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Climate Change: Week Two

Climate Change. Global Warming. Atmosphere. Oceans. Fossil Fuel. Carbon. Overload.

While I’ve prioritized my time and energy into one subject, climate change is a bit daunting. The problem is hard to define, there is no concrete “enemy”, we need short term costs to solve long term problems, there are no clear success metrics, and there is an infinite amount to learn. In my two weeks of exploring, I’ve learned some astounding things from experts and novices alike, but the result is realizing how much there is to know and learn.

One particularly thoughtful post by my friend Brian White has got me thinking about what my goals would be, and highlighted the problem of even talking about climate change.

A book recommended to me has enlightened me to how vast and complicated the science is. The book The Long Thaw goes into past, present and future of the Earth’s climate, talking about natural climate changes along with the potential ramifications of the last two hundred years of  man’s fossil fuel usage. I recommend it.


The Article that Changed my Life

Chip Giller, a friend and founder of environmental website Grist invited me to a talk by environmental writer / activist Bill McKibben.  He sent me a Rolling Stone article by Mr. McKibben and advised me to read it before the talk as it would give me some context.

The article changed my life.

Read it here. 

Essentially it brings global warming into perspective as a near and immediate issue for me. An issue which will leave our society dramatically changed in the next twenty years. Whether it’s because we’ve removed our dependance and usage of fossil fuels, or whether it’s because nature forces a rebalance, our society is going to look drastically different. The human race doesn’t have a choice in the matter. The underpinnings of our society are going to shift. We must adapt.

I’m not saying I’m going to immediately call myself a climate hawk, but I am going to educate myself. It’s now a personal imperative for me to understand the science, the politics, the economic impact, and public relations challenges behind climate change.

PopCap has taught me that change, while natural, is hard, but we’ve learned to embrace those challenges and continue to persevere, make games we believe in, and by holding true to that creating a great business and a good place to work. 

The same can be said of humanity and the climate. Can we embrace the hard decisions required to adapt to the challenges that climate change will bring? And more personally, how can I help?

Valve and Its Handbook

Valve’s employee handbook has been leaked to the outside. It has nothing to do with benefits, HR, vacation, etc. It has everything to do with how to make great games.

It’s a great read. Everyone should read it. So read it. Seriously. Even if you’re someone who doesn’t make games. Go read it now.

Now that you’ve read it.

I’m sure you’ve found it interesting. Funny in parts, insightful in others. You may disagree with some places and agree with others. While I’m no expert on Valve, I do believe there are some key dos and don’ts to take away from it:


  • Think every company should be Valve
  • Immediately try and change your company or team to be more like Valve
  • Think that the point is that flat orgs always create good companies
  • Think that Valve won’t be successful because you don’t understand or agree with their culture
  • Believe that they adhere to this 100% of the time
  • Think there aren’t tradeoffs
  • Believe that it’s the only way to make great games


  • Recognize that the handbook is really about Valve’s culture
  • See the deeper wisdom behind the handbook
  • Reflect on your own company’s culture
  • Recognize every culture / structure has limitations
  • Realize that great hiring is the most important thing in ANY company, culture, or structure
  • Know that company culture can make or break your company
  • Be inspired to find ways to work more effectively

PopCap has its own culture. We have our own (unwritten) employee handbook that has some similarities and differences. The Valve handbook has spawned many great conversations and will probably spawn many more within PopCap. I’m certain we’re going to be continuing work on codifying how we make games, how we hire, and what makes a great PopCap employee. I’m just as certain that the above Dos and Don’ts will apply to our handbook as well.

Culture comes from many places in companies. It comes from founders, CEOs, executives, and key employees. A strong corporate culture helps make decisions. Whether product, hiring, customer, or long term vs. short term, the better the culture, the easier some of those things are.

Corporate culture is similar automatic or emotional parts of our brains. When we see something that looks like a snake, we get startled, our heart beats faster, flight or fight is enabled (flight). Our body’s goal is to avoid danger, and so we are equipped with automatic responses. If we had to spend time analyzing the situation we will lose precious seconds. What kind of snake is it? Perhaps it’s a twig. If it is a snake and it is dangerous should…OUCH IT BIT ME. Instead, our bodies have these great automatic responses to save our lives.

A strong culture means the many employees can make a lot of decisions quickly and without a lot of organizational overhead. A very product driven culture will know that it’s okay to take a little longer a product if it means a better product. This will be felt by engineers and artists, but also by sales and marketing teams, PR, and executives.

Valve clearly has a strong culture. I think PopCap does too. They’re very different cultures, and though we are both product focused companies, I doubt many great employees at either company would thrive in the culture of the other.

I am inspired by and jealous of their handbook though. It’s a great cultural initiation tool and a beautiful piece of recruitment propaganda. I look forward to leaking the PopCap handbook (in which everyone works for the Bejeweled God, and Peggle is our Chet).

Public Speaking Trick #73

This weekend I did the scariest, most nerve racking public speaking I’ve ever done. It wasn’t because the topic was difficult, or the crowd large. It wasn’t because I didn’t know my material, or that I hadn’t rehearsed. I was the officiant in my friend’s wedding. Minister’s everywhere can attest: John Vechey is no minister, but they asked me to marry them, and with great honor I said yes. Some quick Internet forms later, and I was an ordained priest in the church of the Dude. Or Dudeism. Which is, obviously, the religion formed by mating The Big Lebowski and the Internet.

