Criticism Is The Only Known Antidote To Error

7/27/14 10:24 am - Feedback From Boardgame Publishers On Habitat

  1. It's in the $50 to $60 price bracket.

  2. To maintain dramatic tension in the end-game, don't allow the players to be certain that the game is about to end. That works for other games. Not Habitat. To accomplish this:

    • Each time a stack of discs is depleted, put a "Comet Disc" in the bag. If three Comets are on the track at the same time, the game is over.

    • Each stack of terrain tiles should have one tile, shuffled into the bottom three copies in the stack, which ends the game when revealed.

  3. Players don't know how to make moves that advantage themselves until halfway through their first game. Most successful games have this problem, but it's avoidable.

    • A simplified pre-designed "intro setup" will be crucial for new players to get comfortable with the system.

    • Accommodate what everyone intuitively expects about nature. For instance, if a predator has no prey when it needs to eat, it should starve and leave the game board.

    • The default scoring system is now simplified. If there are going to be end-game bonus multipliers, they should be introduced in subsequent play-throughs. Allow experienced players to mix and match from a selection of complex variants in the back of the rulebook.

    • "When a terrain tile leaves the board, it is awarded to a player as a fossil."

    • "When it leaves the board."

    • "When it leaves. Leaves." <-- Pantomiming picking up a tile off the board. The 12th time this question was asked by the same player. I think the fossilization rule has a problem.

  4. This game is definitely ready for me to stop using the generic discs that I use for many of my prototypes. The mechanics have come along far enough in development to spend the time on graphic design to enhance the theme, which in this game is very strong and unique.

  5. "The best Euro-style game I have played at Protospiel this year."

7/23/14 10:53 am - Pennsic Packing List

I have been told that I need the following things for my first trip to Pennsic in a week and a half (August 1-4). Part 1- Things I still need to obtain include:

• Tent
• Air mattress
• Tarp
• Tent floor: picnic blankets/rugs (probably unnecessary)
• Snacks: meat sticks, beef jerky, granola bars
• Comfortable shoes for lots of walking
• Feast gear (I don't even know what this means)
• Knife
• Water bottle
• Flash light
• Dirty laundry hamper (optional)

Things I do not need to obtain include:

• Clothes: Underwear, all tunics/SCA clothes, socks
• Belt pouch, belt
• Wallet and keys
• Phone and charger
• Aloe and sunscreen
• Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, hair comb, shampoo, conditioner, razor, tweezers, nail clipper, towels
• Camp chair

5/30/14 04:44 pm - Laser Cutters And Social Justice

We can't level a playing field by pretending it's already level. The laser cutter that I use is frequently mis-aligned, and cuts poorly unless I level the platform. Imagine if I keep getting bad lasering jobs, and instead of leveling the platform, I get mad because I feel all defensive and accused. "I'm in favor of a level playing field! I'm not the sort of person who pushes it out of level! Why would I do that?"

This is why there are two definitions of racism and sexism. By one definition, racism and sexism are deliberate choices, made by bad people, out of hostility and antagonism toward a group. By the other definition, racism and sexism are systems of unintentional disadvantages, resulting from the well-intentioned actions of good people, like you and me. If you don't understand why somebody told you that you did something racist or sexist, it might be the second kind.

The second kind is like my laser cutter's alignment.

I'm going to say something now that will be scary to many of you for a minute, but bear with me, and it will get less scary. Almost every time I use the laser cutter, I have to grab the higher end of the platform (whites, men, straights, Christians, able-bodied, thin, that's you), to keep it from rising, while I grab the lower end of the platform (non-whites, women, LBGTs, non-Christians, disabled, fat, that's you) and lift it up to the same height. That's how to get a level playing field.

Un-leveling mostly happens accidentally, passively, easily. Leveling happens deliberately, with energy and difficulty. I favor the lower side of the platform over the higher side until there is no longer a higher and lower. I can't do it by being "level-blind". If I'm "level-blind", I'm keeping the platform out of level. Breathe deeply while I say the next thing-- Are you ready? -- By the second definition, if you say "I'm color-blind", you are an unintentional racist.

