OP-ED: Don’t Ban Things Just Because You Don’t Like Them

This post has been on my mind for a few months now. Like others, it’s being written in advance for posting. But in a way I’m glad, because I’ve already written it once and retooled it. After some consideration, I think the best way to go with this post is to be short and sweet.

There’s been a real rash in the last decade or so of folks seeking to “remove” what they don’t like from the public sphere. Various methods are being used, from twitter mobs that go after creators to try and get them removed or banned from communities or positions, to the latest incarnation, which is to use politicians and laws to block or remove things simply because one disagrees with them.

I wish I were joking. Kentucky just passed a law that, as I understand it, gives state politicians ultimate say over all public library funds and what they go toward. The implication made by the supporters of the bill is that it will allow them to examine what books are on public library shelves or requested by readers and then block all library funding until the “problematic” titles are removed. A similar bill is being pushed in Idaho that would launch an investigation into public libraries of that state to find “problematic material” and remove it from the library (likely, from what I’ve gathered, along with punishments to the library and staff for offering such “problematic” literature).

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OP-ED: Merit and Accountability in the American Workplace

This post has been a while in coming, and I mean that to a degree most of you likely won’t expect. This, right here, these words you see before you, account for the third time I have written out my thoughts on this subject, the prior postings either being too disorganized or too negative and downbeat to ultimately find their way to the site.

Yet the topic kept circling back. Whether it was because of the constant barrage of, to put it kindly, angry or entitled posts I would see on social media from a particular group, or because I was in the opposing group those type of posts regularly attacked while also knowing (and seeing) firsthand what things were actually like, the topic kept coming back in my head. Though arguably, it also likely has much to do with firsthand experience I’ve had working at various jobs, seeing directly for myself how abysmal things have gotten … as well as how doggedly those who benefit from the current status quo fight to defend it.

Which I think is perhaps where things went wrong. Both the prior attempts to write out this post contained example after example, all first-hand, of how working in the US has become, well … awful. The problem was is that the post didn’t do anything constructive. It aired a litany of sins, pointed fingers … and then that was it. Not exactly great content. So after the second post had been a dud (which was last night), I stepped back and analyzed this latest attempt, and decided to come at things from a very different angle. Yes, I could throw stones, and there’s more than enough ammo to go around. But that won’t fix anything, because those who understand already know what’s gone wrong, while those who should understand have already insulated themselves from the issue and are often living a lifestyle dependent on never admitting the issue in the first place.

Ultimately then, there’s little reason to writing yet another post that airs the problems that are already there, whether or not they’re acknowledged. But a post that’s about the constructive, a post that is to those who will, slowly but surely, taking those same positions encouraging them to not dive into the same self-serving behavior and discussing how the US economy is harmed by such self-centered mindsets? Well … maybe that can do something. Just maybe.

So let’s talk about the idea of merit, the concept of accountability, and how both are vital to the US economy … despite being something that’s been largely ejected from the modern job market.

And look, I know there will be plenty of those that have, as noted above, insulated themselves from the reality of what’s going on out there. They’ll come at this post with torches and pitchforks, ignore most of it or attempt to leave a comment that’s effectively a giant strawman, or something else.

To all those posters: Tough. You’re welcome to go shout at your personal echo chambers about why “merit doesn’t matter” or “merit matters, but everyone else is just inferior” or whatever other cockamamie excuse you feel works. Knock yourself out. But don’t expect to be taken seriously here, or given a soap box to shout. Fair warning.

For the rest of you, let’s talk about merit.

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OP-ED: Not Every Popular Thing Goes with Every Other Thing – Or Why We Should Stop Shoving Dark Souls into Everything

This piece is going to aggravate a few people. I’ll state that up front because I know it’s going to aggravate them because I’ve already expressed this opinion elsewhere and had some people express very much that they disagreed with it.

But it’s a pretty straightforward opinion, and I’ll back it up as best I can. It basically boils down to a recent gaming experience (a rare reminder of one of my hobbies) that could be best summed up as “Stop shoving Dark Souls into everything, especially where it doesn’t fit!”

If you’re not familiar with the title offered there, I’m going to note that I don’t have a problem with the game itself. Dark Souls is a series (as well as a style) of game developed by FromSoftware that’s built around a very punishing, precise, methodical style of play. Your character is not agile and limber, but stiff and committed, unable to break free from an action they’ve committed to. Enemies are tough and on equal or better footing to the player. The result is a gameplay style where you must make very concise, clear, methodical choices—usually about when to roll, block, or strike—with a very limited window for error and even less leeway for actually making an error.

