Personal Insight on Decision and Action

Looking for next steps is my indication I’m changing direction.

I firmly believe in taking action when you decide something. I really believe you haven’t actually “decided” until you start taking action. There is this phenomena in my head where I say, “I’ve decided but not really”. This means internally I’ve decided but I’m not looking for next steps. I’m not taking action.

— from my morning pages 08/22/2017

Captivate By Vanessa Van Edwards Review

Any chapter in this book is worth 10x the cost of the book.

Like Vanessa I too had an epiphany at one point in my life when I realized social interaction could be learned. I wasn’t some how limited by my genetics or upbringing to forever not know what to say. Once I learned this important truth I became a voracious student of social engineering.

I’ve heard Vanessa on a number of podcasts and immediately pre-ordered Captivate when I heard it was coming out. When she asked for pre-readers I jumped at the chance. I’ll admit to struggling to get through the awful formatting of the pre-release ebook version give to me by her publisher. But the day the book came out I bought both the Kindle and Audible versions.

Captivate is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of how to understand and interact with people in the last half decade.

The “academics who did a study on college seniors and now tell you how people tick” genre has exploded recently. While there are good nuggets and insights in those books. They are heavy on the author’s biased reasons why and not on actionable – as in you can use it today – techniques. Vanessa’s book is practical. It is written from the perspective of someone trying to build a business, get a date, or just have a good party.

This is real world stuff for people living in the real world.

If you are a fan of social and life hackers like Neil Strauss, Tim Ferris, Scott Adams, or Tony Robbins, be ready to add a new member to the social engineering pantheon.

If you are a self proclaimed introvert with social anxiety this book is for you too. Vanessa calls herself a “recovering awkward person” and you can be too. You’ll learn to work with your strengths in the first chapter and not live in the hell of faking it till you make it.

Buy the book, you won’t regret it.

World Building – Start With A Map

Every story starts with characters in a place. Often the first thing that happens is they need to go to another place. Stuff happens in between. Very many of the first questions have to do with place. Why are the characters where they are? How hard is it going to be to get from where they are to where they need to be? What is the place they need to be like? Why is it where it is?

This was my first doodles map of my new world.
This was my first doodles map of my new world.

Another core problem is why are these characters together? It is highly unlikely they are together as a party unless they are together in the starting place. Are they visitors to the starting place? Or natives, that have history and a home in the place?

In D&D your parties are almost always racially diverse. There are humans, elves, dwarves, gnome, etc. But a common troupe of D&D is there are kingdoms or domains or homelands for each of these races. There are dwarf cities underground. Elf kingdoms only partially in the forest of this plane. So why are your characters together where they are? Yes, part of character building is giving them a reason to have left their home, but generally that is looked on as why they become adventures, not why are they in the place they are in.

If you start with a map, you will start to get a feel for the places in the world. You’ll know how far your dwarf is from home. Where the centers of commerce and travel are.

Your map probably starts with geography, but sometimes geography is influenced by story. You aren’t looking to create a world for no purpose. You are doing it to tell stories in. That means you have to have mountains for the dwarves to live under. You have to have forests for elves, druids, and rangers1.

Another story element of geography is isolation. There are probably places you want it to be hard for characters to get to, especially low level characters. For instance the strong hold of the super powerful evil wizard isn’t somewhere you want lost 1st level characters to run into. So you need some hard to get to places to put those people. For instance on an island. So include some islands.

You also probably want a diversity of terrain. The typical fantasy story is modeled on medieval Europe, which is generally seen as mostly forested land with some plains and agriculture. As well as some mountains and seas. But what about desert? Jungle? Scrub lands?

Once you roughly layout the geography, the terrains, the rivers, the mountain passes, the coastline’s inlets and peninsulas, start thinking about where the people are. There are obvious places for congregations of people. Where two rivers meet. Where rivers meet the sea. On the coasts of rivers and lakes. Pencil in cities there.

Decide on travel. How do people get from one city to another? Wouldn’t it be cool to say for a particular city, “Oh, you can only access Kartan by river.”? Also cities become rich because they can easily get their goods to other cities and people. This means there are roads – or rivers – between those cities.

Now it is time to think about history.

Destroyed cities. Cursed cities. Countries. Warfare. Alliances that cause divides.

1 Or do you?

Recovering An Old Obsession – D&D

The guy who invented D&D has died. Don’t know if I would have made it through adolescence without that game.
– Ron Davis,, March 4, 2008.

My D&D books from AD&D to 5th Edition.
My D&D books from AD&D to 5th Edition.

Recently I’ve rediscovered an old obsession and am returning to it. There are going to be a lot of D&D related posts on the blog, so I thought I’d write one explaining what’s going on.

You see a little over 33 years ago in High School I played D&D every weekend. I doodled maps on graph paper in class and wrote descriptions of the monsters who populated them. I envied my fellow players who could draw their characters. I ran games and reveled in creating cool scenarios for people to encounter. Places they could grow and enrich their characters.

Back then D&D wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now. The Hack and Slash dungeon crawl was mostly all there was. Every week was another keep that needed to be cleaned out. Another week protecting the weak Magic User in the party till he could get enough XP to start throwing fireballs. A weekend of discovering new cool magic items and accumulating so many gold pieces you knew you were violating the carrying rules to get it back home.

Over the years I mostly didn’t play any role playing games. I did continue to acquire books. I have two whole shelves of books. I’ve got manuals from every version of D&D except 4th. Dozens of GURPS supplements even though I’ve never even played GURPS once.

I recently heard it said that character creation is a game inside of a game. I know that has certainly been true for my sons. They took to the books like fish to water and created characters all through school. But I don’t think they played the actual game except the one time I ran them through a keep full of kobalds on a weekend. Now one does interactive story telling on line every week and the other has GMed an ongoing campaign with his college friends.

