My Favorite Games From 2015

video game blog 2015 pic2015 was another incredible year for video games. A big trend this year were massive open world games. So, I ended up not even starting several games or finishing them like Bloodborne, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. As always my yearly list requirements are I had to finish each game I selected by December 31st. I also didn’t include remasters like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and compilations like Rare Replay because their older games. Without further ado here are my top 10 games of 2015 along with some honorable mentions.

Honorable Mentions

Her Story

Her Story is an excellent game, and it deserves all the praise it’s gotten for the writing, Viva Seifer’s fantastic performance and the way it keeps you engaged. I only played a few minutes each day, but with each play session, I couldn’t wait to discover what new search term would lead me closer to solving the story. Like Gone Home, Her Story doesn’t feel like a game and is more of an experience. So in that respect, I consider Her Story more akin to watching a great mystery drama rather than a deep video game and that’s why it doesn’t make my top 10.

Onechanbara Z2: Chaos

This game is so ridiculous, and I’m embarrassed by how much I enjoy it. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos is a huge jump in quality from the previous XBOX 360 entry, Onenchanabara: Bikini Samurai Squad, which I liked, but many critics thought was god awful. Yes, it’s repetitive, and the plot is garbage, but the gameplay is fun and being able to switch between four characters keeps combat interesting. Each character plays differently like Saaya, who is slow but powerful and uses a massive blade to annihilate her enemies. While Saki favors speed over power and the other two characters Aya and Kagura use dual blades.

I also liked the strategy of healing your characters by rotating between them and it’s a neat touch that you wipe the blood off your weapons to keep your attack damage high. The Super Saiyan style transformations are also visually impressive and help make some of the tougher bosses more manageable. Finally, a special shoutout to the soundtrack which like Metal Gear Rising Revengence is equally great and terrible. Give this game a shot if you’re a fan of Devil May Cry. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised how much you enjoy it.

Mad Max

Mad Max got lost in all the open world games released this year. Which is a shame because Mad Max is an excellent movie tie-in and does justice to the film franchise. The busy work of collecting scrap and clearing enemy bases can get tedious, but it’s incredibly satisfying once you’re powerful enough to make your mark in the open world. I also loved the desert setting and had fun just driving around aimlessly while blowing up enemy cars with the thunderpoon or ripping convoys apart by using the harpoon. If you just do just the story, you’ll be frustrated, but if you take the time to do the side missions, you’ll find Mad Max much more enjoyable.

Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash

I’m surprised with all the hate out there for this game. I agree it’s disappointing that there is no career mode or more bonus modes like past Mario sports games, but the gameplay is still rock solid. The controls feel great, and this game is gorgeous. This game made my Thanksgiving Break, and I got nearly a dozen hours of enjoyment from it. If you want a fun tennis game to play by yourself, online or with friends I have no trouble recommending Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. If you want more than that, then you’ll be disappointed and be better off just renting it.

Yoshi Wooly World

This game feels so joyful that you can’t help but smile when you play it. While I’ve started to get fatigued from all the Nintendo platforms on Wii U and 3DS, Yoshi Wooly World is still an enjoyable romp while it lasts. Also, even though it feels incredibly easy at first, later levels can get downright challenging. Expect to play almost all the levels twice to get all the sunflowers if you want to play the post game content. While Yoshi Wooly World has a lot to like it didn’t really wow me and I just got what I was expecting from a Yoshi Island sequel. There are a few new ideas like new transformations for Yoshi, but not much else you haven’t seen before, so it doesn’t make my top 10.

My Top 10 Games Of 2015

10. Mortal Kombat X

A bit of a downgrade from MK 9, but still an incredibly solid fighter that takes some creative risks. I like the emphasis on new fighters instead of catering to the original roster. New characters like Cowboy Erron Black, half-insect girl D’Vorah girl and the blind ninja Kenshi, in particular, are some of my favorite fighters. The story isn’t what I expected either and I liked how Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, and Jax interact with their children. The way Netherrealm found a way to bring back everyone who died from the last game was quite clever too.

However, the story mode isn’t as satisfying as MK9 and the tower mode challenges aren’t very interesting this time, so I prefer MK9 over this one. There is still tons to unlock in the crypt, but not much compelling content for the solo player unless you want to play online a lot. Still, I can’t wait to see how MK11 turns out and what other new surprises Netherealm has.

9. Dying Light

A surprise hit for me and many others. I never played Dead Island, but after experiencing Dying Light, I can see the appeal of killing zombies in an open world environment. Although I had more fun doing parkour all over the world and running away from zombies then killing them. As for the story, I found it interesting enough that I saw the game through to the end. What I didn’t care for was much of the side quests that just felt like busywork to me. However, Dying Light grabbed me with its parkour gameplay mechanics and has made me even more excited for Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.

8. The Order: 1866

I feel bad for the developers of the Order: 1866, who many critics slammed for its short length and uninspired game design. I disagree. I enjoyed the fact that it focused on telling a linear story, and it was refreshing that it wasn’t another open world game. It helps too that the game looks fantastic with some of the best graphics, sound and voice acting ever. I did find the Steampunk setting depressing, but it was still fun to navigate. Still, I liked the gameplay and thought the gunplay did a great job emulating Uncharted. Hopefully, Ready at Dawn can use this as a template for a stronger sequel.

7. Splatoon

I liked Splatoon, but I didn’t love it and found more enjoyment in the Super Mario Sunshine style, single player, than the multiplayer. Don’t get me wrong the multiplayer is fun and creative with the focus on spraying ink instead of shooting your enemies. I also love how colorful this game is and was surprised how challenging it is. Really, the final boss is one for the best bosses time capsule and just left me in awe after beating it. Keep creating new IPs Nintendo like Splatoon and more people may just buy an NX.

6. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is one of my favorite Call of Duty games, so I was excited for this one. While the campaign and story aren’t as memorable as Black Ops 2, I still had fun. I like the new abilities like cloaking, disabling machines and power charges. Also, I enjoyed the time traveling aspect of missions which take place in the past, present and future. What I didn’t like was the game is a little too futuristic with terminator robots and bullet sponge enemies that take too long to kill. Which makes playing solo frustrating sometimes. Luckily you can lower the difficulty anytime to make things more manageable. However, I am excited to replay the campaign with zombies and thought that it was a cool bonus for Treyarch to add. Not the best Call of Duty game, but entertaining nonetheless.

5. Persona 4 Dancing All Night

I love rhythm games and Persona 4 so Persona 4: Dancing All Night sounded like a winner to me. While the game isn’t perfect, Altus came up with a clever way to expand the Persona 4 storyline. Basically, the Midnight Channel Gang helps Rise jumpstart her music career again by acting as her dance crew. The gameplay is fun, and it’s surprisingly long for a rhythm game with a story mode running close to ten hours. P4DAN has a few problems, though. One, lots of the songs are remixes and second the story mode to gameplay ratio isn’t well balanced.

Seriously, you might read text conversations for nearly an hour before you get into a dance routine that only lasts three minutes. Luckily the pacing gets a little better in the second half, and free play mode lets you play all the songs at your leisure. However, it makes you wonder if Altus would have nixed the story there might have been double the content and fewer remixes. Still, if you’re a Persona 4 fan you should definitely check out P4DAN

4. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

Like the Order: 1866, I don’t understand the hate for this game. I loved Kirby: Canvas Curse on DS, so I couldn’t wait to play this game. Kirby Canvas Curse is another great Nintendo game and something I really enjoyed playing when I needed a break from all the giant gritty open world games released last year. The soundtrack is fantastic too with some of the best music ever to grace a Kirby game. I can understand the frustration of having to look at the Wii U gamepad all the time, but it didn’t bother me. KATRC is my favorite Wii U game from 2015, and I hope Nintendo doesn’t make us wait another ten years for a sequel.

3. Resident Evil: Revelations 2

After Resident Evil 6 made fans and critics questions the iconic series identity it’s nice to see Capcom return to its survival horror roots. I enjoyed the dual character setup and how Capcom balanced the gameplay between Barry and Claire. Speaking of Claire, it’s good to see her back in action after being MIA in the series since Resident Evil: Code Veronica. The episodic style was a little weird since Capcom released each one so quick and they easily could have charged full price for the amount of content here. I didn’t dwell too much into the raid mode, but I see why people love it. The best thing I can say about Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is it makes me more excited for Resident Evil 7 and that Capcom is learning from their past mistakes.

2. BoxBoy

The biggest underdog of 2015 that slipped past most people’s radar and the best $5 I’ve spent in a long time. Boxboy looks rather simplistic like an old Game Boy title, but it has surprising depth. The main campaign is long with over 20 worlds, and each one offers a new way to use the box gameplay dynamics cleverly. Not to mentions, there are all the crowns to collect, unlockable stages, challenges and more. Boxboy is an innovative effort by Hal Laboratory makers of the Kirby games and a tantalizing tease of what Nintendo has in store for mobile gaming.

1.Batman: Arkham Knight

A divisive choice that garners a love and hate relationship with critics and fans. I didn’t get a chance to dive into Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt or even start Metal Gear V: The Phantom Pain so besides Mad Max, and Dying Light Arkham Knight was the open world game I spent the most time with last year. Even after finishing it I still have lots to do like the most wanted missions, challenge modes, and other extra content to keep me busy for another 20 hours. The Batmobile portions didn’t bother me much, although I agree there’s way too much in the beginning. The menu bar for tracking side quests is the best I’ve seen in an open world game and makes alternating between the story and diversions a breeze. Rocksteady’s created a great send off for Batman Fans, and I hope they put as much care into their next IP as they did the Arkham trilogy.
There you have it my favorite games of 2015. Here’s hoping for an even better 2016.

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Life Lessons Learned From San Francisco

San Francisco photoLast July I returned to Wisconsin after spending three years in the San Francisco Bay Area. I learned a lot during my time there and will never forget it. Not all of it was great, but even some negative aspects of SF taught me valuable life lessons. If you’ve never lived in SF before here’s some wisdom I gained while living there.

I know what poverty is and what it means to live in the most expensive city in the US
I knew SF was expensive, but I didn’t realize how insane the rental market was until I moved there. Luckily, I stayed in Oakland with a friend first, so I got gradually exposed to the Bay Area before moving to the city. However, I quickly realized even Oakland is outrageously expensive. I was desperate to live in SF though, so I took the first semi-affordable apartment I could find. Living in SF means you have to give up a lot to live there.

For instance, forgot about living on your own and living comfortably. I lived with two roommates, had a basement apartment with no stove, washer and dryer. Not only that, but I lived at the top of a giant hill that made commuting into the city a pain. I also kept my costs as low as possible by only eating two meals a day and sticking to peanut butter sandwiches, Hungry Man dinners and frozen pizza for my meals.

For any city, I wouldn’t have put up with this living situation, but the housing market in SF is so dire I endured. Hopeful a better life once I established myself. On the bright side, the public transportation was much better than Oakland, and it was actually cheaper for me to live in SF because of the monthly Muni Pass that’s exclusive to SF residents. I also got to know the city very well, and I was able to volunteer, network and socialize more frequently. All the positives made up for the negatives, but I knew it would be practically impossible to live alone and save money, so I knew I had to leave eventually.

