Saturday, September 30, 2017

Mewtwo Battle Results


For those who haven't received an invitation, here is what one looks like in your pokebag (left). When you click on it, it tells you the date, place, and time range of the raid. (right) Note that this was a field test version.

Only three of the four of us received the invitation on Tuesday night for Saturday. Everyone caught pokemon like crazy for days to pump up their front lines. I had no pokeballs left. I was reduced to feeding 65 bananas to my people in the gym for stardust. It also freed up space in my bag. Today, we left at intermission during a volleyball tournament to attend the big EX raid event. 28 people arrived for a contest that could only hold 20. With only three minutes, two groups wrestled for control of the gym. By spamming it with berries, Blue held the day to gain an extra ball's bonus. Then came gamer's revenge. We divided up into "equal" teams, with the Blue group getting only 11 players.

In a last minute twist, one of our players was so nervous that she deleted the Pokemon Game from her phone. We had to loan her an iPhone. The next surprise was worse: this Mewtwo wasn't shadowball or focus blast. Instead, he caught us off-guard with hyperbeam. Fortunately, we still took it easily with 175 left on the clock. My Murkrow cannon was a resounding success! I earned extra balls for dealing the most damage in our group. I hit him 4 times with the big crow attacks--lasting a record 30 seconds in the arena. The boss had only a millimeter of red remaining when my third and final Umbreon fainted. I let the computer pick the second wave because we were so close to victory. Mistake. In the last twelve seconds, he burned through three of my biggest bullies (2800 CP). Everyone noted that his tail end was far more vicious than the opening.

My daughter caught her Mewtwo on the first ball. My first ball phased through him like he was a ghost (this happened 3 out of the 14 balls). My son caught his on the last ball, but I went home empty, consoling myself with 9 rare candies.

I worked the concession stands until about four when an alert was posted to the group's Facebook page. The legendary Entei had arrived early. My wife sent Pierce and I with all four phones. We took him with 11 people. Gyrados, Rhydon, and Tyranitar wiped the floor with him. We didn't even burn through our first wave of attackers. My kids caught him, while I got nine more rare candies. My second Blissey will be evolving any day now.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pokemon Go Mewtwo Raid Battle--or a Poor Man's Tyranitar

My kids and I got invitations to the EX raid battle against Mewtwo this Saturday. We're very excited. They both have two Tyranitars they're pumping up, the dark weapon of choice against the psychic terror. But what if you're not lucky enough to have caught one in a raid battle? My son takes his killing machine Ryan on walks around the neighborhood while I stay at home and cry. [ insert Bohemian Rhapsody line about being a poor boy from a poor family ] I just have one new Blissey and one decent Lugia who's been my goto bully for raids. The damage being dealt is so fast and furious that I'm expecting to go through three complete sets of Pokemon. Who do I use for the remaining 16 sacrificial lambs?

I've been reading the blogs, and opinions vary. Most list Gengar (known as a glass cannon) if you can keep him around long enough to fire his big attack once. Conventional wisdom also favors the popular battle monsters Blissy and Snorlax. Umbreon, Scizor, and Houndoom are mentioned grudgingly as well. I thought I would do my own math because I have a theory about using an army of disposable Murkrows and maxed-out hyperbeam Furrets with sucker-punch (dark move for double damage). To prove my theory, I made a table of everything in my pokebox. The first conclusion I drew was that no one gets out of this arena alive. It boils down to how much damage you can do and how long you last. Since bringing in a new set of pokemon can take 15 seconds, I factored this dead time in when I computed average damage per second. Your mileage may vary, but the experiment revealed a few surprise heroes.

name type seconds survival damage per sec
Umbreon dark 10 34
Gengar ghost 7 30.5
Murkrow dark 7 28
Tyranitar dark 14 27
Steelix* steel 9 27
Lugia psychic 14 26
Wigglytuff fairy 14 26
Granbull faerie 7 26
Houndoom dark 9 25
Furret normal 7 25
Slowking psychic 14 24
Ditto vs shadowball normal 7 23.5
Lapras water 7 22
Magneton steel 7 20
Vaporeon water 14 19
Dragonite dragon 7 19
Snorlax normal 14 18.5
Rhydon ground 13 18
Girados water 12 18
Blissy fairy 21 17
Alakazam future sight psychic 7 13
Chansey fairy 21 8.5
Ursarang normal 6 8
Pinsir bug 5 7
Scizor steel 7 6

* Note: Steelix is just an estimate because I've never hatched more than one Onyx. But it's one of the best defensive pokemon when you factor in steel's resistance to psychic. It can also be trained to have a dark fast attack.

Tactic 1: Disposable Rocket Launchers
The pokemon highlighted in yellow are ideal candidates for the first wave. Youfurrets "wild weasel" like the missile. Place these pokemon in with your Umbreons and Gengars in the initial charge to pump up your damage bonus and earn more capture balls.
You want to do as much damage as you can in the opening round with dark attacks. I've renamed all these first wave candidates with the number 1 at the front so I can replace all the computer-selected fodder. Murkrows might not be good for much, but the thousand-CP ones I find every day (and Furrets) can be used and then traded away WITHOUT BEING REVIVED. This also solves the cleanup problem. I'm thinking of renaming my war







