Always Advocate for the Customer

The role of a software quality assurance professional is kind of an interesting thing. It is hard for a lot of people, even those we work with, to really understand the position. It can even be hard for us. I often used to find myself defining the job by saying what we aren’t.

We aren’t usually software engineers, but most of us can (and should) do some basic programming and understand simple algorithms.

We aren’t on the business side of things, even though our role very much affects the bottom line, both in terms of cost and revenue generation.

We aren’t the product owner or primary stakeholder, but our decisions affect the direction our products take.

Sometimes it seems from the outside that we don’t really do anything, but we are responsible for everything.

Before I go any further I want to give you a couple of definitions so my point doesn’t get lost in semantics (as so often happens on the internet). You don’t have to agree with these definition, but it will hopefully give you some context for where I am coming from:

An advocate is one who supports or promotes the interest of a cause or group.

A customer, as I am going to define it for the purposes of these articles, is someone who gets value from the products we design and build.

Everyone in the company/organization should have a focus. The focus for the business side of the company is usually to generate ideas which bring in value and revenue for the company. The software development side is focused on turning those ideas into a “product”. An app, an api, a service, whatever. The quality team’s focus should always be on the value this product brings to the customer’s life.

We get pressure from the business to roll out this new feature in order to meet a deadline, the devs are anxious for their code to be in production, sales really wants to sell it. In a fast-paced agile environment it’s really easy to fall into the routine of just being “AC-Checkbot”. Verifying the acceptance criteria is absolutely an important function of the job, but it should really just be the starting point. Hopefully your devs made sure that the ACs were met, at least in their own local environment. Proper QA is expensive, both in terms of time and resources and your organization might not always willing to fully invest in it unless you prove the value of being a customer advocate.

“I’m sold!” you might be saying now. “How do I become that advocate?” Well, read on and I will give you a few things you can start on right away.

First up, get involved as early as possible in the process. QA typically comes near the end of the SDLC. Ask to be invited to some of the earlier meetings. If you can get in before development has even begun that is the best time to start asking questions on behalf of the customer. While the devs/architect will be asking the how questions on the implementation of it, you should consider asking some of the why questions. Understanding these will really help when it comes to the actual testing. “Why are we changing this?” “Will it save time?” “Will it save money?” “Does this actually help the customer or is it just something we are doing because company X is doing it?” Some of these questions from the customer’s POV might be uncomfortable to ask, but you need to do it anyway. You can’t advocate by being silent. This doesn’t mean you should be rude – remember that literally everyone at the company is ultimately YOUR customer.

Next up, I’d recommend coming up with customer personas if your company doesn’t use them. If they do, then always strive to keep them in mind when doing your testing. There are some great resources out there on creating the persona, and I would recommend you do some research. To get you started if you have never seen these, I would recommend the following as a bare minimum.

They should have a name. It can be helpful if you think about. There should be an idea of how often they use your product. You should have an idea of their level of technical expertise. You should know what their desire in using your product is. It shouldn’t take too long to create this basic skeleton. I’ll drop a couple of hypothetical examples for a customer for a blog creator and if there is interest I can go more into this in a future article.

Customer persona: Jo is a twenty-four year old college dropout who wants to start blogging. She’s used computers her whole life but isn’t a programmer nor does she want to. She wants to make money selling her cat hat crochet.

Customer persona: DeShawn has been a php developer for the last three years. He wants to build up an online community of competitive dart players.

Understanding these basic customers you can identify what is important to them from the app. When you are in those early product meetings and there is talk about maybe rolling out a new shopping cart option you can start thinking about what would be important to Jo and ask questions on her behalf. “How many steps is it going to take to set up the cart?” “How are we going to make sure the payments are secure?” “Are we going to collect shipping information?” “Why are we changing this?”

All businesses exist to provide value the the customer. Often product implementation decisions are made solely for ease of development, and not for the customer. You need to stand up for the customer in these cases. Sometimes the value of dev ease will be take priority and know when to acquiesce, but do so knowing that at least the question was asked and a decision was made. So many times things happen because of inertia more than intention.

I’ve gone on longer than I expected to for this article but I really think this is the most important part of the job. As software quality professionals we need to think of ourselves as a customer first and the first customer.

Next up I will be writing about the importance of being organized (which is something I have been terrible about personally).

(all images in this article are free use from clipartmax.com)

Qualities of Quality (Intro)

I’ve had a few conversations recently both online and face to face about the role of Quality Assurance and what I think are some of the traits that will help you learn if this is a field for you, or if you are already in the field how to really get more out of it for yourself and your organization.

