Short Story Work In Progress: The Two Day Forest

May 28, 2013 Posted by zachary

I have been toying with this idea for a story for a while now. It is part of the back story of the novel I am writing and I have wanted to flesh it out. Since I have been out of the swing of things with my novel and the world it is in I have decided to work on a few short stories based on the world. Here is the synopsis of the story:

The mayor of a small city is only a year away from an election. Not having done much to impress the voters and seal his next election, he decides to raise a specter of fear among the people so that he may be seen as a savior to the people. He decrees that the city is under a major threat from sorcery and that he will be creating a task force designed to stop this threat. Because of this new regime, a sorcerer living in the nearby forest is flushed out and is forced to confront the mayor. He attempts to first solve the problem peaceably but when that fails he is forced to use drastic measures to defend himself.

Starting off, we have two main characters:

Mayor Frances Dupree – He has been mayor of Windale for the last 3 years. He has been a fairly mundane leader and has not done anything real meaningful. He wants to be remembered by the people for many years to come and especially wants to make a good impression on the citizens and win the coming election.

Sorcerer Hawthorne Grendel – He mostly keeps to himself and lives in the woods that border the north side of Windale. He has a strong knack for potions, spells and transformations. He has been mostly unknown by those in the town until a decree from the mayor flushes him out.

The Basic Outline for the story:

  • Frances discusses his coming election with his advisers
  • Frances announces his new anti-sorcery program to the people
  • The program weeds out a few “token” sorcerers
  • Hawthorne is flushed out and confronts the mayor
  • Hawthorne curses Frances in a bout of rage at not finding a solution
  • Hawthorne leaves and is not heard from for several months.
  • The people of Windale prepare for the planting season
  • Nightmarish begin attacking the people after dark
  • In response to the threat, the mayor decides that the only way to protect the people is to cut back the forest.
  • The people spend the entire planting and growing season to cut back the forest to prevent the creatures from attacking.
  • Frances loses his next election as the people lose favor of him and his policies.

So that is the start of it. Over the next week or so, I will be fleshing it out and writing the first couple of drafts. Look for more of it here.

Wreck-it Ralph The Victim Of Eminent Domain Abuse

May 20, 2013 Posted by zachary

Wreck-it RalphThis weekend, I finally got around to watching Wreck-it Ralph. Great movie. I enjoyed watching it and the kids loved it too. However, something troubles me about it that I think gets glossed over by a lot of viewers. I would like to say something about the game Fix-it Felix Jr, that is the home of Ralph.

Fix-it Felix Jr opens up with Ralph climbing into his stump (which he lives in/on). Next a bulldozer drives by and pushes Ralph and his stump into a dump. Then construction cranes come in and build a high rise condominium on the spot where Ralph’s stump used to be. Ralph then responds by trashing the building. You can view a video of this sequence over at Youtube.

The game and the movie go to great lengths in order to paint Ralph as the bad guy, although misunderstood and sympathetic. However, it never once tries to address the source of Ralph’s frustration and his motivation to be a bad guy. That motivation being that Ralph is the victim of Eminent Domain Abuse.

You see, Ralph had a low budget home. One that suited his needs, but did not bring in enough tax revenue for the city in which  it was located. Based on city zoning laws, his home was essentially taxed as an empty lot. That is not very profitable to the city. So the city used eminent domain to take Ralph’s home and property and give it to a condominium developer which resulted in a more tax rich property development for the city.

Is it any wonder that Ralph holds a grudge against the building and those who built it? Wouldn’t you feel the same way if your home was taken from you and the property given to a bunch of snooty rich people? Wouldn’t you want to trash that building and send all those people packing?

Sadly, eminent domain abuse is a very real thing. Something that the US Supreme Court allows to happen thanks to its notorious Kelo decision. Cities and states are free to take the property of anyone and give it to anyone else for any reason. There is virtually no limit to the potential for abuse. Because of this, victims of eminent domain often feel powerless to fight the taking of their property. They often want to respond in much the same way that Ralph responds in his game.

