Saturday, September 05, 2015

Yo, gamers!! A little originality won't kill you!

I've just watched the video Top 25 Upcoming Games of 2015 and I can say with conviction that you all are stuck in a rut. What is the appeal of post-apocalyptic dystopia? It's the new big beautiful tomorrow? The new black? It looks to me, from a distance, that game culture is as restrictive and conformist as Lutheran culture in the 1950s, only the conformity paradigm is grunge and anarchy rather than clean shirts and neat haircuts. But stray from conformity at your own risk, nonetheless. The main question to answer now when designing a game seems to be the point at which apocalypse occurs in the timeline. It reminds me of discussions long ago in my religious days of whether pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, pre-mil or mid-mil was the right scenario for when the Rapture will occur relative to the Great Tribulation that leads up to Armageddon and the Millenium which follows Armageddon. In the game world now the choices seem to be primarily pre-apocalypse, mid-apocalypse or post-apocalypse. Doesn't a list of the most popular games lean in that direction? If a studio wants a game to be taken seriously, the floors had better be strewn with rubble and body parts at some point during the game.

The reason I care at all about how games are designed and what the market buys and doesn't buy is because games now offer such gorgeous realism. I'm still amazed by what I see rendered in realtime in the videos of actual gameplay. It's startling. Think how the games now would've looked to us in 2005, in 1995, with actual gameplay now almost indistinguishable from video. At the same time, I'm amazed that all this gorgeous supertechnology is used to animate blood spurting and vehicles exploding. What a waste. All of these ghz and gb used to animate zombies fer cryin out loud. It would be nice if the game studios would acknowledge the existence of the small demographic I belong to, made up of people who would buy these super-realistic games if they didn't exclusively feature the gore and mayhem associated with shooters. If the game studios provided a simple option to experience the game in something similar to god-mode or developer-mode, and marketed this option to us, they would realize a modest increase in sales. I can spend hours just exploring an interesting open world and would spend the money on a game if I didn't have to search the web for an .ini file that may or may not work. I bought BioShock with the intention to god-mode through it but was disappointed that nothing I tried worked. I ended up killing my way through a lot of the game because I really did want to explore the Rapture environment. But my frequent death was a nuisance. Some game apps offer a zen mode, without scoring or a time clock, and it would be nice if open-world action games offered something similar, right in the game's options panel.

But regarding the dystopian blood-and-slime-filled rut the game world is currently stuck in, alternatives that come to mind are 1) making money and 2) sex. Both are as primal as killing. Theoretically, action games based on either could be created that would engage the player as viscerally as shooters do. I'm sure game-design wizards could come up with compelling scenarios that feature racking up actual dollars instead of digital kills, if they just gave it some thought—investing in the stock market designed to play like hazardous parkour across the tops of skyscrapers, something like that. Applying the sophistication of game technology to interactive porn, on the other hand, seems as dystopian as applying it to killing sprees. But I remember Carl Sagan, in his book Cosmos, suggesting that societies that weren't restrictive regarding sex were less warlike. He suggested that, in societies where sex is tightly controlled, that energy has nowhere else to go except into war and violent crime. I know it's counter-intuitive to suggest that making love not war in the game world would be beneficial to society as a whole. But one can't get an STD from an avatar. One can accidentally get an avatar pregnant only virtually. If someone becomes a sex addict from the gameplay, it's very likely that the same person would've become a sex addict from the forms of porn available now. One could argue that a husband could come to prefer virtual sex to conjugal sex and that virtual sex could always devolve into an affair and result in the break up of a marriage because of virtual infidelity. Alternate opinions could be expressed at length about the current state of marriage among heterosexual couples, but that debate wouldn't be very interesting. Talk amongst yourselves. Ultimately it comes down to the question of how making the killing of a human/zombie/mutant/predator/alien amazingly realistic is more noble than making a sexual avatar amazingly realistic. Aren't they at least equally tawdry? In any case, these are some ideas the game world could consider.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Yo, Bezos! You're losing money!


When a book shopper on Amazon sees a book with a rating of one or two stars, they move on. Isn't this statistically true? The rating system was developed to help shoppers sort through millions of books. As a result, shoppers ignore books with low ratings. It saves them time. Consider the case where a noteworthy reviewer, Booklist for example, gives a book a favorable review and a customer gives a rating of one star to the same book. Does the shopper see the number of stars Booklist gave the book? Of course not; that review is just a block of text under Literary Reviews. The shopper sees the one-star rating in the search results and never clicks on the book and never sees the favorable review. How can you account for the weight given a customer review over a literary review? The result of the shopper not seeing the favorable review is a lost sale. As the number of indie authors grows, this situation would be expected to multiply, with the paradigm shift in the publishing industry leading more strong authors to bypass agents and publishers. The number of lost sales will increase.

The five-star rating system is a one-size-fits-all solution to sifting through millions of items on Amazon. When an established company markets, say, a kitchen appliance that they cut corners on in development and manufacture, it's good that the rating system exists so that customers can let others know of their experience with the shoddy appliance. In cases involving big, rich manufacturers, the rating system works pretty well. The same rating system should be applied to self-published authors? Literature should be judged with the same scale as appliances? In the arts, an artist doesn't create a product with a specified function. The range of opinions on any created item—a book, a print, a piece of original music—can be incredibly wide. The opinion of a person who hates, say, Pollack and Warhol prints should be given extra weight because he's a customer? We've all decided that both artists are fairly important figures in the history of art. We've agreed that the opinion of a person who hates their work, although individually valid, is not characteristic of the consensus. In Amazon's rating system, there's no accommodation for the wide range of opinions regarding created items. Some people hate what other people love. With the weight given the number of stars in Amazon's search engine for self-published books and appliances alike, the haters will always trump the lovers because low ratings will push items far down enough in search results that the lovers won't even see the items they would otherwise purchase.

