Jun 21, 2017

IC: Learning to Love a Meddlesome AI

After a long sojourn in Anoikis, I had returned to Zoohen for some R&R. I was enjoying dinner alone at Armateur, my favorite upscale restaurant in Zoohen Theology Council station, when Allison piped up. Hearing our Signal Cartel AI co-pilot's voice startled me--I'd forgotten I had enabled her on my wrist terminal.

"Captain!" she said in her usual pert tone,"I've detected a +10 pilot from your personal contacts list in this establishment. Consult my screen for the pilot's name. I've taken the liberty of sending him a message of greeting from you."

I tapped the terminal and a small holo-screen appeared above it.

"Fuuuuuuuu.....", I began to mutter, seeing the name and wondering what he was doing here of all places.

"CAPTAIN, the Credo!" Allison cut in, all mock outrage.

I rolled my eyes and asked the cheeky AI, "How would you know who's in this restaurant, Allison?"

After a few seconds of silence, she replied "Even AIs have friends." Was it may imagination or did she sound defensive?

"Just don't do anything illegal, and stop taking liberties if you don't mind." I said grumpily, scanning the crowd for that familiar face from so long ago. Oh. There he was. Sitting in the far corner, looking as beautiful as ever. He examined his datapad, glanced briefly around the room, then touched the screen lightly with one elegant finger, his hands just as slim and perfectly manicured as I remembered them. Piano player hands. Artist hands. Extremely talented hands.

I sighed and continued eating, resigned to the fact that there would surely be an uncomfortable encounter any minute now. I really need to review and prune that Contacts list, I thought.

"WELL, I NEVER!" Allison suddenly spluttered in a shocked tone. "He has rejected my-- I mean your -- well, OUR -- message! REJECTED it. How rude!"

I burst out laughing. "That's his second best skill," I told her. "Please, let it drop."

Silence ensued for some minutes, thank Bob. However, when I had nearly finished my very fine meal, Allison spoke again, quietly.

"Captain, I apologize if I was presumptuous. But if I may say, while my searches of public records don't reveal much, he does appear to be a good match for you. Perhaps you should bookmark his spot and warp to it."

What the hell!

I shut Allison down, then pulled up the holo-screen again. "Message," I said and began typing.


To: A Dead Parrot
From: Mynxee
Date: YC119.06.21

Message Body:

We have to talk. You won't believe what she said to me just now!

End Message

...Transmission completed...

Then without being seen, I slipped out of the restaurant and headed for the solitude of my quarters, wondering the whole way what exactly A Dead Parrot's creation was evolving into.

Jun 12, 2017

EVE CEOing: Corp Programs Continuity

I hear there's a brouhaha happening over on r/eve and the EVE Online forums. I spent five minutes the other day skimming one of the bigger threads and closed it; haven't looked at reddit since. I am in a place with EVE where I am content to not worry overmuch about what CCP does or doesn't do. I log in, I play the game in front of me, and adapt as necessary when they change stuff. Should the time come where I'm not willing to adapt any further (and that would have to be a very far stretch), I'll just quit. This is not to say I don't think players shouldn't express their opinions; I do. I have done so myself quite often and quite intensely (particularly when I was on CSM 5). It's just that to engage in an informed way requires more mental energy and time than I have or want to give to EVE these days.

So, I focus on my corp and its needs almost exclusively during my allotted EVE time. Signal Cartel takes up every minute of that most days, and often a bit more. :P I was speaking with my friend Matterall today (Talking in Stations podcast host, Imperium News Network Creative Director) about the level of effort we put into our respective EVE projects...for no clear return. Except, we both agreed, there IS a most valuable return: the satisfaction of building something meaningful, something that has value to others as well as yourself. For me, that something is Signal Cartel.

