Thursday, October 31, 2013

Zombies with flesh falling from their ancient bones assaulting an old New Orleans mansion filled with witches is just plain awesome.

In glorious Halloween fashion, American Horror Story: Coven unveiled its best episode yet last night, and it truly makes me want to write a story about wicked witches. This season has been great. For those of you who don't know, American Horror Story starts and finishes a story arc within each season. They reuse the actors and actresses from the prior season, but the stories are completely unrelated. The first season was a haunted house set in the present. The second season was an asylum set in the 1960's. And the third is in New Orleans at an academy for young witches.

In Coven, New Orleans has been divided in half between two witch clans much like gangs would work out territorial boundaries among themselves in modern day Los Angeles. The "colored" witches as they are referred to in the show follow Marie Lavaeu who we now know is capable of granting immortality, eternal youth, and has the power to raise an army of zombies. She's essentially two-hundred (or more) years old and signed a truce with the former "Supreme" of the other witch clan so that they'd stop warring with each other.
Jessica Lange plays Fiona "the Supreme" in American Horror Story: Coven
The other clan of witches has a council, is mostly made up of white folks, and is led by a witch (the Supreme) who manifests an incredible amount of powers. Jessica Lange fulfills this role quite nicely and honestly she still gets the best lines. The one that caught my ear last night happened while she dressed in front of a mirror for Halloween and finished by donning a pointy black hat and said, ""Tonight I'm going to let the whole world in and get a good look at me. Who's the baddest witch in town?"
The council of witches. They've come to New Orleans to bring Fiona to justice. It's gonna get interesting.
I really like where this season is going. It looks like there's a war brewing between witch clans as the truce worked out between Marie Laveau and the former "Supreme" has been shattered by Fiona. I expect the fireworks to be impressive because Fiona seems to wield the more "in your face" powers like powerful telekinesis and the ability to manipulate fire while the Voodoo clan of witches has the power to create monsters. And lets face it, no horror story is good without some monsters. And zombies with flesh falling from their ancient bones assaulting an old New Orleans mansion filled with witches is just plain awesome.

I can't wait for next week and it actually makes me excited to know that the show creator, Ryan Murphy, is pushing to make this season spinoff into its own series. It's easily, the best one yet. So yeah, witches rule. But you women out there probably already knew that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

At least Microsoft could pay for original music in their commercial for the Surface 2 which is more than I can say for X-Men: Days of Future Past

Originality from the American film industry is a horse that died long ago and yet they're still beating on its corpse.

The song titled Adagio in D Minor is brilliant. However, I can't tell you how utterly sick I am at hearing the musical score pop up in movie trailer after movie trailer. Yeah, it was in last year's City of Bones trailer that came out (I think) in November 2012. Now it's in the newest movie trailer for X-Men: Days of Future Past. Here's what I'd say to the marketing departments who make these trailers if I could give them a piece of my mind:

With Hollywood actresses and actors making so much money and films costing millions and millions of dollars, why on Earth can't you come up with an original score of your own? Why must you rob the same soundtrack as others have done for the last five years? I hear Danny Elfman writes music. Are you so cheap that you can't just go and get him to write something for your movie and then use it for your trailer? The Walking Dead has its own musical score and that's a television show. Maybe everyone is right when they say "television is now better than the movies."

To those of you who out there reading my words with no clue as to why I'm in a rage about this, just have a listen. Below is the original music score for Sunshine. It's impressive, and it appeared in this relatively low-budget sci-fi movie's trailer. When I first heard it, I loved it. But I guess SO DID EVERY OTHER FREAKING PERSON ON THE PLANET. NOTE: you may have to advance to about 40 seconds in to get the full effect of the music.

Now listen to the horrible Mortal Instruments...

And compare it to the X-Men trailer for the movie coming out soon...

And then give a hearty listen to The Adjustment Bureau at about 1:35.

And guys, this is seriously just four trailers I could pluck out of thin air in a fit of frustration at hearing the soundtrack yet again from a studio that should know better.

Is there no more originality in this world? Does anyone even care? Disney, you own Marvel and Pixar and Star Wars! You have billions upon billions upon billions of dollars in your cash hoard. You have Elton John, John Williams, and former Mouseketeer's Britney Spears and tongue waggin' Miley Cyrus on speed dial. Are you seriously expecting me to believe that you could find no one to score your more than two minute X-Men: Days of Future Past trailer? Literally, all of my emotions can be summed up in this one picture:
Here's a listen to the Microsoft ad I've been seeing on television. At least Microsoft could pay for original music in their commercial for the Surface 2, and it actually sounds good.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Is S by J.J. Abrams the One Ring for nerds or is it just the biggest money grab in literature for this Christmas Season?

