Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 Review

- This year included a lot of adventuring around LA, what with my do-one-free-thing-in-LA-each month goal.  I definitely discovered some fantastic local festivals that I want to attend again, like the Kite festival and Shakespeare in Griffith Park.  It got me on the metro and around the city more, and I feel a little more informed about this place because of it.

- This was also like the year of e-sports for me.  Spurred on by my enthusiasm from last year’s Blizzcon, I got very involved in watching the NASL matches, staying up late with Nick to watch GSL finals, watching MLG events, and going to some tournaments (NASL finals for seasons 1 and 2, MLG Anaheim, and Blizzcon).  It has been great fun, if not incredibly nerdy.

- On the game development front, Resistance 3 shipped this year!  My first grown-up-game-designer cred!  Hooray!  I also started writing for Mike Acton’s blog, #AltDevBlogADay, which has been really fun and successful.  Indiecade this year was once again thwarted by sickness, alas!  But I did do a games-related podcast this year, and was a guest speaker via Google Hangout for a college game design club.

- I managed to go the entire year without a visit back to Kentucky until Christmastime, and I nearly went crazy from homesickness.  It’s amazing to me how recharging I find Kentucky.  As soon as I set foot outside the airport, I feel its energy rushing up through me, and I always leave feeling refreshed and renewed.  So, for my health, I’ll be making some extra visits in 2012.

- Unfortunately, 2011 is winding to a close on a very sickly note.  Poor Nick got terribly sick when he got to Kentucky, and since returning to LA I’ve been nursing him, so no extravagant New Year’s Eve party for us.  Eh, no matter, I’m in a low-key sort of mood anyway.

In general, 2011 has been very straightforward, “business as usual.”  Lots of cooking, cat-walking, starcraft-watching, game-making, and other such common day-to-day activities in my life.  It felt hearty, like I got a lot of sustained mental nutrition out of the year, if that makes any sense.  Anyway, I’m looking forward to what 2012 will bring, and hoping that one thing will be less sickly-times for my boyfriend.  Onward!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

On Efficiency

Recently I started having thoughts about how to limit my futzing-around-on-the-internet time in order to allocate it to more productive ventures.  I do spend a lot of time browsing around, consuming random articles about random topics, reading facebook and the like.  However, in the middle of my efficiency plottings, I realized that I’ve tried this plan twice before already.

The first time was back in college, when I spent a lot of downtime reading Livejournal and participating in various forums.  One year for Lent I decided to give up non-school-related internet activity, with the intention of using all the freed up time on all kinds of wonderful personal projects.  A cunning plan that surely could not fail!  So, when Ash Wednesday came and my habitual forum-browsing time arrived, what did I do?  I took a nap.  And that’s how it rolled for the whole time.  All the time I saved by giving up those internet ventures went straight into sleep.

Several years later, after college, I had a similar scenario turn up.  It was during my World of Warcraft prime, when that game consumed up vast amounts of my free time, that I at some point decided to limit myself in WoW so I could work on more productive personal projects.  Again, I stayed true to my promise and strictly limited my time, but all that was freed up was quickly consumed again by sleep.  Naps galore.

So I can only assume that the same thing will happen again.  Is it my body’s way of demanding a certain amount of downtime from me?  When I go into overachiever mode, it just counters by inducing sleep?  Or is it some test or obstacle that I just haven’t overcome yet?  Afterall, time is the one true currency.  Am I wasting it?

When I give it some honest thought, I don’t ever feel guilty about the time I spend not-being-productive.  I have no regrets about all those hours playing WoW, and in spite of my growing list of Someday/Maybe projects, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on something by not getting down to them.  In fact, I’m rather content and happy with things right now, so maybe this is just something I need to shrug off.

Goal Progress Report

So my intention to report on my goal progress really fell apart at the end of the year, but whatever.  Next year I’ll know that a strict goal-reporting requirement doesn’t work for me :) Anyway, here is my last update on how I did with my goals this year.

1) Financial.  I’m happy to say that I’ve completed 3 big steps for my financial goals this year.  I paid off my smaller private student loan, and then I shifted gears and decided to bolster my emergency fund up to 3 months before returning to work on the big federal loan.  This I have succeeded in doing!  Finally today, after about a year of laziness and then a month or two of getting everything in order, I closed my Bank of America account and moved all my money dealings over to a credit union.  In 2012 it will be time to attack the rest of the student loans full-force, and my new goal will be to get it paid off before Christmas of 2014.

2) Free Thing in LA every month.  This sort of waned off towards the end of the year, too, since everyone is so busy with holiday events (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas…).  Some of the latest attempts at adventure didn’t end up panning out (The Victorian Advent Fair was more of a small neighborhood community thing, for example) but whatevs.  I still think I did an enormous amount of exploring of Los Angeles this past year due to my free outings, and some of them were a huge hit.  I’ll definitely be returning to the Kite Festival, for example, and Shakespeare in the Park.  Keep your eyes on your facebook events next year, LA friends, and I will try and keep digging up interesting events!  Special thanks to Eye Spy LA’s free section, from which I get most of my inspiration.

3) Games.  This is another one that waned pretty quickly on its specificity, but I still feel like I did a good job of spending time with new and different games this year.  Since my last update, there has been Dragon Age: Origins, Uncharted 3, Driver: San Francisco, TripleTown, Trine, Spacechem, Innercube, and so on and so forth.  I do have on my list to get my hands on Batman: Arkham City, Skyward Sword, and Rayman Origins soon.  We’ll see.

4) Sewing.  Again, even though I accomplished my 3 things, I still have done a fair amount of mending and sewing stuff this year, keeping the sewing machine oiled and in use.  My latest project was cobbling together some thriftstore clothes to make my wild-west costume dress for our Christmas party.

