Feb 15

State of the Emptyeye- February 2018

It’s been about two months since my last personal update about trying to improve myself. How have I done since then? Here we go!

Physical Fitness: After a bit of fluctuation, I’m down another three pounds, to 150 even as of the last time I weighed myself (Monday morning). I struggled with this a bit, with New England weather combining with my work schedule to knock me off the gym train for a bit (The New Year’s Resolution Crush making it so I could barely find parking at the gym after work didn’t help either). But I’m back to 4 times a week now, and indeed, got back from the gym about an hour ago as I’m writing this. I’ll put some pictures at the bottom of this. I’m not sure you can really see the progress from them, but trust me, I’m slimmer and feel better than four months ago.

The drinking-less-soda thing…has not gone well of late, though I’m doing a bit better with it the last couple weeks. Since I started tracking my diet soda consumption, I’m at about 9 per week overall (Worse than two months ago, though still an improvement from when my doctor first told me to stop drinking so much), with an even 10.5 per week over the last month (1.5 cans/day). Part of this was due to work stuff, which I’ll get into in the next section. But suffice to say that it was stressful for awhile, which caused me to not care so much what I was drinking. I’ve taken to drinking a lot more decaf coffee over the last couple months, but I want to rein that in as well.

General Betterment: This is actually going quite well. For one, I’ve stepped up a bit at my primary job, which hasn’t gone unnoticed. I’m trying to keep that up by volunteering to take over supporting some applications, and indeed, I was forced into quickly becoming an expert on one particular application thanks to a vendor change that shouldn’t have gone into production but did. Everyone seems to agree that I did pretty well in handling that, though I’m not sure that I actually did.

In addition, I’ve continued reading various self-improvement books, and have also been listening to stuff from Youtube while I work (Primarily Tony Robbins and Jim Rohn–the latter in particular has a grandfather-like quality to his voice that’s simultaneously relaxing and motivating). It sounds weird, but it really is helping, and I’ve started trying various tricks and techniques to be more productive around the condo and away from work as well.

Weaning Myself Off of Twitch: Well, considering I’m listening to Lord BBH as I write this… Related to the previous paragraph, though, one thing I’m finding is that I can step away from my computer post-work a bit more easily, thanks in part to basically tricking myself into doing so. Essentially, if I have something productive I need to do around the condo, I set an alarm on my phone to force myself to get up and do it for an hour or so. It’s weird, maybe a little childish…but it works, and I find I even start on the task before the alarm actually goes off (In part because it’s better than “dreading” the alarm going off).

General Creative Stuff: I’ve made more posts here of late. That counts for something, right? OoB Glitchless is something I do want to get back to, so I wonder if I can use my “force myself to be productive” trick toward that end. I’ll have to try it sometime.

-EE

Jan 16

General GDQ Musings

Some general musings on GDQs, inspired in part by a Reddit post I found particularly amusing.

Sam Viviano, Art Director for Mad Magazine, once remarked that the magazine was at its best “whenever you first started reading it.” I thought about this when reading this thread, because I feel like something very similar applies to GDQs–the best GDQs were the ones you first watched. I don’t really think they’ve changed all that much for about 4 years now, and it amused me that this particular thread included AGDQ2013 and both 2014 marathons. The 2014 ones I found funny because that was when the “They killed all the HYPE from last year, there’s NO FUN ALLOWED anymore!” criticism cycle you see every GDQ really started to reach a fever pitch.

AGDQ2013 was a different story. I personally regard this as what I call “The Identity Crisis GDQ”. This is because, while I don’t think the events have changed that much from 2014 on, they’ve definitely grown and become more professional since their inception (Classic Games Done Quick was literally held in Mike Uyama’s basement, though not entirely by choice). AGDQ2013 was the last one held in the 4H Center, and everyone involved probably tried a little too hard to try and keep what they could of the “Gamers In A Basement” feeling, even though it was no longer feasible at that point. Indeed, it was big enough that SMK, then a member of what passed for GDQ Staff at the time, had to rig together a donation tracker after we broke the system we were using (Something called “ChipIn”, the URL for which now appears to be taken over by some kind of cryptocurrency business) from the sheer volume of donations we were taking in. (Side note: In hindsight, it’s amazing ChipIn served GDQ as well as it did for as long as it did, despite everything going pear-shaped at AGDQ2013. I vaguely remember, but can’t confirm, hearing secondhand that ChipIn staff told someone after AGDQ 2012 [Which did about 30% of AGDQ2013 absolute dollars-wise] “Hey, ChipIn was never designed for something of your scale…”.) Beginning with AGDQ2014, everyone involved with running the event really embraced that it had become something “professional”, for lack of a better term. And while there was a spontaneous element of “anything can happen” to early GDQs that I loved and miss, as a whole, I definitely prefer the “modern” GDQs.

