Categories
Marketing/Business Personal Development Politics/Government

2020 in Review and My 2021 Vision

Another year has passed, and I feel very fortunate that my family and I survived it fairly unscathed. I know that a lot of people didn’t, and I know the COVID-19 pandemic is still taking its toll, both in lives and lives affected.

It has been a tough year, but I continued to be employed and was able to work from home. Most of our extracurricular activities, such as taking our kids to dance and Cub Scouts meetings, basically stopped. I rarely left the house all year except to pick up groceries or go for a walk around the neighborhood with the kids.

I got to spend more time with my family. Without school providing meals, my wife and I cooked a lot more, and we found that we enjoyed doing so together. We got the kids playing Just Dance and following yoga videos online to get daily exercise in. Internet outages went from being a minor annoyance to having a major impact on our work and school, and as I am the main IT department in my house, it all fell to me to make sure that the Wifi kept working.

It took a lot of adjustment, but we made it.

Goals from 2020

I had a few major business goals for last year:

  • Finish the contract game project
  • Game Sales: from $0 to $10,000 by December 31st
  • Release one more game before December 31st

The contract was finally finished in January, and aside from one more update to comply with changes in the App Store in the summer, I was done. I was happy to have had such a direct impact on the creation of a published game, as well as getting paid for it, but I was even more happy that I could direct my attention back to growing my own business.

Last year, I said:

Ostensibly my goal for the last few years was to get from $0/month to $10/month in sales. Again, the goal was meant to be achievable and to be a stepping stone to increasing sales over time.

But I think what might help is if I gave myself a much more inspiring goal, something that is doable but also would require me to stretch to make it happen.

So my 2020 goal is to get $10,000 in sales by December 31st.

It’s not quit-your-job money, but it’s not so small as to let me think I can procrastinate and make it happen in the last weeks of the year, either. It’s also not about the money, but money is an easy metric to track.

I came nowhere near to making that amount of money. That sum did not end up inspiring me, and it is probably because I didn’t see a clear path to it. Last year I wanted to start creating and finding my audience again after ignoring my business in favor of contract game development, but I didn’t formulate a coherent plan to do so until December. So for most of the year, I worked on creating updates for my existing game.

In the end, I was paid a total of $16.79 from sales of Toytles: Leaf Raking, my leaf-raking business simulation game (I have another payment coming this month from a sale from last month).

Now, I know there are a number of reasons for the low sales. Almost no one knows about the game, for instance. I haven’t been doing a good job pushing it out there.

But I did port and release the game for iOS, and then I published 6 of what I called Personality Injection updates since July. Each time I did so, I not only posted an announcement on my blog and shared it on social media, but I also sent out an email to my GBGames Curiosities Newsletter subscribers.

Oh, that’s another thing I did: I brought back my mailing list. I used to have one years ago, but I decided to start a new one. I invited the previous subscribers to join, and some did. Sign up, and you get a free player’s guide for Toytles: Leaf Raking, which is another thing I created last year.

Since I had a new mailing list, I also added a new goal for the second half of the year: grow my subscribers by 10. I ended up increasing the number of subscribers by 3, but since I didn’t promote it any more than the game, I think that’s a decent improvement.

I ended up publishing a total of 58 blog posts throughout the year, partly because I started writing a weekly sprint report, documenting the highlights of what I accomplished in the previous week of game development. Considering that I published a total of 3 blog posts the year before, this output is a significant improvement, and I think it directly led to people learning about Toytles: Leaf Raking.

Now, I thought I would get to a point where I would consider myself “done” with Toytles: Leaf Raking updates and could start working on a new game early enough to get one released by the end of the year, but since I was only working an average of about 5 hours a week as a very, very part-time indie game developer, those Personality Injection updates sometimes took me over a month to get out. So no new game has been published yet.

But if you’ve been paying attention, you know I’ve been working on one since December, and strategically it is the first of my Freshly Squeezed line of games. More on that later.

I also had a few personal goals for 2020:

  • Do a minimum number of walking hours, push-ups, squats, and planking
  • Read a book per week
  • Create at least one doodle per day

Take a look at this chart of the year:

Morning Exercise Routine Tracking in 2020

The green indicates days in which I did a minimum of 10 push-ups, 10 squats, and 30 seconds of planking. The red indicates days in which I skipped. There is a big block of red near March, when my back was bothering me significantly enough to prevent me from exercising, but otherwise most of the year I kept up the habit. I feel fitter and more capable. I also did yoga on weekends, which I credit with preventing my back from hurting throughout the rest of the year.

I was trying to walk on a treadmill for 30 minutes a day but our treadmill’s motor started to smell like burning, so I haven’t been using it. I did walk with the kids during the summer after lunch, but otherwise I didn’t do walking regularly.

I read a total of 25 books, which is less than I read the year before. Still, between listening to podcasts instead of audiobooks in my car (and then not driving anywhere when the pandemic hit) and reading longer books, I think the fact that I was able to keep up a reading habit during the pandemic was a win.

But my favorite habit was doing a daily doodle. This one appealed to me partly because I always liked drawing but I also liked the idea of getting better at it. My programmer art is decent, but I want to make it more decent, and I know to get better I need to practice more than I do.

I’ll have a separate post about the improvement of my doodles, but here are my first few drawings:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

And here are some of my favorites:

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

Doodle-a-day 2020

My 2021 Goals

Creating an aggressive sales target didn’t seem to work for me, but I still managed to make some sales happen despite a lack of advertising or contacting reviewers or anything.

It was a total of only 7 sales across Google Play and the App Store, but I can build on that.

