Thursday, October 05, 2006

Spider-Man 3 Teaser Trailer

In Spider-Man® 3, based on the legendary Marvel Comics series, Peter Parker has finally managed to strike a balance between his devotion to M.J. and his duties as a superhero. But there is a storm brewing on the horizon. As Spider-Man basks in the public’s adulation for his accomplishments and he is pursued by Gwen Stacy (Bryce Dallas Howard), who rivals M.J. for his affections, Peter becomes overconfident and starts to neglect the people who care about him most. His newfound self-assuredness is jeopardized when he faces the battle of his life against two of the most feared villains ever (Thomas Haden Church, Topher Grace), whose unparalleled power and thirst for retribution threaten Peter and everyone he loves. In Theaters May 4, 2007.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Pluto not a planet!

The IAU has voted on a series of resolutions on what a planet is and what a planet isn’t, and the verdict is…

Pluto is not a planet.

At least, not a major one.

This is a big turnaround from the initial resolution, which would have given our solar system at least 12 planets, and potentially many, many more. Here is the first resolution that passed:

The IAU therefore resolves that planets and other bodies in our Solar System be defined into three distinct categories in the following way:

(1) A planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit.

(2) A dwarf planet is a celestial body that (a) is in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, (c) has not cleared the neighbourhood around its orbit, and (d) is not a satellite.

Ignoring for the moment, once again, that it’s silly to try to scientifically define a class of objects that are really only defined culturally, these definitions are still unsatisfying to me. A planet-sized object between stars is not a planet? How round is round? How do you define its "neighborhood"? These are still the same objections I made before in my earlier post about this.

But I suppose what people want to know is how Pluto fits in this. Pluto is round, and orbits the Sun, but has not cleared out its local neighborhood. Smaller objects that orbit the Sun in nearly the same orbit will get absorbed by or ejected by the larger object. As planets form, their gravity either pulls in smaller bits of junk, causing them to impact, making the planet grow, or it slingshots the smaller object away, putting it in a very different orbit. That’s why big objects in the solar system tend not to have anything else near them (except moons).

Pluto fails this. As I understand it (the news is still sketchy from the IAU meeting) there are other objects in similar orbits as Pluto, and therefore Pluto has not cleared out its neighborhood. I’m not sure if Charon, Pluto’s moon, is included in that list of uncleared objects. Now, this is a little confusing: lots of planets have moons, so just having a moon doesn’t mean a planet has not cleared its area (since the moon is bound gravitationally by the planet). But Charon orbits Pluto far enough out that the center-of-mass of the system is outside Pluto’s surface (again, see see my earlier post about this). Ironically, with the original resolution, this made both Pluto and Charon a planet. Now, under the new rules, this may mean neither is.

So: according to the new rules, passed by the IAU, Pluto is no longer a planet. I guess Neil Tyson will have to go on Colbert again.

The IAU made this pretty official with another resolution:

The IAU further resolves:

Pluto is a dwarf planet by the above definition and is recognized as the prototype of a new category of trans-Neptunian objects.

This sits better with me, actually, than calling Pluto a planet, but a lot of people aren’t gonna like it.

Incidentally, there were two resolutions voted down:

Insert the word “classical” before the word “planet” in Resolution 5A, Section (1)

so that if it had passed we’d call the 8 major planets "classical". The other resolution would have been added to 6A about the dwarf planets:

This category is to be called “plutonian objects.”

Since this last bit was voted down (narrowly, 187 to 183!), the IAU will decide what to call this class of objects at the next meeting, in Rio in 2009. Rio, hmmmm… maybe I’d better go to that one.

Let me once again reiterate that trying to define what a planet is is very, very silly. The very fact that all this is so bizarrely confusing is good evidence of this.

Want another reason this is silly? If the reason Pluto isn’t a planet is because of Charon, then we’re in trouble: as I pointed out in my other post, in a billion years or so the Moon will be far enough away that the Earth-Moon center-of-mass will be outside the Earth. So at that time, if I understand this correctly (and I may not), Earth will no longer be a planet. I need to find out more about all this, but as I said, details about why exactly Pluto isn’t a planet anymore are still a little sketchy. I’ll post more when I find out.