To help ensure its success, I bring as many of my real-life business, management, and creative skills to CEOing as I can. Maybe I sometimes go a little too far for an internet spaceships game but I care deeply about doing my level best to serve my corp wisely and with foresight. I am always thinking, "What can I do today that would minimize the disruption in Signal Cartel if I fell over dead tomorrow?"

What's been on my mind lately in that regard is continuity for corp programs. In our 2.5 years of existence, Signal Cartel members have developed programs which have value both to the corp and often to the community. Some have come and gone, some have flourished, others have languished (often due to a key player's departure).
We differentiate between corp programs (which are designed to benefit the corp in some way, are financially supported by the alliance, and subject to leadership oversight) and initiatives (projects run by individuals within the corp on their own and usually funded by them, not the corp). Initiatives sometimes evolve into corp programs if they are well-organized and well-run, and there is sufficient benefit to our members.
The Signal Cartel Anoikis Division (AD) is a subscription program within Signal Cartel for those who want to live in wormhole space. More than a year ago, the AD was floundering and we were going to shut it down. Merk stepped up with a fantastic proposal to turn the whole thing around. He was very successful, expanding the AD and offering even more wormhole opportunities for subscribers. He managed literally every facet of the division and did it *very* well.

For the most part, the AD was off leadership's radar except for Merk's semi-regular status updates. But all the experience he got from running the AD predictably gave him the itch to start his own wormhole project. So, he gave a generous notice, handed off the necessary info to me, and set sail into Anoikis to establish his corp, Lux Permanet. While always bittersweet to see such a trusted and key member leave, we are excited to see how Merk carves out his own space in the sandbox and wish him well.

Meanwhile, I was pondering how best to replace him. The solution had to be one that didn't involve myself or Johnny Splunk running the AD and one that wouldn't fail-cascade if a key person decided to take a break from EVE. Johnny and I are of one mind on corp programs: if our members don't want to invest the time and energy to keep programs they enjoy alive, then we will cheerfully let those programs die. But I knew we had a number of long-time AD members who were invested in the division. There were also a few enthusiastic newer members. Believing that many hands make work light, I coasted the idea of a council to some of them and got a positive response.

So I implemented the AD Council and gave them free rein to self-organize and manage the division as they see fit (within the context of our neutrality and Credo, of course, and their subscription- and donations-supported Anoikis Division fund). It is already working better than I expected. The inaugural council of Alexej Burovshcenko, Ismael Caleb Echart, John Young, Kobo Motsu, Mushroom Greene, Piwakawaka Wakasu and Vladimir Gengodov jumped right into the wake of Merk's departure and kept the AD boat firmly on course. They have written a council charter, updated various documents, and taken on management of membership and other record-keeping tasks. They even already expanded some of the services available to AD members. This bodes well for the AD's future and thankfully has gotten me out of the loop far sooner than expected, so kudos to them!

The model of a shared job or council approach has great appeal. It is robust, proofed against the departure of key people, lightens everyone's workload, and ensures that multiple perspectives factor into decision-making. (Sort of like EVE Online's own CSM, go figure.) In addition to the AD Council, we've implemented a similar "co-leaders" organization for smaller divisions in Signal as well as two key staff positions (Recruiter and Office Quartermaster). Of course, it only works if the appointed people are communicative, responsive, and able to collaborate. My experience is that most who want to do the actual work involved in assisting corporation or alliance operations in EVE tend to be inclined that way anyhow. The team/council approach has alleviated my concerns about whether these programs can maintain momentum. Good teams seem to generate an internal energy that they then pour into their programs. When one member of the team flags, the others take up the slack. That is a much less risky approach than relying on the energy and availability of a single lynchpin player.

The other piece of the continuity puzzle is project resource ownership, access control, and documentation.  As one example, some of our projects' in-game mailing lists and reference documents were owned by players who are no longer with Signal Cartel, which can create intel or management issues. How I wish CCP would let a mailing list owner assign a new owner (if this is possible, it's not apparent to me). Anyway, I've been drafting some policies about these matters as they come to light. The issues are all solvable, it's just hard to think of them all in the crush of a transition.

