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Fun with Fences: Using Fences on Multiple Monitors

Thursday, December 3, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

A recent surge in coronavirus cases here in Michigan sees me once again working from home. Fortunately, the work I do at Stardock is pretty easily taken remote, but that doesn’t mean that certain tools don’t make that transition easier. I am, of course, talking about Fences.

In a previous blog, I gave a rundown of a bunch of the really cool customization options that Fences has to offer - but I couldn’t cover everything. I wanted to share a little bit about how I separate my workspace from my playspace while it’s all contained on the same machine, while at the same time sharing a few other Fences customization tidbits. 

I would like you to know, also, that this shuffling of icons and creation of Fences was a relatively recent idea. The last work from home stint I was on, I pretty much lived in chaos: icons everywhere, mingled, mixed, and not at all matched. I’ve decided to start with a clean slate and try something new this time around. Let’s have a look!

The “Play” Monitor

This is my primary monitor. I’ve chosen to keep all of my personal stuff in fences here, making it easy for me to find while also keeping it separate from work stuff (which I’ll show you shortly). Also, don’t judge me on my gaming choices - I tried Fortnite as a favor to a friend (what I’ll never admit is how much fun I had with it, don’t @ me!).

My desktop background reflects my “play” aspect - it’s a screenshot from Final Fantasy XIV, a game I spend too much a lot of time on. I chose to keep all the Fences uniform in color and separate all of my stuff into fairly straightforward and easy-to-navigate categories.

It took me a little bit of time to clean up all of the icons I had just sitting on my desktop and organize them into this, but honestly I think it was time well spent. I also went into my Fences “sorting and organizing” options and directed where certain file types will go: for example, I adjusted it so that any saved images I have will go straight to my Pictures and Media Fence, where I can easily find it and place it where I want it to go from there.

I may fiddle with it more later, but right now I’m happy with where it’s at.

The “Work” Monitor

For the most part, I just need a word processor to perform the primary part of my job function. That said, when I write, I have to write about something - and usually that means making sure I have certain software installed so that I can explore them, much like I am now. 

We also wear many hats here at Stardock, which means that there are certain other functions I perform that require other programs like, for example, XSplit. There are also some folders that I access frequently via our VPN, so I created Folder Portals for them on my desktop so I don’t have to constantly go digging through Explorer for them. You can see that I have them rolled up here to conserve space.

On another note: did you know that all your fences don’t have to be uniform? I decided to have a little bit of fun with my work monitor and choose a colorful background with enough black that would make the different colors I’ve chosen for my fences really pop. 

I love this separation of work and play because it lets me find things easily and helps me to segment my work from my leisure time (since I spend a lot of leisure time at my PC to begin with anyway). 

Side by Side

You can see that the two monitors are extremely contrasted. I did that on purpose as a bit of a mental trick that would help me further separate the two and their varied functions. I’m not really sure that it actually works that way, but since I’ve convinced myself that it does, that should be good enough, right?

Oh, I should also mention: the reason I’m able to apply two different backgrounds to two different monitors is all thanks to DeskScapes. I’m not using anything animated right now, but one of my favorite features of DeskScapes is being able to use animated backgrounds on my PC, so definitely check that out if you haven’t!

A Fun Discovery

I’ve written a lot about our software, especially lately, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t discover something new from time to time. 

I knew, for example, that Start10 perfectly integrates with Fences. What I didn’t realize, though, was that the Fences labels in the Start menu would actually match the colors that I’ve selected for the individual fences! Cool, right?

This is how I’ve made Fences work for me on multiple monitors, especially as I work from home. Do you use Fences more at work or at home, or equally at both? Share with me!

Fences: Making Desktop Customization Work for YOU

Thursday, November 26, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

We make a lot of software here at Stardock, and while all of it is wonderful and useful in their own ways, there are just a couple of programs that I consider my “ride or dies” for my PC experience. Fences is absolutely at the top of that list (followed very closely by Groupy).

The basic functionality of organizing my icons, folders, and programs into fenced in areas on my PC desktop is great enough on its own, but the more I explored Fences I began to realize that there was quite a lot more that I could do with it, especially aesthetically. With all of the customization options available in the program, you really can make your desktop look exactly how you like it.

Let’s take a look at some of the cool stuff you can do!

Color Customization

This one is fairly straightforward, but is probably one of my most favorite options: colors. I can adjust the color of my Fences (both as a group or individually!) to complement the background that I’m using on my Desktop.

