Five Great Songs About Games or Gaming

There are a multitude of video game theme covers on the internet, and all sorts of songs have a line or two referencing gaming, but few songs are really about gaming, particularly songs reflecting it in a positive light. Certainly, there are all sorts of songs about boys ignoring girls during a gaming session. There aren’t nearly as many about the experience itself.

I made some rules for this list:

1. It must be positive. it can’t mock gaming or paint it in a negative light.

2. It must be completely original. It can’t be a parody of another song or a cover of a game theme.

3. The entire song has to be about gaming. It can’t just contain a passing reference. Chiptunes alone aren’t enough, either. These are songs about gaming, not from a genre possibly influenced by gaming.

4. No Pac-Man Fever. Seriously, not even as a joke.

Regarding the second rule: One song on the list comes close to breaking this rule. It features original lyrics and combines several themes from the game into a single short song. It’s also really fucking good, so I let it slide.

5. Do You Wanna Date My Avatar, by Felicia Day and Jed Whedon

Felicia Day is something of a nerd goddess. She combined her experience in film and television to create The Guild, a web series about an online game clan. This song was written to promote the show, and is the first music video in a series featuring characters from the show, in this case presented as their in-game counterparts. The song unabashedly references game lingo and celebrates getting lost in an epic fantasy.

The next song/video in the series, Game On, is also a lot of fun.

4. Mario Kart Love Song, by Sam Hart

This sweet little number equates a relationship to the trials presented in various versions of Super Mario Kart. Sappy, sure, but heartfelt. This is the first of two songs in this list to reference Toads and their relationship to Princess Peach.

Oh yeah, and it was recently covered by Jimmy Fallon and Selena Gomez, so there’s that.

3. Tonight, by Allie Goertz

Aha! A small departure from controllers and pixels to dice and paper, Tonight is as much about hanging out as it about enjoying the game. Dungeons and Dragons is the proto-video game, and it’s nice to know people still play. I could never find anyone to play D&D with, so I’ve always had to live vicariously through others. Allie’s music if a font of pop culture references, and her YouTube channel also features other songs about D&D.

2. Thank You Mario But Our Princess is in Another Castle, by the Mountain Goats and Kaki King

The second song presented from the point of view of a Toad, Thank You Mario But Our Princess is in Another Castle is a wistful song about Mario’s first journey through the Mushroom Kingdom. And it’s by The Mountain Goats! They’re a pretty famous band! And it features Kaki King, who isn’t as famous but is certainly no slouch herself! I think this description could use another extra exclamation point!

(Unfortunately, I don’t know of an official video for this song, so I chose the one that had the most views.)

1. Reignite, by Malukah

This is the song that kind of breaks the second rule. However, it captures the spirit of Commander Shephard’s character and quest so well that I am putting it on the list anyway. At number one, even! The dire circumstances of Mass Effect 3 are translated perfectly into song, as is Shepard’s unyielding spirit. Her choice of the word reignite as a parallel to the Phoenix is incredibly apt.

Malukah has a bunch of songs about video games, including quite a few about Skyrim. I chose this one because it so perfectly captures the mood of the character.

Bonus: Human Video Game, by DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

It’s a little goofy, and moves into a bit about games being addicting, but it is way less pandering than Pac-Man Fever.

Making this list was tougher than I thought it would be, but I’m sure I missed some great ones. Keeping my rules in mind, what have I missed? Tell me in the comments!

Chromebook: One Month Later

Four weeks is a long time. Perhaps not in the grand scheme of things, but I don’t think anyone would argue it is too short to get the feel of a laptop. For the last 30 days, I’ve used the Chromebook almost every day. It couldn’t replace my main laptop, but I attempted to use it as much as possible, and made an effort to use it in every task before switching.

To that end, it is important to note that there isn’t much the average user won’t be able to do on a Chromebook. The offerings in the Chrome Web Store are varied and acceptably robust. It is entirely possible to live one’s digital life in the GoogleSphere. Not a single site presented a box insisting I download a plugin or would miss features due to the platform. Google matches other platform’s media offerings with the Play Store, so you won’t find yourself missing access to digital music, movies, or books.

