The Pricing of Axtara – Banking and Finance … in 1994

Here’s a fun one, folks! About two years ago I wrote a post called The Price We Pay – Are Book Prices Too Much? which investigated a (still) common complain that books were needlessly expensive—yes, even indie books—and that the prices needed to return to what many online remembered them being when they were younger, circa 1994.

This post took that declaration to task, examining it, breaking it down, looking at how the industry operated, then using math the readers could verify themselves to show that memory and nostalgia don’t always line up, and then from there showing that a wide range of books—Indie titles especially—are cheaper than ever thanks to advancements in technology.

The post also noted that where that isn’t true, IE where prices are higher it tends to be the big Trad Pubs who have deliberately eschewed modern advances and then as a cherry on top have sent their prices even higher just because they want more money.

To this day, this post remains one of the most popular on the site, collecting a regular daily stream of readers usually arriving from a Google search like “Why are books so expensive?” or the like.

But there was another factor in that post that made it, at least to me, quite memorable. It was when I went and adjusted the (then—tail prices have since taken effect with a few) prices of my own books back to 1994 cash to see what they were worth. And we got these two nifty little charts:

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OP-ED: My Thoughts on the Capitol Riots

This post is bound to make someone somewhere unhappy. Fair warning, this is an opinion piece, and it is going to be political. I’m even going to bring some religion into it. There’s no way around it.

What it’s not going to be is a news source. I’m not going to deliver a blow-by-blow of what went down in the District of Columbia capitol of the United States last week. I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’ve got the gist of it. No, this post is to talk about my response to the event. I’m going to bring in some religion thoughts on the matter as well. So, what did I think about the capitol riots?

Probably one of the most shameful things, in a presidency of shameful things, to happen during the Trump administration.

I’m not very secretive of my dislike for President Trump and his policies. Or for his attitudes, behavior, and leanings. Personally, I find Trump to be the poster child for the most dangerous type of adult mentality warned about in books like The Pinch. He’s incapable of losing or admitting fault, and is willing to say anything, and I do mean anything, to get what he wants. It’s how he’s leaving office with the lowest amount of campaign promises even attempted to be fulfilled (by which I mean actually took any steps to follow them at all), with around half. Much of what he did accomplish was the equivalent of a child running water over a toothbrush and making noises to cover up that they don’t want to brush their teeth. To the parent watching TV and barely paying attention, it certainly appeared to be an actual effort, but anyone who took a closer look knew that there was tomfoolery going on.

Now, I want to point out that this does not mean I preferred Biden. Or Hillary from 2016. Rather I found the whole trio all sorts of unpalatable as far as my political stance went. But as President Trump did win the election, that puts him and his policies in a direct hot seat for analysis, upon which I can very thoroughly say I dislike much of what he’s accomplished during his time in office. For example, for all Trump’s talk about “small business,” data released by his own administration for the 2016-2019 period (so without the absolutely colossal mishandling of Covid-19) shows that his practices and policies have been horrible for small businesses, which are fewer in number, paying higher taxes, hiring less people, and in general dropping across the board. And that was before Covid-19. Turns out all that talk about small business was just that: talk.

So yeah, I’m not fond of a President who seems far more concerned with talking very loudly about how well they’re brushing their teeth and how impressed their dentist will be while loudly running water over the brush and grinning at themselves in the mirror. So when President Trump became Calvin from Bill Watterson’s famous Calvin & Hobbes even before the election was over, stating that he had obviously won, why wouldn’t he win, and clearly any other result was simply cheating, well … Let’s just say a President of the US parroting an argument put forth by a six year old in a newspaper comic strip, but unironically didn’t fill me with much hope.*

*It’s worth pointing out, if I’m recalling the creator’s commentary correctly, that Watterson noted that Calvin’s character was supposed to be representative of his generation’s behaviors as children, and a worry that many of them never grew out of it.

Now, I’m going to set aside the question of election fraud, as well as the oddly specific criteria President Trump has approached it with. That’s a question for the courts to decide. I’m going to talk instead about what happened Wednesday.

It was a shameless act of sedition and insurrection, and I hope the courts bury those who took part in it deep in their legal system.

