Living it Up in the Big Easy

By Mona Malacane

For some grad students, “doing something different” means trying a new recipe, going hiking in the limestone quarries, playing in the snow, or taking off on an exotic trip in the summer. But last week, Gabe Persons went on what I would call an enviable pre-mid-semester-vacation to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. A far cry from hunting and baking bread, on Friday the 13th Gabe and Isaac Knowles drove 13 hours and 800+ miles to Louisiana to Baton Rouge where they stayed with some of Isaac’s friends for the first leg of their trip.

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Photo courtesy of Gabe Persons

After a day and a half in Baton Rouge, Gabe, Isaac, and several of Isaac’s friends headed to the Big Easy for Mardi Gras festivities. But this isn’t your usual Mardi Gras story people – Gabe swore to me that he did not once expose himself to procure colorful plastic baubles. He also made explicitly clear that this trip was not about visiting the numerous daiquiri bars that populate New Orleans (but he did enjoy tasting a few). For him, it was about the food, music, the experience, and checking off an item on his bucket list.

“It’s been on my bucket list for a while for a number of reasons … what you hear about is always the party stuff but that’s not what’s intriguing to me. I like the music side of New Orleans, I like the food side and while the party atmosphere itself is not what drew me, I think it indicates something about the nature of the people there and they were generally a friendly bunch of people.”

Photo courtesy of Gabe Persons

Photo courtesy of Gabe Persons

Some of the most memorable moments from his trip were from the famous parades that occupy much of the Mardi Gras celebrations. “The very first parade I saw in New Orleans was very interesting. It was not like any parade I’ve ever seen. The audience is constantly interacting in a way that you don’t see at other parades and the floats are huge and pulled by semi-trucks.” Some fun things Gabe et al. received from the float “throwers” included a fedora, a pair of glowing hand-cuffs, lanyards, and footballs. But other than to watch the parades, the group Gabe was with avoided Bourbon Street (and the hordes of tourists that flock to it for Mardi Gras). “We were on [Bourbon Street] briefly just to get somewhere else and you could barely move, it was just a sea of people.”

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Photo courtesy of Gabe Persons

While in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Gabe, Isaac and friends, visited some delicious restaurants and even got to cook a good ol’ low country boil. Gabe explained, “I really like Southern food. I don’t like the weather but I love southern food.” In fact, their trip back to Bloomington was slightly longer than the trip down south due to the obligatory (hungover) Waffle House brunch stop. While WaHo is undeniably a Southern tradition, I strongly recommend Cracker Barrel next time.

 

Trust me, I'm from the South: Cracker Barrel > Waffle House

Trust me, I’m from the South: Cracker Barrel > Waffle House

Sine Qua Nonsense

The Halloween Report

Isaac and the roasted pig (photo courtesy of Alicia Eckert).

Isaac and the roasted pig (photo courtesy of Alicia Eckert).

Halloween may officially be tomorrow, but the Telecom costume party took place last weekend. Rachel Bailey hosted the shindig. Isaac Knowles and his friend John Killian, a professional chef, roasted a pig, decapitated it and placed its head on a spike for all to see and fear.

The costumes varied wildly, but I believe they were all meant to convey subliminal messages. Teresa Lynch, for example, dressed as Executioner Miralda, a character from the video game Demon’s Souls. This is her attempt to promote the death penalty, especially by beheading. The bodiless pig’s head drove her point home.

Dustin as Captain Morgan (Photo Courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Dustin as Captain Morgan (Photo Courtesy of Michelle Funk).

While Dustin Ritchea, Mona Malacane and Yongwoog Jeon wore very different costumes, their underlying message was the same. Dustin as Captain Morgan, Yongwoog as Sherlock Holmes, and Mona as the government shutdown were embodiments of the libertarian worldview. Less government is better. Private citizens like Captain Morgan could do a better job roaming the high seas than taxpayer-mooching Navy SEALs. The best detective in literary history was a private investigator, solving the crimes the inept official police couldn’t. And again, the main course helped convey the message that if Telecom students can cut the pork, so can Congress!

