Peter Brannen Is Kind Of An Amazing Man

Date: December 1st, 2017

Other Title: My Interview With The Amazing Peter Brannen

Look how adorable he is!

Book cover: 

Peter Brannen is kind of an amazing man. Tis true, tis true. He is the author of The Ends Of The World, a book you must read now if you haven’t already. Here’s a link to buy it: https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062364807/the-ends-of-the-world

The Ends Of The World is about the five major extinctions our planet has endured. It is highly scientific, but for me at least, it reads like a novel – rightly emotional, fun, sweet, dark at times, and uplifting in the end. I loved the book so much that I annotated it. For fun. I got a pen and sat wherever I was reading it at any given time and expressed my feelings about the book, in the book. No teacher told me to. Peter sure didn’t.

The man’s Twitter feed is miraculous (some are missing their pictures or context, click each for full tweet):

I had the great honor of interviewing him, and here it is for your reading pleasure:

1. On Twitter, in reposting this post (https://twitter.com/Paleocreations/status/928695855439376384), you said “Earth has been many different planets over its lifetime.” This is sort of a two parter…Of all the “planets” Earth has been, which one is your favorite? And where is your favorite place to be on Current Earth?

 This is a very difficult question for me to answer, because it tends to change based on which period I’m researching at that moment. Some worlds, like the Cambrian world (illustrated in that link), I just love because of how alien they are. It’s difficult to believe that that world and our own both shared this same little plot of real estate in the solar system, even if we are separated by hundreds of millions of years. Of the periods I highlight in the book, there is the same sort of alien appeal for me in the Ordovician: the continents were nearly as desolate as Mars, but underwater, in places like tropical Ohio, it was just this explosion of sea life, and almost all of it was invertebrate–bug, squid, starfish-like etc.—and our ancestors, the fish, we’re all but irrelevant. It’s just a totally bizarre planet. And although it’s more recent, the Permian-Triassic planet is similarly alien to me. I’m fascinated by this version of planet earth in a sort of macabre way. It just gets so unbelievably hot and desolate. In fact, in these huge lifeless expanses of Pangaea there’s evidence that at one point earlier in the Permian it got as hot as 163 degrees Fahrenheit!

My favorite place to be on earth today is in front of any new rock outcrop with a geologist who can tell me what I’m looking at, and there’s good rocks everywhere. Geology has made the whole world more interesting to me.

2. What is your favorite fictional kingdom? 

I was struggling with this question, when I suddenly remembered a series of books I had when I was younger called Dinotopia. I just google image searched it and the illustrations are as incredible as I remembered. That is a fictional kingdom I would like to visit.

3. Who was the kindest scientist you met on your journey of writing The Ends Of The World? And who was the most eccentric? (I think I might be able to guess your answer for most eccentric, but I’m gonna let you say it.) 

All of the scientists were exceptionally kind in letting me barge into their offices and accompany them on trips to the field, and for not rolling their eyes when I asked a dumb question, so I’m going to be diplomatic and not single anyone out. “Eccentric” might have a slightly negative connotation in this context so I’ll just say that Gerta Keller certainly has the most interesting back story. As you know from the book, she basically ran away from home as a child, traveled the world, was later shot in a bank robbery, and today is easily the most divisive figure in the mass extinction community because of her iconoclastic interpretation of what killed all the non-bird dinosaurs 66 million years ago (not an asteroid, she says). As a group of people who spend their lives traveling to extremely locations to piece together answers to the big questions about the history of the planet, geologists and paleontologists are, as a rule, interesting people. But even among them Keller stands out.

4. What is your favorite element on the periodic table? Why?

I was tempted to say something crazy like astatine because of this xkcd piece https://englishatlc.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/randall-munroe-periodic-wall-of-elements.pdf. But I will be less exciting and say carbon. We’ve all heard before that we’re carbon-based life forms, and that carbon dioxide is an important greenhouse gas, but I think we fail to appreciate just how central this element is to the whole crazy project of life on this strangely habitable planet. Through volcanoes it moves from the rocks to the air, from there it gets incorporated into our bodies, and, if we’re shell-building organisms, or we get turned into oil or something, it goes back into the rocks again. It keeps the planet warm enough to survive, and when it gets too warm it naturally subsides in the atmosphere. Only in extremely strange and rare episodes, like during the continental flood basalt eruptions associated with ancient mass extinctions, and in our own current effort to liberate as much of carbon from old rocks as possible by burning coal, oil and gas in power plants does it get wildly out of balance and threaten the stability of our biosphere.

5. What (who?) is your favorite prehistoric animal? 

Another impossible question. But I think I tend to gravitate towards either creatures that are underratedly terrifying, like Dunkleosteus which, as you know from the book, is this heavily-armored sea monster with a guillotine for a mouth, or animals that are truly bizarre. In this second category the Tully Monster comes to mind. I invite you to google it—the artists’ impressions of it are too strange to even describe. Others in the extremely strange camp that I love (to name just a few) are: Anomalocaris, one of the bewildering creatures that shows up at the dawn of animal life, and Tanystropheus, a marine reptile with a neck so incredibly long that it seems like the reconstructions must be wrong (they’re not). And like most people who enjoy visiting natural history museums I’m also drawn towards the extreme outliers in size, whether it’s Indricotherium, a hornless rhinoceros that was several stories tall, Leedsicthys, just this impossibly large, dumb-looking fish that lived in the Jurassic, or Quetzacoatlus, a pterosaur the size of a giraffe with a wingspan that rivals some small aircraft. Sorry to be so long-winded with these answers, there’s just too much from earth history to choose from.

6. During the researching and writing of the book, did you learn about something that particularly excited or scared you?

