Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Hero Dash

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to run in a race. That in itself isn't big news, as over the years, I've run in more races than I can count.

What did make it special is that this was The Hero Dash and Zombie Run. This 5K was a joint event hosted by Salt Lake Comic Con and the Utah Rotary Club, and it benefited three different charities, Operation Underground Railroad, the Huntsman Cancer Institute, and End Polio Now.

An ad showing all the swag that came with registering for the race, as well as listing the charities it supports
The Utah Rotary Club has hosted the Zombie Run for several years. This year they joined forces with Salt Lake Comic Con's Hero Dash.

Costumed runners getting ready at the starting line
Initially I signed up for the race because it combined two of my interests, superheroes and running. When I found out about the charities the race benefited, I was even more impressed by it.

The start and finish line for the race
I first heard about Operation Underground Railroad at the Salt Lake Comic Con's FanX earlier this year. It was featured in one of the panels I attended. This wonderful non-profit organization consists of many individuals who have worked either in the military or as government agents. They work with local legal authorities around the world to end human sex trafficking, which includes rescuing children involved in human trafficking, helping to rehabilitate them, and arresting and prosecuting those that run these human trafficking rings. The work they do is amazing, and more information can be found on their website:

The Huntsman Cancer Institute is well known to many that live in Utah. This organization does state-of the-art research into cancer treatment, prevention and education. They are among the lead and most respected researh organizations in the field. As I have had a family member die from complications due to luekemia, I am grateful for the work that they do. More information can be found on their website: 

End Polio Now is an organization sponsored by Rotary International, with the goal to end polio throughout the world. Though polio is not an issue in the United States, there are still developing countries where polio is endemic, and End Polio Now is making headway in eliminating this crippling disease from the world. More information can be found at their website: 

A number of the costumed racers gathered together after the race
In addition to the charities that the proceeds from the race went toward, this was also a fun race with people dressed up as zombies and as superheroes and other sci-fi/fantasy characters. It was really a fun event to get into the spirit of Halloween. I went as Green Lantern, as I already had a costume available I could easily run in.

Me before starting the race...

...and after the race
Though the run wasn't quite as organized as most races I have been to (there were no instructions when registering online as to what part of the very large park the race was to start from, and I'm all but certain it was not a full 5K), and I was really out of shape as far as running goes, I still had a fun time, saw a lot of cool costumes, and got to watch a mini-concert after the race. And the support going toward the charities certainly made up for any shortcomings in the actual race.

The mini-concert after the race
And there was also an announcement from Dan Farr of Salt Lake Comic Con. FanX is indeed happening next year and tickets go on sale next month!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Disney Halloween-Best Party of the Year (Until I have mine)

Us at the Target in Cali. 
I'm on record for being both a huge Disney fan and a huge Halloween fan, so it's only natural that my dream vacation would be to visit Disneyland at Halloween. So that's what we did: My wife and I picked up a couple of dear friends and headed to sunny California!

Now Disneyland has a special event from late September to the end of October, where they'll open the park to special ticket holders only and throw a massive Halloween party for all involved. This is what my wife and I attended. Before the party even started I had to change into my awesome Halloween costume, a giant man-sized Stitch onesie. Adults get to dress up for the party and I wasn't about to miss out on anything.

Our first stop was the Haunted Mansion, which for Halloween is changed into a Nightmare Before Christmas motif. While I would love to share some sort of video of the experience, I do try to respect the Disneyland rules so all I can do is describe it. Every single character and look from the show is mimicked on the ride, My head couldn't swivel around fast enough to see everything, especially when we entered the graveyard scene. A massive room full of ghosts and monsters from Nightmare, with everything singing and dancing had me squealing with delight.

My wife and I aren't the biggest for rides, so that and Pirates were the only rides we did that night, but that wasn't the end to our entertainment. On the river in the French Quarter/Frontier land an A Capella group called The Dead Daves started singing Halloween songs while floating on a barge down the river. Stuff like this is the reason my wife and I love Disneyland, because unlike some other amusement parks I'm not going to mention Disneyland works on their atmosphere so that even when you're not on a ride you're having a good time. We enjoyed the band while we waited in several trick-or-treat lines that were handing out candy to kids of all ages.