I learned to be frugal and how to find cheap things to do
Having almost my entire income go to rent, student loans and other living expenses didn’t give me much left over to have fun. Fortunately, SF has a lot of free or very cheap things to do. I learn to frequent Sf.funcheap and Eventbrite to find things to do during my off time. I checked out Golden Gate Park, went to the Farmers Market in the Ferry Building, visited the Japanese Tea Gardens and Botanical Gardens, most of the museums, Angel Island, Alcatraz and more.

Living in SF made me look at finances differently
Once I realized being a writer wasn’t going to be easy in SF I realized how poor I was handling my money and needed to make a change. So, I read up on finance books and online blogs like I Will Teach You To Be Rich and Lifehacker. I hadn’t given much thought to 401k, savings account, emergency fund and the importance of starting a retirement account either. Plus my student loans debt wasn’t making it any easier to live in SF, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to thrive here if I stayed. Even though the poverty was bad, it was a blessing in disguise. If I hadn’t gone through my two years of being poor, I wouldn’t have been motivated to take financial responsibility in my life and learn to manage my money better.

I learned more about tech and startup culture
SF defines tech. Not having much of a tech background this area didn’t come naturally to me, but the more I researched and learned about it from work I saw its value and capability to change the world. I liked how tech could make out live easier, by seeing companies innovate with on-demand services like Uber, grocery deliveries and more. It’s incredible when you boot up your computer and realize that pretty much every tech company like Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Oracle, Yelp, Uber and others have roots in SF. The startup culture also fascinated me. I was amazed that just one great idea can change the world and how a small group of people can transform into a large company in a matter of years.

I got meet some of my heroes growing up and developed a purpose
One of the most significant things about moving to SF for me was I learned that my dream job wasn’t really what I wanted to do with my life. So much of the video game industry is housed here like Sony, Electronic Arts and a ton of mobile companies. As well as a plethora of media publications like GamesBeat, IGN, GameSpot, Polygon, GamesRadar and more that I thought I’d easily find a job. However, it wasn’t as easy as I expected, and I quickly realized that video game journalism didn’t match with my reality. It didn’t help that my dream companies Electronic Gaming Monthly and 1UP, both closed when I moved here either.

I thought being a video game journalist and reviewing video games for a living sounded so cool, but instead, I found that I hate rushing through video games on a deadline, and I didn’t like writing news stories that resemble press releases. Most critical was playing games for work meant little time for playing games for fun and I didn’t like that reviewing games meant giving up weekends, evening and sleep to get reviews done in time. I realized that writing about games is more of a hobby than a job for me, and I prefer to keep my passion and work life separate instead. Still, it was fun attending conferences and events and getting to meet some of the journalists I admired over the years.

Also, living in SF was worthwhile because I got to go in the IGN building several times, attend the Game Developer Conference three time and go to all the IGDA video game developer meetups. As well as getting to meet video game journalists I admired like John Davison, Dan Shoe, Shane Bettenhausen, and Dean Takahashi.

I learned to be a minimalist
Having such a small space to live in SF meant not having a lot of room for my personal belongings. To make room I sold a lot of things on eBay or donated them to Goodwill and found I didn’t need to keep everything I buy. It was refreshing to know I could get by with very little and not be too attached to things. Selling most of my video game collection was hard at first, but I actually prefer having a digital collection instead.

I got exposed to new foods and cultures
Thanks to the wealth of diversity of people in SF, I got the opportunity to try many different kinds of foods. I learned to love bubble tea, burritos, food trucks, In-Out burgers, clam chowder, Phil’s Coffee and more. Also, being around so many diverse people I realized as a white Caucasian I was the minority unlike in WI where it felt like the opposite. The other part I loved about being in SF was that each neighborhood has a unique feel. From Chinatown, the Mission, Sunset, Japantown, Embarcadero, Market Street and Fisherman’s Wharf.

I learned I like being independent and don’t want to live with roommates
Being in SF meant I was over 2000 miles away from my family and friends. I’d been alone before in Milwaukee, but my family still regularly visited me, and I knew people from school. In the Bay Area, I only knew one of my step dad’s friends and to meet more people I had to do it on my own.

My roommates were good and didn’t have any problems living with them, but I’m independent and prefer to live on my own. Unfortunately, SF makes that very difficult so even though I could have stayed and found work I just didn’t want to live that kind of lifestyle. Which ended up being one of my motivations for leaving the Bay Area behind.

I understand experience of traveling when young
Working at Costco for Sony and Marketstar I got to know the staff pretty well. One of the pieces of wisdom they passed on to me was to travel when you’re young. Most people wait until they’re retired, but you don’t want to be traveling when you’re old and lack the energy to do things. The advice resonated with me and mads me want to be more proactive with my own traveling plans.

I learned the importance of paying attention to the news
Even though I majored in journalism, I didn’t care much for the news. I found everything I needed online or through friends. However, once I started working in tech PR, I was expected to be a news hound and stay on top of everything. I even created a weekly news roundup while I was blogging for work. Soon, websites like Tech Crunch, Business Insider, Skimfeed, VentureBeat and more became part of my daily routine, and I got to see how integral PR is to companies and journalists for getting public exposure.

