General Personal Development

Hey, It’s What I’m Used To

I love reading Blog of Helios. To say that this guy is passionate about getting people to use a superior operating system is an understatement. He tends to get quite emotional when he finds that people come to him for help with computer problems that could have been prevented if they would just stop using Windows. Sometimes the stories are humorous.

His recent post, Only The Names Have Been Changed To Protect The, Uhh…Well, You Put A Name To It, is one example. He basically describes the story of “Richard” and his “garage”. His garage will be perfectly fine for months, then fall apart. And he tries to build it again. Using the same faulty parts. Every time. People easily break into it. The garage producer tries to sell security and locks afterwards.

Helios shows him his own garage. It has great uptime. It hasn’t crashed. He admits that someone probably could break into it if they were incredibly determined, but it is so secure that it deters most people from trying too hard. So when Helios offers to help Richard build a secure and stable garage, what does Richard do? He declines, citing:

I know my kind of garage. I mean, I’ve had this kind of garage for years and I don’t mind paying for it even if it means all the maintenance hassles. It’s just what I’m used to.

Obviously, Helios is talking about people who insist on using Windows even though they know what problems come with it. But this story also describes people who won’t try to accomplish their goals.

“I’ve worked this job for years. I can’t just quit. I actually like it here, even if there are some problems.”
“I’d love to get in shape, but I’m not that bad anyways. A little meat on my bones is good, right?”
“It’s so hard to quit smoking. Besides, we’re all going to die anyway. What difference does it make?”

In so many situations, a person will easily complain about his/her lot in life. At the same time, this person will make excuses to avoid making any changes to make life better. How many times have you tried to justify your inaction? Are things too hard to do? Too boring? Are you afraid of losing stability, even while complaining about a lack of stability? Are you afraid of what other people might think of you? Are you afraid of what you think of yourself?

When you find yourself wishing things were better, stop and think about what it is that would actually make it better. Wishing you had more money isn’t very good though. You need to be clear about your intentions. Wanting enough money to pay for the new house you’ve always wanted is much better than just vaguely wanting more money.

Once you know what your problem actually is, you can work to solve it. Clarity is incredibly important. Vague, wishy-washy goals aren’t goals at all. They seem to promote a sense of helplessness. When you say to yourself things like, “Oh, if only I had more time” or “I could do it if I wanted to” or “Why bother doing it since I’m just going to do a bad job anyway”, then you are only hurting yourself. You are convincing yourself that you will never accomplish anything, and then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So many people get upset when they get a virus or when Windows corrupts their file system. But they just reload and try again. And again. And again. “Macs are too expensive.” “Linux is too hard and command-line-ish for me.” “Hey, it’s what I’m used to.”

It’s what I’m used to. Whether it involves migrating from an one operating system to another or migrating from one way of living to another, you are making a choice. When you choose the familiar over the strange but better, what does that say about you? What do your excuses say about you?

When you realize that the excuses you make are just a flimsy defense against the unknown, you can take charge of your own life. You can get that job. You can live a healthier lifestyle. You can have better relationships. You can do anything because you know that it is up to you to do so. Feeble excuses and mediocre expectations are your enemies. Understand why you have them, and then defeat them.

Games Geek / Technical Personal Development Politics/Government

What Games Taught Me

I grew up watching television and playing video games. I read books, but not as often as I do now. Somehow, I managed to get honors in high school. If games only allow me to “learn how to shoot cops”, how do so many people who play video games get good grades?

On Game Girl Advance’s Kids Can Learn to Read and Shoot Cops, the question came up: what can games teach us?

I would think that, if the game really gets a young, innocent, prelapserian child interested, then it also makes that child investigate the world of the game further. They might learn something about recent American history.

But maybe this is just me. Am I wrong? As a curious, unofficial poll, what new SAT words or useful skills did video games teach you folks? Have games taught you anything that makes you feel smarter or a better person? Any Trivial Pursuit questions answered correctly because of video games? To paraphrase Senator Schumer, can Johnny learn to read while shooting cops?

For the record, I did get a Trivial Pursuit question correct. Towering Inferno was one of my favorite Atari 2600 games, and I learned years later that it was based on a movie. While playing the DVD Trivial Pursuit, I listened to a mock pitch for a movie that sounded somewhat similar to the game I played. I got a piece of the pie for it. B-)

I also learned what scurvy was due to playing Illusion of Gaia. I remember looking up information on it because the idea of a lack of Vitamin C causing a disease was quite “out there”. Was it just made up for the game, or is it real? I had to find out. I had to learn.

