My Favorite Things (with Evidence)

People love to share their favorite things. They write gift guides. They sing songs about them. They form committees to publish lists. They will bore you endlessly at parties. However, most of that is just talk. To really know what someone’s favorite things are, they need to put their money where their mouth is: what things did they actually spend money on?

Of course, the cost of things doesn’t necessarily correlate with liking something. Especially in the Bay Area, people are willing to pay a lot in rent for places that they will complain endlessly about. Some things are just expensive. However, I was inspired by my friend Tom to a similar but slightly different metric.

Tom loves the video game Morrowind. By his own admission (which I have no reason to doubt), he literally spent an entire summer only playing the game and sleeping. He has likely spent thousands of hours in the game. That fact isn’t so shocking: people spend a lot of time on their hobbies. However, I was shocked when Tom mentioned that he had purchased Morrowind (at his own estimate) more than 5 times. For more or less the same game, he had bought physical boxes, several Steam bundles, and console versions of the game.

That is a true measure of your favorite things: how many times you bought a product, especially for non-consumable, non-degradable products.

We can divide up multiple purchases into 2 cases: more for yourself and more for others. The first case demonstrates true commitment to a product.

Sometimes you just love something so much that you just want to give more money to whoever made it. It’s totally irrational because you don’t gain any additional benefit from it: it is basically a gift.

The second case is also compelling. You enjoyed a product so much that you didn’t just make a Facebook post to tell others to buy it: you actually bought it for them. It was so impactful for you that your loved ones also needed it in their lives.

With that in mind, I thought back upon my own life and what the things I had bought the most times. Here are a few that I have come up with.

StarCraft: 3 times. By value, it is perhaps the least I have spent on repeated goods. I first played StarCraft by burning copies from friends. Later, I bought 3 secondhand copies of StarCraft from Half Price Books so that I could play online and could give copies to other friends to play online. We played a lot of Brood War in high school.

In total, those 3 copies costed me less than $10, but since I was still on an allowance then, StarCraft might be the most expensive item as a percentage of my disposable income.

StarCraft 2: at least 4 times, maybe 9 if you count expansions. Similar story. I bought a copy for myself and bought several copies for others to play.

Vesuvan Shapeshifter: 6 times. 

It is normal to own 4 copies of a rare Magic card because you can have up to 4 copies of a card in one deck. More than 4 is somewhat odd.

I ended up with 6 copies because I had 2 and then bought 4 online (since “single” cards are typically sold in sets of 4). Oddly, I had 1 English copy (from a regular pack), 1 Italian copy (from a cheap box I split with my friend), and 4 Japanese copies (because that was the lot online). I knew what the card did, so I didn’t need to be able to read it, so it was fun having it in multiple languages.

However, I really did like this card a lot and didn’t mind the extra copies. This card was printed right around the peak of my excitement about Magic: the Gathering, and it used the Morph mechanic. It was the cornerstone of the “Soggy Pickles” deck that I had built a similar version of.

The Martian: 3 times. I really liked The Martian. It makes the reader feel good because it is so science-y while being funny and engaging at the same time. It also became a great movie for even more exposure.

Ironically, I don’t actually own a copy right now because I gifted my copy to someone else and bought it for 2 other people. I think that this gift was even better from me because Andy Weir is a local author, so all of those copies were signed.

Polyhedral Dice: 9 times? For Christmas this year, I bought dice for many of my regular D&D players. Although we play online where random number generators do all of the rolling, I think every D&D player should have their own set of dice: a d4, d6, d8, 2 d10s, d12, and d20.

I will note that compared to other players, I don’t really love dice per se. At my local game store, many players have at least dozens and perhaps hundreds of dice, which they tote around in large bags. I don’t really appreciate the craftsmanship or appearance of nice dice, but I am an evangelist for the game.

D&D 5th Edition Player’s Handbook: 3 times. And just to verify that, I did gift the core rulebook for D&D twice. I might end up buying another copy for myself if it falls apart too much.

Regular readers should not be surprised by this list because I write about them all of the time. Although I like my blog to be insightful, it’s reassuring this sometimes, the results are unsurprising and that my life is what I thought it was.

New Year’s Goals 2018 Edition

Welcome to 2018. Surprisingly, I had a backlog of blog posts ready, so my New Year’s Goals are the second (not the first) of the year. Like many others, I put together a list of goals for the new year. However, I differentiate my system from Resolutions (with their high failure rate) by calling them Goals. It might seem like that wouldn’t count for much, and frankly, you would be right.

