Friday, July 30, 2010

RubyMidwest Part 2

Day 2 started off with an inspirational session from Katz and continued with more technical seminars.
Me, reading about the content of the presentation

One that most people ignored, but had some impact for me was Mark Daggett's Facebook presentation. The big quote for that one is "Facebook development is like building a ship in a bottle... inside another bottle... while wearing mittens." It gave me a shudder at all the times I tried to start using Linux back in the late 90's and being thwarted with the only comments from other user being "ura lamer". Thankfully, "lol" wasn't in much use back then. I have wanted to try to figure out a way to tap in to less technical people to get the word of Lomby Zombie out there, and it gave me an idea for my idea junk drawer to do.

The other that stuck with me was "G.U.R.S.F.S.A - The Grand Unified Ruby Solution For System Administration" by Joshua French. Being a system administrator for many years and specializing into Configuraiton Management, this was exactly what I am all about. The basic takeaway was that Ruby is just as good or better of an interpreted/scripting language for admins to get their work done, just like Perl or Python. I have been using small ruby scripts to watch things for me on my virtual servers and took this as a solidation of my own work.

As the conference wore down, Jen and I went over to O'Dowd's for beer and dinner with whoever stuck around. We had a nice dinner and conversations with Alex Sharp, Aman Gupta, and Nick Quaranto. Afterwards, a quick stop at the toy store down the street and a huge walk back to the hotel, which Jen claims was an attempt by me to cause her asthma to spark to kill her.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

RubyMidwest Wrap-Up - Part 1

After travelling all around Missouri just the week before, I ended up back in Kansas City again for RubyMidwest. Being the first year for the single track - two day conference, it gathered a good-sized group of around 160 to 170 attendees. I have gone to some larger conferences, such as RUC , but this was the first time I have gone to a conference on something that I personally want to find out more about. What a difference it made.

Doing some scouring ahead of time, it turned out that I could get a pair of round trip train tickets from STL to KC for the astonishing low price of $110 for both of us and the ride was 5 hours (about 1 hour shorter than driving, the same if you stop for dinner). On the ride out, I started working on a side project I had cooking in my brain for the last few years and never dove on. So, I was on rails programming in Ruby on Rails.

We arrived late for the pre-conference meetup, but there were still a few souls milling around. I showed my app to a guy named Veezus and he made a comment on the design I was using and recommended snagging something from ThemeForest. Yeah, I have some lousy designs when I first start out I just get it working and put things in boxes to be able to tell what is what. That night, I dove through and found one I liked and implemented it during the breaks and presentations that I didn't have a strong interest in.

The presentations the first day were great. One that stuck out in particular was Jeremy Evan's topic of Classes and Inheritence. The topic reminded me of brainfcuk, but pushing limits is how you make yourself better. Later that evening, he did a lightning presentations on classes, singletons, and methods. It was nearly completely an academic concept he brought, the absurdity of the depth he dove in had the audience rolling with laughter. There you go bringing class into it again. I also got some more information on Fog and the part it plays on getting you into cloud computing with an extremely simple gem.

Day two was more laid back and attendance was slightly sparser than the day before. That is a story for tomorrow.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Ruby Midwest this weekend - be there or be hexagonal

I usually don't got to conferences or conventions, mostly because I didn't see the value in the ones I was forced to go to by my employer at the time. The technology conventions were where a bunch of people showed off examples of what they had done with a tool that is fine and dandy for them, but their implementation would not fit my companies setup or usage strategies.

Also, most of them are held in extremely far away resorts, so the things that interested me were always an expensive flight and an expensive hotel away. So, unless my employer was paying for it, I really couldn't go. Few things that interested me and were on my employer's docket to attend merged.

This time, I have found one that really piques my interest, is close and inexpensive to get to.

I have been dabbling with Ruby since... oh geez, sometime in the late 90's. It was simple, it was functional. In minutes, I had built the entire framework for a client-server application. A labor that had taken days in Visual Basic or C++. We would use it to prototype out numerous projects and then reimplement in C++ to get the speed.

When Ruby on Rails came around, I knew that it is something I wanted to use. Working with it finally drove in what the Model-View-Controller architecture really meant and how to use it properly. I have made a few projects in it that have seen the light of the web. The rest of the iceberg were 1 off projects that I was testing out ideas and getting used to how to do things. One such project was GoozexIndy.

Last week, during the family vacation, I started working on a small, doable, and interesting project that I hope to get some input from during the convention.

