Did The Makers Of Ray Donovan Steal The Idea From Grand Theft Auto V?

Did Showtime, the makers of the TV series Ray Donovan, steal the idea from the video game Grand Theft Auto 5?

The short answer is probably not. But the similarities between two of the protagonists are quite striking on several levels. Season 2 of Ray Donovan is on air at the moment, and with each new episode I’m noticing various parallels with Rock Star’s latest game in the Grand Theft Auto franchise.

This article, and an update, can be found here.

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England – The All-Important First Game

This was meant to be published on a fantasy football blog I write for, but never made it, so I’m posting it here instead, just hours before time renders the article obsolete.

England's hope at this World Cup might rest on players such as Barkley.

England’s hope at this World Cup might rest on players such as Barkley.

England’s World Cup campaign starts with a game against Italy in what has been dubbed the ‘group of death’. Over-used footballing clichés aside, the result of the first match is going to have a huge bearing on the rest of the tournament. So what do England need to do to get the most out of their opening game?

Given the heat and the conditions in which the match will be played in, I think it’s fair to say that neither team will want to over-extend themselves and risk injury and defeat in their first game. The Italians play a naturally cautious style of possession-based football, so England can’t expect them to come charging out of the blocks and leave themselves vulnerable at the back. Likewise, Roy Hodgson has been shown to adopt a tentative approach in his use of tactics, so it seems likely that England’s first game will be a cagey affair, with both teams looking to secure points in the remaining group-stage games and not conceding them early on.

Hodgson faces performing a delicate balancing act between being cautious and displaying a lack of ambition he could later regret. The opportunity to beat Italy is certainly there. The Azzurri haven’t won a match since September, recently drawing 1-1 with Luxemburg, and are notorious slow-starters when it comes to tournaments. If either team score early we’re likely to see long periods of protecting the lead rather than the applying of pressure. On the other hand if it’s goalless mid-way into the second half, both teams are likely to settle for a draw.

A well-drilled defence and a protective layer of midfielders is likely to be the key to keeping a clean-sheet in a cagey affair such as this. In fact, a repeat of England’s Euro 2012 performance against Italy will be just what the doctor ordered considering it’s likely to be the hardest game of the group, on paper at least. But maybe with a little less of the Andrea Pirlo passing masterclass, this time around.

I think it’s fair to say that both England and Italy will be looking at this opening match as a ‘must not lose’ scenario. A good result, draw or victory, will be an excellent confidence builder, especially given the pessimistic forecast that has foreshadowed England’s campaign before it’s even started. As for team selection, I can’t see it being much different to the one that started against Honduras, and if the game is flagging in the last third then the introduction of Raheem Sterling or Ross Barkley could certainly open the game up.

The key to a game like this at this stage of the tournament is to not do anything silly. Simple passing, retaining the ball, and not allowing Pirlo et al to dictate the terms in which the match is played. Remembering that Italy will be looking to see the England game through and then turn their attention to winning all three points against Costa Rica in their next match is important too. Factors like this should mean we see a delicate sparring match of a game, rather than any high-intensity attacking football. But sometimes boring is good.

The Importance of Character Building

Not the characters in your shitty novel.

I’m talking about your own character. To be an interesting and rounded person you have to have had some interesting and informative life-experiences, all of which collectively add to your personality and approach to life in general. The things that you do and see inform who you are. Events and experiences that are character building can come from almost anywhere, but most of them are universal to all of us.

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Dear Amazon, I Love You But…

I love using Amazon, but there’s something missing from their mobile app. 

Ever since I bought an iPhone a couple of years ago, I regularly use the scanner on the Amazon app to scan the ISBN numbers of books and products I come across in shops. For me, the app serves two purposes.