 I’m both excited and scared, in this perfect mix, by the vastness of deep time. I don’t think I fully appreciated it before. I think astronomy gets a lot of credit for being mind-blowing but I think geology does the trick just as well. For instance, I’m on the east coast (in Maine at the moment) and if I went for a walk with each step representing a century, I would be done with the history of human civilization by the end of the driveway. But I could walk across the entire country to Los Angeles without even getting back to the Cambrian period 500 million years ago. And even then I would have covered less than 10% of earth’s history! Now that I’ve fallen in love with geology I am constantly having that same mind-blowing experience every time I look at a rock.

7. In The Ends Of The World, on page 130, you say: “Though climate science was long an esoteric field, today a familiarity with the basics should constitute a core part of any responsible civic education for citizens of planet Earth.” Yes. Absolutely. Who or what inspired you to become so interested in climate science and extinctions? 

I’ve always been interested in the natural world, and I think my interest in climate science grew out of that. Like a lot of people my age I read Jurassic Park as a kid and was obsessed with dinosaurs. And then when I grew up I was a reporter writing about the ocean and all the modern changes we’re seeing to its temperature and chemistry. When I found out there was this deep connection between the subjects of earth history and climate change, that our experiment today with the climate has analogs throughout the history of life that we can look to for a glimpse of our possible future, it felt like a subject tailor-made to my interests.

8. In your opinion, is the problem with humans and global warming that we are capable of stopping it but generally apathetic, or that we are not capable of stopping it at all? 

I think we are physically capable of stopping human-caused climate change but I have strong doubts about the political will to do so. The most realistic path to reaching the Paris Agreement goal of limiting ourselves to 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2100 requires the entire planet to completely stop using fossil fuels well before 2050, and then to somehow start sucking an incredible amount of CO2 out of the air every year after that with technology that (for all practical purposes) doesn’t exist yet. That is quite the tall order. At this point I think it’s a question of what degree of climate change we are willing to live with. At the lesser extreme we could get our act together and live in a slightly warmer world that—though it certainly will have more extreme storms, and droughts, and heat waves, and things like that—might be manageable for us to adapt to as a civilization (though there will still be losers, especially in tropical, poorer countries). And at the other extreme is the unthinkable: that we just keep burning carbon buried by ancient life, like coal and oil, and catapult ourselves into an alien greenhouse climate from tens of millions of years ago.

I don’t have the words to describe how catastrophic the second option would be, but I don’t think there’s any reason we would ever have to get to that point. It would require another century or two of burning everything we can find in the ground, and even in the current toxic political environment there are reasons to be encouraged, especially by younger people, that voters are beginning to take the need to transform our energy system seriously. That said, in the very long run, over thousands of years, even the small changes we make to the climate will have dramatic effects. A recent study showed that the entire ice sheet of Greenland could melt with as little as 0.8 degrees of warming. We’ve already warmed the planet 0.8 degrees and will likely warm it by much more. The good thing is that to completely melt the whole thing takes thousands to tens of thousands of years (the bad thing is you don’t have to melt all of Greenland to raise sea level a lot). As for ocean acidification (what happens when CO2 reacts with seawater) it will take something like 150,000 years for nature to restore the changes we’re causing to ocean chemistry today.

9. Do you think we, citizens of the U.S, will ever have a “scientist President”? Or even a “historian President?” Someone who understands and is interested in science and history and enjoys learning? Someone who is kind but who also tries to be somewhat logical? (If you think you could ever run for President, you would definitely have my vote.) 

Haha, that’s very kind of you. I sincerely hope we have a scientist president, and soon. So many of the problems we face today, and in the decades to come, will be scientific ones. And given the polling on questions like “How old is the earth?”, and an obvious dearth of critical thinking skills in the country in the age of “fake news”, it’s obvious that we’re massively underinvested in education. If I were president I would invest (probably to a slightly psychotic degree) on education and basic research. The National Science Foundation and NASA would do quite well in my administration. That said–and this is something of a digression–not all policy questions can be decided by science. There will always be a role for philosophy and ethics to play, along with a whole bunch of other subjects that I think too many scientists are too quick to sneer at as squishy.

For instance, Neil DeGrasse Tyson recently proposed a utopian society where every policy question is decided by data and scientific research alone https://www.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/reflections-on-rationalia/10154399608556613/. I think there’s a lot to recommend this vision of society, especially when you compare it to our current scientifically illiterate one. But there would be major limitations to it as well, some of which would quickly become ghastly. Take Tyson’s example on how we should decide whether to have the death penalty, which he says should depend on the data on whether it’s effective at deterring crime. But this data is useless without some prior system of ethics. For instance, there would likely be a strong deterrent effect on the crime of shoplifting if we made it punishable by death, but I don’t think that this would inform us whatsoever on whether it’s the wise or just path for a society to take. There will always be these moral questions for us to decide.

10. In your opinion, what was the worst mass extinction so far? 

The End-Permian mass extinction is the worst mass extinction in the history of life and there’s not really a close second. Enough lava erupted in Siberia 252 million years ago to cover the lower 48 United States a kilometer deep, and the volcanoes injected so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere it caused temperatures to spike something like 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Up to 96% of life in the oceans died. Trees all but disappear in the fossil record for 10 million years after the mass extinction. Coral reefs are replaced with piles of bacterial slime. The planet basically had to reboot after the catastrophe, and it took millions of painful years to do so. It was the worst moment in the history of the earth. And yet, the earth recovered. And it did more than just recover. From the ashes of the End-Permian mass extinction blossomed the age of dinosaurs and, after that, the age of mammals, and everything we see living in our world today. Life is incredibly resilient and even after the worst disaster in its history the earth enjoyed its greatest flourishing. I think there are some lessons we can learn from our wonderful planet.

. . .

Peter Brannen is a huge nerd and a problem solver (and he referenced two of my other favorite people, Randall and Neil!). Like he says on page 130, I believe it is important to see the planet not as your world or my world, but as a planet. Operating on geological time, functioning as a whole. Seems obvious. Isn’t. I guess I love Peter so much because he is rare. He sees the planet as the whole that it is. He is both kind and smart, something you don’t often see. He recognizes the importance of the ocean, penis worms, and you and I.

