Useful Google+ Settings

Or: Why did you hide it there??

I don’t know if everyone who uses Google+ has noticed, but in addition to changing where things are from time to time, Google also changes the setting controls you have access to. Here are a few you may find particularly useful.

1. Control Who Sees Your Stuff

Or at least, have some control. Of course, once you put something out there, you actually no control over how it’s reshared; however, you can decide on your initial post who you are directly going to share this with. And now your G+ settings allow you to avoid posting to some people you are connected with even when you select “My Circles” upon sharing.

Why would you want to do this? Because you don’t want to spam people and pages you are following, for one thing; do you really want to send your kids’ pictures everywhere? Or you might have a circle called “Work”, or “In-Laws”, made up of people you don’t want to share everything with.

To get to most of the settings, hover your cursor above the “Home” button to get the left-hand menu to unfold and go to the bottom.

Where are the Settings?

Now, scroll down to “Your Circles,” about halfway down a long list. Click on the “Customize” button to select what goes in and what doesn’t.

Sharing to Circles

2. Limit Your Spamming

Another control up above, near the beginning of the settings list, is whether you will allow your +1s, Google Places comments, and other reviews (“endorsements”) to be used to spam your friends’ feed or with ads. For the love of all that is holy, please turn it off. It’s not something you did wrong, Google+ snuck that up in your settings a few months ago, but nobody actually enjoys getting this stuff in their feed. Let’s all turn it off!

While you’re there, check the rest of the settings, even if it’s tedious and somewhat confusing. In truth, you’re probably better off with most of the options turned off.

Endorsement settings

3. Select Your Notifications

This is new and potentially useful. If there is a group of people you don’t want to miss a single post from, put them in a circle and turn on the notifications for that circle. Naturally, this is not found in the same place as your other settings… At the top of your normal G+ home page, you should see a number of circles listed (your most frequently viewed) and a drop-down to the right of it giving you access to the full list of your circles.

Select the circle you want and in the upper right-hand corner of the “In this circle” summary, you’ll have an option you can click to turn notifications on and off. Note that while in your regular settings page “notifications” means via e-mail, in your circles pages it means via the notification icon (the bell with red numbers) in the right-hand area of the top menu bar.

Note also that the people in these circles you create may not filter their output in the same way at all; just because you don’t want to miss a single of their posts when they talk about knitting doesn’t mean you want to hear about their jogging programme.

Circle notifications

And finally, as a conclusion, the supreme irony: I’m posting this on my blog rather than on G+ because I want both myself and others to be able to find it again. But the company with the most powerful search engine in the world makes it nigh-impossible to find a specific post again after a few days…

Fate-full lessons: Gaming notes

Fate Core CoverWith the number of Fate games available at this past weekend’s Big Bad Con, I had plenty of opportunities to take note of best practices and tips to make a game come alive.  I wanted to develop them here, but just listing the bullet points I realized I had too much for one post.  I’ll be developing these as I write the War of Ashes RPG instead.

Fate games in general

FATE Accelerated coverStart with Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) — then Fate Core and Fate-derived games will make sense.  Crazy, beautiful sense.

Fate is very doable with two players, possible with one-on-one adventures, but shines with 3-5 players.  Six or more PCs is only for well-coordinated groups, or in intrinsically chaotic settings like The Muppet Show.

Use sticky notes, possibly colour-coded, to keep track of temporary advantages, boosts and consequences.

“Create an advantage” is the key action—not “Overcome,” even though the latter feels like the most familiar if you come from traditional role-playing games.  It makes your character “competent, pro-active and dramatic” by allowing you to plan and sacrifice so you can succeed your way.

Tactical options in conflicts are largely provided by the players’ choices in creating advantages.  The system is very simple but allows you to build complexity in the results.

Thus, narration folds into mechanics.  The advantages you create, the aspects you choose to use, the order in which you invoke free aspects all seemingly have the same immediate mechanical results, but from there will take the adventure in very different dramatic directions.

For the GM:  Running Fate games


Create game and scene aspects, and don’t forget to use them in play.  They make one conflict or obstacle “feel” different from the next.

Ryan M. Danks’ Fractal Adventure design method is pure distilled genius.  I’ve mentioned it in several recent posts and I will discuss it again when I write after-play reports, but you need to hear it again.  It allows the GM to essentially have her own character sheet for the adventure.

The perceived difficulty level of an adventure depends on the number of players, the ability of PCs to help each other, the number of stress boxes used, and the choice of stunts for antagonists.

