Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Wheel of Time Character Mapping

So I've been thinking about doing an experiment by listing the characters that appear in each chapter of Wheel of Time as I read it (starting mid book 7 because that's where I am now). Partially this comes from the fact that now there are so freaking many noble and Aes Sedai secondary characters, many with very similar names, that even I can't keep them straight!

Also this is because I generally try to avoid spoilers, because I know of at least one person that reads this blog sometimes that hasn't read all of the books. In my opinion listing the characters as they appear won't be any kind of real spoiler, but still I'll keep things as spoiler free as I can. Here's a bit of what it would look like, but in practice I'm not sure it gives much without spoilers and would be a lot of work.

Book 7 - A Crown of Swords

Chapter 11 - An Oath
  • Egwene Al'Vere
  • Meri - mean servant of Egwene's
  • Romanda - Aes Sedai, rival of Lelaine
  • Lelaine - Aes Sedai, rival of Romanda
  • Sheriam - Aes Sedai, on Egwene's side
  • Lord Gareth Bryne
  • Theodrin Dabei & Faolain Orande - Aes Sedai
  • Halima / Aran'gar
  • Tiana - Aes Sedai?
  • Siuan Sanche
  • etc.
I'm thinking that having my own wiki for Wheel of Time might be easier and better in every way. I'd build it as I go through the books and hopefully because of that it would be much more comprehensive than the other wikis that are out there. I would contribute to them, but I can't at the moment because they are riddled with spoilers so I just avoid the existing wikis as a practice. However, Becky tells me there isn't any one wiki that is as informative or comprehensive as they should be.

Reading Update: I am 41% through book 7 and now very happy to be almost 50% of the way through the series (minus the final book which isn't out yet). Towers of Midnight coming out set me back about 3% in total but I caught that up and more over the last two books.

Is it technically Winter yet? I'm pretty sure it is but for some reason it still feels very much like Fall to me even though it is super cold outside. Also, it doesn't feel like the week of Christmas at all, but it still feels MUCH better than last year for obvious reasons! :)

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

My Disturbing Affair with Graphs, Numbers, and Critical Hits

Sure I talk about Critical Hits here sometimes, and probably even more so I talk about how I am way too in love with random math, numbers, and graphs. So why should today be any different???

I hesitate to say that I "joined" Critical Hits in August of 2005 because that's around when Dave sent out the e-mail to a bunch of us asking if we wanted to help out with the website, and also asking what we should name the site. I believe "For Great Justice" was the working title at the time, and I'm pretty happy with the name that we settled on considering the numerous other RPG, D&D, and especially 4E themed blogs that have popped up in the last year or two.

We started using Google Analytics back in October of 2006, just a year or so after we had been seriously blogging at the site. Here I'm going to look at some minor traffic stats over the history of CH so far.
  • Late 2006: 30-50 avg. daily visitors
  • First Half 2007: 200-350 daily visitors
  • July 2007 - Fallout 3 Press Event: 1,625 highest daily visitors at the time
  • Second Half 2007*: 100-200 daily visitors
  • Feb 2008 - D&D XP for 4E: 4,575 highest daily visitors at the time
  • First Half 2008: 300-400 daily visitors
  • Second Half 2008: 400-800 daily visitors (with a lot more spikes up to around 1,600)
  • First Half 2009: still in the 400-800 daily visitors range
  • Second Half 2009: 800-1,200 daily visitors (GenCon brought large traffic spikes)
  • First Half 2010 - ChattyDM joins CH: 1,600-2,000 daily visitors (Chatty brings the rain)
  • August 2010 - GenCon: 7,300 highest daily visitors at the time
  • Second Half 2010: 2,000-2,500 daily visitors (with spikes up to 4,500)
Now what does this really show? Not a ton, but it does tell me that from 2007 to 2010 over the course of those 4 years our average daily traffic has grown 50x and that is a pretty crazy thing to think about for me. It also surprises me, and I'm very happy about it, that our current regular traffic spikes up to the numbers that used to be our highest ever daily traffic back in early 2008 when we first covered D&D XP. Realistically I don't expect our numbers to grow at the same rate as we continue, because there are only so many RPG players out there that are reading blogs, but still I'm very happy with how things have progressed and I hope to be happy with it in the foreseeable future.

* Right around July of 2007 Google changed something with their search algorithms, and this resulted in us losing quite a bit of traffic that was probably just people glancing and bouncing from the site anyway, so we dropped from a high of 350 in a day back down to around 200 in a day.

Reading Update: I finished Wheel of Time book 6, Lord of Chaos, and am already 12% through book 7, A Crown of Swords. I'm hoping to be done with ACoS by the end of December and then into book 8 for January. It is still incredibly surprising, and satisfying, to be reading a book in a month that would have taken me up to 6 months to get through just a year or two ago.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Merging Profession and Hobby = Fun!

This week I started a series within a series (because I'm just like that) where I'm going to be talking about World Building for a tabletop RPG in my Architect DM series of posts for Critical Hits. So far I've been incredibly surprised by the series not just from people giving almost entirely positive feedback on it but also because writing posts for it has been some of the easiest writing I've ever done for a blog and especially for CH. If you want to check out the whole series, you can view the "Architect DM" tag by using this url:


So far in the series I've covered things like building story foundations for the locations in your games so that they are more believable, including if you are using ruined locations to think about what they looked like beforehand and what uses they had and then have fun destroying and knocking parts of them down to create even more interesting terrain. I've also talked about how to design a dungeon by thinking about a modern office building and taking the inverse of it and going into the ground instead of into the air. Many of the posts have been based on reader questions and suggestions and that's one thing that makes it even more fun for me to write the posts.

I'm not 100% sure but I wouldn't be surprised if all of the " DM" titles owe themselves back to Phil and his Chatty DM moniker, but for the last 5 years or so I have strongly considered myself a "Professional / Nerd" and finally decided to take that a step further and combine my experiences and expertise with Architecture and apply it to my hobby of running and playing D&D and other RPGs. This series also probably owes itself largely to the DM Guys Podcast which I participated in with our friend Quinn one day about improvising as a DM and Dave and Quinn quipped that I may be better at improvising locations/dungeons because I have spent a lot of my life designing locations (not dungeons, but really modern offices and dungeons aren't that far apart, which is probably why I compared them in one of my Architect DM posts). I thought about it and decided they were right, and that I should share to help others be able to do the same.

As far as reading goes, thanks to a day trip down to Jacksonville, FL I made significant progress through book 6, Lord of Chaos, and am now definitively into the final part of the book where I almost always speed up to get to the end. I'm 84% through the book now, and am almost caught up with where I should have been if I hadn't taken a couple days off from reading in the beginning of November.

Reading a series like Wheel of Time is teaching me quite a bit about writing, fantasy novels / storylines, storytelling in general, and pacing when it comes to novels. I'm excited to be approaching the half way point through the entire series, something that I honestly thought I'd either never do or I would be much older by the time I did it. You have to keep in mind that previously it would take me 3-6 months or even up to a year to finish a single book in the series, and now I'm clearing a book in roughly a month without THAT much more effort put into it. Again, I'm hoping in the near future to apply the same philosophies that have helped my reading to the other parts of my life such as writing and drawing.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wheel of Time Thoughts

I am now 51% through Wheel of Time book 6 - Lord of Chaos and I'm starting to progress a bit faster (as usual). It's usual because right around half way through most of Jordan's books he starts to really pick up the action and build to the finale (go figure, right? Who would structure a book that way? Oh, everyone? I see...) so I'm naturally inclined to keep reading and to read more often through out the day.

I generally avoid talking much about what I'm reading in WoT because I want to avoid spoilers for anyone reading this, but my continuing discussions with Becky are enjoyable and I'd love to have some of those here as well. The other big problem is I really don't want anyone in comments here or in discussing it to spoil anything for me, so please keep in mind that I am only half way through Lord of Chaos and I'll probably have Becky read any comments here first (though I'm assuming there won't be any, so no big deal) just in case!

For today I'm not going to spoil anything big, but still if you don't want any spoilers from WoT up to and through book 6 don't read the rest of this paragraph. Minor Spoilers now: I find it very fascinating that Jordan waited until about 380 pages (38% through the book) into the 6th book of the series to finally reveal that Tigraine was Rand's mother. You find out in book 3 (IIRC) that his mother was a wetlander that entered the waste and became a maiden of the spear, and that his father was an Aiel, but the reveal in this chapter of book 6 is pretty damn important. It's important because you also find out that the Aes Sedai Gitara Moroso was the one that foretold the Dragon being reborn, and that she sent Tigraine's brother (Luc, OMG another big thing that I can't wait to find out more about) to the north and she then sent Tigraine away from Caemlyn so that Rand would end up being born on the cliffs of Dragonmount (or wherever). This is all super important not just because it explains the events that led to Rand's birth, but also because after that Gitara Sedai is the one who set Suian's and Moiraine's plans into action which is really the whole set up for the beginning of Eye of the World. Thus, to me this revelation of events is really what began the whole series of books and so to me this is easily one of the most important chapters of the series so far.

