Monday, February 29, 2016

A Challenge

I am turning 35 this year. March is my birth month, and after 35 years of spinning I need to do something. Each birthday has become less significant than the last; to the point where I don't even remember how old I am anymore. I don't know if this improves, but I decided that I needed to mark this occasion by doing something special. By posting my challenge here on my blog, it makes it public, and hopefully holds me accountable. So, here goes...

During the month of March, starting tomorrow, I will compose a short original poem every single day. I may compose more than one poem a day, but my requirement is one poem a day. I will be carrying a small notebook with me everywhere I go because you never know where or when the desire will strike you and I don't want the fact that I don't have something to write on to be an excuse. I may post some of my poems here on this blog, but in the end I will have at least 31 poems and I may end up doing something with them. Or I might not. I am quite rusty at this creative writing thing.

Originally I thought that I would write poems that praise the good and beautiful in my life, but I don't know if I will stick to that restriction. I just want to force myself to create something like I used to. And hopefully thoroughly enjoy myself doing it. 

I will keep you updated.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

X-Files Review

In the past I've seen only a handful of X-Files episodes. When I taught the Science Fiction class at Arapahoe High School, I used the episode The Post-Modern Prometheus (Season 5, Episode 5) when I taught the robot unit. That episode got me addicted to Cher's version of Walking in Memphis.

So, when season ten came on this January for a 6-episode event, I decided to give it a try. So, my review is from someone who is not an X-Files fan; someone who doesn't know much of the mythology of the X-Files.

 Overall, I enjoyed it. I do not think that there is enough good Sci Fi on network TV, which is unfortunate. Not every episode was awesome, but I did enjoy this season. My favorite episodes were 1, 2, 4, and 6. I enjoyed the greater conspiracy that seemed to be going on rather than the monster-of-the-week episodes. Episode 3 was my least favorite because it was less serious than the other ones.


I even liked that the final episode ended on a cliff-hanger. To me that means that this show will be back next year and maybe they will make more episodes--I'm thinking 10 would be great. I like the shorter British style of TV seasons.

The big question is...since I was not an X-Files fan before, will this spurn me to go back and watch the other nine seasons? I don't think so. You never know though, I do sometimes get bored during breaks from school and I might check out some episodes, but this show didn't hold my attention like a season of Downton Abbey or Vikings or Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad would. It was just okay.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Rey's Power Level

I thought I was done discussing Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I guess I'm not.

Today, during Panther Time (kinda like a home room class where you can go meet with teachers so you can get help) two young men were discussing the character of Rey. I am going to paraphrase their conversation. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.

John: "I mean, I like the movie and everything. I'm going to go see it again tonight for the fifth time. But, I don't get why Rey was able to beat Kylo Ren at the end, when she had never even picked up a lightsaber before."

Bill: "Oh, I know. That was weird."

John: "Cause Kylo Ren has trained a bunch as a Jedi and then trained as a Sith. So, he should be better than Rey."

Bill: "Oh, yeah. And Kylo Ren is like super powerful, so does that mean that Rey is more powerful than Luke Skywalker too? Cause Luke was like the most powerful Jedi in the universe and he had a train a whole bunch before we was powerful."

At this point, I interrupted these two students and asked them this question:

Me: "If Rey was able to beat Kylo Ren in that final battle, what does that tell you about the character of Rey and the character of Kylo Ren?" 

I really was trying to make this a teaching moment, using something that they love: Star Wars. Side note: I have seen a huge resurgence of kids who are in to Star Wars in the last few months. I believe it is because now it is cool to be in to Star Wars.

John: "It is messed up, Mr. Allen, cause Luke--"

Me: "No, hold on. Answer my question. What does this tell you about the characters of Rey and Kylo Ren?"

John: "I guess that Rey is more powerful than Kylo."

Me: "And..."

John: "Kylo isn't that strong. But that is messed up, Mr. Allen. Rey can't be stronger than Kylo Ren."

At this point the bell rang and these two students scurried off to the library, probably to play video games on the computers.

But that question hung in the air for me for a while. Why can't Rey be stronger than Kylo Ren, despite not having his training and experience? The answer is, of course, that she can. And she is.

The real problem that this student was having, and wanted to keep quiet, was the simple fact that Rey is a girl. What he really wanted to say was Rey can't be that powerful because she is a woman. 


Why can't we have a girl that is incredibly strong in the Force. No where in the lore of the Star Wars universe does it say that men are more powerful Force wielders. I would never want that to be the case. We need this strong female character. It sickens me to think that my daughters role models in popular movies will remain relegated to Elsa from Frozen, or Rapunzel in Tangled.  Those movie's plots aren't even that good, the character development and dialogue are flat. Why must we have two separate categories of movies--movies for boys and movies for girls? Why can't they cross the lines? Well, Star Wars: The Force Awakens does. I am not saying that there aren't great characters that the boys can latch on to, but we need a Star Wars character for the girls now. Up to this point all we had was Princess Leia, and I'm sorry, but she was a damsel in distress. I know, I love her too, but when you boil it down that is what her character is. And Queen Amadala? Give me a break. I don't want my daughter looking at her as a role model. So, I applaud Disney and Lucasfilm and J. J. Abrams and anyone else who was a part of this decision. We need a strong female Jedi!

