Thursday, September 30, 2010

Weigh-in craziness.

Tonight was my Weight Watcher’s meeting/weigh-in.

Normally, my ritual is this; I go home, get my stuff and change into a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. This week, due to the 88th annual Maui County Fair, I had to go straight to the weigh in. As such, I was wearing my work clothes. Okay, fine, no big deal. I get to the meeting, empty my pockets, take off my shoes, and get weighed, coming in at +0.2lbs compared to last week.


When I get home I immediately change, grab the pants plus my normal weigh-in shorts, and hit the kitchen. We’ve got a nice little digital scale that will even zero-out for stepped measuring.

I weigh the shorts, zero the scale, then weigh the pants to get the difference. I then take numbers, find a website that converts ounces to pounds, take that number, add it to my weight last week then compare to my week this week.

Happy happy, I actually weigh 0.175lbs less this week than last week.

But man… I think I’m a little crazier than I thought!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Progress on 2010 goals

We’re finally in the fourth quarter of 2010. The year has certainly flown by, but I’m not certain if its from fun or the years passing faster as I get older. In a bit less than three months I’ll be at the one year mark for a personal contract, a plan, I made. Intended as a blue-print for the year I sat down and went through four areas I wanted to see improvement. So, in order…

Get my finances in the best shape of their life.

Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University was a big help here, and my credit cards are paid off. That being said I’ve not progressed far beyond that point – by nature I am not what Dave would call gazelle intense. Quite the opposite. So, at the moment I have not pursued a second job as originally planned, and paying off my car at triple speed has taken a back seat to other things.

When I get my emergency fund back to full (recently had to pay for some car work) I will get back on to track with the more aggressive payoff plan. If nothing else I think I can say I’m doing well in this area.

Get my body in the best shape of my life.

My plan here was a three-pronged approach to my overall health. First was getting my weight down, second was improving my sleep habits, and third was exercise.

Weight was a back-and-forth item for me. Indeed, I weight a little more now than I did then, not achieving the 2.5lbs per month weight loss I was hoping for. At the same time, I certainly did not go back to my old ChangeOne ways. That being said, I have started with Weight Watchers and am seeing improvement. As importantly, I managed to get my bad cholesterol down to normal levels and my blood sugar has been improving as well compared to last year. As such, while I’ve not reached my target weight I’ve certainly started seeing benefits from dietary change.

Sleep has been a pretty good success for me. I set the goal of being in bed by 10 p.m. at night, and most nights I do reach that goal. I think its made a difference in my energy levels to be certain, but the thing to keep in mind is that it also ties in with my weight. I’ve heard of studies where sleep deprivation can contribute to keeping unwanted pounds, but if nothing else the lousier my sleep the more I crave fatty foods at breakfast. Certainly, Jack in the Box and McDonalds has seen less of me since this year.

Exercise has been more miss than hit. I have gone and purchased a lighter kettlebell for myself, as well as joined up with a friend to exercise once a week (pending sanity in our schedules). Still falling short of the 150 minutes a week prescribed by the doctor, at any rate.

Get my brain in the best shape of its life.

The majority of the things I planned to do haven’t happened. Book a month? Nope. Project a month? No. Take a class? Well, still got three months left.

Good grief, what have I been doing?

For the first time in quite some time I’ve actually been dreaming a bit. I’ve started looking and poking at different things, entertaining ideas, looking for leads and starting points. Am I ready to act on any of them? Not quite yet. Certainly things are stewing right now, and I’ve go to say I’ve thought of more things I could do in the past year than I have the past five

Additionally, the reading I have been doing recently has been more of the, for lack of a better term, soul food variety. My brother loaned me some audio CDs to listen to in the car, I’m reading John Maxwell and listening to Zig Ziglar, and have subscribed to three different weekly newsletters on success and motivation.

Am I any smarter than last year? Eh, hard to say. But I think I can truthfully say my world feels brighter and larger than it has in quite a while.

Present myself better than I ever have before.

This has actually been a surprisingly successful area for me. As planned, I donated a lot of my old clothes, got new glasses, and with the help of my friend Lorrie added a lot of new items to my wardrobe. My day to day dressing is considerably improved over last year, and when I go in to work I look more professional and age-appropriate compared to my “bought in my 20’s” clothes.

