Category Archives: life

Zombies, Run! Review

[EDIT FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE WHO CONTINUE TO FIND THIS REVIEW: This review is somewhat out of date, and pertains to the original Zombies Run Season 1, and has had significant changes since the 2.0 update. I still love it. I still use it. It still feels very similar, but this review is no longer accurate in many particulars.]


And now for something completely different…  I haven’t written anything in a very long time.  Not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because my motivation has been lacking and I’ve had other stuff to do.  I’m going to try something new: a review.  I’m not planning on doing this often, but I thought this was worth sharing.

A little background, since I haven’t really talked about my fitness much.  I’m about 5’8″ on a good day, and currently sitting at about 195 lbs.  Last summer, I started running.  Jogging really.  Well, not even jogging when I started, more heaving along at a shambling lope until I wanted to pass out (roughly 2 blocks).  From June to September I worked up to a 29 minute (level) 5km.  I was pretty proud of myself.  I’d gotten down to about 175 lbs.  I still wasn’t super happy with the extraneous chunk I was carrying, but it was progress.  Then a move came, and November rain, and Winter, and like crap I was going to go out and run in that… Christmas food and all the leftovers… you get the picture.  I tried going out to run a couple of times in the early summer, but it was discouraging to be back to only running 2-3 km again, and some mild injuries combined with that made it easy to put running on the back burner.

Enter: Zombies, Run!

Zombies, Run! is an app available for iOS, Windows Mobile, and AndroidOS.  It’s billed as an ultra-immersive running game that provides a compelling story, rpg-style advancement, and in-run motivation.  Being a fan of all three of those things, I decided to bite the bullet on the $7.99 price tag and download it from Android Market for my HTC Incredible S, running Android 2.3.  For reference, the version I have is the current Andriod 1.01 update.  I had a brief difficulty getting it installed, because the mission audio download (~200 mb) requires you to be on wifi rather than a mobile internet connection.  That’s probably a good thing for a lot of people, but given that I use about 5% of my 2 gb monthly allotment, I would have been happy to be able to do it at my convenience.

The user interface is pretty basic.  The home screen is nearly useless for providing anything but atmosphere, as all the options are laid out as permanent tabs on the top of the screen (Home, Missions, Supplies, Codex, and Settings).  It does keep a count of your town (Abel Township, a walled shanty-town of survivors as the story begins) population, though.  Sliding the door open gets you to the missions tab, which gives you a scrolling list of story instalments that have been unlocked.  That’s where the supplies tab comes in: as you run/walk/shamble/whatever through the mission, your character, who will be known as Runner 5, randomly picks up supplies ranging from radios to underwear.  When your run is completed you can use the supplies tab to distribute them through the buildings in Abel.  This levels up the buildings, increasing the population and making more missions available for you.   The codex keeps track of the different types of supplies you’ve discovered and the mission related artefacts you’ve found, as well as a dramatis personae of the characters you have encountered during the story development as you run.  The supplies and codex tabs are also available online if you sync an account with  That account also gives you the ability to share to your Facebook timeline and Twitter feed, which is something that I think is a lot of fun, the developers think is good advertising, and makes lazy friends feel guilty and hate you.  The final tab is for settings, which contains a tutorial (which I’ll get to), metric/imperial selection, credits, synchronisation options, and the choice of whether or not you want “Zombie chases” added into your workouts.

Getting running with Zombies, Run! is fairly intuitive, which is a good thing because the tutorial really doesn’t adequately explain how everything works [UPDATE: After 4 missions and a bunch of googling, I found the Runners’ Field Guide, which makes for some fun and helpful reading].  After reading through some other reviews and doing a run with it myself, I’m still not entirely sure how everything works.  The support page online didn’t really live up to what I’d like to see in terms of documentation for the game.  It gives you enough to make things work, but not why or how they work.  By clicking on the mission tab and selecting a mission (I started at Mission 1: “Jolly Alpha Five Niner”) you bring up another screen with options to play music from one of the playlists you’ve made on your phone, whether or not to shuffle the songs, whether to enable GPS tracking, and whether you want Zombie chases to happen during the mission (seeming to duplicate/override the global option).  Zombies, Run! audio integrated flawlessly with the stock Android 2.3 music player, but as of the current revision, Android 4 requires you to use the WinAmp app to provide the music for your run.  GPS tracking is needed to have the Zombie Chase option active, and also allows for some pretty decent tracking of your run.  I’m given to understand that until recently, Zombies, Run! didn’t provide much information on your run but now has full RunKeeper integration if you’re into that, calculates calories burned, and keeps track of your speed, pace, and location throughout the run, synced with what song your were listening to and what mission details were given.  It actually reminds me a lot of the free version of Endomondo that I had previously been using to track my runs.  If you’d like to see the tracking screen following a run, the following is a link to my first mission.  SPOILER ALERT: the timeline for the run contains story information for that instalment.

