Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Some Christmas

Can you tell how much the tree leans in this picture? Since I turned it so that it is mostly leaning toward the wall, I don't think you can see the full effect.
The dalek invasion of '14.
Based on the bags of coal, they must not have been all that good this year.
Evidently, that was no mere kiss.
She didn't want to be left out.
Tomorrow: She loves it.
And we all stood back.
But, UNEXPECTEDLY, there was the Spanish Inquisition!

And the Empire:

Have a great New Year!
The Empire says so.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Great Twitter-ass Experiment

The idea of Twitter has never been my thing. It's just too, well, short. Any of you who have been around here for any length of time will know that about me. Brevity is not exactly my strong suit. There are reasons for that, most of them having to do with the lack of anything meaningful that usually accompanies brevity. Still, there came a point when I thought I should probably give Twitter a shot, so, almost a year ago, I did.

I have to say: I have not been impressed.

Before I get into that, though, I heard some interesting research the other day about followers on Twitter and other such things, actually about the value of purchasing "followers" by the thousands. This was in the wake of the Instagram purge and the resulting conversations about all the followers that Beiber (and others) lost and, actually, what it meant that Instagram was willing, now, to purge all of those fake accounts. Interestingly enough, the research shows that the numbers really matter even if people know that the numbers are fake. Basically, if you have 10, 017 followers and 10,000 of those are fake, people will be more willing to follow you than if you have 100 followers who are real even if they know that the 10,000 followers are fake.
Because people are weird that way.

At any rate, my view of Twitter, which I've said somewhere or other before, is that it's like being in a cave, somewhere back in the dark, and yelling at people as they pass by and hoping that someone will stop to listen to you. The problem is that everyone else is busy yelling from their own caves, and no one is listening to anyone. At least, that's the way it seemed, so I decided to see if I could figure out if that was true.

For a while, I had been considering writing a twitter story, which is not a story about twitter but a story told in 140 character bursts via twitter, but I wanted to pre-write it so that I would have every tweet prepared ahead of time. Yeah, I'm not a pantser. But I've been busy with other things and hadn't come to any decision about story ideas for a twitter story, so I kept putting it off. BUT...
Back at the beginning of December, my cat did this thing, an interesting thing, and I decided to just start writing the story with that thing as the catalyst and, yes, I pantsed it.

A few times a day, for three weeks I added to the story about a cat that started with this thing my own cat did. It was more fun than I thought it would be. BUT...
As far as I can tell, no one noticed. Maybe some people saw some tweets here and there, but there were no comments or reactions at all. Which, actually, is something I have found to be the case in general where twitter is concerned.

All of which leads me to my general conclusion about twitter: Unless you are a celebrity and are giving your fans some sense of connection to you, twitter is completely worthless. Okay, maybe not completely worthless but pretty close to it. It makes a good texting substitute for short directed messages to people, and that can be nice, but it's not necessary for that, because you can always send an email. Twitter just allows you not to have to know the person's email by just following them instead. Overall, it's not a better tool than, say, Facebook; Facebook is much more versatile.

None of which is to say that I'm going to drop twitter, but it's certainly difficult to take the thing seriously. It's lousy as a marketing tool and generally worthless as a vehicle for even saying stuff. Not if you want anyone to notice, anyway. If I want that, I'll go out in my front yard and yell stuff.

Friday, December 26, 2014

An Acceptable Time (a book review post)

Imagine for just a moment that you're the parent of a teenage girl, a very smart teenage girl who is not getting the kind of education she needs at her high school. You decide to send your daughter off to spend some time studying with your parents who happen to be genius scientists. Now... Imagine a boy, a boy you don't know from Adam, shows up at your house wanting to see your daughter. A boy, a college boy, mind you, who says he has just driven from one coast to the other for the sole purpose of seeing your daughter. Your teenage daughter who is in high school. How do you respond?

Let me tell you how you don't respond. You don't tell the boy where your daughter is and give him directions to get there without consulting your parents or your daughter. You do not NOT check to see if your daughter even knows this boy. You do not assume the boy is telling the truth that he met her when she was on a school trip to Greece as she was passing through Athens on the way to her actual destination. And, actually, we don't even know if the boy, Zachary Gray, told Polly's parents any of that. All we know is that he showed up at her grandparents' house without any kind of verification or warning that he was coming after being sent ahead by Polly's parents.

Now, imagine for just a moment that you have a teenage granddaughter who is staying with you. A boy shows up at your house who says he was sent there by your daughter and that he knows your granddaughter and would like to see her. Do you tell him where in the woods she is likely to end up from the walk she is on and send him out to wait for her? Do you not call your daughter to verify this boy's story? Of course, if you were to call your daughter (although you would find that, yes, she did send him there) you would find she has no idea from Adam who he is.

I have an almost teenage daughter and this whole scenario in An Acceptable Time deeply disturbed me. That no one bothered to verify with Polly that she knew this boy was completely insane. I don't know; maybe there are people out there who are that naive (other than L'Engle, I mean), but I've never known any of them. It was not a circumstance I could accept as even being remotely realistic, so the book plunged off the Cliff of Belief and Acceptance almost before the first chapter even got going. Then, it got bashed around on the rocks down below as I made my way through the book, before finally drowning and sinking to bottom of the Sea of Disbelief.

