Captivate By Vanessa Van Edwards Review

Any chapter in this book is worth 10x the cost of the book.

Like Vanessa I too had an epiphany at one point in my life when I realized social interaction could be learned. I wasn’t some how limited by my genetics or upbringing to forever not know what to say. Once I learned this important truth I became a voracious student of social engineering.

I’ve heard Vanessa on a number of podcasts and immediately pre-ordered Captivate when I heard it was coming out. When she asked for pre-readers I jumped at the chance. I’ll admit to struggling to get through the awful formatting of the pre-release ebook version give to me by her publisher. But the day the book came out I bought both the Kindle and Audible versions.

Captivate is one of the best books I’ve read on the subject of how to understand and interact with people in the last half decade.

The “academics who did a study on college seniors and now tell you how people tick” genre has exploded recently. While there are good nuggets and insights in those books. They are heavy on the author’s biased reasons why and not on actionable – as in you can use it today – techniques. Vanessa’s book is practical. It is written from the perspective of someone trying to build a business, get a date, or just have a good party.

This is real world stuff for people living in the real world.

If you are a fan of social and life hackers like Neil Strauss, Tim Ferris, Scott Adams, or Tony Robbins, be ready to add a new member to the social engineering pantheon.

If you are a self proclaimed introvert with social anxiety this book is for you too. Vanessa calls herself a “recovering awkward person” and you can be too. You’ll learn to work with your strengths in the first chapter and not live in the hell of faking it till you make it.

Buy the book, you won’t regret it.

Need Your Help To Start Writing a Book

Since the fall of Reactuate Games I’ve been trying to decided what I’m going to do with my life. I won’t go into the process that I’ve been going through because that would be a distraction, but I’ve decided to decide.

I’m going to write a book.

Working title is Distinctions For Life. It will be a self-improvement/self-help/lifehacks book. That’s as far as I’ve gotten on its over all concept. But each chapter will be a pretty self contained topic.

For the last few months I’ve been compiling a list of topics in the form of Chapter Titles. This is where I need my friends’ help. I need to start. Looking at the whole of the idea is daunting and a great way to never start. I’ve decided I’m starting this week. But to know if anyone else thinks this is a good idea I want you to tell me what to write first.

Here’s my current list of chapter titles.
– The Macro and Micro parts of life.
– Take Responsibility
– Things wear out – replace your socks
– Social Interaction can be learned
– Build a network
– Yeah Goals
– Live life with Purpose
– Make mistakes
– How to avoid mistakes
– Routines
– Morning Pages
– Your brain is for thinking Your Phone for Remembering
– Knowledge brings depth to things
– Your body is a soup of chemicals
– Emotional bank accounts
– Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly
– Simple is not easy
– Systems
– Change you focus change you mood
– Beliefs
– Identity
– Go the extra mile
– Peoples communication channel of choice
– The myth of work/life balance
– Enjoy the process
– Process oriented goals
– People orient goals
– Work around mental blocks
– Stop shoulding on yourself
– Expertise isn’t about what you know it is about what others don’t.

Please leave a comment and tell me which chapter you’d find the most intriguing. From that list I’ll pick what to write first.

The Vagrant Review

I met Peter Newman at LonCon 3 last summer and heard about The Vagrant
from him. The concept was compelling. A story where the main character doesn’t talk. And he is carrying a baby though a post-apocalyptic demonic wasteland.
Don’t think he mentioned one character was a goat.

From the beginning you know you are dealing with an author who is pushing for quality. A non-talking main character is a pretty big burden to take on for a first time author. But it works. He pulls it off and you never feel like he cheats where the character kind of talks.

The author’s prose style is also unique. If I had to compare him to someone it would be Neil Stephenson, who’s style is also peppered with one of a kind metaphors. Peter also anthropomorphizes everything, from the goat to grass thrown into the wind. The world comes alive in a number of different ways as you travel through the wasteland.

It is a melliu story, the book begins with The Vagrant at the beginning of a journey, carrying a thing to a place, and ends when he gets to that place and delivers the thing. I’m trying really hard to not spoil anything.

My only complaint with the book is it is too long. Maybe that is because of the current requirement by publishers that novels must be over 100,000 words, or if the author felt that’s how long it needed to be. But I could have done without yet another city we must travel through and experience another dark side of humanity.

Also there is a bad guy introduced in the last quarter of the book that just seem to be there for a possible sequel. I did feel the book stood on its own though, so don’t let that deter you from reading it.

Meeting an author before you read their book is a strange thing. Peter and his wife Emma – author of the Split Worlds books – are the team behind the Tea and Jeopardy Podcast. They are also two of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. I was so impressed with their proactive diligence in starting meet-ups at UK cons just for first time attendees. Lot’s of people say, “Hey someone ought to do something for people who’ve never been to a con.” They actually did something.

Give that, Peter obviously has a dark side. Some of the ways the demons use their powers to convert people into…things… are decidedly twisted and gross.

