Category Archives: Pop Culture

What Will Your Verse Be?

Yesterday was the conclusion of WWDC 2017, and what a WWDC it was. It felt like everyone got what they wanted. Most developers got better stability in tooling and not too many changes to the core frameworks. We also got some breathtaking graphics and games APIs, like ARKit, along with easier integration for machine learning models, such as MLKit.

I watched the keynote in awe, my brain exploding with everything that was now possible in iOS. I had augmented reality on my wish list, so that thrilled me. But seeing how much love Apple gave Metal really touched me deeply. I have spent the last eight months working on a Metal book and I had feared that it would land with an unceremonious thump and no one would care about a three year old technology framework. The keynote gave me hope that Metal would be a continuing important part of Apple’s future for the time being and that my efforts were not wasted.

I downloaded the Xcode 9 beta with the intention of diving into ARKit. The beta still has not been extracted from its .zip file. I got home and immediately became overwhelmed by everything. There are so many new things. I tried to look at the docs but my head swam and I couldn’t deal with it.

The next day I started to see people posting their own AR efforts and a few days after that I started seeing ML efforts. I got very depressed. I left the keynote feeling like I was ahead of the curve and now I was already behind it again.

I feel we in the Apple Developer Community have been trained to jump on every new shiny thing Apple announces immediately. We all remember missing out on the Gold Rush when you could put out an app that you made over a weekend with some new piece of technology that Apple created and earn $10,000 in a week. The new Photos stuff allows us to do a vast but limited number of things and if you want your Photos app to be the top dog you have to get it out before anyone else does because you all have access to the same tools and the barrier to entry is low.

I want to be emphatic about this point: That is not the same situation with ARKit or Core ML.

My background is in the creative field. I wanted to be a film director and do sound design. My dream since I was a child was to have the Back to the Future experience of getting a box of books on my doorstep that had my name on them and to know I wrote a book. I have had that experience several times now and I feel quite blessed that I got to have that experience.

Anyone can write a book. We all have access to the same tools. There are fancy authoring tools like Ulysses and Scribner that cost $50, which is basically nothing compared to the cost of being an iOS developer. There are self publishing sites everywhere that will allow you to publish your book if no one else is interested, or if you don’t want to give up 50% of your royalties.

Just because anyone can write a book doesn’t mean everyone will write a book. Also, it doesn’t mean that someone else is going to write your book.

We still read stories that were written hundreds of years ago because they speak to something foundational about how we see ourselves as human beings. I read Tarot cards and the cards haven’t changed for a hundred years in spite of all of our changing circumstances because even though we all have iPhones and can connect at any given moment, what makes us human has not changed. We all worry about money. We all strive to advance in our careers. We all crave love. We all desire to have some kind of family, even if that family consists of friends and a grumble of pugs. Those aspects of ourselves don’t change.

A story by Jane Austin still resonates with us because we know how difficult it is to find another person you are willing to spend the rest of your life with. Romeo and Juliet still appeals to hormonal teenagers to whom every little bump in the road is the end of the world and for whom every relationship is forever. Unfortunately, the same applies to Twilight.

One reason so many people are appalled at the behavior of the Republicans right now in trying to strip tens of millions of Americans of their health insurance is because it goes against our script of what we think people should be like. Atrocities like the Holocaust speak to us on a deep level because it goes against our human nature of the way that we think people should behave. And it keeps happening. This is one reason The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter have such staying power. They speak of ordinary people being placed in extraordinary circumstances, facing incredible odds, to attempt to defeat evil. The evil of Lord of the Rings was a different evil than we have now, but evil is never truly defeated. If you wanted The Legend of Korra, you know that light and dark are in an eternal battle where one can never truly vanquish the other.

Yin and Yang. Darkness and Light. Good and Evil.


Augmented Reality has me excited because it opens up another medium to tell stories. You could create an AR app that takes you around the Tower of London while you investigate the disappearances of the Princes in the Tower. You can stand on the site that Anne Boleyn lost her head and see the crowds of people observing the event. It makes these old sites and dusty facts come alive in a way that they can’t if you’re just reading about them in a book.

Technology in and of itself doesn’t make something compelling. Every Jurassic Park movie has dinosaurs, but only the first one truly feels special. When I think about Jurassic Park, I don’t think about the dinosaurs. I think about the characters and their story arcs. The overarching story arc is a tale of human hubris where a con man with a bunch of money is able to cobble together extinct animals by buying enough technology other people developed in order to create an amusement park to make money. He doesn’t think through the consequences of what he’s doing and is brought low by his own hubris.

The secondary arc of the film has to do with Alan Grant. The first thing you learn about him is that he hates computers and technology. Nothing in this movie is going to change that opinion. The second thing you learn about Alan Grant is that he doesn’t like children. So of course he is the one that is stuck watching the children after the park goes to hell. He goes through a fundamental change by having to interact with actual children and at the end of the film they snuggle with him as Dr. Sadler starts ovulating. It keeps Dr. Grant from just being the crabby guy who loses all of the good one-liners to Jeff Goldblum.

We’ve seen many other films in the last 25 years that have dinosaurs, including the most recent Jurassic Park last year. But none of these films have the satisfying feeling that the first one does. It has an encapsulated story and a grand theme of human scientific hubris. Everything goes to hell the way it’s foreshadowed. The park is destroyed by the unnatural force that was brought into it, and all of the people we actually care about survive. It’s a satisfying story that is enhanced by the use of special effects that are actually used quite sparingly.

One reason Pokemon GO was so successful was because it was building off of an experience that people have been emulating for 25 years, which was to pretend to live in a world where little pocket monsters live in the tall grass and can be captured and made into your friend. There is a sense of wonder about Pokemon GO in that you can take it into the normal world that you inhabit and you can lift the veil on the normal world and expose a fantastical world you never knew was there. Most people agree that Pokemon GO was rather repetitive and the game play wasn’t great, but it created an experience that was wanted by a large number of people. The same thing happens when people visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme park.

One thing these have in common is that they are pre-existing properties that have large and established fan bases. Most developers aren’t going to be able to go out and create their own Doctor Who augmented reality application because of licensing issues. So that means that there really isn’t a hurry to go out and do whatever the first few AR apps are going to be. If a company like Warner Bros wants to release their own Harry Potter AR app, you can’t stop them. But you can think about what story you want to tell.

AR is a tool that is made or broken by the story that the creator wants to tell. You can create an interactive murder mystery or a tour of a museum. There are so many unexplored avenues of AR that the limit is what you can imagine and how much work you’re willing to put into creating that experience.

We have such tools to create and express ideas, yet few people seem to. I am guilty of that as well. I do hope that the barrier to entry gets low enough that I can spare some time to create some experiences for the joy of creation. But please do think about creating something for the joy of creating it and not because you assume that there are a wealth of new AR related jobs or a limited number of AR apps to be created and you must pursue the money train on this. That train goes over a cliff. We have so many media for self expression and no time to do it and no stories to tell. Life is filled with possibilities if you lift the veil on the real world and reveal the hidden one.

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry, because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering — these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love — these are what we stay alive for.

To quote from Whitman: ‘O me, O life of the questions of these recurring. Of the endless trains of the faithless. Of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer: That you are here. That life exists and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.’

What will your verse be?

Persona 3 vs Persona 4

I am doing a lot of travel at the beginning of this year. I just got back from GDC and I am flying to London for iOSCon in a few weeks. While I was at GDC I was staying with a friend who generously let me squat on her couch. Her couch was an hour away from San Francisco by train, so I knew between my flights and all the time spent on trains I needed to find something to keep me entertained and occupied.

