Life Organization Part 1 – What is it? Why do it?

Note: This is the first in a series of posts, and as the others are written, I’ll update a table of contents with links to the whole series here.

Part 1: What is Life Organization? Why do it?
Part 2: Life Goals
Part 3: Yearly Goals

For the first 20 years of my life, I didn’t make much of an effort to keep myself organized. My parents did most of the work and were better at it, so why even bother?

As I completed college, however, I realized that I would just drift through life if I didn’t sit down and figure out what my goals were and how to achieve them. This began as it probably does for a lot of people: I had really lofty dreams and I wanted to make them reality. Over several years, I read hundreds of articles and several books on the topic of life management and organization, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the ideal system.

After getting married, and especially as my wife and I began to have children, I changed my approach completely. This post is the first in an intended series of what my new method is, and why I think it works better.

What is “Life Organization”?

Planners and calendars are more common than people in the Western world. Everyone who has a smartphone has at least one (I’m not among this group just yet, but I’m told by my wife that I am an endangered species). But a planner or calendar alone is not the whole crux of what this term means.

Admittedly, “life organization” sounds too simple and too simplistic. Life, in truth, cannot be organized comprehensively. Nor should it be.

For our purposes, the term “life management” means the tools, methods, and behaviors a person uses to keep track of and accomplish their long-term goals. It involves figuring out what your own goals are, creating a plan to achieve them, and learning to stick by your plan even when you don’t want to.

Dreams vs Goals

If you’ve ever attended a high school graduation, you will have heard teachers and students alike speak of the virtues of “pursuing your dreams”.

But what if your dreams are bad? What if they are truly impossible? What if the risk of failure isn’t worth the pursuit?

These are the sorts of questions you are not allowed to ask, but which are important to answer. They can change the whole course of a life.

Goals are a bit different than dreams. Instead of being esoteric and ambiguous, goals must be concrete. This is best demonstrated by way of example:

Dream: I want to be important.
Goal: I want to own my own company.

Even in this example, the goal could use a lot of definition. What sort of company? What products or services will be produced? Will you simply have a managerial role in the company? Is this a company you will start on your own or acquire from someone else? By what date does this need to be accomplished?

These questions may seem to suck the fun out of making goals, but in truth, they infuse the goals with purpose, realistic constraint, and urgency. Without asking and answering such questions, you’ll never achieve the goals except by accident. I wouldn’t want to plan on my greatest accomplishments being achieved by accident. I don’t think you’d want to do that either.

An even better example is this:

Dream: I want to be a famous musician.
Goal: Within ten years, I want to play piano with the proficiency of a concert pianist and I want to be performing in city-level orchestras.

This goal is lofty, but achievable. It has a time limit to give it some urgency and to help you plan year-by-year what you need to do to achieve it. It has concrete objectives (playing in a concert is a real and tangible thing; having a level of proficiency can be further expanded to listing pieces of music that, when performed without error, prove it).

Why spend the time doing it?

You don’t have an infinite amount of time in this life. If you want to make the most of it, you need to know what “making the most of it” means. What are the greatest things you can do and how can you do them? This is the heart of life organization.

Planning too much is just as bad as not planning enough, and most of us are guilty of doing one or the other. Everyone needs to plan and organize their time effectively, but not waste time in the process. There’s no secrete formula here, and it will be a lot of hard, irritating, headache-inducing work.

In the coming weeks, I plan to continue this series by discussing what sort of life goals you ought to establish, how to break those goals up yearly, how to use a planner and calendar to accomplish the tasks required, how to cultivate the behaviors and rituals you will need to succeed at them, and anything else I can think of that’s on-topic.

Concept – Using Ideas to Guess Words

Have you ever played Catchphrase? It’s a fast-paced game where representatives from two teams try to get their teammates to guess a word by giving clues before a time runs out . It’s a great game, and one that many of my friends and family love.

What if you took that idea and removed all speaking and gesturing? You’d have an impossibly difficult and boring non-game that no one would like. Thankfully, that’s not what Concept is.