The park is decorated for the holiday!
Our next stop was the night time Halloween parade, which had all our favorite characters in their Halloween costumes, including Mickey Mouse and Stitch. My only complaint is that it's a stark contrast to their usual Mickey's Soundsation parade which is a celebration of Disney music, this parade had one song played on loop to the point of madness. It was still cute but I had that song stuck in my head for the rest of the night.

Next Jack Skellington and the villains took over the fireworks show, as they lit up the sky with Halloween colors and effects. I love it when the show incorporates giant flames, since it's nice to work on my tan at night. The fireworks show definitely made up for the lack of music in the parade.

We spent the rest of the evening in line at what is probably one of my favorite things about Disneyland in general: Character meet-and-greets. And yes, I know I didn't actually meet Lady Tremaine or Hades, but frankly I don't care. It's still exciting for me to meet my favorite characters. I go back to feeling like a little kid.

Scarecrow outside the Haunted Mansion
Now I want you to picture my wife and I standing in line to meet Jafar. I'm dressed in my Stitch onesie hanging out having a good time when a character helper walks up to us. Here's the conversation:

Cast Member: "Oh no! You don't get any candy!"
Me:"I'm sorry?"
Cast Member: "No! Last time we gave you candy, Stitch, you treated this park like Tokyo and trashed everything!"
Me: (Starts pretending to cry) "But I trick-or-treated for it!"
Cast Member: (To my wife) "Are you with him?"
My Wife: (Trying so hard not to laugh) "Yes"
Cast Member: "Will you make sure he behaves?"
My Wife: "I've tried but there's no stopping him"
Cast Member: (Turns back to me who is still sobbing) "Do you promise to behave?"
Me: (Starts to nod head, then switches to shaking head)
Cast Member: (Throws up hands) "You're hopeless!" (Walks away)
(Everyone in earshot laughs hysterically, including me and my wife)

One of the floats in the nighttime parade
We met a pile of villains that evening, and for the entire weekend had a wonderful time celebrating this most wondrous holiday. I highly recommend that if you're going to plan a trip to Disneyland next year take the Halloween party into account, because it's probably the most fun you've had at Halloween since you could go door-to-door asking for candy for yourself.
YAY Stitch!
One must bow before a queen!

Us with Jafar

Hades Lord of the Dead
Dr. Facillier from Frog Princess!

The Tremains-one of the scariest villains of all!
The castle-always makes my heart jump

Little bit of multi-culturalism
Friends at Disneyland-what could be better?

I'd love to hear them play!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Good At Nothing

Ever get into that "pity party" phase and think to yourself, "There's nothing I'm good at"? It's a very depressing statement. One I've sat and said to myself many, many times.

While in the MTC, I shared a room with my companion, Ben, as well as another companionship made up of Daniel and Carter. Ben was/is an amazing violinist. I mean, we're talking prodigy child. The guy could play the violin better than anyone I'd ever heard. (A statement which remains true to this day.)

There was one day when Daniel, Ben, and I were in our room. It was actually Halloween 2001. And whatever it was, I was not feeling well. (Probably stress, knowing me.) Well, I was attempting to sleep at the time (or rest) and Daniel and Ben were discussing Ben's violin skills. Daniel said to Ben, "I wish I had a talent like that. Really, I'm good at nothing."

Now, if you know me well, you would know that when I'm sick, I'm boldly honest, more than I usually am. And thirteen years ago, I didn't like that Daniel was discrediting himself. So I sat up, looked at Daniel and said, "That's not true. I know there's something you're good at. And I see it in you. I won't state what it is, because it's for you to find and own." (I may not have said "own", but truly, it's something I should've said.) Daniel looked at me and said, "Thank you."

Over the past few months (probably longer, to be honest), I've thought to myself how I'm not good at anything. However, I've started to notice (whether on my own or pointed out for me) how I'm actually good at a few things. And even though I look at people and think "Man, I wish I could _____ like that person," I know that I can do more than I give myself credit for.

