Monday, September 30, 2013

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

This past Saturday, my wife decided to do a 15-mile walk known as the Provo River Walk (or something like that.) She wanted me to join her on it, so I did. I of course, only did 9.5 miles. Not because I'm lazy, but because my injured back was so bad (starting around mile 4 and killing me by mile 8), that if I didn't stop the walk, I'd probably be in bed still. Needless to say, I spent a lot of yesterday trying to ease the pain in my back. During this time, I decided to find something to watch and noticed that this new show, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (hereafter MAoS), was on Hulu. So I watched it.
Let me start with my background knowledge of this piece of the Marvel universe. I have seen Thor, Iron Man (not 2 or 3), Captain America, and The Avengers. My only knowledge of Agent Coulson and S.H.I.E.L.D. is what I recall from The Avengers and a sleight memory of Coulson being in Thor. Other than that, I'm blank. My fear for this show is a repeat of Lost and Heroes. Meaning: over-saturated cast with poorly-resolved storylines. However, the first episode impressed me. It stood fairly alone. Yeah, I'm sure that won't last long. But for an opening episode to end in a there-will-be-more cliffhanger. It wasn't one of those "Oh, I'm annoyed I have to watch to know what happened." For a series premier MAoS did it right. This show left me with very little question as to what was going on. Had I not seen The Avengers, I still wouldn't have been confused b/c I'm not living under a rock and know what movies Marvel has put out. There was only 1 reference that made me question having missed something, and that's Melinda May, played by Ming-Na Wen. (If you don't know, I'm a fan of Ming-Na Wen's. First, she was on ER, but I don't know her from that since I only watched a few episodes of it. Second, she was the voice of Mulan, so she's awesome for that. Third she was Chun-Li in Street Fighter. And finally, she was on the 4th/5th seasons of Eureka, which is one of my favorite shows ever.) The way May was referenced in conversation between Coulson and West made me wonder if she has a history we should know of. In the end, I enjoyed the way this pilot went. I didn't feel lost. I didn't feel like "I hate these cliffhangers." And most importantly, I didn't feel "there are too many characters." Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Friday, September 27, 2013

ARGGGHHH ZOMBIES

Its  Halloween next month so this week I have decided to write about my best picks for Zombie related books in case your in the mood for a little horror.  I have a love for horror and the poor zombie has a special place in my heart.  No brains and an insatiable hunger, just like me before I go in to work my graveyard shift. And these books are definitely creepy enough for a little Halloween reading.

WORLD WAR Z
 
Author:  Max Brooks, the guy who wrote "The Zombie Survival Guide."

World War Z as a book is brilliant, in a way that might not be immediately apparent. The thing that is genius about this book is that it presents the story in a more realistic way. Something I have noticed about the Zombie genre is that the more realistic the story and how it is told is the easier it is to suspend the disbelief that the dead have returned as mindless eating machines.

Max Brooks has done this in a brilliant way. He has turned the book into an investigatory document. It is a series of interviews. Each person interviewed in the story had a unique view of the zombie war and how it progressed. And because the novel is written as a series of documented interviews it gives an immediacy and a realism that I have not seen often.

The story is not about the zombies which I might add is the other thing he has done right. It is about the governments, and the people, and what they decide to do when the world as they know it ends. You meet a range of different people in the story and each has a piece to contribute to the whole. Children, adults, regular guys, army, and military, lots of different walks of life are represented. Each characters perspective is different and some even are a little contrary. It reminded me of reading first hand accounts and primary sources in my history classes at college. And that is why this is my number one zombie book. It gets a PG 13 Rating for language and it is pretty dark in a few accounts this is not a warm fuzzy book. (Now that I think about it, I think most of my picks will have the same rating for the same reason, hard to find good horror books without tons and tons of language.)



NEWSFLESH TRILOGY
Author: Mira Grant

My number two pick for Zombie brain munching awesomeness is the Mira Grant series that begins with the book “FEED.” Once again the book isn’t about the zombies but around the world that is filled with the undead brain munchers. “Feed” takes place in a world after the zombie apocalypse. And even though the worst already happened just like any other natural disaster, life continued. There are zombie protection systems that include never ending blood tests given by a modified version of a diabetic tester. There are laws governing safe and unsafe behaviors. And the Internet reigns supreme in a world where walking outside might be the last choice you make. So of course the main character is a blogger who is going to accompany a presidential candidate on campaign. I won’t tell you more because I will ruin it for you. But I will tell you there are a lot of twists and turns in this one and it’s worth the read.

This one also gets a PG 13 for language throughout.


MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL

Author:  Larry Corriea

The Monster Hunter books are quite frankly one of the funnest book romps I have ever had. They are not really Zombie books, but there are tons (literally I think there might be tons) of zombies in the series. These books are funny, full of paranormal monsters, and feature lots and lots of guns and stuff going boom. They are the literary equivalent of a smart action movie. The story centers around Owen Zestava Pitt, not so mild mannered CPA who after pushing his boss, a turned werewolf out a window is picked up by a secret organization that hunts monsters for bounties from the government. It is funny and clever. And once again features lots of Zombies as well as other creepy monsters. There is more to it then that, but once again I am not going to give you much because, I don’t want to spoil it. This one is also a PG13, for language again.




ELANTRIS

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Elantris is number four. Technically it’s not a book about zombies but I classify it so because the Elantrians are neither dead nor are they really alive. So they are sorta Zombies. I admit I could have included other Zombie books here but really none of the others I have read are good enough to make the cut. (I admit I havn’t read every zombie book but still) Anyway. The Elantrians were once worshiped as Gods, but all that changed ten years before the start of the book. I won’t tell you too much about the book for fear of giving something away but I will say that Sanderson has done something rather brilliant with his magic system and with the Elantrian’s here and so I recommend it. This is probaply also the only book that will recieve a PG rating.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 I hope you all enjoy these as much as I have.
 
Tracee McClellan
 

 
 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Animation Showcase

Hey Everyone!

Want to see what's been keeping me busy?  You do?!  Great!  I've been working a lot in my animation class.  Each week we have to turn in a walk cycle.  One walk cycle can be 14 to maybe even 30-something frames long.  One or two frames can be one drawing.  That's a lot of drawing!  And that's okay because it's what I love to do.

So here's what I've done thus far.

Like this zombie?  I was trying to do something different.  This ended up being a bit more challenging than what I was used to.  Zombies drag their foot behind them and then fall to move forward.  Very different from your average cartoon character.

For this one I did everything digitally in a program called Toon Boom Animate.  Toon Boom is what is used for most cartoon feauture length films and tv shows like Legend of Korra.  The hand drawn stuff you see above and below is drawn by hand on paper and using a lightboard.  It is then taken to a capture station where a camera is mounted and takes pictures of your drawings.  I really like using Toon Boom.  It makes stuff easier.  You get a nice clean look too while retaining a hand drawn effect.

Yeah, I'm not perfect.  Ha ha.  This and the other ones are pretty flawed.  That said, I am learning and I'm learning to be skilled on a deadline.  This is an invaluable skill for me to develop.

Hope you enjoyed some of my work.  More exciting stuff is on the horizon.

-Stephen

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Winter is Coming


I recently read George RR Martin’s book Game of Thrones, a fantasy novel of kings, knights, intrigue and war. One thing I thought was especially interesting in the book was that each family, or house, has a saying, like a motto to remind themselves who they are and what they stand for. The saying that interested me was the Stark’s motto “Winter is coming”. While this saying does point to some of the fantasy aspects of the world, IE that summers and winters can last decades and even centuries, the phrase means more than just snow and ice.
The book takes place in a fantasy land called the Seven Kingdoms, which fourteen years before had been the scene of a major civil war where the nobles overthrew an evil king. Helping them was Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, the northernmost kingdom in the seven lands. Since the war he and his family have lived in relative peace, where he has had children and taught them the virtue of honor in a world where summer has lasted for years.After a couple chapters of bliss the family is thrown into an intrigue involving kings and murder where there honor is put through its ultimate test.
 
This is where the Starks words draw their inner meaning. “Winter is coming” is a warning to the entire family that, no matter how happy things are now, always be ready for when things become hard, cold, and nearly unbearable.
It sounds like a grim promise, but I think the warning has more strength in it than despair. The word winter reminds them that suffering and hard times are inevitable. No summer lasts forever. I’ve seen men come home from firesides, experiential weekends, and even exceptionally good parties saying how happy they were and how things will be so much better forever and ever. It may be true, they can certainly take good things from anything and enjoy them, but the happiness can’t last forever. At one point something hard comes, a trial, or a temptation rolls its ugly head around and the happy times becomes a fleeting memory. I’ve seen many a tear shed for lost summers.
This warning is reflected in the teachings of our beloved prophets. How many talks have been about food storage? How many times did we get those talks about mission preparation in Young Men’s or seminary? BYU has entire classes on how to prepare for marriage, and the prophets throughout the ages have always told us to prepare for the second coming. Now yes these can be glorious and beautiful things, but I know personally that some of my hardest trials came on my mission, and as much fun as my Disney themed wedding reception will be, I know that marriage will hold its own set of trials as well as blessings.
So as summer winds down and fall begins, I find the Stark’s words both a comfort and a warning. Winter is coming in many ways, and I need to be prepared for what’s coming, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be prepared for what’s coming. Back to the story, the Starks end up scattered across the kingdoms, being tried over and over in every way imaginable, but in every instance the characters personal preparation for such times shines through. “Winter is coming” doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the good times, but it means we can’t think of them as lasting forever so we can both enjoy them all the more and use them to get us through when things become cold and dark.

