Napster, Driveless Cars, and Staying Ahead of the Curve

NapsterI just got done watching a very interesting documentary on Netflix called “Downloaded.” It’s a very interesting documentary about the development, the rise, and the fall of the now infamous peer-to-peer file discovery and sharing platform Napster. Regardless of your personal feelings on the topic of the ethical and legal issues surrounding Napster, you can’t argue that it has permanently changed the music industry. It opened the way for iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and a host of music services that are now ingrained into the daily lives of even the most modest of tech users. It also opened the door for most sophisticated and larger peer-to-peer platforms like BitTorrent. To keep it short, even after “legal” victories against Napster by the RIAA, the music industry was forever changed and many will argue that the music industry missed the bus on capitalizing on this new technonology because they were too busy trying to kill it.

I won’t put all the blame on the music industry though, because frankly how could they have known? They weren’t tech people. They didn’t understand the technology. Decades of stagnation had seen the music industry completely remove itself from the research and development of new recording technologies. They were completely unprepared, when compounded by an unwillingness to change, led to the faltering music industry we have today. An industry where many bands can circumvent the industry at large and make livings directly connecting to their fans.

I’m getting off course here. What happened with Napster and the music industry is done, but we’re never done with the growing pains of innovation. That’s why it’s important for us to learn from these sort of events and apply them to current (movies and television) and upcoming (driverless cars) disruptive innovations. Which brings me to the topic that this post is actually focused on: the emergence of driverless cars.

My friend Ed posted his concerns regarding automated vehicles on Facebook a couple weeks and it triggered an interesting conversation. One of the points that people are legitimately concerned about is how automated vehicles will affect employment in driving fields such as public transportation, private transportation, and commercial shipping.

If history is any indication, there will be quite a few people in the next few decades that will lose their job as a truck driver. At this point it is completely unavoidable because you can’t un-invent the technology and it’s only a matter of time before people run out of excuses to keep it stifled. A certain amount of jobs will be created to support these automated vehicles, but unfortunately it’s not likely that it will replace all the jobs lost.

However… theoretically once this technology is in place the cost of almost everything in America should drop. Around 70% of all commercial goods in the United States are transported via trucks. That means that eventually 70% of all items shipped in the US should decrease as their production and shipping cost decreases.

Let’s use a car factory as an example. What many people fail to realize is a factory for cars is actually less a factory, and more simply a fancy place where things are put together. Individual parts are rarely produced onsite. Companies have found that for various reasons it’s cheaper to make pieces at a highly specialized mass production factory and then ship them to the main plant to be used in assembly. Off the dealership floor something as simple as your brakes and rotors could be comprised of pieces that were manufactured in multiple states or even countries.

Doing the math, that means that the cost of shipping raw material to manufacturing plants will be reduced. The cost of shipping the parts to the assembly plant will be reduced. The price of shipping the finished car to storage or dealerships will be reduced.

Why is the shipping cheaper in theory? Well, people driving trucks cross country is expensive. You have to pay their wage and benefits, you have to pay insurance, and then you have any other costs from legal liability, etc. Yes, there will be initial costs to develop, purchase, and roll out the new technology, but as you can see eventually the cost will pay for itself and savings will occur.

Here’s where we can really get into a lot of trouble. This offset in price should help aid those that are negatively affected by the shift to automated shipping. So while these unfortunate men and women drivers will eventually find it hard to get a job in the field, the cost of living should decrease for them. But what happens if corporations instead decide to eat up the savings as profit and not pass them along as savings to the public?

This is when we start to further develop the possibility of a permanent underclass. Whenever innovation streamlines or eases production at the cost of employment, there should also be a benefit to the common folk. Assembly lines help produce a cheaper car, factory food production makes bread cheap and easy for all families to purchase, etc.

future truck cabin 876The other important thing to keep in mind is that this is a growing and developing technology. All truckers won’t find themselves unemployed within five or even ten years. This will be a slow roll out and people should have years to prepare for the inevitable change. Another thought is we’re also assuming that these trucks will be fully automated, and I find that very hard to believe. I think it’s much more likely that we’ll see truck drivers become more like train conductors, overseeing the general operation and only taking control when precision or judgement is needed.

