Showing posts with label Thailand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thailand. Show all posts

The great paperwork coup

Anyone remember the coup? Probably not. It's pretty boring, and the news is filled with far more interesting things. (Though I'm sure life under the junta is more interesting if they think you're making trouble.)

For our children's home, it's meant paperwork requests at inconvenient times, lost paperwork at any time, and surprise government inspections (well, one inspection -- fortunately I was dressed at the time).

This week, it meant this fun enactment, while applying for my yearly visa extension:
Immigration Official: Sorry, you need a new document this year from your district office.
*goes to district office*
DO Official: We can do that, but we need this document that you left at home.

*comes back the next day with missing document*
DO Official: Now we need this other document from city hall.
*goes to city hall*
City Official: We can't do that at all. We could do this instead, but you either need to go back to America or get this document certified by the consulate.
*goes to consulate*
US Official: We can do that, but you need an appointment. Come back Tuesday.

So what's life been like under the coup so far?


What I've been doing since 1999

On Friday, the Torment team released the first Alpha Systems Test, a look at the opening scene of the game and its most essential systems (conversation, mostly).

Shortly after I tweeted that out, some folks wondered what I've been doing, game design-wise, since 1999 (other folks wondered what happened in 1999 which, you know, that's fair).

Here's a very brief look at what happened since:
  • 1999 -- Planescape: Torment was released to high critical acclaim (and low sales).
  • 2000 -- I got married and left my awesome-but-crunch-timey game dev job for what I commonly refer to as my Office Space job.
  • While I was at work (sometimes literally), I designed D&D campaigns and board games, drew crappy comic strips, wrote stories, and programmed games based on those stories.
  • 2003 -- I decided I wanted to actually finish something I started, so I put my other projects aside (fourth question down) and focused on writing a novel.
  • 2005 -- My wife and I moved to Thailand. I kept writing, but I could no longer pay attention to the game industry (among other things) as much as I used to.
  • 2006 -- We took in our first child, and over the next several years would increase our family to include ten children, both foster and natural. Meanwhile, I kept designing RPGs and board games (that never got played outside my house).
  • 2008 -- I sent my first novel to agents (and also started this blog).
  • 2010 -- I wrote a story that somebody actually paid me for.
  • 2011 -- I got an agent and began the search for a publisher (that search is still ongoing, though we've updated the novel it is going on for).
  • 2012 -- I started working for inXile and "researched" what the game industry had been up to since I left (read: I played games again and wrote them off for tax purposes).
  • 2013-2015 -- I wrote hundreds of thousands of words for game dialogue and systems design. I also wrote a novella, a Pathfinder story, and a number of other things I hope you'll get to read some day.

So there you go. That's what I've been doing instead of (or in addition to) designing games for the last 15 years. Hopefully that also explains why my tastes in games tend to skew oldschool.

Q: Big Pot Cooking Recipes?

Erik says:
You're a foster father of 10. Got any good big pot cooking recipes to share?

Actually, I do! Here are two of my favorites (my kids like them too, as it turns out).

Note that, as far as I'm concerned, cooking is essentially magic. So these numbers aren't exact (as evidenced by the ranges below). I usually try different amounts of things each time until I figure out what feels right. Tasting as you go also helps.

CASHEW CHICKEN (ไก่ผัดเม็ดมะม่วง)
Roast 1 1/4 cup of cashew nuts and 1 1/4 cup of chopped green onions (actually, I tend to fry these in oil nowadays, but you can do what you want). When they're nice and brown, take them out and set them aside.

In 2-3 Tbsp. of oil, fry 1 cup of dried chilis. When they get dark, take them out and set them aside. (IMPORTANT: Take them out before they start smoking, lest you fill your house with face-melting, eye-scalding chili smoke. My children hate me for the times I've done this. They still won't let me forget it.)

In the chili-infused oil, fry a bunch of garlic until it's brown, then add all of this stuff:
1 kg of chicken
1 green bell pepper
2 onions
1-2 big carrots
5 Tbsp. soy sauce
5 Tbsp. oyster sauce
5 tsp. sugar

Cook that for a few minutes, then add 1 cup of chicken broth. Cook it some more until it's done (see? magic).

Turn off the heat, and add the cashew nuts, green onions, and the fried chilis (the latter is optional -- most of my kids complain when I leave these in, so now I just put them in a separate dish for the spice-immune teenager).

Serve it on rice (we make 7-8 cups for our family). Feeds at least 12 people.

YELLOW CURRY (แกงกะหรี่)
I loved this stuff as a kid. It's even better now that I live in a country where the spices are native.

If you can get yellow (or Indian) curry paste, then use some of that with an appropriate amount of coconut milk (it'll probably say on the package what proportions to use).

