Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Thoughts on Commenting and Community



Here is something I wrote five years ago when I first started blogging. As more and more people spend more and more time online, I think it is increasingly relevant. Also, as the web becomes more mainstream, I have seen the idea of a "tolerant global community" diminish somewhat. Also, looking back I think the "globalness" of the web as been wiped out by "localized social groups". I think part of the "social customization" of the web is to blame for that, but that's a Pandora's Box of social commentary for another day.

I think the Internet and our reliance on non-personal communication has been a blessing and a curse. While everyone can communicate with all across the world, technology has created a "have" and "have not" climate in terms of face-to-face interaction. We are not becoming one global village. We are becoming two groups: one communal village of interactors and a second cynical group of individuals who express their opinions but choose not to participate.

This second entity can be quite dangerous. Whether informed or unlearned, the Internet as given everyone a voice. These mostly cynical views can splinter attempts at a tolerant global community if allowed. If enough people choose to follow a dissenting voice or group of voices, the attempt at harmony will be destroyed.

Cynical web sites, blogs, and comments are similar to the Grinch mailing down propaganda to Wooville on a daily basis bemoaning the Woo's emphasis on their Christmas holiday. We have gone too far to pull back and retreat into isolationism. Reasonable tolerance is the only answer. Negotiate where one's group ends and another's individual options begin. Throwing rocks at glass houses is not an option.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Song by Ice-Tay and the Jingle Jamboree

I was feeling so much in the holiday spirit the other day that I wrote a song. Not just any song, but a song that captures the true feeling of Christmas.

Ok, well maybe one that captures the true feeling of spending money for Christmas.

Sung to the tune of the Big Tymers' classic rap joint "Still Fly", this song perfectly posits the juxtaposition of the American working man to his struggle to buy material goods for his family while still maintaining economic self-legitimacy in the cutthroat capitalistic nvironment of 21st Century America.

In order to capture the spirit of the song, I recruited famous rapper and actor Ice-Tay and the musical genius of the world renown Jingle Jamboree band. Unfortunately, I only had the money to pay the Jingle Jamboree band to stand behind Ice-Tay; I didn't have enough to pay them to play music. So you don't hear them.

But you do hear Ice-Tay. And to me, that's worth the price of admission.

Let me know what you think!

Christmas Movie Starring Ice-T, Peanuts, Ralphie, and a Dragon

I made a Christmas movie. It is a big budget extravaganza. I had to contact ILM for the dragon. And who knew Peter Billingsley would so difficult to get to reprise his classic role as Ralphie. But I think it turned out ok, considering what we had to work with.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Star Wars Holiday Special

Aired on CBS in 1978, the Star Wars Holiday Special is legend among Star Wars fans. Some despise it for its cheesiness and call it among the worst things to ever happen in the Star Wars legacy. Others, using hindsight, forgive George Lucas and crew for any misgivings and admire the broadcast for what it is.

Personally, being born the year Star Wars came out in theaters, I was too young to see the Holiday Special air live and before people started putting it online, I had never watched it, as Lucasfilms refuses to release it on DVD (Amazon has it listed, but "not available"). That lack of recognition has only created more of a cult status for the special, and made me want to seek it out.

So here it is, in its entirety, commercials and all. Enjoy, May the Force Be With You, and have a Happy and Blessed Life Day.






Post-viewing additional viewing: For the best review of the Star Wars Holiday Special on the internet, please check out this hilarious review from ThatGuyWithTheGlasses.com.



Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Curse of the Almighty Darth Sidious



While surfing the web recently, I found this article where the author talks about how he found what he believes is a new revelation in Star Wars Episode I. The author explores the idea that perhaps the teacher of Darth Sidious/Emperor Palapatine created the life of Anakin Skywalker through the Dark Side of the Force. It is definitely an interesting theory I've never heard before, even if people in the comments claim they have.

My own theories on Palpatine/Darth Sidious were also kindled when I recently read the Episode 3 prequel book, Labyrith of Evil. In the book, the author says there can only be two Sith at any one time. Wookiepedia calls this The Rule of Two.

Sith are driven by power and greed. They will eternally eat each other. Hence they can never run the galaxy efficiently, unless they kept their greed in order. More likely, however, one will oppose the other.

Vader represented this when he asked Luke to join him to rule the galaxy together. Vader was planning on killing the Emperor. There was no way there was going to be a “Holy Trinity” of Sith rulers. Vader was assuredly plotting a coup.

If Darth Plagueis created Anakin to kill Darth Sidious, it was probably as revenge because he knew Sidious was going to kill him. Palantine knew this child would be his down fall, but he knew he was essential to exist.

