Thursday, 20 August 2015

My personal review of Will Wheatons RPG Show: Titansgrave

So Will Wheaton set out to create an epic pen and paper RPG show, and he succeeded! Season 1 is now complete and I just can't wait for season two!

If you have no idea of what I am talking about, just go check out the link below. If you have yet to play your first pen and paper RPG, then let this be inspiration:
http://geekandsundry.com/shows/titansgrave/

Now, I have quite a few critiques of a rather (well, okay, extremely) nerdy nature to make. But since this RPG adventure was made, recorded, and edited to be an enjoyable viewing experience for us the interwebbers I will ignore most of my inner complaints. I simply have too little to base them on. I do however have tons of praise to give, but let's get the bad out of the way first. Two issues. Both only minor ones.

Critique

Minor bad no. 1

Jeremy, Aankia's robot minion was often forgotten, mostly useless, and served primarily as a comic relief. In no way the fault of the players but rather that of the game master (GM), as it is a quite well-known fact that creatures without initiative will be forgotten once story unfolds. For battles I think it would have been better to let Jeremy have his own stats and always have the same initiative roll as Aankia (allowing Aankia to choose whether Jeremy was to take his turn right before, or after her own). When in social environments the GM should punish a player not communicating the actions of their minion, or the minion should simply have a turn in such events as well, helping the player to remember the minion each turn. I loved Jeremy's persona, and it fitted well for Aankia to have such a side-kick. It seemed to me that Will as GM controlled Jeremy's persona but Aankia his actions. That was good a choice. Jeremy's affection towards Lemley was adorable and funny. This is purely game mechanic critique but one caused by the GM. Mr. Wheaton, you missed great opportunities for flair here!

Minor bad no. 2

Lack of social/romantic interaction. This I blame on the players, but possibly it is just the web show format that forces this... However, experienced RPG players will flesh out their characters all the way. Not just perks, quirks, and back-story but sexuality, dreams, and hopes as well. The short term and long term goals in the game was kind of a helping hand to the players but all in all, for all the characters' individuality they all basically were just quest-crunching simpletons. They had emotional issues with their past but no emotions towards their surroundings... 5 golds and party, and no smooching? Really?! Will did build bonds of affection into the game though, that kept the party together. Aankia as Lemley's tinkerer, Slethkk and Lemley's obvious affectionate protectiveness of each other, and Kiliel kind on her own, but still with that "big sister" sort of love towards the rest, especially Lemley.

The best pen and papers session campaigns I have ever played used about half the time on events not concerning fighting. Many hilarious hours can be spent role playing your characters getting into trouble at taverns, stealing from shop owners due to lack of money for gear, etc. All actions and decisions made here were just as important as later battle dice rolls as preparation is half the battle!

I guess I generally felt the characters and their party were "just there", and then the adventure began. I have no idea of how experienced the players were but a lot more could be done here. Maybe a lot more did happen? And it was just edited away for the show? I tell myself that :) But I am telling you... someone talking extra damage in a fight due dexterity penalties caused by a drunken tavern brawl the night before... or a mildly night blind axe wielding brute getting ambushed by wolves, at night, when weapon-less, is just hilarious! But obviously, not suitable for a TV show where the main plot has to progress. Still, I felt more could be done here.

Praise

Okay, so on to the praise. Basically this is a 9/10 for me. Well, actually a 10/10 as I have yet to see anyone do a show like this any better, and I feel it raised the bar for everyone else. I loved every episode, was never bored, and I missed playing soooo much myself after watching, every time... Will Wheaton, your mission was a success! I salute you!

I want to highlight a few specific things:

Production

Brilliant! The added art work, the beautiful show intro, the sound effects on Will's voice and the music. Just the right amount, but not too much. The story still played out in my head (as pen and paper adventures should) but the production helped set the tone and atmosphere. I have myself tried playing several RPGs where the GM changed background music according to what was happening, and voice acted as best as possible. It does wonders. Even more so, when done professionally and I think it was essential for making it a viewing experience worth the time for us not directly participating. Love, love, love and praise! Hugs from me all around!

