Saturday, 26 January 2013

First Command, Completed

Season 1 has boldly went. I'm happy to report that my first planned season of Star Trek roleplaying for the crew of the USS Dauntless has been successfully completed. The series (officially titled 'Edge of Nirvana', though that seldom comes up) has been officially renewed by Commodore Swart for a second season, which we'll be starting pretty much immediately. This post is both a summary of season 1 for any interested party, and an attempt to draw more of our Joburg members in to play with us in future (perhaps even some brand new members too). The complete Obsidian Portal records of the game can be found here, and these now include my previously concealed GM's notes about each session.

The Maquis starship Hur'Un, demonstrating why spacecraft painted black are artistically problematic. The red racing stripes had not been added yet.
To review, the game revolves around one small cell of Maquis terrorists/freedom fighters (but if we're honest, definitely terrorists), who stole an Oberth-class starship, the former USS Rutan, for their fight against the oppressive and mean Cardassians. They renamed their ship the Hur'Un, a Klingon term meaning something close to "out of the frying pan," as in that which precedes going into the fire; it's a fantastic name, which if I remember right was jointly devised by Alex and Owen. Their little ship is massive by Maquis standards, but still tiny compared with any serious Enterprise-like starship, it's seriously under-staffed, and it certainly isn't a proper combat vessel. It didn't even have photon torpedoes until the last episode. Even so, a combination of running away like frightened targs, completely amoral opportunism and occasional aggressive insanity have combined to allow the Hur'Un's crew to strike a few nasty blows against the Cardassian occupation.

We've been playing every Monday evening, though there's some discussion about changing that to accommodate new players. We're using Decipher's CODA rules system, which is decent enough, except for its over-complicated skills list. I've been GMing, and the players so far have included 4 established Dauntless crewmembers, some who had never played a pen-and-paper roleplaying game before, and 3 civilians who I brought in from my usual roleplaying circle. Two of those three didn't have the high moral virtue that it takes to engage in Dauntless away missions (basically, willingness to stay out a little late on a work night), but one has become our newest recruit, already risen to the high rank of Crewman. I think the biggest single crowd we pulled together was 7 people. As organiser of the events, I count as having "commanded" them, which'll go some way to getting me my next promotion. Have I mentioned I like shiny medals? Anyway, I'm fully aware that I've been running successful roleplaying games for years now (and unsuccessful ones for even longer), but it still pleases me more than I would have expected that the first thing I've done for the USS Dauntless, my first command, has gone reasonably well.

I've also been spending a lot more time than usual with DeviantArt, Paint.Net, GIMP and SketchUp, making frivolous but fun visuals for the game. Some of that has already ended up on Obsidian Portal, but I've also done a different banner for each week's Google Events invite, which I've filed away for your perusal on Pinterest. My thanks to all the real artists whose work I've hacked up without permission.

Here is the plot so far:

Episode 1: The Oberth Effect
Our Maquis cell steals a retired science ship from a Starfleet shipyard. Running away with it, they're confronted first by an inexperienced young lieutenant (an Orion, who they capture) in a runabout (which they turn into an automated warp missile, launched at the nearest Cardassian planet), and then by a more serious Starfleet captain in a more serious starship. They manage to evade her (partly by throwing one of their two hostages out of an airlock, to distract her) and flee.
Running death toll: 3

Episode 2: Forces in Three Dimensions
Examining a rogue planet near the Badlands as a potential Maquis base, the crew of the newly-renamed Hur'Un spot that there's already a facility there. They try to land their shuttle behind the horizon and sneak up on the base, but are clearly spotted and apprehended by the Breen pirates living there. The Breen commander flies one Maquis up to the Hur'Un to assess the crew's offered ransom and is killed once he gets there. At the same time, the rest of the Maquis break out and engage in a firefight with the Breen ground crew just as they're trying to launch their raiding ship. The raider is crashed inside the giant hangar and the Maquis claim the remains of the base for themselves.
Running death toll: 35

