Monday, January 30, 2023

The Pale Blue Eye on Netflix was a solid murder mystery with good use of the macabre.

I have no idea if The Pale Blue Eye, a movie on Netflix that premiered about a month ago, is a true story. I do like Christian Bale, who plays the primary protagonist in the movie. But the thing that kind of grabbed me was that he is assisted by another--a young man by the name of Edgar Allen Poe--who is a bullied cadet at WestPoint Military Academy. This movie unravels slowly, with a crime scene of another young man, and then some gruesome details thrown in to match something you'd expect to be a Poe story, let alone have the actual young "would be" writer starring in it as himself.

Things that immediately struck me as unique to the period piece was how dark it was at night. Of course, this would be the case as everything was lit by oil lamps. So the night scenes were darker than I'd expect from living in a city. Yet, it still was surprising. The choice to show all that darkness lent a pretty menacing feel to the show considering that there was an unidentified murderer about on the academy grounds doing whatever he liked to whomever he desired.

I don't think this is a spoiler (at least not too much of one), but on the morning of the murder that sets off the investigation, Poe awoke and began reciting the opening lines of a poem which spoke of a woman in unspeakable distress. To make this situation even more chilling, Poe claims that his long-dead mother dictated it to him. This is the kind of atmospheric stuff that fills this show, and the kinds of details which serve to draw you into the macabre tale that the movie carefully moves into place in front of you. Edgar Allen Poe is the author of one of my favorite poems, The Raven, which (no matter where most people stand with regard to his body of work) is unconditionally a masterpiece. I don't really like most of Poe's stories myself, but I never get tired of revisiting The Raven and its extremely unique way of telling its story.

If you haven't watched it, there is a twist to the movie. You might not like it, but I really did. And the actor who plays Poe inserts a kind of charm into the role, lending to the historical figure a kind of vivacity for life as his character hardly takes an opportunity to shut up in every scene he is in. By contrast, Bale is a dark and brooding soul, whose talents at investigating murder scenes have called him here to solve a mystery that might be among the most memorable of his career.

Because of this movie, I think I now want a string of movies with Christian Bale as a detective in the 1800's. Maybe the next one could be him playing a detective in Victorian London trying to solve the Jack the Ripper murders.

Has anyone else watched it? If so, what did you think?

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

I'm two episodes into The Last of Us on HBO and I really like the cordyceps explanation for zombies.

A cordyceps infected ant. This served as inspiration for The Last of Us. 

In this post there are some spoilers for HBO's The Last of Us. You have been warned :).

I've been watching The Last of Us on HBO. I haven't played the game, but a long time ago (I can't remember how many years it was) I first heard of the cordyceps fungus which takes control of ants and turns them essentially into the walking dead. This is when I thought to myself, "someone should turn that into a story." That's basically what someone did, and it turned out it was a good idea. I'm not saying that I was the first one to have this idea, and that I missed out on anything. I know I wasn't (obviously). And I've never ever had any desire to write a zombie story. I seriously just thought (in the moment) that it would make a good show or story, and I'm glad that someone who I've never met had the ability to make it happen to entertain me in 2023.

In the HBO show, they've done a really good job in making this fungus pretty darn terrifying. They've had at least two scientists in two episodes weigh in that, "There is no antidote for fungus." In other words, there is no vaccine. Those words coming from subject matter experts is actually terrifying. To anchor the phenomenon and its disastrous effects on humanity even further, the show explained that the cordyceps fungus (ordinarily) couldn't survive in humans. The reason is that our bodies run too hot.

And then they explained further that global climate change and a hotter planet had made this fungus evolve into something that could survive in humans. I was like..."yeah...that's good stuff right there," because it is so believable. And the rest has been just pretty great and enjoyable to watch. The fungus zombies are suitably gross, and they're scary because they're all connected through the fibers of the fungus. So, it has strands that go underground and if you step on one of these strands, it can instantly communicate with a huge host of infected beings and send them running your way.

I also appreciate that this particular adaptation of a popular video game seems to not have the feel of a video game. I think that this is a silent acknowledgement that to get emotionally invested in characters, you have to forgo the gameplay perspective of fighting zombies, and the showrunners know this. Don't get me wrong...there is some fighting of zombies in some tense situations. But the impact of living in the zombie world is the most important thing in the story of The Last of Us, and I'm kinda diggin' it thus far. I'm only two episodes in, and I'm invested in this apocalyptic world.

