Left-Handed in a Magical World

I’m struggling a bit with the new Harry Potter game. Specifically, I’m struggling with the spellcasting. On the old console games, I didn’t have a problem. But that was tracing each spell’s sigil with the mouse. On the phone, it’s tracing with my fingertip, and apparently little old leftie me doesn’t apply pressure in a way right-handed players do. So the phone doesn’t always acknowledge the accuracy of my spells.

It got me wondering as it was giving me grief over Alohomora for the dozenth time in the same session – Do you have to cast as they’re drawn, or as they’re drawn relevant to your dominant hand? When I started pretending to do Wingardium Leviosa after the movies started coming out, I always drew them to the left. (I still do, actually.) I translated the physical movement of the spell as swish out and up, drag down. In this game, it’s to the right. That threw me the first couple of times I had to trace it. (I can’t for the life of me remember what it was in the old console games or in Pottermore.)

And I’ve never really paid close attention to how people are casting in the movies (which is odd, because that really is something of a second nature behavior for a leftie). So, now I wonder…would casting the mirror image of the spell (as a leftie might, left to their own devices) trigger the spell, or would the leftie have to learn to do the spell to the right?

It’s also got me thinking about side dominance. I started learning ballet before I learned to write. So, while there were hints early on concerning my dominant hand (what hand I used to grab or pick up things), there really wasn’t much confirmation. (This probably also explains why my dominance is split – left hand, right foot. Hmm…) But I became used to doing everything to the right first and then the left at a very young age, because it’s literally just how I grew up. (Right now, that seems very funny to me.)

When I played Amtgard, on the rare occasion when I got to play something other than Reeve (referee), I bounced between Wizard and Scout. Wizards are only allowed to cast charms and spell balls with their left hand (off-hand so as not to impede whatever parry or shield you might choose to carry), until third level when you got access to Ambidexterity. As a leftie, I really never thought about it. It made sense to charge and throw a spellball with my dominant hand. But I knew a lot of mages who were desperate to get to third level as quickly as they could because they were losing half their spellballs regularly because they cast with the wrong hand…their dominant hand. (Actually, I think we had to charge on one side and then throw on the other…but I can’t find my years-old rulebook.)

It’s kind of funny that it’s taken me this long to even notice this, but it’s definitely something to think over…and to watch for the next time I find myself in front of one of the Harry Potter movies.


Thinking About Live Streams vs. Reality Television

A couple of months ago, I took an intro to communication studies course. It was an interesting overview of the history of the field and how different theories from different fields have impacted the development of journalism. The lectures commenting on reality television really spoke to me because they resonated with my own (rather negative) perception of the genre.

What’s funny is the class itself isn’t what led to my writing this post; it was becoming more aware of just how much of my free time time I spend watching streamed role-playing games, and reading or listening to associated materials created by the cast and fans. Watching these shows is fun for me because the storytelling is imaginative and compelling…and the collaboration is delightfully unpredictable and engaging as the players improv off each other. And we often get to see glimmers of the players’ personal lives and friendships beyond the game, which adds a layer all its own.

Perhaps more importantly, they’re more in-depth, more thoughtful, less manipulative. I suspect if someone took the Critical Role transcripts and ran them through a readbility test, they would score well above any episode transcript for a “reality” show. And no one complains. Some viewers don’t follow so well, but they don’t complain about the level of the storytelling.

Compare this with reality television, where the cast are playing out scenarios with characters who have about as much depth as a perfectly flat piece of paper. I can’t understand why other people find these shows compelling any more than I understand why people find America’s Funniest Home Videos funny. I know there are people who watch these shows because it gives them an artificial sense of superiority. But then some people try to live like reality stars because that’s how people do it on television, or they at the very least expect life to be like reality television…and again, I don’t understand how the lives presented through reality television are something to aspire to.

