Geek Collateral at the Toronto Mini Maker Faire

Geek Collateral braved the cold on Saturday for the Toronto Mini Maker Faire at the Toronto Reference Library. It was super crowded, but we managed to grab a few shots of the event:

Some highlights were the beautifully handcrafted slingshots you can buy from Metro Grade Goods, the quirky socio-robotics project hitchBOT, the creative use of cornstarch by Action Potential Lab (the pink stuff burbling away in the photos above, courtesy of Toronto’s first science and art lab for kids and adults), the R2 bots (which were pretty much impossible to photograph due to the swarms of children–sorry!), and the lovely lanterns by The Playful Geometer, who creates “a line of arts and crafts centred around the wonders of Sacred Geometry”.

For more info on the projects depicted in the photos and videos for this post, check out this gallery of business cards (hover your mouse over a card for the company website link):

-Sarah

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Introducing Steph Chaves, Plus a Review of Five Nights at Freddy’s (Just in Time for Halloween!)

Hello, Geeks.

On this spookiest of days, it is my pleasure to introduce you to our newest writer, Steph Chaves. She’s a lit geek who loves anime and a host of other nerdy things, and she’s starting her position at Geek Collateral off with a post about Five Nights at Freddy’s, a creepy Steam game perfect for Halloween. Take it away, Steph:

Five Nights at Freddy’s
review by Steph Chaves

Five nights at Freddys screenshot 3

Alone in the dark.

You know that feeling you get when you’re watching a horror movie and that eerie violin music starts playing? Have you ever wished a video game could make you feel that horrible anxiety the entire play-through? Well, then you might just want to try Five Nights at Freddy’s, a point-and-click survival game that retails for $5.49 on Steam (http://store.steampowered.com/app/319510/ ). There are also cell phone adaptations available for both Android and iPhones, though I have yet to play the game on either platform.

The concept of the game is fairly simple: you are the overnight security guard at a Chuck E. Cheese-esque family restaurant called Freddy Fazbear’s Pizza, but there’s a catch: the animatronics have a tendency to walk around at night. Worse still, if the animatronics see a human, they think of them as a robot not in costume and therefore “forcefully shove” them into a spare outfit, killing the non-robotic human in the process. So the player has to monitor the security cameras, the lights beside each entrance of the security room, and the door to ensure none of the murderous mascots get inside. Unfortunately, you only have a limited amount of battery life.

Five nights at Freddys screenshot 1

And suddenly, you aren’t alone.

Five nights at Freddys screenshot 2 The best part of the game is the high tension when you’re looking around your small room waiting for, and hoping to prevent, impending doom. As the title of the game dictates, there are five nights, or levels, that you have to survive, with each successive night increasing in difficulty. There is also a sixth night that is unlocked after (if) you survive the original five. Once the sixth night has been accomplished, “Custom Night” is unlocked, where the player can adjust the difficulty levels of the AI. Each night has the same excruciating anxiety. The mood is set by the grainy camera, how the animatronics glitch on camera, the odd laughter that can be heard outside the halls, and the surprise of finding an animatronic standing right outside your door when you check the lights. All of this adds up to a great horror game that uses jump scares more effectively than most horror movies. Each of the animatronics (there are four, plus one spooky extra) is incredibly unnerving to look at, even when they aren’t hunting for human exoskeletons. For bonus creep factor, you can google theories surrounding the plot for Five Night at Freddy’s (let’s just say there’s a likely reason for the foul-smelling odour emanating from the animatronic suits).

If you end up really enjoying the game, you should know that a sequel has been greenlit for the Steam community and a trailer is already out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lVPONdZBh6s&list=FLqXmwAB5nOAPNu2YzLE6oNw

Five murderous animatronics out of five

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Who You Gonna Call?

Hey, Geeks.

It’s the spookiest month of the year, so it feels like the perfect time to be hearing about this.

image

There’s a new Ghostbusters movie in the works (and this time it looks like it will really be happening). With a new, female cast and a new director, there will be a lot of changes–changes Bill Murray is apparently all for (and really, what better endorsement is there for such a film?). Paul Feig is taking the helm this time, though Ivan Reitman will be a producer for the film. This new direction came about partly because of Harold Ramis’s death—Reitman didn’t feel right continuing without him. The new cast is yet to be announced, but Feig is reportedly planning to cast funny women. His response to the criticism of women-as-gimmick warms my feminist-geek heart: “Why is a movie starring women considered a gimmick and a movie starring men is just a normal movie?” Why indeed.

Filming is set to start in 2015.

Enjoy the long weekend—we sure will! I anticipate a lot of Netflix and possibly rounds of Thanksgiving M:TG between cousins.

-Sarah

The First Year as a Freelance Writer

Hello, Geeks.

A lot of somewhat geeky professions—web design, illustration, graphic design, writing—have a high concentration of freelancers. And being a freelancer, especially in an economy that still hasn’t fully recovered post-2008 and that is plagued by unpaid internships, can be rough. The first year can be more than rough—it can be crazy. Between demented tirades from potential clients to curious tests of your basic integrity, hopping down the freelance rabbit hole can require some patience with industry-approved madness.

