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Showing posts from December, 2018

Things To Do On Vacation: Stretches & Workouts

Week Four: Things To Start Your New Year's Resolutions With

Maybe you're already a student eyeing the resumption of classes in January with a certain amount of dread. Still cool -- if your mind is already slightly over-expanded, maybe you'd like to concentrate on your body instead.

Yoga with Adriene. I'm not big into yoga myself; I find a lot of practices both grandiose and vapid, having been run into the ground by Yuppie idiots who think that stretching is enough to make them "spiritual". The only yoga class I've ever taken was with an actual Indian lady who treated it a lot like conditioning for modern dance, something which I can get on board with. Adriene is a very normal, chatty human being who explains things in terms of physiology and occasional snarky pop culture references, and uses yoga for purposes of relaxation and stress relief. She's not perfect ("yoga for weight loss" is not an actual thing), but I find her less of a pretentiou…

Things To Do On Vacation: Open University & MIT

Week Four: Things To Start Your New Year's Resolutions With

So languages aren't your thing. That's fine; there are other courses out there.

The Open University offers over 900 courses, completely free, to anyone anywhere in the world. Because the content is proposed and offered by the instructors, the selection depends on who is passionate enough to ramble about something for a semester for the sheer love of it, and is a bit grab-bag. Still, if you ever wanted academic courses in the speaking and uses of modern Welsh or the identification of Alzheimers, vCJD and other prion diseases, you could do worse.

One of the best US equivalents I know is MIT OpenCourseWare. Although these cannot be taken for actual credit (the Open University does offer for-pay certifications), MIT is pretty dedicated to making sure everyone can stuff things into their heads for their own satisfaction.  Being MIT, they tend towards the analytical side of things, and many of the courses available for p…

Things To Do On Vacation:

Week Four: Things To Start Your New Year's Resolutions With

So you have survived Christmas itself. Congratulations! Now it's time to turn your thoughts to New Year's Resolutions. You need something to do while you lie around digesting the dozen cookies you just ate for "breakfast", and talking about bettering yourself will get your relatives off your back.

How about learning a new language?

Duolingo 
Website | Google Play | iTunes

If you've been hanging around for a while, you know I'm not keen on the Rosetta Stone series of language lessons. (The computer version relies on the premise that all frotzes can be glorked in context, without a lot of the necessary context. I've never taken an in-person class based on them; I assume having a human to elaborate helps.) Duolingo, on the other hand, is overall pretty useful. Their East Asian languages are hit-or-miss, and I have yet to bring up the Hebrew ones to ask the Eccentric about them, but for Western Eur…

Things To Do On Vacation: Christmas Music

Interlude: Christmas Stuff

Merry Christmas, y'all! Have yourselves a playlist of some Christmas music, for the last day you're legally allowed to play it before people start plotting your demise.

Things To Do On Vacation: Google Santa Tracker

Interlude: Christmas Stuff

Wondering where Santa is? Wonder no more! Google tracks him like they track everyone else.

Things To Do On Vacation: The Worst Christmas Special Ever

Interlude: Christmas Stuff

You've seen Frosty The Snowman, and the old Rankin-Bass Claymation movies, and Mickey's Christmas Carol, not to mention It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. If you're serious about celebrating, you've even watched Die Hard, which is absolutely a Christmas movie, I am not listening to anyone who says otherwise. But have you seen...

The Star Wars Holiday Special?

tl;dr: It is terrible. It is so terrible, that it was aired one year (1978) and never officially saw the light of day again. Lucas did his best to bury it. It was taped (on a very early home Beta machine, by the look of it) by a nerd somewhere, lovingly preserved for all these years, and has been uploaded to YouTube, repeatedly, again and again whenever anyone tries to take it down, because the internet is where awful media goes to circulate in purgatory forever.

Read up on its legendary terribleness here. Then go watch it and sob …

Things To Do On Vacation: Wishbooks of Yesteryear

Interlude: Christmas Stuff

Anyone else remember Sears? Anyone else remember Sears back when they weren't just bigger K-Marts? And also drowning? With all their department heads trying to set each other on fire?