I got sales experience
While sales work isn’t what I wanted to do after graduation, I found the experience valuable and meet some good friends while learning about Sony products. I got to be a part of Sony 4K TV line and enjoyed being a Vaio computer brand ambassador. I learned things about myself and areas of improvement I needed. The experience also spoiled me on other retail jobs because my primary responsibility was to educate customers and not sell products. So I didn’t have to use the register or open and close which was a blessing. Best of all I got a great discount and still to this day I can use it for cheap games, and I was able to buy my first 4K TV cheaply.

I found I enjoy living without a car
I like driving, but I hate traffic and just having a car wasn’t worth it in SF. Not only is it expensive and cumbersome to get around, but there is barely any parking, and I just prefer taking Bart and Muni everywhere. You save a lot of money not having a car in SF, and I loved that the area was so walkable. If it weren’t for all the hills, SF would be better than New York for getting around without a car.

I learned to network and what conference work is like
Volunteering for VentureBeat and other conferences helped me learned the dos and don’t of networking. I got to learn a lot about different industries like health care, startup culture, game developers, journalists and it helped me find new jobs too. I got to see many prevalent speakers at talks and learned a lot. Networking at conferences helped motivated me to go out to regular social events weekly and how to act around people too.

I learned new job searching skills
When I realized video game journalism wasn’t what I wanted to do, I took the time to learn new skills. How to write better resumes, cover letters, the importance of social media. All helped me get a job, and better prepare myself for interviews.

Why I left 
I love San Francisco, and it was tough to go, but I realized I was living in Netherland and needed to get back to reality. There are so many wonderful things about SF, but having a nice place to live while having the lifestyle I want isn’t one of them. I came to the realization that I wouldn’t be able to live without roommates, save money, and pay off my student loan debt in a timely matter. I also craved a new scenery and didn’t want to be in the same area for the rest of my life. The truth is if I had a decent apartment I probably would have never left.

Lastly, since I found I don’t want to be a video game journalist anymore, it meant I need to start my career over and do something else besides just writing. So, I’ve returned home to the Midwest to save money and to rethink my career path. I may return to SF, but for right now it’s not in my immediate future.

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4 Ways Yelp Reviews Impact Businesses

Yelp photoYelp is synonymous with online reviews and ignoring it is a costly mistake for businesses. Why? Yelp reviews carry a big weight in people’s minds and is something they depend on when making everyday decisions. Such as, where they want to have dinner tonight, which hotel to stay in and where to rent a car. Yelp is here to stay whether you like it or not. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it work for you rather than against you. Here are four ways Yelp reviews impact businesses and why keeping a positive online reputation is critical.

Negative reviews have deep consequences

Any new business starting out not only faces a challenge attracting and keeping new customers, but online reviews can have a huge impact on their growing momentum. If people are unfamiliar with a business, and they see negative reviews than they’re less likely to give that place a shot. Which results in a loss of profit and if things don’t improve quickly they may be forced to shut down.
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Positive reviews mean better business, stronger profits and better visibility

Studies have shown that businesses with higher Yelp ratings do better than others. Also, even just a half-star rating increase can dramatically improve profits and contribute to stronger customer turnout during peak business hours. Lastly, all those positive reviews lead to better visibility on Google searches and can give businesses an advantage over their competitors. Who do you think people are likely to contact first when they compare similar businesses? The ones with the highest Yelp review of course.

Yelp reviews create stronger word of mouth

In the old days before the Internet, people relied on their friends and family for new restaurant recommendations and more. With Yelp’s online database, people can discover new businesses they would never found on their own or considered trying. A good positive review can convince people to give a new place a shot while negative reviews will have the opposite effect. The fact is many businesses can benefit from people’s natural curiosity to explore and try new things.

Yelp reviews improve businesses and customer communication

A great company website, Facebook, Twitter and the LinkedIn page isn’t enough. Outside of the regular communication channels, people want to see that business take their online Yelp rating seriously. Even if a company has several negative reviews if people see that the company is responding to those reviews and trying to fix their problems then they’re more likely to give them a second chance. Great communication can do wonders for a business by building trust with their customers and using their feedback to improve their product.

Yelp is here to stay and no matter what businesses need to pay attention to it. Online reviews play a big part in people’s purchasing decisions and businesses that monitor their online reputation and communicate clearly with their customers stand to benefit from Yelp the greatest. Negative reviews may be unavoidable, but if businesses can learn from them and address their shortcomings, then it won’t be long before they notice a difference from their customers.

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5 Suspenseful Films to Tide You Over Until Spectre

movie popcorn photo for blogWhat another summer film roundup? Well, after leaving San Francisco and spending time with my family I’ve seen way more movies than I thought I would. Not that I’m complaining, but I felt it was time for another film roundup. Without further ado here are the movies I’ve seen and my thoughts on each one. Let’s begin.

Spy

What’s to like
I love Archer, so a spy movie starring Melissa McCarthy sounded like a winner to me. For the most part, it works. McCarthy is hilarious as always and whether she’s chasing down a killer, getting into heated arguments with Bridesmaid co-star Rose Byrne or telling Jason Statham how stupid he is she nails all her lines. Statham is great here too, and I enjoyed how he exaggerates his accomplishments, and that he loathes working together with McCarthy. Here’s hoping for a sequel that improves on the groundwork laid here.

What’ s not to like
The move can take it a little too far with the crude humor and the amount of F- bombs. If you’ve seen Archer and Bridesmaid before you won’t be surprised, but I can see this movie alienating some people. Still, even though McCarthy’s character can be extreme, she has a good heart and genuinely wants to help her friends.

