Wizard

There were only a few games I remember really enjoying in college. My university had giant games of Capture the Flag every week. Sadly, there isn’t a good way of capturing that on the web, not even with amazingly realistic graphics.

But another was Wizard, a trick taking game that solved the most annoying part of all trick taking games: that whether or not you had a good hand ended up mattering a lot.

Over time, of course, it could even out. But we weren’t keeping good records, there’s no way to even notice being good at many trick taking games. It could all just be luck.

But Wizard is played where you “bid” for how many tricks you think you can win this hand. Your score is determined by how often you get the bid correct, even if the bid is low, or even zero!

I knew some guys who were very good. It takes a bit of getting used to. But I thought I’d share a little web-version of my note-taking / scoring / dealing system so you guys could play it too.

Wizard

P.S. I normally do not talk about how I build things on this blog. But in this case, I wrote about how I made it, at least in part, on the sister-blog FoxCrisis. Those posts have to do with the flexible ephemeral store backend that I want to use, at least, for all future games. I think that description is enough for you to figure out if it’s intolerably boring or interesting.

Timer

I use timers and stopwatches. I don’t think this is unusual.

When I’m cooking, I’ll use my phone, but if I’m at my computer (a not uncommon situation), I’ll just Google “timer”. Google has one of those built in things.

But they also show me the search results.

And, inexplicably, two thirds of the time they show me a sidebar about this seemingly banal high-concept romantic comedy.

Now, part of me is concerned that I’m being brainwashed. I resisted the temptation to read about the movie for several months. But eventually, my curiosity overcame my instinctual hatred and fear of manipulation. I absolutely refuse to see the movie, though. That is my line in the sand.

Now Chrome can auto-complete my app instead of that oddly inconsistent results page.

Don’t worry, I’m working on larger projects that will make their way to the blog. I just didn’t want to miss an opportunity to help people avoid the Googleplex.

Timer

Tally

My best friend in (I believe) 4th grade had a quite pronounced speech impediment. Not too long after we met, he began a new therapy where he would click a physical counter every time he misspoke or stuttered, and keep track of the number of times he stuttered (and noticed it) over time.

It took me a while to find someone online discussing this technique (it turns out the keyword here is ‘tally counter’). As discussed here, the practice “strengthens […] self-monitoring skills across contexts”. Obviously, this has some appeal to me, despite not having a speech impediment. I love cross contextual skill strengthening – although of course I’m extremely skeptical of that website, which also claims these are “fun”.

So I made a little widget for this. Not too original or distinct, but it meets the needs of this task exactly. I’ll be using it to monitor one bad habit I have in particular, and see if it helps. I’m pretty optimistic, and hopefully this will help other kids with speech impediments save, not just the couple bucks it would take to try this therapy (the clickers are pretty cheap), but the access to a credit card, which many kids don’t have.

Tally

Turboworking

Sebastian Marshall is the business-person I want to be.

The man’s a beast. I’d never heard of someone working over 50 straight hours on challenging creative work until I heard about him. I’ve been following his blog for years, have purchased and read many of his books, and appreciated them all.

In particular, I recall reading Roguelike in a public park in Hong Kong. It changed the way I look at how to have fun. Not just the overt message of the book (which is interesting and well-developed), but the in-the-bones level of understanding that, the surveys and studies aren’t wrong: work is actually fun. Challenges, overcoming them, having real stakes, having real uncertainty about whether you can do something… games are most fun when you have those but they can only mimic these features. Real business has them, in spades, when you are working on the most important and challenging work you can find.

I could say MANY more nice things about Sebastian Marshall, like how his explanation of the difference between Polite and Friendly helped me focus on much higher quality friends. Or how he’s been a really positive example of Superb Business Ethics to the point where I wonder, if not for his (unknowing) influence, would I have been complicit in fraud or been defrauded myself? I suspect the answer is yes for both. Despite him never having heard of me, I feel I owe him a lot.

And at the risk of making a gesture that appears to be taking rather than giving, I’ve made manifest an idea of his he calls Ultraworking. Right now he’s relying on what looks to be google spreadsheets for tracking his private mastermind group’s ability to focus on what matters – eating right, sleeping right, exercise, planning the important work for the day and then jamming on it. Since there are shared charts and structure to it, I felt I might be able to make something a bit more boutique.

Turboworking

Smaller Tasks

I read Twitter. I don’t follow people, per se, I just occasionally go to their Twitter page and catch up. The form factor doesn’t make a slow web reading as easy as it could be, but it’s not terrible.

One of the people worth occasionally checking in with is Amy Hoy, a savvy product maker and business-person. One of the things she advocates is listening to customers and solving their actual problems. And watching them complain to each other is a great way to know what they care about. Then, fix the problems they care about.

So, in the spirit of service, I’ve solved a problem located directly in Amy Hoy’s twitter discussions. Another reader of Hoy’s complained about To-Do lists not letting you break down a task into smaller steps.

I’ve previously come at this in a different way, thinking that making increasingly minute outlines for your work was merely a way to delay actually doing the work. But I don’t think that’s always true – while I do enjoy the use of “tagging your To-Do List” as a synecdoche for all distraction-labor, this is a much more useful and much less prescriptive tool. And I’m actually using and enjoying it. Hopefully, others (including you) find the same.

