Friday, November 30, 2012

"Pacific Rim" Viral Marketing Begins

Just found this lovely chestnut online this morning. The viral marketing scheme for the 2013 film Pacific Rim has begun...

And this was actually the second one. Here's the first.

Looks cool. I'm not aware of there being any major giant-monster (or kaiju, as the Japanese call them) movies since Cloverfield in 2008. Like Cloverfield, it looks like Pacific Rim is going to be preceded by a viral marketing campaign.

Monday, November 26, 2012

The Gary Johnson Campaign: Media Buys or Consultants?

I promised one of my readers just before the election that I would do a blog post citing some links he found about how Gary Johnson's 2012 Libertarian campaign and how Jill Stein's 2012 Green campaign spent their money. During a discussion on Facebook, he posted these links showing that the Johnson campaign spent very little on advertising and a great deal on administration and consultants, while the Stein campaign spent a significantly larger percentage of its money (and more in absolute terms) on advertising. The breakdown as to what money went where is even more damning, with Stein's largest expenditures being media buys and Johnson's being various advisers.

What the heck? The Libertarian Party, although it's got the best ballot access of all the third parties, still suffers from the popular image that it's a party focused on legalizing drugs. When I was in high school, a friend of mine gave me a photo showing the three parties as cartoon characters, with the Democrats as a donkey carrying a board with a nail in it, the Republicans as big, burly elephant, and the Libertarians as a pot leaf with an assault rifle. Humorous as that was, the Libertarian Party is not going to get any traction if it's viewed as the party of stoners and gun fanatics. I'm not saying the campaign wouldn't need consultants and advisers, but when they eat up money that could be spent on, well, getting out the vote, there's a problem.

I do recall seeing a Gary Johnson advertisement on YouTube about how he was the only candidate who did not want to start a war with Iran, but when I searched YouTube for Gary Johnson advertisements, that was all I found other than an ad for Ron Paul and Gary Johnson that was around four years old. Meanwhile, I found several Jill Stein advertisements that got a lot more YouTube hits.

Of course, the obvious response is that Johnson ran one of the most successful Libertarian campaigns in history, getting one million votes and one percent of the popular vote. Jill Stein's results were much less impressive.

However, imagine how much more successful Johnson could have been if he spent more money on advertising. He could have gotten his name out there as the civil-liberties candidate, in contrast to both Obama and Romney. Although Romney could have used "the president can make you disappear" as a hammer to beat Obama with, he basically said both he and Obama can be trusted not to abuse this power and said U.S. citizens who join al-Qaeda are not entitled to due process because that's treason.

(Never mind the Constitution has specific provisions dealing with treason, but that's a different matter.)

Johnson could have also piggybacked on the successful marijuana-legalization initiatives in both Colorado and Washington. Given how Romney and Obama are both opponents of marijuana legalization, even in limited medical circumstances, promising not to interfere with state-level drug policy would have been a way to gain support from the voters who made marijuana legal. Given how Colorado Democrats feared Johnson would take enough votes to push Colorado to Romney, that was a MAJOR missed opportunity.

I did not hope Johnson could win the election outright, but I was hoping he'd be a spoiler in enough states that it might force the election to the House of Representatives. Colorado would not have been enough to do this in and of itself, but it might have been part of a larger strategy.

2012 was a massive missed opportunity. Who knows if another such opportunity will come again?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

How We Can Stop "Black Friday"

This morning on Twitter, I found an article from the Washington Post headlined, "Where are the so-called 'family' organizations on Black Friday? Not where they should be." The article is written by a member of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation who points out that the retailers' infringing on the Thanksgiving holiday isn't exactly helping families stay together, but the organizations proclaiming "family values" aren't very vocal about it.

Let's leave the gay angle alone and focus on the main argument. Beginning "Black Friday" at midnight requires additional staffing at the stores on Thanksgiving itself. This will take retail employees away from their families on Thanksgiving itself. Even if the retailer allows time for Thanksgiving dinner itself and doesn't bring in the extra staff until just before the lunacy begins, those employees will not get the chance to rest and recover from the celebration. If someone wants to work "Black Friday" for the extra pay, that's understandable, but I suspect that doesn't apply to all of the employees working that night.

Furthermore, I am a Christian and I imagine many of my readers are as well. Do you think Jesus, who said that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, would appreciate the prelude to His birthday being "celebrated" by materialistic mob madness? Does it honor Him to have someone trampled to death in the rush to save a few dollars on some toy or gadget that might well end up forgotten in a few months, as so many gifts often are? If I wanted to be over-dramatic, I could claim that poor fellow was a human sacrifice to the idol of American materialistic nonsense.

