Sunday, November 1, 2015

Things I enjoy: Overcast

Sometimes I feel needed to share things that I'm finding enjoyment or usefulness out of in my life.

A couple weeks ago I got a new stereo in my car that supports Apple Car Play. It's honestly not the most refined thing Apple has ever put out, but it gets the job done. I have been using Downcast as my podcast app of choice for a few years now. Downcast however doesn't support Car Play, so I went on the hunt for a new application.

I found Overcast as being one that does support Car Play so I put some research into it. Everywhere I read said that it was free, but had a $5 in app purchase to unlock more feature including Car Play. I downloaded it to check it out, and found that the $5 purchase has been removed and that the free version is now the full version.

Marco Arment is the guy behind Overcast. He's also the original lead programmer behind tumblr and he created instapaper. So, he has some pretty serious cred behind his name. He wrote in a blog post that only 20% of users were paying for the full version, and he didn't want 80% of his users not using the full version. So he made it free, and put in a purchase that is essentially a tip jar.

I love that it's not the app that Marco thought the world needed; it's the app that he needed. Which is really how some of the best things out there are made.

Anyway, I'm personally finding the app to be better than Downcast in just about every way. The interface is much cleaner and it supports Car Play and Apple Watch. It also seems more reliable about downloading new episodes. If you're an iOS person, and you listen to podcasts, you should at least check out Overcast.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Bullet Journal: My New Organizer

Various forms of being organized, specifically to do lists, have a limited life span for me. They always work for a while, but eventually they get to be too easy to ignore. At the beginning of this month I took up the Bullet Journal system. So far, it's working really well for me. 

The basic idea behind a bullet journal is that you write down very succinctly, what is going on in a day. This takes the form of to do items, events, and notes. Different types of bullets indicate a variety of things. If you're really interested, I suggest checking out the website above.

The reason it's working well for me is that I schedule to do items. I don't just write them down in an ambiguous list, but I put them on a specific date. Also, if something doesn't happen, then I have to move it by manually writing it down by hand onto a new date.

I also like that it forces me to once a day sit down and reflect on the previous day and prepare the next day. I like to leave it on the kitchen table at night so that it's waiting for me in the morning when I have breakfast. It really helps me prepare for the day and get organized so the things I need to do get done. 

Hopefully this method lasts for a while. I'm a fan of it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Current Focus of Online Presence

School's started, and like most other people I'm getting back into the routine of things.

One of my new classes is Online Media, which is really trying to be a modern student newspaper. The plan that I have right now is to have the students post to a blog that gets automatically Tweeted and posted to Facebook. (funny that tweeted is an acceptable word, but facebooked isn't).  I am also running a class Instagram account and Youtube account that also automatically get Tweeted and posted to Facebook. There is also a class snapchat which of course lives in it's own little world.

Somehow, I feel like this is the set up that it should have been using a year ago. Things change too fast. Most of the journalists I was following on Snapchat have stopped using it or have moved to the Discover portion of the app. (which of course, I cannot do.) NYTimes and NPR were both doing pretty interesting things on the platform, but they have stopped. I'm wondering if that's just because there isn't a way to monetize it.

Blogs are kind of a thing of the past. Sure, Mashable and Buzzfeed are still out there doing their thing, and people are getting that content through Facebook. But the kids today don't use Facebook anymore. Twitter has slightly more traction in my school, but not much. Instagram and Snapchat are really where the kids are in my School, but those aren't places you can pipe content into.

The Youtube account that I had set up was kind of an afterthought, but when I mentioned to the kids that we had Youtube, that's where they got the most excited. I may need to really re-think my strategy and have students create more videos and less text articles. It's not really the way I was planning on running the class; being adaptable is necessary to being part of the Internet today.

Monday, August 17, 2015

My Summer in Review 2015 Edition

I know most people don't want to think about Summer ending. I have three days left of the Summer. Friday is my first official day back at school. People keep asking me if I'm ready for school to start.

This has been my first true summer break since I was in High School. Summers in college were a change of pace, but I worked every summer. This summer I kept pretty busy, and I usually work up early because of the kids, but I could do things on my own terms.

I had three really good trips. I got to go to Disney World with my wife and kids. I went to Ohio to visit family, and I most recently went to GenCon. Each trip was a great in it's own way. Disney was a good way to separate the school year from the summer. We left almost as soon as I was done with end of year in services. We had a blast on the trip, but it was exhausting.

Ohio was much more relaxing. I just hung out at my in-laws while they did most of the actual parenting. Due to that I was able to get a lot of writing done. In hindsight I probably also spent a lot of time playing games on my phone. I just wrote quite a bit about GenCon, so I won't talk more about it.