Tactic 2: The Dogs of War
In D&D, we often found loopholes to the rules and exploited them mercilessly. When our characters found out that 25GP war dogs were twice as tough as we were at first level, everyone bought two. In our case, there are several pokemon (in orange) who may only last seven seconds but can dole out disproportionate damage due to immunities or special cases. 
  • Granbull has a ton of hit points, coupled with a 12 point dark attack which doubles to 24 due
    to Mewtwo's weakness. He might not always get in his 100-point close combat move, but by then, you've done almost as much as the Tyranitar standing next to you.
  • Ditto would half damage fom psychic like his opponent. He also gets the same attacks. If your Mewtwo has shadowball as its main attack, he just provided the way for you to hit him with his biggest weakness! 
  • Lapras was unexpected. I mean, who expects something the size of a house landing on you. Fortunately, he is just over the hit point threshold to survive until he can use his charged attack, and as a dragon, he has some huge attacks.
  • Magneton is one of the rare steel types which I believe take half damage from psychic. If your MewTwo uses focus blast, this one is your first line of defense. His electrical attacks pack a punch, and he has enough hit points to deliver one big blast.
Tactic 3: The Anchor
The final person in a relay race is more important than the first because their endurance will win or lose the race. So on the final wave when the raid boss is almost through, the computer starts picking STUPID things for you that won't last two seconds. Take five seconds or ten seconds to change a couple to some of our surprise finishers (in pink). 
  • Wigglytuff might not have a big CP value, but he can have 200 hit points. Combined with his dark fast attack (feint) that does 20 every second before his opponent can react, he is a can of whoop-ass waiting to be opened. With a some creative dodging, he can take you into your final stretch when no one else has the heart.





  • Slowking gets a bad rap because he acts like a drunken Homer Simpson.
    However, as part psychic, he only takes half damage from the devastating confusion and focus blasts. His confusion does the SAME damage as the boss, but his fire attack does MORE. MewTwo only does 60 to the bro, while he dishes out 140. Who cares if he can't find the door? We want him there for the coup de grace.






  • Wobuffet is a late entry. When spinning on Victory Memorial Parkway in Minneapolis, we caught ten of them. What good are they if they don't evolve and are only 800 CP? It's psychic with almost 300 HP, which means it can last as long as Blissey or Lugia! It only does an average of 13 points a second, but that could be enough to finish the boss, 
As mentioned before, none of these theories have been tested in battle yet, but lacking a pet dinosaur, a boy has to get creative. Game on!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

How Amazon Star Ratings Work.... and Don't

Every time you rate a book, 1-5, it goes into a cumulative rating for that product. Amazon considers a 3 rating as unfavorable. I've had a number of 3-star reviews with titles like "great read," but this balances out over the span of dozens of reviews. The number-one value the customer judges your product by (apart from your cover) is the cumulative rating, How does Amazon compute this all important number?

If you hover over the cumulative rating of a book, it explains that the value isn't an average of all the reviews but a sophisticated proprietary result of machine learning based on review age and verified purchase status. Finding a bug in their algorithm, I explored.

In 21 out of my 23 books over a span of 5 years, it was exactly the average. The two exceptions are the interesting part.

1) My book "The Redemption of Mata Hari" has a straight average of 4 for 6 reviews, yet they rated the book a 3.7. The verified reviews averaged 3 and the unverified were all 5s. The primary reason was a 2-star rating that complained the book talked about sex too much...when the main female character was a succubus. Therefore, there is a clear discrepancy between the two rating groups. To compensate, the formula for the overall star value is weighted,
0.65 * verified + 0.35 * unverified.
On the face, this is fair. It does seem to be a way to avoid those who are "cheating" the system. Unfortunately, Amazon doesn't automatically mark a review as verified if you bought it. Even after the fact, Amazon provides no way to change that flag. Customer service doesn't have that capability. When asked how one can get the designator, they said the only certain way is to go in through your recent orders page on My Account to do the review. If Amazon sends you a "rate this" email, it also connects the dots. Why not when you're logged in normally? At the moment of submittal from your account, the code could easily check the purchase history, or do a periodic system-wide update of this status. The "we can't get there from here" statement doesn't hold water for a company that employs so many experts on data mining. The page for the book itself tells you in a blue banner across the top when you purchased it. That means it's already in an active variable for the java script, no trouble to access when you hit the review button.

2) My book "Foundation for the Lost" had a correct average of 4.5 after 14 reviews, the same as every other book. Then, on 9/1/17, I earned another 5-star review from a verified purchase. Excited, I computed that this would bump my rating by either metric to 4.7. After a week, nothing changed. The computation wasn't updating from the database. So I called support. They agreed that this wasn't reasonable behavior, but there's a special group dedicated to just this issue. He sent in a ticket and told me I would have an explanation by email. A couple days later, I got an email that was literally someone mousing the info text you see when you hover over the star rating, stressing that it was machine learning--nothing more or less. I completed everything but my dissertation for a PhD in computer science with a minor in math. I have 12 software patents and 30 years of commercial programming experience. While learning might phase out the emphasis of the oldest data, it would never throw out the latest and more reliable category. This response is stonewalling for a bug. Amazon needs to be accountable like any company taking 30 percent of my sales in exchange for these services.

I should probably just keep trying until they give me an honest answer, right? For my first audiobook bounty, it took me over 10 months before their bureaucracy gave me a response. That was the best case. In the worst case, Amazon support people gave me another phone number to call for help:
1-888-280-4331. This number offers you three too-good-to-be-true deals that require your credit-card number. If you don't fall for any of them after five minutes, the recording demands that you hang up. It shouts the demand three times and then plays a loud, annoying tone. This is also stonewalling. When asked to rate this interaction, I gave them the lowest possible and used words like "unacceptable." In any company, this would have merited an apology. Either they don't read these objections, or one-star customer service is so common that they can't reply to all of them.

