Lens Simulator

posted in: Art, Fun, Photography | 0

Explore the relationship between focal length, aperture, and depth of field.

Along with some other settings and factors.
As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been getting back into photography a little bit. That means, for me, relearning a whole bunch of stuff, like how aperture and depth of field are related and how to control that. Well, thanks to a free “lens simulator” by Korean lens maker, Samyang, you can play with those settings, and more, to see how they’ll affect your photo. It’s pretty simple and straight forward for even a returning rookie photographer like me to make adjustments and see the changes. The one drawback, if you can call it that, is that the simulator uses Samyang lenses as the default settings. You can adjust it and simulate virtually any settings, but the pre-set ones are all based on their lenses. Which, really, shouldn’t be a surprise. Anyway, it’s fun and easy and, best of all, free.

I’d hoped to have a review of a hot-shoe-splitting flash cable I got this week, but, well, I haven’t had the time to actually use it yet, so it’s hard to give an actual review. Maybe for next week.

And, that’s all I’ve got this week, really. I’m feeling a little worn down and depressed, which I think is just the COVID-19 lockdown finally catching up to me. Well, and the mostly submerged grief over losing my father. For various reasons I don’t want to go into right now, I found myself really missing him last week. I had news that I’d have normally shared with him and asked his advice, but, well, he wasn’t there to ask. Of course, as my mother and another friend said, at this point, I can pretty well tell you what he’d have told me. Though, right up until the end, Dad could sometimes surprise me with something new.
Anyway, y’all have a good week and stay safe.

The Poison of the Side Hustle

There’s something broken in our culture when we try to make a virtue out of a lack of financial resources. We glamorize it by calling it “hustle”. We talk about everyone needing a “side hustle” that they might one day grow into a full business. In reality, though, that almost never happens. That so-called side hustle is just a second job. Maybe, if we’re lucky, it’s a second job that we can do at night or on the weekends on our own schedule. But, more often than not, it involves buying into someone else’s program, or training or pyramid scheme, to shill cheaply made drop-shipped junk we don’t want to people who don’t need it either. There are classes on selling, on drop-shipping, on building a website to attract the marks, and every other related activity. But, what’s worse is the guilt on social media. The “influencers” who try to tell you that if you don’t have a side hustle, you’re a loser. The Instagram gurus who make a lack of sleep sound like a virtue and workaholism sound like something to be admired. “Rise and grind”, they call it. Get up early, while your competition is still sleeping, and develop that product and make that sale. They tell you to take your hobby and make money from it. “Knit your way to second income!” “How to pay your second mortgage selling stock photography!” But, it’s all a hustle, all a scam. It’s a scam we do to ourselves. I’m guilty of it. I’ve got FindMyPhotographer.com, but I’ve never been able to build it to what I’d like. There’s too much competition already. And, who’s hiring photographers in the middle of a pandemic right now anyway?

I’m guilty, too, of buying into the idea that I need to make money from my hobbies. I used to like to write and take pictures. Now, all I think about is how can I self-publish a novel I haven’t written. Or, what kind of processing do I need to do to my digital photography to get it accepted to one of the microstock agencies. Maybe, that’s why I haven’t written fiction in years. I’m always feeling the pressure of market forces. I did pick up my camera recently, but when I pulled photos off it, the last time I’d taken any pictures was when the dogs had gotten their Christmas-themed rawhide bones. In other words, it’s been almost ten months since I used my camera. Ten months since I engaged with a hobby I loved.

