Even the animals in the house do GTD

Just so you know Pixel does GTD. :)

I noticed Pixel nosing about in my inbox a few minutes ago. And for some reason she was rather persistent in there, so my normal “shoo” movements had no effect. When I finally got her out of the way I noticed what she was nosing about.

Apparently a house-fly was dead in my inbox.

Either one of two things happened:

  • Pixel dropped the fly in there in the hopes that I would eventually process the fly, or:
  • The fly conveniently passed on in my inbox awaiting Pixel or myself to process and organize it.

Either way it’s nice to know the animals in the house do some form of GTD. :)

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Morning confessional

81b-S3CqKgL._SL1400_

I’m sure that Lang Lang is a great pianist, but his album covers creep me out and keep me from checking out his music.

As much as I love Herbie Hancock, I’ve avoided his collaborative works (River, The Imagine Project).

I’ve not checked out Joshua Bell’s recordings.

I’m not a huge fan of vocal music but for some reason I still want to hear a Wagnerian Opera, just to get it over with.

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Posthuman Studios raises the bar in the pantheon of awesome

Adding to the growing pantheon of awesome companies with phenomenal customer service is Rob Boyle of Posthuman Studios. Around Christmas-time I realized the Panopticon book that I’d purchased from my FLGS was coming apart. I sent a photo over to Posthuman Studios and after a little back and forth discussion they sent me a new copy of the book gratis.

Posthuman Studios is already tops in my book with every one of the Eclipse Phase books being 100% Creative Commons. But it’s good to know that Posthuman also stands behind their products 100%.

Thank you Rob Boyle and Posthuman Studios for being the sort of company that makes it easy to support. That’s part of the reason the banner on my site is directly from the core Eclipse Phase book.

Computers: Making Identity Theft Possible

directory_nonsenseWhen your entire business model is pretty much a moot point in the digital age your best line of defense is to go the paranoia route.

Never mind that said directory arrived in an unsealed envelope to our house, and anyone in said congregation has access to your address / phone number / email address whether they need it or not.

Yep, computers make this possible.

Busy Busy Bugs Redux

Busy Busy Bugs

Back in 2007 I participated in PyWeek 4. The results of that contest were a game that I “released” called “Busy Busy Bugs”. The premise is you are a spray can of insecticide trying to keep bugs away from your plants. Every time they attack your flower it “droops” a little more. There’s also a little bee that comes by and “gives life” to your plants.

It’s a silly little game and I only coded 20 levels for it. But one of the pieces of feedback has stuck with me.

Apparently someone played it beyond level 100. Several folks played it beyond the initial 20 levels that I’d coded. (The ratings are here)

I’ve considered giving this another go for several years but for whatever reason haven’t. But since I can’t come up with anything else that sticks I figure now is the time to give this little game the 20% polish it needs to be a great game.

You can help too. Source is available on Github: https://github.com/craigmaloney/busybusybugs

Part of this return was because of  a Lewis Pulsipher class that I’m taking where it states that you’re not a real designer until you’ve properly released a game. Since this never got the proper release I think it deserves it’s high time that I give it the attention to “finish it” and move on to other ideas.

So, 6-7 years later this thing will be finished. Released. Done. It’ll be code that I’m proud to show folks.

Wish me well.

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The Quantified Self

Chalk this one up to another one of my blinding flashes of the obvious.

On a recent episode of Back to Work they mentioned about quantifying yourself. Dan and Merlin talked about how they use the FitBit for tracking both their sleep and movement. I’ve been using mine as a little motivator for keeping myself to my modest step goals and it’s helped me to keep mobile both at work and at home. More importantly they also talk about seamlessly tracking what has your attention which got me thinking about using the Web Timer software that I used for my Media Diet experiment in September. Re-reading those posts is enlightening to me for several reasons:

  • I’m still fighting the same demons as I was back then, which is not great
  • When I actually took inventory of what it was that I was doing online I changed my behavior (sometimes for the better, other times as a response to the tracking).

I find that it’s better for me to have some way of determining progress for myself, which is why I love sites like Goodreads for tracking what I’m reading (and showing my progress and giving me a sense of accomplishment when I complete a book). I love when my wrist buzzes to let me know when I’ve hit my step goal (something that will hopefully be happening later today). I remind myself to stay on task when I see WEb Timer counting up the minutes when I’m on Google Plus for more minutes than I wanted to spend.

