In this episode Khemit and Dave chat about comedy, humor and what makes funny things funny. We talk about the differences between American and British comedy, the relationship between discomfort and comedy, the role of humor in societies, if and when comedy goes too far, and our favorite and least favorite examples of funny stuff.
In this episode, hyperglot and serial entrepreneur Idahosa Ness joins us!
Idahosa is the founder of The Mimic Method, a language learning program that helps you learn languages by ear, and MindKeepers where he focuses on helping people spend more time in a good state of mind using various tools and techniques. We talk about the different frameworks used for personality typing, the purpose and utility of learning about personality types, and how personality type plays a role in stories and in people’s lives.
In this episode of the podcast we had the pleasure of speaking with artist, entrepreneur and fellow East Coaster Walter McDaniel! We talked about topics including his background as an artist, his current work, storytelling, fictional influences, his advice for people with atypical aspirations. After the conversation with Walter, Matt and Khemit discuss Walter’s work, Journey to the West, and the art of translating mythology.
More information about Red Dragon Media can be found at www.red-dragon.cn
In this episode we try to answer the question of why epic book series’ tend to get worse as they get further along. We also discuss the pressures and psychological effects of success on writers, what it takes to maintain productivity and motivation as a human being, and the incredible value of being bad at things.
In this episode we talk about Avatar: The Last Airbender and other non-anime cartoons that were MUCH more than just children’s shows. We discuss cartoon series’ that transcend their genre and have something to offer to both kids and adults, and draw contrasts with those that don’t. The discussion, as always, gets into the essential elements of storytelling and the meaning behind the characters we know and love.
In this episode we discuss the Alex Garland movie Annihilation. Tons of themes to unpack so we dive right in, and there’s a healthy dose of our usual tangents on myriad other works of fiction that tie into those themes. We also discuss the psychology of Hollywood, the human ability to create, and the effects of streaming services on the movie industry.
In this episode we break down the themes behind the 2 films in M. Night Shyamalan’s newly shared universe: Unbreakable & Split. The Unbreaka-verse? The Split-verse? Shyama-Land? Whatever you want to call it, there are some seriously interesting themes in these movies. We take a deep look a what they are and their implications in our lives.
In this special episode, we deep dive into Robert Kirkman’s 15 year run on Invincible. Invincible just wrapped up it’s 144 issue run a few months ago and we talk about its place in the pantheon of other modern epic comics. There are spoilers so be forewarned!
In this episode of the podcast we shift gears a bit to talk about how movies and stories can be used as more than just entertainment. We discuss a few movies we love because we think they have something to say about how we lead our lives. There’s much more to stories than we usually notice and we talk about how they can also be used as tools for gaining clarity about ourselves. Let us know what you think!
In this podcast we use the works of Rick Remender and others to explore the ins and outs of comic book worldbuilding. Starting with Low and Deadly Class, we move on to the contribution of other creators in the space. Lots of great Recommendations in this one!
Avengers: Infinity War, the sequel to end all sequels, is finally here! Thank Thanos! We take you on a tour of the film (spoiler free for the first 30 minutes) and the comics that spawned it. In this episode you’ll hear our thoughts on the movie and the MCU mythos, and learn about the origins of the scenes and characters you liked the most.
In this episode Matt and Khemit discuss the recent Stephen King adaptation of The Dark Tower starring Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They then discuss the many King book-to-film adaptation that have been made over the years, many of which you probably didn’t know came from that author! As always, there are recommendations for books and movies throughout.
In this podcast Matt and Khemit talk about their favorite lesser known science fiction and fantasy book series’. If you’ve been looking for a new (or old) series to read, this is the episode for you. We start with a discussion of classic fantasy, move on to classic sci-fi, and then give our top picks. Let us know if we mention your favorites or miss any must-read series’!
In this episode we talk about Academy Award Best Picture winner The Shape of Water (beware: there are spoilers) and the controversy surrounding it. Hilarity ensues. In our second segment we talk about the relevance of the Oscars from the 90s onward and discuss notable films and notable years for the award festival.
Matt loves Star Wars. Khemit does not. This week we try to figure out who’s right by discussing the merits and shortfalls of the Star Wars Universe. We discuss everything from the original trilogy to The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi to books and comics set in the Extended Universe. Also featuring a not-to-be-missed Grudge Match after which the galaxy will never be the same.
What accounts for the rising popularity of the anti-hero in fiction? In this week’s podcast we explore that question and others related to the idea of heroes in stories and in the real world. We discuss Alan Moore and the origins of the trend in comics, as well as recent hero stories like Man of Steel. Plus, our very first Grudge Match between 2 VERY anti-heroes! Continue reading “FYMP Podcast #9 – The Rise of the Anti-hero”
Khemit and Matt dig deep into modern TV to find the best examples of existential, nihilistic, and absurdist inquiry including Rick & Morty and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. This episode explores why many of these shows resonate with us and what that means for our own lives. Recommendations galore, plus the introduction of the Grudge Match segment!
In this podcast we’re diving deep into the differences in storytelling between comics vs. manga. As a topic close to our hearts, you should find this interesting even if you don’t consider yourself a fan of either. If you need a good recommendation or a good starting point for exploring comics and manga, this will provide both. Reach out to us on Facebook to join this conversation!
In this podcast, we use the comic book Saga as a backdrop to discuss writer Brian K Vaughan, his various works, and the state of the comic book industry as a whole. Seasoned throughout with delicious tangents, you will also find candid reflections on, and solid recommendations of, other stories and creators to explore. Continue reading “FYMP Podcast #6 – Saga and the Tao of BKV”
In our 4th podcast we deep dive into the world of Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049, and the mind of Ridley Scott. Our discussion touches on common themes in science fiction as well as common pitfalls in the genre. We limit ourselves mainly to films on this one, so if you’re a movie person, this is for you. Beware: here there be spoilers.
Continue reading “FYMP Podcast #4 – The “Why” of Blade Runner 2049″
In our 3rd Podcast we talk about the much-welcome resurgence in mature sci-fi Television that is taking place at the moment. We use shows like Altered Carbon and The Expanse to guide the conversation, and take frequent detours to talk about other great and not-so-great TV along the way.
The occasional cuts you may notice are excised interruptions by Matt’s inexhaustible children. Perhaps we’ll compile them into a stand-alone podcast some day!
In this recommendation-heavy podcast, we discuss book series’ ranging from Game of Thrones and The Dark Tower to much more obscure works of fiction with violent themes in an attempt to divine the true nature of violence in books.
We attempt to answer the question: what makes brutality in fiction good, bad, or neutral? In this one, you’re guaranteed to learn about at least several great books you’ve never heard of.
In this, the inaugural FYMP’cast, we discuss our reasons for creating it, introduce ourselves and our approach to the world of stories & fiction. We attempt to lay the groundwork for what will be an outlet and delivery system for our massive accumulation of trivia on all things fictitious, as well as our philosophy on the importance of storytelling.
This pilot podcast (with pilot quality audio) has more focus on us than on the fiction we’ll later explore. Continue reading “FYMP Podcast #1 – The Story Begins”
Justice League – Batfleck and Murderman return in the latest sequel to the poorly thought out, soulless Man of Steel, and its ham handed, plotless, character pigeonholing sequel Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Watch as your beloved childhood characters are given the Snyderverse treatment and transformed into golem-like, amoral husks before your very eyes. Justice League: Where Dreams Go to Die.
With the passing of the years we see also the passing of our heroes: the giants among us who stand out against the backdrop of history and who stood for and symbolized ideals which most of us only think or talk about in the abstract. People like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi. People like Nelson Mandela.
It is an interesting trait of the human experience that we idolize and deify by nature, and heroes are the manifestation of that propensity. Those women and men who have dedicated their lives to a higher cause, and who’ve often died in the service of that cause, are the most revered among us. Continue reading “The End of the Age of Heroes”
Here are some obvious points to make about utterly ridiculous political arguments that I still occasionally hear. No thinking person should make these arguments if they at all value logic in decision making (So this doesn’t apply to most actual politicians). If you are making any of the arguments addressed here, stop immediately and either rethink your position, or come up with better talking points if you can think of any. Continue reading “3 Ridiculous Political Debates with Obvious Answers”
Veteran’s Day, 2013
Veteran’s Day has always been an holiday that I have respected. When I was young, it was because of my family’s military background as well as the fact that I was simply a patriotic kid. I joined the military shortly before September 11, 2001, so every Veteran’s Day after that took on a newfound significance. The last three Veteran’s Days have been a bit different though. Continue reading “Veteran’s Day in China”
The number one sign that I may be a bit emotionally withheld is that I cry at movies. Not just at legitimate movies that merit crying at, like The Lion King or Beasts of the Southern Wild. No, I cry at those movies AND terrible movies which have no redeeming qualities whatsoever, including their poorly staged cathartic moments towards the end which are meant to elicit an emotional reaction despite having been poorly executed. But damned if it doesn’t work. I don’t mean it works in that it redeems the movie or that it is well executed. I mean it works in that it makes a moronic lump well up in my throat even as I curse the stupidity of the entire affair.
Here’s a recent embarrassing example: I almost cried at the end of The Internship, a terrible Google propaganda comedy film, where a plucky underdog team stages an unlikely win over a “meanie team” through the power of teamwork and dumb luck. It was an offensive movie and an offensive ending to any thinking person including myself… but damned if I didn’t have to take a few deep breaths to hold the tears back during their idiotic undeserved victory scene, hating myself the whole time.
In addition to obvious tearjerkers like Steel Magnolias and the like, I’ve cried at action space porn movies like Armageddon, crappy mindless action movies like White House Down, and hideous comedy movies like Grown Ups 2 (why was I even watching that!?!?). Seriously, I have a real problem. You cue the sappy, heroic, or triumphant music and I’m pretty much done.
(Not even Adam Sandler watched Grown Ups 2)
The thing is, I very rarely cry outside of watching movies. I mean, as an adult I’ve had a few moments when dealing with close family or friends, but even those are few and far between. With movies though, it’s all the damn time. I do tend to be fairly stoic in my daily life (this is probably a combination of my personal upbringing and the stories that we as a culture tell about masculinity which have a nonconsensual influence on my actions), but not so much as to merit this kind of psychological and physiological backlash. What I mean is that I don’t feel that I’m overly emotionally stifled… but all the evidence is pointing in another direction.
But the more I think about it, among the films and scenes that elicit this annoying reaction, a common thread appears. It’s sincerity. Even the characters in terrible movies feign (poorly) sincerity, and I guess the intention means as much as the action to my primitive brain. And now that I think about it, even my own sincerity causes me to lose it! Thinking back over the last few times I’ve cried (aside from movie watching), it was because I was being unusually open and honest. How weirdly self-centered is that!?
So yeah, sincerity seriously cranks up the old waterworks. Maybe that’s because I feel it’s encountered so infrequently in daily life. Very rarely do people feel comfortable enough to say the things that really matter – to really communicate instead of just talking. Even among friends, it is rare to have the conversations that really mean something: The “I love you” conversations; the “I’m terrified” conversations; the “you complete me” conversations.
So maybe seeing those things in movies is what gets me; maybe they’re things I want for my own life, or even things I just desperately want to believe in. You know like love, and happy endings and such.
I think what it really comes down to is simple. Tyler Durden’s alter ego put it best in Fight Club: “Strangers with that kind of honesty make me go a big rubbery one.” And let’s just leave it at that.
Guest post by: Ain Bailey
She makes lists of fantastic things. Scrawls improbabilities on crisp sheets of unlined white paper, or yellow tablets, creased and lined. It doesn’t matter which, she is merely daydreaming. Nonchalantly she admires the slant of her letters or the swirls of her words, downplaying the concepts behind them. She focuses on her penmanship and distances herself from ideas that ache.
She thinks maybe she is hungry for milestones. Eager for big events to mark the passage of time, to document her evolution, to prove that she is moving forward in the world. What else could it be? She was not the child who grew up believing in fairy tales. She did not fancy herself the sleeping princess nor the one locked in a tower waiting to be saved. Her hair was not overly long and golden and her father was not king. If she had any part in make believe stories, she was a fairy or a mermaid; petite, autonomous, unattached and free or a unicorn; rare, ancient and alone.
In her past there was no thought of love and its attendant minions. To her weddings, marriage, baby showers, and all that came after, were not even real enough to be fantasies. Now these themes spill into her most mundane moments, caress her face distractingly, when she is focused on other things. It is a tickle, a distant glimmer, an un-sneezed sneeze.
Maybe she is just seeking tradition, longing for special events to break the monotony and give her something to anticipate. When she thinks about it a part of her does ache to bring magic back to a Christmas ruined by retail work, by far-flung family, by growing up. She imagines her preoccupation with love is because she wants something to look forward to.
Some meaning that can turn a random Tuesday, or weekend, into something more. This is not a thing she will analyze because it is not something she can control anyway. This is one thing she cannot do alone.
In her youth, she envisioned a future as a single mom, shepherding her two children from school to home. When she even thought about it, at three year intervals, maybe four. She used to wonder then if she would remember being twelve and imagining herself at thirty with her children’s school aged hands held tightly in hers. She is thirty now and there are no children, no prospect or planning for them either. She starts to feel wistful, disappointed and maybe just a little old, until she remembers that nothing about her life now, is how she imagined it then. Small relief, but enough to push the question away.
Maybe she just wants to belong, to someone, to something. She doesn’t believe in cliques, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need one. Maybe that is the reason why her pens run so quickly out of ink. She daydreams family, a small and new one, creating itself as it goes. She dreams of holidays that belong to only them. Plots them out on the calendar so that they fill in the days that society chooses not to celebrate. She names them, and then forgets the names. She writes them down and then scribbles over them until it is like they never existed.
She dreams of vow renewals although she has never even been asked to speak them for a first time. She dreams of honeymoons each year, although she has yet to have the original one. She plans her wedding makeup and chooses wedding dresses in her head, accounting for her body type, of course. Her fantasies are realer than she would ever admit. But she is not admitting anything at all. She is nothing if not a realist.
She wonders if she should have stayed with those who were ready, who would have spoken, and meant in their way, the words she is just beginning to realize she wants to hear. Could she have swallowed her discontent for the promise of a dream that never used to exist and is still forming? Would that have been better than how she feels now, untethered?
She does not write these questions down. She is not analyzing this thing. Only scribbling meaningless words on the borders of pages and imagining how it might feel to believe in magic.
If you want to get your eyes raped, go watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In a not unpredictable maneuver, Marvel is attempting to capitalize on their big screen success by expanding their media empire onto the small screen. In this case by taking a passé organization from the Marvel Comic universe, S.H.I.E.L.D., and creating a paranormal exploration show a la Supernatural or [place other crappy paranormal TV show title here] around it.
The show, which follows Agent Coulson from the Avengers film and his quirky team of experts around the world as they try to stop crises. Coulson was resurrected through unknown means (or he’s a clone or LMD, who cares really) to serve as the show’s protagonist and only solid if unimpressive link to Marvel’s film franchise. The show depends entirely on 2 things for its current success: 1) legions of fanboys who will watch anything tagged with the Marvel brand no matter how bland and derivative, and 2) A large swath of the American public who actually enjoy CW style shows like this one. If you are one of those people then feel free to disregard everything said here. Also, feel free to kill yourself.
The writing on the show is middle school level at best. The jokes are flat one liners that seem perfectly suited to a tween sitcom. The romantically and ideologically tense relationship between the strict company man and the new upstart team member is so sickeningly ham fisted that it is almost insulting. The mystery of the week format that the show follows has been done so many times that its almost farcical. And lets not even get into the acting, if it can even be called that… The dead eyes of Agent Coulson as he smirks his way through every episode makes me want to ask “what did we do to deserve this?”
So what did we do, Marvel? For finally giving the fans what they want, you were rewarded in kind with one of the highest grossing films ever with The Avengers. You smartly chose a talented director and writing staff who could pull your myriad characters together into a pretty damn good flick. Your other films, though most were not as impressive (see Iron Man 2, Spider-Man 3, etc.), have been passable enough to keep us as an audience on board.
So is it really a good idea to flush all the goodwill we now have towards Marvel down the toilet by shoveling this kind of crap down our throats? Why not continue doing what’s been working for you and take a considered and unique approach to your next phase.
Sure, we know it’s all about the bottom line, but why parlay your success into something crappy when you could easily make a good show and get not only the dregs of your fans and the general public but an actually worthwhile audience. The 2 groups from above are going to watch regardless. Think bigger. When you play the universal appeal card you see decent returns. But when you take calculated risks (like you did when hiring Joss Whedon for the Avengers) you have the potential to make much, much more.
The show is performing pretty well so far in terms of ratings because the two groups I mentioned above are both rabid and large. But here’s the thing: the show sucks. It can’t stand up on its own, and being propped up by the greater Marvel universe looming over its shoulder will only keep people on board for so long.
While I am a lifelong comic book fan, in no way am I writing this as a comic book purist who can’t stand to see his precious Marvel Universe defiled. I’m writing this as a TV enthusiast who is genuinely disturbed by the type of crap that keeps permeating the airwaves. As the newest player in the game, Marvel is just the most obvious target. I could write a post on Arrow to shame DC as well, but it’d be pretty much the same post.
Brief rant to close on: Your TV sucks, America. I don’t really blame Marvel for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Not really. I blame you for being complacent and watching any old turd that comes on the tube. I’m talking to you: the one reading this and saying “Aw, he’s exaggerating. Its not that bad.” Sorry but it really, really is… you’ve just been watching it so long that you actually believe its got substance. You have the TV version of Stockholm Syndrome. Stop getting sucked in by bad shows. Stop letting studios win with their formulaic, lazy nonsense. Vote with your remote. Demand better. Be better.
That is all.
Recently, a coach friend of mine for whom I have a lot of respect promoted an article about IT Band syndrome. This is an injury that I know is quite common amongst runners and I am pretty sure I have flirted with it myself in the past. At first I was excited to have another resource in my kit in order to provide quality training to anybody who I teach. However, instead of providing me with useful information I could pass along to clients or friends, this article nearly caused my head to explode with white-hot anger and frustration. The author is highly qualified and has a long list of capital letters behind his name, but he is providing information that is straight up harmful It is articles like this that ensure we remain forever injured and forever mediocre in our athletic pursuits.
First, I want to address what the article does well. Pages 1 & 2 give a great breakdown of the anatomy and function of the IT band. Even the most lay of laymen can understand and learn from these well-written sections. On Page 3 however, the article falls apart and falls apart fast. It is here that the author gives away the fact that they are part of the old wives club by committing an extremely pervasive and detrimental error: “the quadriceps muscles (those in front of the thigh that extend the knee) and the hamstring muscles located in the back of the thigh that flex the knee.”
NO. NO NO NO NO. This is the most common and most damaging misconception of the lower limbs. Everybody from the “bro-fessor” gym rat to the “highly-qualified” medical community seems to believe that the legs are simply a bigger version of your arms. Biceps flex the elbow and triceps extend it, therefore the leg muscles must do the same to the knee, right? NO. Seriously, NO. Why in all of mother natures green goodness would the muscles in the back of a human’s leg be so damn big if its only purpose was to flex the knee? Bringing my heel to my ass does not require all that junk in the trunk. For some reason, nobody seems to understand that the musculature on both sides – front and back – of the legs is active in extending the knee. Sure, the hamstrings and all those other posterior muscles do indeed flex the knee, but they MUST be active in extending the knee as well. You are actually contracting both the quadriceps and the hamstrings when going from the squat position to standing. Relegating the hamstrings and the rest of the backside system to only flexion leads to a long, sad, painful road to mediocrity and misunderstanding. I could turn this article solely into a discussion on the knee, but we’ll save that for a future post. For now, if you don’t believe me, go pick up Mark Rippetoe’s book Starting Strength (Vol. III).
NOTE: I do not know Mr Rippetoe personally nor do I have any stake in his book or other fitness activities. I talk about his book a lot simply because it is the best damn book on strength and musculature that has ever been written.
So yeah, Page 3 of 10 and my head is already about to unscrew from my body because I am so damn angry about the damage this article is doing to us all. Moving on, the author can’t even get the unhelpful RICE adage correct on page 4. We are all familiar with Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation approach to injury treatment, but the only really useful part of that is Compression and the author completely leaves it out. WTF. Better yet, he replaces it with pills. RIPE? Well, the author doesn’t bring up Elevation either, so RIP? Exceedingly appropriate since the author seems bound and determined to kill your muscles.
Pain pills are bad. Generally speaking, “anti-inflammatory” sounds like a good thing to most people as inflammation is a result of injury and reducing inflammation should then mean a reduction in injury intensity. I simply don’t get this logic. Inflammation is blood rushing to the site of an injury. Blood flow is critical to recovery. Why on earth would you want to cut down this blood flow? Anti-inflammatories work by constricting blood vessels thereby reducing blood flow thereby reducing inflammation WHICH ALSO reduces the flow of necessary fuel and nutrients to heal and reduces the out flow of waste products from the healing process. That second part doesn’t sound so great to me. Worse yet, pain pills can do some serious damage to other parts of your body, especially your digestive system – a critical piece of the nutrient delivery puzzle. How can you heal when you reduce your ability to take in nutrients AND deliver them to the site that needs them most? I’m wiling to bet this author (and probably you as well, dear reader) has never thought this through. I want to address the rest of the problems inherent to RICE another day, but for now I feel it is my duty as a human being to spread this wisdom as far and as quickly as possible: Pain pills are bad.
On page 5, the author recommends cross training in a sport that doesn’t aggravate an injury as a way to stay active despite IT Band syndrome. This I support. Unfortunately, this advice is tainted by more crap about RICE and by blaming running as an “aggressive activity.” What the hell does “aggressive” mean? I picture a runner with a scowl that is trying to stamp to death a long line of ants really quickly. Running is a great way to maintain muscle and joint health when done correctly…maybe this author had better reevaluate their running form before accusing the sport of a misdemeanor offense.
Next up, the author recommends physical therapy as a way to overcome IT Band syndrome (after plugging pain pills again, of course). Again, on face I agree with this advice. However, if a physical therapist recommends the voodoo that this author advises, such as orthotics, stretches, and phonophoresis and iontophoresis (look these up, they sounds scary as hell) before finally recommending corticosteroid injections, punch that PT in the face and walk out of their office with your middle finger held high. Don’t even get me on surgically sticking an arthroscope into the leg or surgically altering the size of the IT Band. The surgical option in nearly any therapy is not indicative of the wonders of medical science, it is indicative of the laziness in pursuing effective physical therapy. Proper PT requires life style changes and long-term, or better yet permanent, dedication to authentic movement patterns. This is not easy and doesn’t fit with modern instant gratification techniques, but it is the only path that leads to actual improvements in quality of life and health.
How is this clown show not over yet? Next, under the heading “Next Steps” and “Prevention,” the author states an admirable goal: “to return to the level of activity enjoyed prior to the injury.” Again, I would agree if it were not tainted with talk of “footwear options…orthotics…stretching.” More voodoo. I agree that an athlete needs to analyze the root cause of their injury, but slapping one of these modern bandages on the problem will only prevent the system from becoming even weaker and being ever more prone to future injury. Creating this special universe in which we need to exist in order to conduct physical activity is bullshit. Nature gave us what we need, we just need to stop living and exercising in a bubble. My goal is not to return to the level of activity before the injury. My goal is to reach a higher level of quality in activity that will lead to a higher level of health in the athlete’s future.
Everything in this article on IT Band syndrome amounts to what I would consider mainstream “knowledge.” I put knowledge in quotes because it is simply stuff that everybody knows, but it shouldn’t qualify as actual knowledge in the way that we have knowledge on factual information. We learn much of these old wives’ tales and voodoo techniques in grade school and carry them into adulthood. Our modern education system also teaches this same stuff, thereby ensuring the next generation is there to keep the inertia going. To make matters worse, there is a massive fitness industry that “publishes” these “facts” in magazines and the government also advocates this same information. Given this onslaught, it is easy to see how extreme inertia builds up behind these ideas and we somehow all “know” that the knee is a bigger elbow, pills and surgery fix problems, and orthotics and stretching prevent problems.
This was a demonstration of just a little bit of critical thinking against one article. Basically nothing written by this author passes the smell test despite his impressive list of qualifications (MD, FACEP, FAAEM). The whole purpose of movematt is to call out articles like this that actually damage us, but to also provide the tools necessary to think through ALL awful advice. I will keep it coming, but for now, think twice about what you “know” of the function of the knee. Think twice before you pop a pain pill or consider medical options for injuries. Think twice about what a PT recommends to you. And finally, think twice about your post-injury goals.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, and let’s be honest, there aren’t many of you, you’ll recall a post about a 10-K. In a nutshell, I compared life planning to a government mandated corporate fiduciary responsibility and transparency document for investors. In retrospect, that analogy may have targeted a niche audience that we in the “business world” would call, too small to break-even. However, despite that, the intention and call for personal exploration that underwrote it make it worth revisiting, if only for me.
In it I talk about revisiting what’s important to you, since as the cliché says, “time is short”. There is only so much time available to accomplish what it is you want. That is, until Ray Kurzweil solves the whole mortality problem through the Singularity or some other mechanism – possibly involving mole rats… but I digress.
I made a list of important things that came up for me. One of them was to be ranked by the USTA (the United States Tennis Association). I didn’t have the (tennis) balls to actually pick a ranking to shoot for – i.e. #1 seemed to ambitious/arrogant and #100 would seem like I’m not really committed/invested. Actually, my sports reel highlight ambition is much less grandiose. I just want to play in a tournament that actually determines my play RATING. In tennis, skill levels are defined by ratings from 1.5 = total beginner (baseball-tennis memories anyone?) to 7.0 = world-class player. At my best, I can play at a 4.5 level which is better than your average bear…. playing tennis.
When I was younger and more obnoxious (hard for some to believe I know) I used to think that I enjoyed tennis because I was “good” or that I was “competitive” and I would win more often than not – which somehow proved how worthwhile I was as an athlete and as a person. The fact that I didn’t bother to train consistently however, also proved just how committed I was to any of those things.
What I didn’t consciously realize was why I still wanted a USTA rating in the first place -not until I hit my first tennis ball in 2 years recently. I had the opportunity to hit with a teaching pro – a talented woman who had made her mark in the southern tennis region of the US back in her day. She has been teaching for over 40 years and her level of experience and patience is admirable. Add to this, the fact that she recently had her spine fused to overcome a nasty and painful back condition and her dedication and perseverance become borderline inspirational and heroic. But it comes down to this – she just loves tennis. She loves playing it. She loves teaching it. She loves being on the court in almost any capacity. And standing on the court with her, I realized why I love it too.
