Thursday, December 31, 2015

Star Wars Review - Part 4

Subtitle: Why did Lucas go wrong?

I briefly pause my review of The Force Awakens series to postulate a new theory answering an old question that I and many of you must have had over the years.  How could George Lucas be so brilliant by creating not one but three epic films that will forever be touted as one of the best trilogies ever made to later make three of the worst? Even more damning is he had great actors like Ewan McGregor, Natalie Portman, and Liam Neeson plus two decades of advancement in technology and movie making techniques to work with.

It occured to me yesterday as I posted my list of what was cheesy about the prequels and compared it to The Force Awakens that I had an epiphany.  Lucas learned in the first three films just how valuable "after effects" were.  Have you ever seen raw footage of a Darth Vader scene with the original actors voice?  If not, check out this video below and you will see what I mean.

Without dramatic music in the background, without the robotic deep voice of James Earl Jones, that scene is indeed hilarious and barely worthy of a fan following.  For whatever reason, I believe this falsely put the idea in George's head that it really doesn't matter how it looks on camera, "I can fix it in post." And if you remember he didn't actually wait until the prequels to start using more after effects. If memory serves me correctly he started digitally manipulating all the originals and re-releasing them with said modifications.  I believe this is also why he went so nuts in the prequels with green screen and didn't worry too much about the writing or acting.  Why would he?  This is a familiar formula for him and his safety net of after effects and editing hasn't let him down so far!

Another theory I have that might be just as possible is he was out of practice after 20 years.  But what do you think?  Share your thoughts about why there is such a huge difference between the two and what he is probably thinking now about the major props JJ is now getting for this newest film.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Force Awakens Review - Part 3 (Spoiler Alert)

Subtitle: Was There A Cheese Factor?

I think I can speak for 99.999% of Star Wars fans when I say our biggest fear about Episode 7 – The Force Awakens is whether or not it would be “as good” as the originals or instead be more on the spectrum of “as bad” as the prequels.  I had made up  my mind to hope for the best but to expect the worst.  I had also made up my mind that I would be “ok” so long as the quality level landed somewhere in the middle.  I am elated to report, however, it met and exceeded all of my hopes and expectations and I will go so far out on this limb as to state…I think it rivals the originals.  It might even be better.
But before I go so far as to make that claim and get too many of you upset, the point of this post is to examine if there is anything in this installment to be critical about.  Did it have ANY of the cheese that stunk up the prequels or is it cheese-free?  As stated in my last post, it did not bother me that JJ followed the pre-established formula and in many ways mirrored A New Hope.  However, it did upset the hyper-critical crowd a little and its probably worth mentioning.  My take is we chalk that up to JJ’s attempt to accomplish two things:

1. Honor the originals that we all so dearly loved without deviating too much off grid.  I bet had he done that, this hyper-critical crowd we be all the more upset.

2. The first installment of any trilogy is meant to provide a foundation and set everything in motion.  So long as the next two establish their own identity apart from the original series, I think I can forgive anything that resembled A New Hope.

So here is the rest of my checklist.  Feel free to add to it in the comments:
Was there any cheesy use of green screen or over-use of CGI?  No!
Was there ridiculous dialog causing normally good actors to look like bad actors? No!
Were there any cheesy characters, like Jar-Jar that made me want to impale myself on a light saber? No!
Did all the animations, puppets, landscapes and actors look realistic especially when interacting with one another?  Yes!
Does this movie escape any and all criticism from me?  No…but almost and here is why. I did find it a bit of a leap for JJ to essentially ask us to believe that in just a few minutes Rey, who formally had no idea she had the force, touches a light saber…has several visions and then bests Kylo Ren in both Jedi Mind tricks and light saber skills just a few scenes later.  I understand movies must accelerate plot lines to keep within the 3 hour time limit but that felt “too fast” and somewhat unbelievable.
That said, I must confess my absolute favorite part of the move was when Kylo tried to make Luke’s sword come to him but instead it flew right past him and into Rey’s hands.  Truly. Epic!

