Bundling choices with Twine

Hey there my dusty old blog! It’s been too long since I last put some information out here. I am still actively involved with IAM at OU, still teaching at Liberty, and still doing things like watching Doctor Who and playing SWTOR. I was recently selected to be the Higher Education coordinator for the Identiverse 2018 conference in Boston and I am very proud to be making some efforts at getting presenters and content available. But what else have I been doing? Would you believe that I am writing programs again? Well… sort of.

For this to make sense, I want to back up just a few months. I have never been that avid of a mobile gamer. I have two phones (one for work and one for home) and certainly keep them on me frequently. I have a few fun time wasters like Subway Surf, SongPop, and Bejeweled Stars. But beyond a brief foray into Game of War: Fire Age (which I had to quit because it was an extensive waste of my free time), I really did not do much in the way of games. That is, of course, until an Ad in SongPop showed me a game called “Choices” by Pixelberry Studios. If you are old enough to remember the “Choose your Own Adventure” books where you read a section and then, decide to either turn to page 301 if you fight the giant or go to page 29 if you ran for shelter in the caves, then you will have a taste of what Choices is like. Basically, the game is really a meta game with many ‘stories’ included (many of which are frequently having new chapters added weekly) where you get to read text, make a choice, and the game reacts accordingly. Add the fact that you have some very nicely done artwork and cool (if somewhat predictable) music, and you have a game that is very interesting.

I started playing through the game “The Crown and the Flame” which is a medieval fantasy RP about a princess and her childhood friend who are attacked by an evil empire and ousted from their home. You play the estranged Princess (well, ahem, Queen) Kenna in parts of the story and in others you play her rough and tumble “person of unknown history”TM friend Dominic Hunter. There are some incidentals where you play other characters but these are usually short term. The story unfolds across 3 books that are at least 12-15 chapters each. I couldn’t get enough of this game because every choice I made allowed me to do new things and see this grand tapestry unfold.

After finishing the series, I jumped from “The Crown and the Flame” to “Endless Summer” which, by the cover art appeared to be a ‘spring break party’ story and ended up being what I lovingly call “Lost: The Video Game”. However, with its air of mystery, catchy soundtrack, and deeply troubling storyline, I was hooked hard core. I have since completed the entire Endless Summer series but was woefully unhappy that you can’t really ‘win’ the game if you aren’t willing to pay. Many games have ‘freemium’ features that are designed to make the game more interactive or fun, but they usually do not prevent you from completing the game. That is not the case in Endless Summer. I spent hours glued to the game trying different choices and occasionally opting for premium features, only to get to the Epilogue and find out that I can’t actually see the full end of the game unless I pay 60 credits to recover six items that are needed to see the full ending. I still haven’t paid this and I feel lied to. Now I am on to “High School Story” which is another two-parter but so far I have played through one book without any issues with the paywall.

So what does this all mean for programming? Well, as you all know, I have been an RPG fan for years, I even run a Retro Gaming Blog where I talk about various RPG’s from the Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Sega. However, I am also an avid tabletop gamer… or at least I was until my personal and professional life made time for tabletop gaming virtually impossible. I have created many different games in my years as a teenager and as a young adult that I played with my friends. In some cases, I even wrote an entire RPG system (called the Realm Wars system) connected to my original homebrew series, Realm Wars. I have also served as Game Master (GM) or Dungeon Master (DM) depending on your vernacular in popular systems such as BESM 2 and 3, Dungeons and Dragons 3rd, 4th and 5th Edition, Rifts, and several systems my friends created including the Super Anime Wars (SAW) system and many others. As if my nerd flag was not raised high enough, I originally created a nautical-themed Multi-User Cyber Kingdom (MUCK) with a nautical theme from which my original web server, Darkseas, earned its name. Even more? Yes… there’s more. I am also a closet writer who has created many stories, books, and poems over my life. I find that writing stories is extremely enjoyable work and I often viewed the various RPG’s that I ran with my friends as forms of creative story writing, just with a team of people instead of on my own.

Surely you see what this is leading up to… right? Well… I am bundling all that together (see the title). There is a neat program called “Twine” that I was exposed to as a technology used at my university employer to help “Gamify” learning material. It is basically a technology that allows you to create self-contained webpage games that let you… MAKE CHOICES! Ultimately, you can make your own adventures with a very simple language that includes elements of HTML (something I learned to hand code in my early college years). You can also make it very creative by either writing your own JavaScript modules/code to help you program things or use the built in functions of one of Twine’s built in languages (Harlowe, SnowMan, and SugarCube). If you know some Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), which I learned enough to be dangerous with but never particularly excelled at, then you can make this game very shiny and interesting. That’s what I have started doing!

