A Week of Feeling Famous

On Monday my friend Rodney posted "Hiding from the Mariachi" to the web. I linked to it, but neglected to mention that it was the first of a five-part series of blog posts that were kind of sort of all about me (except for the one which was all about Sandra, and which says a thing which indisputably the most important thing said during the entire series.)

Here are the links to the full set: 

Take care with the Photo Essay: It has spoilers. The new maxims aren't spoilers, so you can dive right into that post, no worries. It probably can't compete with The Force Awakens for folks' attention, but at least you can tell your friends about the maxims without making anybody angry.

I like this series of interviews and essays because yeah, they're about me, and my ego doesn't really get tired of that, but also because Rodney's essays are always insightful, and having that insight aimed my direction is cool. I encourage you to read the stuff he's written that is NOT about me, because frankly, that's where he really shines. RodneyMBliss.com has all of it. 

Hiding From the Mariachi

My friend Rodney is a business blogger who writes some pretty insightful pieces that draw parallels between business practices and everyday experiences. He interviewed me for his site, and I got the opportunity to answer some questions that nobody has thought to ask before:

"Hiding From the Mariachi: An Interview with Howard Tayler"


Star Wars: The Force Awakens


I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens on Thursday night, and what do you mean you don't believe me? I totally okay no I didn't see it, but it would have been cool if I had, right?

I'll be seeing it sometime next week, and honestly, nothing I say here is going to change anybody's decision about whether to see the film. This post is here to let you know that I'm going to hold off on an actual review for a while, because enough is being said by enough people in enough places that I really don't want to add to the likelihood that the film will get spoiled in some way for my readers.


I Would Actually Pay Real Money

Remember those Facebook hoax-posts in which people would decry Facebook's plan to charge its users a membership fee? There'd be some misdirected outrage, and then someone would clear things up by saying "no, Facebook is not planning to do that."
I wish they HAD been planning to do that.
Facebook's actual plans were far more problematic. At a high level, the plan was to monetize their user base as a product, rather than as customers. This meant selling the product to OTHER customers—advertisers and market research firms, for starters. I don't mind being advertised to, but in order for the monetization to work, Facebook had to step into our feeds and adjust the content we were seeing.
Facebook became less useful to us, and this loss of utility was hidden much of the time. When we actually noticed it, it was status quo.
Twitter is doing similar things to monetize their user base. The insertion of Promoted Tweets is the most immediately intrusive, but recently they've begun mucking with our timelines in order to adjust the content we see.
Look, I get it. These companies are providing an exceptionally valuable communication service to hundreds of millions of users. They deserve to be paid for that. The question is, what's the best way to pay them? What will make them the most money, while keeping their users not just happy, but loyal?
Twitter's 2014 revenue was $1.4B. They have over 900 million users, but most of those users do not tweet things. If we assume, conservatively, that there are only 100 million human beings actively using Twitter's service, they were worth $14 each during 2014. Much of that money was paid in by advertisers.
$14 isn't much. It's less than $1.20 per month. I would cheerfully round up, and pay $20 for an annual Twitter membership without batting an eyelash.
For that money I would obviously expect to NOT be monetized further. Don't market to me, don't promote Tweets, don't mess with my feeds. Maybe give me instead some cool tools that let me better manage this awesome communications tool.
If those 100 million users were willing to pay $20/year for "Twitter Prime," Twitter's revenues would be $2B. It's not beyond the pale to further assume that their profit margins would be better, since all the overhead that goes into making a useful advertising engine could be dust-binned. Additionally, Twitter would become far more valuable to its users (who are now CUSTOMERS,) and they'd attract more paying users pretty quickly.
In the grand scope of Big Business and All Things Internet, two billion dollars is chump change. That money would not turn Twitter into a financial powerhouse. Of course, neither will their current plans, so "displace Google" is a business goal that should be swept off the table.
Ultimately, the social media business model needs to change. Consumers of social media should be able to become customers, not by purchasing "eyeballs," "likes," or "followers," but by purchasing better access to the actual social media services; services that would better serve those who use them.
I cannot conceive this discussion NOT having taken place somewhere in Twitter's offices. What I don't understand is the business requirements that shut that discussion down, preventing them from selling me a decent service.
(originally posted at howardtayler.com)

The "Handbrain" Game Chief Screen

One of the things Alan, Sandra, and I discussed building as part of the Planet Mercenary Kickstarter was a Game Chief screen that would take drop-in sheets of paper, and which would be styled to look like a handbrain or display unit from the comic strip.
We decided against doing this as part of the Kickstarter because we didn't have enough information, and committing to something like this would put the project at risk. When the project overfunded to $300k, we committed to an R&D budget for unspecified stuff. This screen was some of that stuff. We contracted with a designer to build a proper prototype for possible mass-production.

The prototype arrived, and I love it.

It's a high-res 3D print, so the plastic is translucent instead of opaque. It's designed to take half-sheets of US Letter sized paper, or full sheets of A5 paper. A full sheet of US Letter, printed with some game map stuff, is shown in the first image.

After folding that sheet in half, it drops into the screen quite cleanly.
The stand upon which the screen sits is angled so that the drop-in is visible whether you're standing or sitting, but it's not angled so steeply that players will be able to see what's printed on it, nor will they be able to see dice you roll against it.
The third image provides a better look at the angle. For scale you can see a challenge coin, a couple of poker chips, some playing cards, and a pair of AMD CPU fans, stuck back-to-back because they look cooler that way (they were not cool enough when mounted in the PCs, and have been replaced with off-the-shelf liquid cooling rigs, making our game room much, much quieter, but I digress...)
The half-sheet size makes this much easier to see over than conventional game screens. We don't want Game Chiefs unable to make eye contact with their players.
NOTE: There is a Game Chief screen shipping with the game. That screen will be made of card stock, and will be printed on one side with ship art, and on the other with useful tables and rules reminders. It, too, will have a low-profile format. Game Chiefs do not get to hide behind fortresses of stats and artwork.
Here it is from the back.
The fiddly-bit sticking out of the corner is a yellow map pin from the local office supply place. Note that the final product will not be translucent enough for anything to be visible through the back.
Obviously it needs to store flat, so the stand detaches quite nicely. As an added bonus, this means you can put a note, or other mission-specific information into it, and pass it to the players, just like the characters in the comic do with their their handbrains.
Sliding things into and out of it is quite easy. If your game is anything like the ones I've played, this is a critical feature.
These aren't for sale yet, and no, we're not going to Kickstart them. We still have to grind a bit on the prototype to make sure everything is just right. The eventual plan is to mass-produce these and sell them in sets of three.
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