I'm not saying this "machine learning" emperor has no clothes, but the fig leaf is pretty small.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Leaving Houston, or How Krispy Kreme Saved Our Vacation

After 50 inches of rain and four days of telling us the port would open Monday, Carnival finally admits that our cruise is canceled. They will give our money back plus a $192.20 cruise credit if we schedule with them in the next 60 days. For the record, that amount is not enough to reimburse me for the hotel wait, let alone entice me to undergo this ordeal again. We had trip insurance, but they are reluctant to pay anything because Carnival gave a refund.

We had 90 minutes after finishing breakfast to check out, and a very brief window without rain. While waiting for the luggage cart, I chatted with people being rescued from their homes by volunteers in boats. They all showed me cell phone pix of their submerged homes. I mentioned to the front desk that we were considering New Orleans or Florida for our replacement vacation. The woman shook her head violently. "What we got, they're getting now."

The moment we were packed, the rain started again. They were expecting another 15 inches before the President's arrival, and people were worried the levees might break. If it weren't for the heavy rain, I would have gone 80. As it was, I could only manage 55 in the dry lane. As we traveled north, I used language I shouldn't have in front of my kids. We were stunned to see the access roads deep underwater. You can just make out the top to the "construction zone" signs.


Thank God we had plenty of gas already because I wasn't slowing down for anything. Another 12 inches of rain, and there would be no escape. When we finally did pull over for lunch, the Jack in the Box had countless leaks in the ceiling, with drips hitting half of us. Three-quarters of the sky was still black. 

My daughter had been naming the Pokemon she caught things like "mysuckyvacay". As a thirteen-year-old, she is on the dangerous verge of teenhood angst. When we asked her what she wanted to do before going home to make this a better vacation, she replied, "Krispy Kreme." We don't have them in Minneapolis anymore. So we made one last stop in Texas to make a little girl's dreams come true... or at least make the 20-hour drive home more tolerable.





Sunday, August 27, 2017

Flood

An appropriate song

Here's the weather map for our vacation.

Everything north of Houston is CLOSED, including the freeways. We went to the mall again to play Pokemon go, and everyone had to go to the bathroom.






Empty Malls of Conroe, Texas:



After half an hour of driving, we found a Marriott with sandbags and towels in front of the doors that let us in to use the facilities. We almost didn't make it back to our own hotel because of flooding.







Note the barricades in front of 45S. People who ignored these ended up on the evening news.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Harvey Holds Holiday Hostage

My wife has been waiting all year for her vacation--a cruise because she loves sea days. We chose the last week we could before the kids going back to school. We also chose the port of Galveston because we've been considering a retirement home there. I reserved a hotel for two nights on the seawall, with easy access to the beach and the houses we wanted to look at.

Instead of flying, we drove down over two days. We even scheduled a realtor for Friday. The hotel we picked was once a Super 8, but had changed to America's Best Value. The area had experienced flash floods, limiting our choices. The hotel reeked. Someone had propped open the front door with a towel because the air conditioning wasn't working well. The utter lack of security made the family nervous, but we soldiered on. Nothing in the room worked as intended--clock, light switches, etc. Even the water from the faucet smelled. We put all the clothes we wore in those beds into plastic bags to be washed as soon as possible.

Thursday morning, we saw Galveston had a tropical storm warning. The hurricane would hit far away in Corpus Christi. The Galveston hotel said that everything was still good there.

That afternoon, we were passing through the north Dallas area in 85-degree heat when our AC stopped working. It was one of those weird moments where you look at your partner and say, "This shouldn't be happening, but the universe is trying to tell us something." It happened within thirty minutes of the Honda dealership we went to when we lived in Texas. The dealership was five minutes from our favorite restaurant--The Blue Goose.

We sat in the dealership two hours while they replaced two parts that just stopped working. It blew colder than ever when they handed it back. In the meantime, we called old friends to meet us at the restaurant. Things seemed to take longer than normal at the restaurant. My son ate little, saving room for Krispy Kreme--another ten minutes south. Given that we had a check-in time of one a.m. to keep the reservation, I was blowing a gasket inside during the side trip. But a still voice inside told me to roll with it. We had half an hour to spare, and Pierce rarely asked for food. He's just as tall and skinny as I was at his age.

As we ate our free hot-and-fresh donut samples, the poor women behind the counter said we were the nicest customers she'd ever had. It seems others in Allen had a sense of entitlement. All this reinforced our resolve to raise our kids near family in Minnesota. When we left this area, our neighbors' sixteen-year-old had just wrecked his brand new sports car. The schools had just installed cameras to prevent drug sales on campus. Instead, our kids learned to split wood and do chores to earn college money.

Before we continued the trip, new Pokemon popped up on our phones. The family chased them, narrowing our margin even further. Signs on the highway told us to avoid the coast. As we reached the college town north of Houston, signs changed to "Get gas now." Heeding the warnings, we got off to ask questions. We were about two hours away from the hotel and the deadline. We managed to top off our tank minutes before the station ran out of regular. The warning for Galveston had been upgraded to a full hurricane. The hotel clerk told us they were still open. However, a man in the parking lot warned us *not* to go there. Listening to him was like hearing an Old Testament warning to a town facing destruction. When we called the hotel back, the clerk admitted that the whole place would be flooded and everything closed. He also told us that they would be obliged to give us our money back if we called the company we scheduled through before check-in time. The gas station was surrounded by less expensive hotels, food places, and malls. We heeded the warnings and canceled. As we checked in to the Best Western, the Port of Galveston texted us that the port would be closed until further notice.

The first day of waiting was nice despite the rain--Pokemon Go in the malls, great dining, and a family card game while we watched a movie on the TV.