Overall, I was pleased with how last year’s goals went, so I did Alex Vermeer’s 8760 Hours again to evaluate the current state of my life and what my ideal life looks like. I compared those two lives and created several goals for the new year to move towards that ideal life.

Before diving into new goals, let’s review how my 2017 New Year’s Goals went.

Old 2017 Goals

1. Establish a morning and evening routine.

My first post of the year was the long explanation of progress on this goal. In short, I’m very happy with my new routines. Although I think I handle individual tasks well, I have difficulty maintaining motivation on regular, long-term tasks. For those, I needed routines. Amongst other daily tasks, I read the news and books more consistently, and I even start running three times a week right after waking up.

2. Be more present.

I came up with this goal because I tend to focus on the future and don’t “stop to smell the roses.” I called out two specific behaviors to fix: looking at the ground while I’m walking and not making eye contact.

I didn’t make much progress on this goal. I think it was a poorly designed goal because I never figured out how to determine if I had succeeded or not. In my morning routines, I am now regularly meditating and am developing better mindfulness. It is related to this doesn’t but doesn’t exactly fit, so this was a failure.

3. Learn web design.

I did it. At the beginning of the year, I was embarrassed by the design of my personal projects. I finished the year by updating this blog and writing about it. I came up with a process to design a website: figure out the purpose and concept, research similar sites, sketch out several options, and then build it.

I’m proud of the current designs for my blog, Spawning Tool, and foodmarks. However, I also learned that design is not just about final result: it’s about the motivation. A website can look good and be easy to use, but that can happen by accident. The design process I went through is about discovering problems and validating a particular solution.

4. Publish a one-shot RPG adventure.

Done. I published “Spies Like You” and also wrote about that process. I set this goal to play more D&D and also learn a many related skills. At the beginning of the year, I was DMing once a month with a group online. Now, I still have that group, I DM an in-person game roughly every other week, and have been attending Adventurer’s League at a local game shop. Along the way, I drew maps using GIMP, read more fiction, and spent many bike commutes practicing voices and sounding crazy to passing pedestrians.

New 2018 Goals

1. Draw well.

With my 2017 goal of “Learn Web Design,” I hoped to develop my artistic ability. However, having finished that goal, design feels less creative than I thought it would be. Perhaps design was never what I thought it was. Maybe just learning how to do it took the magic out of it.

Since I was trying to develop my artistic style with my design process, I did a few other artsy projects. The main project was working through Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain over the past few months. I’m roughly half way through the book and maybe 8 exercises through. I still draw like I did in elementary school, and I want to do better than that.

“Draw well” isn’t quantifiable, but I think I will know when I’m happy with it. Although I have been breaking up my goals year-by-year, drawing is a continuation of my design goal, and I hope to finish the book before the end of the year. If I’m happy with my drawing, I may move onto other goals. If I’m not, I will keep going until I’m happy with it.

2. Work through the cookbook Plenty.

Despite being my most consistent hobby out of survival, cooking has never been included in my New Year’s Goals before. I learn gradually through websites, cookbooks, and podcasts, but mostly through culinary failures. However, I want to be more deliberate in becoming a better chef.

We have a shelf of cookbooks that I love but don’t use enough. Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty is all vegetarian, and for both diet and sustainability reasons, I want to reduce my meat consumption. I also don’t know much about this cuisine and style, so I hope I enjoy learning and eating it.

3. Submit an iOS app to the App Store.

Having worked as a web developer for my entire career, I am pretty comfortable building web apps. I also really enjoy using desktop browsers. However, the world is now mobile, and I haven’t kept up. I had a brief stint with Instagram but otherwise avoided mobile games and social media apps.

Even if I don’t understand how “young people” use their phones today, I should at least understand how to build them as a professional skill. It’s still building apps, but it’s new technology and new patterns, and I’m excited to learn that.

4. Study a book.

In other news, I read 32 books last year. I’m glad I set a bedtime routine to crank through more of my reading list. In reviewing the books I read in 2017, I noticed that I hadn’t read the types of books I had imagined. Specifically, I imagined myself reading more classics and science.

I can fix that by reading more, but an annual Reading Challenge of X books encourages breadth and not depth in reading. I do want exposure to a variety of knowledge in books, but I also want to dive deep into meaningful texts.

Many people find this depth in reading through religious texts such as the New Testament or the Bhagavad Gita. Since I’m not religious, I will try to find a meaningful, secular text to dive into.

(Note: I was inspired to set this goal by several posts from the Art of Manliness, which I highly recommend to the currently manly, aspiring manly, and manliness ambivalent).

