Resurrection–or rebirth from the ashes?

I got a bit scatterbrained and confused toward the end of 2013, and as a result I did not get this domain and blog transferred before I terminated my service with 1&1.  Oops–lesson learned: make a list and follow the steps–in order!  As you can see, I finally got everything moved and activated.  It is going to take me several weeks to get all the posts back into place, and I know I lost some.  However, thanks to two incredibly useful tools, I have most everything.

If you are not familiar with the “Wayback” machine, you should be.  It is the nickname for www.archive.org’s snapshots of wayyyyy too many websites to keep count of–although they have counted them.  Southernfriedyanqui.com had sixteen snapshots since its inception, but those sixteen snapshots provided quite a lot of redundancy. If you remember having seen a website that is no longer up and running, check the Wayback Machine to see if there’s a snapshot of it.

The other tool is Qumana, the blogging software I was using before I started using the WordPress tools. Qumana is a free program for the Mac platform, and it had saved each post I had written using it. It is nice and easy to use, but as my blogging goals evolved, the tools in Qumana just weren’t going to be able to keep up.

Neither tool has provided copies of the comments, though. That’s a shame.

If you notice the byline, I figured Lazarus would be an appropriate pseudonym; it’s a little more believable and less cheesy than “Phoenix.”

The appearance of this site will undergo some changes as I try to get it back to the state it was in when I lost it. I had put a lot of work into it, getting it set up just right, and now I can’t remember what all I did to it. It was also with a different hosting service, so I don’t know how much that will affect what I can do to make it look just like it did before.

So welcome back to Southernfriedyanqui dot com, and man, it’s good to be back up and running!

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Unintended Consequences

A sudden departure in our department resulted in our System Administrators being left short-handed. For the most part, most departments in most organizations can tolerate short-term short-staffing. It generally means that activities can take a bit longer to complete, and it can leave the remaining staff feeling overwhelmed. The PC support group has felt that at times, with various staff members being unavailable due to individual circumstances. Most of the time we roll with it.

Due to budget constraints, there was a question as to whether the department was going to be able to fill the position. Approval was eventually granted from the powers that be, the opening was announced and the position was posted. When I told my husband that the guy had left, he asked me if that was something I would be interested in moving into. I told him I didn’t feel qualified, that position has a great deal more responsibility that I have as a PC Support Technician. Our site lead let us know where we could find the postings in case we were interested, and when I looked at them, job posting assured me I wasn’t qualified. One of the qualifications for the position is Security+ certification, or the ability to attain the cert within three weeks.  I dismissed the idea and moved on. I genuinely enjoy my work, and I know that I could work with whomever was selected to fill the position.

During this time, I have continued to study for that Security+ exam. This is the next logical step for any mobility in my career, at my current employer or anywhere else. I have been working the plan I had laid out for moving toward the actual exam. However, as time went on, I felt impressed to apply for the System Administrator position, regardless of my perceived lack of qualification. I have read many times that we shouldn’t be afraid to apply for a position for which we may not feel perfectly qualified. I sent my husband a text message telling him I planned on applying for the position. He replied with enthusiasm and expressed is confidence in my skills and abilities. My husband is my strongest cheerleader.

The process for working for a government contractor has a lot of hoops to it. The prime contractor had decided which of its subcontractors would post the position, and applications would go through them. The subcontracting company I work for was not one of the two through whom this posting was issued. Even though I am already employed through a subcontractor, for me this process would entail applying through a different company, and I would be required to leave the company I work for and begin employment with a different company. Before I embarked on that process, I got my updated resume to our site lead, and I told him that I knew I would need to jump through all the proper hoops, but I wanted him to have my resume right away. He was very encouraging, and he also advised me to wait on the formal application process for a day or so while he checked on something. He wanted to find out if they were going to have my company post the position; that would make it a lot simpler for me. A few days after that, he mentioned that I might want to ask my company if they knew anything about the position, so that they could try to get the authority to post it.

