Monday, March 31, 2014

Da Vinci's Demon's Blood of Brothers shows us how Big Talk can turn the tide on anyone

Lorenzo de'Medici as he appears in "Blood of Brothers."
I am so glad that Da Vinci's Demons is back on Starz! I know it doesn't follow the actual history of the character of Leonardo Da Vinci all that well. However, I do like the times when his inventiveness is allowed to be used in a real life situation. In "The Blood of Brothers," the clever idea for the week is to employ brass panels, which are used to surround the city center in order to amplify Lorenzo's voice (Lorenzo Medici is Leonardo's patron and basically the ruler of Florence). With Lorenzo's brother, Giuliano, dead there's rioting and mayhem in the streets as the people do not know of the fate of their ruler or (for that matter) what's going on.

So how does the idea come to fruition? Well, Leonardo observes members of the conspirators whipping a crowd into a froth. Only the thing is, you can't hear what their saying. Basically only the people directly around the podium are able to hear anything at all. This gives Leonardo the genius of applying the principle of Big Talk to win arguments.

And you know what? Big Talk is actually a real thing.

Here's the observation/study behind this statement:

Pairs of people were shown two sequences of images. One had an image that the pairs were supposed to notice, but both sequences went by quickly. Much of the time, people were unsure which sequence contained the target image. Afterward, each member of the pair made a guess as to which sequence contained the target image. If the pairs disagreed, they had to follow one of two procedures. One group exchanged written communication only. Another was allowed to talk. Neither side did badly. However, the written communication only pairs came up with better results. The reason the verbal communicators did so poorly? Big Talkers drowned out the silent minority.

The people who were allowed to talk did not improve their accuracy, but they radically improved their own opinion of their accuracy. In other words, people talk themselves into believing that they're right. More talk doesn't convince them otherwise, so they're lacking vital data that the silent pairs had. So basically, talking obscures the situation. Outside of this study, this kind of behavior goes on in any number of scenarios. Just think of the last time you couldn't get a word in edgewise because someone was talking over you about something.

Well, employing this principle is exactly what Leonardo Da Vinci did in "The Blood of Brothers," and it worked like it should have (and was absolutely brilliant to boot). Lorenzo's speech outshouts anything the conspirators can say, the mob listens, events turn around quickly as the people of Florence proclaim their allegiance to the de'Medici family, and the conspirators all get rounded up and summarily executed.

The lesson here is this: for a debate to be fair, both sides need equal time. One side shouldn't be allowed to outshout the other. The side that does get outshouted is probably going to lose. It doesn't even matter if they're right. That's just how humans roll.

"Blood of Brothers" was a fantastic end to the whole plot arc that we can now assume goes in the direction of Leonardo and his quest for the Book of Leaves. If only all shows could be this clever. If you have time, check out the new title credits for season 2. How can you go wrong with a lead-in of the Mona Lisa?

Da Vincis Demons titles season 2 from HUGE on Vimeo.

Friday, March 28, 2014

I saw Neil DeGrasse Tyson live at the University of Utah and he made me dream about tomorrow

Dr. Tyson exudes personality on stage. I was impressed by how entertaining,
informative, and humorous he was. And I loved it when he read from "The Book
of Carl", i.e., an honorary nod to Carl Sagan who was so important in my life
that I quote from him in my novel, Oculus (it's no coincidence that the story
takes place at Ivy League school Cornell University, Sagan's Alma Mater.
Wednesday night at around seven o'clock mountain time, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City took the stage at Kingsbury Hall here at the University of Utah to thunderous applause. He immediately started talking about Pluto and how he "drove the car" that got it reclassified as a dwarf planet and how hate mail (see below) has poured into his office ever since. "I didn't fire the gun, I just drove the car." Maybe the New York Times started it all by taking the reclassification of such notable scientists as Tyson and making an eye-catching front page headline "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York."