Game Master

Will Wheaton was very good as GM. He was as any GM should be: Serious, poker faced, and strict. His campaign, story telling, etc. was all epic, but had he just fooled about it would have been for nothing. He didn't. Players will create actual bonds in RPGs and start messing about and often start banging against the 4th wall as much as possible just for kicks. The GM's job is to keep everyone in-character, in-game. Wheaton did that quite well, and still made room for jokes and great fun.

GM +5 to Sharpness for describing the surroundings at each area very well, but never too well. So when a player (Kiliel, especially, did a great job at this)  did a perception check he would tell more, very detailed things about the area... even if it gave nothing useful to the players. However, that is what the players saw, so that is what he told! Gold! How much was planned, and how much Will made up on the fly I do not know... but either way, he is brilliant.

Aankia

Normally I am against players playing characters with a sex different to their your own personally chosen sex (see, taking transsexuals into account. Oh, how modern and thoughtful I am!). Simply because we, both male and female, paint the stereotypes way to thick when playing as a different sex. However, as Aankia was of a reptile species, and her persona was very seclusive, I think Hank Green played her extremely well. Hank did, of all the players, have the hardest time staying in-character but he did however have some of the most interesting character quirks when he did. He also made it quite obvious when his jokes were out-of-character, and Will quite rightfully put him in his place when he overdid it. Introvert characters are hard to play. They have to rely a lot on their friends to make the experience dynamic and interesting. I think Hank took the challenge and came out on top. Aankia had her own agenda, and it felt like she might easily go against the group if her personal rationalisations would have it. By far the most complex character of the bunch. Loved Hank's take on it.

Kiliel

Alison Haislip was a joy to watch play. She felt as if she was very experienced, made good use of her character's abilities, acted great as the scout her character was (using perception every time she had the chance), and basically shot first and asked question later. I kind of got the feeling Alison might actually be like that in real life ;) She was also very quick, acting while Will was still explaining. I think Will appreciated that. I know I would as a GM. It makes the story more real-time and reactive. Kiliel was a more classic RPG character. Fairly quest goal-oriented and straight-forward. But the active ability use and hilariously bad potion dice rolls soon made me forget that.

Lemley

My favourite character by far. A traumatic childhood, a half cybernetic body making her feel ashamed, but still proud of her power and awesomeness. So much pain and pride, punched together creating a nearly manic personality. Act first, think later... or often not at all :P Laura Bailey was also the absolute best at staying in character all the time, and she physically acted out her actions, described Lemley's awesome stunts and role-played it all the way. I remember thinking "what is wrong with her?" in the first episode until I figured out that heeeey Lemley aint that bright ;) The one extra intelligence she got later actually helped... ehm... A little bit :P Laura Bailey clearly had a blast, just as Lemley did, and it was a delight to watch. Kiliel will grab anything shiny and punch anything that looks just remotely punchable! :)

S'Lethkk

So S'Lethkk's story was the true hero story. The sweet boy, though with darkness in his past, rising to the occasion. Shear luck/misfortune would also have it that Yuri Lowenthal rolled terribly in the begging of the game, fumbled and was basically just miserable. Perfect! It fitted brilliantly and Yuri played it fittingly. Also, oh man, Yuri has an intense face. I swear I stopped breathing when all the bad stuff with his brother happened, and got all emotional simply by watching him. S'Lethkk seemed like a straight-forward character but due to the events in the campaign, complex personal dilemmas were thrown in the mix, and interesting internal battles had to be fought. I think S'Lethkk and Lemley should hold hands and be the oddest sweet couple on Valkana! ^_^

Season 2... Gimme!

Yea, it was a both horrible and awesome cliff-hanger ending of season 1. Oh and the pain of it visible in Alison's face... priceless! ;) Now, Will Wheaton... listen here... you go make that season 2 now, and you better have it ready by next week or I shall be very cross with you indeed! ;)

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Brilliant article about effectiveness

Dave Girouard wrote an excellent article about work speed. I would however call it a great article about being effective as a leader (as opposed to efficient), the result of effectiveness being speed, obviously.

