My favorite podcast

With all the new podcasting things to happen and all the great new shows like Reply All my favorite podcast still is a show from 2009. A show that has published only seven episodes since 2009: A life well wasted.

Robert Ashley, its creator, describes it as “an internet radio show about video games and the people who love them”, which strikes me as admirably modest. I’d call it the “This American Life” of video games.

What makes ALWW stand out is production value and polish. It’s well edited, every tape, music, sound effect is intentionally placed. It’s crafted. Topical. Concentrated. It stands on its own. It’s something to be proud of. Check it out.

In 2014 my goal was to get started with video documentary production and learn a bit about that. I will continue to work on that, but in 2015 I want to learn how to create something like ALWW. I want to produce at least one episode of a radio show that’s half as good.

Don’t disappoint me, 2015!

New Podcasting

I’ve been listening to podcasts since the first episode of The Daily Sourcecode. I even wrote an AppleScript to copy mp3s from NetNewsWire to iTunes and sync them on my iPod. And I have been creating podcasts since 2006. In short: I kind of like podcasts.

And for the first time since Podcasts got included in iTunes something big is happening. Has happened. Of course,
I’m talking about Serial,
the documentary series produced by the “This American Life” team. Serial has become a phenomenon. It’s literally pop culture. Sesame Street,
Saturday Night Life, The Colbert Report. Like always metrics are hard, but it certainly increased the audience of podcast listeners manifold just by itself.

So more people are listening to a radio show on the Internet. What’s the big deal? I think Serial is redefining what Podcast means to people. And it’s a good thing. Up until now Podcast had two meanings to a mostly nerdy audience. First it meant some kind of audio or video distributed on the net via an RSS feed. Nobody should care about that. Secondly it meant a show made by a few people – most likely men – talking about a topic – most likely tech – for hours. The second meaning is very dominant in my perspective on the German podcasting scene.

So, what changed? Well, there are now quite a few people, and I’d argue they are the majority of listeners now, who think of a Podcast as a bit of Internet radio that is highly produced and narrative. Serial turned the expectations around. Suddenly tech talk shows seem utterly out of place in the quality spectrum of new podcasting.

As a big fan of narrative and highly produced shows, I welcome our new podcasting overlords. In fact I long for the date this new trend, should it actually take hold, makes its way over the Atlantic to the German podcasting landscape. In my opinion, there’s nothing like that here yet and I’d welcome it with open arms. Even “real” radio shows can’t compete. German radio documentaries are usually dry and formulaic. Rigid. Perhaps now a new generation of German podcasters can pick up the mic and do what the last one failed at. Tell emotionally interesting stories.

Ira Glass’ golden rules of radio story-telling

This week-end I listened to a panel about ethics in radio-story-telling from the third coast festival. It’s really interesting stuff, I recommend to anyone interested in making audio. In it people talk about their golden rules for producing stories. And of course there is a real gem by Ira Glass in there, I needed to transcribe for further reference. Here it goes:

  • Make stuff you yourself would be willing to listen to.
  • Don’t say anything shitty about anyone on the radio without giving them a chance to respond.
  • Objectivity is impossible, but you can always achieve fairness.
  • Start the music underneath your story in the middle of the rising action. Whatever is said immediately after you lose the music sounds extra important. Like you actually talk, no the way you kid yourself you talk, you fake sounding s.o.b.
  • If you’re performing badly on the mic, it’s because you are not relaxed enough. To fix it, lower the pitch of your voice.
  • If a piece isn’t working, do another interview.
  • To write a good ending, go back to the beginning. Or tell the one anecdote, or kill the last piece of tape or paraphrase it in script.
  • Killing a mediocre story is victory. Killing a mediocre story is making room for an excellent story.
  • Most stories want to be dull and it’s only through an act of will they become anything but.

Co-opting Barbie

Internet, we have to talk about the “feminist hacker barbie” meme. To catch you up: There’s a 2010 book by Mattel called “Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer“. It portraits Barbie as someone who needs boys to write the code for her computer game, who infects everyone with computer viruses and is all around pretty terrible. In short:

With the recent attention this thing got Casey Fiesler – a PhD student in a computing department – remixed the book’s story into a more positive and empowering tale. It paints a picture of a competent programmer and human being and emphasizes all aspects of creating software. Technical and social. It’s really awesome, check it out.

Of course that idea sparked the internet meme machine and everybody jumped on the “remix the Barbie story” bandwagon. Unfortunately this is were this thing went a bit off the rails, in my opinion. What started as a feminist meme got sucked into Nerd and Hacker culture losing meaning and its positiveness in the process. A lot of these new memes present Barbie as someone spouting complicated computer jargon snobishly at bystanders. The true mark of a wise nerd, I guess. Attributing awful male-associated power mechanisms like using knowledge for the sake of control to a toy aimed at little girls doesn’t feel like a very positive message to me.

In other remixes Barbie is into open-source or infosec, talking cheerfully about software projects that don’t even have named female contributors in reality. Again I think these comics are not directed at the audience of the original book or even those that are rightly offended by it. They feel like in-jokes that also absolve communites of the hard work they’ve got to do. It basically devolves into dudes making old xkcd jokes while congratulating themselves on being feminist.

I know that’s mean and I don’t want to attack or shame anybody, but I feel we should all look back at Casey Fiesler’s original remix and think about its message instead of laughing at an image of Barbie shouting technobabble to feel superior. Because I’m not even sure why we are laughing. Is it because it’s Barbie who says these things? Or is it because being a socially inept human being is what validates you as a good coder? I don’t get it.

Actually it’s about ethics in video game development

If you follow my work a bit you know that my company TheCodingMonkeys published its first original game this year. It’s called RULES! and is a fun action-puzzler. Marcel, Aga and everyone else who worked on it poured their hearts and souls into this little thing for over nine months. We love that thing and we are proud of it.

Last week however we got a mail that pointed us to a browser game that looked more or less exactly like our iOS game. We had been cloned.


From the looks of it, the company responsible for publishing the game is based in Germany, like us. Here are a few of their games you might recognize by a different name:


In the case of RULES! they did not stop at the graphics design, however. Everything, down to tutorial, game play, level design and even music and sound effects is a cheap copy of what we did in RULES!. To illustrate here’s a side by side comparison video. (I sped up the ads between levels for the clone, they last 30 seconds each.)

Adding insult to injury, this company is being government-sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and supplies its browser games to two of the biggest german web mail providers.

So where does that leave us?1 Well, first of all I will talk to my lawyers, I guess. Secondly, I certainly will check back with the government why they are sponsoring a company like that.

And thirdly. Well thirdly I’m hurt. I am disappointed. We aren’t the first to be disgustingly cloned, but that does not make it feel better. The people that created RULES worked for months on every little detail to make sure its a great experience. Having these torn to bits, badly reimplemented and cobbled together to create something to earn a few quick ad bucks feels vile. And criminally unfair.

  1. Update: The company has taken down the clone after multiple requests to do so.