Wednesday, March 31, 2021

I'm painting a 3D printed Japanese castle in the same color scheme as the Himeji castle world heritage site.

I collect 3D terrain. I recently purchased a "Samurai Castle" off Etsy. They come unpainted, and they are printed by people who own 3D printers. I don't want to own one because they are bulky, temperamental, and make a lot of noise. The one that we have at work is whining pretty much all day long, making a low-key electronic squeal as it moves around the bed squeezing out hot plastic. The thing's got to be kept at a precise and relatively perfect temperature, or the plastic unlatches from the bed which then causes a huge mess. Anyway, it's much easier to purchase from people willing to do all the trouble and just get the finished product from them.

Most of the terrain that I own is "Western-themed" as that is the most popular. So the items I've been purchasing off Etsy are "Japanese" flavored, and I'm going to have fun painting this castle (I'll attach pictures below). I received it yesterday in a big box and then last night I primed it. So tonight I should be able to start with the painting. I'm going to use the paint scheme of Himeji castle, which is a famous landmark in Japan.

Above is what my castle looked like out of the box, only it was in brown plastic and not gray. The color of the plastic doesn't matter as I'm priming the whole thing and painting it with a brush anyway. It doesn't look that big in the picture, but it is rather large. The small model in front of the door is just a little over an inch tall. The guy I bought it from on Etsy wanted to sell me a whole foundation for it, which was about three times the above size. I wasn't interested because 1) that's a lot of stuff to paint, 2) I didn't really like the design of the huge base it sits on and 3) I think it would have trouble fitting on a regular kitchen table, which is what I use when we play our D&D games.

And on the "painting the model" front, this is actually the biggest project I have done to date with brushes. I don't want to buy anything else until I get this one done to kind of discipline myself and force myself to complete one project before I move onto something else. I think that it will probably take me weeks of time to paint during the evenings if I want to get all of the details just right. Painting is relaxing for me, so I'll just put on some nice music and as the days get longer and warmer, I'll probably leave a window cracked while I paint away.

However, I do have my eyeball on future projects. Should I finish this castle to my satisfaction, I'd like to purchase some of the accessories for it that can be 3D printed. Below is a gatehouse that would look amazing all painted up.
I think this gate would look so cool all done up in nice matching colors. Oh and if you aren't aware, all of these models come apart so that you can put stuff on the inside. The interiors are fully detailed down to the tatami mat borders and threads of the rooms. They are fantastic. To go with the above gate there are Samurai castle towers and walls so that you could enclose the thing if you wanted to. Here's a shot of the towers.
These obviously would go on the corners. Anyway, I'm not going to buy either the gate or the tower until I finish the main project, which is the castle itself. Below is a picture of Himeji castle in Japan, and I'm going to paint my castle in the same color scheme.
Obviously, my 3D model will never look this grand. However, it will still look cool as I have other terrain pieces to go with it, including a nice looking foundation and cherry trees. I think the diorama (when it is completed) will look quite beautiful.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Matt Mercer effect is really interesting.

Matt Mercer is an elite DM and makes a ton of money from Critical Role and other products. He
is widely successful, and he is responsible for Dungeons & Dragons
becoming a bedrock of pop culture.

I belong to several RPG (roleplaying game communities) on Facebook. Some boast hundreds of thousands of members. I go there to see what people are talking about, what the current outrage is, and to see what other dungeon master's (this is a term used to describe a person who hosts the game rather than someone who is dressed in leather and whipping another in a sex dungeon) are struggling with. I sometimes offer my own advice, as I would describe myself as being an expert in this particular hobby of mine (playing Dungeons & Dragons). Not to brag, but, I've always felt that I was the equal to any of the other "famous DM's" who run games for players online and who have gathered millions of followers. I've had people in my old home town actually come up to me (strangers) to shake my hand because they heard from people who used to play with me (I haven't lived there for fourteen years) who still talk about the games I used to run. And I've only gotten better with the newest edition of D&D (called Fifth edition).

Anyway, if you take a tour through these RPG communities, which are full of fresh faces and people discovering the hobby for the first time, you can encounter discussions of "the Mercer effect." This is a term that describes the unrealistic expectations of new D&D players who believe their games will be similar to the online broadcast episodes of Critical Role (it averages 40,000 views for a live stream and broke a Kickstarter record by raising over $11.3 million--it also has an animated series on Prime Video). Matt Mercer is a semi-famous person who runs D&D games, and he's a voice actor, and a lot of his players are voice actors as well. A familiar instance of the "Matt Mercer" effect then is when new players, unaware of their own inexperience and how that impacts the game, become disenfranchised when their own Dungeon Master cannot be as entertaining and engaging as Matt Mercer.