I had originally thought I would just send these out in a couple of short tweets but the more I worked on them, the more I realized I had more to say, so here we are in a short series of posts. I have been trying to come up with some clever and click-baity title like The “Five Essential Traits of Quality”, “The Qualities of Quality”, or the “ABCs of Decent Experience”, but haven’t decided on anything. If you have anything better, please let me know.

Also, just one other quick shout out here at the beginning – I recently read the book Show Your Work! (link to book on Goodreads) by Austin Kleon (follow him on Twitter) and that really inspired me to try and work through my perfectionism (especially when it comes to writing) and just start getting stuff out there. So if you love seeing the sausage being made, all credit goes to him, and if you hate it, lump it on me. The five qualities that I’ll be going into detail on over the next couple of weeks are: advocate for the customer, be organized, be curious, delight in what you do, and be egoless.

I hope you are as excited to see me fall on my face as I am!

Timeboxing the Hobby (redux)

Have you ever heard of Gall’s Law? It basically states “complex systems that work evolved from simpler systems that worked. If you want to build a complex system that works, build a simpler system first and then improve it over time.”

Gall’s Law worked out really well for me in my painting habit. Instead of getting overwhelmed, just adding a little bit of time every day as the step 1 led to me planning more what I was going to do in that short amount of time. I knew it was impossible to paint a full unit in the time I had. In fact, I couldn’t even paint a whole model. This forced me to really look at what steps I could complete in the alotted time.

They absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.

My initial thought on this was that it would work better if I painted just a single model and tried to get it as done as possible. Time spent finding the paints and switching out the water and paint as necessary ate into a non-insignificant portion of the time. It evolved for me to paint up a stage at a time on 5 models (whether character or unit model is irrelevant for the vast majority of models).

Once I started taking this approach, it led me to document each step which evolved into my How I Paint My… articles so it could be reproducible and in those times that I couldn’t even squeeze in a half hour for a few weeks, I wouldn’t completely forget how I did things and have to waste time trying to remember.

Gratuitous Chronomancer picture.

I was reminded of Gall’s Law recently when I started using Obsidian as a personal knowledge management system.

My new job has me working in a familiar role (software QA engineer) in a completely new field (hosting). It has been such a different world that I often felt, and still do to some extent, that I was drinking from the proverbial fire hose. Basically, I had two options: I could either continue to be waterboarded in knowledge, or I could step aside and use cups to get water from the stream. Okay, yeah, I am stretching the metaphor here, but I hope you are following.

Since I have an aversion to outright failure, I chose the latter. I had been taking down copious notes in a couple of different apps as well as a paper journal, but the problem ended up being a difficulty in finding them or even remembering what I had written. I started searching around for some other options and looked at Roam, Notion, and a couple of other options. I finally stumbled upon Obsidian thanks to a youtube video that was pointing out some of the security concerns around Notion. Since I have been prepping for the Security + certification that, that had been on my mind so resonated with me.

Giant robot with spindly legs and huge laser gun is exactly my kind of toy.

Man am I ever grateful I did. Obsidian has a bit of a learning curve, but also an amazingly helpful community in both forum and discord (I miss forums! That is a topic for another day.) I am not going to talk much more about Obsidian right now, but guarantee that I will in the not so distant future.

“Wait a second…” I hear you grouse. “This was supposed to be a hobby post.”

Indeed it is, but I just needed to lay some things out. Right now I am a father and a husband, I work full time, I am outlining a new book, I read daily (alternating fiction and non-fiction), and I am a part time student. I need about 30 hours a day in order to meet my obligations, much less any hobbies (social media has also been largely dropped for a variety of reasons) – if you need reasons to cut way way back, watch this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E7hkPZ-HTk .

“Wake up earlier” is the obvious suggestion. However, despite living in Los Angeles, CA (USA) I work on Eastern time (also USA). That means my work day starts around 5:00 AM. I am already waking up at 3:45 to exercise – COVID-19 really was a wakeup call to me to get fit – so that is really not an option. Waking up at 3:45 means I need to go to bed by 7:30.

Actual picture of me circa this morning ~3:45 getting ready to jog.

When I don’t hobby, I get cranky. My wife notices, my kids notice, and my work suffers. Being unemployed I’d gotten a little lazy in timeboxing my hobby. I am starting that back up now. Which gets me back to Gall’s Law. I had worked out a pretty complex system for getting a lot of painting done in a relatively short amount of time. That system had gotten pretty complex, and no longer worked for my current life situation. I needed to strip back to the simple system that started it all for me.

Timebox painting. So that is what I am doing. Twenty minutes a day. Let’s see what I can get done. I am going to be posting them as daily blogs (basically because one of the things I am learning is a deeper diver into WordPress and this helps me rationalize the 20 minutes of hobby time). I am hoping to build back up to a more complex hobby habit, but going back the basics of planning a step, seeing what I can get done in 20 minutes, and then putting it down.

