The February Goal Update

Back in January, I set up some S.M.A.R.T. goals for the upcoming year. One of the key pieces to achieving goals is to review them and identified what worked (and did not work) out. Keep in mind that each goal should be measurable and achievable. 

Let's get the good stuff out of the way and look at what goals were achieved for the month of January:

  • Code each day to start my 365 Github challenge starting on 1/2
    • 1 day was missed due to a family emergency where it could not be helped at all due to no internet.
  • Lose 5 lbs in the month to help get into better shape.
    • Technically it was 4.98 pounds according to my Fitbit and scale. I'm calling it a victory/goal achieved.
  • Play more with the puppy to help bond more and ensure outside activity for both of us.
    • Despite the freezing cold temperature, I made sure to spend extra time with the puppy playing in my hallway. It was much needed exercise for both us. 

Now comes the moment of the dread where I look at the goals that were not achieved. Instead of making excuses, I will state why I did not accomplish them.

  • Read a book and learn a couple new words from it. I'm currently thinking of The Peripheral by William Gibson.
    • I decided to read more of the Walking Dead Compendium  Volume 1 and watch anime at night rather than spend time reading any novel. 
  • Write 4 blog posts in the month excluding this one.
    • I found zero urge to write and put forth no effort to do it during each week.
    • I did however write one blog post about my battle with depression
  • Put away more cash than last year to help save up for my 30th Birthday trip to Japan.
    • Unforeseen circumstances had me dip into that savings, but it was for the best cause which is family. 

For the moment, I want to run away and hide under my desk when I see everything I did not accomplish for the month of January. Being scared of my shadow serves me no purpose, so instead it is time to put a plan of attack forward based on analyze of the month. The following will be my goals for February:

  • Write 4 blog posts including this one.
    • I always got tripped up trying to find something to write for my blog. This is my world with my words. I always got caught up into what people would want to read instead of what I wanted to write here. Plus, I spent time writing this post, so it should count for the month!
  • Lose an additional 5 pounds to put me under the BS BMI overweight line.
    • I know the BMI is a complete piece of garbage. However, it helps me focus on my goal. After I drop past the imaginary red line on my app, I tend to stop worrying about the amount loss and focus on how things fit and look.
  • Finish reading Code Complete.
    • By focusing my efforts on improving my career, I feel I'll be able to hit the goal of read one book a month. Plus, I'll learn new words and lingo by reading technical material just as much as a novel.
  • Continue my 365 Github challenge.
    • I'm getting near a point of wanting to work on more projects at home, so I hope this will push me to that point. 
  • Start learning a new programming language by working on one of my board game helper ideas.
    • I did this last year with my dive into C#, but did not keep up with it. This year is going to be different as I invest in myself.

Here is to the month of February! Cheers everyone!

 

 

The Continual battle

The moon hangs high above battlefield illuminating the torment below. Troops from one side push into their enemy's line while their reserves flank from behind. With each skirmish, the moon grew dimmer until the last bit of light was over taken by darkness. Roars went up from the conquerors in celebration for another successful campaign. 

I open my eyes to a world where five minutes had passed in it. My gaze turns toward the window, yet I do not see the beauty of the landscape beyond it. My mind retreats back in itself while I stand in front of the sliding glass door. I imagine a movie scene where the viewer sees the figure standing on a balcony before turning toward the audience for some kind of epic reveal. Sadly, there is no turn, no reveal, or a Hans Zimmer track lead in for the moment. Instead, there was only me letting my mind retreat back in itself. The place was an all too familiar spot for the past couple years.

Art by:  Kristian Nygård  .

Depression comes in many flavors for different people. The image above closely resembles mine. The constant turmoil in my head, a feeling of failure and doom loomed over me. I would arise each day because that is the responsibility of being an adult. I would adorn my mask for either the office, convention, or friends before heading out in the world. Behind the smiles, the jokes/trolls, and the stories, there was anxiety, panic attacks, and fear. 

It was always hard to articulate why I felt this way especially with people informing that I should not be depressed or questioning the validity of it. The period it took to find professional help was a long journey with different paths of anxiety and uncertainty. To avoid the tales of personal anguish trying to cure myself, I favor the tale where I got the courage to find someone to help me.

