A Long Post About Graduation, Careers, Hiking, and Skipping E3


A lot’s happened in the past month. I graduated the second week of May from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a Bachelors of Science degree in Computer Science, and a minor in Journalism.

Shortly after that, I started packing up my life (and things accrued over the 4+ years in college) to move to a familiar town 40 miles away to prepare for the start of a new career with Lowe’s Home Improvement. I’ll be a Software Engineer working on a myriad of projects, some mobile apps, some pipeline stuff, etc.

And to boil that month of time into a few paragraphs feels understated – the move itself took weeks of packing, day after day of lifting furniture and boxes up and down stairs, not to mention doing that for 3 roomates besides myself.

And, of course, earlier this year, I stepped away from my duties at Machinima and as part of the Inside Gaming team. That was a big, big change.

My relationship and time with Machinima can’t really be summarized in a brief blog post, but I can say that I left at a time that was right. There wasn’t much left I could do, and the company was/is on a path that’s different than what I’d years ago predicted. I’m definitely not here to criticize Machinima, its existing employees, or its practices, but rest assured there was plenty we agreed on, and plenty that we did not.

But my departure, personally, was like I said, well-timed. I was genuinely ready to quietly exit the side of the games media I was working from, and willing and prepared to pursue a path I’d carved for myself with my degree, skills, and work prior to Machinima, IGN, and the games industry community in general.

I could not be happier to be starting work as an engineer. The work is challenging and rewarding, and the pay is great. I’m living by myself for the first time in my life, which is a great break after living in a family of five (sharing a room with siblings until I was nearly 10), and living with 3 roommates in college.


With all that said, this will be the first E3 in three years I’ll miss, physically and emotionally. I’ll be taking on a more exciting and realtively-new challenge: hiking Acadia National Park in Maine, which is also part of the Appalachian trail that I so love. I’ll be there for one full week with my dad, and we’ll be waking at sunrise to make breakfast over the fire, hiking all day through waterfalls, rivers, forests, and creeks, and returning at nightfall to sear caught-fish, roast hotdogs and enjoy the clear night sky – miles and miles from the nearest town.

But E3 is something I’ve always treasured, for years and years. I probably started paying attention to E3 coverage when I got my Gamecube – but I read Nintendo Power and EGM for years and years before that when I had the NES, GBC and N64. I’ve been watching E3 too since it was available to view, and some of my favorite coverage came from IGN during the Nintendo Revolution/Wii days, when Matt Cassamassina (now of Apple I think?) did some AMAZING AMAZING AMAZING coverage with Mark Bozon (also of Apple?) of the 2006-launching system that shook our hearts and minds (at the time).

With Nintendo seemingly on the up-and-up with its choices these days, most notably the recent Smash Bros news, I’m simply dying to see what they announce. I want a new 3D Mario game (Mario 128 people, it’ll happen some day). I want to see that hot new Legend of Zelda game. I want to see some freaking Smash Bros. footage (and we shall thanks to the invitational which is GAHHHHMAZING on so many levels you guys ugh). I wanna see a new StarFox game. And normally I’d say “Knowing Nintendo, I’ll get maybe one of these wishes.”

But you know what? It might be different this year. I know I say that EVERY year, in the same tone that someone who liked Shadow of the Colossus exclaims that The Last Guardian will finally resurface.

But I mean it. Nintendo has made some great advances these past few months. Mario 3D Land is awesome. Mario Kart 8 is great. Kirby Triple Deluxe is wonderful, and I’ve wanted a good Kirby game for YEARS. Smash Bros. looks like a hybrid of Melee and Project M. And as much as you might HATE the Gamecube controller, Nintendo is listening to its hardcore Smash community and making an official Gamecube adaptor for the Wii U, not to mention licensing PDP to make a Smash-themed GC controller!

So of everything at E3, that’s what I’m most jazzed about, and I’m (a little) sad I’ll miss it. But not as much as I’d miss the opportunity to spend time with my dad, see the beautiful creations of God in nature up in Maine, and spend a week doing what I love (even more than games) being in the great outdoors.


With that said, thanks for reading. Oh, and I won’t have cell coverage out there so it’ll be hard to communicate with me.

But dear Lord in heaven, if they announce Fallout 4, you have permission, ALL OF YOU, to text/tweet me in agonizing excitement.

See you in a week.

Oh. And have a great E3. :)

Phil Spencer - Dance

How To Tune for and Play Minstrel (Old Time) Songs on the 5-String Banjo: g#CGBD Tuning


If you’re like me, you don’t own a several-thousand dollar replica of the Minstrel banjo, an old-time banjo with far-reaching 18th century African roots. And if you’re like me in another way, you crave the ability to play those old-timey songs (like Brigg’s Corn Shucking Jig, Juba, and Hard Times), but only have a good ol’ American 5-string banjo.