I don’t and probably never will have her level of skill and experience. I don’t think I will ever derive the joy she gets from teaching, but there is one thing I do get – the joy and wonder of hitting the perfect ball.
One of the “advantages” of not playing regularly for a few years is that the technology of the game changes. One such change came in the form of a new robot that this pro had purchased recently for training students – the ball machine.
I’ve used ball machines off and on through my adult life, but this one was top of the line. It was a giant, green box and held at least 100 balls. It launched projectiles at almost any speed, with wicked spin. Basically it is the pinnacle of relentless punishment and training futility that one experiences hitting against a wall. But at least this torturer had a “safe word”. And it was “remote”. With a press of a button from across the net I was feeding myself topspin forehands, sliced backhands and overheads. And when my stamina gave out and I was gasping for air and blood, a button press gave me the reprieve I needed. It was glorious.
Most of my shots were ugly and in poor form. My fitness, already wanting, was also ill suited for the hot/humidity of Florida’s gulf coast. In short, anyone with a discerning eye could see that I had a ton of work ahead of me if I was going to get into any sort of competitive shape. But amidst all the mishits and horrible foot placement/body positions were a few moments of perfection. At unexpected moments, my mind would quiet from all the cacophony of self-doubt and expectations. In this cathartic, brief silence my mind and body aligned in concert to a single purpose – chaotic motion coming together in a quantum moment of being Present and resulting in the most satisfying THWACK and subsequent ball action. In those moments, hitting a ball was almost effortless – it seemed like cheating.
It was like the feeling that is described by Zen masters, where there is nothing else but the Now and Life is about being Present every moment. THIS is why I love to play tennis and ultimately will be rated. Because being Present is so hard in general that when you experience it, you want more of it. For some people, this experience may be in martial arts. For others, it may not be in sport at all, but maybe in programming, where you have a particularly ingenious solution to an intractable problem. Life just WORKS in that moment – and then it’s gone. And while some may spend their lives in 坐禅attaining this, I’ve chosen tennis among other methods. What I’ve realized is that being Present doesn’t just happen – it takes practice – work. But it’s work worth doing and ultimately/ironically it is the people who take pleasure in the thing itself and not the result who find the greatest success. Roger Federer embodies this way of being.
Who knows, maybe I will be ranked someday, but it won’t really matter because I’ll just being enjoying/seeking every moment of Presentness I get while playing. I wonder what else on my list Being Present will transform for me. I’ll be sure to report back to the 3 of you when I find out.
Hey, at least this one wasn’t about your 1040 tax return – that’s NEXT week!
Ok, so I already described the situation. To recap, I’m in Costa Rica near a beach and I’ve been wanting to get back in shape for a while, so I started a new exercise program.
Because moderation is an obvious sign of weakness and/or mental health depending on who you ask, I decided to go for 2 intense workouts a day (though that has turned into 3… we’ll get to that later).
Movematt wrote me a rambling workout plan suggestion that I go through the motions of saving a baby using a weight of some sort, but I’m in a new small town and I’d rather not be the crazy guy low crawling on the beach with the swaddled rock. Of course I’d swaddle it; I’m not an animal.
I decided instead to go a slightly more traditional route. In 3 months I plan to write about how this workout changed or improved. Critiques are welcome in the comments. So here it is – workout #1:
1) Jog: I head to the beach and run in the sand to the end where it turns into a rocky cliff; this is about a mile or so out. So far so good.
2) Sprint: I sprint on the sand the whole way back in intervals. About halfway back my legs feel like linguini and the sand feels like quicksand. Still, I keep it up and make it back to the starting point where I usually collapse for a few seconds which makes me feel ten times worse. Also this is a concern.
3) Swim: Because I can’t tolerate gravity anymore, I take off my Vibrams, stash them by a log or a dead dog or something and wade into the ocean. Pretty good waves lately so I make my way through those to the deeper water. Once there, I tread for a bit, still trying to catch my breath, then I make my way out to the sailboat flotilla about 200 yards offshore. I use a combination of doggy paddle, breast stroke, and freestyle and I think about Shark Week the whole way. Once I get there I swim back. When I get out of the water, I realize that gravity still sucks.
That’s the end of workout #1. It starts around 7:45 or 8AM. I spend the next few hours recovering. Then around 3 or 4PM, I go out for workout #2.
1) Pullups: There is a ledge near my door that belongs to the deck of an upstairs tenant. I jump up to it and do 3 or 4 sets of 5 pullups. Considering that I can do many more pullups on a bar, this annoys me. Also my hands hurt and this also annoys me. I also occasionally get caught by the upstairs neighbor who must think that I am secretly peeping on him very briefly 15 to 20 times a day.
2) Pushup… things: I don’t know what these are called or if they are a thing, but I like them. Movematt just wrote about them actually and I’m convinced he stole the idea from me. What I do is fall forward from a standing position catching myself on my hands in pushup position, then from there I throw myself back up into a standing position without moving my feet. 3 sets of 10. I like pushups so this is my favorite exercise of the day. My hurt hands don’t make it easier though.
3) Sprint: More sprinting! I found a small hill and I sprint up it 5 times, jogging back to the starting point each time. Some days are better than others, but the overall feeling is of wanting to die. This being closer to the hottest part of the tropical day, I don’t stop sweating until a bit past sundown.
Seemingly unrelated story: though an acquaintance, I met this guy at a bar about a week ago and we got started talking about martial arts. He trained Wing Chun and boxing, and I’ve trained Brazilian Jujitsu, Karate and some Aikido. He drunkenly exchanged numbers with me to train together, but then unexpectedly actually called and wants to train… like every day. So after my 2nd workout, I often get a summons to the beach.
At the beach he and I take turns drilling techniques then trying to punch each other in the face (with boxing gloves), then I show him some simple takedowns and BJJ techniques and we drill those. It last about an hour.
This has all been going on about a week now. I’m getting over my soreness, but am still pretty wiped out all the time. Looking forward to improving as the months go by and seeing how it works.
It’s my rest day, but I just got a text from martial arts guy… I guess I could stand to get punched in the face a few times on my day off.
Remember how I love pull-ups? As it turns out, I also love to do push-ups. As with the pull-up, I would evaluate my ability as (well) above average and I’m willing to bet that you are pretty miserable at them. I’m going to follow the same general format as the pull-ups post, so let’s start with a definition of the standard push-up and then build a foundation. In addition to this foundation, I intend to question conventional wisdom surrounding the push-up.
NOTE: As with the pull-ups, this upper body strength work is NOT exclusively for men. EVERYBODY can benefit from being stronger. I have had several spectacular successes in the past training men AND women to be much stronger than they ever thought they could be. Again, I want to emphasize that becoming stronger does not lead to a “bulky” physique for women. Cupcakes do that.
On to the definition of the “standard push-up.” Put your hands on the floor, shoulder width apart, fingers pointing forward. Position your feet close together and get up into a plank with a flat back. This is the “up” position. Bend at the elbows and lower your chest to the ground (keep your back flat!). Some standards would like to see the elbows bend at least 90 degrees, but I think this is kind of hard to be honest about unless you have a spotter. I prefer to go low enough that my chest and chin brush the ground – that way I know for a fact that I have broken 90 degrees at the elbow. This is the “down” position. Simply alternate between up and down and you’re doing push-ups. Most all of us have experienced this at least a little bit in a PE class or something somewhere along the line.
That is the standard push-up. Going back to my previous assumption that you probably are not very good at push-ups, let’s dial it back a bit. The simplest way to accommodate a lack of strength here is to put the knees on the ground. There is nothing wrong with doing it this way; we all have to start somewhere. In fact, there is a great deal of honor and integrity involved when a person recognizes their weakness and insists on fixing them at the most basic level. Do not “add strength to dysfunction.” Learn to do it right, right now.
If what I have talked about so far is a significant challenge for you, stop here. Work on these basics until you get it right, then please come back and continue to advance. A solid foundation is absolutely essential to continuation training. I would say that being able to rep out 10 solid push-ups with a flat back and without significant shakiness is a bare minimum to continue.
If you can knock out more than 10 standard push-ups in a row, who cares? Seriously. The ability to do 100 push-ups in a minute has a certain cool factor, but ultimately lacks utility. There was a point in my life when I cared about being able to do such high reps, but that cool factor immediately fizzled when I simply asked “Why?” It is a useless skill. Let’s play a mental exercise: What is the push function of the human physique for? Does being able to move one’s body from the ground to slightly above the ground a whole bunch of times apply?
Let’s explore that push function. Why do we have it? Why would we want to improve it? As I have alluded to, there is little to no utility to being able to go from the down position to the up position over and over again. Why would you ever do that besides testing your ability to do that? Therefore, training to get better at standard push-ups only makes one better at push-ups. It becomes a self-licking ice cream cone. One with inherently limited use. So now what?
The push function of human strength has several uses:
– To propel the body from one position to another
– To arrest a face-forward fall
– To throw an object
– To punch
Arguably, there could be some use to lots of repetition when it comes to punching, but doing lots of push-ups trains the body for maximum efficiency. Punching needs power, not just efficiency. In fact, all four functions I mention require a great deal of power. Given how all real-world applications for the push function fall into the four abovementioned categories, and all four require power to be useful, let’s focus on power.
Starting with propulsion, you will never need to propel yourself arms length from the ground 100 times in a minute. So let’s just forget that standard opinion of push-ups as something to do over and over again in a short period of time. Can you push yourself from one precarious position to another? Probably not. Even the guy that can do triple digit push-ups will have trouble going from the prone position to standing or from a prone position in one spot to the prone position in another. Imagine having to reach across a ravine or something feet first, and then having to shove the rest of your body across to catch up. This will require a one-shot, powerful effort.
This same power harnessed in propulsion will be used to help you arrest a fall. Simply imagine running in compromised terrain and tripping. As you fall to the ground face first, you need to be able to put your arms out in front of you and slow your fall enough to not get a bloody nose. Again, efficiency is not the key to this maneuver, out right power is. If your arms are too weak to deal with your body weight falling at 9.8m/s/s, you’re going to have a bad time. You have to be able to channel all of your strength at one single moment and hopefully it is enough to preserve your beautiful mug.
Next, consider the possibility that you will have to throw a large object. I’m not talking about throwing something overhand like a baseball, but let’s say a rock or a log of something of significant weight that will require a two-hand thrust from chest level – not unlike a pass in basketball. You may have to do something like this in order to get a heavy object across a gap, throw a large object off of yourself, or even throw an object offensively. Again, repetition is totally unnecessary and pure power will be more desirable.
Finally, punching. It is certainly possible that a confrontation that requires punching will require many punches, but again, unlike the standard, repeated push-up, each punch will require power and not just efficiency. If you are going to punch something, punch it like you mean it. I don’t know about you, but if I have decided that something is enough of a threat that I’m going to throw a fist, I want to disable it, not piss it off with quick, efficient thrusts. Punching is a whole different art in of itself that should be discussed elsewhere, but the point of the matter is that the standard push-up at high repetition simply does not apply.
Ok, enough rambling, let’s revisit the mental exercise from earlier. Why do we push?
It’s not to do something useless like this.
This is a two-fold answer. First of all, we don’t push to get better at push-ups. Second, we do it do apply our strength and power to the four applications mentioned above. In either case, doing tons of the standard push-up – per typical misconceptions of how to train the human push function – simply has no utility. For now, dear reader, I want you to focus on gaining a strong foundation in the push-up. As I mentioned before, build that foundation and do a small amount with power and confidence. Once that foundation is built, we can move on to Part II and build some serious power.
On the ever growing list of threats to my health and safety, I now add roving packs of dogs. This is the first addition since dengue fever bearing mosquitoes, added about a week ago.
The backstory is this: inspired in part by Movematt, I decided that one of my goals during my time in Costa Rica is to become a physical specimen of a human being, able to jog up flights of stairs and rearrange living room furniture.
To that end I’ve started a twice a day workout schedule that includes a combination of running, swimming, sprinting (sand & hill), and pullup and pushup variants. 3 of those activities take place on the beach (running, sand sprinting, and swimming), which is conveniently located 2 blocks from my house. I drag myself out of bed every morning make my way down to the beach and begin my routine, and generally by the end, I feel pretty good in a terrible, gasping for air, utterly exhausted kind of way.
But today was different; today, towards the end of the jog segment of the run when I begin to transition to sprint intervals, I looked up to find that loping along besides and around me in a not-unthreatening manner were about 3 medium sized black dogs who looked like clones of each other, (a white 4th dog seemed to be a bit of an outcast and was also much less preoccupied with me). My 3 surprise running companions jogged easily alongside me darting in and out at my legs and dashing away when I turned to face them. You’ve probably seen this behavior in nature documentaries where large ungulates are being pursued by seemingly lazy wolves.
Now, the dogs were definitely in semi-play mode, but the thing about roving packs of dogs is that they play rough, and if you show any sign of weakness they will begin “playfully” biting your face off.
Thankfully, I’m not totally ignorant of dog psychology, so I realized that speeding up would probably be a bad idea. Contrary to what you see in movies and TV, outrunning dogs is one of those things that doesn’t happen in real life unless you have a very substantial head start and a safe end point. Instead I slowed down a bit, which helped to ease some of their obvious agitation at my quick movement, and began doing my best to exude alpha vibes. Alpha vibes is my term for a subtle shift in carriage that is meant to say 2 things: 1: “I am your superior,” and 2: “if you mess with me, it will go poorly for everyone involved.” I got a lot of practice with this growing up in New York.
The dogs were fairly incorrigible but, after a few minutes of my extra lazy jogging pace, they lost some interest in me and went back to dive tackling each other across the sand. My mind was still on my workout, and not wanting to lose my momentum at that critical moment I made the snap decision to begin my first sprint then.
70 heart pumping meters or so later, I looked up and angling in gleefully were the black dogs, slavering jaws wide, white teeth gleaming against the sand. One was right next to me and took a bounding nip at my left thigh…
Now, admittedly, this was my fault. Sprinting like that in plain view of these obviously aggressive dogs was just asking for trouble. Still, if I let roving packs of dogs dictate my workout, where does it stop? What if next time they want to borrow some money, or take my girlfriend to the movies? Where do I draw the line?
The leaping nip was an obvious test of my alpha-ness. If I let it slide the next step would be a full on bite and would likely be proceeded by my being dragged around the beach loudly lamenting my ongoing mauling.
Well, I don’t know about all that, but I definitely knew that I didn’t want strange dogs thinking it was cool to bite me. So I stopped cold and turned on the nippy dog and yelled “hey!” in my most forbidding voice, as if to say, “you just crossed the line, dog!” that got his attention and he backed off. I walked him down a few steps just to drive home my point and that seemed to get my point across. They almost instantly lost interest in me and sped off down the beach to harass some guy sitting in the surf.
At no point in time was I overly afraid of being attacked by these dogs. But I was worried that they would totally mess up my workout which would suck. If I had gone sprinting down the beach like a frightened deer, as wolf evolved predators, the dogs wouldn’t really have had a choice but to chase me and eventually try to take me down. It’s instinct (see video above). So I had to address the situation before it got out of hand.
All told, this should add an interesting element to future workouts, for better or for worse.
I also got chased by a French bulldog a bit further down the beach, but that was less worrisome.
Science fiction has never been easy to pull off in movies. In some ways it is harder than fantasy. While often wondrous to the point of the absurd, its roots are usually firmly grounded in the physics and reality we know and love(?). I make a distinction between the venerable histories which include The Day the Earth Stood Still (NOT the Keannu Reeves version), 2001, and Contact rather than the more operatic/scifi-fantasies like Flash Gordon, Ice Pirates and even Star Wars – still fun, but often blurring the line between fantasy and true science fiction.
A fantasy movie like the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter can beguile with magic and creatures that require no further explanation other than they exist. The audience/readers make that pact from the beginning. “We are suspending all disbelief! Just be somewhat logically consistent and throw in a few dragons and we will be there to enjoy it with you!” … and I’ve spent many a happy hour doing just that.
Over the years, I’ve consumed much of the fantasy that has been written for print and screen. There are a few fundamental differences between sci-fi and fantasy. By default, fantasy and scifi-fantasy is more about pure dreaming without constraints AND is meant to be consumed rather than questioned. Even my current favorite, Game of Thrones, doesn’t really ask us/the reader any meaningful questions about how what happens in Westeros has any implications/consequences to us mortals here on Earth.
Good science fiction is always more relevant because it says “if you take where we (humanity) are now and then…. “ the edge of the universe and beyond is the limit. The readers immediately have a stake, whether they want to or not, in the outcome of the story because… that story is THEIR future!
Science fiction is also held to an (admittedly arguable) higher standard of disbelief because things have to look and feel like they will be a reality in a few (or few hundred/thousand) years. An increasingly tech and (hopefully) science savvy audience contributes to this evolution. Various actuators need to move correctly and give off a convincing (if somewhat dramatized) hiss or crank. Aliens and celestial phenomena need to at least be plausible if not probable. It’s science with a wink and a nudge.
What I’ve personally enjoyed most about science fiction are the questions that are able to be asked and explored. For instance;
- The fundamental nature and evolution of humanity in Theodore Sturgeon’s, More than Human (anything written by him is worth it btw).
- The ENDPOINT of the universe itself in Stephen Baxter’s The Ring.
- What would society look like if no one could deceive each other in James Halperin’s The Truth Machine?
- What are the fundamental purposes and relationships between men/machines/the universe in the Hyperion Cantos?
- What would you do in a society with technology that, near as to make no difference, was boundless in The Culture books by Ian M. Banks.
- Blade of Tyshalle
- I could go on and on.
In movies, some examples of this type of exploration are Bladerunner, Dune and even the Matrix.
In recent television, Star Trek:TNG (barring some questionable “we ran out of ideas” holo-deck episodes) and Battlestar Galactica (excising the ridiculous angel ending of course) and maybe even Firefly (I said it) are the apex of modern speculative science fiction on screen. All tackled modern day culture and political issues head-on and with aplomb (not with a plum, which is messier)– often leaving the viewer simultaneously more knowledgeable, but still questioning.
The best sci-fi asks questions about being human in the present day and throws it into a technologically enabled future social grinder to see if anything interesting comes out.
I enjoy fantasy fiction.
I learn about myself and humanity from science fiction.
Which, in the longest preamble possible, brings me to Neil Blomkamp. This man is the current avatar of gritty, realistic SF design. I have been a fan of his work for quite a few years now. In his Tetra Vaal movie short about a company marketing a security robot for conflict zones, I had a flash back to the sensation of awe and wonder experienced when witnessing the first brontosaurus in Jurassic Park. When a bullet shattered a wall that the CG robot was taking cover behind, and the machine flinched backwards and responded in an almost frighteningly realistic and human way, I think I had a geekasm. He followed this up with another brilliantly seductive short about an android on the run in Yellow. Finally, talks of him helming a live-action movie version of Halo culminated in some impressive, combat shorts but support for it ultimately fell apart.
However, a pattern was emerging. This guy knows how to merge the real/unreal. Almost as an exact counter-point/foil to the CG laden MESS that were the Star Wars prequels, here was a leader who intentionally took lo-fi, often hand carried, camera footage and married it with CG that could be mistaken for absolutely real. The only question was whether he had the writing/director chops for a full length movie.
Thankfully, we received District 9. The film is not without its flaws, but overall it is simply a genius film and a pleasure to watch. It took a carbon copy of apartheid and replaced black people for “prawns” (aliens). What could have been an inspirational but forgettable movie rehashing the well trodden issues between the oppressor and oppressee, becomes those things AND an exercise in human nature and character development. Blomkamp’s main character is a white middle-aged idiot who is just smart enough to marry his boss’ daughter but too dumb to do more than what he is told, or to question his life or his bigoted beliefs. His only saving grace is that he is not smart enough to be devious and is endearingly genuine and human, despite his beliefs. By the end of the movie, and because we got to witness real horror, racism and oppression through the eyes of the opressor, District 9 will remain as one of my favorite sci-fi movies.
This is not up until now mentioning Blomkamp’s REAL talent which is to have designed and filmed a world that feels and looks real – for around $30M. $30M! In an age when studios toss around $150M like it’s the new cost of entry for special effects movies, this number is simply mind-boggling. This guy could make 6 great movies for every crappy “blockbuster”, I told myself.
So it is with a heavy heart that I come to watch and review Elysium. I won’t spend much time on it. To be honest there isn’t much to it.
DO go see it for the impeccable future world design and production execution.
DON’T go see it for almost anything else.
It is hard not to see a similar theme with Elysium that Blomkamp had in District 9. What are the issues faced when there are a privelaged minority exploiting the powerless masses? But, where District 9 took a risky, creative move and explored these issues with a privileged character growing and exploring, Elysium isn’t nearly that courageous. Matt Damon’s character, I have no idea what his name is, is a recovering con-artist/future-car thief. This serves no other purpose than to dislike and hate him as far as I can tell. He is one of the masses on Earth, being continuously exploited by the affluent overlords in the floating wagon-wheel called Elysium, in space. His lower plebian status inherently means we are supposed to like him – but we never do. His humanity, skill in technology and planning is never on display but is talked about occasionally through pointless side-characters to make us believe he is a real person – don’t believe them.
Bad decision after ridiculously bad decision somehow results in a shallow “happy ending” which makes absolutely no sense. Matt Damon, no doubt cast because of his ability to play the “every man” appears to have phoned it in. I can’t remember one thing that was interesting or worthwhile about his character. So much was made in the media of how Damon got ripped for this role, but I can’t see a single plot reason why this was even necessary. The supporting cast is little better with Jodi Foster getting a special mention putting in a ridiculous accent and pretentious walk worthy of the shiniest Razzie this year.
But it’s pretty – real pretty. The design of everything from future Bugatti space-cars, robot security, to human implants implies some of the best/worst that our technology driven society will offer.
But alas, what could have been an ACTUALLY interesting tale about inequality, privilege and opportunity, turns into a boring “hero’s journey” where the “hero” is a bumbling moron, but not written as one, and his journey is linear with: no surprises, transparent villains in his way, and an ending that rings as soulless and uplifting as an Anthony Weiner apology tour. Its worst crime though is that it never asks any new or interesting questions of the viewer. It doesn’t demand him/her to examine their own ideas – in this way it is more fantasy than science fiction. It just asks you to sit back and consume – like Transformers.
In the end, it’s less the Elysian Fields and more like the Plains of Armageddon (and not in a good way).
Neil, I forgive you, but you’re better than this. Go back to making science fiction.
This is my second attempt to write about pull-ups; Katy Perry rudely interrupted my last attempt (a transgression for which I still have not forgiven her). Anyway, I have to start by admitting that I love pull-ups. Seriously. It is likely my most favorite training exercise. Well, the pull-up and all of its variations, to be more precise. I’m even pretty good at them. Unfortunately, I’m willing to bet that you’re not. In fact, most people are pretty miserable at pull-ups, let alone any sort of advanced maneuver beyond the basic dead-hang pull-up. I would like to do everything in my power to help every single person out there to become more pull-up capable. In fact, I believe that if I were able to get even half the world’s population executing a few pull-ups with confidence, I will have done more for world peace than Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton combined.
NOTE: This blog post and all future pull-up related blog posts are NOT exclusively for men. Every bit of the following advice is just as applicable for women. Women tend to feel like the upper-body strength necessary to do pull-ups is out of their reach (hahaha…puns), but it is very much possible for a woman to pull-up as well as any guy. Also, pull-ups will not make women “bulky.” Cupcakes do that.
First of all, let’s define the pull-up. I’m sure there are varying professional opinions, but as far as I am concerned, a strict pull-up is done by putting hands supine (palms facing away from body) on an overhead object (usually a bar) and pulling the body up to the point where the chin is above the level of the hands. Most of us have done this, or at least tried, in some random gym class at some point in our lives. I intend to use this reference as a baseline to which we will build – and build from.
A very wise fitness guru named Gray Cook is famous for saying, “don’t add strength to dysfunction.” Simple yet brilliant advice. That being said, in order to build pull-ups, as with any other training, it is eminently important to develop a solid foundation. Since no kinetic activity is possible until the body comes into contact with a surface to work against, the grip would be the most elemental part of the foundation. This is usually where pull-up novices exhibit some serious weakness. There is hope however, as grip strength can improve dramatically pretty quickly. Grip strength comes from a combination of hand and forearm muscles, but if the whole body is hanging from the grip, there will be some action elsewhere in the kinetic chain as well, so let’s check out the whole thing.
While you are sitting here and reading this, squeeze your hand into a fist. You should feel and even see muscle contractions in your hand as well as your forearm. While these are the most obvious muscles to develop for grip strength, it is also important to analyze the biceps and shoulder muscles. At this point, I would recommend trying to take the biceps out of the equation as much as possible in order to save energy as tensing them won’t help you to stay in a hang and will only sap your overall strength. Don’t worry, we will still develop your guns soon enough. Try clenching your fist again, but keeping your upper arm relaxed. If you have never really trained for this before, it might be kind of tough. You are effectively training your brain to talk to your muscles – an exercise at least as important as training in any other sense. Work on this selective tension whenever you can, especially while reading www.FYMPlanet.com.
On to the shoulder. This is one complicated joint; there is a lot going on here with muscles, connective tissue, and bone. Let’s go from sitting and reading to actually hanging. If you grasp an overhead bar and contract nothing except for your gripping muscles, you are in a dead hang. The name should be pretty intuitive. Notice how your shoulder seems to elongate or separate – this is called “extension” of your shoulder joint. As long as this doesn’t cause pain (if it does, go see a doc), this is a good position to train for some grip strength. I would also recommend holding a hang with your shoulder fully engaged. That is to say, draw your shoulder joint back together and hold it. I like to call this hanging with an “active” or “contracted shoulder.” If this is difficult to visualize, try doing a dead-hang in front of a mirror while wearing a sleeveless shirt. You should be able to see your shoulder “separate” as you hang, and you should be able to see it come back together as you “activate” it. As with the lower arm strength mentioned above, dramatic strength increases will occur early on thanks to simply training your brain to work these muscles.
The rationale for training lower-arm strength in grip training should be obvious: your hand strength is what keeps you on the bar. If focusing on the shoulder muscles in hanging seems less obvious, simply do a pull-up motion (either on the bar or off) and pay attention to how many degrees of rotation through which your shoulder socket moves. Additionally, the pull-up is not the end-all of upper body pulling strength; there are more advanced and worthwhile exercises to come and they will require even greater shoulder rotation. Since the joint is so complex and is home to so much connective tissue, it is exceedingly important to develop it well in the very beginning.