Effectively, every enemy is a sort of “trial and error” experience of learning when to strike and when to roll out of the way, with the message “you died” being a frequent companion to the player. You learn to watch every enemy’s tells, and you learn precisely when to counter, dodge roll for i-frames, or attack … or you’ll die. Again and again.

Here’s the thing: FromSoftware has devoted a lot of time to making this punishing, methodical style of gameplay work. It’s a game style that lends itself to a lot of rough edges, from cheap shots to badly designed combat encounters. And I make this bit clear: FromSoftware has worked very hard to make these rough edges as smooth as possible, taking out cheap shots, making sure enemies fall victim to the same physics that the player does, etc. The result has been a very successful series, to the point that a lot of players who are fans of it consider it the “original” hard game (to which those of us who played something like Ninja Gaiden Black just chuckle and roll our eyes). If you’ve heard anyone talking lately about Elden Ring, well that’s because it’s FromSoftware’s newest release in the market, and it’s tearing up the charts as it is a very well-realized evolution on the formula that’s made them such a success. Millions and millions of copies sold, the latest in a line of popular stylized combat games.

Now, I’ll state something up front before diving into the meat of this discussion: I don’t mind that these games exist. Dark Souls and the like are certainly not my cup of tea, with their slow, plodding combat, i-frame design (a practice I’ve never liked in almost any game I’ve played) and the design of being locked in whatever action you most recently set out to do. But I don’t mind that others enjoy the polished experience that FromSoftware provides. That’s fine. You play Dark Souls. I’ll play the liquid smooth, tough-as-nails Ninja Gaiden Black instead.

What I do have a problem with is every other developer out there going “Hey, this game is really popular. Why don’t we shove that gameplay into a game that has no reason to have it? It’s popular, right?”

It stinks of executive meddling or developers not understanding their own game, and I hate it.

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A Tribute to the Greatest MP3 Player Alive

Some of you might be wondering why I didn’t title this A Tribute to the Greatest MP3 Player that Ever Lived, but there’s a reason for that!

But first, really quick, and before I get into this small tribute, I do want to offer a quick update about yesterday’s post, as some of you might be wondering what point it served. Well, it’s pretty straightforward: I’ve noticed that if one searches “Axtara” or “Axtara – Banking and Finance” you get the store pages, and the news page on the site that announced its release … but you do not get any of the reviews or previews.

So I made that post designed specifically for web crawlers looking for search results. With a little luck and some work, in a few weeks it’ll be one of the top search results, so anyone looking for Axtara will find the store pages, and a free preview of the first three chapters to read, nice and easy.

Since we’re doing news, editing on Starforge is now in full swing, and in addition Patreon Supporters will have another chapter preview coming soon. But not yet, because they’ve got The Minstrel and the Marshal for the moment, and that’s plenty of story to keep them occupied.

All right, that’s it for news. Let’s move on to the post: A tribute to the greatest MP3 player ever made.

Yeah, I know this is going to ruffle some feathers. But hey, my site, my opinion. Are you ready to see the image of the greatest MP3 player ever made? Here it is:

That’s right. The best MP3 player ever made is the oft-mocked Zune.

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OP-ED: Labor and Ownership

Hello there readers! I’m taking a bit of a momentary break from Starforge editing to write this post and give myself a bit of time to decompress (though don’t worry, I’ll be back at Starforge shortly). This is a topic that’s been on my mind, coalescing, for several months now as shortages, particularly of the “worker” variety, have continued to make the news day after day.

Today’s particular musing comes from an actual—if short—conversation I had the other day with an individual who was very angry about the “worker shortage.”

A little bit of background for you; basically what they offered to me: This individual owned a local small coffee shop/kiosk, and was very angry about their current inability to have someone staff/work it. Apparently it was small enough that it could be run by just one worker, but they currently couldn’t find that worker. No one wanted to work for them.

Wait, it gets better. See, their little rant volunteered the information that they considered the job “minimum wage.” After all, they explained, it’s ‘just a coffee shop. No one should be making a lot of money from that. But now,’ they continued, ‘thanks to the laziness of entitled workers who think they should earn more, I’m not making my money from the coffee shop!’