The largest empire is built upon a single conquest.

March Update

Let’s just call March a month of learning through failure.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not being mopey about it. I tried some intentional changes with my bullet journal, with my eating, personal workflow for side projects, and with my fitness (my knee is jacked, so it was necessary – or at least a very convenient excuse), and let’s just say I learned 10,000 ways not to do any of those things. Oh yeah, and my Lent has basically been a bit of failure too.

That being said, I don’t really feel too bad about much of it, because what is life if not learning what works and what doesn’t? Let’s start this one out with what did work over the last month or so, because really the list is a lot shorter (though also arguably more important so that is good).

My new job is going well. I am really enjoying the new challenges and learning a ton. The people I work with are great and we provide a service that I really believe in. I really like working from home.

I have been working hard to be more present for my kids. That means putting down the electronics and focusing on them. That has been going pretty well, but there are times it could be better.

I am not only trying to be more present for my kids, but also my wife and, well, basically everything. ADHD convinces us that we are really good at multi-tasking, but research has shown again and again that it just isn’t true. The truth is that we are really good at half-assing things and convincing ourselves that we are rocking it. We are really good at realizing “oh crap! this deadline is like, now” and then getting it done.

I fail on this some, but meditation is helping. Speaking of meditation, I had an 80 day streak and was doing awesome, then missed one day and that was enough to get me to ignore doing it. I am not sure why, and I have discussed this with both my priest and therapist, but haven’t come up with a satisfying answer yet. That isn’t the same as just shrugging and giving up. This is something I have struggled with for a really long time. Some people can get habits and they just go, but for some reason they just don’t stick with me. And that isn’t just good habits, fortunately for me. I do still bite my fingernails though, so maybe I am just being awesome at lying to myself again.

Okay onto the failures. Let’s start out with bullet journaling because that was a habit that I felt pretty strongly that I had established. I decided to try out a digital bullet journal. Yes, I know that part of it is the tactile act of writing and creating, but I am not a barbarian and have an Apple Pencil with my iPad. I really like the combo, by the way, it just turned out not great for the Bullet Journaling. I found some great templates that I liked, the searchability was great (I use Good Notes and love it and will probably write about that in the future).

The problem (at least for me) is that it is too easy to get distracted. I turned off all notifications, but my dog-mind will think “hey, music would help” then I spend 45 minutes finding just the right music and have run out of time to journal. The actual act of writing on the iPad is just fine with the Apple Pencil – something I have really come to enjoy actually. In fact, my “game journal” for the Warhammer 40k Crusade Campaign I am playing in is on it and is perfect, as is the notebook for the Python programming class I am taking.

Fitness is kind of terrible. As I mentioned before, I hurt my knee back in December and am going through the VA system for it since the original injury was while I was stationed in Alaska. Overall the VA (at least in Los Angeles and for my particular issues) has been pretty decent, but also very slow. I actually made an appointment to see the orthopedic doctor back in November for pain and the appointment wasn’t until March. She recommends PT before surgery (which I am fine with) but I won’t be getting in to that until May. So basically, six months from first contact for this. Luckily I have been living with pain for a long time and it isn’t life-threatening.

On that front, I have also gotten lazy about tracking my food and water intake. It makes sense with the injury and inability to exercise just generally being mildly depressed about it, but it definitely hasn’t help. The combination of the two issues above have me up about 4 pounds for the month. “If you don’t track it, you can’t change it,” right?

I have been spending a lot of time learning new things for my job, and being a husband and a father which hasn’t left much time for writing or creating. I need to work on balance (which is a refrain in my life). On the plus side here, I have been getting some cool ideas and jotting them down on my iPad.

Anyway, here’s to doing better in April – and see if you can find the hawk eating the crow in this picture! I am sure there’s some deeper meaning to this thing I saw, but it eludes me.

Quick Update for February

Hey, still super busy, but one of the things I have been working on is migrating to a different host for this blog, so apologies if things look weird for a while.

A couple of notes on that – first, the theme hasn’t been fully customized yet, and that will be one of the last things I get to, so expect the appearance to be wonky and to change some. Second, some of the images didn’t import over properly, so I will be working on updating those as I get time. Third, this blog is important to me, but is not in my top five priorities at the moment, so it will be a while before I get it done. My goal is to have all of the technical and design stuff taken care of by February 28th, after which time I will start focusing more on content at that point.

Speaking of content, for the reasons outlined above, content will be irregular and sporadic this month and in March should start rolling out regularly according to a schedule. I know that nobody really cares about how the sausage is made, only how it tastes, but I am just putting that out there.

