More Does Not = Better

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More Does Not Equal Better – Woman Drinking Coffee Image Source: YouTube

This was a piece of advice given to me by my Graduate Advisor at U.T. at Chattanooga (UTC) once when I was writing a paper.  My memory is fuzzy on the exact details of the paper, but I “seem” to remember that it had something to do with an essay in which I had fulfilled the length requirements, but kept writing way past the requirements thinking that more = better.  When I was informed that indeed longer doesn’t always equal better, I have to confess that I felt a keen sense of disappointment in that all of the extra work that I had done was probably wasted.  And then, when I went back and actually looked at the essay, I saw that my advisor was right.  Instead of being this tightly constructed essay where my points flowed one into another to create a satisfying whole, the essay was bloated and formless.  Sure it was long (and made sense), but the points just kind of kept going and going and going and it lacked my normal sense of “cohesion.”

I learned a valuable lesson that day from that assignment–the length of a work should be defined by what it needs to accomplish–no more, no less.  If it needs 25 pages to accomplish the task, then by all means devote 25 pages to it.  However, it only needs 2 paragraphs, then 24 and a half pages have been wasted if you expand it just because you want to write long.

I’ve seen quite a few “bloated” popular pieces over the past two years (2016-2017) where the creators/designers should have stopped far sooner than they did with their creation than they did.  For instance, last weekend I thought I was on the last mission of Mass Effect Andromeda, a game that I’ve been playing all summer.  Imagine my surprise when at the end of the mission, I find that I’m still not finished.  There is at least one more mission to go (perhaps a couple of more–I can’t really tell).  MEA would have been a really tight and suspenseful game at the 60-70 hour mark, but at well over 100 hours in and still no sign of stopping, the game has worn out its welcome and has become tedious and often boring.  I understand the rationale–our fans want more, so let’s give them more (if we give them more, then this will = better, but that’s not the case).  Unless each and every experience is meaningful then more for the sake of more is just more, not better.

Even in these blog entries, I try very hard to remember this lesson as I can often type for hours on a particular subject (unless I’m constrained by time).  So, as I embark on another school year and creative writing season, I have to take a moment to remind myself that more doesn’t = better.  Finely crafted and purposeful experiences are what = better.

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Perpetual Copyright

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Image Source: SlideShare

As I was doing research on the character Kathryn Janeway for yesterday’s entry on Star Trek Voyager, I discovered something pretty amazing that I thought I’d point out.  The idea that we should have “Public Domain” for knowledge that is older has fallen out of favor due to lobbying by corporations.  Corporations are retroactively branding old pieces of knowledge and information as “new” and this will affect how we as consumers interact with knowledge and information in the future.

For instance, I was looking at Wikipedia and one of the entries on Janeway said that another actor (Genevieve Bujold) dropped out of filming and the actress that we now recognize as Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) replaced her for that role.  I was intrigued so I clicked on the footnote/citation and was taken to a nytimes.com article that explained the whole Janeway actor situation.  The date on the article is 1994.  However, if you read and/or scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice that the copyright date is 2017.  Now Congress has changed the copyright law recently with the Digital Millennium Act so as to address online violations of copyright, but copyright (to the best of my knowledge) is still defined as coming into play when the work was created in a fixed form or published (available for public consumption).  The copyright of the article should be 1994 which means that is when the clock starts for it to fall into the Public Domain (where anyone has a right to use it for whatever purpose), not 2017.

Now, I know that nytimes.com probably uses CSS or HTML 5 and the outer layer where the copyright notice goes is different from the layer/frame with the story, but it is telling that they leave the 1994 date for accuracy, but the change the copyright date to current year for economic reasons.  And nytimes.com isn’t the first place where I noticed this trend of companies “locking down” their information.  Microsoft was big into doing this when Windows was the dominate Operating System in the 90s and 2000s.  Their splash screens showed copyright dates of 19xx-20xx, implying that their technology was perpetual so don’t bother trying to decompile their technology because all of it (even the older tech) would always be theirs in perpetuity.

