Friday, June 26, 2015

In Sense8 the characters trump the world building and the visuals which is impressive because the Wachowski's are all about visuals

This week, I've been blazing through Netflix's Sense8. It took a little while for the Wachowski's latest venture (albeit a collaboration with J. Michael Straczynski) to grow on me, but grow on me it did. This global story (and I have no idea how to describe it otherwise) features 8 people who are psychically connected and can experience each others lives, council one another, and even help them out by taking control of their bodies to give them skills they wouldn't otherwise possess. I'm going to take a moment and talk about the characters in the show that I'm most taken with.

Capheus is a teenager that lives in Nairobi, and he's extremely poor with a sick mother who needs medication to live. In a touching character arc, Capheus gets robbed of the medication that he was trying to get to his mother when the spirit of Sun Bak (a Korean woman living in Seoul) basically takes over his body and uses her martial arts skills to take all the robbers out. He repays the favor by giving Sun Bak counselling when she really needed it so that she can make a decision on something so terrible that it will affect her life forever.

Then there's Nomi Marks, a transgender character, who's compelling story is so fraught with pain and emotional anguish that it really makes her a contender as the most interesting character featured in a television series in 2015. Nomi is kind of at the center of whatever is going on with the 8 psychically connected people, and she comes from a family that would prefer to live in denial of who she is (to the point of forcing a lobotomy on her) than try to see their daughter as the beautiful person she has become.

But my favorite characters are Kala and Wolfgang. Kala is Indian and prays to Ganesh to stop her marriage to a wealthy, young, handsome man whom she does not love. Wolfgang lives in Berlin and through their psychic connection, they share one of the most touching moments in the series where they are simultaneously talking in a rainy and cold outdoor cafe in Berlin and under the Hot noonday sun of Mumbai. He asks her, "So you think that Ganesh caused this? That what's happening to us is a miracle?" And she replies, "I think that 'miracle' is a word that is supremely appropriate."

I have to say that Sense8 is one of those shows where character revelations, the tenderness of each character to one another, and the idea that there is more to life and love and reality than we will ever understand all come together in a spectacular fashion. I don't know how many scenes there were in this that fiddled with my emotions, but there are A LOT.

In Sense8 the characters actually trump the world-building and the visuals, which is impressive because the Wachowski's are huge world builders and rely upon some amazing visuals in everything they do. Is it a masterpiece? At this point (and with my Magic 8 Ball at the ready) signs are pointing to yes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Secret Millionaires Club is something I wish I had access to when I was a teen

Did you know that super investor Warren Buffett is featured in an animated series as a mentor to a group of entrepreneurial kids? If you're shaking your head "no" then you (much like me) should go and check out the site for the Secret Millionaire's Club located HERE. I think that this is fantastic. Kids these days don't get enough financial education from school, and this program seeks to fill in the gaps. Good decision making, some of the basic lessons of starting a business, and understanding money are keys to master for any adult wanting to make it in the world today. And it's all free courtesy of these webisodes. I think it's safe to say (for me) that Secret Millionaires Club is something I wish I had access to when I was a teen. But let's face it, there are plenty of adults these days that could learn a thing or two from these webisodes on managing their own finances.

Monday, June 22, 2015

I have a wishlist for Star Wars Rebels but the second season opener really got my attention

Star Wars Rebels is off to a great start for its second season. Years ago when I was in college (this would have been around 1990 or so), I was involved with the Star Wars RPG put out by West End Games. At the time, I mostly ran these modules for my players (put out by West End) and some of them were really well done. They all had the Ralph McQuarrie artwork on the covers and I modified some of them to feature "run ins" with the big bad himself, a.k.a. Darth Vader (always with an escape in mind because no one can really defeat Vader except Luke). I always expressed to my players that the money behind Star Wars really missed an opportunity by not featuring a television series that occurs in the time period between Episode IV and Episode VI by following the escapades of another group of rebels. I'm glad to see that almost thirty years after I had that idea, that an animated series is doing just that.

