The Unbeatable Equation

Teaching Introductory Statistics using the tidyverse via bookdown

Time, you guys. The one thing we can never get back. We’re always getting more of it (until we aren’t) and we’re always running out of it.

The new position at work is superior to that last one in all measurable areas, outside of the time I spend listening to books. I have to be a lot more involved in my work now and when I have another driver with me in the rig I try to just talk instead of goofing around on the phone.

So my reading has dropped off heavily this month. I’ve also got a commission I’m working on for a client, and I’m remaking the cover for SLEEPLESS HOLLOW. I haven’t finished the writing on WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE and I may have to punt that to October, because I need to get the first Adventure Hour show all recorded.

I’m about due for another bout of Shiny New Idea syndrome as well. All this coupled with the fact that I have to get enough sleep in order to be effective at my job, and I want to spend time with my kids when I get home in the afternoons…time management has become huge.

I can handle the current workload I’ve put on myself, it just gets complicated when I try to do more than I’m doing at the moment. Which I always want to do.

My co-worker sleeps about 4 hours a night. He just turned 30 though, so he’s gonna learn real quick that the bill comes due for that. I used to do the same thing when I was 31, and it not only messed with my memory, it buggered up my sense of reality a few times. Sleep dep is no joke.

So I just have to…figure out the right balance. Keep grinding. Set aside anything that doesn’t get me closer to my actual goal.

You’re getting a SLEEPLESS HOLLOW audiobook for free next month.

Please consider backing me on Patreon! http://www.patreon.com/dreadpennies

And stay tuned for my mailing list, I’m gonna get that rolling too. Social media throttles links, and I need to be able to reach people more directly.

Love you guys, have a good week, and get to work! But not today, it’s the Sabbath.

State of the Dread: September 2020

Check out the mascot! This should be a “football and school are both back” month, but because some twit back East had to eat an undercooked bat, here we are, uncertain of our otherwise certain things.

The Podcast

I’ve finished recording all episodes of Welcome To The Faro. It’s been a great trip down memory lane. Now I get to focus on my next project, the DreadPennies Adventure Hour.

The Brother Trucker Book Club is still in production, but I can’t say it will last forever. One of my biggest weaknesses as a content creator is that I try to do too much and end up burning out.

As much as I have loved reviewing books on the pod, I may just switch to another, simpler format for that later. Once the DPAH launches I want it to be my flagship production. Speaking of that…

BTBC: Apple      Spotify      Anchor

WTTF: Apple     Spotify      Anchor

The Writing

As much as it pains me to do this, I will not be releasing a physical book in 2020. But! I will still be publishing. WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE will be the second story on the DPAH podcast, broken into episodes all throughout November.

This has become necessary as a result of stuff in my home life and my day job. My career was affected by Big ‘Rona and that’s forced us to take on a bunch of other stuff at once. I will spare you the details.

Suffice it to say that if I tried to finish all the art that I want in that book, it wouldn’t be good, and some would be left out. So I want to take my time on it. I can still record the audiobook for the podcast, and meet the 2020 deadline.

The physical book will come out in 2021, fully illustrated. After all, the Pilgrims set sail in 1620, but the First Thanksgiving was in 1621. That way I hit both dates!

The Artwork

I finished my series on Presidential Puns. That actually got me a paid gig designing a logo for an old friend, so that’s cool. Exactly what I’m into. Make sure you’re following me on Instagram to see what I draw every day.

The Reading

You can expect me to slow down a little on this too, as I am not going to be plugged into my phone as much, listening to books all day long.

That said, I am being more picky about my reading in general, and more nonfiction is taking the stage. Maybe I’m just getting bored with so much genre fic, very little of it transcends its peers.

I like to be blown away when I read something.

The Fitness

I’m still doing push ups. I’m about to get a much more physical position at work, so the burn is going to be legit. All the rust and cobwebs will be gone by the end of September. I seriously cannot wait.

The Rest

Be excellent to each other. And stand up for yourself a little more. Let people know that you love them, but they don’t own you. Own yourself.

Why does “Twilight” work?

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On last week’s episode of the Brother Trucker Book Club, my friend Case dropped in on the mailbag to ask what I thought of Stephenie Meyer going back to the well on Twilight.

