5 Blogs I Read for Fun

I suppose it should go without saying that, since I write a blog, I must also read other blogs.  While that is weirdly not always so (I do know of one blogger who doesn’t read other blogs because “they generally all suck”… *sniff* But not mine, right?) in my case it is certainly true.  Besides the information they provide, reading other people’s blogs gives me insight into different writing styles, and most importantly different viewpoints.  And since I follow several blogs on similar topics, I can also get a sense of the prevailing winds of opinion on certain nerd topics.  And, contrarian that I am, allows me to write the occasional piece tacking against that wind if I think it’s warranted.

I’m not sure how many blogs would constitute normal reading.  I currently have about 75+ blogs that update through my Google Reader; add to that the ten or so that I read from webcomic sites I visit (guilty confession time: I like the Penny Arcade comic.  But I LOVE the blog updates that go along with them.  Something about his writing style speaks to me.) , and maybe a further 5-10 I read from links on social media oh god I forgot Tumblr, more like 15-20…okay, maybe that’s a lot.  In my defence not all of them update daily, though Wired and Geek Dad appear to have me covered by updating a bajillion times a day.  So let’s say that, daily, I read somewhere in the neighbourhood of 40-50 blogs.  Your mileage may vary, but I find that a comfortable number.

Out of all that, I’m going to suggest 5 blogs to you that I think you might get a kick out of.  They aren’t in any particular order.  They aren’t necessarily my top five blogs either; rather, a representative spread of the things that amuse me.

Slushpile Hell – I stumbled across this one a little while back, and it immediately spoke to my editor’s soul (how my editor’s soul could hear it through all that stone…).  For non-editors, the slushpile is the sometimes mountain of unsolicited manuscripts received by publishers.  Reading through it can be…a challenge.  Slushpile Hell is one literary agent’s journey through the slushpile, one mind-bogglingly bad query at a time.  Each post is delightfully concise and offers up just the right amount of weary snark I need in my blog diet.

The Chapel Perilous – Okay, my nerd-crush on Monte Cook is fairly well known in certain circles (and now this one), so my reading his blog should come as no surprise.  Interestingly, it was reading his blog that led to him coming to Edmonton as a GoH at Pure Speculation; of the names that then Gaming Coordinator Scott C. Bourgeois suggested, Monte’s was the only one I “knew” through his blog, as well as recognized.  So I suggested he be moved to the top of the list, which of course Scott had already done (his nerd-crush being as strong as mine).  I love reading The Chapel Perilous for its blend of gaming and personal posts.  Monte posts about the things that matter to him, first and foremost.  So when I read something about gaming posted amongst more personal material, I know the opinion he is giving is sincere.  And sincere passion in the nerd hobbies these days is like gold…if gold were still valuable.  Platinum, then.  At least electrum.

Total Fan Girl – I read other nerdy blogs for a variety of reasons: inspiration, information, entertainment.  Total Fan Girl gives me a healthy dose of all three, plus a perspective on the hobby that I find valuable as an Old Male Geek worried about inclusiveness.  Like me, she is a general-purpose nerd with a variety of interests, and her posts reflect that.  She is also a gateway into another of my media addictions, as she posts updates for the GeekMoms podcast.  Mostly I like her blog because she always brings me the really cool stuff.  And that challenges me to do the same.

Awesome Dice Blog – Okay, I’ve actually only been reading this blog for a few weeks now.  But in that time I’ve gone back through and read EVERYTHING! (putting the OCD back into OCD…five times!)  It first came to my attention through the Twitters because of a link to a very cool little time-line of dice throughout history.  Then in one of those internet happen-stances I received an email from Brian at Awesome Dice, asking if I would link to their site.  So I checked their site out, thoroughly (see above EVERYTHING), and said yes, of course I would.  Yes, they talk a lot about dice; if that isn’t in your wheelhouse then you might want to give a pass.  But the blog also covers a wide variety of gamer nerd topics, and includes video posts from Balthazar (yes, THE Balthazar) on…well, just about anything.  Here’s a sample:

So I highly recommend these guys for your daily dose of game nerdery.  Oh, and they also sell dice.  Awesome dice, so I’m told.

The Unknown Studio – Better known for the podcast of the same name, The Unknown Studio also has a snazzy and interesting blog.  While there are a number of sources I follow to keep up on what’s going on in Edmonton, this blog is probably the most fun I have doing it.  It’s worth reading for FML Fridays alone, but Adam Rozenhart also posts some really sincere and insightful pieces on my city and the people in it.  And he also posts some flat-out goofy shit.  The combination works, and like the podcast, keeps me coming back.