Great article with good examples and some good advice. Obviously, there are no rules of thumb when interacting people but that is especially why I like this piece. It's simple, fairly straight to the point but doesn't try to formulate the message as a silver bullet (as no such thing exists).

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did:
Speed as a habbit, by Dave Girouard, via First Round Review

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Life is just a ride, and how to avoid ending in the void.

Bill Hicks used to say "life is just a ride", and I completely agree.

He wasn't just talking about not taking life too seriously, but doing what you love, and making that your life. Whenever I set a goal for myself I remember Bill's words. I use them to stay mindful of my motivations, to ensure that I never pursue what I call a hollow goal. Your should never pursue an end. If you get on a roller-coaster ride with the sole purpose of reaching the end, then get off, you are obviously not enjoying yourself.

To give a few examples of hollow goals, and their fulfilling alternatives consider the following:
A. I want to get married.
B. I want to live a married adult life. Sharing my love and interests with someone I deeply care for. 

A. I want to be a project manager.
B. Problem solving inspires me and I love working with people and helping all in the team maintain a common vision through enthusiasm and love for what we do.

The As are hollow. When you reach such a goal, you suddenly go: "Oh, now what." or "Okay, now I'm here, but I don't like it here". You stranded yourself in the void.

Pursuing a fulfilling goal will always lead to new goals, never an end, and when you pursue a fulfilling goal your motivation for getting through whatever sweat and tears it takes to get there will be way greater. In fact, when the going gets tough, but you push through because you know you are pursuing something you love, then it might actually motivate you even more.

Life is a journey inwards. You are searching for yourself. Life is "the search for", not "the finding of" yourself. You do change, don't you? So that means your search will continue to go on, all your life. Every moment an adventure of self-realisation.

Let your inspiration and dreams guide you. Turn those dreams into fulfilling goal, and jump on your ride. You can change your ride, while you are on it, you are allowed to and you will want to. Quit worrying about who or what you want, or think you ought to be. You are just one thing, and that is you, a human being, standing on a great big living spaceship hurling through space at aprroximately 30 kilometres per second. You are on the ride of your life and it's deadly, so make the most of it and strive to enjoy every single moment.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Enjoying proper HD-DPI in Ubuntu 15.04

My Lenova Yoga 3HE laptop has an ├╝ber display with a resolution of 3200x1800. It has been working fine in Ubuntu for a long time except for some applications, like Google Chrome, not really scaling everything as it should. For instance, the tabs in Chrome where very very tiny. However, now there is a simply fix. Simply jump on the xorg-edgers ppa (found here) and then do a:

sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Aaah, much better :)

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Google Contacts just got more awesome!

Many people still don't know about the site http://contacts.google.com. It's the central place to manage all your contacts, across all your Android/Google devices.

After switching to a new Android phone I noticed that a few of my contacts weren't properly linked with their Google+ profiles and images. Strange, as I could only see their name once in the contact list on the phone.

I went to http://contacts.google.com and apparently since the last time I visited they have added a duplicate detection and a merge feature. So a few clicks and voila! Now all my contacts are in order, and this time they will stay in order between phone upgrades since the "account merge/linking" information now is stored in the cloud and not on the phone.

Finally! Been wanting this feature for years! Thanks Google :)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Avoid emotional eating

Life hacker had a nice little article about "the broccoli test" as a way to avoid emotional eating. I have used similar tricks before, and also, when I do get a real craving for food, but it is not yet time to eat (e.g. due to a special diet combined with a work-out program), I treat myself to a few cherry tomatoes and a glass of water. I love tomatoes of all sorts, they have nearly no calories, taste great and gives my stomach something to do for a while. But apart from that I really like the broccoli test. I will for sure be using that trick the next 8 weeks since I am once again starting a so-called "cutting phase".