Mission Impossible Rouge Nation:

What’s to like
First of all, I love that each Mission Impossible film has a different director who puts their own unique spin on the franchise, so no film is the same. Compared to other Mission Impossible films I thought this one had the best pacing, and it’s my favorite of the series. Also, even though this movie has a lot of action sequences, I found the opera house, the opening plane mission, swimming scene, and the motorcycle chase action all equally memorable. Another bright note is the movie is genuinely funny. Jeremy Renner and Alec Baldwin have excellent chemistry and often act as comical relief for example. Character development is very strong too, and it’s nice to see recurring characters like Simon Pegg really come into their own here. Lastly, Rebecca Ferguson is the best female action star I’ve seen in a long time. She’s a well-rounded character who steals all the scenes she’s in and holds her own against Tom Cruise.

What’s not to like
You may have noticed I didn’t mention the villain. Well, he’s not bad, but I just didn’t find him as menacing, as other Mission Impossible villains. He mostly uses his intelligence to make Cruise’s life hell rather than acting as a physical threat. Not that that’s a bad thing, and it ultimately forgiving since there isn’t a big action sequence with him and Cruise because the movie has plenty of action already.

The Gift

What’s to like
The Gift isn’t a spy movie, but I saw it around the same time as all the other spy films, so I figured why not include it here. It does share similar spy movie traits though because it’s a suspense film and does a good job of keeping you on your toes. I hadn’t even heard of this film until I randomly checked online, so I went in without expectations. I’m glad I did because this movie is great and has some fantastic performances by Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Egerton. Without giving too much away, a couple moves to California from Chicago, and the husband encounters an old high school friend while out shopping. This person from his past seems unusually friendly, and things quickly go sour. What’s so riveting about the film is the characters all have secrets, and you don’t know who to believe. I also enjoyed that it’s not overly graphic with violence like I was expecting, and I enjoyed how it builds up to its scares slowly.

What’s not to like
The ending wasn’t complete satisfying to me. I didn’t think it was a bad ending, but I’d be curious to see what other conclusions the director might have chosen. Other then that I don’t have many complaints, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this film. It really came out of nowhere, so if you’re thinking of seeing it go for it.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E

What’s to like
Unlike The Gift, I saw tons of advertisements and previews for this film, so I was excited to see it. Nice job marketing department you’ve done your job. What I found most enjoyable about The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was the 1960’s setting and the way film evoking the Sean Connery James Bond films. Also, like Mission Impossible this film has some excellent action scenes, and I appreciate the film’s dry humor. It’s always nice to see an action movie not take itself too seriously. I thought Henry Cavill did a good job, and I could see him as potential next Bond candidate. Alicia Vkander was also quite good, and her banter with Armee Hammer were some of the best parts of the film.

What’s not to like
The film isn’t very memorable and something I wouldn’t strongly recommend to people. While enjoyable it’s not great and compared to Mission Impossible the character development and action sequences aren’t as impressive. Also, I didn’t see The Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show, so if I had, I might have enjoyed this film more. Still, a tease for a sequel has me hopeful that the next film will turn out much better.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

What’s to like
While I didn’t see this in theaters, this is a spy movie, so it works for this blog post. My first impressions of Kingsman: The Secret Service didn’t excite me because it looked like James Bond Jr. Thankfully the younger cast isn’t a problem and Colin Firth and Michael Caine compliment them nicely while Samuel Jackson is terrific as a villain with a lisp. I also love the London setting and how the film reference Bond films with villain anecdotes, gadgets, themes, and over the top silliness. All in all this a fun film and I’ll never think of Freebird the same way after seeing this that’s for sure.

What’s not to like
Kingman: The Secret Service can take it a bit too far like Spy with the vulgarity, and it’s not a film I recommend to everyone. Also, while I thought the young cast did a great job I just prefer a more experienced older agent in spy films.

There you have it another film roundup. In term of enjoyment here’s how I’d rank them.

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation
The Gift
Kingsman: The Secret Service
Spy
The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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How Pomodoro Changed My Life

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I’ve always struggled with procrastination and minimizing distractions so I when I first heard about the Pomodoro Timer I was very excited. With the Pomodoro Timer, you focus on one thing for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. Then you repeat the cycle until you complete your task or switch to something new on your to-do-list. The 25 minutes timer works great because it doesn’t feel too long or too short to accomplish something. If you have trouble with procrastination like I do here are some reasons why you might want to consider adding the Pomodoro Timer to your daily routine.

It helped me establish a morning and evening routine
Getting up early never came naturally to me. However, if I can squeeze in one or two Pomodoro sessions before I begin working my day is way more productive. Equally important is an evening ritual that I always disliked doing because I don’t like working late at night. Once again though I can easily commit to just one Pomodoro Timer and spend 25 minutes preparing my goals for tomorrow so during the workweek, I don’t waste valuable time in the morning planning my day.

It makes me procrastinate less
Before Pomodoro, I tended to multitask too much and easily get distracted. With Pomodoro, I can separate my leisure time from my work time. I use the full 25 minutes for work and then use the five-minute reward to browse the web or whatever I feel like doing. This way my reward time is limited to small chunks of the day instead of losing hours that I can’t get back.

Improved my focus
When my mind focuses on just one thing, I can block out all my mental thoughts and the conversations around me. The same thing goes for multitasking that was also a bad habit for me. Now instead of doing multiple things at once I separate all my tasks individually, and I can get more done in less time.

Helped me push harder for deadline driven assignments
When I had something urgent, I rely on Pomodoro. Just having the timer in front of me reminds me that I need to hustle and pushes me to get work done faster.