Concept is still a word guessing game, and it doesn’t permit speaking or gesturing by the person giving clues. Instead, Concept includes a game board which has dozens of icons grouped into categories (e.g. colors, shapes, and eponymous concepts). By connecting various icons with tokens, the clue giver can hone in on the correct answer.

What Comes in the Box?

Concept’s box insert is perfection.

A ton of tokens of various colors, a stack of cards with lots of words and phrases, a game board with a slew of icons on it, a pile of tokens to keep track of scores, and several sheets to help give ideas of what the icons on the board might mean come in the box. The components themselves are good.

The box itself is worth discussing. The insert holds all of the pieces wonderfully, and a small bowl that fits into the insert can be passed around the table with the tokens inside of it to keep everything easily accessible. The box insert is outstanding.

How Do you Play?

There is a ton of variety here. A huge stack of cards with nine words and phrases each.

A giant stack of cards, each with nine words or phrases grouped into three difficulty levels, will be your source for hours of confusion. A player selects a card, chooses a word or phrase, and tries to get his teammates to guess it. This might be something as simple as “Superman” or as difficult as “Remember, remember, the fifth of November,” although length is not directly tied to difficulty (I spent over half an hour trying to get my teammates to guess “bottle opener”, thinking the card could not have possibly been printed correctly to label it as difficult).

There are five colors of clues (green, red, yellow, blue, and black), with each color having a primary token used to describe a major category and a pile of small cube tokens to go along with the primary token. Green includes a question mark, while the other colors have an exclamation point, in order to indicate the fundamental category of which the word or phrase is.

Does that sound really, really complicated? It isn’t. But the best way to prove that it isn’t complicated is to offer an example. This is one of those games that makes a ton of sense once you see it played.

Can this board represent everything that has ever existed? The designers think so. The word to guess in this image is “George Washington”.

For a quote like “Merry Christmas”, the clue giver would likely place the green question mark onto the “Quote” icon. It might be helpful to add a subcategory, too, which is what the other colors are for. Placing a red exclamation point (the color doesn’t matter) on the “Holiday” icon and then a corresponding red cube on the “Green” and “Red” icons would likely tell other players “This is a quote about a Holiday which is associated with the colors red and green”. Clearly, it’s a word or phrase about Christmas. Other clues might be added (a “Smile” icon, for example), but the team may just guess the right answer from the clues already on the board.

Some words or phrases can be guessed within seconds and some take quite a long time. I recommend a timer of some sort. In many of the games I’ve played, we’ve given up on the team and score systems. Instead, we just took turns trying to get the other people at the table to guess our expression. This works just as well and is just as fun as the standard game.

Who is This Game For?

Party games tend to be great choices for all sorts of people. They tend to be fast, easy to learn, and fun to play.

Concept is no different, especially if you drop the competitive elements of the game. It typically takes a few minutes for someone to take a turn (or to give up), and while it may be difficult to grasp without pieces in hand, the game is easily understood after a turn or two by new players.

I’ve found that this game is more thought-provoking with some groups and more intense with others. The amount of energy and reservedness depends on the people who are playing it, and I’ve seen both extremes. Thankfully, both extremes have been a blast to play. I recommend this game for practically anyone with friends and family around. Out of the hundreds of games I have played, this is one of the few that works with everyone. People who like long strategy games, war games, party games, introductory games, and even no games at all still seem to enjoy this one. If you don’t own it, pick up a copy!

You can pick up a copy of Concept here.

Escape: Curse of the Temple – A Game of Increased Heart Rates

Escape: The Curse of the Temple is a chaotic ten minute cooperative game where up to five players are faced with their own mortality.

The rules are relatively simple.

Everyone rolls dice, which have custom symbols on them. Three of the symbols allow you to explore rooms, move around the board, and discover hidden gems. The symbols themselves appear on the game board so you never need to consult the rules to know when and how to use them. Another symbol prevents the die on which it appears from being rolled, “locking” it, while the final symbol can unlock up to two such locked dice.

