Avengers Age of Ultron – Why do we have to always go to we’re our own worst enemy?

Aloha – I finally saw Avengers Age of Ultron last night.  The only way to see a film like this in my opinion is in IMAX, and for the CGI it was terrific.

I was not surprised, but disappointed in my superheroes.  I know it is inevitable.  Every superhero series I’ve ever watch has to have (usually in the third installment) the issue of the hero being the source of the problem.  Maybe the writers are into superhero psychoanalysis fetishes, maybe they just can’t come up with any fresh ideas to keep the superhero a superhero.  But didn’t we already go through Tony Stark’s iteration of this already?  The super-mumbo jumbo psycho-babble was a distraction.

Of course the team all gets back together and fights to victory.  The extended climax was way too long, but still very entertaining.  I got lost on what happened to Tony Stark for a too long stretch of disappearing,  His superbrain did pay off for the climax… pretty nice.

Of course we also have to deal with another legacy issue with a character (or pair of characters) wanting revenge for a Stark weapon.  Hmmm…. think they did that before too.

Although the writers may have been using the psychology angle to try to raise the movie to some other plain than popcorn entertainment, they failed in that regard.  As a popcorn movie, still a lot of fun.  In fact, you can really go out for popcorn twice in the middle of the film and improve the merits of the finished product.  Maybe stand in line a few extra minutes :o)

Doc

Chapter 2 of Arlo

Aloha – Below is the first draft of chapter 2 of the new novel I’m working on:  Arlo.  Good news is that I’m staying about 12 chapters ahead on the rough draft.  I’ll post subsequent chapters as I finish new ones :o)

Chapter 2  Midas

Seven men and four women sat around the polished mahogany table in the dark paneled office.  Floor to ceiling glass on the outer wall displayed an expanse of Chicago from the 80th floor of the downtown skycraper.  Today there was not much to see as clouds enveloped the city.

A middle aged man with blond hair pulled back in a short pony tail, leaned over to the newest Vice President of the company, 36 year old Barbara Fielder, “He’s on a roll today,” he whispered conspiratorially.

“Calvin!  Something you want to share?” the short, dark haired man who had been pacing while he spoke paused suddenly.

Calvin Graham’s head jerked away from his efforts to flirt, “No sir.  I think the plans for building refineries in Tijuana and Matamoros is brilliant.  Have you considered cross-border transportations issues?”  Calvin slide comfortably back in his seat.  Ever since the CEO had caught him not paying attention eight, or was it nine years ago, he had always read the agenda carefully and developed what he referred to as a save comment for each agenda item.

“Excellent question Graham,” the man at the front of the room frowned and turned to the Vice President of Operations for Mexico, Central and South America, “Well Tate?”

“Arthur, we have Senator Harkin who chairs the oversight committee in our pocket.  The Tamaulipas government is on board for anything that will create jobs.  The Baja government is not a problem.  But we are still negotiating with the cartel.  They’re unhappy with your decision not to allow contraband.”

Arthur motioned to the secretary taking notes from the side and she stopped writing, “Samuel, we built a $200 billion company without getting involved with drugs; we don’t need to go there now.  Blood money to protect our assets and people I do reluctantly.”

Samuel leaned forward as if to argue, and then sat back tenting his fingers on the table, “As you wish, Arthur.”

Arthur Salt, CEO of Salt Industries would not admit it, but had considered dealing with the Tijuana cartel, just like he had considered such temptations at least a dozen times in the past thirty five years.  His career in business had started as a joke.  He was just in his second year with an investment banking firm when he was presented an opportunity to acquire a small salt processing facility in the West.  It was the humor in the coincidence of his name and the industry that grabbed his interest.  It turned out to be a sweet deal.  The owner’s family had run the business for four generations, but none of the children wanted to carry on the tradition.  All Arthur had to do was come up with a buyout plan to pay off the book value of the assets, which were almost zero.  He borrowed $50,000 to buy the assets then improved production by laying off a third of the workforce and adjusting production toward efficiencies rather than family tradition.  He was out of debt in less than six months.

The first time that the temptation of illegal drug affiliation came up was two years later when he was trying to acquire rights to another salt refining operation in Columbia.  He had already made his first $10 million by then, and could have jumped that value to $100 million just by cutting an agreement with another drug cartel.  He had paced the floor half the night over that one.  It was a benchmark moment in his life.  He decided to thumb his nose at the cartel and walked away from the deal.  But the cartel then threatened to break him.  He took the threat as a challenge and had determined that he would build the largest corporation in the world.

Since that time, Arthur Salt had cut deals and cut corners.  He had bowed to corrupt politicians and he had broken just as many more politicians.  He sometimes wondered whether he had simply traded one version of evil for another.  But he continued to grow and expand.  He was at the threshold of meeting that goal he set so long ago.  Forbes placed his company at number three, and his personal assets in the top ten in the world.

