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Visualizing a Mortgage

A drawing of the Lemon home representing our mortgage and showing our progress paying it off.

In Episode 8 of Life with a Twist of Lemon my friend Jon asked me about buying a house and for part of that discussion we talked about mortgages. One of the things that I mentioned our family does is visualize our mortgage on a piece of paper hanging on the side of our refrigerator. On the paper is a drawing of a house, which my lovely wife made to look like our actual house. It’s on graph paper and each square represents part of the mortgage we owe. As we pay down the mortgage we fill in boxes, with the ultimate goal of having the whole house filled in. This idea didn’t originate with me; I don’t actually even recall where I first saw this. I think it’s neat though, and I like that it’s there every day for us to see. A few listeners (it still amazes me that we have those, thank you mom and the other 3 folks that tuned in) asked me what that mortgage visualization looks like, so I thought I would share it here. The colors don’t mean anything, they were chosen based on the closest colored pencil at the time. The shaded parts (roof and windows) also don’t count in our drawing. Anyone can do this too, and you don’t need to be as fancy with the drawing as Mrs. Lemon was. That said, I think ours is pretty cool and I’m just tickled with what she made for our family. Now to fill it up!

The purpose of the drawing and really a good portion of Jon’s and my discussion is understanding your debt and having a strategy to get rid of it. I don’t think debt is in and of itself a bad thing. In many instances it’s simply a necessity, like buying a house. I do think society is perhaps too comfortable with debt though and it’s good to go into something like a mortgage with a desire not to have it. That desire is strong in me, and things like this visualization help keep it top of mind so that I am constantly being reminded to get rid of it.

Life with a Twist of Lemon

Life with a Twist of Lemon

For more than a couple of years now my friend Jon Kohlmeier has been trying to persuade me to start a podcast with him. We’ve routinely joked about it, but I’ve resisted getting it started because of time and other trivial things. Jon and I have been friends for well over a decade now and our roots to podcasting go way back. Jon was the cohost and producer of the Higher Things Radio podcast with another friend of mine, Rev. George Borghardt. I appeared a number of times on that podcast, and there are more than a couple of episodes where it is just Borghardt and I just shooting the breeze. I think that’s where the idea for Jon’s and my podcast came from, because really Life with a Twist of Lemon is just the two of us shooting the breeze. Jon likes to say we’re just recording the conversations we were going to have anyway, and if it wasn’t for the fact that we schedule the recording that’d probably be spot on.

So this is my latest project, a podcast where I just talk with my friend Jon. There’s nothing prescriptive about what we’re going to discuss fro one episode to the next. We’re going to try to keep it to thirty minutes or so, because we don’t particularly care for long podcasts ourselves. We plan to keep it fully rated G because I’ve got kids and I want them to be able to be safely in ear shot. Right now I’m having a lot of fun doing the podcast; more fun than I thought I would. If I’m lucky, we’ll get a listener other than my mom and dad, and if not then my kids can look back on this project in a few years and laugh about it.

Oh and about the name... as vain as I am, would you believe it wasn’t my idea? No, really! Jon came up with the name and, because I have no modesty in my blood, I happily obliged to using it.

You can find our podcast on iTunes and most likely whatever podcast app you’re using. I use Overcast, a fantastic and free podcast for iOS, and recommend trying it out if you’re not already using a podcast app. The topic is constantly changing so pick an episode that interests you and give it a try, worst case scenario we’ve wasted thirty minutes of your time!

And apparently we've got a Facebook and Twitter page too, if you're into that sort of thing. (Thanks Jon!)

Ranking Star Wars

Recently a friend of mine, Rev. George Borghardt asked the internet to rank Star Wars movies, best to last. Presumably this was inspired by a discussion he and I had over some of Kentucky's finest just the week before.

Arrange the Star Wars Movies from your favorite to your least favorite! Mine List: V, VI, VII, Rogue One, IV, III, I, II

— George Borghardt (@revborghardt) May 7, 2017

Some folks try to skimp on this and throw out Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith as if they're not "Star Wars", but here's the deal: They are. I don't think anyone in their right mind would dispute that they are of lesser quality than the original trilogy, Force Awakens and Rogue One. Nonetheless, they are canon! I generally take the stance that the acting is horrible, but the underlying story is a valuable contribution to the galaxy. I'll go even further by saying that I'm a huge fan of The Clone Wars TV Show, and you don't get that without the prequels, which thus makes their cinematic presence worth it.

I'm going to cut to the chase, give you my list, and then explain why below. Here they are from best to worst:

  1. Empire Strikes Back
  2. Rogue One
  3. A New Hope
  4. Return of the Jedi
  5. Force Awakens
  6. Revenge of the Sith
  7. Attack of the Clones
  8. Phantom Menace

Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen ALL of the Star Wars movies then this is not the blog article you're looking for.

I've never seen a respectable ordering of Star Wars movies where Empire wasn't first. If you put Return of the Jedi ahead of it, say because you like Ewoks, then I would contend, you're not serious about Star Wars. There, I've said it! But seriously, this is the movie that gave us AT-ATs, Bespin and Han Solo in carbonite! It's the movie that's awesome, even without a trench run and a moon-like killing machine. The characters are developed; they're building chemistry, and the story unfolds with you on the edge of your seat through every scene. Seriously, I just love this movie!

