October 17th, 2010


Games People Play

I'm not much of a sports fan.  It's not because I don't appreciate competition, I totally do and totally get it.  The problem has to do with the dual nature of competition.  A game is worthless if the outcome isn't important.  I don't mean in a "change the world" way, I mean people care about who wins, losing matters.  I've never liked football.  But when I heard the Patriots had run into a major snag in their quest to be the best ever, I took a sudden interest.  Maybe it's because you want to see someone win, maybe it's because you want to see someone lose.  But the excitement and drama all derives from caring about the outcome.

To this end, you do whatever you can to win.  Some do whatever they can within the rules.  Others just hope they don't get caught.  This is cheating.  Let's be honest -- people like cheaters.  They like the outlaws, the ones who can stay a step ahead of the authorities (a theme I'll be exploring in another post).  Baseball's unofficial motto is, "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."  Football, cheating is almost required because of the risk to life and limb of the game.  I used to love basketball, and I was enraged when Dennis Rodman came to the Bulls.  Rodman was a flop artist -- he could be on the other end of the court from the rest of the players, go flying into the fifth row, and draw a foul.  Legends speak of an auto racing team that figured that, the lighter the car, the better, rebuilt a stock car to 7/8ths the size of the real thing and got away with it.  The line between taking advantage of your opponent's stupidity and violating trust is strange and shifting.

Cheating is supposed to be part of the game.  But that's the problem.  It makes the game uneven.  Like the steroids scandal.  Not every player had them, just the few with the connections to know how to avoid getting nailed.  As a result, they had an edge others did not.  There was no fairness.  And that offends me.  Without honesty and keeping things even, sports is no better than professional wrestling, where the only thing that matters is the interest in the popular ones.  Actually, wrestling is a step ahead -- I may not like pro wrestling, but you have to admit, they know how to put on a show and give the fans what they want.

I mention this because of the newest member of the Dipshit Club.  Hello, Gilbert Arenas.  Arenas is a basketball player.  Like a lot of ego cases, he has christened himself with his own chosen nickname, kind of like how street ball legend but pro ball washout Stephon Marburry wanted everyone to call him "Starburry".  Arenas calls himself Agent Zero.  I understand how Marburry arrived at "Starburry," but Agent Zero?  What-fucking-ever.

On Tuesday, his team, the Washington Wizards, were playing the Atlanta Hawks in a preseason game.  Arenas said he had a knee injury and couldn't play.  Once the game was over, he announced to the press he lied -- he didn't have a knee injury, he faked it so teammate Nick Young could get more playing time.

It doesn't help that the NBA has a reputation for gambling and fraud.  You start wondering about players doing things to, say, help the spread.  Or all those suspicious calls the refs make.  And now, you have a player blatantly admit to it.  He thinks he was helping a teammate.  Maybe he was.  But if I can't trust that you are genuine, that what I'm seeing is real, why should I care about what you do or what the outcome is?  Does it really matter?

Fast Eddie Hits The Brakes

I'm still in shock.

On Friday, it was official -- Ed Vrdolyak, a.k.a. Fast Eddie, is going to jail.

Those of you not from the Chicago area probably don't know about Fast Eddie.  He's a political legend.  He was never mayor of Chicago, but he might as well have been.  From the 10th ward and as Cook County Democratic chairman, he led the Council Wars against Harold Washington, getting people appointed and making deals.  He was known for helping a lot of people, but he helped himself and his clouted buddies even more.  In forty years, he had been investigated and never once got caught.  He's getting $260,000 a year from tobacco-related litigation and will receive it until 2023, although no one is saying what exactly he did to get that.  He was famous for telling people to "always assume" the feds are listening in.  He was a professional -- he didn't show off his status as a kingmaker, he wasn't smarmy, he didn't rub it in your face.  He was simply what he was -- an opportunist, a hunter, a man who could make or break you, and there wasn't a thing you could do about it.  He was made of teflon coated in Pam.

Stuart Levine was a corrupt attorney whose activities put him, to use a Chicago expression, in the trick bag.  He cut a deal with the feds to give them a real scalp they could brag about -- Fast Eddie.  He and Fast Eddie were pals, and he would let his guard down around him.  Levine wore a wire as he negotiated with Fast Eddie over a $1.5 mil real estate kickback scheme (Fast Eddie was to get $750,000) involving the sale of some property owned by a medical school.  Fast Eddie pleaded guilty in 2008.  But at his sentencing hearing in 2009, federal judge Milton Shadur explained that he considered the letters in support for Fast Eddie and testifying to his character.  He sentenced Fast Eddie to probation and community service.

