Wednesday, July 1, 2015

If any of us feel like there's little to no acceptance for whom we are and what we create at least there's solidarity in this community of writers

Today is July 1st, and it also happens to be the first Wednesday of the month. Most of you who read my blog know that this means it's Insecure Writer's Support Group day. Alex sent out an email saying that there's a t-shirt now. and it can be purchased HERE. Additionally, the actual IWSG list can be found HERE, and the July 1st co-hosts are:

1) Charity Bradford.
2) S.A. Larsen.
3) A.J.
4) Tamara Narayan.
5) Allison Gammons.
6) Tanya Miranda.

This last weekend, downtown Salt Lake City played host to the annual art show in its usual 100 degree heat. The art show is one of those places that (had I the room) I might be more excited about because (at least in my mind) I would pick out a painting that would go great in the house that I  have yet to buy.

A few years ago, I remember walking around the tents and looking at all the sculptures, paintings, and photographs that locals have for sale and thinking, "This looks great" and "That's interesting but not for me." However, things I liked my friend Meg possibly didn't like, and it occurred to me that this is a lot of what it means to be a writer. Really, at the end of the day, all we are is a person occupying some booth having concocted some story that we would like someone to appreciate, right? We are just an artist at a trade show of words.

The realization is this: it takes a thick skin to bear our insecurities. As each person comes in through the door and examines what we have and passes, while at another table, people start circling around something that you might think isn't all that special, it's no wonder our community abounds with insecurity, envy, and pride. If anything, the bag of emotions that we all happen to have starts running amok with this thought: "What does that piece of art have that mine doesn't?" It's a question with no one answer. You might as well ask, "What is the meaning of life?"

For me, life is about competition. We compete for friends, we compete for jobs, we compete for mates and partners, we compete for benefits, and we compete for resources to survive. Competition really only ends when we die. And like it or not, the things that we write or create are a reflection of ourselves. If any of us feel like there is little to no acceptance for whom we are and what we create at least there's solidarity in this community of writers.

And I suppose, today is as good a day as any to celebrate it, so celebrate it I shall.

Have a great Wednesday :).

Friday, June 26, 2015

In Sense8 the characters trump the world building and the visuals which is impressive because the Wachowski's are all about visuals

This week, I've been blazing through Netflix's Sense8. It took a little while for the Wachowski's latest venture (albeit a collaboration with J. Michael Straczynski) to grow on me, but grow on me it did. This global story (and I have no idea how to describe it otherwise) features 8 people who are psychically connected and can experience each others lives, council one another, and even help them out by taking control of their bodies to give them skills they wouldn't otherwise possess. I'm going to take a moment and talk about the characters in the show that I'm most taken with.

Capheus is a teenager that lives in Nairobi, and he's extremely poor with a sick mother who needs medication to live. In a touching character arc, Capheus gets robbed of the medication that he was trying to get to his mother when the spirit of Sun Bak (a Korean woman living in Seoul) basically takes over his body and uses her martial arts skills to take all the robbers out. He repays the favor by giving Sun Bak counselling when she really needed it so that she can make a decision on something so terrible that it will affect her life forever.

Then there's Nomi Marks, a transgender character, who's compelling story is so fraught with pain and emotional anguish that it really makes her a contender as the most interesting character featured in a television series in 2015. Nomi is kind of at the center of whatever is going on with the 8 psychically connected people, and she comes from a family that would prefer to live in denial of who she is (to the point of forcing a lobotomy on her) than try to see their daughter as the beautiful person she has become.

But my favorite characters are Kala and Wolfgang. Kala is Indian and prays to Ganesh to stop her marriage to a wealthy, young, handsome man whom she does not love. Wolfgang lives in Berlin and through their psychic connection, they share one of the most touching moments in the series where they are simultaneously talking in a rainy and cold outdoor cafe in Berlin and under the Hot noonday sun of Mumbai. He asks her, "So you think that Ganesh caused this? That what's happening to us is a miracle?" And she replies, "I think that 'miracle' is a word that is supremely appropriate."

I have to say that Sense8 is one of those shows where character revelations, the tenderness of each character to one another, and the idea that there is more to life and love and reality than we will ever understand all come together in a spectacular fashion. I don't know how many scenes there were in this that fiddled with my emotions, but there are A LOT.

In Sense8 the characters actually trump the world-building and the visuals, which is impressive because the Wachowski's are huge world builders and rely upon some amazing visuals in everything they do. Is it a masterpiece? At this point (and with my Magic 8 Ball at the ready) signs are pointing to yes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Secret Millionaires Club is something I wish I had access to when I was a teen

Did you know that super investor Warren Buffett is featured in an animated series as a mentor to a group of entrepreneurial kids? If you're shaking your head "no" then you (much like me) should go and check out the site for the Secret Millionaire's Club located HERE. I think that this is fantastic. Kids these days don't get enough financial education from school, and this program seeks to fill in the gaps. Good decision making, some of the basic lessons of starting a business, and understanding money are keys to master for any adult wanting to make it in the world today. And it's all free courtesy of these webisodes. I think it's safe to say (for me) that Secret Millionaires Club is something I wish I had access to when I was a teen. But let's face it, there are plenty of adults these days that could learn a thing or two from these webisodes on managing their own finances.