If you don't, once upon a time Sears was a whiz-bang super shiny department store that sold everything. And I do mean everything. Before this new-fangled internet thing got to be where we did all our hunter-gathering for Christmas, people used to order their stuff out of printed catalogs. Sears sold everything from soap and baby shoes to farm equipment and the parts to pre-fabricated houses. My parents used to buy a lot of home appliances and electronics from Sears, and from a similar store called Montgomery Ward. Pretty sure that's where we got all the game consoles, as even then they were not brave enough to walk into a Toys R Us between Thanksgiving and New Year's.

Once a year, Sears would go all out and print a catalog of fucking everything, in an attempt to…

Things To Do On Vacation: The Glam Playlist

Week Three: Things To Do On Someone Else's WiFi

Up to now the binge lists have revolved around electronics and power tools, but there's more than one way to be a nerd. Anyone who thinks beauty bloggers can't geek out over makeup and fashion is missing a significant part of life.

Karolina Żebrowska is a Polish lady who went viral a while ago with her rebuttal to those "100 Years of Fashion" videos you see all over. Aside from being frequently and egregiously wrong, what those things are trying to showcase are high fashion -- the stuff you'd see on socialites, or at least people with free time. Karolina instead demonstrates what the common woman would have worn, with an emphasis on the Communist bloc seldom seen on the extremely first-world YouTube.

Glam & Gore is a lady named Mykie who has a cute dog and an obsession with both halves of the title. Her most famous series is probably the Disney princess playlist, which showcases the bright cheery costume look,…

Things To Do On Vacation: The Maker Playlist

Week Three: Things To Do On Someone Else's WiFi

I was a weird kid. You probably guessed that. You might not have guessed that I used to sit planted in front of PBS to watch things like This Old House and The New Yankee Workshop. I thought they were fascinating, and way less stressful than the actual people in my actual life.

Delightfully enough, the same sorts of things now occur on YouTube. They refer to themselves as the "maker" community, which fits well enough -- they make stuff, often with unnecessarily elaborate power tools, and for no particular reason other than making stuff is cool. Here are a few of my favorites.

Peter Brown of Shop Time is a cheerful lunatic who enjoys playing with wood, crayons, salt, milk plastic, concrete, and resin. He made something out of Jolly Rancher candies once, and ended up using a blowtorch to clean off the bandsaw. His wife is very tolerant. He usually puts her in charge of the fire.

Nick Zametti has a magnificent beard and an equa…

Things To Do On Vacation: The Technical Playlist

Week Three: Things To Do On Someone Else's WiFi

If you need a nerdy binge to keep you occupied, tonight is the playlist for you. Also helpful for chasing away non-nerd relatives -- just explain to them that you're watching a 45-minute video of someone taking an expensive video games console apart, and they will immediately glaze over and cease listening to a single thing you say.

For sheer volume, element 14 presents, née the Ben Heck Show, is tough to beat. Ben Heckendorn is a(n-ex) graphic designer with technical inclinations who, once upon a time, decided that his Game Boy was way too technically advanced and he should be building a portable Atari 2600 instead. I can't put a date on this right off the top of my head, but inasmuch as he refers to people in their 20s and 30s remembering the 2600 in the original write-up, it was probably nearly two decades ago. The project went viral before going viral was really a thing, and it snowballed until someone said, 'hey, dude…

Things To Do On Vacation: The Video Game Playlist

Week Three: Things To Do On Someone Else's WiFi

Actually playing games too much work? I don't blame you; eating all that pie takes a lot of energy. So sit back and let other people play games for you! Now with exciting commentary!

Castlevania 64 is a bad game. Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness is in some ways a better game, but in many more ways a much worse one. Evil Tim takes you through the countless ways in which Konami fucked these things up, entertainingly and at very high speed.

If you want something more calming to fall asleep to, Bobbin Threadbare walks you through the Thief series (1, 2, 3), including the debacle that is the belated fourth game, at a very low volume and soothingly dry tone.

