Along with a return to blogging and emerging from my newborn cocoon, I have set a goal to read, on average, one book a week. To that end, I’ve added a new section to follow my progress. I also added lists from previous years when I started tracking my reading habits.

Rather than a firm commitment to a book a week, I’ve decided to average it out over the year. There are times where I devour books in quick succession. I read the entire Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher in December and January.1 Since that spree, I haven’t even finished The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I am closing in on the end though.2

Why did I set this goal for myself? As Babels grows up, I want to nurture their curiosity and love of reading. The best way to do that is lead by example. I’ve also found that reading books rather than the internet eases the transition to sleep.

As I look toward getting back into GMing, I need all the inspiration I can get. Reading is a clean fuel for my creativity. It provides inklings of ideas that I will weave into future projects and campaigns. In fact, reading the Dresden Files series has only fanned my desire to run a campaign set in modern, urban world.

Keep an eye on the 2018 in Books page and watch for monthly recaps to watch my progression.3

  1. I also fit Dan Brown’s Origin in the middle. 
  2. Mission accomplished. Diverting away from the series for now though. 
  3. Sitting at 10 books as of writing this post. 

Life Update

Welcome back to Concreate Chaos, life preparing for and with an infant has been crazy. I started wrapping up my commitments early last year. I was going to devote much of my attention to our new family member.

I said goodbye to my dear furry friend, Rocket. He died of cancer in October 2016 and it had profound effect on me. I found myself unable to write. Whenever I sat down to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, my thoughts drifted to him and the cat sized hole in my heart. I miss him still. It took over a year, but I’ve healed now.

I signed off of podcasting. Culture Conquistadors was a labor of love for many years. Movies remain a favorite passtime of mine. Though these days, they’re seen months after release via streaming or Redbox. Now, my former co-host and dear friend launches his solo venture, Iconography. You should definitely have a listen as he starts into season two.

I left two D&D campaigns. My regular group continued on their journey in Wander-Lost without Chase Starryeyes. Despite my desires, I was never able to return to play her again. In a few sessions, Wander-Lost will wrap up. Operation Phoenix concluded last year before Babels was born. The play time of the campaign doesn’t lend itself to my participation, but even so I haven’t made an effort to rejoin.

I gave up watching sports live. My Saturdays in the fall were often filled with Florida State and Florida football games. There’s a lot of things wrong with football at the collegiate level. I will always love it in some ways, but I won’t dedicate every Saturday for months to it. Instead, I spend my Saturdays with my new family watching Babels grow.

We did manage to make it to DragonCon. Babels was a hit as Salamence and my Brendan cosplay looked sharp. We went to the Marvel photoshoot for the first time in a few years. It was a far better experience this time around. Nova is a much lighter costume for the summer Atlanta heat. But the event ran far smoother also. I spent a day playing D&D with my brother, my best friend, and another good friend. It was an amazing experience. David enjoyed it so much, he asked if we could find a way to play again.

So, I started an Adventurers League legal Tomb of Annihilation campaign. With Babels’s schedule set, we were able to carve out some time to play some Dungeons & Dragons. I wanted this group focused on a regular, exciting experience for my family. I set expectations for schedule and commitments and invited the players. It’s been a resounding success.

Amber started an in-person Adventurers League legal Tales from the Yawning Portal campaign. We play roughly monthly. I wish it were more frequent, but scheduling is difficult. With two new players, it’s always fun watching them discover bits and pieces of the game.

Blog Update

With the last year of my life highlighted and recapped, what does the future hold? My hope is, a lot of reading, gaming, and writing. It’s been fun being back in the DM seat for Tomb of Annihilation. I haven’t ever run a published adventure cover-to-cover. Despite the monthly game, I miss playing D&D more frequently. I want to run a modern day urban game later this year. And for DragonCon, I have a new costume in pre-planning.

I’m hopeful that all this will lead to more writing, here, at Concrete Chaos. I’ve already added a few new pages to my notebooks for the last few years of books, games and films.