It is a shame that Disney didn’t focus more on that issue, but it better explains the relationship between Ralph and the Newlanders. They feel that Ralph is not worthy to be a part of them, not just because he wrecks their building but  because he is of a lower class not fit to live in the high rise condos.

April Fools And All That

April 1, 2013 Posted by zachary

Today, if you had not noticed or don’t follow me on Facebook, I have been busy posting a whole lot of posts befitting the holiday. All my posts to Facebook, with the exception of one post, have been carefully constructed to contradict my normal political and idealogical positions. I will now document them here:

First up, my first post of the day regarding what games I purchase and play:

I have decided that I will no longer buy games unless they were published by Ubisoft or EA exclusively for Windows. There is nothing better than those combos. Except maybe always Online. Who needs offline play anyway?

For those who don’t follow me closely, I despise a number of positions, mostly due to DRM, that both EA and Ubisoft take. The Online-only requirement of many of their games being a big part of it. Additionally, as a Linux user, I try to avoid any game, with some exceptions, that do not have a Linux version.

Next, a little support for No-fly lists managed in secret by our government:

Reason is just so wrong on this issue. No Fly Lists are the best things the government has ever done. They keep us safe by keeping crazy people off flights. If anything, the list needs to be bigger. Just think about all the crazy people who would be sitting next to you if we didn’t have these lists. As for finding out why you are on it, you know what you did. If you didn’t do anything wrong, you wouldn’t be on the list. Simple as that.

Of course I think any violation of our 6th Amendment rights to be a very bad thing. Any process that allows the government to make decisions and dole out punishment without proper due process is a horrible practice. I would never support something like this and campaign continuously to undue all the damage done after 9/11.

I have also had a change of heart as to my political affiliation:

I have also decided to give up in my endeavor to see ballot access reform in Oklahoma. I have decided to instead join the Republican party. This means that I will be working with them to make Oklahoma a one party state in which the only options available to voters will be Republicans.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. That’s my new motto.

I have been an Independent/Libertarian all my life and don’t plan on being anything else. The Republican controlled Oklahoma government has been a source of many frustrations as efforts to open elections have been thwarted at every turn. About the only thing the REpublican party can do regarding ballot access is to make it worse by doubling candidate filing fees this year.

Following that, I have also been converted to better economic principals:

I have also been converted to the idea of Keynesian Economics in which government spending drives a healthy economy. If that sounds like it contradicts my previous change of Joining the Republican Party, it doesn’t. Republicans believe firmly, if not openly, in Keynesian economics as displayed in its acts of granting special privileges and tax incentives for special interest companies. How better to drive growth in the private sector than to open up the trough of taxpayer money.

There is nothing “Free Market” about the US’s current economy or market. The government dips its dirty little fingers into every aspect of commerce. If we need anything, it is less government. It doesn’t matter if it is Republicans or Democrats who run the government, the truth is that our hard earned tax money gets taken from us and given to special interests who did not earn it. That needs to end.

Next, I have changed who represents me in the video game arena:

I have decided to leave the Entertainment Consumer Association and instead join the Video Game Voter Network, run by the Entertainment Software Association. I have learned that consumer rights can never grow and blossom without the careful oversight of a benevolent and loving corporate parent. After all, corporations, especially multi-national and publicly traded corporations, know what is best for their consumers. That loving guidance is just not something that can come from an independent organization such as the ECA.

The lack of autonomy of the VGVN was no clearer than it was during the protests of the Stop Online Piracy Act. In that protest, the ESA was busy trying to push the legislation through while the ECA was busy protesting and trying to put a stop to that infringement of our free speech rights. Silent throughout the whole protest was the VGVN. That proved once and for all that it would never be a source of real protection for video gamers.

Interestingly enough, I did have one post that was not an April Fool’s joke. It was my first post of the day and was made prior to me remembering what today was. This was in regard to a picture a friend of mine posted that seriously misconstrued the arguments against a minimum wage hike.

Who is against Minimum Wage Hikes?This is what I hate about the debate over minimum wage. Those in support of increasing minimum wage try to make it out as CEOs of big multi-billion dollar corporations are against it. They are not. They actually love minimum wage increases because it causes competition to drop out.