My first year out of university, I needed work and possessed a shiny new English and creative writing degree. I spent a lot of time on Craigslist (still do, but with a more discerning eye). I saw a lot of jobs posted—don’t let anyone tell you there are no positions out there for English majors—and about as many scams. When working in a creative field, telling the difference can be difficult.

One of the first positions I landed was not a writing position but an editing one, for a self-described self-publishing company.
There were some manuscripts that were better than their presence in the vanity press’s catalogue would suggest. My favourites were a surprisingly entertaining teen fantasy novel about twins and a short story collection about Chinese women having affairs. Most, however, were filled with run-on sentences, hysterical rants about men’s propensity to cheat, zealous tirades about the evils of secular society, and mistranslations that put “purple monkey dishwasher” to shame (I still don’t know what “angry ocean clothes” was a Google-translate garble of). I discovered partway through one manuscript that entire sections of the text were in the wrong part of the narrative, and that some events had been written about twice and placed haphazardly within the document (alas, this was not a story about time travel). I was given two weeks on average to fix each manuscript and paid what would ostensibly amount to “roughly” $10-$25 an hour. I never made $25 an hour; there were assignments for which the $10 estimate would have been generous (which would be below minimum wage here in Canada anyway), and my pay was usually late despite the contractually stated 30-day delay (which should have been long enough for them to come up with the money) and often arrived only after I refused to work on a new assignment until I was paid. I found myself staying up until between 3:00 and 7:00 a.m., staring at the computer screen, sustained by strong black tea, panic, and the company of my partner napping on the couch nearby in solidarity.

Two events prompted my departure from the sordid world of vanity publishing. The first was my discovery that the company I was working for was being sued on multiple counts of fraud. It turned out that the founder of the company was using at least 11 aliases—many of which bore female monikers, despite the founder being male and by no account transgender—and the scheme operated under dozens of company names, all of which were in the business of ripping off writers. I couldn’t afford to quit immediately, but I began to plan my exit. What finally ended my association with the company was a poetry manuscript with no sentences. The punctuation-phobic author had not indicated anywhere in her nonsensical collection which ideas were attached to each other—I certainly couldn’t guess based on context—and this confusion was clearly not an experimental poetic strategy. Gibberish-induced stress led me to the embarrassing scene of crying in the Yorkdale Mall while helping my partner shop for winter boots, and I emailed the company that night saying I couldn’t finish the edit, particularly not for under a dollar a page. They paid me for what I had done (an unexpected courtesy) and never contacted me again.

I can cheerfully report that the company lost the lawsuits against it and is required by law to compensate its writers for its crimes against their literary dreams. I’d like to take a moment to point out that a publisher should never ask for money to publish your manuscript. With self-publishing companies like Lulu and Smashwords, you are paying for printing and online distribution, but the publisher is ultimately you (and even with companies that let you control the publishing process, you still want to be careful that you aren’t paying for things that benefit them more than you). Know your rights before agreeing to a contract with a publisher—you deserve better than the writers who filed those lawsuits got.

Another Craigslist misadventure (this one for a writing position—finally!) tested my ethics as a writer through the founder’s gleeful disregard for copyright. Alongside writing an original 2000-word article, I was also instructed to find an existing article and reformat it according to their style guide. I assumed this was a test of my editing abilities, but it became clear that they wanted me to steal from other writers on a regular basis. The idea was that I would take an article from a website (without alerting the author), reformat it, remove any external links, and send the article to be included in the company’s weekly inbox emagazine. The original author’s name would remain attached to the article, but the writer would never be consulted about the changes made or be compensated for their work. When I protested, the founder laughed—yes, laughed—and “explained” that some people have an old-fashioned belief that they own the words they write. After some soul-searching, I emailed them to let them know that I wasn’t comfortable with their business practices and would not be able to accept the position, which paid a paltry $75/week. My contacts at the company immediately started to backtrack and deny their endorsement of plagiarism. They paid me for the original article I had written and published it. I can only hope they didn’t make use of the rest of my test assignment. To my surprise, the company’s founder has since unsuccessfully attempted to add me on LinkedIn.

While not every interaction with potential clients has gone so poorly or so strangely, these early experiences do not exist in isolation. With strength in numbers on our minds, a writer/editor friend of mine and I started a copywriting and copyediting business as a side project; in response to our advertisements, one student contacted us on a Saturday expecting us to compose two short papers and a 10-page dissertation for him by Tuesday morning. Unfortunately for him, we didn’t end up completing his degree for him. An equally memorable email arrived from an irate man we’d offered to meet in a coffee shop to discuss his project. In it, he accused us of “walking the streets”, a thinly veiled comparison to prostitution inspired by our lack of a permanent office space. The rest of the email, lineated like a very angry poem, was equally rude.