Fences Colors

There are a lot of options available here. You can adjust the transparency, color intensity, tint, and saturation of your fences using the sliding scale, choosing to either apply the options uniformly across all of your fences, or individually to a select few. You can color code your fenced areas if that’s something that helps for organization - or if you just want a myriad rainbow of color on your desktop, that’s valid too!

You can achieve drastically different effects by choosing varying levels of saturation and transparency. Below, I have an image that shows a more solid fence without the transparent effect, plus you can also see that I have an option enabled that hides labels unless I mouse over them.

Fences Color Saturation and Label Roll

You can also adjust the font colors of your fences labels, which leads me into the next set of options you have…

Label Text and Size

You can customize the labels to your fences in lots of different ways besides just what you name them. The color and size of your fonts can change, as well as the font itself. Many of the options you’d find in any Word processor are available in the Fences option menu. Several of them allow for variations like bolding and italicizing if you feel like it.

Fences Font Options

I like to adjust my colors and fonts to match whatever I choose for my background. I’m a pretty big Dungeons and Dragons nerd, so I think the medieval script font goes nicely with this image of one of my first ever original characters, Tatiora, that my friend Leo drew for me a couple years ago. 

You can also change the font color if you want, though I find that usually keeping it simple with white allows me to read the labels more easily. I also keep my fonts sized somewhere in the middle (in this case, I believe I selected size 16), but you can go bigger or smaller if that suits your needs better.

Speaking of needs, let’s say you prefer a little less noise on your desktop and like to hide away excess things. You can do that!

Visibility

I personally like seeing my Fences and my labels - it makes it easier for me to find what I’m looking for. But, if you’re not into that, there’s ways you can work around it while still keeping your icons and programs grouped together so you can access them quickly.

Fences Invisible

By taking the transparency all the way down to 0, you can make it so that your fences don’t show up at all, but your icon groupings remain within their fenced areas. You can leave labels on, set them so that they only show when you mouse over them, or even turn the labels off altogether. 

Let’s say you don’t like your icons showing, either - you’re all about a clean desktop! You have a couple options for that. You can either double-click on your desktop to hide everything (don’t panic if you do this by accident - not that I would know from experience or anything - another double-click will return them all), or you can change the preferences in your individual fences to make the icons transparent. 

Fences Icon Transparency

As you can see in the image above, I’ve lightened the visibility on some of the fences to make them hard to see. To do this, you go to the title bar of one of your fences, click on the options icon on the left, and go to view > opacity. You can make a fence completely invisible until you mouse over it, if that’s what works for you.

I’d also like to mention the option for rolling up fences. If you want to keep your desktop uncluttered but still see where you’ve put everything, you can double-click on a Fences title bar to hide the rest of the fence so that just the bar is visible.

As you can see, there's a lot you can do to keep your desktop neat and orderly with Fences! There's just one more thing I want to touch on that goes beyond just aesthetic customization, and that's...

Organization and Sorting

In a previous blog, I talked a little bit about Folder Portals and what makes them so helpful, so I’m going to focus on another indispensable aspect of organization: the sorting option.

Fences Sorting

There are a ton of options here for editing rules on how icon placement and auto-organizing will work. You can choose to make rules for everything from folders to program shortcuts that will determine what fence they sort into when they’re added to your computer. 

For example, I have my images set to go directly into my Pictures fence whenever I save an image file to my desktop. It makes it easier for me to find them and then make sure they get into the correct folder that I want. I also do the same for program shortcuts. For general downloads, I actually just make a Folder Portal on my desktop so that I can easily access anything that I download.

You can be really broad with these rules, or get extremely particular. I play pretty loose and wild with my desktop to begin with (in fact, before I set up rules for where images sort to, my desktop was getting really crowded) so I don’t fuss over it too much personally, but you definitely can!

Fences is one of those programs that I don’t think I can ever stop using. It has made my desktop organizing so much easier and it makes my desktop look better overall.

Don’t have Fences yet? No problem, just download it here. Or, if you want to go full throttle with desktop enhancement, customization, and optimization, just get a low-cost membership to Object Desktop and get access to a bunch of our top-rated software all at once.

If you’re already a Fences user, I want to see it in action on your desktops. Share some screenshots with me! 

For Workflow Efficiency, Look no Further than Groupy

Thursday, November 19, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

Back at the beginning of quarantine, I talked a little bit about how Groupy helped me work from home. It saves me the desk space of having to juggle around too many monitors by letting me use my two-monitor setup more efficiently. 

