2012: A Year of Extremes

Excuse me while I blow the dust off this blog like an old N64 cartridge. Speaking of which, let me go on an IMMEDIATE tangent: My friend was over the other night and said his mom was planning on throwing out some of his old videogames (NES, Sega Saturn, N64 etc.), to which me and my roommate FREAKED OUT and told him to make sure she did no such thing. I regretted trading in my N64, original GameBoy, and assorted games for basically one and half original Xbox games almost immediately after I did so. Not only because I didn’t think I would ever want to play them again (What I would give to play Banjo Kazooie, GoldenEye, Diddy Kong Racing, any of the San Francisco Rush games, or Perfect Dark right now…) but also because I could have gotten a thousand times more for them on eBay versus the pittance I got from GameStop when I originally sold them. We assured him that if he didn’t want to keep them, we would gladly take them off his hands, or if he did want to keep them he could probably make a good chunk of change selling all that old school gamer swag on eBay. So here’s a lesson for all you cash strapped kiddies out there: If you’re desperate for the new Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Dance Dance Revolution, or whatever you’re all playing nowadays, sell a kidney but don’t sell your classic games to GameStop for a fraction of what they’re worth. Throw those gaming treasures on eBay > ??? > profit. You can thank me later.

It’s been a casual five months since my last blog post and clearly that “post every other week” thing didn’t work out so well. Like I hypothesized in August, the last thing I want to do after staring at two computer screens all day is come home and stare at my laptop screen for another hour or two. Pretty much all I want to do when I get home from work is drink, sleep, play videogames, or go to the gym. Oh and remember that blog post where I was super excited about getting Fallout 3 for $10? I just finished it and it’s DLC on Sunday…76 in-game hours later. Oh the problems of being a videogame completionist… Now onto Batman: Arkham Asylum, Fallout: New Vegas, Halo 4, & Black Ops II…eventually. Not a lot of time for videogames now that I’m (sort of) a grown up.

Anyway… Now that 2012 has come and gone, I figured I should sort of wrap up how ridiculous of a year it has been for me. I’ve gone from being more broke than I’ve ever been, to having more money than I’ve ever known in my life, to buried under a pile of student debt from which I may never recover; from being so depressed that I didn’t even want to leave my apartment, to being happier than I’ve ever been in my life; and from working as an Economic Development & GIS Consultant and attending graduate school for City & Regional Planning to working as a Social Media Manager and Consultant. I bought…well, financed…my (realistic) dream car, a 2004 Infiniti G35, moved into a new apartment with two of my pals, posted back up in the gym for the first time in a year and a half (EAT BIG TO GET BIG), started going to grown up bars, and thanks to Don Draper and Roger Sterling graduated from boxed wine, Captain Morgan, and Four Lokos, to scotch, bourbon, and martinis. 2012 was a year of self improvement and refinement, and all in all my life is considerably better than it was a year ago. But although I’m thankful, I’m certainly not complacent.

“The only thing worse than not getting what you want is someone else getting it.”
– Roger Sterling, Mad Men

Exactly six months ago today, when I started at my current position, I was thrilled at the opportunity to build my company’s social media presence from scratch. I developed our accounts, I collaborate with our graphic designer on our branding, manage our social advertising, campaigns and engagement strategy. Very few social media managers have full reign over their company’s accounts. But being a one man social media team at a company where few, if anyone else even knows what Twitter is can be pretty lonely, and the environment can be creatively stifling. Without saying too much about my company, let’s just say the industry is very slow to embrace new technology and media. I feel like I haven’t even begun to tap my potential as a Social Media/Community/Account Manager, and my New Year’s Resolution is to move into a role that will both challenge me and help me learn from the people around me. I know this term is played out, but hustle is the word of the year for 2013. I’ve also had the fortunate opportunity to gather a few social media consulting clients, and if I find out the agency route isn’t for me, a small business social media consulting venture might be another possible career path.