Short version of my answer: if she wants to, great. It sells. Clearly people still want to read it, more power to her. You can like it or hate it, it doesn’t matter if either way if in the end she’s blowing her nose with Benjamins.

We should all be so lucky.

https://anchor.fm/brotruckbooks/embed/episodes/Ep-117-Give-the-People-What-They-Want-ei03dq/a-a2ttgan

(Listen to the episode above, or subscribe on Apple/Spotify/Castbox/wherever.)

I wasn’t going to read this one, until one of my favorite book club podcasts announced it as their next selection, so I’m reading along now. I originally read the series in 07-08, and got pretty into it, much to my surprise.

I mean, the writing is pretty bad and the characters are just…let me put it this way, Hallmark would tell them to dial the soap opera levels down a little bit.

And yet, clearly, it works, because the movies alone have made over three BILLION dollars, and Meyer’s cut of the books are in excess of the GDP of many island nations.

So yeah, we can hate on it all we want, but those of us who have dreams of professional creations for a living need to figure out WHY it works. If it’s “so damn bad,” why can’t we stay away from it?

Why are women who read it at age 14 now reading it again at age 29?

I think the simplest answer is that it satisfies a deep, almost forbidden emotional fantasy–the kind people might be embarrassed to admit they have, but still enjoy seeing played out in front of them.

Apparently a ton of girls want to fancy themselves as mature-for-their-age, scholarly, well-read empaths who have an emotional intelligence beyond that of their peers. And naturally they’d want two hot guys fighting over them, one rakish, the other rugged.

And as a cherry on top, they’d want to see every one of their decisions validated, none of their flaws exposed, and every action taken by every named character in the known world would revolve around THEM.

Yes, it would be completely inane to admit to having those desires for yourself.

That’s why Bella is a projection. The reader can project herself onto Bella and pretend she’s walking around in that world, almost like a literary version of an RPG, but if/when it ever becomes “too much,” well then, it’s just a book, and any faults in it have to do with Bella, right?

That’s really what it comes down to. The books are the romance version of a roleplaying game, and within that game, there is only reward, no criticism.

Kind of a refreshing break from real life, I imagine.

I’m not sure this principle will ever really apply to my own writing, as I don’t write characters like Bella Swan. I’ve also read THE HOST by Meyer, and it was…not good either. So I’m going to guess that my stuff will never be successful for the same reason hers is, and I’m okay with that. I’m not setting out to tell the same stories she is (though I wouldn’t say no to the kind of money she’s made, hey-oh.)

Just some things I’ve been chewing on as I reflect on 15 years of this cultural phenomenon that I still don’t fully understand. More power to her, though.

Are you doing everything you can?

This morning I thought about a man that I haven’t remembered in a while. Back in the days of my old blog I wrote about him once or twice and he deserves to have his story told a little more often, or at least, to have my part of his story told.

His name is Jim Heller, and he was an artist. He was also almost completely paralyzed; anything from the neck down was immobile, except for very slight movements in his right hand.

It was those movements that allowed him to become a precise artist. I got to see him work every now and then because we went to church together, and our ward would divide up service assignments to help him out.

On the 2nd of every month, my brother and I would ride our bikes down to his place and make him dinner. This was always a bit of a process because Jim was a slow eater. He would wheel his electric chair into the doorway of his kitchen and tell us what to pull out of the fridge or the cabinets, then have us nuke it in the mike.

We had to cut everything up for him and feed it to him one small bite at a time. He had to tell us every time he was ready for another bite, or a drink through the straw. It took a few hours.

Not that it was an imposition or anything; he was very easy to talk to and we had great conversations. Jim loved movies too, so we would put on a John Wayne flick, or a cheesy sci-fi, or a WW2 film. I watched Anaconda and Tora! Tora! Tora! while feeding him. The only time I’ve ever seen The Ghost In The Darkness was while I was spooning peas into Jim’s mouth. (Awesome movie, btw.)

In my teens I didn’t have a lot going on that wasn’t scheduled for me by my parents. Go to youth activities at church, go to piano lessons, go to Boy Scouts, go go go. When I had time to myself, I spent it ignoring my homework so I could sit at my drawing table while blasting KoRn or Offspring on my CD player.

The lack of a full schedule made it easy for me to visit Jim. I don’t remember seeing it as an imposition or anything, because what else was I doing with my life? Goofing off and daydreaming about girls who would never date me because I was the weird kid?