What next?

We’ll see. I’ve still got three more months before I’m staring down 2011, and that’s three more months to work on these areas. I’m already pondering what might make a worth set of goals for next year, but I still need to review more of this year as well.

What I am very happy about, though, is that even when I did not make the progress I had wanted, I was still moving forward. Certainly in the past it was easy to look at what I didn’t do and beat myself up over it, but I’d like to think that looking at things a bit more objectively is a sign of maturity! So, until then…

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The difficulty of cooperative games.

Sunday afternoons I normally find my self at Paul and Mandy's house. They're a wonderful couple with a wonderful family - gracious and hospitable. The time is often spent playing games of various types - word, card, personality, trivia, etc. We've played Moods, Wizard, Pit, Title Recall, Shout it Out and more, enjoying ourselves the whole time. Its not uncommon for the house to have eight or more people there, visiting, and enjoying each other's company.

Much to their credit, as well as the folks who come, its often laid back and everyone is a good sport about winning, losing, and generally just playing.

But one thing I was wondering, however, is "are there many cooperative games?" As is, the games we play are typically competitive in nature. The rules set up a system for that competition that everyone has to abide by and goes from there. There is really only one winner, be it an individual or a particular team. Now, that is good, and enjoyable, but "in the real world" there is the possibility for win/win and lose/lose situations. Outcomes where everyone can benefit or everyone loses out.

Now then, how do you replicate this?

Right now I'm planning on checking out Forbidden Island and Pandemic. Both are supposed to be cooperative games where players either win together or lose together. I think my gaming groups would like them, but more than that I'd like to see if I can learn from them. Adversary-based competition is so prevalent in gaming because I believe its likely easier to design for and because its easier for us to relate to and work with. We see it in sports, our entertainment, and cynical jokes about how business works.

But, as I've been listening and reading to various people, its clear that in order to prosper you need to be able to create win/win situations. Where you and those you partner with in business both win. You and your customers need to both win in your deals and transactions. You and your employer or employees need to be win/win in your relationship in order for it to be mutually beneficial.

Its a bit easier to find cooperative video games, but I think that there's a cost of accessibility. A lot of online role-playing games like World of Warcraft or City of Heroes are cooperative, but not everyone likes them and given each person needs their own computer, account, etc., its going to be cost prohibitive. There's an increasing number of console games with cooperative elements, but they're often shooters of some sort with violent game play. Likewise, there's a certain amount of time that needs to be invested to learn the game from a physical standpoint (controls, hand-eye coordination, etc) that detracts from their usability.

There are traditional role-playing games, but regardless of genre they're not going to appeal to everyone. Likewise, not only would someone have to take up the game master/referee's position, there's not an insignificant amount of work involved in running a game. A game master has to be the arbiter of the rules, be fair and consistent, and be a good story teller! Its not easy, plus that person doesn't actually get to play along with the other people.

Hence, I'm curious about the idea of games that are cooperative but are accessible and do not require someone to sit out in order to make the game happen.

Its been something to think about, that's for sure!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New versus Used.

The debate between new and used is usually fairly cut and dry when you talk to people - buy new and pay more or buy used and pay less. Its accepted that used will have a certain amount of wear on it and not come with all the perks a new item would normally have, but overall that's the price you pay for not paying full price.

Over the years I've gotten to know and be acquaintances, if not friends with, a fair number of content creators. Artists, writers, musicians who make their living (or supplement it) through books, games, and music sales. I'm a fan of a fair number of companies that do business with selling software and services, some of which have seen ups and downs. On top of all that I've got a liking for some of my local stores and businesses.

Because of all this, its put a different twist on how I'm seeing the new versus used debate, and has me leaning more towards buying new. Not because I'm rich, mind you! To be honest, for a while I felt like it was kind of silly to buy new - you're paying more for, what? On some things, like books, DVD's and games, there's a good, compelling reason to buy used! Especially games when the store you go to provides a better return policy and 10-20% off the price of new when you buy used. Arguably, its stupid to buy new (at least with them).


