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.

Advertisers vs Creators vs YouTube

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YouTube Removing Ads from non-advertiser friendly videos Image Source: Search Engine Journal

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Screenshot of YouTube Monetization Image Source: 9to5google

This post probably won’t be as long as usual as I have meeting to attend in a couple of hours, however, I just wanted to get it out there since the topic (and the creators’ responses to it) mirrors my own frustration(s) this summer.

The topic is a simple one (& one that ultimately comes down to money), advertisers and Google seem to be in a war against the content creators that have helped YouTube grow and they have instituted a change in policy that is forcing many YouTubers to either change their content/format, seek alternate funding methods, or leave YouTube for another platform (like Twitch, or other streaming/video services) altogether.

Here is an example of one such YouTuber’s frustration: ACG
And here’s another: The Horror Show

Advertisers
Advertisers want viewers and they want their ads to appear in front of (and during) videos in order to sell their product or service.  They also want to control their message and how their message is displayed and on what content that it gets displayed upon.  In other words, they don’t want their message to be linked with an offensive site or offensive content.  Yet, the sprawling nature of YouTube doesn’t allow them to go in and hand-pick content, so they have (apparently) successfully and recently lobbied YouTube to create fairly restrictive algorithms so that their material appears on only the most family friendly content.  Again, this is because they want their messages to BOTH reach the widest audience possible (families) and not be associated with “objectionable” material, but they don’t want to spend an additional money to hire a person/a team of people to navigate YouTube to manually indicate whether their brand is being served or hurt by appearing on a particular video.

Creators
Creators are crying foul because of the draconian nature of the algorithms deployment.  Even if the content itself isn’t objectionable (such as review), the way it is presented (i.e., with a couple of swear words) is enough for YouTube’s algorithm to deny monetization to creators and their videos.  However, even in Avengers: Age of Ultron, there’s a running gag about characters swearing and Captain America calling them out on it, and the gag is that they call him out on calling them out (if that makes any sense).  The reason why it’s funny is that in today’s world swearing is “allowed” (which I don’t personally agree with) and to call someone out on it marks you as old fashioned.  The Marvel movies are own by Disney Studios, a company known for its “wholesome” image, yet their most successful movies are in the PG-13 category these days.  It is unfair for advertisers to require their ads play on “G” rated content in a society where even the wholesome, family friendliest of companies content is in the PG-13 arena and they have a valid point.  Most creators already don’t make enough from YouTube to qualify even as a “hobby,” let alone a full time/part-time self-sustaining job and this change really hurts them.

Frustration with the system

If you watched the two videos, you can see the frustration of the creators.  They create content for a system and yet have an emotionless set of algorithms determine what can and cannot be monetized.  This is the exact same frustration that I felt this summer.  They work within the rules of the system, but the rules keep changing and they keep changing in a way that benefits others instead of the very creators who provide YouTube with the lifeblood of content that the site needs in order to survive. In many ways, this is much like AMC all over again as YouTube (and their owners, Google) have taken their eye of the ball and given into the greed that pushes away consumers to other platforms and then decry the fact that users/consumers no longer use their service and/or their profits are down.  Google’s motto used to be “don’t be evil.”  I think that they (and other businesses) should adopt this as the first line of their mission statements, not the last.

Great Actors in Small Roles: Madalyn Horcher as Sgt. Leach

011 Madalyn Horcher as Sgt. Leach_joesmoviestuffdotblogspotdotcom

I watched Jack Reacher: Never Go Back a few nights ago and I liked the movie.  In particular I like both the character and the actor playing Sgt. Leach, Madalyn Horcher.

“Helper”

The character of Sgt. Leach is one that is a “helper” character to the main character, meaning that this character finds out information and gives it to the main character in order for the plot to advance.  In function, this character is on-stage to provide exposition and/or plot complication for both the audience and the main character.  Dr. John Watson from Doyle’s Sherlock stories is probably the best known helper, but it can range to much smaller parts such as Sgt. Leach in this movie.  In many cases, the helper is put in physical peril, and sometimes dies, so this can be a thankless role for some actors.

Sgt. Leach: Understated

I think the reason why I noticed Madalyn Horcher’s performance is the “understated” nature of how she plays the character.  While I’ve not served in the military, my uncle and grandfather did and they explained that while on duty, there is a certain detached “decorum” that soldiers are expected to follow (sort of like Spock from Star Trek), but if you know how to read what’s being said and the tonality of how it is being said, there are a whole range of emotions that you can pick up from a soldier.  Horcher’s performance captured all of the nuances that I’d imagined in my mind’s eye every since my uncle told me about his military experiences.  This is why it is so important to look for (and cast) actors who can bring the right emotional intensity to a specific role.

