Does anyone else remember the days when you’d carry around a walkman or discman and it was totally revolutionary? You’d have this device that let you play what ever tracks you wanted to everywhere. It was before iPods, before mp3 players and it was liberating. I was at work one day and my buddy Bosco asked if I’d tried Spotify yet. I hadn’t even heard of this spot-fy thing. But I gave it a whirl. If you aren’t aware, this program allows you to listen to a music catalog rivaled only by the smithsonian institute and for 6 months its free. for 5 bucks a month its usable on anything save for phones, and for 10 bucks a month its on your phone with “offline” playlists downloaded so you don’t even have to be connected to still listen to the music.

Unlike iTunes, I don’t have to buy this music. At first I thought, well why would I pay 10 bucks a month when i don’t buy that much music to begin with? Well when it came down to it, I was listening to so many different artists and so many different albums it would take 12 years of paying 10 bucks a month to catch up to what I’d have to spend at iTunes.

Unlike Pandora, I can listen to tracks over and over and over again. Go backwards and forwards. Essentially, I get to treat these songs like I own them.

Unlike Turntable, I can maintain collaborative playlists with friends that have multiple tracks of the same artist without the thing breaking.

Currently, I have three playlists that are on constant rotation with new tracks being added everyday.

Slow and Sturdy Wins the Race; This list is a compilation of some of my favorite singer songwriter songs. Many of them make me think of the boi. Originally it started out as a test to see how many songs I could add to it that had irregular tempo clapping hence the first two songs. But once my bud Pagel got involved it turned into this playlist of some of our deepest (and at times darkest) thoughts. Be prepared when you listen to it. You’ll learn as much about yourself as you will me.

The Best of Pop Crap; I don’t know if there’s much to this playlist. One day I heard this Katy Perry song on Glee. Then I wanted to hear the original. Then I made this playlist. Its the cheesiest, poppiest, stuff you’ll hear on the radio. But on a day when it feels like it will never end, this list gets me up and moving. Plus now I look cool to my younger cuz’s as I know all the songs they know :D

DC’s 75 QA’s 40; This playlist is dedicated to anyone who has had to work retail over the holidays. At my current job, mismanagement made for some extremely long 12-14 hour days. This list was to help channel that frustration to just simply get me through the day and start my second job. Bosco and I seem to be adding to this list still, even though the holiday rush is over. Check it out and see if it helps you in the same way it has me.

Flip Side

Its been roughly 2 years since I’ve posted anything here. And it’s about time I picked this up again.

A lot has changed. I no longer live in DC, and am happily domiciled in Chicago. It took me 5 months of detox to forget about the stress DC brought to my life, but I am a better person for it. :D I look forward to the conversation, even if it’s me talking to the great wide abyss of the internets. and now, for something truly fun:

In Memory of Someone Who Truly Inspired the World

This was written by a friend from U of I who recently passed. Maren, you are missed, the world over.

How to Change the World

So as I read over the posts I notice a trend. We Somers’ love to travel and see the world. This post is no different, but I believe that we can start a family dialogue on how to envision the world and empower ourselves with the knowledge to make an impact. Thus, we shall travel the world in our minds as much as in our physical lives. The reason I have for pondering this topic, as opposed to discussing my travels of the American West, would be our conversation yesterday between Peter, Maren, and Erin Robinson at Dressel’s in St. Louis yesterday.

As in any conversation between like-minded liberals discussing the politics of the day, we found ourselves asking the perennial question: How do we get people to change? The obvious prompt of this question being the terrible position America has put itself in on the world stage, and the power the right-wingers have snatched from the jaws of common sense.

My answer is education.

I don’t mean sending your kids to college or spending more money on public schools, although these are both important components. Neither of these provide a sufficient answer to keeping Americans from adopting radical right-wing points of veiw. In fact, I have happened upon many well educated right-wingers. They are college educated, intelligent, and well versed in many fields. These qualities, to my dismay, do not naturally lead to liberal thought processes. They only serve to reinforce previously held beliefs. This to me provides evidence that better schools and college educations will not be the answers to our problem.