In closing, I think my goals-for-the-year experiment turned out more or less a success.  Some of these things, like the free LA events and the sewing, I hope to turn into habits.  Stay tuned for 2012 wherein I think up some new and exciting year-long goals!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Vegetable Soup Recipe

I’m not sure this counts as a true recipe so much as an example of “let’s just throw everything I happen to have in the kitchen into a pot and see what happens.”  I am feeling under the weather today and so thought I’d make some soup for myself.


  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
  • 1 winter squash, peeeled and chopped into cubes
  • 3 small turnips, peeled and chopped
  • 1 yukon potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 granny smith apple, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock or chicken stock or water or any combination thereof
  • bundle of random dried herbs (I had some from my CSA in a bundle but I couldn’t identify all the herbs, I think maybe sage was in there somewhere)
  • salt and pepper
  • spices to your liking (I used some ground ginger to good effect)

1. Heat the oil in a large pot and cook the onion, garlic, and pepper until fragrant, a few minutes.

2. Add all the other vegetables and cook for a few minutes, stirring

3. Add stock and herb bundle.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender.

4. Remove from heat.  Remove the herb bundle. Transfer about a cup full of vegetables to a blender or food processor and puree, then return to the pot (leave the other veggies in chunk form for texture)

5. Add salt, pepper, and spices to taste.  Heat through and serve.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pomegranate Apple Sauce

There was a request for the recipe for my pomegranate apple sauce, so here it is!
  • 3-4 apples, peeled, cored, cut into chunks
  • 1 pomegranate’s worth of seeds (youtube will help you with the optimal way to open a pomegranate)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
Add apple chunks and pomegranate seeds to a medium saucepan.  Mix together sugar and water and add to saucepan.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and cover, let simmer for about 20 minutes.  Remove cover and simmer 20 minutes more, until most of the water has reduced.  Mash up the apples with a spoon.  Done!
As for the honey cornmeal pancakes, I just used this recipe (sans syrup.  I used some plum preserves and then spread the applesauce onto them):

Friday, November 4, 2011

Thoughts On the Train

Nick and I decided to take the train up to San Francisco just for the hell of it, because neither of us had been on a proper Amtrack ride before. It was really, REALLY nice. Perhaps you are wondering if you should try out the train on your next traveling adventure instead of flying and driving. Here are some observations that may help you decide.

First, if time is a luxury for you and you aren't in any hurry, then I'd say go for it! Certainly if you are on a tight schedule it would be way more convenient and not much more expensive to fly from LA to San Francisco (and we are flying back so we didn't have to take an extra day), but the time it takes is really the only downside to the train. Fortunately, if you aren't on a schedule and aren't in a hurry, there are plenty of things to do to fill up that time. Also, there's no "get there an hour early and suffer through security" that eats up that time. The train shows up at the stop, you give your ticket and get on. Boom, done.

The seats on the train are comfortable and have a million miles of legroom. There are no rules about bags having to be stored overhead, so you can just sprawl your stuff out at your seat (and if you're short like me and can't actually reach the footrest in front of you, it's nice to be able to use your bags as one instead). There are power outlets at every seat. You can get up and wander around at any time. The windows are large and the views are pretty, and it took me back to memories of being little and staring out the car window on any car ride, absorbing the landscape.

In the lounge car, they have even more gigantic windows and seats facing directly out, in case you are into the sightseeing part. They also have big booth tables and free wi-fi, and several people were just at these tables working away on laptops. One lady had even brought her scrapbooking project, and had her crafts spread out on the table. I think she was working on it for most of the train ride. Nick and I spent several hours at one of the lounge tables playing Magic: The Gathering.

The lounge car also has snacks that you can purchase, and either eat there or take back to your seats to eat. The diner car had some decent food, but that's the only other negative about riding the train - since space is scarce, if you have a party of less than 4, they will seat strangers together to fill up the booths. There is nothing I hate quite so much as awkward socialization with strangers when I'm trying to eat, but if you are an extrovert then this could be really exciting for you.

So, in spite of it being an 11 hour ride, I spent that time napping, gazing, playing Minecraft, Spacechem, Poker Night at the Inventory, playing Magic with Nick, watching a movie, and so on. It was no different than having a particularly lazy day at home, except there was no Mr. Davis to snuggle. When we got to San Francisco at 10:00 at night, I didn't feel exhausted the way I normally do after even the shortest of flights.

In conclusion, if you've never been on an Amtrak trip, and you have some time to kill and are in no hurry, and perhaps have many personal projects that you'd like to get some work done on, then yes, try it out at least once!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Free Thing for November

So I slacked off in October for the Free Event for the month.  Partially because Blizzcon and Halloween-themed activities ate up that time.  Time to forge ahead and look at November!

Tuesday, Nov 2, 6-10pm Day of the Dead Festival.  I know it's tough to get people rallied to go out and about on a weeknight, but I really love Dia de los Muertos stuff and would really enjoy checking this out.  If anyone would be up for a middle-of-the-week adventure, please let me know!

Saturday, Nov 12, 2-3pm Family Origami Day.  Who doesn't love origami!

Saturday, Nov 12, 3:30 - 5:30pm Myth-busting Bats.   I love bats so much, they are the coolest critters ever.  I also like nature lectures a lot.

Saturday, Nov 19, 2-5pm Yarn Bombing Los Angeles Collective.  Just a meeting of a local knit group that's open to the public and free.  I'm secretly a knitter.

