Culture and Preservation

I was reading a debate regarding immigration among other things and I was reminded of the inherent challenge of culture, nationality, and individual views in these situations. Many of history’s greatest moments and its most dire are the result of one culture meeting and mixing with another. Some kind of violence is almost always part of the story.

Personally, I embrace change. I’m always interested in taking cultural ideas of others and making those I like part of my own; and yet, there are certain values and ideas that I do take to be core personal values I will not part with. I actively promote them and challenge those who would not uphold them.

You might say I have some faith in the idea that good ideas will survive and poor ones will fail in the competition of the marketplace of ideas. And of course I figure my ideas will win out eventually and overall in the world it feels to me like they have been winning out. Not everywhere, not all the time, but slowly but surely. Whether that’s the world becoming more like me, or me more like the world, or just personal ego I can’t say.

I know many don’t feel as I do. I know that many feel their cultures are under attack and that unless they take dramatic action they can’t survive. I know that many feel that any change or adaptation is tantamount to the death of that culture. While I can sympathise, what I tend to see is that those who don’t adapt die out. Cultures didn’t get to the way they are by not changing and innovating. It was trying new things and growing that got the great cultures of history and modernity to where they are today.

Of course change can mean loss, ideas forgotten, beauty destroyed and loss is something that strikes us at our core. Therefore I think that as people change and adapt, we need to record and remember what was in case we need it again or simply for its own sake. We as human beings should adapt, and with us our culture, yet we should make record of who and what we were.

I think in any culture there are rolls for different people. Those who find change brings the pain of loss should be charged with keeping for us a record of who we were, even embodying it themselves. But those people should not prescribe this attitude for all. Others should be pioneers on the leading edge of change, taking new ideas from other cultures and making them their own.

And the final key is to have awareness we need both, and that these two activities are not at odds with one another. Those who prefer tradition should be honored for keeping it and those who lead change should be honored for their efforts. I think through this attitude we can have mix and mingle knowing we will neither lose our own past, nor remain behind rigid lines in a battle for cultural purity.

 

A Two fisted Monkey Adventure

Right, so this one of the Two Fisted Monkey stories I mentioned in the last post. Its one of the better ones in various respects. As time went on they got more and more elaborate. Lord knows how this sort of thing turns into a novel but I really do like the main characters. Its pretty easy to imagine how these folks work their way in and out of trouble on a daily basis.

For the shorthand…. Seablade is an elf berserker fond of taunting his foes and getting himself beat up. Pythia is an elven priest and seablade’s unrequited love. Rylestel is an elven rogue for whom discretion is always the better part of valor. Igathu is a cat-man warrior of few words and much action. Aletha is an elven druid wise in the ways of the world. And Paxe is an earnest human paladin of great virtue and limited intelligence.

Two Fisted Monkey Adventures, Episode #10: Pulling another tail out of my thundering trousers.

The shadowy force that had entered monkey headquarters loomed over them exuding a kind of evil malevolence not seen since the blackberry Jello of doom. It needed no weapons or armor to menace those who dared cross its path. Arms and magic were no use; all you could do to retain your sanity was to strike a barging that left your soul intact. That’s just what Pythia was attempting to do.

“Aside from the clause pertaining to fragments of Lucien, I don’t see any loopholes here.” Pythia said looking over the documents. “It’s not cheap but we can’t afford another disaster, the price of reagents of resurrection is skyrocketing and we have been going through those like Jum Jum at a hobbit bachelor party.” She faced the shadowy force and stared into the inky blackness of its evil eye. “Ok, we’ll buy your adventure insurance policy.”

The thing of evil seemed to grin as she signed the document and paid the premium in silver coin. It said nothing but a stroke of thunder was heard in the distance and the door of the Monkey shack blew open on a cold and silent wind. Taking the dread contract the creature seemed to recede into the distance without ever moving until finally the insurance salesman was gone.

“I sure hope you know what you’re doing.” Rylestel said once the thing had gone.

“If what I hear of the thundering steppes is true,” responded Pythia quietly, “we are going to need this occupational death and dismemberment policy.”

——-

With their final work for armor contracts in hand, the Band of the Two Fisted Monkeys set forth for the distant land known as the Thundering Steppes. Seablae, Pythia, Igathu, Rylestel, Alaetha and Paxe were on hand to face the unknown dangers.

Consulting the list Seablade seemed disappointed. “Look at this crap, deer, beetles, falcons, small snakes, undead farmers. What kind of hit list is this? We’ve been battling savage gnoll lords, undead palidans and all manner of terrible creatures and now were hunting garden pests? What’s next? Dust bunnies and deadly hobbit midwives?”

