Category Archives: personal

Busy, Busy, Busy

Sorry for the lack of posts since Tuesday. Things have gotten very busy for me and when that happens, one of the first things to fall by the way side is my blog writing, as much as I enjoy it. I am working my way through this busy period, and hope to resume normal posting in a few days.

In the meantime, for those wondering, Part 4 of my 4-part mini-series on searching in Evernote should come out on schedule tomorrow morning at 9 am.

And, if you are interested, Evernote has been doing a series of posts on their blog about note-taking styles and the history of note-taking. It is a fascinating series, well worth checking out.

No Conventions in 2016

Various scheduling conflicts this year will make it impossible for me to attend any science fiction conventions. This is disappointing because I was so looking forward to the World Science Fiction Convention in Kansas City this summer. It is also disappointing because it means, for the second year in a row, I will be unable to attend my local convention, Capclave, in October.

I think this will be the first year since I began attending conventions in 2007 that I will go the entire year without going to a convention.

Kind Words

This happened on Twitter a few days ago:

I was delighted by this, and so I thanked Michael, which led to this:

After that, Evernote chimed in:

As busy as I have been lately, as stressed as I’ve sometimes felt, little things like this brightened my day, and made me pause for a second, and smile.

Snowed In!

No posts yesterday or today (except this one) because we are snowed in. Kelly has been sick, and I’ve been busy with the kids, and shoveling snow. Schools here are closed through at least Tuesday and the Federal government is closed tomorrow, so there may be another day or two of absences here on the blog, but I hope to resume normal service soon. And I will do my best to have the next Going Paperless post out on schedule.

In the meantime, here is a picture of what our street looked like earlier this afternoon.

Blizzard 2016

I’m Taking the Day Off Today

I am taking today off. It was about 11 degrees out when I headed to the grocery store earlier this morning. So here is a photo of a contemplative Little Man from a few weeks ago in Florida, when it was about 80 degrees warmer than it is today.

Little Man

Back tomorrow with a brand new Going Paperless post.

Christmas Morning!

I am taking the day off the blog today to celebrate Christmas with the family. Here are some pictures from my walk this morning before all of the present unwrapping chaos started this morning.

Christmas Sunrise

Christmas morning walk

And for those wondering, Kelly did get me a watch for Christmas.

Christmas morning walk

Merry Christmas and happy holidays!

Answering the Telephone

Somehow, I have managed to accumulate four phone numbers. There is the land-line at home; my personal mobile number; my work mobile number; and my Google Voice number that I use in freelancing work. I try to consolidate things. My personal mobile number forwards automatically to my work mobile number, since I don’t want to carry around two mobile phones. My Google Voice number forwards to my personal mobile. So in actuality, calling one of my numbers will virtually always reach me on my mobile number.

I dislike talking on the phone, and as time has passed, I find that I no longer answer phone numbers that I don’t recognize. With four phone numbers from which to attack, the number of unrecognized numbers goes up, despite having enrolled each of the four numbers in the DO NOT CALL registry.

The phone is there for my convenience, and there is no reason I have to take a call when the phone rings. This has virtually eliminated my interactions with telemarketers. I never recognize the number, so I never answer. If they choose to leave a voice mail message, I’ll listen to it, but it is rare that they do. And on those occasions that I find an automated message in my voice mail box, it confirms that it was a telemarketer, and I can block the number on my iPhone so that they can no longer reach me.

Many people I know seem to feel compelled to answer every call that comes in. I ignore most of the calls I get. Unless a name that I recognize flashes on my screen, I send the call to voicemail without a second thought. It is too easy to get trapped on the phone by an unrecognized number. Inevitably, I’ll see a number that I think looks familiar, and decide to answer it. Invariable it is some organization looking for money. “Consider a small donation of $50,” they ask. “Alright, send me the information, and I’ll consider it for next year’s donation budget. This year’s budget is already set.”

That does not deter the caller. “How about $25?” they ask. To which my response is, “We have a set budget for donations each year, which gets allocated before the first of the year. Since all of the money has been allocated, there isn’t an addition $25 to give, I’m afraid. I’m sure you understand the importance of a budget and danger one gets into when they overspend their budget.” This usually ends the call. But it is waste of time to go through in the first place, which is why I stopped answering the phone for numbers I no longer recognize.