Episode 3: Conservation of Energy
The Hur'Un visits a class M planet deep in the Badlands to assess it as another base site, and discovers a local species has already filled most of its one small continent with a low-technology but vast interneccine war. Peculiar sensor readings draw their attention to one untouched valley in the middle of the thickest fighting, so the Maquis abduct some random aliens to question them about it. This yields nothing, so they beam down and discover a shield of some sort is both protecting and concealing the valley, where an isolated group of locals live quite oblivious and peaceful lives. This turns out to be thanks to the Bajoran Orb of Sanctuary, apparently brought here centuries ago. The Maquis decide to steal it. Meanwhile, up in orbit, the Federation starship Tempest is closing on the Hur'Un, apparently battle-damaged and still looking for more fights. The Maquis get the Orb aboard and use it to conceal their own ship, allowing them to flee the system.
Running death toll: 35

Episode 4: Measurement Uncertainty
An investigation of a Cardassian listening post near the Badlands reveals that an experimental Cardassian ship is being tested there. The Maquis seize it and capture its small crew, but accidentally destroy the whole ship, before blowing up the listening post and escaping the system as a Cardassian warship approaches. The Cardassian prisoners are tortured, but reveal nothing.
Running death toll: 35

Episode 5: Impulse
Using data taken from the Cardassian listening post, the Maquis are able to intercept an arms convoy. They skirmish with its light escort, ultimately winning and forcing the freighters to surrender.
Running death toll: 38

Episode 6: Elementary Charge
A small Maquis fleet assaults a Cardassian planet, partly to raid its military facilities, partly to rescue some prisoners. Several Cardassian warships are engaged and ultimately forced to withdraw, but the other Maquis ships are all fairly badly damaged too. On the ground, the raiders steal lots of stuff and set some explosive ambushes for the Cardassian troops coming to deal with them. With that distraction in effect, the raiders beam across to the prison and start to release the captives. During all of this, a Maquis shuttle starts pursuing a Starfleet shuttle that unexpectedly rises from the Cardassian base, making towards the equally unexpected USS Tempest. The shuttle is destroyed (prompting the Tempest to exit the scene) and its dead pilot, dressed all in black leather, is beamed up to the Hur'Un for examination. With Cardassian reinforcements on the way, the Maquis fleet withdraws.
Running death toll: 99

Episode 7: Resisting Force
Asked to collect intel from Maquis spies, the Hur'Un crew must first deal with one of their own getting mind-controlled by their Orion hostage, the young Starfleet officer, and leading an attempt to storm the bridge. Amazingly, nobody actually dies. Then they learn of a Cardassian plan to test biological weapons on the Maquis-alligned planet they started out from, and they must fight solo against advanced Cardassian ships and, once again, the USS Tempest. Folowing the great Maquis victory, the USS Zephyr arrives on the scene to investigate and allows them to leave unhindered.
(I also used this episode as an excuse to update my list of ships named Dauntless.)
Running death toll: 899

I don't want to give away too much about season 2, but it should reflect a more matured Maquis organisation and I hope to give the players a little more freedom to plan their own actions.

Consilience #64: The Needs of the Citation

(I'm a week behind on my planned posts, due to a week of internet impotence - I swear, this doesn't normally happen to me - so expect a sudden flood of new posts from this point on.)

I'm audible for the seventh time. Me, Commodore Owen and Petty Officer Patrick, making a big mess of some science & skepticism noises. Civilian Angela was thought possibly able to join us via the Skypophone, but technical problems with that still persist. While recording, I felt like we were messing up a lot and making some fairly amateurish chaos; listening to the final product, it doesn't seem so bad. The worst bit was that my mic was apparently turned a bit low at first, so half my words are inaudible until Owen spotted this and turned me up.

We did leave out one thing, which was a cool story Patrick had found about Fomalhaut b's eccentric orbit, which tied in nicely with my new Citation Needed segment, so it's a pity it slipped our hive-mind.

No great travel anecdotes this time. I did cock up Gilooly's again, this time by not expecting it so soon and driving right past it. My correction (taking the next offramp, Van Buuren, I think) was pretty quick and efficient, and I'm getting to know the area reasonably well now.

You can find the file and the show notes for #64 here:

Friday, 18 January 2013

Burn the Witch Hunters!

