Monday, October 25, 2010

Old Road, New Perspective

I keep glancing over at the two books I've written and wondering when I'm going to get around to finishing the second draft on either one. I've got plenty of other projects that might yield fruit to work on, but writing novels has always been my focus. I didn't realize what was holding me back until last night.


Before committing to writing a second draft on either one, I'd like to write several more first drafts. I have a lot of ideas for books and part of me wants to explore each one before I decide which one to take to the next level. When it comes to writing I'd put myself in the talented novice category. I think putting some more of my ideas on paper will give me some much needed practice as well.

You can never have too much perspective.

I keep circling back to my Storytelling Sciences project. It has been within the confines of that project most of my literary works, written or merely envisioned, have been birthed. I really need to finish that project as well. Going on six years of my life perfecting that table top RP system making sure it did more than simply entertain.

Here's to finishing things.

Using that format to design and world build has been more than just rewarding, it was a lot of fun too. I need to take it a step further and have a product running parallel to my primary works. Something that defines the process behind the process.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Fruitless Struggles with Apple

I'll echo what I've seen posted about Apple around the net. I don't have to call tech support very often, but heaven help you if you do. I've been jerked around by a corporate entity before (I pay taxes too), but nothing like what you go through with Apple.

It all started when someone over seas hacked my GMail Account. I recommend checking the IP list often to see who else has managed to garner access. It's a free email service, and so is the security Google provides for your account. I think your password strength probably helps, but it's largely a placebo when dealing with hackers. Your only real defense is the sheer number of accounts Google maintains. Hacking them all takes time. Someday it'll be your turn too.

I set about taking that placebo and increasing the relative strength of all my passwords. When I changed my iTunes Password it prompted me to verify my Credit Card information. Depending on which device I used to try and fix the problem, I got a different error message. Moments later, I received email notification that my card has been charged twelve bucks for something I'd bought an hour before I tried changing my password.

Apparently, the problem wasn't with my card.

So I call tech support a couple of times. Both times I got a nice lady who lived in a far off land and only somewhat understood English. While I totally expected this to be the case, what they recommended to me seemed odd.

The nice lady sent me an email directing me to clear my payment information, and reenter it. I told her I'd already done that. She repeated herself like I hadn't said anything at all. I hung up and called back.

The next lady told me to use the services on Apple's site to have my password reset. I told her that was what caused the problem in the first place. She repeated herself like I hadn't said anything at all. I hung up and gave what she suggested a try.

The emails I received were from a "Stephanie" who's tone and work hours would change every email I got. They must have a lot of people named Stephanie working in their support department. She even emailed me on her day off.

None of the remedies offered by Stephanie, Stephanie, or Stephanie worked. She also sent me this bit here:

"I understand you've threatened legal action. While I am not Apple's legal representative and thus cannot address your claim, I would like very much to help you resolve the issues that are causing you concern, however they are out of my scope of support. Thank you for your understanding."

I had asked if I should contact the Federal Trade Commission about what I felt was deceptive business practices on their part. Not sure if that qualifies as legal action.

So called back the following morning and through some sort of mismatch in their phone system got a device tech who sounded local, continental US anyway. We were both baffled by how I'd reached him, but he happily took my information and "escalated" it to some supervisory level person who would email me in 24 hours. We hung up.

Looking online and talking to a few people within my own circle of friends, it is clear I'm not the only person this has happened to. A few people on Apple's own support forums reported it taking upwards of a year to correct. Given how integral iTunes is to Apple's devices, this is a pretty big deal.

I don't have a wallet full of different credit cards. Can you imagine driving to Best Buy to acquire a gift card every time you wanted to buy something with your brand new iPad? It would definitely make me think a little harder about my purchases, which is good for me.

Bad for Apple.

I miss tech support in the late 90's. I remember calling Toshiba's tech support in 1999 and getting someone's grandma back East. Most helpful tech support call I've made to date, and she said I was "a nice boy" at the end after I thanked her.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Things We Tell Ourselves

We all have a litany of things we tell ourselves, every day, to keep going forward. I stopped to gaze at my own list of things. We each act as a point of resonance for so many words. The things our parents told us, the quiet prayers we utter when we are in trouble, and doesn't everyone have a catchphrase?