If any of those sound intriguing, please let me know and I'll get an event organized up!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Tasty breakfast recipe

(serves 1)

1/2 bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
2 radishes, thinly sliced
handful of arugula chopped
2 eggs
olive oil
black pepper
soy sauce

Heat olive oil in a skillet. Saute the peppers and radishes for a few minutes, then add arugula and stir until it is wilted. Beat the eggs and dump them in the skillet. Add some pepper and a dash of soy sauce, then stir the mixture until the eggs are cooked. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Singing in the Car

Tonight I drove out near LAX to meet up with Jesse while he was in town and catch-up on life and the universe. On the drive back there was some accident on the 405, so I took the non-interstate route, which was no faster but at least I was moving. It made me realize that I miss singing in the car very much. These days I live 5 minutes from work (and am FINALLY getting my bike repaired this weekend, so will be in the car even less!), so I don't get too much car-music time. I rather miss times when I drove to Louisville from Pittsburgh, and had 6 full hours of car singing.

Anyway, the hour I spent weaving my way through LA to get home was actually quite pleasant, from the singing but also because I was in no hurry to get anywhere, so I could take my time.

For your listening pleasure, I've made a playlist of some of the songs I sang on my evening drive home (predictably, there's a lot of Bryan Scary in there). Enjoy!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chicken Marinade

A quick discovery when I was throwing together random things in the kitchen.

juice of 1/2 lemon
juice of 1 orange
some rice vinegar
ground ginger

Marinate for 1/2 an hour to an hour. Zing!

Friday, October 14, 2011


It's been awhile since I've made a book post, hasn't it?  Here's what I've been reading recently:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: A story told from the perspective of an autistic savant boy, mostly about the mysteries and adventures in his daily life.  I found it a good read from an interesting perspective.

Our Tragic Universe: A story about a writer which gets a bit meta from time to time, but has just the right touch of magic to keep me interested.  I found that I kept coming up with plots that would help the main character solve her problems.  Interestingly, there were two anecdotes in this book that also appeared in the previous book, even though the two are completely unrelated.  One was The Cottingley Fairies, and the other was the joke about the economist, the logician, and the mathematician on a train who see a cow and derive various conclusions based upon what they see.

Anna Karenina: This was referenced several times in Our Tragic Universe, and piqued my interest, so I checked it out.  I'd never read anything from Tolstoy before and I *think* I enjoyed it, though it did have sort of a depressing portrayal of how jealousy in relationships destroy people.

I'm looking for more books to read, so send suggestions my way!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mashed Potato Empanadas

Rather than my usual strategy of making a huge batch of mashed potatoes and gorging myself on them, I wanted to use my CSA potatoes and veggies to make something I could bring to work as a lunch meal. This was very experimental, thus there was a lot of winging it on measurements and simultaneous saucepan wielding and such.

These turned out great! I will say, though, that if I’d had cheddar cheese on hand, I totally would have loaded up the filling with that. Next time!

- Pie crust dough (I just made my usual recipe, but you could use pre-made ones or whatever recipe you prefer)
- 6-8 yukon potatoes, cut into chunks, with skins
- 2-4 Tablespoons of butter (i wasn’t paying attention, I just used a big ole chunk)
- milk (maybe like ½ cup ish?)
- handfull of fresh green beans, cut into chunks
- 2 stalks of celery, chopped
- 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
- handfull of cherry tomatoes
- schmaltz or stock or oil or something to saute with
- ½ a lemon
- salt
- pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F
2. Make piecrust dough according to whatever recipe you prefer, or use pre-made pie crust. Set the dough aside in the refrigerator
3. Boil the potatoes in a medium saucepan for 10 minutes, until soft
4. Meanwhile, heat up schmaltz (what I used)/stock/oil/whatever in a skillet
5. Add garlic to skillet and saute
6. Add celery to skillet
7. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan, then drop in the green beans and blanch for 2-3 minutes, until bring green. Drain, then add to skillet and stir.
8. Squeeze juice of ½ lemon over the saute
9. When the potatos are done boiling, drain, then return to saucepan. Add butter and mash with a potato masher. Add milk until the consistency is quite gooey
10. Add salt and pepper to potatoes
11. Add the contents of the skillet to the potatoes and mix
12. Add cherry tomatoes and mix
13. Break dough into 6-8 balls, roll a ball out flat, add a blob of the potato mixture, then fold the dough over and seal the edges with a fork.
14. Place the empanadas on a cooking sheet with parchment paper.
15. Brush the empanadas with remaining milk for glaze
16. Bake in oven for 20-30 minutes, until the crust is golden brown

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Radish Risotto

From this week's pile of delicious CSA vegetables, I made this tasty risotto for my friends. I like it because it turns out pinkish from the radishes and wine, and the tomatoes I used from the CSA were all different colors - bright red, orange, and yellow - so it ended up being very colorful!

- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 6 Tablespoons butter
- 2 small red onions (or one medium one would work), chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4-5 radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 rib of celery, chopped
- 1 3/4 cups-ish jasmine rice (I was shooting for 2 1/2 cups, but I ran out)
- 2/3 cup red wine
- 1/3 cup parmesan cheese
- 2 cups-ish of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1) Bring stock to a low boil in a medium saucepan
2) In a large pot, heat up olive oil and melt 1 Tablespoon of butter
3) Add onions and garlic and saute until soft
4) Add radishes and celery and cook for a few minutes
5) Add rice and cook until it just starts to brown (stir frequently so it doesn't burn
6) Add red wine and cook and stir until it is absorbed by the rice
7) Start adding the chicken stock a cup at a time, stirring until it is all absorbed
8) Remove the pot from heat, add the rest of the butter and Parmesan cheese
9) Toss in the fresh tomatoes and serve!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Goal Progress Report

1) Free thing in LA every month. August's free activity was the Independent Shakespeare Festival's free performance of Hamlet in Griffith Park. It was really fun, and a fantastic performance! I'm glad lots of people came out and joined in on the picnic.

