This amazing video caught lightening striking three of Chicago’s tallest buildings at the same time.
Last weekend I attended GenCon with my 12yo son (his first time at GenCon – w00t). Despite his youthful enthusiasm for all things merchandise, he humored me and sat in on a panel session for a full hour. Thanks, bud!
"Chummers and ‘Mechs and Writing for Catalyst" was the panel we attended. It was led by Hugo-nominated author John Helfers and the editor of Catalyst Game Lab’s long fiction. He was joined by an esteemed panel of game and fiction writers from Catalyst.
The panel covered what they are working on for the Shadowrun and Battletech lines and offered advice for authors that want to write for these games.
Meet your deadlines
Meet your deadlines, meet your deadlines, meet your deadlines. This statement was the leading comment by the panel. Your deadlines affect product schedules and could mean your fiction will be cut (and by association, so will you). Be on time: meet your deadlines.
Read good fiction
Reading good fiction lets you see what good writing looks like and what mistakes to avoid.
Know the universe
Creating fiction in a known universe can be tricky. Consistency is important because the readers expect the story universe to operate in certain ways. This applies both to the tone and style of writing and the history and technology of the universe. Changing fundamental technologies or timelines won’t fly with the editors.
Writing for a game is not a hobby
While RPGs are a hobby for most people, writing for the RPGs is not. It is a career and should be handled as such. Be professional, and remember: meet your deadlines.
You are writing in a shared world
Because Battletech and Shadowrun are shared game universes, your need to tread lightly there. If an editor requests changes to a character or plot point, be flexible. Editors know the facts better than you. They also know where the product lines are headed. One writer’s first story went through 9 edits before publishing, so be prepared.
Find the little details and extrapolate
It may be tempting to write on the bleeding edge of the universe. When you first get started, find somewhere off the beaten path to write. The primary characters of the universe have already been plotted for new products. There are many "throw-away" statements in source books that can make a great starting point for your story. Extrapolate those little details into something interesting. Readers of Battletech and Shadowrun fiction love to see the lives of everyday people in the universes they love.
Shadowrun covers a 60-year time span and Battletech covers a millennium. This can feel overwhelming to those less familiar with the history, but authors should be encouraged by this statement: RPG material is written in a way to help tell stories. Gaming is a story-telling activity just like writing.
Each Catalyst universe has been developed for years and each has developed its own clichés. An example given was Johnsons (business people) double-crossing the runners they hired in Shadowrun. Learning what is considered cliché and writing outside of that give you a better chance of success.
(Note: I would have liked for the panel to expound on what things were considered clichés in each universe, but time prevented them from doing so.)
BattleCorps is the online fiction site for Battletech. At this point they are desperate for fiction to meet their desired quotas. This is good news for those who want to break into Battletech fiction.
For most pieces of fiction used by Catalyst there is a word length requirement. Authors should write in the 5- to 10-thousand word range. Also know that some word limits are very strict. Even a dozen words over and it will be returned for editing.
I’d like to thank author Jean Rabe, who I understand coordinates the writer’s symposium that takes place at GenCon. I only wish I had been able to attend more sessions.
We ate our Thanksgiving dinner on Friday afternoon. My in-laws traveled up from Tennessee after spending a week visiting other relatives there. After two days of turkey – and despite The Wife’s fabulous cooking – they opted against turkey dinner leftovers for a third night in a row.
They offered to take us out to dinner, so we started the laborious process of figuring out where to go. We narrowed down to two choices and finally decided to try Loon Lake Lodge on 82nd and I-69.
After finishing our dinner, we returned to the car only to find the passenger window on the driver’s side smashed in. The Wife’s laptop and my son’s school backpack were gone. The car parked next to us had its passenger window smashed. They lost a purse. Fortunately, it was a smash-and-grab, so the thief missed other valuables. The other people had a camera and laptop in their backseat, and my oldest son’s PSP and my FLIP were also in the backseat of our car but weren’t taken.
We asked the manager at the restaurant to call the police for us. He was sorry it happened to us, and indicated that this had happened before in their parking lot: THE NIGHT BEFORE! My neighbor ate dinner there this summer and both of his coworkers’ cars were broken into and their property stolen.
I understand our personal responsibility in this; we should not have left valuables visible in the car. I also understand that the restaurant can’t be responsible for damages caused in their parking lot. At the same time, however, I think they should take some ownership to protect their clientele.