When I buy a product new I'm generally buying locally. This is a wonderful thing since, well, living on an island means money generally has a harder time getting here than leaving here. I might not be getting the best price (shopping at Amazon or some other online retailer might save me, sometimes even after shipping), but at least some of the money stays here, and usually paying someone's check. I like this, especially since my own work depends on other businesses doing well. Do I order online? Yes, I do. But generally its for things I can't get here. Maui, not being Oahu, this issue can come up a little more often than I'd like.

The other trick with buying something new is I'm supporting the people that produce it. I've liked enough small, niche companies or topics over the years (SNK being a long time favorite) to sort of dispell that "all companies are greedy, evil, and greedily evil" misconception. Yes, companies are for-profit, obviously, but that doesn't mean they're swimming in cash. Likewise, if they're not making money doing something either they'll go out of business or stop doing that thing, whatever it was. I've seen companies I've liked go out of business, undergo layoffs, and even get bought out then gutted or changed to the point where they're not really the same company anymore. So, supporting products I like and the company that makes them has gotten a bit more important to me.

To make things one step deeper, I now know people who are involved in those products. I've been fortunate enough to have conversations (and play online once) with a staffer at Arena.Net, the maker of Guild Wars. One friend of mine writes and publishes role-playing games, whereas another is a writer, whose works can be found not only in her own novels but also anthologies. A good, long-time friend of mine is an illustrator, having done work for a fair number of books (and at least one video game!), plus another has done art for video games, movies, television shows and lord knows what else. I've known more than bands from my college years - folks I went to school with - going to their concerts, buying their self-published CDs and other merchandise. I've even, through a friend, got to meet a gentleman who works at Microsoft and had his hand in the 360 and the Zune (two products I own and enjoy) - even got to play a DVD trivia game with him and his family (Shout It Out or something like that). This has sort of humanized the whole process - its gotten a lot easier for me to see the people behind the products, you know? When I buy new, it benefits them.

I'm very happy its getting easier to buy things digitally now - its getting easier, cheaper and more convenient, plus with at least Borders I'll be able to buy digitally, locally, as well.

I'll be honest - sometimes I really don't want to swallow the price of buying new. Sales happen and coupons come around. Sometimes I will go ahead and buy used. But I have to say - I certainly don't feel like it is stupid to buy new. Now, I don't feel greedy or selfish for buying used - but I'm leaning a bit more the other way.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reason versus Emotion and cell phones.

Right now I've got a Palm Centro. Its an older smart phone, and was considered to be entry level at that. But its nice! I like the little guy quite a bit and make okay use out of what it offers. Contacts? Yep. Calendar? Often. Basic word processing for notes and stuff? Good to have. Camera? Used rather frequently. Keyboard for texting? Used a lot. In short - it gets a lot of use for things other than being a phone. All without a data plan, no less!

Realizing my actual wants and usage of my smartphone (indeed, my actual "I'm not in front of a computer" habits) are fairly modest, I've come to realize that any of the smartphones out there should be quite fine for my needs.

However, and this might be due to my XY chromosomes, I've been eying the newer smart phones lately.

Believe or not this is the phone I'm considering the least. Part of it is maybe some contrary-ism on my part. Perhaps an irrational attraction to "other" options. But at the same time its certainly the safest option. I know it'll do pretty much everything I want and more, but then again, the same can probably be said about all the smartphones out there. Good ecosystem (hardware, software, accessories) to boot.

Yet... I'm not overly interested in it. Go figure. I think it might be a result of me wanting to keep my professional life (which is in an OSX centric world) and my personal life (which has gotten increasingly Windows-centric) separate.


In theory this is the most ideologically compatible phone for me. Open source based? Yes. Multiple hardware vendors? Wonderful. Variety in hardware configurations so I can find the perfect one for me rather than Apple's "one size fits all?" A definite yes. Available on all carriers? An enthusiastic yes!

Yet at the same time these selling points also lead to reasons (for me) to be a bit leery. Not so much the open source nature, but the diversity leads to inconsistency. Reading reviews becomes required (and you should never trust just one review for a single product). Finding out which version of the OS the device comes with is important, but also answering the question, "will I be able to upgrade to the newest version of Android?" The phone maker might not have an update in the works for that model, or the carrier itself could decide not to release the update! Likewise, there might be goodies on one model of phone that's not on another because its phone or carrier specific.