“Fool Elf!” Igathu responded, tail twitching. “You know nothing of these dangers! These garden pests as you call them, killed and then ate my blood brother Razor Claw and his entire family. Each deer or beetle here has lived for years in a place rampant with Giants, Gryphons and undead that make those in Stormhold tremble in the dark hours of the night.”

“Holy crap!” Seablade exclaimed. “That was like… a whole paragraph. With multiple sentences and stuff. OK old buddy, I promise to be extra careful; I’ll treat every creature here like it was Lucan D’lere himself!”

“How much did you say that policy pays each time one of us bites it?” Rylestel inquired discretely to Pythia.

“If history is any indication, it should be enough to renovate the monkey layer with enough left over buy Seablade a clue.” Pythia said under her breath.

——

Together the Monkey’s began to seek out their targets. Much as Igathu had warned the creatures of the thundering steppes were unusually potent, but all their trials had made the monkey’s strong and Seablade’s usual reckless abandon had been somehow transformed in what could only be borderline paranoia. He was continuously on the watch for threats, planning intricate attack formations, double checking healing supplies, sharpening weapons, and carefully assessing each opponent before engaging in battle.

“And if Pythia takes up a flanking position behind the setting sun, and Rylestel soaks his arrow tips in red ant venom, and I adopt a 3 point fighting tiger stance we should emerge with a narrow margin of victory.” Seablade explained while drawing figures in the dirt.

“It’s a fledgling antelope.” Paxe observed, “Can’t we just smash it with holy zeal or something, my head hurts.”

“How much did that policy cost us?” Rylestel asked Pythia.

“A lot,” she replied worriedly, “and we haven’t had a single casualty yet. If someone doesn’t get hurt soon were going to have to go back to the guided sewer tour business.”

“Is there anything on that list with a bit more um… peril? I mean those gryphawns were a little bit of a challenge but our so called mad berserker is on a winning streak a mile wide here.” Rylestel observed.

“Not much,” Pythia replied, “We have a few more undead, and some octopus, umm.. a few feral crabs.” She shook her head.

“What’s that on the back?” Rylestel inquired.

Turning the scroll over Pythia read “Special Claus #431: all contract payments shall be null and void if proof of the demise of Shadowdash the Gryphon lord and the Giant guardian Stompgut the terrible is not provided.” “Why those two bit, deceptive, lying merchants. They stuck this on the back on purpose to keep people from fulfilling the contract,” Pythia steamed.

“Ya, but that’s exactly the kind of break we needed.” Rylestel said, “I think I have a plan. After we execute our cunning attack plan on this doe, let’s camp for the night. I’ll spike Seablades wine, you tell him all about how you miss his frothing at the lips and the way his muscles ripple when he’s all enraged. Paxe will snore all night long keeping him awake, and in the morning, we go pay Shadowdash a little courtesy visit. What do you think?”

“He is a lot cuter when he’s frothing.” She replied.

——-

En-wreathed in some kind of flaming aura with more than just a glimmer of madness in his eyes the now thoroughly reckless elf cavorted among the rocky nest with his shiny axe he now called “Freddy poo.” “Come out come out wherever you are, Mr. birdie.” He called. “I brought a nice yummy kitty cat for you,” he cooed.

“Are you sure this is wise?” asked Igathu.

“Don’t we want to plan or something before fighting a gryphon lord?” asked the thoroughly concerned Alaetha.

“Don’t worry,” replied Rylestel confidently as he tightened the laces on his fastest running boots. “Seablade worked it all out last night while you were sleeping. He does his best work when he’s mumbling like that.”

“Kill kill kill, thrill thrill thrill,” the mad elf murmured.

“Look!” Alaetha called, pointing skyward, “I think its coming back to its nest, and it seems to have a couple of its children with it. Battle formations!”

The Monkeys steeled themselves as Seablade let out a mad howl of delight. Before the great bird-lion had landed to remove the interlopers, Seablade had leaped from the nest and tackled a smaller gryphon mid air biting at its neck like a wild beast. The two tumbled to the ground as Shadowdash and his other child swooped in to aid their besieged family member. Alaetha immediately began her healing chant as Igathu dived into the fray. Paxe hefted his hammer and with a prayer to the fallen gods smote his foes. Rylestel expertly shot arrows in all the really painful places a gryphon possesses. And Pythia used the power of the shaman to ward and protect her allies.

Shadowdash was mighty, and his children were among the strongest that flew the skies of the thundering steppes. But never had they encountered so fierce a creature as the elf with fire in his eyes, or so well coordinated a group of hunters as these. Try as he might, he could not stop the two legs as they cut down his beautiful children. Try as he might to disembowel the hateful elf his wounds kept healing themselves, and all the while the others peppered him with blows. Bleeding but defiant to the end he died on the spot he had been born.

