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Accessibility & UX – Presentation at mkeUX

January 19th, 2016 by Steve | Comment on Accessibility & UX - Presentation at mkeUX | Filed in Accessibility News, art of web accessibility update

the Disability symbol painted in a parking spotI’m excited to share that I’ll be presenting Accessibility & UX: You Can’t Have One Without the Other on February 9th for mkeUX.

If you’re in the Milwaukee area that day, swing by the Irish Pub.

For all the details, check out:
Feb 9 meetup: Accessibility & UX at mkeUX!

And let them know you’re coming:
Accessibility & UX on Facebook.

mkeUX Logo

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Creativity – Then and Now

December 30th, 2015 by Steve | Comment on Creativity - Then and Now | Filed in Creativity

In the years since college, I haven’t done a whole lot of writing, other than a prompt here or a super short story there. That, of course, is what I’m hoping to change.

Creativity comes in different flavors though. I would be omitting a huge outlet for it if I didn’t mention a game I played from eighth grade into my 30s.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’m a huge fan of pro wrestling. I grew up with it, watching the AWA on Sunday mornings with my dad and ultimately the WWF (now, WWE). Probably the height of my fandom was the mid to late 1990s, when WCW and WWE/F duked it out in a big ratings war. I still watch classics from that era thanks to the WWE Network. I love the larger-than-life characters, the storylines, the alliances and betrayals, and of course the (simulated) combat itself.

As a kid, I collected Masters of the Universe action figures. Unlike most of my peers however, I set up the Eternia Wrestling Federation (EWF) instead of traditional adventures. I still remember details like Kobra Khan being the first champion, and Tri-Klops being the “Ric Flair” of EWF, winning the title time after time.

Tri-Klops action figure from the 1980s toy line Masters of the Universe

The most storied champion in the history of the Eternia Wrestling Federation. Like his inspiration Ric Flair, he’d finish off opponents with his deadly figure-four leg lock.
Sadly, his career was halted when one of his legs snapped off.
(Photo from: He-Man.org)

Similarly, I had a ton of those M.U.S.C.L.E. wrestlers (you know, those little pink rubber guys – see A Brief History of M.U.S.C.L.E. Figures for a great recap). I made my own ring out of wood, nails, and rubber bands, and had an elaborate league with titles, feuds, and all the good stuff that goes with pro-wrestling.

In the interests of full transparency, even today in my basement on the pool table are a pile of these figures. It’s pretty common for me to go downstairs to do laundry or grab something from the freezer, and pause to have a quick match or two.

MUSCLE action figures posed in a wrestling match on my pool table

Yes, this is a current picture. Here, we see Warlock (the red guy) battling Slim Jim for the MWF Legends Title.

What endured the longest, however, was my devotion to a game called Champions of the Galaxy. My two best friends and I ordered the first several sets back in the mid 1980’s, and while they dropped off in a matter of a few years, I stuck with it for a couple decades.

During the years I played, the game comprised of black and white cards with a wrestler illustration on one side and the stats/game mechanics on the other. You’d roll dice, follow charts, and a wrestling match would unfold.

What makes this even crazier – the game and its Galaxian Wrestling Federation (GWF) were set over a hundred years in the future, throughout the cosmos. Some wrestlers came from Earth, but most were aliens from all over the Milky Way and beyond.

Seven playable cards from Champions of the Galaxy, including characters named Bishop Hell, Thantos, Comrade Terror, Battering Ram, Pegasus, Bounty Hunter and Janus.

Here is just a tiny subset of the legends who made up the Champions of the Galaxy pantheon.
Special mention goes to the guy in the lower right, Janus the Overman, who was far and away the most successful, memorable combatant in the decades-long love affair I had with this game.

Most of the time, I kept track of results via write-ups, in notebooks and binders. In later years, I’d make fancier computerized versions. The reams of paper I went through was staggering, building up feuds, rivalries and grandiose storylines. I kept track of each and every champion in charts and later spreadsheets. When I was much younger, I’d even do promos in front of the mirror before big matches, playing the role of one of the wrestlers.

And for the most part, I had an audience of one. Thousands of results that only I saw. And I didn’t care – it entertained the heck out of me for a long, long time.

Handwritten results of two events held in my fictional wrestling federation in the Champions of the Galaxy game setting. These are from 2007.

Yes, I did this in my early 30s, nearing the end of my run with Champions of the Galaxy.
But it gets the point across of how I’d keep track of results, and progress storylines.

