Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Slow build

I really try to be a patient person. I understand that things take time, that some things shouldn't be rushed. I also understand "circumstances" and try to consider them in relation to my expectations.

Again, I find myself wanting things to move more quickly. We've got numerous hiring pots being stirred, and how each of those turn out will affect how the next few months go. We've got both products getting close to roll out to the world, and we need to figure out how we're going to unveil them. We're about to move (hopefully) into new office space, and that has taken awhile to move forward. And we have several client proposals out right now, that could set the financial tone for at least the early part of this fall.

With all this movement on all of these fronts, I should be happy with how things are progressing. Yet I want to move faster, want to get there quicker. I feel like a little kid, on a long car trip traveling for our family vacation. It seems like its taking forever to get there and the excitement just keeps building. Its a slow build to what I hope is a spectacular destination.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Glutton for punishment

Because its not enough that I'm totally immersed in making Tandem Learning successful, I've decided that now would be a good time to also get in shape. Last year, I spent three months working out with a personal trainer. The goal, besides getting back in shape after having the littlest Olbrish, was to have pin up pictures taken. No, I'm not going to post my pictures, but here is the link to the very talented photographer who shot them for me.

After having the photo shoot in September, I kept up my workouts for awhile, but by October had stopped them because of other family events that were taking up my time. I fully intended to pick it back up again, but days to weeks to months later, I'm still not working out like I'd like to be.

A friend had been doing the P90X system. I am not promoting any particular exercise or diet program, but she really looks fantastic, and she's only on day 50-something. So I've bought the system, and today is officially DAY 1.

It's going to be difficult to find an hour to workout every day. Its going to be tough eating enough protein and very few carbs. I have no idea how I'll do this as I'm traveling over the next few months. But there's never a good time to start something new. Best just to get on with it. I'll keep you posted on the 90 day fitness extravaganza.

Corporate makeovers

I don't really like shopping anymore. I don't have time for lots of browsing, and the thought of spending a significant amount of time in a dressing room is enough to keep me from even walking into a store.

And yet, we're embarking on a shopping trip to "redress" our company. Our branding served us well for our first few months, but even when we settled on the initial concepts and logo, we knew that we would need to revisit it again when we had more time. We actually don't have more time now, just more urgency. Tandem Learning is about to have its coming out party and we need to make sure we're dressed to impress.

We spent time revisiting our Mission Statement, then thinking of words and feelings that we'd like our brand to represent. I'm feeling really optimistic about where we're heading, and looking forward to receiving concept sheets from graphic designers to whom we've given our thoughts and direction.

I'm looking forward to stepping out in our new attire. Stay tuned, I'm shooting for whistling and cat calls when we launch our new branding.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Inspiration Never Dies

Yesterday, Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch died of pancreatic cancer. I was traveling yesterday, and was notified by text message by a very thoughtful friend.

Back in March, just shortly after I started Tandem Learning and started this blog, I ran across The Last Lecture on YouTube. I had a million other things to do, but spent the 75 or so minutes listening to Randy's final address to his students, as well as his wife and kids. It was inspirational to me then, and still is. People more eloquent than I have eulogized Professor Pausch, including one of my favorite Tandem Rockstars, and I would not embarrass myself by trying. But I will try to restate what his words meant to me.

You'll never accomplish your dreams if you don't try. Failure is a learning opportunity much more effective than success, and a test of your desire to achieve your goal. Don't waste time. Listen to people's feedback, but don't listen if they tell you that you can't do something.

There are lots and lots of other things I could say about how I was inspired by listening to Randy Pausch's Last Lecture. What I will end on is this: Randy Pausch, a man who I never met, accomplished great things. He no doubt inspired the people who knew him, and he inspired countless others who did not. He provided me with emotional ammunition to believe in myself and what I am doing in going after my goals. He justified my opinion that failure is not an option if you don't let it be.

The world will miss you, Professor Pausch. Rest in peace.

Post lag

You ever get so busy that you let even things that are important to you slide? Yes, well, that was this week. Actually, there were lots of things that I had been letting slide that got done this week, and I suppose that is the tradeoff. Time is a precious commodity and as my high school economics teacher taught me, every decision has a cost and a benefit. Although I feel like I'll need to play catch up for a few days, the benefit of my time spent on the other stuff far outweighs the cost of letting stuff slide.

