The Sims 2: Game play continues, but perhaps is winding down…

My Sims playing has been going okay. I have tried to be careful about not playing too much, though I do think I’ve been losing a bit of sleep lately and I have a lot on my plate with work right now, so I will try to cut back on my play in the coming week. Just as well– I think I’m on the verge of getting a bit bored with it again already. No question, there are differences with this latest version of the Sims, as I list below here. But at the same time, the game isn’t that much difference from the old game, either.

A couple of highlights/observations from recent play:

* I created a character I named “Stevie Honest,” with the goal/plan of trying to play “honest” in the sense of not just getting a big pile of money and doing whatever I want. I cheated big time with my first family creation, the “Kaching” family (and the reason why I called them that is because that’s what you type to get more money in the cheat code, “Kaching”). Besides the fact that it got kind of boring to have everything, the elaborate house I built and all the stuff I put into it slowed down game-play A LOT.

* Which again speaks to the hardware requirements of the game. If you “keep it simple” in terms of what you build and how many Sims you keep in play, I suppose the minimum requirements are enough. But I certainly wish I had a much more beefy system than I’ve got.

* This version of the game asks you to create different sorts of aspirations for your Sims, aspirations that significantly influence their motivations, what they do for work, etc. I made Stevie Honest’s aspiration to be a “knowledge seeker” type (seemed appropriate), and he embarked on a medical career. Frankly, he has climbed the ranks pretty easily, it seems to me. Or at least it seems easier than the original Sims game.

* Stevie Honest met, fell in love with, got engaged, and ultimately married to this Sim named Nina. It all seemed to happen quite easily… a bit too easily, in fact. Well, after Stevie and Nina moved in together, I think I figured out why it was so easily. Nina, whose aspiration is to be a “rommance seeker” type, is a bit of a nympho. While Stevie’s aspirations include goals like “gain another mechanical knowledge point” and “stargaze with a telescope,” Nina’s aspirations are things like “make out with three different Sims,” “WooHoo (that is, have sex) with three different Sims,” and “WooHoo in a public place.” She wasn’t all that crazy about getting married (I guess that cuts into the sex for her), and as far as I can gather from what limited experimentation I’ve done so far, she’ll have sex with anyone who is willing to have sex with her. I guess this is a computer game developer’s definition of “romantic.”

As an aside, I think my next Sim experiment will be to put a bunch of roommates together in the same house who all aspire either to be “romantic” (like Nina) or to be “friendly” (which I think means have parties and stuff), and see what happens. I predict a Sim-orgy.

* At this point, I’m sort of curious to playing this group out to the “next generation.” In theory, Stevie and Nina are going to have a baby one of these days, and I assume that eventually, Stevie and Nina are going to die. There are ways to prevent that– there are “magic formulas” and things that your Sims can take to extend life– but actually, I’m kind of curious to see what happens if they just die, especially if they leave offspring behind. Can the children, hopefully old enough, inherit money and property? Can Sims have grandchildren? We’ll see.

Technological failure and a "teachable moment"

I haven’t had a chance to write here lately, in part because I’ve been busy with school, and in part because I’ve been spending what free-time I have playing “The Sims 2,” golfing, gardening, etc. I do think all of these activities are winding down for the school year though, only to return in the spring.

Anyway, I thought I’d share what I found to be a profoundly “teachable moment” on Thursday. For my graduate course, Computers and Writing, Theory and Practice, we just started reading the Pamela Takayoshi and Brian Huot’s book, Teaching Writing with Computers: An Introduction. A couple of the essays in the first part of that book repeat the classic bit of wisdom that teaching with technology requires teachers to have a “plan B.”

Earlier in the day, in my undergraduate class called Writing, Style, and Technology, I experienced such a moment. I was planning on showing students how to work with basic HTML with the help of a paper hand-out and a web site I’ve created to teach this sort of thing, Krause’s How To HTML Site. The only problem was that the server that hosts this page and the server available for students, faculty, and staff at EMU to hosts pages,, was down. In fact, it seemed to go down about a half-hour before my class started. I was in immediate need of a plan B.

Luckily, I had several alternatives. I have an older version of the site up and running on a different server, so we used that instead. Plus I had created a hard-copy of the instructions for that day’s class, which didn’t require students to upload files to the server (that’s Tuesday’s class). And also, luckily for me, this was about the 100th time I had done this sort of thing, which gave me the comfort and confidence to go to a plan B. I have to wonder if things would have gone well in that class (which they did, even though the server didn’t come back online until about a half-hour after class) if I hadn’t had a lot of previous experience teaching with technology in general and HTML in particular. How far would a plan B gotten me if I was overly stressed out about the server failure and disruption of my “plan A?”