I’ve had the honor of some pretty large public speaking and while sometimes I’ve done a good job (Inc 500 conference) others somewhat mediocre (GDC Online 2011), and rarely horrible (not going to talk about it), the stakes had never been higher. My role was to convey a message, tell a story, capture a sense of the moment, and, well, make their new life together official. I didn’t realize how scary and daunting that was going to be until I walked down the isle and stood in front of their friends and family. Then. One key thought hit me: “Holy shit, I’m marrying two of my closest friends.”

That’s when my knees starting emulating the great quake. My butt spewed salt water as my eye’s evaporated. My toes cramped and my palms went frigid. My knees felt like humming birds twittering over a succulent flower. My mouth transformed into the Sahara while my throat became a grip vice. And my knees. Did I mention my knees were rocking back and forth? I dared not look down for fear of vertigo or motion sickness and my knees would not stop shaking.

So I took a breath. I watched Meg, gorgeous, walk down the aisle. Breathed again.Realized my front row seat afforded me a view of the love in CJ’s eyes. I took a breath. Felt my nervousness. It was there, but I wasn’t going to hide from it. It wasn’t going away but neither were Meg, CJ, the wedding party, or the guests.

My knees never once stopped shaking while I married them.

So here’s Trick #73: Sometimes you get nervous. Doesn’t matter to the audience. Feel it. Move on. If you do that, no one is going to notice.

Congratulations to Meg and CJ. Thank you for having me play such an important role in your wedding, and even more importantly, in your lives!








Sick Wars: The Ugly Darkside

Saturday I lost 13 hours playing Bioware’s newest MMO: Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR for short). I’ve also played it about five hours on and off while sick, when my energy is high enough to kill droids, but too low for keeping up with work email. It’s super awesome, and I highly recommend people trying it out. I was skeptical of the whole WoW + Lightsabers + Bioware cutscenes, but my friends talked me into playing it, and I admit, it’s really fun. I actually care way more about my characters in SWTOR more than I ever have in WoW, the cut scenes really add to the experience, and I feel like I’ve gotten a chance to really chose how I want to play my character’s persona.

One of the key elements to the persona is the choice whether to be light side, dark side, or ambiguous side. This isn’t about whether you chose to fight for the Republic or the Empire, but the choices within that. Do you charge a bounty to find some chick’s kid? (dark), do you strike down a traitor? (dark) or get her to confess (light)? My favorite was the rather morally ambiguous situation of two jedi trainee lovers. Some older jedis asked you to spy on them to see if they were getting jiggy. If so, they would be kicked out of the jedi order (passion fuels hatred of course). The light side choice was to turn them in, while my moral compass said let them keep on keepin’ on, which was darkside. Bioware has done a good job keeping the situations from being one sided or trite and so it’s often interesting (especially if you “roleplay” a character).

From what I can tell, there are three ways to optimize this choice: max light, max dark, or alternatively somewhere in between. My first character was a Mis’inam a dashing Twi’lek Smuggler. I’m playing him as a mostly good guy (he can get irritated, especially when people have tried to kill him). My second character was blind yet attractive Nadasia a  Jedi Shadow, and I’m playing her full lightside. Don’t worry about her disability, she can still see using the force. My third character I decided to try was a Jedi Knight, and I opted to play him evil. So of course I made him a race with horns, a bunch of scars, weird face tattoos, and made him all aged. To top it off, I named him Lucifern (I was going to steal Piers Anthony brilliant palindrome and named him Natasha, but alas ’twas taken).

Here are the photos of my low-level dudes:

The moral of this story why did I feel it necessary to make my evil character be ugly? Even in a fever induced state I had trouble with the idea of playing an evil character. Did I feel the need to disassociate with him by making him scarred?  Was my choice to make dashing good guys and ugly bad guys similar to how other players chose? Or is there no consistent pattern? I’m curious, and I may try to see if Bioware has any extra information on this.

Fast Fail

So many VCs and “valley people” speak about having a fast fail. The core premise is that entrepreneurs or projects should fail fast instead of lingering on. Well, I took that concept to a literal level last evening. Yup, 3 1/2 hours after posting about my fast, I went in to a restaurant with a friend and ate a rather large dinner. While greens, prosciutto, pork belly, short ribs, and meat pasta are all good things, I’m not sure it was the healthiest choice I’ve ever made.

While I woke up frustrated with my epic fail, I also woke up sick as a dog from the flu. I’ll spend the rest of my life making excuses for why I couldn’t achieve a 48 hour fast. Perhaps it was my friend coming over and talking about food, or my cousin, who works at Top Pot.  Perhaps I’m just inspired by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Perhaps it was because I was getting sick (so sick that I am at home today, and cancelled my trip to SF).

I’ll never let myself believe that I just got hungry.


Water Fast

After reading an amazing Harper’s article on fasting while with charity:water in Ethiopia, I’ve decided to do a 48 hour water fast. My last meal was Saturday brunch (ending at 12:00). It was probably not the healthiest: blueberry pancakes, eggs, orange juice and lots coffee. I’m 27 hours in, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It’s really not that hard
  • Hunger seems rather habitual or cyclical
  • I had weird food / fasting dreams last night
  • Hurling (the competitive Irish sport I play) wasn’t as bad as I expected
  • People eating bagels and drinking coffee in front of me, was worse than I expected
  • I miss coffee more than food
  • Lastly: it’s way easier to spend 13 hours straight playing Star Wars: The Old Republic when you don’t need food breaks
I do recommend that Harpers article on fasting. A couple of other people I know read and enjoyed it. The article certainly educated me on something I was previously ignorant.


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