Don’t panic. You can still play them, and play them right now with the trusty 5-string beside you. Keep reading, and learn a little first — it’ll make your banjo-ing experience all the more satisfying. Because unlike many other instruments, half the fun of playing banjo songs is knowing the history behind them.

Minstrel banjos have two key differences (there are more, but these are what matter for this particular comparison): string type and tuning style.

Minstrel Strings

Your 5-string banjo has silver and nickel strings, common strings. The minstrel banjo has/had a variety of string types, but were not commonly silver and nickel like the American banjo. You can find strings like those on a Minstrel online or at your local music store, but that’s not really needed to achieve the sound you’re after. It will sound infinitely more like a minstrel banjo, but it’s not necessary. What is necessary is getting the tuning right.

Minstrel Tuning

Minstrel banjos were commonly tuned in dGDF#A. That’s the first string in D, the second string at G, the third at D, the fourth at F, and the fifth (the short, loud one) at #A. And while you can tune your good ‘ol 5-string to that very tuning (even if it feels like your fifth string is ready to pop as you do it), the sound won’t sound nearly the same as it does on a minstrel. In fact, it doesn’t sound very good at all. There are a few reasons for that, but there’s plenty of research on the topic if you’d like to learn more.

How to Play Minstrel Songs on Your Regular Banjo

You want to know the right tuning for playing these songs without plunking down the cash for another banjo. Well, thankfully, you can do it right now, in the next 30 seconds, by yourself.

It’s called Drop C Tuning, and it involves simply tuning the fourth string (the string right below the short fifth string) down to a C#. If your other strings (5,3,2 and 1) are in regular G tuning, then leave them how they are! You’re ready to play!

If you’re not in standard, open G tuning gDGBD, then tune to that. Then, once you’re there, just tune down the fourth string to C# as said above, which will result in a g#CGBD.

Now… go practice Brigg’s Corn Shucking Jig — it’s simple to learn, fun to play, and should be known by every young picker. Enjoy!


Weekend Camping Trip to Crowder Mtn with CRU

The on-campus organization I’m a member of called Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU), wanted to go on a camping trip much like the one all the men went on earlier this year. The gals thought the Men’s “Manmaker” retreat was cool enough to justify a co-ed camping trip — a sentiment I agreed with. So, they put me and my buddy Brad in charge of planning the thing.

So, last weekend, we took to Crowder Mountain State Park, home of the Ridgeline Trail where I took my two-day weekend hike less than a month before. We camped, we hiked, we played banjo, and we hammocked on the mountaintop. All was swell. Here’s some pictures.


Tabs with Lyrics for “Worried Man Blues” on Banjo


Most of you might know this song as one made popular on the banjo by Woody Guthrie in the 40s and 50s or even Pete Seeger in the 60s and 70s. No matter how you look at it, it’s a fun little tune that’s a lot of fun to sing and clap along to. I’ve taken it upon myself to post the tabs here (so they’re easier to find), and I’ve added lyrics to each bar so you know when to start singing each line. It’s useful if you’re not used to switching your line on chord changes, like most bluegrass songs.


View or download the tab here, or view it below.


Cool Snapshot of Stone Mountain Hike with Friends

At the ever-popular Stone Mountain, I went hiking the other week. I went with two friends who hadn’t gone before, or at least, hadn’t been in several years and didn’t recall much of the hike or its scenery. And I got a great picture out of it, of them viewing the whole thing from the base for the first time. It’s a cool moment to capture, and I’m especially proud being someone not well-versed in photography.


Here’s a Cool Documentary About how ‘The Last of Us’ Was Made

If there’s two things I love in life, it’s video games and documentaries. Well, okay, sure — I love plenty of other things like hiking, camping and strumming my banjo, but those other two things are pretty high up on the “how I’d spend a Monday night” list. And when you combine the two and make a documentary about video games, well, let’s just say I’m all ears. And eyes, I guess.

Sit back and watch this cool feature on how the talented developers of both Crash Bandicoot and the Uncharted series worked tirelessly to craft the 2013 masterpiece, The Last of Us.

Which you need to play, by the way.

The 20 Mile State Line Hike of February 2014

Yesterday, Saturday, I woke up determined to go on an overnight hike. I’ve done some before while camping, but haven’t had the chance to explore many other mountains in the nearby area. And being in North Carolina, it’s quite the hotbead for hike-able trails and parks. So, I planned to take the scenic Ridgeline trail at Crowder’s Mountain State Park, which would take me down to King’s Mountain Stake Park (about 9 miles away), where I could camp for the night.

So that’s what I did. Here are some pictures from that experience — which had literal and figurative ups and downs of its own. 10 miles there, 10 miles back.