Anyway, I used this as “teachable moment” in my grad class Thursday evening, talking a bit about how I had just that day had to go to an alternative to what I had planned to do with technology in my teaching. I’m not sure the extent to which my grad students recognized the importance of having an alternative in the face of technological failure, though. Perhaps it’s one of those things like the advice about backing up your files in case you have some kind of problem with your computer. The only people I know who back stuff up on their computers are people who have actually lost important files on their computers in the past. Maybe it’s that kind of experience you need in teaching before you get serious about plan B, too.

Teaching online in high school

From the NCTE Inbox comes this Boston Globe article, “At high schools, more students logging on to learn.” Three interesting paragraphs from the article:

The Peak Group, an educational consulting firm, estimates that more than 1 million American high school students are currently taking Internet courses, up from 571,000 last year and 378,000 the year before.

The virtual classes have a maximum of 25 students, who receive regular high school credit if they complete the course.

The Internet courses, also referred to as distance learning or e-learning, expose students to a much broader range of courses than a single school could possibly offer. Among the more esoteric topics are ”Contemporary Irish Literature,” ”The Golden Age of Classical Greece,” ”Meteorology: A Study of Atmospheric Interactions,” and ”DNA Technology.

I think this is the right way to do online classes for at least two reasons. First, the numbers of students (at least for these online courses) are small, a mistake that has been made in the past by administrators. Second, these online courses are offering “extras” that would be hard to do in all but the most wealthy and/or large of school districts. It isn’t replacing the “basic” courses.

We aren’t at a place in terms of the technology or anything else where it makes sense for high school and college students to take all their courses online, but I think we are at a place where it makes sense for nearly all high school and college students to take at least some of their courses online.

New Adventures in Dieting: More about the scale and total pound numbers

-14.5 pounds or so

On the one hand, things on the diet aren’t going that well. I’ve been stuck again in a complete rut for the last couple weeks, and really, I’ve been stuck somewhere between -12 and -15 pounds since we got back from Hawaii. That’s frustrating.

But there are a couple “other hands” here. For one thing, I don’t feel like I’ve been “suffering,” which is perhaps one of the reasons why I’m stuck. I’ve been sticking pretty closely to a diet somewhere between “Phase 1” and “Phase 2” of the diet– with an occassional cookie, usually in a coffee shop– and it strikes me as a pretty easy and healthy way to eat. It’s a hell of a lot easier to stay on this diet than it was to stay on a low fat diet.

A third hand: there is more evidence to doubt the scale and my overall weight loss. Annette went to the doctor the other day, and while I won’t be discussing her adventures in dieting in any detail here, there are two interesting things worth mentioning. First, fully clothed and after lunch, she said she weighed less at the doctor’s office than she did on the bathroom scale that morning. Second, the weight she was at in February (according to the doctor’s office) was higher than she remembered.

Now, I don’t know for sure, but I think I’m in a similar space. I use the same scale as Annette does, and I do think I was probably about 5 pounds heavier in February than I was when I started this diet on April 1, which would put my total “loss” since February or so at more like -20 or so pounds. This might not seem like much to celebrate, but I have to say that when you’re in a diet rut like I am now– stuck with the same scale and total loss numbers for such a long time– you have to take solice in whatever you can get.

"Real" and "Simulated" Communities in "The Sims 2:" Blurring the Lines

Or something like that– that title is my first pass at what I would call an academic article about the new computer game, “The Sims 2.”

Not that I’m going to write that article; I have too many other things on my plate right now as it is. However, having bought and played the newly released The Sims 2 a bit, I can say with some authority that it would be a good article.

Now, in my practice of keeping this “official” blog (where I try to keep to things that have to do with academia, scholarship, teaching, and the like) seperate from my “unofficial” blog (where I write about things that have to do with the rest of my life), I’m not going to write here about the ups and downs of actually playing this game. You can read what I’ve posted about playing The Sims 2 (so far) by following this link; all I will say is that I have been reasonably effective in rationing my game play to times I would be sitting around watching TV, meaning it hasn’t cut into my work. Yet.

Anyway, I am serious that someone ought to write an article about the role of electronic communication in this game. There have always been elements of communication among player’s characters (referred to as “Sims”)– they obviously talk face-to-face, and they also talk on the telephone– but the new version has Sims communicating (and thus developing friendships and “community”) with their computers with email and chat. For at least one Sim I have created, chat seems highly addictive, too. Problematically (at least for me), the level of “social” satisfaction this particular Sim gets from chat is the same as he gets from face-to-face interaction.