If not, here's how I made my own curry sauce:
3-5 Tbsp yellow (or Indian) curry powder (sadly, if you can't get this, I don't think I can help you)
Lots of garlic (I put in like 10 cloves)
1-2 Tbsp red chili pepper
2-3 Tbsp ginger
2-3 tsp salt
1500 mL coconut milk

Pretty much just mix that in a pot, then throw this stuff in:
1.5 kg of chicken (or whatever meat you want, really)
4 big potatoes
2 big carrots
2 onions

Bring it to a boil, and then leave it on low heat for like 30-60 minutes. Serve it on rice (we make 7-8 cups for our family). Serves at least 12 people.

Anyone else have any good big pot cooking recipes to share? I only cook like four things. It wouldn't hurt to discover other options.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

5 Weird Facts About 2015

These facts are weird to me, at least. Most of these are true this year. All are recently true.

(1) We've lived in Chiang Mai longer than we had lived in San Diego.

San Diego's our home, man. At least it used to be. But we've been living in a place where all TV shows are geo-blocked (and also available down the street for $1/disc), and where Sprite is pronounced "sapai," for more years than any place I've lived in except the place I was born.

(2) We've been attending our current church longer than we had attended our supporting church.
Equally strange. The friends and family who support our foster work have been going to church without us longer than they went to church with us. Heck, most of them don't even go to that church anymore.

Corollary weirdness (but also extremely cool): Our support hasn't dropped off a bit in ten years.

(3) I've been working for inXile longer than I worked for Black Isle.
With the notoriety of Planescape: Torment and the subsequent Kickstarter, one would think I worked at Black Isle for years and years, but really I was only there for about eighteen months. I played Fallout in college, joined up for most of PST's production and the beginnings of TORN, and then I left. Now I'm like a Design Lead or something.

And I live in Thailand. I mean, my commute was pretty bad before, but my current commute is sixteen times worse.

(4) We've been married with kids longer than we've been married without.
This probably shouldn't be weird, but it is. I don't remember what we did without kids. Well, yes I do: we played Settlers and Ticket to Ride and Mario Tennis and SSX Tricky until we remembered that we had to go to work in that nebulous future thing called "tomorrow morning." What I don't remember is how we did that.

(5) I've known my wife longer than I haven't known her.
This also falls under the "extremely cool" category, but it's strange to think that I've known Cindy for most of my life, yet I grew up without her. How is that even possible? Surely I loved her from afar in Junior High, or spent fourth grade staring at the back of her head, or became pretend-engaged to her in Kindergarten. And I definitely walked her home in highschool, stressing about whether I should ask her out or not the whole way. Except I didn't do any of those things. I didn't even meet her until college, but it definitely doesn't feel that way.

Maybe I'll feel better if I photoshop her into some of my school photos, to match what's in my head.

About What We Do

From the AMA bag of holding, Surface asks:
Not to only ask about Torment - Im genuinely curious about your involvement with that orphanage.

How did it happen, really - and so far away from home? Im imagining you were probably on a vacation and just happened to run into it and then just... felt the call? Am i correct?

And how do you finance it? Seems like an impossible task just for one guy and his wife.

Is it you who is keeping it all together or are you helping or... how does it all work really?

This might be the first question for which my new readers need the backstory. Or just the story, I guess.

Like it says next to my picture over there, my wife and I foster a bunch of kids in Thailand. We're not an orphanage (though we used to work at one). We don't even really like the term "children's home" (though that has more to do with certain connotations that has out here -- technically, we are a children's home). We prefer the term family, because that's what we try to be in every way.

We take in kids that have nowhere to go. We try as hard as we can to treat them like they were our biological children (we have 2 of those as well, which gives a good point of comparison). We currently have 10 kids -- 9 at home and 1 in college -- from all kinds of backgrounds: orphans, refugees, abused, abandoned, Thai, Burmese, Lisu, Karen. Our only real criteria is that we are their last stop. These kids have had it hard enough; the more stability we can give them, the better they will be able to heal.

So our "children's home" is just our house and our family. We're the parents. We have no employees except a house helper (who is, herself, more family than employee). We almost never both leave at the same time because (1) it's hard on the kids and (2) it's hard on us!

How did this happen? The simple answer is what you said: God called us. The run-on sentence is that Cindy's had a heart for orphans since she was young, so when we felt called to come here (it was a more gradual thing, culminating in a very strange moment at a pastor's conference where we both *knew* God was asking us to go), we had a vague idea of running an orphanage/planting a church in whatever country we ended up in. About a year after we got here, we had something of a reclarification, in which we realized we didn't want to manage an orphanage. We wanted to parent a family.

Financing our home has mostly come from friends and family who support our vision, as well as from our own savings. Over the last few years, our family has grown beyond our income from supporters, and our savings have been gradually exhausted. It was almost exactly two years ago when we were considering fundraising (blech), but then I got this job you might have heard of.

So yeah, your Kickstarter dollars help support orphans in Thailand. That's how awesome you are. Seriously.

You can't believe how grateful I am -- to you the backers, to Colin and Kevin and Brian, to God. I never, ever, ever, ever thought I'd get to be in game design again without quitting everything we do out here (which isn't going to happen). The fact that I get to work on this amazing game, without taking any time away from my amazing kids, has been blowing my mind for two years straight now.

