Changing Television

I was once told a definition of technology was, ‘creates a need that did not exist prior to fulfilling it’.

It’s an interesting idea, that before a technology appears, we have no need for it.  However, after we are exposed and become used to a thing, we need it.  Such definitely seems to be the case with things like cell phones and television.  Many of us today can recall a time we didn’t have those things.  I didn’t have a cell phone until I was in my twenties, and it still didn’t work very well.  Even to this day, I have no idea how to download an app because every time I’ve tried, it’s failed to download properly.  Yet I have friends who almost cannot function unless they have access to over a dozen apps I’ve never heard of.

Television’s that way, for sure.  I love television as a medium.  I’m a huge fan.  And yet, I’ve realized a growing unease with the medium.  As more and more channels become available, surprisingly less is appealing.  I took a moment to study my viewing habits recently – tracking what I watched much like one might track one’s eating with a diet journal – and I discovered I only watched six shows on television: Daily Show & Colbert Report, WWE Wrestling, Jeopardy, Big Bang Theory, and Agents of SHIELD.  Everything else I watched, I streamed online.  I suppose technically Daily Show and Colbert shouldn’t count since I watch those onDemand rather than at the time of their broadcast.  So that would debatably bring the number down to only four.

(For emphasis, I want to reiterate that we’re talking about ‘viewing at broadcast time’, not streaming, not onDemand, not Netflixing)

1500 channels (give or take), four TV shows.
A huge number of those channels are going to waste.

Today, the WWE announced the release of their WWE Channel, a pay-per-view service that will deliver all their (considerable) content live and streaming, with the exception of their broadcast shows – Raw, Main Event, and Smackdown – which will be made available for streaming immediately after their initial broadcast.

If you aren’t a wrestling fan, don’t worry, the point isn’t wresting – the point is a la carte channel and entertainment purchases.  For decades, cable providers have had a strangle hold on their customers, forcing them to buy channels they didn’t want.  If you’ve ever purchased cable or satellite, how often have you looked at the channels available and asked ‘why must I pay for this’?

The WWE Channel offers the potential that you may not have to in the future.  If this bold experiment works, then many other channels will follow suit.  You may be able to completely circumvent your content provider entirely and buy the individual channels you want, and watch anything else you desire later thanks to the likes of Netflix, Hulu, etc.  The potential is mindboggling.

There are going to be pitfalls, to be sure.  Powerful networks like NBC or ABC may band together all their content into one service, thus necessitating purchasing a block of channels rather than each individually.  But purchasing six channels to get two still looks far better than purchasing several hundred channels to get two.  And content creators – especially blossoming, fledgling creators – may have some trouble.  If you want a case study of that, look at the payout rates of Pandora or other music-sharing services.

But for now, let’s focus on the potential.  Let’s acknowledge that today, television may be changing.  And it may be changing sooner than you think.

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I will be a special guest at RoFCon this weekend in Virginia Beach, VA!  Come out and see some of my panels or look for me at the Haven Publishing table where I will be signing copies of my new book, Rhest for the Wicked.

Tools of the Imagination — Grimlock (Generations)

Grimlock

Him No Bozo, Him King

Hasbro, Transformers Generations Toyline, 2006

20100901 - Grimlock

 

Nope, you’re still not reading that wrong.  And yep, we’re reviewing Grimlock again.  This time, our leader of the Dinobots comes to us in the form of the Generations toyline which was a reimagining of the original line and characters, 25 years later.

I think this evaluation is important because it says a lot about toys have evolved in the last quarter-decade.  If we look at the Transformers as they first arrived and what we have now, it speaks volumes about the fandom and the world said fandom inhabits.

 

 

Background

For 25 years, Hasbro has been producing Transformers toys.  Believe it or not, there’s never been a point when Transformer toys haven’t been in production and available.  Through the dark days of the Gen-two era, through the beacon that was Beast Wars and then to the nightmare that was Beast Machines, and into Robots in Disguise and the Unicon Trilogy, and finally to the arrival of the live-action movie, Transformers have remained a part of the fabric of entertainment.