Of course, in the earlier story, Daniel was jealous that Ben had a talent that could (and has) put him on a stage and have people clap for him afterward. Daniel, on the other hand, was the epitome of charity. No, he didn't give up everything he had. But he did show his love for those around him through his actions and words. And seriously, it was a talent he possessed well.

A talent of which I have always had envy towards others is in art. Two of my fellow Mormon Geeks, Joe and Stephen, are great artists. They have worked hard for what they can do and do a great job at their art. Having watched Stephen do many sketches has with flawless ease (in my viewpoint) has me sad at my own ability. Looking at things Joe has created I sit back and think "I could never be that good." And I used to believe that I have no drawing ability in my blood.

But as this General Conference approached, I sought an activity to do whilst listening. Yes, I could be note-taking, however, I've learned it just doesn't work for me anymore. And I remembered how much I liked to sketch. Yeah, the ones I did weren't all that great, but I did try.  Growing up, there was a sketch of my dad and his sisters hanging up in my grandparents' house. I was probably ten when I asked my grandmother who had done the drawing, only to be surprised when I found out it was my own father.

If you've noticed the few sketches that have shown up in this blog post, you'll notice they're not perfect. No, they're not the best in the world. But in my opinion, they're good. They're not gonna win any awards. But they were done with love, as they were all done for somebody in my family, including myself. There was time taken on each of them. There were mistakes made. The eraser was used. And sometimes, the mistakes were left in.

But you know what? I don't care. I'm glad I did them. I did the best I could do. And I didn't give up. And I think they're good. Earlier this week, as I sketched Olaf for my youngest, my wife looked over my shoulder and said "You're a really good artist." As much as I wanted to shrug it off and say "it could be better", I just said "Thank you."

However, there's something else I thought I was bad at that someone else has pointed out the opposite to me. Monday, I was struggling with something and I ended up texting my bishop. What I sent him was a note of appreciation for all he does for our ward. He replied asking if everything was okay. (Can't blame him.) But after we texted for a moment, he said to me that I was a really good friend and he sees me as an example to follow. Despite my instinct to sell myself short and say that he was wrong, I couldn't argue that I try. There isn't a friend, past or present, that I don't love in some way. Yes, I love my wife more than all of them and my children next. But that isn't the same kind of love.

Loving a friend is different. And if the friendship doesn't last, like those high school ones that you write in their yearbook "We're gonna always K.I.T", there's still something to love about the person and about the friendship.

I'm not writing this to toot my own horn or stand on a pedestal. I'm writing this to remind you (and myself) that I am good at something. So when you think, "I'm good at nothing", I challenge to think the opposite. "I am good at something. And I am valuable. And there are plenty of things in this life to be good at that I don't need to be jealous or envious of others."

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Recovering From Surgery-Gamer Fantasy or Extrovert Nightmare?

So guess what happened to me two weeks ago?

I went to the emergency room!


With some help from my mom I also picked back up cross stitch!
See it turns out that having seven cookies for breakfast and a triple-cheese-grilled-cheese sandwich for lunch was a bad idea, because it aggravated my previously unknown gallstones. This all happened only a few days before we were to fly out on our big Halloween trip to Disneyland (That story next week). Luckily, after a very careful diet of carrots and asparagus, I made it to and through my trip without incident. As soon as I got back though I hired a man to cut me open and assassinate my gallbladder, though sadly he refused to wear a hood or use a hidden blade.

That was a week ago yesterday, and I've been on my couch ever since.

In that time I have caught up on The Walking Dead, Legend of Korra, Supernatural, Criminal Minds, several movies on Netflix, a bit of Arrow and a lot of Grey's Anatomy, as well as played Sims 3, Civilization 5, and Rogue Legacy.

And I can't wait for this to end.

See, here's my thing: I use video games, movies and TV as an escape from the stresses of everyday life, but whenever my everyday life is REDUCED to video games, movies and TV I start to wonder about my status as a true geek. I just can't stand having the only thing I accomplished in a day be that my Sim wife took a Sim vacation. I need to be part of the world, even if it is the occasional trip to the mall or even the bank, just so I feel like I'm part of a real society that doesn't exist solely behind a screen.