No, go take one night in thirty and feed someone. That’s a kind of service I don’t do any more. I’m too busy, too dialed in on my own stuff. Plus, obviously, I’ve got a wife and kids now, it’s just different.

But back then, I think it was really good for me to see up close the life of someone who had to rely on others for absolutely everything. Jim had a nurse come by who helped him with his medical stuff, his pill sorting, his bathing and dressing, getting in and out of bed, all that. He always had to have his remote on his tray and his LifeAlert right next to it.

One night he called his neighbor at 2AM because there was a bug chewing on the soft skin under his arm and the pain was excruciating. Jim tried to ride it out without calling and it just got to be too much.

Think about that next time you have an itch and you scratch it and it goes away. Think about a life where you couldn’t do that for yourself.

I never once, in the three or four years that I regularly visited him, heard Jim gripe about his condition, or pity himself. Dude got diagnosed with whatever had put him in a chair in his 20s. Doctors said he would probably die in his 40s. He made it to his 60s.

And to the utter extent that he was able, he worked to support himself.

Every time we came by, we wrapped up the night by setting his art supplies out on the tray on his wheelchair. Pencils and brushes with long sticks attached. Paint pallets with just a drop of this color here, a slight mixture of these two there. Throw some water droplets on to loosen up this shade here, I don’t need much.

He painted scenery, animals, westerns, faces. Indians and mountain men, cowboys and pioneers. Wolverines battling wolves for a kill. Lynxes in the wild. Temples. Christ. His friends.

A few times a year we would load his stuff into his big old van, then help him onto the ramp so he could get inside. Hook his chair to the floor with ratchet straps and drive him to convention centers so he could sell prints and originals. It was heavy and repetitive, and tiring in the Vegas heat.

Yet the whole time you’re doing it, you’re saying to yourself, what am I going to do? Cry about it to the guy who can’t walk? Can’t take a leak without help? Come on, man. Even when I was just a low-ambition punk@$$ from Henderson I could figure that part out.

There are still times that I feel bad about not being there when he died, in July of 2001. I had missed our appointment on the 2nd of that month because I finally had things on my calendar. I had a job (tire tech) and a sport to train for (cheerleading).

He called our house and asked if I was coming. It was 6:30. I apologized profusely, I can’t even remember what I was doing that night but I was busy. He said NBD, he would call his niece, she was over there all the time.

I said I would make it up to him next month. He died about two weeks later.

I made it a point to sing at his funeral. Felt I owed him that.

Often I make the mistake of assuming that everyone has had the same life experiences I have, that they’ve known the same kind of people and have shaped their expectations of life accordingly. I have to remind myself that that isn’t the case.

We’ve all had unique struggles, they just happen in the same vein sometimes. And there will always be someone who has it worse than we do–not that it’s a competition. The point is that someone else’s trials can help you realize not only your blessings, but the limitations you are putting on yourself.

Especially today, in the age of competitive victimhood, with social media being such an easy platform for you to scream your hardships into the void of the world, looking for validation.

When that temptation arises, think of men like Jim. He dealt with those demons at some point in his life, I’m sure of it. That kind of stoicism is usually a destination, not a starting point, and he got there.

I for one am very grateful that he did, and for what he taught me in our short time together. Men like that ought to be remembered.

Learn from that. And get back to work.

State of the Dread: August 2020

The Podcast

The BTBC came back last month and I’ve been getting a steady flow of content for the new mailbag section! Thank you to those who have written in, it’s my favorite part of the show.

Apple      Spotify      Anchor

WTTF continues strong and we’re past the halfway point, it should wrap up late Oct/early Nov.

Apple     Spotify      Anchor

But the real gem is the launch of the DPAH, coming next month 🙂 I’ll draw the cover art for it then.

The Writing

Edits are humming along for WITH ANSWERABLE COURAGE. I am fighting distraction because I keep getting ideas for other stories. The best thing for those ideas is to just let them percolate, because they’re not ready if I’m not actively working on a story.

I’m glad that I have finally embraced the short story model. Lots of my ideas will work better that way.

Funnily enough, after I read HOMEWORLD to Schaara, she suggested I write a full-length treatment from one of the other character’s POV. That one is percolating. Dunno when it’ll happen, but it just may.

