On the Thanksgiving

It’s storming outside, and Lucien is nervous. The house is talking now and in many ways it is the wind that gives it its voice, not unlike how our own voices work. There’s a low groan from the fireplace downstairs because I have the chimney flute open for a fire later. There’s a pop and crack from time to time as the wood frame adjusts to the storm. The heat registers chime in as they activate to the cold trying to get in. The oven downstairs is almost finished roasting the duck, which will be basically our food supply for the next two days because it’s a larger bird than even I and the dogs could polish off in one sitting.

I am finding I like spending thanksgiving alone. It’s a day where everyone is busy making and doing things and enjoying company and, not unlike someone who works the night shift and sees how everything changes when the vast majority of humans are otherwise occupied, I feel like this day is my own private secret. It’s a good space to reflect, do some fun self-care, and actually pause for a moment to just be thankful by yourself.

Sometimes I think we should all take thanksgiving day privately, and leave the grand sharing with friends and awesome communal experience to Christmas. In a way, I think what we know of even the idea of Jesus would like that. A private reflection followed by a joyous celebration. But that would probably decimate the Turkey Industrial Complex. It would also probably decimate the Xanax Industrial Complex because there would be no political or religious arguments.

I’m thankful for so many things and, in general am happier than I have ever been. I’m thankful for growing up a lot in the past two years. I’m thankful for friends who helped me out through a tough spot. I’m thankful for my dogs Lucien and Basil without whom I simply could not function.  I’m thankful for the land that I live on and that it provides great joy for myself and the dogs. I’m grateful for the house that I live in which echoes and talks in its own way as I mentioned before and seems to be feeding my creative spirit. I love my job and the people I work with and am very thankful for the opportunity that has been provided to me.

I’m thankful for life! We spend such a short time on our planet. I wish so very deeply that I could share my new found zen sense that there is no great scorecard up in the sky for any of us. Our species moves on long timelines but our impact on it moves only in tiny bursts. History cares not in value for the victory of an election day for instance. It merely records it. Set down your baggage if you can, and stretch your arms.

I’m thankful for my privilege. I didn’t earn it nor do I deserve it, and I wish that everyone had the same privilege. My price for being thankful for it is to see it and work as much as I can to provide its benefits to everyone. Everyone. Because everyone deserves it.

The sun is setting. Dark when it’s day applies to us in Seattle. Basil is looking at me with his deep brown eyes and his serious face. I had put jazz on the turntable downstairs but it’s run through its side. It’s time to go outside and run my boy ragged with his ball while there’s light.

It’s thanksgiving. And if I was struck dead at any moment I would want my last words to be:

“Thank you for everything. I had a wonderful time.”

Thoughts on an Election

It’s not going to be ok. Not for a while. Strangely, that’s the magic of our American system.

***

I woke up this morning thinking of a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. It was a fairly good one as I recall, where the Enterprise was evaluating first contact with a race who wasn’t quite ready for it.

The away team was found out, and an enlightened leader of the race seemed set to push his civilization to the next phase. But they were not ready. Institutionalized pride and fear, some religious and some xenophobia caused tragedy and in the end first contact had to be delayed. Bad for the civilization involved as the Federation could have helped them solve numerous problems. But good in the sense that forcing a change will always be met with the elements of tradition and protection and that could now let them know there was a change on the horizon. Don’t worry, just not today.

We get caught up in waves of positive change. We have a short time on the Earth. We tend to believe in momentum despite the fact history has shown us over and over again the momentum surges back quickly, sharply, and sometimes with great pain.

***

I was talking last week with a fellow Bernie supporter and we were joined in the conversation by a Trump supporter who opined:

“You guys should have run Bernie. I like him as much as Trump. He would shake things up. But Hillary, all she and her husband want is another turn at the power wheel.”

It wasn’t a sexist comment. It wasn’t a conservative comment. It was an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

***

What has bothered me most by far are my scared friends. People of color. Non-Christians. People who, thanks to the gradual removal of morality from a biological imperative, have come out as gay or gender neutral or fluid or been able to embrace their true physical identity or their religious preference openly for the past eight years.

These people are afraid not just for the direction of the country they are terrified for their marriage, their ability to use a restroom, their ability to practice their faith, their feeling that it is unreasonable for a police officer to be able to shoot them under lax rules of engagement.

I can’t tell them to calm down, they are rightfully losing their shit over what this means for them and I have zero frame of reference to help.

***

While Trump may indeed be the least qualified person to run and win, the long arc of history in general shows there have been far worse presidents. Harding, Buchanan, Hoover all come to mind immediately. Granted Trump has not started yet, but I do take heart in that we’re still here and the gradual trend while never moving fast enough for my liking is ever better.