What if there was no “Chosen One”? What if the idea of a “Chosen One” was a never-fulfilled Jedi fable and the only way the Jedi prosper is because the Sith are so driven by greed that the moment one Sith brings in another, the second plots his day in the sun?

Although people have studied and contemplated the Jedi and they were given the most emphasis in the mainstream Star Wars media, it is the Sith that require more study. They drive the entire galaxy.

There is also a reason why Vader was not made as powerful as General Grevious. Sidious wanted Vader to be weak and vulnerable as a human robot. Had Vader been more powerful or more of a military mind, he would have killed Luke, but Vader never could. Then his moral compass took over and he eventually destroyed Sidious.

Now here is another theory: what if Han Solo – the only wildcard in the movies – was unknowingly controlled by Palantine? Solo foils Vader from killing Luke in the trenches of the Death Star at a moment when Vader doesn't know who Luke is. Solo is the thorn in Vader’s side through Empire Strikes Back that prevents Vader from finding Skywalker before their relationship has blossomed into father and son. And if Palantine knew of Chewbacca and the Wookie’s blood oath, which is not unlikely since he probably wanted to know all about the enemy the Jedi were working with in the begin of the Clone Wars and Wookies were on the Senate, he could have manipulated Republic hero and friend of Yoda, Chewbacca, by linking him up with Han Solo, a stooge of Palpatine.

Chewbacca and Solo are forced to become smugglers, not unlike how Dan Akroyd was forced into a life of crime in Trading Places. I don’t think it is beyond Palpatine to conduct a social experiment and send Solo and his former Wookie war hero friend into a life of crime. Solo wasn’t the smartest person in the galaxy either. Why did he go back to Tatooine when he dropped Jabba’s spice load? Shouldn’t he have run as far away from the Hutt’s reach as possible? What if Chewbacca convinced him it was safe because Chewie knew Obi Wan was there?

So Palpatine tells the Imperial forces to intercept Han Solo. Solo drops his spice and is now in trouble with Jabba the Hutt. The Empire doesn't fear the Hutts, at least not Jabba. So Palpatine controls Solo and Chewbacca falls into the trap. Chewie knows the Empire is closing their grip on crime and he knows he has no choice but to find Obi-Wan in this time of trouble. Palpatine used Chewbacca and Solo to bring Obi-Wan and Luke to Vader, where Vader and Obi-Wan would face off. If Vader lost again, Palpatine knew Obi-Wan would go after the Emperor next. And Palatine knew he could take Obi-Wan. If Vader won, it would also cause even more mental instability in the one-time padawan. There is no doubt Vader was distraught over killing Obi-Wan underneath the layers of hate he held for the man who left him stranded on Mustafar.

Although Vader spends time hunting for Kenobi prior to Episode 4, he is sidetracked by his hunt for Princess Leia. It is very possible Palatine knew Leia would lead Vader to Tatooine and rile up Kenobi.  The difficult thing for Palpatine is that he didn’t have anyone else who could hunt down Kenobi. So Palpatine figured he would lead Kenobi to Vader.

Palantine knew Obi-Wan was looking after one Skywalker child and Bail Organa was looking after the other. Organa was not going to train Leia in the force, but Obi-Wan could easily train Luke as he did, hence the latter pair need to be deposed of first. When Luke’s friends join the academy, Palpatine knows Luke is then old enough to be a threat. Now perhaps even Uncle Owen is controlled by the Emperor when he tells Luke he can’t join the academy. Maybe Palpatine controlled the harvest.

It is clear here also that the Sith have no trust in the military apparatus. The military is used only for wild goose chases, seizures, or large scale assaults. This is seen most in Vader’s blatant disregard of Imperial officers in Empire Strikes Back and there is no scene where Palantine counsels with Imperial Officers. He doesn't trust them. So Palantine doesn’t want Luke to be part of the military environment. He does not want Luke’s mind to be militarily rigid, as Grevious’s was.

So I have just made a case that Han Solo and Uncle Owen were stooges of Emperor Palantine designed to push Luke to Emperor when the time came. It was Luke who was supposed to be the heir to Palantine after Anakin’s body was destroyed. When Luke was before Sidious, Vader and his half robotic self was expendable. But to Vader, who probably thought of himself as nearly as powerful as Sidious, Sidious was expendable if Vader could convince Luke to join him.

And by the end of Return of the Jedi, we have free-will restored to the galaxy. We have the Light and Dark Side of the Force weaker than they had been in thousands of years. We have no Siths and no Jedi Council. We have only one Jedi Knight, but that might be in name only as Luke was the weakest Jedi in the movies, by far. Who is around to call Luke an official Jedi Knight? I could study how to be a medieval knight all day, but am I really?

