Hey everybody! How goes it? It has been a minute since I’ve updated, because my life has been insanely busy! Only a few people who know what was going on behind the scenes, so allow me to tell you all the highs and the lows of 2014.
At the beginning of every year I make a list of goals I want to accomplish in the year, and then I plan out and schedule each bullet point in many lists and notes. Turns out there is method to my madness.
Boombox Guy 10 Year Anniversary
At the beginning of 2014, a friend asked, “how long I had been boombox guy?”. I realized that it had been 10 years since Elliot and I had started walking around Columbia carrying boomboxes, so I decided to demystify the origins with an extensive post.
The post went viral quickly as everyone realized that this was going to be the last year of the boombox guy. There was a large outpouring of love and support by both students, alumni, and faculty expressing they were going to miss the boombox guy. Most of the comments and messages that were sent to me dealt with how I had made someone’s day better or at least made them smile. Some went as far to say that I had changed their life, and helped bring them out of a dark place. I was very moved that something silly I have done for a decade meant so much to so many people. In response I posted this:
The outpouring of posts, some very emotional, about this being my 10th and final year as boombox guy has been humbling. It is true that I am finishing up my PhD, but the song is not over yet. I will be around until the fall. I have no idea what the future holds, and you never know maybe I will end up being here for years to come. One thing I know for sure is I will always be your boombox guy, because the spirit of the boombox will always live on. Everyone of you has that spirit. The side of you that stops caring about what others think, and can fearlessly walk to your own song. The part of you that can pause, forgot about your troubles for a moment, and make another person smile. The piece of you that chooses neither right nor wrong, but chooses what is awesome. I expressed these by hoisting a boombox on to my shoulder, and carrying it around week after week for years. I encourage all of you to express that part of yourself in your own way. That is the spirit of the boombox, and that will live on forever. BD>
Despite me moving on I will always be the boombox guy, and I wanted to make sure everyone understood the purpose of it.
Kathryn, a dynamite local writer and student, caught wind of the story and asked me for an interview. I have been interviewed so many times over the years and I am always happy to help out students by giving them interesting content. She published the interview to the Columbia Voice, and that started to become viral too. I was surprised when I was thumbing through the Free Times and saw that the article had been picked up and published as well!
Everything became very surreal when I received an interview request from USA Today. I honestly thought it was a joke, but after talking to the fellow I realized this was real. He sent a series of questions via email, and I decided that I needed to answer everything a seriously as possible. I threw away that email because that’s not me. I then decided it would be great if I answered every question in such a way that every sentence had a reference to a song name or a song lyric. For instance here was my response to how the boombox guy started:
First let me clear my throat. Originally it started in the spring of 2004 when it was starting to get hot, hot, hot in Columbia. My friend Elliot and I first started at USC we were happy to see all the beautiful people, but saddened at the lack of craziness and characters we both assumed were going to be a hallmark of college life. There were a few people who were strange but for the most part everyone was serious or hanging on their telephone. One day we found a boombox and we thought it would be fun if we could walk this dinosaur of technology around. Mostly we wanted to give something to talk about, and we were prepared to dare to be stupid. I knew some weird science and some basic audio engineering, so I set up a system to create mix tapes for our fantastic voyage. Our original thought was that everyone was going to hate it because it was so obnoxious, and we were going to have to leave like a bat out of hell. However, we found that people absolutely liked it, loved it, and wanted some more of it. Walking by most people we were able to break those chains and make them happy. Sure there were some that wanted us dead or alive, and there still are, but we found that if we could make folks happy, then it was worth it. This is why when Elliot eventually left on a jet plane that next year I became the sole bearer of the boombox. If it lightened up people’s days then it was all worth it, and it was then I couldn’t live without my radio.
I thought that none of this would be published but to my surprised they loved the interview and put in online. This went insanely viral as I just checked today has been shared 14,000 times!?
I’m still amazed and humbled by all of this. I will say once again to everyone thank you for the great times.
Tough S**t Tournament
I love to host video game tournaments, but in 2013 due to time constraints I was only able to host two. The tournament I focus most of my time on is the Tough S**t Tournament. It is a randomized video game tournament, which makes for some interesting results. I decided that 2014 I was going to go full force in bring back TST.
After finding a new venue, there was some new additions and some overhauls to the format. First I bought an official TST title belt which would be worn by the title holder. Next I added new consoles (like the n64), and some more games to the other classics. Finally I added in a prize round for people who did not qualify for the main tournament or for people in the audience who signed up where they could compete in a small game to win a prize. With all of these changes we streamlined the tournament to a 3 hour event that was entertaining to both the players and audience alike.
A lot of time and effort was put into building up to this tournament, so it could be something fun and different for people to enjoy. However, there was another reason. A loyal member of the tournaments, Kevin, had some medical problems in 2013, and so the plan was in June to have a charity tournament to raise money. The tournament had a few hiccups here and there but around $500 was raised for our friend. We all had a great time seeing Kevin getting better.