The people against minimum wage increases are those mom and pop shops that pro-labor people love to idolize. Those mom and pop shops are the ones actually hurt by increases in minimum wage. Those shops are already barely breaking even and adding unnecessary and costly increases to their expenses will hurt them more than anything.

By supporting minimum wage, you support big multi-national corporations and hate locally owned mom and pop shops.

So it has been an interesting day for me and anyone who follows me. I know I got my wife there for a while when it came to the switch to the Republican party. Many others were pretty quick on the draw and enjoyed the fun. We’ll have to see what I can think of next year.

Fighting Food Waste By Digging Through The Trash

February 25, 2013 Posted by zachary

Something that has been in the news lately has been the amount of food the collective population of the US wastes each year. Whether it is not eating everything you put on your plate or throwing out stuff that you never get around to eating or even the amount of food grocery stores throw out every day because no one buys it, the fact is, we waste a lot of it. However you look at it, the US is addicted not only to eating, but wasting food.

One of the biggest drivers of food waste is the “expiration date”. This date is prominently featured on just about every package of food you find on the shelf. Sadly, it is a poor conveyor of useful information. It’s name is most misleading as nothing magically happens when that date passes. Many canned, boxed or frozen foods are good for months or years after that date as long as they are preserved without damage. Sadly, this date leads a lot of people to throw out perfectly good food.

Recently, I have gained first hand knowledge of just how much food is wasted. My wife and I took up dumpster diving as not just a way to pad out our monthly budget, but also as a way to fight this collective waste. Our first experience was so-so. We picked up a few dozen perfectly good ears of corn, a dozen packages of tortillas and what turned out to be, after cleaning, a gallon size freezer bag full of blueberries. Not bad for a first time, but nothing close to being anything to write home about.

It was what we found on our second time out that really made the effort worth while. The other night, we made only one stop and we were done for the night. What we found was about $200 worth of pizzas, pizza rolls, mini pizzas, chicken strips, waffles, toaster strudels, chips and rice mix. Seriously. All this food was thrown out. None of it was anywhere near the “expiration” date, spoiled, damaged, or thawed either. For some reason, the store we pulled this from just decided to throw it away. Just look at all this stuff in the back of our van:

The Back of Our Van

This food was more than enough to fill our medium sized chest freezer. We also stocked some of our shelves with the chips and such that we found (shelves not pictured).

Our Fully Stocked Freezer

We have plans to go out again and see what else we can find. Anything we find that is more than enough for our family will be shared with others or donated. There is no reason why all this food must go to waste.

Now, some of you may consider this gross. That is understandable. Going through dumpsters can be kind of icky. However, some things you can simply take out of the package, like we did for all the pizza stuff, or you can wipe it down with bleach wipes. It doesn’t matter, because you aren’t going to eat the packaging, just what is inside. For fruits and veggies, a vinegar bath is good enough to clean and disinfect them. So, unless you eat straight from the dumpster, there is little chance of getting sick.

In the end, this experience has given my family a new appreciation of what we have in the US. We just need to stop thinking of things as “expired” or otherwise bad. We need to stop buying more than we can eat. If you are going to buy in bulk, buy stuff that in nonperishable such as canned goods. Freezer  stuff can also keep for a long time, though not as long as canned foods. That is our hope for next time. We want to find more canned food. But we aren’t going to look a gift dumpster in the mouth. This stock of freezer food will keep us happy for a while.

My Video Game Legislation Scare

January 18, 2013 Posted by zachary

I was doing a search for video game related legislation that may have been introduced in the Oklahoma Legislature. My search for “video game” returned two bills. Since the OKLegislature’s bill search is busted beyond just allowing the search, I went to a different page and typed in the bill number. What came up was a bill creating definitions and punishments for mass killings.

This shocked me and I immediately set about reading the legislation to find out how the author made the connection between video games and mass killings. I could not find a single instance of the phrase “video games” in my reading. A text search could not find it either. I thought that perhaps the author had submitted an early draft, which got indexed for the text search, but a second draft was actually uploaded to the server. Nope.

