Saturday Morning Cartoons: The Mighty Thor

Part of the 1966 syndicated The Marvel Super Heroes show, The Mighty Thor is lifted right from the comics of the time. Seriously, they photocopied the comics, blew the panels up, and traced them. The original artists, including Jack Kirby, didn’t get any credit and probably didn’t get any extra money from having their work reused and abused.

These episodes are entertaining, but they really show how little Stan Lee know about Norse mythology and how crappy his writing really was. Compared to the modern Thor comics and/or the character’s portrayal on the big screen, these cartoons are either cringe-worthy or hilariously riff-worthy.

Katie thinks this theme song sounds like a hymn; I do not disagree.

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Changing My Internet Habits

work-blogYou can tell that I’m a business major, because lately I’ve been thinking about how life is an ongoing cost/benefit analysis. What am I getting out of [whatever], compared to what I’m putting into it? I’ve also been thinking about opportunity costs, which for you normal people means “I have finite resources, so if I spend my money on this I don’t have enough money to buy that, so I have to make a choice.” This also applies to how you spend your time. When I write a blog post, I’m not writing something that makes me money. What do I get out of it, and based on that, how much of a priority should a make it?

Yeah, I hate that things are always about money, but that’s the world we live in. Especially when you’re poor. If it weren’t about money, we’d all spend our days laying in bed watching movies and playing video games. Well, maybe not all day. But more time, probably. You get my point.

Social media has been a toxic minefield for me lately. I know, it’s always a toxic minefield, but it’s spilled over into the parts that I look at. I don’t go looking for trouble, but there are always friends who have other friends who like to misbehave. you post a comment on a friend’s post on Facebook, and someone has to leap on it and troll. You respond to a friend’s tweet, and suddenly total strangers are chiming in with rudeness, cruelty, and willful ignorance.

In many ways, it’s like you’ve in a public space like a cafe or a bar, having a conversation with a friend, when suddenly a lower primate leaps onto the table, steps in your food, spills your drink, and starts flinging poo everywhere. What the hell? Who are you? Who invited you? That this is a public space doesn’t entitle you to act like a numbskull. At least, that’s how I think it should work. I’m obviously wrong.

This is the way of the internet, I’m told. If it’s a problem, I can get off of social media or edit my feed, I’m told. It should be that easy. This is where I do business, though. This is how I keep in touch with my friends. Why should I give up and pack it in when I’m not the one behaving badly? Why should I have to give up interacting with my friends because someone might leap in and be an ass?

Yes, I need to adjust the signal-to-noise ratio, in order to increase the value. Cost/benefit. I get benefit, but I need to find ways to reduce the costs. That means shifting the amount of time spent online, and the way I use the internet, to reduce encounters with the trolls.

It also means being mindful about what I write, and where I write it, owning my own part in things. It means increasing the value to you, the reader, so that what I’m posting is a value-add, and not simple more clutter. That means changing how I blog, too.

While I’m not sure how any of this will play out, be aware that changes in my online presence are coming. I’m going to experiment with some things. It’s not practical that I withdraw, and I wouldn’t do that and let the D-list terrorists win anyway. I simply need to find ways to make this work for me.

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A Day in the Life, Part 3

With no irony lost on me, this account of an average day in my life began two days ago with Part 1, followed yesterday by Part 2. We now resume that day already in progress.

5:12pm

Dinner time. Ramen with some chicken left over from last night, hard boiled egg slices, and a handful of corn. This is Katie’s favorite. I add some hot sauce. Not all of our meals are this frugal, but being cheap most of the time allows us to splurge on something a bit more extravagant every couple of weeks, like going out for pizza or to a buffet. Finns love a good buffet.

6:20pm

Guilty pleasure TV time. An episode of the Moomin cartoon show. The Moomins is an amazingly surreal fantasy trip uniquely Finnish, even when translated into English. Then the real guilty pleasure, Dr. Phil, which airs here in English with Finnish subtitles. There is something about watching a mindless train wreck. This is a daily ritual for Katie and I, put the brain into neutral after she’s had classes and I’ve been writing, something Finnish and something American. We redeem ourselves by watching a BBC documentary about Tove Jannson, woman who created the Moomin.

8:58pm

Katie is off to bed, and I’m back to work. I put on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in the background, another American show that’s popular here. I’m an insomniac and I’ve learned not to fight it. I’ve tried to go to bed when Katie does, but I just toss and turn. I sleep better if I just stay up until I’m tired. I get some more writing done. I journal what’s happened today, what worked and what didn’t. I look over my schedule for tomorrow. In a bit I’ll wander into the bedroom and crash hard.

