Dealing with your designer

Design in business tends to be a collaborative effort.  Mainly this is because nine times out of ten the person with the idea doesn’t have the ability, and the people with the ability aren’t often focused enough to have the ideas.  Not to offend either set, but creativity and business sense appear to be, in most people, diametrically opposed.  That means the more of one you have the less of the other you have.

So, if you are the idea guy, you take your thoughts to someone else.  You’ve laid out the parameters and explained what you wanted.  The designer has gone off and done what you asked and is showing it to you.

The first thing to remember when entering a design process is that until you’ve actually released, you can change anything.  Even after you release you can probably still change things.  So when your designer brings you the first pass at implementing your idea, the first thing out of your mouth shouldn’t be pointing out how they totally screwed it up.  This is a first draft, this is the collaboration part where the designer is trying to understand what you want, in his medium, and you help him.  Until you learn to literally project your thoughts into someone else’s head, you have to realize that what you dreamed up and what you put on paper as specifications are not remotely identical, and the translation from your brain to paper and then from paper to the designer’s brain is going to cause variation.  That’s why the two of you need to work together.

Don’t put your designer on the defensive and lead with criticism.  Look at the work and begin by talking about what you like.  What elements appear to be going in the right direction.  And then, when you are done, begin being critical, however, remain constructive.  If you don’t like the format of something, don’t just say, “I hate that. It’s ugly.”  Try instead something like, “The words are right like I specified, but I’m not loving the font you chose. Can you show me a few others?”  If you don’t understand something, ask — the designer is likely happy to explain where he started and how he got there, and if he’s off the mark you should correct the error in his path and help him get to where you want.  Of course, that doesn’t mean you sit in the designer’s work space and tell him how to do his job.

Just keep in mind how you would react if someone came along and told you how stupid your idea was versus them telling you it’s a good idea, promising, but there are these one or two details you might want to reconsider before you get in too deep.  In other words, the Golden Rule.

NaNoWriMo 2010 Begins…

I’m actually a couple days late with this.  I’m also off to a pretty poor start.  In any event, I’m participating again and am now working my way toward 50,000 words.  Last year I broke 5,000 words, which is the farthest I’ve ever gotten and double the year before.  My goal this year is really just to break 10,000.  Of course, I’d love to get the whole 50k, but I also like setting manageable expectations.

This year I’m actually dusting off an old idea and I really want to finish it.  I’d like to get this idea down on paper, and maybe stop having it hang around in the back of my head as one of those things I really should write.

My profile, as always, is here.  Feel free to add me as a writing buddy.  And to throw a little inspiration your way, enjoy this little music video…

Dead State

Dead StateI’m really psyched about the upcoming release of Dead Rising 2 because Dead Rising was one of my favorite games.  However, now I hear about Dead State.  Check out this article on Rock, Paper, Shotgun and then come back.  I’ll wait.

It is as if someone took a peak inside my brain and designed the game I’ve been looking for.  Obviously, I love zombies.  Not in the “I want to be a zombie” sort of way, but in an “I’m pretty sure I could survive a zombie uprising, and I also think it makes a great setting for stories” sort of way.  Frankly, I just don’t get the people in the former group at all.  But if every promise of Dead State comes true, they are talking about making a game with no defined goals, no boss to beat, no final cut scene that leads to the inevitable sequel.  You run a local shelter during a disaster and you have to go about finding supplied and food and other people.  Based on how you choose to do those things will determine if the people you run into will like you or not, creating your enemies and obstacles through your decisions.

With a release date of “Not in 2010” we’ve got a long wait ahead of us…

Dragon*Con 2008: Day Four

The last day of Con is always the worst.  First, because it comes after the last night of Con, which is usually filled with too much drinking and staying up way too late.  Then there is the packing in order to check out before getting dinged for another day stay.  And as bad as you feel, any panelists feel worse, because not only do they have the same issues you do, but they also have to be on panels.  The last day of Con is always the slowest.

After getting the car packed and heading back in, I made another trip through the dealer and exhibitor rooms.  After a few days of saying there was nothing worth seeing you might wonder why I would go back… well, being the last day, many sellers weigh the expense of hauling back product versus cutting the price.  So, its no surprise on Monday at Dragon*Con to see 20%… 50%… or higher signs.  See, if you buy early, you pay more, but you will get your item.  If you wait, you might pay less, or you might be too late.  I found a stall selling RPG materials, all items $2, so I picked up random curiosities, like the Starship Troopers pen and paper game.  I wouldn’t pay the normal price, but for $2?  Hells yeah!