That’s all for now. Just had some thoughts and decided to share them.

Recommendations for July 29th, 2015

Haven’t updated in a few days, thought I would check in. Nothing “important” to say today, so I thought I would take a few minutes to recommend some things in case you’re finding yourself a little bored these last few weeks of Summer. Going to cover some video games, TV Shows, movies, etc.

Let’s start with a fun little video game that can be picked up for $20 (or free this month if you’re a PSN+ Member):


Rocket League!

This highly competitive, fast paced game that combines soccer and cars is more fun than my description makes it sound. Right off the bat the game is frantic and fast, and as your skills increase the game only gets more insane. Eventually the skill level gets to the point that your cars are often used like rockets to deflect and strike the ball with “aerial” moves like this:

I’m not that good (click to see me play), but that doesn’t make the game any less fun. Due to the competitive and online nature, this game can be a little bit of a time suck if you’re determined to get decent. You’ve been warned.


Netflix Picks

Bojack Horseman Season 2 is out. If you stopped watching the show after the first couple episodes of Season 1 I don’t blame you, but I’ll be damned if you’re not missing out on one of the most heartfelt and tender comedies about nihilism, death, and rejection. Also, the voice acting cast. Season 2 is arguably better than Season 1 even after it picked up and I think will speak to a lot of people out there. A lot of sad, broken people. “Every day it gets easier.”

You might have also heard about a documentary about Chinese food that has been getting a lot of buzz on social media. I put “In Search of General Tso” on with zero shame as I ate the last Chinese meal during my little “let’s eat like an idiot because I’m on vacation” event. I was expecting a lighthearted documentary about Chinese food, and I wasn’t disappointed, however… the movie is much more than that. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Chinese history, Chinese immigration into America. Just so many fascinating and sometimes sad things. It’s also an amazingly uplifting story as you see how Chinese people have rose against adversity across multiple continents.

I’m sure I’ll remember some other things I meant to suggest soon, and I’ll likely keep posting this stuff in the future. If you have recommendations for me, hit me up on twitter.

Music Time: Don’t we all?

Music Time: I can read your mind

Music Time: Wandering or in the gutter

Prime Day: Reflections

It’s really my own fault. When a company like Amazon says it’s going to have “more deals than Black Friday,” it’s hard not to at least be interested in the hype train. Ever since I heard about the event I’ve been casually eyeballing it. I made sure to quickly trade in last term’s school books so I would have the credit on my account in time for Prime Day, but unfortunately my trade in is still pending. This is my own fault for putting it off so long, but that gives you a little context of how this sales “event” started for me.

To prepare for the Prime Day I compiled a couple quickly assembled and updated “wish lists.” Perhaps the thing I was most eager to check was my $600+ worth of books for next school term. If I could save 20% on even one of the books I was looking at saving $20 or more. Remembering a time when Amazon was exclusively an online bookstore, I kind of held hope that they would revert back to their old school roots and offer up some book deals. I should have known better, because here’s big problem #1 for the sale:

Prime Problem #1: It’s actually TOO big
Yeah, I know they openly claim it’s “bigger than Black Friday,” but why is this a negative? Basically Amazon fell into the trap of trying to please everyone. While there are some really cool deals with widespread appeal, those naturally get bought out earlier. The result is the few things that are popular sell out within minutes, and all that’s left has basically been compared to “garage sale” product. Oddly specific items, bundles of DVDs that are actually more expensive than if you bought them individually, and other strange little anomalies. There’s just too much stuff that most people don’t care enough, and not enough of the stuff people would logically want to purchase. Which leads to our next big problem…

