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Flatter's Blog

Why I read serialized novels only after the last part has been released

I guess it has happened to everyone at least once. Reading a fantastic, absorbing book or watching a great movie that ends with a "to be continued". But the next installment isn't available yet. So you have to wait. Impatiently. For an increasingly frustrating long time. For me, it's like starting to count the days until christmas 6 months in advance. That's why I shy away from serialized stories if I know they are not completed yet. When Robert Jordan died and the mourning faded away I took a sad look at my 13 or so books of his "Wheel of Time" series I already owned. I hadn't started to read them yet, because I knew the story (which was initially promised to be spread over just 12 books) hadn't been finished - and now it seemed the story would never become so. What a relief I hadn't started to read them. Later it turned out a Brandon Sanderson (whom I had never heard of, shame over me) took the responsibility to write the last chapters. So this story about my "Wheel of Time" book collection will have a happy ending. But it was a close call. I won't bother you with recollections of some truly-never-finished-but-started-to-read stories in my past. I just want to point out what I am talking about.

I mention it because our Sims story section has the same problem, albeit to a much lesser degree, since the stories are shorter and usually all chapters are released over a few weeks or months time. Reading them doesn't take a lot of time, too, so I read most of the stories without any concerns regarding their state of being unfinished yet. BTW I am currently way behind with reading, because I don't read many stories at all these days (due to short-term job reasons), but that's a different topic.

Still, there are some excellent writers at TSR that do write long stories. And usually I "take the risk" and start to read them immediately (except at the moment), because I trust them to complete the story and I like their way of writing so much. Plus I think they know about their responsibility as authors to finish their stories, even if this is an unfair deal (because their counterpart, the reader, doesn't have a similar responsibility and much much less work than the writer creating the story).

So I know about the pain of a reader waiting for a continuation and about the responsibility of a storywriter. Nonetheless I took a try myself at writing a very long serialized novel. And here we are at my feeling of guiltyness: My Sparklewood story is still uncompleted for some months now. Unfortunately, I haven't found the time to finish it - yet. The outline of the story is done, but the stage bulding, picture shooting and dialogue writing is far from being completed. This blog entry is my way to say sorry for the waiting. Sparklewood is still in the making and I have still all intentions to finish it. But sometimes life's priorities prevent us from doing the fun things. So please bear with me. Or start reading Sparklewood only after I have published the last part :)


Copyright is such a difficult topic

Copyrights make for a huge topic. Sometimes even in the Sims community. I totally agree on the idea of protecting intellectual property, not the least because modern societies shift from producing material things to non-material values like entertainment or technology. Or to put it simple: Minstrels need to be paid if you want them to work as one. But the protection of the copyrights does pose a lot of problems. I don't see an easy solution to it. Several states have come up with different solutions (laws about "fair use", laws about "private sharing exceptions", etc, sorry I do not know all the names such regulations have in their respective countries) and all have their shortcomings and trapdoors.

Take at example the current patent system and the fact that many companies live off solely from the money they earn for sueing rich companies as notional patent violators. There are jokes that today only the very rich could afford not to be illiterate if the current patent system would have been in use when writing and characters were invented. Or that no car would exist if the wheel would be copyrighted by a cave man etc. Some fear that the patent system will not only protect investments in immaterial goods, but also slows the distribution of intellectual advances to the whole world up to a standstill. But as I said, intellectual property is a huge topic and I don't want to dwell on patents.

What I want to point my finger at is best illustrated by this: When I was younger, I was excited to see that computer soccer games went from 2D to 3D and that they looked more realistic by the day. Finally you could even recognize the face of the players, but then... copyright protection set in and the games weren't allowed to show real names or real faces any more without paying huge royalties. Since that time you have the choice to play several great soccer games but without real names/faces or to play one less good game but being the only one with the official licence of the year. I still find it ridicoulous. How long before I won't be allowed to mention Obama (copyrighted) as president (copyrighted) of the United States (registered trademark, used without permission) without paying a royalty up front?

