Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 4

 By Shamus Sep 8, 2014 33 comments

As this series drags interminably onward, we reach the end of my musical knowledge. Actually, I guess we were at the end of it way back in part one, and now we’ve sailed off the edge of the map into a vast ocean of befuddlement and misapprehension. (It happens.)

You’ll hear music nerds talking about “chord progression”. It’s time for another one of my screwball images of keyboards:

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201333 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

Study: Gamers are more educated, more social than the people who make fun of them

 By Shamus Sep 7, 2014 121 comments

The Washington Post has this story under the headline “Study: Gamers are more educated, more social than the people who make fun of them“. Now, that sounds pretty good to me. I love scientific studies that prove I’m smart and nice. But I also thought the story felt a little ego-stroke-y, which made me suspicious. Who did this study, who paid for it, and what did it (actually) reveal?

The WP talks about the study being done on behalf of Shamefully, they neglected to link to the data or even to the research site. Once again, I have to condemn the way news sites write news stories for the web as if they were writing for print. There’s no reason not to link this stuff.

Digging a little deeper, I found that the group behind the study is Life Course Associates. They are not a research institute. They are a marketing firm. The WP story did say that funded the study, but the crucial context we were missing is that they funded this study as part of a marketing campaign. There’s a huge difference between a company giving a grant to (say) a university to do a study, and a company paying a consulting firm that does research as a form of marketing.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the research is automatically false, but it is crucial context that should be included in the news story. This report is exactly the sort of thing a marketing team is after:

  1. Headline-grabbing conclusion that generates buzz.
  2. An effort to change of the public perception of the demographic they were hired to market to.

My last complaint is that their definition of “gamer” is shockingly broad: “anyone who has played a game on a digital device in the past 60 days”. When I hear “gamer” I think of someone who is engaged with the culture on some level. Maybe you read forums, or reviews, or you network with other players via your friends list, or you watch streamers or Twitch, or Let’s Plays on YouTube, or… something. Calling someone a “gamer” because they play Flappy Bird once every other month is like calling me a NASCAR fan because I drove a car this week. This definition is so broad that it borders on useless. Note that I’m not trying to condemn people who aren’t “real gamers” or whatever. But if the study is supposedly to find out about “gamers” then broadening the definition to include such a massive chunk of the population is going to muddle the results. If I want to study people who live in the city, then including “people have visited a city in the last month” is clearly spreading the net far too wide.

I don’t have a background in science or statistics, so I can’t comment on the veracity of the data or critqique how it was collected, but I’d be surprised if it withstood the normal standards for scientific rigor. In any case, when a marketing firm releases a study that tells you what you want to hear about yourself, you might want to be skeptical.

And if you work at the Washington Post, you really should include these details with your story.

A Hundred!201There are 121 comments here. I really hope you like reading.

What If I Read a Book?

 By Shamus Sep 5, 2014 47 comments

A friend got me this as a gift.

Randal Munroe (the XKCD webcomic guy) has been doing this for a while now, and it is – no hyperbole – the highlight of my week. People email him ridiculous science questions and then he answers them. If you’re a science-lightweight like me, then this is great entertainment. If you have a science background, then I imagine these are a rich source of nitpick fodder for people looking to play “stump the alleged ‘expert’.” And I KNOW you folks like that game. I mean, that makes sense. Being more correct than everyone else is kind of embedded in the entire premise of science, and sometimes you just can’t help yourselves.

I was worried the book would just be a re-print of his existing questions, but there’s a lot of new material. Doing a Fermi estimation, I suppose about half-ish of the book looks newThat's not how Fermi estimation works. I know this because I'd already read the entry where he explained Fermi estimation..

It’s really good. The only downside is that you can’t hover over images for mouseover textSometimes the images have captions instead. You know, like they were made by SAVAGES. Also, you can’t click on footnotesLike this one. to get the detailCan these things still be called footnotes when they don't reside at the foot of the page?, but must manually move your eyeballs to the bottom of the pageLIKE A SAVAGE..

