Monday, April 28, 2008

Frustrated Incorporated

It's time for me to vent and let off some brain-steam. I'm frustrated. About what you say?

Well, truth be told, none of these bothers are earth-shattering frustrations. Rather, they're smally niggly bits which are eating away at my patience; a patience which most friends and family members claim that I have an enormous amount of.

Let's take them in turn...

#1 = WORK
I'm in the process of changing gears work-wise, switching my day-to-day emphasis on baseball related activities (data development, sales, tech support) and returning to a heavy immersion in wargame design, development, and playtesting.

I'm excited to change gears and am really looking forward to doing new things. The preseason and early-season baseball rush always causes me to suffer a bit of burnout, so switching to something radically different is a big boost to my mojo.

The niggling frustration I'm having right now is that I want (and need) to become like Butter. I need to get "on a roll" with my game development & playtesting, but I haven't found that steady flow of inner-brain magic yet. Oh, I'm working diligently and making progress. I just need to get in the zone. That's something that software designers, programmers, artists, architects, and even athletes can probably relate to.

I can't explain how to make it happen. It's not a switch that you simply flip and suddenly, you become inspired and enormously productive. But if you focus on something long and hard enough, eventually magic happens. Ideas flow like cheap wine. You do three days worth of work in one-day. Inspiration bubbles up. You find yourself thinking up brilliant ideas right before dozing off to sleep and while in the shower the next morning.

Anyway, that's what I'm missing right now. I want it to happen... NOW. I guess I'll just have to keep plugging away and stay focused. Sooner or later, it's gonna happen.

I have never finished dead-last in any fantasy baseball, football, or hockey league that I've participated in. And I've been playing in various leagues for well over 20 years. I'm used to finishing in-the-money, and I've won my fair share of league championships. But currently, in my HARL Baseball league, my favorite fantasy league of all time, I find my Sevy Rhinos team in dead-last. Yikes!

As frustrating as being in last place is, I have faith that things will improve for my ballclub. Experience tells me that you cannot really gauge the strengths/weaknesses of your rotisserie team until 6 weeks of the season have elapsed. On paper, I was pretty happy with my team when I looked it over post-draft. The offense looked very strong, and the pitching seemed decent, although there were a few question marks to consider. But man, has my pitching staff totally sucked so far! Their total implosion is the major reason I'm dwelling in the cellar right now.

My starting pitching staff (this is an NL-only league) consists of Jeff Francis, Oliver Perez, Tom Gorzelanny, Randy Johnson, Joel Pineiro, and Shawn Chacon. Of my top four hurlers, only Oliver Perez has been any good. Francis started off poorly, but his last 2 starts have been solid, so he fortunately appears to be returning to form. Gorzelanny may be hiding an arm injury. His control has been dreadful, and that's very unlike him. The Big Unit missed the first 2 weeks while resting on the DL. He's been decent so far, and I'm hoping he returns to his form of 2005 and leaves his 2006 Yankees season as an aberration. Arizona has a good young team, so the Unit can't help but benefit from that.

The rotation hasn't been my only worry. Prior to this past week, my bullpen had been lit up. Jose Valverde and Tom Gordon have been like kerosene matches standing next to an open flame. Ryan Madson hasn't been much better. Only Kevin Gregg has kept his ERA down and helped my club. Fortunately, things appear to be turning around, as all four relievers combined to bolster my staff last week with Wins, Saves, and quality outings.

So things are improving. I even stuck SP-Odalis Perez into my flex slot to get more Innings Pitched and hopefully whittle down my bloated ERA and WHIP with some quality statistics. Of course, banking on Odalis Perez to be reliable is like hoping that Paris Hilton disappears from the tabloids. But hey, when your options are slim, you gotta gamble sometimes!

Getting my local board game group to show up and play games on a regular basis has been a major point of frustration for me. I have played a bunch of board games with my friends over the past 8 months or so. They've been extremely enjoyable gaming sessions. I just wish they could happen A LOT more often!

