Picking A Movie

I learn a lesson about life every day, and then I share that lesson with you. Here is today’s…


When I pick a movie for me and Nicole to watch, I can agonize over the Netflix or Amazon Prime queues for a half hour or more. This drives Nicole crazy because often we end up not watching a movie since I take up most of the watching time picking the movie.

I obsess over it. The movie I choose has to be the right balance of mood and content. I consider how Nicole might be feeling, how I am feeling, whether I think she will think the movie is good, who is in the movie, how long it is… I try to find just the right movie for the moment.

So I asked Nicole to pick a movie this time. I walked into the bathroom to brush my teeth and get ready for bed early, figuring I had at least half an hour to kill before settling in for a good flick. Before I raised the toothbrush to my lips, Nicole popped in. “Okay,” she said. “I picked it.”

It was a decent pick, too. I put my toothbrush down and interrogated her to find out how she picked a movie for both of us so fast.

She shrugged. “It was easy. I picked one I wanted to watch.”

It is nice to be considerate, I learned, but don’t over-think it.







Would You Pay 30 Dollars to See 300 Million Dollars?

Today’s Lesson: Movie theaters are still worth going to.


Perhaps sadly, I remember when movie tickets jumped from $3.00 to $4.25 in my neighborhood. I could not believe how expensive going to the movies was getting and I have complained about the prices ever since (and still do).

Dropping $30 for 2 Imax tickets to see a mediocre movie (plus another $20 in outrageously over-priced concession items) makes a night at the show something to think twice about.

Comedian Louis C.K. thought twice about it. He has a funny bit where he talks about the production costs of movies. I am paraphrasing but he basically says, “Movies cost as much as 300 million dollars to produce. If you have 300 million dollars, why produce a movie? I would pay you 30 dollars just to see a room filled with 300 million dollars!”

He is right. If that was a museum exhibit, I would happily plunk down the price of a movie to see it! His quirky observation gave me a new perspective on going to the show. It made me realize I am not just going to look at the art or experience a thrill ride of emotions. I am also going to see what a group of people thought was a good use of 30 thousand, 300 thousand, or even 300 million dollars. Movies have become rather fascinating in that light.

If you think about it, going to the movies might even still be a good value for your investment. How much would you pay to watch someone burn 300 million dollars or turn it into 3 billion dollars by seeing how many seats they can fill and how many other people can be enticed to watch it and talk about it?





10 (Possibly Crazy) Things I believe About Tampa

I’m pretty sure these are at least 80% accurate.


In just a few days, Nicole and I will be living in Tampa together. We spent three days in Tampa once and after talking to the locals and looking stuff up online, I am both excited and terrified to live there! I thought it would be fun to share some of the things that go through my head when I imagine what life will be like near the beach…


1. Snakes. Everywhere, snakes. I saw one sitting on top of a bush when we visited and everyone who lives there tells me they rarely see snakes but I think they are just used to them. My guess is there is probably a snake in every house, slinking behind the walls or sleeping in the toilet, just waiting for the right moment to scare the sh*t out of somebody. I hate snakes.

2. Alligators. Everywhere, alligators. If I ever find myself playing catch with a friend and I miss the ball and it rolls into a thicket… there is no way I am going after it in Tampa. My assumption is there is a hungry alligator hiding behind every bush, which is filled with snakes. When we were searching for apartments, if there was not a unit available on the top floor (furthest away from alligators and snakes), I ruled it out immediately.

3. The ocean wants to eat you. I am not afraid to go swimming in the ocean but I have a healthy respect for it and generally avoid it. The way I see it is that the ocean has no size limit. There are fish, like blue whales, that are literally as big as your house. That is insane. There are poisonous creatures that disguise themselves as rocks. There are weird things that look like kites with teeth that sort of swim and sort of fly through the water. The ocean has tentacles and fangs and tidal waves and things that pull you under. I am glad the ocean is not under my bed. I would rather fight a monster. I saw Jaws 1, 2, and 3 in 3-D. I know what the real deal is. The ocean is hungry… for human flesh.