I learned resource management. While I know of at least one person who hates strategy games (“Give me a mission, tell me what to do, and I’ll do it, but keep that crap away from me!”), I loved the intricacies of playing Ghengis Khan 2, Nobunaga’s Ambition, and P.T.O 2, all made by Koei. Real time strategy games like Total Annihilation and Starcraft similarly stressed the importance of resources. When I pack for trips or make plans for events for my LUG, I understand the importance of logistics. Not having enough pizza, underwear, or Medics can make or break your plans.

I also learned about the real-world people featured in the games. Nobunaga’s ambition to unify Japan was real. MacArthur’s famous “I shall return!” and the strategic importance of holding the Philippines were real. The political struggles, the balancing of Army and Navy resources, the value of allies and supply lines and research and intelligence…hundreds of hours watching the History Channel or reading history books doesn’t compare to the experience of watching a turn play out in front of you and knowing that what you did has an impact on the outcome.

What’s more vivid in your mind, reading about how North America was colonized by England, Spain, Holland, and France, or actively trying to keep peace with the Iroquois tribes nearby your main towns while preventing a competing nation from making landfall on “your” shores? Colonization introduced many of the major figures involved in the conquest of the New World in a way that history books just couldn’t.

Even games like Super Mario Bros taught me to tackle problems from multiple angles. You couldn’t find all of the bonuses or power-ups if you didn’t try hitting blocks that “weren’t there” or jumping into a pipe rather than over it. Thinking outside the box was normal in video games.

Games taught me how to be an organizer. Games taught me how to be efficient with limited resources. Games taught me how to experiment with new ideas or methodologies. Games taught me how to work well with others. Games taught me the importance of planning. Games taught me that my decisions can have multiple outcomes and affect many people.

Unfortunately, some people think that all I could have learned from video games is how to be dangerous and destructive.

To be honest, I did cause natural disasters like tornadoes and earthquakes in order to destroy my SimCity, but I distinctly remember cleaning the city back up and making it better than ever. B-)

Personal Development

Who You Are

It is always eye-opening to read about someone’s history. How did events affect them? How did they become who they are? “Batman Begins” is a great film because of such interest, and biographies on J.D. Rockefeller and Benjamin Franklin tend to be popular as well.

Steve Pavlina’s Meaning of Life series starts by documenting how one person can change his/her outlook on life. He talks about questioning his long-held religious beliefs when he was younger and being unsatisfied with the (lack of) answers from those around him. He went from straight-A’s to a disinterest in college studies. He started to steal for the fun of it. After almost getting a 2 year jail sentence for grand theft, he was expelled from school for low grades.

This story is a stark contrast from the Steve Pavlina who is passionate about personal growth and graduated with honors and awards within three semesters.

Yet it is the same person. And it isn’t uncommon. I was raised Catholic, and I’ve heard plenty of stories about saints who were the worst sinners in their time. People go from living in the streets to becoming incredibly wealthy. Others are born into wealth and can become destitute or depressed. Many people never do any more than coast through life and stick with the status quo.

Steve Chandler said that we need heroes. They show us what is possible. Without heroes, we don’t know what we can do. If everyone is mediocre, then no one worries about doing their best. “Just enough” is perfectly fine. Apple’s “Think Different” campaign was great because it talked about how the people who make a difference in the world are those who don’t simply accept what everyone else thinks is good enough.

Steve’s story is great because it demonstrates that no matter how bad life gets, you can always improve it. Who you are depends on what you do, and it is clear that we can all be great. After all, many have shown us how already. It is just a matter of carrying out the appropriate actions.

Personal Development

May’s Monthly Review

It’s eye-opening to review your progress towards your goals every so often. GTD advocates will push for the weekly review. I try to use my Saturday mornings to go through my non-urgent snail mail, enter my monetary transactions into GnuCash, and update my calendar. I’m still pretty new to using GTD techniques, but I already know I can make huge progress. And while the weekly review is great, I know that I need to also schedule other reviews to keep myself on track, especially when I miss a week or two…or three. Maybe four.

That’s how May was for me. I wasn’t nearly as productive as I have been in previous months. I wasn’t keeping on top of things. I meant to keep a list of items on a pad of paper with me, but I almost never had it updated or nearby.

I did manage to make a simple game, as I mentioned in the Learning Kyra series. In the last article, I mentioned that I was considering the project complete and moving on. Apparently I didn’t listen to myself. I’ve already changed it a bit, and I’ve decided that I will continue to work on it until it is fully polished. Menus, levels, etc.

I unfortunately haven’t touched this project in weeks.

