It’s that time again… the end of the year where I give a look back at my geek-related work and home life and try to grade myself (always on a curve and with extra credit tossed in before averaging) on my various endeavors. 2015 was a great year for me for many reasons–there were the inevitable potholes and detours and complete traffic shutdowns, but, all-in-all, I have to say it was a pretty straight road for me personally and professionally.
I continue to try and find ways to make my work life more efficient so I have more time to play and spend less time with the grind-centric stuff. I’ve also got two young boys who are a year older with more advanced interests and attention spans, so there were some nice surprises this year in terms of introducing my kids to my hobbies as well as helping them find their own.
I hope that 2015 was a good one for you and your family. Hopefully, you ended it on a solid geek note with maybe a viewing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens or an enjoyable play-through of a new (or favorite) tabletop game or video game during the final days of the year. Maybe you tackled some home improvement items during your time off, or maybe you just managed to catch up on some much-needed sleep. However you view 2015, take a moment and look back on your successes and maybe take a stab at some of your goals for 2016. For me, 2016 is already off to a great start…
If you’ve read any of my previous Geekdad-Year-End-Review posts (2014, 2012, 2011) you’ll probably already know that I am always on the lookout for ways to make my home office work better for me. I’m a full-time technology writer, and I typically produce about five to six books per year on a mix of subjects for a mix of publishers. I enjoy the freelancer lifestyle for a variety of reasons, including the flexibility it offers to my family (drop-off/pickup of kids at school, doctor/dental appointments, sick days, etc.), but it means that what hours I do have during my day for work are spent as efficiently as possible.
My whiteboard no longer has “GET THESE DONE” written on it–instead, I’ve transitioned the board to a brainstorming area for the books I write. This last year, I finally transitioned to a digital To Do list using the Clear app. I don’t like complicated, and Clear is about as uncomplicated as they come. Swipe down to add something, swipe left to delete something. I love it.
Over the last few years, I’ve spent quite a bit of time using some personal scanners to rid my office of paper clutter. A few years ago, I had stacks of magazines that includes issues where I only wished to keep a single article as well as issues where I wanted to entire issue. I can happily say that this was the first year I never built up a magazine stack. I continue to use my ScanSnap iX500 to convert my print subscription of Family Handyman to digital and I also use it to scan ripped out articles. I’ve stuck to my policy of reading a magazine ONE TIME and ripping out anything that I think might be of use to me now or later. I’ve managed to keep my office around 97% paper-free and it’s now a solid habit that I never wish to break.
That iX500 also got some serious usage this year when I loaned it to my dad for a month. He followed my recommendation of taking books and magazines to FedEx Kinkos and having them chop the spine off for easier scanning. The iX500 can handle about 50 double-sided pages at a time in the hopper, and I’ve gotten to where I can scan a 100-page magazine and convert to a searchable PDF in about two minutes, no lie. A 400-page book takes me about 10 minutes. My dad scanned about 30 books from his library, freeing up much-needed shelf space and giving him a growing list of reference material he enjoys reading on his iPad. The goal is to loan him the iX500 once or twice a year so he can continue to shrink his library down to digital versions.
Not only did I manage to keep my office paperless (mostly) for a year, but I actually managed to reduce my book collection through some serious scanning. I gave myself extra points for helping my dad achieve similar results. This year, I’m also hoping to scan three or four books per month as I continue to reduce my library and send it to Dropbox where I can access these books from anywhere.
Files — Music, Movies, Photos, etc.
I continue to pay my $100 per year for the 1TB of data storage from Dropbox. I do use my 30GB of OneDrive storage, but for sheer ubiquity (when it comes to all the devices in my house), I’ve yet to find a solid reason to dump this business expense. More than a handful of times in 2015, being able to access Dropbox files at unpredictable times and places more than convinced me to renew for 2016.
Twice this year, I had major technology failures. First, around April 2015 my desktop computer’s hard drive died. Fortunately, I was in the habit of having ONLY the operating system and applications installed on the drive… my data was all stored on a 3TB external hard drive OR in Dropbox. Or both. PLUS… all this data was backed up constantly to BackBlaze.
Note: BackBlaze is $5/month for unlimited backup of one computer PLUS any storage devices connected to it. This means that 3TB hard drive was also being backed up. (Data I store on Dropbox isn’t backed up to BackBlaze although I guess I could enable it.)
Because of my data backup to BackBlaze, all I had to do was install a new hard drive, reinstall Windows, and then reinstall about a dozen applications. I had all the application executables as well as install codes stored in two places–3TB drive and DVD backups–and I only lost about a day’s worth of work time getting the PC back in business.
