Friday, May 30, 2014

Wayne the stegosaurus just confirms why I loved dinosaurs so much as a kid

I found this video posted HERE on Vimeo from Aran Quinn. It confirms two things I already suspected about dinosaurs: 1) I love them and 2) words that rhyme are so much fun! Have a great weekend and please watch the video.

Wayne The Stegosaurus from aran quinn on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mulholland Drive and Elliot Rodger and the ambiguous manifesto of hate

There's a movie that I've seen twice now, and I still don't understand it, yet I think I know what's going on. Is that confusing enough for you? This intriguing piece of film is from director David Lynch and is called Mulholland Drive. Roger Ebert says of Mulholland Drive, "I think it's a delusion to imagine a complete film lurking somewhere in Lynch's mind--a ghostly Director's Cut that exists only in his original intentions." In my own words (and meant to echo Ebert's posthumous acumen) I call Mulholland Drive simply "baffling to the extreme." And just to establish my credentials, I'll begin with this statement: I'm no stranger to David Lynch.

I enjoyed Twin Peaks back in the 80's (yes, I'm that old). I've seen Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, and Dune (in many ways I prefer Lynch's Dune to the SyFy version even though SyFy's is more accurate to the book with respect to things such as "kris" knives and "the weirding way"). I'm also a fan of directors who famously put to celluloid things that are difficult to grasp. For example, I like the movie Eyes Wide Shut, which many people dismiss as Stanley Kubrik just wanting to parade a lot of nudity and orgies in front of an audience. To anyone that is willing to listen, I say that Eyes Wide Shut is a masterpiece and not pornography, misunderstood by men certainly more than women because men have difficulty in grasping the concept of a thing as tenuous as intimacy. Eyes Wide Shut is all about intimacy, and when viewed through that lens, all the events in the movie fall into their proper place.

Mulholland Drive, however, is none of these things. It's at once a dream and at other times a nightmare. Perhaps what I mean by this is that it is both surreal and pointless. Betty (Naomi Watts) is a perky blond and Rita is a voluptuous brunette and we're never completely sure if they aren't the same person. And that simple sentence barely scratches the surface of this film. Rita doesn't remember anything, even her name; Betty decides to help her. A viewer is treated to the most talked about lesbian love scenes in twenty years, yet how can we be sure that what we see isn't just a fantasy built around one person pleasuring herself? In Mulholland Drive, nothing leads anywhere, mysteries are started and not solved, and it's quite possible that the entire film is a capsule of the last thoughts that go through a dying woman's mind because at some point there's a corpse, and it more than likely belongs to our narrator. Mulholland Drive is not a Memento where you can hope to explain the mystery. Trust me. I've been trying to explain Mulholland Drive for almost a decade. I fail yet cannot deny that it exists, that there is no continuity, and that the violence it depicts oftentimes makes as much sense as what we as survivors must bear witness to.

Mental illness is a slippery slope whether it is shown to us in a movie like Mulholland Drive, or whether it is diagnosed by a psychiatrist equipped in this day and age to deal with it in familiar terms: cognitive dissonance, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and on and on and on. The word "crazy" and its acceptance as just being is long gone. Those of us who aren't psychiatrists yet live with someone diagnosed with a mental illness should feel better about our situation because we now have a word for what's going on with mom. And with words, there's medication, right? Because people understand what's going on, right?

I think not so much. I think more so that people in using these terms are trying to create the illusion that we have a grasp on the ephemeral. As a caveat to having a loved one with a diagnosed mental illness, there is some comfort to being able to explain the bizarre in terms that one can google. Human beings are ill equipped to deal with things that are irrational, and I think our minds crave answers to the most basic question: why?