Unfortunately, the Chromebook also lives up to its price. Although popular sites like Facebook and Twitter work flawlessly, It struggled to handle newer, media-heavy sites like Polygon, and its scrolling in general is very slow and choppy. Going full-screen with some videos actually requires a security override, which can cause playback issues until you reload the site. These issues don’t occur on my year-old third-gen iPad, which has half the RAM and a comparable(perhaps even less powerful) processor. Granted, the iPad costs more. However, as I already own it, the Chromebook feels completely unneccessary. The Chromebook can surf to more sites, but the iPad handles its slightly smaller range with significantly more aplomb. Polygon doesn’t miss a beat as I scroll through it, even while displaying the same massive images.

A bigger frustration is ChromeOS’s limitations for advanced users: I can’t find a proper VNC client to save my life, and a proper VNC client is an absolute necesity in my field. ChromeOS offers simplified clients that require a specialized secondary app to run on the computer you are remoting into, even if the remote location in question already runs the service on its own. If the idea of the Chromebook is to be transparent, it fails this test miserably. iOS and Android both offer VNC clients that will interface with a multitude of operating systems and their various implementations of VNC. Every Chromebook variation, including Google’s own, requires extra software on the host machine.

Even more frustrating, I found my keyboard cocasionally missing keypresses when using Google Docs. In fact, I am writing this post on an iPad with a bluetooth keyboard, still using Google Docs, just to prove it is the device and not Google’s service itself. I could not force the error to occur, but it happened often enough that it was noticable to a prolific writier. Whether this error stems from hardware or software is irrelevant.

The final strike is largely a personal one: it doesn’t run Scrivener, my favorite writing app. This one is fairly obvious, and not a strike against the platform in most use cases, but for me it is the final nail in the coffin.

For me, the Chromebook experiement is over. It is a fun and surprisingly capable device, but it doesn’t outperform an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard for my purposes. In a classroom, or as a low-cost device, the Chromebook performs admirably. It’s tie to Google services is compelling, and the value for the dollar is undeniable. But if you are willing to spend a little more, don’t feel bad about passing it over.

Excited About Ouya

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The Ouya console and controller.The Ouya console and controller.

The Ouya console and controller.

I should probably be restraining some of my excitement, but there’s no way around it: I’m very anxious to get my hands on my Limited Edition, Kickstarter-Backer-Only version of the Ouya. There is as much to be worried about as there is to be excited over. Ouya is the first serious competitor Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony have seen in over a decade. The previous generation of consoles knocked the once-great Sega completely out of the hardware business. The current generation has seen numerous publishers and developers fold. Publishers are beginning to insist that the only way to make a profit is to trick people into paying more than $60 per game. Android and iOS devices are stealing the thunder of portable consoles.

The video game industry is in a state of flux, but this isn’t the first time. Almost as soon as they appeared, arcades began to fall out of favor. Even before they started to become hotbeds of gang activity, they were stricken with a seedy reputation that led to many a young gamer being banned from their hallowed halls by protective parents. Arcade games were considered addictive, and playing games was compared to gambling.

The proliferation of home consoles started arcades on a slow decline, with the final nail in the coffin of the traditional arcade being struck early in the turn of the century. Now, arcade machines are largely relegated to being a sideshow or diversion at another entertainment venue. Even then, the varieties seem limited to 1980’s classics, racing, or dancing games. It is rare to see any sort of gaming innovation come from the arcade space.

Home gaming hasn’t been without its own ups and downs. The market crashed in the US due to a market flooded with cheap, low-quality games. By 1983, Atari had become synonymous with video games, and their brand so tainted by a lack of quality control that video games were written off as a fad that had come and gone. The market was revitalized by Nintendo, who shackled third party game developers with incredibly arduous limitations.

The restrictions Nintendo placed served two functions: it made them extra money, and it kept the market from overflowing with junk(which helped them keep making money). Since the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the US, these restrictions have existed in some form or another. Over time, they have not subsided much. Some of the biggest, like restricting the number of titles a given company can release in a year, have been lifted. Still, third-party publishers have to jump through both financial and logistical hoops to get their titles on a game console, and programmers need special(and expensive) console development kits for each platform.