But, what if we didn’t feel like we needed that other income? I’m not advocating any radical wage changes or universal basic income or anything like that. The answer, for most of us targeted by the marketing machine of the side-hustle social media gurus, is simpler than that. What if we just wanted less? What if I didn’t need the designer labels? Or the big screen TV and cable with all the channels and a new car every five years? What if I didn’t need to buy things that I think will make me happy? Because, in my own experience, any joy I get from buying things is usually very short-lived. And, man, I’d pay anything to talk to my Dad again. No side hustle can buy me that time back. So, why do we do it?
Maybe it would be better to just have a hobby. I don’t need much to write. I do it on-line or on my computer, but, really, all I need is a cheap pen or pencil and a notebook, or even some loose paper. When I first started out writing, and we used typewriters to do all this, stories of writers using cheap paper to do their first draft are legendary. And, as for needing a better camera or more lenses or more flashes, well, I know that’s not true. As I said in a photography class once, much to the excitement of the teacher, “The artist paints the painting, not the brush.” If I’m really a photographer, I can make good images, interesting images, with a cheap, disposable camera. Sometimes, with art, the challenge of producing art with limited resources is what produces the best art. The restrictions somehow enhance creativity, instead of squelch it.

So, hey, I’m not going to try to make money off my photographs. I’ve got some ideas, but, instead of trying to make something I can sell, I’m just going to make some photographs that I enjoy. I’m going to play and experiment, not because it will generate income, but because it’s fun. It’s okay to just have fun. That’s the point of hobbies, I think; to have fun and relax, so that I can be more than a job, or a paycheck or the sum of my investments.

How about you? How about your plans for the weekend? Do you have a hobby that you’ve been neglecting? Or maybe something you’d like to start? Now is the time. Do it now, before you don’t have any time left. And, then, spend some time with friends and family talking about that, instead of how stressful work is or how bad our finances are. We know. But do something you enjoy and then share it with people you love. Let that be your side hustle.

Review: How to Write Great Characters: The Key to Your Hero’s Growth and Transformation

posted in: Book Review | 0

If I had paid money for this book, I’d have been upset.  This was, at best, a long blog post and, frankly, less informative than most blog posts on writing I’ve read.  Allegedly, this was written by an experienced writer who had produced multiple screenplays, among other things.  Based on the writing in this book, I find that assertion hard to believe.  The book barely talked about the enneagram to begin with, so it was hard to get any useful information about how that might be used to make better characters.  Nearly a quarter of the book was a lengthy example based on the move Maleficent, which, again barely had any information about how moving a character through the personality types on the enneagram.  This whole thing felt like a bottom-feeding blogger trying to crank out a quick ebook based on a trendy topic.

Don’t waste your time on this thin, sad, little “book”.  The blurb for this book claims you don’t have to even be a writer, which seems to be something its creator believes, because he didn’t seem to need to be a writer to create it.

Mont Saint-Michel Flyby

posted in: Art, Fun | 0

After three weeks of pretty heavy contemplation, I thought I’d share something a bit lighter.

In France, there’s a famous 16th-century castle that is also an island named Mont Saint-Michel. I find it fascinating because the tides only allow access to this historic location twice a day. As a defensive strategy, it’s pretty brilliant and I can only imagine the difficulty involved in actually building this structure more than four centuries ago. Honestly, I find it incredible that it’s even still standing. Of course, it’s become a bit of a tourist trap now, as often happens to enduring pieces of physical history. Still, it’s pretty amazing. One day, I hope that I might visit for myself, but, until that day, I’ll have to content myself with virtual visits.
Here are two flybys of the Mont Saint-Michel for your Friday enjoyment.
First, there’s FPV drone pilot Benoit Finck’s flyby filmed with a GoPro HERO8, which won him a GoPro Awards prize for the two-minute, high-speed tour of the castle.
Secondly, there’s another video filmed with a RED EPIC camera, via a DJI Inspire 2 by Wanaii films, which also shows some of the surrounding countryside.
Both films are quite epically beautiful and certainly a bit more interesting than reading me go on about grief and missing my father. Though, I do have to admit, my blog readership was at its highest point when I went into gruesome detail about my divorce and my attempts to date afterward. I suspect, if I’d had the brainpower to manage it, details about my cancer treatment might have inspired similar morbid curiosity.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got this week. Maybe I’ll have something more or more interesting next week. I do have a few creative projects that are percolating in the background, so there’s no telling when I’ll create something more compelling to share.

A Few Thoughts on Grief and Stress

This year has been pretty rough for everyone.