More in the mood for some cheerful insanity? Try the Game Grumps. Ross is sort of an evil genius, especially in their tabletop series (don't let the LA accent fool you -- he's Australian, they're all bats), and Dan and Arin's every attempt to play a Zelda game somehow…

Things To Do On Vacation: Steam Games

Week Three: Things To Do On Someone Else's WiFi

Got a Steam account? Lots of stuff on Steam. I'm primarily a console gamer; some of my few not-horrible memories of dysfunctional family Christmases were of the week between Christmas and NYD, when my father would take his allotted vacation time and we would all sit around the TV, live off of Chinese takeout and pizza, and save the world in some giant time-sucking JRPG.

Nintendo is famously grabby-hands about its IP, so as near as I can tell there are no Zelda games on Steam. Square-Enix, on the other hand, is a lot less so. Squenix, as it's affectionately known these days, is the unholy alliance of Squaresoft, publishers of Final Fantasy, and Enix, publishers of Dragon Quest. These games were so big in Japan that the two companies used to have a gentlemen's agreement not to release their main series games A) on the same day, so as not to poach each other's sales, or B) during the school week, because the whole goddam…

Things To Do On Vacation: The Mystery Playlist

Week Three: Things To Do On Someone Else's WiFi

Okay, so cooking shows aren't your bag. What about murder? And, you know, unsolved disappearance and thefts and all that jazz. Got you covered!

Unsolved Mysteries

While the classic episodes with Robert Stack are all available on Amazon Prime, the rights holder has put the second run, hosted by Dennis Farina, on YouTube pretty much in its entirety. (As with the original series, there have been strategic edits made to resolve cases that are no longer unsolved, and a few others whose legal status has changed since the first airing.)

The New Detectives

The original binge-watch forensic crime solving series, previous aired on The Discovery Channel, back when real science was still a thing there. This playlist has selected episodes from all seasons, but FilmRise has put the entire series out for (free) streaming if you poke their channel directly.

The FBI Files

The New Detectives, only starring the Feds. There are generally more exciting s…

Things To Do On Vacation: The Food Playlist

Week Three: Things To Do On Someone Else's WiFi

So, you've gotten to your ancestral abode, probably with most of your luggage. The problem now is that you're 400 miles away from your stuff, and your relatives can't entertain you 24 hours a day -- or possibly are just so bonkers that you need to recuse yourself before you start to question the nature of reality. It's considered rude to engage in full-scale piracy on someone else's router, and it's just awkward to watch porn with your Great Aunt Mildred sleeping on the sofa bed in the next room. What to do?

This week is a whole bunch of stuff you can stream on the internet without triggering any angry letters from Comcast. I'm kicking off with the nom-based playlist, a load of people who make attractive, interesting, or just weird foods for you to binge watch as you fall asleep.

How To Cake It

Yolanda Gampp makes crazy cakes. It's great. Let's be real here; this lady is a professional cake sculptor…

Things To Do On Vacation: Fallen London

Week Two: Things That Will Not Chew Through All Your Mobile Data

If all my other suggestions have failed you, perhaps you need something... weirder. Darker. Stranger. More... disturbing. And gothic, has to be supergoth, super steampunk goth, yep.

Welcome, Delicious Friend.

Fallen London, previously known as Echo Bazaar, is a story-based game that chronicles your adventures through the Neath, a version of London that is (purportedly) underground and (possibly) in a different dimension altogether. Sail the Unterzee, collect Shards of Glim, Hard Lessons, and Unsettling Implications as you follow storylines and try to uncover the truth of Fallen London.

Things To Do On Vacation: Dogs In Elk

Week Two: Things That Will Not Chew Through All Your Mobile Data

Short, but brilliant. This is the tale of two dogs, who discovered their love of elk at an inopportune moment. This version is helpfully illustrated with a variety of autumn vegetables, carved into shapes.

Dogs In Elk

It will make you laugh until you injure something, or until security notices and has you hauled away.

Things To Do On Vacation: The Cutting Room Floor

Week Two: Things That Will Not Chew Through All Your Mobile Data

This week's link is nerdtastic. It is a place close to my little digital archaeologist heart, The Cutting Room Floor. If you ever wondered what your favorite video games were like before they were finished, or if there was anything left of their evolution lurking in the code, TCRF will have it. It's text with some pictures, usually low-color PNGs, and will not eat up your entire monthly allotment of data, but if you care about any of this stuff, it's endlessly fascinating.