I guess this is my way of apologizing for not posting for a few days. I know, not much of an apology...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Abandoning my Second Life

It would be a huge understatement to say that I've been busy. In fact, I've been so busy that I haven't really been logging into Second Life. Its not that I don't miss it, because in many ways I do. But to truly engage in Second Life you need time. Time is a precious commodity these days...I've stopped watching television altogether (so long, TiVo) and I can't remember the last movie I've watched from Netflix. Every spare moment is spent planning, talking with other Rockstars about strategy, making decisions that will directly impact our immediate and long-term future.

And now I've commenced writing. The book is back, articles are on deck, and I'm attempting to plot our PR plan.

I miss my Second Life friends. I hope that we can pick up where we left off, when the great time suck of start up mode calms down. In a way, though, I wonder if it ever will. My time priorities have shifted, and I wouldn't be surprised if they never go back.

Switching teams

I bought myself a MacBook Pro. I had debated back and forth back in February what to get, and had decided at the time on a PC. I've wasted so much precious time...

Faster, easier, let's just admit it: better. Once you go Mac, you'll never go back...

Friday, July 18, 2008

The happy dance

Last night, we finalized a plan to get our first product demo completed by the end of July. I used to be a big proponent of the "happy dance" to celebrate things like that and if there was ever a time that I should have started dancing for this project, it was last night. We're doing this for 1/3 the cost and 1/5 the time we thought it was going to take us. If that's not cause for dancing, I don't know what is.

And yet, I just couldn't bring myself to feel the true excitement that I should have felt. What did I feel instead? Fear. Fear that it won't actually get done, or that the end result won't be what I imagined. Fear that we've got SO much stuff to do to get ready for launching this demo tour, we've got to get moving to be ready. Fear that the demo will be kickass and we'll sell a bazillion of them--why fear of that? Oh, maybe its the underlying fear that all of my dreams and ambitions about this crazy adventure will come true, and then what will I have to work towards next?

So, I woke up this morning and faced the fear by doing what I always do: making a list. There's a lot to do to get ready to take over the world, and fear is such a bothersome emotion. I need to add to the list "practice happy dance moves" and check that one off ASAP.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Recruiting Trail 2008

This week began some serious conversations on expanding the Tandem Learning team. We're focused now on building the custom side of the business as much as we can, and we're thinking ahead to the product development teams as well.

I've noticed a pattern in people I've been talking to. Some people are currently miserable with where they are, and Tandem seems like an opportunity that has some huge potential benefits for them.

But there are a few that are interested but not looking. Some of these people are really the ones I want. How do you convince someone to take a risk when they are comfortable and relatively happy in their current job? I think the triggers differ for each person, and a lot depends on what their underlying motivations are in general. Money, recognition, relationships are all powerful motivators. For a start up, having the opportunity to start something yourself that you can truly point to as your own accomplishment is another big motivator for some people.

Let's be honest. Some people just don't have the stomach for this kind of risk. If you think about it too much, I don't know anyone who would probably do what I'm doing. And yet, I have no doubt that this will work, that we will be successful. Personally, I can't imagine why someone WOULDN'T want to do this.

And so with that in mind, I'm continuing to check in with people who I'd like to work with, who I think will help guarantee all of our success. I hope as I'm having these conversations that I'm able to figure out what each potential rockstar needs to stop thinking about the risk and focus on the reward.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Surf in SL

Shameless plug for a cool new functionality in Second Life--I know I usually keep things anonymous, but met a sweet and sassy new friend in April at Virtual Worlds NYC and got to meet up with her again last week in London. Soulla told me that the company she works with, Daden, would be making a big announcement shortly, and here it is.

I've already thought of at least two applications for one of our new products and am looking forward to checking it out.

And since I'm plugging them anyway, do check out the Google Maps in SL that Daden also did. Not only is it cool to walk through a city like Godzilla, but you can click on buildings to link to those companies' websites. Ain't technology grand?

Lively analysis

I've built a room in Lively, Google's first offering in virtual worlds. Let's be honest, and I think many have said it already, its really just a 3D chatroom. Avatar and room customizations are limited compared to Second Life. Finding a room you are interested in visiting is a bit challenging (shocking that Google can't figure out logic for organization...hello? metadata?). I couldn't figure out how to sit down for awhile. On a positive, but not unique, note, the chat feature functions like There.com, which is probably the thing I like best about Lively.