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Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 3

 By Shamus Sep 4, 2014 64 comments

As I’ve discussed before, I’m using MAGIX Music Maker Premium 2014, and I am not a fan of the software. I realize this probably comes off as kind of silly. How can I be picky about music programs? I’ve only used one! It’s like a 16 year old kid who just got their license suddenly talking about how a car feels, like he thinks he’s Jeremy Clarkson. But MMM is really getting on my nerves.

I’m sort of torn now. Do I try another music program? These things are expensive and I’m not knowledgeable enough to sort the good from the bad by just reading product descriptions. Or should I just put up with MMM until I get used to its quirks?

The trick here is that – unlike programming development environments – music environments use proprietary formats. That’s to be expected, but it does mean you need to choose your platform well. Sure, I can export my music to MP3 or OGG, but the source – the editable file where I can change instruments, toy with volume levels, and move notes around – is married to whatever platform I used to make it. The longer I stick with MMM, the more of my musical source will be stuck there as well. If I am going to jump ship, then the sooner the better.

On the other hand, this whole music thing is probably just a passing fancy and I shouldn’t sink too much money or concern into something I won’t care about next month.

In the meantime, let’s compare two pieces of music like we did last time. First up is a plastic facsimile of music:

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Diecast #73: New 3DS, Gotham, Mailbag

 By Shamus Sep 3, 2014 174 comments

I made a theme for the show. It’s nice to have a piece of music I can edit for length as needed. On the other hand, I kind of think our theme should be more upbeat than this. I’m still messing with it. Also, the audio is atrocious this week. There were several annoying audio problems that popped up, and I wasn’t as diligent as I could have been at hiding / mitigating them.

Direct download (MP3)
Direct download (ogg Vorbis)
Podcast RSS feed.

Hosts: Chris, Josh, Shamus, and Mumbles.

Show notes:

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A Hundred!20202014Many comments. 174, if you're a stickler

Experienced Points: Why Games Journalists May Not Reflect the Ideas of the Gaming Public

 By Shamus Sep 2, 2014 232 comments

So often I see people accusing game journalists of being biased, pretentious, or having a hidden agenda. There’s a little bit of truth to that, inasmuch as talking about games requires you to have an opinion, and people who comment on games professionally tend to drift away from the positions of people who merely play them as a hobby.

Of course, this column suffers from a bad case of preaching to the choir. If you’re the sort of reflexively angry person who expresses outrage when a critic assigns a “wrong” review score or brings up a topic you think isn’t important, then I doubt my article is going to temper your rage. Moreover, I doubt you read my stuff to begin with. But we do what we can, and sometimes calmly offering some perspective is cathartic.

I actually really dislike the “pretentious” label. I get it on rare occasions, but Campster gets hit with it all the time because his stuff is a little more academic and highbrow than mineWhich is one of the reasons I love Errant Signal so much: It presents a viewpoint I couldn't extrapolate on my own.. It implies you don’t actually believe the thing you’re advocating, you’re simply pretending to believe it to seem smart / educated / tolerant / whatever. It’s an ugly attempt to wall off deeper discussions and analysis. I can understand if someone thought Gone Home was dumb, or boring, or whatever. What I can’t stand is someone making the presumptuous argument that everyone secretly feels the same way about it, and are just pretending otherwise. The assertion is part conspiracy theory, part ad hominem, part attempt to portray shallowness as virtue.

Anyway, yes. I’m preaching to the choir. After the service I’ll be sure to ask the choir what they thought of my message, and then we can all go to Applebees for lunch and agree with each other. Someone else can pay this time. I paid last time.

A Hundred!A Hundred!2012232 COMMENTS? What are you people talking about?!?

Twenty Sided is Nine Years Old

 By Shamus Sep 1, 2014 171 comments

Today is September 7,672nd, 1993.

