Monday, September 29, 2008

Puzzazz is Live

At 12:01 Pacific Time, Puzzazz, a new puzzle web site went live on the internet. But there aren't many users yet. I guess I have to tell the world first. So, here goes.

I've wanted to create Puzzazz, which is a portmanteau word meaning Puzzles with Pizzazz, for a long time. For those who don't know, I'm a professional puzzle constructor and game designer (in my spare time). I've had puzzles published all over the place, including a recent book, and I'm one of the co-founders of the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt. As a game designer, I have a few games that have been well received, but I'm still waiting for one to get picked up by a publisher.

My vision for Puzzazz is a quick diversion. I don't want you to spend hours on my site. I want you to spend a few minutes every day. I want to make you smile. I want Puzzazz to become a part of your life. To that end, Puzzazz tracks your solve rate and your accuracy rate (which takes guesses into account). You can invite your friends and you'll get to compare how well they're doing to how well you're doing. If you use Twitter, you can set your preferences to auto-tweet for you whenever you solve a puzzle. Hopefully, all your Twitter followers will want to join Puzzazz too.

Puzzazz is mostly word puzzles and they'll get harder from Monday through Saturday. The Sunday puzzle will be a larger puzzle, with about the difficulty of a mid-week puzzle in a larger size, and they'll be a variety -- from word puzzles to sudoku to logic puzzles. If this progression sounds familiar, it's not accidental.

I'm interested in feedback on all aspects of Puzzazz, but mostly on the difficulty level of puzzles. As any puzzle constructor knows, gauging difficulty is one of the hardest things in creating puzzles. I've got it down for lots of puzzle types, but the puzzles on Puzzazz are different, so feedback from you will help me calibrate.

So, check out Puzzazz. And invite your friends.

P.S. If you want to read about the creation of Puzzazz, read this post on my thisDev blog.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

You Are How You Manage

You know the slogan "You are what you eat"? Well, I think a lot of who you are is how you manage other people. There are lots of different styles, but my own encourages dissent. I don't want to foster competition, but I think that without dissent, without disagreement, you don't get the best solutions. I want the people who work for me to be better than me, at least at something. A few cases in point:

One time, I had an awesome tester working for me, one of the best testers I've ever worked with. A lot of people disliked him because he was a thorn in their side. But I loved him and encouraged him. When I really wanted to know the state of the world, I could ask him and he would give it to me straight. He made my job of managing the team easier. Years later, I happened to be called in as the "fix it guy" on a large project. He happened to be one of the testers on the project. He wasn't the test manager or even the lead, but he was the first guy I talked to and, in 10 minutes, I got a better lay of the land than I could have gotten in an entire day worth of interviewing other people. He made my job easier.

I've also managed a number of tech writers over the years, but I'm thinking of one particular guy who was a former writer. Now, I'm not a bad writer (one of my original majors in college was English, and I'm married to a former English teacher). But, I would regularly run important things I've written by this guy and he would almost always make it better. I made it clear that I didn't want him to pull punches and he didn't. I remember one occasion when I took him a two-page memo I'd written and the post-edit version turned out to be one paragraph. He made me a better communicator.
I once asked a guy who worked for me for an idea to present at an upcoming brainstorming session to make a particular decision. He had one suggestion that I thought was stupid, and I told him so. He argued with me, told me why it was a good idea. I stood my ground. At the brainstorming session, I presented his idea anway. After all, he was very confident that he was right. I also presented some of my own ideas. His idea won and, in the end, deservedly so. He did get the credit, but he made me look good.
In all these cases, and many others, if I hadn't encouraged dissent, I wouldn't have gotten the benefits. For me, this really works, though I'll admit that when I get new employees, they don't always believe me at first. It take some time. It doesn't work for everybody, but it works for me.

But I sure like it when I read a quote like this from Barack Obama on why he picked Joe Biden as his running mate:
"... if I'm in the room making the kinds of tough decisions that the next president's gonna have to make, both on domestic policy and on international policy, then I want the counsel and advice of somebody who's not gonna agree with me a 100 percent of [the] time. In fact, somebody who's independent enough that can push back and give me different perspectives and make sure that I'm catching any blind spots that I have. And Joe Biden doesn't bite his tongue."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

What is a Republican?

I just saw this comment on a web site:

"I am a fiscally conservative, socially liberal Republican...."
I'm sorry, but you don't exist. There's no such thing as a fiscally conservative, socially liberal Republican.

Republicans Aren't Fiscally Conservative

The leaders of the Republican party aren't fiscally conservative. The greatest increases in government spending, the greatest increases in the national debt, and the greatest increases in the size of our government have occurred under the Republican administrations of Reagan, Bush, and Bush. The misguided war in Iraq has already cost us over half a trillion dollars and some estimates are that the total cost will be as much as $3 trillion dollars, especially if we live up to our moral obligation to give our troops what we've promised them in benefits.

The Republican party wants to borrow more money to give tax cuts to the people who need it the least. Maybe a few of them aren't rich (remember, John McCain's defined rich as making more than $5 million a year). Under McCain's proposal, he and his wife, with their seven homes, will get a tax cut of more than $350,000. How much will you get?