The Artwork

Still plugging right along. I fell back on a lot of puns and stuff in July, what I need to do is change it up and do more structured exercises. I have an anatomy book I’ve been meaning to dig through, however…

The Reading

…as I get ready to homeschool my kids with my wife (she’ll be doing most of it, but I’m not going to be a bystander), I have to read some other preparatory materials, and that’s getting my attention.

Also I’m getting bored with fiction generally. That’s a weird feeling. Nonfiction is finally entertaining me more.

The Fitness

I’m doing over a hundred pushups a day, every day. With my schedule, that’s all I can manage. If it changes, I’ll let you know.

The Rest

Please understand, from the bottom of my heart, that I do not care about anyone’s panicky opinion about what’s going on in the world. I wash my hands of it. It only serves to hold me back from conquering my own corner of this island Earth.

Onward and upward, peeps.

 

As of 2019, “Gladiator” has achieved Secondhand Superhero status.

Gladiator (2000) - IMDb

Y’all know Gladiator, that awesome flick from 2000 that was mostly ahistorical but still an excellent story.

Well starting in 2013 it became a Secondhand Superhero candidate, and last year it fulfilled the minimum threshold of 4 actors.

Russell Crowe as Maximus (Jor-El)

Did Gladiator really deserve the best picture Oscar? | Film | The ...

Why We Didn't See Jor-El In Batman V Superman, According To ...

In 2013, Crowe played the father of Superman in Man of Steel.

Djimon Hounsou as Juba (Korath the Pursuer/Wizard)

Gladiator, a movie review | Ms M's Bookshelf

Captain Marvel and Korath – Why is Carol Danvers teaming up with ...

SHAZAM! Movie Concept Art Gives Djimon Hounsou's Wizard Shazam A ...

Hounsou actually has a foot in each major comic universe, as he was a hunter in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)/Captain Marvel (2019) and a powerful wizard in Shazam! (2019).

Connie Nielsen as Lucilla (Hippolyta)

Connie Nielsen Shares Her Favorite Memory From Ridley Scott's ...

Hippolyta: Sit Down with Wonder Woman's Connie Nielsen

Nielsen was Diana’s mother in Wonder Woman (2017).

Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus (The Joker)

Going The Extra Mile - Joaquin Phoenix's Craziest On-Set Antics ...

Joker' Joaquin Phoenix had a love/hate relationship with the role

Phoenix earned himself an Oscar for playing Batman’s most formidable villain.

There’s one last actor who deserves a shout-out: Spencer Treat Clark, who played young Lucius. He also played Baron Von Strucker’s son on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. but I felt like I was reaching with that one.

Gladiator 2: release date, cast and everything else we know about ...

Spencer Treat Clark | Agents of shield, Marvel agents of shield ...

Then again, I used Lois & Clark as a qualifier, so maybe that’s ok.

“Knives Out” is a Secondhand Superhero story

Knives Out (2019) - IMDb

Last week I watched Knives Out with the DreadWife. Fun movie, gets a little bogged down in overthinking itself, and the lefty stuff was way heavy-handed, but the acting was great and the mystery was well-done.

A few days later I dug into the cast on iMDB and realized that it meets the threshold for a Secondhand Superhero flick. Most times I prefer a movie to have four actors in it that played in superhero movies. Other times I make exceptions.

The best example is Stardust, which has Superman, Catwoman, Daredevil, and Sinestro in it. An example of a reach is Star Trek: First Contact which features Professor X, Dum Dum Doogan, a minor character from Captain America: Civil War, and a nameless scientist from Thor: The Dark World.

Knives Out isn’t as much of a reach, but it’s not so clear-cut either. Here’s what we’ve got:

Chris Evans as Ransom Drysdale (Captain America)

Knives Out: Top 10 Best Quotes From Ransom Drysdale | ScreenRant

Captain America's Best Moments In The MCU, Ranked - CINEMABLEND

While the movie doesn’t have an obvious main character, he’s one of the top three.

Michael Shannon as Walt Thrombey (General Zod)

Walter Thrombey from Knives Out Costume | Carbon Costume | DIY ...Man of Steel' Actor Michael Shannon Has No Problem With General ...

Walt is in the second tier of characters for this ensemble film.

