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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

You're already dead... just don't know it yet.

I know, you were expecting some thoughtful end-of-the-year blog celebrating all that was good about 2013 and looking forward to the promise of 2014. Sorry to disappoint you; I discovered this morning that I'll be dead someday so I'm feeling a little down about this whole life thing.

According to The Death Clock website I'll be cashing in my chips on July 7, 2032. So in less than nineteen years I'll bid you all a final adieu...unless one or more of a variety of totally unknown things should occur in the meantime.

I guess I just need to watch out for falling pianos...

I didn't wake up this morning pondering my own demise. Everything was going along pretty much like normal. I was in my car, driving to the office and listening to NPR and this segment came on about a new product available in April 2014 called Tikker, The Happiness Watch. According to the Tikker website, "We’re building a watch that counts down your life, in order to make the world a better place!"


Tikker comes in snappy, happy white and, um, black...

Fredrik Colting, Tikker's inventor, is a 37-year-old former gravedigger from Sweden. Let the irony of that sink in for just a minute...

The thought behind Tikker is to remind us to savor life while we still can. In fact, the NPR piece noted studies from 2009 and 2011 that found thinking about death makes people more generous and more likely to donate blood. Not to go all Fox News on you but, in all fairness, Lulu Miller also interviewed Sheldon Solomon, one of the grandfathers of an idea in social psychology called Terror Management Theory.

Listening to Ms. Miller interview Mr. Solomon, I was not encouraged to run out and buy a Tikker. Psychology Today notes that: The terror referred to in terror management theory (TMT) is that which is brought on by the awareness of the inevitable death of the self. According to TMT, the anxiety caused by mortality is a major motivator behind many human behaviors and cognitions, including self-esteem, ethno/religio-centrism, and even love.

Dr. Solomon (Skidmore College) and his colleagues found in their studies that rather than making us more compassionate, knowledge of our own mortality tended to make us more xenophobic, among other things. One example cited during the NPR segment was how a group of Christians began to dislike Jews more when subjected to conditions which highlighted their own mortality. Solomon's research - in collaboration with fellow psychologists Jeff Greenberg (University of Arizona) and Tom Pyszczynski (University of Colorado) - showed that we defend our cultural worldviews more strongly when subjected to death reminders.

Alas poor Yorick...loser!

I'm still trying to get my head around the idea that if I was in the hospital for a risky surgery, according to TMT, I might be getting all bowed up about Jewish folks. In fact, as a Christian, I believe that the Jews were (and are and will be) a pivotal part of Jesus' mission on earth. While I can somewhat understand why some ancient Christians might have looked down on the Jews - after all, it was the Pharisees that begged Pilate for crucifixion - everything proceeded according to God's plan so why dog pile the Jews about it?

In the end (no pun intended), I do tend to side with Colting that my natural inclination if faced with my own mortality would be to get the most out of life in some altruistic way. Still, it's impossible to say just how I would react in those dire circumstances. It's easy for me to look at my own little Death Clock, with nineteen or so years to go, and be relaxed about it. Hopefully, as those numbers dwindle, I will be more apt to have a positive outlook and do my best to help others rather than morph into some sort of xenophobic serial killer.

With that in mind, I could rush out and order my own Tikker for the pre-release price of $59 (the regular price is $79 which illustrates the axiom time is money) but I think I'll pass. Psalm 139:16 says: Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.

It wouldn't matter one bit if I bought a watch that uses some man-made algorithms to determine the date of my passing. God is already keeping an eye on that for me and I just need to treat each of the days I'm given as precious. I don't need any death reminders to do that.

What do you think?


Saturday, December 21, 2013

It's time to ask yourself...

...what you believe.

Dr. Jones in mortal danger (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade [1989])

One of the fun things about the Indiana Jones film franchise is the exploration of possibilities. That fun got a little off track in The Crystal Skull [2008]. but I enjoyed the film anyway.

In The Last Crusade, Walter Donovan is on the verge of discovering the Holy Grail, with only Indy and his father standing in the way. Like any good movie villain, he resorts to some eye-popping violence to motivate another character. By shooting Indy's father, Donovan motivates the hero to take those last few steps and reveal the treasure.

It has been said that life imitates art. I'm not completely sure I buy that but I've seen some some examples which prove the axiom lately. A friend of mine posted a video this morning that I thought summed up a portion of this thoughtline in a powerful way. In The Last Crusade, Donovan pointedly says to Indy, "It's time to ask yourself what you believe."

What does that mean? It means that while Indy's father was bleeding out on the floor of the cave, the only thing that could possibly save his life was the Holy Grail - something Indy wasn't even sure he believed in. For to believe in the Holy Grail was to believe in Jesus Christ and God and Creation and everything. Indy understands all of this a few minutes later as he stands on the precipice of what seems to be an insurmountable chasm between him and the Grail.