It turns out, I know a lot more about keeping an organisation from tearing itself apart with internal conflict than you do, having put a lot of research and thought into it (enough that it earned a distinction) for my honours degree. There are two different organisations in South Africa  - Alzheimer's SA and Dementia SA - that are wastefully both dealing with dementia in pretty much the same way, all because the management of each couldn't resolve their petty personal differences about 10 years ago. I'm not going to discuss them here, but they do stand as an example of how people nominally working together can split apart for stupid and irrelevant reasons.

The reason my attention has been drawn this way is that a festering mess in some foreign skeptics' circles has now leaked into my local group: The "Is Rebecca Watson an Evil Misandrist®?" debate. And while, as I've said before, the skeptics' community is a very big, informal and anarchic thing, we can still draw some useful parallels with my experience with Alzheimer's SA and the general question of non-governmental organisations' cohesion. Because whether they exist as formal organisations or vague associations, they're all ultimately held together by social capital, the willingness of their constituent people to do things for each other and for the group, not because of quantifiable cash profit but because of abstract friendship, loyalty, a sense of shared accomplishment. Petty, avoidable squabbles will naturally tend to undermine this.

My initial perspective is always to look at the big picture, at what the complete context is, and how each person's claims fit into this. This does mean I can sometimes be a bit dismissive of a person's concerns if they don't have much effect beyond the purely personal, if they don't appear to affect the group much. Of course, in this case I'm part of the group, and so my dismissiveness is another thing that can affect the group dynamic, which is messy. But in general, I prefer to step back and take in all the traffic patterns in town, rather than focusing on driving my own car. *EEEEEEEEEEEEsmash!*

The big picture at the moment is that there are a lot of people in a big huff over very little substance. The complete Rebecca Watson saga is now well beyond her, and yet people keep leaping back to her as the Great Evil behind it all. Broadly, I've seen three camps:
1. The "Rebecca is evil misandrist, leading a witch hunt against anyone who disagrees with her!" camp,
2. The "Misogynists are crawling out of the shadows, get them!" camp,
3. And the "Guuuuuuuuuys! Stop tearing us apart!" camp.

I suppose technically I'm closest to the third lot, except I don't think unity at all costs is as important as airing all the shit and getting it properly resolved. But I mean properly resolved, not 'internet argument that you just shut out when it's not going your way' kind of resolved. You don't fix problems by hiding them and ignoring them - it certainly didn't help Alzheimer's SA - and the illusion of "focusing on what's important" instead is unlikely to be more than a short-term fix, a treatment of symptoms rather than causes. It won't help.

The other two major camps share a few attributes - neither side has been perfectly rational or calm about things - but over all my sympathies tend to lie more with group 2, the underdogs in the big picture of society as a whole. We do need more feminism (an issue I could devote many whole posts to, but let's assume for today that this statement is not controversial) and it will require some people to make uncomfortable mental changes, leading to a degree of inevitable conflict. Could the conflict emerging right now be handled better? Fuck, yes. But I don't think group 1 really have that much of a leg to stand on, if group 2 can clean up their approach and start managing the conflict more effectively. There is no grand misandrist conspiracy, no organised anti-man campaign, as far as I can tell. The biggest problem I've seen has been miscommunication (Watson, for one, is definitely not as precise in her writing as she could be), fuelled mainly by prior biases on both sides.

Owen Swart has said he'll do a blog post laying out the opposite case, that there really is a big, nefarious plot against all penises, and it may turn out that I've missed something major. But until I've seen that, all I can go on is the evidence that I have seen so far, which says there's no evil plot. I've been following Skepchick daily for about 5 years now, in among all the other science and skepticism blogs I follow, and I have literally no idea what Owen & co. are talking about. I think it's telling that half a dozen people have insisted to me that they feel persecuted, and yet Owen is the only one who's been willing to say he'll put forward evidence of that persecution (and we'll have to wait and see what that actually is). The others have actively refused to back up their claims and even become insulted that I'd ask for it, as if their word should be enough. It's almost like they're not familiar with how skepticism works, and yet I know they are, so it's puzzling.

But those are the fidgety specifics. To me, the big picture is that two competing camps have formed, neither really trying very hard to see the other side's point of view and adapt. Instead, the term 'witch hunt' has become thoroughly overused. Both sides feel victimised, or at least act like it, and this is probably the main obstacle keeping this from getting resolved. I would suggest two things to resolve this:
1. Direct communication.
2. Evidence-driven honesty.