The game exists even today, though I dropped off several years ago. What’s sad is expanding beyond my audience of one and meeting other players via online communities ruined everything. I was exposed to a clique of gamers that soured me to the entire game, though I fortunately made a couple genuine friends out of it that I still talk to now.

I really miss the game though, and the creative outlet it provided me. I mentally conjure up scenarios and storylines when I play modern video games like WWE 2K16, but it’s just not the same. There are go-to fictional wrestlers that I always make in wrestling games that allow character creation like: Prince Ali, the young, brash Middle Eastern aristocrat; Marcel, the creepy, enigmatic French mime; “Java” Jose Cortez, the Hispanic high-flyer; Golden Saint, the masked hero inspired visually from characters in the Elder Scrolls game series…

I’ve tried to recapture the magic with Champions of the Galaxy in recent years, but you can’t always go back home.

So that was then. Today, there are dozens of story fragments on my computer, in Dropbox, etcetera. Many of them came from memorable dreams I had, others conjured up after things picked up from books or video games.

I’ll close here, with much thanks again for taking this journey with me. It’s been a lot of fun reminiscing about these creative forays.

How, pray tell, does this all relate to User Experience, Accessibility, and my career?

Well, I wouldn’t be in the UX role I am today, and the web design roles before that, without these experiences.

Everything that got me into design has been self-taught, up until the graduate program I’ve currently in.

All those years fiddling around with MacPaint, all those mind-expanding sessions writing stuff for the fun of it, all those hours I spent teaching myself HTML so that I could make my own web site for that wrestling game….it all parlayed into an entry level job updating web sites. That took me into web design, which took me into accessibility, which took me into UX.

You get the point. A creative mind questions experiences. It explores ways to make them better. It doesn’t settle. And whether you’ve studied art, business, or programming — or history and Latin like me — your brain can be wired for user experience if you’re an explorer and thinker.

I’ve done well for myself professionally, even though some of my favorite creative outlets have gone dormant.

Here’s to a 2016 where I bring some of that back. Wish me luck.


Creativity Series

  1. Creativity
  2. Creativity – Me & the ’70s and ’80s
  3. Creativity – More Fun in the ’80s
  4. Creativity – The Late 80’s and 90’s
  5. Creativity – Then and Now

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Creativity – The Late 80’s and 90’s

December 29th, 2015 by Steve | Comment on Creativity - The Late 80's and 90's | Filed in Creativity

I hope everybody has had a good holiday season. Welcome back.

Last time, I shared King Richard’s retelling of the exploits of Colwin, Sabrina, Panama Joe and others.

Me at Walt Disney World posing with someone dressed as Prince John from the Disney animated classic Robin Hood

Back when my writing alter ego was King Richard. Apparently this is Good King R. consulting with fellow royalty.

Luckily, my creativity streak continued beyond the grade school years into high school.

Sadly, not much remains from that era. I remember writing a story called “Lightpool: Drugs & Diamonds”, that was heavily influenced by the computer game series Police’s Quest.

Box cover of Police Quest - In Pursuit of the Dark Angel computer game

Cover of the first Police Quest game, from Sierra On-Line. I spent a ridiculous amount of time on this one, as well as the Space Quest series.
(image from Wikipedia)

From the little I remember, it was about a South Milwaukee cop (yes, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up) who stumbles upon some drug ring, and embarks on an adventure that takes him undercover and even to Mexico for some reason.

Far more exciting for me was the second round of Knight’s Quest stories that I wrote. The originals that I wrote in grade school featured a warrior named Larky (again, with the “clever” names) and another Sabrina, working for King Richard and taking on all manner of enemies, both domestic and interplanetary.

The next series I wrote, in the late 80s and early 90s was about a different band of heroes. Once again, some of the names were just me being quirky and weird, like the main character being a warrior named Wizardry.

But the party of adventurers were: Wizardry the warrior; Sperry the thief; Moonshadow the warrior and healer; Sazzor the wizard; and Guild the guardsman/archer.

I just learned that my brother has copies of most of these stories, including the “spin-off” called Thief’s Quest, which was a backstory for Sperry. I’m sure they’ll be a treat for me to read (and cringe-worthy at times).

I was so heavily influenced by Dungeons & Dragons and role-playing games that I rigidly stuck to terms like fighter, thief, and cleric because I wanted to stay true to the whole genre. I didn’t feel comfortable enough striking off on my own and being more inventive.

One of the prime inspirations for writing them was the bestselling Avatar Trilogy in the Forgotten Realms book series.