In conclusion, although I did all this typing and pondering and maybe some it made sense and some of it didn’t, I think overanalysis is the worst thing to hit the Star Wars Universe. The fact that Palpatine was a super-powerful figure means people attach more and more power to him, as I did here, making him stronger than George Lucas ever imagined. And this is the worst part of the prequels, that they create an idea around the Force that it controls everything. The fact that none of the characters have free-will and that they are all puppets to a creepy, evil old man totally sucks the fun out of Star Wars. No longer are there Rebels fighting to get out from the clutches of a repressive Empire, but the story turns into a magical monster man playing puppet master with people. Until of course an innocent na├»ve – some might say weak – farm boy says he would rather have the love of his father than rule the universe.

And then perhaps it is love that changed Han Solo from easily-manipulated scoundrel to a caring Princess lover in Empire Strikes Back.

Unless that was Yoda’s doing …

Friday, December 16, 2011

Books by friends David Davisson, Dale Lotreck, and Artie Fletcher



Not only is The Bus Leagues Experience Vol 2 blazing its way up the Amazon.com charts, but I have a few other friends releasing books recently. Please check them out and support them. So many writers have been supportive of me since I started these crazy endeavors, I can only try to return the favor.

1) Fellow local blogger David Davisson released his book Re/Creating Tampa: 101 Ideas for a Better City in November. This book, as stated, discusses David's ideas on how Tampa can be better.

Free PDF download

Ebook format $1.99

Paperback $10.00

2) Long time e-friend Dale Lotreck released his first e-book last week, RUBY LEAVING TEXAS. According to Amazon, RUBY LEAVING TEXAS

"is a tale of sex, drugs, love, lies, incest, deceit, a life misspent, and the potential for violence. It is the story…"the truth the way I see it”…of a Whiteboy from Connecticut who ends up in New York City in the 1980s, doing what he is told not to, becoming an artist, a prolific graffiti artist and social vandal."

Sounds really interesting.

E-book version $4.99

3) Lastly, comedian Artie Fletcher (who taught my comedy course) released his first book this week, Comedy on the Road as Seen Through a Comic's Bloodshot Eyes. Artie's book discusses his career in entertainment to include the highs and lows and the tolls it has taken on his family life.

And by the way, I asked Artie about his book in my latest article for the Tampa Bay Times.

Paperback $19.95

E-book $9.99

Please check out these books. Thanks!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reflections on Michael Maccoby's The Gamesman



I’m usually not one for business books. I’ve never read “Seven Habits of Highly Effective Cheese”, “Who Moved My People”, “Everything You’ve Wanted To Know About Business, But Didn’t Want To Ask”, or any bios on the rich or the powerful. Just not my bag.

About this time last year, however, a former co-worker recommended the book “The Gamesman” to me. He described it as the best organizational business book he had ever read, although he claimed to have read it over 25 years ago. As we were working in a resources and requirements division, the book seemed like a solid recommendation and something I figured I would enjoy.

Written in the early 1970s by business anthropologist Michael Maccoby, “The Gamesman” explores several different personalities found in the 1970s corporate business environment. Maccoby builds on other personality studies such as “The Organization Man” and Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” and attempts to categorize workers based on their drive, corporate roles, and lives outside of the workplace.

First a disclaimer: being that this book was written in the 70s, it is very much a product of its time. There is very little talk of women and minorities and only Mexico is given an acknowledgement in the discussion of international cultures. When discussing the work place, women get the most coverage of the aforementioned groups and even then they are marginalized as secretaries and other administrative positions. They are seen as objects for powerful men to oogle or flirt with and their admiration is counted as points for a distinctive corporate personality. That aside, as a white man who has worked in predominantly white male dominant industries, I could identify with a book about the corporate personalities of other white men.

(Also, I am not sure if the person who recommended the book to me realized how The Gamesman was incredibly sexist and culturally single scope, since he too was a white male in the same white male dominant work environment. And the fact that the military and many defense contractors are so white male driven does say a lot about their business culture. This is not good or for bad, just reality.)

Through his research, interviews, and investigations, Maccoby comes up with four distinct corporate personalities:

The Craftsman

The Craftsman is the type of person who takes pride in his craft. They are subject matter experts on one thing, often spending their entire lives working one issue or field. They are career plumbers, career writers, career engineers, or any other field where one can dedicate their lives. They care little of promotion or interaction, only that they get emotional satisfaction from being good at their niche.