The answer to our problem is the formation of beliefs and how people come to form these opinions. People’s education consists of the mental environment in which they are surrounded. This is a very simplistic definition of culture, and I believe therein lies the answer. Our culture is, and has been for many decades now, programming itself to churn out conservatives. We are insulating ourselves from any understanding of our place in a larger world community. Isolation and misunderstanding of our place in the world, and even more importantly in the environment, have led to a worldview of ourselves as removed from these key elements of belief.

Well I believe for right now I’m out of time. I can elaborate on this later. Peace.

–Maren Somers

picasso it ain’t

My husband regaled this story to me while we were visiting a friend in Chicago and going through a Matisse exhibit

Picasso is sitting in a cafe, drinking a coffee, when a man walks up to him and says, “Mr. Picasso, I was wondering if you’d be willing to draw me something on this napkin”. So Picasso obliged, and in several moments had drawn something on the napkin supplied by the man. When Picasso turns the napkin over to the man, he simply states, “that will be 2 million dollars”. The man, confused at this, asks, “but it has only taken you 30 seconds to draw on that napkin.” Picasso responds, “But its taken me 30 years to draw that in 30 seconds”.

As an active member of the gaming community, I wonder if we don’t sometimes forget what really goes into art. I bring this up because there has been a recent rehash of claims made by Roger Ebert (yes of film review fame) that games are not art. As he stated previously:

But I believe the nature of the medium prevents it from moving beyond craftsmanship to the stature of art. To my knowledge, no one in or out of the field has ever been able to cite a game worthy of comparison with the great dramatists, poets, filmmakers, novelists and composers. That a game can aspire to artistic importance as a visual experience, I accept. But for most gamers, video games represent a loss of those precious hours we have available to make ourselves more cultured, civilized and empathetic.

His most recent conversation on this subject culminated in this article in his journal. Kellee Santiago gave a talk for TED at USC and tries to attack this very notion of “are games art?” Personally, I have yet to feel that an entire game can be considered “art” with few, if not one exception. But my interest in this article has more to do with Ebert’s lack of reasoning as to why Kellee is wrong and my eventual siding with Ebert.

The lack of reasoning is easily summed up in one of the comments to the post that he “simply doesn’t get it”. If Ebert doesn’t understand the mechanics of the game beneath what he is being shown on a clip of play through, he’ll never understand what people are trying in vain to tell him. It’s as if Ebert himself were trying to discuss why Jaws was so pivotal in the horror/thriller genre to someone who simply doesn’t care about a dolly zoom effect and what it’s influences were on modern film making.

Perhaps that is where people have gone wrong. My proposal to anyone who wishes to convince him otherwise, would be to recreate a movie frame by frame in a 3D environment. My feeling is that he’d still reject this.

Ebert never once defines “art” for his argument which should also be a clue to those who continue to try to convince him he is wrong. If he presents no point to contradict, there is no argument you can engage him in. Simply disagreeing with his opinion means nothing.

Now, while I don’t agree with how Ebert is presenting himself in this argument, I for one, have to agree that games are very rarely art. His one point about many aspiring artists draw many wonderful nudes, but it doesn’t mean they achieve the artistic recognition of someone like DaVinci or Picasso.

This brings me back to the Matisse exhibit. In this exhibit, we explored how Matisse came to be Matisse. Much of what was on the walls were early scribbles and sketches. Over and over and over again he would draw the same paintings, advancing his style, reworking lines, and thoughts and elements within. This is one thing I think every artist does. They continually rework their craft, ultimately developing their unique look and feel. They become (in the words of film) auteurs; authors of their own medium.