Finally, a quick wrap-up for January. The first and quickest update was the decision to do a social media fast. It went pretty well and was interesting to note how much of going to Facebook and Twitter was automatic and without thinking. I’d pick up my phone and instantly start typing Fa or Twi before catching myself. There were a couple of times that I logged on intentionally in order to check on something specific or reach out to someone that I only have their social media, but didn’t consider that a real breaking of the fast. I am going to continue in February mostly fasting but checking in a bit more regularly (I am still working on the SOP for doing social media and am going to largely continue fasting until I have nailed that down).

Fitness goal was to do a marathon in a month, and I completed it with nearly 10 days to spare so just kept on going. The “marathon” stats I wanted to post because it was an interesting comparison to look back at Oct/November when I did this for the first time supporting the Whittier Boys and Girls Club. Also, before I get into the numbers, and I wasn’t really targeting 26.2 as the finish line in either case, it was just through the end of the run that took me over 26.2.

WBGC Thirty Day challenge stats were 28.2 miles with an average pace of 22 minutes, 13 seconds (22’13”). Unfortunately I didn’t really total time at that point, and it did include a fair amount of walking as I was just getting back into exercising and was trying to avoid injuries as I knocked the rust off. My January challenge run was 26.7 miles with an average pace of 16’20” and a total time of 7:16:13. Obviously I am still not setting records (and it is crazy to me that in my younger days I was better than half that pace!) but I can only deal with the body I have now, so I am really happy to have shaved nearly 6 minutes a mile off the pace. I was obviously running way more than walking this time around, and I am looking forward to repeating this challenge for my birthday in August.

Fitness challenge for February will be focusing on stretching. I am going to dial back running to 3-4 times per week and doing daily stretches. This is the one I am looking to start with, but if you have a favorite routine, please let me know! This one is going to be harder to measure objectively but hopefully I will have some good results to report back. Why stretching you ask? Well, Ryan turned me on to this cool YouTube channel called The Bioneer and while that dude is crazy fit and I am not looking for that level of fitness (I’ll post more on my personal ambitions later), I really like his pillars of fitness which basically equate to: strength, endurance, agility, decision making, and explosive power. January worked on endurance, February is for agility. Decision making and being smart is something I am focusing on throughout the year as well, and will be writing about what books I am reading, or listening to at another time.

Anyway, that’s me updated. Hope you have a great month, and I will be posting a few more times this month – targeting once a week with short updates like this.

Fitness Friday Update

Been super busy but wanted drop a quick update here. Fridays will be my fitness update day – mostly because it will be “better” than any day closer to the previous weekend.

I am going to be doing monthly challenges and updating them here. This month I am doing a marathon in a month. This is actually a repeat of something I did toward the end of last year with the Boys and Girls Club of Whittier so it is kind of cheating, but it is also good to help get my body used to moving again after the black hole of the holidays.

So far, two weeks into it, I am already at 17.2 miles so I feel pretty confident about completing this one. One thing that does suck is that I slipped on ice back in mid December and have had consistent pain and swelling since then. I rested it for a couple of weeks, and it was feeling a little bit better so I am just doing the exact wrong thing and powering through the pain. Not to fear, gentle reader, I have an appointment coming up.

Anyway, just a short update of the kind I hope to do going forward.

Intentions Not Resolutions

Happy new year everyone! I know a lot of us are definitely ready to put that year in the can and move on. You can read lots of other retrospectives on the year, so I am not going to focus a whole lot on it but I am going to add just a few things that stand out about the year to me, and how it affected me. It makes sense to move from the past to the future in that way. Also, this post will be much longer than most, so sorry about that and good luck making it through.

I am going to start off with the most impactful, at least for me. My mom died at the end of 2019, which made it feel a bit like I had a few extra months of 2020, if I’m honest. She didn’t die of COVID-19, but it was just as unexpected. She went into the hospital for a fairly minor back surgery that was really only supposed to be an overnight stay. One complication after another saw her spend the last two months of her life in the hospital and in a great deal of pain.

I still struggle a bit with guilt – I wish I could have spent more time there. There are all the questions that one asks. If I had been there longer could I have advocated more for her? Would my presence earlier on have aided in her recovery? These things still bother me fairly regularly.

Even amongst the tragedy there are a few things I am very grateful for. We got to visit with her before she went in for the surgery and take her to visit my aunt (her sister) in Ruidoso, which is a very pretty town in southern New Mexico. My kids got to spend some time with her and it was a very happy time.

Shortly after we returned to California I threw my back out. The pain was terrible – I very nearly unable to move for close to a week and the actual recovery was closer to three. At the beginning it took me over an hour to crawl to the bathroom a mere 15 feet away from my bed.

This injury happened shortly after my mom went in for surgery. Since I was just laying there, I ended up calling her and speaking with her much more frequently than normal. The pain I felt in my back helped to give me a greater level of empathy and understanding than I might otherwise have had with her. As crazy as it sounds, I am so grateful for that injury. It sucked, but I was able to connect with her much more than I might otherwise have.