I enjoyed the theme of the book that one good person, who does the right thing even when it is the hard thing, can make a difference. The Vagrant was a paladin, doing good, not just avoiding evil.

Overall I like the book and think you all should go out and buy it.

This review was of the audiobook. I would have bought the Kindle version, but it isn’t available in the US. Stupid publishers.

River Song’s Screwdriver Epihany

River Song’s Sonic Screwdriver
River Song’s Sonic Screwdriver

This morning I was doing some stuff in my home workshop/office and saw the box for my River Song Sonic Screwdriver and it got me to thinking, which lead to a really cool epiphany. Rather than jump to the cool part straight away I’ll give you some of my internal dialog.

In HTML Screenplay format.


(RON puts camera away on shelf and notices River Song Sonicscrewdriver box)


Wow, River Song got her own toy when she was in only one episode, that’s cool.


Dr David said, “Why would I give her a sonic?”

When did he give it to her? Did she have a sonic during her Matt Smith years?

CUT TO: MONTAGE OF RIVER SONG SCENES with fuzzy edge dream/memory effect as RON thinks about it.

He remembers her wizbang future tricorder/ipad all the time, but not her Sonic.

(Shot with her holding her red shoes in one hand and device in other.)
(Shot her showing device to someone)


Mmmmm…Of course there was obviously a lot of time he spent with her off screen.


(River Tells Rory about Stevie Wonder on the Thames.)River and Rory

(RIVER tells Dr Matt Smith she’ll travel with him anytime)
travel with me thenwhenever you want

CUT TO: RON in the Closet


Hey wouldn’t it be cool if they did a parallel Dr Who with Matt Smith and River Song? It could all take place in those off screen times.


You know one of the first things River said to Dr David was….

CUT TO: Scene from The Library where RIVER is looking closely at the Doctor’s face and says:



“You look so young.”



She got her Sonic from a Doctor that looked older than David Tennant.

Matt Smith was younger.

Smith never gave her her sonic.

Capaldi looks old.

This would prove Moffat was a genius if he does it. That first River Song episode wasn’t even one of his. He didn’t write the line “You look so young.” Matter of fact he screwed it up by making the next Doctor, the one River spends so much time with, the youngest Doctor ever.

Maybe he decided on an older Doctor just so he could make this line make sense.

Dang, now why didn’t I think of this before I was in a Q&A with Stephen Moffet at the Dr Who Premiere in Cardiff.

WorldCon Panel Picker: Advantages and Nuances

I detailed my thoughts on a Panel Picker ala SXSW yesterday. Today I want to talk about some of the advantages.

The Suggestion Process

While writing this I went from calling the person who suggested the panel the “suggester” to the “nominator”.

I suggest there be two phases to the picker. A nomination round and the voting round.

During the nomination round people fill out a form with the details of the panel and it is available online for others to see. During the phase other people can “second” the nomination, essentially voting for it to be voted on later.

Once nominations close, the programming committee goes over the nominations and selects a list of panels. These panels are them put up for con goers to vote on.

Anyone can second a nominated panel, but only people actually signed up for the con can vote in the selection round. I mean really what’s the point of letting people vote who aren’t even going to be there. That’s just noise in the machine.


There are a number of advantages to letting the fans create the panels, and they make the program director’s job a little easier.

Panels are Prepackaged

It isn’t up to the program director to come up with every idea, pick a moderator, pick panelists, make sure they communicate pre-con, make sure they are prepared, etc. All that comes from the nominator.

I would expect the nominator to be the person who plans to moderate the panel. She is the panel’s leader even if not the moderator, and she will do all the stuff required to make the panel a success. Since she will also promote the panel during the voting stage, she’s taking responsibility ahead of time. If the panel sucks or screws up, she is the one everyone will associate with the panel.

There are some nuances to the nomination process I’ll talk about below.

Popular knowledge

Because people voted for a panel, you have an idea how popular it is going to be. This helps with scheduling rooms because you know which panels need big rooms and which ones don’t. You can also prepare for the crowds and distribute really popular panels over the days of the con.

Drives Traffic to Con Site

The nominator becomes invested in her panel. Not only is she responsible for its success during the con, she has to get it in the con in the first place. To do this she has to encourage all their followers to support the nomination. This sends people the con website (traffic yeah!), where they will learn more about the con and other nominated panels.

Once the nominations are in, our nominator must get people not only to vote for her panel, but to sign up for the con in advance. (Yeah, pre sales! Yeah, more traffic!)


No system or idea is perfect and a panel picker won’t fix all problems. Here are a few things I’ve thought of.

No Dream Panels

You can’t let people just nominate random panels that they can’t make happen, so here are few rules.

1. The nominator must already be registered for the con. Before she can nominate, she has to commit to being there.

2. If a panel gets nominated, all of the panelist must be registered for the con. I’m sure some people, particularly authors, would receive complimentary registrations. Everyone who going to be on the panel must commit to coming. This also ensures the nominator isn’t just hoping there dream panelists will be there.

Just because a lot of people vote for it doesn’t make it good.