Also, Insomniac's Wrap Party was at Six Flags yesterday, so I suppose that can also count as a free event. As part of the gift package they gave us all free passes to the water park to use in September, so at the very least that'll be my September free-thing. I'll try and scare up a good public event as well. Potential events include...

Chinatown Summer Nights on 9/10 ( Seems to involve food and music.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy has lots of nature-related events throughout September: learning about snakes, stargazing hikes, wilderness survival skill lessons, etc. However, these are usually a bit of a drive and often parking is not free, so I'd want to get a bit more organized with a small group before doing any of them.

An Interfaith Choral Concert on 9/11

The Dubnoff Outdoor Festival on 9/24 in North Hollywood - food trucks, games, prizes, various bits of entertainment

Citywide Yard Sale in Santa Monica on 9/24

Vintage Paper Fair on 9/24 and 9/25 in Glendale ( - old photography, pinups, brochures, post cards, stuff like that.

Redondo Pier Car Show, if you like cars, on 9/25

2) Games. Nick and I have been playing Deus Ex, and I like it very much! I'm actually doing more watching and back-seat gaming with this one, which leads me to question, does this count as playing? Perhaps I should explore back-seat gaming in an #AltDevBlogADay article

3) Sewing. I'm making things! With patterns! But I can't say what they are because they are for presents.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Catwalk Story

Tonight on our walk, Mr. Davis got himself stuck. He'd squeezed through the railing and ended up on the wall next to the stairs that go down into our parking garage (there were some dogs in the courtyard and he was avoiding going around them through the gate).

He found himself perched on the very corner edge of the wall on the outside of the railing. It was too high for him to jump down, and too narrow for him to back up or turn to go back through the railing, so he meowed pitifully. I stood below him and reached my hands up, telling him it was okay and to come on. I honestly wasn't sure what he would do.

Mr. Davis looked at me for a moment, then jumped towards me and freefell. I caught him awkwardly and we moved on, but I was rather amazed that he didn't even try to jump *on* me, he just jumped and knew that I would catch him.

It's a nice feeling when a pet shows that they trust you.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Where to Board Mr. Davis

Tonight I booked my flights for the Christmas Holidays, and now it's time to figure out where to board Mr. Davis while I'm gone. The place where I normally board him unfortunately has closed down, so I have to pick someplace new. I've narrowed it to two candidates, but am having trouble choosing between them.

Option A: The first place operates under the philosophy that cats who aren't from the same household never are allowed to free roam together, for a lower stress experience. They have great big tower kennels there, bigger than the ones at the last place I boarded, but since they don't let stranger cats out together, I imagine each cat only gets a couple of hours of out-and-about time outside their kennel each day.

Option B: The second place is the complete opposite. While they do have private rooms for non-social cats, their main boarding areas are large open community rooms, where cats can socialize together. This means that the cats have way more activity going on each day, as they hang out and play with the other cats.

Now, I liked the old place because it was sort of a mixture of the two. The cats each had their own big kennel, but were let out in groups for long periods of time.

I'm not sure what is best for Mr. Davis. Even though he doesn't like seeing other cats on his walks, he does fine with them in "neutral territory" environments, like the boarding house, and the shelter where he lived for a year which let their cats free roam. I'm still not sure about Option B, though, because there seems like fewer opportunities to mitigate in a situation where particular cats might not get along. At least with Option A, he could interact with other cats through the kennels when he was out during his roam time, I just worry he might not get enough of it every day.

Right now I'm leaning slightly towards Option A, though i'm going to contact them and ask how much out time each cat gets every day when they are booked full (which I imagine they will be during the holidays).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Goal Progress Report

1) Free Thing in LA Every Month. Since my parents were in town in July, we went down to El Pueblo and then on to Little Tokyo where a music and arts festival was going on. It mostly made me hungry for Japan, but was a nice walk, and I'd never been down near MOCA before to see all that artsy stuff, so it worked out well. The rest of July was filled with non-free events (NASL and MLG).

For August, I was thinking of hitting up the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival, because my parents' visit made me homesick and it reminds me of Shakespeare in the Park in Louisville. I'm thinking of trying to catch either Love's Labour's Lost or Hamlet, either the weekend of the 13th or the 20th. If you want to come have a picnic with me, let me know!

2) Games. I have actually been playing a TON of games recently, but a lot of it has been research for work, so I don't think it counts for this goal. Other than that, I've been enjoying Outland immensely. If you haven't seen it yet, it's a really fast and snappy platformer combined with color-switching bullet hell (like Ikaruga). Unlike Ikaruga, though, the platforming aspect of it lets you pace yourself, and learn more slowly, so you get less panicky and spammy.

The other game I've been playing a lot for fun is Sanctum, which is a first-person-shooter tower defense game. I really like the solutions they came up with for constructing defenses in a first person view. It's also a very mild shooter, since once the defense starts, you usually just teleport to various locations in your map, and shoot from a stationary position. Running and gunning is entirely optional.

Meanwhile, there were a few re-releases (other than Stranger's Wrath) that I was looking forward to, but I've completely forgotten which ones they were now, doh! I guess when they pop up in the PSN store, I will remember :)

Sunday, July 31, 2011


With Resistance 3 wrapped up, and with me transitioning onto a new (SECRET) project at work, it was a perfect time to take a nice rest.

My parents came out to visit, which was great. I really am not quite used to only getting home at Christmas, so I get pretty homesick during the summer, and it was wonderful to see them. We did a few cool things: went to the botanical gardens, walked around El Pueblo and Little Tokyo, and saw a Dodgers game. Otherwise, we pretty much just sat around and did nothing by the pool, or took naps.

