Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Looking Back: Has Anything Changed?

I've been reviewing the first hundred posts in this blog, up to the point where I gave up on what was a stressful life and started to hike the Appalachian Trail. I started thinking, has anything changed from then?

I was stressed, I was behind in my bills to the point where I was evicted and I was lost physically and spiritually. I was on the 'Trail' for 10 days and made my way back to Raleigh exhausted and dehydrated. I'm not even sure why I came back to Raleigh. Technically I could have gone anywhere and been homeless, but Raleigh had a certain familiarity. I knew the shelter system there. I expected to find a job and get back into the swing in a short amount of time.

And it seemed to work. I did find a job and I did get out of the shelter. But it was a worse job than the one I walked away from earlier. I was stressed again. I walked away - literally in mid-call. I went back to the shelter and then found it harder than ever to get a job.

I've blogged about that, so no sense in going over it again. I finally found my way to Astadia, and though the job has been stressful in some ways, it is nowhere near as bad as other places.

So now let me take stock of my life anew. I'm still doing phone work, something I swore never to do again. But this time the calls aren't generally back to back, and I can work on other things besides calls. I'm working from home again with a computer supported by my employer and not of my own build. So if something goes wrong I don't have to worry about out-of-pocket expenses.

And I'm making more money, generally. I can pay rent and internet service and I'm able to save a bit for my ultimate computer system. I'm able to afford a rickety car with an over-powered engine and the insurance that is needed for it. I'm able to pay most of my bills and try to repair my credit, though hospital bills that I  may never repay dominate my credit history.

Health-wise, yes, in some ways I'm worse off than in 2009. My knees occasionally hurt enough to make me seriously limp. My shoulder is a constant source of a dull ache with occasional sharp pains. But I'm not as stressed as I used to be. So I can tolerate a fair amount of small aches. I still get the odd migraine, and allergies keep me sneezing.

But overall I'm much better off health-wise than in 2009. Really, I am.

I still play Warcraft. I still enjoy Warcraft. A lot of the people I've known had to walk away from it at one point or another. I've been dragged from it kicking and screaming.

And I've been writing. moving away from Publish America to Createspace, a form of self-publishing. I've written about my homeless experiences and added another novel in the ongoing Simmons/Timmons Chronicles. I've written and attempted to sell screenplays.

Am I successful? Compared to others, perhaps not. But I'm happier now than I've been in a long time, and to me, that's as successful as it gets.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Needed For Survival = Free

I've been dreaming of my perfect world again: a world where there are no weapons. They have been forcefully disintegrated by my automated police force, including guns, ammunition, tanks, warships etc. There is no crime allowed. Everyone has a house c/o whatever benefactor has created this version of Utopia. That house has its own solar panels that provide the electricity necessary in today's society. The same automated system delivers fresh food on a daily basis, depending on the user's choices. Yadda, yadda, yadda. No one wants for anything except the stuff that's bad for you.

I woke from my reverie to realize that some of that would be easy to implement with the right rich person donating his or her money.

Just the necessities: A home, and access to free electricity and water. Food, education, a guaranteed job and health care will have to wait. Notice these are my Five Points of Hope. So let's stick to housing.

If I had the money I'd buy up some land that was otherwise not being used and I'd arrange to have built a series of small houses. We've all seen them. They have the basics: electricity and running water. The solar panels are easy enough, but water doesn't grow on trees, especially in areas where there's little rain. I suppose it's possible to create a system where the water used is recycled, but even that's not ideal.

So my point is that everything necessary for life should be free. Housing, electricity, water and food. The problem is electric companies and water plants will disagree. If your bill is late because you can't afford it, they have the right to shut it off, then landlords can evict you or communities can condemn your property because it doesn't have electricity and running water.

It's a power no one should have. Yes, electric plants have to pay to maintain the network and generate the electricity by whatever means they use, but the ever-increasing burden of this system is paid for by the consumer.

So what are we to do to bypass this vicious circle? Our benefactor could build solar plants and connect them to the grid. Then bypass existing wiring to provide the electricity for free.

That is actually a pretty expensive proposition. Our benefactor would have to be rich and powerful, because utilities aren't going down without a fight.

It would be easier to rig every home with solar panels. But what of water?