-JOE

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

5 Free Steam Games

I first started writing this article to share 3 Steam games that I have played that are completely free.  However, when I looked on Steam, I noticed that there are far more than 3 games that are free.  There are 73 as of the time that I wrote this article (17th of September).  I've even played some of these free games!

Let's break down the list.


On here because it is one of the first free Steam games I played.  The player takes the role of a space marine investigating a facility.  On the way, the player encounters the swarm, an alien race determined to eat all the humans.  With 4 player classes and many different weapons, the game is fun and exciting to play.  The game is a top-down shooter that is normally played co-op and requires coordination between the party members to execute well.  The game was simple, entertaining, and was free of those annoying 'have to pay to access this feature' things that seem to plague other free to play games.


In Spiral Knights, the players take the role of a group of spiral knights who have crash landed on a mysterious planet.  As they try to investigate the powerful energy source at the center of the planet, they discover a mysterious set of levels called the Clockworks, which is full of dangerous monsters and traps. I've found that there is a large variety of level design in the games and the community is pretty friendly to other players.  The weapons are fun, but the gameplay can get a little simplistic after awhile.  I've yet to make it down to the 'Core', but I'm getting close!


Warframe can be best described as 'ninja robots that kill things'.  I have yet to discover any significant plot in the game.  The game is in an Open Beta state, and might actually change dramatically in the near future.  The player takes control of a Tenno which uses a Warframe that has a loadout of three weapons.  The levels are laid out as different parts of the solar system (a little hard to explain).  Mercury has 7 levels and at some point unlocks access to the Venus levels.  In some places, it branches out, giving a slightly non-linear approach to levels.  If you check this game out, expect to find exciting, fast paced, shooter combat that can get really confusing, especially when three other players are added to the mix.


I was really excited when I first heard about this game.  I just discovered that it is also on Steam.  Being a longtime Dungeons and Dragons fan, I decided to check the game out.  Actually playing Dungeons & Dragons as a computer game rather than a table top means a much different experience.  For one thing, I can't sit and ponder my choices as a wizard.  Instead, I have to run around, cast spells on the fly and think quickly.  It was a fun game.  The worst part: I didn't have any friends to play with. So, if you have a group of friends that wants to meet up online instead of in person, Dungeons & Dragons online might be the game for you.


Feeling burned out with World of Warcraft and other multiplayer online games?  Tired of feeling like the class you are playing as does everything else another class does?  Looking for combat that is intricate and different? Well, Lord of the Rings Online might be the game for you!  Lord of the Rings Online is one of the most unique games I've played before.  It stands in the class of it's own, really.  I played a bit as a Lore Master.  Not like the mage from another game, I had a multitude of abilities that could buff allies, summon monsters, heal, debuff enemies, or even damage them directly.  It was a nice break from the typical fireball wielding wizards I found in other games.  Besides the combat, I got to run around Middle Earth, explore, fight all sorts of monsters, and even grow tobacco!

Well, that about wraps up the list of free games being covered in this post.  If you see a game you like on the list, or one that I may have missed, feel free to comment about it below.  Above all, have fun gaming!
-Andrew

Monday, September 23, 2013

Podcast: Episode 2: Fantasy Books with Michael Young

T.J. does our 2nd podcast with one of Mormon Geeks' recurring guests, Michael Young. Their topic is fantasy books.


Friday, September 20, 2013

MORMON GEEKS D&D

Hay folks Joe here! Find us on twitter (@mormongeeks) and join us tonight at 6 for Mormon Geeks Dungeons and Dragons live, hosted by Andrew Airmet and yours truly! Hope to see you there!
-JOE
P.S. Check out our guest writer Casey Winter's latest post on Lord of the Rings! Just scroll down! :D

Tolkien's Great Eagles

Gandalf rescued from Orthanc

Greetings.

Recently I've been pondering on the Great Eagles of Middle-earth, those divine birds who show up at the last minute to save our heroes from destruction, whether it be Bilbo and his dwarven friends in The Hobbit, Gandalf atop Orthanc in The Fellowship of the Ring and after his battle with the Balrog, or Frodo and Sam in The Return of the King. The existence of the Eagles raises many questions, particularly:

1. Why would Tolkien use such a deus ex machina, and multiple times?

2. Why couldn't the Eagles simply fly Bilbo and the dwarves to the Lonely Mountain, or Frodo and Sam to Orodruin?

But before we can explore these questions, some definitions are in order.

First, deus ex machina. It's Latin for "god from the machine," and the term comes from Greek and Roman theater. A deus ex machina is "a person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty."