One trip to the Lego Store later...
I don't know how people can do it. I used to have a roommate a long time ago (No Andrew, this isn't you, calm down) who would go to work then come home and play video games all night, only to repeat the process the next day. He didn't go to church. He didn't go out to social activities or events. He sometimes didn't even bathe (See Andrew, I told you it wasn't you!). I could never understand the appeal of that life. Being here for just a week I already miss my friends, even my job and class which I use entertainment to escape from! For me I need a balance.

It's like in Star Trek. You can't appreciate the brilliant maneuver that finally beats the Romulan Warbird (Next Gen fan, they were always chasing the Romulans) unless you watch the ship get torn apart and crew members falling down next to exploding panels.

I know I shouldn't complain. I remember when my mother had her gallbladder assassinated she had to go back to work three days later, and that was on her feet! People do have it worse than sitting around watching Netflix and inhaling groceries, but as a geek I just wanted to take a moment and look at this little event.

Less complaining and more awesome next week!

Also, have you seen Mormon Geek's Pintrest board? This is what I've also been doing!

Check it out!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Podcast: Episode 13: Doctor Who Lists

I'm back with more Doctor Who random fun. This time he has his friend Spencer coming up with random lists with him from the Whoniverse.

And if you have any topics you'd like to hear about on the Mormon Geeks podcast, go ahead and leave a suggestion.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Promise- Book One of the Graphic Novel Sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender

 I was not introduced to Avatar: The Last Airbender until about a year after the series had ended. One of my roommates at the time told me that this was a series that I had to watch. And I found that, even though its target audience was children, the series had such a gripping story line and such wonderful characters as to keep me interested from start to finish.

I looked forward with excitement when the live action movie adaptation came out (which disappointingly turned out to be a flop), as well as when the sequel series, The Legend of Korra, was announced (which did a much better job of living up to the Avatar legacy than the movie).

Avatar was great, though there were a number of questions left unanswered at the end of the series, the most pressing of which was the fate of Zuko's mother (which was teased, but ultimately left unanswered in the pilot episode of the Korra), as well as how many of the changes in the world in the seventy years between the end of Avatar and the beginning of Korra came about.

About two or three years ago, I started hearing about graphic novel sequels to Avatar that are supposed to answer some of those questions, though I never seemed to run across them during my visits to local comic book stores. I was finally able to find them online and just recently bought them

The graphic novels were set up as a trilogy, with each story consisting of three parts. The last story is not complete yet, though Part Three will be released next month. I am planning to do a review of each story, starting this week with the first story, The Promise.

Cover for Part One of The Promise
The Promise starts immediately following the close of the Avatar series. Aang and Zuko are working with the Earth King to have the Fire Nation Colonies removed from the Earth Kingdom. Early on in Part One, Zuko asks Aang to make a promise to him. As the newly crowned Fire Lord, Zuko fears what the pressures of ruling and the legacy of his family might do to him. Zuko asks Aang that if he ever see him turning into his father, that he end his life. Aang resists at first, but when Zuko presses the matter, Aang reluctantly makes the promise. The title of the story is based on this promise.

As the story goes on, it is revealed that some of the older Fire Nation colonies, some of which have been in existence for over a hundred years, have become integrated with the Earth Kingdom, with citizens of the Fire Nation forming families with citizens of the Earth Kingdom. When Zuko sees this in one particular colony, Yu Dao, and he sees that removing this colony would break up families and cause harm to both citizens of the Fire Nation and the Earth Kingdom alike, he changes his mind and decides not to remove this colony, and even defends their right to stay.

Cover for Part Two of the Promise
The rest of the story deals with the aftermath of this decision, especially as Aang doesn't initially understand why Zuko has reneged on his agreement, and has to seriously consider whether or not he will have to carry out the promise that he made to Zuko.

Though I won't give the ending away, anyone who has seen the pilot of Korra knows that Aang and Zuko remain friends throughout their lives and go on to found Republic City. This story shows the roots of the movement that unified members of the different nations and eventually culminates in the creation of Republic City. It also shows how “mixed-nation” families (such as Aang and Katara or Mako and Bolin's parents in Korra) could come about.