Now, I should say that I am still learning the more complicated aspects of Twine thanks to several awesome YouTube videos, but I can spin up a very basic game without much trouble. In fact, you can sample this by checking out my first full game that was a modified version of the Space Explorer game I learned to code on YouTube. I call it “Space Jump” and you can go out and give it a go if you’d like. As I get better at programming in Twine, I hope to take many game ideas in my brain and turn them in to fully playable Twine games. Maybe you’ll see one of my stories such as “The Meranite Chronicles” or “Osiris” turned into a Twine-based game. We’ll see.

That’s it for now! I am diving back into coding with Twine!

Finally! An IAM Certification

Today is a very exciting day! I was informed today that I have been accepted as a Certified Identity and Access Manager (CIAM) from the Identity Management Institute. This is a nationally recognized, vendor-neutral certification showing that I am qualified to design, build, manage and maintain an Identity Management program for any organization. It focuses on strict adherence to professional guidelines and best practices in the field with a strong focus on the security underpinnings of the technology.

I have always said that it would fantastic if there was a certification outside of vendor certifications and it finally happened! Very excited to add this credential to my title!

Moving On Up

Friends, I have some great news to report. I was silent about it for a long time due to my situation but I can now freely discuss matters. I have been dealing with a number of professional challenges in my current position and have been searching for new employment for almost a year. The problem I ran into is that my current employer paid me quite well and I was having a very hard time finding anyone who would pay me anything comparable. However, that has finally changed!

I am pleased to report that as of March 9, 2015, I will be taking a position of IT Architect I – Security and Incident Response Team Lead with none other than the great University of Oklahoma (Boomer!). This is truly one of the best possible situations I could be in. Not only is this position clearly my first crack at IT Management as my actual career but also it is working with an IT Security team to build things from the ground up. Although the title itself reflects security and incident response, my actual duties will be more focused on building the Identity and Access Management system at OU from the ground up.

If you are not aware, my last great accomplishment at Chesapeake Energy before the evil Black Tuesday (where 640 employees including yours truly were released due to downsizing) was building their IDM system. I really enjoyed working in the world of IDM and found that I had a natural knack for figuring out how to make the systems we were connecting to ‘talk’ to each other and we could have done much more if the funding and resources had been there. In the case of OU, almost all of their IT Security initiatives can be easily linked to building a true IDM structure and figuring out how to streamline it. I could not ask for a better place to be.

As time goes on, I hope to occasionally scribble down my various thoughts about different adventures  I have in working with a brand new IT Security Team (the team has only been active for about a year or two and so it is really like working for a startup). Although I have to go back to wearing khakis, polo shirts and professional shoes instead of my current employer’s jeans, tennis shoes and polo shirts attire, I don’t mind it. I feel that one of the things that shows your professional acumen is your dress and when I am ‘dressed for success’ I feel more accomplished then when I am in casual comfort.

Stay tuned and I hope to offer new and interesting insights! Oh, and in case I didn’t mention it, I am also now listed as an Adjunct Professor of Cybersecurity with Liberty University Online. I am trained and ready to have my first class but the new semester does not start until May so I have until April to get used to my new job at OU before taking on classes as well. How I will balance both jobs given that I expect my OU position to be more time intensive than my current position is yet to be seen but I am sure I will be able to work it out.

The Value of a Good Employee

For the first time in my professional life I have had a situation where my employer made it clear that they wanted to keep me around because I am a good employee. If you follow my blog at all, you will know that I work as a contractor for the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). This job is one of the best I have had in a long time. I get to wear jeans, a polo, and sneakers to work every day and that is the normal attire. The actual office environment (to me) is very relaxed and the people have fun doing silly things and engaging in silly conversations. However, the job, being a contract only job has no guarantee of permanency and I was concerned that with 2 babies on the way and a total of 5 kids, I would be in majorly bad shape if the contract was suddenly ended. I didn’t actively look at jobs but I did apply to a few internal positions and I entertained a few interviews from my recruitment friends.