As was en vogue at the time, it was a return to the 80s, with 80s shows, movies, and concepts rising to the forefront of entertainment.  It was an era rife with relaunches and reimaginings.  And Transformers was no different.  And so we got the Generations toyline.

 

 

Appearance – 4 out of 5

It’s not going to surprise anyone if I describe this toy is beautiful.  It elegantly captures the original design and appearance of Grimlock – in both robot and dinosaur mode – and then him to the next level.

 

Construction – 2 out of 5

While there is nothing poor about this toy, it is a little lacking in the materials.  The plastic feels a little light and there are some movements that require a bit of elbow grease which, with the light construction, can give one pause about doing possible damage.  Also, some joints don’t really lock into place so it’s too easy for them to swing open with even the slightest movement.

 

Movement – 4 out of 5

Speaking of movement, this thing is a charm.  Beautifully done, this figure is (already referenced above) incredibly poseable and comes with an array of joints that correspond with the anatomy.  Both robot and dinosaur modes can move fluidly and naturally.

 

Extras – 3 out of 5

The toy comes with two extras: a tail/sword weapon of some bizarre design and a gun with a blade (which is absent from the photo above, sorry).  Both of these fit into the character’s hands in robot mode and fit onto the figure in dinosaur mode.

 

Packaging – 4 out of 5

I know; I have a love affair with Hasbro and its Transformers packaging.  And you know what, the Generation’s line didn’t let us down.  Beautifully illustrated, this accentuated the newness of the toys’ designs while still harkening back to the original line.

 

 

Overall – 4 out of 5

This is a fun toy to play with that’s well-built and pretty sturdy.  Combine with that its familiarity to the fans that have loved the franchise since the start and you’ve got a great toy.  If there was any mistake to level against this toy, it should be obvious: it should be bigger.  It’s Grimlock, afterall!

Versatility vs Universiality

Which would you prefer to be: good at everything, or great at one thing and above-average at everything else?  At first glance, it might seem being superb at everything would be the path to supremacy in whatever endeavor.  After all, if there’s nothing you’re bad at, if you command excellence at every knowledge and ability in a designated pursuit, how could you not excel?  Well, the evidence would suggest that you will be mediocre.

Take a look at the UFC.  Who are some of the greatest UFC fighters to ever step into the octagon?  According to ESPN, the list includes names like Royce Gracie, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, GSP, and Anderson Silva.  What do all these fighters have in common?  They weren’t good at ‘everything’.

Take Anderson Silva, usually at the top of every ‘greatest mma fighters’ lists.  Anderson ‘the Spider’ Silva is not known for his grappling skills, nor is he known for his takedowns.  Oh, his grappling is good.  Definitely more than adequate.  But when Silva fought, people didn’t look for a grappling match.  They were expecting striking, specifically kicks.  Anderson Silva was known as one of the best strikers of all time; out of 33 wins, 20 were by knockout (meaning he won with striking) while only 6 were by submission (meaning he won by grappling).

Look at another example in the UFC; Royce Gracie.  One of the pioneers of the sport, Royce Gracie has 14 wins to his name; 12 of those are by submission and he has no knockouts.  He’s proven he can strike, but that isn’t where he excels.  He excels in grappling.

In Easy Strength, Pavel Tsatsouline and Dan John talk extensively about this phenomena, that attempts to be masters at everything yield burnout and exhaustion rather than true productivity.  In this treatise, they suggest instead focusing on one or two primary qualities and abilities and letting everything else more or less take care of itself.

Life-hacker and efficiency activist Tim Ferriss espouses much the same in his books, the 4-Hour Body and the 4-Hour Chef.  Rather than zero in on one’s weaknesses, he advocates playing to one’s strengths and letting weaknesses improve more casually.