I don’t know who I’m writing this for, but I’m sure there’s someone out there that’s got the same pain going on as I do.
We started the year with whatever personal and financial challenges we have every year. There are always more bills than there is money to pay them. We all would like to get paid more and have more leisure time to enjoy our families. That’s a constant struggle under the best of circumstances. Then, we had a pandemic. COVID-19 swept the world, bringing with it fear, stress and, ultimately, grief. Here in the USA, we didn’t get a lot of leadership on how to handle the raging infection rates, so things got worse. Then, we had conflicting information thrown at us until no one knew what to do or not do to best stay safe. That’s still the case. On top of that, many of us lost jobs or had businesses that were in financial difficulty. In some cases, entire industries had economic problems, like the oil and gas industry. That alone would be enough to cause pretty severe emotional distress.

Then, a month ago, my father died. Now, I know not everyone has a great relationship with their parents, but my Dad and I had a great relationship. I talked to him every week on the phone for twenty-two years. Basically, every week since I moved to Texas in June of 1998, I talked to my parents on the phone. I would regularly call Dad for advice, simply because I could. I mean, I mostly knew what he was going to tell me, but, sometimes it was nice to hear him say it. Since he died, I haven’t slept well. Not that I was sleeping great to begin with, but it was definitely worse after he passed. I have strange body aches. Yes, those might be the result of being almost fifty-two and never considering the punishment my body was taking when I did stupid things, like drop out of second-story windows and other assorted bad ideas. But, my wife tells me that those are almost certainly symptoms of grief. She’s lost several people close to her, so she’s in a position to know. I feel strange. It’s almost a kind of mild body dysmorphia or depersonalization, which I tend to read as having eaten something bad or not hydrated well enough during the day. I just don’t feel like my physical body is quite right sometimes. Again, she assures me that it’s the physical symptoms of grief.
And, there’s the anger. I have such a limited capacity for other people being slow in any way right now. If I find myself at a loss for a particular word, I want to just push past it and move on with the conversation, but if anyone else delays or gets “stuck” on something, I get very quickly frustrated. I’m aware of it, so I think I’m keeping it mostly in check, but I am so very aware that it’s there, just beneath the surface.

I’ve read books on grief, but, as I told my Dad in our last conversation, we’re at the point of seeing just how applicable all that theoretical knowledge really is. Because let me tell you, there’s a huge difference between having read about death and grief and actually experiencing it. It does help, though, to know that I am, in fact, going through the grief process and that it is a lot more unclear and a lot less simple than any book explains it. It’s not a straight line through the five stages, that’s for sure. But, I’m learning to have some compassion for myself, which is its own challenge, and I’m learning to apply some of the practices I say I believe in. The struggle to apply the theory is there, but at least I’m aware and able to see what’s happening in my own interior life. One step at a time, one day at a time. That’s what I tell myself and how I try to take it. The next time I know someone who loses a loved one, I think I’ll be better equipped to help them based on what I’m learning here, about both the world and myself.

Eulogy Delivered on August 2nd

This is the eulogy I wrote for my father and delivered at his memorial service on August 2, 2020.

Let me start by saying that every one of us will have a different view of Dad, as unique as our relationships all were with him. I experienced my father differently than my siblings did and differently than his grandchildren did. And, of course, no one knew Dad the same way that Mom did. We all had a relationship with him that was as different as we all are. And, I know he’d hate to be remembered as some kind of saint with no flaws or foibles, so we shouldn’t remember just the best things, but the whole humanness of who he was. We may all see that a little differently, but, there are some things that shine through all of those different relationships.