***

The status quo sucks. Hillary Clinton was, by the traditional sense of the idea, one of the most qualified candidates in years according to the job description. Donald Trump, in objective contrast, was one of the least by the same definition. But the reality is many of my fellow citizens simply feel slighted by a system that rewards playing by Washington rules. By playing the game.

I make no apologies nor regrets for my support of Hillary Clinton. I find Donald Trump in every way abhorrent in his behavior and his inability to understand you can lie for the rest of your life to make people like you but that will not change the fact you lie constantly.

The only downfall to Hillary as a candidate is that she and her husband have consistently handed their enemies the ammo needed to build a long and sustained narrative that they are untrustworthy. I still boggle over the email server. I get how it happened, and I understand its implications are not near as severe a “crime” as one side would like it to be. But it’s still a self-inflicted wound in a career riddled with them. The sum total of controversies over the Clinton’s that have been disproven is staggering but it is undercut on an almost two-year basis by something they say or do themselves that actually can be used against them.

***

I said on twitter that Trump has a mandate now. That’s not correct and I should have put it better. You cannot have a mandate when the other candidate won the popular vote.

What the Republicans have now is unfettered control. They have the three branches of the Federal government and a majority of the state legislatures and governorships. That means effectively if the Republican party wanted to add an amendment to the constitution they could do so far more easily than at any time in recent history. (note I said more easily not easily. It’s still a difficult process)

What this means is: They have no one to blame and no excuses. If the next four years is the dawning of a new golden age of prosperity or worse the dawning of a new dark age, it will be the direct result of conservative policy and no one else’s.

***

I hope Trump is the Republican party’s Carter.

***

What does this mean for NASA? One of the “Make America Great Again” pillars is a throwback to times when America had great successes. What was a more crowning achievement of American greatness than landing on the moon? Someone tell President-elect Trump that the Chinese are headed to Mars first. That ought to do it.

***

Talk of secession and faithless electors upsets me. The former was settled over the lives of 600,000 Americans. It is settled. No state can legally peacefully secede from the United States. It is not possible.

The latter would give us a powerless democrat in the white house against the aforementioned full republican control of the rest of the governing apparatus.

Both are folly.

***

I keep coming back to that Star Trek episode. One-half of the country isn’t listening to the other half. If we’re not listening, we’re missing the opportunity to assuage fear. To address concern. To actually learn that maybe some of what we think is wrong. I used to watch that episode thinking “screw it just do the first contact and deal with the fall out” But in that fictional world the fear meant people’s lives.

On this side of the real world it’s already costing lives and the full brunt of change isn’t even realized yet. What do you actually do in that situation?

You can sit and hate I suppose. But that’s going to be a long four years.

***

Michelle 2020.

It’s End of the World as We Know It

I’m going to keep this as non-spoilery as possible. But this will require some knowledge of the plot of The Walking Dead TV show (I am setting aside the comics for now, what was depicted in the TV show was far worse for the medium used than black and white panels in a comic)

I was and remain profoundly disturbed by The Walking Dead season 7 premiere. Never before have I watched such a brutal 45 minutes of television. It is an assault from beginning to end. It’s also going to be the last episode of the show that I will watch, not because of the quality of it or that I feel offended by it; but because it’s essentially the series finale.

Let’s set aside for the moment standard complaints about the show. I’ve stuck with it through its affectations or deficiencies. Let us instead think about the world described here.

“This is how it is now.” Negan says repeatedly during the episode. In that he is correct. With his brutality and the joy in conducting it he made me realize this world simply has no hope at all.

Everyone is infected with the virus, which means this world will feature a dwindling number of humans who are forever at risk. A sudden heart attack in the middle of the night means a person in this universe will reanimate and infect or eat the loved one next to them. Who knows how many they will infect in a household before someone is awake enough to combat the threat. In the later few seasons the creatures have come to travel in hordes of hundreds or thousands. So no matter what location you fortify you are always at risk of being over run simply by numbers.

Then there’s Negan. In this universe he has embraced the lack of hope. He is riding the nuclear bomb all the way down, whipping his hat in glee. He appears to be the only character thus far who realizes his only chance of living at least long enough to die naturally is in embracing the cruelty and hopelessness of the outbreak that has destroyed humanity. Even then, he doesn’t really have living longer as a goal.

I don’t know if something broke him. I don’t care. I don’t even care if he is killed or made to pay for what he has done so far, because he would only enjoy it. He represents the purest embrace of what has happened. He is the most evolved in this world.

And that’s where the show should end. The only way out for the show now is some type of revenge against Negan (which would be a replay of The Governor storyline) or a miraculous cure. The latter would pretty much be a conceit that would bore me.

