Resurrection

It’s almost become a running joke for me to include “end of hiatus” in my first update after a string of absences.  Allow this post, though brief, to serve both as an apology and a promise: 

Mistopia shall return in full force Soon™.

I look forward to seeing you then.  We have much to discuss.

Shooting the Moon

End of Hiatus
It’s been a long time since my last post, which continued the proud tradition of creating completely unreliable predictions about the NCAA tournament. In the months since that time, I have spent my time buried in the world of working for an internet start-up company — with some extra time thrown in to get re-acclimated to the DC climate.

Even still, I regret the lapse of updates, and there’s no better time than the present to put things right.

Moving on.

Today, I was struck by an article going around on Slate.com dealing with the recent death of Neil Armstrong and NASA’s past glory. It’s a fantastic read that goes far beyond the petty controversy alluded to by its title, and it’s worth your time. Seriously.

Fascination
I’ve always loved NASA. As a child, I was enthralled by outer space in a way most kids are absorbed with Tonka trucks, dinosaurs, and Legos. I liked those things too, of course, but I could never learn enough about the solar system to satisfy my curiosity. What were the other planets like? What might lay hidden upon them? Could we ever make the journey there ourselves?

Lots of kids say they want to grow up to be firefighters, police officers, famous athletes, paleontologists, or astronauts. As for me? I wanted to be an astronomer.

I held no illusions about the astronaut thing — I never wanted to visit an unexplored planet on an untested craft in an experimental spacesuit. No, I wanted to visit our neighboring planets only after they’d been safely inhabited with futuristic space stations, and until then I’d be happy to simply read about them and learn what I could from good ol’ terra firma.

Early in high school, I realized several important things that changed my plans completely: First, that astronomers used an enormous amount of physics to do their work, and second, that I was very bad at advanced math. With main strengths skewed toward language, music, and the arts, I resigned myself to learning more about the fascinating universe around us by reading about it, and to leaving the science-y stuff to those who were better equipped to make discoveries.

My parents, both of whom are chemical engineers, weren’t super thrilled about my decision to tackle journalism as a trade, but hey — you’ve got to play to your strengths, and even they had to admit I wasn’t likely to figure out how light bent by a distant black hole translated into the presence of clustered heavenly bodies that even our most powerful telescopes can barely discern.

I’ve always been bothered by how little the average person knows about our solar system and its surroundings. There are dozens and dozens of fascinating moons, asteroids, planetoids, and more floating around out there, many of which contain the ingredients necessary for life as we know it — though in their extreme states. It’s an amazing universe out there, for anyone wondering.

What Else Awaits Us?
It’s not that we’ve lost our drive to explore since landing on the moon, either. We continue to pepper Mars with exploratory rovers, and we have satellites actively firing past the known reaches of our galaxy. Any day now, we expect to complete the first truly intergalactic transmission thanks to these latter explorers. Big things continue to happen, even as NASA hemorrhages funding and people lose their patience for projects measured in years instead of hours.

These achievements would be very inspiring, if only people could parse the daily chatter about inane celebrity antics and political bluster to hear about it.

I still think we’ll reach Mars someday, perhaps even in my lifetime. In doing so, I hope we can renew our tenacity toward expanding into the unknown, in peeling back the void.

We can be so much more than the bickering squabble media outlets would have you believe is the best humanity has to offer. The question is: Will we?

Aaron’s Extra-Good, 100% Accurate, Completely Unbiased NCAA Bracket Analysis – 2012 Edition

In light of the enduring popularity of last year’s bracket, Mistopia is ready to once again dive into March Madness. 68 teams are entering the dance, but at the end of the day, only one will walk (or hobble) away with a pair of high-quality nets from New Orleans.

Round 1
The first four games continue to baffle me. Each of these teams has oozed blood, sweat, and tears for this moment: a shot at being the knocked out in the next round by a team that actually deserves to be in the tournament. VCU did prove me wrong last year, but I’m confident the 2012 crop won’t repeat the feat.