I couldn’t work on the plane or the train because I am sensitive to motion sickness. That crossed out reading too. The best option I could think about was playing video games. I didn’t want to take the 3DS because it has terrible battery life, so that left the PS Vita.

I decided to replay Persona 3. I finished up Persona 3 a little over a year ago. It took me 75 hours to get through it the first time. I really wanted to replay it again, but I thought it was stupid to confine myself to one game, so I have spent the last year trying to find something I like as much as Persona 3. I haven’t found it yet. And yes, that includes the venerable Persona 4 Golden.

I know this is probably an unpopular opinion, but I like Persona 3 better than Persona 4. I was told by many people to play Persona 3 so I could appreciate how much better Persona 4 was. I held off on Persona 4 for a bit while looking for another game, but I couldn’t wait anymore and started playing it. I was disappointed.

I have been trying to figure out why I don’t like P4 as much as P3. Since I started replaying P3 I have a better understanding of what it is about P4 that I don’t like as well. Fair warning, I am only about 20 hours into P4, so it’s possible that some of my gripes might be rectified.

Dungeons

I like the main dungeon in P3, Tartarus, better than the mechanic in P4 where you enter the dungeon through the TV. I was a huge Buffy fan, so the idea that your school is the base of all evil is a perfect metaphor for being a teenager.

I liked that there was an explanation about why the Shadows show up at the school. The Shadows are a result of an accident at the Kurijo Group. Mitsuru’s father was responsible for the accident. Yukari’s father died in that accident. It felt like people were being drawn to this problem because of their pasts.

In P4, you enter the dungeon through the TV. There seems to be no explanation about why these people in this one town are able to enter the TV to go fight shadows. It’s a small town and people just sort of happen to be there. There was no grand plan to right the wrongs of the past. There was an epic component missing from the grand scheme of things. I get that it’s supposed to be a less heavy and more fun iteration of Persona, but if you’re delving into Jungian psychology and the collective unconscious, I did appreciate the epic scope provided by P3.

Getting flashbacks to college

I also really liked that the students in P3 live in the dorms and there don’t seem to be any grown ups around. It really scratched a mental itch to get to have an immersive Japanese high school experience with all its stereotypes. Playing a game about a bunch of kids in a small town who live with their parents reminded me too much of my own real life to be a fun escape.

Combat

Persona 3 Combat

I don’t really like the tweaks to the combat system in P4. I don’t know why, but it’s difficult to see what various Shadows are weak to. In P3 I can directly control all of my players and get a good overview of what each shadow is weak to. When I do combat in P4 I don’t control my players and things happen so chaotically that I don’t actually know what moves my players made against the Shadows.

I also miss having the portals on various levels to take you back to the entrance in P3. In P4 you need to hold onto a consumable item that you must use to get back to the entrance.

All in all, I just found the combat in P3 to be more intuitive than in P4.

Quests

Completing a quest for the Fox and leveling up social link

One component in both P3 and P4 is that you go on quests and receive rewards. The quests are a side component of the main gameplay.

In P3, you receive a list of quests from Elizabeth/Theo. They’re all neatly gathered in one place. You get a crazy response from Elizabeth. It’s fun to complete the quest just to hear what she is going to say. A lot of the quests can be completed just by doing dungeon crawling. They’re not that hard to figure out.

In P4, your quests are spread all over the place. Unless you have an online guide, it’s practically impossible to find and complete every single quest. One is from a teacher wearing Egyptian wear hiding behind a corner. It’s difficult to keep track of all the quests and how to complete them. I believe some of the quests advance a social link, which makes it vital that you complete some of them.

I wound up playing through bits of P4 on the plane when there was a glitch on my memory card. I bombed nearly everything I did in the game because nothing was intuitive. I couldn’t look up the answers online and I failed at everything. If this was a normal game where dying is a way of learning, that would be one thing. Playing this game is an 80 hour commitment and I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot by screwing up all of the quests when I want to play for a few hours when I don’t have access to the internet.

I get stressed out trying to keep track of the quests and so I usually wind up ignoring them. Sometimes I will look something up and find there are ten things I missed. I get that some people might really enjoy just how many side quests there are and how much there is to do, but I don’t like the idea that I have to sit down with an online guide to accomplish everything happening in the game.

Skills

Scooting to the next town over, just like high school

Going along with having too much chaos with the quests is expanding the skills requirements.

In P3, you have three skills you must max out: Academics, Charm, and Courage. The first time I played through I didn’t understand that you had to max out all three of these. I focused on Academics because I knew we had midterms to study for. This lack of understanding bit me towards the end of the game as there were several social links I never finished because I didn’t have the requisite skill level to begin the social link.

P4 doubles the number of skills to six. In addition to that, it adds gardening and fishing and scooter riding and… It’s difficult to grasp the advantages of leveling up one skill over another. In addition to these skills you have to kill Shadows and level up your social links.

I get that part of the appeal of P4 is that there is more of everything, but I find it personally overwhelming. I find it difficult to know what to do on any given day and I feel like I am playing the game wrong because I don’t know what my character is supposed to do. I have major FOMO no matter what I do.

Female Protagonist

Female Protagonist and team leader

The last bit I would like to bring up is my appreciation that the portable version of P3 has the option to play as a female.

It shouldn’t make that much of a difference, but playing as a female character completely changes the feel of the game. The first time I played through as a female character I found Junpei to be creepy because I thought he was hitting on me rather than being friendly. This time around, knowing that he is not an option for a love path, I am really enjoying my character’s friendship with him.

You get to have the option to use Elizabeth’s brother Theo as your liaison with the Velvet Room. It’s fun getting another character to interact with.

Right now I am playing another game, Rune Factory 2: A Fantasy Harvest Moon. That game consists of two generations, where most of the main gameplay happens in the second generation. In that generation, you have the option to play as either male or female, but you don’t get that option in the first generation. Your main goal in the first generation is to find a girl to marry so you can knock her up with what will be your character in the second generation.

Playing as a boy puts me in a position I don’t like being in. I know the only goal I have as my character is to find the mother of my child. The characters are paper thin because they’re not really the point of the game, so I find myself asking questions I don’t like. Do I marry the girl the game wants me to marry who will never marry anyone else if I don’t marry her? Do I steal the shy girl who talks through her doll from her boyfriend because he’s an asshole? Do I try to marry the rich girl because she’s the hardest one to marry and thus prove my status? It’s a really creepy and superficial way of looking at things and it worries me that this is how boys see relationships in real life. Like, we’re not people. We’re various status symbols or a means to an end. Playing like this really depresses and upsets me. I know logically that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to give deep and complex personalities to something with such shallow gameplay, but having to think that way really upsets me.

P4 was remade for the Vita as Persona 4 Golden. They made a fighting game with the Persona 4 cast, along with a dancing game. These characters have been in so many games and done so much fan service that it really bothers me that they figured it just wasn’t worth it to add a female protagonist. Being able to play as a female is much more comfortable and it’s an indication that the creators care about making a nice game for everyone and not just the boys.

Conclusion

I will admit that the story and characters in P4 are better than P3. I know that the characters are a vitally important part of the game, but it’s still a game. It’s not a visual novel. It’s nice to do well in the game and constantly being confused as to what to do. In my opinion, P4 is too much of a good thing. I have preordered P5, so we’ll see how that one stacks up. For now, P3 for the win!

The Great TV Binge Quest of 2016

The last few days I have been asking people for suggestions for shows to binge. When I am cooking or doing something where I am not just watching TV in a dedicated manner I want something on in the background that I can tune in and out of without missing too much stuff.