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The recent Final Fantasy III remake running on Ouya.The recent Final Fantasy III remake running on Ouya.

The recent Final Fantasy III remake running on Ouya.

Mobile computing is changing this trend. Rather than pay up-front fees, platform owners take a cut from each game sold. There is typically little-to-no cost to getting started on development, because it can be done on a standard PC or Mac. While each game still goes through some sort of testing before being allowed in a marketplace, that testing is far less strenuous. By lightening the burdens on third-party shoulders, the mobile gaming market has exploded.

Enter the Ouya: a home console built on mobile hardware, and following the mobile model. While it is less powerful than its competitors, the tiny $99 is a third the price and capable of graphics equivalent to or greater than the PS2 and Xbox era of game consoles at a higher resolution. One of the few requirements for distribution via Ouya’s platform is there must be a way to sample the game. This can be achieved by offering a demo or by following the currently-in-vogue “freemium” model of charging for in-game feature while making the core game free.

I’m wary of the freemium model, as it tends to lead to games that become less fun over time, but the idea of a demo mode for every game is fantastic. Ouya could also be a haven for episodic gaming, which I think is the likely real future of gaming. I’ll expand upon that in another article. As gaming budgets skyrocket and we enter a world where million-sellers can’t break even, it seems inevitable that existing industry models will change. Ouya will be, at the very least, a testing ground for some of these models.

The future of the Ouya is still shrouded in mystery. As it begins shipping to Kickstarter backers, we can expect to get a better idea of how well it stands up to the hype surrounding it. So far, the only review I’ve seen paints it in a mediocre light. Still, there is time for the hardware and software to improve: the official launch of the console will be June 4th. I’ll share more thoughts on it when my own little cube arrives.

Chromebook: Extended Review

The Samsung Series 3 Chromebook(or, to make typing/reading easier, the SS3c) is in many ways a flagship device for Google’s ChromeOS. Despite its low price tag, this Chromebook fulfills the promises of ChromeOS: it is fast, light, and secure. Because of its low price tag, I just went out and bought one without hesitation. Here’s a more in-depth follow up to my initial thoughts.

Fair warning: lots of words.

Build Quality

It is hard to know what to expect with a $249 laptop. My first inclination is to compare it to higher-end ultrabooks, due to the SS3c’s size and design. My second thought is to keep my expectations well-tempered, as there is a rather significant cost difference.

Overall, the build quality of the SS3c is not bad. Its plastic construction is not as solid or rigid as a unibody metal enclosure like the one on a MacBook Air, but it does not feel like it will come apart from regular use. Nothing shakes or rattles when you move it, and the parts look like they are locked into place quite tightly. If you grip and lift it by one of the wrist rests, it may flex enough to click the trackpad. This happened to me several times, but it is an easy habit to break.

The hinge and display bezel are probably the cheapest-feeling parts. The display Chromebook I saw at a local Best Buy had been damaged by being bent too far back. I am hesitant to risk the screen on my own Chromebook, so I have been very cautious with it. The bezel flexes quite a bit near the bottom, though to be fair this is a spot on the laptop most people won’t be touching. Having been spoiled by the smooth-gliding hinges on Unibody MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs, I found opening the Chromebook to require more effort than I’d like. It’s not that the hinge isn’t perfectly functional, it’s just that you won’t be opening it up one-handed any time soon.

The hinge is also an ugly lump on an otherwise smooth lid, making it hard to stow the Chromebook in a bag without concern for damaging either it.

Display

The first thing most people notice about laptops is their screen. A notebook’s display is one of its primary interfaces with the user. If the screen is hard to read, it makes the experience unbearable. The SS3c’s screen is an 11.6 inch, 1366×768 matte LCD with an LED backlight. That’s 137 pixels per inch, which is sharp but not retina-display sharp. Its brightness is measured at 200 nits, which is reasonably bright. However, that’s its maximum brightness, which means that lowering brightness to increase battery life can make things hard to read.