I don't think you've understood yet how wanting to "let truth loose" by giving customers a neg/pos rating system in actuality throttles the truth in some categories on Amazon. Generally, when a person trashes an indie book with a one-star review, that person is trying to steer potential customers away from that book. The person may resent the author for writing a book he disliked and doesn't want to see the author succeed with book sales. That legitimately could be called censorship. That person is trying to ban that book from the libraries of potential readers. He's attempting to toss that book onto a fire so others won't be able to read it. This lets truth loose? With mainstream novels, the individual negative review doesn't have much effect when the total number of reviews is in the thousands. With a self-published book from a new author, a negative review buries that book in the search results.

As an example, my own book, Secreta Corporis, received a very favorable, almost glowing, review from author Michael Nava, whom the New York Times called a "brilliant storyteller" and "one of our best." In his review of my book, he called it "marvelously erudite" and "a rich and detailed landscape" and wrote "I highly recommend it." The full review is on the book's product page. Contrast that review with the customer reviews, and one wonders if four of the five customers were reviewing the same book as Nava. Search results make no mention of Nava's review, but the average of two and a half stars from five customers is quite prominent. Would you be led to check out that book if you didn't know anything about Nava's review?

I've noticed that some websites don't display customer reviews until the item has received a certain number of them. There are other solutions, and I hope you will consider them. How many books has Nava sold? I think it's safe to say that a good number of his readers would also be readers of my book because of his recommendation and because the books share character situations and tone. But those purchases have never been made. And this is just one example. How many other books/CDs/apps are there in a similar situation? That's more than a few lost sales.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Better teeth for better living with EMD/TZP

Just a cursory search of what new options are available for dental implants has produced numerous online references to both EMD (enamel matrix derivative) and TZP (tetragonal zirconia polycrystal). Wikipedia defines EMD as “an extract of porcine fetal tooth material used to biomimetically stimulate the soft and hard tissues surrounding teeth to regrow (in a process known as regeneration) following tissue destruction.” TMZ is described in an article available on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website of the National Library of Medicine as “tetragonal zirconia polycrystal (TZP) displays high biocompatibility with reduced bacterial adhesion and high flexural strength which renders it as an excellent material for implant supported prosthesis.” The referenced article describes the use of dental implants that had been milled from “presintered homogeneous blocks of TZP” using CAD/CAM technology in the case of a particular patient. Another article on the same website explains that EMD “has been successfully employed to restore functional periodontal ligament, cementum and alveolar bone in patients with severe attachment loss.”

My online search resulted from my learning that dental implants use fixtures that resemble wood screws to anchor the prosthetic teeth to the jaw and also learning that the cost for replacing a single tooth can approach $1000 and is not covered by insurance. The price point for the dental implant, an out-of-pocket expense, should be lower; the result would be more procedures being performed and both the doctors and the suppliers realizing an increase in revenue. I also wondered about the use of threaded screw-like anchors to hold the prosthetics in place when natural teeth are held in place just by the roots. Roots don’t have threads, and I wondered how natural teeth could be so firmly anchored to the jaw that dental tools and some effort are needed to extract them. I encountered the term “cementum,” which Wikipedia explains: “Cementum is a specialized calcified substance covering the root of a tooth. The cementum is the part of the periodontium that attaches the teeth to the alveolar bone by anchoring the periodontal ligament.” While wondering if exotic new polymers could mimic the adhesion of cementum and the periodontal ligament, which would of course be removed from the socket along with the tooth, I encountered EMD which apparently facilitates the regrowth of cementum and the periodontal ligament. So, I wondered, are threaded anchors necessary?

Provided that regrown tissue can attach to TZP in the same way it attaches to the roots of a tooth, why not make a prosthetic tooth with roots instead of driving a screw into the jaw? This procedure could be employed only in cosmetic dentistry, since a healthy tooth and root canals/sockets would be required. The roots of a diseased tooth and the eroded sockets in the bone may be too compromised for this procedure to work. But for those patients who, for example, would like to replace badly stained but otherwise healthy teeth, this procedure would seem viable. It would be simpler, resulting in lower cost for the patient, and less invasive, resulting in its being more easily tolerated by the patient.

In a nutshell, a healthy tooth would be extracted, a copy of it, with roots, would be milled or molded out of TZP, and the replacement tooth would be inserted with EMD to stimulate the attachment of the tooth to the surrounding periodontium.

In my online search, I haven’t found this solution discussed as a future possibility. So my proposal could provide someone with an opportunity for a new patent and the resultant substantial income stream. Just remember that you heard it here first.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lost in the JavaScript rainforest

Okay, so maybe it’s time to ask for help. Well actually all I need pointed out to me is a manageable path through the jungle, and I’ll be off trekking on my own again. I’ve been to forums like but have been so put off by the smartaleckiness of some of the experts answering newbie questions that forums have become my last-resort sources of information. I thought I’d try the message-in-a-bottle-thrown-into-the-search-engine-ocean approach and see what results. If you’re an expert in JavaScript/jQuery with infinite patience, or know someone who is, I would greatly appreciate a bit of useful information. However, if you’ve grown tired of the same newbie questions over and over... umm, why do you answer those questions? Fame? Opportunities for bullying? It looks good on the resume? Please feel free to go do something else. All newbies deserve to be treated with respect, no matter how poorly formed their familiar question is, because it’s their first time asking the question.