"The Lord of the Eagles" by Darrell Sweet
The first time the Eagles appear in Tolkien's literature, in terms of publishing chronology, is in The Hobbit. Here we see the greatest divide between book and film. In the book, the Eagles suddenly save Bilbo and the dwarves from a band of goblins who are attempting to burn and smoke the heroes out, but this happens at around the 35 percent point of the story. By the time the heroes move on from the Eagle nest, we've nearly forgotten the deus ex machina. The book moves on. The film version has no such luxury, since the heroes are saved by the Eagles at the final climax, and we must wait until the next film for the story to move on. Of course, the viewer has seen the Eagles before in The Lord of the Rings, since this film is cinematically a prequel, but ending one episode of the story in such a way is still irksome to many viewers.

Additionally, I don't believe the Eagles function as a complete deus ex machina in The Return of the King. At least not in the same way they are used in The Hobbit. I say "complete" because, while the Eagles do save Frodo and Sam from a fiery death rather suddenly, this is frustrating because of question 2 above, not because the Eagles resolve the main plot, which they don't. The question was: why couldn't the Eagles have flown Frodo to Mt. Doom in the first place? More on that question later. I also think the Eagles in The Return of the King are not a frustrating deus ex machina because we've encountered them before. Their existence has been set up, therefore they don't fly completely out of the blue.

The second necessary definition: the Great Eagles. Not much exposition is given on them in the films. You could read the Lord of the Rings wiki definition, but there's a lot of Tolkienese. Essentially, the Eagles of Manwë are divine creations who were sent to Middle-earth to keep an eye on the forces of darkness, specifically on Melkor, who was banished from the Undying Lands and whose darkness and power surpasses all others, even that of Sauron. (1)

The Great Eagles function as angels, with the role of watchmen. But again, why would Tolkien employ angelic figures to save the heroes when things get too tough? Isn't this just a cheap trick? Tolkien, not only a master of language but also widely read, had to have known this oftentimes frustrating plot device and the effect it had on readers.

In fact, Tolkien mentions the Eagles in a letter to Forrest J. Ackerman in 1958. The letter was in regards to a movie script treatment adapting The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien was displeased with many aspects of the treatment, namely the use of the Eagles to fly the Fellowship to their destinations. (Obviously the script writers felt the same way many readers do: if the Eagles exist, why can't they be around to help more often, since they are ever so useful?)

Said Tolkien:

The Eagles are a dangerous "machine." I have used them sparingly, and that is the absolute limit of their credibility.

And later:

"Nine Walkers" and they immediately go up in the air! The intrusion achieves nothing but incredibility, and the staling of the device of the Eagles when at last they are really needed. It is well within the powers of [film] to suggest, relatively briefly, a long and arduous journey, in secrecy, on foot.

We can glean a few things from Tolkien's words:

1. Tolkien was aware of the Eagles as a device, or "machine." (Remember: "god from the machine.")

2. Tolkien uses the Eagles sparingly because he himself thought they were borderline incredible.

3. The answer to one of our questions: the Eagles didn't fly Frodo and the Ring to Orodruin because "secrecy" was important. Sauron could not know where the Ring was, and you can bet he had his Eye on the sky; being chief lieutenant of Melkor, he must have known of the existence of the Eagles.

4. The journey of the Fellowship, their trial, was more important than an easy quest.

And the latter is where I've been trying to get to with this post (it's been a long, roundabout, unexpected journey, I know).

This belief in the power of the journey or trial is common among many people, particularly Christians. It connects to what the Apostle Peter calls "the trial of your faith" (1 Peter 1:7). Also, Mormonism specifically teaches, "Ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith" (Ether 12:6).

While the Eagles may indeed be examples of deus ex machina, perhaps Tolkien's reasons for using them the way he did was, again, function: the Great Eagles are the "witness," the "joy unspeakable" (1 Peter 1:8) that comes from faith, from facing the trial head-on, from our heroes doing all in their power until there's nothing left.(2)

Although there might be no way to know for sure, I believe this power of the trial was Tolkien's purpose for using the Eagles the way he did, saving our heroes when they had been stretched to their limits.

"The Eagles Are Coming" by Michael Whelan
And timing is everything. The Eagles often show up at the last possible moment, with Frodo and Sam's encounter being the most poignant—and, again, the Eagles are less frustrating here than in other instances. Yes, the Eagles save them from death, and the reader/viewer has forgotten about the Eagles, which makes it feel like a "tricksy" plot device. But the Eagles don't show up until after the central climax, the destruction of the Ring. The main quest has already been completed; Frodo and Sam have already saved Middle-earth. In a sense, what happens after the Ring is destroyed is just nice denouement—it wouldn't really matter, from a story standpoint, if Frodo and Sam died on the mountain, although it may be less impactful or cathartic. The Eagles don't fly into Orodruin to make sure the Ring falls into the volcano, nor do they keep Gollum from doing all he can to retrieve it for himself. This falls on our characters' shoulders.