My goals for 2021:

  • Go from ~0.146 sales per week to at least 1 sale per week by December 31st
  • Increase my newsletter audience to at least 100 subscribers by December 31st
  • Release at least 6 Freshly Squeezed Entertainment games by December 31st

I explained a bit what Freshly Squeezed Entertainment means, but the main idea is that I will be following through on my goals to create more and find my audience. I want to create free, quality games that encourage curiosity and support creativity. I want the games to find the people who love playing them and encourage them to sign up for my mailing list. And I want them to see my mailing list as a way to give me feedback and collaborate with me on the kinds of games they want to play, which means that when I release a game for sale, I am more likely to have an audience interested and willing to pay for it.

There’s a lot of uncertainty to this strategy. I don’t know how many people who play games would be willing to sign up for a newsletter these days. I don’t know if people who play free games are less likely to pay for a game. I don’t know how many people will sign up, nor do I know how many who do sign up will read the emails I send out. I don’t even know if my free games will be seen or get lost in the huge number of games that get released each week.

But the general idea is sound: give away value to attract players, get permission from players to talk to them, and use conversations with those players to get feedback and learn how to make what my audience is willing to pay for.

It’s way better than hoping and praying that strangers discover and pay me for each new game I create.

I was originally aiming to release one Freshly Squeezed game a month, but so far I think my 5 hours/week isn’t going to make it work out for me. It’s especially doubtful as I still want to create updates for Toytles: Leaf Raking in between Freshly Squeezed games. Still, I hope to have a release for my first new game before the end of this month.

One thing I realized is that out of the three goals, the only one I have direct control over is publishing games. I can’t control how many people sign up for my newsletter or how many people buy a game. But if the three goals are as connected as I expect they are, then releasing quality games should attract newsletter subscribers who eventually become customers.

Again, there’s a lot of uncertainty, and I recognize that 1 sale per week works out to almost 7 times what I am currently (I originally had a goal of 60 sales per week but realized it was much, much more ridiculous to expect an almost 400x increase in sales), but I can’t wait to get some hard data in the coming months to see how well this strategy plays out. I’ll adjust my expectations accordingly.

As for personal goals, I like aiming for a book a week as well as not sweating it when I don’t make it. I will continue to do daily exercise, and in fact I’ll increase my push-ups and squats from 10 to 15. I need to either fix my treadmill or get a new one so I can get in daily walking or running even when the weather doesn’t work out. I think I’ll continue to create daily doodles, but I am going to want to learn other aspects of art, such as color, character design, perspective, environmental design, and more.

Happy New Year

I hope 2021 sees the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, a safe transition of power, and justice, equity, and compassion in human relations. I hope my kids can play with family and friends without worrying about someone getting seriously or fatally sick. I hope you and your loved ones stay safe and healthy in the coming year.

Categories
Games Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Tell Nintendo Online to Keep Google Out of It

I’ve been a fan of the existence of Duck Duck Go, the search engine that focuses on privacy. It’s search results are sometimes not as useful or comprehensive as I’d like, but most of the time, it’s great knowing that what I search for there won’t follow me around the Web.

So I subscribe to the Duck Duck Go Privacy Weekly newsletter, and I just learned about how Nintendo is using Google Analytics in the eShop. The latest firmware update will apparently automatically turn on data sharing even if you had turned it off prior to the update.

If you’re in Europe, you have the benefit of the EU’s GDPR to protect your privacy, and so you’re probably less concerned about the kind of data that is being collected about you.

In the US, we have no such privacy laws, but at least Nintendo Switch offers an opt-out in this case.

Nintendo Switch eShop Analytics

  1. Open System Settings and go to Users, then select your Switch’s primary user
  2. Select Nintendo eShop Settings, and type in your password if you need to
  3. Scroll down to the bottom and click “Change” button under Google Analytics Preferences
  4. Click the “Don’t Share” option, then click the “Change” button on the right

I hope you find this helpful. I feel better if my kids end up on the eShop that they aren’t being tracked any more than they already are online.

Categories
Game Design Game Development Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Toytles: Leaf Raking Progress Report – Scene Transitions

Here’s this week’s progress report for new updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking, my family-friendly leaf-raking business simulation available for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices.

Get it at the Toytles: Leaf Raking page.

I talked about fixing some typos and adding screen transitions in last week’s sprint report.

Sprint 19: Screen transitions & time-based dialogue

  • Create screen transitions when entering/leaving yard
  • Story progression when finishing a yard (unique monthly client dialogue w/ difference between clear/uncleared yards

I did only 3 hours of game development last week.

I think I expected that I would accomplish a lot more. I had even taken a day off from the day job.

But in case you missed it, last week coincided with the U.S. Election. Normally we can call it the night of, or we wait for the Supreme Court to tell us who won, but we spent the better part of a week paying attention to the news.

The memes have been great, by the way.

I look forward to not worrying that my kids see the President’s behavior as something to emulate.

Anyway, I decided to quickly hack together fade out/fade in transitions between screens.

Why did I hack it? I didn’t want to spend the time and effort to create a high-quality implementation until I knew how it was going to look and feel.

So I treated it as an experiment. And I liked the result! It felt nice, and added a sense of polish to the game. And the investment on my part to find out that it would work out was minimal.

Experiments like this are the kind of thing I want to feel comfortable doing more often, especially early in a project when there are so many questions to answer about a potential game’s design space.

Once I had determined that I liked the look and feel of the fade out/fade in transition, I threw out the hack and started over, only this time test-driving my solution and being mindful of wanting something solid to build upon. I even managed to refactor out part of the neighborhood-transition code so that it relies on my new general transition code.

