photo credit: Hummingbirds by Ken Bondy via VisualHunt.com, used per provisions of CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License 2.0.
I stare out my window on a cloudy day. All the pure sunlight has been drowned in grey, and blue skies have been lost to gloom. The trees are still, and the air makes no sound. A morning rain has put a dull gloss upon the leaves and grass--but, pray, what light is to be found?
Suddenly, a flash! I leap out of my seat, curious to see what has passed in front of my eyes. There it goes again, zipping through the air! I crane for a glimpse of this mysterious blur.
Just as I hoped, the creature stops, hovering in the air. 'Tis a beautiful little hummingbird pining, no doubt, for a drink of sweet nectar. Its searching black eyes rest upon me for just a fleeting moment. I admire its shimmering feathers. Even in the darkness, its glittering coat, like a king garbed in royal raiment, stuns me, and its sparkling throat, like the diamond necklace of a queen, steals my breath. The beat of its wings is near silent and never-failing.
All at once, it zooms away, never to be seen again. How can such a small thing radiate such glory? How did it please the Almighty to so wonderfully adorn such an insignificant thing? But I remember He does much the same with us. We are but little sprouts choked out all too soon by the weeds of death, yet His fervent care for us never ceases until the end of days.
While not nearly as large or as clever as May the 4th, Force Friday II promises to be huge with 20,000+ stores in 30 nations participating. So, what is this "holiday," of sorts, about? From sales on your favorite Star Wars merch to the introduction of a new character, here's what to expect this Friday, September 1st.
Deals and giveaways
While I regretfully announce that Tosche Station will not have any deals on power converters, there's still a lot of cool sales and giveaways to look out for. Some of my personal favorites are
Shopping is gradually moving online these days, but experiencing a Star Wars fan event in person is a worthwhile experience. Luckily, retailers will be offering plenty to do at their retail locations across the country. To name a few,
...and much more. To see all the deals and events that will be going on this Friday and into the weekend, check out this helpful page from Star Wars.
I slip into my kayak, and someone sends me off onto the winding river. Within its dark and mysterious water lies all manner of unknown treasures. That mystery that surrounds the water seems to grab a hold of my heart and pull me onward: my eyes become desperate for the sight of what lies around the next bend. Around each twist and turn I go, but the landscape does not change. The banks are clothed in lush green, silence hovers in the air, and the waters remain still. Occasionally, I spot a shadowy cove or a glimmering trickle of water falling from the walls of earth on either side. "Can nature not do better?" I think to myself, disappointed.
At that moment, I perceive a noise in the distance, nothing more than a hush at first. The farther I row, the louder it grows--until it is like the sound of a rushing wind. I crane for a glimpse. There ahead lies the feared rapids speeding forcefully past a bastion of rocks cloaked in moss. I brace myself for the drop...
My boat dives into the hoary foam, causing a wave of water to flood my kayak. In an instant, it has passed, and it seems all my fear was for nothing. I laugh as I row onward, looking back with relief at that ferocious rapid. Suddenly, I feel a drizzle over my head. I look up to see a dark grey stormcloud hurrying to block out the sun, and within mere moments, a full shower is pouring down on my head.
But I do not mind. It is as if nature heard my challenge and restored to me the wonder of all its vast beauty whilst I rowed on the once-silent river.
credit: Robot Graffiti by steevithak via VisualHunt.com, used per provisions of CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License. Some modifications were made to the original work.
One of the greatest fears in today's workforce is that robots are going to render human labor obsolete in the near future. Robots now exist that can pilot cars and dethrone champions in Texas Hold'em poker. Let's not forget the Softbank cell phone store that opened in Tokyo just recently whose entire staff consists of robots named "Pepper." Far more than impersonators of Gwyneth Paltrow's character from Iron Man, Pepper features omni-directional wheels, anti-collision sensors, a tablet in its chest for customers to put in information, and sensors that can sense emotion--in other words, essentially everything necessary for a sales associate in a less expensive package. Plus, a 2013 study by the University of Oxford asserts that 50% of US jobs could be lost to automation over the next 20 years. So, with these monumental progressions in AI, naturally, robots are going to steal all our jobs, right?
WIRED Magazine disagrees.
Despite reputable voices in Silicon Valley warning of an imminent robot takeover, WIRED points to signs in the economy that push aside the hysteria and dispute these apocalyptic preppers. The tech and science magazine says that two main indicators should determine whether automation is consuming the job market: productivity and job churn.