I had two days between their leaving and the MLG mini-vacation, which I spent sleeping for the most part. There were a few instances of taking Mr. Davis out for a walk, of course, and some reading, but the rest was blissful, blissful sleep.

This past weekend was MLG, and Nick and I stayed at a hotel down in Anaheim. It was super fun! I really love watching Starcraft in a great big riled up crowd, and man what a crowd it was! On Saturday I got there early to snatch a good seat, and Nick and I rotated out for food and breaks so that we could keep our spot. Everywhere else the chairs were packed and people were standing in the aisles, but the matches were fantastic!

We did decide to head back home today, though, and watch the finals on the stream at Nick's place. This was for two reasons: Nick lost his wristband and it would have been really expensive to buy another for just one day, and we surely would have had to get there at like 8am again to get a seat on championships day, but the matches go on all day, and it would have been incredibly exhausting to stay there until the grand finals. I don't mind, though, because I had great fun on Friday and Saturday, and would rather assure that this last day of vacationing is nice and relaxing.

Tonight I will mentally prepare myself for the return to work, and then tomorrow it's back to makin games!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Goal Progress Report

1) Games. I've been doing pretty good on this front recently! Been playing a TON of Realm of the Mad God, which is a browser-based MMO fantasy-themed bullet hell shooter. It's extremely easy to jump in and out of, and it's not a grind to build up a character. Death is permanent, so if you die you just roll a new character. You unlock different classes as you level up the base ones, and it's just a generally great time killer. I might do a more in depth post about this.

Racettear: An Item Shop's Tale was on sale on Steam, so Nick and I have been playing that the past couple of days. It's a game where you run an item shop in an RPG, and you have to acquire good items to sell and haggle prices with customers and stuff. I think it's great!

2) Free things in LA. Still have an eye on that festival in Little Tokyo for this month, stay tuned.

3) Sewing: I am going to sew something for-reals! I'm assembling a pattern and everything! I really should acquire an iron for this, I think.

4) Plugging along. Contemplating selling my PS2 and all my games, we'll see...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Any Cat Behaviorists out there?

So, just about every day, Mr. Davis and I go out for a walk. The routine goes like this: arrive home, snuggle time, cat gets dinner, I make him sit on his perch while I put his harness on, and then we go out. On weekends I usually take him out in the mornings, but the same thing, he has to "up" to his perch to get his harness on before we go out.

Most of the time he does this just fine, he will jump up right away and sit patiently while the harness goes on. However, every now and then, for several days in a row, he will not comply to this. He will fuss and meow at the door and window and pretty clearly wants to go out, but he will not obey the "up" to his perch. Sometimes he'll do the up but then jump right back down and continue fussing. On these days, we either don't go out, or I wait for him to settle down and we go out later in the evening, when he obeys his "up." Either way it means I have to sit and listen to him fuss until it nearly drives me crazy.

Then, after a few days of this, he will mysteriously slip back into his normal pre-walk behavior and not give me any trouble.

Any ideas on what is going on? I thought at first that maybe when he does this, he just doesn't want to go outside, and instead wants to play or more snuggles. But all the evidence, mainly the meowing and pawing at the door, and ignoring attempts to play, tell me otherwise. Could it be that he's just trying to test his boundaries and see if he can get me to let him out without the harness?

Now, sometimes in the morning before work I will hold him outside on the patio for a bit, and I thought maybe THIS was what he wanted. However, he will not come to be picked up, so maybe not.

What could Mr. Davis be trying to tell me?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Book Review: Too Rich for a Bride

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Too Rich for a Bride is a romance about a young woman striking it out in the business world in late 19th century Colorado, finding herself and love and all that. I found the story to be a little dull and predictable, but I don’t normally read romances, so it could be that the pacing is just a little slower than I’m used to. The characters were pretty believable, with a few bordering on one-sided, but I thought Tucker Raines and Ida were both well-rounded.

My biggest issue with the book was that I never felt completely sold on the setting and period. When I was reading the first chapter, I at first thought it was taking place in the late 20th century, until I flipped back to check the date at the header, and was surprised to learn that it was supposed to be in 1896, not 1968. It comes out the most in the language of the characters, for example, in their openness in speech about one character’s pregnancy, which didn’t feel very believable for the time period that it’s supposed to take place in.

Other than that, it was an okay story that never got too intense. It seemed to focus a lot on sisterhood, so if you’re into that sort of thing, it might be for you. 2 1/2 stars.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Goal Progress Report

1) Free thing in LA every month: I went down to the Fiesta de las Flores at El Pueblo today, ate 2 churros (probably a mistake), watched some folkloric dances, wandered up and down Olvera Street, and took lots of photos -

This place is really one of my favorite spots in LA, I love it! So, free thing for June checked off, though I MAY consider going down to my CSA farm next weekend to pick blackberries. Only if I can get some folks to go with me, though.

Thinking ahead to July...
- FIFA Women's World Cup. The Goethe-Institut is broadcasting select matches for this, and I'm considering wrangling up the Insomniac soccer crowd to go watch together. Matches run from 6/26 to 7/17, so it's a little flexible.
- Obon Festival at the Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo. I am a big fan of these cultural festivals, may as well add another to the list!

2) Video Games: More LA Noire. Now that PSN is back up, I can get Outland, but I have to get around to it.

3) Financial: I've been having little mini stuff-sales that bring in bits of cash and help me de-clutter. It helps that I'm in another "stuff purge" mode. Otherwise, just plugging along!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Starcraft Nerd

If you had told me a year ago that by the summer I would a regular e-sports watcher, I'd have called you crazy. But here I am, Wednesday-Sunday evenings, planted in front of the laptop watching Starcraft 2, and all giddy about the North American Star League finals in a few weeks. Let this be a lesson, a lot can change in a year!

