The Ashe Can

The Witness — February 5, 2016

The Witness

I bought The Witness on PS4 because I generally like puzzles and I loved Myst and Braid both.

I regret it a whole lot.

Before I bought it, I watched some videos and read about it. It looked like something I would enjoy. I watched a video where a guy played through the first 30 minutes (and he had a lot of trouble with even the early puzzles), and I thought, “Hey, that looks fun, and I bet I could do these puzzles better than this dope.”

So I bought it and started playing, and I got through those early puzzles pretty quickly, and then I started exploring. I stumbled across a swampy area with yellow Tetris symbols on the panels. I tried a few and couldn’t figure them out, so I went on and found a small bridge with another Tetris puzzle. I quickly drew a line on it, just messing around, and it worked! The bridge started moving forward.


I went up some stairs and looked around, finding two other sets of puzzles with Tetris pieces. I couldn’t figure out either one. I knew you had to make the shape of the pieces to get it to work, and by that metric, both of these puzzles were impossible. You didn’t have enough space to make the shapes necessary to solve it.


I went back down the stairs to go back and try to find something easier, and that’s when I discovered that I couldn’t cross the bridge back. It had moved forward and now there was a small gap I couldn’t cross. (In real life, it would be a minor jump, but this game is full of invisible walls.)

I tried solving the puzzle again (it helpfully still had my solution, which is good, because I didn’t remember it), but nothing happened. I was stuck in a tiny area with puzzles I had no idea how to solve.

After about 30 minutes of beating my head against a wall, my wife finally just looked up the answers for me (I’m kind of stubborn about that) and none of them made any sense. They worked, but the solutions didn’t actually seem to have any kind of logic. It turns out, with the Tetris blocks, you don’t actually have to make the shapes exactly where the marks are, or something? I honestly still don’t get it, and the tutorial puzzles didn’t really explain that. It really was a “thank fuck that’s over” moment.

That got me out of that area, but it was too late. I found out later that that swamp is meant to be completed much later in the game, but seeing that that’s what the game had in store for me, I was totally disillusioned by the whole thing.

Also, I found out that to get the bridge to go back, you have to solve its puzzle in a different way. It has two solutions and one moves the bridge forward and one moves it back. Zero indication of that, either.

Since I had been playing less than an hour and was already sick of the game’s shit, I tried to see if I could get a refund, since I thought PSN had a similar refund policy to Steam. Nope, no refunds under any circumstances.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 12.57.25 PM

I have a tiny budget for video games this year ($150 total) and wasted nearly a third of it on a game I can’t stand. I tried playing through the early areas (the orchard and the hedge maze) now knowing where to go and I can’t do it. Even knowing and understanding the puzzles now doesn’t make me feel good or cause me to enjoy the game. I just feel bitter and pissed off.

I don’t blame the people who like this game. For some people it’s totally fine, but I think I just don’t have the right kind of spatial awareness or something to enjoy it, and it frustrates the shit out of me. I’m not mad at Jonathan Blow or anything, he made the kind of game he wanted to make and it is nice to look at (though I didn’t notice until watching this video that nothing moves and there’s little sound — that is super weird and disconcerting).

I am mad at Sony for their shitty refund policy. If I could get a refund, I’d probably just shrug and say, “This game is clearly not for me,” and move on to something else that is. Instead I feel like someone took $40 out of my pocket and gave me some kind of weird brick that I can’t understand.


It’s like forcing myself to play a driving game when I don’t like driving games. I barely like actual driving. Or, even more accurately, it’s like it seemed to have all the indications of a driving game I would like, and then I turned it on and the steering wheel was reversed and for some reason I was driving on a different course than everyone else.

(Note: This is adapted from a post I made on the forums here.)

Two things — October 8, 2015

Two things

Just a real quick post. I’ve got two things to announce:

  1. I finally have a complete bibliography! A few people have asked for a way to find all my stuff since Cracked is between redesigns and doesn’t list all of their authors’ articles at the moment and The Smoking Jacket has completely gone offline. Now you have access to those and other things.
  2. Holy god damn, my long-delayed short horror collection, Other Godsis almost finished. Yes, I’m serious this time. I’ve got a few stories to put finishing touches on and everything else is with my editor. I plan on releasing it early in 2016 through Hex Press (which is a silly name I made up for my self-publishing). Instead of the originally planned eight stories, there will be 12 — Eight brand new stories and four previously published ones.

More soon!

6 Things You Learn Living in One of the Poorest Regions of the U.S. — August 27, 2015

6 Things You Learn Living in One of the Poorest Regions of the U.S.

Some background: Last week, published “Third-World America: 5 Insane Realities Of Appalachia“, an article to which I contributed. It’s been super popular and I love how well it turned out.