Prime Problem #2: Navigation is basically impossible
This might be the most common complaint I’ve seen so far. Let’s be 100% honest here, for being the biggest game in town their site navigation can be kind of shit. Anyone that has tried to track their trade-ins, obscure “gift card balances” from promotions, or basically anything outside a general transaction knows what a mess it can be. For some unknown reason, Amazon thought this design which barely works for normal daily use would be acceptable for Prime Day. The end result is something like this:

prime day sucks1

In case you can’t read it, that’s 145 pages of upcoming deals that only display on average about 6-9 items per pages. This is compounded by the issue that you can only filter the displayed content by the most basic and generic categories. Looking for a deal on a bicycle? Good luck wading through the pages of “Sports & Outdoors” category, which includes everything from Zippo lighter kits to poker chips. When you factor in how much time you spend looking for deals, I’m sure that the discounts probably aren’t worth it.

Like I previously mentioned, I attempted to plan ahead for this and made a couple wishlists for various items I need and/or want, but even that isn’t that helpful as it doesn’t seem to notify you if and when an item goes on sale. One thing that can be said about Valve’s digital sales platform Steam is that it is build to sell you shit. It seems a weekly occurrence that I will receive “An item on your wishlist is on sale!” Is it so hard for Amazon to do the same? Hell, they might even offer this, but the website is so unmanageable at times I wouldn’t even know where to find such a setting.

Though in the end, I think if anyone is to blame for this, it’s us. We the consumers are just too easy to trick into buying into nonsensical commercial hype.

So in short, hope you guys were able to get some deals and weren’t suckered in by all the hype. But just encase you did buy into it all, don’t forget:

ovaltine

Some thoughts about “Show, don’t tell.”

I love Warren Ellis. I would throw myself down and sacrifice my individual to become one with Warren Ellis, extending his life with my own. Not really, but I would think about it for a couple seconds. I really just love Warren Ellis. When I first began my quest to become a writer, my goal was basically “be fatter, American Warren Ellis.” There are a lot worse fates honestly, but my goals have changed.

However, my love and respect for Mr. Ellis has not changed. In the latest installment of his “ORBITAL OPERATIONS” newsletter, he shared something that hit home in a big way. Some insight into his process and thoughts on writing a comic book script:


I am out of petrol. But, before I go, a thought on writing in comics:

1391424-warren_ellis_1Some people will quote a rule at you, often with a snotty air: “show, don’t tell.” They will tell you that it is bad storytelling if, for instance, the art doesn’t tell the story independently of the text, or, classically, if you are telling the reader something instead of showing it to them.

This is crap.

Bruce Wagner’s WILD PALMS graphic novel, wonderfully illustrated by the late Julian Allen, frequently “tells” you in dialogue what you are seeing in the art. So went the criticism. Except, of course, that it wasn’t. What it was frequently doing was striking subtle friction off the proximity of writing to art – there was additional information in the art, and the blankness of the text had its own subtextual payload.

Anyone who cannot imagine genuine storytelling reasons for telling something instead of showing something is an idiot. Anyone who can’t imagine the art and the text telling you *two different stories* is an idiot.

Try not to describe the illustration in the dialogue or caption unless there’s a very specific reason for it. That’s it. Anything else is fair game.


Let me preface the rest of this post by saying while I am a “professional” writer that has been paid to write content, I have never had fiction published. So disclaimer. Take all I’m about to say with a grain of salt, because it’s not the words of a seasoned vet like Warren Ellis.

Alright, onto my thoughts: The reason this hit home for me is that it’s an issue I’m currently dealing with on a project. I am working on a Future Shock script to submit to 2000 AD. In case you’re not familiar, a Future Shock is a short (typically 4 pages) comic story with a twist ending. It has to be an original story that features original characters.

Now a lot of people might think “Four pages? That’s cake. I’m sure a good writer could crap that out in a day.” Maybe, but if we’re being honest, trying to tell a complete narrative in four pages is actually harder than 30 or even 180 pages. You have to keep the story lean, waste no motion, and be very clear in what you’re trying to express to the reader. You have to establish who your characters are, what they’re trying to do, why they’re trying to do it, and what happens if they fail… all in four pages. Not to mention you then have to tell the story.