Okay, that’s me.  What are you reading in the blogosphere?  Share in the comments below, and maybe we’ll all read something new today!

Play Does Not Discriminate

As I’m preparing for this holiday season, I am of course pondering gifts for my four nephews.  One sister has started a family board game night tradition, which evoked from me a window-rattling “squeee” of joy.  I would never try to force my hobbies on the boys, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t perched like a buzzard on a rock, waiting for the first sign of geekness.  Oh, children, the worlds your Uncle Brent will share with you now…

But we can talk about the corruption mentoring of my nephews another time.  Searching for games and toys for the nephews inevitably got me thinking, in an abstract way, about gender identity and play.  Because during my search I had a stray thought that went something along the lines of, “Well, they’re all boys so this will be easy.”  And it pinged as a vaguely bad thought in my head, but being a stray thought I caged it to be pondered later, perhaps in the wee hours of some cold morning over a cup of coffee.

Then yesterday I was reading through the Twitters when a message from my pal Alina Pete (of Weregeek fame #humblebrag) popped up:

In fact, Lego was one of my favorite toys, & I didn’t need nor want no stinkin’ Polly Pocket look alike *frothfoamrant*…

Included in the message was a link to this GeekDad article over at Wired, about the new Lego Friends line targeted at girls.  Take a second to read it, and then come back… Excellent, moving on!  Now normally I might have read the article and dismissed it with a casual, “Oh, Lego, why?”.  But the article, coupled with Alina’s reaction to it, set that stray thought to barking up a storm.  So much so I pulled it out last night and gave it a good pondering.  And the undeniable truth of it is my stray thought is the reason Lego thinks this is a good idea.

No, I don’t mean Lego is reading my mind.  But Lego is certainly trying to read the minds of consumers; that’s sort of what market research and testing are for.  And thousands upon thousands of stray thoughts just like mine have led Lego, and several other toy and game companies, to the same conclusion: that toys and games, and therefore play, should be divided along gender lines.

And I for one want to call bullshit.

Play does not discriminate.  Unless the idea is imposed externally, the activities from which a child derives joy are never gender divided by children.  I know this from my own experience.  When I was five-years-old I had a small collection of the 12″ GI Joes; a couple of the dolls, some clothing sets and a vehicle or two.  But I played the hell out of those toys, because there wasn’t a lot to do in a mining town in northern Manitoba.  One day I was playing with my Joes in the sandbox, when I was joined by a few girls of varying ages around my own, laden down with a tonne of Barbies and Barbie accessories.  I couldn’t tell you their names now, but as there were only about 30 kids in all of South Bay we knew each other from around the playground, Sunday school and the like.  So naturally we started playing together.

Now, I can’t speak for my playmates at the time, but if memory serves my five-year-old self and my friends had a blast.  Dressing each others dolls, putting the Joes in dresses and the Barbies in fatigues, making up stories; you know, as kids will do.  We laughed at GI Joe in a dress because we knew it would be funny to see our dads in a dress, same as we laughed at Barbie topless, because we all had a vague understanding that topless girls were “wrong”, and therefore hilarious!  It wasn’t until much later, after we traded northern Manitoba for northern Alberta, that I got indoctrinated into the “right” toys to play with.  I won’t go into that with much detail, but it did come about from me asking if I could buy some Barbie dresses for GI Joe…

I don’t pretend to be an expert in child development, or child psychology.  But I damn-well know about play, my friend, and I will tell you this: play does not care about a child’s gender.  Joy, imagination, problem solving, situational awareness…all the things that play can develop, none of those things require a particular set of genitalia.  I would love it, as a personal favour to me, if the toy and game companies would stop making products for boys and girls and worked on making toys for children.  I don’t expect it, because let’s face it, if you called Lego or Hasbro right now they’d be all, “Brent who?”.  But I can dream.

But I do recommend, as you gift buy this holiday season, giving some thought to the gifts you buy.  I’m not suggesting you not buy Barbies for your daughter or niece, or return the kick-ass action figures you got for your son/nephew.  But maybe slip your niece a basic Lego set, too.  Or start teaching that boy to cook with an Easybake oven (I don’t even know if they make these anymore, but you get my drift).  And if all that seems a bit much, I heartily recommend board- and card-games as an excellent alternative.  There are a slough of games on the market that are hours of fun, and no gender bias for miles.

Okay, that’s my two cents.  What do you think?  Do you think gender bias in games and toys is a big deal, or the latest windmill to be tilted?  Comments are just below, and I’d really love a discussion on this.

And putting my writing where my mouth is, on Monday I’ll suggest a variety of games, toys and books that I think will make awesome gifts.  See you then!