There are literally hundreds of posts in Dungeons & Dragons forums with DM's asking for advice on "How do I beat the Matt Mercer effect?" In other words, DM's feel like they are letting their players down (which they absolutely are...let's not quibble and what is going on here) by not being as engaging with new players. And the players stop returning to their games, or if they do...the satisfaction of the DM who is running the game becomes so low that they stop, and that kills the weekly fun. This (of course) is not the intent of Matt Mercer (who is playing on an elite level). But it is fascinating to see.

Even though my goals are widely different from Matt Mercer, I have never had this issue. I don't want to be famous, I don't want to monetize my hobby at all, and I like connecting with a group of eight individuals who I handpick to get to know and run stories for. However, my entire goal with respect to D&D has always been to have an elite game and play at an elite level, and I've finally achieved that. So, I don't feel any different. I had a couple of newbie players say to me recently, "Playing with you is exactly what I'd feel playing with Matt Mercer would be like." I didn't need this compliment, but I said "thank you." However, it was something I already knew. Part of my confidence comes from that fact that I know I spin interesting stories. That is half of the battle right there. Some people just have an active imagination, and others do not. Nearly all of you who are reading my words right now are people with incredible imaginations, which is why you are published authors. And I've read a lot of your work out there, and I can reassure you that all of you are just as creative as me (and Matt Mercer--whom you've probably never heard about until now). But we all have different goals with what we want to do with our talents.

However, it has taken me literally decades to come to terms with how "different" people are from one another. There are people out there who don't have imaginations. I have met them, and it is very difficult for them to see anything that isn't real or spelled out to them. That must be a kind of curse, especially if what you want to do is entertain people with your own stories. A lot of these people also seem to have "side-effects" of this kind of curse, in that they don't want to read any materials to absorb ideas because "reading is boring." And yet, they try to run games like D&D, and they do a terrible job at it because it isn't something in their wheelhouse. It would be like a person who is bad at math declaring that their life's ambition is to be a rocket scientist. That's a really difficult thing to accomplish in the first place, and it's even mores if you are bad at math.

Anyway, to finish, I think that the "Matt Mercer effect" is an interesting phenomenon to which there really isn't a solution anymore than there is a solution for low self-esteem and a way to convince people to lower their expectations.

Monday, March 22, 2021

I'll be back next Monday.

I'm taking a short break to help dad get his taxes in order and do a few other things. Those of you with aging parents may be going through the same thing. It is no fun, but it needs to be done. I'll see you next Monday with my thoughts on the Snyder Cut of Justice League.

Friday, March 19, 2021

I'm in awe of the writers who finish a series that is so huge it staggers my mind to think about the length of it.

I am a little in awe of stories that seem to never end. I'm also using hyperbole when I say that these stories don't end. It just seems that way, because authors I've been following have continued writing sequels to their fantasy stories that stretched way beyond anything that I could have envisioned in the past when I first found these writers, read a book, and then said, "Hey, this is pretty good. Is there any more?"

Tolkien left off with (pretty much) his famous trilogy and then a bunch of seed stories that he created in The Silmarillion. To me, these "seed stories" all sounded like something much bigger than I could ever take on. I just wanted to write a few books, and then my story would be finished. I was thinking, "Maybe five books is doable." And then there came along writers like Brandon Sanderson (who writes a book in the time that I take to cook breakfast), and Stephen King who does about the same (but Stephen doesn't so much write in sequels as he does in a shared universe similar to what Marvel does with its movies). I think (as far as sequels go) The Dark Tower stretches to eight hefty novels that could be used as door stops. That's impressive and way beyond anything I could ever do in my entire lifetime I think.

But as far as prolific writers go, it's up there with Robert Jordan (and Sanderson) who wrote a series spanning (I think) fourteen books. That's almost twice what King wrote. Admittedly, Jordan died during the writing of it, but's impressive. And then there's Raymond E. Feist who wrote 30 books all in the same series (I'm on number 25 I think). That was kind of a jaw-dropping number when I stumbled across how many books he'd published in the time since my childhood (when I first discovered him), and there were only four in the series (and I had enjoyed them).