For one thing, as we wrote in his obituary, Dad loved a good story about himself or some other family member. And, he had a lot of them. Most of his stories were meant to surprise you a little and, hopefully, make you laugh. One of his favorites, which I think must have been one of his earliest memories, involved his own Grandpa Hoffman. Grandpa Hoffman was a tinsmith who worked his way West with the railroad and then hoboed home to Chicago. Along the way, as Dad tells it, he met a couple of fellas that would become notorious in Chicago politics in the early 1900s; Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse” John Coughlin. They were two of the most corrupt Chicago aldermen who ever held office according to Dad. One day, when Dad was about five or six, he was out with his Grandpa who took him to meet his old friend Uncle John at his business “Uncle John’s Bathhouse, Pool Hall and House of Leisure”. Yes, that’s right, Grandpa Hoffman took his grandson to a house of gambling and prostitution. Dad loved to tell people how he sat at the bar while his grandfather played cards with his old friend and how the “nice ladies” doted on him and brought him a glass of milk while he waited. You can imagine how upset his mother was at her father-in-law for bringing her little angel to such a place. Dad would tell that story, making sure to include his very proper and upright mother’s reaction when she found out, with a twinkle in his eye and punctuated with his deep, booming laugh that could fill a whole house.

Dad liked to stir things up and make a little mischief, but that’s not to say that Dad was all laughs and funny stories. He had strong opinions about, well, practically everything, and he wasn’t shy about sharing them. In fact, one of the most frustrating things about Dad was the by the time he’d made up his mind about something, his logic was so tight that it was pretty much unassailable. When he’d made up his mind, he was all but impossible to convince otherwise. He could be the living embodiment of stubborn, a trait I’m afraid he may have passed on to at least one of his children. The worst thing he could possibly say about someone was that they weren’t very quick. As someone who worked hard to be as smart as he could, he had little patience for anyone who was mentally lazy or wasn’t working their hardest. I know he was proud of how smart all his children and grandchildren are no matter what they do or their particular area of specialty. Right up to the very end, Dad’s mind was razor-sharp and he was absolutely up to date on the latest news. In fact, if not for the COVID-19 lock down, Dad would have been renewing his driver’s license a couple of weeks ago and, until relatively recently, split the driving duties with Mom. Two years ago, going to Bill and Kara’s wedding, it took no small amount of convincing to get him to let me drive and navigate using my iPhone. More than once he said, “Well, I wouldn’t have gone THIS way, but, oh, I guess it is getting us there a little faster than my way.” He was so convinced that he knew Chicago better than any technology could, but, it turned out, except for a couple of turns, Google Maps took us the same way he would have.

Dad loved the outdoors, too. He loved going with the Boy Scout troop to Camp Makajawan for the week in Wisconsin. But, he enjoyed having a few more of the creature comforts than most of the other leaders, camping with a full footlocker of gear and gadgets. Another leader once jokingly told him that he camped like a Prussian officer on campaign, which I think appealed to Dad’s sense of history and style. He used to say that he wanted his ashes scattered in Sioux Village at Camp Makajawan so that he might become a ghost story told at one of the big campfires that happened at the start and end of camp. But, we’re pretty sure he was just joking and was amused at the idea of finally becoming a tall tale, besides none of us want to try and sneak into Makajawan with Dad’s ashes and scatter him in the bushes. Though, I’m sure Dad is looking down on us and laughing at the dilemma his little joke made for us.

Dad also had a life-long love of music. He was a classically trained singer and had a gorgeous voice that was in demand even well after he felt it was past its prime. His favorite time of year was Christmas, not just because he could put out his extensive collection of strange Santa Claus figures, but for the Christmas music. He absolutely loved performing Christmas music and singing the old, classic hymns. One of my favorite childhood memories is of Dad singing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel unaccompanied, from the back of the sanctuary in Glenview United Methodist Church. He was often asked to sing solos at church and, ironically, at funerals. Dad loved performing, especially with a good group of fellow musicians with a piece of music that challenged him. In fact, Dad almost was a professional singer when he got out of the Army. He said that the only reason he didn’t take that opportunity was because he didn’t like the opera the touring company had chosen.

Instead, Dad channeled his showmanship into sales. One of Dad’s favorite sayings was “Everything is sales. If nothing else, you’re always selling yourself and your ideas.” And, I think I learned more from Dad about being a good salesman and a good manager than any class I took in business school. To this day, I find myself asking what would Dad do when faced with a situation at work that I’m not sure how to handle. And usually, some bit of advice that Dad gave over the years comes to mind and turns out to be just the right thing to say or do.