The company I directly work for has impressed me in a lot of ways. The process of working for the federal government, even as a contractor or subcontrator’s employee, is a tree-killing operation. It can become very confusing, and it is intimidating. The Human Resources director walked me step by step through each phase, answering my questions and making sure we got it all correct the first time. I did not want to have to go through all that again, but if it was necessary, I would. But when I asked the HR director if they would be allowed to submit me for consideration for this SysAdmin position, she passed it on to one of the VP’s, and he took the ball and got my name into consideration. He did ask if I felt qualified for the position, and I laid it out for him: I had done something similar at my previous position; I am already onsite, and I am already aware of the culture and methods; additionally I would be available to fill in on PC support as necessary because I have been doing it. I also told him that I was aware that there would be a lot of candidates for this position, most of whom would be better qualified that I; but I am no worse off for trying, and I would be able to work well with whomever was selected for the position. I left it at that, and the VP got my resume submitted.

The notification that I got the job was a complete surprise. I feel it’s a good move for the organization, though, because it does allow them to hold a position that they might lose completely if they couldn’t fill it internally, and this way they don’t lose a PC Support position that they also might not be allowed to fill if that got vacated completely. As with every new endeavor, I have had moments where I wondered if I can really do justice to the work. Then I remember, I have had these moments with every new endeavor. My husband has expressed his confidence in me, and he is the one who knows me best; he also never pays empty compliments. NEVER.

But one result of this new position is that I need to move faster on Security + exam prep. I don’t know that I have only three weeks, but I do need to make it happen and FAST. I have finished my first pass through on my primary book. I have been listening to the recordings I have made. I have the study guides from ExamCram loaded onto my Nook so I can squeeze in some studying anytime I get a chance. In fact, I have put all my other tech goals on hold so I can focus intensely on this one.

I’m ready for this.

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Journey’s progress–early January

Well before the old year ended I had built up a good roll of momentum on my techknowledgy goals of Security+ certification, a working understanding of Python, and learning how to use Dreamweaver. Among all of the tech available to learn, I chose these three carefully for their immediacy of implementation, their property of being the next logical step, and the quality of being foundational to something else I want to do/learn.  Something that makes achievement work for me is the accountability factor, so here is a progress report on these three goals:

Security+
I’ll start here because this one has the heaviest career impact. I have one main book I am reading, and I have just finished Chapter 6, of a total of 15 chapters. I also have the predecessor to this book. Let me explain this, the book is not outdated, completely, but the exam has changed a bit, as the CompTIA exams do from time to time to reflect the changes in the technology they are certifying for. According to CompTIA’s website:
“The new exam covers more of the approach that organizations need to take to proactively address security risk control and mitigation,” said Terry Erdle, executive vice president, skills certification, CompTIA. “We’ve also included more content in areas such as forensics, cloud computing and virtualization. The focus is on the proactive elements like designing network security to accommodate cloud and the potential threats associated with it.

I am reading the old book aloud into Audacity, which produces a recording. I am exporting the recordings into mp3 files, and bringing them into iTunes as an audiobook. I can read along with the book as I listen to the recordings.  I have finished eight of these recordings, each about an hour in length, and that book has a total of 12 chapters, so I am two-thirds of the way done with that. So far the main difference I’ve seen between the two versions is the organization of the material, and it’s possible that there may be very many differences that I don’t notice because I’m being exposed to such a broad bunch of material.  If I really buckle down, I may record the new book as well, to give me a more thorough read-through of all the material.

I also have a bookmark to the Security+ entry in Wikibooks. This was a valuable find, because, although the material in the entry itself refers to the previous version of the test, it contains external lnks to other sources, and those sources have been updated to reflect the latest test changes.

A friend at work as the CBT Nuggets training videos. CBT stands for Computer Based Training. This is like sitting in a classroom with an instructor. He’s finished with the exam, having passed with a score of 850 out of a possible 900. Yeah, I’ll use his study material.

After I have read through all the material I have, one time, then it’s time to start taking practice tests. I have one test engine on my computer, and there are a BUNCH of them available on the web, most offer enough questions at a time to give provide a good indication as to how well-prepared I am.  The weak scores will tell me where I need to go back and re-read, or maybe seek out some deeper information.