Thank you for the question, too. I appreciate the opportunity to share my family a little bit.


Got a question? Ask me anything.

5 Tips for Using a Foreign Language Without Sounding Like a Prat

Foreign languages are hard to use in fiction. Probably because most of us don't use them in real life. Here are some tips for helping the reader get that foreignness is happening, without feeling hit over the head by it.

1) USE LANGUAGE TO BE UNDERSTOOD. First and foremost, the purpose of speaking is to communicate ideas. So if a character is fluent in both English and Thai (say), but her listeners understand only English, she won't toss Thai words into her speech. If someone did that in real life, we'd think they were just showing off their knowledge. And (big surprise) that's how it comes off to the reader too -- like the author is showing off some language they picked up on their trip around the world.

2) THINK LIKE THE CHARACTER. If the character isn't fluent in English, then there will be words for which their native language comes to mind. Such a character may correct herself, which not only sounds natural, but gives you a natural way to translate what she says:
"Come on! We have to hurry to catch the rotfai. The train."
If her listeners are also bilingual, she wouldn't correct herself at all (this is called code-switching; it happens in our house a lot). In this case, you'd have to provide the translation some other way, either through direct telling or (better yet) through context -- assuming you need the translation at all.
She clapped her hands. "Children, our guests will be here soon. Gep your toys. Reoreo!"

3) DON'T MAKE THE READER READ UNINTELLIGIBLE GIBBERISH. What if you've got a character who only speaks Thai? Is it cool to drop a whole string of Thai on the reader then? Take a look at this example and see what you think:
The door flew open with a bang. Four masked men ran in, guns pointed at Bernice and her family. "Lukkheun!" one of them shouted. "Lukkheun diawnii!" She didn't know what they were saying, just put her hands on her head and sobbed. "Tah mai lukkheun diaw ja ying kah man. Ow mai! OW MAI!"
This isn't bad until that last sentence. Shoot, I speak Thai, and even I got bored parsing it. And if you don't speak Thai, you'd get no meaning from it at all. Let's revise it so it still conveys foreignness and Bernice's terror, without forcing the reader to slog through a bunch of meaningless phonetics:
The door flew open with a bang. Four masked men ran in, guns pointed at Bernice and her family. "Lukkheun!" One put a gun barrel to her temple, shouting in a language she didn't understand. She didn't know what to do. She put her hands on her head and sobbed, but it only made him scream louder. What did he want from her?

4) PUT FOREIGN WORDS IN ITALICS. This goes along with not making the reader work. Italics signal the reader that these are words they don't necessarily have to know (also that they're not typos). This even goes for words that you think everybody should know.* A good rule of thumb: if it's not in the English dictionary, italicize it. For example:
"You're hungry? No problema, I'll pick up some burritos."
* I've noticed this problem especially with Californians (like me) who assume everyone took Spanish in high school (like me). Also with British authors and French. Guys, I'm American, I don't speak French.

5) USE FOREIGN ACCENTS SPARINGLY. You've probably read stories where a character's foreign accent was annoying or really hard to read. It's hard to do right, but the general rule is: be subtle. Imply the accent rather than hit the reader over the head with it.

TO SUM UP, if you're using foreign languages in your fiction:
  1. Don't do it just to show off.
  2. Be intentional; think like the character.
  3. Be subtle.
Got any other tips? Annoyances with how some authors handle it? Tell us about it in the comments.

(remixed from an older post)

Legend of Korra

Apparently the follow-up series to the greatest thing ever airs tomorrow. I'm going to have to ask the entire internet to not talk about it until they make DVDs and ship a set to Thailand.

Man, being a commodore sucks.

Books I Read: Nowhere Girl

Title: Nowhere Girl
Author: A.J. Paquette
Genre: Middle Grade
Published: 2011
My Content Rating: G

Luchi Ann is an American girl born in an obscure Thai prison. Her mother was an inmate, but when she passes away, Luchi has to go out into the world for the first time. Her fair skin and blond hair mark her as a foreigner, though Thailand is the only home she's ever known. It takes a long journey through Thailand and overseas to discover who she is and what secrets her mother was keeping.

I love this book. I'm not usually one to care about prose, but this is beautifully written. I love the way Ammi-Joan (yes, that Ammi-Joan) uses comparisons everywhere that don't just describe a thing, but also reveal what Luchi is feeling, and also also connect everything to frigging everything.

And as a foreigner living in Thailand, I felt she got the people spot on: the caring grandmother, the kind relatives who still worry about saving face, the well-meaning (but sometimes deceitful) cousin, the girl who is perfectly nice to your face -- and means it -- but is also ripping you off because you're a farang.

I loved all these characters, I feel like I know them (or, in some cases, am related to them by marriage). Shoot, Ammi-Joan even made me want to visit Bangkok again, which is not a feeling I normally have.

