“The ashes we wear on Ash Wednesday are like the coals in a campfire at dawn. Perhaps the fire in our hearts has burned down or even appears to have gone out. Yet, as any seasoned camper will tell you, the blackest coals are often more than hot enough to restart a blaze.
Lent is a special time to take stock of the campfire of our heart and we start with the ashes. Maybe its grown cold and we need to tend it: removing things that are smothering it or adding more fuel to feed it. Maybe it’s burning but needs tending, or maybe it’s ready for larger blocks of fuel. When we start doing the physical tending of our heart via fasting and works of charity, the Holy Spirit will be gently blowing on our work, coaxing a fire to kindle from our work.
Wherever the fire is in your heart, Christ stands ready with forgiveness and healing in Lent. Calling us each back – no matter where we have fallen or become lost. Let us avail ourselves of the graces so our inner fires may be a blaze at Easter – joining the Easter fire lit on Easter vigil and spread by the faithful to light the darkness of our world.”
Have you had a sense that Hollywood movies have felt a little too ‘cookie-cutter’ lately? Or that they feel somewhat unoriginal or a little too sugary?
John Williamson is a long time lecturer and publisher of games. He gave a great talk at PAX Prime 2016 on why you can tell exactly what is going to happen next in a Hollywood movie by looking at your watch. It’s narrative structure that has been picked up by writers and is now used in almost all our media from graphic novels to Hollywood productions. Just about every modern movie in the last 10 years uses it – it’s called The Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. The structure was outlined in his book called “Save the Cat!”
Recently, this structure has been catching some flack for making our movies too cookie cutter or even deceptive. One very valid argument (in my opinion) is that lazy writers can rely on the well-understood emotional reaction the structure creates to communicate themes and messages as true without having to argue them or give any evidence they actually are true. In other words, instead of relying on substance of the story, it relies on the simple fact that the ‘Save the Cat!’ emotional ride guarantees a positive emotional reception for what you want.
Some say it lets writers be so lazy they need not even be concerned about the actual content of the story, but to just rely on the structure of the emotional ride to guarantee a positive response from the audience. Just change the actors, theme, or conflict and you have a brand new movie without changing much else.
Here’s the breakdown of the structure, by minute. (This assumes a movie of 110 minutes. Adjust the times based on your movie’s total time based on the ratio laid out here.)
Opening Image – (minute: 1) – A visual that represents the struggle & tone of the story. A snapshot of the main character’s problem, before the adventure begins.
Set-up – (minutes: 1-10) Expand on the “before” snapshot. Present the main character’s world as it is, and what is missing in their life.
Theme Stated (happens during the Set-up) – (minute: 5) What your story is about; the message, the truth. Usually, it is spoken to the main character or in their presence, but they don’t understand the truth…not until they have some personal experience and context to support it.
Catalyst – (minute: 12)The moment where life as it is changes. It is the telegram, the act of catching your loved-one cheating, allowing a monster onboard the ship, meeting the true love of your life, etc. The “before” world is no more, change is underway.
Debate – (minutes: 12-25) – But change is scary and for a moment, or a brief number of moments, the main character doubts the journey they must take. Can I face this challenge? Do I have what it takes? Should I go at all? It is the last chance for the hero to chicken out.
Break Into Two (Choosing Act Two) – (minute: 25) – The main character makes a choice and the journey begins. We leave the “Thesis” world and enter the upside-down, opposite world of Act Two.
B Story – (minute: 30) – This is when there’s a discussion about the Theme – the nugget of truth. Usually, this discussion is between the main character and the love interest. So, the B Story is usually called the “love story”.
Fun and Games/The Promise of the Premise – (minutes: 30-55) – This is when Craig Thompson’s relationship with Raina blooms, when Indiana Jones tries to beat the Nazis to the Lost Ark, when the detective finds the most clues and dodges the most bullets. This is when the main character explores the new world and the audience is entertained by the premise they have been promised.
Midpoint – (minute: 55) – Dependent upon the story, this moment is when everything is “great” or everything is “awful”. The main character either gets everything they think they want (“great”) or doesn’t get what they think they want at all (“awful”). But not everything we think we want is what we actually need in the end.
Bad Guys Close In – (minutes: 55-75) – Doubt, jealousy, fear, foes both physical and emotional regroup to defeat the main character’s goal, and the main character’s “great”/“awful” situation disintegrates.