Turning to his old friend Roberto Trujillo, and the CFO of Salt Industries, Arthur queried, “What about those earnings reports?  I was anticipating 5.6 percent Return on Assets.  What happened?”

Roberto Trujillo looked up from the spreadsheets on the table in front of him.  He still preferred paper to computer screens when reporting.  “Arthur we’re still at 5.5 percent.  The difference is a flux in exchange rates.  The Euro decline was more than we anticipated.”

“Humph!  Never saw you get caught with you pants down like this before,” Arthur Salt snapped.  “Didn’t you have arbitrage to cover the gaps?”

Trujillo didn’t even flinch at the attack, “Our models indicated a four percent exchange loss against the dollar, it was six percent.  It will bounce back this quarter.  We’re already seeing it.”

Turning back to Graham, “Well, Calvin?”

Calvin Graham smiled, “We’ve settled the appeal on the fraking class action in Farlap, North Dakota.  The final settlement was $82 million.”

“What?  $82 million?  What the hell are you smiling about?”

Calvin grinned wolfishly, “As you will recall, the original settlement was for $700 million.  You signed off on any settlement under $100 million.  We did well.  The attorney’s for the plaintiffs could not underwrite another five years through the court system on their own, and if they brought in a bigger firm, their cut on the deal would have been reduced from $30 million to around $25 million even if the settlement stuck.  Ergo, the best deal for the plaintiff’s attorneys was the deal we offered.  Much lower and they probably would have pulled in some New York powerhouse firm with deep pockets.  Calvin noted that Arthur was trying to scowl, but that one side of his lip was turning to a smile.  Good, another home run for me, he thought smugly.

“Okay, time for damage control then,” Arthur’s stoic look returned.  “What is that state university about 30 miles downriver?  Nevermind,” he paced.  “They have been looking for a new basketball arena.  Contact their fund raising group and offer to donate $5 million to the school toward that event center if they’ll put my name of the building.”

Calvin interrupted, “They’ll jump at three million.”

“Calvin, if there’s one thing that I’ve learned in 35 years is to fight hard and win, but not to be cheap on redeeming your reputation.  Five million is fine.”

The meeting continued at a break neck pace for another hour, then as suddenly as the meeting started it ended, and the executives vacated the board room in less than a minute leaving Arthur Salt and Roberto Trujillo alone in the room.  “So what do you think of Graham?” Arthur asked as he leaned back in the chair he had not sat in throughout the two hour meeting.

“Clever,” Roberto replied leaning back across from Arthur.

“And….?” Arthur probed.

“Arrogant, narcissist, who thinks he is God’s gift to women.”

“It seems to be paying off for us,” Arthur reflected aloud, “He’s five and oh on those litigation issues I’ve sent his way.  The last two he surprised even me.”

“But…?” Roberto leaned forward.

“He’s married with two children, yet he continues to act as if he’s on the prowl.  I know that sooner or later we’re going to have to deal with a sexual harassment case.  We have enough litigation going on for that to make me nervous, but I’ve never had much luck with loyalty from employees who can’t be loyal to their spouses,” Arthur slouched.  “I get twitchy when I have key executives so overtly trying to cheat on their partners.”

“So…?”

“His dirt quotient is low; not much harm he can do us there.  But I hate to give up on someone with his obvious talent.  I’m thinking a two year assignment in Argentina.”

“What did Argentina do to you?” Roberto laughed.

“He is fluent in Spanish.  He has credentials and experience in International Law.  I also think that taking his family to Argentina for two years will either make or break the marriage.  If he can clear that hurdle I’m thinking of tracking him for Chief Operating Officer in about five years.”

Roberto laughed again, “With his ego do you think he can wait five years?”

“We have other choices if he moves on.”

The conference line in the board room buzzed.

“What now?  I told Janice not to bother me while I was in here,” Arthur complained as he hit the speaker phone.

“Mr. Salt, I have a call for you,” a middle-aged female voice echoed through the chamber.

“Who is it?” Arthur snapped.

“It’s your son,” Janice snapped back.

Arthur Salt rose to his feet suddenly, “I’ll take it in my office.

The Very First Sci Fi Movie

teaserAloha – I have periodically reviewed favorite sci fi books I’ve read on my blog.  I have also put out occasional reviews or thoughts about current movie trends related to science fiction (comic book books are tangentially related).

Recently I’ve seen a number of lists:  Best 30 Westerns really piqued my interest as I generally disagree that half of the best Westerns ever made were made in Italy.  I started to think about the best science fiction movies I’ve ever seen, and realize that taste in sub-genres will influence what I consider to be best.  Nonetheless, I’m going to make a stab at it over the next several weeks.  I’m not ranking the best at this point, just identifying some of the stand out films in science fiction.  I’d love your feedback along the way.