The first is more or less what my advice was to Alzheimer's SA, after my research. Isolated cells of people working together in a small regional group (which is a fair enough description of a lot of the skeptical community) are fine for day-to-day operations, but this way of operating makes it too easy to lose touch with people in other cells, except in the most superficial manner, and so diverging views will inevitably evolve. At the very least, we need to make a serious effort to keep familiar with each other's views, so that there aren't sudden, unexpected burst-discoveries of how different other people can be. But even better, we should probably mix and mutate our views, learning from each other, not just passively observing differences. None of this is possible if we insist on gossiping among our usual close groups and "shunning" (another over-used word lately) those who we currently find disagreeable. All that leads to is greater animosity and less understanding. This all requires constant effort, though, so it's easy to see why it might be easier to slip into lazy isolationism.

There was an interesting interview with Jamy Ian Swiss on the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe episode 379, which covered a lot of similar ideas - dealing with conflicts over what the skeptical movement is for and who gets a say in this - and is worth (re)listening to with all this stuff in mind too.

 My second suggestion is perhaps harder to apply, but is ultimately more important. I've been hearing a lot this week about how people feel persecuted or have a feeling that Rebecca Watson is just a calculating publicity devil. This may be so for them, I'm not interested in debunking anyone's personal, subjective feelings, but it's not enough as a basis for getting everyone riled up. A lot of people feel scared of ghosts, but is that a good reason to start developing proton packs, ecto-containment units and customised Miller-Meteor ambulances. No! Ghosts don't exist and those things should be developed for other, much more rational reasons, like that I want them. But fear of ghosts/"femi-nazis"/rapists should not be the basis for policy; the actual prevalence and severity of ghosts/"femi-nazis"/rapists is what a rational policy is based on (and two out of those three don't exist outside of scary stories).

The important question then is, what is the reality behind all the accusations of witch hunts and abusive sexism? I'm perfectly happy to admit that my casual, unplanned observations over the last half-decade could have missed something important, but Occam's razor, the burden of proof and the null hypothesis all tell me to stick with that until I get good evidence to the contrary, rather than leaping angrily onto a bandwagon (in either direction) out of emotion and close-group loyalty. When someone can't give me evidence, I'm more inclined to ignore them. When they actively refuse to give it and when they poo-poo any evidence contrary to what they want, I almost can't help assuming the worst about their intentions. I realise this is a failing on my part, and is probably just as untrue as most of the other assumptions floating around this mess, which just goes to show how important the previous suggestion (direct communication) is. You have to have both elements functioning together, because good evidence doesn't come from thin air.

Now, that's all my distant, academic stuff. It's also been suggested that I'm just naive, so let me stroll down from the ol' ivory tower for a second a give a personal anecdote to illustrate just how well I know the real cost of all this.

I was accused of stalking a woman. Let me say at the very start that I didn't stalk her. But I can be a pretty unpleasant person sometimes (and I was especially bad around age 20), and I was a bit mean to her on one occasion. I regret that, but fallible humans sometimes do these things, and our conversations, which had started out quite friendly and even romantic, became less and less frequent, until they just stopped altogether. It was a decline from both sides, not entirely her shunning me, though I was probably always a step behind, I think. There was no indication that I was not welcome to talk to her though, until one day she suddenly told me to piss off. So I did, permanently. The end. This is not really the typical model of stalker behaviour, and the surprising, confusing accusation of stalking only came to me a month or two later, indirectly, via mutual friends. Or rather, formerly mutual friends, as suddenly everyone was calling me a stalker and avoiding me and not inviting me out anymore. People who I didn't even know knew me as "that creepy stalker guy." A close friend of mine threatened to set the police on me, and I think there were vague hints from others of physical violence against me too (but I might be misremembering that part). It wrecked my social life and trampled on my self-esteem. I knew this woman less than a year, and yet I had to endure three or four years of people always assuming the worst about me and giving me shit.