The project I’m working on fits somewhere between “ebook” and “app.” It’s both, or it’s one looking like the other. When I started out it seemed like it wouldn’t be all that difficult to create a novel that presents the reader with simple games at certain plot points to unlock subsequent text. I’ve encountered a few novels in the app stores that attempt to add new ways of communicating the story to the reader, and it does seem to be how fiction will naturally evolve with the availability of the new media. The lines will naturally begin to blur between novel, graphic novel, game, movie and music video. So it does seem to me to be a worthwhile direction in which to head.

The project started out pleasantly with my writing several chapters of the book while simultaneously formatting the text with html/css in Sigil, and what I was producing was much cleaner than the hairy html one gets when going from Word through Calibre to Sigil. What a mess. As I coded I would view the results in the graphic window and then resume writing in the code window. Nice, efficient. However, when I tried to do more elaborate things I learned that Sigil wasn’t the program to use. This was before the epub3 enhancements, but even now Sigil understands only part of the new features, and it’s now no longer being updated. I migrated to Aptana Studio 3 and was able to add JavaScript and jQuery and create graphics like an iPhone-style “camera” which makes additional text appear after the reader has clicked the shutter a set number of times, things like that. One of the problems I’m having without the epub format is forming linked text boxes that allow the text to flow through pages rather than scrolling. Also I’d like to have background sound files play continuously through several pages.

I consulted forums and read about Ajax. Then I learned that Processing and Ionic are replacing antiquated jQuery. Then there was Node.js and NPM and SPA and the CLI. The underbrush was getting thicker so I thought I should get a book. I looked at Learning Single Page Web Application Development by Fernando Monteiro, and o-m-g. MongoDB, Express, AngularJS, Yeoman, Bower, Grunt, PureCSS, Hackathon, Passport, Json, Postman, Karma, Protractor, and Jasmine from the TOC and under “What you need for this book” is a list of modules that covers two pages. Forever, Glob, Helmet, Morgan, Swig? And the reason for this pile of modules is? The reason? To make JavaScript easier to work with! Ba ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! It’s all to ease the pain of working with JavaScript! Lord, if JavaScript needs this many bandaids, it’s probably time to rewrite it. I did buy Monteiro’s book, and it’s well written. But I’m now much less interested in becoming a designer who builds cross-platform apps with html5 and Cordova on a full-time basis. If this is the state of the industry, it’s not interesting. It’s a mess, like Word/Calibre/Sigil html code. It’s not that it’s too confusing; it’s that it’s totally illogical. Having to make frequent use of the CLI now is like Scotty picking up the mouse and speaking into it “Computer.” All of the functionality provided by this shrubbery of modules surrounding JavaScript should be provided by JavaScript itself. The core should be fundamentally repaired, or it should be replaced with something that integrates everything efficiently and smoothly.

Anyway, thanks for letting me vent. Now, where was I? Because my project is primarily an ebook, I can’t take the PDF fixed-layout route. Long passages of text between the games need to flow to accommodate different device resolutions. If epub3 is robust enough to allow full-screen boxes, each containing a maze or hidden-object game with sound effects, to flow along with the text without being split by page breaks, it would be great, but I haven’t run into a program that would act as a next-gen Sigil. I recently bought QuarkXpress but haven’t found that its ebook editor or AppStudio are developed enough to let me accomplish what I want to do easily. Probably with enough jerryrigging… Because the project would function as an ebook, the whole thing needs to be downloaded so it’s available offline. I’ve started looking at Macaw, thinking that I could construct the book like a portrait-oriented website that is entirely cached and that flips single pages instead of scrolling, but I’m not hopeful. If someone could recommend a logical path through the jungle, I’d be grateful. Not a path that involves climbing a lot of trees and swinging on vines and then spelunking and then walking on stilts through quicksand, but just a path. I know someone could say that I’ve (yet another metaphor) bitten off more than I can chew and I should hold off on this kind of hybrid project until I’m more seasoned, but I’ve actually bitten off what I want to learn to chew, and I consider learning how to chew it is as important as completing the writing itself. Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hurrah Hurrah, Yeah Whatever

I’m actually not in a celebratory mood today about the Supreme Court’s same-sex-marriage decision. I can’t believe Roberts’ dissent:
Roberts wrote that the decision showed “disrespect” for the democratic process and that the American people should be able to decide for themselves whether they want to accept this huge social change. “Five lawyers have closed the debate and enacted their own vision of marriage as a matter of constitutional law,” Roberts wrote. “Stealing this issue from the people will for many cast a cloud over same-sex marriage, making a dramatic social change that much more difficult to accept"... “Celebrate the achievement of a desired goal. Celebrate the opportunity for a new expression of commitment to a partner. Celebrate the availability of new benefits,” he wrote. “But do not celebrate the Constitution. It had nothing to do with it.”
Can’t his reasoning be applied to integration, interracial marriage and women’s suffrage? If the people want to continue debating whether a certain population has the same rights as everyone else, shouldn’t they be allowed to continue the debate indefinitely? As the current conflict over the Confederate Flag shows, many people would still be debating whether African Americans should have equal citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws as whites have. Allowed to continue indefinitely, that debate would still be going on, without the resolution provided by the ratification of the 14th Amendment. It’s kind of clear that the striking down of Prop 8 falls under “No state shall make or enforce any law,” so why does Roberts say that “the Constitution had nothing to do with it”? I’m bothered by that wording. I would’ve expected Roberts to break Conservative ranks with this ruling as he did with the ruling on Obamacare. Even I can see the applicability of “No state shall make or enforce any law” to this issue. So if the ruling had gone the other way, wouldn’t it affect all of the equal-protection interpretations of the 14th Amendment retroactively? I’m really at a loss for Roberts’ reasoning. I hope there’s a public reaction to it. I hope he’s questioned intensely by the media about his reasoning. But the celebration of the decision will probably drown out his dissent and he’ll never be called to question for his reasoning on this issue.