Finally, about a month ago, I was contacted by a recruitment firm about a permanent position doing the exact same work that I did at Chesapeake. I did the phone interview and found that I would easily be able to fit in that role and it seemed like a pretty good deal. The following week, I did an in-person interview and made quite an impression on the team based off what I was told. I was starting to get anxious about a job change since I really didn’t think that I could get much better than my current role but I wanted that sense of permanency and I felt like it would be wise to take the position. Not long after that event, I was told that the company was so pleased with me that they were going to skip one of their screening stages (candidate interviewed by management). They moved me right up to the front and I let them begin doing my background check but I held out putting my notice in until an offer letter came.

On the very next Monday after I had went through the background check stuff, I received an offer letter for the new position and I created and delivered my 2weeks notice. I had gone out on a limb and risked a job I liked for a position that seemed more permanent and even prepared to give up some of my favorite coworkers whom I had begun to consider friends beyond work. Shortly after laying the letter on the manager’s desk (he was gone at the time), the second in command came by my desk and advised that he was very impressed with my letter style and professionalism. Only a short while later, the manager came by and said he wanted to talk to me about my letter tomorrow morning which I happily agreed to. I learned later that the second in command spoke to one of my friends here as they were leaving and he expressed that he was genuinely concerned about my desire to leave and my friend talked up my ability quite a bit.

The next day, I waited patiently for the meeting to come with the manager. He finally came by and brought me into the conference room with the second in command. Much to my amazement, they talked at great length about the quality of work I performed, how professional I was on a team that has not always been known for professionalism and countless other compliments. I had no idea how highly they regarded me as an employee. They made it very clear that my work was appreciated and they were willing to fight for me to stay. I told them the salary that I was going to make and they said they would try to match it. The meeting ended and I waited until my manager was ready for the next meeting.

By the end of the day, I was back in the room and offered a salary that matched my offer from the other company as well as the promise for opening up training in project management for my current company when the projects were closer to being viable. In essence, I got a raise and the potential for management stripes. Needless to say, it didn’t take me much thought to rescind my notice and go back to work.

The moral of the story is that you never know how much you are worth to your company until you ask. I wouldn’t suggest that people randomly put in notices in hopes of a raise but rather that you should not be afraid to ask your management what they think of you. I also think it speaks volumes to me that my employer cared enough about me to fight to keep me here. A company that is willing to do that is worth paying attention to!

My Masters Degree is Complete!

This is a very exciting update! As of Monday April 28, 2014, I have completed all of the requirements for my Master of Science in Cybersecurity from the University of Maryland University College (UMUC). This may seem kind of silly to be bragging about this, you have to understand that this is the culmination of many years of work. My wife and I have been together for about 15 years. If you count high school as well, I have been in school (of some kind) for over 12 of the 15 years we have been together! I finished my AAS in 2003, took a brief break and then went after my BS in 2005. I got that one in 2007 and took another break. I started in my M.Div and completed about 15 hours towards it before I realized it was not going to be easy to recoup the expense. Finally I chose the MS in Cybersecurity and now I am done with it!

So what will I do now? Well, I still have to make the trip out to Maryland in mid-May with my mother and my daughter so that I can attend my commencement. I was accepted as a member of Upsilon Pi Epsilon which came with a snazzy certificate, pin and honor cords to wear at the commencement ceremony. I have already received my cap, gown and academic hood to wear and my card to present to the commencement announcer. Basically, all that is left is to hop on the plane and go!

Once I get back from the graduation what will I do? That is where things get a little cloudy. The sole purpose of attaining my degree (other than personal growth) was so that I could become a teacher. The academic rules in the USA state that an instructor must hold at least one degree higher than the degree level of the students being taught. That is to say that since I have my Masters, I am permitted to teach Associate and Bachelor’s courses. I could also serve as a TA for professor who holds a doctorate and help co-teach Master’s classes but generally a TA can only TA for a Master’s if they, too, are attempting to attain a Doctorate which I am not.

Sure, I would love to be called “Doctor Dave” but my Masters was grueling enough with 3 kids and I will soon have 5. My wife has already threatened to disown me if I take on my PhD. Happy wife – happy life – that is my philosophy. Plus, I have already missed out so much on the lives of my 3 current children and I don’t want to miss out on any more of there lives or on the lives of my new twins due in August. So… this is as far as I go.