Let's face it, organizing anything is always a big challenge. It's especially tricky when you're dealing with adults who have very busy schedules and kids. Plus, since this is just a fun thing and not a formal event like a class or work project, or participation on a sports team, people tend to blow these things off when squeezed for time. I can understand, but it's still frustrating, especially for the person (me) who arranges everything.

Plus, some of the problems with maintaining a steady gaming schedule has been my own fault. I was extremely busy working overtime and doing other activities during off-hours in February through the first half of April. Nobody else picked up the ball and ran with it, so the game club basically went on hiatus for a few months.

On the plus side, I haven't given up hope yet. I love board games, wargames, and card games. And I have a bunch of new games (at least to me) to try out, as well as many old favorites to continue to bring to the table. Despite my disappointment in not getting enough traction going amongst my gamer-friends to put the game group on auto-pilot, I still think it can be done. It's just going to take time and plenty of patience. The fact that I own a bunch of cool games and don't want to see them languish on the shelf for eternity is a driving force behind my continual efforts to light a fire under people's butts.

So I shall start again. People need to come to the realization that having FUN with family and friends is a critical component to a healthy, happy life. It's too easy to get overly caught up in work and day-to-day trifles which are not important in the big scheme of things. So I'm trying to do my part in spreading the joy. Hopefully it will work!

I have three blogs going right now. There's a private one dedicated to the development of my tabletop miniatures wargame called And On the 7th Day They Created Severnia. That's where the project team members and I post our thoughts, ideas, and observations about the Sword of Severnia fantasy wargame we're involved in developing.

I also maintain a blog for my HARL Baseball league, where I write about my fantasy baseball league and share information with the league members. There's also an associated website called HARL Central where members can download weekly stat reports and view online reports.

And then there's this blog, a personal journal where I discuss board games, card games, miniatures, wargames, software development, fantasy sports, and anything else that strikes my fancy.

Keeping all 3 blogs up-to-date can be a challenge. Of all three, writing to this one is the hardest. Experiences designing software/games and with my fantasy baseball league help to generate articles for the other two blogs without much of a problem. But writing to a personal journal is different.

While I almost always have something to say, sometimes I wonder if it's really worth saying. I mean, there's only so much people can read while surfing the net. So I frequently ask myself the question, "what makes this blog worth reading?" Why bother writing at all if I don't have anything interesting, informative, or captivating to say?

That's probably something that a great many bloggers struggle with. Sure, you can use blogging as a pure ego trip, gaining satisfaction in the simple fact that your voice is on the internet somewhere. Or perhaps, you just want to write for cathartic purposes; because it makes you feel good to share your feelings and get things off your chest. They're both valid reasons I suppose.

For me, I want to inform and entertain. The thing that I hope for is that a reader learns something and has fun doing it.

I know that I don't always succeed. I'm still learning what makes a good blog post, what's useful to write about, and what people enjoy. Truth be told, I'm probably overthinking this. Perhaps that's why I'm frustrated about not writing to this blog often enough. Four or five posts per month is not enough. I want to be more prolific and not let things get too stagnant. Posting 12-16 times per month would be oh so much better!

But for an increase in posting to occur, I'm going to have to take a new approach to this blog. Perhaps I should be willing to write shorter posts? Perhaps I should feel free to just brain-dump and not feel guilty about it? Perhaps I need to stop worrying about being informative and just starting writing? It's very possible that could be holding me back.

So I'm going to try something new. I'm just going to LET GO and WRITE and see what happens. At least I can't be frustrated about lack of posting any longer if I take that approach!

Until next time... BE GOOD.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pictures from Cold Wars -- Volume 3

Here's the final installment of pictures from the Cold Wars 2008 miniature wargaming convention in Lancaster PA. Unlike the previous two photo installments, these pics were snapped by yours truly (Steve). I took them on Saturday, March 8 while meandering around the Host with Geoff, another wargaming buddy of mine.

What's a pirate themed convention without some ships? Here's a bunch of them...

Meanwhile back on dry land, we've got some more gnomes duking it out for supremacy. First off are some Swiss fellows, followed by Germans riding giant bunny rabbits!

What's in store for you next? How about some large tabletop battles, leading off with the spectacular eye candy of the "big game" in the Host lobby.