In head-to-head competition – whether it be physical or intellectual – focusing on a single aspect of play where you will not be surpassed often improves performance as a whole.  The inverse – trying to make sure all performance is flawless – rarely if ever results in notable success.  The myth of the ‘man skilled in all ways of contending’ is therefore somewhat counterproductive.

That isn’t to say that one shouldn’t improve your weaknesses.  That isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to be good at every aspect of your craft/sport/passion.  By all means, improve your weaknesses and tighten your shortcomings.  But the majority of your time and effort needs to be focused not on making you ‘less bad’ at something, but making you ‘that much better’ at what you’re already good at.  Don’t neglect where you need improvement, but don’t fixate on it either.

Play to your strengths.

This is true regardless of your pursuit.  As an athlete, if you naturally skew towards endurance over power, don’t try to turn yourself into a powerlifter.  Excel more and more at endurance and learn to make your opponents try to keep up with you.  Don’t let power become a liability, but don’t bother with making it your forte either.
As a writer, if your descriptive skills are only adequate, but dialogue is where you excel (and what you enjoy), don’t break your back trying to turn your stories on their ear.  Focus on your dialogue.  Make it that much better.  Pay attention to your description and work to make it better, but don’t bust yourself trying to become something you’re not.

Universal aptitude is overrated.  Being familiar with, adequate in, good at, all the skills associated with your chosen pursuit is what you need and want, but fixate on the one thing you can truly excel at and enjoy, and knock that out of the park every time.

Tools of the Imagination — Grimlock (Animated)

Grimlock

Him No Bozo, Him King

Hasbro, Transformers Animated Toyline, 2007

 

 

In the wake of the live-action Transformers movie, Hasbro had a real problem.  On the one hand, they had a very popular and very successful movie on their hands.  On the other hand, they had a lot of jilted fans that were a little annoyed at the liberties taken with their favorite franchise.  Never ones to look back, Hasbro launched their Transformers Animated line in conjunction with their new animated series that drew from every source prior as well as becoming its own entity.  However, as has been stated before, Hasbro knows where its bread is buttered and they went to great lengths to make sure the fans didn’t feel left out on this one.

 

 

Background

            Transformers Animated was a colorful and somewhat more kid-friendly version of the original Transformers series.  The characters are a little bit more outlandish and extreme than their Gen-1 counterparts, but they also benefited from superior character development, event progression, and all the overall progress that cartoons and animation have enjoyed in the intervening decades.  And while the plots of most of the individual episodes tended to be a little on the simple side, the overarching season and series plots were more ambitious and powerful, partly due to the anime invasion in the late 1990s and 2000s.  As a result, Grimlock in Animated is like a caricature of his Gen-1 self; louder in almost every sense of the word.  However, like all good art, through this exaggeration we see even more clearly elements of the character we know and love.

 

 

Appearance – 4 out of 5

The Grimlock figure is very well made and beautifully represents the character from the show.  Like the character from the show, it clearly harkens back to the original character from Gen-One, all the way down to the nigh-identical transformation sequence.  The character is nicely colored and manages to capture the somewhat whimsical look of the character from the series.  The only real complaint I have is that seams and screws are way too obvious.  There’s pretty much no way for the character to stand that you don’t see at least a few reminders of how the toy was put together.

 

Construction – 3 out of 5

The figure is relatively solid in its construction and the plastic is a bit on the weighty side, though I wouldn’t be too quick to apply the adjective ‘rugged’.  All the joints are sturdy, but there’s still a certain sense of fragility to the figure that isn’t as common to Transformers as one would first suspect.  It feels a little light in the hands and the limbs feel a little too disproportionate for their weight distribution.  There’s no clear issue with the construction, but it’s just not quite there to make it solid and well done.

