Secret Writings of the Ash Ock

Aequam memento rebus in arduis servare mentem

D&D 5e

So, I've had mixed opinions of 5e D&D for a while now. Part of this is feeling pretty burned by 4e. Not for the reasons most people say; my group generally really liked the overall direction 4e took (in terms of powers for characters), just not the specifics. For me running 4e, the main things that didn't work for me were:

  • Almost all effects were too transient. Damage went away quickly, status effects went away quickly, etc..

  • Monster stats were just broken at the mid and high levels. You really needed to rework quite a bit of the content to make the game work.

  • Once the game got into paragon play, characters were far more complicated and yet more powerful. As a GM, just remembering and understanding what the players were capable of was a serious chore. Also, with every character having multiple escapes, it was pretty challenging to pin characters down. (Essentially, fights became trivial or gigantic day-long battles).

  • The big kicker: WOTC just churned books out in large quantities to start, with minimal play testing. My perception of their attitude was that the community would figure out what worked. But really, what it meant was that within a year of coming out, there were multiple books that you didn't need to look at because almost all of the content had been errata-ed in the electronic tools.

As with most things, these were probably fixable problems, but for a GM with less time on his hands, it was no longer the right system for me to run.

Enter 5e. I looked at some of the early play tests, and it definitely wasn't going in the right direction for me. At times, it became too basic, without a lot to differentiate characters. At other times, they introduced a huge number of rules that just felt like they would be clunky to play at the table. And I was pretty concerned that the feedback wasn't going to change that. Well, on that count I was wrong. At least with the 100 page free PDF, it looks playable. It may not be a game I would choose to run a game in the near future, but it is definitely a game I could run or play.

Here's some thoughts on what I saw in the basic rules.

5e appears to my eyes to be a cross between 1st edition/cyclopedia and 3rd edition. Clearly, they've decided that 4e alienated too many people and so the ideas in that edition are mostly gone. Short rests and long rests work similarly to 4e, but I don't see a lot of other concepts in what they shipped. I would say that at least with the basic rules, thev've attempted to streamline things. So the rules are relatively clean (consistent systems, like 3e started out as), but they reduced some of the complexity. It looks like even when feats go into the game (advanced rules), a character will have fewer of them.

The reason I jumped back in when 3rd edition came out is because 3e systematically replaced almost all of the bizarre subsystem rules with a single D20+bonus system. Easier to each, easier to learn. (And usually my single largest gripe about having to play in a basic Cyclopedia game). 5e actually takes this a step further, by consolidating almost all of the rules that determine how your bonuses are calculated. So: weapon proficiency and attacks, saving throws, skills, crafting, and probably one or two other things are all combined together into a single proficiency system. That's pretty good design, I think.

3e and 4e both added stat increases as characters leveled. 5e does the same thing, with a cap on how far you can increase a stat (20). More generally, they've gone out of their way to try to narrow the range of effects and bonuses. So fighters are better at hitting than clerics, but the difference between them doesn't increase as the characters level. Also, when feats are added in, they replace stat boosts. So if you just want to keep things simple, you can. Just take the stat boosts. I'll be curious to see simple and complicated characters will mesh together. Will players playing simple characters feel like the people with complicated characters are eating up all of the time at the table? Will the players playing complicated characters be more effective because they've found some sweet spot of character optimization?

There are five or so tiers of play, and generally bonuses kick in when you change tier levels. I suspect the sweet spot is going to be the 5-10 range, just like every other edition. ;)

Spellcasting has some big changes. Preparing spells is now more distinct than casting them. So on an adventuring day, you decide what spells you want to prepare (and the number is probably a bit more limited than earlier editions, which should make spell memorization go a little faster). Then, at casting time, you expend spell slots to cast the spells you memorized. You only need to memorize a particular spell once. So you don't need to memorize two magic missiles if thats what you want to cast.