Furthermore, how many people willing to stand in line for hours to get these gifts put in similar efforts to serve "the least of these"? I don't claim to be the best at committing my time to charitable use, but if everyone spent those 2-3 hours working in a soup kitchen or something else beneficial, our country would be better off.

So here's something we can do. Rather than contribute to this ridiculous, destructive frenzy and give retailers incentive to be open earlier and earlier, taking employees away from their families on a holiday intended to celebrate the often-forgotten virtue of gratitude, let's avoid waiting in line Thanksgiving evening for the midnight madness. Wait until sunrise or thereabouts. I did go to Barnes and Noble on Black Friday to get some books for a couple friends (and that Starcraft book for me), but I waited until around dinnertime.

If people didn't vote with their wallets for this idiocy to occur, it wouldn't. One of the comments referenced "family values" organizations boycotting television programs they didn't approve of. If they similarly boycotted retailers who began "Black Friday" too early--or at the very least publicly encouraged their members to skip "Black Friday" itself--it would help redeem them from the charges of selectiveness often laid at their feet and hopefully have an impact on the retailers' behavior.

Some of these groups already have begun doing this. Take a look at Focus on the Family's "Give Back Friday." Good for them.

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Sneak Preview of a Post To Come...

Sometime in the next few days, I'm going to post the short synopsis of my abortive Starcraft novel, the one that would have filled the gap between Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm. The short synopsis, since the long synopsis would be rather, well, long.

Maybe I'll post the long synopsis as well, but it wouldn't be text on the page due to its length. Instead, it would probably be a PDF one could link to. I'll need to figure out how to do that though.

There might be a sequel post where I compare and contrast my vision for the "bridge" between the two stories and that of Christie Golden, whose novel StarCraft II: Flashpoint played the same role my story would have.

Book Review: "Starcraft 2: Flashpoint" (Spoiler-Free)

Found out the other day that a new novel StarCraft II: Flashpoint by Christie Golden had come out. It serves as a bridge between the end of Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm, the latter of which is slated for release in March 2013.

Given how I had prepared to pitch a similar novel concept to Blizzard, it got my attention and so I bought a copy while getting some birthday presents for friends. Here's my review...

I read the whole thing in perhaps two or three hours. It's certainly a quick and entertaining read. Even though I'd accidentally spoiled myself massively (I found out most of what happened from the Starcraft Wiki's article on Sarah Kerrigan, which I was posting into my message-board for a dicussion), it was still a pretty good book. And the Wiki article didn't include some surprising plot twists.

We get to know Valerian Mengsk rather well throughout the story. It's good they didn't simply make him Arcturus Mengsk 2.0. It's also good that they don't make him a prissy wimp either. Although he's a prince of the Terran Dominion, his upbringing was anything but coddling.

The book has some very good descriptive language. I had gotten six pages in and found the following description of a hydralisk:

"A maglev train-wreck combination of insects with scythelike arms, snake bodies, teeth that never ended, and neosteel-penetrating spines they fired from their backs."

There's also some amusing bits, including one flashback depicting Jim Raynor constantly thinking his lieutenant Matt Horner's name is actually Jack and another to Raynor and Kerrigan going to a honky-tonk on an actual date. Sarah Kerrigan, one of the most dangerous women in existence even before being turned into a scary bug queen with dreads, in a dress. On a date. Take that in for a moment. There's also a scene where Raynor and friends are on a crippled dropship heading for his flagship and all they can do is see if the Hyperion maneuvers in such a way to "catch" them in its hangar. Or else they die. Raynor's reaction to the whole situation is amusing.

Also, although some people have complained about the ending of Wings of Liberty reducing one of the most iconic female video game characters into a damsel in distress needing rescuing by Raynor (which it really doesn't), that complaint is answered massively by what happens when Kerrigan gets her groove back. Do not threaten Raynor. Ever.

That being said, the novel wasn't perfect. For starters, the cover is rather misleading. It depicts Raynor and Kerrigan fighting together on the battlefield, with Kerrigan having her normal human red hair. Since this is supposed to be set after the events of Wings of Liberty, they should have depicted her with that funky Zerg hair that somehow survived the deployment of the Xel'Naga artifact that obliterated the primary hive cluster. It would have certainly gotten attention. To be fair, the book does contain some flashbacks to the two of them fighting together against the Confederacy, but that's not the bulk of the story and the cover should have reflected this.

