The Trouble With Magic Online

(Author’s Note: If you agree with this post and feel strongly about these issues, don’t hesitate to repost this to your friends. Definitely feel free to write your own articles about what is wrong with the Magic Online program. Also make sure to send emails to Wizards of the Coast and frustrated tweets to @mtgonline in particular. In short, take action.)

I unleashed a series of tweets yesterday detailing my recent frustrations with Magic Online, with special regard to Online Prereleases and PTQ prize support. Needless to say, many of you had similar feelings and unleashed a wave of support for what I had to say. Tweets disappear quickly though, so today I figured I’d some up a number of action points we, the Magic community, would like to see addressed on Magic Online.

#LetUsPlay
First off, and this one is simple, get rid of the arbitrary dead zone after online prereleases and before the release events kick off (usually from Monday until downtime occurs on Wednesday). There is no sensible reason for this to occur. You told us “playing Magic is good. Playing more Magic is better.” So why do we still have an artificial dead zone after prereleases where we can’t play the new set? Many of us prefer to use Magic Online because it means we’re not constrained by real world deadlines – we have busy lives, and time to play comes at odd hours and sometimes unexpectedly. Making it to FNM can be difficult, but thankfully we have Magic Online. Except when we don’t.  Some of us have time to play at point X and then that time is gone, and with that time goes a portion of our business. It doesn’t come back later–it disappears into thin air along with dollars you could have made from us using the service, and it builds up negative feelings toward the product in general and prereleases in specific.

Stop the arbitrary dead time after prereleases and accept the money we are trying to give you. #LetUsPlay

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What to Read #1

Luis Scott-Vargas recently asked me for book recommendations, likely because he knows I am old and like to read a lot. I’ve had it in mind to create a moderately comprehensive list of stuff I really liked for some time, but obviously that is a mammoth amount of work. Instead I’ve decided to just add regular blog updates with this title, so that those of you looking for reading recommendations can keep track of them. I will note up front that I am not a qualified literary critic, so if you are looking for that, it’s best to find someone who cares to bother with it. I am also not an expert on any of the authors I will discuss, and though I will try not to say anything blatantly incorrect, I fear I will not always succeed.

I tend to read a lot of Science Fiction and Fantasy, along with some sports books and quite a few mainstream economics books (like Predictably IrrationalFreakonomics and their brethren). I’ll sometimes read other topics that I come across that look interesting, but those are my usual areas of interest. I also read a number of comic books when I have time and extra cash to spend, so expect to see occasional recommendations in that department too. I’m not planning to do in-depth reviews here because many of these are books I haven’t read in over a decade, and many more I no longer have copies of as they were left behind during two different intercontinental moves. These are just ones I would wholeheartedly recommend reading to anyone who enjoys reading books.

Where to start?
My first thought was to hit all the fundamentals, but after you’ve been reading for enough years, you start to accumulate so many of these that they become unwieldy to recommend unless you want to write an entire book. This is a good thing, because it means there are a ton of great, enjoyable books to be found if you look hard enough. Today I’ll just recommend a few of my (many) favourite authors to get you started. (Typically, if you end up liking one or two of an author’s books, you will enjoy the whole lot, so keep that in mind.)

Fantasy

Guy Gavriel Kay http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Gavriel_Kay

The two things that typically make my knees weak for certain authors are witty, clever dialogue and deep, interesting characters that you form an emotional connection with. Kay is a master of the latter, which is one reason why he has so many devoted female fans. He also tends to use history as a source of inspiration (his work is sometimes categorized as ‘historical fantasy’), which make his books a little less might and magic-y and a little more mainstream. (Translation: these are good gateway drugs to give to fantasy skeptics.) The Lions of Al- RassanA Song for Arbonne , and Tigana (all of which are one-offs) are books that reach the very heights of what fantasy writing is about. The Fionavar Tapestry is also excellent, as is just about anything Kay has ever written.

(Note: I read Ysabel about two weeks ago and wasn’t overwhelmed by it. The book was fine, but he seems to have skewed more into young adult fantasy, an area where I am no longer the target audience.)

Robin Hobb ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robin_hobb )

Anyone who has ever read the Assassin series from Robin Hobb usually gets a twinkle in their eye when someone starts talking about it. It is about as brutal and brilliant, vibrant and painful a journey as you’ll find in the written word.  The Fool series that followed it was also wonderful, and I also enjoyed her work with the Liveship Traders.

She also wrote as Megan Lindholm for about a decade, though at this time I am only familiar with her work as Hobb, every bit of which has been good to fantastic so far.