I only got to put in about an hour or so of effort into it. I expect to finish up the work this week, and then I’ll get started on the new dialogue. I don’t know if I’ll finish it all this week, but once the dialogue is done, I’ll cut a new release.

Thanks for reading!

Toytles: Leaf Raking Player's Guide

Want to learn when I release updates to Toytles: Leaf Raking or about future games I am creating? Sign up for the GBGames Curiosities newsletter, and get the 24-page, full color PDF of the Toytles: Leaf Raking Player’s Guide for free!

Categories
Games Politics/Government

Mere Hours Left for itch.io’s Racial Justice Bundle

I was surprised to learn that people I know who I consider to be the kind who spend a lot of time in game news didn’t know about this bundle, but the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality sale is about to end in a few hours.

We reached out to our community and an unprecedented number of creators donated over 740 projects to be part of what we believe is the largest bundle ever. Over $3,400 of paid works are available Pay-what-you-want with a minimum donation amount of $5.

All proceeds will be donated to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund split 50/50.

What’s amazing about this bundle? A few things:

  • Hundreds of creators joined in the bundle after it started, so now there are over 1,700 items available. Most are games, whether video games or table-top games, but some are tools, asset packs, engines, plugins, audio files, soundtracks, etc.
  • So far, over $7 million has been raised through this bundle. That means each of the organizations are getting at least $3.5 million by the time the sale ends.
  • They’re all DRM-free, and many are available for multiple platforms, such as GNU/Linux, Mac, Android, and Windows, and some are for the PICO-8 (which is also in the bundle), and some are for your web browser.
  • You only need to contribute a minimum of $5 to purchase over $9,000 worth (but feel free to contribute more)!

If you’re into video games, there are some prominent indie titles, such as Overland, Night in the Woods, Celeste, Wheels of Aurelia, Nuclear Throne, Minit, and Quadrilateral Cowboy, among others. There’s…a lot to sift through, and hopefully itch.io makes it easier to peruse the games in the bundle soon.

If you’re into table-top RPGs, there are multiple campaigns, rulesets, and even tools to help create maps. I’m not as informed about what is going on in this area, but I was delighted to see such a variety that wasn’t just D&D.

If you are a game developer, there are design tools such as TTRPG Design Lenses, art packs, audio packs, tilesets, and more. Oh, and PICO-8 is there, so you can make small games for a virtual game console.

It’s amazing how much of the game community came together to make a dent in injustice.

Categories
Politics/Government

Want Peace? Demand Justice

A man was murdered by a police officer who walked away free that day.

Almost everyone on my social media feeds who usually posts their concerns about a police state and tyranny? Silent.

Then people took to the streets to protest the abuse of power by the police, the police escalated, and then there was destruction of property.

Suddenly there’s clutching of pearls and tsk-tsks and smarmy comments about how wrong and counterproductive it is.

A man was murdered by a police officer, who got arrested only after people took to the streets to demand justice, and it is very clear who is actually worried about tyranny and injustice and who just wants to pretend they do.

Black Lives Matter. The lives of people matter. Buildings and consumer products should not matter nearly so much.

If you don’t want to see destruction in the streets, stop tolerating abuse and extrajudicial executions carried out by your police.

Demand accountability.

Demand justice.

Don’t demand peace from the people who are getting murdered and who have tried peacefully protesting, which has been met with vitriol and anger anyway.

If you truly want peace, then you want justice.

There is no other way.

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Books I Have Read: Tools and Weapons

A colleague at my day job lent me a copy of the book Tools and Weapons by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne.

Tools and Weapons book cover

The main premise of the book is that technology is a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, it has the potential to do so much good for individuals, organizations, and societies. It can ease our lives by automating drudgery, help us make and keep connections with friends and family, and assist us in solving some huge problems in healthcare, conservation, and business.

On the other hand, technology has the potential to do a lot of harm, especially in the area of human rights. It makes it easier for totalitarian governments to identify and spy on political enemies. Our privacy is at risk as organizations find ways to take disparate pieces of data and find correlations that give insights into who we are. Inequality can get exacerbated.

I found myself impressed with Smith and Browne’s ability to tie modern day conundrums back to analogous situations in the past. The late 1800s gave birth to the modern U.S. government when it started to regulate railroads, an interstate technology with a scale and scope that was unheard of in an era when states were almost exclusively the ones doing the regulating. What does our modern Internet require?

In the early 1900s, combustion engine technology put horses out of work in firehouses all over the country. The need for food to feed these horses also dropped, which had knock-on effects for other areas of the economy, from farming to packaging to shipping. What will AI do to today’s workforce, and how much can we reliably predict?

When it comes to making broadband Internet available for rural residents, what can we learn about the initiatives to spread the benefits of electricity throughout small towns and farms?

And as Smith is an executive at Microsoft, I also enjoyed getting quite a bit of insight into the company’s approach to dealing with the world and governments over the last few decades, especially when juxtaposed with newer tech companies such as Facebook.

While I don’t doubt Microsoft led some initiatives to work with governments, I did find myself rolling my eyes at reading how moral the company supposedly was and is. There was a lot of name-dropping, including U.S. presidents and major figures in technology and political science, and I appreciate that there were discussions about how a large and influential tech company such as Microsoft needed to create policies to ensure that they did as little harm as possible to society, but then again, this is the same company that for years liked to spin their monopoly as natural.