My go-to default for most of my life has been Law and Order. I have seen most of the episodes so many times that once when I was waiting to go to the airport from a conference I saw the end of an episode with the sound off and I not only knew every detail of the story, but I knew that was the season finale of Season 14. That’s incredibly pathetic.

Law and Order was great because for a period of time in the early 2000s it was on ALL THE TIME. There were three cable channels that had it on. There were three iterations of it in NBC. If you were trying to kill twenty minutes with the TV on, odds were pretty good you could just throw on an episode of Law and Order.

Since I cut the cord and apparently cable TV has moved on to other shows, this is no longer the case. I have spent a good portion of the last six years trying to find a replacement for Law and Order. It isn’t that I think Law and Order is the greatest show that ever existed, it just had the right combination of characteristics that made it ideal for the purposes I had.

What makes an Ideal Crappy TV Show To Binge

Here are my criteria for what makes a good background TV show:

  • Must be at least five seasons long
  • Can’t be too engaging
  • Has to be somewhat repetitive
  • Has to have procedural elements

So far the best show I have found that meets these criteria is Grey’s Anatomy. I started looking for shows on Netflix that had at least five seasons and even though I really didn’t want to, I gave it a try. It’s actually quite a good replacement for Law and Order. It’s been on for a long-ass time and it’s going to keep going for a while. It has serialized elements in being a soap opera, but each episode has procedural elements where there will be some patient or case people are working on. There will be some kind of surgery. You can walk away for five minutes and still be able to kind of figure out what is going on.

Top Chef and Project Runway have worked pretty well too. Since they’re game shows the generalized structure of each show is the same so you can figure out what is going on if you stop paying attention for a while.

Shows That are Too Good

One problem I am having is people recommending shows that I should sit down and actively watch rather than garbage I can just have on in the background.

Breaking Bad is not a good candidate for my purposes.

Supernatural is also one that I can’t binge on. I have slowly worked my way up to season five, but it’s not something I can just passively have on for five hours.

Pretty much anything that has been on cable with abbreviated seasons like Mad Men and Halt and Catch Fire are not good candidates because I want to actively watch them.

Any prestige TV is not a good candidate for my purposes. Prestige TV is something you watch to be actively engaged. There is a time and a place for Prestige TV, but when I just want a steady stream of macaroni and cheese I don’t want to deal with prime rib.

Shows That are Too Engaging

There are so many shows that are disqualified because they require you to pay attention. One of my early candidates to replace Law and Order was NCIS. That stupid show is way too intricate for what it is. You have to pay attention to every single thing people say and do to know what is going on. I listened to an audio commentary from the actors where they got distracted for a minute about something and were like “Wait, what just happened? Why are we in this basement now?” It’s not worth the mental capacity to pay attention to what is going on to get through the entire series.

The West Wing is nothing but people walking and talking. You have to pay attention to every bit of dialog and after a while it gets incredibly preachy and irritating because it’s the world as Aaron Sorkin wishes it would be rather than the world that it is and it just makes me angry and thinking about politics and then I can’t deal with anything anymore.

Shows I have Already Seen

People have suggested some really good shows. The issue is that I have already seen those.

These include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Futurama
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Scrubs
  • Firefly
  • Doctor Who
  • Lost

Part of the issue is that I don’t want to just get into a rut where I watch the same show over and over again. There is scary amounts of stuff out there that I haven’t seen or read. Even if a book is shitty or a TV show goes off the rails, it’s still good to explore and absorb new things.

I find myself coming back to shows I have already seen like Alias and Chuck, but I would like to contemplate the possibility that there is an amazing show I haven’t seen yet.

That is what happened with Fringe. I tried to get into it a few times, but the first season was kind of slow. My affection for Walter got me through the rocky first season and I discovered a show that I actively looked forward to watching to see what would happen. When it was over I was so happy with how it wrapped up. It was like finishing a great book. But then I was sad that it was over and I can’t see it for the first time again. I want to hope there is something else like that out there and I won’t find it if I just keep watching Grey’s Anatomy over and over again.

Potential Binging Shows

Here is an informal list of shows that I keep forgetting exist that meet my criteria:

  • CSI (I watched it up through Season 7, so technically haven’t seen most of it)
  • Medium
  • Crossing Jordan
  • The X-Files
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager (saw DS9 all the way through when it aired but not since, could never get into Voyager)
  • Stargate:SG1, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe
  • Person of Interest

A lot of these are older shows. I think that with Peak TV come with the death of the kinds of shows I am looking for. Peak TV is similar to what is going on with film. There are lots of incredible prestige shows that demand constant attention and prompts rabid fan discussions on the internet. Then if you’re not a prestige show, you’re something like The Big Bang Theory. There is a huge amount of really bad, not funny or smart TV that is too bad to be good for having on in the background because when you do pay attention to it, you recoil in horror at the sexist, homophobic garbage being spewed.

There does not seem to be much of a demand for shows without vast mythologies and serialization that is fairly repetitive. Ironically, I am basically looking for the TV equivalent of the Marvel Movie franchise. Those movies are awesome. They are basically the same story over and over again with some variation in the setting and the primary hero.

I realize that by writing this huge blog post complaining about not finding bad TV to watch that it makes me seem like a couch potato neck beard who never leaves my parent’s basement. I think of this stuff as white noise going on in the background. It’s like trying to find a good radio station to listen to while you work. It’s hard finding music that helps you focus and doesn’t just make you flip through stations going “Nope, nope, hell no, aw this is the end of my favorite song and now they’re playing something I hate!”

I will continue my mission to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new shows and new storytelling. To boldly go where lots of other people have gone before!

Elementary

I have been taking some time off recently and catching up on some much needed rest. Part of my regime has been finding a bunch of TV shows I have been meaning to watch and going through them.

One of those shows is Elementary. I am a huge Sherlock Holmes addict. The recent versions with Benedict Cumberbatch and Robert Downey Jr. have been interesting, but Jeremey Brett will always be my Sherlock.

Besides updating to modern times, one of the big selling points of Elementary has been gender switching several of the more prominent characters in the Holmes canon, namely the role of Dr. Watson.

I want to talk a bit about something I feel that they did right with this that I would like to see more of in the future.

Mentorship

In the original Holmes stories, Watson is Sherlock’s roommate and side kick. He acts as the reader’s eyes and ears reporting what a “normal” person would see and generally most of the resolutions in the crimes come as a surprise because Watson does not observe what Sherlock does, which makes it difficult to guess what the resolution of the stories will be.

CBS_ELEMENTARY_406_LOGO_IMAGE_702765_640x360In Elementary, Watson starts out as a sober companion for Sherlock, but eventually transitions to being his protégé. He sees potential in her and he helps her cultivate it.

This Watson is a dynamic character. Her skills grow and evolve. This is different than the static Watson character in the original stories who is purposely kept somewhat dumb to allow the reader to enjoy the story.

A lot of this dynamic spoke to me on a personal level.

Programming is a rather new field that is primarily male-dominated. All of my mentors have been men. I often wonder if men ever get to be mentored because there is an inherent social dynamic that seems to make it easier for men to mentor women. Our society assumes that women take a subordinate role and it’s simply easier when you are a woman to approach a man and ask for help and for guidance. This can have a pleasing feeling for both people because the man feels important because he gets to instruct and train a subordinate and the woman feels important because someone she respects and admires has chosen to take time out of their life to pass on knowledge and wisdom to them that they aren’t passing down to anyone else.

When you’re first starting out, this can be a very comfortable and emotionally rewarding relationship. However, like all things, this can’t last.

