Discovery

I’m not going to mince words: Star Trek: Discovery is confusing and weird with conflicting production stories and an off-putting viewing schedule. That being said, the cast, teases and images of the show look pretty good. Except the main ship. Old school Star Trek fans are already turned off by all the out of continuity designs. I just think the ship looks like crap.
It doesn’t look “retro.” It looks like a terrible design from the 70s that should never have seen the light of day. The saucer section’s rings within rings and the globe thing in the middle are just dumb. Whatever the thing is sticking out of the deflector dish (the glowing thing at the front of the secondary hull) is stupid. Overall, it looks bulky and ugly.
Falling down the geek rabbit hole so bear with me… I don’t have any real understanding of what this show is going to be about and when it takes place. Established timelines for Star Trek are pretty important, but they can be magically waived away if it serves the story. I can’t tell if the creators don’t really care about any sort of continuity or are going to explain it all away. My guess is this show is going to be yet another alternative universe.
Can the powers that be just read what I wrote last year? What will it take to just reboot Star Trek for television and start over?

This One Activity Destroys Your Emotional and Physical Health

Spoiler: it’s checking Facebook.
Does this come as a shock to you? It probably shouldn’t.
Overall, our results showed that, while real-world social networks were positively associated with overall well-being, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall well-being. These results were particularly strong for mental health; most measures of Facebook use in one year predicted a decrease in mental health in a later year.
Yikes.
I’ve greatly reduced my Facebook friends, which has greatly reduced my time checking my stream. Over the years, I’ve toyed with deleting Facebook thinking I’m going to see some sort of uptick in productivity. I never do because I still like seeing posts from my friends who I don’t get to see often. Still, I’ve moved the app off my phone’s home screen several times (Today, it’s back on the home page). Of course, just having your phone within reach makes you dumber.

How Harry Potter Changed My World

That’s what Harry Potter was for me, with all the kids: a magical thread woven into the last 15+ years of my life, weaving me and each child together in unexpected, joyful ways. There have been lots of other experiences weaving us together — being part of a large family, traveling together, riding bikes and playing in the park, playing boardgames and werewolf, cooking together and spending time with other loved ones. Harry Potter was like all of that, except with wands.
I remember my friend, who is a reading specialist, putting the first book in my hands and telling me to start reading. She was getting ready to go out with me and was still finalizing her wardrobe and make-up. Thirty minutes later, I had finished a third of the book and was immediately hooked.
It was 1999 and I was given the first Harry Potter book and told to start reading. I, of course, started reading and within an hour or so I’d finished about a third of the novel. I was hooked and my friend, a teacher and reading specialist, was smiling.
She knew well before everyone else how this story of a boy wizard was about to blow up. At that time, the most recent book in the series, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was about to be released. I had already devoured the first two books, but with this new one I savored it and it remains my favorite book and movie.

These books hold such fond memories for me. With each new installment, I’d buy the book and the audio book. Start reading at a breakneck pace and when I was about halfway finished, I’d pop in the spoken-word Emmy-winning audiobook in the car and catch the bits and pieces I’d missed reading so damn fast.
With the 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter upon us, it’s good to be reminded that J.K. Rowling’s books transformed publishing, fandom, and the rest of pop culture. Even famous writers who didn’t think it was for them realized the power of Potter.

7 Ways to Maximize Misery

Having a bad habit of always looking at the world with a pessimistic point of view is not healthy. For me, pessimism is my shield, but it doesn’t work when my smarter, more attractive and infinitely wiser wife smacks me upside the head when I start down the pessimistic path.
Do I actually want to be happier or do I simply take the easier path of making myself miserable? In this video, CGP Grey shares seven tactics to maximize ones misery:
Stay still – Don’t go outside, don’t exercise.
Screw with your sleep – Vary your bedtime. Never sleep or wake up at the same time.
Maximize your screentime – Let the screen keep you awake. Let a screen be the first thing you look at when you wake up.
Use your screen to stoke your negative emotions – Feed your anxiety and anger about things over which you have no control.
Set VAPID goals – Vague, Amorphous, Pie-in-the-sky, Irrelevant, Delayed. Do not set SMART goals, which are Specific, Measurable, Actionable, (goals for which you are) Responsible, Time-bounded.
Pursue happiness directly – Expect that unending bliss is possible.
Follow your instincts – Do what makes you immediately happy even when you know it will make you sadder in the long run.
The video is based on Randy Paterson’s recent book, How to Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use. I think I might need to read it.