As this was a group discussion, several people quickly asked questions which led to more information being offered—though based on the reactions that occurred, I believe this individual thought things were going to go very differently. Among this information we were given the following:

  • The owner made quite a bit more per hour just owning the shop than the lone worker did. In fact, they seemed to consider it a large portion—based on their wording, I’d guess at least half—of their yearly income, which was again, from their words, at least six digits.
  • Despite this, they refused to work in the shop itself, to the point that they would rather have the shop closed and be losing all that income than go work the position themselves because ‘it’s a low-tier position, I can’t be expected to degrade myself with that.’ It was also suggested among their words that they didn’t know how to do the job either: They’d just bought the setup and expected someone else to do it.
  • The owner themselves had no interaction with the shop other than paying the bills, the paycheck, and collecting the majority of the money.
  • They used the phrase ‘unAmerican’ to describe the concept of having to work at their own shop, and used the specific phrase of ‘it’s my right‘ to describe their relationship with employees and not being required to labor with the business.

After volunteering this information, they were both shocked and a little offended when few took their side. Instead of pity—though a few like minds did offer that—they instead found themselves challenged. My own voice was one of them calling out to the contrary to their claims, and I made a very pointed statement: Was it not entitled to own a store that they believed should only pay minimum level wage, that they themselves refused to work at, yet demand more than a minimum level wage for in essence, doing nothing other than throwing money at the place to start existing? I compared this to the concept of “The world owes me a living,” as this business owner believed it “beneath them” to be the one working the store, and yet wanted the majority of the reward for someone else doing that work.

I never got a response. The owner just left, apparently realizing that the particular audience they’d found was not sympathetic to his desire to be, in effect, the lazy grasshopper from The Ant and the Grasshopper.

But something they’d declared did stay with me. Not because I think it’s correct, but because I think it does serve as a source of so many of the problems facing the United Stated (and, by cultural extension, a lot of other countries). This concept that simply having “ownership” of a thing means that one is “owed” everything that comes from it … even if they’re not at all willing to put in any of the work or requisite knowledge.

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OP-ED: The Limping Engines

If you’ve been in any stores lately, or tried to buy something, or even just listened to the news, you’ve probably heard the term “supply shortage” thrown around. The supply shortage has dominated much of the public sphere lately, much in a manner similar to the fictitious “worker shortage.” People on the news won’t shut up about it, fingers are pointing every which way, and the average person listening to those sources will probably have an opinion about what the true cause of the supply shortage is.

We have facts. We know that hundreds of container ships are backed up outside US ports. We know that there’s a complicated system (in hand changes) that this cargo must go through, from longshoreman, to truckers, to railway workers.

But it isn’t. And a lot of people are wondering “Why?” as every step of that chain does its best to point fingers at the other. The Port of LA says that the truckers, the railways, the laws, and the ships are at fault. The truckers say that the railway, the port, the ships, and the laws are at fault. The railways say … eh, you get the idea.

Increasingly, people are coming up with their own theories and ideas on “Why?” Just this week, in a conversation that inspired this post, someone told me that they believed the whole thing was a conspiracy. By who they weren’t sure (or they didn’t want to say), but their logic behind such a determination I found quite interesting. They stated the following: ‘Well, it worked before. Why isn’t it working now?’

The answer, which I wasn’t given the chance to give them, is complex. But it boils down to this simple summation: It didn’t work before. It hasn’t for years. What we were seeing was the result of momentum from when it did work, slowly grinding to a halt as each error accumulation built up. So that when a big error came along and finally brought the whole system to a start, we discovered that it was too broken to start again.

Hit the jump. We’re going in.

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OP-ED: A Matter of No Consequence

WARNING: This is not a happy post.

Wow. It’s been weeks since we’ve seen a post like this one on the site, hasn’t it? But hey, Starforge‘s draft is now complete, so we can see stuff like this again. My mind feels free.

So, what are we talking about today? Well, to start with, I bounced between quite a few titles when I was thinking on this one. “America: Land of No Free.” “Freedom from Responsibility.” “Land of Freedom from Accountability.”

Among others. I think you get the picture. And a few of you are probably wondering what this is going to be about. Well … if you’re making guesses, there’s a good chance you’re on the right track. So I’ll dive in.

