Get Your Life Sorted with HabitRPG

Looking to increase productivity in your life? Most people would immediately download an app like Evernote to get themselves sorted, but the problem with the traditional productivity apps are that they mostly work with self-motivated individuals. Others will use the app for a while, only getting bored of it later on because they get lazy and lack encouragement. Those that need that extra incentive to get organized would benefit from a game-like app that rewarded them with points and pushed them to proceed to the next level.

HabitRPG

A productivity increasing game sounds somewhat like an oxymoron, but for years, the gaming market has attempted to combine the concept of efficiency with entertainment. Developers constantly look for innovative strategies to stay ahead of an ever-evolving industry. One of the most prevalent trends is the combination of themes, commonly results in ideas like arcade-inspired slots, RPG puzzle games, and other multi-genre products. Other designers have gone in another direction, creating games with a purpose. Most of these games target memory improvement, incite logical thinking, or are used for educational reasons, although there are several games out there in the market that also double as a productivity app, HabitRPG being one of them.

HabitRPG has received notable mention from a host of media outlets like Forbes, CNet, and Lifehacker for its ability to manage the following areas of life: work, health, teams, school, goals, and chores. The notion of “gamifying your life” is a new and fun way of advancing in life with the help of rewards. All your habits, daily tasks and to-dos manifest as bad guys that you need to defeat. And like any other RPG, you’ll have a strong social network that will support you while you battle the little monsters. If you fail at any tasks, you will be punished and your avatar will lose progress in the game.

One of the most notable features of HabitRPG is its recognition for different reinforcement styles. Not everyone can agree that they are motivated through positive or negative reinforcement, so the game includes elements of predictable and random reinforcement through expected prizes after conquering a task and random rewards at various stages.

If you’d like an entertaining yet effective way to discipline yourself, this app is free for both Android and iOS users.

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Review: Not Without My Father by Andra Watkins

I kept having to stop while reading “Not Without My Father” by my friend Andra Watkins. I kept having to stop and think. I was thinking of my own father and other people in my life who I have taken for granted or not spent the time with that I should.

Not Without My Father by Andra WatkinsWhile there are quite a few good laughs in this book, it is not a bouncy rainbows and unicorns type family story. It is an honest look at a hard personal journey of discovery and connections that is mirrored through the author’s own person journey to walk the Natchez Trace. Her father accompanies her on that walk, via comfortable car of course, to guide, protect and promote her. As any dad should. But this is not so easy a relationship. Along the way old wounds are revealed and feelings left unsaid, both good and bad, are voiced. And then there is mom. Mom throws a whole different spice into the brew.

As I read “Not Without My Father” I thought about my dad. And just as importantly I thought about both my son and daughter. I had to pause to wonder what baggage I was leaving them with, and what tools as well to help them on their journey. Were the experiences I shared with my family, all of my family, what I really wanted to leave them with? And most importantly, had I been present in their lives? Was I there, paying attention, and participating?

We can’t blame all of our distractions on electronics. There have always been distractions – friends, work, reading, hobbies, golf, whatever. But the key is – do we set aside these distractions to be with those people important to us? Or maybe include the family in our hobbies so it is a time of bonding instead of separation?

But I digress away from this book. I guess that is because this is the type of book it is – a book to be read on multiple levels. You can read the story of Andra’s walk and the experiences and people, but you can also read the story of a personal journey. A journey of discovery and growth. And from there you can find lessons for your own life.

I highly recommend this book, but more so I recommend you read it and then discuss it with those important to you.

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Blackfern Girls – A Revew

Blackfern Girls by Elizabeth YonI have been an Elizabeth Yon fan ever since I read her short story in the compilation Echoes in Darkness. Now she has a book out all her own, and it is an atmospheric feast. Blackfern Girls stands as a testament to Yon’s ability to create a world which surrounds you in total macabre believability. As you read the four stories that make up this collection, you are drawn into the characters, the stories, and the overall feel of what is going on in this haunted rural area.

The delectable stories in Blackfern Girls range from the slightly creepy to the totally unnerving. What they have in common is not only a regional basis, but an expert’s characterization and world building. You will be drawn in by sweet little girls only to be repulsed back by their seeming evil. The shock of the evil would not be possible if you failed first to believe in the innocence. You will start to agree with a disbeliever, only to be shocked at the depth of her belief. Again and again, what you have come to understand will be turned on its ear.

If there is one area of these stories that fails for me, it is the lack of closure. While each of the tales in the book builds a fully realized world, the story it contains doesn’t seem to me as well realized. Don’t get me wrong, I am all in favor of leaving the reader of a story with some mystery and decisions to make for themselves, but the stories don’t even seem to go that far. They leave us hanging. Waiting. Maybe that is what Yon intended, but it doesn’t work me, and I am left holding for the final note. But I will keep waiting because I really enjoy these stories and the characters.

