Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Movie Homework

I am a huge movie buff. I love movies. I can curl up on the couch and watch movies all weekend long and not feel even a tinge of guilt about it. It's time well spent.

However, living in Vietnam, I am not as up on the new movies as I was when I lived in the States. This is fine with me. As I hear about new movies or see people talking about them on Facebook, I go download them and watch them here. It works for me, but it often means I am months behind what my friends back home are watching.

A few weeks ago. I finally got to see Avengers: Infinity War. It was a great movie and I needed someone I could talk to about the heavy stuff that happened at the end. (Don't worry - I will not be spoiling anything here.) So, I called my nephews to talk some of this out. Now, of course, they saw it many months before I did, so they'd already had time to sort it and each of them mentioned a connection I should have made from Ant-Man and the Wasp.

Now, I stated this earlier. I love movies, but this is not the first time this has happened. Sometimes plot points and important details get missed because I have not been properly educated on the entire pre-existing universe of the movie I am trying to enjoy.

To illustrate, let's pause my commentary for a moment to take a look at what is actually required if you want to be totally up to speed in the Marvel universe. If you want to watch the events of this world in chronological order, here is what you must watch. And, in case you didn't know, it's not all movies. Half the content is television shows. Content list provided by The Independent.

Captain America: The First Avenger

Agent Carter (seasons one and two)

Agent Carter (Iron Man 3 DVD extra)

Iron Man

Iron Man 2

The Incredible Hulk

The Consultant (Thor DVD extra)

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer (Captain America: First Avenger DVD extra)



Item 47 (Avengers DVD extra)

Iron Man 3

All Hail the King (Thor: The Dark World extra)

Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 1 — 7)

Thor: The Dark World

Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 8 — 16)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Agents of Shield (season one: episodes 17 — 22)

Guardians of the Galaxy 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

Daredevil (season one)

Agents of Shield (season two: episodes 1 — 19)

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Agents of Shield (season two: episodes 20 — 22)


Jessica Jones (season one)

Daredevil (season two)

Agents of Shield (season three: episodes 1 — 19)

Made it this far? Well done, you’ve watched a whole lot of Marvel! This next set marks some of the best MCU movies so far, but also some timeline bending difficulties. For instance, Doctor Strange begins before Civil War, but finishes after Civil War, Slingshot features lots of flashbacks, and Agents of Shield season five features a lot of obscure time traveling. Also, Black Panther and Spider-Man both take place directly after Civil War, while Ragnarok, Panther  and Ant-Man and The Wasp lead directly into Avengers: Infinity War (and presumably Avengers 4). There's also the latter part of Shield that takes place concurrently with Infinity War.

Captain America: Civil War

Agents of Shield (season three: episodes 20 — 22)

Luke Cage (season one)

Doctor Strange
Agents of Shield (season four: episodes 1 — 8)

Agents of Shield: Slingshot (web series)

Agents of Shield (season four: episodes 9 — 22)

Iron Fist (season one)

The Defenders (season one)

Spider-Man: Homecoming

Inhumans (season one)

The Punisher (season one)

Runaways (season one)

Black Panther

Jessica Jones (season two)

Agents of Shield (season five, episodes 1 — 19)

Cloak and Dagger (season one)

Luke Cage (season two)

Thor: Ragnarok 

Ant-Man and The Wasp

Avengers Infinity War

Agents of Shield (season five, episodes 20 - 22)

Congratulations. If you’ve watched all of the above, you’ve processed over nine days worth of Marvel movies and television. Nine days of 24-hour viewing! And there’s still more to come, including: Captain Marvel, an untitled fourth Avengers movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Luke Cage season two, Daredevil season three, The Punisher season two, Iron Fist season two, Jessica Jones season three, and New Warriors season one. Phew.

Once again, I love movies, but come on. I didn't devote that much time to my entire Master's degree.

What happened to the days when you could sit down and watch a movie and just enjoy it without having to do months of homework first to know what is going on? The Marvel universe has just hit the 10-year mark. Even if you have actually caught every single piece, it has been spread out for so long, how often do those really dedicated fans do a refresher to be able to stay up on what's happening? I'm having a difficult enough time just struggling with the two year gap between Game of Thrones seasons.