Some people are going to be shocked that I've put Rogue One so high, so let me defend myself a little here. First off it's worth noting I might still be high on Stardust, but I really loved this movie! I felt the story itself was bold and well-developed. The movie as a whole stands on its own laurels. The soundtrack is exquisite, especially considering that John Williams didn't score it! Chirrut has become my favorite Star Wars character (supplanting Chewie after years in first place). There isn't a character in this movie I felt was poorly cast, and each was an excellent contribution to not only the film, but the franchise as a whole. K2SO was a hoot and a half. Alan Tudyk did a fantastic job, and my only regret is that this is his only chapter in the universe. Speaking of which, they killed them all! This controversial way to end the movie was bold, and the clean bookends only enhanced the awesomeness of this tale. The battle scene at Scarif is amazing; easily the most thrilling CGI in the franchise. The little easter eggs from Rebels were delightful. The closing scene with Vader was truly ruthless, and the conclusion of this movie is a beautiful tie in to A New Hope - far more wonderful than I would have ever expected. I'll say this in conclusion, I wasn't born by the time Return of the Jedi first appeared in theaters. I caught the theatrical re-release and while I loved them, only Force Awakens and Rogue One have been the Star Wars of my generation. Of the two, Rogue One is the movie that I walked away with goosebumps, excited about what this far away galaxy had in store for both me and my kids.

Again, I might be high on stardust, so I reserve the right to revisit this when I come down from cloud city.

I put A New Hope next, which might surprise some people but my reasoning is simple - this movie created the galaxy we know and love! The cinematography is amazing in this film, just stop and admire the camera art - it's stunning. This movie opens and we're immediately immersed in the story. Stuff has happened, there's a history to the tale that's being told, a move unlike anything I can think of from its time. We get introduced to this evil machine man, our villain in the early moments, along with our heroine Princess Leia and the two comedic droids that transcend all of the Star Wars universe (seriously, they're the only characters in ALL of the films and show!). Most importantly there is nothing hokey about this movie (which is why it displaces the next film in my ordering); it's a true original and that's why I've ranked it here.

Return of the Jedi is great, but it's admittedly a little hokey at times. The ewoks, enough said. But I do love this movie, and it's an excellent conclusion to the original trilogy. This movie opens with Luke "a Jedi knight" (no longer a padawan still discovering the ways of the force) taking on the vile gangster Jaba the Hutt. If you were watching this for the first time when it came out this was your first introduction to Jaba! Unlike Empire, Return leans on a Death Star, which is not in and of itself bad, but is also why Return falls behind A New Hope for me. If Return had been the first in the franchise I would have ranked it above A New Hope, but alas it's not and thus why it falls in this spot.

Force Awakens was an awesome reboot to this franchise. I love Rey's character, and Finn is an awesome wing man in this film. While the movie starts a bit slow, it's an honest homage to the art which is A New Hope, all the way down to blowing up Star Killer Base with an X-Wing. Kylo Ren, by all measures, appears to be a formidable villain. I won't belabor all the excellent aspects of this movie, I'll just say this: Force Awakens is my generation's A New Hope, and in that vein it served it's purpose, but it's hardly an original story to the Star Wars Trilogy. While it bests the prequels (easily) it doesn't break above any of the original movies for me.

Revenge of the Sith is dark, so much so that George Lucas supposedly insisted it be rated PG-13, when all other Star Wars films had just been PG. Anakin is as creepy as ever, but the supporting cast is top notch. This movie opens with a battle over Coruscant with some amazing camera angles, and then we get a glimpse into Anakin's struggle with the dark side as he slays Count Dooku. Order 66 is a shocking scene that answers a long time question of the Star Wars universe: What happened to the Jedi? Lastly, Anakin's fall to the Dark Side, followed by his mutilation and finally his mechanical restoration concludes the prequels in the spirit of the original trilogy. We see the twins finding their homes in the galaxy, answering one of those burning questions from Return of the Jedi. Then to top it off, we get a glimpse of Lord Vader and the Emperor watching the construction of the ultimate weapon - a proper way to transition to A New Hope. This is a great capstone to the original trilogy. For most of my life I believed that this is where Star Wars ended and I was pretty happy with that. If Force Awakens were never to have come out this would have been an excellent ending to an epic franchise.

The thing I remember the most about Attack of the Clones was that stupid scene on Naboo with Anakin and Padme frolicking through the field. This was Hayden Christensen's entrance into the Star Wars universe and his creepiness alone ruins the prequels for many people. But the truth is this movie tells us a lot about the Clones themselves, and sets up The Clone Wars TV show, which was truly fantastic. We also get our first glimpse into how Anakin struggles with the dark side as he slaughters the sand people on Tatooine. This glimpse helps the viewer transition from the cute little kid of the Phantom Menace into the evil tyrant of A New Hope. The battle scene on Geonosis is pretty much awesome, with Yoda commanding the Clones, "A perimeter around the survivors create!" Anakin gets his butt kicked in this one, but the scene is tensely awkward, with the only redeeming point being Yoda coming in and one upping Dooku in a way that only Yoda could. There's a glimpse of the Death Star in this one, a nugget into the backstory of the amazing killing machine that sets the scene for the original trilogy. If it wasn't for the Naboo scene it would be a close race with Revenge, but in the end it's hard not to call this movie cheesy.