Well, I took a gander at what Terry Brooks has been up to since my college days when i had finished a book called The Elf Queen of Shannara, which (I think) was like number seven in the series. I was just curious to see if there were any more books in that series, and I discovered that the whole thing had been wrapped up with book 35 in 2020. Say, what?! Thirty-five books? That's just insane to me. What kind of story takes 35 books to wrap up? What's even more crazy to me is that he actually finished it, and I guess he's starting a new series which actually looks interesting (I saw the cover art for his new "non-Shannara" book yesterday on io9).

I'm going to have to do some more research. Did these authors actually write all of these books or are they being ghost written by someone? With Feist, I can confirm that I think he's written all of his. The writing style never changes, as does the devotion of the characters. I suppose I could be fooled, but I don't think any second-hand writer could keep track of all the stuff that's going on in those books. I'm also glad that I waited until the series was over before I started reading them. It allows details to remain fresh and crisp in my memory so things he refers back to in his books were things I read maybe a month or two ago (instead of having years between stories).

In any event, I'm no less awed by the production of these writers. And these books are not thin flimsy things, but easily top 200,000 words a piece. Like...what the hell? People who are trying to get established as professional writers should take note: if you want to be a writer, you need to write your fingers off.

Is anyone else following some absurdly long series (absurdly in my book is more than ten)? I'd be interested to hear about them, even if I never get around to reading them.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

We have so much freedom to choose things in the United States that more and more people are failing to launch every single day.

This week on Facebook of all places, I was treated to a meme post about a man who had been in prison for thirty years having to deal with the complexity of modern life. It talked about how he had to acquire computer skills from a helpful person, and then use those computer skills to essentially find a home and work. It was a long and difficult process, because when they went into jail, there really was no such thing as computers. The point of the post was to encourage others to give help when needed, and to illustrate just how much the world has changed in a relatively short amount of time. It also got me to reflect (for a moment) at how difficult it is to actually live in our modern world. It requires above-average intelligence, or (lacking that) it requires you to be rich so that you can hire people with above average intelligence to do things for you. Don't believe me? Here's a short list of what the modern adult is expected to do by themselves (if you cannot afford to hire anyone).

1) To get a place to live, you need to find a place that is vacant. The best places to do this is by going online, which means that you already have to have internet skills, the ability to connect to wi-fi, and the ability to understand how to click on and process computer links. Once you find a place to live, you need to apply, which is usually online. You will probably need references, first and last month's rent, and a deposit. You will probably need to sign a lease, which means you should be familiar with some legalese. You will need to be able to move dollars around, which will mean you need bank accounts of some kind. They will also probably do a credit check in order to obtain "trust" from strangers with regard to the property they are going to lend you to use.

2) You will need to find work. Doing this in the modern world is even worse than finding a place to live. You will have to apply online to a ton of jobs, you will need references, you will need social media networking, and you will need to express yourself on resumes in ways that allow a bot to find keywords so that you can actually catch the notice of a person who is in a hiring position. Once that is done, you may need to interview online, which will require you to be able to use software like Zoom or Google meet and know how to mute and unmute your microphone. It sounds easy to someone that is computer savvy, but it can be daunting to one that has no idea how computers operate.

3) You will need licenses that expire all the time for everything. You know of the driver's license already. But what about a license for your pet, or your credentials (that keep expiring) so that you can work with others. Do you have letters following your last name? As soon as you go through the rigmarole of getting licensed, it seems like you blink twice and its expired and needs to be renewed. Your license plates will need renewal every year. What about safety inspections on your vehicle? You will need to get certificates for those over and over and over. To get your pet washed at PetCo (or other pet groomers) they will need to have their shots. However, it's not just that. You will need to have kept proof of those shots, and have that ready for examination. You will need to register everything with bureaus, and with organizations, and with insurance companies. 

4) You will be bombarded by crooks and thieves. In the midst of navigating your hundreds of licenses and certifications in order to have a job, you will receive hundreds of phone calls, text messages, and emails requesting you to supply information or to click on this sketchy link... One false move, and you will have your identity stolen and your credit rating ruined by scammers laughing all the way to the bank about how stupid you were.

5) You will need to monitor your credit rating and your identity online to make sure that no one steals it. This will mean regular checking of suspicious activity that may be reported to one of the three credit bureaus in the United States that keep track of stuff like this.

6) You will be required to come up with hundreds of passwords to make sure that the things that you use are secure. If you forget your passwords, you run the risk of not being able to use or access something important (like checking your accounts for fraud or to move money around). If you put things on autopay, when you have to cancel a credit card because it got stolen, you will need to redo all of the autopays yet again in order to avoid catastrophic failure.