Miss Valley State over Western Kentucky — the Hilltoppers’ freshmen are no match for Miss Valley State’s experience.

Iona over BYU — Scott Machado can carry the Gaels at least this far.

Lamar over Vermont — Bobby Knight’s son won’t go home just yet.

South Florida over California — Cal choked vs Colorado and USF went down to Notre Dame. Edge: The defensive might of the Bulls.

Round 2
We’ve got some of the weaker basketball games out of the way, but we’re not out of the woods yet. Onwards toward glory! (Or soul-crushing disappointment, depending).

SOUTH

Kentucky over Miss Valley State — this one’s no contest, and a great example of why the previous round should be considered “cruel and unusual punishment.”

UConn over Iowa State — the Huskies have enough gas in the tank for one good game.

VCU over Wichita State — I’ll avoid jinxing myself by knocking VCU out on their first game this time around.

New Mexico State over Indiana — the Hoosiers suffered some unfortunate injuries, and the Aggies are a tougher team than they look on paper.

UNLV over Colorado — the Buffaloes haven’t seen the NCAA from anywhere but their living rooms since 2003. The Rebels will advance.

Baylor over South Dakota — the Bears have beaten Kansas. They can handle a few Jackrabbits.

Notre Dame over Xavier — the luck o’ the Irish will keep them from falling flat just yet.

Duke over Lehigh — much as I detest the Blue Devils, Lehigh won’t be able to knock ‘em out of the Dance.

WEST

Michigan State over LIU Brooklyn — the Spartans will march all over the Blackbirds, no matter how impressive their alley-oops have been in the past.

Memphis over St. Louis — the Billikens haven’t been to the tourney for more than a decade, which make’s ‘em Tiger food.

New Mexico over Long Beach State — Long Beach won both championships in the Big West, but the Lobos boast a deep bench that’ll give them that extra edge.

Louisville over Davidson – The Cardinals have a strong enough defense to blunt Davidson’s assault, and put consistent (if hardly impressive) numbers on the board to advance.

Murray State over Colorado State — Murry State’s mostly made up of juniors, and that experience has helped them become the only single-loss team in the tourney. They’ll advance.

Marquette over Iona – The Golden Eagles can really put up the points, so long as they avoid a much larger team that can beat them on the boards. Iona can’t outpace them and will end up short.

Florida over Virginia – With VA’s Brogdon and Sene out, Scott can only carry his team so far. The Gators’ strong perimeter style will prevail.

Missouri over Norfolk – The Tigers have a lot more offensive power than Norfolk knows how to handle.

EAST

Syracuse over UNC-Asheville — The Bulldogs owned the Big South and deserve their spot here, but they’re no match for Syracuse.

Southern Miss over Kansas State — The Golden Eagles upset the Wildcats with consistent, unselfish play and by abusing Kansas State’s poor performance at the charity stripe.

Vanderbilt over Harvard – Vanderbilt has at least two (and maybe three) players going pro next year; the Crimson is a respectable team, but they lack that kind of raw talent. Plus, Vander just beat Kentucky. They’ll move on.

Wisconsin over Montana – The Badgers will put up a tenacious defense that Montana just can’t match.

Cincinnatiover Texas– The Longhorns have J’Covan Brown, but the injury sidelining Wangmene points to a Bearcats victory.

FSU over St. Bonaventure — Florida State has six seniors, and that kind of experience will pay off for at least one more round.

WVU over Gonzaga – As long as Jones and Bryant stay out of foul trouble, the Mountaineers have the edge here.

Ohio State over Loyola – There have been times when 15 seeds upset 2 seeds, but this is not one of them.

MIDWEST

UNC over Lamar – Lamar’s a solid team with a good coach, but Roy and the Tarheels are in a league of their own.

Creighton over Alabama – the Tide’s lack of discipline will be their downfall here as foul trouble and panicked plays nudge Creighton onward.