But now I also know that this is the same company that provided their technology to organizations such as ICE. I mentioned the name-dropping earlier because I wanted to emphasize how weird this one passage was:

A glimpse of what lies ahead emerged suddenly in the summer of 2018, in relation to one of the hottest political topics of the season. In June, a gentleman in Virginia, a self-described “free software tinkerer”, also clearly had a strong interest in broader political issues. He posted a series of tweets about a contract Microsoft had with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, based on a story posted on the company’s marketing blog in January. It was a post that frankly everyone at the company had forgotten. But it says that Microsoft’s technoloygy for ICE passed a high security threshold and will be deployed by the agency. It says the company is proud to support the agency’s work, and it includes a sentence about the resulting potential for ICE to use facial recognition.

The next paragraph goes on to talk about how that supposedly forgotten marketing post took on different meaning in the context of the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from parents at the US border, and it goes on to talk about employee activism, but wait…

A gentleman from Virginia? Why didn’t we name this individual like we did everyone else? Well, there was an endnote:

Taotetek (@taotetek), “It looks like Microsoft is making quite a bit of money from their cozy relationship with ICE and DHS,” Twitter, June 17, 2018, 9:20 a.m. https://twitter.com/taotetek/status/1008383982533259269.

While Smith makes it sound like the relationship between Microsoft and ICE/DHS was this forgotten quirk, here’s a thread in which this “gentleman from Virginia” gives more context to this section of the book, including pointing out that a Microsoft executive got a job at DHS and shortly after a number of contracts between Microsoft and DHS were established.

All this is to say that while I found a lot of insight into how major tech companies are starting to recognize that great power requires great responsibility and how they are doing more to work together with governments and society to make it happen, I’m also taking the “we’re trying to do right by everyone because it’s the right thing to do” line with a huge grain of salt. When big companies seek out regulations, it is often to make it easier for them to compete and not out of some moral character.

Still, the book tackled privacy, the ethics of AI, inequality, cybersecurity, and modern society’s dependence on technology to live and work while discussing the repercussions of data moving across borders into data centers and the laws that regulate them.

In the end, even while Smith talks about the needs of a “Digital Geneva Convention” to protect civilians against cyberattacks by nation-states, and privacy regulations to protect people against rogue companies (it sounds like Europe is way ahead of the world in terms of pushing technology companies to respect individuals and their privacy rights), I worry about a world in which most of our technology is seemingly dependent upon Microsoft, Google, Apple, and Facebook doing the right thing by everyone. In each case, they’ve shown that there is a priority for them, and it isn’t my or your interests.

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

How Much Do You Value Privacy and Security in the Apps You Use?

I tend to dislike relying on third parties to provide me with services I find indispensable.

If I can help it, I prefer having control over my own services, even if it means having a poorer experience than a flashier, proprietary solution might provide .

Staying in Control of my Mental Food Sources

For instance, years ago I used Google Reader quite a bit to keep up with news on the game industry, on blogs I followed, and more. It was a great service.

And then I imagine with the rise of social media my own usage dropped without me realizing it, so when they announced they were discontinuing it in 2013, I learned about it probably on Twitter.

There were plenty of tech-oriented news sites putting out articles on replacement services, such as Feedly, which I know lots of people recommend.

But I was curious about creating my own personal Google Reader-like site. It’s just collecting a bunch of RSS feeds and showing them, right?

Before I got too far wondering how to do it myself, I learned about Tiny Tiny RSS, open source web-based news feed (RSS/Atom) reader and aggregator.

Open source means I don’t have to worry about a third party disappearing or pulling the service for one reason or another. I also don’t have to worry about said third party collecting data on my reading habits.

It was years before I got around to setting it up on my own web host. In fact, I didn’t do so until last December. But now that I have, I feel like kicking my past self for not doing so sooner. It’s incredibly useful, especially as I can’t trust various algorithms (and the algorithm writers) at Twitter and Facebook to show me what I specifically wanted to see.

And the best part is that I am in control. I can backup my data and take it to another web host. I can use my own desktop computer to act as a server if I want. I can see everything without filtering or some company deciding that NOT showing me what I subscribed to is somehow better.

I just hope I never need to ask for support, unless I want to deal with the developer equivalent of the Soup Nazi. Reading through the support requests I did see when I was trying to figure out how to set up the software left a bad taste in my mouth. Yeesh.

But since Tiny Tiny RSS is open source, I technically have the ability to take my support requests elsewhere. Again, I have more control and more options.

My Any.Do Woes

More recently, I ran into a frustration with an app I depended upon to manage my todo lists. A few years back, a friend recommended the Android app Any.Do to me, and I’ve used it ever since.

It was intuitive, allowed me to setup recurring items, and showed me my items in the order I liked, separating things that are to be addressed today from the things of tomorrow or in the vague future.

I of course used it for one-off items. Maybe someone recommended a book to me in a conversation. I would pull out my phone, open up Any.Do, and add an item to remind me to look up the book later.

But the ability to set recurring tasks was a huge feature. I set reminders for mundane things like watering my plants every week or cleaning the litter boxes each morning. I used it for regular habits, such as writing a daily summary of the prior day each morning and using my evenings to plan for the next day. I even used it to remind me to write blog posts or update my finances.

At one point it started trying to get me to install their calendar companion app, but I was fine with my current situation, and I learned I could disable the reminder.

It also kept asking me to get the pro version, but as I had no interest in syncing between devices, I was fine with the free version.

And everything was fine. Well, mostly. It had a few minor bugs I got used to over the years. Every once in awhile, the UI would get glitchy. Sometimes the tasks would look like they were reloading on top of each other, and eventually I think there would be a conflict that would prevent me from swiping a task to completion or adding new tasks. Closing and reopening the app usually cleared it up, though.