All things considered, the display is okay for the price. Mid-range PC laptops still fall into the same range of brightness and pixel density, and even the 11-inch MacBook Air is the same resolution, though it is nearly twice as bright. Viewing angles are not great, either, so don’t expect to show off videos or presentations to onlookers via the built-in display.

The SS3c has a light sensor which automatically adjusts screen brightness to help improve battery life. This can be very annoying, and can only be disabled by putting the Chromebook in Developer Mode, which is not particularly user-friendly, and not likely to happen in corporate and educational environments. How annoying is it? If you move your head, the shadow it casts can hit the light sensor and in turn make the display go quite dim. I have a habit of leaning in when I read; every time I do this the SS3c goes dim.

Because the display is matte, you trade color vibrancy for glare reduction. It tends to make colors slightly dull. Nothing pops off the screen like it does on glossy laptops, but you can also type in almost any light. If you are just typing up a document this isn’t a big deal, but if you are watching a video on Netflix you won’t be wowed by the clarity. The matte display on my MacBook Pro doesn’t seem to be quite as dull, but, again, it cost a lot more money.

The SS3c has an HDMI output. It works well enough, though it takes a little more force than I’d like to plug an HDMI cable in. A key combination will swap the launcher bar from one display to another, but I could not get display mirroring to work; it displayed an error every time I hit the key combination to enable it.

I tested dual display mode for a few hours, and found that while there was a bit of choppiness, it was nothing unbearable. Videos occasionally skipped a frame, and scrolling web pages wasn’t as smooth as when running solely on the built-in display. I did not spend a lot of time trying to get video mirroring to work, but I imagine that if it did(or if you could disable the built-in display) things might operate a bit more smoothly. I will look into the issue further for my final review.

Keyboard

Since first gaining popularity on Sony VAIOs and MacBooks, the chiclet keyboard has become nearly ubiquitous. Although they lack the strong tactile feedback of older keyboards, they are quiet and low-profile. They tend to look neater, though they don’t do much to actually keep dirt and other particles from sneaking in.

The first thing I noticed about the keyboard on the SS3c is the lack of a backlight. I have been using MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs for my personal and work computers for some time now, and I cannot stress how fantastic a backlit keyboard is. I tend to prefer ambient lighting to direct lighting, which often means the labels on keys are hard to see. During frantic typing sessions this hardly matters, but when your fingers aren’t on the home row you’ll find yourself squinting.

The bigger issue I’ve had with the SS3c’s keyboard is that the keys occasionally get stuck. They quickly click back into place on their own, but when you are hammering away at the keys, it is disconcerting to have one stick. The faster I type, the more often this seems to happen. There have also been a few instances where it has missed keypresses, or even entire small words, although I think this is likely due to software, not hardware. If you plan on doing a lot of super-fast typing, this may not be the keyboard for you. You can plug in a USB keyboard and go nuts, but that would significantly limit the portability of laptop at that point.

Chromebook keyboards vary slightly from the norm; instead of a Caps Lock key, there is a search key. Instead of a platform-specific function key, like the Windows key or Apple’s Command key, the ctrl and alt keys are wider on the left side. Other standard keys are the same as those on any other chiclet keyboard. The Chromebook also doesn’t have F-keys in the traditional sense; function keys exist, but are all in place to adjust hardware settings or act as quick-keys for browser functions like go back, go forward, or reload.

Trackpad

Talk to someone who has used a unibody Mac laptop and they’ll probably swear by the trackpad and its gestures. Talk to someone using a pre-Windows 8 laptop and they’ll likely swear about their trackpad. A well-designed trackpad is a thing of beauty; a bad one feels like a punishment.

The trackpad on the SS3c is a bit thinner than I’d like. It is positioned in such a way that it rarely gets in the way while typing(although it sometimes does). It does not track as smoothly as a MacBook’s glass trackpad, but its relatively large size makes it very easy to use. If the extent of your trackpad experience is with old PC laptops, you will probably be pleasantly surprised. If you have used a current-generation notebook or mobile device, you will probably be underwhelmed. It feels just shy of perfectly responsive: not enough to affect productivity, but just enough to be noticeable. Two-finger clicking and scrolling in particular seem like they could be refined a bit more. In the end, it is functional but not outstanding.