And here’s another point. Pluto crosses Neptune’s orbit. Due to the delicate dance of gravity between the two, they never actually get near each; Pluto is always on the opposite side of the Sun from Neptune when it crosses the bigger planet’s orbit. So, if Pluto’s orbit actually overlaps Neptune’s, doesn’t that mean Neptune hasn’t cleared out its neighborhood? I think you might argue that. So why don’t we have 7 planets?

I’m really torn over this. Scientifically, this whole debate is a tempest in a teapot. It’s ridiculous, and serves no purpose. How is scientific knowledge furthered in any way by debating and resolving this?

On the other hand, it’s gotten a lot of interest by the public, and it’s been positive interest so far. People are talking about what it means to be a planet, and given the abysmal level of science education in the US, it’s great that folks are actually talking about astronomy. Maybe it’ll lead to some of them looking into it more, and that’s a good thing.

And now, finally, just maybe, we can actually get back to studying these objects instead of arguing about what to call them. There’s much to learn about them, real stuff, interesting stuff. The planets — however many you may think there are — are waiting. Let’s get going.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Mars Attacks Again, Again!

I can't believe I'm writing this, again!

You know which one: "Mars will look as big as the Moon!" it says. It gives dates and numbers, and breathlessly exclaims that this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

If only.

This is a shot through a telescope during a rare passage of the Moon directly in front of Mars. Note the size difference between the two. The Moon appears to be a lot bigger because it is so much closer to us than Mars. Credit: Ron Dantowitz, Clay Center Observatory at Dexter and Southfield Schools.

This is the same email that was sent around in 2003. In fact, it's the same email that was sent around again in 2005!

The origin of the first email is shrouded in mystery. It's mostly correct, it's just overblown. The reason it was sent around again in 2005 isn't clear, though it may have been sent around by astronomers as a joke. If that's true, it proves my fear as a skeptic: never make up a dumb story just to see if you can fool The Believers, or as a joke, or for any reason. It'll bite you back, guaranteed.

Anyway, for a detailed debunking of the contents of the email, check out my older two links. But there is another twist to this story this year, though.

Whoever sent the email around this time didn't change any of the numbers. This is ironic because Mars is on the other side of the Sun from us right now. It's practically invisible, lost in the glare of the Sun. People looking for it are in for a disappointment.

Even more irony: since Mars is on the other side of the Sun from us, it's as far away as it can possibly be, not as close as it gets! On the date mentioned in the email, August 27, 2006, Mars will be 385 million kilometers away (about 240 million miles). The email says it will only be 35 million miles away. Oops! What's a factor of 7 between spammers?

In fact, Mars won't get close to the Earth again until December 2007, and even then it'll be 20% farther than it was back in 2003. And even then it didn't looks as big as the Moon.

Sigh. My work will never end.


Simply put, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever seen. Ever.

It’s an impressive animation of what would happen if an asteroid — maybe 100 500 miles across or so — impacts the Earth. The visuals are stunning, and someone set it to excellent music for the action. I saw it on a TV program not too long ago, maybe a month, maybe on the National Geographic Channel. Does anyone know the source? And for that matter, what music it is? I want to find it!

Anyway, its depiction of a massive impact is unflinching and brutal. I’ll stress right here that the odds of anything this size hitting us even in the next million years are slim to none. We know of every asteroid this size in the solar system out to terrific distances, and none is slated to ruin our day (or millennium).

But an impact like this would wipe out everything. Everything. As far as I can tell, the depiction there is pretty accurate. Notice how the impact appears to be in slow motion– in reality, the speed is something like 10-20 miles per second. It’s just that the rock is so big, a hundred miles across, things appear to move slowly. The expanding ring of death is moving at the speed of sound, 700 miles an hour. You can see continents lifting up as the shock wave moves through them, vaporizing water, rock, metal. The oceans boil, the crust melts, and, well. There you go.