11:52am

5056 words. Calling it at night. Alarm is set for 7am, and I’ll do it all over again.

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“Amerikkalainen Report”: Indefinite Hiatus

youtubeUnfortunately, The Amerikkalainen Report is back in hiatus until I have time to figure out what’s going on with YouTube. I’m not doing anything any differently than I did before, but YouTube is somehow stripping out the audio. I shoot and edit the video and it works fine on my laptop. I upload it and while it’s still “backstage” on the site it works fine. Then I hit publish, and YouTube “processes” it, which takes several minutes, after which it’s live. When it goes live, the music is there but the important part of the audio — my voice — is stripped out.

Sometimes it works for a while, then stops. I preview it, and it works. A few people view it, and it works. Then later I start getting emails from people telling me the sound is out, and wondering why I was stupid and careless enough to release a video with no sound. The majority of the time, the assumption seems to be that I’m a dumbass, not that there’s some weird technical glitch. That’s embarrassing, and annoying, and frustrating. It also takes up additional time out of my day that I hadn’t budgeted for to go and investigate, attempt to re-edit the video (I did re-release Monday’s video which worked for a while, then stopped), and ultimately pull down the video and all of the blog and social media posts referencing it.

I took a two-week hiatus from the show to regroup and retool a few things. As I explained (or attempted to) in the first new episode on Monday (now taken down, because no sound), there’s a cost/benefit aspect to making these videos. Even with the low production value, a 15-minute episode takes me about 90 minutes to make. That’s putting together a loose script, shooting a couple of takes, editing it, uploading it, reviewing it, adding copy, and setting up the post on this blog. Not a lot of time, but that’s time I’m not doing other things like writing for money, doing school work, taking a walk in the woods, cleaning the flat, or sleeping.

So as much as I enjoy doing the show, and as much as I think the retooled format I’d started using this week would have gone over well with my modest handful of viewers, I have to wonder if the technical difficulties are the universe’s way of saying “dude, move on.”

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A Day in the Life, Part 2

With no irony lost on me, this account of an average day in my life began yesterday with Part 1. We now resume that day already in progress.

12:00pm

3655 words down. Laundry time. Washers and dryers are free, not coin-operated, in our village (apartment complex), but you have to reserve them in advance. There are 7 buildings in the village, but only 2 laundry rooms, so you take the time slot you can get. Thing have been complicated because one of the laundry rooms is closed down until further notice due to vandalism. Someone thought it would be funny to set off the fire extinguisher and make a huge mess. So now it’s 7 buildings and 1 laundry room until the clean it up. I suspect they’ll keep the other one closed until someone confesses or a disgruntled tenant finally comes forward with information. The management says they want to send the bill for the cleanup to the offender. I suspect they’re more likely to evict the and possibly press criminal vandalism charges.

Either way, this interrupts my day. I’m not really griping, because hey, free. I just wish I could book times that were more convenient, but early mornings and evening fill up first. Mid-day, everyone is at school or at work. But I have to schlep down two flights of stairs, up the hill to another building, load the washer, schlep back down the hill, back up two flights of stairs, repeat when it’s time to move the washing to the dryer, then again when the dryer is done. This will be copy editing and reading time.

12:40pm

3874 words. Finally got the author bio down to something I like that also (hopefully) communicates who I am and what I do. Now to head over to the other building to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer.

1:25pm

4412 words. Katie has left for class. I’m finally going to run through the shower and shave, before I have to go get the laundry from the dryer, bring it home, and fold it. Hard boiled eggs are cooking on the stovetop go along with dinner tonight. Multitasking at its finest.

3:29pm

Laundry is done, folded, and put away. Still doing some copy editing, along with some reading. Picking though some articles that I bookmarked into a folder labeled “read later,” most of which are either business-related or writing-related. It’s about the time of the day that I start to crash and productivity takes a dip. I either take a power nap or grab a cup of coffee. I’m debating which I want. Coffee means I keep going, a power nap is always better for me but feels lazy and decadent.

3:39pm

Sent an email to customers who have downloaded the Starship Tyche freebie but have not yet purchased Starship Tyche. I have a schedule for these things, so that I strike the right balance between actively engaged author-publisher and spammy bastard. The emails are also carefully crafted sales pitches. It’s the side of the business that makes me cringe, but it works.

4:04pm

4579 words. I opted for the coffee. The electric kettle, which boils water in a minute, and instant coffee cuts the break down to practically nothing. It’s about the caffeine, not the taste or the experience. A nap would have led to a loss of momentum. I’ve got about an hour until Katie gets home. I’m going to try for a “word sprint” to see if I an break the 5000 mark for today.