Spoilers aside and done with, I just like looking at the fact that Jordan waited until this book to reveal the beginnings of the events in Eye of the World. I'm not saying I think he should have done it sooner or later, just marveling at how and where it was done. Also that it was done in a sort of casual sense with just a noble woman in Caemlyn talking to Rand and mentioning something to him. Other things that really interest me are how much the Forsaken are characters in these later books, and how the only holdovers from the 2nd age are essentially the bad guys.

All of that just makes me want to read faster, so that's what I'm doing! I won't be finishing this book by the end of November (only 2 days away, geez) but I should wrap it up sometime in early December. This time of year is always rough for scheduling and running D&D, and I am amazed that right around this time last year I was struggling so much with scheduling that I was on the very brink of canceling the whole campaign. Thankfully (VERY thankfully) Josh rallied his roomates and came up on December 5th last year for their first romp into the Elemental Chaos, which was extremely fun and resolved me to keep things going. This year I am content to keep it going even if I don't run once in December, though I very much hope I can.

In other news Thanksgiving was very fun this year, we went to Becky's grandmother's house and had a fun time with all of the family and especially hanging out with their cousins. I'm hooked on the Sam Adams Winter Variety boxes - not just to get the 2 bottles of sweet, sweet Chocolate Boch that the O got me hooked on (thanks Andrew :P ) but also because I love the Winter Lager and pretty much every other variety in there.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Numbers Make Me Hot

Okay, so it's me and by now if you're surprised by me analysing numbers, specifically when they can be charted to a graph (perhaps even in some sort of Graph Chart!) that involves chronology, then you clearly don't know me well enough!

Apparently I started this account on Blogger almost exactly 4 years ago on November 20, 2006. If you'd asked me when I did that, I would NOT have said that long ago at all. It was mostly a whim, but I could probably already feel Critical Hits growing in a different direction and my personal blogging "needs" would need to be filled somewhere. I remember I asked Dave for name suggestions and he almost instantly shot back "Incorrect Blitz Input", and it was one of those times where solid gold just materializes first and foremost in the idea process. Thank you Dave for that, it was perfect and you seemingly conjured it from no where without any effort what so ever. If you don't know the reference, go play Final Fantasy 3 (6 in Japan) and you should be able to figure out who my favorite character was.

Oh, I also started a Blogger account because Dave and several other people who were (and are) some of the only people I believe actually read this were opposed to reading Live Journal. Also I'd gotten a bit tired of the good old LJ, it felt novel at first but quickly started to feel more dated than anything else.

The weird thing then was that I didn't post here until January of 2007, and even then I only posted a whopping 3 times in that whole year. By 2008 this blog had existed long enough that it needed some justification for existing, so I started a meager effort of posting here about once a month, but quickly started coming here to post very short musings or thoughts I had (which are usually funny in retrospect) resulting in 39 posts total in 2008. My biggest hopes and fears then were all focused on my upcoming D&D campaign, which I'm thrilled to say is STILL going! 2009 dwindled back down to a total of 8 posts, but this was also the year that my day job quickly took a downward turn and ironically is when I probably needed something like a personal blog the most, but I neglected it instead (thankfully it neither eats/drinks nor breaths, otherwise it surely would have died). This was also the year that I first got the spark that the blog could be used as some sort of "Reading Journal" where I post about my progress through current books, and I added the progress bars on the side there that have no become some kind of addictive drug that I must update whenever I read, and I read so that I may update them and progress along the bar further. It encourages me to read, so it's a good drug! Right?! RIGHT?!?

2010 started off the same as 2009, with me newly into my unemployment - though I did manage to post twice in January (rays of hope in the darkness I suppose). It wasn't until June, with new (dream) job in hand that I returned here to chronicle some of my deeper thoughts - specifically about unemployment and precisely how badly the architecture industry was hit by the downturn in the economy. I'm happy that from June to now I have managed to get 2010 up to 29 posts (30 now with this one going up).

With the advent of my Harry Potter reading marathon, and now my Wheel of Time push to finish before the final book is released (which I'm well ahead of schedule for), I am happy to say that I will have at least the most simple reason to update this blog as a record for my reading progress. It gives me hope, because if I can get into the habit of reading and progressing on that, and updating here, then I can transfer these habits to my other interests as well -namely art and drawing, which is something I've been struggling with for longer than any of my blogs has ever existed.

There is always hope for that, no matter how long I write about wanting to get it started. As Phil says to me sometimes, which does drive me crazy but it's good advice, "stop talking about it and do it." Coming from the Chatty DM, a person who talks quite a bit, I take it as learned and very good advice. Now to stop writing about it and follow it! :D

Reading Update: I read over 60 pages today, to make up for some of the slack I had earlier in the month, and am now 37% of the way through book 6 - Lord of Chaos.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

One Year Later

This past Friday, November 19th, marks exactly one year since I was laid off from my last job. It's interesting to me that it feels like a very long time ago, but also doesn't feel like it's been nearly a year since I worked there. If you haven't read my other posts from the summer of this year, what followed me being laid off was 7 months of very stressful unemployment and worrying, though it also managed to be LESS stressful than my former job was for various reasons. Thankfully, back in early June I was hired by the company I work for now and things have been going along fantastically!

With Thanksgiving coming up this week, it's no real surprise to me that I don't remember the holiday season last year very clearly at all. I'd just been laid off, and was starting into my job search full steam and also getting unemployment (and continuing health insurance) worked out. This year things are on the upswing and continue to look up for the future, so I imagine this holiday season will be one that sticks with me for a while. As I continue to do posts on here over the next year, I'm going to make it an ongoing goal to reflect to the same time frame of the last year and compare how things are going. Obviously this time last year things were not so good, and so perhaps it is this year for Thanksgiving that I have more to be thankful for than I have in many years previous.

In more regular news, we went to a midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, which was enjoyable. It is the first Harry Potter movie I've read the book before I've seen the movie, and it's a distinctly different experience though many of the changes or bizarre plots that I completely understand now still irk me because I know if I hadn't read the book I would have had major issues with the movie.

I've also finally (and hopefully) winterized my Trident Maple bonsai tree that I got back in late June. I'm really hoping it survives the winter in good health and I can really take care of it and shape it through the spring & summer next year. It's in a bed of mulch inside of a clear plastic container on our back steps, because we don't have a shed or anything to protect it from the more harsh weather while it hibernates. The tree was probably one of my first gifts/purchases after getting the new job so I really hope to cultivate it for many years to come!

Reading Update: I slacked for the early-middle part of November because of some new D&D books I got and wanted to read, but I'm back on track for Wheel of Time book 6, Lord of Chaos, and am currently 23% of the way through it. This means I probably won't finish it by the end of November, but hopefully by some point in early December and then I can start into the next book before the end of the year!

Monday, November 08, 2010

Short Story & Reading Update

The old television screen flickered to life, pale lines of blue light skittered up and down on the glass and eventually formed a fuzzy image of an old man's face. His dull, sunken eyes displayed a weariness from unkind years as he gazed through the screen at no point in particular. The image fractured into abstract lines of blue, white, and black briefly as Theresa turned the dial at the bottom of the set, eventually conceding that the picture could get no clearer. Most days she didn't bother turning it on, but whenever it rained she couldn't help but want to see her father's face. She used to sit for hours on his lap, listening to the rain on the porch roof or to one of his many stories about times before she was even born.
She held her hand up to the screen just before the image of her father did the same, she'd memorized the recording over the last few years and liked to pretend that it was just like when he was alive. Suddenly she felt foolish and removed her hand, watching as the recording ran on and his hand remained up to the glass for several minutes. She liked to marvel at the details of the hand, even through the fuzz of the old tele-screen, at the way his fingers twitched and moved as she watched. It was the same every time, of course, but after years the routine itself made her nearly as happy as the image on the screen. She pushed the stop button at the bottom of the screen and as the image faded it played the same recorded portion it always did after you stopped it, the sad image of her father waved as it flickered and the screen became dark. As Theresa packed her things for work she wondered how bad her commute would be due to the rain, and if she'd feel like re-loading her father's tube when she returned home or if she'd load her mother's as she often did.


This is the beginning of a short story I've had rolling around my brain for a while now, and just randomly decided to start writing it with little preparation. This is just two paragraphs for now, but I'll either come back into this post and add onto it or repost these two and add some more on as I feel like. I could just keep it on a word doc and share it once there's more there, but I figure why the hell not just share a quick snippet of it as I write it?

As for my reading schedule I finished 1984 on last Thursday, November 4th so it took me about nine days to get through it. That was a bit longer than I anticipated but still I've already jumped into the Wheel of Time book 6 - Lord of Chaos and am currently 7% of the way into it. Hopefully I'll be able to pick up some speed and finish this book before the end of November, and then get through the next one by the end of the year!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The RPG Market and FLGS's

This is something that may end up on Critical Hits, it's certainly in line with the topics there, but I haven't put enough thought or research behind it for it to go up there. In essence, this is a brainstorming post.