4. The cockroaches are big enough to mistake for Chihuahuas. They do not even call them cockroaches in Florida. They are called Godzilla Bugs! Or maybe it is Palmetto Bugs. Whatever. They are so big, you might accidentally try to pet one thinking it is somebody’s dog and then it is going to freak out and fly right at your face and you are going to be stuck with a face-hugging cockroach alien parasite that wants to drag you to the ocean. That’s some scary stuff right there. I won’t shower or poop before doing a full bathroom corners and toilet inspection. Just saying.

5. People are nice. What? It’s not all terrifying. Everywhere we went, people called me sir. They were really friendly and surprisingly, there were not that many old people. Which brings me to number 6…

6. Tampa is full of old people. Well, okay, I know that is not really true but maybe I just caught them on a tourist-filled weekend. Maybe the day we left, the blue-hairs started crawling out of sewers and lurching out of alleyways, croaking like zombies in search of fiber. “Graaainnnsss…”

7. Driving is impossible. I tell people I am super excited because the place we will be living is only 20 minutes from the beach, and they are like, “Oh, that’s cool! It will only be like a 2-hour drive for you then…” What?!? Why don’t I just rent a camel or throw a saddle on a Palmetto bug to get there faster?

8. Night hisses at you. You see palm trees in pictures and you associate them with warm and beautiful visions. Palm trees have heavy, brittle leaves that rub together and hiss, though. During the day, you don’t notice it because it blends in with the ocean and you are looking at all the great sights. When you hear palm trees blowing in the wind at night, however, you are instantly paralyzed by fear because it sounds like you stepped into a freaking snake convention. I hate snakes.

9. Hurricanes happen, like, every week. I have no idea how often hurricanes or tropical storms hit Tampa, but in my mind it is probably every other day. I imagine we will need kayaks as much for a back-up form of transportation as for recreational stuff, like paddling away from alligators (I am also convinced that is why many people are fit there… you have to be able to swim faster than your friends if you want to live).

10. In July and August, the temperature is a million degrees. I am not exaggerating. I imagine driving is such a pain there because rubber tires probably start melting at a few hundred thousand degrees and we are talking a million degrees. In truth, I kind of suspect this is a story locals tell tourists so the tourists won’t want to move to there, but I imagine summer in Tampa is so hot, skinny dehydrated hippies spontaneously combust while in search of Starbucks. I mean, seriously, there are not a lot of hipster coffee shops there. Coincidence? Nope. Spontaneous combustion. I can not think of another explanation and I did see the first 3 Jaws movies, so I feel like I would know.


Well, there you have it. I didn’t even get to the unbelievable lizard population. I think it actually rains lizards in Tampa. There are enough of them to sway elections if they vote (I mean, how else would you explain Jeb Bush?). Anyway, although I am sure I nailed what life will be like in Tampa, I will be happy to share what it actually turns out to be like when we settle in.


Today’s Lesson: Did you read the part about fish as big as houses? I mean, holy crap! Swimmers legs probably look like a little parade of Vienna sausages under the water. What fish doesn’t love Vienna sausages?

(…Oh, and probably, you can’t have adventure without a little fear and wonder…) 



1 Way To Live Better: Have Great Integrity

There is a theme this week: I will share my 5 favorite tips for living better that have worked for me. Maybe they will contribute to you, too…


1. Be known for having integrity. The fastest and most powerful way I can think of to improve your life is to keep your word… even to yourself. This is what I call having integrity. I am fond of sharing the Landmark Education definition of integrity–Saying what you will do, then doing what you said you would do, by the time you said you would do it (but it is easier to say, “keep your word”.

If you say you are going to be somewhere at 8:00, then consider 8:01 a failure to keep your word. You have lost a bit of integrity. If you tell yourself you are going to work on losing weight, for example, consider it a matter of personal integrity to keep your word.