The prosecutors lost their shit and filed an immediate appeal.  Meanwhile, Fast Eddie did his sentence.  He would sit at Gibson's steakhouse in Chicago (along with Carmine's and Tavern On Rush, it forms Chicago's "Viagra Triangle") and work his cell phone, raising money for the Illinois State Crime Commission, whatever that is, and it counting towards his community service.

In January, the feds agreed with the prosecutors and ordered Fast Eddie to be resentenced.  The prosecution was asking for 3.5 years.  US District Judge Matthew Kennelly listened as the unthinkable happened --

Fast Eddie gave up.

The usual grin, that sneaky smile, the one that said he had some other option?  Gone.  He declared to the judge, "This has been a very ong and difficult ordeal for everyone.  I'm sorry.  I made a stupid mistake.  I couldn't be more sorry.  It was dumb, it was stupid, and I was wrong."  Us veteran Illinois political watchers were shocked.  The voice was quiet.  The booming "don't fuck with me" reverb was gone.

Fast Eddie got 10 months, to start serving in January.  He'll be out by Christmas.

But that's not the part that hurts.

The part that hurts is that, for once, Fast Eddie wasn't fast enough.

It's not the prison sentence.

It's the scar on his pride.
Hitch-hiker's Guide

I Want To Be...Under The Sea...In An Octopus' Garden, In The Shade....

For those who came in late -- I've been thinking of taking a vacation to Florida next year, the first vacation I've ever taken in my life.  But the thought of just going to either relax (I can do that here) or just to see Disney (fuckin' everybody does that) just weren't that interesting to me.  I wasn't sure I wanted to bother.  My teacher suggested doing something I would really enjoy and could only do there.  There's a place called Jules' Undersea Lodge in Key Largo, a marine lab that's been converted into an underwater hotel.  $550 a night, but what an experience.  The only catch is, in order to get there, you have to be a certified diver -- the entrance is 21 feet below the surface of the water.

I'm talking with the coders and I decide to ask if anyone there knows someone who dives and can answer question.  One of them did.  So I started with my basic question -- just how tough is it to become a certified diver, enough to go 21 feet under the water and into a lodge?

According to him?  Not that tough at all.

There are three phases to certification -- classroom, confined water, and open water.  At least, here in Illinois.  Different states have different requirements, but a license in one state is good in all states, and the differences are pretty minor.  Classroom is to familiarize yourself with your gear and shit.  This can actually be done online at your convenience.  Confined water is what we science nuts would call "controlled environment".  It takes place at a pool or something to make sure you know what you are doing.  For example, making sure you breath through your mouth instead of your nose.  You have to be able to swim a certain distance and float for 10 minutes.  After that comes open water.  There are lakes, quarries, and even trips to Lake Michigan.  Once you complete this, you are certified and some dive schools offer an extra diving session in the form of a beach party.  You are required to have your own boots and such so you buy that, ballpark figure, $50.  Classes charge just south of $400, pretty darn economical.  Average time assuming you do classroom in person instead of online?  Two to three weeks, and you're set.

While thinking this over, a thought occurred to me.  We're talking Florida.  Water on three sides of you.

Maybe, for my first vacation, I should keep the theme park to only a day or two.

A diving tour or two?

Now THAT would be a great first vacation....
Worms Ready For Battle

Book 'Em, Dano

So, how goes the work on the POD for Hannah Singer, Celestial Advocate?  Well, here's what I've got so far.

The three best options for self-publishing are Lightning Source, Lulu, and CreateSpace (if you're looking at actual print, that is).  All have their perks, all have their drawbacks.

Lulu was the most familiar to me.  Once again, I already have an account with them for selling my games.  However, the games aren't selling, so it's not like there's all that much going on to worry about.  I had some problems with Lulu, such as changing my cover art for downloadable content.  The fact that they can do hardcovers and downloads (read that: ebooks) also is nice.  In a way, Lulu has a lot in common with Ka-blam, which publishes my comics.