If you take the time to read the piece I'm talking about by following the embedded link, it's kind of humorous. Also, here's the letter that Tyson displayed behind him, and it had me laughing my ass off. In my opinion, if you're going to get hate mail, this is the best kind to get.
You gotta love any child that starts a letter in earnest with "Dear Scientist" and then goes on to be concerned about science books not being "right" and concerned about the possible people who may live there who won't exist if Pluto ceases to be a planet. I'm also fairly sure that Dr. Tyson responded to this little girl by handwritten letter (and I'd love to read that). I say this because it's simply too cute to ignore.

Tyson went on to give a summary of scientific observations about the night sky that many of us never notice (probably because we live in cities that drown out the light of the stars). For example, Uranus was originally discovered by a Brit who named the planet "George" after the English King. Really?

Thinking about the order of the planets in that way, i.e. Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, ... and George makes me chuckle. Later it was renamed by Britain to a more suitable roman god with one concession: the moons of Uranus would be named for Greek characters that appear in Shakespearean plays (or in a poem by Alexander Pope). That's how we get Titania and Oberon (A Midsummer Night's Dream), Ariel (The Tempest), Umbriel (The Rape of the Lock), Miranda (The Tempest), Cupid (Timon of Athens), and Mab (Romeo and Juliet). You see, people that discover scientific things get naming rights, and this was a more fascinating topic than I thought it would be. Allow me to elaborate.
Ancient Baghdad as depicted by an artist. Perhaps this might have been
a scene during the Golden Age of Islam.
People have been looking up at the sky for a long time, and Dr. Tyson focused his lecture on a 300 year span in history known as the Golden Age of Islam. According to Dr. Tyson, Baghdad (during this era) arose as a cultural epicenter of all things scientific and wonderful.

Baghdad welcomed people from far and wide who had differing views and observations of the natural world. Arabs invented algebra and trigonometry and gave us the concept of zero (which even the Romans had no clue). They gave us words like algorithm and a numeral system we still use today. Because of the golden age of Islam humans explored biology, medicine (hospitals were open 24-hours and a system requiring medical diplomas to license doctors was put into place), and they gave us some of the most fantastic architecture and engineering the world has ever seen. And of course some people turned their eyes to the heavens to begin what would become the field of astronomy.
Ibn al-Haytham was an Arab scientist,
mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher
who made significant contributions to the
principles of optics, astronomy, and the
scientific method. Before him, people used
to think we were able to see because beams
of energy emerged from our eyes. Picture
Superman and his x-ray vision and you get
the idea behind "emission theory," which
proved to be completely wrong.

This is why most of the brightest stars in the sky have Arabic names. Betelgeuse (in the constellation of Orion) and Pollux are just two examples. But all of that scientific advancement ended after 300 years because there was a cultural shift in the Islamic population away from scientific questioning and observation.

Tyson gave an example of this by pretending to knock something off of his podium. Instead of pursuing why something falls to the earth and looking for a reason, the people in the region explained the event as simply being "Allah's will."

Tyson says you can't go through a day in the Muslim-centric area of the world without hearing someone make a reference to "Allah willing, the weather will be good tomorrow" or some other such nonsense. They've completely stopped their participation in forward and advanced scientific exploration and fall back upon the idea that "god did this" for all things they don't understand or don't want to understand. Religion has basically become the ultimate excuse to stop learning.

Dr. Tyson says this is a tragedy because the Muslim world comprises 1.4 billion people; that's 1.4 billion people that have washed themselves of all responsibility to make the human race better. "There have only been 2.5 Nobel Prize winners in the realm of SCIENCE that have come from Islamic backgrounds. I say .5 because one was in economics."

Imam Al Ghazali
When Dr. Tyson frames the conversation like this, it's sobering. Literally one-sixth of the world could care less about science. So how did all of this start? He put up a picture of an Imam named Al Ghazali. A religious reformer and mystic who (in Tyson's words) is one of the people responsible for the decline of science and civilization in Muslim culture with works like Mathematics is the work of the Devil, Al Ghazali essentially started a movement to get people to accept the following: all events had to be caused by the divine instead of being the product of some external force.