Scalia, of course, could be counted on to trivialize the entire issue by saying that the opening sentence of the opinion sounded like a fortune cookie. With Scalia’s focus on the Signers’ intent in his interpretations of the Constitution, I think he must even be uncomfortable with the fact that women can vote and he would probably prefer that, in population tabulating, an African American be counted as three-fifths of a person. Yes this is a straw-man argument, but if one follows his logic, how is it inappropriate? The Founding Fathers were racist chauvinists from today’s point of view. Applying their intent now produces anachronisms. Even Kennedy’s oral argument in April regarding the marriage issue is difficult to understand. “‘The word that keeps coming back to me in this case is millennia,’ he said then, referencing the amount of time societies had considered marriage to be only between a man and a woman.” Even I, with my relatively feeble grasp of the law, can refute that reasoning with the argument that, at the time of Abolition, slavery had been an acceptable institution for millenia. If longevity proves the worth of an institution, entrepreneurs should feel free to set up slave auctions again, both online and brick-and-mortar. Why not? Follow the reasoning and that’s where it leads.

#Rachel #Maddow, if I shine a big searchlight up into the night sky that projects a silhouette of..umm... a big pair of glasses, would you come to our aid and explain Roberts’ dissent to us? We citizens would be very grateful.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Yo, Bezos!!! Fix your website!


I know you like playing with futuristic toys and all, but don't forget about the source of your wealth. Being a billionaire, you naturally don't spend much time shopping on Amazon, and so you don't know about the issues that ordinary users encounter. You must rely on reports from your QA people, who apparently tell you what you want to hear, and as a result problems that need fixing can go unfixed for years. An example is editing the customer's browsing history. Did you know that only one item at a time can be deleted from the browsing history? Every other site on the planet offers check boxes and the option to delete all selected items. If I want to delete several items near the bottom of a page, I can delete only one at a time, and after each item is deleted I am returned to the top of that page and have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to delete the next item, and so on. You try doing that with a dozen items without rolling your eyes! And if I don't want to go through the hassle of cleaning up my browsing history, my front page is filled with promoted items that I'm not interested in. When was the last time you edited your browsing history without administrator status? When was the last time you shopped for something on #Amazon as an ordinary customer with a different name and an ordinary account, just to see what the experience is like for the ordinary user? My guess is that it's been a while.

Here's another issue, if you're interested. When I go to the Men's Shop and click on, say, Shirts/Polos, and then sort by Price: Low to High, why does the category sometimes include women's underwear and kids' T-shirts? In Men's Polo Shirts? It changes all the time, of course. Currently, the category Men/Shirts/Polos sorted Low-to-High includes among the polo shirts an earmuff, a glitter sports headband, a Team USA pin, a short-sleeve hoodie, a pinstripe waist apron, polo stickers, tank tops, muscle shirts, boys' polo shirts, baseball caps, sweat pants, a bucket hat, breath-mints, a juniors' pullover top, a bib apron, a 3-pack of briefs, a flannel shirt, a women's vest apron, crew socks, and cycling masks. There must not be much oversight of retailers to ensure that they categorize their merchandise appropriately. Your results may vary. Similarly, clicking on Men/Pants/Casual/Low-to-High includes velcro cycling trouser protectors, suspenders, a Top Gun patch, a defrost timer, baseball caps, socks, women's underwear, men's garden clogs, cycling masks, a knit cap with pom, a wrist restraint, a girls' sweatshirt, a bucket hat, and a necktie, along with numerous shorts and dress slacks, which have their own categories and shouldn't be included here. Dress Shirts goes a little farther afield with baby girls' leg warmers, bead necklaces, iron-on appliques, fishing hooks, yoga socks, a beanie visor, women's mini-dresses, a body-shaper tank top, hip-hop baseball caps, mesh shorts, and a leather travel pouch. It's humorous now to see the anachronisms, but when I'm shopping for something specific, it's annoying to have to scroll through unrelated items. I understand that there may be thousands of retailers and millions of products on #Amazon, but there could be more control over where items end up in the databases than is apparent now.

From my point of view, it seems that the software running the site is creaking with age. I don't remember seeing many changes to the basic product page layout over the last several years. It's great that you've developed, among other products, the #Amazon #Echo and are "just getting started" on developing more products. But in view of that and your involvement in the Washington Post, Blue Origin and the Bilderberg Group, perhaps it's time to sell Amazon to someone who will focus on the individual user's experience.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The right of free feedback

Following is feedback to Amazon regarding the profile page of reviewers. (The popup message box includes the question "How could we improve Profile for you?")

Customers should be able to contact reviewers, by email or through messages to their user accounts. If a reviewer has not checked the box to be notified of responses to their review, they receive no feedback if they never return to the page where they left the review. Allowing a reviewer to have a little fun trashing a book, for suspect reasons, and never having to account for it is not a freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. When a person employs his right to free speech, he should understand that freedom of speech guarantees the right of free speech to those who would challenge what he has said. A person is free to speak his mind, but that doesn't mean that he's free from having to take responsibility for what he says.

