Bruce's "Badlands" Blasts Bad Boss

Donald Trump is the President of the United States of America. What songs are appropriate to this state of affairs? I’m sure I’m not the first to nominate Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands”.

“Badlands” is far from new. It was on Bruce’s 1978 album Darkness on the Edge of Town. Here’s a live performance from that year.

Why is “Badlands” so relevant, almost 40 years later? Here are just a few of the reasons.

Other reasons that should also be on the list? Other songs appropriate to the moment? That’s what Comments are for!

Understanding Trump and Trumpism

Understanding Trump and Trumpism is:

  • Something I find hard.
  • The title of a series of six presentations by Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the US House of Representatives.
  • A series of events hosted by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

I have registered to attend the third of the six presentations next Tuesday, January 17, at 11:00am at Heritage in DC. Online registration at the Heritage website was simple, and a welcome email arrived immediately after I registered. Thank you, Heritage!

I plan to:

  • Dress respectably. I think I’ll wear the red tie with the dinosaurs on it. (Yes, I will wear other clothes as well as the tie.) I’ll be clean-shaven; I may even break out a fresh razorblade that day.
  • Avoid trouble. I won’t even ask a question, even if questions are invited.
  • Post here after the presentation.

More from me soon. More from you in comments below?

Sports in which you can lose despite scoring more points

I challenge you to name a sport that meets each of the following conditions.

  1. It has a scoring system involving points.
  2. Points are good: they help you win. So strokes in golf are not points in this sense. You win golf with fewer of them, rather than with more of them.
  3. It is possible to lose while scoring more points than the other player (or other team).

I used an example of such a sport in a writing project. I’ll identify the sport, and say a little more about the project, in a paragraph or two. So, if you want to accept the challenge, stop reading now. If you’ve arrived via the Facebook discussion I started with a rather looser version of the challenge, welcome!

In this post, I will:

  • Identify the sport I had in mind.
  • Identify a few rather similar sports that also meet conditions 1-3 above.
  • Explain how one of these similar sports meets the conditions.
  • Identify a few sports that meet the conditions, but which I regard as edge cases rather than as good answers.
  • Tell you what my favorite answer is, explain why it’s wrong, and explain how it fits in to the writing project.

OK, you had fair warning: you should have stopped reading a while ago if you accepted the challenge. The sport I had in mind is: tennis. Several other racquet sports meet the conditions in much the same way. I’ll explain in terms of badminton, since it has a simpler scoring system than tennis. I could also have used squash or table tennis or…

Two people, Ackroyd and Belushi, agreed to play badminton. Per the scoring rules of badminton, their match consisted of the best of three games, each game being to 21 points (with some exceptions, none of which arose for A and B).

B won the first game easily, 21-8. But A was better built for the long haul, and won the second game 21-19. He won the third and deciding game by the same score.

So A won the three-game match: he won two of the three games. But B scored more points: 59 to 50.

Here are some edge cases. One is freestyle wrestling (currently an Olympic sport, as are all the sports mentioned in this post). Craig Massey pointed out (on Facebook) that it meets the conditions. My explanation differs a little from his…

Belushi, smarting from his defeat on the badminton court, challenged Ackroyd to a freestyle wresting match. A accepted. B was quickly ahead, taking A down with a throw of grand amplitude, thus scoring 5 points. B then hit A with a steel chair. B was immediately disqualified–much to his surprise, since he’d seen several wrestling matches involving unpunished chair shots. Thus A was declared the winner, even though B scored more points. Several other combat sports, including boxing, are similar edge cases.

Limited overs cricket meets the conditions, due to the Duckworth-Lewis method But I’m not going to explain it here. This is a post, not a book, and it’s already rather long.

My favorite answer to the challenge is: the Electoral College process by which the President of the USA is elected. It’s not a correct answer, since it doesn’t meet “condition zero”: it’s not a sport. Well, I don’t think it is, but feel free to argue otherwise.

But my favorite answer does meet conditions 1-3, as the 2016 election illustrates. Hilary Clinton scored more points (won the popular vote) but lost the match (the Presidential election).