Star Wars Rebels is fun. We all know that Vader cannot be taken down by anyone but Luke, and we all know how much of a badass he really is. But that doesn't mean other stories can't rely upon his huge shadow to throw darkness and dread over everything. And having a common enemy to fight against really brings out the best in people, which is another reason why Star Wars Rebels really works for me.

Anyway, here's my wishlist for the second season. First off, I want to know more about Ahsoka Tano's involvement in the rebel alliance. I also want her to have some kind of standoff with Vader wherein (hopefully) she shows him that she's pretty powerful, and that he should fear her just a wee bit. That would be really cool. Second, I want some more aliens. Star Wars is known for its alien worlds, and I really think they've been kind of lazy giving us truly alien worlds so far in this animated series. One of the best episodes from the Clone Wars featured Anakin meeting this sister and brother combo that were embodiments of the Force itself (which came across as kind of magical and wizardly). It was really interesting. I'd like to see some more of things like that. Finally, I want to see some "Mission: Impossible" style episodes where Ezra's crew does some pretty spectacular things for the Rebel Alliance. Ideas like stealing new ship plans from the corporation that makes the tie-fighters or encountering spooky dangerous aliens from another part of the universe outside the galaxy on a derelict ship (cue music from Alien) could work really well. How about giving us some force vampires? Wouldn't that be interesting?

So if you are a fan of Star Wars, and you watch Star Wars Rebels, do you have a wishlist? If so, what's on it? I'd like to know.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Defiance is one of those shows that believes killing your darlings makes for visceral television. I suppose they are not wrong.

Here's your one and only spoiler alert because I really want to talk about all those deaths on SyFy's Defiance last week.

As you may or may not know, the two-hour season three premiere of Defiance came out swinging, and by that, I mean some characters I kind of liked ended up dead. Up to this point, I thought that "most" of the major characters would be safe since the only real death that bothered me occurred in season one when Stahma killed Kenya (Amanda's sister). And to once again get this out of the way, I'm really beginning to hate how George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones has seemed to influence everything in the genre these days. Must we kill our darlings? Must we? Is this the only way a story can resonate with us these days?

To say I wasn't expecting the McCawley family to become the Stark family of the show is an understatement. But within pretty much the span of an hour, Quentin, Christie, and Rafe were killed in a way that almost seemed callous. Rafe found within himself this badass "well of strength" and started taking out the villains that were holding his daughter (who had just given birth) imprisoned. I thought, "Yeah...Rafe is awesome" as he's knifing people in the back and then grabbing their gun and killing like three or four more. And then he gets into the room, grabs his daughter's hand to take her out of there, and gets shot dead as more reinforcements flow in from outside.

What the hell? And then Christie gets her throat cut by Stahma because Stahma is given this impossible choice between choosing Christie or choosing Datak (Stahma's husband). In the end, Stahma Tarr makes the only choice and kills Christie violently with a knife if only to solidify that she's on General Rahm Tahk's side (the villain causing all of this bloodshed) so that she can bide her time until at some point in the future, the Tarr's can kill all of these horrible people. Defiance, much like Game of Thrones, doesn't have any real heroes. Instead it gives us these deeply flawed and unlikeable antiheroes that are all differing degrees of terrible. With Christie's death, Stahma is officially a mass murderer but I guess if we can get her to kill the right kind of evil people it's not so bad, right? Then she will be the "right kind of terrible."

The only McCawley that survives is Pilar who's played by the veteran actress, Linda Hamilton. I've always liked Hamilton, and she certainly plays a tough protective grandma who ends up kidnapping her grandchild from the now widowed Alak (the baby's father and Christie's husband). I suppose it bears to mention that Hamilton doesn't need the paycheck from Defiance because she had a very public divorce from director James Cameron post-Titanic (Titanic made a ton of money). So you know she's just doing this role because it's fun and she likes the series.