And this is to remind you what he looks like.

 I ended up searching Dinotopia on Google Images. My favorite fictional kingdom is Britain as it appears in the Harry Potter series, but Dinotopia looks very cool. I might like to visit there if I could.

 

Video Games Are A Tool – Good Or Evil Depends On YOU

Date: June 28th, 2017

I love games. Board games, capture-the-flag, hide n’ seek, computer games, video games, mobile (phone) games, pen and paper games. All games.

But this blog post is about mobile and computer games specifically. Often also categorized as video games when it is used as an umbrella term, they seem to be the enemy of good parents and the friend of neglectful parents.

I am here to defend them.

I’m also here to praise them.

1. POPTROPICA

Me in Poptropica Worlds.
*casually stands on roof*
Me in Classic Poptropica. What’s funny is, I change both looks all the time. I’m Smart Sun, by the way. Howdy. 

Poptropica was my first video game. I’m a “fresh” 16 now, and it must’ve been years ago when I started playing.

For the lay person: Poptropica is a child-friendly world of “islands.” On each island, there is a problem to solve. For Time Tangled, you have to go in a time machine and assign objects you come across to their proper time period. That island was cool. You went to visit the Vikings, Leonardo Da Vinci, and some weird Oracle sitting in an Ancient Greek temple. You could potentially take one piece of clothing from each time period and end up with an awesome Time Traveler costume. (There’s an idea…) Hey, speaking of Ancient Greece showing up in Poptropica, there’s also Mythology Island! As we all should know from reading the Rick Riordan books, Zeus is a dickhead. (Pardon my French.) And he wants you dead. You get to dress up in a swaggy three-piece suit made up of crown, trident, and cloud and beat him into the dirtiest dirt imaginable – the Mt. Olympus dirt. It’s one of my three favorite islands.

The other two are Twisted Thicket, and Reality TV. Twisted Thicket was beautiful and poignant. The art was amazing. It inspired a fantasy of mine – that one day I’d wake up and there’d be a gate in my backyard, small enough to fit just me, but it would change size if I wanted to invite taller friends. Go through the gate, and enter a haven of endless tall trees, climbable and strong. Rivers and streams would wind through it. Butterflies, but no bees or wasps. Perfect for two of the games I mentioned, capture-the-flag and hide n’ seek. Now, that fantasy takes on a higher meaning. Just as the thicket was safety for those magical Poptropican spirits and animals, I imagine opening the gate every time a species is about to go extinct. Or even anytime a single animal is about to die. An imaginary Eden that we can never open the gate to, teeming with life. Twisted Thicket inspired it so deeply that if I ever write a book taking place in my Eden, I’ll thank Poptropica in the acknowledgements, where Gods and Parents normally go.

Reality TV’s challenges are so fun. Honestly, I’m so glad that you can go through the “show” again without having to restart the whole island. My favorite challenges are the climbing pole one, fishing one and the turtle shell one. And I’ve figured out a trick for that one actually. There’s a palm tree in the background, right? Put your arrow right underneath the farthest (from you) little leafy thing. You’ll never miss the 20 shell again. And one thing I was surprised about – from the characters invented for the island to the others brought in from elsewhere, the contestants had personalities. They behaved like real people. Try to vote them off, they’d return fire. An interesting behavior I recognized is that because they could never vote off the winner, they’d vote off whoever was in second place, to get rid of the second best so they could move up a notch in comparative ability. (Love analyzing Poptropica.) I adopted that behavior, and took advantage of it. More recently, I’ve started changing clothes during the show to copy the outfit of whoever I wanted to “take down” next. Yep. I’d made enemies. Like Lassie Lasso. Whenever I played, she hated my character. No one else was always malicious towards me. She and I were enemies. Kept voting each other off. Over time, I got used to getting rid of her first. And I congratulate the Creators for making her behave like a person. She was entertaining.

I’ve always loved Poptropica, and always will. The music and design for Poptropica Realms were ingenious, of course. I really love Realms. (But lately, it keeps restarting me at Asgard and deleting everything else.) I hope they bring Realms to Poptropica Worlds. That would be brilliant and too kind of them. But Poptropica Worlds has already drawn some criticism, most eloquently voiced by this person:

Part 1
Part 2

I have to agree with Mr. Dr. Pepper. Yes, I am getting older, but I could still play Cryptids now, or Super Power Island, or Wild West (I can never get that darn cow!), or Arabian Knights, and be just as thrilled and captivated. Which means its not us. It’s them. I can understand wanting to direct your islands at a younger audience, but that means leaving the older ones behind. It’s not like we’re trying to slowly wean ourselves off of Poptropica. The easier it gets, the less fun it is. Which kinda sucks. Poptropica is special to me. It’s been with me that long. Having superpowers is plain entertainment to an average kid – I use a wheelchair most of the time, can’t walk very well – so being transported to another world, either by reading, writing, or playing, is something I’m actually grateful for. Cryptids and Survival reminded me cleverness and resourcefulness (we literally found that dollar in a bush, remember?) are too important to waste. Time Tangled, Nabooti, and Astro Knights reminded me how much I love exploring. Twisted Thicket, Lunary Colony, and Atlantis all reminded me that boundaries are written on the world in marker by those who believe in power over kindness.

I sympathized with the Binary Bard because he was different, too smart for those around him, and saw the darkness in the world even though he was born in a kid’s game – if there’s ever a Poptropica movie, I volunteer Jared Padelecki or Sebastian Stan for that role.

The wonderful thing is, Poptropica isn’t addictive. At all. I don’t go on it unless there’s a new island or I’m still working on an old one. So that’s one thing you don’t need to worry about. Addiction. A valid worry, and a menacing problem.

I will always love Poptropica. I might not always play it, though.