As an example, consider this reviewer's review of "The Talpiot Find" in light of the review by noted author Michael Nava for another of my books, "Secreta Corporis," which I have included on this book's page (near the top of the page). The two opinions of my ability to write are diametrically opposed. When one looks at the only two other reviews this reviewer, James Reynolds, has submitted to Amazon, the shallowness and brevity of which make one wonder if he's actually read those books, one could begin to suspect that they were submitted to obfuscate the ulterior motives of his review of this book. Is it possible that this reviewer disagrees with the premise of this book but is attempting to keep other readers from this book by giving the impression that the book is poorly written? Amazon policy should not allow a deceptive tactic of this type to go unchallenged. If a reviewer disagrees with a book's premise, his review should discuss the premise, not the book's writing style. I have responded in a comment regarding the review. Has the reviewer seen my comment? It can't be known whether my comment was forwarded to his email address.

If the profile page of a reviewer allowed for comments to be sent directly to the reviewer, it would call the reviewer to account, and would provide the reviewer an opportunity to defend his statements. The reviewer's email address doesn't need to be displayed publicly on his profile page; a comment could be submitted via a link allowing Amazon to pass the comment on to the reviewer at their discretion. I hope Amazon will seriously consider adding this feature to the reviewer profile page.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


Does anyone else wonder if Israel is behind ISIS?

ISIS’ attacks mostly focus on Israel’s allies, not Israel itself. The brutal treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the illegal expansion of Israeli settlements have turned some in the West against Israel. The extreme actions of ISIS have increased animosity in the West toward Muslims, without bringing Israel into the picture.

From Wikipedia:
Others are convinced that ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is an Israeli Mossad agent and actor called Simon Elliot. The rumors claim that NSA documents leaked by Edward Snowden reveal this connection. Snowden’s lawyer has called the story ‘a hoax.’”
Alternately, I can picture private individuals, who personally want to see Israel triumph and who may or may not be Jewish themselves, secretly funding ISIS and influencing their strategies while posing as sympathizers of ISIS’s cause. The more heinous ISIS’ actions become, the less the West will care about the treatment of Palestinians by Israel.

Just wondering.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

The vanishing of a one-star review

My response to a one-star customer review for the game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter:

Since your review is about Steam and not about the game itself, you should remove it. I played the demo a while ago and was impressed with the quality of the game, and when I saw that the game had received only one star from one reviewer I wondered why and read your review. (I'm not associated with Nordic Games at all; I don't even know where they're located.) Your review isn't about the game, since it's a game you own that never gets played. Your comment belongs in a forum or a customer discussion about Steam. It's interesting that one of the commenters called the game incredible and said it's probably one of the top five games he's ever played. His comment belongs in a review, with five stars, and your review belongs in a comment. His comment is buried on a second page as only a response to a review, and your admittedly uninformed review is on the product page and affects the game's position in search results. Is that appropriate in view of all the effort and creativity that went into the game's creation? Nordic's artists and developers obviously put a lot of effort into the game, and they deserve a little more respect than you've given them. (Remember, I've never met them.) For their sakes, delete your review and direct your comments about Steam to a different forum.

The one-star review, from Henry:
Not what I wanted or expected

I have not bought a PC game in quite a while, What I was looking for was a product to run on a new system and put it through it's paces. And I wanted a game that would play as a standalone product (no account, stream or server necessary).

Well, This isn't it. You have to set up an account with Steam and provide personal info (Credit Cards, etc.) for it to even install.

Nowhere in the Amazon product description does it say that, at least I didn't see it... However, It does state it on the back of the case. But of course I did not look there, before I opened the case and loaded the DVD. Then the first thing that happens is you get a dialogue box to open an account, with Term & Conditions.. that you can even print...
Of course since opened it, I assume it's not returnable. So I have a new game that will never get played.

Also I would have done well to read the reviews online. I would suggest anyone looking at this game do so.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Israeli buildings, Palestinian land

[Following is an excerpt from my novel The Talpiot Find. The central character, Marc, is being held as a hostage in an undisclosed location near Los Angeles. He is talking with a special-ops agent, Lior, who is assigned to him as a facilitator. The tablets they mention are ancient clay tablets discovered by Marc on an archaeological dig in Jerusalem earlier that summer. Lior is an Israeli now living in the US.]

Marc says “I suppose this all wouldn’t be so mindfreaking if you weren’t so polite and attentive. That makes it just too surreal. Like a twist in the fabric of the universe.”

“We don’t see any reason to be barbaric.”

“With me, like you are with Muslim hostages, in other words. Or like Israel is with Palestinian hostages.”

Lior gives a small shrug. “Palestinians have benefitted from interaction with Jews who came from different countries. It’s helping to bring them into the modern world. Before the modern state was founded, you should’ve seen how it was there. They kept goats where there are tall bank buildings now.”

“I remember Dennis Miller saying something on TV about Israelis growing oranges the size of basketballs. Meaning the land was wasted on the Palestinians and they deserved to have it taken away.”

“You’ve seen yourself how green it is there now.”

“Like access to the Persian Gulf was wasted on Kuwait and they deserved to have it taken away by Iraq. Aided and abetted by the West.”

Lior acknowledges the point. “The West knows the history of the land. Palestinians don’t consider Tanakh seriously.”

“The land always belonged to the Jews and they were just retrieving it like a lost hat, nineteen centuries after the Bar-Kokhba revolt? Nineteen centuries.” Lior shrugs. “No matter how many centuries went by, it would still be the Jews’ land? Because of the covenant between God and Moses?”

“Of course.”

Marc wonders if this is not a good time for a rebuttal. Lior has a gun. “You understand the significance of the Istanbul tablet, right?”

Lior’s expression indicates that it’s not his concern and not something he wants to discuss. “It’s related to the Jerusalem tablets. It was separated from them centuries ago.”

When Lior doesn’t continue, Marc asks “That’s all they told you? Do you know who separated it from the others, and why?”

“No. And you’re to share that information with no one until you’re cleared to do so.”

