Violins and Magic

Beautiful post at Terra Nova about violins as magical items.

I own a violin, but it is only a white-level item, at best.  Certainly mass manufactured, it was purchased for less than $100 when I was in 8th grade.  My mom probably thought the violin was a passing fancy, so didn’t want to invest in a lot of gold toward a green level one.  I did my best to make it sounds like a green violin over the five years that I played.  (I played the viola for a year, too, which I loved even more.)

I skilled up quickly in the beginning, but then plateaued, as always seems to be the case with weapons. As my skill increased, I noted that my DPS went down.  My parents stopped sending me to my room to practice with the door closed.

Eventually, I reached the limits of my available training, given how much gold I had in my bank (not to mention my innate skills as a player), and pursued different skills.  I kept the violin in my inventory (my room) for the next few years, just in case I felt the urge to play.  When I moved away from home, the violin was moved into my permanent bank space (parents’ basement) where it stayed for more than ten years, collecting dust.

On one of my last visits, I decided to bring the violin back home with me.   I can see it in the closet from where I’m sitting in my office right now.  I know I’d have to start leveling the skill from zero again, but some days it’s tempting, especially when I hear one of the more masterful players make magic on one of their epics.  I know these are epics and skills I’ll never have, but a little magic in life is always nice.  I could be a casual player again someday.

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Labor vs. Labor of Love

/RL

Last December, I did something crazy — I quit my job.  It felt strange to do something so bold in this economic climate and even stranger to tell people about it.  Not only was I ditching a steady paycheck, I was leaving the career path that I’d been on for more than ten years, which included getting a PhD and doing several years of postdoctoral work.

I can’t say that my colleagues were impressed with my decision, except maybe a few that knew how unhappy I’d been.  My misery had begun in graduate school, but I finished the degree and continued with the work anyway.  This is partly because I did love it once and hoped I might find that feeling again.  The rest was pride and stubbornness.  Oh, and fear.  Lots of fear.  I was afraid to venture out because what I really wanted to do instead seemed so impractical, I could hardly admit it to myself, much less anyone else.  I wanted to be a writer.

When I finally reached my breaking point and planned to quit, I decided to seize the opportunity and see if I could make a living as a writer.  To quell the fear (and make the decision seem more legitimate), I took the most practical approach I could think of.  I secured a job as a contractor for an editing company that caters to folks in my old line of work.  In between jobs with them, I arranged to work through freelancing bid sites to supplement my income.

In the 10 months after joining the editing company, they only sent me work three times.  The first time, the topic was far removed enough from my field that I couldn’t do it — I let them pass it along to someone else.  The second time, it was to write a grant (not my cup of tea), again on something completely unrelated to my specific expertise.  (The selling point of the company is that your documents will be edited by experts, not some random schmo filling in their knowledge gaps with Google.)  By the time they sent me the third item, which was relatively close to my expertise, it was too late.  Science is something you need to mentally keep up with and my brain had gotten too rusty.  Besides, I didn’t want to think about that stuff any more.  So, I turned down the work and terminated my contract with them.

I did pick up work through the bid sites, however.  I had plenty to keep me busy during weekdays, mainly through one particular client.  After my first few assignments, they brought me on as a full member of their project team to write web content and promotional materials for their company.  They loved my work, too.  I basked in the positive feedback and wrote whatever they asked me to.  As my other clients trickled off, I didn’t replace them.

As for the content itself … meh.  And the message?  Er… yeah.  Let’s just say I wasn’t a fan of what they were selling.  It was ghostwriting, however, so I assured myself that my reputation was safe.  I did like the people personally, we were just coming from different places.  In writing on their behalf, I did what I could to keep them honest (from my point of view).  Truth be told, most of it was just fine and I was left to my own devices enough of the time that I could write what I felt was right.

The summer marched on.  I was pretty happy.  I enjoyed not dreading Mondays for once in my life.  And then I got a little wake-up call from a surprising place: Jonathan Coulton‘s  How I WoW appearance.  He was asked whether it was a conscious choice to steer his songs toward the geek culture.  He said no, he just wrote what he wrote and didn’t steer his creativity toward any particular mold.  If he wrote what others wanted him to, it would just be like any other job.

And I thought, Damn, he’s right.  I think I did it wrong.

But I kept going.  I was getting paid, right?  Paychecks good.

