Be Prepared

I Want a Do Over

The auditorium is vast, absurdly over-sized for the two dozen occupants, yet filled to the rafters with the uncomfortable silence emanating from the stage.  I stand there alone, staring down at the plastic sheet on the overhead projector, wondering what the hell I thought I was going to say?  I’ve got nothing.

Overhead Projector

Despite the way my eyes have dilated in the glare of the projector bulb, I can still see my boss out in the audience, hunched down in his seat, a hand covering his face.  He looks like he’s crying.

This is not a nightmare.  This really happened to me, two decades ago now, and I still haven’t forgiven myself.

It wasn’t stage fright. (I actually like being the center of attention.) It was a total lack of preparation.

Be Prepared (Boy Scout Motto)

“Be prepared for what?” someone once asked Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting,
“Why, for any old thing.” said Baden-Powell.

I know, I know…  Everyone hates the Boy Scouts these days, but still – you have to admit that quote is funny (I copied it verbatim from their website.)  But it goes on to say, “Be prepared for life – to live happily and without regret, knowing that you have done your best.”  You can’t find fault with that, can you?

In the list my life’s regrets, (have I mentioned this list before?) messing up that presentation is about halfway down.  I didn’t do my best, I hardly even tried.  I read a bit about the topic, I made some slides, and that was it.  I trusted too much in my ability to ‘wing it.’  (Wing it: to improvise; to do something extemporaneously (without preparation.))

All of my life, all throughout school and all of my jobs, I’ve managed to muddle through by just showing up and trusting that I would think fast, and just figure out what to do and how to do it when I got there.

Think Fast

I didn’t finish the book, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, (It ended up getting too technical, (ie boring.)) but I understand the premise: we believe ‘fast thinking’ (instinct, gut) is good and trustworthy, but inevitably it leads us astray. And more importantly, it’s just lazy.

“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical
exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the
same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course
of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of
skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.”
― Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

And that is my problem.  I don’t do now (prepare) anything I can put off till later. I rationalize my laziness by saying I am being efficient.  By preparing, I would end up spending a lot more time on a task that could be completed (perhaps not as well, but probably good enough) in a tenth of the time.

Be Prepared (The Lion King)

So prepare for the coup of the century
Be prepared for the murkiest scam
Meticulous planning
Tenacity spanning
Decades of denial
Is simply why I’ll
Be king undisputed
Respected, saluted
And seen for the wonder I am

But what if…  What if I had prepared for that presentation?  What if I had actually studied for the tests I barely passed?  What if I had done the research and found the quotes and thought long and hard about the topic of a term paper? What if instead of just submitting the second or third draft, I actually work on a story until it is perfect?

The memories of failure haunt me to this day. There are no do overs. But I could start fresh…

I could be prepared, for every old thing, to do the best I can, and to be seen for the wonder that I know I am…

Maybe I’ll start tomorrow.

(Reblogged from June of 2013) 

 

Eat the peas first

yuck
yuck

Dinner was always the same. Green vegetable, mashed potatoes, dead animal. No, I’m exaggerating. Sometimes we had spaghetti and meatballs, sometimes we had grilled cheese and tomato soup. Sometimes it was fish sticks with macaroni and cheese, my favorite! But mostly it was broccoli or spinach and steak or pork chops. The point is, sometimes there were peas on the plate and I had to eat them.

The lesson I learned then was to eat the peas first. The smell, the taste, the texture – I hated all of it, but if I got rid of them quickly, I could move on to the things I did like. (An aside – I have never, as an adult, made peas for myself for dinner – and I never will.)

I’m working on a prototype of my project – eventually I’ll make a demo and show it off here – but right now I’m at a point where there is nothing fun or interesting or new to do. All that’s left is finicky detail work.  The endorphin-rush of learning something new is over – now it’s all about polish. This is the part that always stops me dead in my tracks.

