems to react to the others actions; no attempts are made at blocking or countering attacks.  Neither combatant shows any signs of outward damage during the encounter, apparently you can repetitively slash a bear with an axe without drawing blood.  Out of the clear blue one of the combatants will fall to the ground…dead.  These battles are completely devoid of emotion (actually that’s not completely true, I am constantly afraid that I might die of boredom).  Ultimately combat in LOTRO is a numbers game based on an unknown algorithm, the digital version of a dice roll.  Now that I think about it, combat in LOTRO is not much different than a math class, it involves complex numbers and it puts me to sleep.

Zack Goldman

The Harrowing of Hell: Installing LOTRO on a Mac

When I first saw the prompt for this weeks post I have to admit that I was at a loss.   All I could remember from the LOTRO prologue quests were some dwarves, some elves, and some sort of cave.  I clearly wasn’t paying enough attention.  To help you understand why I blindly skimmed through the opening quests I will provide a step-by-step walkthrough of my experience with LOTRO thus far.

STEP 1: Installing Bootcamp

On the first day of class I discovered that my brand new MacBook Pro was essentially useless as configured.  I would need to run Windows in order to properly run LOTRO.  I would have to install Windows Vista using the Bootcamp utility found in Mac OSX.  In theory Bootcamp allows a Mac user to boot into a Windows OS installed onto a partitioned section of ones hard drive.  I ordered a copy of Vista on Amazon and it arrived without delay.  The installation of Vista was a breeze, Bootcamp made everything seem so simple.  Sadly, I fired up my machine to find that all of the critical drivers were missing.  It took five days of hunting to find the proper drivers; at this point I was about ready to lose my mind.  Finally Vista was up and running!

STEP 2: Installing LOTRO

As I previously explained, Bootcamp allows a user to install Windows onto a partitioned section of their hard drive.  I chose to devote 32 GB of hard drive space, the maximum recommended by Bootcamp, to my Windows install.   Given that Vista will take up somewhere between 10 and 15 GB, one should be left with a decent amount of storage space within the partition, I had around 18 GB of space left over.   I purchased my copy of LOTRO online, opting for the digital download.  After the game itself was installed it was necessary to download various patches.  I was quite surprised when I was told that the patches would take 5 hours to download, but who am I to judge.  I powered down my screen and went to sleep, hoping that LOTRO would be playable in the morning.  The next day I was greeted with a gut-wrenching error message warning me that there was not enough space within the partition store all of the data needed for the game.  For some reason the patch consisted of over 20 GB of information.  In an attempt to salvage the situation I reinstalled the game on my external hard drive, ensuring I would have enough space.  Going through the entire installation process again was one of the most frustrating experiences of my budding college career.  After two days, and countless fits of hysteria, LOTRO was finally ready to play.

STEP 3:  Playing LOTRO

Against all odds I was finally in the game and it was time to dive in, I was extremely excited to create my character.  I spent quite some time customizing and perfecting my elf hunter, and soon it came time to give him a name.  I had previously spent a good deal of time trying to come up with some clever allusion; I wanted a unique and meaningful name.  I had a short list of about ten names, all references to the fantasy novels of my childhood.  I typed in my first choice only to find that it had already been taken.  I was disappointed but surely another name on my shortlist would be available, WRONG WRONG WRONG.  They were all taken.  I eventually settled on Pennborn, a name I pulled out of thin air.  By the time I got into the game itself I have to say that I was a wee bit frustrated.   Now I was in the game, I had my character, but I was locked into an extended tutorial.  I began to doubt that I would ever actually be able to play LOTRO.  At this point I was so frustrated, and so eager to actually get into the main game, that I powered through the introduction and introductory side quests with unprecedented speed.  I absorbed next to nothing, the story flew right over my head.  Little did I know, I would eventually have to blog about my opinions on the introduction.

In conclusion, if you want to play LOTRO… buy a Windows machine.

Zack Goldman

Galaga: The Epitome of Competition

I never quite understood my fathers obsession with arcade games. For years he told tales of his arcade exploits, always in pursuit of of a higher score. He would constantly insist that the arcade experience was far superior to any console gaming, and I never believed him.  I had had minimal arcade experience on which to base my decision.  I had attended the occasional arcade birthday party and never quite understood what they were all about.  During these arcade excursions I would rarely play ‘classic’ games, opting for the more modern alternatives.  These light-gun based games would usually eat up my entire roll of quarters in the first ten minutes.  I was prematurely sidelined, forced to twiddle my thumbs waiting for mommy to come pick me up.  Occasionally I would drop a loose quarter into a Pac-Man machine, lose all three lives on the first board, and scream in agony.  The games my father always spoke about were outdated and frustrating, he had to be crazy.