Oh and wow 2012 was an unreal year for movies. And since I love ranking things, let me rank the ones I saw:

1. Moonrise Kingdom
2. Skyfall
3. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
4. Lincoln
5. The Dark Knight Rises
6. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Looper
8. Django Unchained
9. Argo
10. The Avengers
11. Taken 2
12. Cloud Atlas
13. The Grey
14. Total Recall

Any year where a Christopher Nolan Batman movie is released and it isn’t my favorite movie means it must have been an outrageous year for movies. Daniel Day-Lewis deserves to win Best Actor for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, Moonrise Kingdom might have been Wes Anderson’s best offering yet, and after Silver Linings Playbook I now have a full blown celebrity crush on Jennifer Lawrence (ugh and Bradley Cooper).

I also think I went to more professional sporting events in one year than I’ve ever been to as well. In 2012 I attended a Yankees – Tigers game, Jets – Panthers pre-season game, the U.S. Open, and an Eagles – Panthers game. Hopefully I’ll have the means to attend even more in 2013, but only time will tell.

Hey…you know, this felt kind of good to blog again, but maybe that’s the scotch talking? Anyway, I’ll try to do at least a post a month going forward to keep you all on your toes. Oh, and Kevin Youkilis is dead to me.

The Coug abides.

Power to the Players

Full disclosure: I’m a huge nerd. I used to be really ashamed of it in middle school & high school, and pretended I didn’t play videogames all the time and wait in line for the midnight release of Star Wars: Episode III. Then I cut my hair, got contacts, started socializing and going to the gym, and I realized that I could still be a nerd and have a life at the same time. It was quite the epiphany. In fact, I even realized that plenty of fine ladies are just as nerdy as I was (and some even play videogames too!). Now I proudly proclaim my love for videogames, movie & videogame soundtracks, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Batman without fear of persecution. Yeah, I paid $25 to watch nine hours of Christopher Nolan Batman perfection for The Dark Knight Rises premiere. What of it? In fact, my recent Star Wars: The Old Republic guild leadership probably helped me get a bunch of social media interviews. Say what you will Ogre…

There are still some aspects of my nerditude that I’m a little sheepish about putting out there. Not that I read Star Wars fan fiction or run a Star Wars: The Old Republic guild called The Nerf Herders or anything. Psh…who does that? Anyyyyyway, I went on another totally hetero lunch date with my pal Kenny today. This time at Quiznos, my old stomping grounds (Toastmaster, Quiznos University Class of 2005).  He had a luxurious one hour lunch break so we hit up GameStop afterwards to nerd out for a little bit. I’ve had a long list of videogames on my “to play” and “still to finish” lists. I still have to finish Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga, The Ballad of Gay Tony GTA:IV DLC, Forza III, Halo 3: ODST (still never finished the campaign), The Force Unleashed and the first Mass Effect. He also reminded me that Tribes: Ascend, a sequel in one of my favorite PC series, Starsiege, was now completely free to play on Steam. So I’m also in the process of downloading that.

My issue is that I’m both a completionist and an Xbox 360 achievement hound, so starting a new game is a huge undertaking. For instance, I try to beat every Rockstar game to 100%, which I’ve been able to do with GTA: Vice City and Red Dead Redemption (one of the greatest games I have ever played). When I first heard that BioWare (makers of my favorite Star Wars games, Knights of the Old Republic I & II) was starting a new RPG series called Mass Effect, I was super excited and I made sure it was one of my first 360 purchases. However, I was so compelled to finish everything and get every achievement that the game started to really drag as I got bogged down exploring every planet for new missions. Because of that I never ended up finishing it, but from what I heard they really stripped down and refocused in Mass Effect 2.