I see a lot of people, especially on the internet, throw around the opinion that the RPG hobby and market are declining and that there are less Gaming Stores (FLGS - Friendly Local Gaming Store is almost becoming an overplayed joke to me now), and very often the decline in the number of gaming stores is one of the first signs used to point to the decline in the industry. I have a lot of problems with these opinions when they're expressed, typically the biggest hurdle is how they're expressed - like the trumpets of the coming apocalypse or impending doom, often with the sense that it's already happened and it's too damn late to do anything about it. Some of the latest of which have finally bothered to put some numbers behind their argument, but I still have only seen the present day stats which they then compare to non-solid conjectured numbers that could just as easily be thrown there simply to prove the person's point. Example: this quarter's top-selling print run of books in 2010 was 5,000 books, but back in the day we used to wipe our asses with 5,000 books every day so clearly the market is declining. Decent stat/fact compared to conjecture = point proven. Wrong, and this angers me.

The number of gaming stores in the US may have declined over the last few years, I don't know about that but it is something that I'll concede because I can believe it, however I do not believe in the proof that less gaming stores means the hobby and market are declining. To me the obvious reason is because there are a lot of other, often better places to get your gaming books and supplies from and so gaming stores just aren't as needed anymore. No matter what anyone says, gaming stores are not there to propagate the hobby, they're not there to get new people into your favorite game, and they're definitely not there as hubs for gamers. Gaming stores exist to sell games. All of those other things were developments of the era that gaming blossomed and the necessities of the people at those times.

The internet is most likely the biggest force pushing gaming stores out of business, and it is funny because though a gaming store's only real purpose is to sell games they are almost certainly losing business because the internet can also duplicate the other roles that gaming stores have traditionally served. Gamers love to get together and nerd-talk together, and the internet definitely serves up a whole helping of that (like this post, for instance, and every other place on the internet ever pretty much).

In much the same way that people point to the decline in gaming stores as the first sign that the hobby is in decline, many of those people therefore argue that if gaming stores go away the hobby will go away also. For the most part these are inter-supportive arguments, but if you throw away the first one (like I do and discussed at the beginning of this post) I still cannot completely brush aside the second argument. Gaming stores surely help propagate the hobbies in many ways, but also people generally argue that gaming stores get lots of new gamers into the hobbies. I'm not entirely sure I agree with this, the odds are that if someone is going to a game store they were going to find a part of the hobby anyway. That said, a game store is certainly useful for people (often "kids") who come there to buy Yu-gi-oh or Magic cards are very likely to then stumble upon things like board games and RPGs like D&D and BAM, that's the...ahem, magic of gaming stores right there.

However I'd also venture to say that having D&D books in the larger book stores like Borders/Barnes & Noble are at a higher chance of reaching even larger audiences. I bought my first RPG books at the local Walden Books in the nearest mall, and went there almost weekly to check out the books and see what was new and pick up my occasional copy of Dungeon or Dragon magazine. I did that, and THEN I'd go to a gaming store to pick up my Magic cards. Now if we look at things from the internet side, you'd have to be absolutely nuts to not realize the fact that in the last year or two Penny Arcade has certainly brought a decent number of new or borderline gamers in to the D&D hobby. That alone lets me know that even if every single gaming store in the US goes out of business, the hobby will still exist and there will still be a market for RPGs.

There very well may be less people playing tabletop RPGs today then there were 5 years ago, and that number may be lower than they were 10 or 15 or even 20 years ago, but when I read people talking about how the hobby/market is in decline what I really read is that the hobby/market AS THEY KNEW IT is in decline. For many of those people, if they cannot go to a local gaming store every once in a while, then the hobby might as well be dead. What I'm much more interested in reading about, and talking about, is not how the RPG hobby/market is doomed or dying or been dead since 4E raped its mother and killed its daddy but rather how the RPG hobby and market are going to look when they're alive and being played 50 years from now.

I mean holy shit, for a hobby that started out with a bunch of people in a basement stapling pieces of paper together so they could play games, people sure do seem terrified of the hobby becoming a bunch of people in a basement with stapled pieces of paper playing games together.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Reading Update 10-28-10

Last night I finished reading the 5th book of Wheel of Time, The Fires of Heaven, a few days inside of the month which is very exciting. I'm taking a brief break from Wheel of Time to read the copy of 1984 by George Orwell that Josh lent us, I was actually surprised that Becky decided to read it several months ago and really enjoyed it. I guess it's a classic for good reason. Last night after finishing Fires of Heaven I decided to start right away on 1984 and even just getting a handful of pages into it I was immediately drawn in. It's a relatively short book, at about 260 pages, and I'm already 10% through it today so I should be able to finish it within a week or so and then move on to the 6th Wheel of Time book.

It has been decently warm for the end of October the last few days, but it looks like tomorrow and the weekend will cool off a bit for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear and then our Halloween party. Considering how F'ing hot (literally) my costume is going to be I'll be happy for some cooler weather.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Being Sick Sucks

I've been sick with a minor cold for a little over a week now, and I'm really hoping it clears up early this week. On Thursday we're going to the dentist which is something I'd rather not do while already feeling like crap, and then this Saturday we're planning on going to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in DC (because we're close and figure, why not?) then our bitchin' Halloween party on Saturday night! I've considered posting small spoiler/teaser pictures of my costume online, but I figure people would be able to guess it a bit too easily even from those so I'm just going to wait until the weekend.

Due to being sick my reading slacked a bit last week, okay that's only partially the reason, the other is that I finally downloaded Angry Birds onto my iPhone and it is every bit as fun as people say it is. It gets a little bit more boring after you play through quite a bit of it, but even then it's still more fun than most mobile games. That said, even though my reading schedule was slack last week, I'm still currently 78% through Fires of Heaven and pretty well on track to finishing the book by the end of the month. This also puts me at 38% through the whole series, but again that number will drop significantly when the next book comes out in early November.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Numbers Game for Wheel of Time

It's basically a theme here for me to talk about obscure and practically (spell checked to piratically at first, awesome) meaningless math and numbers, but here I go again. I'm not sure why I do it, but inevitably if I'm looking at a spreadsheet or doing something progressive I begin to break it up and analyze it probably too much.

When I set my goal to read all of Harry Potter within a few months, I set up an excel spreadsheet that listed each book, the page counts for them, and let me input my progress and see % completion for each book as I went as well as the entire series. With 7 books most of which were roughly 700 words, this was a daunting task for me at first but actually went very quickly. I finished a solid 2 months early, which is better than I ever expected to do! After that, Becky challenged me (again, it's always her fault) to do the same with Wheel of Time so that I would be set to read the final book by the time it comes out in late 2011. The pace that needs to be set for that to happen is roughly one Wheel of Time book a month, and so I created a spreadsheet and have even gone one step further and I've begun tracking my progress by date every few days in the same spreadsheet.

The result of this tracking is that I am finishing roughly 1% of the entire series (counting only the 12 books that have been released so far) in about 3 days. I'm currently 42% of the way through the 5th book, and at the moment it syncs up nicely that I'm reading 10% of the book in 3 days that is the same as 1% of the whole series. Right now, including the four books I've finished previously, I am 35% of the way through the entire Wheel of Time series (released to date). When the newest book is released in a week or two that number will be skewed somewhat by the addition of ~700-800 new pages, but that's not a huge deal when looking at the whole. To be more precise if the new book is exactly 800 pages that will only set my series completion back by 2.5% but it will make my overall progression go a bit slower. If I assume that after that I will be completing 1% of the series every 4 days, I'll still be finishing up in roughly 260 days which is well before the 1 year mark.

I'm very happy with this information, because it means I should easily be able to throw in a book or two in the next year that isn't from Wheel of Time and still reach my goal pretty easily. Perhaps I just use numbers and math to make myself feel better?

Monday, October 11, 2010

October is Beard Time

Generally before winter I grow out my facial hair, this year I grew a goatee around September but now I'm growing it into full beard mode because I think it will go better with my Halloween costume (which is going to be totally awesome). It's not a stretch to think that most guys, especially when they're older, are pretty strict when it comes to their facial hair. I know if my father-in-law were to shave his mustache it would be a pretty drastic change for him and everyone that knows him. Last week I was musing if this is a pretty universal thing, is uniform facial hair something that a large majority of guys do or is it just something older guys do?

As I said, I usually grow mine out in the fall/winter for no particular reason, but it kind of makes sense for the colder weather and really I just think it's fun to change things up. I grew my hair out in early college and then again over the last two years, and getting that cut was a pretty big (and seemingly extreme) change for me but I really don't think I'll ever get to that point with facial hair. Sooner or later I get sick of it and shave, and eventually I get bored with shaving it all off and grow it out. Any insight into other observations or stats about this I would be very interested in seeing, so if you have them please share!

I can't believe it's October already, and I really can't believe how much I've been reading just in the second half of this year. I'm now 32% of the way through Fires of Heaven, still on track to finish the book by the end of October and then I'll be reading through 1984 pretty quickly hopefully and onto the rest of the Wheel of Time books. Previous to now I was splitting each book with at least one or two other books between them, and I think this was part of the reason I was going through them so slowly. Taken over time the Wheel of Times books are heavy and cI would even describe a fair amount of what they cover as relatively boring, but when you're reading them and going through it the story is enthralling and I think I need to ride that wave to get through all of the books in anywhere close to my lifetime.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Another Deathly Reading Schedule

Well, the Harry Potter reading schedule worked out so well that Becky suggested I do the same for the Wheel of Time series, though both of us freely admit this one is a lot more daunting. With the largest HP book being just under 200,000 words, and the average WoT book having roughly 2x that many words in it, but we're also setting a reasonable schedule so it should work fine.

