Bootleg is Available from Amazon for Free

Yes, that’s right. My short story Bootleg is available for free from Amazon. Think of it as my very cheap holiday gift to you for following my blog.

The giveaway starts at 0:00 (PST) on Saturday, December 19, 2020 and ends at 11:59PM on Sunday, December 20, 2020.


P. S. If you feel inclined to leave a review, that would appreciated. 😁

Community’s Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Episode: Is it Racist?

If you’re not a fan of the long-cancelled TV series Community you won’t have heard the news that Hulu, Sony, and Netflix pulled the episode Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.

Here’s a basic summary of the sub-plot which resulted in its disappearance from streaming services.

Chang wears blackface while cosplaying as a D&D character. Shirley calls him out about it, but he brushes it off by saying he’s a dark elf or “drow”. Chang’s D&D character is killed off during the game.

I think we can all agree that:

A) Blackface is wrong.

B) Racism is wrong.

C) Black Lives Matter is an important movement trying to bring an end to endemic racism and police injustice.

So, at first glance, Sony, Hulu, and Netflix made the right decision.

However, there’s the problem…  Community is not a ‘first glance’ show and never was. By ‘first glance’ I mean a show that you watch with your brain turned off. I mean, yeah, you can just sit there and absorb the jokes and be done with it, but Community was never just about that. The characters learn things, and they experience growth, whether it’s for good or bad.

The main cast of characters are shown as flawed individuals with quirks. They’re also a diverse bunch. Abed is clearly on the autism spectrum, and he’s a non-practicing Muslim. Shirley is a single Mom just trying to do right by her kids and live her dream. She’s also a devout Christian. Troy is a young man trying to figure out his place in the world and fiercely protective of Abed. Pierce is older than the rest of the group, and he’s constantly trying to win approval but goes about it in all the wrong ways. Annie is young and impressionable, and an ex-addict. And Britta is, well, Britta. Finally, there is Jeff Winger, a former lawyer who lied his way into a law firm. He’s found out, and forced to leave the firm to get a real law degree. He’s a man, he’s white, he’s good looking, and he’s all privilege. Attending a community college is his worst nightmare.

The casting and characters feel fresh even now. A character like Abed is unique. There hasn’t been a character like Abed on TV before or after Community. This doesn’t feel like a show that has a racism or a religion problem.

However, let’s switch the conversation back to the sub-plot. The other thing to note is that Chang is a terrible human being. He gets a sort of redemption near the end of the series, but he’s a guy focused exclusively on obtaining power. He has few positive character traits and starts his own child army of security guards (the Changlorious Bastards) for the express purpose of assuming control of the college. (You’ll need to watch Community to understand that weird plot point.)

Chang is kicked out of the D&D game with his character’s death. This seems to emphasize the point that blackface is wrong, and Chang’s excuse that he’s a ‘dark elf’ is also wrong (and a comment on the racism bubbling along in D&D). You could argue that its a cheap joke and shouldn’t have been there in the first place, but it could also be argued that the writers were emphasizing what a turd of a human being Chang actually is. Chang is a narcissist, has issues with authority (he wants it and is prepared to do anything to get it), and is just generally awful. The character of Pierce is also awful, but in other ways.

Turning up in blackface and then claiming to be a dark elf, while making everyone angry, is exactly what a person like Chang would do. It’s all about being outrageous to get a reaction, and then gaslighting everyone by saying that it’s a joke, or it’s not what it seems. So, yes, the writers could have have decided not to write that scene, but at the same time, it’s in line with Chang’s character and a good commentary on how some people will do anything if it gets a reaction from others.

The YouTube channel Gamer Greg breaks down this issue, along with the issue of fantasy races in D&D.

Now that we’ve talked about Chang, let’s talk about the episode’s main plot line.

What this episode is actually about is that fact that a character nicknamed Fat Neil is prepared to kill himself. This is an episode about bullying and depression. The D&D game is a plot mechanism to talk about this issue.

In the plot, Neil is harassed at the community college. Jeff Winger isn’t always the most self-aware, but he realizes that Neil is depressed and pretends to like Dungeons and Dragons as a way to befriend Neil.

Neil is contemplating suicide, and gives his much-prized D&D books to Jeff Winger. Neil says he won’t need them anymore. Jeff realizes the stakes, and along with Annie, enlists the aid of the study group to find a way to help Neil.

The study group rally to Neil’s aid. They plan to invite Neil to a D&D game where Neil will win the game and hopefully regain his self-confidence and self-esteem during the campaign.