Also, a character is revealed to be a traitor, but there's no foreshadowing. It would have been better if we'd gotten an early POV from him that shows him resenting Raynor for not paying the crew, resenting him for risking all their lives to rescue his old girlfriend (who in the state she was in didn't want to be rescued), etc.

Overall, it's a fun way to spend an evening and get up to speed for Heart of the Swarm. I'd recommend waiting for the paperback, but the paperback won't be out until after the game. 8.5 out of 10.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

"Beast of the Bosporus" Covers: What Might Have Been

One of the major hurdles facing would-be self-publishers is that they're responsible for all their own editing, marketing, cover art, etc. Between my own grammar-fascist tendencies and different writing groups I'm in, editing isn't a problem, and given my skill at networking, marketing isn't a problem either.

Cover art, however, is a different. I do like to draw with colored pencils, but other people can do it so much better. To put it in economics terms, comparative advantage.

For my third e-book, "The Beast of the Bosporus" I reached out to Alex Claw, who I know from my alternate-history message-board. He's done covers for former board member Christopher Nuttall and although his style is more cartoon-like than I prefer, he has been taking lessons to paint more realistically.

Since I believe in giving artists creative freedom, I sent him the text of the story and told him to come up with a cover based on what he read. Here's what he came up with:

I sent him back some suggestions, including removing Cthulhu (who is only incidentally related to the story), adjusting Sokullu Mehmed Pasha's face and fingernails a bit, and giving him a turban. After receiving my suggestions, Alex came up with this:

This cover is based on an actual scene from the story and the pasha is more distinctively Middle Eastern in look. I wrote "Beast" because I wanted to take Lovecraftian horror out of its typical rural New England setting and put it somewhere a bit more exotic.

(At the time, I'd forgotten about Robert E. Howard's short story "The Black Stone," which is set in the Balkans and includes Ottoman soldiers fighting an alien horror and its cult of rural inbred degenerates. It's a really good story, so if you want to read it, I recommend getting your hands on Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard.It's awesome.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Job Opportunity: Software Engineer

My friend Adam is recruiting a team for CareerBuilder and is looking for software engineers. Here's the link to the job:

If you are interested in the job please email him directly at

(No, a spammer has not hijacked my blog.)

Seven Minute "Hobbit" Super-Trailer

Behold, a seven-minute fan-made super-trailer consisting of all the Hobbit footage released so far.

Although it's a bit disjointed, it reveals some things I haven't seen before, like how the Dwarfs were apparently betting on whether Bilbo would actually go on their adventure, one of the Dwarfs comparing a famous sword (Glamdring) to a "letter-opener," and some discussion about the effects of the fire of the dragon Smaug on its targets.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Got an Amazon Author Page and Sold a Story

In addition to the premiere of "The Beast of the Bosporus," November has seen a couple more strides in my speculative-fiction writing career.

1. I now have an author page, which can be found here. I'm told it's a good way to increase sales. I haven't noticed any increase in the sales of my older stories, "Melon Heads" and "I am the Wendigo." Then again, the page has only been in existence for a few days.

Given how blog posts and Twitter updates appear on the page as well, I'm thinking this could be a good funnel for traffic to both. That of course, depends on how many people visit it.

2. The other night, I received an e-mail from Heroic Fantasy Quarterly telling me that they've accepted my short story "Nicor" for their January or March editions. I first wrote "Nicor" in 2006, possibly around the time I studied abroad in Great Britain. I definitely remember sketching a doodle in my notebook entitled "Intruder in the Hall" based on the Beowulfstory.

HFQ posts its stories for free to all on its website, so you all will be able to read "Nicor" at no charge.

Now I'm seriously wondering if I should start writing a screenplay, just like I'm doing now for "Coil Gun" and "Melon Heads." "Nicor" is the sort of story that could make a good monster movie, with the protagonist losing his enthusiasm for war providing it some additional thoughtfulness.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Unions, Managers, and the End of Hostess

As I'm sure you all have heard already, Hostess, the maker of Twinkies and other unhealthy snacks, has had to declare bankruptcy and sell off its assets. This has cost 18,500 workers their jobs, right before Christmas no less, and hurt the economies of cities where the company has operations.

The straw that broke the camel's back was the recent strike by the unionized workers. However, as my  more left-wing Facebook friends pointed out, the company's executives were increasing their salaries at a time when the company wasn't doing well in terms of income. Lest you think this is just leftist agitprop intent on absolving unions from blame, there's this article from Daily Finance that confirms it.