The problem wasn't just evidence-free bandwagon-jumping, but also lack of communication. For well over a year, nobody who knew anything was willing to tell me exactly what I had done wrong, why I was a "stalker." It emerged, gradually, that a great many of them actually had no idea what the basis of the accusation was, and were just perpetuating the vague accusation on faith. Only a minority knew that really all it amounted to was that I once swore at her when I was angry. Years of my social life lost and buckets of self-loathing gained, all for that. None of those people were Evil™, for the most part they couldn't have gained anything from my loss, and they probably just felt protective towards the woman. I can easily accept that they had good intentions, rather than dismissing them as crazy femi-nazis on their rags. But when you don't have the evidence on your side too, good intentions clearly aren't enough.

So I know very well what the receiving end of a social "witch hunt" feels like (though perhaps we should stop using that term so loosely, out of respect for the real people who really get killed over literal-if-bullshit witchcraft accusations) and I have no doubt that I'd be pretty pissed off if Rebecca Watson and the other Skepchicks were really trying to get people to believe that I or my friends were rapists. But they're just not doing that. Treating them as if they are is irrational. And if they are, whispering about it amongst ourselves won't help anyway. If you have a problem with me, talk to me about it; if you have a problem with Rebecca Watson, get in the queue to talk to Rebecca Watson about it. But make it a genuine discussion, not just a chance to hurl accusations and run.

I think there are several lessons in this, but I think the key one is that the solution to feelings of persecution and shunning is not more persecution and shunning.

[EDIT: Owen has posted something that didn't impress me much, and I have responded to it.]

Friday, 11 January 2013

Skeptics vs. Skeptical Activists

I'm a skeptic. It's a thing you can be. The internet is full of places to learn about it, but I think a good, thorough starting point is here.

I'm part of the broader skeptical community. It's a thing you can take part in, but it's a bit hard to know much about the skeptics who avoid communal participation, because they're harder to spot. But there's certainly some subset of unsocial, non-communal skeptics. I think it's fair to say they have very little impact on the world, in terms of skepticism. Those who join the skeptical community have much greater opportunity to learn and teach and explore and cooperate.

I also try to be a skeptical activist. A lot of skeptics do, but the term doesn't get used much, perhaps because it sounds a bit clumsy, perhaps because there's value in displaying an apparently united front under a single title (value to the activists because they look more numerous, value to the non-activists because they look more accomplished). Regardless, I think it's worth making the distinction and being clear about who's doing what and why.

There is no King of Skepticism, no Grand Galactic Council of Critical Thinking. Some parts of the world have some formal societies set up, and there are a few celebrities of skepticism whose names are recognised (by other skeptics, at least) everywhere, but the whole thing remains a grassroots effort, and nobody can tell anyone else what to do or not do. And I think this is good. The big names got big by going out and earning it. The societies that lasted and grew did it because their members support each other. If you don't have to do anything, the only way to get things done is by wanting to do things. And the end product seems to be a pretty good indicator of how strong the want was, because while there's nobody telling you what you must do, there's also nobody (internally) limiting where you have to stop doing things.

There are also skeptics, sometimes very social communal skeptics, who have no interest in the activist side. This is their right (until I'm finally crowned Pan-Galactic Hyper-Emperor of Ultra-Doubt), because of the voluntary nature the skeptical community seems to universally share (and I'd love to see a contrary example). I'm not about to put a gun to anyone's head either, but I don't understand that crowd at all. Why accept that skepticism is important and go to the trouble of joining the community, if you're then going to refuse to do anything about it? I have no clear numbers, which limits this discussion for now, but I've spent enough time chatting with skeptics, both on- and offline, to get a reasonably clear idea that there are many for whom that meagre chatting is their sole skeptical effort. They don't want to commit to actually doing something, it seems, and quite a few are even actively opposed to getting involved in society.

Perhaps I'm unfair. What I studied was exactly "how to fix society" and now I work in science education. Writing comes so naturally to me that I would be blogging even if there wasn't an internet. And of course, for logistical reasons, we can't all be guest hosts on Africa's greatest science and skepticism podcast (I'm not even sure how I got that gig). So maybe not everyone can be 100% me. But plenty of non-me people manage to get useful things done. Who organises all the Skeptics in the Pubs/Parks, and the Rumbles in the Pubs (which I must get to one day)? Who got Ideas for Africa going? Who started Consilience, who keeps it going and does all the post-production? Who writes to newspapers or calls radio shows when they're too full of woo? Not me, nor any of a bunch of other things I could be doing to help the skeptical cause. The point is, none of us do every single thing that can be done, we all lean on our strengths; but some prefer not to lean at all, and do nothing to help. These people, to me, feel like a problem.