And lastly, we end with some ancient hordes, a cavernous dungeon bash, and American Civil War action...

I hope that everyone enjoyed this little photographic journey through Cold Wars. Hopefully, we can take a lot more pictures at this summer's Historicon convention to share with wargamers everywhere. God bless and good gaming!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Good Customers vs. Bad Customers

I've run my own tiny software business since 1995. Before that I worked in a corporate IT department for 8 years. Over the 21+ years that I've been in the business of creating, selling, and supporting computer software, I have run into all kinds of customers. I'm sure that anyone who has been in the software industry for a long time has their fair share of heartwarming stories as well as utter horror stories to tell.

Over the years, I've encountered customers who are highly intelligent, creative, tech savvy, friendly, polite, and downright funny. It's always a joy to meet these nice people, even if it's only in the context of a business relationship.

What might be surprising to learn is that many of my best customers have turned out to be people who needed a little help when they first started using the software. These folks were not afraid to ask for assistance during the inevitable "learning phase" that occurs when you start to use virtually every software program of at least moderate complexity. Nor were they "too proud" to ask for help. They simply asked, got help, and went on to become longtime happy customers who purchase new products every year. I treat these core customers as I would treat my friends; going the extra mile to keep them happy in return for their years of continued support. The kind comments that I've received from these "good customers" has been the fuel that's kept me going for many years.

But as they say, every rose has it's thorn. While MBA's and politically correct blowhards claim that "the customer is always right" and "there are no bad customers", the simple reality is that in any business, 5% to 10% of your customers will be jerks and idiots. If you don't agree with that, then start your own business and get back to me in 10 years. And believe me, there's nothing quite like technology (i.e. computers) that brings out the absolute worst in people.

There are several common types of bad customers that I've come across. Here are a few of the classics:

Mr. Last Minute

This is the guy who buys his fantasy baseball draft prep & tracking software at 10 PM on Friday evening, even though his draft is being held at Noontime on Saturday. Five minutes after he orders, he sends an email to the customer service staff demanding his software unlock code. After 10 minutes pass and he doesn't get a response, he fires off another email saying "where's my code" and complains of shoddy customer service. Although the company website clearly states that all emails are answered within 48 hours and that the company offices are closed on the weekends (it's a regular Mon-Fri business), he calls the company hotline and leaves an urgent and somewhat snide message. He needs his code NOW. After all, he only has a few hours to use this software until his draft tomorrow!

When I logon to check my business email on Saturday morning, I see Mr. Last Minute's messages and hear his urgent phone plea. Although I'm not woking today, I'll still make it a point to send the man his unlock code. Inevitably, I will get a followup from Mr. Last Minute on Sunday telling me that he never got his unlock code or it was too late (he had already left for his draft). And surprise surprise, he wasn't able to learn the software in 2 or 3 hours and setup everything for his draft. Oh, and he wants a refund.

Not only is Mr. Last Minute the worst kind of procrastinator and unreasonable in his demands, by ordering software 14 hours before his baseball draft he's also just plain stupid. What he really needed was a $7 magazine, not a sophisticated software program.

Mr. Know It All

You will run across Mr. Know It All in all walks of life. He is particularly frustrating to deal with in the software world.

Mr. Know It All has setup his software and database, but something isn't working quite right. So he emails you saying that "I setup everything exactly as I was supposed to, but the software just doesn't work." He doesn't give you any details about his problem to speak of, so you politely respond to his email with a request for additional details about what his problem is. He gets back to you with some very flimsy information, but since you developed the software and have many years of experience helping people, you have enough of an inkling to guess what he did wrong. You respond with a solution. He replies saying that you're wrong, don't know what you're talking about, and basically tells you why your software is utterly broken. He did everything 100% right. There's absolutely NO WAY that he could have made a mistake.

Sometimes, this guy will threaten you and demand a refund if you can't help him. So you resort to having this schmuck send you his database. You hook it up in the lab and discover what he did wrong to screw up his data. You send the database back to him with a detailed explanation of where he messed up. He will never say thanks for helping. That would be admitting that he actually doesn't know everything. But at least you have finally shut him up, at least until the next problem comes along that in NO WAY POSSIBLE could be his fault.

