Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sim City 5 Beta

Besides doing a ton of homework this weekend, I spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos posted of the Sim City 5 closed beta test. A certain amount of lucky people got to test out this new game that comes out in March (unfortunately I was not one of them), so there were a LOT of gameplay videos up on YouTube in the past couple days.

It was extremely entertaining and mesmerizing to watch people build the cities, even though not all the buildings and options were available yet in this beta version. If you remember the older versions, the concept is basically the same, but with a lot of the complicated parts (like managing the budget or laying water pipes) simplified so you can focus on overarching city situations like angry citizens and natural disasters.


A few things I am going to love about this game

  1. Zoning for residential/commercial/industrial is super easy. You literally just paint along any road (whether the road is curved, straight, whatever) and the buildings just build up on any shape or size lot you give them. No more of the square block zones like in games past.
  2. There are some really cool new road-building tools. You can build square blocks instantly or use the straight or curved road tools to lay out your own grid. There is also a circle road building tool and a freeform road building tool, so pretty much any type of road system you can imagine, you can probably build in this game.
  3. Tornados! They only demoed one disaster in this beta test, and it does look like there are going to be more disasters added by the time the game ships, but so far the tornado looks very cool. It actually picks up houses and cards and flings them around!
  4. Trade with neighboring cities is added. You can send emergency vehicles, trade commerce, and even let your pollution seep over and affect them (and vice versa). Also you can team up to build an international airport, the Space Program, or other larger items like that. The other cities weren't turn on for the beta, but you could see where those cities would live if they were turned on, so that was cool.
  5. Water and electricity travel along roads, so you don't have to worry about anything in that regard. I read some negative reviews about this feature, but I'm not sure why. Apparently people wanted the option to build a house out in the boondocks without a road going to it?? Not having to think about laying a pipeline or remembering to connect power to every single new block you build seems like a plus to me, though!

What I learned after watching a few dozen people play the game


You know how when you watch someone else do something enough times, you start thinking to yourself, "I could totally do that better!"? Well yeah... by Sunday afternoon, after having watching soooo many of these gameplay videos, I started talking back to the screen, "Didn't you know you could do it this way....?" Lol. Some things I learned (that a lot of the testers could seem to figure out) were:
  1. You can pretty much build roads ANYWHERE, even over houses. Don't worry, the houses will just disappear and the Sims will build a new house somewhere else. It's no big deal.
  2. Zoning doesn't cost anything, so it really doesn't benefit you to wait to zone until your road system is laid out. Roads DO cost money, so adding them all first before you zone is kind of a misuse of your (early limited) resources. In the beginning, just throw those zones in there and start building your income as you go. You can always rezone later if need be.
  3. Roads should not go directly next to some of your "plop-able" buildings (Town Hall, police station, hospital, etc) because those are buildings that you can add on to and expand as the game progresses. It'll let you expand right over the top of houses, but if a road is there, it'll complain and make you bulldoze before you can continue.
  4. Density of buildings in the res/commercial zones are no longer dependent on the type of zone you lay down, but instead on the type of ROAD you lay down. Your city will upgrade it's density as it grows (based on the maximum density allowed by the road you laid down). For this reason it's a good idea to leave some space behind each zone for the upgrade buildings to fill in later on in the game. Don't pack in your roads super tightly or the density of the zones won't be able to expand correctly.
  5. Also, it's probably not a good idea to build your industrial zone behind your residential zone. There is actually wind direction factored into this game, so if you build your houses downwind of your industrial zone (especially if you also stick your coal power plant up there as well)... which helps your Sims get sick.
  6. Likewise... don't build your sewage treatment plant in the residential zone. That tends to pollute the ground water... which also helps your Sims get sick.
  7. The power plant take a second to turn on. It first has to "look for workers", meaning that the Sims literally have to drive there to start work before the power plant can start generating electricity. The other Sims will keep complaining about not having any power until this process gets completed. Don't worry... they will stop complaining after a bit when the lights start turning on! ;)

And now it's your turn to watch!