The bigger, scarier one was when I would open Any.Do only to find a blank screen. My task list, the one that that I live by, was gone!

The first time, I had a moment of panic because, hey, free version, meaning no syncing, and therefore no backups existed. But then I not only closed the app but shut it down. When I launched Any.Do again, there was my list. Whew! Every critical bug with a workaround becomes a minor bug. B-)

So, I happened to see that Any.Do had an update in Google Play, and I went to check the changelog, and all it said was “Every update is a boost to the app’s stability, speed, and security…” Maybe they finally fixed the bugs?

So I update the app, and now I find out that the syncing feature of the pro version is required in the free version.

Required.

Now when I launch Any.Do, I see a screen asking me to create an account by linking the app with my Facebook, Google, or personal email account in order to keep my tasks and lists in sync across all of my devices.

And there is no way to get past this screen so I can see my list again if I want to avoid creating an account I don’t need.

I’ve learned that Any.Do is also integrating with Alexa and will have a chatbot to help you with your to-do items. I’m sure those are great features for people who like them, but I’m decidedly not an early adopter, and I think I prefer my to-do list app to be sans A.I.

TODO: Find Another To-Do List App

So the changelog lied, and now my choice is to comply and lose a bit (or a lot?) of my privacy, search for older APKs of Any.Do and worry about where they came from and whether or not it is safe to install them, or find another app.

I decided to look for another app, but I wanted to be more careful this time. I already hate it when seemingly simple apps ask for way too many permissions.

Unfortunately, almost all of the apps I could find that focus on privacy and limited permissions were too simple. Recurring tasks are almost never available as a feature.

Privacy Friendly To-Do List by the SECUSO research group would otherwise have sounded perfect in terms of limiting permissions and providing control.

I did find an app called To Do List & Widget. It had limited permissions, which boiled down to “it needs to read and write to files”, and it lets you back up your lists manually.

It’s only downside besides a UI that is somewhat less intuitive than Any.Do’s is that there’s almost no information about who made it and where it came from. It’s definitely not open source. While the permissions allow it to do only so much, I still found myself being a bit uneasy about trusting it on my device. And besides, what happens in the future? Will it continue to be updated?

So ultimately I settled on Taskwarrior, which is a GUI app wrapping the command line tool of the same name.

The underlying system is incredibly powerful, and so unfortunately I found the UI requires me to learn how to use it. Recurring tasks aren’t as easy to setup, for instance, but I can do more interesting schedules than what Any.Do restricted me to.

And if I ever do setup my own Taskwarrior server, I can get syncing on my own terms.

I was surprised that it requires a lot of permissions, but it boils down to the app needing to create and use an account on the device and needing access to the network to do the syncing. There are no in-app purchases or ads, and the source is available so I can build it myself and read through it to verify that nothing nefarious is happening under the hood. I also have the ability to continue updating it if the original maintainer disappears.

The user interface is awkward for me at the moment. Any.Do showed me my tasks for today, tomorrow, and later, and it even had a separate category for unscheduled stuff as “Someday”. A recurring daily task I completed would show up in the Tomorrow list automatically.

Taskwarrior’s default views are showing me everything, and while they are in date order, it’s not cleanly separated. Also, recurring tasks are automatically synthesized from the template task, and so I find I can have multiple instances of the task at once in my list.

Then again, these issues might be due to me not knowing how to use Taskwarrior properly.

What’s Important to You?

Some people might balk at the idea of investing time into learning how to use an app when a more intuitive one is available.

And that’s fine. I get it.

But I’ve been starting to value my privacy and my security even more these days.

And it’s not an absurd paranoia. Recently there was news about a popular makeover app with privacy red flags. Pokemon Go was a concerning app until they changed the scope of the permissions it required to run.

I already know that Google tracks where my phone goes, which means it knows where I go. I should really turn off the GPS when I’m not actively using the map functionality, in fact. It’s always disconcerting to see the notification telling me that it is using it because none of the running apps in the background should care where I’m at.

I mean, when I took a picture at my mother-in-law’s house during a party, I got a request to upload the picture and attach it to the search results of the nearby public park. Ick.

Artificial intelligence is huge these days, and with chatbots and intelligent personal assistants such as Siri, Google Now, Cortana, and Alexa, we’re seeing a lot of benefits in the way of convenience.

To get that convenience, though, we’re handing over our data to the people behind our devices. And yet, security is rarely treated as a priority, which means that even if we trusted our data to those people, it might also be getting to people we don’t trust.

And so, because I value my privacy and security, often it feels like my choice is to opt-out or roll my own solution.

And since everything is getting artificial intelligence integrated in, it often means tolerating third parties getting access to data more or using alternatives. And if I am going to use alternatives anyway, they may as well be ones I have the most control over.

Thank goodness for free (as in speech) software, eh?

Categories
Geek / Technical Politics/Government

Where To Donate Some Money Before the End of 2016

There’s only so much time left for your charitable contributions to count towards your 2016 taxes.

If you’re looking for recommendations, here’s two organizations I have contributed to because I believe in what they do.

Electronic Frontier Foundation

“Defending Your Rights in the Digital World” is the EFF‘s tagline, and I’m unaware of another organization focused on our rights and liberties in the context of our digitally-enhanced age.

Founded in 1990, EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.

When the Digital Millenium Copyright Act was passed in 1998, there was a lot of abuse potential.The DMCA is overly restrictive in what it allows people to do legally with their own technology, and it allows large companies to abuse the system.