Have games gotten to that point? Do we have many auteurs in the industry? Like movies, games have huge budgets and thus huge crews, but ultimately they are carrying out the vision of the director or lead developer. And there is a new theory out there that suggests games fall under a new kind of authorship, one that is explain in the Studio Auteur Theory, where it is the studio one works for that will create the authorship of the works. But this seems a little flawed to me as auteurship is over different genres of films, different characters, different worlds. Most studios keep to what they know best: EA has its sports franchises, Blizzard has WoW and Diablo, Valve has Half-Life,  and Bungie has Halo.  However, even in these studios, we still only see a handful of masterminds behind games that can continually reproduce works that are both interesting and engaging. People like Sudo 51 or Masaya Matsuura creators of the games Killer 7 and Chime are a rare breed in an industry where the craft is more about deadlines and bottom dollars than seeing a vision played out. The amount of time spent perfecting a game is exponentially larger after release. (hence all the updates and “patches” we download each time we load up) Films don’t have that luxury. And with that comes a need to get it right the first time out. Is that where the “art” lies? Can art be a fluid thing? Can you change a canvas once its hung on a wall, and still call what it is “art”, if what it was before was “art”?

Just like Matisse, there may have been 6 or 7 versions of “Bathers by a River” but only one remains on the walls of the Louvre.

More thoughts later….

Gender Crossing

I was contemplating some of the issues with “gender inclusive” game design and sort of ran a muck  with thoughts. Below is part of what came of it.

For an industry concerned with trying to appeal to women, You’d think they would first find out what women would like to play. And shouldn’t they assume that the female gaming age is not restricted to 7-12 year olds considering the average gamers age is in the area of 32? Creating the genre of “girls games” only creates more confusion and alienation for the female gaming community. Not to mention that the name alone turns of anyone who has passed puberty.

Personally, I find it appalling. I do not want to be pigeonholed to the point where I am only allowed to be interested in games that involve such classically stereotypical female things as “Barbie” or “social interactions” with pink load screens and little puppies in the background. I want to blow my fellow competitor out of the water just as much as he does me. The industry uses far too much time and energy to create female avatars that are either half-clad in clothes, or are creating fashions for Barbie’s already extensive wardrobe. Games such as Dead or Alive have built a reputation within the gaming community for having perfected their “breast physics.” Would not that time and energy be better spent in a genre of games that doesn’t exclude females but incorporates them? I’m sure not all male gamers can be happy about what these assumed images mean for them as well. Are all men sexually starved Neanderthals, that they must have Blood Rayne-like images in order to find a game appealing or entertaining? I think not.

It makes sense that the industry should want to walk the middle of the road in order to incorporate as many gamers as possible. Not only would you have the male population buying the game for its awesome moves, great special effects, and terrific narrative, you will also have girls buying the game for all these reasons with an added bonus that the main character is not offensive to them. What the industry needs to learn is that encouraging females to game is not a bad thing.

If it is true that gender roles are learned fully at age 7, and begin to be explored at age 2, it is hard to believe that an individuals cognition is not affected by the same socialization that causes them to recognize these roles. Women, just like men, are taught to act a certain way, behave and dress a certain way, as well as approach problems a certain way. Women are not traditionally allowed to use violence, for example, to solve problems. They are expected to communicate their issues better than men, and be more understanding than men. So it makes sense that we should think of women as learning differently than men.

A danger certainly lies in the assumptions of what is “inherent” in women beyond their anatomical attributes. Very little of what gender is, in the critical analysis sense of the word, has to do with biology. While some of these assumptions are less damaging than others, they certainly provide excuses for another’s behavior. Lets think of this in terms of a real world example: Erin. She’s been playing video games for a long time now, and no longer is victim to the ergonomics of the controller or the inability to prove herself in a room of male gamers and feels as though she has a grasp on what it takes to play with the boys. But now she has to go out into the real world and preach what she practices. She enters a room full of bright young programmers, all eager to hear her story of trial and triumph. She tells them of her new revolutionary way to make games “gender inclusive”. And then a young lady stands up and asks, “Why is it that I can’t like to play games the same way boys do?” Erin is forced to answer, “Well, that’s because you as a female learn differently from your male counterpart.” The young lady sits down and accepts this idea. She is different from her male counterpart not only in anatomy but also in brain function.

The idea of gender inclusive game design is a terrific way to get females into the market, but its short-term. At some point in the new female gamers life, they will want to do what the boys do. They will want to be able to play just as rough, be just as competitive without caring about the “relationship” at stake or ensuring everyone is having fun. And at that point, gender inclusive game design can do nothing for the stereotypes and gender assumptions at play within society. That gamer will still be criticized for behaving in such a manner, or participating in such play.