But I’ll make sure my kids do.

2. CHOICES: STORIES YOU PLAY

Choices is like a choose-your-own adventure on a phone. It is hilarious, and so well written. I was expecting teen drama all the way – think about it. It’s a mobile game with story titles like “Rules Of Engagement.” I’d scoff if I hadn’t tried it out. My first book on there was The Crown And The Flame Book 1, of course. Queen Kenna is bisexual in the non-fetishy way, as are most of the characters in every story. And Queen Kenna is brave and strong and fights off the assassins sent to kill her herself. She is bad*ss. In every book she’s in, she saves the day with some fancy moves and royal flair. She does require help, but in her own special way, she shows that both women and men can need help and have friends and still kick *ss. The list of people I ship her with is endless. The Haunting Of Braidwood Manor and Endless Summer were both worth their own blockbuster movies, and don’t even get me started on Love Hacks. I wish to marry Sereena, and I also ship her with that woman she ran into at grad school. Love Hacks is so diverse and funny beyond belief. It’s like if I wrote it. (Way to not brag, Z. But hey! If all else fails, I could go work there!) One book I wasn’t sure I would like was The Royal Romance. Cheesy, right? Except not at all. Our main character is a woman (to be named by player, I named her Lady Fuzzycheeks Breastjude), a waitress from New York who accidentally meets a prince, moves to his kingdom, and falls in love with a woman. (That’s how I’m doing it, anyways.) And of course we have this gem (see Figure M):

Can I marry you, too? You’re pretty and ruthless. (Figure M, for Madeleine.)

She was speaking about another character who had just “boldly” kissed the Prince in the middle of the ballroom. Daaaaamn. That is a burn, Madeleine. Madeleine is just one of the lovely women you’ll meet on this crazy ride.

The male characters in every book are funny and sensitive. They have hard problems to deal with.

This game, I swear – it is so diverse, and intersectionally feminist and it defeats toxic masculinity.

Hey, maybe I really will go work there.

3. TERRAGENESIS

Terragenesis is about terraforming. One of my favorite pastimes. (Just kidding. I’m not actually terraforming planets for fun. Not yet, at least.) Sometimes I play Terragenesis just to listen to the music. It is composed very well, and it is very relaxing. The driving force of the game is Mars, but you don’t only get to terraform just one planet. You get to terraform Earth to guard it against global warming, and if you don’t fast enough, everyone dies, you run out of money, and don’t get it back either (you need money to build the things that give you money *sigh*), which is sadly pretty accurate. You also get the moon to terraform, and Jupiter’s moons, and the Trappist system recently discovered. But on Mars, running out of money isn’t the end of the world. Well, it shouldn’t ever come to this, but all you need to do is shut down the colonies, disabling anything that costs money, then build the mines back up again and slowly add all the stuff back. I love terraforming. Not just this game. I have my own plans for the real thing. But the point I must stress is, if you can’t do it in the real world yet, settle for a book. Or a game.

 

My Terragenesis Mars from just a few days ago. 

My current Terragenesis Mars. It changes so often and the graphics are so pretty. I love it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. WAR DRAGONS

This is my Kinnara, who I’ve named after my friend Celeste. She’s my favorite dragon. Chain lightning and she can summon a tiny dragon to further damage things.
My Arborius, Ham. Second favorite dragon. 
And this is ihatebees. Because it looks like a bee.  

This game just helps me get my anger out in a somewhat healthy way. You get to name your dragons funny names and destroy things. What more could you want? (I love destroying things. It is too entertaining for me.)

5. RUSH BY MURO STUDIOS  

This is my favorite Rush character, Imp. I didn’t name this one. Whoosh whoosh. 

Really, Rush doesn’t satisfy me emotionally like Poptropica or Choices. It’s just a very quick tap tap tap game with really, really good art. Tap tap tap tap tap. Whoosh. Whoosh. Crunch. Growl.

All in all, my video game taste is varied. From Poptropica to Rush, they all deserve to be defended from the onslaught of parenthood. Hear me out, I know this sounds crazy – video games don’t care about melting your brain, or enriching it. Some video games are art, some are stories, some are fighting games or superpower games. All are here to represent worlds in which humanity is free from those marker drawn boundaries. (For instance: “Gee, I’m sorry I’m not able to fly without a plane in the real world…”) Games are innocent in the fight against laziness and a lack of creativity!

From ScienceAlert: “When the researchers looked at 24 participants who had played the game for 30 minutes a day for two months under an MRI machine they found that they had increased grey matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex, and the cerebellum, compared to a control group that hadn’t played any game.” This was taken from an article about the benefits of video games. It reaffirms the idea that reality and the affects different experiences have on you are directly influenced by how your brain processes them. When rats run through mazes, they dream about their day at night, and their brain goes through the same chemical patterns their brain did doing the actual thing. Gamers are learning when they play. When you learn to shoot a gun in a game, you’re not learning the “real” skill, but you are learning a skill.

Of course, experiments are called “experiments” and not “already proven fact” for a reason. It is not good for you to stare at a screen for hours, no matter what you’re doing. And just because you’re learning doesn’t mean you’re learning anything useful. Benefits don’t immediately constitute a lack of problems. (Also, fun fact, that article was sponsored by a game studio to essentially promote their new game.) But under an hour (at least for me, personally), everything goes smoothly. And I know that listing a few good things and referencing my own likely biased experience won’t fix all the very real problems. I’m here to debunk a few fake ones.

The idea that violent games breed violent kids is actually backwards. “The best physiological indicator of which young people will become violent criminals as adults is a low resting heart rate, says Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania…’We think that low heart rate reflects a lack of fear, and a lack of fear could predispose someone to committing fearless criminal-violence acts,’ Raine says. Or perhaps there is an ‘optimal level of physiological arousal,’ and psychopathic people seek out stimulation to increase their heart rate to normal.” From The Atlantic. For many children, violence is the only thing strong enough to shake them out of, basically, a stupor. Because violence – murdering someone, getting in a fight, robbing a home or store – gives the crime-committer adrenaline. Or the things that accompany adrenaline if not exactly that.