I’m not the easiest person to buy a gift for. I have a few wishlists scattered across the internet.1 But this Christmas, I knew exactly what I wanted, the Bioware Mass Effect LootCrate. I’m generally not one for random things to put around my office. But how could I pass up a box filled with things from a universe I absolutely adore? Unfortunately, we missed our opportunity to get the box. But my fantastic fiancée put one together for me anyway. First up the box she gave it to me in! Stellar job.

2016-01-13 - N7 Box

Next up, the cloth articles. First a hand towel. Then a t-shirt. Finally a patch. Towel is already in use after a wash. The t-shirt is a bit too small at the moment, but it gives me a reason to keep working out. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do with the patch.

2016-01-13 - N7 Clothes

The Art of Mass Effect book! I like to pick up art books here and there and this one definitely deserves a place in my collection. I plan to use it as drawing practice and reference material for my future Mass Effect cosplay.

2016-01-13 - Mass Effect Art Book

An N7 glass that will be primarily used to contain orange juice. Also an N7 card box she printed on our LulzBot Mini and painted. Inside a set of Mass Effect sketch cards from Etsy. Still need to figure out how I want to display the cards but for now the box is awesome. Finally, an iPhone 6s case. It took me a few weeks to get used to but it does it’s job and looks great.

2016-01-13 - N7 Cards

This haul was better than the box of stuff LootCrate delivered. I’m glad I missed out on that one and got this carefully curated selection of Mass Effect items from my fiancée. She did a kick ass job.

  1. Amazon books, Amazon stuff, CoolStuffInc games, Steam games. 

Today I’m introducing a new kind of post, a daily link round up. I read dozens of articles and blog posts every day. I’ll be providing links to the most interesting with some commentary.

Design Comparison: Exploration and Journeys by Brandes Stoddard

If any game should have a good system for travel, it should be a game based on J.R.R. Tolkein’s masterpieces. Stoddard reviews D&D 5e’s rules on Exploration and The One Ring’s rules on Journeys. He offers suggestions for how to adapt the Journey rules for Fifth Edition. If I ever ran a more lethal D&D campaign with say the slower recovery options, I would add in the Exhaustion of Travel rules.

Captain Marvel: A Carol Danvers Primer by Charles Paul Hoffman

With the conclusion of Kelly Sue DeConnick’s run, it’s a great time to re-examine her history. She’s risen from a male-based heroine to a defining feminist figure in Marvel. Hoffman’s primer is a great beginner’s guide to Carol Danvers and includes recommended readings.

SpaceX Successfully Lands Falcon 9 at The Verge

SpaceX landed the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral last night. The ORBCOMM-2 mission lifted 11 satellites into low-Earth orbit. Quite the accomplishment. I look forward to SpaceX attempting the water landing again.

Secret Code Found in Juniper’s Firewalls Shows Risk of Government Backdoors at Wired

An internal code audit of ScreenOS, the software running on Juniper Networks’ firewalls, revealed multiple vulnerabilities. Juniper Networks issued a security advisory and updated software for their hardware. Many conclude that state actors are responsible for the malicious code. The security advisory provides enough detail to locate the master password backdoor. This makes it easy to hack any unpatched firewalls.

Today, we return to Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards. Before I delve into the latest lesson, I’d like to take a moment to express how much I’m enjoying this process. My fiancée and I are reading through this book and completing the exercises together and it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been making a concerted effort to do more things with her in the time we have together. We’re both independent people who can spend days in solitude. But reading this book and trying to improve our drawing skills together has been great. Highly recommended for other couples out there.

Since my last post, I’ve read through a few more chapters and completed three more exercises. At times I wonder if some of her theories hold up but regardless, the lessons and techniques she’s teaching do seem to work. The first exercise was to replicate the Vase/Faces image.