Partnership

At some point, the protégé starts to bump up against the edges of the relationship. The protégé wants to be acknowledged. They want to have their new skills be recognized and leave the nest and be seen as an equal.

This can make the mentor very uncomfortable. Their entire relationship is predicated upon being the source of knowledge. Once the protégé catches up to the mentor, it can cause a lot of issues.

Elementary-season-3-promo-watson-holmesIt can make the mentor feel very upset because they feel they’ve lost their identity as the person who knows everything. Sometimes the mentor succumbs to the urge to try and cut their protégé down to keep them in the subordinate role because that is where they feel comfortable.

Other times the mentor can become upset that the protégé wants to be seen as an equal. The mentor has spent decades honing their craft and this upstart person wants to be seen as an equal without putting the work in.

This relationship is very reminiscent of a parent/child relationship. At some point you realize your parents don’t know everything. Our relationships with our parents change as we get older because they must. Sometimes our parents cut us down to try and maintain the control over us that they have gotten used to. They want us to succeed, but not too much because it threatens their sense of self worth.

A mentorship relationship is more fragile than a parental relationship because of two reasons. One, our parents will always be our parents. As much as we might argue and fight with them, there is a blood tie that can’t be broken. The second is the one I mention at the beginning of this post, the gender thing.

Professional Respect

One thing that I respect Elementary for is the fact that, as far as I have gotten, there has been no effort to force Sherlock and Watson into a romantic relationship. All of their conflicts have been able to explore the mentor/protégé relationship without having to stoop to the cliche of putting them together in a romantic relationship.

I greatly admire the fact that the writers have been able to craft a compelling story about the mentorship conflict in a completely platonic context.

1355273194905.cachedAs the person who has been in the protégé role, I want my mentors to see me as an equal. I want to show them that they were right in sharing their wisdom with me and I would like to show I can manage on my own without being dependent on them. Joan Watson is similar. She wants to be a detective in her own right.

Sherlock doesn’t want her as an equal. He wants to keep her as a subordinate. They fight over her need to be her own person and not an extension of him.

Both characters have had romantic relationships with other people, so this isn’t a generic, Aspie asexual stereotype. The relationship between Sherlock and Watson is based on professional admiration and respect. Watson gets frustrated when Sherlock won’t give her the professional respect she feels she has earned.

I have found it incredibly compelling to watch this relationship being explored. It’s a painful situation for both Sherlock and Watson. Both of them are right. Both of them have been hurt by their evolving relationship. But it’s a necessary pain for them to experience so both of them can grow and change.

Lessons From Sherlock

I spoke about mentorship at CocoaLove 2015. I wanted to give advice to both mentors and protégés. I want to reiterate some of it now.

If you are a protégé, at some point you need to step out on your own. It’s comfortable and safe to be under the wing of someone with a lot of experience, but at some point you need to succeed or fail on your own. You will stumble a lot, but that is how your mentor learned. They stumbled and have given you advice about how to avoid the same stumbles they took. You will learn best through your own stumbles than you will hearing stories of your mentor’s stumbles.

If you are a mentor, please understand that this is a temporary situation. Don’t become so attached to the idea that you have to know everything that it creates a situation where you lash out at your protégé when they want to be seen as an equal. Your protégé has a lot of affection for you that can quickly turn into a toxic situation if you put them down in an effort to keep them subordinate to you.

The best way for a mentor/protégé relationship to go is if both parties go in wanting the protégé to become independent. If you’re a mentor and your protégé doesn’t seem to want to walk on their own, try to push them to take risks and fall and learn from their experiences.

Above all, remember that part of the reason you both entered into this relationship was because you like and respect one another. Just because your relationship changes as the protégé grows in experience doesn’t mean those feelings go away.

Halt and Catch Fire

I have a bunch of TV I keep meaning to watch that I tend to “save” because I know it’s going to be a good show and I don’t want to waste it on times when I just want junk food.

One of those shows is Halt and Catch Fire. It’s like Mad Men, only it’s set in the 80’s and it’s about the computer revolution.

I am generally attracted to anything computer related, but there tends to be a few stereotypes you encounter when dealing with technology. You wind up with things like Silicon Valley where the only female programmer you see is a girl dressed in pink whose business is “Cupcakes as a Service” who is wandering the crowd asking if anyone knows Java. You also get the main character, Cameron Howe, in HaCF who is the female super genius hacker chick who drinks and swears like a man.

Cameron is a cool girl. She lives off of pizza and orange soda while managing to weigh ninety pounds. She doesn’t wear a bra. When she gets stuck on a bug she sleeps around with people to get unstuck. She wants to name the operating system after Ada Lovelace and has people telling her she is the next Grace Hopper. She’s a manic pixie dream girl.

The second stereotype is a lot more flattering than the first stereotype. However, it is a stereotype. It is somewhat damaging. There is this idea that if you’re a girl in technology you have to follow a certain mold. You have to be cool. You have to be a nerd and play video games. You have to be attractive in a certain way. Above all else, you have to be better than everyone else. There is more scrutiny paid to you if you are a girl who is a programmer and you can’t just be a good generalist and blend in to the background. You have to be a super star. You have to be flashy.

I benefit from these stereotypes. I happen to enjoy geek culture. I am interested in hard things like OpenGL that most people don’t try or don’t make time for. I am a red headed extrovert who likes to generate attention for myself. I fit a certain mold and I benefit from the positive stereotype.

If Cameron was the only female character in HaCF, then I would not be writing about it. There is another female character in HaCF who I think is far more revolutionary than Cameron: Donna Clark.

tumblr_n7pz8huk9J1qfdofwo1_250The main hardware engineer in the show is her husband Gordon. They met while both of them were going to Berkley studying engineering. She wrote her thesis on data recovery. Donna works for Texas Instruments and is a kick ass engineer in her own right.

She is also a mom. She and Gordon have two daughters.

Donna is a character you never see on TV. She is a working mom in an intense field.

Even though Gordon is a main character on the show, it spends a lot of time from Donna’s perspective. While Gordon is complaining about how hard his job is, he is coming home to a hot meal that his wife made after an equally hard day at work. Except when she gets done with her job, work is not over. She keeps working after coming home. She has to care for the kids and keep her family afloat. Her parents lend her husband money and set him up with business connections to allow him to pursue his dream even though it is tearing their family apart.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

Excuse me, I need to call someone to make sure my house is still standing.

At one point in the first season, Donna has a business trip. She will be gone for one night. She leaves lasagna for the family and does everything she can to make things as easy as possible for everyone while she is gone. She comes back to find blood all over the floor, the sink completely disassembled, her children unattended, and her husband digging a giant hole in the back yard.

Compare Donna Clark to Skyler White from Breaking Bad. Even though Walter White is a murdering drug dealer, the show is designed for you to root for him. Skyler is vilified by fans of the show for being a killjoy bitch for cramping Walter’s style.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Someone has been hitting the lead based solder a little hard recently.

Compared to Skyler, we see a lot of what Donna has to put up with. We see her spinning plates trying to keep the family together while her husband throws the family into chaos. Gordon isn’t seen as this wunderkind genius whose every whim should be indulged and pampered. He is seen as an unstable, sometimes pathetic man who is being used by the people around him for gifts he has that he can’t control on his own.

We need more Donna Clarks on TV.

Back before everyone started playing the start-up lottery and tech became a casino, you had women who were engineers and mothers. It was a solid nine to five job. You had to be stable and reliable and it was possible for women to be mothers and engineers. That is far less tenable now.

There was a company board member I talked to at one of my previous jobs who I feel exemplifies the problems we are currently seeing in tech.