The news told us that the shutdown would likely last till Tuesday. Cruise ships would be taking on supplies in New Orleans, letting off any customers who wanted to go. The port said that depending on damage, they might reopen as early as Monday. Looking at houses would be out of the question till then. The cruise line said that they would give a partial refund but give a shortened cruise with an unspecified itinerary ... we still don't know when or where. Every hour before landfall, there are warnings on the TV about tornadoes and flash floods. Winds on the coast reach 130 mph, but it should all be over tomorrow.

As there are no cheap last-minute flights or other cruises, we stuck in the holding pattern. Saturday, we had to extend our reservation at the hotel indefinitely. Fortunately, due to "evacuation", we don't need to pay tax on the emergency stay.
On the down side, the mayor of Houston has asked everyone to stay indoors. For periodic rain? Since the people at Burger King took him seriously, we had to buy food at Walmart for the next few days. We repeated yesterday's trip to the mall. Almost everything was closed except the food court. I got a Sonic milkshake to share with the family. We took all the Pokemon gyms in the area and had fun on the riverwalk. We found dozens of Magicarps, Slowpokes, and Psyducks. By five, it's pouring rain, and we had to run back to the car. Everything is closed, so we head back to the hotel to watch the Twilight marathon. The emergency broadcast system interrupted every 15 minutes.
The port is waiting for the rain to stop before they assess damage. Still no word on when the real vacation will begin. Even after its "death", Harvey holds us hostage.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Become a Pokemon-Go Demigod in Three Weeks by Spending One Hour a Day

After hitting level 26 with my family Pokemon gang (the Wild Eevees) in 3 weeks, I thought I would write a jump-start guide for newbies. Disclaimer: this is my experience only; your mileage may vary.

RULES

A few ground rules to begin with:
1. Realize that Pokemon Go is the glitchiest piece of software I've ever seen. As a programmer for 37 years, that's saying something. If it freezes, white screens, or generates a random error, just close the app and start it back up again. If it happens during a raid battle, you may have just been screwed out of your 99 cents purchase price for the battle pass. They don't fix bugs or satisfy customers. What do you expect from a free app? Be prepared to write off any time or money you invest in it. In the best case scenario, avoid spending any real-world money.
2. Pokemon will KILL your phone at the rate of about a percent a minute. On settings, turn off sounds/music and turn on battery saver. Always have a wall or car charger handy, preferably with a splitter so your navigator has power too.
3. Only log in as you on one device at a time, or the game will give you strange errors like "no more room in gym."
4. Pokemon Go is not a solo venture but a gang activity.
5. The game ostensibly is to cultivate walking/physical fitness in players, but you can bike or ride in a slow car (under 20 mph) through town. Every device registers distance incorrectly and differently. Sometimes the game checks its distance routines at odd times, and you'll have several eggs hatch at once. If you're driving, give your phone to a passenger to spin, etc. If they shout "Abra!", don't drive off the road or hit anyone. This sort of Tourette's is common among players. When a special event ends, they often zero all your distance counters (see rule 1 and more random vocabulary is shouted).
6. Everything increases arbitrarily with your level, from the CP value of Pokemon you find to the range of your Pokestop detector. Therefore, you don't want to evolve hard-to-find pokemon until you reach at least level 10, or you will regret it.
7. If your school/business has a cell-phone blocker, you can connect temporarily using WiFi, but walking your buddy, eggs, and lucky eggs all require your exact GPS location. The only thing you can do reliably with WiFi is weed your bag or catch local Pokemon you spotted before the GPS was blocked.
8. It's incredibly addictive, so limit your time to something reasonable like an hour a day.
9. If you're a child or a woman alone, don't accept rides to the next raid battle. They person behind the wheel may be trolling for more than pokemon, and you don't want to be the one caught.
10. Find some websites you trust for more tips. I like Silph Road.

DAY 0: PREP

You won't know what any of this means until you've played for a while, but by then it will be too late. Trust me.
1. Before starting, you need to find a mentor, someone who has played it for a while over level 10, the higher the better.
2. Install Pokemon Go on your phone (with GPS) and attempt to start it. If it crashes repeatedly, your device might not have the proper OS level. Make sure the clock is set properly and the GPS works, or weird errors will occur. Find another device if it doesn't start reliably.
3. Pick the same color as your mentor (Red, Blue, Yellow). Color is your team alliance, and it's permanent. They will help you with silly questions.
4. When asked to pick a starting Pokemon, walk away three times. The choices they give you (bulbasaur, charizard, and squirtle) are so rare, you'll never see another one, and your buddy will stay CP 10 forever. After the third rejection, you'll get a chance to catch Pikachu. You'll see lots of those later.
5. Make pikachu your buddy to start collecting candy.
6. Settings/sign out, and then sign in as 1 to 5 more people from your team so the password are on your phone. Why? If *anyone* finds something rare or a gym with too few people in it, everyone benefits.
7. If you can, start near an event period like Easter or the one-year game anniversary when rewards are doubled.

DAY 1: ASKING FOR HANDOUTS and WORKING THE CIRCUIT

In addition to catching everything that moves in balls, you'll learn all the game basics today.
1. Ask your mentor where in town you can find four pokestops in close proximity, with at least one of them being a gym of your color.
2. Walk/bike/drive from one to the next, spinning, and catching everything that moves for an hour. You should get about 2 balls and 2 pokemon at each stop, plus one from the gym of your color. Most of this will be "everywhere" pokemon like pidgeys, rats, spineraks, weedles, caterpies, etc. I call this a garbage run. Don't transfer anything yet. Don't bother to catch any Murkrows/Standlers or other non-evolvers beyond the first.
3. If a pokecenter gives you an egg, immediately put it into your incubator.
At the end of the hour, you will have spun up to 48 times and caught 12 to 50 pokemon. We'll average this at 28, 8 of them pidgeys and 4 weedles. Typically you'll catch 9 different types, and earn about 12000 XP. You'll be half way through level 6!
4. For 12 candy (cheap) evolutions (pidgeys, weedles, caterpies) transfer all but your top 3 to the professor (candy of type /11). For others, transfer all but the best pokemon of that type to the Professor.
5. Starting with the highest CP pidgeot (weedle,caterpie) evolve that pokemon and immediately transfer it. You should be about to do about 3 of these. For evolving and adding to your pokedex, you should earn about 2500 more. Catch one more pidgey do the evolution trick again, bumping you to level 7. Keep your biggest pidgeot around for tomorrow.
6. If you have any eggs, put them in incubators (you should have two) immediately. Put the longest distance egg you can in the 3-use incubator, but put 2km eggs into the infinite incubator for now to get you hatching and pokedex bonuses.