I went on two camping trips, one with my college friend Eric, and one with my family. The trip with the family was a learning experience in that I learned that my son is not ready to spend a night in a tent. The trip with Eric was really good. Lots of hanging out, talking, and reconnecting.

I got to go golfing a few times. Not as much as I would have liked. I have a hard time justifying the time that it takes to get out to the golf course. I feel as though I have other things that I should be doing instead. I'll try to get out there once more this week.

I ran my first ever 5K this summer. Heck, I ran my first ever 5 minutes in a row this summer. I also ran my second 5K this last weekend. Something that I'm really looking forward to co
ntinuing on pushing myself. I'm still hoping that I'll be ready to run a half marathon next summer.

I built an arcade cabinet early in the summer. The project pretty much ate my life for a week and a half or so. It's still in my basement and it's still totally awesome. I even play games on it once in a while.

I wrote over 40,000 words this summer over a variety of things. I have a couple flash fiction things in the can, a short story that's finished it's first draft, some writing on a game project done, and a magazine article that has it's first draft turned in. The writing is in a competition with a fellow teacher. The competition is actually really neck and neck right now. It could be anybody's game yet in the next three days.

I think the most important thing I did all summer is I was here with my kids. I did have daycare for them for quite a few days. That allowed me to get a lot of the writing that I did done, and it allowed me to go to the school and get things ready for next year. Next summer I'm going to plan to be the primary care for them. Even with all of the awesome things I did this summer, I realize that I'm lucky that I get to spend so much time with my kids. Next summer I want to do more of that.

It was a good summer. Probably one of the best I've had. As far if I'm ready for school to start? Yes. I am ready.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

GenCon 2015 Post Convention Post

I'm a bit later this year writing my wrap up post. I journaled my way through the convention this year pretty heavily, so I have something like 3000 words written up about every detail of the convention. That's really just for my own uses as I reflect back, so I'll just put here more of a highlight reel that is not in any sort of chronological order.

I brought Fey Ball to the convention as a for sale product for the first time. I sold approximately 20 copies of the ash can of it, which is respectable, but not earth shatteringly awesome. I had three demo times at our booth to show it off. Most people that I showed it to enjoyed it. A few people said they were going to wait for the Kickstarter instead of buying it on the spot. I need to talk to some people about it's future to see where to go from here.

I ran four different games of Fate Pirates. I very much treated them as teaching Fate sessions. I may have a project in the future that's related to these games, but I really just ran them to have fun. All of my groups seemed to enjoy the games, and I even learned a couple things by running the sessions. Almost every player I had either had no experience with Fate, or had played the older Dresden Files version of it. Most of them were there to learn the game, which was the exact audience I was trying to attract.

I also ran a game of Hana Academy for Jesse Butler and Morgan Weeks. That game, also based on Fate, for some reason attracted a very different player base. Three of the players at the table GM fate games at home. It was very different to not have to teach the rules. The game was a lot of fun, and quite silly. I'll definitely be keeping my eye out for the final product.

This year I attended both the Diana Jones Award and the Ennie Awards. I did the DJAs last year, and it was much the same experience. A loud bar full of game designers and an acceptance speech that I couldn't hear. It was my first time attending the Ennies. It was much more traditional awards ceremony. There was some time for mingling and drinking, but for the most part it was just award announcements and acceptance speeches. There was some drama going on that I won't go into, but by the time it was over, it seemed to me that half the people had left.

This year's convention had the 5K race that was the goal of my training over the last few months. The race was super early for being a convention event (6:30 AM). I ran with Curtis and Abe. We got there much earlier than we probably had to and got all set up so that all three of us could race. There weren't many costumes in the race. The big one was a trio of game developers wearing dinosaur costumes to promote their game Raptor Race. I was able to run the whole thing with a time of 32 minutes. I'm happy with the time, and really super happy that I did it.

There was also a lot of visiting with people that I had met in previous years and interacted with online, and meeting new people. Much Steak and Shake was consumed, and a good time was had. I'm already looking forward to going back next year.

Monday, July 27, 2015

FeyBall Fiction: Skygleam's first tournament

Skygleam entered the grove of the ancient Mana Fountain. The spring of magical energies sat in the middle of a large clearing. Each month, during the full moon the various courts of fairies compete for control of the Fountain. This was the night that control of the fountain was up for grabs. The court that controls the fountain is holds control over all the kingdoms of Fey. Each court is allowed to send in a team of three of their champions to compete in the timeless game of Dodgeball. They called it FeyBall.