While running the game

Put aspects created by the GM on PCs (and free invokes) in plain sight to ratchet up tension; use the coloured sticky notes mentioned above.

Running conflicts can be remarkably easy on the GM if you use Fate’s full potential, especially with the Fractal Adventure design method.  It’s one of the rare systems where using more of the system makes the GM’s life easier.

Stealth and avoiding the Big Bad: very stealthy/sneaky characters have the potential to bypass major GM characters and therefore deny the GM a chance to create her own advantages in play.  This may be a good or bad thing depending on your flexibility as GM; plan accordingly.

One-off and convention games

Use semi-finished pre-generated characters and have players customize them as part of the game.

Include a (cooperative) player who already knows the system in your group of newcomers.

Edit: Everyone loves the bookmarks.  A cheat-sheet that fits on a bookmark makes players happy!

For RPGs in general but particularly suitable for Fate

Use relationship maps like crazy.

Cinematic techniques: flashbacks, flash forward, meanwhile…, cut scenes, parallel scenes, montages, etc.

Comparing Fate to other systems

FAE vs. PDQ: PDQ characters are even more customizable, and combat easier, but FAE offers more tactical potential.

FAE vs. octaNe: So very compatible.  Use the Styles as five approaches (Daring, Ingenuity, Craft, Charm, and Might OR Magic at the individual player’s choice) and the scores +3, +2, +1, +0, +0; and create aspects based on the octaNe skills.

FAE vs. SotC: OMFSM, Spirit of the Century is going to be so much fun with Fate Accelerated.

Fate vs. D&D and other trad games: That will require its own post, but it all begins with “Here’s how I…” rather than “Can I…?”

Mail Art: Proof of Concept

Proof-of-concept-01As mentioned in my last entry, this week’s assignment in my online art class is a piece of mail art with the topic “Correspondence With Memory.”

It so happens that every summer, my mom goes to an event called “Les Correspondances d’Eastman” — a literary festival celebrating novels, poetry, graphic novels, storytelling, letter-writing, and song lyrics.  Every time, she sends my letters she wrote there at a workshop.  So I thought she’d enjoy getting a hand-made letter back; thinking of her put me in mind of another of her favourite activities, bird-watching, so I had my theme.  I want to make a letter that looks like a bird house.

Tonight I created my “proof of concept” mock-up for the envelope; I don’t have the full insert yet.  Naturally, I now need to make this with quality paper and create the images on it.

Mail Art

780x587xpisarro1904.jpg.pagespeed.ic.CJNj_4-R2sThe topic for Week 3 of my online class “Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques” is “Correspondence With Memory” and focuses on mail art.  We covered three key artists who do mail art: Ray Johnson and his moticos, Ryosuke Cohen and his Braincell series (neither of which did much for me), and Eleanor Antin and her 100 Boots series (which I really liked.)

Some classmates have posted links to good resources on mail art, including:

I have limited experience with mail art.  My two inspirations are J.R.R. Tolkien’s Father Christmas Letters and Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine correspondence.

tolkien-address1For years, Tolkien entertained his children around the holidays with letters from Father Christmas (known as Santa Claus in North America) filled with tales and sketches of the year’s events at the North Pole.  This book inspired me as a kid and teen to illustrate my own letters.  I don’t ever remember believing in Père Noël/Santa Claus/Father Christmas, but I remember figuring on early that the adults around me liked it when kids sent letters to the North Pole, not only for the cuteness factor but to have a useful list in hand.  So I illustrated mine with water colour images in Tolkien’s style, often writing on behalf of my younger siblings as well (at their request.)

To me, this was a piece of art for my parents and a joke between us.  Little did I know that they were actually sending copies through the post office, since Canada handles the mail for the North Pole!  The year my letter ended up published in a local newspaper, I was in high school and rather mortified that everyone seemed to think I actually believed in Santa!

Mai-Art-MA03Two decades ago, I stumbled on Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence and absolutely loved it.  Bantock’s lush images and collages, which continued to appear in subsequent books, were a delight to discover.  I had to examine each in minute detail to discover little connections and motifs shedding light on the story and the entire image.

Art Assignment: “Time Saved”

Last week’s assignment in my online class “Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques”, taught by Professor Anna Divinsky of Penn State College of Arts & Architecture via Coursera, was “The Fantastic and You”.  We talked about dadaist, surrealist, and independent fantastic artists of the first half of the 20th century like Henri Rousseau, Salvador Dali, Jean Arp, Marcel Duchamp, Marc Chagall, etc.  We were asked to produce an art piece in this spirit and to include an artist statement on the how, what, and why of our piece.

