Upcoming panels (8/31/2014)

Knox Game Design, September 14

  • A Primer on Tabletop Game Mechanics – A talk about what video game designers can learn from board and card games; popular genres, categories, and mechanics; and interesting implementations of some common concepts.

Anime Weekend Atlanta, September 26-28

  • Otaku Board and Card Gaming – TBA – An overview of games by Japanese designers, as well as Japanese- and “otaku”-themed games. (This is sort of a specialized version of my general tabletop gaming panel.)

Blog re-purposing

There’s been a couple of gamedev-oriented blog posts I’ve been meaning to write for a while, so I figured it was time to take a look at the old blog again. I’ve pruned off all the random personal posts, leaving mostly the gaming and coding posts.

This isn’t one of those infamous “I really need to blog more” posts; it probably won’t be a regular thing. However, I find it’s helpful to create up specific outlets for specific types of posts, and I’ve sorely needed a space for this category of post.

I’ll also be using the blog to note upcoming panels I’m doing, since that’s becoming a regular thing for me these days.

Upcoming Road Trip

So I have an interesting road trip planned in a couple of weeks.

I say “interesting” because it’s been a while since I’ve done any serious travel on my own and I’m looking forward to it. But also because it’s just a crazy combination of destinations.

Geek Media Expo

October 21-23 I’ll be in Nashville for the Geek Media Expo. So far I’ve had three panels accepted (XNA Jam, Podcasting 101, Nonfiction for Geeks), but the schedule isn’t up yet.

GMX has been in the cards for months. I wasn’t really sure which days I’d be going or where we’d stay, but I knew I was going. (As it turns out, “all three days” and “in the con hotel.”)

The new thing, and the thing that turns this into an honest-to-goodness road trip, is that I’m also going to be in Memphis. I’ll be at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital earlier that week to participate in a medical study.

St. Jude

When I was in high school, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and went through treatment at St. Jude. (Incidentally,
since I haven’t had a relapse after 14 years, the chance of recurrence is nil.) I’m taking part in a study on the long-term effects of treatment.

Essentially, it’s three days of medical tests. My After Completion of Therapy checkups stopped 10 years after treatment, so it’s more data to help future research, as well as some medical tests at no cost to me. Plus, there are no travel costs and they’re paying me for my time (for some reason, participating in a medical study just sounds cooler than merely a very thorough checkup). In short, it’s a good excuse to take some time off and travel.

I won’t lie, I’m a terrified of the whole thing. First, the idea of three days of procedures and tests isn’t pleasant. And while I see it as an opportunity to catch potential health problems early (whether side effects from treatment or not), there’s always the slight chance that a battery of medical tests will turn up something serious. The best I can hope for is getting griped at about my weight and general being out of shape (which, not surprisingly, doesn’t help the blood pressure reading).

The plan is to leave out that Sunday, drive to Nashville for a day, head on to Memphis on Monday night, and then come back to Nashville Thursday after my last appointment.

Since I have some extra time, I will try to see family when I’m out that way. I’ve talked to dad about nailing down some plans on that front–mom and dad will likely be going on Sunday and Monday. (I’m in Nashville every year for MTAC, but usually ride with friends and spend all my time at the con. I always feel a little guilty.)

Thoughts on Google+

(For those interested, I’m on Google+ at http://gplus.to/dylanwolf.)

I’ve been on Google+ less than a week, and I’m still calculating my approach. Setting up on a new social network always feels like the most fun part of social networking–exploring the profile options, making new connections, and organizing all of this information. If nothing else, it’s a blank slate with nothing but potential.

As I said on Twitter, I still don’t know that I have much interesting to say, but I can organize the crap out of people I could say it to if I did. With Google+’s Circles, I’m living the backwards, introverted, OCD social networking dream.

The most surprising part of the process has been groking my own reactions to the way Google+ expects me to think. It feels like Google+ is triangulating a position between Facebook’s seemingly out-of-control privacy and app sprawl and Twitter’s more limited, content-focused service. But since it’s neither Twitter nor Facebook, it’s also given me some insight into the different ways I use other social networks (or rather, how they’ve conditioned me to think).