This is important because the Public Domain is important.  Disney grew to be the behemoth that it was through fairy tales that were in the Public Domain.  However, now NOBODY can even begin to reference Disney’s work without a lawsuit.  Imagine the irony.  Sure, you can do Snow White or the Little Mermaid, but your conception of those fairy tales had better be very, very far from what Disney has done or you’re risking a lawsuit.  This also hurts because the Public Domain needs to be refreshed with new ideas.  Right now, only corporations like Disney and Microsoft and the like (and really popular authors a la Stephen King) have the power to command vast empires of content (which is one of the reasons why I was so set against the Dark Tower), whereas those with ideas and a strong Public Domain might be able to remix works well enough to forge their own empires (i.e., become a new Disney–taking from the Public Domain and remixing old ideas into new ideas).  Perpetual Copyright is an idea whose time needs to go away if we want new ideas, new talent, and new blood to enrich our creative content.

Star Trek Voyager: Series Review

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The Crew of the Starship Voyager from Star Trek Voyager, Image Source: Tales of the Marvelous

So I finished watching Star Trek Voyager over the weekend.  I enjoyed it, but it seemed a little more uneven than Star Trek Enterprise.  There were some episodes that I really loved and there were some episodes that I had to fast-forward through in order to watch.  I think the problem is that the series had a tendency to focus on certain characters too much and didn’t always work to mix the characters together as well as they could have.  I think too, that the way STV used the “subplot” didn’t really ring as true as it did with other Star Trek series.  Sometimes the subplot was used to great effect and really enhanced the story and at other times, the subplot was barely developed or didn’t have as much effect as one would have hoped it would, which made the main plot seem lifeless.

I think the problems that I’m having with the series as a whole are more on the writers/showrunners side than on the actors side.  I really liked all of the characters on the show–both new and old.  Having watched the entire season in a short span of time, I feel that there are two parts to Voyager: Kess/Pre Seven of Nine and Post-Kess/Seven of Nine.  The Kess/Pre Seven of Nine stories focus more on Capt. Janeway’s desire to get her crew home, while the Post Kess/Seven of Nine stories focus more on recovering Seven’s humanity and socializing Seven into Voyager’s crew.  The quest home, while still very much a plot structure, gets subordinated to the ideas of what it means to be human.  And Seven isn’t the only character who goes through this storyline–The Emergency Medical Holographic Doctor is also a central figure when it comes to this plot line as well.

I want to be clear–I liked this series!  It is a more complete “conceptualization” of what Star Trek is as a series than Enterprise was, I think.   The fact that it ran for seven full years, however, hurts it when comparing it to Enterprise which ended in its fifth season because you can see the “choppiness” and “uneven” nature of the stories even more readily the longer the series goes on.  I “fast-forwarded” through many more episodes of Voyager than I did with Enterprise because the episodes lacked the necessary tension to drive the stories (and the series) forward.

OVERALL SERIES GRADE: B- (mainly due to inconsistent writing/episodes), B+ for characters and overall characterization (only for that aspect)

Building a Bookcase

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So this blog post isn’t going to be about the actual construction of a bookcase made from its constituent parts: wood, screws, pegs, etc.  Rather, this post is going to be about the books that make up the bookcase.  I think that I may have mentioned, but I love books–I try whenever possible to cruise bookstores (new and used), Amazon.com, and library book-sales for interesting books (new and old).  However, one of the things that I’ve realized is that I didn’t have my academic books with me last year.

So, I found a bookcase that would be easy to assemble and I’ve transported quite a few of the textbooks here with me.  I’ve stuck mostly to books from my English classes and a few from my History classes.  While I don’t have a ton of time to pursue my own reading, my goal is to read a little each day in order to improve my knowledge in the areas of English and History (& Education).  Hopefully, I will be able to use my love of reading to increase my breadth of knowledge in various disciplines.