7) You will need to be able to fix things in your home. In many situations of the modern world, lightbulbs have become a thing of the past, replaced by cheaper and supposedly more efficient LED fixtures. This means that if one lightbulb on an LED fixture that holds four burns out, you won't be able to replace it. You either live with the burned out lightbulb, or you replace the entire f*cking fixture (and yes I've done this multiple times).

8) Anything connected to the internet wears out or requires updates. Your routers only last about four years and need to be replaced. The same goes for computers and operating systems. An operating system that doesn't have the latest updates becomes compromised. Your computer can get backed up with hundreds of these updates that never got installed, booting you off Wi-Fi and slowing down your computer as it tries to clear the logjam. You have to constantly update them as they march toward planned obsolescence, which happens quicker than you think. As soon as you buy yourself a gadget or a laptop, you should already be thinking about the cost to replace said gadget or laptop within four years. I was surprised that fridges are so replaceable. They only last a few years now, and they are made to be replaced about once every six or so years (which doesn't seem like that long at all).

9) Everything is made with "some assembly required" in the modern world. If you buy an electronic device to turn your lights on and off, it will probably require a connection to the internet, an app to be downloaded to a smartphone or tablet, and at a minimum an email account. Google products don't play well with Amazon products which don't play well with Facebook products and Microsoft products. So you will want to check compatibility between all of these to make sure that you have the right thing. And that's just electronics. Furniture (for many people) has gotten prohibitively expensive. So you may go and buy some assemble-it-yourself furniture. If you do, know that you are in for a day of work.

10) You will have to file taxes, repeatedly, until the day you die. The merciless toll of years does not care whether or not your mind has aged and you don't remember things as well as you did in your youth (or if you ever did for that matter). If you don't know how to do it yourself, and you aren't computer savvy to do it with software, you'd better be rich enough to hire someone else to do it for you.

11) You will need to be your own troubleshooter. If a computer doesn't stay connected to the Wi-Fi, it could be the actual computer, the Wi-Fi card, or even your internet service and your router. There is no magic fairy that floats down and tells you what is broken. You have to be able to do that yourself or pay someone else to do it.

12) Money is no longer simple. There are people trying to get rid of the dollar in favor of cryptocurrency, which could come with its own set of horrible processes and required devices and security that you need to go through in order to be able to purchase something. You will also need to know where you should put your money that will give you the best shot at building security for yourself. If you don't make the right choices, you will end up broke and no one will care as you die a pitiless death on a sidewalk somewhere.

And all of the above is just the beginning. You may be saying to yourself...why is Mike going to the trouble of listing (and complaining) about all of this stuff? Well, it's because I'm in a job that allows me the privilege of watching people struggle with all of these things. It's exhausting...and on top of are expected to find a partner, create a family, and then work a 40-hour a week (or more) job.  So, I guess, my point is that the amount of freedom we have in the United States is driving many people to exhaustion. There's too much freedom to screw yourself over and over. A given person only has so much brain capacity to meet the challenges of constant choice. Life has become a never-ending treadmill with a saw blade on the end of it waiting to chew up those who can't keep up. And it's only going to get worse with the challenges of climate change, income inequality, housing, and healthcare.

Why did the people who came before me (our ancestors) build a world like this? Anyone got any ideas? There are some days when I feel like the modern world has become hell on earth, made so by the decisions of people who are constantly making things more complicated so that they can make money.

Monday, March 15, 2021

The Snyder cut of the Justice League movie actually looks really good.

The Snyder Cut of the Justice League movie comes out this week (I think) on Thursday. That would put it one day before Marvel premieres another of its Avenger's-related titles called The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It's probably a smart idea to release one day before another streaming hit (not that people have a limited attention span). But I think people will be watching to see if Snyder's cut of The Justice League sits easier with fans and allows the content creators for DC to move forward and pursue sequels to those kinds of stories.

In reading about the upcoming four hour cut of the movie (and yes I intend to watch it as soon as possible), I've come to understand a lot about the one that came out a few years ago that got panned by reviewers and fans alike (even though it still made roughly $900 million). It all has to do with Joss Whedon, and how he is apparently a toxic person to work with in Hollywood. It's all been kind of shocking to hear the many sexist allegations he's had, and then I caught a brief look of a Wonder Woman script that somehow made it online (that Joss wrote) wherein he's pretty much a sexist scumbag toward the iconic character. It really is kind of sad when people you admire turn out to be nothing like what you think they are in real life. Joss had quite a bit of goodwill from me due to Firefly and what appeared to be a cast that had been excited to work with him, and who had many kind things said about him by actors in Firefly. 

