Net Neutrality: a primer.

I really hoped that this post wouldn't be necessary. Something that is so clear to me, so obvious, seems to be so hard to comprehend by a large enough portion of the population that I feel compelled to do my part to share what I understand with those that lack the knowledge or motivation to see.

Net Neutrality. If you haven't heard those words over the past year or so, you've been living under a rock. Or, you're Amish. There's been so much said about it, yet so much of what has been said is not motivated by the pursuit of truth, or the upholding of our laws or Constitution.

I consider myself a Libertarian. I am also a pragmatist. So perhaps I'm not the sort of Libertarian people can point a finger to and use as part of the definition of Libertarianism, but I can sleep at night secure in the belief that where I err as a Libertarian, I do so with the understanding that the current system favors the rich and powerful, and if I have to choose a side for which to defend personal liberty, I choose the people. The world I wish we lived in is not yet a reality, and that means that the waters can still be muddied by compromise driven by corruption and ignorance. If everyone had the resources to have their voice heard, the opportunity to play by the same rules, then success would be determined by hard work and character, the way our founding fathers envisioned. I wish for a level playing field, where if a tax and oppression free society is yet beyond us, perhaps a flat tax might not be. I want fairness, if I can never see utopia.

I'm not going to give a lecture here on liberty. Suffice it to say that there are those that defend liberty, the ability for each person to chart their own course and live by whatever consequences arise from that path, but even some of those people have become confused on this individual subject. They defend the rights of corporations, yet don't understand how doing so in this regard is infringing upon the personal liberty of everyone else. Some of them have made allies that are lying to them, and some of them have made allies that have motivations that run counter to libertarianism. They have enjoyed being part of a club, rubbing elbows with movers and shakers too much. In short, they have ventured off the path.

They made a choice. Where they see Net Neutrality as an infringement on the rights of Internet Service Providers, or ISP's, a means to force their hands via government control over their companies. While I understand the mechanics of a free market ecosystem, trying to apply them to the ISP industry is to overlook the obvious-ISP's, at least in this country, are monopolies. Monopolies do not have to fight it out in a free market, by nature of colluding with each other to make sure that they do not have to compete.

Many of my readers are fellow authors, and the memory of the Apple/Big 5 vs. Amazon antitrust trials still fresh in their minds. In this, for those not privy to the events, Apple and the big five publishers were found guilty of agreeing in secret to force Amazon to charge more for their books than they wanted to. Amazon wanted to price books lower, and was willing to accept lower margins in order to sell more books. The Big 5 publishers didn't want Amazon to become a monopoly, and the way they sought to fight this was to work together, in effect to become one themselves.

Amazon is not a monopoly, but they are fast becoming one, something that needs to be addressed in publishing circles by someone doing a better job of competing with them. There is no artificial limits being placed on Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, iBooks (Apple), or any other bookseller at the moment. Amazon has earned their standing in the market by out-competing these sellers, by providing a better buying experience. They do not have exclusive agreements with publishers or authors, content creators have every right to sell their works wherever else they feel they can sell them. This is the way competition is supposed to work, and Amazon's lead in the market will continue until someone better comes along to dethrone them.

This is entirely different than what is going on with Net Neutrality.

Senator Ted Cruz, a man who has pocketed more than most from Comcast and other ISP's, recently posted on twitter and facebook that Net Neutrality is like Obamacare for the internet. He knew what he was doing when he posted this. It was a well designed lie.

Obamacare required people to buy health insurance, a product sold by private corporations in order to protect the bottom line of other corporations. I did not agree with Obamacare when it was being drafted, and I do not agree with it today. Members of my family have been hurt by it, seen their insurance premiums skyrocket. I did not agree with it, but once it became an inevitability I consoled myself in hoping that some of it's provisions might lessen the blow of the requirement to buy insurance. I'm referring to the portions of the bill that require insurers to cover pre-existing conditions, or at least to remove their ability to use that as an excuse to deny coverage. My science fiction novel, pre://d.o.mai.n, was centered around a family whose coverage of a life saving cancer cure was denied by such a loophole. I also hoped that the portions of the bill would remove the shroud of secrecy around hospital chargemasters, the computer programs used to determine billing, seemingly in an arbitrary manner.

Patient bills are determined after the treatment has already been provided, in most cases, and the patient has no choice but to pay the bill, even if they have insurance. In a lot of ways, it's like eating at a fancy restaurant with no prices on the menu, and when you think you might want to go somewhere else you realize every other restaurant has the same menus.

I've drifted pretty far off track here, but I wanted to refresh everyone's memory on how unpopular Obamacare is, and how even the people that initially were hopeful that it might do some good were disappointed in it's half-ass execution, where the benefits of increased hospital billing transparency still haven't been put into practice yet.

So when Ted Cruz tied Net Neutrality to Obamacare, he did so not because the comparison is accurate, he did it to tap into the hatred of a populace too busy to bother looking too close. People don't see how Net Neutrality benefits them, and they're often too busy or disinterested to bother looking into it, to educate themselves and to draw their own conclusions.

So let me break it down for you. A brief history lesson on Net Neutrality.

First, a definition of just what Net Neutrality is.

