And Then You Die of Dysentery

December 24th, 2018 10:00 AM
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I'm a weekly patron of my local library, often taking advantage of its interlibrary loans to borrow books that I might not otherwise get my hands on. That's how I came to find myself recently reading …And Then You Die of Dysentery: Lessons in Adulting from the Oregon Trail, a book by Lauren Reeves published this October by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (ISBN 9781328624390).

Similar to the Juiced.GS article I co-authored with Sheppy back in 2005, "Everything I ever really needed to know I learned from the Apple II", this book is a collection of bullet points and pithy sentences connecting 8-bit technology to modern life. But what was a single page in Juiced.GS has been stretched out to 100 pages here. Each individual piece of sage insight has its own dedicated page on the right, complemented on the left with an original pixel art drawing by Jude Buffum, for 50 witticisms in total.

Some of the images are plays on social media memes, such as "Distracted Boyfriend":

Jealous girlfriend meme

Or modern technology, like fitness trackers:

Fitbit tracker

Others are more of a stretch. This illustration of Angry Birds is meant to suggest that "It's important to play games along the trail to keep yourself entertainted." But I don't remember that happening when I played Oregon Trail. Other than hunting (which was essential for survival and not just a distraction), what mini-games abounded in Oregon Trail?

Angry Birds

The art is lovely and humorous, but most of the lessons are a stretch, being unrelated to Oregon Trail and thus failing to connect with the supposed target audience. There is also a political joke that could be funny, but it lacks context or intent — and as the only joke of that sort in the book, it seems out of place.

Having written stories similar to And Then You Die of Dysentery myself, I wasn't disappointed in the overall format of the book. But I think it would've been better as a series of short essays. Reeves' humor shines best in her introduction, where she's afforded the space to string sentences into full paragraphs. I don't doubt she has more substance to share about MECC's classic survival game — just not when limited to a single sentence per page.

For better or worse, the entire book can be read in 15 minutes. For a $15 book, that's an expensive investment, but a perfect fit for a library loan. I suggest giving …And Then You Die of Dysentery a flip and getting a few chuckles before reshelving.

(Hat tip to Chris Torrence)

Story Collider: Diphtheria on the Oregon Trail

January 2nd, 2017 11:57 AM
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If anyone has heard of dysentery, it's likely because they contracted it on the Oregon Trail. A variety of ailments struck players in MECC's classic edutainment title, and though dysentery was the most iconic, it was not the only killer: cholera, snake bites, measles, and typhoid fever were all rampant.

Many of these conditions are now easily avoid or immunized against using modern medicine, as detailed in the Mental Floss article "Where Are They Now? Diseases That Killed You in Oregon Trail". But our lack of familiarity with these conditions only leaves us more susceptible to their ravages, should they be unleashed upon an unsuspecting population.

That's exactly what happened to neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman, who, one night while working in her lab, accidentally injected herself with a syringe full of diphtheria toxin. Diphtheria is more than just a catchy word to use in headlines such as "Sally Has Diphtheria: Is Oregon Trail the Greatest Video Game of All Time?". It's an airborne bacterial disease that can cause nerve damage, organ failure, paralysis, or death. Fortunately, Dr. Brachman has not suffered those worst of fates — at least, not yet. She has thus far lived to share her story on the Story Collider podcast:

It's a horrific tale that demonstrates not just how bureaucracy has made inaccessible our most effective antitoxins, even for those who most urgently need them. It also underscores the even fewer chances that travelers along the historical Oregon Trail had. We've made a game of settlers who gambled against natural hazards with no immunizations, antidotes, or even hospitals to cure them — it's shocking that anyone survived the journey to Willamette Valley.

Know Your KansasFest Meme

September 10th, 2012 11:31 AM
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The crux of KansasFest are the daytime sessions that educate attendees on a variety of important topics. At KansasFests 2010 & 2011, I filled gaps in the schedule with "Know Your Meme", a session that introduced the audience to pop culture phenomena that have appeared and spread throughout the Internet. The 2010 session featured such wonders as "Double Rainbow" and "Old Spice Guy", whereas 2011 presented a more coherent narrative that deftly wove together Keyboard Cat, Nyan Cat, and "Can't Hug Every Cat" into one (in)coherent package.

Besides the tradition of this session, I've also emceed KansasFest's annual Friday night banquet, which historically has been a roast but lately has evolved to provide a variety of entertainment. The memeification of KansasFest began in 2009 with the presentation of LOLgeeks:

LOLgeek: Paul Zaleski

This year, we again united our memes and banquet. The hit of the evening came from Steve Weyhrich, who was celebrating his first KansasFest as a member of the event's steering committee. Steve presented a montage of opening sequences for CSI: KFest, with Steve in the role of Horatio Caine:

My own contributions were "Strutting Leo Comes to KansasFest" and an iPhoto-inspired take on "Totally Looks Like":

Totally Looks Like

It's the beard.

But the centerpiece was supposed to be a spoof of the (in)famous song "Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen:

This video has been remixed using footage of many individuals — everyone from Barack Obama to Lt. Commander Data. So I spent the week at KansasFest shooting other attendees and splicing their clips together. The result hasn't been published online because it wasn't as impressive as I'd hoped, which I blame on my shooting and editing skills.

But again, Steve has saved the day, finding some nugget of value in my efforts. He recently came across this Carly Rae Jepsen–Apple II mash-up — which, for some reason, did not want to post this on his own site! I instead offer it here:

Oregon Trail Crazy

Ah, Oregon Trail — is there anything it can't do?