Aaroneous’ Mission Log 200216

So, speaking of my first mission…

I think this is what you’re going to want to hear more about, because it’s the thing that makes this app both unique and worth getting.  The fact is there are better run tracking apps that you can get for free.  If you’re looking at Zombies, Run!, it’s probably because the idea of having the story and incentives making it more fun to get out and exercise.  Does it do that?  It did for me.  Before I tell you about it, I’m going to quickly repeat some useful advice that I read in another review, because it saved me some trouble: The gameplay elements have nothing to do with the story bits.  When they’re yelling at you to run, it doesn’t matter if you run.  When they’re telling you you’re going fast, that doesn’t mean you’re going fast.  It’s pre-recorded, and does not integrate with the GPS tracking.  I do think that if you want to honour the story it will help increase the power of the experience, though.

I selected my running playlist (mostly moderately up tempo rock: bands like Needtobreathe, The Afters, Havenstance, Boys Like Girls, and Switchfoot), shuffled it, turned GPS and Zombie Chases on (because hey, that’s the point, right?) and stepped out the door.  I walked through the first story instalment to warm up, and as the well voice-acted communications controller called for it, began to run.  Jog, really, but I’m out of shape.  I already said that.  As Thunder played, I was soon informed that I’d picked up a power cable…  Okay, cool, I guess… the music volume dipped enough for me to hear the notification, which, unfortunately, was not voice acted.  I’m pretty sure it’s the same text to speech as Emily, the polite British lady in my Garmin GPS that tells me how to get less lost.  That pickup was quickly followed by a radio and a cell phone.  At later points during my run I picked up underwear and a sports bra.  It gave me a bit of a chuckle, at least.  I also got crutches, which brings me to my first semi-real negative: As immersive as this is supposed to be, the liberal application of hammerspace made me shake my head a bit.  Really?  I’m supposed to pretend I’m carrying all this stuff while I’m running? [I got 16 items during the run, ranging in size from a USB key to the crutches… also, sometimes I overthink things.]

As each song ended, an audio clip would play, advancing the story and encouraging me to keep going.  Sometimes this threw me a bit, because (as you’ll see if you look at my mission log) I was liberally interspersing walking with my jogging and there were times when the audio inappropriately lauded my pace.  At times, it would contain story-based information about zombies approaching and call for me to pick up my speed.  If I hadn’t known that it had nothing to do with the Zombie chases, that might have thrown me.  During the songs, with the same volume dip, sometimes I’d get a “Warning, Zombies, 100 Meters” (Ahead? Behind?  Who knows…).  Once again, I was grateful to an earlier reviewer who wrote that this meant that you needed to increase your speed for a set distance.  The tutorial says that if zombies chase you to run faster.  I understand that if you don’t, you drop some of your supplies in order to get away, and if you’re “caught” without supplies, it results in your death and the failure of the mission.  I might be wrong in that; it’s not documented in any way by the developer, and I don’t really want to find out the hard way.  That happened four times during the mission.  It appeared to update me on the distance the Zombies were behind me while I tried to reach the unspecified marker ahead of them, but that’s just my best guess.  It seems like you “evade” the zombies if you reach the end of that unspecified stretch ahead of the zombies, whether you’re five meters ahead or 170.  There was one time that they apparently got close enough to be a worry, since I started hearing shuffling and panting overtop of the music.  It was a cool effect, and definitely motivated me to kick up my speed as much as I could.  The timing and number of the chases seemed random.  In a future revision, I think it might be useful to have an option to include them at fixed times for interval training.