Anyone else watching this show? If so, what do you think?

Monday, January 23, 2023

Netflix's Cyberpunk Edgerunners is filled with static frames and recycled backgrounds.

I recently watched Netflix's Cyberpunk: Edgerunners, and I just want to say that the word on the internet for this show was really (and strangely) overhyped. For example, I had friends who (once they learned I was watching Gundam and its backlog of hundreds of episodes) tried to give me another recommendation in Edgerunners. They'd say things like, "I really enjoyed this," and "I recommend you give it a watch." So...I did. And even though the story was "decent," the animation in it was really really bad.

Most of it is just single art panels being slid from left to right or slowly turning. When you see a person talk, it's obvious that the studio saved a bunch of money by just looping one piece of animation. In several scenes, there was just no animation at all for like 14 seconds as you just stared at a still scene with no movement. I was like..."Why did anyone think that this is good?" When I get critical about the animation, some people like to jump to its defense. "Well, Mike, this is just a style of animation, and you're obviously not a fan." And then I retort, "No, this isn't a 'style,' it's the utter lack of animation except for the fact that the camera movies or they're sliding a frame on top of another frame to make it look like something is happening.

Really, the only animation you get that's decent is when there's combat. So 80% of the show is just static frames, recycled backgrounds, or wideshots with only the lip flaps moving. About the only thing I can say that is positive regarding this show is that the art is great. 

Anyway, that's just my two cents on this thing. Anyone else watch the show and notice the same thing? I kinda wish that Netflix had spent a little more money on Edgerunners, because as it stands, it looks like a cheap piece of garbage.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Thank you Stephen Colbert for pushing forward George R.R. Martin's wish for a Chronicles of Amber adaptation.

I learned this week from the fantasy and science fiction news cycle that George R.R. Martin and Stephen Colbert have joined forces to bring Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber to the small screen. I can't tell you how excited and happy I am to hear this, and I do realize they could royally screw up the story. But even with those caveats in plain sight, the fact that someone with the kind of clout like these two are urging an adaptation of this incredible story gave me that tingling feeling I get when I'm dangerously close to wanting to overhype something. So, going forward, I'll try to keep my enthusiasm in check. However, I'm definitely doing happy dances.

If you haven't read the Chronicles of Amber I do recommend them. However, they are classic fantasy. I read a lot, and the fantasy of today is a far cry from the classic stuff of Zelazny's era. Zelazny's original story did not have a whole lot of diversity. It was filled with white characters and there was little to no queer representation at all. Everything was clearly straight and the women were for the most part serving the parts classically reserved for women: deceptive backstabbers or manipulators or love interests for men. This is in huge contrast to (for example) The House of Always by Jenn Lyons, which is the fourth book in her fantasy series. The fact that I'm four books deep into this thing should just answer the question: do you like it? Yes, I very much do. But it isn't for everyone. It is SOOO queer that I think a lot of people might have trouble understanding how weird Lyons' story actually gets (and boy does it depart from what might be considered "classically normal"). However, the story is not as good as Chronicles of Amber. The Chronicles of Amber have a story that still kind of blows my mind, even with all of the different magic systems that are invented by creative geniuses like Sanderson. Zelazny simply had a mind that soared.

Another thing that I love about The Chronicles of Amber is that Zelazny was a master of using every word. His books are short things: a couple hundred pages a piece, and plot and story is really the only thing that matters. This is in contrast to the gargantuan fantasies written today which are typically at lengths that make holding the books in your lap a difficult proposition. We're talking 600-pages to a thousand pages of words and words and words. Just being honest, I think that all of those words haven't done much to make a story better. All they do is serve as vehicles for personal character development (which does have its own merits).

In Jenn Lyons' story, she uses all of those pages to explain the extremely complicated sexualities of every character in the story, their belief systems, and their motivations and memories. She goes even further to circle back on these things by examining each and every character from a different point of view, head hopping back and forth between characters as new chapters unfold to go over the complex feelings they have for their various paramours in what amounts to an immortal polyamory scenario. So think hundreds of pages of feelings interspersed with occasional fantasy elements, monsters, and sorcery. But...I've come to discover that I kinda like all those pages of feelings. It serves to invest me in the character's growth, and growth is an attractive thing in a character. But I also know its not for everyone.