DAY 2: LEARNING TO ENTRAP and BULLY

With the basics mastered, we learn to work the system like a pro.
1. Make your initial pass at yesterday's four pokestops and catch the pokemon there (est 8)
2. Choose a NEW place with two overlapping pokestops or ranges a few feet apart. Spin at both and catch everything in sight, say 5 cheap pokemon. Catholic churchs are excellent for this because they are gyms and have a statue of Mary or Jesus nearby that merits a stop. Sports complexes with multiple ball fields and playgrounds also work for people who feel wrong about spinning Mary during church services.
3. drop your incense. For the next thirty minutes, spin at both stops and catch everything that shows up, say 15 more common pokemon.
4. At the end of the incense, weed your bag and evolve the same as yesterday.
5. Ask your mentor to show you how to take down a gym. Find a weak gym of another color, spin first, and then battle. Tap until you win. Place your strongest pokemon in the gym (not your buddy). As pokemon return each day, you get up to 50 poke coins. Buy a new incubator as soon as you can and fill it with eggs.
6. Spin at the gym after taking it for a bonus, and then hit your usual four on the way home. Catch a few new pokemon.
You are now level 8.

DAY 3: UP the FOOD CHAIN

Repeat yesterday's exercises, but today, you and your friend put lure modules at the two nearby pokestops. When you clean out your bag, you should be able to evolve your first rattata and ledyba. Don't transfer them yet, but use them for the gym. You should have hatched a new pokemon and registered it to your pokedex about now, too. You should be hovering on the edge, almost to level 10.

DAY 4 - 7: CHANGE of SCENERY and STRATEGY

Now we mix things up a little in preparation for your key to world domination--the lucky egg.
Visit a nearby town or another part of your town and hit as many stops as possible (say 12). If you find a gym of your color with space (under 6 guards), put one of yours in. Catch whatever you find at the stops or in the road on the way. (say 36 total) Don't transfer ANYTHING until your bag fills up. Then keep one more than the number you need for evolving with the candy you need, two more for sentrets, rats, spineraks, and cheap evolutions.
Each day, you'll be making about 8K in XPs, not much compared to earlier rates, but be patient. You have about 22 evolutions built up by now. Resist the urge, unless you can evolve a Tediursa into Ursarang--they are awesome for gym battles. You can also evolve ONE eevee for gyms. You should be almost level 13 by now. When you put things in gyms, get in the habit of picking your 7th strongest so you have your six best guys for taking gyms.
As you weed your bag, take notes about things you need that you're just shy of for an evolution.
At night, when pokemon come back from gyms, revive them and heal them so you can send your little money-makers back out tomorrow, Fagin.

DAY 8: SLOW BUT SURE

By now, you're progress seems glacial by comparison. Hold the line. No evolutions, even if you can. You may run out of balls at this point. A good tactic is to only catch one at each pokestop (where you get 2+ on average) until you build up a surplus. For cheap pokemon, don't catch anything over your level times 10. Why do you need a 350 CP pidgey? He'll only bust your balls and waste them.
Make sure the target pokemon are your current largest.
Do the insence trick again as you troll your stops.

DAY 9: FISHING TAKES PATIENCE

Do the two-stop lure trick again for half an hour. Maybe you can loosen up on that hour a day thing. It's the weekend, right?

DAY 10 - 11: RINSE AND REPEAT

Catch them all. At the end of this period, you'll be about 5K into level 15, and you have about 60 evolutions queued up. Write down every evolution you're planning to do. Put the cheap evolutions/rats/sentrets at the start of the list, and battle monsters like Tediursas/Eevees the end of the list. Name the biggest two "Tamao" and "Sakura" so they will evolve into rare eevees.
At this level, you are given (as a leveling up bonus and from pokestops) a new berry called a pinap. It doubles the candy get from each successful capture. Here we have a philosophical debate. I try to only use them for rare pokemon. My son laughs at that. "Now you only need 67 magicarps to level up." His strategy during the last event was to pineapp every pidgey. Why? Because then EVERY pidgey you catch can evolve! But be sure to only catch the ones under 150 CP or you're wasting ammo and berries. My daughter pineaps eevies, ponytas, and oddishes for bellossom. In short, cute but deadly things. The kids swayed me to use a *few* on weaker Teddyusrsas and Eevees to speed building my second line of gym bullies.

DAY 12: THE BIG BANG THEORY

At home, with GPS on, drop your luck egg, and do all the evolutions. You may need to drop a second if it takes longer than 30 minutes. With 40 new evolutions you'll earn about 100K XPs. This should carry you to level 20. Spend the rest of your hour weeding duplicate furrets, etc. Then order the list by CP and power up your top 6 fighting pokemon with stardust. Flareons get the biggest bang for the buck. You should have purchased and burned through about four incubators by now.

