Songs of a Color

Last night at karaoke, I decided I wanted to sing a song I missed out on from last week (early night), and that led me to brainstorm other songs with similar titles. That led me to the theme: black!

Rolling Stones – Paint It Black

I’ve always had a soft spot for the Rolling Stones, although most of their songs I can’t sing very well. This song has come on the radio often enough in the past decade that I learned it well, and I do appreciate the lyrical twang on my emotions. Plus, I designed an entire puzzle around it for Ditch Day when I was a senior, based on the fact that we had a Red Door Cafe. Story for another time!

Goo Goo Dolls – Black Balloon

The Goo Goo Dolls are my #2 favorite band, and were at the first concert I attended as an adult. On my own even, on Long Island! (My friend Nadia almost made it up from D.C. to go with me, but it didn’t quite work it.) I love the style of the Goos, and I sing them well. This particular song has always made me smile – it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense when I try to understand what he’s trying to say, and for some reason, that’s hilarious.

On a future night, I will deploy the third black song I would have sung, if I had stayed that late: Soundgarden – Black Hole Sun!

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I love fishes ’cause they’re soooo delicious / and that’s what sushi is!

I used to hate eating fish. I couldn’t stand eating any sort of cooked fish, and I assumed that raw fish would be like 300x worse. I did enjoy an occasional fish stick, because we used to have those back when I was a young lad. I had avoided learning what fish are good because I just wouldn’t eat any.

Then, one day, I was coerced into going to a birthday party at a sushi restaurant, and there was basically no reason not to sample some rolls. They were in fact delicious. Since then, I have been expanding my sushi tastes and now I enjoy a wide variety of nigiri (fish on rice) and rolls – especially salmon, tuna (mmm toro), eel and a smattering of others.

Last night, I had a wonderful salmon-filled meal with my friend Alyson at Chiso, a sushi place in Fremont that had been recommended to me. So here are some of my quick-tips about various awesome sushi places I’ve been to in the Seattle area!

  • Chiso (Fremont) – great selection of nigiri but not a ton of roll variety; excellent miso soup and sake; good service but a little pricy.
  • Umi Sake House (Belltown) – insane sake selection; intriguing rolls, though many are spicy (not a fan); late night service, but I would stick mostly to rolls personally.
  • Mashiko (West Seattle) – small space, so reservations important; truly excellent quality fish; huge variety of rolls; sustainable fish is their plan, so some things aren’t available, but still amazing. Really personable staff.
  • Wasabi (Belltown, Pacific Place) – pretty “mass market” feel; expensive; good for a quick bite though, especially if you want sake + sushi and price is not of much concern.

I’ve heard good things about Shiro’s (Belltown) but haven’t been there yet. Next on the list!

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Technically Frustrated

(Now back on my blog, due to problems fixing themselves!)

I ran into quite a few annoying issues with technology today. This always feels like a lame complaint, because technology does so much to improve my life, that it’s like 99% awesome and 1% sometimes-shitty… and then I complain loudly about it. I feel so entitled.

But so and anyway, I *do* feel entitled, to working websites and programs! I can understand it when I do something wrong or I’m working with untested tech, but today I was reading a manual on how to make iPhone apps, and then when I attempted to follow instructions, I ran into terrible interfaces on installers that made me want to punch people (through the internet). The same occurred later this evening, when I tried to use my WordPress site to post a blog and it just failed to load pages. Curse you, technology!

I am awed by the power of the tools we use today (in the form of available technology) but it also bothers me how few folk understand those tools sufficiently to fix them – including myself, most of the time.

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Faceboat, Redux

A few years ago, before I went on the Magic Cruise, I envisioned a digital bulletin board we could use on the boat (without actual internet access!) that would allow us to plan and meet up when it’s been historically kind of awkward to roam the ship for people. I dubbed this tool Faceboat. I made a pretty reasonable v1 of it, but when I tried to get it to work on the boat, I failed. (I hadn’t really tested the network connectivity stuff. Oops!)

Now as the fifth Magic Cruise approaches (getting super excited!) I’d like to reexamine the goals of Faceboat and see if there’s a way to make something simpler that satisfies my goals for it.


  • Something digital
  • Each person can use it to communicate with any other person on the boat
  • Must work without cell service or internet (local wireless is fine)

I’m thinking that the SWEET version would be a self-contained app that you leave running and that pops a notification if you get within range of the hub and someone left a message for you.

