Thom on February 10th, 2017

The Slow Mo Guys are back with a poor-man’s firework show, using airbags to launch paint powder in sequence. The first two attempts are cool enough, but the third catches the light perfectly, resulting in majestically vivid colors. Well done, guys!

Thom on February 9th, 2017

You’re probably getting tired of these already, but I just love clever designs!

Thom on February 8th, 2017

So Lady Gaga’s halftime show at the Superbowl turned out to be controversial. No surprises there, except for perhaps why. Evidently she took the “world’s biggest stage” and…entertained the audience. Shocking! Scandalous!

I’ve watched the performance, and I watched her press conference beforehand. I’ve read some of the punditry surrounding her performance. Supposedly she was told by the NFL not to get political. (Go figure! Evidently that’s for the players only?) She chose not to, but then how were they going to stop her if she had?

But evidently that wasn’t an issue. She herself stated her show would reflect her objectives all along: diversity and inclusion. And evidently her idea of diversity and inclusion includes football fans who just wanted a good show and Americans tuning in for the big game. Oh, sure, the left are claiming some victory for her careful choice of words and songs, but when she began her performance with part of the Pledge of Allegiance, and emphasizing for all, perhaps she really meant it. Perhaps she’s more clever than the average pop star and, in choosing to entertain first and foremost, drew in more people to listen to her message than if she’d beaten them over the head with it as part of the show.

Or maybe she sees the division in our country and actually feels it’s a bad thing, and decided to do her part to counter that? Maybe she realizes, as she seemed to suggest in her press conference, that it’s not all about her. Considering some of her antics of the past that seems incongruous, but she’s surprised me before.

One of the few ad lib moments of the show was her shout out to her mom and dad. Maybe that’s where she won me over. As a parent, I can only imagine how her parents feel, seeing their daughter  giving one of the biggest performances of her career and nailing it. Whether you like her music or not, it was an impressive show. She worked her butt off for it. From what I understand she underwent physical training to be able to do all of that dancing and acrobatics and still sing through it all–for thirteen minutes! The performer in me was impressed. She put it all out there.

Of course not everyone is pleased with her performance. The Washington Post expected her to get political, and ruled that she “whiffed”, and played it safe. Other sites seem to feel she let the left down by refusing to turn her platform into a soap-box. They’ve recently expressed similar displeasure with Taylor Swift for her sideline praise for the recent Women’s March. Many seem to feel that celebrities like Swift and Gaga have an obligation to use their fame politically. (See Why the Left is Going After Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift for more.)

While it’s true that Swift hasn’t exactly been a strong voice for change. She’s on record as claiming ““. . . I don’t talk about politics because it might influence other people. And I don’t think that I know enough yet in life to be telling people who to vote for.” While I think that’s actually a pretty mature attitude, I can see how those who think they own celebrities and are owed a particular level of activism in return (though only if it’s in the “right” direction, of course) might be disappointed with that. These people, to be blunt, are stupid. Celebrities have as much right to live their lives their own way as anyone else, to say what they want, or to keep quiet as they please. They don’t “owe” anyone anything.

But Gaga hasn’t exactly been a shrinking violet socially or politically. I doubt there were many football fans on Sunday who didn’t have at least some idea which side of “the line” she falls on. I can’t help but think that her choice to erase that line for thirteen minutes was a statement in and of itself. She made her point, even if it wasn’t the one some people expected. I’d like to think her point was “Hey guys, cool it. Let’s come together for a few minutes, at least.” I’d like to think it was a message similar to that of The Piano Guys, who defended their performance at the recent inauguration by citing the ability of music to bring people together and build common ground and understanding. Good for Gaga for not taking an opportunity to poke half the country in the eye, but to instead give the entire country a chance to enjoy a common experience.

As for me, I’m still not a fan of Lady Gaga’s music. It’s not bad, but it’s not my style–and that’s okay. But I’m more inclined to listen to what she has to say today than I would have been a year or two ago. And certainly more inclined to listen than I would be to most of the soap-box celebrities out there who miss no opportunity to lecture. Self-restraint is a virtue, not a liability. Would that more people could see that.

 

Oh, and in case you’re curious:

https://youtu.be/txXwg712zw4 – For some reason it doesn’t embed, but this is the full halftime show.

And this is her press conference. Perhaps the most important thing she says comes at around 16:35, but the entire thing shows a different side of her I hadn’t seen before.

 

Thom on February 7th, 2017

This is interesting:

Thom on February 6th, 2017

Trigger warning: I quote scripture today to support a secular point. But frankly, if you’re the type who is SO easily offended you’re probably not still a reader here.