Spell slots are differentiated by level, and generally, the more powerful the spell slot, the more powerful the effect. So, for example, a cleric only really needs to memorize "Cure Wounds", and can use it with multiple spell slots. Expend a 4th level slot and you'll heal more than if you used a 1st level slot. Clerics automatically prepare the spells from the domain they chose.

The spell list will be extended in the PHB, but the basic list looked light on buffing spells. I hope the level of buffing doesn't reach the problems of 3e and Pathfinder. Looking through the combat spells, some of the things I noted:

  • All casters have a few cantrips and they can cast these at-will. These are not your grandfather's cantrips. These are more like at-will attacks in 4e and quite potent. So, wizards start out with a couple of decent at-will powers and don't have to resort to throwing daggers.

  • In general, if you cast an actual spell, the effects of combat spells is better than it was in 3e. So, for example, a magic missile starts out with 3 missiles (the effect you'd get at level 5 in 1e/3e). A fireball starts at 8d6. But the don't scale automatically. If you want a more powerful magic missile, you have to expend a higher-level spell slot. At least with my casual read, the scaling seemed rather anemic. Will I use a 3rd level spell slot and get 5 magic missiles, or use it to toss fireball instead. I'm sure there are situations where the magic missile is more useful, but most of the time, I'd save the slot for the fireball.

  • Some spells can be cast as a ritual. It takes time, but doesn't expend spell slots. A nice balance. Wizards can actually do these out of their spell book, which probably makes up for the fact that wizards still end up spending money for basic class abilities when no other class needs to.

A couple more thoughts and I'll wrap this up.

Actions are somewhat of a cross between 3.5 and 4e. Each turn, you get a move and an action. When you need to perform special moment actions (i.e. standing up after being knocked prone)., they are usually just rated in how much of your moment you need to expend. Most of the time, you can include one "item manipulation" as part of your action. So running in, drawing your sword, and attacking is just that simple. Not a lot of rules to track for drawing swords.

There are bonus actions (usually granted by class powers, at least in the rules I've seen), and these are generally limited by what you are allowed to do. And I think I remember that you are limited to one per round, regardless of the effects. There are reaction actions as well, which are interrupts. But fewer of them than in 4e. Attacks of opportunity are still around, but they expend your reaction action, rather than being triggered separately. (That's something that frustrated me in 4e; needless complication having them as separate concepts).

For actual gameplay, they made a couple of simplifying decisions that appear as if they will significantly streamline play. The biggest one is the system of advantage/disadvantage. In 3e and 4e, there were often dozens of small tweaks to apply. +2 to this roll, +2 to that roll. +2 to someone else's next attack. A real pain in the ass to remember all of those bonuses at the table. With a couple of exceptions, 5e does away with all of that. You either have advantage or you don't. You either have disadvantage or you don't. So, once you know someone has advantage, you can stop, and just let them roll! :)

Normal: d20 + bonus
Advantage: roll 2d20 and take the higher roll.
Disadvantage: roll 2d0 and take the lower roll.
Both: Same as normal.

So, to sum up my thoughts of what I've seen.

  • Intrigued enough that I decided to buy a player's handbook. I'm enough of a rules/systems geek that I'm curious to see how it fits together with more options/advanced rules.

  • Not sure when/how I will actually play it. Generally, most of the people I would play it with were burned by 4e and want to try other game systems. Still hoping to accommodate that, actually. ;)

  • I feel like overall, they've tried to simplify some of the experience at the table. Fewer bonuses to track, tighter range of effects and bonuses, simplified terminology, etc..

My Russian studies

My friend David asked about my flash cards, and I realized I had a lot to say. So here's a big brain dump on where I'm at with my studies.

I am still distinctly at the stage where I need flash cards, because I still need to incorporate a lot of words into my vocabulary. I have annoying gaps to work around. I'm getting better at it as I practice more. But I've found a couple of useful insights that I'm still in the process of incorporating into my flash cards. But I'm getting there.