That right there is the key to why I want to go to Ruby Midwest: Peers. I hope that the inspiration, the networking, the critiquing, and the knowledge that comes from the interaction makes this a wonderful trip.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Vendor Negotiations - These people should not be tolerated

Every business I have owned, I tried really hard not to be "that guy". The one that renegs on a done deal knowing that they have the upperhand because the work has been done, but money hasn't changed hands. My modus operandi was always to treat my employees and people I hired to do well. In several business attempts, they were paid more than I was. A few times, I was in the hole.

When Frank and I made "Lomby Zombie", we hired an artist and tried to pay him as much as we could. When milestones were met, check were sent in full immediately. No squabbling. No futzing around. Work has value. The work required to make the product, even if the product isn't used, has value.

People like those in the video below irk the heck out of me.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Making a Board Game Box for Lomby Zombie

Depending on how funding goes, I have started working on some prototypes for a box for Lomby Zombie and LZ: Corporate Stiff.

When Frank and I first did Lomby Zombie, the bulk of the costs of making it was around:

  1. Art - $600
  2. 50 Tshirts - $450
  3. 1000 Dice and 5000 Stands - $400
  4. 36 Inkjet Ink Tanks - $260
  5. Misc Parts like Bags - $300
  6. Business License + Lawyer Fees - $600

At little over $2500 just to get things going and that doesn't include any sweat equity that we put into it. While we had some great lessons learned and found ways to cut some costs while improving the quality of the game, it will be about like that to do this again. That was a lot to front for just me, which is why I hope the Kickstarter page for Lomby Zombie helps out this time.

But that isn't what I wanted to get into today. What I want to talk about is packaging. When we did LZ, we opted out of packaging. It was something we didn't know how to make ourselves and printing companies wanted a minimum of $5 a for a telescoping box, $12 to have printing on it. For a game we were trying to retail for $20, that was a lot to swallow. So, we didn't.

Instead, we did this:

It wasn't the professional look we wanted, but got the job done. A lot of people at Archon that year though it was an alpha version as most of them were used to the completely gussied up box packaging and not the "Cheap Ass Games" style

Obviously, the flaw is that it doesn't fit well on most gamers shelves and wrinkles horribly. A few months later, I repackaged most of them in a large clear plastic bag that kept the game looking better, but still doesn't fit well on most gamers shelves.
Now that we are attempting to make a much nicer version of the game and the expansion, the first thing I have turned my eye to is a box. After reading a few guides on how to make a covered chipwood box, I made a quick prototype to see if everything we already have done fits.

Getting my name out there

I have had some popular sites when I was writing metric tons of tutorials. All of them pointed to one site and that is how a lot of people found my work. Unfortunately, one frigid morning in May, I let my domain name expire. (Goodbye,, I wish that domain hoarder would relinquish you.)

A lot of the newer web technologies have been passing me by as I couldn't quite grasp the concept of how they could be useful to me. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and all of their derivatives meant little or nothing to me. I don't get caught up farming virtual sheep for hours on end (Except maybe in Harvest Moon) and I am a genetically inclined introvert, so having a broad ground of friends and acquaintances never had a strong appeal.

Well, in the last two weeks, I have been turning that around. I have been adding babble to Facebook, twitting on twitter, adding my photo to my online profiles, and generally adding to the noise. Heck, I may just actually accept an invite from someone I don't even know.

So, tell me about why you haven't yet funded Lomby Zombie: Corporate Stiff?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lomby Zombie: Corporate Stiff Kickstarter in Progress

Lomby Zombie: Corporate Stiff is now in active fundraising over on
If you enjoy zombies or board games or if you just have a buck burning in your pocket, why not go by and pledge it towards the project. You will be rewarded with more than just the warm feeling in your heart. You will get some nifty stuff as well including copies of both games, tshirts, personal artwork and other doodads depending on your pledge level.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

If at first you don't succeed...

... you should still try.

I put my submission in to So, fingers crossed.

I went through the costs we had in making LZ, factored in how much things cost today. Got some materials quotes and talked to a couple artists to get the ball rolling to be ready when we get this ball rolling.

After doing some research, I found a project planning site that I will be using for this project which allows collaboration, has enough space, and is free: goplan. I found it by looking for "Basecamp alternative". While I would really like the full power and usability of Basecamp, I would really like to reserve the funds I am putting into this project for other things that enhance the player/customer experience.

When you run with limited funds, everything is about going lean. Out here in the middle of the MidAmerica soybean fields, you don't have the millions of angel investing dollars like on the west coast to allow you to blow on things like Segways and Aerons for the staff. You get things done with whatever resources you have and are thankful you have them.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Putting the ship back in shape

I spent the morning refilling the Lomby Zombie site with content and trying to find all the old photographs that Frank and I had made for the game.