I was using a site called Habbit.me for tracking my daily habits but have since moved to Lift.do as there is active development on the site. My reasons for tracking my habits there are to remind me to keep up with what I want to be doing, and to give myself the cookie / check mark when I do those things to advance.

I’m finding that I like to have my little report cards of how well I am doing, and wonder how to incorporate more of them in my day. If you have any suggestions please feel free to leave them in the comments.

What do you use to quantify your self? Do you find it a useful exercise? Let me know!

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Shitty controls in video games.

I’d love to understand why there’s a certain video-game fad over featuring shitty controls.

Flappy Bird: Shitty Controls.
QWOP: Shitty Controls.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch: Shitty Controls.

Intellivision w/ controllers.

16 directions of freedom, none of them the one you wanted. (photo: Wikipedia)

Perhaps the reason I’m so jaded with playing these games is because I’m old enough to remember the Intellivision, Colecovision, and Atari 5200. Been there. Done that. Even Gallagher commented on it.

I remember reading an old Lucasarts article in Atari Connection where they gave their tips on how to make video games. #7 was “Make it hard”.

Games need to be hard to be challenging, but the hard parts should be fun rather than frustrating. Don’t make the game difficulty by making the controls difficult to use or the gameplay arbitrary; instead make the game difficult by making the tasks heroic. “I finally collected all 99 treasures!” is a lot more rewarding than “I finally got the joystick to work!”

Perhaps it’s a poke in the eye of classic design wisdom, but I find games that rely on controls that really don’t directly control the protagonist to be pretty tiresome. Sure, there’s a bit of humor to the premise of Octodad: Dadliest Catch. But if the main feature of your game is a completely incompetent protagonist who has no control over basic functions like walking, picking up things, or even flying then you’ve lost me on the point of the game.

I lived through the Intellivision controllers. I don’t need my phone to remind me.

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, 2014/02/16. Category: Games, Rants.

Completely Amazingly Superb and Above the Call of Duty Customer Service

I’ve wanted to post this for a while. You’ll remember I recently posted about a dreadful customer service experience with Barnes and Noble and an amazing customer service from O’Reilly Media. I was tempted to include this experience in that previous post but thought better of it for various reasons.

One of those reasons was because it would have either overshadowed O’Reilly Media (who are still awesome) or would have been buried in the post. And that would have been criminal.

Because Tasty Minstrel Games has Completely Amazingly Superb and Above the Call of Duty Customer Service that has garnered me as a fan for life.

I came to know of a game called Terra Prime via Board Game Geek which was one of the early games published by Tasty Minstrel Games. I’ve been a fan of their newer games like Eminent Domain, Dungeon Heroes, Martian Dice, Belfort and Il Vecchio which have amazing components. I think the reason these games have such amazing components was because of their experience putting together Terra Prime. Unfortunately the game had some trouble with the components and as a result some of the pieces are punched a bit off so the game as it stands has some pieces that are obviously different from other pieces. It’d be like having a poker deck where the backs of the face cards are visibly off a little bit.

I traded someone on Board Game Geek for a copy of Terra Prime on the hopes that his version wasn’t one of the ones that had the printing error. I’ve read through the rules and seen some of the playthroughs online and thought the game looked interesting.

Fortunately the copy I have is completely unpunched. That’ll become more important later on but was completely unexpected.

Unfortunately the copy was one of the ones that had a printing error. Bummer!

The game has been out of print for a while but I thought there might be an off-chance that Tasty Minstrel Games might have some left-over corrected copies of the pieces. On a lark I sent the following message:

Hello,

I recently traded for a copy of Terra Prime, and received an unpunched version (which is awesome). Unfortunately it appears I got one of the versions that had a printing error on the following sheets. I was wondering if it would be possible to receive a replacement for the attached counter sheets.

Also I was wondering if your company would be opposed to having someone make a Vassal module of Terra Prime. I think this game would be a perfect candidate for such a conversion as there were some initial printing hiccups and it’s not a particularly well known game that might benefit from more exposure.

Please let me know when you have a chance. Thanks!

I sent them the following image in the hopes that they might have some extra copies. Hey, it’s worth a shot and worst case they’ll say “no, sorry.” and I’ll still have a collector’s item. Win win, right?

Terra Prime Sheets

Terra Prime Sheets that I wanted to have replaced.

A few days pass, and much to my surprise I get a note back from Michael Mindes of Tasty Minstrel Games writes back apologizing that they no longer have any replacement sheets for Terra Prime and apologizing for my trade for a game that wasn’t complete.

In return he offered to send me my choice of that size of game as replacement.

So I made a trade that I knew may or may not pan out for me (which I told them) and now the company is offering to send me a replacement game for my trouble?

Folks, I don’t know what they call that sort of customer service where you are but for me that is completely above-board, fan-for-life service. That is “how would you like the blank checks addressed or should I just write ‘CASH’ to make it easier?” levels of service.

And on top of it he gave me permission to create a VASSAL version of Terra Prime.

So to recap:

1) Tasty Minstrel Games is awesome and deserve your hard earned money
2) Michael Mindes is a customer support hero, taking care of customers who knowingly do silly things by making them feel smart.
3) I need to learn how to make a VASSAL module.

Rialto Game

Rialto game, shrinkwrapped and ready to go to the table.

And to top it off I have a shrinkwrapped copy of Rialto that JoDee and I will enjoy.

Thank you Tasty Minstrel Games for being Completely Amazingly Superb and Above the Call of Duty!

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Testing

Testing one two three. This is only a test.

A Tale of Two Customer Service Departments

I’m a reasonable guy.

I start with this because I like to think that I’m not an unreasonable person. Do right by me and I’ll be satisfied. But make me jump through hoops and I’ll be very disappointed.

This is the tale of two completely different customer service experiences.

Experience the first

Recently I picked up a copy of a book from Barnes and Noble’s Nook store. It was Artificial Intelligence for Games and is a book that I’ve been looking at for quite some time. So before the Christmas holiday I pulled the trigger on the book and purchased it. I felt a little twinge of guilt after purchasing it because it’s an expensive book ($77.95. Remember that number, as there will be a test later on) but I convinced myself that it was worth it because it’s supposed to be a very good book on Artificial Intelligence.

The download of the book finished way too quickly, but I didn’t think much of it. I opened the book.

I realized that I’d downloaded a book that was 30 pages long.

OK, so maybe they have some funky page numbering scheme. It happens. eBooks are weird right?

Nope. 30 pages with one single introductory paragraph on each page.

I tried archiving the book and re-downloading it. Each time I was greeted with the same number of pages and the same content. So now I’m really upset. I just paid “instant-guilt” money for a book that is defective (or more likely one that the publisher intended to be the sample). I quickly looked up Barnes and Noble’s contact information and posted a request. They sent back a note that asked for 10-15 business days to check with their content team. That’s fine. At least I’d be able to get some relief from this.

Time passes.

I send a note on January 8th: “It appears the book is still in an unreadable state. Would it be possible instead to get a refund or credit for the book?”

Instead of the “We’re sorry, here’s your money back. No harm no foul” mail that I was expecting I got a note thanking me for my patience. They also asked “Based on the situation you described, we feel that the difficulties you
are experiencing would be resolved best by contacting us by phone and you will be forwarding to the next level of our support.”

Those who know me know that I’m really against using the phone if I can avoid it. This seemed like one of those situations where an email should be all of the contact required. After all: what are my sonorous and dulcet tones on the phone going to provide other than the ability for someone to tell me “something went pear-shaped and we’re really sorry – here’s your money back”? Unless that wasn’t the case and I was going to keep both pieces.

I protested:

I fail to understand how calling you would get me to the next level of support? Wouldn’t forwarding the ticket to the next level of support suffice? I’m not a fan of using the phone in situations where an email would suffice. This appears to be one of those situations.

I’m pretty sure the issue is that CRC Press didn’t give you the right file for distribution and you’re having trouble getting the right file from them. That’s completely understandable. I also understand you might need some more time to sort this out. In the mean time I’m out $77.95 while you and CRC Press sort this out. Meanwhile I feel like a chump for purchasing an unusable book (one that I might add is available in physical for cheaper from your competitor).

I want to believe this can be resolved simply, over email, without me making a phone call (which again: I do not like to use the phone). Please advise how this can be rectified so that we’re both happy and I’m no longer feeling like a chump who should never have purchased this Nook book.

Looking forward to an amicable resolution.

Thanks!

Surely that should rouse someone to action! The customer is unhappy and has a solution for us to pursue! To arms! Tally ho and all that nonsense.

Nope. They doubled down. They insisted I call, even after I sent the following:

Again, I would rather not call, but yet you insist I need to call to make this right. Rather than give me the customer service I would like and treat me as a guest you are instead forcing me to conform to your system.