Anyway, you may ask, "Lisa, there are so many great pro Starcraft gamers, how do you ever decide who to cheer for?" Good question, reader! It can be complicated, especially when you're new to watching e-sports and don't know all the players. Fortunately, I made this handy guide for how I decide who to cheer for in a Starcraft 2 match...

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Beef Stew

I think I made my most successful stew yet yesterday! This was adapted from a Joy of Cooking recipe, so I'll merge the ingredients and the directions like they do.

Trim and pat dry and cut into cube:

  • 2 pounds boneless beef stew meat, I used chuck roast

Season with:

  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Dredge the pieces in:

  • 1/2 cup flour

Shake off excess flour. Heat up olive oil in a stew pot. Add the meat in batches and brown on all sides, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add more oil if needed during this process. Add to the pot:

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 4-6 garlic gloves, chopped

Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions are tender (about 5 minutes). Add the meat back to the pot and stir. Add:

  • 2 bay leaves
  • fresh thyme sprig
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.

Add enough to cover the meat:

  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 1 cup red cooking wine

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until meat is tender (1-2 hours). Add:

  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 sweet peppers, seeded and cored and cut into chunks

Cover and cook until vegetables are tender, 30-40 minutes. Remove the pot from heat and remove bay leaves and thyme sprigs (the leaves will probably have fallen off by this point, just remove the stems). In a bowl, knead together until homogenous:

  • 1 Tablespoon flour
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

Roll the dough into little balls. Drop them one at a time into the stew and whisk until melted. This helps thicken the stew.

Serve hot with crusty bread. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Successful Moderation of Brainstorming Meetings

Originally written for #AltDevBlogADay

I think the game development community has done a pretty good job of sharing resources and ideas and tips and tricks on effective brainstorming. However, it’s one thing to tease out of your brain all the fantastic and creative ideas you could ever ask for; getting the same thing out of a group of people in meeting-form is a slightly different animal.

Have you ever been in a brainstorming meeting where people sort of sit around and spit out ideas, but by the end of it, no one is sure if anything was really accomplished, and you have the uneasy sensation of having just poured a bunch of creativity into a black hole? I hate that feeling! Brainstorming meetings should not yield that feeling, they should produce a bunch of really awesome and useful ideas for the problem at hand, and everyone should leave feeling like they have accomplished a great feat, and made strides in whatever the project is.

Design Charrette for Get In Line

I’ve had some success with moderating good brainstorming meetings that end with that feeling so I’m just going to walk through my usual process. Hopefully there are tips in here that are easy to adapt to your personal meeting style. So, come, dear reader, and let us walk through How Lisa Prepares For and Runs a Brainstorming Meeting.

Understanding Your Role

First off, it’s important to understand what you are doing when you initiate one of these meetings. Leading the meeting does not mean that you are first in line to present your brilliant ideas on the matter to a group of listeners. Instead, your job as moderator is to draw the brilliant ideas out of your team, the correct brilliant ideas, the ones that will solve the problem at hand. This involves a bit of a balancing act: If your meeting structure is too rigid, it could stifle creative idea generation. But if the meeting is too free and formless, you are at risk of that uneasy feeling of ideas being churned out and then lost to the nether.


Let’s say it’s early in pre-production on a project, and you want to meet with your team to brainstorm mechanics to complement the core mechanic you’ve been kicking around so far. Or maybe your mechanics are solid and you’re meeting to hash out a story idea. Or maybe you have an opportunity to make a completely new IP from scratch and you want to kick around the possibilities. Before launching right into brainstorming, a few preparations are in order.

Choosing a Meeting Space

A whiteboardful of brainstorming

The most important consideration for your meeting space is to have a means of writing down the ideas as they come out, so that the whole team can see them at once. Giant whiteboards, giant sheets of paper that can be taped on the wall, or a projector if you are the typing sort all work fine for this.


For this early-stage-in-the-project example, I’d carve out a nice chunk of several hours to devote to the brainstorming. You need enough time to get the idea ball rolling with some time leftover to review and plot next steps. This will always vary – I’ve been a part of all-day design charettes to plot the course of an entire project, or 30-minute sessions to brainstorm a solution to a very particular problem – but the important thing is that your teammates are clear on what to expect. Don’t just whip up the Outlook reminder and be done with it until the day of the meeting. If it’s going to be a 3 hour brainstorming meeting, communicate to your team so they can prepare themselves for the marathon and get their brains in the right place for it.

It’s a bit like inviting a group of friends for an evening of Arkham Horror (an epic board game that can run from 3 to 5 hours for a single game) – if you invite them over to “play a board game”, you’ll likely end up with a group of baffled and exhausted people who are antsy an hour into the thing. But if you tell them to prepare for this board game as though they were preparing for an evening of D&D, their minds will be in a much better place for a potential 5 hour board game experience. This is, of course, assuming your friends are as nerdy as I am.

Who to Invite

This is trickier than it appears. If you’re on pre-production on a project, chances are you’re already working with a small group and you’d just invite them all to brainstorm and be done with it. But don’t stop there! Remember, you are orchestrating these people in such a way to maximize brilliant idea output, and often the combination of who is bouncing around the ideas with who will affect that flow. Perhaps there’s someone else in the company who’s not on the project who has had noticeable enthusiasm about the idea – invite them! Maybe there’s a person in your company who sets everyone at ease when they’re in the room, an affective hub, so get them in on it.