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Force Awakens - Part 2 (Spoiler Alert)

Subtitle: Han is Dead.
Some people seem a bit upset that a very noticeable “formula” is being used by JJ Abram in this installment of the Star Wars, going so far as to complain it’s a complete copy of A New Hope with new characters.  I am as Star Wars nerd as they come and have the closet full of unopened, collectible toys to prove it.  BUT my guess is these people are the same ones that would complain if JJ didn’t properly honor the original series by diverting away from it too much.  So I guess you can’t please everybody!

And yes, Han dying is part of the formula.  Someone important dies in the first installment of the other two trilogies as well.  Qui-Gon is bested by Darth Maul and Obi-Wan by Darth Vader.  Makes sense to continue the formula by introducing our head villain and causing you to REALLY dislike them.  Until Kylo Ren took out Han, most of us were probably rooting for him to turn to the light and didn’t really have a beef with him.  Now we want a great deal of blood before he gets turned back…and I predict he will in part three (see above references to “the formula”).

That said, gut reaction to this was, “I hated it!” How, after 40 years of life can I say goodbye to one of my favorite characters?  I actually tried to do mental gymnastics to figure out a way he might have survived.  But even if he could survive being impaled by a light saber, calling it “but a flesh wound”, he then fell into a very deep crevasse that surely had a bottom to it.  It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s that sudden stop and who knows how many MPH he was travelling at that point.  Even THEN you want to believe he could be alive but…oh yeah…the planet EXPLODES.  Pretty sure Han is dead.

Once that sank in I factored in who plays Han and came up with a viable theory, although I will be the first to admit, possibly wrong.  Harrison Ford is a grumpy dude.  Its part of what endears us to him and why playing Han seems to come so naturally to him.  He doesn’t put up with much and I bet he really didn’t want to do Star Wars to begin with.  He is probably so jaded and tired of being asked questions about the character and not being able to move on, that JJ enticed him by saying something like, “listen…come back one more time for this pile of cash, give your old fans the jolly’s they are deeply desiring, and I promise to kill Han off in the first episode.”

It doesn’t truly help much in my grieving over one of the greatest cinematic characters to ever grace the screens but I have at least arrived at an understanding of the decision.

Put your thoughts and theories about Han in the comments!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Force Awakens Review - Part 1 (Spoiler Alert)

Subtitle:  Who is Rey?

I have much to say and this will certainly be a series of posts so that each topic can be tackled and properly handled individually.  Since this will be spoiler-ridden, I would love it if you would comment on this post, rather than on my Facebook link.

First off...major props to J.J. Abrams for casting Daisy Ridley into this role. She was and is phenomenal.  But straight to the speculation about the character she portrays on the silver screen...most are betting this is Luke's daughter and I happen to agree.

Clues that she is:
  • Grew up, relatively alone on a Tatooine-like planet (Jakku), not truly understanding her origin story just like Luke and Anakin.
  • Luke's light saber "called out to her" just like it did for Anakin and Luke.
  • She is a natural with the force even without formal training, just like Anakin and Luke.
  • The trailer has Mark Hamill’s voice saying the following:
“The force is strong in my family.  My father had it.  I have it, my sister has it, and YOU have it.” 
Unless we get introduced to yet another character in the next film installment, this is a line of dialog aimed at Rey.  And it would only make sense to reference all the other family members that have it, if indeed she is also a family member.
  • Maz seems to know how significant Rey is and even offers her Luke's saber.

Reasons I might be wrong:
  • Why would Luke abandon his daughter and if he did, why give her the cruddy existence we find her in at the beginning of the movie? Surely he could have left her with people he trusted on a lush planet rather than one where she appears to be taking care of herself and left to sell junkyard scraps for a half portion of food.
  • We have no reason (yet) to believe Luke had a love interest or started a family, begging the question if Rey is his daughter…who is the Mamma!?
  • Wouldn’t Leia know or at least “sense” Rey was her niece upon meeting her?
  • Wouldn’t Kylo Ren know or at least “sense” he was fighting his cousin?
Please share your theories and add to this list in the comment section!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

A Rant About New Gadgets

Boosted Board
Sure boys grow up to be men but we never stop loving our toys. They just get more expensive and sometimes more elaborate. My generation grew up playing video games and skateboarding.  I assure you that I am not the only 40 year old that still does both. So with that setup in mind, take a good look at the photo to the left of this post.  That is called a boosted board.  Its an electric skateboard that can travel up to 20 MPH and they are very popular right now. I. want. one!