When I was young and being raised, one of the things that was constantly taught and reinforced, everywhere from my parents to (some of) my education was the concept that “actions have consequences.” It’s a basic principle of life: You’re free to choose (or should be) but you cannot choose the consequences. This leads to a sense of accountability and responsibility, a sort of social construct along the longs of “for every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction.” For example, if you work a job, working harder at said job—producing better quality work, spending more time at it, more effort—should come with the reaction of greater reward for the additional work. One plus one equals two, so one plus two should equal three.

Here’s the problem: Should. Because as those of us that have worked in the United States can attest, rare is the job where working harder sees any sort of reward for your efforts. More often than not, what happens instead is punishment via cutting. “Oh, you were able to do that job in three hours when it takes everyone else five? We’ve assigned you additional work to fill out that five hours. No, we’re still paying you the same as everyone else. Whine about it and you’ll lose your job.”

It’s a problem of consequence. Do your job well, and you’ll receive no reward for doing such. In fact, you’ll be punished. Do your job poorly, but not poorly enough to be punished? You’ll trundle along. Why risk working hard or even well when you’ll only suffer for it?

But this is just an appendage, a symptom really, of the greater problem at the root, of something that affects the entire United States. I would contend it’s the cause of the current sexual assaults problems in so many video-game companies (Activison-Blizzard is facing a lawsuit right now over, among other things, management sexually harassing and employee so badly she committed suicide, all of which was covered up), complete lack of ethics shown by food companies (Tyson Meats is currently appealing a lawsuit over their management forcing employees to work during Covid-19 lockdowns and then management making bets on how many employees would die in each department), and the source of the cruelty evidenced by shipping companies (such as one shipping warehouse forcing employees to work around the body of an employee who had suffered a heart-attack from heat exhaustion).

All of these? There’s a common root cause among them. It’s the same cause that allows CEOs, Board Members, and managers to be pulling down incomes that let them buy a new house a year while the employees right under them work 70 hours a week and yet have to be on state welfare because they’re paid so little. It’s the same cause that allows for forty employees to have twenty managers, most of which just sit in an empty office and talk with the “good old boys club” while two of those employees do all their work on top of their own because said manager doesn’t actually know how … he’s just good friends with the manager above him and that’s why he has the job. It’s the same cause that allows for a manager to run a division into the ground through manglement, ruining a company and destroying hundreds of jobs … only for that same manager to receive a bonus for their “hard work” and go on to do the same thing at another company.

No. Consequences. No accountability. No responsibility.

Why? Because these people have convinced others that they deserve to be above consequences, dangling in front of them the carrot of “If you let me do it, one day you might be able to do it too.”

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OP-ED: Why Starcraft II’s Campaign Design Isn’t That Great

So yeah, this post isn’t going to be about writing. This post is one that has been on my backlog for around six months and I just never got around to it because there were other things to write about. Calling this is a “non-issue” is pretty accurate, really. Almost, but we’ll get into that. Starcraft II has been out for almost eleven years at this point, and there aren’t many people picking it up new.

However, because it’s been out for that long, I’ve had enough time to play through the title in question more than once and note the subject of today’s post.


But before I get into that, some quick news updates. First, Starforge. Starforge work continues to be the number one thing I’m working on right now, and I’ve almost finished up another major section. Likely will have by the end of this week/start of next week. Stranded remains a weekend project, as does another project, but once again I’ve been having burnout struggles, mostly because Starforge is a titan of a project that’s a bit all-consuming of my every thought and focus.

Speaking of which, I’ve now had multiple people in the real world notice that I’ve been “off” for a few weeks and tell me I need a vacation. Which … yeah I can’t deny. So I might be taking a week off sometime soon, just for mental health reasons. Though even that’s dicey because I’ve got so much to do …

Yeah … I think they’re all correct that I need a break of some kind. But Starforge! Both the cause and the solution, I think. After this, I’m going to write a few small books to relax.

In other news, speaking of small books, Axtara continues to review well, as do the rest of my books. Sales have hit a bit of a slump lately (someone suggested “summer” and people hoping quarantine was on its way out as possible reasons) but across my work the reviews are staying high. And outside of that? There really isn’t any news. So back to the rest of this post.


Okay, so this is one of those rare posts where I talk about one of my other hobbies, in this case gaming, and I want to talk about Starcraft II today. Now, as I said, this is an old game, but it still gets brought up a lot because it’s one of only a few RTS titles that still manages to have a decent following (the genre being somewhat dead these days).

