Running of the Gnomes 2012

Tomorrow night, at 9PM EST, join us for the third annual Running of the Gnomes!



My World of Warcraft guild hosts this event every year. It’s easy — create a gnome character with pink hair, show up at the specified date and time, and come with the group to run together through the world. Hundreds of people showed up last year, and we’re expecting a thousand this year (maybe more??).

The point of this is, of course, to raise awareness about breast cancer. We also have a donation page set up with the Cleveland Clinic for their Tuohy Vaccine, which is almost to human trials. This vaccine can help prevent breast cancer. Click here to check out the donation page. 

This event is really important to me, and to the guild, not only because we’re doing something positive for the world, but also because it shows that virtual worlds can be a great tool for organizing events like this. If you’re reading this, consider joining us! You don’t have to have a current subscription to play — WoW is free to download and play up until level 20, and if you have a lapsed subscription we can get you a 7-day pass for free.

in which the e-linguist fails at pseudonyms

This is a tale from the field.

One of the conditions of my ethnographic work on World of Warcraft is that I preserve the anonymity of my informants. I usually don’t use (or interact much) with the “real names” of my participants. I have a few as friends on Facebook and have even met a few in “real life”, but mostly, I never use the names of my participants in my work. I do, however, use avatar names — but to use these, even though they’re already sort of pseudonyms, I have to create pseudonyms for the pseudonyms.

Leaving aside the interesting layers of names and anonymity, picking pseudonyms is a really annoying job. Some participants have pseudonyms that they want to use (which is awesome, because then I don’t have to do anything). Sometimes I use a fantasy name generator that I’ve been using since the days when I wrote fiction for fun. Sometimes, my participants have names that reference a certain fandom or real person or even object names that I can anonymize by using related figures. And even fewer times, I try to be witty with my pseudonyms. This almost never works out the way I want it to.

Let’s talk about a person I’ll call J for right now. J is a participant in my ethnography, and one of those who has migrated from the realm of “participant” to “WoW friend” to “friend”. I love J in many ways, most of them related to his smart jokes and his amusing turns of phrase. J is also the unfortunate recipient of my most epic pseudonym failure yet.

J, an art student, once told me that he enjoys naming his characters after historical artists. When I was coming up with his pseudonym for the first time (for a class paper in 2009), I felt like his name was one of those that I could anonymize by using a related figure. J’s main character’s name was Greek, and (being a Greek nerd, as some of you may know), I have some knowledge of Ancient Greek people. I decided to name J’s character after a famed Greek rhetorician who wrote about style and oratory, Aelius Theon, who shares his name with Theon of Alexandria who wrote a humorous dictionary of Greek comedies, as well as a bunch of mathematicians named Theon. So I called J “Theon” as an homage to his turns of phrase which always amused me.

(Some of you may see where this is going.)

A year later, I began reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series (this is the series that is being made into HBO’s Game of Thrones series), and encountered Theon Greyjoy. I’m not going to spoil anything about Theon’s story from the book, except to say he is a rather unfortunate and unlikable character who makes some bad decisions. At first, it wasn’t so bad — I didn’t figure that most people would encounter ASoIaF, so Theon Greyjoy’s name wouldn’t be widely known. Then they made the TV show, and it became a hit, and Theon is portrayed in the show as even less likable than he is in the books (I wasn’t sure that was even possible). So I worry that Theon’s name would be associated with Theon Greyjoy rather than to nobody (or to Aelius Theon, who was probably lesser known than Theon Greyjoy even before GoT the show came out), and the concern about that is that the use of this name will color the ways that my readers understand J in my work.

So now, to avoid this trouble, I am going to find another pseudonym for J, one that doesn’t have such connotations. Maybe I’ll just stick with the name generator and avoid being clever from now on.