I had some excellent grin-moments as my randomized playlists dropped songs that fit perfectly with the story clips, such as OneRepublic’s Everybody Loves Me after having been greeted and welcomed into Abel township at the end of the mission, and the DJ dedicating The Afters’ Light Up The Sky to our communications officer, Sam Yao (When I’m feeling all alone/with so far to go/the signs are nowhere on this road/guiding me home … you light up the sky to show me you are with me/I can’t deny that you are right here with me).  Some people might find that less amusing than I do.  Phaw on them.

Oh, that’s right, I said DJ.  That was a really neat little Easter Egg!  When I finished the mission (about half an hour including music), I was introduced to a post-apocolyptic DJ team for the base with an old MP3 player and broadcast tower.  They interspersed my playlist with survior related banter that kept the experience going really nicely.  This brings me to my other experiential negative: Zombies are apparently very rude.  While I was doing my cool-down walk, another Zombie Chase activated!  It frustrated me quite a bit, because I was afraid if I didn’t kick back into a run, I’d lose the progress even with the mission done.  I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it left me sucking wind and bile.  I stopped the app after I outran them, but that left me without music for the last few minutes of my cool down.  Apparently Zombie chases are all or nothing.  I can understand that still being a good feature for 10kers that want to keep going well after the mission is done, but for me the timing was very unfortunate.  I’d really like to have the option to only have zombie chases for the duration of the “mission” portion of the run, but I’m not sure that’s actually possible to program.

When I arrived back home, pretty wiped, my four year old son ran out of the house to greet me and join in on my end of run stretching.  I had a bizarrely warm sense of accomplishment and purpose; like I had just gone out running into danger to bring supplies back for my family behind the safety of the walls.  Then I felt a little crazy.  It was a good kind of crazy, though.

Back on the computer, I took the chance to see the post-run breakdown, and as I mentioned before was surprisingly pleased and impressed.  I set out to distribute the supplies around the town.  I think this is an area that could use some future attention to up the fun factor, because it doesn’t seem like it matters what kind of supply you put in any part of the base to improve it.  There’s also no stated rhyme or reason for which part of the base you chose to upgrade.  My personal feeling is that it’s an opportunity for future social integration, especially if they gave a reason for you to upgrade, say, the armoury over the hospital.  By making supplies building specific, and allowing networked people to provide supplies to each others’ bases, it would add a sense of the cooperation that we’ll need to survive the zombie apocalypse.

On the whole, one mission in, I feel like this app is going to be well worth the eight dollars spent.  It’s worth noting that the number of missions is currently limited to what they’ve been able to script and record so far.  They’ve called it season one, though, so I have hope that as more people buy the app, they’ll be able to fund further seasons.  I’d also hope that it would be free content, but I think that those who have followed the story through would be willing to put some more money forward to continue it.  If the rest of the missions are of the quality that the first one was, I can see myself getting a lot of enjoyment from this.

The good: Compelling and well voiced story, excellent integration with the music, and all the tracking features that a recreational runner would need

The bad: Lack of documentation and rationale for RPG elements

The ugly: The user interface is functional, but could stand to improve for the sake of immersiveness

If you’d like to know anything more, feel free to ask.


The Art of Having a Guest Post

Hey!  Remember Mikey?  The guy who rocks the rocker look and rocks out on a Jim Adkins Telecaster? The guy who’s kicking Cancer’s ass?  You know him?  I thought I did.  I asked him to put together a guest post for me as I bang my head against a writer’s block and he comes back to me with this…  This piece of… gold.  Somewhere along the line, Mikey became wise.  This post blessed my heart.  I hope it does the same for you.  Here it is. mikey So, as many of you may have concluded [from Aaron’s introduction], I am not Aaron.  My name is Mikey Fisher and I am a friend of Aaron’s and have been for over 10 years now.  Aaron and I met in Bible College back in 2000, I was a groomsman at his wedding and if it weren’t for the current distance between our families we would certainly be hanging out on a far more regular basis.  Aaron asked me a few days ago if I would be interested in submitting a guest blog on TAOBB and to give my thoughts on the theme verse (Psalm 51:17).  Naturally, I was excited and more than willing to share my thoughts with the masses that frequent Aaron’s blog.  I set about to work, and approached this writing in the same way I always do.  I first looked up the verse in my bible, it reads,

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise”

I immediately began to conjure ideas of how to communicate what I wanted to say about sacrificing a broken spirit to God, but when I decided to read the passage in a few parallel translations of the bible I have found that a more accurate translation of the passage reads,

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A heart broken and bruised, O God, Thou dost not despise.”