During the last 12 weeks I have been putting on approximately 4 kg of muscles and gotten my standard bench press, squat and dead-lift up to 100 kg again (three sets of 6-8 reps). I lost a lot of weight before last winter due to overworking myself, sleeping way to little, and generally using coffee for food... Yea, stupid, but I had deadlines that were forced upon by the world (not by bad planning), and I hate giving up ;) However, while gaining all this muscle weight I have also gained about 5 kg of fat, and since I have been really used to eating a lot more every day cutting down gives me serious cravings. I used to have between 8-10% body fat. Last winter it was down below 6% (way to little for me! I look like a drug addict in that state), and now it is about 13%. What a roller-coaster ride! Well, in 8 weeks I will be down to 10% again. For sure. I know my body well and exactly how to hack it.

So, by the end of May I should be able to post a picture of me being buff and ripped! Ha! Okay, I'll spare you that :P But I might write about whether or not I succeeded (and I will succeed! Again!) and what my methods were.

Goal: Super-human! ;)

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Tiny habits, how to improve their effectiveness, and thoughts on procrastination

Just re-watched a 15 minutes TEDx talk by B. J. Fogg (via lifehacker.com). I really like his work on changing personal behaviours by the use of tiny habits.

You only have so much will power for each day, and once that is used up you will start making bad choices that you will later regret. For instance, you might force yourself using will power to go to the gym but then end up eating pizza for dinner. This is not because you were tired from the exercise and needed the extra calories, even though you might tell yourself that. No, you probably wanted to work out and loose weight or get healthy. Unfortunately you were just out of will power.

Using tiny habits can help you. However, combining tiny habits with convenience and not-todo mentality greatly increases the effectiveness... at least for me.

The rest of the blog assumes you know what tiny habits are. So please watch the TEDx talk if you don't :)

Let's start by looking at convenience

Let's continue with the exercise example, and we assume that we have set up either a real habit of going to the gym, or are using tiny habits to get there (by starting exercise routines at home, for instance). How can a convenient thing or situtation help you ensure you do not eat pizza for dinner, without having to resort to pure will power? One solution is to make a new tiny habit that ensures you always have a healthy meal in your fridge (or at the office). You will be less likely to go get a pizza if you have a ready-to-eat meal available.

This is my convience principle. I create convenient situations throughout my day, and this is possible, since many things in my day are planned (tiny habits). I don't like strict schedules but I create causalities between events and the first event exists because of a personal goal: For instance, wanting to bench press 100 kg as my standard weight again. Because of this goal I have made a habit of making a bunch of healthy meals each morning. The tiny habit for this is:
When I make my breakfast I will make enough food for at least two more meals.
I have another tiny habit that ensures the convenient situation always is present while at home:
When I take the second to last ready-to-eat meal from the fridge I will make at least two more meals before sitting down to eat.
Note the addition to the basic tiny habit formula. I added an extra condition. This is because I know myself, and I am utterly hedonistic, love food and enjoyment, so I know that my food must be a sign of victory in this situation. If I start by eating I have a tendency of thinking "I will make the other meals later". This is also why the rule triggers on the second to last meal. That gives my some slack, and also if I truly am in a rush I can just eat and simply make more meals later, before eating the last ready-to-eat meal.

That is how convenience can greatly strengthen your good habits and help remove bad habits. Get there by using tiny habits to create the convenient situations.

Not-TODO mentality

This is basically turning tiny habits on their heads. As an example I work a lot from home and when I go to the toilet I pass my washing machine and laundry basket on the way. I had I tendency to always check the amount of dirty laundry in the laundry basket, and if it was getting full, then start the washing machine. Sounds like a good tiny habit, right? No, not if it is office hours! This was in fact nothing but procrastination, that had become a habit. The worst kind of procrastination. I might seem like it only ate a few minutes per day but my mind had shifted its focus so in total I probably lost an hour of productive work.

Some people use not-TODO lists, and I do as well when planning, but for removing procrastination habits I create tiny habits. The tiny habit solving the above problem is:
I will not start the washing machine unless I am putting clothes in to the laundry basket and see it is getting full.
Apart from the highlighted words there is another subtle but very effective thing about this rule: When do you put dirty clothes into the laundry basket? Normally not during office hours! So this rule that prevents me from performing a bad procrastination habit doesn't in any feel restricting. That is, I don't force myself to not do it and thus prevent using a lot of will power.