I’d also say it’s a good idea to get someone in on the meeting who thinks differently than you or your team. Not saying haul in a nay-sayer, but if there’s someone who always comes at matters from a perspective that you rarely consider, perhaps someone who makes you uncomfortable in this way such that you’d naturally be apt to leave them out of such a gathering, bring them in too. That person is an ingredient that we often leave out of our brainstorming meetings because it’s easy to do, but they can be a catalyst for molding a bunch of good ideas into really useful and relevant ones.

As for people to avoid including, watch out for those who dominate an entire room by their mere presence. You don’t want the idea output to clamp shut on your team during the meeting because there is someone in the room that makes them nervous to spout off potentially ridiculous ideas. You want the atmosphere of the meeting to be playful and maybe even slightly on the silly side, so your team should feel free and at ease with each other.


Candy and Snacks are good compliments to toys

What? Yes! I recommend having toys at any brainstorming meeting. If I had my druthers, I would have toyboxes in every meeting room to unceremoniously dump on the table at the start of any meeting. Barring that, chances are that your game studio is littered with toys at every desk, and people usually are willing to lend them for a meeting. For the last brainstorming meeting I conducted, I wandered around the office beforehand with a big picnic basket, asking for donations. By the time the meeting rolled around, I had a sizeable pile of playthings that were toyed with and used to illustrate points all throughout the meeting.

So why toys? Well, I like having toys around during brainstorming for two reasons. There’s already material out there I’m sure about how having toys around promotes creativity and all that hoojaz (it is handy if someone can grab an action figure and puppet them about to illustrate an idea). The other reason is that having a pile of toys on the table feels ridiculous and silly, and people in the room tend to be more likely to treat the situation as play or a game, and less likely to try and prove their coolness by only sharing what they think are the most impressive ideas. This is a good thing, as the more comfortable people are with not holding back and spouting an idea that may be completely ridiculous, the more likely you are to get out the really good ones.

Choose a Meeting Structure

Freedom and playfullness make a great atmosphere for brainstorming, but if there is too much freedom, then you can get that black hole feeling of throwing ideas into the nether and not accomplishing anything. This feeling by itself is enough to put a damper on your team’s creativity, so you need to corral the meeting in some structure. Not too rigid of course, but enough that your team feels like the meeting is going somewhere, and not just 3 hours of brain dump. Here’s a few ideas that I’ve used with success in the past.


The idea here is that you come into the meeting with several related springboard questions or scenarios, present them all to the team at the beginning of the meeting, and devote a period of time to brainstorm off of each springboard. This method helps structure the time of the meeting, and helps periodically reset your team’s thinking as you move on to the next springboard. Springboarding can also serve as working in an icebreaker if your brainstorming meeting participants may not be familiar with one another. In my graduate school project on what would later become Get In Line Entertainment, we held a big design charette in the very beginning of the project using springboards. Our first two springboards were “best experience standing in line” and “worst experience standing in line.” This let the meeting participants get to know each other a little bit through the sharing of their stories, and at the same time started some useful threads in the brainstorming process (“problems with standing in line to solve” and “good things about standing in line to take advantage of”).

Elemental Tetrad

A snippet of brain storming in elemental tetrad form, from an assignment to redesign Hopscotch

This is one of Jesse Schell’s lenses, and it’s a personal favorite of mine on structuring brainstorming. Use the categories of mechanics, technology, story and aesthetics when coming up with ideas.

It’s a general enough structure to not be too stifling, and it helps create reset moments during the meeting (you’ve been hammering on mechanics for awhile but let’s shift gears and talk about aesthetics) and it’s a great way of laying out ideas so that your team can see and draw connections between ideas of different categories.

And Then What Happened

This is actually an improv game that really helps out if you have places where you are stumped, or if you have great ideas for the beginning and end of an experience but a cloudy middle, or if you have really strong ideas for the outcome of a mechanic (how you want the player to feel) but no clear ideas yet on the steps or actions to get the player there.

We used and-then-what-happens to walk ourselves through a menu process. Many a gap was found and adressed as a result!

It’s as simple as it sounds, you draw up on the board the steps you have strong ideas for, pick a place to begin, and then decide “and then what happens” for every individual moment after the beginning until you get to the clear-idea step. This game is great for when you feel like the team is churning out lots of great meta-ideas, but that if you stopped the meeting there you’d wind up with a bunch of cloudy feeling ideas with no substance and no clear next steps. Narrowing it down like this can bring the team’s brain down to the nitty gritty what-button-is-the-player-actually-pressing-right-now steps, and since the meta idea that they were all excited about is the goal, then they are more driven to churn out good practical ideas to get there. This is also a handy game for filling in the gaps for story brainstorming, especially if you have a great idea for a story twist, but haven’t given much thought on how to get there.

General structuring

Whatever way you decide to structure the meeting (and there are many more possibilities than what I’ve listed above), I’ve found it useful to divide the overall meeting time up into at least three periods.

  1. “No noes allowed,” “Yes, and” only period. This is the “anything goes” time, when any idea is accepted, and no naysaying is allowed, even at the most ridiculous or clearly out-of-scope ideas.
  2. Review time, where you go over what the team has churned out in the last section and think about what’s practical and doable. This is where you let risk mitigation and “that probably won’t work because…” comments from your team come out.
  3. Next steps. I always make sure to leave at least 10 minutes at the end of the meeting to wrap up and make at least one decision, even if that decision is just “we’re going to start with idea X” and everything else is still on the table. Usually this goes something like “okay, we’ve come up with these ideas and reviewed the feasible ones, what’s the very next thing we’re going to do with these after this meeting?” It often ends up that we say we’re going to prototype x, y, and z ideas to start. Giving a sense of closure to your meeting is important, because you don’t want people fretting about unclosed loops of ideas when they leave.