When I first posted on this on Facebook, I criticized the union for killing the goose that laid the golden egg. However, with the whole thing about management raising their salaries when the company was hurting coming out, it seems they're not the only ones guilty of that particular folly.

Seriously, there's some major short-sightedness going on with both labor and management. Had the unions been more flexible (some of them were, but others weren't), that wouldn't have solved the issue of the managers raising their salaries rather than investing the funds in the business or the structural problems of the company not changing its products even in our more health-conscious age, but at least it would have kept 18,500 workers employed in the short run. And even though the Daily Finance article references how many of the managers agreed to reduce their salaries, others didn't. And then there's the lack of innovation or adaptation to changing tastes as well, which was another problem.

Everyone involved should have thought more about the long-run, be it their own employment (the less-flexible unions that didn't agree to the concessions) or the management who raised their salaries in a time of stagnant or declining revenue and weren't being innovative. Now everyone involved has no jobs and, for the moment, America has no Twinkies.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Interview: don Joseph Nasi, Duke of Naxos

Today we'll be sitting down with Joseph Nasi, Duke of Naxos and a powerful court official under the Ottoman Sultan Selim.

(Nassi is tall and slender, with thin eyebrows above piercing brown eyes. He sits in a chair at a table rather than reclining on cushions as other Ottoman officials do.)

Me: So, Mr. Nasi, tell me more about yourself.

Nasi: Well, I was born in Spain in 1524. Although my family pretended to be Catholic, we secretly practiced our ancestral Jewish faith. Officially we were called "New Christians," but the more common term was Marrano. It's not flattering. We were always under suspicion and eventually found it a good idea to flee Spain to Portugal. That's why Mehmed always thinks of me as being Portuguese. He's not as knowledgeable as he likes to think.

Me: Mehmed?

Nasi: Sokullu Mehmed Pasha, the grand vizier. We have different opinions on foreign policy.

Me: What do you mean?

Nasi: He would have the Sublime State ally with Venice against Spain, in order to more efficiently prosecute the wars in North Africa. That is all well and good, but Venice controls Cyprus, right next door to us. Should relations take a turn for the worse, Venetian Cyprus would be a major threat to southern Anatolia, Syria, and Palestine. And although the Venetians paid us tribute to ensure Cyprus's security, they also shelter Christian pirates who have attacked pilgrims to Mecca.

Paying the Sublime State tribute all while harboring active enemies? Who have attacked Muslims on the Hajj no less? That's an extraordinarily bad idea. I thought the Venetians smarter than this. Of course, given how they mistreat the Orthodox Cypriots, I would expect short-sightedness. They clearly don't remember how Ottomans were welcomed in much of Greece because of how the Italian Catholic lords abused the Orthodox peasants.

(Shakes his head)

From an outside perspective, this feuding between the Catholics and Orthodox is absolutely absurd. It seems to me the Bishop of Rome has a massive ego problem. It seems much of northern Europe shares my opinion. Look at what my friend William the Silent is up to these days. There's more to the split between the Catholics and these "Protestants" than there is to feud between the Catholics and Orthodox, but I digress.

Me: You're friends with the prince of Orange?

Nasi: Yes. I have extensive trading contacts with Europe and we met through mutual friends. Mehmed thinks I'm too focused on Venice, but even though I don't share Mehmed's ideas of creating an Islamic version of Mare Nostrum, I recognize the threat Spain represents. These "Protestants" are quite useful for the Sublime State. The more Spain is kept occupied on its own borders, the less it has to spend on the Mediterranean.

Me: This is all very interesting, but didn't the Ottoman war with the Venetians over Cyprus bring about the Battle of Lepanto? That wiped out most of the Ottoman fleet.

(Nasi winces)

Nasi: That is true. I did not anticipate such a massive turnout by Catholic Europe in support of the Venetians. It was like one of the Crusades of old. Fortunately, the Sublime State was able to replace its losses in ships fairly easily. We also won the land war on Cyprus. The Venetians are still fighting, but if they keep this up, we can expand the war into Dalmatia. That would threaten Venice itself, not just its colonies.

(Nasi smiles)

Mehmed wants an alliance with the Venetians against the Spanish. Forcing the Venetians into vassalage and joining their fleet to ours just might get him that. On our terms, of course.

What consequences might the rivalry between Sokullu Mehmed Pasha and don Joseph Nasi have, especially once dark supernatural forces come into play? Find out in "The Beast of the Bosporus."