And when I was fighting the Binary Bard while he was sitting in the giant robot, dodging his projectiles, in the final scene of Astro Knights, I certainly felt something like adrenaline, a higher heart rate. Gamers know this feeling. Video games don’t have to be particularly “good” for you to get invested during a fight or chase scene. Whenever the music gets faster, or maybe your breathing does, and you’re saying a curse word over and over again while your avatar is running around the room as you’re looking for something, anything, to help you on your journey…when you get invested in a video game, you jump at the jolts. You feel the difficulty. And I’m not saying Poptropica is enough to heal these kids. Maybe it’s not the right type of game. Maybe it is. But either way, there you go. There’s a benefit, that I don’t think anyone’s tried yet. (If you have, hit me up. You’re cool.)

I’m still an artist, even though I play these games. Maybe my brain has melted just enough to teach me a few lessons. But often, while I’m playing a game, I’m multitasking in my head – I’m inventing my own game, trying to figure out the real world equivalent of any given thing, writing a book, creating a dragon from scratch, and designing my own planet.

Are there more important things to do than play these games? Heck yes. Like save the world from very real global warming. Or racism. Or sexism. But people are, by their nature, just as much Creators as the Poptropicans are. We like inventing worlds and exploring them in our downtime (or maybe uptime, I don’t blame you). Humans are gods of the worlds inside their heads, and others’ heads. This is the gift of imagination. And you may have noticed that I say both video games and books can be used to travel these worlds outside of heads. I use them almost interchangeably. Video games don’t kill creativity. (Well, not all do. Candy Crush does, and I’m guilty of playing it.) Most of them heighten it. They are exactly like books in the what they do. Books are far better. But the choice between book and game shouldn’t be a choice between good and bad. It should be a choice between book and game. Some games like Choices are literally mobile choose-your-own adventure books.

When I say I’m a gamer and proud, it doesn’t mean I’m more proud of that than I am of my writing or drawing skills. Or my kindness and intelligence. And it doesn’t mean that’s what I do all day. It means…”Here I am…and by george, this is fun.”

A final note for the Poptropican Creators: I know we’ve rushed you with this whole Poptropica Worlds thing. Which might why you’ve been getting comments that the game is lagging/glitching, and the inbox and doors aren’t ready yet. We’re all just very excited. And don’t let constructive criticism control you. It does help you build a better game, yes. But – I trust you guys. Take all the time you need, have all the fun you want, and make it an awesome free world. You guys work hard. I respect you fellas and gals intensely.

Good game.

Mars (The 6-Part Series By Nat Geo) Is The Best Thing Ever

Date: February 2nd, 2017 

I have been fascinated by Mars for a few years now. This blog was about Mars for a while. (This blog went through many phases, which is why the domain name has nothing to do with…anything.)

Mars is so fascinating to me because in many ways it’s just like Earth, but without any protection available. Same type of rocky ground. There are even weirdly similar landforms (I say weird because when you think of it the universe is a giant crap game, we’re lucky, but it’s kind of strange), like plateaus, canyons and mountains. With the right equipment and a good sense of time, you could go hiking – as a purely recreational activity. There’s enough gravity that you don’t fly off. In some places on Earth, you can look outside your window and go, “Hey, look. It’s Mars with a blue sky and some clouds.” But on Mars, your body is so tiny and so frail. The only thing keeping you alive is something purely external – your spacesuit, the walls of your home base. It doesn’t matter that “your lungs are still working, or would be, if not for…” You don’t matter on Mars. Throughout the Mars series, they repeat the metaphor that Mars is actively trying to fight them. That’s not how I see it. Mars just doesn’t care about you, your friends, your family, your old life; the elementary school you went to, your favorite color. Earth is a living, breathing organism. Not in the technical sense, no, but you have to admit something’s up – on Earth, everything…works. The systems in place never stop functioning – or at least they never used to, but we’ll see where global warming takes us – every single thing on the Earth is for itself and everything else. Mars, on the other hand, is apathetically failing. I am drawn to that type of planet, and the people willing to go and live on it.

Mars the series is quite the opposite of “apathetically failing.” It is sympathetically succeeding. Sympathetic in that you cheer when the characters – and real people, on the other side of the series – do, and the surreal, fast-heartbeat feeling hits all of you as they step on to that rocket for the first time. Successful in that Mars caught the attention of all the big news sources (think Forbes, WIRED, Variety, The New York Times) including this article from screenertv.com, titled “Is Nat Geo the next HBO?” (Click title for link to article.)

Mars is cool. One of the main reasons is that JiHAE is really, really cool. (Kidding, favoritism isn’t my thing.) The cast fits so well.

JiHAE is so good at portraying someone who wasn’t really supposed to be the leader, but had to step up. You felt the difficulty in every decision, and you felt her humanity. I’m describing both sisters. Joon and Hana Seung were both dreamers who grew into almost bitter pragmatists, and you have to respect their journey.

Ben Cotton is amazing as Ben Sawyer. I wanted to give him a big hug as he was dying. He cared so much about the others, and even when he was in pain, he put them before himself. He sorta reminds me of me. Or the Tenth Doctor (Doctor Who).

Alberto Ammann is, as they say in the fandoms, “my smol son.” I absolutely loved the “lavender moment.” And I like how pissed Javier gets at the smallest of things. It makes me laugh.

Clémentine Poidatz is wonderful, as the other half of Javier, and a beautiful (inside and out), intelligent woman herself. She’s good at what she does, so much so that she would be the one I’d trust to take care of me in space.

And Anamaria Marinca is so adorable. She reminds me of Felicia Day (seen on Supernatural as the the Queen, Charlie Bradbury). If Marta Kamen were real, she’d be my new best friend, and we would go out for ice cream and chat about science and our favorite TV shows.