In general, I make two major kinds of cards: vocabulary and grammar cards. Vocabulary cards are to learn a specific word. For a vocabulary word, I make one entry on the database and I get four cards:
- audio of the word, I have to remember what it means.
- the written word, I have to remember what it means.
- audio of the word and the picture, I have to remember how to spell it.
- just the picture, and I have to remember how to spell it and speak it.
The backs of all four cards have the same info: written, spoken, pictures, notes, and example sentences. For example, the notes usually include the gender of nouns. I should include more conjugation information on my cards (like fleeting vowels and things like that) but I do a poor job of that right now.
For verbs specifically, I make entries into my database in pairs:  perfective-imperfective. My notes field for a verb has the conjugations for present tense 1st and 2nd person singular, and then usually one or two forms for past tense. There's no direct link between the two verbs but I list the other verb of the pair in the notes field. I also put more work into finding example sentences for verbs because the conjugated forms can sometimes be very different from the non-conjugated forms.

Grammar cards usually require me to use a word in the context of a sentence or prove that I know a rule in Russian. For grammar cards, I have two templates I use most often.
1. Fill in the blank, word given as hint. This is usually a conjugation test.
Мне понравилось гулять по улицам ______! (Киев)
Мне понравилось гулять по улицам Киева.
2. Fill in the blank, no word given. This is usually a test to know which word goes there.
___ следующем году мне исполнится шесть лет.
В следующем году мне исполнится шесть лет.
For verbs specifically, one of the insights is that if you know the first and second person conjugations, you usually have everything you need to know to get the other four forms (for 99.9% of the verbs anyway). I had heard that before but back in March I found a great description of it in a concise grammar book I was looking at. While that was fresh in my head, I was driving home and a piece of dialogue out of a Rosetta Stone lesson hit me over the head:
Когда ты уезжаешь?
Я уезжаю в одиннадцать утра.
Когда ты вернёшься?
Я вернусь в восемь часов вечера.

This lesson tells a story in four sentences, and it does so in a form that gives both the 1st and 2nd person forms. So the brainstorm I had that day is that i can turn most of the work for learning into the verb into a search for a concise story between two people talking to each other. Then I put those two sentences into grammar cards.

A verb that is easy to follow gets just the normal 4 vocabulary cards. A verb that's harder to learn gets 2-4 more sentences. Double that and you get roughly 16 cards for each verb pair. More for really complicated or difficult verbs.

I just started going through Daphne West's Essential Russian Grammar, and I think it is organized a lot better than many other grammar books. In particular, it has a lot of tests inline with the discussion. So I am methodically going through it right now and turning each section into a set of grammar cards to test.  I made about 40 pairs of card for nouns that test me on the gender rules and the plural nominative rules.  I still use all the other grammar books, but for the moment, I am choosing to focus on making cards just from her book. The grammar cards I'm making that aren't from her book usually come from sentences I've written but had corrected by someone else. If I made a mistake once, it goes into a card and I get tested on it.

There is probably a lot more I *could* do on my vocabulary cards to document some of the rules -- I.e. this is a conjuration 1a verb, and what does that mean. But I haven't done so yet. I'm focusing primarily on practical fixes and not trying to be insanely systematic about everything. For certain conjugations, I do have a more extensive set of cards in the deck, just to force me to use all of the rules. But obviously, I don't need a card for every single conjugation of a verb, because that amounts to 30 cards per verb - not sustainable!
Anyway, assuming 4 cards per word, and 2000-2500 words, that's already 8000-10000 cards. (I don't really have cards for every word though, because I already know a lot of words that aren't in my card deck). Add another 2000-4000 cards for grammar rules and I will end up with a deck about 50% bigger than the one Gabe used to learn Russian. (Gabe being the guy who ran the seminar I went to). Gabe suggested that spelling cards become redundant after a while, but since spelling is a huge problem for me, I'm taking the hit and forcing myself to spell and type all of those words. At least right now, I'd rather have too many cards than too few. The worst case scenario is that my reviews become too easy and the cards start coming up less often.