During my trip to PHP[tek] back in May 2014, I went to the Evening Summit which happened to have a topic on mental health. Each speaker took the stage discussing their trials and tribulations with mental illness. As each person spoke about their situation, an easiness washed over me. The internal torment from the past couple years did not seem like a difficult piece to overcome. I listened to every word from the speakers despite the nagging negativity nestled in the back of my brain. When the summit was complete for the night, I went to find a fellow named Davey Shafik from Engine Yard.

Engine Yard heads up Prompt, the group that put on the Mental Health Summit. Prompt opens up the discussion on the topic of mental health by sending speakers to tech conferences and meetups. Davey was the individual who I found to discuss what was talked about during the summit. To sum up our conversation, I was not alone in the world when it came to any of my issues nor was I going to be lost on finding help. At that moment, there was hope I could find peace for the battles in my mind. 

After coming home from tek, I performed some quick searches within my insurance provider for a psychiatrist/counselor/psychologist. I sorted through all the names looking for some kind of sign that they would be able to help me on my quest for a cure. Notes were scribbled on paper with numbers to call on Monday morning. I wish the current point of story ended in a fairy tale closing of "I called a doctor and everything was happily ever after..", however, the sad truth is quite different. I never called anyone.

Art by ? - Via Reddit.com

A couple more months went by where I stared at my notes wondering when I would be able to call even one number on the list. The nights of panic attacks and random anxiety was getting old. I felt my mind was going to tear at the seams. I sat down and punched in a search in Google to help me find a therapist. My search led me to Psychology Today's directory of Huntsville counselors. I scrolled through the list and selected Dr. Stacy Ikard at random. My heart thumped loudly in my chest as I typed in my information. The two hundred character limit of the "message" field seemed like writing a novel.  I read over my response to the "message" part of the form over and over. As I felt the onset of a panic attack, I clicked the "Send Email" button before walking away from my computer to stare outside.

After a couple days of correspondence, I had an appointment booked at Corner Stone Counseling to see Dr. Ikard. My anxiety was through the roof to say the least about the time leading up to the appointment. The drive over did not help either, but luckily for me, the location was a short drive from my office. I pulled into a parking spot only to sit for a good bit of time debating whether to walk inside or drive back to the office. Knowing that I would regret the latter decision, I stepped out of the car and went inside CCC. The one thing I dreaded was going into a crowded waiting room to finish filling out my paperwork. I did not want to have people look at me even though I knew they were there for their own counseling reasons. I was scared.

The waiting room was empty.

I sighed in relief. After introductions and payment, I began the infamous filling of the paperwork routine. The ten minutes before my scheduled appointment time disappeared before I knew it. Dr. Ikard came out to introduce herself and escorted me back to her office. In my mind, I expected to see a leather chaise chair and a ton of books on the walls. However, I was greeted with a couch and a couple arm chairs. I was invited to tour Dr. Ikard's office before finding a comfortable chair to sit down on for the session. I kicked off my shoes (asked before I did it) and sat down on the couch.

I did not find one of these in the doctor's office.

I did not find one of these in the doctor's office.

When I look back at that first appointment, I laugh a little to myself. All the anxiety that was building up to it seems like wasted energy. It was a simple e-mail that I do every day when I'm working, yet it felt like the hardest thing in the world. Actually, it was the hardest thing in the world for me. I'm elated to be on a path for recovery, but I know it is one with continual battles to avoid slipping back into a depressive state. 

The TL;DR of this whole blog post is simple - The first phone call may be hard, but it will be the greatest defining moment in the battle for your mental health. If you ever find yourself in an unstable state, do not wait to call someone reach out to counselor, a friend, or a random stranger.

Top Ten Board Games From 2014.

With the close of 2014, I tend to setup a budget for the next year of game purchases especially around GenCon time. I decided to look back at last year's budget and noticed I went a tad over my initial estimates. This was mostly due to an amazing year of games and not just board games. I picked up more RPG and board games than I had in previous years. As I looked at the list of purchases, my mind started to sort them into a list. Here is the following list of my top board games from 2014: 

10. Legendary Encounters: An Alien Deck Building GameI've been a huge fan of the Legendary system from Upper Deck Entertainment. The latest game with the Legendary tag centers around the Alien universe. Upper Deck captures the horror aspect quite well, for instance, scanning cards as they move down the corridors that could expose any sort of danger is intense for the players. People can play mix all the cards, but I prefer the method of playing through each film (Alien, Aliens, Aliens 3, Alien: Resurrection). I stood in line for this game at GenCon and do not regret that decision in the slightest. 