This fragmenting is a bit frustrating for me, especially since Android 2.2 is supposed to be quite good. Allegedly Android 3 will work towards making this less of a concern, but we'll see. Right now its a lot more work with a bit more risk. Still exciting, mind you, but its a process I'm more familiar with when dealing with computers than I am with cell phones.

Microsoft/Windows Phone 7

The new Windows Phone 7... er... phones, aren't even out yet, but they've really gotten my attention. Its a little frustrating since to get one of these would violate my "don't be an early adopter, fool!" rule. Getting something when it first comes out (particularly when its first generation of something) is generally asking for trouble when it comes to technology (and yes, even with Apple products).

Yet... its not exactly a first generation product. Its Windows Mobile, torn down and redone. There's no backwards compatibility, but that's not an issue for me. From what I've been reading, that's actually been a huge plus overall. Its a do-over, and opinions have been very positive even though its lost some of Windows Mobile 6.x's features like multitasking and cut-and-paste. Its not even shipping with Flash and Silverlight (which might be a plus for me considering streaming video would devour data).

Microsoft seems to be taking a middle approach to the one-size fits all iPhone and anything goes Android. There's a required minimum specification for hardware. Hopefully the updates for WP7 will be available between all carriers and all models - if Microsoft can't push that then they'll end up with the same problems as Android but without the advantages. The core experience can't really be messed with to much, but phone makers can still add things within limits (avoiding the crapware issue that many Windows PCs have out of the box).

On top of everything, it seems like they're trying to make good use of the internet, their Xbox Live stuff, Zune music service and more. As someone who is currently trying out Microsoft's Windows Live web services (email, calendar, photo hosting, Office online, etc), has a Zune (love the software, and my old 4g player is actually quite nice), have an Xbox Live/Games for Windows Live account, and generally prefer the Windows/PC market to the Mac market for personal use (I use Macs at work and have used OSX for a 7 years or so)? The integration between everything could be very nice for me.

There's a lot of potential here, but potential doesn't mean it'll be lived up to or even successful.

HP/Palm Pre WebOS 2

Speaking of potential with a relative lack of success!

Before Android caught my interest or Windows Phone 7 found my fancy, there was the Palm Pre. I'm a former Palm OS PDA user (had a Sony Clie years ago) so I have to admit to having a soft spot for Palm. I followed the development of the Pre for a while, and was rather excited about it. Even to the point of considering leaving AT&T for Sprint. Well, not seriously considering. As a big fan of competition I preferred the idea of the Pre eventually coming to AT&T (which it has), but still, I thought about it!

Needless to say the Pre didn't make as big a splash as Palm had hoped. A friend of mine helped keep me updated with some hardware issues, and their app store (while not a huge concern of mine) was not doing as well as analysts had hope despite it being more open than Apple's. Being exclusive to Sprint (they're, what, #3? #4? of the big carriers) was a huge mistake in my opinion. Generally speaking, the things that made the Pre nice seemed to get drowned out due to bad choices on the part of Palm's management.

Well, HP now owns Palm, the Pre, WebOS (what runs on the Pre), and is hopefully going to improve things all around. WebOS 2.0 recently got unveiled, although I'm not sure when its going to hit. Presumably new models of Pre will be coming out, and hopefully the old ones can get this update. I would like to see new models of Pre with a different body style, though. The Pixi is nice enough, but the actual Pre itself? I dislike the physical keyboard as it has a bit of a lip around it that I didn't find myself thrilled with. Likewise, I think I'd rather use keyboard that slides out horizontally (candy bar-style) than one that comes out vertically.

Am I seriously considering them? Not especially. I'm not seeing enough yet, but at the same time I'm not opposed to the idea. If nothing else, I just want to cheer them on.

When will I decide?

Not sure! But its still cool to watch things go by. I'm pretty certain whatever route I go I'll have to get a data plan, though! I want to be able to access email from wherever I'm at. Likewise, being able to email photos or post them to Facebook would be a nice plus, and not something I can do currently since I don't have a data plan.

But man, its great having options. Even if, right now, I'm emotionally favoring one company that could be considered a has-been at this point (Microsoft) and an underdog with an uncertain future (Palm).