There are also elements of Zelazny's story which will inevitably draw comparisons to The Matrix, even though Zelazny's story is a lot older than that film. It is the fact that The Matrix was so good though that makes me think that Zelazny's story just might be the next biggest thing to hit in the fantasy genre when it finally shows up on the small screen. I do know they will have to update characters, and cast minorities. But I hope the bones will be there. I can definitely accept that even though my brain will crave a faithful adaptation. I'll totally be okay with an Idris Elba or similar casting for the main character Corwyn of Amber (or if they cast a black woman and still keep the name "Corwyn" and just say it is unisex I won't mind too much), and I won't ask any questions if Corwyn's brother, Random, is still weirdly a white dude even though their parents are the same. These things need to be done, and I get it. I'm still excited knowing all that. I just hope it gets a budget and treatment similar to Game of Thrones and House of the Dragon. If it does, I predict that younger audiences will really accept it, which is what needs to happen in order to get an adaptation of all five books.

Anyway, I guess we'll see what happens with it in the near future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Locke & Key had a really original magic system that I liked.

Quite recently, I finished watching the third and final season of Locke & Key, which was a young adult series on Netflix that came from the mind of Joe Hill (Stephen King's son). I know that my friend Patrick has said in last week's comments that he didn't watch any of the episodes. But I'd say that they'd be worth a look if you have a Netflix subscription that's active. For one, the story had a pretty solid bad guy (who was completely evil) that had enough modern humor to make them fun. I think the actress had a great time just reveling in all of her badness. It's always fun when you feel an actor really enjoys their casting, so I kind of enjoyed that. However, the thing that I thought was brilliant about the show was the magical keys. This was a good idea, and it was well executed.

Most of the time when you see magic in young adult things, you get stuff that is similar to Harry Potter stories and standard wizardry 101. This is where people are casting spells or using some kind of witchcraft. With Locke & Key, the magic system that was set up was really entertaining. There was (for example) an "Anywhere Key," which when you used it to unlock a door, it could open unto any place that you wanted it to open up to. Then you could just walk through the doorway.

There was also a "Head Key," which I thought was kind of ingenious. You could unlock someone's brain, and then walk into it and see all of their memories and even (it turns out) get trapped inside there. The visuals of each person's head was pretty fascinating. One person's "head" was a giant mall. Another was an antique shop filled with all kinds of objects. A third person's head was a toy chest while a fourth's was a cosmetic counter selling all kinds of high-end things. Another aspect of the head key that I liked was you could toss a book into it, and instantly know the contents of the book. Imagine how wonderful that would be.

Then there was a flame key that started fires, a key that took control of a person's body, essentially turning them into a puppet, a key that allowed a person to travel through time, a key that granted the strength of Hercules, and a key that made you sprout wings and fly. Another key unlocked a cabinet that could repair anything placed inside. There were so many keys, and each of them played a small part in the storytelling. A lot of the fun was watching the characters hunt for the keys inside a huge mansion, and then figure out what any new keys they found could do. The keys came off as an original enough idea that it reminded me of a talk that Brandon Sanderson used to give (maybe he still does) on the importance of inventing magic systems for your fiction.

Sanderson has written that, "a good magic system is essential to a good fantasy novel." He does go on to say that characters are what makes a novel truly powerful. I didn't use to think that magic and how it worked was all that important. But maybe Sanderson is onto something, and I just finally understood it. That is one reason among many why Sanderson is either the most powerful person in publishing or close to it (he's at least in the group photo if one exists). Anyway, if you haven't watched Locke & Key, and you are interested in magic systems, you should give it a try. It doesn't disappoint in that aspect alone.

Friday, January 13, 2023

The bizarre and angry culture war of Dungeons & Dragons is in a meltdown over the new Open Game License.

There is a bizarre and angry culture war going on in the Dungeons & Dragons community. Those who prefer old school Dungeons & Dragons are profoundly conservative and libertarian (it's weird that politics can be so easily seen but there it is). Some are as right wing as you can get, making the likes of Sean Hannity look like Obama by comparison. With a population base that plays D&D equal to about 55 million, I think of these folks as a hundred thousand or maybe a couple hundred thousand of that total. So, I think they are a small group. But they are the storm the capital on January 6th types, and they are very vocal, abusive, and the "don't tread on me" crowd.