Temple over South Florida — The Owls manage to hold on, but it’ll be more of a struggle than it should be.

Michigan over Ohio – Ohio’s a good team, but they can’t match Michigan’s backcourt talent.

NC State over San Diego State — The Wolfpack has proven they can hang with the likes of Duke and UNC; they’ll inch forward here looking for another shot at a powerful team.

Georgetown over Belmont – The Hoyas have a balanced squad, and Belmont will simply be outplayed here despite their deep bench.

Purdue over St. Mary’s — Robbie Hummel deserves to advance here, and will work harder to do so than the Gaels can handle.

Kansas over Detroit – The Jayhawks may not be the talk of the town, but they’ve got enough talent to take down Detroit.

Round 3
We’re left with a collection of likely and unlikely teams that are all still nursing high hopes. Some harsh lessons will be learned this round, and while most will involve knowing your place, a few will teach the value of humility.

SOUTH

Kentucky over UCON — The buck stops here for the Huskies; Kentucky’s just too strong.

VCU over New Mexico State — The magic of last year’s run is still alive and well. For now.

Baylor over UNLV — Baylor’s a very athletic team, and will wear down UNLV for the win.

Duke over Notre Dame — Again, I want to send the Blue Devils home, but I just don’t think the Irish have enough fight in ‘em to do the trick.

WEST

Michigan State over Memphis — Despite the Tiger’s NBA-caliber talent, Michigan State works better as a team.

Louisville over New Mexico — It was all the Lobos could do to get here; the Cardinals will put ‘em down for the count.

Marquette over Murray State — Buzz Williams’ offbeat style will win the day over the Racer’s predictable pacing.

Missouri over Florida — The Gators are good, but they’re not THAT good.

EAST

Syracuse over Southern Miss — There’s no way the Orange will let themselves be sent home this early.

Vanderbilt over Wisconsin — The Badgers boast a powerful defense, but eventually you have to outscore your opponent.

Cincinnati over FSU — Florida State has beaten some of the best teams in the country and took home the ACC tourney to prove it, but Cincinnati’s tough. After a close match, the Seminoles march home.

Ohio State over WVU — The darlings of Morgantown will come up short against Sullinger and company as long as they refrain from taking pot shots from the arc.

MIDWEST

UNC over Creighton – Creighton puts up a lot of points, but not more than Carolina can handle.

Michigan over Temple – The Owls had a hard time getting here; Michigan will gently show them back to the bleachers.

NC State over Georgetown – It’s an upset, sure, but the Wolfpack is used to that this year. Expect a fast-paced, brutal game.

Kansas over Purdue — It’s a close match, but Purdue’s 2-7 vs Top 25 teams. Plus, and Kansas is better at the boards.

Round 4
There aren’t many surprises this year in the Sweet Sixteen — these programs know what they’re doing, are hungry to advance, and have the talent to do it.

SOUTH

Kentucky over VCU — The fairy tale ends here for the Rams; no matter how many times you steal the ball, sometimes you have to put it in the hoop afterward. Go with the sure thing here.

Baylor over Duke — The Blue Devils have been inconsistent all year, and Baylor has the staying power to shut them down hard.

WEST

Michigan State over Louisville — Michigan State is a little undisciplined, but should be able to pull off this win.

Missouri over Marquette — Missouri has a power-packed team, and Marquette won’t be able to exploit their merely adequate defenses for the upset.

EAST

Vanderbilt over Syracuse — Melo is out and Vanderbilt has defeated top-ranked teams before when they were at full power.

Cincinnatiover Ohio State — Early foul trouble for Sullinger swings the ball to a somewhat surprising contender.

MIDWEST

UNC over Michigan — The Wolverines struggle against talented big men, and Zeller may be more than they can handle.

Kansas over NC State — NC State has a history, and it involves getting tired after a few games. Edge to Kansas for this one.