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Op-Ed: Rebooting America’s Education System

This post has been a long time in coming. It’s one I’ve wanted to make for months, almost a year, really, but just kept putting off because of everything else that was going on. But at last, the time is here, and I’ve got a bit to talk about it.

I’m going to start out with a few obvious disclaimers: I don’t work in education. I came through the US education system, but I don’t work in it. I’ve taught, but on panels and in places like Sunday School classrooms, where attendance is pretty voluntary, and that’s a pretty different experience.

Second, I don’t wish for this post to be taken as “How dare you attack our teachers!” at all. Because it’s not. Most of the best teachers I’ve known have been hard-working individuals who cared a lot more about the job than the paltry paycheck they got in return would have indicated (much of which went right back to paying for things their school couldn’t).

This isn’t to say that there aren’t awful teachers out there, but they’re a symptom of the problems with the US’s education system and only a partial cause rather than the full cause.

I’m also not trying to say that the US’s education system has been flawed from the beginning. It wasn’t. Not initially. But … Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start where this whole thing for me started: With the biggest missed opportunity in decades.

The quarantine.

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Being a Better Writer: Politics and Writing

Welcome back readers! No news this week, we’re just diving right in! I felt that with the United States celebrating Independence Day this last weekend, today’s post topic felt timely. Though it wasn’t inspired by current events. This topic has been on the list for several months, inspired by a combination of commentary on various book and writing locales online as well as some very public statements by a gaming company on the nature of politics and stories (statements I disagreed with, personally).

So then, with no further ado, let’s jump in and talk about politics and writing. This is going to be a rather involved post, and as well, I suspect, somewhat controversial, because as of late culturally the idea of talking about politics has become fairly divisive in and of itself. Or to put it bluntly: Many seem to only think politics should be spoken about as long as what’s being said supports their position (no matter what it is) with as little friction as possible.

Which is kind of a genesis of sorts for this post. See, today we’re not going to talk about how to write political intrigue in our stories, nor how to write a book that focuses on politics and governmental drama. Not at all (besides, you approach that like any other topic: lots of research). No today we’re discussing the idea of having “politics” be something in a story at all.

You may have heard this statement before from someone in person or online, or at least a statement akin to it: “I don’t like politics in my story. There’s no need for them. [Creator] can just make a story without politics in it.”

Yeah, this is a popular phrase being parroted around these days. If you haven’t heard it, count yourself lucky, because any following discussion devolves into madness, usually quite quickly. However, this commonality of this statement does raise a legitimate question: are they right?

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Being a Better Writer: So Make Your Own

Welcome back readers, to another episode of Being a Better Writer! This week’s entry is a bit of an odd one. In fact, I almost tipped it over to an OP-ED piece initially, but upon thinking about it realize that yes, it was an important writing topic, if a little more unusual than normal. So we’re talking about it for this week’ Being a Better Writer.

But really quick (and I do mean quick, no worries) I do want to issue a heads-up to all prior Alpha Readers: the pre-Alpha for Axtara – Banking and Finance will like finish up today or early tomorrow morning. So this week, Alpha invites will go out!

That’s it! I did say it was quick. It’s also really good news. The last I’ll say on it is that I have immensely enjoyed my time prepping Axtara for Alpha. It’s a lot of fun.

So then, with that bit of excellent news spoken for, let’s get down to today’s topic. Which is, again, a bit weird, even if the title is anything to go by. So for a moment, to explain, let’s talk about some of the weird social climates around the process of creating.

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Want Diversity? Start Supporting Indie

Hey readers, got a short post for you here today. It may not have escaped your notice in recent weeks (or maybe it did, and you’ve spent your time better than I) that the book industry, specifically traditional publishing, has been under fire.

Okay, in fairness, that’s nothing new. The traditional publishing industry has been suffering for years. That’s why Simon & Schuster is up for sale. But right now it’s under fire from readers for a reason that, given the current political climate in the United States, you can probably guess at.

Yup, the publishers are under fire for diversity. Or rather, for a lack of it.

