I Really Need Some Help

I hate this sort of thing. I’ve been trying not to drown everyone with it. But clocks are ticking and I have exhausted the last resources I could think of. So, unfortunately, you all get stuck with a whining, begging post, in the hopes that it somehow finds its way to a place that might get some results.

The basics: Things have not been good. Most of you are likely aware of it. Among the things that have occurred due to that scenario is my computer landed in a pawn shop. At the time, things seemed like they would work out; but coming down with strep throat and having my car explode monkey wrenched that.

Now, were it just a computer, I’d probably say “shit happens” and move along. I love my computer, don’t get me wrong, but I’m just pragmatic enough to know that it is just a thing. The problem is that this particular thing happens to have every manuscript I’ve worked on since I started writing on it. It has all the photos, artwork, cover files, PDFs and everything else that goes into a finished product. It has all the software and code to my programming projects. It has all my notes, my trial runs, my finished-but-not-yet-edited books. Some of that made its way to my tablet via the wonders of cloud sync, but not all by any means. Not even close.

In short, it contains the last twenty (and nearly 30) years of work. Hopes, dreams, blood, sweat, tears, all locked in that little box. Unless I can find a way to rescue it from the pawn shop, it all goes down the drain, and (not to be melodramatic) most likely any lingering urges I have to keep trying go with it.

Sad part? It’s not even that far out of reach. Just far enough that someone in my situation can’t do anything about it.

20_years_of_work.jpg

So now I’m begging. If you see this, and you’ve got just a second, please give it a share. If you’ve got $5 or $10 floating around you’re not using and want the eternal gratitude (and a blank check for any favor from me I can conceivably grant) of an artist who just wants his box of dreams back, please click the Paypal to the side or visit my GoFundMe. $700 more is all it’ll take. That’s like $2 per Twitter or Blog follower I have. Even less if more people see this.

There’s a ticking clock, or I’d be content to leave the campaign there, thank folks as it came in, take care of things as I could. As of today, I’ve got a three weeks before the flush. October 11 is D-Day.

Please help, if you can. Give a share. Throw $2-5 bucks in the jar; that’s the cost of a cup of coffee. Send me a bill, if you want, and I’ll find a way to repay it as soon as humanly possible. Anything. But please help.

Link Spam:

GoFundMe: https://www.gofundme.com/kaineandrews

Paypal: kaineandrews@gmail.com

Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/kaineandrews

 

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The Steady March of Technology

Something that many folks aren’t aware of is that I used to spend a lot of time playing with video. My first job was as a tech assistant at a public access television station, and from there I eventually moved up over the course of years to the lofty (and mostly meaningless) title of Operations Manager. I did a lot of sideline work as a videographer, freelance editor and equipment operator for several video production houses as well as the local NBC and PBS affiliates.

I enjoyed it, for the most part. Until it all fell apart due to political machinations and flushed over a decade of work down the drain anyway. I moved into simpler fields, and essentially left it to rot.

I’ve made attempts at poking the beast, trying to remember what it was that enamored me with AV work and making pretty talking pictures on the TV. Never really had the proper tools to do anything that I found pleasing. Drive and vision is all fine and well, but when the end product comes out looking like ass due to inferior equipment, it’s rather disheartening, at least for me.

Of late, I’ve been looking at cameras, contemplating. And then I realized something depressing.

I have no fucking idea what the hell I’m looking at.

When I last owned a camera, the lingo was all about chips, tape format, compression rates. The war was on between digital and analog, and if you wanted mass distribution, you did it on VHS, unless you had $500 bucks lying around, minimum, to buy a DVD burner and were willing to wander away from the computer for 3 hours at a stretch to let them create the disc.

Now I look over the spec sheet of a camera or camcorder, and it’s utter gibberish. DSLR, mirrorless, megapixels (which apparently don’t mean the same thing they did when I last owned such a device, and apparently don’t even match up with the same rating on most consumer still cameras or the cameras on one’s phone or tablet), AF depth adjustments, and seemingly no easy way to tell if a given camera/camcorder records sound or not and what manner of output it uses to get it into your computer or editing station.

Perusing the tech site’s lists of  “best cameras for X” haven’t been much help, either; they seem just as chock-full of specs that are meaningless as the rest, frequently base their reviews on devices that they’ve applied all manner of after-market parts or add-ons to, and seem somehow averse to posting a picture and a short clip taken on the camera so you can see what the bloody thing looks like.

While part of me acknowledges this is pointless – buying one would just relegate it into the same camp as any number of other tech toys purchased with the eye on getting me off my ass and creating instead of staring at the walls and beating myself up, I’m sure – there’s the small part that says “Nah, we can find something cool to do with it.”

But overall, it’s just made me feel very old, and how quickly things change so completely that any familiarity you might have once had with a subject is utterly useless and irrelevant.

Any of you little whippersnappers out there who can help an old fart like me figure out what that all means? Suggestions on decent cameras for the production of short films/YouTube fodder that record at least acceptable audio and don’t involve nightmares and six Xanax to get the footage into a computer (probably using either Final Cut Pro or Premeire, haven’t decided which yet) for editing? That have options to expand (particularly in the sound and lens areas) later, if the need arises? And overall, preferably in the $200-$500 range, tops. I know it’s a long list, but hey, it’s Christmas! Or Black Friday, anyway.

Alternatively, if you’re an old fogey that’s had the same problem of technology leaving you behind, share your story with us; how’d it happen and how did you deal with it? Let us know in the box below.

As for me, it’s off to stare at the arcane runes of the Best Buy ads again.

Goodreads Review: Whoogles

Whoogles: Can a Dog Make a Woman Pregnant - And Hundreds of Other Searches That Make You Ask Whoogles: Can a Dog Make a Woman Pregnant – And Hundreds of Other Searches That Make You Ask “Who Would Google That?” by Kendall Almerico

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not much of value to add, here; the basic premise is a collection of Google’s ever-so-helpful autocompletes with snarky commentary on the author’s favorite choice of the bunch.

That’s all fine and well, and occasionally produces a bark of laughter, but honestly, it sort of made me sad. When you realize that, for an item to appear in the auto-complete, someone has to have actually entered it – and possibly multiple someones, depending on how specific the entry in question is – it’s liable to give you a terrible sense of impending doom as regards the intelligence or well-being of future humans.

Still, a quick read that will make you snicker, chortle or chuckle once or twice.

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Game Review: South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Trey Parker and Matt Stone are at it again, in this followup to The Stick of Truth. It leads the question to be asked yet again: can the off-beat, sarcastic and frequently obscene humor of four kids and their hangers-on in a quiet mountain town be wed to RPG mechanics and have everything come out awesome?

Well… in some respects, yes. I will say there were quite a few moments that had me genuinely laughing hysterically, and during most of the conversation, cutscenes and exploration I had a smile on my face. All the characters are true to the show, and you’ll encounter nearly every favorite at some point. The graphics and sound are on point, looking just like an episode of the show, and the characters and combat mechanics they give you to play with encourage experimentation while still letting you mostly play with your favorites.

The script is well done, and there are quite a few nods to the fact that 90% – if not more – of what’s going on is in the kid’s heads, while they play an elaborate live-action game of superheroes… my personal favorite is how, if you are in combat on the streets of South Park, occasionally the fight will be interrupted by calls of “Car!” At these moments, all the combatants will trudge back to the sidewalk and glare sullenly at the oncoming traffic – usually being insulted by the driver – before returning to their original positions and allowing combat to resume.

In Stick of Truth, the kids were playing fantasy; Fractured But Whole starts that way as well, as you step back into the boots of King Douchebag and move to settle the war currently brewing between the Elves and Humans of Kupa Keep and the invading Moorish. Cartman, however, has other plans; Scrambles the Cat has gone missing, surely a sign of a town-wide crime spree, and only the Coon – and his assorted super pals – can save the day. That leads to all the kids switching to superheroes and heading out to save the cat… because there’s $100 in reward money that will help them – or perhaps their rivals, the Freedom Pals – kickstart their franchise, Cinematic Universe style.

All well written, coherent – at least as much as South Park is capable of being – and with a surprising amount of sidelines to play with – such as “Fartkour” with the Human Kite and playing Flappy Bird – if you replace the bird with a rainbow-farting unicorn carrying a fish ghost to heaven – Fractured But Whole spends the first 15 hours or so entertaining.

Then you get to the end. Or rather, what you think is the end.

The last several hours are an exceedingly painful slog that feels like it’s being drug on for no purpose other than to pad the runtime. There were a lot of complaints regarding the length of Stick of Truth, and I can’t help but feel much of the last act is in response to that; I’m not certain why. Sure, Stick was kind of short, but it did what it needed to do, and it knew when it was time to exit, stage left.

Fractured doesn’t. You perform a daring nighttime raid on Scramble’s assumed location, have a truly epic boss fight with some unique mechanics, and save the cat. You’re done, right?

Nope. Not quite. Then you have to go somewhere else, and endure roughly five “boss level” encounters in an area that seems designed to just keep forcing you to summon your friends and lacks much of the brilliance of layout or little details that you’d gotten used to. Then you have yet another epic boss fight. This one takes forever, and honestly the best way to win is spam heal and chip away at it. It goes down… we’re done, right?

Nope. Then you have to race from location to location – no fast travel allowed! – following a chain of clues to lead you to the real villain. Another grueling boss fight ensues. Yay! Triumph! Triumph?

Nope. Then you have to go on a fetch quest, endure the most frustrating fight I’ve seen in nearly any RPG, do another fetch quest, and then engage in a fight that will likely take a half hour or longer… assuming you don’t screw it up near the end and have to start all over.

Are you done? Well, shucks, why would you be? A little more jogging around South Park, and then you get to the actual last boss fight, which is, for all intents and purposes, the one you did three fights ago, just with two of them. To be fair, the dialogue during this one and how it’s finally resolved is some of the better stuff in the game, but I don’t know that it was worth the trouble of getting here.

As it stands, the game’s fairly great until that last part… then bogs itself down and makes you hate every time the “fight starting” animation comes up. If I was going to give it a rating up to the first assumed “last” boss fight, it’d be a solid 9.5. The plot, design, graphics and sound are all amazingly well done, and the combat system being a little clunky and irksome – fights with “turn timers” for certain boss moves are the worst offenders, though thankfully there’s not many – is really the only detriment, assuming you’re a South Park fan.

But dat ending, dough. If you account for that torture, it drops down to more like a 7. Yes, I found it that annoying. There were also approximately five times the game crashed during the last slog, and audio started desynching fairly frequently. The final cutscene and the opportunity to pick a fight with Morgan Freeman jump it up a bit, but the net result is 7.5. Worth playing if you’re big on South Park or don’t feel like the grim seriousness of Assassin’s Creed: Origins but still want some RPG entertainment, but not something that’s going to convert any new fans.

In case it might be relevant – bug-wise, anyway – I was playing on PS4; unknown if there are similar problems on Xbox One or PC. And yes, I was insane enough to grab all the Yaoi and fight Morgan Freeman, so I have a shiny new platinum on my gamercard; more than welcome to follow or send a friend request to Ashande, if you are of a mind.

Good Reads Review: The Black Dahlia

The Black Dahlia (L.A. Quartet, #1)The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

From the first word to the last, The Black Dahlia grabs you, drags you down into the murky underbelly of police corruption and old money grudges, and won’t let you go until you’re covered in filth and feel at least partially responsible for the death of Elizabeth Short.

In case I wasn’t being clear, that’s a good thing. The Dahlia murder is one of the great mysteries of our time, frequently taking a sideline to Jack the Ripper’s work but just as intriguing; Ellroy’s fictional trip through the investigation and fascinating truth (at least so far as the novel is concerned) brings a loving detail and amazing atmosphere to the mystery, and in a way that very few books have managed to do, makes me feel like an active witness to the events told in the novel.

Among the high points include the detail that most note about Ellroy’s LA Quartet; there are no angels. Even the “good” guys are dirty, and the “bad” guys occasionally have legitimate grievances that were not addressed properly or perform what might be construed as decent acts because their personalities drive them to it and not out of some attempt to maintain cover. Bucky, our narrator, is no exception; he’s almost as disgusting as some of the folks more intimately involved in the chain of events that led to Ms. Short’s demise… though at least he does what he can to make things right.

The second thing to note is the language used. The words Ellroy picks to craft his vision are important, more than you might think, even given the written medium. Even if you’re unfamiliar with the Dahlia case, or are unaware of the timeframe the book occurs in, the words that Ellroy uses, whether they’re coming from the mouths of his characters or just the descriptions provided via Bucky’s viewfinder of the world, set the stage perfectly in a blend of film noir and post-war false optimism, and ground the reader readily into the right mindset and era. They also serve quite admirably in forging a connection between Bucky and the reader, bringing you a sense of triumph or discovery when he does right… and rubbing your nose in the revulsion he feels – most especially towards himself – when he does wrong, or digs up someone else’s dirty laundry. The conflict he feels as regards the book’s leading ladies – at least the living ones – Madeline and Kay is well done, and even without any helpful thought bubbles, going only off the descriptions of the conversations Bucky has with them, you can get a clear picture of them and their opinions of each other… again, merely by the words chosen.

All in all, an excellent read, and one I would recommend to anyone with an interest in crime, noir, or the Dahlia case in general – though the last camp would likely be offended by the way the book “solves” the crime. It is obviously a labor of love that cost Ellroy a great deal personally – and if you have the edition that came out shortly after the film, with his extended Afterword, that is made even more clear. Give it a shot.

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It’s Hard to Tell a Story You Already Know

That’s all I really have to say. Believe Me sits at 15k words right now. That’s about 1/5th of the projected final length. Not bad… unless you contemplate that it took over a month to get that far.

While working on it, at first it was going well. One scene was a rewrite, so that doesn’t count, but the next several chapters flowed easily from the fingers. “I’ve got this, I can do this,” I told myself, and for a while it seemed that was true.

Then I got a little ahead of myself. I knew where the next scene was going, and the one past that, and one more besides. I knew where I had to go to get there, and it wasn’t a case of having some vague ideas of what happened next, but instead “No, this must happen.” There were no issues with fitting it into the flow; it was a natural outcropping of what came before. Fits just fine.

The problem was that, now I knew where I was going, I lost the urge to get there. I could lay down another 10k words easily, without having to stop and think about it; it would easily advance to a third of the way through, if not halfway done, just based on what I already know is going to happen. From there, the conclusion will likely sort itself out.

But how to motivate myself to get there? I already know the story, in my head. My depression, self-defeating cynicism and general malaise say there’s no point in writing it down, as that would just prompt more self-loathing to “waste my time” doing it for no “valid” reason.

Anyone else get that way? Know what needs to be written but find yourself unable to write it? Any suggestions on how to get past it? (Beyond the obvious of “just write!”) Comments, flames or suggestions are welcome below.

Health Update, Gaming Blurbs

Seem to have developed an ear infection. This is decidedly not helpful for the already poor mood and physical status. Oh well.

Gives me a bit more time to fiddle around with some of the recent releases that I have otherwise been neglecting, however, so might as well drop a bit of info on them; in no particular order I offer up a short tidbit on the recent items that have graced the PlayStation’s drive.

South Park: The Stick of Truth / South Park: Fractured But Whole – RPGs with South Park attitude. Is there much else to be said? The PS4 port of Stick is a little glitchy – thank God it autosaves, or there would have been more than one incident of significant progress lost just because it arbitrarily likes to go to a black screen and then crash on you – but they’re both solid lightweight RPGs that do well to encapsulate the franchise’s humor. The games seem to understand that video games are supposed to be fun and don’t try to drown you in spectacles and worthless “content,” which is a rarity these days. That being said, if you’re not a fan of South Park‘s typical humor, you’re probably not going to enjoy the games… they both feel like you’re interacting with an eight-hour marathon of the show. In my book, though, that’s a good thing.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins – I thought the original AC was a good game. Not a great game, not an amazing game… but certainly a good one, with a lot of potential. Then ACII came out and met most of that potential, and it was amazing. Then we got Brotherhood and Revelations, which slipped a bit from the heights that Ezio’s first outing reached, but were still solid entries. Then we got ACIII, and I sort of gave up. I picked at IV and it’s companion piece Freedom Cry, which were better than III and Liberation, but still didn’t do much to capture either my attention or my wallet. UnityRogue, and Syndicate likewise drifted by with little care, which likely would have been Origins‘ fate as well, had I not needed a third game for a sale offer.

I’ll say this; Origins is not a very good Assassin’s Creed game… but it’s a very good Witcher 3 reskin. Seriously. Take away the monster-hunting aspect and the fantasy elements, replace them with intel-gathering and Ancient Egypt (we’re just going to ignore the sci-fi modern part, because honestly, it doesn’t even feel like that part serves a purpose anymore, and it interjects so rarely it’s easy to pretend it’s no longer there), you’re 3/4ths of the way to describing how the game behaves. Side quests, XP grinding, and piles of pants to compare .25% stat improvements on. It’s decent, though don’t expect the story to be as great as Witcher (or even AC or ACII), be willing to accept a bit of clunkiness (can we just give up and jack Infamous or Shadow of Mordor‘s wall climbing, please?) and some of Ubisoft’s typical “climb the thing and then check off all the little icons it gives you” laundry lists, and you’ll probably have a good time.

Shadow of War – Speaking of Mordor; here’s the sequel. This is probably the biggest disappointment of recent games (which I suspected would go to AC, though to be fair, I didn’t go into that one with high hopes); even so, it’s still good. Just not the “where the hell did this come from and why is it so awesome?” surprise of its predecessor. Plus it’ll annoy some hardcore Middle Earth fans (“Wait, Shelob is a hot chick instead of just a demon spider!? We are betrayed!”) as there were… questionable decisions made and it plays a little oddly with established history and lore  in ways that reek of fanfiction – “We’re gonna forge a new One True Ring and go kick Sauron’s ass!” – but mechanically it’s very solid and more of what was fun about the first game; stealthily slaughtering orcs, while forming elaborate self-realized subplots with them through the Nemesis system.

It suffers from the same malady that Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II did; the sequel to an at least semi-canonical game that fit well into an established mythos and timeline hosing that connection in favor of a nonsensical, fanfiction-esque story while retaining the good gameplay elements but doing very little to evolve or update them. Like that game, it’s fun, but could probably have waited for a sales bin purchase.

Evil Within 2 – Well. They got rid of the letterbox, at least. Other than that Evil Within 2 decided not to fiddle with the basics too much. They did apparently feel pressure from the industry’s trends and cram it into a semi-open world with sidequests, which feels a little odd, but basically, if you played the first game and you liked it, it’s worth poking the sequel… but if you despised the original, there isn’t anything new and exciting here that’s going to make you a convert, unless you just really hated the letterboxing. (Don’t worry, though, letterbox mode is an unlockable “extra” if you miss it that much.)

The story also doesn’t even try to make much sense, especially if you start picking at it (for starters, why does the evil megacorp do the things they did to Sebastian years before the Ruvik incident? Where the hell is Ruvik? Why does no one just shoot Kidman in the face instead of putting up with her fuckery? And the big one… what the hell is the actual purpose of building STEM units? As in, how does that provide any benefit whatsoever to either Evil Megacorp (TM) or humanity?), but it’s mostly there as a thin excuse to go romping through folks’ subconscious, stealth killing zombies the whole time and collecting vials of their assorted innards and bodily fluids to inject into your brain to give you superpowers.

One thing, if they do a third game; can we please, please disconnect the camera from Sebastian’s hip? Just pull it back like 5 more feet. I don’t care how in love we all are with Resident Evil 4, the camera in that game is crap and aping it is just frustrating, especially if you’re trying to add in stealth mechanics in an open world.

That’s it. Going to crawl back into bed now and hope I don’t die. Have fun, kids.

Swimming Uphill

Depression and bipolar disorder are tricksy things, at least for creative types. Almost universally considered to be negatives by most “normal” people, those with a creative drive can sometimes, ironically, find them to be useful wellsprings.

Think about it; do you think we’d have had Edgar Allen Poe (or any of the horror writers who followed him up to and including Stephen King or Joe Hill) if he hadn’t spent a great deal of his time being suicidally depressed?

Depression can drive a person to an outlet, to find some way to pour out that pain and try to give it a physical (or tangible, if you prefer) form that you can try to quantify, to describe, to perhaps defeat.

Bipolar disorder has it’s handy moments, too; at least during the manic phases. You’re up, you’re ready, you don’t need little things like sleep and your brain is running at a thousand miles per hour, and you have the energy to pour it onto the page.

But they’re two-edged swords; when the manic phase ends, or when the pain and sorrow of depression segues into apathy, nothing gets done.

That’s where I am right now. They’ve been fiddling with my meds, and while they claim to have my bipolar “under control,” all that means is I have a stable mood. Unfortunately, that mood is complete apathy, occasionally spiked with self-loathing rage.

Due to that, the plans to try to force myself onto a regular schedule of posting, the hopes that Believe Me would get at least a little scribbled on it each day until it is “complete” (or at least as complete as I feel I can make it) by the end of January, those drift further and further away.

I don’t know what to do about it, except keep hoping the doctors find the magical cocktail that fixes me. Or until I flush all the meds down the toilet and decide being a high-functioning manic depressive is more useful than being a stable pile of sludge.

Wish me luck.