This guy was married with daughters. He also worked in the Bay area while his family lived elsewhere. He was telling me about how he only sees his family one day every week or two because he’s traveling all the time. I was upset for his wife and asked if it was hard. He told me he was used to it. I was annoyed and clarified I meant was it hard on his wife and kids. He smirked at me and said, “Well, they got used to it.”

I got the impression from this person that he figured I was doing programming as a hobby. I mentioned how one morning I made frozen pizza for breakfast and he said, “Hey, enjoy that while you can before you get married and have some kids.”

It was just assumed that I was going to get married and have a family. This was just something I was doing to keep a roof over my head until that happened.

I felt that this person saw no point in cultivating me. I think he saw doing anything to cultivate me would be a waste because I was just going to marry someone and fulfill my purpose of being a caretaker.

This attitude really fucking sucks, and not just for me.
worldPossible
I sacrificed a lot to be a programmer. I decided I wanted to be a programmer because it was something I didn’t understand and it bothered me. If I found a job that paid me to do it, cool. That was icing on the cake. I wanted to learn it and master it because I wanted to know it. I sacrificed my marriage and my mental health and my social life to push myself to get where I am right now. This isn’t some hobby that I am doing while I am waiting around to find some guy to give me children.

I would like to get married again and have a family, but I don’t want to do those things if it means I am lobotomized. I don’t want to be an effective single mom because the father of my children is never home. I don’t want to be with someone who assumes I will just give up on all of my hopes and dreams to make theirs possible.

Let’s say I found someone who would respect me for my hopes and dreams. Let’s say I find someone who wants to split the parent teacher conferences fifty fifty and will watch the kids while I go and speak at conferences. They won’t be able to do that.

Programming isn’t a job anymore. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a cult.

After people figured out that four people in a basement could create companies that are worth ten billion dollars, suddenly tech became a cult. You don’t just have a job, you are working on something that will change the world. You are expected to dedicate body and soul to this grand and noble scheme that will result in millions of dollars for other people.

It’s not okay for you to tell your boss that you are leaving in the middle of the afternoon to take your child to the doctor. You can’t say that you don’t want to fly to China for two weeks because you want to be home to tuck your kids into bed.

hacf-s1-kerry-bishe-QA-120One reason everyone wants young guys as programmers is because they don’t care about this stuff yet. People say it’s because they are more up to date with the technology or that they are prodigies or whatever else, but it’s all bullshit. It’s about finding the most exploitable people you can to get as much out of them as you can until they break.

It’s just assumed that you either will never get married or if you do that your wife will make this life possible. Your wife will watch your children while you are gone 300 days out of the year. If you are a woman and you have kids, people will assume that you are going to be the one to care for them and you’re not cultivated because you’re not going to be okay with being gone 300 days out of the year.

This system sucks. It sucks for everyone. It sucks for the women who don’t have opportunity because everyone assumes you are on the mommy track. It sucks for guys that they spend most of their lives working to support a family they never get to see. This system only benefits sociopaths.

As long as mothers are invisible, then no one has to bother thinking about how fucking broken this system is. Everyone goes along with it and won’t question it because they’re afraid of being cut off from it or seen as a trouble maker.

Bill Watterson, the creator of “Calvin and Hobbes”, was notorious for refusing to sell out. He never licensed Calvin and Hobbes. No one had little stuffed Hobbes dolls next to their Dogbert dolls in their cubicle. No one has mugs with Calvin on them. He didn’t care about making a bunch of money. He didn’t care about being famous or being a public figure. He wanted to do the work that fulfilled his soul. He had an amazing quote about how he chooses to live his life:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive. Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing. There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

Take the trouble.
halt-and-catch-fire-episode-103-pre-980x551

Star Wars: The Force is Tired

I am on my company Slack channel seeing everyone get really excited about the new Star Wars movie that apparently is coming out soon but people have been talking about for at least a year.

I am probably not going to see it in a movie theater.

I went to see the prequel movies when they had their midnight showings. I dressed up to go to midnight showings of all the Lord of the Rings movies. I was tempted to buy tickets to the various Marvel movie marathons before the Avengers and the second Avengers movie came out.

The last time I remember doing something fun and being a fan girl for a movie was when The Avengers came out. A friend of mine had an all day marathon of the previous movie. We had themed shots. I got drunk with the best group of coworkers I ever had, who will probably never be in the same room together ever again. It was a really special experience.

I am not feeling it anymore.

I am finding it difficult to be excited by anything in pop culture anymore.

Reading all the insane stories about people getting in line to buy the first of the Star Wars merchandise makes me weary. I am bitter and cynical and feel like the movie is nothing more than a vehicle to sell toys like the wonderful cartoons of the 80’s such as He-Man and Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I am a child of the eighties. I have a lot of toys that I wish I still had from various things I was obsessed with as a kid. But I feel like this whole thing is a giant sensory stimulus that is simply trying to get me to buy shit I don’t need.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I read enough spoilers to know that this movie is basically a retelling of the original trilogy. Killing the Emperor didn’t bring about a new Galactic republic. The war is still going on.

I enjoyed the Extended Universe more than I would like to admit because it at least moved the narrative forward. We had several years before the Rebels were able to expel the Empire from the capital planet. There was governmental stuff that people had to figure out. Luke started his Jedi academy and we had actual new Jedi characters. There were still wars and remnants of the Empire, but the battles were at least different and somewhat psychologically interesting.

All that is gone now. The Rebels are still fighting the Rebellion. Luke is still the only Jedi. Nothing has progressed and everything our heroes did thirty years ago is essentially forgotten. We had progress! We had change! We had character development! Now we’re backtracking from all of that to say we’re basically back where we were thirty years ago?! What the fuck!

It’s like a god damned soap opera. All this has happened before. All this will happen again. There are so many stories that keep being drawn out longer and longer and I just want them to fucking end!

There is something to be said for ending a story. Having a satisfying ending to a story is like having dessert at the end of a good meal. You leave satisfied and remember it fondly. You don’t want a meal that will not fucking end where each course is worse than the one before it, but you can’t leave because they won’t bring you the bill.

I know that marketing and other bullshit exists to keep us in a state of perpetual need. We need more story. We need more books. We need more toys. We’re dangling this resolution just out of reach so you will keep buying our stuff.

I demand satisfaction! I am sick of being strung along for years and years on a meandering trip that goes fucking nowhere.

The Star Wars universe has enough compelling aspects to it that you don’t have to go and pretend like nothing happened for the last thirty years. As much as I hated the prequels, at least they did something different. They told a different set of stories than the original trilogy did.

I know that Disney wants to turn Star Wars into it’s own Marvel Extended Universe franchise. I know there is going to be a new Star Wars movie every year for the next like two decades.

I’m sorry, I just can’t muster up the enthusiasm for it anymore.

I am sure I will enjoy watching these at home like I do every other movie that’s come out over the last year that I simply couldn’t muster the ambition to put a bra on to go see in public. The idea of sitting in a dark movie theater for over two hours without being able to check my email without getting looks of disapproval by a hundred strangers has zero appeal to me at this point in my life. I am not going to complain about how shitty movies are now because even if they were good and targeted at me, I am too tired to go anyway.

For all of you who have been excited about this for a year, I hope you get what you wanted. If not, wait a few months and you’ll get another chance to be disappointed.

May the force be with you.

Doctor Who: Series One- The Empty Child

Are you my mummy??

Are you my mummy??


Four words: Are you my mummy??

Three better words: Captain. Jack. HARKNESS!!!

Oh yeah, some other stuff happens and we get a far better two-part episode than our last attempt at such things. Something about WWII and a scary child.