The LESS SWEET BUT STILL PRETTY COOL version is a simple webpage with a comment form that you can filter by poster, in order to find messages left for you.

I wonder if I have time between now and next weekend to make a sweet iPhone/Android app…

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A lot of my life I have done “on the job training” – I didn’t really do a bunch of programming until I needed to do it for a physics laboratory job, so I learned. I didn’t really do any games programming until I needed to do it for a games job, so I learned. And so on. However, I do enjoy learning in a school environment – and I often feel very motivated to work on something other than work, you know?

So I’ve been considering looking into what sort of short-ish courses I could take, either online or on nights/weekends, to enrich myself, which has naturally led to an introspective question: what is something I don’t know much about that I would like to? The first things that come to mind are:

  • Philosophy (I think a fair bit about it, even though I’ve admittedly only read casually about the subject.)
  • Engineering proper, perhaps electrical! (I enjoy the idea of making things and can come up with fantastical theoretical ideas, but I have no experience or training in actually making things work.)
  • Writing (I have done a fair bit of writing – TONS of on-the-job training – but I’m not really educated in how to write, and it might be interesting to become so.)

It’s something I’ll be considering as the year progresses – never a dull moment on the route to self-improvement!

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“All things serve theme.” This is the basis of one of the 50 lenses in Jesse Schell’s amazing book Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses (I highly recommend reading it if you have any inclination toward designing for the enjoyment of others). It’s stuck with me, because I think it’s easy to lose sight of the vision when you are down in the weeds, trying to solve problems rather than trying to design the best experience (or game, or whatever).

So, when I set out to do blog-a-day in 2010, I quickly found I was somewhat adrift without a theme. So I ended up doing one theme a month and basing my posts around them. Some worked, some didn’t, but it sure made the work and the decisions about what to write easier. :)

I’d like to do themes again, starting with next month. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them! Three I am definitely planning on doing are My Favorite Things (each is something I love and why), Memories with Friends (each is a random friend and a memory I shared with them), and What If? (each is an alternate reality, similar to ours, that I’d love to explore and why). Please comment here or on FB if you have an idea!

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Card Kingdom and Cafe Mox

There is a mecca of gaming in the Seattle area. It arrived about a year and a half ago now, I think, and it is truly outstanding. This haven is Card Kingdom’s store in Ballard, just north of Seattle, and their attached “gamer bar” Cafe Mox. I went there yesterday with some awesome co-workers to play games for like 6 hours and (as always) enjoyed every minute of it.

Card Kingdom’s store space is laid out in a somewhat unusual way for a game store. Rather than packing as many games as possible into as little space as possible, and leaving play/demo space to a minimum, there are large aisles, well organized and categorized sections of product, and many tables on which to play. There’s even an entire three rooms devoted to card games, miniature games and roleplaying games respectively, each with their own appropriate table space! It’s really amazing.

But the reason I keep returning there is actually Cafe Mox, the bar right next door owned and operated by the same folk. In this bar, there are a large variety of beers, wines, mead and even food – sandwiches, salads, some delicious fried stuff. You can check games out from Card Kingdom and play them in Mox, plus there are even two large rooms off the bar you can book for long sessions with big groups (I’ve done so for day-long drafting, for example.)

I highly recommend anyone in town who has any inclination toward playing ANY games at all (and honestly, that means everyone who reads this AT LEAST) to visit and relax there for a few hours. If you come visit me, let me know and I’ll be sure to set up a trip!

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Singin’ the Songs

Since one of my resolutions is to sing karaoke and never repeat a song (thanks again for the inspiration, Amanda!), I figured a good way to keep myself honest and get some blog posts done would be to talk about the songs after I sing them! So each Friday I’ll talk about the songs I sang the previous night (Thursday being the now-normal karaoke night for our crew):

Fuel – Shimmer

I discovered this song via Pandora, which is actually where I found a huge portion of the songs I know today. (Thanks Pandora!) I think the first time I heard it was a cover, then the real one came up on the same station. I enjoy using this song as a starter for an evening, because it’s straightforward, fast, energetic and (I feel) I do it well. It’s also kind of an emo song with an upbeat ending, which I like. Seemed like a good start to a year-long karaoke experiment!