Each time we lose integrity, the structure that holds our character together is compromised, the same way a structure of a boat loses integrity if it springs a leak or a building loses structural integrity if a support beam is missing a rivet.

One big loss of integrity can bring the whole structure down. However, many little nicks in the integrity may not seem so damaging individually but, taken as a whole, they can weaken a structure enough to topple or sink it.

I am passionate about personal integrity because in a world that has it, everything works. Imagine a world where every meeting starts on time and the people who have integrity (you know the ones who always show up on time) are never punished for keeping their word, having to wait for the slackers with no integrity. How many conference calls start like this, already five minutes after their scheduled start time… “Okay, we’ll just give everyone a few more minutes to join and then we’ll get started…”? What is that like for the people who made kept their word and made it a priority to be where they said they would be when they said they would be there?

Imagine every person on your team being dependable. Imagine each of your friends always doing what they say they will do by the time they say something will be done. Imagine never planning ahead of time to be “fashionably” late to a social function. What if parties just started and ended on time and everyone smoothly moved on to the next thing they had planned?

How about never having to stay open for that one aloof customer that wanders in two minutes before closing, keeps you forty minutes past your shift time, and never buys a thing? In a world operating on integrity, that does not happen because everyone knows stores keep their word, opening and closing on time. All employees are home for dinner at dinner time. Customers are not disappointed when they are not let in 10, 15, or 20 minutes after closing time because it is not expected to happen in a society that honors integrity and does not reward slackerism.

Some people slip into an integrity pitfall, though. They think a good story (“I was stuck in traffic, the weather was bad, my alarm didn’t go off, my dog ate my homework…”, etc.) is a suitable replacement for integrity (“…and that’s why I was late…”). Having an excuse or a story is not the same as having integrity, and it does not work any more than a boat with a leak works.

My favorite example of integrity failing in the world is with movie theaters. When I was growing up, a movie that was listed to start at 7:00 actually used to start promptly at 7:00. However, movie theaters realized their patrons had little integrity and kept showing up late, complaining about missing the first few minutes of the shows. The theaters came up with a clever way to outsmart their interminably late customers. They added fifteen minutes of previews. This way, when they listed the movie start time as 7:00, they knew some people would still show up at 7:15 but those people would now be just in time for the movie to start (and the people with integrity would not feel so bad waiting, having something to do in the meantime).

The only problem was, customers realized there were fifteen minutes of previews added but they still did not have integrity. The actual problem was never addressed. Now, we have fifteen minutes of previews preceded by another several minutes of commercials and even more commercials or promotions after the previews. Some movies do not start for a full half hour past their scheduled start time. Ironically, people with strong integrity still will not be late to the previews and commercials and the slackers will still somehow manage to miss the first few minutes of the movies!

I should point out there are two important caveats to having integrity and ensuring you remain aligned with your values.

The first is understanding where matters do not involve a choice to have integrity, there can be no integrity. A common example is when a leader demands a goal is met or assumes agreement on a policy or practice. If your subordinate is expected to sell 1,000 widgets by tomorrow (with an implied, “or else…” from you), then the employee has no failure of integrity if they do not meet the goal. Sorry, but good leaders do not get to hide behind our demands as a proxy for leadership. Integrity is a character measure and so can only exist as a personal commitment to one’s self, not as an agreement to an ultimatum.

The same is true, for example, if a father demands his son cleans his bedroom before going out with his friends. If the son does not clean the bedroom and still goes out with his friends, the son has not lost any integrity (clearly, there is another issue here but that is not what I am addressing). The son has no choice but to acquiesce or agree to the father’s demands if the boy wishes to go out.