DAY 13 - 18: I HAVE THE POWER

Now you have a serious front line and can begin the next level of operation--raid battle. These give you rare candy and attack power ups. Practice on two-star bosses with your friend. Collect rare pokemon you need from places they've been spotted around the city.  Raid battles give your rare candy to evolve a few of your rarest pokemon and new attacks to teach your front line. When you run out of rare candy, walk the rarest ones as your buddy. My daughter walks Jigglypuff because he only costs a km per candy. My wife walks Pupitar because she needs 100 candies before it can evolve again. Here I am walking my legendary to be able to pump it up more.

Regardless, you decide your course now. You're the one with the ultra balls. On the second day, use your excess coin to buy a premium pass for a five-star boss. You may have to join a Facebook group to track the group battles with 10 people or more. You're gathering evolutions for another lucky egg.

DAY 19: A NEW LEVEL OF PLAY

After trolling for a few odds and ends, you drop another egg and hit level 23. You've just caught your first legendary at 2000 CP, and it takes the lead for battles. Only now it takes 100K a level, many days of effort, and raid battles take precedence over work. After beating Lugia five times, you still don't catch him. If only your boss hadn't buzzed in during your final attempt and ruined the throw! Someone tells you about a stretch of highway in North Minneapolis called Victory Memorial with over 20 pokestops and roving gangs you can join in with.

DAY 20: THE STUDENT BECOMES THE MASTER

The 13-year-old who mentored you worries that you've become obsessed. She's just whining because you're already a level above her, and she has to go to school. They have one of those cell-phone blockers there, and she can't compete. She's just holding you back now. A level-35 player teaches you to buy raid passes in bulk. You hear rumors of a level 40 master who's Blastoise rides into battle on Articuno, and you must have one. Your kid will have another birthday next year, but this legendary will only be available for another 24 hours. That's what she gets for telling mom about my "disturbing addicted behavior" just because she missed her swim class at the Y.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

cover reveal "Glory Point"

Finally, I've finished the Gigaparsec space opera series. The fourth and final book is entitled "Glory Point." A fleet of cold-bloods has been in cryo-sleep for 125 years. Their goal is to take over the Banker homeworld before the Goat loans are due. Reuben Black Ram finds out at the last minute that the invasion could trigger the collapse of the Union and the deaths of billions of his people. Now, he and the other members of his crew must stop the fleet before it's too late. If they can convince the Magi to let them borrow the only ship fast enough, and if they knew where the phantom fleet was. Their only clue is a cryptic reference to a place known as Glory Point. Did I mention that the Bankers are trying to kill them? So many deals, so little time.

Told from the point of view of the Saurian mob accountant, Kesh, who needs a glorious death to redeem his family name. Along the way, he finds that he's a better politician than warrior. Sometimes building the legend is more important than the truth.

Release expected 7/31, combined with an Amazon countdown sale on book one, Void Contract.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

5 years in the writing business -- revised advice

One of my first blog entries was advice to new writers. Writers and editors keep asking me, but a lot has changed in five years. It's a *lot* harder now to succeed.

The primary goal of a writer is to write … but if you want other people to read it or to pay your editors/artists, you need to invest time like any other small business owner. Between books and on weekends, I spend a lot of time doing something we’ll broadly call marketing.

+ The best marketing is a satisfied customer. If someone likes your work, they will tell their friends and often buy every book in your series or in that genre. Unfortunately, unless a series isn’t selling anything that month or the same person leaves multiple reviews, this sort of wonderful experience is impossible for an author to see. If one book does well, you’ll see a draft effect pulling up all your sales up.

Optimizing your keywords can help bring in people searching for particular topics and interests, and even put your book into a specialty category, like Space Military or Sword and Sorcery. Reaching the top 20 (first page) of a specialty sublist can help your book. Publishers can use twice the tags we can and end up on all sorts of inaccurate categories. I think Game of Thrones dominated about seven. Beware of reaching too far. I had a transgender character in the K2 Virus, so I added the transgender tag. I hit #8 on that list and my “people who bought this” list got pretty hard-core, scaring away my military fans. It’s a fine balance.

Know your target audience. My first two series sold best to IT professionals trying to avoid work on Monday afternoon. I spiked 40 percent of my sales that day. Weekends and Tuesdays were dead. On the plus side, I know exactly what day to target my sales on for the biggest surge. However, fans are creatures of habit and tropes. You may not mesh best with every group. My 10 sci-fi novels outsold my 10 fantasies over 2 to 1.If you take out one fluke success, the ratio is 6 to 1. That tells me where I should be concentrating my future efforts.

+ Writing a book in a new genre is even more labor intensive and tends to garner only half the sales of a comparable book in your “known” field. I saw this when I tried YA, horror, and medical thrillers. The little scribbler in my head doesn’t always list to business advice. When you don’t have any hits or new books for 6 months, all sales decline, and your engine starts to stall. That’s when I spend extra time marketing and offer sales, promising the next book will be more interesting.

How do you start this engine initially?
People are reluctant to fork over $2.99 and hours of their life to an unknown. A sufficient number of positive reviews can induce someone to take the risk. My first reviews came from exchanging reviews with a pool of indie writers. Use this sparingly and only with someone you know for quality writing. As an indie, I’ll have to admit that 80 percent of what I read from fellow wannabes I couldn’t endorse. About 10 percent of the time, correcting grammar or spelling got my head ripped off. Romance writers are the trickiest because as a confirmation teacher and husband to a medical provider with whom I share an Amazon account, I can’t publicly rate gay dungeon porn. Find a small group of writers you can trust, and rely on most of them for feedback to improve the quality of your work.

+ One book with a bad reputation can kill the entire series and depress all your sales. Excellence must come before you expose the work to the world.