Yet the DMCA has become a serious threat that jeopardizes fair use, impedes competition and innovation, and chills free expression and scientific research. If you circumvent DRM locks for noninfringing fair uses or create the tools to do so you might be on the receiving end of a lawsuit.

In one high-profile example, Dmitry Sklyarov, working for ElcomSoft, was arrested by the FBI while he was in the United States on a trip where he spoke at DEF CON about ebook security, specifically Adobe Systems’ technology. Why?

Because…well, it wasn’t clear at the time, but Adobe Systems thought that his published research and software was a violation of the DMCA’s circumvention of their copy protection systems.

The thing is, Sklyarov is from Russia. The DMCA has no jurisdiction there, so what he or his company did wasn’t illegal.

Also, while Adobe’s software didn’t allow people to exercise Fair Use, ElcomSoft’s software did.

Throughout the years, the EFF has been leading the charge against abuses such as this one.

I like my copyright law to be used to promote the useful arts and sciences, not to allow copyright owners complete control over all potential uses just because there happens to be a DMCA-covered copy protection scheme to prevent my otherwise fair use.

I also like my privacy to be protected, and I don’t like finding out that my technology is forced to have backdoors or introduced a rootkit onto my computer.

So, I support the EFF’s work, including their projects such as HTTPS Everywhere which is aimed at helping to make our web browsing more secure, and recommend you do the same.

Contribute to the EFF and become a member.

The Internet Archive

I’ve been blogging for over 10 years, and a lot of the blogs and news sites I’ve linked to in the past are no longer around. Sometimes, I want to reread an article, but the link I have is dead.

Another issue that could arise on the Internet is that someone’s stance may have silently changed. You were pretty sure that politician was pro a few years ago, and yet they insist that they are con and always have been.

So I go to Archive.org‘s Wayback Machine and find the article from around the time it was originally published and prove that the politician has flip-flopped.

The Internet Archive not only has the history of over 279 billion web pages, it also has a library of books, movies, music, and software.

Did you want to watch The Great Train Robbery, the 1903 silent film with the terrifying surprise ending? Well, it’s not really all that terrifying, but back when it was originally in theaters, it made audiences jump out of their seats to safety because no one had seen anything like it before.

It revolutionized certain film-making techniques, and you can watch it for yourself thanks for the Internet Archive:

Or maybe you miss playing certain games on your Apple II computer, such as the classic game Lemonade Stand:

Oh, wow, does that take me back!

I believe in the importance of preserving our history and ensuring free and open access to knowledge is available to millions of people for many years to come, and I’m happy to support the Internet Archive in its efforts to be the most trustworthy and important non-profit library for the world.

Contribute to the Internet Archive today, and your donation will be matched 1-to-1 to double your impact.

Those are my two recommendations. What are yours?

Categories
Politics/Government

Why Are American Police Carrying Out Executions against American Citizens? #BLM

One of the things we’re taught to believe as American citizens is that we cherish our freedoms and our rights. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion.

And if we’re accused of a crime, we get to face our accusers and have a fair shot at defending ourselves. It’s in the base Constitution, and in the 6th expansion pack it even says “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”

We’re presumed innocent until proven guilty.

We’re taught, “Look at THOSE countries. The oppression by the government, the jack-booted thugs executing people without trial or with sham trials where the deck is stacked against the accused. We have it much better here.”

We Americans have it good, right?

But some of us don’t.

In fact, many of us look the other way when again and again and again and again the police carry out executions against people of color. We look the other way when it happens in broad daylight. We look the other way when there is video footage showing it happening.

Somehow, even when the evidence says, “You can’t look the other way”, we find a way to look the other way.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the victim is a teenager or a grown adult. It doesn’t matter if the victim was a model citizen or had a colorful past. It doesn’t matter if the victim was fleeing or standing or sitting or had his hands up.

It doesn’t matter, because if we are being accused of a crime, we as Americans expect to be able to defend ourselves before we’re found guilty of the crime. In court. With a fair trial.

To stand that trial, we expect to be alive. We should NOT have to worry that our lives are forfeit just because someone suspects we might be bad guys.

Worrying that the government will bring about my death if I breathe wrong when accosted by police is not how it is supposed to work in this country. That’s for other, lesser countries with totalitarian governments.

And yet, we live in a country where some of our fellow citizens are not being afforded the right to a trial by jury.

We live in a country where some of our fellow citizens are being told that the basic rights guaranteed by the third article of the Constitution and the 6th amendment do not apply to them if a police officer decides to act as judge, jury, and executioner.

We live in a country that has tolerated actions that we are supposed to look down upon.

So what kind of country are we living in?

Because the totalitarian-type actions happen predominantly to Black people, we ignore them. We justify it by looking for reasons why they got themselves killed by police officers, people who after all have a tough job and risk their lives to keep us safe.

As a White male, I live in a completely different America. My America looks a lot like the one I was taught about growing up.

And because of my White privilege, I can look the other way when there is too much cognitive dissonance. When what I want to believe about America and what the daily experience and death toll for Black people in that same America are at odds, I can choose to say, “No, I live in the greatest country in the world, so it must be something else that’s going on.”

I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Philando Castile.

I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Alton Sterling.

I can stay silent when I witness what happened to Eric Garner.

To Michael Brown.

To Tamir Rice.

To Eric Harris.

To Samuel DuBose.

To Freddie Gray.

To Walter Scott.

To Laquan McDonald.

I can stay silent, because it doesn’t happen to me.

After all, I live in a completely different America in which I don’t have to fear being executed by a police officer for a routine traffic stop.

