3 Fun Activities to Get You Out of The House

So, in an ongoing effort to stave off the effects of depression and anxiety, I’ve been trying to take steps to change my lifestyle here and there to better facilitate my emotional health. I recently started a new anti-depressant/anti-anxiety treatment, I’ve been actively cutting out people and things that may cause me undue stress, and I’m starting to listen more to my own sense of comfort – favoring an “if it feels good, do it” mentality over fretting over what society will think.

But, in addition to all that, I’m also making an effort to try an overcome my mild to moderate demophobia and disdain for social interactions by trying to force myself to go outside more often. The only problem is – and I imagine this a problem for A LOT of people with social anxiety – that unless you need to go shopping or something, there’s often little reason to leave the comfort of your bedroom/living room/personal office (I have very little living space; shut up).

So, I’ve been attempting to find and rediscover some old out outdoor activities to help get me outside, be more physically active, and socializing with humanity again. So far, I’ve come across three viable fun-time adventures to go on.

Urban Hiking

Yes, nature is pretty. But a skyline can be nice to look at too.
Source: Liz Thomas Hiking

My Father is a bit of a mountaineer. He’s hiked along almost every major mountain trail in New Hampshire and he’s been very encouraging to try and get me to join him.

The problem is that I live in the middle of the city with very little time to devote to traveling to the mountains. But who’s to say you can’t enjoy a hike through the city?

Sure, some people may scoff at the idea. But if you find it difficult to get to a nature trail, urban hiking may just suit you. Not only does it get you into a social setting, but you may just be surprised at what you find on your travels. I’ve been on hikes through college towns with lots of shops packed together and found places that I end up coming back to later; thrift stores, cafes, etc.

Most Urban Hikers seem to favor places with lots of stairs and hills to simulate the incline of a mountain trail, but you can always choose the path that best suits your level of expertise. It all makes for a more travel-friendly, lower-risk social activity.

Geocaching

“I found treasure… WITH MY PHONE.”
Source: Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau

One part hike, one part treasure hunt, and one part time capsule. Geocaching is the high tech way to wander the world in search of fresh new sights.

What’s nice about geocaching is how accessible it is. People have quite literally hidden these little boxes of surprise goodies that they trade from one cache to the next EVERYWHERE; in cities, on nature trails, in cemeteries, in parking lots – if you can covertly fit a container big enough to hold a logbook of some kind in it, someone has likely done so. As such, there’s no shortage of options to fit your skill level. All you need is a phone with a GPS and the drive to explore.

What’s more, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of coming across an item in a cache with a tracking number on it so you can see where it’s been. On my first outing, I found a keychain from the Hard Rock Cafe in Singapore with such a tracker. It had gone up the west coast from the southern tip of California to Washington state, leaped to mid-state New York, and again to New Hampton here in New Hampshire. I then left it in a cache in Maine to complete its coast-to-coast journey and, last I saw, it was somewhere in Texas.

The only catch is that you have to exercise a little stealth while playing as any non-players (referred to, much to the delight of Harry Potter fans, as Muggles) may be inclined to tamper with or even steal the cache. So tread lightly and stay aware.

Battle Gaming

All the action of a Dungeons & Dragons game right in your face.
Source: Wikipedia

Do you miss the days when you and your friends would roughhouse in the yard, but don’t want to risk losing teeth to recreate the feeling? Do you like the look and action of LARPing, but can’t be arsed to deal with all that role-playing nonsense? Well, grab yourself some foam and get into the ring of battle games.

I got into this back in my convention days and it was a blast. Armed with foam-crafted blade and shield (called Boffers) and your nerves, you can now capture the feeling of charging into battle like the warriors of old.

The rules of battle differ depending on who’s organizing the events. Some are one-on-one gladiatorial battles. Others are large-scale wargames with competing tribes and armies. And each has different regulations on how boffers are crafted and what weapons are allowed. Though almost all of them are designed to minimize the risk of injury while letting players go wild.

With foam arrows flying through the air and people shield bashing their way through a crowd, it can get hectic. But with the light bruises comes a sense of pride and exhilaration as you face down the horde and stand your ground against the odds… even if it’s all just pretend and sport.