People are going to try and game the system. They might want an obnoxious panel to be nominated just to yank other fan’s chains. Someone might have a strong following, but not be a good moderator.

The program director and committee will still have a chance to influence which panels get picked. This would happen mainly between the nomination and voting rounds, but could happen after as well.

Small can be good.

Just because a panel doesn’t get very many seconds to its nomination, doesn’t mean it isn’t something people might be interested in. The Program Director can move any nomination to the voting round they want.

Also not every room at a con is big. You may want smaller panels to fill the smaller rooms. This might mean when it comes to put panels in rooms, you don’t have enough rooms for very popular panels, and decide to add ones with less votes.

Just Cuz They Said They Would Do it…

Even with all of this process, some people will no show. Or their panel will be dumb and not live up to the copy. But the truth is that happens with the top down approach too. We’re not really any worse off.

I’d love to hear other people’s suggestion for problems that should be addressed. Leave a comment below.

Panel Picker For Conventions

LonestarConLogoThis August I went to my first WorldCon in San Antonio. It was a lot of fun and made me want to go to more cons. Already signed up for London in 2014.

There were a lot of great things about the convention and a lot of really good panels. But there were a number of times I heard people on a panel say, “I don’t know why I’m here.” Or they wondered why they were on a particular panel. Other times the panel was completely off topic when compared to the program.
London WorldCon
When I asked about this during the feedback sessions, it became clear that most con programming is created from the top down. The program director decides what panels would be interesting, then looks at the list of people available for panels and does a mash up. I know this is oversimplification, they do take suggestions for ideas, and may create panels based on who’s there.

This struck me as strange. Especially considering science fiction conventions like WorldCon are run by fans for fans. There are cons, particularly comic book and media cons, run by companies for profit and their motivations may be different from a fan convention.

So if a con is created for fans, why have a top down approach to panel creation?

Why not have a bottom up method?

SXSW Panel Picker

I was immediately reminded of how the South by Southwest (SXSW) creates its panels. SXSW started out as a music festival in Austin, expanded to include film and interactive festivals. According to their website, around 34,000 attendees come every year.
To create their panel programming, they use an online application call the Panel Picker. It is a bottom up approach to panel creation. People suggest panels they’d like to see and then potential attendees vote on the panels.

The Application Process for SXSW panels
The Application Process
for SXSW panels

When suggesting/creating a panel, you submit a description, including what would be used in the program, and who would be on the panel. The whole panel comes as a package to the programming people and the suggester is responsible for making sure everyone on the panel knows what they are doing ahead of time.

I wasn’t able to see exactly how panel picker works because suggestions are currently closed from 2013 and not up for 2014. But there is information in their FAQ.

One thing to note. The votes aren’t the deciding factor in what gets in the convention. There is an advisory board, and the program directors who make decisions.

WorldCon Panel Picker

This approach would work great for a big con like WorldCon. But there is one really big piece of the pie that is currently missing to make this happen – the software.

I looked to see if the SXSW panel picker was open source, but it doesn’t seem to be. There are a couple of open source con related projects going on right now, this could be a third.

I’m going to start thinking more about this concept and blogging about it. Tomorrow, a post about the advantages of doing it this way and some nuances that need to be thought about.

Then I’ll start a design plan for this piece of software. List out what it must do, how it would work/flow and what would be needed to make it happen.

Part 2: Advantages And Nuances

Tardis Phone Charger

Really it isn’t a phone charger, it’s a USB Hub. But it is a powered USB hub, which means you have to plug it in. And that means it will power up most USB devices connected to it. Like your phone, or the Bluetooth speaker I have for listining to audio books while in the shower. Anything you might plug into one of those generic car charger things, should work with this Tardis.
Tardis Phone Charger

You could buy it and put it on your bed stand and plug it in there. Connect your phone’s USB cable to it, and boom, you’ve got a Tardis Phone Charger any fan would be excited to have.

UPDATE (03/21/2013): This doesn’t work liked I hoped it would. I bought the Tardis USB hub and connected it to my computer and my iPhone, but it didn’t charge the phone. Apparently it’s not letting enough current through.

The hub does not come with an AC power brick, and to buy a compatible one seemed to be almost as much as the HUB itself. It might charge if it was connected to power.

Ready Player One Review

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

(I listened to the Audio Version and read some of it on my Kindle)
As a geek child of the 80’s this books is one flashback after another. If you can remember details about Zork or John Hughes films, this book is for you.

Add the the nostalgia the fact the story of a distopian future where a virtual world is the center of commerce and life hasn’t been done this well since Snow Crash. The Ghunter reading list (chap 6, 2:34:20) will test your geek credit.

Wil Wheaton is the best possible performer for this title. He gets it. A geek with acting talent, just what it needed. I especially like in internal self reference that results.

After reading this I wanted to find other books Wheaton had read. The first actor whose inspired that. (And it led me to Redshirts which was the discovery of another great author)

This is Cline’s first book and I hope to see many more and hope they can live up to this one

View all my reviews