Nag, nag, nag….

It seems that, wherever I work, I tend to get directed into the IT department. Sometimes I’m the only member of the IT department. A big part of it probably comes from me having an interest in computers ever since I was a little kid. Quite often, I understand computers better than I understand people.

Of course, one of the biggest aspects of computer maintenance in today’s society includes virus protection. This includes “nagware,” or software that tells you over and over and over to install it, usually for security reasons. Of course, when someone clicks on it, boom, virus.

But what do you do when the nagware is your operating system? Here’s a dialogue that seems to happen at least once a week….

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Windows: You should install Windows 10!

Me: No, thank you.

Windows: Millions of people already have installed Windows 10! Why not you?

Me: Some of the programs we use are not 100% compatible with Windows 10. I’m not doing it until I know for sure our essential computer programs will work with Windows 10.

Windows: But it’s more secure than Windows 7 or 8!

Me: I don’t want to switch right now!

Windows: If you install Windows 10, you’ll get a free copy of Minecraft!

Me: This is my work computer, so we shouldn’t be playing games on it anyway.

Windows: How about free coffee?

Me: I don’t drink coffee! How many times do I have to tell you no?

Windows: … OK, we lied about the coffee, anyway. But still, millions have installed Windows 10, so you should to!

Me: NO! Now knock it off before I throw this computer out the window! I do not want to install Windows 10!

Windows: … All right. But if you change your mind we’ll ask you again next week.

Me: Whatever. Now GO AWAY!

Dell: We noticed you haven’t taken advantage of our cloud-based storage discount yet.

Me: (sobs quietly in the corner)

—————–

This is why I use a MacBook.

 

 

 

Level up your gaming cred!

I haven’t posted in a bit because I’ve been busy with writing! I have been working on more game reviews, a couple short stories, and other projects that I’m hoping to announce here in a few days.

But I wanted to let you know about a fantastic deal right now. If you’re into tabletop role-playing games, or have ever thought about getting involved, you may want to check out what the Humble Bundle site is offering right now.

Humble Bundle started out a few years ago as a way to sell independent video games for whatever price the buyer wanted to pay. A portion of the purchase would go to charity, and the rest would go to the game developers. The idea exploded with success, and the people who run the site have expanded considerably.

Their book bundle this time around includes a huge collection of┬áPathfinder materials. Pathfinder is a tabletop role-playing game by Paizo Publishing, based out of Redmond, Washington. The bundle includes everything that you would need to play or run the game – well, everything but other players. You’re on your own for that part. Those who pay more than the average gets more materials than they can use to develop and play their own adventures.

Almost all of these are electronic copies of the materials, but paying $25 or more unlocks a special treat – a physical copy of the “Beginner’s Boxed Set.” Take note that this boxed set, which includes instructions, tokens, gaming mats and dice, normally costs $34.99 on Paizo’s Web site. So to get that AND a whole slew of books for $25 is a fantastic bargain! (Shipping and handling is an additional charge.)

Not only that, but a portion of your money can go to the charity of your choice. Personally, I would choose the Web site Christ Centered Gamer, which provides game reviews from a moral perspective. But then again, they publish my game reviews, so I’ll admit to be a bit biased.

In any case, if you want to see the bundle for yourself, feel free to click this link right here. If you choose to pick it up, great! If you choose not to, that’s great too! Tabletop gaming isn’t for everyone, after all. But it can be a good way to stretch those creative muscles, get together with friends, be inspired to write, and generally have a good time.

Take note that this deal won’t last long – once March 9 rolls around, Humble Bundle will roll out a different book deal. So if you want this collection, you’ll have to act fast.

I’ll get back to my regular posts about writing and Idaho soon enough. But until then, game on!

“What’s stopping you?”

People tend to open up to me and tell me their concerns and dreams. They talk to me about what they want to be doing, instead of what they are doing at that time. A while ago, I read a self-help book to get through my own troubles, and one of the things I’ve taken away from it tends to work wonders when I try to help others.

So I listen to the person’t hopes and dreams, and desires for a better life. If they haven’t said it before, I ask them what they’d rather be doing. Then comes the “whammy” question.

“What’s stopping you?”

Inevitably there will be a list of excuses and reasons as to why they aren’t pursuing their dreams, but I point out that these are just that. Excuses. Roadblocks. Often self-inflicted out of fear, or a desire to remain complacent, or a sense of inadequacy. In fact, I would say that 90% of the time, the reason why people aren’t pursuing their dreams is because they’re holding themselves back. Some of the most common excuses, and my answers are these:

  1. Excuse: “I don’t have the right education, or degree.”

Answer: I like to tell people a brief story about Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Computers. Do you know how much schooling and education he received? One day. He attended classes for one day, decided that a college education sucked, and dropped out. He didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a degree. True, there are a few industries where a college education is useful – for example, medicine – but if you’ve got the right idea and the will to carry it out, don’t let the lack of a formal education keep you from pursuing it.