By now all of us know what mass murderer, Elliot Rodger, did in Santa Barbara over the weekend. The only thing that we know for certain is that this young man was filled to the brim with hate. But here's the trying to figure out Mulholland Drive, I think the kind of hate that Elliot Rodger expressed in his manifesto is something we should try to understand, but to which there may be no answer at all. His kind of hatred is like a force of nature. Can one understand the motive behind a tornado? For all that we know, there's no motive. There's no reason why. It just is. Understanding the roots of hate in someone that has already committed the most heinous of actions by examining a narrative left in the wake of his suicide, is putting trust where I think there is none. Sure he wrote this 140-page story of his entire life, but in the end, we comb it looking for answers and building theories that may seem structurally sound but rest upon a web of lies from someone consumed by hate.

If, however, professionals can assume that Elliot Rodger is a reliable narrator for his own story, then his justifications for being a monster go far beyond a detailed suicide note. "I am Elliot Rodger...Magnificent, glorious, supreme, eminent...Divine! I am the closest thing there is to a living god," the 22-year-old college student, son of a "Hunger Games" assistant director, boasted. "Humanity is disgusting, depraved and [an] evil species. It is my purpose to punish them all. On the day of Retribution, I will truly be a powerful god, punishing everyone I deem to be impure."

His demented manifesto dropped like a bomb. And his misogyny pivoted around one idea: that men should go out and get sex from women, that women are obstacles to prevent men from achieving some kind of self worth through the loss of virginity, or (with virginity removed from the equation) then lots of sex is not only an entitlement but a right of passage. We can call this "crazy" all we want, but to tell you the truth, I see this kind of thing every day.

I know young straight religious men who openly brag about the things their wives do to ingratiate themselves toward them in the perceived privacy of their homes. I say "perceived" here because they have no idea how their husbands talk about them behind their backs. And since I know mostly men who are younger than myself, most of this kind of talk revolves around talks of power in a relationship, what one "can" and "can't do" in relation to sex (meaning the wife has given permission for some things and not others), and how much (quantity) one is receiving. And there is a "comedic shaming" among men who fall short or may have a perception of being in the proverbial "doghouse" because they "don't wear the pants in their family." That phrase actually disgusts me as I feel it reduces one or another party to being property and not a person.

To someone like me, the antics of "common men" who draw down salaries superior to my own and have homes and children makes me feel like an alien with green skin and purple antennae sitting on a couch in a room full of talk I was never meant to understand. The absurdity is enough to convince me that even though the body ages, many men are just children and they never grow up, and never cease bullying, shaming, and bragging. But even outside of marriages (which are a social and financial arrangement) bars across America on Saturday nights are filled with men who overreact with rejection. Why? Maybe Elliot Rodger, the latest in a string of gun-toting psychopaths, has an answer: "men feel entitled to get sex from women."

Why does this attitude even exist much less multiply and spread? It turns out misogyny has been with us as a culture for a long time. For example, this week we get a new Disney movie called Maleficent. It's a $200 million dollar spectacle of wizardry and dark storytelling for those who are familiar with the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Most people, however, probably don't understand the name "Maleficent." The Latin word commonly used to signify "witch" is malefica" in the feminine. And there is no better place to begin with an understanding of misogyny than by learning of witches.

Before the 15th century, witches could herald from either sex. But that all changed when the separate elements of witchcraft--harmful sorcery or maleficium, diabolism, heretic cultic activity, and nocturnal flight--all collapsed into a single concept of satanic witchcraft. Clerics of the 15th century explained a proclivity for witchcraft as resting in the female gender because of longstanding Christian concepts of the physical, mental, and spiritual weaknesses of women.

Remember Adam and Eve? Oh Eve, for talking to the snake in that garden, you have condemned your entire sex to feelings of enmity, prejudice, disgust, and abhorrence by men for thousands of years. Misogyny doesn't have to be so clearly defined either (as in Elliot Rodger's manifesto). It can take many forms, some of which are difficult to recognize. For one, it even extended to speech. Ever read the phrase "where be women, are many wordys?" in a Middle English text? I studied Middle English as part of my undergraduate work, and I can tell you that literacy in the 15th century was reserved for men and women of status and also the clergy. For the wider population, the following was true (as one 15th century preacher wrote): "Eve, our oldest mother in paradise, held long talks with the adder, and told him what God had said to her and to her husband about eating the apple; and by her talking, the fiend understood her feebleness and her unstableness." Further links of the mouth and female genitalia followed society from the 15th century and into the Renaissance, serving to entrench the idea that for women to be chaste they also had to be chaste in speech.