Back in the late 80′s and early 90′s, the internet was mostly email and Usenet. No Google. No YouTube. No corporations at all, really. The web (web pages) sort of existed, but there weren’t many pages, they were mostly text, and it was difficult to find things.

Usenet bears a striking resemblance to what we call forums today, except it was designed around the (at the time reasonable) idea that everyone on the internet was a responsible, well-adjusted adult that knew how to behave. Imagine your typical forums like many websites have today. Now imagine that there is just one forum for the whole internet, and that anyone can post under any name at any time to as many sub-forums as they like without ever needing to create an account or to verify their identity.

My first exposure to the ‘net was in November of 1992. I was working at Taco Bell and one of my coworkers had access to Usenet. He would bring me a hardcopy of the Star Trek TNG groupI'm not sure if the group was based in Usenet or a mailing list. Either way, it used a format that isn't really part of the internet we have today. that discussed episodes as they aired. He’d bring me a stack of green bar printouts that represented a week worth of postsWhich means my first usage of the internet was via hardcopy..

I know the date because I specifically remember reading everyone’s reactions to A Fistful of Datas. I’d kind of grown indifferent to the show in the last year or so, but these discussions rekindled my interest in all things Trek.

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A Hundred!20202011Many comments. 171, if you're a stickler

Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 2

 By Shamus Aug 31, 2014 84 comments

Previously I talked about the difference between major and minor scales. So far all the tracks I’ve shown you have been in A minor. I also mentioned that songs written in major scales are (roughly) happy / upbeat and songs written in minor scales are moody, sad, angry, anxious, or suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.

I thought it would be fun to illustrate this, and at the same time share a little more of my badly misunderstood over-simplifications of music theory. As before, keep an eye out for the music majors. They will say things that are deeply confusing. If a music major tries to teach you anything using words like chromatic, octatonic, consonance, or “Shamus Young is a clueless hack who doesn’t know what he’s doing”, then slam your hands over your ears, close your eyes, and begin singing the Batman theme at the top of your lungs. Actually, you should be doing that sort of thing anyway. It’s like yoga for the musical parts of your brain: It makes you look silly but it feels good.

Here is a song I made in C major:

That’s pretty different from the stuff I’ve been doing. It’s bouncy, jubilant, and playful. That’s a result of it being written in C major. As I said before, to make a major scale you pick a starting key (C in this case) and walk up the keyboard this many keys at a time:

2 2 1 2 2 2 1


If you follow that pattern from C, you’ll land on every single white key and no black keys.

If you want to make a minor scale, then you follow this pattern:

2 1 2 2 1 2 2

If you do that from A, then… you’ll land on every single white key and no black keys? So A minor and C major use the exact same keys on the keyboard. Does that mean they sound the same? Actually, no. Very no. Here is the same song from above, translated into A minor:

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Marlow Briggs EP12: Marlow Briggs and the Marlow Briggs Fanfiction

 By Shamus Aug 29, 2014 91 comments

Link (YouTube)

If you’re curious, here is the Errant Signal Sonic episode I was talking about.

Also, I have to admit to being a bit pedestrian and easy to please in my tastes, but I do enjoy bloom effects and ultra-saturated colorI'm a bit more conflicted on DoF (Depth of Field) which is when things in the distance get blurry. It makes for nice screenshots, but can sometimes be a little too distracting.. This might be a reaction to the ultra-brown and infra-grey color schemes of yesteryear that Chris mentioned. I just love seeing blobs of bright glowing color everywhere. I’m pretty sure that’s like, 45% of the reason I liked Bulletstorm.

I think we need to do a $100 million Kickstarter to simultaneously develop all the Marlow Briggs spinoff games Rutskarn pitched in this episode.

EDIT: This is a gift from Paul Spooner. Perfect:


2020202011There are now 91 comments. Almost a hundred!