Smaller Tasks

Vices and Virtues

I’ve been using the Offsets app almost every day since I made it in September. I like the idea behind it, obviously, and I’ve found it to be a fantastic way to think about terrible, terrible things like flashcards (that are also essentially a superweapon in my attempt to learn Chinese without losing my mind). And that level of use has refined the tool – it’s been updated since that blog post to do the job better (once I learned what I wanted it to do better). And it’s still massively simple.

But then I realized I wanted to track programming too – it’s pretty fun but I think making an incentive for it only helps me get started. And I’d like to offset both of those against not just e.g. watching a video on YouTube, but against reading fiction, and a bunch of other things.

This got difficult to keep up, I ended up using the Offsets app plus some notes in my notebook for conversion rates. But those rates would change, because my priorities change, so my notes are filled with me crossing things out and replacing them or trying to keep track of where the latest rates are in my notebook. The whole thing seemed really silly for someone who makes tools like this for breakfast, or something.

After noodling a bunch of different ways it could work, I settled on this one. You track activities. Hopefully it largely makes sense. Click the point conversion rate to edit after you’ve already made it. There’s a timer there to help with goals that involve time spent. Should look and work good on mobile, which Offsets didn’t quite manage.

I hope you like it.

Vice and Virtue

Sequence

Multitasking is a curious thing. I’m generally very positive about tests of working memory, which multitasking certainly is, but perpetually doing more than one thing at a time seems like a recipe for mediocrity (yes, a terrible pun – but I’ve previously experimented with extremely focused and laborious mealtimes and have no bad things to say).

Focusing in on important things looks, feels, and is, weird. It almost doesn’t matter what that thing is. I try to avoid unchanging or monotonic priorities – which is just as well because I have totally non-overlapping interests and I’m trying to get better at scheduling my days out.

I realized that while I have a few checklists actually written down, most are informal routines that I’m less consistent with than I’d like because there’s so many things on them.

So I made something to help me do exactly one thing at a time. Focus, and move forward.

Sequence

Up To Current

I’m a big fan of serialized fiction online. Regardless of your opinion of HPMOR, it would be hard to match the excitement of the Final Exam – the most exciting live event for fiction lovers I’ve ever experienced [warning: mad spoilers, don’t start with the final exam].

I think Unsong is nothing short of a masterpiece of modern fiction. If you aren’t reading it, you should be.

Worm is a model for what superhero fiction should be, in many ways – although if you can stomach lots of fast-paced fight scenes (I literally could not finish watching Avengers 2, so I understand I’m not the average audience member) The Zombie Knight is quite the page turner as well.

I’m also enjoying Mother Of Learning, perhaps the best time-travel novel available today (depending on how much you care about the time shenanigans being coherent – it’s also got a strong shonen vibe, so that might rub some people the wrong way). And plenty of others – a truly absurd number of talented fiction writers are giving away their art for free online, and I love to read what my favorite authors write in real time, along with other excited fans.

But the most common pitfall, as a reader, is that new updates to a story I follow are sporadic (as is my availability), and it can be hard to remember where I was. Sometimes the story has been finished for some time, and I read some and don’t come back to it for weeks. I could just check the last couple chapters, but that’s time consuming and runs the risk of spoilers. Browser bookmarks sometimes do the job, but I can’t always remember to remove the bookmark when I start reading, and putting the important bookmark in a place I’ll remember about requires a level of organization I don’t typically have for two-minutes-a-week hassle avoidance.

But now, all my problems are solved! Grab the bookmarklet and go to town on any of your favorite works, or if you’re an author, add it to your site and let everybody (even people who don’t read this blog) follow along just as easily.

Up To Current

Zip

I didn’t know there was anything fancy to Excel (barring VBScript hackery) until I heard about pivot tables. It’s clear they’re pretty flexible, and let people do things in Excel that I assumed were impossible without code.

There’s a lot to be said about building tools at every level of technical complexity, so that people can level up their knowledge slowly and just as much as they need. But boy howdy, are pivot tables not something that normal people understand.

I do know that many users of spreadsheet programs want to do some simple tasks that aren’t just formulas and sorts of their data. They want to zip two things together, or see which rows have an employee ID not in the list of people bringing snacks to the company event at the park, or any number of things.

Some things are so complicated that there simply is no tool that can do them without tremendous complication. I think pivot tables allow for sub-aggregations, for example.

But if you want to match up the columns of two different data sets – well, I hope that just got a lot easier.

Zip Your Data

Journal

I’ve mentioned before I have a tragic hopelessness at remembering anniversaries of otherwise innocuous things. Honestly, anything to do with my personal life is most likely to be forgotten. But I don’t want to forget.

But having a blog full of irrelevant, quotidian thoughts and emotions (the favorite of the modern youngster – normally using a social network) doesn’t sound great either. I’ve been cyberstalked before, which was tremendously uncomfortable (yet my uncovering of the culprit was near-Sherlockian, if I do say so). I’d prefer not to have anything remotely resembling that again.

I could just open up a text file on my computer. I’ve tried. Doesn’t really lead to a lot of actual record-keeping. So I’ve made a simple journal (simple enough to exist despite the terrible Omega-Flu contagion I’ve been experiencing) that will hopefully allow me to be a bit more consistent.

Journal