Problem is now and has always been in the past, for me...price.  I learned way back in the day that for a product to finally reach a level of affordability that I could finally take part or stomach, it probably needed to have saturated the market for a while or have newer generation being released so that the beta version prices drastically drop.  This is true of gaming systems, cell phones, and just about any "toy" that I have interest in.  There are currently about 7 companies making skate boards like this but they must have all gotten together and decided to price these things relatively the same, so that they have an oligarchy and no, one company, rose to the top for being "most affordable".

The average price is $1200. Folks this its core...just a skateboard. I don't know the true cost to manufacture one of these bad boys but the mark-up and subsequent profit must be spectacular at this price point.  Let me show you something that is quite a bit faster, endlessly more complex from an engineering and cost standpoint to make, yet LOTS cheaper.

So while these boards are competitively priced compared to other boards like it, they are about double what I could pay for a Moped.  And honestly I am so cheap that I probably won't buy one when that is the going rate.  These companies are marketing these boards as vehicles to help the big city commuter get around faster, so it really is an apples to apples comparison to show you a cheaper vehicle that will accomplish the same thing.  The only distinct advantage to the boards is they are more compact, can be carried, and stored without finding a parking space. Great point, then get one of these instead...

These even come with nifty handles for your riding pleasure and comfort! Those are prices I can handle.  At that level, I would gladly tell Boosted Boards retailers to "take MY money!"

Perhaps in effort to change my mind and help me come around, one of these savvy companies will send me one to take for a test drive? While that would solve my monetary woes and while I would not refuse such an opportunity, it still wouldn't negate my point or make it any more affordable to everyone else. normal...I will wait for these boards to be overshadowed by versions 2.0 or even 3.0 so that I can finally enjoy 1.0.


Monday, July 27, 2015

Put down the phone...and back away!

“Get off your tablet, go outside, and play! You rely too much on that and you need to stimulate your brain and realize there is a whole world out there.”

* Kids exit stage right, I proceed to pick up my iPhone and start scrolling through my news feed, completely oblivious to my hypocrisy.

Is this a familiar setting?  I thought so.  How effective can we possibly be with our kids about this topic when we are just as trapped, dependent, distracted, and enamored with our gadgets and social media as they are?   Is this just another category where we have to claim, “Do as I say, not as I do?” I hope not.
I think there is probably a healthy way to engage this electronic world without letting it swallow us whole.  I would love you to share your suggestions and your struggles in the comments. 

My plan, for now, is to put my phone down when I get home.  Save for a call or text that is important, I will not use it.  Only if my family is for some reason unavailable to play or chat, will I grant an exception.  I wonder what a week-long experiment like this might produce?

Monday, June 01, 2015

Losing 35 Pounds - What I've Learned (Part 3)

Diet AND Exercise
For years I tried to get away with one or the other but never both.  That word “and” between the two words “diet” and “exercise” was just a suggestion, right?  Or perhaps meant for overachievers?  I grew up eating whatever I wanted and in the volumes I desired without any weight gain issues.  Then I got old and my metabolism ceased to be as amazing, so the gut games began.  I still like eating whatever I desire, so most times when trying to cut weight I would ONLY exercise.  I would occasionally show small losses but they always came right back after a week or two of buffet style calorie intake.