Dad may not have always said it out loud, but he worried about his family. Just a few years ago, Dad admitted out loud that he was a natural-born worrier. I think he tried to hide that from his kids so that we didn’t pick up that trait from him. Dad was also fond of giving us all advice, though the kind of advice changed over the years. One of the first things he told me when I was looking to him for advice about some choice I had to make was, “Well, whatever choice you make, be sure it’s a choice you can live with because you’re the only one who can know what that is.” Looking back, it’s great advice that I remember forty years or more later, but, as a twelve-year-old, I was looking for something a little easier to deal with. Some of his other advice that sticks with me didn’t quite make sense at the time. One time, when I was wrestling with the idea that something I’d done or said had made someone not like me, he said, “If you make it through life without SOMEONE not liking you or being irritated by you, you’ve done it wrong.” What he meant was, that if no one finds that they have some conflict with you, then you never had anything you believed in very strongly or took a stand and held firm, because that will always bring a person into conflict with someone, sooner or later. It was his way of saying, hold true to your convictions, no matter how many people disagree with you.

And, that was something Dad said he and Mom had always hoped to do; raise four, strong, unique individuals, who made their own way in the world. I know that he was more than satisfied that he’d done that. He may have been a little shy about telling his children directly, sometimes, but he was immensely proud of all of us. I don’t think he wanted anyone to get a swelled head so he was careful not to brag in front of us, but more than once I caught him telling someone how great one or all of his kids were, each in their own very different ways. I think the fact that we were all so different from each other, while still having so much in common, was one of the things that made him so proud.

Most of the time, talking about feelings too long made Dad a little uncomfortable. But, the last time I talked to him when I expressed some regret that I wasn’t an easier child to raise or that I hadn’t visited as regularly as I’d like, he said, “None of you kids have anything to worry about.” From the context, I’m sure he meant all of us; children and grandchildren alike. It was his way of telling me that we were all doing our best and he knew that and was proud of us all. And, as uncomfortable as it may have made him, the last words we exchanged were a heartfelt, “I love you”, which is how I’ll always remember Dad. A strong, ferociously smart man, who loved big and with everything he had.

I’m sure everyone remembers him in their own way and we all have stories about Dad or that he told us, or maybe even a joke that’s a little too off-color for church, even if it’s Dad’s memorial service. I know that he’d love it if we can share those with each other as we remember them, especially the jokes.

But, I also know Dad would have wanted us to keep things moving along. Most of his life was spent living to a calendar and a schedule. This is the man who was well known for looking at his watch and saying things like, “Oh! Look at the time! I must be hungry for lunch!” So, let’s not disappoint him and keep moving things along. He wouldn’t have wanted us to dawdle or say a long goodbye.

So, we’ll see you on the other side, Dad. Keep everyone busy until we get there.

Thinking About Dad

I’m thinking about my father a lot lately.

Honestly, I feel like I should post something else, but I’m going to end up posting the eulogy I wrote for him.  It’s only been a couple of weeks, but I had hoped I’d be able to focus enough on writing that I’d be able to write a blog post of some kind that was something other than the eulogy.  Everyone said I’d done a good job after I presented it, but I’m a little self-conscious posting it here.  I’ll probably do it anyway because Dad’s been on my mind a lot lately and what I wrote was pretty well approved by the family.  All of my siblings said that it had been good and Mom thought that I’d captured the serious and playful sides of Dad pretty well.  That was important to me.  And, frankly, I’m at a loss this week about what else to say.  Given a spare moment, my thoughts automatically turn to either Dad and how I wish I could talk to him again about family history or current events, or they turn toward Mom and how she’s doing on her own.

I think I’ll go call her and see.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

posted in: Book Review | 0

This was not an easy read, but definitely a good thing to have read.