The parking lot is dark and deserted. Better lighting and cameras would deter thieves. Hiring a security person would also protect cars from vandalism. The management knows this is a problem but they don’t seem to care. They didn’t even try to win us back by offering gift certificates or a cold drink while we waited for the police.
I wasn’t sure I would eat there again. After the break-in I definitely won’t eat there again and I would warn others not to eat there as well.
We should have gone to our other choice – Stone Creek Dining Company – instead.
I bought a Flip Video Ultra 60-minute handheld camera after seeing a bunch of reviews for it. Turns out, my son had been looking at them in January but opted for a digital camera instead. I picked mine up at a local big-box retailer just before the BlogIN conference. I wanted to try my hand at video blogging. With the Flip, it’s fun and easy!
Here’s the video I shot:
Built into the side of the Flip is a pop-out USB hub (hence the name “Flip”). Copying files is as easy as using Windows Explorer. My only problem with the camera is that the digital zoom isn’t very good. It just makes the images fuzzy. This camera is rugged, too. I dropped it in a parking lot: the face got scuffed, but it didn’t scratch the lens and it still works great!
Here are the product links on Amazon:
I had the opportunity to spend my evening with a group of Twitter fans here in Indianapolis at the second Indianapolis Tweetup. The event was held at a coffee shop on Pennsylvania Avenue in Indianapolis (across from the Indianapolis Library) called The Abbey. Nearly 20 Twitterers were in attendance. Other than @stevillama, who I met at the BlogMob, I hadn’t met anyone else prior to this event. It was great getting introduced to new people. At the same time, though, through The Amazing Power of Twitter™ it felt like I had known some of them for a while.
With most folks we talked about twitter, of course, but here are some highlights of conversations I had:
@stevillama and I talked about the origins of @y0mbo, using usernames and pseudonyms online. We decided there wasn’t much point in using a pseudonym anymore unless you have a really common name. I still will keep mine, just because its always unique and I’ve been using it for years.
I took some serious ribbing from @axlconn and @douglas_vann for being a .NET developer. I decided it was time to learn an OSS programming language just so I can mock it properly in a public setting.
I met @neutralangel who told me he’s getting a degree in computer science (or something like that), but that his true passion is photography.
I talked with a bunch of people about the practicality of following a lot of people on Twitter. I talked about my rule of 50 followers (which I abandoned after meeting a few fellow Indy Twitterers that I wanted to add). I’ll probably keep a nice balance of following 1 person for every 2 people following me. I just don’t understand the concept of following 12,000 people. You can’t possibly get to know that many people.
@axlconn and I talked about screencasting. I had tried out Camtasia and wanted to find out what he used. Camtasia, it turns out. I mentioned I was doing a screencast of how to sign up for Flickr so they could see my private photos. He pointed out I could generate a unique URL to a photoset and send that to friends and family without the hassle of having them sign up. These are the great reasons to have Twitter friends and getting together with geeks!
@drthomasho and I discussed Comcast, Hamilton Telecom, laptops, desktops, iPhones and tablet PCs. Sounds like he’s pretty happy with the tablet he got (and at a good price).
@stevillama, @ellen5e and @axlconn discussed the merits of backing up video to DVD or hard disk. I was in the middle of this conversation but didn’t really have a much to offer. I didn’t realize hard drive space is still cheaper than other media. It made me reconsider backing up to DVD ROM.
I met @edsai and we noted the missing presence of @douglaskarr, the guy who is into everything. @douglaskarr was one of the first Indy bloggers I started following, and I haven’t had a chance to meet him in person yet.
@edsai, @gregorlove, @neutralangel and I talked about a number of different things, such as vine, @garyvee and @twittermethis. @twittermethis is a Twitter-based trivia contest that actually pays the winner of a round $5 via Paypal. It sounds pretty cool, and I followed the game to see how it goes.
Apparently there was an after-party at @gregorlove’s house, where the remaining Tweetup folks played WII late into the night, but I took off around 9:30. All in all I enjoyed the tweetup and look forward to the next one.
At noon today, 30-or-so bloggers congregated on the steps of Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis for a flash-mob style blogging publicity stunt. The idea was to raise awareness for the blogIN conference. The weather was great for an spring day in Indy, and I thought turnout was pretty good. I think most people spent more time talking to other bloggers than actual blogging, but that’s how these things go. It was great to meet several people I know online so I can say I know them in real life as well.
Erik Deckers posted a play-by-play on his blog: BlogMOB on Indianapolis’ Monument Circle.