Sammi Rotibi’s Robert has the bromanciest of bromances with Javier, and without him, the team just wouldn’t be the same. He is “the rock” and “the leaf.”

What I like about the cast is: not only is the cast “good,” the cast is realistic. Different colors, races, nose shapes, eyelids, smiles, personalities…they all compliment each other in the way real people do, and they’re all so dynamic – the cast of Mars is a great hypothetical stand-in for the waves of actual astronauts responsible for colonizing Mars in the future.

Here are some of my favorite moments from Mars:

1. Ben Sawyer, Dying And Dead (And Alive!)

Ben Sawyer is my new “character crush” (as opposed to celebrity crush), as is evident from my various pet names and exclamations during the duration of the first two episodes (“Nooooo honey no!” “My precious baby nooooooo!” “Aww, baby!” “NO BEN NOOOOOO!”). At first, he appears authoritative in the bad way, as though he will judge your every move. Then it is revealed that he is just as charming, cheerfully optimistic, and frankly…”cute” as the rest of them. Not only that, but he loves his crew, he loves his crew from the bottom of his heart and he hates to put them at more risk than they’re already at. He gives the regular speech about it (“you could die, yada yada yada”), but then makes it clear that he cares about his crew more than anything else, and that to me is so, so sweet…I love him. He sat and contained his pain for hours, helping them get to – relative – safety. And – yes – he is so handsome…I love him so much.

2. The Lavender Moment

Javier and Amelie are so cute together. Amelie helps the hilariously, constantly pissed Javier calm down. Javier is a good mechanic (is that what you would call what he does?), and he has a heart of gold inside of him. Lavender is now my favorite word in the entire universe. (That’s a slight exaggeration.) Lavender lavender lavender. Awww…

3. Paul Goes Bonkers

First of all, do not hire someone who talks to his plants.

This scene is trippy, and surreal, and heart-wrenching, and kinda awful – and I love it. It’s an example of what I was talking about earlier – you are not the special snowflake you were on Earth, and you can get killed via the wrong door being opened. John Light (Paul) is so innocent in his portrayal of Paul (Paultrayal, for those of you with an interest in portmanteaus) that you just can’t blame him, not really, but it’s always in the back of your mind that they shouldn’t have brought him along.

10 People From Supernatural (CW) That Deserve Spin-Offs

I’m doing a thing I like to call Imitation Buzzfeed. It’s exactly what it sounds like. If you’re familiar with Buzzfeed, you’ll immediately recognize the “feel” of the title. 

I’m going to list 10 characters from Supernatural (CW) that (I feel) deserve (awesome) TV shows of their own, even if it means they live past their canon death date.

1. Missouri Moseley (The Psychic)

Just a random gif from tumblr that I got off the Internet showing some Moseley sass.
Just a random gif from tumblr that I got off the Internet showing some Moseley sass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She’s a psychic…a female POC, which is always nice…and she has a quite wonderful attitude, expressing herself like there’s no tomorrow. Perfect combo. I would watch “Moseley” for the boundless humor.

Canon whereabouts: Unknown. Had one utterly delightful episode to call home, never seen again.

Portrayed by: Loretta Devine

2. Andy Gallagher (One of “The Special Children”)

That's a nice name for his show: "Gay Porn: All Hours Of The Day"
That’s a nice name for his show: “Gay Porn: All Hours Of The Day”

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet, sweet Andy. Gifted, by Azazel nonetheless, with the ability to control minds verbally (he could say “Give me your coffee” and you’d do it) as well as send images to people (the cause of the above gay porn quote), he never used his abilities for anything other than minor personal gain, and helping people when the time came. I would watch “Gay Porn: All Hours Of The Day” for the humor, obviously, and to simply catch glimpses of his adorable face. (Do you see that smile? In the photo?) He has an adorable personality, too. He’s very kind, only takes what he needs, and was strangely never even tempted to go over to the dark side. He also loves helping others, and will go find salt when you need him to (inside joke). Maybe he fights crime in “Gay Porn: All Hours Of The Day” and instead of psychically fighting his rascally outlaw counterparts, he learns to slow them down by “downloading” images that he has found (with some research) are very personally scary into their brains.

Canon whereabouts: Dead, sadly. Ripped to shreds by an Acheri demon (controlled by Ava Wilson, another “special child”). Ironically, even though Sam and Dean (and Castiel, I suppose) have died and risen countless times, the writers refuse to bring him back.

Portrayed by: Gabriel Tigerman

3. Luther (The Vampire)

Classic heart-throb vampire. Only difference? Evil, too. Perfect combo.
Classic heart-throb vampire. Only difference? “Evil,” too. Perfect combo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I personally think Luther deserved better. He made it clear that he was afraid of hunters, or at least what they would do to Kate (his lover). Near the end of the episode (the only one he was ever in), he stated that he felt he and his people had just as much of a right to live as the hunters (who were trying to kill him at the time) did, which made it clear for us that he knew they had a right to live. Think about it. He wouldn’t have hurt any hunters, which include the two characters who are the heart of the show. So that makes him okay, right? I know you shouldn’t transform/kill/feed on innocent people, but it’s in his biology. Can’t really ignore that. His family was killed, probably brutally, without any second thoughts, don’t you think he deserves an apology too? Okay, so here’s the plot of “The Redemption of Luther”: Luther convinces Kate not to leave the nest at such a hectic time. The moment passes, and he and his clan flee. Luther travels the country, slowly convincing vampires from all over to be more “selective” (eg. only killing murderers, only killing “Gordon Walker” types – hunters who kill without thought, etc) and peaceful, and eventually he meets up with Lenore (yes, I know she’s dead, canon-wise) and they discuss a few things, and end up splitting their appetites between deserving humans and cows. Yaaaaaaaay.