"It's a leap of faith..."

This video is about 38 minutes long. I am not posting it here to change your life. My hope is that folks who stop by will take the time to watch it and just think about what it means. There are some PhD's in this video - very smart people - and there are some students in this video, and there are some regular folks on the street in this video. Enjoy.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Literary Review - Reckonings by Gail Husch

Someone Wicked, a Written Remains anthology, was released by Smart Rhino Publications on November 25, 2013. Edited by Weldon Burge and JM Reinbold, Someone Wicked contains twenty-one tales of wickedness sure to please the most discerning reader.

Over the next few weeks, my plan is to read and review many, if not all, of the stories contained in Someone Wicked. I have not historically been a big anthology reader but having had the opportunity to get to know many of the authors through the Written Remains Writers Guild, I am excited at the prospect of discovering each  of their unique and individual writing styles.

Have you ever had the urge to get back at someone? We've all been cut off in traffic, had to wait behind that clown with a full buggy in front of us in the grocer's express line, or watched out of a window while the neighbor's dog used our front yard as its personal bio space, and so on. Daily life has many frustrations and even the nicest of us will occasionally have that fantasy in which the object of our ire receives their just desserts.

In literary terms Gail Husch refers to those moments as Reckonings. And her story in the Someone Wicked anthology allows the protagonist to not only engage in these fantasies but to cross the line into reality - to actually act upon her vengeful desires.  We don't ever learn the name of this person but I felt an immediate kinship from the opening lines:

The first thing you need to know: I don't own a single cat. Not one. I don't even like them, selfish, arrogant creatures.

I know that all the cat lovers will howl in despair and hate me but Reckonings, after all, is a work of fiction. And I'm a dog please allow me my own guilty pleasure.

Also, this tells us almost all we need to know about her: Bossy, superior, opinionated. Gosh...that sounds nearly...catlike. Still, the story moves on from there with each annoyance in the protagonist's life becoming an opportunity to get even with another careless perpetrator.

Reckonings feels good. But it also feels like something else. It feels a little guilty. Almost as if we, the readers, were the ones acting on those dark thoughts; acting out those carefully crafted plans. I'm sure you'll enjoy reading Reckonings but be careful; the line between fantasy and reality can be quite slippery.

Content disclosure: To prepare any potential reader for what they will encounter, I would point out that there are a couple of mild expletives in Reckonings. It is not a violent story per se, but the themes and actions convey a sense of contained violence that might not be well understood by young children. Hopefully this is to be expected in an anthology entitled Someone Wicked. If I were to give it any sort of rating that might guide parents, I would lean toward a mild PG. There is nothing here that one won't find on network television - and I'm not even talking late night cable. Please bear with me, as some readers of this blog are more conservative in nature, and it is important to me to provide this information for them.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Literary Review - Sisters: A Fairy Tale by Liz DeJesus

Someone Wicked, a Written Remains anthology, was released by Smart Rhino Publications on November 25, 2013. Edited by Weldon Burge and JM Reinbold, Someone Wicked contains twenty-one tales of wickedness sure to please the most discerning reader.

Over the next few weeks, my plan is to read and review many, if not all, of the stories contained in Someone Wicked. I have not historically been a big anthology reader but having had the opportunity to get to know many of the authors through the Written Remains Writers Guild, I am excited at the prospect of discovering each of their unique and individual writing styles.

Being contrary, and a bit of a scaredy-cat, I began with a story that was somewhat familiar to me. That's not to say that I had read Sisters: A Fairy Tale before; however, I knew some of the characters from the second novel in the author's Frost series: Glass Frost.

Fanny and Elda are sisters. But they are as different as night and day. And they live in a world quite different from ours, a world rich in magic, both light and dark. And this particular peek into their lives is not like any fairy tale I read growing up. In fact, I have only lately discovered that fairy tales can be dark and frightening places.

Liz DeJesus has written a compelling story that draws the reader into the lives of her characters. The fourteen pages of Sisters deliver a fully realized slice of life in this incredible world. Fanny and Elda have both been given a gift by Titania, the Fairy Queen. I won't reveal the nature of these gifts for therein lies the foundation of the story.

It's difficult to write a review that would help one fully appreciate the depth of DeJesus' characters. As I was reading Sisters I tried not to rely too heavily on my foreknowledge. Fanny and Elda are complete, three-dimensional inhabitants of their world; I was drawn into their conflicts, their emotions, and their pain, as if I traveled along with them on their journey to the Fairy Realm.

The narrative and dialogue are excellent and, in my opinion, this is a top-drawer short story. Ms. DeJesus has a gift for writing and clearly loves the world that she has crafted both here and in other, longer works. That love shines through and makes Sisters a clean, crisp read. But be warned, if you linger over long in the Enchanted Wood, you may find yourselves undone by its magic.