The only real error I saw, I think, is when the shock wave encircling the Earth finally closes up when it reaches the opposite side of the planet from the impact point. The shock would eject a plume from the other side, like squeezing a watermelon seed between two fingers. We see evidence of this on other bodies; ringed features opposite giant impact craters, where the shock wave from the impact converged on the other side of the world.

Cripes. My nightmares are things like this. I’m glad there are folks looking for these bullets, and plans to do something about it. Maybe some day we’ll take this threat seriously enough to really fund it.

Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to the folks over on the Bad Astronomy/Universe Today bulletin board who were discussing this. And oh– maybe there is a way to stop these things that NASA never thought of…

Dark thoughts

More news from the IAU meeting: for the first time, astronomers have found direct — and to my eye, fairly convincing — evidence of dark matter. Indirect evidence is all over the place, but no direct evidence, until now, has been found.

Chandra image of a cluster showing dark matter

Now I was gonna write all this stuff about the history of dark matter, and how they made these observations, and why this is not only terribly important, but also very, very cool– but then I found that those folks at Cosmic Variance already did. So my work here is done.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Earth From The Top

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A beautiful story

Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation.
Every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window.
The man in the other bed began to live for those one hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside.
The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.
As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene.
One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by.
Although the other man couldn’t hear the band - he could see it. In his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words.
Days and weeks passed.
One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away.
As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone.
Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the real world outside.
He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed.
It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window.
The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall.
She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.”

Friday, January 13, 2006

An Elixir for Outlook Users?

Lots of business people say they "live" in Outlook. Microsoft's (Quote, Chart) Elixir is designed to make Siebel CRM seem homey to them.
Microsoft's 17,000 employees using Siebel sales force automation make it one of the world's largest global deployments. But Microsoft sales staff saw entering data into the Siebel application as extra work, so they tended to use it as little as possible.
Redmond's internal customers wanted a CRM system that integrated with Outlook, capturing information in Outlook and feeding it into Siebel. So, in 2002, Microsoft began a 32-month project to upgrade to Siebel 7.5.3 while creating a plug-in to unite Siebel with Outlook.
The result is Project Elixir, an add-in that gives users access to Siebel and other sources of customer data via Outlook 2003. After rolling it out internally in October 2004, Microsoft made sample code and resources public on Monday.
"Microsoft did an internal project to use Outlook as a customer relationship management client, they learned a few things on how to program Outlook 2003, and now they're pushing it out to the world," said Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Helm.
Project Elixir uses a service-oriented architecture to transfer customer data among disconnected enterprise systems. An enterprise-wide service layer called Alchemy exposes the functionality of Siebel and other systems through a set of reusable Web services. Customer Explorer, the smart client part of Elixir, moves data in and out of different systems by connecting to the Alchemy service layer.
The features and benefits sound similar to what Microsoft is planning for Windows Vista, the next version of Windows expected to ship by the end of 2006. For Vista, Microsoft is touting the ability to easily share data and files among applications accessed by the smart client.
Office 12, the next version of Office that was released in beta on January 4, is an integrated set of applications, servers and services. Outlook 12, part of Office 12, will have improved access to SharePoint information, and the ability to automatically import tasks stored in other Microsoft collaboration applications, such as OneNote and Windows SharePoint Services.
RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady said that overlap among Microsoft projects is inevitable.
"But Outlook is a client with a massive footprint and an interface that lots of enterprise users are quite familiar with," O'Grady said. "That's why you've seen RSS aggregators like Newsgator focused on integrating RSS into Outlook simply because it's the preferred interface for business users. I view this as a continuation of that trend."
The timing of the release of an application built on Outlook 2003, just as Microsoft's marketing is gearing up to push upgrades to Vista and Office 12, is odd. Helm said, "The Office development strategy hasn't gelled yet, so they're trying a lot of things and seeing what sticks."
He pointed out that many businesses haven't upgraded to Office 2003 yet, and Elixir could encourage them to move forward, while helping to lock in existing Office 2003 customers. Moreover, although he hadn't seen Outlook 12, he said he expected Elixir would apply to it as well. "They're not making massive changes to Outlook 12," he said.
Microsoft said it spent a total of around $1.7 million to date on Elixir, on top of $40 million to upgrade Siebel. The company said it expects to get a full return on that investment within a year after it's fully rolled out.
Microsoft expects that other companies will need to build similar applications from scratch, rather than using Microsoft's code. In addition to sample code, it also made available a case study, guidance and a set of best practices for developing such an app.
While overlap with other Microsoft products might not be an issue, both analysts saw problems for partners.
O'Grady wouldn't comment on whether Microsoft's case study complaining that employees would only use Siebel for the bare minimum of data would offend the major CRM vendor. But he said, "Overlaps within Microsoft are one thing, overlaps with other partners is another matter. It remains to be seen how they react to this. For vendors that sell client/server tools rather than do CRM functions, this can and probably will be viewed by many as an incursion into their territory."