Captain Jack Harkness

Okay, confession time. Captain Jack is my spirit animal. I have a collection of nerd culture characters that I deeply identify with and Captain Jack is one of them.

My ex-husband was rather annoyed with my Captain Jack fixation. He thought I had a crush on him and got annoyed that I had a crush on a gay actor. It isn’t like that.

Captain Jack is the person we all wish that we were like. He’s cocky and confident. He flirts with everyone and it’s totally okay. He is just very much himself and he doesn’t apologize for it. He’s daring and charming. And I want to be him. Well, a female counterpart of him.

This is John Barrowman covered in puppies. SQUEEE!!!

This is John Barrowman covered in puppies. SQUEEE!!!


I know that the actor, John Barrowman, is pleasantly surprised at how much of a role model he has become. As an openly gay actor he had some struggles with finding his place in the world and I know that he was very happy when this character who was comfortable with himself and his sexuality became such a prominent part of nerd culture.

I keep meaning to put together a female Captain Jack cosplay, but I forget until it’s too late to order the parts. I wanted to get a vortex manipulator replica to use as the band for my Apple Watch. I have a winter coat that is a feminized version of his, which is one of the only reasons I tolerate winters in Wisconsin.

Going to stop talking about Captain Jack before I start delving into my Ninth Doctor/Captain Jack fantasies…

Plot Overview

The Doctor and Rose are called to England during The Blitz to deal with a dangerous situation. They are stalked by a creepy little boy who is inexplicably in a gas mask asking, “Are you my mummy?”

There are aspects of the beginning of the episode that I had forgotten were important plot points. There is a nice scene of The Doctor asking around if anything has fallen from the sky with a large bang. This was an integral part of the plot that I had forgotten about.

Oh, when you asked if I wanted to come to your spaceship, it wasn't a euphemism?? Aw.

Oh, when you asked if I wanted to come to your spaceship, it wasn’t a euphemism?? Aw.

I also forgot that Captain Jack was introduced as a time-traveling con man. He was heroic in pretty much every other episode after this that it was hard for me to remember that he was responsible for the problems that were caused by the episode.

Trying to strike a balance about what to talk about in the first part of this episode. This is a rather difficult post to write because so much of the payoff from this episode comes from the end of the next episode. I am trying to make sure I talk about how the setup worked as opposed to its resolution.

Also, this seems like a parental horror story of perpetually being followed by a bottomless pit of need that will follow you to the ends of the earth and possess all your electronics.

Nancy

Don't answer the phone. It's a scam.

Don’t answer the phone. It’s a scam.

Nancy is a total bad-ass. I know that a lot of our kiss-ass female culture is predicated upon the idea that women shed their feminine and maternal characteristics because those things make them weak.

I disagree.

Nancy is fiercely protective of the children under her care. She is unwilling to put up with any greedy bastard’s shit when it stands between her making sure the orphans in the Blitz can have a hot meal at the table with proper manners.

When we think about bad-ass characters, they are ones that fight. Sometimes we don’t know why they fight other than they are the good or bad guys and that is what they do. We have a dearth of characters that are not particularly strong but are willing to fight for people who are weaker than they are and get away with out out of pure nerve.

Nancy is a good example of a true strong female character. Giving a girl a bow and arrow doesn’t make them a strong role model, so can we please get away from this cliche? Thanks, bye.

Conclusion

If anyone wants to recreate this as a first date...

If anyone wants to recreate this as a first date…

Again, this is a rather short review because there isn’t really a lot that I can talk about until the next episode. Half of this episode was Captain Jack sweeping Rose off her feet with champaign in his invisible space ship, which is loads of fun, but isn’t really conducive to literary analysis.

All work and no play makes Captain Jack a dull boy…

This was also a rather patriotic episode between Rose’s Union Jack shirt and the story revolving around the English resistance to the German war machine. I can imagine stories like this are to the British what Band of Brothers was to America. Sometimes we forget that other countries are just as proud of their heritage as we are of ours and it’s interesting for me to see.

Why I Hate “Up”

Look! If you look quick you'll see my life fly by!

Look! If you look quick you’ll see my life fly by!

This morning I was reading this piece by John Scalzi. There are a lot of people angry about the last episode of Game of Thrones that seems to have a rape scene in it that serves no narrative purpose. As opposed to all the other rape scenes that somehow serve narrative purpose. Bygones…

For years I have been telling people, mostly men, that I hate “Up”. I am angry that the only female character in the whole movie dies within the first ten minutes. I am met with looks of disgust from these guys who all tell me that I obviously missed the point of the movie.

My annoyance has been rattling around my head for many years, but I was never really able to articulate the exact words as to why it pissed me off so badly. This quote from Scalzi’s piece really helped to crystalize in my brain why I hate Up:

I can’t specifically remember what the story idea was, but I vaguely recall it being some sort Silence of the Lambs-esque thriller, in which an investigator and a serial killer matched wits, you know, as they do. And at some point, I dragged the investigator’s wife into the story, because, as I was, like, 24 years old and didn’t know a whole hell of a lot, I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator, and a good plot development for the book, for the serial killer to basically rape and torture the wife.

I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator.

Women in Refrigerators

The idea of the wife/girlfriend/mother being attacked by the villain is not a new observation. There is an entire trope around it.

When you have something as blatant as Gwyneth Paltrow’s character being beheaded in “Seven”, it’s obvious that the character serves absolutely no purpose other than to be red shirted. No one makes the argument that her character was somehow a vital and important catalytic character in the movie when I am pretty sure she gets more screen time than Ellie does in “Up”.

I would like to argue that Ellie is not simply a woman in a refrigerator. She is part of a more pervasive trend that I have noticed in story telling where you still have flat female characters, but that somehow they have some holy purpose in that their existence saves the hero in some form or fashion, even if they can’t save themselves.

Coughing, Radiant, and Disposable

The next iteration of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is the idea of the consumptive heroine. You have literal consumptive heroines like Nicole Kidman’s character in “Moulin Rouge” and Jessica Brown Findlay’s character in “Winter’s Tale”. This trope also bleeds over into any other instance where you have a female character dying of some kind of incurable disease whose death is used to enlighten the main character.

EllieDyingAgain, many of these films are very poorly done, so you don’t get a lot of people defending Jessica Brown Findlay’s death in either “Winter’s Tale” or “Downton Abbey.” Her deaths are more symbolic of something other than who she was as a person. In Downton it was to remind people that childbirth is treacherous and that her dad is a backwards asshole who won’t listen to the wise advice of a man of modern medicine. Her death services Lord Grantham’s character development rather than her own and acts as an After School Special about the dangers of preeclampsia.

Ellie doesn’t just die. She dies in the first ten minutes of the movie. When I looked up the film they didn’t even list the voice actress who played her at the beginning. She literally has no voice. The vast majority of her time on the screen is part of a musical montage where you see her lose her baby, get sick, and die.

Ellie for all intents and purposes dies in the cold open. If Up was an episode of CSI she would be the body they find at the beginning before the obligatory opening credits sequence blasting a song by The Who. No one would argue that the body at the beginning of the episode is the most important character in the show, yet so many people I talk to argue about how important Ellie is and how it could be argued that the movie is actually about her.

Again, this is getting closer to the heart of the issue, but it still doesn’t quite explain why “Up” bothers me so much.

Thanks for the Adventure, Now Go Have One of Your Own

This clip is what bothers me.

Here is my book of all the things I won't get to do! Huzzah!

Here is my book of all the things I won’t get to do! Huzzah!