If any of that sounds even vaguely interesting to you, go read this book.

How Pirates Are Born

(Again, because I actually write about pirates, I have to specify that I'm talking about the lame kind of piracy today, not the swashbuckling kind. I will, however, use the swashbuckling kind to make my point.)

Before I get into this, understand I am generally against piracy. This is not a post about why piracy is okay. This is a post about why it happens, and what can (and cannot) be done about it.

So, say media producers -- Random House, NBC, Nickelodeon, Blizzard Entertainment, etc. -- are the governor, and their media is their smart, beautiful, confident daughter. Like any father, the governor wants his daughter to marry the right man, and he'd rather not have to pay a pirate's ransom to do it.

Consumers, then, generally fall into three categories: pirates, commodores, and Will Turner.

Real pirates don't actually care about the governor's daughter. They just want the ransom. The governor goes to great lengths to protect his daughter from these ruffians -- sometimes even making life more difficult for law-abiding citizens -- but in the end, if Captain Jack Sparrow really wants to kidnap and ransom her, he will.

These are the guys who will always rip off your media and distribute it for free (sometimes even if it's free already!). It doesn't matter what DRM or geo-blocking you put up, or where you release it, they can and will get their hands on it. These are the guys that make DRM almost worthless.

Fortunately, they represent a very small percentage of Actual People. Also fortunate: because they're never going to pay for your stuff anyway, they don't count as lost sales. That means media producers can effectively ignore them. Seriously, your daughter is fine, just pay the ransom and move on.

Of course the governor wants his daughter to marry the commodore. He's wealthy, has a good title, and most importantly, he always obeys the law.

It's the same in the media world; the commodores will always obey the law and terms of service you provide. They don't know what torrents or VPN services are, and they don't want to know.

Unfortunately, like real pirates, commodores represent a very small percentage of the population.

Will is a really nice guy. He's honest, strong, he works hard, and he hates pirates.

At least, he used to hate pirates, until the governor's daughter disappeared. When he asked the governor about it, the governor just shrugged and shook his head. So Will did the only thing he could do: he turned to the real pirates for help.

I think media producers would like to believe that most people are either pirates or commodores. Unfortunately, that's not true. Most people -- I'm thinking 80% or more -- are Will Turner. We don't like pirates. We don't want to be pirates. But at the same time, we really, really love the governor's daughter, and we'll do anything to see her.

If the media Will wants is available for a reasonable price, then he doesn't have a problem. But when his favorite TV show is geo-blocked, or the eBook costs more than the paperback, or the movie isn't released in his country, it forces Will to choose between the governor's daughter and the obscure ethics of copyright infringment.

And since Will is just a humble blacksmith, and there are a lot of fancy words in those terms of service, he usually ends up infringing.

Once someone pirates one thing, the ethics get fuzzier. The software is still on his computer, and downloading twenty movies is as easy as one. Will's unlikely to turn into a full-blown pirate (since that requires some savvy), but he probably won't see things the same as the commodore again.

What can media producers do? Provide the same service as the pirates, or better.

One of the most common reasons for digital media to be blocked from certain countries is a fear of piracy. "You can't release in Russia! You're just asking to be pirated!"

As game developer Gabe Newell discovered, that is ridiculous. The real pirates are masters of distribution. What you geo-blocked for US only, they have released to the world. Yesterday. When you don't release something in a foreign territory, you are only removing the pirates' competition.

But the pirates are not hurting your sales. What hurts sales is when Will Turner goes to your website or walks into the store looking for a legal copy and is told he can't have it because he lives in Russia or Thailand or Canada (seriously, guys, you're geo-blocking Canada?).

Will Turner (points at self) is your fan. He's willing to sit through commercials or pay a small fee to consume your work legally. Will wants to support you, but you have to give him the option!

When you force people to choose between pirating a show or not watching it at all, many will choose piracy. Your terms of service just aren't as attractive.

5 Things I Love About Chiang Mai

Moving out here wasn't easy. There are a lot of things I miss like the ocean, TV shows I can understand, average temperatures below 80 degrees . . .

But this is about the things I love.

1. The Old City
Chiang Mai has a moat, guys. I mean, yeah, it's got fountains in it, and it's basically one giant traffic circle now, but still. A. MOAT. The remains of the wall are pretty freaking cool too.

2. Rainy Season
You may recall that I love rainy days. Well the rainy season here lasts for like 7-8 months. LOVE!

3. Motorbikes
Best way to travel (except when it's raining of course). And you'd be surprised how much you can fit on one of these.

4. High Volume, Late Night Karaoke Bars

4. Loi Kratong (and other assorted holidays)
You know those lanterns from Tangled? Disney stole them (granted, so did I). The real things (a) don't float a few feet above the water (they keep going up -- basic physics, guys) and (b) are way more awe-inspiring.

We also have Songkran, the Thai New Year, in which 65 million people engage in a three-day long, nationwide water fight.