The “core” of GDQs are the same, but for the most recent edition, they took a number of risks, primarily moving the Twitch chat to sub-only and not having Super Metroid as one of the games for what I think is the first time in GDQ history (Including JRDQ and HRDQ). While some will point to the total raised this year (It either barely beat or barely didn’t beat AGDQ2017 based on what’s counted in each) as evidence that these were spectacular failures and The End of GDQ Is Nigh, I think these were actually successes. The crazy year-on-year growth had to stop sometime (And actually already did once–AGDQ2016 raised about 20% less than the previous year, and it’s a bit of a miracle it even did that well, given the absolute chaos leading up to the event), and the fact that two relatively big changes didn’t cause donations to crater is a good thing in my eyes.

When I attended GDQs regularly, one of my concerns as each year brought in seemingly triple the money of the previous year was that eventually a point would be reached where people would say “Oh no, we failed, we *only* raised a million dollars this year!” A million dollars is still a crazy amount of money (CGDQ’s starting goal, in contrast, was five thousand dollars, and people thought that was overly optimistic at the time!), but the fact that 2 million seems to be the baseline now is even better.

-EE

Jan 11

Book Review- Managing for People Who Hate Managing by Devora Zack

I have no aspirations to become a manager at either job I presently work at. I would, however, like to become a team leader, or the closest thing my primary job has to one. And so it was with this in mind that I tackled the fourth book I read from the Humble Win At Work Bundle (The link is to the Humble Bundle homepage; the specific bundle is no longer available), Managing for People Who Hate Managing by Devora Zack.

The first thing to note is Zack’s writing style, which is rather heavy on humorous asides and jokes and the like. I found this welcome, as it kept me reading through a book that (Like a lot of “self-improvement” books, if I’m being honest, this one being the worst example I’ve read) was probably longer than it really had to be, even at a scant 176 pages for the Kindle Edition.

As for the book’s goal, it begins by discussing various reasons why people hate managing (Chief among them is that managers can feel like they’re not tangibly adding results to the group. It also changes the relationship between co-workers.). It then goes on to essentially divide people into two groups along a spectrum: Thinker versus Feeler, and discuss how the two groups use language, how they treat their jobs, etc.

One thing I was shocked to discover was that, according to the (Admittedly brief, and maybe not very scientific) test early in the book, I’m actually slightly on the Feeler side of the Thinker/Feeler spectrum. The book has a couple other exercises that I actually tried to do this time around–one gets into how males and females are perceived as managers based on whether they’re thinkers or feelers, another asks you to think of the best manager you had and their traits, and a third makes the point that positive people are better to be around for various reasons.

The book’s main point is that being a good manager involves deducing whether your reports are thinkers or feelers, and tailoring your language to suit their style. The two approach things very differently, to the point that it can feel like they speak different languages. One exercise that Zack had two teams do involved (One of “thinkers”, one of “feelers”) writing down how they would fire somebody. The feelers were, by and large, more concerned with the feelings of the person being fired, while the thinkers were more concerned with discussing procedure (severance, etc). While the thinkers were reading out their results, one of the feelers stood up and said roughly “That’s ridiculous! How would YOU like to be fired like that?!”. To which the thinker replied “What do you mean? this is exactly how I’d want to be fired.”

I think this point is the most useful one in the book, even if you don’t have managerial aspirations. Even if you stop and do the exercises in it, the book is a quick read, and Zack’s writing style makes it pleasant to go through. I’d recommend it to anyone who has to lead a team of any kind, regardless of if they’re officially a “manager” or not.