The first known science fiction movie was made in 1902, A Trip to the Moon.  It was a 12 minute film written, produced, and directed by George Melies.  Melies made dozens of films in a very short period of time… 12 minutes was pretty long for most of his films.  You might think of him as a You-Tube film maker from the late 19th century.  The film is very loosely based on Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.  There are prints available, and you can in fact watch the entire film on YouTube

Is it a great film?  It holds up well considering when it was made.  It could even be compared to Avatar for the technological innovation for it’s time.  My rule of thumb for a great film is, “If I watched it yesterday, and it was showing on television today, would I stop and watch at least part of the movie again today.”  I’m not so sure it holds up to that standard, but it is a must see if you’re a lover of science fiction movies and the evolution thereof.

Doc

Arlo – Chapter 1

Aloha – I’ve now made it through part 1 of a new novel I’m working on.  Working title?  Arlo  Please note, this will probably not be the final title.  Haumeah, book 4 in the Demeter series is just waiting to publish on Amazon…. as I don’t actually do that work, I can’t give you an exact date for release (could even be today).  The final book is in the final review process now, so I finally… after three years have gotten away from editing and again working on a new work.

The Demeter series is very much young adult, or middle school science fiction.  It’s a fun series with what I consider a great story arc.

Arlo is something different.  It is intended for a more adult audience.  It is more suspense and mystery than fast action.  So if you want a great shoot em up, this probably isn’t for you.  If you figure you know every move an author makes before he makes it, you might find this one an interesting challenge.  I’m sure there are predictable elements or lucky guesses as the case may be.

Meanwhile, I’m going to start sharing a very rough draft each week starting today.  Be aware, that there will be plenty of mistakes along the way.  I’m not into finished draft approach by any means.  Even in basic read throughs I’m catching minor inconsistencies that will have to be part of a later rewrite prior to editing.  Feel free to read, comment, critique as I continue through this process over the next few months.

Chapter 1 – Eureka

“Eureka!” the exclamation echoed off the walls.

Startled, a lanky young man tumbled over backward from his chair.  His companion jumped, but managed to maintain his balance.

“Marshall is at it again,” the short blond man literally chirped in a high pitched voice.

“I wish he would not do it quite so loud,” the other young man muttered from the floor.

“Come on Doctor Nelson,” his companion teased as he proffered a hand to help his friend from the floor.

Justin Nelson had defended his doctoral dissertation successfully earlier that week.  His research had been a follow-up to the work of Marshall Salt’s experiments combining a new technique of X-rays, gamma radiation, and spectrographic analysis to determine the mineral composition of objects at great distances from the surface of the Earth.

Blake Hilst and Justin Nelson were as opposite as two people of Caucasian descent could be.  Blake stood five foot two inches tall when he stretched, while Justin was six foot six when he was slouching.  Blake spoke in a high pitched rat-a-tat style and could easily have been the voice that gives all the disclaimers at the end of a commercial.  Justin talked with a slow, Midwestern drawl.  Blake was wearing a blue blazer and smartly creased gray slacks.  His blond hair was cut like a Wall Street businessman.  Justin was wearing jeans that seemed cut for someone twenty pounds heavier.  He wore a green plaid, crumpled shirt under his white lab coat.  They only had two things in common.  They both had blue eyes, and they were best friends.

Brushing himself off Justin looked across the expanse of the lower labs of the observatory, “Well, we better go on up and see what he’s so excited about this time.”

The lower labs were almost barren.  Eight computer stations sat empty in a space that could have easily accommodated 50.  The floors and walls of this lower level were concrete.  The venting and light fixtures were thirty feet overhead.  The metal circular staircase led to the second level hallway, that protected self-absorbed scientists from falling to the concrete below by a two-tube metal railing.

Each step echoed as they climbed toward the balcony.  “Have you ever thought about the acoustics in this place,” Blake began to chatter, “it would be perfect for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or Canada’s Nihilist Spasm Band.”

“What are you talking about?” Justin drawled.

Before Blake could answer, a young man racing toward the balcony yelled, “Blake!  Justin!  Where are you?”

“We’re coming,” Justin yawned.  “What’s so important?”

“I found it!  We should have started looking on the earlier discoveries.  This one was actually cataloged back in 2011.”

Justin stood up straight with a more attentive look on his face as he reached the balcony.  “Marshall, are you sure?”

“Yes, I was hoping we’d find it on a closer orbit, but I always knew it would have to be in the Belt itself.”

“Well, that will certainly create a logistics nightmare.  I don’t think any current technology can get the robotic units there and back again,” Justin frowned.

“What are you talking about?  You know darn well that I’ve got the designs to get us well beyond the Belt and back.  I’ve been working on those designs for the past four years.” Blake chattered.