So Polly has this time slippage event where she's out on a walk and ends up a few thousand years in the past. She's only there for a few pages in the book before she ends up back in her own time. She tells her grandparents about it which results in more than half of the book dealing with conversations over food about how they don't believe that it happened. This might be okay except that her grandfather has been to other planets and experienced time travel. There is no rational, acceptable reason for her grandparents to spend so long clinging to the belief that she imagined it and that if they just pretend nothing happened then nothing else will happen. And they spend 200 pages doing that. The same conversation over and over about how they don't believe it.

Still, that's not even the most annoying thing about the book. Evidently, for all of L'Engle's "science" in this series, she was one of those people who believe that the Earth is only 5000 years old. Polly (supposedly) has gone 3000 years into the past, and she keeps noticing how young the mountains look. How tall and jagged and un-eroded, because in her own time those mountains have been worn down (by just the wind and rain, mind you) into hills. Maybe L'Engle missed that part of geology where you learn that that kind of erosion takes hundreds of millions of years... well, to actually get down to the point where a mountain has been eroded from a mountain to something that is just a hill would probably take billions of years at least. And L'Engle mentions the ice age and talks a lot about glacial rocks, but it's really unclear when this age she talks about is supposed to have happened.

Basically, L'Engle mixes in just enough science talk to fool kids into believe her books know something about science but, at best, her mumbo jumbo is pseudoscience and, at worst, it's all a part of her "all you need is love" philosophy, which, again, is what saves the day at the end of this book. Not anything the protagonist does because, mostly, what she does is hangs out waiting to be sacrificed and hoping someone will save her. In fact, the only action Polly takes to get herself out of the mess she is in, she undoes. On purpose! And, then, goes back to waiting to be rescued.

And I haven't even talked about the part when the young man she's infatuated with says right in front of her that he intends to sacrifice her so that the Mother will send rain and, instead of being freaked out and trying to get away from him, she starts trying to convince herself that he would really never do that. I'm sorry, but that's messed up and a horrible message to send to young girls.

My final analysis is that this series is, well, horrible. I would never recommend them to anyone and am sorry that I ever did. I'm glad that I re-read Wrinkle and went on to read the rest just so that I will no longer recommend anything by L'Engle to any of my students. And, while I can understand a liking for Wrinkle, I honestly don't understand how anyone can like Many Waters or An Acceptable Time. I can barely make allowances for A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet and that's only because she uses the same characters as from Wrinkle and there's a flying horse.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Twas the Night Before... Or Something

It was the day before presents
and all they could think
was that soon the'd be ripping
paper. Hopefully pink,
thought my daughter
as she gazed at the tree,
but knowing it would probably
all red and green be.

But that's okay, she thought,
as long as I get good loot.
With which the boys heartily
agreed with a great big "whoot!"

And, really, that's all I have for you. I could have more, but it would probably take until next Christmas to do that. Hmm... maybe, I'll add to this next year.

Have yourself a MERRY little Christmas!!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Crooked-ass Christmas Tree

When I was a kid, we always went to a Christmas tree lot to get our tree, generally during the weekend after Thanksgiving, because that was the weekend my mom deemed that the house had to be decorated. There was no Christmas at all before Thanksgiving, then it exploded into our house by the end of that weekend. We had a big house and never had less than a 10' tree, so this was no small feat, especially since we decorated the entire downstairs and outside of the house, too.

In some ways, a big Christmas tree is easier than a small one. For one thing, a bigger tree has a real trunk. Christmas tree stands like real trunks. It's actually really difficult to find a good stand for a small Christmas tree, small being trees no more than six feet tall. Even using the smallest stands we could find, we always had problems with the trees staying upright. So, a few years ago, we switched to these stands they provide at the tree farm (don't worry, they're free-range trees) where we get our tree every year.
See that spike there in the middle? The tree goes right down on that. Or maybe you all know that? I have no way of knowing whether these things are commonplace or not. As far as I know, there wasn't anything like this when I was a kid, and I've never seen these kinds of stands at the store. I've only seen that at the farm where we hunt our tree.

So let's go with the assumption that you've never seen one of these before, in which case you are probably wondering how you get a tree onto that spike. It's not by hammering the stand. Actually, the guys at the farm -- stock pond for trees? I think hunting a tree at a tree farm is kind of like fishing in a stock pond -- have this contraption for drilling a hole in trunk so that it slides down onto that spike. It should be an easy process; in fact, it has always been an easy process in the past. We've never had a leaning tree before.

But this year... Well, the guy helping me was new, evidently. I say that because, as soon as he took the tree over to drill it, he asked for someone to help him. Still, not a big deal. Except that no one came over to help him, so he started trying to put the tree on the contraption by himself, then he yelled over at me to see if I thought it looked straight. I say "yelled" because I was at least 30' away, back where, you know, the customers are supposed to be. Which means I only had one view of the tree, and it looked fine from where I was standing.

So I was kind of shrugging at the guy, because I didn't feel like I was a good person to ask when, finally, one of the guys who has been there a long time hollered over that the tree wasn't straight. He started coming over but, then, some guy who was closer came over and the other guy went back to what he was doing. Now, the first guy finally had help... except, then, the two guys started arguing over how to do it (making me believe the "helper" was also new), the tree started swaying around, they seemed to come to some agreement, almost dropped the tree, re-straightened the tree, and, finally, drilled it.