In other words, Al Ghazali killed curiosity and Tyson insists that this is going on in America today. It saddens me to agree so wholeheartedly with Dr. Tyson. Here's how I identify the problem at hand: we now have an entire population of self-absorbed scientifically unmotivated adults, and it hurts all of us because adults are in charge. Think about it. Adults wield resources and create or destroy opportunities. In my own state of Utah, assault on education from the Eagle Forum is continuous. For example, these backward thinking conservatives want to remove sex education of any kind from the classrooms to just teach one thing: abstinence.

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems with the world today is that we have large groups of people who will accept whatever they hear on the grapevine, just because it suits their worldview--not because it is actually true or because they have evidence to support it. We live in a world where we see headlines like "Eighty percent of the passengers who survived had studied the locations of the exit doors on takeoff." This headline doesn't provide any real information. It's not like we can ask the dead people if they studied the locations of the exit doors. And what about a congressman who (Dr. Tyson points out) said, "I've changed my views 360 degrees on that subject!" The guy that said this makes a huge salary, yet remains scientifically and mathematically ignorant (either that or diabolically evil). We live in a world where elevators don't have a 13th floor because superstition is so powerful that people actually fear a number. And we live in a world that's afraid to use negative numbers to indicate basements. Instead we get "B" for "Basement" and "SB" for "Sub-Basement." Dr. Tyson says, "We have a perfectly established numeric system that can eliminate the need to buy a vowel."

"I don't recognize America today," Dr. Tyson said over and over. He emphasized that his reboot of Sagan's Cosmos is an attempt to reignite America's curiosity about science. "It's to remind you of how science works." As a viewer and fan of Dr. Tyson, I have to say that Cosmos is pretty darn amazing. Hearing him talk about future episodes of the show was exciting. But he also went on to show the audience how insignificant we really are by telling a story from his own life.
Cosmos is a reboot of Sagan's mini-series filmed a
generation ago. Sadly, it will have only 13 episodes like
the original. I got the answer straight from Dr. Tyson
himself in the Q&A period (see below).

Here's how it went down. Dr. Tyson was invited to speak before a crowd of very bright and young science and mathematics scholars who had all won awards and were headed to the colleges of their choice (boy wouldn't that be nice?).

One young man wore a Harvard tie and Dr. Tyson took the tie away from this man and asked him, "Why are you wearing this tie? Is it because you want the respect of others who recognize the pedigree of an education from Harvard?"

The young man admitted that this is exactly why he wore the tie and this is how Dr. Tyson responded: "The reason you want this is because people that went to that institution before you went out into the world and accomplished great things. After they did these great things, the institution claimed them as one of their students." Tyson eluded in his tale that many people focus on the wrong thing: an educational pedigree. "Accomplish great things and no one will care about your educational background. Does anyone here know what school Einstein went to? Do we care? Nope. He won the Nobel Prize in Science because his achievements exceeded that prize." For those of you that may be concerned about the young man's tie, Dr. Tyson said he intends to return it to him soon and follow-up on the guy's ambitions and projects now that he's graduated.

Because I work in the public sector, this uncomfortable truth from Tyson really struck a nerve. In government, education is valued over skill (at least in the agency I work for). It has to do with justifying the expenditure of tax payer money. In order to do that, people have to have letters after their names. In the private sector, companies like Google and Facebook could care less about your education. If you have the gravitas and ability to demonstrate incredible skill in the field of software engineering, you can go to work for Silicon Valley right out of high school and make a six-figure salary. My point? Skill is prized above education.

Dr. Tyson touched on how people and their tremendous "Egos" have damaged scientific discovery. For example, many cultures raise us to believe that we are special in this universe or that we were created to rule all other things. In his opinion, this is far from the truth (as disparaging as it may be). But he went on to say that there's something deeply spiritual about being connected by DNA to all living things. I tend to agree. As an example, Dr. Tyson told the audience that there are more bacteria in your colon right now than all the people born on this world even if you go back to the very beginning of time. And every once in a while, those bacteria will remind you of who's in charge.

One of the slides Dr. Tyson showed the audience was a phylogenetic cross-section of a "Tree of Life" showing the relationship between species whose genomes have been sequenced as of 2006. The very center represents the last universal ancestor of all life on earth:
Click on this sentence for an even bigger picture of the above so that you can see all the names going around the outside.