Is everything gender inclusive game design has to offer a negative? Absolutely not, as stated previously, it is a great short-term solution to getting females into the market. A higher female population in the market could be argued as forcing the industry to rethink its marketing strategies and thus game content. Should the images of females within games be changed? Yes. Should the marketing of games be geared towards both men and women, so as to keep both parties interested and not favor one over the other? Yes. But a danger still lies in creating games according to gendered learning. Creating a genre of games that are gender “safe”, where both genders can participate equally, or having games that are gender specific, does not solve the problem of gender “crossing”. By gender crossing I don’t simply mean having a male player able to play as a female avatar, though that is part of it. Gender crossing games have more to do with the idea that female or male, the game should be open to the player, and in return that player is not criticized for liking it because of gender constraints. As it stands now, games that are labeled as “male” (First Person Shooters) cannot be or should not be played by a female, and games labeled female (Girls Games) a male wouldn’t want to go anywhere near. Many gaming tournaments currently are male or female team specific. Creating games that make a name off of gender role assumptions validate these tournaments. They also prevent women from being taken seriously when they have true skills in genres they are not labeled for.

Just Don’t Die

This post is intended to be used for the Hack Gender project currently taking place this week. It’s a fantastic endeavor to understand Gender in a digital world. This is something I wrote some time ago, and still feel to this day. As an avid FPS player, its difficult to walk this line of gender and my frustration shows.

Don’t Die

It’s what every female gamer has been told at least once.

Just don’t die. Hide in the corner, walk around with someone, just don’t die.

It’s pretty easy to see that really what’s being said is

Since you can’t kill, just don’t die.

What I can’t decide, however, is this better than the alternative of not existing at all?

That’s right. Girls don’t exist online. Just forget about whether or not they are good. It doesn’t matter. And most of it is my fault.

For the majority of my life, I’ve abandoned all want to be a girl. I wanted to run with the boys, play like the boys, talk like the boys. And why not? They were allowed to fantasize about dominating power structures, not cooperating within them. They were taught to be aggressive in the quest for dominance, not to be subservient to the guy standing next to them. I rebelled against my gender in every way I could. I never wore skirts, always had my hair pulled back with a ball cap on backwards. Never wanted to go shopping, wear anything but tennis shoes, wear make-up or shave.

I found the whole idea of being female repulsive.

Then I got into gaming. I thought I was finally in a place where I didn’t have to acknowledge my gender if I didn’t want to. This meant of course that I still denied things that were inherently female, like my voice, or declaring my avatar to be female instead of male. But that trade-off was OK. I could still play how I wanted to play. The instant I acknowledged anything that would have made me female, I didn’t exist.

You can’t possibly be a girl.

You’re too good to be a girl.

If you are a girl, then you’ve got to an ugly dyke. Girls just aren’t good at games unless they have no boyfriends.

Can I have your phone number?

The list goes on but you get the picture. I think there’s an argument that could be made for the fact that online game play is overrun with individuals who are not necessarily acting their age, but I’ve had these kinds of confrontations with my own guy friends. And even when these same players act foolishly with other male gamers, it’s never called into question that they do or do not exist. Sometimes, its much more subtle and these comments come more from people who already know I am female but not necessarily that I game.

You play video games? Have you played the latest Mario?

You only have a Wii, right?

Wow Chico, that’s a pretty sweet move. Did Steve show you that?

In an ironic sort of way, my avatar is a character that takes up precious space on the server that, until the point I open my mouth, or acknowledge my gender, is an important piece of the puzzle. Once my avatar becomes female because I am female, it disappears, and suddenly that server space is no longer important. Girls don’t kill. Girls aren’t aggressive. Girls don’t want to play rough. So girls don’t play video games. They just don’t exist.

There’s a lot of talk out there about how the internet lets people be other people they normally wouldn’t be. I can pretend to be a magical elf, a powerful wizard, a super soldier, or a Brazilian insurgent. Somehow this lets people be “free” of all of societies constraints in the real world.