Calling all Indiana Bloggers
blogIN is an "unconference" being held on April 26th, 2008. Hosted by Smaller Indiana, a social networking site, and sponsored by Compendium Blogware, the event will be held at the IUPUI School of Informatics from 1 to 5pm on Saturday the 26th. We’re hoping to get Indiana bloggers together to talk shop, share tricks and tips, and generally encourage one another. While there are a few presentation scheduled by "rock star" bloggers here in Indiana, most of the event will be unscripted and without an agenda, allowing bloggers to get together and decide on what they want to discuss on the spot.
You can register for the event here on the BlogIN 2008 sign-up page.
(Cross posted from Red Bit Blue Bit).
Today marks the first review of Groundhog Day Resolutions for 2008. You can review my resolutions at 2008 Groundhog Day Resolutions.
I’m going to list my goals and their statuses in a nice table format. I’ll add comments below. I’ve graded myself on a 90/80/70/60 scale or pass/fail.
|Daily Devotions||17/30 (57%)||Fail|
|Weekly Family Devotions||11/4 (275%)||A+|
|Spend time with Eldest||4/8 (50%)||Fail|
|Spend time with Youngest||4/8 (50%)||Fail|
|Take The Wife on a date||1/1 (100%)||A|
|Spend Saturday night with The Wife||2.5/4 (63%)||D|
|Connect with old friends||1/4 (25%)||Fail|
|Join a small group||Ongoing||Passing|
|Work out||16/24 (75%)||C|
|Dental Hygiene||Completed||30/30 (100%)||A|
|Redesign uhri.com||No progress|
|Practice Guitar 10 minutes/day||19/30 (63%)||D|
|Unpack boxes||19/22 (86%)||B|
|Business: Billable hours||Fail|
|Business: RBBB Redesign||Ongoing||Pass|
|Business: Book Yourself Solid||Ongoing||0/2||Fail|
|Meta: Take one action, first thing, ever day.||Ongoing||8/16 (50%)||Fail|
|Meta: Use a timer||Ongoing||3||Fail|
|Meta: Use GHDRR Tracker form / daily review||Ongoing||Daily||Pass|
|Meta: GTD Weekly review||3/4 (75%)||Pass|
|Meta: Limit Television to 4 hours per week.||10/16||Pass|
For personal devotions, I did not have a lot of success this month. Chief to my errors was leaving my devotions for the end of the day. This usually means I either fall asleep before taking the time, or end up just quickly skimming over a passage without really digging into what it says. I think I’ll try to improve this in March by moving devotion time to the beginning of the day.
Family devotions haven’t turned out the way I had hoped either, but were better in some ways. I found time in the mornings before taking the boys to school to read a passage of scripture and have a quick discussion about it. The bad news is The Wife hasn’t been part of these, especially when we read in the driveway and discuss on the way. I think the ultimate goal – to teach our sons about God – is being served. This month I’m going to bump the goal to a daily devotion on weekdays.
Spending time with the others in my family is much harder than I thought it would be. With the kids, it’s difficult to find the time to spend with them individually. When we do things together, it’s usually as a family. Trying to carve out individual time is tricky. The boys tend to hang together and do things at the same time. Finding an hour to focus on one without the other getting in on it just doesn’t happen. Finding an hour twice a week has also been a challenge. For March, I’m going to be less concerned about individual time and more intent on just spending the time with them.
Saturday night date nights with The Wife were certainly interesting. I was out of town one weekend, which cost me 25% of my score. One other weekend she went to bed early on Saturday even though I was ready to hang out together. We did get a chance to get out one weekend to a dinner theater thanks to a Christmas present from my sister that included free babysitting. In March, The Wife has a work trip to attend and I will be going with her. I’ll count this as our date night out of the house since its several days together without the kids.
The third area of spending time is connecting and keeping in contact with old friends. I wish I could say I did better on this – it doesn’t take long to send an email. Still, I only sent one and didn’t even get a response, so that set a challenging tone for my motivation on this task. I’ll have to ramp up my efforts again this month.
As for joining a small group, we made a little bit of progress. We decided to make a commitment to the church we started attending in January by making it our home church. Yesterday we went to a new attendee session after service and found more information about the church and where it stands doctrinally. The good news is a focus of the church is on small group fellowship. This is what we’ve been looking for so our next step is to attend the small group connect meeting to find others in our area.