I think the public utilities are going to be around for a long time, but we can lessen their effect on our lives. Yes, put up those solar panels but stay connected to the electrical network.

Yes, put in a system to recycle water but stay connected to the water plant.

We use less of what is being pushed on us and will save money.

We can do this. Any benefactors out there? I still want to build a new city based on these principals. There are a lot of wealthy people who can make a real contribution to society by helping make this a reality. Let me hear from you!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Why Can't I Get Reviews?

'Regrets' has been out for quite some time. I've sold a couple of real books, a couple of Kindle versions, and had it read on Amazon a few times. I've given away several Kindle copies, all in an effort to draw reviews and get some feedback on the novel.

To date, there are no reviews for Regrets in any format.

This has puzzled me immensely. How can someone read a book and have no opinion on it? I'd even welcome a one-star review if it were honest and gave me the feedback I need.

There are a number of places I can go online to request reviews, but guess what? They all cost money that I don't have at the moment.

So, here's the offer. I have a box full of paperback copies of 'Regrets.' One is yours free, including shipping, if and only you agree to read the book and provide a review on Amazon.com and BN.com.

Email me: mike.fox.wow (at) gmail.com with your name and address and I'll ship it off forthwith.

That is all.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Policeman for the World

When I let my mind wander it can turn into a dangerous weapon. I've been thinking lately of turning robots into the world's policemen. This is by no means an original concept, as the first time I recall seeing it is in the movie 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.' Gort is the robot and can vaporize just with a look. Klaatu is the only one that can control him, and gives a stern warning that if we expand our petty wars into space, Gort will act unilaterally.

And that's the problem with using robots as policemen. They have to be programmed by someone who has their own particular set of morals.

So whose morals do we use? If we go by the Ten Commandments a lot of people would be jailed. Are there morals we can agree on? Stealing: bad? What constitutes stealing? Robbing a bank? Surely. Banks charging exorbitant interest? Maybe not.

Can we agree that rape is a bad thing? Apparently not. There are cultures that allow minors to marry older husbands. I'll go with husbands because that's 99.9999% of the problem. You just don't hear very often of an older woman marrying a young boy, and I would consider the boy to be the lucky one.

Murder? Another gray area. I read an article the other day about a man that was murdered in front of witnesses, but because the man was so bad himself, everyone who witnessed it claimed they were turning away in horror at the time the crime was committed and therefore saw nothing.

You see, a robot has to see things in black and white, and the laws it would enforce have to be programmed into it. No one can agree on what a crime is.

And what about the rights of criminals? I'm not saying anyone has a right to commit a crime, but if said crime happens in your own home does a robot have the right to come in and stop it? Do we station robots in every home, or use domestic robots that people buy as watchful eyes?

It becomes a matter of what would society put up with. We already have the technology to limit cars so that they enforce speed limits, but who would want to own a car that won't let you go even one mile over the speed limit? Don't tell me I can't speed if the conditions allow it. Yes, it would cut back on accidents if everyone used self-driving cars. But apparently we as humans feel we have a right to act dangerously if we want.

Which brings us back to whose rules do robots follow? We're all human, with the frailties and insecurities that come with being that way. A robot being asked to police us would likely self-destruct because of all the contradictions

Or they would make us their slaves because we don't deserve freedom.

As for me, I welcome our robot overlords.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Car Story

It began with an offer for a place to live and transportation. Upon my arrival in Jacksonville FL, I found myself in a motel. I had already checked out craigslist to see what places there were to live. During my first day at the new office, a coworker pulled me aside, offered me a ride back to the motel at the end of the shift, and then made me a seemingly 'can't refuse' offer. He had a room for rent at a reasonable rate and a car that he wanted to sell me.

Having lived in motels and shelters for the previous 4 months, I jumped at the offer for a place to live. He took me back to his place the next day and the room and rent were adequate for my needs. The car...was another story.

I've thought of several names for her: 'Ol Blackie, 0V3RP0W3R3D, Bang, bang, yer dead, and of course: Piece of Shit.

It's a '95 Civic Hatchback with an engine that belonged somewhere else, an '89 Integra, I think. He told me the engine was banned from import now and that is was a rare find. Oh, and there's no muffler on it so it roars.

