Friday, February 10, 2017

I probably won't be back to writing full-time on the blog again until April

This is a "not-so-quick" update on what's been going on the last few months while I have some internet access.

Number one, I did buy a new home in November. It's my first home, and at the snail's pace in which I dedicate myself to things, probably the only home I will ever own. I'm just not all that motivated to move and this last time moving from my apartment into this home was a nightmare. Part of what made it a nightmare was (of course) the stress of coordinating everything. But the extremely tight regulations on mortgages caused some unforeseen stresses on the very day I was supposed to get the keys to my house. Allow me to elaborate...

I put a cash down payment on my house, and I had the money transferred through Scottrade Bank (which is a brokerage firm). However, they happen to use U.S. Bank to transfer money. So when the money showed up at the lender, it was earmarked "U.S. Bank" instead of "Scottrade Bank" and they flipped out. They thought I was trying to launder money and even accused me of being ISIS. I'm not kidding. They said that unless I dropped everything (keep in mind this is the day of the move) and got a letter in writing from a Scottrade branch manager that was faxed using a verifiable Scottrade fax machine that said "We use U.S. bank for all money transfers" that it was going to be catastrophic failure. I already have hypertension and take medication for it. Needless to say, this was just the beginning of a long and painful day. I did get the letter, I did get it faxed, and I did end up getting the keys. But the delay caused me to get billed extra time for the movers I'd hired, and a storm that I was hoping to avoid rolled in on me. So of course the whole front of the house got wet with rain and rotting leaves (it was autumn) and the movers slipped several times, knocking holes in my brand new walls with furniture.

Anyway, with my body extremely sore and with a headache, I set up my bedroom and just wanted to take a relaxing bath. So of course there was no hot water. The pilot light in the water heater hadn't been lit, and it turned out that my gas line hadn't been turned on (so I had to figure out how to do that around midnight). My stove didn't have power (those switches hadn't been flipped in the breaker box). The very next day was Thanksgiving, and I had a complete meltdown on the garage floor. It wasn't pretty (please keep in mind that I live alone and do everything alone). There was no one to comfort me until my brother drove over in a blizzard past midnight with a bout of pink eye to try and get some of the things working in my house. Anyway, that was my first night.

And exactly one week later, my mother died. It was just an extremely rough time.

I loved my mother very much, and her death was completely unexpected. She was 84 and we got a picture of her that morning eating breakfast and smiling at her pancakes. The nurse that cares for her took her into the shower to wash her hair at 6:00 p.m. on December 2nd, and my mother just slumped in the shower chair. The nurse tried to revive her with C.P.R.; dad called the paramedics who arrived within 6 minutes. But mom was already dead. She either had a massive heart attack, stroke, or brain aneurysm. Her quality of life had deteriorated quite a bit (she was bedridden and was playing with her poo), but I wasn't ready to let go of her. I can look back on that now and see it was a selfish desire of mine. I would have wanted her to stay, but mom very much believed in heaven and was Catholic. She's in a better place with all her cats and dogs that she loved in her life. I can recognize that. However, it doesn't change the fact that I am still (sometimes) waking up in the middle of the night crying, or that I look at her picture and think, "I can't believe she's gone." It seems like just yesterday when she was cooking dinner or teaching me how to ride a bike. I had just seen her two weeks earlier and for the last few years I spent a lot of time with my mom, so there wasn't anything that had been left unsaid between us. I guess that's just the way life is.

And of course you know that I haven't been blogging (if you're a regular reader). Because my house was previously just a patch of weeds in the middle of Salt Lake City, I haven't been able to get internet. Since November, I've had two orders in with different companies (Comcast/Xfinity and CenturyLink). Both of those are in "held order" Hell status. What this means is that they have to build and wire the infrastructure to my home before they can provide internet. Comcast said they could probably have it all done by the middle of March, so that's what I'm waiting for. CenturyLink has to redo their entire Central Office building in order to get me service. That won't happen until almost April.

Until then, I do have DirecTV that's keeping me entertained, and I have books to read. Plus I'm planning the landscaping for my home (flowers and a Japanese maple and maybe some Juniper Skyrockets). In the backyard I may erect some kind of planter to grow tomatoes in, and I may plant a rosebush (my mom loved rosebushes). So until I get internet, my posts and responses may be sporadic. It's challenging living without being wired to the World Wide Web. However, it's also been kind of peaceful. I do wish all my smarthome devices worked properly, but good things come to those who wait.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Taking a break. See you in 2017.

I'm going to sign off from my blog until we're done with the New Year. I'm preparing for a move next week, and the place I'm moving into might not have internet service for a while because of some misunderstanding with Comcast. Don't get me wrong, I'm not bitching about Comcast because they've been a reliable and good service provider for years. But they are having trouble determining whether or not they even offer service to my new address. Sigh. They are sending a tech out to investigate and maybe a line will need to be put in or something like that. I've actually no idea since I've never worked for Comcast/Xfinity. Apologies (ahead of time) to all for missing the December 2016 Insecure Writer's Support Group post. Rest assured...mine would have been amazing to read ;).