The things that these conservatives love about D&D is the exhilaration of an open world. They prefer inherent uncontrolled chaos, spontaneity, and vast opportunity in a sandbox-styled campaign. They think this is exciting because anything could happen. Your character could get killed in the first encounter or eventually wind up as a king. They want things to be difficult for the characters, but the people running these games who stress that these difficult conditions are the proper way to game...are themselves extremely lazy storytellers.

Many of them call an hour of prep time as sufficient. They don't invest in props or models. They don't spend a lot of time reading modules or other source materials so that they can make their worlds more interesting. They basically just "mail it in." When running games, they don't give out magic items and are extremely vigilant regarding any kind of power creep because they want to be able to just pick up a game and prep in five minutes. They shut down ideas, actively work against players, and ignore rules to substitute their own that almost always castrates a character class even further on what it can do.

While running a game, the monsters they use to challenge players will be difficult if not impossible to defeat, which (in their minds) makes the experience more realistic because the stakes will be your character's life. In their worlds men have toxic masculinity traits galore, women are love interests, and there are no queer characters and anthromorphized animals (no furries!). It is a strange thing to watch when these people meltdown online because they can't find players. It's like watching the business owners complain that "No one wants to work," when these businesses are offering shitty jobs with low pay and no benefits. They should say, "No one wants to be exploited anymore. Damn, I miss the past when I could exploit people whenever I wanted." But yeah...times have changed. People have wised up. And we are all paying the price for that with inflation and scarcity. I suppose what I'm saying is that it isn't easy to make a world where everyone is respected and cared for, but its worth it. It's super easy to make a world where a few get all the goods and everyone else exists in misery. A lot of humans like the easy way out.

By contrast, those who play newer RPG's tend to be liberals. They want inclusion, tons of choices, things decided ahead of time, equitable, balanced, and fair encounters. And they want sustainable progression and a more predictable world to play in. The DM's for these games tend to put in a lot of work, carefully building worlds that make sense, and accounting for power creep by adjusting and tweaking encounters so that they challenge but do not crush players. It's kind of a "Wizard of Oz" trick in that there are smoke and mirrors in play. The DM knows that the characters are supposed to win. Their job is just to make it so that it isn't obvious that they are winning. But yeah...the deck is stacked in the player's favor, and everyone then has a good time. These people, who number in the millions and who are fans of the game, get shouted down a lot by the angry and very vocal conservative players who seem to be getting more filled with rage at what the parent company, Wizards of the Coast, does every day.

Recently, WOTC announced a big change in the way they deal with third party content using the "Open Game License" that has been pretty much taken for granted for more than twenty years. There are a lot of players who escaped the drudgery of the brutal capitalism they adore to put themselves in a position where they charge for content. But they have no empathy for those who still have to work in drudgery rather than doing something that they love. These "content creators" say to those others, "Hey! Adapt or die! I adapted! If you want something you gotta stop being a snowflake and just go out and put in the hard work like I did." But the thing is...they didn't really do hard work.

What they did was founded small corporations that churn out endless amounts of third party content. Many of you reading this blog are writers, and writers these days (especially self-publishing ones) number in the millions. Creativity is cheap y'all. It is not a precious resource. Now, as a consumer of some of this third party content, what I do choose to buy is well thought out and has good production values. But all of it is still just a money grab from the Dungeons & Dragons nerd community. Kickstarters have exploded to the point that it is getting harder and harder for new people to make any money, because the third party creators have flooded the landscape trying to make a buck.

Some of the more successful ones generate hundreds of thousands (or millions) in profits. All of these bootstrapping, entrepreneurial types are now on notice as WOTC is going to demand tribute from anything over $75,000 a year, and there are draconian rules that will allow them to claim as their own any content you create that uses their parent game system. It's all meant to secure their intellectual property, but the "content creators" and by and large their libertarian supporters who yell "don't tread on me" are (in a word) furious. And it has gotten so bad that I've had to dump several Facebook groups that (as far as I knew) existed to connect people and allow them to find players for local tabletop games. These have now all been inundated by YouTube posts saying WOTC is a money-grubbing evil monster, that D&D is being destroyed, and going so far as to say that everyone who plays is under threat. I've been shaking my head, saying, "This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen."