I think I can only remember once, trying dieting without exercise.  It was back when the no carbs fad was all the rage.  This too worked a little bit for a little while but my sedentary lifestyle makes the amount of food I can consume in one day pretty miniscule and unreasonable.  So…the only real solution that has any chance of getting all the weight off and keeping it off is to combine diet with exercise and quit trying to do things halfway. 
My problem in getting both going was in motivation.  That is where my next segment will come in because for me, the solution was in tracking the intake and the burn so I knew where I stood. Suddenly a three mile run was worth it because I could see the impact on my Fitbit App and how many extra calories I could still eat for the day without going over budget.  Suddenly it was about earning that brownie without guilt or worry, rather than punishing my body for no immediate, tangible reason.  The good news is that it doesn’t take tons of activity to become more active.  And it doesn’t mean starving or eating 100% vegetarian to have a better diet.  A little bit of effort in both categories goes a LONG way.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Losing 35 Pounds - What I've Learned (Part 2)

First a point of clarification from yesterday’s post.  As my wise cousin pointed out, the topic of health, dieting, exercise, and weight loss is not simple.  It's complicated for a variety of factors such as food sensitivities, GMO’s, gut bacteria or lack thereof, and our little to no understanding of nutrition.  For example a person could lose weight and still eat a bunch of junk.  They would accomplish having a smaller body frame but are they actually healthier inside?  No.  What I intended to communicate with the word “simple” was the concept of losing weight (In Vs. Out) is a simple formula.  Certainly its hard to practice and depending on your unique body, personality, and sensitivities things can get all the more convoluted.

With that disclaimer out of the way, today I want to post about Serving Size/Portion Control.  If you are anything like me there are two states of existence:  Starving-Mad-Hungry or Uncomfortably-Unbutton-My-Pants-Full.  I never really knew there was something in-between and I think many people struggle with this.  I personally want that hunger pain to go away.  Not taking into account that food takes a while to travel from my mouth to the stomach I would just shovel it in like there was no tomorrow.  By the time the first ounce of food would make it to my stomach to stop the hunger sensation it was already too late, tons more food was right behind and would be arriving soon to overfill and stretch my stomach.  I used to think portion control equated to eating less and just dealing with the associated hunger.  That ended up not being the case.  When possible I try not to eat much processed food but on the occasion that I do, I read the label to see what they consider one portion to be.  In the example of some crackers that I enjoy, one portion is 16 crackers.  Combine that with some tuna and a granola treat and sure enough…once it hits bottom, I feel no hunger, nor do I feel grossly overstuffed.  I had found it.  That in-between sensation of satisfaction.

The key to portion control is the waiting game.  Let what you have consumed have a chance to send the all clear signal to the brain that you are no longer starving and in jeopardy of death.  This is difficult for me especially since I eat very quickly compared to most.  The waiting game is greatly aided if you can manage to eat slower.  It’s not only better for you overall it causes you to still be eating something when the hunger signal subsides.  This is much better than how I tend to naturally do things.  I will finish my plate rapidly and then fight the urge to go get seconds until the hunger finally subsides.  It makes fighting temptation more difficult and unreasonably so.

Let us know about your portion control experiences in the comments and stay tuned for the next installment on tracking & accountability.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Losing 35 Pounds - What I've Learned (Part 1)

Let me start by saying this.  Weight loss is very simple in concept.  We try to make it complicated, we have products galore marketed to us whether they work or not and everyone tries to cut corners.  But the formula will never change. More calories out than in equal weight loss.  More calories in than out equals weight gain. And equal calories in to equal calories out results in staying level. So the key regardless of what products or diets or exercise programs you want to try is TRACKING the caloric intake and burn (at least for a while). There will come a time after lots of practice where the tracking can taper off because you will get used to how much you can eat compared to how much you are working out.

But let me stop that line of thinking because one of the future posts will be about Accountability and the caloric tracking really belongs there.  For this first installment I simply want to prepare any of you that are looking to lose some weight for what I call the Daily Fluctuation.  Amazingly our bodies can fluctuate by several pounds during the day depending on what you have consumed.  I normally weigh the least first thing in the morning. It makes sense because we burn calories in our sleep and if you are like me, you empty your bladder at least once in the middle of the night.  Also you have not yet eaten breakfast.  Most days my fluctuation was only about two pounds from my lightest to heaviest in any given day.  But there were several times I saw a swing of three to four pounds.