Net Neutrality is the policy that all internet traffic, be it porn videos, cat videos, facebook posts, this blog post, Netflix videos, emails, tweets, WHATEVER, is all treated the same, or, to make it clearer-Neutrally. Oh, Netflix has to pay more, because they use more bandwidth, but the amount they pay is directly proportional to the amount of bandwidth they use, and the speed, just like everyone else.

If you want a faster internet connection, you can pay for it. If you have a cell phone, and you want to be able to use the internet more on it than your 2 Gb plan will allow, you can buy a bigger package. If you want it to be faster at home, you can buy a faster package. If you want your cell phones internet to be faster, you can buy one that has 4G capability. The point is-you pay for your service already. You don't pay more or less based on where you go on the internet, you pay for how far and how fast you can get there. So does Netflix. They pay for their connection just like you do. Net Neutrality critics behave like Netflix has free access to the internet, or that they somehow are using more bandwidth than they pay for. This is not the case.

Up until 2011, the internet was largely unregulated in terms of Net Neutrality. All content was treated equally, just like if you pay for gas in your car, the gas station can't tell you where you can or can't go with that gas, or if you can get on the highway with it or if you have to stick to back roads. It was great, and the only reason you don't notice that anything has changed is that ISP's are waiting for the other shoe to drop before enacting changes. If they make their changes now, when the subject is still up for debate, they will lose the support of whoever they've bought off because the changes will be less popular than Obamacare. No, they're biding their time, not wanting to shoot their load (muzzle loader gun reference, get out of the gutter) before the contracts have been signed, so to speak.

Net Neutrality has been currently overturned, since 2011 when Verizon sued the FCC], stating that the Net Neutrality rules the FCC had put in place were unconstitutional. The FCC had decided that internet service was a basic utility, like the electricity provided by your electric company or the water provided to your local water utility. It very much is like that. It always has been, since the very birth of the nationwide internet. You pay for electricity, and the electric company doesn't dictate what you do with it. They don't tell you how many TV's you can use, if you have to use an over or a rangetop to cook your food, or how long you are allowed to leave your lights on. Same with water. Your water company doesn't tell you how long your baths are allowed to be, how many glasses you are allowed to drink, etc. You simply pay for what you use, and enjoy the freedom to do with it what you please, so long as it isn't breaking any other laws.

Do you think that the internet, as it currently exists, sounds a lot like that? Yes. So long as you aren't Netflix. As consumers, we pay for our internet, we use it how we see fit, so long as it doesn't break any laws. Netflix, since the Appellate court overturned the Net Neutrality laws in 2011, has been fighting a losing battle against Comcast and other ISP's. Netflix still pays it's internet service fees, same as it always has, but recently it has been forced to pay additional fees in order to maintain the same level of service it was enjoying prior to the changes. Let me reiterate that-Netflix was paying it's bills to the ISP's, but the ISP's decided that they needed more money because Netflix was....well......Netflix. Netflix was already paying for their electricity, their water, but Comcast didn't like what they were using it for, so they started turning down the water pressure, and causing brownouts, until Netflix agreed to pay more money than everyone else for the same internet access.

Since I know some of you are visual learners, let me show you a graph. Netflix is the black line on Comcast. I'll let you guess when Comcast started shaking Netflix down, and at what point Netflix's first check cleared for the new billing cycle.

The graph shows that other ISP's had the same problem, but remember, Comcast is the largest infrastructure provider in the US. Meaning they own most of the interconnecting roads, so their speeds will drop as well because part of their networks run through Comcast's.

This would be like Comcast deciding that it disagrees with your political or religious beliefs, and decides to slow your connection when you visit sites that support those beliefs because it doesn't agree with them. It's an gross infraction of personal liberty, of free speech, and it is also an antitrust violation as well as a discriminatory practice. The only reason the people in charge of this are not in jail is because:

A: our government is largely bought and paid for. The only corporation that donated more money than Comcast in the last election cycle is Northrop Grumman, a military contractor, who has no customers other than the government.

B: It is currently LEGAL, under the ruling by the appellate court. Even the potential human rights violations have little in the way of legal precedent, which means that it's a veritable playground for the ISP's until the FCC finalizes it's new rules. They can point fingers all over the place, and nothing will change until the FCC dictates what the legal ramifications for this practice will be, if any.

The fact that Senator Cruz was even allowed to post something in direct contrast to facebook's stated opposition to overruling of Net Neutrality is only because they choose to not engage in the very behavior that Comcast, Time Warner, and the rest of the ISP's out there are trying to get signed into law. As the law stands, again, only since the appellate court ruling changed the landscape in 2011, they could block Ted Cruz's account, or slow down his posts so much that he would be commenting on Net Neutrality after the decision had already been made. There is no law against it now, because the appellate court has decided that corporations are people, and not only are they people, their rights are more valid than yours and mine. The Republican party has been a supporter of the new changes, of which Ted Cruz is a member. This is also the same Republican party that won landslide elections a few weeks ago, meaning that if Congress has their way, you will be paying a great deal more if you want to participate in parts of the internet that they and the ISP's of the world find wrong, or at least there will be nothing stopping them from doing so, legally speaking.

But we trust the government to dictate morality well enough, right? Oh...well how about large corporations, ones like Hobby Lobby that have decided that they can make changes to their employees health coverage at will based on religious beliefs? You know, separation of church and state, right?

If you want the government out of your browser history, you don't need to be against Net Neutrality, no matter how much Ted Cruz wants to confuse you. You need to be for it, because Net Neutrality is about personal freedom to do what you want on the internet, and to be able to pay the same prices to do it as someone that enjoys a different political, personal, or service preference than you do.

And if you're just supporting the ISP's because you think that they will cut your bill because you don't watch Netflix online, or tweet 100 times a day, then you are the worst sort of lemming. When was the last time your internet bill went DOWN? It doesn't. Just like there isn't some untapped potential in the network for a "Fast Lane." According to their own information, the information that they are supplying to twist the debate around Net Neutrality, there isn't enough network capacity to continue without future expansion, or at least for much longer. If they don't have enough capacity to provide the promised "Fast Lane", then the only thing they can do is make the current internet the "Fast Lane", and reduce the speeds of those that don't pay.

Or even worse, they're lying about not having more network headroom, and they're just holding out on everyone in order to extort more money. Whichever way, they're being dishonest.

The internet needs to go back to the way it was, or to stay the way everyone seems to think it is right now. People need to get what they've been paying for, and Comcast and the other ISP's need to stop being greedy, manipulative monopolies.

I vote FOR Net Neutrality, and I hope you do too. Or, I would vote for it, if they were allowing us to. At any rate, call your senator, and explain it to them now. Clearly there are quite a few of them that don't understand it either.


Halloween Short for 2014-A Forest of Choice

Every year I've had this blog, I have tried to include a Short piece for Halloween. Previously, it was a running joke that I submitted for a local newspaper's Halloween writing contest, one that I tried my best to write something elaborate and nuanced enough to avoid winning. This year, they cancelled the contest, so I took it upon myself to write the piece for my own (and hopefully, your) pleasure. It's called a Forest of Choice, and I barely managed to keep it to exactly 500 words. I wanted to try to write something that was a little larger than the 500 words on the page, and for my own purposes, I think I succeeded. I wanted to explore the paranoia of being lost in the woods, but I also wanted to explore the minutia of life, how the closer we look at it, the more questions we are left with. Call it polymorphism if you want, but I think it's a conversation worth having.

Anyways, before I go off on any more of a tangent, here's the piece. Let me know what you think?

A Forest of Choice
By: Christopher Godsoe
Word Count: 500

The storm rolled in, demarcating a shift in tone as well as climate. It brought with it the cold, and it's the cold wind that I feared most. It pushed around the branches of the birch grove I spent the night in like a spectral composer, and I shook.

I was lost, but if you asked me for how long I had been lost, I couldn't tell you. One wrong turn, a poor choice on the path, and everything I knew might as well be a thousand miles away.

Neither could I tell you when the voices started, but now they're my constant companion, telling me how I'll never escape, how I will spend the rest of my days wandering that same trackless expanse of wilderness. One choice, one solitary decision to leave the trail had been my undoing. It's been said that we are a product of our choices in life, and it's a point I can find no fault in.

As I've walked, I've been thinking a lot about choices. I wonder if our minds are simply a product of the choices inside of our brains, the billions of individual connections between neurons carrying the magic formula that makes Does consciousness arise from the noise of a billion neural connections, and we just lack the perspective to see it? I suppose it's possible.

But if a billion choices are the genesis of consciousness, might any system of sufficient complexity generate the same “spark”? Is perhaps the forest, with it's billions of tree branch vocal cords, such a being? Aren't we both nothing more than symbiotic clusters of lesser living things? You might call that crazy talk, but if a crazy man shouts the secret of life in an otherwise deserted forest, does he make a sound? Does a forest, with it's bespoke consciousness, posses an intelligence capable of whispering the horrible words that have followed me for the past few days, simply by shaping the wind through the unique pattern of branches, each fork in each branch a choice of the tree?

Or is it my mind, with nothing to do but generate false phantoms? These are the things I think about, when every survivalist tells you that I should be thinking of home, cultivating hope that I will see everyone I love again. They're not here, though. They don't hear the wind as it passes through those branches, whispering in concert, speaking to me in a tongue that only I can hear. Maybe the voices were always there, the lost language of a forest grown furious by the indifference of man. Maybe you just have to be quiet long enough to hear it's enmity.

Having listened to that incessant lecture, of how soon I will become weak from famine, how my once sure steps will begin to falter, it's a gift I wish to return.

I'm cold, rapidly depleting my pudgy excess of stored calories, and soon there will be one less voice in the forest.

Matrix as Maelstrom: Introduction

(DISCLAIMER- this is the first of many chapters of a philosophical treatise I have been working on. It is titled, "Matrix as Maelstrom: How becoming ghosts in the machine will save us all." It is meant to explore the ideas behind Mind Uploading, both philosophical and logistical, from every angle I can think of. I really have no idea how it is going to turn out, but it should be an enlightening and entertaining ride. Many of you have not heard of this technology, but if you are willing to listen with an open mind, I will explain it, and attempt to explore the considerations and benefits of it as exhaustively as I can. It is posted here as a first draft, needing heavy revision, proper references, and revision. It is also a reference of sorts for my d.o.mai.n fiction series, though I assure you that the technology is very real and this treatise will in no way reference the stories in my novels.)

Matrix as Maelstrom: How becoming ghosts in the machine will save us all.


I'd like to start off by asking a question. I like to think that the intelligence of an individual can be directly traced from the quality of the questions they pose, so I will start with one. There will be others, of course, because the scope of my topic is broad and far reaching, but I hope that this one question will breed questions of your own.

What would you do if the only limits placed on you were those of your own imagination?

By only, I do mean only. Even the limitations of your own body, long accepted as fact, are no longer a consideration. Are you no longer as young as you once were? Do you have bad knees? Thinning hair? A chronic condition that limits your mobility and weighs on you every moment of every day?

What if you could choose to have those obstacles removed from your path, as well as any other potential limitation? What would you do?

It's not a question that most of us even entertain, at least not once we reach adulthood and the physics we accept as reality are cemented in our minds. We are grilled from late childhood to "grow up" and "Stop thinking with your head in the clouds", when in reality what we need is more of that line of thought.

Nobody ever solved a problem without considering new ideas. The fact that problems exist imply that there are limits to conventional thought. So let your mind free, allow yourself to dream for a minute, and try to imagine what your surroundings might look like without any impediments.

The concept I will explore in this treatise, if such a thing can be said to fall within the definition, is that in the next 30-50 years most of us will have to begin entertaining this question in a serious nature. I am referring, of course, to Mind Uploading, the downloading of a human consciousness (or mind) into a computerized processing unit.

The technology behind Mind Uploading is still in it's infancy, but there are promising breakthroughs made all the time. To date, the progress has been relegated to decoding electrical impulses from the brain, and through brain computer interfaces, using those signals to drive physical hardware either directly connected to the person connected to the interface, or over great distances via the internet.

This book is not meant to be an exhaustive compilation of the technology to date, since such a snapshot would be quickly outdated, limiting the shelf life of the endeavor. Instead, I intend to explore the philosophical reasons for and against such technology, because I want anyone reading this to expand on my work by asking questions of their own. Better questions, hopefully, than the ones I manage to formulate here.

Woudl the world of your imagination have purple trees, rivers of gold, cool to the touch but still liquid? Would it involve you having the ability to jump from body to body, some of which were purpose built for the task you were undertaking? Or would it involve the magic of unassisted human flight, the ability to run and leap into the air like a superhero? It will all one day become possible, and very likely in our lifetimes.

No great thing comes without consequences, or potential pitfalls. I will explore these as well, since any pragmatic take on the concept will require that we examine contradictory aspects as well as those that reinforce our position, as well as potential ways to overcome them.

Make no mistake, it is my position that Mind Uploading will become a real thing, and in many ways it will be bother the greatest invention in the history of man, and also the way many of us will wave goodbye to the essential qualities that make us human.

It is not, as I have stated before, without consequence, and I am sure that there will be consequences and difficulties along the way that I have been unable to forsee. I expect that some of the more pressing questions, such as if a consciousness uploaded into a computer is in fact the person at all, or just a crude, digital copy? If it is a copy of that person, what happens to the body left behind, or what becomes of the original consciousness still in the body? What rights would such an entity have? What might a human mind behave like if it's limitations are removed?

These are just a fraction of the questions that I have thought to explore, and as I've also said before, it is my sincere wish that you have questions of your own, questions that I have not even thought to ask. I do not want this exploration to be a reference,I want it to be the beginning of a discussion that will start people thinking along the lines they will need to in order to be ready when the technology is. When a technology is ready before the people who are to use it, tragedy often results, but if we've prepared ourselves philosophically, as far as something can be done with such a paradigm shift, then I think our chances of handling it in a mature way increase greatly.

Having gone over the salient points of my theory, I will explore the different aspects of Mind Uploading in the following chapters. It is of course all science fiction at this point, but like all great science fiction, it is only fiction by it's preceding chronologically of the truth. So if you must approach it as science fiction, you have my permission to do so. Listening to the point of view of others has never required accepting it, and I would assume that a large portion of any potential audience of this work would be here, grain of salt firmly grasped in their hand.

If you are hearing me out, I can ask for nothing more.

Gender bias, domestic violence, and writing women of equality.

Reporter: So, why do you write these strong female characters?

Joss Whedon: Because you’re still asking me that question.

I normally don't chase current events in this blog, there are plenty of other writers that do it better than I ever could, and that is not the purpose of this site. I had been toying around with the idea of writing a post about writing genders other than your own, in a way to open a discussion about the many difficulties that can spring up in doing so, and how popular opinion can sometimes make it so no matter what you do, you're wrong. I would find myself with an open window, a blank white page and a blinking cursor in the upper left hand corner of the screen, and realize I didn't know how to begin. 
It's a common enough problem for writers, the most common one of all, in fact, but current events involving Christy Mack, Rhianna, and most recently Ray Rice and his wife (undoubtedly there are others as well that I am missing) gave me the starting point I was lacking. 
This is not going to be another "The men of the world are 100% of the problem" posts, nor is it going to be a "she was asking for it" post. Anyone looking for either of those points of view here are going to be disappointed. This is going to be a post about responsibility in regards to abuse of any gender. This is actually going to be a post about modern day feminism, and before any men reading this post groan and close the window, you should remember that I said this is about responsibility. Not just the responsibility of men, or women, or parents, or the courts/police. I see this as everyone's problem, and everyone needs to be pulling their own weight. The first part of that is cutting through the bullshit of what people are really looking for when they say the word "equality" nowadays. 
I suppose I should get this out of the way up front. If someone physically beats the shit out of someone, it is assault and they should be prosecuted for it. Notice how I didn't start that sentence out with, "When a man". That's because the law, outside of public perception, does not specify genders. Yet that is what I am seeing a lot of in the comments of people online, and the overwhelming message in the media is one that makes pains to specify that this is strictly a men beating on women problem. I see a lot of "A man should not hit a woman!" Of course a man should not hit a woman. There are laws against anyone hitting anyone, like I said, it's called assault. 
Again, Ray Rice is clearly guilty, and he should be prosecuted even though his now wife is refusing to press charges. There is never an excuse to hit someone like that, and he should pay for his crime. His wife should have charges brought up on her as well, because she clearly instigated the fight and struck him as well. If this was a scene between two women, a jury would likely consider it a case of self defense. Since he's a 200lb+ running back, and able to drop her with a single punch, it is seen differently. Even putting aside all questions of equality, men are taught their entire life that it is wrong to hit women. Personally, I was brought up to never hit a woman. Never. If they are coming after you with a knife, you are expected to wrestle the knife free from them and throw it away, then call the cops while you restrain her (without causing physical damage) until the cops arrive. This is the correct way to handle the situation, but not because she's a woman. Because she's a human being. So there's no defense for Ray Rice. He will get what the courts decide he is due. It won't be enough for some, and the rest will think it's too harsh, there is no pleasing everyone. 
I'm sure the data says that men are the worst offenders, but I think it's dangerous for anyone seeking equality to look at it that way. Check out this video, which is at least six years old. A major news organization actually conducted research to see how society views a man abusing a woman versus how they view a woman abusing a man. I'll leave it here for everyone to watch, and I want you to really think about it as you're saying to yourself, "yeah, well......" because they actually ask the people walking by what they thought when they were walking by and seeing the abuse. 

It's not equality if one gender can attack another with impunity and the other is instantly demonized. If we really want equality, then people need to stand up and make sure that the rules are enforced for everyone, not just those you consider to be in a position of being weker physically. If men aren't able to defend themselves against someone who knows that they can do whatever they want short of pulling out a knife or a gun and it will be socially acceptable, then who is the weaker gender?

Again, I'm not suggesting that men should be allowed to hit women, I'm suggesting that neither gender should be allowed to hit the other one. Assault is assault, and if a specific demographic wants their demands of equality to be taken seriously, then they need to be ready to accept the responsibility that comes with that equality. Equality isn't just making more money, or gaining power over other people, it's pulling your weight when it comes to the less glamorous portions of life as well, if needed. 

Am I suggesting that all women be able to open pickle jars on their own, or kill spiders as well as the men, or defend their man if a robber pulls a gun? Not necessarily. But the assumption that a man unwilling to do these things is less a man is just as sexist as implying that Ray Rices wife never would have been hit if she was in the kitchen where she belonged. 

I think most people in this country have no fucking clue what true equality is. Excuse my vulgarity, but they wouldn't know it if it bit them in the ass. I think it's a convenient point to whip out when they aren't getting something they want, and easily stowed when the status quo benefits them. Gender roles are being redefined every day, which is fine, such is the pace of progress. The assumption that anyone is "owed" anything usually causes hate and discontent.

Men get tired of expecting to be a chivalrous gentleman one minute, then being told they are worthless because women "don't need a man" with the next breath. I get it, women are stretching their wings after being oppressed for far too long, but that has never been an excuse for being an asshole. How many women cheered that Blu Cantrell song "Hit 'Em up Style"? What would the public outcry have been had a man that had been cheated on lit the girls collection of Louboutin's on fire, or wrote some derogatory epithet with a paint marker on their designer handbag, or blew up their convertible Mustang? 

Yeah, you might not want to think about it that way, but these are the current stakes of equality, things that women concerned about equality should no longer tolerate out of other women (let alone celebrate), just as men are expected to intervene in a fight that involves a larger man beating up someone smaller than them, be they man or woman.

Men are taking on more of the household duties as women are making strides in the workforce. I read an article just the other day that now that men are doing so, women are finding them less attractive and divorcing or leaving them for more "masculine" men. Is it a case of women not understanding yet what they want? They wanted men to help, and when they do, suddenly they aren't as desirable any more? My point is that there are going to be mistakes made, and this process will be as problematic and arduous as it is necessary. 

I think most people will agree that there is a ton of work to be done to end domestic violence. I think fewer people out there understand that confining our discussion to only stopping men from hitting women isn't equality. If you only look at one side of the issue, all that will happen is to provide legal protection for women to enact physical violence on men, and men will be expected to take it in much the same way that in the 50's a man could strike his wife and the general assumption would be that she deserved it. Oh wait, we've already seen in the video above that this is sometimes the case now. Neglecting to hold everyone to the same standard won't bring about equality, it will simply reverse the ancient gender roles women have fought so hard to overcome.

Is it going to be an easy transition all the time? No. For a long time, there will be men who are unwilling to see women as anything but vapid eyecandy, and while I am sure many of you are going to disagree with me when you read this, you may later understand this next paragraph as devoutly feminist. 

Women are earning their place in the workforce, because they have to. They can complain about equal pay and equal rights, expecting to be handed promotions and raises because they feel that they have earned it, and perhaps they have, but it's going to be a long climb to true equality, and they will have to prove that they belong every day to the very same misogynistic assholes that they feel are holding them back. There is no shortcut, and it's not fair, but it is the way it is. It will also mean that when you do get it, you will be able to be proud of it, because no one gave it to you. You earned it because of your work ethic and your talent, and you probably earned it five times over. Nobody will ever be able to take it from you, the pride of accomplishment. I'm sure that there must be a world out there where the most deserving person for each job gets it, but it isn't this one, at least not yet. 

When it happens, it's a good thing for everyone involved, because good people in positions of power make everyone around them better. My immediate supervisor at my day job is female, and I can't think of another person that would handle that job as well as she has. That has nothing to do with the fact that she's a woman, it has to do with who she is as a person, how hard she works and how much effort she has put in learning how to handle the different personalities of her workforce. It wasn't something she was great at on her first day in the new job, but any person on their first day in a management position is going to have to feel their way into the role. 

We need to start treating everyone equally, and while that means that we give everyone the benefit of the doubt, and adjust our opinions as we get to know them, it also means that we need to hold everyone to the same standard. Men don't get an out for physical abuse, and women don't get to play damsel in distress to get out of unsavory parts of being an adult. Neither of the above is as common as the news media would make it seem, but their both more common than they should be. 

All of that excessive amount of elaboration above really boils down to treating people equally. Right now, women have cultivated certain socially acceptable loopholes that they will need to stop exploiting in order to be truly equal with men. Men will need to stop being misogynistic pigs and recognize when a woman is capable of doing the job better. And both sides need to understand that hitting is not acceptable. It is assault and should be prosecuted as such. And both genders just need to leave someone if the relationship is not healthy, for whatever reason. There's a difference between unhealthy and the typical relationship issues that people go through, however. Knowing the difference is part of being in an adult relationship. We all still have a lot of growing up to do. 

This all dovetails nicely into what I wanted to say about writing. The reason I included the above quote from Joss Whedon is because it can be taken more than one way. The concept of the "Strong Woman" is to me a laughable one. The concept of a "Strong Man" is equally laughable, yet our social gender bias made only one of those sentences acceptable.

I came up with a simple system for writing believable characters. want to hear it? 

Motivations + Resources = Character

That's it. As far as I'm concerned, each character is comprised of their motivations, what they want out of life, and their resources, what they have to use in order to reach their goals. It really doesn't need to be much more complicated at first than that. Oh, they will need description, gender, hair/eye color, nationality, personal history, etc. But really, it all boils down to Motivations and Resources. Beauty can be a resource to a small town girl trying to make it big in the city. It can also be a resource to a male dancer trying to put food on the table for his kids. People use what means they have available to them.

Their motivations need to be justifiable, and that helps you as a writer escape the "well, they're evil because they're evil" pitfall. There has to be a reason for their motivation, but it's pretty easy to come up with a justification for almost anything if you operate under the expectation that there must be one. 

In my novel pre://d.o.mai.n, the main character Miles Torvalds attempts to steal $1.5 million dollars from the federal treasury. Greed was too obvious a motivation, and a worn out trope as far as I was concerned. Additionally, I wanted you to be on his side, and I didn't have a George Clooney playing the part like he did in the movie Out of Sight to help me build that rapport. I needed a more believable motivation, and that is how his mother developed cancer and how the cure came with an astronomical price tag. 

Once I had that, I knew WHY Miles would attempt to steal the money. I had given him a believable reason for risking his freedom, something worthwhile to fight for. I also went to the effort of removing the legal options by having him exhaust them prior to the beginning of the novel. 

That left me with resources, which, as a poor kid, recently dropped out of college, would have to come in the form of the charity of others. He receives his sideARM from his cousin as a birthday present, and is introduced to ATLAS by an x-girlfriend. 

And then he was off an running.

My point is that if you start your character creation with motivation and resources, you aren't as likely to have to worry about sexism in your novels, because motivations and resources don't have to be gender specific. You see where your characters are exploitable (basically, what they need), and that's where you twist the knife. Sometimes that answer is companionship, and Miles has his issues with love/lust and loss in the book, but the female characters he comes across are more a slave to their motivations than they ever are to his needs. There are three main female characters in the novel. One is his mother (whose only real motivations are survival and the health of her family), the other wants him (but the prospect of them being together is problematic), and another that he thinks he wants but that doesn't want him (because she wants someone else, but there's a slight ambiguity as to why she wants him).

If you treat everyone the same, meaning that the equation above has to balance, then there are not one dimensional women that just want to be loved to the point where they will put up with anything, or the bad ass warrior chick who is bad ass because you want to write a "Powerful Female Role Model". That's YOUR motivation, not your characters. If you keep their motivations in mind, you will get women that have resources to achieve their goals, and whether they achieve their goals will be determined on how they use whatever resources are available to them. Be it looks, money, power, etc, they will have to make their way through your world just like the men. That's true equality. Not just that they are protected from men, that they are able to take care of themselves one way or another. That they don't need kid gloves or training wheels because their reach cannot exceed their grasp. Just like in real life. Should you choose to put obstacles in their way such as misogyny, an abusive partner, etc, how they escape that will come down to their resources at hand. 

Are they smart and independent enough to traverse those obstacles, or not? Again, resources. Resources need to be justified as well. They can't just be smart once they have a need to be. Deus Ex Machina in the form of an IQ jump from a concussion at the hands of another character? That's a quick way to devolve in to a loop like that of Walker, Texas Ranger, where Chuck Norris continued to uncover talents that nobody knew anything about (and even latent native american heritage) in order to overcome his obstacles. Resources need to be understood up front, and then any deviation from that set needs to be explained believably. 

Reduce your characters to their bases elements, and you stand a good chance of being able to write them from a perspective that is less tainted by whatever latent prejudices you may have (even if you try hard to overcome them).

And the rest of us, men AND women, need to remember one other quote:

"Be the change you would see."
-Mahatma Ghandi

"If you want equality, treat everyone equally. Don't be equal by dragging those around you down, be equal by rising up to meet them, and in those rare instances when you are able to rise above those around you, lift them up with you."
-That one's mine ;-)


The last post I wanted to write today.

Before I start, let me start off by saying there is going to be quite a bit of vulgarity in this post, but I promise that all of it will be 100% justified. I'm writing this for me, to help me vent my feelings in the only way that seems to really work anymore, as well as for anyone that loved my sister in law Kim, so if you're offended by the awkward, angry emotions of others, feel free to skip this one.

My sister in law was taken from us today, and I really don't know how I'm supposed to feel about it right now. I'm writing this piece for two reasons. One, because I want to make some completely inadequate attempt to tell the few people that might know me but not her how incredibly awesome she was-the kind of awesome that nobody ever seems to fully recognize until it's gone, and two, I need to work through some pretty strong emotions, and I'm not someone prone to speaking about my emotions out loud. I feel like a rock star that can't be what everyone expects of them unless they're three sheets to the wind, except my keyboard is my alcohol.

Have you ever met one of those people that always seemed to have a smile on their face, even when they were in the middle of complaining about someone or something? Those people that seem to be having the time of their lives, no matter what might be going on at that very moment? My sister in law was a lot like that.

I'm not even sure as I write this if I am going to publish it. This is the third post that I've written about losing someone in my family over the past year or so, and I fucking HATE that I feel the need to write it. I feel like I'm using their passing as fuel to write, and that makes me feel like the worst kind of sub-human piece of shit, even though I've used their happiness as fuel from time to time as well. So maybe I'm more of a parasite than a piece of shit. Who knows.

I'm sure there will be people that will think that, there are always a few. I don't give a fuck what they think. I hate that every time I turn around lately, my family is shrinking. Maybe it's a natural part of being an adult, if it is, where is Peter Pan when you need his fruity ass? I know it's probably just that it feels that way, but you can't always help what you feel. I hate that the better I get at putting my feelings on paper, the worse I get at sharing them in any other way. I hate that a woman that would have been an amazing grandmother now will never get the chance.

I am sure there are people in this world that deserve to die, but Kim was not one of those people. She made the world better, in a thousand small ways that we won't even fully realize until the next time we come across them. That's the first part of this that bothers me-how it's not just today that we're going to miss her. It's going to be a little here, a little there, drawn out and hurtful in the way only this kind of loss knows how to hurt us.

Today, my brother repeatedly said, "You just don't know," and he's right, you don't. Any given heartbeat could be our last. We aren't promised another, but more often than not, we get one. That we continue to beat the odds, one heartbeat after another, can lull us into a false sense of security. We believe we will all live full, happy lives because most people do, to one extent or another. To believe anything other than that is madness. Believing that tomorrow will always look a lot like today allows us to function.

Shortly after, my father said, "We've had pretty good luck, no one in our family has really had problems with drugs, alcohol, or spent time in jail." And it's true. We're not a bunch of goody two-shoes. We don't go to church, we're not vegans or anything like that, but we try to be decent human beings. I think the underlying message in what he said was that bad things happen, and we've had less bad stuff happen to us than a lot of other families. Maybe it just feels like that looking back on it, but as I looked around, it sure felt like nobody really knew what to say. It was so unexpected, and it didn't really feel that it had sunk in yet for everyone. Sometimes you come to expect things to be good because they always have been, until something comes along to show you how little it takes to flip everything upside down.

We were all still able to find the some of the same things funny that we had the Sunday before, there was just one less cackling laugh in the mix. We all enjoyed sitting in the kitchen and eating as a family, even though there was one seat empty. We did these things, in part because we really didn't know what else to do, so we stuck with what we knew. It wasn't real just yet, though it's starting to feel so for me now that I'm home with my son, alone with my thoughts. I suspect it's a little more real for the rest of Kim's family and friends now as well.

She read my book, even though she doesn't normally read science fiction. She did it for me though, to give me her impressions before I went back to edit it. Just another day in a life full of her doing things for others. Everyone that gave her a fair chance got to know a truly great person. I don't throw around praise like that lightly. She always had a smile on her face, always. That's what I'll remember most about her.

As condolences roll in, I realize that so few of us know how loved we are until it's too late for us to hear. Her life was so much bigger than I ever knew, and I would see her at least every Sunday for our weekly family dinner, at every holiday and birthday, and even other times as well. She was working on a book, and we had spoken several times on that as well. In short, we hung out a lot. Every Super Bowl, the party was at her and my brother's house.

Before every Thanksgiving, she was there for "pie night", where the women would cook pies and make the things that needed to be made before the big day. She went through the Black Friday flyers with the rest of the family on Thanksgiving, circling things they liked and looking out for what everyone else circled for potential gift ideas. She was there on Christmas Eve, and again on Christmas morning. Now, she's not. Everything will feel different now, I'm sure, and there are at least four people in this world that are going to have a larger hole in their lives than I am.

Today, surrounded by family, I caught myself several times wondering where she was, because it hadn't really sunk in that she was gone. In that fraction of a second, I think she must have stepped outside to have a cigarette, before remembering that she had quit a while back because she knew they were bad for her, and she wanted to be around to see her kids grow up. It sounds like a cruel fucking joke to think about that now. I don't believe in a traditional heaven, but it's times like these that I wish I could convince myself otherwise. No thought would make me happier now than imagining her in kicking back on a cloud, wearing a white toga and chain smoking the menthols she enjoyed because they can't hurt her anymore.

I also feel guilty. Survivors guilt, I think they call it. I don't feel that my life brings enough to the table to justify her being gone and my still being here. I doubt I'm as good a person as she was. I also know I don't have a choice in the matter. I feel guilty that I'm even hurting at all, because I know her kids and husband have so much more right to be upset about than I ever will.

Then there's the guilt that I'm not crippled with sadness right now, because it feels like this isn't really happening. I feel that I should be inconsolable, but instead I feel like I will show up next Sunday to my parent's place for Sunday dinner, and she will be there wondering why everyone is so surprised to see her. But then my mind catches up to my heart, and I know that won't happen. I think that's the way these things work, they don't hurt all at once, they hurt a little bit every time you look for them and they're not there. Like I already said above, that's how this works-one little sadistic sliver at a time. It's dragged out for years, and for her kids, my nieces and nephews, it's going to last be like that for their entire life, and that's the part that is so indescribably unfair.

I know my brother loved her more than I have words to describe. During my divorce, I thought that kind of loss might have been worse than if my ex wife had died, because I had to watch her move on with someone else. I know now that I was a fucking idiot. My son gets to speak to his mom whenever he wants, even though they live on opposite ends of the country. I got to temper my loss of her against the anger of knowing that she didn't want me anymore. My brother and his children don't get that. They don't get an easy out. We have a close family, and we tend to circle the wagons well, even if there is not much we can do other than help make arrangements and provide distractions. We can't fill the hole they have now, not really. No matter how much we all wish we could scoop that poison out of their hearts and spread it over the entire family, it's still more metaphor than anything else. It's something they will have to face alone a thousand times over the next 30-40 years.

For a long time, they are going to look for her, to want to share something or ask for her advice, only to remember again that she's gone. Nobody ever leaves this world cleanly, but I almost wish I believed in a creator, so that I would have someone to direct my anger and hatred at for them. I can deal with my portion of her loss. I'm a grown up, but kids should never have to go through what they are going to have to now. I asked her youngest son today if he wanted to go outside and throw the football back and forth, just to do something different for a minute or two outside. I just wanted to try to take his mind off things for a few minutes. He didn't, but later on he asked his father to, which made me feel good. I know he didn't really fully understand what things will be like moving forward, because he's young. Conceptually, he understands, but in practice I think it's even more surreal for him than it is for the rest of us. When he came out and told his father, "She had a good run," I knew. He was just trying to put a smile on his fathers face, because that's what the rest of us were trying to do.

He was right, of course. She might not have had a run anywhere near as long enough as we would have wanted for her, but it was very, very good.

We all love you and miss you so much, Kim. I think you knew that all along, but it doesn't make it hurt any less to not be able to tell you to your face now. Try not to worry about the kids and Earl, if you can read this or read or hear the words of everyone that misses you, know that there are a lot of people here that love them and will do whatever they can to help.


Book Cover Workshop Tutorial 02: Creating Paperback Spine Art for Createspace

Well, here we go again. I'm having alot of fun creating these videos, and I hope they will at some point prove useful for some of you out there. At this point, I'm just throwing them up, waiting to build a larger collection of them before I start trying to promote them or bring more attention to them. Right now I'm showing them to friends on here and social media, but I will make a more concerted effort to show them once I have more than a couple videos to show.

One thing I am toying around with is the idea of designing a fictional book cover once a month, from start to finish, and posting the video here. I know it's one thing to sit through 45 minutes worth of instruction on one aspect of book cover creation, and it's quite another to see something come together start to finish.

I might even take requests, if someone has a book cover that they are struggling with, so if they just want to do a limited edition of one of their stories but don't have the time to create a entirely new cover for it, let me know. If I use your idea for a video, I'll send you the finished cover in a format of your choosing, along with a release granting you ownership over it (giving you full legal rights to use it for whatever you want). If that sounds like something you might enjoy, drop me a message.

Alright, now on to this weeks tutorial. I wanted to tackle something a little simpler than the tattoo tutorial I did last week, so I decided to go with Spine Art. I'd go into more detail, but the video does a better job of explaining what I mean, and why it's important, so I'll just leave you to it. Oh, and if you watch it in HD, it's REALLY clear. Plus, it took hours to upload the 4.4 gigabyte video file, so if you're not watching it in 1080p, you're just wasting pixels, and a pixel is a terrible thing to waste. ;-)

So, as always, let me know what you think. I'm flying a bit blind here in regards to what everyone might find useful, so in the mean time I'm just going to continue to cover topics that I think are interesting, or that people might find useful.