Homo sapiens occupies one small line in this list of species at about the eleven o'clock position. If that doesn't make you feel insignificant, then he followed up with a picture of Saturn taken by the Cassini spacecraft (Saturn was gorgeous by the way) that shows a pale blue dot called Earth. Then he read from Carl Sagan's own book Pale Blue Dot: A vision of the Human Future in Space:
"Consider that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
"The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity--in all this vastness--there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
"The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known." -- Carl Sagan
Dr. Tyson showed us how America used to dream about tomorrow by putting up an image from the 1950's. I don't have a copy of the exact image Dr. Tyson used in his presentation, but it looked something like "Tomorrowland" as seen below:
He said that we no longer have these visions; that it basically ended when America stopped going to the moon. "We don't even have the ability to visit our own space station. We have to rely on Russia, which is one of the reasons why we don't want to make them too angry with sanctions over their invasion of Crimea." Again, he reiterated the theme of "I don't recognize this country." He put up a map that showed nations distorted on purpose to reflect scientific growth. You'll notice that the United States is now smaller in contribution than Japan, Europe, and China. This is a result of people electing representatives who do not value science and the thing it inoculates us from (here's looking at you Michelle Bachmann, Ted Cruz, and insane Senator Mike Lee from my own state of Utah--I hang my head in shame).
The world map of scientific growth by country.
Notice Africa. It's non-existent. An entire area of the world that rejects science in favor of something else. Europe is huge because the United States walked away from the super collider project in the 1990's (that could have discovered the Higgs Boson not to mention made thousands of jobs for people in Texas), and we allowed the Europeans to achieve that milestone. Brazil is growing because of aerospace and Japan remains huge as it has been during the entirety of the post World War 2 generation. Tyson does not want the United States to go the way of the Golden Age of Islam.

So why should America be worried about the decline of science? Well for one, "Science inoculates you from cult leaders by giving you the tools to question their authority." He described how the Heaven's Gate cultists all committed suicide because they believed a spaceship was traveling behind the comet Hale-Bopp and that (through dying) they'd arrive on the spaceship wearing their shoes and carrying their backpacks. In every generation there are people who claim the world is ending and they base it on some lie that has no evidence. Science gives you the ability to question these claims. "Oh you say there's a spaceship? Can you show it to me?"
The vest he's wearing was bought right here at the planetarium in Salt
Lake City. He said there were no more on the shelves and the guy
working the register had one on and offered to sell it to him. It remains
one of the most favorite of his vests to wear.
In the question and answer session, I actually got to ask Dr. Tyson a question. Boy was that fun. I said, "Dr. Tyson, will there be a second season of Cosmos?" He reacted with a huge smile and capered about the stage comically. "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW HARD IT WAS TO GET THE FIRST SEASON to television!? Holy cow. I don't know. It's up to Fox, but as much as I love it someone else needs to do it. I'M A SCIENTIST. I want to be in my lab and watching my kids grow up." He shook his head to many affectionate "awhh's" coming from the audience (including my own) and replied, "Folks, that's how it works. Someone else gets to take over. We pass the baton to someone new."

Well I asked a question and got an answer. I love Cosmos, but it appears there will be only thirteen episodes just like Sagan's mini-series that was on PBS a generation ago. I guess I will have to savor them. TL;DR: I saw Neil DeGrasse Tyson live at the University of Utah and he made me dream about tomorrow. It's a dream I haven't had in some time, and I'm glad it's back.

Do you think the United States can turn itself around, get a hold of education, and instill the love of science in the next generation? Do you think the first man on Mars will be an American? I'd like to think so, but Neil DeGrasse Tyson is right. Only science will show us the way.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Is the Walking Dead the most successful dystopian for grownups?

Glenn atop a cave-in looking down on a dark tunnel filled with undead.
I saw Divergent this weekend, and I liked it even if I thought the training sequence went on too long. I suppose one shouldn't complain if you are completely and totally in love with the characters. At that point, the desire to spend more time with them overwhelms the biological need to move onto something else. But I never reached this stage with Veronica Roth's magnum opus. Rather, I'd check my watch every now and then, but in the end it was still entertaining.