4:43pm

Katie’s home a little early. Only got to 4760 words, but the writing day’s not over. Chat with Katie a while about her day.

A Day in the Life will continue with Part 3 tomorrow.

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A Day in the Life, Part 1

6:29am

Already been up for close to an hour, can’t sleep. Today’s already going to be atypical because Katie doesn’t have class until 2:15 this afternoon, so she’ll be around the flat rather than heading out around 9am. That doesn’t change my routines by much, though.

Since I’ve been up, I’ve checked and answered email and messages on social media, looked over my schedule and to-do list for today, and read a little. Katie’s alarm will go off at 7, so I’ll try to put down a few words until then.

7:07am

571 words down. Katie’s awake. Time to make coffee and porridge and spend a little time with her before going back to work. I write today’s menu for lunch and dinner on the mirror in the kitchen with a dry erase marker. It amuses Katie, and helps me to remember later what I was planning to cook, when I’m all up inside my head because I’ve been writing.

7:43am

Breakfast eaten, coffee consumed. Katie and I shared out schedules for the day and had some pleasant conversation.

Now I need to log in and watch a recording of the latest lecture for my class, which happened at around 1am my time. The professor is going over the assignment due this week. Most of this is boilerplate, and the paper I have to write is pretty straightforward, but some instructors like to drop little “Easter eggs” into the lectures, criteria that isn’t on the rubric or in the written assignment description. It’s kind of insidious, but it’s one way to get people to attend the lectures, or at least watch the recordings.

9:08am

1599 words down. Class was short, no twists or surprises. I downloaded a copy of the professor’s Powerpoint presentation, which I’ll referenced when I write my paper tomorrow. Today is all about writing for money. I’m thinking I’d like to push for a 5,000 word day. I’ve got earbuds in with NPR podcasts on, not really listening to them. I just need some background noise to help tune out the rest of the world.

10:22am

2910 words down. 5000 word day seems possible. Time to switch things up. Since Katie’s home I promised her lunch at around 11am. The next things that I need to write are going to require a bit of a flow state, once I start I won’t want to stop, and I’ll be grumpy if I have to quit in 40 minutes and I’m not ready to stop. Switching to copy editing some existing stuff that needs some extra care.

10:49am

Got sucked down a different rabbit hole, my author bio. It was one of the things I needed to edit, to update it to include recent projects. I hate it. I always hate it. It never flows well. Ended up reading other author and game designer bios online. I didn’t like any of those either. Too wordy, or simply not up to date. Found an author website that hadn’t been updated since 2011. Wow. I’ve decided to go start lunch.

11:21am

Lunch was hot dog sandwiches (sliced in half, pan-fried, on bread with mustard and pickles) with macaroni salad and beet slaw I made yesterday. Katie and I talked about the connections between being a talker and being a writer, not in that one skill necessarily translates to the other but where the overlap in comfort level occurs. She’s comfortable writing because she’s a talker. I’m more comfortable talking when I have a script I’ve written.

Remembered something small that I need to write that I can hopefully bang out before my next workflow interruption, scheduled for noon.

With no irony lost on me, A Day in the Life will continue with Part 2 tomorrow.

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Not Playing It Right

rpg01At Asparagus Jumpsuit we’re pretty egalitarian about game systems and styles of play. To date, we’ve published material for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and the Fate RPG, which are about as far apart as possible in terms of game design philosophy and the experiences they create for players. We like all sorts of games, for all sorts of reasons, and we hope to be able to create things for an even wider variety of systems in the future.

As an individual, I certainly have my own preferred style of play. Just because I’m a game designer doesn’t mean I’m not human. I’ve written articles, here and elsewhere, that may lean more toward one direction than another. On social media, and in private conversations, I’ve been pretty open about what my favorite sorts of games are, and what it is about those games that makes them my favorites. Ive written about things that I’ve enjoyed, and why I’ve enjoyed them. I’ve written about what works for me, and why.

Some people disagree with that. They feel that as a writer, and as a game designer, I should be publicly neutral. Unless, of course, I’m promoting something I’ve written or published, in which case it’s okay to heap hyperbole upon a system. I don’t see it that way. I feel that rather than playing politic, it’s better to be transparent and let you know where my biases lay. Be clear about the things that I like, as a player, and as a gamemaster, and as a reader, and the things that just aren’t to my personal tastes. I think that honesty makes the relationship I have with my readers and my customers that much stronger. I think it allows you to see what sort of person I am, and whether the things I write and publish are likely to be aligned with your own tastes.