And then there was that "questionable" moment where Doc Yewll got skinned/flayed similar to how Ramsay Bolton goes about flaying his victims. What makes it even worse is that Doc Yewll didn't get a choice, as Amanda and Nolan corner her so that this new character (who is an Omec and who has contempt for Doc Yewll's entire race) can harvest cells that will save his dying daughter (who got herself in the position of dying by being a terrible person). Sure, there's the whole "hook" thing about getting power restored to Defiance (which is the name of New St. Louis) because these Omec have great technologies capable of harvesting their direly needed power source from the old McCawley mines. However, the whole skin harvesting thing really does come across as a rape, and it was very disturbing to watch.

All in all, Defiance is really off to a roaring start because it launched so many potential future story arcs. It's going to be fun to watch the Tarrs exact revenge on Rahm Tahk for killing the McCawley's. In Stahma's words (it could have been Datak that said it), "I may not have liked the McCawleys because they were human, but they were OUR humans." I think when revenge for having to kill Christie finally rolls around, Rahm Tahk's death is going to be pretty sweet. So I guess my Friday nights are now going to be a little funner (especially with SyFy's new lineup of shows). Are any of you watching?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Is the Fitbit IPO too late to the party or is it the next Tesla?

Fitbit is going public on Thursday. As a tech IPO, it has one of the best balance sheets Wall Street has seen in years, because it's actually profitable. I know that sounds funny to those of you out there that don't invest, but there are a lot of companies that have gone public that don't make money (here's looking at you twitter...) And it should also worry you just a wee bit.

I've been seeing the Fitbit wristbands everywhere except maybe on my own wrist. I guess I'm just not in the mood to get very "fit." But I am interested in these kinds of things, and I wonder what the shelf life for Fitbit actually is. I mean, technology lives and dies seemingly within a year (anyone remember the Zune?). Apple has the Apple Watch now which does everything that the Fitbit does. And well, it's Apple, which is a juggernaut in anything it dips its fingers into.

I wonder if Fitbit will end up being like Motorolla. Motorolla was the pre-eminent manufacturer of cell phones in the late 90's. I remember the flip-style phone called the Motorolla Razor, which everyone just had to have because it was so thin. Then Apple put out its iPhone and destroyed Nokia, Motorolla, and Blackberry like they were nothing.

Maybe Fitbit will survive among those who just hate Apple and/or who don't want to spend all the money to procure an Apple Watch. In that case, my prediction for the stock will be for it to go public, quickly double before trade even opens up, and then the founders of the company (once the moratorium on selling stock passes) will be able to sell all their stock dumping it out onto the market to make themselves billionaires. And then Fitbit will slowly decline as people realize all the smart money pumped and dumped and then fled a sinking ship.

As a side note I wish I could come up with an idea, go public with it, and then get all my money out of it by dumping it on unsuspecting investors before it goes bust. Sure, I'd be a sleazeball capitalist, but I really wouldn't care driving around in my 30 sports cars.

But I could always be wrong. Anyone else own a Fitbit and care to educate me differently on how awesome it is and how it will be around for the next ten years? Only time will tell if the Fitbit IPO is the next Tesla, right?

Monday, June 15, 2015

With regard to that ending on Game of Thrones last night I don't think Jon Snow is permanently dead

Oh the cliffhangers and the endings. Everyone knows by now that Martin loves to kill off characters. Jon Snow died in A Dance With Dragons, and yes it happened at the end of the book. I was wondering if the show was going to end there and sure enough it did. But here's why I think Jon Snow's death is going to be different than all of the other deaths in the show:
1) The men of the night's watch swear vows, and the only thing that can release them is death. During burial, the men of the night's watch send off a brother by saying the words, "...and now his watch is ended." Jon Snow was Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and not Stannis Baratheon or anyone else was going to cause him to derail his vows. The only reason he allowed himself to deviate from them with Ygritte was because he was trying to blend in as a wildling so he could get close to Mance Raydar. With his death, he is released from the vows and free to be king if he could just come back from the dead.

2) And about that pesky "death" thing...Melisandre of Ashai is probably going to resurrect Jon. Earlier in the series, they came across another priest of R'hllor named Thoros who had the ability to resurrect Beric Dondarrion over and over. These two priests are powerful and admittedly, they see the practice of their religion in entirely different light. However, their magic comes from the same source, a.k.a., the Lord of Light, and I think Melisandre is going to raise Jon so that he can become "Azor Ahai Reborn."