One of the weirdest things about the writing world is how things take such a crazy path from idea to publication, however. In the case of this particular article, it started as a pitch I made to Cracked’s Personal Experience team about how I moved from the big city (Nashville, where I lived since I was born) to poor, rural Eastern Kentucky, and how much weirder life was in general here.

It wasn’t quite right for Cracked, though, because it was hyper-focused on the particular area of Kentucky where I live (I only really mention a few specific counties) and it was written entirely from an outsider’s perspective, while they wanted to see a mix of that and the perspective of someone who had lived there their whole life.

In between the pitch and the refocusing, I mistakenly thought they wanted me to move on to the writing phase, so I ended up writing a draft of an article that went unused. (My quotes in the article from last week are actually directly from that draft.) I asked the editors at Cracked if I could post the draft here because I thought the info was still interesting, even if it wasn’t what Cracked was looking for. They gave me the go ahead, so here it is. Consider it further reading about the weirdness that is Appalachia.

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Classic TV Realizations — August 20, 2015

Classic TV Realizations

I’ve got old episodes of The Twilight Zone playing in the background while I’m working and I’m super in love with a particular episode called “I Shot an Arrow into the Air”, and for a specific reason.

In the episode, some proto-astronauts (the episode aired in 1960, 9 years before Apollo 11) land on an alien landscape and quickly devolve into Lord of the Flies shit, but (spoilers for a 55 year old TV episode!) it’s actually Earth all along. They never even escaped the atmosphere. They just landed in the desert somewhere. Not exactly mind-blowing, but they weren’t all winners.

The reason I love the episode is because of the title, plain and simple. “I Shot an Arrow into the Air” has a secret hidden in it and when you realize what it is, that’s more mind-blowing than the episode itself. What happens when you shoot an arrow into the air?

It comes back down. The twist is right in the title.

Such a small, but clever detail. It’s very Serling.

Deity Headwear — July 10, 2015

Deity Headwear

Arthur Machen (1863-1947) once wrote this amazing novella called The Great God Pan. Stephen King has lauded it as one of the greatest horror stories ever written in the English language. I don’t know if I’d go that far (it holds up reasonably well, considering it was originally published in 1894, but even by that standard, it’s still pretty clunky), but it influenced several major horror authors of the 20th century and, along with The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers, published a year later, does a stupendous job of capping off the 19th century of horror and ushering in the 20th.

Both were massive inspirations for a guy who, himself, has influenced probably more 20th and 21st century horror than anyone else: H.P. Lovecraft. While that’s fascinating, it’s not what I want to talk about today because everyone and their grandmother has talked about Lovecraft’s forgotten influences who don’t get enough credit for creating Eldritch horror. Those are fair points, just not what I’m looking at in this particular post.

No, what I want to talk about is how Arthur Machen was maybe accidentally psychic. But before I get into that, let me give you a brief synopsis of the first section of The Great God Pan. There are spoilers, but only for that section. There’s still plenty more if you want to read the whole thing. (NB: It’s in the public domain in the U.S., so it shouldn’t be hard to find free copies of the text.)

In Pan’s opening section, we’re introduced to Dr. Raymond, a scientist who is attempting to open up the human mind to be able to perceive a world beyond our own, one to which ours is merely a substratum. He calls this “seeing the great god Pan.” It’s almost like that’s the same as the title of the story! I bet it must be important!

Now, keep in mind that in a historical context, the god Pan was associated with ferocity, lust, the id, the baser human nature. Pan was our animal side, truly the Satyr. Think of him more as the co-opted medieval Satan figure than the actual Greek deity.

So, Dr. Raymond figures it out. All that’s necessary to unlock the human brain’s ability to see the world beyond/beside ours is a minor (unexplained) bit of brain surgery. And he’s got a subject, Mary, who’s totally up for doing it. (Why? Who…? Never mind.) He performs the surgery on Mary, she briefly sees the other world… and then instantly goes insane. Whoops.

Now, from there, Dr. Raymond’s associate, Clarke (and a few other stodgy British gents that Clarke is acquainted with), slowly pieces together what actually happened to Mary. Sort of. That’s all stuff you can read in the novella if you like. Or if you just want to spoil the rest, I guess e-mail me or check Wikipedia or something. Fuck it, I’m not your dad.

Now, here’s what’s fascinating about Dr. Raymond’s experiment and The Great God Pan. It turns out, there is totally a real life corollary in science: The God Helmet. I’m a big fan of the God Helmet and I’ll tell you why: It’s one of the most fascinating ways, not to discover what lies beyond our world, but what happens to our brains when you mess with our sense of self.