All is Lost – (minute: 75) – The opposite moment from the Midpoint: “awful”/“great”. The moment that the main character realizes they’ve lost everything they gained, or everything they now have has no meaning. The initial goal now looks even more impossible than before. And here, something or someone dies. It can be physical or emotional, but the death of something old makes way for something new to be born.
Dark Night of the Soul – (minutes: 75-85) – The main character hits bottom, and wallows in hopelessness. The Why hast thou forsaken me, Lord? moment. Mourning the loss of what has “died” – the dream, the goal, the mentor character, the love of your life, etc. But, you must fall completely before you can pick yourself back up and try again.
Break Into Three (Choosing Act Three) – (minute: 85) – Thanks to a fresh idea, new inspiration, or last-minute Thematic advice from the B Story (usually the love interest), the main character chooses to try again.
Finale – (minutes: 85-110) – This time around, the main character incorporates the Theme – the nugget of truth that now makes sense to them – into their fight for the goal because they have experience from the A Story and context from the B Story. Act Three is about Synthesis!
Final Image – (minutes: 110) – opposite of Opening Image, proving, visually, that a change has occurred within the character.
His presentation then shows how this structure works from modern movies like ‘The Fault with our Stars’, to “Indiana Jones” to video games like Super Mario Bros and Ico.
Try it out on the next movie you watch and see how accurate it is.
If you’re involuntarily bumped from a flight because it’s overbooked, do not settle for mostly useless vouchers. The US Department of Transportation DOT requires they must compensate you, in cash, up to $1,350
If the delay is going to cost you more than the airline is offering, like a non-refundable hotel reservation or miss a private helicopter ride, you’ve got 30 days to try and get as much money out of them as you can. But once you cash the check they give you, there is no more room to dispute.
If you are bumped from a flight and arrive between one and two hours past your original arrival time on a domestic flight (between 1-4 hours on international), they owe you compensation up to $675. For flights more than 2 hours late, you are entitled to 400% of your one-way fare.
If you book directly with an airline (not through a portal), then you can always cancel within 24 hours of making a flight without penalty. Some allow you to cancel for much longer than that – up until 24 hours before the flight itself in some cases.
Do not buy a big block of tickets together. There are different price levels for different numbers of tickets. You might find buying 2 tickets together costs $99/each. But buying 4 together cost $299/each. Buying individually almost always is better.
Back in the old days, Rule 240 required airlines to book you on a competitors airline if you were significantly delayed or flight canceled. That ended with deregulation in 1978, but they will still do it if you ask nicely and/or have elite status. Best way is to find 2-3 flights on the internet and politely see if they can do anything for you. Options on with the same airline produce best results.
If a flight is severely delayed (2+ hours) or canceled, schedule change, or route change – you can get a full refund on a non-refundable fare. They won’t tell you this, but you can. You are also entitled to baggage fees, early boarding fees, premium seats, etc. But be polite, they don’t have to do this per-se. Often they’ll give you those perks on the return flight if applicable.
Transfers to another airlines
If you get rebooked on a different carrier, they must cover all expenses and extra fees. Some have even used this to upgrade to first class once they transfer over, but your mileage may vary.
Do not let them cancel the ticket for your old flight! It’s still good to use another time. They’ll often try and cancel the original ticket onsite and make it appear to be normal procedure. It’s not. Politely ask to be switched but not cancel the existing reservation
If your flight is canceled because of a non-weather related issue, it’s required by law they put you up in a hotel AND feed you. You also must receive a full refund for a canceled flight within 7 days. The EU also has a lit of delay compensation guidelines, ranging from 250 Euros for short flights delayed under 3 hours up to 600 euros for flights between EU and non-EU airports. So, if your flight home to the US is delayed, you’re still entitled to compensation.
If your bag is delayed or lost, airlines will often placate you with $25-$50/day. DOT says that these companies owe you up to $3,500 in liability for domestic US trips – SO LONG AS YOU HAVE RECEIPTS and can prove the ‘relative value’ of what was in your bag. Example: If you were flying to a wedding with a tux, the bag is delayed and you have to buy another tux for the event – then keep the receipt and file it. If you were skiing and had to buy new gear because of the loss/delay, then do so and submit it. If you can’t prove you had a big need for the item at the time, then you might not get reimbursement. Some folks have gotten whole new wardrobe sets, but you must prove value of what was in the suitcase plus its need on the other side.