Nancy Tyree dressed as a bearded artist. Her boyfriend Jon was a canvass. They brought markers and encouraged others to draw on the canvass. Just like Tom Sawyer got his friends to paint a fence, Nancy got her own friends to do her job for her. I believe she was trying to teach us to delegate authority – if you’re smart enough to get others to do what you’re supposed to do, you aren’t being lazy.

Yongwoog as Sherlock Holmes and Michelle as an alien (photo courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Yongwoog as Sherlock Holmes and Michelle as an alien (photo courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Irene Van Driel and Mariska Kleemans brought a taste of the Netherlands to the party. They wore orange wigs and red, white and blue clothes. Orange is the Dutch national color, and red, white and blue are the colors on the Dutch national flag. This was a veiled attack on American Exceptionalism. They tried to subliminally remind us that the flag of the United States is not unique in its choice of colors, which it shares with about 30 other countries. This was also a pro-monarchist, pro-House of Orange message. They may be planning to topple our government.

Edo as the High Road (photo courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Edo as the High Road (photo courtesy of Michelle Funk).

Dan Levy promoted peace and tranquility as The Dude from “The Big Lebowski”. He wore a blond wig and a bathrobe. He also walked around with an empty carton of half and half. That carton really tied the costume together.

I conveyed my own message to the world, as well. I wore yellow and white stripes, a hippie vest, an Interstate sign and buttons with the peace sign, psychedelic colors and the word “love”. I also held a comically large joint with fake marijuana made out of green pompoms. I was “the high road”. Get it? Oh, you had to be there.

And no, my subliminal message had nothing to do with drug legalization. I was trying to promote the use of puns while raising awareness of the flimsiness of our nation’s infrastructure.

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An Economical Perspective

by Teresa Lynch

Isaac’s WoW avatar.

In 2006, Isaac Knowles was working night shifts in a retirement home during the summer. “To pass the time at night…I bought WoW [World of Warcraft]. And I started playing and I was terrible at it. But, I loved it and I played it and it was amazing. I had never played an MMO [Massive Multiplayer Online game] before and it was my first virtual world,” he says. Although Isaac had played some console games before in his earlier youth, he hadn’t considered himself a gamer until that time. That was when his love for economics collided with his newfound hobby.

“Two weeks into playing WoW, I went to the auction house and I thought ‘wow – there’s a lot of information here, I wonder if anyone’s ever studied this before.’” After a bit of digging, Isaac found Ted Castronova’s work, though he admits he was joining the bandwagon for virtual economies a bit late. An economics project later that year kick-started what would ultimately become his program of research, although Isaac says that many “mainstream” economists don’t quite share his captivation with virtual economies. Fortunately for him, there are folks in our department who do.

An example of a WoW Auction House.

An example of a WoW Auction House.

Isaac describes the type of research he does as video game telemetry – tracking player behavior using very large data sets and sophisticated statistical analyses. Big data sets such as the type Isaac utilizes can be terabytes in size and composed of lines of data numbering in the millions, billions, or even trillions.

In this kind of work, Isaac says that unlike more traditional experimental settings (which are controlled and designed) naturally occurring events allow him to theoretically assume causality. “You have to look for opportunities for quasi-experimentation. If I’m watching World of Warcraft economies and I see a server go out, that’s a random – no one’s expecting a server to go out…that’s a major disruption. And, we want to exploit disruptions to the normal play and that’s how you produce the most interesting findings.”

When asked about what he sees himself branching to research in the future, Isaac said “I’m really interested in learning more about the business side of games. It’s a unique market. It’s got some weird competitive aspects to it. I’d love to learn how we can use information from game economies to actually tell us about the success of a game company. If I can use your game economy to predict whether or not your games is successful or your stock price…I’m really interested in doing that.”

Additionally, Isaac is interested in why people play games and what it means to enjoy gaming – possibly because of his enjoyment that let to finding his niche area of research. “One of the great puzzles from the economic perspective is that scarcity is fun. In games, you don’t like to have everything, supposedly you play games to be challenged. What we take to be a standard assumption outside of the game world – in economic theory – we have to toss out the window with games and that leads to a lot of perplexing questions.”

Of course, as Isaac says, “The great irony of studying video games if how little time you have to play video games.” But, he makes time when he can to play because “playing games gets [him] thinking about games, in ways [he] never did before…it makes you think about how complex it all is.”