I struggle to avoid being derogatory in describing and explaining such behaviour. It mostly just seems snobbish and lazy to me, and this coming from a guy who's quite comfortable being labelled lazy. But calling people snobbish and lazy seems unlikely to solve anything; quite the opposite. If they take offence at it, they won't help. If they feel cowed into helping, they're not likely to be hard-working or dedicated. And slave-driving all the non-activists is not the best use of time for all the really eager activists. So is it better to just cut the dead weight loose? This sort of parallels the atheist community's recent kerfuffle over Atheism+ and similar notions that atheists should be social activists, except that I don't think atheism necessarily implies any positive action (because there are quite a lot of different experiences people can have with religion), while skepticism does. Although I'm having some trouble justifying exactly why that should be, right now.

That's where my thoughts on this currently stand: On some path, but clearly not at a specific destination yet. So, give me ideas: What keeps skeptics from acting actively? What could be done about this? What shouldn't be done about it?

Monday, 7 January 2013

Feeling a Sham

At the risk of contradicting my own do-not-internet-diagnose advice, I definitely have this impostor syndrome, at least to a moderate degree. It's hard to be sure about my younger years, as I often really wasn't too competent yet, but now I'm awesome, and yet still feel it. If anything, I feel it more.

I think there are 4 relevant factors: General self-doubt, the broadness of existence, my generalist approach, and the job market.

The first one would make an obvious contribution, and I've mentioned some examples of it before. Another example was the narrative I had in my head until a few years ago that I was "bad with women", which is madness, as I'm clearly gorgeous (with a split vote on the question of facial hair) and generally fine with women, socially. I'm no Casanova, I don't always spot or act on opportunities, and I don't do well in stereotypical courtship scenarios, like bar/club pick-ups and formal dates. But in more relaxed, unforced situations, I'm fine and clearly not "bad with women", or men, as far as I can tell. And yet, for years I had myself convinced that I was. So I can totally believe that some of my current assumptions, like that I'm "bad at dealing with customers/clients," are similarly flawed.

The second factor is obvious when you think about it, but hard to bear in mind while reading through job ads: There are thousands or millions or gajillions of possible skills to be learned, depending how you divide them up, and nobody can learn them all. So it's easy to find fault in yourself if you focus on what you can't do. I find this is worst if you compare yourself with others too much, and especially people in completely unrelated fields. Having lots of really brilliant friends, as I do, compounds the problem.

This is closely related for me to the third factor, my own vague, wishy-washy generalist's attitude to everything. I don't like specializing, I want to explore everything as widely as I can, and I feel left out when I discover some new field that I know nothing about, which means I probably cover quite a lot of skills, and my general knowledge really is excellent, but it also means that I'm definitely not the best at most of those skills. There are always people better at any given thing than me. I chose to study development studies partly because it's such a broad, multi-disciplinary, generalist thing, and I could get my brain into a hundred new things with it. But it also means that I never get to be the top specialist expert: The economists all know economics better, the environmental scientists know the environment better, the engineers know the technical stuff better, the teachers know education better, and even in political science, my first undergrad major, there are those who embraced it more deeply than I did, especially once dev. studies stole my attention. I know quite a bit about all of those fields, certainly enough to give a decent high school-level introduction to each, and probably enough to be fairly useful at a job dependent on them, but I still never get to feel like I'm truly on top of any one of them.

Compounding this, my career history is similarly all over the place, with experience in retail, admin, education and the manual packing of tens of thousands of promotional pencil and ruler sets. Add to this my "hobby" experience with all the skeptical activism, blogging, daily absorption of dozens of science blogs and podcasts, some serious GMing, starship command, and some model-building and -painting. This all gives me an even wider set of skills (though it's harder to prove it all on my CV, which relates to the fourth big factor), but still none I can claim to have thoroughly mastered, nothing I'd feel comfortable claiming to be an expert at. I was going to suggest that maybe I've mastered GMing, but I don't believe that deep down; I run some decent games, but my NPCs are always a bit weakly expressed, I never know the rules properly (whether or not I plan to ignore them) and the plots I generate myself seldom have solid endings. You see how easy it is to self-deprecate even with the fiddliest split hairs?