Now that that is out of the way, I think we can have a more level-headed conversation about Rey and Kylo Ren. We need to spend some additional time looking at their characters.

Kylo Ren: Ben Solo is conflicted. That is one of his major character points. I've said in another blog post that this makes Kylo Ren an interesting character. He is being pulled by the two sides of the Force. We also know that Kylo Ren has yet to complete his training. He has had a little bit, but Snoke states that he needs to finish Ben's training towards the end of the film. Because of these two points, it is perfectly understandable that Rey would be stronger than Kylo Ren. He lets the conflict within him get in the way. When he is fighting Rey in the forest, he just killed his own father. I am sure that would effect him. He is constantly feeling the tug of the light side, the doubts within his own mind. Then, he does has a little training, but a little training does not a Jedi Master make, nor a Sith Lord for that matter. The fact is that Kylo needs more training.

Rey: Rey is focused, organized, independent. She understands who she is and where she fits into the universe. Rey has a mission that keeps her eye trained on the prize. She does experience tragedy, but even despite that, her focus is incredible. And she is untrained, but I feel like her character traits make up for that. When Kylo Ren hurts Finn you can see the determination enter her face. Now, I would not go so far as to say that Rey fights like a Jedi Master in this battle against Kylo Ren, but because of her state of mind, she is able to beat Kylo Ren. She takes to it like a fish to water because of her focus and power level. Rey may just be the most powerful Force user in the history of the universe and that is more than okay. I have also seen some fan theories that Rey might have been trained too in her past, but just doesn't remember because someone wiped her memories. That is an interesting theory, but even without it I think we can explain to a satisfactory level why Rey could beat Kylo Ren.

Finally, let's talk about Luke Skywalker, since this was a major sticking point for these two boys. They made the argument that Luke lost to Darth Vader twice in the original trilogy. I assume that they are referring to the duel on Cloud City, which was a loss for Luke, and the duel in the Emperor's chamber, which I would actually say Luke won in the end, but anyway... They kept saying that Luke is supposedly this super powerful Jedi and he lost to Darth Vader, so that would mean that Rey is way more powerful than Luke. Now, first, Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. He is supposed to make our brains think Vader, but he is not Darth Vader. Vader was a battle seasoned, war veteran, prodigy Force user who often would single-handedly turn the tide of battle. Vader had decades more experience than Luke. Of course Luke was going to lose to Vader. It was inevitable. His only chance was to turn his father back to the light side. He could never hope to stop Vader in combat. At the end of The Force Awakens, I am sure that Luke is an extremely powerful Force user because he has had thirty years more training than he did at the end of Return of the Jedi. But if you compare Rey at the end of Force Awakens and Luke at the end of Return, I would probably estimate that they are pretty much the same, maybe Luke would have the upper-hand because he trained a little. But a couple training sessions with Yoda are not all you need. Rey would have lost to Vader too. But, once again, I must emphasize that Kylo Ren is no way as powerful as Vader was at the end of Return.

Despite all of this, this topic was incredibly interesting for me to think about. Enjoy.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Recent Acquisitions: Feb 2016

I've been saving my money recently. I want to buy a lot of different things, but chief among them is a new desk and a PS4. I don't know if I am going to be able to hold out because I do enjoy ordering new games each month. Getting games that I pre-ordered in the mail helps though. I had almost forgotten that I had pre-ordered these beauties too. Always a welcome surprise when there is an unexpected package on the doorstep for me.

Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection--
This is the newest game in the COIN series, which stands for counter insurgency. This includes Lake of Fire (a game about Vietnam) which I also have a keen interest in. But this game looks at the American revolution and all of the different factions that were involved in that conflict. I really wanted this game because of its high solitaire rating. Especially for these deeper, longer war games, I need games that have the ability to be played solo. More and more, I am enjoying solo board gaming. I don't always play games alone, but when no one else is around it is one of the best options.

Talon is a science fiction space ship battles game and you know that I love Sci Fi games. This one pits the Terrans against the Talons and includes hex ship counters that you use a dry erase marker on to show damage to shields and hull. It comes with a ton in the box and looks like a really fun capital ship battle game. Again, this game has a high solitaire rating.