Negan was right, the image of everyone sitting down to a nice outdoor lunch around a long table being happy and carefree is never going to happen. Not just because of the actions he took during the episode, but because that future was *never* going to happen in this universe.

I don’t really care what happens from here. It represents the ultimate in the worst world a post-apocalypse can conjure. Even the monstrosities of a film like The Road were clearly acting out of fear and survival. Negan acts out of revelry. He’s not just watching the world burn, he wants to contribute in a concrete way.

I wonder if that episode went so far is to reach the zombie world nadir. Once you’ve gone this far depicting such cruelty, it’s just human-centipede level one-upping from here.

Shows like Game of Thrones or others that have showed us no one is safe somehow manage to so without the extended graphic brutality and sheer gleefulness of the perpetrator. What made the episode so hard to watch was the lingering on each horrible thing. Even the Red Wedding or the death of Oberyn were done in seconds and (almost) dispassionately. The Walking Dead chose 45 minutes of pure unadulterated torture porn with a gleeful antagonist.

Something about this episode got to me deeply. It made me realize this is the logical endpoint of the plot of this story. It could go no where but here. It could produce no one but Negan.

I can’t say it was a good run, but it was an interesting one. I’m done with The Walking Dead. Again, not out of pique or frustration with the show. I’m done with it because they reached their conclusion. Perhaps they don’t even know it.

Star Trek Beyond (Non Spoiler Review)

I’m on record as absolutely loving the Star Trek reboot. It’s been done in such a way that doesn’t alter what you loved before, but reimagines it in a new way and in its own space. What if you took Gene Roddenberry’s idea of a utopian ideal then threw a huge 9/11 event into it? How would that change the ideals? How would it change James T. Kirk? Spock? Bones? The crew? Even the Enterprise?

The actions of Nero in the first film were a 9/11 event to Roddenberry’s idyllic scene. The surprise destruction of the Kelvin by what the Federation thought was the entire Romulan Empire, followed by the destruction of Vulcan, changed everything from our heroes’ origins to the very design of Starfleet’s ships to be much larger and more capable of offensive action. As we have seen with our own reaction to 9/11, a surprise exposure of vulnerability can rip the very fabric of a society. In that regard, the terrorists win. Into Darkness explored our own reaction to 9/11 by giving us a Star Trek where elements within the Federation were willing to cast about for any solution to protect themselves from the next threat, including researching, discovering, and waking up Khan. Khan, metaphorically, is waterboarding and drones and Guantanamo. It sets up a compromising of Star Fleet’s own code as summed up by Scotty: “Is that what we are now? Because I thought we were explorers.”

For those who hated that aspect of deconstruction and 9/11 metaphors in the Trek reboot can take heart.

Star Trek Beyond builds. It does not deconstruct. It takes the idea of strength in unity and drives it home several times. Its central villain wants revenge because he felt he was abandoned and thus lost his way. But maybe he wasn’t, frontiers are just dangerous. The film leaves that for you to ponder. Kirk for all his personal internal conflict never wavers from the point of the promise of the Federation, and neither does the crew.

We join this film with the five year mission in progress. The characters now banter and jibe much better together than in previous entries. The foundation laid down by the previous films actually shines here as these cast members have a little fun while not tipping the hand wholly into camp. It feels like the third Harry Potter film where you can think to yourself  “Yes! There it is! Now we can get started!”

Some specifics of the plot could use 4 minutes or so of some more exposition. Some things are solved too neatly (and with some silliness). But our heroes are torn from their five year mission at a moment of existential crisis, only to find their purpose again. The means to get to that point are well played out and don’t jar harshly like the previous films.

This film is fun, poignant, and sometimes silly. It’s a summer blockbuster formula for sure and the affectations from Abrams’ other films flow through as callbacks, but it’s good Trek and will leave a smile on your face if you let it. Each character has something personal to confront and resolve, nods are made to previous entries and to previous timelines (including the least successful Star Trek TV show), but the message is that the Federation is the best hope for the galaxy. Unity and tolerance in all its forms should always win over seeking to conquer to make us stronger.

This is probably one of the most feel good Trek films I think I have seen since Star Trek IV. The stakes are high but not at the intent of ripping the mythos. The motivations are conflicted and personal but not in a way that makes you feel it’s making a large statement about where we are today. The nods and comedic beats are (with a few exceptions) earned honestly.

Go see it. Although the fourth film has been greenlit, this is good Trek. Worth your time.

Stay for the credits. For Leonard. For Anton.