Storage, Online and Off

The SS3c has 16 gigabytes of storage on a solid state drive(SSD). SSDs offer significantly faster performance compared to the spinning platters of traditional hard drives, as well as a lack of moving parts to break. Their downside is their cost, and this is readily apparent with the paltry amount of storage provided. For comparison, the $199 Chromebook by Acer includes a 160 GB traditional hard drive.

That said, it doesn’t matter too much. The Chromebook is all about cloud storage, and as long as you don’t plan on storing hours of video or high-res photography(which the Chromebook isn’t designed for anyway), you will not feel the squeeze. Everything on this laptop is tied into Google’s web-based services, so local storage isn’t even an issue for the most part.

Google is so keen on proving their point on this subject that they’ve included 100 GB of online storage via their Google Drive service to anyone purchasing this particular model of Chromebook, as well as some other devices.

Let’s put the provided 16 gigabytes of storage in perspective: back in the 1990’s, entire runs of encyclopedias were stored on 650 megabyte CDs. The Chromebook has over 24 times that amount of space. You’ll have plenty of room for text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations, as well as room for some pictures and videos. Just don’t expect to store your music collection or video collection on-board.

To put you at ease about media access, remember this: Google provides web-based storage for music — Google Music will hold up to 25,000 of your songs. Amazon Instant, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube all work on the Chromebook, as well.

Processor and Other Hardware

If you’re the type to examine the specs of a device before buying, the Chromebook won’t excite you much. Powered by a dual-core Exynos 5 with a quad-core GPU, the SS3c’s processor is on the mid-to-high end of mobile processors. The Exynos can’t hold a candle to the processors found in higher-end laptops, and even most mid-range ones. It has enough oomph for general web use, though, and unless you open up a ton of tabs with complicated pages, you shouldn’t worry too much. I typically have four to eight tabs open, and only a few pages have ever given the Chromebook pause.

I haven’t had a chance to put the Chromebook through its paces, though. I’ll try some games out before the final review in three weeks time.

Media Playback

When I was in junior high and high school, multimedia was the buzzword of the day. The idea of using a computer to play back videos and music had just started to take hold. This led to the era of the MP3, which begat portable media players and iTunes. In turn, this led to world streaming media services like Hulu, Netflix, and Spotify. Now, everything with a screen and a processor seems to play back video, and the Chromebook is no exception. It has been able to process every video I threw at it, though not always perfectly.

Unfortunately, media playback is a mixed bag on the Chromebook. Most major sites, like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube, worked fantastically, and presented acceptable picture quality. I was less impressed with the results from my personal Plex media server. Higher resolution video from every source had occasional hiccups, but Plex presented sub-par image quality. 1080p and 720p videos that look great on my Retina iPad appeared to play back at a lower-than-HD resolution on the Chromebook.

The lower-quality screen on the Chromebook also means grainer, muddier colors, and poorer viewing angles than the average tablet. Even a vibrant, super-saturated show like Pushing Daisies looks a little washed out. However, I would say video quality falls into the range of acceptable, but never impressive.

One thing I can say without equivocation is that the speakers on this thing suck. Audio sounds distorted and blown out even at low(less than 30% up from muted) volumes. The downward-firing speakers also mean that sound will be muffled if the laptop is placed on anything but a hard surface. They ARE stereo, which beats the iPad in terms of sound separation, but there is absolutely nothing else to praise regarding them. They get the job done, but not much else. They’re minimum wage speakers. I suppose Samsung had to cut costs somewhere.

Security and Privacy

Everything on the Chromebook runs through Google’s Chrome browser, even apps, and that means security on the Chromebook is tighter than almost any other device. While no computer or operating system is ever perfectly secure, ChromeOS is about as locked down as it gets. At the time I am writing this article, Chrome is just as secure as any of the other major web browsers, and it’s automatic updating of both itself and Adobe Flash means you’ll get fixes for known issues as soon as they are available.

Privacy is a different matter: everything you do on the Chromebook is going back to Google in some way. If you trust Google — and many people, including tech experts, do — you have nothing to worry about. If you’re paranoid or just big on privacy, the Chromebook may be your worst nightmare.