5. Western Stuff
Chiang Mai is among Thailand's major tourist destinations and is also home to a surprisingly large number of Western missionaries. Consequently, there's a lot of Western stuff here, for which I am grateful. Hamburgers, pasta, pizza, even good Mexican food can be found if you know where to look. (Not that I don't love Thai food, but sometimes I get a little sick of rice, aye?).

And thank God Thailand has a taste for Western sci-fi/action movies! It means that although I haven't heard of a single non-animated Oscar nominee, I still get to see Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and all the Marvel movies. Even better, the lines for tickets are short and, because you choose your seat when you buy your ticket, there are no lines to get in the theater at all.

 These people are not in Thailand (actually I think they're in Rome, but you get the idea).

Seriously, American Movie Theaters. Lines. What's up with that?

The Perfect Utensil


For some, the perfect eating utensil is the most elegant, the most practical, or simply whatever they're used to. But me? I want a utensil that allows me to eat the most amount of food with the least amount of trouble. Let's begin.

Like most Westerners, I grew up with the knife and fork. It's the perfect combination for a culture that eats primarily meat (although I'll never understand why manners dictate you switch hands for slicing and eating). Ideally suited for steak, the fork/knife can handle a wide variety of other foods. So it's good, but not the best. Let's look at some other options.

The chopsticks are the choice of the East. They are an elegant utensil, and you're super-cool if you can use them. But cool as they are, they just don't make any sense for countries whose primary dish is rice. I mean, seriously guys, how am I supposed to eat this?

Next up is the spork. The scooping action makes it an ideal choice for rice and small pastas, and the tongs give it the versatility to spear larger chunks of food. The spork is almost perfect, but used alone, it is difficult to get reluctant peas onto the shovel or to slice foods too big for one bite.

Enter Thailand. In Thailand, chopsticks are only used for noodle dishes (sometimes not even then). The preferred combination is a fork and spoon, but you'll have to throw out your Western mindset: the fork goes in your off hand. The spoon is your primary utensil.

The spoon allows you to carry much more food. And the fork allows you to fill the spoon to overflowing with a minimum of effort. You can also use them to cut anything except a tough steak.

But then why are you eating tough steak anyway?

The fork-and-spoon is the best combination I've found yet, to the point where I often ask for a spoon when I visit the States. But there is one eating utensil that tops even these.

The tortilla! This amazing invention serves as a plate, but you can eat it! Pile it with food, roll it up, and shove it all into your mouth. The best part is, when you're done, there's nothing left to wash but your hands.

Geez, I could go for some Mexican food right now.

How about you? What do you like to eat with?

Answers (and...nothing, just answers)!

Susan Kaye Quinn asks: Katniss or Hermione?

Cool as Katniss is, I think she'd be a bit too crazy for me. Plus I gotta go with the book girl, even if she is a bit pretentious about it. Hermione.

maine character says: Your bio says you were a software engineer. Which OS do you prefer, what software do you use for your writing, and can you hack me a ticket to the Super Bowl?
I was a software engineer. I've worked on every OS that matters (okay, that's not true; I've never worked on Haiku, for example). Mac OS is the prettiest and most fun to use. Linux is the cheapest and most versatile. But Windows always wins out as a compromise between price and pretty.

For writing, I'm content with my archaic combination of MS Word, Notepad, and actual paper (the latter usually for maps).

And lastly, if by "hack" you mean "sell you one I got off of e-Bay," then sure!

Matthew MacNish asks: Have you seen Eden of the East? It's an Anime my daughter got me into recently.
I have not. Though the premise looks interesting. Is it good and can I (legally) stream it online?

Myrna Foster asks: Do you raise any of your own food?
Um, sort of. We share land with our friend who is much better at the whole growing-stuff-to-eat-it thing. The only food I really use from our yard is holy basil which, honestly, looks and acts exactly like a weed, except delicious.

Erik Winter asks: What about your day-to-day will change if Air Pirates becomes a massive success?
Is it sad that I think about this all the time? I want to say, "Very little." Taking care of all these halflings is more than a full-time job already, and I can't/don't want to step it down much. On the other hand, the internet has proven AWESOME for connecting with people, and a lot of the halflings will start school in the next year or two. We'll see. I'll work on a "regular" success first though, and build up from there.

"Anonymous" asks: Where are you taking your wife on your date next week?
I'm thinking Coach's Pizza, where maybe we can watch season 2 of The LXD. Sound good, Beautiful?

Boy that's going to be awkward if you're not who I think you are.

K. Marie Criddle asks: Of all the Joss Whedon ladies out there, which one would frighten you the most if you crossed her the wrong way?

This lady:

Holidays, a Sketch

Cross-posted from Anthdrawlogy's Holidays week. The floating lanterns are stolen from Thailand's Loi Kratong festival, but the scene is actually from Air Pirates (the lanterns are also in Tangled, apparently, but I swear I stole the idea first!).

I don't expect many of you to stick around next week, what with our Earthly holidays and all. And anyway, I thought you'd appreciate a break from the only thing I seem capable of talking about anymore. Have fun. Eat much. Sleep well.

