3 Generally Awesome YouTube Channels

You know what, I’m still reeling from illness and haven’t talked about anything positive for a while. So, let’s shout out some talented people.

The last time I had something nice to say about YouTube was when I shared a trio of channels for the artsy DIYer. Today, I just want to go off on three channels that had nothing in common other than just being a lot of fun and offering something nice and/or useful to the viewer. So, let’s just get happy and celebrate some cool people.

The Obscure

The tongue-in-cheek review has been a staple of internet entertainment for as long as most of us can remember the internet. However, they’ve almost always come from a stance of crapping on old media for laughs.

The Obscure stands out from the horde of angry reviewers by demonstrating genuine nostalgia for the things of the past that mirrors the fond memories that we have for our favorites-gone-by; offered through the character of someone with all the enthusiasm of someone who probably shouldn’t have dropped the brown acid at Woodstock.

While the goofy comedy is the primary draw, The Obscure does occasionally drop some insight on us; showing how these things long-forgotten helped shape popular consciousness today.

AvE

Here’s a little something special for the handymen in the audience.

AvE may be a little to foul-mouthed and rough around the edges for some, but for me, he more than makes up for it with his knowledge of tools and machining.

AvE combines his experience as an engineer with his glorious and uniquely Canadian sense of humor (“skookum as frig,” has become one of my favorite phrases) to teach us the nuts and bolts of making your way around a DIYer’s workshop. In amongst his workshop tricks, he also works on his series, ‘Bored Of Lame Tool Reviews’ (BOLTR for short) where he disassembles and analyzes everyday tools and appliances to determine if they’re actually worth your money.

CGP Grey

An American-born teacher living in England, CGP Grey is the kind of person you want to run an educational YouTube channel; someone you genuinely enjoys teaching and believes that knowledge can change the world.

CGP Grey covers a broad swath of topics including modern technology, civics, politics, and geography while explaining in clear terms why these things are so important to know and how they affect us. Overall, he’s very good at making you care about what he’s saying with a calm, mellow, and charismatic voice.

He also has a podcast with his friend Brady at Numberphile if you need more knowledge dropped on you by people WAY smarter than I could ever hope to be.

How To Get the Most Enjoyment Out Of Pokémon GO

Trainers can now live the dream.
Source: Game Rant

So, like every nerd in America that grew up with it and has been asking for it since the invention of augmented reality gaming, I freaked out when Pokémon GO finally went live in the U.S. In fact, I’m literally writing this after an hour long hike through my neighborhood to get a feel for the new world (thanks for contributing to my fitness regiment, by the way).

However, I’ve already started to see some complaints on the horizon; ones that aren’t entirely the fault of the game.

So, in an attempt to help future trainers and speaking as a veteran of Niantic Inc.’s last AR explore-a-thon – Ingress, here are some tips to keep you safe and happy on your new Pokémon adventure.

Tip #1: DON’T train and drive

Shame on you all; you aren’t even wearing seat belts.
Source: AlphaXXI @ DeviantArt

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it was a HUGE problem back in my Ingress days. People would hack and attack portals while behind the wheel and stare at their phones instead of watching the road. And I foresee similar problems here.

Fortunately, the way Pokémon GO incorporates your phone’s camera makes the most important aspects of being a Pokémon Master impossible to do from a car anyway. You need to be able to look around freely to see wild Pokémon and line up your throws (yes, you have to aim your Pokéballs in this game).

Still, that isn’t much consolation from people who ignore the next item on the list.

Tip #2: While you’re at it, don’t train and WALK

Now imagine if it really WAS a tanker truck.
Source: Mike-Dragon @ DeviantArt

I realize this may seem counter-intuitive to some, but let me explain.

There have been complaints of people staring intently at their phones while walking and not seeing the oncoming car as they cross the street BEFORE Pokémon GO showed up (thanks for that one, texting and social media). Now we ALREADY have reports of that happening with Pokémon GO.

My advice; make use of the game’s vibrate function to give a tactile alert when a wild Pokémon shows up. Or, better yet, invest in a half-way decent pair of earbuds and listen for the sound of them leaping out of the tall grass.

Speaking of things to invest in…

Tip #3: Get a power bank

No, not THAT kind of bank…
Source: pokemonbank.com

This is something everyone with a smartphone should have anyway for emergencies, but it’s nigh crucial to get the most out of Pokémon GO.