I thought that was the end of the story. Like I said, we've never gotten a tree that leans before. But...

We got the tree home, I got out a stand, I worked the hole in the bottom of the trunk down onto the spike, and... We have a crooked-ass Christmas tree. [See, I said I was going to start using that word more. Ass, that is.] Seriously, the tree lists about 10 degrees off of the perpendicular.

And, yes, because I know you're going to ask: I did try to take pictures, but, due to the way I have the tree situated -- you know, to minimize the tilt -- you can's tell from the pictures how bad it is. And they didn't come out all that well, anyway. I should have taken pictures while I was putting it up before we had it all decorated and stuff, but I was distracted by trying to make it look like the tree wasn't about to fall into the middle of our living room. So, no, there will be no Christmas tree pictures, this year.

However, there should be Christmas Day pictures and stuff as usual. You know, after Christmas Day happens. And, maybe, once I get the tree taken down and stuff, I'll get some pictures of it outside so that you can see how crooked it is. Maybe I should have just taken it back...
My mom did that once. Um, twice, actually.
I thought I'd told that story before, but I'm not seeing it in my old posts. It's kind of a funny story...

Friday, December 19, 2014

Math Is Dumb (and Why)

Okay, so to be fair to math, it's not math that is stupid. I mean, math is just math, after all. Math, regular math like addition/subtraction, multiplication/division, algebra, doesn't change. 2+2 will always be 4. Always. The quadratic formula will ALWAYS be the quadratic formula:
Am I giving anyone flashbacks? Or nightmares? Or flashbacks to nightmares?

So it's not math that's the problem; it's the people who write and/or produce textbooks.

There's been stuff in the news recently about how some school districts have been offering classes for parents who need help with their math skills in relation to the new common core math standards. Every one of the news stories I have heard or read make it sound like there is some issue with these adults. They're having to go back to school because they're just dumb. Smart parents don't need help with the math. I don't think this is necessarily the case.

Granted, I don't think a lot of adults have retained much of their high school math and, really, that's okay, because you don't need, in general, much math to get by on. Heck, if you have any kind of cell phone or tablet (and who doesn't? I mean, even I have a Kindle at this point), you can get free calculator apps and stuff, so all you need to know is when to add or subtract or whatever, not actually be able to do it. But I don't think the issue with the new common core stuff is lack of ability or knowledge; I think it's because it's full of made up crap that didn't exist thirty years ago.

And, yes, I mean made up crap because, as I said, basic math doesn't change. There is nothing new to add to it, because, guess what, 2 + 2 = 4! Period (okay, exclamation point). End of story.

So, a few weeks ago, my daughter asked me to help her with her math. This not an uncommon occurrence, nor has it been an uncommon occurrence with any of my kids. I mean, I have spent time teaching both algebra and calculus so getting asked to help with BASIC MATHEMATICS should not be an issue, right? RIGHT? Except what she said was, "Hey, Dad, I need help with this neutral table."



Neutral table? What the heck? I'd never heard of a neutral table. Which is kind of what I said except it went more like:
"What are you talking about? There's no such thing as a neutral table."
"Well, I have to do one for my homework."
Great, my kid had to do some thing that wasn't even real for homework. So I had to take her math book and figure out what the heck she was talking about because, guess what, neutral tables are SO made up that you can't conveniently find them online.

Are any of you wondering, now, what a neutral table is? Well, I'll show you.
Pretend you need to figure out the answer to 7-3 and you can't work that out in your head and you don't have any fingers. Guess what! You can use a neutral table! It looks something like this

+ + + + + + +
-  -  -

only with a box drawn around it. You match the +s to the -s and remove all of those pairs. Whatever you have left is the answer to your problem, so the answer to this one is 4+s. The problem here is that doing it like this does not address something like 7 - (-3), because you still have to know to make that into 7 + 3. To be fair to my daughter, the problem she needed help with was slightly more complicated although not much more. My question was, "Why aren't you just using a number line?"
Remember those?
That, actually, is still my question. And she didn't have an answer for it.

But I actually know the answer. It's an answer I don't much like.
You can't sell new textbooks without "new" math in them. There's no incentive without new material, after all, other than to just replace books that are falling apart, but how often do schools really need to do that? Judging by the texts I used when I was in school, not more than once a decade at best. But if there's new material... Well, that changes things, so you have to make up brand new "math" to convince schools to re-invest in new texts.

The problem is that it's not really math. I'm sorry (okay, I'm really not); neutral tables are not math. There should not be a section in a math book about how to use neutral tables. They are not a THING. At best, they are an example of a thing, a way of showing a kid who isn't getting adding and subtracting a way to figure it out. So, maybe, you give this info to teachers of 1st and 2nd graders (to the teacher) as a way to explain adding and subtracting, but it does not belong in a 6th grade math text as a THING that you need to know how to use to algebra.

Neutral tables are not the only thing my kids have asked me about that didn't exist in math a couple of decades ago; they are just the most inane thing they have asked me about. And they are inane. It's a waste of teaching, a waste of class time, a waste of brain space. And, now, it's a waste of my own brain space just knowing that these things exist.