-EE

Dec 26

More Mini Game Reviews for #IndieXmas

Some brief mini-reviews of games I’ve played the past week or so:

Disclaimer: All games were obtained through Indie Gamer Chick‘s #IndieXmas event. Codes were provided by the respective developers of the games. You should follow IGC on Twitter here.

Gunmetal Arcadia Zero– Developed by Minor Key Games, Gunmetal Arcadia Zero is a prelude/companion game to Gunmetal Arcadia, a procedurally generated action-adventure platformer. IGC pitched it as “Looks like Zelda II, plays like Castlevania”, and while there’s truth to that, it reminded me more of a more linear Wonder Boy game. There are items and upgrades to buy, and you acquire more life as you progress through the game. There are just enough offshoots and tiny branches without the game going into Metroid-esque territory in terms of exploration. In short, I loved this game and would highly recommend it. Quibbles with the game included a few parts that crossed the line from “challenging” to “cheap” if you weren’t prepared for them, and the fact that candle powerups and chests seemed to be completely random. It makes sense as a prelude to what the developers call a “roguelite” in Gunmetal Arcadia, but I wasn’t a huge fan of it in terms of trying to complete the “speedrun the game” achievements. Also, without using the CRT simulator, some of the cinematics are kind of Uncanny Valley/offputting.

Arcadecraft– Developed by FireBase Industries, this is an arcade management simulator where you’re dropped into 1980 to try to run a sustainable arcade. I enjoyed the few hours I played of this one. There are enough real-time elements to keep the game from getting too boring, ranging from addressing angry customers to keeping tabs on how full the coin boxes on your machines are. I’d recommend this game if you’re already into management sims like SimCity or Rollercoaster Tycoon, or if the concept of owning your own arcade really appeals to you. The downside? It’s incredibly hard to survive the start, to the point I wouldn’t recommend it as a first management sim. Imagine SimCity, except your starting cash is a loan, and instead of installments, you have to pay THE WHOLE LOAN AT ONCE back, plus interest, in two years, while also paying city maintenance costs the whole while. That’s basically the start of Arcadecraft.

Cursed Treasure 2– Developed by Armor Games, I admit to cheating a bit on this review. You see, the Steam version of the game effectively wouldn’t run for me, forcing me to fall back to the free Flash version found on their website. That actually ran rather slowly, too, but it did at least run. I attempted the first few levels of the game in the Flash version, and liked what I saw. Cursed Treasure 2 is a Tower Defense game with some RPG elements such as experience and leveling up your three main towers. As for my issues with running the Steam version of the game, I try not to be too harsh on games for having problems on a 5-year-old laptop, even if there shouldn’t be anything super-advanced tech-wise about running a Tower Defense game. In short, I’d recommend this as well, and just wish I could run it “at speed”.

-EE

Dec 11

State of the Emptyeye- December 2017

About a month and a half ago, I wrote that I wanted to change some stuff about my life. Six or so weeks later, how am I doing? Let’s find out!

Physical Fitness– This is going pretty well. It’s actually been a bit longer than 2 months since I realized I needed to lose some weight, but as of right now, I’m down about 7 pounds (6.6, specifically–from 159.6 to 153) from that point, about halfway to where I want to be weight-wise. I’ve also been going to the gym pretty consistently four times a week–an arm day, a back day, a leg day, and a cardio day.

As far as drinking soda goes, I’m doing better than I was, although not great. I’m averaging about 5 and a half diet sodas of various kinds a week, which is a lot better than the multiple cans of soda a day I had been drinking, although it’s probably still too much in terms of “crap I’m putting in my body”. From a bit of research, it looks like the jury is still kind of out on whether diet soda contributes to diabetes due to the studies about it being flawed (In short, they don’t know if the people who drank diet soda and got pre-diabetic drank regular soda for years upon years before the study or not), but it’s probably doing me good to put less artifical sugars/etc. in me.

In place of the soda, I’ve been drinking more coffee, and fat-burning protein shakes (Which have some caffeine in them). I generally drink two cups of coffee a day–one either regular or a half-caf (Regular and decaf blend) in the morning, then a cup of decaf in the afternoon. I’m not trying to cut out caffeine from my diet altogether, but I also don’t want to overload myself with it like I had been doing.

