Ramblings of an Almost Internet-Famous Guy

Update March 4 ’14: This article is getting a lot of attention because of the Gabe Newell AMA. If you’re here strictly for the Half Life 2 leak, scroll down a bit to the screenshot of our old website and read from there.

I put my life out there by way of social media because I love connecting with so many people. My perspectives and views have been broadened by countless conversations and debates with people from around the world. I met my girlfriend through social media, she is a real-life friend of one of my real-life friends. She was severely sunburned at a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball game. I commented on her post about the burn, instructing her to immediately start taking aspirin as it helps prevent (or lessen) the symptoms of sunburn. I’ve been using this trick to avoid sunburn for years. I can’t explain to you why this works, but it does. When I followed up with her in a couple days, she was feeling much better and I asked her if she wanted to get coffee.

Instead of coffee, Jessica and I went to Nakama for sushi. I never cared much for sushi, but I had only tried it twice prior to our date. That night, I fell in love with two things: my girlfriend and sushi, but mostly sushi (just kidding!) She also taught me how to use chopsticks, something that I didn’t think I would ever be able to do. In hindsight, my inability to learn chopsticks was mostly laziness. I was trying to impress her and I forced myself to work through that laziness. Now, I can pretty much eat anything with chopsticks.

I don’t ever think I’ll have the following of someone like Philip Defranco, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if I did. I’ve had my fifteen minutes a couple times over, but I always seem to lose momentum before I can turn it into anything. The first time this happened was during the Half Life 2 source code leak. I started a submission-driven, detective style blog to help apprehend the hacker responsible for leaking the source code. Why? Because immediately after the leak, Valve had the community convinced that Half Life 2 would never ship. Teenagers everywhere were furious! Just imagine the reaction at a geriatric center if you suddenly announced that Wheel of Fortune was cancelled. Someone was going to pay!

Half Life 2 Source Code Resource Page

Anonymous tips came over IRC and email from people around the world, trying to help us solve the case. I still have an archive of the website (pictured above), but it’s not publicly available anymore. I had a really bad mouth when I was a teenager and frankly, I’m embarrassed by both the language I used and my attitude during those years. Regardless, I still keep the “huge log” online (also linked in the screenshot above), which correctly identifies the person responsible for the hack. As far as I know, we had the information first. The FBI didn’t release information about the hacker until much later.

In fact, I was contacted by the FBI, but not to congratulate me for finding information. They wanted me to write an apology letter (see: admission of guilt) for stealing the source code. They saw me as a possible suspect instead of as a good citizen trying to help. At its peak, the site was getting over a million hits per day. Derek’s (TheAmazingXemo) and my AIM instant messenger feed were slammed with dozens of IMs per minute about the leak. I even made a couple friends that I still talk with today – Davin Crook and Lash Smith (although they don’t know each other.)

Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf on the Half Life 2 Leak

Baghdad Bob on the HL2 leak. Was applicable and hilarious in 2003

Just as quickly as I had achieved it, the fame disappeared. I only just started talking about this again recently. For years, I didn’t brag; I feared the story was too unbelievable. It was an incredible experience and I am glad to have been a part of it. In hindsight, I wish I had done something better with it. For instance, I could have started a gaming forum. It was harder in those days, there wasn’t Facebook or Twitter. They couldn’t subscribe to my YouTube channel and the whole idea of content management systems, like WordPress, were just starting to come on the scene. My ways of communicating online were IRC and AIM – period.

After the dust settled on my short lived fame, Davin got me involved with a web forum named Gen[M]ay. I actually had a successful foray into the site, but as with the HL2 thing, it wasn’t sustainable. At the time, I was working at a self storage facility. While emptying out delinquent storage units, I came across a unit with thousands of old porn magazines and what appeared to be a used, uncleaned toy. Using rubber gloves, I boxed up all of the magazines into banker boxes and discarded the toy into the trash. I kept the boxes around for a while, eventually giving them to a couple of my friends, Rocco and Nasty Nate. Unfortunately, I cannot find any of the pictures or posts; I took them down for fear of getting into trouble at work. (If anyone is reading this who retained a copy of the posts, please let me know!)