Seriously, that our education system is tied up with textbook publishers is one of the reasons that our education system is suffering so much. The education system should not be allowed to become like the military, paying for gold-plated toilet seats and the like. But, again, the education system and what's wrong with it is another topic entirely.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Thirteen -- What It All Means

So let's talk analogy for a moment.
If you could have any car you wanted, any car at all, and you could afford to maintain and drive it, what kind of car would you have? That car, that bright and shiny car with the engine that purrs, that's your plot. But guess what; that car isn't going anywhere without a driver, the driver being your protagonist. And it doesn't matter how cool the car is if your protagonist is a total ass (ass... now that's a word I think I need to use more often; it's so versatile) or completely stupid (remember, stupid is not a personality type). Have you ever been in a car with a stupid driver (and I don't mean a bad driver, although a stupid driver is also a bad driver)? It's not something you ever want to do again.

See, it doesn't matter how good (or great) your plot is if you have a protagonist that doesn't work on some level; however, you can have even a junker if your protagonist is someone your readers want to hang out with. As long as the car isn't going to literally fall apart around your readers (or explode), you can get away with a lot if you have good, engaging characters. Which is not to say that I believe characters are more important than plot... except that they kind of are. People (readers) are going to talk about your characters way more (in a general sense) than they are ever going to talk about how cool your dashboard is. Or your steering wheel. Or the heated, leather seats. Okay, they might talk about that, especially if it's cold out. But, in the end, for most readers, it all boils down to the characters.

Which is why it's so important to understand how people are different from each other and, more importantly, how they are different from you, the author. It's a common thing to ask yourself, "What would I do in this situation?" but you're going to end up with only characters who act just like you if that's all you ever do. That's okay once, maybe twice, but, eventually, your readers will get tired of books filled with just one character: you. What you need is for Bob to act like Bob and Jane to act like Jane and Fred to act like Fred and Gortuka from planet Xenon to not act human at all.

I think the only real way to make characters distinct, to make them individuals as opposed to paper dolls, is to make those characterization decisions before you start writing. You ask yourself the question, "What kind of person is Bob? What kind of person is Jane?" And "What kind of... thing is Gortuka?" If you know that stuff before you go in, you can make informed decisions about how your characters act. That way, if you get to a point in your story where someone needs to push the red button, you can have Bob do it, because you know that Bob is the one that can't resist being told not to do something whereas Jane and Fred do what they're told and it would be breaking character for one them to say, "You know what, I'm going to push the red button even though my boss said not to."

I know I frequently come off as someone who gets nit-picky over the details (plot stuff) but, honestly, that stuff only grabs my attention when the characters aren't engaging. It's like being involved in a conversation with someone at a party. If the conversation is good, your attention will be focused on the character but, if the conversation is inane, your gaze starts to wander, and you start to pick up the details of the plot you're in. If that is also lacking (like all the plants are dead or there's a big crack in the ceiling or there are cockroaches crawling on the furniture), the whole thing falls apart, and you want to go home. Or quit reading. Whatever the case may be.

At any rate, for those of you out there who are authors, I hope this series has given some perspective on how to make characters more "real" and more complex and, yet, an insight into why not every character will make the same stupid mistake you might need to happen to move the plot along. For instance, an Eight (the Boss) is never going to act like a Four (the Individualist) and have that heart-to-heart talk about how special he really is if only you would see it. That's just never going to happen.

And, maybe, all of this will enable some of you to see more of whom you are, so you can separate out yourself from your characters. That, I think, is the biggest trap writers fall into. So don't ask, "What would I do if a ravenous slug were crawling up my leg?" Ask, "What would Bob do if a ravenous slug was crawling up his leg?" Answer: He would scream bloody murder and run to Jane to save him.

Monday, December 15, 2014

I Hate Homework!

I'm going to come right out of the closet and say, "I hate homework." Is there a closet for that? If there is, I'm coming out of it. If I was ever even in it. Actually, I didn't mind homework so much when I was a kid but, then, I almost never had homework. Not that I didn't have homework, but I almost always made sure that I finished it at school or, at the latest, on the bus coming home. Because, other than reading, that's what the school bus is for.

We don't have school buses here.

Not that we don't have them -- there are some -- but they aren't for busing kids to school like they were when I was a kid where I was from. They are mostly short buses, here, and the regular long buses seem to be used only on special occasions for field trips and stuff. But I digress...


There's a lot of conflicting data out there, right now, about the amount of homework kids are doing today as opposed to a few decades ago, too much so for me to wade through for a blog post. However, my experience tells me that there is more homework today. Or, maybe, it's just my kids' schools. Or, maybe, it's just that my kids do their homework whereas most kids don't, which is why the overall amount of time kids spend on homework doesn't seem to have changed much in the last few decades. But I'll get back to that in a moment.

What there is not a  lot of conflicting data about is the efficacy of homework. Most of the newer studies indicate that homework is only effective in rather small doses (except for reading); beyond that, the effect of homework becomes more and more negative the more there is. The problem is that not all kids do homework the same way, so what might take some students 20 minutes to do, others take an hour to do. That, of course, is more and more compounded as you add other classes to that.

Do you want to know the biggest drawback of homework?
It makes kids hate school.

We've had issues with and around homework with each of our kids. Not the same issues but issues nonetheless.

When our oldest was in middle school, he just wouldn't turn in his homework, which we could never figure out. Why spend the time doing it if you're not going to turn it in? But he didn't know the answer to that then and still doesn't know it now. Fortunately (for everyone involved), he got all of that figured out by high school and had a successful high school career. The thing is, though, by high school, he just did his homework, even though it meant hours a night doing it. He would go to his room and take care of it. Later, when he was involved in all kinds of after-school activities, he did it all at school, and it was never an issue. Never an issue beyond the loss of family time, that is, which we weren't having anyway since he wasn't home. Him not being home, though, was more of the issue than the homework.