Cover art from the three books in the Avatar Trilogy of the Forgotten Realms series - Shadowdale, Tantras, and Waterdeep

The three books of the Avatar Trilogy, set in the Forgotten Realms.
Photo from:
Comic Books & Novels Sales

As I mentioned, not only do I have the original stories but I have tons of notes detailing how I could re-write them. I have the notes for an 8-story saga. I’ve spent literally my entire adulthood thinking about the characters, setting and other details. Obviously, lots of things require changing, like uncoupling it from Dungeons & Dragons’ jargon and renaming goofy characters like Wizardry, Narchanzar, Fizzle and who the hell knows what others I came up with.

After the second Knight’s Quest series, I don’t believe I finished many other stories on my own. I did have another run during early college though. In my first year, I planned on being an English major and took a couple creative writing classes.

I still have some of the stories from then. Most were forgettable, but a couple still stick in my mind.

Most notably, I wrote Aphrodite. It was a story about a Classics professor named Sidney Timbers, who loses his wife in a car accident and spirals into alcoholism and eventually screwing around with a student of his who reminds him of his wife.

He gets visited by a strange old man, who eventually reveals himself to be a poet from Ancient Greece. He tries to convince Timbers that the classic gods are real, but barely in power because most people don’t believe in them. Timbers professed to not believe in any Greek mythology, at last consciously – he always had considered his wife his Aphrodite. Well, the old man tells him that his wife actually WAS Aphrodite.

Eventually, Timbers figures “What the hell” and winds up getting whisked to ancient Greek times. He tries to track down the goddess Aphrodite. Just when he about loses hope, he gets an audience with the gods and, while the goddess Aphrodite doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about, he tries to convince her to do things differently far in the future, and avoid the car crash.

He awakens from this back home and dismisses it as a dream, but then is greeted by his wife, who reveals she heeded his advice and they live happily ever after.

What I remember (I still have it, thankfully) is that the first half felt quite inspired and unique, but when I took the story to ancient Greece, I completely lost my direction and it wound up pretty lame. Were I to do it again, I’d tweak the beginning but come up with a completely different ending, probably without a literal trip back in time and not necessarily with the fairy tale ending.

I also wrote a decent story about two college guys who dare themselves to visit a supposedly haunted house in the neighborhood, as well as one about an aging pirate who goes on one last voyage in hopes of finding his lost sister.

And that, sadly, was about it. In my final post about this whole creativity thing, I’ll talk about the dozen or so fragments of stories I’ve still got, many of them inspired by some great dreams I had, that I was smart enough to take notes on.


Creativity Series

  1. Creativity
  2. Creativity – Me & the ’70s and ’80s
  3. Creativity – More Fun in the ’80s
  4. Creativity – The Late 80’s and 90’s
  5. Creativity – Then and Now

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Creativity – More Fun in the ’80s

December 16th, 2015 by Steve | Comment on Creativity - More Fun in the '80s | Filed in Creativity, Writing

There’s simply too many things that come to mind when I reminisce on where my imagination took me back in my childhood.

Movies and TV shows like Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Krull, Buck Rogers, and V are just a few of the main inspirations that come to mind.

I was also obsessed with books like The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I was such a dork that I actually carried around a satchel with a towel in it for awhile (which is ridiculously nerdy, but at least those of you familiar with the books will understand…maybe).

I mentioned that my brain is a repository for grandiose stories and concepts that have been swirling around from my pre-teens into today. I feel I should mention two, because up until this point, I’ve never shared them with anyone.

Inspired by the sheer awesomeness of Indiana Jones, at a very young age I came up with my own take on it. I created this character named Panama Joe Lansing. Sure, he was a knock off of Indy, but not exactly. He was a young adventurer who, part by skill, part by luck, stumbled upon some huge archaeological find. The discovery made him an instant celebrity.

But he was a celebrity not quite as legit as the hype. Being a starlet, he takes part in some goofy “Win a Date with Panama Joe” contest that a woman named Leslie LaParrish wins. They meet to very mixed results – he’s a bit full of himself, for one. Before the date can end, they get sucked into some grandiose scheme that plunges the two of them into an adventure to find some an artifact (the Gem of the Ancients, whatever the hell that was). Along the way, with no small support from Leslie, Panama Joe proves his worth and comes out successful.

I illustrated and wrote out this story as far back as like 3rd/4th grade. I’ve also mentally thought about at least two sequels. Again, not the most original stuff, but Panama Joe has been there in the recesses of my mind for like 35 years. I owe it to him to at least introduce him to the world!

Another one…I had this fairly elaborate idea for a fantasy TV series. Influenced by the game Ultima III, I imagined a world like the game setting. The main characters, however, were very much my own.