  1. What does this cost on Amazon, and can I sell it on my Amazon Marketplace Store?
  2. Can I buy this cheaper on Amazon than in this physical shop?
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My Year In Books – Courtesy of Goodreads

A few years back, for no reason other than mild curiosity, I set myself a target to see how many books I could read in a year, all recorded on the goodreads website. The idea being that you set yourself a target, then record the books on the site as you read them. I started doing this in 2011, when I read 16 of a target of 15. In 2012 I upped the target to 20, and managed to meet it, but only just. In 2013, I set the target back to 15, knowing that the arrival of a new baby would slow my progress somewhat, but I still managed to get in 16 books. She’s a good sleeper.

For 2014, I’ve kept the target at 15. I’m not trying to competitively consume books, punishing myself to get to the end, but I think that’s a good manageable total. So far I’ve read one, so that makes me 6% into the challenge according to the widget on the site. In December Goodreads sent out an email with a link to a summary of the books read that year. It’s quite interesting to see what you read over the last twelve months. Here’s a handy graphic they provided;

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Some of them I’d totally forgotten about, which probably meant they weren’t that good. There certainly were several average to forgettable titles in there. Totally average crime drama, a plodding literary fiction novel, and the cult A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, which I hated. Did anyone else find this annoying to read, or am I only one?

But that’s the beauty of reading, you make a choice based on what you read in the synopsis and see on the cover, but you won’t know until you read it. It all adds to the experience. Read my post on reading bad books for more about completing or dumping books you don’t like, mid-read.

Looking at the graphic of what I read last year, I realise I read three George Pelecanos novels in 2013! That’s because I’m a big fan of the writer, who wrote several episodes of The Wire and Treme. His novels are everything I’d want my work to be (if I ever finish anything!) – taught prose, great narrative, and superb characters. In fact, I have another couple of his books to read this year.

Another thing I notice is that six of the sixteen books were read on Kindle, which is an increase on previous years’. The paper versus e-reader contest will continue I guess. I read at an average speed, and my opportunities for reading are pretty much restricted to evenings, mostly before going to sleep. I drive to work rather than use public transport, but if I did I’d probably decimate my to-read pile (although it would probably grow in proportion to my reading speed.)

Who else sets reading targets, either via Goodreads or just in general? What does your ‘already-read’ pile look like?

Adding It Up – The Grand Total For 2013

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2013 is history. Quite literally.

And with it ends my record keeping of all the additional income I earned for the year. In total, I made £627.24 after deductions and costs etc.

December saw a big spike in Amazon Seller Account book sales, presumably from people buying books for Christmas presents. Almost all of these were old aviation-related books that were given to me by my dad from a clear-out he was doing. One of which was a big book of paper planes that could be cut out and folded into various designs according to the instructions. This was still sealed in cellophane and in mint condition. It sold for £15, but was expensive to post due to its size, but there was still a chunk of change to pass on to my dad after deductions etc. Interestingly, it was posted to the Officers’ Mess at RAF Brize Norton, a large air force base here in the UK. I can imagine it being given as a gift to someone at the base and then dozens of paper planes being constructed and thrown across an office or dining room.

The only other source of additional income in December was the payment of my royalties from Amazon Kindle – sales of my short story I chucked on there a couple of years ago. Although it sounds impressive – royalties from book sales – the reality is somewhat different. I made £9.18 in total, and that’s from a year or so’s worth of it being available to buy. It also includes both US and UK sales, which is even less impressive. The only reason I got the US royalties is because Amazon and the IRS changed their policies toward overseas earnings – meaning that if you didn’t have the requisite US tax code, all your earnings are subject to a 35% deduction. After a lengthy and expensive phone call to the IRS office in the US, I got my EIN number, submitted it to Amazon, and eventually got my royalties. Which only just paid off the cost of the phone call…

So the break-down for the year looks like this;

Month Number Value
Jan 3 £41.21
Feb 3 £47.88
Mar 9 £48.29
Apr 7 £32.01
May 6 £29.96
Jun 5 £15.62
Jul 14 £127.05
Aug 7 £86.94
Sep 6 £45.22
Oct 3 £64.39
Nov 2 £23.65
Dec 9 £65.02
Grand Total 74 £627.24