Marc is surprised that the information is locked down even here. But then these are just contractors. He thinks it must be permissible to discuss the tablets the public knows about. “Do you have an opinion on what the Jerusalem tablets are?”

Lior’s answer is guarded. “Some say they’re an early version of Devarim. What you call Deuteronomy. Others say they’re a corrupted version.”

“What do you think?”

Lior shrugs. “I’ll let them decide. They know more about it than I do.”

“Can I tell you what we learned from the tablets?”

“Only if it’s public knowledge. Not anything that the public doesn’t already know.”

Marc pictures an agent listening in and watching video feeds from hidden cameras.

“Okay, let’s assume that the tablets were never found. Or that there never were any tablets. That should be acceptable. Anything I’d talk about in that case would’ve been public knowledge for a long time.”

Lior nods , ambivalent. “Sure. I may not be interested in hearing it, but it would be permissible.” He reveals just a shade of a smile.

“Okay. It’s not that much. But it’s always been there in scripture for us to see, if we looked. You remember learning about Hilkiah, the High Priest, finding a scroll of the law during Temple renovations. He gave it to Shaphan, a scribe, who took it to King Josiah and read it to him.”

“Yeah. Sure. Josiah was a reformer. He brought Israel back to the worship of God. One of the last Davidic kings. Finding the scroll initiated the reform.”

“Yes. They’ve been theorizing for two centuries, from de Wette in 1805 to Finkelstein in 2001, that scribes in the time of Josiah created that scroll to support the reforms but it was presented to the people as if it were old and preserved Mosaic law written six centuries earlier. The priests themselves may have created the covenant between God and Moses regarding the land.”

Lior’s eyelids droop while he gives a listless shrug. “I’ve heard that. There are other theories. They might be true or they might not. There isn’t evidence to support any of them.”

“Except—” Marc makes a small gesture with his hand as if he wants Lior to complete the sentence. “And it’s noteworthy that the priests’ authority increased in the reforms initiated by the finding of the scroll, which, incidentally, had been discovered in the Temple by the priests themselves.” He continues looking up to Lior and spreads his hands as he shrugs. Lior blinks and unfocuses his eyes. Marc says “It’s just something to consider.”

Lior looks back to Marc, his eyes conveying boredom. “Why?”

Marc pictures Yakub being unconcerned about the implications of the tablets. “It was important enough for someone to authorize my being brought here. And to authorize the agent with the gun not to miss my head next time if the information isn’t kept quiet. They consider it important enough to keep from the public. You probably shouldn’t think it isn’t important enough to consider.”

Lior gives a shade of a smile again. “I’ll keep it in mind. Do you have any other questions?”

Marc looks at Lior and nads a little. “It doesn’t phase you, that the foundation for the modern state of Israel, the whole foundation of the modern state, could be fraudulent.”

Lior pauses a moment. “No. Because it’s not. But I don’t want to get sucked into a discussion like this. There’s no point to debating—“

“Would you humor me?” He shrugs. “I have a lot of time to kill.”

Lior’s expression remains the same as he regards Marc and then he gives a quiet juhf. “I’ve hated having these discussions, with activists and others types. With you it may not be quite as bad. You seem reasonable; they just kept ramming their point home and wouldn’t let up.”

Marc nads. “That’s a shame. There are too many sides to the issue , too many variables. Nobody can be adamant about their point of view because we just don’t know enough.”

“We don’t. How could we, it was thousands of years ago.” Marc wonders how such a flimsy premise as an unwitnessed verbal promise in the eighteenth or nineteenth century BCE could have been used to justify the declaration of the nation’s independence in 1948 and is about to bring this up when Lior says “But even if what you’re saying about the tablets is true, even if Torah is proven somehow to be fraudulent, what should Israel do? Just give the land back to the Palestinians and move away? Would the Palestinians know what to do with all the technology Israel has developed there?”

“No, you’re right, that’s an impractical solution now; too much has been built on the Palestinians’ real estate for it to be just returned to them. The land is the Palestinians’ but the buildings are the Israelis’. Although that is what Helen Thomas was suggesting when she told Jews to ‘get the hell out of Palestine.’”

Lior rolls his eyes behind drooping eyelids and looks like he wants to discuss Thomas in vulgar terms.

Marc says “Jews should just pack up and go back to Poland, Germany, the U.S.? That’s too simplistic. It’s been more than sixty years, two or three generations; everything has changed since then.”

Lior nods. “Yes.

“Wasn’t she something? ‘Now don’t give us Bushisms.’ ‘Worst president ever.’ A real character.”

“Yeah she was؟”

“What I hope is that, someday, Israel simply pays for the land it has acquired. There are Palestinians who still have the deed to their property, but someone else has possession of the property and a new deed. If no compensation was ever given to the original owners for the property, the only legal deed is the first one and the original owners still own the property. That’s just basic. Even kids can understand that legal concept.” Marc takes on a child’s voice. “If somebody takes a person’s house without paying for it, that’s stealing.”

Lior considers this and then shrugs. “What should they pay? What the land was worth in 1948? The Palestinians wouldn’t settle for that. What the land is worth now? They don’t deserve that much; they didn’t make the improvements to the land.”

Marc nods. “For the courts and accountants to figure out. The 1948 value of the land adjusted for inflation, the interest compounded since then…” He shrugs. “I dunno, why shouldn’t they be paid the fair market value of the land now? The owners would have to pay that amount to anyone else for the land.”

“But the land wasn’t worth that much when they acquired it.”

“The current owners were fully aware that the improvements were being made to land they hadn’t purchased.”