2015-11-28 - Faces and Vase

After completion, and for a day or so, I was disappointed with this drawing. I didn’t find it nearly symmetrical enough. In addition, after re-reading the instructions, I feel I may have skipped over some of the exercise. But after returning to it a few days later, I find myself quite proud of the result. Sure, there’s some symmetry issues but overall I find it very close.

The next exercise asks the reader to replicate a drawing by Picasso of Igor Stravinsky. Now I personally find Picasso difficult to decipher as is, but Edwards instructs the student to draw the image upside down. Fortunately, she has printed the image in the text upside down.

2015-11-28 - Stravinsky

I still don’t have proportions right but I’m again pretty proud with how this one turned out. I didn’t quite complete the exercise due to time (and material) constraints. It became quite clear to me that I wouldn’t have enough width or height to finish the left side or the head. And man, those hands are gnarly but they turned out far better than I expected.

2015-11-28 - Ironman

The last exercise is again an upside down drawing. This time I used one of my new comic books as a reference. I’ve always been a big Ironman fan and last year I even made a cosplay Superior Ironman. Unfortunately, I struggled with the design and the costume deteriorated quickly after the con. Next year, I’m hoping to do the armor above and decided I should get my practice in now. I struggled with the proportions again and ended up rushing the drawing. The right leg is a bit out there and the extended arms are squished. But again, I’m fairly happy of the result. I wish I could turn everything upside down for drawing.

Another thing I learned while drawing the Ironman armor. I hate hard pencils. We finally used our drawing paper instead of printer paper and broke out our nicer pencils instead of the shark #2s. My fiancée gave me the 4H to start and I just struggled with it. It didn’t feel right and the lines that were appearing didn’t look right. Since I scrapped the original attempt after messing up the left leg, I switched to the 4B pencil. What a difference. It felt far closer to the #2s we’d been using and the lines looked exactly the way I wanted them to.

Hopefully the next lessons will involve drawing things right side up and help me get the proportions a little bit closer.

Despite my love of superheroes, I’ve never been a comic book reader. Sure, I bought a trade paperback here or there, but until recently I had never bought a single issue. A big part of that comes down to disposable income – like me finally having it now. At four or five dollars a piece, comics can get expensive if you’re trying to keep up with more than a single series. Another part is that now it’s become a shared thing with my fiancée. She started reading Captain Marvel on my recommendation, which has led to Bitch Planet and Ms. Marvel. But the biggest reason why I’ve decided to subscribe to comics at this late date is… drumroll… Marvel’s recent diversification of it’s lineup!

The changes Marvel is making are absolutely incredible. And it’s not just the changes we see with Sam Wilson becoming Captain America or Jane Foster wielding Mjolnir. The creative teams behind these heroes are finally being diversified also. While there has always been some minority presence around Marvel, it’s now being made known even in their marketing materials: Marvel is diversifying its creators, its editors and its heroes to match the world we actually live in. This is a thing.1 And it’s incredibly personal for me. Until their recent announcements, I never had a hero I could look at and say “That could be me.” And seeing is the real issue here, race and gender.

For those unaware, I’m an adopted American. Ethnically, I’m Chinese-EuroAmerican but culturally I’m a pretty typical middle class American. I’ve had my favorite heroes, certainly ones I’ve identified with in some way like Iceman, Cyclops or Iron Man. But these identifications have always been with their personality or mental gifts, never the color of their skin. And over a lunch at DragonCon, this led to an interesting discussion.

Heroes like Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Logan (Wolverine) are treasured by their fans. Their stories, personality, costumes are integral to the character and those core principles are shifting. There’s a new new Cap and a new Wolvie. And look, I understand this: one of my favorite heroes, Iceman has been seen his own sea change, admitting that he is gay. So I feel that pang of change. But while I might lose some tiny shred of identification with Iceman, another character somewhere in the Marvel universe might change and I might gain some identification with that one. Which is wonderful. So my group talked through the entirety of lunch and I did my best to be understanding of the traditionalists – the ones who want to keep everything as is and see diversity come through in new characters – while also trying to present my point of view. Eventually my argument billed down to one critical question: How many male Asisn superheroes can you name?