This is the engine as I found her. The owner, my landlord, told me it needed work. It had a leaky head gasket. It also had problems starting and when it did, it ran rich and backfired every chance it got. Oh, and you had to put water in it every time you ran it. He told me he was quoted at $1000 to get it fixed permanently.

Not pictured is the hood, which from my vantage point, looks like it took fire damage at one point. Also, one of the tires is working off of just enough thread to make it interesting.

So my landlord wanted $1200 for it. He told me the engine was worth at least that much on its own. He recommended a buddy of his come take a look at it to see if he couldn't get it running. I was really hoping at that point that what was really wrong with it was a quick fix, so I went along, and spent some money on recommended parts. The guy came in to look at it and worked well into the night. About $50 in parts later, he got it to start but said it needed tuning. The backfiring was a big hint there. A neighbor came out to complain about the noise,and a few minutes later a cop showed up. Luckily we had just closed up for the night, and he let us go. I gave the mechanic $200 for the labor - too much, I know, but I wanted him to come back to finish the job, and he went his merry way.

I drove the car to work the next day. I had already arranged insurance for it. I made it into work, then after work I was going to take it to get the tags renewed. I got about a quarter of the way, then the car overheated. I had to use the towing feature of my insurance to get it the rest f the way home. At home, I put water in it, and it seemed to run fine. The guy who had worked on it before had gone to the hospital the day after he worked on it, possibly celebrating with my money a bit too much. But he promised to come back at some point. He never did.

The next day I tried to use it again. I made it to a 7-11 just down the street from work, intending to get some breakfast, and then when I departed, I noticed the engine was overheating again. I didn't make it the last half mile to work. I had to get a push the rest of the way to work, and another tow to get it home.

So now it seemed the head gasket was blown. I had several recommendations, from people I had really just met, for service stations. I had it towed to one, only to find they didn't do head gasket replacements because they couldn't guarantee them. I tried to get my insurance to tow it back home, but they apparently had enough of me and said no. So chalk up another $100 in towing fees.

Next place was a garage that had dealt with the car before, where my landlord got his initial estimate of $1000. I paid to have it towed in. They recognized the car right away, and told me the estimate they had given him earlier was not valid anymore, and finally came up with a figure of $2500, but recommended that I give up because the car wasn't worth that much, and was a money pit. I paid $300 plus to get the car towed there and back and for the estimate. Ka-ching.

And for a while, I did give up on it. I was still paying for insurance, but I wasn't paying for anything else. Then, about two weeks ago, my landlord tells me there's a new guy at work who works on cars, and he'd be willing to do it for $800. I grudgingly said I'd talk to him, and he came out and looked at the car and got some numbers off it. The next day he texted me that the cost was going to be $1500 but he could break it into payments of $750.

He was going to completely replace the head instead of just the gasket. He was going to replace the timing chain and do whatever else needed to be done. I almost did a facepalm, but I agreed in the end and give him $750. It was $1000 less than the last shop, after all. Next, he tells me to have it towed to his home, where he apparently has a garage. I really did do a facepalm then, but I was committed. I should have been committed, I know. another $100 out of my pocket.

He sent me a picture a few days later: Halfway done.

Looked considerably less than that, but I went along with him. A week goes by, my bank account is about to be filled again, so I text him about the car. He wondered how to start it, because there's a trick to it. I'm a little confused as to why he didn't ask earlier, but I tell him how to start it, and then he texted back that he had to replace the battery and the oil case, and that would cost another $100. What's $100 among friends? /sarcasm. I agree because I'm not going to get the money back. The next day he tells me that the battery cost more than he thought and it was another $50. At  this point, I asked him if he'd provide the receipts, and he said he didn't usually work that way, but this time, he would. He got really snitty about it, but he had been working on the car for a lot of hours. He didn't say how many, but I believe him because the car was pure evil.  I did let him know that I'm not made of money.

So we agreed that today would be delivery day and when he finally drove up in it, he told me that he'd been working on it until 1 am the night before because it still backfired and then refused to start at times. He said he cleaned the carburetor and that took care of that issue.

So we took it for a spin and it seems to idle a bit fast, but it's such a hybrid of technology that I can learn to live with it.