I have a long way to go on this but I feel like I’ve picked up some speed and some torque.

Python

I’ve finished Chapter Two in my book Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner. I really got hung up on variables the last time I tried to learn this stuff, but—my gosh the web is a wonder! I found a website that had a free download to a book called Snake Wrangling for Kids, an introductory book to Python aimed at middle-school-aged kids, and I was able to break through that mental block. I’m about halfway through Chapter Three now, I’m taking my time on this one because I really need to put my focus onto the Security+ training. But I do get kind of a kick when I write a piece of code, it doesn’t work, I track down the error, fix it, and then it runs! Python is very good about telling you what it doesn’t like about your code, in a general sense. It will highlight the error in the development environment if you’re using one, and it will tell you WHAT is wrong, but not necessarily how to fix it. Good practice, it helps me to learn the syntax better when I have to figure out why the program doesn’t like what I’ve written.

Dreamweaver

Adobe has put out a lot of very good material to help people use their products. They should—some of these products are very expensive. Relative to what they can do, and relative to the kind of money to be made with them, they aren’t really all that costly, but if you can’t monetize the product’s output, it’s hard to justify buying them. The series I have from Adobe is short lessons on how to navigate each product. I guess I’m just going to have to get in there and do it in order to really learn how to use it, but, like Python, it’s kind of something I do at a slow pace because the focus is on the big project of Security+. I just finished the sixth of 29 lessons. I expect that I’ll have to get some more project-based lessons to really learn this stuff. It’s out there, but it’s not Priority Number One yet.

All in all….

I feel that 2013 is off to a great start. I haven’t set a target date for the Security+ exam, because my primary job is MOM, and I don’t know from day to day how much of my time that will take. When I finish the material the first time through, I’ll take one practice exam, and then I’ll set the date. The nearer that date looms, the less my family will see of me as I go into final-prep mode. But it’s a journey worth taking.

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Holiday Hits and Misses

I love the Christmas season, and if the weather has several chilly days in a row, so much the better.   I get a lot of enjoyment in finding unique gifts for the unique people in my life, I even like the wrapping process. I love caroling, and other opportunities to sing the songs that proclaim the birth of our Savior.  Every year has its own series of mixed experiences. This year was filled with hits:

Grateful children
My kids, I freely admit, are terribly spoiled. The saving grace in that is that they are fully aware of that fact. I’m sure it helps that we constantly remind them. Through all of their privilege, it is rare that we see even a glimpse of a sense of entitlement from them. They generally get one “big” gift and several smaller, less expensive ones, and as they mature, the process varies from being a lot easier to a lot more difficult. But whatever they receive, they are grateful.

Loving family
I don’t get nearly enough time with my own family, particularly my daughters. That changes in 2013. I want to schedule several trips to Dothan this year, and at least one trip up to Springfield. Between my job and my church duties, that been impossible to arrange, but this year I must make it happen.  Tommy’s family has become such a strong surrogate for my blood relatives that I have neglected my natural ties. I am grateful for the family I don’t see very often, and who love me anyway, and for Tommy’s family who have always treated me as if I was always a part of them.

The tree
This was kind of a “victory” for me. I love a big tree, Tommy wants one four or five feet at most. We always get a live tree (although I have an emergency artificial stand-in should time slip away from me). This year, not only were all the trees gorgeous, they were all HUGE! I brought home what was labeled as a 5’ – 6’ tree that nearly brushes our 8’ ceiling. Note to self: I need icicles next year for tree trimming. And I think it’s time for some fresh ornaments.  Make some? Buy some at some after-Christmas clearance sales? I sure didn’t see any I liked where I went this year, but I have eleven whole months to worry about that.
Our primary program

We were going to put on our primary presentation the Sunday before Christmas, but someone expressed concern that if we did that, if we had any visitors that Sunday, they might come away with the impression that we don’t celebrate Christmas. At the time I wasn’t completely on board with the sentiment, but that could have been because it pushed up the presentation by two weeks, giving me a total of one week to pull it all together. (I came around to his way of thinking, he was right to be concerned about that.) We were mostly prepared, but I had to get the bulletin printed and put together in the proper order. We have a very small children’s group, and the two oldest are approaching the age of not wanting to do a lot of stuff for public display, and the two youngest are just learning English. Those were the only four who participated in the program. It was a beautiful program, with all four children expressing and demonstrating a faith that provides an example of how to forge ahead.