There was a guy (I think I named him Colwin or some derivative of the main character of Krull. Imagine that.) and a woman named Sabrina (again, nicked from the game Transylvania). Colwin was not your typical larger-than-life heroic warrior. He was instead a sneaky, clever kind, from a life of crime. He wasn’t above tricking his way out of trouble to hide his own lack of physical prowess. Sabrina was more the honorable warrior type.

Jane Badler as Diana from V

There are few shows that I was more into as a kid than “V’, “V: The Final Battle” and “V: The Series”. Jane Badler was, to me, the perfect person to play the main villainess of my made-up TV series.

Duncan Regehr as Dirk Blackpool in Wizards and Warriors

Duncan Regehr had a knack for playing dapper villains, in “V: The Series” and “Wizards and Warriors”. He seemed a perfect “villain you can’t help but like” for my heroes.

Michael Ironside from the intro of V - The Series

One of my all-time favorite actors, mostly because of his awesome portrayal of Ham Tyler in “V: The Final Battle” and “V: The Series”. Not only did I imagine him a great “tweener” character who sometimes helped and sometimes hindered the heroes, but when I created the next round of “Knights’ Quest” stories in high school, he was who I had in mind as Espynax, a ruthless general who winds up becoming king.

Anyway, Colwin was roped into serving the king to erase past crimes, and partnered up with Sabrina and another character name Saber. They carried out missions for Lord British (the king in the Ultima series as well as the pen name for series creator Richard Garriott). There was also a frenemy of Colwin’s, whose name I forget but in my mind was played by a favorite actor of mine– Michael Ironside of V, Total Recall, and Splinter Cell fame.

Over the years, I came up with all sorts of episodic adventures. In the early Ultima games, there were villains named Mondain, Minax and their “offspring”, a super-computer named Exodus. I imagined the series playing out like this – Season 1: the battle against Mondain; Season 2-3: taking on a vengeful Minax; Season 4: dealing with Exodus (who would be a proper human, not a computer). Such as my influence from “V”, that I imagined Jane Badler (who played ultra-villain Diana) as Minax, and a lesser known actor who for some reason made an impression on me, Duncan Regehr (also of “V”, but additionally from a very short-lived series called “Wizards and Warriors”) as Mondain.

And there they are, out in the world at long last.

Now about some of the other stuff I wrote in the 1980s. Well, now that I’ve been looking at some gems I created in the mid/late 1980s, I had completely forgotten that I apparently came up with a pen name too – King Richard!

As you can see from the example, King Richard was pretty confident in himself. I love it.

MacPaint-drawn cover for The Complex, with various scenes including lasers on buildings shooting down rocket ships and a man using a laser gun to destroy a force field.

The Complex, a story more than a little inspired by the Infocom game “Suspended”, by me (a.k.a. King Richard)

Cover of King Crusader, with three panels - one showing two men fighting with swords, one of a man swimming to a hole in the bottom of the sea, and one showing a sword.

This one was particularly bizarre. An epic battle against “the evil duke of evil” takes place…in Minocqua, Wisconsin. I think this was the last of the stories under the pen name King Richard.

Cover of The Ohio Ordeal, showing a murdered man slumped over a desk in a library.

The Ohio Ordeal, a story I wrote for an assignment in 8th Grade. With the exception of the gun, I believe I hand-drew everything via MacPaint.

Cover of Shard of Doom, showing a cloudy sky and a castle overlooking the sea.

Shard of Doom, heavily inspired by the Wizards, Warriors & You book series. I even copied their format of having a list of weapons and spells that the main characters selected from.

Next time, I’ll delve into the things I came up with in the late 1980s and throughout 1990s.

This has been a lot of fun…hopefully for you too!

Until next time, in the words of Ultima III….Journey Onward!


Creativity Series

  1. Creativity
  2. Creativity – Me & the ’70s and ’80s
  3. Creativity – More Fun in the ’80s
  4. Creativity – The Late 80’s and 90’s
  5. Creativity – Then and Now

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Creativity – Me & the ’70s and ’80s

December 15th, 2015 by Steve | Comment on Creativity - Me & the '70s and '80s | Filed in Creativity, Writing

There were lots of things that inspired my imagination as a kid, many of them rooted in fantasy and science fiction.

The Pre-Macintosh Era

For as far back as I can remember, I’ve been into things medieval. Knights, castles, and all that. I don’t know where it started, but I do recall something that was a big catalyst for the fascination.

Around age 10, I was home sick with the flu or something, and my mom got me a couple books to read.
Cover of the first Time Machine book, called Secret of the Knights, with a knight of horseback holding a lance.Cover of the first Wizards, Warriors and You book, called The Forest of Twisted Dreams, showing a knight on a hilltop battling a dragon.