During Christ’s last supper with his apostles the following exchange took place (Mark 14: 18-19):

18 And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me.

19 And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?

I find this fascinating and inspiring. The apostles were human beings who only had a few years with the Savior. We know on at least one occasion they were debating which of them was greatest. And yet we know they did grow, because here at the end, when Christ declares that one of them will betray him, their reaction was very different from usual human nature. They didn’t say, “Hey, I’ll bet it’s him!” or “Who? Who’s the jerk?” or “It’s probably Thomas! He’s always doubting!” (As an aside, as a Thomas, I do feel for the guy–who wants to be known forever as the guy who doubted, even though I can imagine most of us harboring–and expressing–similar doubts?)

Their first instinct was to wonder, “Is it me?”

They had the humility, at least at that moment, to look at themselves first before suspecting others. How awesome and rare is that?

I’ve seen multiple posts on social media lately questioning where all the negativity is coming from. I’ve seen people respond with statements like, “I KNOW! It’s terrible! Where’s it coming from?!” Many of these same people I’ve seen among of the worst offenders; the majority of their posts are negative, critical, offensive, etc.

But I didn’t stop to wonder, “Is it me? Am I part of the problem here? Do I spread the negativity in my own way? I try not to share posts that seem unfair or contain blatantly faulty logic, but I still write posts criticizing them. Am I really helping? What am I doing to make things better?

Am I developing the maturity to first ask, “Is it I?”

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Thom on February 3rd, 2017

Adam Savage takes a Nerf rifle and bestows all sorts of awesome on it. To borrow a phrase from my daughter, “This makes me happy!”

It also makes me wish I had a workshop and a budget for such fun stuff.

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Thom on January 27th, 2017

Just a couple of Americans finding common ground:

But she said the men left her with so much more. Their words were a reminder not to make assumptions. And that so many Americans want unity, regardless of their politics, and to not be afraid to connect with someone as human beings, she said.

Read the whole thing.

Thom on January 23rd, 2017

There were a lot of protests over the weekend, and perhaps rightly so. Donald Trump has been a divisive figure. Some of the criticism is deserved, while some of it is from the media and the left’s interpretation of him, and not exactly a kindly interpretation, either. But that’s not important. What I am here to pose is this:

Can Donald Trump be forgiven? Can he change?

And if not, what is the point of protest? What is the hoped-for end-game?

I’ve seen this sort of thing time and time again in various forms. Someone makes an ill-considered remark, or even an intentional one, and the protests begin, calling for that person’s figurative (and sometimes literal) head. They want them fired. They want them punished. They want the world to know that such behavior is not acceptable.

But most often their target’s apologies don’t matter, don’t make any difference, don’t diminish the backlash in any noticeable manner. Why is that? Do they feel this person can’t change? Doesn’t really intend to change? Or does it even matter what this person does in the future so long as he is made a public example of now?

People claim they want things to change. And yet more often than not, no one cares if the target of their wrath changes. Much of the time they don’t even bother to get the full context or even get to know the target in any meaningful way. They simply want someone to punish and destroy. They somehow think this is going to change the world.

What they get…is Trump.

If you want the world to change you need to first show that you are willing to recognize and accept change if it happens. If you call someone out for their wrong behavior, you need to show that you’re just as willing to support that person if they do change. You have to show that you really are interested in change, not just punishment, or you send the message that change is actually pointless and irrelevant. You only encourage people to double down on their bad behavior and remain completely unapologetic.

In short, you get Trump.

When all you know how to do is scream, you only encourage your target to scream louder.

So answer me this: Can Trump be redeemed? Is it possible for him to demonstrate that he is not the person we think him to be? Are we willing to concede if he proves to be much wiser and more fair-minded on any issue where he doesn’t live up to our original expectation/accusation? Or is the problem actually not Trump at all, but rather the fact that he’s not “your guy”? Is there anything he can do at this point to make us say, “Huh. He changed for the better” or “Huh, I guess he wasn’t as bad as I thought?”

And let’s extend this farther. If we’re going to insist on judging anyone who does something unpopular in public, shouldn’t we offer them our support and our forgiveness just as visibly should they decide to change?

If not, can we really complain if they refuse to change?

If not, why are we bothering them in the first place? We’re not interested in change, just showing everyone how right we are. It may make us feel better for the moment, but the problem remains.