Like IngressPokémon GO uses your GPS to track where you are in relation to key in-game locations –  gyms and Pokéstops in this case. The problem is that your GPS is a MASSIVE power draw. That, combined with the power needed to run the game, ensured that my battery was half-dead by the time I finished my aforementioned morning hunt.

To that end, you should have a portable power bank handy to keep you in the game if you intend on any extended trips. To help you out, here’s a fine article on Digital Trends to aid you in shopping around. Personally, I’m fond of the EasyAcc solar power bank.

Tip #4: Don’t forget to take a break

The benefits of TM44.
Source: fishki.net

We gamers are used to being told to peel ourselves away from marathons of our favorite games to stave off the negative effects of a sedentary lifestyle. But even a physically active game like Pokémon GO requires you to not over-do it.

While it’s good to get out and exercise (believe it or not, PokéFitness is a thing), It’s a good idea to take at least 2 minutes to catch your breath for every 10 minutes of moderate to strenuous work. Also, keep a bottle handy for water or a hydration pack if you’re CRAZY dedicated to your jog.

3 More Wonderfully Weird Music Genres

So, while glancing at the last months worth of articles, I noticed a trend of pessimism that needs to be curtailed.

To that end, I’ve decided to delve deep into The Archive and provide a continuation of my exploration of bizarre and brilliant things going on in music. Let’s not waste time and get right into the fun bits.

All-Female Metal Tributes

I was born and raised as a metalhead. My parents fed me a steady stream of the Hair Metal they grew up with like KISS and Poison as well as Hard Rock (all Metal’s common ancestor) like AC/DC and Aerosmith. However, as I grow older, I’ve noticed a problem with Metal; despite how many girls I know that love it, the only time you see women in the genre are on the questionable and often exploitative album art.

Apparently, some lovely ladies agreed that this was wrong and took it upon themselves to take a few extraneous Y-chromosomes out of the sound by forming all-female tribute bands dedicated to some of the greats of Metal. Some notable bands in the genre include Judas Priestess, Hells Belles, and my favorite on the basis of the name alone; Vag Halen.

It’s no mistake that this is the first genre I cover in this article after verbally tearing Meghan Trainor a superabundant sphincter last week. It seems that many female artists are forgetting that feminism is NOT narrow-minded self-interest and nursing a superiority complex. We need more people in the world that actually care about adding to the scope and range of voices heard in media. And that’s why I love this genre.

It’s also why I love…

Queercore

In much the same way that the above mentioned all-female metal tributes were born from women being excluded from the Metal scene, so to was queercore (aka; homocore) born from the inherently homophobic vibes of 80’s hardcore punk and created an alternative for those being excluded that enjoyed the sound.

Bands and artists in queercore use the same naming conventions as our AFMT friends above. Only instead of feminizing existing bands and songs, they ‘gay them up’ as it were. This results in bands like Youth of Togay, Cockwind, and Gayrilla Biscuits.

My favorite though has to be Black Fag – who not only donate the proceeds from tours to charities in the gay community but also do the best cover of T.V. Party I’ve ever heard.

Chap-Hop

And you thought this was just going to be politicized tribute bands…

You know what my beef is with modern mainstream rap? The class is gone. Back in the day, rap and hip-hop were fun and happy, even as they talked about serious issues. Old school rappers in the 80’s and early 90’s would still brag and boast, but did so with an air of dignity. Basically, rap forgot how to be a gentleman.

Leave it to the British to remind us how to be classy.

Chap-hop is the combination of modern rap and that distinctly British men’s fashion trend; chap. The result is a sound that blends rap-style production with a sound that wouldn’t be out of place on a 1900’s photograph and coats it in hilarious boasting lyrics about stereotypically gentlemanly things like tea, mustache grooming,  and playing cricket.

Chap-hop has bled into another odd subculture, steampunk, and you can find many chap-hop artists like Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, Poplock Holmes, and Professor Elemental performing at conventions.

3 Games For Pen-and-Paper RPG Fans That Are Bored With Dungeons & Dragons

Now, don’t let the title of this article mislead you. I have nothing against Dungeons & Dragons as a game. There’s a reason why D&D and its various spin-offs, knock-offs, and tributes have endured for so long among hardcore gamers. It really is that good and there’s just something satisfying about creating/playing your own unique story.

But, let’s be brutally honest. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life. A person needs new experiences to stay psychologically balanced and retain mental plasticity; learning new skills and interacting in and with fresh environments is key to our well being.

To put it in layman’s terms, you can only eat so many Oreo cookies before you start begging for a Nutter Butter.