3) Azor Ahai Reborn comes from a prophecy that is told to us through the lips of Melisandre. She says, "I pray for a glimpse of Azor Ahai, and R'hllor shows me only snow." Hmm. That's interesting, don't you think?

4) The smartass author George R.R. Martin responded to a question about Jon Snow with this remark: "Oh you think he's dead do you?" I think this pretty much means that the character is going to come back with a vengeance.

5) The rumor mill on the internet says that Kit Harrington's contract has been renewed for seasons 6 and 7 (the last season). Hmm. I wonder why they would do that?

Sure, it's just a theory, but do any of you who've read the books and saw last night's episode actually believe that Jon Snow is dead and joins the rest of the "dead" characters littering the series? I think Martin's going for a twist here. By now we expect characters to die. It's time we saw one survive.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The system keeps the majority of us in socio-economic bondage with the illusion of free choice when all you really can choose between are differing degrees of terrible.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman had an article in The New York Times on Wednesday talking about the Wal-Mart wage increase. Specifically, he went over how a wage increase hadn't impacted Wal-Mart's bottom line all that much, which was a surprise to many people. Using math, Krugman outlined how this was possible and to his credit, he basically predicted that a minimum wage increase would hardly be noticed by companies that work at peak efficiency. He used an anecdote that went something like this: "If you are on top of a hill and you take one step to either side, your elevation doesn't change all that much." Of course rising out of his analysis is a conclusion: people who oppose a wage increase for minimum wage workers (to make a living wage) are not basing their arguments in fact. Rather, they are a part of the systemic problem of keeping people in socio-economic bondage.

The idea of socio-economic bondage is new to me, but I've been thinking about it for a couple of days now. The United States touts itself as "Land of the Free," but are we really free? Take for example a post I recently saw on Facebook. It regarded a youth that came home from his mission (this is an LDS thing) and "came out" to his parents as gay. The parents disowned the young man and told him he had to move out and live on his own if he were going to pursue this lifestyle. The young man in this case was obviously upset as were many people on Facebook calling the parents "unloving" and any number of awful things (which I mostly agree with but digresses from my point). And what is my point? It's simple: Americans do a disservice to one another and to their children by encouraging the idea that "You are free to be whatever you want to be." I think a more accurate statement would be, "You are born into bondage, and the only way in which you can truly be free to do what you want is to acquire money...lots of buy/purchase your freedom. Until such time as you are able to do so, you will always be beholding to someone else's rules, laws, and convictions. You will not be free to choose. Not if you want to survive."

But this brings into mind (I want to borrow Al Gore's own words here) an "Inconvenient Truth." Or maybe more accurately, an uncomfortable truth. The only people in our society that are "truly free" to be what they want to be and to do what they want to do with unlimited choices are the very rich. Money = Freedom of Choice to me. It's not about buying happiness, but about buying freedom. John Goodman put it not so eloquently as the right to say "F*ck you!" to anyone in the remake of "The Gambler." That's what 2.5 million dollars gives you...the right to say "f*ck you." And I don't need to be an economist to realize that this is true.

Polite society is cloaked in euphemisms to avoid uncomfortable truths. At work, I have this thing called an "annual performance evaluation" done by a manager that I presume has either convinced himself or has convinced others of his ability to toe-the-line. But really the whole thing should just be renamed. How about "annual systemic reminder of your socio-economic bondage?" Anyone that has ever had a performance evaluation should realize that it's a means to check "performance" for any places you might be coming up short with the idea that there's some kind of punishment for non-compliance, i.e., you could lose your job. A delusional person might say, "I'm free to make that choice. I'm free to be homeless if I choose to be." But let's not mince words, that isn't much of a choice and everyone knows that.