The Eagles also don't come until after Frodo has faced his darkest moment in the entire story, when he decides to take the Ring for himself. Yet, he overcomes this weakness because of Gollum, the Ring is destroyed, and only then do the Eagles save him and Sam from ruin.

But saving Frodo and Sam isn't the only mission of the Eagles there, at "the end of all things." They've come because Gandalf, Aragorn, and company are fighting outside the Black Gates (notice how the Eagles always show up near Gandalf, who has a strong connection to the "divine"). And they will lose this battle, just as Frodo and Sam have no hope for survival. Yet, the Fellowship faces their doom, the trial of their faith, head-on anyway. It is then, and only then, that the winged watchmen arrive.

Such divine intervention is often true in our lives. Sometimes we are deeply mired in personal hardship, and we're blind to any light at the end of the tunnel. When we are stretched to our thinnest, just when we're about to give up, is often the moment when we learn the purpose of the trial, the moment we find the hope we've been looking for. That's when our own Eagles, the divine helpers, show up.

And isn't this metaphor for personal difficulty worth the deus ex machina?


Notes:

1.  Does Melkor's story sound familiar? The Silmarillion, in which much of this takes place, is possibly the most allegorical of Tolkien's work. Gods, creation, a banished brother. But most of the events and characters within The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are not quite so obvious in their metaphor. Tolkien didn't care for 1-to-1 metaphorical relationships. In fact, one of his few criticisms of his friend C. S. Lewis's Narnia series was the direct allegory of Aslan as Christ. The contrast in Middle-earth is apparent, with multiple characters exemplary of Christ: Aragorn as the lowly man destined to be king, Gandalf the White as a resurrected being capable of banishing evil spirits, Frodo as bearer of the burden, and even Samwise as friend and bearer of Frodo. But the character metaphors aren't meant to be antitheses to Aslan. The function of this is the idea that we all have Christ within us. And function is everything. Particularly with the Eagles.

2.  Notice also the use of "fire" in 1 Peter 1:7—"though [your faith] be tried by fire"—and the fire preceding the Eagles' saving Bilbo and company, the burning trees in Isengard with Gandalf on the tower, the fiery Balrog and Gandalf's being saved after facing it, and the fires of Doom faced by Frodo and Sam. Not to say this was intentional on Tolkien's part (who knows?), but an interesting connection nonetheless.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Clarity and Vision

A little over a month ago I was eating ice cream with Joe's fiance Katie.  We had plans to play Minecraft that night with our friend Adam.  We ate our ice cream outside and decided to go to the park.  We saw some soccer players in a field about 50 yards away.  Katie remarked, "I can't tell if there are any girls on that team."

As I looked at the team I noticed that they all just looked a little blurry to me.  I responded, "They all just look like blurs to me.  I think I need glasses."

Katie offered me her glasses to try.  When I tried on her glasses, the blurry soccer players suddenly took shape.

"Holy moly!" I exclaimed. "It's like seeing a movie in HD."  I felt a mixture of dread at having to buy and wear glasses and excitement at getting to wear cool hipster glasses and seeing clearer pictures.  Knowing how important vision is to my craft and career as an animator, I looked at getting an appointment with the optometrist the next day.

The optometrist told me I had mild nearsighted vision.  My vision wasn't as bad as most people that get glasses and I could still legally drive.  He said if I got glasses to only wear them to the movies, driving, or whenever I would need to see something in the distance.  Most of my animation and design work I could do just fine without glasses.  I didn't feel dangerous without them.  I had been in a car accident and ran a stop sign in the past year and I don't think they were due to my blurry vision.  Possibly, but probably not.  I didn't necessarily need to get glasses, so why did I?

I got glasses because I wanted clarity in my vision.

I'm not just talking about my physical ability to see.  I'm talking about my drive to set goals, accomplish them, correct my mistakes, and to do so clearly.  Getting glasses is me telling myself that my physical vision is important to me because of my dreams as a director of  animated feature length films.  My glasses are a reminder to humble myself and to step back for a clear picture from time to time.

I've recently had some slight changes in my career goals.  The new goals are daunting and risky.  They will require a lot of work and a lot of passion.  These new goals of mine also require for me to have a clear picture when I execute and need to change my plan of attack.

My most Common Subject

Many of our readers will notice that I talk a lot about trials.  My trials are constant lessons to me and I used to believe that I get so many of them because I don't ever learn my lesson the first time.  I see now that the trials I've been through teach me something new every time I experience them.  Though it is sometimes a cycle for me, I learn something new about myself every time.