A short while ago an artist I really admire for all the paintings she uploads was questioned about copyright issues. The longer you think about it, the stranger it sounds. If you look at all the Sims downloads, from clothing to clutter to paintings, all strive to mimick the real world as perfect as possible. Versace clothes? Ikea furniture? Coke can? Porsche car? Just imagine you would need an official licence for it - probably 3/4 of all downloads had to be erased because of copyright violations. The TSR artist was showing respect for the painters whose pictures she processed by asking her sources for permission to use it. This is a noble gesture. I bet most artists recreating a dress they saw in a fashion magazine are not doing such a thing. Think about all the Sims that are designed to look like a real life celebrity! Now think back to the soccer computer game case I mentioned above... If you use creations of others, show them due respect, but don't carry the copyright thought any further, or all hell will break loose and downloading/creating Sims stuff will become a lot more restrictive and expensive for all of us.

I can even add a small anecdote to this topic. My current story hero, called Jake Jarvis, was "lent" to a friend of mine who wanted to have him in her story as well. I liked the idea. She put Jake in and let him even appear in some "compromising" screenies, most of the time making him act differently than I would have done it. One way to react would have been to fear for "my intellectual property". Did she damage "my" Jake and the way I want him to be? People might see Jake differently now, even if they were reading my story again, wouldn't they? Should I fear for my yet unfinished story? Rubbish. She had fun with it, the people commenting on it had a good laugh, too, so no harm was done at all. Except some people had a great time with Jake, and I can't say anything bad about that :D Being over-protective wouldn't have made the world a better place.

The Sims is only a game. It is about big money, true, because EA is probably making a fortune with their brand, but still, it is a game for (nearly) all of us. We all want to have fun and the overwhelming majority is not out to hurt anyone or to steal anything or to rip others off. I am aware that I use a lot of CC and some of it is used in my stories. Since I never kept track of the CC I downloaded and which items were created by which artists,  I don't have a proper credit list in my stories myself, but that's more because of my inability to identify my CC and the matching artist, not because of not wanting to do it (and if you are one of the unmentioned CC artists, please drop me a message and I will list you in the credits!). At least I always thank the artist when I download their stuff. What I want to say: Give credit where credit is true, but beware of being over-protective.

But since this is such a difficult issue, I think it is very easy to have a different opinion on it :D. Feel free to voice it.

A Spambot proving ground

Automated spambots are programs designed to infiltrate forums, guestbooks, blogs etc. Usually their aim is to spread hyperlinks (which lead to pages where the user can expect everything from simple advertising to evil trojan-infestations) or to do at least only some annoying stuff like disrupting forum page layouts etc. Such automated buggers are the main reason why CAPTCHAs exist. "Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart" are those nasty distorted words one has to decipher to fill out a form or to register at a website. Sometimes I fear the CAPTCHAs have advanced to a point where I NEED a program to identify the words correctly, because I start to fail those tests more often than not :) There is a constant struggle between the good (forum admins) and the bad (spambots) to develop new measures and counter-measures. I even read about new job opportunities for the so-called "china farmers", who are people playing World of Warcraft only to generate ingame money to sell it to rich players for real money. Nowadays you can work full time typing in CAPTCHA responses to assist spambots in taking the hurdle when aquiring new accounts. Sorry for bothering you with those details, but it helps understanding the next paragraph.

In my last blog entry I wrote about a question in our General PC help forum, of which I found duplicates in more than 100 different forums all over the world and where I showed my disappointment the OTC never called back after receiving an answer. I think I have solved the riddle, because the same OTC just posted another question at our same forum. Again his problem was not sim-related at all, but a very general PC question. Again I did the google check. This time TSR was the 78th forum into which he had posted his question. Naturally, this time I didn't bother to reply to the thread. I checked with google again whether the guy had at least replied in any forum to his older post. I wasn't really surprised to see that the initial 100 forums he had honoured with his request had increased in size and google now found more than 1.800 different forums into which his network connectivity question had been posted.

Google finds


Now I looked closer at his postings at TSR and discovered that both postings initially had contained spam links (sometimes they are hidden in signatures to make spotting them more difficult), but our forum moderator was wary enough to remove them. For me it's clear those threads were just made by a spambot to smuggle in unwanted links into the forum. Probably I was not the only one coming to this conclusion, because strangly a day later the new spambot-made question had been removed from some of the other forums I saw them in yesterday, bringing the total down to mere 23 sites. I reported my suspicion to our forum guardians, but obviously they think it sufficient to have the link disabled, because the thread remained intact.