So I am getting more systematic about making good cards. Verbs are still a sticking point, but for the moment I accept that my cards aren't perfect, but that perfect is the enemy of good. I can't wait 6 months to be better at making cards before adding verbs. :) What I CAN do is replace bad cards with better cards when I am more skilled. There's cost to create and review new cards, but when appropriate I will take that hit. For example, I just deleted 8 vocabulary cards I had created back in January. They weren't made with my vocabulary card templates and had english text on them. I had created them so that I could recognize the 6 grammatical terms (in Russian) as well as the words for singular and plural. They did their job -- I recognized those word when I saw them.  But I still couldn't remember or write them! So I just replaced those cards with vocabulary cards using my normal templates.  No english!! I just had to figure out how to invent cards that told the story with pictures. But now I will be forced to actively recall these words. This is part of a general push on my part to learn the vocabulary for Russian grammar IN RUSSIAN. It makes it easier to read monolingual dictionaries and it also helps if someone who speaks only Russian corrects a mistake. I would love to find a Russian book on writing, similar to my "The Little Brown Handbook" for English.

Anyway, that's a pretty long post. The takeaways are
* Every non-trivial word gets cards for spelling and audio.

* Many words get grammar cards to force me to practice the grammar rules.
* Verbs in Russian are best expressed using short stories.
* Learning the grammatical words for Russian is helpful because it means I leave Russian texts less often.
* Be willing to throw out cards that aren't working well and replace them.

Russian writing practice
Okay, I managed to stay awake enough to write a small essay to post to lang-8. Hoping the commenters are kind to me. But not to kind. If there are corrections, I want to make them and then put them onto cards. I still had to spend a lot of time looking up spelling of words, but importantly, not any of the words I've recently added to flash cards. So, a strong indication that I need to just move everything onto flash cards and force myself to type it.
Я изучаю русскый язык уже двадцать семь месяцев. Я начинался изучать русский язык потому что я познакомился много человеков из Роcсии. Десять лет назад у меня был в моем офисe четыре подруги. Я думал что они были очень интересными и добрыми. Ну, теперь я изучаю русскый язык. :)
Я понимаю, больше чем я говорю или пишу. Но, я уже не понимаю когда люди говорят быстро. :( Хорошая подруга сказала мне что если я хочу говорить и писать лучше, мне нужно говорить и писать больше чем заниматься! Ну, сегодня я пытаюсь писать это документ.
Я занимаюсь русский язык почти каждый день. Часто тридцать минут, иногда час или два часа. Через два часа, у меня болит голова и я только хочу спать. :))
Два года назад, я был в Киев девять дней. Это был отпуск и навещать подругу. Киев очень интересный и красивый город. У Киева есть много соборов, церквей, и музеев! Мне понравился ходить улицы Киева! Я хочу вернуться в Украину, но теперь может быть опасно. Может быть в следующем году или через шесть месяцев.
Я хочу когда-то поехать в Москву.
Когда я не работаю или занимаюсь, Я люблю танцевать. Я обычно танцую два раза в неделю. К сожалению, у меня обычно много работы. :( Раньше я был программистом, сейчас я программист, писатель и менеджер. Ой!
Мне нужно узнать много словов потому что часто трудно разговаривать с друзьями. Я надеюсь что если я занимаюсь русским языком каждый день, я когда-то буду говорить по-русски очень хорошо!

Ukraine crisis
I didn't start learning Russian or learning about Ukraine for any reasons other than personal ones.  I never figured we might end up in a war over Ukraine or that my hobby would end up being useful. I need to be more awake to read the news and digest what is actually happening there now.
I was already sure my Ukraine trip wasn't going to happen - I haven't heard from the friend I intended to visit in almost a month. - no emails, no phone calls.  But now I just hope all my friends in that part of the world (even the ones I've drifted apart from) stay safe and that this crisis gets resolved quickly and without bloodshed.

Ukraine protests
I mostly don't want to weigh in on the protests because I don't think there are any simple answers to this situation. But I do worry about my friends who live there and hope they continue to be safe.