My trial right now is mourning a loss in my life.  Though I function well during the day I feel the weight of the loss when I'm alone.  I look back on my own mistakes with shame and guilt.  I'll feel conflicted in my feelings about the situation.  I'll feel heavy sadness.  I'm still learning the lesson from all of this.

Getting through this trial and others I've experienced has required clarity in my vision.  I've had to admit and own what my own faults and feelings are and understand that I can't control another person's agency.  One way I've increased clarity in my situation is understanding the difference between data and story.

What is Data?

Data is everything tangible that can be sensed using the senses.  It's what a fly would see, hear, and smell on the wall.  It's the actual words spoken in a conversation.  Data isn't anger, love, or abstract ideas.  These ideas are sensed with our spirits.  Our bodies don't perceive anger.  They perceive bent eyebrows, red faces, and loud voices.  They don't sense sadness.  They see puffy eyes, tears, and crying.  They don't see joy.  They hear laughter, feel hugs, and give kisses.  Here's another example:
"Joe and I argued angrily. He hasn't talked to me in a week so he hates me." (data) (story)
I put 'argued' in purple because that's a situation where it can be fuzzy.  What may be a discussion to one person could be a debate to someone else.  We can separate the statement into data and story like so.
"Joe and I had a conversation. He hasn't talked to me in a week."
"Joe was angry. He hates me."
Separating data from the story is extremely important to having a clear picture of whatever trial I may find myself in.  I may think, "Joe hates me and is unforgiving," when Joe never actually said "I hate you and I don't forgive you."  This could be a story I would tell myself after getting into an argument with Joe and saying unkind words to him.  I could base the story on data of Joe not speaking to me and not returning my phone calls after a week.  The data is 'Joe and I haven't had an opportunity to speak this week' and 'I called Joe and I haven't received a response.'  I don't know if Joe is swamped in school.  I don't know how he feels about our argument.  I don't know if he tried to return one of my calls while my phone was off or while I was in a bad area of reception.

Joe may not have forgiven me.  Joe might hate me.  But really, I don't know.  If I continue telling myself the negative story that Joe hates me and won't forgive me then it only drags me down and feel bad about myself.  I then process everything from my senses through the lenses of this story.

What is Story?

Story is our emotional and spiritual translation of our data.  It's the subtext.  Brené Brown once said
that, "Story is data with a soul."  The story we tell ourselves directly connects the data to our hearts.  I don't want anyone to think that stories are meaningless or invalid.  This is not the case.  Stories are meaningful and very valid.  They just have a different place than data.  I can learn a lot from the stories I tell myself.

Let's look at the example above.  The story I told myself is, "Joe hates me and he hasn't forgiven me."  I may feel anger, shame, and hurt from that story.  But when I look at the data I know there's no way I can really know how Joe feels and whether or not he has forgiven me.  Even if Joe did say these things, it may not exactly express what his heart feels.  Since, I don't really know these things let's change the story.
"I judge Joe hates me and I judge he hasn't forgiven me."
These changes put things in perspective.  Doing this reminds me that I don't have a full understanding of the situation.  It helps me own the story and there's real power in that.  When I own the story I claim responsibility for my own feelings and not make someone else responsible.

At this point I may have learned some new things about myself.  I may still have strong negative feelings.  I may not have the clarity I need to learn and take care of myself emotionally.  So what does the story say?  Well, who is telling the story?  I am.  So are these feelings I have really about Joe?  No.  The story is about me.  It's my story.  Let's change a few words in the story to make it hit closer to the storyteller.
"I hate me and I haven't forgiven me."
Here's where I'll see if I can get an 'Ah-ha!' feeling.  If I do, then I use this knowledge to take care of me and change the story I had been telling myself.  The new story may be, "I am worthy of love and forgiveness."  I then may change my behaviors to support the new story I've created.  It may mean taking time to understand why I felt hurt.  It may mean eventually making restitution with Joe and not only seeking forgiveness but giving forgiveness.  (Rarely, are disagreements or break ups a one way street.)  Joe may still not give me the forgiveness I seek but I can still forgive myself and him.

If I don't get the 'Ah-ha!' lightbulb then I try different variations until I do.  In my experience, it usually has something to do with self worth.  In my current trial, the negative story I've told myself has been, "I'm broken because I am still sad."  The new story I tell myself is, "I'm worthy of love and joy even if I am sad."  Feelings shouldn't be seen as good or bad but like colors.  They just are.  They're not like our thoughts or behaviors.  They exist to teach us and can tell us what we may need or lack in our life.

Am I Clear?

Finding clarity isn't always easy--especially when people we love are involved.  Even though I can separate my data from my story I forget to put story in it's place.  I forget to own it.  Although I do think it's important to talk about how we are feeling and what story we tell ourselves, they do not have to control our reality.  We cannot go to others to change the story we tell ourselves.  Only we can change that story.  No, we can't make that awesome company hire us after our interview.  We can't make a loved one say "I forgive you" after trying to make restitution. We can't change the past but we can learn from it.