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

MSN Dial-Up Secured With McAfee

Microsoft is adding McAfee's virus scan and firewall software to its MSN dial-up service package. McAfee (Quote, Chart) already provides the software for Microsoft's broadband customers.
The Santa Clara, Calif.-based McAfee said the service would be available for Microsoft's (Quote, Chart) dial-up customers in the first quarter of next year. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Specifically, MSN customers will receive McAfee's VirusScan and Personal Firewall Plus.
Through automated scans, VirusScan detects, blocks and removes viruses, spyware, worms, Trojans and dialers. The software scans files, e-mail attachments, Internet downloads and instant-messaging attachments.
The firewall software monitors consumers' broadband, dial-up or wireless Internet connections, preventing unwanted traffic to and from the PC.

Google Packs Apps to the Desktop

Google (Quote, Chart) not only is distributing videos now, it's handing out software.
The Google Pack, announced on Friday at the Consumer Electronics Show, offers a single control panel for installing ten software helper applications.
"It's a free collection of world-class, useful software put together in a convenient installation manner," said Sundar Pichai, a Google group product manager.
The Google Pack, available now, is heavy on products from Google itself. It includes the Google toolbar, Google desktop (which includes the Sidebar and the deskbar), the Picasa photo management and sharing service, Google Alert, Google Talk messaging, the Google Video Player, and a new Google Pack screensaver that lets users turn photos stored on the hard drive into a screensaver.
The software pack also includes the open-source Firefox browser, Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.0, LavaSoft Adaware, Norton Antivirus, the Real Player, and Trillium, an instant messaging application.
"With a few clicks, you can get about ten applications installed on your computer, and we'll help you keep them up to date," Pichai said.
The service requires Google Updater, which Pichai described as a small downloadable application. He said it's a smart application that can scan the computer's hard drive and determine whether it contains the latest versions of applications, only downloading what's needed. There's one user license agreement and one console for all the applications.
Users can choose to override the default installation in order to choose what to install.
Pichai said the pack is free and Google isn't charging partners to have their products included.
"This is strategic to us," he said. "We have a lot of important products that we're interested in getting to as many users as we can." Google plans to continue to add more third-party application to the pack. Users will receive automatic alerts when an upgrade is available or new software is offered.
Getting branded applications onto users desktops has become a key strategy in the search engine wars. Google's most recent desktop search application, released in August 2005, included Sidebar, which offered several customizable applets and content feeds.