We’d be like the gardener who wanted a tree to grow in just the right shape. He planted a tree and let it grow. But it didn’t grow how he envisioned, so he uprooted the tree, burned it, and planted another. It didn’t grow right, either, so he uprooted it and burned it, then found another to take its place. He went through dozens of trees over a twenty year period and still didn’t get the shape he was hoping for. Another gardener saw what he was doing and asked him why he didn’t just shape the tree by careful trimming, staking, and shaping? The first gardener replied that he didn’t have the time for that much work.

It’s true, supporting someone through change takes time, and it may even draw criticism from those who lack the patience to wait for change and may mistake your support for the change as acceptance of and support for the original bad behavior. It may make one unpopular. It may take time and frustration.

But what do we really want, change or just to feel good?

If the latter, then Trump is what we get…and deserve.

Thom on January 18th, 2017

What a difference two weeks make.

I’m writing again. Or at least pre-writing again. This last weekend an old short-story of mine jumped back into my memory entirely unbidden, and my mind immediately said, “Hey! Welcome! You deserve to be at least a novella, and you’d sure be fun to write!” It’s going to be a sci-fi/space opera crossed with The Scarlet Pimpernel, and I’m knee-deep into world-building. I’m also still trying to decide whether or not to change up the point of view. The short story is first-person-sidekick; it’s from the point of view of a narrator telling us the adventures of a larger-than-life character he tags along with. That could work amazingly well, or it could be too limiting. I’m not sure yet.

I also finished re-reading my two most recent novels, and while they still need some work, they’re both better than I remember. Good enough that I intend to put in the work to get them fixed up and polished for some sort of publication. Of course I have special plans for one of them, and that’s the next piece of the puzzle that’s revitalizing my enthusiasm for writing.

I’ve been accepted to be part of the FutureScapes Writers’ Workshop at Sundance I mentioned in my last update. In many ways this sounds like it will be a three-day, intense peer-reading group, but with professional writers, agents, and editors also offering feedback and/or directing the groups. This is a major jump outside my comfort zone, but I’m hopeful it will also give me a solid assessment of where my strengths and weaknesses lay as a writer and how close I am to being marketable. And, it’s entirely possible I may meet some fellow writers with whom I might be able to continue peer-reading afterward. It’s hard to say just what will come of this, but I’m quite hopeful.

Meanwhile I continue to prepare for my two panel discussions at LTUE next month. As a panelist/moderator I’m getting an entirely new perspective on the conference and what goes on behind the scenes. Some of it’s positive, and some of it’s insight into who I don’t want to be as a writer. Perhaps I’ll understand their perspective better when I’m in their shoes some day, but I do think a gracious and patient attitude will take me quite far–if I can cultivate one. I understand the desire for self-promotion, but I hope I never lose sight of what symposiums like LTUE are trying to accomplish. If that no longer meets my needs in the future I hope I have the decency to simply thank them for what they’re doing and walk away rather than grousing about it and trying to get them to become something different than what they intend.

In any case, I’m looking forward to this year, while nervously hoping I’ll be able to add my bit and play my part well. I’ve sat in panels in past years thinking I could answer the questions asked as well or better than the panelists, so now I get my chance to do just that. Put-up or shut-up time.

All in all, I’m feeling a bit of a rush right now, and feel more like a writer than I have in some time. I usually feel this way after LTUE each year, so feeling this way before can only be a good thing, if I can hold on to it. And if I can get past planning to write into actually writing.

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Thom on January 17th, 2017

It seems like about this time every year I’m struggling to maintain enthusiasm. Winter, whether white or brown, just isn’t exciting anymore, but it’s still too cold to really get out and enjoy things. There’s nothing significant coming up to look forward to, either. And to top it off, this year everyone’s had a chance to catch their breath after the election and are getting back into full-throated posting about just how terribly evil and degenerate the other side is. Even my more moderate friends can’t seem to resist the urge to slip me the meme-pic middle finger at least once a day. (If you catch me over-generalizing and over-simplifying your beliefs in order to criticize or ridicule, please call me on it! I’d like to think I wouldn’t do it on purpose, but I realize that, even unintentionally, it still kinda hurts!)

My hometown is currently locked in an inversion, or something, and blue sky is rare. The valley is usually blanketed in a thick, soupy fog or smog hovering a few hundred feet off the ground. Sun-sighting are rare.

In any case, January 2017 is in full blah mode. Which makes it a good time to look at the brighter side of life. So, where do we start?

Well, for one, people are still composing amazing music so that we can party like a pirate:

Or perhaps just get a little cheerful bounce in your step (and appreciate the best, most musical use of a slide projector ever):

And if that’s not enough, I can always go for the gratuitous baby animal picture!

Photo by Allhailfintan

So smiles, everyone! Smiles!