D&D is enjoying something of a renaissance. It’s coming back into the conscience of the culture – or at least geek culture. The live streaming and YouTubing of gaming session is something to behold. I was totally hooked on the new 5th edition of D&D after watching the very polished Acquisitions Incorporated episodes on YouTube.

I also have to thank my friends Kevin and Jesica for inviting us to play Pathfinder. Pathfinder is a fork – to use a computer term – of D&D 3.5. It has been a blast to play my Gnome Berserker Tiny Tanya whose personality is based on Tiny Tina from Borderlands.

This was so much fun I wanted more. Playing every other week isn’t enough. Also I want to DM. So I’m working on a new campaign for D&D 5th Edition that I will be running in the near future. As I develop it, I’m going to be writing about it on the blog. This gets me back to my promise to do more creative acts.

What Is A Creative Act?

If I’ve set a goal of creating something every day, how will I know when I succeed? We create things all the time. Is a Facebook post saying I’m back in Texas enough? A photo of the new Cisco Supercharger?

No, I don’t think so.

Those things are creative, but they aren’t sufficient to accomplish why I set the goal. Instead I need to define a “creative act” as I’m now calling it. This is the thing I’m trying to do every day. The thing I think will make an impact on bettering my life.

The main difference between the little creations that we do all the time and the Creative Acts that change us is magnitude. It isn’t the medium. My portraits from yesterday are just as much photographs as the picture of the Cisco supercharger. But the new pictures of my friends took skill, thought, preparation and execution.

That is the kind of creative act I’m trying to do every day.

This morning was the first time I ever woke up and my first thought was, “I have to create something today.” That’s a good thing. I need to have a driving desire to create something from the moment I wake up if I’m going to accomplish my goal.

It isn’t easy. Today I spent some time helping fellow Toastmasters. Most of the day was spent trying to get back on Texas time for sleep and driving. Driving from Dallas to Stephenville, them home to Abilene. Getting stuff to the bank and dry cleaners.

Now I’m creating something, even if it just a blog post about creating something.

Tomorrow has a bunch of travel in it, but I will create something significant. Then do it again the next day.

Photos of New Friends

I spent the week on the M/Y Pegasus at the San Diego Comic-con and one of my jobs was to take pictures. Specifically to take pictures of the crew/guests. Here are some portraits I did of my new friends Jesica, Devin and Amanda.

Jesica SDCC 2016
Jesica SDCC 2016
Devin, SDCC 2016
Devin, SDCC 2016
Amanda, SDCC 2016
Amanda, SDCC 2016

More Creating Less Consuming

My life is pretty good. Actually really good if I look at it objectively. Not just the “I’m not a starving child in Africa” objectively either. Heck I’m writing this on a freaking yacht for God’s sake. This leads me to feel a little guilty when I start thinking it needs to be better, but that the way it is.

What needs to change? What am I missing that needs to be improved. After much soul-searching, or something similar, I’ve come to the conclusion I’m not creating enough. Heck, I’m rarely creating at all.

I just spent four days at the biggest popular culture celebration of creating event in the world, Comic-con San Diego. As I walked the floor I was filled with a yearning. The rock stars from the next Wonder Woman to the guy selling cosplay photos in a booth where all creators. Even the metaphor of “rock star” means you are famous for creating something so cool that people by the thousands become ecstatic in your presence.

Given this I realized I’m not on my way to stardom. I’m looking for the next thing to get by. A job, or even a new business. My standards are low and my heart just isn’t in it.

So what is the solution?

More creating and less consuming.

For the last few months the only thing I’ve created, the only creative outlet I’ve had, is Toastmasters. Which explains why, despite how much work it is, I just keep doing more. I’m passionate about making it better and better. I really believe that Toastmasters changes people’s lives by helping them overcome their fears and learn to communicate and lead. But the joy I get out of it is in the creation.

I used to create all the time.

I had a thriving photography hobby. I blogged all the time. I did some cosplay.

Now I do almost none of these. But I do spend a lot of time-consuming media about these things. I’m consuming art, not creating it.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’m going to create more. Everyday I’m going to create something. I’m not sure what yet, but I’ll post about it every day. This post is the first thing I’m creating.

Discomfort Credit Cards and BBQ

Blogger’s Note: I haven’t blogged in forever. Used to do it all the time, but am way out of the habit. In an attempt to keep this blog from becoming a ghost town, I’m going to post my longer thoughts that have been mostly going to Facebook. Here’s the first one.

Was listening to Tim Ferris’ podcast with Ramit Sethi and he was giving negotiation techniques and suggested to call your credit card company and ask for a new APR. I always pay off my CC so don’t really care much about the APR, but my uber-cool blue Sapphire Card is all scratched up and I wanted to new pretty one.

So I called them and first asked if they could tell me how much I’ve put through that card since I got it in April 2014. The number was 6 figures because I use the card for everything, including almost all our expenses in the UK, most of the repairs on the house and every travel expense we do.

Then I asked for a new card. Not surprisingly they merely asked if 3-5 days was OK for delivery.

Missed the annual fee renewal, but they’ll be getting a call next March.

And it was SO FUN, which I wasn’t expecting.

This was a follow-up to a discomfort exercise from the day before where you have to ask for a discount at any store. For some reason I decided to do it after lunch at Betty Roses BBQ.

I asked my waitress if I could have a discount because it was my first time there. I expected a no, or for her to ask how old I was to give me the senior discount :(. Instead she asked if I was in the military. I get that alot, I think for my hair cut rather than my command bearing.


“Do you have a CHL?”

“I do.”

“I can give you one for that.”

10% off.

Oh Abilene.