All of this considered, no matter what level you are on, it is time to train that grip with this hang. I consider myself intermediate to advanced in my pull-up capability and I still make sure to train hangs often. Try simply dead-hanging, try hanging with an active shoulder, and finally try hanging while transitioning between the two positions. For a novice, the transition may be difficult and may even lead to pain. If it hurts, stop and talk to a doc. Otherwise, vary the speed, the time of each hold and time between holds, and even vary between two-handed and one-handed hangs. As far as frequency, listen to your body. The untrained shoulder is easy to strain, so ease in to it and focus on quality. The trained shoulder is a very capable mechanism however.
In addition to training the grip from a hang, it is possible to greatly strengthen the grip by doing Olympic style lifts. Deadlifts, cleans, snatches, and so forth all involve using the grip to hold on to a weight while you move it around. Typically, at some point in training, the weight used in these lifts will be limited by grip strength, at which point your gripping muscles will have to develop to keep up. Combined with the hanging training mentioned above, QUALITY Olympic training can enhance grip strength tremendously.
I emphasize QUALITY because Olympic training should never be approached without appropriate coaching. Improper training can lead to not only serious injury, but can ingrain improper form that can drastically affect every other aspect of physical training (refer to the abovementioned Gray Cook quote). Do not trust some hack Level 1 Crossfit “Instructor” or fall back on your or some “bro’s” high school football training, but rather find a serious coach (whom, yes, CAN be found in the Crossfit community) if you have no background on the subject. Starting Strength by Mark Rippetoe is absolutely mandatory reading before you EVER think about picking up an Olympic bar (or pick one up ever again for those of you that have been training poorly all these years). Don’t screw with this. Seriously.
The total impact of both training methods is much greater than the sum of its parts, so try and get both in. One common mistake will significantly reduce the gains made in the grip department, both in Olympic lifting and in hanging: Gloves. Understand this: Gloves suck. Do not use them, you pansy. Glove-like accessories, such as wrist straps, also suck. They gather hand sweat and bar filth, are difficult to clean and therefore can spread disease, not to mention inhibit grip strength improvement. The fact that things are easier to hold on to while you are wearing gloves should be an indicator that your training is suffering and not be seen as a relief (i.e. a crutch). My hands are my gloves, as yours should be.
After a few weeks of this hang training and hopefully some Olympic training, a solid foundation for pull-ups should be in place. Even if you go from never having accomplished a pull-up to knocking out sets of 50, never stop training your hang. Hanging is useful (you never know when you will need to hang from a tree, a window sill, or whatever for an extended period), it promotes hand strength in other applications (punching, handshakes, chopstick utilization, etc.) and it keeps your shoulders strong (don’t be that person with the labrum tear). In the next chapter, we will go from hanging to actually pulling up. In the meantime, go find somewhere to hangout.
Well let’s get right into it, shall we?
In the world of sitcoms, only one show has ever managed to cross the uncanny valley that bridges shows with laugh tracks and shows with truly humorous content. In pretty much all other sitcoms, the laugh track is too often used to remind people that what they are watching is funny rather than adding melodic resonance to the already ongoing laughs of the audience.
The show in question is not Seinfeld. Nor is it Friends, nor Frasier, nor any of the other sitcoms you will find on your typical ‘top ten sitcoms’ list.
The show was News Radio.
And to clarify, I speak only of seasons 1 through 4 with both Phil Hartman and Khandi Alexander still present. Once Jon Lovitz was brought in for season 5 the whole thing fell apart, not unpredictably (the year was 1998 and Lovitz was already well on the downturn of a less than illustrious career in tomfoolery – probably his best role since then was an un-credited role in the mediocre movie The Wedding Singer the same year). Phil Hartman’s murder might have also had a dampening effect on the whole thing….
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’ve enjoyed many other sitcoms over the years… Well, actually that’s not a genuine statement. It’d be more honest to say that I’ve WATCHED a lot of sitcoms over the years but have enjoyed very few (enjoying shows like Family Matters and Full House as an adolescent doesn’t count). In any case, News Radio stood out in a class of its own. Its unique mixture of slapstick and rhetorical humor was pioneered elsewhere and attempted in many other shows, but was never pitched as perfectly.
Overall TV is getting better, but network television still sucks. It has always sucked really, but we had way fewer options before. Now, with cable channels like AMC and HBO pouring money into making better shows, the bar for TV is rising. However, most network television shows still stay well below it. News Radio was definitively above the bar in its day, and still stands out as above the bar of what we usually see on network television now. How exactly it was able to accomplish that within the confines of a… well, let’s be honest, shitty… format (laugh track sitcoms) is beyond me. It’s a testament to the writing and the actors involved that it was able to transcend its imposed borders.
And an ensemble cast never looked so good: Lisa and Dave’s relationship was always treated just as ridiculous as it seemed; eccentric billionaire Jimmy James was the prototype for 30 Rock’s Jack Donaghy; Matthew Brock will go down in history as the least offensive and most hilarious character ever played by Andy Dick; Khandi Alexander as Catherine Duke was the perfect counterpoint to the shamelessly self-aggrandizing Bill McNeal; Beth’s over the top incompetence made her no less endearing; and I love the UFC, but Joe Rogan’s TV career peaked with his role as Joe …what was that last name again?
And the show never took itself too seriously, a mistake made in the later years of many popular sitcoms. Hell they even turned a network mandated funeral episode into a farce by eulogizing a rat and throwing it in an incinerator.
Anyway, to make a long story short, News Radio kicked ass. If you’ve never seen it, you need to see it.
If you saw it and you didn’t like it, you are wrong.
I hate the winter, so I’m moving to Costa Rica.
Well, there are other reasons, but chief among them is the fact that any weather which requires me to wear long sleeves makes me irritable.
Other reasons include: the lower cost of living (which will be important since I’m in the start-up phase of beginning a business and frugality is crucial), time zone proximity to my business partner in the US, cheaper cost of living, desire to learn Spanish (but not to be stranded in a place where I can’t function without it), and the need to sate my wanderlust which, if put it off any longer after 2 years of grad school, will demand that I move to Papua New Guinea for the next decade.
Costa Rica is one of the countries that US citizens can go to without a visa and stay in for up to 90 days (this also played into my decision). As luck would have it, the next major business milestone that requires my geographical presence will take place in Beijing after the holiday season; my 90 day excursion neatly falls between now and then.
Other than basing major life decisions entirely on first world problems and minor annoyances, I tend to be a very meticulous and organized person, so after choosing the destination (and buying my plane tickets to stomp out any last minute wishy-washiness), I went about researching everything I could about Costa Rica and ended up finding a fantastic sublet in Playas del Coco (pictured above) for the exact dates of my trip. Playas del Coco is a small town in the northwest of Costa Rica and my place is just a few short blocks from the beach.
Incidentally, I don’t know a single person in Costa Rica. This is new for me. As much as I’ve traveled and lived abroad, I’ve never really gone anywhere where I didn’t know anyone. I figured it might be a good challenge. Everyone seemed to be impressed that I moved out of the country 5 years ago but, though I had less of a life plan then than I do now, I did have a close friend to help me figure things out when I got to China. As glad as I am for that, and as confident as I am that I can survive without that type of crutch now, I want to actually DO it. And why wait?
The biggest question I get asked is why I feel the need to leave the country at all. The answer is complex, but what it boils down to is that there is nowhere in the US where I feel entirely comfortable. With the possible exception of my time living in Hawaii, I have never been entirely satisfied by what any one place has to offer.
I doesn’t only boil down to some existential need to find the “perfect” place. Really what it means is that, if I don’t feel a very strong connection to any one location, why settle when there’s a whole world out there to explore? Though I have many places that I love in the US and where I have family and amazing friends, for some reason none of them are very attractive to me as places to live permanently.
I don’t really know what it is that makes me want to GO. I just feel like there is so much that I have yet to experience, so many perspectives I want to better appreciate. Perhaps it’s the fact that every time I travel I feel like I come back a different person; I’m addicted to the changes in myself that travel brings, the shifts in understanding that learning new languages brings, the understanding of myself that being foreign brings.
Or maybe I just love the beach. In any case, next stop: Costa Rica. After that is anyone’s guess.
I was in the middle of writing a post about pull-ups, but I have been distracted by Youtube. In an attempt to simply find some music to play while I wrote, I couldn’t stop myself from clicking to watch the new Lady Gaga video that was prominently displayed on the Youtube homepage.
First of all, you’re damn right I clicked it. Why not? While Lady Gaga does indeed contribute to the giant pop noise machine that grates at the mental well being of every minimally sentient person, she also has made some serious waves on occasion. While I dislike the majority of her music, there are a few tunes that I do legitimately enjoy plus I have a hard time hating on a woman who creatively pushes on society like she does.
As near as I can tell, the theme is clearly self-aggrandizing while at the same time self-implicating. She admits to being there for the attention while at the same time parading her nearly naked body around along with other provocative imagery, for yet more attention. However, for her, celebrating adoration is a bit different than your average pop star. She enjoys a very interesting fan base both in their rabid following but also in that the “Little Monsters,” as they are called, overwhelmingly live on the fringe of society. This is important since the fringe has been on the frontline in the modern fight for many social equalities, especially for the LGBTQA crowd. Lady Gaga’s pop icon status has helped push those movements with greater velocity. In all reality, Lady Gaga isn’t just a pop star and her fans aren’t just fans, it would probably be more accurate to describe all of it as a culture, and Applause celebrates the relationship.
Either way, the music has beyond-average complexity and uniqueness, her lyrics are at least mostly original, she exhibits a pretty solid range in her singing, and the imagery is her usual intensity. She even shows clear homage to David Bowie. This makes for an A+ song when compared to her mainstream contemporaries. I’ve decided I enjoy it. Good job Gaga, point.
Writing about Lady Gaga songs on FYMPlanet is not how I expected to spend my evening. Mostly because I never saw myself writing about anything Gaga related anywhere at any time. So what drove my motivation? Once the video was complete, a link for Katy Perry’s new single Roar showed up. I have things to say about this, but without further adieu, here’s the song:
And here is Katy Perry’s new single, Roar:
Seriously, what fresh hell is this? Holy FSM, this is bad. So incredibly bad. Ask the rest of the FYMP crew, out of the three of us I certainly have the highest tolerance for crappy aspects of pop culture, but this is WAY beyond anything I could ever put up with. Christ on rollerblades, this song is terrible. The fact that it starts with that awful Apple ringtone circa 2007 doesn’t help its cause.
I remember hearing a commercial or something about his and how KP was on some crazy plan to rebrand herself and Roar was going to be the first step. There were 18-wheelers rolling around major cities with no purpose other than to serve as giant billboards for her new “ground breaking” sound. I saw one of those things…it was a gaudy shitshow of gold and glitter and a trite attempt at tantalizing her fans. However, after watching the Lady Gaga video above, I was feeling kind of generous to our recent pop stars and figured that maybe KP had grown up a bit. Holy jeebus was I wrong.
Luckily, the only version of the song I could find was a lyrics video. While I agree, yes, being able to at least look at Katy Perry while she performs her typical post-Kissed a Girl garbage (yes, that old album of hers had some gems. Exhibit 1: You’re So Gay), I think it is important to really look at the lyrics. Literally 80% or more of the lyrics are simply clichés. Not even subtle or useful clichés, just straight up tired and even “creatively” spelled and signed (holy emoji, Batman) shit that you’d expect to find on one of those “Look how dumb this random Facebook person is, LOL!!!11!!” pictures that are so popular with the kids these days. Even the damn hook is straight up stolen from Foreigner. Eye of the tiger? Really? Yeah, I get it, you’re full of renewed vigor (to keep doing you, apparently), but you’re not even trying.
Anyway, in a world full of generic and uncreative pop divas like Miley Cyrus, Pink, Britney, Beyonce, Ke-dollar sign-ha, Nikki Minaj, Rihanna, Selena Gomez – and so on and so forth, Katy Perry promised something. It was supposed to be something new and reinvented and something we should prepare ourselves for. And she delivered crap. Absolutely terrible and uncreative drivel. Lady Gaga just showed up as her regular weird-ass self and gave me a quality song with a video that was enjoyable even beyond her tits. Both of these women have found a formula that makes them wildly rich and popular, however one deserves a bit more respect than the other.
By the way, if you made it through the whole of Roar, I commend but do not envy you. Let me make it up to you with a video that I guarantee you will watch the whole way through:
“So are you guys celebrities or something?”
At the moment I ask this question we’ve been sitting at cruising altitude for about 15 minutes in the crowded American Airlines flight. The 2 seats beside my exit row window seat are occupied by two pretty young women. They have been approached twice by the stewardess who is “a big fan of their show.” They look to be about Miley Cyrus age, so I quickly run through the list of celebrities in that category that I know. The list goes: Miley Cyrus. Begrudgingly.
Well, my curiosity was piqued. I cast sidelong glances at them for a few minutes wondering if they were anyone who I might recognize, but my peripheral glances give me no hint. Now, at this point, my usual MO is to take the urinal approach: eyes forward, attention anywhere but on anyone else. Been doing it on flight for years; hasn’t gotten me killed yet. But by the same token, it’s also never yielded an interesting experience… unless you count awkwardness as interesting, which I do not.
This time, though, I was stuck in a difficult position. See, I had recently made the pledge to myself that anytime I get that awkward antisocial feeling, I have to do the opposite of what my instincts tell me to do. Having been, for many years, the type of person who purposely and systematically avoided connection with other people, this is difficult for me. It requires a reexamination of situations and a reorganization of my priorities about life and what I want out of it.
At the end of the day, to quote the film Ghost Town (one of the better romantic comedies of recent years, btw. Watch it), “This business of… being such a fucking prick, what is it really getting me?”
The answer turns out to be: nothing, as you might expect. Hence the pledge, hence the situation which we now return to.
“So are you guys celebrities or something?” I ask the girl 1 seat away. The girl between us, her sister I would soon find out, had left to go to the bathroom. She turned towards me, a little embarrassed, and self-effacingly explained the situation:
She (Jill) and her sister (Jessa) were traveling back from Washington DC where they had been visiting their brother, Josh. They were 2 of the cast members on the reality TV show 19 Kids and Counting.
The Duggar family, which my single serving friends are a part of, is a fundamentalist Christian family who… well, you can read about them here (and may God have mercy on my soul for linking to TLC). Basically, they’re famous for their mom popping out an exorbitant number of kids, all with “J” names over the years. 19 to be exact, hence the name of the show (it started out in 2008 as 17 Kids and Counting).
After graciously answering my possibly indelicately asked query, the two sisters (Jill more so than Jessa who seemed a little shy, but who came out of her shell as time went by) and I talked for the remainder of the flight. They were both VERY nice, but not fake-nice, like the way you expect “celebrities” to act when confronted by people who recognize them, but genuinely so. They spent more time asking me questions about myself than they did talking about themselves, which is rare in anyone. I gave them ample opportunities to go back to not talking to the weird window seat guy, but they seemed perfectly content to chat, and I really enjoyed it.
They of course asked me if I went to church or was a Christian (no and no), but they weren’t pushy or invasive about it, just curious as anyone whose life revolved in a large part around Christianity might be. I didn’t even know they were fundamentalist until Jill gave me a postcard with their family photo, and it had more bible quotes on it than the actual bible. After that, I took notice of their long hair and skirts and realized that they were dressed about 90% Amish. I am not an observant person.
Anyway, for any fans out there, they didn’t give me any cool behind the scenes gossip or anything (I doubt there is any). The point of this story (Yeah, there is a point, shut up) is more about the interesting experiences I’ve found myself having more and more as I open myself up to actually talking to people. In some ways it’s a lot harder than just judging them, and going about my day, but in many more ways, it’s extremely rewarding and interesting. And, as someone who does like to challenge myself, it is also a challenge to step outside of myself and do things that are hard for me. You type A-ers and extroverts out there might not quite understand, but that’s cool. You’ve got your own issues, I’m sure.
In any case, this challenge has turned out to be one well worth undertaking, which I’m starting to notice is a trend. I’ve still never seen an episode of 19 Kids and Counting, and I probably never will, but now I’ve got a story to tell. And for the first time in a while, my airplane ride wasn’t just a nuisance.
Guest post by Matt Huttner
The stage is set. We are at the Teen Choice Awards, which, if I remember my classics, Dante referred to as the 6th Layer of Hell, and Ashton Kutcher steps up to the plate to deliver what will undoubtedly be absolute drivel. This is the star of such cinematic gems as Dude, Where’s My Car? and My Boss’s Daughter, a man whose scene-chewing acting cannot stand up to the likes of Cameron Diaz and Katherine Heigl. He has just been handed a strangely appropriate giant surf board, and turns to address his adoring fans. The content of this speech should fall safely between ‘Woooo! ” and” Yeaaahhh!” What does he do?
He fucking KILLS it. His speech is insightful, structured, and important. He speaks with a passion and clarity rarely seen anywhere, let alone in D list celebs. He is self-deprecating and honest, and delivers a message that should and will inspire a generation of future leaders.
Now, I had heard that Ashton was branching out as a tech investor, but I assumed that was the typical vanity project of an overly-capitalized star. We no longer just have to contend with celebrities going after the acting-singing-modeling trifecta (see Murphy, Eddie and the seminal “My Girl Wants to Party All the Time”) but nowadays when Snoop Dogg runs a Pop Warner football team or Britney launches a new fragrance, no one bats an eye. These ventures are usually successful, but only in the way that things powered by unlimited money and global fame often are.
Ladies and gentlemen, this changes everything. If Ashton possesses this kind of talent, we need to move quickly. Let’s bring in Seann William Scott to hear his thoughts on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Do you think Gucci Mane is available for the next carbon offset summit? Hell, Dennis Rodman is already helping out with the North Korea situation.
What are the takeaways from Chris Ashton Kutcher’s breakout performance? First of all, although he summed it up far more eloquently than I will, the principles of his speech are worth repeating here: opportunity looks like hard work, smart is sexy, and build a life, don’t just live one. Really powerful stuff.
From a higher level, if you’ll indulge me in a conceit, I think this teaches all of us to ask the following question: what if Ashton Kutcher’s career up to this point, or any other inexplicable annoyance in our lives, is nothing more than akin to drinking a warm can of PBR beer? Hear me out.
Many of us, in our vulnerable early teenage years, are introduced to drinking via bargain-basement, terrible beer. And indeed, smuggled cans of Natty Ice furtively chugged in the back of Teddy Lee’s Subaru are just gross. Unless you can appreciate them as the first steps of a life-long journey; as a rite of passage that might lead to a rich, nuanced world of adult pleasure.
Going forward, when I encounter something obviously offensive (much like almost all of Kutcher’s movies), I’m going to pause for just a minute. What if this is heading somewhere? What if this actor, musician, artist, teacher, coworker, or parent has a deeper level, and all it will take is a few face-twisting swigs before I can get to it?
All of us are guilty of pigeonholing people, most of all ourselves. I’m not saying everything has a silver lining, and this is certainly not another tired plea for you to be nicer to that geek in high-school, because one day he will be a wealthy entrepreneur. Or to go ahead and rewatch the Fast and the Furious heptalogy to mine undiscovered genius. Spoiler alert; Paul Walker is a moron.
But it is a call to seek talent in unexpected places and keep an open mind. I for one am now examining my own life, and seeing where and how I can completely step out of the ways I have previously defined my personality, lifestyle, and career and surprise everyone in a positive way.
I recently graduated from business school. Like any good education, it teaches you more about what you DON’T know than what you do. Ultimately it’s merely enabled me to ask more interesting questions.
Now, more “interesting” is in the eye of the beholder, but just like learning a new language, education, especially one specializing in a certain field like business, gives you access to a new vocabulary. This new vocabulary in turn enables new ways to describe and interpolate the environment.
So in this vein I wanted to talk about my life’s “10K”.
A 10K in the business world is actually the filing that every public company must provide to the SEC (Securities Exchange Commission). It is, in a nutshell, everything an investor would supposedly need to know before buying or selling stock in the company.
If you’ve never read a 10-K, you should do it at least once. Aside from the detailed financials, they can be pretty fascinating reads. They will cover the company’s core businesses. How it performed this past year. What challenges/successes they had and what the leadership is planning to do about those challenges.
Pick a public company that you patronize (with money and/or sarcasm) and check it out. For instance, did you know that iPad and iPhone sales DWARF all Mac sales for Apple? About 5 times worth – at least in 2012. It will probably even be more drastic in 2013. Or that Coca-Cola shipped 27.7 Billion units of what amounts to mostly sugar-water around the world? Or that they have a coffee brand in Japan named Georgia, which I actually drank religiously, without knowing it was a Coke product, while I lived there. Also Kyle McLachlan gives it the David Lynch thumbs up, so it must be awesome.
A lot of the news articles you see posted about different companies’ health and outlook come directly from reading these annual (10-K) and quarterly (10-Q) reports. Often, so called “analysts” do nothing more than repeat what is said in the report with little to no insight. By no means am I suggesting that everyone divert time from their Game of Thrones episodes to read a dry, if interesting, 10-K. But, especially if you have any interest in investing, reading these reports will put you on par with many of the “experts” who try to sway you about a company’s relative health or seemingly imminent demise. It will also increase your BS-O-Meter when someone tries to impress you with their business or investment acumen. Don’t let them get away with it!
But I digress. I bring up the 10-K for 2 reasons.
The first is that after looking at these for awhile, I started to see how useful this process could be for my own life. Evaluating every year anew, acting like I’m going to have to JUSTIFY the time I spent to my shareholders (i.e. my co-workers, family, and friends) puts a lot more importance to the decisions I make throughout the year. A 10-K holds COMPANIES accountable for what they do throughout the year. A personal 10-K holds ME accountable for how I’ve lived my life. How am I going to feel if that report mostly involves Angry Birds, eating fast food, and watching worthless TV shows and movies? I’m not saying that doing any of those things is wrong or bad, but when I look at the things that I’ve actually accomplished that have had a real impact on the people in my life, those things may not be the best ways to spend my time.
This brings me to my second reason for bringing up the 10-K. It just so happens that I recently listened to the much lauded/criticized Malcom Gladwell book, Outliers. He brings up a somewhat controversial topic that after a certain “threshold”, the only difference between the “good” and “great” people in any field is practice. Specifically, at about 10,000 hours (or 10K) of practice is when he and a few other researchers start to see fantastic accomplishments emerge. He uses Bill Joy, one of the founders of the internet, Bill Gates, whom you probably know already, and even the Beatles to illustrate this point. Now, some of his evidence in the book is anecdotal and susceptible to interpretation and legitimate criticism, but I think Gladwell does a great job at taking common “truths” about the world and people and giving us a different perspective on how genius and greatness might actually work. He acknowledges that all these people are special, but he also wants us to ponder that timing, culture, and practice played an equally important role in their successes. Because they had developed a certain expertise before others, when opportunities presented themselves they were able to take advantage of them.
What I took from his book is not that 10,000 hours of focused practice is the Holy Grail number to become wildly successful, but that reaching for that expertise is a clear indication of you separating yourself from your peers. If his number is to believed, this breaks down to about 20 hours a week for about 10 years. Looking at life in this way is an interesting exercise and one I encourage you to try on, if just for the novelty of it.
For me it looked like this. 10K hours is a lot of time. There are only so many hours in a day and so many years in a lifetime. There is literally no TIME to learn them all. So I really have to CHOOSE. What do I want to be an expert at? What kind of opportunities do I want to be prepared for when they present themselves? My answers to these questions are not iron clad and still a little rough, but here they are anyway.
- I would like to be considered a “pro” by the USTA (US Tennis Association) – not because I want to compete in the US Open (but wouldn’t that be awesome?!) but because it’s a sport I love and I have some talent that I’ve never fully realized.
- I want to eventually become a writer (which outlets like this blog help give me the practice and feedback necessary to realize that goal)
- I want to position myself to capitalize on the next great paradigm shifts that will come to society through the dramatic changes wrought by technologies like AI, bio-engineering etc..
These are goals outside of being the best son, brother, husband, father and friend that I can be – all seemingly full-time jobs. However, it does start to focus the mind on what ultimately I find important and how little time there is to accomplish these things – especially without a plan. A life spent in pursuit of excellence is one well spent in my opinion. Now that I have another novel way to look at how to get there, I can schedule and figure out a way to make that happen. I may even schedule an annual report, of sorts, with all my stakeholders, so that they are as involved in my success as I am in theirs. I don’t see me succeeding any other way.
Here are some interesting reactions to Malcom Gladwell’s theory, including a bit from Tim Ferris, another fascinating person who has broken down how to learn just about anything – and may have something to say about that ridiculously high 10K number. Check him out too.
What are some great insights YOU have in navigating what you want out of life? What are your secrets? How are you going to spend your next 10,000 hours?
As a younger man, I was considerably more prone to philosophical waxing in my writing than I am now. Though it is often embarrassing (usually when I’m confronted with horrifically trite high school era poetry) every now and then I find something that surprises me with its competence. What follows is one such example. Though its linguistic pretension is occasionally unsubtle, I’ve always loved this piece. It says everything and nothing about a subject of little interest to me, but which at one time I felt was worthy of this small exploration: God.
Currently, I am standing on a ball of infinitesimal size, hurtling through a vast and empty blackness, seemingly without end. I am standing on this ball and trying, in vain as always, to feel that movement. Alas, I cannot. This does not stop me from standing, however, or walking, or sitting, as it were, all the while straining to feel that ineffable speed, awed by its scale.
Invariable I am confronted by a stranger perplexed or offended by my slack jawed mien. Whenever this happens I usually cease my sensory experiment and go about my daily routine which begins as follows: my first order of business is a visit to the bathroom to admire my haggard morning face, stretch, wash, et cetera, et cetera. When I am done with this, I commonly dress and begin my day in earnest.
This beginning to my day, as commonplace as it may seem, is anything but. Millions of cells working in concert are responsible for all of these actions. They die by the thousands with every move I make, and are born in just as great a number synchronously. They themselves operate by mechanisms with strange names like mitochondria or Golgi apparatus which in turn are composed of even smaller particles called atoms which are made up of electrons, protons and neutrons and so on and so forth. In all likelihood, these atoms and ribosomes and cells, sad to say, do not care about me. This has no a reflection on my own intrinsic worth; it is merely a function of the nature of such things. I don’t much care about them ether, small stupid things that they are. And if I die, they die. It is also true, however, that if they all die I also die; so in that respect we are on even footing.