Also at this event I gave him a gift in hopes he would come back to the tournaments to compete. I found a special controller in which games could be played using one hand. After retooling the configuration files I figured out that he could use that with any game in the tournament, so I hope soon he’ll come back and whip everyone with just one hand.
This marked the third year I had teamed up with Indie Grits and the Nickelodeon to host an independent south eastern game developers conference. After the success of year number two the conference was re-branded as Indie Bits and an entire team was assembled to make this event bigger and better.
Emails, flyers, and cards were sent out to many institutions and companies around the south east and we received a great number of submissions ranging from as close as North Carolina to as far as Texas.
The event was a hit! Hundreds of people came to the showcase and played some amazing indie games from around the south east. The showcase also featured a game learning workshop which was a great success. One of the most humbling moments was when the winner of the student competition came up and asked if I remembered him. Sadly I did not right off, but then he explained that I taught a game design class in 2008 which he attended. Ever since then he had been creating games based on my teachings. That hit me right in the feels.
Finally we held an after party in the Nickelodeon which had a movie, music acts, and many video games. It was a great way to unwind with fellow developers and game enthusiasts alike.
I can’t talk about the success of this event without mentioning a few people. Cecil, Michelle, Seth, and Aiden made all of this possible. I helped when I could but these people were the backbone of the entire event. They made a crazy idea I had come true and for that I am forever thankful.
Summer Time Sadness
With all the good that was going on there was also bad. The summer started off with a wake up call as I ended up in the hospital twice. I had been going too fast for too long and everything started to catch up to me. It was time for me to get serious and start dealing with my demons. I needed to finish what I had set out.
I scheduled out the summer with the main focus on research, so that I could finish my dissertation and graduate by the end of the Summer. This immediately failed as data I thought I would get back in May was pushed back until August. Furthermore, I had changed a chapter in the dissertation and it was imperative that I work on that. However, that did not work because of other research obligations. Like last year, I continued to work with the team to further develop the genome viewer, which works and looks better than ever (thanks Will, Jake, and Lingxi). I also had to work with my colleague, Renaldo, to make sure he graduated on time.
After a research heavy summer, I said goodbye to a great friend and one of the most dedicated game designers I’ve ever had the privileged working with. I’ll say it again, thank you Renaldo. Now at the end of the summer I had not much to show for my research. I had not worked on the other project, so I was missing an entire chapter. It looked like I was sunk, and I would not finish in 2014.
Opportunities of a Lifetime
At the beginning of the summer I had been nominated for a young leader Palmetto Pillars award for all my research and outreach involving video games. These awards are given to people and companies who continue to foster science and technology in South Carolina, so it was an honor I was nominated. I was shocked that I won! It felt like a turning point in my career as now games were starting to be taken a little more seriously.
When I got home from the ceremony I had an urgent email from the chair of the department. I didn’t know what was going on and figured that I had already screwed up on my first day of teaching. That was not the case. In fact, it was the opposite. He offered me an instructors position. This was my dream. I love teaching computer science, and now I would get to fully take on a large class. This is what I’ve wanted, and I couldn’t believe this was all happening in the same night. I was no longer a graduate student, and now I was an instructor.
I had won an award, I now had a job, and the only thing left was finishing PhD. After many negotiations the dissertation was reconstructed one more time. The irony was that now it mirrored the originally proposed dissertation that changed a few times over.
In between working on classes, I spent most of my time writing/rewriting, crunching numbers, and creating figures. Finally, I had figured out a way to put everything together and it make cohesive sense. Unfortunately, due to the amount of work I had to skip events and holidays, but I was dedicated to finishing everything up. Finally I had the first draft of the dissertation; all 98 pages.
After it was written it was then time to defend, and it was as tough as I expected. The presentation took an hour, and the Q&A session lasted an additional hour. I was exhausted by the end of it, but they approved my work. At the point, I had technically completed my PhD.
This past year was a great reflection of the past 10 years I have been at UofSC. There was a lot of good times, and there were a lot of hard times. I have had so many amazing opportunities. I’ve been a talent judge, a model, a performer, a world traveler, a published researcher, a teacher, a public speaker, a game designer, an event coordinator, a host, an accomplished programmer, and a friend to many.
Among all of those amazing opportunities there was plenty of difficult times. Saying goodbye to many friends, dealing with depression, going broke, people starting fights with me, having relationships end, dealing with the police, missing important events and holidays, not being there for friends and family, and being alone are just a few that I can name. If I said I had not regrets for the past 10 years I’d either be lying or I’d be a sociopath.
Doing what I’ve done has all come at a price. Has it all been worth it? Yes. Despite all of the bad I have worked my way into a place where I can continue to do good for people. I can work to atone for my sins by using my position and my talents to do good by others. You may call me Dr. Boombox Guy, and the song is not over.