I feel like Google has let me down, really. I'm a fan of user-generated content as a whole, and I don't think many companies have done it much better. Except maybe Linden Labs. So why wouldn't Google have tried to do Second Life, but better and more user friendly? Or partnered with Second Life? Or bought them?

No one has figured out the magic formula of complexity/simplicity that is going to make virtual worlds and 3D environments mainstream. I had high hopes for Google. Now I'm waiting to see what, if anything, anyone else can do. I'm officially throwing down the gauntlet. Don't make me have to figure this out myself...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Think globally, act locally

In my continuing effort to catch up with last week's happenings, here's another post regarding the Visual Web conference in London, July 9 & 10.

As the "token Americans" at the conference, my fellow Tandemite and I had a unique opportunity to see how the British and European communities are approaching virtual worlds and serious games. It also made me think about how the products we are developing are not really "American"--their uses are really global. Many people asked if we were opening a London office (answer: not YET) and if we were interested in selling in the UK and EU (answer: yes). Although its not particularly an issue for our initial demos, I think we have to have in our minds that virtual worlds open up opportunities to reach people across the world and that our customers shouldn't be limited by oceans.

As exciting and encouraging as the conversations were at the conference of the opportunities overseas, I have to keep reminding myself that we need to take baby steps as we get out of the gate. Step 1: finish our demos. Step 2: sell our products to our first customer.

So, does it matter if our first customer is overseas? Not at all. I'm looking forward to seeing how our vision of training in this space can be adapted for and adopted by our overseas friends.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Defining virtual worlds, simulations, serious games...

So I'm back from London and the Visual Web convention. I feel like there are a ton of things to write and reflect about, and I'll try to catch up over the next few days. Things are moving so quickly now, I think its becoming more difficult to keep up.

One of my key takeaways from the conference was quite simply that no one has settled on how to define virtual worlds, serious games, simulations, and gaming as separate entities. Well, that's not completely true--it was pretty well accepted that we weren't talking too much about gaming for entertainment, but actually, that was a big part of the first day. It's really mushy--what's the definition of a virtual world? how is a simulation different? what's the difference between a serious game and e-learning, or for that matter, a serious game and a simulation?

Far be it from me to think I can clear up the muddle, but I'm going to try to do it anyway. For me, for the rest of the Tandemites, and for the industry in general, I feel like we need to get our definitions and stories straight. So here goes...



Any learning experience delivered via technology can be considered e-learning. I would propose that e-learning is the umbrella under which any of the learning experiences listed above could fall. Traditionally, however, e-learning is thought of as online tutorials delivered to individuals and structured similarly to print tutorials with the added benefit of optionally including multimedia.

Usefulness for Learning:

E-learning is useful in its portableness, scheduling flexibility, and opportunities to include rich multimedia experiences. User data can be tracked and assessments can be scored and recorded automatically.

Virtual World


An online virtual "space" where participants can engage in a variety of activities in an unguided and unmonitored manner. A participant's presence is signified by the presence of their avatar, which is the virtual representation of themselves in the environment. Interactions can be first, second, or third person perspective.

Usefulness for Learning:

Virtual Worlds are perhap best at providing an opportunity for real-time communication. Learning activities such as group events, one-on-one coaching, and guided real-time debriefs or small group chats are probably best-suited for the virtual world environment.



Simulation can be defined as an immersive learning experience, providing real feedback, both immediate and over time, to decisions that the user makes. The perspective of the user is typically first person, although there may be opportunities to be a "fly on the wall" as a mechanism of providing feedback.

Usefulness for Learning:

Simulation was designed to provide a risk-free environment for complex decision-making. Model-based simulation, like a flight simulator or a financial simulation, can demonstrate how minute decisions can have immediate and long-term consequences. For scenario-based or soft skill simulations, interpersonal interactions are "scored" to provide feedback in the style of employee or client satisfaction. For any type of simulation, answers are not typically "right" or "wrong" but instead must be considered in context of the decision-making environment. Behavior change has been shown to increase in learners participating in simulations because they better understand the complexity and consequences of decisions.

Serious Games

A Serious Game is a game developed to address a serious topic and with the goal of teaching the player something. Like simulations, there is scoring and some measure of success. Unlike simulations, serious games need not provide realistic immediate or long-term consequences for decision-making. Serious games may best address their learning objectives by exagerrating outcomes to make a point, or by taking a serious topic such as combat missions, and improve strategic decision-making by removing players from some of the realism.