I have already mentioned that Ellie loses her baby and eventually dies. She wanted to travel the world. She never gets to go on any adventures. This isn’t uncommon. When I was a kid I wanted to be the first female president. I know at least two people who went to college and studied rocket science because they wanted to be astronauts but never made it into space. Most people don’t wind up living the life they plan to lead. Sometimes the things we do today didn’t exist when we were children. There were no cell phones when I was a kid. The possibility of doing this didn’t even exist when I was trying to figure to what I wanted to be when I grew up. We all grow up and most of us wind up doing something different than what we thought.

It bothers me that somehow, we are supposed to have our heartstrings tugged by the fact that Ellie is satisfied with her “adventure” of being married to Carl for the last fifty years. There is nothing wrong with that. What bugs me to no end is that somehow, we’re not supposed to think that he should feel the same way.

“Thanks for the adventure. Now go have one of your own.”

So marriage was enough of an adventure for Ellie, but it isn’t good enough for Carl?

So much of pop culture revolves around the male midlife crisis. For an example, let’s look at the movie “American Beauty.”

Are you the plot device that is supposed to give my empty life meaning?

Are you the plot device that is supposed to give my empty life meaning?

The main character, played by Kevin Spacey, lives a meaningless existence. He is trapped in a sexless marriage with an anal retentive shrew who makes it clear to him that he has disappointed her. He works a dreary job that he hates where he gets no respect. Then he meets an underaged girl who gives his life meaning. He realizes he shouldn’t have settled for this dreary, miserable life. He buys a sports car, gets fired from his job, then goes to work at a fast food place so he can be stoned all day.

There are no stories about middle aged women who wake up one day and realize that they’re trapped in a marriage with a family they don’t want. That privilege is reserved only for men. Women are supposed to smile and nurture and never convey that they miss their lost youth when anything was possible. A guy can say he wishes he’d never had children but a woman who says so is a sociopath.

It bothers me that the writers of “Up” basically just made Ellie a plot device. She’s a consumptive heroine. She leads a perfect, blameless life where she is simply happy to have lived then died to teach Carl how to live.

How much more compelling would Up have been if Carl had been the one to die? Watching Ellie learning how to live after losing Carl would have been just as, if not more, compelling as watching Carl go on his adventure. Would the writer have been brave enough to have Carl leave the message to Ellie thanking her for the adventure? Do we assume that women have lower hopes and expectations for their lives than men do?

We're holding hands because this is a Disney movie and we can't show any more than this.

We’re holding hands because this is a Disney movie and we can’t show any more than this.

Pixar generally makes great movies, but I feel like they really drop the ball on thinking about female characters. We finally got a movie around a female character and we wound up with Brave, which figures that if you give a girl a bow and arrow you don’t have to give her any personality. There is no reason that every main character in most of their movies has to be male. It’s just the default.

I am very excited for “Inside Out”, the next movie that Pixar is coming out with. It is the movie I have been waiting for Pixar to do. The movie takes place inside the mind of a tweenaged girl who is going through life changes. The main emotional character is played by Amy Pohler. This movie could have had either a male or a female main character and they picked a girl. I am hopeful that this film will start to make up for all the lazy female characterizations over the last twenty years.

Death Handled Well

There is a right way to handle death as a piece of character development. The best example of this that I can point to is from the pilot of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”

In DS9, Benjamin Sisco’s wife Jennifer isn’t killed as a catalyst to either hurt or save Benjamin. Her death is tragic. She is killed by an anonymous enemy that destroys thousands of people. She is also killed in the first few minutes of the episode, but her death differs in some key ways.

She isn’t some inspiration to Benjamin about how important life is and to catalyze a moment of self actualization. Benjamin is a husk of a man after he loses her. He raises their son alone while he tries to cope with the trauma of losing her. Her death doesn’t inspire him. Her death arrests him. The entire episode is about showing how he can’t move on from the moment he loses her.

I can’t find a clip of this scene, but it’s brilliant and I strongly recommend watching the whole episode just for this scene. Here’s a transcript of what is said:

SISKO: What is the point of bringing me back again to this?
JAKE: We do not bring you here.
JENNIFER: You bring us here.
TACTICAL: You exist here.
SISKO: Then give me the power to lead you somewhere else. Anywhere else.
OPAKA: We cannot give you what you deny yourself. Look for solutions from within, Commander.
SISKO: I was ready to die with her.
TACTICAL: Die? What is this?
JENNIFER: The termination of their linear existence.
(and she puts her hand on his cheek)
TACTICAL: We’ve got to go now, sir.
SISKO 2: Damn it, we just can’t leave her here. Oh, no!
SISKO: I never left this ship.
JENNIFER: You exist here.
SISKO: I exist here. I don’t know if you can understand. I see her like this every time I close my eyes. In the darkness, in the blink of an eye, I see her like this.
JENNIFER: None of your past experiences helped prepare you for this consequence.
SISKO: And I have never figured out how to live without her.
JENNIFER: So you choose to exist here. It is not linear.
SISKO: No. It’s not linear.
(and he finally starts to grieve properly)

We’re not meant to think of Jennifer as a fully fleshed out character. She is a plot device whose specter looms over the whole episode. Benjamin is stuck and can’t move on from her death. The inability to move on from a tragedy is a powerful story that all too many of us can identify with that is rarely explored in media.

Now just make sure you don't go talk to your other selves or else we will have a time paradox.

Now just make sure you don’t go talk to your other selves or else we will have a time paradox.

The difference between Jennifer and Ellie is that we are supposed to somehow feel that Ellie is a main character who had a fully fleshed out life and existence. Even though she dies in the first ten minutes, we’re meant to think that somehow because she considered her life an adventure it makes up for the fact that she conveniently disappears ten minutes in so we don’t have to worry about her pesky emotional wants and needs.

I guess I also think it’s different because I feel like Ellie was tortured before she died. She didn’t get to live out her dreams. She lost her baby. She got sick and died. She had this miserable series of misfortunes and at the end we’re supposed to feel like it’s okay because she says she had a great adventure.

I am okay with Jennifer not being a fully formed character in DS9. No one is making the argument that she is. Sisco is the only captain on Star Trek who married and had a family. Showing the story of an African-American single dad is a story we basically never see. I am not going to quibble about Jennifer getting the short straw on this because it opens up another, richer story vein. Avery Brooks shows more naked grief in this clip than Carl does in the whole movie. Any time we can show any man, let alone an African-American one, cry from grief without being shamed for not manning up is okay by me. We need more of this.

Bringing it Back Around

So what was it about John Scalzi’s piece that really crystalized these thoughts for me?

I thought it would be an interesting character note for the investigator.

Someone who came up with the story for Up decided that killing Ellie would be an interesting character note. Her character was made to be this perfect woman that any man would love to be with. Her purpose was to make Carl happy and to have no agency of her own. Someone thought that having her die would be an interesting story note for Carl. There were no other female characters in the whole movie except for Kevin, who is assumed to be male for most of the movie.

All the men who come up to me and tell me that I obviously didn’t understand what the movie was about are coming from this perspective. They put themselves in Carl’s shoes and think about how happy they would have been to have had a perfect girl save them and be with them for fifty years and think that the life they led together was enough.

Me, I saw this movie when I was unemployed and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Seeing this woman who was very much like me give up on everything she wanted to give up and die chilled me to the core.

I did not want that to happen to me.

I did not want to lower my expectations to the point where I would give up on ever doing anything with my life. I have fought for over five years to try and make something of myself because I knew that I would not be happy having the life that Ellie led. I dare say most women would not be happy leading that life. Some men want to believe that women don’t have any aspirations beyond getting married and having a family because it absolves them of any responsibility for situations they are unhappy about. It allows us to think that somehow men and women want different things. Men want to be free and have adventures. Women want to settle down and nest. Somehow it’s not possible for both men and women to want the same things.