Dystopians are the new hotness these days (and to you literary buffs I acknowledge that there have always been dystopians like 1984, however, they never stole center stage like they do today). From Suzanne Collins to Allie Condie, you've got quite a plethora to choose from. But here's the thing: all of these are written for young adults. They star teenagers fighting for goodness against a backdrop of something that loosely resembles our world.

Are there even dystopians for adults? Sure. Atwood's Oryx and Crake is one that I've read. But it has none of the colossal influence that The Walking Dead has. This comic book series by Robert Kirkman is so powerful, it even eclipses Monday Night Football.

Why is The Walking Dead so popular? Dystopian stories written for teenagers speak about a world that they can affect. The real world can be seriously messed up and most of us have no idea of how to go about fixing it. Some of us blame big corporations while others blame big government. It really is two sides of the same coin and both present problems so hideously huge that a single person basically has no chance at all to make a difference.

However, in a story, one person can make a difference. For teenagers, it manifests as the heroine who faces down her fears and finds love and then wins through skill and hard work. For adults, it's a little bit more realistic. Our fears eventually get realized in an apocalyptic collapse of civilization, and now it's up to the individual people to try and survive. Every living person is now important in the scope of the big picture, because you need numbers to stay safe from the zombies. That's what The Walking Dead is all about, and it's probably why I'm addicted to it so much.

The Walking Dead finishes up its fourth season this weekend, and there's a dread growing in the pit of my stomach. For one, we've had foreshadowing all season long with Daryl lying in a coffin and Glenn allowing Maggie to burn the only picture he had of her. Sure, she says "you won't need a picture of me" and that's supposed to be reassuring. But it probably means Glenn is going to end up dead. Second, I know from the comics that the group is going to be encountering the Hunters soon (a group of cannibals). And ya know, Beth is still missing... Ugh. How creepy was Terminus to have only a single woman doing BBQ and there was no evidence of any animals around? Where did the meat come from?
This one panel explains why I think Terminus is just bad. "Those who
arrive, be eaten slowly."
This show is a master at making me care about the characters. The latest one that has grown on me is Eugene. He won me over my misleading Rosita back to the tunnel just to make sure Glenn and Tara made it out alive.

So what do you think? Is The Walking Dead the most successful dystopian for grownups? And are you looking forward to the season finale? If you're watching the show, do you think the people at Terminus are cannibals?

Monday, March 24, 2014

This Dragon's Lair playthrough took me back twenty years

Were you around twenty years ago? If so, you may remember the arcade game "Dragon's Lair." It was the first video game that I can recall that charged fifty cents at the arcade. I used to go there with a friend on Friday night and go through ten bucks in quarters trying to finish it. I never actually made it to the dragon, so watching this playthrough was kind of fun because it allowed me to see the ending that I never achieved myself.

Boy, video games sure have come a long ways. But there's a certain charm to Don Bluth's animation that still
makes me smile today.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Finally Snoopy gets the soft fur fans always imagined he had in a new 3D movie

I loved reading Peanuts as a child. So I was surprised and happy to learn that Charlie Brown and Snoopy are getting the 3D makeover (yes there will be animated fur) that's propelled Dreamworks animation and Pixar to the forefront of movie-making wizardry. Charles M. Schulz's cartoon classic is being updated/done by 20th Century Fox. They're the ones behind the fantastic "Rio" franchise (and last year's "Epic" which basically made me a fan of Aziz Ansari for life). If you don't know who Aziz is, he plays in Parks and Recreation (which to its credit has many colorful characters).

I can't believe it's more than a year away :(. Ah well, at least I've got How To Train Your Dragon 2 coming out this summer. If you want to read more, go to this article on Yahoo News.

My next post will be on Monday as I have things to do this weekend and need to take some time off.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Malaise is a short film that proves spaceships were cooler in the 70's

I love coming across neat things like Malaise. Daniel Beaulieu made this film as his final film project at the Vancouver Film School's 3D animation program. It has a lamprey like monster, animation quality that's sure to grab the attention of Pixar or Dreamworks, and shag carpeting in the corridors. That just proves that spaceships were way cooler in the seventies. And how can you go wrong with an homage to Alien? You can't, that's how.