 

Movement – 5 out of 5

This figure is beautifully mobile.  It’s got every joint you need and none of the ones you don’t.  There isn’t a pose this figure can’t take.  The head turns, the jaw of the T-Rex head opens and closes, the shoulders are ball-joints, there’s a waist, and more.  The only thing it’s lacking are ankles and you really won’t miss them.  Seriously, both forms are extremely mobile and natural to move.  The toy even has opposable thumbs for crying out loud!

 

Extras – 2 out of 5

Grimlock comes with only one extra, but it’s a doozy.  He comes with a flaming sword that (in theory) doubles as a gust of flames from his mouth.  The sword is appropriately large for a thug like Grimlock and it even has little sprouting flames that pop out by putting it in his hand.  In dinosaur form, the sword is supposed to stick into his mouth to simulate his fiery breath.  The reality is not so cool as the sword barely fits in his mouth and when it does, it still looks like a sword stuck in his mouth.  A for effort, but a D- for execution.

 

Packaging – 3 out of 5

The Transformers Animated packaging was quiet nice and bordered on excellent, but it just didn’t quite make it.  Each package came with a picture of the figure on the front, a plastic window to see the figure inside, and an explanation of the character’s powers and personality on the back.  Unfortunately, the explanation was a little sparse and there was no real explanation of the story itself.  Other characters were presented, but they seemed haphazardly chosen and represented only a fraction of the available line.  Overall, it was good packaging and well-done, but not anything to write home about.

 

 

Overall – 4 out of 5

This is a fine example of a very decent toy.  While it’s definitely lacking in some notable areas, overall it’s still a well-made toy that’s a lot of fun to play with.  The transformation movements are smooth and make sense, the figure is very easy to pose and will hold poses without much effort.  I don’t think this is the most sterling example of a Four, but it’s simply too well made and too much fun to play with to reside with the mediocrity of a Three.

Teach The Sky ReLaunch!

In November of 2002, I first launched TeachTheSky.com (this website).  In the intervening eleven plus years, it’s endured a year-long hiatus, seen the launch of ten serials, including the serialization of the Crossworld Saga.  It’s been a blog, a literary hub, and a host of other things.

But mostly, it’s been a journey for me as I try to wind my way through the labyrinth that is publishing.

Writing, you see, is easy.  Get a word processor – or hell, just a notepad – and write a story.  Boom!  You’re a writer.  Want to be a successful writer?  Sell that story to a friend for more than you paid for the notepad.  Seriously, that’s all it takes.  From that point, it’s just a matter of scale; of how many units you sell, how much profit, etc etc etc.

Publishing is a different beast.  Publishing is an industry, and one with all the flaws and loopholes of any large industry.  You have publishing houses, big and small, as well as agents and clubs and unions.  It’s all a big mess.  And as an independent author, it’s hard to sort through it all.  So I’ve tried to be open and transparent with what all I was doing.

But I also tried to maintain some artistic autonomy.  And thus, my serials.  At TeachTheSky.com, I have endeavored to produce literature and art that was entertaining.  I grew so very tired (so very quickly) of the publishing game that even as I pursued it, I wanted to further my art.  And thus, this website became not just a professional portfolio but also a means with which I was able to continue being a writer while I kept dealing with the trials and tribulations of being an author.  For the two are, thankfully, not one and the same.

 

In 2014, TeachTheSky.com will see the return of the serials.  The first episode of my newest serial will go live March 7th.  Currently, I will be updating every four weeks, but I expect that time span to quickly shrink.  I will also be publishing several novels in the coming year.  Everybody knows about Rhest for the Wicked (my first novel with Haven Publishing) and I continue to chip away at that, with resolution coming in the next few weeks.  But in the meantime, other novels are in the works.  They will be announced in the next few months, with releases before the end of the year.

It’s an exciting time.  I’m happy to share with you the art that I love so much to create.  I hope you enjoy it.  And now, please enjoy the new and improved (hopefully) TeachTheSky.com