A friend of mine at work pointed me at a blog post, which has photos and maps about the Maidan protests. They give a real scope to just how big this protest is. Looking at that map, and remembering how much auto traffic goes through those streets, my mind is blown by the scope of this.


I told someone that I'd make a short post about Anki, so here goes.

The short version: Anki is an electronic flash card program. You create flash cards, then drill on them every day. Cards that you know well show up less often than newer cards or cards you've missed in the past. Anki tries to space out cards scientifically so that remembering them drills them deeper into your memory.

So why do I use Anki?  It comes down to a few reasons:

1. Rosetta Stone doesn't teach all the concepts I need it to teach. (And in fact, it often teaches things in a non-optimal order.). More generally, I have multiple books and CD audio series that I can use as source material, so I need to find a way to gather it all in one place.
2. Rosetta Stone doesn't provide flash cards. If you get stuck on one or two entries in a lesson, you need to manually navigate back to the whole lesson, find the cards that you missed and redo them. All manual labor.
3. Rosetta Stone's recall exercises (the ones that foster active learning) are somewhat rare.
4. Anki gets a lot of high marks from people who study languages.

So I'll start with the bad parts of Anki first: it is kind of a complex beast to navigate. It doesn't have a particularly friendly user interface, and honestly, if you want to do anything interesting with your deck, you need to at least be somewhat proficient with web pages (html, css). Most of your data ends up being database entries and UI is mostly "let's look up database entries and edit them". So I find I'm spending some of my time every week just designing databases and how they are visually displayed to me.

Now, the cool stuff about Anki.

Anki does a good job of keeping me from needing to reenter data that appears on multiple cards. You design a data type. Each data type has a list of fields and a list of cards that go with it. Then you add one database entry, and fill in all of the fields. Anki then adds all the cards to the deck. Each card can reference different fields in the data entry.

Here is an example I've made for Russian nouns.

Type: Russian Noun
Fields: Word (text), Picture, Audio, Notes.

Card 1 - front audio.  Rear picture & text - teaches recognition of audio
Card 2 - front word.  Rear picture & audio - teaches recognition of written word
Card 3 - front picture, audio, and a text entry field.  Rear - checks what you wrote against the word - teaches proper spelling.
Card 4 - front picture and a text entry field.  Rear - what you wrote against the word spelling - teaches active recall of word.

One of the things I discovered is that Anki starts with one card and buries the others. Once you get the first card right, it starts unburying cards. So it makes sense to design your cards so that the easiest cards are first, and the ones that require the most recall are last. (In the long run, the cards you get wrong will show up more often, but this approach makes it more likely that you'll remember the cards correctly in the first place).

Here are some other types I've been using (to a much lesser extent)

Basic Concept Card

Side 1: some text
Side 2: the translation or answer

I use this one very sparingly, as I try to keep my cards entirely in Russian. Mostly, I used this entry to bootstrap some russian grammar terminology. At some point I'll probably be able to remove these entries.


Fields: Sentence, Base word, conjugated word
Card 1 - shows a sentence with a blank for a word, along with the base word as a hint. Answer: the word properly conjugated for the sentence
Card 2 - same as the first, but no hint. Presumably the entries are good enough that the word is obvious.

The intent of these cards are mostly to test that I know what case goes where in the grammar, but it also reinforces whether i know how to conjugate a word properly. However, cards that force you to know two different concepts are sometimes a little harder to learn so I also added....

Noun Conjugation:
Fields: 12 entries for all of the 6 russian cases in both singular and plural
Cards: 11 cards -- each card shows the nominative singular case and asks you for one of the other entries.

I only have a few words using this pattern, mostly words that follow the standard grammar rules. But there are so many exceptions that I'll probably enter 5-10 other words in here for the most common spelling rules. After that, I'll probably just grumble and add extra grammar cards for the special cases. After all, there's nothing wrong with having the same sentence with the same grammatical rule, but have it teach a special case noun conjugation.