I’m happy with the progress I made in the health and fitness department. I started exercising regularly again, either on the treadmill or the stationary bike. I found the bike to be more beneficial. I feel like I get a better workout and, at the same time, I’m able to do a little reading since my hands are free. Some would suggest that means I’m not riding hard enough but based on how winded I get I’m sure I’m doing fine. My diet could improve dramatically, however, as I haven’t really cut down on anything I’m eating. The Wife has started to watch her diet again; that usually means I’ll start doing pretty well there again.
As for dental hygiene, I’ve been doing the floss and mouthwash routine every night. I’m going to close this as a tracked goal. I think it has become an ingrained habit now.
Creative and Household Goals
My other miscellaneous goals involve reading, writing and music. I haven’t focused too hard on reading fiction, but did read one non-fiction book this month (see below).
I wrote 5 nearly-1000-word blog posts between this site and my business blog. Writing one decent length post per week has been the right amount of time, I think. I can confirm a quote I read by Jeff Atwood that it takes about 3 hours writing an average blog post.
My goal for practicing guitar 10 minutes a day trong> was primarily to build finger strength and speed. This month need to find some scales to practice or songs to learn to keep me interested while continuing to get my fingers into shape.
Unpacking started well at the beginning of February, but has tapered off now that the main floor of our house seems to be in pretty good shape. Still, there are many, many boxes in the basement and garage that need attending to before I can consider this goal complete.
The Business of Business
I deployed a blog for Red Bit Blue Bit (http://redbitbluebit.com/) this month. I created an about page and two blog posts for it as well. I want to blog there once a week on issues I consider important to .NET developers and those looking to hire independent consultants to solve their business needs. I’ve enjoyed doing those blog posts there. I never felt too comfortable blogging on those topics here at Uhri.com since I considered this a personal blog and it is read mostly by friends and family. Too much nerdy stuff would drive them away!
I wanted to work through the book Book Yourself Solid over the course of the next few months by reading (and doing the corresponding homework for) one chapter each week. I got stuck, though, and didn’t even finish the first chapter. Homework is hard! I’ve done some online networking on Smaller Indiana. It’s a networking group focused on small business owners and creative types in Indiana, so my overarching goal of building a client base in Indiana is being attained.
However, this matters little when I find myself too busy or distracted to work on current projects. I’m basically so ashamed of that performance I’m not even going to write about it.
One other "invisible" task was to work on some minor pro bono tasks I have on my plate. They have been looming over my head like an old dead goose and I want to start knocking them off. One I took care of was getting my dad’s blog set up at VladimirUhri.com. (It will be interesting to see what he starts posting.)
Process is an important part of any personal productivity routine. I’ve read enough on the topic to understand that each person responds to techniques in different ways. David Allen, author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, continually points out that his methodology is only a guideline and we should (individually) customize it to meet our own needs. For Groundhog Day Resolutions, I think I’ve found some things that really help me follow the process.
I’ve started doing a weekly review, a pillar of the GTD process. I never thought it that big of a deal, especially since I have few independent tasks. However, by setting aside a regular time (I like Monday mornings) to make sure everything is moving along. In conjunction with a daily review and the form, nothing is getting through the cracks.
The Groundhog Resolution Review Tracker Form
I created a basic fill-in-the-dot form to track all of my goals during February. This has been huge for me as it requires that I look at my task notebook each and every day (if for no other reason than to fill it in). The Groundhog Day Resolutions Review Tracker has kept me on track for several goals and has prompted "catch up" bursts where I work on those tasks that have fallen behind. (Obviously, that only works for non-daily tasks). The form itself has a few flaws, but it was only a first draft. First, it is broken down into week-long sections. When a month starts on a Saturday (as February did), there are a number of wasted spaces because the first week is unusable. Second, I needed to use two sheets because of all of my goals. I think the half sheet concept I use to track my time will not work here. There is just too many items to keep track of over a month. I’m going to redesign the form for March, although perhaps an online solutions would be better since I’m probably looking at a monthly update to the sheet.
Here’s a scan of the sheets I used this month:
Goals and Slack
I like the idea of a check-off sheet for my goals. I think it gave me the perspective I missed during last year’s GHDRs and kept things on my mind. The only concern I can see is a tendency to get entirely caught up with checking things off the list and forgetting that other people are really more important than any of this. Most of my goals were pretty reasonable this month, but I found I didn’t build slack into my schedule. I spent several days out of town taking the kids back to Wisconsin. This threw off my normal routines and let to a drop in my scores. If I can anticipate family events better (like vacations and weekends), I think it makes for a better score and a better task/life balance.