Tread carefully. I’m rethinking my future purchases with your company.

Please advise if this is still the course you would have me take.

The didn’t relent. I was livid.

Fine. I’ll call.

After navigating the rapids of Phone Menu River I managed to get the robotic voice to assure me that someone would be with me shortly. 15 minutes later it was still telling me someone would be with me shortly. Pithy Smooth Jazz music tried to cheer me up, but there’s only so much of the same loop one can take (especially over the phone).

Finally “not-really-her-name” answers the phone. She verifies that it is me who is calling by asking me account information. My mood is “asshole-factor-5″. Your system is the reason I’m here and now you’ve made me mad in the process. You could have had Mr. Pleasant on the other end of the phone but instead you stuck your hand in the nest and shook vigorously.

After about 5 minutes of re-iterating the email that I sent (with a brief pause while she replicated the problem) she says “It looks like the book is only 30 pages long”.

“Look” I fumed “let me ask you something. Would you spend $77.95 on a book that was thirty pages long with one paragraph each? Person to person here.”

Apparently I got through to her because she agreed with me. Unfortunately there was one problem, and likely the problem that started the whole reason for our phone conversation in the first place. She needed to get a manager to approve a refund larger than $50.

So, could she notify the appropriate people via the ticket and have things taken care of without me hanging on the phone? Of course not. Apparently there is a gulf between first-level and second-level support in Nook-ville that prevents all forms of communication other than by phone. Perhaps they live in the Nook monastery high atop Nook mountain where they do nothing but meditate on each new application and book that shall be blessed to come into the Nookiverse. Whatever. I berated her for what should have been a transparent process that had now taken 20 minutes of my time and likely could have been resolved by email, and then sighed as she transferred me to the next level.

Different Smooth Jazz this time. “Asshole-factor-9″ engaged.

“Not-really-his-name” answered the phone and let me know that “not-really-her-name” let him know about the problem. I berated him for exposing me to what should have been a transparent process, and chastised him that I had to call to get this sorted out. Undeterred he let me know that they would issue me a “one-time” refund on this item. One-time? So if I make the mistake to order this item again before it’s ready then I’m stuck with it forever? Whatever. I agreed and the refund was processed. He asked if they got this sorted out if I would like to be notified. Sure, though I’m not likely to wait for it.

I also asked that if he had any empowerment with this process to please see that it gets fixed. He agreed though in the way that sounded more like “anything to get you off this phone” way of agreeing.

I made a mental note never to buy anything on the Nook more than $50.

Experience the better

Later that evening I was at Coffee House Coders and noticed Les Orchard had a pretty neat path-finding algorithm running in the game that he was developing. I asked him where he got the algorithm. He mentioned the O’Reilly book “AI for Game Developers” which I had looked at briefly before but wasn’t sure if it was all that great. I took another look on O’Reilly’s site and decided to purchase it. O’Reilly has a user-group program where their books are 50% off if you use a code so I tried the code and found that it didn’t work on that book. I tried several times, and noticed that it worked on other books but not that one.

Huh.

I decided to put it on hold for the interim (the whole “no new books” thing that I’m sort-of-following for January) but thought I’d let O’Reilly know.

One email of “Hey the code isn’t working” and a quick exchange of “you’re buying just the eBook right?” “Yup” and the representative from O’Reilly did something awesome:

They added the book to my account.

No muss. No fuss. No wailing and gnashing of teeth. No needless phone calls.

Minutes later I’m an ecstatic customer.

Now this isn’t the first time that O’Reilly has been awesome and I usually look through their books first for any topic that interests me. Their quality is usually great and the no DRM policy is a huge win. I usually want to throw money at O’Reilly whenever I can.

After that exchange I’m not sure I have enough money to throw at them.

Experience the difference

Two similar customer experiences with two completely different results.

Barnes and Noble had me jumping through hoops because I couldn’t receive satisfaction for something I purchased. O’Reilly jumped through hoops to ensure I was a happy customer because I couldn’t use a discount coupon.

Barnes and Noble treated me as though I was pulling a fast one and did so with under-empowered staff. O’Reilly treated me as though it was their fault they couldn’t serve me the way I wanted to be served with staff who were empowered to make things right.

Barnes and Noble will be lucky to see any purchases over $50 from me, ever. O’Reilly will likely see many purchases from me.

Thank you O’Reilly for being awesome. If Barnes and Noble were serious about their platform they’d be wise to take notice.