General Betterment– I’ve read a few books, which you can see reflected in the last several posts I’ve made here. I’m currently working my way through Managing for People Who Hate Managing, trying to actually do some of the exercises in it (Unlike with First Things First), which makes it a bit slower going. The writing in it is actually pretty snappy; in terms of the style, it might be my favorite of the books in the Humble Bundle I got it from so far.

Weaning Myself Off of Twitch– Okay, this hasn’t been going so well. This is part of a more general problem, though, basically boiling down to “Once I get home from work and the gym, I don’t generally want to do anything, and watching Twitch streams is my way of unwinding”. I do want to at least try and improve in this regard, I swear!

Doing More Creative Stuff– Related to the above, this actually isn’t going great either. Hopefully the next two weeks will be fruitful in this regard.

And I think that’s about it for now.

Nov 28

Book Review- Hustle Away Debt

Similar to the previous book I reviewed, Hustle Away Debt: Eliminate Your Debt by Making More Money by David Carlson is the product of a blog. In this case, the blog is Young Adult Money, a millennial-focused website about saving money and, more importantly, making more of it. The central conceit of the book is making more money through “side-hustles”, which is pretty loosely defined. Specifically, it’s “anything that makes money that is not your day job”, or to use his phrasing, your “9-to-5”.

Interestingly, even though the book is primarily about “side hustles”, one of the first things Carlson advocates is “See if you can get more money at your 9-to-5”. After exhausting that option, Carlson then goes into various sorts of potential side hustles of varying “hustleness”, for lack of a better term. He starts by mentioning various potential part-time jobs you can take on (Which is less a “side hustle” and more just “A reality for an increasing portion of the US”, if you ask me), before going into things like starting a blog, using some of your 9-5 skills in a freelance capacity, and so on.

The book’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness. There are no get-rich-quick promises here–Carlson acknowledges that in the case of some side-hustles, such as the blog, it may take awhile to actually make money. Indeed, you may never make money becoming, EG, a Youtube personality. Yet it’s a bit disingenuous to claim you can hustle away debt (Or make any money at all) with some of the side hustles mentioned in the book. To me, the book’s main value is less in the specifics of some of the suggestions, and more in the general way it makes you think about being able to monetize skills you may not have thought of in that capacity before.

I mentioned on Facebook that if I took one or two concepts from each book I read, I’ll have considered said book a worthy investment. And as I mentioned above, the book did get me to think about ways I might make money outside of either of my two jobs (I guess I’m side hustling already!). But truthfully, of the three books in the Humble Win at Work Bundle I’ve read so far, this was the one I enjoyed the least, and found the least useful. If nothing else, though, the Young Adult Money blog is now something I know about, which isn’t nothing.

-EE

Nov 17

Game Review- Haunt the House: Terrortown

(Disclaimer: I received this game for free as part of Indie Gamer Chick‘s Indieween event)

Haunt the House: Terrortown is a 2014 expansion of a 2010 game by SFB Games, who recently released Snipperclips Plus for the Nintendo Switch. In this game, you play as a ghost trying to scare people out of various locales (Despite the name, most of these locations aren’t actually houses).

To do so, you can possess various objects, and there are a lot of them. Each object has several different effects, which are unlocked as you make the atmosphere of the immediate area creepier by scaring people. Eventually, as you continue scaring people, they become so terrified that they run out of the locale. Maybe. More on that in a bit.

The main thing to enjoy about this game is the aesthetic. It’s fun and whimsical, despite the plot. Everything is drawn in a fun, cartoony style, and some of the “hauntings” have silly and unexpected effects. The soundtrack is also appropriately old-timey, and was apparently all played with a live band as opposed to made on keyboards. As such, the game is pretty darn fun, when it works.

It may just be my old computer, but in the 2-3 hours (It’s somewhere in there according to Steam), I had the game freeze on me three times. The game constantly keeps track of your progress, so restarting it didn’t lose me anything, but it was still annoying. In a separate instance, one of the people I was supposed to scare out of a locale simply disappeared, forcing me to start the level over (Thankfully, it was fairly early on in the level).

