Giving Hollywood a Bad Name

My wife and I watched “Bird Man” the other night. It made me realize just how insular the movie industry really is. Here was a movie that movie insiders could watch and think, “I know someone just like this character or just like that character.” I’m sure several of them just loved it when the “bird man” let the NY Times theater critic have it.

It’s true of so many industries. When I was an insider in the high tech industry, I frequently ran into engineers who would dream up new products that had very little real incremental value over existing products. I would question them why anyone would buy this new product, and the answer was “because I want it. Everyone’s going to want it as well.” Of course, everyone didn’t want it.

Take sports. An ex-NFL or NBA player watches a game far differently than we average folks do. If someone made an movie from that inside perspective, they probably would love it although we might not “get” a lot of the scenes.

“Bird Man” reminded me of something a college freshman might write. Once I had such a person who was high on pot write an essay for me. It was filled with “truths” that apparently were self-evident. Once the student lost her buzz, she couldn’t explain any of these “truths” because they no longer made any sense to her either.

So, we watch a “method” actor go way over the top and scream and rage. So what? I know about method acting, and I still found that Ed Norton went on and on and on. In fact, the movie was filled with much too much talking. Everyone talked and talked and talked. It would have been refreshing if the daughter and the method actor had actually had sex, but no, all they did was talk and talk and talk. The fact that he couldn’t maintain and erection was symbolic to me of this entire picture that apparently most critics just love.  The actor couldn’t get it up because the entire film was a orgy of self-love. He didn’t have anything left for the woman.

View From a Distant Planet

Astronomers recently discovered a sun with a group of planets revolving around it. What made news was that the planets were twice as old as our Earth and yet appeared to be in the “Goldilocks” range where life could develop. Imagine how life has progressed here on Earth. Modern man has only been here for a very small fraction of the time life has existed on this planet. Now think of life evolving from this point on for several more millions of years, assuming we don’t blow ourselves up first or have a stray astroid smash into the planet.

We’re taught that species make changes in order to improve their survival rates. Two novels that touched on this topic and did wonderful jobs are Childhood’s End and Darwin’s Radio. Both showed humanity making a profound and rapid transformation. I’m more inclined to think that the transformation will take place over a greater timeframe so that each generation will not be aware of the subtle changes. If you leaped forward a thousand years or so, though, you’d notice marked differences.

What kind of changes? I believe that we have barely touched the abilities we have. Lucy is a recent movie that touches on that subject. We treat most diseases today by giving patients poison and hoping that the poison kills the disease before it kills the patients. That approach should change within the next hundred years. I expect science to give more credence to the mental powers we possess. Take auras, for example. Why shouldn’t some people have a greater range of vision and be able to see certain energy patterns that most people can’t see? Take the body’s immune system. Someday we should be able to summon our own immune system and order it to fight or not fight certain attacks. Remember that inflammation is the result of our body attacking cells it should not attack. Remember also that inflation leads to a variety of major diseases today.

As we learn to control our minds more, we might discover that all these New Age reports of people leaving their bodies and having out-of-body experiences might have some merit. Apparently the U.S. government and the Soviet Union used to use people with high ESP scores to visit highly secure sites without actually physically traveling to them. Telepathy is another mental ability that our government has explored. Let’s assume that these are abilities that gradually will be routine for most people as we evolve.

Either people will become smart enough to realize the dangers of pollution and clean up the world, or they will learn to adapt to such an environment or die. It’s easy to speculate about all three possibilities, and they all make excellent science fiction novel plots.

Unlike some science fiction novels and movies, I don’t see human’s evolving to have larger heads because there is no way that human females could carry such babies to term or deliver them without dying in childbirth. Rather, we’ll just learn to unlock the currently unused cranial capacity.

Ultimately we might no longer need a physical Internet with routers (sorry, Cisco) or servers (sorry HP, IBM, and Dell). Our mental capabilities might extend to the point that we could communicate using telepathy. I believe we could ultimately become a post-industrial and post-services economy where there really is no need for poverty or disease.

The problem that needs to be solved, though, is human nature. Put a few humans together and they ultimately begin to squabble and fight over territory and power. How do we change human nature without taking away a certain amount of aggressiveness that humanity needs to push it to strive for the stars and for new discoveries and inventions? You wouldn’t want to see that trait bred out completely when people are able to order up their children so that they have perfect noses, no tendency to develop baldness or obesity, and perfect complexions.

The Bill Belichick Way

I just found a NYT article from 2007 in which the New England Patriot’s coach denies spying on the New York Jets. Despite his emphatic denials, the league found him guilty. Now he’s back to denying a new transgression. What’s interesting is that very few people outside of New England believe him or his quarterback.