Chang’s dark elf character is killed but replaced with an even more terrible human being: Pierce Hawthorne. Who proceeds to wreck the game by bullying Neil and reading ahead in the D&D guide so he can figure out how to win.

Pierce is straight out evil in this episode. He belittles and humiliates Neil, and then tells Neil that Jeff was the one that coined the phrase ‘Fat Neil’.  Pierce is so awful that viewers can only cringe at Pierce’s rampant displays of cruelty.

However, in a twist on the entire setup, Peirce is revealed as the most pitiful one in the room. He’s a bully, and he wants to exert control over the group. Neil defeats him in the game, reducing Pierce to what he really is: a sad old man.

With Pierce’s ego shattered, Neil, a kind soul, invites Pierce to play another game the following week.

In the episode Neil must find his path to inner peace, stand up to bullies (Pierce), and realize that there are people out there who care about him.

Which brings me back to the first glance thing. At first glance this episode features blackface. But the episode is actually about depression. In a culture that still doesn’t like to discuss these things, or marginalizes people with mental health issues, this is one of the few shows that addresses it in a meaningful way. Neil remains a complete person with multiple facets to his personality, rather than being reduced to a helpless child in need of rescuing by more well-adjusted people.

Sony, Hulu and Netflix have essentially said: bullying, and depression don’t actually matter. We don’t want to talk about it, and we’re prepared to sweep it under the rug.

Pulling an episode because a character appears in blackface should be weighed up against a corporation saying an episode about depression is of no consequence.  

Like I said, ‘first glance’ doesn’t work with Community. You need to view the episode through multiple lenses.

Personally, I think a good compromise for this episode is to put a warning on the front. This would allow the episode to be viewed while acknowledging the issue of Chang appearing in blackface.

And Thus, Self Publishing Eats Itself

An update… After I posted this article, my FB feed continued to be spammed by ads from Ty Cohen for the same system, each ad pitched in a different way. I blocked the ads, and did some research. Seems a few people on the interwebs have been complaining that the course is a bit of a rip-off and offers content that can be easily found in a variety of YouTube videos and blogs. Some swear by it, but there seems to be more complaints than praise. I don’t know if this changes the situation much, except to say that whenever someone senses there is free money to be made by convincing someone else to pay large sums of money to find out how to get rich, things get weird. Wolf of Wall Street, anyone?

(P. S. I Feel Sorry for Romance Readers)

The advertisement below popped up in my Facebook newsfeed today. The romance genre is now openly viewed as a cash cow.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, not when Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Amazon are geared towards rewarding content. Tweeting every day? Nice. A video every day? Good. Pictures twice a day? Influencer. A new post to an FB page every day? Informative. A new product for Amazon to sell? Terrific.

The problem, of course, is that content and quality are not the same thing.

Advice from various self-publishing gurus includes encouraging writers to publish a book a month, and carefully checking Amazon for possible book categories that have yet to be exploited. Writing two books a year is too slow. And taking an entire year to write a book? F*ck off, you’re not a writer, you’re a dilettante who isn’t serious about being rich.

A combination of the Amazon algorithm and a self-publishing ethos of ‘publish and be damned as fast as humanly possible, preferably by hiring ghost writers out of India’ has created a swimming pool infested with turds, algae, and that one guy who keeps cannon balling into the water.

It seems that, in hindsight, this was inevitable.

Reading the ad, I felt extremely sorry for romance readers. They deserve better than to be viewed as gullible rubes, easily parted from their hard-earned money.

If you happen to be a romance fan and you’re reading this post, please know that I think this is terrible. I can understand wanting fresh content, but the desire for new books and stories seems to have come at the cost of writers (and I use this word loosely) who don’t care about you, or your genre. I personally don’t write romance, but every reader deserves to be treated with respect by the writer. The writer should care enough about you, as a reader, to at least put together a book or story with a logical plot, compelling characters, well-structured sentences, and no (or minimal) grammar errors. Or at least try their hardest to make this happen.

I hope you’re able to claim your genre back, but at this stage it’s probably going to get far worse before it gets better.

Covid-19 and the Demise of the Open Plan Office

Think about the office you typically work in. How close are you to other people? If you’re in an open plan office, the seating arrangement will be two to three desks (or more) in one row, and then another row of desks facing you. The only thing that separates you from your co-workers is either nothing, or a small, low barrier that serves no particular purpose.

Typically, you’re within three feet / one meter of each other.

In the age of COVID-19 and social distancing, the open plan office begins to feel like a scary place to occupy.