But then people started talking about what it was like to work with him on Age of Ultron and then the Justice League movie. In particular, Ray Fisher has done a good job providing examples of Joss's toxic behaviors on set, not to mention women who felt demeaned by him. Anyway, I don't know who said it, but there's a lot of truth in not getting to know your heroes. You will always be disappointed.

I embedded the final trailer for the new Snyder-cut of Justice League (which comes out later this week on HBO MAX) below for your viewing pleasure. Have a good Monday.

Friday, March 12, 2021

So I found out what the Darkhold actually is and I'm going to share my knowledge with you.

So, at the end of WandaVision, we saw a couple of cut scenes. The most significant of the cut scenes reveals that the Scarlet Witch (Wanda Maximoff) has kind of split herself into two beings. The first one is in a cabin drinking coffee or tea and relaxing with a wilderness view of a lake, and the other is in the bedroom levitating and absorbing the knowledge of a book called The Darkhold. I knew nothing about The Darkhold. However, my friend James (who is more into comic books than me) sent me a video link on Facebook that told me a little about what The Darkhold is, and in many respects, listening to it is a clue as to what may be coming in the Marvel cinematic universe (the MCU).

So, what is The Darkhold? Well, it's a book written on flesh (of course it's a book written on human flesh) that is all about an Elder God called Chthon. Chthon was spawned from this concept called the Demiurge, which was the creator of the Earth in the Marvel universe. Most of the elder gods went evil, but there were a couple that didn't. Gaia was one and she asked the Demiurge to allow her to give birth to a child who was literally "the god eater." Well this child took care of most of the bothersome evil elder gods, but Chthon escaped the god eater by hiding in another dimension.

Being exiled from earth didn't mean that Chthon was comfortable in his new home, and so he's always wanted to find a way back from his dimension. This Chthon left behind a book that contained all his knowledge of how to manipulate chaos magic to do all kinds of dark and powerful things (a spellbook), and it was called The Darkhold. It is an artifact of great power that teaches magic users how to do incredibly powerful things, but it's one purpose is to take over the person reading the book and use their power to either further the aims of Chthon, or to outright free him of his imprisonment.

Many years later, Morgan Le Fay and a coven of witches tried to summon and control Chthon, but the entity ended up being too powerful. So Morgan Le Fay imprisoned Chthon under Wundagore Mountain, where it's been ever since. So, at the end of WandaVision, it's not a stretch to think that the Scarlet Witch has gone to a cabin on Wundagore Mountain. In the comic books too, she and her brother Quicksilver were born on Wundagore Mountain (their father was Magneto), although I guess that's been retconned in some other story. I'm not sure what the canon explanation of that happens to be.

Anyway, The Darkhold seems to be a prop that is closely and intimately associated with this powerful and evil elder god named Chthon. The maker of the video indicates that if we thought Thanos was bad, then Chthon is way worse. However, I'm not so sure they can top what Thanos was (as a villain) in the MCU. I mean...they spent twenty some odd movies slow-burning Thanos and when he finally got his moment to shine, he killed off half the universe and destroyed the Avengers. We literally had to wait a year for another satisfying resolution to the events of Avengers: Infinity War. So, having experienced all of that, I'm not sure I can buy into the fact that Chthon is worse than Thanos, except (maybe) that Chthon is universe ending as opposed to half the universe ending as a threat level. It all becomes kind of silly when framed that way, but in fictional narratives and comic books, there is always going to be a need to "outdo" what has come before, right? I just don't know if Thanos can be outdone. But, maybe I just don't possess the imagination to see it, which is why I don't work for Disney.

I do, however, appreciate that the comic books have at least tried to detail what exactly The Darkhold is rather than just saying, "It's a book of spells." Books need to contain things, and it can be too easy to just create a bunch of mysterious covers and then expect people to make up what is supposedly behind those covers. This is kind of how I feel about The Necronomicon. We don't really know what that book is or why it exists other than it contains the rambling mumbo jumbo of a mad Arab and is somehow related to the Cthulhu mythos. Are its pages filled with spells? Does it have cooking recipes? What do those spells do? The Darkhold by contrast seems to have more answers within the comic book lore. For one, we know it exists because it was created specifically by a powerful elder god to bring him back to earth. And two, it has spells in it that manipulate chaos magic to produce dark and evil effects that (assumedly) people are oblivious that they can do with their chaos magic. It also has a full chapter dedicated to the myth of "The Scarlet Witch," which is very useful because there's a character running around with that title. Finally, its chapters on dark matter (a thing that is name-dropped a lot in the physics world) lend a psuedo-sciency lore to everything so that they can create a plausible suspension of disbelief among those of us who know nothing of real-world physics but like to pretend we are not stupid (many of us including myself are in fact stupid in actual physics). 

