08 June 2013

Why Do Henchmen Do What they Do?

I’ve always won­dered why hench-​​people are so will­ing to lay down their lives for clearly evil and unbal­anced mas­ter­minds, but I think I just fig­ured it out.

Henchmen and hench­women are recruited from the home­less pop­u­la­tion. People who have reached the bot­tom rung of soci­ety, slipped from it, and dropped into the abyss. Villains trawl for the lost souls and the give them food, a home, com­pan­ion­ship with other hench­men. A pur­pose. They’re trusted with responsibility.

So why do they line up to die in fights against “good guys?”

Gratitude. Henchmen do what they do out of gratitude.

Put your­selves in their posi­tion. Sure, the boss is insane. But you know insan­ity. You’ve wres­tled with it your­self, maybe, or you cer­tainly know peo­ple on the streets that strug­gle with it. And “evil?” What’s evil any­way? Oh, the boss wants to change the world, and how it would change might be unclear, but from your per­spec­tive, he or she has made your life 1000% better.

Villains do more for the home­less than any heroes. Supervillains build indus­try and pro­vide jobs to those who most des­per­ately need them. How many jobs does your aver­age super­hero cre­ate? Hell, they prob­a­bly puts police out of work if they’re ‘good’ at their jobs. Some hench­folk might even be for­mer cops who lost every­thing after yet another round of cuts, because hey, we have all these vol­un­teer heroes, why do we need another dozen police officers?

Giving some­one who has noth­ing even the small­est some­thing is the eas­i­est way directly to the core of them.

I am rethink­ing every super­hero comic I’ve ever read in this con­text now.

22 May 2013

Photo: Snapping Turtle

This is just a semi-​​crappy cam­era phone pic­ture but it makes me excited for the pho­tog­ra­phy oppor­tu­ni­ties for liv­ing in the coun­try. We’re putting an offer on a 100 year old Kansas farm­house tonight! In cel­e­bra­tion, here’s a snap­ping tur­tle we saw tonight.


20 May 2013

Describing The Problem With the First 20 Minutes of Star Trek: Into Darkness

We saw the new Star Trek movie. I liked it as a movie. I enjoyed it about as much as the first one. But it has prob­lems. Big problems.

Here be spoilers.

Io9 has a really good FAQ that takes the movie to task for some of its more dense deci­sions. It really focuses on that first open­ing away team mis­sion. The more I think about the start of that movie, the less I like it.

Here’s how it reads to me:

It’s like some­one watched an away team mis­sion from the orig­i­nal series, but dubbed in a lan­guage they don’t speak. They kind of under­stood there was some­thing was bad about directly inter­act­ing with alien natives, but they weren’t sure why. They saw the move­ment, the ten­sion of the sit­u­a­tion, and the char­ac­ters and the ship. But they didn’t under­stand word one of dia­logue. It was just peo­ple doing stuff in neat cos­tumes with some weird effects. They didn’t under­stand the spirit of the idea. And then they wrote their own ver­sion of that.

To put it another way, it’s like some­one try­ing to build a space shut­tle from a col­lec­tion of parts with only a photo of one in flight to go by as direction.

The new Star Trek, espe­cially in the open­ing scene, is a pithed frog. All twitch, no brain.

I’m not even going to get into the race-​​bending con­tro­versy. I agree with what oth­ers have said 100%.

And that’s what I have to say about a movie I actu­ally enjoyed. Can you imag­ine what I say about movies I hate?

14 May 2013

State of Jeremy Quarter One, 2013

It’s been a stress­ful year so far. I’ve accom­plished some things. Some things I have not. Some things are in the works.