The key is to not let this get you down and to understand most of the gain is due to your body still digesting and dealing with your intake.  Always use the lower number as an indicator of where your really are and let that encourage you.  As long as your lower number continues to go down on a weekly/monthly basis you are doing it right.  A close cousin of the Daily Fluctuation is the Plateau.  Expect several of these as your body adjusts to your new habits.  Since I had 35 pounds to lose I had five or six times in the five month period where I just could not drop another pound.  The week before I might have shed 5 pounds but the next week 0.  Again, don't let this bother you.  As long as you stick with it and continue to see losses when averaging the total progress, the Plateau is not only normal but temporary.

Stay tuned for part 2...and 3...and 4...

Also, please share your thoughts, tips, and success stories in the comments!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Can You Become a Morning Person?

I have accepted since the age of 12 that I am two things that are distinctly tied together: (1) A night owl and (2) a sleeper.  I cannot get enough sleep.  A 12 hour night, though I have not had the opportunity to put one in the books for a long time, is child's play. I can take a nap just 30 minutes after waking up.  I can take a nap multiple times per day and still be able to sleep at night.  Sleep is a talent of mine if not a outright character flaw.  The night owl thing just makes it worse because I am my most energetic and my most alert at night.  I've gotten better over the years because of work and family responsibilities but there was a day in the not-so-distant past that I could not imagine going to bed before 3AM.

Marrying a morning person and having three kids will cure you of that habit real quick, if having an 8-5 job doesn't.  So now I have a more reasonable bedtime but I feel like I am still always fighting this inner impulse, that left unchecked, would revert right back to the old days. I have always admired people that can get up early, get things done, and have energy at those hours.  But because those types are so chipper when I am anything admiration might come across more like gruff disdain.  But I assure you somewhere deep under the groggy, grumpiness that is hating being awake right now is a part of me that wishes I had your super-powers in exchange for mine.

So I searched the How To section of Youtube wondering if anyone had tips on How To become a morning person and is such a thing even possible?  Several suggest YES and go on to give tips like:

1. Find something that motivates you to get up in the morning.

2. Gradually set your alarm earlier by increments of 15 minutes until you get to the goal time for waking up and let your body get used to it slowly.

3. Go to bed earlier.

Those are good and I've even employed two of the three in order for me to have woken up early that last two days to get a 2 mile run in before getting ready for work.  But I might add this to the list:

4. Stop accepting labels about yourself, especially ones that are self prescribed and ones you want to change.  

I tell my kids when I hear them saying things like "I am just not good at that." to change their thinking.  Stop declaring things over yourself as though they are true because if you don't, you will accept it as truth and it will become reality. I realized when I started this experiment that I was guilty of doing the same thing and maybe taking my own advice would be key in accomplishing this goal.

Will this last long?  Who knows? Two days isn't long enough to declare victory yet.  I can tell you I will still take naps and I will still sleep in when I can.  But the journey of reprogramming 28 years of accepting that I am NOT a morning person has begun.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The Trade Off

We've all seen a million Big Pharma commercials pushing a pill that will solve or manage the one problem you have only to possibly give you a litany of others that sound rather scary.

Side effects may include:
Heart Attack
Thoughts of Suicide
Spontaneous Combustion
Or Grand Mal Seizures

"Consult you doctor to see if this horrific medicine created in Hell's Laboratory is right for you!"

I know I can be a conspiracy nut at times but when they put that in the commercials, our collective red flags should go up.  Yet when our doctor prescribes something to help us with an actual medical problem, what do we do?  Such was the case with my dad four, maybe five years ago when the doctor told him to lose ten pounds and to start taking a particular cholesterol medicine to lower his cholesterol.

I will spare you the details that would fill a novel to recount but since that day my dad has slowly been in a state of physical and mental decline.  Originally he was constantly nauseous and losing weight rapidly.  Then he started losing cognitive abilities and became very forgetful.  He has had every test known to man only for his physicians to be stumped. We, his family, had pretty much come to the sad conclusion that he was just getting older and his health was going to be declining and there just wasn't anything we COULD do about it.

