Monthly Archives: January 2017

Like it or Not, Mexico Will Pay for Trump’s Wall

Mexico likely will pay for Trump’s wall. The mechanism has been bloody obvious ever since the idea was raised. Instapundit sums it up in one sentence:

DUDE, ALL IT TAKES IS A TAX ON REMITTANCES: Vicente Fox to Trump: When will you understand that I’m not paying for that f***ing wall? And you think there’s a political downside to taxing money sent from the U.S. to Mexico?

Mexicans working abroad sent $24.8 billion home in remittances in 2015. That’s more than their oil industry earned in the same year – an industry that once generated 80% of the Mexican economy. Let’s be honest: we all know that most of that comes from the United States. Slap a 10% tax on that and it’s more than $2 billion dollars a year. That’s plenty of money to pay for a wall – a big wall. And Mexico can’t do a thing about it, no matter what Vicente Fox says.

As Instapundit notes, it’s hardly going to be an unpopular tax. And when it’s done paying for the wall, American citizens (you know, the ones who can actually vote) will continue to find it popular. Why? The only reason anybody ever likes any tax: because it will tax someone else.

Interestingly, from a policy standpoint, the tax also helps with another issue. It discourages illegal immigrants. Remove the incentives and you reduce the behavior. Forget for a moment whether you agree with the policy or not. In terms of implementation, this kills two birds with one stone.

The new Congress has already found a legal mechanism to build the wall. The tax to pay for it is coming soon – mark my words.

Running a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

Our Kickstarter campaign for Lyonesse not only met its goal, we very nearly doubled it. We had a plan going in, and we executed it. Still, we could have done several things better. Here’s an analysis of what we did well – and some thoughts on what we could have done better.

Use Kickstarter for Marketing – not Fundraising

First and foremost, Lyonesse’s success never relied on Kickstarter. Our business model is royalty based, not fixed fee. And our projected operational costs are extremely low (and we have some experience doing this sort of thing, so we trust those numbers). We can fund the operational costs out of pocket more or less indefinitely. That’s why we’re giving the Kickstarter proceeds almost entirely to our authors.

If our campaign had failed, we still could have launched Lyonesse. We could have launched without it altogether. We chose to run a campaign not for funding reasons but for marketing reasons – and I firmly believe that’s the true value of Kickstarter. If you have a strong enough brand – and strong enough reach – to raise huge amounts of money via a crowd funding campaign… you can probably raise that money relatively easily in other ways, too.

Our campaign was definitely successful from a marketing standpoint. First, we signed up enough subscribers to make it worthwhile. We reached a large number of people we wouldn’t have otherwise reached. We got substantial signal boost from certain quarters. People are now beginning to take the project quite seriously.

Set a Realistic Goal

It’s time for a moment of perfect candor. Although we didn’t need the money to launch the project, I would have preferred to raise even more than we did. We’re giving almost all of that money straight to our authors – and they’re fantastic authors who have written amazing stories and they deserve even more than we’ve paid them. But we did an honest assessment of our current fan base and reach and set a goal based on that. We had very high confidence that we could meet our goal.

Because we view crowd funding as a marketing tool, and not a fundraising tool, it was absolutely crucial that we meet our goal. We wanted (and still want!) the public at large to view this project as successful. But even if you don’t look at it that way, meeting your goal is important. Other crowd funding companies are different, but Kickstarter won’t pay you a single cent if you don’t meet your goal.

Warning: you must also set a goal that is enough to meet your needs. We’re lucky. Most publishing gigs these day pay absolute shit to authors. In the long run, we hope to pay them quite a bit more than this. But for now, the bar we had to clear to keep them happy was pretty low. If you’re relying on crowd funding to cover all of your startup costs, however, you’re going to need to ensure that your goal is realistic for that.

You must balance these competing issues. If your audience and reach isn’t enough for you to raise the amount you actually need for your project… it may be time to rethink it.