Fast forward a few months.  My pay had marginally increased, but the client was asking a lot more work from me.  I had enough to do that I could keep myself busy full time, but given the low pay, I worked part time.  Since they were satisfied with my progress each week, I didn’t ask for more or rock the boat.

Then, a few weeks ago, they rocked the boat.  They’d asked me to write some sketchy things in the past, but I usually just let them fall to the bottom of the priority pile. This time, there was a concrete deadline, so I had to do it. Given the particulars of the assignment, I had enough editorial control to express what I really thought about the topic, so I did just that.  I was pretty sure they were going to disregard my work, so my rebellion might not not pay off, but it was worth a try.

About a week later, they gave me an assignment that was even worse.  This one I could not do.  I joked early on in my freelancing career that I’d probably start with high standards that would spiral downward when I found myself in need of money.  It seems it was the opposite.  I hadn’t had a decent paycheck in a year, but for personal, ethical, and philosophical reasons, there was no way I could write what they wanted.  In fact, I realized I didn’t want to write for them at all any more.  It was a tough phone call to make, but I did it.  I was honest, too, and told them exactly why I was leaving the team.  They called a few times after and asked me to reconsider, but I held my ground.  I’m done with them.

Even though I’m now starting from scratch after almost a year in this job, I think it’s been a good year and a great experience.  It certainly crystallized some things for me; I have a much better sense of what I want to be as a writer and what I’m willing to write for others.

I’m going to fully embrace this fresh start, too.  This time, I’ll choose what I write.  Maybe I’ll get hired for regular writing somewhere (web or print), maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll manage to sell a story, an essay, a novel… who knows?  I won’t know until I really buckle down and give this work an honest try.  Besides, if I’m not going to make much money writing, I may as well do it writing about things I care about.

So, the time has come.  Enough with this working-to-live crap.  Life is too short for that.

Onward! 😀

Bloggish Things

This blog’s second birthday passed a few weeks ago, so I decided a makeover was due.  (Probably long overdue!)

I’ve already performed the sad task of removing inactive blogs from my blogroll.  So many of the folks I followed during my more active blogging days have moved on, in some cases totally shutting down their blogs.  I’ve kept them in my feed reader in hopes they might one day re-emerge, perhaps with Cataclysm.

You’ll also notice the ever-expanding list of non-WoW blogs that I follow.  I believe my blog could evolve into a more general gaming or MMO blog eventually, though I’m so deeply entrenched in WoW at the moment that I’m sure it will still dominate the content as I start writing more regularly.  I have had a lot of fun checking out other games and writing up reviews of them, however.  (A few more of these are in the oven!)  I’m hoping to do a lot more of that sort of thing, just to mix things up.

I’ve found tons of new blogs recently and I’m slowly adding them to my link list.  If you think I’m missing some “must read” blogs, please do share links in the comments.  I’m hoping to become a more active part of the community again and I realize I have loads of catching up to do.  I finally caved and joined the masses on Twitter, as well.

Next, I’ll be fiddling with the layout and redoing all the tags and categories, so things might be a mess for a while.  It will be a lot of work, but it’ll be fun going through the old posts.  Ah, such a noob.

Anyway, hopefully this means I’m really back!  Hello!

The Cost of Being a Goon

A while back I heard about a video of a Wintergrasp battle in WoW that had been won within 62 seconds thanks to a clever bunch of folks that piled around the relic door and used grenades and bombs from the engineering profession to blast it down.  I looked up the video and found that it was the notorious Goon Squad that had pulled it off.  A friend in my guild mentioned that the Goons had also once kited Jaina all the way to Orgrimmar, through the city, and into Thrall’s chambers where they had a showdown.  What a fun idea!  I decided to check out their website to see what else they’d been up to.

I was immediately met with a warning that I was not a paying member, but that if I clicked “ok” I could see the payment options for the guild.  Uh, payment options?   I clicked ok and was met with a summary of what it requires to be a Goon.

If you want the privilege of running with the Goons in WoW, it will cost you an additional monthly fee payable through Paypal, credit card, or direct bank account transfer.  They have four different membership plans, each allowing you access to different levels of raiding and guild activities.  The above Jaina/Thrall event, for example, was a “Platinum Only” event.  All those people involved pay an extra $50 a month on top of their regular WoW subscription fee to participate in this kind of thing, or just $40 if the economy-inspired price break had already occurred.