Competition shows are also reality television, in that there are overly dramatic, completely artificial realities taking place…but somehow watching someone doing their craft seems less slimy than watching people play out completely fictionalized lives no real person would (hopefully) want to live. I can handle competition shows more often than not, if my tendency to fall asleep in front of Food Network has become any sort of indicator. (For clarification, I personally designate shows like Survivor and The Amazing Race in the first group of reality television, and shows like Dancing With the StarsProject Runway, and even American Ninja Warrior in the second group of competition shows.)

I guess it comes as little surprise that I prefer to watch people practicing their craft, and in the case of competition shows push themselves, in improv-adjacent situations.

Which Olympics Do You Watch?

The Olympics are upon us. I know. I’ve spent a lot of my week working in between speed skating heats and figure skating programs. Good times.

But for some reason, this time around people have decided to make a loud (and completely accurate) scene about how the Olympics are political and corrupt. Yeah, we have a country whose National Olympic Committee (NOC) and rulebreakers are sitting this one out, a country known for score fixing, doping scandals, and all sorts of other underhanded tactics to win (which has always confused me, because their athletes are typically pretty skilled). Countries have called truces to keep their athletes from being banned. And countries have become very good at slapping thick layers of makeup on their human rights violation to be awarded Host City rights. (I about spit out my tea when I heard earlier this week that Beijing is hosting the Winter Games in 2022. Not bad for a country that lost the 1996 and 2000 Summer Games due to human rights violations.)

As a promoter of peace and respect, the International Olympics Committee knows that it’s a temporary situation, gone as soon as the current Games cycle is over. But there are people who enjoy focusing on this aspect of the Olympics, and hating the Olympics…or at least vocally hating them while watching them.

What I really want to know, though, is why people are choosing the game where South Korea and North Korea are putting aside years of hate to work together and to allow the North Korean athletes to participate.

Actually, that’s not true. They’re welcome to focus on the political aspect of the Games.

For me and many others, and certainly for the sports involved, watching the Olympics is about watching these athletes lay it all out there. Everything they’ve worked for over their life, that has consumed every free moment of their life, asking insane sacrifices of them…comes down to a few minutes of performance. To face their nerves, their inner critic, and past demons to show what they have been working toward. In some cases, it’s to compete against someone else who has similarly given up their whole life to pursuing this sport, this level of athletic and competitive fitness, and see who’s having the better day. Sometimes, it’s to be judged by people who most likely haven’t seen what this athlete has done coming in (unless they’re a returning Olympian, or competing in multiple events within their sport) and even more likely have never actually attempted the sport themselves.

From where I sit, it comes from the same space as American Ninja Warrior and pretty much every single performing art out there. People working, often on their own (with the aid of coaches and other crew as needed), to do better than they did the day before. Challenging themselves. Having to take failures as moments to learn and make adjustments. We can sit here for two weeks and attack what goes on behind the scenes (sometimes not so behind the scenes)…or we can take a page from these athletes’ example and find ways to push ourselves to be better every day, to learn from the inevitable mistake, and to reach what might seem like impossible goals.

That’s how things get done.

Ballet and Motion Capture

I first learned about motion capture (mocap) in college while watching the Barbie Nutcracker. The animators put a professional ballerina in a mocap suit and recorded her performing the choreography. I had been dancing since I was a very young child, and was at the time dancing with a civic company, and had watched many an animator struggle to show ballet correctly. This being the early days of mocap, the animation and technology weren’t quite there yet, but it was something to watch an animated ballerina actually doing recognizable ballet steps. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and I wanted to try doing mocap myself.

Really pay attention to Barbie’s bourrées. While not perfect, they’re not that far off.

A couple of months ago, Extra Play offered a playthrough of a dance-based game called Bound. A dance-based game? I had to watch. It became clear very quickly that the game animators had put a trained dancer in a mocap suit and had her perform various choreographies that they then wove together as the player character moves through the world. It’s beautiful in a jarring world.