Get the Word Out

Get it on your social media. Tell all your friends about it. Send it to your e-mail list. Tell strangers about it. Use everything at your disposal. Marketing your campaign is absolutely critical.

We talked about our campaign on social media a lot. I talked about it on this blog a lot. Quite a few of our friends talked it up and spread the word. Chris Lansdown had me on his YouTube channel. Get the word out.

Hands down the number one problem nearly all small business owners face is that their customers don’t know they exist. And they’ll continue not knowing until you tell them.

We did OK at this. But it’s the area where we could have had the most improvement. There are several avenues of marketing that I didn’t pursue, and more that I didn’t pursue as aggressively as I could or should have. All I can say is that this is a game I’m still learning.

Do the things we didn’t do: enlist more influencers to talk about your project. Get good artwork – and lots of it – for promotion. Consider paying for ads.

Grow Your Audience First

We’ve been building our audience at Silver Empire for two years now. It’s still rather small – but it’s far larger than it was at the beginning. Two years ago we couldn’t have run this campaign successfully. But a few days ago we nearly doubled our goal. Timing is everything. Don’t be impatient. Run your campaign when you’re ready to run it.

Good luck!

I wish you the best of luck in your own crowd funding endeavors. It’s a great tool, and it opens up many possibilities. I can’t wait to see what you do with yours!

Rogue One – MOVIE REVIEW

I couldn’t muster much excitement for Rogue One. I tried – I really wanted to. In my younger years, I was a massive Star Wars fan. I was known for it. I camped out overnight at the theater for The Phantom Menace. Heck, I was the fourth person in line at our local theater. I camped out again for both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith – mainly because despite the disappointing films, the experience itself was an absolute blast.

But by the time The Force Awakens came out last year, I’d already lost much of my excitement. Everyone knows the prequels were disappointing films – I don’t need to go into detail on that here. And the initial trailers for TFA just didn’t do it for me. In fact, I maintain that the first TFA teaser wouldn’t have excited anybody if it hadn’t had Star Wars theme music to go with it. It was a bad trailer, period. The film itself left a decidedly mixed taste in my mouth.

On the other hand, I’d read a lot of opinions on Rogue One before I saw it – and even the doubters conceded that it was generally a decent film. So I went in with rather moderate expectations. With that context, the film managed to exceed those expectations. The other reviewers have it basically right – it’s a moderately good film, but far from perfect.

The good

Unlike The Force Awakens, this film has its own plot. In fact, this is probably the most unique plot in a Star Wars film since Empire. That gives the franchise a bit of much needed fresh air.

The characters are much better this time around. Jyn Erso is not the Mary Sue that Rey was, and that helps. The secondary characters are far better than they were in TFA. The reprogrammed military droid steals the show. He’s definitely the best character, but Donnie Yen’s Force monk pulled a close second. The rest of the misfit crew of rebels fleshes out the film nicely, however, and each character has a good moment to shine in the story.

The film absolutely nails the look and feel of A New Hope, and it’s really fun to return to that universe. That’s the one thing that both the prequels and TFA completely failed to deliver. Rogue One brings it.

But the film also borrows heavily (without directly using any characters) from the Extended Universe – especially the games. Cirsova has already gone into great depth about how much is borrowed from the Star Wars tabletop game:

In fact, it dawned on me when the blind Force Monk showed up: Rogue One is “Some Guy’s Star Wars d6 RPG Campaign: The Movie”, and I mean that in the best way possible.

He’s very correct. The film also heavily borrows from the Knights of the Old Republic video games (which themselves are based on the D6 tabletop game). This clearly intentional choice pays off, and the film benefits.

This felt more like a Star Wars film than TFA did, and that really helps.

Darth Vader is awesome. ‘Nuff said there.

The Bad

Jyn Erso is not a Mary Sue… but she’s one of the weaker parts of the film. Her character arc from hating the rebellion for bringing her nothing but pain to suddenly giving the inspiring speeches and being the only one who holds true… they didn’t sell it to me. Her motivation doesn’t feel quite strong enough. I went with it because the rest of the film was good, but it detracted from the film.