The next thing I did that went somewhat viral was The Peanut Butter Raccoon. This guy even had his own MySpace page! I’m not entirely sure, but I believe those pictures were taken in the fall of 2005. It was fun to see these posted all over social networking sites. And yes, we did save the raccoon from a certain peanut butter death that night. (Update: These pictures are currently being used in a Smithsonian traveling exhibit that will run until the end of 2013.)

Not very long after, I closed my MySpace account and started living life offline. But in December of 2008, I was convinced by the masses to join Facebook. And with the exception of a four month break during my divorce, I’ve been online ever since. I’ll probably never be able to run for public office with all of the archived material available about me, but I’m okay with that. I am just too open of a person to live my life any other way.

I actually got on YouTube before Facebook. I don’t like to vlog and I don’t have time to watch most people who do. I occasionally uploaded videos of very random things, getting little to no feedback. But when I posted a belligerent rant in 2010 about an annoying glitch in Fallout: New Vegas, I suddenly had thousands of views and comments overnight. Most of the feedback was negative, but negative attention is better than no attention.

I tried to record some more gaming videos, but people quickly lost interest. They were only here to laugh at the crazy guy going nuts over his video game. :-)

I had been playing an amazing indie game throughout that same year named Minecraft. I played on a few really good servers, including Deathrow’s Minecraft Everyday. Eventually, I formed my own server, Gtwy’s US East Survival Server. We were listed on over a dozen forums and indexes, including Reddit. Call it pure luck, but we ended up with a perfect mix of personalities on the server. The server was always maxed out with users and we built an incredible world for ourselves.

Eventually, I started recording videos from our server and posting them on my YouTube channel. I didn’t think anyone outside of my server would care, but I was wrong. At the time of this posting, my Minecraft videos have earned half a million views and attracted over 1,000 subscribers to my channel. Unfortunately, I  do not still run my own server. During my divorce, I didn’t have time to focus on Minecraft. In short, the server software was maintained by third party organizations who were releasing their work for free, but it would always break every time the official Minecraft team made changes. I was constantly patching and repatching it to work; I spent more time fixing it than I did playing. However, up until the server was officially shut down, our uptime rating was a solid 100%.

Half a million views is small peanuts to people like Defranco, but I’m pretty impressed by it. (Does that mean I am easily impressed?) Unfortunately, my Minecraft subscribers have been pretty resistant to anything else I have to say or post. Literally every comment on every new post is, “we want more Minecraft videos”. But I can’t make anymore Minecraft videos if I am no longer playing the game. Bah!

PS – I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about this article, especially if you were involved in any of the stories mentioned above!

Comments

  1. James, fun story about you and your girlfriend. I didn’t think I’d like Sushi until my friend showed me how to use chop sticks (similar to your situation), and had me try sushi mixed with wasabi and hot sauce. Damn that was good!

    • There’s so many options for sushi… people who say they don’t like it simply haven’t tried everything available yet. You can get rolls that are completely fried… how is that any different than eating any other fried fish? Just drives me crazy. I’m going to do another article and focus exclusively on the sushi to help encourage people who have tried it.

  2. Hi there! I found this by watching your vid on youtube, you’re a pro at catching greifers, as I saw ^^ is your server public? I’ve yet to play on multiplayer and it sounds like a lot of fun.

  3. Hi there! I found this by watching your vid on youtube, you’re a pro at catching greifers, as I saw ^^ is your server public? I’ve yet to play on multiplayer and it sounds like a lot of fun. and I’ll bet anything your server is pretty free of any trolls or greifers because I’ve seen a LOT of youtube vids, yes, sometimes it’s funny, but I know that the one who built it spent lots of time on it and I find them to be very disrespectful.

  4. Do you play minecraft a lot?

  5. Why cant i join you server?

Trackbacks

  1. […] you may want to check out the work I did during the Half Life 2 source code leak. I wrote about it here and Gabe Newell answered my AMA here. I also have an IRC server that we use to discuss netsec and […]

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