 In reading and rereading this passage in numerous translations and reading what different commentaries had to offer on the subject I have actually learned something.  That’s not to imply that I typically don’t learn anything from scripture reading, not at all.  It is meant to say that when one dives into a topic with reckless abandon and without preconceptions of what they want a passage to say, that person can find something far greater than their own notions.  In this case there is not a huge difference between the first translation and the more accurate one.  Excluding the ‘Thou dost’ issue, there is, I think, a key difference between the sacrifice that I offer, and the sacrifice that God is asking for.  And that is the difference that I would like to focus on.

King David wrote this passage after being convicted of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba by the prophet Nathan.  David was deeply moved in his own guilt and anguish when his sins of adultery and murder were laid out before him.  This passage is the very moment when it finally clicks with David.  He cannot simply light up an offering and put it on the altar and let that be good enough to appease God.  What God desires from him is a broken spirit, a humble attitude that admits wrong and at the same time is repentant of that sin.

How often do we commit a sin and think to ourselves, “It’s okay, I’ll pray and ask for forgiveness on this one and then I’m good.” How often do we continue in this sinful behavior pretending to be repentant but actually being unremorseful of our own actions?

David did some pretty serious and horrible stuff in the story leading up to the writing of Psalm 51.  He hurt many people, had a man killed and committed adultery.  David understands when writing Psalm 51 that it’s not about the lip-service prayers we love to offer, God wants a broken heart, and broken spirit.  Being remorseful and repenting of his sins is what grants him forgiveness.  It’s not about admitting what he did was wrong, it’s obvious to everyone and especially to God that what he did was wrong. Its taking the next step, being truly sorrowful about the bad that he had done and taking that emotion to God and repenting, reaching deep into his soul and really meaning it.  That is what it means to offer a broken spirit.  To be humble enough to admit when you are wrong.

There are so many things that we do from day to day to try to score favor with God.  We read our bible, we go to church, we play worship songs, but what we fail to see is that God is far more interested in what’s going on in our hearts, and far less interested about what we are doing externally.  We can’t fool God.  God knows us more intimately than we can ever imagine, so there is no use in pretending to be a changed person when we know in our heart that the sin we are committing is a sin we don’t plan on giving up.

What we need to do is follow the example of people like David.  We need to reach deep inside and understand what we have done is wrong.  We need to understand the sin we are committing, no matter how private it is, is not hidden from God’s eyes, and it is, despite what we sometimes want to believe, affecting our relationship with Him.  We need to ask for God’s mercy and His conviction.  We need to want to stop doing what we are doing and accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the forgiveness for that sin.  We need to let Jesus mend the relationship between God and us.  Most importantly, we need to be humble enough to admit we do wrong, that we aren’t strong enough to stop sinning on our own and that we need God’s help.  We need to be repentant, not just in our words, but also in our hearts.  This is where the forgiveness of sins becomes not just possible but real.

Jesus will free us of sin’s hold on us, and its power over us.  God will send the conviction of the Holy Spirit reminding us that we don’t want to slip when we get into a dangerous place, and because of God’s love for us and our broken spirit, we can be free from the sin that has been holding us back.

God wants our broken spirit.


If you haven’t checked out Mikey’s blog, chronicling his journey with cancer, check it out at  If you have, keep checking it!  He told me that the third installment is coming up in a very short time! The third installment of his story is up now! Thanks, Mikey.

Summer Loving

I have a confession to make:  I was in my high-school production of Grease.

Whew. That feels better.

I might not feel so lame about it if I actually had a real role, but I played Johnny Casino: a bit player in the stage show who didn’t even make it into the movie.  Danny got Sandy.  Kinickie got Rizzo.  Johnny Casino sang a song at the high-school dance.  No love for Johnny.  The way I see it, in a show about teen love, any character who isn’t either in love, or helping the ones that are in love get together is an extra.  You might as well be a talking prop.

Such is life.