Marlow Briggs EP11: Marlow Briggs and the Helicopter Canyon

 By Shamus Aug 28, 2014 54 comments

Link (YouTube)

I feel like this game is invulnerable to my nitpicking. I try to fault it for the plodding mook fights or the incoherent level pacing, but then it throws a new stupid minigame at us or throws in Yet Another Gameplay Element and I’m rendered speechless. I feel like the game doesn’t even care what I think. Someone really, really wanted to make this ridiculous thing, and it never occurred to them to wonder if anyone else would like it.

20201454 comments. It's getting crowded in here.

Bad and Wrong Music Lessons, Part 1

 By Shamus Aug 28, 2014 97 comments

The system we have here is really simple: My hobbies feed the blog. If I code, I write about code. If I play a game, I review the game. If I read a slightly annoying news story about a games publisher, I write a meandering 2,000 word screed denouncing the entire enterprise and everyone who took part in it.

The problem is that I’m composing music. I’d write about music, but I don’t know anything about music. Sure, I made some music, but that’s mostly because I am a hard-working and resourceful idiot, not because I have any musical talent.

Speaking of which, here’s another track I made:

Since I can’t share my knowledge with you, I’ll have to share my ignorance. Let me tell you about all the things I don’t know about music. Or to be more precise, all the things I think I know but are most likely profoundly, dangerously wrong.

So let’s say you want to make some music. To keep things simple, let’s say you’re doing it on a keyboard where 1 input = 1 note, and not one of those devious string or wind instruments where you can make a large number of notes from a small number of inputs. You want to make some music-type sounds, but when you ask people to explain how it works they baffle you with a bunch of nonsense about “Seventh augmented fifth” and “an augmented fourth/tritone”. They draw these “circle of fifths” things that have twelve points and are numbered with letters, and you can’t even tell if the gibberish they’re saying actually makes sense or if they’re just making stuff up to avoid answering the question.

Ignore those idiots. They’re trying to confuse you with knowledge and facts. Here is what you need to know…

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2020202017There are now 97 comments. Almost a hundred!

Marlow Briggs EP10: Marlow Briggs and the Wheels that Make Total Sense

 By Shamus Aug 27, 2014 62 comments

Link (YouTube)

So I guess we’re talking about the 90′s today. Earlier we were talking about my DOOM 2 mods. And now in this episode we talked about the 10,000 Maniacs concert I went to in 1992, and the time I went to see Stargate in theaters. (1994.)


In 1992, 10,000 maniacs were touring to go with the release of their album Our Time in Eden. They played at Slippery Rock, the college my girlfriend Heather attended Also, both of my parents went to Slippery Rock, and that's how they met. Both of Heather's parents went there, and met there. Also my sister went there, although she didn't find her husband. During the concert – right in the middle of their set – this guy screams out at the top of his lungs, “GOD LOVES YOU NATALIE!” (Meaning lead singer Natalie Merchant.)

“What?” she shouted back. She was about to launch into her next song, but apparently she felt like she needed to sort this guy out first.


There was this long silence. She looked at her fellow band members. She still wasn’t hearing him. Finally she took a guess, “Can I juggle?” She shrugged. “Not really.”

There was a pause. The guy in the back didn’t have anymore theological advice for her to misinterpret, so they started playing the next song.

That’s the largest group of people I’ve ever shared a really awkward moment with.

You know how I’m always analyzing plots and nitpicking and demanding that storytellers know what they’re trying to say? Obviously I wasn’t like that as a kid. If I saw a movie and it had lasers in it, then it was awesome. I think Stargate is the turning point. It’s the first time I walked out of a theater and I knew why I didn’t like a movie.

(Can’t remember any of it now, of course. I guess I thought the bit where James Spader figured out how to speak ancient Egyptian in the space of ten minutes was pretty dumb.)

In any case, I think it’s clear we are completely out of things to say about Marlow Briggs and the Whatever of Bullshit Thing.

202020262 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.