Each of these other things comes at a cost of further lost specialisation down the already-general development path. My work in education, for example, is great experience to have, but it's the main thing that's kept me away from development for the last 6 years. I've not kept a hand in my field of study in any way, nor maintained regular contact with those who do, to the point that browsing through development blogs now feels like an alien encounter; I struggle to tell what's over-complicated jargon and buzz words (of which there are always plenty) and what's an important concept I'm not familiar with (and will be laughed at by all the other dev. kids for not getting).

Fourthly, there's the brutality of the job market. Too many people, not enough jobs to go around. And according to my mom and sister, who both have a fair bit of HR experience, most job ads are written to be over-demanding, asking for more things than employers really need, so that they can pick an acceptable candidate from among the pool they expect won't quite meet their stated standards, but will still be good enough for the job. From their perspective, I can totally see how this is a safe way of finding adequately competent candidates, but from my perspective, it freaks me out, being advised (by people I trust) that I have to take this leap of faith and ignore the fact that I don't fit the 'Requirements' section in most job ads.

Worse, I'm also told (and my anecdotal experience kind of fits this) that job ads are for chumps, that employers use them as a last resort, and that the real way to get jobs is to just march into places and demand employment (which is, to me, a maddeningly upside down and haphazard way to organise things), or at least get in through connections and word of mouth (also not the way I like to do things, though possibly a healthier way for a society to operate, in some ways). That all adds to my uncertainty and self-doubt, because I have no objective measurement of whether I'm 'good enough' yet, other than the minority of jobs I do get accepted for. And with hardly any employers bothering with rejection letters (I'd estimate only 1%, in my personal experience), it's very hard to judge what specifically I'm lacking that kept me from being selected. So my imagination is free to feed my self-doubt even more.

(As an aside, this desire for clear estimates of my relative competence level is probably why I like the shiny, shiny badges.)

And if I actually want to make a sustainable independent living, which none of these many things has yet provided (and I'm not getting any younger here), I may have to take on some other job in another field, further diluting my qualifications.

It's no good telling me to accept that this is just the way things work; I'm not intending to change reality just by complaining about it, but I'm not going to suddenly stop thinking about how things work, and thus getting worried by what I see. I analyse things, it's one of my sexier features, and I worry about potential hurdles, perhaps sometimes too much. All of this together combines to (sometimes) make me seriously doubt whether I'm capable of doing anything I hope to do, even if my qualifications and experience suggest I should be capable. It's a pretty unpleasant way to feel, and it seems to strike me worst while actively job-hunting.

Annoyingly, there doesn't seem to be a simple, easy solution to impostor syndrome. Just "pushing through" it seems to be inevitable, since it's a mental obstacle, not a real disability or insanity, but talking about it and trying to recognise how I'm being unfair or unhelpful to myself should also help, right? I'm also curious to know how this affects anyone else, and if it gets to you, how you deal with it.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Sneak Preview of the Teaser Trailer for my Icon module

Icon 2013, Johannesburg's greatest and probably onliest games convention is going to be fucking awesome this year, because they should be running a roleplaying module that I wrote. What more could you possibly want at a con? I just submitted  the completed document now, after spending only 10 days writing it and 1 evening getting the formatting right. Last time I submitted a module (Icon 2008's Lead the Way), it took me well over a year to write it, fighting the damn unreliable MS Word formatting system every step of the way. And then, after Icon had used it, I got various feedback and spent another year refining it, as a sort of public-use version (which you're welcome to download here). So I surprised myself with this 10-day thing.

What's the module about? I can't say. I'm not even going to state the title until the Icon people have got everything printed and ready on their side. But I will say that it uses the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition system and setting, which means it'll fit in well enough with this year's post-apocalyptic theme. By coincidence, the same could be said for 2008's Lead the Way, but that's where the similarity ends. Lead the Way uses the Spycraft 1.0 system, and almost absolutely everything else about my two con modules is different. Apparently, I've just got a thing for post-apocalypses.

But you'll get to see for yourself, come July, either by attending Icon 2013 (Yes, do that!) and playing it there, or by waiting for my post-Icon public update revision to be become available here.