Monday, June 22, 2015

I have a wishlist for Star Wars Rebels but the second season opener really got my attention

Star Wars Rebels is off to a great start for its second season. Years ago when I was in college (this would have been around 1990 or so), I was involved with the Star Wars RPG put out by West End Games. At the time, I mostly ran these modules for my players (put out by West End) and some of them were really well done. They all had the Ralph McQuarrie artwork on the covers and I modified some of them to feature "run ins" with the big bad himself, a.k.a. Darth Vader (always with an escape in mind because no one can really defeat Vader except Luke). I always expressed to my players that the money behind Star Wars really missed an opportunity by not featuring a television series that occurs in the time period between Episode IV and Episode VI by following the escapades of another group of rebels. I'm glad to see that almost thirty years after I had that idea, that an animated series is doing just that.

Star Wars Rebels is fun. We all know that Vader cannot be taken down by anyone but Luke, and we all know how much of a badass he really is. But that doesn't mean other stories can't rely upon his huge shadow to throw darkness and dread over everything. And having a common enemy to fight against really brings out the best in people, which is another reason why Star Wars Rebels really works for me.

Anyway, here's my wishlist for the second season. First off, I want to know more about Ahsoka Tano's involvement in the rebel alliance. I also want her to have some kind of standoff with Vader wherein (hopefully) she shows him that she's pretty powerful, and that he should fear her just a wee bit. That would be really cool. Second, I want some more aliens. Star Wars is known for its alien worlds, and I really think they've been kind of lazy giving us truly alien worlds so far in this animated series. One of the best episodes from the Clone Wars featured Anakin meeting this sister and brother combo that were embodiments of the Force itself (which came across as kind of magical and wizardly). It was really interesting. I'd like to see some more of things like that. Finally, I want to see some "Mission: Impossible" style episodes where Ezra's crew does some pretty spectacular things for the Rebel Alliance. Ideas like stealing new ship plans from the corporation that makes the tie-fighters or encountering spooky dangerous aliens from another part of the universe outside the galaxy on a derelict ship (cue music from Alien) could work really well. How about giving us some force vampires? Wouldn't that be interesting?

So if you are a fan of Star Wars, and you watch Star Wars Rebels, do you have a wishlist? If so, what's on it? I'd like to know.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Defiance is one of those shows that believes killing your darlings makes for visceral television. I suppose they are not wrong.

Here's your one and only spoiler alert because I really want to talk about all those deaths on SyFy's Defiance last week.

As you may or may not know, the two-hour season three premiere of Defiance came out swinging, and by that, I mean some characters I kind of liked ended up dead. Up to this point, I thought that "most" of the major characters would be safe since the only real death that bothered me occurred in season one when Stahma killed Kenya (Amanda's sister). And to once again get this out of the way, I'm really beginning to hate how George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones has seemed to influence everything in the genre these days. Must we kill our darlings? Must we? Is this the only way a story can resonate with us these days?

To say I wasn't expecting the McCawley family to become the Stark family of the show is an understatement. But within pretty much the span of an hour, Quentin, Christie, and Rafe were killed in a way that almost seemed callous. Rafe found within himself this badass "well of strength" and started taking out the villains that were holding his daughter (who had just given birth) imprisoned. I thought, "Yeah...Rafe is awesome" as he's knifing people in the back and then grabbing their gun and killing like three or four more. And then he gets into the room, grabs his daughter's hand to take her out of there, and gets shot dead as more reinforcements flow in from outside.

What the hell? And then Christie gets her throat cut by Stahma because Stahma is given this impossible choice between choosing Christie or choosing Datak (Stahma's husband). In the end, Stahma Tarr makes the only choice and kills Christie violently with a knife if only to solidify that she's on General Rahm Tahk's side (the villain causing all of this bloodshed) so that she can bide her time until at some point in the future, the Tarr's can kill all of these horrible people. Defiance, much like Game of Thrones, doesn't have any real heroes. Instead it gives us these deeply flawed and unlikeable antiheroes that are all differing degrees of terrible. With Christie's death, Stahma is officially a mass murderer but I guess if we can get her to kill the right kind of evil people it's not so bad, right? Then she will be the "right kind of terrible."

The only McCawley that survives is Pilar who's played by the veteran actress, Linda Hamilton. I've always liked Hamilton, and she certainly plays a tough protective grandma who ends up kidnapping her grandchild from the now widowed Alak (the baby's father and Christie's husband). I suppose it bears to mention that Hamilton doesn't need the paycheck from Defiance because she had a very public divorce from director James Cameron post-Titanic (Titanic made a ton of money). So you know she's just doing this role because it's fun and she likes the series.