Canon whereabouts: Dead. Shot in the head by John Winchester (who also ended up dead). He was the first Supernatural creature to die via Colt gun onscreen.

Portrayed by: Warren Christie

4. Crowley 

Mark Sheppard, actor for lé Crowley, is the cutest member of the SPN family, along with Rob Benedict, Richard Speight Jr., Jared Padelecki, and Misha Collins. (These are just my opinions, of course.)
Mark Sheppard, actor for lé Crowley, is one of the cutest members of the SPN family, along with Rob Benedict, Richard Speight Jr., Jared Padelecki, and Misha Collins. (These are just my opinions, of course.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technically, we do see quite a lot of him in the series, which is the one of the things that makes it so enjoyable (you rock, Mark!). But on the other hand, um…yes. There can never be enough Crowley! *chants* Crowley, Crowley, Crowley!

Canon whereabouts: Currently alive, although the series is still on and active, so I don’t know about the future…I wouldn’t worry though, everyone loves Crowley.

Portrayed by: Mark A. Sheppard.

5. Soulless Sam

Soulless Sam was a fan favorite, and many people say it's the most badass Sam's ever been. (Obviously, but Sam's highest point in my view was his kindness.)
Soulless Sam was a fan favorite, and many people say it’s the most badass Sam’s ever been. Obviously, but Sam’s highest points, in my view, are his kindness and intellect, so that’s not very important to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If only Sam and Soulless Sam could have magically separated into two people. Then they could’ve gone their “separate” ways (pun intended) and Soulless Sam could’ve put his soullessness to more good use, crisscrossing the country just like the brothers do, but with a bit of a “rough edge,” and a whole lot of sarcasm.

Canon whereabouts: Transformed back into Normal Sam (as Normal as Sam can get, anyhow). Inactive.

Portrayed by: Jared Padelecki.

6. Apocalypse Dean (+ his gang)

This picture doesn't show all the gang. The members of "Dean's Apocalypse Pals" are: Dean, stoned Cas, Chuck, a woman named Risa, and a few other unnamed men.
This picture doesn’t show all the gang. The members of “Dean’s Apocalypse Pals” are: Dean, stoned Cas, Chuck, a woman named Risa, and a few other unnamed men.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Admit it. You want more. Or at least, you want to know more. Yeah, sure, Dean didn’t have his brother with him, and he’s gone through a lot of scarring things, but he had Castiel. If Destiel could’ve become canon at any point in the series, it should’ve become canon then. Cas could’ve comforted him, and kept him grounded, not to mention drown him in hugs and kisses. I would watch “Camp Chitaqua” to see all the things left unmentioned. (How did Bobby die? I mean, we’re supposed to assume he’s dead, right? How did Dean get so…brooding? Was it the way Sam said yes to Luci? And for crying out loud, I mean, the details must’ve been different – what exactly happened in Detroit?)

Canon whereabouts: I don’t really know how to describe it. I guess he’s dead. *shrugs* ?????

Portrayed by: Jensen Ackles

7. Meg (Demon)

Meg. The cutie demon.
Meg. The cutie demon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pleeeeeeeease. She was so quirky, and charismatic (“We’re going to Heaven, Clarence!”), and to be very honest, I want both Destiel and Megstiel. I have no idea how, or why, but for some reason, both ships co-exist peacefully in my mind, like cuddly divine/demon polyamory for Dean. I would watch “Meg Masters, Demon” for Meg. Yes, I’ll admit. No matter what the show is about (it could even be a satirical “Cupcake Wars” and she kills whoever loses), I’ll watch it for Meg, cause I need more Meg.

Canon whereabouts: Dead. Stabbed by the other cutie demon, Crowley. With a demon-killing knife, obviously.

Portrayed by: Rachel Miner, in her newest incarnation.

8. Gabriel (The Archangel aka The Gnarliest Trickster To Ever Exist)

"They call me Gabriel." I, in particular, call you Gabey The Baby.
“They call me Gabriel.” I, in particular, call you Gabey The Baby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He has the silliest sense of humor, no scruples whatsoever (yet always manages to do the right thing), and the cutest itty bitty face. He loves his brothers, yet in the end, stands up to his older brother Lucifer, which ends up being the thing that kills him. He just wants it to be over. I would watch the aptly named “Gabriel Show” for the sick humor, and the other types of humor too (slapstick, puns, etc). I’m not saying Richard Speight Jr. can’t be a serious, sincere actor, and when he does act serious and sincerely, I’ll be ready. All the more Gabriel.

Canon whereabouts: Dead. You already read it. Lucifer killed him. And cried over his body, by the way. They’re brothers.

Portrayed by: Richard Speight Jr. (Fun fact: I had a dream that I almost met him. I met the writers, and then wanted to meet him too, but I didn’t want to bother him by “being a fan,” so I just sat in a room I assumed he would walk in to, since some of his friends were in there too. I thought waiting in there, hoping we could chat if he came in, was less invasive than following him around. He walked by the door, I saw his face, shouted “Richard!” as he walked into the other room. And then I woke up.)

9. God + Amara

Oh, this is just me and my sister, and we don't have any parents, and technically, we're probably two primordial wavelengths. And I created the Universe. But yeah, totally nuclear family.
Oh, this is just me and my sister, and we don’t have any parents, and technically, we’re probably two primordial wavelengths. And I created the Universe. But yeah, totally nuclear family.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is it just me, or wouldn’t we all love to see “The Adventures Of The Divine Siblings”? Let’s say they work out their differences, and go on world creating/destroying adventures. ‘Cept this time it’s just for fun, and they get to play hide-and-go-seek and tag while running through the hills of Narnia. (I don’t know!)

Current whereabouts: Probably doing something like that. But offscreen. Last we saw, they “wooshed” away to work out their differences together. Maybe they’re attending group therapy together.