It’s about more than just saving space, though. Groupy allows me to sort my work into categories, making it easier for me to compartmentalize what I’m working on, especially when I have several tasks working all at the same time.

To be honest, I have pretty simple needs when it comes to what I do for work on the computer. I live in word documents - Google docs, specifically - and so initially I thought that Groupy couldn’t do a whole lot for me since they’re all tabbed in my web browser anyway.

I was wrong.

At times, I will be working on multiple products or releases at once. I’m scatterbrained on a good day, so it is sometimes really difficult to keep track of all of the things I need to get done before my deadlines are up. To make it easier for myself, I can split my browser tabs into different group categories, separating the work I’m doing on, say, Stardock Magazine and the work I’m doing on The Political Machine release.

I often will reference old materials when working on something new, just so that I make sure I am delivering a consistent message and I’m not missing any crucial details. Above, you can see how I’ve chosen to sort my work: I have a tab filled with web browser tabs all dedicated to my work on Stardock Magazine, a tab filled with tabs relating to The Political Machine, and a tab filled with tabs of old forum posts that I can reference for products as I work.

I also use Microsoft Teams quite a bit in order to collaborate with the rest of the marketing team. To make things easy on myself, I pop out the chats for the key people I talk to during a workday and put them all into one group along with my main teams window. This way, I have quick access to all of the conversations important to my workflow, without having to spend a ton of time searching. 

Teams will automatically place a “popped out” chat Window into a tab within the group, too, which is just a small added bonus. 

Here's a close-up of what my Teams tabs look like. I also have Discord added into this group, because I like to keep any chat programs I'm using together. This works really well for me when I have a lot going on (which is often). I've mentioned it in a previous blog before, but Groupy also comes in super handy for me when I'm streaming either at home or at the office.

My teammate Jillian recently started using Groupy to help her manage all of her Explorer windows and the many projects she works on in Visual Studio. Visual Studio doesn't have an inherent way of keeping multiple projects tabbed and open at the same time like Adobe Photoshop does, for example.

She told me this morning, "I always thought Groupy was neat but never really tried it out because I thought, 'I work the way I work, and I have enough multi-monitor space, I don't need that.' But it's really awesome for being able to get to stuff quickly and not have to do a bunch of clicking around."

Whenever I stream, I need no less than about 8 tasks open at a time: about 3 Teams chats, the stream chat itself, several documents that have all of the information I need for the stream (usually ID numbers and process walk-throughs so I don't miss anything), and of course I need X-split open as well. 

Normally, all of those web browser tabs would group together and be its own tab within this group. However, I separated them so I can more easily see each of them while I have X-split active, rather than having to select my web browser tab and then search the Chrome tabs in there to find what I need.

Sometimes I also keep multiple Explorer windows open when I stream so that I can share art or other pieces quickly, if the stream calls for it. The main thing here is that Groupy is super versatile, and I can adjust it however I want in order to suit my needs on a given day.

Groupy can also be extremely helpful when you're dealing with graphic or video design projects. I'm the writer on the marketing team here, so I don't have anything to do with the graphic design side of things, but my two teammates do. Like me, they can find themselves designing for multiple projects all at once, which is where Groupy can come in handy.

They can keep design programs like Photoshop or Illustrator open together and add tabs into that group with all of the folders containing their source material so that it's easy to find. For me, I use Groupy to help me work through the sometimes dozens of assets that I need for projects in Adobe Premiere.

How do you use Groupy to keep yourself organized? Share your experience with us!

Don't have Groupy yet? Get it here. You can also purchase a low-cost membership to Object Desktop to get Groupy, plus a bunch of other fantastic productivity and customization apps for your PC.

The Evolution of Computer Icons

Starting with the (now ancient) Xerox Alto and moving into today's Windows 10

Thursday, November 12, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

Do you remember when you (or a family member) brought home your first computer? I do.

It was right around 1995 when my dad purchased a Packard Bell (when I called him to talk about this blog, he informed me that his first PC was a Commodore Vic 20). At 10 years old, this technological marvel that he brought into our home fascinated me and drew my attention right from the second it was plugged in. The main draw? Packard Bell’s Navigator, an alternative shell for Windows 3.1 - specifically, Kidspace.


I spent a lot of time playing using the Navigator Kidspace and playing games like 3-D Dinosaur Adventure
that came with my dad's Packard Bell.

Just look at the GUI and the icons here! We’ve come quite a long way since 1995, haven’t we? Today I’m going to take a look at how icons have developed and changed over the years. To start, we’re going to have to jump back quite a bit before my first computer memories into a time before I was born: 1973.