Star Wars has a similar thing going also. Not only have 8 of the eventual 9 movies been slowly released over the course of FORTY years, but they have not come out in order. And now there are spin-off movies and the television shows that go along with it. For the full picture, here is the world of Star Wars. Once again, provided by The Independent.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The Clone Wars (film)
The Clone Wars (seasons 1 - 6 plus unfinished episodes)
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Solo: A Star Wars Story
Star Wars Rebels (seasons 1 – 4)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Episode IV: A New Hope
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Untitled live-action Star Wars show
Star Wars Resistance
Episode VII: The Force Awakens 
Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
Episode IX: Jar Jar’s Redemption

After Disney acquired LucasFilm for $4 billion, they quickly began churning out Star Wars movies, beginning with The Force Awakens. Now, the company are further investigating the post-Return of the Jedi era, unveiling a Jon Favreau TV series (to debut on their upcoming streaming service) and a 2D animated series centred on a young fighter pilot in Resistance. Whether they will continue the main films past an initial trilogy remains to be seen, but considering Force Awakens and Last Jedi made a combined $3.4 billion don’t expect them to stop anytime soon. Plus, there are rumors about a pre-New Hope era movie about Obi-Wan, a Lando movie and there was a Boba Fett movie in the works at one point.

And the spin-offs? What about that Rian Johnson trilogy? And the David Benioff and D. B. Weiss trilogy? Yes, those are still being developed, but where they will take place on the timeline, who can say? They will reportedly have nothing to do with Skywalkers, making for something of a drastic change.

Star Wars, like the Marvel universe is has become cumbersome enough that being a true fan requires a big commitment.

The Harry Potter world took 10 years to get from the first movie to the last one in its eight movie initial series. There were eight-year olds just discovering the series and books in 2011 who soon learned that this series began before they were even born. They had a lot of homework to do. Plus, now with the Fantastic Beasts spin-off we are being threatened with FIVE more movies. And the Cursed Child can only been seen on stage…for now.

I'll say it again. I love movies. I really do, but they are supposed to be an escape. And it is just becoming too much work. Plus, I'm a little past middle age now. I can't bear the thought of putting decades of commitment into a series when there's a real possiblity I could die before I get to see how it all comes to an end. That would be tragic.

Now I'm depressed. I may need a new way to waste my time.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Live Your Life

If you know me personally, then you already know this about me.

I love life.

I really do. I enjoy almost every day and have a good time wherever I happen to be.

I said this to someone recently and they wanted to try to balance my statement for me. "Well, why wouldn't you love your life? You're basically retired. You live on the coast in a beautiful city. You are married to a beautiful woman. You have no reason not to be happy."

Now, all of these things are true, but I don't let people dismiss me like that. I know a lot of people who have good lives and do not have a reason to be unhappy but are unhappy. Your happiness is rarely going to be dependent upon your life circumstances. Happiness is deeper than that.

I have this life philosophy that I have said and written thousands of times.

You only get to live this life once.
You might as well enjoy it.

And it's true. You get one shot at this life. ONE. Do you really want to spend it being miserable or angry?

I know there are people who deal with genuine depression and have no control over the way their brains are wired. However, there are many, many, many others who just aren't enjoying life because they have chosen (and I use that word intentionally) to feel sorry for themselves or to not let go of something from their past. They allow themselves to think about things they would like to do but never put out the effort to make it happen. They are not happy or content with a current situation but have settled and don't try to escape it.

People have more control over their lives than they realize. Yes, there are some things you have no power over and sometimes crap happens to people that is terrible. However, it is rare that it cannot be overcome. And most of the people I have these conversations with could change their circumstances by first changing their attitudes.

Here are some simple things you can do to enjoy your life more:

Let go of the past. It is absolutely true that we are a product of our past experiences. Our lives up to this point have shaped us into the people we are today. However, we are also a product of how we have chosen (there's that word again) to react to those circumstances. Did your spouse leave you? Did you have an abusive father? Do you regret something you said or did? Whatever terrible thing happened to you or terrible thing you did, it's over. Reliving it does no one any good. If it is something you can fix, go fix it. If you can't, then you have to put it behind you. Hanging on to this stuff only robs you of being a happier person. I know this is easier said than done, but that doesn't make it not true.

Stop looking for the negative side of things. I had a friend who won a brand-new $45,000 car. He sold his old car which gave him enough money to cover the taxes on the new one and he no longer had his $300/month car payment. He had a beautiful new car, but couldn't enjoy it because his insurance went up $107 for the year. No amount of explaining how much he was coming out ahead helped him to have a better attitude about it. He could only see the negative.

