5 Signs You’re Living in a Dystopia

1. Everyone you know is happy

Is there anything creepier than a society of happy people?

2. No one is happy

Conversely, if you’re surrounded by miserable sacks wearing gray and shuffling through life, you’re either a zombie in a horror flick or trapped in a dystopia.

3. You can go anywhere, except to __.

We all know why it’s forbidden. The secret undermining the whole society is hidden there.

4. No one wants change

People always want to change things: they want more money, more power, more time to play video games. If no one around you wants anything to change, you’re trapped in a dystopia.

5. No one knows what a dystopia is

People in dystopias don’t read. They don’t have any idea they’re trapped in someone’s nightmare future. If even one person has read 1984, you’re not in a dystopia, just a gritty sci fi novel.

Superman II: Theatrical Release vs Donner Cut

I recently discovered my wife had never seen the first two Superman movies all the way through. We decided to take advantage of the long weekend to remedy that.

When it came time to watch Superman II, though, we had a dilemma: should we watch the original theatrical release, or the “Donner Cut” that came out in 2006?

If you don’t know the history: Richard Donner was the director for the first Superman movie, and was supposed to direct the sequel as well. In fact, he started filming both movies at once, since they were intended to be two halves of the same story.

He broke off filming Superman II to concentrate on wrapping up the first movie. Before he could come back to finish the sequel, the producers fired him and replaced him with Richard Lester. Lester re-shot most of the movie along with some new footage. The movie released into theaters was Lester’s.

Donner’s footage was rediscovered in the early-2000s, and after a huge fan campaign, Donner’s team was allowed to go back through and do their own cut of the movie using Donner’s shots.

So which one should we watch? We decided to do both: we watched the theatrical release first, then the Donner Cut.

I worried that we’d be bored watching the Donner version; I assumed we’d be watching basically the same movie with some different scene edits.

Boy, was I wrong. The Donner Cut is not only a completely different movie from the theatrical release, it’s a better one.

So many things don’t make sense in the Superman II released in theaters: Why did Superman have to give up his powers? Why was it so easy for him to get them back? How the holy hell does a kiss from Superman make Lois Lane forget he’s Superman?

All of those plot elements are better explained (or replaced with something more logical) in the Donner Cut.

The theatrical Superman II is a hodge-podge of stories: there’s some Superman-Lois romance parts, some General Zod antics, some powerless Superman bits, and a little bit of Lex Luthor. They don’t really cohere into a single story, but some of them are entertaining.

In contrast, the Donner Cut puts the focus squarely on the developing relationship between Kent/Superman and Lois Lane. Everything becomes part of their story, and in particular on the consequences of Lois figuring out that Kent is Superman. The result is a stronger, deeper movie.

Leave Amazon

Amazon’s recent treatment of books from the Hatchett book group is inexcusable. For me it’s the last straw; Amazon has been bullying publishers for years now, and each time they push against the publishers, they’re hurting the writers supported by those publishers.

As of today, I’m switching over all book-related links on this site to point to Barnes and Noble.

I’m also boycotting Amazon from this point forward: no more book orders, no Kindle, no ebook purchases. I’ll be buying everything I need from either my local indie – Mysterious Galaxy – or Barnes and Noble.

I encourage you to do the same.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carré

Picked it up because of the movie’s release and as my next John le Carré novel.

Three observations on its style:

  1. Very slow start. I almost put it down several times before I pushed past the halfway mark, when things finally got moving.
  2. This is my third John Le Carre novel, and I realized I always spend the majority of the book confused. Can’t yet tell if that’s deliberate on the author’s part – wanting to make the reader feel the confusion and stress of spy work – or if that’s just me not understanding the late-60s early-70s British dialogue. Could be both.
    That said, I tore through the last half of the book, wanting to find out the answers to all the questions setup in the beginning. So while the technique is frustrating, it’s also successful.
  3. Almost everything is done through dialogue. Even character actions are conveyed through the dialogue that accompanies them. Leads to very realistic dialogue for the characters, but also made me feel sort of detached from everything that was happening. Again, could have been a deliberate way of conveying the distance these characters are supposed to keep from the world.

Building a Bridge with Scrum

If you built a river bridge with Scrum:

The roadway would be built first, because that’s the Product Owner’s highest priority. Unfortunately, it would sink to the bottom of the river once deployed. This experience would be called “learning from failure.”

Realizing they needed to get above the waterline using some supports, the team would build a short set of pillars on top of the sunken roadway. The pillars wouldn’t reach above the waterline, but they would be valuable for the experience in building support pillars for this particular river.

Once the first set of pillars had been sunk, the team would use their new knowledge to build a second set of pillars that just breached the waterline, and construct a second roadway on top of that. This would make the Product Owner very happy, because “customers could use it” for the first time.

After the first week, they’d realize they’d built a leaky dam, not a bridge, and that all boat traffic was being blocked.

Working seven days a week, 14 hours a day, the team would scramble to fix the bridge. They’d cut channels in the roadway to let some boat traffic through, then build a third set of supports and a third roadway at the proper height.

Burnt out and frazzled, the team would begin pointing fingers, each specialty blaming the other for the death march at the end. Half would quit, and join a different company, building high rises. The other half would struggle to support the many bugs still left in the bridge, despite not having any experience with the things built by the members who’d left (what was the special concrete mix Nancy used?).

Meanwhile, the Product Owner would be praised for pulling off a miracle, and be put in charge of another bridge-building project.

Three years later, the whole thing would be bulldozed to make room for a ferry.

The Passage of Power, by Robert A Caro

Don’t be put off by this book’s size. Caro converts the story of Johnson’s run for the Democratic nomination in 1960, time in the Vice-Presidency, and ascension to the Presidency into a thrilling read.

Three things I learned:

  1. Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, not Kennedy. I always thought those were JFK triumphs; instead, they were JFK dreams that went nowhere until Johnson became President and pushed them through Congress.
  2. Johnson came into Congress as a New Dealer (!). I had no idea he served over two decades in Congress before becoming Vice-President
  3. Robert Kennedy and Johnson hated each other. I didn’t know there was a feud between the Kennedys and Johnson, let alone that it was mostly focused between these two, or how deep their hatred of each other ran.