Still, Cassian the pilot saves her from a harsh fate as the weak link of the film. I liked his character. Still, he felt strongly underdeveloped – especially given how much screen time he has.

The biggest issue, however, is a core story issue. If this film existed in its own universe without the strong attachment to previously existing films, it wouldn’t satisfy me. It works – but it only works because of the context that A New Hope gives it. Don’t get me wrong – the plot would hold up fine. It just wouldn’t hold much interest or pack much punch. It relies heavily on prior work.

Now, in and of itself that doesn’t hurt the film – not for me, anyway. Empire wouldn’t work as a stand alone film, either. Worse, Empire kind of requires both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi for its satisfactory payoff. Rogue One only requires the former film.

However, the filmmakers compounded this issue with two wrong choices. I say “wrong” and not “bad” on purpose. I totally understand why they made the choice they did, and I understand their thinking. But at the end of the day, it turns out that they chose incorrectly.

First, the film barely uses any pre-existing Star Wars themes in the score. The composer sprinkled small touches throughout the film, but no more. The score we get doesn’t suck. And given how much of the Star Wars scores are character themes, the original scores shouldn’t have been over used. But they went too far. Especially the opening and closing music should have kept to the series theme.

Second, they’ve eliminated the opening crawl. The film simply jumps right into the story.

The filmmakers made these choices consciously, in an attempt to separate these “anthology” films from the “main” films of the series. I get that. In another context it might have been the right choice. But given how much this film relies on those “main” films, this turns out to have been the wrong choice. Rather, they should have gone the opposite direction and tied it into those films as concretely as they possibly could.

None of these issues brings the film down, however, and its still quite enjoyable. It’s easily the strongest film overall since the original trilogy. I give it four strong stars out of five.

AKA It Didn’t Quite Suck – TV REVIEW

I spent the last of my holiday painting the bathroom. That turned out to be a complete waste of time – the color that looked good on a color swatch doesn’t look so good on the wall. Such is life. On the other hand, I did drag the laptop in there and finally finished watching Jessica Jones on NetFlix.

As I mentioned in my review of Luke Cage, the first few episodes of Jessica Jones left me feeling a bit empty. The show has solid production values and generally strong writing. Unfortunately, it also suffered from one major drawback: the main character, Jessica Jones herself.

Jessica Jones simply isn’t a sympathetic character. At one point about midway through the season, Luke Cage (who remains one of the best characters of the show) directly calls her out, telling her she’s a “piece of shit.” At that point in the show, I couldn’t disagree with him. Over the remainder of the season, the show finally did present some sympathetic elements of her character. But up to that episode, it really hadn’t – or, at least, it hadn’t made her sympathetic enough for a scene like that. She simply wasn’t very likable at all. And lest you wonder, she really had done something pretty terrible to Cage. She earned that.

What the show does have, however, is a truly compelling villain. David Tennant’s Kilgrave is truly one of the more interesting villains I’ve seen out of any film or TV Marvel property. His powers are interesting, and he uses them in interesting ways. His history with Jessica is interesting – and just morally gray enough to make you question her interpretation of events. Tennant owns the show whenever he’s before the camera. And his back story gave me true empathy for the character. He is most assuredly not justified in doing what he’s done. But you can understand why “Kevin” became “Kilgrave,” and sympathize with it.

But that only serves to underscore how sympathetic the main character isn’t. In fact, about halfway through the season I made a mental shift in how I watched the show. Instead of thinking of Jessica as the hero, I decided in my own head that I was watching a show about the tragedy of Kilgrave. Rather than focusing on Jessica, I focused on the story of a boy whose parents tried to save him – but who mucked it up horribly. He grew up, alone and aloof from the world – unable to interact honestly with anyone. His isolation slowly pushed him into madness. Then he fell honestly in love with a girl (for good reasons that I can’t give away without spoiling the show). But she rejected him utterly. Grief pushed him into madness, and he tried to pull the world down around him. Then she killed him.