While my biases do show through, I have never, ever said that what I like is the right way, or the only way, and dismissed other ways as inferior or wrong. Quite the opposite. A few years ago I wrote something called the Rolpunk Manifesto which stated, in brief, that we’re all gamers and should do our best to support each other, focus on our common ground rather than our differences, and that the only “wrong” way to play is to not be having fun. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get to have preferences, or opinions. It means we shouldn’t be jerks about our preferences and opinions.

Look at it this way: If we walked into a restaurant to have dinner together, and ordered different things off of the menu, it would not be a slight towards me if you ordered something that I didn’t care for. It would not be a grand act of oppression if I didn’t order the exact same thing as you. We might have a brief conversation about our individual choices. We can still sit together at the same table, and have a civil conversation about topics of mutual interest. We each might even want to try a bite of the other’s dish.

In retrospect, I do think there’s another way to get it wrong other than not having fun. It doesn’t have to do with systems or style or play or game design philosophy, though. It has to do with us, as individuals. The way we can get it wrong is to be closed-minded and so locked into our preferences that we cut ourselves off from trying new things, having new experiences, and meeting new people. I like what I like, but that’s evolved in over 30 years of trying a wide variety of games with a broad cross-section of the gaming community. That doesn’t mean you have to give up your favorite game or your long-running campaign. It just means that, maybe, there’s an advantage to being able to say “I don’t care for that, but I understand why you do”, rather than “your favorite game sucks.”

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5 Thing I Learned Writing Starship Tyche

tyche-cover-smallHe that knows not, and knows not that he knows not is a fool. Shun him.

He that knows not, and knows  that he knows not is a pupil. Teach him.

He that knows, and knows not that he knows is asleep. Wake him.

He that knows, and knows that he knows is a teacher. Follow him.

Arabic proverb

Writing and publishing the first full game from Asparagus Jumpsuit was an incredible experience. I laughed, I nearly cried, I felt elation and terror and everything in between. Then I spend a lot of time deconstructing what I actually learned, so that next time things go more smoothly and every step of the process, including the output, is even better.

I validated what I thought I knew
A lot of research went into writing Starship Tyche. A lot of it had to do with setting information, to give it verisimilitude, so that the science and the sociology felt right, so that it stayed true to the genre, and so on. There was a lot of research on the game system, so that things meshed well with the setting and so that I wasn’t reinventing wheels. More research went into the marketing, though, because there’s no point to any of it if it doesn’t sell.

There was a goal I established for the number of pre-orders I thought the book could get. It beat that number. I had ideas about who would buy the game. Those people responded. I had thoughts as to how it would be received, and that’s how it was received. So far, so good. I came out with a sense of confidence that this writing things is I thing I can do successfully, and that I have a general idea of what I’m talking about.

I learned what I didn’t know that I knew
Things arose that I hadn’t planned for, but I was able to roll with them. A lot of these learning were things that I was aware needed to be done, but I hadn’t put them on the project plan or written them on a to-do list. More of these things came out as potential customers asked me questions, and I realized I knew I should include things like page count in the promotional material, I just hadn’t. So perhaps this heading should have been “stuff I knew but didn’t think to write down until it came up.”

I validated what I knew I didn’t know
There were areas where I admittedly had no idea what I was doing. I’m still too embarrassed to admit to any of these. Because so far no one seems to have noticed, I’m not willing to draw attention to them. I knew that I was going to be teaching myself as I went along, that the results were probably going to be kludgey due to my lack of experience. I know that going forward I’ll get better with each book. I will continue to fake it until I make it.

I learned what I didn’t know
The main things that I didn’t know were how long things would take. Having never tackled a project of this size or scope before, I had no idea how much time to allocate for writing, research, editing, layout, and a dozen other little things. You don’t know how long a thing will take you until you do it. Now I know. Going forward, I can budget my time and lay out my project plan better.

I hammered out my priorities
Right after Starship Tyche came out, Chris Pramas wrote a blog post proposing a 24 hour rule. In short, when some creative type releases something, give them 24 hours to bask in the gory of having created something before you start tearing that thing apart. So far, I’ve gotten good feedback on the book. I haven’t gotten a lot of feedback, though. I wonder if people are just being polite and don’t want to hurt my feelings, but when have reviewers ever been worried about that? I started going down the rabbit hole of self-doubt, experiencing all of the negative emotions that all writers seem to go through, the plague of negative emotions and negative self-talk and the need for validation of your talent and your vision and your ideas and their execution.

Then I remembered that I made enough money to pay the rent. Did I get the warm fuzzies I craved? No. But where the rubber hits the road, I live to fight another day. Or more specifically, I get to have a roof over my head while I write the next one. My priority is to take everything above and make the next book even better, so that sales remain solid, and then, at the bottom of the heap, I can worry about my own fragile ego.

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