For years, these people have (by and large) been jealous and bitter of WOTC's success in the explosion of popularity in Dungeons & Dragons. They are stern gatekeepers as well. They wanted people to play their old, ruthless, uninteresting games with no diversity and celebrating the white male, and they called anyone who didn't want to play like that a "snowflake." Many (for lack of finding anyone who wanted to play their increasingly out of touch games) switched to the fifth edition only to proceed to lambast, strike out rules, and criticize the ruleset completely in an attempt at the old "bait and switch." The thing is, new players don't like to have their free time being abused by another human being, which is how a lot of old school D&D tends to be.

They also promote hysteria in the same manner as conservative talk radio promotes hysteria by floating conspiracy theories and by making mountains out of molehills. As a longtime player, I've never been more aware than I am now at the stark differences between how conservatives and liberals define what "fun" is and how they prioritize what is important and what isn't important. I don't actually know where it will all end up. What I do know is that the Open Game License in any iteration is a benign thing to people who just enjoy playing the game, and that the outsized cries of anguish are from people who are making money at D&D content, which is just plain weird. I get that community is important. But trying to monetize a hobby is some sketchy crap to pull, and I think that maybe if you are that kind of person, you should try working like the rest of us in drudgery and the capitalist system that you voted for and created. It's hard for me to shed any tears for any corporation or group that thinks that they had a right to build upon Wizards of the Coast's intellectual property without paying them their pound of flesh.

So anyway, that's what's been going on in the Dungeons & Dragons community. I'm interested to see how it all ends up. I enjoy the game a lot and I always have. I think the game will be better if  many of these "content creators" just move along and develop their own systems. If they choose to do this, then good for them. I'm just getting tired of the social media posts that are everywhere in the groups I'm in declaring, "I'm going my own way because I've been stabbed in the back for the last time by Wizards of the Coast." I'm like, "Please do and don't let the door hit you on the ass on the way out." However, if I like what they make, I just might buy a copy and start playing their game. I think that will be healthier for everyone, and maybe my Facebook groups for "finding a group" can return to normal instead of constant demands to sign "this petition or else!"

If only we lived in a world where people could just admit freely that there are only so many good ideas, and that if you are a corporation that comes up with the "good idea" that it would be okay to eliminate your obscene profit in said idea (we'd all have to settle on some threshold that would make you rich but not obscenely rich as a reward) and let everyone have a piece of that pie forever after. So yeah...socialism. Expect anything else from this democrat? But I know we don't live in that world, because people are still gaslighting themselves into thinking that there are infinite good ideas and that if you can't come up with one, then you are stupid and deserving of your failure. This is categorically untrue, but whatever. All of these "content creators" who go off and design their own game are about to find that out, as many of their companies fail to generate the profits necessary to sustain their business.

On Wednesday of next week, I want to talk about Netflix's Locke & Key. See you then.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

I've been watching a lot of episodes of Mobile Suit Gundam and I have thoughts to share about the experience.

I've been watching Mobile Suit: Gundam and consuming its huge and sprawling storyline with friends who are fans of the cartoons. We started with the most popular and dominant of the various Gundam storylines where it seems the bulk of the franchise seems to rest. For those who don't know much about Gundam it begins in a timeline called "The Universal Century." This is defined by the rise of a political force on Earth called "Earth Federation" that happens in a timeline where people who live on Earth have been in space for quite a long time. They've got colonies inside colossal cylinders that use spin gravity, and the inside of these enormous space colonies are so huge that they support cities, an atmosphere, and things like farming and fishing. It's basically indistinguishable from Earth except you can see the subtle curve of these colonies on the horizon (think of Larry Niven's Ring World and you're getting close to what I mean). But yeah, you've got roads, streets, skyscrapers and you can drive a car down a road just like you would on Earth.

The most notable thing about the Universal Century then is the conflict that Earth Federation has with the Principality of Zeon. These are people who live on space colonies that are pretty far out from Earth, and they are colonial secessionists who take a lot of their political cues from fascism and Nazi-ism (specifically) as seen on earth in the first half of the twentieth century. The head of the Principality of Zeon is a powerful (and fascist) Zabi family, and the story that follows is called "The One Year War" in which huge, mechanized infantry branded as "Mobile Suits" begin to dominate everything. And you see Zeon deal blow after blow to Earth and to their own people who are oftentimes treated with callous disregard.