There are some other issues that are really “questionable design decisions”. While you can pick any of the four levels from the start, the full tutorial is actually in the level that’s the second out of the four options on the main screen. While the game does tell you “There’s a more full tutorial in the Terrortown level”, it still would have been better to simply make the Terrortown level the first option. I expect this is because the “first” level in the version I have was originally DLC, but I don’t know why that wasn’t then the “last” level on the screen. An unrelated issue is that the “S” key is the “default” a lot of the time–you use it to possess objects, and it typically confirms selections on menus. The use of the “S” key to do this isn’t my issue here, but the fact that “S” is also “Start a new game” means I very nearly deleted a save file, only being saved by the “are you sure you want to do that” screen that thankfully pops up when you start a new game in a level with a save file.

The other frustrating part is that I’m not sure there’s an actual coherent strategy for scaring people away. As you scare them, they react more than more, eventually devolving to running open-mouthed after screaming in terror. But where they move after that appears to be random. You can scare someone and they may leave right away, or you may chase them around the locale for minutes on end, accomplishing nothing. I eventually settled on “get a person into a state of terror, then leave them alone and let them run out of the scene” as my strategy, but I have no idea if it actually worked better than following them around constantly, or if I just wanted it to. I did make sure to play through all four levels at least once, which, as mentioned, took between two and three hours according to Steam. In that time, I’m not sure I got any “better” at the game, to be honest.

Overall, though, Haunt the House: Terrortown is a fun way to spend a couple hours, if for no other reason than to see the various objects and hauntings you can pull off. The actual gameplay is fun, when the game works, and the graphics and music are lighthearted and amusing. To re-use a phrase from my review of Akalabeth, I’ve spent more time playing worse games and had less fun than I did playing this. I just wish I could’ve figured out what the heck I was doing in the meantime.

-EE

Nov 15

Some Quick Mini-Reviews of Stuff I’ve Been Playing

Conception II: Children of the Seven Stars (Demo)– Played through the demo after seeing a deep discount on the Nintendo eShop, but missed the window to actually get it at that price. A 3D dungeon crawler with socialization elements, probably superficially similar to Persona (Which I’ve never played, honestly). The method of party member creation is basically sex in all but name, right down to the main character and their lady acting all awkward and nervous about it. The actual dungeon-crawling is fun enough, and the battle system is neat. Would probably have picked up the full game if I beat the demo quickly enough to get it at the sale price (The game retails for $29.99 US, but was on sale for something like $5.85).

Haunt the House: Terrortown– Got this as part of Indie Gamer Chick‘s Indieween event. You play as a ghost who possesses objects to try and scare people out of various locales. The game is fun, when it works, though I’m not sure there’s actually any coherent strategy to scaring people out as quickly as possible. I’ve played it for a little less than an hour (47 minutes according to Steam), and in that time the game softlocked on me twice, and one of the victims I was supposed to scare simply disappeared, preventing me from completing the level. Still, fun enough in short bursts, and the game saves constantly, so it’s great for killing 10-20 minutes at a time.

Torchlight– Finally started this after hearing about the developer shutting down, and wonder why I didn’t do this sooner. It’s basically Diablo with a ton of little quality-of-life improvements (Most notably in my first five hours of playing according to Steam, you have a pet you can send back to town to sell the tons of crap items you’ll inevitably pick up and continue exploring the dungeon while they do that). This makes sense, since the studio was formed by ex-Blizzard employees. I also have Torchlight II on GOG, and I’m looking forward to that once I finish up this one. I’m playing on the Normal (second-lowest) difficulty, which is pretty tame and good if this is your first Diablo-esque.

-EE

Nov 10

Book Review- Notoriously Dapper

When I first considered the Humble Win At Work Book Bundle, one of the titles that intrigued me was Kelvin Davis’s Notoriously Dapper. I just couldn’t decide if the intrigue was positive or not. Maybe because I didn’t fully read the subtitle (“How to be A Modern Gentleman with Manners, Style and Body Confidence”), but part of me expected this to be a “Here’s how to be an ALPHA BRO DUDEBRO!!” type of book, with advice like “Be a complete jerk to ladies, they like that.”