Lior turns his body a bit and looks over at the bookshelf, the desk. “You’re sucking me in. I don’t want to discuss this.” He looks back to Marc still sitting on the edge of the bed. “What can we accomplish by discussing it? They’re going to listen to what we decide they should do?”

“Yeah.” Marc juhfs. “You’re right. I’m sorry. But don’t you… If that’s all it took to resolve the conflict… You can accept it in theory, right? Just in general. Broadly.”

“If that’s all it took?” Lior considers this. “Nothing is ever that simple. Any other questions?”

Friday, July 04, 2014

Burning books with a star

Dear Drs. Bezos and Chandler:

Facebook has no Dislike button, only a Like button, for a reason: it isn't needed. When a page or a post has received no Likes, it's as if the page or post has received numerous negative reviews. Can you see that? A Dislike button on Facebook would be redundant because not Like-ing something on Facebook performs exactly the same function. I would hope that Facebook has no plans to add a Dislike button to its interface, because Facebook has no more need of it than Amazon and Goodreads have a need for negative customer/user reviews. An absence of positive user reviews on Amazon or Goodreads is as compelling to a reader or shopper when making a decision regarding a book or product as numerous negative reviews would be. But, and this is a big but, the absence of negative reviews allows for the possibility that a reader or shopper will discover for himself a book or product he likes that he otherwise wouldn't have found. If that same book or product has several rude one-star reviews, that reader or shopper is much more likely to bypass that book or product altogether, allowing that customer reviewer to do his thinking for him, and potentially missing out on the discovery of an item he likes.

Your reason for allowing negative reviews, "[we're] taking a different approach...we want to make every book available – the good, the bad, and the let truth loose" [Spector, Robert (2002). p. 132], actually misses the point. By "letting truth loose," what you're actually doing is allowing writers of negative reviews to prevent books they don't like from being read. That doesn't sound like letting truth loose, does it. When a reviewer gives one star to a book or a product and writes something like "a waste of time" or "do not buy this _____," what is the effect of that? Potential readers/buyers ignore the negative reviews and decide for themselves whether or not a book or product is good? Hardly. There are too many items, millions of items, offered online for people to painstakingly consider each possibility. The customer-review system was set up specifically to help people navigate through the immense cloud of possible choices, to help people save time. So, when a few people prevent a greater number of people from reading a particular book, what does that end up sounding like?

Censorship? Are those few people actually banning that book? This is an extremely important issue, and it's one that I seriously wish would be thoroughly discussed throughout the hierarchy of Amazon. Your intentions for "letting truth loose" were honorable, saving people time in choosing from among millions of choices.

The actual result of it, however, is the throttling of truth.

Why don't you conduct a study on this? Select items from unfamiliar producers, and, for some customers, include negative reviews on those product pages, and, for other customers, include no negative reviews. And then observe over time the effect the negative reviews have on the sales of those items. You could even study the effects of negative reviews on bestselling items. I wonder if, with a study constructed carefully enough, you would reach the conclusion that negative reviews are actually costing you money.

Money talks, doesn't it, Dr. Bezos. If you learned, from unequivocal evidence, that providing customers with the opportunity to verbally trash books or products they don't like actually costs Amazon millions of dollars per year in lost sales, what would you do?

Nobody dies in a video game?

Creative ways to kill humans? An awesome variety of ways to kill humans?

"Whoa! D'you see that? He shot him in the mouth!" "Haaa—the cannonball goes right through the guy's head!"

Um, every once in a while, step back to think about what you're doing when you play. Nobody dies in a video game? They're just polygons and normals? Games have come so far now from Castle Wolfenstein that the nobody-dies-in-a-game defense doesn't work anymore. With phenomenal rendering diffracting light off the edge of a forehead and cheekbone and animating individual stray hairs in realtime, you are definitely killing humans when you kill game characters. When you target a character, are you concentrating on the screen coordinates that fall within the render boundaries of a game character in a given frame of video so that associated animations will start playing? Function woundHead { if (hotpoint == "true") { findLocOnHead ...}? Of course not. You want to watch the guy's head explode.

It's true that playing violent games won't turn you into somebody who, in real life, opens fire on a campus or in a mall, I agree with you on that. But look at what you're doing. What you're enjoying. A fun leisure-time activity is turning people into small piles of ash or bloody carcasses? It's not like you're making large pixels displayed in a humanoid configuration turn yellow and radiate outward and disappear. Your targets are very real-looking humans. Those images of humans travel through your optic nerves in exactly the same way as images of humans in live footage displayed on a similar screen. If you saw the same carnage in live coverage of violence in Iraq, would your reaction be the same? "Did you see that? His head flew off! Let's watch that again!" No? Why not? Nobody dies on a TV screen. It's just pixels. If you're evolved enough to see the difference and to be disturbed by live images of violence, rather than entertained by them, why doesn't that translate into your game experience?

Why is it entertaining to view images of carnage that so closely resemble live footage?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Conventional Cleis

Who knew Cleis Press is merely conventional? I thought they were fearless cutting-edge risk-takers. I queried Brenda Knight at Cleis about my book Secreta Corporis, from whom I never received a reply, and I have a strong suspicion her reaction was "We don't publish books that have already been self-published." Stock response. Standard answer. A response Zondervan might give (you can't get much more conservative and conventional than that). Legal issues? Customer confusion? Even I, from my non-legal perspective, can figure out how to clearly separate the two books in the marketplace, after the self-published book is taken out of print, so that there would be no confusion. Easy. Tsk-tsk, Ms. Knight—coloring inside the lines like that. Even after you had read Michael Nava's review of my book (which is included below). "Marvelously erudite"? "Immerses the reader"? "I highly recommend it"? Michael Nava didn't know what he was talking about? He thought it was great, and you passed on it because it was already self-published. Conventional. You wear gingham dresses to work, don't you.