Friday, November 16, 2012

Interview: Sokullu Mehmed Pasha

Today we'll be sitting down for an interview with Sokullu Mehmed Pasha, the grand vizier of the Ottoman Empire.

(The Pasha, a tall man with a dark beard wearing a white turban, leans back on some pillows. A page enters bringing two cups of hot Turkish coffee, one for me and one for him. The page serves me first, then the Pasha.)

Me: So, tell me something about yourself, Pasha.

Sokullu: I was born in the Bosnian town of Sokolac in 1506, as you Christians reckon it. When I was ten years old, I was taken by the devshirme, the Padishah's levy of Christian youth from the Balkans. "Christian" for a certain value of Christian, given the pagan superstitions still prevalent at the time. I was introduced to the true worship of God soon enough.

Me: So how did you become grand vizier?

Sokullu: It took a long time. By 1541, I was Imperial Chamberlain and overseer of the squires of Padishah Suleiman, who taught me a great deal. After serving him in peace and in war, I became third vizier in 1555. That year did not start out well--I had to quell a rebellion by some lowlife pretending to be one of the Padishah's sons--but my brother from Bosnia did visit me and I made some improvements to the Orthodox Church in the area. I became second vizier in 1561 and the Padishah honored me greatly with a marriage to his granddaughter. In 1565, I became the grand vizier. That year began the war with the Hapsburgs, the war in which the Padishah died.

Me: Suleiman?

Sokullu: Yes. It was at a most inconvenient time, so I had to permanently silence the witnesses. It was not until over a month later that I formally announced his death.

Me: Why?

Sokullu: When an Imperial prince becomes a new sultan, he typically puts his brothers and half-brothers to death. The bowstring, to avoid spilling royal blood. That provides an unfortunate incentive for the other sons of the sultan to contest the succession. In the worst case, you end up with something like the Interregnum in which several sons of the Padishah fought for power. Better a few sons of royal blood get the bowstring than thousands die on the battlefield. Power comes at a price.

Me: Perhaps the sultan shouldn't father so many children.

Sokullu: And risk the spread of rumor that he is impotent? That would invite a challenge to his authority. If the Padishah favors a particular son, he will place him in a position where he can easily take the throne. This gives his sons incentive to work hard, to earn his favor. Enough of this subject.

Me: So you ensured Selim became the new emperor?

(Sokullu nods)

Sokullu: I did, although it was a rather touch-and-go process. Everyone was demanding favors, higher wages and the like. Eventually I tired of their insolence and broke some heads.

Me: How has the Empire fared since then?

Sokullu: For the most part well. The Padishah gives me a great deal of latitude to ensure the stability of the Sublime State and the victories of its armies. Unfortunately, the Latin states have recently inflicted on us a fairly substantial bloody nose, something it has taken a great expenditure of resources to repair.

Me: You're referring to the Battle of Lepanto?

(Sokullu smiles)

Sokullu: The very one. We just finished replacing all the ships lost in the engagement. Replacing the experienced sailors lost will be harder still. And the spice trade is beginning to pass from the land routes we control to the sea routes the Latin states dominate, which is threatening our tax revenue. Dealing with the situation may require...drastic measures.

Me: What sort of drastic measures?

(Sokullu tents his fingers)

Sokullu: One of my agents has recently made a suggestion I've found very interesting. I will look into it further.

Want to see what Sokullu's "drastic measures" entail? If so, check out "The Beast of the Bosporus."

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Financial Advice: Go Wholesale

The other day, I decided to do some comparison shopping, comparing the new Wal Mart groceries-only store I often shop at due to its low prices and physical proximity and the local CostCo. I bought some items I needed at the CostCo after working out at the gym across the street and then swung by the Wal Mart to get some fruit and compare the prices.

On the way to the Wal Mart is the QuikTrip where I often get gas. It was $3.15 per gallon there, but at the CostCo, it was $2.80 per gallon. If I save around $0.30/gallon (the difference isn't always the same) and I generally get 12-13 gallons of gas at a time, this saves $3.60 to $3.90 per tank. Over the course of a year, assuming I get gas around once per week, this would save $187-200. Considering a CostCo membership is  $55 per year, this would pay for itself massively. Even if the difference is only $0.10 per gallon, that's $60-70ish per year--still a net profit.

Once actually at the Wal Mart, I compared the cost of a gallon of one percent milk (the kind I usually get) to the cost of the two percent milk I got at CostCo. The CostCo milk was around $1 cheaper per gallon. If I consume a gallon of milk every two weeks, that saves me $25 per year.