In one part of the story, Zeon gases an entire space colony probably a little smaller than the state of Rhode Island and then drops that on Australia, which leaves a crater that looks like its 300 miles wide. I joke with my friends that I think all of the gay people were in Sydney at the time partying because Gundam as a story has very little diversity at least in its early iterations. Everyone is straight and white and pretty sold on the patriarchy as the way things need to be. There are some attempts to create strong female characters, but they usually either end up sacrificing their lives so that a male can live, or they end up as love interests for a male or as a vehicle for a male to "bear heirs" that we may see in other tellings of the story. Additionally, all of the characters who matter and get the most screen time are teenagers (the bulk of which are teenaged boys) which is probably the target audience for the story.

Interjected into all of this is the concept of a "Newtype," which is essentially this story's "superhuman." Just like in X-Men and other comic books, the "Newtype" represents the natural evolution of space-living humans that develop psychic abilities. These "abilities" make them excellent at the infantry warfare. Essentially, no one but the most talented crop of Gundam pilots even has a chance against a "Newtype." And the psychic abilities are probably a kind of proxy deus-ex-machina for whatever else they may need in order to forge more stories with these giant machines, and the various struggles of humans in a world devastated by war and fascist governments. In fact, I'd say Mobile Suit: Gundam's world-building mostly concerns itself with being a longstanding critique of capital combined with a military industrial complex that is out of control. Amidst this madness and death, you sprinkle a bunch of blond and blue-eyed characters everywhere and give us young male protagonists with muscly arms and slender builds. There's a joke online that says, "The Japanese know what we want" in reference to these prettily drawn and obvious "western" characters.

I'd also like to say that, for a cartoon, the franchise has plenty of moments of shocking violence. It ranges from the amputation of limbs to kids watching their parents die in front of them to nuclear explosions that wipe out entire facilities of people. There are scenes where a person will knock others (who are trying to get away and save themselves from said nuclear explosion) off ladders and staircases, acting in the most selfish of ways, screaming "Only the strong will survive!" And the consequences that characters oftentimes face for the choices they make are followed through (for the most part) with excruciating detail.

My journey through the Gundam backlog is progressing nicely. One of the friends I watch with is gifted with a good memory and has an almost uncanny ability to recognize drawn faces immediately and then memorize the name of that character even though the spelling of the names are oftentimes divorced completely from their pronunciation. This adds a second layer of difficult for me, so I'm oftentimes confused when a character bites it on screen, wondering which of the characters had just been killed. But the friend soon clarifies, and that makes it easier to watch these episodes. However, it is not lost on me that these "cartoons" were probably watched by a lot of kids in Japan. Their entertainment was quite different than mine (think Flintstones and Space Ghost), and I'm wondering why there was such a huge cultural divide.


Monday, January 9, 2023

Avatar: The Way of Water is an incredible film

Over the holidays, James Cameron released Avatar: The Way of Water in theaters. I really loved the first Avatar, so I was excited to see it despite the trolls online that seemed to want it to fail (I'll never understand that mindset). I took a bunch of friends with me on opening night, and we had seats at the IMAX theater here in Sandy, Utah (a suburb of Salt Lake City). In just a few short words, the film was a stunning sequel, and I honestly want to see it again though I've yet to find the time to do so. I also want to say a few things about it that I don't think are spoilers.

I knew going into this movie that James Cameron was going to film the thing in 48 frames per second. When filmmakers decide to do this, it creates a kind of hyper-realistic effect on the screen. Many people think of it as a kind of "uncanny valley" where everything is perhaps too clear and for some reason, doesn't look right. This is because we are used to seeing films that do not have this built in resolution even though we float through our lives by looking at things in this kind of clarity. When we see it in a film, it kind of jerks us out of the moment.

So, I was expecting to maybe not like the film in places because it might look "too good." However, James Cameron performed a trick that I'd never seen before. He combined the latest in 3D technology with the 48 frames per second, and the combination of those two things was absolutely magical. I found myself suddenly inside the film. There was a submarine sequence that was underwater, and I'm telling you, I thought I was inside that submarine. In another scene, a character races to the edge of a cliff, and I literally grabbed my armrests because I thought I was going over. I've never done this in a movie before.