Usefulness for Learning:

In contrast to simulations that try to add realistic complexity to situational decision-making, serious games focus learners on a single or just a few skills to be improved. This can be particularly useful for improving specific skill sets in a way that motivates the learner to participate in the learning activity. Also, serious games do typically simulate the real world environment. In this way, serious games allow for the type of application of skills that is also seen in simulation training.



This may go without saying, but for the sake of comparison, games are an entertainment experience for players, without an explicit goal of learning.

Usefulness for Learning:
Since there is no stated learning objective for games, the usefulness of them for learning is more in the subversive goals that can be accomplished. Players can often "learn" more about important topics, or learn skills, while they think they are just "playing." As such, games can be a powerful learning tool if used correctly for those purposes.

Obviously, these definitions are simplified and could certainly be expanded on to be more comprehensive. But there needs to be a place to start. Without a shared understanding of the definitions of these different learning experiences, it is almost impossible to have a meaning dialogue about their pros and cons, and their most valuable uses. I for one am ready to start having these conversations. Let's hear your ideas around the definitions and then let's get started.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

One small step for avatars...

One moderate step for interoperability? Just saw this news article, and encouraged that although assets are not yet involved in the conversation, it seems that avatar interoperability is inching closer in virtual worlds.

I think I need a t-shirt that says "It's all about the avatar." Unfortunately, that slogan is not going to score highly on Threadless...

On the road again

I'm travelling to London tonight for a conference. I'm excited to revisit the virtual world community with a much better insight into the inner workings and armed with specific questions.

This year is as much about making connections with other virtual world pioneers as it is about definining our product strategy and wooing our first clients in this space (ok, maybe the clients are most important...). Still, I think the Tandem Learning road show to the different virtual world and gaming conferences we are attending will help us build a greater foundation and understanding of the virtual world community.

Stay tuned for the gory details.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Need versus want

There was a big shift in strategy this week for our first demo, and I'm still of mixed feelings: disappointment, excitement, and resignation.

Since we started planning the first demo, we've been commited to incorporating animated avatars. This week, it became clear that it would takes us several weeks, if not months, longer to complete the demo and cost us tens of thousands more to do it, if we incorporated animations as opposed to video. In the interest of speed and cost, we switched our strategy to use video instead of avatars.

Ultimately, the goal of the demo is to show the strategy of the product, the storyline flow, and the user experience. All of these things can be shown using video. The problems with video in the actual product, though, are having to use the same talent over time, and the ongoing cost of video production.

Avatar animation has a big initial upfront investment, but over time is probably more cost effective. Plus, much easier to edit, and you don't have to keep hiring the same talent over time.

I'm thrilled that the demo will be done soon. I'm disappointed that we couldn't do the whole thing with avatars. I'm looking forward to signing our first contract for this product so the demo will just be another way of showing our capabilities, not the primary way we are exhibiting our virtual world expertise.

Saturday, July 5, 2008


It's hard to figure out, since starting Tandem this year, what milestones to be celebrating. An obvious one was the first check we received from a client. Another upcoming milestone will be the completion of our first demo, and then shortly after, our second. But I know there are all sorts of other milestones that I am completely ignoring. Hiring my first official employee, making it 90 days, getting business cards are all little but meaningful steps in this crazy process.

This is my 100th blog entry. Not a big deal, other than it does signal that I've kept up my commitment to detailing the progress of Tandem Learning. Cheers to hitting another milestone.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Being true to who you are

I really did want to go camping. The car was overflowing with camping gear, and I had visions of smores around the campfire in my head. We got to our cabin, and it was actually better than I had anticipated. There wasn't a refridgerator, but that was our fault--we misread the cabin details.

By morning, after getting no sleep on an uncomfortable rubber mattress and having to trek to the bathroom numerous times and having to chase the baby through the woods (evidently, she LOVES camping), I found I just needed to admit I did not find this fun. Or relaxing. In fact, if anything, I was more stressed out than before.

I could have made it three nights. I could have worked on getting the kids to anticipate bathroom needs. I could have gotten used to no air conditioning, or the kids picking up and bringing me every imaginable bug known to man.

But why? Besides my ego and hating to admit defeat, there was no good reason to stay. So, 18 hours after rolling into camp, we rolled out. We spent the afternoon instead at a kids amusement park, checking out the water park area which we had never ventured into before. We bought a fire pit for our deck, and we've got the smores on the ready. It's not roughing it, but it's a lot more me.