Things To Do On Vacation: Interactive Fiction Online

Week Two: Things That Will Not Chew Through All Your Mobile Data

You've been reading Wattpad and TV Tropes for the past six hours and your eyes are about to glaze over. Surely all you need is something a little more... interactive? To keep you awake until the boarding call. But you forgot to download any of the eighty bazillion things I linked to last week. Oh, what to do?

Never fear! Playfic is here! Playfic is an interactive fiction site with the interpreter baked right into the page. No downloads required. Just type in the window, and play.

Here's their Most Popular page to get you started.

Things To Do On Vacation: TV Tropes

Week Two: Things That Will Not Chew Through All Your Mobile Data

Stories are great, but what about reading things about stories? You know, learning about their structure and history and, uh, all the horrible and/or entertaining cliches we use to build them.

Right. Well. Here's TV Tropes, one of the greatest brain-sucking time sinks known to man. Don't say I didn't warn you. Just remember to look up from time to time so you don't miss your train.

Things To Do On Vacation: Serial Fiction

Week Two: Things That Will Not Chew Through All Your Mobile Data

Yes, okay, but now you've run out of things to read! Books end far too quickly. Your layover takes forever! You need something that just keeps going, and going, and going, and....

Fine. Try Wattpad. Serialized original fiction available on the website or via an app (iTunes | Google Play). Log in, start reading, and it saves all your bookmarks and notes so that you can keep going from anywhere, on any device.

If romance and rock music is your thing, try looking up Daron's Guitar Chronicles, by Cecilia Tan. It's something like twelve print volumes of Daron being the only person on Earth who doesn't know he's going to wind up with his bandmate Ziggy.

Things To Do On Vacation: Welcome to Fucking Boatmurdered

Week Two: Things That Will Not Chew Through All Your Mobile Data

Okay, so at least you're traveling through civilization now, and your phone will once again connect to the 4G network. The connection's not great, and you're a cheap college kid with a cap on your mobile data plan, so you can't just sit there streaming HD video until your flight takes off. What to do? Where to go?

Welcome to fucking Boatmurdered.

If you don't know what you're looking at there, this is an LP (a "Let's Play", basically where someone plays a video game for other people to watch, usually while providing entertaining commentary) of a game called Dwarf Fortress. It's not especially snazzy to watch; the "graphics" are all ASCII characters, to keep things simple and evoke the days of Roguelikes gone by. It's a sim game, where you have a little band of dwarves who are striking out on their own to build a fortress, hence the name. You tell them to mine stuff a…

Things To Do On Vacation: Mobile Retrogaming

Week One: Things That Work In Airplane Mode

Okay, okay, okay. You want to game, but it's the holidays, and you're desperate for something that bangs on that ol' nostalgia button. Stuff you played as a kid. If that's what you're looking for then... step into this dark alley with me, and I've got a coat full of brand-new emulators for you. Fell off the back of a truck.

I kid -- emulators are not themselves contraband. It's actual case law, established by Sony suing someone over it and, amazingly, losing. ROMs might be illegal, but you're on your own for those. Although I will say, if you can't find what you want on the first page of your search results, congratulations on misspelling the name of your game in a way that even Google can't figure out.

Much as the Android people have been shafted by the past couple days of fancy mobile games, the iOS people are going to get shafted here. Apple curates their App Store very closely, whereas to get somet…

Things To Do On Vacation: Mobile Games To Buy

Week One: Things That Work In Airplane Mode

If you have some money to throw into the giant black hole of boredom -- an early gift card, say -- and you'd like some more elaborate mobile games, well, I've got a list for that too! These are all visual novels, because I like them, and they are a notorious time sink.