But twenty years after that Barbie movie, Bound‘s dancing protagonist had a very obvious problem – she couldn’t bourrée correctly. Across six hours of game play, I counted at least five different bourrée animations (one is shown in the video above), four of which would have made any trained ballerina cringe. They did finally get it right late in the game, but I sat there wondering how with advances in animation and technology this protagonist struggled with a simple move that an animated character had accomplished reasonably well two decades earlier. Was the mocap technology just not able to sort out the dancer’s movements? Was it a shortcoming of the animation program? What happened?

Regardless, it’s been fun watching how the presentation of dance has changed across animation over the years.

And Then the Murders Began

The “And then the murders began” game has been going around Facebook recently. That’s where you take a book (although Mom and I have successfully done it with articles, instructions, and catalog copy), read the first sentence and add, “and then the murders began”.

It does little for A Wrinkle in TimePattern Recognition, or The Diamond Age. But check out what happens to Hamlet on the Holodeck:

The birth of a new medium of communication is both exhilarating and frightening…

…and then the murders began

This may be shooting fish in a barrel, given that it’s a book on the birth and rise of cyberdrama, but doesn’t that just sound like a fantastic cyberpunk opening?

Maybe it’s just me. 😛

Productivity Ninja: Task Hero

iEver since its inception, gamification has seemed destined for partnering with education and with productivity. Many years later, people are still wrestling with how to marry these activities effectively. I’ve blogged in the past about working with Habitica, but recently I had the opportunity to try out relative newcomer to the productivity-meets-game mechanics task managers: Task Hero.

(Fair warning: I used it for about a month, it was very much in Beta mode, so bear with me.)

About the best thing that can be said about Task Hero (aside from how responsive the team is when a bug or serious non-bug issue crops up) is that graphically, it is clearly a game. A lot of game elements have been pulled in, with graphics reminiscent of older games. It’s bright. It’s colorful. There are magic spells and monsters and encounters.

Where it seriously lacks, and where Habitica had them beat until their redesign at the end of September, is the amount of real estate given to the primary task of managing one’s tasks. And it’s not that they didn’t give plenty of space to that, but there’s so much crowded around that it doesn’t feel like that’s what they intend you to focus on. (Habitica is slowly working with users to resolve their own problems in this area.)

And there have been game-related issues related to this question of where the development team means for you to focus. When I first started playing, I had a moment where I checked off a completed task, and the system informed me I had eaten poisoned berries and taken damage. From doing something positive. I very nearly permanently walked away from the game that afternoon. Instead, I spoke to the team about why I nearly walked away. It was fine for about a week, and then “random encounters” started attacking me, even when I’d had a good day. That’s fine for a game, but it tends to backfire when trying to motivate yourself to get things done or build new habits. (And I was never able to get this across to the developers.)

That said, you work your way across a map, and every time you move to a new spot, you have an encounter of some sort. The game is so desperate to rely on the game mechanic of dealing out encounters that players must overcome that it deals out these encounters with an air of annoyance that it can’t punish you for being productive. The focus is clearly on creating a game that just happens to have a productivity element attached to it. They are trying to understand that this isn’t the right setting for that mindset, but it’s clearly a new concept to them.

I played out the first level, beat the boss, and moved on to the second world, and I haven’t been back since. I don’t know that I will. Even with the hiccups that have come with Habitica’s recent redesign, it’s the more soundly developed game-based task manager.

Wrestling With Task Managers

2017 appears to be the year I either sort out my to-do list, or abandon all hope.

At the moment, abandoning all hope seems far more likely.

Let’s start at the beginning, which is about ten years ago when I stumbled across the then very-new GQueues while trying to find something better suited to my mental organization style than Todoist had proven to be. (For people who think like Todoist, that’s a pretty decent system. I’m not one of them.) GQueues lets me to do things I need from a task manager: hierarchical tasks, project organization, the ability to attach links and notes, and I can color-code projects to match my Google Calendar color scheme. But I walked away from it earlier this year for a bit because it doesn’t allow a basic user a calendar view (integration with Google Calendar for subscribed users), and I was trying to develop an editorial calendar that made sense to me.