There are also a bunch of games on my to play list. Halo Anniversary, The Force Unleashed II, L.A. Noire, Max Payne 3, SkyrimAssassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, Revelations and eventually AC3 when it comes out later this year. I loved the first Assassin’s Creed and even as a completionist, the open world was manageable enough to finish most of the game and it’s achievements. Needless to say I’m ready to jump into the rest of that series head first. Every time I see commercials for AC3 I typically stare wide-eyed, mouth open, with drool dripping from the corner. However the one game on the top of my “to play” list has been Fallout 3, an open world FPS RPG which won Game of the Year in 2008. From what I’ve heard it’s right up my alley, but I just haven’t had the time to undertake such an epic game, plus my life had been pretty much been dictated by SWTOR until recently.

The best thing about GameStop is their huge collection of used games, and since most 360 games are $60 when they’re first released, buying pre-owned is a great deal. After browsing through the used games bin I came across Fallout 3 for $10, which obviously I jumped at. But then, after checking out I saw that they buy used Apple products. Since I’ve had my barely functioning, 30 GB iPod click wheel sitting in my car’s center console for two years I figured why not get some cash for it. After determining that it actually turned on, the kid said he could give me $26 store credit for it, which I wished I knew before I bought Fallout 3. But he said he could easily refund the money to my debit card and apply the credit. He also said that he had the Fallout 3 Game of the Year Edition complete with all DLC, new for $20. I couldn’t turn that down, so I applied the store credit and still have $6 left over. Considering buying a Batman shirt to wear to TDKR premiere. Clearly the best use of the remaining store credit. Either way, this was quite a fortuitous visit to GameStop. Power to the players indeed.

Now I’ve heard some rumors about the next generation Xbox, which right now is still called Xbox 720 (not really a fan of that name but I guess the ad wizards at Microsoft know better than me), and that they might include a means to block players from using pre-owned games. This would really kill companies like Gamefly and doom Blockbuster’s videogame rentals (which has to be the only reason anyone would still visit a Blockbuster). Plus, it would take away one of the most redeeming factors of GameStop, trade-ins and buying used games. If Microsoft actually does that with the 720, today’s wonderful experience could never happen for their next gen console. Maybe Microsoft plans to corner the market on used games, and only allow for games to be rented through Xbox Live, which would be really smart for them, but also a total dick move. And since I know that a lot of Microsoft bigwigs clearly read this blog on the reg, I have a message for them: Come on bro, don’t be like that. Also your Microsoft Points system is awful. Get rid of it.

Anywho, I’m about to mow the lawn then rip into Fallout 3 like an eight year old on Christmas morning. Coug out.

Another Day, Another Groupie

This is going to be one of those multitasking posts, since I’m also attempting to DJ and watch Djokovic cruise to yet another Wimbledon final…  Are you sitting at work right now listening to Spotify, Pandora, or Songza for your daily music fix? Well guess what? I have something even better. Sure, Spotify is the bee’s knees because of it’s ability to share playlists, as well as what you’re jamming out to, but imagine if you could take Spotify to another level. Imagine creating a set list of songs in a genre of your choice with four other people all for an audience of other digital listeners. Spotify was the next step up from Pandora, but if you want a truly social music experience, you need to check out turntable.fm. Coincidentally, it just went down as I was writing this post, but thankfully they put up adorable kitten videos on their homepage as they sort out any bugs. They also use Amazon Web Services, and went down along with Instagram and Pinterest after those storms took out the AWS Virginia server, so they might still be recovering.

Turntable.fm, founded in May 2011 by Billy Chasen and Seth Goldstein (previously of StickyBits startup fame), allows you to get on stage with anywhere from one to four other digital DJs and play songs from your playlist in thousands of different rooms for up to 200 listeners at a time. Rooms cover the gamut of genres, and you can find one playing anything from Indie to JPop to movie soundtracks. Other listeners can give you e-props for your spins by either “Awesoming” or “Laming” your song. Awesomes grant you a DJ Point, which unlock cooler avatars at various point thresholds. Turntable provides a huge database of music for you to meticulously craft your playlist from, or if you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can upload tracks from your computer. As far as I know you can have thousands of songs in your queue at once. Love a song so much you want to download it, or add it to your own song queue? Turntable gives you the option to buy the song on Amazon or iTunes (lol.), or add it to your turntable, Spotify, Rdio, or Last.fm. Awesome, right?