Even before COVID-19, there had never been any real evidence that an open plan office provided an advantage to those who were forced to work in them. If you asked HR or managers why they needed an open plan office, the answer was that it encouraged communication and collaboration. This reason was reinforced in offices that went to Agile, because having teams sitting next to each other would result in better software projects.

This long touted benefit was quoted by most companies despite many studies showing that open plan offices did none of those things. In fact, recent studies had shown that open plan offices reduce communications, simply because people found ways of shutting themselves off from their co-workers whenever they could. Harvard Business Review published a study last year that said open offices produced less meaningful interactions. (

Many common assumptions about office architecture and collaboration are outdated or wrong. Although the open-office design is intended to encourage us to interact face-to-face, it gives us permission not to. The “accidental collisions” facilitated by open offices and free spaces can be counterproductive. In many instances, “copresence” via an open office or a digital channel does not result in productive collaboration.

The article was also frank in calling out the real purpose of the open plan office.

If keeping real estate costs in check is the priority, leaders should be honest about that with themselves and their employees. Most office redesigns aren’t undertaken to promote collaboration.

The open plan office had always been accompanied by the perils of enhancing the spread of flu and colds during the winter months. Vice quoted this study in their article published in 2016.(

One study of more than 1,800 Swedish workers found that people in open plan offices were nearly twice as likely to take short term sick leave (of one week or less) than those who worked in private offices.

For years, organizations have seen the spread of cold and flu through an office as an acceptable risk. Although attempts have been made by some to mitigate the costs by encouraging employees to be vaccinated, presumably this was because the cost was less than redesigning an office layout, not because they truly valued anyone’s health.

However, this time around we’re not talking about the spread of the seasonal flu or a cold. In the age of a global pandemic, it becomes very obvious that an open plan office does nothing to protect the people who work there, either physically or psychologically. After the pandemic resolves itself (however that happens), a traumatized work force will have seen the havoc the right type of virus can really inflict, and they will be less keen to tolerate current office layouts just so a company can save money.

Either way, the prospects of having to go back to working in an open plan office will fill most people with fear. No one will relish the idea of being shoved into close quarters with a co-worker who has questionable hygiene standards.

I imagine that organizations everywhere will try to work around the stark reality of having to reconsider the usefulness of their much beloved office architecture. Many will probably dole out hand sanitizer (if they can get any), hire people to regularly wipe down the desks, chair, phones and computers. People will be encouraged to wear face masks.

This will quickly become untenable for most people, who faced with the prospect of catching any type of virus, or doing something else, will probably choose their own health over an organisation’s desire to save on their real estate costs.

But what replaces the open plan office, and hot desking, and collaboration and communication and all of the other buzz words foisted upon the modern workplace with no real regards for the actual science or studies? What would make workers feel safe again?

For a start, cubicles will make a comeback because much like the sneeze guard at salad bars, they help prevent viruses and germs from landing on other people. Will they cut down the rate of a virus transmitting itself entirely? Probably not. But at least when Gary from Accounting coughs, his disgusting virus infected mucus will be landing on a cubicle wall, not the person sitting opposite him, or beside him.

Hot desking will die a much deserved death. Is anyone really going to want to sit at a desk and use a computer that’s been used by many other people? With studies showing that SARS-COV-2 (the name of the virus that causes Covid-19) can survive on plastic and metal surfaces for up to 72-hours, no one is going to want to risk using a keyboard that has been touched by dozens of people throughout the week. A general elevation of people’s concern about catching a virus from someone else will mean people want to move back to assigned desks.

Agile may seem slightly suspect after all of this. Why would anyone want to attend a daily stand-up, or a five hour retrospective so they can all share what they’re doing (and possibly share their germs)? Agile may become a method used for remote workers, but regarded as unhygienic and unsafe for people in offices.

On a brighter note, your previous co-workers who spent their time leaving their dirty coffee cups on their desk for weeks, openly sneezed and coughed without covering their nose or mouth, and bitched if you used hand sanitizer because they didn’t like the smell will become the social pariahs of the office. Social distancing? Try public shaming.

Finally, introverts may find that they become the prized office workers of the future. Extroverts who spent their time slowly losing their minds while remote working, and who maybe weren’t as productive as they used to be, may find their lofty position in the workplace has been taken over by introverts. Who were kind of made for this new way of working. Employers may start to see introverts as a benefit, rather than a liability. Who else would be happy working quietly in a cubicle, forgoing all of that communication and collaboration stuff unless really necessary?