In a trade I was able to get Chainmail, Perry Rhodan, and the Agincourt scenario for the Men of Iron series. Chainmail looks like a pretty simple medieval war game. Perry Rhodan was the game that really enticed me to do the trade because Perry Rhodan is out of print and sometimes fetches relatively high prices on BGG. Perry Rhodan is a pick up and deliver game for two players and I love me some pick up and deliver games. I've already played one game of Perry Rhodan with Amy and I really liked it. It was simple enough to learn quickly and played in about 30 minutes. Not a ton of decisions or strategy, and there is a bit of luck in the cards you are able to draw. But if you can load up on containers to hold goods then you can pick up a bunch of goods on one planet and then spend the next few turns delivering. This is a fairly good strategy and won me the game.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Oh yeah, this should play out just fine: An Analysis of Rick and Morty Season 1, Episode 2

Episode two, Lawnmower Dog, is, in my opinion, the weakest episode in season one. Because of this, I am going to keep my analysis short.

The episode starts with the family dog peeing on the carpet and Jerry asks Rick to whip up some science solution to the problem. Rick creates a helmet to make the dog smarter and then whisks Morty away to intercept Morty's math teacher's dreams. The purpose of entering Mr. Goldenfold's dreams is to make him give Morty A's in math.

Now, I could stop here and discuss the importance of school, but I think I went a little too heavy on that front in my analysis of episode one. I'm a school teacher and I don't like it when school teachers are portrayed in this way--stupid and susceptible to cheating.

When they get into Goldenfold's dreams they find several strange levels of dreams, eventually landing in a level where the help a Freddy Krueger knock off, named Scary Terry. While Rick and Morty are adventuring in dream-land, the family dog figures out how to make himself smarter and starts an intelligent dog revolution.

The problem with this episode is that this is pure sci fi rigamarole. There is no deep scientific principle to glean out of this one. No high concept that really makes you think. Heck, this episode isn't really even that entertaining. It certainly is not as funny as other episodes. A filler through and through.

The episode ends with the intelligent dogs jumping through a portal to begin their own world. Morty finished with, "You know, that's a really comforting idea, Rick." And then Rick insults Morty by saying, "Ahhh, what do you know, Morty? What do you know?" It is so derogatory and insulting. We are going to discuss the differences in intelligence between these two characters in the analysis of a future episode, but again, this is his stinking grandpa; he is supposed to love his grandson and instead spends his time insulting his intelligence. 


I still like the show though as you will see in future analysis articles.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Ye Scurvy Dog: A Review of Dead Men Tell No Tales

Dead Men Tell No Tales, published by Minion Games, is a cooperative board game for 2-5 players. In the game, you are pirates raiding a cursed ship that is infested with undead pirates while it is burning down into a watery grave. 

At this point I have played Dead Men Tell No Tales twice and I really enjoy it. 

The game is a fairly standard cooperative board game. Players do three things on their turn. First they flip and place a ship tile to build the ship. If you cannot place a tile in a way where the doors match up with previously placed tiles then you will lose. The tiles also bring in the various skeletons, guards, treasures, powder kegs, and grog. After the tile placement, the player spends action points to complete actions. Actions include things like putting out fire, moving, and attacking the ships undead denizens. A major consideration while you are moving about is the fire level though, whenever you move into a room where the fire is hotter than the room you came from you must take fatigue. If you get too much fatigue you won't be able to move around the ship until one of your friends comes to your aid to lower the fire. Finally, players turn over a card that instructs the players to raise fire levels across the ship and/or bring out/move the bad guys. Like all cooperative games, there are many more ways to lose than there are to win. You can lose if there are too many explosions on the ship because you allowed the fire to get out of hand, or if you cannot access treasures that you need because rooms have become closed off to you, or if a player dies and there are no more pirate characters for the player to become. To win you must collect a certain number of treasures off of the ship and transport them to your waiting row boats.

The first time I played this game I played with my wife and son. We were doing very well, but then lost in the last couple of turns because we had a bunch of explosions and those explosions cut us off from the treasures we needed to win.

The second time I played this game with Charlie and we won handily. If we play it again we think we will increase the difficulty.

On a strategy note, I think on of the most important parts of this game is building your paths across the ship. In my first play I just placed rooms haphazardly and didn't really worry about the paths we were creating. This was our downfall because some rooms exploded and we weren't able to get to the parts of the ship anymore that we needed to. Charlie and I really thought about each and every tile placement to make sure that didn't happen to us.

I enjoy this game. The artwork is terrific--wonderful painted images. And the gameplay is fairly solid. Right now, I do feel like the fire in the game isn't that big of a deal. I guess you could get just the right combination of cards a couple of turns in a row and it could really ruin everything, but in my two plays, the fire was never that huge of a deal. We usually were able to deal with the fire and keep it low--we just assigned one player to always be working on the fire. The element that really got out of hand was the skeleton deck hands because they really limit your movement around the board, so you have to waste turns killing them so you can get to a treasure or get a treasure off the ship. Fatigue was never a big deal in both of our games either. I like that you can search through a deck of useful items and exchange the item you were recently using for something else. And I have always enjoyed variable player powers. You can make some really powerful combinations with these two things. The pirate theme really comes through which is nice.

I rated this game a 7 out of 10. It will retain a spot in my collection.