The goal is to finish about 1 Wheel of Time book each month, so that by the end of next year when the final book is released I'll be able to read it when it comes out. I am 13% through Fires of Heaven at the moment, the 5th book, so I have 9 books and 1 short prequel to read before November of next year. That gives me a buffer of at least 2 months, which is nice, and so far I'm keeping pretty well on pace with my reading through book 5. I'm hoping to finish them even faster so I can mix in some other reading and get to other book series I'm planning on reading.

It also appears that 6 posts/month is the casual and natural pace for my personal blogging. That doesn't really mean much, but if there's one thing I enjoy it's seemingly pointless numbers analysis!

Critical Hits has existed for over 5 years now, which is kind of amazing and an enjoyable milestone for us to reach. Dave put together a great post for it, which you can find here: http://critical-hits.com/2010/10/04/critical-hits-5-years-and-counting/ and it appears once again our friend Melinda from They're Using Tools did a cool graphic for our celebration which you can see on the post. I'm insanely happy that I've been a part of Critical Hits since the very beginning, and sometimes really have trouble believing how things have developed for CH overall and also for me - especially when I look back at my earliest writings on the website. Back then, in late 2005, I was fairly fresh out of college and just finding my legs in the professional working world. I began using CH as a semi-public outlet for my wildest and craziest musings and rants, or as Becky put it the blog was my much-needed "crazy vent". These days I'm not sure where or if I vent my crazy, I may have changed enough in the last 5 years that I don't need to vent it as much or it simply seeps out of me in short, controlled bursts.

Yea, that was an obscure Aliens reference. There's some of the crazy!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Year Overdue

The earliest record on this blog that I found was back in April of 2009, when I first added the progress bars for reading here, and back then I was 18% of the way through The Shadow Rising. By Fall of last year I'd only made it to 67% of the way through the book, then I didn't really pick it up until a few weeks ago after going through all of Harry Potter and I finished the last 33% of the book in just a few weeks. Now I'm excited and motivated and should be able to keep up this pace of faster reading for a while to come. I'm just starting the 5th Wheel of Time book, The Fires of Heaven, and hope to be through its nearly 1,000 pages in the next two months or so. So here's my reading schedule going into the future:
  • WoT 5: The Fires of Heaven
  • 1984
  • WoT 6: Lord of Chaos
  • WoT 7: A Crown of Swords
  • ???
My hope is that I can keep up and finish Fires of Heaven by the end of November and then read 1984 over the holiday season before the end of 2010. Then I'm planning on getting through the rest of Wheel of Time as fast as I can much like I did with Harry Potter. It feels really good to get through a long series like that, and I've already started on WoT so it's definitely something I want to finish!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The End of September

We're quickly nearing the end of September, and as you might expect life continues to get better and better. 2010 has quite literally been split in two for us, with my new job starting in mid-June I can easily consider the year as 6 months of unemployment and 6 months of recovery from those harder times of our lives. I certainly don't expect easy times from now on, but it's nice to be in what I can consider easier times for a change. For absolutely no reason other than my bizarre love of numbers, let's break my life down into some segments:

By Age (in years):

1-4 - Pre memory for the most part, though I did become friends with Dennis during that time (in pre-kindergarten, Chipmunks 4 life!)

5-11 - I became obsessed with things I am still pretty obsessed with, Nintendo / videogames, Transformers, TMNT. At some point early on in these years I saw and liked Voltron and Thundercats, got toys for them, but then mostly forgot about them so my most vivid memories of those franchises are of the TOYS and not the shows themselves. Everything for me in this time period was put down to ambitions of what I'd be able to accomplish at the age of 12, I have no idea why but for young-Danny that was the age of supposed adulthood.

12 - I realized it was not, in fact, an age of adulthood at all and that I was not any closer to building a blue suited boy robot as my best friend (seriously)

13-15 - My dad probably started bugging me to get a job before this, but he started working at the age of 14 and that's when he could legitimately get on my case for being a bum. Middle School also introduced me to my friend Andrew the O, who would gateway me to becoming friends with Dave and thus is the origin of the power-friendship that would somehow lead to Critical Hits becoming a website that Wil Wheaton (who I was watching on TV at this age) knew the name of.

16-17 - Driving, gaming like crazy and also getting into board games in addition to playing all kinds of RPGs and videogames. Also I finally got a job in the kitchen at the local Olive Garden (thanks to Andrew working there already).

18 - End of highschool, summer of conventions and debauchery, then college studying Architecture, met Becky and life would never be the same again (take that as you will :P )

19-22 - Somehow ended up continuing to study Architecture, no matter how hard I didn't try at some points, moved in with Becky / got engaged, dealt with the ongoing realization that Becky was majorly depressed and how we were both going to handle it, then graduated and again somehow got a job that started one week after college. That was probably still one of the luckiest moments of my life because that was the ONLY place that offered me a job

23-26.5 - Working for a living, got married, awesomest. honeymoon. ever. (Disney World FTW) Adopted two cats, bought a house, adopted the cutest white German Shepherd in the world. Then got laid off from my job just shy of 5 years of professional experience.

26.5-27 - Endured 7 months of stressful but not entirely terrible unemployment, learned the incredibly valuable lesson that Becky and I can spent nearly 24 hours a day together, at home, with little to do and very much enjoy it - plus not really get sick of each other! Then getting hired at a new, incredible, and absolutely better than I could have even imagined job and now beginning to pay off some of ours bills from the last 8 years.

That's it, not sure why but just felt the random urge to break it all down like that. Hope you enjoyed it!

Quite thankfully, nearing the end of the book with The Shadow Rising has brought with it many interesting and cool events in the Wheel of Time universe so I'm back to reading quite a few pages per day and am up to 88% through the book, now a full 20% beyond where I was stalled for quite a while. It is a bit tough to remember things from the first 1/2 of the book having read them over a year ago, but once I'm finished with the book I'm going to read a synopsis of the whole thing to hopefully refresh me on all of the connections.

Oh also we're hosting our usual kickass Halloween party at the end of October, which I'm looking forward to a little too much. Becky and I have already decided on our costumes and it should be awesome. Pictures will definitely show up after the party!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Now That It Actually is Fall

Back in August I started a new series of posts for Critical Hits and I titled it "The Architect DM" because I received a lot of good responses whenever I discuss my professional and architectural education experiences with regards to RPGs and specifically D&D.

Part 1: Building Foundations
Part 2: Function & Playability
Part 3: Environment and Interaction

Perhaps the most interesting development of this series is that I've found writing these posts is not only easy - meaning I can come up with a concept for a post much more quickly than normal, but also I find it even more enjoyable than writing other things for blogs. Also writing more regularly on CH is rewarding on its own, so I'm planning on doing this series for as long as I can keep writing it and enjoying it.

As for my reading schedule, it has unsurprisingly slowed down post-Harry Potter, but I am now 74% of the way through The Shadow Rising when I was stalled at 67% for the last 6-8 months, so progress is being made! Becky really wants me to get through all of the Wheel of Time series (at least 8 more books...) because she enjoys discussing the books as I'm reading through them. I guess to her it's pretty much the same as re-reading them, but she also gets to discuss things with me and that's a plus, or so she says.

I haven't been creating that much artwork lately, but I can feel myself building up to a productive time with the ideas I have swimming around. I have a project for my friend Wyatt (a baby dragon with a treasure hoard) and I now have most of the supplies I could need for doing some acrylic paintings - my goal for the fall is to use up all of the extra canvases I have from as far back as college. Though it sounds kind of lame at first, I am probably going to try some Bob Ross style landscapes to start and then see what cool elements I can add into them!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Harry Potter Complete!

In just two days I couldn't help but fly through the 7th and final book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I've surprised even myself by finishing the series WELL before November 19th, when the first part of the final movie comes out in theaters, and am hoping that I've now made a habit of making progress in my reading and I've already jumped back into Wheel of Time book 4, The Shadow Rising, and hope to finish it very soon. It's funny, because I was hoping to finish it by the end of LAST year, but we'll see how it goes now.

The change for me has been incredible, because I absolutely hated the first 2-3 Harry Potter movies because of the seemingly inane plot twists and, to be frank, ridiculousness of some of the things presented in the movie. It wasn't until Goblet of Fire that I started to enjoy the movies, and then with Order of the Phoenix I began to see the wider world behind it all and became a fan. I believe it was around that time that I finally read the first book, and enjoyed it but also didn't really desire to progress through the others at the time.

I was content to see the movies without reading the books, and I can now tell anyone who expresses the same opinion to me that this is absolutely NOT the way to go. I enjoy the movies so much more now that I've read the books, there are tons of little things thrown in that you simply don't notice or that literally make no sense at all unless you've read the book. The climax moments in Prisoner of Azkaban were confusing and didn't come over well just watching the movie, but once you've read the book and know the story behind it all the characters are nothing short of impressive and quite moving. So if you're one of those people who is watching the movies without reading the books, I can't tell you enough: Read the books as soon as you can!