That brings us to the writing project referred to above. The premise is that American politics is actually a show, spread across multiple media: TV, Twitter, etc. It has distinct episodes. Here’s a quote from the current draft.

In recent episodes, the Democrats have done little more than bleat about the Electoral College system. It is as if they are neighbors and tennis opponents of the Republican protagonists. The Democrats just lost a match, because the Republicans won more sets. The Democrats remark that they won most of the points, and thus the Republicans didn’t really beat them.

That paragraph doesn’t work well. I thought that a different sports analogy might improve it. That gave me the idea of issuing the challenge, first on Facebook, then here.

The challenge turned out to be interesting in its own right. Even if it doesn’t end up affecting the quoted description of the Democrats, it’ll have been worth it, for me at least. I hope that this has been interesting for you, too, since you made it to the end of this post–which is open for comments, by the way!

A Crowdfunder's Strategy: A Late Look at Jamey's Book

Who? Jamey Stegmaier, co-founder and president of Stonemaier Games, and author of A Crowdfunder’s Strategy: Build a Better Business By Building Community. Games from Stonemaier include Viticulture and Scythe.

What? This is a look at, rather than a review of, Jamey’s book. I haven’t read the physical book cover to cover, although I am familiar with the material, having read it (usually in fuller form) on the Stonemaier website.

When? I’m writing this in early November 2016. Jamey’s book was published in September 2015. So is this really a late look? I think that it is, partly because 14 months is a long time on the web, where crowdfunding happens.

The book is written for creators of reward-based crowdfunding projects, such as the project that Jamey created for Scythe on Kickstarter. In return for funding the project, backers received rewards, mainly in the form of the game itself. They did not receive equity in Stonemaier Games; had they done so, we’d be talking about equity-based crowdfunding.

The primary explicit message of the book is “that you will significantly increase your odds of crowdfunding success if you focus on building community, empathizing with supporters, and developing trust-based relationships.” You might already have guessed that from the book’s subtitle (“Build a Better Business By Building Community”).

A secondary, less explicit, but still vital message of the book is that: in crowdfunding, details matter; and there are a lot of details to consider, and decisions to make, before, during, and after a crowdfunding project.

Jamey discusses many of the decisions and details involved in crowdfunding. He does so using his experience as the creator of multiple Kickstarter campaigns for tabletop games. I think that he generalizes well from his own experience: he is keen to share the lessons he learned, while being careful not to over-generalize. I find him to be an engaging writer, but you can judge that for yourself using the online sample chapter.

Do I recommend A Crowdfunder’s Strategy? Yes! Am I going to address some specific qualms you might have about giving Jamey and his book your time, attention, and (possibly) money? Yes! Am I going to carry on in Q&A (question and answer) format? Yes!

Do I recommend it for projects other than tabletop games? Yes. The book was intended from the start for “all types of entrepreneurs who are intrigued by the idea of crowdfunding”. The book as published is true to this intention.

Do I recommend it for platforms other than Kickstarter? Yes. It’s about crowdfunding and community, rather than about the specific platform Jamey and Stonemaier used. It does include a paragraph on each of multiple platforms, but that’s the sort of content that can rapidly become out of date, and hence may be better accessed on the web than in a book.

Do I recommend it, given that Jamey has blogged much of the same content? Yes. The book is not a hasty paste of words from the web. The content was largely rewritten, and then organized and edited to make a coherent book. I should add that I recommend both the book and the blog: they are complements, rather than substitutes.

Do I recommend it, given that it was published over a year ago? Yes. The main lessons on crowdfunding and community are still valid. For example, Jamey explains mistakes he made, so that his readers don’t have to: those mistakes are still easy to make, and well worth avoiding.

Do I recommend it, even for people who may never create a crowdfunding project? For some specific groups of people, yes. You may be researching a school or college project. You may be a fan of Stonemaier Games interested in the background to the games themselves. You may be interested in how the tabletop game business is changing; it has certainly changed a lot over the last few years, with many of the changes related to crowdfunding.