Often it is a single word that prods us into acting. I think its easier to describe why you should call your mom than imparting the importance of brushing your teeth.

When I strip away all the things designed to delay remorse, fulfill earthy obligation, and appease the celestially intangible... little remains. Gathering those few things into a list was revealing. It makes me wonder what everyone else's list looks like.

Justice. I can see why some believe it exists without Gods or man. When we see it, no words are needed to describe it. People try to fetter it with temporal and eternal consequences, dress it up, and quantify it as a principle given form by words. Truly, it needs none of these things to exist. Even if mankind was wiped from the globe and the heavens were shattered, there would still be Justice.

Love. People use it as an excuse to define their behavior. They claim it as a strength, a weakness, a reason, and something you can find or lose. Like a sock or a pocket watch. Only very rarely have I seen it described for what it really is, and in each of those those instances... there were no words spoken.

Purpose. We all have one whether we choose to seek it, create words to quantify it, or deny it. It is inviolable, one of only a few facets that truly define a person, inescapable, and ever changing. Your purpose could change just by walking into another room, and yet you always have one... even if it is just to stand as a warning to others.

Everything else feels dispensable or contrived. There are the little things I whisper under my breath to muster motivation. Also, the silent prayers I utter before dealing with something uncomfortable. The pointless meanderings on Facebook just to access some fleeting digital connection with someone I might never talk to otherwise.

Words are practically free.

Can you really waste something that costs so little?

Can you crash your own pity party?

That's probably why Blogs were invented, at least that's what I keep telling myself.

-- Sent from my Tech Envy Generator

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Down Time

The nature of what I do is supposed to be fun.

Looking back at my blogs, I'd always wanted to avoid making the part of writing I really enjoy into serious business. Some of the essence of what I've been doing lately has required that I cross that line, and my fears have been largely realized. I'm not having fun anymore.

When I sit down at my table top games, I feel like I can't switch gears. I'm cranky, far too serious, or I don't help to create the fun that table top RPGs and similar should provide. The line between my work and my down time activities has gotten blurry lately. This has led to a general dissatisfaction in both realms.

Even when I sit down and play a game on my iMac or my iPad, my mind is taking silent notes about the user interface, style, and over all experience of the game. It is hard for me to avoid being critical and allow a game, digital or otherwise, to just be a game right now. My free weights and my bike (stupid rain) seem to be the only means to escape my reality for the for the time being.

I can't believe I'm whining about sacrificing a little comfort so that I can do something I've always wanted to do.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Writing Books & WP7

I've done most of the prep work to rewrite my D&E and Amnesia book projects. While I don't lack for motivation, I do somewhat lack confidence right now. Everything I've done recently in that realm has been pretty sub-standard and not for lack of effort. When I'm in the zone, I can write thousands of words a day, day after day, for weeks. Not all of it is good, and I believe that in order to finish a book you'll spend a lot of that time writing badly to get your word count in.

My side project working with a good friend on a game for WP7 is capturing most of my time these days. We're trying to have something by the time Microsoft and their release partners unveil the thing in October and November. We won't have anything but a demo for foreign markets and we'll be rushing for a paid download release for the domestic release. That project is a long story in of itself and I've learned a lot about myself.

I'm not an artist, but I can fake it. My HTML skills and knowledge of Dreamweaver being novice at best, I managed to turn out a decent website. Out of it all, I think I've enjoyed designing the user interface the most. That's the buttons and controls in the game people will use to control and direct the flow of events from their perspective. I wish I could share some of the sketches I've done on here, but I'll have to wait until after release.

I think what I learned most, is that if given the time and resources I can do anything. I started out with absolutely none of the skills necessary to contribute to the WP7 project in late July of this year and have come to feel pretty confident on the subject. Microsoft's design manual is still a pre-release version, but every where there is a blank spot... I easily envision what will go there.

Back in July, I could have easily told my friend I lacked the skills to be involved. I think I said as much, but that I'd give it my best effort to provide whatever assistance I could. It wasn't confidence in myself that spurred me to help, but a deep feeling of friendship. I think my friend believes I did him a big favor getting involved, taking the time to provide nearly a hundred pieces of artwork in a short time to help get the ball rolling.