Digression aside, my contemplation of size on a universal scale is obviously futile. I have neither the frame of reference, nor the synapse strength required to fathom such a thing. I continue to try. This is not out of a stubborn refusal to accept my limitations, nor is it an innate arrogance which drives me to attempt the impossible. No, this is something much simpler: an inability, of sorts, to relinquish the nuances of a concept once introduced to the idea. Perhaps relinquish is the wrong word since, technically, understanding of the nuances was never really mine, nor anyone else’s for that matter. A man who could envision the boundlessness of space in its entirety would likely be driven mad. His insanity would not come from the vastness of his vision, but from his impotent fury at being trapped on this speck of a world hurtling through the heavens. And at the same time, his presumed insanity would merely be a function of our limited viewpoints. As sanity and its opposite have always been functions of the prevalent perspective, this, unfortunately, would make him no less a lunatic. And yet, still there are those like I, staring upwards into the night, worshiping that awesome gyration, gleefully attempting to calculate those eons of light, and clawing recklessly towards that beckoning madness.
Cells in my shins and femurs, eyes and nose, arms and heart, live and die almost infinitely, perhaps dreaming of endoplasmic reticula and cells, of bones and tissues… of organs at a stretch.
If they can imagine those things, and dream them as they are, as I, in my personifying arrogance might imagine, then they have transcended the scale of my dreams by fathoms; but still, they have never dreamed of me.
Recently I became aware of some serious deficiencies in my life regarding coffee. Not too long ago I was satisfied with my coffee consumption as I thought I was doing things the right way: get the dark roast and drink it black. This made sense to me as I personally prefer both my coffee and tea dark and bitter (just as I like my women, hey-oh!). My coffee usually came in one of two methods: Mr Coffee brand drip machine at home or the “Big Nasty,” the huge percolator at work. On rare occasion I’d buy coffee at Starbucks, in which case I was that jackass that refused to get on with their absurd size-naming conventions and just flatly demanded “large coffee, black.”
Little did I know, everything I was doing was wrong.
Well, not everything, but I’ll get to that. What I want to do right now is share the four-plus years I spent achieving coffee enlightenment in order to save as many people from mediocre coffee as possible. This is not to say I am about to provide home barista-level instructions, just high-quality, simple, and very enjoyable coffee. Water, tea, and coffee (and alcohol, but that’s for a different post) are really the only purely liquid drinks (smoothies and such are again for a different post) worth consuming, so it only makes FYMP sense to do it right.
Let’s just get straight into it. First of all, doing coffee right does not mean making it overly complicated. Big, expensive, shiny machines with knobs and gauges are completely unnecessary in the making of good coffee, so do not go out and invest in one of them. There are only three simple pieces of equipment necessary: A kettle, a grinder, and a French press. Not only are these items simple, they are all multi-purpose (as in beyond coffee), can all be acquired for less than $100 total for some pretty high-end versions, and take up maybe 0.1 square meters (about a square foot for those Imperial holdouts) of counter space.
- The Kettle: I use a plug-in kettle that can boil water in a minute or two. These are super common throughout the world, but not so much in the USA. Many other cultures drink tea to an extent that a kettle like this is the only practical way to keep up, but even more locales need to boil their water every time simply for safety reasons. I live in China, so both.
- The Grinder: Mine is an oblong shaped Krups grinder. I like the oblong shape because a circular grinder tends to take longer to complete the grind. The oblong versions kick the beans back towards the blades and get the job done very quickly. This is important because spinning the blade for too long can actually scorch the grounds and screw up the flavor. Besides coffee, a good grinder can be used on a variety of spices, herbs, and other things I’m sure.
- The French Press: Sounds fancy, actually simple. It is nothing more than a vessel to mix the hot water and coffee, then filter the grounds from the coffee. Mine is so simple that I actually drink from it; I don’t even need an additional coffee mug (arguably the 4th and most versatile piece in this equation). I love my mug. A French press is super intuitive and easily available online or at any home store.
Now that the equipment is in place, here is the process. Again, the emphasis is on both quality and simplicity.
- Set the water to boil
- Put coffee beans in the grinder
- Put the grounds in the French press
- Pour the just-boiled water into the French press
- Put the French press filter into the press and press the plunger down
That’s it. It all takes about 5 minutes and will create some amazing coffee. Adjustments in the amount of grounds, water temp, and steeping time can be made to suit, so experiment with it. It will be seriously difficult to go back to Starbucks after drinking such homemade goodness. And it is cheap. I drink about three to four cups of black coffee just about every morning, so basically a “venti” at Starbucks. If this costs $3, in 3-4 months I have made back my initial investment, plus a bag of nice beans. Not that I am really hurting for cash or anything, but I would rather responsibly spend my money (as in not give it away to a hulking multinational that does not need it) and I can invest my coffee expenditure into something worthwhile, no matter where I live. Even further, I can better control my own coffee waste, i.e. no paper to-go cups, coffee grounds are composted (notice the lack of a disposable filter in the above method?), and a much lower energy expenditure as compared to the huge powerful machines used at any coffee shop, let alone a chain joint.
Chances are pretty good that if you make coffee at home, you have grounds or even whole beans in the freezer right now. You may as well finish them off as you would normally, but after that it is time to step up your game, starting with the beans. First, let’s start with selection. The biggest thing that shattered my world when it came to bean selection was learning that “Dark Roast” is actually terrible. This whole time, I thought that dark roast meant stronger, more flavorful –and even manlier – beans. Nope. Dark roasting is simply the way that a bean seller masks the low-quality of a bad bean by cooking the ever-living bejeebus out of it. It kind of works like steak in that some cooking is necessary, but the more it is roasted, the harder it becomes to distinguish quality (and the less quality matters). Light roasts are actually best as lightly roasting beans is a signal from the bean grower/seller that the bean can stand alone in its flavor thanks to its quality, not because it was torched. I became suspicious while drinking coffee in Cambodia – most SE Asian coffees are of a super-light roast yet have a huge flavor range. This led to further research, through which I learned that our affinity for “Dark Roast” is basically a conspiracy of American coffee companies passing off crappy coffee as something delicious and desirable. Damn corporations.
After finally buying some good beans, now you have to store them. First of all, if you have coffee in the freezer, GET IT OUT OF THERE AND NEVER DO THAT AGAIN. Phew, ok. Anyway, coffee is flavored by the oil in the beans. Have you ever put olive oil in the refrigerator? It turns solid. Cold environments cause oils to turn solid. Science. While you may not be able to actually see the coffee bean oils congeal in the freezer, you are basically rendering them inert and thereby flavorless or dull by storing them in there. Room temperature is your best bet; freezing coffee for freshness is a myth. Next, you are going to need a suitable container. The bag that they come in is usually fine if you are confident you can seal it well, but with recent information about the nastiness of certain metal and plastic storage containers, I just stick with a sealable glass jar. These things have worked for hundreds of years, so why fix what is not broken. Simple. Finally, keep it out of the sunlight. Again, this is because of the sanctity of coffee bean oils and how they can break down and turn rancid when exposed to sunlight. This applies to your olive oil too, take it off the window sill and just put it in a darker corner or in a cabinet.
This entire change in coffee lifestyle can be done in one day, is more financially and environmentally responsible, is super simple and easy, and most importantly, leads to some damn fine coffee. Delicious.
I did mention however that I wasn’t doing everything wrong, so what was I doing right? Well, it comes down to one thing: always bet on black. Coffee is HEALTHY. I will never understand the universal belief that caffeine is simply a bad drug, should be avoided, and those that consume it are “addicts.” I don’t want to go too far down this rabbit hole, but as with just about everything consumable in nature, it is healthy IF CONSUMED IN MODERATION. Simple as that. Caffeine is the world’s most common and most studied drug, but is a drug nonetheless and can be overdone. Again, in moderation caffeine is GOOD. Too much is BAD. Beyond caffeine, coffee is rich with antioxidants and all that other goodness. So yeah, coffee is healthy, duh.
Anyway, off my caffeine pedestal and back to black: coffee is healthy when it is not used as a vehicle for the absurd amounts of sugar that most “coffee” drinkers consume. It might not seem like much, but even adding a single packet of sugar adds up. Single packet = 4g of sugar carbs. 1g sugar carb = 4 calories. Therefore, 1 packet = 16 calories. If I go back to my own coffee consumption at 1 packet/cup of coffee, that’s an additional 64 calories a day from sugar in my coffee. In not quite two months, that leads to enough additional calorie intake to constitute a pound of fat. That’s six to seven pounds a year. Granted real life rarely reflects this kind of math directly, it is still an indicator of how significant a seemingly negligible lifestyle variable can affect the body. Now check out Starbucks’ nutrition facts and you’ll see drinks that many people consume on a daily basis that beat my math by over a magnitude of ten. That’s nuts.
My point is that while I may not have been drinking as good of coffee as possible, I at least was not consuming the sugar equivalent of a 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola each day. When termed as “2-litre bottle of Coca-Cola,” it sounds absurd, but that’s the math. Also, don’t forget that the rest of a person’s diet – especially an American’s – is already sugar-laden (with Coke!) so this is simply just a piece of the big fat puzzle. While there may be those additional antioxidant and caffeine benefits that Coke doesn’t have, that is still not a good excuse. Finally, don’t even think about “working it off.” Exercise plays a much smaller role in calorie burning than most people realize, so working off a sugar-heavy “coffee” is not really a thing, nor is “earning” one of these bad boys after a “solid workout.”
For some reason, it is just plain difficult for many people to accept just how bad coffee can be when turned into a sugar vehicle. Just drink it black. I understand that this may not suit many people’s tastes, but try it with good beans and the method described above. Maybe people just don’t like crappy coffee and actually do need to cover it up with dark roasts and pounds of sugar. That makes sense, but not getting fat or coming down with The ‘Beetus makes more sense. When coffee is made well and made with high-quality ingredients (something you should demand from EVERYTHING you consume), it can achieve a huge range of flavors that will suit just about anybody’s tastes. The worst thing anybody could do would be to make good coffee and then trash it with all of the extras. That would be like asking for a bottle of A-1 to help set off the flavor of a $35 steak at a professional chop-house. You may as well go back into the kitchen and slap the cook across the face (in the case of homemade coffee, you’d be the cook in this scenario…).
Just for fun, here is an interesting and super simple recipe for iced coffee at home:
- ¾ cup ground coffee
- 3 ½ cups cold water
- Put the coffee in a large container. Add the water and stir well. Let sit for 10+ hours (overnight)
- Credit goes to Thug Kitchen, you can find them on facebook
Enjoy your FYMP coffee!
Here are a few short intros to just a few of the films you can expect from Hollywood this summer. I know, the summer is half over already, but shut up. Don’t act like you’ve seen ALL the summer movies already. And there are plenty more coming out before it’s over. So you’re welcome.
Thor: The Dark World – Finally, the not-that-long awaited sequel to the beloved action movie whose plot you can’t remember. Wait, wasn’t it the one where… No, that was The Avengers. Thor and his enchanted hammer, Mjolnir, are back for another action-packed unmemorable extravaganza. Get ready to play “what was that movie about again” again!
This is the End – Get ready to get your yearly comedy fix for this quarter of the decade. Though plenty of comedy’s are produced, Hollywood is only allowed 1 (maximum) actually funny movie per year; this is it folks. Insider tip: best ending of any summer movie this season.
The Lone Ranger – Get ready for the return of the greatest action hero your parents ever told you about that one time. Along with trusty steed, Silver, and sidekick, newly racist Johnny Depp, the Ranger will do his best to remind you why he faded into obscurity. As you watch remember that someone thought this was a good idea.
Pacific Rim – Giant Robots, extra-dimensional monsters, Ron Perlman in gold wingtips, Pacific Rim’s got everything! Try to follow the action as earth’s poorly thought out last line of defense battles its greatest, poorly coordinated threat at night and in the rain. Switch your mind off and enjoy the ride.
Man of Steel – Watch Superman the way you never wanted to see him: dark and moody with an incoherent origin story. Watch as Superman develops his moral code entirely independent of any positive influences in his life, and then disregards it completely for the rest of the film. If you like near-genocidal super heroes and mind numbing action, this is the movie for you.
After Earth – Watch as Will Smith, marooned on a far-future Earth, learns the harsh lesson that there’s only one thing that can negate his star power: Jayden Smith.
World War Z – Zombies, Brad Pitt, that actress from The Killing; what’s not to like?
Now You See Me – Now you Don’t.
Kick Ass 2 – Watch the sequel to the inexplicably popular crapfest that was the first Kick Ass. Get your bad-taste violence, bad acting, and ridiculous story kicks for the summer all in one place courtesy of Mark Millar, the Michael Bay of comic books.
White House Down – A black/white buddy cop movie with a twist! The black one’s the president! Channing Tatum plays a Secret Service washout with a…. What? No one cares? Ok then…
2 Guns – A black/white buddy cop movie without a twist! Denzel and Marky Mark give us another derivative movie to round out the last 3 decades.
R.I.P.D. – Men in Black 4!
The Wolverine – Get ready for the sequel to the worst super hero movie of all time, and yes, that includes Spider-Man 3 and Green Lantern. Hugh Jackman suits up for another insultingly stupid, unforgivably poorly written and developed bag of garbage. Seriously, how do you mess up Wolverine?? Watch and see… again.
If you like your books uncompromising, with equal parts philosophy, imagination, wit, humor, sarcasm, epic battles, great characters, and gut punching drama, stop reading and buy/download these two books. If you need more convincing, read on.
Many authors have tried to do the anti-hero “thing”, Moorcock’s Elric saga (pic above) being one of the earliest and best-known genre examples. This is a character who is not your typical hero. He’s fallible, tragically flawed and with a moral code that often would leave you cringing. The movie Pitch Black did a decent job of this with its protagonist, Riddick.
Most authors fail. It is an inherently difficult thing to do. How do you create a character that is kindof an asshole – to other people, to objects, to Gods… to himself, but still be likeable/interesting enough that you want to go on the journey with him? It takes a good author to take a hero archetype and create a compelling story…. It takes a great one (or a good one free-basing some serious Muse) to take an anti-hero and elevate him till he resides in the hushed whispers of myth and legend.
Enter Caine. Caine is about as close to a force of nature that a human being can get without being an actual hurricane- with a sharp, intelligent, sarcastic wit that would fit perfectly on FYM Planet. He’s also an asshole (so again… he would fit in). More importantly he’s one of the most bad-ass characters I’ve ever read in fiction or seen on screen. Keep in mind that I don’t often use that term, but it’s appropriate here. This quality is not even mostly due to his lethality – which is more than potent, but more his state of mind. Caine is wracked by internal struggles buttressed by a fierce intelligence and personal code that propels him through these 2 novels like a boar shot out of a howitzer. Oh, he also spends much of Blade of Tyshalle in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic. And he’s still a bad-ass. Trust me.
But it’s not just the character, Matthew Stover creates worlds that are frightening but so fantastically interesting that you can’t help but want to live in them.
Blade of Tyshalle and Heroes Die are literally sci-fi/fantasy novels. There are actually two worlds. One, a future Earth that was so decimated by a virus that the entire planet’s culture, in recovery, became one dominated by corporations with a caste system built solely to protect those in influence and power. Caine grew up as a Laborer (the lowest caste) and in this crucible became hard and tough as graphene. It is a dark, cold, ruthless place that has many of the luxuries/advances that you’d imagine from future technology, but these predominantly only benefit the few at the expense of the many.
The other, called Overworld, with elves, dwarves, trolls, dragons and yes… humans -is a harsh/alien place. Elves aren’t Orlando Bloom with Vulcan ears. They are creepy ancient creatures who wield knowledge and magic that would give Gandalf pause. Humans are viewed on with fear/pity because of all Overworld’s races, only humans are fundamentally unaware of their connection with nature. The elves describe this phenomenon by saying humans “worship the Blind God”. This is a useful term I’ve actually used in the “real world” many times to describe the sometimes self-destructive nature humanity has to the universe around it.
Now I may have lost you at “sci-fi” AND “fantasy”, but hear me out. It’s possible, even likely, that many of you are Firefly/Serenity fans. If someone had come up to you and told you that there was this great TV show that was a sci-fi-western you would have politely/impolitely nodded and ignored that the conversation ever took place. If so, you would have been completely wrong.
It’s a similar phenomenon here. Science fiction and fantasy should not go together as a rule. It is just too much disbelief to suspend. However, Stover has done the impossible and weaved these two Worlds together in a way that makes sense and is thrilling. The supporting cast around Caine, from gods to girlfriends, all feel real and consistent with their own internal motivations and idiosyncrasies. He pokes fun/celebrates all the typical sci-fi/fantasy literary clichés while making them new and exciting.
I could go on and on, but I will conclude with why I recommend experiencing these two novels out of order. Some of you may have already checked and Heroes Die is actually the first book in the series. By starting with Blade of Tyshalle you start in the middle of the story, which could be a negative in any other series. It begins though with a middle-aged Caine, who is crippled and past his prime, reminiscing/suffering over old adventures and triumphs. When characters reverentially reference Ma-elKoth or the epic battle on Assumption Day, the reader is titillated by wondering what REALLY DID happen!? Caine’s injury was inflicted by his nemesis, Berne, wielding the great blade Kosall. Berne who is referenced as one of the most brutal and fierce opponents Caine ever faced doesn’t appear except as a stuffed mannequin in a museum of Caine’s past exploits.
Each one of these references piques your interest without being unsatisfying. Since Blade of Tyshalle is the more complex, nuanced, and ambitious novel, it is more rewarding and actually makes reading Heroes Die more enjoyable since you are finally reading the stories that were told like myths in the previous novel. Heroes Die, while still excellent, is a much more straightforward story and benefits from the depth of Blade of Tyshalle.
In short, these two books of fiction are hard to recommend highly enough. There are only a few caveats I will mention to those interested. If you have an aversion to awesome things, especially things that are fantasy/sci-fi or just an aversion to reading in general, then these books aren’t for you. That said, these stories are extremely violent. Unlike Mark Milar comics though, the violence usually isn’t an end unto itself. It’s usually to express revulsion or fear or a variety of things that have a purpose other than to be brutal or gruesome. If you are squeamish about descriptions of broken bones or extreme situations then avoid please.
If you’ve made it to the end of this recommendation, I hope you’re intrigued enough to check these novels out. When you do, leave a comment and/or message me, I’d love to talk about Hari and Kris’s unlikely friendship and their near-death experience at Acting school, one that harkens to Ender’s choices at Battle School.
If not, no worries, but I’ll leave you with some advice Duncan gives to his son, Caine. When things seem like they are at their worst, “keep your head down, and inch towards daylight.”
Dear [insert CGI driven movie title here],
I just watched Pacific Rim, and overall I enjoyed it. For all its flaws and illogic it was generally fun to watch and engaging enough to keep me interested the whole way through. However, despite my general enjoyment, Pacific Rim still fell into some of the same traps that so many of your contemporaries find themselves in. Because I like you, and because I want what’s best for you (and, yes, for me as well) I decided to write this letter.
I know that you are busy saving the world, exploring space, fighting evil, etc., so I’ll be as brief as possible to let you get back to that important work.
My first point has to do with light. We know that the alien invasions, monster attacks, epic battles, etc. wait for no man. However, for your audiences sake, please try to delay them by about 9 hours next time, giving the sun a chance to come up. We as humans do not share your ability to operate at peak efficiency night or day. As an unfortunate accident of evolution, our eyes are only made to function with 100% effectiveness in the light of day. For this reason, when your inevitable climax or mid-way battle takes place in the middle of the night or in a torrential downpour (or both, as we often see), we are often at a loss to appreciate the full magnificence of your victory over your opponents.
I understand, of course, that there are budgetary constraints with regards to the creation of special effects, and that nighttime and/or thunderstorm offers a protective fog that makes fooling the human eye easier without spending much more money on rendering. I also understand that your budget has to fill an hour and 45 minutes of a 2 hour movie with action in order to keep our goldfish attention spans engaged. But still, I propose a solution: instead of having 20 nighttime/rainstorm battles during your 2 hour run time, how about only having 15 battles overall?
Wait, just hear me out!
By having only 15 battles, the production funding which would have been spent on the other 5 is now available to augment your rendering of the remaining battles. In this way, we the audience can be spared the trouble of guessing what is happening during the majority of your action sequences. Yes, we understand that our hero or an enemy is now flying through the air. We assume he’s been struck or thrown. But we would love to actually KNOW.
My second point has to do with the stupid human brain. And I know this is not your problem; you have far greater concerns than what my simple ape brain can handle visually… defending the galaxy for instance. But I would still ask that you indulge me for a moment.
The simple fact is: my brain simply can’t handle all the visual debris that you throw at it.
When you start with a close up of a fist, then quickly switch to the face of a swiftly moving enemy darting past the camera, then zooming away (much faster than a human could ever move) before swiveling the point of view around, over, and under the two characters before the fist connects causing an explosion, my brain interprets one thing maybe: fist?
(get any of that?)
I need a few things from you, if you decide can help me out with this. 1) I’m gonna need you to slow it down. Not everything has to be in slow motion, but it absolutely cannot be in super-fast motion. Movies are a visual medium as I know you are well aware, and if I’m not able to actually see what is going on, it defeats the entire purpose. The IMPRESSION that something cool and epic may have just occurred is not enough. I need to know.
And 2) we get it, you are very good at realistically rendering debris. Thanks you. But now, we would like some more emphasis put on the characters themselves than on the destruction they create collaterally. Some of that is excellent, certainly. But when explosions, falling buildings, and shrapnel are actively obscuring our battling dynamos, whoever they may be, well then we have derailed.
I’d really like for us to be able to work together on this one. I think there is a lot of growth potential, and profit in it for both of us. I get a better viewing experience, and you get the satisfaction of a job well done. I know you’re capable of doing this, because you’ve done it in the past with great success. Let’s learn from our triumphs, [special effects driven film], and save the world together.
How the Best Zombie Movie of the Last Decade Could be a Video Game
Guest post by Ryan Ring
There is hope in video games, and I have seen it in one of the most bleak and hopeless places imaginable; no, not Detroit, but rather post-Apocalyptic America as depicted in The Last of Us. A lot has been made of the increasing status of video games as a form of entertainment, and even a form of artistic expression (though I would argue there has been “Art” in video games since, in 1983, Shigeru Miyamoto introduced the most famous Italian brothers this side of the Corleones). However, despite this tantalizing tagline, few games have really been able to transcend the limitations of their platform, and gaming culture in general, to deliver something that is truly culturally significant from a storytelling perspective. In fact, those games that have broke into the cultural consciousness have done so for purely superficial reasons (extreme violence, new technology, commercial success, etc.) instead of for their artistic viability. That is, until now.
There are already innumerable articles on the merits of The Last of Us as a game, and it is a great game, but my intent here is to focus on the merits of its story rather than its gameplay, and what it could mean for video games as cinema. Now, I fall in the camp of people who don’t believe spoilers ruin a viewing/reading/playing experience, but before I go on, I should mention it will be difficult to discuss this game without divulging some of the critical plot points and events in the game, so you should assume from this point forward there will be some spoilers, though I will attempt to limit their impact.
For those of you unfamiliar with The Last of Us, the story is roughly a mix of Children of Men, The Road, and 28 Days Later (if that doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what will). The story takes place after the fall of civilization to a progressive fungal infection that causes hyper-aggression in the host, and the declaration of martial law in what few American cities are left standing. The player assumes the role of Joel, a grizzled Texan smuggler in the Boston Quarantine Zone, who has never quite recovered from the untimely demise of his teenage daughter 20 years earlier at the hands of a conflicted soldier (witnessed in the gut-wrenching opening scenes of the game). Through a confluence of circumstances, Joel and his smuggling partner Tess are entrusted by the leader of the “Firefly” rebellion group to transport a young QZ inhabitant, Ellie, to safety. As it would turn out, Ellie is immune to the fungal infection plaguing mankind and represents humanity’s sole hope for vaccination. As one would expect, things go awry, the Fireflies fail to make the meet, Tess dies, and Joel is left trying to figure out what to do with this girl he never wanted to be responsible for in the first place.
This all sounds dangerously cliché, but the game navigates banality surprisingly well by skirting overt analogies between Ellie and Joel’s deceased daughter and playing on Joel’s role as something of an anti-hero in what winds up being one of the most expansive and rewarding post-Apocalyptic stories in recent memory. As such, The Last of Us has shown the potential for the video game medium to provide a viable alternative to big-box Hollywood and all it’s trappings. One of the major limitations encountered in most video games is the shoddy voice acting, and the seeming disregard for a coherent story. Some games even pride themselves on the ability for the gamer to determine the outcome of the plot through multiple endings. Not so for The Last of Us on both accounts. The voice acting for the main roles is impeccable and the script is subtle and smart. The cinema isn’t limited to cinematic “cut scenes” either, but is sometimes delivered through in-game conversations and cinematic sequences. The story is also surprisingly tight, and the inherent length of an epic game like this (anywhere between 12 – 15 hours) allows the writers to fully flesh out the slow progression of the relationship between Joel and Ellie in a realistic and complex way. The dynamics of that relationship are elegantly mirrored by juxtaposition within the mise-en-scene. As Joel and Ellie traverse ruined America, they don’t only encounter toddler-size corpses, hanged military officials, anthropophagist butcheries, and other grim scenes, but also settings of sublime beauty like when Ellie stalks a wounded buck through a snow covered wood. The mood is further accentuated by a superb and understated score by Gustavo Alfredo Santaolalla (Babel, Brokeback Mountain). It’s apparent the importance of atmospheric details was not lost on the game’s creators.
This brings me to the central question: What does The Last of Us mean for the viability of video games as an alternative storytelling medium? As with anything, there are positives and negatives. A significant problem of course is not everyone has the equipment or the time to play, let alone beat, an epic game like this. Similarly, the narrative is necessarily spasmodic. A game must still be a game, after all, and you can hardly avoid the narratively superfluous tutorials, combat sequences, and puzzles present in most games. In addition, any non-playing spectators would probably be bored to death as my character stumbled through dead ends looking for loot or sat still for five minutes trying to stealthily kill an unsuspecting marauder.
However, despite these drawbacks, there are notable advantages to this platform as well. Video games, while still subject to some Hollywood-style commercial considerations, seem to suffer from fewer limitations when it comes to subject matter and commercial appeal, at least in terms of story. In the case of The Last of Us, the content is extremely challenging and at times downright disturbing. In one scene, the player assumes control of Ellie in a situation where one false step (literally) can lead to her nearly being chopped in half with a machete in a gruesome death sequence. The game uses this unsparing brutality as tastefully as possible and as a measure to demonstrate the stakes at play at any given time. The player cannot be certain that either Joel or Ellie will make it to the end of the game, and even if they do, you’ll probably have to witness them perish in any number of ways before you get there. As such, games in general can offer a level of suspense and uncertainty most conventional films fail to match. Moreover, the plot of The Last of Us itself resolves in a morally ambiguous way that I find it hard to believe would ever make it through the major motion picture studio screening process.
