Productivity and Loathing in Las Vegas (but really its Baltimore)

Probably as long as I’ve been aware of it, I’ve struggled with productivity. It is my natural workflow to be spread-too-thin-across-too-many-projects, and while I can certainly identity that there is a problem (and they tell me the first step is admitting it), I’ve engaged in a life-long battle to defeat it.

Of course, if you work in IT, you have to deal with other people’s mandatory to-do lists, be they IT Service Delivery systems like Service Now or JIRA, or email. None of these are serviceable for your personal stuff, let alone managing projects, or recurring events. Frustrating! Not to mention that the task-collecting asset is firmly and distinctly separate from the task-provisioning process, and neither one pay any mind to the time-provisioning process! So many pieces, too manual, too many opportunities for failure. I’ve taken a lot of long-hard looks at this process in my life, and sometimes I had the bulk of it in hand, but never all of it. I am sure someone out there has sorted it out, but I’m not that guy!

No one part of this process outweighs the others, so its not even like you can hyper-focus collection or task provision or time provision and overpower the others.

Task Collection

Most productivity “systems” hinge on one missing piece: ease of use and accessibility. Apps on your phone or PC are pretty easy to use, and are a winner, by a mile, for task collection. I have used simple solutions like Microsoft ToDos nee Wunderlist (RIP), which work famously for shared lists (I still use this for the grocery list that my wife and I shared). I am famously anti-shared-account, and Todos does this wonderfully. Completed tasks are gathered up, making shopping lists cumbersome if you accidentally “complete” a task, and need to undo it (at this point the shared grocery list todo list has hundreds of “Milk”, “Yogurt Pouches”, etc). OmniOutliner, OneNote, Evernote, and countless other apps do this piece seamlessly. Its really nice to always have these at your fingertips, and they are backed up online, as well as portable across devices.

The downfall of this hyper-connected productivity method is purely attention span. When I get an idea in my head, I need to pounce on it or record it, or its gone a fleeting moment later. How many times have you opened your phone to do something and you wound up looking at your notifications, or facebook, or insta, or anything else? I can’t believe that I’m alone in this.

More analog devices, like a notebook (bullet journal), or even an offline handheld like a PDA (does anyone still use these?) struggle with this task in particular. Aside from needing to have the thing with you at all times (a challenge with anything larger than a pocket notebook), its just more arduous in general. Emails have to be written. Tasks have to be broken down and sub-tasked by hand. Major headache.

Task Provision and Tracking

Setting aside major time at the start of the day to examine productivity is a consistent “good idea” that I have never found a better substitute for. I can’t say I’m perfect at reliability accomplishing this task. I can’t even say i’m fair to moderate at it, merely that when I am able to do this (this being 15 minutes at the start of a day to gather yourself up), my perception of my productivity is much more positive than if I don’t. Obviously, some days this doesn’t happen. Life comes at you fast, as the saying goes.

I have issues similar to the collection stage with electronic methods of provision. If I start up Todoist (a fine product, if over-complicated), I’m sucked into ServiceNow and email, and suddenly my day is gone and I’m no more organized than I was before. Again… Frustrating! I personally find the analog methods remarkably (and innately) more focus-able. No flashing lights, just moving tasks from one page to another. This time is great, but, with no email access, its tough to ingest more stuff.

Time Provision

Time is the more difficult to quantify. We know that we have to make time. Focus methods like pomodoro only work if you are already organized enough (and your workflow will allow) to handle tasks in chunks. Some of us bounce around necessarily. Estimating time to complete a task is best done in wide-generalization to leave yourself ample time to complete a task, but if its over-general, it may be useless to waste time to estimate. Calendar use is a given, but I have had mixed (skew towards bad) results blocking off hours to “focus”. What a mess.

Conclusion

Its important to identify each one of these pieces to your productivity puzzle. Sometimes you find a silver bullet and everything falls into line, I guess. That doesn’t exist for me, so far, and I’m not sure it ever will, but I will keep trying! I am most happy using outlook flags, setting aside 15 minutes in the morning to move and arrange to-dos in my bullet journal, and tracking long term projects on a physical kanban board. Until I find something else, I know that my biggest single productivity increase lies in execution!

Round 1 Taunton – Arcade Opening

Round 1 is a Japanese arcade conglomerate, as in “All those things they say about Japanese arcades is true (and partially because of) of Round 1”. They are known for arcade games, karaoke, bowling, and amusements in Japan. That’s not remarkable, as Sega does this, Taito does this, loads of independent arcade operators do this, in Japan. 

Round 1, however, started to branch out to the US. What?!

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Japanese arcades still thrive, partially due to the limited space in Japanese homes, and partially due to the fact that culturally, “going out to play games” is still a thing. There are several different games that use a networked score and setting tracking system in the arcade that see wide usage in Japan, despite subscription fees. Sega has “All-net” which it uses for games like Mai Mai and Cthunim, Namco has Banapass, which it uses for Crossbeats and Tekken, and Konami has E-Amusement, which it has used for years in music games like DDR, IIDX, Pop’n Music, etc, but also uses in games like Road Warriors, Silent Hill, and Bishi Bashi. These networks were ONLY available in Japan until very recently, and only in Asia until even more recently. Konami in the US has tried E-Amusement on three separate occasions, with Supernova 2 US in Naperville, IL, with Beatmania IIDX Gold in Woonsocket, RI, and in Los Angeles, CA at the Round1 with DDR 2015’s Location Test (which, honestly, is irrelevant, read on). None of them truly broke out of the “Testing” phase, and demand only passing mention.