  • The SFWA redesign, the biggest project of the year so far, has launched. It’s been gen­er­ally well received. We have more work to done. Websites are never done; they’re just abandoned.
  • Despite the hard work above, I’ve man­aged to read fif­teen books so far this year.
  • I’ve also caught three fish. Tasty crappie.
  • I’ve writ­ten three sto­ries, with more hope­fully to come. I’m still strug­gling to find my cre­ative energy lately. I’m hop­ing the sum­mer work­shop at KU really leads to me click­ing with the writ­ing again.
  • I’m doing world build­ing and pre­lim­i­nary script­ing for a fan­tasy web comic that could be pretty excit­ing if it goes well. I’ll be work­ing with the fine folks over at Outland Entertainment on that.
  • Planning, research, and design work for Stranger Creek has been mov­ing along slowly. Something’s not quick click­ing into place. I’m not sure what it is yet. Oh–maybe a plot? Plots really are my weak­ness as a writer. Good to know at least.
  • Dieting has not gone well so far but I still have hope. I’m start­ing back up again this week after aban­don­ing it a month or two back dur­ing a nasty cold.
  • We’ve started look­ing for homes around Lawrence. We even sub­mit­ted paper­work for a loan. Who knows how that’s going to go — banks are often very con­fused by self-​​employed people.
  • The trans­mis­sion went out on our Alero. $1300 to fix, min­i­mum. So that hurts. We’ll live, but it means vaca­tion plans for the sec­ond half of June prob­a­bly need to be scaled down. Probably need to do a stay-​​cation (what a hor­ri­ble sound­ing word), espe­cially if we move for­ward with buy­ing a house.
  • I’m still alive. I’m still here, despite the best efforts of an opos­sum a cou­ple of days ago. Here’s hop­ing the year keeps get­ting better.

09 May 2013

A Youth Serum for Hearts

Here & Now on NPR had an inter­view today with a researcher who has been look­ing into ways to fight heart dis­ease. They’ve iden­ti­fied a very promis­ing pro­tein called GDF-​​11 that was able to take old hearts in mice and return them to a youth­ful state:

Dr. Richard Lee, direc­tor of regen­er­a­tive med­i­cine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Amy Wagers, of the Department of Regenerative Biology at Harvard, made the dis­cov­ery when they were work­ing with younger and older mice.

They took an older mouse with the most com­mon form of human heart fail­ure and merged the mouse’s blood stream with that of a healthy young mouse using a Siamese twin tech­nique known as para­bio­sis. They found that the older mouse’s dis­eased heart was able to reverse to a younger health­ier condition.

Six years out from human use is actu­ally quite fast, as I under­stand it. The actual research paper can be found here. The results look pretty promis­ing from what I understand.

I don’t care about the eth­i­cal issues of liv­ing for­ever. Get this in me as soon as possible.

22 April 2013

More Stranger Creek Scheming

Today I’ll talk more about the ancil­lary work I’m plan­ning around my per­sonal media empire called “Stranger Creek Stories.”

First of all, there will be the stories/​novellas/​novels, sold elec­tron­i­cally pri­mar­ily via Amazon to take advan­tage of their great deals, but prob­a­bly with some other etail­ers later on. The debate about the appro­pri­ate­ness of giv­ing Amazon so much con­trol is for another time.

The next two aspects will be a hand­ful of social media pres­ences for a cou­ple of char­ac­ters you’ll see pop­ping up reg­u­larly. I aim to build a city Facebook web­site, real web­site, and a news­pa­per web­site also. These pages will all con­tain ancil­lary mate­r­ial to keep fans occu­pied and reminded while they’re wait­ing for the next piece to come out.

I’ll also be doing merch plans, just in case. Because the sto­ries are grounded in a real fake city, I can sell city merch just like a real city does. So soft­ball league t-​​shirts, t-​​shirts for the city, mouse pads, and so on.

I want Stranger Creek the kind of town you can crawl inside and look around at its weird­ness from dif­fer­ent angles. I want it to feel like it’s alive even when you’re not vis­it­ing it via your Kindle. The ebooks will ref­er­ence and link to the exter­nal mate­ri­als as well, so the lines should blur nicely by the time it’s all up and running.

I don’t know if any of that will help me sell copies. Probably not, ulti­mately. But it’s the kind of fun stuff that I like to do, so I’m gonna do it. Fun is the name of the game here, not profits.

19 April 2013

The Force is Empathy

I’ve been think­ing about empa­thy today, and how it relates to the Force.

(In case you had any doubts about how much of a geek I am, let them be ban­ished henceforth).

Yoda and the Emperor talk about how the Dark Side is a con­stant temp­ta­tion, some­thing that is there, and I always found that a lit­tle bit hard to believe. The right thing to do is usu­ally pretty clear, and while I can get angry like any­one else, or fear­ful, those things don’t nec­es­sar­ily lead to me cut­ting peo­ple in half with a light saber.