Xerox Alto


The Xerox 8010 Star’s icons laid the foundation for how future icons would develop.
As you can see, Calculator, Document, Folder, and Trash have barely changed!

The Xerox Alto debuted in March of 1973 and was the world’s first GUI (Graphical User Interface) based computer system. With only 2,000 machines worldwide, the Alto was originally built as a research computer and wasn’t available for commercial release. In 1981, the Xerox Star came out as the first consumer GUI computer. It incorporated many of the design features of the Alto and was the basis for how a lot of our computer icons developed over time.

1983 Apple Lisa


You can see that Lisa’s icons aren’t all that different from Xerox’s, except for the size and single pixel outlines.
The “preferences” icon, as time has gone on, has been replaced to look like a cog in most cases.

Apple’s goal with the Lisa was to make navigation easier for new users. To do this, they implemented drop-down menus, folder-based directories, and movable “Desk accessories” that were basically early widgets.

1984 Apple Macintosh


This was the first time an artist was brought in to design the icons.
Apple hired Susan Kare, who went on to do many other icon designs in the future.

Only a year later, Apple released its first Mac. The icons for this machine were clear and concise, plus they carried over certain things from their predecessors that made them instantly recognizable (notice that “Trash” and “file” are still very distinct). Apple’s goal was to remain user-friendly and boost themselves in the commercial market.

There are a few other developments between the 1984 Mac and what’s next on our list, but for brevity’s sake I am going to skip over them and into 1985, when Microsoft breaks into the market.

1985 Windows 1.0x


The Windows 1.0x icons weren’t all that fancy, and they didn’t include color.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft released its first GUI in 1985, just two years after Apple’s Lisa debuted. By the time it was released, Windows had color and all the usual GUI elements like scrollbars, window control widgets, and menus. Each application actually had its own menu bar (just below the title bar) attached to it, unlike the single menu bars on Lisa and Macintosh.

1991 Macintosh System 7


This was the first Mac OS with colors!
The icon images have changed slightly to be a little more dimensional - they appear slightly raised.

System 7 was codenamed “Big Bang” and was introduced on May 13, 1991. It remained Mac’s main OS until OS 8 in 1997, and added features like virtual memory, personal file sharing, QuickTime, QuickDraw 3D, and of course, an improved user interface.

1992 Windows 3.1


Microsoft hired Susan Kare to greatly improve the icon design for 3.0. For 3.1, she refined the colors and designs of the icons.

Windows 3.1 is my earliest memory of an OS (and of course, at the time, I didn’t even know what the heck an OS was). I rarely used it as intended, however, since I spent most of my time using the Navigator “alternative shell” that came with my dad’s Packard Bell computer. Although, the icon design pictured above was still evident throughout even Navigator.

1995 Windows 95


Hooray for isometric designs! Windows 95 was a complete design overhaul and includes elements that are still part of today’s designs.

The Start button made its big debut in Windows 95. The icons here have more color to them, and this version of Windows would also include updated elements for the taskbar, the menu, and of course, the famous Start button.

2001 Mac OS X v10.0


Skipping ahead a bit! According to one article I read, this Mac apparently earned the nickname “jelly mac”
for its ultra shiny and jelly-like finish on its icons.

This is the OS style I remember most vividly, since I used mostly Macs for video editing during my college years that started in 2003.

These icons are a huge leap in design from previous Mac OSes. Mac also added the Dock, which renders the icons from either a straight forward or slightly above point of view. These icons showed reflections and textures, and were a great draw for the user. 

2001 Windows XP


Don’t forget about Windows! Microsoft overhauled their OS system again,
introducing a brand new OS with a saturated color palette and an illustrative look.

The icons in Windows XP use a single light source and have a semi-transparent drop shadow. Continuing with the isometric style, these icons were attention grabbing and cutting edge for the time.

2007 Mac OS X Leopard


Apple decides to up its game even further, opting for a very clean, flashy, exciting look.

Check out that 3D reflective doc! The icons sit on them and the use of chrome and glass reflections make this even more popular than before. The icons themselves are pretty much the same as they were in 2001.

2007 Windows Vista


It seems like Vista wanted to get in on the more “reflective” look of its icons in order to keep up with Mac’s innovations.

Interestingly, the icons in Vista are pretty different-looking from what Microsoft releases with Windows 7 later. The Windows 7 icons almost seem like a step back from the glossy, updated look that Vista showcases.

2009 Windows 7


I don’t know about you, but I clung to Windows 7 as long as humanly possible before I finally had to switch to Windows 8.