To that end, here are three Pen-an-Paper RPGs that I’ve personally played that I would argue were just as much fun – if not more so – than D&D.

Spycraft

Given how many books and games came up when I searched for this, I’m amazed there haven’t been more copyright disputes.
Source: Wikipedia

You’d be surprised just how much a change of setting can be refreshing. With so many RPGs being Fantasy or Sci-Fi oriented, it’s nice to see one set in something that approximates the modern world.

Spycraft is not a huge departure from D&D in terms of rules; it still utilizes the d20 system and has similar rules regarding stats. So players making the transition won’t be too lost.

What’s nice is that the setting forces a more “cerebral” style of gameplay. Regardless of the Dungeon Master’s intent, it’s surprisingly easy (at least, in my experience) for a D&D campaign to devolve into hack-and-slash, kick-in-the-door, barbarism. In Spycraft, the setting of covert ops and tactical espionage tends to lead one into thinking with strategy in mind – stealthy infiltrations, high-stakes negotiations, black hat hacking and the like. And this is reflected in game with the use of Stress Damage during emotionally draining missions.

This isn’t to say that a good D&D game can’t force players into mental gymnastics or that a bad Spycraft game can’t be thick as manure and only half as useful, but it’s nice to have that guiding hand sometimes.

Eclipse Phase

Yes, there are mentally enhanced octopuses in this game. Yes, you can play as one.
Source: DriveThruRPG.com

The promise of the future is both exciting and bleak. Leave it to the post-apocalyptic world of Eclipse Phase to catch both ends of that.

Yeah, the various colonized worlds are mostly toilet bowls of full slime and privacy is a thing of ancient history. But we now have Morphs – designer bodies built for specific tasks that people can download their consciousness into making us effectively immortal (as long as you have cash). What’s more, everyone has what amounts to a wireless internet connection in their heads that lets them use social media to run highly accurate background checks on everyone INCLUDING the authorities resulting in a system of law enforcement where everyone polices everyone. Sounds pretty badass!

The coolest thing about Eclipse Phase to me though was it’s rejection of the d20 system in favor of a percentile or d100 system. Basically, the massive bag of dice of varying shapes that most tabletop role players keep are simplified down to two 10-sided dice that can represent a value of one to one hundred. Every task has a percentage of failure/success based on difficulty that’s modified by your set of skills and experiences and your success is determined by whether or not you roll above or below that threshold. It’s much more simple to grasp for newcomers to the Pen-and-Paper RPG genre.

Paranoia

“Oh, for the love of – Really, Dave? You couldn’t last, like, 30 seconds?”
Source: Wikipedia

Who could have guessed that the dystopian world of 1984 could be so full of wacky hijinks?

This, again, comes down to that change of setting I mentioned. There aren’t too many RPGs out there that are INTENDED to be played for laughs. The goal of Paranoia isn’t to complete an epic quest or bring down a corrupt system; you’re just trying to force your friends to die in the most hilarious ways possible to ensure your own survival and win Big Broth – um, “Friend Computer’s” love and approval while trying not to get caught doing anything questionable.

Growing up, I remember so many people manipulating the rules of D&D with homebrewed monsters and items in the name of comedy (I distinctly remember one campaign including a “Belt of Masculine/Feminine-kind” that permanently swapped the gender of the wearer and then immediately loses its power to revert them back). It’s nice to see a game can be just as much goofy fun without the DM having to bend the rules backwards to do it.

The Agent’s Summer Enjoyment Assurance Kit

Here in New Hampshire, we recently had a stretch of rather sudden hot weather and are only now getting some much needed cooling rain. As such, it’s time to start planning for summer.

Now, I shared my preferred summer activities previously here at the archive. However, I failed to touch on how much fun could be had a la carte. We all get the urge for an impromptu adventure once and a while. As such, you need to have your necessary gear together for just such an occasion.

So, in this week’s topic, I’ll be sharing my summer survival kit for maximizing fun this season.

Item #1: Your Bank Account

Dolla dolla bills, ya’ll.
Source: Century Products LLC

It’s never a good idea to travel without cash on hand. You never know when you may travel farther than expected and need to fill your gas tank or get the urge to stop by that burger shack you’ve been thinking of checking out.

Most people keep a written record of their purchases and deposits, but it’s a good practice to get into to check your account balance – either online or at an ATM – before every trip just to be on the safe side.

Item #2 Utility Kilt (With Optional Sporran)

#ScottishnessIntensifies (yes, that is me)

It’s hot. Like, really hot. You don’t want to wear jeans and shorts are only a mild improvement.