One site suggests that every card should have a picture (or even patterns to the images/words used) but I haven't designed all my cards that way yet. I'm mostly using pictures and audio in my noun cards right now. I think I have optional audio fields on some of my grammar tests. As I get better at this, I can either add or replace card entries.

One nice thing about this design is that you can edit the card styling and all the cards are automatically updated. For example, my noun cards link to a russian-only dictionary where I can try to read a definition for it.

I'll probably add an entry type that just speaks or shows a sentence and asks me if I understand it. Forcing me to retype an entire sentence is something Rosetta Stone tries to do, but I find it to be a real bear.

Anyway, I would say that if you don't mind getting your feet wet with a clunky interface and a little bit of database/web programming, Anki is a great solution.

2014 Resolutions
(Live journal keeps deleting any spaces I add between paragraphs -- annoying.)

I thought I was going to write this tomorrow, but I wasn't quite tired enough to fall asleep when I got home, and things seem to be coming together in my head. When it comes to resolutions, I’m an over-achiever — and I work on things year round, so it isn’t like I set resolutions and forget about them. But this year I’ve had more time at the end of the year to try to learn lessons from 2013 and I also have some ambitious desires for the coming year.
My resolutions are a combination of general goals and thoughts as well as some specific habits I want to change or create. I’m also going to talk a little about hobbies just to check in on things I might be doing a little different. In some cases, I’m going to target specific time frames for when I plan to tackle a problem in a major way.
These are roughly in order of important to me, but probably not in the order that I will resolve them to my satisfaction. That is, some things on this list are explicit short-term goals, while others are probably a year-round effort.
* Be more mindful and accepting of myself the way I am. First steps: finish meditation course on CD, reread book on self-compassion and mindfulness. (Yes, my most important resolution is sort of the “anti-resolution”).
* Tackle my self-esteem problems and negative thoughts. First steps: Journal triggers and negative thoughts. I have an appointment to see my doctor about possibility of medication. Work on writing up and understanding my beliefs and values.  Still dubious about a therapist, but will consider it after doing more homework on my own. Realistically, I think what I would get out of a therapist is simply accountability. That's not a bad thing.
* Become a better listener and more supportive of the people around me (friends, coworkers, whomever). First steps: I have a few books on listening and conversational skills, so what I really need to do is pick specific things from those books and make them good habits. Spend more time with local friends also. I probably won't tackle this one obsessively for a couple of months.
* Exercise: Perform a 7-minute work every day (recognizing the need for an occasional recovery day). Incorporate one day per week to build endurance, possibly by running for distance or speed at the gym. Make sure I'm getting up and walking around every day. My plan is to tackle making this one a habit during the month of January. It mostly can be done at home, so I’m not fighting crowds at gyms. On days where I feel up for it, two 7-minute workouts on the same day, or another workout I can do at home can replace the workout.
* Diet: Go back on a restricted diet for at least two months, starting January 6. Then slowly work on balancing it out. This means cooking my own food at least 5 days a week and cutting most lot of things from my diet again. Anything with sugars or high caloric density needs to go while I get my metabolism back on track. For at least the first two weeks, I will get rid of them entirely. After that I will see about bringing some of them back for cheat days. Essentially the problem right now is that I’m cheating all the time and making no progress, either at losing weight or getting my metabolism back on track. This is a difficult goal to meet because a lot of my social life is tied up in food and a lot of my stress avoidance involves desserts or sugary drinks. So I need to work to turn some bad habits into good habits here. Maybe replace a high calorie dessert with whole fruit. Not sure yet.
* The meta-goal that goes with the diet and exercise goals is that I want to lose my belly again. I can make that a measurable goal by saying I want to lose 8 lbs of fat by the end of March. But the belly is the most visible sign of what I’m trying to change.I’m sick of clothes that don’t fit and tearing new shirts that have sentimental value. I tore my shirt at the NYE party I attended. :( Beyond a practical clothing issue, I am probably over-invested in body image, but dammit, I like the way I look when I don't have a belly, and it bothers me when I do.
* Dance: Not a resolution as much as a goal: I need to find a replacement for my intermediate level class, so that I can sustain a schedule that lets me dance two nights per week. Gotta do this soon!
* Russian studies: I have a hard time keeping my enthusiasm for the daily grind on vocabulary, meaning that my goal is to figure out what form of positive reinforcement will help me be willing to study and practice again. By mid February I want a plan for incorporating more active practice every day—meaning a lot more writing letters in Russian and not writing in english because it is 'easier'.  I need to decide what vocabulary would be most useful in day-to-day conversation and find ways to drill and practice it. Also, by mid-February, I should decide if I’m going to hire a tutor again. The assumption is I will do at least one trip to Ukraine in 2014, possibly as early as April, definitely by August. Working with a tutor will help.
* I am explicitly not setting a relationship goal, but if the right situation develops, I will not avoid it. Realistically, many of the other goals on this list are motivated by the desire to make myself happy on my own, but also develop skills useful to be a good partner.
That's not too ambitious, right? I think an early "meta step" is going to be carving out time in the morning and evening to be prepared to practice new behaviors every day and meditate on them at night.