Mr. Half Wit

I'm not trying to be mean, but there are some people who should simply not be allowed to touch a computer. When people say that education is declining in America, they're right. I have seen it first-hand. The number of people who write wholly unintelligible emails is astounding. I read messages with absolutely no punctuation, with incoherent run-on sentences, and with spelling errors that would make a 5th grade English teacher cry. Not to mention that I actually receive tech support emails along the lines of "my Rhino don't work, can you help?". Ummm... that really narrows down the problem for me Tex.

Mr. Half Wit doesn't know all that much about computers. He's not quite sure how to download a file, and he doesn't know how to look at the folders on his hard drive. Nevertheless, he just plunked down a pile of Hamiltons to use an advanced piece of software to run his fantasy baseball league. He doesn't read the Help files because "I don't learn too good by readin', I'd rather you walk me through it over the phone". Mr. Half Wit is in WAY over his head. Couldn't the league members have found somebody a wee bit more competent to be the league commissioner?

I understand that not everyone is a smart cookie, and I try to be very very patient with everyone. I will help Mr. Half Wit as much as humanly possible, but it's a major waste of my time and a huge money loser for my company. He'll eventually move on to something else next year, drop into oblivion, and cease to be your problem. But the time you wasted on helping him for free costs you lots of money, and it would have been far better had he never ordered from you to begin with.

Mr. Impatient
This guy is sort of a mixture between Mr. Last Minute and Mr. Know It All. He buys your software, uses it for 2 days, and then abruptly demands a refund because it's "too complicated", "takes too long to setup", or is "not intuitive enough".

Counting high school, college, and professional work, I've been involved in the computer software field for close to 30 years. Without any shame whatsoever, I will say that there's simply no way that I can learn to use a new software program in 2 days (unless the program is quite trivial). But hey, Mr. Impatient is utterly outraged when he cannot learn your program in a day or two; a program that took you 2.5 years to develop (just for version 1.0).

Mr. Impatient is not only terribly unrealistic in his expectations, he has an enormously over-inflated ego. He believes that he's so smart that he can learn in 2 days what it takes everyone else 2 weeks to learn.

There are two types of responses that you'll get from Mr. Impatient. The first goes something like this: "I use computers a lot and am not a newbie, but your software is just too hard to use even for someone like me. How can you even sell this program?" Obviously, Mr. Impatient thinks he's such a computer wiz that if he can't figure things out in 2 days, well then your software must be complete crap. What a load of hooey. I guess all those happy users we have amassed over the years don't matter, huh? Anyone who thinks you can stay in business for 13+ years by selling crap software must be smoking crack.

The second type of response you get from Mr. Impatient falls along these lines: "setup takes too long. If you skip over some of the setup steps, the software won't produce the results I want." Well duh! For a supposedly smart person, Mr. Impatient gets an "F" in logical thinking. He wants the software to spit out customized results tailored to his particular settings, yet he doesn't want to waste the time entering any of those settings. He must be hoping to get results through pure magic. You load the software, it reads your mind, you click a button and poof, instant results!

Of course, Mr. Impatient will never ask for help when you offer it. Actually working through a problem would fix his issue, but he doesn't have the time for that. He has no time for help manuals or tech support emails. If he can't figure it out right away, you're history.

Dealing with Mr. Impatient is a very good reason why your software company should, if at all possible, offer free trial software. It allows people to download and install the program, take a quick look around, and decide if they want to actually buy a full copy. Hopefully, this will weed out the Mr. Impatients in your life. You pray that these guys realize what you already know, that unless you're really willing to put in the time to learn a new program, don't even bother buying it.

Mr. Bullshitter

At last we come to Mr. Bullshitter. You've been using the software religiously for years, and you KNOW that it works great. Countless customers have sent you kind notes telling you how much they like your product. You get lots of repeat sales.

But along comes Mr. BS to ruin your day. He buys your product, installs it, and then sends you an angry email telling you that he gets continual errors when he uses the software. Not only doesn't X function work, but Y and Z are broken as well. The darn thing just crashes all the time. It's junk and you're a shyster.