The younger boy has had escalating issues with homework. Actually, he's a great example of how homework damages kids. For the last many years, he has come home with hours of homework every night. This started before middle school with him. There's more to be said about all of this, but I'm going to sum it all up by putting it this way: For years, the entire family has been held hostage to his homework. Not only does it continue to interfere with us doing things as a family, but it has caused him to miss events because he just has too much homework.

Granted, part of that is because he's meticulous, which makes him slow, BUT...

The youngest, my daughter, started middle school this year. She's like I was when I was a kid and, until now, has never had much homework. Anything she could do at school, she did at school. Sixth grade changed that and, suddenly, she was coming home with two to three hours of homework everyday. Now, my daughter is very active. She likes to be out doing things. She plays softball and the accordion. Between homework and accordion practice (which is only half an hour), she quit being able to go out and play. There have been days when she has come home and broken down into tears over the amount of homework she has. To her credit, she would then go do it, but I'm worried that she's going to start hating school the way  her brother does. She has always loved school.

And, see, it wasn't just my son being slow with his work, because my daughter is quick.

I hate homework! I hate it for them, and I hate it for what it does to our family.We spent a huge part of Thanksgiving break overseeing homework, and I'm not really okay with that. Okay, I'm not at all okay with that. I'm tired of my family being focused all the time on whether homework is finished or not. It's too much, and it's wrong. I mean, how many adults do you know who would be okay with going to work and, then, coming home with two to three (or more) hours of more work for which they weren't being paid? Sure, there are some but not most of them.

And this is the part where I want to go into a larger rant about the education system and how the system is broken and mired in tradition -- face it, possibly more than any other system we have (except, maybe, the Republicans), the education system believes in doing the same thing over and over again (only harder and faster) while it waits for a better result -- but this post has gone on long enough, and I'm going to leave all of that for some other time. But expect something about math soon, because math is stupid (with respects to Tina Downey). Okay, not all math... You'll just have to wait for me to explain.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Interstellar (a movie review post)

I'm going to go ahead and lead with the fact that Christopher Nolan is overrated. Way overrated. Prior to Interstellar, The Prestige was the last above good movie Nolan made. The Dark Knight was merely good owing largely to the fact that it's a total bore upon any re-watching. That said, Interstellar is easily the best movie of Nolan's career, which, actually, isn't saying much in comparison to his career, so I'll say, instead, Interstellar is a great movie. I will be very surprised if it doesn't pick up a best picture nomination. It deserves, at least, to be nominated.

The one positive thing you can pretty much always say about Nolan is that he knows how to make a visually appealing movie, and this one may be his best effort yet. It was amazing. It can be summed up in the scene with the frozen clouds.

The story is good, too, which is a place Nolan is often weak but not this time. Well, the only thing that's an issue is the blight that is evidently killing all plant life on the planet. That and the "science" behind how people don't belong on Earth because of the nitrogen atmosphere. That was a bit of logic that didn't make any sense, especially considering that if oxygen levels were higher than they are, the atmosphere itself would be flammable. However, if you just buy into the part where there aren't any plants left -- especially since all of that is just a metaphor for how humans are destroying the Earth -- everything else is fine. Mostly. I mean, it is, but I can't elaborate without spoilers, so you'll just have to take that as it is.

The most interesting point raised by the movie is the conflict within our society between ideas and the things those ideas produce. And the resulting desire for consumption driven by all the things. There is definitely an unstated answer to the unstated question: Ideas are good, but we have to learn how to control our drive to consume before we reduce the Earth to a giant dust bowl. Or some other equally inhospitable result.

Even with everything else being topnotch, probably, the greatest strength of the movie is the acting. There's not a single weak link. John Lithgow is wonderful. Michael Caine is... well, he's Michael Caine. Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway are both incredible. Mackenzie Foy and Timothee Chalamet are both great as the kids, especially Foy. There are too many to mention. I mean, I haven't even gotten to Matt Damon, Casey Affleck, or Jessica Chastain, yet. All of that said, TARS may have been my favorite character.
Coop: What's your trust setting, TARS?
TARS: Lower than yours, apparently.
He had all the best lines, and he was just a big box that walked and talked.

That said, the design of TARS was fascinating. Most unattractive robot I've ever seen, but completely cool and incredibly functional. I'll be surprised if we don't eventually see something like this.

Interstellar is definitely a movie worth seeing at the theater. It's a BIG movie and won't be the same on a normal TV screen. Or, maybe, people don't have normal TV screens anymore? I don't know. It's a movie that satisfies on pretty much every level, definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Twelve -- "You're doing it wrong."

"People call me a perfectionist, but I'm not. I'm a rightist. I do something until it's right, then I move on to the next thing." -- James Cameron
Types 8, 9, and 1 make up the intuition triad of the Enneagram, also known as the body triad because of the tendency of people in this group to say things like, "I knew it in my gut." Reactions can be very instinctual, requiring little thought and ignoring emotions. Intuition isn't well understood by science. It's the brain making a "leap of logic" and, while some studies have shown that forcing people to do something like math intuitively generates more correct responses than people who are required to "logic it out," that does not mean that people who rely on intuition are always right. It's very dependent upon the individual. The motivating emotion for this triad is anger, but it manifests differently for each of the three types (unlike for the intellectual triad where their fear is almost always about decision-making).