The second failure was the two-year-old 3TB drive that just up and died in November. No ticking noises, no hints of death. Just kaput one day. I visited Costco and purchased a 5TB replacement (and you already know it cost less than the 3TB drive) and then recovered a terabyte of data from BackBlaze. For $60/year, this was yet another business expense that I have renewed with a big grin.
Finally, I also managed to purchase unlimited cloud storage from Amazon for $5 for one year. Not $5/month… $5 for an entire year. UNLIMITED. It was a Black Friday special and I’ve already put it to use as a backup for my family’s photos and videos. It’ll be $60/year after that, but still not a bad deal.
Honestly, I’m now starting to get a little confused about what is stored where–between Dropbox, my new 5TB drive, and the unlimited Amazon storage, I’ve never had this many options for storing my valuable data. I think I’m going to try and figure out a more consolidated, logical method for storage and backup during 2016. For now, however, it’s nice to have so many options.
There were a lot of firsts for me this year when it came to my work. I’ve played games for years and years, and I’ve always imagined how great it would be to work for a game company and write for them. As a kid, playing D&D and other RPGs, I was envious of those folks who wrote books and adventures (modules)… and got paid for it, too. This year, I managed to get my first paying gig in the world of game content creation–Goodman Games hired me to contribute to their new Fifth Edition Fantasies series of game material for the new Dungeons & Dragons 5E. Coming out soon, the Fifth Edition Fantasy #7 book contains a dozen mini-adventures, five of which are mine. I had a blast brainstorming them, then writing them, and then editing and polishing with the GG editors. And then a check arrived. I’ve written over 30 books since 2007, but none of them had me smiling as wide as this gig. I’m hoping to find more writing opportunities in the gaming industry in 2016, so publishers… I’m available!
Another first was getting to write a video game book. The book’s not out yet, but it was really fun to write. It’s a user guide for the LEGO Dimensions game, and it covers both the Story Mode and the Adventure World (Sandbox Mode). Of course, writing the book meant I had to purchase not only the game but about 15 of the 44 LEGO minifigs to unlock the 14 worlds and solve the various puzzles in the game. My kids came home one day in late October to find almost a dozen unopened boxes. I don’t know who was more excited, but it was fun sitting down with them and building the minifigs and the various vehicles. Then the work began… playing a level or world… and then re-playing it again. And again. And sometimes again. Writing a book for a video game is a LOT of work! I can’t count the number of times that my wife would head out the door to work and look over at me in front of the TV playing the game and shake her head. “I’m working. Honest!”
What else? Let’s see… in 2014 I taught two robot-building summer camps. In Summer 2015, I expanded that to a total of seven camps. Kids from 3rd grade to 7th grade seemed to enjoy my various camps that included Beginning Game Programming, Beginning Robot Building, Young Inventor’s Club, a 3D Printing camp, and even a Minecraft Engineering camp. The game programming camp and the Minecraft camp were very popular, forcing me to create extra sessions. I enjoyed teaching, but it put a solid stress on my regular job and has forced me to dial back this summer 2016 offering to four or five camps.
Speaking of the Minecraft camp, one of the books I’m most proud of was released in October 2015 — Digital Engineering with Minecraft. Because I was writing the book over the summer, I was able to test out a lot of the book’s content during my two Minecraft camps. The kids loved learning how to create 3D objects in Tinkercad and then import them into Minecraft, and I also showed them how to create 3D movies of their favorite locales as well as 3D photos that they could use with the 3D glasses ($3/each) I provided to each camper. The book is selling well, and I’ve been enjoying getting feedback from parents, teachers, and students about the book. Definitely a writing highlight of 2015.
No real complaints about work this year other than simply not enough time in the day to get everything done. I did over-schedule a bit this summer with the camps and two books going at the same time, and I’m going to have to get better about saying NO when I’ve got too much going on.
I didn’t do a whole lot this year when it came to home automation and security, but there are two small “upgrades” that stand out.
First, is the WeMo Maker device I installed on my garage door. I’ve been wanting a way to open and close my garage door using my phone, and this little device made it happen. I wrote up about the installation here, and I’ve now got the magnetic switch and wires ready so I can configure the device to tell me when the door is open or closed. (Right now, I can only open or close the door with my phone, not tell if the door has been accidentally opened.) I’m hoping this New Year’s weekend will give me the time to finish up the wiring so I can check the status of my garage door from anywhere in the world.