One thing that I found interesting while attending English Orientation over the past three days is that I am really attuned to books.  There was a slide with a book cover and I recognized the book from my MA classes at UTC over ten years ago.  I was able to find the book on my bookshelf and loan it to a fellow graduate student who is taking the class.  I was able to do that even though I only saw the cover for 10-15 seconds.  Although I generally can place faces of people, I have a much harder time remembering names.  I guess that’s why I love books so much–they are much less complex than books.  To my mind, books make sense and in a world that often doesn’t make sense, they’re things that are both consistent and reliable.

I love technology and VR and Video games, and even though books are an old technology, I find that they are still a type of technology that I really enjoy getting lost in.

Mass Effect Andromeda, Glitches

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Image Source: Gamesradar

So, remember when I said that Mass Effect Andromeda has some odd design choices–well, it also has glitches.  I’ve seen the effects of rushed games before Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was particularly bad (the patches for Assassin’s Creed Unity, however, made the game quite stable and glitch free, but Syndicate was just as buggy and crash-prone as Mass Effect Andromeda.  Here are two fairly egregious examples:

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This glitch came about when I was on the ice world of Voeld (?) and I happened across to “Resistance” fighters who had been “fused” together into one animation rig (take a close look at the aliens head, arms, and legs).  They “phased” in and out of each other but had two heads and you could clearly see that their bodies overlapped one another to create a “Double-headed” character.  Again, with more time in development this would have probably been caught by the Q.A. testers and put on what’s called a “glitch” list to be patched out either before the game shipped, in a day-one patch, or in a successive patch released down the line.

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The second glitch I want to highlight came about on the desert world of Kadara where a “raider” was supposed to be running at me firing her weapon.  However, this was kind of hard for her to do as neither of her arms worked correctly and were twisted out to her sides.  Her running animation also did not trigger, so she just “hovered” around the surface of the planet as if she had invisible skates.  It was both pretty funny and pretty painful considering that I spent the full asking price for the game.  Again, this is something, with enough time, that could have been seen and fixed before release.

EA, Anthem (another BioWare Game) and Quality Control

So what happened?  EA, the publisher of ME:A had another game by Bioware the company that made ME:A under development (Anthem).  Anthem is one that they are positioning to be a competitor to Destiny, a rival game from rival publisher.  This is where much of the focus went.  This new game was developed by a different “division” of Bioware, has a huge focus in terms of resources and talent, and more importantly was working towards a fixed schedule in terms of release date–2018.  EA also has another big game, Star Wars Battlefront II, in which they’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and marketing in coming out Fall of 2017.  So for EA to have done the right thing by consumers by delaying ME:A would have affected the publishing schedule of these two other games in the pipeline.  So they chose to release a game that was “not fully baked” because they didn’t want to impact the sales of these other two games.  So, in essence, EA sacrificed the fans of the Mass Effect brand in order to satisfy the fans of the Star Wars brand and to “win” (or at least make in-roads) against the fans of their rival in business (i.e., Activision and their game Destiny) having built up this fan-base all through the Playstation 3/X-Box 360 era of gaming.

Now I am a Star Wars fan, still a Mass Effect fan, (& based on the trailer) I will probably be an Anthem fan, but I’m no longer a fan of EA.  Doesn’t mean that I won’t buy EA games, but it does mean that I will be both more selective in the EA titles that I buy and I will be sure to wait both on reviews and patches on EA products.  I will probably no longer buy EA games immediately simply because I cannot trust EA as company to have my best interests as their customer at heart–ME:A proves that EA is more committed to sticking to their production schedule and releasing a game that isn’t fully polished just so they won’t risk cannibalizing sales of upcoming products–ME:A needed 6 more months of polishing, but that would have put it in and interfered with their plans for Star Wars Battlefront II and that is NOT the way a company should treat its customers.

Think I’m the only one who feels this way?  I’m at least committed to finishing the game.  Check out YouTuber gamermd83 take on why she “left” ME:A and why the game was such a disappointment to her.

I am Yeva (Short Story Protagonist)

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So I started a new science-fiction short-story yesterday.  The protagonist of the story is Yeva.  She is a Psionic (a person able to use the power of her mind to do wonderful or horrible things).  Think of the character Carrie from Stephen King’s work and you’ll have a rough idea of the what the character might be able to do.