2. Excuse: “I don’t have enough money.”

Answer: The rags-to-riches story is practically an American institution. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of stories about people who have come to this country with nothing but pocket change and the clothes on their backs. Or who are born into poverty. And they don’t let this serve as an excuse to make something of themselves! So why should you? Start from the ground up and see where you go from there. You might be surprised with what you can accomplish.

3. Excuse: “I don’t think I’ll succeed.”

Answer: You won’t know until you try. There are a lot of other stories of people who have failed repeatedly, and didn’t let that slow them down either. For example, Babe Ruth held the home run record for a long time… as well as the record for largest number of strike-outs. Thomas Edison has often been (incorrectly) quoted as saying, in regards to developing the light bulb, “I haven’t failed 1,000 times. I’ve just discovered 1,000 ways that didn’t work.” J. K. Rowling said that she received “loads” f rejection letters before a publisher finally decided to take a chance on a novel featuring a boy named “Harry Potter.”

I remember another story I heard a while back about a millionaire business owner who received a diagnosis that he only had a year to live. So he sold off his business and spent the year traveling. By the time the year was done, he was flat broke… and the doctors told him “whoops. We made a mistake. You’re not sick after all.” Instead of despairing about his lost fortune, he simply started another business. A year later, he was a millionaire again. So even if you don’t succeed, persevere. Learn from your mistakes and experiences. If you keep at it, eventually you’ll succeed.

4. Excuse: “I’m being held back because of my race / gender / sexuality / whatever.”

Answer: See my response to number 2. There are hundred, if not thousands, of stories of people who managed to overcome any adversity in order to achieve success. The only person that really is holding you back is yourself.

5. Excuse: “But no matter how hard I try, I can’t make my horse grow wings and fly.”

Answer: … I can’t help you with that one. You’re on your own.

But as long as your dream isn’t impossible (or highly unlikely, like developing the ability to teleport yourself to the moon and live), then you can accomplish it. All it takes is the right idea, and plenty of hard work and perseverance.

Even though I’ve given this advice to a lot of people, I’ve only recently started to take it myself. This blog is part of it. Hey, maybe we can help each other achieve our dreams?

So… what’s stopping you? And what are you going to do to remove those obstacles in order to live the life you really want?

 

 

Destructive creations

My wife and I recently purchased Minecraft Pocket Edition for our kids to play on their Kindle devices. Now, for those half dozen who haven’t heard of Minecraft, this is a video game that many educators and homeschooling families adore, as they say it allows children to explore and create whatever they want.

Basically, in the game, the player can mine whatever they see – such as wood, stone, coal and sheep – and turn the products into whatever they can imagine. With the right materials, a person can design pretty much whatever they want. I’ve even seen some videos where one dedicated player created a complicated, but sluggish, BASIC compiler. The creative mode allows an unlimited amount of the materials, and no threats to the player’s character. So it’s like being surrounded by LEGOs, in a LEGO world.

The default mode to Minecraft is Survival, where you have to get your own materials from the world. You also have to contend with food and trying to defeat creatures that are trying to eat you. So it’s like being surrounded by LEGOs in a LEGO world, but some of the blocks are trying to stab you in the face.

In any case, one time right before bed, my kids were playing in Creative mode, and thanks to the way the Pocket Edition is designed, they had all of their Kindles connected and were in the same world. They had discovered a desert region earlier, and now they seemed to be in the process of renovating it… for lack of better word.

My son had a pile of dynamite boxes stacked at least 30 blocks high, in the middle of a region pockmarked with craters. As I watched – and with the cheering of his big sisters, he detonated the huge stack of explosives, sending everything flying. When the smoke cleared, he had managed to penetrate what little remained of the surface, to reveal the molten core at the center of the planet.

I could just imagine the tourist signs. “On this spot, three children and approximately 40 billion tons of dynamite created the Great Sahara Crater.”

About that time, one of my daughters chimed up. “There’s still some desert over here!”

Some people find that Minecraft is a great piece of educational software which allows children to flex their creative muscles and design wondrous devices. My kids decide to find ways to turn the planet into molten slag.

I suppose destruction can be creative, too….

 

It’s the little things that matter.

As writers, we like to think big. We like the idea of the brave knight sweeping in on his gryphon, flaming sword in hand, to slay the dragon threatening the castle. Or the rugged detective bursting into the lair of the drug lord to make a criminal empire collapse. Or the grieving mother finally coming to terms with the death of her son and moving on with her life.