If the higher end of the bed were a person, it would probably feel like it's being punished. If it only knows the first definition, un-leveling is only something that happens deliberately. It knows it's a good person who does not deliberately put the platform out of level. Therefore, it assumes the bed is already level. All it has to do is abstain from deliberately un-leveling it. Therefore, the laser must be cutting fine, and the resulting parts must have been intended to look that way. And even if it is out of level, isn't it the whole machine's fault? So change that! Or redefine the word "up" so the current alignment of the platform is the absolute reference frame of the planet Earth. Anything but putting my hand on top of the right side of the platform to prevent it rising while I raise the left side.

The right side of the bed will assume, since it believes that it's already level, that if it lowers, it will go out-of-level, and be lower than the left side. This is why, very early in any discussion of equality, the subject changes from helping a disadvantaged class, onto making sure the people who are already advantaged do not become a new persecuted class. We pay far too much attention to that. That is not what's at stake, but that doesn't even need to be said. Whites, men, straights, Christians, the able-bodied, and the thin, do not need to ask for reassurance about that.

If you want reassurance of that, just be on the lookout for your advantages. It takes time, but it's possible to start noticing them. Pretty soon you'll realize how wealthy with privileges you are, and you'll realize just how little it costs you to level the playing field. And that's the part where this concept becomes much less scary.

4/3/14 03:18 pm - Ann Arbor Events This Weekend

Friday night, 8PM: FoolMoon, a parade of luminary sculptures on Washington Street at Main Street. It's a branch of FestiFools, an event two days later.

Saturday afternoon, noon to 5PM: Work on the TuxTrax site for Penguicon, at All Hands Active hackerspace, 525 E Liberty. Lunch is provided to developers.

Saturday evening, 6PM: Nerdsplosion, a concert of nerd music at Cavern Club on 1st Street at Washington, sponsored by Penguicon.

Sunday evening, 5PM: FestiFools, a glorious parade of giant puppets on Main Street. My past FestiFools reports:

My FestiFools 2011 report. (Schematics) (Video)
My FestiFools 2013 report.

3/31/14 12:05 am - My Penguicon 2014 Schedule

I'm presenting or leading the following events at Penguicon this year:

Friday 6PM: Developing Software For Penguicon

Penguicon has begun to host hackathons year-round to develop software to help organize this convention. Please join us at the whiteboard! Developers and interested stake holders will meet to discuss the project’s purpose, stack, and next steps. Look at the user stories in the readme and the flowchart image in the wiki: https://github.com/MattArnold/penguicontrax

Saturday 2PM: Penguicon Board Meeting

You’ve done the convention, you’ve met the staff, and you’ve even socialized with the ConCom. But what about those *other* Penguicon people? Those shadowy figures that create the multi-year rules, have their fingers on the money, and cause a ConChair to mysteriously appear every year in a puff of penguin-scented smoke? Ever wonder what the Penguicon Board of Directors does in their secret sanctum, and where they are taking Penguicon? Come to the Board of Directors meeting and see!

Saturday 6PM: Annual Dominion Tournament

In this million-selling “non-collectible card game,” players start with the same simple deck, and use their hand to buy cards into their collection from the middle of the table. Whoever buys the most expensive victory cards first, wins. Winners take home plastic trays for displaying cards during play. Plan to play through two games with pre-designed sets. Please sign up at Ops, but walk ins are still welcome!

Sunday 10AM: Board Game Design

What does it take to design and produce a new game? We will discuss all aspects, from initial concept and mechanics to playtesting and even funding through Kickstarter. This is a Q&A panel so bring your questions!

Sunday 11AM: Creating Machine Tool Paths In Adobe Illustrator

If you use a laser cutter, vinyl plotter, or other CNC tools at i3Detroit or another hacker space, you need 2D paths that the tool will follow. This path, or “vector”, is described with various formats such as SVG (scalable vector graphics), AI (Adobe Illustrator), or DXF (digital exchange format). This class will teach you the basics the premiere vector illustration tool, Adobe Illustrator, with an emphasis on how to prepare your file to be used as a tool path. Computers and software are not provided, we can help if you bring a prepared file or Illustrator.

3/3/14 09:43 am - Pre-Penguicon Code Sprint Closing Report

I'm exhausted and happy. See my last blog post for background info on what I'm talking about. Eighteen developers attended. This weekend, we accomplished the following:

  • Got a consensus on our technology stack, and the direction we want to go.

  • Learned how to develop with technologies some of us were previously unfamiliar with.

  • Completed the functionality for anyone to sign in using an account they already have on another site.