Seeing the gryphon fall, Seablade smiled a peaceful little smile and collapsed into the nest with his eyes rolling back. “Is he OK?”, Pythia said running forward to check on her brave champion with a look of genuine concern.

“Afraid so,” said Rylestel, “just exhausted after all that prolonged berserking. Well, there is always the giant…”

Am I going to write a novel?

Normally I’d say “I am going to write a novel” but having no real foundation for this claim I thought it might make a better question than a statement.

As you may know this is my year of creativity and so far I’ve done very little to live up to my theme. I need to create something and why not go with a classic! Besides, I have lots of writer friends these days so good advice and moral support should be easy to come by.

I’ve been mulling what to write about because in general this is my greatest writing weakness. I do not have stories inside me crying out to get written. My stories and characters more leak out on an as needed basis. I’ve got a file of various ideas I’ve collected in fevered moments, could be some winners in there, but I settled on expanding some stories I wrote a while back and get pleasure reading every so often. I figure if a story I wrote 10 years back can still make me chuckle more than once, its got some legs.

Mind you the idea is kind of terrible. These are stories written for a guild website about the MMO characters we played chronicling the adventures each week for those who couldn’t attend: Tales of the Two Fisted Monkeys. So this is MMO fanfic comedy about a generic fantasy game that plays up the tropes of MMOs and features frankly cartoonish characters. Hows that for an elevator pitch?

I’ve no idea if I can sustain cute funny stories for more than 50K words and dance that line between making readers care what happens to these goofballs and laughing at their antics. I have no real ambitions to make money on this, its more a personal mountain to climb.

I plan to approach this somewhat systematically. First off I need to cleanse the existing stories of their Everquest IP and substitute some generic fantasy trope of my own invention. I’ll need some kind of overall plot and/or ending for the piece. And I’ll need to come up with some interesting adventures beyond those in the existing stories. And then, a whole bunch of typing and making funny without sounding like a broken record.

I figure it’s going to take me like 2 years to do this including ironing the thing out once all the words exist. That is assuming the notion doesn’t just die of apathy, but that’s one of the reasons I’m telling everyone, to put a little potential shame in my game.

Next post:  One of the original stories in its EQ2 self referential glory.

Like a Boss part 3: Horror stories!

Well, not exactly horror, just some lessons learned on my first serious managing gig. To set the stage: I was 19 years old, moving in on 20 and had spent a year or more working at movie theaters in Seattle for a year or two. I moved up from new guy, to lead, to assistant manager pretty quickly. I was going to spend Summer in Alaska and looked to work in the Theaters there for a few months.

The local district manager checked with my old boss and must have got a pretty glowing review. After a few days working for him he offered me the chance to be General manager at the first theater I ever worked at, the Polar-Tri. After a couple days interning with its current GM it was all mine.

I was proud and confident and also not really completely ready for the challenge. The place was run down, not mismanaged but not well managed, and the employees were neither well trained nor very motivated. It had been years since some of the good dispensers had been cleaned and later we discovered nearly all the auditorium speakers had long ago been stolen. Rats lived there in abundance and so on. On the surface you wouldn’t know but behind the curtains it was a dump.

I got off on a decent foot, getting the employees together and explaining my view of running a theater, my belief that we should all be partners in running the place, and the kind of things I considered good practice. I didn’t bad mouth the old boss because I know he was generally liked. I expressed I wanted us all to do a good job, and hopefully have some fun doing it.

My notion of leadership at the time was that if you set a good example and treated people with respect folks would follow. And that was true of employees who took pride in their work and generally wanted to be helpful. It was not true of people who would prefer to work as little as possible for their paycheck or who understandably thought a 19 year old was not much of an authority figure.

I didn’t know how to deal with people that needed direct motivation. One big embarrassment was when one employee left a disparaging note on the bar counter. I forget what it said. I should have taken it, considered what it meant, and gotten folks together to see what I could do to address it. Instead I wrote something snide on it and left it there. One of my wiser employees pointed out how dumb that was to me in private but by then the damage was done, and I was too ashamed to try and follow up the proper course. I diminished myself to an anonymous critic rather than a responsible manager and I played the part of a foe to a critic rather than someone looking for their cooperation.

Another huge embarrassment was my habit of locking my keys inside my office, inside the theater. I’ve always been forgetful and I didn’t have a car so it was pretty easy to not realize I’d left my keys somewhere until it was too late. Rather than think hard on how to change my habits or make it hard to forget my keys, I simply compensated by being clever in breaking into my own theater, often with the help of another employee. No one really called me out on it but they should have, it was shameful and undermined my authority. Being a good leader often means you must transcend your own personal weaknesses.