My one quibble should not stop you from enjoying Blackfern Girls. In fact, this compilation is a perfect companion to this Halloween week and a marvelous example of a fine writer’s skills. Not only that, but it is a true bargain on Amazon. Go buy it now. Go! It is only available on eReader at the moment, but I have been assured by the publisher, Bannerwing Books, that it will be available in dead-tree format next year. And yes, I plan on purchasing that hardcover to proudly display on my shelf and to remind myself how artfully atmosphere, characterization, and downright creepy can be done.

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Catherine at British Car Day

Yesterday was the British Car Club of Charleston‘s British Car Day car show. (That was a mouthful!) Anyway, I was very pleased that at this 30th anniversary show Catherine took home first place in her class. No, it really doesn’t bother me that she was the only one in her class, because in reality she is in a class by herself.

By the way, for those who don’t know, Catherine is a 1966 Vanden Plas Princess. She has less than 34,000 original miles on her. For more pictures of Catherine just go to this gallery.

To understand my sentimentality towards the award it helps to know that I was one of the founders of the car club, its first president, and that I put on that first British Car Day show 30 years ago. What a long strange trip.

Anyway, here are pictures from the show – https://plus.google.com/photos/111586244029690756195/albums/6074659268941963633

1949 MGTC

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Review of The End of the Sentence

The End of the Sentence is amazing. The End of the SentenceNot only is this well crafted novella a great read, it is also a fitting companion to the autumn winds of October and the upcoming Halloween.

On the face of it, this is a short book about a man running from his past and looking to build a new future. That future turns out to not be what he thought it would be when when he encounters ghosts, murderers, and monsters far out in small town Oregon. But that is only the face of it, and there is more. Oh so much more.

In equal parts ghost story and murder mystery, horror tale and modern fantasy, the authors have woven a story out of elements so familiar that they feel like our own history, but they have threaded these among circumstances so foreign, and at times horrifying, that we recoil. After recoiling though, we must look back and, with the author’s firm hand upon our shoulder, we are drawn back in, and deeper in.

The themes of loss and redemption, grief and hope, abandonment and determination arise again and again to intertwine with every character we meet. These are themes familiar to us all, so familiar that we can forget they are traits of other people’s tales as well. And we may also forget that each of us may respond to circumstances in ways both different and perhaps horrifying.

In The End of the Sentence, Maria Dahvana Headley and Kat Howard have created a wondrous tale of a new American mythology. I anxiously await whatever they will come up with next.

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The Drowning Girl

If we The Drowning Girlare to disappear into the novels we read, if we are to become one with the characters and the story, what happens to us as readers when the subject is insanity? What if the main character, the primary focus and the book’s narrator is a schizophrenic with a dubious grasp on reality? This is the case with Caitlin R. Kiernan‘s The Drowning Girl, and it makes for a very good but troubling read.

As I read this work of dark fiction, I often wondered why I actually kept going. Was I enjoying the book? Was I drawn into the story? Or was I intrigued by the language and imagery? All of those were true to some extent, but not quite enough to keep my going. I am not one of those people who finishes a book just because I have started it. I am actually quite harsh in my practice of giving up on novels that don’t hold my attention. But that was it, no matter what else I can say of The Drowning Girl, it certainly held my attention.

We have all seen paintings or photographs that we admire. Artwork that makes us think and asks us to examine with a critical eye. We can appreciate the art, but we wouldn’t necessarily call it beautiful or want it hanging on our living room wall. The work is important. The artist is talented. But, there is no way we would want to stare deeply into that vision every day. This is precisely the literary sculpture that Kiernan has wrought.

The main character and narrator of this book, “Imp” to her friends, is having trouble coping with events in her life. This story is her coping mechanism.  From the first page of The Drowning Girl, we are thrown into Imp’s world of double meanings, facts versus truths, and interpretation through examination and exploration. Everything we come across in the story is not what it seems, even the tale itself. Every person or object or event has at least two meanings and just as many or more truths. People are both male, female, and both. Single events happen not once but twice, then maybe not at all. Reality is a matter of perception, and perception is a state of mind. And most importantly the mind is volatile and subject to change.

The novel’s story of mermaids, werewolves, murders, suicides, and the collapsing and expanding of relationships is actually secondary to the darker story of how our minds, and especially the minds of those with mental illness, play tricks on us while laying themselves out as truthful. The horrors of the book lie not in the foul creatures and horrendous acts of the characters, but in the manipulations of perception and remembrance.

This dichotomy within one’s own self is what makes the book so fascinating but also makes it disturbing. It is like staring at a mirror too long, or dwelling on a certain word so long that it loses its meaning and becomes nonsense. I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed this book, because enjoyment is the wrong term for the reaction. But I honestly enjoyed how the book made me think and feel and question, even though the doubts induced will be hard to shake. Those thoughts have taken root in the most permanent but volatile of all places, my mind.

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