Always a work in progress, this CEOing thing! Signal Cartel has evolved into something I never envisioned and could never have really prepared for, despite how much work we founders did pre-launch. (Interestingly, the Credo has changed very little and continues to serve us well.) As usual when thinking about CEOing challenges, I find myself wondering how other corps our size handle these types of things, especially if - like us - they are fairly risk-averse and extremely restrained about giving out roles or wallet/asset access.

May 30, 2017

My CEO Life. How About Yours?

I logged into my "space job" this morning to do two quick admin tasks: reimburse someone for a corp expense and award a medal. But as always, one thing led to another and this is what I actually ended up doing in the course of an hour:

  • Checked in in Alliance chat and bantered a bit with my Signaleers; always my first step. 
  • Briefly reviewed Corp wallet transactions and Corp Assets (for new 'inherited' assets from biomassed members, which I funnel back into the corp office inventory and wallet).
  • Reviewed War Reports associated with active war decs. Not that we care if our members lose ships, but I like to keep an eye out for loss trends which might suggest a need for more mentoring of our members.
  • Updated the corp description to fix an error spotted by a sharp-eyed member.
  • Updated their membership level for a couple of eligible requesting pilots.
  • Reimbursed an Anoikis Division member for a fuel purchase to feed the citadels.
  • Responded to a nice note from a departing Signaleer.
  • Reviewed applications submitted via our Web site, picked a new one at random to process; declined it for being improperly filled out, sent a note to the applicant to re-submit with brief instructions on how to do it right.
  • Reviewed notifications related to pilots who left corp and updated their application records accordingly.
  • Checked the Medal Nominations spreadsheet and awarded the SuperCacher medal to a member who has sowed/tended over 100 rescue caches. Created a new medal, MegaCacher, for members who've sowed/tended over 300 rescue caches and awarded it to two pilots.
  • Concluded a kill inquiry by annotating the killmail as self-defense. Reviewed the killboard to see if any Signaleers owe me a kill report (required in Signal Cartel when a member kills another pilot).
  • Spoke with potential applicants in our public channel EvE-Scout and answered questions. That little video we released this week has caused an uptick in interest from prospective members.
  • Updated a couple of spreadsheets.
  • Responded in writing to a proposal for a mentoring program from a delightfully ambitious and very experienced Signaleer who has great plans to help our new members find their stride more quickly.
I haven't even looked at our forums or Discord yet today. Think I'll save that for tonight. Maybe I'll be able to undock tomorrow. Or the next day. Or maybe next week. 

I don't know how other CEOs of capsuleer corporations in New Eden spend their time, and I'm kind of curious. If you're a CEO, what's your typical day-to-day activity like?

May 22, 2017

Spotlight: EvE-Scout Rescue Team

In early YC118, (former) Signal Cartel member Forcha Alendare had an idea: What if we sowed caches of probes and launchers in wormholes to help out any pilot who got stranded and was able to use them to probe their way out? Although we recognized that there are limited circumstances in which one might lose probes, it DOES happen. And many folks carry mobile depots so refitting is often possible. We thought it was a grand idea even if it could only serve a few. To those few, it would matter!

Thus the EvE-Scout Rescue Cache (ESRC) program was born.

But RL and other interests pulled Forcha away and the program languished. Until the dynamo that is Thrice Hapus proposed to Johnny Splunk and myself that he take over and manage it. He appeared to have good ideas, a great love for the ideals of the ESRC, and a very clear understanding of our Credo (which must factor into everything our members do).

You never really know what to expect when someone volunteers like this. Will they stay the course or fizzle out after a couple of weeks? Will they make changes for the better or just make a mess? Will they build successfully on the core idea or do a 180 to the original vision? It's always a risk but Johnny and I like to give our entrepreneurial thinkers the chance to shine. So we handed him the keys to the program and stepped out of the way.