Your hard work has paid off—you’ve made and completed the factfinding appointment, and set the next appointment to present your recommendations. Or, you’ve had great response to your seminar invitation, and you’re expecting a full house. How do you make sure your presentation is as effective as possible?
First of all, be organized. Your time is valuable, and so is that of your prospects and seminar attendees. Second, be prepared for questions, objections and curve balls. You’ve had lots of training to help you turn objections into sales opportunities, but when is the last time you actually role-played to hone your skills? Know your stuff—cold!
Equally important, always reconfirm your appointment or seminar details: date, time, place and who will be there. And be on time! Finally, follow-up and follow through. The presentation isn’t over when you finish the appointment or the attendees go home.
Here are seven pointers to set you on the path to stellar presentations.
1. Get organized.
How many times have you run out the door without all your materials—applications, illustrations, supporting materials, prospectuses, laptop, copies of handouts and so forth? What about your Day-Timer or personal organizer? Make a checklist of the materials you need to take and always follow it.
Make sure your materials are 100 percent current and appropriate to the prospect’s or seminar attendees’ goals and needs. Some things you have no choice about—compliance requires certain steps and materials—but don’t get carried away and overwhelm your prospect with too many options, too much information or too much material.
The most effective presentations are the ones that have been through tailoring (to the prospect’s needs and wants) and at least one dry run.
If you are doing a seminar or group presentation, don’t forget a sign-in sheet with name, address, phone and email boxes. And be sure to pack your business cards and brochures!
2. Be prepared.
This is the most important and often omitted step of the entire presentation process. If, as is often the case, you are using an online, automated or electronic presentation, make sure everything works before you head out the door. That means making certain your laptop isn’t doing strange things, the correct presentation and supporting materials are loaded, your wireless access works and your battery is fully charged.
If you are developing or tailoring materials, keep this in mind: Good slides are bullet-based and only have five to seven words per bullet and four to six bullets per screen. Presentation materials should contain “talking points”—you should never just read the materials.
3. Practice.
The most effective presentations are the ones that have been through tailoring (to the prospect’s needs and wants) and at least one dry run. The practice session gives you a chance to iron out glitches, formulate and deal with potential objections, and increase the overall coherency and professionalism of your presentation. This is also the right time to delete or update materials. Practice with a fellow advisor—you can help and learn from each other.
By practicing your presentation, you will come across as polished and knowledgeable. By tailoring materials for each presentation, you will save time and avoid confusion, and your prospects will appreciate the effort. It pays to have several versions of stock presentations. PowerPoint makes it a snap. As an alternative, you can take screen shots or scan in materials and embed them in a Word presentation.
4. Confirm the details.
Always make sure your presentation is a “go.” At least a day or two ahead of time, follow up by telephone and email. Using two means of confirmation is a good idea as it increases the likelihood your prospect will actually get your message.
Let the prospect know what materials, illustrations and documents you will be bringing. This may raise additional questions from the prospect, helping you more clearly identify and address his needs, wants and concerns.
It is very helpful to know if a spouse, adult children, fellow employees or others will be attending your presentation. This will help you tailor the presentation to meet as many expectations as possible.
Create a lasting positive impression by taking brief notes and then doing what you said you would do.
5. Read the signs.
When you are in front of the prospect, pay particular attention to body language. Is the person squirming, crossing his arms and legs, looking around or avoiding eye contact? These are not good signs. What you want to see is the prospect leaning forward, uncrossing his arms and legs, asking information-seeking questions and making regular eye contact. Notice and heed the signs about how well your presentation is going.
And please be sure to turn off your cell phone—your prospect is the only thing that matters right now.
6. Follow up and follow through
Create a lasting positive impression by taking brief notes and then doing what you said you would do. For example:
If you said you would get a more (or less) aggressive variable life insurance illustration, do it.
If you promised to do a side-by-side comparison of a variable and a traditional annuity, do it.
If your prospect asked questions you couldn’t answer, get the answers and deliver them.
If you find out your prospect has a medical issue that rules out the best rates at your preferred companies, find alternatives or send an explanation with the revised rates.
If you said you’d email the presentation materials, do it.
Ideally you should complete all follow-up and follow through within two business days. That should also include a handwritten thank-you note.
7. Allow for the unexpected
As you have surely learned by now, if something can go wrong, sooner or later it will. Maybe your computer battery is low—that’s why you brought printouts for you and your prospect. Maybe you were about to present information on market trends and asset allocation, and the market went into a tailspin, invalidating much of your material and making your illustrations look like pipe dreams—that’s why you have a second set of materials with more conservative data.
The better prepared you are, the easier presentations will be to create, update and actually present. You will find you are more successful at closing business, getting appointments and overcoming objections. Your prospects will get more out of your presentations, and as a result they will look to you as a resource and be more likely to understand what you can do and refer you business.