But today, in light of cur­rent events, I was think­ing about empa­thy, and how empa­thy is really the force that binds peo­ple together or tears them apart. Empathy is that human capac­ity to see things from another’s point of view and maybe not agree with it, but at least under­stand it bet­ter, and to–often but not ALWAYS–sympathize with it.

Sympathy with evil acts is to be dis­cour­aged, though. We don’t believe in sym­pa­thiz­ing with mur­der­ers and ter­ror­ists. To do so is con­sid­ered morally wrong, but I won’t get into the details of that. Hence, empathiz­ing with those who have acted hor­rif­i­cally, is con­sid­ered rep­re­hen­si­ble also, but to a less overtly stated degree.

The temp­ta­tion is ever there to give up empa­thy. Hatred and fear lead to a loss of empa­thy, to other-​​izing those we have scorn for. Stripping them, in essence, of their per­ceived humanity.

The temp­ta­tion is there because it’s eas­ier to com­part­men­tal­ize our hor­ror at their actions if we con­sider them unlike our­selves. Few want to believe that the capac­ity for evil exists within all of us, and can be brought out under the right cir­cum­stances. Far eas­ier, I think, to think they are fun­da­men­tally flawed, to act that way.

I believe the capac­ity for mur­der exists in all of us. The idea itself to me seems like a rel­a­tively mod­ern moral con­struct any­way, in some senses. I mean, some­one felt the need to write it down as a rule at one point in Judeo Christian tra­di­tion, so that makes me thing we haven’t always been too clear on the moral wrong­ness of it.

To really bru­tal­ize oth­ers, we must aban­don our empa­thy for them, at least tem­porar­ily. And there is always that temp­ta­tion, in the wake of bru­tal­ity, to aban­don empa­thy and replace it instead with a desire for vengeance

The harder path, the less nat­ural one, is to forgo vengeance . To main­tain empa­thy, while with­hold­ing sym­pa­thy. Seek rea­son and mean­ing in the act, while still condemning.

I heard some­one argu­ing on the radio the other day that vengeance is nat­ural, and that our denial of it is wrong. They argued that the pre­cise­ness of law in “eye for an eye” is actu­ally there to pre­vent dis­pro­por­tion­ate vengeance. An eye for an eye and no more, they said. Which I found fas­ci­nat­ing, even if I’m not sure I agree with the entire premise.

Ultimately, today, I under­stand a lit­tle bet­ter now why the fic­tional Jedi have such a hard line to walk, as I strug­gle with my feel­ings and reac­tions, the bal­ance between a desire to main­tain my empa­thy for humans, and my desire to dis­card it, to harden myself, to ignore the dark voice inside.

16 April 2013

A Solution For WordPress Multisite Broken Images

I had some issues recently with a mul­ti­site install of WordPress fail­ing to load any images for a sec­ondary site. The images would load broken.

If this hap­pens to you, check for the pres­ence of an .htac­cess file in the wp-​​includes/​ folder. In my case, the Sucuri one-​​click secu­rity hard­en­ing tool had put a rule deny­ing PHP access, which pre­vents the redi­rect method that mul­ti­site uses for clean image urls from work­ing prop­erly. Understandable for the most part, but annoy­ing until you really parse apart what’s going on. The 404 WordPress spits out is less than helpful.

Hopefully I can get this this to rank high in Google so oth­ers will avoid the same prob­lem, which inci­den­tally cost me approx­i­mately two hours of trou­bleshoot­ing today.

What do I believe?

I have been think­ing a lot about belief lately. In light of yesterday’s hor­ri­ble events, and sim­ply because my brain is wrapped around writ­ing lately, and I wish to be good at it. I am cursed with a cer­tain ambiva­lence regard­ing belief. Which is a prob­lem because from what I have read, deep belief in some­thing appears to be a cru­cial to the careers of writers.

I am eas­ily per­suaded by a well-​​formed argu­ment. I might think I believe some­thing, but it doesn’t take much to dis­lodge me from my posi­tion. The more I respect the per­son intel­lec­tu­ally, the more likely I am to let them sway my views.