My hope now is that I will get picked up by a university to teach online classes for Bachelors or even associates level classes part time. If I get a position such as this, I can start to pay back the over $90k in student loans that I have racked up with the proceeds from teaching and still work my full time job. As it stands, I don’t think my current employer really considers my Masters degree as grounds for promotion but it is nice to have on my resume anyway.

For now, I am going to tie up the loose ends on my dad’s estate and I have been busily working on adding lots of new stuff to my RetroGamerBoy site. That’s all for now.

 

Where Did I go?

So it’s time for another famously long overdue update. I have been busy so I have not been able to post on my blog often. After several interested parties and interviews, I finally picked a new job. On October 18, 2013 I took a position with Consulting Services Incorporated, a Federal Contractor. I am now employed as an IdSS Tier III Engineer with DISA as a contractor. In English? I administer federal email accounts as a Forefront Identity Management (FIM) Engineer. It’s a unique job that mixes a little bit of everything I have used over the years. I am also glad to say that I have made a number of friends on my team and with other auxiliary team members.

What else is new? Well, in February I start my Capstone class for my MS in Cybersecurity. That means that by May, if all goes well, I will have successfully completed my Master’s Degree. Where will I go from there? Who knows? Hopefully into some teaching capacity to enhance income with my other job.

On Fresher Tides

I have another interesting page to add to my life story. For the first time in my career in IT, I have lost my job due to corporate downsizing. I was happily employed for almost 2 years at Chesapeake Energy here in OKC as an IT Security Engineer. On Tuesday Oct. 8, I got up to go to work like any other day and then I ended up sitting in a room with HR and my severance package before lunch. I wasn’t the only one, 640 others in the OKC office alone were released and over 150 across the USA.

Honestly, the fact that I survived as long as I did is a testament to my ability. Chesapeake moves at light speed and those who can’t keep up don’t make the cut. I survived during some of their most turbulent years and was only released due to downsizing. I completed 5 major projects in a 2 years span… most of these projects would take a year each on their own. But I did it and now I am branded in the job market as “Here’s a guy who boarded the rocketship at Chesapeake and lived!” I have already been looked at as a potential candidate for multiple companies with less than than 48 hours unemployed. That’s pretty impressive! I can’t wait to see what the future holds for my career.

But for now, I am a Security Engineer available for work in Oklahoma. Not only do I have massive AD experience including GPO’s, PKI, server tuning, but also  I have piloted, tested and deployed RSA AA Multi-factor Authentication and Office365 Cloud with ADFS. I am coming to learn that these skills are a relatively high demand and not a lot of supply so that may bode well for me also.

Good luck to my other Ex-CHKS… if you need help networking with recruiters, let me know… I got a virtual Rolodex full of them!

The Paradigm Shifts

Well, I wrote on April 20th that my father was in ICU and almost died. Unfortunately, he passed away only a few short days later. He passed away on April 24, 2013 at 9:01 AM. I don’t really want to discuss the details since it is rather painful and personal. Suffice to say, his passing was not painful for him but it was very surprising.

Now that he has passed, I have had to kick into high gear as I am the executor of his estate. If you would like to follow me on those adventures, you can go to my other blog at http://www.davidshields.name.

I busted the screen on the wonderful 4G iPad but I have become so obsessed with my iPad that I had to acquire a second iPad very quickly. I will eventually get the screen fixed on the old iPad and give it to Tiff to replace hers since it was only Wi-Fi.

Dusting off the Blog

I know, I know, it’s been way too long and I am a horrible blogger. The reality is that my work has simply kept me very busy. My iPad is terrific by the way, I can’t imagine life before my 4G iPad. However, it seems like a great deal of it’s purpose is to provide me with a way to play SongPop on Facebook regardless of where I am. LOL.

Life has been nuts. My father went to ICU and almost died but is recovering now. Work keeps me busy and Monday I get to start the implementation of a huge project. 🙂 Life is good and bad and a little in the middle.

Oblivion was a great movie though. I want to fly around in a bubble ship. 🙂 That’s all for now.

Advancing myself technologically

Today I began a new tech endeavor, after years of waiting I finally bought my own iPad. Unlike Tiff’s, this is one with 4g LTE. That means that I can post from anywhere that I have a decent signal. Humorously enough, I have never been a big iPad user so I am learning all kinds of apps and techniques. Seems as though this is one of those things that you start learning one step at a time. Forgive me if I plunge into madness before this is all over.