Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Carmen Sandiego Effect

I’ve wanted to write about this for quite some time, and now I finally am able to sit down and do so. I have decided that I need a formal way to refer to a trend in literature that I see constantly increasing.

Today, as we look around our world, we can see something truly amazing. Not only are there footprints of where other real people have been, but many people who, in fact, do not actually exist have left metaphorical footprints all over our planet. 221B Baker Street, Platform 9 3/4,  and The Bates Motel are all examples of places that existed only in an author’s mind, but have since manifested themselves physically. “Official sites” for Lost’s Oceanic World Airlines and Dharma Initiative, Facebook and MySpace pages for characters in the film Cloverfield, and political campaign sites for The Dark Knight‘s Harvey Dent are all readily available on the internet. Quite simply, reality and fiction are blurring. As the marketing company for Reese’s peanut butter cups might put it, “Hey! You put your fiction in my reality!…Hey! You put your reality in my fiction!”

I call this trendy method of storytelling “the Carmen Sandiego effect” with a tongue-in-cheek nod to one of my favorite computer games as an eleven-year-old,Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego. For those of you who have never played, or simply don’t remember very well, here’s how it worked: you were an ACME detective agent sent to arrest the notorious thief, Carmen Sandiego. Unfortunately, however, she always seems to be one step ahead. Whenever you arrive at one venue or another, Carmen has already been there and stolen what she wished for. But, she leaves clues behind with the citizens of the locale and even objects which may have some importance to the case. It is your job to string together her plan of where to go.

The key here is that the action has already happened. The basic elements of the story are laid out, but not revealed to the player. Instead, the player must figure out what happened and how. Just like this, authors and artists that take advantage of the Carmen Sandiego Effect leave only evidence so that the consumer, whether reading, watching, or exploring, can discover the story for him- or herself. This creates an entirely new dynamic, giving the consumer a deeper investment into the outcome of the story and making him or her feel as if he or she is really a part of the story.

That’s right, I went this entire post talking about fake realities and didn’t even mention the word “Simulacrum.” Oh… wait.


Spotify USA Review

Well, after years of quiet anticipation, it’s finally here. Spotify, the famous streaming music service which Brittons and Frenchmen have been loudly bragging about since 2008 just landed in pre-release status here in the United States, and I was lucky enough to have one of the first accounts. Unfortunately, though, the features of Spotify appear to have lost their sheen over time, and products that have the same features seem to have beaten Spotify to the punch.

The major distinguishing feature of Spotify is its attractive price point: zero dollars. That’s right: on Spotify, you can listen to all the music you want FOR FREE, and it’s legal! However, there is a huge catch: advertisements. They aren’t little advertisements either. Though they only last 15-45 seconds, these advertisements have to be the most annoying, poorly targeted ads I have seen in any of these services, including Spotify’s notoriously annoying rival, Pandora. All of the ads I received in the last week have been significantly louder than the audio which I was listening to before, meaning that they totally blew my ears off. There is also no policy preventing ads from appearing in between tracks on gapless albums. Personally, the reason I like gapless albums is that they’re NOT chopped into little pieces, so having the tracks surgically separated by a third party doesn’t sound so great.

Unlike rivals Pandora, MOG, and Rdio, Spotify requires that you install an application on your computer in order to listen to music. Though this is a huge drawback if you’re on a public computer, the advantage is immediately clear: the UI on Spotify is ten times better than anything you can expect to get out of the web based services. An iTunes-like interface provides you access to the cloud music library and local MP3 files on your computer, while a Ping-esque sidebar connects to Facebook and shows your friends who are fellow users of Spotify. You can then explore their playlists and tastes. Unfortunately, I was unable to get the Facebook features working, no matter how hard I tried.

I wish I could say the Spotify experience on Mobile Devices was as elegant. Spotify has an app that looks exactly the same over both iOS and Android, but neither of them work with the free service. That’s right: you need to pay 5-10 dollars a month so that you aren’t tethered down to your home computer.

The true success of Spotify, though, is in the depth of its catalog. Almost every artist or album I could think of, no matter how obscure, had a presence on Spotify, with two notable exceptions: Sons of Kirk (a friend’s independent band) and The Beatles (whose Apple Record Corp. has an exclusivity deal with iTunes).

Spotify may be a fun distraction from my current cloud music solution, Google Music, but the fact of the matter is that it provides nothing which the other music on demand services do not offer. Spotify was special only because we couldn’t have it.


UPDATE: I now disagree with many of the things I initially wrote in this review. For an update, see Why I Switched to Spotify.

Coming Out of the Closet in the Digital Age: My Experience

As most – if not all- of you already know, I am gay. However, very few people knew this (as far as I know) until I decided to make my life significantly simpler and reveal how I felt to everyone who was a “friend.” Since this was as somewhat harrowing experience, I thought it might be prudent to share my experience.

What Happened

On June 29, 2011, I decided that I wanted to make my conversations with friends and family members a little easier. After lying about or evading questions about my sexual preference and awkwardly shrugging to comments that I would make a great husband someday for about six months, I was bored of trying to hide an integral part of who I am from the rest of the world.

This, however, was not the only reason I chose to open myself up on the 29th. I also fully realized that we were fast approaching the end of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) Pride Month. Thanks to the month itself and the New York State Senate’s vote to legalize gay and lesbian marriages, awareness for this topic was particularly high. By making my announcement in such a grandiose way, I intended to spur discussion and get people thinking.

At 10:29 PM, after checking the “Interested in Men” box on my Facebook profile, I posted the following status update to both Facebook and Twitter:

[Nathan Lawrence] Just found enough courage to check the “Interested in men” box on his profile. I guess it’s official now. Feel free to post hate mail in the comments.

By 11:00 PM, I had four comments (no hate mail). By the end of the 30th, I had 17 comments (still no hate mail) and ten “Like” votes. I had received a total of seven Facebook messages, three of which were hateful. None of these three came from people I had friended. This continues to be the most active status update I have ever posted on Facebook, and I expect this trend to continue.

What I Did Right

Since the 30th, I have spent a lot of time wondering why I got such an overwhelmingly positive reaction. I had assumed prior to this action that my sexual orientation would make me a leper on the fringes of society. After some serious thinking, I have come to the conclusion that I did the following things right:

  1. I only friended people who were actually my friends. Facebook makes it so easy to just friend everyone at your school or office, but when I signed up for Facebook, I knew I wanted a high signal to noise ratio, meaning that I had to be a lot more restrictive with whom I chose to friend. This served me well, because everybody who replied to me already knew me very well and could immediately understand how this applied to me, not just the cliches of the group of people to which I now seemed to belong.
  2. I subconsciously tested the waters. Without realizing it, my positive remarks about the New York State Senate bill passing were- in a way- a test of how people felt about this issue. Seeing such positive feedback from people about this issue heartened me and made me feel more confident in my Facebook Friends’ ability to handle my news.
  3. I asked for hate mail, then said to post it publicly. Instead of simply ignoring the fact that this issue was controversial, I chose to address it directly. By inviting hate mail by name and asking that it be posted in the comments, where it would be embarrassingly public, I made people wonder if I would actually be affected by such comments.

What I Did Wrong

  1. I posted the announcement publicly on Twitter. There’s really nothing more to say here. This isn’t like Facebook where I can control who sees it.
  2. I allowed anyone to send me a Facebook message. This normally isn’t a problem, but in this case three people who weren’t my friends sent me annoying hate mail. It didn’t really hurt, but it was frustrating.
I hope to write about this more in the future, and – if I am permitted to- share one particularly touching Letter I received from a friend about this subject.