Star Wars Minus the Sequels

Star Wars was a touchstone moment in my life. I was almost nine in May, 1977 and saw the film in Florida at a sold-out matinee. The next day I begged my mother to go see it again. My imagination was triggered. I couldn’t get the images and characters out of my head.
I couldn’t wait for the sequel.
Will Leitch posits a different future – one in which George Lucas decides not to make a sequel. How would that have changed not only George Lucas, but the movie industry? It’s an interesting exercise, but he never really tries to prognosticate how the next 40 years of movie making and Star Wars itself might be viewed. He just makes some vague statements.
One thing I think he misses is the impact of tie-in novels and comics. I’d like to think without the movies, the further adventures of the Star Wars universe would have been pushed in a different way. The other aspect was the derivative/inspirational TV spin-offs like Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century might have been feature films.
Lastly, the easiest prediction of a sequel-less Star Wars reality is that Hollywood would’ve made either a complete remake (like Robocop, Clash of the Titans, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Planet of the Apes) or a long term sequel (like Tron Legacy). I’d say the remake/sequel probably would’ve hit cineplexes in the late 90s.
I’m still amazed Lucas didn’t just remake Star Wars in 1999 instead of going for prequels.

Which Tech Giant Would You Drop?

Farhad Manjoo asks the question, “The Big Five tech companies increasingly dominate our lives. Could you ditch them?”
Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are not just the largest technology companies in the world. As I’ve argued repeatedly in my column, they are also becoming the most powerful companies of any kind, essentially inescapable for any consumer or business that wants to participate in the modern world. But which of the Frightful Five is most unavoidable? I ponder the question in my column this week.

But what about you? If an evil monarch forced you to choose, in what order would you give up these inescapable giants of tech?

This sounded fun. Here’s my order from first dropped to last (I’m sure your list would certainly vary):
Microsoft. The only Microsoft product I use regularly is Word and I don’t really have to if I don’t want to. That’s about it.
Facebook. I can easily drop Facebook as I think the platform has become overloaded by partisan politics and home businesses. Of course, Instagram is part of Facebook and I’d miss it, but probably not that much.
Amazon. I like to buy stuff from Amazon. I know my family and I would likely save money and time if we used it even more than we do. My brother-in-law uses it for weekly and monthly items like toilet paper and laundry detergent. Still, I could buy nearly everything I get from Amazon someplace else. This exercise also reminds me I need to review Amazon Prime for new TV shows.
Alphabet. I’m transitioning to using DuckDuckGo as my default search engine, so giving up Google search isn’t a big deal. I’m testing moving my web browsing to Safari from Chrome and I think I’ve made it palatable (mostly by using Myfave.es). Gmail and Google Drive would be difficult to be rid of because I like the interactions I have with those services, but I could probably use something else like Dropbox and FastMail.  I’d hate to lose YouTube most of all, so that’s why it’s #2.
Apple. While I don’t hate on PCs and Android devices, I love my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. I interact with these three devices more than just about any other electronics in my life. Without the hardware, I couldn’t run anything else.
Well, that was easier than I thought it would be when I started.

“It’s time for the Jedi to end…”

I would imagine you’ve seen this already, but in case you’ve been living on a secluded island on a secluded planet with a one-handed dude in grey robes…watch the teaser trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi and try not to drool. The film’s teaser poster has also been revealed.
It looks amazing. I’m hoping for a different Star Wars film. One with some heavier themes, modern cinematography, exciting space battles and lightsaber duels.  Getting a few answers to lingering questions would also be welcome.
Of course, I have my own theory on the central mystery of the new trilogy. Open the mystery box won’t you?