Forces me not to work on the same task for too long
Being limited to just one task made me realize how long certain tasks take. For example applying for a job or completing a writing assignment I initially thought would take all day, but once I started a task, I found I could finish it much faster. Other tasks like calling a customer service rep I thought would take much longer than 25 minutes, but it ended up being much shorter. With a more accurate measure of time, I found that using the Pomodoro Timer helped me judge how much I could realistically get done in one day.

Help me form new habits
New habits are difficult to form. So, what I love about Pomodoro, is I can test out new habits regularly by just devoting 25 minutes each day. If I see the change is beneficial in my life, then I’ll commit to it long term. For instance, updating my blog sometimes feels like another full-time job, but by spending just 25 minutes a day, I can make steady progress over the long haul. Even though it can seem painfully slow at first.

I learned how to cluster small tasks together
It may be detrimental to the idea behind the Pomodoro, but another way to use the 25-minute timer is to group together a bunch of five-minute tasks together. Then focus on completing them in the time frame. I found this helpful to use when I have a lot of minor tasks to do like email several people or do chores around the house.

Realize the importance of breaks
Being forced to take breaks every 25 minutes really helps. Often people work for too long and don’t recharge mentally. I did this too. However, by forcing myself to take breaks, I realized having those five minutes to look forward to while doing my work improved my motivation level. I found it help me focus more on accomplishing goals faster so I could have my reward.

In conclusion, the Pomodoro Timer has changed my life and without it, I wouldn’t be as productive. If you haven’t considered Pomodoro, then I urge you to give it a shot.

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2015 Summer Movie Roundup

movie photo for blogLast year I did a summer film roundup, so I thought it would be fun to do another one this year. Here are a few of the films I saw and my impressions.

Furious 7

Pros:                                                                                                                                                                                 While not technically a summer movie since it came out last April I feel it’s worth including. What I like best about the Fast and Furious movies is that they get better with each iteration, unlike many movie franchises. I thought Furious 7 did an admirable job of moving the franchise forward with the inclusion of Jason Statham and Kurt Russel, who compliment the main cast nicely. The action sequences as always were top notch and seeing it in IMAX really made a difference. Lastly, I felt the filmmakers did a phenomenal job paying homage to Paul Walker, who tragically passed away before the original film finished filming.

Cons:
Not much, but some scenes tend to be too over the top to feel believable. Like the cars falling out of planes and cars driving through buildings. However, the positives far outweigh the negatives, and I’m excited for what crazy new ideas Furious 8 will bring to the franchise.

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Pros:
Avengers: Age of Ultron was better paced than the first Avengers and for my money more enjoyable. While the number of superheroes on screen is starting to get ridiculous, I thought Joss Whedon managed to do a great job juggling all the characters. I also enjoyed the banter between Iron Man, Hulk and Captain America. Some of the new faces like Vision and Ultron rank among my favorite characters from the Marvel Universe and the visual imagery is astounding. I’m glad I went to the theater because this film benefits greatly from being seen on a giant screen.

Cons:
I missed Loki like a lot of people did too. Also, the number of characters on screen makes it difficult to ensure all characters share the spotlight so I’m a little bit concerned that the remaining two Avenger films will be too chaotic.

Mad Max: Fury Road

Pros:
Mad Max: Fury Road is a great visual tour de force with incredible action sequences, some witty humor, and fascinating characters. I also commend the director, George Miller for making the film not feel stale despite being limited to one desert wasteland location. Charlize Thereon has the standout performance and feels like she is more of the main charter than Tom Hardy’s Mad Max. Hardy is still great though even though he has very few lines. Now it’s time for me to catch up on the original trilogy.

Cons:
All the online hype and glowing reviews from film critics declared Mad Max as one of the greatest action movies ever so my expectations were sky high. I think Mad Max is a great film, but I’m just not blown away by it like everyone else, so I felt a tinge of disappointment after seeing it. Maybe I’ll watch it again and change my mind, but I don’t think it’s the best movie of the year.

When Marnie Was There

Pros:
I love Studio Ghibli movies, so I knew I had to see this one immediately. If you’ve seen one of their films I don’t have to tell you the animation, voice acting and music is top notch. When Marnie Was There has a touching story and learning the mysteries surrounding Marnie is exciting until the very end. However, be sure to bring some tissues because like The Wind Rises this movie is a tear jerker.

Cons:
The movie tends to drag in a few spots, and while the movie is good, it’s not Ghibli’s best. I liked the characters too, but they weren’t as memorable as other Ghibli characters. Also, there are not quite as many quirky special moments like what you see in Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Howl’s Moving Castle. Still, this is worth seeing if you enjoyed past Ghibli movies.

Inside Out

Pros:
So much to enjoy about this movie I don’t know where to start. Personally, I liked how much the film used San Francisco as the location for the family and all the jokes about the city like organic pizza, small rooms and more. I also thought how the film ingeniously uses all the different emotions that make up all of us. Such as how joy, sadness, fear, and anger help us all connect with these characters more so than any other Pixar film.

Cons:
Similar to Mad Max I think the film is great, but I don’t think it’s the best Pixar film of all time. I agree it’s certainly better than Brave, Monsters University and Cars 2 though.

Jurassic World

Pros:
A real fun film and absolutely stunning to see on IMAX. Chris Pratt does a great job and is just as likable as he was in Guardians of the Galaxy. I also really enjoyed how smart the new dinosaur was and how it was able to fool so many humans and trick them into thinking it escaped. Jurassic World was my favorite film of the summer and just like Mad Max: Fury Road motivated me to watch the original trilogy.

Cons:
Not much to complain about other than it not living up to the original film, but really what sequel could? This movie is raking in the box office gold, so I won’t be surprised to see some more sequels. However, if the film team keeps the same vibe as this one, then I don’t think the eventual repetition will be a problem.

