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Archive for June, 2011

Game of Thrones on HBO is (in my opinion) the best fantasy material ever to appear on TV. I might argue “the screen,” but I think I need to ponder that just a little more. If you’ve watched it, then you probably are hitting me with a “duh” face right about now. What’s my point?

Well, I find it amusing that so many “mainstream” folk are completely engrossed by it.  You know who you are – the ones who laughed at my Dragonlance shirt and my weird-looking dice in high school. Yeah, that’s right. Hang your head in shame and let me tell you why.

The geeks were declared “winners” a while back, but I believe Game of Thrones was/is the true buzzer sounding. Fantasy geeks have never been “mainstream,” even after The Lord of the Rings movies. However, our presence is felt more and more in popular culture now that we’re all grown up and reminding everyone that our shit is really, really cool. (and we also control the world’s computers, so show some respect!)

I’m excited about the success of the Game of Thrones HBO series. A successful fantasy movie is nothing new, but it’s a movie – you watch it and then go watch something else (usually about spies or a love triangle) the next month. Watching one fantasy movie won’t turn even the most socially “straight” person into a fantasy geek. Where Game of Thrones raises my pantaloons (aside from the graphic sex – woot) is in its medium – episodic television content. Sure, we’ve had terrible/mediocre fantasy material on TV in the past (Hercules, Xena, Legend of the Seeker), but all of that remained apart, secluded. Only geeks stayed with it.

And here is where Game of Thrones differs.

Perfectly “normal” people, who laugh at us geeks with swords on our walls, practically jizz in their pants when talking about Game of Thrones. The material, production values, cast and story have everyone watching it completely enthralled, geek or not. See, that’s amusing to me because us fantasy losers have always know that this stuff rocks socks. We’ve been reading books and catching obscure fantasy flicks since we first realized dragons were full of more awesome than sports, church, drinking and girlfriends combined.

So, to all of you new geekoids: welcome to the fold! While others may have declared our victory prematurely, I -Matthew C. Plourdius- now officially declare our dominion over all media and hearts of this realm. Bow before the geek(s) in your lives and tell them “you were right… you were right about everything.”

Camping is coming (just like winter) and I fully plan to re-read Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. Yeah, I vaguely remember reading it sometime after y2k but I cannot recall if I finished, etc. I blame the radiation… In any case, I will be posting reviews of all the books I read on this camping trip, including Hunger Games (the #1 novel in the world, and it’s post-apoc).

Be well, my people!

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In random order:

I’m now on Shelfari. That link gets you to my profile page so you can “friend” me. I’m trying to add all the books I’ve read, but it’s a slow process. Only the very good and very bad books are sticking in my memory, it seems. And I’m not a pack rat, so most of the books I’ve read in my life are gone. Anyway, if you are a Shelfari member, please ADD Eden and For Duty to your shelves! 5-star ’em up and recommend to yer friends! (yes, I’m allowed to be shameless from time to time).

As you can see from my “shelf”, I’m reading Hunger Games now. It’s a post-apoc novel which is currently #1 on the Kindle sales list. To me, that means #1 in the world. Gotta do some research on my colleagues!

Coupons! Don’t have a hard cover version of my books yet? Tsk Tsk. They are quite snazzy, featuring Axel’s artwork on the jacket… really good stuff. Enter this code on Lulu to get 20% off: SUNSHINE305

Expires June 30. Click on the “Matt’s Books” tab here to find the link to the hardcovers.

As kind of an addendum to my “What I’m playing” blog post from last week, I’m now thoroughly hooked on Terraria. Like Minecraft, this game threatens to rule me for a spell. Gameplay is quite similar to Minecraft, but it is a 2D Platformer. (if you are not a geek, see the link)

Our budding outpost in Terraria - like my goggles?

Where do I start with this one? Well, as I said, it’s quite similar to Minecraft. You break blocks, form structures and craft all manner of items. However, Terraria has a very robust combat / adventuring system. It also boasts some neat and different weapons / tools (boomerang!). And it certainly has more of an “adventury” feel to it. Again, one of my buds stood up a server and we can login anytime to continue to explore and/or build some neat things.

Two thumbs up and over the rainbow for this one!

That’s all for now, I guess. I do have the first few pencils in for Eden’s graphic novel and I’m psyched to start sharing some of that with y’all. I know it’s a huge project, so here’s hoping Andres sticks with us through the end! He is an exceptional artist and I’m lucky to have found him.

I’m all settled in the new house, so work on Babylon is starting up again. I will have the 1st draft done by the end of the summer, for sure. If not, feel free to corner me in any airport and punch me in the nuts… I won’t fault you.

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Choose or Die!