Networking Without the Cables

Many independent developers are skilled at networking a home office, but they're often lacking in the area of human networking. In early 1999, I knew my lack of networking was going to hold me back if I didn't do something about it. As an independent developer, I felt isolated and cut off from the rest of the industry, and I knew I was missing out on opportunities because of it. I would often struggle to solve a problem that someone else had probably already solved, but I didn't know where to look for the solution, and it was taking me a lot of time to do everything on my own. I quickly realized that if I just had a small network of developer friends, it would save me a huge amount of time because I'd have people to turn to for help and advice. And I also knew that I could help others in the same manner. So one day while listening to a tape about the benefits of networking, I made a firm commitment to get out of my fortress of solitude and start building a human network.
Looking back, this turned out to be one of the most powerful and life-enhancing decisions I ever made. Today I have a strong network of dozens of great friends and contacts in the industry. I can achieve much more in less time because I have a tremendous number of outside resources I can turn to for help. And to a large extent this all works passively. New opportunities come to me every week through my network, and I don't have to work so hard to seek them out on my own. I feel as if my vision has expanded a hundred fold. I want to share with you what I've learned through this process and how I think networking can benefit you specifically. To some of you, what I've said so far may seem obvious, but keep reading anyway because you may find something useful in the remainder of this article.
Why network?
The benefits of networking are many. Even if you only work on your business part-time while holding a full-time job, you should know that most jobs are never advertised. Most jobs are filled through networking. The more people you know who can help you, the more opportunities will come to you. As I am building my company, my first choice for hiring new people would be to put the word out through my existing network. Networking saves time because it is an easy way to find whatever it is you want, such as a new job, a new home, a solution to a problem, or a new business deal. Networking is a lot like investing. You put a little into it, but the payoff accumulates year after year, eventually growing far beyond your initial deposit.
Networking is an extremely good complement to technical work, and it helps to balance you as a person. If you are feeling burnt out from technical work, you can balance your day by investing time in networking. I've found that I enjoy my work a lot more, and I'm a lot more productive when I know others are keeping tabs on me. Sometimes I've found it hard to motivate myself when my goals are known only to myself, but when I share them with others, I will often work harder to be sure I don't disappoint them. Networking gives you a feeling of connection with your industry, and this allows you to see how your work is contributing to the whole in a positive way. Sharing resources with others is a terrific form of contribution in itself, something that all humans have a strong need for. Networking will also help you grow professionally by leaps and bounds, especially if you continually associate with people who are superior to you in some way (higher income, more organized, more honest, etc).
Build your network carefully.
We tend to become like the people we associate with most. Grab a piece of paper and make a quick list of the ten people in your life you spend the most time communicating with, whether in person, by phone, by email, or by any other means. Study that list carefully. That list is your future. And if this list hasn't changed much in the past few years, then my guess is that you've been feeling stagnant or even stuck. My prediction is that you earn about the same income as the others on your list. You probably have similar standards of living to those you spend the most time with, and your lifestyles may be similar as well. If the people on your list are very neat and organized, you're probably the same way. If they're unhealthy, you're most likely in the same boat. If you feel like you've been stuck in the same situation for a length of time and that your efforts to change have felt like an uphill battle, that list is the likely culprit. One of the easiest ways to change is to associate with others who've already achieved what you want. Their values and beliefs will essentially infect you, and you will achieve what you want almost effortlessly. Think back to a time in your life when you experienced a major change in the names on your top ten list, such as when you moved or switched jobs or schools. Didn't you find that you became a slightly different person in the new environment?
For example, let's say you want to earn $100,000 a year or more from your business. How many of the people on your top ten list are already doing this? If you only associate with others whose businesses are barely scraping by, you'll likely have a hard time getting your sales to grow beyond a certain point. Every level of income is associated with different beliefs and values. People who earn $100,000 a year simply don't have the same beliefs as those who earn $10,000 a year. Were you aware that the average lottery winner spends all the money they won within two years and has nothing to show for it? The reason is simple -- these people kept their old network, and thus their old beliefs and values continued to govern their actions, leading them right back to where they started. My shareware income grew tenfold in one year because I made a decision to associate with people who were making ten times as much money as I was. I passively became more like them, and the results naturally followed. I'm continuing to add more people to my network who are again making ten times more money than I am now, and my income is continuing to increase up to their level. I've also changed a great deal as a person as a result. If you want to become better at anything, start making friends with people who are already successful in that area, and get them into your top ten list. You can become better at absolutely anything using this approach. But before you add anyone to your network, make sure you want their results, in at least some area of your life.
So how do you build a strong network? There a many ways to do this, and here are some that seem to work best for independent developers:
Become active in trade associations.
One of the easiest ways to build a network is to make contacts within a relevant trade association, such as the International Game Developers Association (IGDA) or the Association of Shareware Professionals (ASP). If you aren't making back your organizational dues many times over each year from the benefits of membership, then you aren't doing enough networking. For instance, ASP members constantly share resources in the private members-only newsgroups. If you haven't been participating actively in a trade association, you're absolutely missing out on free opportunities that can make you a lot of extra money for very little effort.