It took me roughly 70 days to read all of the Harry Potter books from start to finish, and though I was going for a 41 pages/day pace I ended up at a healthy 58 pages/day. This was far from consistent throughout the 2.5 months, because I didn't read at all during GenCon and then read the entire last book in the course of two days, but it's a good average pace for sure!

I finished the book around 2am last night because I just could not put it down, and was very interested in the general feeling of loss that came both as I went to sleep last night and this morning. I mean loss in the sense that reading these books has been something I've simply been doing for the last 2.5 months, and now that thing is complete. I'll move onto reading other books for sure, but there simply won't ever be another time that I'll be reading the Harry Potter series for the first time.

This just looks nice:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reading Extravaganza

Last night I finished book six of the Harry Potter series, The Half-Blood Prince, and promptly read the first 40 pages of the Deathly Hallows because it was my first real foray into uncharted territory with the series. This isn't entirely true because the amount of information and number of events that are in all of the books but don't make it to the movies is staggering, especially with book six where there are some key explanations of the origin, history, and even major motivations of the primary villain that are skimmed or completely skipped in the movie.

I am currently 83% of the way through the entire HP series, which means on Saturday and Sunday of this weekend I read a full 10% of the series and put myself WAY ahead of schedule. This is exactly what I wanted to do, but to be honest the books made it easy to accomplish. I now often find myself contemplating exactly what it is about certain books (HP being at the forefront right now) that make them so popular, interesting, easy and enjoyable to read.

As I've said a few times before, the crazy thing to me is that in just over two months I've read through six books, which is incredible for me considering the books are from 300 to 800+ pages which I would normally read much slower and do one book over the course of 1-2 months (or more). Both Becky and I are really hoping this continues even after I'm finished reading HP, because she is dying for me to get through all of the Wheel of Time books that are out so far, thankfully I have a bit of a head start because I'm currently almost all of the way through book 4, out of I guess 11+ books? Good god, that's going to be crazy.

Also on my reading list:
  • Dune (the second time through will be awesome)
  • Dark Tower
  • 1984
  • many and various HP Lovecraft short stories
  • Game of Thrones (maybe?)
  • Fall of Public Man and Conscience of the Eye (by Richard Sennett, Architecture/design/sociology books)
I'd actually love for anyone reading this to make further suggestions, if I haven't already read it I may end up adding it to my list and you will have greatly contributed to my edification in the wonderful world of books!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Now That It Feels Like Fall

Autumn is my favorite season of the year, so I am very happy that it is September and the weather is beginning to get cooler, windier, and pleasantly sunny. Another great thing is that our good friend Matt just bought a house about a mile from ours and we will most likely be spending a lot of time hanging out at his place or at ours now that he has moved out of the downtown area. In that vein fall also means that many people will be a lot busier on their weekends as we get closer to Halloween, Thanksgiving, and then Christmas and New Years so I'm hoping I can keep my D&D game and other activities with friends going through the busy times!

As far as reading goes, two weeks ago I had a day trip for work down to Jackson, Mississippi which marks my first journey actually into the Central time zone (I've flown over it once before) and my first time in a southern state that wasn't also on the east coast. During the four flights I had (in one day, which I do not recommend and hopefully won't be doing again anytime soon) the fortunate part is that I demolished the middle section of the 5th Harry Potter book, The Order of the Phoenix, which I finished reading two nights ago and have already started on The Half-Blood Prince.

Despite one of the most annoying villains (Umbridge), a lack of Dumbledore before the last 150 pages of the book, and Harry acting like the worst kind of teenager he could - Order of the Phoenix is at the moment my favorite of the books I've read so far. Goblet of Fire seems to be the favorite of a lot of people who read the books when they first came out, but to me the plot involving Mad-Eye Moody and how that turns out has always seemed very unsatisfactory to me. I'm avoiding any major kind of information that might be spoilers, but I'd be happy to discuss it further with any hardcore HP fans out there.

At the moment I am just starting the 6th book but am now 67% of the way through the entire series and very happy about it. Order of the Phoenix, as the longest book, pretty much accounts for 22% of the series which is ridiculous so reading that book took me from 45% through the series all the way to 65% so it definitely feels like the turning point of getting through all of the books. On top of that, I only have this one book left before I'm into completely uncharted territory (for me), though honestly the last few books have so much that was not even touched on in the movies that it feels like largely uncharted territory already.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black

The chapter of that title in Order of the Phoenix will no doubt end up being one of my favorite chapters of the entire Harry Potter series. Sirius Black is hands down my favorite character, and thanks to the movies (and to my wife) I also know where the character is taken in this book and I won't spoil it but I am very much looking forward to what is done with the character above and beyond what I've seen in the movies.

This month's more frequent blog posts marks the most times I've posted to this blog in any given month since May-July of 2008 which was coincidentally when the 4th Edition of D&D was released and when I started running my still ongoing D&D campaign. Back in early 2008 we'd also just bought a house, so it's understandable that I had a good bit to blog about back then. Still, these day this blog is just another form of output for me to continue pushing myself to be productive. It's kind of sad to think of these blog posts as being productive, but after going back and reading the ones I wrote in 2008 I am very happy that I recorded what I did of my life back then and am very much looking forward to that moment in the coming years when I look back to these posts. As the last year should evidence, a hell of a lot of things can change in a relatively short period of time. Even just August of last year I never would have guessed where I would be at the end of 2009, or for the first half of 2010 and then onto the last few months. Life has had its up and downs but I consider myself very fortunate that I see a hell of a lot more ups even considering things like my unemployment and financial situations.

Reading update: If GenCon had not set me back, I would be hitting 50% through the entire Harry Potter series tomorrow. Monday of last week I was a full 7% behind schedule but as of today I am at 48% through the series, and 17% of the way through Order of the Phoenix already (I was only 3% through it yesterday). I am pleased with this progress and will most likely be even further ahead of schedule, like I was originally. The truly exciting part is that once I get through this book and The Half-Blood Prince I will actually be reading stuff that I haven't seen a movie about or have any real idea what happens in.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reading Update (Day 48)

I easily finished The Goblet of Fire last night and updated the progress bars to the right just now with over 230 pages read since Friday, and I'm already 30 pages into The Order of the Phoenix. The end of book 4 is when, almost literally, all of the shit hits the fan for the Harry Potter series. If anyone reading this has NOT read the series already, please let me know and I'll refrain from talking about spoilers has I get into the more eventful books. It's odd for me right now because even with the Goblet of Fire movie I wasn't that into the series, it wasn't until the beginning of the Order of the Phoenix movie that I became really hooked on the whole thing. Once I was sold on that, and all of the awesome things that happen in the fifth movie and then The Half-Blood Prince movie, I had a desire to go back and read through all of the books. It wasn't until Becky decided she wanted me to read Deathly Hallows before seeing the movie that I was inspired to do this whirlwind marathon of reading.

Again I'll say it, this isn't a lot of reading for most people (people who read a lot, that is), but for me reading the 1800+ pages that I've read since early July has got to be a continuously growing record for me.

Random note: The newest Massive Attack CD - Heligoland, which came out in February of this year I believe, is really good. Thanks to Andrew the O who was the one that tipped me off they had a new album, even though I don't think he listens to them he knew they were a band I love and pointed it out to me.

My reading progress at the moment is 3% of the way through Order of the Phoenix (the longest book) and 45% through the entire series. If I had continued with my post GenCon delayed schedule I would only be at 41% so I've made up 4% extra in the last week but still need to reach 50% in the next two days to catch up to my pre-GenCon reading schedule of 1% per day. I don't think that's going to be very difficult, because the fifth book is very engrossing as major events and turning points are starting to occur and things are breaking out of the "school year" format that the first two books stuck so rigidly to.

Friday, August 20, 2010

RPG Mash Up

What started as a joke between Dave and myself, about the several RPGs we'd like to play at the moment or once our ongoing D&D games have wrapped up - Mouse Guard, Dark Sun D&D, and Legend of the 5 Rings - became a hilarious and oddly intriguing mash up of ideas. We dubbed it Legend of the Dark Mouse Sun Five Rings Guard (the RPG), and it's basically Mouse Guard but with the "Guard" being a lot more like Samurai (and having clans as in L5R) and taking place in a desert environment very much like Athas. As a result three days ago I was inspired and drew this:

Legend of the Dark Mouse

Certainly some of the majesty of the idea has worn off now, a few days later, but I still think it'd be a great game to run. Most likely I'll start it in the Mouse Guard system but am also interested in trying it out in the latest L5R rules and perhaps even 4th Edition D&D just to see how they all play out differently. Certainly one cool feature of doing it in 4E D&D would be designing the Mouse "race" and also some kind of Samurai class.

As for the Harry Potter Reading: I am now 69% through Goblet of Fire (I was 43% through it 4 days ago so that's some pretty good progress) and I'm 39% through the entire Harry Potter series. 4 days ago I was only 34% through the series, so I'm doing a decent job of actually reading more than 1% per day lately. If I hadn't stalled for the week of GenCon, I would be hitting 50% by next Wednesday so my goal at the moment is to get as close to that as I can. This seems possibly only because that would mean finishing Goblet of Fire in the next week which is a very clear goal I think I can force myself to get to.