I’ve been faithfully using turntable.fm since last June when I first heard about it, so DJ Coug is a pretty big deal as far as digital DJs go. Despite being over a year old, and launching both iOS and Android app versions of the site, it’s technically still in beta phase. You can’t create an account without linking it to your Facebook or Twitter, but over the past year they’ve been able to iron out a lot of issues that could make DJing pretty frustrating at times. It’s really apparent that the iPhone app, which released last September, had an enormous amount of love put into it and after a few updates, I’d have to say it looks amazing and operates nearly as effortlessly as the web version. Turntable also released an Android version earlier this year.

What if you can’t find a room you like? What if you want to play some Swedish Death Metal and everyone keeps laming your Opeth tracks in the normal metal rooms!? All you have to do is create your own room. Name it whatever you want, set some simple rules, and you’ll have it up and running in a matter of seconds. Turntable also gives you the option to share where and what you’re DJing on Facebook and Twitter, so all your pals can come DJ with you! I was having a similar issue last summer when I was DJing mostly in Rap & Hip-Hop rooms. Every time I tried to play a more popular rap song from the last five years, I’d get booed off the stage (if your song dips below a certain Lame/Awesome percentage, you’ll get skipped). What I’ve found is that a lot of turntable users (especially Hip-Hop fans) tend to be obnoxiously snobbish. “Oh you’re not playing Gang Starr or Jedi Mind Tricks? Ugh. Get off the stage!” I said to hell with Rap & Hip-Hop snobs and created my own room, where I can be free to play 2 Chainz, Young Jeezy, G-Unit, or even OJ Da Juiceman (AYE! OKAY!) with the full support of all my adoring fans.

Rap While You Work | Coug Lounge

So since last June, I’ve been spending most of my turntable time DJing in my own room, “Rap While You Work – Coug Lounge“, the name of which is a play on one of the more popular rooms “Indie While You Work”. Over that time I’ve accumulated almost 6,000 DJ Points (only 4,000 more DJ Points til the space monkey!) and 250 fans, who are people that track which room you’re in, and when you start DJing. Since last year I’ve been able to craft my own brand of room, focusing on playing mostly new, popular, and Dirty South rap, which is often shunned in the more popular Hip-Hop rooms. Last summer, there were times when my room would have nearly 50 listeners during work hours, but since I took a short hiatus over the winter, the room lost a majority of it’s fan base. Recently I’ve noticed that a lot of rooms are imposing awful new rules that go against what turntable.fm is all about. Some rooms enforce strict “No Laming” rules, or ones that force all DJs on the stage to awesome every song. Not in the Coug Lounge. The lame button is there for a reason, and if the room isn’t feeling a specific song, let the DJ know about it! Over the past few months, mostly during my job search, I’ve made a serious effort to resurrect the room. This has been difficult, since a lot of last year’s daily listeners have stopped using turntable. A handful have come back, and a lot of new fans have surfaced. Plus I’ve tried to make my room into a real community, adding a “bot” (CougBot) to moderate the room and keep a DJ queue, and a Facebook page to keep fans abreast of turntable news, new music from artists we typically play, and the room’s status. It’s actually been pretty successful, and thanks to some dedicated moderators and friends (MikeJules & BlowinStankE shout out!), the room gets up and running even when I’m not there.