Let me give you a couple typical examples. Many months ago an ASP member posted a link to a new shareware site that accepted PAD files. I submitted my PAD file, and throughout the next few weeks, I received several sales from that site. It took approximately 30 seconds for me click on the link and submit my PAD file, yet that one tip made me more money than the cost of my annual ASP dues. And this happens all the time. Another common occurrence is that members often buy products from other members. Shareware developers aren't my target market, yet I sell more than enough games to fellow members every year to more than pay for my dues. If you participate in the newsgroups and include your URL in your signature, other members will visit your web site and get to know your product line. Members generally aren't pushy in promoting their own products to other members, but they get sales just by being visible and contributing. A side benefit is that you become aware of many useful products and services you might need someday. I often buy products from other ASP members, and there are several members with whom I spend hundreds of dollars annually. Not all ASP members are developers -- there are also many vendor members who provide useful services. So if you aren't participating actively in a good trade association, then you are essentially letting free money escape you.
A strategy that worked well for me was one that I learned from author/speaker/consultant Brian Tracy, who credited it with helping him become a multi-millionaire over time. He simply started volunteering. While he was a salesman, he joined the local chamber of commerce and volunteered to serve on a committee. This made him many connections in the business world, and within a short time he was offered a new job through someone in his network for double his previous salary, which he accepted. He continued volunteering and found that more and more opportunities came to him this way. He was later offered a job as the head of a division of a large company, and from there he went on to start his own businesses. This is essentially the same approach I've been using. I didn't feel the chamber of commerce in my area would do much for me, so I decided to volunteer within the ASP. About a month later I became the Vice President and a year later, the President, both of which were unpaid volunteer positions. Relatively few people volunteer, so those who do can quickly reach the top of any volunteer-run organization.
So why does volunteering work? Because only successful people tend to volunteer. Unsuccessful people don't volunteer -- they complain instead. I've found that the cream rises to the top, so volunteering is an easy way to associate with successful people. If you look at the people who volunteer in the ASP for instance, I think you'll find that their incomes are significantly higher than the average member. This appears to be true in the IGDA as well. Plus they generally seem to be happier and more successful in other areas of their lives as well. Volunteering builds your self-esteem; it helps you see yourself as a person who contributes. This in turn causes you to feel that you deserve more, and so you tend to take advantage of new opportunities that are consistent with your improved self image. Greater wealth is just one common result.
Network on purpose.
Last year I attended my high school reunion, and I saw that many people thought they were there to network, ready to hand out their business cards to anyone who'd take them. These were people of widely different professions who simply couldn't help each other in meaningful ways, despite the best of intentions. There are a few professionals who can benefit from this type of general networking such at attorneys and accountants, but it's not particularly useful for a game developer. A better use of your time is to network at small, well-targeted conferences, such as the Shareware Industry Conference. There you can meet people who can actually help you, and you will easily find ways to help them. Intellectual exchange is one of the most rewarding benefits of networking. I love going to conferences because I always come away from them with a tremendous feeling of growth.
Build your reputation.
A key component of long-term networking is your reputation. It is perhaps your most valuable networking asset. If people come to know you as a person of genuine integrity, your reputation will spread beyond the people you know directly, and your contacts will be far more willing to share their best resources and opportunities with you. If you ever make a mistake, people will be very quick to forgive you if you have established a positive reputation. Note that having a good reputation is not the same thing as being popular. It is more important to be known as a person of integrity than it is to be popular. I am always more willing to trust the trustworthy than I am to trust the popular. Of course the reverse is also true. If you develop a reputation for dishonesty or demonstrate a lack of integrity, nothing will kill your chances for networking more quickly. New business is built on trust, so trust is sacred. Never ever violate another person's trust. When it comes to networking, complete honesty and integrity is the only policy.
Look for ways to give rather than to get. You don't have to be an expert; just offer to help others in a way that's easy for you, such as by answering questions and volunteering advice in areas in which you are knowledgeable. If you gain a reputation for being a person who contributes, you will have no shortage of people offering to help you when you need it. A common pattern I see in various newsgroups is that those who give the most also get the most. If you answer others' questions whenever you have knowledge that could help them, you may find more people willing to help you as well. Think of yourself as having a networking bank account. You have to make a few deposits first before you can start making withdrawals.
If you continually look for ways to contribute to others and your industry, new avenues for networking will open up to you. If you have decent writing skills, write articles. If you have an interest in public speaking, volunteer to speak at a conference. Writing and speaking can help you expand your network tremendously. You can reach many more people this way, and it helps strengthen your reputation as a person who contributes.
Overall, networking is a fairly easy skill to develop and need not consume much time, yet the payoff can be huge. As your network expands, you'll gain greater and greater leverage. If anyone in your network hears about an opportunity that can be useful to you, chances are you'll hear about it. Instead of having to struggle to find opportunities, they'll come to you passively, so by nurturing your network, you can achieve your goals with far less effort. For me the process has felt like planting ears throughout the industry, all listening for opportunities. If you haven't been doing much networking, do yourself a big favor and just get started. And realize that there never was a winner who wasn't at some point a beginner.