If I were going with my original schedule of 1% per day, and aiming to finished right before the last movie comes out (Nov. 19th) then I'd need to be 8% through the series right now. Therefore the way I see it I am actually 31% ahead of schedule and that's a pretty damn good buffer for me to work with!

Monday, August 16, 2010

New Drawings

My friend Quinn (who runs the At-Will blog about awesome 4th Edition D&D stuff) has asked me for artwork a few times, also I've bugged him to ask me for artwork, but in the past as usually happens with me I didn't get any of them done in time. Last night I resolved to change that, here is the result.

What Quinn asked me for was a corrupted purple dragon, named Etherkai, that is nicknamed the "Nightmare Dragon". Here's what I produced in a little under 2 hours last night.

Etherkai Black & White
Black & White - pencil on drawing paper, done in about 30 minutes.

Etherkai Colors
Colored Pencils on drawing paper, done in about 20 minutes.

Etherkai the Nightmare Dragon
Some Photoshop work to get rid of the texture I wasn't a fan of (especially in the sky).

Etherkai the Nightmare Dragon (Final)
More Photoshop work to make it darker and to make the dragon appear more "scarred", at Quinn's request but I was planning on doing something like this anyway.

Considering the total time invested, about 2 hours last night though I did a bit of sketching over the course of last week to get a pose and layout I liked, I'm pretty damn happy with this. I'd love for the dragon to have more action to it, and to add a bit more interest into everything, but it was do THIS or not do it at all and I've promised myself I'd get more things done like this even if I'm not 100% happy with how they turn out.

Reading update: I'm 43% of the way through Goblet of Fire, putting me at 34% of the way through the entire Harry Potter series. Still "behind" where I was originally in my reading schedule but very much ahead of schedule to finish before the first Deathly Hallows movie.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Post GenCon-itus

Dave, E, and I traveled together to GenCon this year from Wednesday morning of last week through Sunday evening. We flew in earlier than usual and flew out later, which was a huge help though I still can't help but feel like staying through Monday would make things even better (sorry Becky!), but my plans for next year will be interesting as I imagine Becky will be coming along with us.

I had a LOT of fun at GenCon this year, even more than the previous two years. One contributing factor was that many of our high school friends came along also which added a more personal and comfortable feel to being in Indy. Also, they are hilarious people and there always end up being some ridiculous stories. Another big factor was the people who live around the country/world that we know through RPG blogs or who work at WotC that we get to see in person only once or twice a year.

I didn't end up buying all that much this year, which is a good thing, and I could not find a suitable present for Becky which is a problem I'm still dealing with. :D I did buy the latest issue of Kobold Quarterly, an excellent magazine that we also have an ad in. It's always incredible to see something relating to Critical Hits in a physical print format. I hope some people see the ad and check us out! I also bought the Mouse Guard RPG book, which I've wanted for a while now and was convinced by the fact that they only had 5 copies left and those were the LAST of the first printing of the book (excluding those that may be in game stores, but still). Adding on to that is the fact that I got to play the Mouse Guard RPG for the first time when Phil ran it there, and I enjoyed it even more than I expected.

I bought a copy of Mike Shea's DM Tips book with artwork by our friend Jared, great writing and good tips combined with cool artwork is a huge success in my book! Lastly I made a quick decision and bought the D&D "miniature" for Orcus, the demon prince of undeath. I'm really glad I did, because it's pretty damn cool to just have around and to look at, plus I'll end up using it as much as possible in my D&D game now! I ended up spending a lot of my free time at the con hanging out with Trevor from Wizards of the Coast, which resulted in some hilarious moments and I hope we get to hang out even more at future conventions. As if he weren't cool enough, he also sent me two prints (on canvas) of D&D artwork that I still need to hang up in our house, but one of the is a painting by Wayne Reynolds and is SIGNED by him. It's beyond kickass!

The last thing I need to mention about GenCon is my chance encounters with celebrities. It started on Thursday or Friday night when I was walking down the street and walked right by Felicia Day and then Wil Wheaton (about 30 feet apart from each other), very glad I was paying attention at that moment. Then on the last day there, Sunday, I was having a late lunch in Noodles & Co. with Trevor and Chuck (also an amazingly cool guy) and Wil Wheaton came in and had lunch there. It was very hard trying not to stare but also to not be staring somewhere else in an awkward way. Flying casual is what I should have done. Those are only the first two parts of my chance encounters with Wil, as Dave, E, and myself were looking for food in the Indianapolis airport and found two tables where we could eat, then E and I were floored to realize we had just sat down right next to none other than Wil Wheaton! Thankfully Dave had just talked to him at the convention that morning, and apparently Wil loves our website (awesome.) so we chatted with him for a little while. Then Wil offered us half of his pizza because he wasn't feeling well, so yea we totally got to finish Wil Wheaton's pizza. I know it's a weird ass thing to essentially brag about, but I think overall it makes for a good story!

Now on to the necessary reading update:

Day 33 of my Harry Potter reading marathon, but thanks to GenCon last week / weekend I'm a little bit behind my 1% per day pace, with 30% complete at the moment and 20% of the way through The Goblet of Fire. I'll be attempting to catch up this evening and over the next few days to get back ahead of the daily allotment. However even if I don't catch up, but still read 1% per day from here on out, I'll still be finishing the last book by mid October, which is an entire month before the first part of Deathly Hallows comes out in theaters. This goal looks very readily achievable at this point, and I have already read WAY more pages within a single month than I've ever read before.

The exact number of pages read so far is 1,235 (out of 4,100 total over all seven books). For me this is pretty incredible, though the word count is lower than the books I've been reading lately (Wheel of Time mostly), if I can continue at a pace like this or even better then I have some hope that I can actually get through my "must read" list and even onto some old and new D&D novels. I'll probably check out Bruce Cordell's first, then some books by James Wyatt / Keith Baker (since I know all of these guys now), but I'm also considering going back and checking out the classic D&D books I never read like the Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms books.

Monday, August 02, 2010

August is Here! Already?

25 days since I started reading the first Harry Potter book, and now I've just started the fourth - The Goblet of Fire. This puts me 27% through the entire series, so I'm still slightly above a 1% per day rate which is good. I've definitely slowed down over the last few days, and hitting the first 700+ page book (over twice the size of the first two on its own) hasn't helped. Thankfully with Prisoner of Azkaban the overarching plot has started rolling along even faster so I should be able to blast through the larger books with more ease. I really can't believe how much of the content of these books was either left out of the movies or only barely hinted at so that you'd never know anything about it if you hadn't read the books.

This week, Wednesday morning to be exact, GenCon starts and it should be an incredibly fun time! I need to run out to Kinkos (yes it's not called that anymore, I'm sticking it to the man or something...) and get a small number of business cards printed because I didn't get my act together early enough to get a larger number printed beforehand.

That brings me to a different issue / story, Becky and I moved into this house two years ago and I made one of the upstairs bedrooms my "office". During the summer our upper level is consistently 5-10 degrees warmer than the rest of our house. Our bedroom has always had a ceiling fan so that solves the problem, but my office would get uncomfortably hot during the summer and fall so that it was tough for me to be at my computer for any significant period of time. On top of that, when we got our puppy Freyja the office was still inside of "cat territory" so I couldn't keep an eye on the dog and be on my computer at the same time. This resulted in me not being on the computer at home very much, which wasn't a huge problem but it definitely cut into my work on Critical Hits, playing games online, and working in Photoshop (among other things). All of this to get to the point that earlier this year I decided to move my personal computer and desk down to our basement, which is effectively one big gaming room - it has our TV, two sofas, lots of chairs, game consoles, movies, board games, video games, RPG books, and a big table for gaming all accented by a Rohan flag we got several years ago for our apartment hanging on the wall. So as of early this year it also contained my computer, which has been very handy for running D&D (and using Character Builder pre/mid game) but it also allowed Becky and I to spend time together while one of us plays a game on the TV and the other on my computer. Yes, this is how my wife and I spend time together quite often. We love it. :D

So this left us with an empty bedroom upstairs, that in my unemployment remained pretty much as it had been just without my computer and a few more things stored in it. Then in mid June, I got my awesomely awesome job where I'm working from home and needed to set up a home office. Seems pretty damn convenient doesn't it? I'm glad it was! Okay so the point of this story is that then I had to set up a home office upstairs where my old "office" was, this time with a ceiling fan installed to make it bearable (and thank god for that, it's fantastic!) - this meant my "office" environment was moved downstairs, then moved upstairs again, and in that move a LOT of things have gone missing.

So a lot of my time these days is spent trying to find stuff, and I'm not just talking about physical things even though there are a ton of them, but computer files also. See, even worse is that my home computer got some really nasty spyware and viruses on it shortly after I moved it downstairs (basement herp?) and so I had to reformat it. This has led to even MORE shifting around of folders, files, and now I've been trying to get everything back to some semblance of organization again. All of that explains why I didn't get my business cards sent off to be printed before this week. Good story, right?

