Microsoft Just Shot the Series X in the Back EDIT: Someone got to a medic in time

UPDATE: As of a short time ago, and due to massive public outcry, Xbox has announce that the Xbox Live Gold price hike is no more. In addition, they’re going to be opening the platform’s online play up more to those who don’t want Gold, including announcing that all F2P games will no longer require Gold. It’s a start! Thank you to everyone who made their unhappiness known!

As for me, I actually passed on buying a Series X during this whole deal (in my cart and everything). So yeah, up front, it cost them a Series X sale. Now that it’s been resolved, well … I’ll start looking again.

Thank you, Xbox folks, for realizing how bad an idea this was, for listening, and for responding,

Original post below:


Well, I didn’t expect to be posting this today. But in fairness, Microsoft has blindsided everyone with this move, from fans to prospective buyers. And in the process, during the launch period of their own console they’ve basically shot it in the back.

Let me explain. Microsoft is one of the juggernauts in the game console space right now, alongside Sony and Nintendo. In December/November of 2020, both Microsoft and Sony launched their newest hardware iterations. Both are vast improvements over the underpowered hardware that the prior generation delivered, and both were high on people’s shopping lists. In fact, until this morning, the Series X was high on mine. Now? I’m not so sure.

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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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OP-ED: Opinion and Reality

Fair warning from the start: This post is going to address that beast, politics, and talk about it a little. Probably not in the way most of you expect, but it is going to address it. So fair warning, this might be messy. But I’m pulling no punches and diving right in.

The last few months have reminded me of an experience I once had a little over a decade ago. I collect cool background images for my PC, and from a variety of sources. Photographs of national parks, neat images from video-games I’ve played, whatever. That mix and combination, however, lead to a very interesting exchange.

I had a visitor over who, through one means or another had noticed my rotating backgrounds, and commented on them and how nice they looked. At the moment, the background in question had been showing a very artistic photograph of Hamburg, Germany. I nodded, agreeing, and then noted that it almost made me want to visit and see the city someday.

At which point, this individual did something very unexpected and unusual. They shook their head sadly and said “Oh sure, that’d be nice, but it’s not a real place.”

Stunned and slightly perplexed, I replied that it was indeed very real. Hamburg, Germany was a city on a map.

At this point things took a swift turn sideways. This individual, who up until this point I had assumed was a rational, thinking human being, shook their head and with a sad, patronizing tone said ‘Oh no, it’s not hun. You just think it is because of all those video games you play. You’ve lost touch with reality. You think these imaginary places are real.’

After a moment’s pure shocked disbelief, I replied that I knew very well the difference between fantasy and reality, and replied that Hamburg, Germany was a very real place.

Their response? They shook their head, told me how sad it was that playing video games had messed with my head so much, and hoped that one day I would realize the difference between fantasy and reality.

To this day I wonder if that individual ever realized exactly how crazy they sounded.

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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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Invisible Censorship and Books

I made an interesting and alarming discovery a few weeks ago.

Like most authors, I happen to love reading books as well. Between my local library, the occasional purchase, and my Kindle, I go through a good number of them every year. I have my entire life. Sands, in my small-town library, if I happened to be around the librarians would sometimes ask me if I knew a book a patron was asking about. I read a lot.

So, naturally, I gravitate to places online that talk about books. Forums that offer book reviews, or book chats, etc etc.

It was on one of these forums that I discovered an extremely disturbing trend.

Let me catch you up. One of the book places I hung out at quite regularly—or did, before this discovery, which all but killed my interest in it—was a place for book recommendations. It was pretty simple and straightforward: One person posts what they’re looking for, be it a historical romance with specific traits, or just something like what they’d already read and enjoyed, like Dune. Then, participants could post replies listing, detailing, or talking about other books that the poster might be interested in.

Good idea, right? I sure thought so. And so I went to it. It was fun dredging my brain sometimes for lesser-known authors or books that someone might have missed, or thinking “Oh, what was the name of that book!” and digging back several years through my Goodreads list to find it.

It was pretty good … Or so I thought.

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The Price We Pay – Are Book Prices too Much?

Honestly, I was going to hold off on a second post this week until Thursday (I’m blitzing through edits on Jungle right now) but this post had already been on my mind, and then a discussion yesterday online regarding MacMillan’s continued crusade against libraries basically poured gasoline over the spark and, well … Here we are.

