SpoOOoky Podcasts

My favourite time of the year is upon us- goth Christmas (aka Halloween). But it is barely even October you say? Doesn’t matter to me in the slightest. Halloween is a month-long celebration in my house. In fact, I actually start putting up autumnal decorations in September. I truly enjoy it that much.

I listen to podcasts a lot when walking Isabelle or taking roadtrips, but I am fairly new to the listening scene. I’ve complied a list of my favourite Halloween-themed podcasts, but there’s only three!

  1. Savage Love’s 2012 Special– Use headphones if the kids are around for this one as it is intended only for those 18 and older. As past readers of this blog will know, I’m a Dan Savage fan, even if I don’t agree with every point he makes. This gem from 2012 is probably my all time favourite Lovecast episode. It is gruesome, hilarious, and sexy all at once. Enjoy.
  2. Lore– I can’t actually pick a single episode from Aaron Mahnke’s podcast because they are all so good. So my second entry is all of this podcast. If you like your historical nonfiction and myths creepy with a side of the macabre, then just listen to the whole thing. It is brilliant. And it is launching as an Amazon series! Gasp!
  3. Limetown– Whilst the other two podcasts I linked are non-fiction, this one is pure imagination. Fictional people from a fictional town disappear, but it is written and voiced so well that it seems real.
  4. All Killa No Filla– Recommended by Andy Hill- Comedians talk about serial killers. What could go wrong?
  5. Welcome to Night Vale– Recommended by Utkarsh Rao- Small desert town, mysterious lights in the sky… It is a classic for a reason.
  6.  The Black Tapes– Recommended by Matthew Jones- Horror fiction-presented-as-fact at its finest.
  7. Tanis– Recommended by Matthew Jones- Lovecraftian horror.
  8. Alice Isn’t Dead– Recommended by Matthew Jones- From the makers of Welcome to Night Vale, but a bit more plot heavy?
  9. Darkest Night– Recommended by Matthew Jones.
  10. Rabbits– Recommended by Matthew Jones.

I need your help to grow my list and have something fun to listen to on my fall break. Share your favourites in the comments or via social media pretty please.

I will update this list as recommendations rolls in, so if you too are looking for some creepy audio files, check back in.

Until next time,

Ashley

 

Play Therapy and My Doggo

When I first saw Isabelle she was in kennel D20 of the Utah Humane Society. She critically hit my heart and I knew it was fate. This scrappy yellow dog was going to become my companion and best friend.

980848_10159047337925580_5396668950599831992_o
This photo was taken as the ink on the adoption papers was drying. Notice how my car is dog hair-free? Those were the days…

Of course I adopted her for more reasons than just the sweet D&D reference, but I have to admit that she came with quite a few warning labels which made me have doubts about my ability to care for her. Not only was I warned that she is a mix of aggressive breeds, but she also was potentially a fear-biter. When she was found roaming the streets, Humane Society staff couldn’t approach her. Then they had to board her for several days before anyone could get close enough to vaccinate her- even with specialist equipment.

13962652_10157200653645580_8760273128236206874_n

Knowing all her problems, I adopted her anyway because I like a good challenge. And a good challenge she was. My animal handling skills were put to the test almost instantly.

Initially, Isabelle was afraid of everything. Her tail was between her legs during every walk and she would jump out of her fur at any loud noise. She would frequently wake me up in the middle of the night whining and crying and for a while I regretted my decision to ever get a dog.

Plus, she had a cold. I had adopted a sick dog. Things weren’t looking great. I mean, I had a feverish pup who sneezed on everything and tried to bite people. The weirdest part of all? She wouldn’t play. She wouldn’t chase balls, or frisbees nor would she tug-o-war with me and her rope. If you threw something, she would at best chase it and at worst look terrified. Even after she finished her antibiotics and was healthy! The irony was thick. I, a game scholar, adopted a dog who didn’t know how to play.

I asked my vet how to fix this problem. She said to socialise her with other dogs at a daycare. This helped immensely.

14729346_10157491336420580_3222545034458313385_n
Learning how to play was a big deal for Isabelle.