Perhaps the more interesting communications though is among the players of the game as facilitated by The Sims 2 web site, particularly the community section of the site. Again, this has always been a part of the game because players have always had fan sites and they’ve had the ability to exchange different items from the game (house designs, Sim skins and clothes, furniture and other objects, etc.). This new version of the web site supports a BBS forum, a chat forum, and– if you follow the “MySim” link— blogs. I’m pretty sure you have to register your game with the site (probably a pretty good way to keep down on the illegal copies, too) and my guess is that all of this is “moderated” to the point of censorship. I doubt I could create a blog on the Sims 2 web site that speaks badly of the game. Even with these limitations, I think it’s interesting.

I don’t know what else I would say about all this in an academic article– yet another reason I’m not going to write it. But it seems to me that there are some interesting and potentially problematic blendings between the real and the “sim”ulated here.

Trying to not fall down “The Sims 2” rabbit hole, out of time and space…

In general, I’m not much of a computer game person. I’ll play on the PlayStation we (supposedly) bought for Will for his birthday once in a while (I like the driving games), and I really enjoyed playing SimGolf for a few months. But I don’t really like “first person shooter” games because I just find the idea of shooting anything that moves to be both troubling and boring.

The one game I did like when it finally came out for the Mac was “The Sims.” I liked that a lot, bought a lot the expansions of the game (“Livin’ Large,” “Hot Date,” “Superstar,” etc.), and for a while, I played it through the night when I should have been doing other things like sleeping. So of course, despite the fact that I am a very busy academic worker bee right now, I had to buy The Sims 2, and I am fighting the urge to get sucked down that rabbit hole where I lose all track of time and events in the real world.

So far, so good. For one thing, the only windoze PC in the house is Will’s, and I can’t really throw him off of it to play this thing. I’m getting ready to go play golf this morning, and yesterday morning, I rented a roto-tiller and spent quite a bit of time working the maching over most of the garden (we’re working on a “backyard reconfiguration” project).

On the other hand, I was up until 2 am on Thursday playing with it, I have been mindful of the clock when playing it the last couple of nights (because you do lose track of time and space…), and I would be playing it right now if Will wasn’t on his computer.

I am just figuring out how the thing works, and I’m sure I will write a whole lot more on this later on, but a couple of quick thoughts:

* Despite the fact that Will’s Dell computer is just over a year old, has a Pentium 4 2.2 Gig MHZ processor with 512 MB of RAM, this game runs slow, sometimes painfully PAINFULLY slow, especially if you’ve got a bunch of people (“Sims”) running around trying to do stuff at the same time. I browse through magazines while waiting for some stuff to load.

* My favorite part of the game now is the same as it was before: the “architectual” simulation aspects of it. This new one allows you to build even more elaborate and cool houses.

* With the Sims 1, I generally cheated just about all the time– basically, by just giving my Sims as much money. But in the Sims 2, it seems like the motivation to cheat is quite a bit lower and, much like life itself, you can’t solve every problem by just throwing money at it.

* The concept of the Sims 2 is different in a way that I think will keep the game interesting for a lot longer. Sims are born, live, and (potentially, though I haven’t gotten to this point) die of old age, and they have “aspirations,” which are little goals you want to meet to keep ’em happy. Annette always asks “what’s the point?” with this game; this stuff gives it more of a point.

* Still, it’s kind of a stupid game, really. I feel a bit odd as a middle-aged man playing with what amounts to an electronic doll house. And it is also still this computer game where you can actually have your Sim characters playing a computer game, and it is the kind of game where you get really into watching your Sims washing the dishes and cleaning the house while your real dishes pile up in the sink.

"When Blogging Goes Bad" article is out in Kairos

Kairos 9.1 Fall 2004 is out, and my essay, “When Blogging Goes Bad: A Cautionary Tale About Blogs, Email Lists, Discussion, and Interaction,” is in it. It’s been a bit of a winding road for this piece, which I originally submitted after the 2003 Computers and Writing conference. Obviously, it didn’t get in the journal then, but that’s okay since I think it’s a much better essay now.

Two other thoughts about all this, mostly along the lines of “it’s a small world, isn’t it?”