Bonus: my 2018 non-goals

There’s a semi-famous story of Warren Buffett’s prioritization strategy. First, write down your top 25 goals. Next, circle the top 5. Those all go on your list. The other 20 should be avoided at all costs.

In doing 8760 Hours, I had many other ideas of things I want to do. They all sounded awesome to me, but knowing that I shouldn’t spread myself too thin, these are some of my 2018 non-goals until I manage to finish off some of the others.

  1. Work with blockchain technology. The media and therefore the public has been in a flurry about bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies recently. The underlying technology has promise, and I only have a surface understanding of it. It would be exciting to dive deep, but until I knock down  my other technical goal, this has to wait.
  2. Write fiction. After having written a one-shot adventure, I became interested in doing more storytelling. Being a writer and being a DM are very different, and I would like to do more writing. However, I haven’t completed my drawing goal yet, so it has to wait.
  3. Learn Chinese. I still regret that I’m only fluent in one language. I have a bit of Cantonese vocabulary practice in my routine, but I would need to dedicate a lot more time and energy to becoming fluent. It just isn’t a top priority yet, so I won’t invest more effort there.

Happy New Year, and good luck on your goals as well!

Routines, Running, and Getting Things Done

I love organization and task management tools. Whether it’s a one-off task like returning library books or a recurring task like calling my parents, I know I can’t remember everything that I need to do. I need systems to remember for me, and I’m always improving those systems (with blog posts to prove it). Continue reading “Routines, Running, and Getting Things Done”

I Updated my Blog!

When I set my 2017 goal of “Learn Web Design,” I wanted to do something creative. Because I spend all day building websites designed by others, I could learn more about how those designs came together and explore my artistic side. Earlier this year, I already redesigned at Spawning Tool and foodmarks. My last design project of the year is my last major website: this blog. Continue reading “I Updated my Blog!”

“Spies Like You” is published!

I’m excited to announce that I have achieved #4 of my 2017 New Year’s Goals: I published a one-shot RPG adventure called “Spies Like You” earlier this month. Although it was self-published, six people (with only one self-proclaimed shill) have purchased it so far, so with a grand total of $1.94, I am officially a professional writer.

Thank you WordArt for at least one graphic.

Continue reading ““Spies Like You” is published!”

A Tale of Two Treks

Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down. Antz and A Bug’s Life. 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sometimes 2 movies or TV shows with the same premise are released at the same time. Some people say that it’s the result of the zeitgeist. I believe that they are usually a coincidence since there is so much media. Either way, it’s the perfect setup for a head-to-head comparison, and unless you traveled through the wormhole to a desolate planet (or maybe just aren’t a trekkie), then you should know that we are witnessing the greatest TV show fight of all: The Orville or Star Trek: Discovery? Continue reading “A Tale of Two Treks”

Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2017 Edition.

It only took 6 tries, but this year, I finally served a Thanksgiving dinner on-time, and more importantly, I felt totally relaxed. Although I have prepared gantt charts for the past several years, I always ended up behind schedule and needed to draft additional sous chefs to finish dishes while I was carving the turkey. This year, I was actually ahead of schedule, and like years past, I learned a few things that made it all happen. Continue reading “Lessons from Hosting Thanksgiving: 2017 Edition.”

The Many Appeals of The Elder Scrolls Online

Despite having faithfully played PC games of many genres since I was 4, I never played an massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPGs or MMOs) until Julie and I picked up The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at the recommendation of a friend. I could say that my self-restraint kept me away from extremely addictive MMOs, but in truth, I didn’t play any growing up because they required monthly subscriptions paid via credit card, and I didn’t have a credit card. These days, many MMOs only have a one-time upfront cost, which is how ESO got us. Continue reading “The Many Appeals of The Elder Scrolls Online”

My Life on Shiny, Spinning Disks

When Julie and I got back from our road trip from Oregon, we still had a few chapters left on The Golden Compass audiobook. At first, I figured we could finish it inside while we were unpacking, but when we took out the CD, I immediately recognized a problem. It’s 2017, and the only CD drive that we own is in the car stereo. Continue reading “My Life on Shiny, Spinning Disks”

Running a D&D Murder Mystery

This last week, I ran my first murder mystery adventure for my weekly Dungeons & Dragons group. I have designed many adventures, written a handful of mystery stories, and critiqued many mystery book, but I had never quite combined those into writing a mystery adventure. Continue reading “Running a D&D Murder Mystery”