After my back healed up a bit to where I could get around some I returned to work at Ticketmaster. A short while later my mom’s condition really turned bad and she was admitted to the ICU. With both the summer vacation and extended back injury, I was pretty low on paid leave, but my supervisor and the company didn’t hesitate to tell me to go. I offered to work remote, but my boss Jon said not to even worry about it. Another thing I’m grateful and indebted for.

I headed out and spent the nights at my sister’s place, and the days at the hospital (remember, this was just pre-COVID). When I arrived they had just taken her of the ventilator and it was unknown if she would even wake up. She did. She was even a coherent and we all thought that she was maybe on the mend but then things went bad and her body just started shutting down.

I miss her all the time.

This is one of my favorite pictures of her and me.

Anyway, that set the stage for 2020 for me, and I had a renewed vigor to spend more time with friends and family. Then COVID happened. Fifteen days to flatten the curve turned into nine months, and is still going on. There were ebbs and flows throughout the year where I was able to see friends, albeit often in a completely different way (wearing masks at a park six feet away). It definitely took more effort but it helped a bit to really focus on the relationships I was able to.

The kids learning at home was challenging, but their teachers have all been amazing. We were pretty impressed with them before, but seeing the amount of time and effort they have been putting toward keeping things in some semblance of “normal” while also teaching them has been remarkable. I know that not everyone has had this experience with their educators, but ours have been phenomenal.

This extra time with the kids at home was awesome though. Just spending time, watching them learn and work has been an amazing experience. Being able to sit down and eat lunch with them and just eavesdropping on their classes and hangout times was (and continues to be) great. Also have been able to take more walks with them and even focus some more individual time on each kid rather than lumping that quality time with them together.

Speaking of walks, it was pretty clear early on that COVID-19 was especially deadly for those with certain conditions – extra weight and low Vitamin D being a couple of of the big ones that affected me. Working as a writer and a software quality engineer it is easy to just hole up like some kind of hermit in a cave. Seeing the emotional effect that losing my mom had on me, I was very motivated to try my best to stick around for a while. My friend Ryan has been a multiyear success story in weight loss and an inspiration to me – you’ll hear more about him in the future.

I swallowed my pride and started asking him how he did it. He helped guide me, giving me support and tips, but not pushing me too much (which he knows I would just resist because that is my nature). As a result of his guidance, I lost close to fifty pounds over the course of 2020 (and over fifty down from my heaviest).

The first picture I could find of myself of the year (Girl Scouts Daddy Daughter Dance), and the last picture of myself for the year. I haven’t really looked at them side by side before.

Ryan is also my main gaming nemesis for both Age of Sigmar and Warhammer 40,000 also called Warhammer 40k or simply 40k. These tabletop miniature games that have been a hobby of mine for years. In fact, when I first moved to LA way back in 2002, Ryan and I met via a 40k Yahoo Group (remember those things?). We became fast friends and he remains one of my best friends in the world. As we have both matured in our careers and families our gaming and hobby time has scaled back quite a bit, but we make the effort to get in a game a month along with regular weekly zoom paint nights. I am grateful to have him in my life, he has been a friend, a confidante, and a mentor.

As I was working on my physical fitness I decided to work in a more focused way on my mental health as well. There was a lot of stressful stuff going on and so I decided to start trying to meditate. I have ADHD so the idea of sitting perfectly still and not thinking was laughable. Despite that, I spent some time looking around for different very short meditations and found a few that I liked. I started out at two minutes a couple of times a week but that practice has grown to become a regular and valuable part of my day.

In addition to meditation, or perhaps because of it, I also turned more to my faith. It has been easier to spend time in prayer and I have had more of an interest in learning more about some of the saints and deciding to go deeper into it. It has also been a source of strength and comfort.

As the year passed, it became more and more obvious that the live entertainment industry was in serious trouble. Ticketmaster, and its parent company, Live Nation has had it rough. I give credit to the management for trying their best to do right by all the employees. The president, Michael Rapino, decided early on to forego his salary and many of the other executives took reduced salaries in hopes that the virus would pass quickly and things would be back to normal by the end of the year. Obviously that didn’t happen. There were several rounds of furloughs and layoffs and my number eventually came up and I found myself on furlough. For those that don’t know, basically that means that the benefits stay in effect, but the pay goes down to zero. I wasn’t (and am not) bitter toward the company. They have always been a very good place to work, and their support during my mom’s final weeks will never be forgotten. I was very grateful that over the last couple of years my wife and I had taken a much more serious view on our finances, which enabled us to get through a few months without really changing too much. Family has also been very supportive during this time.