On Facebook, I’m careful with who I friend. I try to only friend people I’ve met in real life (although I’ve posted in a few “post your Facebook” forum threads, and feel a little awkward having Facebook friends I barely know, but feel it would be rude to unfriend). Because it’s a two-way street, I’m also careful about who I add–usually, I wait for other people to send the request. It’s a filter, really–a logical rule I can use to avoid playing fast and loose with gut decisions. I would feel creepy if I added everyone within one or two degrees of separation without thinking, but unsure where I’d draw the line otherwise.

But, as reading between the lines of that last paragraph might imply, it’s not just about filter, it’s about my perspective on what each service aims to be. Facebook centers around the concept of a “profile,” so Interests, Friends, and all that good stuff feels like an intrinsic part of the public profile I’m presenting to the interwebs. Even the apps I use–or, rather, the chance that an app will misuse access to my profile–feels like a defining characteristic.

On Twitter, I’m looser with who I follow. This is where I follow the musicians, actors, writers, artists, prominent developers, etc. that I want to keep up with. Like Facebook, I often wait for acquaintences to follow me first, but I’m much more loose with that filter. Twitter is a one-way street, so I don’t feel like I’m intruding by following.

Since there’s no true “about me” page, my Follow list doesn’t seem like it’s intrinsically supposed to communicate something about myself or my connections. People only care about my tweets, because that’s the main way I’m defining myself. As long as apps don’t post to my feed, I’m a little less nervous about giving them access to Twitter than Facebook, because they’re going to be lost in someone else’s Tweet stream. (I have been feeling guilty that most of my non-reply Tweets anymore are GameMarx retweets, but that’s another issue.)

I feel like Facebook defines, while Twitter communicates. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. In fact, because they’re for different purposes, I’m not sure the comparison is even valid.

Google+ threw me for a loop because I instantly wanted to categorize it as either a clone of Facebook or Twitter. At first glance it’s trying to be Facebook. It’s a profile and supports more than 140-character text messages. It uses a language of connection (“in a circle”) like Facebook rather than action or content like Twitter (“following,” “followers,” “lists”). (Thankfully, Google+ isn’t using the overly chummy “Friends” terminology–I think that’s a very responsible choice given the connotation of the word, and its inaccuracy in the online world.)

Because of this, I keep wanting to think that Google+ connections should ideally be two-way, Facebook-style. Of course Circles act more like Twitter’s one-way follows, but this assumption immediately sent me into the fearful, cautionary approach I use with Facebook. Knowing this is a false assumption, I’d like to break this and use Google+ to build a wide, multi-tiered network of connections, something I don’t feel the urge to do on Twitter and don’t have the ability to do on Facebook.

I assume more people will be like me and feel the need to make two-way connections on Google+ than with Twitter. I assume many people will have a throw-away Circle that they filter out. (Actually, I guess people do this with Twitter now, but I don’t really use Lists.) Right now, I’m using Acquaintances as my catch-all, but I’m not filtering anything out of my stream. (Also, I guess I need to learn how to spell “acquaintances” now. It has an ‘a,’ not an ‘e.’)

Circles seem like an ingenious way of building privacy into the model. (Again, that’ll never work as a sales pitch, but I wish it did.) It provides organization, filtering, and privacy, but without exposing that in an obvious way. Additionally, it uses the Incoming feed as a loophole to allow a privacy model that’s based on pushing content in a medium that requires pulling content to prevent spam. (Time will tell if that actually works, or if Incoming undergoes some major changes.)

Facebook’s grouping tries to achieve the goal of privacy, but it doesn’t feel like it has the disconnected, ACL-quality that Circles has. On the plus side, Facebook allows you to explain to profile visitors how they’re connected to you. On the other hand, you can’t stick people in a Facebook group called “JERKS” and not look like… well, a jerk.

Of course, I’m looking at Google+ through rose-colored glasses right now. Every major piece of technology seems to go through an arc where it manages to do something awesome, builds to an apex and becomes a household name, and then goes on to become as maligned as the product it replaced. Partly, it’s because the application starts out as a blank slate, or as an exclusive club (it’s obscure; you’ve probably never heard of it). But in other cases, it’s because of deliberate choices the developers made. I submit Firefox, MySpace, and Facebook as examples.