What conclusions am I drawing from it? Spambots seem to become more and more cleverly disguised, imitating real persons with real concerns. I do not want to waste my precious time answering to fake requests. Our forum doesn't seem to be immune to spambots. So what kind of measure should I take to protect me? Shall I ignore threads started by new accounts (but then many register to a forum only the moment they see the need for it, namely because of having to ask about a problem)? Shall I ignore threads that contain links (but some may be "real" links where the OTC points to additional information)? Shall I only answer to threads with a clear relation to the Sims (because a spambot verly likely uses a general question to fit into as many forums as possible)? Should I just check google each time before a reply? Or should I restrict help to persons I do know already through other activities at the site? Thoughts on this are very welcome.

I will also start a poll on it.



Why I hate lacking feedback in a help forum

Sometimes I like to give advice by posting in the help section of the forum. Probably it's worth a separate blog entry why I am doing it, because IMHO this is the one thing you shouldn't do if you're going for easy kudos or mass production. Maybe I want to help, maybe I want to keep sharp on my knowledge, or is it only for showing off?! Honestly, I do not know for sure. The explanation I like best is based on something I saw in a signature of some help forum moderator years ago. I hope this translates well into English: "Do not pay back, pay forward!", meaning if you get helped, return the favour by helping not the same person, but the next one in line in need of help. What a cool idea!

Posting an answer to a problem thread in the help sections takes time. You can't fire away a "great, I like it" and be done with it, but you have to understand the problem, check the facts, look up some details, maybe even try something yourself before giving it as advice, and then you have to put it into words that leave not much room of misunderstanding. Most of the time it's an iterative process, too, because you have to verify some details the OTC (original thread creator) didn't mention. Oh, that's another topic worth of a blog entry. Some people just write "my game doesn't work. I need help" without as much as giving a clue about the circumstances. Anyway, what's important here is that answering to a problem thread usually involves some kind of obligation to walk through the solution process over several postings, too, so you have to check back at the forum every now and then.

Which means: helping involves time and implies an obligation.In an ideal world, the problem thread finishes with a "thanks, this or that worked" or at least a "no, that didn't solve my problem, but thanks anyway".Such endings have the advantage that other people reading it know whether something worked, too. People with the same problem can search the forum months later and learn about right (and wrong) ways to solve their problem without starting at point zero again.

Unfortunately, in the real world most threads finish with an advice and the OTC is never heard again. This is not specific to my advices, but a general behaviour. I hate it. Not even the person that gave the advice learns whether his time was well spent.

A short while ago I answered a question about network connectivity problems at the TSR General PC help forum. It was not very Sims-specific, but as the problem description was quite detailed, I offered some advice, including some hints on what the OTC should check. That took me maybe 15 minutes of my life. The OTC never wrote back. This time I got curious. After two weeks or so I used Google to check if the OTC had posted his question somewhere else as well. It turned out he had. Google came up with more than hundred different forums he had asked the same question word by word (copy and paste is cheap) over the course of a week! I checked only a few of those hits, but it seems about a third of the forums had a reply (often with additional questions, too) and the OTC never replied once to any advice giver.

The strange thing was he posted in some German forums, too, but with the english text. Did he expect an answer there? And he posted a few dozen of his identical question each day, several days in a row. That doesn't sound like a spambot either. Why would someone do this? Imagine 100 different forums having this thread, each causing one guy to spend 15 min for an answer, and you come up with 25 hours wasted on helping someone who didn't care to check the replies or comment on them. Lacking feedback shows lacking manners sometimes, I think.

I have a poll for this topic, too.




Why to rate something can be tempting

A short while ago I found myself giving an unreasonable high rating on a screenshot. I thought it was a mediocre shot to which not much thought had been given. But the current rating of 1.5 seemed a bit harsh to me. So, instead of rating it a 3 (which I would have done if I hadn't known the current average) I gave 4 points to raise the average faster towards 3. Not the biggest crime in my life, but still it felt like having cheated. So I started to ask me why it had felt wrong.