My final great failure was the way I dealt with my assistant manager. I inherited her from the old manager. She did the minimal needed to keep the place going (and to her credit never had to break into the place) but she did not set the example I wanted. She stayed in her office all the time, mostly smoking and hanging out with her boyfriend, both against the rules and neither much helpful in cleaning up the place. Again I lacked the courage to  demand she change. I was afraid of rocking the boat, unsure of my authority, and shy of confrontation. Instead I played passive aggressive and more or less just badgered her to change. Ultimately my crappy tactic worked in that she quit, but the day after I turned over the theater on my way back to Seattle she broke in and sabotage the place cutting open all the syrup boxes flooding the offices with the stuff. At the time I only had blame for her, but older and wiser I realize much of that outcome was my fault. Worse, someone else had to clean up the mess I made. She was a bad apple and it was my responsibility to get her to change or fire her quickly.

Mind you I had some wins. That place was cleaner and better run when I left than when I got there. I had hired a lot of good people (turnover is high in theaters in general) including an assistant manager I trained and mentored who went on to take over the theater when I left. Less than a year later it was sold to the school district and eventually torn down, but I was proud to leave it better than I found it. In just a few months, I learned a great many lessons both from success, but more so from some serious failures.

 

Like a Boss part 2

So I’ve had 3 distinct jobs as a manager for a total of about 5 years of experience with the roll, and of course I’ve had many more working under various people with various aptitudes for directing others which is good learning material as well.

I think my best attribute as a manager is that I genuinely like people. Not every last person but most of them. I can accept a lot of flaws and mostly see the bright points. I don’t think as a manager I am more important than the people I lead. I do get to make decisions when push comes to shove but I trust my folks to know what needs to be done far more often than not.

As a manager I have two main objectives: getting the work done, and doing right by my team. I see it as my duty to try and advance the career of my employees while we are serving the needs of the business. I’m rarely more proud when someone on my team gets promoted, something I’ve succeeded with many times now.

I endeavor to treat my employees with respect. My first manager job taught me that respect also means being honest when people are not fulfilling their responsibilities. Avoiding telling someone they are failing is damaging to their careers in many ways and hurts the rest of the team. You have to be fair and direct, give them a chance to improve, and if they don’t, let them go with as much dignity as possible. A moment I’m proud of was being given a sincere thanks by someone I fired. I’ve seen too many horror stories where bosses use passive aggressive tactics to try and force people to quit so they don’t have to be the “bad guy.”

Trust is also a key concept. You want to work with people you can trust. If you can’t trust someone or quickly build to a level where you trust them, then you shouldn’t have them on your team. A manager should always be seeking higher levels of trust, and an employee should be working to build trust with their manager. New relationships require extra time and communication to build this relationship on both sides.

Sometimes to my detriment, I often care more about the relationship between my employees and me than my boss and myself. Being middle management is a challenge in that you should be minding both sides of the equation equally. Of course if you in turn have a good manager, they will be working to make sure you haven’t neglected it.

Next time, horror stories of my time as a theater manager, things not to do!

Like a Boss

I’m not so much like a boss, because I am a boss. And honestly I rather like it that way.

My first manager job was at 18 as an assistant manager at a movie theater. Its not exactly prestigious and the qualifications are pretty much that you are work harder than the average minimum wage person and show some tendency to being responsible. In many ways its not a lot different than what I do these days, leading a small team with a specific mission; running auditoriums, concessions, box office or sometimes all 3.

At 19 through some twists of fate I actually go my own theater and was a general manager. It was a run down theater on the verge of closing, it was pretty much just for a few months, and the place was small as multiplexes go (a 3 screener with one big auditorium) bit it was mine! I actually got it pretty cleaned up in that time. I also made some real rookie errors as a manager and learned a lot in a short time. I’ve always been proud of it and I have some great silly stories from those days.

My next stint as a manager was many years later was when after about 10 years as a developer at Mammography Reporting Systems my boss left the company and I wrangled myself a job as Program Manager. At first it was a glorious ascent, I was told I shipped more products in six months that we had in 4 years and was lauded as a guy who could wear a lot of hats at once and wear them well. Unfortunately things started to go sour on that. I clashed with my bosses (the CEO mostly) about how software should get made and lost the argument. I inited in rivals and one of them really did me in turning my disagreements into demotion until he had about shoved me into the lowest run of the department at which point I left.