I have to believe this is a corollary to Zawinski’s Law, or at least a version of the law for the next generation of applications. Every web application attempts to expand until one of two things happens:

  1. Believing that, because they’re popular, they can do no wrong, the developers will make boneheaded or outright anti-user decisions.
  2. Developers will provide users with more and more flexibility until such time as they can create retina-burning animated backgrounds or send out a hundred game requests a day to hapless followers.

The latter point, incidentally, is a natural consequence. As much as I gripe about Farmville, there are legitimate Facebook apps that wouldn’t exist without many of the API features it uses. All other factors being equal, services that provide this flexibility and openness will eventually usurp those who don’t.

So even if all goes well, eventually we’re all going to fall out of love with Google+ and we’re going to go chasing after the next social service that decides to embrace simplicity. At least until we realize all the things simplicity didn’t let us do.

And well but so anyway, I’m not going to make a prediction about Google+’s ultimate success or failure. None of my discussion here takes into account the big-picture choices that will make or break the service. I’d like it to fight the Facebook monster and win, both as a victory for privacy and for a more sensible approach to social networking. (I feel like the latter is partly the reason Facebook usurped MySpace.) I’d like it to do so without becoming a monster in the process.

Either way, I’m fascinated at how Circles represent a new take on the conventional wisdom of social network connections. I’m even more fascinated at how I have to adjust my initial assumptions to deal with it. I won’t say it’s necessarily the best take on social networking; that’s going to depend on how users decide to use it.

Geek Media Expo 2010

This weekend, John and I drove over to Nashville for Geek Media Expo Volume 2.

I didn’t attend the first GMX last year, but we have been attending their parent convention, Middle Tennessee Anime convention, for several years now.

Originally I’d pre-registered thinking I’d get away for a weekend and see what the new con was like. (The last couple of years, I had a distinct preference for the multi-fandom DragonCon over most of the anime conventions we usually attend. I blame kids these days with their Naruto and their Bleach and their Axis Powers Hetalia.)

Through several twists and turns, it became a two-man, three-panel whirlwind tour.

We didn’t know what to expect at GMX. I assumed it would be something like MTAC, only smaller and slightly less anime-focused.

Main Events

Smaller, yes. Not too small, but not too big. For the convention’s size, I think the Opryland Radisson was the perfect choice. The large, open atrium was used as the Main Events track, which

I thought was brilliant. Unless you were in a panel room, you knew what was going on at any given time.

Main Events
Main Events

There wasn’t as much anime as I expected based on the MTAC connection. The schedule was extremely varied, although (between our short stay and running our own panels) we missed a lot of

interesting-looking panels. Given the breadth of the topics covered and the size of the con, there were occasionally blocks where I couldn’t find much interesting going on. I suspect a lot of

that will settle out in the coming years as the con grows and the most popular events return.

Not being a huge Stargate or Voyager fan, I wasn’t too excited about the guests. I was disappointed that Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol on Battlestar Galactica)

canceled because of a scheduling conflict. However, I was surprised at the caliber of guests GMX, being only two years old, managed to line up.

Still, I love the atmosphere. I’m sold on going back next year, and probably presenting a few more panels. If I can sell it to everyone else in the group, attending all three days and

staying at the con hotel would be awesome. To save some cash on this experiment, we stayed one night at an Econo Lodge a ways down Briley Parkway, and I felt like I missed out on a lot.

Upside, though: soap dispensers from the world of tomorrow
Upside, though: soap dispensers from the world of tomorrow

The panels I did attend were entertaining. The Man Power hosted the slightly off-topic but always hilarious Spoon! A Tick Fan

Panel and Jackie Chan: Master of Cinema. The Man Power put on an awesome panel, even if you don’t have the slightest clue about the topic (confession: I’ve only seen a

handful of Jackie Chan’s movies, and only the American ones).

Saturday night, I was in Standing Too Close To The Fire: Burn Notice, which mostly featured stories from the set (the host was the son of one of the show’s crew).

I also caught Boba Fett: The Man, The Myth, The… Clone? on Sunday morning. I’m not a huge Boba Fett fan, but I did happen to agree with the general sentiment that making Boba Fett a clone was one of the horrible side-effects of the prequel trilogy.

Our panels went fairly well, despite the fact that I nearly had a panic attack on Saturday morning worrying about them.