I'm going to conclude my thoughts in that I don't feel there's any way to change this system. I'm also part of the system just like many other people. And yes, I identify myself as one of the many million that exist in socio-economic bondage every day. Am I free to choose? I suppose that if you mean I can choose between things that are less terrible then yes. As Tyrion Lannister said to Daenerys, there is the right and wrong kind of terrible. But I don't think I shall ever look at things quite the same way anymore. Much of the troubles that we have in society are because all of us exist in bondage. However, only a few can truly be free. If everyone was free...well that's called anarchy and anarchy doesn't work.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The U.S. Navy's prototype laser cannon is 750 times more powerful than this guy's laser shotgun and that's scary as hell.

YouTuber styropyro built a hand-held Death Star using eight 5W lasers, mounted with parallel beams onto a giant heatsink normally found in a custom-built computer, and powered with a large battery. This thing is capable of bursting balloons, setting fire to wood, and other such destructive nonsense.

Think of this...
And then watch the video for this...
And you now can contemplate the destructive power of that battle station! Errr...I digress...

So back to real life. Now the U.S. Navy's prototype laser cannon that's mounted on a warship and capable of shooting down drones is 30,000 watts. So watch the video I have embedded below (for your viewing pleasure!) and then you'll realize how powerful the U.S. Navy's laser actually is. Forty watt versus 30,000 watt. Let the destruction commence.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Is true heroism from one of the troubled characters in Game of Thrones the actual fantasy element?

It is difficult for me to understand the mind of Stannis Baratheon. Sure, he's been manipulated and backed into a corner by circumstance and fear and preyed on by the likes of Melisande of Ashai (who admittedly appears to be the real deal since she's capable of feats of real dark magic). However, that he could arrive at the decision to burn his own daughter Shireen alive as a sacrifice to R'hllor so that his men could march on Winterfell is beyond insane. And as Patrick Dilloway tweeted to me, it's also an act that is pretty low even for Game of Thrones.

Earlier this season Stannis seemed like the kind of man all of us readers and watchers out here could root for. He's trying to do what's right by taking the Iron Throne as he is the natural successor to it. He's also shown great military leadership in going north to the wall when the watchers on the wall felt that they were in a very dire circumstance. But to go from the empathy that he expressed for his daughter in a very touching scene at Castle Black to marching his daughter to the funeral pyre...that was awful to watch and heartbreaking too.

It leaves me questioning: why is the Iron Throne worth this kind of price? And all this act of sacrifice is going to do anyway is maybe allow him to take Winterfell (if Melisandre follows through with the claims that R'hllor will deliver the victory to him). Then what? We have a warden of the north that none of the clans will respect because he torched his own daughter and follows the biddings of a witch?

It's a stark contrast to what Tyrion Lannister said to Daenerys Targaryen last week. "To kill those who are devoted to you does not inspire devotion."

I should say that this is yet another scene that I haven't read as it's probably in the "to be released" edition of "The Winds of Winter." Honestly, at this point no matter what Stannis does to please R'hllor, I think he is unsuited for rulership and any kingdom he did rule would just be under the thumb of another tyrant. I suppose that says something more about me than it does anything else. I feel like the iron throne should go to a true hero. I wonder why I even think that. Is it because it's some kind of reward, because it sure looks like a kind of curse, considering the bitter politics involved in seizing it.

What do you think? Do you want the iron throne to go to a hero? Or is true heroism from one of these troubled characters actually the fantasy in Game of Thrones? That would be brilliant right? George R. R. Martin laughing at all of us and saying, "The true fantasy is real life in that there are no heroes. You can populate the world with dragons, magic, and white walkers, but if you're true to life there are no heroes except in literature."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent so don't ever give it.

Recently, my mother's health took a turn for the worse. She got severely dehydrated and is now in a care center where she's being "rehabilitated." This week she gets to come home, and we are excited about this prospect. My experience with the private world of care centers though has definitely been negative. The few times I've visited mom there (she is in another state so I have to take time off of work to travel) I've been very disappointed at what we've been getting for the price of $8,000 a month. For this huge amount of money, the meals that I fed my mom via spoon included essentially tilapia, sloppy joes, and mac and cheese. All of these are cheap cheap meals. My dad has been feeding her twice a day for a while now, going diligently to the care center to spoon food into my mom's mouth. She's gained some strength, can talk now when she wants to, and when I was there just over a week ago, she cleaned her plate (and I mean she ate everything).