If you read some of the comments people have posted about the ongoing story about Patriot footballs being softened against NFL policy, you might be shocked, shocked I say by the tone and venom of New England fans. Their state of denial takes many forms:

“Everyone does it so big deal.”

“We won and would have won anyway, so what does it matter?”

“The Seahawks use drugs –that’s much more serious.”

“No one can prove the coach or quarterback knew, so let’s forget it.”

“The team is really made now and will crush true Seahawks.”

So, the general gist of these remarks is that everyone does it, and that it makes it acceptable. Also, if you break a rule and you’re not convicted with overwhelming evidence, then you’re innocent.

I was thinking how this tempest in a teapot reflects what is happening in other areas of our lives such as politics and literature. Politicians will blatantly lie even when someone like John Stewart produces video to show them lying. What’s the normal reaction when caught? “I misspoke.” When the Senate shifted to the Republicans, the party line was “see how we improved the economy,” despite the fact that senate Republicans did everything they possibly could do to ruin the economy so they could blame President Obama. I also can think of at least two politicians who recently were caught plagiarizing material. They weren’t even apologetic.

Writers today plagiarize and then shrug their shoulders when they are caught. The father and son who claimed the young boy saw Jesus during a near death experience, admitted the boy had lied several years ago, but they didn’t offer to return all the money gained from book and movie sales.

What we have today is a slippery slope because most people no longer subscribe to the idea of absolutes (Thou shall not ever….). Instead, they rely on situational ethics. “I generally don’t lie but it’s okay to lie to my boss because he’s an SOB.” Students tell themselves “I generally don’t cheat, but Professor Jones is so unreasonable that he’s forcing me to cheat to avoid failing.”

The result of all these cases where people are caught in their own lies and avoid apologizing is that many people are becoming more cynical; “Well, of course he lied or copied his speech from someone else; everyone does that sort of thing.” This kind of growing cynicism is bad for our country and for democracy in general because it encourages politicians to lie even more in their ads. What’s the worst thing that could happen if they are caught? They simply say they misspoke.

A Quantum Universe

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

Albert Einstein

I’ve been doing a very deep dive on the topic of quantum physics, particularly the idea of a multiverse. Fun reading? No, but it’s research for my next science fiction novel. I should clarify that I have completed Alien Love, but it is not as yet contracted although a couple of publishers have shown some interest. My sequel to Silent Partner, A Bullet for the Ghost Whisperer, has been signed by Pen-L and should be published sometime in 2015. So, my yet unnamed new science fiction novel is just starting to percolate in my head.

Every book is different. With this one I have managed to figure out an ending and a beginning, so the real work in constructing the various scenes that constitute the plot is just in the beginning phase. The book is the most ambitious one I’ve undertaken because it requires me to build a number of complex characters since one of the themes is that small decisions have enormous consequences in our lives because we all have positive and negative elements in our characters. It doesn’t take much to push someone’s darker impulses to the front; conversely, a person might avoid going down a dark path if he makes what appears to be a very small decision. Let’s say he doesn’t go to a particular social event where he would have met a charismatic criminal type who would unduly influence him.

There also is the belief in quantum physics that while we perceive events in chronological order, they do not necessarily occur that way. It’s possible that all events in past, present, and future exist simultaneously. Try wrapping your head around that idea!

So, I almost feel like an observer watching myself work on blocking out this new novel. Meanwhile, it is an exciting time because people are still voting on my novel as part of the Kindle Scout program.

 

ET is Alive and Living on the Moon

I’ve been doing research lately for my next book, a science fiction thriller that also has some inter-species romance. For years I’ve heard of crazies who claim there are Government conspiracies and aliens on the moon. I always lumped these people with the other conspiracy nuts, the ones who believe in black helicopters, Big Foot, etc. After reading hundreds of articles I suddenly stopped laughing.

You have to understand that I spent twenty years as a technology analyst. My job was to sift through tons of data and come up with useful information. I was very good at what I did. So, I began sifting through all kinds of Government reports, eye-witness reports, and even statements from ex-astronauts.

Do you know that short-wave enthusiasts managed to record conversations by astronauts on the moon when they went off the public airwaves? They reported massive structures and alien spacecraft. They also reported being shadowed by alien craft in a not so friendly fashion.  Did you know that ex-astronauts as well as ex-NASA employees have complained about being muzzled by the Government when it came to talking about extraterrestrials? Did you know that President Kennedy proposed we join forces with the Soviet Union in a common space effort during the height of the cold war?

Even more revealing are the photos and movie clips that NASA has claimed it lost. Every time a scientist points to what looks like a suspicious object on the Moon or on Mars, NASA responds that it is just an optical illusion. Then, suddenly, the original film clips disappear.