As I started reflecting on the year I realized that despite common wisdom that 2020 was a dumpster fire, my own life was marked with blessings and gratitude. Yeah, losing my job sucked, but the closeness with my wife and kids is an an all time high. I am getting to watch them grow much closer. I have grown in my faith. My mental and physical health are better than they have been in years. I am happier. Yes, I know it has been a rough year for many people, but there have been so many blessings too. I have always felt that we see what we look for, and this year has really reinforced that belief. Finding the good doesn’t discount the bad. Okay that is my reflection on 2020. Now on to 2021. I promise it won’t be as long.

I have spent the last few weeks thinking about my life and what I want out of the new year. I decided not to do a resolution. To me, resolutions are hard but brittle. In the past I have found that once the resolution has been broken, I tend to just shrug and move on. “At least I tried”. Bringing in what I learned last year, I have decided to live more intentionally. So rather than resolutions, I am going to list my intentions for the new year. You might call it semantics, but as someone who works with words, I know that they have meaning. Also, beyond just the intentions, I also am working on being more intentional with time, the currency of life. It is so easy in this world of distraction to squander it.

I sat down and wrote all of the things I wanted to focus on this year and tried to schedule a sample day. Turned out I needed about 56 hours a day (64 if I wanted to sleep). I’ll write more about this process and the original things in the future, but for the time being, here is a picture of the first pages.

I love my Bullet Journal. Life changing for me. Also, page 1 of 6 of “great” ideas and ways to spend my time in the new year.

I really like all those things and want to devote all of my time to them and more. As a side note here, there is a moment to reclassify ADHD from Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder to ARD for Attention Regulation Disorder. We aren’t always distracted. Sometimes we hyperfocus on a thing. I think the combination of medication and meditation have really helped me to get a better ability to regulate my own focus.

Looking at the various things I was able to kind of narrow it down into some broad categories. Those categories will be what I focus my blogging on. My goal, as mentioned in a previous post, is to do one post from each category every week. The following paragraphs will break them down just a little bit more. Since 2021 is starting on a Friday, the new schedule will go into effect next week. I am still trying to decide the exact day for each category, but want to make it consistent so people interested in gaming can only check it one day a week, those interested in writing a different, etc. Also the list is just in alphabetical order below, not necessarily the order I am thinking for publication.

Hobby. This is where I will put all of my miniature gaming stuff. My painting guides and updates, whatever battle reports from games I play, as well as any narrative fiction that I write up in order to go along with it. I have posted some of those things in a different blog in the past, and given the current COVID situation, I will likely repost them here with some additional comments or pictures.

Pre-COVID I would never have even considered a game at the park.

Personal. This is where I am going to write about the things I am doing to improve myself physically, mentally, and emotionally, I will also write about my experiences with ADHD and the challenges and benefits it brings. This is also the likely category where I will talk a bit about my family, but I am ferociously protective of them, so they won’t pop up too much.

Professional. I will be writing here about my professional life. From software quality and product integrity, to thoughts on writing, as well as things like time management and even professional development like programming and other learning will be in this category. Also, art will either be here or in personal. I am still deciding.

Spiritually. While I considered adding this to the Personal category, I decided it was deserving of its own. I am catholic, and many of my friends only really know catholicism from movies and tv. I will be posting my own personal reflections here as well as some common prayers that we say and what they mean to me as well as exploring misconceptions that people have about us. Also, if anyone has any questions, I will do my best to research and answer. I am obviously not a priest, nor a theologian, but simply a practicing lay catholic, but I will do my best.

St. Finbar’s Parish in Burbank has truly become a spiritual home for me.

Thanks for making it to the end of the colossal post. In the future, they won’t be as long, but probably some will because I like the sound of my own typing.

I hope your 2021 is blessed and happy, and I look forward to sharing it with you all.

-Patrick

Making Progress

As mentioned in my last post, I am working on a new direction and consistency for this blog from a more holistic point of view. Since we are so close to the new year, I am just going to officially kick this off on the first of January. I will do a few posts before then to kind of set up expectations and hammer out a workflow that is most efficient and effective for me.

I know that what this means is that some of you won’t really care about some of the topics I post, and that is okay. You are welcome to read them, of course, but really, if you don’t care about my hobby stuff, or my faith stuff, feel free to skip those days. In order to help you decide how to best spend your valuable (and hopefully limited) online time I am tossing around the idea of posting in four different “lanes”. I am going to write just a little bit about them below, and then I would love to hear any thoughts you might have.

The four lanes I am looking at are: Spiritual, Personal, Professional, and Spiritual. I will probably do other, more detailed posts on each of these lanes or even change it up a little between now and then, but roughly here is what I am thinking for each of them.