Beyond the membership fees, they invite people to buy gear, too.  If you’re low on DKP but really want to bid on a raid drop, no problem — you can buy more DKP for a dollar a point.  Seems they may allow some non-members to raid with them, in which case the person must pay $5-25 (depending on gear item level) for drops, payable before the raid.  They add “We do not accept gold as a USD substitute.”  How is this not against the Terms of Use, which says “you may not sell in-game items or currency for “real” money, or exchange those items or currency for value outside of the Game”?

For all this, the Goons must bring in an impressive amount of money, too.  They say these fees go toward paying full time guild employees, including the GM, raid leaders, and a sys admin to keep the forums and vent servers going.  They boast 1800 accounts, so even if these were all just $10/month accounts with no frills, that’s $18,000 per month that they pull in.  That’s the minimum.  You saw how many $40-50 accounts were running around in those videos, so it has to be quite a bit more. I’m sure some folks also buy DKP and gear, so I can’t help but wonder what they rake in.  And do they report it and pay taxes on it?

There are guilds of similar (or larger) size out there that seem to function perfectly fine with a GM, officers, and raid leaders, none of whom get paid by the membership.  I don’t know how many accounts Alea Iacta Est has, but with almost 5000 toons associated with the guild, I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a comparable number of accounts to the Goons.  I suppose some would argue that the in-game experience the Goons offer is rare, however. It is an exclusive club and membership can potentially change the game completely for you.  But is it worth an extra $40 per month on top of your WoW subscription?

If it were a one-time fee to help defray the cost of the website and vent servers, I could see doing that.  Even a small yearly donation would not be unreasonable.  But, supporting the GM and officers so that they can basically live off of running the guild?  Sorry, I don’t think so.  The payment of real money for gear is absolutely ridiculous, too.  Pushing the boundaries is sort of their thing though, so maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised.  Still, I’m surprised they get away with it.

==

Edit: Evidently this is just another one of the Goons’ clever games and I fell for it.  They’re pretty good, aren’t they?

<–pwned

*crickets*

Anyone still reading out there?  Heh… I know I’ve been quiet.  I’ve been playing plenty of WoW lately, raiding a couple times a week with my guild, running heroics, doing officer-y things, and have even dusted off some alts, but somehow, none of it has seemed post-worthy.

I’m having a great time, it just seems that my experiences have become rather predictable and not that much fun to write about.  I could tell you that we’ve downed Hodir, Thorim, and have taken our first crack at Mimiron.  I could mention that my husband and I have dusted off our achievement duo in hopes that we’ll get Loremaster done before the old world explodes.  All this might be interesting for me to read about in the future, maybe, as I look back on my time in the game, but it’s really not interesting to me now.  I doubt it’s interesting to any readers either.  It feels like a half-assed update.  A diary entry with no reflection.  “Today at school we had pizza for lunch and played kickball in gym.”  Bleah.

I’m starting to bore myself.  I’m lacking inspiration.  I used to find it by going out into Azeroth and pugging or questing in the noob areas.  Now, I pretty much only hang out with my guildies and in the interest of anonymity, I won’t say many specific things about them here.

I’ve also found myself skipping over a lot of WoW blogs lately in favor of more general MMO oriented blogs.  Whenever I get around to cleaning up my blogroll (mainly removing the listings of bloggers that have quit over the last six months), I have a feeling that the WoW:General ratio is going to be much closer to 1:1.  It may even be more skewed toward the general.  It’s moments like this where I wonder whether I should have chosen a less WoW-oriented title for my blog.  Heh… it’s dated even more because I wasn’t thinking ahead beyond the Burning Crusade expansion.  Oh well, it’s still me, right?

I don’t have any specific plans yet, but I’m hoping to rekindle my interest (and yours?) in the blog with more thoughtful posts that have less to do with my in-game activities and more about my thoughts on the state of WoW and possibly other games that I’ve tried recently.  Either that or you won’t hear from me for another month.  😉

Droppin’ like flies out there…

Looks like we’ve had another rash of blog closings in the last few months.  Some are quitting WoW because they’re bored with the game (having finished all the content or not), others want/need to spend more time with family, and some are just refocusing their efforts on other things.  This is all fine and dandy — it’s a hobby, and we’ll all move on from it some day.  Blogging, too, is a hobby that enriches our main hobbies.  When that becomes a chore, it’s also time to move on from that.