Art piece (collage): "Time Saved"

This collage is made of images cut or torn from magazines dating from 1945 to 2013 plus a map of a fictitious post-apocalypse version of my city of origin (helpfully torn to shreds by my cat). The images are glued onto butcher paper in ragged layers allowed to interweave in order to provide a three-dimensional effect.

I arranged the images into interlocking triangle patterns suggesting either time flowing or time standing still, trying to evoke moments frozen by memory or history against the passage of years and the need to save some of these moments of stillness. The clocks, watches and rooster suggested the marking of time, while the orchids, Egyptian sarcophagus and the woman’s watch shattered at Hiroshima evoked for me our brief, fragile lives.

In preparation for this assignment, I cleared my minds of designs and intentions and allowed my feelings to dictate image choices for their emotional appeal. I then considered the clippings and let a theme emerge; I then realized that I was stressed by my own choice to work on this assignment rather than attend to pressing but less interesting commitments. I turned 48 this week, and it seems there are always more chores than time left, yet I feel a desperate need to preserve some time for things I love, like art.

Edit: I received a peer score of 21 out of a possible 25, which I honestly think is too generous for the piece; I would have given it a lower score.

I received the following comments:

  • peer 1 → It’s great. Very visually appealing and your message gets across well.
  • peer 2 → Not bad
  • peer 3 → Nothing to criticise. Got very much pleasure of viewing your art-work. I liked especially your 3 dimensions effect, it makes the entire work alive.

Other Fantastic Artists

This week’s theme in my online class “Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques” is “The Fantastic and You”, with focus on dadaists, surrealists, and independent fantasists of the early 20th century.  Aside from the artists discussed in the class, I have a few favourites who inspire me:

hygeia-detail-of-medicine-1907_smI’m partial to Austrian artist Gustav Klimt because I love the expressive lines and rich textures he used. This is “Hygeiea”, a detail of a series of paintings he made for the ceiling of the University of Vienna’s Great Hall between the years of 1900-1907. (According to the Wikipedia entry, in 1894 Klimt was commissioned to paint the ceiling. Upon presenting his paintings, Philosophy, Medicine and Jurisprudence, Klimt came under attack for ‘pornography’ and ‘perverted excess’ in the paintings. None of the paintings would go on display in the university. In May 1945 all three paintings were destroyed by retreating SS forces.)

Paul_Klee,_Swiss_-_Fish_Magic_detailThen there is German-Swiss artist Paul Klee, who I fell in love with the first time I saw his “Fish Magic” (in a book by Jacques Cousteau!); here is a detail of the larger work.

what-the-water-gave-me-1938_detailMexican artist Frida Kahlo‘s sense of form and colour is practically overwhelming.  Here is a detail of “What the Water Gave Me.”

Escher's_ReptilesM.C. Escher remains so popular, I know I’m not the only one to be endlessly fascinated by his use of perspective, illusion, transforming shapes, and contrast.

The Cat Who Stole My Chair

Val Steals My Chair: drawing

For seven weeks I am taking the online class “Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques”, taught by Professor Anna Divinsky of Penn State College of Arts & Architecture and free via Coursera.  To ease into the flow of things on Week 1, as our first assignment we were asked to upload a piece on a voluntary (not graded) basis to introduce ourselves:

Introduce yourselves to your classmates by creating an artwork that reflects who you are as a person and as an artist. You may work with any scale and use any materials that you like. This art piece may be two or three-dimensional and should demonstrate your creative vision. It can address any subject matter as long as it speaks about you.

We were also asked to accompany this with an “artist statement” explaining the How, What, and Why of our piece.  This is mine:

I drew this image using MyPaint 1.0.0 and Ramón Miranda’s Concept Design brushes with a Wacom Intuos 3 4×5 tablet and stylus.  While I do understand the importance of showing our brush strokes, I picked a brush set that feels and behaves very much like my physical ink, brushes and markers without requiring set-up and cleaning time.

The subject is my cat Valentine, who is my most complacent live subject.  He likes to claim the office chairs so I had made a nest for him with a blanket.  (I’m a sap.)

A gift I often give to friends who I think it will please is a portrait of their children (who grow up so fast) or pets (who live such short lives).  Valentine is a good practice subject for quick sketches since he likes to stay close by.  The first medium I adopted a long time ago was ink with pen and brushes, painting portraits of my younger siblings, and I still enjoy sketching that way — even digitally.

Some brothers are more equal than others

Little Brother cover XFor the tenth and final week of my online class, Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, the reading assignment was Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother.