I hope the saga is over, but he was worried about the distributor. He couldn't find it, but he promised if I can find it and buy a replacement, he'd install it for free.

Was it worth it? Was 'Ol Blackie my Moby Dick? Well, at least I got it, so I'm no Ahab. Friends and family told me to walk away, even tried to find me cheaper cars on craigslist, but something about this car - heh - tasks me. Only time will tell if was worth it, though the last guy to work on it told me to get a paint job and sell the car. I might just do that.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Republic of Mike: A 'What If' Scenario.

Maybe it's lack of sleep due to an overactive brain. Maybe it's the overall disgust I have for the current political process. Maybe I'm just nuts. I want to form my own Republic.

Oh, it won't be overly large. It will be stuck in the middle of a desert on land that most people would consider unusable. Let's say 100 square miles, 10 x 10. But since I'm poor I'd have to simply claim it as my own. I might not even say where it was at first. I'd put together a team of robots to start carving out my claim, quietly working at night, and building a city underground.

That's how it would start: The Republic of Mike. The basic Constitution would be similar to the concepts I explored in 'Project Five-Star: The Five Points of Hope:' Guaranteed living quarters, guaranteed healthy food, an education that never ends (as Asimov suggested), health care, and work doing what makes you the happiest.

I think robotics has matured to the point where that's possible. Of course, I have no money, and lack the skills at the moment, but this is all hypothetical anyway.

The point I'm getting at is how the United States government would react if such a claim were made. Let's say I'm able to put together the resources to start such a project. If and when the U.S. finds out about it, what do they do? It would probably start on a local level. Law enforcement comes out to my desert country to find the robots hard at work, and tries to stop them. Being robots, they might be programmed to hide themselves in the sand, only to reappear when law enforcement leaves,

The next level would be the state. Let's say they are ineffective as well, and call out the National Guard. The Guard carpet-bombs the area, destroying the robots (so they think), then leaves it alone. But I'm a bit more clever than that, and my robots feigned death and continue their work.

Now sometime before all this happens I get a visit from the FBI and I'm brought in for questioning. I would still need to work for a living as no permanent structure exists in The Republic of Mike. I would tell them that I'd never be able to afford the equipment necessary and it was all hypothetical anyway. If they let me go (Fools!), then my robots would continue their work until there are viable living quarters and then I would quietly move in unbeknownst to anyone since I work from home anyway.

But eventually, word would get out that I have indeed claimed 100 square miles of desert land as my own republic, after all, if you're  going to establish your own country people need to know that, for diplomatic purposes at least. I'd want to be recognized by the U.N., amirite?

So we get down to the nitty-gritty: How far would the current government go to maintain the integrity of the lower 48? Would the U.S. declare war on Mike?

Lincoln stated that 'A house divided against itself cannot stand,' and used that to justify the Civil War. So if history is any guide, yes, the U.S. would go to war against Mike. So now the question becomes: How many resources would they dedicate to it? Would they carpet-bomb? Seems logical. The only person living there would be me, at least until Mike is established as a sovereign state. But let's say, in this ever-increasing fantasy, that I've prepared for most forms of war and that I resist attempts to invade Mike.

So the bottom line becomes: will the U.S. use nuclear weapons on what used to be their own territory just to bring the Republic of Mike to a fiery end?

I'll leave that question unanswered.

Friday, March 18, 2016

"If you build it..." - Not

Begin Rant

I am the first to admit that I am lacking marketing skills. I used to work for a Radio Shack way back when, and found that if the people came to me, I could sell to them.

But selling books and websites are not quite the same thing as having a physical location and having products that people want to buy.

In other words, marketing is about shoving things down people's throat until they buy what you have to sell. But I'm not like that.

So far the best I can manage is to put out posts in Facebook and Twitter, which are conveniently linked, and hope someone notices. The first time I ran a free Kindle book promotion, I 'sold' hundreds of copies of 'Theater Boy.' I was very pleased. I ran those promotions regularly with all my books, and slowly the numbers are dwindling.

What I'm trying to say is: I can't even give my books away. Is this a testament to the Amazon.com promotional system? Perhaps others have taken advantage of this to the point where the market is saturated with free books and my own books get lost in the ocean of books that Amazon lists.