Me? I'll be revising this manuscript (Apparently you still have to work once you get an agent. Did you know this?). See you in 2012!

Piracy FAQ

It's the end of piracy week. As you've seen, my opinions on piracy are mixed (or "balanced" or "wishy-washy," depending on your point of view). I don't like the practice, but I don't think it's worth getting upset about, but also I don't think it's something to be proud of.

Mostly, though, I don't like the justifications used to support piracy. Granted, the arguments against it aren't great either, but since they're supporting a mostly-reasonable law, I have less issue with them.

This post, then, addresses some of the more common arguments for piracy. In FAQ form.

1) Is it okay to pirate something if --
Let me stop you for a sec. "Okay" is kinda vague. I think you mean to ask whether it's legal, or maybe whether it's ethical, yeah?

2) Okay, smarty pants. Is it legal to pirate something in certain situations?
In general, no. Never. Though apparently it depends where you live. I've heard it's okay in the Netherlands. If you get caught in New Zealand, they shut off your internet. It just depends.

3) Fine. It's illegal, but isn't it ethical in some situations?
This is something of a gray area. Your sense of "ethical" might differ from mine.

I see it as a spectrum. On one end, there's the guy in Thailand who makes $7 a day selling computers. He can't afford to pay $500/copy to put Windows on each computer (and if he could, his customers couldn't afford to buy it). If he doesn't sell computers, his family doesn't eat (at $7 a day, they barely eat as it is). So for him to buy the $3 version of Windows around the corner, and install it on every machine he sells, could be considered ethical.

A little farther on the spectrum, you have the poor mountain villager who makes $1/day and has a stack of copied VCDs next to their ancient DVD player. Those VCDs aren't legal, maybe aren't ethical (since they're not necessary to survive), but I'm not going to begrudge the entertainment of a village that only eats rice and chilis most days.

Near the other end of the specturm, you've got the middle-class American with his $2,000 computer system, his "low-end" job that pays $100/day, his easy access to libraries, his unrestricted Amazon and Hulu and Pandora, and his difficult decision of whether to order pizza or to microwave burritos whenever he's hungry. Unless this guy's got some kind of medical condition in which he must read 20 hours a day or he'll die, I'm going to say his piracy is both unethical and kinda silly.

But hey, that's just me.

4) Dude, isn't that kind of harsh?
Probably, yeah. Sorry. My point is we need to take a broader worldview before we decide our lives are hard enough to justify downloading things that we can reasonably afford and don't need.

5) But e-books are so expensive, and I can't even loan them out or give them away. How is that fair?
It's not fair. It's capitalism. I think it's unfair that I have to spend $1,000 to visit my parents, even though the plane flies there whether I paid for the ticket or not. I think it's unfair that the Thai goverment requires I make $16,000/year to "support my wife" and therefore stay in the country. Fairness is subjective, but fair or not, it's not okay for me to forge a plane ticket or to stay in Thailand illegally.

If you think e-book prices are unfair, don't buy them. If enough people agree with you, the publishers will eventually get the hint and lower their prices. Whether they do or not, the perceived unfairness of it does not make piracy any more ethical.

6) What if I want to pay for it, but I can't? Like if the publisher doesn't release an e-version, or they don't release it in my country?
It doesn't change the ethics of it.

7) But what if I payed for the hard copy and want an e-version, too?
It still doesn't change anything. Look, I would love it if life worked this way, but it doesn't. I owned Star Wars on VHS for years, but they didn't let me sneak into the theater for the re-release, or take home the original-release DVD edition for free. Companies release products the way they want and price them the way they want. Unless I pay for it, there is no justification that gives me a right to a similar-but-different product, no matter how much I might want it.

Companies release different versions of things for a reason. If you want the e-version, buy the e-version. If there isn't one, read something else.

8) What if I want to try it out? How else am I going to find new authors I like?
Try one or more of the following: libraries, Amazon's "Search Inside" feature, excerpts from the author's website, reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, read a few pages in a bookstore, ask your friends.

If you aren't satisfied with these, maybe don't try that author out at all. It's not like you have to.

9) What's the difference between reading for free at the library and downloading?
Libraries buy the books they loan, and loaning physical books is legal. There is no question of ethics there. They pay the authors and follow the law.

10) Are pirates bad people?
No (and I'm sorry if I made anyone feel that way). There is not a single person on this planet who doesn't do mildly unethical things, then justify it after the fact.

If you know they're only justifications, we don't really have a problem. You pirate books, I'll break the speed limit (or eat my chocolate cake), and we'll still hang out afterward. Just don't tell me piracy is a good thing.

And, uh, maybe don't pirate my books, okay?

Answers the Second: Randomness and Torture

Matthew Rush asks: Would you rather be Jirayah (Pervy Sage) or Kabuto (the dork with the glasses)?

