Compost me!

compost

This could be me some day!

Years ago, staring towards the property across the street from a neighbor’s house and pondering mortality, a friend and I talked about the absurdity of conventional burial. As discussions between friends often are, the conversation was frank and detailed. We concluded that embalming, entombing, and trapping our bodies in graves seemed ridiculous in the context of cyclical natural processes. Why shouldn’t worms eat my brain when I’m dead? They would need the nutrition, and I would not.

The bereaved, of course, benefit more from burial ceremonies than the deceased. Graves and tombs, as my girlfriend once mentioned, aren’t for the dead but for the living.

As a sort of halfway solution to this contradiction, my friend mentioned that the old farmer who had worked the land across the street had been buried there. Planted atop his grave, in lieu of a gravestone, was a baby oak tree. As my friend talked, and I looked at the now mature tree–it’s roots piercing through the dirt that once was a man–the beauty of such a burial washed over me.

It was winter, but the brown, crispy leaves of the previous summer clicked and clacked in the cool winter breeze. Perhaps this characteristic was the manifestation of the tree’s special fertilizer, as my friend joked; who can say? But, magic aside, the fact is that the tree HAD used that old farmer’s body to grow.

My mind reeled for awhile that day, and I often think back to that conversation. Since then, I’ve learned that “natural burial” is a growing trend, even warranting it’s own howstuffworks article, and plenty of eager companies are lining up to provide such a service. Another friend, who briefly worked for a tombstone and funeral company, told me that people can even get their ashes fused with tree seeds and planted.

While being a tree seed doesn’t seem reasonable, being buried in a biodegradable casket or simply “planted” in a grove of trees does. Such a burial would, if I could look down and see myself, bring me peace. Knowing that my nutrients would return to nature just as they came from nature actually brings me joy in the face of the big empty.

So, it was with both bemusement and gratification that I read an article published by the New York Times today. “A Project to Turn Corpses into Compost” discusses one attempt to balance mourner’s needs with environmental concerns and spiritual preferences. In essence, facilities would be built in which bodies would decay into compost–with the help of wood chips and microbes–to be reclaimed by mourners who would have both a place to mourn and a practical byproduct to use.

Gruesome, perhaps, but also quite beautiful if we’re able to surmount cultural, religious, and practical barriers (what about all those heavy metal fillings, ingested preservatives, and stomach staples?). Though some people might fear a soylent green sort of situation (IT’S PEOPLE!!!), the idea of helping a tree, tomato, or flower grow when I’m gone brings me more comfort in life than any casket or cremation could.

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Science Daily: Existing Power Plants Will Spew 300 Billion More Tons of Carbon Dioxide During Use

Existing Power Plants Will Spew 300 Billion More Tons of Carbon Dioxide During Use

Will anything stop us from demanding more energy? Is humanity destined to watch itself and the planet burn, only to crank up the AC for as long as possible? Robert Socolow of Princeton doesn’t seem optimistic.

“‘We’ve been hiding what’s going on from ourselves: A high-carbon future is being locked in by the world’s capital investments,’ said Socolow, professor emeritus of mechanical & aerospace engineering. ‘Current conventions for reporting data and presenting scenarios for future action need to give greater prominence to these investments. Such a rebalancing of attention will reveal the relentlessness of coal-based industrialization, long underway and showing no sign of abating.'”

Inside Higher Ed: Adjunct Pay and Anger

Adjunct Pay and Anger

This is a fascinating article because it addresses two tropes in the growing clamor surrounding adjunctification. First, Shonda Goward makes a convincing argument for avoiding the “adjuncts are slaves” mentality:

“No one is forcing one to remain an adjunct. There are other work opportunities where the doctorate may be useful and even desired. Not liking those choices does not make one a slave. Not liking that a dream job is no longer available does not make one a slave.”

The other important point here is that adjunctification–making previously full-time jobs into several part-time jobs–isn’t restricted to professors at the university. Everyone (except senior administrators, it seems) from facilities workers to advisers are affected, as Goward points out:

“Facilities and food services have long been privatized on many campuses, with the result being lower wages. In addition, lower levels of administration are on their way to adjunctification as well. Plenty of professional positions, such as advising, are now part-time, which means that students have less of an opportunity to meet with one person consistently to help them track their degrees.

These contributions to the adjunctification clamor seem significant, and I’ll be sure to avoid the language of slavery and the mentality that adjuncts alone suffer from exploitative labor practices in academia.

NY Times: Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty

Obama Pursuing Climate Accord in Lieu of Treaty

Sad that Obama has to sidestep our gridlocked (to put it politely) congress to do anything about climate change. Here, he wants to “name and shame” polluters (including the US, presumably) since anything legally binding would have to get 67 votes in the Senate–an impossible feat considering the climate change denial party’s position. It’s also disturbing that the climate change denial party is “poised to pick up more seats” in the Senate. Meanwhile,

“The strategy comes as scientists warn that the earth is already experiencing the first signs of human-caused global warming — more severe drought and stronger wildfires, rising sea levels and more devastating storms — and the United Nations heads toward what many say is the body’s last chance to avert more catastrophic results in the coming century.”