Finding my “worship voice”
Recently a family moved into our little branch, and the mother plays the piano—a tremendous blessing for us. She also brings the experience of having attended larger wards, where music is included in and incorporated into more of the worship and learning experience. As I wrote earlier, I had never sung solo before, and the Sunday before Christmas, she and I sang two Christmas lullaby songs. I still prefer singing in a group, but under her direction, I am finding a voice with which I can sing praises to my God and King. My voice never sounds as fine anywhere else, and I don’t have any desire to do more with it than express my love for my Father and my Savior. But my new friend has build my confidence to a level that will allow that.

The scissors
I’m calling this a hit, because it’s just a part of who I am.  I wanted to get al the presents wrapped before I mailed them. Most of that happened. Courtenay’s presents got wrapped the morning they went out, Jessica’s were probably halfway done by the time I needed to leave for work. I had a plan. I would leave work, dash to the Daphne WalMart and get the gift cards (no, not WalMart cards) to go in the boxes, oops, I also needed some cards to put the gift cards in; then I’d go to the UPS store and wrap the rest of the gifts in the parking lot. Under other conditions that might have actually worked. If I had still been driving my Jeep, I could have done it. If the weather was not gale-force windy, I could have done it in the bed of the truck. (I’ve actually done that in the bed of my truck, but we’re talking serious wind.) As I left WalMart to head for the UPS store, I received a frantic text message from Dylan, asking about a ride to his girlfriend’s house, he had told her he would  be there at 6:30, it was 5:30 at that point. Tommy wasn’t aware of the plans, I wasn’t aware that the plans had solidified. The last I’d heard, they were still vapor. Well, I was pretty sure Jess would understand, so I decided to forego the rest of the wrapping. I don’t know if the tape was in the box when she opened it; the scissors were. I just plain forgot. The wrapping paper was sticking up out of the box demanding attention, otherwise she’d have ended up with that as well.

BIG home run—my iphone adapter
I listen to podcasts on my commute. I will never run out of material, because one of the newest additions to my list is an hour-long five-times-a-week podcast, and that’s about all I have time for in a week. So I’m actually falling behind. But I was never comfortable using the earbuds while driving. I had a device that was supposed to let me dial in an unused radio frequency and play it through the radio, but it never worked well in our area because there are so few unused frequencies. Tommy got me a device that provides an adapter to play the ipod part of my phone through the stereo, and it charges it while that’s happening. He got it installed before we went over to his mother’s for Christmas dinner. I will use that device nearly every time I get in my truck!

One miss:
And this one is solely attributable to operator error. Dylan wanted to make some fudge, and I hadn’t made any in a while. It’s a simple recipe, but a complicated process, and I wanted to get it just right, so I used the candy thermometer. I have since thrown it away, and the next batch will be done by eyeball-measurement. I’m pretty sure I overcooked the blend, because bits of it turned out like the Reisen’s chocolate candies. And I got talking with Tommy while Dylan was stirring it, and when he said, “I think it’s done,” it was too late to get it into the pan.  The flavor is great—but it’s nearly impossible to eat.  Next time..Next time it will be perfect.

Ballgame:
There’s nothing so big and so bad that it could take the joy out of my Christmas. I know that December 25 is not the actual day our Savior was born, but regardless of where I am or what I’m doing or what else is going on in the world, the simple fact remains that he was, in fact, born. His birth is reason enough to celebrate through any difficulty. His birth, his life, his atonement, his death, and his resurrection, have given meaning to our existence. Without our Savior, there would be no point to living at all. That understanding, for me, takes it out of the park.