This week marks a threshold for the film in which it has become profitable a little less than its one month anniversary. That just blows my mind that something like what Cameron has done could actually make money (it needed to basically make 1.7 billion dollars). This isn't too strange nowadays though, as (I guess) there are now fifty movies that have made over a billion. So if you don't make the billion dollar club, you're kind of a loser where movie box office receipts are. I do wonder if Avatar: The Way of Water will topple the original Avatar and become the highest grossing film of all time. But none of that matters. I enjoy the story and the "experience" of seeing these films in big theaters equipped with the latest technology. It's worth the price of admission and then some. And I'm glad that the whole saga is going to be coming out in the years to come. There is no question though that James Cameron is the most powerful director of films that has ever lived. 

Friday, January 6, 2023

Artificial Intelligence could be assistive technology and that may disrupt everything.

In the news cycle lately, there has been a lot of discussion surrounding A.I. generated art and writing. I myself have played around with "Stable Diffusion," which is one of the several computer-powered programs out there wherein a user can plug in a variety of different criteria and get an image generated for you within minutes. The same kind of input can be used to generate written materials and reports. The New York Times recently examined one such thing from OpenAI called ChatGPT, and it said that it was "inspiring awe and fear." Here's another quote from the same article: "ChatGPT is quite simply the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public." Here's one example of its power that was placed online for others to examine:

And ChatGPT isn't even OpenAI's best A.I. model. However, people are already saying that it is going to have an impact on society as big as the invention of the iPhone or as big as Google.

So what does this mean for writers and writing? Well, dare I say that we contemplate a future where nobody needs to be a good writer because A.I. can write whatever it is you're trying to write for you, and write it better? I graduated a long time ago in 1994, but I look at this and see that my educational experience from college has been rendered obsolete. I feel sorry for anyone that has graduated much closer to 2023 with similar degrees as mine.

All the papers that I wrote from scratch can now more easily be written by A.I. And that speaks to my next point: education is going to be immensely affected by this new technology. My co-worker's son used ChatGPT to write an essay for his college class, and the professor had no clue that he hadn't written it. He received a "B" grade for it. And he literally did no work other than feed a prompt into a computer and then went on to play video games with his remaining time. Fun stuff, right? There's also no way to effectively stop people from using this technology. Why? Because in the end, it's just another kind of assistive technology.

You may ask, what is assistive technology? Well, it is technology that helps people with disabilities to overcome obstacles that may prevent them from functioning like an able-bodied individual. But I will tell you from experience, practically everything qualifies as a disability nowadays, and accommodations are everywhere. Think you have trouble doing math? Well, you may have a math disability and therefore you get to use a computer program that will calculate things for you so that you don't have to. See where this is going? That kind of thing is called an "accommodation."

Here's another example: you have difficulty writing and say it is because of a traumatic brain injury due to playing football in high school? ChatGPT could be an "accommodation" that helps you write the essay that you could have written if it wasn't for that injury. With disability, it is rare to actually question whether a person would have had the ability to do a thing if the disability were removed. It is usually assumed that they could. So with the rise of these kinds of things that could be construed as "cheating," it may become important for people to be evaluated on knowledge, skills, and abilities that they might normally possess in order to determine if the use of an artificial intelligence is warranted.

Imagine having that discussion and what it would look like. Awkward doesn't even describe it, and "illegal" comes to mind with regard to rating other human beings. You sit before a committee that decides that (even without your learning disability) you would never have been good at math or writing. They decide that this was your "natural" state and thus, you don't qualify to use an artificial intelligence cheat bot as assistive technology because they want to see what you could normally do without it. Yet, the next person does get to use it and comes off as more professional, which then looks a lot like discrimination. Ugh...what a can of worms. And I don't think there's going to be a solution unless we (as a society) are willing to ask some very uncomfortable and awkward questions and face some awful truths: not all people are created equal, and those of us who got the short end of the stick should not be allowed to use artificial intelligence and computers to even the odds. Otherwise, education, talent, and certifications will start to lose their value in many white collar applications.

Contemplating all of this makes me want to look to the future and imagine how this will all unfold. There's this narrative that I've seen where people say robots and artificial intelligence will liberate us all from the drudgery of jobs and that we will all have lives wherein we can focus on human connection in a liberal utopia. As much as I'd want this to happen, and to be a member of a society wherein we have enough time to pursue fun things and build connections and travel, I think there is a more likely (and very dark) scenario. See...things like housing and food cost money. We all know this, and the prices on those two things alone are soaring along with everything else.