Before I go further with this post, I want to make one thing clear: I actually agree with this concept, but for entirely different reasons than most locked in this battle would probably agree with. Most of them are painting, as they put it, a lack of books from certain ethnic groups or a lack of good royalty for those books as a deliberately targeted act of racism.

I’m not so sure. At least, not in the way most of the accusers seem to think. Personally? I think it’s far more likely that it’s the same story repeated a thousand times with the traditional publishers: They’re out of touch, behind the times, and refusing to adapt to the modern era. They’re “risk averse” to anything they don’t understand, and buddy, there’s a lot they don’t understand.

So basically, while many are accusing book publishers of being deliberately racist, I think that’s giving the publishers too much credit. It’s an “achievement” of ignorance as much as anything else. Ignorance and willful refusal to adapt. Not at all helped by many publishers trying to kill as many birds with one stone as possible and push out books that “hit” every margin the publisher hasn’t at once.

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Op-Ed: How Covid-19’s Impact Might Be Good for the United States

Hello readers! I’m going to start this post with a bit of a disclaimer. Two, actually.

First, I know Covid-19 has been bad for a lot of people. It’s caused a lot of deaths, and a lot of disruption. There are people who have lost family members and friends because of this, or jobs and livelihoods. At the time of this writing, the global death toll was about 140,000. The goal of this post isn’t to say that Covid-19 (AKA Coronavirus) is good, it’s unmistakably a situation which we should take very seriously. But the impact it’s left on the other claw, could be good. Much in the way an early architectural disaster arising due to unknown elements can lead to a greater understanding of building stresses and safer buildings overall (this has indeed happened).

Second, this post is really only concerned with the United States of America. Because it’s where I happen to live, and where therefore I’m both most familiar with the structure of things as well as the effects Covid-19 has had on that structure. If you’re one of my many readers from outside the US (shoutout to Europe, including Sweden, Norway, Spain, and Finland, New Zealand, Brazil, and even Africa!) then this post may not be quite as relevant except maybe as a curious thought exercise or puzzlement or another opinion piece on how the US functions (or in this case, doesn’t function, as we’re about to discuss).

So, with both those things said, then, let’s move on to today’s post, and how Covid-19’s impact could be good for the US … if we’re aware enough to make it happen.

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OP-ED: The Foolish Hypocrisy of “What We Had is Good Enough”

Hey readers! Taking a moment from Fireteam Freelance to make a quick post. One that, well … Let’s just see how this goes. But first, a heads up that Colony and Jungle have picked up something like six new Five-Star reviews/ratings in the last week! Welcome new readers, and thank you for leaving your thoughts! I’m glad you’re loving Colony and Jungle!

Okay, news over! This post, like some here on Unusual Things, is one of those posts inspired by an actual conversation. In this case said conversation was between myself and an individual who shall remain nameless, but who is an outspoken critic of the “younger generations.”

Note: If you thought “Oh, a boomer!” or “OK boomer” then you’re on the right track here. Anyway, this individual holds that the social difficulties of today aren’t difficulties at all, that they’re simply a byproduct of the younger generations being lazy and incompetent, and that no one has had it harder than their generation (red flag much?).

But … that’s not where I’m going with this. No, I want to use this interaction to show the hypocrisy of a mindset that is, unfortunately, bought into by many. The idea that “Well, we had it good enough, so anything past that we perceive means you’re coddled/weak/less than us.”

Let me give you an example. The individual I was in the conversation with gave their “example” of “you have it so much better than the generation before you who had it so bad, how dare you complain about anything” by bringing up cell phones. Cell phones and smart phones, they argued, were just a sign of a coddled, weakened generation. ‘The younger generation doesn’t have money,’ they argued, ‘because they spend it on cell phones, which they don’t need. If they were really poor, they’d get rid of their cell phones.’

Okay, now despite the holes of logic that one could pilot a star cruiser through (such as even basic, minimum-wage jobs—so you know, banks, retail, medical, etc—requiring their employees have cell phones for scheduling, 24-7 access, etc), this person didn’t stop there. They just had to “drive the point home.”