However, I don’t know if it’s the type of fan that typically listens to rap music, or the addition of a lot of listeners on iPhone and Android apps (which makes reading welcome messages, room rules, understanding a DJ queue, and maintaining a consistent connection much more difficult), but a lot of people have an extremely hard time using the queue or bot commands. Additionally, a lot of listeners don’t have any patience to wait a song or two to DJ, or will only stick around for one of their own plays. This is much different than it was last summer. Plus, with the addition of services like BotCavalry, and Google Chrome plug-ins like TT+, people can create and run their own rooms with ease. I’ve noticed that this causes a lot of more reliable room listeners to go off on their own to create similar rooms. This not only causes the Coug Lounge to lose a reliable listener/moderator, but it splits potential listeners into several much smaller Rap & Hip-Hop rooms.

So if you’re using Spotify/Pandora/Songza at work, I encourage you to check out turntable.fm. And if DJing takes up too much of your attention during the daily grind, find a room that plays awesome music and just chill in the crowd! But if Rap & Hip-Hop is your scene, please check out Rap While You Work | Coug Lounge or like the Facebook page! Who knows, you might discover some swelly new music, collect some DJ Points, or even get discovered as the next great DJ. So until next time, keep your top let back and your beat down low. DJ Coug out.

The Greatest App You Aren’t Using

My apologies for no blog post yesterday. The Coug was out and about in the big city. Anywhosits, this post is going to be for some of the less tech/app-savvy readers, since if you own a smart phone and love apps, you better already have this installed (if you don’t, what are you doing with your life?). For the rest of you, there is an app out there that is probably the greatest app you aren’t using. No Kevin Durant, I’m not talking about Doodle Jump…

Man, that’s messed up.

I’m talking about foursquare (have you checked into this post yet?). Founded in 2009, foursquare revolutionized the idea of mobile “check-ins.” Originally, the app was designed for you to check into various venues around town to earn badges, mayorships, and to allow your broskis to see where you were at in the hopes that they might meet up with you/stalk your every move. But since it’s evolution to the newest re-design, released earlier this month, the app has become much more than simply a way to over share. 

Before foursquare most people relied on Zagat or Yelp! to find reviews of new restaurants and businesses. But now, with v5.0 of foursquare you can find reviews of venues regardless of whether they’re right in your backyard or in a strange far off land. And while it works great for restaurants, users can leave reviews anywhere, from bars, to dry cleaners, to art museums, to dentist offices, to strip clubs. With the new “Explore” feature, the app will give you recommendations of places nearby based on your check-in history or what you’ve added to your to-do list. For instance, I used foursquare last week to find The Garden Gourmet right in my own backyard. It, like thousands of venues on foursquare, had two awesome “specials” that are linked to your check-ins. One being the “Friends Special,” which is unlocked by checking in for lunch or dinner with a total of three people in order to get free desserts (awesome!), and the other being a free coffee refill every time you check in there (not as awesome…). But come on, who doesn’t love getting free stuff for doing basically nothing? What’s also great about the “check-in specials” is that if you link your American Express card to your foursquare account, you unlock even more awesome deals. During American Express Small Business Saturdays, almost every small business on foursquare has deals from Amex. All it takes is a check-in, and upon seeing how much you spent on your next statement, Amex will refund a portion of your bill just for checking into a small business. Dopeness.

While that’s an awesome example of finding a great place in my own town, I also just used foursquare to find a place to wet my whistle after a job interview in NYC yesterday. I was over on West 13th Street and simply searched “bar” in the explore tab to find The Brass Monkey on Little West 12th Street. Just from reading some reviews from Bravo, I learned that it was pretty inexpensive, had a rooftop bar, and had an awesome happy hour. So thanks to foursquare I was able to find a bar with an awesome happy hour where I could catch the end of the Spain – Portugal match with some crazy fútbol fans. All of this in an area I knew nothing about.

In addition to finding great places and checking in with your pals, foursquare, like a lot of check-in based apps nowadays, has incentives for checking in at both new places and your regular haunts. You can become the “Mayor” of a venue by checking in the most times over a period of sixty days. Additionally you can usurp the mayorship in a bloodless coup by checking in more times than the current mayor. Often times, if the place is cool enough, it’ll have special deals for the mayor, like free appetizers or drinks, or even a certain percentage off the total purchase. This is a great way to reward customer loyalty.