Be whoever you want to be!

Well, it’s made me non-existent.

again the shoes and lights left on

My hubbie is more hippie than I am. I like paying attention to what I’m eating, and what I’m using, but it won’t prevent me from going to Mickie D’s once in awhile or to use non-recycled TP. One thing that I always did pay attention to was energy usage. I never liked having lights on when I’m not in the room, or using energy-efficient lighting. I think a lot of this comes from saving money as a kid. My mom used to tell at my brother all the time about leaving the lights on.

Dom, the lights are left on AGAIN

So here’s my list of 10 things that I do everyday to help reduce my eco-footprint.

1.) Low flow faucets/shower head

2.) 1 liter bottle full of water in the toilet tank

3.) Keeping the thermostat no hotter than 68 in the winter, and no cooler than 75 in the summer.

4.) Energy saving lights

5.) Non-petroleum/phosphates detergents

6.) More organic shampoos (sls free [thanks K])

7.) Wash clothes in cold water only

8.) Recycled paper products only

9.) Unplugging appliances not used on a daily basis

10.) Re-usable grocery bags

Of all these, the plastic bottle in the toilet tank, the re-usable bags and washing your clothes in cold water will cost you a total of $0.99 for the bag, and $0.89 for the bottle. But it will save you a lot of water and energy usage right away. For example, 90% of a washer’s energy use is in heating up the water for warm or hot washes. For an apartment like mine, where everything is electric, you’ll notice a dramatic change in your electric bill the immediate month after you start.

What do you think? Any more suggestions?

….it changed the movement.

One of the better parts of my job is to attend classes that are bi-continental. In short, I’m a disk jockey of technology support. I work in classrooms around GU campus and perform maintenance and support tasks all day. One part of this job involves classes with our sister school in Doha, Qatar. Every morning I sit in on classes that are being taught using an RPX room. This week, there is a class called Jazz, Civil Rights, and American Society taught by one Maurice Jackson. Love this Prof. He is someone I feel I grew up with. Great pride in his culture, great love for everything his culture has struggled for and has devoted his life to understanding the ins and outs of it.

When I was a kid, high school specifically, I spent a large amount of time devoted to the study of Detroit. I was born and raised there, and still to this day would LOVE to go back. But I’m sure if you know anything about Detroit, it’s that its been hit hard, harder than most anywhere else, because of the economy. In other words, I can’t find employment there. (major sad face). Any way, in thinking about all these music posts, and how music has always come to affect me, I have but one influence to place the blame. Detroit. What this has to do with Prof. Jackson will become clear in a minute (I hope). Now Detroit is/was/will be the center of Motown sound. In my mind, Detroit invented the 1950’s and 60’s rock and roll sound that is so popular today. Many hours were spent by Quincy Jones and Chuck Barry to perfect the songs you and I know as the hits of those two decades. In fact, it was one of the first know instances of a QC panel for music hits.

What Detroit also is, is black. Unless you live under a rock you already know this. 90% black to be correct. Why is this important you ask? If you know anything about this culture, you know there are three things of great importance, that while can be stereotyped for all sorts of bad, are still true from my growing up in it and are truly good:

God, Music and Barbecue.

1. God means EVERYTHING to this community. As Steve Harvey once said, “We love ourselves some God, don’t we? Ain’t nobody love God like black people.” In terms of this post, think mostly of the hymnals and the power of music in a church.

2. Music is a way of life. Music is involved in almost all aspects of being, which I think is reflexive of the first in this list.

3. BBQ. Now this is not in the sense of eating fried chicken and ribs and watermelon.. Please get that image out of your head right now… Lets all grow up shall we? No. This is more of a sense of community. While media will often portray this culture as being one without male figures and mothers having babies out-of-wedlock, the truth of the matter is, community is the core of their values. Again I think this is reflexive of the first in the list. BBQ is just a means to get people together.

Back to Prof. Jackson….