Round 5
Welcome to the Elite Eight: a trio of 1 seeds, a pair of 2s, a 3 seed, a 5th seed, and a 6th seed. That seems like a good mix of luck and skill to me.

Kentucky over Baylor — Much as I would like to see Baylor pull this one off, their 1-4 record vs Top 25 teams shows a glaring weakness I just can’t ignore.

Missouri over Michigan State — The Spartans lack the poise to stay focused, opening the door for a minor upset.

Vanderbilt over Cincinnati — It was a good run for Cinci, but Vanderbilt’s got more raw talent.

UNC over Kansas — Kansas isn’t a bad team and matches up well with UNC. Provided the Tarheels are healthy, their experience gives them an advantage here.

Round 6
The Final Four. The field has narrowed significantly now, and the players are starting to feel real fatigue. It’ll all be worth it if they can just pull it together for two more games, but that’s easier said than done.

Kentucky over Missouri — Missouri’s powerful players finally go down to Calipari’s Wildcats.

UNC over Vanderbilt — UNC’s experienced roster knows how to handle the high-octane energy of the tournament better. Vanderbilt will run out of steam after a long, surprising run.

Round 7
Two will enter. They’re both number one seeds, which makes me nervous, and only one will be leaving with heads held high. SPOILER ALERT: They’ll be wearing blue.

UNC over Kentucky — As long as the Tarheels have their full roster, they’ll be able to outmaneuver an opposing team where four of the top seven players have never been to the NCAA before.

And there you have it, a completely unbiased approach to the 2012 NCAA. Best of luck with your own brackets, and feel free to send me a portion of the sweet, sweet loot you collect from your friends and family after putting this valuable advice to good use.

Stop SOPA/PIPA

Today, Mistopia is joining in with the online movement to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act.

Despite their feel-good names, both of these initiatives seriously threaten free speech by giving a handful of powerful companies the power to unilaterally shut down sites that may or may not host copyrighted content or links to such content.

This bypasses the legal system’s current copyright protection tools and places the burdon of proving innocence upon their targets, most of which will not be flush with lawyers and liquid cash to fight such claims.

There will always be criminals in this world, and they will always find new ways to break the law. Legislation like SOPA/PIPA sets the dangerous precedent of allowing governments and companies to censor huge chunks of the internet, severely harming online communities by making gathering spots (Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia, YouTube, etc.) responsible for policing the content uploaded by their users. This is an impossible task for even the largest social media networks, and will make investment in new similar ventures impractical.

Pirates, of course, will just create new sites as quickly as their old sites get shut down.

For more information, please watch the below video:

Write your representatives. Explain to them that civil rights and a vibrant, innovative internet cannot be colateral damage for the greed of media license holders. There are better ways to protect copyrighted content, and they should be explored.

Use a language they’ll understand: Economics. Tell them that the opportunity cost of this legislation is far too high.

Edit (1/20/12)
Looks like the internet wins this round, but we need to remain vigilant against such measures in the future to ensure we are really only inhibiting criminal activities.

A Fresh Resolve

“How few there are who have courage enough to own their faults, or resolution enough to mend them.” – Benjamin Franklin

I’ve never really gotten into the whole “resolution” thing.

It’s not that I’m against self-improvement, but cobbling it into the holiday madness of late December causes people to take their resolutions about as seriously as hanging up the lights, decorating trees, or counting off the final seconds of the past year — it’s done reflexively, with little thought.

The same goals tend to trickle in year after year: I should eat better. I should sleep more. I should hit the gym. I should donate to charity. I should DVR more Dexter.

Just like last year.

Admittedly, most of these goals are relative; they may stay relevant each year, but the question then becomes one of intensity. Eating out three times each week is an improvement over eating out five times each week, but shouldn’t the goal have been “no more than once?” Do we always settle for the least possible discomfort while still being able to call it an improvement?