Turns out, I was looking at the wrong bill. The search for “video game” returned a bill number SB955. I then mistyped and entered SB995 into the other page. Once I figured out the error, I was greatly relieved.

SB955 turned out to be dealing with electronic recycling that I may need to consider as it mandates that any retailer that sells electronics also act as a drop off center for recycling of electronics.

The other bill that returned for “video game” was some changes to lottery regulations and the term “video game” came up as part of the definition of “electronic lottery game”.

2013 Resolution: Create One Game A Month For Twelve Months

January 2, 2013 Posted by zachary

I don’t know if any of you guys have heard about the latest craze hitting the indie game dev community. It is this idea of creating one game a month for 12 months. That is, by the end of the year, anyone participating should have 12 games done. It all started with a blog post by one Christer Kaitila, aka McFunkypants, in which he described his effort to make one complete game each month in the year 2012. This article sparked a lot of interest from fellow game developers and ended up becoming a thing. It is also a full blown website as well. Complete with a full slate of gamification to help prod developers along.

Needless to say, this has sparked something within me and I am planning to rope my brother into helping me do this. As you know, We are still working on Demon’s Hex. It is not as done as it should be and I feel ashamed. So hopefully, this will help. I am not sure if I can complete it all by the end of January, so I may split my time between it and another game for the first couple of months. It all depends on how far I get in the first couple of weeks. So yes, Demon’s Hex is my first effort, but my be pushed for full completion a little later, while smaller games fulfil my challenges.

The idea of completing 12 full games is kind of daunting. However, the goal is to just get in the habit of taking something from concept to completion quickly and simply. That means no filler, just meat. Take a simple concept and run with it. You will be surprised what can be done. Take a look at some of the current submissions for the project. For example, McFunkypants’ first submission is a clever use of A* pathfinding. Placing barriers in the way of the two AI characters is the primary goal. Simple concept and a number of maps to fill it out. That is all that is required. Can the games be bigger fare? Sure if you have time to work full time. However, for me, it will probably be something smaller. Not like Dragon Punch or Dragon Fire small, but something in between that and Demon’s Hex.

For example, I have had one game idea floating around in my skull for several years. This is a politically themed editorial game all about raising awareness for Oklahoma’s horrid ballot access laws. The object of the game would be to collect  enough signatures to gain recognized political party status in the state. With a new legislative session coming in and signature requirements at a high point following the Presidential Election, now would be a good time to get people aware so that they can pressure the state legislature to pass reform. I would just need to come up with a clever gameplay mechanic to not only demonstrate the trouble new parties face, but also frustrate the player.

Other game ideas are a more fleshed out Dragon Fire that turns it into a full fledge vertical shooter. Or a board game inspired on the Lego Heroica games I got for Christmas. Who knows where the year will take me. Perhaps within all these games we will find our first mega hit that gets us working full time for ourselves.

Regardless of what happens, the primary goal is to build a games portfolio for us to show off as we expand our company and seek funding from outside sources. So cheer us on and follow our progress over at my One Game a Month profile page.

DRM Is Evil. Game Maker Has Horrible DRM. Game Maker Is Evil.

November 28, 2012 Posted by zachary

Game Maker DRM is EvilCross Posted from Divine Knight Gaming.

I will never understand why companies continue to insist on using DRM. It makes absolutely no sense to punch your paying customers in the gut, call them pirates and tell them to stop stealing your stuff. These are your paying customers. They paid you. Why would you insist on treating them like thieves?

DRM is absolutely one of the most evil inventions in software. If you read anything I write here or elsewhere, you will know how I feel about DRM and companies that use it. I will never use it in any game I develop nor would I be willing to deal with DRM as a consumer. As a Linux user, I have to deal with the fallout from DRM on a most everyday basis. I am not legally allowed to watch DVDs on my computer. I couldn’t until recently watch Netflix on my computer. (I only can because some very clever developers not affiliated with Netflix made it possible.) And many games will not run properly even through Wine because the DRM is incompatible. All these things have soured me to any company that uses it.