Here are more examples I have seen of people being unhappy because they chose (see that word?) to focus on the one bad thing instead of all the good around them.
  • A woman's long-awaited date night with her husband was ruined because the wrong salad dressing was put on her salad. She was in a foul mood for the rest of the evening.
  • A father berating his son for getting tagged out when stealing a base, but not mentioning the triple and double he accomplished earlier in the game.
  • A coworker got a promotion that came with a very substantial raise, but she wouldn't stop grumbling about the dress code for the new position.
  • I've met countless people who don't really have any friends because they are chronic complainers about everything and no one wants to hang around them.
There are good aspects and bad aspects to virtually everything. No situation is perfect and very few are completely bad. However, a large portion of your enjoyment or hatred of a situation is entirely up to you. There have been many times I have been listening to someone tell a story about a wonderful thing that happened. It might have been a great vacation or party or anything. Not long into the story, another person who was there with them cuts in to correct them and tell everyone how terrible it was. These are two people who were at the same event sharing the same experience, but were focused on different aspects of the day. Which one do you think is typically happier in life?

Go after the things you want. When I was working on my Master's Degree my neighbor told me, "Man, I wish I could go back to school." I told him that he could. He told me he couldn't because he had a daughter. I responded that I had two children and was a single father who had full custody of those kids. Having children does not exempt you from being able to go to school. I also shot down his next three excuses. For each of them, I had the same situation. I had used the same excuses for years, but one day decided to do it anyway.

I finally told him, "If you're not going to go, don't go. But do not claim that you can't. That is not true."

Take time for yourself. It is okay to relax now and then. Don't be one of those people who fills their schedule so full, they don't have any downtime. If you have kids' sporting events, PTA meetings, book club, carpool, work meetings, church group, neighborhood watch program and dozens of other things to go to, just remember you agreed to all these things. You didn't have to.

You don't have to spend your entire existence by serving other people. Learn to say NO and learn to not feel bad about it afterward. Life has responsibilities, but it has other things as well.

Eat more tacos. That's just good advice for everyone.

I know that these all seem really simplistic, but for the most part, it really is this simple. People who have a lifetime of bad mental habits cannot just change them overnight, but they can change them if they intentionally work on it.

Of course, no one has to do these things. It is their own life, but they will be unnecessarily unhappy. And it's not like you get to try it again. Enjoy life.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

FOR HIRE: Healthy Writing Habit

I have no idea where this blog post is going to go, so you will just have to bear with me. The main reason I am even writing this post today is to achieve some of the writing goals I have set for myself where I have to write a goal number of words every week.

For several years, I have had a book bouncing around in my head and just never took the time to sit down and write it. I have a bit of what my mother, teachers, bosses, guidance counselors, and coworkers call a procrastination problem. Plus, I am incredibly lazy. I've also learned that choosing to own that label does not help to get things done. It just makes me feel less guilty about it.

 However, last year I came across this amazing website.

This website has been around for several years. You can click here to go to the site to learn about its history. I'm not going to tell you the whole story. However, the purpose of the site is really cool. It seems custom-made for people like me.

The National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo, for short) challenges people to write an entire novel in one month. Specifically, in the month of November. It has tons of tools to help you accomplish this goal, offers support groups, organizes writer meet-ups all over the world, and gives awesome prizes for the people who accomplish the goal.

The goal they suggest is to write 50,000 words over the course of the month. That breaks down to 1,667 words per day. However, it does not mean that your novel is ready to be sent to publishers come November 30. It just means you did the most difficult part to get past. The actual writing.

If you reach the goal and finish your book by the end of the month, it still needs to heavily edited, gone back through to fix plot holes, maybe develop your characters, be read by beta readers, etc. It is not ready to go, but it has been written. You have in your lap 50,000 words that you did not have a month ago.

Last year, after spending a summer being all excited about my book because it was really starting to take shape, this website is what gave me the incentive to actually sit down and get it written. I did it. And I did it in a tiny sardine can-sized apartment in Beijing. My wife even found time to be out of the apartment so I could have the place to myself and concentrate on my writing.

That was an extra incentive also. I always felt like I had to use that time wisely since she was doing it for me.

I finished the writing of that book last year, but it was really rough. Parts of the story were all over the place and really needed to be pulled together. Plus, I still had a few plot issues that I hadn't worked out yet. Not to mention that I know how the story of the book ends, but writing it well I have found to be quite challenging.

So, now it is a year later and it hasn't gotten past that initial 'crank it out' phase. And now November has rolled around again. I'm told it does this every so often.