And the break-down of the income sources looks like this;

Source Number Value
eBay 35 £285.28
Amazon Selling Account 33 £220.23
Quidco 3 £76.75
Survey 2 £35.80
Amazon Kindle 1 £9.18
Grand Total 74 £627.24

Not surprisingly, the bulk of the money was earned through Amazon and eBay. The eBay money comes in irregularly as I tend to list things on an ad-hoc basis, when having a clear-out or something falls in my lap and has a) no interest/value to me, or b) is worth a bit online. I have about 30 items listed on Amazon at present, these are just old text books etc that sit around until someone buys them off Amazon or the value drops so low that I donate them to charity shops etc.

Ultimately what this information tells me is that there is money to be made from sources other than your salary. In theory, the Amazon and eBay listings could be stepped up and provide more income, but like all these things it’s a balance between effort and value. I’m happy to keep an eye out and list things as they come to me, but I don’t really want to be hoarding piles of junk on the off-chance I’ll make a sale.

So what did I do with the money I made?

Like spending money in general, it’s hard to keep track of where it went. More than half of it went on car insurance, which was good to know I had that covered. The rest was used to pay for Christmas presents and helped to fund a 50 inch plasma TV I bought second hand from a friend. Ultimately, it was £627 that I would have had to find from my monthly salary if I hadn’t done this.

I don’t plan to do much differently this year, but it would be good to improve on the 2013 figure. £1000 perhaps?

Adding It Up – November

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November’s extra income was a bit lower than previous months, clocking in at £23.65. This is mostly because I didn’t make much effort with putting things on eBay. I only listed one item, an old mobile phone that was in good condition with all its accessories and original box etc. I put this up for Buy It Now for £25 and it sold quite quickly, making £17.35 profit after fees and expenses.

The story didn’t end there with the item though, as the buyer sent me a disgruntled email about the functions on the phone, and sent me negative feedback, which he posted before contacting me! To cut a long story short, I replied to his question, expressing my annoyance at his knee-jerk feedback. He then asked how he could change the feedback, to which the seller has to request a feedback revision, and lo and behold he changed it from a negative to a positive saying ‘item as described’! So I went from a negative to a positive, and didn’t have to argue the toss about a refund. eBay is a strange and confusing place at times.

The only Amazon sale was for a book, a big collection of Commando comics compiled into a tome the size of a cinder/breeze block. Luckily I’d priced it to cover the postage, as although it wasn’t heavy it certainly was bulky! I like Amazon sales as it has that double whammy effect of clearing junk and making money. I don’t have a big inventory, perhaps a dozen books which are a mixture of unwanted titles I’m finished with, or items I came across which looked like they might have some value, or in a few cases, books given to me by my parents in an attempt to clear some of their junk. 

Nov 2 £23.65
Amazon Selling Account 1 £6.30
eBay 1 £17.35

I haven’t listed anything on eBay in December, but I have had a flurry of book sales via Amazon, which I suspect are Christmas presents. These have been specialists titles, namely books about aviation – again a mix of books given to me by my parents for resale, or things I’ve spotted in charity shops which I knew might sell. December’s income already beats November’s total, so that’s good Although I suspect I won’t get any/many more as it gets too close for Christmas post etc, but it’s another title out the door and a bit of extra cash in the slush fund. Incidentally, a large chunk of the money raised paid off my car insurance as well as provided a nice boost for Christmas present buying!

Adding It Up – October

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I almost forgot to write up last month’s additional income review. October’s total was boosted by a cashback payment that had been in the pipeline for months, so much so that I forgot about it. Here’s a breakdown of where the money came from last month;

Oct 3 £64.39
Quidco 1 £34.00
eBay 2 £30.39

The cashback was from Quidco, most of which was earned via a home insurance policy I took out about 6 months ago! Luckily I wasn’t relying on this money for anything, as it certainly doesn’t get paid as a matter of priority between the retailer and the cashback company. October also saw two eBay sales, both for the same type of item.