Spiritual. This is where I will post my reflections on readings or other things I read or see online. Additionally, I plan on talking about my catholicism. Why I chose to be catholic, how it has helped me in my life, some thoughts on some of the catholic things like saints and Mary that might not be familiar for my friends and family because, happily, I have a number of friends who are Protestant, atheist, buddhist, muslim, and even a few Wiccans. I am sure that there are others, and that doesn’t mean I don’t care about you or love you, it just slips my mind at the moment.

Personal. This is where I will write about things focusing on emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing. This is also the category where I will talk about my challenges (and successes) with my ADHD and other neurodiversity struggles. I torn between putting art here or in the Hobby category, but I feel it might end up here mostly because I don’t expect to have a lot to post other than finished products. I also will likely keep instagram and post pictures there, but am not sure. Also, I will probably talk a little bit about my family here, but don’t expect a lot of that because I am working on guarding their privacy pretty diligently.

Professional. I have a few different professional passions and am looking forward to talking about them and exploring them here. This is where I will pontificate on the importance of Quality Assurance in software design, the practical ins and outs of writing, peeks into the various sandboxes that I get to play in as an author (particularly the Dying of the Dark vampire world and the NashVegas paranormal hunters, as well as my own original settings – I have a few things I am working on here that are top secret at the moment), time management systems that have succeeded (and failed) for me as well as programming, and online learning in general as well as reviewing podcasts I have been enjoying and professional development books. I will also pontificate on the evils of the run-on sentence. I will post any original short story writing that is not related to the games I play under this tag.

Hobby. This is going to be where I will mostly focus on my hobby of miniature gaming. Like I said above, I might do a bit of art here, but since miniature games actually comprise a number of different areas from building and painting the models, to writing up army lists, coming up with narrative for my (and my friends’) armies, and actually playing the game. Plus I might do a few reviews of Black Library books here and there. I will also tag any gaming related fan-fiction that I write under this tag.

Anyway, if you have any thoughts on the best days for those lanes or other things you want me to write about, please let me know.

Stay safe and sane!

-Patrick

The leaves were so gorgeous I had to keep them in after the jog.

Specialization is for Insects

Hi. Just because I haven’t posted lately, doesn’t mean that I have been neglecting this blog. Far from it. I have actually been thinking a lot about it and trying to decide how to treat it going forward.

I am, you see, like most people. I am a father, a husband, a catholic, an ADHDer, a software QA engineer, an author, a gamer, a painter, an artist, a cook, a learner, a self-improver, and a few hundred other things. Conventional wisdom on blogs is that you should really focus your content in order to build a following.

I have started a few different focused blogs and all of them ended up dying sad and lonely deaths. I think trying to force that specialization was something that made it very difficult for me. There were times I was super focused on a certain game system and wanted to write a lot about it and share my games and models and experiences, and that was great until I wanted to write about something else or play a different game. I would end up forgetting about that blog, and it would just kind of fade out as I started up the next.

I considered making a more general blog, but worried about “the audience”. Would the people who were interested in my gaming stuff be turned off when I posted something about my faith? What about those looking for some bit of fiction set in my worlds and instead find me on a soapbox talking about software quality or online security? Those thoughts paralyzed me to the point where instead, I would spin up a new blog, write a dozen posts on it and then the cycle would renew.

I recently rediscovered a quote from one of my favorite authors when I was young. Robert Heinlein famously wrote:

“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.”

Reflecting on this and why I feel compelled to express myself in the written word I decided to try and do a combined blog. I know that the conventional wisdom is probably on point that an audience is looking for something specific when they come to a blog or follow one because they want that content. I respect that and feel the same way for most of the blogs I follow. For that reason I decided that I am going to post topics on consistent days. The exact content and schedule is still being finalized and I will do a post on that in the coming days.

To those of you who decide that you are more interested in more focused content for your attention, I truly hope you find what you are looking for. For the rest of you who want to come with me on this ride, I hope that this will lead to more regular posting for me as I won’t feel the need to debate whether or not it is appropriate content for this blog. The title has been Random Thoughts for a long time, so it is time to live up that.

Stay safe, be well, and forge your own joy.

Patrick

P.S. just because pictures are more interesting that wall of text, enjoy this picture of me trying on glasses at the optometrist.

Death in Life (Free Fiction Friday)

Hello all, as I have mentioned in the past, it is my goal to be a much more regular poster on this blog (and a much less poster on social media). I am going to start a regular Friday posting of short stories and flash fiction. It will vary widely in content some will be reposts, some will be new original pieces and I am shooting around a thousand words or so as a target. I am following up yesterday’s post on the narrative Age of Sigmar campaign Shep and I are doing by sharing the narrative for my Ossiarch Bonereapers army, the Harvesters of Sorrow. Enjoy!