Within a few weeks of being introduced to her new daycare pack she became more social. The first difference I noticed was that her tail was less frequently between her legs and more often up, if not wagging. Then she would occasionally play-bow (front legs sprawled out, butt up in the air) in the backyard. I’m told this is how dogs signal to each other, and their humans, that they want to play. We started playing tug-o-war with her rope (pictured above) and then moved onto fetch. Things were looking up!

After learning to play, Isabelle became more animated generally, but also more confident. Instead of hiding behind me on walks she started growling, howling and crying at the approach of other dogs. Not only was this embarrassing as people would stare at my out-of-control pup having a temper tantrum because there was another dog 10 metres away, but it was also baffling. She was doing great with her pack at daycare, so why would she freak out in the park?

14993311_10157651639105580_2178230241891314593_n
Our training involved a lot of placing Isabelle on things.

When running 5-6k a day with her didn’t calm her nervous energy, I decided it was time for behavioural training and asked the daycare for a recommendation. The behaviourist Mike was confident that general obedience training would help her trust me more and listen better. He was right. Within a six weeks of regular training and exercise, Isabelle became easier to walk and more confident in the park.

14907647_10157590285350580_2526332146293710628_n

By Halloween she no longer howled and had temper tantrums, but was still a bit shaky. It wasn’t until Christmas she was sniffing-butts and comfortable greeting strange dogs in the park. This is the first time I let her off-leash.

15168861_10157702106115580_4067479407499467495_o
Because everyone needs Christmas jammies, right?

I took her on holiday with me to visit family in Mexico. I was able to ride a bike along the beach with her trotting leashless next to me. Despite plenty of distractions (birds, washed up dead dolphins) she never left my side.

15781557_10157887916410580_5058306975037776532_n
From the shelter to having a Christmas beach holiday… Lucky dog.

Although Isabelle’s good behaviour is a product of a lot of time, money, and energy, I think the turning point in our relationship was when she learned from other dogs how to play. I’m sure animal behaviourists have a much more professional way of putting this, but essentially once she loosened up enough to play, she was free enough to learn her role in my ‘pack’ (okay, pack might be an over statement since its just me, but hey, I’m the alpha!) and in her daycare pack. As a result, she is a much happier dog and I’m a much happier human.

21462923_10159207912985580_1826576379078472199_n

Looking back on our journey together over the past year it seems like more than coincidence that the dog who was too scared to play lived in kennel D20 and was adopted by a game academic. She has taught me so much about why play is important to her and my psycho-social well being. I only hope I can continue to give her a happy, healthy life in return. Here’s to playing many more years together.

Until next time,

Ashley

 

I’m back. And I’m a homeowner.

So as it turns out, moving across the Atlantic and buying a house was a bit more than I had bargained for. Something had to give and that something was updating my website… And my blog!

Welp, I’m back up and running now and here to post my first blog since last Christmas (crikey!). If you were curious what I’ve been up to, let me demystify: I spend almost every weekend at home improvement stores now.

20170805_100305
This was on my birthday. I went to Lowe’s to buy air filters on my birthday because I had a 20% off coupon. Just let that sink in…

Between DIY repairs and upgrades, homeownership thus far has been a never-ending drama. Don’t get me wrong, I feel incredibly lucky to live in a home, let alone own one, but something I’ve always taken for granted is how much work goes into maintaining a house. I guess I had always thought as long as you swept it and mopped it the walls would take care of themselves. Oh what a sweet, summer child I was.

20170809_090719
Problem number 1: a leaky window well.

Upon moving in, I immediately discovered a flooded basement courtesy of an improperly sealed basement window. Sigh. At least that was an easy fix.

Then I didn’t have a washer or a dryer. An expensive problem, but not an insurmountable one. I bought a flashy Samsung model that sings to you when your clothes are done. Slight problem though…

20170803_105005

I swear I measured the counter and the washer multiple times, and yet there we were. Couldn’t open the detergent drawer because the crummy plastic and press-board counter was too deep.