I also compared the price of ice cream, which at the Wal Mart was $3 for 1.75 quarts but approximately $10 for two half-gallons sold together at CostCo. I busted out my calculator and found that at Wal Mart rates, it would be $13 for a full gallon of ice cream. I purchase ice cream much less often so I cannot calculate how much I'd save per year, but considering how I sometimes accompany cereal with raisins and bananas with a homemade milkshake for additional protein and fat (so I don't get hungry too fast during the day), it's probably a bit of money.

I didn't join CostCo until I'd been up on the Northside for awhile, probably more than a year since I took the new job. Before, when I lived on the Southside, I would periodically take advantage of the free month or two deals at the BJ's in McDonough. However, that was mostly to get the Tyson chicken fingers that only wholesalers seem to carry and the huge cinnamon muffins, with gas being an afterthought. I'd thought that since I was a single person, I simply wouldn't consume enough to make it worth the yearly membership fee. I had friends who were the first to make the leap into wholesale membership, but considering how it was two roommates and later one's eventual wife sharing a membership, I figured they'd eat enough to make it worthwhile.

In retrospect, that was a mistake. I don't remember the gas at BJ's being that much cheaper than elsewhere, but as my earlier example reveals, a $0.10 difference can be a substantial difference per year. BJ's membership is $50/year, so $60-70 would be a net profit, even if it would be only enough to see a movie or two.

So this is my advice to you, dear reader. Even if you're single, if you live a convenient distance from a wholesale club that has a gas station attached, get a membership. It might require revamping your shopping habits a bit (in my case, that means getting stuff that goes bad fast on separate trips), but even a little savings will add up. I didn't, and it probably cost me a few hundred bucks.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Thanksgiving Tree and the Virtue of Gratitude

On Facebook today, my friend Caitlin posted this picture:

It's a "thankful tree." If you look closely at it, you can see things like "music" and "Jesus." I imagine these are things members of Caitlin's family are particularly thankful for.

Something like this is a very good idea, for many reasons.

Firstly, Christmas has burst the bonds of December and expanded all the way to the day after Halloween, as satirized by one of the Simpsons Halloween episodes I saw many years ago. I remember when I was a kid seeing Thanksgiving decorations in a store (I think it was the East Cobb K-Mart, which is now a Sears), but that might have been over twenty years ago. More recently, I was shopping for a Halloween costume and saw Santa stuff in the Wal Mart. That's absurd. Halloween is October's big holiday, Thanksgiving is November's, and Christmas (or Hanukkah, if applicable) is December's.

Secondly, gratitude is a virtue many people have forgotten. Much of the election campaign hinged on complaining about our unemployment rate, which is significantly lower than countries like Spain, Greece, and to a lesser degree France. Even if one doubles it based on the idea those who have given up looking for work aren't being counted, we're still better off than Spain and Greece.

(This is not heartless sniping at the unemployed. I know from personal experience how much being unemployed sucks. My point is that we need to keep things in perspective. Look at how bad things were during the Great Depression.)

One common expression in the United States is, "God bless America," never mind that by any objective standard, God has blessed America to a rather massive degree in terms of both material wealth and personal freedom and we really ought to be thanking Him for the billions of blessings we enjoy.

(You don't have to be a Christian or even a believer in any kind of active God to believe gratitude is a good thing. Someone who is demanding and never satisfied is going to have a much more problematic life than someone more inclined to contentment and gratitude. And they're going to be much, much more annoying, like Eric Cartman. And on both an individual and a national level, it leads to living beyond one's means and the resulting problems.)

Practicing a tradition like a "thankful tree" serves two purposes. Firstly, it provides a visible marker of the Thanksgiving holiday and serves as a stand, however humble, against the overreach of Christmas. Secondly, it's an exercise in remembering all one's many blessings.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Need An Artist? Help A Friend Out...

Today I'm asking you all for help. Not for me, but for one of my writing-group friends. She lost her job a few months ago (I think she worked for Georgia Perimeter College and was one of the people cut when the shortfall hit) and is running low on funds. As in, "homeless within a month" low on funds.

Adrienne is an artist and I've commissioned her to do a cover for my soon-to-be-Kindle-published short story "Illegal Alien." Here is a Facebook gallery of her work. I think you need to be logged into Facebook in order to see it. One reason I chose her is I liked the Native American Elf guy and figured something in a similar style would be useful.