Well, not exactly.  Ka-blam does great stuff.  If you have a question, there isn't a help number, but you can contact them through their message system.  The longest I have gone without an answer is a day.  Lulu only has a chat feature of sorts, and it's only on from 10AM to 600PM Eastern.  That's when I work.  I'd never get anybody.  Even when you do, response time appears to be slow.  Sort of like Ka-blam, Lulu's best feature is printing up your stuff and shipping it to you to sell.  However, Ka-blam puts extra effort.  They have a store front and a distribution channel for actual comic shops.  Lulu has their storefront, sure.  But getting into other streams like Amazon is hit and miss.  There have also been complaints about either Lulu continuing to publish stuff after the author asks to have it taken down or not sending out the royalty checks.  Rates for POD are the highest of the big names, about 50% than what you would pay to CreateSpace or Lightning Source.  All told?  If you have written something just to say you did it, Lulu is just fine.  But if you have any bigger asperations than that and the talent and/or means to pull it through, they are simply not up to it.  They print, that's all.

Here's what you need to know -- Richard Dean of Dark League Press started with Lulu, but shifted to CreateSpace and refuses to go back.  Likewise, I remember, when Diamond started its extermination program for small publishers, Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil) decided to go Lulu.  Looking at her site now, she's on Amazon, no mention of Lulu.  There you go, from people who are trying to build something.

CreateSpace?  They bring a LOT to the table.  I'm not going to bother with the basic option because it is bullshit.  If you pay $39 for the Pro option for your project, you get a seriously discounted rate on the printing of your book to take to conventions and sell or send to reviewers or whatever.  If you want to give this a shot, the Pro option pays for itself in no time.  CreateSpace, because they are owned by Amazon, has a presence there, and everybody and their brother has an Amazon account.  In other words, it may not be a completely encompassing market, but it is quite sizable and gives you an excellent chance to make a run for things.  The ProPlan automatically gets you ready to enter the expanded distribution channel later if you so desire.  The risk aversion is great.

The only drawbacks are they only do softcovers and their ebooks are through the proprietary Kindle format.  I'm already looking at alternatives (Smashwords explicitly states they refuse DRM'ed books, so they get the edge already).  But that's hardly a reason to say no since it can simply be not done.

Lightning Source offers access to Amazon, B&N, Target, and more right out of the gate (they are owned by Ingram's, a major distributor), and they do hardcovers.  There are only two problems with them.  First, you do have to pay something up front.  Not much.  You have to pay for the ISBN and such.  Ballpark figure?  $200.  Doable.  The other problem is, like Ka-blam, you are setting everything up yourself.  Ka-blam, however, has pretty simple standards for their books (they seem to be acutely aware that not everyone runs Winblows).  I was able to get the format limitations down in just a few minutes.  Lightning Source has some really odd limitations.  Don't have M$ Orafice to do your writing?  You're in trouble.  The PDF files are very specific.  To do this, I would not only need a machine with Orafice, but also Acrobat Pro.  Also, an image editor for the cover that handles CMYK.  The GiMP doesn't do that natively, and I haven't figured out how to add it yet (Ka-blam is RGB), so I would also need Photoshop.  That's not an inconsiderable expense.  Now, for all I know, I could have similar problems with CreateSpace and I just haven't dug deep enough yet to run into them.  But the reason Lightning Source is so cheap is you are doing the dirty work for them.  And in their case, it's a LOT.

So, as I write this, CreateSpace is looking like the winner.  It would be nice to have the books ready for my next round of convention appearances so I can hawk them.  Right now, the seven stories are proofed.  All I have to do is format them to the correct size and work on the cover.  I'm waiting on (hopefully) a white quill feather pen.  The cover is going to be a shot of Hannah Singer's table, with the quill pen, an ink well, some rolls of parchment, and a cup of jasmine tea.  I think it sums up her character perfectly.  The quill pen took some searching because it had to be white -- I specifically wanted something that suggested an angel feather.  My teacher offered to send me her's, but it's brown plumage with markings.  Not quite what I'm looking for.

So, for those of you looking to self-publish, just like with any writing project, think about what your goals are.  If you just want to say, "I IZ PUBLISHED," Lulu is fine.  But if you have any higher asperations than that, CreateSpace or Lightning Source.  You'll save yourself a lot of headaches in the long run.