A new direction for this blog

Reframing the content this blog seems to be an appropriate step right now. In an effort to hold myself accountable to managing and producing content for this blog, I’ve worked up a schedule of what I’d like to do. The purpose of posting what are essentially my preliminary plans is to make myself more accountable.

Daily

Repost something

Link to this on Twitter/fb?

3-4 sentence reaction/connection to my work

Topics: MC, Monsanto, science, teaching, higher ed, NYT articles, videogames generally

Weekly

500-1000 words by end of day on Friday (earlier is fine)

Reaction to something newsworthy: mc, teaching, higher ed, game experiences, politics? Environment, climate change, videogames

Developed idea about something; basically an expository essay

Game review

Close reading of a game

Monthly

~2000 words by the 31st

Theory + videogames; read some stuff in game studies, games and culture, etc.

Theory + teaching/higher ed/composition

Extended criticisms with sources

Maybe focus on stuff related to my thesis

Use pictures/graphs

Would be good to make some of these extended articles focused on climate change/environmental issues

Post/paper ideas about Everquest Landmark

EverQuest: the game that started the MMO revolution and paved the way for the astounding popularity and resilience of World of Warcraft. EverQuest was my first MMO, coincidentally played around the time of my first meaningful kiss with an intimate partner, so thinking about this franchise makes me wax nostalgic every time.

EverQuest 1

Laughably simplistic graphics aside, this game remains a major milestone in videogame history.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I also played EverQuest II for some time and that I’ve become quite interested in the newest iterations of the franchise: EverQuest Landmark and EverQuest Next.

As of now, Next is only a distant dream; development is in the early phases, but I already know that much of my free time will be taken up by it. From my understanding, Next will be a reinvention of the MMO wheel: leveling, questing, raiding, deep lore, and so on. So far, SOE (the developer) is putting forth a few key differences between Next and cookie-cutter MMOs, including destructible terrains, permanent changes to the world based on player activity, and a hybrid class system of some sort. It’s still the early days, though, and speculating on what Next will look like is a zero-sum game without a close look at Landmark, which is further along in its development and obviously positioned as a precursor to Next.

mansion

This and other mind-blowing player creations only hint at the full range of interesting stuff going on with Landmark.

Whereas Next will likely satisfy expectations for hardened MMO fans, Landmark was made for sandbox gamers who probably still play Minecraft. Indeed, there can be no doubt that Landmark is inspired by the world’s most popular sandbox videogame. Almost everything in the natural landscape of Landmark is made of raw resources that can be mined, processed, and recombined to make new stuff. The primary player tool is a pickaxe. There is no narrative beyond what’s implied in the landscape and game mechanics. This is all very Minecrafty. Major differences emerge, however, in the artistic style, the intricacies of the mining/crafting system, and, importantly, in the business and game development plans that surround Landmark.

It became clear to me, quickly as I played for the first time, that Landmark is a game that deserves some attention from videogame researchers. Even though Minecraft is still an important videogame, especially in light of its increasing popularity as an educational tool (Google it), Landmark is emergent (its still in beta), interesting, and representative of many trends in contemporary videogames. As a result, I wanted to write a little introduction here about my interest in this game as both player and researcher and to list some potential topics for further exploration.

So, here are some topics that I hope to explore with respect to Landmark.

Landmark and Minecraft comparison/contrast

Landmark as a new model to examine the ideas found in my thesis (this post is already halfway written), namely the idea that sandbox games tend to privilege the sort of amoral ecological imperialism that has led to problems such as deforestation, pollution, and, lest we forget, climate change.

-The economics of Landmark, especially how it models free-to-play MMOs, alpha/beta pay-to-play trends, crowdsourced (read: free for developers) development and creative input, microtransactions and real-money-trading, and social media marketing (there are surely more)

-Convergence; Landmark is more than just an isolated videogame

-Niche marketing or audience fragmentation; Landmark for Minecrafters, Next for MMO loyalists

Landmark and public demands for transparency (Landmark’s business model is available on the forums)

-Fantasy representations of real world stuff and the associated meanings: plants, landscapes, people, tools, creatures, etc.

-Gameworld analysis; what’s the meaning of the big picture in Landmark?

-Legacy fantasy lore and the purpose of fantasy narratives in an increasingly “rational” and “objective” world culture

Landmark and addiction; how do they keep players playing? how do they get players to buy stuff?

-What cultures does Landmark privilege? What social structures?

-Nature’s role in Landmark–passive recipient of change or active progenitor?

-Weather, landscapes, and the sublime in Landmark

Landmark’s haves and have-not; pay-to-win or play-to-win?

-Social interactions, colloquialisms, jargon, behaviors, and cultural artifacts unique to Landmark

-The language of Landmark more generally

-Trolling in Landmark

-Aesthetic and formal analyses; visual rhetoric analyses of gameplay and related digital/physical artifacts

Landmark and other games where work is “play” (such as Minecraft)

Landmark and big numbers; Minecraft privileges hundreds, whereas landmark seems to privilege thousands

That’s all I have time to list right now. My plan is to return to this post and add new ideas as they come. Any suggestions would be most welcome.