Violence like the kind that Elliot Rodger visited upon his victims will be the subject of debate for decades. I don't think you can point the blame on any single thing, be it video games, lack of good parenting, bullying, or a cultural understanding of gender roles (or the lack thereof). It goes deeper than any of these things to something so ambiguous that my lips fail to find the words to describe it. However, I do think it's taught and not inherited. Wherever it comes from, people should stop being shocked about it and realize that this kind of misogyny (or any hatred really) is a function of our modern society. It exists and maybe it's not so much a mental illness as it is a widespread clarion call that teachings of entitlement and hate speech are insidious and destructive and, if not taken seriously, threaten every single one of us.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Interstellar shows that Christopher Nolan is an idealistic dreamer

Interstellar looks like an awfully good film, and it's from the brilliant mind of director Christopher Nolan. The plot (from the trailer) seems to be that the world has run out of food and probably resources, and that in order to survive, humanity must embrace interstellar travel (because there are no answers in our own solar system). Michael Caine says in a voice over that "we must stop acting like individuals and act as a species." It's an interesting thought. But I have one question: is humanity even capable of this kind of togetherness? Let's face it, bullying exists for a reason. And where there's bullying (be it on the playground or religious folks ostracizing non-religious folks) the concept of togetherness takes a backseat to feelings of hatred and rage in response to oppression and abuse. Let's just look at what we have going on in the United States, defined as two words: resource scarcity.

The resource can be anything really. It can be time. It can be food, Most often (it seems) the resource is money. The thing is, what the hell IS money? Janet Yellen at the Federal Reserve can just slam her fist down on a button and print out trillions of dollars in bills. But why do those bills have value? We could try to answer what money is by looking at the most capitalist of icons: the United States stock market, and say "well money can allow you to buy stock in a company that provides a useful product to the world." Well yes, that's true, but that's only because a government (the U.S.) decided that the "dollar" is the official currency by which we do business. Furthermore, a company can price its stock at whatever it wants. If Apple wants its stock to be $600 a share then it's priced just that. If it wants its stock to be $40 a share, it splits the existing shares in just the right amount to arrive at that number.'ve got stock that's now $40 a share. So is money or value even a real thing? I have trouble saying that it is. It seems to me like it's an illusion, a trick, a shadow on the wall. But it's something that affects our very lives.

Here's a statistic for you. Right now, there are twenty hedge fund managers who made more money last year with their combined salary than all of the kindergarten teachers from coast to coast made in that same time multiplied by two. I bet the Hedge Fund managers (who made money with other people's money) applaud themselves as super smart and better than the riff raff that is tasked to teach and look after their rug rats. Is there irony in this? Let's take a look at a more ordinary example. There is a person that I know right now who went through mental torment to leave a lucrative job with respect and responsibilities for a $3.00 an hour raise. He did this because he was bothered by the fact that someone he was expected to supervise would make more money than him. Interesting eh? It's like there was some kind of self worth attached to the almighty dollar.

I can't begin to understand the psychology behind inequality. I only know that the perception of resource scarcity brings out traits that will always have us acting as individuals and never coming together as a species. There is no reason why anyone in this country should have to go without anything. We have enough as a combined nation that were all the odds to be evened, no one would have to work long hours, go without medical care, and not have a great place to live. Someone might ask, "How, Mike, are we going to pay for that?" Well my answer is, "Why pay? Why not do it because it's the right thing to do? If all your needs are met and you have someone that loves you and you are cared for and loved and happy...why does a salary even matter?" It's a nice idea, but we all know that this will/can never happen. People are too busy being jealous of, hating on, and looking down upon other people.