I think what the future looks like is more likely to be this: artificial intelligence makes it so that companies can get by on very few workers, making them richer than they are even now (and corporations are going gangbusters by any measure). None of this wealth will be shared. And prices will continue to go up. People will have no source of income except the trickle that comes from government disability checks and social security. This future is one where 70% of people are just poor, and people die all the time from poverty. And then there's this cream of the crop of people who live incredible lives, exploiting, over consuming, harassing, and doing whatever they want because they have all the money. I think that this is the future that artificial intelligence will unlock for us. It isn't going to be a Skynet or a Wargames scenario. It's going to be a scenario where good paying jobs are super rare, and only a few people get them while everyone else must be a servant and work until they die and honestly...nobody cares. As a person who is childless and with no stakes in the game, I'm fascinated to see if this comes true. I'm also fascinated to see if society finds any way to stop this from coming true, and if so, what exactly that looks like. Maybe it looks like telling people who could greatly benefit from using a tool that, "You can't use this, because it is bad for society as a whole! I don't care that you suffer. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one!" But how many people are capable of being that mean? We live in a society where (for many) their own virtue is the most sacred of things. If you do have children though, I think you should be a little worried as to how the next generation is going to pay the bills. People may need to discard virtue in order to embrace survival.

But, what do I know? I'm just a guy trying to understand how things work. At 51, I'm becoming more confused every single day when trying to answer that question.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The 2023 IWSG sets up the new year by asking what word you'd use to define yourself going forward.

Happy New Year everyone. Whether we want it or not, 2023 is here. I'm sure that this year will be full of challenges just like 2022 was. I (for one) hope that there are a few less financial challenges that arise this year, but I guess we will see. Being the first Wednesday of the new year, it is also time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group post. But before I get around to answering the question, here's a little bit about what the IWSG is, and how you can join it too in order to network with other writers. Disclaimer: I borrowed most of this from the IWSG sign-up page. 

What is the purpose of the IWSG?: Simple! It's 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! On a personal note, it's weird that we are in 2023, and many of us are still concerned with appearing foolish and weak. Maybe this is part of the human condition that we just cannot escape. Or, we have all just grown used to a world which holds no empathy for anyone.

When does the IWSG army post?: We do so on the first Wednesday of every month. This is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. To participate, you post your thoughts on your own blog. You talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. You discuss your struggles and triumphs. You offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. You visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting.

When you participate, be sure to link to their sign-up page located HERE, and display their badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the January 4 posting of the IWSG are Jemima Pett, Debs Carey, Kim Lajevardi, Sarah Foster, Natalie Aguirre, and T. Powell Coltrin!

Now, about that question I mentioned above that I was answering....

Every month, the IWSG organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. But always remember that the question is optional!

Now here is the January 4th question - Do you have a word of the year? Is there one word that sums up what you need to work on or change in the coming year? For instance, in 2021 my word of the year was Finish. I was determined to finished my first draft by the end of the year. In 2022, my word of the year is Ease. I want to get my process, systems, finances, and routines where life flows with ease and less chaos. What is your word for 2023? Why?

For 2023, my word of the year is going to be "No." I'm going to say "no" to a lot of things. "No," is going to be my new boundary word. I'm not going to get roped into time-eating and exhausting activities demanded by family or acquaintances or work. I'm going to say "no" to inflation eating away at my lifestyle by finding new ways to increase my income. I'm going to say "no" to aging by lifting weights and getting stronger. I'm going to say "no" to things I have always done that make me miserable and reclaim the time I spent doing those things and repurpose that time toward pursuing joy. I'm going to say "no" to people who are always complaining and want someone to listen to their complaints. I'm going to say "no" to gaslighting, and "no" to manipulators. I'm going to say "no" to Covid-deniers and vaccine deniers and the expectations they heap upon others. I'm going to say "no" to go fund me's and others begging or asking for money. And honestly, I think things are gonna be okay, even with all of those "no's" that are coming from me. I think the word "no" is underappreciated, and a bunch of us would be in a better place if we said it more often. Thanks for visiting.