So I can see that this month wasn’t very productive, and yet I did manage to do certain things regularly. In fact, if I was this productive years ago, I would have been happy. So what went right?

The Unix utility calendar was an amazing tool for keeping me on track. It’s a command line tool similar to the Mac application Remind, which was covered at a few months back. Basically, you enter a date, a tab, and single line into a file called calendar in your home directory. When you run calendar, it will tell you what’s going on that day, and you can also set it to tell you what happens for an arbitrary number of days or on a specific date. A portion of my calendar file:

Mon PROGRAM: 2 Hour
Tue PROGRAM: 2 Hour
*/SunLast Chicago Indie Gamer Meeting (last Sunday of month)
6/11/05 Game in a Day: Theme == Fusion
6/12/05 Game in a Day: Theme == Fusion
7/16/05 Game in a Day: Theme == Ghosts
7/17/05 Game in a Day: Theme == Ghosts

8/20/05 Dentist Appointment @ 9AM

So as you can see, I have set aside Mondays and Tuesdays for programming a couple of hours a day. I also have some specific dates. This coming June 11th and 12th are the dates for Game in a Day. I also have a dentist appointment on August 20th. The last Sunday of every month is the Chicago Indie Game Developer’s meetup.

Ok, so now they are all in a file, but that’s not entirely useful by itself. What is useful is that the command calendar can be set to run whenever I login to a shell on my Gnu/Linux system. I added the following line in my .bash_profile:

calendar -l 7

Using “-A 7” would do the same. When I login to a shell, it will output what will happen for the next week. For today, for example, calendar -l 7 outputs:

Jun 02* DLC: Meeting
Jun 02 Open Source Seminar
Jun 03 PAYDAY!!!
Jun 06* PROGRAM: 2 Hour
Jun 07* PROGRAM: 2 Hour

Since I am always using my computer, this tool is great. Every day I am aware of the coming week. Even if I am not updating my own paper calendar, I always update the computer listing. I’ve been using it for months, and I keep track of appointments, weddings, and deadlines with ease. Even when I am having a poor productivity month, I will at least not forget important birthdays or anniversaries. Which reminds me…

And the fact that I am being reminded of anything means that I am keeping things in my head when they should be down on paper. Therefore, I’ve dedicated June as the month when I improve on my ability to track goals and progress.

General Personal Development

Barriers to Success

Top Barriers Limiting You From Your Dream Job is an article that is making its way around the blogs. It’s a good reminder that it is very easy to make excuses for not accomplishing anything. Lack of time, fear of change, obligations, and the fear of being wrong are among the 10 items listed.

I really wish that I had learned years ago that “I didn’t have enough time” is not a valid excuse. Today I know that a lack of time isn’t really a lack. Every day has 24 hours. Every day is the same. If I didn’t have time to do something specific, the problem is more about my lack of committment and action plan than about the lack of a 25th hour. I didn’t really do a lot of game development these past two weeks. Is it because time went by quicker? No, it is because I let other things take up the time I would normally dedicate to development. Playing Wizardry 8, for instance. B-)

On another note, the human imagination is amazing. As children, we used the imagination to play games or pretend to be something bigger than we are. We’re super heroes! We’re firefighters! We’re saving the princess! Making the world a better and safer place!

As adults, most people use their imagination to worry. It’s always used to worry about the negative consequences. Imagination is rarely used to explore opportunities. I think that the fear of being wrong is just another symptom of the problems of “acting your age”.

Today, there are so many paths to success. Allowing any of these 10 barriers to prevent you from being great would be a tragedy.

Personal Development

It’s My Fault I Bought A Bad Product

I talked previously about how I enjoyed listening to the audio book “100 Ways to Motivate Yourself” by Steve Chandler. I really liked how much I learned from listening to a tape while driving. So I recently bought another audio book called “Develop a Super Memory Auto-matically”. I didn’t know about it previously, but I saw it when I was at Barnes & Noble. I’m interested in learning how to remember things more consistently and clearly.

This audio book, however, was not one I should have bought. Here is a break down on how the tape runs:

  • “Hi, welcome to the tape. First, to increase your memory, stop saying you have a bad memory. You need to believe you can have a good memory.”
  • Lame music with positive affirmations you’re supposed to repeat to yourself.
  • “Forgetting someone’s name isn’t because of bad memory but because you weren’t paying attention or focused.”
  • Lame music with positive affirmations you’re supposed to repeat to yourself.
  • Fake conversation with other host: “I can remember student names within the first hour of a new class.” “Wait a minute, Bob, are you blah blah blah blah seriously?” “Why, yes, Diedre, blah blah blah I’ll give you the secret but first let’s have more positive affirmation time.” “Ok!”
  • Lame music with positive affirmations you’re supposed to repeat to yourself.
  • “The secret…No, wait, just a description of the secret’s results. Let’s take an affirmation break.”
  • Lame music with positive affirmations you’re supposed to repeat to yourself.