Having recommended the book, I’ll close by pointing out one of the ways in which a blog may be better than a book: it may allow discussion of its own content. So feel free to leave a comment here. Thank you!

A Darker Archive of Viciousness

Victor readjusted the shovels on his shoulder and stepped gingerly over an old, half-sunken grave. His trench billowed faintly, brushing the tops of tombstones as he made his way through Merit Cemetery, humming as he went. The sounds carried like wind through the dark. It made Sydney shiver…

He stopped humming, rested his shoe lightly on a tombstone, and scanned the dark. Not with his eyes so much as with his skin, or rather with the thing that crept beneath it, tangled in his pulse.

That’s from the first page of Vicious, a novel by V. E. Schwab. Perhaps I should just let the writing speak for itself, but I’ll add a couple of things. First, while the quote suggests that Vicious falls within the horror genre, it actually draws more from the superhero genre. Second, the most horrifying (to me) revelation comes a few pages in to the novel, when we find out what Victor’s parents do.

I have so far read three of Schwab’s novels, and been impressed by each of them. I just finished Vicious. I previously read A Darker Shade of Magic, also “by V. E. Schwab”–and hence also “for adults”.

I started with The Archived, “by Victoria Schwab”, the name under which the author publishes her Young Adult (YA) fiction (and the name on her main Goodreads account). Strange though it may seem, I’d say that The Archived is the most likely of the three books I’ve read to give the reader nightmares.

I’m glad to say that each of the three is the first of a series. I am sometimes wary of prolific writers who write series, rather than standalones, but Schwab writes well and distinctively, while being able to find the right tone for each particular book/series.

Summary: I recommend the fiction of Victoria E. Schwab, whatever the book cover calls her.

2015: Personal Technology Review

How did my use of technology change during 2015? The short answer is that it increased. For example, I just deposited a check using my phone, and that’s something I never did in previous years.

That phone is a Droid Maxx, made by Motorola for Verizon. My iPhone turned in to a brick earlier this year. From among the phones available from or for Verizon Wireless, the Maxx seemed to me the best deal. This may be due to the particular wireless plan I was already in. The iPhones were by comparison overpriced.

I was happy with my new phone until, after a few months, it went into spiral of frantic uselessness, in which it would do nothing but restart until it ran out of power. Staff at the Verizon store agreed that it should be replaced, and replaced it was.

My second Maxx is behaving well so far. I like multiple things about it, especially the size of the screen. I’m not missing my iPhone. But I haven’t abandoned Apple: the two iPads in the house are in frequent use by the kids and by me. Continue reading “2015: Personal Technology Review”

Writing for the CIA, or for Me

Good writing is important. I tell my students that. When I find senior people in prominent organizations delivering the same message, I am pleased. I don’t need convincing or reminding about the importance of good writing, but I think that some of my students do. So I find this quote useful and pleasing.

The information [our organization] gathers, and the analysis it produces, mean little if we cannot convey them effectively… [Our organization has always] been home… to people who enjoy writing and excel at it.

As you might have guessed from the title of this post, the organization is the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Had the post title not given it away, you might have guessed that the organization was in the business of market research, or of consulting.

The quote is from the Foreword to a document that I’ll call the CIA Style Manual (follow the link for a PDF of the document, including its full title). The Foreword, written by CIA Director of Intelligence Fran Moore, is refreshingly concise, comprising just four short paragraphs.

Based on what I’ve read, or seen quoted elsewhere, the Manual provides some very good advice on informative and analytical writing. Here are a few more quotes.

  • Keep the language crisp and pungent; prefer the forthright to the pompous and ornate.
  • Be frugal in the use of adjectives and adverbs; let nouns and verbs show their own power.
  • Be aware of your reading audience; reserve technical language for technical readers.

Given that it recommends that language be “crisp” and “frugal”, the CIA Style Manual seems rather long: it runs to 190 pages. A glance at the Contents shows that many of those pages provide guidance on things that most of us never have to be concerned about, such as capitalization while writing about “Top Officials of First-Order Subnational Administrative Divisions”.