They were both those Choose Your Own Adventure type books, where you make choices and go to the specified page. One was from the Time Machine series, the other from Wizards, Warrior & You. I read the hell out of them, and over the years, collected more. In fact, I managed to complete the Wizards, Warriors & You collection in my adult life and still occasionally page through them.

One of the single most influential pieces of entertainment that inspired me to daydream and write was a movie called Krull. It was far from a success, but I bet at least a few of you remember it. It was classic Dungeons & Dragons style fare, with a group of adventurers helping a king rescue his bride from evil invaders.

krull

I remember writing my own versions of it, complete with sequels. There is something about that movie that, to this day, is undeniably awesome.

They are all long, long gone, but man I sketched a ton of storybooks about material like that. I can still picture the stylized stick figures that I’d draw as characters.

And Then Came the Macintosh…
My family's first computer, the Apple Macintosh circa 1986.

After our family visited a friend and were dazzled by his fancy new computer, my parents bought an Apple Macintosh in 1986.

As I said last time, it was life changing. I was a pretty introverted kid, who would often just play by myself (Star Wars and He-Man action figures, LEGO toys, and Hot Wheels to name a few). When we got the Mac, while everybody was initially interested in it, I was the only one who got hooked and stayed hooked.

I’d spend hours upon hours using MacPaint, drawing things and playing with fonts. Later on, I’d make my own story covers (more on that in the next post).

And then there were the games.

The first one we got was Transylvania, a graphical and text adventure about rescuing a princess from a vampire. The princess’ name was Sabrina, a name I’d use many times in my own story writing.

Next came a pair of outstanding role-playing games – Wizardry and Ultima III. I can’t even say how many hours I spent playing either.

The reason I bring up Wizardry is that it proved to be a huge source of inspiration for my creativity. I created a party of adventurers in that game with these names: Wizardry (yes, for some dorky reason I thought it’d be funny to create a warrior named after the game and for something he didn’t use), Moonshadow, Sperry, Sazzor and Guild.

The game itself didn’t have much of a storyline. My characters had no depth other than some stats and unique icons, but they became the main heroes in a series of stories I first wrote in my pre-teens, and then re-invisioned in my high school years. Of course, these stories borrowed heavily from things that influenced me, namely Dungeons & Dragons (which I never actually played until my college years, yet I managed to accumulate quite a collection of rule books during childhood, just to read, re-read, and conjure up ideas with), movies like Krull, and the Forgotten Realms series of novels.

Looking back, I did more than borrow. It was kind of silly how unoriginal some of the ideas were, but for a kid, they were ambitious, lengthy stories. I think the original series was about 6 or 8 in total, somewhere in the range of 20-30 pages of single line, 12-point text.

The original stories – the Knights’ Quest series (yes, I was also more than a little influenced by Sierra On-Line’s King’s Quest computer games too) – are lost. However, I still have fragments of updated versions of them as well as a bunch of notes about how the entire series could be laid out. More than anything else my imagination has come up with, I’ve spent ridiculous amounts of time thinking about this series – how it could be written, how it’d look in movie form, etcetera. Even now, when I’m daydreaming on bike rides or elsewhere, I flesh out a little bit more of those stories.

a map drawn in MacPaint in the late 1980's, of the fictional world Montore, where my Knights' Quest stories took place.

MacPaint-drawn map of Montore, the setting of my Knights’ Quest series. With pencil corrections later on!

To revisit them in their original scope would be a daunting challenge. When you’re not writing at all, taking on novel-length stories might not be the best way to get back into things. But I’ve never truly given up hope that they might see the light of day in some capacity.

In between the last post and this one, I found some stories I wrote in the mid 1980s. Some of them made me laugh out loud at how silly they are. I’m going to share some of them in the next post. Particularly hilarious – I had completely forgotten that I went by a pen name back then too!

Screenshot of the interface of Ultima III by Origin Systems, for the Macintosh.

Ultima III, screenshot from http://www.filfre.net/2014/02/28/

Screenshot of the interface of Wizardry I: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord by Sir-Tech Software, for the Macintosh.

Wizardry I: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

Screenshot of the interface of Transylvania by Polarware Software, for the Macintosh.

Transylvania


Creativity Series

  1. Creativity
  2. Creativity – Me & the ’70s and ’80s
  3. Creativity – More Fun in the ’80s
  4. Creativity – The Late 80’s and 90’s
  5. Creativity – Then and Now

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