Renewal is a constant thing, and while I enjoy taking a moment at the dawn of a fresh year to reflect upon the triumphs and failures of the past, it’s important to remember that the process is continual. Tweaks are necessary, which means “breaking” a resolution shouldn’t mean giving up. It might mean starting over, scaling down, or changing the focus to the root of the problem. Being able to actually keep a resolution probably means you didn’t aim high enough in the first place.

With all that said, my resolution for this year is simple: Stick to the update schedule. That means twice per week, Mondays and Thursdays, with occasional extras on the weekends or as events warrant.

I’m looking forward to spending more time with you in the coming year.

There and Back Again

Over the last 6 months, I have driven from coast to coast and back again in my trusty 2003 Ford Focus. After 6000 miles on the road, I now find myself safely back where I began: Washington, DC.

Since I puttered across the southern reaches of America my first time across, hitting New Orleans and Flagstaff en route to Los Angeles, I thought it might be fun to try out the northern passage on the way back. My desire to avoid spending another thousand miles staring at the same desert sands a second time was such that I forgot what the alternative entailed: crossing the Rocky Mountains in late October.

Living (even briefly) in Hollywood, it’s easy to forget most of the country enjoys a new season every three months or so. While temperatures change in LA, they do so based on daily timeframes rather than monthly patterns — you need a jacket in the morning and at night, but during the day, shorts will suffice.

Given this background, when I packed what would become my mobile home for the foreseeable future, I didn’t give a second thought to the complete absence of long-sleeved clothing or a decent ice scraper among my possessions. My mind moved instead toward other details, such as the proximity of the trip to Halloween and how little I wanted to spend my favorite holiday cramped up in a coupé.

I would come to regret this lack of vision.

Day 1: Rules of the Road
CD Selection: The entire soundtrack from Wicked four times in a row

The first leg of the journey began in the early afternoon and took me out of California, through Las Vegas, and well into Utah before I had to stop for the night. The air had already become more chilly than I was comfortable with, and as I puffed increasingly visible breathes into the air at each gas station I encountered, it became clear that things were only going to get worse.

Day 2: Headin’ Down the Highway
CD Selection: The Divine Comedy audio book (Inferno and part of Purgatorio completed)

I set out from Utah refreshed and ready to tackle the mountain roads to Denver, a simple quest which became a daunting challenge as the roads became progressively paved with ice and snow. On the plus side, Utah (and, later, Colorado) proved surprisingly scenic, and I stopped many times to admire the mountains, valleys, and hills that dotted the landscape. I judge without hesitation that it surpassed Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in rugged beauty, and I could almost see the settlers of old pushing westward along these very paths in their pixelated wagons.

Dressed as I was in the warmest thing I owned — a leather jacket typically worn only while driving my motorcycle — I alternated between feeling like a complete idiot and a total stud every time I got out of my car to take in the sights or refuel. Still I pressed on, knowing my salvation would be at hand once I reached Denver; Laura would be waiting there to aid me for the remainder of the journey.

It was nearly midnight when my trusty steed rattled into the Mile-High City, but the way became far less harrowing once city limits were reached. Laura was added to the party without further incident, and with the 40% of the trip completed for me (0% for her), we drifted off to sleep.

Day 3: Caped Crusaders
CD Selection: The contents of Laura’s iPod in alphabetical order by Song Title (it died around the M’s), then random CDs

In the morning, I woke to find that Laura had provided costumes for our journey — a Raphael costume for me, and a Supergirl costume for her — along with brimming bags of candy. The justification? She knew how much I loathed missing Halloween for the trip, so she decided we could bring it with us.

I donned my costume and assumed that would be the extent of things, but upon entering the car I found that the interior had been strewn with orange, pumpkin-themed garland, glow-in-the-dark bats, stuffed animals in costumed regalia, and plastic spiders.

“Laura,” I said, somewhere between amusement and confusion, “Thanks… I… Um… There’s no way we can drive like this. This is the girliest thing you’ve ever done.”

