*NOTE: I sent this newsletter on March 31, but TInyletter thought it was spam, so I had to resend it today after having a human OK it. 

For Real

Haha! I told you this would be monthly, and so far I'm not lying. I just wonder if it's worth it. None of you seemed to listen to me when I told you not to throw your money away. In fact, Rym is raking in more money this month than last. If you're not going to be taking my advice, why are you even reading this? You're going to be sorry when that money gets pissed away on something dumb. I'll give you a nice "I told you so" as a parting gift.

I'm sure you are all also aware that tomorrow is April Fool's Day. Depending where on earth you live, tomorrow might be today. Because this holiday has been completely ruined, there will be no celebration of it on my part. Come and take refuge from the insanity in our small corner of cyberspace.


It seems like conventions are all we ever talk about when it comes to news, but that's how it is. We plan these things at least a year in advance. When you go to as many as we do, there is never one far off in the future or the past. We just finished Anime Boston. Zenkaikon and MoCCA Festival are this weekend. PAX East is extremely soon. After PAX East, there should thankfully be nothing until ConnectiCon. Maybe we can talk about something else besides conventions in May and June.

Rym did finally decide to stop reading Wheel of Time long enough to make a different book club selection. Of course, he yoinked the book I was going to pick. Now I'm stuck looking for something else. In the meantime, we can all read Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It's been recommended by so many people, we can't ignore it any longer.

Ye Olde Inbox

I would just like to remind everyone out there that if you reply directly to this newsletter via e-mail, I can see your reply. If you would like to say something that should be addressed in this newsletter, that is the way to do so.

Last month Doug sent in this short message:

I have some GM experience, but am ramping up to GM Burning Wheel for the first time. What would be your top one or two bits of advice for a person in my situation?

If you want to run an RPG, any RPG, the most important thing is to know the rules as much as possible. The more the GM, and the players, know the rules, the smoother things will go. Even if you never get any rules wrong, spending time looking up rules really kills the flow. Everyone is having a good time, playing, making stuff happen. Suddenly everything stops for ten minutes while someone looks up the rules. More studying and preparation means more fun and less bs.

The second bit of advice is that you are going to need players who are dedicated and willing to play a bunch of sub-par games. Practicing something like music is solitary. Nobody else has to hear your painful beginning notes. Practicing being a GM means players have to suffer until you get better. It will only get better the more you play, but it won't ever improve if everyone quits. No matter how much studying or advice you do in advance, you have to just get to it and play.

Also, once you play even just one session, you'll have a lot more context for any sort of helpful resources you reference later. Helpful advice will be more helpful when you can make a connection between what someone is telling you and the game you actually played. Imagine if someone gave you some high level strategy tips for Street Fighter before you even touched the joystick. Not helping. You have to play some bad sessions first, then seek help.

Learn More, Work Less

For many years now I've noticed a tendency in most people to favor doing extra labor in order to avoid having to learn anything new. As if learning was somehow more work than actually working. It might just be because it's on my mind, but I've noticed this more and more every day. I've been trying to get some discussion around how to get people to learn more and work less. I even wrote a blog post way back in 2010 that focused on just one manifestation of this problem, but the idea is still getting no traction.

The most common example I see are people who refuse to learn how to use the gears on their bicycle. Some people go so far as to intentionally get bicycles that do not have more than one gear. They then make up a bunch of excuses to make themselves believe that having only one gear is somehow superior. 

It is an empirical fact that if you ride a bicycle with multiple gears, and use them properly, your ride will be faster, more comfortable, and more efficient. Yet, every time I bike up a hill I see some people huffing and puffing at a snail's pace. Meanwhile I'm sitting and riding comfortably in a low gear zipping right past them. Many of them have a bunch of gears. There is no question that they simply do not know how to use them. On a handful of occasions I have tried to offer advice to people in as friendly a manner as possible, and in most cases people don't want it. They actively reject learning. They don't want to know things. The pain it would cause in their brain to learn something somehow exceeds the pain they have in their legs from climbing a steep hill in high gear.