Of all the beta testers I watching, Hypnotoad was by far my favorite. He just has a fun sense of humor and was also rather quick and smart about building his cities. After watching him build several cities it was a little painful watching everyone else actually. Lol.

The beta only let them play each city for one hour, so Hypnotoad posted a few different cities, as well as a 20-minute video of playing the tutorial level. Here is the first video of the first city he created after the tutorial (you can click around on his channel to continue watching this city's creation &/or his other cities if you like).

Friday, January 25, 2013

Tips for Pricing Your Creative Work

This topic of pricing is always on my mind. Just as soon as I feel like I've figured it out, some other doubt creeps in and convinces me that I'm doing it wrong. Please tell me I'm not the only one who feels this way. ;)

I ran across this article the other day (aimed at graphic designers, but would really work for any creative entrepreneur) that gave some amazing advice in this area! Here's a quick summary, but it'd definitely be worth it read the entire article yourself when you've got a spare 10 minutes.

What should I charge?

This is the one area that I have the most anxiety about. I'm constantly worried that I'll anger current designers (and therefore come across as amateur) by underbidding on jobs, and also worried that I'll scare off potential clients by overbidding. It makes it even more difficult by the fact that most designers don't share their prices on their websites. (What's up with that anyway?).

The advice in this article is basically to start with what you feel comfortable with (which is likely well below market value). Chances are good you'll get loads of work at that price (because when you sell for Wal-Mart prices, people come in droves). As soon as you feel like you're getting way too many requests to handle... up your prices. Continue doing so until the workload evens out and you're receiving the amount that you can do at the rate you want to be doing them. By that point, you'll likely be receiving a much higher rate of pay, so won't need to be working so many jobs anyway.

Flat Rate vs. Hourly Billing

I am amazed at how many seasoned designers disagree with which of these approaches is "best". It makes me think that there really isn't a universal answer to this question. I like the approach of this article... start out with a flat rate for your Mom & Pop businesses around town and then ease into hourly billing when the projects you get start becoming larger and more drawn out. (I've also heard that if you land a client like Nike or Pepsi, though, you don't want to charge them by the hour. Just tell them up front that it'll be $2 million and they'll be fine with that. However from what I hear, a typical large company seems to prefer paying per hour, more like a contracted worker would be paid. Considering your work for them is likely to take a few months, that probably how they see you anyway).

Whichever way you bill, it's probably best to keep tabs on your "hourly rate" to make sure you aren't being paid $5 an hour. Even if you charge by the job, make sure that you're charging enough to cover all your time and expense. You're a trained professional who is doing a professional job; you should be paid accordingly.

How Can I Avoid Being Stiffed?

Here he talks about making sure to get at least a 50% deposit down before starting work. That's great advice (although for jobs under $1000, I'd probably just get it all up front). Typically if a client is going to stiff you, they probably wouldn't be willing to even pay a deposit, so that will weed out most of the jerks right away. Plus if they still stiff you after paying the deposit, just hold their project ransom until they pay the rest. You've been compensated for part of your work and they ended up with no finished piece, so... it's really on them to do the right thing if they expect to receive their finished product.

Should I have contracts?

My school professor tells us to ALWAYS HAVE A CONTRACT, but I tend to agree with this guy more. Small clients (like a $500 logo design, for example) really aren't worth the hassle of taking to court if they do stiff you, so having a contract is not especially helpful in that case. However, it is good to realize the importance of laying out expectations in writing before you begin - which can easily be covered in a few emails. I would hesitate to begin any job without at least that much, because at the very least, it's just plain awkward to present a finished piece only to have the client say, "Um... that's not at all what I asked for." Best to have it written down somewhere in their own words what they asked for as a reference for everyone to refer back to.

Other Tips to Avoiding Busters

This just seemed like common sense to me. If someone promises to pay later... avoid taking that job. If they want free work up front with the promise of royalties later... avoid taking that job. Just be smart. Don't work for free. (Unless it's for your mom.)

Do I need an accountant?