NOTE: My spoiler filled review will have to do with the Kirk/ Spock/Bones moments in the whole three films and a couple of other specific things. I will wait to post that until Monday.

Is VR the next 3D? (maybe) Kinect? (maybe) Wii? (maybe)

Virtual Reality is a pretty magical experience under the right set of circumstances. Having tried now all of the big players in the space between Vive, Oculus, HoloLens etc, I can say without question that VR and Augmented Reality have finally broken through to the consumer.Yet I have begun to figure out some of the obstacles that are going to seriously impede adoption, and they aren’t new ones.

Let us, for a moment, skip the cost of the actual hardware and supporting hardware. Eventually this entry point will come down and it’s low hanging fruit to start there because the technology is so new. Suffice to say for the moment that it’s incredibly expensive compared to other “good enough” technologies that are focused on entertainment as the gateway for broad adoption.

Let us further for this discussion skip the virtual store/User Interface. Much like phones and operating systems this will eventually solidify when someone hits the right metaphor or construct that makes obtaining apps/games and navigating between them easy and (more or less) simple.

So let’s assume you have brought home Bob’s Amazing VR platform, and Bob’s Amazing VR platform once properly setup and connected leads you to magical experiences.

There’s a massive gap in the middle of these two things that could kill VR as dead as 3D Blu Ray, or Kinect games, or even the fact few play the Wii anymore (arguably the most successful of these technologies from a usage standpoint).

That gap is the friction involved to enter the experience.

3D Blu Ray exposed the same complaint I often heard about the Kinect: “I can’t just sit down and get into it.” First you must make sure that your Blu Ray player supports the latest firmware, your glasses are available and not in a dusty corner somewhere, they are charged and/or have fresh batteries, they are properly synced to your TV, that you have enough glasses for everyone, that the TV and the Blu Ray player are in sync on the 3D signal, that you upped the brightness on the TV to compensate for the dimming effect 3D has, and lastly that everyone has a proper viewing angle. You perform all these actions and pop in your Blu Ray only to find you accidentally popped in the non-3D copy and have to get up to go back to the case to get the 3D one. Never mind the fact the primary way you consume movies or TV now might be streaming for which there is little 3D content. Add to that, I hope you don’t get a headache from the 3D syncing.

Let’s look at Kinect. Similar problems arise. The idea of motion activated gaming seems like a winner on paper, and the Kinect sensor is a marvel of engineering. But its utility is really limited to gaming experiences for which you have to rearrange your living room, calibrate the sensor (sometimes even in between games) to properly sample the game space, and deal with situations that typically confuse the sensor like the family dog entering the space or someone in the background going to get a drink from the kitchen. A few magical moments don’t really compensate to overcome wondering if you really want to move the couch and coffee table out of the room again to play Dance Central.

The Wii managed to keep the entry to experience friction low, but content was limited to Tennis. Or Bowling.

Now let’s look at VR. Depending on how Bob designed the VR rig you at the very least have a headpiece to wear. It may or may not be tethered to a base unit that is not meant to be moved. The headsets are a long way from an uncomfortable motorcycle helmet but are also a longer ways away from feeling like no headset at all. It’s Yet Another Thing ™ you have to take the time to get right before you can experience what you want to experience. It may require calibration. The magical experience you had over at a friend’s house might be completely different because he has Joe’s Amazing VR Platform not Bob’s but you didn’t know there was a difference. Like the 3D glasses, you probably feel a little goofy wearing the setup, and your friends video’s of you flailing around on Youtube don’t really endear you to your investment. Once done with your experience you have to stow everything away, which means finding a place for the helmet and equipment.

The friction point here is time.

We’re all competing for time. Microsoft isn’t competing against Sony with the Xbox. Sony isn’t competing with Nintendo. Everyone is competing for time. Because between movies, streaming, phone games, casual games, console games, going out to dinner, reading a book, and the fact there is more quality content above the “garbage” bar than at any point in history, there is no time. So much so I’m convinced I have past the point in my life where even if the content stopped tomorrow I would not have enough hours left in my life to experience it all when combined with work, sleep, and food.

Each of the scenarios I described above involves time. And remember, we already gave a free pass to the cost of entry and the ease of accessing content. That adds even more time.

Those problems will get solved with volume and maturity. Smartphones were along long before Apple solved the entry point and ease of use problems. Technology for the moment limits VR until miniaturization can get us to a societal point that contact lenses or even simple glasses make the friction points easy. That is where VR needs to focus its user experiences.

Make your VR platform goal to make the technology as simple and easy to enter into as an iphone app or launching Netflix and VR/AR will reach it’s potential so fast “Screens” as we think of them today will be a thing of the past. It might also avoid going the way of 3D.