As far as I can see, there's no reason that bullying should even exist. But the fact that it does exist (and will always exist) is a testament that there is a biological need that scientists haven't figured out yet that makes people unsatisfied unless they have more of something than another person. This "more" as I said before can be anything: time, physical prowess, money, love, attention, intelligence, respect, and on and on and on.

As much as I'd like to get on board with what Christopher Nolan is "preaching" in this trailer for his truly awesome-looking sci-fi epic, Interstellar, I think I'll walk away from it shaking my head and saying, "there's no way humanity could come together like he thinks it can." Humanity from my perspective seems uniquely hypocritical. We actually revel in inequality of all kinds (oftentimes embracing the emotion of schadenfreude) while publicly condemning it. The result? Nothing happens and nothing ever changes. I think a society is only functional as long as there is misery. Without misery, pleasure is meaningless, and a life without pleasure is a life not worth living.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Godzilla isn't fat. He's curvy.

Seriously, I don't know why Japanese fans have been so vocal about this, but apparently Godzilla is too fat. I guess it's a moot point to say that no one can escape fat-shaming. Jennifer Lawrence recently got called a "fat actress." Chris Christie sees no end to fat jokes. The Time cover of him featured his profile and read "The Elephant in the Room."
So why should Godzilla be any different? One Japanese fan said, "When I finally saw Godzilla, I was a bit taken aback." Other fans called him a "Godzilla deluxe" or that (because it's an American reboot) that he'd visited the "super size me" portions made famous in America cuisine.

I know this sounds funny that I'd be using Godzilla to explain my point of view on this topic, but the thing is, I hate fat shaming. I've been a target of it all my life, and I think overweight people are discriminated against constantly.

It's really easy to blame fat people for their own lack of control. But a lot of us have other health issues going on e.g. metabolism or insulin production. I also think there's a lack of fat characters as heroes in fictional stories. Author Pat Dilloway has a fat girl in one of his books that I've read, but she isn't exactly a hero. It makes me ask, "Why couldn't she be a hero?"

Godzilla may be fat, but he's a hero. I think there's plenty to be proud of in seeing a fat Godzilla.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The CW's The Flash is probably the single show I'm most excited about in the fall.

If you are a fan of comic books, or The Flash, you'll probably want to watch this entire trailer all the way through. Grant Gustin is going to make a superb Flash. That is all. Have a good Monday.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Godzilla has inspired me to write my own kaiju story

When crafting kaiju stories, I think I most admire how writers and directors are able to deal with the immensity of the strange beast. It's easy to be a critic of these kinds of movies, to sit back and say with abandonment, "A monkey could string together this plot. It's a giant monster destroying a city." But in the latest reboot of Godzilla and in last year's Pacific Rim, I saw a brilliance that I'm hoping will inspire my own kaiju story (because I really want to write one).

For one, the monster has to have a plausible origin story (since what makes kaiju interesting is that they rampage on Earth). This is different than a zombie story, which can just happen "as is" with no explanation as to its origin. People that are into kaiju films are the same kind of people that like their fantasy with well-detailed magic systems where an author goes to great lengths to provide explanations of cause and effect. I think if you don't explain the kaiju well, then the whole story kind of falls apart like a bad souffle.

I admire how Pacific Rim handled this: creating an alternate dimension filled with hostile beings that used genetically-crafted giant monsters as their weapons of mass destruction. In a word? Brilliant. Godzilla is equally so because the monsters ended up being primordial beasts that fed on the radiation of a young Earth. As their food diminished over time, these kaiju were forced to dig deeper into the earth to search for it (and of course most of them died off).

I also think that there are certain rules that all would-be kaiju creators should obey. 1) They must have some kind of unique super power that is used sparingly but is pretty kick ass when employed. 2) They must be really difficult to kill. 3) They must be terrifying. 4) They have to destroy at least one human city.

With this in mind, I think I need to figure out if my kaiju is going to come from a different dimension, from outer space, or from Earth.