I don’t lose any sleep over this. In an emergency, if someone couldn’t reach me on the phone, they would certainly leave a voice mail message. So far as I can tell, I have not missed anything important since I stopped answering numbers I don’t recognize.

Email is my preferred method of communication. It is brief and direct, and it leaves behind a record that I can easily refer to. It is more efficient than a phone call. This is why I try to answer an email I receive as promptly as I can.

I wish that Siri was capable of handling my calls. If a telemarketer called, and I foolishly answered the phone, I wish there was a button I could tap in the Phone app on my iPhone that would transfer the caller to Siri. I don’t mind letting telemarketers talk to Siri.

Psst! Wanna Buy a Watch?

I haven’t worn a wristwatch in over a decade, but I am thinking about buying one. Although I’ve been considering the purchase for a while, I was galvanized into action on Monday while attending the Little Man’s swimming lesson1.

One of the kids in the Little Man’s class is a little hellion. The instructor does her best to keep him under control, but often looks up toward where the parents are seated with an expression of can you do something about your child on her face. The effort always fails, but it wasn’t until this last session that I realized why. When I looked around me, every parent was dutifully ignoring what was taking place in the swimming pool. Instead, they were busy on their mobile devices.

I am just as guilty of this, I am afraid, or I probably would have noticed this sooner. Still, it came as a sort of shock to my system. I was missing stuff because of my mobile phone. Not everything. I made sure to look up every minute or two. When the Little Man looked over at me, I always gave him a thumbs-up, and he smiled in return. But I was not engaged in the event. I was not—to borrow a current buzzword—mindful of what was happening.

A younger version of me—one half my age—would react to this revelation with knee-jerk defiance. “That’s it,” he would say, “I am giving up my mobile phone. I’m better off being disconnected from this hyperconnected world, anyway.” But that is neither reasonable, nor true. The apps we use on our mobile devices, and the automations we enable with them can work to free up time for us to spend on other things—like watching our kids struggle with the backstroke.

On the drive home from that swimming lesson, I realized three truths about my mobile device.

Truth #1: my mobile device has become a proxy for idle time. Whenever I am idle, I pull my phone and look at something—often just to feel like I am doing something. Get on elevator—out comes the phone. Waiting for a meeting to start—out comes the phone. Waiting in line—out comes the phone.

Truth #2: my mobile device has become a megaphone to the larger world. Ooh, that’s a pretty sunset—Instagram it! Hey, check out the Little Man floating—update Facebook! I’m five minutes from home—better text Kelly to let her know that I am five minutes from home.

Truth #3: my mobile device has become my primary information source. What’s the weather like today?—check my phone. Is it discrete or discreet?—check my phone. What time is it?—check my phone.

It is a good thing to be able to have this information at my fingertips, but it can also take away from the experience. While I am updating Facebook with a picture of the Little Man floating, I am missing whatever it is he is doing next. When I pull my phone out to check them time, I am also like to see that 10 new email messages and 7 Twitter replies have come in.

Which brings me back to the wristwatch.

A nice analog wristwatch would allow me to check the time without pulling out my phone. It might not prevent me from using my phone as a proxy for idle time, or as a megaphone for what goes on during my day. But is provides one less entry-point to distraction.

I can do more. I can alter my alerts and notifications. I can leave my phone in the car for swimming lessons. I can leave it on my desk, instead of beside my bed at night. But I’ve learned that small incremental changes work better for me, and it seems like a wristwatch would be a step in the right direction.

  1. Early Monday evenings are a bad time for swimming lessons. On Sunday mornings, it takes 15 minutes to get to the pool where the lessons are offered. On Monday evenings it takes at least half an hour. Also, the entire high school next door has swimming practice making an already steamy indoor pool area almost unbearable.

Three Things I’m Enjoying

I have been enjoying 3 things over the last few days, and each one takes a different form of media.

1. Re-reading The Waste Lands by Stephen King. I have been re-reading King’s Dark Tower books. The first time around I listening to them on audiobook. This time, I am reading the trade paper editions (and making lots of marginal notes along the way). It’s been a lot of fun.

2. Listening to Danse Macabre by Stephen King. I really enjoyed the book the first time around, and I’m enjoying it even more this time. I’m listening to the book while I am walking, or in the car, or doing chores, and it is a great way to make the time fly by.

3. Watching Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary. This is my second time around on this one as well, and I am enjoying every minute of this series.

What has been interesting is that one isn’t calling out any more than the other. I am doing each of these things when and where they feel natural. It relaxes me, and it provides some nice changes of pace along the way.