When I first started writing on Amazon, free giveaways were the best way to bootstrap reviews for a new book. Half the Amazon chart is still Indie books. Although, so many classic titles and permafree first books in a series clog the top of the list (90 percent in science fiction), that this is now much more difficult. Unless your cover art rocks and you already have about 5 glowing reviews, though, people won’t even take it for free! This is the most painful phase of any non-sequel book. In my experience, it takes 2000 free downloads to get 1 review. This means you need to hit the top twenty and hang there for days. By a perverse sense of logic, unless you already have at least 20 ratings with over 55 percent of them 5 stars, a new book isn’t likely to make the top 20 free in sci-fi. This is like getting a bank loan—you can only get it if you can prove you don’t need it. My professional friends have warned me against devaluing my work by pricing books for free on Amazon. Last time I did this, two people outside my target audience rated me a one-star because the book wasn’t what they expected. “It’s all about science.”

+ The best hidden effect of a free giveaway is linking yourself to other popular free books offered that day. You now have a slew of “People who bought this also bought” recommendations on books that could be best sellers!

When you are successful, some of the other aspiring trolls who are also on the free list can get spiteful. I’ve had one-star reviews, my best reviews marker unhelpful, and books customer tagged with “S&M”—all to knock me lower on the list so they could climb over me. Once you are mistagged, Amazon will never remove it. You have to find more friends than people who agreed with the tag to disagree before it becomes invisible. However, the graffiti will always be on the wall.

+ A series book will outsell stand-alones 10 to 14 to one, with considerably less effort. Marketing is almost nothing for series books because the gateway book does all the heavy lifting.

An average first book in the series will ensure a buy rate of half for each successive novel. A 4 book series where the first book sold 2000 copies will sell about 4000 total. Better novels will have higher follow-on rates. Even if you take a small loss marketing book one, you can still make a profit overall. For this reason, keep book one price lower, and don’t use Amazon’s price suggestions, which tend to choke your volume by 40 percent to increase profit by 10.

How can we use free books to boost sales in a series? If you just set book 1 to free, only 1 out of 200 downloaders will ever buy book two in your series. To maximize leverage, I reduce book 1 in a series to 99 cents and drop the brand new book 2 to free. Then one in 14 downloaders is willing fork over the money for book one to be able to enjoy the freebie—a much better model.

+ For sales connect rates, nothing beats reaching your target audience with a good cover and pitch. A brief period of free or reduced price can be a worthwhile expense to help you test and refine this.

Giving away a handful of books (3-6) on Goodreads gives you the same indicator, plus puts your name on a lot of user shelves so they get notified of your later events. Half the people will even leave reviews or ratings. Half of those might post on Amazon. Be warned, however, that an increasing number of people on Goodreads sell their prizes immediately on the used market. Despite all the news releases, Amazon only allows big publishers and their own imprints access to the secret e-book giveaways.

What do we do instead? Amazon won’t let my wife review my books because she “stands to gain financially.” (Here is where all spouses of authors of any kind may snicker.)

I often had a core of friends and followers who regularly read my books, and asked them to provide a jump start. Not everyone will like every genre, so have a big list. In my experience, only half of those who promised a review will do so. Also, using the same people repeatedly will burn them out and make them less likely to respond next time. Many of these people are also too timid or polite to provide feedback. The result? In my overeagerness, I prevented a guaranteed sale and got nothing in return. A much better method is to give away a sample and teasers ahead of time to induce them to buy and pick a few individuals for constructive criticism. I still have my wife, my editor, and three others beta-read every book before posting. Some of these become seed reviews.

+ Every author needs access to a large list of loyal fans to get the word out, even if they don’t buy the book or write reviews.

What about bloggers? About 1 in 100 blogger emails without a prior relationship will result in a review. The average blogger isn’t likely to ever buy the rest of your books, because they get their fix for free from others. However, someone who rated book 1 of your series well should be willing to review book 2. Bloggers and top Vine Voice people can be very prickly to approach. Spamming once will get you blocked forever. Don’t send a mobi until they agree. Call them by name and chat a little like a human. Never expose someone’s private email to the whole list in an open group mailing—they go through great lengths to avoid junk mail. Most have a specific submission format or web form they want you to use. Unfortunately, too many are “in hiatus”, don’t take indie books, or charge a fee or donation. Amazon has strict rules forbidding that; any such review will get pulled. To send out 400 invitations for one ebook, I scanned through lists containing 2000 sites. I guarantee at least two of those sites were infected with a virus. I can’t use my writing PC for this sort of searching.

+ Ultimately, it’s not the size of your blogger list, but the quality of the relationship you have with a chosen few. These will become your foundation. They are people with lives of their own, not review machines.

How about other fans—people who bought books similar to yours on Amazon? You can glean one candidate email address for every 50 reviewer profiles you read. A high percentage of people who post their emails are other authors or bloggers. About 1 in a 100 of these email requests results in a review. Collecting prospects and sending a personalized mail to each can be very time-consuming. However, you need to be very careful. Too many emails will get you sanctioned by Amazon for spamming. If you go beyond the Also Bought list, many reviewers will rate your book “3” because it isn’t what they’re used to.

+ The best reviews come organically from satisfied paying customers. The rate of these reviews averages about 1 per 100 sold. My highest-rated book hit 1 per 50 while my lowest hovered around 1 per 400.

I wouldn’t do presales again. It locks you down for two weeks for no good reason, and people can’t rate your book or see the preview. The short burst does help rankings if you can get 7-10 the first day, you can shoot onto the top 100.  Months later, you have to sell over a hundred in two days to achieve the same rank.

+ Without advertisement and sales, books don’t tend to hit the top 20 in a category.