I’m honestly surprised that this wasn’t required reading when I was in high school or college.  Granted, that was a long time ago but the issues that Malcolm X dealt with during his life, from 1925 to 1965, are issues that we are very much still dealing with today.  To me, that was the most shocking and difficult thing about reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X; it feels like so little has changed.  If anything, the past three years feel like we’ve moved the wrong direction and back toward the same racism and discrimination that were so prevalent during Malcolm X’s life.  His story is the story of struggle and he was definitely a polarizing and dynamic figure in the struggle for civil rights.  What’s so interesting to me is that, despite the demonization his fiery rhetoric received in the news media at the time, at the end of his life, his views about the solution to the issues that plague our society still had changed to something far less radical than was normally ascribed to him.

I cannot say that I will ever truly understand the struggles that any minorities experienced, or still experience, in this country, but I do feel like I understand the history a little better having read this book.  The first-hand account of the way African Americans were forced to live in the margins, constantly used by white society and always oppressed, were startling to read.  It’s not that I didn’t know they had happened or are happening, but there’s something about reading a first-hand account of someone who lived it that shifts one’s perspective.  Like so many others who worked hard to bring change for our society that were killed for their views, I wonder what might have been if he had not been shot.  If Malcolm X had lived or avoided the assassination attempt entirely, what might he have become?  What might he have accomplished?

We may never know how Malcolm X may have changed our society had he continued on his post hajj path of political change, but I can say that I’m glad to have read this book.  I’m glad to have read about who Malcolm X really was and not just the stories about him told by the very society he sought to reform.  He certainly was no angel, by his own admission, but his life story can definitely inform us today and help shape our future.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a better understanding of some of the racial issues we still face as a country today.

William F. Hoffman, Jr, 1929 – 2020

William F, Hoffman, Jr., “Bill”, beloved husband, father and grandfather, 91, died Tuesday, July 28, 2020 in Huntley, Illinois. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Dorothy, his children; Bill and Karen Hoffman, Cheryl Price, Karin and Jerry Edwards and Jim and Sharon Hoffman, his grandchildren; Bill and Kara Hoffman, Rachel and Jacob Vaughn, Michael Hoffman, and John and LeeAnn Price, and a great-grandchild, John Price.

Bill was born at home in 1929 in Morgan Park, Illinois, on the South Side of Chicago. Growing up on the South Side, he was educated at the Harvard School for Boys, a college preparatory school, and helped run the family hardware store.

He attended the Chicago Conservatory of Music and went on to serve in the Army during the Korean War. He met his wife, Dorothy, when both were on staff at the Chicago Baptist Association Summer Camp. Devoted to his faith, he served on the admissions board of Garret-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He worked for the American Medical Association in the Chaplaincy program, where he helped facilitate Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ work on the psychological process of grief. He also served as a representative to a Vatican conference on spirituality and medicine.

Bill was active in the Boy Scouts of America for many years at troop and council levels and served on staff at the Woodbadge Adult Leadership Program. He was as an Eagle Award adviser, helping boys (including his two sons and his three grandsons) achieve their highest rank in scouting, His love of scouting and the outdoors was also expressed in his interest in Native American history and culture. He was proud to be one of the initial donors to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. He was a member of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War. A Freemason for over 50 years, he became Worshipful Master of Glenview United Lodge #1058 in 1994.

Bill never met a stranger, a trait that served him well in a long career in sales and marketing. He loved to hear and tell stories, especially family stories, and loved to talk about his children and grandchildren.

Programming Widgets

I’m anything but a professional programmer, but occasionally, I make stuff.

Sometimes, in my day job, I have to solve a particular problem and the only way I can manage that is via some small bit of programming. Usually, it’s just a little script of some kind; PowerShell or Perl, mostly. I taught myself Perl seventeen or eighteen years ago, in an attempt to stay busy at a job that severely underutilized my talents. Demonstrated, I think, by teaching myself Perl in my downtime. A lot of techs I knew would have just scrolled a news site or played solitaire or some other useless thing. I tried to expand my portfolio of skills. I learned a long time ago, though, that I need a project to guide my learning. It almost doesn’t matter what the project is, as long as it gives me problems to solve and obstacles to overcome. Solving those problems, with the new thing I want to learn, is what teaches me. Granted, I don’t always learn the best way to accomplish my task, or at least not the most commonly accepted way, but I still learn the skills involved in a way that embeds them pretty deeply.