The book called simply "S" written by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. If you've never heard of it until today,
then maybe you're a narcissist and should look beyond yourself once in a while. The world isn't always
about you, you know? :).
I have to admit, the marketing behind "S" is unabashedly cool. The book trailer is perhaps one of the finest ever produced (embedded below and with over 2 million views), which is worthy of the likes of someone who makes his living pleasing nerds with special effect laden extravaganzas featuring edgy and compelling stories. For one, "S" is only one letter. Anyone that hears it that's not in the know instantly asks..."What do you mean? Is that a book?" Why yes it is. And second, it comes in a beautiful black slipcover: a distinguishing trait usually reserved for only the most successful authors after a career of writing best sellers. But J.J. doesn't need to be known as a writer who sells books. These days, authors dream of only Hollywood. Having someone that's already conquered Hollywood turn to the arguably banal medium of print is something that the editors of the Big Houses would fall over themselves to acquire. So yeah, it received the best treatment possible.
So whether you're a fan or not, Director of Star Trek, Director of Star Wars, science-fiction front man are all titles that J.J. Abrams can lay claim to. And starting today, he can add "novelist" to his list. As writers, we should all admire J.J. Abrams for the king-sized storyteller that he really is. And even catching his eye for a moment with anything we've written might be the single greatest moment in any fiction writer's career (and that's saying a lot since your career could last forty years or more). Imagine a nod from the likes of J.J. Abrams: it would give you bragging rights for decades. As a sixty year-old you could say, "J.J. Abrams once entertained making one of my stories into a short film. Alas it fell through, but I was this close." People would still congratulate you because J.J. is that BIG of a deal.

So am I going to buy "S"?
A new book designed to look like a well-used old book. Interesting, eh?
I love the idea of the margin notes. All the interesting stuff is always in the
margins. I learned that from medieval scriveners who filled the margins of
sacred texts with all kinds of thought provoking eye candy.
I don't know. I haven't yet. But I feel a really strong compulsion to go to Barnes and Noble first thing after work and pick up a copy. And I'm not really sure why, because (other than being written by J.J. Abrams) it really is more of a conversation piece than a manifesto of all things so impossibly cool that they cannot be spoken (much like Voldemort's name). For example, I could totally see myself going to my dinner group, whipping it out, and instantly being crowned "King Nerd" by saying, "OMG HAVE YOU GUYS GOT J.J.'S NEW BOOK YET? IT'S FRICKIN' AWESOME!" and then holding it up as if we were all transported to Middle Earth, and I'd just found the One Ring. The best fun would be showing all the cool scribbles in the margins, but not letting people get too close a look because (let's face it) knowledge is power. It could even be great flipping through the pages and laughing out loud with the intent to annoy those who don't have a copy of the book. Puerile? So what. Men can be very childish. Just look at congress and you'll find a whole group of children holding their breath when they don't get their way.

So what's in this book that has a title only one letter long?

Not many people know, and that's just like J.J., is it not? That's the hook that brings you back. That's why LOST was so successful. He's a master of withholding information and frustrating people. A review posted on USA Today said it was filled with paranoia, conspiracy theory, love, and mystery. But there's also (apparently) way too much going on in the narrative (another J.J. trait).

For the bargain savvy book hunter looking for an excuse, "S" has two books in one! The reason for this is that Mr. Abrams wanted "S" to be a celebration of "the book as an object." To elaborate, here's a bit from an expose printed in The New York Times:
Inside a black slipcover stamped with the title, there’s an old library edition of a novel titled “Ship of Theseus,” published in 1949 by a certain V. M. Straka. The author and novel are the fictional creations of Mr. Abrams and Mr. Dorst, but the book’s edge-worn spine, labeled with a faded Dewey decimal sticker, is scuffed, and its corners dented. In used-book selling parlance, the condition of “Ship of Theseus” might be rated “good,” were it not for the tens of thousands of words tattooed in the margins of its yellowed pages by at least two different hands, both in pencil-lead gray and a riot of inks: black, blue, red, orange, purple and green.
Tucked among the pages, readers will find handwritten letters and notes, a college newspaper clipping, a purple mimeographed telegram, photocopied book pages, postcards, an old photograph, a map scrawled on a coffee shop napkin, and even a throwback decoder ring.
So basically, the fun of "S" is having the book itself; to physically hold it and stroke its cover saying, "My preciousss." Okay, maybe that goes a bit far, but you get the picture. I guess I have only one question: Is S by J.J. Abrams the One Ring for nerds, or is it just the biggest money grab in literature for this Christmas season? Ultimately and somewhat unfortunately, I think this is the "true" fun of "S": that it's going to make coffers overflow with coins (but they won't be your coffers). And who doesn't like the sound of a register ringing when you're the seller and not the buyer?

Well played J.J., well played.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Recreational drugs are bad but if you use them please don't participate on a panel for The Walking Dead. The Talking Dead cluster f*ck examined.

Last night's episode of Talking Dead, the talk show hosted by the Nerdist's own Chris Hardwick, had a panel of guests that included Marilyn Manson. This was a HUGE mistake. Within about five minutes, it was painfully obvious that Marilyn Manson was completely high on something. It was difficult to understand anything that came out of his mouth or to follow his logic which at times completely failed to connect with anything relevant to the show or just seemed so insane and discombobulated, you wondered where it was coming from. He'd say something that took two to three minutes to explain and the entire time you're trying to see the connection between Native Americans and colonization, World War Z, and the supposed role reversal of characters in the movie Training Day. Like made NO SENSE AT ALL.