A lot of content for the game was put onto BoardGameGeek by players of the game and should help new players get a feel for what it is about. However, I'm trying to work on some demonstrations to show the game mechanics and get old and new players more information on how to play the game.

I rules aren't simple as games like Othelo or Checkers or overly complex like Dungeons & Dragons can get, but they aren't the easiest to cold jump into. So, I figure something like a video series on how the game plays may gather some interest on those who want to play new games, but can't quite get over that wall of not knowing if they will like the mechanics or not.

Next on the list is to work on the Kickstarter proposal. I wanted to have a good framework in place before starting that and it seems to be progressing well. I want this project to exude the confidence I have in it to help push any wallsitters over the edge and drive this dream to physical reality.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Projects and Funding

I believe the micropayment investment strategy has come to maturity and am planning to try my hand at it. I have had several coals in the fire for a while that hinge on having the things created that I cannot, usually art or speech work. The ideas cycle and breath and wait for a time that I'm not sundering in the ocean of long hours and exhaustive schedules of my daily job. With the completion of our latest product, my job has reduced gears and gives me back those hours of the day and afterhours energy to get some of my other dreams out there.

The main problem I do have is a lack of funds. My day job pays well, but I'm trying to quickly pay off the loans from my ambitious previous venture and take what I learned from it to make something even better. However, I'm stuck in the chicken/egg dillema. I can't get my project really rolling without cash and I can't get cash without my project rolling. For a lot of what I need, it is way less expensive to buy in bulk ahead of time than it is a few at a time to meet customer needs.

For my next set of projects, I will be trying to leverage a funding paradigm created by I feel that I have a project that will fit in perfectly, is creative, and I have a good foundation of rewards to give to funders to make it more worthwhile for them to invest in me.

My idea? Get around to creating 'Lomby Zombie: Corporate Stiff' an add-on/standalone expansion to Lomby Zombie (LZ). I felt we did a really good job on the original LZ game and have sold 50 physical copies and about 27 print-and-play copies with a mediocre advertising scheme. Oddly enough, we have sold over 100 LZ "Horde of One" shirts. Yeah, that's right. We have sold more paraphenalia that games. Mostly because they were a big hit at Archon 2005 and it is a pretty sweet tshirt.

LZ was done almost completely inhouse. We designed the game, made the tiles, printed everything, put protectant film on everything, bagged everything and shipped everything. It was a very Indy project and in the end felt that way. The one thing I outsourced was creating the art used on the cover and cards to this great artist, Paul Dozier. I have been trying to get ahold of him to see about getting more artwork done.

So, what I plan to propose on Kickstarter is rewards of copies of LZ and shirts to fund the creation of LZ:CS. I'm trying to figure out the exact budget and looking into how much it would cost to have it professionally printed and cut. I would need to pay an artist to make more art. Also, I would want to have a bunch of shirts pre-printed since it is way less expensive (around $9) than having it Print-on-Demand (around $15 and usually is digital instead of screen printed).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Living on the web as a developer for free

Webservices have advanced dramatically in recent times. For the last 7 years, I have been using a differing degree of shared hosting and running my own dedicated server to create a playground for all of my projects.

I challenged myself to port everything over to the web and do it for free (or at least stinking cheap when there was something I wanted to not be public).

The first step, and one that I have been using for over two years now is Google Apps Standard Edition. With this, I relieved my email server of duty and switched over to the slick and more easilly managed Gmail. No more having to spend hours trying to figure out why my mail spool went belly up or try to shoehorn in Spamassasin to keep the junk email at bay. Plus, as an added benefit, I got Google Docs and Calendar integration.

At this point, I could have used Google Sites, but declined and switched my weblog provider to Blogger (a Google owned service).

The straw that broke the camel's back on my Rails development needs came in the form of Heroku for my application server need and github for source control.

Once I was able to get those online, I was able to drop my $59 dedicated server bill and free up some cash for other projects.

An end to my GoozexIndy development for now

A few months ago, I was working on the latest version of GoozexIndy, a webapp that lets users of Goozex track to see where the game they traded off or just received has been. I believe it was a great learning experience for how to properly use Ruby on Rails and the myriad of plugins available for it.

However, last month, Goozex did a update and broke their API feeds, crippling almost every application made for it and made enough of a process change to make it a pain for me to update with very little personal benefit.

I had just completed a rewrite that gave an overall better user experience while limiting resource usage of the API feeds to keep from wasting Goozex's resources.

The source code is still available for review and the Heroku server is online in case the API is fixed enough for me to be able to prop up minimal functionality.

Plugins used: