REVIEW: Crafting of Chess

Affiliate Link Disclosure: If you click the link below, you will be taken to Amazon.com. If you purchase the book from that link, I get a small kickback.

The Crafting of Chess is a work of fiction written by Kit Falbo, and is available in digital edition, via the Kindle Unlimited subscription service, or via paperback copy.

Synopsis: In the real world, Nate is a hardworking teenager with a gift for the hustle, especially with betting on rounds of online shooters or playing chess at the park for money. He is cautious but optimistic, a product of having lost both his parents at a young age and being raised by his conartist grandfather. Nate has his eyes set on a new hustle: the virtual MMO Fair Quest. Players can raise an NPC companion to do their bidding, with the chance of winning 2 million dollars if their companion succeeds in being crowned king. Nate’s plan isn’t to chase this quest however. He plans to craft high level items to sell on the auction house, which will allow him to cash out some of his profits for hard currency.

What I liked:This story works because Nate, or Chess as he is known in-game, is a relatable character. His caution in dealing with other players and NPCs is understandable, his struggles to become skilled at crafting makes sense in the game world and outside of it, and the sense of progression as he is forced to adventure for various reasons to keep crafting are believable. This book is, genuinely, a fun read. There is also a real investment in how crafting is handled that will remind most readers of crafting systems found in classic role playing games, something I would like to see more of.

The LitRPG subgenre tends to be littered with useless stats and statblocks; this book by comparison handles its stats with a fair and even hand. The stats have weight to them as explained and as used. Also, the mechanic of having a focus on an NPC in order to win the tournament proper is an interesting hook to get the player, and by proxy the reader, interested in the game world.

What I disliked:Editing and grammar mistakes show a copy that clearly was edited, yet not edited enough. In fairness, this is par for the course for a lot of books available on Kindle Unlimited, but it was at times a real distraction. There is also a sense that the ending was rushed. This leads to a conclusion that feels surprising, but in a predictable and flat way.

The world of Fair Quest, the game that Nate plays, takes some handwaving to get used to. This, too, is notable towards the end.

What I hated: There’s no sequel. Yet. But the author is active in several LitRPG communities so maybe if he is pinged enough he’ll write the second, third, or even fourth!

Overall score: Read it. I don’t know if this book is quite up there as “everything a book in its genre should be” but it is definitely an example of a book in the genre done right.

Three Chapters In

So the story I am working on has three chapters published across three different websites. A fourth will be released Friday.

Those links again are:

Royal Road: https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/24026/to-swim-amongst-the-stars

Moonquill:
https://moonquill.com/book/217

Honeyfeed:
https://www.honeyfeed.fm/novels/1307

I believe that at this time I will continue to use these three websites without expanding further. That isn’t to say each website doesn’t have it’s own issues and concerns.

Royak Road is large and established. It is very easy to get lost in the riffraff over there.

Moonquill seems like an exciting “just right” sized website, but the talks of having an app that acts as a paywall for offline viewing is very concerning.

Honeyfeed is a concerning ghost town. Worse, there is no real way to see how your works are doing. Its community is almost non existent.

Still… I continue to write! I anticipate this series having roughly 40 odd chapters. So not a small work, somewhere give or take 80k words.

So I Am Writing Again

I’ve spent the last month trying to put together something, anything, that I could publish. I wrote about 36k words across three different writing projects. I’ve been rather interested in the LitRPG subgenre, so it is interesting that the work I would release fancies itself “high fantasy space opera” in the vein of Spelljammer. Because why not?

Rather then publish my works on this blog, where no one would read them, I did some research before choosing three different websites I could publish them at. Now, there’s three different places no one will read them!

First is the relatively new website Moonquill: https://moonquill.com/dashboard/books/217

Next, Royal Road (formerly Royal Road Legends): https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/24026/to-swim-amongst-the-stars

Last but not least, Honeyfeed.fm: https://www.honeyfeed.fm/novels/1307

My impressions are kind of mixed at the moment. Royal Road is huge, but it’s hard to get anyone’s attention on it. Moonquill is super new, but also not a lot of eyes on it yet. There is this feeling of “just right” between newness and user interaction on Honeyfeed… but I really need to start getting some readership and feedback!

With two chapters out, 4 more proofread, and a few more I can flesh out? Hopefully we can make this work. Ideally, I’d get to about the 70k-80k mark, find a stopping point, and put everything together in a “Book 1” of sorts and then get that pupper on Kindle Unlimited. But that’s getting way ahead of myself. First we write, then we proofread, then we put it out there, then we hope some one is dumb enough to read it AND has poor enough taste to like it.

The Monetization of This Blog (Or, I’m Writing; Might as Well Get Paid)

For the longest time, this blog has been associated with a Google Adsense account. It displays advertisements quite innocuously in the upper right. Many of you don’t even notice because you have adblocker turned on. Many still don’t notice because they don’t visit this blog. Interestingly, the Adsense option may not be the best. I chose it back when I was earning a couple of dollars every month with my Youtube channel. Now, with Youtube expecting an individual to have 1000 subscribers and 4000 hours of watch time, this “bundled option” seems like it makes less sense. For perspective, if I took the time to make a ten minute video every week, each video would need about 4500 views and have to be watched from beginning to end in order to then qualify for the Youtube Partner program. Then I’d have to hope my content didn’t raise any red flags. It’s a lot of work for what would earn, roughly speaking, $4 to $6 a week (given the above assumption of 4500 views a video, and this blog entry by Bill Roberts. ) I’d argue Bill’s math checks out: my most popular video of all time, “Brave Frontier – Easter Event 2017 – Autonomous Cotton Fight has just over 3,600 views and according to Youtube’s metrics earned me about $2.53. Not bad for something I was doing because I enjoyed it, but not anything I could reliably do to make a living.

Thanks to the encouragement of Flav Medeiros (whose Facebook group you should already be a member of!) I have taken the steps to become an Amazon affiliate. This is an interesting turn, because I’ll need to make sure this blog is up to date on the proper disclaimers and such. In most nations, you can’t simply say “here is a link to buy a thing” without disclosing “I might get a kickback if you buy the thing” unless you want to break a few laws. I would rather not explain to my prison mate that I’m doing hard time because I upset the FTC, please and thank you.

This is ultimately a step in the direction of treating this blog more seriously, keeping myself in the routine of writing, and hopefully also bringing in residual income (who doesn’t like that?)

Winter Will End Soon. Only Historically, Not

America has this tradition where a groundhog pops out of his little hidey-hole, then writes a scroll to some guy in a top hat. This guy reads the scroll, which answers the question: did the furry abomination see its shadow? If so, everyone freezes to death for six more weeks. If not, we collectively get to start complaining about summer weather 6 weeks sooner. It seems silly to me that Mother Nature would bow to the power of this weather-beaten rodent and its shadow, but with thousands of people gathering to watch the event and millions more reading about it clearly there is something to the story, right?

I’m not a fan of the cold, so it’s easy for me to dream of knocking that darn thing hard behind the head so that it can’t wake up until the next day – as good a way as any to ensure it doesn’t see its shadow. But as a recent article on CNN suggests, Punxsutawney Phil is less accurate at predicting the weather than your average coin flip. He is, apparently, only right about 40% of the time. This can be attributed to factors such as the difficulty in predicting 42 whole days of weather in advance; as part of the legend this is also attributed to the presenter misreading or misinterpreting what the groundhog saw.

As such, it appears it doesn’t really matter what this creature does or doesn’t say – winter is going to be winter. This is a shame, because this year the groundhog did not see its shadow, which would mean this winter vortex will be over soon and I can start wearing shorts. Indeed, this weather is not my friend – with temperatures hitting the “feels like” range of 60 to 70 below Fahrenheit (comment below if you know what that is in Celsius), I am ready for weather where I start sweating again.

This isn’t the only bit of folklore that we as Americans use to predict the weather. According to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, “Squirrels gathering nuts in a flurry, Will cause snow to gather in a hurry.” As well, tough appleskins and flowers blooming in late autumn are a sign that a grim winter is coming. Yet for some reason, it is only this one groundhog that gets its own holiday. Strange, that.

7 Unique Websites I’ve Bookmarked Throughout the Years

Some dead poet guy by the name of Henry D Thoreau was quoted as saying “I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately.” Never met the guy personally, probably because you know… he’s dead. But in the last couple of weeks, I have been doing a lot of deliberate living things. Questioning some choices. Coming to terms with others.

One of the things I’ve been doing is clearing out my Bookmarks. Over the multitude of years of using Firefox, I have bookmarked – that is, saved for some reason or another to find for later – a lot of websites! It is a confusing mess! So I’ve been going through them and removing a lot of them. Some simply don’t pertain to me any more. Others have been superseded by better links. Others still simply don’t work, lost to the ebbs of internet time.

I thought it would be neat to share a few of them, so with that in mind here we go:

1.) The Secret Teachings of All Ages – This website contains the transcribed work of Manly P. Hall, which was written in 1928. Mr. Hall was a Canadian born lecturer and occultist. The practicality of his works is certainly debatable, but I find the work to be an interesting source to pull from. It’s a solid source for learning about popular metaphysical religions and organizations at the time like The Golden Dawn or Masons, and could be useful if you are a fiction writer trying to write a story ground in some of these beliefs. It’s also an interesting look back at what sort of non-Christian faiths were prominent in North America during this time period. Fun fact: in 1930, this book cost $100 – which would be about $1400 in today’s cash. And you thought your college textbooks were expensive!

2.) Katamari website hack – this is a fun little diversion that will take the website you are on and allow you to roll it up into a ball, much like in the hit puzzle game Katamari Damacy.

3.) RumChata Cheesecake Pudding Shots – I never did get around to making these. Maybe some day I will. They take a popular alcoholic drink known for its sweet tasty and milky texture and turn it into a desert. That will get you drunk. That’s a thing that will end well, I am sure.

4.) Five Key Ways to Build Customer Relationships – This 13 year old article from Entrepreneur is just as relevant today as it was then. Something to consider for anyone looking to start a business or improve their own customer service skills.

5.) Free CSS – Solid website templates. I’ve played around with a few of these. I like that they stand on their own almost right out of the box, but found it frustrating to hack any of them down when they had features I didn’t care for or need.

6.) Worldbroadcastingsystem.com – In the late 90’s and early 2000’s, text chatting and role playing were pretty big. The Ethereal Realms script was an ambitious project that allowed like minded individuals to gather together in rooms, create characters all under one account, upload media, and otherwise participate in a fluid non-commital community. The Ethereal Realms website itself has closed, these days simply showing off its script. There was once several dozen iterations of the project that used the software; now there is maybe three or four left. Of those, WBS remains the most constant. It’s a great way to see everything that worked, and also everything that didn’t, about that software.

7.) Ren’py – Ever want to create a visual novel, or a dating sim? Ren’Py is an option that makes it easy. Also, it’s completely free, even for commercial use.

None of these are affiliate links – I get nothing out of them if you check them out. I just appreciate the opportunity to share a few places I’ve been, as I clear out literally three hundred and some odd pages I’ve saved throughout the last eight years.

Refocusing on This Blog, It’s Purpose, And It’s Future Direction

In Fall of 2015 I created this blog with the purpose of learning how WordPress worked, from the back end and as a user. WordPress to me seemed like it would be the future of content, a future once envisioned in the days of RSS feeds and personal webspaces, brought anew by the rigid policies and content curating of companies like Facebook and Tumblr. The ease of creators and small businesses of using WordPress as a business front didn’t hurt this belief.

As you can tell from my very sporadic updates, this is a project that has for the most part fallen to the wayside. My life switched directions, with me taking a job that requires me to work 12 hour shifts 6 days a week, my refocusing on the health of my family, and trying to get any sort of sleep in between everything that needs to be done.

Lately I’ve decided to put more focus on this blog. Part of this is because it has the best domain name ever, bar none. (I choose it back when I had grand visions of using it for a link shortener. No one uses this anymore; not even me!) Another part of this is a Facebook group I follow, Flav Medeiros’s Side Business Ideas Facebook group, is hosting a 6 week blogging challenge and I am leaning on this man’s business knowledge and blogging history to learn everything I can from it. I personally don’t see this blog as the sort of place people go for anything particular, because this blog’s dedicated niche is me, the user. I share what I feel is interesting, and those things can be very schizophrenic. The upside of this is that it’s my blog and content. The downside is there’s not really a dedicated user for this content, outside of perhaps friends and perhaps those that view this website’s URL from other services I share.

This challenge comes at an interesting time in my life. At 36 years of age, I am starting to put a lot more thought into who I am as an individual and a member of my local and worldwide community. It also comes at a time when I am severely questioning and challenging my use of a lot of social media. As an example, I recently locked 9 years of Facebook posts so that only I could reference them (although I still use the Messenger, and participate in a couple of closed groups.) If ever there was a time to consider a blogging challenge, and to force myself to write in general, now is this time. Plus, always great to have another excuse to neglect my Youtube channel.

I’m not sure where this will go in 6 week’s time, or after. I am taking this course seriously, and in just one week feel that the course is already on its way to encouraging me to at least update this thing on a weekly basis. I will be looking at some things that have been concerns for me for a while as well, such as how this WordPress theme presents itself on most mobile devices (easy to read but hard to interact with) and how it integrates keywords, links, and media. I may also be moving away from the Adsense advertisements (which I chose because they linked well with the Youtube revenue I used to get two years ago) towards other more viable options. Time will tell!

Midrasche in the City – Or How I Enjoyed a Game Even Though it’s Older Than My Kids

Torn City bills itself as a “text-based MMO”, although it’s perhaps better described as a “browser game” (that does have its own client) . In it, players assume the role of a Torn citizen, and they can be whatever they want to be. A soldier! A criminal. A businesman! A lawyer!