Well I got a call from Mom this morning.  After telling her Dentist about dad's condition he suggested that she do some research on Lipitor and Statin and asked if dad was on either one of those?  Why yes. Yes he is.  He proceeded to tell her this is pretty common and to look into it.  She did.  And the internet was full of information about how these two drugs affect a certain percentage of the population, causing nausea and major digestive problems, lowing testosterone, lowering vitamin D, as well as causing mental fog and forgetfulness.  Every single problem he has had for FOUR or FIVE YEARS!  Turns out, my grandma, who spent the last decade of her life in a Senior Home for Alzheimers took Lipitor till the day she died. Now I have to wonder if she had Alzheimers at all!

Maybe sometimes the trade off is worth it.  Not in this case.  Not at all!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The A.D.D. Irony

I can only speak from my personal, undiagnosed experience so take this with a grain of salt and do your own research.  My guess is that if I was interested and pursued it, I would be accurately diagnosed with A.D.D.  But I have never really cared to find out for sure and quite frankly I enjoy the way my brain works for all its limitations and strengths.  If I have it, it’s never affected my ability to learn or interact socially.  I suppose there are different grades of the disorder and perhaps I land on the high functioning side because I do know some who have it and actually “suffer” from it, needing special accommodations.

My daughter is now bringing this front and center for us as we’ve been struggling this year to get her focused and ready for the state required, Star Test.  We know how brilliant she is. And we aren’t one of those couples that just thinks that because she’s our daughter.  She has the grades to prove it and a brother we can constantly compare her to for any disparities.  Though he is slightly more advanced in some areas, they are pretty equal and in some cases she is the one ahead of him. So her struggle with the standardized test is both in inheriting her parent’s inability to do well on them combined with what we now believe might be A.D.D. since she knows the material but is getting hung up on the instructions or sometimes the way the questions are worded.

We are going to get her checked out but are not going down the medication path.  Instead schools and we as parents will help accommodate her and give just that little extra bit of attention she needs to understand and perform the task at hand.  So what is the irony in all of this?  At one point in my life I would have sworn that I don’t have the same issue.  The reason being, I always assumed A.D.D. meant people were too easily distracted and went from thought to thought, never really focusing on anything.  I had the opposite problem.  I can only focus on one thing.  So if you are talking to me but my mind is pondering the ramifications of quantum theory, I will not hear a word you are saying.  If the TV is on and my wife is communicating valuable information, only one of the two messages is going to enter my brain.  I am NOT a multi-tasker in thought or deed.  And if you want to stress me out, give me more than one thing to accomplish at the same time, grab some popcorn, and have a laugh at my expense.

I don’t just believe, but I know…this is what Mackenzie is struggling with.  Her problem is that her imagination is SO active and captivating that when her mind is in the clouds, there it shall stay.  She isn’t moving from thought to thought, she is hyper-focused on the one she is having to the exclusion of ALL others.  I don’t know if everyone that is diagnosed with A.D.D. experiences this or if my daughter and I are in a special category.  But I would almost like to change the label to H.F.D. (Hyper Focus Disorder) and begin teaching those that suffer from it to learn to focus on the right and most important things, saving the day-dreams and trivial tv programs for later.


Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Should We Pray For Clarity?

I don't think we are committing a sin to ask God for help in making decisions.  We have countless Biblical examples of New and Old Testament characters seeking guidance and help from Almighty God.  But if you are like me we practically want to know the future when praying for clarity.  It's as though I believe choice A vs. choice B might have the Universe and its continued existence hanging in the balance if I choose incorrectly.  The fact is God will be on the other-side of either choice and will take care of us regardless of what we do.

Last night as I met with some men from church including my Pastor, he shared a story about Mother Teresa.  She was apparently approached at one point by John Kavanaugh who asked her to pray for him.  She asked specifically how she could pray and his reply is much like one I might give...for clarity.

"No," Mother Teresa answered, "I will not do that."  When he asked her why, she said, "Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of."  When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: "I have never had clarity; what I always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God."

As Pastor Steve uttered those last few words I was dumbfounded.  This pierced me to the marrow.  I stand guilty. I won't pretend to know the exact line between trust and clarity but I know I've crossed it.  Perhaps we need to adjust how we pray for answers.  As much as I WANT the right decision to be made or a sign from heaven on what to do next with my life, God's desire might just be for me to trust and hang on tight for the wild ride!