As stated in my very first article, I’m a proponent of the Utility Kilt. They’re comfortable, functional, and stylish (I get tons of compliments on my style when I leave the house). They also allow breathability to the parts of the body most likely to be bound in multiple layers of clothing.

What’s more, most “Utilikilts” sport exterior pockets that hold more than the average pants pocket and are more comfortable; no more car keys jabbing you in the hip.

Still not enough storage space for you? You could get a satchel bag, but that’s a lot of uncomfortable pressure on your shoulder. Why not compliment your new kilt with a sporran (that leather pouch that hangs in the front of the kilt). They’re surprisingly inexpensive and look awesome.

Item #3 Baby Powder

Now when you say you’re going to the powder room, you can mean it.
Source: Electronic Products

Okay, let’s get into hygiene.

In happens every summer; you start sweating hard in the sun which causes your nethers to chafe under the combination of heat, moisture, and friction.

There’s a simple answer to the problem that your mom was using on you as a babe – baby powder.

Baby Powder (or, failing that, pure cornstarch) works by absorbing moisture. Dusting a healthy dose on your undercarriage helps to protect against groin chafing and the most dreaded of all summer time faux pas – Swamp Ass.

Item #4 The Multi-Tool

If it’s good enough for those pseudo-survivalist guys on T.V., it’s good enough for us, right?
Source: Tech On The Side

It’s the one thing that I will carry with me at all times year round, but gets the most use in the summer – my trusted, carefully maintained, well-honed, multi-tool.

You don’t really need a complicated, fancy multi-tool like the a Leatherman either. All you need are a few basic essentials to help you on your summer frolics.

Going camping? You’ve got a pen knife for cutting rope and preparing food. Invited to a party or a cook-out? You brought your own bottle opener. Rebuilding your favorite [insert prized possession here]? Most multi-tools have at least two screwdrivers and a set of pliers.

It’s the right tool for any job… or any joy for that matter.

Three Christmas Songs I will Never Get Tired Of

Last week, I gave you a short list of songs that manage to suck the Christmas joy out of me every time I hear them (and as we all know, sucking out joy is ‘Disney Evil’).

So in an attempt to lighten the mood, it’s only fair that I look at the other end of the spectrum.

These are songs that have stuck with me long enough that they’ve become a yearly tradition and I can’t call it Christmas until I’ve heard them at least once.

Snoopy’s Christmas (Snoopy Vs. The Red Baron) – The Royal Guardsmen

I actually know a number of people who don’t like or even hate the Peanuts comics and T.V. specials. But, for me, they were a formative part of my youth. They were the earliest cartoons I remember seeing.

Even ignoring the nostalgic comfort of the image of Snoopy boldly flying his dog house into battle, the story behind this song reflects what the holidays are all about in a microcosm; two people pitted against one another putting aside their affiliations to remember that they are both human (or canine as the case may be) and kin. And even though they know that they will likely meet again as enemies, they can forget their animosities for at least one day.

This song serves to remind me that we have the ability to seek out and obtain peace, effectively restoring my faith in humanity.

The Little Drummer Boy – Various Artists

This one would have to make the list regardless how I constructed it.

Sadly, in these more conservative times, I feel this song falls by the wayside due to its religious connotations and people fearing that they may offend someone. But if you look past that, you can see the true touching nature of this little carol.

The titular boy is practically destitute and has no gifts to offer; all he can do is play a small song on his drum. But that little kindness is still felt and cherished. During a time known as ‘The Season of Giving’, wouldn’t you want a song that reflects that spirit so well?

For my money, the best versions of The Little Drummer Boy focus mostly, if not exclusively, on the percussion for obvious reasons and get more powerful and booming near the end as the boy, “[plays his] best for him.” That said, I have yet to find a single one of the over thirty covers of this song I don’t like.

Wait, Justin Bieber covered it with Busta Rhymes?! NOOOOOO!!!

The 12 Days Of Christmas – Straight No Chaser

What would ‘The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year’ be without a few good laughs?

Leave it to Straight No Chaser to take some of the most tired and overused Christmas anthems (plus one stray Chanukah song and a one-hit wonder from the 80’s) and breathe new life into them by creating a medley of hilarity.

The humor here is subtle. By combining so many staples of Christmas music, they satirize the way many of us feel during the holidays whenever those carols play – every song just fades into one another creating a big bland mess of sound.

Props to you, Straight No Chaser for saying what we’re all thinking in the most creative way possible.