Patrick Rothfuss http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patrick_Rothfuss
I know everyone and their dog has probably recommended The Name of the Wind and A Wise Man’s Fear to you already, but Rothfuss is a golden god of fantasy writing, and some of the most enjoyable writing (period) you will encounter these days. It is impossible for me to recommend this highly enough.

The Kingkiller Chronicle is supposed to be a three-volume work, but I have a very hard time believing he can (or should) pull this off. The first two books are so good, my hope is that he expands into five books of similar quality to tell the full tale. He’s also only 3 years older than I am, so there is slightly less worry about Rothfuss dying before he finishes than someone like George R.R. Martin or Robert Jordan. (Oh, how we used to laugh back in 1994 about Jordan maybe dying before he finished. What a ridiculous idea ha ha *thud*)

Science Fiction

Orson Scott Card http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orson_Scott_Card
Card’s body of work is pretty inconsistent, but Ender’s Game is my favourite book, so Card gets a mention. Ender’s sequel, Speaker for the Dead, is a totally different book and is also in my personal Top 10, so while I am frustrated by the quality of some of his later work, Card’s best writing is as good as it gets. Regarding Ender’s Game, it’s hard to imagine a book that would form a deeper connection for smart, disaffected teenagers. I always purchase it when I see it at used book stores, and have given away double digit copies to friends and family over the years.

Aside from the first two books of the Ender series, I generally enjoyed the Bean side of the coin and remember finding the book Lovelock very interesting as well. Alvin Maker seems well-loved, but I have mixed feelings about that series for reasons that would take forever to explain here.

Lois McMaster Bujold http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lois_McMaster_Bujold

It’s strange to me how many people who actually like Sci Fi and Fantasy have never heard of Bujold. It’s not as if she’s a nobody – she’s won more Hugo awards than anyone else except Robert Heinlein (both have four) and has apparently sold enough Miles Vorkosigan books that she can make the entire saga free in electronic format (which you should absolutely, positively download and read).

Remember up above where I said clever dialogue gets me going? The Miles Vorkosigan series (Sci Fi) has plenty of that and also a host of strong stories and characters. Her Chalion work (set in a fantasy realm this time) is also amazing stuff, and hugely recommended (though these you will likely need to pay for). I actually started the entire Vorkosigan series again from the beginning when I got my Kindle because it had been about five years since I read any of it and it was that good.

Robert Heinlein http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Heinlein 
Heinlein deserves a lot more attention than just a paragraph or two. Let’s just say you should definitely read his stuff because he is a) awesome and b) moderately crazy. Start with the book of Starship Troopers (not the abortion of a movie whose only saving grace was Dina Meyer’s tits) and Strange in a Strange Land. We’ll come back to Heinlein in the future.

Economics
Dan Ariely http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_Ariely
I’ve linked to Ariely’s TED talks via my Twitter account a couple of times. They are basically excerpts from his first book about behavioural economics, Predictably Irrational, but even if you’ve already read Predictably Irrational, I recommend watching them because Ariely is really funny and engaging. He’s exactly the type of guy you would want as a college lecturer in Econ (though in truth he is a professor of Marketing – go figure), and he would definitely make you show up to class. I have just started his second book The Upside of Irrationality, and have found that both books are classics that will fundamentally change the way you look at the world. They also provide you with a few fun anecdotes to discuss with anyone who hasn’t already read them, which should prove useful at dinner parties or on blind dates.

That’s all I have time for today. If you hadn’t heard or read any of these authors, I likely just set you up with reading material for the next three months. If you had already read all of them, good for you. Most of you fall somewhere in between.

From here on out I will try to do this at least bi-weekly and add an extra layer of structure so that they don’t seem entirely ad hoc, but I make no promises.

Anger, News, #OccupyWallStreet and You

Anger, News, #OccupyWallSt, and You

Image from The Guardian

Today I want to briefly discuss one of the new rules of the modern world:

If you get almost any portion of what you consider to be actual news from your television, you’re doing it wrong.

In actuality, this rule has likely been true since television’s inception (with exceptions made along the way), but these days it is overwhelmingly the case, especially in America. Most stories on the nightly news for any of the network channels are equal to an extended tweet on Twitter, which, when it comes to informing you about the news, is the equivalent of a fart in the wind. They don’t have time to even give you the entire story, let alone a nuanced look at important events in the world today. They also invariably contain some amount of spin, even when they are trying to be objective, often because the sources they receive the news from have already spun the story.

In most cases, they are intentionally telling you only part of a more complete story while adding political spin. In some cases they are actively lying to you.

To put this another way, the MOST spin-oriented (and likely to lie to you) news organization in the United States is Fox News, owned by Rupert Murdoch. Their motto is “fair and balanced,” when almost nothing they report on the television channel is. In other words, they START the conversation by lying to you – how much of what they report can you actually trust?

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