Anyway, enough of my musings. If you can't tell, I loved Godzilla (psst...he does have atomic breath). You would be wise to go and see it if you are a fan of huge monsters destroying cities. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Dear H.R. Giger, may you find the peace in death that eluded you in life

To say H.R. Giger had his demons is an understatement. The man's life was fraught with troubles. He had a girlfriend commit suicide, a well-known rivalry with friend and fellow artist Salvadore Dalí, and had a mind filled with so many horrific images that I must admit, as much as I love staring at them I would not want to spend a minute in any one were they to become a reality. I think he was as brilliant as he was disturbing, and I think the world is somehow diminished now that he's gone. And it's important when viewing his art to try and see it through the lens of his own eye: Giger wasn't painting fantasy but showing us the modern world as he saw it. Disturbing right? Take a look at this image.
The creator of the Xenomorph (and the mythology that surrounded it) from the original Alien and Prometheus movies died as a result of injuries suffered when he fell down the stairs at his home. He was 74. My dad often tells me that "falls take out most old people." Ridley Scott and Giger had meltdowns that became legendary on the set of Alien, as the artist had a vision that didn't quite match up with the famed director's own and this led to much fighting and bickering and for Giger being labeled "Impossible to work with." Giger's work both graced and inspired aspects of Species, Poltergeist 2, Alejandro Jodorwsky's Dune, and Batman Forever (they should have used his Batmobile design).
By all accounts, he was a quiet and subdued individual. I'd love to take a stroll in his Swiss gallery some day. I think that his art will go on to escalate in price now that he's dead and become prized among collectors in the future (even moreso than it is now). When I watch Alien and Prometheus and see the derelict spacecraft, it makes me think that what I'm looking at is something so utterly inconceivable in a human mind that it has to come from another world. I don't ever get that watching Star Trek or Star Wars. There are traces of humanity in nearly all science fiction designs. Not so with Giger. He was one of a kind, able to scare the bejeezus out of me, and was able to tap into visceral, instinctual fears that was the stuff of nightmares.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Technology is hard to define and sometimes a little frightening

I don't even know what technology is anymore, and that's weird given that my career is being a Technical Support Specialist. I guess I should clarify my statement. I know an iPad is technology. I also know that a computer is technology. But I failed to recognize Tesla as a technology company. I thought it was a car company. I have been corrected on this though. Tesla is a "tech" stock and not an "auto" stock like Ford or GM. Who knew?
Tesla Model S cockpit. It's not a car. It's technology.
Then their's Under Armour. Under Armour is not an apparel stock like Nike, even though Nike is the one it gets compared to most often. Nope, Under Armor is also a "technology" stock.

So I guess I shouldn't be confused about biological technology either. I read in Nature (the international weekly journal of science) about a semi-synthetic organism with an expanded genetic alphabet. If you're confused, here's a quote from the article that you can locate HERE:

"Organisms are defined by the information encoded in their genomes, and since the origin of life this information has been encoded using a two-base-pair genetic alphabet (A–T and G–C). In vitro, the alphabet has been expanded to include several unnatural base pairs (UBPs). We have developed a class of UBPs formed between nucleotides bearing hydrophobic nucleobases, exemplified by the pair formed between d5SICS and dNaM (d5SICS–dNaM), which is efficiently PCR-amplified and transcribed in vitro, and whose unique mechanism of replication has been characterized. However, expansion of an organism’s genetic alphabet presents new and unprecedented challenges: the unnatural nucleoside triphosphates must be available inside the cell; endogenous polymerases must be able to use the unnatural triphosphates to faithfully replicate DNA containing the UBP within the complex cellular milieu; and finally, the UBP must be stable in the presence of pathways that maintain the integrity of DNA."

To make a long story short, scientists have taken a plasmid and given it three base pairs. In nature, there are only two base pairs made of adenine (A), thymine (T), cytosine (C) and guanine (G). Let me make this clear: everything in the world...the entire "tree of life" that Neil deGrasse Tyson talks about on born out of information encoded on differing arrangements of those "building block" bases. And science has just introduced two "new" bases and made pairs with them.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is technology. I seriously feel like quoting Steve Jobs right now. I know, I know, I've been on a Steve Jobs tear lately but the man had so many good things to say. So indulge me. Here's the quote: "Older people sit down and ask, 'What is it?" but the boy asks, 'What can I do with it?"