I live in a completely different America where even if I was violent and a threat to the people around me, and even if I killed officers trying to detain me, I could be sure that I would be arrested, alive, and ready to stand trial.

Executions in the streets? They only happen in other countries.

Including that other America I can pretend doesn’t exist.

Because Black people are being regularly harassed, beaten, terrorized, and executed by police officers, and because those actions get covered up often enough by those same police officers, there is a movement called Black Lives Matter.

Because in this America, it’s clear that they don’t matter to the majority of Americans.

Because if Black lives really mattered in America, we wouldn’t be silent about the injustice of death sentences being metered out by police without a trial. We wouldn’t keep saying, “Keep calm. Let’s wait for all the facts,” while simultaneously reaching for tenuous justifications and defending the indefensible.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the victim was a good guy or a bad guy.

We live in America. We don’t execute people in the streets. It’s not how it is supposed to be in this country. And we shouldn’t tolerate it when it happens in our name.

Categories
Personal Development Politics/Government

Being a Real Ally for Marginalized People in the Game Industry

I’m a white, straight, cisgender man. But I didn’t used to be.

In the past, I was just me. A unique individual human being just living his life like everyone else.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a man, I live a completely different life compared to women.

I had my butt pinched once. It was by a woman passing by in a club when I was in Cancun on spring break in high school. It was such a novelty that I didn’t know how to react at the time other than with curious amazement that it happened.

All women, on the other hand, have experienced unwanted harassment from men. Some have experienced quite a bit, and some have received unwanted physical contact, and some have been physically hurt for resisting, and some have died.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a white man, I live a completely different life compared to people of color.

I got pulled over for speeding when I was in high school. I was nervous, and I got off with a warning. I had been pulled over for speeding maybe four more times, and I got a warning almost every time. One time I recall two officers on each side of my car, and another squad car appearing, and I wondered why there was so much overwhelming force. Everything was fine, though.

Black men, however, have to tell their children how to behave when, not if, they get pulled over so as not to give the officer any reason to believe they are in danger and an excuse to shoot first, ask questions later. Black drivers may drive the speed limit even if traffic is speeding around them to avoid getting into such dangerous situations in the first place. Some still get pulled over for Driving While Black. Some get harassed, some get physically hurt, and some die.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

Then I started becoming aware of the fact that as a cisgender man, I live a completely different life compared to transgender people.

One time in middle school I accidentally walked into the girls’ bathroom. It was on a different floor, and I didn’t realize I was in the wrong bathroom until I was washing my hands and noticed the lack of urinals and some strange dispensers on the wall. If I had been caught, I probably could have explained that it was an accident, and if I got in trouble anyway, it would probably have been a minor punishment.

Transgender people have entire states passing laws preventing them from peeing where they are most comfortable, which is scary because just peeing in a public bathroom has been a dangerous situation historically for them. Some have been physically beaten and some have died because other people became uncomfortable that someone different was in their bathroom.

And that’s just one general way in which we live different lives.

I used to just be a regular human being, but then I became aware of my privilege.

Privilege is about Society, not You Personally

I have a lot of privilege. I don’t have to pay attention to any of those things happening to people who aren’t white, male, and cisgender. I can continue to live my own life oblivious to it, because horrible things just generally don’t happen to me merely by virtue of me existing, and if something happens to a friend who happens to not be white or male or cisgender, well, it was probably a one-off because if it happened to me, it would be a one-off.

That’s privilege. It doesn’t mean I was given anything in life. It means societal norms are such that when I was born, I get to play the game of life on easy mode. No extra obstacles are thrown in my way due to me being me. No one is out to put me in my place, because my place by default is on top. I still have to play the game and exert effort, but I don’t have to work twice as hard to get half as much. People don’t look at me and assume I can’t possibly know what I need to know to do a job, so job interviews for software development positions don’t require nearly as much effort by me to impress as it might be for, say, a woman.

I don’t have to feel guilty about being privileged, as I didn’t specifically do anything to obtain that privilege. But I should be aware of it because how I tolerate the systems that allow that privilege means I’m basically tolerating the status quo for all of the marginalized people out there.

As uncomfortable as it may be to acknowledge this, my passive tolerance does, in fact, make me part of the problem.

But being made aware of it wasn’t easy.

Privilege is Invisible

I think it’s a much more profound challenge than it seems at first blush. It’s hard to communicate with people who have a very different frame of reference in life.

People with privilege don’t recognize that they have it, and so when they come into contact with someone who isn’t in their privilege bubble, it’s a jarring shock.

Privileged people see the world as meritocratic, and the idea that anyone has a disadvantage due to systemic issues is ridiculous specifically because they don’t see the system. To them, it’s just How Things Are.

They say things like “Why don’t you do what I did and work hard to get what you want instead of whining and hoping someone will give it to you?” without realizing that they were given the opportunity to work hard to get what they wanted without having to ask for it. They don’t see themselves as privileged because they worked hard.

They don’t see how what might be a minor and temporary inconvenience for them is yet-another-blow to someone’s dignity and welfare.

There’s that saying, “He was born on third base and acts like he hit a triple.” In a way, that’s everyone who has privilege. For people without privilege, many weren’t even allowed in the lineup.

For some (many?), being told that they need to go back to the plate to swing the bat and hit the ball before they can take a base, just like everyone else, is a setback.

Oh, and by the way, now there are more people who are allowed to participate.

It doesn’t feel like equality so much as the privileged person losing something. They start looking wistfully to the past as when things were better (specifically for them), and without getting too political about it, that’s how certain politicians seem to get so much traction with passionate voters by appealing to their bigotry.