  • Gave Staff users the ability to move an event suggestion through statuses: "We Followed Up On This", "Closed as rejected" and "Closed as approved".

  • Polished up the home page where you can filter a report of events by topic tags.

  • Made the event submission form interface prettier, but also broke it.

  • Made a Head of Programming user, who can make other users into Staff users, and make Staff users into Track Heads.

  • Made a page that shows the events in "Closed as rejected" status (these events are hidden everywhere else, unless you are logged in as Staff).

  • Designed a database schema for taking a "Closed as approved" event suggestion and making a "Scheduled Event" out of it.

  • Almost finished the system for attendees to RSVP to events. The star icon on each event will have a digit next to it, showing how many people RSVPed. The star will light up when you click it, and that number will increase by 1, and your RSVP points will decrease by 1.

  • Made "person" database objects, so the site can deal with people who are not users of the site. Every User has one or more "person"s (some of whom are aliases, such as their con name). Some "person"s have no User account, but later if they make a User account it can be associated to them.

  • Made a personal page for every user, giving them the ability to make their RSVPs public, and eventually this will show them everything they've done on the site.

  • Sat in the hot tub.

In one month, several of us will meet again for an evening at the All Hands Active hackerspace in Ann Arbor. Until then we'll continue to collaborate online. Thank you SO MUCH to our support staff, Cylithria Dubois, Rhiannon Llewellyn, and Dan Eckerd! Fantastic job, everyone! We will definitely do this again!

2/26/14 01:20 pm - Penguicon Problems We Will Solve At The Code Sprint

Here are some of the pain points we hope to solve by creating a scheduling web app for Penguicon. Come out and help us this weekend! More details at: penguicamp.com

1. Errors And Hassle From Data Duplication

For years, Penguicon has planned the schedule using two systems, and kept them in sync manually.

In a spreadsheet, we represent rooms as columns, and times as rows, so we can catch conflicts. But it doesn't store the event description, the topics, whether or not it is "just an idea"/"probably happening"/"confirmed", and other important data.

A database lets us store and present a schedule with all the details associated with each event. But the databases we have used could not catch conflicts in which two events are scheduled in the same room at the same time, or a presenter in two places at one time, or duplicated events or presenters.

We need one solution which stores all the data we use, and also alerts us to conflicts.

2. Unresponsiveness From Penguicon

Our diversity requires that we get a lot of people to plan our various tracks. Most of them work incredibly hard. Unfortunately, due to unexpected changes in their lives, about ten percent of them per year do not respond to communication for months at a time.

There is understandable anger from some program participants that they submitted an event and heard nothing back, or didn't receive a response for months at a time. Someone on the team has silently quit, or plans to do all their work at the last minute, or after the deadline.

What is a hard-working and active staff member to do? The problem is hidden in someone else's @penguicon.org email inbox. The conchair and head of programming don't find out this is happening until there is a flood of public complaint. Believe me, I've done both of those jobs, and I can tell you, it's incredibly challenging to distinguish who is "Quit" and who is just "Quiet". We have lacked the tools to solve this.

Event requests should be public, and a public system should let us track which ones received a response. This way, the Penguicon staff has the ability to know when something is not getting done. They can then delegate tasks to someone who is willing to send an email saying "We heard you and we are working on it."

Normally, communication to Penguicon should receive a timely response, even if the response is "I don't have the answer yet." Silence is never acceptable. The solution is to delegate and rely on the rest of the team. For this, we need to know which communications are not followed up.

The Penguicon staff has some amazingly active and attentive members. They stand at the ready to fill in for someone for a week, a month, or perhaps the rest of the year. They are willing to help when someone needs to take a break. Let's make it possible for them to go to a site and find the overdue work that needs doing.

3. Penguicon Workers Get Discouraged To Work For An Event That Mistreated Their Friends

When the hidden problem of unresponsiveness bursts into the public limelight in a torrent of frustration, it can de-motivate and discourage our staff. Early detection will let the group work as a team to respond to the public before that happens.

4. Program Participants Want To Know What Their Status Is

Presenters, game masters, performers, panelists, and teachers would like to look up the answers to these questions:

  • Did Penguicon receive the event I submitted?

  • Is it approved yet?

  • How many events did I submit? I don't remember. There were a lot. I might have overbooked myself.

  • Am I scheduled too early or late in the day?