I Forgot to Go to My Classes!

For the first time in more than 15 years, I had a dream last night in which I had gone back to school–the University of California, Riverside, where I got my undergraduate degree–and I forgot to go to my classes.

I was wandering around a campus that was very different than the one I remembered. But recall walking into the library. There polished marble floors. Tall pillars holding up domed and arched ceilings. It was quiet and virtually empty–nothing like how I remember the Tomás Rivera library at UC Riverside. I knew the books were “downstairs” but I couldn’t find my way down. I ended up going outside, and getting lost. But as I walked the campus, I remember this serene feeling that I was doing the right thing, going back to school. I was at peace with it.

That peace did not last long.

I found my way to a group of people. Among them was Scott Edelman, who pointed out that the way to get back to the library was to follow the metro tracks across a small grassy area. At this point, I had two large suitcases with me, and had to race along the tracks a la the gang in Stephen King’s “The Body1” before the train knocked me off. I made it.

It was only while I was searching for the doors to the lower entrance of the library (no longer with suitcases–apparently, my imagination conjured them only to make that track crossing more exciting) that I realized that while I had been at the school for nearly a full quarter, I had only attended the very first day of classes.

I was sort of bewildered by this. Hadn’t I had dreams about forgetting to go to classes for years after graduating. And now, here I was back in school and I had actually forgotten to go to my classes.

I woke up at this point, relieved that it had all been a dream. But also troubled. I hadn’t had an anxiety dream of this particular sort in 15 years at least. I’ve had others, most commonly, one where I am getting current with my pilot’s license, and take off, only to realize that I have forgotten to contact air traffic control. But it has been a very, very long time since I had the dream about forgetting to go to class.

  1. Or, if you prefer, the movie version, Stand By Me.

A Walk in the Woods

For the last couple of Sundays, we’ve taken the kids for short hikes in the woods. Last Sunday we took them to Scott’s Run, along the Potomac. Yesterday, we went to a favorite place of ours, Burke Lake. Kelly and I have walked around the lake several times over the years. It’s a 4.5 mile walk. Yesterday, we all walked but at the 1.5 mile mark, the Little Miss and I turned around, while Kelly and the Little Man continued all the way around the lake. I took this shot from the northwest corner of the lake yesterday.

Burke Lake, November 2015

There is something about walking in the woods (“No, Daddy, it’s called the ‘Wilderness’,” the Little Miss insisted when we talked yesterday.) that is relaxing and invigorating. Yesterday, especially. We are in the heart of autumn and the woods surrounding the lake were carpeted in leaves, and the smell of the those leaves, and the rich oxygen of the woods managed to wake me up, after an unusually sluggish start to the day yesterday.

There are benches on the lake front here and there, and every time I walk around the lake, I think, It would be great to take a book and sit on the bench for an hour or two, reading, surrounding by lake sounds. But the lake is a little too far from the house to make that practical.

We enjoy our walks in the woods. And the kids did a great job yesterday. The Little Miss managed a total of 3 miles with her short little legs. The Little Man did 4.5 miles. But then again, they’ve always been walkers.

Playing Shroud of the Avatar and Thoughts on MMORPGs

One of the things I’ve been doing while I take a break from writing is playing early releases of Shroud of the Avatar. For those who don’t know, SotA is a crowdfunded MMORPG run by Richard Garriott (a.k.a Lord British) and Starr Long. It is a direct descendant of the Ultima games of my teens. I was an early supporter of the game and so I have access to the monthly releases that they do. They are currently on R23, but until now, I haven’t played much because my free time was consumed by writing.

I think I was in 7th or 8th grade when I first encountered an Ultima game. It was probably Ultima IV: The Quest of the Avatar. The game came out in 1985, and I remember being fascinated by it. For one thing, it was very much like a Dungeons & Dragons game. For another, it was the first game I ever encountered where your moral and ethical behavior within the game mattered, and had an impact on the outcome. I loved playing the game, and when I finally completed it, it felt like a real triumph. I went on to play Ultima V, and Ultima VI. Year later, after college, I played Ultima IX, which by then, had become a first-person perspective game.