Okay, again, not a difficult fix. Just gotta saw the countertop to fit, but dusty business…

… and I could go on. Like how long it took to hang all my retro Star Trek posters- which by the way are nicely framed because I am a grown up. (That’s the rule: It’s okay to have posters on your walls if you’re over 30 years old, as long as you frame them.)

20170804_132036

Or how incredibly satisfying (and simple!) it was to replace a gross, old shower head with something shiny and new.

20170801_214827

But I’ll spare you all the gory details. The important thing is I am back and ready to blog. In between home projects, of course.

Until next time,

Ashley

Happy Nerdy Holidays

If there’s one thing that can get me into the holiday mood, it is geeky holiday specials and nerdy spins on classic carols. I’ve complied a listicle of my favourite YouTube hits here, but by no means is it exclusive. Feel free to comment and add your favourites.

Angry Video Game Nerd Bible Games (Episodes 1-3)

Remember all those great religious games for the NES? No? Well that’s because they weren’t officially released by Nintendo (except for 1 odd Konami title which had almost nothing actually religious in it). The Angry Video Game Nerd plays Bible-related skins, bootlegs and ports of classic games in these 3 holiday specials. It is hilarious and informative of the wild west of early games’ enforcement of intellectual property rights.

“Christmas Raid Carol”- The Guild

You gotta love any carol that starts off with the line: “Dead orcs roasting in a lava pit…” A classic from the early days of Felicia Day and co’s The Guild.

“Make it So”- Captain Picard

Some genius cut TNG to make this fantastic carol.

12 Days of Starcraft

This is an animated version of the old internet classic. Enjoy.

 

A Call to Hugs

I, like most of you, am still reeling from the implications of last night’s election. Not only because of the rather bleak financial outlook and how that will impact my personal life, but also because I am witnessing history repeat and it is devastating. 2222618062_a4a451ea1f

More important than how I feel, however, are how marginalised groups are doing. The fact that we now have a Republican controlled House, Senate and President isn’t the key issue here. The key issue is that we have elected someone who was endorsed by the KKK– who are now celebrating a very white victory. If this is anything like what happened with Brexit, which it is looking very similar indeed, then many of our friends and loved ones might be fearful over the repercussions of this election. lutracanadensis_fullres

This is not a message of sensationalism or over-reaction, this is a message of love, compassion and preparedness. I sincerely hope that hatecrimes do not rise 58% this week, like they did the week after Brexit, but something in my gut tells me they might.

We need to be prepared to deal with the fallout of this election by helping others. Think of this blog post as a call to hugs*.

Look out for your LGBTQ friends, your friends of colour, your friends from non-dominant faith groups, your immigrant friends, your friends from lower socio-economic backgrounds, your mothers, sisters, aunts, and other ladies in your life.european_hedgehog_erinaceus_europaeus

Regardless of who you voted for, check in on your friends and see how they are doing. See how they are coping with the fact their marriages might become invalid, they might lose their healthcare plan, or they might feel unsafe. Of course I am speaking in hyperbole here. Don’t actually ask these rather personal questions. Don’t ask anything at all. Offer a shoulder, an ear, or a cuppa. Listen and provide love and comfort.

This is a moment in which we can all show how much we care for each other. We can show our humanity and that will make all the difference. It could change history.

Until next time,

Ashley

PS- Pix in this post aren’t relevant, but much needed.

 

*But also not hugs if some folks** don’t wanna be touched.

** I mean engineers.  Clearly.

CharityLOL

There’s a thing I like to do twice a year. I like to temporarily pause my vices in the name of charity. Its like Stoptober, with a twist. (Shout out to my design peeps who love the term ‘with a twist’).

The premise is simple. Rather than doing something for charity, do less. Give something up. Quit smoking, quit drinking, quit eating sweets, quit PSLs and then take all the money you’d ordinarily spend on cigarettes/beer/cupcakes/coffee/whatever and sling it to a charity of your choice. Not only does it help those in need, it also shows your concerned family members that your vice of choice is not a problem and you really can quit whenever you want.