During The Meeting

So now that you have everything prepared for your meeting and a structure of some sort in place, time to kick it off and moderate! Here’s what you’ll be doing as the moderator during the actual meeting.


In graduate school, my professor suggested that the person writing stuff down during a brainstorming meeting shouldn’t also be the person talking the most. This is to prevent someone dominating the conversation and using their powers as marker-holder to highlight their own agendas, so it doesn’t turn into one person lecturing their ideas to everyone else. However, I think it is just as detrimental for the writer to be a person who never speaks. Have you ever been in a meeting where someone is quietly writing up the notes in a corner, and the point comes where everyone is completely ignoring that person and just talking with one another, while the writer scrambles to keep up with the ideas? We don’t want that either, for the sake of the poor writer, but also because it can create the situation where your team is more focused on getting their own ideas out instead of listening to one another.

This has all the elements for a successful meeting: 2 forms of big seeable writing (whiteboard and laptop-on-big-screen), snacks and toys, comfortable seating, and pie

While you shouldn’t be dominating the conversation as the writer, you should definitely be leading it, so that all of the eyes in the room remain focused on you and what is being written. Don’t be afraid to say “hold on hold on!” to make sure you get the current idea written down so you don’t miss the next one, and make sure no one is sitting with their backs to where the writing is going down if you can help it. This really isn’t about keeping everyone’s focus on you, it’s about keeping their focus on the ideas, so people don’t get caught up in “when do I get to talk next,” that they forget about everyone else’s contributions. If they have to wait a moment before speaking while you catch up on writing the last idea, they are more likely to be staring at all the team’s ideas written so far, perhaps making new connections in the brief moment of stillness where they aren’t waiting to pounce on the next pause in conversation to take it over.

On Your Participation

So, I have a super-power that I take for granted. I have the ability to fully participate in brainstorming and also write down all the ideas at the same time. I’ve always assumed this was completely normal, but I’ve had people tell me on multiple occasions that this is actually really really hard to do. If I figure out how this works, I’ll write a whole other article on simultaneous moderation and participation. In the meantime, I’d say focus more on the moderating part so that your team is freed up to not have to think about it. Just remember that it is important to maintain leadership through the meeting, so you don’t end up frantically running about catching ideas with a butterfly net to keep them from slipping into the black hole.

Respond to People

As the designer must observe the playtester, watching for those non-vocalized signs of confusion or excitement or surprise, so you too much watch your team during the brainstorming. Watch for a comment that might excite people, and push to riff on that idea. Watch for confusion on faces, and push to clarify the idea at hand (even if you understand it completely!) If you find your team bouncing ideas down a very deep path at the expense of breadth, such that you fear you may spend too much time on it, coax their brains back out. I sometimes do this by finding and pointing out a connection to another idea up on the board.

Do not tolerate interrupters! It shuts down idea generation in those interrupted, though sometimes people don’t even realize that they are interrupting, they just get excited. I remember a brainstorming session in grad school with an interrupter, and I threatened to obtain a Taboo buzzer and buzz him every time he interrupted someone! It was a silly threat and there was much laughter, but he checked himself for the rest of the meeting (and, as it turned out, every meeting I ever had with him after that). Do not be afraid to get a taboo buzzer. Put a spin of silliness on it.


How do you know if you’ve had a successful meeting when the time has run out? I judge this based off the feeling in the room. Your team should feel the tiredness of mental exertion, but it should be the good tired. Like the tiredness you feel after a good physical workout. There should be a feeling of having accomplished something, like it actually really took that whole 3 hours to get where you wound up, not that you just did something until you ran out of time. You should feel like you’ve just closed a hundred bugs! You want the team to feel excited about what they came up with, and ready to move on.

Tying things up

So, success! The meeting is over, your team generated a ton of useful, relevant, and amazing ideas, and you all feel like you really made progress in your project. As everyone goes back to their respective day-to-day work, there are still a few things left to do as moderator to finish things up.

Capture the results

3 is clearly the best choice

What does this drawing mean?? You may have no idea, but the people present when it was whipped up to illustrate a point my remember an entire conversation just by glancing at it.

I do this in two steps. One, I take a photo of the board as written, for those people on the team with strong spatial memories. These are the people who might think later “what was the idea on the middle left side of the board underneath the squiggly diagram? I remember that one being good…” Two, I type up all the ideas and then sort them by prevalence that emerged during the meeting, highlighting all of the big ideas that everyone got excited about up at the top, but still not leaving off the chance one-mention-only ideas that ended up not being as relevant. They just get sorted to the bottom.

Send them Out

I usually don’t send this compilation to the team right away, instead I give it a few days for the brainstorming to dip back down into the backs of peoples’ minds. I of course have no data to back this up, but I get the feeling that if you let all that stuff sink back down and simmer in the subconscious for a bit, and then send out the compilation of the meeting results, it’ll drag the ideas back up to the surface with a fresh coat of clarity, and people will see much more quickly the ideas that are really relevant and exciting, and will be quicker to clip out the ones that won’t work out. The waiting ends up saving time, which is a bit counter intuitive, but it’s true, I promise!


Moderating brainstorming meetings is really all about good orchestration of people. As moderator it’s your responsibility to create an environment that feels safe and playful to get those great ideas out of your team, but also to maintain a structure and keep those ideas from getting sucked away into the nether. As with most things in life, this sort of wrangling gets easier with practice. So go forth and moderate! And, perhaps just as importantly, get other people some practice with hosting brainstorming meetings. Moderating these meetings is a different kind of work altogether than doing actual brainstorming, so you want to be sure you don’t miss out on being a brainstormer just because you happen to be good at running the meetings.