Game Development with XNA went over well. I’d initially geared my talk and slides for non-programmers, but I realized about halfway through that I was getting too technical

while not touching a bit of code. Skipping through most of my technical points, I opened up for questions and discussion about halfway through. Turns out there were several coders in the

audience with specific questions. (This is also where I’m glad I attended that Windows Phone 7 Developer Bootcamp.) The questions and discussions were great–it’s always a good sign when

discussion among attendees breaks out during the Q&A segment.

Dungeons and Dragons And Other Stuff, Too was surprisingly a success. As Chad and Charlie had to drop for various reasons, it was just John and me. I had no fear of

contributing to a conversation, but I figured there’d be little to play on if audience participation was light. Thankfully, we had a great and active crowd and some amazing discussion take

place. I learned a little bit that I didn’t know about AD&D 2nd Edition.

If there was anything I found slightly disturbing, it was that people were asking us for our opinions on general concepts like homebrew settings. I’m happy to offer my thoughts and spur discussion, but on such

a broad and diverse subject as tabletop RPGs, I’m not sure my word is gospel. But open up a discussion panel and I guess people think you’re an authority.

Our final panel, Podcasting 101 was a good end to the con. Gothic Gaara from the Naruto podcast Konoha

Corner, who we’d met at the AWA Podcaster Roundtable, stepped in. (Having a second set of opinions was great, especially from someone who does a much different style of podcast than we

do–there’s no one right way to do a podcast.) The turnout was a bit light, but that meant Q&A was a bit more loose and free. We filmed this, and it should be up on YouTube sometime this


Our time at GMX was fun, short, and too full. We met some new friends and caught up with old ones–something we’ve never been able to do quite the same way at MTAC or AWA, given the crowds

those cons draw in. I’m impressed, and I’m looking forward to next year.

(I took a very few photos, which can be found on Flickr.)

Loose Canons

Loose Canons

So yes, this makes two book blog posts almost back to back. (At least this one didn’t sit around for over a week on my desktop–I just finished reading it last night.)

I’m not making it a habit, but I did want to mention Loose Canons because I’m friends with the guy who wrote it and would really like to get the word out. (No, really, this is completely unsolicited–if you know Chad you know he’d probably grumble at the idea of someone else writing a blog post about his work.)

The Loose Canons cycle is several years old, so–more or less quietly–he put it up on Amazon’s Kindle platform for $0.99 for the heck of it. You don’t actually need a Kindle–you can read it on your PC, Blackberry, Droid, fruitPhone, or fruitPad.

(This was actually the first time I’d read it all the way through, as sitting down to read it on my Blackberry is much more convenient than someone handing you a stack of papers and saying “what do you think of this?”)

So, for less than a dollar, you get all this:

Loose Canons is a collection of 10 interconnected short stories which explore a world in which even the gods themselves are faithless and incompetent. Along the way, it encompasses humor, mythology, and questioning faith as less-than-heroic characters are tested–and found wanting.

  • A church conducts interviews to find their new god.
  • A god puts one of his priests to the test – and the cleric flunks miserably.
  • A cadre of deities files a lawsuit against God for putting them out of work.
  • Two gods set out to keep the secrets of the hamburgers of the deities out of mortal hands.
  • The village idiot sets out to kill Time so he can live forever.

The world (multiverse, I should say) of Loose Canons is complex and somewhat twisted, while still being whimsical in a Hitchiker’s Guide sort of way.

After losing all of his worshippers, Thoth, Lord of Knowledge, ends up flipping burgers at a fast food joint on modern-day Earth. Chanticleer, Lord of Storms, goes chasing after a demonic fast-food clown mascot who has stolen a secret hamburger recipe from Brahma’s restaurant on Olympus (ironically called The Sacred Cow). Aurus, Slayer of the Undead, is stripped of his divinity wagering with another god on the faithfulness of his high priest. Eridain Calumna Spear-Thrower, chosen hero of the gods, gets caught in a spat between Time and Death.

Incidentally, I ran this post by Chad, and he wanted me to add this disclaimer: “I’m an equal-opportunity offender. You may also want to mention that I’m probably going to hell, no matter what religion you follow.”