So why am I blogging about this? To waft my smugness in your faces, of course. I’m a Good Person™ and look at all the Good™ I am doing.

Just kidding. I’m a terrible person and we all know that.

I’m actually blogging about my yearly sobriety sprints because I’m frustrated that there isn’t an app for this already. I was sitting down with a pen and paper trying to calculate how much money I have ‘saved’ from not drinking thus far and I got annoyed at the inefficiency. I ended up calculating a rough estimate of $4 a day out of pure laziness. Don’t get me wrong, $4 x 31 days= $124 which is a sizable chunk of change to donate, but now that I figured out the sum I find myself a) frustrated at the inaccuracy (type A people of the world unite!) and b) if the dollar outcome is predetermined, why not just donate the cash and call it a day?

I naturally turned to technology for help, but my app store searches came up with nada. So what did I do? I made some wireframe mock ups of what I envision such an app to be. I’m uploading my sketches here in the hopes some brilliant engineers will want to collaborate on making this app a reality.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m under no pretense of greatness here. I know that ideas are like assholes, everyone has 4, but I think an app like this could be successful. It’s got a lusory, competitive, tongue-in-cheek aesthetic which could make donating to charity fun. High horses not included.

Without further blathering, here are my sketches with annotations. The sketches are funny and convey the form/feel/aesthetic of the app. The annotations are dry and very ‘Ashley’.  I’m sorry.

Note that CharityLOL is a working title.

Also note scrollbars appear on screen to indicate extra content. As this is developed for mobile, actual scrollbars will not be needed.

Image 1: Sign up screen.

mockup1

The sign up screen allows the user to: set a location (to access local charities/ food and drink databases); set a start and end date for their ‘marathon’; and choose what they are giving up.

Scrolling down, the user is invited to either input average consumption and price (alcohol is used here as an example, but it could be cigarettes, sweets, etc…) or use the app’s database and barcode scanner. Like apps such as Fitbit, CharityLOL will have access to a user-generated database of consumer products. The idea behind this is to give users motivation to stay the course during high-pressure moments. For example, when at a restaurant with friends the user might be tempted to order a beer, but with the app they can opt instead to document the drink they turned down. This rewards the user for saying no, and gains more money for the charity in question.

The application will be tied to the user’s bank account/credit card for daily donations in much the same way many mobile games require a card on file for in-app purchases. Think of the daily donation as an in-app purchase which goes right to the charities they support. This is designed so that if the user terminates the application or stops using it charities will still receive the funds earned up until that point.

Image 2: Choosing charities/ daily log-in screens.

mockup2.png

 

Integral to this app’s functionality are partnerships with local charities, which is shown on the left screen above. This is so the user is able to see the impact their donations have firsthand, and also this is how CharityLOL will be monetised- but not for profit. Following JustGiving’s 5% model, a charge is applied to charities who sign up to receive donations which is then re-invested into running and maintaining the application.

Whenever a user logs in to check how much they have given or make an entry, they will be greeted with a progression screen. The progression screen will show how much they have given, the charities they have helped, and the number of days they have gone without their favourite vice. Options to share progression on social media are offered to encourage the user to reach their goal.

Image 3: End screen.

mockup3.png

Upon the completion of the user-identified time period, a congratulatory screen will appear which summarises the user’s experience and awards them with an achievement. The user then has the option of sharing their success on social media, which will allow congratulations and additionally spread word of the app’s existence.

Image 4: Fail state.

mockup4.png

As this is not a game, there is no real fail state, but there is negative feedback to the user. Providing negative user feedback is important to encourage completion of the set timeline. It is also important to ensure there is value to the app’s badges. In the above example, the user would become ineligible for the October alcohol-free badge until next year, but they would still be eligible for other, smaller milestones such as Two Weeks without a Drink badge.

And that’s it. That’s the mock up I have. Who wants to make it?