I have decided to get back into writing mode again and tackle NaNoWriMo this year as well, but 1,700 words a day is a lot when you are not used to it. So, I've been working out. I sit down and write every day. Sometimes it is personal journaling. Sometimes it is blog writing. Sometimes it is brainstorming on the book I will be writing this year. Whatever it is, I just have to write and get my creative juices flowing to help me develop the habit of doing this every day.

My plan is simple. Getting my daily word count up will make it easier for me to tackle and complete the challenge of 50,000 words in thirty days. Then when I hit the end of the month (hopefully with a completed story), I can set it to the side and pick up the book I wrote last year. I think it has sat long enough and it is time to get back into it.

I will tie up all those loose ends, clean it up and start sending it out to beta readers to see what problems I may have missed. Then, once I get it all taken care of and sent out to agents, I can go back to working on the book I will have just finished this year so I can do the same with it. Once I get it finished, then I can send it out as well.

I feel a lot of pressure to get on these books because we spent a lot of time and effort and money to obtain a new house that would give us the extra space to be able to write without distraction. Red and I have spent the last two years in small apartments in both China and Vietnam. Now, we have a large comfortable place and we each have our won writing rooms. So, if we do not take advantage of this, then what was all this for?

I'm on it and confident that I can do it. It is just a matter of developing the habit and being sure that I stick to it.

It was just difficult to get started because we didn't have Netflix the entire time we were in China, but we do have it now in Vietnam. It's been a big temptation.

I mean, have you seen Santa Clarita Diet or G.L.O.W. or Stranger Things? You miss a lot when you're out of the country.

So, I write in the morning until I hit my word count. I then have a few hours free to do whatever I need or want to do before I teach in the evenings and then I can watch my Netflix at night. And I do watch it. I have missed it.

So, now that I have a routine and a goal, it should make things easier for me. Hopefully, this will help me develop the habit I so desperately need and will begin a long-time practice of daily writing. I really want to give up working a regular job and just be a writer, but that will require discipline. Something I have always been concerned that I do not have enough of.

I can do it. I know I can. I just have to keep at it.

If you read this all the way to the end, I am sorry for the rambling. I am just throwing down the words as they come to me rather than planning a post as I normally do.

Literary vomit.

Monday, October 8, 2018

PSA: Stop Being Stupid! - (Take 2)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an angry rant about the idiot lemmings on Facebook who just copy and paste everything they are told to. Click here for that rant.

That was about people posting that their timeline was missing people and this Facebook post could fix it.

Do you remember these posts floating around?

Well, now that I have educated the world about just how stupid that is everyone should know better, but apparently they don't.

Today, Facebook is flooded with these posts.

Now, before I get going, I want it known that I do not have a problem with any of the people who made these posts. They were told by one of their friends that they had received a bogus friend request and just chose to warn people that it was not them. They didn't know what was going on and just chose to share a warning. They got the same message the rest of us did and fell for it, but at least they didn't forward it on.

However, I DO have a problem with the people who sent out the private message to their friends that caused this panic.

I have received this message from 17 different people today.


And that is just so far. One of those came in while I was typing this post. It's not over yet.

Let's break this down a bit.

When I received the very first one this morning (before I knew this was going to be a big thing), I knew it wasn't true.

Now, I am not making this claim to say "Oh, look how smart I am." I am saying it because the message makes no sense.

The first line states that the sender received a friend request from me. So, at first, I thought they had. After all, that's what they claimed. However, as I continued to read the message, it was very obviously a message that they received and were told to forward. So, they did.

Now, it's bad enough that someone just forwards anything they are told to forward, but when I called the first person out on sending this thing, he responded in the same way as four other people responded later in the day.

ROUGH PARAPHRASE: I really don't know anything about computers, so…

Now, I'm sorry…but no.  You're not off the hook.

You may have told me you don't know anything about computers, but you are familiar with the English language. The message that these people sent to me and many of their friends includes the language "I actually got another friend request from you". This is not complicated computer lingo or industry technical jargon.

You may not know anything about computers or the internet or Facebook, but you DO know that you did NOT receive a friend request from me and you are sending me a message that states you did. That has nothing to do with your knowledge about computers. That has to do with your grasp of the English language. And I know you understand English because you followed all the directions included on how to copy and paste. However, you paid no attention to the content of what you were sending.