Though this may seem like a condemnation of Craigslist, I have found some good positions through the site. I tried my hand at ghostwriting restaurant reviews, and the only real downside at the time was not being able to claim the bragging rights. Ghostwriting can give you some quick cash, but it doesn’t help much with your portfolio. It was worth it at the time, however, as it made eating out on a recent graduate’s earnings feasible. I also got the hang of a new form of writing: the review.

Of course, Craigslist is not the only job site I use, and I’ve seen the same problems across the board. I’ve seen many job postings on pay-to-post sites that require high levels of skill and time commitment that end with “unpaid internship”. I’ve also found that regardless of where they advertise, too many companies expect writers to compose blog posts and articles for exposure (a laughable concept when anyone can create a blog for free) or pennies. When asked about job sites, I often say that I’ve found much of my best work and all of my worst work on Craigslist. Now that I’m more practiced at finding gigs, I tend to use sites like freelancewritingjobs.ca, which filters out a lot of the worst-paying positions for Canadian writers, and I scan suspiciously for words and phrases like “internship”, “exposure”, “build your portfolio” (not always a bad thing, but often a warning sign), and “volunteer” (a term misused by many for-profit companies) before investing in a cover letter. Regardless of where I’m looking, my first year as a freelancer taught me how important it is to recognise the value of your own work and not accept the lack of respect that has become the status quo. While I’ve definitely worked for less money than is reasonable just to pay my bills (and had to lean on familial support at times due to the fickle nature of the business), I’ve also learned a lot about the industry I’m in and found some great clients who pay me well above minimum wage. My first year as a freelance writer taught me how to write better, faster, and on topics as diverse as restaurants, provincial parks, cat-themed computer and board games, immigration, sausages (I’m vegetarian), and video marketing.

Despite the cynicism with which I sometimes discuss my job—or more accurately, my jobs—I stand by my choice to freelance, at least for now. While some gigs have been downright awful, I’ve also had the chance to mock bad ads for money and write about my addiction to the Waffles the Cat version of 2048. As for the less enjoyable parts—well, they do make for good stories.

In Support of SFC Open Source

Hello, Geeks.

software freedom conservancy's logo

Software Freedom Conservancy’s logo

At Geek Collateral, we believe in access to technology for all regardless of income, so it stands to reason that we’re fans of the Software Freedom Conservancy. SFC is a not-for-profit organisation that supports and assists with the development and use of Free, Libre, and Open Source Software (FLOSS) projects in any way it can. The organisation is committed to taking care of the infrastructure for FLOSS projects so developers can focus on creating and updating the software.

SFC keeps itself busy. You can find a full list of the organisation’s projects on their site, https://sfconservancy.org, and if you have a project that you believe would benefit from their member project services, you can apply for membership on their site as well.

They are also currently running a fundraising campaign to develop non-profit accounting software. At present they are 88.4% funded, having raised $66,275 of their $75,000 goal. They’re doing this because non-profits often pay high licensing fees to use proprietary software and, as SFC knows from experience, accounting for non-profits is different than for for-profit companies anyway.

SFC has already started working on the project despite being a little short on funds because they believe in this project. If you’d like to lend them a hand financially or as a volunteer, or if you would just like more information on the project, follow the link: https://sfconservancy.org/campaign/.

By our powers combined,

Devin

Review of Veil – Dark Horse Comic

Hello, Geeks.

I’ve been stumbling over which comic to review first. Imagine my surprise when Dark Horse became the winner — I’m normally an Image comic fan. I picked up Veil because the cover art was captivating, because the female protagonist bore a certain unmentionable resemblance, and because of the adorable red-eyed rats. Dark Horse sums up the Veil series fairly well:

A beautiful girl wakes up in an abandoned subway station with no memory of how she got there. When men try to hurt her . . . they wind up dead. Where did she come from? And what is she capable of?

Veil comic, issues 1-4

Veil comic, issues 1-4

The story is well-written and has scant trace of the the comic story tropes that tend to drive me insane. Writer Greg Rucka does a phenomenal job bringing this dark world to life without the need for hokey narrative boxes, and while the seemingly inevitable damsel-in-distress plot-line brings about a little eye rolling, the main writing is good and the art is, well, fantastic.

Veil has yet to progress far enough for a full read, but I’m looking forward to what it can become.

4 blue pencils out of 5.

blue pencilblue pencilblue pencilblue pencilpencil grey

-Devin

 

 

Geek Collateral at Fan Expo

Hello, Geeks.

A couple of us from Geek Collateral dropped by Fan Expo in Toronto on the weekend (on Sunday, to be precise), decked out in costumes scrounged from thrift and dollar stores. Devin’s Doctor Krieger met up with Archer, Pam, and Charlene, while my weeping angel was surrounded by Doctor Who fans.

Here are a few shots from our day:

As you can see, the Whovian contingent was impressive. We heard there were two other Kriegers there on Sunday, but sadly Devin was deprived of the opportunity to clone bone. The adorable Supercat outside the Fan Expo venue was a nice end to our day and a testament to the fun spirit of the event.

Did you go to Fan Expo this year? We’d love to hear about costumes you spotted or who/what you dressed up as in the comments.

Don’t blink,
Sarah