9. King of New YorkIf one has played King of Tokyo, it should be no surprise that King of New York made anyone's "Top Ten List of 2014". Iello took Tokyo with the Power Up expansion and put everything in New York. The only downside to the new game is the Super Star bonus card which I feel tends to break the game due to the amount of VP someone can rack up quickly on their rolls. 

8. Lost Legacy: The StarshipAlderac Entertainment Group released a handful of small sized games this year. Lost Legacy: The Starship was one of those great titles. It is a draw one, play one in the same vein of Love Letter. The difference between the two games is an additional "Investigation Phase" where any remaining players try to find The Starship. The extra phase adds another layer of deduction without it feeling forced onto the players. There have been additional Lost Legacy sets released that can be combined into The Starship in order to bring the player count to six. It is one of the few games I keep on hand when I travel to conventions like PAX.

7. Sheriff of NottinghamHave you ever played Liar's Dice or Bullshit? Do you enjoy games were bluffing is encouraged? Are you okay with backstabbing your neighbors? If you answered yes to any of those questions, this game is right up your alley. Sheriff of Nottingham from Arcane Wonders is a game about bluffing (or not) goods past the Sheriff in order to make a profit at the market. Each player will have two turns to play the Sheriff while others try to get all their goods past her/him. The amount of social interaction in Sheriff has made this one of our go to titles when we're all in the mood for a thematic game with a chance of roleplaying a character. 

6. Tiny Epic Kingdoms - One of the best 4x games in a tiny little box from Gamelyn Games arrived to masses of Kickstarter backers around October of 2014.  The pocket sized game packs a ton of strategy due to all races and maps. It is crazy to think about the amount of depth packed into the game. Over the past couple months of playing the game with various numbers of players, I've not been able to formulate a standard strategy. If you like 4x games, this is a must own for the collection. If you want a fantastic travel game, this is one to add to the collection. Gamelyn Games is looking toward a great future and it is only going to get better with Tiny Epic Defenders and Tiny Epic Galaxies

5. IstanbulWhen I went to GenCon 2014, Istanbul was on my "MUST HAVE" list from Alderac Entertainment Group. Istanbul is a pick-up-deliver game set in the bazaars of..well...Istanbul to collect rubies. The combination of worker drop off plus a slice of resource management with a dash of strategic movement makes this one game for the collection. The three different difficulties of tile placement make the game easy to teach new players, yet difficult for experienced players. Sadly, I've only been able to get a couple games in since GenCon.

4. Sons of AnarchyGale Force 9 has done it again with capturing the essence of an IP in a board game with Sons of Anarchy. The player is running one of the many MCs (Motorcycle Clubs) trying to amass the most cash by the end of the game from running guns and selling drugs (Guuci bags for those that played the demo with me at Gencon). One has to do all this amidst the rival MCs trying to take out your club at various locations. Just like Spartacus, it one of the few games where I've seen players get sucked into and behind the theme of the game without being fans of the show. 

3. Star RealmsEveryone who has played games with me knows that I adore any game that is primarily a card game (mostly because I grew up playing MTG and Decipher Star Wars). As an avid deck builder fan, I picked up Star Realms while at Gencon 2014. The rules are simple and straight forward without too much complexity. Instead of amassing honor/victory points, the player's goal is to eliminate the other opponent/s. Each of the four factions has an ability like life gain or discarding cards from opponents that can lead to great combos. The games can be quite competitive which shows promise for an organized play scene.

2. Doomtown: ReloadedWith the recent boom in the LCG/ECG/WTFCG, Alderac Entertainment Group comes into the scene strong with Doomtown: Reloaded. Doomtown is the updated version of Deadlands: Doomtown from the 90s CCG Boom.  The uniqueness of the Downtown game was not lost in its modern update. Players will still need to position their gang members, build up their town, and have a decent hand for the poker mechanic. One of the key reasons the game is high on my list is multiplayer aspect of the game. Doomtown scales remarkably well and provides for great moments. Do not let the learning curve scare you away, pick it up and get ready for some shootouts. 

1. Splendor I could spend hours gushing about this great title from Space Cowboy, however, I'll try to sum it up in a paragraph. GO BUY THIS GAME! There, simple, right? Splendor is a resource management game that has a ton of depth and strategy. It has become a staple for board game night since it is a great warm up or closing night game. Honestly, we've had a couple nights of just Splendor because of the replayability of it. Did I mention you should just go buy this game?