Also, Chad is working on a new book over the summer, a combination of dark fantasy and an even darker modern-day dystopia tentatively called Revolution.

What I’ve Been Reading – Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work

Shop Class as Soulcraft

This is a book I happened to pick up off a sale table at a bookstore because it looked interesting (and was buy-one-get-one-50% off). Having become surprisingly domestic (for me, anyway) in the last couple of years, I could buy into the premise of manual labor as an essential part of the human experience, and I wanted to see the author’s take. (I tend to enjoy reading books that develop to a conclusion half-formed ideas I already have–it makes me feel like I’m not crazy, while still requiring me to think.)

As a video-game-nerd-turned-software-developer (and yes, the former led into the latter) my life has been built around electronic abstractions. Yet I’ve come to a point where it usually doesn’t make me feel as capable as putting my hand to an actual physical craft. (Having been programming for over a decade, part of that is that I know it well enough to be hypercritical–but I digress.)

In large part, the book is arguing against the growing “knowledge worker” business culture, in that it (in the author’s view) often thrives on rules versus critical thinking, produces no tangible product, and cultivates no real skill or appreciation for a craft.

Parallel to this, he argues that we’ve become a culture of consumers, quick to dispose, ready to replace rather than repair–a culture based on the abstract rather than the concrete and physical. This changes not just the way we value our resources and possessions (the value of time versus money, if nothing else), but the way we value our own skillsets. Fixing and building just isn’t worth the complexity, time, and frustration anymore–but the author is asking whether there’s not something unquantifiable that we’ve left out of the equation. The author’s argument sometimes feels a bit overstated but in my opinion he’s not too far off the mark.

As a software developer, in fact, I feel like I’m caught between the two extremes. Programming has an element of craftsmanship, and as such it’s not a predictable job that can be governed by strict rules. But it doesn’t quite have a tangible outcome–not in the same sense that, say, woodworking or engine repair does. There is definitely a product being produced, but it is (or at least is perceived as being) infinitely malleable. As such, much of the author’s respect for physical, (semi-)permanent finished products doesn’t really apply–and those properties are central to his point. In some ways, our attitudes towards software can be more in line with the disposable culture that the author rails against. And, to top it all off, software is often surrounded by the culture that the author associates with “knowledge worker” jobs.

This is not to say anything bad about software development, because I enjoy it and couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Rather, I think, it’s a different perspective which can inform my own, and can remove some of the rough edges. It’s an outsider’s perspective–a safeguard against a vacuum chamber. And it’s a reminder not to take things too seriously, because no hobby or craft is an end in itself.

The book’s tone towards the “knowledge worker” culture in business also seems a bit dire, but at the same time I’ve seen the problem when I consider some of the unemployed and underemployed people I know. It seems that, if you don’t pick a specialized field, go for an advanced degree, and network like crazy while you’re in college, you’re left out in the cold. With those options exhausted, there seems to be little demand for specialization and no obvious path to prepare yourself to compete for a job–it’s mostly retail or general office work or what have you. I happen to be (extremely) lucky to have fallen into a career path where there’s a clear, inexpensive path for an amateur to work his way into a professional career. I’m thankful for that, but it’s also very frustrating to know that’s not the norm.

But the book isn’t looking at the macro scale, and as such, isn’t offering a revolutionary solution. I’m not even sure it’s saying that the system is totally and completely broken–only that we have taken a very one-sided mindset. The book is talking on a decidedly personal and philosophical level. Even so, it is not encouraging you to quit your job, mortgage your house, and set up some sort of repair shop.

Overall, it’s definitely a book that falls into the category of “mental exercise”–books I might not actually go back and read or reference, but it challenges the status quo. It makes you question your assumptions and gives you a taste of a different viewpoint, even if you don’t come out seeing eye to eye with the author.


Last year was the first time I’d ever given up anything for Lent. I’ve just never been in a tradition that does that sort of thing. But last year I had a couple of friends who did it, so I joined in and gave up meat. I think it’s a good experience to give up something voluntarily, for a lot of reasons–religious or not.

So this year I’m going to give up meat again. And having seen bits and pieces of it last year on Twitter, I’m also going to do 40 days of Water. The idea is that you drink only water for 40 days, and donate the money you would have spent on other beverages.