I am looking forward to more development of The Darkhold and the Scarlet Witch's character in the MCU. Being a book, inevitably Doctor Strange is going to weigh in on it with his expertise, and it's probably a nice teaser for the next Doctor Strange movie and in what direction it may go.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

So it turns out Wanda Maximoff in the MCU was just using magic all along.

It turns out that the red glowy thing was just a magical spell all along. It also can
be turned off by just painting some runes on a wall. That's so disappointing.

There are spoilers ahead for WandaVision.

I just finished watching the short made for television series called WandaVision. I'd written about it in a previous post, and I said that it was difficult to watch because I empathized with Wanda's incredible pain and grief. Here was a character who was suffering who needed professional help. She needed therapy. My opinion on that has not changed a bit with the end of the series. But there were a few things I learned from this version of Wanda Maximoff that I wasn't aware of (and I'm strictly talking MCU Maximoff).

The most important of these realizations is that Wanda is a magic user. She was always the Scarlet Witch in the comic books. However, the MCU portrayed her powers in a way that made me think that they weren't going with straight spellbooks, sorcery, and Harry Potter-esque props. I'm talking old school wizard here. Wanda is just a student that never made it to Hogwarts, and I think I find that disappointing.

I mean, the MCU went a long ways with the Asgardians to portray their technologies as just super advanced versions of science, and the powers that Thor wielded kind of reminded me of how Jedi use "The Force" in Star Wars. They can just do things because of whom they are. Being children of Odin, Thor, Loki, and Hela just had a natural bent for tapping into the Odin Force, and they could just alter and manipulate versions of reality using that power.

I thought Wanda had been set up similarly. In other words, I wasn't expecting them to explain the mechanics of her powers. Nor did I think that this was necessary. She was just fine with the red swirly thing around her fingers and being able to do whatever the plot dictated with it. One character way back in Avengers: Age of Ultron defined Wanda's powers as being "weird." I liked that...the idea of "weird chaos powers" was kind of cool.

But by the end of WandaVision, it became clear that Wanda is in fact a witch. She's the Scarlet Witch, and she wields the magic of an entire coven all to herself. She was also prophesied to do so, and there are runes that can keep one from tapping into this magic (I thought that kinda sucked to be honest once I realized that Wanda's powers could be turned off by just writing some runes on a wall). Look...I get it...the need to establish limits to a power. I just didn't anticipate that they were going to be so...purely magical. I mean, essentially this entire time, Wanda has just been casting spells like a Dungeons & Dragons wizard. Oy! Yes...the rune thing really did bother me even if she did turn them against Agnes in the end by putting runes in the sky. This (apparently) is all it takes to get rid of a magic-user.

Magic does seem to fit well within the framework of the MCU. However, I wasn't quite ready to accept that what Wanda was wielding was actual "abracadabra" magic. So, I was a little disappointed. Overall, though...I really liked how this series is sparking conversations about mental illness. And it's inevitable now that Wanda meet Doctor Strange (and work with him), because they both use magic. And who better than the Sorcerer Supreme to help Wanda to cast bigger and better spells with the chaos magic that she wields? I wonder if she will create a patronus in the future. That might be kind of neat.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Artbreeder is a website with an artificial intelligence that produces better and faster art than I ever could.

I'm a bit late to the game, but early last week I made a new account on a website called "artbreeder," and I started manipulating photographs of people I uploaded onto the internet. You get up to three a month (if I understand the terms correctly), and if you want more than that...well, you can pay a monthly subscription and it allows you to work on hundreds. I think it also speeds up the time your "seed" image takes to upload to the site. Mine usually take a few hours. So, I usually would just upload something before bed. When I woke up in the morning, I was able to play around with it as much as I liked.

Artbreeder's results are startlingly good. I'm also shocked at how quickly I can make an image of a fictional person that doesn't even resemble the original seed. In the manipulation of the photos, you have sliders. Just to name a few, there is gender, hair color, eye color, width, yaw, and pitch. These last two...the ones called "yaw" and "pitch," actually blew my mind. "Yaw" allows you to turn a person in a photograph in real time. And I can't tell that the original photo wasn't turned that way. To explain it further, let's say a person is staring off to the left in a photo, and you want to see what they look like straight on. You can do that by adjust the "yaw" slider. They turn right in front of your eyes until they are straight on and staring at you in the picture.