I got an email last week from a youth pastor that was concerned with a post that one of his Grade 9 girls had put up as her facebook status.  It was essentially a set of instructions for how a boy should treat his girl, with things like ” Tell her why you think shes so cool . . . Pick flowers from other peoples gardens and give them to her . . . Throw pebbles at her window at night. When she starts swearing at you, tell her you love her . . .  Lend her your cds . . . Write on her . . . Kiss her in the rain. When you fall in love with her, tell her.”

He was concerned with the passion that was in this; the yearning to fall in love and be loved in return.  He lamented her failure to grasp God’s love for her, and the ideology that seemed to say that she NEEDED to be in a relationship.  He was asking for help getting through to her.

Of course, she didn’t actually write this.  It’s a lesser known meme that’s been cycling around the net since about 2004.  It’s viral.  That means she saw it somewhere and grabbed it.  Something about it pulled at her.  Maybe the words settled into her mind like they were moving into a comfortably decorated room, all made up and waiting for them.  Maybe she just recognized a glimmer of truth in them that tickled her fancy.  Maybe she wanted to look wise.  Whatever the reason, she decided share it with her online family.

The fact that it’s stayed alive this long, moving from host to host, though, shows that the sentiment is more symptomatic of our culture rather than the heart’s cry of one girl.

So then.  Is he right to be concerned?

God’s love has never been a substitute for earthly physical love, but in collaboration with it.  We aren’t just meant to be in community with God, but with each other.  I am fully cognizant of the love God has for me.  I know personally his covenant love and how he pursued me to the grave because of his great desire for relationship with me.  I also need my wife.  I was made to love her and she was made for me.  God designed us so that in romantic relationship, his love would be reflected, and we would have a sense of completion; we would have someone on earth to represent his love to us.  Is it wrong for a girl to desire that?  Absolutely not.

The depth of that desire, though, and what she’s willing to trade for it is a very legitimate concern, because it stems from a warped perspective of love.  It’s often used to fill a gap larger than it’s meant to.  It fills the gap of absent or uncaring fathers, of abuse, of being left with feelings of inferiority and insignificance by the people that should love her most.  It fills the gaping wound in her soul surgically inflicted by a media that pries us open with messages of incompetence and incompleteness and leaves us with a desperate desire to fill the artificial emptiness they create.   She needs to hear early and often how wonderful she is, or she spends the rest of her life trying to get people to say it.  We all do.  This isn’t by any means just a “girl problem,” or even a teen problem.  This is us.  This is our life.  The things that should be good enough aren’t.  The things that should be sufficient aren’t.  We aren’t enough.  So we spend our lives looking for the things we’ve been told will make us better.

So many of the kids I work with have, by grade 7 or 8, reached a place where they’ve been taught that rather than having a committed and/or passionate relationship being a part of being loved, part of being a person, it’s the end all and be all.  Being told of God’s amazing love doesn’t negate all that we’ve been conditioned with.  More than that, a head knowledge of God’s love and all he’s done for us doesn’t necessarily translate into heart knowledge of it’s sufficiency.  That takes time.  It takes an act of God. We’ve got to keep telling them – we’ve got to keep telling each other;  Not saying that we’re wrong to feel the way we do, because our self-esteem is damaged enough already, but to be there as God is, to continually and gently present the truth of his love, to water the seed and pray for it to take root.

Honestly, it drives me nuts when I see a facebook status go from “in a relationship” to “single” then back to “in a relationship” in less than 24 hours.  It makes me want to take my head off and put it in the freezer when 2 hours after being asked out the kids are talking about how in love they are.  If they’d ever actually been in love, they wouldn’t throw the word around so easily.

It makes me want to cry when a week later their world ends because they broke up.

Is it a problem?  Yes.  But it’s not THE problem.  It’s a symptom of a culture that says our identities are found in others.  That we’re only as good as other people think we are.  As the things we have.  As the money we make.  As our status in our communities.  It’s not going to stop because we say that’s wrong.  It’s only when we understand the sufficiency of ourselves in who God made us to be that we can put that behind us.  Then we can be the whole half of a healthy relationship here on Earth.  Then we can see all that he intended earthly love to be.