* I found out that this issue of Kairos had been released during my grad class last night. We were meeting in the library and listening to a librarian talk about some of the research tools available (it tied into the reading for that night, really). The librarian (hi Keith, if you’re reading this!) came across Kairos in an MLA search, he clicked on the link, and I realized it was the new issue. “Hey, my article is in this issue,” I said and explained it a bit to my students. Kind of one of those lucky things that makes me look a lot more well-published and scholarly to my students than I actually am…

* Looking through the table of contents of this issue, I realize how many of these people I know, in the sense of “I’ve heard of her or him,” but in a few cases, in the sense of “I’ve had beers with him or her.” And as I think back on it, I used to know the guy who started Kairos when he was a PhD student, Mike/Mick Doherty, quite well since he was in the MA program at Bowling Green State University when I was in the PhD program there. Small world indeed.

1984 Twenty years later

See this web site from NCTE, NCTE’s “1984+20″ Project. Here’s the opening paragraph from that site:

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is sponsoring a nationwide reading and discussion of George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 this October. Educators and students in high schools, colleges, and universities, and citizens in libraries, community organizations, and book discussion groups are invited to read the book and discuss its prophetic nature and what it might teach us about life in the contemporary United States. The “1984+20� project aims to promote awareness, discussion, and debate about the key roles of language in politics and culture.

I don’t really teach any classes where incorporating this book would make much sense (and I couldn’t do it at this stage if I wanted to anyway), but the site has lots of interesting resources and such for high school and college teachers. A couple other thoughts:

* Of course, Orwell didn’t write 1984 in 1984. In fact, as I understand it, the date doesn’t really have a whole lot of significance, other than Orwell wrote and/or published the book in 1948.

* It will be interesting to see if the NCTE catches any political heat from conservatives for this choice.

* I think I’m going to read 1984 again, too. It has been more than 20 years since I’ve read it, but from what I remember, it sure does have a lot to stay about contemporary politics and culture, especially in this era of post-9/11 terrorism fears and worries.

The "Nature" of electronic publishing (as seen in Nature)

See this web site, “Access to the Literature: The Debate Continues”, part of the web site for the scientific journal Nature. Now, but “literature,” they mean science (not Huck Finn), but I think the relevance to and potential for the humanities is obvious. To quote from the site:

The Internet is profoundly changing how scientists work and publish. New business models are being tested by publishers, including open access, in which the author pays and content is free to the user. This ongoing web focus will explore current trends and future possibilities. Each week, the website will publish specially commissioned insights and analysis from leading scientists, librarians, publishers and other stakeholders, as well as key links, and articles from our archive. All content is available free.

Interestingly enough, the web site seems a bit buggy to me– or maybe it’s just getting a lot of traffic, I’m not sure.

The pleasures of grocery shopping

I really like grocery shopping, and it isn’t just because I like food and cooking. Though that’s a big part of it. I think I like grocery shopping quite a bit because I like the stores, the way they’re laid out, the lighting, all of that. I have a similar fondness for office supply stores, too.

Anyway, I thought about all this because I went grocery shopping this morning to my favorite store, Whole Foods. For anyone not familiar: Whole Foods is an “upscale” grocery store chain, though not all of it is that more expensive than a “normal” store. The “365” Whole Foods brand is pretty much the same as the prices at any other place, and Whole Foods sells a lot of stuff in bulk. I tend to buy the fish and meat products (which cost more but which are excellent in quality), some produce and cheeses, bulk stuff, and that’s about it. I go to the regular stores for other things, though that tends to be Hillers, which many folks around here also consider to be an “upscale” store.

Some observations about my trip there today:

* I went in this morning because I had stopped by the store last night in order to grab something for a makeshift dinner before my 7 pm Tuesday class. I put the tab on my debit card and asked for $20 back, and even though I got charged for it, I realized later that I didn’t actually get the money. So I was out $20, which of course pissed me off. But one of the things you pay for at Whole Foods is decent customer service. I called them up this morning, told my story, and (in part because I still have the receipt) the customer service rep was able to figure out that my cashier was $20 over in her till the night before. So I wasn’t out $20, which of course made me happy.

* When I went in this morning to shop and claim my $20, there was a cooking class in there taking a tour.

* People in the store in the morning are extra-friendly, I presume because they haven’t been irritated by customers yet. I will have to keep this in mind.

* Whole Foods, while kind of a “lefty-leaning” place (organic, interested in local farming, etc., etc.), also resists unionization and they post the daily stock price at the customer service desk.

* I know several people who used to or still do work for Whole Foods. One of these people says it is commonly referred to by employees as “the food (w)hole.”