This is not to say that I believe video games will come to replace movies as visual media, and the realm of games is certainly no stranger to unending reams of sequels and unoriginal properties. Yet perhaps works like The Last of Us will be the vanguard of a new generation of video games with artistic sensibilities, a refuge for those of us craving original thought, creative storytelling, and ultimately inspiration. Of course, The Last of Us also teaches us that hope can kill, so until the day the industry regularly releases games of this caliber we will just have to “endure and survive.”
When I was 21 years old I realized something about myself: I didn’t have what it took to keep a journal. Not the traditional kind of journal, anyway: the kind where most nights you open it up and write something about your day and your state of mind. I had tried before, and failed. I might write an entry or 3 over the course of a few weeks and then never pick it up again; ultimately, the perceived drudgery of most of my days (at that age) kept me from writing daily. Even now, when my life is much more interesting than it was then, I still can’t imagine having something worthwhile to write every day, or even most days.
And this is from someone who loves to write.
I did however want a log for posterity of what I was doing at that time in my life. I wanted to have something to look back on that would tell me what and how I was thinking so that I could compare and contrast. I wanted to know if I was changing.
So I invented the airplane journal. One thing I knew for certain, even then, was that I wanted to travel. A lot. I had traveled some up until that age, mostly in the United States, but also to the Caribbean a few times. And to me, at that age, those were the memories I cherished most. I associated travel with freedom and escape, two things I felt eluded me at the time. I’m glad now for that largely illusory powerlessness because it led to the creation of the airplane journal.
My Airplane Journal is a marble notebook that I take with me whenever I take a trip. I’m a fan of arbitrary rules, so for me the rules are: I can only write in airplanes, and only when the plane is off the ground. And I HAVE to write every time I fly.
I started off writing mostly rhapsodically about life and the world, but as I got older I began to write entries as letters to myself. I fill my future self in on the events that have taken place since my last trip, and also talk about where I’m going, both literally and metaphorically. Every entry is dated and tagged with both my destination and my departure point (ex: 11/9/2010 PEK –> SFO). I’ve been doing it for over 10 years now. I have over 60 entries now and have almost filled two books.
Anyone who has ever successfully kept a long term journal can attest to the feeling that comes from being able to take a glimpse into your own past. There is a catharsis in reading about the concerns of yesteryear and realizing how far you’ve come (and, occasionally, how little has changed).
Now, not everyone travels very often nor even has the desire to. In that case an airplane journal might not be the most suitable undertaking. However, a conditional journal, tied to a life activity which is relatively frequent and enjoyable, makes the process of keeping a log much easier and also gives you more bang for your buck. It’s easier to go back and review as it covers longer stretches of time, and it is linked to those milestone moments in life that are the most important to you.
Sometimes I go back through my journal and it’s like reading the words of some other person. I barely remember where I was living 8 years ago, much less what the most pressing concerns in my life were at that point. My airplane journal catches me up on who I was and also reminds me who I am.
Two noteworthy revelations have come from reading back through my airplane journals. 1) My handwriting is getting much, much worse; damn you digital age. And 2) on a whole I’m much more content than I used to be.
It’s nice to know that some things do change.
It seems we have had a deluge of intelligence scandals over the past few years, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden currently being the most dramatic and visible. For those of you who actively don’t pay attention to these things, Private Manning dumped hundreds of thousands of pieces of classified and sensitive material to the website Wikileaks in 2011. Wikileaks then disseminated most of this material, much of it showing the inner-workings of international diplomacy between the US and other nations. The most disturbing images were from a video of a US attack helicopter that mistook some journalists for enemy combatants, with deadly results.
I worked in Air Force intelligence and it attracts an extremely smart if sometimes very eccentric bunch of individuals. From people who rarely showered and probably had Aspergers to the Wiccans and serial LARPers. I even went to training with 2 people who eventually had gender reassignment surgery. This is not laying judgement. I will probably never work in such a diverse environment of people again – and it’s one of the things I miss the most about my service in the military. All of this is to say that the nature of intelligence work needs people who naturally think outside of the norm. Good analysts require this trait if they are to put together a cohesive picture of what his happening in the world from many disparate pieces of evidence. This same trait however often does not conform with the military mantra of conformity and “shut up and color” that is used throughout the regime.
My initial, non-professional, assessment of Bradley Manning is that he is a troubled individual. Gender identity issues aside, Manning was a young man whose father wanted him to have some direction and suggested he join the Army. It was not a good fit. Manning’s blanket military clearance gave him far more than his “need-to-know” would warrant. Combine this with Manning’s depression and dissatisfaction with the way the Army was running the war and this opens up the proverbial can-o-worms.
Recently Edward Snowden, a Booze-Allen-Hamilton contractor, leaked the existence of disturbing NSA and British programs (PRISM and Tempora) that targeted US and internation citizens’ private data. Many of us in the public are at least semi-aware of how the era “Big Data” is changing the face of business and consumers. Increasingly, companies value our personal data over actual transactions. Lov’em or hat’em but that’s why we have so many “free” online services and games. We tacitly or explicitly (when we don’t read the terms of agreement) agree to share more private information about ourselves than any populace in history. And largely, we are ok with this.
I think this is because the imperfect understanding is that most of this information is being driven by capitalism and so, we believe, it is being used to better market products to us. Many of us, myself included, have decided this is an annoying, but ultimately bearable sacrifice for the power and convenience of having access to software and data at little to no outright expense. The integration of gmail/google calendar and other services, especially with mobile, has literally changed how I manage my busy schedule.
However all of this data collection and sharing has an extra, more insidious, cost when the government gets involved. Since 9/11, the government has understandably been at war trying to prevent another attack on US soil. No one would argue that we should not do everything possible to try to stave off such attacks, especially if these attacks involve weapons of mass destruction.
However, in a country like the US, which supposedly values freedom and right to privacy, programs that violate both of these values should always be vigorously debated and be transparent. Having secret courts approve blanket warrants to gather US citizens cell-phone/email data (just some of what the NSA programs do) is NOT consistent with our values as a country.
I don’t know how much material damage Bradley Manning’s leak had on National Security, a term so general that it could mean basically anything. It no doubt had an effect politically, domestically and internationally. This will affect policy in the future, but it is unclear how that future might have been different if the leaks had not taken place. I hope it did not lead to any deaths or captures of people in sensitive positions around the world, but we may never know if that is the case anyway. In the Snowden case, still unfolding, I am glad that his leak is causing a national dialogue about this issue of privacy/security. It is one thing if the people approve of certain measures to safeguard their privacy and quite another when we have to rely on the assurance from politicians that they are not abusing their authority.
But all this is leading to a larger point and one I am more qualified to answer. I don’t think Manning and Snowden are traitors. Some do. But I don’t think either of these individuals consciously betrayed their country. They were misguided, especially in Manning’s case and they both should probably go to jail since they knowingly and dramatically broke their agreements of secrecy. Snowden, who is a more educated individual seemed initially to be more methodical in his leaking, but his subsequent country hopping, from Hong Kong to Russia has called both his intelligence and judgement into question in my mind. But demonizing them as traitorous spies is a distraction from the real issue.
The rash of leaks has shown that there is a problem in the intelligence infrastructure itself that such low level analysts and technical contractors can do such broad and widespread damage to the system. The government bears equal responsibility and culpability in the types of leaks that have occurred. How could the government allow a low level analyst, with no higher education/training/experience to put any of these pieces of information in a context that would matter, to have access to such a broad swath of very sensitive knowledge. Bradley Manning, while probably entitled to at least a SECRET level clearance, should NEVER had access to 90% ( a made up percentage admittedly ) or more of what he leaked. Most (diplomatic cables? Really? ) had little to no bearing on his job. His clearance merely gave him blanket access to whole networks of data that have no way to handle “need-to-know” permission. This is a problem with EVERY person granted a clearance, nearly everyone in the military and many contractors.
Need-to-know has become a joke in practice that only the most secretive of programs can stand muster. Combine this with the already prevelant bias to OVER classify every document that passes through intelligence hands and classification itself has lost all meaning. The government, by trying to protect every possible secret has given birth to a system that is chaotic and too unwieldy to manage. Snowden and Manning are inevitable products of a broken system that needs to change.
What fundamentally needs to change is this: The government should embrace leaks. Yes. I said it. In the government’s hasty knee-jerk response to demonize and prosecute Manning and Snowden they have only exacerbated and distracted from the real problem – the system itself. The government has created an atmosphere of distrust and fear. This is what led Snowden to flee the states and into the hands of our enemies – whether intentionally or not. What has followed is a diplomatic/intelligence nightmare of epic proportions. Snowden will forever be a criminal and a pawn of foreign governments to use as shield against the US.
But what if the system encouraged leaking? Controlled leaking, I mean. Why shouldn’t the military and intelligence infrastructure actually encourage its members to question and have their concerns addressed? How else, in a democracy, should this system work? While not easy to implement and understandably a culture shift from the current paradigm, it would allow concerned parties, who normally would not go to such extreme measures, an avenue to address their concerns in a private and controlled way. Is it really better that Ed Snowden thought it was better to secretly obtain information about these programs and flee the country into hands unknown? Unless he really was a spy, this is a case that the government needs to make sure never happens again. It is hard enough to guard against ACTUAL spies.
The second part of this solution is to fix the classification system. This will be a MASSIVE undertaking, likely involving billions of documents and trillions of pieces of data. But even if it is just a NEW policy and only affects NEW information, it will be well worth the investment.
Ultimately, Snowden and Manning are most likely well-intentioned individuals with various levels of bad judgement. Don’t let that distract from the issue of the very real problem of the government and how it treats its people and its secrets. In the conversations we have in the future about foreign/domestic policy, let’s not forget about the system that allow these leaks to happen in the most injurious manner possible. Let’s create a system that is transparent except for the secrets that must be kept. It will be much more manageable and we will have to rely much less on the goodwill and questionable smarts of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden.
So I’ve been bashing a lot of shows lately, and I feel like I should switch gears a bit to talk about why I do it. Refocusing on the FYMPlanet mission is probably in order here: the goal is not just to slam mediocre shows or to try to shame people into not watching their favorite guilty pleasure. Far from it. You’ll notice that I personally watch all of the shows that I criticize for their lack of impact. I’m not against the shows I trash here, I simply don’t think they work and I do my best to outline why.
At the end of the day, what I really want is for the mediocre and bad shows that people watch to be a backup option rather than the go-to. I also want people to be able to recognize the flaws in the shows they watch. That’s not to say this will cause them not to watch it anymore; it won’t. But it will dissipate the shared delusion that popularity and profundity are the same things.
I think that understanding the fundamentals of storytelling and the elements that go into good TV is important.
Not for some arbitrary aesthetic reason, but because the more people recognize mediocrity in all its various forms, the more they will seek out things that are better. In the long run, this may lead to better programming overall as studios realize that the drivel that has been successful in the past is no longer making the cut. We’re not there yet, but TV is definitely producing more worthwhile content than ever before. Is that simply because it’s producing more content period, and that percentage-wise the number of “good” shows is staying the same? I don’t know, but what if all of the mediocre shows could be tweaked so they were BETTER?
Wouldn’t it be great if someone made a show like Dexter with dynamic characters and good acting? What if The Walking Dead featured an engaging storyline and quit treating its characters like cardboard cutouts.
I want to watch THOSE shows. I want to watch shows like AMC’s The Killing which pulls no punches as it draws you in and breaks your heart. Or shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer that took a campy comedic premise and turned it into something amazing and unexpected.
Years from now, you’ll remember that Dexter was a show about a serial killer killing serial killers and that The Walking Dead was about zombies, but you’ll remember the details of Tony Sopranos dreams. You’ll remember Stringer Bell’s hubris and Omar Little’s code. You’ll remember every step of Walter White’s descent. You’ll remember the minutiae of those characters because they lived for you in a way that the one dimensional Dexter Morgan or Rick Grimes never will.
It can’t be a bad thing to want all of your TV to be that good, can it?
So yeah, I trash mediocre shows from time to time, but only in the service of the idea that there’s better out there and availing yourself of it will not only please your palate but evolve it. If our tastes continue to develop then our media will follow suit. I admit that it would be a dangerous world were all shows good. I doubt I’d get much done. But good or bad, I don’t want to settle for less.
I don’t know about you, but I want my FYMTV.
(For reviews, recommendations, and more check out the FYMP Podcast!)
Dexter, since its 2006 inception, has been breaking Showtime records and entertaining millions of underdeveloped minds with its anticlimactic progression and willfully stagnant main character.
Let’s explore some of the elements that make this show not worth your time.
First off, the show is plagued by bad acting. Though the worst acting I’ve ever seen on television was displayed by Erik King, who played James Doakes in seasons 1 & 2, since his timely on-screen demise other “actors” like Desmond Harrington (Quinn), Lauren Vélez (LaGuerta), Jennifer Carpenter (Debra Morgan), and pretty much everyone else in the show continue to plumb the depths of non-acting and have established themselves as accomplished hacks in their own right. Watching them stumble through their scenes is hard enough without taking into consideration things like character development, which is entirely absent. It’s like the show’s writers thought character development was something you only had to do BEFORE the show starts. 7 seasons in and no noticeable change in anyone.
Michael C. Hall, who actually has it in him to be a decent actor (though not a consistent one by any means), doesn’t really have the chance to do anything outstanding since any emotion Dexter is “able” to express is painstakingly described in dull monologues rather than displayed.
Which brings me to Dexter himself. From the very first season, which consisted mostly of monologues by Dexter describing how dead he is inside, we are constantly bombarded with instances during which this claim is resoundingly refuted.
Pretty much every quirk Dexter displays (aside from his murders) could be attributed to a mentally competent, non-psychopathic, socially awkward teenage boy. Dexter’s personality defect really boils down to simple immaturity… with a side of homicidal tendencies.
Still, we are meant to buy into Dexter’s dishonest self-description even though almost all evidence stands to the contrary. In fact, the only time that Dexter’s supposed universal apathy really seems apparent is when he’s confronted with the pleas of his victims. Every other circumstance seems to elicit an actual emotion, and more often than not it’s something that a normal human could empathize with. So there goes the myth of Dexter’s detachment and social alienation.
In light of that, Dexter’s inability to change is inexplicable. If he were a real person, Dexter’s refusal to change despite devastating life changing occurrences would be frustrating and confounding. Fortunately, we don’t need to wrestle with this paradox; it’s wholly attributable to bad writing. Dexter’s wife Rita, who we know he has developed real feelings for, dies; and yet, instead of the show making an interesting and desperately needed paradigm shift where Dexter has to deal with that event and his guilt over it, the next season begins with Dexter back on the job like nothing ever happened. Not because Dexter is dead inside – we know he’s not – but because of the writers’ inability or unwillingness to follow up on a decent plot twist. Way to go guys.
Additionally, as the seasons go by, one of the most interesting parts of the mediocre show, Dexter’s kidnapping/murders of other serial killers, happen less and less frequently, and usually become just another excuse for the main character to monologue and soul search at the viewer’s expense. Dexter’s angsty pseudo-apathy was disingenuous in season one; now, approaching season 8, it’s positively farcical.
The show consistently fails to have an impact one way or the other. After having watched the entire series to date (don’t ask why, just be glad I did so I can tell you why not to), I can only single out a few episodes that I would consider “well done.” The show is a fluff series that avoids true introspection at any cost while still trying to keep the audience engaged and stimulated… not an approach that traditionally yields quality results.
The moral ambiguity inherent to vigilantism, and particularly Dexter’s unique brand of serial murder, is never more than perfunctorily explored. The side stories of the rest of the cast which frequently pop up so that the show can pretend to be multi-faceted are largely uninteresting and underdeveloped. The “Big Bad” foe of Dexter that has come to characterize each season of the show is usually overwrought and underwhelming. The whole thing is a mediocre mess.
So, season 8 is coming in a few weeks, and mercifully it’s the last season. Let’s see how the writers decide to limp their way across the finish line. I’m just glad it’s over; this show has been my Dark Passenger for far too long.
So you can’t have a summer without a disaster movie. The warmer months drive Hollywood a little mad and are littered with cinema fodder that rain down like the asteroids and comets caused by aliens/gods/global warming and whatever other swords of Damocles hang over humanity’s head. All of them are horrible. Yes, including Armageddon though you can enjoy it anyway (leave your comments down below fanboys!). It is just too hard to make a disaster movie that doesn’t become so ridiculous or unwieldy that it won’t collapse under its own weight. Too many characters or CG destruction is often counterproductive to the actual storytelling and it’s anathema to an audience’s enjoyment.
World War Z is less a zombie movie and more a disaster movie. Its infection storyline owes more to H1N1 and movies like Outbreak than to George Romero. To be honest, I’m getting a little sick of zombie movies. It’ll be one of those phases in Hollywood (along with superhero movies <gasp!>) that will be remembered with mostly a bemused fondness and a shaking of the head. “How did they get to be so popular and mainstream?” The recent “Warm Bodies” proves that we are trying to squeeze every last demographic out of this phase before it ends…. hopefully soon. However, that movie, along with most others is forgettable and a waste of time. If you are going to immerse yourself in zombie mythology, there are a few things you should check out before you go slumming with the dregs of the undead silver screen unprotected.
These are in no particular order:
- 28 Days Later (not weeks)
- Shaun of the Dead
- The Walking Dead (the comic not the tv show. See fellow FYMPer review here)
Each of these takes a different perspective of the zombie phenomenon, from ground level apocalypse story to a tongue-in-cheek critique on modern society. What is missing from this list a great high-level zombie apocalypse story – enter World War Z.
Wait. Didn’t I just say WWZ isn’t a zombie movie? Nope. No, I didn’t. Read again. It IS MORE a disaster movie, but there are literally BILLIONS of zombies in it – so it’s a zombie flick. Despite all the rumors of rewrites, internal fights, and giant cost overruns that would be great justification for a disaster-documentary, WWZ pulls together a tightly woven, produced and edited movie that fills out that last piece of the zombie movie pantheon. It is tightly written and quickly paced. At just under 2 hours, Brad Pitt visits 4 continents and an aircraft carrier (actually it looks more like an amphibious assault ship but most people don’t know the difference) and possibly saves the human race. The producers make efficient use of on-screen time, developing characters/scenes/locations with just enough to make you believe what is happening and thrust you to the next plot point. In other films, this is done poorly and keeps you from playing along with the story, but they do an excellent job here. Instead of managing 4/5 different characters, they have us journey with Brad Pitt (still ridiculously charming and good looking) ,the uncommon man, from infection-resolution. This mostly works and is probably the only way to do a movie of this scope without it becoming a 3 hour endurance contest. I’ll look forward to the extra content/extended scenes in the DVD at home. In theatres, movies over 2 hours long try my patience.
As with most movies, it isn’t perfect of course. While there are actually a number of great scenes and even pleasant surprises/shocks, the movie plotline isn’t overly creative. It doesn’t hoe new ground with the disaster movie formula. Where it makes up for this is in the strength of each scene in each locale which serve their purpose and then the movie drops them and moves on. It doesn’t dwell, linger, or brood too much, which I appreciated. It follows a fairly sound logic with how different people and authorities act with a couple of silly exceptions. Forgivable cinema-luck (we just crash landed right where we needed to be!) and other events work in the guise of how limiting a 2-hour movie is for a storyteller. The final criticism here is how underutilized Mireille Enos is, who plays Pitt’s wife. If her work in “the Killing” proves anything, it’s that women characters can have extraordinary depth and intelligence. While there may be more of her story on the editing room floor and Enos does instill her with a visceral reality a lesser actress couldn’t, her character is mostly relegated to the powerless spouse, waiting for word from her world-saving husband. Too bad.
The production is excellent. What could have been a gore-fest, and some will lament its absence, becomes mostly a tasteful cutaway affair, with events meant to be more disturbing than the violence. It is also probably one of the best edited movies I’ve ever seen. There is little excess baggage in any scene and the movie is better for it – if only to spare you too much time to ponder some of the less believable moments in the film. There are quite a few memorable characters (a mostly mute but bad ass Israeli female soldier for one). Brad Pitt does an admirable job carrying the entire movie on his magazine wrapped forearms.
So will this be a FYMP classic? It is too soon to tell. It isn’t overwhelmingly original or thought provoking, but it does enough things really well to make it one of my favorite disaster movies. There are better, smaller, more intimate plague/zombie stories that can be told, but in the realm of end-of-the-world productions, WWZ is mostly in an undead league of its own. Let me know what you think.
Seriously. Paleo is stupid, quit talking about it. Quit “being Paleo,” whatever the hell that means anyway; quite making “Paleo brownies” and quit getting sucked into the ever-stranger world of Paleo. Am I supposed to be capitalizing that word, “Paleo?” What’s the standard convention? You know what, I don’t even care. Paleo is not worth the extra effort to utilize the Shift key (except at the beginning of a sentence…not much I can do there).
For the uninitiated, here’s a quick rundown of what it means to be paleo. “Being paleo” can refer to people or food, the former of which is one who eats the latter. It is a recent craze in diet wherein a person limits their diet to the items that would have been most likely (read: perceived to have been most likely; more on that later) consumed by our Paleolithic forbearers. The reasoning behind this limit is that, in the past, humans thrived and did not suffer from many of our modern illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. There are some critics that like to cite abysmal life expectancy rates from earlier time periods as evidence that being “paleo” might not have been all it was cracked up to be. However, the paleo faithful are quick to point out how infant mortality rates and the lack of intensive care for acute injuries skew those life expectancy rates from long ago – a rebuttal with which I agree. There is plenty of solid paleontology research that shows that if a person made it through their teenage years and didn’t get mauled by a tiger or otherwise suffer a nasty case of nature attack, they were likely going to lead a long and healthy life. And have sick abs.
The idea of shedding industrial food from our diets in order to achieve better health is a great idea. An amazing idea in fact. Quite frankly, I do not understand why or even how there is a debate in regards to the negative impact of modern industrial food on our health. Jamming tons of unrecognizable chemicals and poor quality nourishment down our maws is a two-fold, guarantee for poor health through “tons” and “unrecognizable chemicals and poor quality nourishment.” So, trying to reverse the damage that we’ve done to our food since the industrial revolution is good and is what paleo dieting hopes to achieve.
A great goal. However, past that is where paleo starts to suck. And by suck, I mean to suck people into its universe of fads, expensive labels and detrimental elitism. In fact, the paleo diet was labeled as ” founded more on privilege than on logic” by Ferris Jabrd in Scientific American. Jabrd, like me and several other “rogue” analysts, see some pretty serious fundamental flaws that prevent paleo from achieving in reality the lofty promises that it makes. Likely the most critically bad aspect of paleo is the idea of Grok. Jabrd does an excellent job of dismantling Grok, so I’ll just summarize briefly as the paleo crowd has an overly particular and unrealistic of who Grok is and what he ate. Basically, the idea of coming up with a “paleo diet” is absurd because there is no such singular diet:
Paleolithic diets around the world as much as their environments as can be plainly seen in the infographic above. However, paleo dieters seem to have a never ending list of ideas as to what rules apply to paleo. Obviously there are certain universalities, for example, despite all my research I still have yet to find an even pre-industrial, let alone Paleolithic society that had Froot Loops on the menu. But oh how the arguments over which nuts or beans or yoghurt or whateverthehell they’re debating that day get intense. In fact, let me share my favorite paleo story:
In February 2013, I was lucky enough to train with Vic Verdier on a MovNat retreat in Thailand for a week. It was awesome and I’ll be sure to put my review up soon, but for now, let’s focus on the food. Vic promised us three copious paleo meals a day and he wasn’t kidding, the food was great. I was intrigued since I had never given any serious effort to paleo yet I had heard good things. On morning two I believe, after I had finished a huge salad, about a dozen over-easy eggs and probably half my body weight in bacon, I figured I’d top it off with a bowl of fruit with yoghurt. And then it got real. When I returned to the table with my bowl, a pretty intense inquisition began over whether or not I was breaking a paleo rule of some sort. I mostly kept quiet and simply admitted to the fact that I had no idea what I was doing.
After a few days, I had learned quite a bit about paleo and I came to a conclusion: Who gives a shit.
All that effort and stress just to eat healthy? I feel like that is kind of defeating the purpose. It’s really difficult to counter the argument that there is no such thing as a specific “paleo diet” and selecting or even combining multiple paleo diets from generations gone by is a fool’s errand. First, we have to way to conclusively know everything about any ancient diet, we can only know bits and pieces. Second, to simply write off any dietary habits or measures between today and the Paleolithic era is also to simply write off the amazing capability of the human body to adapt. We are undoubtedly the most adaptable creature on the planet. Seriously, I think only the cockroaches could compare…though I have to wonder what that parallel draws…
Again, here is another argument that is nothing new to the paleo faithful: genetic changes in some Northern European people have allowed them to process dairy well into adulthood as opposed to losing it in young childhood like most of the rest of the world. I’m sure the pro-paleo community has plenty of evidence and arguments to deal with this silver bullet, but the take away is ultimately that things are more complicated than most would like to believe – is lactose intolerance not possibly the most well-studied subject in the science of human digestion and we only just know figured out the whole Northern European thing? We have a long way to go.
It would be too easy (and too typical) to assume the paleo argument to be complete at this point as the paleo community has one last and very important contribution. Usually at this point, paleo’s finishing move is to implore that people simply remove as much industrial food and other non-paleo items from the diet as possible and then slowly reintroduce the natural items and see how it impacts the individual body. Basically, ditch the HFCS and legumes, but bring the legumes back if you want – under the auspices of close examination of its effects, if any. This, again, is a good thing. Paleo does have good things, but it is still for chumps.
This last positive aspect, the analysis part, is great but “being paleo” in order to accomplish that analysis becomes a contradiction and sets up the modern paleo dieter for some serious heartache and chump status. One thing that can be agreed upon in regards to paleo is that it is a label. No matter how you define it or how nebulous it ultimately is, it is still a label. By “being paleo,” an individual has in turn labeled themselves and acquiesced to these labels. By having a label, an individual has an instruction manual which gives them the excuse to excise critical thinking – kind of an important detail if you are going to do any sort of serious analysis.