I’m mostly a wall slut who spends their time racing.

Allow me to explain.

I picked up this game after a Facebook advertisement recommended it to me. Comments under the advertisement seemed enthusiastic, so I dived in. I figured I would keep my head down, lay low, get a hang of things and go from there.

Three days in someone recruits me into a Faction. Welp, so much for laying low.

It’s not a bad game. It was created in 2004, which means it is INCREDIBLY top heavy, and a lot of the older folks don’t like new players at all. So my advice to you, if you are just joining this game, is to simply not post in Help or Trade chat. If you do, you’ll get attacked out of the blue for no reason. That’s another issue – once your 14 days of newbie protection are over, anyone of any level can attack you. If they do it right, you won’t even know who it was that attacked you – just the mysterious “someone.”

There’s a lot of friendly people too though, and a lot of solid guides. It’s not hard to pick things up and get an idea of where you are going. There is a mantra repeated frequently: “Torn is a marathon, not a sprint” – encouraging the playing of the long game.

I spend a lot of my time training stats, talking to Faction mates, and racing. There is a racing side-game that is very involved in which a player starts at E class and works their way up to the mysterious A class, all in hopes of some honor badges which ultimately make the player stronger. The definition of the word ironic, I’ve been forsaking cars suggested by guides and going for cars I would consider driving with consideration for the game’s “handling” stat and I’ve been doing excessively well. As I type this, I’m about 5 more first place wins away from B class. I anticipate having that within the next two days. Multi track drifting agogo.

Of course, being in a Faction means you are expected to participate in Faction wars. In this game, wars take place by having contested piece of property, represented by a “wall.” Players who want the property and players who want to protect it jump on the wall, and the time they stay on the wall generates points. Of course, instead of jumping on the wall on either case you can simply attack and hospitalize individuals who are gaining points. This game calls newer players whose only job is to be on the wall to waste the energy of whomever attacks them “Wall sluts.” It is a shame that is the best I can accomplish at this point in the game but damn it, I’m trying.

You also can work for companies, or create your own. Different businesses have different perks but also different requirements as to what it takes to be good at the job and thus benefit the business. A factionmate encouraged me to get a job at an Adult Novelty store, which are a great way to increase one’s in-game happiness and ultimately slow down one’s opponent via “bondage.” The problem was, it was poorly run. The director was not very communicative, and did a poor job of training his fellow members. After two weeks of that, I jumped ship to work at a Mechanic Shop – a job that offers great perks to those who race, at the cost of only being useful for those who race. It’s been going a lot better, although the owner of the previous business has taken it upon himself to harass me in the most hilariously futile ways. He bountied me. His faction told him to stop, after I bountied him back and his people started asking “what’s this?” Then he bountied me again, but anonymously. When I hired someone who worked at a Cyber Cafe to confirm it was him, he started attacking and hospitalizing me outright. If only he put that much effort and energy into running a business, it might have its second star despite being open for 6 weeks!

There’s a lot of other things going on under the hood, like accepting missions from the town’s notorious loanshark Duke, or flying across the world running rareties like flowers and plushies… or drugs and weapons, if that’s your cup of tea. It is a game that completely frustrates me, yet also encourages me to keep at it. So that’s what I intend to do, for now. Who knows, maybe I’ll get strong enough to leave my own mark!

. . . on the pavement. In blood. Because I will die a lot more times. Just watch.

She Never Did Win The Lottery

In almost two decades of working various ends of retail and service, there were few employees quite like the grizzled warrior we’ll call Granny. This story is almost ten years old, but my Facebook feed reminded me of this lady so I had to share.

At a popular fast food restaurant where I had worked in various positions over a four year period with the promise of becoming management (a promise that was never fulfilled), a lot of people came and went. Granny was not one to be forgotten. She was in her 70’s, and the sinew and grizzle that made up her body couldn’t have put her at more than five feet tall. She was hired for about 6 hours a day, four days a week, to essentially work in the back as a baker and dishwasher. She probably spent three of those hours each day smoking. She hated the people she worked with almost as much as she hated the customers that bothered her while she was smoking. It was hard to say why she stuck around for about the eight or so months she did; some might say keeping her on was a charity case. Others might point out that our turnover was high and a lot of the employees that worked mornings did not want to be stuck doing the prep work and dishes she did.