  • Is my itinerary spread out so I have time to rest and eat?

  • Do I qualify for a reduced registration rate or other rewards?

It would be good to be able to do this without having to email Penguicon and wait for a reply. Many of them are frustrated that these questions remain mysterious for far too long, due to overworked staff. (This also would take some workload off of our staff.)

Looking at a page about my own information, I can discover problems which otherwise I would not have thought to ask about.

5. Proofreading Should Already Be Mostly Done Before It Goes To The Desktop Publisher

It takes a lot of work to format a schedule into a printable schedule book. The problem is, all too often, no proofreading is done until we see a PDF of the book. That means the desktop publishing person receives a corrected version of the schedule (or worse, receives a list of individual edits and has to edit them by hand) and has to re-do a lot of work.

During the months before the publishing deadline, the proofreading should be done online. The public should be able to see the work in progress and suggest edits. The Penguicon staff can click "approve" to accept each edit.

6. The Public Wants Something To Get Excited About

When deciding whether to attend, or what to plan for, all the attending public wants is a tentative idea of things that are probably going to happen at Penguicon. Before the convention, they do not yet care what the rooms and times are. Neither do they need absolute certainty that the events are all going to happen-- they understand some things will be canceled.

Concealing the work in progress is a lost opportunity for promotion. Concealing it until a week before the convention is a frustration to everyone. We should show the work in progress throughout the process.

7. Feedback Was Not Captured

"The presenter never showed up." "A panelist kept derailing the discussion." "The show started an hour late due to negligent planning." But this report was not captured, and we scheduled the same person the following year.

After the convention, the site is still useful, because attendees should be able to comment on events. Penguicon can use these comments to decide which presenters to accept again in the future.

8. Most Of The Events You Wanted To See Were Scheduled At The Same Time; Or, The Room Was Too Packed For You To Get In

It would be nice for attendees to be able to indicate a few events they are the most interested in. If this is done far enough in advance, the site can report statistics to the staff about attendee interest before assigning rooms and times. They can use this to estimate the projected interest, and put an event in a room of the appropriate size. They can move two events out of the same time slot because the web app reports they share a very large number of attendees.

9. I Want To See Video, Audio, Slide Decks, And Other Materials For A Past Event

It would be nice after the convention to look up an event, and find links to the video taken during the event, or a link to a slide deck or other documents hosted somewhere. (We don't have to host them on our own site, just link to them.)

2/25/14 10:40 am - Update On The First Pre-Penguicon Code Sprint

I recently attended Code Crafters Saturdays and was talking to the guy who runs it, telling him how many RSVPs we have for the upcoming Pre-Penguicon Code Sprint. (More info at penguicamp.com.) He said generally, it's safe to say about half the people who RSVP for a coding event will show up. The Code Sprint Facebook page currently has 17 "Yes" and 17 "Maybe", for a total of 34. Three attendees are not on Facebook, so that comes to 37. Half of 37 is eighteen, so that's half again as many as I projected!

The current challenge is, our attendance increases outgo rather than income. The more people show up to give us their work, the more of them there are to eat and drink. All my potential sponsors have either declined or not responded. Currently there is enough money for 12 attendees, out of the Penguicon Board's bank account, and Penguicon 2014's bank account. I'm determined to provide enough food and drinks for additional attendees, by paying out of my own pocket. After the event I'll report to the board about how productive we were, and how much our attendees grew their skills. However much they feel like reimbursing me, I will accept at my own risk.

In the meantime here is our progress report, and it isn't even Saturday yet!

Jeffrey Quesnelle already got logins working with OpenID. All users will log in with accounts from other sites they already have.

Two or three Javascript experts from a consultancy in Wisconsin named Bitovi, have rented a hotel room and will work pro-bono. They'll teach us how to use CanJS to load live data to the site up-to-the-second. I'm enthusiastic because it's very approachable and easy for newcomers to learn, compared to alternatives that I've used.

Those who have been following this project will remember how I was at a standstill for months because I couldn't deploy the site anywhere. W Kent Novak set up our project with a new technology called Docker.io which will make deployment problems go away forever!

Penguicon's webmaster, James Gamble, sent a small donation and became a "Macaroni Penguin Level" sponsor! Thanks James!