Good thing I’ve learned how to trick myself.  First – I have given myself a deadline: the demo video must be done by January first.  Second – I can make lists of tiny, tangible tasks, because even if I don’t get pleasure out of doing the work, I will get pleasure from ticking off the check box when it is done. Third – I’ll put the most annoying and boring of the tasks at the top of the list.

Eat the peas first – cause afterwards, everything else tastes great.

 

stick-to-itiveness

I like stick-to-itiveness better than ‘grit,’ don’t you?  It means what you think it means. Not like grit which is the bit-of-sand in your teeth that ruins the clam chowder.

Angela Duckworth is the person we have to thank for the current popularity of the word grit. I don’t think the movie True Grit, either the original or the remake, can take any credit.

What I’m trying to say is, I don’t want to give up again. I’m terrified of my future self, waking up on some crappy, rainy morning, turning off the alarm, burrowing deep into the covers and saying – what’s the point?

Duckworth says Grit is a combination of Passion and Perseverance. I get the perseverance, but the idea of the word passion being a part of that equation seems a bit off to me. I equate passion with people. And – I can honestly say, if there is anything I am good at sticking with – it is relationships with people. Yes – I was once married and am now divorced – but I made that relationship work for 17 years, even though it should have died in the first six months. If I have decided you are worth keeping in my life – then I will keep you, come hell or high water. Does that mean my relationships are gritty? Yuck.

No – this project of mine will not succeed based on my passion for the outcome. It will only succeed if I have a clearly defined routine. I can’t depend on emotion. I need a cold, hard checklist of tangible things to do everyday.

The result of the year long slog has to be something worthy of the effort of course – but a belief in the worth of something is not a passion for it.

Publish what you know

About the second part of yesterday’s theme…

You would think that by saying I’m going to focus on becoming an expert in the field of video game development, that in order to ‘publish’ what I know – I would have to create a video game.

Well, you’d be wrong.

Think about the last time you used an ATM. You interacted with a computer screen. It asked you questions, you responded to those questions with the chip or magnetic strip on your card and by pushing buttons. Was the experience pleasant, neutral or frustrating? Someone wrote the code, designed the layout of the screen, tried to predict what you would do next… 'I won again!'How is that any different than playing Angry Birds on your phone? How about Facebook or Twitter? Same thing – a screen, some code, some attempts at predicting how a user (player) would most like the experience to go.  In the end – all the same tools are being used for those interactive experiences as are used creating a big game like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft.

In order to achieve my goal of becoming an expert in video game development – I have to become an expert in using the tools that are used in video game development. In my particular case,  I’m going to use a Game Engine called Unity. (Thankfully free – since I am poor!) A game engine is a tool that has pre-written almost all the code you need for a typical game, so that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Things like how to deal with mouse clicks and especially how to incorporate all the stuff you need to make a game look nice. The other (also free!) tool I’m going to use is called Blender – it’s a 3d modeling software. Most animated movies use 3d models now – it’s a lot like making the clay models used in stop-motion animation.

I’m not going to write anymore about the thing I’m going to make – mostly because I don’t have all the details worked out yet. But also because I want to have it be a big surprise when I launch my project on January first.

The point is: although I am using video game development tools – I’m not making a video game.

Become an Expert

I stumbled across a video about six months ago… Australian dude, driving in his car, talking to his phone about sales people ‘cold calling’ and why it doesn’t work. I forget why watched it, something to do with work, maybe? I think the only reason I watched all the way through was because of his accent… Anyway, at the very end of the video he said something, one of those ideas that are so simple and yet so true that they stick with you like peanut butter on the roof of your mouth.

Become an expert; publish what you know.

“Become an expert and publish everything you know about what you do.” For him, it meant, don’t call them, make them call you, but for me, it means something a bit grander than that. It made me think about all the things I know and how I’m not an expert at anything.

So I started thinking about all my interests, and why I find them interesting, why I never push myself up and over that learning curve I talked about yesterday, and which one of those interests would be worthy of my full attention. I thought about money and time and my job and my lifestyle and my fears and my dreams… I made lists… lots and lots of lists.