Oh and then I found $5. Okay, now it's a good story. (If you don't get it, ask and I'll explain. :D)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

12 Days of Reading Down

Twelve days of reading Harry Potter and I'm 19% of the way through the entire series, which is 780 pages and probably the most pages I've ever read in nearly two weeks. I'm using these posts to help keep track of my reading progress along the way, so I'll also say that I'm 30% of the way through Azkaban right now. Although the HP books are relatively low word counts per page, that's still something I'm pretty proud of - then again Becky or many of my friends could read all seven books in the course of two weeks, but I've found over the last few years that I retain a LOT more of what I read than Becky does.

I am hoping that one result of this goal is that I'll not only get back into reading regularly, but also that I'll be a faster reader by the end of it. I'd love to go back and re-read some of my favorite books - they're also some of the first books I read for recreational because I wanted to start with the classics: Dracula, Frankenstein, and then there's Dune which I'm dying to read again sometime soon. The problem is that there are so many other books that I want to read that I haven't even read yet, like the rest of Wheel of Time, the Game of Thrones, Dark Tower, and I'm sure there are tons more that I can't even think of right now.

I've been experiencing some really bad feelings when I'm working here at home and am not immediately busy, my mind wanders back to unemployment and I get extremely worried. It's going to take quite a bit of time, probably at least equal to the 7 months that I was unemployed, for me to get completely comfortable again. There are some very dark places that my mind wanders to, and that's something I'm not accustomed to at all.

In my moonlighting as a game designer, which really just means that I randomly think of game ideas and mechanics throughout the day (most of which are terrible), I've been brainstorming some rules mods or changes for 4E. I'm not sure if anything will come of them, but I am hoping to get my Githyanki racial rules completed soon and also post a bunch of helpful things for 4E that I've been working on for quite a while (years really) that I am soon going to reopen and complete. They will almost certainly end up on Critical Hits, but I may talk about some of the process and other thoughts here once they go up!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Heat Waves and Hot Pages

The pages are hot because I've been tearing through them...get it? Hot pages! Ah nevermind...

On July 8th I was only 1% into the entire Harry Potter series, which was ~40 pages into the 1st book. Four days later I was 70% through the 1st book and 5% into the whole series. Now I've been reading them for 8 days total and I'm 210 pages into the second book (62%) and 519 pages into the series or 13% of the way through. That's well over the 1% a day that I need even after July 19th so I'm fairly confident with my goal of getting through the series in time for the last movie. I was wondering if the 1st book was such light reading because I'd already read it a year or two ago, but the second book is going just as easily and I'm really enjoying it. There are a lot of complexities to the characters that are only hinted at in the movies but come across a lot stronger in the writing, which is probably the part I'm most enjoying. It also helps that I don't remember much from the first two movies because I hated them so much and only watched them once all the way through.

At this rate I should be done with the books sometime in October, but I may also get burnt out on the specific style of writing / topics at some point in the middle. If I get significantly along I may take a break to finally finish The Shadow Rising since I'm on a kick of reading so much lately.

Monday, July 12, 2010

1 Month of Employment

Things are going incredibly, no actually I'd say insanely, well for us lately. My new job has done quite a bit, but I think the root of everything is that despite all the stress, pain, and anguish that being unemployed caused us - Becky and I were still pretty damn happy during that time. We spent 7 months pretty much the entire time being together 24/7, and we enjoyed it a hell of a lot. Possibly the most fun was in the beginning of the year when the 2010 Winter Olympics were on and we both were home all day. We watched nearly all of the events and it was awesome! So after that 7 months, despite the job and money concerns, we were happy and I think that is the root of why things are going so incredibly well right now. We were happy, and then a large amount of stress was relieved for us and I feel like we're finally able to use all that positive momentum we were building up over the first half of the year.

It really doesn't feel like that was half a year, and it's very nice to have so many good things that happened (with Becky for the most part) to look back on and not have that period of my life be a tarnish on things. A few other things that I enjoyed during that period of time:
  • hanging out with Matt on random week days while everyone else worked
  • Hanging out with our friends Andrew & Amber, and the birth of their baby boy Maddox on May 31st - also being free to spend a lot of time at the hospital and keep them company / bring them food during those stressful few days
  • getting to play a few times in Dave's D&D game
  • the last season of Lost
  • working with our friend Ben on random house jobs for his home improvement company - installing insulation, doing (badly) drywall, painting - I quickly became comfortable walking around in attic spaces, which is a useful skill and helped with installing the ceiling fan for my home office
  • working for Becky's dad the last month of my unemployment - doing drywall plan take-offs - it got me back into the idea of working every day of the week (haha)
I'm sure there are some other things, I may add onto this list later on.

Nerd-time: One of the things I'm really enjoying right now is running my D&D campaign more often since Becky has gotten a lot more into it and doesn't mind (or even encourages) me to run more often now. Just a year ago she was considering quitting the game, but now she's such an enjoyable part of the game for me when I run and an incredibly talented role player. With her and Dave in my party, it's clear everyone else is quickly improving in their roleplaying as a result. I started this campaign on July 4th, 2008 and after two years it's a treat to see how things have changed and relish a bit in the world Dave and I have built. His party (in the past of my game) is in the upper paragon tier and he will probably wrap his game up by summer or fall of next year. My party is just hitting level 14/15/16 but I'm hoping to speed things up and run more regularly so that it doesn't take another two years to wrap everything up in my campaign. Then again, if it keeps going strong and everyone is enjoying it - what's the problem with it running for 2 more years? We'll have to see how it goes...

Onto the reading front, you can see that things are going well because I'm 70% of the way through the first Harry Potter book and 5% through the entire series. Everything I do before July 19th is a buffer, once that date hits I'll need to have 25% of the entire series read by August 19th which evens out to just under 1% or 41 pages a day. Getting through the first book before that date seems reasonable, which would bring my requirement down to 38 pages a day which isn't much but it helps. The only reason this is even possible for me is that the books are easy to read and each page is relatively short on words, otherwise I'd be doomed because I like to read slow and enjoy my books (at least that's the excuse I use).

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Reading Schedule

You may have noticed on the right side here, I've added the first Harry Potter book to my reading progress bar list. This is strange for me because I have never before gone on to read something while not finished with my current book. Wheel of Time stalled for me for no particular reason, but because the last Harry Potter movie(s) are coming out starting in November Becky has encouraged me to read through all of the books before seeing them. I've already read the Sorcerer's Stone but I can't remember very much of it and so I started reading through it again. If I'm going to get through all 7 books before November 19th, then I need to finish pretty much 2 books a month. I'm already 15% through the first book so I'm hoping to give myself a good head start and crank through all of these in pretty good time (for me, that is). I'm a slow reader, I know!

I will be finishing The Shadow Rising as well, but I'm hoping plowing through the HP books gets me back in the habit of reading regularly and then I can actually get through the Wheel of Time books as well.

The first 3-4 Harry Potter movies were interesting but ultimately I hated them, the plot twists in the first three especially were (in my opinion) horridly done as far as cinema goes. It wasn't until the later movies and the more epic wizard stuff started happening that I got sold on the franchise, however I do admit that the first book reads a hell of a lot better than the first movie was to experience. Plus having Gary Oldman as a friendly but mysterious character would sell me on pretty much anything.

Edit: All seven books = 4,100 pages - because the later books are 600-900 pages long vs. the first few being 300 each, I'll definitely need to speed through this but I'm still trying! Entire progress can be seen on the right along with a series total at the bottom. 1% down so far!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Complete 180

Frankly I'm surprised that I haven't gone into shock or something with how much things have turned around in the last 3 weeks. Just thinking about it is weird for me, but three weeks ago I was unsure of how long unemployment benefits would last but I knew at one point they only lasted for 6 months and I was coming within a week or two of reaching that 6 month mark. My biggest concern was, in addition to getting a job ASAP, figuring out how we would survive with our house, pets, and any of our stuff if my unemployment benefits ran out.

I pretty much still cannot believe that I got a job right at that pivotal moment. In all likelihood, with all of the legislation passed in the last two years with regards to unemployment, the benefits would have lasted for a total of 9 months (into mid September), but it's not spelled out clearly and it was a pain trying to find out. Was I going to sit on the phone for an hour or two trying to find this out, or just hope for the best because one way or another there was really nothing I could do except mentally prepare for the worst.

Now the absolutely ridiculous part of it is that I have a really awesome job, and the fact that I work at home and have no commute is incredible and a lot of people are asking how they could get the same kind of job. Thankfully my company is probably hiring more people soon, so if you have experience in Architecture, are an Analyst, Statistician, or Technical Writer then let me know!

Also it sounds like in mid-July I will start traveling for short periods of time around all of the US, which I'm hoping in addition to getting to see more of my home country will also allow me to visit many of the friends I have made through blogging and other online interactions. I will most likely be posting on here about my travels and such, so let me know if it sounds like I'll be in your area!

Really, right now it feels like I could not possibly have a better job and that's a damn good feeling. Trust me, I'm enjoying it! Also I'm going to play in E's Eberron D&D game this evening, so that will be super fun and I'm looking forward to the vegetable lasagna before hand (she's an awesome cook from what I hear)!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Insidious Nature of Unemployment

I'm going to start this post off with a link, bad idea I know but it's a great post and a good set up to what I'm writing about. If you're looking for a good read on why some people are sticklers for having limited andf exact inventory in their RPGs (or any game really) then read Rob Donoghue's post about fitting square pegs into round holes (not as kinky as it sounds, really).