As a Sky TV customer I was sent a wireless Sky TV on-demand box that arrived unannounced in the post. The idea is that you plug it into your Sky box (TiVo is the US equivalent) and it connects with your wifi and gives you access to films and TV shows via the TV. I couldn’t really see myself using this, as I have Netflix plus my time is at a premium any way, so I thought I’d check out sales on eBay for them. Surprisingly, they were selling for £20ish, and seeing as this was free, boxed and unused, selling it made sense. I shelved it with the idea of getting it listed soon. Then a few days later another one arrived, so I listed them both. Selling identical items on eBay is easy as you simply enter the quantity number and it goes down every time someone purchases from you. So I made my listing and waited. The same day I listed them I got an email from someone on eBay asking if he could come round that night and buy one, paying in cash. I agreed, he turned up, and the sale was made. When I went to look at the listing, I realised that the buyer hadn’t actually used the ‘Buy It Now’ function, he’d simply sent me an email and then paid cash for the item on my doorstep. This means as far as eBay is concerned, this sale never took place. I changed the quantity from 2 to 1, and waited for the last one to sell, which it did, this time in the conventional way via Paypal etc. Due to one selling for cash, and the other via eBay, the profits for each item were different. I made £18 straight profit from the cash buyer, and £12.39 for the eBay one. £30.39 profit from two items that cost me nothing. Not bad at all.

I haven’t sold anything on Amazon or eBay during November yet, nor do I have any cashback waiting, so this might be a lean month in terms of extra income, but we shall see. The money from this extra income is getting funneled into a slush fund savings account that I use for ad-hoc expenses, but this time it looks like it will be used to pay for my car insurance, which strangely enough is the same total as the money I have in the account, so at least that’s taken care of!

Adding It Up – September

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September’s additional income was a bit smaller than the previous month, but it was about average overall considering I didn’t really sell much on eBay. I made £45.22 after expenses, the majority of which came from Amazon.

Sep 6 £45.22
Amazon Selling Account 4 £35.44
eBay 2 £9.78

The Amazon sales were from second hand books. The largest share of which was a big hardback book about Star Wars figures. It sold so quickly that now I fear that I priced it too low in the first place, but at £20+ after postage and fees that’s not bad. The book was the first and only book so far to sell from a batch of books my parents gave me to sell in order to clear out some space in their house. Non fiction books are the best sellers on Amazon when it comes to re-selling books. Fiction doesn’t really sell second-hand unless it’s really new, and even then the prices are pretty low. As for the titles of the non fiction books, they were a completely random assortment. There was an old text book on hydrology, I suspect this was needed for a Phd course or something, two books about fairy tales and folklore (these went to two different customers), and the Star Wars action figures guide.

The eBay sales were varied too. My wife was throwing some clothes out, so naturally I couldn’t help but have a look at what she’d piled up as ‘unwanted’. There were various items, but the only thing that looked like it was worth listing was a Ted Baker blouse. It was in great condition and is a branded name, so I listed it and it sold quite quickly. There wasn’t much profit in it, but it was worth doing. especially as it would have been thrown away.

With the new Grand Theft Auto game getting a lot of attention and topping sales charts, I realised that I still had my copy of the previous version, and that I was never likely to play it again. So I listed it as Buy It Now and it sold in a day or two, making me £7.79 profit after fees and postage. I’m not going to count the original price I paid for it as that would have been about £35, and seeing as it was bought years ago and provided hours of entertainment I don’t think the original price can be taken into account when selling old household items. I’ve since bought the new version, and the £7+ I got for the old version effectively helped to subsidise the purchase, which makes great economic sense as far as I’m concerned.

Right, I’m off to car-jack a sports car and get in a high-speed chase across Los Santos…