“I’m not talking theory, or design, I’m talking developed technology,” Justin continued frowning.

“You know my design is tight!” Blake’s light complexion reddened.

“That’s not the point.  Who is going to fund a multi-billion project with technology that has not been proven or tested.  Even if we found an investor it would be twenty years before the basic engineering tests were completed,” his friend began to slump.

“I believe we can get it funded,” Marshall Salt smiled.  [Merna] estimates that just the precious metals that could be retrieve are valued at between $4 trillion and $9 trillion dollars.  Blake, what did you say the estimated costs were for your [Frodo] design?”

“Frodo?” Blake’s brows rose?  “Seriously?  I thought we had settled on the robotic models.”

“And how do we get it back in the condition we want if everything is on CNN or Z-News?”

“Or National Inquirer?” Justin snorted.

Blake paused, “It will be a lot more expensive that way.  We not only have to deal with life support, but dealing with the physiological issues…” he hesitated, “I think we could do it for $60 billion if we cut some corners.”

Marshall Salt was a genius.  He was not a big man, at five foot six, with jet black hair that his genetic profile attributed to a Japanese maternal grandmother and a Latino mother.  He liked to refer to himself as a mutt.  He stood with eyes transfixed, and then exhaled slowly, “I think I know a way to fund the venture.  I know Midas, and Midas always is hungry for more gold.”

End of an Ice Age

Aloha – The world is coming to an end as we know it, and we have front row seats to watch it change.  Please note, I did not say “the world is coming to an end” although it will eventually end, what I’m referring to is the fact that the Larsen B Shelf of Antarctica is going to collapse and become a plethora of ice bergs over the next few years (not decades).

Doomsayers will say that this is caused by mankind.  Certainly we have contributed our miniscule share toward the demise of this ice age.  But in reality, this has been coming long before the Industrial Age started.  We’re in the warming stage of our Ice Age Cycle.  We actually should be peaking about now (plus or minus a couple of hundred years) and actually heading back toward another ice age in a few thousand years.

The status quo is changing like it has for millions of years.  Things that once were stable will become unstable, reinforcing the views of our modern era doomsayers, who have replaced soothsayers and Nostradamus in the 21st century.  Will we be happy with the changes?  For some yes, for others no.  Considering that change is inevitable, where population centers are the greatest based on now ideal the location or weather was in the past, are the ones most likely to take it on the chin.  Oceans rise and fall, weather becomes more severe and more palatable depending on where you live.  Suddenly Eagle River Wisconsin looks downright comfortable for the near term.

Remember, the Sahara Desert was once teeming with vegetation.  I’m not quite sure how it was mankind’s fault that that environment changed.  The future Sahara may well be California.

A couple of years ago I visited Mesa Verde with the canyon cities of tribes long gone.  Why did they leave their naturally fortified cities?  50 year drought (might have been longer… I forget… but it was at least 50 years.

So yes the environment is changing and will continue to change long after the last homo sapien is gone.  Let’s do our best to take care of our little temporary plots whereever they may be, but don’t get an ulcer worrying about it.

Doc

No life on Mars?

The author of 'The Martian' doesn't think there's life on Mars

Aloha – Life on Mars?  Yes or no?  The author of “The Martian” says “no”.  I’m not as concerned with the question of whether or not there is life on Mars as I am with the question of was there life on Mars.  Considering what we know (or at least have scientific theory suggesting are the facts include:  (1) Mars had an atmosphere, (2) Mars had a large ocean.  With those two factors combined I find it hard to argue that there definitively never was life on Mars.

Hypothesis:  The arc legend is much older than current ancient history.  I say current ancient history as we have no knowledge if what we believe to be the origins of history are in fact the first histories ever recorded.  Mankind did not originate on Earth, but from Mars and had to leave as the environment collapsed.  Mars might not even be the origin of Man, but just of Man on Earth.

Makes for an interesting premise for a science fiction novel.  It is on my list, but I’m in the first quarter of the first draft of tentatively titled, ARLO.  Mars does play a minor role in the novel, but nothing related to this hypothesis.

What do you think?

Doc

What is on NASA’s wish list for the next 20 years?

NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore works outside the International Space Station on the first of three spacewalks preparing the station for future arrivals by U.S. commercial crew spacecraft, Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015.

Aloha – Making spaceships that can make a smooth landing on Mars is probably the most interesting item on the NASA 20 year horizon.  New space suits for more extended space walks (Think Gravity), and Big Brother in the sky, with technology to track all aircraft from above the stratosphere seem to be the highlights.

An item of debate is NASA’s plan to lasso an asteroid and bring it beyond the Moon’s orbit to play with.  Some argue that it is a diversion of limited budget funds to get astronauts to Mars, others contend that it is a stepping stone.

Perhaps the good news is that competition may increase interest and funding for the Agency.  Hope so.

Doc