Then it was off to the panels… Free MMOs was up first.  There are lots, most of them look like crap (to me, anything anime is crap, I hate that style, all asian MMOs, free or not free, are boring soulless garbage), but some don’t.

And the pen and paper game Aftermath! has been licensed for an MMO.  I heart the apocalypse, so I hope they succeed.

With those last panels out of the way, it was time to head home and sleep…


Last week, I finally decided to call in service on my refrigerator. The panel with the water and ice dispenser in it has been loose for a while. So I went looking for the receipt and the service numbers which resulted in my sifting through the piles of papers and junk that has collected in my filing cabinet since we bought the house. After dealing with the fridge (which turned out to be that the panel was never installed properly, not that it was broken), I decided to clean up my files.

Dealing with old papers has always been a thing for me. I’m a pack rat by nature, and I keep everything. Not that I keep it organized so that it is useful or anything, I just keep it all. Since I have had my mail stolen a time or two, and I know there are people out there who go through the trash looking for items to perpetrate fraud with, I wanted to make sure I disposed of everything properly.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. About 8 months ago, I did a semi-cleaning of sorts and I threw out some stuff, but not a lot, so I just tore everything up into small pieces by hand. But for this new overhaul, I knew I’d have more to throw out, so I borrowed an electric paper shredder from my father. 🙂 Man, is that thing fun to use. You just drop paper in the slot and it powers up and shreds. It even has a nifty warning label on it specifically telling you not to put your tie in it, just in case you were tempted to try it.

Even I was unaware of just how much crap I had accumulated. Back in 1992 I got my first job doing night stock work at the local Kroger, and after a few paychecks I went and opened a bank account. I actually had in my filing cabinets, 16 years worth of bank statements and canceled checks. Well, almost. The canceled checks stopped back in 2000 and I went to eStatements in 2006. I also had every credit card statement from 1993 to 2006, and some even to 2008. I had warranty cards for items I haven’t owned in more than a decade.

Overall, if makes me proud of myself to know that most of that can’t happen again. I’ve gone to electronic everything as much as possible, and most companies offer to keep PDF versions of your statements and check images and whatnot for up to seven years if you turn off your paper mailings. So I get to keep the same records I had, only now I’ve got them all on a hard drive instead of in a filing cabinet. However, as proud as I am of that, I also now have more than three full thirty gallon Hefty trash bags of shredded documents. I checked, and my local recycle place won’t take shredded paper for recycling, only unshredded. Seems silly to me, but I guess they must have a reason.

Oh well, at least its just a one time thing, dumping this much paper into the regular garbage instead of the recycle bins.

Meeting Fu

When it comes to business, one of the greatest pains are the glut of meetings the average large corporation insists on having. As a programmer, I have come to the point where I estimate any project at least three times the amount of hours I actually need to do it, in part to leave room for mistakes and redesigns, but mostly to cover the seemingly endless meetings the client will wish to have.

The worst offender of wasted time is the Status Meeting with the client. Now, Status Meetings with your manager or with other team members can be quite productive, but with the client its just because they want to see work being done. The first problem is that not all work can be seen by the client. If the code I have worked on has made part of the program function better, or differently behind the scenes, then there is no screen I can show the client to say “Look what I did”. This results in two behaviors:

1) The stack of paper. When a client insists on Status Meetings being face to face, I cannot go to the meeting empty handed. Despite the fact that my job as a programmer is almost entirely paperless, I have a stack of paper in a drawer of my desk that contains print outs of sections of code (from my personal web page), spreadsheets (of comic books and a sample timesheet I made for a friend), manuals (for my universal remote among other things), and a complete guide to Teradata specific query formats. Thrown on top will often be one or two emails printed that concern the project from the client I am meeting with, and two pads of paper, one with a task list (a huge TO DO scrawled at the top) with items crossed out and one with various ramblings and scribblings. I take all this stack of well thumbed paper with me to the meeting, and then periodically I will shuffle through it before pulling out a random piece of paper and then either agreeing or disagreeing with the client.

2) Useless screen modifications. During the project planning stages, I will suggest that certain changes get made to the layout of the screens, more often the initial design of the screens is done UOP (Ugly On Purpose) so that they can be fixed later. Clients absolutely love to see things move around the screen to new places, especially if they believe it is their personal input that is resulting in the changes (one item may clearly belong on the left side of the screen, but I will place it on the right and try to get the client to suggest we move it to the left). All this designing and redesigning pages wastes time both in and out of meetings.

The best bet, however, when dealing with meetings is to take extra care when planning them.