Round 1 has tremendous clout in this scene, as they’ve been able to break down walls that have been impenetrable before them. They stock games in their US location that are Japanese, and REQUIRE the networks to boot. So, for the first time, we have games like Gitadora, IIDX, Sound Voltex, and others that are not only here, up to date (read: not bootlegs), and on the official Japanese networks. That is a huge, huge thing.

There have been locations in California for a few years now, and one or two in Texas. A bit too far for a trip to an arcade, but still nice knowing that its there. I knew that a Round 1 was being built in Taunton, MA for some time, as I’d taken a trip to Framingham, MA for a wedding, and was able to check out Game Underground, but heard rumors floating around about R1 in Taunton, which is pretty close. I’d not paid attention to it for a while, but heard that they were opening on 12/26/2015. I’m working all that week, but the weekend is open… So I check hotel rates, and low and behold… $99! I collect my friends, and 5 of us leave at 4AM from Baltimore on 12/26. 

Connecticut has the best rest stops. New Jersey’s rest stops are filthy, in comparison. Their sign work is hap-hazard, though.

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We arrived at the Hilton in Providence, RI around 10:30, and they let us check in early, which was lovely. Ryan met us in Providence, and we jammed into his car and drove the last 40 minutes up to Taunton. We stopped at a diner called “Cindy’s”, which is pretty funny, if you consider that the reason 3/5 of the car was interested in this trip was because of the software from a certain pig-themed website. They had really excellent food, and their yelp aggregate was 4.5 stars, with 1 of 4 “$” signs, which PJ has fairly interested in. Canned soda was a detriment. Honestly, its 2015, get a soda fountain.

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After our giant breakfast, we finished the rest of the trip, and made it to Round 1 just about 12:55PM, about 5 minutes before open. The place was clean and smelled “new”. Quote Nick, “This is the absolutely the last time this place will smell like this.”

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We quickly found our way to the music games, and I was slightly miffed to learn that early reports that the DDR machine was old, and running old software, were accurate. The pads for all three dance games were also sitting on their wheels, and I asked the arcade tech to put the feet down, which he did, thankfully. The DDR machine needed a monitor cap kit and flyback, and the pads needed to be raised up in a pretty serious way. It was like stepping into pot holes. 

The pump machines were a pleasant surprise. Two TX machines side by side are imposing and impressive. The Prime machine was essentially inaudible, but the arcade tech fixed that as he was fixing the pad feet. Infinity was all goofed up, the USB ports were not configured correctly, in fact, one of them wasn’t plugged in at all. The game was also not in HD mode, which looked BUSTED next to the prime machine. I asked the tech to fix stuff and told him exactly what was wrong. It felt very neat to work with a Japanese arcade tech from R1 corporate on a machine. I told my wife “A Japanese guy working on a Korean game produced by Americans.” I lost my USB stick there too!

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The crane game section at R1 was impressive as hell. I know its a HUGE draw in Japan, and was actually expecting to get some market research done, which I did. R1 uses card swipes, which benefit from the obfuscation of a credit system (4 credits for a dollar, but if you buy $50 you get credits extra, etc). The crane games were averaging $2 a play (if paid for outright with non-bonus credits). I saw people swipe and swipe and swipe for a $4 plush. At an academic level, I’d like to know how much of that entire place the crane games pay for, how much the extensive redemption game section pays for, etc. I bet redemption and cranes pay for most of it, and the profit comes from beer, etc. 

We decided to take a break around 7. I had compression gear on, because dance games get me sweaty, and I stank really bad. We went to a place called “2 Jerks Barbecue”. The server was a nice guy, recommended the ribs. They were good, but not Black Hog. Nothing is, though. I will say that their brussels sprouts might be the best I’ve ever had. They were roasted to perfection and had gigantic pieces of ham in them. 

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We went back to Round 1 after that, and I played some SDVX and Initial D, which was a lot of fun. We also took a picture in a Purikura, which is a Japanese Photo Booth with tons of options, including making your eyes super huge. 

We left around 10:30, and the server from the BBQ place was outside, as he was under 25 and they wouldn’t let him in. So, we got him in, and his party, and bailed. We got back to the hotel around midnight, and walked to 7-11 through Providence’s Federal Hill neighborhood. That neighborhood alleges to be the happening neighborhood but it kinda sucked. We crashed out pretty hard and woke up around 9. Munk and I walked to Starbucks and, thanks to Hilton Honors, had some breakfast vouchers at Shula’s in the hotel. We did that, and hit the road. It took us about 10 hours to get home (though we DID stop at Red Robin in Hamilton, NJ).

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Overall, a memorable trip, but not for the arcade part. The whole thing harkens back to a time when we’d travel to NJ for video games. Funny enough that the only person that is still around that I used to do that with is PJ, and he was with me. We were checking into different places on Facebook, and people were asking us why the hell we were there (in addition to sticking out a bit in local dining establishments, with no New England accent). Telling people we were there for an arcade opening seemed to incite some funny looks. I hope to never get to a point in my life where a trip is considered “stupid” because its something that not everyone does. I had a great time, and voted with my wallet. If Round 1 can make Dave and Busters move in the right direction, I can’t wait for the future of arcade gaming. I hope I never “grow out” of it. 

In fact, I pledge to infect my kids with a love of bright lights, road trips, junk food, bad jokes, in-jokes, obscure references, irreverent comments, and great friends. And dance games, lets not forget how we got here 🙂