MALAISE from Daniel Beaulieu on Vimeo.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Is Godzilla going to be a misunderstood hero to the people of the Earth?

I think if you're reading this, then you've probably watched a trailer or two of the new Godzilla movie. It's pretty basic stuff: huge monster is destroying cities and wreaking havok and just generally being the most badass thing around. However, I'm beginning to suspect that (despite all the destruction and lost human lives that will result from this thing coming out of the ocean) Godzilla is a good guy.

Recently io9 highlighted a description found on a toy that's available for purchase as part of the extended marketing campaign for this movie. Read it for yourself:

"Possibly the last of an ancient species of giant amphibious creatures that evolved at a time when the surface of the Earth was over ten times more radioactive than it is today. Godzilla can convert his radiation stores into a violent, focused exhalation of atomic ray. Rarely seen, but spoken of in ancient Pacific Island myths, "Gojira" was last spotted in 1954, when the U.S. Navy encountered and attempted to kill him with an atomic blast in the Pacific Ocean. Since then, the giant creature has been living in the deep ocean – until a threat to his survival from an ancient foe forces him to reappear."

Combine this with some stuff that came out of the Austin SXSW convention when a select few were invited to watch a scene from the upcoming movie. This excerpt first appeared on The Nerdist:

"We return to the Honolulu airport just as the power is being restored to the tram. The crowd on the train has a brief moment of relief before all awesome holy hell breaks loose. The tram is thrown from its tracks by a massive Kaiju that stylistically looks like a combination of a mosquito and the Cloverfield monster. It looks like this is the creature the government had a bead on over the radio.

The tram dangles precariously as Aaron Taylor-Johnson reaches out to save his young ward. But even if he does, who will stop the creature destroying the airport? Who the hell do you think? In a pretty heroic reveal for a character that has already caused mass destruction in his own right, the King of All Monsters steps up to put a smack down. With a massive roar, we get our first full look at the original big bad ass. And he is gorgeous! A perfectly updated look of Toho's creation stands before us."
An image from the toy line that hints at what the new kaiju is going
to look like. From the trailer, I thought it was Rodan.
So yeah, Godzilla smashes the smaller kaiju/mosquito thing. The last line of the description on the toy suggests that Godzilla has emerged from the ocean to attack an ancient foe. So maybe there's going to be this outbreak of kaiju in the film and Godzilla is there to deal with it and humans just get in the way. That makes me think this will be an even more interesting movie than I originally thought, because it shows layers of Godzilla that previously appeared only in poorly done Japanese films.

What do you think? Is Godzilla going to be a misunderstood hero to the people of the Earth? Or is he just another monster that wants to gobble people up? As usual, only the important questions are discussed on my blog. As you were :).

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

George R.R. Martin has given up on being the first person to tell his story and is going to let HBO do the job for him

I seriously need to rethink why I like A Game of Thrones so much and decide whether or not I want to keep watching it. More than likely (99% chance) I'm going to keep watching it. But here's why I'm upset: the tv series is going to spoil the entire book series. Allow me to elaborate.

It turns out that HBO's television series is going to tell the entire story BEFORE Martin finishes it. I have never EVER heard of this happening and it really makes me angry. Adaptations of books happen AFTER the book is published and written. The reason this is happening with Martin's story is simple: he's too f'ing slow and he has a contract with HBO, D.B. Weiss, and David Benioff (the show's creators). It's actually kind of ridiculous. Here's how it all went down (according to Vanity Fair).

In the article, Martin confessed that the show is catching up to his writing speed and that this is essentially something he had sworn would never happen. In Martin's own words, "They are. Yes. It's alarming." Fans (including me) have weighed in that season five (to arrive in 2015) will have to include events from The Winds of Winter--a book that Martin hasn't finished yet.