The second caveat is understanding “keeping your word” is distinct from “making a promise”. I never promise things. I do not believe promises are aligned with integrity because promises are tied to an external action rather than internal character structure. In other words, when you make a promise, you are usually promising to do something (“I promise we’ll go to the zoo tomorrow…”) but when you show integrity you are committing to be something (“I will take you to the zoo tomorrow”–this is not a flimsy good intention… it is stated as an undeniable fact). A promise is not powerful. Any sentence that starts, “I promise” has an implied, “as long as…”. Facts, by contrast, are stated as absolutes. There is nothing to imply on the back end.

Because promises exist in reality as external actions, I say they are subject to Newton’s Laws of Motion, one of which is, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Promises inevitably lead to broken promises.

Integrity, on the other hand, is an internal dialogue–there is no equal and opposite motion to being something. An apple sitting on a table is pushing down on the table as the table pushes back with equal force to maintain equilibrium (or else the apple would fall through the table or the table would push through the apple). However, the apple being red has no equal and opposite reaction. It simply is.

We hear the same distinction in conversation. We say, “Joe is a man of great integrity. If Joe says it, you can count on it. He always keeps his word”. No one ever says, “Dave is a man of great promising. He sure knows how to promise stuff!”

Think about that.


Today’s Lesson: Be known for your integrity. Cut the words, “I promise…” from your vocabulary (say any sentence without them and see how much more powerful it sounds). Do not let other people assume your integrity from you based on their wishes. Finally, if you say something, do it (and do it the way you said you would do it by the time you said you would do it). Or, in short… always keep your word.



The Lesson I Learned Today… 140713

Movies are expensive and the concession stand is like taking all the cash in your wallet and throwing it on the floor, and then vacuuming the house.

I love popcorn, though and, for me, it is part of the movie-going experience. I don’t like it enough to finish a tub, however, so I always order a small popcorn and a small pop (I like to treat myself to about half a cup of a small Pepsi–any more than that and I’ll probably have to start strategizing a bathroom break during the film’s climax).

Today, I learned a great trick to get just the right amount of treats without feeling like I was mugged afterwards. At Celebration theaters (your results may vary at other chains), a small pop and small popcorn will run you $9.50! BUT… but if you just order the Kid’s Combo (and decline the gummi bears because they are not vegan and neither gum nor bears anyway), it only costs you $5.50! Same size pop, like half a cup less popcorn.

That was pretty exciting for me. The concession girl tried to upsize me as usual, and I said, “It’s no use. I’ll just throw away half the popcorn and pop.” She said, “Oh, well if you are just trying to get a smaller size, how about the Kid’s Combo? It’s basically the same thing but it’ll save you a lot of money, too. Double bonus, right?”


The point? You’re never too old to be a kid… and there’s even some perks.


Who Is Your Favorite Superhero?


Some heroes are better than others.

Iron Man, as portrayed in the movies with Robert Downey, Jr (except Iron Man 2–I pretend that one never happened), is my favorite depiction of a superhero. Batman comes in second. When I was growing up, I only read a few Iron Man comics. He seemed like a fake superhero to me; he really had no magical super-powers. Iron Man was just a guy in a metal suit. Spider-man was my favorite then–bitten by a radioactive spider and with all kinds of abilities. Plus, when Spider-man was out of costume, he was just a geeky high-school student, bullied and shy. What adolescent boy could not relate to that?

As an adult, though, it is the reverse. Spider-man, although entertaining, I think is one of the worst superheroes portrayed and Iron Man is an icon of what a hero should be.

The problem with Spider-man, as I see it, is there is nothing heroic about his character. He happens across super powers, fails to use them to stop a crime and save his uncle, and has the worst run of luck of all the big name heroes. Peter Parker is always miserable. He is a hack photographer for a tabloid newspaper–a job that barely pays his rent; he never has the money, the girl, and the car at the same time. He allows himself to be timid and intimidated by others unless he is wearing the Spider-man costume. On top of that, Peter Parker is riddled with guilt… over his uncle’s death, over his Aunt May’s health, over his relationships, etc. As Spider-man, he is the consummate Socialist hero–burdened with trying to save the world for the sake of everyone around him, rather than doing anything for himself. He is the perfect John C. Maxwell leader; he exists to serve others. The tragedy of Spider-man is he becomes a superhero in spite of himself, not because of himself.