The second item is the Amazon Echo device. Amazon graciously loaned me a test unit for a month, and I’ve been enjoying the casual nature of asking questions in my living room and getting immediate answers–“What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” or “Who’s FSU playing this weekend?” But the biggest surprise with the device has been with my children. Once they got the hang of using the “Alexa” prompt to activate the device, they quickly figured out that they could get all sorts of answers to their questions–“How do you spell continent?” and “How many days until Valentine’s Day?” and “What is twenty-five times eight?” and more. (And, being boys, you can imagine some of the questions that involved bodily functions.) I’m sold on the device and am making plans on adding one to our home now that I’m having to return the test unit.
With as many smart home products available these days, I’m quite surprised at myself that I didn’t incorporate many this year. The idea of a smart house has always appealed to me, and I need to spend some more time researching the options out there and finding out what will work best for my family. Given that the Echo can communicate with WeMo devices (and I have a bunch of them), I’m leaning in that direction. This is one of those areas that I’m really looking forward to exploring.
Horrible. Simply horrible. The gym was an on-and-off experience for me this entire year, and I can’t really blame it on work. I will admit that a minor injury sidelined me for about two months, but, after healing up, I just couldn’t get motivated. I’ve already made a promise to myself that 2016 isn’t going to be anything like 2015, so this week it’s back to the gym (with a very slow and light workout to get me started).
Another area of my health that scared me a bit in 2014 was my eyes. During my annual eye exam, my doctor was a bit worried about a score related to Macular Degeneration. It wasn’t super bad, but it was a concern. My recent eye exam showed a minor improvement (related to diet changes) but not enough, so it looks like I’m going to have to increase my intake of green veggies. Again. Still… there wasn’t a decline, so I am thankful for that.
Finally, for a third year in a row… I got my butt to the doctor for my annual checkup. Cholesterol is good, blood pressure good. My doc retired, so I transitioned to his son (which was cool) and got some praise at making it three years in a row and making an effort to stay healthy for my two boys. Turns out that men in their 40s avoid the doctor like the plague. Who knew?! Guys… get to the doctor. Just do it. Make sure you’ve got many more years ahead to enjoy Star Wars Episode VIII, Half-Life 3, and see where Marvel Phase 4 takes us.
I missed many months of the gym but my BMI and cholesterol are good. Without a doctor visit, I would have given myself a C… maybe a D. But just knowing the doc thinks I’m doing okay was enough to forgive myself for the lack of gym activity. But that’s going to change this year and I’m planning on returning to a more regular routine.
I’ve added a new category because… well… this is GeekDad! I’d like to think my geek cred is strong, so looking back at 2015 I can see a lot of positives:
- GenCon — I got to go to GenCon!!! My first time at this legendary/historical/crazy-fun event. Now I’m trying to decide if 2016 is going to be a follow-up trip or if it’ll have to be an every-other-year kinda thing.
- Back in the DM chair — Pretty much throughout 2015, I was in the DM chair every Wednesday night for Adventurers League. I hope my players have enjoyed the challenges I’ve thrown at them, and I’m looking forward to what 2016 offers when it comes to Season 4!
- The Maker Movement — I attended the Atlanta Maker Faire in October, but a big highlight for 2015 was getting to co-author a new book with my friend, Rick Schertle. It’s a book of STEM projects for teachers, and it’s also looking like it could very well become a book series. I also got to contribute a project/chapter to a 3D printing book. It’s also looking like I’ll get to attend the Maker Faire in California in May 2016.
- Board Game Night — Not quite a regular thing, but I did my best to start a weekly night of playing board games with the family. It faltered for a bit, but got started again over the Christmas holiday. Hoping to keep it going – as a matter of fact, tonight I’m tossing Forbidden Island on the dining table and we’re going to win together!
- Game Content Creation — Did I already mention I got to write some D&D mini-adventures for Goodman Games? I did? Well, I’m sharing it again… VERY happy to create something for D&D players and DMs to hopefully enjoy.
- Star Wars Ep. VII — My dad took me in 1977 to see Episode IV when I was eight years old. This year, I got to take my oldest son, age 8, to see The Force Awakens. I love being a GeekDad.
Book reviews, beta games, Kickstarters galore… plenty of chances to fly my geek flag this year, and there’s still a few days left in 2015 as I write this. I’d like to think that every GeekDad (and Mom) out there will give themselves an A when it comes to sharing their hobbies and interests with their families. Good job, all of you.
My Report Card
All-in-all, 2015 was a great year for work but no so good when it came to my health. My wife got a FitBit, so she’s already throwing taunts about how many steps she’s taking. Challenge accepted!
I’m hoping 2016 is going to be a stellar year. I’ve got work lined up already and quite a few book ideas that are geek-related. New games are coming out that I can’t wait to play, and there’s a TON of books from some of my favorite authors releasing in 2016. And it doesn’t hurt that I get to continue writing for GeekDad.com and hanging with the best crew this side of the USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon, and Serenity.