The reason is a very simple one. While my own vote (in this case: 3) reflects my own opinion, the average score (here: 1.5) reflects the aggregated opinion of several persons. By giving a vote that was not true to my own feeling (the wrong 4) I did not only add my voice to the public reception, but I had manipulated the "true" average rating. I wanted my opinion to count as more than other voter's opinion, so my tactically wrong rating had an increased effect on the "objective" average. It brought it nearer to my personal rating. If you wanted to achieve such kind of manipulation at an election you would need to put two votes in the box instead of one - which is considered rigging a voting in democratic societies. So now I knew what mischievous deed I had done.

Immediately the story section came to my mind. A screenshot is easily done and easily forgotten, so I doubt giving slightly incorrect ratings will do any real harm. But usually the work and time one has to put into a Sims story is much larger, but rating a story (and the emotional temptations behind it) remain the same. Giving "tactical ratings" for a story can have a profound effect on the creator, because so much more time and effort is at stake and the emotional binding to the story is much higher. BTW this is not only about RAISING an average score. Imagine three people have given 5 stars to a story when a fourth reader reads it. (S)he thinks it's only worth a 4 but sees the appearantly way too high average score of 5.0, so (s)he rates it a "1" instead and the average will come tumbling down to 4.0, because (5 + 5 + 5 + 1) / 4 = 4.0. A rating job well done?

I know there are much more important matters in life than rating a Sims story and I am pretty sure there are some people giving random ratings at the TSR site without reading the story they rated at all just to collect some daily kudos. So no matter how you rate yourself you have to take every rating with a grain of salt. Still I find the issue interesting, so I have started a poll on rating. As soon as I have figured out how to create a poll correctly (my first attempt at my mini-site was garbage), feel free to participate.

Some music which is not suitable as background noise

Sometimes when I work from home I like to listen very loud to background music (after having made sure no-one else will be bothered by the noise, of course). Mostly I choose music that is simple in structure or so well-known to me it has no chance to distract me from my actual work. But this time I failed miserably. I heard the new CD by Ben Folds in which he made 11 short stories of Nick Hornby into 11 songs, but had to stop playing it, because I didn't get any work done while listening! Great stuff. My current favorites are "Picture Window" and "Levi Johnston's Blues", but "Your Dogs" has a very catchy tune, too. If you're into slightly off-beat music I can recommend to give his CD named "Lonely Avenue" a try.

Sparklewood has started

The first few parts of my Sparklewood story are released now. I am happy about the many comments I received. Writing is fun, but more so because of getting feedback from readers. By chance I observed that one release started with two persons giving it a rating of "3", before it climbed up to an average rating of "4.6". It's a pity the two "3"-givers didn't leave a comment for me. It's quite normal that a story is not to everyone's liking, but I am still curious why they gave a rating that's low in comparism to the achieved average of the story. I hope the next time they will rate a story low they find the time to explain it with a comment. I don't want to argue with them, but I'd like to know the reasons. You can only improve if you know what went wrong. Getting congratulations from someone who liked your story makes you happier, while meeting with criticism of less impressed readers makes you a better writer. At least that's what I hope.

Preparing a new story

Initially I wanted to stick to my Simstones comics, but now I will probably start to publish a "normal" story first. Because comics are picture-centric and I hadn't any Sims game with me during my holiday I had to fall back to do something which was more text-based. I continued to work on a nice story idea (IMHO) which features different characters than the comic. It will take me several weeks to complete this and to put pics to it. So no new Simstones for a while.

Back home

Back from a long vacation with no regular internet access, no Sims 3 and only a very old laptop in the baggage. I managed to access the internet twice while on the road (although with VERY low bandwidth). Checked my email, some news sites. One of the few sites I stopped by was TSR. Due to the amount of graphics on each page it took ages to display them, so I soon gave up.

First thing I did after arriving home was going online again. Initial probings confirmed: It will take me ages to catch up with the website and stories and and downloads and happenings etc. The TSR community (or any other part of the internet) was NOT on vacation, it seemed ;)

Latest Headlines

Why I read serialized novels... Copyright is such a difficult topic A Spambot proving ground Why I hate lacking feedback in a... Why to rate something can be... Some music which is not suitable... Sparklewood has started Preparing a new story Back home

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