Windows 7 re-imagines its icons almost completely differently from Windows XP. These icons are “softer” and appear to be more glassy than their predecessors.

2012 Windows 8


I definitely did NOT love this version of Windows. If I’d known about Start8 back in college,
I’d have downloaded it immediately to avoid all of the menu headaches.

The successor to Windows 7 introduced some pretty big changes to the OS’s platform and user interface. Windows 8 was meant to be touch-optimized in order to compete with mobile operating systems like Android and iOS. The Start screen presents programs on a grid of tiles; white icons on backsplashes of color. Admittedly, I like the look here, but I hated the OS as a whole.

2015 Windows 10


Windows 10 is where we’re at today.

Ah, good old Windows 10. It supports universal apps and the UI was revised in order to handle transitions between mouse-oriented interface and a touchscreen-optimized interface. It also introduced the Edge browser...which, admittedly, I never use personally.

The icons for Windows 10 are modern, sleek, and above all, recognizable. 

Honestly, I really loved digging back through the last 40+ years of computer innovation and seeing how icons and imagery have evolved.  If you're a fan of custom icons for your PC, make sure you check out IconPackager from our Object Desktop suite! You can replace the default Windows icons - lovely as they are - with cohesive and customized packages of icons that the app provides, or you can make your own! You can also change individual file type icons or recolor entire packages. I wrote a blog about it once upon a time.


IconPackager will let you build your own icon sets with the included Package Builder!

Which OS has your favorite look? Did you ever use a Xerox Alto? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Halloween! Is your Desktop Spooky Yet?

Check out WinCustomize for all your holiday needs!

Thursday, October 29, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

Happy spooky season, everyone! Here at Stardock, we love two things: Halloween, and desktop customization.


Stardock Halloween 2019!

Actually, we love quite a lot more than just those two things, but stick with me here! Halloween is on Saturday, and unfortunately this year won't be filled with the usual trick-or-treating hullabaloo (normally I get 400+ kids in my neighborhood!). That doesn't stop me from decorating for the holiday anyway! I'll be turning my porch light off this year, saving around $80 on candy, and visiting with my sister, her husband, and my almost-one-year-old niece.

I don't actually own much in the way of Halloween decor (that's really my sister's thing), but I have a few pumpkins around the house and some spooky lighting. And, as soon as the Calendar flipped to October 1, I went over to WinCustomize.com and started looking through all of the customizations there so I could add some spooky flare to my desktop.

Several of our desktop applications offer unique customization for your Windows PC. The most popular apps for dressing up your desktop for the holidays is DeskScapes, which will let you apply static or animated backgrounds, called Dreams, and WindowBlinds, which lets you skin your desktop in lots of different ways.

Here are a few of my favorite Spooky Dreams and WindowBlinds skins to help you dress up your desktop this Halloween!

Spooky Halloween Forest With Bats by WC_Bot

Happy_Halloween_Night by cyberslober

Pumpkin by Night by IslandDog

Bat O Ween by DaveBax

NineHalloween Recut by doortech1

Is your desktop decked out for Halloween? Share your screenshots with me!

Customize your Windows Icons with IconPackager

Thursday, October 15, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

Before coming to Stardock, I never really had a deep appreciation for Windows customization. I remember downloading the occasional Windows background and all sorts of skins (and frankly, probably viruses - sorry mom and dad!) for WinAmp back in my teen years, but that was about the extent of it. 

Since being here though, I've garnered an entirely new appreciation for being able to make my desktop look fun and unique - both my PC desktop AND my workspace desktop, too.


My work desktop.
Fortunately, I work with a bunch of wonderful nerds, so no one thinks twice about the chaos.

Honestly, the thought of changing the icons on my desktop had never crossed my mind before I started exploring the apps in the Object Desktop suite and came across IconPackager. Initially, I didn't think much about it - I have no idea how to make custom icons, after all - but the good news is, you don't have to!

IconPackager lets you instantly replace Windows' default icons with high quality custom icons. There are several packages that come as a default (including my favorite, which is a Christmas theme), but thousands more are available on WinCustomize.com. One of the best things about IconPackager is that you can also edit the color scheme of a package so that everything has a nice cohesive look while sporting your favorite color.


Browse thousands of icon packages on Wincustomize.com.

One of the best things about IconPackager is that you can also edit the color scheme of a package so that everything has a nice cohesive look while sporting your favorite color.


I know purple isn't especially representative of Christmas, but I'm trying to show a point here!