Cover for Part Three of the Promise
One of the side stories in The Promise concerns Toph and her early attempts to train other earthbenders in metalbending. It is fascinating to see the starts of what could eventually become the metalbending masters of the Republic City police force that Toph's daughter Lin leads in Korra.

It is also exciting to see the characters introduced in the Avatar series continue to develop as many of them realize that the solutions to the problems in this post-war world aren't as black and white as they might first appear to be, and that there can be more than one way of looking at a problem. This is seen in particular in Zuko's relationship and interactions with his father.

Cover Page of The Promise
The creators of Avatar were closely consulted in the writing of The Promise and the other graphic novels that follow, and I was pleased to see that the author did a very well in keeping everyone in character.

As with the premiere of Korra, the fate of Zuko's mother was teased in The Promise without being answered. In fact, we do see former Fire Lord Ozai respond to Zuko's question to him about where his mother is (as was shown in the finale of Avatar) without revealing her fate.

The Promise did close, however, with the promise that the next story would address that question. Indeed, the next book is titled, The Search, and Team Avatar will be aided in their search for Zuko's mother by none other than Azula.

Overall I found The Promise to be a really enjoyable read. I am looking forward to reading The Search, which looks to be even more exciting.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Joe and T.J.'s Monster List

Since Joe is recovering from surgery and I can't remember what day Monday is anymore, figured we'd all love to have a random podcast on Thursday. Right? (Just smile and nod.)

Joe and I (T.J. if you didn't know) talk about our favorite monsters in this Halloween themed podcast.

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tweeria: A Twitter Based...Game?

I tend to follow my twitter feed during the work day.  I probably have way more people that I follow that I really need.  Most of the time, I can't even remember why I followed the person.  Sometimes, something interesting sneaks it's way down the twitter feed.  One of these was 'Tweeria'.

According to the Tweeria website, Tweeria is: "Tweeria is a game with minimal user's involvement. Every time you tweet, your alter ego finds adventures, kills monsters or gets items. Tweeria is proud to bring free RPG art and game here in Twitter! And you know it's so lazy..."

My Tweeria character's profile
 Basically, every hour, the game will look through the tweets that you have made.  Your character moves, fights monsters, casts spells, and finds items based on what you've tweeted.  If you've tweeted with the Twitter handle of another player of the game, they may help you fight monsters, or maybe even fight you!  Using certain keywords in tweets causes the character to cast spells.  Hashtags can be used to have some control of where the character ends up moving.  Other than that, the interaction between the player and the character is limited to buying, selling, and equipping items and spells.  There is a lot of fan art for the game that can be purchased and used as item for the hero.  The items basically improve the heroes performance.  Spells can do any number of things from strengthening your character, dealing damage, or weakening monsters (or other players).

The marketplace showing some of the new items that players have created

The game does seem somewhat entertaining.  It's kind of like watching a television show that features yourself and the people that you've tweeted throughout the day.  Really, I'm not even sure if it really qualifies as a 'game' because there is very little interaction that is possible as a character.  Still, it doesn't cost me anything to play, and I already do a lot of tweeting.

The map, where am I going? What am I doing here?
What are your thoughts?  Is this really a game?  Or is more of an analysis program that analyzes your tweets?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review of Arrow: Season One

There seem to be a lot of shows out right now that appeal to my geek nature that I've wanted to watch, but haven't found the time. One of the series that has been on my list is Arrow. A few months ago, I finally started watching Arrow on Netflix. And after a few episodes, I was kicking myself for not doing so sooner.

The logo for the Arrow series
Arrow premiered about two years ago. I originally saw it advertised in the comic books I was reading at the time. It was described as an adaptation of the origin of Green Arrow, whose alias is millionaire Oliver Queen. Though Green Arrow had made his live action television debut in Smallville in 2006 with actor Justin Hartley, the new series was set in a different continuity, casting a new actor for the title character, Stephen Amell.