I can change the story I tell myself.  My self worth and happiness doesn't have to be dependent on validation from someone else, the job I have, how much money I make, or whether or not I'm married.  Change the story you tell yourself and then you'll change the world.

-Stephen
 






DISCLAIMER: Joe and I do not actually have any sort of argument or conflict right now.  The situation above is purely theoretical.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Captain Marvel- the hero you've never heard of

I hate being asked who my favorite super hero is. See I read comic books. I can name some 500 super heroes and villains off the top of my head, so when someone asks who my favorite super hero is its not going to be someone from the most recent super hero movie, or Batman.
It’s Captain Marvel.
Whenever I mention this, weather in a geek crowd or not I almost always get a resounding “Who?” from the crowd. Since the good Captain is my favorite this makes me understandably sad. So allow me to fill you in on the ins-and-outs of one of my favorite, if least known super heroes, Captain Marvel.
Origin
Billy Batson was a happy twelve-year-old till his parents came down with a sudden case of plot convenient car accident and ended up dead. Billy was sent to live with an abusive uncle ( I think I just found a good pen pal for Harry Potter) till he was thrown out for being too pleasant or something and had to live on the streets.
Switch gears to the ancient and powerful wizard Shazam, who, after seeing that he didn’t have much time left in the mortal world, decided to summon a champion to protect the world and guard his giant floating rock. Or something. Shazam’s motives aren’t very clear, suffice it to say that he sees that Billy is still a happy, kind and good person despite his miserable circumstances   and brings him to his mystic realm. There he gives the young orphan super powers.
It so happens that Shazam’s name is actually an acronym for six deity-ish mythological beings, and that when Billy says the name he can gain their powers, as well as turn into an adult. The acronym goes:
“The wisdom of Solomon; the strength of Hercules; the stamina of Atlas; the power of Zeus; the courage of Achilles; and the speed of Mercury” –Wikipedia
So he’s essentially Superman but powered by magic and into Legos.
In case he wasn’t cool enough, Billy has the ability to share his power with others if they say his name after he electrocutes them with his magic lightning. A little narcissistic yes but it’s still cool to create an instant sidekick, of which he has two. Even Batman can’t carry around a Robin costume all the time. Marvel’s sidekicks are his long lost sister Mary Marvel and a kid he accidentally crippled while attempting to save him who calls himself Captain Marvel Jr.
So why do I like him?
Why on Earth would I say that this strange man-child with a confusing backstory and Superman’s powers carbon copied almost wholesale was my favorite? Well first off unlike most of the populace I like overpowered super heroes. I admit that Iron Man and Batman are cool, but at the end of the day if I really wanted to spend my time reading about rich men in impractical suits I’d read more Gentlemen’s Quarterly. I like my heroes to be powerful, big and able to take care of problems with their bare fists.
Second I like that Billy was chosen not because he was so awesome but just because he was so good. Billy is a virtuous, uncorrupted soul, the kind that can only be found in a child. Billy was written before every child had to have a snarky wise-cracking attitude with a reversed baseball cap. He’s just a good kid who wants to do his best, and because of that he was rewarded with an incredible gift. In some retellings of the Captain Marvel origin Billy’s virtue was meant to juxtapose Shazam’s first champion, an ancient villain named Black Adam who was given power as an adult but corrupted it and nearly destroyed the world until he was banished. I like the idea that the child’s virtue was a better asset then the adult’s supposed wisdom.
The thing I like about him most is how he’s written most of the time. Get someone who can write dialogue on Captain Marvel and the awesomeness just flows. Remember, Billy is a child inside of the super hero, so he sees the world through a child’s eyes. He thinks Batman’s cool, if a little scary, and that Superman is awesome. In DC’s sadly cancelled (May it rest in peace) cartoon Young Justice, Marvel finds himself drawn to the young team very quickly, simply because he himself is their age. It’s nice for me to see a hero who’s not trying to be the tough guy or trying so hard to be cool-Captain Marvel is just himself and that makes him cool.
Now that you’ve falling madly in love with Captain Marvel, your next question is why you haven’t heard of him. Well, that’s an interesting story. See, once upon a time magic was in in comics. Most of the Justice Society, including Green Lantern and the Flash were powered by forms of magic, and Captain Marvel fit right in. In fact, back in the day, Captain Marvel comics were the most popular comics in the world, outclassing Superman and Batman! The late Elvis Presley even liked his sidekick Captain Marvel Jr so much he based some of his stage outfits on the hero’s costume!
But magic went out of fashion to be replaced with science. Flash was no longer blessed by Hermes but a result of a lab accident, and the Green Lantern went from protecting the Star Heart to being a member of an alien police force. Sadly Captain Marvel couldn’t adapt and slowly faded into the background. Eventually when DC wanted to revise the hero they were met with opposition from the now formed Marvel Comics, who claimed copyright to the name. They won the court case so now DC can’t publish a comic titled Captain Marvel.
Within the last several years though, we’ve seen the good Captain and his friends making a comeback. Alex Ross, an extremely talented and influential comic book artist, loves Captain Marvel and writes him into every comic he can as an essential character, starting with his earth shaking Kingdom Come where a brainwashed Captain actually took on Superman. Marvel’s villain, Black Adam, was a huge part in the Villains United, which brought the character back into the spotlight, including his own book and a playable character in this year’s Injustice: Gods Among Us video game.
So that’s my hipster report of the super hero you’ve never heard of.