While the movie wasn’t necessarily a critical success, nevertheless it was a pretty interesting story made better by the actors in both small and large roles.

 

 

ReReading: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadowplague (Graphic Novel)

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Book Cover: Five fantasy adventures ready to do battle.  Image Source: OgreCave.com

So, I’m in the process of moving all my academic books to a bookshelf (looks like it actually be a bookshelf and a half or perhaps two bookshelves total) with me as I work on my degree.  However, this leaves me with a fairly large gap of three to four shelves that I probably should fill.  I already have my graphic novels (& comic books) on my main bookcase, but I’ve decided to reread my graphic novels (& comics) and place them on those free shelves.  I have several fairly large graphic novels that don’t fit on the shelf with the other graphic novels on my main bookcase, but this secondary bookcase has more than enough room for them.  If I can remember, I will try to take a picture at the end of the project and post it here.

DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: SHADOWPLAGUE

This is the first of a “new” series of graphic novels with original characters in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.  I say new because this was tried in the late 80s/early 90s with a different group of characters written by Jeff Grubb, a prolific writer of D&D novelizations of the time.  This book is written by Jim Rogers and is full of post Lord of the Rings (Peter Jackson) adventure/banter.  While not a comedy, Rogers does the “witty banter” so often found in comics and comic book movies that irked my late creative writing professor, Ken Smith when I tried to present stories in his fiction class with this same type of banter.  For Ken, the banter trivialized the drama and lowered the emotional stakes for the characters.  His argument (loosely speaking) was that if the characters are joking around during a life-or-death situation, then we get the feeling that the characters aren’t really in any danger.  I can plainly see that here as I didn’t get the sense that any of the characters (protagonists) were any in real danger, per se.

This sounds like I don’t like the story and that’s not true–I do like the book, but this is a fun, rip-roaring comic book adventure, but it doesn’t have a sense that the characters are ever really in jeopardy.  This book introduces and follows a team of intrepid adventurers of the mostly standard races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and newcomer race, Tiefling) as they go through various adventures to discover the secret of the Shadowplague, a magical plague that turns ordinary people into zombies.  Abundant fight scenes, magic, and characters who all display a penchant for witty banter and sometimes painful backstories make this a fun and interesting story.

I did not happen to buy the other graphic novels that make up the rest of this series, but you can bet that I’ll definitely try to grab them as time and money allow.  The cover price of 24.99 is a bit steep for the product.  It is hardcover, but still it is really only worth about 14.99 to 17.99.  If I can find it for under 9.99, then I’ll definitely pull the trigger.  The problem is, the last I checked, it had gone out of print and Amazon 3rd party “scalpers” had driven the cost to above $30 dollars.  Sad days, indeed.  This is a fun little series that I wouldn’t mind getting a complete collection for myself–but if the remaining volumes stay out of reach, then this one volume will have to suffice, witty banter and all.

 

Player Unknown Battlegrounds

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Two combatants with guns square off with one another. Image Source: Crave Online

I won’t get too carried away talking about games exclusively, but I will take a moment to highlight a game that has taken the “hardcore” gamer by storm.  You’d think it would be Zelda and/or the Nintendo Switch based on the amount of coverage that the media is giving both the game and the system (and while they are fun and/or unique), it is Player Unknown Battle Grounds (PUBG–known affectionately as “Pub–Gee”) that currently has the hardcore gamers’ attention.  It is coming to the consoles, but right now it is only available for computers.

What is PUBG?  It is a game where approximately a hundred players are all dropped on an island and must fight it out in a huge Battle Royale until there is only 1 player/team remaining.  You can have up to 4 players on a team and while they just added a first person mode (as if you are looking out the characters eyes), the game normally features characters in the 3rd person mode (as if you watching the character on a movie screen).

The actual design of the game is actually pretty ingenious–I’ll have to give it to the designer.  The map is not quite an open world–it is a fairly large island “sandbox” that has trees, scrubland grass, and buildings.  There are a couple of named areas such as towns, but there are also smaller areas such as “The Barracks,” etc., and other deserted buildings.  Players drop onto the island without any weapons and must scavenge weapons and gear from the deserted buildings.  What is so brilliant about the game however, is the design mechanic of an “electrified shield” that slowly restricts the play area every 2 minutes or so, forcing the remaining players into an ever smaller playing environment until there is only 1 winner.