"Pitch" does the same thing, only it raises and lowers the head. Too much pitch in one direction will have your photo staring at the sky. The other way has them looking at the ground. There are sliders for the shape of the eyes, for changing the emotion, for making a person smile in a photo or frown or just like like they are holding back on something. Here's some samples of what you can do in this weird (and free) program and by the way, none of these people exist in real life to my knowledge:

Once the photo is uploaded, it takes about five minutes to make each one of these. You can also make them on your smartphone if you are commuting to work on the train and just want to kill time. The website has sliders you can just manipulate with your finger.

You can do other kinds of art on artbreeder too. The one above was done under the "portraits" heading. But you can do landscapes, science fiction, and you can combine pictures with just a slider. You don't need photoshop or anything similar. The program just does it for you.

Can you imagine how long it would take to do concept paintings for the characters above? I guarantee it wouldn't happen in five minutes using the "old school" techniques that I learned in art classes. I just wonder what this means for artists. Have they now been replaced by a robot? If you can create photo-realistic images of characters in five minutes going to are artists going to compete with that?

Anyway, disastrous societal implications aside...if you have not checked out artbreeder, I encourage you to do so. Here's the link. Let me know if it blows your mind in the same way mine was blown.

Friday, March 5, 2021

In today's post I'm celebrating the great art created by Rowena Morrill who died in February at the age of 76.

I learned on Wednesday that one of the artists I was fascinated by in the eighties passed away in February of 2021. Her name was Rowena Morrill, and she died at the age of 76. In her career, she was nominated for several Hugo's. I always found the way she drew human figures on fantasy covers to be especially captivating, and I'm going to post a few of those below. The era of art in which she drew has seen its sunset with the rise of digital painting and art made by artificial intelligence. But for a time, I think she was one of the greats.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

It's March of 2021 and the IWSG is asking what motivates our reading choices

It is the month of March. I always love March, because it is a month that has left the gray days of February behind and traded them for a whisper of spring. And because it is the first Wednesday of the month, it is time for another Insecure Writer's Support Group post.

If you too would like to sign-up for the IWSG (founded by Alex Cavanaugh), please go to this LINK HERE. Here is some information that is taken from their web page:

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, the IWSG gives writers the opportunity to either answer a question, or to compose a thoughtful and provoking writing-related post. My well on the latter ran dry a long time ago. So, I'm going to answer the question, which is...

March 3 question - Everyone has a favorite genre or genres to write. But what about your reading preferences? Do you read widely or only within the genre(s) you create stories for? What motivates your reading choice?

My reading (right now) consists of mostly Raymond E. Feist books, as I'm trying to get through a huuuugggeee series of books that this man has written (like 28 total), and I'm like on book 24. So, I'm going to finish this story, and thus far I give it four out of five stars. But this isn't exclusively what I read. Another book that I'm working on is Ready Player Two and the book called Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. 

Quite a departure, right? So what motivates my reading choices? Well, I'd like to call it a brain that is thirsty to know things. Yes, I do read a lot of science fiction and fantasy. But after you read a lot of similar books, you become more and more cognizant of those similarities. A Sword of Ice and Fire (for example) at its most basic was a story of ice zombies versus dragons. What made it worth reading were the incredible character developments. But not every writer is capable of doing those things, so their version of dragons versus zombies or some other such thing isn't nearly as fresh and exciting. You come to discover the woes of capitalism that produce fantasy books that are only shades different from the last book you read. This phenomenon is "more of the same because it sells." And's a formula.

So as I'm reading a genre of books, I start to build up an intolerance to "more of the same." And that's when I know it is time to switch to something like Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo, primarily because I want to understand some aspect of modern society that has eluded me. This particular book answered questions about how I noticed some white males could be absolutely horrible at their jobs and end up rich, while life was a real struggle for me despite my many talents. And I found that interesting.

I hope that answers the question of the month sufficiently. If you have the time, please check out the awesome co-hosts that keep this blogfest running, year after year, and decade after decade. 

The awesome co-hosts for the March 3 posting of the IWSG are Sarah - The Faux Fountain Pen Jacqui Murray, Chemist Ken, Victoria Marie Lees, Natalie Aguirre, and JQ Rose!