She smiled mischievously. “I know. We can take it down if you want, but I want you to recognize that the girliest thing I’ve ever done for you involves spiders.”

In the end, the garland had to go, but the bats and spiders were strategically placed throughout the car for maximum exposure and continued to plow (at times, literally) through Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri.

We stopped for gas in rural Kansas around noon, despite the fact that the only food option listed on the exit signs was “Arthur’s Pizza & Mexican Food”. We wrinkled our noses, deciding that while lunch could wait, we did need to feed the Focus. We met a man parked at the gas station pump across from us who was doing his best to muffle the ceaseless wailing of his child, still within the vehicle. He turned an appraising eye toward us as we approached (in full costume, naturally).

“You want a baby?” the man asked hopefully, thumbing toward his van.

We gave him our unanimous response (“NO.”), and asked for a recommendation for local fare.

“Well, there’s a McDonald’s twenty miles that way,” he said, motioning toward the freeway. “Or, you could go to Arthur’s Pizza & Mexican Food down yonder. It’s pretty good.”

“Most places can’t do both of those things,” I chuckled. “Which do you recommend?”

“Oh, the pizza,” the man grinned. “Yeah, just pretend they only serve pizza.”

Arthur’s ended up being quite pleasant, and the rest of the day was spent counting the billboards declaring Jesus’s love and stealing each other’s hypothetical cows.

Day 4: Into the Maw
CD Selection: The contents of Laura’s iPod in alphabetical order by Song Title (it died around the T’s), then blissful silence

We left our hotel in Columbia, Missouri, with the goal of making it to Laura’s brother’s place in Columbus, OH, by dinnertime. Imagine my surprise when we managed to do just that without incident or delay! After enjoying a delicious home-cooked meal, we spent the evening wandering the cold city streets looking for people besides ourselves who had deigned dress up on the Saturday before Halloween.

“I don’t understand it,” Laura’s brother kept repeating as we searched for signs of life. “These streets were packed last night. PACKED.”

We did eventually find a costume-friendly bar, and while the experience was low key, it was also quite enjoyable. We explored parts of Columbia’s most haunted neighborhood by foot, and in the end we ran uphill toward home in an impromptu race while singing the theme from Rocky.

It was a good night.

Day 5: Homeward Bound
CD Selection: The rest of Laura’s iPod, then Jon Stewart’s Earth: The Audiobook

The final leg of our journey was from Columbus to DC, and we kicked off in high spirits despite the omnipresent chill (warmed, in part, by a hearty breakfast and tempered by delicious ice cream) and the fact that we were now wearing the same costumes for the third consecutive day. Traffic was kind, as far as I can recall, because everything from the final day blurs together in my memory under the categories of “nearly there” and “Jon Stewart is hilarious”. Suffice it to say that we arrived in DC safe, tired, and hungry — and happy to finally be home.

If you’ve never driven across the United States before, take my advice: DO IT. But don’t do it alone; you’ll want a friend to share the magic, the joy, the sights, the sounds, and (most importantly) the driving with. There’s always magic tucked along the nooks and crannies along the road — check ‘em out for yourself.

The Deafening Silence

Many have asked about the unannounced two-week hiatus Mistopia has just experienced. I understand your concerns – it took me by surprise too!

Here’s the situation: At the end of June this year, I moved from DC to Los Angeles to pursue a career in game design. This quest was much more difficult than anticipated, and as a side-effect of this process Mistopia suffered a drop in the quantity and regularity (but not the quality!) of its updates.

I have now taken a new job which merges writing, editing, and game design, but it requires me to move back to DC. Ah, life and its sense of humor. Predictably, this has resulted in an even more sparse series of updates as I’ve scrambled to slap my life back together.

There’s plenty of stories on the way, and things will get back to their constant, steady rate soon. Thanks for your patience!

TL;DR? No, I’m not dead.