Dax gave me a nudge recently, noting that I hadn’t been posting much recently.  It’s true.  Again, this has to do with my new job.  I hated my old job, so much of my time was spent messing around on the internet, letting me blog as much as I wanted.  Now, not only do I like my job, it’s a writing job!  So, I have to try not to let myself get too distracted thinking about the game during the day.  (I write from the same computer that has WoW on it, too, leaving me constantly in peril!)

In any case, I mean to reassure (the five readers that I have left) that it’s doubtful I’ll close the blog any time soon.  I will, one day, finish those big posts I have going, too.

I’ll also have a post next week offering something unexpected:  a contest.  Given the focus of this blog, it’s not the most natural move for me. (I’ve never been one of the “big” bloggers, I’m the sole writer here, and I write the content with little expectation of readership.)  Still, someone contacted me asking if I would hold a contest for them if they provided the prizes and … well, when I saw what the prize was, I had to say yes.

Stay tuned… 😉

Or maybe not back?

So.

My previous job gave me loads of internet reading time, particularly toward the end of my stint there.  The job involved working on long term, slowly progressing projects, nesting work on each to give myself busy days.  On well-planned days, I had zero downtime, but as I lost interest in the job, I planned things less and less well.  When I decided to quit the job, I stopped starting new projects and in the last months, I was messing around on the internet almost full time.  Heaven, yes?  No, not really.  I actually started to get bored toward the end, and part of this was anxiousness to start the next thing, which I couldn’t really do until after the holidays.

I had no idea whether this new “job,” working at home as a freelance writer and editor, would leave me with more or less time for internet shenanigans.  I suspected things would be slow in the beginning, so I’d certainly keep blogging.  I also thought that trying not to play WoW during the days was going to take some serious will power. I’ve found it’s the opposite, however.  The days go by very quickly and I’m working all day on writing and editing stuff, preparing short proposals to bid for projects, producing samples for potential hirers, and looking for opportunities.  It doesn’t even occur to me to play games. You know that beautiful mental zone where you’re completely absorbed in something, so much so that you don’t notice time passing?  I’m in that zone all day now, though not with WoW or another hobby… I’m in that zone in my job.  I’d always hoped for this!

I know, it’s the beginning and the honeymoon may very well end.  I’m having a total blast though.  It does mean, however, that I’m finding very little time to blog.  I’ve not even managed to visit I Can Haz Cheezburger regularly.  Amazing.

I will try to put up a couple posts per week though.  I’m hopelessly behind on my feed reader though…

Halloween Interlude

I loved horror books and movies when I was a teenager, and although I’m less into them now (partly because I find they affect me a lot more), I do still enjoy them.  I always find myself revisiting the genre as Halloween approaches, watching clips of my favorite scary films on youtube, etc.  This year I’ve been gravitating toward true (or supposedly true) spooky tales of various sorts…

Amityville

The people that experienced the haunting of their home in Amityville in the 70’s still claim that it actually happened, though some of those involved on the periphery have come forward with different stories in recent years.  It genuinely was a “murder house,” though the evidence that the house itself was evil is … well, kind of silly when you lay it all out.  The odd events are explainable or obviously embellished by people that want to believe the place is haunted or possessed by something. There’s an interesting series here called the The Real Amityville Horror that interviews many of the people involved, including the murderer who unfortunately gave the house its reputation in the first place.

I’m sure I saw the Amityville film at some point, but it was never a particular favorite.  I did read the book by Jay Anson, as well as one of his other books, 666, which also about an evil house.  Hehe…

The Exorcist

I finally saw the full version of The Exorcist a couple years back, when I decided to check out the new cut that was released.  Previously, I’d only seen the edited-for-tv version, which still scared the crap out of me.  I remember my Mom warning me that I shouldn’t read the book because it was even scarier, but of course that made it more attractive.  My friend Debbie let me borrow her copy which had the cover completely torn off, making it safer to read in the afternoons when my folks were around.  The book was terrifying, too.  I slept with the lights on.

A year or so ago, I was chatting with a coworker about The Exorcist, and she mentioned it was based on a true story.  I vaguely remembered hearing that before and decided to dig around on the internet to see what I could find about the real case.  I happened upon this series of articles called The Haunted Boy of Cottage City, in which the writer describes his efforts to find out what really happened and who it happened to.  It is a fascinating piece of investigative work.  I’m surprised more people don’t know about it.