I think that we are limiting ourselves by writing off the other gender as unknowable and stereotypical. Not all women want to have children and not all men want to be perpetually single. If you go through life without trying to put yourself in another person’s shoes, you will miss a lot of the things that make life amazing. You might accidentally answer a personal ad from your wife because you never thought she might like pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.

up-pixar

Doctor Who: Series One- The Long Game

Eccleston and Piper take on the future.

Eccleston and Piper take on the future.

This is the last mediocre episode of the first series. Each episode after this is a classic or furthers the end game for this series. As such, this episode was kind of hard to get to because it wasn’t one of the ones I was super enthused about watching and reviewing for this blog series.

This one isn’t “bad” per se, it’s just not nearly as special as the stuff that comes after it.

Time to churn through this one and get to the good stuff!!

The Failed Companion

The point of the Companion in Doctor Who is to have an audience proxy. You’re supposed to be able to watch the show and imagine that you are the one traveling to distant times and spaces. They’re supposed to be relatable so that you can picture yourself as one.

Russell T. Davies trolled us a little with Adam. He established that not everyone is companion material. Some people are special and they get to be companions. People who are selfish Adam Eyeor thoughtless don’t get to keep their Golden Ticket, which is what happened with Adam.

Adam gets mentioned in an iO9 article about depressing Companion departures and for good reason. While his departure isn’t as depressing as Donna Noble’s, it still illustrates how one stupid decision can fuck you for the rest of your life.

I only saw this episode once and didn’t really grok why Adam was considered irredeemable. Going through it again, I am seeing small moments that foreshadow why he was kicked to the curb. We see the moment when he has the cell phone that can call the past that he knows he should give back to Rose, but you see him deliberate it and decide to keep it instead.

Things continue to get worse as the episode goes along. It’s rather disappointing to see someone give in to their base instincts. I realized as the episode went on that Adam is basically Biff from Back to the Future. If there was a sport’s record book available in Satellite Five we would live in an unfortunate reality. It’s too bad he can’t go back and invest in Apple when it was nineteen bucks a share.

Again, it’s really interesting to go back and see this episode and see all the stupid shit Adam does. I barely remembered this episode. Seeing the iO9 article I didn’t even remember Adam was a character. Going back and watching this I am puzzled why this didn’t leave a more visceral impact on me. The part where The Doctor is being given away because Adam opened up his mind to the High Intelligence to send a message to himself in the past to invent/invest in the right technology is really memorable and I honestly don’t know why it didn’t make a bigger impact.

Satellite Five

Wasting Simon Pegg is a sin against humanity.

Wasting Simon Pegg is a sin against humanity.

Yes, I am going to get crap from Chris Adamson, but this whole episode seems like a giant cautionary tale about Fox News and Rupert Murdoch. This is a prospective future where the human race lets itself be controlled by an infotainment industrial complex. There is a higher power using its influence to control the reality experienced by humanity to ensure that no one asks any questions about what is happening to society. People are allowing themselves to be blindly led and live in terror of amorphous threats with no solid or concrete parameters.

The plot device where people open their brains to the main computer is a decent allegory for our current social media experiment. People are voluntarily pumping their personal information out to people who capitalize on it and are using it to design ever more manipulative ways to contour our reality.

It’s kind of disappointing that they have Simon Pegg here and he isn’t using his real accent and he’s blond. All of his personality is kind of stripped. It makes me sad.

The Doctor and Rose

It’s fascinating to see how far Rose has come since the beginning of the series. This is only her seventh outing, but she is giving the grand tour to Adam like a pro. It’s kind of cute to see The Doctor watching her with a modicum of pride for her confidence in showing him the ropes. His little companion is growing up!! However, she hasn’t learned not to give away the TARDIS key yet. Bad Rose!

It’s interesting to see how proud The Doctor seems of Rose. In the first several episodes of this series he treated her as something of a pet. She was a curiosity. She was someone who was more remarkable than the people around her, but she was still an inferior human.

The bad CGI!!! It burns!!

The bad CGI!!! It burns!!

There are parts in the episode where The Doctor seems to delight in the growth that Rose has made over the course of the season. He chastises the woman who doesn’t think the heat is an issue by saying that Rose is asking all the right questions. It’s also fun to see Rose’s sort of smug, “Ha ha, I got praised by The Doctor!” look at this comment.

I find it personally fascinating to see how their relationship evolves over the course of this series. I don’t really feel that many other companions go through this process. The only other companion I can think of who really profoundly changes over the course of the series is Donna. This first series had to do a lot to introduce Doctor Who to a new generation of people while staying true to the old series. The decision to make The Doctor rather grizzled and militant and to have him slowly recover his lost whimsey was a really interesting and successful choice by RTD.

It speaks to the strength of their relationship that The Doctor didn’t kick Rose to the curb as well after this incident. She wanted to bring Adam with them. She gave him the key. She made a mistake. He could have decided he was done with her after this, but he needs her and he knows it. There wasn’t a moment when he even considers that course of action. It speaks to the strength of their relationship even this early in the season that it feels natural that he wouldn’t take it out on her. Also, that would have disrupted the season and that would have been an unwise choice.

One of the complaints that I have about the Moffatt era Doctors is how little they seem to grow and evolve. Yes, you can argue with me that this past series with Clara and Danny Pink was somehow different, but it really didn’t capture me in the same way this series did. I don’t know if it’s the chemistry between Eccleston and Piper or if he was just such a good actor that no one else has been able to approach what he did. I truly believe he shows the greatest range of realistic emotions of all the modern Doctors. Peter Capaldi never really captured the extreme goofiness and the extreme menace that Eccleston oscillated between throughout each episode of this series.

For now I am delighting in watching his relationship with Rose. When they break onto Floor 500, The Doctor comments that everyone seems to have dropped out besides Rose and himself. And he likes it that way. So does she.

Don't fuck with us.

Don’t fuck with us.

The Future is Fragile

One of the biggest aspects of most science fiction from the twentieth century is this pervading idea that humans will conquer the galaxy. Except we don’t mean militarily. We will colonize space and explore strange new worlds. If you look at Star Trek, humanity is at the epicenter of galactic civilization. In Doctor Who, thousands of races interbred and descended from humanity. In Doctor Who, humanity has a destiny that The Doctor spends so much time to shepherd to fruition.

One aspect of this episode that is interesting and terrifying is just how tenuous that future is. The future we view in this episode isn’t the future we expect from humanity, but one that is terrifyingly similar to the one we live in now. A future where all of humanity’s information about the world is manufactured and filtered through a mechanism to warp our basic potential.

One of the reasons I hate the current Star Trek movie reboot is that J. J. Abrams clearly didn’t understand what made Star Trek appealing to begin with. Star Trek came out at the height of the Cold War and it was created to give hope to humanity that one day we would overcome our differences and move forward into the future united rather than divided. I feel like this episode is kind of like what would have happened if at various critical points in our history our better natures didn’t prevail and we never progress past where we are now. It really drives home this idea that the future is fragile. We have the potential to do great things but it takes very little to derail our bright future.

However, it’s nice that in our evil media future that we no longer just have the male/female genders, we have male/female/multisex/undecided/robot. Tolerance is always a good lesson.

Conclusion

I am glad I went back and rewatched this episode. It didn’t leave a huge impact on me initially, but there is a lot of good stuff in here that I missed the first time through.

Now that we are through the slow part of the season, we get to go and visit one of the strongest episodes of New Who: Father’s Day. Stay tuned!