Smashing Pumpkins – Today

I enjoy singing the Smashing Pumpkins, having been introduced to them properly by my friend Todd, who loves them. Today isn’t my favorite song of theirs (that honor goes to Bullet with Butterfly Wings), but I do love it! It’s got a good mix of highs and lows, along with some cool vocal acrobatics (as most Pumpkin songs do). I originally thought this song was a cover of somebody else’s Today, but I see now in doing some research that it is originally a Pumpkins song – nice!

…it was a short night, since I needed to head home early, but expect more like 3/night in the future!

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A Lost Max

I’ve told this story to a few friends already, but I figured I’d write it down for posterity and further sharing. A few weeks before the break, I got up in the morning before work and performed my normal morning routine: I let my beagle Max out into the (fenced) back yard and took a shower before making myself coffee. When I finished with the shower, I dressed and went through the house and couldn’t see Max. He’s probably still in the backyard, I thought.

Then I noticed the door to the backyard had blown shut from the wind. Then I noticed – upon opening it and going into the backyard – that the fence gate had the opposite problem, and was standing open.

At that point, I started to get a little ball of anxiety and went outside as quickly as I could and started scouring the neighborhood for him. I yelled a lot of “Max!” that morning. Still, he had been out for close to an hour at that point, and he wasn’t (apparently) nearby.

I ran into a nearby neighbor and her dog, both of whom Max adored, and she agreed to call for him on her walk. When she returned, she told me some neighbors to the south had seen a dog wandering around a while ago. I headed that direction, even drove around a bit with the window down calling, but still couldn’t find him.

At this point, I was freaking out a little. You see, he’s not chipped, and in a terrible fit of karmic retribution, I had neglected to immediately fix his name/address tag when it broke earlier that week. So he was an identity-less beagle wandering the neighborhood and god I hope he doesn’t get hurt

I called up 9-1-1, and they said to call Animal Control when they opened (around 9am, about 2 full hours after I let Max into the backyard). I did so, after frantically calling fellow dog-owning friends Paul and Alida, who successfully talked me off a now-cliff of anxiety. The Animal Control lady was very kind and said as soon as she heard anything, she’d call back. She also recommended sending a post to the West Seattle Blog, which she said has a really active community. (I had never used it before, but she’s right, it’s great.)

As I sat down and started writing my post, she called back and said a man in my neighborhood just reported a missing beagle! I quickly called him and he confirmed it was Max and told me to come over. My heart almost leapt out of my chest – I didn’t realize how tightly wound I was until release.

When I got to this guy Bill’s house, he greeted me and let me in – where he had his own beagle, Sophia! She seemed nice, and Max seemed quite pleased with himself for his adventure (and his second breakfast, which Bill had fed him). As I took Max back, Bill told me something funny enough that I laughed in spite of everything.

“Yeah, strangest thing. I have Sophia here, and the folks in the neighborhood know I have a beagle,” he said. “So when they found Max wandering around, they took him and put him in my yard. Then, when I got up in the morning, I let Sophia out into the yard, and when I went to get her, there were two beagles!” :)

I have since fixed Max’s tag and now we go out into the backyard together!

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Experiences, Designed

My relatively new position at Wizards (within 6 months or so, although I started laying groundwork from the start of 2012 or so) was honorably mentioned in Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe’s yearly State of the Union style address on our website today!(Aaron’s my boss.) I got some great kudos from friends and admirers on social media. I wanted to chat a little bit about the ups and downs of being an “experience designer.”

My job, as I see it, is to enhance the enjoyment of our products by providing one-time one-of-a-kind experiences for players associated with those products. So, for example, when we release a new expansion set, we make a big event of it (the prerelease) and I am in charge of defining how to make that big event special, memorable and on theme for that product. Maybe a huge treasure chest that the players must work together (in small ways) to unlock, or a special themed “initiate to the group” box chosen by the player when they select a group to join and fight for. Incredibly, I actually got a bit of a start on this sort of design in college, with Caltech Ditch Day – designing a full day of fun, themed activities for underclassmen as seniors.

The best part is that I feel directly plugged into giving our fans opportunities for more fun. We get to do some really creative stuff for these experiences (which I can’t talk about – yet!) and I get to be at the center of that creative effort, which is really invigorating, especially working with so many talented folk all along the line.

The challenges so far have been communication-related – getting everyone on the same page about what we are trying to accomplish with any particular experience – and process-related – it can be a bumpy road, creating these new experiences, since we are new as a company to making these things.

I hope that this year, with a full year behind me of experience with experiences, I can start to lay a more formal groundwork for a kind of template starting-point for experience design!

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