Stephen Amell, who plays the title character in Arrow
The previews of Arrow described it as being dark, and that unlike many other characters in the superhero genre, this character was clearly a vigilante that didn't hesitate to kill. As I was raised watching and reading about superheroes such as Superman and Batman who had clear moral codes against taking lives, this was one of the things that originally deterred me from watching it (and almost missing out on an amazing show).

Something else that kept me watching were the "Easter eggs." Those those familiar with DC Comics will recognize the characters, both those specific to Green Arrow, as well as those found in the broader DC universe, that are introduced or mentioned during the season. I have to say that the fan boy in me really enjoyed each reference to the characters I had come to know and love from comic books.

Before you read any farther, let me warn you that there are a few minor spoilers.. However, I will not spoil any of the overarching plot of the first season. So having been warned, on to the review.

DVD Cover for Season One of Arrow
As mentioned before, Stephen Amell plays Oliver Queen, who in the pilot returns home after the yacht he and his father were on sank, and he was stranded on an island for five years. His father, who died before making it to the island, confessed that he had failed their city (along with others of the city's elite), and asks Oliver to survive so he can right his wrongs. Oliver comes home having become a talented archer, physically fit and skilled in combat (all of which he keeps secret), and with scars covering twenty percent of his body.

Promotional Poster showing the scars on Oliver's body
The first season takes place in the modern day, with many episodes interspersed with flashbacks of Oliver's time on the island, showing how he survived and learned the skills that he later uses to fight the corruption when he returns home.

Nearly every episode starts with this opening monologue: “My name is Oliver Queen. For five years I was stranded on an island with only one goal- survive. Now I will fulfill my father's dying with- to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this, I must become someone else. I must become something else.”

Oliver begins his quest by going after those on his father's list that have corrupted the city wearing a green hood and armed with a bow and arrows. He quickly becomes known to the police and the public as “the vigilante” or “the Hood.”

"The Hood" in action
In the pilot episode, Oliver does kill several men, all of whom are professional killers. For some cases, it could be argued it was in self defense. But there is one he chases down and kills, because he knows who he is and what he can do, and in Oliver's own words, “Nobody can know my secret.” Granted the man had just killed someone in cold blood in the previous scene, but to kill someone for the specific purpose of protecting his secret did no sit well with me.

Although I found it refreshing to see that Oliver does have some morals around taking life. When asked why he conceals his identity, he states that it is “to protect the ones [he] care[s] about.” And when a  hired assassin confronts him about taking lives, he states that it's “for the good of others."

And the fact that the Hood kills is never glossed over. On two different occasions when Oliver takes someone into his confidence, they confront him with the fact that he's a killer. Dialogue frequently revolves around the conflict between the good he's doing in helping others and ridding the city of crime and corruption, and the fact that he is a criminal himself because he breaks the law and kills when he sees it as necessary.

Artist's sketch of the vigilante as shown on the news
Several episodes into the season, another vigilante known as the Huntress is introduced. The contrast between her and Oliver is intriguing. Oliver kills when necessary to honor his father's wishes and to clean his city of corruption. The Huntress kills anyone who gets in the way of her vendetta to get vengeance against the man that killed her fiance, and if she hurts or kills innocent people along the way, she's not going to shed any tears over them.

As the season goes on, Oliver does grow and becomes more willing to sacrifice himself, if necessary to save his city and those he loves. The season finale in particular is heart wrenching. The characters had been developed in such a way that, even knowing they are fictional, I had grown to care about and become invested in them, and seeing what they go though brought tears to my eyes at several points (and that's something very few TV shows or movies do to me).

The main cast for Season One of Arrow
Overall, I found Season One of Arrow very captivating, and enjoyed it from start to finish. The character development, story telling and the world building were all amazing. I am very much looking forward to watching Season Two (which comes out on Netflix next week) and then starting Season Three (premiering on CW next week), and finding out what else is in store for these characters.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Matt Watts

I am very excited to present my former Elder's Quorum President and current dear friend Matt Watts. Matt is an amazing artist and dad who works with who provides food handler training to health departments and workers all over the U.S Matt has also illustrated a project near and dear to his heart, the Wheat-Free Princess.

Check out my interview with Matt, then check out his artist blog to see more of his incredible art!