Here's another instance where my professor has always told us, "YES, you need an accountant," while this article seems to be saying, "Well... yes eventually." It's probably smart to get an accountant involved as soon as you're setting up a structured business, but if you're still at the "advertising on Craigslist" stage, you probably won't have the funds to hire an accountant just yet. So don't worry about it at that stage. Once you're raking in the jobs though, it's definitely advisable to make sure you're following all the right tax laws.

What's a Kill Fee?

His definition of a kill fee was not at all what we've talked about in class, which I found odd (although there was a better explanation in the comments section). Basically my understanding is that a kill fee is what they agree to pay you if they cancel the job halfway through. It's probably best to have that amount specified in the contract, because especially on a large job, you don't want to get stuck doing work for free (and potentially losing months of your time when you could've been working on other jobs). This is also a reminder to get a deposit up front on a large job.

Pitching

Again, I'm not sure he defined pitching correctly - I'm pretty sure pitching is what an agency does when they're trying to land a corporate giant of a company. But his point stands that it's really bad for business to do spec work. Working with the hope of getting paid is generally going to amount to not ever recouping your time costs. That being said, as artists it's typically hard to stop creating, so having your items out there on spec is probably always going to be something we tend to do as a habit. Just don't try to make that your sole business model.

How Do I Send Invoices and Track Sales?

He recommends Quickbooks. I say just pick a solution that works for you and be consistent. You will get repeat clients and it's nice to be able to quickly pull up their past sale(s) and be able to speak knowledgeably to them about it. Not only does it lend credibility to your business skills, but it's just nice to have your books in order!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Coming up with a business name?

I've been pondering what to call my design business this week. I have been feeling the urge to push forward into something more official, which would mean registering a business with the proper authorities... which also means having an actual name for my business.

It would make sense to stick with something referring to Desert Rose, since that's what I've been using on my Etsy shops for years, but that particular phrase is actually a pretty common business name. I think I'd rather use something else a little more unique and catchy.

What do you think? What sort of process did you go through to figure out your business name (if you have one)? Did you do any market research before you settled on something?

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sprucing up my look!

It's been extremely gray here in Oregon this week... more than usual even. I kid you not, we haven't seen blue sky (or any sky, for that matter) in probably two weeks. It's been this weird, hazy, oppressive, dull gray, without even a cloud distinction to break up the monotony. Usually at least we have partially clear skies with clouds and rain thrown in for good measure. This week... nothing but flat gray nothingness that consumes all other colors previously viewable. It's like we're living in the black and white version of Kansas from the Wizard of Oz.

So... I decided to compensate by brightening up my blog a little! I got a sweet background from Making' Cute Blogs and then simplified my layout a bit also. What do you think?

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sims 3: Seasons

I've been playing around with the newest expansion pack for The Sims 3... Seasons! So far my favorite season is winter - your Sim can add Christmas lights to their house, make snow angels and snowmen, build igloos, and even ice skate on the rivers and ponds!

This expansion adds all the seasons and has a town festival for each one, which is really cute. I didn't get any pics of that, but here are some cute ones of winter!






Saturday, January 12, 2013

Oregon Beauty

I took a short walk today and the weather was beautiful! We got a touch of frost last night, but no snow yet. The sun peaked out this afternoon and warmed everything up just enough to make it a pleasant walking temperature!



Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Snafu's Mainly Resolved

Well my meeting yesterday with the department dean went well (see Sunday's post, if you have no idea what I'm talking about). At first there didn't seem to be any wiggle room. The dean was sympathetic to my plight, but the financial aid people weren't budging. Then the dean's secretary remembered a department grant that they still had to give out! The grant basically covers tuition and nothing else, but that's more than I had before!

From there it pretty much steamrolled. They just needed the department head's approval to give me the grant, and since he's also my advisor and the one who was so adamant that I talk to the dean to find a way to stay... well obviously he was more than willing to okay it. I'm just waiting on the paperwork to go through now, but it looks like all will be well. Now I just need to cover fees and supplies on my own, which is still going to cost me a bit, but it'll be less painful than trying to come up tuition by Friday! Yikes!