Last year I was actually successful in avoiding meat. This year… we’ll see.

On Originality

This is a short essay I wrote up a while ago. There are a number of topics like this going around in the back of my mind that I’ve thought about writing out. I’m not sure if the tone of all of those are quite right for this blog or any site where I post regularly, so I don’t know if the rest will make it onto the web, but we’ll see.

Our generation, I think, has a funny way of looking at originality. And what’s really funny is, this is especially prevalent in circles that are considered “geeky.” Originality is the holy grail of this generation’s geeks. If something is similar, it’s a rip-off…
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Camping at Indian Boundary


Last weekend, Chad, his wife Kate, and I headed up to Indian Boundary in Tellico to go camping.

I can’t say it didn’t start without its issues. Chad had been talking this up to a handful of people for about two months, trying to get people to respond (unfortunately I hadn’t really spread the word like I should have), haggling over a weekend that would work for everyone, and eventually (due to other circumstances) having people bail a week before.

Morale was a little low and stress was a bit high trying to get camp set up on Friday evening before dark. Chad and Kate’s new puppy Zoe was also a bit hard to handle, and so Chad ended up running Kate and Zoe back home late Friday night. (Leaving me tending to the fire for about two hours in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone signal and no car.) To be honest, if we’d had at least one more set of hands, I don’t think it would have been so bad.

Despite the rocky start, it was very relaxing. Most of my social activities–from simple trips up to Knoxville, to conventions like DragonCon, AWA, and MTAC, to walking around downtown St. Augustine and Disney–end up being indulgences into consumerism: if you’re not buying, you’re probably drooling over something you’d like to buy, or something you’ve already bought. Other than a trip to Gander Mountain for some minor camping gadgetry, there was barely a hint of that sort of thing.

Addtionally, no cell phone signal meant no contact with the outside world–so my hopes of twittering and checking email with my brand-new Blackberry Storm were shot. But I learned to embrace it. Trying to curb the itch to twitter every quirky detail of the trip (including, ironically, the fact that I didn’t have any signal) made me feel like the worst kind of attention whore. As I pointed out in my last post, you never realize how bad off you actually are until something forces you to reconsider it in a different light.

Indian Boundary

I also kept reconsidering a tweet I’d read earlier on Friday: “Was challenged by a friend this morning to not look at life as ‘Tweetable Moments’ but to be present and grateful.” There’s really no better place to force yourself to stop worrying or pushing yourself and just be present than half an hour from civilization, up in the mountains, with no cell phone signal–only the distant, frightening sound of banjos.

There’s also something about being able to fend for yourself–well, as much as you can call what we did fending for ourselves. Between Chad and I, we were able to keep a small fire going for most of the cooking. And honestly, I think we went overboard on cooking. Kate prepared salmon with lemon and thyme for Friday night and chicken in Italian dressing for Saturday’s lunch; I prepared some beer-marinated steak and veggies for Saturday’s dinner. Very delicious stuff, but Chad kept griping about how we couldn’t just do something simple like hot dogs.

Also, Chad packed a very small flask of Jagermeister, despite the “NO ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES” signs posted everywhere. I’ve discovered that I find it fairly delicious in small quantities when served extremely cold.

Trying to plan a bigger camping trip was a nice idea, but there’s something to be said for the autonomy in a very small group. Had we had several more people, there’d have been much to-do made over getting people motivated on the same schedule and making sure no one felt left out. I spent most of the morning wandering around the 3.2 mile trail that loops around the lake by myself. A good portion of the trail is far away from the main boating, swimming, and camping areas, and it’s very beautiful out there.

Having completely forgotten the memory card for my camera, I decided to try out the Storm’s camera, which I really like. I’m still getting the hang of the settings, but I think I may prefer it to my digital camera, even if it doesn’t have anywhere near the same number of megapixels. The photos are up on Flickr as well as this site.

Later, I walked the trail again with Chad. So all told, I probably walked about 8 miles on Saturday. There was some talk about planning a backpacking trip, but I suspect we’ll get even less interest on that one.

And the weather was great all weekend, save for an untimely rainstorm on Sunday that turned a packing job of a few hours into a 15 minute rush to stuff everything in the car and get the heck out of there.