Viewed that way, it’s a far better show. It’s truly Shakespearean in its depth. Unfortunately, that’s not actually quite the show we got. But it illustrates the underlying problem, and provides a strong rule of thumb for aspiring authors. Never make your villain more sympathetic than your hero.

In the end, I have to settle on three and a half stars out of five. Jessica is so unsympathetic that I might have given it two stars. But Tennant’s amazing turn as Kilgrave and strong supporting roles throughout the show bring it back up. In fact, they bring it up enough that if someone mildly edited the show and repackaged it as The Tragedy of Kilgrave, it could pretty easily become a five star show. Instead, we get a show that doesn’t quite suck… yet isn’t quite amazing, either. This is definitely the weakest of Marvel’s NetFlix offerings.

Automation Is Coming… For Your Job

As I’ve been warning for some time, automation of everything is coming.

Most of the attention around automation focuses on how factory robots and self-driving cars may fundamentally change our workforce, potentially eliminating millions of jobs. But AI that can handle knowledge-based, white-collar work are also becoming increasingly competent.

One Japanese insurance company, Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance, is reportedly replacing 34 human insurance claim workers with “IBM Watson Explorer,” starting by January 2017.

Emphasis is mine.

We think of many white collar, knowledge tasks as being the kinds of tasks that computers aren’t good at. Historically that’s been true. That understanding is rapidly becoming obsolete. Computers are becoming very good at these kinds of tasks after all.

We’ve long since relegated blue collar, factory work to robots. The most menial of office tasks have already been delegated to computing hardware. Who has a real personal assistant anymore? Only the richest of the rich. Everyone else uses a electronic device to handle all of the work the human would have once done.

Even the term “computer” itself tells us of a white-collar job replaced by the machine. The word once described a human employee who crunched numbers all day – often for accountants or engineers who oversaw them and told them what math to do. The machines have long since destroyed those jobs in the name of productivity.

Your job isn’t safe, either. It’s only a matter of time. The software keep getting better and better. But the key point is how fast it’s getting better. In the next few years we’re going to see software replace humans in more and more jobs. Some are obvious. Fast food workers are going the way of the dodo – especially in an era of $15 an hour minimum wages. Truck drivers are going away, soon to be replaced by automated vehicles.

This will come much faster than critics like Megan McArdle predict. To be clear, she’s absolutely right about the hurdles the technology faces. What she misses is just how far along the tech already is – and how rapidly it’s advancing. There is one simple factor that will drive rapid adoption of self driving vehicles: deaths. Tens of thousands of Americans die every year on our roads. It’s the fourth highest killer in modern America. Self driving vehicles will virtually eliminate those deaths. The public will clamor for them, with torches and pitchforks if they have to.

But I digress. We all know self driving cars are coming because Google, Apple, Tesla and BMW want to be sure that we know. Don’t think that your job is safe because you happen to do intellectual work. It’s not. Software programming other software? It’s coming. Computers teaching your kids? It’s coming. Programs writing books and scripting movies? They’re already here. The time is rapidly approaching when we can even eliminate the actors.

Quit Whining

A few years ago I made a conscious decision to quit whining. And I’m here to tell you that it’s life changing.

Life.

Changing.

I haven’t been perfect at it. So one of my New Year’s goals this year is to double down on that decision and eliminate even the last of the whining. Because the simple truth is that whining is for losers.

It’s not that whining is something that losers do. It’s that whining turns you into a loser. Whining doesn’t help you. Ever. Rather, it just gets in your way. It only gets in your way, and prevents you from doing those things that can actually improve your life.

Worse, it makes life more annoying for the people around you. Usually those people are your friends and family – the people who might actually help you with your problems, if you let them. Think about it. There’s no way whining ever could actually improve things.

That is my challenge to myself this year – and it’s my challenge to you, as well. Stop whining and fix it. You’ll be ten times happier for it.