Goodbye 2013

I've been trying to write up something about the last year (and how damn challenging it was), but the muse hasn't really been firing.

What I can say: The year started off in January with big emotional challenges for me, but I've lived through them, absorbed the lessons I needed to learn, and grown throughout the year. I'm in a much better place now than I was in January. I still have things to work on if I want to be the person I want to be, but I'm on the right path. I'm doing the right things to be happier and healthier. I've walked away from situations that were unacceptable to me, even when doing so hurt because they represented a path I wanted to follow.  I've been more willing to speak directly and frankly about what I want, what I'm willing to accept, and how I will act. I've been more willing to listen and understand other people's concerns, without necessarily putting everyone else's concerns first. The end result has been more personal successes and fewer failures—and some of the failures later in the year were more disappointments than catastrophes.

Gaming took a back seat even more this year, because dance, Russian, and work took more of my time. I recommitted to my job at work, and really did some great work this year. When I am not happy with the work I've finished, I take it very personally.

I was happy that I finished the year with some extended time with family, time for myself, and time with friends. All of these are things I identified as important.

I'm not ready to put "resolutions" together until tomorrow, although for me the whole resolutions process is something I do all the time. Really, the only differences that this Christmas, I've given myself more personal time alone to work on things. Here are some thoughts that may drive those resolutions.

* I am way too critical of myself, and this affects my ability to be happy.

* I am not very good at living in the moment. I am stuck in the past and future.  I think about previous situations and what a situation means for the future, and I lose the present—meaning I lose the future. I'm still working on not being outcome-driven, although that's hard given that this is a critical skill in a job environment. Hard not to want to apply those habits at home.

* Too much of my psyche is still invested in others, and not quite enough in my own happiness. Meaning that sometimes I need to walk the path alone for a while, understand who I am at a fundamental level, communicate that to others around me, and not let anything truly essential to myself be compromised by others.

* At the same time, I feel like I haven't done enough these last 12 months or so to really connect and socialize with local friends. I tried to get some things going, but the personal time and creativity needed to make them successful haven't been there. This means either finding other ways to socialize or finding ways to rest and regenerate that creative spark.

To summarize: I challenged myself this year. I grew a lot. And I see some of the real problems more clearly. Now I need to find the right balance between correcting the things that need fixing and accepting the rest as just being part of the human condition.

Anyway, I have a party to go to: part of that whole "connecting with friends" thing. See you in the future.


A Strategy for Changing Things In My Life
This is a work in progress, pulling from MANY different sources. The goal is to put together a concise document I can learn and make part of my psyche.

Start with the Basics!

What are my goals?

What things should I do to accomplish those goals?

What things are preventing me from meeting those goals?

What are my goals?

Install healthy habits

Be happy

Have positive believes and values

Live a life with meaning

Have a positive impact on others

What does it mean to be healthy?