Furthermore, how is Grok supposed to analyze what he eats according to the final paleo guideline above if there are so many rules in contemporary paleo-dom? With cookbooks, websites, coaches and whatever else is out there, there will always be a sense of guilt and/or lack of satisfaction for the hardcore paleo folks as there will never be anything they can do to actually fully pull off paleo. Better yet, all of those cookbooks, websites, coaches and whatever else all cost money. It’s ironic that the very same people that would immediately agree that big box gyms are only interested in money and not health are individuals who simply do not think of paleo possibly following the same model. The combination of guilt and/or lack of satisfaction pairs really well with the business model as it creates a rabid customer base. Rabid. Seriously, I dare you to run into a CrossFit gym and shout “paleo sucks!” as loud as possible. You’d be better off throwing a chair.
At this point, I think my analysis of paleo has been pretty much 50/50. It has some pretty good points despite its built in mental baggage and I would even say that if I had to, gun to my head, pick a single diet that I had to follow the rest of my life, it would probably be paleo. However, it is poorly defined and ends up playing the role of ultimate excuse for people that aren’t ready to fully think about their diet because it goes way beyond guidelines and establishes hard rules – something it should not be allowed to do. This leads to the constant and intense (and annoying) debates frequently had by its adherents. My final verdict is that those who want to be this technically undefined thing, to be paleo, are way better off than the average American but it comes at a cost.
Why label yourself with the sheep? Especially when that label is going to bring you pedantic debates, mental stress, and an assured spot at the table of an industry business model focused on money. It would be unfair to offer all criticism and no solution, so stay tuned for how I think about food.
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, the future is here. In so many ways, our lives are changing and being enabled by technology. Google Voice (Google’s version of Siri) is so accurate at answering simple questions that it leaves me shaking my head and smiling, even after months of using it. Just this morning, I was with a friend and couldn’t remember an author’s name through my brain fog. I double tapped my screen and asked “Who wrote The Cassini Division?”. Within seconds a voice told me that Ken McLeod ( of the clan McLeod) wrote the Cassini division and proceeded to pop up a “card” with his picture, name, links to a wiki and other articles. This is ridiculous and just one of many examples that we are indeed approaching the singularity (more on that in other posts).
One development that is almost equally exciting/frightening is the fast development of robotics. It is a field that is exploding. According to ABI Research:
The market for consumer robots was $1.6 billion in 2012, dominated by the task and entertainment segments. This will grow to $6.5 billion in 2017 and will still be dominated by the same segments, with security/telepresence becoming more of a significant third segment. iRobot is still the main player, but more Asian-based companies are coming out with competing products and newer products like window-cleaning robots. “We are seeing more personal robot R&D from Western companies and more task robot development from Asian companies,” noted research director Philip Solis, “which is a reversal of past development trends.”
Application processors and the array of sensors used in smartphones and media tablets have achieved great economies of scale for components that consumer robotics will leverage. The market for processors, microcontrollers, sensors, and physical components including actuators, servos, and manipulators was a little over $700 million in 2012 and will grow by five times that amount by 2017. The semiconductor portion of that is well over a third and will grow as products become more complex and capable.
Robotics is starting fulfill needs everywhere from mass production, prosthetics to even mimicking animals. It is this latter one that we’ll focus on here.
Biomimetic is a term that describes how designers and engineers take their cues from nature and animals to solve problems from solar collecting to efficient motion. Over the last 10-20 years, the number of credible copies of animals by scientists and engineers has become more and more realistic. While there are many companies/universities working in this field, Boston Dynamics is always the first one that comes to my mind. They are partially funded by DARPA (The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Their description on their website is very apt. Boston Dynamics builds advanced robots with remarkable behavior: mobility, agility, dexterity and speed. The breadth of robots BD is developing is truly awe inspiring and the steady progress they’ve made over the years is sobering. I will embed a few examples here:
Big Dog was one of the first videos I saw that truly blew me away back in 2008. It is built as a pack mule for military personnel. Its mission is to follow and haul heavy loads so the soldiers/marines don’t have to. While it’s definitely a prototype, this was the first time I saw a robot that behaved and adjusted like an animal would. Make sure you at least watch to the point where the engineer kicks it and it adjusts itself to keep on walking.
I hadn’t heard about any progress from the Big Dog team in awhile… and then THIS video came out this past year. They added an arm and an ability to throw cement blocks!
Now I don’t know about you, but this is starting to get a little frightening. Imagine a Big Dog chasing you down the street as it offloads cement block ammo from its back and fires it off to explosive effect around you. Now you’re only saving grace is that you can probably outrun this thing, but then (if you’ve been curious) you see one of BD’s OTHER “pet” projects – the cheetah. Like the beautifully shot national geographic video below, this cheetah has been designed to replicate how nature has evolved this big cat to sprint so effectively.
Running away from this beast is no longer an option. Soon we may find ourselves with robots as useful as they are dangerous. Half-Life 2 fans may be thinking about “Dog” from that game – a robotic “pet” that could understand speech and lift and throw cars if necessary.
These are just the very FEW of the developments from just one company funded by DARPA. If you want to be truly creeped out then watch this PETMAN demo, which shows just how eerily close we are to mimicking the human animal.
It could be only 10 years from now that we see robotic animals/creatures as an obvious/inevitable fact of life. It hasn’t even been 10 years since the “smartphone” appeared and now a sizeable portion of the planet has one. Revel in the wonderment of innovation in the field today.
If this has sparked/re-ignited your interest in this field, please comment below with some of your favorite recent developments in the industry.
I have included a few more links to popular science and others if you wanted a quick way to see other amazing robotic creatures.
What feels like a lifetime ago, I was a height safety and rescue trainer for a German safety equipment manufacturer in China. A friend of a friend helped get me the job, for which my only qualifications were that I spoke decent Chinese and was of sound mind and body.
To teach me…well, everything about safety and rescue, the company first sent me to their home offices in Germany for two months of training.
On the flight over, after transiting Moscow on the way to Frankfurt, my plane encountered the worst turbulence I have ever experienced. The young Russian guy next to me gently and expressionlessly closed his laptop (playing Russian sitcoms) and vomited violently into the provided barf bag. Good start to the trip.
The fun-filled months I spent there included trying to get by in a tiny German town without speaking a word of German, and climbing up and down training towers for hours each day doing my best not to kill myself and others. I also got to visit a few nearby cities and reconnect with an old military friend who was stationed about an hour from where I was. Also, abseiling out of a 100 meter-high wind turbine is pretty fun, so it wasn’t all bad.
Once back in China, the training wheels were suddenly, and somewhat prematurely, ripped out from underneath me and I became the dedicated trainer for all of East Asia overnight. Almost immediately I began to get summoned away for 2 to 10 day training trips in parts of China I’d never heard of. Once there, I was presented with the challenge of training experienced industry workers on equipment that they used daily, mastering the entirely field-specific Chinese vocabulary used in the height safety/wind power industry, and doing both things while attempting not to embarrass myself or damage the good name of the company. I give myself credit for my overall success in rising to the challenge, but it didn’t always work out…
Though most of my training was geared towards the wind industry where most of our business was focused, I was occasionally called upon to perform demos or trainings for other industries on behalf of my company. These included areas which my trainers in Germany had almost completely glossed over believing it would not be of much relevance. And so it was that, with only a one-day training session on tree climbing under my belt, I was called upon to lead a tree climbing demo in Hong Kong.
I proceeded to resoundingly embarrass myself in front of actual professionals. I recall dangling exhausted from my ropes after managing to get 5 feet off the ground using my hand ascender, and looking up into the tree at the winner of the national rope tree climbing championship (yes, that exists – possibly solely to shame me) who I was supposed to be demonstrating equipment usage to. I also got bitten well over a hundred times on both arms by vicious mosquitoes. Overall, not one of my better days.
Despite those occasional glitches, I became fairly adept at conducting the training for the wind industry. The on-location trainings were almost always in tiny towns where the wind farms were located. The local turbine maintenance crews who were the recipients of the training were always so endlessly fascinated by this Chinese speaking foreigner with the fancy pants who came to train them that I’m certain that about 90% of the training fell on deaf ears. In any case, there was little chance that the stringent German standards I taught and advocated would be adhered to in the corner-cutting culture of the Chinese wind industry.
Like anything, the more I did it the easier it got. After a few months of training around China (and a random one in Uruguay) the 80 to 125 meter ladder climb was a breeze for me. I knew the various types of turbines inside out, and knew what course to take in almost any rescue scenario that might occur.
Once the stress of uncertainty was out of the way, I could just enjoy the process; and I lived for the silence at the top of the tower where I could briefly be alone with the wind.
I arrive for work and 30 minutes later I stand atop an 80 meter wind turbine in Inner Mongolia, 70 miles of gravel road between me and the nearest town, nothing but towers, sheep, and the open plains spread out below me. The nacelle sways gently in the wind, and the blades creak on their hinges, eager to turn. The wind whips around me like a living thing; it’s a sound like shouting, like rejoicing, like life.
And all the world is a flawless wonder.
I’ve had worse jobs.
So my wife and I saw Now You See Me last week… and I’m still thinking about it. Oh no, not because it was thought provoking, almost the polar opposite. I think I was noodling what exactly it was that bothered me about it, and I think I have it.
This movie is the perfect vehicle to show why FYMPlanet is necessary. There are so many people like Pete Hammond, from Movieline, who think that this movie was “highly entertaining, extremely clever & and thrilling to watch”, but he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. Thankfully, Rottentomatoes, which does a reasonably good job calling out the stink bombs, gives this movie a 46%, which it deserves.
I don’t blame Pete Hammond, who will be a stand-in for everyone who doesn’t really know what “highly entertaining” and “extremely clever” actually are. What this movie actually IS is a Hollywood ATTEMPT at being those things without actually crossing the threshold. With such an entertaining/talented cast (Dave Franco and Mark Ruffalo excluded), there was an opportunity to make something special.
Jesse Eisenberg does a great job playing a supposedly smart, pompous, slightly annoying, <insert any past role here> magician. The more we learn about the actor the more this is clearly less due to his acting ability and more just freebasing what is already there. Woody Harrelson is the most interesting of the bunch, playing a talented, but seedy mentalist. However, his power over people is showcased in a way that makes it unlikely he would ever be “down on his luck” or unsuccessful – he can literally make people say or do anything he wants. With this super power, there are probably much more interesting ways he could be spending his time than faux dodging the FBI in pursuit of membership in some second rate Magic Mason cult. Isla Fisher is always fun to watch but her character bio is about as shallow as the Houdini tank she jumps in in one of the opening scenes.
Oh right, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are also in this film, proving that old male actors can still get a substantial paycheck for doing basically nothing. Also there is a French girl, who neither represents Europe or Interpol well. I should have auditioned my 3 year old daughter for how much intelligence and real world experience the character brings to the table. The first 10 minutes of the movie hints at greater things through its brief, almost intriguing, character introductions/background sketches. But like a street artist, the sketch is all there is and it culminates in a silly but admittedly creative bank heist. If the movie ended there, I actually would have been intrigued and wanted more… but then there actually WAS more.
What follows is so silly and unbelievably orchestrated that all the suspense and enigma of the puppeteer behind the scenes is lost. There is never a sense of danger or reality to the proceedings. The plot is just a vehicle for the writers to try to show how clever they are. The protagonists lose all of their humanity and just become avatars to this end. The twist at the end, which I THINK was trying to recall much better movies like “the prestige” had none of the weight or consequence of that movie. It was so yawn worthy and unbelievable that my brain wanted to self-destruct – it’s possible it did and this one is a loaner.
You may ask, what did I expect? And, true, I didn’t expect a lot. I still enjoyed the experience because I was spending time with my lovely wife, but that makes the movie irrelevant. What this movie tells me is that there is still a significant number of people in Hollywood and elsewhere who don’t know what “highly entertaining” and “clever” really are. If you must constantly state how funny or witty you are, you probably aren’t. This should be a rule in film and life. In the season finale of Game of Thrones, Tywin Lannister scolds his nephew in much the same way. A real king shouldn’t have to remind everyone else of the fact.
Don’t waste your time watching this movie unless it is just a means to another end. Watch the Prestige ( not the Illusionist) instead. It’s got its flaws, but there are some real questions about magic, humanity, and commitment that make it worth the trip.
Good luck out there!
*Can they be called spoilers if the show is already rotten? If so, they’re ahead*
The Walking Dead is a profoundly mediocre show. It’s greatest strength is that it manages to keep otherwise rational people watching it, long after it has proven itself not worth their time. Commenter Nial said it best in his comment on my Public Service Announcement post: “The Walking Dead TV show is like super sizing your combo meal at the drive thru. I know it doesn’t have much substance and it’s not good for me but I can’t help myself. Afterwards I feel unfulfilled and dirty.”
Robert Kirkman, the creator of The Walking Dead comic book and an executive producer on the show, is one of my favorite comic book writers of the decade. The Walking Dead comic along with one of his other monthly serials, Invincible, are two of my favorite comics of all time and consistently the best of my monthly reads.
As the creator of The Walking Dead’s source material, Kirkman is unsurprisingly one of the biggest advocates of the show. It is his brain child after all. Though it saddens me to think it is so, I can’t help but harbor the sincere hope that his constant praise of the show is nothing more than lip service. It wouldn’t do for a show’s creator and executive producer to badmouth the changes made to the story. Changes which have, by the way, effectively neutered one of the best zombie stories ever told. As The Walking Dead comic continues to impress and stick to its awesome guns, I have to believe that deep down Robert Kirkman sheds a tear for each nonsensical detour in the show’s storytelling and bides his time until his next project.
But let’s not nerd out too much and fall into the trap of being blind purists. The show is crappy for many reasons not tied to its deviations from the comic. And don’t get me wrong; The Walking Dead is not even close to being the worst show out there. I could point to almost the entire roster of any other basic cable network and find 95% of the listings to be worse. But that’s not what we do here; leave the lowest hanging fruit to some other site.
The Walking Dead isn’t terrible; it’s just mediocre. And making a show poorly when it has the obvious potential to be amazing is worse than making a flat out crap show to shovel to the cow-public.
Here are some things about The Walking Dead that piss me off:
- The Walking Dead is mired by stiff performances, uninspired writing, and an utter lack of direction. It’s just not building towards anything like a good show should (see Breaking Bad for reference). While some might say “the journey is the destination,” to that I say “only if the journey keeps me engaged.” It doesn’t. At all.
- Pacing (noun/verb) – 1: a rate of activity, progress, growth, performance, etc.; tempo. 2: walking at a steady and consistent speed, esp. back and forth and as an expression of one’s anxiety or annoyance. The show runners confuse definition 1 with definition 2.
- I love good Zombie gore as much as the next man, but just as Michael Bay uses explosions to substitute for plot, The Walking Dead uses zombie gore to distract us from the fact that the story isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t work.
- The Walking Dead comic book is characterized by dynamic characters who are constantly changing (and more than occasionally dying) as they and the world around them very quickly becomes unrecognizable. The show is characterized by static characters whose greatest change is their miraculously decreasing ability to act. Here are some of the characters and their “developments.”
- Rick: whether praying or talking into a handheld radio, Rick monologues his way through 2 full seasons. He grows some stubble and a pseudo mullet and creases his eyebrows slightly more as episodes pass.
- Carl: changes from uninteresting background character to ruthless and uninteresting background character.
- Lori: dies. I think that counts as character development.
- Andrea: whines her way to an uninteresting and unnecessary death after several seasons of pouting.
- T Dog: this character is black and is named T Dog and someone thought that was a good idea. He also mercifully dies.
- Shane: is thankfully killed off, sparing us a further season of watching him try to act.
- Michonne: is silent and abrasive by turns, but consistently unremarkable. If the most interesting thing about a character is their weapon, that character is a failure.
- I don’t remember any of the other characters in the show…
- The show pulls almost all of its punches. The comic never does.
AMC, the network which produces The Walking Dead, is one of my favorite television networks. From Breaking Bad to the Killing to Mad Men, AMC has been leading the charge for quality dramatic storytelling for the last few years. All of which makes it that much harder to believe that they would take a slam-dunk show concept like The Walking Dead and drag it facedown through gravel for 4 seasons.
Obviously, The Walking Dead wasn’t a misstep for AMC as a network; the show holds the honor of being the most watched TV drama in basic cable history. As anyone’s Facebook feed or water cooler chit chat experiences can confirm, the series is obviously beloved by many an errant soul. From a business standpoint and by any other quantitative metric I can think of, it’s a huge success. If I were anyone else, I might even start to question myself. Maybe the show IS that good; maybe I’m too hung up on the comic to give it the chance it deserves; maybe I can’t recognize the true genius behind the story.
But no, the show really is sub par. By any critical standards it simply doesn’t measure up.
Do yourselves a favor and read the comic instead. See Rick Grimes the way he was meant to be.
What feels like a lifetime ago, I was a parkour instructor in Beijing, China. I was definitely the first foreigner to teach parkour there, but I may have been the first period. Back in 2009, when I started, there wasn’t anyone else teaching formal parkour classes, and there were only a few informal groups practicing around the city.
The classes were taught as martial arts classes with a strong focus on technique and real life practicality. That meant no flips, no showmanship – just how to get from one place to another as fast and efficiently as possible. The martial discipline made it easier to keep the kids in line in my younger classes, and the program (Sarutobi Parkour) fit well as the “flight” component for all the “fight” courses taught in the martial arts venues where I held classes.
I myself was never a freerunning daredevil, willing to scale tall buildings and risk life or limb jumping off of them in a single bound. Though those videos are often the most impressive and fun to watch on Youtube, I think parkour at its best is strictly utilitarian and minimalist; one of the benefits to this is that it is repeatable and teachable, like any martial art. Being a high level practitioner of parkour means you scale up the basic skills you’ve learned in practice to be effective in real life environments. It also means you can employ those skills effectively where it counts and when there are no second takes, not only for a highlight reel.
And on that note, here’s my highlight reel!
OK, so not technically a highlight reel. This video was meant more as a promotional piece to advertise for the class. It never made it out of pre-production (as you can see), but the friend of mine who produced it did a pretty awesome job of making it presentable in almost no time. Its main purpose was going to be to introduce students (and younger students’ parents) to what parkour was and to show some of the basic techniques taught in the classes.
After about 2 years of teaching parkour, several things happened that made me stop:
1) I got bored of teaching.
2) I hyperextended my toe doing a cat leap (it happened right before the first shot in the above video where I appear to be posing.. I’m really wondering how badly damaged my toe is and trying not to show how much agony I’m in.) It took about 2 years to fully heal.
3) I decided I wanted to make some actual money.
Though I practice very little these days, I still love parkour. It embodies everything about fitness and working out that I am attracted to: functionality, fun, and total engagement. For people like me who find it almost impossible to sustain the long term motivation to go to the gym or run a few repetitive miles, parkour was a great way to keep active without feeling like I was working out.
It’s one of the best ways to get in shape that I know of and it’s also a great skill to have if you ever find yourself in a tight spot.
*For those of you who don’t know anything at all about Parkour, here’s an interview that explains a bit more about it.
I’m going to step out of my wheelhouse a bit and talk about something that has nothing to do with movement. Well, maybe a little bit, but not in the fitness sense. Regardless, the real motivation was finding this little gem I wrote a few years ago to sell my truck as I was going through some old documents on the computer. It won’t make sense without any background though, so let me tell you some old war stories.
I moved to Okinawa, Japan when I was 21 years old. I stayed there for a very long time. Life on this sub-tropical paradise was amazing thanks to lots of sunny weather, some great friends, tons of parties, but most importantly the seemingly endless jungle wilderness to explore. If you’re not familiar with Okinawa, go look at a map real quick. Look for it south of mainland Japan and just northeast of Taiwan. Zoom in. And zoom in again. Okinawa is TINY. Yet somehow there wasn’t a weekend when I could not find some old two-tracks to go off-roading down or another secret dive site that a buddy had heard of and wanted to check out.
“Okinawa may be small, but it sure keeps itself well-hidden,” as a co-worker of mine put it. This was after I showed him a beach he had never seen despite the fact that he had lived in Okinawa basically forever. Now, while I feel I’m justified in my confidence as an explorer, no amount of such skill is solely capable of getting to these places. There are some tools of the trade beyond borderline-McCandless wanderlust and the ability to use a compass. The tool that most facilitated my exploration was my 1995 Mitsubishi Pajero 4×4. To say that I loved this truck would be a ludicrous understatement.
The Pajero was nearly perfect. While living in Okinawa, I was only allowed to have one vehicle, so it had to get me through my morning commute to work at least as much as it had to smash through trees and plow through sandy beaches. Somehow, in 1995, Mitsubishi stumbled on the perfect combination of practical comfort and sheer off-road badassery that has not been seen since. I still vividly remember the first time I truly loaded it up for a SCUBA expedition. Don’t get me wrong, I had dived quite a bit before this day and many times that meant using my Pajero to get me to dive sites, but this day was a true exercise in dedication to the sport. I loaded myself and two of my friends along with all of our gear and nine SCUBA tanks. This is a two-door, short-wheel base vehicle. Somehow, with folding one-half of the split back seat, I managed to load up well over three-quarters of a ton of meat, metal and neoprene for the most epic series of dives ever, way up on one of the most inaccessible north shores of Okinawa. Amazing.
By now you get it, I loved that truck. It was fun, practical, and supremely capable. I would have kept it forever (though nearly 7 years isn’t too shabby), but alas it was time for me to leave my sub-tropical paradise and move back to the United States. That was a hard move for lots of reasons, leaving behind my Pajero included. Of course I toyed with the idea of shipping it home, but that simply was not an option. Unfortunately I was the last of most of my friends to leave, so there weren’t too many people I knew at the time that would have been able to properly handle this beast (the only real candidate already had his own Pajero). The search for a suitable owner was on.
On Okinawa, there is a yard-sale site called Bookoo that many foreigners used. At about the same time as I was getting ready to sell my Pajero (by getting ready I mean dealing with it emotionally), I saw an ad for a 2004 Honda Prelude. I have to give the seller credit, he came up with a pretty entertaining and attention-grabbing ad. However, I felt like the hubris he intentionally displayed for his Prelude to be misplaced on such a mediocre car. Taking a cue from his style, I wrote an ad that was semi in response to his. I didn’t keep a copy of his ad, but I did keep a copy of mine and I intend to share it here. As you read it, there are parts that seem kind of out of the blue or a bit non sequitur – they are direct call outs to the other guy’s ad or things specific to automotive processing in Japan, so don’t think about it too hard. Anyway, here it is in all its original, unedited glory:
Word on the street is that the world’s manliest vehicle is for sale here on Bookoo, but it’s a..ahem..Prelude?? This only goes to prove the confused world we live in! Speaking of a confused world, when things get real dicey during the incoming Zombie invasion, do you want to get caught thinking “only if I could climb over these rocks and drive on the beach with the world’s greatest 4×4 system and save the life of myself and those close to me?” Of course not! That is where the PAJERO! comes in.
This truck (truly an understatement if one was ever made) laughs at ninjas as it establishes dominion over Mother Nature. Tom Selleck? Please. The overpowered 3.5L V6 and short chassis design eschews cheap ’70s mustaches and simply reeks of glorious, third-fist hiding man-beards like that of Chuck Norris. In fact, the Walker Texas Ranger himself may have used this very Pajero to scale mountain roads north of Nago and storm beaches in Miyagi and Uruma. Surely if that happened, he did it while roundhouse kicking the brains out of any ninjas, terrorists, or glute hammering gym rats along the way!
As with any man-machine, the Pajero does not waste time on cute amenities like TV screens and navigation systems (use a compass! it comes with one, by the way) but focuses on what is really useful. It sports adjustable suspension, both in firmness (it even has a ‘soft’ setting, just in case you need to display your sensitive side) and in clearance. Since when can you flip a switch and gain more than 2″ of suspension clearance!! Only once upon a time when Sports Utility Vehicle actually meant something. On top you’ll find a luggage rack that can handle any cargo and in the back you will find an integrated tool kit (first aid for people? Don’t make me laugh; if it can’t be fixed with an included wrench, is it worth fixing?).
The ’95 short-wheel base Pajero represents an end to an era; an homage to the Greatest Generation in form and function. General Patton himself would be proud to storm any beach in this beast. Likely, he would have done it with 2 other friends and more than 9 SCUBA tanks and all associated gear while finding his way to only the most interesting and secret dive spots on Okinawa. Many before me have complained how inaccessible this island can be, and to that I say “I beg to differ.”
JCI is good until February 2013 when it will once again confound Japanese authorities with its inability to quit and amazing capabilities to pass the test with flying colors over and over. Only because I am being forced off this island am I considering letting go of such awesomeness, but if you feel that you can handle taking the mantle of the sheer over-whelming majesty of the ’95 3500 V6 Pajero, give me a call or shoot me an email.
Interestingly enough, I actually received many more requests from people for me to write ads for them as opposed to wanting to see the truck. Unfortunately, mere days after I posted the ad, some punk-ass Okinawan kids smashed the passenger window while trying to steal my girlfriends purse. Luckily we were walking back to the truck at the time and basically caught them in the act, but they had already thrown a brick through the passenger window. Even though I wanted nothing more than to Homer Simpson-style strangle that kid, I had to admire his canon of an arm – he put a baseball sized chunk of brick through the window so hard that it crossed over to the driver’s side, dented the steering wheel and tore a huge chunk out of the plastic molding and the upholstery of the driver’s door. Not bad for a kid who couldn’t have been more than 13 years old.
Anyway, nobody was willing to buy a truck that was short of a window and had a passenger seat covered in glass. I didn’t have the time to invest in repairs before leaving, so I unfortunately had no recourse but to recycle the truck. Thanks to it being Japan, I received a sizable chunk of change for recycling it, in fact the amount was nearly comparable to what I was asking for the truck. Regardless, I got way more than my money’s worth out of it during our nearly decade long run. That was a rough day…a friend went with me to drop it off and I could barely hide my near emotional breakdown after I received my money and stamped receipt. I still think of that Pajero often.
So, last weekend was my birthday. No big deal. Really. In fact, I’m old enough now that it actually requires effort to remember the exact number of times I’ve circled the sun. This is no doubt due to the lack of any significant age milestones in between 25 and 40. Twenty-one was uneventful because I had little interest in drinking. No, the only birthdays I actually anticipated/dreaded were 17, whereupon my belief that being able to legally drive a car would somehow instantly and miraculously upgrade my “sexy” quotient was shattered (almost) beyond emotional repair– it was just the new cost of doing business. No car. No girl.