The word among UFO believers is that aliens are involved in major mining operations on the Moon. They even point to disturbing pictures from Mars, including the famous face and pyramid-like structures. An ex-astronaut indicated that it became clear that the aliens did not want people from Earth coming too close to their operations. Since the first couple of visits, we’ve steered clear of the Moon.

Have the aliens contacted Earth’s first world governments and proposed terms for living together in peace? Rumors persist that President Eisenhower met and negotiated with some aliens. I’m not sure of that part, but there are much too many outlier data points to assume the U.S. Government is telling the complete truth. Some scientists have begun referring to NASA as an acronym for “Not a Straight Answer.” That appears to be pretty accurate a description.

One choice is believe the U.S. Government that all the pictures NASA has lost are merely incompetence even though these same scientists were able to launch rockets that landed and returned with pin-point accuracy. Similarly, the Government claims that all the UFO reports have failed to pan out. Think of that assertion and remember that many first-hand reports are from military veterans as well as from seasoned pilots.

Years ago a think tank wrote a report that concluded that there would be mass hysteria if people discovered there were aliens. Organized religion would be hard hit, particularly those denominations that stress that Man is made in God’s image. People would react much the way they reacted when they heard a recreation of H.G. Well’s War of the Worlds and thought it was a real news report.

So, maybe the Government is trying to prepare the population for the inevitable announcement. Think of how gay marriage finally became socially acceptable in most states. Hollywood started off by showing positive images of gay people. First they were pleasant but peripheral to the main stories, the good friend or the loving brother. Later Hollywood began producing shows where gays were lead characters and avoided stereotyped roles. Think of the recent Transformers movie that included Transformers on the moon. Now imagine a steady diet of extraterrestrial movies that soften the public’s fear of the unknown. While I doubt we’ll ever see such a lovable alien as ET, we’re bound to see more positive than negative images.

So, think like an analyst the next time we have a controversy over reported UFO sitings or NASA film clips that seem to show objects too regularly shaped to be naturally formed. What are the odds, for example, of film clips of Mars that showed round, square and triangular objects that we’re told occurred naturally? If the Government’s explanation seems too contrived, it probably is lying and holding back information the public is entitled to know.

Einstein, Tesla, Minecraft and Microsoft: Big Companies Kill Creativity

Notch is laughing all the way to the bank with the $2.5 billion dollars Microsoft just paid for Minecraft. On the surface, Microsoft made a great purchase. After all, it wants to be a major player in the gaming market and sell lots of game players and software. Why not seize upon a game that has captured the hearts of millions of devoted fans?

What struck me most when observing or playing Minecraft is that it was a game designed by someone who loved to play games. Once a player buys the game, Notch never bothered the player with requests or demands to upgrade to the latest version or add a particular application. Seemingly all he cared was that his customers were having a ball. Sometimes, like a mysterious God roving through his universe, he would visit various servers and observe his customers having fun. He certainly was never a vengeful God demanding the sacrifice of a first son or a pound of flesh.

Let’s just say it. Big companies are responsible to their stockholders. The bigger they are, the more they have to prime their pump by generating new customers and increasing the revenue from existing customers. While Microsoft swears it will not do anything to anger Minecraft customers, I would bet that sometime soon popups will appear offering enhancements for a fee.  Notch and his group of merry programmers were very responsive to their customers when it came to fixes and new enhancements, and the Minecraft bulletin boards reflected customers’ belief that bugs would be fixed immediately and enhancements on wish lists would be added quickly.

How does that experience coincide with people’s experience with Windows or Office? Often the prevailing wisdom was that customers were the ultimate beta testers whether they knew it or not. Also, unlike Apple, who remembers free upgrades from Microsoft?

I guess my point is that large companies by their very nature and by the demands pressed upon them are not incubators for creativity. Group think is much more encouraged. Ambitious middle managers are not about to take risks. As the old saying goes, it’s never a good thing for your boss’s boss’s boss to know who you are.

Creativity comes from living and breathing a creation. It means thinking about it night and day and loving  and nourishing it like a child to help it grow to maturity. The parents of Microsoft Word and its 250 features nobody ever uses are probably in the witness protection program. You can’t create a great product by committee or even by having lots of focus groups. As Steve Jobs noted, he knew better than his potential customers what they really needed.

So, watch what happens to Minecraft over the next couple of years. The first time you see a new fee or a new operating system requirement or even a limitation that can be fixed quickly by just adding a low-priced application, you’ll know that deep down within the bowels of the mega company some group of middle managers are starting to get nervous because of pressure on them to produce more revenue. They’ll react the way they always react by trying to turn their customer base into a cash cow.