Finally my current job at Trupanion where I currently manage a small team of developers in a slightly larger cross functional team. I started as a somewhat senior developer. For a very brief time I managed all the developers there, but it was due to some chaos where there just wasn’t anyone else to handle it. As we grew I scaled back a bit to managing the cross functional teams but try to keep a hand in larger strategy when I can.

There is a lot to say about being a boss, lots I’ve learned from mistakes and successes but I’ll save that for the next post. So stay tuned for words of limited wisdom on the topic of leadership. :)

Balance

Balance is a virtue that I’ve become more and more a fan of as I get older. It may only be that age tempers passions and extremes are just too much work to maintain, but I’d still put my money on balance being all in a good ideal to strive for.

Of course balancing the scales doesn’t always just mean some kind of 50/50 arrangement. Sometimes it only takes a little salt to balance a dish, only a little harshness to balance praise, or a little kindness to balance a lot of suffering. I find the far extremes almost always warn you in small ways of the dangers of too much. You can feel the wrongness, the time for a shift.

I think someone recently condemned the mushy middle of politics. Personally I rather like the mushy middle of many things though by no means does that equate to sameness. I like my rough edges and paradoxes and orchestrating them into something of a harmony of meaning, at least for a time. In the middle you can go in any direction you need to, it’s a great place to start things.

Of course its not for everyone, and in my balancing way I’m glad there are folks living extremes, pushing the limits and going for broke. Often with folks like that going in all directions it helps me see the middle ground, places I’d not known of in the intellectual landscape. When radicals go to far they can often be used to counteract one another and in the aftermath create something that takes the wisdom from both.

Various Updates

Ugh, kind of fell of the blogging wagon there, but fear not, the blog never dies, just gets kind of sleepy. Today, just a series of small what’s happenings.

Work
Still really busy here, but finally we have no grand projects lined up in the immediate future and can do some much needed work to improve the quality of systems that had to be rushed into production. When it comes to software development I prefer the slow and steady approach. Velocity comes through a good foundation allowing fast revision and addition but you have to take time with that foundation to get this effect.

Live Gaming
I’m running Horror on the Orient Express a Call of Cthulhu adventure that weighs some 10lbs. We in the second episode, about to start our 4th session. So far so good, its a well written adventure and has had plenty of opportunity for mayhem and madness. I’ve got some quibbles with its narrative structure but that is something as a Keeper I can manipulate to my liking.

Computer Gaming
Lots of that lately. Still cranking away on Hearthstone but slowing a bit. On the phone there is Puzzles and Dragons which is mildly amusing for a few moments each day. Dragon Age Inquisition was a hard core pleasure of the first order. A truly grand RPG and one where the story fit in with my character nicely (though my first character idea not so well and started over quickly). I played the heck out of that. Now its on to Legend of Grimrock (a nice modest puzzled dungeon game) and Pillars of Eternity (like baldurs gate but newer) which started slow for me but is picking up momentum as the story unfolds.

Health
I only stuck on my diet for about 6 weeks. I enjoyed it but decided I would enjoy eating out with friends more. Just got over nasty allergies and being sick so I think I may move back on the diet but not certain. The only lasting diet affect at this point is all the canned fish I’ve been eating. Generally good for me that.

Forever Spock

So Leonard Nimoy passed away. A great man by most accounts and for me most importantly the face of Spock, one of my fictional heroes. Of course Spock himself can’t really die. The character exists independently of the actor to a degree, but likewise as the character is immortal to a degree so is the memory and spirit of those who gave him life, and foremost Mr Nimoy. Not having known him personally in a sense he can’t die for me, I will go on enjoying his work so long as I too live. For his family of course it is a different matter and all the best to them.

Star Trek was important to me as a kid. It really defined much of my moral compass and sense of friendship, leadership, and teamwork. As a kid I really most identified with Spock. The over-wrought emotions of others always seemed wasteful and pointless while I admired his smarts and ability. I felt if more people were like Spock, the world would be a much better place.

As I grew older the ways of Kirk became clearer to me. I think you have to get past puberty and have some experience as a leader to appreciate Kirk. At least I did. You find life can’t all be calculated and finding your way with instinct and intuition can be vital. And most of all understanding the emotions of others is key to leadership and friendship.

Between the two of them I find the answers to most of life’s challenges. Trusting your heart and your mind, but most of all being good to your friends and fair to your foes. Its a wonderful thing that the spirit of such characters can mean so much to so many and the spirit of the actors and writers live on in all of us.

I’m not one for ghosts or lives beyond death, but there is no doubt that all we do ripples out in a web of cause and effect that gives meaning to all we do well beyond our own lives.

Live Long and Prosper!