I can't say I approve of Jiraiya's choice of hobbies or Kabuto's choice of employer, though they are both pretty powerful. But any way I look at it, Jiraiya's got one thing going for him that Kabuto doesn't. Sage Mode:

Susan Kaye Quinn asks: Favored platform: Mac or PC?

I would love a Mac. Thank you for offering.

Every time I buy a new computer, I have to make this decision, and it always comes down to the same thing: Macs are expensive, and PCs have all the open source software I want.

Preferred literary success: Bestseller or Hugo?

Oy. Fine, if I have to choose, I go with the one that gets more readers: bestseller.

Apocalypse: Super virus or sentient computers?

Neither. The world is destroyed by robot pirates and zombie ninjas (also dinosaurs).

Awesomeness: Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

For the purposes of this exercise, we will pretend George Lucas stopped fiddling with Star Wars in 1983. With that in mind, the most awesome trilogy ever is ISTHATSAMUELL.JACKSONINANICKFURYMOVIEZOMGITIS!!!

Caped Guy: Batman or Superman?

Batman, hands down. Did you know he has a file on every superhero's weakness, just in case he ever has to fight them? The guy's a genius.

Asea asks: What's your favorite local food?

Market food: fried pork and bananas, dim sum and pork dumplings, chicken satay, rotee, fried potatoes... (Hm, just got a Mary Poppin's song stuck in my head).

If your characters (from your various WIPs) were caught in a zombie apocalypse, would they make it?

Heh. Hagai would be the first to go, though Sam and Ren might last a while (good fighters, and I bet the zombies would have a hard time storming their airship). Suriya, on the other hand, should have no problem. She has a tendency to blow things up when she's mad.

Do you ever make up your own board/card games? How about twists to existing ones? Do you play games in combination (e.g. you play Monopoly, and the profits from it fund expansion in Puerto Rico)?

Before I focused my creative energies on getting published, I designed games all the time. As for twisting existing ones, we don't do it often (I tend to assume the game balancers did their job well), but we do it to our most familiar games. We've played Settlers with a blind setup (i.e. flip the numbers over after you place your settlements) or with a 12-sided die, and we once played Ticket to Ride: World Domination, in which we combined a board of regular TtR and TtR:Europe. I don't like Monopoly much, but I love your combination example. Sounds like it would be fun for a tournament or a gaming marathon.

Thanks again for your questions and for putting up with my answers. Don't forget our special guest artist on Friday!

Piracy Part 1: Free Culture

Piracy is a difficult topic for me. On one hand, I like free stuff and I'm a professional at justifications (we all are, really). On the other hand, the logical flaws in those justifications irk me no end. Plus, you know, my conscience.

Up until recently, we owned a fair amount of pirated stuff -- movies, music, software... Not because we are evil people, but because we live in a free culture. I can buy a DVD of any movie or TV show for $3, not in a back alley, but at a kiosk in the mall. To find legal software here, I have to walk past four illegal shops just for the privilege of paying 30x the price.

As we got rid of our illegal stuff, I realized the fight against piracy is not just about enforcing the law. Legislation and enforcement is part of it, sure, but free culture is powered more than anything by belief.

How do you fight it when your friend tells you about this awesome game that you just have to play with them. "Oh, I can't afford it," you say. "That's okay," they reply, "I made you a copy. Here."

Or you're homeschooling your kids, but curriculum costs more than you make in a month. "Don't worry," your friend says, "I'll copy my books for you at Kinko's."

Or say you love the TV show Babylon 5, but the entire box set is almost $300. What do you do when your friend gives you the whole set as a gift, knowing (because of the distorted disc labels and DVD jackets with Chinese on them) that he paid less than $50 for it?

That's what free culture looks like. When we got rid of our pirated stuff, we heard a lot of comments like, "I wish I could do that," or "You're just throwing it away!" or "I don't know how you can live like that in Thailand." (And these were from the missionary community).

When people believe that digital media is cheap to make, that corporations are extorting us, that everybody pirates and nobody gets hurt -- at that point it doesn't matter what the law is. People will look at you funny, even resent you, when you pay full price for stuff. In many ways, we're there already. I've got more to say, but that will have to wait until Friday.

In the meantime, I'm curious, what is piracy like in your own community? Is it something people look down on, or is it considered normal? Does anyone do it? Does everyone do it?

Good Cause Giveaway and Last Minute Questions

First, the questions. Then the giveaway. Asea asks: What's something you really love about living in Thailand?

A lot, actually. Except for the polluted hot season, it's beautiful. I love the rain, so the hundred million inches we get in the rainy season are actually pretty cool. The food is good. Everything is cheap. And there's not this underlying cultural pressure to PRODUCE, PRODUCE, PRODUCE! (That last one probably contributes to Thailand's weaker economy, but whatever).

Is reverse culture shock hard? (I struggle with it a lot.) 

Sometimes it's hard, though it's probably made easier by the fact that I know I (most likely) won't be living there again. I don't know how to be more specific without sounding like I'm complaining about America. I like America, but sometimes it can be a bit overbearing about safety or how kids are raised, while at the same time not caring so much about what gets shown on TV (though that last one's not very fair; TV drives me batty in general).