And so on. I plan on finishing the tape, even though the big secret isn’t really a secret. I’ve read about associating a number with a specific item, such as 1=T/Tea, 2=N/Noah, 3=M,May, etc. And I’ve read that making absurd images and using other senses help you to remember. If anything redeems itself, it is the fact that the tape talks about this “memorizing lists” technique in a more natural pace than what I’ve read. I can actually see myself making use of this technique.

Still, it’s an audio tape. If I feel the need to reaffirm that I have the ability to remember things, I’ll rewind to listen to an “affirmation break” from the beginning. I don’t need it strewn throughout the tape, interrupting the flow of learning. What really ticked me off was hearing the author say something like, “We usually use 30 items, but due to time constraints, we’ll only use 16.” Time constraints?! Maybe if you didn’t waste most of the tape with affirmations, you would have more time!

I’m fairly upset about it, but I have to realize that it is my fault that I wasn’t informed. In an age where reviews of any product by anyone in the world are easily available, I made a reckless purchasing decision. I would have seen that other people were also turned off by the repeated and mostly unnecessary affirmation breaks. I say mostly because I can see why the affirmations would be useful. Believing you can remember things well is necessary to learn how to remember things well. Still, did we really need to go through the affirmation breaks so many times?

I will no longer make impulse purchases without knowing something about the product first. I will probably pick up Mega Memory next time.

Game Development Personal Development

Goals and Habits: Program for 5 hrs/week

Since I think coding practice should be a higher priority in my life, I’ve scheduled two days out of the week to program. Monday and Tuesday evenings after work, I will spend at least two hours programming. Four hours of the week can easily be accounted for there, and I could always do more on those days and others.

Previously I assumed I could squeeze time out of my week to program, but since I didn’t have any hard rules about it, I never did it. The thinking was that I could always program “tomorrow”, and of course tomorrow always had its own excuses.

Eventually procrastination became a habit. If I did have time in front of my computer, I ended up checking email or configuring something that I didn’t need to configure at that moment. Even now I catch myself getting distracted too easily during my programming time. I find myself trying to check my email or reading blog entries and have to force myself to continue programming.

Breaking old habits is hard, as everyone knows. I recently bought Steve Chandler’s 100 Ways to Motivate Yourself audio book. I listen to it in the car and am amazed at how much education you can get in a 30 minute drive. One of the things he talks about is breaking bad habits. He says we can’t simply drop bad habits. We must replace them with better habits. In my situation, I simply need to get my mind to think that it is time to program whenever I am in front of my computer instead of having it think that it is time for recreational web browsing. He also talks about will power and the need to exercise it. The more we practice control, the stronger our will becomes. The two tips go hand in hand.

Each time I refuse to check my email during my designated programming times, I get that much closer to replacing habitual time wasters like useless email and web browsing with habitual productive activities. Building will power in this way applies elsewhere. For instance, each time I make myself check my calendar before making a committment, the more useful and powerful my calendar becomes. Each time I check my lists when I am deciding on my next action, the more important my lists become to me, which means I’ll use them more.

Creating good habits and getting rid of old ones is great for accomplishing goals. If I make a regular habit of programming each day, I simply have to hit my goal for the week, and therefore I can’t NOT hit my goals for the month. As Chandler says, “It’s mathematical.”

Game Development Personal Development

What Happened to my Productivity?!?

It’s April 19th. The Chicago Indie Game Developer meeting is in less than six days. My goals for this month were to continue programming for 5 hours per week and to complete a simple game. While the month isn’t over yet, I haven’t accomplished these goals at all.

Last month was great. I programmed. I learned how to use Kyra. I learned a lot.

This month, I hit a stumbling block right away when my video card needed to be replaced. I also spent some time updating my resume to look for a full-time job. I have a couple of game reviews to do for Game Tunnel. Still, if I claim that all of these things prevented me from accomplishing my goals, I’d be lying to myself. My computer was back up and running within a few days of the problem. I didn’t spend more than a few hours total over a week on my resume. And I haven’t been playing the games too much either.

So where did my time go? Actually, the more accurate question is, “How did I squander my time?” How did I let an hour or two go by without at least doing something for a few minutes that is related to my goals? Even if it was an overwhelming amount to do, which is certainly not the case, at least ONE thing could get completed, right?