Since I’m mostly self-taught in IT, which is my chosen professional field, I’ve had to find ways to keep learning on my own interesting. Having personal projects is one of them. So, projects are how I teach myself new things. As I work toward a larger goal, whatever that may be, I find problems and solutions to those problems and my knowledge extends into new areas. I did that with Perl a number of years ago. First I tried to teach myself Perl for extending MoveableType, the blogging software that I used to use before their licensing debacle. But, that was a bit too arcane and involved a place for me to start. So, several years later, I found some simpler scripts that did some language processing and were useful for another low-key hobby of mine; conlanging. (That’s constructed language making, for the less geeky.) And, so, I had a project to work with that was within my skill level. In the end, I made those scripts something that could run on a webpage and it drove massive traffic to my site. It was sweet! But, it crashed the server because it was so popular and it drove TOO much traffic to that site. Ultimately, I had to take them down. By then, though, not only had I learned Perl pretty well, but I had moved my blog to WordPress and started looking at this fancy new language for the web called “PHP”. That mostly ran in a way that didn’t put a strain on the servers, so it was better for high-traffic sites. The only problem was, I couldn’t move the functions from the Perl scripts to PHP easily. So, I started looking around for projects to teach myself PHP.

The project I found to let me dig into PHP was a random generator. No, not some random piece of electronic equipment, but a little web toy that randomly generated things. It’s pretty simple, really. You have something, like a title or a sentence that has variables, like nouns and adjectives, like Mad Libs. Those variables become, well, variables in the program. So, I just need to list a bunch of whatever that variable is into the program which randomly chooses those and fills them into the sentence or title and then gives me the result. Sounds simple, right? Okay, it kind of is, which is why I started with that. But, then I went about making it complicated. I added more variables and started reading them in from external sources and getting fancy with the output formatting. But, what it did was let me learn, bit by bit, PHP. You can see a bunch of those at my World Building page at Fantasist.net. When I got good enough at it, I dug back into WordPress and started looking at ways to use my new PHP skills to modify WordPress. What I came up with was the Dale Reckoning Calendar Plugin. For its time, it was pretty good. Now, I look at it and, well, I’m not quite embarrassed by it, but I’m not as proud of it as I was. It does work, but it requires the user to modify their theme and, essentially, become a bit of a coder themselves. That never sat well with me. And, I wanted to have something that would randomly, or semi-randomly, conjure up weather conditions for a particular day. Why? Because, if you’re gaming in a big campaign, things like weather start to matter a little. And, it was fun. It let me use old skills and old code and extend them to something new and stretch my learning even more. So, that’s why I kept coming back and eventually came up with the Forgotten Realms Weather Widget. It works better as a widget in the sidebar than as a daily update on posts. Though, I may still revisit the idea and see if I can’t improve my old plugin to not require the end-user to modify their theme to make it work. Again, for no real reason other than it’s fun to me and it would make my brain work more on something technical, which I’m already good at, but not for my day job. Mostly, though, because it would be fun to me. Oddly, it wouldn’t be fun if I had to do it for a paycheck. By the way, in moving some of the code from the old plugin to the new widget, I did find some ways to tighten the code a bit. I’d still be a little embarrassed to have a professional coder look too closely at it, but at least I’m improving.

And, I’ll keep working on it, though I’ll need to set some better boundaries so that I don’t get so obsessed that I miss much more sleep working on it. In any case, you can see the results for yourself at Forgotten Realms Weather Widget.
It’s free and only for WordPress and there may be bugs that I haven’t seen yet, so let me know if you use and find any. I can’t promise when I’ll fix them, but I promise that I’ll work on them.

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