Mindful of Mindfulness

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Mindfulness--in space!If I was to define one particular theme for me this year, this would be the year of mindfulness. I first encountered the concept when my workplace offered a 5-week course entitled “Defrag Your Brain,” which, I thought, I absolutely had to take, for at the time, my brain felt more cluttered than usual. As it turned out, defragging my brain meant learning about the art of mindfulness and its basic practices.

Around the same time, while in the middle of a 10-week physical fitness program, I was reintroduced to the concept of mindfulness–in particular, mindful eating. Then after listening to David Rock give a talk at my workplace about Your Brain At Work, I read his book and, lo and behold, the core of his philosophy/research is mindfulness. When I tuned into a series of TED Talks called “Life Hacks,” Shawn Achor revealed five daily actions that are the “happy secret to better work.” One of those five actions is. . . you guessed it . . practicing mindfulness. In fact, there is an entire TED Talk devoted to mindfulness (and juggling).

So what is this mindfulness practice I keep running into?

(more…)

Note to Future Self: About the 2012 Election

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Election 2016Election day 2012 has come and gone. And I, like every other citizen of the United States, can breathe a sigh of relief, not necessarily because a particular candidate won or lost, but because the presidential election season is over. Well, at least for a few years. I think it all starts up again in 2014.

I’ve decided to jot down some reflections about this presidential campaign, mainly so I have something to look back on when we go through this madness again. I was going to try to keep my thoughts impartial so as not to bias my future self, but when discussing politics, even with myself, I’ve come to accept such impartiality as near impossible. So as I say to friends who ask me if I’m a Democrat or a Republican, “I’ll express my viewpoints; you can label me as you wish.” (more…)

Agile, Open Source, and ITIL

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ITIL, Open Source, Agile

From left to right: Agile, ITIL, and Open Source--a development trinity... of sorts.

Last week I gave a quick talk to the leadership at my place of employment about how my team is incorporating Open Source principles, Agile software development, and the Information Technology Infrastructure Language (ITIL) into the delivery of our web services. Although the audience laughed and applauded my jokes, especially the one regarding my tie,1 I think they also appreciated the core of the talk, so I figured I would start sharing my thoughts on the aforementioned topics and how one might go about mixing and merging them.

First, an admission: Open Source, Agile, and ITIL are nothing new to the realm of IT; all have been around for years, if not decades, and many industries have embraced them in some form or another. So the fact we are now incorporating these practices into our work might not seem exactly novel and, if I was strictly speaking about incorporating just the individual practices into our work, such an assertion would be correct. But I’m talking about merging all three, and a quick Google Search on “implementing,” “incorporating,” “combining” or “merging” this trinity doesn’t exactly return a cornucopia of results. So maybe what were doing is somewhat novel, after all.

But before going into any details–that I reserve for later posts–I wanted to give a brief–a very brief–overview of each of the practices, methodologies, standards, philosophies, or whatever you want to call them. Up first, Open Source.

Open Source

Open Source is not only a practice, it is a philosophy, the mindset of baring a piece of software’s soul to the world. At the heart of Open Sourcing software is the act of distributing one’s source code so that the development community may download it, use it, but most importantly, modify it, then redistribute it so that others may download, use, modify, and redistribute their modified code, so on and so forth, ad infinitum. Although such a practice is often deemed synonymous with “free software,” Open Source code can be found in commercial products. For example, Red Hat founded its company by selling and supporting its own version of Linux, an Open Source operating system.

Agile

Agile software development is a team-oriented approach for iterative software development. Agile evolved when software developers began revolting against “traditional” project management methodologies, such as the waterfall model, in which development teams gathered requirements from their customers, retreated to their caves to bang out code for several months, then returned with a piece of software that no one recognized as anything that anyone ever wanted. At its core, Agile embraces the the awareness that those who believe they know how their software should work, actually don’t have a clue about how it really will work. And the only way to get around this is to approach the development of the software in iterations: Requirements are drawn up, software is developed, software is reviewed, the requirements are revisited, the software is refined, so on and so forth, rinse and repeat, until the final release.

ITIL

The Information Technology Infrastructure Language arose in the mid-eighties when Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of the United Kingdom, instructed the government agencies to get their act together when it was determined that the disparate practices of their IT groups was costing the realm a large fortune. Four years and 8 billion pounds later, the Central Computer and Telecoms Agency came up with a suite of best practices that all IT organizations should follow. These best practices for delivering any IT service now form the core of ITIL.

To Be Continued…

As I mentioned: Brief and high level. I’ll go into more details about each in later posts, then describe how they are all coming together within our web team. 2

  1. The joke was that I was wearing a tie.
  2. Hopefully, my posts will be separated by mere weeks, and not months, as they are wont to be.

The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M

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The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor MI’m pleased to announce the official release of my interactive fiction game, The Life (and Deaths) of Doctor M. The game follows the exploits of you, a dying soul, who must determine your fate as you wander a land somewhere between life and the afterlife. In the tradition of Infocom text adventures, Doctor M confronts you with a variety of puzzles, a host of characters, an intriguing narrative, and decisions that only you can make. Tied together, Doctor M weaves a tale of morality and choice that is ultimately dependent on you, the player.

Doctor M originally made its appearance in the 2011 Interactive Fiction Competition, written under the pen name of Edmund Wells. Out of 38 games, Doctor M placed sixth, tied for third for the Miss Congeniality award, and won the coveted Golden Banana of Discord. The game is also up for two XYZZY Awards, the interactive fiction equivalent of the Academy Awards, including nominations for Best Story and Best Individual Puzzle, the latter of which it shares with several co-conspirators.