The Jungle Fighter

Jungle fighters are people who scratch, claw, and play political games in an attempt to get to the top of a corporation. They play people against each other, manipulate their co-workers, and use those below them for their own personal gain. They are largely political creatures who ass-kiss when needed and throw people under the bus when needed.

The Company Man

The Company Man is the type of person who throws themselves at the will of the company because they fear the repercussions of the company. He will do any job, take any position for the betterment of the company, and side with the company on all decisions. They are submissive and do whatever it takes to not get fired.

The Gamesman

The Gamesman is the newest type of corporate personality and was created by Maccoby. Gamesman feel the corporate environment is game they have to “win”. Money isn’t the end result unless it is part of a goal. Gamesmen want to achieve, compete, and pit themselves against their environment. They are very success-driven, often as Maccoby discovers, at the risk of alienating or losing their emotional attachments.

After writing brief chapters on the craftman, jungle fighter, and company man, Maccoby focuses more than half the book on The Gamesman. He explores the personalities of several successful managers at defense companies and other high-tech industries. What he finds is surprising and somewhat shocking. Gamesmen rely on competition. It drives them and keeps them on their toes. They have an unending drive to be the top of whatever field they decide to be in.

Unfortunately, Maccoby writes that the drive that propels many gamesmen to the top of their fields often stands in the way of their emotional well-being. Their lives revolve around work and they often lead unfulfilling family lives, sacrificing the warm embrace of home and hearth for the cold calculations of the business world.

Maccoby discusses the conflict these individuals have in depth in a chapter called “The Head and the Heart”. He proposes the idea that the corporate culture that promotes corporate “winning” and being “better” than others sadly kills the idea of true cooperation and compassion. Although Gamesmen aren’t inherently cold people, their actions and need to feel victorious sometimes make others feel degraded, especially those who don’t share their competitive will.

I don’t think it was the intent of my former co-worker to show me that I was too driven by work. I think he told me to buy The Gamesman because it would help me identify what I was up against in the conservative military defense contracting work environment we were in. But when reading The Gamesman, I found myself associating with The Gamesman personality much more than any other corporate type. And I found myself looking inside myself to see if I was as ultimately empty as the people Maccoby interviewed.

One of the people Maccoby profiled fit me almost to a tee. He was a successful worker who racked up the accolades at work, but couldn’t seem to find happiness. Although he was married, he couldn’t stay calm after work. He kept thinking his life would be better if he sought out other challenges, such as law school, medical school, or trying to find another job. He felt frustrated in his job because they wouldn’t let him “win” any more.

Overall, The Gamesman scared me more than any book I have ever read. Since I have been out of work, I’ve realized how important it is to be alive outside of the workplace. All the work and accomplishments I did at my job went right out the window the second I was laid off. They went on my resume, but they didn’t define “me”. I thought I was “winning” in the career “game”, but in reality, professional and educational accolades didn’t mean anything to me as a person. And now, as I try to figure out where my career path is going, I know money alone doesn’t equal true happiness. Money is necessary to pay the rent and I should still save for a time when I am too old to work, but money and accomplishments shouldn’t be the end-all-be-all of life. I should enjoy my work path as much as possible.

I might not know what I want to do, but I know I want to try to undo 16 years of competitive nature and act more from my heart for the first time ever. I don’t want to be a Gamesman anymore.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bus Leagues Experience Volume 2 is now available



(This post originally appeared on Bus Leagues Baseball.com)

We are happy to announce the release of our second annual book: The Bus Leagues Experience Volume 2.

Like our first release, The Bus Leagues Experience Volume 2 is a collection of interviews and conversations with some of the brightest prospects in Minor League Baseball as well as coaches, media personnel, fans, and other people associated with the lower levels of professional baseball. Volume 2 expands on our original work by featuring the voices of our expanded roster of writers and includes much of the work Brian and Mike did during their tenures with MiLB.com.

We worked hard to ensure The Bus Leagues Experience Volume 2 is available for the holidays. We promise it will make a great gift for baseball fans of all ages no matter what their holiday or denomination.

Again, we would like to thank each and every one of you for your support, without of which this book would never be possible.

Click here to buy The Bus Leagues Experience Volume 2 at Amazon.com.