Thankfully, this book is not that at all. Indeed, Kelvin Davis is one of the first male examples of promoting body positivity. As for the book itself, “How to be A Modern Gentleman” is certainly an accurate description of a lot of the book. Funnily enough, being a modern gentleman, according to Davis, isn’t that different from being an old-fashioned gentleman. Doing simple things like holding the door for people, or complimenting someone on their clothing, can make one a modern gentleman. He also notes how unfortunate it is that it can be difficult to be a nice guy (I don’t mean the internet “nice guy” where being nice to a woman [Or another man, if that’s your preference] is used as a method of getting into their pants, but a true gentleman, where you compliment E.G. a woman’s dress simply because you like the dress) to someone without the other person assuming nefarious motives. “Common manners” really aren’t very common anymore.

Even though “style” is in the title, the book isn’t really a style guide as such, although one chapter does contain a list of 12 items he feels any male should have in their wardrobe (I’m happy to say I independently figured out “dark denim” looks good. Especially since I’m the sort where, when faced with the “visual” portion of a create-a-character option in a video game, I fiddle with it for five or ten minutes before hitting “Randomize All” and going “Yep, looks like a keeper!” regardless of what it spits out.), which is a great starting point on that front.

My main issue with the book is that it sometimes reads like a series of blog posts (Which does make sense), as opposed to an overall “book”. By this, I mean that we’ll get a piece of information about, E.G. Michele, Davis’s wife. I’m totally cool with that, but I get a sense of deja vu when I read “My wife, Michele” two chapters later. Like “Yes, I know she’s your wife, you just told us that.” In fairness, this could be an editing issue–I don’t know the order in which the chapters were written, nor how far apart, nor if that order was the same as the sequence that ended up in the book. And besides, it’s a pretty minor thing in the grand scheme of things. The somewhat modular nature of the book means you can skip around from chapter to chapter, only reading what interests you, which further mitigates this (Though I read it all the way through).

Still, overall, I enjoyed the book, and it’s a pretty quick read. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about being a modern gentleman (Or lady, for that matter).

Lastly, I had to make my own attempt at being Notoriously Dapper. Ignoring the white socks, what do you think?

Full-Body Shot of the Review as a Young Man

-EE

Nov 01

Book Review- First Things First

Co-written by the same person who wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, First Things First has an interesting thesis, boiling down to “Traditional time-management approaches are flawed. Yes, they’ll help you get more stuff done quicker…but is that stuff really the important stuff?”

The meat of the book discusses how tasks and activities can be broken down into 4 “quadrants”:

  1. Tasks which are both urgent and important
  2. Tasks which are important but not urgent
  3. Tasks which are urgent but not important
  4. Tasks which are neither urgent nor important

Of these four, the book argues that Quadrant II (Important but not urgent) is one that not enough time is spent in. It also discusses “urgency addiction”, where people live for the rush of metaphorically putting out fires and saving the day when some allegedly urgent task comes up. It notes that this won’t necessarily bring you fulfillment.

The book then basically challenges you to come up with some things that you think of as Quadrant II, and to rethink how you approach your day by adhering to some of the principles, called “true north” principles, derived from Quadrant II. Some of the examples of this are fascinating, particularly a company that, of all things, shut down. Instead of a top-down edict, the company involved employees of all levels when they were going through financial difficulties. It soon became clear that the operation was unsustainable–the company was, basically, obsolete. Realizing this, the company shifted their focus to finding future employment for its workers. The media came in to cover the company’s last day expecting a demoralized war zone, and instead got a giant farewell party where everyone was truly as happy as they could be given the circumstances.

Was the book worth it? Content-wise, I’d say yes–while I didn’t specifically perform any of the exercises, it did get me thinking about things I want to do that are important that I’ve been neglecting. Format-wise, though, is another story. I bought this as part of a Humble Book Bundle, and downloaded the Mobi onto my Kindle. Now, it’s possible I’m just too old for this whole “eBooks” thing, but the book mentions worksheets and appendices and other things that didn’t seem to be in my electronic version. Additionally, there were other minor issues–visible formatting characters, things are were/weren’t bolded/etc that should/n’t have been, etc. that served to temporarily take me out of the lessons the book was trying to teach me. And let’s not get into the fact that the title of the book is wrong on the top of each page in the version I read (It’s missing the “s” in “Things”). Still, I mentioned on Facebook that if I can pick up a useful concept or two from a book like this, it’ll have been worth it, and I can say I did that with First Things First.

-EE