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What Does 2013 Hold for You?

I have had a great year. I realize that these past few years have been rough for a lot of people, and I have had a very untypical experience. I was able to transition seamlessly in 2011 from employment to self-employment, and then in 2012 back into employment, with no loss of income or time; in fact, my income has risen a bit, at least keeping up with the cost of living, if not slightly better. The position I have is one I enjoy immensely. I am doing work that matters, for people who express genuine appreciation, although I would do the work even without it. I have had to stretch and learn because I am not operating in the private sector anymore, where much of our efforts center around “Get the job done whatever it takes” strategies. I have had to navigate through procedures and processes that can often seem like an impediment to progress, but serve a strong purpose for accountability.

So what lies ahead for me for 2013?

Well, as I have said before, I am learning Python and Dreamweaver, and I’m studying for Security+ certification.  I now have a plan in place to make some progress every day. As long as I do something every day to further these goals, I will eventually get there, and I won’t lose momentum.

I have other goals as well, mostly rotating around self-reliance and resiliency, and I have found a podcast and website that has a strong focus on those ideals. it’s called “The Survival Podcast” (website of the same name), and the host is a guy named Jack Spirco, who is incredibly well-versed on the subject. Even if you’re not a doomsday type prepper, if you want to learn about self-reliance, he’s the go-to on the subject, not just because he knows it all, but because with his network of contacts, he knows someone who knows it all.

He recently started another website called 13skills.com to encourage his listeners and readers to set goals to learn new skills or to improve their skills. The topics are very broad, and I guarantee you can find something in his subject lines that you are interested in improving. The object is to introduce accountability in our New Year’s Resolutions.
Most of my skills goals that I set were around improving my gardening and preserving skills, but I also set up one overarching Computer Skills goal, which contains the three things I’m working on right now. The only one I am serious about completing within a time frame is the Security +, but I haven’t set a date on it. After I finish reading through the material one time, I’ll set a date for the test, and that will be my accomplishment date.

How ‘bout it—could you set 13 improvement goals? I bet you could.  Here are my 13:
Alternative Energy; Composting; Food Storage; Gardening; Fruit Orchard; Freeze Drying Food; Canning; Aquaponics; Beekeeping; Butchering; Making Salves and Balms; Nutrition; and Computer Skills.

That’s what 2013 holds for me. What’s in your wallet?

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Disposable

We live in a disposable age and our mindset has kept pace.

It seems to me that nobody plays for keeps anymore. This is much deeper than opting for plastic and paper diapers over cloth, and using paper towels instead of napkins. Even big-ticket items appear to be acquired with the intention of “trading up” in a relatively short period of time. From clothes, to cars, even to houses—there’s always something newer and better coming along, and the old stuff gets kicked to the curb. This attitude is applied to marriages, evidently. But somehow major appliances have been skipped over. It’s not unusual to hear about someone who just bought a new car, but whose washer is ten years old.

In Anne Tyler’s Saint Maybe, the main character, Ian, studies under a master furniture maker. His reason, he says, is that he wants to build things that people don’t throw away.  As part of his plan to set aright a terrible tragedy, he raises three orphans that would otherwise have been “thrown away.”  Entirely too many children are being treated as disposables. We are reaping the harvest from that sowing, as the children who grew up feeling disposable know nothing other than that enter into relationships that themselves become disposable.  As with material possessions, when the relationships evidence flaws, the participants move on to others.

The deep sadness of this trend is not just the rising divorce rate. Deep, abiding, once-in-a-lifetime friendships are becoming not-in-a-lifetime events, as fewer people can be bothered to put the effort into them. Genuine relationships take time, effort, commitment, selflessness, and a willingness to be vulnerable to emotional pain. All of these things are in short supply.