Lord Kyrush slid from his mount and walked toward the massive library hall. The psychopomp summons from his master bore an unusual call for haste and that alone had piqued his interest. He didn’t bother the tie the reigns of the skeletal beast to the ornate hitching rail. Some of the other Liege-Kavaloi preferred their steeds to retain some wild spirit thinking that it made the beast more ferocious on the battlefield, but not Kyrush. He preferred loyalty and obedience in all who served him. He had selected the souls bound to his warbeast by hand – two from loyal soldiers that he’d fought alongside millennia ago, when flesh still covered him, and the remainder belonged to those foes who had earned his begrudging respect on the battlefield. Some might see this as a move designed to degrade those who’d opposed him but in truth it was an honor. Of course, their individual personalities had been stripped out and refined but their ferocity and prowess remained. More than once he’d considered letting his mount lead a campaign. If he still possessed lips, they would have curled in a wry smile at the thought.

            The library hall was the largest building in the Dry City of Dur-Surrakan and contained the records of a ten-thousand conquests and hundred times that number of tribes and kingdoms fallen and forgotten over the millennia in the Mortal Realms. The scrolls and tablets were neatly stacked and arrayed on towering shelves, every single one in their proper place.  Kyrush had never bothered to learn the method of organization – it was said that a scribe would spend their first century committing the method to mind and Kyrush lacked the patience. This didn’t mean he found no use for the information stored there, quite the opposite. His study and perfection of war meant that he spent nearly as much time reading as anything else, but his own tupsars were efficient and reliable so there was no need.

            The summons didn’t say where to report, but Kyrush knew his master would be found in one of two places and since the Chartis Kosmoi was on a lower level he made for the map room. Entering the chamber he quickly saw his estimation had been correct.

            Elu-Erashim leaned over roughly hewn tablet as large as a table and dragged his fingers along the symbols etched in the top. Not adorned in his battle gear, the Master of the Bone Tithe was lank and tall – he would have towered over nearly all the intelligent mortal races save the ogor and their intellect was a point of constant debate. His eyes blazed with power, even when he was at rest. Kyrush knelt and awaited his master’s audience. In the past Kyrush had been made to wait days before his lord addressed him, but time has no meaning for the dead, so he waited.

            After a time, the Tithe Master Elu-Erashim took notice of him and turned eyes of balefire on the Liege-Kavalos. When he spoke, the voice echoed in Kyrush’s head alone, for the ossia of the Tithe Lord’s mouth was sealed around a scroll. That papyrus was cause of great mystery in the land of the dead. All of those who bore any sense of curiosity wondered at the words etched and hidden for him alone. Some claimed the papyrus contained a list of the deeds of the greatest dead, others that it was a list of those who’d escaped the tithe. Some swore it contained Elu-Erashim’s life name and was the magic by which Nagash bound him. Some even whispered it bore the darkest secrets of the Great Necromancer himself. Whatever the truth was, most were knew the realms would be cold and dark long before Elu-Erashim himself revealed the glyphs.

            “Lord Kyrush, Conqueror of the Oblate Eternal, I have cause for thy arms, and thy puissance in war. Would that we had a century that I might recall thy deeds, I would recall unto thee a thousand honors thy arm and thy blade have won, worthy Liege.”

            “I exist but to serve the Tithe, my lord. It is neither recognition nor ambition which drive my blade, but service and honor of the Legion.” Kyrush responded as tradition dictated but was surprised at the formality of address. He then noticed the Library’s own Liege-Tupsar was recording the moment on a scroll of vellum.

            Elu-Erashim crossed his arms and bowed. “I address thee thus, Liege-Kavalos Kyrush to commemorate this great day. Lord Nagash’s necroquake has revealed unto us a cache of heroic souls, long hidden by treacherous magics, deep within the heart of the Jade Kingdoms. As thou art aware, long have we sought a foothold eternal within Ghyran from whence to collect the tithes from the living. Within the Vast Wood of Whitkarnelles a great boon has fate decreed be ours. Not a dozen leagues from the soul-vault a Gate long dormant has awoken. The stars of Shyish have revealed unto our Chaldeans an omen of greatness. Within that dark wood shall our glories be written. Thou, oh Master of the Field, shall be the architect of our victory. Lord Katakros himself hath decreed it thus and chosen thee by name to be Emissary of the Tithe.”

            “For the honor of the Legion!” Kyrush cried and slammed his fist into his chest. Although there was no heart beating within his breast he felt a rush of excitement. He had been chosen by the greatest of them all. He would establish this foothold, grow it into a stronghold, and then a necropolis. He would raise statues to honor Nagash and strike fear and awe into the denizens the realm of Life, and harvest a tithe unmatched throughout all of the Mortal Realms.