Fiddling With The Murk

The most recent episode of Game of Thrones featured an epic battle, but the presentation was so dark and murky that I felt like I was missing a lot of what was happening.  Hey, is that dragons tussling in a dim, inky cloud of ashes, or . . . what?  How in the devil is Arya running through a pitch-black tunnel?  I think that’s Sam screeching under the onslaught of the undead, but everything is so muddled maybe it’s not.  And am I supposed to be able to see the expression on Jon Snow’s face as he stands in the darkness, backlit by some feeble flames?

game-of-thrones-s08e03-759I couldn’t believe that HBO would air an episode of its top-rated show that was so difficult to see, so I decided the fault had to lie with the specific settings on my TV.  The TV is years old, I’ve long since misplaced the owner’s manual, and I haven’t tried to adjust the settings in as long as I can remember.  That meant just looking at the buttons on the TV remote — as opposed to the cable remote — to try to figure out which ones might change the video quality so I could rewatch the episode and hope to actually see what was happening.

There was a tiny button at the bottom of the remote marked “pict” that I figured probably referred to “picture” and not to Scotland’s first people, so I pushed that and saw that the options were things like “sports,” “custom,” “theater,” and “vivid.”  I have no idea what the different settings meant, but “vivid” at least sounded like it could help me decipher what was happening in the HBO murk, so I chose that.  But it seemed like there had to be a way to address the brightness of the picture, specifically, so I kept searching.  Another button labeled “menu” seemed promising, and I found that it included “brightness” and “contrast” and other options, so I cranked the brightness up to 100 and adjusted the contrast up to about 85, and then settled back to rewatch the GOT episode.

Alas, it didn’t really help — I was just seeing some lighter murkiness and was still struggling to determine exactly what was happening in all that blurry blackness.  And when I switched over to regular TV, I saw that my adjustments had really messed with the screen so that, for example, I had somehow cut off the bottom of the picture in sports broadcasts where the score is displayed.  How did that happen?  So I found another button that allowed me to shift everything back to the original factory settings, and found that that fixed everything — except the picture quality on the GOT episode.

Oh, well . . . I guess the Battle of Winterfell was just meant to be an exploration of darkness in the world.

Estate Planning Lessons From . . . Game Of Thrones?

With the first episode of the new, and final, season of Game of Thrones set to air tonight, everyone’s trying to horn in on the buzz of the show and the excitement of the fans who want to see what happens to the bloody island of Westeros.

5imy29fw-720Don’t believe me?  Exhibit A is this clickbait article from the wealthmanagement.com website for financial planners entitled Eighteen Estate Planning Lessons from “Game of Thrones.”  Here’s an example of one of the “lessons”:  Daenerys Targaryen demonstrates that you should “take inventory of your clients’ assets” when helping them plan for retirement.  In case you’re wondering, apparently a British financial has actually tried to value Daenerys’ army of Dothraki, Unsullied, and three — wait, scratch that, two — dragons and has concluded that she’s got several hundred million in assets to account for in her estate planning.  Other estate planning advice tied — in some cases, pretty loosely — to the GOT plot includes don’t rely on do-it-yourself wills and thinking about how to provide for your descendants beyond simply having a will.

If you’re a big Game Of Thrones fan who’s been ruminating about estate planning, it’s clearly the perfect article for you.  Of course, the biggest estate planning advice you can draw from GOT is to get the heck out of Westeros, so that your estate planning efforts, whatever they may be, aren’t immediately triggered by your untimely death at the hands of a murderous and sadistic bastard son who you stupidly decided to legitimize, turncoat allies, scheming witches, giants, or white walkers.

It’s pretty amazing how Game of Thrones has pervaded American culture these days.  What’s next?  18 Game of Thrones lessons on diplomacy?  18 Game of Thrones lessons on child development?  18 Game of Thrones lessons on how to buy a used car?