Here, you try to make sense of these comments:
Marilyn Manson: "The Governor had strict rules, whether they were good or not. You know, it's our opinion morally or just questionably. Just Rick didn't have any hardcore rules, until now he's started with those three questions. So Rick is kind of realizing politics need to be involved. it's almost starting a new world. It's like when people came to American and killed all the Indians. It's the zombies."
Chris Hardwick in response: "No, it's not like that at all."

Marilyn Manson regarding Carol killing Karen and David: "I think she's trying to be judge and jury, while Rick is trying to be civil. And he's more let's all decide, but he fell apart. And so you've got someone like her, and she's burning those bodies. She's suddenly like a feminist Suffragette City burning bras. I don't think it was personal."
Chris Hardwick in response: "I don't know if burning bras is the same as burning human beings alive."
Marilyn Manson in response to Chris: "No, but I think the recklessness of it. She was just making decisions on her own emotions. She's mad about all the things in her life. Maybe she hasn't gotten laid in awhile. She's like menstruating. Who knows what's going on?"
Chris Hardwick in response: "I'm not sure if I support those last two theories."
Because it's a live show, they obviously couldn't get rid of him. And Chris Hardwick tried his best to mitigate the damage by talking over him and keeping the questions aimed at Jack Osbourne and Gale Anne Hurd. However, it made me think of how incredibly selfish "being high" and then participating on a panel happens to be. You've got legions of fans who watch this show and want to discuss topics like 1) what the hell is going on with Carol and why has she become a psychopath? and 2) who is the voice on the radio and does that mean there's another camp out there that's managed to not only hold off the zombies but has the ability to broadcast over the radio, and 3) do you think Carol would go all psychopathic on Daryl (given that she has love for Daryl) if he came down with everyone else's plague?

If I had paid money to see this panel (like at a Comic Con) I would seriously be pissed off.

Now, I don't think that a public appearance by a stoned Marilyn Manson on any show or in any place could possibly damage his music sales or his reputation. On the contrary, it might actually grow as groupies of his would flock to one of his interests, zombies, even if they already weren't fans of the show. However, how can you possibly have any kind of intelligent discussion on any topic, let alone zombie fiction, when one person is continuously interrupting with nothing relevant to say because their mind is basically shot?

I guess this is one thing I never thought about regarding drug use. Yeah, recreational drugs are bad, and I choose not to use them. But people that do use recreational drugs should also choose not to be dicks and try to carry on conversations with sober people.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Five visions of Hercules but Dwayne Johnson's is by far the coolest

I just saw this newly released picture of Dwayne Johnson clothed in the skin of the Nemean lion from his upcoming epic, Hercules (pictured immediately below) and it made me think, how many artists have tried to capture Hercules over the years? Beneath the set photo of "The Rock" in his role are a few of the artistic representations.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Greece's mythical hero.
Here's one called "The Drunken Hercules" by Peter Paul Reubens.
The Drunken Hercules
Hercules and Cerberus by Boris Vallejo
Walt Disney's version of Hercules
Hercules vs. the Hydra by Ken Barthelmey
So do you think Dwayne Johnson's version (top picture) is the best? I sure do. I'm actually getting excited to see this picture. I just hope it's better than Clash of the Titans. Dwayne sure is putting a lot of himself into this role. If you want to know more about what I think of Dwayne Johnson and read the Hercules film synopsis, click HERE.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Walking Dead Sing-Along of The Monster Mash is proof that zombies rule

Halloween's definitely getting closer, so here's more fun for you via "the editing room floor" from the first four seasons of The Walking Dead. Anyway, this Walking Dead Sing-Along of The Monster Mash is proof that zombies rule (and that whoever put this together is f'ing brilliant and may have some time on their hands). I showed it to a couple of friends already, and their consensus is that it's rather "juicy." So, if you don't like gore, it may not be something you want to watch. But what is Halloween without buckets of fake blood?

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hollywood's leading ladies dripping blood and just in time for Halloween

The artist who drew these is really good, but they definitely have a dark side. Want to play a game? You get 100 nerd points if you can name them all in the comments. Have a blood-tastic Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My friend Adam designs magnificent gifs using blender and you should check them out now

So, I've made a friend here in Salt Lake City, and he's a talented artist who works with some software called Blender (which is free). Here is one called "To Sail" that he showed me last night at dinner. If you think this gif is as awesome as I think it is, I encourage you to visit his tumblr by clicking HERE. You will not be disappointed :).
"To Sail by Adam Heath"
Have a marvelous Tuesday.

Monday, October 21, 2013

This season on the Walking Dead being stupid is the biggest challenge to overcome

Famous comics have long ripped horror movies for the stupid things that people do. In fact, being stupid got made fun of in Scream to great effect. Now, up until this point, the survivors on the Walking Dead have managed to keep "stupid" in check. That all changed once they assimilated the refugees from Woodbury, and it's driving me nuts.
Don't go off by yourself in the dark. When you hear a noise, tell others.
What follows is my list of "stupid" that I end up screaming at the television in disbelief, hoping that somehow Carol, Rick, Darryl, Michonne, or Hershel will hear me. Just like (in a horror movie) you don't wander off by yourself into the darkness with no weapon, there are things that people shouldn't be doing in this world if they want to survive.