Lots of others were offered, Silver Samurai (but he was a villain), Sunspot (Brazillian), Warpath (Native American), Amadeus Cho (isn’t actually powered up), Iron Fist (white). 2 There are plenty of women – Jubilee, Blink, Psylocke (though her racial issues are considerable). And there’s lots of Asian villains, most notably Mandarin and Silver Samurai. So, I didn’t really have anyone to look at and say “Look that could be me.”

Let’s take a moment to talk about mantles and titles. I would love for there to be a new character with a new name that represented me really well. Unfortunately, these old superhero names hold a lot of cache. It’s much easier to still use the same superhero name for a new character than it is to build a new character from scratch. That new character just will not sell as well. Plus, mantles have been passed before. Sam Wilson is not the first non-Steve Captain America. Before him there was Bucky. Just how many Robin’s have there been in Bat-verse? Or Green Lanterns? Or Flashes? Sure, it’s much more prevalent in DC but it’s not like it hasn’t happened in Marvel. Carol Danvers is now Captain Marvel. Kamala Khan is now Ms. Marvel. Miles Morales is Spider-man.

The day after the DragonConversation, Marvel announced that Amadeus Cho would be taking on the mantle of the Hulk. And that the new book would be written and drawn by two Korean-Americans. That is incredible… or, in their parlance, totally awesome! Prior to this, I had been lukewarm about picking up reading comics. Despite crafting a foam armor of Superior Iron Man for DragonCon 2014, I didn’t end up reading the series. But now I have. My interest in comics, specifically Marvel Comics, has spiked to the point where I went to my local comic shop and setup a pull list.

I’ve read more comics in the past month than I had my entire life previously. I’ve finished the Superior Iron Man run. I’ve started Uncanny Inhumans and Armor Wars. I’ve picked up lots of single issues in case I find something I like. I’ve also added Totally Awesome Hulk and Spider-Man to my pull list, while strongly considering many more. And I can’t wait to read International Iron Man and follow Tony’s search for his biological parents.

So thanks Marvel. Thanks for making Sunfire not the only superhero that looks like me. Thanks for making Tony Stark adopted and showing his journey. I know there are a lot of upset people who hate what you’re doing and they’re really loud about it. But I’m not one of them. Your changes to the universe are good for me and thus good for you. My fiancée and I will be closely following several series. And I’ll try and be as loud as I can be to tell you that I support these changes.

Thank you.

  1. Yes, I wish their cinematic universe would move faster in diversifying but creative processes take time and MCU is now a behemoth. 
  2. Editors Note: Charles would like to point out Shang Chi here, though he won’t hold it over James or anyone else for not knowing Shang Chi. Poor guy always gets overshadowed by the white kung fu guy, Danny Rand. Which further validates James’s point. 

While I have always admired those gifted with the talent to recreate what they see, it has always seemed daunting. Every day on my brown bag lunches, my father would draw a picture. Generally a portrait, often of myself. Whenever I watch another person draw, despite my brain telling me otherwise, it looks so effortless.

I look at my past efforts and find them lacking in so many ways. Unlike programming, game mastering, music or other skills, I’ve never truly dedicated myself to improving my drawing. Granted it hasn’t come as naturally as many of my other honed skills. But while I often practice those skills daily, I have never even thought to do so with drawing. Probably because I’ve always found it somewhat mystical.

I’ve hand drawn a few maps. Played with some apps on my iPad. But each time it’s only a whim. Something that I give up on within a week or two. But as I continue my various creative endeavors, I find myself wishing to express my thoughts and ideas in ways other than words. In particular, as I try my hand at game design and cosplay, I find the lack of visual artistic expression difficult to overcome.