Games that did not make the list because I did not get to play them:

  • Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game - I continue to hear people rave about this game from Plaid Hat Games. The event-card mechanic has intrigued me since I've noticed it has motivated people to role-play a bit more than an average thematic board game. Plus, I always enjoy a good game where you have to debate the moral decision of your action. Do you save the group or go rogue by sacrificing them to an oncoming hoard of flesh eating creatures.
  • Five TribesI keep getting told to buy this game from Days of Wonder without being told too much about it. I've heard it has a new spin on worker placement genre. It will be on my list for games to pick up in Q1 of 2015 since everyone will not stop raving about it. 
  • Star Wars: Imperial AssaultI initially did not play attention to this game when I walked past it at GenCon 2014. I thought it was going to be Star Wars the Descent flavor. However, the more content released for the game has caused an increased interest in the game since it does not look like a copy of Descent. Fantasy Flight Games released it later this year, so I'll probably pick up a copy early Q1 of 2015 to try it out. 

Let me know your thoughts on your top games of 2014. Leave a comment or reach out to me on Twitter!

A New Year With New Goals

To any passerby visiting the site, it appears my little space of the internet has been abandoned due to either disinterest or laziness. Sadly, I can not put up an argument to defend it. The year has been rocky for me mostly on an emotional level than physical; however, I am aiming to improve pieces of myself this year. In order to accomplish this feat, I will need to setup some personal goals. 

In a blog post I wrote last year, I discussed the pointlessness of New Year Resolutions compared to proper goal setting. The brief synopsis of the article is that countless resolutions are not met each year due to unrealistic, non-measurable goals. Goals need to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-locked in order for people to achieve them. As my Mom would always say, "Baby steps, Son, baby steps are needed to accomplish anything". 

Here is my current January list of S.M.A.R.T. goals:

  • Read a book and learn a couple new words from it. I'm currently thinking of The Periphreal by William Gibson.
  • Write 4 blog posts in the month excluding this one.
  • Code each day to start my 365 Github challenge starting on 1/2
  • Lose 5 lbs in the month to help get into better shape.
  • Play more with the puppy to help bond more and ensure outside activity for both of us.
  • Put away more cash than last year to help save up for my 30th Birthday trip to Japan.

At the start of each month, my plan is to provide an update of last month's goals plus provide the next month goals. You may want to skip those posts if you do not find them interesting.

Being S.M.A.R.T for the New Year...

 At the start of every year, I compile a list of resolutions much like most people. The list contains the usual proposals of self improvement such as weight loss or learning an instrument. Feeling a sense of purpose, the path to fix myself is put on the fridge as a constant reminder. Time passes around us, life throws a couple curve balls, and maybe one item is crossed off the list before the Ball drops to signal a new year. The list gets ripped off the fridge, and another one is started that day. Rinse/repeat each year and that leads to a ton of resolutions not completed. The self improvement train never seems to get traction. 

While I was on vacation, I began investigating new ways to approach personal and career goals. One of searches lead to an article written by George T. Dolan called There's a S.M.A.R.T way to write management's goals and objectives. The idea behind S.M.A.R.T is a way to set the importance and difficulty of goals. People have used different words for the letters of the acronym over the years. For my example, my breakdown will use some of the most common shared words for the acronym. Without further ado, I present S.M.A.R.T goal building:

Specific - The goal should be narrowed down from a broad statement like "I want to learn Lua". A good example would be "I want to make a World of Warcraft addon that helps roleplayers use dice".

Measurable - After the goal is narrowed down, one can establish steps in order to achieve it. With the clear outline, one can monitor the progress on the road to success. 

Achievable - The goal should be reasonable within your realm of possibility. If a goal is set that is way above one's skill set, it will just be a exercise in frustration. Breaking keyboard frustration. 

Relevant - The goal needs to be important to you. If it not important to you or what you want to do, why do it? To me, this is the most important part of the S.M.A.R.T way of goal building. 

Time-blocked - The idea of a deadline causes high blood pressure for some people. However, one needs to set a hard deadline for goals in order

Reading over S.M.A.R.T is all fine and dandy, but it does not help with out some examples. Here are a couple of my goals for the year:

  • I want to write a <secret> program for work in C# by the end of Q1 to help get a better understanding of C#.
  • I want to lose twenty pounds by php[tek] 2014 ( http://tek.phparch.com/ ) from going to gym five days a week. 

By using S.M.A.R.T to set my goals, I have established a clear plan toward success. In a couple months, I'll have to follow up on this article to let everyone know including myself how it worked out.