Monday, March 1, 2021

I finally got my first Covid vaccine shot but the process of finding an appointment left me with a few questions.

I finally got my first Covid 19 vaccine/shot on Saturday morning. I also learned that I might have qualified for it a lot sooner. My job is in rehabilitation, which means that I work with people every day who are disabled. I am literally in and out of people's homes two to three times a week. Sometimes it is scary, going into a home to do an assessment for an hour, and the people in the home do not want to wear a mask. Usually, they have obliged me (begrudgingly). But I live in a heavily red state, and a lot of the people here think that Covid is a thing that was made up by democrats to make President Trump look bad. Just last week I was in a home with three people, none of whom were wearing masks. Two were seated on the sofa playing video games on the big tv. The third was who I was meeting with. I decided to get in and out as quickly as possible, and I wear PPE. But it is still rather nerve-wracking. It has been that way for almost a year, and I've been able to avoid getting Covid thus far.

Well, now I've been vaccinated. But it was weird. Urged by my brother to check to see if I could get the vaccine, I went to a website called vaccine finder. You only found this website if you went to the Utah Department of Health website, which has a hundred links on it. The vaccine finder was one link on the Covid page. It was not the main link. You had to scroll down to find it, but it was there. Once you went to that link, you checked to see if there was vaccine in your area. To do that, you had to plug in your zip code. Okay, then. That's what I did.

So then I got a list of businesses on the smartphone that showed they carried vaccine. There were names like Walgreens, Kroger (Smith's), other grocery stores like Dan's or Harmon's (both in my area), Walmart, and the list was extensive. Some had little minus signs underneath them that indicated they were out of stock with words. Some said they were in stock. Okay then, you chose one to click. Then it would lead you to another page that asked if you would like to see if they had appointments available. If you clicked on that button, nearly all of them required that you download the store's app. So now I have Walgreens and Walmart both on my smart phone. Others required that you just register an account, and now I'm receiving email from half a dozen places that I wasn't receiving email from before. On one account, I couldn't remember the password and login, so I had to go through the process of resetting the password. This required getting sent a special link and then logging on with a one-time password sent to my "verification account."

Anyway, once I got past all of that, many times I arrived to find out that there were no appointments available. They were all booked. But I kept trying, clicking on name after name. Oh...this one requires that I answer some questions first. Oh now that I've answered those questions, I have to remember my login. Oh I've never used this store before, and they want me to create an account. Okay account created, but they don't have any appointments. Darnit. On to the next place.... And so on and so forth. It took over two hours of going through things to finally arrive at one that did have appointments. But then it required that I call the Department of Health to make sure I qualify. I did that, and they approved me. So I went back and selected "Health Worker," which is what they told me to do...and then I got in and got my appointment. After that, all I had to do was show up with insurance and with proof of my eligibility. I was issued an essential worker letter back in April...and this is what I needed to use. With that in hand, I got my shot.

Look...I want to be clear that I don't mean to whine about any of this. All of that work was worth it. I got my Covid shot and the next one is on March 20th and already scheduled. In case your wondering, it was the Pfizer vaccine. However, my experience was "hard." In other words, I'm saying that it was difficult (not easy) for me to get an appointment for a shot. Since this time, I've helped four other people get appointments for shots who qualified. In each and every case, I asked the qualifying person (based on my conversation with the Department of Health) the question, "Have you gotten scheduled for your Covid shot?" They all replied, "I think I qualify but I honestly don't know how to do it? Do you have a number I call?" In fact, here in Utah, there is no number. You have to go through the process just like I outlined above. And I showed them how to do it.

My question is: why the hell is getting signed up for this crucial vaccine so hard? Only tech-savvy people are going to be able to do this. Anyone who is uncomfortable with technology is going to be screwed trying to navigate all of the pages, the logins, the signups, and the questions. Click this, press that, answer this disclaimer, do you give us permission to share this information with the department of health? and blah blah blah. It was almost endless (or seemed that way). Each and every person is going to have to go through a web of bureaucracy that is as complicated as filing taxes, and most people don't do their own taxes because they don't want the headache of doing so. Yet, this vaccine is more important than taxes. So why haven't they made it easier for everyone to get?

That being said, I hope all of you out there who have not received the vaccine get it soon. I hope that your sign-up experience is much easier. Maybe it's just because I live in a "red" state. Republicans make everything much more difficult than it has to be. I'm worried that vaccine is going to waste. There was no one in line at my appointment at Walmart on Saturday morning. There was just me, and the one person sticking me in the arm.