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A character parachutes into the map.  Image Source: Business Insider

I have seen “streams” pop up from more and more gamers as they play solo or with teams of friends/acquaintances in order to be number 1 and earn the game’s virtual prize of the catch-phrase “Winner, winner, Chicken-Dinner.”  While this game my not be a media darling like The Switch or the newest Zelda game, it is most definitely part of the gaming zeitgeist of 2017 and its design mechanics will surely be used (filtered) into other games in the future which is why I would have liked to have been able to talk about it during my Digital Rhetoric class.

Well, that’s all from me–I’m off to work on my project on Virtual Reality for the aforementioned Digital Rhetoric class–who knows, maybe eventually there will be a Battle Royal Virtual Reality simulator one of these days.

Nostalgia Time: In Search of the Most Amazing Thing & Snooper Troops

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Screenshot: Man jet packing to B-Liner Balloon Ship.  Image Source: Myabandonware.com

So, I won’t bore you but my Digital Rhetoric, while discussing the importance of old Commodore 64 code and the like, wasn’t too interested in my ACTUAL working knowledge of the C64 and its “affordances” (fancy, two-bit academic jargon that means advantages) of the software that I had as a child (& what helped shaped me into the person I am today).  I’m going to take a moment (probably on Mondays, though they may appear on other days) to just quickly go through some of the quirkiest and/or most relevant software and relate how they might apply to today’s world.

Two games that I remember that were the strangest and most intriguing games that I ever got for the C64 were by the same company–Spinnaker Software.  They were called In Search of the Most Amazing Thing (ISotMAT) and Snooper Troops (ST).  While I have the manual for ISotMAT, I don’t have the manual for ST–I can’t remember if ST was bundled in or if it was stuck in the ISotMAT box accidentally (things like that did happen in the early days of software), or what, but I remember that they came together, but that we (my uncle and I) had to figure out how to play ST whereas we had the manual for ISotMAT.

ISotMAT was sort of a “sci-fi” game in a world underneath/beneath the “real world.”  Fraggle Rock was a new and different thing at the time and it had that same “Fraggle Rock” feel.  I remember that it took a while to figure out how to play ISotMAT, but once you understood it, you could have a decent amount of fun with it.  The problem with the game is that it was SLOW.  It took forever for the game to “draw” critical systems onto the screen.  Now perhaps this was a limitation of the C64, but I recall a segment where you needed to drill.  The computer had to draw the drill circling down pixel by pixel and then it drilled and you received whatever and then the computer had to retract the drill laboriously again pixel by pixel.  One drilling session could take 5-7 minutes.  I still enjoyed playing the game however.  So much so, that when I couldn’t figure out a way to get to the ending of the game via the game itself, I actually found a way to “List” (view) the game’s code (it was written in BASIC) and I skimmed the code until I found the ending (all on my own, at the age of 9-11 years old, maybe 12, but that’s pushing it, if I remember).  That’s what I wanted to share with the class as it recalled an example in James Paul Gee’s book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy of a kid who wanted to know more about World of Warcraft, so went to online forums, found a binary code reader, and began to read and manipulate WoW’s code.  Gee was suitably impressed by the young man’s “metacognition” and learning strategies.  My classmates, on the other hand, weren’t particularly interested in much that I had to say, so this why I’m sharing this experience here instead.

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Screenshot: Car beside Detective Agency.  Image Source: Myabandonware.com

ST was a mystery game and I daresay that I liked it as much, and perhaps a little more than ISotMAT.  When done right, I actually like mysteries as a genre, but only in certain instances.  I’ll try to remember to do a post on the rise and fall of my love of mysteries in another post, but ST allowed you to be a detective and it was something that my child self really gravitated to.  It even allowed you to drive a car from house to house as you checked out clues and again, you had to take into account your speed and braking distance, or you could overshoot your target house.  While the game was presented abstractly, the modeling of certain real-world concepts was something that helped child me learn and engage with the world through play in a meaningful way–which is what Gee’s book is all about.

I found two YouTube videos showing ISotMAT and ST.  Now, they’re not the correct format (i.e., C64 version) that I played, but even on different systems they still give you an idea of what the games looked like if you’re interested:

In Search of the Most Amazing Thing

Snooper Troops

Well, that’s it for my trip down memory lane for today–thanks for listening/reading.  I appreciate it.