(One reason self-published works don't do well is because they have abysmal cover art. I'm trying to avoid that even if it costs me some money in the short term.)

If you see a need for her work in any capacity--a book cover, a picture of a friend or relative, etc.--give her a whistle.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Blast from the Past Movie Review: "Godzilla" (1998)

Last February, I promised my readers that I'd dig up some movies I saw years ago and see how they've held up over the years. After listening to the podcast How Did This Get Made, which my friend Nick got me interested in, I decided on the 1998 remake of Godzilla starring Matthew Broderick. I saw the movie in theaters, which meant it was the summer before I started eighth grade.

EDIT 10/4/2018: The podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood did an episode on it in which I participated. Here's the podcast link. And here are some further thoughts.

Now back to the actual review...

The Good

*Firstly, I liked how they updated the film to reference current events. The original Godzilla was made within a decade of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and was one of the first movies to take into account the fear of nuclear weapons and nuclear technology in general. This film references the controversial French nuclear tests in the 1990s, coming out in theaters two-odd years after the last test took place.

*The film's opening hints that Godzilla was descended from either Komodo monitors or marine iguanas affected by the French nuclear testing. Its design reflects this--although it's primarily bipedal, its forelimbs are fairly long and we do see it moving about on all fours. It also swims like a marine iguana.

*In addition to nuclear testing, the film also touched on issues like the glass ceiling and sexual harassment. The journalism career of female lead Audrey Timmonds (Maria Pitillo) is being hampered by her slimy boss who makes her get his groceries, implicitly offers to trade career advancement for sex despite being married, tells her to go away and leave the "big boys" to do their work, and steals credit for a story she put together revealing the origin of Godzilla. This serves as a motivator for some of Audrey's less than stellar actions.

*Despite being 14 years old, the special effects have mostly held up well as far as Godzilla himself is concerned. There are some moments that have a distinctly computer-generated look to them, but most of the time it still works.

*Godzilla's death is rather sad, even though he obviously needs to be put down.

*There are some pretty amusing moments throughout the film, including "Mayor Ebert" and his assistant "Gene." According to How Did This Get Made, movie critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel didn't like Independence Day very much and this was Roland Emmerich's and Dean Devlin's revenge. In particular, "Mayor Ebert" isn't portrayed very well. And then there's the clever and comical way Nick deals with pursuing baby Godzillas in Madison Square Garden.

*Although the concept of the baby Godzillas has been mocked as an attempt to rip off the Jurassic Park raptors, I found them entertaining. Godzilla has been depicted as having offspring before (Son of Godzilla), but let's just say Minya isn't exactly threatening.

*Finally, someone gives the French, in particular their intelligence services, the credit they're due.

The Bad

*Dr. Nick Tatopoulos (Matthew Broderick) refers to Godzilla as being a hybrid despite knowing almost nothing about him other than some samples he picked up in Panama. Although scientists aren't immune from jumping the gun (see the cold fusion episode in 1989), I would think a biologist like Nick would be a bit more prudent about hypothesizing without evidence.

*The "we need bigger guns" line was just obnoxiously bad. If they were trying to be funny by riffing on Jaws' legendary "we're going to need a bigger boat" line, it wasn't funny. It was just annoying and came off as uncreative.

*The movie started to drag in the middle, before the hunt for Godzilla's nest gets going. I imagine focusing on Audrey's journalism career and her relationship with Nick was intended to make us care about the characters, but it was rather slow.

*When they send the submarines after Godzilla in the ocean, the officers and crew are wearing hats marked "SSBN" and including the ship names. That acronym is used for ballistic missile submarines. Although I imagine in the event of something like this the military would simply grab the nearest submarines and send them into action, that role would be more appropriate for a nuclear attack submarine.

*The special effects for the baby Godzillas in Madison Square Garden have not held up well. They're pretty obviously CGI.

The Verdict

Not bad, but a bit long. 7.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

"World War Z" First Look Footage

Here's a clip I just found online. Entertainment Tonight will be having a "first look" at Brad Pitt's upcoming adaptation of World War Z

They move awfully fast for zombies. The first verb that came to mind describing how they move is "boiling."

Monday, November 5, 2012

Gary Johnson: What I Like

The other day, I said I would post what I did like about Gary Johnson, the presidential candidate I did vote for, rather than what I didn't like about Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

It took longer than I intended, but as Horton the Elephant said, "I meant what I said and I said what I meant." So here goes...