Following is the query letter.

7 August 2013

Ms. Knight,

My gay historical novel, Secreta Corporis, has the misfortune of being gay and literary (simultaneously, yes) while the subject matter (the Knights Templar in the Holy Land) seems to place it in the adventure or thriller genres. When I started the project in 2006, substituting the male archetype of "cowboy" presented in Brokeback Mountain with the similarly archetypal "knight" seemed like a good idea at the time. I set the story after the Third Crusade, during the three-year truce, so that there would be no need for battle scenes and the story could focus on the relationship between the two knights. The appearance of Templars in the story, however, incorrectly signals to readers of literary fiction that this isn't their kind of book, and it has attracted a few readers of genre fiction who have thought that my novel was the dullest 'thriller' they've ever read. It's a problem of positioning that is beyond me to solve, and so I'm turning to you, who seem uniquely abled and situated to take on a project like this.

Ordinarily I wouldn't bother you with this project; I'd just wave the white flag and move on to some new creative project. But I was lucky enough to obtain, at my request, a short but favorable review of my book from Michael Nava (author of the Henry Rios novels and the forthcoming historical novel, The City of Palaces):
Secreta Corporis is, in the tradition of The Name of the Rose, a marvelously erudite novel that brings the past to life in all its complexity while engaging the reader's sympathy in the love story of Rolant and Audric, Knights Templar, as they travel in and around the Holy Land at the end of the 12th century. Garvey's book immerses the reader in Rolant and Audric's world while never losing sight of the deep bond between them that is the heart of the story. This is not the cartoon version of the past readers get in so many historical novels but a rich and detailed landscape in which the reader can happily lose him- or herself. I highly recommend it.
After I emerged from the coma, I emailed Michael to thank him and expressed my surprise at such a glowing review. He responded "...Years later when I met [Joseph Hansen] and asked him why [he had written a glowing review of his book], he said, basically, 'because it was a good book.' You have written a good book. It may not find the audience it deserves but this is one appreciative reader who wishes it and you well." I'm hoping that an assessment like this from a known source, a known quantity, will encourage you to see the potential in my book. The book can be found on its product page at Amazon. A synopsis and Chapter One are below, and the manuscript in PDF form is attached.

Thanks very much.

John Garvey

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Oops, wrong book


I'm really sorry you had an unpleasant time reading my book Secreta Corporis. Can I reimburse you for the cost of the book? I feel responsible when my book turns out to be the wrong book for a reader; I feel that I must not have promoted it right or summarized it correctly.

When a person finds out that a book was written for someone else, he really can return the book! He shouldn't feel like he has to suffer through it. I'm sorry that you kept hoping it would get better and it never did. You were probably expecting more action scenes and more descriptive erotic passages, right? What I intended for the book, though, was to examine what would happen if those ancient clay tablets actually existed. I was fascinated when an archaeologist (Israel Finkelstein) speculated in his book that scholars for more than a century have theorized that the scroll the priests found during Temple repairs in II Kings 22:8-13 had actually been created by those priests but they presented it as the writings of Moses. I was amazed to think that the Bible itself would present a clue that it originated with a book of the Torah that was a forgery and so everything that has since been built on that forgery has been bogus. The whole thing bogus! A billion Catholics, plus all protestants, Jews, Muslims, Mormons and everyone else who believes Moses wrote the Torah/Pentateuch—billions of people have been misled since that forgery was presented as authentic. And the clue to it has been there in II Kings all along. Finkelstein and the other scholars make a strong case that the priests wanted to clear out all the other gods and shrines and altars from the Temple courtyard and elsewhere so that all of the tithe money could be redirected to the Temple treasury. And the scoll of law they created gave the priests so much more authority that the king had to seek their approval from then on. I was amazed to learn that—amazed enough to write a novel that was so long and involved I eventually divided it into two novels (in the sequel The Talpiot Find, archaeologists in the present find the rest of the tablets). So you see my reason for writing the novel was really different than what you thought it was, but I didn't convey that clearly enough and so you went into the book expecting it to be a different book. My fault. But I don’t know how to correct it. Other than writing wordy paragraphs like this to try to explain.

You probably also can see how, for another reader, the book wouldn’t be a “waste of time” but an interesting exploration of how ancient cultures profoundly affected the development of the modern world. Everybody has different tastes in books. If you somehow mistook a Hardy Boys mystery for a crime novel like those of Michael Connelly, you might write in a review “That was the dumbest crime novel I’ve ever read.” But the series has been around for a long time and has sold mountains of books, and its success would sort of prove your assessment wrong. If people on Amazon came across your negative review, they would just shrug and say “You read the wrong book. Get over it.” If you had read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, you would’ve found it even more tortuous than my book. Much longer and much more slogging through history and doctrine. But it was a NYTimes bestseller, so is it an awful book? If you find reading a book an awful experience, does that make the book awful? Lots of students have complained about being required to read Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea. Does their awful experience make it an awful book? It’s required reading at schools and colleges; there must be some reason for that.

So it would be nice if those who write customer reviews on Amazon kept some perspective about their reading experiences. When a person writes that a book is awful, they’re actually revealing that they believe every reader is just like they are and that they speak for everyone. But no book is written for everyone. Every book has an intended demographic. And people outside that demographic will be bored by that book. That’s okay. That’s the system we have to work with. Writing things like "waste of time," "annoying" and "torture" just tells whoever reads your review that you must not have realized you could return the book within thirty days for a full refund. As I said, I'd like to reimburse you for the cost of the book. I have a PayPal account; we can use that for the transfer.