Well a few days ago the care center called and said they wanted to put mom on a feeding tube. Absolutely not. No way. You know why they asked this? Because they are lazy. They don't want to feed mom. It's not part of the $8,000 a month. I just am flabbergasted. I can't say how angry our aging health care system makes me. I wanted to drive up there, haul those nurses out into the parking lot, and beat them with a rod. They are crooks, the whole lot of them, who just want to get by with the bare minimum effort and get paid handsomely for it until a person dies.

I'm so glad mom is going to be able to come home, where I've made the house she's used to living in handicap accessible by getting a ramp installed. I've also hired a full-time care provider that will be attentive (singularly) to mom's dietary needs and who will feed mom (by spoon not tube) specially prepared dishes that mirror what she is used to eating (my mom is Japanese). None of that cheap mac and cheese crap and the cheapest ground beef mixed with Manwich.

My mom has lived a long and difficult life, and it angers me that there are vultures just circling in the healthcare system that want to rob old people of all the money and resources they've accumulated in a lifetime. My telling that care center "absolutely not" on the feeding tube reminds me of a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." My mom survived Tokyo being fire bombed in World War 2. She survived moving to a foreign country where she knew no one and was expected to raise a family around strangers a world away from her two brothers. And this is how it's supposed to end? With a feeding tube stuck down her throat, wearing a diaper that's full of crap because the nurses only change the diaper twice a day at specified times, and in a wheelchair under a flickering fluorescent light bulb? This is what $8,000.00 a month buys? Are you f'ing kidding me? It's highway robbery, and the people that own this care center drive expensive cars and live like the 1% live everywhere. It's such bullshit.

Maybe you can take that quote and make something of it. Maybe it's applicable to this month's Insecure Writer's Support group. No one can make any of us feel inferior without consent. So don't ever give consent. Force people to be accountable and expose the con artists in any industry who are trying to exploit honest, hard working people (whether it be in publishing or in health care). Report fraud, fight back with lawsuits, and don't ever be anyone else's doormat. And if you possibly can, stand up for someone else that doesn't have the means to defend themselves anymore.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The Night's King raised all the dead in Hardhome and delivered the most chilling episode of Game of Thrones yet

Game of Thrones just had its obligatory "White Walker" episode, and I actually wasn't expecting it. Jon Snow arrived at Hardhome, the place where the wildlings decided to hole up to see if they could survive while someone, somewhere came up with a real plan? Even with circumstances as desperate as they were, many of the wildlings still threw Jon Snow's offer of safe harbor south of the wall back into his teeth.

That (of course) was what happened before the White Walkers showed up. I have to say, the howl of the winds raised goose pimples on my arms (I have a decent surround sound system). Preceded by a ghostly blizzard that kind of dropped off the bluffs and cliffs surrounding the bay in which thousands of people had gathered, a zombie army that was worthy of a season finale for The Walking Dead assaulted the wildlings desperately trying to escape into the bay where ships waited to take them south.

Oh and one of my theories about Valyrian steel came true tonight. I'd hypothesized that valyrian steel could kill a white walker the same as dragon glass in a blog post I made some time ago. We haven't seen this in the books, but that little plot detail was revealed when Jon Snow became the second man on earth to end a White Walker.
To those of you who watched last night's episode, did it seem to you that there was some kind of weird connection between Jon Snow and the Night's King (the White Walker that raised all of the dead in Hardhome at once)? I don't know what's going on with that, but it almost seemed like the Night's King was staring him down as if it were showing Jon that he belonged with them.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the show, but I don't think any of that was coincidence. Given the Night's King's dubious background (he was probably a former "Commander of the Night's Watch") I'm tempted to think that Jon Snow may be destined to join the side of evil at some point. Good lord would that be awful.