Delicious custom dice.

Players add new rooms to the board, trying to find an exit tile and ultimately, trying to escape. However, in order to actually leave the temple, players must not only find and reach the exit, the must also each roll a number of keys greater than the number of hidden gems which have not already been revealed on the game board. This means that a number of challenges throughout the temple must be completed before victory is possible or probable.

You need to roll more keys than there are gems on this tile. You have five dice. You can do the math on how close to victory this is.

None of this is enough to warrant the description, though. What is enough is the small text on the bottom of the game box: “A REAL-TIME Adventure Game”. Players don’t take turns rolling dice. Players roll dice and use them as fast as the laws of physics permit them to. And they have exactly ten minutes to finish the game (the accompanying audio CD adds not only atmosphere, but also a timer in the form of audio cues). But that’s not all! Players also need to return to the starting chamber about three minutes and six minutes into the game, else they will lose a die permanently.

What Comes in the Box

This game looks great, but don’t let the delightful colors fool you. It wants to kill you.

The game is loaded with tiles which are used the build the temple dynamically through exploration, as well as 25 custom dice (5 for each player), wooden tokens to represent players in the temple, and a bunch of green gems. There are also two advanced “modules” which can be added to the game together or separately to help or hinder the players. One adds curses to the game, which make the game harder to play when discovered, but which can be lifted by wasting time rolling a combination of dice. The second adds treasures to be discovered, each providing a powerful bonus whenever it is used.

Everything about the game evokes the theme. The artwork is great, the CD soundtrack is excellent, and the player tokens even look like Indiana Jones (very small, wooden, monochromatic, pancaked Indiana Jones’, but I digress).

There’s also an hourglass if you, either out of necessity or silliness, decide not to use the soundtrack. I don’t recommend it, given how great the soundtrack is. We also noticed that the sand got stuck sometimes, making the game easier. Not that we minded.

Who is This Game For?

All archaeologists wear fedoras. And are small and painted wooden figures.

Do you have friends who like social experiences more than strategic choices? Do you enjoy rolling dice? Do you like cooperation more than confrontation? Do you like to lose? A lot?

This game is great in all of those cases. It’s a hard game (especially with the added modules). The trade-off is that everyone is on the same team, so when you lose, you ALL lose. This has the neat effect of causing players to demand another round after losing. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the game is exactly ten minutes long, making the whole experience something that you’ll play over and over again every time you pull it out.

However, this game is certainly not designed for people who want a more thoughtful or strategic experience. There’s strategy, sure, but it’s secondary to everyone talking over each other in the most uncoordinated team apparatus ever conceived by man. If you don’t like intense experiences, this probably isn’t one for you, either.

But I love this game, and I think most people will find situations when and groups of friends for whom it would be unforgettably good.

You can by Escape: The Curse of the Temple here.


RPG-Maker is an easy way to make role-playing games, and so many people have done it that there aren’t a whole lot of ideas left that aren’t cliched. My idea was probably cliched, too, which was to create an RPG that does nothing but make fun of RPG’s.

I didn’t finish the thing, but here it is.

The Last Superstition – A Review

The Last SuperstitionI posted this on Amazon some time ago, but it is my review to the book The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism by Edward Feser, and I wanted to keep a post of it on my own site for completeness sake. For those inclined to view the original, you can go here.

An Introduction as much as it is an Argument

I first heard about this book from the Statistician to the Stars! ( Having enjoyed the articles he wrote that comprised his review of the book, I was convinced I should pick up a copy to see what I might learn from it. I learned more than I expected in more areas of knowledge than I expected. I suppose that means the book exceeded my expectations.

The book is, among other things, a basic primer in classical philosophy, particularly of the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition; that is, the philosophy espoused by Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas and the myriad folks between them and after them that followed right along. As such, the subtitle of the book, “A refutation to the new atheism”, requires a working knowledge of this tradition. Feser does a great job explaining the distinctions between the four causes, their implications in modern morality, and natural law. As I see it, the explanation does just as much to clarify and prepare you for his arguments against modernism (and its intellectually handicapped child, postmodernism), as it does muddy the waters of your thinking on other topics and tempt you to seek out more from the primary sources. I was interested in reading both Aristotle and Aquinas before encountering this book, but now I have another reason to do so.