I briefly tried Trello, but it turns out that a board system only works for some of my projects and not so well for others. I wasn’t willing to split my time between even more task managers than I currently am (we’ll get to that in a moment), so I tried Asana. I had tried Asana before and found it a bit too inflexible for how I prefer to work, but they’ve made a number of changes. Each project space has its own calendar, which makes it easier to see everything related to that project in one place and easier to shift things around when schedules change. And you can decide whether a list or a kanban-style board would be better for each project. But repeating projects don’t work the way you expect them to, and completed repeating tasks don’t go away unless you delete them, removing any trace of your hard work. (Asana does not see this as a problem, and has refused all requests to change this behavior.)

So, I shifted back to GQueues, my projects much more streamlined after a turn through Asana. And I was working along happily…until a recent revamp that, without warning, reduced the number of characters available to a queue’s global notes. (I lost so many notes in trying to address this discovery.) In an angry panic and a certain fear of losing more to GQueues (nothing like this had ever happened before), I shifted everything back over to Asana…only to find the system’s true weakness. Asana has no one place where you can see all of your tasks across all of your workspaces, and connecting it to Google Calendar was unpredictable. (To be fair, Asana warns you up front that there are some hiccups between the two.)

It took two missed auditions and a nearly missed work deadline to realize that was not going to fly. I need a central list with all of the day’s task. So back to GQueues I have gone, mindful of the situation in the global notes. (I’ve also started streamlining the notes of separate tasks…just in case…) I also have a Smart Queue for the week’s task, so I can still look head while working on the day’s tasks.

Earlier, I said I split my time between task managers. About a year and a half ago, I started using Habitica. (Re-using, really, since I first used it back when it was HabitRPG.) Habitica is a charming task manager that turns your to-do list into an RPG. You take on a class. You join a party and guilds. You complete quests. You earn XP, gold, and loot for just getting things done. And while it’s fun and all, it’s not really geared toward managing large projects…or long-term projects…or multi-part projects…or “down the road” tasks. That said, it’s great for managing habits you’re working on and predictably repeating tasks (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) with a minimum of fuss and clutter. It’s also good for keeping immediate projects you’re working on, and for prioritizing your day. You can even include notes and links, and decorate your tasks with cool little emojis.

For the time being, I use GQueues and Habitica in tandem. Far fewer things slip through the cracks. Far fewer project steps or pieces get forgotten. It’s worked fairly well for me. On GQueues, I keep track of those large, long-term, multi-part, and “someday” projects. On Habitica, I keep habits, daily tasks, and the projects I’m currently focused on. I even manage my reading and listening habits, keeping upcoming books, audiobooks, and audio dramas on GQueues, and the one(s) I’m currently reading on Habitica. (I’ve helped my party defeat more than one boss, simply by reading a Brandon Sanderson novel.)

I assume I’m settled for now, but you might be struggling with your own task/project management woes. Perhaps you can find a solution somewhere in my own experimenting. If you do, let me know in the comments!


Ordering Movies For Future Generations

I finally got to see Rogue One recently, and it got me thinking. I was an infant when Star Wars was released, so I only know a world where the Star Wars movies exist out of order. If you’re unfamiliar with the current state of things, storyline-wise, Rogue One tucks neatly in between the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy.) Between the prequel trilogy being released second, and trying to catch up with Clone Wars (I did finally do it. Someday, I’ll even get to Rebels.) it doesn’t even faze me.

There are people who see the prequel trilogy before the original trilogy. Because that’s where we are in the collecting of Star Wars movies. And there will be kids who will start with The Phantom Menace, knowing that they’re in for a nine-movie ride, more if they choose to keep Rogue One and any other spin-offs in the marathon.

It won’t always be this way. It’s already not always this way. Those who, like me, grew up with the movies not taking place in order are asking themselves how best to introduce their own children to the Star Wars universe. It’s not uncommon to see social media posts asking for people’s opinion on this matter. No one seems to have a solid answer to the question (beyond, “Is Jar Jar Binks really what you want your child’s first Star Wars experience to be?”), so there are now people who watched the movies in numerical order (or machete order in some cases).