I wrote a rough outline of the story yesterday.  Yeva lives in a rough world and has gone through a lot.  Just like I have this summer.  I decided to take all of the frustration and anger that I had because of this summer and put it into a character.  Yeva was supposed to be that character, but she surprised me.  Yeva hurts and she is angry, but she is not full of rage.  That honor goes to her sister.  Yeva can see that her sister is on the path to self-destruction, but Yeva doesn’t want her sister to go there.

Will Yeva succeed in saving her sister and herself?  I’ll have to write the story to see (& you’ll have to read it to find out).  If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  If life screws you out of a restful and restorative summer, turn it into a story.

1 Dollar = Four Quarters, Right?

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Dollar Bill and 4 Quarters Image Source: Leeds Radio

So, I just want to make sure that the rules of US commerce haven’t changed?  1 dollar bill still equals four quarters, right?  No one loses money in the exchange–you’re just changing the same amount of money from one form to another, correct?

My question is rhetorical as I know that this is still the case.  I’m just trying to decide when American businesses decided it was not in their interests to change money from one form to another.  I currently have tire with leak–the tire is due for replacement when I take the car in for major surgery (service) in about 2 weeks, so I’m trying to “nurse” the leaky tire along as best I can by making sure that it is filled with air.  Now, when I travel back and forth from school, I try to make sure that the tire is filled because one of the major causes of highway blowouts is under-inflated tires (a tire gets fairly hot at highway speeds because of friction).

Yet, this morning when I stopped at a Service Station in Murfreesboro to fill up the tire, I was told by the cashier that there wasn’t any change in the register.  Not to call the attendant a liar, but having worked retail and having worked at a library’s circulation department that handles money due to fines, fees, etc., I KNOW for a FACT that you don’t start the day without any change.  If it is the fact that you’re afraid to open the register because you might be robbed (as I had to fill up the tire earlier in the week on Wednesday), then you need to take out all services that require COIN-BASED transactions, such as AIR.  I need $1.50 in QUARTERS to complete the transaction, but if I have $1.00 bill AND .50 cents in Quarters, I CAN’T BUY your product even IF I have the money to do so.

THIS is what businesses get wrong, both small and large, mom-and-pop stores and corporations.  They treat the CUSTOMER as some sort of HOST that they can “leach” money off of in order to fatten their bottom line, but then turn around and treat us as the PARASITE to be when we aren’t fulfilling our “host” duties.  The air machine is located on their property.  Even if they don’t see a direct profit from the vendor of the air hose, there is a contract in place in which the gas station sees a small “kickback” for allowing the vendor to place it on their property.  This is how most vending machine operations work.  However, most vending machines today can accept dollar bills and coins, and some, like the ones on campus, can take debit and credit card transactions.

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Air Machine (Coin Operated Only) Image Source: Long Island Weekly

So, even though I had the money to complete the transaction because of an unhelpful (or fearful) attendant and lack of modern technology on the vending machine/Air Machine, I had to risk a highway journey on an under-inflated tire, knowing full well the risk that I was taking.

Don’t Be Evil.  It’s a simple concept that American businesses large and small have simply lost and can’t seem to understand.  It would be far cheaper to make the transaction than risk a lawsuit if something untoward had happened during the journey.  I’m not looking to rob the store with a dollar bill in hand–I’m looking to make a transaction to convert the money that I have from one form into another so that I can use the service that you provide (it is on their property, they advertise the cost, but deny access when the form of the money you have doesn’t match the form that the machine takes, and then deny access again by refusing to change money via a one-to-one equal transaction.

And then businesses and corporations wonder why they then must hire “image/reputation clean-up firms” to massage their online and real world reputation because of their self-damaging practices.  There’s a reason that Comcast Xfinity isn’t just simply Comcast–as the owners so burned customers that they had to “rebrand” the service in order to attract new customers and stay “competitive” in the cable market.  For my part, the gas station has lost a potential customer as I will make sure that I never spend a dime at that particular station again.

You want customers to come back time and time again to buy your products?  I’ve got one simple rule for you: Don’t Be Evil.