Working With Teams

A frequent complaint from indie developers is that indie team projects commonly fall apart without ever releasing a finished game. While it's very difficult to complete a game as a lone wolf developer, some report that it's even harder to form a multi-person team that can achieve this goal. Because it's so rare for an individual to achieve sufficient talent in the areas of design, programming, art, music, and sound effects (not to mention marketing, selling, and business acumen), there's an obvious incentive to assemble a team that covers most or all of these areas. Not only can a team tackle more ambitious projects than an individual, but there are projects you can complete with a team that are effectively impossible for an individual. But do the potential rewards of a team project outweigh the risks?Although team projects can lead to great rewards, they can also be perilous. When a lone wolf's project fails, the damage is minimal. Often only one person is affected, and that person generally assumes full responsibility for the results anyway. Few outsiders will even take notice. You made a mistake... you only hurt yourself and hopefully learned from it... no harm, no foul. Sometimes a failed individual project is even considered a badge of honor, a sign that you endeavored to stretch beyond your previous limits. However, when a team project fails, many lives are affected. Fingers point in all directions. Angry posts from disgruntled team members start flooding message boards: "The designer is an idiot," "The whole art team is lazy," "The programmer is incompetent," "The project was just too ambitious." The project dies a painful public death. Bitter ex-participants conclude that team projects are perhaps doomed from the start and opt never to make that mistake again.Yet some team projects actually manage to succeed. The team synergizes well, completes a game in a reasonable amount of time, the game sells well, and the team continues to work together on future projects and lives happily ever after. Why? Did they just get lucky? Or do they know the magic formula that others don't?Here's the good news: There are ways to increase the chance of success for a team project, and magic isn't required. Most of what follows will probably resonate as common sense, but despite that label, the application of "common sense" principles in team-building remains all too uncommon. So let's dive right in and learn how to build and maintain a great team....(Please click on the title to view full article)

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