You can already tell the kids who watch the movies in chronological number, because they can’t understand why the movie quality degrades so severely between the prequel trilogy and the original trilogy, and then you get to explain to them they have things a little backwards and the original trilogy was cutting edge at its time. (Please don’t ask how many times I had this conversation while I was teaching. I stopped counting after about a hundred.)

Star Trek has a similar problem, although theirs seems to be more wrapped up in keeping track of the development of alien races. “Day of the Dove”-era Klingons were not in Star Trek VI because the producers wanted Worf’s grandfather to look more like Worf than Kang. And with “The Last Outpost” in mind, I quit watching Enterprise when the (DS9-era) Ferengi waltzed in. Continuity and the world bible be hanged, apparently!

But it also brings to mind The Chronicles of Narnia, all published before I was born. I swiped my mother’s boxed set, arranged in order of publication, and read them when I was in college. My best friend at the time had just been given an omnibus that had recently been published, and contained the books in the order they happen. We couldn’t even discuss the books because we kept trying to work by book number instead of title, and we eventually gave up.

Of course, I had the luxury of reading The Dark Elf Trilogy before I read Icewind Dale, so what do I know?

Teaching by Example – Geek & Sundry’s DM Tips

I’m well behind the ball on this, but things have been busy. I’ve watched Critical Role from the beginning and I really enjoy watching Matthew Mercer weave his tale around his players (even when they cause him to literally slam closed his book of plans), so when the GM Tips webseries started with him as the host, it made sense to watch it as well. (One does not have to watch one to enjoy the other.) It was pretty much what I expected visually…mainly because it was very similar to the GM station on the Critical Role set at the time, and the tips were solid explanations of how he navigates thornier issues in running a game.

Mercer eventually bowed out, and Satine Phoenix took over the show. The set changed to reflect her DM style, and she started off her first episode talking about how different DMs have different styles and that’s perfectly fine and, really, to be expected. Without calling huge attention to it, she set the stage for this conversation by being exactly what she wanted to show. Where Mercer preferred takeaway tips, Phoenix has invited fellow DMs to come be interviewed for an aspect of DMing that they happen to be strong at. And it’s been pretty awesome.

It will be interesting see how things transition when the next host (assuming there is one) steps up.

One Last Misadventure for Rocket J. Squirrel

It was about twenty-four hours ago that we started learning June Foray had passed away yesterday morning. To generations who grew up with her numerous characters, the news was heartbreaking, despite the fact she was ninety-nine. (She would have been 100 in September.)

For me personally, I sort of shouted at Bob Bergen’s Facebook post. I didn’t want it to be true. I looked at Facebook’s trending topics, which knew nothing. (Not unusual.) So, I hopped over to  Twitter, where she was trending, but there was nothing official. Desperate to find out one way or the other, I searched Google…only to find a post from a self-proclaimed satire news site admitting to creating a death hoax for Foray earlier in the week, updated to confirm they had spoken with Foray’s reps yesterday and confirmed she was still alive and well.

No one knows who the site’s writers actually talked to, and that page vanished from the site for a bit. (It has been reinstated with the dates updated to today and tomorrow, but strangely…not with actual updated information.) In the time it took me to find that page last night, Bergen had explained that he had spoken to her caretaker yesterday. About half an hour later, the major entertainment blogs started picking up the story.

It’s not often that one of these “satire news sites” starts a celebrity death hoax, only to have the celebrity in question pass away just days later. But the better question is: What’s the value in starting these rumors to begin with? Do people really find it exciting to be told incorrectly that a celebrity has passed? Even worse, their rumor caused a valid announcement from a reputable source to be called into question…and then they willfully continue to lie, saying, “It’s okay. We admit we post fake news.”

Is it ever okay to claim someone is dead when they’re alive? How morally and emotionally bankrupt do you have to be to find joy in that manufactured distress?

At any rate, this particular rumor became true too quickly, and the world is just a little bit darker now. (A lot darker, really.) But she earned her rest, and we’re all richer for her sharing her talents with the world. She’ll be missed.