The administration of Bill Clinton was the most fiscally responsible administration we've had in 30 years.

Republicans Aren't Socially Liberal

The party of Lincoln has been co-opted by the religious right -- the Christian religious right, who feel that only their religion is correct and we should all be Christian. God is on their side. The Iraq war is god's war. Only the Republican party understands god's will.

At the Republican convention, Rudy Giuliani insulted every Muslim in the world by equating Islam with a small number of terrorists who happen to be Muslim. How do you think they'd like it if we started using the phrase "Christian terrorists" all the time to refer to the terrorists who happen to be Christian?

You may think you can be socially liberal if you're a Republican, but go read the platform or listen to what standard bearers like Sarah Palin has to say, and you'll find your viewpoint isn't welcome.

You're a Democrat

Here's what Barack Obama said about the promise of America:
What is that promise?

It's a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It's a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us.  It should help us, not hurt us.  It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who's willing to work.

That's the promise of America - the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper.

That's the promise we need to keep.
Our government should work for us, not against us. If you believe that, you're a Democrat.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

The A_O_TION puzzle

Here's a puzzle. Name an English word that fits the following pattern:

A _ O _ T I O N
What's your answer? There are only two English words that fit that pattern: ABORTION and ADOPTION. In a recent post, I wrote about the silliness of not allowing adults to drink and the importance of remembering what your candidate stands for, even when your candidate isn't the nominee.

I'm not going to discuss any of the "pro-choice" or "pro-life" arguments here. The fact is that reasonable people disagree. Nothing that I say is going to convince anybody of anything.

The argument here is pretty much the same as in my last post -- just like the folks at MADD, it seems that most of the people who are opposed to abortion (and certainly the leaders of the anti-abortion movement) seem to have forgotten what they want to accomplish. Here it is: they want abortions not to happen. They're not going to get that to happen by convincing other people that their beliefs are superior. They're not going to get that to happen by convincing people that "god" is only on their side. And they're certainly not going to get that to happen by getting abortion made illegal. They've been trying to do all those things without success. The fact is that reasonable people disagree.

If just a fraction of the effort spent on the anti-abortion movement were spent on better sex education, promoting birth control, and promoting adoption, think of the differences that could be made. Think of how many unwanted pregnancies could be prevented from happening in the first place. Think of how many abortions might be eliminated. Instead, the anti-abortion people are frequently against sex education and birth control, and they are silent on adoption. Case in point: Alaska Governor and current Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is publicly anti-choice and thinks that abstinence-only sex education is the only way to go, and we all know how well that works.

It shouldn't be such a difficult puzzle now, should it?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Sarah Palin's Choices

I want to clarify my last post a little bit. Barack Obama has said that Sarah Palin's family (and, in fact, the families, of all politicians) should be off limits. I agree with that. As I said above, the post was not about Bristol Palin and I am sorry if mentioning her situation causes her any pain. Really.

Now, on to her mother. To be crystal clear, I do not think that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be Vice President because her daughter is pregnant.

I think that Sarah Palin is unqualified to be Vice President (or Governor, for that matter) because she wants to force her religious beliefs on the rest of us. I think that she is unqualified to be Vice President because she has a double standard for her own family and for everyone else. I think that she is unqualified to be Vice President because she thinks "abstinence only" sex education makes sense. I think that she is unqualified to be Vice President because she wants public schools to teach creationism. I think that she is unqualified to be Vice President because she thinks the Iraq war is a task from god. I think that she is unqualified to be Vice President because she thinks that her beliefs are more important than mine.

On the other hand, as a candidate, I like her. She makes it very clear what sort of judgment (or, rather, lack of judgment) on important issues we can expect from John McCain. She makes it very clear the differences between the policies of "Yes We Can" and the policies of "No you can't unless the evangelical Christians say you can." Sarah Palin sure scares me. I hope she scares a lot of voters.

Hope that makes it clear.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Bristol Palin's Choice

This post is not about Bristol Palin or her pregnancy.

Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin describes herself as "pro-life as any candidate can be." John McCain's campaign web sites links to articles about how evangelical Christians are excited about this new opportunity to force their religious beliefs onto others.

Meanwhile, Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, and has chosen to keep the baby. To quote Palin again, "we're proud of Bristol's decision to have her baby and even prouder to become grandparents." In other words, Palin is OK with her 17-year-old daughter making her own choice about her pregnancy (and, presumably, she was also OK with her daughter's choice to ignore her abstinence-only sex education, and without proper birth control). Notice Palin's careful choice of words -- her daughter made a decision, not a choice.

But, any way you look at it, it means that Palin is pro-choice for her daughter, but anti-choice for the rest of the world. It's the sort of double-standard that we've come to expect from the Republican leadership, so she's in good company.

Personally, I respect Bristol Palin's choice and sincerely hope it's her choice and not her mother's. I sincerely wish her the best of luck on a rough road ahead.

Update: As it says at the top, this post is not about Bristol Palin. See this clarification.