In the end, it seemed there was really only one thing to focus on: Video Game Development.

20141221_121407
A display in a museum of art from the amazing work of the video game developer, Tim Schafer

I know, video games seem foreign to many of the people who read this blog, but if you’ll stick with me over the next couple of posts, you’ll see how the skills a person must acquire to build a video game, or any interactive experience are useful in every part of our culture today, and will become even more so in the future.

Because what is video game development, at its core? It’s interactive storytelling made with art and code.  That’s all.  It is, in a way, just like this blog. I type these words onto this screen, ideas are converted into pixels with code which in turn enable you to read my thoughts. It’s a virtual conversation with code as the medium.  It’s the way more and more of us interact with each other everyday.

So. That is what I’m going to do with my 2017. I’m going to become an expert in video game development. In one year. (You should be laughing now.)

to be continued…

 

My Insane Plan for 2017

This is me, going crazy.

I’m publicly declaring my New Year’s Resolution, and I’m doing it a month early. Here it goes: for all of 2017 I am going to focus all of my energy and attention on ONE thing.

Of course, I still have my job and other obligations, but instead of flitting from hobby to hobby I’m going to pick one and stick with it.

The problem: things generally come easy to me at first, but as soon as I encounter any difficulty, as soon as the learning curve becomes too steep, I give up.  I say, “This is boring,” and I look for something new (and easy) to do.

Well – it is time to do something about that habit.

So here I am, standing on my soapbox, silently screaming to the masses, “I’m not going to give up this time!”

And what is it exactly that I’m not going to give up on?  Hmmmm…  You’ll have to tune in tomorrow to learn that part of the plan.

 

20161201_071813
A tiny painting that has nothing to do with anything.

This day last year

20161129_084902For all of 2015, I kept a tiny Moleskine journal next to my bed. It’s one of those page-a-day journals, with the pre-printed date at the top of each page. At five and a half inches tall by three and a half inches wide – it had just enough space to record what I did that day.

Moleskine is way too overpriced – I don’t need something so fancy just to write down what I do everyday. So for 2016 I got just a regular blank book – a quarter of the price, larger – a more typical eight by six inches – and without the pre-printed date.  I kept it by the bed – with the same pen as before.

There are probably twenty or so blank pages in the 2015 journal – days I missed because I was away from home.

Most of the 2016 journal is blank.

Why? Is it the size?  It takes only a dozen words to fill the page of the tiny journal – far less intimidating and makes it easy to justify the occasional, “What a blah day – nothing happened” entry.  Is it the pre-printed date? The pressure of knowing that that page will remain forever blank if I don’t take the time now before I switch off the light to write down what made today unique?

Whatever the reason – I’ve learned that the Moleskine journal does exactly the job it is meant to do – it makes me write down what happened that day.

You might me wondering, why is writing down the events of the day important to me?

The entry from November 29th 2015:

Tonight’s Doctor Who was excellent.
Mostly just watched doc. about the Roosevelts today.
Back to my routine tomorrow for 4 days – then I have to work =(

That was a real day – but nothing momentous happened.  Without those three lines, it wouldn’t exist anymore. Now it will last for as long as I hold on to that journal. And that is good.

Certainly worth $19.95.

 

Drowning in the Details

blenderIt’s hard to remember when you’re running around inside a crazy realistic, yet ultimately unreal world, that everything you see is built with lines of code. And that all the code does is turn switches on and off.  Way down deep – it is still just ones and zeros.

Back in the beginning, when I was writing those lines of code in Basic on a Commodore Pet, I felt incredibly powerful knowing that I could tell the computer to turn a certain pixel on the screen ‘on’ with a single command. I understood exactly what that line of code did and how it worked.

Now, 35 years later, I’m building a 3d model of a kitchen cabinet. I’m still manipulating switches, but I don’t really know what all those switches do anymore.  There are too many layers between me and the ones and zeros, I can’t see how it all works as clearly as I used to.