He ends the post with a reinforcement of an excellent saying, "constraints breed creativity".

I couldn't agree more with this statement, and then something clicked for me and I realized that this philosophy applies in so many more ways than I'd previously realized. A lot of people know that being unemployed means you have a lot more free time than when you're working. Most people think that you should be spending the majority of that time searching for a new job. In a perfect world this would be true, but in reality there are so many factors at work it is very tough to accomplish that.

For starters, at least to me, it seems like there was really only so much time you could spend searching for a job. I'd read an article about being unemployed a year or two before I was laid off, and it very wisely suggested that instead of drowning in job applications that you instead dedicate yourself to doing what you really love. It very cleverly professed that if you dedicated all of your efforts to doing what you love, you would eventually catch people's attention and hopefully be able to get a job doing exactly what you love (and getting paid for it more importantly). This is especially true when it comes to artists and other non-office job professions, if you can dive in at full steam then you're much more likely to make a living at it than someone who approaches it casually.

The problem for me was that I had a lot of free time, so procrastinating became even easier because I knew I'd have time to do anything later in the day/week/month. Worse than this is the looming thought that no matter what you're doing, you should probably be looking for a job instead. Thoughts like these led to an incredibly unproductive Danny during most of the time that I was unemployed.

What I'm finding now, however, is that with the more restricted free time I have now that I am working I have become a lot more creative and productive with my free time. This is a different angle to view the "constraints breed creativity" thought, but I find it equally as relevant for myself at the moment. There are a lot of other factors, of course, because this is real life and very high up on that list is the ability to relax a hell of a lot more and (hopefully) not worry about losing our house/pets/sanity/independence anymore.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

June, Five Years Later

In June of 2005 I was a recent college graduate and luckily managed to get hired at one of the 4-5 jobs that I interviewed with. Now it's June of 2010 and I've managed to get a job with the one company I interviewed with in the last five months. The amount of people in America right now that are unemployed is insanely large, not to mention people who have been unemployed for what is considered an extreme amount of time such as one year or more. The amount of Architects (or people with degrees/job in architecture) that are unemployed is an equivalently insane amount.

Hell, I just did a quick google search for some actual information and this March 2009 article was in the top for "unemployment by profession" - http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/mar/20/recession-unemployment-and-employment-statistics

Architects are at the top of the building trades list but with a staggering 760% increase in numbers claiming unemployment benefits from Feb 2008 to the time of that report. The funny thing is that March of 2009 is when my job cut me down to 30 hours a week, but I was still "full-time" so my salary was the same I was just working less hours for it. I lived with the reduced hours until in June I was fortunate and took a part-time job with the surveying company my friend Jacob works for where I could pick up 8-12 hours a week as needed and make up for some of the missing pay. The bigger problem was that, as everyone does, we expected my career to continue to grow and as you can see from that study 2008 was a rough year and most of us didn't get the same raises we expected. A LOT of trades didn't get what they expected, I know that, but Architects appear to be the worst hit of the construction industry and even as recent as May of 2010 this study (http://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/) of employment change by trade shows Manufacturing and Education growing a small amount while Construction still decreased by a larger amount than any of those grew. Government jobs grew a ludicrous amount because of the temporary employees hired for the census, so we can write that off for that month. So the construction industry has been in a job-losing spiral since 2008, which led up to late November of 2009 when I was laid off for a complete lack of work for me to do at the company. I understood it entirely, it was just a crappy situation for everyone and the company provided us with as much as they could to transition.

I didn't expect to change jobs when I got that job five years ago in June. I didn't expect a lot of things though, and the sheer volume of information and knowledge that I acquired at that job is staggering for me to think about still. I learned that the (unfortunate) best way to get a big raise is to switch jobs. I learned it through the normal means but also because the principal at the firm that hired me left a few months later after 25 years there, and then another project architect above me left within the next year and I heard the money amounts being thrown around at the time. I worked with people who had been at the firm for 10, 15, 30, and even 50 years and I saw what not switching jobs would lead to and what changing jobs could provide. I casually tossed around the idea but by then it was already 2008 and the time had passed, I was worried if I got a new job I'd be "the new guy" and if a crash did hit (which it definitely did) I'd be the first layer trimmed off.

The firm I was with had begun lay offs a lot later than most other Architectural firms, doing the first round in March of 2009 where we lost three people and several people were cut back to fewer hours including myself. The tone was set and we all knew it would almost definitely continue before the end of the year. I dusted off my old resume and put together a whole new portfolio in April, I'm not a COMPLETE fool it seems. I applied to some gov't related jobs but nothing came through, and then interviewed for an Industrial Designer position at none-other-than ThinkGeek in August. I was off-the-walls excited about it for obvious reasons, but they ended up getting people for the job that literally built computers and monitors in their spare time, which was something I could not compete with at all in the field of industrial design. That was my first interview since early 2005 when I was still in college, thankfully it was with TG and I could just wear my TMNT t-shirt to it and everything was very chill.

Then it came to November 2009, just before Thanksgiving, and I pretty much knew what was coming - I was without a job but still working part-time for the Surveying company. Unfortunately their work had also slowed down and I decided to focus more on trying to get a job. For the first month I applied to hundreds of jobs - architecture, design, graphics, websites, anything that I had any experience even closely related to. I heard back from none of them. Finally in late January I heard back from one of the biggest architecture firms in the country (probably the world too), but they were looking for a marketing person, literally someone who trolls around and works with government bids and proposals and does the grunt work of bringing in the jobs for the architects to design. I interviewed but they knew and I knew it wasn't a great fit or even close to what I was looking for. I thought THEN that I was desperate and hopefully nearing the end of unemployment.

Fast forward to April and May and I had spent a few months only applying to two, three, or a handful of jobs a week. Thankfully there was a steady stream of new job postings, but doing ten or twenty more than what was required for unemployment was a tough thing to rationalize, when the job listings might stop coming and then what would I do to meet the quota? It was a rough time. Thankfully one of those jobs I applied to called me in early May and wanted to set up an interview. Three interviews later (one on the phone, two in person), 2-3 weeks of insanely stressful waiting, and today I have a job offer in hand, signed, and returned. I'm set to go in on Friday and pick up the equipment I need to work from home (it's a Virtual Company, so everyone works from home) and begin working on Monday. Barring some insane or unfortunate mess up with the background check or references, I'm set to go!

It was a hell of a ride, and I hope that I never have to go through it again. I'll be posting some more thoughts and musings from my time as unemployed profession (read: bum), but I do have to say that I'm sad I didn't meet any of my 5 goals I set in late January for February. I'm going t be setting some new goals now and we'll see how I do. I'm okay with not meeting goals, as long as I set new ones (possibly easier ones) and see where I stand on my ability to meet the goals I want to achieve. Getting a job should have been my #1 on that list in January, and in all honesty it really was and being mentally, emotionally, and physically hung up on that is why I believe I never got to anything else on the list. Now that one seems to be completed, so I hope I can move on.

Oh, and thank you to the Starcraft 2 beta that opened in March. That certainly made the last three months more than bearable. :D

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Artwork - Campaign Banner

I sat down yesterday afternoon to create a banner for my D&D campaign's website, this was the quick and dirty (B&W) version I whipped up just to lay things out:

Now that circle on the right I really wanted to appear like a black, oily liquid sphere, and the left is a horizon of stars, so I continued to work on a more finished version but in the end I think the black and white is still more evocative and interesting to look at. Here's the progress on the more detailed / color version:

I'm pretty happy with how the left side has turned out, though I may add some more haze in the blue areas, but I just don't think it has the same interest and feel to it as the B&W version.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Course of Life Recently

It's ironic that I recently wrote a guest blog article about getting a D&D campaign that has strayed back on track when my life has seemingly done the exact same thing. Unfortunately, it's not as easy and in my control as to how quickly I can get my life back "on track".

So I graduated from college, got a job in the career I wanted to have, got married, bought two cats and a dog, then last November got laid off because the construction industry (and the firm I was working for in particular) hit the crapper. Part of me is extremely relieved, because there were people who graduated and then worked at that firm for the next 25 years and that's never really a good career choice. All of that is behind me now, and I find myself with an overabundance of spare time and a plethora of hobbies which I'm slowly getting back into. The best hobby, which is also essentially a job (I put it on my resume) is writing for Critical Hits, which I have to say I'm very happy I'm getting back into. It helps that we have a handful of excellent new guest writers that just came on board and so if I don't contribute then I'd be lost in the crowd.

So I'm unemployed and even still having trouble getting my ass in gear with producing artwork. I need some solid goals, some discipline, and something that I still don't know what it is to get going. The good news is that I've drawn some things in the last couple of days, and I'm hoping to keep that going. So enough bullshit:

Goal #1 - Draw something and post it here every other day.
Goal #2 - Keep writing for CH at least once a week, but preferably 2-3 times a week (going well so far)
Goal #3 - Organize my art supplies to help with the drawing and to get into painting again
Goal #4 - Create one painting in February
Goal #5 - Read the books I want to read, finish Shadow Rising in February

There are some goals, we'll see how I accomplish them and what needs to change with me or my life to get my goals done.