So... now I'm just in a headspin. There's a bit of mental whiplash going on from thinking I was good, to thinking that I was totally out, to now, thankfully, being in again (although only partially funded). Anyway, at least it ended on a high note though, right? I wish I'd had proper time to mentally prepare myself for starting classes again, but I'll take what I can get!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Snafu's Abundant

Long story short... I found out this past week that my financial aid had been cancelled for this coming term (the term that starts tomorrow). I had to take an extension on one of my classes from last term, which puts it in the computer as me not having completed all my classes, which kicks me out of eligibility for financial aid, which means I can't attend classes at all Winter Term. Aghhh!!

I emailed my advisor about it, mainly just telling him the situation and asking if he could let me into the building to get my stuff out of my locker. His response was that I should meet with the Dean and that she may have an idea or two to get me back in classes sooner. Which I totally wasn't expecting! I was sure all hope was gone for resolving this quickly, but he makes me think there might be a way for me to take classes this term after all.

So now I'm in panic-mode, trying to gather up all my stuff that I'll need tomorrow. I was already sort of resolved to just taking the term off and looking for work to tide me over, but now that things may actually be resolved, I figure I should attend class in the meanwhile, just in case I can re-register. Missing even a day in this program can put you way behind.

To top it all off, my sleep schedule has gotten completely out of whack, as per normal when I'm on vacation. If I'd anticipated returning to classes tomorrow, I would've tried harder this past week to pull my sleeping schedule back to normal, but I didn't... so... Just to give you perspective, last night I didn't fall asleep until 5:30 in the morning. That's probably not going to work anymore now that I have to be at class at 10:00 a.m.!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

INFP Series - Parts 3 through 7

Surprise... surprise... I'm already getting bored with this series. Must be an INFP thing. Lol. I tend to get really excited about an idea and then peter out of it quickly. Let's see if I can move through several points today...

INFPs are highly intuitive about people. They rely heavily on their intuitions to guide them, and use their discoveries to constantly search for value in life. They are on a continuous mission to find the truth and meaning underlying things. Every encounter and every piece of knowledge gained gets sifted through the INFP's value system, and is evaluated to see if it has any potential to help the INFP define or refine their own path in life. The goal at the end of the path is always the same - the INFP is driven to help people and make the world a better place. 
This sounds like parts 1 and 2 combined... so... yes, I agree this is like me.

Generally thoughtful and considerate, INFPs are good listeners and put people at ease. Although they may be reserved in expressing emotion, they have a very deep well of caring and are genuinely interested in understanding people. This sincerity is sensed by others, making the INFP a valued friend and confidante. An INFP can be quite warm with people he or she knows well. 
Yeah for some reason I always end up being the person that other people confide their deep, dark secrets too. I love being that confidante, but it always takes me by surprise because it tends to come from people who I never realized even thought twice about me... classmates, slight acquaintances, etc. It's like I have a vibe emanating from me saying, "Trust me! I'm a great listener!" And I am, don't get me wrong. It just strikes me as funny if I think about it too long, just how many random people end up telling me their secrets.

INFPs do not like conflict, and go to great lengths to avoid it. If they must face it, they will always approach it from the perspective of their feelings. In conflict situations, INFPs place little importance on who is right and who is wrong. They focus on the way that the conflict makes them feel, and indeed don't really care whether or not they're right. They don't want to feel badly. This trait sometimes makes them appear irrational and illogical in conflict situations. On the other hand, INFPs make very good mediators, and are typically good at solving other people's conflicts, because they intuitively understand people's perspectives and feelings, and genuinely want to help them. 
Yes. Very true. I tend to not care about winning a particular argument, and because I can typically see both/every side of a situation, it makes me less inclined to think my way is right/better than someone else's way. What gets me riled up though is when someone speaks belligerently or condescendingly towards me. Tone of voice can be much more offensive to me than what someone is actually saying.