The truth?

He did me a favor giving me a chance to build confidence and develop skills relative to something I'm very passionate about. On his blog, my Uncle Lorin talked about the value of being persistent when offering to help others, and being gracious and open to accepting help. I think he'd agree, that sometimes asking for help... is the best way to help someone else.

The value of just feeling useful and needed isn't to be underestimated.

It makes me realize just how much I liked my previous employers and why I miss working there sometimes. I was often asked to fill gaps, roles, and positions where they needed someone they could count on to get the job done. I think I worked every department in the seven years I worked there.

Also, it makes me realize how isolated I've become working out of my home. It isn't for everyone, and if not for some semblance of a social life, it would probably be intolerable for me. Being your own source of motivation is difficult, and can be just as exhausting as having a boss you don't like. Eventually you run out of tricks, things to reward yourself with, and excuses. You just have to work because it is the task you set before yourself, and only your determination will see you through to the end.

Those are good moments in the aftermath. Regardless of who your boss is, that's the essence of satisfaction. Knowing you did something good and worthwhile for it's own sake, for yourself, by yourself.

One Nation Restoring Honor

If you liked or supported either of these rallies, please stop reading now. I'm only going to make you angry. If both rallies bothered or enraged you, proceed.

I've been seeing a lot of chatter about these two events, in the news, among my friends, and elsewhere. They both represent very vocal and potentially influential political movements in the country I live. I hear Sweden is nice.

At the head of the Restoring Honor Rally was Glenn Beck. He is one of the most skillful showmen of our age, and he's fairly influential in our country. If he has his way, the separation of church and state will be completely eroded and we'll all be using words like communism and socialism incorrectly with confidence.

This is kinda like being on Jeopardy.

Me: "Alex, I'll take 'Sacrilege' for $1000."

Alex Trebek: "Answer, Talking Head Epic Fail."

Me: "Oh! What is... Glenn Beck asking his radio audience to pray for him so that he can let "the spirit" talk through him at his non-religious rally?"

What Keith Olbermann had to say on the subject made me laugh. I don't like Keith, but this was pretty appropriate.

Now, looking at the One Nation rally, I see a bunch of people who are willing to head to Washington DC to petition the government to fight employment. Fine. They want the government to step in and fix the mortgage laws, fix the foreclosure rate, healthcare, and a whole list of other things. Okay. Most of what the rally was about? Yep, having the Government step in and fix [insert random social problem]. Hoo boy.

I am not a fan of having the government coming in and "fixing" social problems that could be easily fixed by people being anything but stupid with money and/or placing a higher value on themselves and their own abilities. Most of the problems they want the government to fix, start with a single person, a home, and finally a community at large. These problems aren't things a large government can do anything about. Lately, our government has tried to make up for that fact by throwing money at these problems. Money we don't really have.

The sorts of folks who showed up at the One Nation Rally are the kind Glenn Beck and Co. like to lump into the Communist/Socialist pile of stuff he doesn't like. Remember in Junior High when people would call anything they didn't like "gay", completely misusing the word? Yeah, same thing. I don't really like the One Nation platform either, but would someone please get Mr. Beck a dictionary or a semester's worth of High School civics class so he understands they aren't Communists?

Beck probably thinks The Mighty Thor as depicted by Marvel Comics... is Communist Propaganda because there's a magic hammer involved. The C in Comics... is the sickle of course. Then there's Thor's red cape... more not-so obvious symbolism. Diabolical!

The One Nation folks want a raise in the minimum wage. That pretty much precludes them being in the communist party. If you look at their platform, the One Nation folks don't even fall under the "socialist" tag. Yeah, they want a weird welfare state, but that isn't the same thing as engaging the socialist political/economic theory for all it's worth. Having your democratically elected government take other people's money away and give it directly to you in the form of convoluted social programs? Just because you think you're entitled?

That isn't socialism. It's just pathetic.

I'm at an age where I'd like to become more politically active, and have been giving social issues a lot of thought. In everything I write, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to both include and exclude my own beliefs depending on whether it helps tell a good story. In my own life I try to be objective and clinical about the beliefs I share, making sure I've got something more than a feeling.

I have a great deal of civic pride, and I love my country, but I have no idea where to put my support these days.