Katherine Langford as Meg Thrombey (Morgan Stark)

Knives Out's Thrombey Family Is Terrible - But Which Member Is the ...

Avengers : Endgame : the cut scene of Katherine Langford (Morgan ...

This is where we start to reach, because Langford’s only appearance in the MCU comes from a deleted scene in Avengers: Endgame right after Tony snaps Thanos. She plays an older version of his then-young daughter.

K Callan as Wanetta Thrombey (Martha Kent)

The Knives Out Family Members, Ranked By How Horrible They Are | GQ

Farewell to a Hero's Father—A Tribute to Eddie Jones

And the biggest reach of them all is K Callan, who plays a woman of indeterminate age (though she would have to be in excess of 100 years old.) Callan played Martha Kent on Lois & Clark, the Superman TV show in the 90s.

Bonus points for having Martha Kent be General Zod’s grandmother.

Anyway, we’re just getting deeper into the rabbit hole, proving that everyone in Hollywood is attached to a superhero project in one way or another. This game is more fun than the Kevin Bacon one.

 

Cancellation was the best thing to happen to #Firefly

Been a minute since I rewatched this classic, which is now old enough to vote in the US. Yes kids, 18 years since Firefly aired, and 18 since it got booted from Fox.

That shouldn’t shock anyone. Ask The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. just how well Fox supports good westerns.

Anyway, I’m partway through the pilot and still loving it. The characters, the dialogue, the speed of the story, it’s no wonder the show continues to find new fans even after all this time.

One thing that aids that? Its cancellation.

The brevity that was heaped upon it when Fox pulled the plug has helped to keep the overall story tight and tidy, especially with the conclusion that the movie Serenity provides.

It’s the same principle that makes 8-episode streaming series so successful. There is a such thing as too much.

Just ask The Hobbit trilogy.

Plus the perception of injustice–“How could you cancel something so great?!”–gives it the oh-so-coveted victim status that the new century thrives on.

There are comics that continue the story, and some of them have been good, but they run into the Hobbit problem after a few issues.

Too much of a good thing isn’t still a good thing. Too much is just too much.

Something to keep in mind with my own work. It’s why I’ve taken a liking to shorter pieces. Satiate the appetite and move on.

Get back to work.

The 1619 Project is a bad joke.

90 minutes well-spent, put together by the Claremont Institute in California.

Short version, the 1619 Project is a political tool disguised as a history project that is trying to establish institutional racism in America–the thing they claim to be fighting against.

This is the kind of thing that happens when people mistake “Hamilton” for actual history. We’re better than this, don’t fall for it.

Why do we read a series? 5 observations.

Hello, DreadHeads. The newest Dresden Files novel dropped today, after five years without a full-length adventure in magical Chicago. We’ll get another one in September, so Butcher is rewarding our patience.

I’m about a third of the way through PEACE TALKS and I love returning to familiar ground. That got me thinking about why we enjoy series books as readers, and I have some ideas:

5: Large-scale escapism

Series books that are well-developed tend to give us a huge world where our imaginations can run free. This very real itch is what online RPGs scratch at in the human psyche. Even with their costs and dangers, we prefer them to our own reality, and vacations there are cheap.

Harry Dresden’s apartment, Hogwarts, the Millennium Falcon, these are all great examples. Bonus points if the world has abundant foods that you can recreate. You then get to hold a real piece of this fake place in your hand.

4: The progress of a character

The weak become strong, the ugly turn beautiful, the poor become wealthy…but most important, fools gain wisdom and they learn from their mistakes.

You know. All the stuff that real people never do.

3: The progress of a world

Hunger Games does this one well with regard to the setting as a character. I think in general we are excited by changes in our surroundings and those changes are a lot cheaper to render in a fictional landscape.

This point is connected to the next one, which is…

2: Flipping over stones

Perpendicular to “changing the world” is “exploring the world.” Dresden spends a dozen years in Chicago before he dies and has to navigate the ghost world version beneath it. Then he goes to an island on Lake Michigan, where he learns about monsters from beyond reality. There it’s always something to discover, and with a series you get to see something new all the time.

A point that dovetails nicely into…

1: Delightful anticipation

Don’t you love having something new to look forward to? I do. And while it’s nice to see how a long story comes together in the end, the journey is a long, joyful walk that doesn’t require us to rush.

What do you like about a series?