There are a few core polit­i­cal things that I don’t seem to sway from (but believe I would if I heard the argu­ment that con­vinced me). I think lib­er­als care about peo­ple in my sit­u­a­tion more than con­ser­v­a­tives. I think unchecked cap­i­tal­ism is bad for the aver­age peo­ple. I think that true democ­racy is a strong foun­da­tion for a gov­ern­ment, but it should be adapt­able and we shouldn’t wor­ship found­ing doc­u­ments. I think that if it hap­pens between two con­sent­ing adults, it is not the busi­ness of any­one else. I think that all peo­ple are equal in the eyes of law.

I don’t have reli­gious beliefs. Nothing has per­suaded me in that regard, and I’ve read and searched far and wide for reli­gious beliefs that rang true to me. The clos­est I have ever got­ten was Buddhism, but I don’t seem to be able to give up my attach­ments. I like my attach­ments. They bring me as much plea­sure as they do suffering.

Dig a lit­tle deeper, and yI find that I believe all life is beau­ti­ful. Even spi­ders and snakes (espe­cially them!). That feel­ing you get when you go to church (if you are reli­gious)? I feel that in the rain­for­est or on the prairie in spring. Forests are my chapels. To see a crea­ture liv­ing wild fills me with awe. Whatever that thing is that causes peo­ple to recoil in hor­ror at a weird insect or poi­so­nous ani­mal, I lack that–in fact, I was born with­out it, I believe. My mother can attest to my bio­philia even when I was an infant crawl­ing around, chas­ing wild rab­bits before I could even walk.

And yet I’m a meat eater. Full of con­tra­dic­tions, I guess.

I used to con­sider myself an ardent envi­ron­men­tal­ist, but I saw that bat­tle was lost before I was even born. Humans and their short term needs inher­ently out­weigh all else in our civ­i­liza­tion. Logging, min­ing, frack­ing, whatever–if we need it, and it kills wildlife, destroys habi­tat, it’s going to be killed and destroyed in the end. Environmentalism seems like wasted effort these days. As does any kind of fight against global cli­mate change.

But really, polit­i­cal beliefs, beliefs in sci­en­tific the­o­ries such as evo­lu­tion or global cli­mate change–those are not the kinds of deep beliefs that a writer needs in order to have some­thing to express.

Are peo­ple fun­da­men­tally good or bad? I don’t know. Which day of the week is it?

Do you believe in con­cepts of good and evil? I don’t know. Sometimes.

What is the mean­ing of life? I don’t know. I’m not sure there is one.

Before the Recession, I cared a lot more. Maybe it was a mat­ter of youth, or maybe I expe­ri­enced a con­trac­tion of my sphere of care. The strug­gle to sur­vive after every­thing that hap­pened reduced what mat­tered to me to my imme­di­ate fam­ily and friends. Perhaps a win­now­ing away of friv­o­lous beliefs is a nat­ural con­se­quence of grow­ing older. It’s a cliche, but the older I get, the more I real­ize how lit­tle I know.

So I spend a lot of time think­ing lately: what do you believe, Jeremy? What mat­ters to you? Thinking that if I could just find some­thing that sparks my fires, that I’d find more mean­ing in my work. I don’t have answers. But I believe there’s value in seek­ing them–not sure for my writ­ing, but for being a well-​​lived human being.

13 April 2013

The Annual “Stranger Creek vs. Stranger Creek” Softball Series

Stranger Creek has an annual soft­ball game that is a pretty big deal, and it dates back to the 1950s as a tra­di­tion. July 17th-​​19th, every year since 1957, the town hosts itself in a three game soft­ball game series.

The rivalry between Stranger Creek and Alt-​​Stranger Creek goes back a long ways. Near as any­one can tell, the only dif­fer­ence between the two uni­verses is a reverse on facial hair (if you have it here, your alt doesn’t have it there). This has led to a long-​​standing feud over which uni­verse is the “evil” universe.

Every game is scru­ti­nized on this basis. Steal a base? “You guys are the evil uni­verse!” Start a drunken fight at the con­ces­sion stand? Those evil Stranger Creek jerks! Both sides argue con­stantly about which uni­verse a par­tic­u­lar game is being played in (clearly the answer is “both” but that never stops anybody).

At the end of the series, the two uni­verses unalign and every­body goes back to the sum­mer activ­i­ties. Well, except for that one year the widow Jenny Thompson tried to cross over… but we’ll talk about that more another time.