The God Helmet, developed by inventor Stanley Koren and neuroscientist Dr. Michael Persinger, essentially short-circuits a part of the brain called the temporo-parietal junction. Why would anyone do that? To see the great god Pan, of course. The temporo-parietal junction controls the parts of the brain associated with identity of the self and identifying outsiders. When you mess with the TPJ, subjects frequently experience visual hallucinations of someone else in the room. Someone who’s not actually there.

Damage or shock to the TPJ is believed to explain a number of vaguely paranormal phenomena, like the third man phenomenon (where people in dire survival situations will hallucinate a non-existent companion who helps them), out-of-body experiences, and even shadow people. Oh, I’m going to bust out one of my all-time favorite images here. Hold on.

From "Induction of an illusory shadow person" by Shahar Arzy, et. al.
From “Induction of an illusory shadow person” by Shahar Arzy, et. al.

This is a diagram from a study where researchers took an epileptic patient and applied an electric shock to her TPJ (fig. a). While it didn’t do much for her seizures, it did do a lot for scaring the shit out of everybody (fig. b-d).

What they discovered was that as long as the current continued to be applied, their patient sensed another presence in the room. That’s what that shadowy thing caressing her from behind is. She thought another person (specifically, she identified the presence as a man) was in the room, touching her, standing behind her, even telling her what to do. At one point, the researchers asked her to read a card. She told them, “He doesn’t want me to read.” Jesus Christ, right?

And that’s where The God Helmet comes in. Jesus Christ. Koren invented his helmet to intentionally cause these sorts of events in people who wore it, so they could experience a sort of religious experience. To create an ephemeral presence. Supposedly, anyway. Apparently the helmet is kind of spotty.

But it’s fascinating that, in a fashion, Arthur Machen accidentally predicted these things. This human desire to see the other. To experience an inhuman presence, whether menacing or beneficial. To see the great god Pan.

PS – What got me thinking about all this was a short film called The Brain Hack, so if you don’t have time for all this other shit, just watch and enjoy this similarly-themed and entertaining film.

I moved — July 9, 2015

I moved

So I moved. This blog used to be on Tumblr, but I decided to to bring it over to Mostly because, uh, I work here now.

I’ve been kind of quiet for a while, so let me catch you up. Up until May, I was working for the feds, doing work for It was okay, but government work wasn’t my favorite.

My buddy Dennis, who I met writing at, recommended I apply for Automattic, the company behind I gave it a shot because it sounded like a great job, but, frankly, I wasn’t sure if I had much of a chance.

Then, I got an e-mail. They wanted to talk to me! And then they wanted to do a follow-up. And then they offered me a four to six week trial. And then they asked me to stay on full-time.

So now I work here, and it made sense to move my blog over and try to work more from the user side as well as the employee side. (Weird Shit Blog is staying on Tumblr because I’ve got way too many followers to ditch that.)

I imported some of my Tumblr posts over. Not all of them. The old site’s still there, if you give a shit.

As for writing stuff, I’ve put my freelancing on hold to focus on the new job. I’m still working on my short story collection, Other Gods. Did you know that writing fiction is super fucking hard when you haven’t done it for a couple of years and people have been paying you to write non-fiction instead? Because it is.

I wanted to finish Other Gods for Weird Shit Blog’s fifth anniversary (7/6/15). That’s looking super unlikely, unless I somehow find a way to go back in time. (Believe me, I feel like a huge asshole for not having it finished yet, especially because some people have already paid me for it.)

I’ll be writing here, though. I’m thinking of bringing back my “I’ve Never Seen…” series that I was doing at Film School Rejects. It didn’t bring a ton of traffic, but I ain’t give no fucks ’bout traffic round here. I watched the second Indiana Jones movie a few weeks ago (for this column at Cracked) and had Thoughts (tm) about it.

I’ve got some other ideas I can dig back out, too. Things that felt too long for Tumblr, but would work fine here. Terrible, disgusting things. Okay, probably not. But maybe?

Who Smart Watches the… Nevermind, that’s a really terrible joke — June 21, 2015

Who Smart Watches the… Nevermind, that’s a really terrible joke

One thing that I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about in my writing career (outside of a few short pieces here and there) is how much I enjoy technology and gadgets and shit like that.

There’s something about electronic bits and bobs that wakes up my nascent inner engineer. I start thinking of ways I could cobble them into my workflows and make my life easier. It rarely actually works out that way. I went through three tablets before I finally figured out that I absolutely have no use for them other than occasionally reading books. (Weirdly, I don’t find reading on an actual ebook reader enjoyable, only tablets.)

But one purchase I’ve been exceptionally happy with is the smart watch I got for Christmas in 2013. I bought a Pebble and it’s been a major difference in my work and leisure. (Please imagine that I said leisure in the British way, but with a shitty French accent, because I did that in my head.)

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