Still think four pages is easy? When I first started writing fiction, I did a lot of “Flash Fiction” short stories. It’s an exercise of which a lot of writers participate. Many, myself included, claim it’s a good way to learn how to tell the parts of a story quickly and effectively. This in mind, it’s not unthinkable that I was coming to the very conclusion that Mr. Ellis was preparing for his newsletter at almost the same exact time.

The problem I was running into is that while I was plotting out and planning this four page story, I realized that my ideas were very text narrative heavy. Of course the first thing that popped into my head is the old “Show, don’t tell…” I was torturing myself over how to convey this plot point, or this aspect of the character, etc. without words. I actually started entertaining the idea of having no text, only art panels. Then it hit me… what’s wrong with telling the audience what’s going on? I have four pages. Conservation of page length is the most important part of this project. It doesn’t matter if I write out the perfect script with no dialog and only on page action, if it’s five pages in length I’ve already failed the exercise.

Now I’ll just cut to the realization because this post is already getting a little wordy. Comic books are a medium that combine art and word. If you want just art or just words, there are other things you can consume. While there is a moderately justified attitude that writers are a dime a dozen, that doesn’t diminish the importance of good writing in comics. “Show, don’t tell…” illustrates a mindset where the text being written is secondary, or even worse, a redundancy for the art on the page. That’s not right. If that’s the case, we’re into the aforementioned art book you can buy at any artist alley at basically any comic convention. And going the other way, words that don’t benefit from art are just illustrated novels.

Comic books are symbiotic relationship between art and words. To diminish the role of writer, artists, and editors diminishes the medium itself. Full stop. If you have a problem with that concept, move on. Even if you are successful, odds are you’re going to be an insufferable pain to work with and will become “that guy/gal” because you think you’re contributions to the project are more important than anyone else’s. That’s a terrible attitude to have going into a collaborative effort.

Let’s get back on track to what I’m working on currently though, as that’s kind of my point here. After reflecting on my storytelling problem, and some uncannily timed advice from Mr. Ellis, I realized that my own thinking had been skewed. That my perceived importance of artwork over writing was stopping me from seeing the true solution in a situation like this. Writing and art have to work together. In these four pages I will show as much as I can, and then tell the rest. The true enemy in this situation is redundancy, which is what I really think the spirit of “Show, don’t tell” rule is set to convey.

I’ll keep you guys up to date on this project as anything develops. 2000 AD submissions don’t open again till September, so while I’ll likely get this completed over the next week or so it’s going to be awhile before I can actually submit it and even longer till I get my rejection reply.

So there you have it. Some insight from myself and more notably, Warren Ellis. Definitely listen to him. Maybe lightly consider my contribution to the discussion…

Day Two: Summer is coming… errr… here…

Like I’ve mentioned on various social media and on this site, I’m bored. I guess I should update anyone that doesn’t keep up with me personally.

I’ve gone back to school. The original plan is to get some courses done at a local community college and then transfer out to Ohio State University to major in Electrical Engineering. After some reflection and some investigation, I decided that I am now going to focus more on the software and application end so I’ll be doing a Computer Science degree instead. That’s basically the short of it. Back in school, doing well, and working towards some realistic goals…

but…

now it’s summer time. Unlike last summer, I decided not to take any classes and I’m incredibly bored.

Summer is coming

While a lack of sobriety and a pile of video games might sound like heaven to some people, it’s really dragging me down now that I’m into month two of doing absolutely nothing. In an effort to keep my sanity I’ve decided to re-dedicate myself to some good ol’ fashioned writing. To help get my groove back, I will be writing at least a couple hundred words daily most days here on the website, in addition to any writing I’ll be doing quietly as I prepare some pitches and submissions.

So keep an eye out. The website should start jumping again soon with talk of video games, comics, politics, and all sorts of other things that will likely make people hate me. It’s the internet, it’s to be expected. You’ve been warned!

Love,
Carl