Emotionally stable






Managing my thoughts

Behave in a positive manner, regardless of the situation

Act with courage to live according to my own values

Leading a Fulfilling Life

Help others

Focus on worthy goals and activities

Find like-minded individuals to support me.

Work with a mentor

Balance the elements in my life

Write statements of purpose for the things I am trying to accomplish

Keep a positive attitude

Be consistent, but don’t expect perfection. When lapses happen, recommit to the path.

Be accountable

How do I build towards happiness?

Evaluate my core beliefs (and modify the ones that aren’t good enough)

Expend my willpower wisely

Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts

Tolerate discomfort

Think about and track progress

How do I identify my beliefs and values?


Creating Healthy Habits

Start with small goals

Use a clear opening and closing ritual to identify the habit, and make it understandable to to the brain. Cue—Routine—Reward

Perform good habits early in the day

Do things to make sure the habit can be successful

Make it convenient to win

Make it fun

Don’t break the chain - track number of days of continuous success

Failing to Install a Habit

What led to the failure? Was it a trigger, an unusual situation?

What solution might fix the problem?

Record daily to track successes, failures, triggers.

What problems am I trying to solve?

Bad habits

Negative thoughts

Relationships with other people that are harmful to me

Doing things or saying things that I am not proud of or regret.

Solving problems

What is the most critical thing that is holding me back?

What is a good way to fix it?

Make the corrections.

Negative traits that hold me back

Wasting time feeling sorry for myself

Giving away my power to other people

Avoiding change

Wasting energy on things I can’t control

Worrying about pleasing others

Fear of taking calculated risks

Dwelling on the past

Repeating the same mistakes

Resenting other people’s success

Giving up after a failure

Fearing time alone.

Feeling like the world owes me something

Expecting immediate results


Out of the box
I work for a company that obsesses over packaging and the out-of-the-box experience. . When I talk with people I've met about service, I often talk about how important that first impression is, and how important it is that it be right. The more expensive the perceived value of the item or service is, the better this first impression needs to be.

Today's post is mostly about Kickstarter projects. Because of the timing of things, a half-dozen or so projects are all being delivered to me now. I can't help but notice big differences in how some of these projects are being delivered. In this post, I won't talk about specific projects, just general trends.

* Good projects clearly worked on their packaging by using custom boxes with the company logo, inserts that exactly fit the items ordered, and so on. Often these match up directly to specific backer levels. Everything looks like it was well planned.

* Another sign of a good project: something personal in the box. It might be a signed book, a card that says thanks (with something that describes the company ethos). But it shows "we care". Think of this as the "Designed by Apple in California" card.

* I should be able to tell that what is in the box is what I ordered. And that if something else is being delivered in another box, that I can figure this out too.

* I should know when and how the item was shipped, in a way personalized to me.

None of these things are free; there is a labor cost associated with every one of them. But each shows attention to detail and care.

So far, the worst kickstarter reward I've received is the project I backed for the most money, meaning I had high expectations -- and also that I am extremely unlikely to back another project by them). This was a game project that had many a-la-carte options to choose from, and I chose most of them. The first shipment rewards were all piled loosely into a huge shipping box, without any organization at all. Only a cryptic one-page shipping manifest that was clearly more useful to the shipping department than to me as the customer. So not only do I have a huge pile of junk to sort through, I can't tell for the life of me whether my rewards were delivered correctly or how to assemble said rewards. They've put some directions online now, but still not enough.

Anyway, my takeaway from this would be that to get my repeat business, you need to make sure I feel cared for as a customer. This means service and packaging that shows attention to detail. I recognize that this may mean increased costs (and even accounting for these costs in the price of the Kickstarter), but for me anyway, the effort is worth it. Bonus points if you can take advantage of the work to develop the kickstarter packaging in future projects or shipments to regular customers.

Cruises, vacation packages -- all of these things share similar characteristics. FWIW. Look at what a Cruise ship does to sell the fantasy.

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