I am not kidding when I say you did not interrupt her when she was smoking. One particularly cold morning when the morning rush was more than a skeleton crew could handle, she made the decision to slip out between oven timers to smoke. A parked drive-thru customer was marching in from waiting for what they claimed was forever but was probably closer to five or ten minutes, and made the mistake of taking their anger and frustration out on her. I was running food out for another vehicle when I got to witness the exchange, which was to say the least heated.

The customer was a man about as old as I am now (mid thirties) angrily demanding to know why it was taking so long for his food and why she was smoking. Granny’s response, dead pan, was that this customer should mind his own business. (!!!) The customer wanted to go for broke on this old lady, instead of the usual standby of wanting to talk to a manager (which is always the fan favorite.) I remember him vividly screaming “It’s bullshit I have to be late for work because you people can’t get food out on time. But I guess that’s why you are making the fucking big bucks, isn’t it?” And this old lady responds, practically spitting venom like a Dilophosaurus, “Didn’t your mother teach you not to swear in public? She must be ashamed.” In a perfect world this man would have seen the error of his ways and crawled back to the car he came from and waited for his food like an adult (before calling the 1 800 number and complaining to get free food, because you know, customers). Instead he wanted to escalate things, and he actually tried getting in my way as I came back from handing out the food I originally was outside for. A manager had to get off the cook line to apologize profusely and attempt to smooth things over. Granny was scolded (not that it did any good, she gave zero fucks) but did not lose her job.

Granny and I got along because while she hated everybody, I was a professional who on the surface loved everyone because that’s just what good customer service is (TM). So I went out of my way to help her out when I could, lifting things, getting materials from the shelves she couldn’t have reached if there was another one of her stacked on top of her, etc. So after a few months she got as warm to me as she would anyone, which was to say she felt comfortable enough to talk to me on some of her many smoke breaks. Most of what she had to say was how lazy everyone around her was, how nobody knew how to do anything, how she had to do all this extra work… you know, the short lady who I was constantly helping out. But I also learned a little about her: she used to work for what was once a huge retailer, starting in a warehouse and actually finding herself at an office job with benefits. She has one son, whom she claimed disowned her. She didn’t like animals because “they make messes everywhere.” She hated asking for help, even as she clearly needed it. And one day, she was going to win the lottery, tell this place we were working at to go exploit themselves, and travel the world. Two things this woman would not give up – smoking, and playing the lottery. She has “a system” that “will pay off someday.” In the time I knew her, it never did.

Granny may have been more than a liability for the company, but she had a strange way of being thoughtful too. For Christmas, she decided to show her appreciation to some of us by purchasing us lottery tickets. Not everyone, just like three or four of us. Of course, she made sure we knew that “when” we won, we would have to share half the winnings with her. For better or for worse, none of us did.

She was kept in the back, and not allowed to deal with customers. This was because she had the disposition of a demonetized alt-right pundit. I remember one day she was “helping out” washing tables. This is in quotations because it was, to the letter of the job description, her job to do this… but usually she didn’t. A family was leaving, and decided for some reason not to take their tray of trash and cups with them – just left them on the table. There were complaints by other customers who heard her loudly complaining about how “in my day we would have spanked the laziness out of those kids” and “no one has respect any more.” At the time I really just felt she should shut up and clean the tables, but especially as time has gone on I got it and I got her frustration. But she made the cardinal sin of letting the customers hear her…

Sadly, Granny is no longer with us. I don’t want to get into the specifics too much, but she needed medical care. This taught me two things. One, this old lady who seemed to only tolerate me for banter while smoking and to do her bitch work apparently trusted me enough to list me as someone to speak to from Family Services. Second, I discovered she was actually an illegal immigrant (from Canada, of all places!) working on a work visa that had expired some ten years prior. Family Services had reached out to me in part because she had been given them my name, and in part because no one knew who else to contact.

One day after work me and a few coworkers helped pack her things. She was incredibly ungrateful, as she often was, about how lazy we were and about how we better not steal or break anything. She did offer us cigarettes though, so she must have appreciated us in some way. Arrangements were made for her to be moved to a nursing home just across the border. I learned from management that she apparently passed away not even a week after moving, and that the very son that was unreachable to help her move was asking questions about her storage shed so that he could grab her things, and contested the sale of one of her vehicles. Pretty depressing.

Today, I’ve got a reminder of her on my Facebook wall. A picture of her was taken at work for a holiday thing, and after she left I made a digital copy. Hopefully, she’s in a heaven or a reincarnated life where she has already won the lottery, and no one is interrupting her smoke breaks. Also, it makes me sad, because over ten years later, I feel like I’m falling into that same trap she was, where the only way I’m going to reach my goals and enjoy life as I was meant to is if I win the lottery. At the time, I felt it was silly she would expect to have a chance at winning; now I recognize the desperation behind the belief.