It’s worth noting that Google isn’t spying so much as collecting useful, semi-anonymous data to help them advertise and improve services. But this will be little comfort to someone who isn’t keen on sharing personal data. Remember: low-cost hardware and free web services pay for themselves in different ways. If you aren’t paying, you’re the product.

Just a Browser?

You’d be surprised at how much web technology has improved in the last two decades. A Chromebook is literally a web browser with a task bar, but for general, day-to-day work this is more than enough. I have written both this article and the previous Chromebook article entirely on this Samsung Series 3. I have watched full movies and tv shows, read numerous RSS feeds, updated my Facebook status, and more. The only thing I haven’t done with it is play games or convert media. I’ll be giving the former a try in the near future; the latter simply isn’t possible on this device.

Power users will want more options than a Chromebook currently offers, but you can do real work in a browser. Unless the work you do is fairly technical (ie, programming, CAD, graphics, or video, on a professional level), the Chromebook is likely to meet your needs.

The Logical Evolution of the Netbook

Google recently introduced the Chromebook Pixel, a proof-of-concept high-end Chromebook with an ultra-high resolution touchscreen and higher-end processor. Though the Pixel trumps the SS3c in nearly every metric possible, it also costs over five times as much. ChromeOS’ premise is that your computer’s muscle doesn’t matter anymore, so it doesn’t seem like spending an arm and a leg on a Chromebook makes much sense for the average user.

If you are a student, the portability and low cost of a Samsung Series 3 Chromebook may make it the perfect choice for a main computer. It boots in seconds and easily lasts over 5 and a half hours without a charge.

If you are in the market for a tablet or secondary computer, you owe it to your checking account or credit score to at least take a Chromebook for a spin. If most of what you’re doing takes place in a browser or Microsoft Office/Office clone, the versatility of the Chromebook may surprise you.

If you know someone who is afraid of computers for fear of “breaking” them, the Chromebook is a safe way to get them comfortable with technology. A beginner has absolutely nothing to fear with a Chromebook, though they’ll still need some lessons to get started.

I don’t know if I’ll be keeping the Chromebook after I am done reviewing it. I already have both a MacBook Pro and an iPad. It seems superfluous. If it had a slightly better keyboard and could run Scrivener, I’d keep it as a writing machine. Still, it has three weeks to change my mind.

Chromebook: Day One


A stock photo of the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook.A stock photo of the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook.

A stock photo of the Samsung Series 3 Chromebook.

Today I started messing around with a Chromebook. Specifically, a Samsung Series 3 Chromebook. Chromebooks are designed around Google’s Chrome web browser. Aside from a few built-in apps, everything runs through Chrome. This also means that everything on the laptop is linked to a Google account. Chromebooks will synchronize much of the data locally, so you don’t need a constant internet connection, but the Chromebook experience largely depends on having one.

I am going to reserve final judgement on the hardware until I’ve had more time to mess with it, but I’ll break down the specs for you. It has an 11.6 inch display, with a resolution of 1366 x 768. Outside of the display, keyboard, and trackpad, most of the Chromebook’s hardware is based on mobile technology. It has a dual-core ARM processor, which isn’t as powerful as a higher-end laptop, but it sips batteries instead of chugging them. It has 2 GB of RAM, which would have been standard on a laptop in 2007. It has 16 gigabytes of onboard storage — the same as an iPod Nano. There is also the obligatory webcam.  In fact, with the exception of the keyboard and display, you’re basically getting a Galaxy S III, though the processor in the Chromebook is a little faster than those found in its pocket-sized brethren.

None of this sounds very impressive, but there’s one more very important fact one needs to know about the Chromebook: it costs $249. That isn’t a typo. This little laptop isn’t even the lowest-end model(it is one rung above it; I wouldn’t recommend going any lower). The specs aren’t particularly exciting, but the bang for the buck is undeniable. My few hours with the device so far have proven the hardware to be equal to its expected tasks.