The Perfectionist

Despite the fact that the One is part of the intuition triad, the One, or the Perfectionist, is actually the most intellectual (rational) of all the types. This is due to the One's drive to be right, and it will drive the One to all sorts of investigation and data digging. The problem, though, is, frequently, the One is not approaching a topic from a neutral position but from his already intuited position of what is "right" (his gut reaction), and his research goal is not actually to find out the truth but to prove his own point. Not that this is different from non-Ones; the issue is that Ones think they are being objective when they're actually working from a bias, a bias other types might freely acknowledge when doing the same thing. It can make dealing with Ones an infuriating proposition.

On the other hand, it is just as likely that the One is trying to prove his position to himself. One's are full of distrust, mostly of themselves. They don't trust their inner instincts and voices to be telling them the correct thing and, since they are scared of doing the wrong thing, they are always second guessing themselves. Research and facts become their way of supporting their decisions. They give great thought to all the possible consequences of their actions so that they can choose not just a good course but the best course, all of that while still holding true to their convictions.

Ones tend to see the world as very black and white. They don't leave much room for grey, which translates into meaning that everything that is not white is black. It can make them seem very harsh and critical, but that harsh and critical judgement is pointed first and foremost at themselves as they strive to live up to their own standards. Standards which are often higher than anyone can meet, even themselves.

Because Ones have such high standards, they mostly live very constrained lives. Strong emotions, of any type, can be dangerous and are held in check. It's okay to be excited but only a little excited. It's okay to be in love but you can't let it control you. Negative emotions, especially anger, are completely repressed. Which doesn't stop them from leaking out as frustration or annoyance or righteousness. In fact, Ones frequently move through their days in a state of constant dissatisfaction: Things could be so much better if only people would do the things they're supposed to do, if people would only do the right thing, if they themselves could only be "better." It all makes that popular question, "Would you rather be right or happy?" laughable to Ones, because you can't be happy if you're not also right.

Overall, Ones live fairly stressful lives. More stressful on an ongoing basis than, probably, any of the other types. Because it is so difficult to constantly hold themselves up to their exacting standards, some ones develop what is called a "trapdoor mechanism." This is, basically, a "secret life" that a One will develop to which he can escape when his real life becomes too stressful to deal with. I say "secret" because it is not actually always secret, though it sometimes is. A trapdoor may be as simple as a hobby or it may be a secret affair. It can also be an entirely secret persona, like going to a place far from where the One lives where no one knows him and he is free to act upon his impulses and desires rather than what he perceives as correct behavior.

Trapdoors, though granting the One temporary relief from stress can, in actuality, increase their stress levels overall as they are overcome with guilt over their bad or wasteful behavior. Even something as innocuous as a hobby can cause a One to be racked with guilt over wasted time. If the trapdoor is something the One actually perceives as bad, he can be unable to reconcile the parts of his being.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of the great 19th century poets, is a good example of this. Before becoming a Catholic, Hopkins burned all of his poetry, something he had come to consider almost the equivalent of a sin. At various points in his life, he would return to poetry and, later, burn it. It's a wonder that any of his works remain and, based on the quality of what we have, a tragic loss that we have lost so much of it due to, to put in the language of Ones, its trapdoor quality.

Ones are also known as the Reformer (or Idealist) because they are prone to taking up higher causes and championing them. They frequently have strong beliefs in truth and justice and can become very persuasive in the service of what they see as a worthy cause.

Ones who are able to reconcile their inner desires with their often puritanical views of the world can become wise and discerning and, ultimately, empathetic, able to reach out to others with good counsel while withholding judgement. On the other end of the spectrum, Ones become rigid and dogmatic, often condemning others while engaging in the same behaviors. This is the stereotype of the fire-and-brimstone preacher preaching love and forgiveness while rejecting "sinners."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein

Back in 2011, Britain's National Theater put together a production of Frankenstein directed by Danny Boyle (who also directed Trainspotting, 28 Days Later..., and Slumdog Millionaire) with a new script written by Nick Dear. There were two things that set this production apart from previous iterations of Frankenstein:
1. The focus was on the creation, something that I'm not sure has been done since Mary Shelley wrote the book.
2. The production would feature two actors (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller, both of whom currently play Sherlock Holmes in separate television series) in the roles of the doctor and his creation who would switch off playing the two roles from performance to performance.

Fortunately, the National Theater has National Theater Live who film the performances for worldwide showings. Also, fortunately, one of the local theaters here (one that tends toward independent films) did special screenings of the production. Unfortunately, though, I was only able to see one of the variations, the one with Cumberbatch as the monster.

There were some clips before the "movie" started about the making of the production, and Cumberbatch talked about his method for learning how to move as the monster. He studied the movements of people who are in physical therapy to re-learn how to use their bodies after a stroke or accident. He was pretty impressive. He had this jerky, twitchy way of moving around, even after he "learned" how to move, that made it clear he wasn't quite in control of his body. Or, well, anything.

Overall, it was an excellent production; however, there were a few things I had issues with.