-JOE




Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Impressions on Epic (or according to Andrew, Ferngully done right)

About a month ago, I watched the movie Epic with a friend of mine.  I'm going to preface this post by saying that I'm not a very good critic, movies or games or otherwise.  I can tell you how I felt when I watched something, but I'd have a hard time telling about story elements that went into me feeling how I felt.



Epic. Simple title.  Simple story. [SPOILER ALERT]  Girl goes to spend time with her eccentric dad. Dad is obsessed with finding these little people he thinks live in the forest. Girl ends up shrinking to the size of the little people. Girl helps save the world. [/SPOILER ALERT]

Even though story's like Epic's have been told multiple times over and over again, somehow, Epic manages to still be a heartwarming film about the relationship between a father and his daughter, a mentor and his mentee, and...well I can't come up with a third thing.  Somehow, an annoying slug and snail get thrown into the mix.  Trust me, I still have no idea why the two were there.  Several times, their performances were quite disturbing.  And by performance, I guess I mean digital animations. (I was so disturbed writing this, that I accidentally spelled disturbing as distrubing).

There were many parts of the movie that I quite enjoyed.  Aside from the two creepy gooey things, there was a wonderful cast.  The father was passionate and eccentric.  He wanted to bond with his daughter, yet was also engaged in a lifelong hunt for these little people.  The daughter was thrown into an environment totally unlike any she had been in before (she also showed more restraint than most college students when in similar situations. Sorry, no raucous parties).  There was a queen that everyone absolutely adored.  She loved life, living things, smiling, yet wasn't afraid to fight to keep life going.  There was the villain, who was bound and determined to make everything around him rot and die.  There was the stoic queen's guard who had a hard time relating to his mentee, a hot-headed and unconventional independent young man.












Oh, and how is this Ferngully done right?  Well, they managed to speak about the importance of life, the forest, etc without it turning into some kind of anti-industrial/pollution Green Peace rant. The villain was much more realistic, and in some ways, very frightening.  Also, Epic is a lot less weird than Ferngully was.  And frankly, it didn't frighten me.  The villain from Ferngully terrified me as a kid.  Personally I'd rather face something human looking that could rot everything he touched rather than a oozing blob of brown gunk.

Anyways, I would highly recommend giving Epic a look.  I think it is worth watching.  It's rated PG and might be too frightening for kids under the age of 8.
-Andrew

Friday, September 13, 2013

Mario Parkour

Now, I’m a child of the 80s, and so grew up with Mario and Luigi as my friends. We’d usually get a new Mario game every Christmas and spent many hours bonding with my siblings. When you’re a kid, its easy to suspend disbelief but now that I’m older, I’ve got a few questions for the  bros, especially after watching this video made right in my backyard of Salt Lake City:




1. Just how can they jump so high? Is the gravity less in the Mushroom Kingdom (MK)?
2. In the MK, do they use the expression “when raccoons fly”?
3. Why doesn’t everyone else just munch on the magic mushrooms, leaves, and flowers? Why do Mario and Luigi have access to these powers while others don’t?
4. How do the Bros hold their breath for so long underwater? Is there like some super kelp they have to ingest?
5. Are bricks wimpier in the MK? Bashing your head against bricks around here will only give you a concussion. Maybe the Bros just have really strong hats.
6. What causes golden coins in the MK to randomly float and spin in the air?  Who stashed them in all the bricks, and how do they feel about the Bros raiding their bank accounts? Where does Mario keep all of said coins once he has snagged them?
7. How do 1-up mushrooms work? Are cats especially good at finding them to gain their extra lives?
8. Apparently Bowser has children. Who is Mrs.? Maybe she couldn’t stay with a man who stands over pits of lava on flimsy bridges with axes conveniently placed for his opponents to use against him.

These are just some of the lingering questions I’d like to ask the Bros. And apparently, since they are jumping off walls in Salt Lake City, maybe I’ll get the chance sometime.