Switching to Ubuntu

For the month of November I’m going to be switching to Ubuntu, specifically the Precise Pangolin 12.04 Long-Term Support (LTS) release.  This choice comes as Windows 8 nears release and I realize I’ve been using Windows 7 pretty consistently for the past couple years.

Tonight I’ve set up Chrome, Rhythmbox, Shotwell and Monodevelop, to try the equivalents of applications I primarily use on my Windows desktop.

In early December I’ll post a follow-up with my experience.

PAX East 2013

PAX East Logo

PAX East represents the best in gaming for me.  PAX East 2013 will be our third PAX and each year it gets better.

The first year we went as a family and split our time between family outings and the convention.  Last year we went as a couple, spent the first day doing some tourist activities and spent time between relaxing at the hotel and the convention.  It was a time to spend time as spouses instead of parents, and we found that we were able to meet more people and do more.  When the opportunity came up to order badges for PAX East 2013, we decided to go back and make it our yearly vacation to recharge as a couple, relax and do some forward thinking.

There’s a lot going on at PAX and although you can understand that and you can choose what you want to focus on, it really takes the experience of the convention to understand what that means.  For us it means getting the PAX East scarf, spending time in the handheld lounge and enjoying the friendliness of the gamers we meet.  Year over year we get less concerned about the swag, the merch and the hype surrounding some of the games, and more excited about the people.

So far some of our highlights were being taken under the wing of Lexi and Joe for an evening of wandering around Boston, bumping into Tycho in the Tabletop area, talking with Luke Crane and D. Vincent Baker and buying their games, playing games together in the handheld lounge, a family dinner at Durgin Park, and playing Yomi on the floor of the Queue Room with Tom and Sarah.  I’ve come to appreciate how introverted I am, what drains me and what recharges me, which has helped in focusing our itinerary.

I’ll take another crack at writing a post close to PAX East, once we’ve started to firm up our itinerary and some of the games and vendors have been announced.

Agile Testing by Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory

Agile Testing introduces a software tester to working in an agile environment through introductory and intermediate topics, continuously explaining how they can work as a member of an agile team.  It shifted my understanding of what testers are and how the reader can contribute to software development projects.

The book provides exposure to a variety of topics, from culture to project management to coding.  Some of these sections are covered more in depth, such as the Agile Testing Quadrants.  The explanation of this concept and how it can help to define the testing that would provide value to the technical (team) and business (user) stakeholders was very valuable, and led me to share this information with our team during an informal lunch and learn presentation.  Other areas that helped me to think of my job in a different way were the chapters on agile teams and the relationship between coding and testing.

Other sections felt less useful, such as the sections on automation and culture.  These topics seemed to provide apparent information and didn’t go into the depth other areas did.  From this I have selected other books that tackle these topics specifically, so that I can go into greater depth on these topics.

A feature of this book worth noting is the the extensive examples, either from their own experiences or others also practicing agile testing methods.  As I read this book, I came to increasingly appreciate these examples.  They either provided affirmation when I already knew the concepts I was reading or showed an implementation when I needed to improve my understanding of a topic.  I never missed an example, they were that valuable to me.

I would recommend this book to any person looking to understand how testing provides value on an agile team and need examples of what that can include.  It is at the least an introduction to this type of role, but in my experience it went beyond and changed how I approach testing.

On Sponsoring the Numenera Kickstarter Project

While the concept of Kickstarter* is still new and unproven, there are several projects that have had a lot of attention.  Many established artists and companies have been able to interact with their audiences and be able to fund projects that publishers would have typically not invested in.  That last sentence stands alone as a topic, which I will not be discussing in this post.

Today the Numenera Kickstarter closed, surpassing its funding goal by greater than 2500%.  The project was initiated by Monte Cook, who I best know for his work on the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition Dungeon Master’s Guide, and as an advisor to the Pathfinder RPG.  It is a far-future science fantasy game based more around challenges and exploration than about combat and tactics.  The game setting is billions of years in the future, after the ninth great civilization has fallen and humanity is struggling in the shadow of a legendary culture.

I consider myself fortunate to be able to support this project and look forward to the game’s release next summer.  It’s interesting to be involved in supporting a project and to have a choice in how invested you become and what your reward is.  It bears some similarity to patronage, with some people supporting the project at the $1000-$2000 range.  This project had more value than most for its investment:  For $60 you got the main book in print, eight books in electronic format and a variety of aids in electronic format.

The concept is still being proven and more established blogs publicize these projects in a method akin to word of mouth, but once this kind of marketplace becomes established it will be interesting to see how smaller projects or lesser known artists could benefit from direct interaction with interested people.

* For more information on what a Kickstarter is, I direct you to their “What is a Kickstarter” FAQ entry.

Creating a Game World Using Dawn of Worlds

I’ve always wanted to create my own world setting for pen-and-paper Role-Playing Games like Dungeons & Dragons.  Often times I’ll read about a world for a game and find myself drawn to that material more than making a character.  Examples of that have been Tolkien’s Arda, Lewis’ Narnia, the Forgotten Realms from D&D, Legend from Dragon Warriors, Asimov’s Foundation…  The list could go on for much longer.