No, this isn’t Matt dangling a boat full of New Yorkers in one hand and your girlfriend in another – you can only save one! This is my official announcement informing y’all that I will be part of a nifty little writing project akin to the old “choose your own adventure” books from the ’80s.

The website can be found here, and you have until monday to vote for a story you wish to follow to its grisly end (once the voting ends, we will write the 2 most popular ones and you can follow one or both). At each choice juncture, the readers will vote on which direction to go, and us writers will write the outcome (and more choices).

Rioting good fun for all!

Also be sure to check out the current crew page to see the cartoon version of myself. Eerie!

Well – happy voting and enjoy the fiction!

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I’ve been meaning to share my wealth of experience in this arena for a very long time. By day, I’ve been a tech consultant for 11+ years now. During that span, I’ve been involved in many different technologies, several companies and a whole buncha tight spots. Gather ’round if this seems interesting to you!

Listen to your client

Simple, right? Not so much. You see, not only do we consultants get into grooves or patterns but our employer (if it’s different than our client) may have other, over-arching goals to press onto the client. Maybe you think you know best when it comes to a certain technology or methodology. Perhaps your employer wants to sell this client a certain solution further down the line, and that desire affects how you deliver your services. Whatever the case, I propose you listen to your client in a vacuum – separate from all those external voices (including yours).

If you can do this and act upon what they are telling you, then you are halfway there. Now all you need to do is deliver!

My best listening advice comes from a recent example. A client of mine wanted to get a handle on some file permissions for a certain group of servers. Well, I have my own thoughts on how to best go about collecting that data and the software vendor would have probably preferred I pushed the latest technology bits within my application. While all of that is fine and dandy, it wouldn’t have solved my client’s need. After listening to what they had to work with and what they wanted to see, I delivered a solution based upon these things. Sure, I could have delivered something grandiose and unwieldy (and pretty). While that would have satisfied my statement of work, I’m not certain it would have satisfied my client.

On other occasions I have learned better/different ways to do things just by listening to my client. Though we consultants are there to assess, design, deploy and sometimes teach – you mustn’t forget to listen to your damn client. They know what they want… most of the time.

Specialize!

Technology is such a limp and ineffective term to describe my “field.” Tech consultants may work on computers, directories, mail systems, desk phones, cell phones, data lines, software and all manner of devices and concepts in-between. Within each of the areas I listed (and forgot) above, there are literally hundreds/thousands of various solutions and disciplines. It is quite impossible to master it all.

I was once a jack of all trades. I had a solid foundation in hardware/software but I also dabbled in many other areas. Towards the end of my 10 year stint with my previous employer, I had many different balls in the air (heh, balls). At any given moment, I was called-upon to be an expert in one topic and then asked to deliver upon another technology the next day/week. And so on. It burnt me out.

Then the opportunity came along to just do one thing. I actually tried to make this work with my former employer, but they likely saw the value of keeping my hands in most everything. That’s a handy guy to have around! So, instead of continuing towards burnout, I signed-on with an employer who would allow me to just do my one thing.

Damn, that was the best decision I have ever made in my professional life! I’m so much happier now that I’m an expert at one trade. I can answer most questions posed and I can deliver much richer solutions to my clients. In the past, I would say things like “I’ll check on that” or “Perhaps, let me research it.” Now? Now the mystery is gone. Human beings have continuously specialized in their various cultures, and I believe technology specialization is the way to go.

But Matt – what happens if your technology dies? Excellent point! A) my chosen tech has been around for ~20 years so I think I’m good and B) I’m a technology guy – I can learn/adapt as needed. Really, I’m not concerned. Specialize, damn you!

At the end of the day, it’s not about the money (for you)

Well, maybe it is – if you have a stake in the financials. If you don’t, then I suggest you make decisions based upon what’s best for your client above all else. Sure, it may be in the software vendor’s interest to expand licensing, but your client may not care for whatever features that licensing entails. Or, your employer may ask you to string things along to get more service $ from them. Whatever the case – your relationship with the client will suffer if you start acting upon the $ rather than their needs.

I guess this also comes down to just listening to your client, but it also requires you to grow hair on yer chest (yes, even if yer a chick). As an example, I routinely shine a spotlight on the flaws of my product, much to the disdain of my software vendor. I do this because A) these flaws are sometimes obvious and it’s best to discuss them than try to glaze over them and B) I’d rather show my client the warts and the workarounds than have them discover these on their own.

Of course, your situation may vary, but I regularly act in the best interest of my client, even if that act seems at odds with everyone else making more $. I believe, in the end, your relationship with your client is what will keep the $ fine and you have the added effect of a more “partner” relationship rather than a “client/consultant” gig. In my experience, partners are asked back time and again through the years.