We came into this world with no clothing; no food in our bellies, no pennies in our pockets. We will leave in much the same condition. Precious little of our earthly gatherings will accompany us into the next phase of our existence.  Nothing of material substance will have any significance for us when we make our exit. As we transit from this phase to the next, we will have no use for degrees from universities—but the knowledge we gained from the pursuit of the degrees will remain a part of us. We will not take a car or a house into our grave. But our relationships will be a part of our being eternally.
Why do we spend so much time and effort chasing after those things we will leave behind when we die, and so little time and effort building those things we CAN take with us?

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I’m Not Mr. Tanner

“Mr. Martin Tanner of Dayton, Ohio made his Town Hall debut last night. He came well prepared, but unfortunately his presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards. His voice lacks the range of tonal color necessary to make it consistently interesting. Full-time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.”

Harry Chapin told the story of Mr. Tanner, who was a cleaner; but he also was a baritone, who sang while hanging clothes. Anyone remember that song?

Mr. Tanner’s friends pestered him to try music as a profession. He spent his savings on renting a music hall and gave a concert.  Mr. Chapin tells of the result:

“But the critics were concise, it only took four lines, and no one could accuse them of being overkind:” And my opening paragraph is those four lines.

Mr. Tanner went quietly back to his life, but he never sang in public again. He allowed his passion to be covered with a curtain that didn’t apply to it. He never really wanted to sing professionally; it was his life, not his living.

I am not a soloist. I have only ever sung in groups. The smallest number of singers I have ever participated in was two. Until yesterday.

Our music leader asked if I would sing one of our Children’s songs as a prelude to her Sunday School lesson. Stepping way out of my comfort zone, I agreed. I had plenty of time for rehearsal and preparation.

Now, I am not nervous when speaking in public, and I do a fair job of it as long as I prepare well. Singing is a different matter. Regardless of the rehearsal and preparation, the voice is something that is either there or not. For very few is it ever always there. I prepared well, and we had a very good rehearsal. At the time of performance, I was as confident as I was going to be.

I have never considered that I have a great vocal gift. I can carry a tune and I can read music, and I enjoy singing in groups. I have never been asked to perform alone, and I have never sought out the opportunity. So despite my preparation, I was very nervous as I began to sing. It was no help that my throat went dry with the first note. As I progressed, it did get better, and the third and final verse was almost as I rehearsed it.

This was a huge step for me. I don’t particularly care if nobody ever asks me to sing a solo again, I did it. I have never aspired to a music profession, I get so much enjoyment out of being a group performer for my own satisfaction. My voice blends well with others and I have a reasonable range. The victory for me was doing it and surviving it.

Been there? Share.

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Can you make a secure password?

Two weeks ago I told you several things that you need to know about passwords. Today I’ll give you step by step instructions on how to make a strong, secure password that will meet requirements and that you will eventually remember. Trust me, you CAN remember them.
The sentence method:
Open up a program on your computer that you can free-flow type in. That’s most likely to be a word-processing program or text editor like notepad, but if you really love Excel, you can use that.
Type a sentence with as many words in it as you need for characters. You may not have a specified length, but if you do, that is how long the sentence needs to be. The sentence needs to make sense to you, but it doesn’t need to be true.  Here’s an example: As Alice fell deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole she began to wonder where she might come out. Nineteen words; if you can remember that sentence, you have the start of a strong password. Type the sentence until you can do it without looking.
Reduce the words to initial letters: AAfdaddtrbsbtwwhmco.
Find letters that can be changed to characters and numbers. Your password requirements may call for some creativity in exchanging. Here’s one possibility:  A@fd&ddtrh$b2wwSmc0.
Type this series if characters over and over, repeating the sentence as you type it, until you can type it quickly without looking at the previous line.
If you need a reminder, you can write the sentence out, but you shouldn’t need to write the password itself once you have been able to type it several times without looking at the characters.
The phrases method:
I had one password  requirement once that needed an exact number of characters, a certain number of digits, a certain number of non alpha-numeric characters, no consecutive repeating characters, first character must be alpha; this was rough! But I was able to come up with a method that worked.
Someone’s first and last name; two words about them; a two-digit number about them; and a characteristic about them.
Arthur Frederickson; school friend; 12; football.
I’m going to use dashes for the non-alpha characters; so we go AF-sf-12-fo0tbal
If you need to change passwords periodically, you can swap out what gets capitalized; incrementally increase the digit; swap out different characters for the dashes. But this will create a nice, strong password that you can remember without writing it down.
Multiple words
Since the password cracking software looks first for words that are in the dictionary, combining several words into one long word can create a strong password, like these:
ninjasinmypants
oceansneakerpeppercomputer
imightbemovingtomontanasoon
You can do it!
Once you get the hang of one of these methods, you can combine them in any way that works for you. Remember from the last post, you don’t want to use the same password in a bunch of different places. Going about it this way, you shouldn’t need to.You will still need a method to keep track of which one you use where, and you can find that in the previous post.
Let me know if you’ve tried these, or other methods that worked for you. Share what you have learned with others.