During high school I was introduced to RPGs by a friend of mine, my only exposure to fantasy at that time being novels and a few NES video games like The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior and Faxanadu.  When I was able to buy a few RPG books, I would pour over these games and try to extrapolate their setting.  Some were easier, like Robotech or Vampire: The Masquerade, but most showed their setting through names and placed without describing what those nouns actually meant.  This led to three failed attempts, one to create a generic fantasy setting, another to create a simple science-fiction RPG and a third to create a shared dystopian science-fiction setting.  It left me lacking the confidence to try again.

Despite this, I have documents going back to 2002 where I tried to create a fantasy setting with a much smaller scope.  It was named River Keep and based loosely on where I live.  The content primarily defined parallels to current culture and politics, with some idea of how characters would be involved in this setting, such as through guilds and militia.  At one time a few years ago I even ran a short campaign in this setting.  Its layout was mostly derived from the D&D third edition Forgotten Realms books, and eventually I felt the content and layout were too derivative and uninspiring.

A few years back I was working in a nearby city with an exceptional Friendly Local Game Store.  Through that store I was able to meet more mature gamers and we eventually started a home group and started playing campaigns together.  Although it didn’t initially spark my desire to make my own setting, the characters I created had this deep background and I accidentally became reacquainted with an interest in prose and how setting can both add to the game and enrich the player’s experiences when they interact with that setting.

While this desire started to awaken from my past failed projects and what led me to attempt them, I found out about Dawn of Worlds.  It was a free PDF document that detailed a collaborative system for creating a setting.  I approached several friends that had some experience with RPGs, to see if we could create a shared world for our games based on our own interests.  A brief pilot at that time led to an early failure, mostly due to one person’s attempt to inject humour and sabotage other player’s efforts.  When I approached my gaming groups last year I found general interest, but no commitment.

Last weekend I set distinctive roles and tried the system myself.  The roles were based on my interests in fantasy literature and were defined as

J.R.R. Tolkien.  The first fantasy author I read and still the one I feel most gratified in reading.  The feeling of history, geography and greater purpose is what I was hoping to get from this role.

C.S. Lewis.  These are some of my favourite stories and different from most fantasy.  This role was here to keep things light and focus on good, kindness and a bold sense of adventure.

Asian Fantasy.  I really enjoy the history of China and Japan, their wisdom and storytelling.  Samurai, oni, spirits and the trickery of nature were my goals in including this role.

High Fantasy.  Often times in RPG settings there is a sense of a grand, failed past.  Empires and kingdoms forgotten that once held great power.  With this role I am hoping to include a world where that sense of wonder exists now, while still being kept in check by the other roles.

Low Fantasy.  A friend introduced me to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser last year and the setting and focus on the characters was wonderful.  Through this role I’m hoping to keep the other roles from being too grand without showing consequences.

Through this initial attempt I completed the First Age over eleven rounds, representing five thousand years of time.  I still have to compile notes and fill in details, but as a teaser I will say I was surprised by the results and am very excited to share them through this blog.  I haven’t named the world, the nations or lakes, and I’m willing to wait until I have reason to name them.

With this post I take a step to creating my own game world and publishing it.

A Reading Problem

Dear friends of the Internet, I have a problem.  This problem is that I do not have enough time to read books.  As Exhibit A, here is my current backlog of work books:

Backlog of work-related books

Backlog of work-related books.

Sadly this stack does not even begin to address the overflowing 65L+ Rubbermaid container of fiction books next to my bookshelf.

The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo

The Pomodoro Technique is a book that describes a time management method based on using a tomato kitchen timer to set aside time to focus on current tasks.*  It asks the reader to estimate how much of their time can be set aside in 30-minute increments and to describe what task will be worked on.  Although estimating is important, it also gives many sections to the importance of focusing and removing distractions.  Once you are comfortable with these concepts, it provides ways to handle exceptions to the technique and ways to extend the rules.

The most important takeaway for me was a method for setting aside time and focusing on set tasks for a set time.  With the variety of tasks I’m asked to work on in a day, knowing that I can get to and make progress on important tasks is valuable to me.  It has also partially helped me with the tricky skill of time estimation, with knowing how many of these pomodoros I can complete in a day and how much I can accomplish in a set amount of time.

The concepts it presents and the way it asks the reader to think about how they react to distractions is simple and applicable, which is why I think that the proposed tracking sheets and more complex rules detract from the technique.  Creating and editing spreadsheets or paperwork, and then taking the time to track the number of interruptions or pomodoros completed, detracts from the ease and clarity of the key concepts.  I wonder if others find these additional rules and documents help them with time management, or if they could be extraneous to what the Pomodoro Technique does best:  A way to promote discipline to focus on a task for a set time.

This is a way of looking at time management that, like all good tools, has its place and can be used alongside other time management tools.  The Pomodoro Technique is available as a free PDF from the author’s site at www.pomodorotechnique.com/book.html.

*  “Pomodoro” is Italian for “tomato”, and this book also uses this term to refer to a set amount of time.

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