Our friends, Aaron and Carrien Blue, are helping an orphanage near the Burmese border. The kids there are refugee orphans, whose parents have been lost or killed as a result of the genocide and fighting that has been going on in Burma for decades.

They have about 40 kids, but no truck. The kids have to walk to school everyday, about 3-4 miles on a fairly large street. If someone gets sick or hurt, they have to hire a truck to take them to the hospital, spending money which could be better spent on things like food, water, or medical bills.

So the Blues are trying to raise $6000 by the end of this week, so that when Aaron comes to visit he can buy them a truck as well. To that end, Carrien is giving away a bunch of cool stuff on her blog to anyone who donates or spreads the word.

Last I heard, they were at $3,280, which is AWESOME, but they still have a long way to go. This is a really great cause, guys. These kids are at risk in all kinds of ways, but giving them a home and education reduces that risk significantly. And a truck is a big help to that end.

So get over there. Any donation, any word spreading, will help these kids.

UPDATE: They're up to $4,519 now, and Carrien has added additional prizes to the giveaway. If you've already entered, you're eligible for these new prizes as well. If not, what the heck are you doing, get over there!

More Answers, in Which Ancient Histories are Revealed

L. T. Host asks: What the deuce IS a jelly baby?

Like little, chewy babies, but you eat them!

I'm curious which PART of the CA coast-- if you're in the middle-ish, here's hoping it warms up before Fiance and I take a trip up there mid-July. If you're down south, you picked a good time to come. This is the NICE weather everyone talks about when they talk about CA. :)

We were in Southern California (Orange County and, briefly, San Diego). So yeah, pretty much the definition of Perfect Weather.

I'm also curious why you picked Thailand?

The simple answer is because my wife Cindy is Thai. The complex answer involves mission trips, a little mysticism, and a DTR (not in that order). We could talk about it over coffee, except I don't drink coffee. (Seriously though, you can e-mail me or something if you want the longer story).

C. Michael Fontes asks: What prompted you to become foster parents in Thailand?

The short answer to this one is the mysticism: God called us. The less short answer: Cindy's had a heart for orphans since she was young. When we decided to be overseas missionaries, we had a vague idea of running an orphanage/planting a church in whatever country we ended up in. But after we got here, that all kind of changed.

Emmet asks: In a no-holds-barred fight who would you rather be, the Emperor or the Lord Marshal (obviously the answer is Riddick, but other than that)?

Let's take a look:

The Emperor's prescience pretty much cancels out the Lord Marshal's coolest abilities. Plus, you know, it's not like he has a pretty face to protect. As long as Darth Vader's not around, I gotta go with Palpatine.

Anica is a great name, but if there had been no vetoing process (Cindy), what would have been on her birth certificate?

The only girl names I tried to push were Anica and Serenity (the latter being your suggestion, as I recall). But if I'd had a boy, and no wife to stop me, he'd be either Morpheus or Optimus Prime.

Would you rather write an amazing book (LOTR caliber) that doesn't get published until after your death, or a shite book that gets made into a bunch of movies (Twilight), and all your friends pat you on the back and say "great job" but then ridicule you on message boards around the internet, and you will have no other books to redeem yourself? 

So either way my career is depressing and full of rejection? In that case, give me the movies.

Would you rather give up cheese for the rest of your life, or be a vegan for a year? 

Definitely vegan. Uh... vegans can still eat bacon, right?

Bane of Anubis asks: How could you choose Aliens over Dragons? :P 

[Bane is referring to being a finalist in Nathan's contest, wherein I was a total jerk and voted Josin over him.]

See, Bane, like any good American I assumed my vote didn't really matter. How was I to know you'd tie? As soon as I get my time machine working, the first thing I'm going to change is my vote, I swear.

jjdebenedictus asks: Do these jeans make my butt look big? 

I can honestly say, from my point of view, they do not.

Myrna Foster asks: Do you have any other family over in Thailand?

Me? No. But Cindy's dad lives in Bangkok. She also has approximately one thousand aunts, uncles, and cousins scattered throughout the kingdom. One of them drew me a family tree once trying to explain it all. It took him like half an hour. I don't remember any of it.

What do you have in your writer's "drawer?"

You mean the stuff you'll never, ever read? Folks who've been around here a while will remember my first novel, Travelers, which got trunked after 60 straight rejections. Also before Pawn's Gambit, I wrote and submitted another Air Pirates short story to BCS, trunking it because it just wasn't working. And before that there was a short story that would eventually evolve into my current WIP, Cunning Folk. That not very good at all.

Do you really own an umbrella chair?

And lastly, Carrie says: I'm relatively new to your website. I'm curious to hear on what are your thoughts in regards to writer's block.

Which I'll answer on Friday. Thank you, everyone, for your questions! I enjoyed answering them. Hopefully you enjoyed it too.