How much work can you get done in a web browser? Well, a lot, as it turns out. Google has been pushing their suite of office applications for some time; they’re just as functional here. Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides cover the commonly used Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, respectively. While Office power-users will likely find something to lament in a transition to Google’s alternatives, like the lack of a simple Mail Merge, but for general use these apps are perfectly useable. Advanced features are available, but you need to learn Google’s App Scripting language to take advantage of them.

ChromeOS can be extended by downloading apps from the Chrome Web Store, which features a surprising variety of applications. Most of them are just links to web-based services, but installing the apps gives them rights to sync their data to your Chromebook, letting you use them offline. There are a multitude of games, many of them popular iOS, Android, and Facebook ports.

Chrome has built-in support for Flash and Java, so websites that normally falter on mobile devices still function well. Netflix and Hulu videos play without skipping a beat, straight from the web. I have watched several 720p videos on it. I’ve read that 1080p video should work as well, but I have not tried that yet.

So, after just a few hours with the Chromebook, I have to say I am impressed. Sure, it is mostly just a web browser with a laptop shell around it, but it has been responsive and quick. I’m going to take a few weeks to really dig into this thing and see how it handles the full Impoverished Geek experience. I’ll talk in more detail next week, and in a month I will follow up with long-term impressions.

Confessions of a Digital Hoarder

I used to look at this and think: one day, this will all be mine.The collections many geeks amass wind up being one step short of hoarding. We insist upon having every example of whatever thing strikes our fancy; for me, this is a trifecta of video games, movies, and music. For a long time, it wasn’t uncommon for people to enter my home for the first time and be rendered speechless by the bookcases lined with various types of optical media and video game cartridges. I would boast proudly of the fact that my DVD collection alone was approaching 400 titles, and I was very proud of the fact that I’d wired nine video game consoles to a single television set. My home was (and remains) a nerd paradise, due in no small part to the geeky habit of collecting.

In the late 90’s, collecting music became remarkably easier with the popularity of the MP3 and the rise of piracy platforms like the original incarnation of Napster. The playlist replaced the mix tape, and my once-overflowing shelf of compact discs remained somewhat stagnant. I still purchased albums by artists I really liked, but one-hit wonders and music for friends began to litter my music library. Girls I dated would add their music to my collection, and vice versa. By 2005, my music library held something in the area of 4,000 songs and 15 gigabytes of hard drive space. I purchased my first iPod with a bonus check and proceeded to re-rip many of my albums at a higher bitrate so I could hear my favorite songs in higher quality.

A few years down the road, I purchsed an 80 gigabyte video iPod that was I would fill equally with music and tv shows (mostly The Office). On a fateful night, likely due to my own meddling, my laptop bit the dust. Having lived paycheck-to-paycheck for some time, the idea of buying a new computer outright was pretty much impossible. For a few days, I tried to repair the iBook, and though I could get it running for a few days, the hard drive would always freak out within 48 hours.

My iTunes library was, thankfully, entirely synchronized to the iPod. Though Apple didn’t support syncing files from the iPod to a computer, there were ways to make that happen. Still, without a computer to sync to, my music library was stuck in a sort of limbo, never improving or evolving. It didn’t take long for me to start feeling the loss of my computer, and it was then that I made a somewhat life-altering decision: I was going to sell my rare video games to fund the purchase of a new laptop.

The realization was simple: I used my computer ever single day. I used it to listen to music, to communicate, to read, to educate myself, and to just pass time. My collection languished on a shelf, there to impress the occasional onlooker but little else. Many of the games I’d once loved were now playable via Nintendo’s Virtual Console on the Wii, and, if I was really strapped for cash, most old games were playable for free(albeit illegally) thanks to the magic of emulation. So, what was more important: a stack of plastic used to denote status among people with very little status to begin with, or a small portable device that connected me to the world? The choice was obvious.

One of several bins I used to keep under my bed or in the closet.I never had any incredibly rare games. I wasn’t one of those people who bought games and left them sealed in their original shrink wrap, so I wasn’t pulling in huge amounts of money for each title. In aggregate, however, I did take in well over $1,000, and it was enough to get me halfway to a new MacBook Pro. My parents agreed to loan me enough to cover the rest so that I could buy the laptop I wanted rather than buy one that was just enough to get buy. I named that portable powerhouse “Faust,” as I’d sold my soul to get another object I desired even more.