1) In the first episode of season 4, Carol is teaching kids how to use weapons during story time without telling their parents. This is wrong and stupid of Carol. She shouldn't be doing this without letting everyone at the prison know. Additionally, when a child tells you he's sick and going to puke, you go and find the person that has the most medical knowledge to see if it's something serious. You don't just let them go off and "sleep off the sickness" in the hopes that it gets better especially in tight quarters.

2) Staying in a prison and not using the doors to your cell to keep you safe at night is just dumb. Lock yourself in at night. Also, don't sleep with anyone else. If they die in the middle of the night from natural causes, they could start gnawing on your leg.

3) Going anywhere without a weapon. Tyrese's girlfriend went into the latrine area with only her flashlight at night. That's really stupid. Everyone should have at least a knife on them at all times. And if you hear a noise, you alert everyone and not just go off to investigate it by yourself.

4) When the pig died why didn't you have the veterinarian, Hershel, figure out why? He's a vet for Pete's sake. Use your resources. Not doing so is just stupid. And then killing the little pigs you were raising because you fear they might have some sickness that spread to humans without proof is also stupid.
Cull the zombies at the fences. Do it eight hours a day if you need to.
5) Why on earth are they not actively culling the zombies? In season three we had a whole episode where Morgan showed how it was done. Barricades, trenches filled with spikes, barbed wire and boobie traps...all of these things should be set up outside the line of prison walls to help cull the zombies.

6) Zombies shouldn't be allowed to press on any portion of the fence. The survivors and everyone inside should work eight hour shifts at the gate killing the zombies that press up against the chain link fence.

7) They should be actively washing clothes, maintaining levels of hygiene, and going on runs into town to find anti-bacterial soaps, cleaners, and anything that will keep diseases in check. Water should all be treated with chlorine pills, etc.

8) Stop lighting fires with gasoline. It's a precious resource. Rick started to burn the pig pen down with gas when there was straw right there! Why didn't he grab the straw, use that to start a fire, and then burn the pig pen down? It's stupid!

It's very frustrating watching season 4. Don't get me wrong, two episodes in I'm still a huge fan. I'm just frustrated at how this season, "stupid" seems to be the most dangerous challenge in the world, and it will probably lead to their undoing. Ay carajo.


Today is Writers 4 Writers. Please visit Alex Cavanaugh and Isis Rushdan and send out a tweet to help them promote their novels!

Friday, October 18, 2013

These three authors would have you believe that writing every day is a myth.

These three authors would have you believe that writing every day is an urban writer myth:
George R.R. Martin. The famous author of A Song of Ice and Fire has anxiety about the HBO TV series passing the point where he is in the writing of the story. He said that he felt like he was "bound to train tracks and could see smoke wafting," though he can't yet see the train. To be honest, George is so slow, so easily distracted, and so unhealthy the likelihood of him not finishing the series is the same as the sun rising in the east.
Thomas Harris. An American author and screenwriter that's managed to produce five books in forty years (Black Sunday, Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, Hannibal Rising). That's about one book every ten years. If he's writing every day, it's one word and then...done. Time to get lunch.
Harper Lee. She wrote one book: To Kill A Mockingbird. Ayep...that's it.

So yeah, why do so many writers listen to the mantra "To be called a writer, you should write every day?" It's pretty much hokum. That's my point and I'm sticking to it. Have a good weekend you nano-wrimo preppers out there!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

All your favorite vampires from fiction gathered in one place

Illustrator Matthew Griffin put together this fabulous poster to celebrate Bram Stoker just in time for Halloween. It's all your favorite vampires from fiction gathered in one place. And yes, Alex, it features your favorite vixen from "Underworld" in tight black leather. As a side note, I totally want one of these, framed, and on the wall of my apartment. So cool.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Wednesday in October means we get Toy Story of Terror!

Wednesday in October means we get TOY STORY OF TERROR! Seriously guys, I'm excited for this Halloween special. I love all things Pixar and can't wait to see it. Here's a trailer for you, and let me know what you think after you watch it tonight. All I gotta say is, it has to "out do" Charlie Brown. And I think we could all use a little humor given how our government is completely dysfunctional and is ruining our lives. Have a great day and remember, ghosts aren't real. Woody said it, so it must be true.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

In Star Wars does the Rule of Two make it difficult to come up with original stories?

In the Star Wars universe, does the Rule of Two make it difficult to come up with original stories? So that you can consider this question with the proper nerd cred, the "Rule of Two" denotes that there can only be one Sith Master and their apprentice. In the Clone Wars cartoon series, Count Dooku was Sidious' apprentice. But there was a need for another "Sith-type" so that they could harass the heroes in plots outside the six Lucasfilm movies. This "Sith-type" needed to be able to withstand the powers of the Jedi, not be easily vanquished (unlike droids), and able to be killed off if necessary (and not affect the movies). Oh yeah, and they can't be full-fledged "Sith" because the Rule of Two constrains that.

The series couldn't use Count Dooku too much, because we all see him die in Revenge of the Sith. So it became necessary for writers to create an apprentice who would go around and do all of his dirty work while he spent time keeping the droid armies and the trade federation in line. So that's when they created Asajj Ventress who became his acolyte and assassin. But the writers skirted the whole "Rule of Two" by saying Dooku would only impart Dark Side training to her, but not actual Sith Teachings. Essentially, what got created are two different things (not to mention an "out" for future writers which can seem a bit cheesy).