#WeWillWin

When I moved to Champaign, Illinois I became a fan of University of Illinois athletics. I just wasn’t a big fan previously. I had gone to a few football games and saw a few concerts at Assembly Hall (now the State Farm Center), but I wasn’t an alum and I didn’t follow the athletic program.
In 2001, I became a fan of Illinois athletics and basketball in particular. I was gifted tickets to a couple of home games and fell in love. I really liked Coach Bill Self and the players. Of course, he left for Kansas and Illinois became the National Championship runner-up to the cheating Tar Heels of North Carolina in 2005.
Subsequent years were up and down, but unfortunately more down than up. Bruce Weber and John Groce coached the team from 2003 to 2017 to mostly mediocre success.
Enter new Director of Athletics, Josh Whitman. He took it upon himself to change the culture. He hit the ground running with his “We Will Win” motto and so far he’s exceeded expectations.
On his first day, he fired Bill Cubit as the football coach and two days later hired Lovie Smith. That was an unprecedented move by Whitman. John Groce was given every opportunity to succeed as the basketball coach, but he just didn’t get the wins and was fired. Over the weekend, Whitman managed to snag a new basketball coach that was on no one’s radar – Oklahoma State’s Brad Underwood.
He’s an extremely good coach. Will Leitch outlined the hire beautifully in his piece for Sports On Earth, but I liked these excerpts the most:
Underwood coached Stephen F. Austin for three seasons, in which the Lumberjacks lost a total of 14 games. This season, under his replacement, they lost 15. In 2015-16, before it hired Underwood, Oklahoma State lost 20 games. In 2016-17, the year it Underwood (with essentially the same players), Oklahoma State won 20 games and reached the NCAA Tournament (losing by one to Michigan on Friday). That’s quite a track record.
And
This was the best possible hire. Where would Underwood have been on Illini potential coaches lists if anyone had been aware he was available? Probably at the top, right? You don’t think Indiana – a better job than Illinois that just came open – would have kicked the tires? The Illini weren’t getting Tony Bennett, or Archie Miller, or Gregg Marshall, and they probably wouldn’t have been the right fit anyway. This hire surprised people, and it instantly gives Illinois a coach who plays an exciting style and has been wildly successful everywhere he has been.
I’m excited again for Illinois basketball. It’s been a long time.

Klassik Licks

The stupid grin on my face wouldn’t come off as I previewed the tracks by a group of KISS fans who’ve attempted to create an original 70s era KISS album. Of course, I bought it immediately. Klassik ‘78 – Side Onecaptures the essence, sound, and feel of that time perfectly. I’d love it if Tommy Thayer would hear this and bring it to Gene and Paul. I mean, if I was the band I’d buy “Standing Tall” immediately from these guys and record it.
While you’re listening to this album, don’t miss DoubleVirgo’s version of 80s Asylum track “Secretly Cruel” done in 70s style. It’s awesome.

Fallon Down

I’m many things, but a late night talk show junkie is not one of them. I certainly watched my fair share and I’m old enough to have enjoyed The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and David Letterman in his prime. Still, the landscape has changed with cable. There are a plethora of choices of late night talk shows on all the outlets and most of them are doing amazing work.
The network guys like Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and James Corden all have made a name for themselves. I think Conan O’Brien and Trevor Noah (with Jon Stewart before him) are also doing good work. Throw in The Daily Show alums Samantha Bee and John Oliver and its getting crowded.
Unsurprisingly, for most of this recent period, Fallon’s Tonight Show has been leading in the ratings. His wholesome approach to comedy definitely appeals to a lot of people. Interestingly though after the election of Donald Trump, his ratings have dropped and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert has routinely beat him. Also of note is when the turn occurred. Right after Fallon had Trump on his show and basically made him seem normal to the average viewer, the country started changing the channel.
It seems the late night talk show viewer wanted a bit more bite. Colbert and Meyers have stepped up their game in attacking the administration and, of course, Noah, Bee and Oliver were always political in their approach.
Fallon isn’t going to change, but his bland approach isn’t working in 2017. Cue an appearance by Justin Timberlake in 3, 2, 1…