The other age was 25, which was a surprise. Up until this point I had unconsciously been operating under the all too cliché notion that I had “all the time in the world” to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Twenty-five blind-sided me with a rude awakening that brought that infantile, but wonderfully irresponsible, way of thinking to a morbid halt. I realized that a full 1/4th of my life was over (if I was fortunate) and that the time to realize whatever nebulous dreams I had was actually finite. Combine this fact with the somewhat inevitable inverse relationship with age and physical ability and my window for pursuing certain optimistic life-goals was actually smaller than a George R.R. Martin character negotiating with a Frey.
So while 25 definitely re-aligned my perspective in general, it didn’t change my perspective on birthdays. This perspective hovered mostly between “it’s just another day” to “cool I get to justify buying myself a cool gadget”. That is… until this last birthday.
G = 9.8 m/s/s
Skydiving has been on my “bucket list” for as long as I can remember making lists and putting them into… buckets. Ostensibly, most of my adult life. However, there have always been reasons to NOT go skydiving – money, it’s “dangerous”, friends to go with etc.. However, with this last birthday fast approaching, my usual apathetic approach to what is really just another day for most people turned into a powerful force of will to make it happen – and drag my two best friends along for the ride. These two friends had their OWN extremely reasonable excuses for not coming. While I gave them an “out”, I made it my mission for them to experience something new and be a part of realizing one my aspirations as a human being – seeing the world from 15K feet in the open air. The next step up will hopefully be at 20 times that height.
Skydiving is a personal experience that makes written description pale in comparison but I will share a few of the things I will never forget.
- I have never signed so many duplicate forms of my personal information for liability purposes in my life – (POSSIBLY with the exception of when I joined the military)
- The wait from check-in to actual free-fall was about 3 hours
- My very cool, but poor English speaking, Italian tandem instructor had possibly the worst BO imaginable. Since smell is the most powerful sense tied to memory, there is a chance I will never forget his particular brand of Stench – by Giorgio
- I never got afraid. Not on the ground. Not in the air. There was a palpable jump in heart rate and anticipation when the first person disappeared from the plane, but fear never struck me like I expected
- Initial free-fall is one of the most exhilarating things you will ever experience. It’s a roller coaster – cubed.
- My instructor let me pull the cord to our chute (which I was told rarely happens). This involved groping behind me and finding the hard golf ball sized handle attached to the release mechanism next to Giorgio’s leg. Despite the inherent homoerotic images this immediately presents, having been the direct cause of halting my inglorious plummet to the planet below was an incredibly satisfying thing.
- Floating at 10K above Monterey Bay is one of the most peaceful/beautiful things I have ever seen/experienced
- Having my instructor make quick adjustments for landing was also one of the more nauseous things I’ve ever experienced – his English apparently didn’t extend to understanding the words “I’m feeling a little sick” during our rapidly adjusting decent. It’s ok, Giorgio, I don’t hold it against you – much
- My kids’ excitement at having witnessed their dad literally fall from the sky was a joy to watch and be the source of
- Having my friends share the experience with me, despite their initial misgivings, is also something that made the day one to remember
In closing, I don’t just want to impart how truly awesome the experience of skydiving is – which I do. It is well worth the paperwork, horrible BO and nausea you might experience… and even the 3rd degree sunburn (if you’re as white as I am). But I’d like to make a larger point.
The flaw in my perspective on birthdays was not in thinking they were just another day – they are. The flaw was that my birthday doesn’t HAVE to be just another day. Birthdays and other occasions aren’t just obligations or commercialism at its worst – they are these things of course More importantly, they are a useful opportunity to make a day memorable – FYMP worthy if you’ll tolerate the conceit. But how you approach these days is up to you. Wouldn’t you rather they be awesome?
Now, I still don’t think I’m going to remember/care much about the number that is tied to my actual birthday in the future (it’s going to be 34 or 35 or something). What I do know is that that day, among many others, is going to be FYMPing awesome!
When I first went to China, it was on a tourism visa which lasted for 3 months. This was in the weeks following the Olympics, when visa regulations were just beginning to ease slightly. I arrived unsure of what I would do at the end of those three months, or even of what the rules would be when the time came.
Friends all told me to simply wait and cross that bridge when the time came. I was understandably less Zen, having never been through this process, and understandably nervous seeing as how that “bridge” had not yet been built at the time. Thankfully, when the time came, I was able to obtain a 6 month visa with no trouble at all.
Almost a year later, my employers at the time began the process of obtaining a new work visa for me. This proved problematic to say the least. As any foreigner in China can tell you, visa troubles are a rite of passage.
In the lead up to the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2009, visas had begun to be increasingly difficult to obtain and renew. Work visas had become almost impossible to come by for normal humans. As heightened security measures were put in place during that time period, the procedure for obtaining visas of any kind had become considerably more complex and more expensive. There is no recourse for visa-seeking residents but to comply.
In the days after the process began: I made over 4 trips to the local Kodak kiosk for visa pictures of varying size and background color as the regulations shifted by the moment; I scrambled to transfer money from my bank in the US to my local bank in China, a Sisyphean task I somehow managed to accomplish, only to be told it was unnecessary several days later; I cried uncontrollably for several hours every day; and, finally, I took a trip to the outer limits of Beijing to take a mandatory medical examination, presumably to ensure that I was indeed a human person and not a cyborg infiltrator.
The medical exam needed for gaining a work visa was once available at a more or less easily accessible location within the city. Due to the 60th anniversary, however, that was no longer the case. The only facility administering such tests was now out in the Northwest corner of Beijing near the mountains which, up until the time I went there, I had not known even existed.
The drive to the facility where the medical exams were given was an adventure in itself. To begin with it was decided, by someone who has yet to receive the full extent of my wrath, that it would be a good idea to head out at 7AM: the exact beginning of Beijing rush hour. The drive, which off-peak might have taken an hour or so, was thus stretched out to 2 and a half hours. The five occupants of the compact car managed to go through all of the 5 stages of grief during the course of the drive, reaching acceptance only a few minutes before we actually found the place. It did not help that our driver had never been before, and so we spent much of our time driving through back alleys, ditches, and hutongs. To his credit, he finally got us there which, had I been driving, would never have happened.
Upon our arrival at the facility we were glad to find that the parking lot was nowhere close to full, perhaps we would get back before nightfall after all.
We walked in the door tired and afraid, still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder induced by our lengthy, hellish drive. A small woman dressed in nurses white and a thin face mask sitting behind a counter beckons me forward. Her eyes are smiling and I begin to relax, maybe the worst is over. When I reach the desk, without explanation or preamble, the small woman pulls out a gun and puts it to the center of my forehead.
Due to the recent H1N1 scares, many schools, hotels, and office buildings have begun screening everyone who entered with fever detectors. I had heard of this policy and, having never experienced it personally, had only some vague idea about disposable mouth thermometers. It turns out that they actually use a temperature sensor in the shape of a small gun which they hold to your forehead for a few seconds after which it shows your temperature in a digital readout. Pretty cool technology, actually. Unfortunately, my indoctrination into its use was unfortunately abrupt and more closely resembled a mugging. I only narrowly avoided the need for a wardrobe change.
When my heart began beating again, I filled out some paperwork and dove right into the exam.
We spend a few hours at the medical facility being bounced around to different rooms where we are poked and prodded by turns. In one room I wore a lead vest and stood in front of a gigantic humming machine for a few minutes. I cringed in mock fear as if the radiation burns me… The doctors were not amused. In another room I was laid down on a table and had wet suction cups attached to my upper torso. I still have no Idea why. The nurse seemed to find this process as amusing as I found it disturbing. In yet another room I had my blood pressure taken by a man who looked to be about a thousand years old.
All in all, after the drive, things went pretty smoothly. The trip back was uneventful and we were all able to laugh at the morning’s antics, though there was a certain harried tenor to our forced joviality. And when, several days later, I found out that I hadn’t really needed the exam after all, even I couldn’t tell if I was laughing or crying.
The gentleman you see here in this picture is crossing between a large ledge and the landing of a flight of stairs up to the second floor. Each floor in this building is a bit taller than standard height, so he is probably a solid 6 meters above the ground below. Every day he can be seen working outdoors, climbing heights to replace light bulbs, hanging out high windows to clean them, and pretty much anything else you’d expect a groundskeeper to do. He is considered exceptional by all of the students and staff in the building as he does all of these tasks casually, and because he is easily in his 70s or 80s.
It’s pathetic that he is considered so remarkable.
Don’t get me wrong, the guy is awesome. He’ll spend all afternoon bent over in the courtyard hand pruning the grass and still stand upright and cheerfully bust out a你好 (hello) to anybody passing by. It is – by definition – “backbreaking labor,” but he is completely unfazed. If I was to define fitness in terms of capability relative to one’s age, this man is the fittest dude I know. I hope that one day when I’m his age I have such high quality of life.
So, what’s with the pathetic part? He clearly deserves credit for his self-cultivated spryness. By nature of the word remarkable, it means that he is far and away the exception. It is pathetic that few people are like him; people of any age. When I walked by this scene of him returning from sweeping that ledge, a small crowd had gathered and were gasping and cringing as he walked across his little bridge. The facial expressions of his spectators ranged from horror to awe. His facial expression? The same casual yet jovial expression he wears all day long. I really think that if there was any way to somehow quantify the fear felt by his audience, it would vastly outweigh the amount of fear he has felt his entire, long life doing this type of stuff.
What was really obvious in his movement was that his lack of fear had a lot to do with the fact that he was supremely confident in his ability in the task at hand. He knew exactly how to move his body in a way that maintained his balance, even while carrying stuff, across the makeshift bridge. He also knew exactly how to move his body up onto that bridge and back down from the landing. He didn’t have to give it any thought, he just did it and he will undoubtedly do it or something like it again in the near future.
Does this make him exceptional? Unfortunately, yes. The vast majority of people lack that confidence; they lack the ability move their body in non-standard and potentially dangerous situations confidently enough to accomplish the task. Why do we lack that ability? Well, I already mentioned confidence, but the root of the issue is a lack of knowledge. Without the knowledge of movement, there is a lack of experience. A lack of experience translates into a lack of confidence which in turn becomes the lack of ability.
There is good news however. I know the gardener’s secret. He has spent his 70+ years on Earth constantly moving. He doesn’t take his body for granted, he uses it every single day. You will never catch him in the elevator and you’ll never catch him using gym equipment. He doesn’t have to practice crossing that particular bridge in order to confidently and competently deal with it, he simply has the complete toolbox of root skills that he can apply to any situation. Everybody that reacted to this picture with a gasp or a “wtf, old guy?” needs to seriously reevaluate their physical capability. He didn’t get to the point of such high capability at his advanced age by making it a goal to wow people, he just lived his life moving.
He has lived his life as a badass and we should all take a lesson.
I read a lot.
I pretty much have to read before I go to bed or I’ll just lie awake and stare at the ceiling even if it’s 3 in the morning. Even if it’s just a page or a few paragraphs, I find it very difficult to pass out without reading something.
Kind of a false start, that. It doesn’t really relate to what the rest of the blog is about, but I’ll leave it in as a fun fact about myself.
Anyway, recently I finished wading through the 5 book Gap Cycle series by Stephen R. Donaldson which wasn’t bad, but burned me out on science fiction which I had been reading pretty exclusively for the past two years or so… I go through phases like that where I only read one genre or one author for extended periods of time.
I wanted to make a soft transition to something a little different rather than completely diverging and picking up a Thomas Pynchon novel or something. I remembered a recommendation I got from a friend several years ago that I had never taken for a book called Daemon by Daniel Suarez so I grabbed it.
It’s a technothriller so still kind of sci-fi-esque but less fantastical. In any case it was a good transition book, and a pretty good read in general.
The story takes place in the present or very near future and follows the effects on the world of a background process program (daemon) written by a dead genius/madman computer game developer named Matthew Sobol which infiltrates the global net and begins to disrupt the world economy and balance of power in interesting ways.
The Daemon’s queue to begin operating is the headline announcing the death of its creator. Through backdoors built into Sobol’s video games, it siphons the computing power of legions of unwary gamers and begins to systematically enlist the disenfranchised to accomplish its goals. It shifts its strategy and initiates pre-planned contingencies in response to keywords in media headlines. The Daemon causes death and destruction as well as silent infiltration as it begins to dispassionately execute its functions with brutal if-then logic bereft of considerations for consequence making it more dangerous than any person could ever be. And its mission is to change the world.
I immediately thought the concept was pretty cool. The writing style is very direct and utilitarian; there are very little embellishment added to the fictional events, yet somehow the story still doesn’t feel heartless. Some characters are better developed than others, and some of the character arcs feel a little forced, but generally speaking they feel and act like real people, which is nice.
The storytelling is well paced and the author never falls into the trap of making the technical explanations (of which there are many) unwieldy or tedious; as a non computer guy (I mean, I own one and know how to turn it on and off. I know how to defrag it… when it gets all fragged. But I’m not a hacker or anything. Does anyone say hacker anymore? Are those still a thing? I digress) I was pleased that the jargon and the technical detail didn’t go over my head.
The concept of the Daemon is interesting because it really feels like something that could almost be realized today. Given unlimited time and resources, the systems the daemon employs to accomplish its goals don’t seem all that impossible…only highly difficult and unlikely. This closeness to reality adds another interesting dimension to the story. It’s like imagining a world where Steve Jobs secretly programmed every iDevice to silently call your mom whenever it sensed you having sex.
At times it’s a little far-fetched in that the Daemons scripted response are too spot-on to have been pre-planned even by a super genius like Sobol, but the author still makes it seem somewhat feasible so I’m able to suspend my disbelief.
The book is also surprisingly bloody and violent at times, but the author’s use of violence is very particular. The violence is brutal when it occurs, but it doesn’t occur throughout and when it does it still has an emotional effect because it is so frugally used.
In any case, at the end of the book things are getting pretty serious and the scale of the vision of the Daemon’s creator is just starting to be revealed. The book is a pretty good non-preachy examination of some of the implications of technology in our net dependent civilization. When money and information exist primarily as electrical impulses being shunted around the world at light speed, the question of cyber security and its underlying assumptions becomes more and more crucial. And as the tangible world becomes increasingly and inextricably linked to the virtual one, the immediacy of the danger of its exploitation is increased exponentially.
It was a good book, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Freedom™.
!:Warning:! Spoilers ahead – no major plot points, but a character is revealed (if you haven’t already figured it out by the trailers alone).
Let’s start with the good stuff. Star Trek: Into Darkness is a looker. It’s one of the best produced/realized sci-fi worlds that I’ve seen in recent memory. There are some scenes where the fake “hand cam” and auto-focus effect (first used to great effect in Firefly) is distracting, but the CG and the sets all look incredible and have you believe that this universe exists outside of a lime green studio. JJ Abrams knows how to make an action packed movie look fantastic. The cast, especially Chris Pine, does a fine job recreating their characters and there is plenty of personality (aside from Zoe and Zach) to go around. It’s not a great movie by any means, but it’s a nice diversion.
This movie is also better than the last in many ways. Benedict Cumberbatch\Peter Weller are much better villains though their parts are underwritten and underdeveloped. I was never a fan of Eric Bana’s Nero, and the overall story arc of that movie, aside from the pleasing origins of Kirk and crew, is pretty Bana-l. The intriguing setup to the characters and story give way to the truly unbelievable threat that future Nero poses to the Federation. Also ye ‘ol alternate timeline mechanic allows Abrams to stretch the fiction in ways that don’t seem to violate the established canon. This is neither good nor bad, but still feels like a cop-out, done to make this series of movies distinct from the originals while stealing liberally from their best parts. It succeeds and fails for that same reason.
Like its predecessor, Into Darkness struggles to find its own identity. This is the inherent problem of the Remake, which my wife calls, “the do-over”. This same plot line was done much better and with more gravitas and emotional punch in a Next Generation episode called “The Wounded“. I would have almost preferred the movie cutting to that hour long episode rather than relegating Peter Weller’s character into a one-dimensional warmonger.
In my opinion, Remakes are appropriate for comic movies – and little else. Maybe it’s because comic characters have, since their inception, undergone innumerable makeovers in their fiction to reflect the changes in culture and their readers. This is expected and even part of the charm of comics. You don’t like THIS version of Batman? Wait a year or two and they’ll “reboot” the series with a different author and it could be awesome. They’ve taken this chameleon ability with them to the cinema and I think movie-goers have enjoyed the process – just ask Spider/Super/Bat/man.
Look to almost any other remake, with few exceptions, and they are horrid. They are worse than sequels (which are also usually worse with each iteration – Die Harderest anyone?). Why? Because they don’t even have the actors and charm from the originals to work from. Take the recent Total Recall movie for example. Love it or hate it, but Total Recall, the original, had personality to spare and in Arnold one of the most epic and charismatic action superstars of his generation. In this modern remake, all the most important plot points are already given away, because well….it’s a remake. But the creators felt enough responsibility to perform some window dressing to make it seem new and exciting. i.e. Earth vs. Mars. Also, Colin Farrell, who I like, is not a big enough character, literally and figuratively, to carry the movie on the weight of his now sober shoulders. What results is not just a bad movie in its own right, but a movie that is even worse because of its comparison to the original. Just make a new movie! There’s enough money and talent here to actually create a great ORIGINAL story without rehashing old ideas or trying to “recreate the magic” or some BS.
Why do some remakes work? Well, I would say the remakes that do well are the ones that either poke fun at the source material (21 jump street) or its been long enough that an update would look entirely different than the original (The Thomas Crown Affair). However, it still takes stellar writing and compelling personalities playing the leads to pull these off. More so when the characters are iconic and part of the modern cultural mythology. Otherwise, it’s near guaranteed that the remake will be horrible.
Why do studios produce these en masse? Most likely because no matter what I say, these movies make money. They are deemed less risky, because there is a built-in audience here that will probably go to see it for nostalgia if nothing else. In my case, it’s more like nausea – but I’ll still see it (and hate myself). It also spreads the demographics. The older crowd will attend to see what’s changed and the younger crowd will hopefully be intrigued enough to jump in for the first time.
Back to Star Trek. William Shatner, love him or hate him, IS Captain Kirk. His unique brand of charm and overacting has been parodied so many times it’s hard to imagine the character any other way. Leonard Nimoy IS Spock. Nowhere is this more apparent than when Zachary Quinto looks to the viewscreen at his aged self for sage advice. Zachary does a fine job of playing a Vulcan, but by definition it’s a character that’s stiff and unengaging. Only Leonard, who’s lived the role for a lifetime could make that character interesting. The list goes on and on. Simon Pegg is funny, even with the distractingly/annoyingly thick Scottish accent. Zoe Saldana is a horrible Uhura. The original broke down racial barriers and never came across as anything other than competent and professional. Zoe Saldana’s Uhura has erased all social progress and is basically an emotional basket case of female movie tropes. Karl Urban as Bones?
Ok.. he actually does an amazingly good job considering the birdlike muse of the TV doctor, but here’s the thing. They’re all aping the original actors. But this movie isn’t a parody! It’s a remake. And this is the shame of it. If these were all original characters with their own backstories, it actually would be much more interesting. There would be no comparisons and these writers and actors could develop in their own ways. Benedict Cumberbatch does a competent job as Khan, but it pales in comparison to Ricardo Montalban’s intense human intelligence and ferocity. Cumberbatch is too inhuman here and robotic to be truly scary. Having to compare with Montalban is as disappointing as it is unfair.
In the end, I am glad they made the movie. It was fun to be back in the Star Trek universe again, even if it feels a little less cerebral and overly action packed for its own good. It was just done well enough that I could see what could have been. With these actors and writers given free reign enough to create new stories… the results could have been compelling rather than competent. Will people remember Pine’s Kirk or Shatner’s? The answer is obvious and a missed opportunity.
What could be great news is that after watching this movie, I think JJ Abrams has the chops to pull off an impressive Star Wars movie. One of (the many) things that was missing from the Prequels was a soul and the feeling that that universe existed. There are enough great scenes, small and large, in Into Darkness that make me think Star Wars could be a place I want to visit again, rather than just be the movies I cut myself to. There IS still the danger of trying to be “true” to George’s vision. I heard recently that JJ Abrams spent some time with the iconic director to make sure he had his blessing and he knew where it was leading. Hopefully this was just lip service to a great legend. George actually lost his vision almost 30 years ago when he became rich and famous enough to surround himself with sycophants rather than people who would tell him “NO” and actually protect his legacy. But that is another post!
I’ll leave you with one final thought about remakes. In a few years, would it be great or silly to have Star Trek the Next Generation rebooted? Have a bald man with a British accent playing Picard and a perfectly competent actor play Data. LaForge can wear Google Glass and Warf can be played by Jaden Smith. It will be all action-y or whatever the kids want to watch then, and will have all sorts of fun ties to the TV series and movies….. BLEH. No thank you.
Go write some new stories damn you. That is all.
I won’t say that TV is getting better.
Thanks to the spew of reality TV programming that dominates much of the airwaves these days, TV is more likely, on average, getting worse. However, the number of very good shows, while not quite balancing out all the crap, IS growing at an unprecedented rate. A discerning viewer today has FAR more options than they did a decade ago, and that trend is likely to continue as new networks and outlets begin vying for the audiences that have flocked to quality TV.
Unfortunately, viewership of mediocre, traditional-style shows like Law & Order, The Big bang Theory, and CSI: Poughkeepsie (or whatever), is also still high. And, also unfortunately, in many cases the viewing of new, good TV doesn’t stop viewers from continuing to watch sub-par TV as well.
Through my own personal mixture of narcissism and benevolence, it always seems like a pitiable travesty when I watch otherwise reasonable people subject themselves to middling televisions shows. One reason for this is exposure; most people don’t watch all that much television. And when they do, they do it on an actual television set where they have limited channels, options, and inclination to explore. They see the latest episode of Bones on and say “why not.” I always think to myself: “Someone should do something to help those poor people!”
I understand that most people don’t take their fiction as seriously as I do, but I still ask: why does an end-of –day diversion have to be mundane and formulaic when it could be stimulating and enriching? Many of us watch TV as an escape from our daily routines; why not make that escape memorable.
To that end, and to give a head start to those of us that want to pull ourselves up out of the mire of daytime drama, I’ve listed below some of the best shows made in recent years in no particular order. If you haven’t watched these shows, there’s no reason to be watching anything inferior to them. In addition, while these shows may be the 5 star top of the heap, there are tons of 4 and 3 star shows that should still take precedence over NCIS, Burn Notice, or whatever other nonsense you’re watching because your finger got tired of changing channels.
Work your way down to the crap TV, not up to the excellent.
3) The Wire
4) Breaking Bad
6) Battlestar Galactica (new series)
7) Avatar: The Last Airbender
10) The Office (British version)
12) Generation Kill
I’ve been training martial arts for most of my life. I’ve done karate, jujitsu, Brazilian jujitsu, aikido, and some tai chi chuan. Despite all that (or maybe because of it) I’ve only been in one real fight in my life.
Well, I guess it depends on your definition of a fight. I reflexively punched a younger kid in the face as a grade schooler over some perceived slight during a baseball game. As a freshman I was once given a bloody nose by a high school pal during a friendly bout of slap-boxing which didn’t feel very friendly. I’ve sparred a lot during my years of training martial arts, but that doesn’t really count.
No, I’ve only ever been in one real fight, where, as an adult man, another adult man actively attempted to do me harm. Well, actually, adult “men” would be more accurate, there were 4 or 5 of them. So I guess technically, I was jumped.
In that case, I’ve still never been in a fight; I’ve been jumped. Once.
It sucked, as you might expect, but it was also a great experience. If I’d ended up with my skull bashed in by a bottle I might not think so, but since I made it out none the worse for wear, it was a worthwhile learning experience.
Maybe I should just relate the story:
It was Valentine’s Day 2011 and I was out with my girlfriend at the time in the popular bar district in Beijing, China. Following a nice meal and some drinks, we ventured into a nearby yet infinitely seedier section of bar street to have a drink and dance, at her insistence.
We ended up in a bar called Butterfly, which was one of the many places on that particular street where dreams went to die. The entire area has since been walled over with concrete, which is for the best. In typical fashion, the bar was packed to the gills with rowdy expats and Chinese aficionados of the species. Rather than braving the dance floor immediately, to build our resolve we stood at the bar for a while chatting and having a drink (poured from a bottle within which was definitely NOT the alcohol advertised on the label).
Suddenly an arm pushed between us with deliberate malice. A hand reaches down into the stool that we were using as a hat rack, grabbed my hat, threw it aside, and a gruff voice said in Mandarin: “This is my chair.” I look up and there is a tallish, smirking mouth breather making “come at me bro” eyes at me.
My girlfriend immediately began gathering our things and pulling me towards the door, eager to avoid a confrontation. Somewhere beneath my instinctive male ire I found this interesting because her insistence implied that she thought that I might be inclined to chest puff and monkey dance with the guy. For the record, I don’t do that, partially out of maturity and a general disdain for posturing and showmanship, and partially due to cowardice and a general self-preserving desire not to be accidentally beaten to death.
Still, in front of my girlfriend I had to keep a little bit of face, and I WAS annoyed, so I give the guy my best smirk and “If-it wasn’t-for-my-girlfriend-I’d…” look and slowly followed her out of the bar. A helping hand guided me on my way as I turned to go.
Now, despite being a coward and general pacifist, I also have a rule that goes like this: don’t touch me. So I knocked Mr. Helpful’s hand off of my back, which was exactly the signal that his 3 or 4 friends were waiting for to attack.
What follows probably lasted for all of 10 seconds, but when I replay it it feels like 5 minutes. Long story short: I was separated from my girlfriend and attacked from all sides; I dodged a few poorly thrown haymakers and managed to grab a guy and commenced using him for Operation Human Shield. Thankfully the genius squad attacking me was using the tried and true “movie ninja” method of attacking one at a time, so I was able to keep them at bay, make my way to the door, and throw my trusty shield back at his friend before exiting the fine establishment with my girlfriend and beating a quick retreat to a waiting taxi.
Now, I’m a fairly small individual. I stay in good shape and am pretty athletic, but I’m not tall or large. And as my fighting experience outlined above (namely the lack thereof) might tell you, I’m definitely not a battle hardened tough guy.
Therefore I attribute my general success in the encounter to a combination of 3 things: the fact that it was well past drunk o’ clock which rendered my attackers’ already inept fighting skills useless; the fact that at the time I was training several martial arts regularly and thus had somewhat increased physical and situational awareness; and the fact that after the plan A of immediately dragging me to the ground for a head-kickfest failed, the plan B of actually slugging it out with me seemed less attractive.