The co-conspirators include Cold Iron, by Andrew Plotkin (as Lyman Clive Charles); Last Day of Summer, by Doug Orleans (as Cameron Fox); and Playing Games, by Kevin Jackson-Mead (as Pam Comfite). Together, the four games create a “meta-puzzle,” now known as “The Hat Mystery.” Although each game stands as an independent piece, a player can unlock a secret ending by combining elements found in all four games. A tip of the hat to Kevin Jackson-Mead who came up with the idea, and to Andrew Plotkin who conceived the actual puzzle.

For those interested in playing Doctor M, but who have never played interactive fiction before, I strongly suggest consulting the Beginner’s Guide to IF, and playing a few other introductory games. Doctor M assumes you’re an experienced interactive fiction player–that you know the language, so to speak. Even those fluent in interactive fiction have found Doctor M a challenge, albeit a compelling one, which it was ultimately meant to be.


IF Review: Rogue of the Multiverse by C.E.J. Pacian

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Author’s note: This article originally appeared on July 13, 2011, in The Portal, an online magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy literary reviews.

Rogue of the MultiverseC.E.J. Pacian’sRogue of the Multiverse“, a delightful blend of comedy and science-fiction, demonstrates how good writing, endearing characters, and the incorporation of various game genres can help a title overcome what the IF community might normally consider flaws in implementation. Despite fairly linear gameplay and some outright bugs, “Rogue of the Multiverse” took third place in the 2010 Interactive Fiction Competition, and was subsequently nominated for several XYZZY Awards, including Best Game, Best NPCs, Best Use of Innovation, and Best Individual NPC, the last of which the game won.

You assume the role of an inmate within an offworld prison. Surrounded by unfriendly aliens who appear to have a distinct dislike, yet healthy appetite, for humans, your predicament deteriorates when a routine computer scan congratulates you on being selected for scientific experimentation. Under the careful observation of the reptilian Doctor Sliss, you are to be matter-transmitted to a variety of less-than-hospitable worlds where your mission is to quickly bag-and-tag valuable salvage. As might be expected in a game set within a prison, this new role as Doctor  Sliss’s ‘assistant’ ultimately provides an opportunity to escape.

Although you take the guise of the protagonist, the true heroine of this story is your antagonist, Doctor Sliss. It is not difficult to see why this character earned the game its XYZZY award: It is her wonderfully comic and spirited personality, not that of the player, that suffuses the game; it is mostly her motivations and ambitions, not those of the player, that drive the story forward. In many ways, she is the GLaDOS of this particular facility.

And where GLaDOS had her test chambers, Sliss has her offworld missions. These are a series of Rogue-like expeditions where your goal is to wander through a grid of a randomly-generated terrain collecting a series of randomly-generated objects while avoiding (or hunting) some randomly-generated monsters. If this sounds monotonous, it is, which is a shame, for the game’s title implies that perhaps these chapters were originally the heart of the story. Certainly, a great deal of care and programming went into this multiverse, and its inclusion in the game is at first interesting, but it doesn’t take long to discover that there isn’t much to explore here. Landscapes are minimally described, as are the objects for which you hunt, and you can do little with these objects other than tag or examine them. A few monsters lurk about, some even attack you, but their presence tends to be more than a nuisance than a challenge.

A nuisance rather than a challenge best describes the missions as a whole. This might have been alleviated if there had been a secondary goal to them–say, to tag objects that could directly be used to thwart Doctor Sliss or attempt your escape. Instead, the sole purpose of the missions is to trade in the tagged salvage for money. Granted, you can take advantage of these new funds to purchase items necessary to further the story, but the whole affair feels like the text adventure equivalent of a standard computer role-playing grind. Finally, the procedurally generated content resulted in at least two bugs that I encountered: A sauropod, munching on treetops in on an otherwise treeless mountain summit, cannot be examined or tagged; and there is a condor that swoops into an area, only to disappear from the game a turn later without explanation.

Nevertheless, the missions represent the most amount of interactivity and freedom you will have while playing the game. A majority of the other scenes require either (1) typing in a command suggested by someone within the game, or (2) repeating a single action over and over again. For example, to move the beginning of the story forward, you must literally move forward repeatedly, lest you face certain doom from your inmates or other hazards within the prison. It could be argued that this inability to interact is reflective of the confines of imprisonment, but if so, then I would have expected to have more freedom in my actions outside of the prison; this does not turn out to be the case. Instead, with the exception of one act, we are relentlessly pressed onward as if caught in a textual cinematic.

Despite these shortcomings, “Rogue of the Multiverse” remains a fun, entertaining experience, primarily due to the sharp, comedic wit found throughout the game. Again, a majority of this theater stems from the antics of the award-winning Doctor Sliss, but even the other, minor NPCs have distinct personalities, and contribute to the overall comic escapades (and the author isn’t afraid to sink to a little toilet humor, literally). Furthermore, Pacian’s tight prose in both descriptions and dialogue deftly conveys your predicament: You are an alien on an alien world, and there’s trouble afoot. Add to this a variety of game styles–including the aforementioned missions, an action sequence, the Sims-like ability to decorate your prison cell with in-game goods, and some sly character generation reminiscent of the Ultima IV personality test–and “Rogue of the Multiverse” deserves its placement in the Interactive Fiction Competition.

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