I’m new at the working from home routine. That said, I must figure out the faults in my work model and fix them. Distractions are my biggest problem right now. A new house means a plethora of things to do and errands to run. The Internet also means a gross metric ton of bits only a mouse click away. After reading Timothy Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, I’ve started on the low-information diet. He suggests cutting oneself off of all media for a period. I deleted all of my RSS feeds and will keep them deleted for a few more weeks. The first day without the distraction of "I should go check Google Reader to see if anyone’s posted anything interesting" was wonderful. I also take advantage of the Leech Block plug-in for Firefox. It blocks me from the time-sucking websites I like to visit.
Then there’s Twitter. I love Twitter, but the biggest time suck there are following the links posted by others. Blocking the website itself and only posting tweets via IM is the best way I’ve found to avoid being sucked in.
Finally, I have a Google Desktop time gadget I use on days I find myself easily off the productivity path. I set it for a five- or ten-minute increment to make sure I stick to
the task at hand. On good days, it’s just a matter of resetting the clock whenever it goes off. On bad days, it brings me back to the fold by reminding me of things I should be doing instead.
February turned out to be one of the best GHDR months for me so far. A combination of good goal setting and excellent goal tracking has made this process enjoyable. I hope March goes well and that other GHDRers are as successful in the coming month as well. You can follow Dave Seah or Corrie Haffly on their respective blogs.
I’ve always been fascinated by graffiti. I grew up in a small town in central Wisconsin and there wasn’t much art to see, legal or otherwise. My grandparents, however, lived on the south side of Chicago. Our visits there exposed me to a lot of illegal artwork. It was everywhere – on overpasses, buildings, buses and the side of the trains on the L. To this day its difficult for me to pay attention to the road when a beautifully painted row of boxcars are traveling by on my right.
One thing I never did was learn how to make my own graffiti. I just wasn’t into the getting-caught part. So instead, I occasionally doodle on paper or on the computer. It usually quells the inspiration before I spend $200 on spray paint.
Today I was struck by such inspiration again. Both the computers at home were being used, which meant I found myself with some offline time on my hands. Since The Wife needed me nearby while she worked, I grabbed a piece of paper and started sketching. A graf of my last name is what resulted. I had help coloring from The Youngest, although he thought I ruined it toward the end. Everyone is a critic :-)
My name was created with pencil and inked with Sharpie.
I found an older one I did based on some artwork off the band White Zombie. This one was penciled by hand, scanned in and inked and colored in Photoshop.
Here are some resources I found useful when trying to draw graffiti:
- A few pointers on the basics of writing graffiti: http://www.wikihow.com/Draw-Graffiti
- Here’s a few pointers on writing names: http://www.wikihow.com/Draw-Graffiti-Names
- This one is probably the best step-by-step tutorial on writing I’ve found so far: http://keechul.4mg.com/tutorial/page1.htm
- For a gallery of graffiti pictures by country and state, there is always http://www.graffiti.org/.
- Here’s the FAB Crew, Indy’s own graf artist group.
Last night I attended my first Ron Paul sign-holding meetup. In every election in which I’ve been old enough to vote, I have voted for the lesser of two evils in my mind. But this year, Dr. Ron Paul’s campaign has struck a nerve with me.
Ron Paul‘s campaign website lists a number of things that he has done while in Congress:
- He has never voted to raise taxes.
- He has never voted for an unbalanced budget.
- He has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership.
- He has never voted to raise congressional pay.
- He has never taken a government-paid junket.
- He has never voted to increase the power of the executive branch.
- He voted against the Patriot Act.
- He voted against regulating the Internet.
- He voted against the Iraq war.
- He does not participate in the lucrative congressional pension program.
- He returns a portion of his annual congressional office budget to the U.S. treasury every year.
- Congressman Paul introduces numerous pieces of substantive legislation each year, probably more than any single member of Congress.
A few other comments of my own on his campaign and beliefs:
- A return to the constitution
- Small government by moving responsibility to the states
- Getting us out of Iraq
- Getting the US away from police actions worldwide
- Reduce spending overseas and balancing the budget
- Against a North American treaty and the New World Order
- Cleaning up the inflation rate by controlling the Federal Reserve
- Fixing the currency crisis and abolishing the IRS
- A return to personal liberty and responsibility
- Providing a way to allow citizens to opt out of Social Security through personal choice
Here’s a few pics I snapped off my phone from the meetup. We had about 25 people show up at the local NBC affiliate to try and get some attention. The station manager came out, but no cameras :-(
You can find out where Indianapolis Ron Paul events are happening at the Ron Paul ’08 for ‘Indy’-pendence meetup group.