But there needs to be more substance to the stories. “The dragon attacked the castle, and the knight killed it. The end.” There isn’t a lot to that tale, and it would quickly be forgettable. The readers want more than just a satisfying ending. They demand more. They want to be immersed in the worlds that we create. Sometimes, the best way to do that is to go into seemingly inconsequential details.

For example, consider the writings of Brian Jacques, who created the Redwall series. I remember reading an interview with the author years ago where he discussed part of his inspiration in writing the books. He recalled going through other novels, where it mentioned that the characters ate… but what? It bothered Jacques not to know. What were they eating? How did it taste? He wanted details! So when he started writing the Redwall series, he didn’t want to fall into the same trap. His books often have entire chapters dedicated to the preparation and consumption of elaborate feasts. What did these have to do with the main plot? Not a whole lot – but it served to engage the readers into the world of mice and badgers. It even led to the publication of a cookbook based on the Redwall series and what the diminutive inhabitants ate.

Another example can be found in the video game “Avernum: Escape from the Pit,” by Seattle-based Spiderweb Software. Near the starting area is a tremendous cave with a dragon named Motrax. This dragon likes humans and talking with them, and in return, the humans can learn from him. However, Motrax has two other residents in his cave – a pair of cats. It’s mentioned that Motrax likes cats and enjoys their furry companionship. This little tidbit has nothing to do with the rest of the storyline, but it’s an amusing quirk to a great big, scary, scaly dragon.

So, fellow writers, think about how you can incorporate minor details into your characters and works. Perhaps you’re writing about an iconic fashion designer who has a secret love of Babylon 5. Or maybe a space traveler who chews on his nails when he gets nervous.

It could even be a minor detail that becomes much more significant. For example, you could be writing a mystery novel. Early on, you introduce a character named Charles, who takes a Dum-Dum sucker from a bank teller and pops it in his mouth. In subsequent scenes, he’s seen with one of the lollipops in his mouth, and in a dialogue with another character, admits that it’s a habit he picked up when he stopped smoking. However, in the introductory scene of the novel, the detectives are examining the apparent suicide of a writer. In her wastebasket are five crumpled first drafts of her suicide note… and a Dum-Dum wrapper. The detectives may not pick up on this, but your clever readers will jump on this. Charles was there the night of her death! But why? A small detail like that can turn an otherwise humdrum whodunit into a real page-turner, as the readers try to mentally connect the dots before the detectives do.

Some people say “don’t sweat the small stuff.” I disagree with that advice. Do sweat the small stuff. Make it part of your works. Your readers will thank you for it.

My daughter has fallen in love!

So my twelve-year-old daughter has fallen in love. And it was love at first sight. All it took was about 90 minutes, and it’s started a passion in her that will likely last the rest of her life.

Some people think that she might be a bit young for this sort of thing. But I whole-heartedly approve. I think that she and her beloved will be a good match, and I look forward to see how she develops as part of this relationship.

No, it’s not just one guy. It’s a bunch of guys, actually. And a few women. And a kid. And an android.

And one great big starship to hold them all. A certain starship named the U.S.S. Enterprise.

The other night, she sat down with me and my wife to watch the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And she was instantly hooked. She now wants to watch the entire series, and the spinoffs. And probably the movies, too.

Frankly, I think it’s a good sign that my daughter is eager to embrace science fiction. I’ve always viewed Star Trek as an optimistic vision of the future – a place where humanity (and more) are willing to live with their differences, and even embrace them, to unite for a common cause. To seek out new life and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Given her keen interests in biology – especially veterinary medicine – I have a feeling that she will want to aggressively pursue a scientific degree when she gets to the collegiate level, too. People have been saying that there need to be more women involved in scientific fields. With both of my daughters’ interests (my younger one wants to be an entomologist), I think they’ll be more than willing to jump right in.

Plus, my eldest daughter will likely make some nerdy boy very happy in the future. Maybe they’ll get married while they’re dressed as Klingons or something.

Hmm… I’d better not get too ahead of myself. She’s only twelve. And she has a lot of Star Trek to watch still.

… and after that, maybe some Doctor Who.

 

In Memoriam

I had been planning on writing a silly story in response to my own writing challenge I posted on Saturday. However, real life interfered – as it is prone to do – and twisted the challenge in a way that is all too familiar.

One of my friends and former employers, Steve McClure, passed away on Valentine’s Day after a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer. He leaves behind his wife – a sweet woman who also had a battle with cancer – and two young sons. After working as the managing editor for the local newspaper, he became a pastor and a mentor for many at a local church. He was a good, spiritual man, and will be missed.

For some, Valentine’s Day is a day for romance. To others, it’s a reminder of scars that never fully heal. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McClure family, and to all of those who are hurting right now.

But to end on a lighter note… it’s President’s Day! A day off for a lot of people, including myself. So how about a trivia question? How many forms of U.S. currency can you name that do not have a President on them?