Each year around fathers day my dad would drop subtle hints, ‘You know what I would really love… Ms. Pac-Man’, or ‘I had a dream last night… I was playing Missile Command’.  He would go on and on and soon enough it got old.  Rather than listening to him wax poetic about days past my family finally decided to give in. We found a brand new cabinet with Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga, two of dad’s favorites. We had it delivered to the house in secret, it was going to be a surprise. My father returned home from work to the sounds of a classic arcade machine blaring in the basement, he was speechless. He spent the next hour or so acclimating himself to the new machine, and to say the least I was impressed by his skills. He knew the ins and outs of Ms. Pac-Man, he was familiar with every board and could anticipate the movements of those pesky ghosts.

Soon it came time for my turn and I decided to give Galaga a try.  I had never played Galaga before and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much.  Surprisingly I immediately understood why my father loved these games so much. I tumbled head first into the game world. I was the tiny spaceship floating at the bottom of the screen and I had to destroy the alien ships at all costs. I saw only flashing lights, I heard only beeps and blips, I was completely absorbed. I learned to predict the patterns, powering through stage after stage. I lost track of time as the hours seemingly melted away. I was completely hooked.

I really do enjoy playing epic console and PC games, and I appreciate how enthralling they can be.  I spent countless hours questing in Bethesda’s Oblivion and Fallout 3. Many of these ‘modern’ games allow you to explore beautiful worlds teaming with clever enemies and mind-numbingly difficult puzzles yet they pale in comparison to the arcade experience. Many people might say that they prefer the artfully developed epic or the exquisitely designed FPS to the cold cruel cabinet. These people favor highly developed narratives and rich visuals. Many gamers don’t understand why someone would stand in front of an antiquated box furiously mashing buttons. What they don’t see is that arcade games are the epitome of competition. In arcade games there are a clearly defined set of rules that don’t leave much room for creativity. Arcade games require skill, perseverance, and experience. In most console and PC games you battle a complex and flawed A.I. Arcade games allow you to go head to head with the most noble of enemies, yourself. You are constantly fighting to beat your personal best, pushing yourself towards excellence. Arcade games assign you a numerical value, you always know exactly where you stand. It is extremely easy to judge your performance and compare it to those around you, all the more reason to fight your way to the top of the leader boards.  As far as I am concerned arcade games exist solely for the sake of competition.  You play for pride.

Zack Goldman

The Adaptation of My Childhood

Growing up my parents constantly encouraged me to read.  They saw it as a positive alternative to the rather addictive gameboy that seemingly never left my hands.  I read a diverse array of works, spanning many genres, but my true love was always fantasy.  I dedicated countless hours to the works of Tolkein, Rowling, Tad Williams, and many others.  I would lose myself in these alternate universes, letting my imagination run wild.  As I grew older my passion for these works never died, I was constantly rereading them just experience that feeling of excitement once again.

As you might expect I was elated when I discovered that many of my childhood favorites would be made into movies.  I would be able to experience these foreign worlds in a completely new way.  I counted down the days until the release of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, barely able to contain myself.  In the back of my mind I was somehow worried that Jackson would fail to do justice to the book that I loved, would he depict middle earth the way I had always imagined it?  I knew ten minutes into the premier that Jackson had pulled it off.  The second and third film’s in the series were equally as impressive, each one a masterpiece in its own right.  The success of LOTR trilogy only made me more excited for the future release of other film adaptations of fantasy novels.  I nearly went through the roof when I heard that there was going to be a film based on Christopher Paolini’s Eragon.  Again I awaited the release of this film with baited breath, would it live up to the standard that the LOTR trilogy had set?  Sadly not.  Eragon fell flat, it was a complete disaster.

I spent a great deal of time thinking about why Eragon had failed where LOTR hadn’t and I finally came to the conclusion that the success of a fantasy adaption is entirely based on the directors vision.  Peter Jackson respected the LOTR trilogy,  recognizing that the books are something more than a simple fairy tale.  The films were intense and thoughtful, Jackson diligently portrayed middle earth in a mature way.  Jackson’s middle earth was highly realistic, favoring natural settings over special effects backdrops. Stefen Fangmeier, the director of Eragon, decided to go in the opposite direction of Jackson.  Eragon had an extremely childish visual style, relying heavily on cheesy special effects.  The plot was completely butchered down to appeal to a younger audience, a 544 page book was made into a 1:39 movie.  The characters I had come to love just looked goofy on the silver screen, the dragons looked like giant chickens rather than fearsome beasts.  Fangmeier made a movie for children far to young to have read and appreciated the book.  All of the truly dedicated fans were completely snubbed, and not surprisingly the film was a failure.  It is a tragedy when a filmmaker fails to appreciate the roots of their project.