Making it as an author in the digital age has proven to be harder than I thought. And the biggest problem is that even when someone buys my books, they rarely leave reviews. I'm not the type to pay someone to review my product, and even if I did, Amazon is becoming better at sniffing the culprits out.

I'm a man of great potential and imagination, but also limited means. I can't afford to hire a publicist. So what am I to do?

I could pull a stunt to get noticed and in the mad rush of the press to interview me as to why I pulled the stunt, I could mention that I have several books available. It would have to be the kind of stunt that grabs the eye of the media, even for a brief moment. Lord knows there's a lot of people whose videos of doing stupid things go viral. I'll be the first to admit I've done stupid things. I'm in the process of finishing a task that a fair amount of people would call stupid, but it's not so stupid as to garner the attention I need.

Let me go off on a tangent for a second to say I do not crave attention. I just want people to read and like my books enough to want to tell other people. I'd be happy just writing and publishing like I have been and letting the readers fall where they may. But there's a part of me that's not satisfied with that. In other words, my creative side is at war with my introverted side.

Getting back to the crazy stunt, what sort of stunt grabs the eyes of the media? Looking at CNN.com as I'm writing this: I could launch a missile. I could yell and scream my way into the Presidential debates. I could escape from jail or prison, but I'd have to do something worthy of going to jail in the first place. Hey, there's another crazy thing I could do.

Or I could die.

But I'd have to either be famous in the first place or die in such an unusual way that I garner attention.

Relax, I'm in no hurry to make a spectacle of myself.

At one point in my life, I traveled the East Coast making videos of everywhere I'd been. You can see the resulting videos on youtube. Every now and then one of them gets a hit. I still get regular hits on videos I made in 2012: How to win playing Sudoku, and a video where I show how to work with a portable washer.

But the idea was to capture a video that would go viral and make some money, at a time when I had no regular income. The money altogether too soon ran out and that idea fizzled.

I still make videos and post them to youtube, but they're gaming videos, and my skills are such that I'm not likely to go viral anytime soon. But the time to renew that concept of traveling and making videos might be returning. I just need to make sure that every video description has a link to my books. Hmmm, there's an idea.

End Rant

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Question of Greed

I'll come out right away and say I support Bernie Sanders and his attempt to become President. That said, let's talk about greed.

What is it that causes one person to become so greedy he'll step on his own mother to pick up a stray dollar, while another person will go out of his way to remain poor?

I will admit to big dreams when it comes to money, mostly due to my writing taking off, but mostly, I'm content with a place to live, food to eat and decent Internet. I'm not driven to make more money than I need.

I suppose some of it is genetic, look at the Koch Brothers and the Walton family. I will never understand how people will go out of their way so they can have more money. They even go so far that they'll hide their earnings in offshore accounts.

But off-shore accounts aren't free. Neither are bribes. For that matter, neither are donations to charities, So I'm guessing everything is carefully calculated so as to pay the least amount of taxes possible, right down to the legal fees required to make everything go as smooth as possible.

Power corrupts, or so I'm told. I've never had any real power. But what if the corruption exists not just in the genetics, but in the soul itself? I've heard that babies learn to hate and be greedy, they aren't born that way. But what if instead of Nurture over Nature, where children are taught to hate, or something happens that changes them into uncaring monsters, something else is responsible?

And I'm not talking about genetics, or brain damage, I'm talking about a damaged soul. No one really knows what the soul is, though my stories and dreams often stray to what makes a soul. One of my characters even goes so far as to say that souls are made of the same thing as everything else: atoms. So what makes one soul different from another?

I'm a real believer of reincarnation. Once the body dies, the soul finds an unborn body to inhabit, losing most of its memories in the process. I won't get into what makes a soul to begin with, or if there's such a thing as human-only souls, but what if, in a previous life, a soul gets physically damaged? Say, the body gets burned, and an atom or two of the soul gets destroyed?

I've already had visions of victims of the atom bombs, those at ground zero who got vaporized, having their souls completely destroyed in the process. *Shudder*

Anyway, what if damaged souls are responsible for overwhelming greed and lust for power, lust for war and destruction?

Something to think about, and one of the things that keep me up at night and my imagination humming.