Two of Penguicon's consuite staff, Cylithria and Rhi, will do the shopping and personally cater the food and drinks. They're the ones who make Penguicon and ConFusion's consuites the envy of fandom across the country. Lithie and I inventoried the cube and I posted the results to the Penguicon.info wiki page on the storage cube. We're all set for food service supplies.

Both of the adjacent guest rooms are rented, and if any of them need to back out, the hotel will move one of our other attendees adjacent to the suite, so we don't need to worry about noise complaints when we turn this into a party after 8PM and the non-programmers show up with a dish or drink to pass.

1/27/14 11:07 pm - Idle Games

I admit I spent most of Sunday playing CivClicker. It's yet another game in the "Idle Game" genre-- games that play themselves with barely any player interaction. This one adjusts that premise somewhat, because if you don't have sufficient stockpiles for your people to weather plagues or invasions when you walk away from the computer, it is possible for your civilization to crash before you get back.

A Dark Room is the obvious inspiration, though CivClicker lacks the beautiful prose style. I don't expect any Idle Game to be as creative and personally affecting as A Dark Room.

On the other hand, CivClicker is a great deal more involved than CookieClicker and Clicking Bad. But that's not saying much.

If you're looking for somewhere intermediate to start, try the great-granddaddy of Idle Games: CandyBox. If you're patient for the first few minutes, you just might be rewarded.

12/31/13 03:26 pm - Wrapup of 2013

I liked the vast majority of 2013. I'm less happy than I was a year ago, but most things are cyclical. My circumstances are on an upward trajectory, overall.

I had career and relationship milestones this year. I got a job as a software developer, and as a result, started spending a lot of my time in Ann Arbor. Today I finally achieved a savings goal that I've had for nearly a decade, and will probably stay above it even after this month's projected expenses.

The main reason for me to select one job over another is how much control it will give me over where I spend my free time, and with whom. My last job, while menial, was down the street from the i3Detroit hacker space, where I do everything that I care about the most, and where most of the people who I care about tend to spend their time. That job set the gold standard. Working in my actual field will make it possible in the future to return to something close to those priorities, in a financially sustainable way.

With those priorities so vividly present in my mind, it is not possible for me to accidentally fall into a gilded cage of high expenses that keep me dependent on a high income. I know people who incur a terrible price with stress and boredom, to pay for isolated McMansions in a lonely gated community. I don't want that. My current path will vastly increase my options. I plan to keep living in densely populated urban centers full of activities with lots of great people.

Speaking of people, that brings me to the topic of relationships. In October, I posted this to Facebook:

A relationship of a year and a half has come to an amicable end. It was both of our great good fortune to be with each other. In that spirit of gratitude, our relationship transitions into warm friendship.

Here are the things that help me during a time like this. Your mileage may vary.

When I start every relationship, I say that it's a gift to each other, not an obligation. I say that if she needs to make new life decisions, and if I don't fit into that life in the same way, I won't make it difficult for her. Past experience says I'll follow through, so that's a comfort.

--I don't want to sugar-coat this. Like anything else worthwile, my relationship philosophy has tradeoffs. For every one to two years of ecstasy (the likes of which many people only fantasize), I experience a couple of weeks of withdrawal from dopamine, oxytocin and norepinephrine. I'll take that deal. During those weeks, I practice disguising my sobs as sneezes, in public. I accept the stormy emotional weather. I ride out the brain chemicals until they pass. If I had avoided loss, I would never have had such rewarding relationships to begin with.

During the infatuated period of "New Relationship Energy", when neither of us can conceive of a day when we don't fit into each other's lives in the same way, I talk about it anyway. The infatuated period is the most difficult time to lay the groundwork for the end of the relationship to be a warm and loving one. But that's when it most needs to be said.

With each goodbye, I remind myself that new connections and new loved ones have never followed far behind.

-- This prediction has already held true. 

When we say goodbye, and I say we'll always be loved ones, I can look at the loved ones who still call, and keep in touch, and miss me, and look forward to visiting me, and I know that real love stories can have endings. Because that's how they can have sequels.

--I was reminded of this when I had a visit from J this month. (J lived with me during 2010 and 2011, predating the relationship which recently ended.) She spoke of her plans to try to move back to Michigan and start a video game company with some others. They were inspired by a game idea I had, and I'm really excited to be in touch with her more often.

With strong connections, and new resources, the groundwork is in place for 2014 to be an amazing year for me.
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