You offer to help Mr. Bullshitter and ask him to explain exactly what's troubling him. He never sends you any details, any screen shots or files, and he'll never let you see his database. He just rants and raves and insults you. In essence, he never gives you the chance to PROVE to him that the software does indeed work as advertised.

Basically, this guy is just a Class A jerk. There's nothing you can do about him since he resists your efforts to help him. He'll either just fade way, or if your company offers refunds you can give him his money back and say good riddance.


Fortunately, I would say that 90% of my customers are pleasant to deal with. They're certainly not jerks, egomaniacs, or morons. And I respect them because they treat me and my company with respect. If they need help, they go about things the right way to get it. They are polite and say thank you when it's warranted. They're reasonable. In short, they're GOOD customers.

If there was some way to screen the small percentage of BAD customers before they bought products from us, I would jump on that in a heartbeat. They waste your time and make you lose money. They put you in a foul mood. They make otherwise sane computer software developers question why they ever got into this field to begin with. But that's life folks. You can NEVER please everyone. Some people will love your product, and some will hate it. There's absolutely nothing you can do about it... except to maybe vent about it on your blog!

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What Time is it? It's Rotisserie Baseball Time!

Ah yes, it's Easter season. The onset of warmer weather is here. The blossoming of spring flowers is right around the corner. The rebirth of all that is good, cheerful, and sunny is upon us.

Screw that and gimme some damn BASEBALL!

Yes sports fans, it's baseball time again. Or more importantly, rotisserie baseball time (or fantasy baseball for you more politically correct youngsters who don't want to piss off the powers that be who own the rights to the term "rotisserie baseball").

We just held our annual HARL player auction on April 5. It was 5 jam-packed hours of bidding craziness, friendly banter and seeing old friends, and mind-sapping mental arithmetic. In a word, it was FUN. Or in two words: GREAT FUN. Or in three words... Well you get the picture.

This was our 22nd annual draft. I started the league in 1987 and am still running it. I don't know how many of you have ever done something for 22 years, but that's a friggin LONG TIME. I guess you could say that I have a love affair with fantasy baseball... err... rotisserie baseball.

I won't bore you with anything really deep about my league (HARL) right now. I'll save the analytical stats babble for another time. It's late after all and I gotta go check some boxscores. If you reallt want to find out more about my league, head on over to the HARL blog (for news) or HARL Central (for reports).

Oh yeah, one more thing... GO RHINOS!

Friday, April 4, 2008

Oh Thanis, How Lovely art Thou Skeletons

I've done a little dabbling on eBay recently, although not too much as I've been spending most of my free time preparing for my rotisserie baseball auction coming up on April 5th.

I got sniped on some nicely painted WarGods Spartans (damn West Coast auctions just kill us East Coast folk who don't stay up until 1 or 2 in the morning), and backed off a couple of other really nice fantasy minis that wound up selling for fairly expensive prices. I just can't see paying $75 bucks or more for one masterfully painted 28mm mini unless you're a very serious mini collector and intend to show these little gems off in a display case somewhere. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for high quality and I admire the top-of-the-line masterworks, but I want to play games with my figures too. The thought of having 3 or 4 heroic minis, worth a collective $300, get chipped or broken during a wargaming session is too much for my fragile mind to bear.

I did end up winning one auction, however, and this little pewter lass is a real beauty. Her name is Thanis the Bonecaller, and she's a female necromancer from Reaper Miniatures. She was painted by Mark Engle (KimEngle is the ebay id). Here are some pictures of this gorgeous mini:

I've got to admit that I've never thought of a necromancer as "sexy" before. Typically, they are gaunt, fallen wizards adorned in tattered robes and often with a hefty case of "face rot". Thanis is more along the lines of a succubus, beautiful yet deadly. She could also serve as a "good" (non-evil) necromancer or witch, raising fallen soldiers to fight on behalf of a noble cause (similar to the dead coming to the aid of Aragorn in the Lord of The Rings)?

All I can say is, "oh Thanis, how lovely art thou skeletons". You slay me girlfriend.