There is a distinct difference in the case of Minecraft when it comes to the type of customers Microsoft must deal with. They are not companies with tens of thousands of dollars invested in Microsoft products so that they are in too deep to get out without severe financial repercussions. These are young people who have an innate ability to recognize when they are being screwed. Rather than take it, many will simply walk away and turn to the next hot game.

So, if Microsoft is to be successful, it must disregard all its natural tendencies to nickel and dime its Minecraft customers. It must be responsive when it comes to enhancements and fixes and not try to favor the Windows platform over other platforms. I do suspect, though, that there isn’t an Einstein or a Tesla or a Notch working for Microsoft. The company will have to rely on the Minecraft customer base to suggest enhancements. Believe me, they have lots of good ideas.

Silent Partner Book Tour September lst

Silent Partner is currently available from Pen-L Publishing as a 15% discount until tomorrow. Starting September lat, the book will also be available from Amazon; shortly afterwards, it will also be available from other booksellers.

September lst I will be touring over 25 websites where I will stop by to chat with readers. Here’s a list of websites I will visit:

Bunny’s Review
2: Kit ‘N Kabookle
3: fuonlyknew ~ Laura’s Ramblins and Reviews
4: Undercover Book Reviews
5: SBM Book Obsession
6: Hope. Dreams. Life… Love
7: The eBook Promotions
8: Shelf Full of Books
9: Room With Books
10: Laurie’s Thoughts and Reviews
11: Bookgirl Knitting
12: A Book Addict’s Delight
13: Literary Lunes Magazine
14: Welcome to My World of Dreams
15: It’s Raining Books
16: Straight from the Library
17: Long and Short Reviews
18: Queen of All She Reads
19: Deal Sharing Aunt
20: Linda Nightingale…Wordsmith
21: Two Ends of the Pen
22: A Writer’s Life
23: Full Moon Dreaming
24: Fantasy Pages
25: Brooke Blogs
26: Wake Up Your Wild Side
27: Hywela Lyn ‘Romance That’s ‘Out Of This World’
28: Indy Book Fairy

Silent Partner's Cover

Silent Partner’s Cover

 

 

The Foggy Crystal Ball

Today’s Wall Street Journal featured a series of predictions made back in 1989 as well as a whole set of new forecasts. While pundits correctly foresaw  a product like Google Glass as well as the popularity of cell phones, they missed badly for the most part. In particular, the poor folks given the responsibility for predicting which companies would be successful in the future had the worst track record.

Companies are organic, living things even if they are not people as Mitt insisted. Because they are organic, they are subject to rapid change. Company cultures change or the companies die. Take Microsoft, for example. From what I understand, very few of the nation’s top college graduates are really looking at Microsoft as their first choice. Maybe they did so back in the 1990s, but the company is just not cool anymore. I’m sure Apple, Google, and a huge group of startups are on that most wanted list.

Of course even Apple is having trouble remaining cool. College and high school aged students are smitten by phones like the Samsung Galaxy and look at the iPhone as a phone for their parents. Similarly, remember when Intel was so hot? You just don’t hear that kind of enthusiasm anymore for computer chip companies, even those trying to move into other product areas.

Right now Google strikes me as a very wealthy amateur farmer who has bought hundreds of different varieties of seeds. He throws them in the ground and hopes that something edible will grow. Driverless cars? Sure, throw down some money. Google Glass? Sure. Broadband for entire cities? Why not? Yahoo is fighting to be relevant while Facebook is desperately trying to show how cool it is even though parents are replacing their kids as members.

Facebook’s answer is buy anything their demographic thinks is cool. The problem is that then then must assimilate that company into their own corporate culture where engineers rule. If cultures and new employees don’t mesh, then Facebook fails to provide a solution that people buy.

My feeling is that the next big thing isn’t even on the horizon yet. It might be a breakthrough in fusion energy, a way of overcoming Moore’s law, or it could be one of the usual suspects the technologies that never quite move from the very promising category to the must have category. I’d place nanotechnology in that group with 3D printing hovering close to relevancy but still on the “promising ” side because of gaps in technology.

It’s even difficult to predict what kinds of literature people will be reading and enjoying. Take literature from the last two centuries; they had lots of telling instead of showing. Suddenly that’s a no-no. Authors have to show and let readers draw their own conclusions or their manuscripts never make it past the slush pile. Perhaps the next break-through in literature will be truly interactive books with multiple endings. Movies might let audiences press a button to determine whether a story ends happily or whether the cute guy doesn’t get the cute girl. If you happen to be at the movies the night when a divorce support group attends as a group, you’re liable to wind up watching a tragedy instead of a romantic comedy.

So, read the books you like and go see the movies you know you’ll enjoy now while you still have control over the endings.