Contrast that to the Iron Man movie character. Tony Stark did not magically gain super-powers. He worked for his wealth as an inventor and thought leader and relied on his personal intellect not only to create solutions to challenges but also to make moral decisions. He became Iron Man when he realized his view of the world was misaligned and the technology he created was being used for purposes reprehensible to his own moral code.

Batman is similar. Among the DC Comics superheroes, he is one of the few without super-powers. Instead, he is a self-made and well-trained detective, martial artist, and businessman, often using more of his mind than his body to solve crimes and bring powerful, often maniacal, criminals to justice. I like Batman, too, because he operates within clear moral boundaries that he created. He chooses not to recognize the flaws of the judicial system and politics and he expects to pay the price for that one day. More importantly, though, he has clear ethical boundaries. Batman famously does not kill. It is his primary moral imperative. Some of his enemies know Batman will not kill, and sometimes try to use that against him, but still he stands by his own choices. He relies on his wits and abilities to outsmart his enemies–no happenstance magical powers.

You might wonder why I would spend so much time pondering over comic book superheroes?

I think heroes are important, both real and imaginary, and I think we should spend more time considering who and what we look up to and wish to emulate in our personal lives.

I don’t want to live my life like Spider-man–apologetic for nearly every mistake and riddled with regret–a superhero by chance in a low-rent apartment and never comfortable filling the role. I would rather trade up for Iron Man’s charismatic arrogance (and notice when it counts, he drops the arrogance and focuses on the task at hand), or Batman’s self-confident individualism, and be something rarely seen these days, either in film or in life… a self-made man. Now that’s someone I can look up to.


Who is your favorite superhero and what is the characteristic that seems most heroic or most significant to you?



Will Netflix Control Your Life?


I will never watch “The Debt” on DVD. I’m sure it was a good movie and certainly the people that worked on it would like me to see the results of their labor and passion. I am unwilling, though, to be forced to watch commercials when I pay Netflix for the option not to.

I rented the movie from Netflix and as usual, the DVD started with a slew of commercials and previews for other movies–a lot of them, at least 5 minutes worth. Normally, I skip through the ones of no interest to me (the stock Blu-Ray commercial or previews for movies I have seen already).

Some discs disable the “next track” button so I can not skip the ad–pretty annoying, but I can still fast forward through the fodder to get to the movie I paid to see. I can also skip the previews altogether, by pressing “Menu” on the remote control. On “The Debt”, however, I experienced a new level of forced viewing–I could not skip, fast forward or tap the “Menu” button to bypass anything. On that disc, I am forced to watch all the commercials and previews to get to the main menu. Worse, when I stopped the movie and tried to pick up where I left off the next day, I had to go through it all again.

If I wanted to be forced to watch advertisements, I would just go back to cable.

I was even more frustrated when I tried to write Netflix to let them know how I felt about this. Turns out, you can’t. They have no email address or chat feature on their website. You can call their customer service line, but after about 15 seconds of phone trees, you will want to hang up or claw your eyes out (just hang up, though).

Maybe the most frustrating part is I know my ire should not be directed at Netflix. They simply provide the disc. The problem, as with the music industry, is not with the artists or distributors. The problem is with the studios–and if you think Netflix is hard to get hold of, try contacting Miramax pictures and finding someone who cares what the customer experience looks like.

It is hard for me to think of something I dislike more than assumed control over my life, and unfortunately this example is just a pebble tossed into the ocean. There are many, many, many instances where someone (usually an advertiser or the government) takes over for you under the assumption you are a mindless lemming willing to jump off whatever cliff they throw in front of you.