So is the "Rule of Two" a smart idea? In the end, Star Wars is a franchise that exists to make money. To restrict the existence of other Sith yet allow as many Jedi to exist as possible seems counterproductive to me. Villains drive the Star Wars storyline; without them there is no story. One could argue that the Rule of Two governs and endorses self interest while tightly controlling overreaching ambition. The Order of the Jedi supports this premise because it decayed from the inside as each started to formulate conflicting ideologies. Think of Qui-Gon Jinn for example.

However, it can also be argued that Ventress and anyone like her that uses the force to do evil yet does not bear the title of "Sith" becomes a massive narrative "cop-out." It's easy to say that when Ventress was created/introduced, the Rule of Two got ignored because now you can have two Sith and an infinite number of things that are "almost Sith" but fundamentally, the viewer is never going to be able to tell you what the difference is. They all wield red lightsabers, look menacing, and dress in black.

Star Wars Rebels just released a glimpse of their very first villain and the picture is included below. Yeah, the new villain dresses in black. Yeah, the new villain has a pair of red lightsabers and looks really badass. According to the New York Comic-Con panel where the character was introduced, the Inquisitor's job is to track down the remaining Jedi Knights left alive after Order 66. However, the Inquisitor is not a Sith. He's an "almost Sith" just like Ventress. Is that just another "cop-out?"
I guess in the end, I won't care and still watch the series on Disney. In fact I'm excited by it. I do hope that Ahsoka Tano comes back. She won't be a "Jedi" technically so I guess that makes her exist outside the whole "all Jedi are dead" thing too.

It just makes me ask, what's in a name anyway? In a universe of "almost Jedi" and "almost Sith" was there ever really a crisis of not finding a teacher or preserving the mystical history of the Force? I know, important questions all, right? ;P  Have a great Tuesday.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rick Grimes says Come With Me and Walk the Longest Mile

In this painting by MiseryCannotBeDead Rick Grimes is saying "Come with me and walk the longest mile." It gives me chills, but huzzah, The Walking Dead is back! After last night's episode, something tells me the survivors are in for their worst year yet. Life is hard. In the apocalypse, life appears to be impossible. A reminder to you that the season 4 webisodes are online, and I have to say they are creeptacular.
The Colt Python totally makes this picture.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A rebuttal to the Raiders Minimization episode of the Big Bang Theory

Amy's thoughts on Raiders of the Lost Ark caused Sheldon's jaw to drop. Here
she is closing his mouth, but he's still none too happy about her ruining his favorite movie.
Last night, The Big Bang Theory aired an episode called "The Raiders Minimization." Sheldon Cooper and girlfriend Amy Farrah Fowler finished watching the movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which it turns out is one of Sheldon's favorites. Amy "ruined" it for Sheldon by saying that Indiana Jones is completely unnecessary to the plot. "With or without Indiana Jones, the Nazis would have still gotten the ark, they still would have opened it, and they still would have gotten their faces melted off. He contributed nothing to the overall story."

It's an interesting premise, but as a writer, I immediately did not like what she was saying. And for a room of supposedly high IQ's, they should have seen this fallacy in Amy's argument. Allow me to explain through example. If Amy had been in my home and said this, my rebuttal would have been thus: "Without Indiana Jones, no one would have known about the story. Therefore he is actually the most important person to the plot. He's the active narrator."
Indiana Jones and Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark
There are many examples of this kind of storytelling. Moby Dick has a narrator called Ishmael who ends up being the only survivor after the white whale kills everyone. Raiders of the Lost Ark is the same kind of story. If you remove the narrator, Indiana Jones, then the whole story collapses because no one knows about it because no one survives to tell the tale. In other words, he's the point of view character through which we see everything. Even Marion couldn't have been a stand-in because had Indy not been around to save her, the Nazis would have killed her in Nepal and then taken the amulet for themselves.

So how do you like them apples, Amy Farrah Fowler? It looks like Raiders of the Lost Ark is not so minimal after all (and in my opinion) remains one of the great triumphs of fiction. I do have to admit though, that until Amy brought it up in last night's episode, I never realized that Indiana Jones is completely unnecessary to the ultimate outcome (and that is probably much closer to what she meant).

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A serious debate on whether dogs have brains

Okay guys...serious debate here. Do like...dogs have brains? You need to watch the video (brought to you via my good friend James Salmonsen who pointed this out).

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Today a woman becomes one of the most powerful people in the world. It's about time.

Today is going to be a special day that people should remember for a long time. It's widely expected that Janet Yellen will be nominated by Obama to replace Bernanke as the head of the Federal Reserve come January. When this happens, she will be the first woman to ever chair the Federal Reserve. And this also makes her (arguably) the most powerful policy-making person in the world.