WIRED defines productivity as "a measure of how much the economy puts out per hour of human labor." As seen by the chart above, productivity growth in the U.S. has slowed of late, declining from 3% growth in 1973 to 0.6% since 2015. If robots were really taking over all our jobs, productivity should increase as the output per amount of employees rises as companies require fewer employees to do the same amount of work. But, as is clear by the statistics, this is not the case.
In fact, there are numerous signs that the job market is actually doing better today than in days past. Unemployment nationwide is below 5%, companies are reporting labor shortages, and wages are rising faster than inflation. Increased automation would cause the opposite to happen. Dean Baker with the Center for Economic and Policy Research stated, "I’m sure there are factories here and there where automation is making a difference. But you can’t see it in the aggregate numbers.”
As a second indicator, WIRED points to job churn, workers changing jobs and industries as jobs at their previous employers are eliminated. If robots were taking control, we would see an increase in job churn, but presently, occupational churn is at a historically low number--62% less, in fact, than the period between 1950 and 2000. Also since 2000, average job tenure has increased.
After a short hiatus last Saturday, "4 Most Awesome Products" is back this week better than (or at the very least, as good as) ever! I love finding cool, geeky products that allow us fanboys and girls to express ourselves in a way that doesn't make us look like total fools. Scratch that, nothing can do that--at least for me. I hope these 4 products suit your fancy anyway! Let's get started.
James Islington's Licanius series
I'm a sucker for a good fantasy--and James Islington's Licanius series looks like it might satisfy my search for such a story. The Shadow of What Was Lost is the first installment in the series, and An Echo of Things To Come will be the second installment when it releases on August 22. The book's official synopsis, via Amazon, is as follows:
It has been twenty years since the end of the war. The dictatorial Augurs - once thought of almost as gods - were overthrown and wiped out during the conflict, their much-feared powers mysteriously failing them. Those who had ruled under them, men and women with a lesser ability known as the Gift, avoided the Augurs' fate only by submitting themselves to the rebellion's Four Tenets. A representation of these laws is now written into the flesh of any who use the Gift, forcing those so marked into absolute obedience.
As a student of the Gifted, Davian suffers the consequences of a war fought – and lost – before he was born. Despised by most beyond the school walls, he and those around him are all but prisoners as they attempt to learn control of the Gift. Worse, as Davian struggles with his lessons, he knows that there is further to fall if he cannot pass his final tests.
But when Davian discovers he has the ability to wield the forbidden power of the Augurs, he sets into motion a chain of events that will change everything. To the north, an ancient enemy long thought defeated begins to stir. And to the west, a young man whose fate is intertwined with Davian’s wakes up in the forest, covered in blood and with no memory of who he is.
If that grabbed your attention, you can check out this synopsis of An Echo of Things To Come's plot on Barnes and Noble's website, where you can order both books in the series.
Is there greater pain than the loss of one dear? If there is, thank the Maker I have not found it. As they pass, I am sick to my stomach as I remember that their lifeless eyes will not see my face again. It feels as if a piece of my heart is buried as the dirt is cast over their grave. It seems as if I have fallen into some distant, strange reality where nothing is right: something always seems to be missing. I cling desperately to memories, hoping they will not fade away. As the days go by, I would think that the emptiness they have left behind would get easier, but no--my longing for their presence only grows deeper and more painful.
My only comfort is the thought that they now roam heaven's golden-paved streets: that they run freely through the rolling green pastures behind those pearly gates is my only solace. They are painless, not bound by the vices of this world any longer. God has become their caretaker, so how can I be anxious? Where they are, the skies never cease to be blue, the rivers run clear as glass, and the vibrant flowers never wither. Strife is a distant memory, and where can sorrow be found? It is always springtime, and the colors of the trees never grow dull.
One day I shall join them, and my heart, too, shall be lifted from this world of darkness. There we shall take long walks through heaven's colorful forests without care or worry, and it shall be as if we were never apart.
In memory of my dog & best friend for 11 years, Casey
photo credit: Sunset Beach Eclipse May 20th 2012 by jimnista via VisualHunt.com, used per provisions of CC Attribution License 2.0.
The much-hyped total solar eclipse--the first visible from the continental United States since the early 1900s--is quickly approaching. Whether you're in the path of totality on August 21st for this rare event or not, you will still be able to see a partial eclipse. But what is the best/safest way to view this phenomenon? What do you need to do to prepare? I've got four ways for you to be prepped for this exceptional occurrence.