The play opens with the creature being "born." There's a long sequence of him learning to move his body around which culminates in the doctor coming in and freaking out to find his creation alive. He abandons the creature to the world. Then there's a long sequence of the monster discovering grass and the sun and rain and... people. People who persecute him for his ugliness. All of this is fascinating, especially Cumberbatch's depiction of the monster, BUT... It just went on for too long. The floundering around on the stage learning how to stand and walk took something like 15-20 minutes then another 15 to 20 minutes of the creature doing things like eating grass until he's finally chased away by a mob. So, while Cumberbatch's performance was impressive during this section, it was too much. His performance of the monster was impressive throughout the play and, once the play got into the story, it was good, too.

However, I was a bit underwhelmed by Jonny Lee Miller. He didn't really seem a "mad genius" or like someone playing God or anything at all like how I would think of Victor Frankenstein. Actually, he seemed much more like a kid throwing rocks through the windows of an abandoned house or pulling the legs off of a spider, doing it because he could but without much interest. I've heard that he was better as the creation, but that's just what I've heard; I can't verify that, because I didn't see that version.

I was also not impressed by the performance of George Harris (Shacklebolt in Harry Potter), who played Victor's father. He came off as rather flat to me, no real emotion in what he was acting. The people I saw it with agreed with me, but they saw the other variation of the play, also, and said he was much better as Victor's father when Cumberbatch was playing Victor. So, maybe, he was having an off night or, maybe, the synergy between Harris and Cumberbatch was better than it was with Miller.

As I said, overall it was an excellent production, and I would really like to see it from the other perspective with Cumberbatch as Victor. It looks like it might get a DVD release, so, hopefully, I will get the chance. If there happens to be a showing of this near you, I would highly recommend it, if nothing else, just for the chance to see the "live" performance.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Eleven -- "Can't we all just get along?"

"...can we all get along?" -- Rodney King
Types 8, 9, and 1 make up the intuition triad of the Enneagram, also known as the body triad because of the tendency of people in this group to say things like, "I knew it in my gut." Reactions can be very instinctual, requiring little thought and ignoring emotions. Intuition isn't well understood by science. It's the brain making a "leap of logic" and, while some studies have shown that forcing people to do something like math intuitively generates more correct responses than people who are required to "logic it out," that does not mean that people who rely on intuition are always right. It's very dependent upon the individual. The motivating emotion for this triad is anger, but it manifests differently for each of the three types (unlike for the intellectual triad where their fear is almost always about decision-making).

The Peacemaker
Ah, the Nine. The Nine is the most common of all of the types. Perhaps up to 40% of all people. Not only do you probably know one, you probably are one. Okay, maybe not quite "probably" but pretty close to it. You can always tell a Nine by his very distinctive characteristic of... oh, wait... the Nine has no distinguishing characteristic. That's what makes a Nine a Nine. Sort of.

The core motivation of the Nine is peace and harmony. Because they want to keep conflict to a minimum -- well, completely absent if possible -- they are adept to seeing all sides to a conflict and helping to bring about a peaceful resolution, hence the name Peacemaker or, as they are also sometimes called, the Mediator. They can see every side, that is, except their own. Their drive to keep things calm, causes them to submerge their own desires so that they often don't even know they have any.

They also tend to take on the characteristics of the people they spend the most time with, called "merging," which can cause them to appear to be the same enneatype as the person they're with. They do this unconsciously as a tactic for creating more harmonious relationships. You can't have a conflict if you always want to do exactly what they person you're with wants to do.

All of the Nine behaviors are driven by their intuition. They're experts at picking up on nonverbal cues from other people and adapting their behavior to go along with or counter, depending on the need, the other emotional state of the other person. So good are they at sensing the condition of other people, they rarely have any idea of how they feel about any given situation. Questions aimed at them about their own feelings often get responses of "I don't know" or "Well, Bob feels..."

I have avoided personal examples in these so far but, this time, I'm going to give you one, because it's such a good example of Nine behavior:

A couple of years ago, we were trying to find out what my oldest son wanted for his birthday dinner. This should be an easy task, right? Not so much when you're a Nine, which he is. The conversation was something like this:
"Hey, so what do you want for your birthday dinner?"
"Oh, I don't care. Whatever you guys want to have."
"It's your birthday; we want to have whatever you want to have."
"Whatever's easiest, then."
"Anything you choose will be the same amount of easy."
"Whatever's cheapest, then."
"Look, that doesn't matter. Just tell us what you want."
"My brother wants pizza."
"Your brother always wants pizza. What do you want?"

I'm not exaggerating when I say that that conversation lasted for half an hour. It chased its tail. It went in circles. It was like the Scooby gang being chased by a ghost in a haunted house: everyone, including the ghost, running right into everyone else, getting scared, and running away again. We had to sit him down and make him think about what he wanted. He kept deferring in his responses to what he felt like other people would want.

Something as simple as "what do you want to eat for your birthday" became a rather tortuous task for him to figure out because, really, he didn't know. And that was an easy question. That's how it goes with Nines.

Ironically, the Nine's obsession with keeping their environment harmonious very frequently results in inner conflict. The fact that they are always burying their own desires (to the point of losing touch with them) to fulfill the desires of others causes them to feel invisible and creates a deep longing to be noticed. Of course, their lack of initiative and internal drive, actually, to not be noticed (because that can create disharmony) comes into conflict with this, a source of their angst. Also, any desires they have are unspoken and, therefore, unmet. These two conditions, unmet desires and feeling invisible, can create a deep well of anger within the Nine. Mostly, this anger goes unrecognized and submerged, but it can leak out as passive/aggressive behavior that the Nine is oblivious to. Occasionally, when pressed, this anger can result in huge outbursts of temper that quickly dissipate.