And so I’ve set forth on a journey to improve my drawing skills. I don’t expect to ever be the best, or even particularly notable. But I would like to reach a certain level that would bring me satisfaction and improve my creative skills. And so, like any bookworm would naturally do, I ordered a book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. My fiancée has decided to join me on this journey and I have decided to chronicle it here, on this blog.

Edwards explains that she is teaching the reader how to perceive. If you can examine an object and understand how it is put together, you can recreate that object by drawing. She also presents that there is not much difference in drawing real things and imaginary things. Between drawing a portrait and drawing a landscape. And that she will have the reader draw the supposedly difficult things to show them that they can draw anything. And I must say, comparing a selection of her students’ pre-instruction drawings to their post-instruction drawings, I am impressed and hopeful for my future artistic ability.

So onto the first steps. Amber and I went to the local art supply store and gathered our many tools. Pencils, graphite sticks, several erasers, clips and more.1 Two of each, sometimes four. But enough to hopefully see us through this book. So, we get setup in the downstairs office. With my drawing board and pencil, I setup on the guest bed.

2015-11-16 - Nicole

First, we must draw a portrait of a person from memory. I’m a proud and embarrassed at the same time. My drawing is clearly female, so that’s a positive. And yet, doesn’t look much like the person I intended, pretty big negative. But alas, I already knew I wasn’t innately talented at drawing and after sharing this picture with the subject, I felt ever so slightly better.2

2015-11-16 - James

Next, a self-portrait. Trying to get my face right in The Sims and its sequels has always been frustratingly difficult. If you can’t even get your own face right, how can you get other people’s right? It doesn’t look too much like me, but I got the hair mostly right. And the lips I think. I see myself in the mirror every day and yet can’t replicate something I am so familiar with. This certainly isn’t helping my motivation.

2015-11-16 - Psi

Finally, a drawing of my hand. Naturally, a Psi. Mostly because I threw a Psi for the first time in a few years. Amber and I attended a KKPsi alumni breakfast that morning. The proportions are weird but I think I did a good job for the most part. I’m particularly proud of the middle and ring fingers.

Edwards explains why she leads with these images. They’re often considered some of the hardest things to draw. And so when we’re done with her book and drawing these images again, we will compare them to show our improvement. In addition, she asks the reader to look for similarities between the pictures. What simple shapes reappear in each drawing. I noticed that the lips in the portraits look very similar, as do the eyes.

While not proud of my renderings, I am proud that I did it. That I’m working on developing a new skill that I never thought I would. And that I’m doing it on a journey with my fiancée. Something we can share and be proud of together.

  1. Out of all the things we bought, I’ve already become incredibly attached to the drawing board. 
  2. She is incredibly kind. Far less critical than I. 

In an effort to spur some more posts, I’ve decided to do a monthly preview post. I’ll write about a paragraph on upcoming games, gadgets, books, and other things.


The month of November will start off with a blaze of glory as Nathan Drake returns for another installment of Uncharted. It was the Uncharted series and Heavy Rain that spurred me into purchasing a PlayStation 31 and my expectations for the third game are sky high. Fortunately, I don’t see many ways for this game to disappoint. All I’m asking for is great graphics, a good story, crazy gun fights and for Nate to get the girl.2 That’s not much right?

On Deck

notch and Mojang are hosting the inaugural MineCon in Las Vegas. Their intent is to push a new version of Minecraft while on stage.3 I’ve been playing Minecraft for about a year now and it has firmly pushed itself into my rotation of games. Hopefully the completion of the Adventure Update will push it to the front of the line between Uncharted and the next pair of games.

In the Hole

Halfway through the month will see the release of two new games. The first game coming out Nov 15 is Assassin’s Creed: Revelations. The third installment for Ezio Auditore da Firenze will wrap up his storyline. I picked up all the other Assassin’s Creed games over the Steam summer sale and thoroughly enjoyed Assassin’s Creed 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. I still need to go back and play Assassin’s Creed but that will likely happen after I finish Ezio’s trilogy.