Lessons from Political Science

This semester, I’m taking a course in Interdisciplinary Methodologies in which a motley group of social scientists attempts to learn about the approaches, assumptions, and research styles of a wide array of disciplines. I have already discussed one of the ways that learning about economics has informed my own research, which was inspired by readings done for this class. This week we read about political science, and the most striking reading we had was by Gregory J. Kasza entitled “Unearthing the Roots of Hard Science: A Program for Graduate Students”. This work encourages graduate students to reflect on the methods that they are being taught and to question the basic assumptions of the discipline of political science. Kasza encourages his readers to “Let your experience and self-reflection as a human being be your first guide as you seek to answer the basic questions about politics.” The point he makes is that if your life and your choices cannot be described by the ways that you try to describe the lives and choices of others, can you be certain about your theory? “If your political views and actions are not guided mainly by material interests, why should you imagine that the views of others will be? If your life has not followed rational choices or mathematical equations, why should that be true of others’?” (page 226)

Basically, he’s encouraging us not to deceive ourselves and others. Can we apply this to linguistics? I have been thinking about my own behavior in relation to some of the theories and ideas that I tackle often, and even some that I wholly dismiss.

The different theories of syntax, including ones with movement and without — when I make a question, am I really following rules of movement that I’ve learned? Or am I just doing things the way they’re supposed to be with the constructions I’ve learned from examples in my environment? Syntacticians have been arguing this for decades, and I wonder what the role of self-reflection is in the creation of these different theories.

Another topic that I often take for granted: When I use short forms when I’m chatting in Warcraft or texting, am I just being lazy (as some language mavens and non-linguist language column writers would have it)? No, I’m not; when I really think about my own behavior, I’m following patterns that I know are accepted, and I’m adhering to these other rules of interaction. Character limits on texts, for example, sometimes results in me testing “smtg” instead of “something”. It’s not laziness, it’s not a corruption of the language, but rather a switch to adhere to a new rule set. I am someone who actually engages in this linguistic behavior, and I can analyze it from that vantage point.

This has me really thinking about game theory, as I described in my last post about economics, and loot rule behaviors. I described there that I struggled with the behaviors of my guildmates, and in fact my own behavior, a lot when thinking about changing perceptions of behavior in loot systems. I, myself, am doing things that a year ago I would have described as greedy and undesirable; furthermore, I am understanding and accepting of similar behaviors in people who I call my friends. It seems that I came at the game theory interpretation the right way — that is, through self-reflection and the attempts to understand the patterns and changes in my own life. The theory seems to fit. (And others agree — more on that later, I hope!)

This is why participant-observation is a great style of research. As a participant, you go through similar things as the people you are observing, and therefore you can come at your explanation from the point of view of someone who has experienced it. I have heard many times that self-reflection has no place in academic discourse, that we should remove the “I” from our writing. As social scientists, we cannot afford to do that; we risk ignoring our own biases, our own experiences, and our own interpretations of the event. We cannot be perfectly objective as scholars of people simply because we are people ourselves. If we are talking about the biases and motivations of others, does it make sense to ignore our own biases and motivations? This is an old argument that has been hashed out, but through this class I have encountered a similar argument in a discipline that I have never touched before. In some ways, it’s heartening to know that scholars across fields engage with the same issues in their work as I do; in other ways, it is unfortunate that some disciplines are so isolated when we do have a lot in common and wrestle with the same issues.

We all have a lot to learn from each other.

hiatus and subconscious memories

I have taken an unannounced hiatus from this blog due to a personal tragedy – my father suddenly passed away on July 8. The whole thing was quite unexpected, even by my father, who hadn’t made all of the necessary arrangements in the event of his passing.

As his next-of-kin, I’ve suddenly found myself with a lot of responsibilities, including trying to deal with his financial records, his accounts in various places, his taxes, everything. In an effort to at least try to collect some information about my father’s records, I’ve had to dig through his computer to look at his files and his visited websites to try to get any clues I can about where his accounts may be and who I have to notify. Of course, in the process, I’ve tried to guess my father’s passwords. This quest has involved trying to remember every time I’ve seen my father use a password – at the ATM, to log in to his computer, on his satellite TV account. Because of this (I believe), I’ve started having dreams about sequences of numbers that I remember him using.