‘When I was the age of the younger generation, the apartment block I lived in had one phone, at the end of the hall. Most used it only once a week to call someone important like their family.’ And here’s the moment where they messed up. They then finished if ‘If it was good enough for me and my generation, then it’s good enough for you.’

I responded in a way that caught them off-guard. I asked why they felt they needed to use the phone, if a letter worked just as well. They replied that why shouldn’t they use the phone? After all, it was there to be used.

‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘But did your parents have access to a phone like that when they were your age?’

‘Of course not,’ they quickly retorted. ‘They sent letters. There was no phone.’

‘Then why didn’t you send letters?’ I asked. ‘After all, if it was good enough for them, shouldn’t it have been good enough for you? You didn’t need to use a phone.’

Instant. Anger. And cue the rant.

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The Pitfall with Patreon

Okay, I realize that this title may be attention-grabbing enough to start people off with the wrong ideas. So I’m going to make it clear right up front: I am extremely grateful and thankful to those of you who donate to my Patreon. There have been months where I’ve only gotten by thanks to the kind and generous donations of my Patreon supporters. Writing is … a tough job. It doesn’t pay great pretty much until it does. But I am forever grateful to those of you that donate a little bit of your income each month as a thanks for the articles I post. I couldn’t do Being a Better Writer without you guys (especially as BaBW is ad and subscription free).

No, this post isn’t to have issue with that. Rather, it’s to bring up something I’ve mentioned before. An issue with Patreon that’s, well, quite prevalent. And ultimately, a death sentence if someone falls into its trap. Which I’ve seen happen more than once.

It’s not the fault of Patreon, and I don’t wish to insinuate that. I believe it has more to do with human nature, and the idea of “being owed.”

Okay, so let me just dive right into things. Patreon, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a modern take on the “Patron of the Arts” idea. See, back in the old days of history, “Patrons” of artists would basically donate money to various artists, musicians, so that these artists would have money to live while they made their creations. You have to realize the idea of a musician selling records is entirely unique to our modern era. If a talented young musician, say a classical composer, wanted to be a classical composer, they could find a patron who would support them with money for living needs in exchange for the musician creating music. If they stopped creating, the patron would stop funding them.

Patreon is the digital equivalent of this concept. Find a webcomic you like? An artist? A modder? Any sort of creative soul you want to support? You can support this person on Patreon, donating them a sum of money each month. The idea being if that 100 people donate $5 each, that creator then makes $500. So for the cost of a half-price lunch a month, 100 people can support their favorite webcomic creator, for example.

Cool, right? I agree. It’s a modern take on the “Patron of the Arts” formula.

But not one without its weaknesses. And it’s flaws. Some of which are, without mincing words, almost deadly to a creator.

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The Shifting Tide of Employment – Follow Up

Hey there readers! Sorry for the lateness of this post. I just wanted to get a bit more work done on Axtara: Banking and Finance before I had a work shift tonight. But speaking of work, remember that post I made about two weeks ago about how employment as we know it is soon going to shift completely as increasing automation quickly overtakes everything? The one where I pointed out it’s already happening and only accelerating, and we need to figure out how we’re going to adapt to it?

If you don’t, or haven’t read it, than you really should. Not just because it’ll give some needed context to this post, but because it may bring to light some things you didn’t know or realize and should probably be thinking about. It was called The Shifting Tide of Employment – The Sci-Fi Future is Already Here. It produced a lot of talk in comments here and on other sites where it was linked, because most people don’t realize how swiftly this change is moving. It’s not “when will it come” because it’s already here. Which is kind of the point of the post, along with a note that in my personal opinion, as a culture and a society we are not prepared in the slightest for the magnitude of change this will bring.

And then yesterday, things shifted again. In my first post, or at least in one of the comments, I compared the coming of automation to be an avalanche that’s already started. We can’t stop it, but we need to figure out how we’re going to weather it. It can be a good thing, or a bad thing, but we need to make those decision now, not later. A video someone mentioned in the comments (and I’ll link it again in this post for good measure) compares us to horses looking at the car and wondering if it’ll ever replace us.

Yes. The answer is yes. And this week, we moved a step closer. Take a look at this video from Boston Dynamics:

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