If you're like me and you appreciate a little bit of of an eclectic look, you don't have to change all your icons to a single theme - you are free to change them individually, too! 


An example of changing individual icons.

IconPackager is compatible with the most popular versions of Windows, including Windows 10. Have you tried it yet? Check it out here!

Cool stuff I've found in tech: a robotic chess board called Square Off

The recent quarantine due to the pandemic has prompted the company to add a video calling component for remote games

Thursday, June 11, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I’ve said it before, but I suppose it bears repeating: I love games - board, video, card, and otherwise.

In particular, since the board game scene exploded over the last few years, I’ve found myself neck-deep into the hobby, excitedly following blogs and Kickstarter for the next ‘big game’ coming down the line. With all of the new games, sometimes I forget about the ‘classics’ - you know, the kinds of games that have been around forever but may not be as ‘shiny’ as newer games on the market today.

Some of my earliest memories of gaming are with my grandfather. I’ve talked about the hours spent in his den playing through Monkey Island, but although we certainly loved our PC games, his first love as far as games went was definitely chess. From a young age, I learned to approach the game with a certain reverence and, although he beat me most every time, I came back to play with him time and again.

He’d be absolutely tickled to see where technology has taken one of his favorite pastimes today. While browsing the web the other day I stumbled on a mechanical chessboard called Square Off that lets you play chess on 20 different difficulty settings, or against someone else via chess.com. The company isn’t new - it’s been around for a handful of years - but they continue to innovate and improve their boards so that they now have several options for chess players.

The Mumbai-based startup behind Square Off have recently introduced a video calling feature. Using the app, you can now connect with one another across the globe while you play. It's not quite the same as having an opponent sitting across from you, but in the midst of a global pandemic, I'll take any sort of social interaction I can get. 

“The lockdowns have motivated people to rediscover their passion and the chess community is expanding,” CEO Bhavya Gohil said in a release. “The recent addition to the video calling feature was the call of the hour and we are thrilled for the response it has received. It takes the experience of connected board gaming one notch ahead." According to the company, they've seen an increase in users of the board of about 30% since the pandemic began. 

I like physical pieces, and although I'm grateful for things like Tabletop Simulator and other digital gaming outlets, they just aren't the same as holding a piece in my hand and moving it. This board solves that - and honestly, the movement and capturing of pieces is kinda freaky! Frankly, I love it, and am in awe of the innovation.

Honestly, it's been so long since I've played chess - either digitally or in person - that I feel like I've forgotten all of the strategy and most of the rules. I think I might have to find some opponents and delve back into it. As for this board, if I ever get the chance, I'd love to check it out. Get it? ...no, just me? Alrighty then.

Are you a chess player and have you had a chance to see a Square Off in action? If so, I want to hear about it in the comments!

IKEA releases creative fort diagrams to build with your kids during quarantine - so I built one for myself

I met with...mixed results.

Thursday, May 21, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

I don’t know about you, but I’m a little stir-crazy at this point.

The days are starting to blend together so much that I can scarcely keep track of what day it even is anymore, which becomes especially difficult during the work week since I’ve lost the routine of leaving my house and getting in my car to drive there every day. One of the cool things I’ve seen come out of this quarantine period, however, are the numerous people and companies who have come up with some pretty creative ideas for fighting the cabin fever.

Recently, IKEA Russia shared some photographs of cool new ways to build blanket forts - and, of course, in true IKEA fashion, they all look a little something like this:

A lot of the articles I saw covering the forts say that “if you have kids, these are great ideas” and that you should do them together as a family. I absolutely agree with this! However, I am a firm believer in the adage “Growing old is required, but growing up is optional,” which leads me to the question: do you really have to have kids to enjoy this idea?

Nope, definitely not.

I admit, I have a few pieces of IKEA furniture in my home, but for the most part I’m still rocking out a lot of the free handouts I got from friends and family when I first bought my house, with a couch and a table or two that I inherited from grandparents thrown in. So, obviously I couldn’t follow the instructions to the letter, but I did my best to stay within the spirit of things while I decided to turn my living room into a nice little gamer’s getaway for me and my cat.

Let me start by ruining the punchline for the piece and telling you what I learned from this process right now:

I suck at building forts.

I tend to visualize things very vividly in my head, but when I actually try to execute (like drawing something, for example), it turns out pretty disastrously. Which explains a lot about why I’m a writer.