Hopefully, other people have experienced this and are irritated enough to complain (loudly) as well. Forced Marketing is a total fail and I hope this new tact by the studios goes no further than The Debt. I would rather not watch any movie or television than be forced to watch garbage I choose not to see.

We do not have to accept assumed control over our lives, even over little things. It’s fitting that the movie I rented was called “The Debt”, and serves as a good reminder to Netflix and the studios that the debt owed for their existence is to us–the consumers–not from us to them.


What is the most frustrating way that someone has assumed control over your life or decisions?






Movie: John Carter… Why Make People Dumber?


I saw the movie “John Carter”, which has an origin more interesting than the film itself. It was fine eye-candy but I was struck by how unimaginative the story is on the big screen as well as how badly written.

The original story was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (the author of the “Tarzan” books) in 1912. The Disney big screen adaptation marks the story’s hundredth birthday, and it’s interesting to note the character has endured among sci-fi fans almost since its birth, and in works by other authors.

The movie had blockbuster computer-generated effects and stale action-movie acting–which was expected and fine, but the story was so formulaic and predictable (as was the dialogue) that it was hard to bear in parts. I could deal with all of that–I even liked Battle LA (an equally implausible story, but told better). My main disappointment in the movie was in knowing that people already have a fundamentally uneducated view of Astronomy, Physics, and Mysticism, and this movie exacerbates the ignorance already out there.

The planet Mars, which is further away from the sun than Earth, is depicted as a hot desert planet requiring every race to romp around shirtless or in wispy strands of clothing. In reality, Mars is a much colder planet than Earth–with temperatures of (on a balmy summer day) around 50 degrees Fahrenheit to minus 60 degrees at night. Probably not fashionable to wear loincloths there. Of note, the advanced technology used in John Carter (ships that float on light, laser weapons, teleportation) also seems incompatible with Roman armor and sword-fighting swash-buckling armies.

The first violation of science, though, happens when John Carter arrives on Mars. He can breathe. With no help. Just normal breathing. In an atmosphere that has virtually no oxygen (it’s 95% carbon dioxide–deadly to humans). Really. Better than that, though, he is able to understand Martian dialect by drinking water from the planet. I’m not sure how we are supposed to buy that, but the good news is, you only have to believe that part if you can get past there being an alien race on Mars that is human (but not human?), has technology we can only dream of, and has built vast cities and flying ships on the planet never seen by earthlings with even rudimentary telescopes.

Apparently, there is a special laser power derived from the gods, that is somehow related to the nine planets in the solar system (of which there are only 8–Pluto was decidedly down-graded from its planet status in 2006 and was not yet discovered when the original John Carter story was written). It is never explained how this power works, what it is, how it came to be, or why the alien race that created it did not realize there are only 8 planets in our solar system.

There is also a super-speed creature that looks like a giant green salamander with a face like a frog that has mated with a bulldog and the Incredible Hulk, and it barks like a golden retriever. It is supposed to be for comic relief, but it is really just a creepy… thing. The dog-frog is minor, though, compared to the idea John Carter, who is only familiar with Earth technology from 1886, is not only able to master alien technology and defeat an invasion on another planet, but also has the political and moral fortitude to understand why there is a war on Mars (that has allegedly waged for a thousand years, unnoticed) and is able to navigate all the social and sociopolitical quagmires and choose whose side is correct within a day of his arriving there. A day. Even Gandhi wasn’t that good.

There is nothing in the film that could not have been corrected with even just sort-of decent writing, but it is so boring and stupid (the writing, I mean; the movie is still fun eye-candy) and filled with so much Altruism and mysticism it is hard to stomach (“Until you fight for others… {dramatic pause} …you will always be alone”–or something like that).

I am sure most people will like the movie and it will do well enough for an equally intelligence-sucking sequel, but I really hope it doesn’t. Rent Iron Man again instead, or Gladiator. They fill the same niche, but are unbelievable stories told well enough that they don’t offend you or ask you to believe in things that are not only impossible… but just plain dumb.