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The Social Importance of The Selfie (and The Agent’s Selfie Catalog)

In addition to the Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year and my official start of summer, today is recognized by us digital denizens as National Selfie Day. And I felt that the day provided an opening for useful commentary on human psychology and sociology.

Remember not too long ago when just the word ‘selfie’ conjured up a bevy of negative images in our heads? We associated the selfie with vapidness, vanity, and egocentric narcissism.

However, while that stigma has persisted to an extent, I feel people are slowly understanding the importance of the selfie in a modern society. The simple act of taking a photo of yourself says so much about you and your life.

For a start, it’s a proclamation of pride in your achievements – no matter how small. By going out into the world and snapping a photo of you at the beach or in the crowd at a concert, you are proclaiming to the world, “I was there. I saw the world HAPPEN in front of me and contributed to it.” A brief look at history will show the need to document our actions. Selfies are just a new evolution of this process that replaces long-winded words with an image that speaks thousands at a glance.

What’s more, it’s a statement of self-love – a form of love that seems in sadly short supply these days. I’m part of a body positivity group on Facebook; body positivity being a big deal to someone like me who is about to begin a gender transition. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to receive loving encouragement from friends, family, and kind strangers when coming to terms with my appearance. And judging from the response of others, I sense I’m not alone in that feeling.

So, make it a point today to go out, put on the best you that you have, and proclaim your existence to the world. Show – don’t tell – that you are here and that you matter.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a proper National Selfie Day article if I didn’t celebrate along with you. So, for those that don’t or can’t follow my actions on Twitter here’s a collection of my recent selfies. I wish you all a lovely day celebrating your beautiful selves.

The Return of Homestar Runner: How It’s Changed and My Hopes For The Future

Digital denizens of the 90’s, I come bearing great news; Homestar Runner is back!

For those familiar with the name, Mike and Matt Chapman – more commonly known as ‘The Brothers Chaps’ – have been slowly rebuilding and reworking their earliest project for years in-between other business; most notably Matt’s writing, directing, and producing of the Nickelodeon children’s show Yo Gabba Gabba and voicing the character of  Alfonzo in the Disney XD series Star vs. The Forces of Evil. However, over the last few weeks, the amount of new content coming from their YouTube channel has sky rocketed.

For those unfamiliar, Homestar Runner is one of the most enduring artifacts from the days of the pre-YouTube internet when your options for getting visual media on the web were limited and less than ideal. The Chaps, like many early pre-YouTubers, found Flash animation to be a simple way to get seen.

But it didn’t start with animation, the original Homestar Runner started life as a children’s book. However, as time has gone on, the comedy has matured for older audiences and, occasionally, finds itself poking fun at its child-like origins. This turned out to be the right move for the series as the original website is still operating off of merchandise sales to this day.

I’ve naturally been going back through the back catalog of old episodes and almost all of them still hold up. In fact, some of the jokes actually got better and more relevant (remember when resident shopkeeper Bubs refused to violate net neutrality by “throttling down” download speeds… unlike Verizon?).

Still, there are problems with being a web series that has existed for so long that it may as well be the internet’s Stonehenge. Technology and how we use the ‘net has changed so much that many of the techniques the show uses are horribly obsolete. Even the cast recognized the danger in flash not being the universal animation standard anymore. It seems that they’ve finally caved and have gone fully to YouTube in light of the situation.

Part of me wishes they could continue with the format they have now because it means the loss of one of my favorite aspects of the original animations: easter eggs. Occasionally, you could click on things in the animation as it played and you could uncover hidden content. Some of these are preserved in ending stingers, but there’s something rewarding about finding a secret ending that makes the experience special and encourages viewership.

There’s also the issue with the flagship sub-series Strong Bad Emails (SBmails for short); namely that no one uses email as their primary communications medium on the web anymore. This wasn’t as big of an issue thanks to SB getting an official Twitter account, but it does feel uncanny to someone that grew up with the classic. Plus Strong Bad Tweets (SBeets?) doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Still, I remain hopeful. I want to see this great piece of internet comedy history rise like the Phoenix again. Also, I’d like to see them do more joint works with other artists like when they made music videos for They Might Be Giants. Hell, I’d REALLY like to see them continue their series of episodic point-and-click adventure games with Telltale Games.

At any rate, here’s to the return of yet another of my fond memories from long ago.

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.