Structurally, the book progresses from a critique of the sorry state of secular intellectual life in the West, to a chronological history of philosophy from the earliest Greeks to the “golden age” of Aquinas, to the darker times of the modern world. The book offers a solution: the modern view has failed, but the postmodern view has failed as well, so the solution is to go back to the top of the mountain of scholasticism, instead of continuing onward in the hope that the cliff has a bottom. I read the book carefully – at least as carefully as I could – and my overall conclusion is that I agree with much of it, but would like to learn more of the topic before truly finding a place to stand.

I recommend the book to anyone struggling with the questions of reason, morality, ethics, and religion in an age of doubt and science-worship. I also recommend it for any Christians who want a more solid structure to the basics of the worldview. For anyone who already has some familiarity with the topic, I would assume you could probably skip the tutorials on philosophy and jump right to the juicy sections towards the end of the book.

You can buy The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism here.

Windows 8 – A Semi-Educated Review

Windows 8First, a small disclaimer on this article: While I have a Computer Science degree and have spent far too many hours using a computer over my relatively young life, I am by no means fascinated with the latest and greatest toys, software, or software toys. I see computers as a(n often overrated) means to an end; one that is usually not sought after in the glamor of the technology industry and their conferences, magazines, and websites. It is the end that matters, and the end is what most of my blog is dedicated to, so I’ll let you search about if you are interested. Now that that is out of the way…

I believe I was five years old when I started using Microsoft operating systems, starting with DOS, moving to Windows 3.1, then Windows 95, 98, XP, Vista, and then onto 7. I’ve missed a few versions in there, but I don’t think that matters too much; I’m familiar with the products.

Windows 7 has been my favorite incarnation so far, featuring the library system, a sleek user interface, speed improvements, snap-to-edge windows, and a number of other niceties that make using older versions of the Operating System frustrating. In the last days of the “Buy Windows 8 while it is $40!” phase of Microsoft’s advertising effort for their new operating system, I purchased a copy to experiment with. Almost a month later, I finally got around to installing it. Because I wanted to install it on my primary partition alongside Windows 7 and allow a dual-boot, I shrunk my primary partition and dedicated 50GB to Windows 8. This involved temporarily turning off the paging file, the system restore, hibernation mode, and a number of other features that should probably never be turned off. I defragged the disk, created a new partition, and then reactivated all of those services.

Windows 8 installed smoothly to the new drive in under an hour. I lost track of how long it was, but I didn’t notice the length. A shiny new boot screen greeted me to have me choose between Windows 7 and Windows 8, and I chose the latter. I appreciated their willingness to let me continue using the old operating system while test driving the new one. Upon loading Windows 8, I discovered why they might have that willingness. The new operating system is entirely different from previous versions of Windows. The Start Menu has been turned into a Start Page, complete with new buttons, clicks, and menus to learn. I call this post a “Semi-Educated Review” because I only semi-understand all of these new features and quirks.

The new Internet Explorer is pleasant to use, though I had to learn that right-clicking allows you to view open tabs, as it wasn’t intuitive. I had to learn that the Windows key brings up the menu (something I ought to have figured out quickly, but did not). I had to learn that programs continue running even when you close their windows. I had to learn that the desktop has a different set of programs running than the Start Screen, something I have yet to fully understand. Primarily, I had to learn.

I enjoy the ease of use and the design. I’m not sure how I feel about perpetually running programs without the easy ability to close them. The ease of access to programs is great. The difficulty in categorizing items at first was frustrating. I absolutely love the speed increases and the boot time.

The plan now is to use this operating system fairly frequently for a few weeks to see if it is worth switching over for non-development stuff (that is, fun stuff). So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised and enjoy it. If you can do it easily, give it a try for a few days and you might like it too.