Stuck on a plane
No airline can keep you on a plane more than 3 hours (domestic) or 4 hours international. After that, they MUST let you off the plane. After 2 hours, they must get food and water carts running.
Ok – Turbotax 2017 has a problem with its entry ordering when handling backdoor Roth IRA’s. If you just follow the normal wizards, you’ll end up with the incorrect information for your IRA contributions either: pay too much tax or be informed you have to pay a penalty for having gone over the IRA contribution limits.
The solution comes in several parts to get the wizard to figure out the right data. Here’s 3 major pitfalls I hit:
If you do automated imports of statements from your financial institute, or you simply enter your IRA contributions/transfers to Roth IRA on page 1/’Wages & Income’ section of your federal taxes BEFORE you enter the ‘Traditional and Roth IRA Contributions’ section on the ‘Deductions & Credits’ page 2, then it often calculates your backdoor Roth IRA incorrectly.
Double-entry and confusion around the word ‘contributed’. You only ‘contributed’ to a traditional IRA. You didn’t contribute to your Roth IRA, you transferred money to it. This can lead to overpayment.
Confusion about conversions and recharacterizations. They seem interchangeable, but are very different tax terms that result in massively different calculations and even severe penalties if done wrong.
Solutions and information:
There are number of write-ups on this topic, but here’s the ones that helped:
One promise of ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft was fewer cars clogging city streets. But studies suggest the opposite: that ride-hailing companies are pulling riders off buses, subways, bicycles and their own feet and putting them in cars instead.
It seems almost obvious when you stop and think about it. I guess we all fell victim to one of the classic blunders, the most famous of which is “Never get involved in a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less well known is this: Jevons paradox:
In economics, Jevons paradox occurs when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the rate of consumption of that resource rises because of increasing demand. The Jevons paradox is perhaps the most widely known paradox in environmental economics.
I’ll be spending 4 days at Gold Butte fire watchtower
Despite many adventures, my Oregon bucket list never seems to shrink. As soon as I knock an item or two off, it grows by 5 more. Last year saw horseback riding with Kiger mustangs and summitting the snow-covered Steens mountains. It also saw me hot-spring soaking and finding pianos on the playa of the Alvord Desert. This year is shaping up to knock another item off my list: staying at one of the few remaining mountaintop fire watch towers.
Due to their harsh and remote locations, fewer than 20 are left in Oregon and many are only open short portions of the year. Reservations are required, and getting a reservation is hard as they are almost always booked solid for the 6 month window of dates the moment they become available. One must diligently visit the reservation site very early every morning (east coast time no less) when dates are opened. After getting one of the rare reservations last year, I was thwarted when the road to the Lake of the Woods tower washed out and closed it for almost all of 2017 and 2018. This year, after about 2 months of on and off trying, I managed to get a 4 day reservation for the exceptional Gold Butte lookout. It’s located via hike out onto the summit of the butte and is known for having some of the most spectacular views of all the watchtowers.
It’s also a historic building. It was originally built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps and usually manned by a married couple. During WW II, it was part of the Aircraft Warning System as an early invasion watchtower. In the 1970/80’s it was heavily damaged by carpenter ants. It might have been demolished like other towers if not for the efforts of the Sand Mountain Society – a fire tower preservation and restoration group. They painstakingly numbered pieces then rebuilt and replaced damaged sections exactly as it was first built, making a stay there almost exactly as it would have been in the 30’s.
Staying at one of the fire towers requires that you backpack in everything you need: water, food, and supplies. Firewood, a bed, table, fire stove, pit toilet and a few small items are provided – but there is no power, no phones, and it’s miles to your nearest neighbor. During the day you can read, hike, swim or fish at the nearby lake, or greet other hikers visiting the summit. The evenings you can watch the unbelievable sunsets and cook in the woodburning stove, then drift to sleep miles from civilization.
I’m personally looking forward to it more than my next trip abroad. I can’t wait.
Remember the end of Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives where Megan and Tommy manage to trap Jason in the bottom of Crystal Lake? Well, it seems that some random person has recreated this scene by planting a Jason statue, complete with mask and machete, 120 feet deep in a Minnesotan lake that is supposedly very popular with divers!
Marcin Nowrotek’s abstract experimental short film was created with a Kinect sensor and volumetric digital effects to transform a scene of jazz musicians into the most beautiful music visualizer we’ve ever seen – as the sounds from the instruments influence the imagery.