How do Benioff and Weiss know about the events? Well Martin's capitulated and is basically telling them everything from his notes. He's given them access to every character's fate in as much detail as he possibly can. Here's the actual copy from the Vanity Fair article:

[Benioff] "Last year we went out to Santa Fe for a week to sit down with him [Martin] and just talk through where things are going, because we don't know if we are going to catch up and where exactly that would be. If you know the ending, then you can lay the groundwork for it. And so we want to know how everything ends. We want to be able to set things up. So we just sat down with him and literally went through every character."

So yeah, Martin has basically given up on being the first person to tell his story and is going to let HBO do the job for him.

Are you f'ing kidding me? Is this at all how an author is supposed to behave? The last book in the series is supposed to be called A Whisper of Spring. I guess underneath the title it will say, "Adapted from the television series."

What a joke. I guess the joke's on us though because Martin is the one that is a millionaire twenty (or more) times over.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Cosmos blew my mind and Neil DeGrasse Tyson is the perfect man for the job

Neil DeGrasse Tyson is one of my favorite people. I was really surprised to see that he was coming to Kingsbury Hall here at the University of Utah (on the hill) this March and even more surprised when I scored some tickets to the event for free! So naturally, as a fan, I tuned into the premiere episode of Cosmos last night and I was not disappointed.

For those of you who don't know Tyson, he's a celebrity astrophysicist and the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History. The guy is pretty amazing, having been influenced by a man I have profound respect for: Cornell's own Carl Sagan (sadly he left us before the turn of the century).

Cosmos is a reboot of Sagan's successful series that last saw television more than a generation ago. Last night's episode had us flying around the universe in a really cool ship that struck me as an all chrome version of the one that delivered the huge angry robot in "The Incredibles" during that movie's finale. Impressively, Tyson boiled down the many epochs of the universe's birth from the Big Bang to present day by representing it all on a twelve month calendar. All of recorded history on this calendar took place on the last day of the last month in the last sixteen seconds. That puts so much into scale. We are literally a blip that emerged during the last hour of the last day of the last month of the cosmic calendar and so much has come before us that the amount to study is literally immeasurable.

But most profound to me was Tyson's claim regarding the scientific method. "It's so powerful," he says, "that in just four hundred years it's taken us from learning about our planet's place in the solar system to making footprints on the moon." That's incredible, and I agree. We need to question everything, keep learning, and pass the torch to the next generation of scientists so that they can unravel more of life's mysteries.

Not long ago, I'd read that Tyson believed we should stop calling dark matter and dark energy by those names. Instead we should refer to them as "Fred" and "Wilma." This alone made me think that Tyson was perfect for this job: to create a show that would incite the imaginations of so many young people to use science as a way to explain our universe. And if you don't get the reference of "Fred" and "Wilma," it's because Tyson believed that the terms "dark matter" and "dark energy" were misleading. For one, science doesn't know what dark matter is. It should be called "dark gravity." And for another, just having the word "dark" makes people think that the two might be related, but they're not. So yeah..."Fred" and "Wilma" works beautifully.

Mr. Tyson, you blew my mind in your show last night. But in this case, blowing my mind is a lot of fun, and I hope you continue to do so as long as the show is on the air. Who knew learning could be so much fun?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Agents of Shield just went all X-Files this week

One of the best scenes ever. Dana Scully finds a frozen alien baby.
Some of you are probably too young to remember the X-Files and that makes me sad. For what it was worth, the X-Files had a great first season and hooked me right off the bat with a weird arctic worm episode that led to more weirdness and an episode that even taught me the meaning of the word "exsanguinate." Well that first season ended with Dana Sculley getting an epiphany from a computer chip she found that ultimately led to her entering a silo, correctly guessing the password, and then pulling out an alien baby from a container (where it was frozen). And Tuesday night while I was watching A.G.E.N.T.S. I totally had a deja vu moment. Silo? Check. Strange alien-looking thing? Check. Password? Check (although Coulson got it wrong).
So who's the guy in the big jar? No idea.
The main plot of the Tahiti episode revolved around saving Skye from a fatal bullet wound inflicted in an episode a few weeks earlier. Because her wounds were so bad, it required figuring out how Coulson got resurrected. We'd already seen the weird surgery performed on his brain, but all the science was saved for this episode for Fitz and Simmons to figure out (which they did). It turns out that there was a miracle drug. Naturally, this "miracle drug" was the by-product of a creature kept in a tank with tubes coming out of it. Of course, all this was located in a super secret facility.

