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.

For a while, I’ve been struggling with continuing to work through the drawing exercises as part of Learning to Draw. The last exercise I tried was drawing a chair to learn about negative spaces. Despite my progress, I was ambitious and crashed and burned in my first attempt. Since that incident, I’ve struggled to get myself motivated to continue improving.

This is bad. I have a pair of costume ideas I’d like to start on for DragonCon. Both are going to involve months long build times and need significant visual preparation. And my drawing skills are just not there yet. My fiancée has pushed me off the starting line this weekend. Over the past year or so, I’ve been collecting various Udemy courses during their big sales. During the Thanksgiving Day sale, I grabbed Learning 3D Modelling – The Complete Blender Creator Course. Sunday, we started the course and came away excited.

2016-01-18 - Blender1

Much like Learning to Draw, I have little prior experience. I’ve tried using Blender before but never got anywhere. The first section of the course focused on installing, configuring and understanding the basics of the software. It helped a lot to spend that time getting familiar with the interface.

2016-01-18 - Blender2

After dinner, we started working through Section 2. We didn’t finish the section but we made it past the mid-section quiz and completed our first major model, an airplane. We scanned an image search for wooden toy plane and located this one from Etsy.

2016-01-18 - Wooden Toy Airplane

Here’s my finished model in Blender. I’m pretty happy about it. It took a couple hours for me to build but I think it looks great. I’m meticulous in creating things and I hope it shows. This course will likely take me longer than I hoped.

2016-01-18 - Blender3

With the model completed, I transferred it over to my old laptop and ran it through Netfabb and Cura. And then I printed it on our LulzBot Mini! My first print of a model I created.

2016-01-18 - Printed Plane

2016-01-18 - Printed Plane2

Now to start work on my Invincible Iron Man armor!

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. 

It’s been a while since I’ve worked on my drawing. I’ll admit a big part of that is that I struggled with the current exercise and gave up for a bit. But before I gave up, I got a chance to draw my hand again. And this exercise made me proud of my progress before taking a hiatus.1

For this exercise, we used our drawing panes to draw our hands. This process took a while but I like the result. Then we were to transfer the drawing from the pane to drawing paper. I generally consider myself a patient person but drawing continues to test my limits.

2016-01-08 - Hands 2

Another cool thing about drawing my hand again was that I used the same pose for my initial drawings. So we can look at a comparison of the same subject in a similar pose. The first before I read much of the book. The second after completing the current chapter

2016-01-08 - Hands 1

I found my progress pleasing until I started the next exercise and these drawing show how far I’ve come in just a few months. Now to get back to it soon so I can continue improving.


  1. The holidays also weren’t particularly conducive either. 

Hello 2016!

While I’m not a fan of celebrating on New Year’s Eve, I am fond of turning the page onto a new year. The clean slate. The upcoming events. There’s always a sense of wonder and excitement for me.

So here are my 2016 resolutions for all to see!

  1. Read one book every month.
  2. Watch one movie in a theater every week.
  3. Design a game as part of 1GAM.
  4. Continue progressing my workout routines.
  5. Continue podcasting at least bi-weekly.
  6. Improve the quality of blog posts and journal entries.

Most of these are incremental goals. Small steps that move what I have been doing forward. But that’s what makes them great resolutions. They are improvements that will take effort and dedication but are wholly achievable.

Oh and I’m getting married this year!

Goodbye 2015!

It’s been a great year but I’m excited for 2016. 2015 was a year filled with growth and change.

In April, I asked the woman I love to marry me.
In June, I moved to Tallahassee and in with my newly minted fiancée.
In July, I said goodbye to Gainesville for one last time.
In September, I returned to Atlanta for our now yearly pilgrimage to DragonCon.
In October, I helped two of my dearest friends get married.
In December, I built my third video game for 2015.

There were many more events. Seven weddings in total. Numerous holidays. Travel throughout the Southeast US. And a decent showing at the gym.

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?

Sunfire.

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.