That was around November of last year. Since then, the program has grown into a division within Signal Cartel called EvE-Scout Rescue which includes both the Rescue Cache program and the Search and Rescue (SAR) program. Thrice has recruited a great team of Signaleers to assist him, including:
Thrice and his talented team have made great strides in an amazingly short time:
  • Created theEvE-Scout Rescue web site
  • Developed easy to use search and data entry tools for those who sow, tend, and assist others to use our Rescue Caches
  • Developed a robust guide and "cheat sheet" for sowing and tending rescue caches and serving stranded pilots who need them
  • Organized a payout strategy so that those who serve the rescue cache or SAR programs are compensated
  • Brought to life an AI "co-pilot" named Allison who provides verbal and written Rescue Cache info and other helpful system info to our pilots as they move about space, as well as witty banter (not gonna lie, I think Allison is the best thing since sliced bread; she is an amusing and helpful companion)
  • Conducted regular Rescue Cache training fleets
  • Organized two very successful Great Cache Drive competitions
  • An awesome 2+ minute dramatized rescue reenactment trailer for the ESR program that (according to CCP Mimic) will air for the first time in the 15 minutes prior to this Sunday's o7 Show (and available on YouTube afterwards). 
But perhaps the most amazing accomplishment is that we now have Rescue Caches in over 40% of wormholes. That's 1066 active caches at the time of this writing, with new ones being sown and existing ones being tended every day. The ESR program provides a fantastic way for even our newest pilots to be part of something bigger than themselves--and earn ISK for doing it. As the icing on the cake, we have 17 confirmed rescues so far, as well as many contacts from stranded pilots that don't end in a rescue by us (typically because they either choose to self-destruct before we can find them or locals show them the way out to k-space).

I think it's safe to say that Thrice took those keys we handed him and has exceeded and continues to exceed our expectations. Given the energy and creativity of the ESR team, I can only imagine what is to come. So a big shoutout to Thrice and everyone on the ESR team for their dedication and hard work in service to our mission and ideals...as we like to say, you #cantstopthesignal!

Mar 26, 2017

CEO Rant: Impounded Items

I'm kind of a bad CEO. I haven't looked at Corporation Assets in forever but for whatever reason I checked them last night. And noticed that we had impounded assets in what looked like a couple hundred or so stations. What!? Seems I had forgotten that assets of biomassed characters convey to their (player) corp, and quite a few former members had terminated their characters.

Now, most of the stuff was not worth the effort to travel to get it or pay a courier, and some was inaccessible anyway. So I trashed a lot of it. But there were some goodies in there...7 Geckos in one station, some spendy implants and ships in a couple of others, lots of T2 gear in others. So, I thought...okay, I'll go on a wander and get it all out of Impounds, contract it to a hauler alt, and get it rounded up to put to use for the corp.

Only...I didn't know how to get the impounded stuff released and it was COMPLETELY non-obvious from within the Corporation window or Impounds tab. No buttons...no useful tooltips...no helpful context menu choices. Hmmm.

So I Googled "EVE Online corp assets impounded" and the first hit was a handy support article from CCP, which starts off with:
A corporation may find some of its assets to be "Impounded" inside stations, which CEOs and Directors may release through paying a fee that equals 50% of the current rental price for offices in the respective station.
The article then goes on to explain events that cause items to be impounded plus some industry-related issues, and ends with:
Should a corporation have re-rented an office in a station where it has impounded items, those can be delivered into the corporation hangar without additional fees.
Okaaay. I review the list of items left in the nearest station six jumps away and think, well, I'll just go there and figure this out. So I fly over, dock up and look again at my Corporation window Impounds tab. Nothing new there. Hmmm. I read the support article again. I'm sure not gonna rent an office here to get the stuff, but hey, might as well check what the rents are here. So I click on Offices in the Station Services panel and ... oh...