There you have it my summer film roundup. If you missed out on any of these, consider renting them on Redbox. I for one would still like to see Terminator Genesis and Mission: Impossible— Rouge Nation.

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My Favorite Blog Posts from BOCA Communications

blog post picturesFrom August 2014 to  June 2015, I blogged for BOCA Communications. It was a great experience and l learned a lot during my time there. Here are a few of my favorites blogs I wrote for them.

Learning How to Be a Better PR Pro: From Other Jobs

A fun three-part blog post series where I interview my coworkers about what they did before they started in PR and what helped them excel at their career. Here’s part one.

PR and Tech Growth Outside Silicon Valley

A two-part blog post where I examined the different tech sectors around the world experiencing strong job growth and tech innovation.

Introducing the New Faces of BOCA

Interviewing people is my favorite part of journalism so writing profiles about the BOCA staff members and learning more about them was a great experience.

007 Tips You Can Learn from James Bond to Ignite Your Tech PR Career

A  blog post examining how James Bond relates to PR and how you can learn from him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Ways to Become a Master of Pop Culture

pop culture photoMany PR pros already know the importance of paying attention to the mainstream news, but equally important is pop culture. Why? It’s critical to follow trends and understand what holds people’s attention. For instance, knowing what subjects generate huge discussions makes pitching reporters easier because they feel you know their audience.

However, it’s difficult to make time for pop culture when you have a busy schedule. So, to help make the process of consuming pop culture more enjoyable here are five ways to use it intelligently and productively.

Automate Your Pop Culture Content

The first step to overcoming your resistance to pop culture is making the process painless. One way we’ve highlighted before is to identify keywords and then set up Google Alerts. Pick some pop culture trends that you want to understand better, so the relevant content gets delivered to your inbox daily. Even if you don’t have time to read articles or watch videos, just scanning the headlines every morning keep the content fresh in your mind.

Study Pop Culture Trends

Once you’ve gotten a grasp of pop culture from reading your Google Alerts, it’s time to do some additional research. Check websites like Buzzfeed and read the stories that are trending like Disney Princesses, 90s nostalgia and Chipotle. While you may not care for Justin Beiber and the Kardashians, it’s important to get some context on why people talk about them. Also, don’t forget to read the comments and see which subjects go viral the most. You can also use your phone or tablet to download apps like PEOPLE Celebrity News Tracker and others to get a better idea of what’s popular.

Make a Weekly Commitment

To stay consistent subscribe to weekly news roundup from your favorite publications and get relevant content sent to you every Friday. Also, consider listening to a weekly podcast, like NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, which talks about pop culture in depth with regular guests. When selecting TV shows to watch remember it’s not necessarily the most popular ones that generate the most discussion so pay attention to niche ones too. Reality TV can be helpful too because you get a better read on how people think and what influences their behavior. Finally, if you’re time is extremely limited, an easy fix is to watch The Soup for a 30-minute humorous weekly recap of pop culture.

Understand Where Pop Culture is Going

Working in tech PR means you must anticipate future trends so you can prepare for them and gain an advantage over your competitors. For example, one film people are talking about regularly and especially in Silicon Valley is Ex Machina. The film offers a captivating look at the future of artificial intelligence and how it potentially could impact our working society. While Ex Machina might not end up being accurate, it’s exciting to get an idea of what possibilities the future hold for tech like how Star Trek predated the invention of cell phones. Besides consuming pop culture get involved and interact with people online. On Twitter, reddit and other online forums people form a community and discuss subjects that are important them. If you can identify what’s trending in the community before it hits the mainstream news, you’ll always have an advantage over your peers.

Pick Something Uncomfortable

Many people already consume common forms of pop culture like TV, music and film, without even thinking about it. However, it helpful to expose yourself to other aspects of pop culture that you may not even consider. For instance, the video game Minecraft is a culture phenomenon. Consider trying it or watching videos on YouTube to understand why Minecraft resonates with people and why Microsoft acquired it for $2.5 billion. Other pop culture ideas to think about, why are so many people into live streaming? What films subjects are overrated and underrated?

By implementing these five tips, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a pop culture expert in no time and leave your peers in the dust.

 I wrote this blog originally for BOCA Communications.

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Making a Memorable Tech PR Networking Impression

Wordpress networking blog photoTo succeed in tech PR, you must be a skilled networker. Socializing with strangers isn’t natural for everyone, though. However, by planning ahead, you can make any networking event less stressful. Buildings on our networking tips from last year here’re a few more points to remember.

Do Meet as Many People as Possible

Aim to meet at least five new people at each event you attend. Don’t discriminate either. Once you get a conversation rolling with someone new you may find yourself pleasantly surprised that this unfamiliar face is looking for someone with your expertise or knows somebody who can help you.

Don’t Exit Conversations Ungracefully

Sometimes a conversation doesn’t go smoothly, and there is an uncomfortable pause. That’s okay, but just remember to put a positive spin on the situation and exit the conversation gracefully. Something like, “well it was nice talking to you, but I want to make sure I meet a few more people before the event ends” helps you leave with your dignity intact.

Do Always Wear Your Nametag

While it may be an annoyance to wear a nametag, you’re doing the hosts a favor and helping them ensure no one sneaks into the event uninvited. Popular networking events often sell out fast, and there are always a few people who try to get away without registering. Don’t associate yourself with them.