 

 

Pooling The Game

Well, the NCAA Tournament is over, and your annual foray into gambling with your officemates has ended — in abject failure, as usual.  You’re feeling a bit wistful about it.  In fact, you acknowledge, you don’t really care all that much about the money element of the office pool — it’s the social interaction, and the trash talking, and the possibility of getting bragging rights, that’s the real attraction.  It’s been fun following your brackets and talking to your friends about how you’re doing, and you’ll miss that.

hand-of-the-king-pin-replicaSo how about scratching that itch by getting together with your friends and combining the concepts of office NCAA pool, fantasy sports league, and everyone’s favorite big-budget quasi-medieval/sword-and-sorcery/dungeons-and-dragons HBO show?  Except, unlike the NCAA pool where you’re trying to pick winners of basketball games, in this pool you’re trying to select the characters who are most likely to get killed and earn your team valuable points.

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the Game of Thrones Death Pool.

It’s straightforward.  Identify fellow rabid fans of the show, figure out how many of your pals will be in the pool, and set a time for your draft.  Come up with a list of characters (there’s a lot of them, by the way).  Figure out what you’re going to kick into the kitty and how you’re going to allocate the money — whether it’s after each episode, or at the end of the season, or both.  Decide how many rounds the draft will go.  Prepare a grid that people can use to keep track of who’s drafted whom, and appoint a commissioner — being a Game of Thrones pool, perhaps Archmaester or High Septon is a better title — who will keep track of the scoring, provide a brief recap, and let players draft from the list of remaining (and new) characters to replenish their roster and replace the characters who’ve been killed.

And then get together with your friends, have your draft, and enjoy an adult beverage or three while you’re deciding whether Brienne of Tarth is more likely to get knocked off early in the season than, say, Varys or The Mountain.  There’s some strategy and skill involved, because even if you’re reasonably sure that a character is going to get rubbed out at some point — like, for example, Cersei — if you think they’ll last through the first few episodes you might want to hold off on drafting them in favor of a more minor character that could easily meet their maker in an earlier episode.

We had our Game of Thrones Death Pool draft last night, and it was a lot of fun.  We each are kicking in $45, points and money will be allocated after each episode and at the end of the season, and the ultimate winner will get an authentic knock-off Hand of the King pin purchased from Amazon.  There were five of us, and we had five rounds in the draft.  I drafted second and am pretty happy with my team, which consists of Melisandre, Qyburn, Baric Dondarrion, Yohn Royce, and Gilly.

Let the GOT Death Pool begin!

The GOT Countdown

On April 14, HBO will broadcast the first episode of Season 8, the final season of Game of Thrones.  All dedicated, borderline-obsessed GOT fans will then have the chance to savor six new episodes that will wrap up the TV version of the story of the Targaryens, Lannisters, and Starks.  (Don’t even get me started on when we might get the next installment of George R.R. Martin’s book series that launched the TV show, which has been the subject of almost as much speculation as the Mueller Report.)

jon_snow_and_daenerys_targaryen_got_png_by_nickelbackloverxoxox_dcrioxu-preI’m interested in seeing exactly how the story comes out, of course.  (Hey, I sure hope the living somehow defeat the Night King and his Army of the Dead!)  Mostly, though, I’m just curious about who is going to even survive until the story’s end.  There are so many characters on the show it’s hard to remember and list all of them, as we realized when we were talking about the show with friends over the weekend.  (Don’t forget Grey Worm, or Tormund Giantsbane, or Podrick Payne, or Eddison Tollett of the Night’s Watch!)  And one thing has been clear about Game of Thrones from the beginning, whether you’re talking about the books or the TV show — even leading characters get knocked off with Grim Reaper-like regularity.  And since it’s the last season, I’m guessing we can expect a real bloodbath, and maybe a colossal battle or two in which multiple characters that have gotten a lot of screen time get mowed down.

Because it’s clear that many characters are going to be stabbed, hacked, hung, immolated by dragons, poisoned, or have their throats deftly cut by Arya Stark, I find myself putting the characters into death-related categories.  There are the characters that need to get killed to satisfy the bloodlust of the viewing audience (Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, the Mountain, and Qyburn, Cersei’s evil wizard/chemist/mad scientist), characters that you know are going to bite it at some point, but at least are likely to die in heroic fashion (Beric Dondarrion, Brienne of Tarth, Ser Jorah Mormont, Varys, Theon Greyjoy, and probably Gendry, King Robert’s hammer-wielding bastard son), and characters that you would be really angry to see get killed but you know deep in your heart that it could happen because the show likes to throw shockers at you (Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark).  There are characters that you don’t want to get killed but, if they must, you hope that they get some richly deserved revenge first (Asha Greyjoy and the Hound).  But what about the Khaleesi?  Jon Snow?  Sansa Stark?  Missandei?  Ser Davos Seaworth, my favorite?  Creepy white-eyed Bran?