Look, something that I see brought up constantly online, including in the very post that kicked this whole chain of thoughts off, is the price of books. It’s a hot topic anywhere. There are a lot of people who see them as too expensive, too overpriced, whether digital or not.

And you know what? I think they’re wrong.

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OP-ED: The Gears of War “Movie”: Games and Hollywood

Hollywood has … problems.

Okay, that’s kind of a lame lead. We all know that. Everywhere has problems. Is Hollywood unique?

Well … yes. Most of their problems are pretty specific. And a lot of them are of their own, self-inflicted making. If you want a fascinating hour, go look up a podcast on how things like Academy Awards are determined and you’ll be exposed to an almost insane feedback loop wherein people make movies to please the academy so that they can win awards to make movies to please the academy.

Yeah, Hollywood is weird. But one of their more puzzling “problems,” the one that I want to talk about today, is their obsession with “fixing what isn’t broke.”

That’s right. I want to talk about video game movies.

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The Captain Marvel Kerfluffle

Or, How Captain Marvel‘s Writing Team Showed They Really Don’t Know Their Craft.

There wasn’t supposed to be a post today. In fact, I am slamming this out in-between a work shift, a very important errand, work on book projects (my email box is FULL of comments, fixes, and changes from the awesome Alpha and Beta Readers I have), and then a big social event tonight. But this warranted a post.

Okay, backstory: This last weekend, with Marvel’s Captain Marvel about to come out on Blu-Ray, the marketing team released an extended version of a scene from the film.

Okay, fine, not worth commenting on so far, right? Well, this came with an additional caveat. It was marketed as “see a hero taking on toxic masculinity.”

Oh. Oh no.

As I pointed out in my thoughts on Captain Marvel, the largest weakness of the film by far was the writing. And … that’s come back to bite folks again. Badly.

As you can imagine, the internet exploded.

Hang on though. We’re still in backstory. The scene in question is an extended version of the scene in the film where—minor spoilers—Vers steals a guy’s bike and some clothes. In this new version, rather than her simply eyeing the bike and stealing it (which is justifiable in character at the moment), we instead get a scene where the biker hits on Vers in a pretty sleazy manner, only to get his conceptions crushed by Vers. She shakes his hand, then crushes it (you can hear bones crack and pop) and tells him to give her his bike and jacket or she’ll remove the hand.

Again … a bit more sinister, sure. Except … then the writers had to step in and explain that this was Captain Marvel being a hero and striking a blow against toxic masculinity. And … well, you can imagine how the internet has taken it. Both sides have, as you can predictably guessed, gone up in arms. Both make some good points, and both make some bad points.

However, the reason I chose to take some time out of my crunched day to post about this was because at its core, the argument Disney’s marketing team and the writers of Captain Marvel have claimed is … well, wrong.

Vers isn’t a hero in that scene. Not by any definition of the term. And to see people so aggressively defending Vers actions as “heroic,” even the writing team? Well … I think that’s in part why the Captain Marvel had the problems it had.

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OP-ED: Can I Be Blunt? I Can’t Stand Modern Cover Design

There, I’ve said it. This post has been a long-time coming (it was actually planned for the week after LTUE, but then that big bit of metal fell …) but today we’re finally getting to it. And the title pretty much sums it up.

I don’t like modern cover design for books. At all. And the more books move toward this modern design, the less I enjoy it.

What’s not to like? First and foremost, the size of everything. There was a time when a book had three primary things on the cover, in addition to some smaller things that could sometimes appear. You had the name of the book. You had the name of the author. And you had the cover image itself. And these were displayed with a decent hierarchy in mind. The cover image was usually foremost, followed by or sharing equal billing with the title.

Now, however … that’s not the case. One of the trends right now is that the author’s name has to be AS BIG AS PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE, dominating as much of the cover as it can. At first it was just under the size of the name of the book. Then it became the same size. Now? On a lot of books, it’s even bigger. You can find book covers with the author’s name taking up over a third of the cover. Or more.

Personally? I can’t stand it. I get that there are “reasons” behind it (I heard about them at LTUE, and you’ll definitely hear them from the Indie crowd), but even with those “reasons” I still can’t stand it. Especially as the driving force behind it is … well, it’s kind of childish personally. It’s the old “Bigger is better” idea.

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