Why would I say this? A single sentence from our present Federal Reserve Chairman earlier this year made the global market shed $3 trillion dollars in 24-hours. Yes, that's right. A single sentence. Even the president might need a couple of sentences to accomplish the same task. Perhaps even a whole paragraph. It's incredible to think of just how powerful that is. One misplaced adjective or adverb can make you lose money, can impact your retirement, can threaten the financial future of your entire family. If you don't live in the U.S. and think you're safe, you're dead wrong. The Nikkei, the Hang Seng, and other markets around the world always look to the U.S. for guidance. That's why we're a super power.

The Federal Reserve Chair is appointed by the president, but once that's done it operates pretty much independently of the executive branch. The Federal Reserve does what it wants to do and only has to answer to Congress. Financial markets reinforce the notion that the Fed chair is essentially "all-powerful." I personally think it's because of QE that the stock market hasn't totally cratered and dropped a thousand points in one day (with all the dysfunction in Washington). That's how powerful the central bank just happens to be.

So who is Janet Yellen? Well she's a real life Dumbledore only her weapon isn't a wand.

1) She has a PhD from Yale and her mentor was Nobel-Prize winning economist James Tobin.
2) She taught at Harvard for five years.
3) She married Nobel Prize winner George Akerlof (another economist).
4) She served as faculty at the London School of Economics for two years.
5) In 1980 she went to work at the University of California, Berkeley.
6) In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed her to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

In thinking about the strides that women have made recently with Nancy Pelosi becoming the first Speaker of the House, and with Marissa Meyer taking over Yahoo, and now Janet Yellen becoming the first female Federal Reserve Chairman, I have to ask...what's next?

You women out there might have me believe that we'll have a woman president on the horizon (I say that tongue-in-cheek of course). I guess only time will tell.

TL;DR: Today a woman becomes one of the most powerful people in the world. It's about time.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Once Upon A Time's Magic Vagina Hole

Sunday night's Once Upon A Time advertised the new branch off series Once Upon A Time in Wonderland using a most awkward "magic vagina hole." Seriously, does anyone even look at these things before they're broadcast to millions of people? As in placement on a screen? In any event, many lulz have resulted which makes me happy.
Have a great Tuesday. And mindful of strange holes that lead to other universes.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Is Red in the Blacklist the latest incarnation of Hannibal Lecter?

Despite writing only a few books, Thomas Harris (the writer of Red Dragon, Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal) has impacted fiction for decades. More specifically, the character dynamic of the anti-hero as the modern criminal mastermind that likes to play quid pro quo with the incredibly beautiful and smart rookie agent has been used almost to the point of being cliche. I say "almost" because despite my ability to spot this trope whenever it rears its ugly head, when a storyline takes the time to reinvent it, I'm on the hook. And that's exactly what NBC is doing with The Blacklist.

We are introduced to the characters of "Red" and "Liz" in the pilot episode in total Thomas Harris fashion. Red is a super brilliant criminal mastermind who has better intelligence than the top chiefs at the F.B.I. (this is "the skinny" on the scariest people you hope to never cross paths with) and in a nod to the character of Hannibal Lecter, he will only share his knowledge with rookie agent Elizabeth Keen on her first day at work.

"Tell me about the scar on your hand..." Red says to Elizabeth. Well if she doesn't tell him, he's not going to cooperate. That's just the way these quid pro quo things work. So our hero Elizabeth gives Red what he wants by revealing one small layer about herself. And of course, James Spader then tells her what she wants to know regarding a master criminal who is going to abduct a little girl and set her to explode at the D.C. national zoo.
Megan Boone and James Spader
The clever dialogue of the series more than likely hinges on the psychology involved in profiling villains and their motives. Like Clarice Starling (whom we first came to know in Silence of the Lambs) Elizabeth is also a graduate of Quantico and possesses a degree in forensic psychology. In an interesting scene with the FBI Director, she is asked to profile herself. When he informs her that he's read her resume and doesn't need her to just vomit that back upon his desk, she gets personal in a way that I know I probably couldn't do and manages to seal the deal that she's the right person to be working with Red. One thing I like to do when watching shows like this is to think of how predictable we are in reality? Could my psychology be profiled? Could I (a reasonable human male) get caught up in unreasonable yet predictable psychological behavior? Have you ever heard of the $500.00 $20.00 bill?

Here's how it works:
I have a $20 bill. I'll sell it to you for whatever you want. Bidding starts at $1 and moves in $1 increments.
But there's a catch. Other people get to bid on this $20 bill. If someone outbids you and you throw in the towel, you still have to pay me your final bid. You get nothing in return.
How much are you willing to pay for my $20 bill?
Psychologists have been conducting this experiment for years, usually on students. It always goes the same way. People get excited at first at the prospect of bidding $1, or $5, or $10, for a $20 bill. It's free money. At around $17 or $18, a bidding war arises between two players who realize they could end up having to pay a lot of money for nothing in return. Not wanting to lose, they each bid higher and higher.
Eventually, someone bids $21 for a $20 bill -- which actually makes sense, because at that price the winner loses $1 while the loser is out $20.
Things blow up from there. The bidding war becomes a fight to lose the least, rather than to win the most. And as psychologists know, people hate losing more than they enjoy winning. It's called loss aversion, and it pushes bids for a $20 bill to absurd heights.
Wharton management professor Adam Grant, who plays this game in consulting sessions, says a military officer once paid close to $500 for a $20 bill. Harvard Business School professor Max Bazerman claims to have earned $17,000 auctioning $20 bills to his students, with at least one student paying $204 for a $20 bill.
The psychology of the above irrational example of human greed, the desire to get a bargain, and to not be the one that ends up getting screwed financially is simply a part of human nature. My conclusion then to the questions I posed before the above example is yes, I may think of myself as a reasonable human being but in the end I'm as easily profiled as the next guy. I think all of us secretly know this, and that's why characters in fiction that are smart and able to figure out the motivations and goals of villains are worthy of our attention.

