Summer 2010 Photo Dump

All summer long I’ve been meaning to put up some pictures of the girls, and all summer long I’ve been letting it slide. So instead of not doing it at all, I thought I could at least just do a huge photo dump. So here it is.

This covers a lot of ground, including lots of time at the pool, swim lessons, trips to the Farm, the 4th of July, our vacation in the Lake of the Ozarks, and culminating in Sammy’s first day in 1st grade. Of them all, this one is probably my favorite because of how it tells a little story. Enjoy.

Book Review: The Last Colony

The Last Colony is set in the same sci-fi universe as some of John Scalzi’s other books, like Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades. It also features the same hero, John Perry, joined again by his ex-supersoldier wife, Jane Sagan. And like those other books, this one deals largely with the macro-level drama of the human race’s (or really the Colonial Union, which calls most of the shots on behalf of humanity) frantic quest to stay alive and propagate in an unfriendly universe rife with competition for limited resources.

But not right away. At the beginning of the book, Perry and Sagan are retired from the military, mostly enjoying their lives on a pastoral planet and raising their adopted teenage daughter. Soon they’re convinced to help seed a new planetary colony, but it becomes quickly apparent that the Colonial Union is playing them crooked and using them as an expendable pawn in an attempt to outmaneuver The Conclave, a coalition of other races bent on putting a stop to colonization by non-member races such as the humans. The Conclave welcomes everybody to join its team, but otherwise plays really rough, so things get dirty and the two heroes have to figure out how to survive the situation.

I like Scalzi’s stuff, but The Last Colony is easily my least favorite book in this series so far. What I liked about the earlier works was that they were all about adventure, genetically and technologically modified supersoldiers, nanotech, and fightin’ dudes. The Last Colony has a bit of that in spots, but far too much of the book contained simple talking heads. There’s even one stretch where we’re actually watching Perry watch a video of two talking heads, so you kind of get a double down effect. It was, not to put too fine a point on it, a bit boring in places. Scalzi drew some parallels about Western imperialism and colonization that were a bit on the nose, but they were generally interesting and it was fun to see if you could figure out what (if any) message was there about the American empire (i.e., the Colonial Union) and its chances of standing against a world set against it (i.e., The Conclave, a.k.a, the United Nations).

So The Last Colony isn’t bad, but it’s not as enjoyable as the other books I’ve read so far. I’m going to continue reading the series, though, in the hopes that Scalzi returns to form.

The Psychology of Video Games: An Update

As I noted before late last year I decided that my blogging project for 2010 would be writing one article a week about the overlap of psychology and video games. Thus was born.

While the site hasn’t exactly “blown up” mega huge, it has developed a readership that’s sizeable enough to surprise me. At first I halfway expected it to exist purely for my own pleasure and maybe a few friends and the random stranger or two, much like But soon I was getting comments and e-mails from real game developers and other people who said they really dug it.

So I kept at it and started putting not insubstantial amounts of effort into writing the weekly articles. In addition to drawing on books I had read, I actually started going to my local university library and doing research in scientific psychology journals. It was cool, because I love writing, I love learning new stuff, and enough people seemed to appreciate it.

A few months ago the Editor in Chief at GamePro contacted me to tell me that he liked what I was doing and that he wanted to know if I’d be interested in doing some freelance writing for the GamePro print magazine. I jumped at the chance, as writing this stuff for a “real’ magazine had been one of the things I had been daydreaming about since I started.

My first article, which is on the psychology of anonymity, is now appearing in the August issue of GamePro, which has this cover:

I also have a second article written, submitted, and in the pipeline for September’s issue, plus I’m just now finishing up a third article for October. Woo!

So while the GamePro thing is one of the biggest things to come out of this little blogging experiment, it’s not the only cool outcome. Here’s some others:

  • I partnered with my friends at GameSpy to lecture on the psychology of games at a conference in Seattle
  • I made Internet friends with another psychology Ph.D. who works for Valve Software, one of my favorite game developers.
  • Actress and nerd celebrity Felicia Day tweeted about one of my articles, resulting in a 1000% spike in traffic.
  • A graduate student in psychology took one of my off-the-cuff ideas (the effect of time distortion on the enjoyment of a game) and is using it as the basis for his dissertation
  • I’ve been interviewed by a handful of people writing about psychology and video games for other outlets
  • A marketing consulting firm interviewed me about video games to tap my supposed expertise on the topic (I did my best)
  • One of my articles was discussed on one of my favorite video game podcasts, Idle Thumbs.
  • started syndicating some of my articles for reprinting on their website
  • A literary agent contacted me asking me if I’d like to write a book proposal that he could evaluate and maybe shop around

So, at this point, I’d call the blog a success –much more of one than I ever experienced with So I’m going to obviously follow through with the rest of the weekly updates for 2010, and most likely beyond. At this point I’m thinking seriously about making 2011 the year of that book proposal; here’s to hoping things continue on the same trajectory.

Book Review: On Stranger Tides

Tim Powell’s On Stranger Tides caught my interest because it’s apparently the story on which the next Pirates of the Caribbean movie is going to be based. I could see it: Powell’s book is set at the twilight of the great age of piracy in a world where magic is possible, but almost exclusively in the new world of the Americas and Caribbean.

As far as world building goes, this struck me as a pretty darn interesting premise. The magic is a mix of voodoo, old-world hexes, necromancy, and good old fashioned “burn the other guy to a crisp” approaches. The author plays it pretty loose with the internal logic and rules of his system, so that I never really did understand it and there were several aspects of it that were transparently there in service of the plot. But it was creative and fun, and that’s enough. Plus I like pirates and all that nautical talk.

The plot of the book is kind of another story. Our hero is Jack Shandy, a former English gentleman forced into piracy by his capture and a series of unlikely events –a standard trope of stories that want to have a pirate hero, but want to side step that whole “he’s a murdering murderer who murders” problem. Shandy spends most of the book trying to track down and rescue his inexplicable love interest, a young woman form whom her sorcerous father has nefarious plans. There’s also the Fountain of Youth, Blackbeard, and lots of zombies.

All in all it was a pretty fun book, but mostly for the world building an the pure novelty of it. Jack Shandy and the other characters in the book aren’t inherently interesting, though, and Powell didn’t strike me as a writer that could hold my interest once the novelty of the setting wore off.