Portrayed by: Rob Benedict and Emily Swallow

10. Garth (And His Werewolf Pals)

Also a cutie. Also happens to be a benign Werewolf.
Also a cutie. Also happens to be a benign Werewolf.

 

 

 

 

C’mon. Crime-fighting, cake-baking, nuclear family werewolves? How could you pass that up?

Canon whereabouts: Alive, but left alone, so we sadly don’t see him that often anymore.

Portrayed by:  DJ Qualls

. . .

So! That’s my list! What do you guys think? Do you agree with my choices? Have anymore to add?

 

My Take On Doctor Who (Warning: Long)

People are always arguing about Doctor Who. There’s so much infighting within the Whovian fandom – about favorite companions and least favorite companions. I want that to stop. Me, I don’t care for Clara much, but I won’t pick fights with anyone else and I don’t want anyone else to pick fights with me. I think of companions less as competing for the Doctor’s (and the fandom’s) heart, and more as a bit like hats. Yes, I said hats. There are good points to every hat. Some people look good with some hats and some other people look good with some other hats. Hats don’t strive to impress everyone, they’re hats. All hats are awesomely hatty in their own way, and you shouldn’t fight over what somebody else looks like wearing their own hat that they like for their own reasons. And a person can have (and wear) more than one hat.

Whovians also argue, in a sense, about their favorite head writer. Russell v.s Steven. Whose episodes are better, in a general way. This arguing makes sense. After all, the head writer of Doctor Who is in charge of a whole universe, almost literally. All that the Doctor gets to explore, that’s how big the Whoniverse is. And it’s huge. Imagine being in charge of it! So your writer preference says how you like your universe prepared. Of course people argue. I liked Russell. Why? His stories seemed more cosmic; beautiful (Astrid, Donna), he seemed to find what we think of as human in everyone (the meeting of Martha and Chantho), and even when the stories were hectic they weren’t hectic – the Tenth Doctor and the Master’s final meeting was so palatable, even though I obviously understood the urgency and deep emotion of the moment. It’s almost like Russell was choosing to go on a rollercoaster, while Steven just took you. (Like the Doctor, I suppose.) And there are no seatbelts on Steven’s rollercoaster.

Less controversial perhaps, if only because this character doesn’t show up too often relative to the other characters, is favorite Master. Or Missy. New Who has only had two Masters. I haven’t watched Classic, or Old, Who yet, because Netflix, my main Who streaming service apart from regular TV, presents it in a weird way – I am used to episode by episode, season by season, and I have no idea what I’m supposed to do with the way Classic Who is formatted and “collected.” Please forgive me, and in the meantime, we’ll do a quick analysis of the New Who Masters, shall we? John Simm’s Master was crazy. Michelle Gomez’s Missy is crazy. John Simm’s Master was gleeful about his every activity, to the point of horror. Michelle Gomez’s Missy is gleeful about her every activity, to the point of horror. Being the same character, the two incarnations have many things in common. The differences are clear, though. Michelle Gomez’s Missy poses a bigger threat to the Doctor, arguably, but that doesn’t mean John Simm’s Master was less frightening, or less influentially manic. Remember the time he had the entire world under his control – when literally everyone was the Master? Remember the metal orbs of death with voices that came from the end of the universe? John Simm is my favorite Master. When you look at Michelle Gomez’s Missy, she’s funny, spontaneous, and a fantastic addition to the long line of Masters, but…think. When you look at John Simm’s Master, when you look past the strained, angry, and yet very childishly happy shouts of “dinnertime,” when you look past the bonkers, you get…lost, sad. This Master is sympathetic. No other Master does this, in my opinion. You see him break down, you see him consider peace and then double-cross himself, still so hurt inside, and finally, you see him become better, in a way. I feel like the Doctor and the Master ended on a good note. I feel like Missy is just there to be there. Why was she still so evil? It wasn’t like the Doctor forced the Master inside the time bubble that he sent the other Time Lords, the Master sacrificed himself, in a way. They ended on a good note, I swear! What happened to Missy? How did she get out of the invincible time bubble? I have so many questions.

And now, the Doctor. Who’s the best? Even if you’re only counting the New Who Doctors, it’s an endless discussion. I can’t even say. It’s based on preference! Christopher Eccelston’s Doctor was a bitter jerk in my view, although Christopher was a really good actor for it, so I’m not blaming him. I just didn’t particularly like that Doctor. Matt Smith’s Doctor was a toddler, and I didn’t really notice the wisdom and anger people always talk about when they mention him. I never got “cosmic” from him like I did from David – who is one of my favorites. Tennant and Capaldi. Capaldi’s Doctor is being turned into an angry soldier with PTSD, by Moffat’s writing, but I like Capaldi’s style, and I feel that he definitely carries a lot of emotion. He has a lot of potential. And he’s also like, a superfan, but one that made it. Awesome. David Tennant’s Doctor was around at the same time as Russell, so I got a lot of soul from that guy – he was very, very powerful. I loved him.

That’s the point. That’s my take on Doctor Who. It’s love. No matter who your favorite companion, Master, or Doctor is, you either love the show or you’ve never seen it (or – you’re nuts). It’s that good, no matter who writes it. It just keeps hooking us in. Because we can’t ever leave it. Some wonder if Doctor Who has had it’s day. Even if it has – as long as the Doctor lives, we won’t ever leave. I’m not saying this is okay. It’s addicting. A TV show where the protagonist never dies? Eventually, it’s going to exist just because we can’t stand to see it end. If a future or current writer gives it a boost, makes it shine again, makes it worth it – if they truly feel they have something to contribute to it, something for the sake of art, not money or even continuity, then maybe I can see it being the Never-ending Show. There are still a bunch of good ideas that could come from the concept. (Child companion, anyone?) But with Steven Moffat in charge, it will need to end. And so it will. Today will not be that day, but soon. Because I’m not in charge, and I can’t tell Moffat how to write. But he’ll just keep writing.

And so it goes.