Part of what fascinates me about games like Ultima, and Shroud of the Avatar is the complexity of the game. Part of it is the mechanics. As a software developer, I have a keen interest in knowing how things work. Car enthusiasts know about engines. I am fascinated by the internal mechanics of a game as complex as Shroud of the Avatar. That is a big part of why I am so impressed by the open development they are doing. The game is still in pre-Alpha, but backers get monthly updates like clockwork. Backers become the QA for the game. The community appears to be strong, and opinionated, but that gets the job done. The folks at Portalarium–Richard Garriott’s company that is making the game–are just opinionated and just as quick at providing fixes and patches to issues as the community is to report them.

The forums and posts made my the development team provide a fascinating insight into the process of how the game is made. In one forum, the notes from the daily standing meetings are posted. You can see who is working on what part of the game, what, if anything, is blocking them. The video chats they do are insightful, and provide a glimpse of just how complex the game is under the hood. For someone like me, this is like candy on Halloween.

Playing the game has been fun, too. While I really like the top-down game view of the old Ultima IV and Ultima V, the sense of immersion you get from the dazzling graphics and animation of Shroud of the Avatar makes it seem more real than any game I’ve played before it. The conscientiousness that has gone into each aspect of the look and feel of the game comes through strongly. Things like the way water behaves in the game–a seemingly small detail–adds an exponential level of realism to the game.

Shroud of the Avatar

The quality of light that is used, the reflection of light in water, even the textures of the mountains in the distance make it appears as through you really there in the imagined world:

Shroud of the Avatar 2

My playing partner

I’ve been playing Shroud of the Avatar with the Little Man. I remember how much I loved Ultima when I was younger, and I thought he might enjoy it, too. Of course, he is younger than I was when I played, but I didn’t have a guide to help explain things. So we have been playing together and it has been fun. What’s fascinating to me is how much he gets into the game, and how much he understands of the mechanics of the game. And he remembers everything, although sometimes, incorrectly. For instance, at one point we were attached by thugs–they were called thugs in the game, anyway. A day or two later, we were talking about the game and the Little Man proposed a strategy.

“Daddy,” he said, “next time we encounter the snugs, I think we should…”

Snugs? He meant “thugs” of course, but now we both call them snugs, because it was too funny not to.

After completing one of the early quests over the weekend, we had enough gold to improve some of our skills. So we began developing skills in the “Subterfuge” skill tree. I explained to the Little Man what “subterfuge” meant, and he understood. For the rest of the day, it seemed, I’d hear him say to Kelly, “Mom, do you know subterfuge is? Well, we have a skill that will allow us to…”

He will no doubt impress his friends, and quite possibly his teacher, with his new-found vocabulary.

One thing that is great about the Ultima games, and Shroud of the Avatar is no exception, is that the avatars moral character is a big part of the game. In the original game, there were three principles–truth, love, and courage–that are made up of eight virtues: honesty, compassion, valor, justice, honor, sacrifice, spirituality, and humility. These virtues carry through to Shroud of the Avatar. That means that game isn’t just about fighting monsters and getting gold. There are moral situations in which the decisions you make affect your (moral) character and that in turn affects the outcome of the game. It provides a very large gray area where it isn’t always clear what the right thing to do is, and in those situations (only one or two of which we have encountered so far) I’ll turn to the Little Man and we’ll discuss what we think the best option is, and why.

The first beta versions of the game aren’t scheduled to be released until sometime next year. For now, we are just trying to learn the intricacies of the game. Combat, magic, skill sets, crafting, property ownership, interacting with NPCs and other players, weather, experience, the maps of the world, and much more.

I have a glimmer of where games like these are going. Looking at the graphics and visual effects, it is not hard to see that the game is looking more and more like a deeply interactive movie. I imagine that the ultimate effect is for the game not to feel game-like at all, but instead, to be immersed in a virtual world that looks like a real world. There have been places where we paused to watch, for instance, and amazing sunrise over the ocean. It looked just as real as any sunrise I’ve ever seen. Walking through the woods at night with mist hanging low in the trees, you can almost feel the cold air, despite the comfortable temperatures within the house.

Interactive fiction is nothing new, but the folks at Portalarium are taking it to new heights. Shroud of the Avatar has a strong story backbone, to say nothing of the legacy of all of the games that came before it. I am looking forward to continuing to follow its development.

Driving home from a hike in the woods yesterday, the Little Man asked, “Daddy, when the game comes out, do we have to buy it or do we already have it.”

I explained, “Well, as early backers, we’ve already paid for the game, so when the final release comes out, we’ll get it and be able to play it together.”

He seemed very happy about this.