Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Stretching As An Artist

I find myself trying to grow as an artist. This past weekend I challenged myself to take three sets of portraits following some simple guidelines; I didn't adhere to that challenge as strictly as I should have, but I did come away with two good sets of pictures of folks and I intend to keep at it.

Yesterday, Heidi and I went back to the Descanso Gardens specifically to catch the blooming cherry blossoms; there is a two-week period that occurs sometime during the first three months of the year in which the trees bloom. That leaves a very narrow window in which to take some stunning pictures.

I did get some very cool photographs (you are welcome to see them at my Flickr site). But I also put four images on Facebook as a tickler, and for the captions of those images I chose to compose Big Idea Haiku; since I don't write poetry, I thought this an interesting challenge.

I'm happy with the results. Tell me what you think!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Weekend Photography Challenge

With everything going on this weekend, the sensible portion of me suggests that I not plan too much crazy stuff. Fortunately, I fine my sensible portion to be about as useful as a second appendix and ignore it as frequently as possible.

Accordingly, with everything else that is happening this evening, tomorrow, and in fact all weekend, I am going to use this weekend to become more proficient in my portrait taking.

Christina Dickson posted an excellent article at the Digital Photography Studio entitled How to take Striking Portraits in 15 Minutes or Less and I am going to use this article as the foundation for my project.

This weekend, I will take at least three sets of portraits to get a sense of the different ways these images can be done. Unless something drastic happens, I will have at least 27 shiny new images to share with folks. And I am looking forward to that.

So check in here on Monday (possibly Tuesday) for the link to my flickr account to see the resulting images.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Running a Game at a Convention

This "post" was originally written as a response to a call for advice on author/screenwriter/gm Chuck Wendig's website Terrible Minds (http://www.terribleminds.com). The author's post asked for advice on running a game at a convention. Here's my response...


First, you must determine YOUR goals for the adventure. Running an adventure specifically designed to introduce players to a new system is very different from running a "competitive" scenario; both of these differ significantly from running a mod with a great story or a killer finale battle. Only in knowing exactly what you want to accomplish will you find success.

Second, all of your planning and prep should enhance your goal. if you are introducing a new system, make sure you have good rules summaries / cheat sheets to hand out to folks and spend a bit of time running through the basics. Should you be running a competitive scenario, make sure you understand the scoring and timing rules and that the players are aware of everything they should know up front. Have a great story? Figure out best how to tell it. Make some GM cheat sheets for the major NPCs with descriptions, voices / accents, and whatever else you will want or need. Your adventure have a tremendous climactic fight? Then make sure you allow enough time for that final encounter. Foreshadow the hell out of whatever you can to build the tension and excitement for that showdown.

Third, find as many ways to inject some descriptive RP into the session. Role playing tends to be the first victim of 4-hour con slots and that does NOT need to be the case. Make your attacks descriptive enough to evoke a simple image and expect the same from your players. If they very statically tell you their attack results, quickly ask them for the nature of the attack and give it a description. Make sure when players give you their own description you play that up a bit so folks get the hint.

Fourth, finally, and most important, do whatever you need to do to ensure that you and your players have fun. If everyone has a great time, you done good.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Pareto Principle

Italian Economist Vilfredo Pareto developed the 8/20 rule in the late 1800's; it suggests that 80% of effects stem from 20% of causes. The most common example used is that 20% of the population control 80% of the wealth; another commonly used business example is that 20% of your clients contribute 80% of your business.

A few Big Idea folks espouse the notion that, if we eliminate the "other" 80% of our daily responsibilities we could focus on the 20% that contribute to much of our productivity and happiness. I am not convinced it's so simple.

If we assume a standard day, there are 16 awake hours and 8 sleep hours (yes, yes, I know - not with MY lifestyle - just go with it). That means that, out of those 16 hours, roughly 3 hours contribute 80% if our happiness and productivity. I find that difficult to believe. If we examine just the standard work day, there are 8 hours (again with the laughing?); 20% is 1.6 hours. If we could truly accomplish 80% of our daily workload in under 2 hours, I suspect more folks would work towards that goal.

I suggest that, when it comes to personal productivity, this Pareto Principle best serves as a reminder to try to focus on the important stuff than as an actual rule of thumb.

What do you think?

Collage Stories

Herman Melville's Moby Dick and john dos passos's The USA Trilogy extensively incorporate literary collage into the story-telling; dos passos heavily influenced Steinbeck, leading to his incorporation of the technique in The Grapes of Wrath. There are chapters in the latter work detailing conditions in Oklahoma arising from the Dust Bowl - bleak weather, foreclosed farms, the trek to California; these are not part of the Joad saga but advance the story just the same.

Literary collage incorporates a variety of "source" materials into the story: traditional narrative, dialogue, newspaper, radio, theater, tv, song, websites, can all contribute to a chronologically nonlinear story progression. A story may break the chronological narrative with a newspaper op/ed piece, for example, describing public sentiment regarding an issue central to the story. This sentiment becomes part of the story without belonging to a story "event".

Given current technologies, more media can contribute to a story employing literary collage than ever before; Robert Heinlein utilizes this technique to great effect in Starship Troopers by presenting the story as a collection of snippets (with some interactivity, such as a website or personal reader) which, at least in theory, contain additional detail should the reader "... like to know more...".

I think I will explore this technique in some of my immediate work; it's captured my interest and, by specifically including certain source materials, strengthen the setting. Were I to introduce radio dramas and newspaper hawkers to the narrative, I've firmly identified the time of my story without specifying a date.

Let's see how it turns out.