Let's go through a bunch more examples, just for fun.

Many people insist on using a garlic press rather than learn proper knife skills. My knife skills are bad, but I can handle garlic without a problem. Professional chefs use nothing but a knife to prepare garlic. There are plenty of free resources on the web demonstrating proper technique. The same goes for so many other nonsense kitchen gadgets. These gadgets all cost extra money and are a pain to clean. You also have to find a place to keep them. Why spend money and effort when learning is free?

Many new software development tools exist these days solely because they allow people to avoid learning. I see GUI interfaces for tools like Git that allow people to avoid learning the command line interface. Expensive cloud hosting solutions are very popular since they allow people to avoid learning *NIX system administration. The most blatant offense is nodejs. Someone decided that it was better to build an entire development infrastructure to allow them to use JavaScript for the server-side component of their web applications rather than simply learn any of the existing, and vastly superior, programming languages that already handled that task quite well.

This phenomenon even extends into the land of geekery. I've seen people pirate TV shows in ultra low resolution on YouTube with busted aspect ratios, because they don't want to learn to use Bittorrent. When I play games I see a lot of people doing a lot of work to shuffle cards because they don't want to learn how to do it properly. I know we've all been frustrated at that person who fails at a video game, and doesn't want to hear you try to tell them about the technique they clearly don't know. 

I hope I've provided enough examples to prove that this is definitely a real thing, so let's get right down to the serious questions. Why do people behave like this? Is it a problem that we should try to fix? If so, how do we go about doing that? Obviously, I have no evidence to go on, but I'm going to play computer chair psychologist anyway. This newsletter would be too boring if I didn't.

There are three reasons I can immediately think of for this behavior. Feel free to share any others you come up with. The first is the anti-intellectualism that has spread across US culture, and perhaps world culture. There is an enormous amount of material covering this topic, but the best I have read recently is this story about Friends, a TV show I have never watched.

The second is that people are just not smart. If they are smart, they underestimate their own intelligence and capacity for learning. In either case, they are afraid of being made to feel dumb, or being reminded of their inferior intellect. I've seen people afraid to play board games, that will definitely be fun, because they are afraid people will think they are stupid if they get rules wrong. They're afraid of failing to learn. I'm sure someone might turn down an offer to learn how to use gears on their bike because of that very same fear.

The only thing else that comes to mind is the awful state of schooling. I know people who like to learn, and people who don't. In either case, I know very few people in either category who genuinely liked school. Most standard school, especially in the US, is so awful that people just want to get as far away as possible. Once they graduate, they never want school again. School taught them that learning is extremely unpleasant. They would rather do something in a way that is comfortable and inefficient if it means they can avoid anything resembling school.

If we agree that this is real, is it a problem? Why not let people keep doing things their own way? In some cases, it's not a big deal, like the garlic press. Sure, it's not as good as the knife, but it's not a big deal. The garlic press won't ruin anybody's day, but in other cases it can have severe consequences.

You own a company and your employee spends all day pressing ctrl+c and ctrl+v because they don't want to learn vim? That costs time and money. It might also give someone RSI. An athlete refuses to use newer, safer, equipment because they would have to adjust their technique. They go on to sustain a serious injury the equipment could have mitigated. Someone in the factory refused to learn the new safety procedures because nothing ever went wrong with the old ones. Shake hands with danger.

What can we do about it? I wish I knew. Right now I'm doing what I usually do. If I see someone I know doing something, and I know there's a better way, I let them know. If they actively avoid learning, I give them shit. As you might imagine, this isn't very effective. I'm also just doing what I'm comfortable with, and not learning. 

So help me out here. You come across someone who is doing something in a wrong or inefficient way. Their life, and perhaps the lives of others, would be improved to some degree if only they were willing to learn a new way of doing things. How do you deliver that education in a way that will be well received? How do you get someone to be receptive to learning without being that know-it-all that everyone hates?