Now, I've been playing EVE for 10 years and should be used to this kind of thing. But apparently, all the QoL improvements made to the game in the last couple of years have ruined my "old days" EVE UI instincts. These days, I'm just annoyed when things that should take a minute take an hour due to lack of information or non-intuitive design. A simple change to the support article I linked earlier would have saved me that hour:
A corporation may find some of its assets to be "Impounded" inside stations. Using the Release Items button in the Station Services window's Offices tab, CEOs and Directors may release impounded assets by paying a fee equal to 50% of the current rental price for offices in the respective station. 
Sigh, heavy sigh. Now off I go to the next of 35 stations where there are assets impounded of sufficient value to hopefully be worth the trip. Gee, if only there were a MultiRelease button in the Corporation Impounds tab that listed all stations with impounded assets, their estimated value, cost to release, single station Release Items buttons, and one great big Release All button. Hey...a girl can dream, can't she?

Mar 16, 2017

Catching Up and Rebooting

This has been one seriously neglected blog. It's not like there haven't been things to talk about related to my EVE Online activities. It's simply that in the crush of the day to day, I either didn't have time, energy, or motivation. And to be fair, this blog has never enjoyed much in the way of engagement from its few readers so posting often felt like shouting into an echo chamber.

But lately, I find myself wanting to muse more about Signal Cartel, the things our amazing members do, the challenges of leadership in a corp like ours, and my own EVE-related fan art, among other things. Although podcasts and Twitch streaming seem to have trumped blogs in recent times, I still prefer a blog for my own blatherings.

Catching Up

Since my last post, EVE Vegas 2016 came and went and was awesome! Johnny Splunk and I gave our talk "Cultivating a Counter-Culture in New Eden" which was very well received.

In mid-November, the Ascension expansion brought Alpha Clones to New Eden. In anticipation, we ramped up on T1 fitted exploration frigates and new player welcome packages. As expected, we had a huge influx of new members. Our Alliance chat and forums were crazy busy helping new players get a good start in EVE. I wrote "Alpha Positive" for Imperium News to share our own and other new player friendly corps' experiences as a result of Ascension.

On January 20, 2017, Signal Cartel turned two years old. It has been quite an experience watching our little idea bloom and see our culture evolve and mature. I am constantly amazed and delighted by the interesting, smart, engaging, dedicated folks we are fortunate enough to attract to our ranks. To-date, we've received over 3,600 applications from those wishing to join us, with an average of 600-700 members at any given time (I rigorously remove 60+ day inactives in support of our desire that membership count should at least roughly reflect how many members actively log in and play). Our lean management and relatively unstructured organizational style have worked very well so far, both from a security and a "demands on leadership" perspective. Most surprising has been how well our Credo has held up after all this time, with relatively little change.


I'm calling this a reboot but it's still my same old EVE blog. I'm just focusing my content going forward:

  • Signaleer Spotlight. Our folks have come up with some great programs to serve the community, such as the EvE-Scout Rescue Cache program, Signal Converter program, Johnny Splunk's amazing Twitch stream The Life Galactic, and more. Besides that, the stories of their encounters with other players are often delightful, with amusing or unexpected outcomes. I aim to give these things more public attention here.
  • Wanderings Illustrated. I started something like this before using the hashtag #podjournal; you can find those posts in the archive. Then the puppy LITERALLY chewed up my work and I stopped. But as an artist who is addicted to sketchbooking in real life, I am itching to create another illustrated journal of my wanderings, written in-character.
  • EVE Portraits. I'm going to start accepting character portrait commissions again on a limited basis but haven't decided on how to structure that nor how much to charge. Stay tuned for those details. Meanwhile, I'm going to do a narrated speed painting of the portrait for Illectroculus Defined. His commissioned portrait has lingered in my queue since last year. I got a good start on it, then things went wobbly and I trashed it, intending to start over. Then life got super busy with a book illustration project that went on forever and Signal consumed all the time I was able to allot to EVE. But things are calmer now, so I am ready to revisit this portrait and produce the video of its creation as a bit of a thank you to Illectro for his legendary patience. 
  • Leadership Musings. My co-leader Johnny Splunk and I spend a considerable amount of time discussing various questions and challenges related to Signal Cartel organization, policies, security, programs, culture cultivation, serving our players well, managing reputation in New Eden, and more. In the interest of inspiring or helping those contemplating or involved in their own leadership adventures in New Eden, I will share some of our insights  and lessons learned here.
  • In-Character Fiction. I love writing this stuff, spinning out the history and stories of Mynxee's life in character, in game.
  • Just EVE Things. This is a grab bag category for thoughts and opinions about game changes, community related stuff, or whatever I want to talk about that doesn't quite fit anywhere else.
  • Real Life. Because sometimes it's fun to get to know the person behind the avatar a little better.
My new goal is to post at least twice a month. And as part of the reboot, I've tweaked font size and color in posts for better readability and updated the sidebar with links related to Signal Cartel stuff.

So that's that for now, I hope you'll share your thoughts on upcoming posts and add a link to this blog on your own EVE media site.

Edited on 3/26/2017 to add In-Character Fiction to the content list above. How could I have forgotten it before?!

Aug 30, 2016

Our EVE Vegas Talk: What Say You?

A few months back, Johnny Splunk and I submitted a proposal for a player talk at EVE Vegas 2016 on "Cultivating a Counter-Culture in New Eden." To our delight (read: terror), we have been granted a speaker's slot. Our plan is to (hopefully humorously) share how Signal Cartel grew from a crazy idea to what it is today, our impact in New Eden, and the factors that have contributed to our success so far. We hope that our talk will inspire others to think outside the box and decide to run with their own crazy ideas in the sandbox.

Prior to submitting our proposal, we started collecting our thoughts and ideas for talk topics and key points in a Google doc. Over the last few weeks, that doc has fleshed out considerably...now we begin the process of fine-tuning that rambling mess into a something that will be engaging, interesting, and perhaps even useful to those who attend our talk.

That is proving to be an interesting challenge--a lot has happened in the 20 months since Signal Cartel launched! However, two things stand out as I look back:

  • Our foundation is rock-solid. All the decisions we made prior to launch about the corp mission, desired culture, credo, and policies continue to serve us well. Of course, we have tweaked things here and there as incidents or discussions have organically revealed a need to do so. But our vision remains steadfast and continues to guide our hand as corp founders and custodians of the credo. We hope to include in our talk some specifics about what our day-to-day in that role involves and why things have worked so smoothly since the start. 
  • Human behavior is the most fascinating game of all. The way our own members and others navigate and respond to the challenges and benefits of our credo, culture, and reputation is always interesting. The loyalty and commitment of Signaleers in service to our ideals is a constant delight. The reach of our reputation and the completely unexpected interactions we get from outsiders continues to surprise us. The creative ways that Signaleers find to engage in nearly all activities in New Eden and remain within the bounds of the Credo is a treat. We have many fun anecdotes about these things to share in our talk. I hope our audience will be as entertained, delighted, and surprised by them as we have been.

We've gotten a lot of feedback from our own members but we'd also love to include perspectives (whether positive or negative) from other capsuleers in our talk. So, what say you, pilots? What's your take on our play style? Your opinion of our credo? Your expectation when you see one of us in Local or on d-scan? Our impact on your activities in New Eden? What surprising or notable interactions have you had with our Signaleers?

We would greatly appreciate any thoughts, opinions, stories, or chat logs related to Signal Cartel or EvE-Scout...and do let us know if it's okay for us to identify you or whether you'd prefer to remain anonymous. Send feedback to myself or Johnny Splunk via evemail, or email them to me via mynxeeofeve@gmail.com.