There is one thing that somewhat bothers me about The Blacklist: I don't like how Red is such a direct clone of Hannibal with regard to his snobbiness. He loves surpassing luxury, fine dining, good music, and fine wine. He dresses impeccably, treats people with respect (if they show him respect), and is obviously quite taken with himself in being the smartest one around. I think I would have preferred that they shatter this cliche just a wee bit, but seeing as I cannot afford the lifestyle that Red so readily demands, it will in the least be a window into the decadence of the 1%. This is something that Americans and Hollywood never grow tired of showing us. There are probably dozens of shows on television that feature yachts, expensive cars, jet-setting characters to remote locations of our world, and the finest clothes money can buy.

All in all, I enjoyed the pilot of The Blacklist, but I have to say that I'm more curious as to how they will change the Hannibal Lecter character in this new reincarnation played by James Spader. He's obviously not a murderer or a cannibal. That is refreshing. I wonder if he'll go from being FBI's most wanted in the first episode, to occupying a crucial and trusted position working with the good guys. Is that kind of redemption even possible in real life? I'd best not ask those kinds of questions because the answer is probably far more mundane and obviously less interesting.

Friday, October 4, 2013

These Batman Sengoku era images could belong in any home right next to the fine China

Artist Scott Wade is selling prints of some fabulous Sengoku Batman images. For those of you not in the know, "Sengoku" refers to a period in Japanese history referred to as the "Warring States Period." As its name implies, during this time Japan was embroiled in nearly constant social upheaval, political intrigue, and constant military conflict. It lasted for two-hundred years (between the 15th and 17th centuries) and eventually led to the unification of political power under the Tokugawa Shogunate. A lot of beautiful silk screen art pieces such as the one below are typical of this era:
Being half-Japanese, I love Japanese artwork and have a few prints and silk screens in my home. However, I'd love to get some of the following Batman prints simply because they're both beautiful and show that special geekiness that is "oh so me."

In a gist, these Batman Sengoku era images could belong in any home right next to the fine China. Wouldn't that be a cool dinner conversation? Have a great weekend.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Samuel L Jackson reprising his role as Nick Fury in Agents of Shield proves how Disney and Marvel can make the impossible possible.

The cameo of Samuel L. Jackson reprising his role as Nick Fury in last night's Agents of Shield just proves how Disney and Marvel can make the impossible possible.

When I make this statement, I'm talking about continuity. The ability to pull together an actual superhero universe and not have to go looking for new actors and actresses every time they need to cast a character. As one caveat, I would never have thought what they did to bring the Avengers to life could have been done. I mean...come on. Make an Iron Man movie, a Captain America movie, a Thor movie, and then intertwine them with the stars from each to balance one huge blockbuster? That just makes me shake my head. I think it's lucky if a director can keep the same actors together for a trilogy, much less an entire universe of films spanning half a decade, different writers, and different directors. Usually something happens--a death, an actor dispute, a director quitting in rage, an artist expressing personal license--to screw that up in the years that it takes to film such a project. Harry Potter had to recast Dumbledore and Hogwarts always looked different to me (that's just one example). How many times has Batman been recast before Christopher Nolan stepped in to put a stop to the madness?

Somehow, Marvel with the bottomless pockets of Disney seems to be able to bring back the same actors and actresses with a higher chance of success than I have observed anywhere else. They even get the girlfriends right (Natalie Portman as Thor's girlfriend for the sequel, Thor: The Dark World). Not even Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg could manage that feat with the Back to the Future sequels.

But is money the deciding factor here? Is the reason why we get different actors and actresses standing in for characters in sequels all related to the pocketbook? Or is Disney/Marvel just incredibly lucky? Whatever the answer may be, I like it. And I see it will be no different with Whedon's Agents of Shield and that makes me happy. If Iron Man, Captain America, or Red Skull (for example) are ever called upon, I'm going to expect Robert Downey, Chris Evans, or Hugo Weaving. If we need to see Black Widow, let's celebrate Scarlett Johansson's return to television.

Bravo Disney! Bravo Marvel! I salute you on your ability to avoid breaking my suspension of disbelief. Casting a new actor in an old role is as jarring to me as coming across blatant spelling errors and grammar errors when caught up in a story that I'm reading. The machine Disney has created with its Marvel franchise is almost perfect. Sure, there are still some improvements to be made. However, I don't honestly believe any other company or individual could handle this better.