It was the only book in this class which had officially been published in the category “Young Adults”, or YA (like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, if you are not familiar with the label.)  However, most of the SF/F mega-genre has at time considered to be merely for youthful and immature readers…

Little Brother reads as if Alan Moore had written a sequel to Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series for the universe of V for Vendetta, and published it in Linux Magazine.  It makes a lot of references, both open and oblique, to George Orwell’s 1984; the defence against Big Brother, it suggests, is a lot of Little Brothers and Sisters.

Anyhow, here is the last of my 300-word essays for this class.  Continue reading “Some brothers are more equal than others”

Life-long Learning

My science fiction and fantasy class ends this week.  Even though I had accumulated the grades to earn the certificate three weeks ago, I did all ten weeks of readings, essays, and peer reviews because, after all, learning itself is more real than certificates.  I’ve registered for a number of additional online classes throughout the year, since there are so many interesting and free choices.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been sprouting everywhere in the past year or so, but the logistics and economics of getting them to a point where they can start bringing in revenue to pay for themselves are problematic.  Open Culture had an interesting article on the topic a few days ago, The Big Problem for MOOCs Visualized.  In the mean time, I’m enjoying as many free classes as I can; who knows how long the experiment will last.  Anyone want to join me on any of these?

Smokestacks_3958I’m half-way through Property and Liability: An Introduction to Law and Economics, given by Dr. Richard Adelstein of Wesleyan University. It doesn’t make for great blog posts because the homework consists of online quizzes, and I’m too new at the topic to feel brash enough to ad-lib on the lectures.  However, the course is excellent and very well presented; I highly recommend it and will be looking out for more opportunities to hear Dr. Adelstein speak.

9_becoming_human_BIn a couple of weeks, the anthropology class Becoming Human begins, with Dr. Greg Downey of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia.  It sounds fascinating and only lasts four weeks, with assignments consisting once again of online quizzes.

immigration-nologo-2A week later starts a class I registered for in order to get an update on official policies, Citizenship and U.S. Immigration.  The course is hosted by Dr. Polly J. Price of Emory University and lasts five weeks; I expect it’s going to be another relying on online quizzes.  I’m particularly interested in learning about recent, planned, and hoped-for immigration reform.

art10_logoA class I’m greatly looking forward to, yet dread a little, starts in late May: Introduction to Art: Concepts & Techniques, with Professor Anna Divinsky of PennState.  This one actually requires that we create art pieces and upload scans or photos to the class Website, to be critiqued and discussed; media used will include graphite pencils, charcoal, pastels, ink, watercolour, acrylic paint, and collage.  So for seven weeks, this will probably be the activity I’m most interested in and talk about all the time.

Flag-raising-on-Iwo-JimaIn June starts another class I’m eagerly awaiting, The Camera Never Lies with Dr. Emmett Sullivan of the University of London International Programmes.  This six-weeks course is an introduction to use of photographs as historical evidence in the twentieth century, issues of authenticity and manipulation, and the place of film and historical adoptions as public history.

fury_millsFinally, in October I’ll be taking Live!: A History of Art for Artists, Animators and Gamers with Dr. Jeannene Przyblyski of the California Institute of the Arts: “Explore art history from the artist’s perspective. Learn how contemporary artists, animators and gamers work from the art of the past as part of their creative process, while building your own skills in visual analysis and creative and critical thinking.”  Assessment will be a combination of peer-reviewed sketchbook exercises and online quizzes.

My Essay on “The Left Hand of Darkness”: Rationed Life

Momo and tsampa, by vendroitThe Week 9 reading assignment for my online class on Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World was Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.

This is the book I would love to love.  I feel it reflects poorly on me that it leaves me… cold (ha-ha.) As in most travelogues, the narrator is supposed to stand in for the reader. But it’s hard to read this 1969 book in 2013 and relate to the mentality that is expected to be shared by the reader about differences between genders; I felt more at home with Gilman in  this respect.

I wanted to love this book, I really did.  I sympathize with the theme, I sympathize with the people of all genders who were so relieved to finally see themselves in a book.  But unfortunately, I was never very interested in any of the characters on an emotional level.

More than anything, I failed to identify at all with the mentality that was assigned to the oh-so-advanced Ekumen, where gender issues should really have been no big thing at all.  I get that the narrator is supposed to stand in for an American reader in 1969, but thankfully, this mentality now seems incredibly old-fashioned, like watching Ensign Janice Rand in her short skirt bring memos for Captain Kirk to sign.

Here is my 300-word essay.  Continue reading “My Essay on “The Left Hand of Darkness”: Rationed Life”