I didn’t give up anything in the way of music or movies, however, and the collection on my computer continued to grow. My music library was now over 50 gigabytes(10,000 songs), and I had to start choosing which movies and tv shows would fill the remaining space on my iPod rather than just throw the entire library on it. I replaced the 250 gigabyte hard drive in my laptop with one double the size, and proceeded to fill that one, too. I started burning the smaller iPod-formatted videos I’d made and/or downloaded onto DVD-R discs so I could free up space on my computer for new content. 

Through all this, I became not only a hoarder of digital bits, but a resolute completionist. If I had one song by an artist, I had to have the entire album that song came from. If I liked an artist, I needed their entire discography. I’d buy every season of a TV show I liked, and every movie in a series, even if I didn’t care much for some of them (SpiderMan 3, for example). I never deleted anything.

In late 2010, I started making a much more decent wage and undertook an even crazier ambition: I built a media server. I got hold of a used MacMini and hooked it up to my TV. I already had a pair of external hard drives to hold the shows I’d been hoarding, and a second one that was even bigger to act as a backup in case the first one failed. With the help of Plex, a free piece of software that manages and serves up media, I found myself with instant access to any form of passive entertainment I could ever want. In time, I collected an array of large hard drives that until recently held over three terabytes (that’s over 3,000 gigabytes) of video and nearly 70 gigabytes of music(over 14,000 songs).

I found myself falling into that same rut of wanting to have everything — just in case. I wanted to have the perfect song for any occasion, and access to any tv show I could think of in case the whim to watch it came over me. Every Netflix disc that arrived in my mailbox was ripped and moved to the digital library, regardless of whether I liked the film. Because, who knows, maybe one day someone would want to watch it. I was ripping Blu-Ray movies at full quality. That’s around 10 gigabytes an hour!

It got to the point that the only way I’d be able to add more media would be to build another hard drive array — something that costs hundreds of dollars I wasn’t looking to spend. I started browsing through my collection of TV shows and found ones I had no intention of watching again. I found shows I’d put on there for friends to watch that I had no interest in. Some for friends I wasn’t even talking to anymore! “Just in case” was never going to happen. I had no intention of watching the first season of Grey’s Anatomy; I’d downloaded it in case a friend wanted to watch the show from the beginning again. Deleted. I was never going to watch Coupling; I’d converted it to iPod format for a friend. Deleted. And so on. I freed up almost 500 gigabytes of space.

Last year, Apple made an announcement I’d been waiting for since the original iPhone: a phone that had enough storage for a large music library. A 64 GB iPhone 4S is still too small to hold my entire music library, but I was sure that if I got rid of some of the music I didn’t listen to, it would fit. I’d only feel the need to carry one device instead of two(an iPod Classic and a smartphone)! Through it all, I still felt the need to have access to every song I’d ever heard, just in case.

The emptiest my DVD shelf has been in over a decade.For the last couple weeks, I have been pruning my iTunes library. I’m down to 9,187 songs, and little over 48 gigabytes of space taken up. I’m not done. Each song I delete stings a little bit, but at the same time, a burden feels lifted. This library is for me, after all. Why was I keeping songs I didn’t even like? Am I ever going to find myself wanting to listen to Duncan Sheik? (Answer: no.) Do I really need every remix of Enjoy the Silence ever written? (Answer: no. Plus, my buddy Dmitry probably has them all should the unlikely need ever arise). Will I ever have the free time to listen to old episodes of Retronauts or Judge John Hodgman?(Answer: not likely.)

Collecting is a time-honored nerd tradition. But I don’t run a museum. I don’t even have the space for “one of everything.” My need to have it all eats up time and money, and I don’t even enjoy the majority of it. I have video games on my shelf I have yet to play. Albums I’ve never listened to all the way through. Books I have every intention of reading, but haven’t. And more than that, stories of my own I should be writing.

Forget fear: collecting is the mind-killer. The more I break free of the need to possess everything, the freer I become.