But what if you’re a fearless explorer? What if you love finding new and exciting places every time you’re out? Don’t fear, the folks at foursquare have you covered. An equally, if not more rewarding aspect of foursquare is unlocking badges. Badges cover a wide array of topics, from checking into 100 different venues, to holding down ten mayorships at once, to sponsored badges like the Starbucks Barista Badge, which you can get from checking into enough unique Starbucks locations. You can also unlock varying levels of badges like the Pizzaiolo badge. You unlock level one by checking into three different pizza joints, level two after five different pizza joints, level three after ten and so on. Some of the badges are easy to unlock and some are much more obscure, with foursquare adding their own unique brand of tongue-in-cheek humor to each one. Yesterday, I earned the “Bravo Newbie” badge by checking into the High Line Park, which was on Bravo’s NYC Must-Visit List on their foursquare. It was also on my foursquare to-do list so…double win.

Plus this was my view, so…triple win.

While it’s nice that foursquare added these cool extra incentives, the point is to actually get out and visit new places. Do new things. In addition to badges and mayorships, there’s also a weekly points leaderboard. Each check-in awards you with a certain number of points based on if you’re the mayor, if it’s your first time there, the venue category, and if you’re checking in with a bunch of friends. What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people are using foursquare for the completely wrong reasons. Even though the weekly leaderboard is absolutely pointless (and actually kind of hard to navigate to), it seems to be the only thing most casual users care about. I see my foursquare friends checking into ridiculous locations like intersections, parking lots, stop lights, and interstates just to bump their weekly points totals. I’ve brought this up with them and their argument is, “If there’s a venue for it, why shouldn’t I check in?” Because you’re not going anywhere new! There’s nothing interesting about checking into a freaking highway! If all you care about is being atop a leaderboard, go buy an Xbox and Modern Warfare and have at it. I’ve actually been unfollowing people on foursquare because I was tired of their inane check-ins cluttering up my feed. In the recent re-design, foursquare made it so your Friends tab displays more like a Facebook news feed, instead of just the most recent check-ins, which I like a lot better, but it made it so annoying check-ins such as those dominate your foursquare feed. To anyone who uses foursquare like that (you know who you are): You’re doing it wrong!

I was recently appointed a foursquare SuperUser, which may be the closest I’ll ever come to actually working for them (still waiting on that Community Support application I sent in dudes!), but it was probably the culmination of my social media existence so far (well, maybe my twitter appearance on Baseball Tonight). It might also be the happiest moment of my OCD lifestyle, since I would often refuse to check into venues that were uncategorized/mis-categorized or had no address. Now, if I want to check into a venue that looks like someone created it while tripping on bath salts, I can open up the foursquare SuperUser app, “Hopscotch” (ha!), search for the wonky venue, and edit it to my heart’s content! If you’re friends with me on foursquare and noticed that all your check-ins are magically fixed with correct categories and information, yup that was Coug. But if you see a venue that you want me to fix for you, I’d be happy to do so. With great power comes great responsibility. I am sworn to uphold the integrity of foursquare support personnel, and have vowed never to use this for evil!

So yeah, if you have a smartphone (even a BlackBerry!) and you love app culture, you have to be using this app. Even if you aren’t an app-fiend like me and you love discovering new places, you should give foursquare a try. Also, if you’re still relying on Yelp! for business and restaurant reviews, you have to make the switch to foursquare. The design is so much cleaner and free of clutter. I would go so far as to say that foursquare is a beautiful app. And if your hang up is not wanting people to know where you are, simply don’t share your check-ins on Twitter or Facebook. Plus, unless someone is actually friends with you on foursquare, they can’t see any of your check-ins or location information. Hey who knows, maybe you’ll get to usurp someone’s mayorship in glorious fashion. Happy check-ins! Oh and friend me up on foursquare!