I feel like an old man here because not only am I asking "what is it?" but I'm a little afraid of the answer. And there's no part of me that wants to ask, "What can I do with it?" These third base pairs don't have any information on them. They are a blank slate waiting for scientists to encode whatever they would like to encode on them. Sure, scientists claim that by expanding the genetic alphabet, more data can lead to the development of new drugs, diagnostic tools, vaccines, and nanomaterials. And science fiction is replete with examples of fictional characters making claims like this. But from reading science fiction, we also know that something like this could also lead to weapons. Seriously, it's literally a tired old trope to have the military show up in some scientific lab and pose the question, "How can this be weaponized?"

I am reminded of J. Robert Oppenheimer, American physicist and man who is known as the father of the atomic bomb. Oppenheimer speaking in a 1965 television broadcast about the moments following the Trinity atomic bomb test said, "We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, 'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' I suppose we all thought that, one way or another." You should watch this video because you can feel that he's not exactly happy about this. That's probably because he knew what he'd just done: ended the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
When the United States dropped "Little Boy" on Hiroshima on the morning of August 6th, 1945, the Japanese had no idea what had happened. All communication with that city just ended. The fate of Hiroshima was a complete mystery until they had someone fly over there in an airplane to look out a window and tell them what they saw. Remember Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park? "Yeah. Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

In an article on io9 about this invention, author George Dvorsky said that the unnatural DNA has a built-in safety mechanism; the modified plasmid can only survive if it's fed artificial nucleotides required to replicate the DNA. My skepticism rears its ugly head in this gif:
I admit that my knowledge of genetics is puny. But some kinds of technology scare me because I don't understand them. That (and to be honest) there's a part of me that's learned to distrust humanity in general. Best intentions often go awry, and the world does not have a shortage of psychopaths the last time I checked.
The Deacon alien from "Prometheus", a biologically engineered weapon.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I've overcome the insecurity of non-conformity and found myself as a writer. How about you?

One of my favorite things to do is to read The New Yorker. In a recent exchange with fellow author Pat Dilloway, we discussed how slow I am at writing. Inevitably, unflattering comparisons to the worst traits of famous authors came up. Think of the exchange as similar to one where Cliven Bundy, the Nevada Rancher with his mooching welfare cows, is being compared to America's "Founding Fathers" in mockery and realizing that the things Bundy DOES HAVE in common with them are the things for which we are ashamed (slavery). Culling my memory of New Yorker articles, I came across this one: a profile written in 2011 that described the nutty passion of George R.R. martin's fans. They mock him on web forums for not writing faster, they keep track of every word to the point that GRRM has become paranoid over mistakes, and inevitably they all say he'll be dead before he finishes.
"My fans point them out to me," George said to the magazine. "I have a horse that changes sex between books. He was a mare in one book and a stallion in the next, or something like that. People are analyzing every goddamn line in these books, and if I make a mistake they're going to nail me on it."

I think the phenomenon that's happening to George is unfortunate despite the fact that I'm one of the people who wants George R.R. Martin to write faster. And here's why: as writers we have to know (or at least recognize) that our profession is filled with the zombied remains of aspirants who shamble about with rejection letters pinned to their foreheads. But as readers, many of us can tell when an author didn't enjoy writing something. It infuses the pages of a book the same as a wrong ingredient makes a soup taste funny. Take The Hunger Games as an example. The writer clearly was forced to include the romance, and it shows because the romance doesn't feel right. To state this in a simpler way, I'm talking about having passion when you write and in the absence of it, I'm condoning the absence of writing anything. My idea is a rejection of the one that insists you must compose a thousand words a day, or even raising a "metaphoric" middle finger to anyone that insists "schedule-keeping" is the only "true" sign of a serious author (implicating by the inclusion of the word "serious" that by not doing so you are just a hobbyist).