I started by loosely attempting to follow the “Castle” diagram provided by IKEA. That went south pretty quickly, and I went rogue almost instantly, cobbling together any little bit I could to just make it work. The general idea behind the design was fine, I just couldn’t execute it efficiently with what I had on hand.

My biggest issue was the blanket drooping in the front. The goal for this fort was for me to be able to see my TV so I could play video games, but with the way it sagged I couldn’t see past the blanket even when I was laying down on the floor. Another issue I tend to have is that when I start thinking about how to solve an issue, I go with the first solution I come up with and tunnel vision on that. Frequently, I end up over-complicating things, and it helps to have someone else to point out, “Hey, you know it’d be easier if you did it this way, right?”

Well, my cat definitely isn’t that person, so I was flying solo on this. 


You can see Miza watching in the background. She does NOT approve of my methods.

I grabbed one of my little 3M hooks and stuck it to the ceiling. My plan was to run a thread down from it, loop the thread through the blanket, and tie it off so it hung just enough above my line of sight. It worked!

For about .5 seconds.

That...did not last long.

I abandoned that idea, shuffled some stuff around some more (incidentally, NOT having clothespins on hand made keeping the blankets in place about 10x harder), and eventually decided that it was good enough, I’d just post a picture of a collapsed fort, giggle about it, and tell you all what a terrible architect I am.

Except, the fort stood. And while it certainly isn’t what I envisioned, I have enough imagination to see past it and enjoy my little “cave” for the weekend. I tried one more time to re-run the thread from the 3M hook, and by giving it a little extra slack, it stayed intact. 


I used my papasan mattress and a beautiful hand-crocheted blanket my friend made me to make things cozy.

The sides felt a little bare, so adding a blanket helped make it feel more enclosed. Again, something that would have been made so much easier if I actually had clothespins handy. My task complete, I excitedly ran off to get some fort essentials.


I also definitely grabbed the chocolate, because duh.

I got some books to read (and some source manuals for D&D 5E to brush up for running some campaigns soon), popcorn, a NERF gun to keep out any intruders (let me just remind you that I'm in quarantine alone), and made sure to charge my controllers. A few extra pillows made things pretty cozy, and when it got dark enough I turned off all the lights for added mood. Miza (my 10 year old Siamese cat) was a little dubious about it, but when I accidentally knocked the blanket down and just decided to put them away, she was quick to claim the newfound "giant catbed" on the floor, so I couldn't clean up completely just yet.  Never move a resting cat, you know!

I moved back into my chair because, as I've discovered, laying on the floor for long periods
of time isn't as comfortable as it was when I was a kid.

What about you - will you build a blanket fort with your kids soon? Heck, forget the kids, build one for yourself and play some video games.

May your building endeavors go much more smoothly than mine. Have an awesome weekend!

Virtual Graduation and Staying in Touch Amid the Weirdness of 2020

Facebook/Instagram is hosting a virtual graduation for the class of 2020

Thursday, May 14, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog


Image credit: TechCrunch

A few weeks ago, my dad and I had a conversation about how, if we have to weather a pandemic, we’re sure glad it’s happening in 2020.

Don’t get me wrong - obviously, we wish we weren’t living through this craziness at all, but to deal with it now versus in, say, 1990? We’re all way better equipped in certain areas. For one thing, the internet has come a long way since its dial-up days and is commonplace in most homes and businesses, so staying connected through technology is very possible. Online board gaming certainly has saved my sanity (what little I have left of it anyway) these last two months.

One of the things that crosses my mind frequently is how difficult this must be for our youth, too. Sure, most of them don’t have the same worries as we adults do - things like bills, mortgages, food on the table, and so on - but it’s still a really tough world for them to navigate, even with supportive families. I know a lot of high school seniors who are really disappointed that they’ll be missing their “big year” - the parties, the farewells, the excitement of what comes next. We can promise them all we like that the years get better, that there’s much more to life past high school, and while that may be true that isn’t what they want - or need! - to hear right now.

Some schools are hosting virtual graduations for their students in an effort to celebrate their accomplishments in the best way they can right now, which is pretty great. Facebook/Instagram has recently jumped on that trend as well, announcing earlier this week that they would be launching #graduation2020, a series of online events meant to celebrate this year’s seniors.

In addition to all of the Instagram filters and hashtags debuting this week, Facebook is pulling some major celebrities into the mix for a big commencement celebration on Friday, May 15th at 2:00pm ET. According to the statement on their website, the commencement address “will be given by Oprah Winfrey. Awkwafina, Jennifer Garner, Lil Nas X, Simone Biles, and more, will share words of wisdom for the class of 2020. Miley Cyrus will do a special performance of her hit song, “The Climb.”” 