Now personally, I’m not a huge fan of Starcraft II‘s approach to the genre. It’s a game that takes rock-paper-scissors balance to an extreme conclusion, an edge where a unit will do 250% damage (or more) to a specific unit it’s meant to counter, making army composition a case of “one-upping” the other guy with hyper-specialization (for the record, I prefer Relic’s Dawn of War approach where unit type bonus never exceeds 25% and other factors like accuracy and cover come into play).

But one thing I did enjoy was Starcraft II‘s (SC2) much-lauded campaign. At least … the first few times. But I still see it brought up as a stellar example of RTS single-player achievement whenever people bring up RTS campaigns. On the one hand, that’s good … but then on the other, I worry developers will take the wrong lessons.

Enough beating around the bush. Let’s dive into the meat-and-potatoes of SC2’s campaign and why it’s not as good as everyone remembers.

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OP-ED: Has Trad-Pub Just Become a Vanity Press?

So this question was posed and tossed around the other day in a writing chat after I came out with this week’s Being a Better Writer post (Working with Trad-Pub). Initially launched because someone had asked me if I was going to discuss Vanity Presses in conjunction with Trad-Pub, it later came back up because while the two are still different and separate, that barrier between the two has, from my perspective, shrunk quite a bit.

But before we get into this observation and musing, I do have one bit of news to share. The first draft of Starforge is now at 300,000 words, and about 66-70% of the way done. Step by step, day by day, the finale to the UNSEC Space Trilogy moves forward!

That’s all. Not saying anymore. So let’s talk about this odd question: Has Trad-Pub basically just become a form of Vanity Press? Well … yes? And also no. Vanity Press itself is on the way out, thankfully, due to the changing conditions of the publishing industry (independent authors helped, but print-on-demand is the real heavy hitter), but I’m getting ahead of myself. What is a Vanity Press, for those of you that don’t know?

Basically, back in the day, someone realized that of all those people submitting to the slush pile, there were a percentage of them with lots of money who didn’t have the inside connections that could have gotten them around the slush pile (this was in the days before agents or independent authors). So if they got their hands on a printing press, they could charge these people a large amount of money for their dream. They would provide no editing, no advertising, no marketing, nothing. And there wouldn’t be an advance. But they would deliver completed, printed copies of that “customer’s” book! And then that customer could tell people “Look, I’ve published a book!” which for many of them, was all they wanted to do.

And sure, they might promote the chance of fame and fortune, with a constant reminder that “Hey, that end is on you.” Might be just a little predatory, especially if they’re convincing people to take out loans to meet their printing costs, but that’s the cost of “business,” right?

Yeah, you can see where this is going, as well as why Vanity Press has such a negative stigma. People with a printing press taking folks money in exchange for printing copies of a book 100% as it was from the creator. Vanity Press didn’t provide editing, marketing, promotion, aid for the author (such as flying them to signings, or even setting those up) … none of it. Oh, and the person wanting the book published paid the publisher, not the other way around.

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Fighting Against the Future

I’m not sure how long this post will be, so let’s just dive headfirst into it, shall we?

I’ve seen a rash of opinion articles (sometimes masquerading as “news” pieces) making the rounds lately that have left me feeling just more than a little put out. They’ve been on Facebook and social media, and I’ve seen people posting and sharing them with comments like “Yes, I’d never thought of it this way!” or other statements of affirmation. I’ve even had some of my direct family members talk about them with me.

The thing is? I disagree with these “news” pieces on a very firm level. See, these “news” pieces are written by what I would call “clockstoppers,” or what Axtara would refer to as “a near Pardellian Order.”

Maybe you’ve seen some of them around. There’s been a serious rash of them lately. Articles on the “dangerous conditions of lithium mining.” Or on how maybe “solar panels aren’t so green 30 years down the road.”

These articles make long, emotional appealing arguments about how everyone “thinks” electric vehicles are green, but look at this one lithium mine and what lithium mining is like! Or talks about how everyone is really excited about solar panels and wind turbines, but what will we do when those panels and turbines reach the end of their life in 30-50 years? What will become of us then?

I say “emotional appeal” because that’s what it is. These articles don’t address scientific data or real numbers, or when they do, it’s usually just the one that backs up their point. Which is? Well, to put it bluntly:

We should all refuse these new things because they’re new and scary, and we have something that works “good enough” already.

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