I guess that makes me a black sheep in the meadow. But here's the thing: I've learned not to care.

I keep no illusions that the stuff I write is not great literature. It rests firmly in corners of the internet where certain people googling naughty pictures and naughty stories might stumble across it. Gary Shteyngart who reviews books for the New York Times will never blurb any of my novels. Marion Ettlinger will never photograph me for a book jacket. I will never have a cover designed by Hugo Award Winning science fiction artist Michael Whelan. I've had my share of critics who throw my "free" work up there with what they consider "great" and in the comparison find them lacking. Whatever. I write novels meant to entertain me and I just happen to publish them. So people that think like me are going to be entertained. People that don't think like me will probably be offended and leave a scolding review behind. Part of me blames the MFA's for this.

Writing as a profession is awash with MFA snobs. Yet, I also sympathize with the tired old English professor. They are either called on the carpet for being too elite or for allowing students who can't write a complete sentence to graduate. It's a tough job, but the MFA programs should be used to criticism. So I'm going to offer up mine. What I'm saying about them is deserving because they head the dreaded "writing workshop." Here's what I think of writing workshops: they are there for participants to have their work publicly flogged, and I guess someone at some point decided this is a good thing and sold it to all the rest of us. "Stilted dialogue, flat characters, muscular prose" and any number of other criticisms come pouring out shortly before your pages are offered to a goat to eat.

Then there's the literary agents. To be clear, I don't have one, but I know about them. I'm also not disparaging any of my fellow writers who have agents. You deserve your success, so don't take what I say personally. What I know of them is just the impression that I've been left with in dealing with them. In person, they are fast talkers usually speaking before a crowd as a special guest. They all say the same thing: writers need a distinctive voice, stuff needs to happen, plot is key, this is in and the other is out, etc. Far be it for them to speak with the legendary Steve Jobs who said, "You can't just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they'll want something new." I love that quote. And just so you know, I quote Steve Jobs here because he was a titan of business, and not thinking that writing is a business is a lie.

But here's the point of my entire post: each writer enters the craft with a strength. For some it is humor, for others it is world-building, and for yet another crowd it might be beautiful sentences. I know I find my strength in writing when I want to write, when I have passion for writing, and when I have something to say. This turtle moves at his own pace, and I have the luxury of not having fame. Yes, you heard me right. I'm not famous at all, and I think this in many ways is a fantastic benefit. The few hundred people that have read my stuff are not breathing down my neck and making fun of me online for being slow because I like to sit on the couch and watch tv and sleep more than eight hours a night. I've overcome the insecurity of non-conformity and found myself as a writer. How about you?

To conform or not to conform? Either way, I look forward to reading your comments.


This post is part of the Insecure Writer's Support Group started by Alex J. Cavanaugh.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Godzilla should be watched in nothing but IMAX

I just saw this clip from the movie, and seriously, anyone thinking of watching this on a non-IMAX screen is not a fan. Two huge monsters and Ken Wattanabe (who has the ability to make anything sound interesting) is just too epic. Have a fine Cinco de Mayo.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The world has seen its first trillion dollar idea

We live in a  unique era in that we've probably seen the first "trillion dollar" idea. And it really boggles my mind. I'm referring (of course) to Apple's iPhone. Just to put this in perspective, a "billion" dollar idea is a rarity. A very select few (handful) of individuals get "billion" dollar ideas. The founders of Twitter, Square, Uber, and Whatsapp had billion dollar ideas. For you writers out there, J.K. Rowling had a "billion" dollar idea. So how rare of a sighting is a billion dollar idea anyway? Is it a unicorn? Pretty much.

Anyone fortunate enough to get one of these ideas should thank their lucky stars that they had the "genius" and inspiration to execute it. I say (tongue in cheek) that this is true UNLESS you're republican. In that case, you should just fall back on the hubris that comes oh-so-naturally and proclaim to the world, "I came up with this idea and executed it and you can too. You just need to stop taking government welfare and pull yourself up by your bootstraps."