Many other pages of the Manual provide rhetorical rules. Here is just one particular persuasive tactic: regime “has a disparaging connotation and should not be used when referring to governments friendly to the United States.” Open Culture deploys opposing rhetoric, describing the CIA as “fiendishly good at manipulating language.”

The emphasis on rhetoric provides an additional reason to study the Manual. This reason may be even stronger for those who disapprove of the CIA’s activities than it is for those who approve. Whatever the argument, whatever side we are on, we should all seek to understand and anticipate the rhetorical devices used by the opposing side(s).

The students to whom I referred in the first paragraph are in a highly-rated MBA program. (Hello, students, and no you don’t get extra credit for having read this far.) They are, in my courses, students of communication (as well as of Strategic Management, or Organizational Behavior, of Business Ethics, or…). Here are my guidelines for written assignments the current semester; the assignments tend to be short (about three single-spaced pages), since I encourage conciseness.

We should all be lifelong students of communication, including writing. We can learn a lot–about clarity, about rhetoric, and about other aspects of writing–from the CIA Style Manual.

Another Tabletop Kickstarter Tops Target

The Kickstarter campaign for Swamped was, I’m delighted to write, very successful. Now, that sentence, and the post title, will raise questions for some readers. If you’re not among those readers, you can just skip down to the paragraph with the chart.

Questions arising from this post’s title and opening sentence may well include:

  • What’s Kickstarter? Well, Kickstarter describes itself as “a new way to fund creative projects”.
  • What’s Swamped? It’s a card game (and hence a creative project) funded using Kickstarter. The players are adventurers, traveling through the swamp in a shared boat, seeking to achieve certain goals. Some of these goals, such as avoiding the hungry croc, are shared. Other goals differ between adventurers, and are private.
  • What does Tabletop mean here? It denotes a type of game that’s not a video game: this could mean a card game, like Swamped, or a board game, or…
  • What do you mean when you describe the Kickstarter as “very successful”? Well, …

The chart shows that the Kickstarter for Swamped was successful, especially over its last few days. It:

  • Raised well over twice its funding goal.
  • Attracted more than 1,000 backers: each of these backers pledged money in order to receive a specific reward; most of them pledged $12 plus shipping for one copy of the game.
  • Saw an upturn in funding over the last few days of the campaign. If you looked at the chart carefully, you might have noticed that the last 3 days of the campaign saw a pledge total of over $5,000, and of more than 25% of the total for the whole campaign.

Continue reading “Another Tabletop Kickstarter Tops Target”

Beware Malware

“Beware malware” is a friendly reminder to all, and one I should have given to myself when I attempted to download some software for my son yesterday. I was in too much of a hurry to be careful about what I was downloading.

I was after Kodu, the game programming tool. I now know that the file kodu-game-lab.exe is malware “which may bundle additional software offers including toolbars and browser extensions”. The quote is an understatement.

After some more careful Googling and downloading, my PC now seems returned to health. Thanks to Junkware Removal Tool!

Hokie Evening MBA, Hurray!

“We’re #16!” I wrote that on the board in class yesterday evening, under the heading “Good News”. I teach in Virginia Tech’s Evening MBA program, which was just ranked 16th among part-time MBAs by US News and World Report.

To put that ranking in perspective:

  • It puts the program, not only in the top 20 (obviously), but also on the first page of ranked programs, making it particularly salient to prospective students using the rankings.
  • So the program is on the same page as its counterparts at: Berkeley, Chicago, Northwestern, NYU, UCLA, Michigan, Georgetown,…
  • It is tied with Rice, U of S Carolina, and UMass Amherst (which is where I got my PhD, so it must be good).
  • It is ahead of Georgia Tech, U of Maryland (College Park), and over 200 other part-time MBA programs.

Congratulations to all concerned. I’m grateful to, and for, to the students. They belong in graduate school at a good university, and that is something I do not say lightly. They are ready for class after long days at demanding jobs. Their contributions to class discussions aid the learning of their fellow students, and of their professors.