I’ve had some limited success with this, using combinations of words and numbers that I’ve been dreaming about him using. It reminds me of the premise of the film Inception, in which people attempt to steal important information from others by infiltrating their dreams. The dream recollection of these strings is interesting to me, as though my mind stored this information because I thought it was important, but I cannot consciously access it.

It’s like my sleeping mind has become fixated on this task, but along the way it has fixated on other things too. Among these: the Truvia commercial jingle, the E major scale as played on the trombone, and the phrase “raising the debt ceiling”. Oh wait, nevermind that last one – that’s the current fixation of every news media outlet I pay attention to.

praise for my Alienware m11x

Every now and then, I forget what kind of hardcore machine this little laptop is.

My Alienware M11x is a gaming laptop (as Alienware machines tend to be), and I definitely bought it because it was on sale. I don’t really use my laptop for gaming – I have a perfectly functional desktop computer which I prefer for my game-playing experience.

Well, that is, I HAD one… until my power supply blew out over the weekend. I wasn’t about to let a little thing like a nonfunctional desktop computer stand in the way of experiencing the latest content release in World of Warcraft, which would cause me to miss out on an excellent data-collection opportunity. I have a laptop! No problem, I figured… it won’t be ideal, but at least I can still be there.

I thought back to my first experiences playing online games on a laptop – 5 frames per second, lowest graphic settings, no other concurrent programs, frequent freezes and crashes. This is the bulk of my laptop gaming experience – and this was on a 17 inch multimedia laptop. I didn’t have high expectations.

So I loaded the game. The screen on the M11x is, as you would expect, 11 inches. That’s pretty small. But the resolution on the screen is incredible – I didn’t feel like I was staring at a small screen at all. Feeling brave and curious, I connected my desktop’s monitor into it through the HDMI cable. BOOM, beautiful high resolution on the monitor, no problem. The fans on the laptop are barely running, no sound is being emitted… like this is a walk in the park.

So I connect everything. Gaming keyboard and mouse, speaker setup, headset. Run Ventrilo, Skype, instant messenger, and two browser windows. No problem.

I turn up the graphics settings – higher than I could ever do on my regular desktop gaming machine. No problem.

60 frames per second, no lag, no crashes, no freezing, no delays in loading.

For kicks, I load Dragon Age: Origins at the same time as World of Warcraft. No problem, no delay, no lag. I could have played both games simultaneously if I had the dexterity and mental ability to do so. I load ELAN, the video transcription software I use for my data analysis. I could have played Dragon Age, World of Warcraft, AND done transcription simultaneously… well, if I could figure out a way to put them all on the same screen, and had several sets of hands.

This is easily the most powerful machine that I have ever owned… and it’s small enough to fit in my purse and weighs less than my cat.


I grew up near the Lake Erie shore, and I have always had this… how to describe it? It’s a sense of where the lake is. A lot of people I know who grew up in the area have it. For me, it kicks in once I get within about 10-15 miles of the lake — I can feel it, and if I can feel it, I know where north is.

I don’t know if people who grow up by any body of water have this, or if it’s something about lakes, or even the Great Lakes… I’m not sure, maybe I am just the weird one. But this past weekend, I went to Muskegon, MI, with my band to play at the Association of Concert Bands performance… and after a few hours there, my lakesense kicked in. I could feel Lake Michigan, except it was to the west instead of my usual feeling of Lake Erie being to the north.

This facilitated navigation, of course, combined with a basic knowledge of the layout of the town. It was quite handy, and at the time it was a passive feeling, meaning that I didn’t even realize that lakesense is what I was feeling. However, I’ve only been to Lake Michigan once before in my life, which makes me think that it’s something about large bodies of water and being acclimated to them in some way.

I didn’t pay attention to this when I was near any oceans, but I worry that if I try to pay attention to it, I’ll become too aware of it and either miss it entirely or unintentionally fabricate it.

Does anyone else experience this?