It’s not a replacement for a real graduation, and it isn’t going to offer seniors a sense of accomplishment or let them feel the swell of pride as their family watches them take a big step out of youth toward adulthood. Nothing can replace that, but it is still nice to see areas of the Internet rally around these kids and try to give them a little offering of joy.

They’re certainly going to have one heck of a story to tell to their own children someday, that's for sure. Do you have a graduating senior in your life this year? What are you doing to celebrate?

Star Wars Video Games Through the Years

This was going to be titled "Best Star Wars Games" but the blog took another direction...

Thursday, May 7, 2020 by Tatiora | Discussion: Stardock Blog

Monday was Star Wars Day, and as I’m writing this it’s currently Revenge of the 5th, so...I’m just declaring that this week is “Star Wars Week” and so you’re getting a Star Wars blog. Yub nub!

I am prone to nostalgia, I fully admit this. Star Wars, in and of itself, is full of those old, wonderful memories for me - my Dad raised me and my sister on the movies, and our favorite Friday night ritual consisted of tackling him when he got home from work, popping popcorn, and settling in for one of the films - if my sister and I had our choice, it was almost always Return of the Jedi. Dad also was pretty quick to pick up one of those “newfangled Nintendo systems” when they came out because he’s an engineer who loved to mess around with new gadgets.

I think my Dad found a particular joy in finding games that he could play with me and my sister jointly (we played a lot of Contra), so when he found Star Wars: A New Hope for the system he picked it up for us.

Seriously, I know there’s a small subset of the population for whom old school Nintendo games are and were no big deal, but holy cow - that game was hard. It took my 8-year old self years to be skilled enough to even get off of Tatooine, and even then I’d make it to the Cantina, get Han, and then promptly bite it.

I’m not sure that’d fare much better these days, to be honest, which is why YouTube is such a gift. In case you’d like to squint at a screen for 30 minutes and see someone blitz the game with no deaths, here’s the link below.

Man, old Nintendo games are nothing like games nowadays. Graphics aside, there’s no mini-map and virtually no guidance on where to go or what to do next. In fact, the entire game relies completely on you having knowledge of the movie in order to piece together what’s happening. 

Originally, this blog was going to be called “(Some of) The Best Star Wars Games ever,” and then when I realized I was going to talk about the NES Star Wars: A New Hope, I...had to change the title, LOL.

What got me thinking about Star Wars in the realm of video games, actually, was a happy memory I had regarding my grandfather. He and my grandma used to live around the block from us, so I’d spend many school afternoons over at their place until mom and dad got home from work. In the mid 90’s, home computers were becoming a thing, and when my grandpa got his it came with an assortment of games (my favorite of which was Monkey Island - incidentally also LucasArts - but that’s another blog entirely).

Included among the games (or honestly, perhaps he got it later, it was over 25 years ago so my memory is hazy) was the 1993 X-Wing game, which I seem to recall he specifically bought a joystick to play. Neither of us were particularly good at it, but it was one of the first truly immersive video game experiences I remember, where we were the pilots aiding the Rebels in fighting off the Empire. To an 8 year old, it was pretty damn cool - for my grandpa’s part, I think he enjoyed the game, but loved watching his grandchild be excited even more.

I went and looked at a list of Star Wars video games in Wikipedia because I wanted a full scope of what was out there (because I knew I hadn’t played them all). As it turns out, I’ve played a healthy fraction, but that’s all it is - a fraction. I could write whole paragraphs on the Jedi Knight games (I played a lot of Jedi Academy in college), Rogue Squadron (I, II, and III), or on Battlefront. I also could find a fair amount to say about the LEGO Star Wars games (which, while clunky in their controls at times, I totally adore).

Knights of the Old Republic deserves more than a mention, but this blog is already long. This game was revolutionary, bringing us deeper into the Star Wars lore and providing an immersive and emotional story and series of choices (which later, as it turns out, would turn out to be a hallmark of most BioWare games). In fact, thinking about it, I’m due to play it again soon.

To round this out, I feel obliged to mention a little game that came out around the time all those motion-censored dance games were a “thing” called Kinect Star Wars: Galactic Dance Off. I fully admit to having played this - I’d say I have no shame here, but honestly, there’s definitely a little shame. I can’t have been the only one who was entertained by the swapped lyrics and themed names for the dance moves!

Talk about a great disturbance in the force. 

What’s your favorite Star Wars video game? Share with me!




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