While setting him up for his class he pulls out the PBS special Let Freedom Sing. I have the soundtrack to this as it is just AMAZING. It documents the history of music in the civil rights movement and its influences on the movement. One song in particular has stuck out and that is called “Change is Gonna Come” written by Sam Cooke, but performed by Otis Redding (Sitting on the Dock of the Bay fame). If you don’t know this song, I highly rec checking it out here. Listen to the way Otis strains with the third chorus. honestly, if you knew nothing about the movement, this song and his voice will tell you all you needed to know.

Originally (according to Wikipedia) this song was written by Cooke after hearing Dylans “Blowen in the Wind”. It moved him so greatly to hear a song written by a non-black about racism that he basically went home and said, ya know, there’s nothing that’s gonna stop this change from happening. The song was born.

The song, very much a departure for Cooke, reflected two major incidents in his life. The first was the death of Cooke’s 18-month-old son, Vincent, who died of an accidental drowning in June of that year. The second major incident came on October 8, 1963, when Cooke and his band tried to register at a “whites only” motel in Shreveport, Louisiana and were summarily arrested for disturbing the peace. Both incidents are represented in the weary tone and lyrics of the piece, especially the final verse: There have been times that I thought I couldn’t last for long/but now I think I’m able to carry on/It’s been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come.


The truly sad part of this story, Cooke never heard the song recorded. He died before it was ever put on tape. But it changed the movement. Aside from “We Shall Overcome” this is the single most widely recognized song to represent the struggle of the civil rights movement.

Sitting there, watching the film again in class, made me want to just rant about how awesome it is. One song. One song among many, but one song stood out and changed the movement. CHANGED THE WHOLE MOVEMENT. How incredible is that? Remember when the sheriff down in Birmingham released all the “disturbers of the peace” freedom riders from jail? He said he did it because the singing was driving him crazy. That’s right. People would sing as they were being beaten in jail cells. Sing as people poured milk and trash all over their hair at sit-ins. Sing when they were being hosed with fire hoses. Sing sing sing.

Film’s make me leave my living room and games transport me to other worlds, but ONLY music makes me feel invincible. Unstoppable. Hopeful.

All I have to do is listen.

Half as Hard and Twice as Good

What a fantastic notion! My sis put this up as a post last week or the week before about Sara Groves’ song Twice as Good and I simply can NOT get it out of my head. I feel compelled to send this to every female I know. I have no idea why. Once again I see myself unable to explain what I feel, however this song has nailed it on the head. I just love the idea of things being half as hard and twice as good. I think back on some really crap times in my life and the people who have gotten me through them. How horrible it would have been to have done them alone. I also think we don’t tell each other enough how awesome a friend one is. We need to do this more often. We need to reaffirm the aged old idea of everything that is good in me, is because someone like you is in my life.

While my sis continues to say she knows little of friendship, I find this quite ironic. I can’t speak for everyone in her life, but what she knows about friendship from how she’s treated as a friend, I can guarantee that most would say the same about her and how she treats us. I think most people learn about friendship this way. Many times it works the other way around, where you have not so good friends, and thus you don’t understand friendship like others do. This song pretty much is a guide for anyone who doesn’t get it, or doesn’t know what to do. How much simpler could it be than to strive for half as hard and twice as good? No matter what that entails, that’s your pleasure as a friend. Make things half as hard and twice as good. Yeah. I likes.

The Lyrics:

When I am down and need to cry till morning,
I know just where I am going.
When I’m in need of sweet commiseration
To speak out loud.
Raise a glass to friendship
And to knowing you don’t have to go alone.
We’ll raise out hearts to share each other’s burdens
On this road.

Every burden I have carried,
Every joy–it’s understood.
Life with you is half as hard,
And twice as good.

With my good news you’re dancing on the table:
Baby’s born, to celebration.
The joy of life, oh what a sweet communion,
Shared with you.

Every burden I have carried,
Every joy–it’s understood.
Life with you is half as hard,
And twice as good.

Every burden I have carried,
Every joy–it’s understood.
Life with you is half as hard,
And twice as good.

I know we’re growing older,
Can you imagine what that will bring?
It’s all a mystery to me now,
Except this one thing:
It’ll be half as hard, and twice as good.