While I love learning new things, there comes a point where I wonder why I bother.  If I’m not really understanding exactly how all this works, if I’m just blindly following the lessons of the tutorial, if I find myself sighing one more time when the tutorial says, “We don’t have time to go into the details now, but just click here to do this,” what’s the point?

It would be a lot easier and faster to just buy the 3d models I need for my project. This could be a whole ‘time vs money’ lesson – it would be much more efficient to spend my money on someone else’s work – they can make what I want in a tenth of the time – and I have lots code and animation stuff to do that I am already good at.  I don’t need to control every aspect of the project, it would be better to let go of some of the details.

But… at the moment, I have lots of time and no money.

And… I would love to say, in the end, I did it all myself.

Besides – who am I kidding – I’m a total control freak – which is why I’m working on this crazy project all by myself in the first place.

Alright – break over – time to get back to pushing pixels.

 

 

 

Gift giving and the golden rule

“Do unto others…”

81s7bals-l-_sl1500_If I gave to you what I would like to receive, you’d be getting an NES Classic Edition for christmas this year.

Obviously, that’s not going to work.  First of all – they’re sold out everywhere, and second, what if you don’t love it?  What if you don’t dream of playing Legend of Zelda the way I do? What if you’re not obsessed with the idea that maybe, now you are so much older, you can actually finish Super Mario Bros. for real, instead of lying about it for all these years… decades?

The rule should be, do unto others as they’d like to have done to them.  I guess it doesn’t sound as nice that way, but this is why we write wish lists.

Many years ago – I was asked, by someone who will remain nameless, what I wanted for christmas. I said I wanted an electric kettle – but I specifically wanted the one that has the base that the kettle sits on, not the one where the kettle itself has the cord that plugs into the wall. I should have known better than to ask her for something so specific. I knew what she was like – always looking for the ‘deal.’ She bought for me what she would have bought for herself – the cheap, “20% off” one – with the cord attached to the kettle!  I was gracious – I hid my disappointment. I simply smiled when she bragged about how much money she’d saved.

I googled, “I am bad at buying gifts” and I found an article about a study published a few years ago that said: we should all stop trying to find the perfect gift – we should just buy exactly what people ask for – that way, the recipient is happy.  But of course – the giver gets nothing out of the exchange –  you’ve turned them into your personal shopper. There’s no thought, or love, or proof that I know you so well in just buying you what you asked for. Why can’t I buy you something sweet and sentimental and utterly useless?  It’s the thought that counts. Right?

But that phrase – ‘it’s the thought that counts.’ is just an excuse for bad gift-giving, really.  And we say it because we’re all just afraid to admit that what we really want is the money and the excuse to buy something frivolous for ourselves with it.

Sigh.  The truth is – what I really want is to see you smile. So, hand over your wish list.  I’ll save my sentimentality and my creative spirit for the wrapping paper.

 

Our Obsession with Artificial Intelligence

I hope you are enjoying Westworld as much as I am. If you haven’t watched it yet – you should, it is excellent entertainment. But it makes me wonder, what is with our fascination with artificial intelligence?

It’s been going on for a long time. No, way before Frankenstein’s Monster, I’m talking way back – one of the first stories ever told was about AI. You know it well, it’s a story about a ‘god’ creating a creature in his ‘own image,’ and imbuing it with the ‘breath of life.’ And, just like in the Frankenstein story, and every other AI story out there, the creator loses control of his creation and all hell breaks loose.

It’s a story that tells itself over and over. Every time a child plays with a doll, making it move, giving it words. Every time I run around inside a game controlling my avatar, it’s all the same thing. We teach sign language to gorillas, we treat our pets like little children. We’re constantly trying to pass on this thing – what is it, a mutation perhaps?  – that gives us that rare combination of awarenesses: me versus you; past, present and future.20161123_212705

Maybe it is a mutation, and maybe that is why we’re so eager to pass it along. The mutation wants to replicate, to spread, to live forever. It only gets a measly 90 or so years now, but if it could find it’s way into silicon and plastic…  Well, just imagine the possibilities…

Oh, right – we have. Over and over again.