In my experience fighting procrastination with will power is never a battle you can win. Will power focuses your mind on not procrastinating but you need your focus on your work to actually stop procrastinating.


Hope this information is helpful to some of you. Enjoy :)

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

We all procrastinate, here is a short motivational video on how to stop.

We all procrastinate, every day. Luckily it actually isn't that hard to stop ourselves from procrastinating. Personally I make sure to use my creative surge in the morning to get a lot done, and also use meditation (5 minutes at a time) throughout the day to keep my calm and strengthen my focus.

However, I just tonight stumbled upon a Youtuber who calls himself Humble the Poet. He does these really nice, approximately 2 minute long, videos on various (mostly motivational) topics. He also did a video about procrastination. I actually think he nailed it. Both in what he says but also his personality and his way of communicating his point of view makes the video really great. There are a handful of videos that I watch quite often, as motivation, as well as a bunch of good blog posts. It's a nice alternative to meditation for keeping focus. A smiling and motivational human being can give you a boost of energy in just a few minutes. It will make you just start working, even if you feel you are not ready or are afraid of performing sub-optimally. The key to success is getting stuff done, not how good the stuff is. It will get better over time, the more you get done. Practice makes perfect and procrastination causes you to get no practice at all. Just start working and you well get into the flow of it. Once you are there, you will get a lot done and the hours will fly by... voila, procrastination is gone. It will come back, but just watch the video again, or meditate, or some other procrastition killing exercise and get back into it.

Note: Breaks from your work/hobbies are okay. If you work too much your brain will burn out. However, don't trick yourself into thinking you need breaks during your day every 10 minutes... that is procrastination. Get off Facebook, Twitter, Google, your phone, whatever, and get back to work. Long term achievements are what you want.

Now. Watch HtP's video:


Enjoy and may you have many productive and joyfully creative days :)

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Loving my new Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro

I needed a new netbook and decided to go with the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. It's elegant, has a beautiful screen with 3800x1200 resolution and flips in to a tablet.

Windows 8.1 works quite nice in tablet mode and the extra software that Lenovo ships with the laptop actually isn't all spam-ware (apart from McAffee antivirus. Who uses that!?).

I was hesitant about installing Ubuntu due to various post online about people having issues with it. All sorts of posts about how you have to set BIOS to legacy mode etc. But hey, doesn't Ubuntu support EFI boot? Sure it does, and just install Ubuntu in the expected way and everything expect wireless works.

To fix the wireless you need to unload the ideapad_laptop module that Ubuntu loads per default for this machine. Simply do a sudo modprobe -r ideapad_laptop and afterwards blacklist the module to ensure that it doesn't get loaded in the future. I prefer creating a personal blacklist file (and not just adding the module to an existing modprobe configuration file). For instance, create the file /etc/modprobe.d/myblacklist.conf containing a single line:
blacklist ideapad_laptop

I use Ubuntu Gnome and with the above wireless fix everything runs smoothly. Google Chrome (my preferred browser) doesn't scale the webpages for HiDPI per default but just go in to advanced settings and set the default zoom level to 200%. The only minor issue is that my Sunrise Calendar (Chrome app) has a rather small font but it is still readable so I'll live with it for now. I expect that proper HiDPI support will be implemented in a future Google Chrome version as it is already properly supported in the Windows version.

I did mess around with the various command line parameters for Chrome but ended up with just changing the default zoom level. You can however force scaling using --force-device-scale-factor=2 but that messes up the apps quite a bit. I found a nice list of Chrome command line options here:
http://peter.sh/experiments/chromium-command-line-switches/

If you find a better solution for Google Chrome, please let me know :)

Dirt cheap wireless laser printer

I needed a laser printer, and the only requirements was that it was cheap, small in size and preferably wireless. I was rather impressed when I found one for only 638 DKK (link), i.e. approximately €86.

Even though the specifications doesn't say it supports Windows 8, it does. Linux as well.