Being Anti-Semantic

I like being right.  Have I mentioned that?  I’m sure I have… crap.  Now I feel like I’ve got to go back and double check… okay, maybe I didn’t, but it was implied.  Yes, I did just go back and check my posts.  I am indeed THAT anal.  Because more than I like being right, I hate being wrong.  A big part of my arguing addiction stems from not just proving that I’m right, but proving that I’m not wrong.  If I’m wrong, I’m defective.  My wit has failed me.  I’ve been conned.  My house was built on the sand, and who builds their house on the sand?

Because of this, when I get into a debate, I research.  I try to make sure I’ve got some sources backing up my opinion.  Of course, it would probably be better if I had sources BEFORE I formed my opinion, but that’s another matter.  If I have to argue with someone, I aim to win.  I’m firm.  I am incisive.  I elaborate and present my case clearly.  I pay attention to the little wavy red lines underneath words.  By the time I reply, I know things that I didn’t know when I started and take on the guise of an expert.  Of course, if my internet connection is down or Google is having server issues, my apparent IQ drops by at least 40 points.

This is all a roundabout way to get to this:  The dictionary drives me nuts.

The dictionary is supposed to be definitive… you know… by definition.  The dictionary should be right.  It should be a bastion of solid correctness in a flimsy, wishy-washy world.  I should be able to refer to it and say: “See?  This is what that word means.”  Except I can’t.  There’s this thing called linguistic shift.  It’s why when kids read Shakespeare for the first time they say “aww, how beautiful… Why can’t we talk this way anymore,” or “huh?”.  The way we use words, the way we spell words, the way we pronounce words, changes based on our geography and our culture.  Their meanings change, sometimes antithetically (see: awful), not based on their roots, but on how people are using them wrong.

Seriously.  It’s a case of a million wrongs make a right.  If enough people use a word improperly for long enough, the great dictionary wizards shrug their shoulders, say “whatever,” and redefine the word.   The other day, I wanted to say something along the lines of gay meaning happy, not homosexual, except that it doesn’t anymore.  Sure, it sort of means happy, and the dictionary gives nod to that, but I’m wrong, because the “official” definition of gay now includes sexual overtones.  “Irony” has been abused, spat on, beaten, and prostituted so many times that it means pretty much whatever someone wants it to mean in any given sentence.  Ironic, isn’t it.

How does that work though?  I’m in a position where I teach kids on a weekly basis.  I don’t necessarily teach language, but they hear me use it, and they respect me (ha ha ha ha ha) as someone who knows what he’s talking about (snicker).  Sometimes I wonder if, week in and week out, I used the word Asparagus instead of Forgive, it would catch on in the youth group.  Maybe it would be an inside joke, maybe kids would just accept it.  If they accepted it, they’d use it.  Maybe someone would correct them.  Maybe they’d argue.  Maybe if THEY used it enough it would spread.  Someday Websters’s dictionary would say 1: a greenish vegetable that looks and tastes like a stick 2: forgiveness.  And that would be stupid.

The thing that’s driving me most nuts, though, is that I’m not sure whether I should be railing against the dictionary’s example or following it.  Isn’t communication more important than correctness?  What does it matter if I’m RIGHT if what I’m saying isn’t being received as I intend it to be?  Rather than expecting everyone to conform to my well researched, etymologically correct ideas about what words should mean, shouldn’t I put away my pride and slip into the common language of the time?  It’s symptomatic, really… semantics are my refuge; My fortress of superiority.  It also makes it easy when I’m losing an argument to redefine success and call it a win.

I don’t know.  I do know that I’m all too ready at any given point to draw a line in the sand and refuse to move when everyone else goes and plays on another beach.  I need to be able to let go of being right, less concerned with the minutia and move on to the bigger picture.  I strain out a gnat and swallow a camel, to use Biblical vernacular that has about as much place in contemporary North America as a thong on a mermaid.  We’re made for community.  We’re made to grow together, and language reflects that.  The bigger picture is that I’m more likely to bring someone around to my point of view by walking through an issue with them rather than picking a spot and screaming at them to come over.  The biggest picture is that I should care more about them than I do about being right, or, more to the point, than protecting myself from being wrong.



Bonus points for the people that were driven nuts by all the inappropriate (but culturally acceptable) uses of ellipses*.  Please asparagus me.


*Yes, I did have to look up the correct plural of ellipsis.