It makes me salivate in just thinking about what's coming down the pipe for Star Wars. If the Marvel movies are any indication, they will bring continuity to the Lucas legacy in every way possible. I'm thinking the same actor for Boba Fett as in the movies for just one example. Any "lesser" company would just cast whomever they want. But not Disney. They'll do it right. Are you listening D.C.? You could learn a thing or two from their efforts. Stop recasting Batman. Pay Christian Bale whatever he wants to come back. Don't ever recast Superman. If Marvel can do it, it's not impossible, and these characters which are beloved by everyone deserve the best treatment. If you can't do it, then stop making those films. Admit that you suck and just give up on making craptastic movies.

That is all.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

I don't like people telling me my work is unsatisfactory and that's just the truth

Yesterday, one of my coworkers was asked to make a sign that directed people outside for our Open House. He drew it on paper and was happily going to hang it on the wall for our event. Before this could happen though, I suggested that we try a different approach. I suggested a PowerPoint and using a large screen television that we have, connecting it with an HDMI cable to a laptop, and having this slide show direct people instead. My reasoning: it would look great and go with our agency's focus on using technology to solve problems.

My boss asked me, "How long would it take to set that up?"

I replied, "I can do it in ten minutes."

It actually took me around twenty to get everything set up, however I was happy with the result.

Well a little while later, I saw former co-worker on the floor in the hallway modifying my PowerPoint presentation. He basically said it wasn't satisfactory and felt the need to change it without even asking me if that would be okay.

I know this isn't a big deal, but this is the same guy that a little while before would have been happy to tape a scribbled piece of paper on the wall directing people outside. So yeah, he felt the need to "edit" my work. I have to say, I was a little miffed.

Conclusion: I don't like people telling me my work is unsatisfactory or "this could be improved" unless I'm soliciting for an opinion. Maybe I'm a tad bit arrogant? I don't know, but my feelings on this made me acutely aware that I may have some issues with insecurity.

Here is my point: I think that I've come to the conclusion that I will never be secure in myself as a person or as a writer. With regard to this last part, i.e., my writing, I thought I'd grown relatively secure based off of my reaction to reviews. One stars no longer made me feel like I was some species of sub-human wasting my time at a typewriter pounding away at keys to tell a story that no one wanted to read in the first place. But I think that I was just lying to myself. What changed my mind you might ask? Joining a writer's group here in Utah.

We meet once a month on the second Thursday. My friend, Charlotte Louise Dolan (she writes Regency romance and is a well-respected author in the genre) hosts the group at her home. I discovered that when it came for me to read from something I wrote, that it raised my blood pressure, made me hot under the collar, and made every error leap off the page. It's like I was suddenly made aware of how abominably long a single page of prose happens to be. The sentences appeared to stretch on forever. I remember thinking "how could one person write this much?" and then realized...oh was easy.

If that's not a sign of insecurity, I don't know what is.

I don't know if a writer's group is for me, but I think I'm going to limit my exposure to reading stuff that I've written and putting it up for critique to about two pages per month. Everyone in the group is going to have an opinion, and I'm not sure if I like having all of those opinions resonating in my head. It's difficult for me to find my own voice again after hearing from other people how they think the story should go or how a character should act or whether an info dump needs to be cut, disseminated, or eliminated entirely. I hate info dumps too. About the only thing I know when I'm called out on my info dumps is that I need to do something about them. I guess my head is filled with big ideas, and I need to work on it or risk the dreaded "eye glaze."

Have any of you participated in writer groups? What do you do in order to get the most out of them without exposing too much of yourself to be cut open by sharp pens and eviscerating opinions? Or do you happily embrace flaws that people seem so ready to point out in something you've created? 

As for me, I've said it once and I'll say it again. I don't particularly like people telling me my work is unsatisfactory and that's just the truth. But it seems to happen all the time. The fact that I've not gone postal may be all the validation that I need to realize I've the chops to be a real writer. I guess the proof will emerge in the years to come.


The Insecure Writers Support Group is a monthly blog fest started by Amazon best selling science-fiction author Alex J. Cavanaugh.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

This two-minute short will make you believe the world is ready for a Wonder Woman movie

Click to Embiggen
I own the above issue that came out in the eighties. If you can't tell, it's Wonder Woman #1 featuring a full reboot complete with origin story of the iconic character. I mostly bought it because George Perez moved from The New Titans to launch Wonder Woman and give the character the sendoff she deserved (Perez is my favorite comic book artist).

What led me to this little rant today is a post I found on io9, which caught my eye. It was a two-minute short created by amateurs featuring Wonder Woman (albeit with some artistic license), and I absolutely loved it. This makes me question, why hasn't Wonder Woman been greenlit for her own movie? They gave one to Green Lantern (which still makes me cringe) and Wonder Woman's origin story is way better than Green Lantern's. Just look for yourself at the above spread. Doesn't that panel just hint at the awesomeness contained within? You have Hercules holding Diana in chains (where her bracers that deflect bullets and her strength come from) not to mention all of her other cool magic items. In a nutshell, this origin story is pretty darn amazing.

It's immersed in Greek mythology. You can't tell me that Greek mythology doesn't make money, because it totally does. Think of Percy Jackson and all of his adventures. Want another example? How about the two Clash of the Titans remakes. Sure they're terrible, but they ring the register every single time.

This two-minute short will make you believe the world is ready for a Wonder Woman movie. Please watch it. You won't regret it.