Don’t Talk Loudly During Speaker Talks

Inviting industry speakers is a big deal, and you want to be on your best behavior. Unfortunately, you’d be surprised how many people speak loudly or partake in other disrespectful behavior. If you must speak with someone, then take that conversation outside or get their business card.

Do Stick out Those Uncomfortable Moments

You want to avoid being shy at a networking event, but sometimes a new venue can be intimidating. If you’re nervous, try standing near the food line, the middle of a crowd and by an exhibit booth, so people approach you instead. Wearing some prop like a fancy hat or a watch can help draw people to you too. If the event turns out to be a dud, just leave after 30 minutes.

Don’t Leave to Early

When you arrive at an event, sometimes nothing is happening, and it takes awhile for more people to come. If this happens to you, take a short walk around the block for around 20 minutes and then come back later. You could also bring a book to read while you wait.

Do be Courteous to the Volunteer Staff.

Many of the people serving your refreshments at an event are volunteering for free. Show some generosity by tipping them a dollar when you grab your free drink. The volunteer staff will appreciate it. Remember, even though, the drinks are free it’s still costing the host money to rent out the place and have an open bar.

 Don’t be Greedy with Food or Trash the Place

You go to networking events to meet new people not to get a free dinner. Having a few drinks and appetizers is fine, but leave some food for everyone else. Lastly, be sure to recycle any drinks, plates and printed materials to avoid trashing the place. You’d be surprised how many so-called business professionals don’t pick up after themselves.

Do Refer to People by Their First Name and Make Good Eye Contact

An easy way to remember someone’s name is spelling it on their forehead when they introduce themselves to you or referencing a celebrity name. Continue to use their name in a conversation, so you don’t forget it. People appreciate those little details and help them feel at ease with you.

Don’t Hand out Your Business Card Right Away

Business cards are essential for networking events, but you don’t have to hand them out immediately. Take some time to get to know the person first and then offer yours once the conversation reaches its peak. When it comes to expanding your network, it’s the quality of new connections you meet that’s is more important than the quantity.

Do Thank the Host and Leave Feedback for the Next Event

Successful event series don’t always start off great. Like a seasoned TV show sometimes it takes the host a few events and reviewing attendee surveys to improve the overall experience. So do take the time to complete a short survey and give some helpful feedback to the host if you get the opportunity.

Don’t be too Negative with Your Feedback

When you give feedback to someone, it’s important to strike an even balance between being positive and negative with your comments. If all you do is criticize or just say everything was great, then you’re not helping the host improve future events. So, when giving feedback point out something that you liked, what you disliked and if they asked for suggestions offer some solutions.

We hope these tips provide you with success at your next tech event and keep an eye on the BOCA Blog for some of our event recommendations this summer.

I wrote this blog originally for BOCA Communications.

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BOCA Tips for Working From Home

BOCA work from home tipsWorking from home means no commute and ample time for breakfast, but it can be hard to remain motivated and productive. Here are some tips to help you fight distractions and stay on task.

Keep Your Morning Routine
Sure you could sleep in, but if you want to stay focused, it’s better to keep your morning schedule. Rituals like showering, making coffee and putting on your work clothes all help jumpstart your day. A later start makes it harder to stay focused, and you’re more likely to procrastinate.

Work a Little Earlier Than Usual
If you normally begin work at 9 a.m., try starting at your usual commute time. Your workday will be less stressful and during the later hours, you can focus on winding down and prepare for tomorrow.

Make Your Schedule More Specific
At work, your manager enforces your schedule, so it’s easier to stay focused. The opposite is true at home where you’re the one calling the shots. It’s easy to lose track of time, take too many breaks or focus on a single task for too long. So to stay on schedule, make your schedule more specific and map out each hour of your day, detailing specifically what you want to accomplish during that time.

Find Your Best and Worst Hours
Although many people are most productive in the morning, you may not be. That’s okay, too. If your job doesn’t require you to work directly with other people’s schedules, find your own most productive periods and make the most of them. If you’re not sure what your peak hours are, then it’s a good idea to use a weekly log and take notes about how you feel during different time periods. Always try to work when you are at your best.

Create a Habit Loop
Often just getting a project started is the hardest part. To trick yourself into working efficiently, create a habit loop. Eventually, managing tasks quickly become routine. The most efficient pattern is to introduce a cue, a routine and a reward.

For example, you might cue yourself by brewing coffee or tea. Next, your routine is to go to your desk and start working on something. Finally, your reward is enjoying your beverage while you start your work for the day. Finding a routine that perpetuates good habits is an easy way to keep a positive momentum going throughout your day.

Create a Workday Playlist
The right music can help you stay focused and on task. For mindless tasks like creating data entry or compiling reports, pick music that keeps your energized. Podcasts and audiobooks are other options that can teach you something new while you work.

For tasks that require more focused attention, it’s best to choose something without vocals and a steady beat to keep you from getting distracted. Everyone processes music differently, so experiment and find out what works for you.

Prevent Distractions
Anything that disrupts your workflow interferes with your productivity, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Is there something in your surroundings that habitually distracts you? It might be worth investing in some noise canceling headphones or going elsewhere to work instead.

Identify the things that get you off track and actively limit them. Visiting Facebook every five minutes? Block it. Getting bothered by texts from friends? Put your phone away. You can always revisit these things during breaks, just make sure it’s a deliberate decision instead of a habit.

Change Your Scenery
Fight off the boredom of being in the same old environment. Find places you don’t typically go in your day-to-day so you can establish a new space specifically for you to work.

Working effectively without an office doesn’t have to be hard if you take the necessary steps to remain productive. Test our tips out and see for yourself.

I wrote this blog originally for BOCA Communications.

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