People without privilege are much more aware of it because it is a constant issue in their lives. To them, someone with privilege must seem very obtuse. “How can they possibly not see what I see?”

It’s because their privilege is invisible to them.

So you have privileged people who don’t know they are privileged who might not have a mean bone in their bodies, and they might think of themselves as genuinely good. Yet they are part of the system. Being made aware of this fact, that they have privilege and there are systemic problems for people who don’t, and they should take some responsibility for being part of that system that allows for it, is a potentially ugly process.

Many go into denial because, hey, they are genuinely good people and don’t hate anyone! Some of their best friends are [insert non-privileged group here]! They didn’t personally do anything wrong!

And they might even be right on all of those counts, but it’s uncomfortable for them to believe that they fell down on the job of being more active in terms of even acknowledging privilege exists because it sounds like they should feel personally guilty about it.

So, if they ignore their privilege, the world goes back to the way it was when everything was a matter of pure merit and hard work, and it’s not their fault that other people are less well off.

Privilege is invisible to those who have it. Confirmation bias helps. And communication and spreading awareness is an uphill battle as a result.

Ok, You Have Privilege. Now What?

I think one challenge I’m finding is what to do now that I am aware of my privilege.

And I mean do, because being aware and not changing how I behave and act feels like it is worse than being unaware and blissfully ignorant.

I’ve been doing some research, partly for my own growth, and partly as research for my church’s efforts to ensure they are a welcoming organization for transgender people. A lot of the action steps I’m finding out there for allies are along the lines of “Don’t say this, don’t assume that, do make space.” All good, but after that, I feel like there should be more to it.

Like, ok, I get it. Don’t be a jerk, and treat everyone you meet as a human being. Learning about hurtful and appropriate language and micro aggressions and existing systemic oppression are details, but there has to be more to it, right?

I’m not saying my education is complete, nor do I want to downplay the importance of those details, but it’s one thing to see and recognize privilege, and another to do something about it.

But I feel like there’s a next step that I’m responsible for figuring out because no one is talking about it.

Most articles I’ve found for allies boil down to one of either two things: a list of do’s and don’t’s to help you be aware of your privilege, or a diatribe about how allies are failing at being real allies. It seems like every ally-related article I find focuses exclusively on the “be aware” part, or it laments how allies are falling short of actually doing more than making themselves feel better about being so progressive. There’s almost nothing out there that feels like set of a tangible actions and behaviors that would make a lasting difference.

The video game industry struggles like many industries with marginalized identities. Mattie Brice is a games critic and activist I’ve followed on Twitter for a long time who has written about this topic often. Recently she tweeted a link to her article which captures why things haven’t improved substantially despite the number of marginalized voices creating games these days.

Brice argues that despite progress on a number of fronts, it seems the status quo is still pretty much what it was, and it seems to be because that’s what supposed activists actually want.

That is, people asking for more diverse representations in games expect to play the same games we’ve always played. You know, only this time Ubisoft could figure out how to budget for the production of female models.

Right now liberal games people find the values of marginalized perspectives quaint, nice flavor that could be adapted or added on to what we already have, but not the main dish. So they aren’t necessarily against radical viewpoints, and definitely encourage them to exist, but only unsupported so change is as slow as possible.

This forces people who have the most to lose and are currently in danger to take the majority of the weight of moving things along.

This idea that marginalized people shoulder the brunt of the work of rising up against the systemic problems is something I was made aware of while talking about ways transgender people could feel more welcome at my church. I didn’t want to speak for these people as I worried it wasn’t my place to do so, but it’s exhausting for them to do everything on their own because they are fighting an uphill battle.

If I had to constantly talk about being a white, straight, cisgender man, and constantly defend every action or thought as a white, straight, cisgender man, it would, in fact, be exhausting. But since society sees me as the default, I don’t have to exert that energy.

So as an ally, what I could do is amplify marginalized voices rather than merely sit back silently. They have their own voices, and I can do much more than wait for them to feel comfortable enough to speak in a hostile environment. I can make the environment more friendly. I could share what they say.

But I could also do more.

We know that these people get less resources, both from games and society as a whole, and not changing how you consume and practicing what you value continues that divide. Said liberal masses are forcing marginalized creators into critical positions by being apathetic at best about the literal support the give while contributing to entities that maintain the status quo.

Marginalized creators don’t often have access to the marketing might of major publishers, and as a person of privilege, it’s easy for me to not even be aware that these creators exist, which contributes to their marginalization without my awareness.

From this article, I’m thinking that one of the tangible things I can do as someone with privilege is to make the extra effort to find marginalized voices. So when I think about buying a new science fiction book, for instance, rather than choose from a bestsellers list or merely on Amazon’s recommendations, I could actively seek out science fiction books written by authors I might not know about.

That’s not a difficult thing to do, but until Brice’s article, it hadn’t occurred to me to do it.

And if I address this in each aspect of my life, from where I eat to what I read children before bedtime to what movies I decide to watch to what I personally create, then I’m hopefully doing more than mere awareness and actually practicing what I value.

I’m going to continue to look for more, but being more conscious about where my dollars go is one tangible, impactful thing I can do to make privilege more visible. It doesn’t sound so hard, but I’m surprised there isn’t more about it out there.

Being that I have the awareness of my privilege to ignore injustice, it’s a moral decision not to ignore it. Being in a position of privilege, I feel obligated to do more than the bare minimum of merely not being a jerk. It will probably be exhausting work, but it’s already exhausting for the people who don’t have the privilege to avoid the work. It is wrong to sit on the sidelines and think I’m still a good person while other people suffer indignity, harassment, injustice, and death.