And let's not even concern ourselves with million dollar ideas. Those are aired on every episode of "Shark Tank," although to be fair...a lot are shot down by the sharks (and justly so). As an aside, I think everyone should watch Shark Tank, doubly true if you're someone that thinks "I'm clever and I have an idea worth millions." Chances are, you're not as clever as you think, and you have no idea what a good idea even looks like. Here's your "I'm doomed to the middle class" card. Now settle in to being mediocre like the rest of us.

Now, just to be clear, the intent of my post is not to metaphysically defecate on too many republicans out there who live and die by the mantra: "the reason you are poor is because you're lazy!" Rather, I want to talk about what Apple has done that other companies can simply not do at this time. Yes, I'm going to talk about "the impossible" and how one company does it every single quarter. Even more astonishing is the fact that "doing the impossible" now garners "yawns" from people who don't recognize it for being mind-blowing and extraordinary at the same time.

Last week, Apple reported earnings for the first quarter of 2014. In just three months (12 weeks) they sold enough of their products to bring in $47 billion in profits. This not only blew away Wall Street expectations that believed the tech company would produce only a meager $42 billion, but reaffirmed their position as the most profitable company in the world.

If you're a Google fan boy, then here's a comparison for you: Google reported earnings of $3 billion for the same time period. They dominate the search landscape and experienced revenue growth of 19%! Everyone that has been online is reading about Google buying up other companies, continuing to innovate, and their employees get some of the best perks in the world. All of this is because Google is flush with cash. Yet they make almost 14X less than Apple does for the same time period. They are a minnow compared to a whale shark. How's that for perspective?

To say I'm in awe of Apple is an understatement. My jaw hangs open because it's inconceivable to me that someone could have an idea worth $1,000,000,000,000. Literally, fifteen "ideas" like the iPhone would entirely pay off our national debt. Making $200 billion a year on their products, it only took Apple five years to hit the $1 trillion mark. Sure, they've spent a lot too which leaves their cash hoard in the bank at a mere $200 billion that they can use to invest in whatever they want to invest.

Here's what Apple did in their earnings call last week (summarizing Tim Cook, the Apple CEO's, words): 1) A stock split of 7 shares for every 1 share in existence effective in June, 2) an increase to their dividend of 8%, and 3) a stock buyback increase from $60 billion a year to $90 billion a year. Wow! Most companies are lucky to be able to afford to buy back $1 billion of their stock. Apple's numbers are just plain ridiculousness. To misquote Weezer from Steel Magnolias, "Apple has more money than God."

It's these kinds of things that get my tongue wagging. In particular, the 7 to 1 stock split is curious. Why? I think it's to lower the stock price which is now at roughly $600 a share to around $70 a share which would make it fit very nicely into the Dow Jones, which is a very snooty Index (and the oldest) and only has 30 stocks in it. That's 30 companies that are cherry-picked for their power and influence in the American economy. Lots of people think that it's a barometer of how well our country is doing. If the Dow sinks, then the economy is sinking too (or at least that's the idea). But if Apple is invited into the Dow Jones, what stock gets the boot? Perhaps the cue was in (again) Tim Cook's words in his conference call when he (more or less) said, "I'd like to welcome Microsoft to the app store. We like it when companies take an opportunity to explore technology." In other words, the jab at Microsoft was more than obvious.

A lot of people have given CEO Tim Cook grief by accusing him of being "boring" and implicating that "boring" is the death of all tech companies. Sure, he isn't another Steve Jobs but there will never be a replacement for Steve. And when it comes to trillion dollar ideas, I think one comes along (if ever) once a century from this point forward. Seriously. Expecting a person, group, or even company with limitless money to squirt out another trillion dollar idea is just stupid. Be appreciative that you live in a time when you actually saw a trillion idea birthed into the world. It's probably as rare as seeing Haley's comet with the naked eye. Most of us will ever recall but one in our entire life. And that's just how I see it.