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Market Lessons from Farmville

Yes, I know that Farmville is a silly little game. I like it. (There, I said it. ) Like any pastime, it’s easy to get sucked into spending way too much time at it. I enjoy spending a few minutes at a time on it. Lately, it has taken soooooo long to load that it’s just not worth it. That’s happened before and it eventually clears up.
It occurred to me some time ago that Farmville provides an excellent set of lessons in market capitalism. It’s not perfect as such, but then neither is capitalism as we practice it.

Farmville provides complete equality of opportunity:
Everyone starts out at the same level with the same four or six plots of land, with the same crops available to plant. When you start adding neighbors, you quickly see that your neighbors are at very different levels of play, and when you visit them you see that they have done different things with their farms. Some have focused on trees; others on livestock; others on crops; others on buildings. But they all started out with a few strawberry and eggplant crops. All the prices for all the goods you buy are the same across the game, all the prices for the goods you sell are the same across the game. There are some things that are only available upon reaching milestones, but all players reaching those milestones will have the same access.

The rules apply equally and cannot (for the most part) be skirted:
Because the game is played from a server, the server dishes up to you the same game it dishes up to everyone else. Your game details are stored in your account and served up when you log in. It is conceivable that someone could hack into the server and change account details. Because there is no real-world incentive, I cannot imagine why anyone would do so. While doing so would admittedly provide benefit to the player who did it, no harm would come to either the players or to Zynga, the producer of the game. Zynga doesn’t pay players for winning, there is no tangible reward for achievements. The game stays in the game.

There are bonuses for achievements:
When you achieve certain milestones or objectives, Farmville rewards you, sometimes in coins, sometimes in Farmville cash, sometimes in experience points, sometimes in items; sometimes a combination of these.

You can help your friends but are not compelled to do so:
You can participate in your friends’ goals, you can help out on their farms, you can share bonuses, you can give stuff away, and you can be on the receiving ends of all these activities. Nothing in the game requires you to help friends, but achieving objectives can happen faster when you do, sometimes you will get an unexpected reward for helping a friend, and very often you will need help from your friends to meet objectives.

You can play solo and make progress, or you can play socially and make more progress:
It is possible to play Farmville without playing socially; you buy seeds and trees and objects from an invisible market and sell to the same invisible market. But you will meet the goals and milestones much quicker when enjoying the social aspects of the game.
There are other ways to learn how market capitalism works, one of the best ways is to actually participate in it. One of the fallibilities in using Farmville as an object lesson is that while you participate in a market in a way, the risks and rewards are not real. To really understand what a business is, you need to have one. It just doesn’t hurt all that much to let an electronic crop wither and die when I can’t get back to it in time to harvest it.  Since my internet connection is satellite, it is completely dependent on the weather. When I am in full-on playing mode, I keep a bit more watch on the weather (not much, just a bit); I want to make sure I can harvest a crop in time to keep it from dying, and if it’s raining at my house, I can’t do that. So in that way, my “farming” experience is –just a bit—like a real farming experience. That’s where the similarity ends.  That said, I think Farmville bears a stronger likeness to market agriculture than Monopoly bears to real estate.

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