Jack the Ripper

This is more in the realm of true crime than horror, though the murders were pretty horrifying.  (In reading a site that profiled the murdered women, I was surprised to find that one of the portraits of the victims was actually a photo of her after her death.  Eesh.)  This is a case that continues to captivate because it was never solved, of course, and there are many theories about who Jack the Ripper may have been.  The case caught my interest when I watched the various miniseries about the murders that aired in the 80’s (the dramatized one with Michael Caine, as well as another, more documentary style one — I had them both on tape).  I remember feeling like if I watched these carefully enough, I’d somehow solve the case myself.

I did pick up the Patricia Cornwell book that came out in recent years, offering a modern forensic look at the evidence in the Ripper case, but I never finished it once I read elsewhere that the DNA evidence was not conclusive.  During my other readings, I also learned of the Maybrick diary, in which merchant James Maybrick confesses that he is Jack the Ripper and includes details of the grisly murders that, supposedly, nobody other than the murderer could know.  When this diary surfaced in the early 90’s, ripperologists scrutinized it and showed that all those “unknowable” details were publically available in some way or another.  What’s amazing to me is that the people who brought the diary to the publishers eventually confessed to writing it, and despite this, some people still consider it evidence that Maybrick was the Whitechapel murderer.  Provides another theory, maybe, but evidence?  I still find sites on the internet saying that the diary “might be” a hoax.  Heh… wow.  Talk about wanting to believe.

That’s what I find most interesting about stories like these.  The Lutzes, Rob Doe (or at least his mother and grandmother), and the rest, all wanting so desperately to believe in something that they interpret events and evidence around them to match it.  We all do this to some extent, but in these cases, it’s been magnified by the improbability of what what they believe, not to mention the public interest in it.  The truth behind these stories is just as, if not more, compelling to me.

Obvious Bias

After Schramm apologized for his “obvious bias” in this WI article about Azeroth Advisor, I thought maybe there would be some reform.  His apology seemed to have been prompted by this excellent post by Lassirra at The Hunter’s Mark, and frankly, it surprised me to see him back down given his tone on the WI podcast at times.  I was happy to see him edit the original post and acknowledge how unprofessional his comments were.  Apparently, there was no reform, however. His tone in this recent post about the WAR developer’s comments about Blizzard is just … ugh.  Embarrassing.  As frustrated as I get reading WI sometimes, somewhere deep down, I’ve still been rooting for them because I do like some of their writers.  But, between snark like this, the rampant misspellings, and the abundance of filler posts, I’m losing the faith.  If the intent is to relay information, beginning an article with “Oh, this is rich,” doesn’t exactly scream journalistic integrity.

One Year Later

I started this blog almost exactly a year ago!  Sit down and have a slice of cake with me…

“Outland Bound”

I titled this blog with my goals at the time — to get to Outland and hopefully level a character to 70.  All three of the toons I mentioned in my first post not only made it to Outland, they are all 70 now.  Woo!

One funny thing that the blog title has brought is people looking for bondage stuff.  Undoubtedly, this is because of the word “bound,” abbreviations for Scarlet Monastery, and mentions of dungeons.  One of my post titles had the phrase “big girl” in it, referring to my first Outland dungeon, too, so … uh, yeah.

Stats

I started with a blogspot blog and had some pretty good traffic there after BRK linked me on a list with lots of other blogs.  I lost quite a bit of traffic in switching to wordpress, but got much of it back once again after the BRK pimped my Gnaked Gnome Race recap, which is still my most viewed post.

My second most viewed post there was linked from a WoW Insider article by Game Dame — lots of traffic from that!  The third most viewed was the post that initiated Pox Arcanum, and several of the others there are early Pox-related posts.

The ghostwolf post got extra viewing thanks to some link love from Mania, and I assume “Outlandish Weekend” gets hits because people are looking for the podcast.  The last one on the list there got so many views thanks to linkage from Matticus.

Although it didn’t result in attention to a particular post, one of the most exciting moments in the last year was hearing that I’d been chosen as blog of the week for Ep 26 of Shut Up, We’re Talking.  I’m such a fan of the podcast, it was surreal to hear them talk about my blog and say hello to me during the show, knowing that I’m a listener.

I currently average about 50-100 readers per day, depending on whether I have posted something new or not.  I’m very content with that.  I never meant for the blog to make a huge splash — I just hope the folks that stumble here enjoy it enough to stay and read more.

Woo!  Thanks to all of you for reading!

Northrend Bound?

I certainly will be.  I still have a lot of enthusiasm for the game and am looking forward to diving into the new content with my guild.  I don’t think I’ll change the name of the blog, however. 🙂