Speed (keep the bus over 60mph)

What can I say about speed that I haven’t already mentioned on some of my blog posts about writing / life? Speed can be an impressive force in every aspect of your life, and it is especially potent for us tech consultants.

Respond quickly. Act with alacrity. Diagnose with determination. Hound vendor support daily. Deliver with celerity.

Actually, the first point is usually all that you need to do to appear in control and confident. Sitting on emails is usually perceived as disinterest or laziness from the other end. If something requires a longer response, send a short one to ensure your client knows you are “on it.” If something can be answered quickly, do so.

Another area where speed specifically helps us techies is when the shit don’t work. Gosh, this happens more than is healthy. As you descend into the rabbit-hole, you must have the ability to quickly shift gears, change lanes, plot a new course, bury the hooker – do whatever you need to do to get things back on track as swiftly as possible. The sooner you realize the state of things, the sooner you can alter your plan of attack and achieve success.

The only place where speed isn’t your friend is when emotions are high. If you are involved in such a situation, always give yourself a night’s sleep to calm down. Pass any response by your superiors/peers to see what they think. In this case, a little caution will go a long way.

Yer not gonna win them all

While this shouldn’t become your theme song, you must realize (quickly) that not every engagement will go as planned. Awful client. Bad day for our hero. Misaligned expectations. Shitty software. Screwy timing. All of these things (and more) can contribute to a project going sideways.

What do you do? Well, hopefully you can salvage the operation. Stay professional (even if everyone around you isn’t). Keep your head and sometimes you can turn the shit nugget into a shining pearl… or, more realistically, a less vile shit nugget.

Then, there are the times that things just cannot be salvaged. Obviously, you want these cases to be the exception, rather than the rule. If this happens, realize that you are moving on and you did your best given the circumstances. Like a relief pitcher, you must forget what happened the night before and focus upon a new game the next time out. In other words: let it go! Trust me, you’ll be a shit-ton happier if you can learn to do it.

Over Communicate!

Communicate with your client and all related parties before the engagement begins. Send frequent status updates, if applicable, during the gig. Then, when all is said and done, keep the lines of communication open. Like a story, every project has a beginning, middle and end. Stay talkative with everyone involved throughout the process and be amazed at where it gets you.

I’ve seen consultants literally lose their jobs because of a failure to communicate. Maybe they got in over their heads technically, but didn’t inform anyone until the project was 6 feet under (I’ve witnessed this one on several occasions). Or, perhaps, they were “mailing this one in” and “checked out” for a certain project – usually the wrong one. In any case, from my experience, clients like to hear from their consultants and you’d be smart to oblige.

Note: This tip also comes with a word of caution. In today’s economy, you may find some clients in a woefully understaffed position. I know some project managers who average about 100 emails per hour. Feel it out. If you encounter this, you may want to lay off just a little with that particular party.

That’s all folks!

Well, this ain’t a finite list but it’s a great place to start. Perhaps I’ll be moved to write more on my consulting life someday… for now, I’m glad that’s off my hairless chest and we shall return to more important matters. What am I doing here? Oh yeah, writing and shit. Well, fuck – I think it’s about time I get back to that.

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For all you lovers of all things MCP (and of the man himself), there is yet another review to love on his masterpiece, Eden.

By way of a short and sweet introduction, I am Lisa Franks-Jansson, and I have been working passionately for the last few months on solidifying Matt’s reputation as a Master Storyteller by getting his work flashed in the lights (kiitos for giving me the opportunity to do so!).  One of my first successes at doing so was getting Eden reviewed and Matt himself featured on the blog, Juniper Grove, all of which just got published yesterday.

The best part? Eden was thoroughly enjoyed and highly praised.  Congratulations Matt!!! 🙂

I (and Matt) also want to extend our gratitude and a give a big thank you to Juniper Grove, especially Jaidis Shaw and Hazel O’Shea,  for all their time and effort in reading,writing and publishing the review of Eden (particularly on Amazon), as well as interviewing him to be a Featured Author.

Without further adieu, please check out the following links and enjoy:

Book Review:  http://wp.me/p188p9-tT

Featured Author Spot: http://wp.me/p188p9-tM

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What I’m Playing (June 2011)

Time for an update!

Yup, I’m always playing games and here’s the latest. You may also notice that I change games more often than most people change their underwear. It’s my curse.

Pirates of the Caribbean Online (MMO)

I keep returning to this game with a few friends. This and City of Heroes seem to be my staples over the past 5-ish years. Why? Not sure.

For Pirates, I think it has to do with the core gameplay. The graphics stink. The performance is often choppy. Some things are still bugged, even after all these years. But no other game can offer the sheer amount of mmo fun that comes from everyone hopping onto the same ship and sinking other ships. One player is the “captain” and everyone else can fire deck guns and repair the ship via mini games. Star Trek Online completely missed the mark – the devs for that failboat really should have looked at what Disney Online did here.