Ace Attorney Trilogy HD
iTunes | Google Play
Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney
iTunes | Google Play
Ace Attorney Investigations
iTunes | Google Play
Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies
iTunes | Google Play
Ace Attorney: Spirit of Justice
iTunes | Google Play

The Ace Attorney games, ported from their DS versions (which were themselves upgrades of the original GBA games in Japan), or 3DS versions as appropriate. Follow the adventures of Phoenix Wright, only sane man in the entire goddamn universe, as he solves murders and wins trials. The original trilogy is not available on Android outside of Japan, for reasons that no one can figure out. Everything else is out for both major mobile platform…

Things To Do On Vacation: Free Mobile Games

Week One: Things That Work In Airplane Mode

But I'm still booooooooored, you whine, stuck in a Greyhound station in the precise center of fucking nowhere. Just reading or listening to things isn't enough! I need to do something!

Fine, then. Here are some mobile games you can play for free. Many if not all of them have ads, but they don't whine about updating them if your data's turned off.

[Note to people with Kindles: It is stupidly easy to break out of Amazon's walled garden and get to the Google Play store. Instructions here. If you're too scared to do it, go find a 12-year-old to jailbreak the thing for you. It'll be over in five minutes, promise.]

2048
iTunes | Google Play

A simple number puzzle based on sliding blocks around. Combine powers of 2 until you get 2048. Harder than it sounds.

Flow Free
iTunes | Google Play

Connect the colored dots without crossing the streams.

Bejeweled
iTunes | Google Play

The original horrifically addicting match-three thing f…

Things To Do On Vacation: Radio Drama

Week One: Things That Work In Airplane Mode

So the podcasts just aren't doing it for you. You need more punch, more zazz, more zany comedy, more raw melodrama. Luckily for you, the Internet Archive has a colossal backstock of old radio shows! MP3 format available for all of them, often also FLAC for picky people who want to hear every last flaw of ancient recording methods. Just download and go.

Tickle your funny bone with George Burns & Gracie Allen, or Jack Benny.

Indulge in a yen for mystery and intrigue with Sherlock Holmes, or Box 13.

Looking for adventure? Try The Lone Ranger, or the Adventures of Superman.

Or, to satisfy your nerdy side, try the BBC4 production of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, in its original radio serial format.






Things To Do On Vacation: Podcasts

Week One: Things That Work In Airplane Mode

Did you know that a giant pair of padded headphones is a great way to keep that yahoo next to you on the bus from trying to tell you all about your once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to invest in his perpetual motion machine? Plus they keep your ears warm when the heat breaks down.

If an eight-hour audiobook is too much for you to keep track of while you travel through three consecutive time zones, maybe podcasts are more your style. My personal podcast list runs heavily towards true crime and brain toys. Here are some of my favorites:

Radiolab from WNYC
Webpage | Apple Podcasts | Google PlayRSS feed

Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich spend fifteen years of their lives investigating pretty much anything that's caught their attention. Topics range from hard science to human interest stories, and usually take a turn for the weird somewhere along the way.

Reply All from Gimlet Media
Webpage | Apple Podcasts | Google Play | RSS feed

Reply All is a po…

Things To Do On Vacation: Free Audiobooks

Week One: Things That Work In Airplane Mode

Continuing our theme of "stuff you can download for use without internet", this week's link is Librivox, an archive of free public domain audiobooks. Librivox books are read by volunteers, in an astonishing array of languages, and they just completed their 12,000th project back in August. If you're driving halfway across the continent (oh god whyyyyyyyy?), you can surely find an 800-page behemoth of some kind to run through the car radio to keep you awake on the way.

Things To Do On Vacation: Free eBooks

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Week One: Things That Work In Airplane Mode

So you're in college. Winter break is coming soon. You slog through your fall exams, sleep for 24 hours straight, then throw all the things you think you'll need into a single giant duffel bag and transport yourself across the city/state/country to wherever it is your parents live. They'll feed you and let you do laundry for free, which is great, but now you're 400 miles from the rest of your stuff, and your relatives can't keep you occupied every waking hour of your day. What to do?

I'm here to help.

First, you have to get to where you're going. This is often a long, tedious process that involves traveling through the arse-end of nowhere on a bus or train, getting stuck in endless traffic in a car, or being seven miles above all the cell towers in a little metal tube where they get mad if you turn your Bluetooth on. So this first week of the 2018 Advent Calendar is going to be things that can be downloaded and us…