*Civil Liberties-This is the absolute biggie. Our nation, from its very beginning, has emphasized the personal freedom of its citizens. In the aftermath of 9/11, various "anti-terrorist" measures jeopardized those freedoms our Founding Fathers fought so hard to attain, freedoms protected and expanded by the hard work and sacrifice of those who came later. The federal government has used its police powers to demand library reading records without a judicial warrant and detained an American citizen without trial. Although some of the most dangerous provisions have been recently struck down, others remain in place and the parts that were ruled unconstitutional might still return, as the Obama Administration has appealed. Johnson said he would not have signed the Patriot Act and the later National Defense Authorization Act that have threatened American liberties.

What good is defeating the Islamists of al-Qaeda whose demands go beyond the U.S. not having bases in the land of Mecca and Medina, all the way to demanding we convert to Islam and abolish separation of church and state if we end up becoming a police state at home?

*Free Trade-At different points in the past, I have praised Obama for supporting free-trade agreements with other nations like South Korea, Panama, and Colombia. I read a book in high school entitled The End of Globalization: Lessons from the Great Depression about the Great Depression and how tariff walls and despotic autarkic regimes like the fascists and Nazis made things worse. There's an adage, "If goods don't cross borders, armies will" and although that doesn't always hold true (people thought the First World War was impossible due to intra-European trading relationships), economic integration has contributed to the cooling of tensions between the United States and China that led to war scares in the late 1990s and things like the capture of a U.S. spy plane by the Chinese early in the Bush presidency. Johnson has strongly committed to free trade.

*Foreign Policy-To be perfectly blunt, war sucks. War is evil. War is dead men (and women), or mangled men and women whose lives will be diminished forever afterward. War is broken families. War is burned houses and cities. War destroys rather than creates. I shed no tears for Saddam Hussein and his two evil sons, but the cost to the United States of the Iraq adventure has been enormous, in terms of money, lives, and America's strategic position.

I am not so naive as to believe the outcome of beating our swords into plowshares will lead to anything but us plowing for those who don't, but that doesn't mean we should go looking for trouble. Bin Laden is dead and the Cold War is over and an interventionist foreign policy is something we are increasingly unable to afford.  It's time to re-evaluate our foreign policy priorities. Full-blown withdrawal from everywhere in the world is not practical--for starters, the U.S. Navy guarantees freedom of the seas for all countries--but there are plenty of areas where cuts can be made that leave us strong enough to deal with legitimate threats. Gary Johnson has explicitly stated he is not interested in picking a fight with Iran, which could turn into a bloodbath and strategic disaster.

*The War on Drugs-Let the record state I do not use any recreational pharmaceuticals. In fact, I do not even drink alcohol or coffee. However, the Drug War has jeopardized Americans' freedoms in various ways (asset forfeiture abuses are a biggie) and cost vast amounts of money. Drug arrests often set otherwise-harmless people on the road to becoming hard-core criminals. Prohibition of alcohol failed; why would doing the same for, say, marijuana, be any better? Johnson has advocated legalizing, regulating, and taxing currently-illegal narcotics. Legalizing and taxing marijuana would save billions of dollars and generate billions more in tax revenue.

I could post some more, but I have some more urgent projects I need to work on. Don't forget to vote tomorrow, or today if the lines aren't too long.

First NaNoWriMo Update

Now begins Day Five of National Novel-Writing Month and I will update you with my progress, or lack thereof.

In the first four days, I wrote a grand total of 1,956 words. In and of itself, that's not a bad thing--except in order to meet the "50,000 words in a month" challenge of NaNoWriMo, I would need to write just under 1,700 words per day. This means I should have written 6,700 words so far. In order to be on-track for five days in, I would need to write in the neighborhood of 8,400 words today.

(I have some legitimate justifications here, but excuses buy no yams. I'm still very behind. Meanwhile, I have a friend who is not only meeting his goals, he is actually exceeding them.)

At this rate, I do not think I will be able to make the 50,000 word count. I am not giving up five days into the project--I will still try to write a lot more on what will hopefully be my second completed original novel (and an easier sale, since it will probably be shorter than my first). However, I am being realistic.

On the bright side, those 1,956 words have been rather useful. The first chapter is now complete and I've made significant progress on the second and third. I have committed to bring something to my Lawrenceville writing group for the 11/18 meeting. Since the deadline to submit something is 11/11, I might be able to bring the first three "real" chapters (as opposed to the prologue, which consists of a bunch of future news articles for world-building purposes) before the writing group.

Do novel titles count toward the word count goal? Several thousand words in, and I still don't have a title.