This past week I’ve been in a funk because I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything at all. My game review is overdue, my job search hasn’t really started yet, and I haven’t coded anything since I reinstalled. It doesn’t help at all that I may be getting sick as well. I’m feeling stressed and worried, which wastes my energy, which only serves to make me feel more stressed and worried.

So April is a bust.

Or is it?

While I can’t do anything about the delays at the beginning of the month, I’m allowed to reset my goals. Clearly I failed in programming for the past three weeks, but nothing prevents me from doing so for this week. I haven’t created the game, but nothing prevents me from trying to make a simple game in less than a week. It’s been done before, and I’ve already mentioned my intent to participate in my own Game in a Day. Perhaps I won’t finish the game. But attempting to do so puts me in a better position than where I am currently, so that’s reason enough for me.

Nothing prevents me from accomplishing my goals. Except me.

Look at that. My stress is gone. It’s been replaced with resolve. Fancy that.

Personal Development

My Last Class Assignment

I am coding my last assignment of the quarter. It’s the huge project for the class, and it is due on Thursday. I didn’t know that fact until last Thursday. The class forum shows that I wasn’t the only one, which makes me feel a bit better about “forgetting” something that wasn’t very clear to begin with.

Anyway, within a few short days my last assignment will be complete, and after finals the next week, school itself is over. No, I will not have a graduate degree, but I will have more time which can be utilized in more meaningful ways. I can work on my own projects. I can work on my own skills. I can reintroduce myself to people I haven’t seen in some time. It’s weird how this time last year I never valued my time and was always stressed just trying to get by! I guess it shows how much I’ve grown, but it also shows me that I have a lot to learn as well.

In the meantime, since my internship requires me to attend school, I’ll need to find another job soon.

Personal Development

Having Goals and Obstacles

While perusing my now even longer list of RSS feeds in Firefox, I found an article about Acrobatic Rabbits. It was a shareware blog, so I was curious. It basically describes how the blogger’s rabbits don’t have the will to even attempt to escape simple wire meshes. Simple obstacles are all that is needed to prevent the rabbits from going where the owner doesn’t want them to go.

The last paragraph was insightful:

Just like a technically inadequate fence keeps rabbits inside, many people are kept inside their comfort zone by all sorts of barriers that are often mostly in their heads. How many part-time shareware authors keep dreaming of quitting the day job, but never do for all sorts of reasons? Reasons that, upon closer inspection, that are merely obstacles that could be scaled without too much trouble.

I have goals. Some aren’t nearly as fleshed out as I would like them to be, but they exist. But why is it that, for example, last month I was able to determine that I don’t practice programming nearly enough in order to gain experience and skill, and today I find that it is still the case? I could blame it on the fact that I haven’t been able to do so since I have work and school, both full-time, but that would just be placing blame somewhere else. If I want to do it, then I should just do it. I should be able to schedule time to exclusively work on coding, and then keep the commitment. I think the main obstacle isn’t necessarily some outside force so much as my own perception of how much of a force it is.

Thinking about the programming issue, I know that it is definitely possible to schedule time for it outside of class, homework, and work. I just haven’t done it because I let other things slip into my schedule without consciously saying that I am giving up something else. In Getting Things Done, David Allen talks about how we need to be able to not only say what we are doing, but also be ok with what we aren’t doing. Other time management and productivity authors have talked about the importance of saying no to opportunities that may not necessarily be opportunities.

This weekend, I wanted to try to do a Game in a Day. Unfortunately I spent Friday night playing a video game for way too long and didn’t get to sleep at a decent time. So I woke up later, which caused my entire day to start later. I was hoping to get the Game in a Day out of the way within 5 hours, giving myself the rest of the day to work on game reviews for Game Tunnel and my homework for class.

It is now early Sunday morning. I ended up sleeping in the afternoon so my sleep schedule is off. And so far I only got one game review done. No code written for the Game in a Day. No code written for my homework. It isn’t like the review was too ambitious, and it didn’t really take me all that long to write. I unfortunately spent a minute here and a minute there doing Other Things, like checking my email or talking to people online.

On that note, I am glad that I have this blog. It helps me realize that even though I never lied about what I’ve done, I wasn’t being honest with myself. Until I wrote all that down, I was feeling overworked and was subconsciously blaming it on all the things I needed to do or other people or time committments. Writing it down helps me by placing it in front of me to consciously analyze it so I can see what it is I can actually DO about it.

As Lao Tse says, “Your actions are your only assets.”