In stressful situations, especially situations where they're with people they're unfamiliar with, Nines can become nervous and jittery, unable to make any kind of decision because they don't know the people well enough to facilitate activities or resolve conflict. In situations of overt conflict, Nines may well seek physical refuge and, if failing that, will withdraw into themselves.

Nines who have spent the time getting to know themselves and figuring what their desires are can become very purpose-driven while still being able to resolve conflict with or for other people. They can learn to stand by what they actually want and achieve an internal harmony even in the face of external conflict.

Nines may appear to be introverts because of the way in which they become overwhelmed by conflict, but that isn't necessarily the case.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

$120/hour (an IWSG post)

So let's talk jobs that make $100 an hour or more. According to CNBC at any rate. Well, okay, I'm not really going to talk about them, just give you an example of some of them.
1. Underwater Welder
2. Anesthesiologist
3. Commercial Pilot (the best ones, anyway)
4. the best Tattoo Artists
5. the top Arbitrators
6. half or more Orthodontists
7. the top 10% of Freelance Photographers
8. the top Interior Designers
9. Hand Models or other "parts" models. So, yeah, if you have an exceptional "part," you can make pretty good bank showing it off.
10. Life Coaches. Seriously.
11. big city Massage Therapists
12. Political Speechwriters.
13. my daughter playing her accordion

Let's talk about #13.

Back during October, my daughter got asked to play her accordion at an Octoberfest function. It was just 20 minutes of accordion playing. 20 minutes isn't much. I mean, she practices more than that every day. For her 20 minutes of playing, she made $40. That's $120 an hour! It's kind of sobering. That's more than I've made from my writing for the entire month of November, November was my best month ever.

There are times, evidently, when it really pays to be a cute, 11-year-old girl. Literally pays. At the rate of $120 an hour.

I don't have a real point with any of this. I'm proud of my daughter. She's really good. Her accordion teacher (who's been teaching for... well, let's just say a long time) says my daughter is one of the best students she's ever had. I hope one day she proves you really can play accordion in a rock-n-roll band.

For the moment, though, it's just a little unsettling to be outperformed by a sixth grader.

Well, except at video games.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mockingjay -- Part 1 (a movie review (without the book) post)

So here we are at the third movie, and I'm still not reading the books. Which is not to say that I'm not enjoying the movies, I am. (Well, not the first one so much, but these last two have been quite good.) However, from what I've heard about the books, the reason I like the movies is because the focus has shifted from the love story to the politics, and it's the politics that I find interesting. Honestly, I don't care much for Peeta (who is like a puppy in a perpetual rain storm, all big eyes and whimpers) or Gale (with his constant angst about how Katniss likes Peeta better (and I would like Peeta better, too, if I had to deal with that, right up until I had to deal with Peeta)) and would have a difficult time with a book that obsessed over how the character couldn't make a choice between the two of them. But that's not the movie, so let's move on...

First, let's touch on Philip Seymour Hoffman. I've been a fan of his for a long time, probably owing to The Talented Mr. Ripley, though I first really took note of him in Twister. He gave a great performance in what was an otherwise horrible movie. It was enough to make me watch for him in other films. He was an actor that you could always count on for, at least, a good performance (or a great one, as seen in Capote). I was saddened by his loss. At any rate, initially, it was stated by Lionsgate that he would be digitally recreated for the completion of Mockingjay but, as it turns out, they scrapped that idea. Probably a wise choice, but I didn't know that when I was watching the movie and sat there being amazed at what I thought they'd done. Last word, he was great, as can be expected.

Jennifer Lawrence gave a performance equal to the one she gave in Catching Fire, which is no small thing since the movie hinges on her and her ability to be outraged by the actions of the capitol. The horror that Katniss feels over things like the white roses allows the audience to be outraged along with her. She's a talented actor already; it will be interesting to see where she goes.

The other standout performance was from Elizabeth Banks. She's been superb as Effie Trinket all along, but she really surpassed herself in this one. Effie, having been pulled out of her world and thrust into one which she doesn't understand, is completely out of sorts, and Banks pulls it off flawlessly while still being true to Effie in the process. I'd probably go see these movies just for Banks' performance.

The only complaint I might have about the movie is splitting it into two parts. I've come to a place where I'd rather have one long movie than have it split up. It's not just about the fact that I feel like I'm being milked by Hollywood when they do this, but it's just jarring to have the story stop like that, mid-arc. It's like hitting pause on something and never coming back to finish it. Well, not until months later (or a year in this case). Oh, that and the quinjet that they used. I mean, those VTOL jets they use in the movie look almost identical to the quinjets. Maybe one of the Avengers left one lying around somewhere.

These are really good movies, not quite great but, still, really good. After the shaky start of the first one, they have settled into a visually appealing, solid look for the world, a look which is split between something in the probably far future and a throwback to the turn of the 20th century. Backed by solid acting, this has become a tale, really, of what it's like to live as part of the 99% supporting the 1% in what they justify as a "symbiotic" relationship. I wonder if all parasites see themselves that way.