So until then folks, I wish you luck with all of your writing projects. Have a great Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stranger in a Strange Land is coming to television on the SyFy channel but it really belongs on HBO.

Stranger in a Strange Land is one of my favorite books. In thinking about the upcoming adaptation scheduled to debut on the SyFy channel, I do worry that the network will be unable to do it justice. Much of what makes Stranger in a Strange Land so compelling are the observations made by Valentine Michael Smith, an earthling borne on Mars and raised by Martians (thereby making him the sole owner of the Red Planet as far as corporate rights go). I think it's one of Heinlein's greatest works, because it skillfully navigates the craziness of human existence from the concept of god and how we choose to worship god from faith to faith to faith and even how sexuality all ties into these concepts in ways that most of us fail to notice.

It's also a timely novel and doesn't seem to lose any of its relevance by today's standards. As soon as Michael Valentine Smith is discovered on Mars, corporations and institutions of various kind all try to bend him to their will. Within short order, he's essentially put into prison "for observation" and it becomes clear that institutions (which have an obligation toward self-preservation) will override basic morality if it means they can accomplish their goals. How is this any different than what we saw this year in plurality? But the greatest irony is that Mike learns that in order to connect with the public at large, he must build his own institution because that is the way that people seem to work. And thusly, he founds his own religion (not unlike another "Smith" from history) and eventually meets a fate that is also eerily similar, i.e., he's killed by a mob.

The novel also gives us the word "grok" which originally means to drink water, but morphs into many other things. It comes to be an understanding between two people, or a substitute for some deep understanding of the universe. By the end of the book, "grokking" comes to embrace Mike's idea of god on a cosmic level, and he becomes enlightened to the idea that sexuality (and sex itself) are the greatest gifts that belong to humanity. On Mars, "grokking" is to share water. On Earth, to "grok" extends to kissing and then sharing of other bodily fluids in the ultimate version of what it means to grow closer to another human being.

Now that I've written all of this, I feel that this series should have landed with HBO. But I'm definitely going to give SyFy a chance. I suppose in the end that Syfy just needed to mine another source like Grossman's The Magicians for a profitable series with a built-in audience. Ursula K. LeGuin and Octavia Butler (and other others) are too political subversive for television right now. The hard science fiction crew of Asimov and Niven are probably too difficult for most people to understand, and Orson Scott Card is too damaged to take a chance on any more of his works (seeing as he's basically become a foaming at the mouth alt-right conservative). So Heinlein it is.

Eh, either way I'll be excited about this venture.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Take a moment to educate yourself by watching a video about the depth of the ocean.

This video is amazing if you've ever wondered how deep the ocean was. Things I learned:

1) Penguins dive to a depth where pressure is the equivalent weight of a polar bear standing/balancing on a quarter.

2) If you are flying and look out a window and see the clouds and think, "Wow...I'm really high in the sky," then that's about the depth that the ocean goes to. Impressive, right? It's also a good way to visualize just how much salt water there is out there.

3) We don't really know how deep the ocean is. We're discovering spots that are deeper than we thought from time to time, and most of these places seem to be off the coast of Guam.

4) There are a lot of scary things that call the ocean home, and we've only really explored 5% of it.

Yeah...I don't think I'll be going swimming in it any time soon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

This year we got three technologies that have great potential to be the game-changers of the future.

Pokemon Go
I was looking at Pokemon Go last night. Not so much because I love the game, but because of what it represented in breaking as big as it did this year. If you at all followed the phenomenon, it was impressive. And as far as technologies go, Pokemon Go was one of three things that I saw explode on the scene in 2016 that gave us a vision of the future. The other two are the launch of HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift (these both happened in the spring). All of these offer some really unique opportunities to gain enhanced insights by applying their analytics technologies to things people use every day. Allow me to elaborate.

HTC Vive
VR and AR hardware and software could be used by to complement ground force GPS tracking data with a near real-time display of the troops on the ground. This would give commanders an immediate familiarity not only with troop movements but with the type of terrain they are moving through, the route ahead, and other such information that could only previously be gleaned by an observer present on the scene. Homeland security organizations and emergency response personnel could make use of the same kind of information in the wake of disasters. Pretty cool, right?

It's even possible that applying VR or AR technology to the analytics information could allow the Census Bureau to save money by zeroing in on households they need to contact.

The Oculus Rift
But it doesn't stop there. Analytics-infused VR could allow the medical industry to make informed decisions that could save millions of dollars a year. Imagine having a doctor in your home, conducting a telehealth consultation where their hologram interacts with you in a virtual reality environment. Present on the VR device you might be wearing are all the health analytics from previous checkups, current vital signs, and other information that's pertinent to your body.