While everyone in Pirates certainly can pilot their own ships, it’s far more fun to all cooperatively sail on one ship. As the captain steers, broadsides and does other captainy stuff, everyone else scrambles around the deck firing cannonballs into enemy hulls. Yeah, it’s just great physics fun like Spank the Frank. (just click on the link – I’m not feeling that spunky tonight… it’s safe)

Enemy NPC Flagships require you to disable them and then board to fight the crew. Um… if that doesn’t put a rise in yer pantaloons, I don’t think you can talk games with me any longer:

No other game offers this, matey.

Pirates of the Caribbean Online: give it a look-see, it’s free to try.

 
Dominions 3
 
Yup, still playing it. Our last game took a few months to complete and I’m happy to report I was a co-winner. I made the map for the next game and we’re up to twelve players! That’s a whole lotta geek.
 
I cannot think of another 4x PBEM strategy game that has kept my interest this long. Master of Magic and Civ come close… but MoM was single player only and Civ pitboss suffered from an unforgivable exploit. Nope, Dom3 is the best of them all.
 

Notice a theme? Graphics count for shit when it comes to the quality of any computer game. FACT.

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I’ve made two major decisions in my life which made no financial sense whatsoever. Too often, I hear my friends/family/co-shadowrunners lament over pulling the trigger on some decision because “It doesn’t make financial sense right now.”

Well – this post is for you!  🙂

Now, I’m not out to ruin anyone’s bank accounts or promote unhealthy spending habits. I’m a Dave Ramsey graduate and I am on that plan… slowly on that plan. Instead, I’m trying to convey the message that it’s okay to make awful financial decisions if they lead to supreme happiness. The best way I can explain this is through example.

Example 1: There and back again, a Vietnam tale

My daughter was a miracle. We had our own share of difficulties with pregnancy and such, but we truly wanted our daughter to grow-up with a sibling close to her age. When it became clear that attempting pregnancy again wasn’t medically safe, we made another decision.

The events leading to our choice to adopt are outside the scope of this post, but this part is important: we had no clue how in hell we were going to afford the colossal expense.

Like true Americans, we closed our eyes and started a home equity line of credit. We did this without a plan to pay it back. All we had between us was dumb hope and phantom bravado. I wasn’t making enough to pay the debt off when it came due. We really had no clue what we were going to do.

But we knew what we wanted for our family.

If I had analyzed the decision to adopt with a financial or calculated lens, I would have decided against it. Every logical brain cell left in my skull (population: 3.5) demanded I reconsider. Yet something within my heart (as corny as that sounds) kept me believing in our decision and our ability to come through the other end stronger and better.

3-ish years later, things have “worked out,” but not because of external fates aligning for my family. Instead, we navigated the rough waters and gritted our teeth against the new life we knew we needed to lead. Friends and family assisted and I’ll never forget the love and support we received throughout our troubled times. I became somewhat of a hermit for a while there, but those days are over. Our “portfolio” isn’t as impressive (read: nonexistent) as our peers, but our family is as strong as ever.

Example 2: Moving when the market ain’t right

We just moved from a big house to a small house… in a shitty real estate market.

Yeah, I know how percentages work and I realize the bath we took in the sale of our home. Yet I also knew that a simpler life was the path to happiness I wanted to pursue.

Why does it make no sense to downsize in a bad market? Well, here’s some math (all hypothetical numbers, of course):

Let’s say my home is worth $1,000,000 and I want to move into a $500,000 home. Assume the market dips 20% and my million dollar home is now worth $800,000. Well, the $500k home is now worth $400k. So, I’m losing $100k in moving to a smaller place (if the market recovers). Yikes!

But we didn’t downsize to save money, we did it to lead that simpler life. Less house. Less yard. Less STUFF. I knew in my gut that this move would make for a happier life, and so far so good! Like the cylons, I have a plan. 

Wrap it all up

If Money and Happiness become inputs for our calculator, then spending money in a conservative fashion is expected to raise happiness by a fitting amount. And as long as we are careful, we can trudge along until our safe, planned retirement.

Well, I’m off that track for sure and I’m here to report nothing but awesome returns. I cannot imagine where I’d be if I didn’t take these two major financial free jumps.

Now, at some point, I realize the future needs to be planned for. I get it. But if I let the years ahead dominate my years I’m living, I may have decided against adoption and against moving when we so desperately needed the change. No, I’m a firm believer in living for today, rather than tomorrow. If that plan ends up costing me, ask me tomorrow what I think of this advice.  🙂  I may decide to build a time machine and bitch-slap young(er) Matt.

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