Until next time,

Ashley

Sidenote 1: Students (who I assume are the bulk of my readership, lol) might be wondering why I didn’t use a game design document to illustrate the app’s functionality. Good question.  The short answer is: because its a UI wireframe. The long answer is: I wanted a clean, easy to read, direct depiction of the app’s UI without much detail about what the user does. There is no game design verb here. Mostly the user clicks boxes. Thus, I need to show which boxes the user clicks- not the experience of clicking. Make sense? If not, email me.

Sidenote 2: Thanks to Roger Altizer for introducing me to Basalmiq. And generally mentoring me.

Sidenote 2: The feature photo of this post has nothing to do with the content. Also, it came from The Best and Worst Photo Blog and even though it was labelled for re-use on Google images, I thought I should give them a shoutout.

Sidenote 3: This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/.

Academic Nomads

In case you haven’t heard… I’m leaving! I’m leaving my job at Brunel and the United Kingdom in general for a new life in the New World. I’ve thus far avoided most mentions of the change on social media because I wanted to say my goodbyes in person- and because 140 characters is rarely enough to discuss anything, much less a total change of lifestyle. So here we are- a blog post.

Rather than use this space to discuss my reasons for moving, which can be summed up in a single word: family, I’ve decided to use my word count to instead discuss the nomadic nature of academic life. Let’s begin with a magical example from my past, shall we?

In the third year of my undergraduate degree, I remember finding out my favourite professor was leaving our university. She was my favourite professor not only because she taught a module called Death and Dying, by which my young gothic self was totally enraptured, but also because she was straight out of Hogwarts. She wore a plain black outfit to every class and made up for the lack of colour in her garments with fabulous accessories. She would wear a ring on every finger and silver linked belt studded with matching semi-precious stones. One class it would be turquoise, the next class tigerseye, the next jasper, and so on. She had style.

One day, towards the end of term, she interrupted her usual overview of that week’s content to inform us she would not be returning to the university the following autumn. Her exact words, I still remember them, were “I’ve very much enjoyed my time here, but two years is an awful long time to live somewhere so I’m moving to Siberia”. I’m sure she qualified the last part of the statement with an explanation of what she planned to do in Siberia, but I was so dumbfounded that I forgot to listen. Two years? A long time? She couldn’t be serious… How can you do anything in two years?

Now this professor was certainly quirky, so I think the ‘two years’ and ‘Siberia’ thing are fairly unique to her, but the general sentiment stuck with me. The nature of academic life can be a nomadic one. It might not always be possible or desirable to put down roots in the city you take a job. Whilst I know plenty colleagues who have settled down and stuck to one university for the majority of their professional lives, I know an equal number who bounce from place to place. In some cases this is down to the necessity of following funding, in others it is taking advantage of opportunities to work with specific people, and in a good number of cases, it is down to an unfortunate increase in zero hour contracts and budget cuts. And, I suppose, it is also possible that some folks just like roaming the planet. I probably fall into the this latter category.

For those of us who have made career moves overseas, the constant pain of saying goodbye is a familiar one. I’m sure it is also painful to say adios to family when you live a city, state, or province away, but short-long distances have to be better than long-long distances. Living and working overseas for me has meant that twice a year for the past eight years I’ve made an absolute ass of myself at the Sky Harbor airport crying and hugging family members goodbye. Although it also sucks to say goodbye to friends and colleagues before I go on holiday, I’ve thus far managed to spare the good folks at Heathrow from my ugly-crying. When I board the plane this time, however, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to hold back.

But that’s academic life for a good number of us. We move around, we spread knowledge, we travel. And, even if our family and job are in the same city, we still experience a steady stream of greetings and farewells during conference season. When you’re an academic, you probably have a good number of academic friends, and given the probabilty they’re nomads like you, the chances of running into each other can be so slim they feel more like internet buddies than real-life friends.

So why choose this life? Because it is worth the pain. Every year is an exciting adventure which leads to the discovery of new ideas, new research, and new people. And isn’t discovery why we’re in this business?

And so dear internet friends, to paraphrase a famous professor, I’ve very much enjoyed my time in the United Kingdom, but eight years is an awful long time to live somewhere so I’m moving to Utah. Who knows, maybe I’ll even put down some roots there.

Until next time,

Ashley