I said this in my last post about Facebook lunacy and I will say it again. Sending someone a message that contains content you know not to be true makes you a liar. Strong language, I know. But that is the definition of the word.

You did not receive a friend request from me, yet you sent me a message that claims you did. Why? Because someone told you to send it.

Let's put this in a real-world setting and try to imagine what the average person would do.

Let's say one of your co-workers walks up to you and says, "Hey, I have received three party invitations from you. I know they are not from you, but I thought you should know. Someone is throwing a party in your name. You need to let everyone else know so they don't fall for it."

You are shocked as to why someone would want to host a party and say it was your party. "OK. I'll let people know they should not accept invitations for my party since I am not throwing one."

Your co-worker says, "Wait. No. Don't tell people the invites from you are fake. Go tell someone you received an invitation from them and you know it was fake."

Now you are confused, "But I didn't get an invitation from them. You said you got one from me. When did you get it?"

The co-worker sighs. "Ugh. I didn't. Someone told me they received a fake one from me, so I'm trying to spread the word."

You cock your head, "So, why am I telling people invites came from me when they came from you?"

"Oh my goodness. Listen, they didn't actually come from me. They were fake. But Brenda told me that Charles had told her he had received some from her…for her party…that she is not actually having. Anyway, you better hurry. And be sure to tell everyone in the office individually to ignore any party requests from you. Also, they need to let everyone know to ignore any requests that are sent from them. Understand?"

"You are crazy."

That conversation seems more realistic. Why does logic and critical thinking just fly out the window as soon some people read it on Facebook?


Monday, October 1, 2018

Freedom Tycoon

Now and then a person makes a decision to restructure an area of their life. They may decide to start eating healthier or join a gym. It might be a decision to stop doing something. Stop smoking, stop gossiping or stop complaining about the boss. It might be a decision to tackle an issue in a new way or to start a household budget or join a new activity.

I recently made one of these decisions.

I uninstalled Idle Miner Tycoon from my phone.

For the last two months, I have played this game every single day. Many of those days, it was for hours at a time. And more than once a week, I stayed up almost all night playing it. Lots of toilet time as well.

The premise of the game is pretty simple.

You hire a miner to start mining a shaft. You hire another to operate the shaft elevator to carry the mined goods to the surface. You then hire a third to bring the goods to the warehouse where you get paid. Once you get money, you use the profits to hire more miners to get the minerals faster.

Now that the mines are producing faster, you need a bigger and more efficient elevator which leads to needing more guys to haul the stuff to the warehouse. With this bigger workforce, you are now raking in even more money than before which can be used to hire more guys and dig new shafts to further increase productivity. More productivity means more money. More money means you can upgrade even more. More upgrades mean more money which means more upgrades which means more money which means more upgrades…

It's an endless cycle.

However, being a sucker for math and numbers and figuring out formulas, I loved running the numbers and different scenarios to see which combinations of workers would produce the most profitable income. A few days after I downloaded the game I was excited to see that I was about to MAX out the stats on the mine. Yay! I had conquered the game.

However, just before I hit the top scores, I was notified that I had enough money to buy a second mine. I loved the challenge so I bought that second mine immediately. Within a few weeks, I was operating a total of five mines and had money just flying in.

I was a master at this game.

Or so I thought.

The next thing I know, new characters and perks were introduced to advance the productivity and efficiency of the game. A map popped up to show that the world I was in was much bigger and more complex than I thought. It was like watching Game of Thrones.

So, soon I had an entire mining empire on several different continents which had to be overseen each day. And I checked in each day to ensure things continued to run smoothly. I had the game running like a well-oiled machine, but the bigger it got, the more attention it required to keep earning at maximum profits.

Of course, the purpose of these incredible profits was to be able to expand into more areas of the map in order to dig more mines so I could make more money to hire more men to dig faster and deeper and help me to expand my empire so I could make even more money in order to open more mines so I could make more money.

I would get such a thrill over making enough money to open a new mine, but the new mine was only to make enough money to open another one. It took about six weeks for me to realize my obsession and the endless (and pointless) cycle to this game. The feeling of exhilaration was over something that was not even real and had no significant lasting effect other than wasting a lot of my time when honestly I can get the same feeling from opening a new bag of chips, but at least with a bag of chips, I can knock it out in about 20 minutes and immediately get started on the next one.

I deleted the game from my phone two days ago and am grateful to find myself with a lot more spare time. Now I'll be able to knock out the latest season of G.L.O.W. on Netflix.