One of the great things about Game of Thrones is its utter unpredictability, from the point Ned Stark got beheaded through the Red Wedding to the present.  And we’ve got less than three weeks to go before we start finding out.

The [Insert Noun Here] At [Insert Location]

The other day I was driving through southern Pennsylvania when I saw a billboard for one of those condominium/retirement community developments.  The name of the place was “The Views at Bridgewater.”  What kind of views, I wondered?  I didn’t know, and I wasn’t going to stop to find out.  But I did notice, once again, what seems to be an alarmingly ubiquitous trend in naming new real estate projects.

english_word_22the22In the old days, a developer would have simply called the new project “Bridgewater,” but at some point a marketing genius decided that adding “the” and a one-word description would be much more attractive to potential buyers.  Maybe using the specifying “the” is thought to give the development a more distinctive feel.  Whatever the reason, this same naming convention seems to have been adopted by every real estate developer in America.  It’s always “The” followed by a noun identifying a physical feature followed by “at” followed by a location.  So, if somebody were to develop a condo project in the Westeros world of Game of Thrones, it inevitably would have a name like “The Walls at Casterly Rock” or “The Cliffs at Dragonstone.”  And if this naming convention had been developed before Seinfeld was broadcast, his parents would have lived in “The Units at Del Boca Vista” instead.

And just as disturbingly ubiquitous is the overuse of periods in advertising real estate developments.  Every “mixed use” development seems to feature “Live.  Work.  Play.” somewhere in its brochures and billboards.  Why the periods, rather than commas?  Probably because somebody did tests with a focus group, and decided that periods were more definitive and therefore more compelling.

Do these marketing approaches work with the average American?  They must, because they’re everywhere.  English teachers undoubtedly cringe at the overuse of one-word sentences, but at the same time feel a certain welling sense of pride that words and punctuation can be the difference between a successful real estate venture and an outright failure.

As for me, I’ll just continue to “Breathe.  Eat.  Blog.” here at “The Brickwork at German Village.”

Immersion, Or Calculated Exposure

The other day someone asked why I wasn’t writing more about the latest episode in the ongoing Trump Administration Train Wreck in Washington, D.C.  I’m not sure exactly which deplorable event triggered the question — and I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it?

There are so many appalling, clumsy, bumbling, disgraceful, weird, inept, and dispiriting things happening in Washington, D.C. and the country these days that you could write about the misadventures of the President and his ever-changing team all day, every day.  And some people pretty much do exactly that.  They’ve become immersed in the failures and struggles and cheap insults and ill-advised statements and revel in addressing them and talking about them.

Then there are those of us, like me, who just don’t have limitless capacity for outrage and who like to think there is more to their lives than President Twitter.  I care about what’s happening, of course, but with everything else I’ve got going right now I just can’t deal with it 24 hours a day.  I don’t want the fact that Donald Trump is the President of the United States to permanently change my personality, or my outlook on life, or my relations with family, friends, and colleagues.  So I’m going with the calculated exposure approach.  I’ll try to keep track of the latest firestorm, but when it comes to really engaging with things I’m going to pick my spots.

We had some friends over on Saturday night, and as the evening ended I found myself thinking how great it was that HBO is airing the new season of Game of Thrones right now.  Why?  Because it gives us safe, neutral ground for talking about something other than Trump and politics.  Because it seems like pretty much everybody is watching the show, you can have an enjoyable conversation about most hated characters or best battle scenes or regrettable deaths, and nobody is going to get really angry because you identify Ser Davos Seaworth rather than Arya Stark as your favorite character.  It was great to be able to freely talk about something without worrying that someone was going to touch some third rail in the conversation that would leave people feeling upset.

For me, at least, there’s a lot more to the world than Donald Trump.