This was Skygleam’s first time on her court’s champion team. She had been training for several years to make the cut, and because of her hard work and dedication, she was finally good enough. This last month she spent training daily with her two teammates, Olivespark and Cocoahop. She looked across the clearing and could see the teams from the other three courts. Each of the players that she saw had earned their place in the games moons ago and were veteran players. She knew who each and every one of them was.

Soon it was time for their first match against the Fall court. She hovered with her team on one side of the clearing with the other team hovering on the opposite. The fountain sat in the middle with magical energy flowing out from it into the air.

A bell rang, and immediately everyone started to gather the mana from the air into ball shapes in front of them. One of the opponents threw their ball at Skygleam fairly quickly. They didn’t spend much time trying to build it up and it was easy for her to dodge. It’s energy was pulled into the ball that she was gathering. With the energy of the two combined, she threw it back at the fairy who threw it at her to start with. He howled out as the ball exploded into his shoulder taking away one of his health points. He still had two left before he was out of the game.

Skygleam started to gather mana for another attack while keeping an eye on what was going on across the rest of the field. It looked like Olivespark had amassed a huge amount of mana and was getting ready to throw it at an opponent. His control over the mana slipped and the energies exploded right in front of him costing him a health point.

Once Skygleam had enough energy built up that it was worth throwing she threw it again at the one she hit before trying to get him out of the game quickly. It looked like the ball was going to miss, but she had a unique talent. She relaxed her mind, and reached out with her senses. She could feel the ball hurtling across the field. She was able to nudge it just a little, not enough to completely change it’s course, but enough to make it hit her opponent. His eyes went wide as he saw the ball curve in the air and come right for him. From the look on his face, she could tell that he wasn’t going to treat her like a rookie anymore.

The match went on for several more minutes as the fairies on each team pulled together enough mana to throw at their opponents. Stronger balls were harder to dodge, but were more likely to overload and explode while being gathered.
Eventually Skygleam found herself in a difficult situation, she was the only one left on her team, and the other team still had two players. Everyone was down to their last health point. The game had gone on for a while, so the mana was starting to get more volatile and hard to control. She threw a weaker ball at her closest opponent. She didn’t have much hope of it hitting him, but she hoped that it would get sucked into the energy he was gathering and cause it to overload on him. It’s a trickier move, but a safer way to play. It worked, as soon as the mana from her throw was gathered into his ball, it exploded taking his last health point.

Now she only had one opponent left. They each started gathering energy into a ball. The other fairy tried doing the same move she did and threw an underpowered ball at her. It got pulled into the ball she was building. She could feel the wild energies roiling between her hands. She focused on her efforts to keep it under control just long enough to throw the combined mana back. It took her last bit of effort, but she launched it back across the field. With a little nudge from Skygleam, it hit her opponent square in the chest and finished her off.

The match was theirs. Her teammates flew to her and hugged her in celebration. She had proven herself in her first match on the champion team. Now she would have to repeat the effort soon against the winning team of the match that was about to take place.

“Bring it on!” She thought. The victory built her confidence and she felt like she could win against anyone.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Steve Running?!?

For pretty much my entire life I have considered myself to be the opposite of athletic. The worst days of my life in Junior high are when I was made to run a mile in Gym. Actually, I don't really have any good memories from Gym at all. I think I was actually in halfway descent shape when I was doing Karate in my later years of high school, but nobody told me. So I'm super excited that I'm going to be running a 5K this week at GenCon.

Each year at GenCon there is an Orc Stomp 5K. A friend of mine did it a couple years ago, so it's something that's been on my radar for a while. This year, I decided to train and make it happen. At this point, I'm not even really sure what prompted me to do it, but I'm glad I did.

I started out with the Ease into 5K app on my phone. There are lots of apps out there, that's just the one I picked. It was tough starting out, but my friend Curtis has been running with me, and we've been pushing each other to keep going. I've now run the full 5K distance 4 times. Each time I do it, it's easier than the previous time. It seems so crazy to me, because just a couple short weeks ago I remember thinking "I just ran 8 minutes non-stop, I've never done that before in my life." The next time I thought the same thing about 10 minutes, then 20. Now I'm running 35ish minutes solid. It's not something I really ever thought I'd be able to do in the past.

I'm really excited about doing the Orc Stomp and running with a large group of over 200 people. It'll be the first race I've really ever done in my life.

My plan is to keep pushing ahead. I'm hoping that I can get myself up to a full 10K this fall and if I can stay in shape through the winter, I want to try to do a half marathon next summer.