INFPs are flexible and laid-back, until one of their values is violated. In the face of their value system being threatened, INFPs can become aggressive defenders, fighting passionately for their cause. When an INFP has adopted a project or job which they're interested in, it usually becomes a "cause" for them. Although they are not detail-oriented individuals, they will cover every possible detail with determination and vigor when working for their "cause".
Yeah true. See above.

When it comes to the mundane details of life maintenance, INFPs are typically completely unaware of such things. They might go for long periods without noticing a stain on the carpet, but carefully and meticulously brush a speck of dust off of their project booklet.
Soooo true. This fact has driven most of my roommates crazy actually. They'll be like... "How did you not notice that the garbage hasn't been taken out in a week?" not realizing that if it weren't for them, I probably wouldn't have noticed for another month or so. Lol.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A List of Firsts

I saw this over at The Curious Pug and since I love taking surveys... here you go!

First thing you do when you wake up:

Hit snooze.

First thing you reach for when you open the refrigerator:

Usually soy milk for my coffee/cereal.

First thing you do when you get to the gym:

Ha! I can't remember the last time I went to a gym.

First thing you do when you get home from work:

If it's okay to substitute "school" for "work" (because trust me, I work much harder at school than I have at any job I've ever had), the first thing I usually do is come home and collapse on the couch.

First car:

A purple, used Dodge Neon that cost me more in repairs than it did to actually buy it in the first place. It was a cute car, but I never should've bought it.

First accident:

In high school, the week after I'd gotten my license, I wrecked my parent's minivan while driving myself and my sisters home from school. Thank fully no one was hurt (can't say the same for the minivan though!).

First thing you wanted to be when you grew up:

I think it was probably to be a teacher, if I remember right.

First choice beverage:

In the morning... coffee. Every other time of day... probably water or some sort of fruit juice.

First choice breakfast:

Oatmeal with raisins, bananas, and walnuts in it.

First choice dessert:

Pumpkin pie.

First song that comes to mind:

Frosty the Snowman. (And no, I have no idea why that one popped in there.)

First major purchase:

Probably my first laptop, which I got when I was about 20.

First job:

Library aid at the local library. Unfortunately it paid nothing. But... I got to hang out with books, so it was all good.

First time you flew on a plane:

When I was in high school and my family took a trip to Disneyland!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Reader Question: Why do I need 100 items in my Etsy shop?

One of my readers asked a really good question about my Etsy tips list the other day and I thought I'd share my answer to her, so everyone could benefit. Keep in mind that this is advice that I would consider generally true for most shops, but of course there are always exceptions to every rule.

Question:

Why is tip #1 helpful? Sometimes too many choices is just overwhelming. Maybe I'm strange but I generally don't look through more than two pages of any etsy shop. I'm really curious about why having 100+ items will make your shop more successful.

Answer:

It's because it's next to impossible to get any Etsy search traffic unless you have a higher inventory. For most categories, 100 seems to be the magic number for some reason. (Jewelry actually seems to need more items in your shop for you to start being found consistently, since there is so much more competition in that area).

I really don't know why this phenomenon works, but it does seem to have some truth to it (at least according to the other shop owners on the Etsy forums). Personally, when I have 60 or 70 items, for example, I'll start getting more consistent views but no sales. Once I get 110... 120 items... sales start pouring in. It's quite strange really. I don't know if there's some mathematical reason (like perhaps the Etsy search algorithms pay more attention to larger shops), or if you're just finally able to stand out from the crowd (since some shops flood the searches with 500+ items).


In a nutshell, remember that your competition is everyone who sells similar items as you on Etsy. Some categories have more competition than others. If you have 5 items, and some other similar shop has 5000, when someone searches... that other shop is more likely to be seen... and purchased from.... since they likely won't even find the smaller shop.


Of course there are always exceptions to this rule. I've actually ran across successful shops with 5 items in them. But based on my research, the typical shop does much better with a much higher inventory, mainly just because they start generating decent Etsy search traffic!
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