Honestly, when I think about it, the applications for analytics-infused virtual or augmented reality are as unlimited as the creativity of those using them. 2016 has been so different from other years because of so many reasons.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Let's talk about that Wonder Woman trailer that dropped last week.

I absolutely loved the new trailer for Wonder Woman that dropped last week. It is filled with incredibly beautiful shots, however, none grab me so much as this one, where Diana dives into the sea just off the shore of the Amazonian island of Themyscyra to save Steve Trevor. It rightly illustrates just how outside the realm of human athleticism and ability Diana actually is.
Because of press releases, we already know that the movie is set during the first World War. Even Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) correctly calls it "The War To End All Wars," which I believe is how it was referred to back then. It makes me curious if the German troops will be the villains in the film. The Germany of World War I is a lot different from the Germany in World War II. There's a lot more "moral gray area" than the second. The clash of empires slaughtering the flower of youth of an entire continent isn't as good a story as the defeat of an Evil Nazi Empire. However, the distance back in time is difficult for contemporary writers to empathize with, i.e., it's difficult for us to depict class, gender, or race at all accurately for that time and to still feel like we have heroes to for whom to root.

That being said, this adventure that Diana undertakes is supposed to disillusion Wonder Woman for decades to come and make her unwilling to interfere in the world of men. Another thing that occurred to me from watching the trailer is that Diana must have some kind of precognition. She doesn't appear to be moving fast enough to block the bullets by sight (like the Flash). So something about her abilities allows her to see projectiles in time before they actually occur so she knows where to be in order to block them.

Here's the trailer if you haven't seen it yet.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Walking Dead has been telling us for nearly seven years that the key to leadership is playing a role different from your actual self.

The Walking Dead has been full of interesting villains. However, aside from just being evil, each has adopted a certain "character" to play in leading their disparate groups. I also think this is pretty accurate to how society actually functions. For example, F.D.R. didn't want people to know he couldn't walk, so he played a carefully curated role that people could believe in...one that suggested that he was far healthier than the truth. And over the decades, this kind of thinking hasn't changed much. Just recently Donald Trump called Hillary Clinton "weak" and impled that, "she doesn't have the stamina." It's essentially the same thing.
In the second episode of the new season, we met King Ezekiel who is this larger-than-life character living in a place appropriately called "The Kingdom," and who has a sidekick that's a Bengal tiger. All of his men-at-arms are knights and wear armor, and it's kinda/sorta like a modern renaissance fair. And King Ezekiel owns up to what he's doing in a conversation with Carol that takes place near the end of the episode. He says that he knows it's all a ruse, but it's something that the people just needed with all the horror in the world. That's when it occurred to me that all the other "leaders" are also playing a role. The only reason Ezekiel's really sticks out is because it's so wild.
For example, Rick Grimes is still playing at Sheriff. He's changed a lot because of the world, and doesn't hesitate to just kill people these days, but deep down inside he's still very much into justice. And justice from a certain point-of-view can look a lot like revenge. Still, he seems to be able to mete it out without his mind suffering permanent damage because he's sheltered his psyche within this role he's created for himself...he has a job and a responsibility to his people and how he actually feels about doing certain things need to be separated from his duty. As long as he can focus on that, he seems to be able to survive just about anything.
The same could be said for the Governor. Before he ran arrears of Rick Grimes and company, the Governor was a politician, playing this larger-than-life charismatic role as the leader of Woodbury. Anyone that remotely crossed him ended up dead. However, he was fair to most people as long as you had nothing that he wanted or questioned him in any way. And a glimpse inside his psyche via one of the books revealed an even deeper layer: the fact that he was actually playing the role of his twin brother (who died) and the undead daughter he was keeping wasn't actually his biological daughter, but belonged to his brother. He basically assumed the entire role because his brother was a charismatic good man and that's what he wanted to be. People had "admired" his brother. But you only got that story from the book Rise of the Governor.
The latest batch of people, called "The Saviors," and led by Negan are no different. Negan's playing the role of a Mafioso. He's in charge of this huge family that extorts The Walking Dead's version of "protection money" from communities in exchange for keeping the "undead menace" under control. That's basically what his roving army does. It maintains the herds so that they don't overwhelm and threaten the settlements of Alexandria, Hill Top, and the Kingdom. In truth, of course, they're just parasites feeding off the communities and not really doing all that much constructive. But it's the character that Negan has decided to play. It's why he insists on following through and keeping his word in front of everyone. People need to see that he means business so that his orders are never questioned. Who knows what he's actually like in person, or what kind of person he was before the event that made the dead rise from their graves.

It's an interesting thing to think that successful leadership may depend on how well you can play a certain role. I suppose it makes sense that some of our most powerful leaders (and those aspiring to the highest offices in the land) are essentially actors. It's a truth that the Walking Dead has been telling all along, but it took me seven seasons to actually see it.