The second is Batman: Arkham City. Sure it hit consoles a couple weeks ago but I played Arkham Asylum on my PC. Asylum got rave reviews and when a Steam sale dropped the price I made sure to pick it up. Now I’ve been rewarded for my dedication to PC gaming with a $20 discount on my Arkham City purchase through Steam because I owned the first game. It took me a two solid stints through Asylum to beat the game (the last leg coming over the last few weeks). Great game, simple but fun mechanics and a great cast. As long as Arkham City follows through with the same stuff I’ll be more than happy with the purchase.

High Power

The Kindle Touch 3G will be my second kindle.4 While I don’t find my Kindle to be indispensable it has been a very useful device. My one complaint has been that it’s a bit too large to carry everywhere I go. When I show if off to others, the first thing they try to do is touch the screen and become slightly puzzled that it doesn’t respond. The new Kindle should rectify that issue and I expect it will feel just as natural with a touch interface. I rarely find myself using the hardware keyboard so the absence of it in exchange for a smaller device is an easy trade.


Reamde by Neal Stephenson. I’m not sure how I got introduced to Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon but I loved everything about it. World War II, cryptography, banks, theft and computers. The tome was huge but it wasn’t enough to deter me. Unfortunately, since reading that novel, I’ve skipped over his other works. His latest novel, Reamde, however has drawn me back in. It involves an MMO, a game company, gold farming, China and the Russian mafia. One of my acquaintances gave a slightly negative comment on it, so I picked it up on my Kindle instead of in hardcover. Still, I expect this to be a solid read.

RBI Guys

Holidays, birthdays and NaNoWriMo. Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving will give welcome days off. My birthday, my aunt and cousins’ birthday and my good friend’s youngest sister’s birthday. While I won’t be participating in NaNoWriMo exactly, I plan on using it to spur a bit more fiction and non-fiction musings.

Pinch Hitters

Excluding Reamde I’m not sure how much reading I’ll get done this month but if I get the chance I’ve got two novels in the SWtOR universe waiting, Fatal Alliance and Deceived.5 Women have their trashy romance novels, men have their trashy game novels. I love exploring the histories and backstories of worlds and these two novels will give me a chance to fill in some more knowledge gaps.6

Nine Hole

Bringing up the end of the line up is the iPhone 4S. Upgrading from my 3GS will be great but I’m not sure exactly when it’s going to happen which is why the 4S is so low on this list. It’s a phone, a personal assistant, an internet device, a twitter client and an HD camera all rolled into one. I’m not sure what else I would need or want in a single device but I’m sure Apple will show me in two years.7

Waiting for the Callup

First off the bench is Nimbus from Noumenon Games. It’s an indie puzzle platform game that looks neat. It’s been out for a year but I just heard about it recently. If I manage to go through all the other games and still have some funds left in the entertainment budget this game will be the one called up.

The other item hoping for the call is Mile 81 by Stephen King. I’ve never read any of his works before and a recent short story only available on the Kindle for $3 sounds like the perfect one to start with.

  1. At the time I already owned a Wii, an Xbox 360 and a personally built gaming PC. 
  2. Which girl is up for debate but I generally find myself inclined to root for Elena instead of Chloe. But Claudia Black proved pretty irresistible in at least one play through of Dragon Age: Origins. 
  3. Pre-releases for 1.9 beta will have been available to download for nearly a month and a half at that point. And don’t get me started on their release numbering scheme. 
  4. My current kindle is a second generation one that I’ll be passing along to my dad as a belated birthday gift. 
  5. SWtOR – Star Wars: the Old Republic is an upcoming online role-playing game set in the same galaxy but a longer time ago. 
  6. An admission of guilt here, I read the Simarillion but haven’t touched The Hobbit or the LotR trilogy. 
  7. I’m on the S upgrade line with phone contracts and that’s perfectly acceptable for me despite my general early adopter vibe. The iPhone is one device I will always prefer the second revision.