And then there was that "questionable" moment where Doc Yewll got skinned/flayed similar to how Ramsay Bolton goes about flaying his victims. What makes it even worse is that Doc Yewll didn't get a choice, as Amanda and Nolan corner her so that this new character (who is an Omec and who has contempt for Doc Yewll's entire race) can harvest cells that will save his dying daughter (who got herself in the position of dying by being a terrible person). Sure, there's the whole "hook" thing about getting power restored to Defiance (which is the name of New St. Louis) because these Omec have great technologies capable of harvesting their direly needed power source from the old McCawley mines. However, the whole skin harvesting thing really does come across as a rape, and it was very disturbing to watch.

All in all, Defiance is really off to a roaring start because it launched so many potential future story arcs. It's going to be fun to watch the Tarrs exact revenge on Rahm Tahk for killing the McCawley's. In Stahma's words (it could have been Datak that said it), "I may not have liked the McCawleys because they were human, but they were OUR humans." I think when revenge for having to kill Christie finally rolls around, Rahm Tahk's death is going to be pretty sweet. So I guess my Friday nights are now going to be a little funner (especially with SyFy's new lineup of shows). Are any of you watching?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Is the Fitbit IPO too late to the party or is it the next Tesla?

Fitbit is going public on Thursday. As a tech IPO, it has one of the best balance sheets Wall Street has seen in years, because it's actually profitable. I know that sounds funny to those of you out there that don't invest, but there are a lot of companies that have gone public that don't make money (here's looking at you twitter...) And it should also worry you just a wee bit.

I've been seeing the Fitbit wristbands everywhere except maybe on my own wrist. I guess I'm just not in the mood to get very "fit." But I am interested in these kinds of things, and I wonder what the shelf life for Fitbit actually is. I mean, technology lives and dies seemingly within a year (anyone remember the Zune?). Apple has the Apple Watch now which does everything that the Fitbit does. And well, it's Apple, which is a juggernaut in anything it dips its fingers into.

I wonder if Fitbit will end up being like Motorolla. Motorolla was the pre-eminent manufacturer of cell phones in the late 90's. I remember the flip-style phone called the Motorolla Razor, which everyone just had to have because it was so thin. Then Apple put out its iPhone and destroyed Nokia, Motorolla, and Blackberry like they were nothing.

Maybe Fitbit will survive among those who just hate Apple and/or who don't want to spend all the money to procure an Apple Watch. In that case, my prediction for the stock will be for it to go public, quickly double before trade even opens up, and then the founders of the company (once the moratorium on selling stock passes) will be able to sell all their stock dumping it out onto the market to make themselves billionaires. And then Fitbit will slowly decline as people realize all the smart money pumped and dumped and then fled a sinking ship.

As a side note I wish I could come up with an idea, go public with it, and then get all my money out of it by dumping it on unsuspecting investors before it goes bust. Sure, I'd be a sleazeball capitalist, but I really wouldn't care driving around in my 30 sports cars.

But I could always be wrong. Anyone else own a Fitbit and care to educate me differently on how awesome it is and how it will be around for the next ten years? Only time will tell if the Fitbit IPO is the next Tesla, right?

Monday, June 15, 2015

With regard to that ending on Game of Thrones last night I don't think Jon Snow is permanently dead

Oh the cliffhangers and the endings. Everyone knows by now that Martin loves to kill off characters. Jon Snow died in A Dance With Dragons, and yes it happened at the end of the book. I was wondering if the show was going to end there and sure enough it did. But here's why I think Jon Snow's death is going to be different than all of the other deaths in the show:
1) The men of the night's watch swear vows, and the only thing that can release them is death. During burial, the men of the night's watch send off a brother by saying the words, "...and now his watch is ended." Jon Snow was Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and not Stannis Baratheon or anyone else was going to cause him to derail his vows. The only reason he allowed himself to deviate from them with Ygritte was because he was trying to blend in as a wildling so he could get close to Mance Raydar. With his death, he is released from the vows and free to be king if he could just come back from the dead.

2) And about that pesky "death" thing...Melisandre of Ashai is probably going to resurrect Jon. Earlier in the series, they came across another priest of R'hllor named Thoros who had the ability to resurrect Beric Dondarrion over and over. These two priests are powerful and admittedly, they see the practice of their religion in entirely different light. However, their magic comes from the same source, a.k.a., the Lord of Light, and I think Melisandre is going to raise Jon so that he can become "Azor Ahai Reborn."

3) Azor Ahai Reborn comes from a prophecy that is told to us through the lips of Melisandre. She says, "I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R'hllor shows me only snow." Hmm. That's interesting, don't you think?

4) The smartass author George R.R. Martin responded to a question about Jon Snow with this remark: "Oh you think he's dead do you?" I think this pretty much means that the character is going to come back with a vengeance.

5) The rumor mill on the internet says that Kit Harrington's contract has been renewed for seasons 6 and 7 (the last season). Hmm. I wonder why they would do that?

Sure, it's just a theory, but do any of you who've read the books and saw last night's episode actually believe that Jon Snow is dead and joins the rest of the "dead" characters littering the series? I think Martin's going for a twist here. By now we expect characters to die. It's time we saw one survive.