25 percent of the books on the paid top 40 have temporarily reduced pricing. That can spike sales for a few days and give you nice halo sales on KU. Unfortunately, without advertising or a loyal following, a book older than 30 days isn’t likely to see a benefit from lowered price.

Where should you advertise?  Tweets have been utterly useless in my experience. I even caught Bargain Booksy taking my $10 without sending any tweets! Check every single time you pay for an ad, it’s up to you to confirm it happened. Mailing lists like Reign of Reads cannot be confirmed by non-members. As a general rule of thumb, small-time ads will get you one download per dollar spent – 70 cents on the dollar return. Ereader News performance depends on the genre. I received 50 downloads K2 advertised as sci-fi, but I got 80 when I recast it as a medical thriller. I recommend doing both at once. Even older outlets like Book Barbarian and Digital Book Today seem to draw fewer readers than they did a few years ago. Over the course of a year, repeated exposure to the same list, like Fussy Librarian, can have diminishing returns. Mix the venues up if the same book goes on sale again. Beware of using too many sites at once. Many won’t let you know your schedule slot until a couple days before, and you need the freedom to move the sale. ENT can be picky and won’t let you schedule more than a month out, but many other fill up before that window. Another advertiser insists on 3 verified Kindle reviews – which equates to about 30 regular reviews. If I can get that in the first 90 days of a book, why do I need ads?

Read earned me 5 downloads for $10, perhaps because they’re primarily a romance-driven channel. ManyBooks proudly offered 20 downloads for $24. Effective mailing lists (many aren’t) only have a connect rate of about 1/670. Which means $50 for 50k mails, will get you 75 sales, earning exactly what you paid. Ripley’s This may still a useful tactic for the first book in a series, because follow-on sales for the sequels should earn another $150.  What we’re hoping for is to hit the charts in the top 100 and stick there for a while. Even holding at number 70 on the hard sci-fi chart is enough for a book to pay for itself in a few months. To reach that level for a non-sequel, we need to have over 20 reviews. Otherwise, strangers tend to be shy. In a genre where I’ve already established a following, I’ve gotten by with as few as 10, but it doesn’t stick. On average, expect a top 20 book to be over 60 percent 5 star ratings. The lowest bar seems to be for Amazon’s imprint 47 North, which can skate by with as little as 30 percent.

+ Good or bad, people are drawn to successes, perpetuating this success.
1/4th of the books on the top 40 are by the same authors as other books on the list.
1/8th of the books have TV or movie tie ins.
Near 50 reviews, I’ve heard Amazon sends people recommendation emails, giving you a further boost.

Amazon giveaways of your books (as opposed to setting the price to free) suck. In theory, you give away 50 books in exchange for following you on Amazon. In theory, giving each contestant a 1 in 100 chance to win means you’ll have five thousand new followers. Sounds great! However, about 25 percent of the contestants will drop you after the event. This isn’t possible to track because Amazon refuses to tell you how many followers you have. Also expect no added reviews based on this investment. Most recipients won’t even read the book. If they’re not readers, having them on your list is useless. Worse, if they’re not fans of your genre, a review is almost certain to harm your rating. How much does this dubious “buzz” cost you? You pay full price for the books plus taxes they don’t tell you about until the giveaway has commenced. This is over $150 for anyone getting 70 percent royalties. After the fact, they also tell you the special new ebook-only rules. If there are any books leftover after the event, you don’t get a refund like any other product would. Why would there be any left? Because it’s not open to the public by default. All the people get the link via direct email, tweet, or Facebook from you. If you recall, Facebook stopped showing your posts to all your friends years ago. That means I have to know over five thousand people who are willing to do something to get my product beforehand or I’m burning money. If I have that list, why do I need Amazon? I hit the cancel on my giveaway before a single person saw that link. Only after I phoned in to complain did they give me the money back on a gift card.

+ Having your own newsletter mailing list is a far better and cheaper solution.
I’ve started mine at 180 people. For each sale, around 12 will respond favorably and another 3 will drop. Therefore, you need a way to constantly grow this list. I used my beta readers (with permission) and a NoiseTrade giveaway. Be careful because you can’t have the book you’re giving away on Amazon or they will permafree your book. How do you build the list? Be aware that a second NoiseTrade giveaway with a newer book nets you the exact same people. You probably need to do a blog tour and give away some paper prizes.  Several friends of mine have used Rafflecopter successfully with two caveats. One, they gave away a Kindle, not books. Two, the Rafflecopter Facebook app is buggy and didn’t get me a single contestant (and people tried). In all the successful cases, you need to collect from a pool other than the one you’ve already fished out.


In closing, I’ll point out that a few reviews asked for gift copies through Amazon. AVOID THIS. Amazon takes full price plus tax, and it doesn’t even show as a sale until after it gets claimed. A third of recipients, even those who asked for it, don’t claim them. That means no sales rank, no author share, and no money back. Worse even redeemed, it is not counted as verified purchase. I’ve even had people return them to Amazon for the cash to buy something else. In six years, I’ve never had one Amazon gift result in a review. Mailing them the mobi or PDF is better.

ADDENDUM:
I tried my first Facebook post boost. I paid $15 to reach 2-3000 fantasy fans with news about a free book giveaway on Noisetrade. The tool link Facebook sent back to record progress of the boost was broken, so I had to rely on the page statistics. One tool on the page said 1100 reached, while the other said 980. Neither came close to what they promised. Of those reached, only 66 engaged. I got 10 likes on the post and dedicated book page, but NOBODY clicked through to the giveaway. Maybe no one wanted to give Noisetrade their info. Result, I paid people $1.50 a piece for likes on a web page I post on once a year. I'll try again on a sci-fi book with a better cover when it goes free on Amazon.