Content disclosure: To prepare any potential reader for what they will encounter, I would point out that there is one expletive near the beginning of Sisters and there are some violent confrontations. Hopefully this is to be expected in an anthology entitled Someone Wicked. I would also say this is not a fairy tale for young children.  If I were to give it any sort of rating that might guide parents, I would lean toward PG. There is certainly nothing here that one won't find on network television, but being somewhat conservative, and knowing that some readers of this blog will likewise be conservative, it is important to me to provide this information.

If you choose to read Sisters I believe you will enjoy the brief, but rich glimpse DeJesus has provided into her most magical of realms.


Monday, December 2, 2013

So, you want to live forever?

This week's sure sign that the apocalypse is upon us is a product that pledges to protect your data - or pictures of your cat - in the event of an apocalyptic event. M Disc promises to do just that.

It's the rock-like layer that apparently makes the difference...

First of all, I'd like to give my friend - and fantasy author - Sherry Thompson a shout-out for bringing this to my attention. If she is planning on using an M Disc to store copies of her novels Seabird and Earthbow, then future generations will at least have some quality material to read. If you're stuck for good reading and you enjoy original, high-quality fantasy novels, Seabird and Earthbow (volumes 1 & 2) - published by Gryphonwood Press - are just the ticket.

Now, on with the show...

As I browsed the M Disc website, I was intrigued by the technology. As an author, I can well appreciate storage media that will protect my valuable intellectual property from adverse and extreme heat, cold, moisture and light.

It just so happens, I am working to recover the manuscripts of not one, but two, novels from one of my old hard drives. Judging by the graphics above (courtesy of the M Disc website), once I recover my precious words, I better get down to the nearest online retailer and purchase an M Disc-compatible recorder and some M Disc media. Because I don't want to experience this same stress and potential loss in seven or eight years all over again. I will want to inscribe my manuscripts onto a disc that will last a full millenia...

One thousand years!

The software to recover my novels will cost me in the neighborhood of $100 and will run on any Windows-based PC or laptop. How much will millenia-sized disks cost me? A 10-pack of M Discs will only set me back $29.99 plus shipping if I order them from the M Disc website. But then there's that tricky part about needing an M Disc-ready drive. You see, you don't just record pictures of your beloved Mr. Bigglesworth onto an M Disc - you have to engrave them.

There are several internal and external drive options conveniently noted on the M Disc website, in both DVD and Blu-Ray flavors. An LG Electronics 24X SATA DVD+/-RW Internal Drive GH24NS50 (Black) will run you $31.95 on Amazon. Conversely, an LG Super Multi Blue Slim Portable with 3D Blu-ray Disc Playback and M-DISC Support CP40NG10 is a little heftier at $64.99 + shipping and handling.

The problem is, none of this technology helps me recover my I still have to pay the piper for software to glean my novels off of the old, faulty hard drive and then pay again to engrave them into one or more M Discs. Still, isn't the peace of mind worth it?

I'm not disputing the ability of the technology, just maybe the need for the technology. I have to wonder: couldn't we come up with something that is somewhere in the middle? I mean, we go from reasonably stable storage for up to eight years with a flash drive, all the way to one thousand years with an M Disc. I'm no math wizard but you would think there would be multiples of storage capacity available...twenty years, fifty years, one hundred years? I guess it beats clay jars...

If I'm lucky, I'll live a hundred years. Assuming our progeny live that long as well, that means ten generations of X-lings would be able to enjoy my New Kingdoms fantasy series and other stored data long after I'm gone. But the whole idea of millenia-long storage brings a few other thoughts to mind.

Today, people are discovering embarrassment can be, well, embarrassing, when words and pictures we thought were private appear in the public sector. Imagine storing the contents of your personal computer on one or more M Discs and, say, eight hundred years from now someone happens across them. Do you really want future archeologists - or some old guy with a metal detector - finding all your most personal pictures and data...and still being able to retrieve it?

"Ooh, Ima Photoshop these babies..."

Then something else struck me: Have humans really developed the hubris to believe anything we might collect and save to an M Disc will be valuable a thousand years from now? I can see where saving great works of literature, science, the arts (no, not the complete library of The Simpsons), or other things of historical significance would be a good idea. But judging by Facebook and other social media, I can't say that there is much in the personal lives of any of us that would bear up under scrutiny a thousand years from now. Unless you are willing to concede a future Jon Stewart will need light comedy material from the 21st century.

Finally, will the human race as we know it even be around one thousand years from now? Frankly, the way things are going, I have my doubts. Asteroids, Global Warming, the Rapture, Thermonuclear War, Pandemics, Starvation, an explosion at the Large Hadron Collider...any number of things could render M Disc's reported Forever Storage completely moot. And then who will be left to care about Mr. Bigglesworth?

What do you think?