That is why the recent news of Game Maker’s absolutely disgusting DRM implementation has me gagging. YoYo games go so far beyond what most companies do with DRM that they are beyond redemption. This company has designed their software that if it so much as gets a hint of you being a pirate, they will permanently vandalize your game. Seriously. They will force images of the Jolly Roger onto all your sprites in a bid to shame you into… what… paying? Paying for software you already paid for? That is the kicker. The people getting hit by this “retribution” paid for the software. They are not pirates.

The problems with this DRM seem to be so bad that the only way to recover from it is to completely uninstall Game Maker, delete every last trace of the program from your computer and reinstall. That is absolutely unacceptable. So not only is the developer out the time it take to clean up their computer and reinstall the software, they also have to spend days possibly weeks restoring their artwork. For what? They privilege of paying? I am sorry. That is evil.

To make matters worse, according to one former paying customer, they have absolutely horrid customer service that will at the earliest possible moment, accuse you of piracy. Then they will treat you like crap and silence you if you try to complain. No. That is wrong on every level.

I had long ago made the decision to not use Game Maker in my game development work. Primarily because it lacks support for Linux. But this seals the deal for me. I will never recommend this tool for any game developer, ever. I will never willingly submit anyone to such destructive and abusive developers. No one deserves to have their hard work destroyed in that way.

It doesn’t even matter that YoYo has promised to strip out that particular action from the DRM. Why? Because they will continue to rely on other just as bad if passive attacks on you the paying customers. It is time that this company felt the pains that come with such tactics. They need to lose business. Those using the tool, need to stop. There are plenty of other great tools available that you could use. I have talked about several. There are many more that I have not talked about.

We just need to stop supporting DRM using companies altogether. If they insist on treating paying customers like trash and thieves, they do not deserve our business. They deserve to fail. That is all there is to it.

My Election Day Experience

November 6, 2012 Posted by zachary

So today, I voted. The lines were not too long. However, when I got to the front of the line, I had a few “issues”. First, I was asked my name. I told the lady my name. Then she asked for my ID. I told her “No thank you.” Not quite sure what to do, she asked me again. I turned the sign about voter ID and provisional ballots around, and had to specifically ask for a provisional ballot. That is when things got really interesting. The ladies running the polling booth did not really know what to do. It seemed like I was the first person who even needed on. (sadly)

Next, I went to get to the part where I filled out the information that they would use to verify who I am. Two issues with this. First, I refused to show my ID but was told I had to provide a drivers license number. Why is that necessary? What if someone who does not have a drivers license? How are they going to provide that information? I was pretty sure that they didn’t need that information, but decided to relent just to not be too difficult. The next problem came when she asked for my political affiliation. When she asked, she asked if I was Democrat or Republican. Those were the only options she listed in the question. I responded that I am Americans Elect until tomorrow. She looked at me like I was an idiot or a liar. She then asked me if I was even in the book of registered voters. I said yes. She asked me again. I told her again and she finally wrote it down. I then recommended that she change the way she asked the question of affiliation to include Independent. This is where it got really interesting.

She told me right off, that there are no Independents. I told her that 11% of the registered voters are registered as Independent. She told me “They don’t come here.” She then lectured me on why people end up as Independent. She claimed that those who are registered Independent are people who simply forgot to declare Democratic or Republican when they registered. She was one of the most ignorant persons I have ever met.

So, As for voting, I finally got mine cast, provisionally at least.

  • I skipped the Presidential line. No sense voting for evil no matter how “lesser” it is.
  • Voted for RJ Harris for US Congress district 4
  • Voted for Democrats in State House and Senate because I just didn’t care for the Republicans.
  • Voted for Hewitt for McClain County Sheriff.
  • Voted yes on SQ 766, 762, 765
  • Voted no on all judges retentions because “Heck, why not?”
  • Had fun.

Here are some images of my ballots, which by showing you, I am breaking the law. Oops. Click to view the full size.