So yeah...X-Files.

I've been kind of waiting for Agents to gel together; to get to a point where it sits well in my mind and I definitely think its gotten there. I look forward to new episodes like a fat kid looks forward to a cheeseburger. But it also is a much different viewpoint of the Marvel comics than I had originally anticipated. See...I thought the series was going to be about super heroes kicking ass and S.H.I.E.L.D. agents being alongside them. But now, I realize it's going to more of "The X-Files" meets "Mission: Impossible" (at least that's how my pitch would have gone).

On a side note, it was pretty awesome seeing Bill Paxton make an appearance. I hope we see more of him. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Books taught me that my torments were the very things that connected me with all the people who have ever lived

"Spritzing is not for everyone," CEO and co-founder Frank Waldman told Co.Design.
"But for digesting emails, social media streams, and news especially, it allows you
to read more in a shorter amount of time. My 87-year-old aunt-in-law just
started spritzing and she loves it." 
So there’s a new app available and it’s called Spritz and supposedly it lets you read way faster. Friday’s articles touted that a reader could consume 500 words in a single minute. By this week however, claims rose to 1,000 words per minute. I’m just like you in reading these “testimonials” in that I want to know how this is possible.

The science: Spritz works by giving you one word at a time in a 13-character space, and it carefully positions the words so that you never have to move your eyes at all. I guess “eye-movement” is a wasted activity that slows down your reading speed.

But then there’s this nagging “second question” that pops into my mind: why is the world in such a hurry? Maybe I’m old-fashioned or perhaps I’m looking for that elusive experience only hinted upon in EliseFallson’s blog (that of total immersion in a story), but I seriously think I could get no pleasure from Spritz. It seems like a tool that would be useful when trying to cram for an exam. But I graduated from college twenty years ago and (barring the occasional certification that needs renewing) I don’t intend to pursue serious college work again until after I buy my first home. 
I suppose my long time insecurity about books and whether people are reading them or not begins with a general concern that 1) people’s reading habits are changing and 2) this is going to have a very real impact on my life.

If we begin to live in a world where people no longer value books as an immersive getaway, I think our ability to communicate effectively might become impaired. This goes beyond the plethora of spelling errors that I see every day in all walks of life. A few years ago, spotting spelling errors on public signs was funny and cause for a well-placed facepalm. But in 2014, I’m no longer laughing. I recognize it now as a symptom of a greater malaise affecting a whole generation of people who could care less whether something is made to any quality standard.

There’s also evidence (some anecdotal) that people who read fiction for pleasure are more open-minded and better able to deal with uncertainty. And in an essay published in Time Magazine, author Annie Murphy Paul claimed that “the deep reader…enters a state likened to a hypnotic trance. The combination of fast, fluent decoding of words and slow unhurried progress on the page gives deep readers time to enrich their reading with reflection, analysis, and their own memories and opinions.”

On Elise’s blog and her post on “immersion” I expressed my opinion thus: The inimitable power of literature is to give context and meaning to the trials and triumphs of living. Author James Baldwin once put this thought this way: ‘You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me the most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.’ I'd say there is no intellectual equivalent to allowing oneself the time and space to get lost in another person’s mind, because in so doing we find ourselves. And that is the crux of my fear.

So ladies and gents, if people are no longer giving themselves time to find themselves and connect with others through books, how on earth will they ever have the context to understand me as a person? After all, it is through ignorance and the lack of understanding that the seed of “intolerance” starts to bear fruit.

Monday, March 3, 2014

This Star Wars cosplay is seriously adorbs

My parents own a long-haired dachshund that looks exactly like this dog (only fatter), so it really grabbed my attention. Han Solo and Chewbacca never looked so good. I think any hardness that the world has inflicted on my heart just instantly melted away when I saw it. Courtesy of a photgrapher named Cuije. You can visit the website HERE. And yes, you're welcome :). Happy Monday.
Han Solo and Chewbacca! May the Force be with you.