Bonus: Santa Claus and His Old Lady – Cheech & Chong

It’s not music, but it just feels wrong to leave my most important and favorite Christmas audio tradition out of this list.

If you can’t laugh and slacker comedy pioneers Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong, you have no soul and I can’t help you – close your browser window and just walk away.

This little recorded anecdote between the two most famous stoners in the history of comedy covers Cheech’s attempts to explain the story of Santa Claus to Chong because he, “[doesn’t] know too many local dudes.”

The humor comes from the fact that Cheech is attempting to explain the story in the only terms they can understand – putting it in the context of a sub-standard urban community like the one they live in. When you realize that, you also come to realize that every culture on earth has been doing the same thing for thousands of years.

Thanks for the Christmas cheer, you two. May your tree not be the only green you have this year.

Fun and Games: A Brief Look at Three Indie Games

It seems like it’s been some time since I did an in depth review of a game I’ve been playing. The only problem is that I don’t feel I’ve played any game thoroughly enough to do a proper review (Translation: I’m still trying to get used to the new work schedule and just haven’t had the energy to do a proper playthrough).

So instead, I’ve decided to take a quick look at a few games that have held my attention lately. I may revisit them for a proper review later, but I hope that for now, this will have piqued a few interested minds.

Amazing Princess Sarah

“Sure, I’m burning the flesh off my hands holding her, but don’t I look awesome.”
Source Indie DB

You would think that a game where the focus is on an impossibly well-endowed female protagonist would set off my knee-jerk feminist alarms. But I had to play this when I heard that the main gameplay mechanic involved using the bodies of your defeated enemies as slapstick weapons.

Surprisingly, for a game predominantly occupied by ridiculously proportioned ladies, Amazing Princess Sarah is quite forward thinking. It subverts the classic Knight/Princess/Knave story by making the “damsel in distress” a man (your father the king, no less) and making both the hero and villain female, showing how women are just as equally capable of great good and terrible evil as men. It’s a rare example of true gender equality.

Gender politics aside, I love the mechanic of using fallen enemies and environmental objects as thrown weapons – each with different effects that encourage you to plan how you use them lest you be forced to rely on your painfully weak sword.

Sadly, the game feels unfinished. The character sprites are roughly animated, movement controls feel stiff, the music cuts out at odd moments, and the difficulty curve climbs at an almost unfair pace.

Still, it might be worth playing just to say that you role-played as a medieval European cousin of Wonder Woman who can toss a fire elemental away like a dirty Kleenex.

Robocraft

Wait, are you sure that’s a ‘robot’ and not a mobile docking station.
Source: Robocraftgame.com

If you ever wondered what the Gummi Ship sequences in Kingdom Hearts would be like with multi-player, this might be the game for you.

Robocraft is one part territory control themed shooter and one part creativity toy. Fighting against other players online will earn you various types of currency to build better robots and research new parts for them. There are plenty of choices for robots that roll like tanks or fly like drones.

One interesting mechanic was the choice to have localized damage on the robots. You can chip away at chunks of an enemy’s armored chassis, knock out its turrets, or disable its propulsion to make it an easy target. This was an unexpected breath of strategy in what could have been a standard shooter.

The only trouble is trying to build a robot that works exactly like you want it to. You’ll likely spend hours tinkering with designs and going back and forth between building and testing until you have a tank that doesn’t roll over when you turn or an aircraft that doesn’t filp around uncontrollably.

I still think this game has loads of potential and I look forward to playing it some more in the future.

Mark of the Ninja

It may not be the focus, but it wouldn’t be a ninja simulator without the occasional assassination.
Source: ingame.de

The problem with ninjas in video games is that they rarely act like the masters of stealth that history made them famous for being. Thank goodness then for the nameless hero in Mark of the Ninja.

This game is based entirely around stealth, subterfuge, and infiltration. In fact, the game rewards you for not going on a Stallone/Schwarzenegger murder spree by giving huge point bonuses for not killing enemies (this is a rare game where the points actually matter) and punishes you for leaving bodies behind to give away your presence.

The animated cut-scenes are beautifully done. One of my corespondents called it’s smoothness and grittiness reminiscent of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack.

Unfortunately – as is the case with many stealth-centric games – if you get spotted, you may as well just reset from the last checkpoint because you wont survive. And even if you do survive, you’ll wish you hadn’t since you just ruined your score.

This is probably my favorite of the listed games here and possibly one of the best stealth games ever made.