1) Whether partial or total eclipse, you still need special glasses
Even though essentially the entire U.S. will be able to see at least some of the eclipse, only a small band of the country will be able to experience the full thing. And if you want a hotel in that small area, you're almost out of luck. If you're not sure whether you're in that band, check the map below:
Whether you'll be gazing at a full or partial eclipse, you'll still need special glasses, according to NASA. The only time of the eclipse that it's actually safe to look at the sun without glasses is during what's called the "phase of totality," when the moon completely covers the sun. During this period, only the corona, or outer atmosphere of the sun, is visible. Alex Young of the Goddard Space Center explains, “If you’re wearing your eclipse glasses and it becomes so dark you can’t see anything, you know it’s safe and it’s time to take them off."
So while viewers of the total eclipse will not need their glasses for the entire duration of the eclipse, everyone will need a pair at some point during the event. Cheap, non-certified solar glasses are a dime-a-dozen, so make sure you're getting a pair that won't melt your eyeballs out when August 21st comes around. This article from the National Weather Service recommends four brands: Rainbow Symphony, American Paper Optics, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17.
And, if you're looking for some other cool gear to sport during the eclipse, be sure to check out this awesome t-shirt I featured a few weeks ago.
There is a strange beauty that imbues a busy harbor. In the forest, saws screech as they fell old pines, and in the mountains, picks and jackhammers rasp in the tunnels man has hewn out of the sparkling stone. But the harbor is peculiar amongst the places of the earth that man has subdued--it is as if the grace of nature and the industry of humanity blend effortlessly into one.
The breeze flowing off the emerald waters on a hot day both cools me and urges the white sailboats in the distance quietly along gentle ocean swells. Kelp climbs up the rocks near the shore while a man holds the rope joined to his ship--both desperately cling to something lest they float away. The scent of salt and grilling hot dogs are borne upon the same air, and the voices of people mingle with the cries of hungry seagulls. Even the rust on the iron bridge upon which I am crossing over the harbor seems to recall the history of the fishermen who sailed the same waters many centuries ago.
Oh, harbor, you lovely masterpiece! May your splendor never cease, for you are a reminder of good days past and a sign of good days to come.
Despite the large gaps between new movie releases, there's never a dull moment in the Star Wars universe.
This week, I'm covering three exciting developments coming to us from a galaxy far, far away, including the connection between Rogue One and the original trilogy, a beloved fan theory that a Star Wars Rebels writer seemed to confirm, and a new Star Wars VR attraction coming to the Disney Parks.
New Marvel comic will connect Rogue One and the original trilogy
Before we went into the theater and found out every character in the film died, most of us were wondering what became of the Rogue One characters in Episode IV and beyond. Even after the movie was released, the question remains--how do the events of Rogue One impact the future of the galaxy and the characters in the fight against the Empire (outside of the obvious implications of the Alliance's possession of the Death Star plans)? Are the heroes that died on Scarif honored in any way?
The newest issue of Marvel's Star Wars comics will explore this question.
My newest blog series, "4 Most Awesome Products," is now eight editions in and still going strong! I've gotten some really positive responses to this series (one of them was my most visited blog post in a single day, ever). I've got four more products this week that I hope will suit your fancy, so let's get right to it.
Chewbacca Sleeping Bag
This luxurious sleeping bag will make you feel like you're sleeping on a...walking carpet? Let me just tell you, I'm no fan of camping (just ask anyone who knows me), but I might actually go camping just to wear this. While its main function is to be used as a sleeping bag, it can also be worn like a Snuggie, so you can take a nice, long stroll on Hoth and stay warm without having to sleep inside a tauntaun. The booties on the bottom can be zipped on or off, so you can wear normal shoes when you're walking around in it. You can grab one for your next campout on ThinkGeek for between $79 and $99, depending on the size you need.
Umbra Fish Hotel
I love the futuristic feel of this "fish hotel" aquarium by Umbra. It features an ABS shell (which can be painted to match whatever room you decide to put it in) that encloses a glass bowl. The bowl is removable, so it's supposed to be relatively easy to clean. You can even stack more fish hotels on top of each other to give the appearance of a high-rise building. Measuring in at 7.5x7.5x8 and with a capacity of two gallons, it should provide a decent amount of space for your beloved fish to swim around. Give your little aquatic friend an modern upgrade and get it for just $35 on Amazon.
I'm a sci-fi/fantasy lover & writer who especially likes talking about Star Wars and futuristic tech. I like finding new things & finding the beauty in old things, especially in my "Everyday Snippets" series. I hope you'll join me on my blog and unleash your imagination!