The Bus Leagues Experience Volume 2 includes interviews with the following:

Travelers & Fans

James Dively

Tug Haines

Joe Price

Torianne Valdez

Craig Wieczorkiewicz

Writers & Broadcasters

Bruce Baskin

Clark Brooks

Jim Donten

Kurt Schweizer

Greg Young

Players

Dellin Betances

Tiffany Brooks

Chris Cates

Travis d’Arnaud

Wes Etheridge

Anthony Gose

Mark Hendrickson

Liam Hendriks

Chad Jenkins

Mike McDade

Mike Minor

Stolmy Pimentel

D’Vontrey Richardson

Moises Sierra

Michael Spidale

Zach Stewart

Kyle Weiland

MiLB.com

Stetson Allie & Justin Meccage

Aaron Altherr & Mickey Morandini

Garin Cecchini & Rich Gedman

Alexander Colome

Cito Culver

Jarek Cunningham

Matt Hobgood & Scott McGregor

Kyle Jensen

Coline Kaline

Jeff Locke

Richard Lucas

Matthew Neil

Matt Rice & Kes Carter

Garrett Wittels

From the Podcast

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Jeff Perro

George Springer

Thanks!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Becoming a better writer through Nanowrimo



Way back many moons ago, when the sun rose on the month of November in the Year of Our Lord 2011 I wrote a post that discussed my embarking on an endeavor called National Novel Writers Month or Nanowrimo. The goal of Nanowrimo is to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the month of November.

Entering Nanowrimo, I thought doing 50,000 words seemed difficult, but highly doable. In reality however, it proved too difficult. I ended the month with only 33,233 words, or 16,767 words off of the goal.

When I was in the military, we would look back at exercises and attempt to derive "lessons learned" to hopefully guide us in our future efforts. I think that is a good way to look at Nanowrimo. It was definitely an exercise, one of the literary sort. And although I didn't succeed in my writing goal, I did learn a lot about myself as a writer during the month.

1) Leave the house

I was most effective as a novel writer when I left the house and visited a local bookstore coffee shop. I limited distractions and surrounded myself with writing. That helped a lot. Being home meant keeping an eye on the TV or an ear on the radio. It was easier to do something else when I was home. Going to the bookstore was a lot like going to the gym to work out.

2) Limit internet access

Although I went to the bookstore, I still was extremely tempted to use their free wi-fi and check my email, hop on twitter, or pop on Facebook. It got to the point where I was tweeting with the document open. I would type 50 words, then tweet, then write a sentence, then tweet. The only times I was successful in removing the Internet as a distraction was when I would take my computer into my bedroom, sit on a yoga ball, and type on a makeshift desk of an end table.

People have often asked me why I don't have a wireless router connected in my apartment. I have for years used a cable wire out of my wall connected to my laptop. It is makeshift and ghetto, but it works. I cannot imagine how little work I would have gotten done in my bedroom if I had an Internet connection there as well.

3) Try not to catch a computer virus

During some late night Internet surfing on or about the 19th, I caught a debilitating computer virus. This virus wormed it's way into my system, deactivated my anti-virus program, and replicated into my computer's registry. I eventually had to back up my entire hard drive on to my portable back-up drive, reformat my hard drive, and re-load everything, including a new updated anti-virus program. The whole process took four days and totally killed my rhythm for writing.

Could I have saved my novel on to a thumb drive and taken it to a local library? Sure, and I was very close to doing so. But I felt fixing my system was more important than writing a novel.

4) Get more work done before Thanksgiving

The Thanksgiving holiday fell right after I fixed my computer from its killer virus. Although I wrote the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, I did not write Thanksgiving Day and only wrote 500 words the Friday after. I knew Thanksgiving was going to difficult and I did not give myself enough flexibility to stay on top of my needed word count, even not counting the virus. I was behind before that.

Thanksgiving, however, was the death kneel of my effort.

5) Writing at my parents' house is impossible

My parents' house has always been loud. Sound resonates there. Combined with the fact that I have a loud family - nothing wrong with that, some families are louder than others - and a musically inclined 4-year old nephew and writing is all but impossible. It is like trying to read cosmic physics at a death metal concert. It is a fact of life.

6) Surround myself with other writers

I know I said I was going to meet other writers. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. After my friend Keri said she dropped out a week in, I knew no other writers in person. I had to rely on going online to seeing other people's updates and share words of encouragement. And going online was my Achilles Heel, as I mentioned. If I had followed through and gone to write-ups perhaps others' positive writing vibes would have worn off on me and aided my production.

Conclusion

I learned a lot about my writing style, techniques, and habits because of Nanowrimo. Although I can write non-fiction anywhere with the TV on, radio blaring, my nephew doing nephew things, and life going on around me, writing fiction requires much more discipline and a change in my habits.

I will definitely finish the story I started in November. I also am working on another story I was writing before Nanowrimo began. I'd like to have them both done by Christmas.

And I will be doing Nanowrimo again in 2012.