My Ballot, Front Page

Close up of my non-vote for President

My Ballot, Back Page

SQ 766: Exempts all intangible personal property from ad valorem taxation

October 21, 2012 Posted by zachary

Final Question. State Question 766 is an interesting beast. I think this one has caused more controversy than any other question on the ballot. Much like SQ 758, this one also affects property taxes, but for a different kind of property, intangible.

Here is the text of the measure.

This measure amends Section 6A of Article 10 of the Oklahoma Constitution. At present that section exempts some intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation. This measure would exempt all intangible personal property from ad valorem property taxation.

An ad valorem property tax is a tax imposed upon the value of property.

Intangible Personal Property is property whose value is not derived from its physical attributes, but rather from what it represents or evidences.

Intangible Personal Property which is still currently taxed but would not be taxed if the measure is adopted, includes items such as:

o patents, inventions, formulas, designs, and trade secrets;
o licenses, franchise, and contracts;
o land leases, mineral interests, and insurance policies;
o custom computer software; and
o trademarks, trade names and brand names.

If adopted, the measure would apply to property taxation starting with the tax year that begins on January 1, 2013:

Intangible property under current Oklahoma law is limited to things like cash on hand. Unfortunately, what is not covered are things like Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights. What this means is that if you invented something, created something or registered a product or business name, that is all property that can be taxed. If SQ 766 were to pass, you will no longer be open for taxation on those and a whole lot of other things such as customer lists and even your good will.

There are some issues with this question that I think are unfortunate. For the most part, this question is good, but because it creates a simple blanket ban on all intangible property, it is wide open for interpretation. This means that for many years to come, businesses and other people will be in court trying to prove that what they are being taxed on should be considered intangible. However, that is hardly different than it is today. This question came about because of such court battles.

Another issue that those opposed to the question have is that this will cut available funds from schools as they rely mostly on property taxes. However, that could be of little concern if the state would open up the schools to competition on the free market.

Finally, I think that passing this question is a good move to making the tax system more fair for those who work to move the nation, state and economy forward. It would also remove double taxation on productivity and creativity. Under the current system, you are taxed on the income you make selling the book you wrote as well as owning the copyright on the book. That is not fair. Same for inventors. Same for businesses. If you are a business that people love to come to and do business with, you are not only taxed on the money you make from your customers but also on the fact that your customers like doing business with you over the competition. That is a quick way to stifle competition.

So despite the weaknesses of this question, I suggest you Vote “Yes” on SQ 766.

SQ 765: Repeals sections of the Constitution relating to the Department of Public Welfare

October 19, 2012 Posted by zachary

State Question 765 is a rather unwieldy beast of a question. This question will drastically change the way the State manages the needs of those less fortunate.

Here is the text of the question.

The measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It abolishes the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the Oklahoma Commission of Human Services and the position of Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. These entities were created under different names by Sections 2, 3 and 4 of Article 25 of the Oklahoma Constitution and given duties and responsibilities related to the care of the aged and needy. The measure repeals these sections of the Constitution and consequently, removes the power of the Commission of Human Services to establish policy and adopt rules and regulations. Under the measure, the Legislature and the people by initiative petition retain the power to adopt legislation for these purposes.

The measure adds a provision to the Constitution authorizing the Legislature to create a department or departments to administer and carry out laws to provide for the care of the aged and the needy. The measure also authorizes the Legislature to enact laws requiring the newly-created department or departments to perform other duties.

Perhaps you have heard all the stories over the last few years about kids in the foster system dying at the hands of their foster parents, or the general mismanagement of the children under the care of the DHS. You may have also heard about the DHS being sued for these problems as well.

This question seeks to address that issue. What this question does is remove the DHS and its services from the State Constitution and grant the state legislature the power to create such an agency as it sees fit. It also provides the Governor, with the approval of the Senate, to appoint a new head of the agency. This would place the agency under a more direct accountability to the Governor and the citizens as well.

Based on all the problems that the DHS has been having in recent years, I think it is time to restructure and rethink how we take care of the needy. Making this agency more accountable to the Legislature, Governor and the people is a good way to go about it.

Vote “Yes” on SQ 765