I managed to make it out of the encounter entirely unscathed. My then-girlfriend also made it out fine. Thankfully the attention was all on getting to me. She stayed out of harm’s way pretty easily once they swarmed. Being from Korea where pugilism is anything but irregular she was also almost completely unfazed by the events of the evening.
I, on the other hand, had an adrenaline dump going that kept me up until the wee hours. During that contemplation time, some things about situations like the one that had just transpired were highlighted in my mind. One was that the vast majority of people in the world don’t know how to fight. Even in places where fighting is common, there are very few people who really learn to fight. The other was that most people, even assholes who want to participate in a good old fashioned jumping don’t really want to fight. Oh, they want to beat someone up alright, but they don’t want to actually risk anything for it… hence the underlying conceit behind jumping.
The last thing had to do with my martial arts studies. I’d been mostly studying Brazilian Jujitsu and Aikido at the time, and I could definitely feel the usefulness of my Aikido studies. Especially in today’s MMA saturated world, lots of people denigrate Aikido as overly exaggerated and useless in practical application, but it was probably the only reason the situation ended up as well as it did. While staying entirely defensive also probably helped keep the situation from escalating, knowing how to move around multiple attackers, knowing how to keep an opponent off balance while maintaining my own, and knowing how to respond to the various angles presented helped keep me safe that night.
My petty desire to have cracked at least one of those clowns in the teeth not withstanding, I couldn’t have asked for a better first brawl.
So, for better or for worse (only time will tell) I have volunteered to be the guinea pig for my fellow FYMP master, Move Matt.
This will not be a tale of dramatic triumph over adversity or obesity – this isn’t The Biggest Loser.
No. I’m a 30+ year old who has been a decent athlete all his life. Fitness, for me, was rarely a stated goal and mostly a way of being. I played fun sports like tennis and basketball, or had cool competitions (2 Tough Mudders, a tri-sprint, and a Big Sur marathon) to train for to keep me motivated. Fitness just well, …HAPPENED.
In recent months, if not years, I’ve realized that without these goals, fitness has occurred more as a chore than as a side-effect of daily life. While I have many “excuses” like new responsibilities at work, two young kids, a wife, and a myriad of other reasons for not integrating fitness into my life – they all fall rather flat. In short, my current fitness is not very FYMP.
What happens when I’m being chased by meth-enhanced criminals who have nothing but burying their brass knuckles into my chest and skull on their minds? How fast am I going to be? How quickly and smoothly am I going to vault over/under obstacles? Right now, there’s probably a 50/50 shot that I’m going to get away from the speedy zombies from the documentary “28 Days Later”. I aim to get that percentage as close to 100% as possible. Zombieland had it right. For any post-apocalyptic scenario, a high-level of fitness/dexterity is crucial to my continued survival – something that is very personal to me and mine.
A key skill that will help mitigate my inevitable injuries attempting fymptastic parkour maneuvers is the Muscle-up. Without this skill, I will be falling back down from walls after embarrassingly pinwheeling my legs and body while attempting to throw myself over an obstacle.
My current muscle up status is more WYMP than FYMP, I’m afraid. I can do 8 pull-ups reverse grip. 6 pull-ups front grip. It’s been long enough that I know this is going to hurt over the next couple of days. That’s what my body gets for neglecting my survival skill-set for so long – suck it up body.
While my fitness may not be FYMP just yet, my mind always has been. Move Matt – do your worst.
FYMP for life!
Working out sucks. Stop doing it. Seriously.
That might sound like some odd advice from the section of FYMP that professes to be the physical well-being side of the house, but those three words are essential to be able to understand every blog post that comes after this. In the cartoon above, Calvin is confused not only why adults don’t play, but also the definition of “play” offered by his father. Calvin’s father is also in turn confused, and clearly disappointed, by his own explanation. I think it would be more accurate to replace the word “exercise” with “working out” as it is more conventionally used for what Calvin’s dad is referring to and elicits a more specific visual. That being said, working out sucks.
I exercise anywhere from three to seven days a week depending on the circumstances and I agree, working out sucks. How does that make any sense? Have I just come to terms with the Sisyphean task that is working out in order to achieve a level of fitness or a physique that I want? Hell no. I don’t work out. I used to, but over the years I’ve been giving it up in favor of what Calvin would more readily recognize as play. The best part about removing “workouts” from exercise? Exercise becomes fun again.
Just as in my previous post about running in pants, you’re probably suffering from a classic case of “you’re doing it wrong.” I’m going to play the same assumptions game and make a few guesses about what your workouts look like. First, there is a seemingly endless list of specialized equipment, starting with clothes, shoes, accessories (those gloves match your purse?), not to mention the seemingly endless list of extra tools you can buy (think late night QVC-style TV) and finally the numerous racks, machines and ‘bells of all sorts that can only be found in a specialized place. That specialized place is the target of my second assumption: after dressing up in a workout outfit, you probably got in your car and drove to a gym (if you ran or biked there, good on you, but you’re still doing it wrong). Third, once inside this workout facility, you likely engaged in the standard workout structure: warm-up, stretch, workout, cool-down, stretch more, leave. This workout structure likely has a name. Some of us old folks probably remember the Sweating to the Oldies-style regimens and nowadays the kids buzz on about Zumba, CrossFit, HIIT, The 300 Workout, and so on. That’s a list I would hate to ever have to make comprehensive (speaking of Sisyphus…).
But wait, there’s more! On to number four: chances are pretty good, especially if you’re of the male variety, there is some sort of supplement involved. That can include anything from pre-, intra-, and post-workout supplements, pills (or “tabs.” Ugh, stop saying “tabs.”), powders and anything in between. Raise your hand if you have some Breaking Bad-shit going on in your locker or kitchen; you’re not alone. Next up, many folks these days are finishing their workouts with logging. Lots and lots of logging. Who knows how people ever managed to do anything before smartphone apps, GPS, Nike chips in shoes, calorie in/calorie out websites, etc., etc., etc. And don’t forget, Facebook. Raise your hand if you have ever created or witnessed a workout related post on Facebook; you too are not alone.
Did I leave anything out? There is indeed something missing from this party – fun. While not everything listed above is inherently bad, none of it sounds particularly enjoyable. Therein lies the greatest obstacle when it comes to establishing a fit lifestyle: you will naturally stray from things that are not enjoyable. The one piece of human anatomy that decides enjoyment level is the same critical piece of human anatomy that likely 99% of people who “workout” forget during exercise. THE BRAIN. This is critical so much that I’m going to go all caps-lock on it again. THE BRAIN. Now, I will readily admit that researching, memorizing, recording and analyzing all of the workout regimens, sets and supplements of many people who work out is nothing short of PhD candidate level academic rigor (I’ve been there), but that is absolutely not what I mean by leaving THE BRAIN out of the equation. Side note, in my head, every time I type THE BRAIN, I sound it out like I imagine an old-school zombie would.
So what do I mean by leaving THE BRAIN (ok, that was the last time, it’s been fun though) out of the workout? This is actually really complex in explanation, to the point that I intend to explain the brain’s function in different, specific aspects of exercise in many future posts. For now however, let’s simply take a broad look at how much the brain is involved in working out. The human body experienced thousands of years of survival and improvement in environments that were much less ideal than all of the artificial stuff that are found in workouts, as outlined above. The human brain evolved along with the body in those less than ideal environments. If countless and unsurprising psychological studies can effectively prove that nature (where our brains and bodies grew up over millennia) has many positive effects on our mental wellbeing, is it that much of a leap to think that “workouts” (effectively a 100% artificial activity, based on the above criteria) aren’t the best option? That maybe you’ve effectively removed the brain from the exercise equation? If we put our brain in a more natural environment there are marked increases in good feelings…maybe using our bodies to move naturally in that natural environment ought to make the brain happy as well.
Again, as I said, much more will come of this discussion, however let’s play another mental exercise. Start by checking out some nature. Go on a hike, do some trail running, climb (or attempt to climb) a tree. Anything. This is of course harder depending on where you live, but I defy you to come up with an airtight excuse for why you can’t even find a city park. Try moving in nature, without any specific and artificial assistance (some shoes and durable clothes may be a good idea…more on why in future posts) and just take note of how you feel afterward. Natural movement in a natural environment and then think about it. Leave comments below of your experience if you’re so inclined!
These random popular things are mediocre; you should not like them as much as you do.
1. The Big Bang Theory (the show… not the actual theory)
2. Tom Clancy books (yes, all of them)
5. Sons of Anarchy
6. Dan Brown books (yes, all of them)
7. The Dark Knight Rises
9. The Walking Dead (TV show)
10. Anything from Mark Millar
Here at FYM Planet, we don’t go after the low hanging fruit. For a list of some truly BAD things, just find anything popular with high schoolers. We stick to maligning the not-that-good, the could-be-better; the …meh.
This list is in no particular order, and it is far from exhaustive, but it’s a good start. If you get really excited about anything listed above…
When was the last time you ran? I’m willing to bet that whether or not the answer is last night or last year or even last leap year, the circumstances were similar: You were wearing running clothes, running shoes, and were at a running venue of your choosing. Continuing with my assumptions, you were there to “train” and there was a warm-up and probably some stretching. But there was one critical element missing: Need.
Need? What does that even mean? I “need” to lose weight/get in shape/improve my cardio/prep for a race/etc etc etc. Therefore, I “need” to run. Yeah…that’s not how I would define “need.” Even a Kenyan, running at an event of some sort, chasing a first, second or third place purse just to put food on the table still doesn’t “need” to run. This is a classic case of “you’re doing it wrong.”
Fine, define “need” then. Ok, here we go: people need to run when they have to evade something trying to hurt or kill them, such as a predator or villain. Or maybe a person needs to hurt or kill prey or even another person. People also need to run when an environment has become dangerous, i.e. a volcanic flow or an earthquake has made it necessary to escape the current locale. And hell, let’s just admit it, maybe people have to run just to get away from the damn police. We’ve all been there, right? Right? ….ok, maybe only some of us have been there…
Either way, there is one commonality amongst all of the activities in the “need” category: there is little, if any, room for choice. Interestingly enough, all of those needs are also scenarios that every other creature in the animal kingdom are faced with frequently (except for maybe the police scenario…I don’t think tigers have a police force, do they??). Seriously, could you imagine if an animal had to meet the same criteria to run that modern humans do? Put on special shoes and do special warm ups in a special place designed especially for such things? Hunters would starve or hunted wouldn’t stand a chance.
When a lion knows there is prey nearby, it up and chases it down. When a gazelle knows that said lion is out to eat it, it up and runs away. No warm ups, no lacing of fancy shoes, no stepping out to the track. Can you do that? Probably not. In fact, I’m going to guess that the idea of jumping out of your seat right now and sprinting down the block is a bit scary. It really shouldn’t be though.
Let’s step back for a second. I hope that you never have to run. Be it out of survival or combat, we’ve worked hard for our modern world and should reasonably expect a degree of safety that makes such a thing obsolete. However, there are two problems with that kind of thinking: 1. Shit happens. 2. Your body is meant to be prepared for when shit happens. This does not mean preparing for some abstract potentiality in an effort to survive a one-in-a-million possibility, but rather taking full advantage of your evolved self (more on this in upcoming posts).
Actual insight and recommendations on running will come in future blog posts, but in the meantime, treat this as a mental exercise. Running shoes are a product of the 1970s, running programs from the 1980s and sweat-wicking material the 1990s. Human beings needed to run tens of thousands of years before any of these inventions, so why is your running contingent on them?
It’s 35 degree Celsius and 95% humidity in Malaysian Borneo. I’m hungover and have a belly full of nothing but coffee. I’m wearing long pants. It’s time to run.
I’ve been desperately searching for some inspiration to kick start my first FYMP post and I think I finally found it. I’m just going to get right into it: four former coworkers of mine died in a military plane crash in Afghanistan a couple days ago. While I was not personally close to these men, many of my close friends were. It has also dredged up feelings held over from a plane crash a year ago, on which I did have close friends.
When I found out about the wreck, I was in the middle of planning a trip to Malaysian Borneo. The tickets had been purchased, I was just doing the research to figure out what I was going to do there. Needless to say, this planning was taken off the rails and was never really completed. Fast forward a couple of days and I found myself getting shit-faced in a bar outside my hostel a few hours after landing in Kota Kinabalu. This led to sleeping in (like, to 12:30 pm) the next day which led to feelings of depression for wasting my time here. Overall bad.
Additionally, in an effort to justify my laziness, I busted out the computer in order “to write.” Really that just turned into me surfing the internet under the guise of “research” for my first post. I finally had to admit to myself that I was suffering from project saturation and going impotent in the face of it. Deadlines are drawing near on a bunch of schoolwork and I have so much that I want to write about for FYMP that I was all thrust and no vector and getting nothing done as a result. Further depressing.
I finally made a step in the right direction by putting the computer away and deciding to go for a walk. Walking down the coast of the Sulu Sea, I spotted a Starbucks. Yeah, a drip coffee is somehow the equivalent of US$3, but screw it, I want coffee. With my hot coffee making me even sweatier than I already was walking around in this humid oven, I kept trundling down the seawall. I started screwing around by balancing on the edge, jumping back and forth over the ditch, hoping a few rocks. Nothing significant, but the additional movement along with the walk was helping me to get my mind off of stuff.
That’s when I suddenly recalled a technically inconclusive yet operantly encouraging study I read while doing “research” earlier in the day about brain activity during a walk through a city vice a park. Basically, and spoiler alert, walking in nature is better for you. Shocker. This in turn led me to my self reminder: Move, Matt. I had also made promises to myself and others that I would MovNat the hell out of Borneo. Next thing you know, the only thing I could think about was killing my coffee and finding a trash can.
I succeeded in killing the coffee, but couldn’t find a trash. Of course I’m not going to litter, so screw it, I’m wearing adventure pants, I’ll just shove the trash in a pocket even if it is a bit wet with coffee. That’s when I started going. First it started as a slow jog down the actual wall of the seawall. Then it grew in intensity and I found myself making a few leaps across some crags. I kept reminding myself to keep my legs under me and not in front of me, especially since my Minimus and my socks were already wet (more on that in a future post). That’s when I saw a sign for the wetlands preserve and decided to run there.
Long story short, I kept running. Persistence style. I had no idea where I was going and I let my goldfish attention span take over. Up hills, down hills, ohheylookanotherpath, time to play a few minutes of pick up soccer with some locals, ohheylookstairs, and so on. I was wearing my aforementioned “adventure pants” (long, cargo style) and a long-sleeved, button-down shirt. But screw it, you don’t always get to choose when to run.
Finally, I made it back into Kota Kinabalu. My feelings for my former coworkers and for all of the brave men and women who continue to do that job no less diminished, but a renewed appreciation for life gained. The lesson I learned here is that no matter the specific circumstances, a little bit of movement can go a long way. I ended up scratched, bruised, exhausted and so sweaty that I needed to take a shower with my clothes on (no way could they go without a wash), but I was in such a better place emotionally and mentally. My contributions to FYMP will continue to explore this phenomenon and hopefully help as many people as possible improve their quality of life.
How society asks the wrong questions of our correctional system
You break the law. You go to jail. Then what?
Well,“Welcome Home!”, because more than likely you’ll be back again and again to enjoy the best creature comforts and social bum etiquette lessons public money can buy.
It’s more akin to a social experiment than a system of rehabilitation. It would almost make me feel better to think it was an experiment – almost. At least there would be an intention rather than the aimlessness of our national correctional policy.
Since the 70’s get tough on crime campaigns the number of inmates has increase five-fold. The US has the highest incarceration rate in the civilized world – including Russia. Though I would be very careful not to rush to judgment on the superiority of the Russian correctional system. It’s just an interesting statistic.
Inmate recidivism approaches 60%.
“So”, I ask, “is this working?“
Well to answer that you’d have to get past all the other personal political fodder people throw in the way.
“It’s because of the rise of the for-profit prison industry!”
“We need to protect our children!”
“We need to set an example!”
“We can’t let people get away with breaking the law!”
All these statements have a point, but they all actually miss the point.
The for-profit industry arose, as most for-profit industries, because of the “need” for more correctional facilities. Yes, there is evidence of corruption, and the rise of profit centers that make money off of imprisoning our citizens may on the surface be unseemly. But let’s not blame the private corrections industry. They are answering the question – how do we house all of our criminals?
The cries of protecting society or protecting our children are hard to argue with. This is not because the logic is inviolate but that it is too vague and emotional to be useful. What does protecting our society and protecting our children actually mean in a practical sense? And is incarceration endpoint for achieving that?
Protests for not letting people get away with breaking the law or being “soft on crime” is another deceiving argument since no one would agree either of those are acceptable. People break the law all the time. We’re all law-breakers. Ever jay-walk? Ever speed? Not wear your seatbelt? However, the supporters of “eye for an eye” judgements answer the question, “what will people think of me if I’m not out for the swiftest, harshest, most “effective” punishment?” These people are more concerned about themselves than the prisoner, the victim, or even the societal problems in question.
There are many others. This is not a comprehensive list.
Rarely do you find sympathy or empathy for the prisoner. Rehabilitation comes up on occasion, but it’s usually vague and conferred only to the recovering drunkards or drug addicts. These people, society has taught us, have a disease and should be somewhat pitied but still treated harshly, lest someone think we’ve gone “soft” again.
Why is this discussion important? While this post will not pretend to answer all the questions about incarcerations, it will deal with the MOST important question – “What is the purpose our correctional system?”
On the Federal Bureau of Prisons website the stated purpose is as follows:
The Federal Bureau of Prisons protects society by confining offenders in the controlled environments of prisons and community-based facilities that are safe, humane, cost-efficient, and appropriately secure, and that provide work and other self-improvement opportunities to assist offenders in becoming law-abiding citizens
This is a very bureaucratic and stale way to say that our system is about Punishment and Rehabilitation.
So I come back to the original question. What is the purpose of our prison system?
It is a very simple question, but it comes with hard choices. Just because it is simple does not make it easy.
If our correctional system is purely about punishment, then the system is actually set up pretty well. We have plenty of things to punish people for, from drugs to theft to rape and murder. We have lawyers and judges to make sure people have fair trials, and by-and-large, we’ll say the justice system works well to fairly punish people.
But here is where the system fails. When you make the purpose of a system to punish people, whether you like it or not, that system will find ways to punish them. It may seem ridiculous and obvious but you only see it in light of what else might be possible. By over emphasizing punishment, you are in fact saying, if not out loud, that people are irredeemable and that they must be continuously punished, Sisyphus style. To what purpose, one can only guess, though I suspect our Judeo-Christian values are somewhat to blame, but that is another post.
What if, instead of punishment you focused on rehabilitation? If a system is structured to rehabilitate rather than punish, you are answering a fundamentally different question. Yes, a person is being punished at the moment for the crime that made them a threat to society, but that fundamentally, they ARE redeemable. This system would look for ways to empower this individual rather than disempower them.
The structure of these two paradigms might appear on the surface to be very similar – i.e. you’d still need laws, police, jails, and correctional facilities. What would be different would be how society would treat these individuals. In turn, how these individuals thought of themselves would be different. They would at least see a POSSIBILITY of a different outcome.
Now our prison system is a little bit of both. States rights make different state systems have slightly different bents. But it seems pretty clear that nationwide we have a problem with our correctional system. We make more and more laws to punish people, which is extremely effective at finding and imprisoning “criminals”. However, imprisoning people is not a means to an end and the country is spending billions of dollars funding a system that, by its very nature, will never be satisfied. Can we really say the War on Drugs has done anything but make smoking pot even cooler for teenagers?
The answer is to take a step back and answer the basic question about corrections. I would prefer to live in a society that truly sets up a system where an inmate has an opportunity at success and not a virtual life-sentence of repeat offending.
I didn’t even get into the reasons why the recidivism rate is so high, but that may be for another post.
The light at the end of the tunnel is that some people “get it”. In NY they have instituted a partnership with Cornell to provide education to inmates so that they have marketable skills when they leave prison. This is just one way to combat one of the many reasons why people turn to crime. This is a system that is wrestling with the real question of rehabilitation and not just punishment.
When money is spent this way, the inevitable protest will always be “that’s not fair” or “why should they benefit from being a criminal?” These protests say more about the person than the policy they are questioning. It implies that the criminal should be punished in perpetuity, until such time as you, protestor, decide they’ve suffered enough to justify getting some benefit. To hell with the damage to society from how we treat our criminals, as long as you get some satisfaction they are being forever punished.
My point is this. The current prison system, while certainly not a monolith and much more like a hideous Chimera, is flawed and I believe too skewed towards a system that is orchestrated to punish and incarcerate people. This is why we see the incarceration rates we do and, yes, the number of private penitentiaries exploding.
But “NO” this is not a flaw in capitalism or in our vigilance to justice.
It’s a system that was always destined to fail.
In a few words, the prison system is not very FYMP. We better correct ourselves before we wreck ourselves. That is all.
We’ve all heard it before. Sanctimonious friends telling us how much their formerly pathetic lives have improved since they got rid of Facebook and its evil lure of artificially sustained acquaintanceship. The perceived disservice done to True Friendship™ is an oft cited reason for dumping the service, e.g. “maintaining friendships takes more than ‘liking’ a status or typing an extra exclamation point on someone’s front page Happy Birthday message.” Rather than sharing pictures on Facebook of their latest weekend mountain biking (or whatever) to constantly project an image of a fun and active lifestyle, these friends achieve the same result by working their disuse of the service and associated happiness into every conversation.
Those who haven’t quite made the plunge often wax dramatic about their addiction to Facebook or the time they waste on the social networking site, often set against the backdrop of a fantasy world where their productivity levels far outstrip their real world potential. Still others cite their annoyance at the constant stream of drivel that emanates from their feed; to hear them tell it, Facebook itself spews these inanities, not the friends they’ve chosen.
Here’s the thing: any tool is only as effective as its user. If you use a splitting maul to slice bread you’ll get frustrated very quickly. You are also a moron. Throwing the maul away in disgust is certainly an option, but only as long as you don’t ever need to split any wood. Heavy-handed metaphor aside, the point is: if you’re using Facebook in a way that is causing you distress, stop using it in that way.
Here are a few ideas about Facebook use that may help in this process:
Choose your friends wisely: If your Facebook feed is constantly filled with lengthy bible verses, blow by blow reactions to the latest episode of Real Housewives of Schenectady, or passive aggressive attention-whore status updates like “real friends wouldn’t treat each other that way, just sayin’,” the fault lies in one place and one place only: Your crappy choice of friends. Not only do you have complete control over the people you add on Facebook, you also have complete control on the updates you get from them. Here’s a thought: don’t add people you know you don’t want to hear opinions from, and if for some reason you decide you have to anyway, add them as an acquaintance or unsubscribe from their updates. Also feel free to delete people you don’t think you want as friends. Trust me, the anguish they suffer at being unfreinded by you will pass, and in time they may even go on to live normal productive lives.
Own your procrastination: Now, I consider myself something of an expert on wasting time. At the same time I score pretty low in self-deception which makes for a pretty frustrating experience at times. Another side effect, however, is that at no point do I pretend that my time wasting is a function of anything other than my internal laziness, no matter what external outlet I may find. The idea that in the absence of Facebook I might somehow be hopelessly cornered into doing actual work is pretty preposterous. My procrastination isn’t so fragile a thing. There’s a whole Internet out there to distract me from important things I should be doing. And barring that, there’s an actual world outside full of even more distractions, or so I’ve heard. Facebook isn’t making you waste your time, you are. And who knows, if you own up to that then maybe you can even start to do something about it. Or not, whatever.
Convenience is not the enemy of friendship: If your interaction with your close friends really comes down to a few “likes” a year, it can mean one of several things: 1) you didn’t have anything to say lately – this happens; 2) you don’t value that friendship as much as you thought you did – this is probably good to know, 3) The friendship isn’t the type that needs constant maintenance – when the urge hits you, you’ll reach out and vice versa. The one thing that all of these things have in common, is that they have nothing to do with Facebook. If you feel awkward about the perceived superficiality of your Facebook outreach, that’s a personal problem. If you care enough, you can always call or write your friend (you could even do both of these things ON Facebook). And if you don’t care enough to ever call or write, why do you care about feeling like you don’t care enough to ever call or write? In any case, that you do or do not do those things has nothing at all to do with Facebook. Additionally, if having casual acquaintances offends you on some fundamental level, see the first point above.
Now, I personally could care less if you never plan to use Facebook, delete your current account, or decide the internet is altogether not for you. If you’ve got neo-luddite tendencies than by all means embrace it, you’ll be much more prepared when the apocalypse hits. But even if you don’t want to use it or dislike it for other reasons, it’s important to remember that Facebook is still simply a tool. The amount you use it and how you use it is totally up to you. So if you don’t blame a hammer for building a crappy house, then don’t blame Facebook for being a crappy experience.
Imagine a film that will both highlight socioeconomic issues in low income UK housing projects, and also tell the story of adolescent hooligans thwarting an alien invasion.
This sounds like the first line of an overambitious final project proposal by a first year film student who will end up actually making a four minute animated short about a lonely hedgehog before graduating to work at The Home Depot. Actually, though, it’s a pretty good one line introduction to Attack the Block, one of my favorite movies of the past few years.
When I watched Attack the Block the first time, I was expecting a low budget, run-of-the-mill action comedy; run-of-the-mill meaning the action would be sub-par and the comedy would fall flat. Aside from the genre, I had no idea what the premise of the movie was which probably contributed to my enjoyment of it.
Needless to say, the effusive nature of this review should lead you to guess that I was pleasantly surprised. Here’s why:
- The comedic moments were actually funny! The action was actually exciting! In today’s action comedy world where explosions usually play the role previously occupied by actual action choreography, and the use of “comedy” in the genre title could easily refer to the laughability of the plot, it’s amazing to see a movie with clever, witty dialogue, AND action sequences thought out a bit further than cool posing and slow motion (though both techniques make awesome appearances in the film).
- Across the board, the characters were fully realized and treated as actual nuanced human beings; something you rarely see in movies featuring “disenfranchised youths” as either antagonists or protagonists.
- While the movie obviously did not have a budget as large as travesties like Transformers, the special effects were budget appropriate, good looking, and innovative.
- The climax can make or break a movie, and the final scenes in Attack the Block are as cathartic as in any movie I’ve seen in recent years, with all the inspiration, excitement, and badassery that an audience wants to see in a finale.
- The soundtrack fit the movie. No higher praise can be given.
As directorial debuts go, it’s been some time since I’ve seen a stronger one than this first film by Joe Cornish. Let’s just hope he doesn’t pull an M. Night Shyamalan.