Step one, if your company uses Outlook to schedule meetings make sure than any time you don’t want there to be a meeting, you have something scheduled already. For example, from 11:30 am to 12:30 pm every day, I eat lunch, and to avoid people (especially people in other time zones) from scheduling meetings during my lunch, I have a meeting scheduled every day called “Provision Processing” (Food Eating) and it is attended by a few random people who also wish to eat lunch at the same time I do.

The next step is to never schedule a meeting on a day where everyone is open, specifically the client. Try to find a day where they already have five hours of meetings planned. Your best bet is to look for a day when they look all booked up except for an hour or hour and a half around noon. Since you took my advice on Step One, your lunch is already blocked, but that gap is probably where they plan to have lunch. Schedule it then. If it does happen to fall into their lunch, the meeting is likely to run quick since they want to get out of there. Basically, anything you can do to make the client initiate shortening the meeting is great.

If all else fails, call in sick. Sore throat, take my wife/kid/father/dog to the doctor. Specificity is not your friend, stay generic when possible but if you have to give details, make and keep a list so you can remember what fictitious ailments you have assigned to your family members. Never ever make it serious though. If you ever fib your way into Get Well cards, you’ve gone too far.

Of course, none of this applies if you actually have stuff to show the client. The honest truth is always the best policy when its good news. All this other stuff is just to avoid having to explain to the client that they are honestly clueless. You might also get extremely lucky and have a client who understands and some weeks is willing to simply accept “Work is progressing and is on track, but there is nothing to show you this week.” In which case, ignore everything I said.

Except the thing about scheduling a meeting for your lunch.

1,000 Paper Cranes

A friend of mine is making 1,000 paper cranes.

If you followed that link, you’ll see a story about a young girl with leukemia who is told of a legend whereby if a person folds a thousand paper cranes their wish will come true. According to the story of the girl, she originally was going to wish to be well, but when she got to the end she wished for world peace instead. She was buries with a wreath of a thousand paper cranes.

In all of my searching, though, I cannot find reference of the original legend itself, only mentions of people being told the legend.

I suppose the point, as my friend says, is that if you see it through, making the thousand cranes, during which you really can’t think of anything other than the wish you will make, by the end you’ll really know what your heart desires. In the girl’s case, being a victim of the atomic bomb herself, she (I assume) realized that she wanted less to get better herself and wanted more that the world would have peace and never see another atomic bomb drop.

I’ve been wondering what I would wish for if I decided to undertake the folding of a thousand cranes. I have no idea…

My friend has been keeping track of his progress on his blog.

Stuff on the Net V

Its not new news, but EVE Online has proven to me again that it is a place where anything can happen if the players want it to… including theft and assassination.

Do you think you could be the next Mistress of the Dark?

I never think of the great ideas first. From big red paper clip to a year free rent.

Of course, even great ideas can be dwarfed by combined genius and stupidity. I leave is to you to determine which one is the genius.

I don’t bowl enough to have an average, but if I did, I might consider entering this tournament where the winner gets to own the bowling alley.

While looking up stuff to educate myself on the woes and advantages of hybrid cars I stumbled onto this enthusiastic yet disgruntled hybrid owner’s blog.

Survey: Question Number Three

In most MMO games today, your character has lots of hit points and you get hit a few dozen times before you go down. In pen & paper systems, your character tends to have lower hit points and depends largely on misses, blocking and resists to survive; getting hit a couple or three times can put you in the dirt. So the question is, which system would you prefer to play in, one where you have hundreds or thousands of hit points and get hit for small amounts often and large amounts infrequently, or one where you have dozens of hit points and get missed mostly and hits are more critical in nature?

To a degree, playing in a large number system is more… calming. I get hit and I shrug it off. I have 5,000 hit points and the monster I’m fighting only hits for 50, so I can get hit 100 times before I fall. Mathematically, it allows for a steady, normalized, progression of damage that leads to character death. With the occasional spike of spell damage to keep you on your toes. However, like other things, I’m a bit tired of this system because it is so prevalent.

The other method is more tense. Miss, miss, miss, block, dodge, miss, dodge, miss, block, HIT! Crap! I just lost half my hit points! Miss, miss, block, miss, block, block, dodge, miss, miss, dodge, HIT! Almost dead! Not gonna make it! Block, block, dodge, miss, dodge, miss, miss, miss, miss, dodge, block, enemy falls over dead. Whew! I made it!

I don’t know. It just seems to me that if it worked that second way, I’d care more, I’d be less tempted to do some AFK fighting. What do you think?