The Windows 8 drivers can be found here:
http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/19/product-support/product/dell-b1160w/drivers

I installed the printer in Windows 8 first, allowing me to easily set up the wireless part and get the printer firmware upgraded to the newest version, then I installed it in Linux.

The Linux drivers can be found here:
http://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/19/Drivers/DriversDetails?driverId=M4HVD


This all  went surprisingly well. No trial and error, just googled it, installed it all, and voila! A most acceptable process for a relaxed Saturday afternoon :)

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Turn off G+ for Google Business. Multiple Google accounts - Round 2.

Google+ has been available for Google Business accounts for quite some time now and there were good reasons to activate back in the day. It allowed you to easily text, voice, and video chat with colleagues. However, the company Google+ profiles you get were public. A very annoying issue, but luckily Google created a fix (I have written another blog post about that).

However, having a company Google+ profile doesn't make sense to me. Maybe for really big companies it is useful but for me the only reason to active Google+ was to enable Google Hangouts. I want video chat functionalities inside the company and the ability to invite people from outside as well but without getting another Google+ profile .

Good news! Now I can. I am not sure exactly when Google made this change but now, if you disable Google+ on your business account, you can still create meetings with video conferencing via Google Calendar and invite people from outside the company as well.

If you still want text chat then you can activate chat in Gmail or use a stand-alone chat client. I prefer the latter and use the Hangouts chrome app, which integrates well with Ubuntu Gnome.

The last issue for me was having calendars on multiple Google accounts. Android devices support multiple Google accounts but Google has no such feature for the PC desktop.

My solution so far is to use the Sunrise Calendar chrome app. It is pretty and supports multiple Google accounts. It does however lack the feature for adding video hangouts to events you create but you can get around that issue by activating "Automatically add video calls to events that I create" in your Google Calendar settings.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Glass instead of plastic when it comes to storing food and drink

It seems like scientist keep finding harmful chemicals in plastics, so instead of having to worry about poising myself in the kitchen I have replaced my old plastic kitchenware with glass versions.

The the small Pyrex 4-in-1 container in the picture is just awesome. I bought a whole bunch. It can go directly from fridge to microwave and has a rubber plug in the middle that can be pulled up to let a bit of air in (for when in the microwave). You can also get square versions and a larger square one as well.

The bottles are great too. I use the small one (400 mL) at the gym, and the large on (1L) for keeping cold water in the fridge. They both aluminium lids.

So unless some of the few rubber parts suddenly turn out to be toxic as well then I think I'm good. I am normally not paranoid about stuff like this, however, I cook all my food for an entire day in the morning and store it in portions in small microwavable containers in the fridge. This allows me to easily eat them during the day. So if my old containers were toxic then I have been getting a hefty daily dose for quite some time. Better safe than sorry :)

All the products can be bought on Amazon. Here are the links:

BLUE 1.0L Glass Drinking Bottle / Fridge Bottle - Non-Slip Silicone Grip - BPA Free - 100% Recyclable


LIME GREEN 350ml Glass Drinking Bottle 'Curvy' - Non-Slip Silicone Ringed Grips - BPA Free - 100% Recyclable


Pyrex 15 cm/ 0.35 Litre 4-in-1 Plus Round Dish with Lid

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Make your Google contact list a stand-alone web app

When using my Google Business accounts I have access to a separate web app for managing my contacts. This is how it should be, as our contacts are used all over the place by many different Google apps. You also have a separate Contacts app on Android phones. However, the Contact web app not show up when logged in to a normal Google account. But don worry, you can access it as a normal Google user as well by visiting http://contacts.google.com.

When you are in the Contacts web app, try clicking on the Google apps button and you will see a "Add link to this app" (perhaps phrased differently) at the bottom of your app grid. Click that and now you have a nice Contacts short-cut to use.

I seems like a properly implemented feature but when you click the "More" link that is at the very bottom of your app grid it will send you to a new page with a list of Google apps and Contacts in not on that list. Maybe it is still a hidden feature, just like Google Keep was for a long time. Not sure, I just thought that the link above would work, and it did.

Well, anyway. From me to you, enjoy :)