Phantom Menace is the one unnecessary film in the franchise, and thus it should be no surprise it's in last place. Its limited value is in Qui Gon and Maul, let me explain. Qui Gon becomes critical in The Clone Wars to understanding how it is that Obi Wan comes back to Luke in the original trilogy. If you don't care how or why that is, then this point is moot. Ultimately the Qui Gon / Obi Wan communing through the living force is not super critical to the story line, it's just another facet told. Onto Maul, he was the face of this movie's release in many respects. It seemed like every movie poster featured him when Phantom came out. He was scary and the face of the Dark Side and yet in reality his on screen presence was pretty pathetic. But Maul got a second life (almost literally) in The Clone Wars that continued on into Rebels. Some of the best stories in those two shows involve Maul and so, while Phantom Menace is unequivocally last on my list, it's worth noting the significance it had on the animated series (which kick butt by the way). Now again, you can get by without this film and often when I'm telling folks what order to watch these I leave this one out, in hopes that it won't soil their perception of this awesome set of movies. I would mention the ridiculousness of Jar Jar at this point, but the internet is filled with far better Jar Jar Hate than I could accomplish here.

Ordering these movies is difficult. It's like asking, which is better: Godfather or Godfather II? In the end you're forced to say they're both great and you can't bare to choose. That's how I feel about the original trilogy. It's almost painful to order them, and I even find myself second guessing whether I did it wrong. With great movies like Force Awakens and Rogue One coming out, it gets even harder! That said, I've done it and I even feel pretty good about it, too! But whatever you do, please don't ask me to rank the Marvel movies!

The Star Trek Litmus Test

I recently went on a bit of a Twitter rant with a friend over the release of Star Trek Beyond. This is the third installment in the reboot, and unequivocally the worst. My original tweet which sparked the discussion read, "Beyond was a good action movie, but it wasn't Star Trek."

I've not been shy with my friends that I am NOT a fan of the reboots. It's not because they erased the timeline of four shows and ten movies. I actually thought that was a clever way of rebooting the franchise. I'm just not sure it needed to do that. I personally would have been fine if they rebooted it the same way that Christopher Nolan did Batman out of the ashes of George Clooney and Val Kilmer. Nonetheless, I could live with erasing the timeline if the story had been capable of standing on its own without the assistance of Old Spock. Now, let's say for a minute I could live with this story resting on the laurels of Old Spock. And let's say I could even stomach JJ Abrams throwing the camera all over every scene while flooding my eyes with lens flares. Even if we write off all these things, the reboots still lost all credibility because of the second movie.

The second reboot took what is, in my estimation, the unequivocal best Star Trek movie ever and plagarized the story in a gross abuse of the franchise. I didn't like Star Trek Into Darkness at all. This was not a new movie, but it was presented that way. The decision to kill off Kirk, and then to resurrect him in the way they did seemed overly forced. Rather than be an homage to the Wrath of Khan it felt more like an insult to it. It was at this point that I realized the franchise might actually be in worse hands than when Rick Berman took over after Roddenberry's death.

Now let me be clear about something. I'm a green blooded Trekkie. I grew up on TOS reruns and then watched Star Trek The Next Generation as it was syndicated on UPN in Chicago (anyone still remember WPWR?). Every Christmas, Easter, Birthday and even one Hanukah was marked with Star Trek action figures. I actually look back and think, oh yeah Christmas 94 that was Sarek's year. Oh and by the way, my son's middle name is Tiberius and my dog's name is Dax.

Back to the third reboot. It was terrible, for a Star Trek movie. It might have made a decent action flick, but I went into a preshow intending to judge it as a Star Trek movie and it came up short. Spoiler Alert: This film is incapable of standing on its own merits. Old Spock again has to be dragged into the story in order to give New Spock any depth, even though Leonard Nimoy has passed away and all they can do is show his picture. (My wife thinks they were trying to give Nimoy a nod here, I think the dedication at the end was sufficient). Krall's backstory was hollow and Jaylah's was absent from the story line altogether. The story of the Franklin is never really answered for us, and yet that seems important. Worse yet is we're left wondering, how did all these other people make it to a planet that we're told is unable to be reached by anything less than the navigation systems of the Enterprise. Yorktown is like something out of an MC Escher drawing, except Yorktown would never be confused for art. Where was the utopianism Star Trek is known for? Where was the moral discussion of right and wrong as some crew member faces an impossible decision? The closest thing we had to any character inflection in this movie was Kirk debating whether or not he wanted to take a job that he actually applied for. Lastly, would it have been possible to write the third Star Trek movie in a series without blowing up the Enterprise? I guess we'll never know.

As I've been debating the merits, or really the lack thereof, of Star Trek Beyond I find myself questioning whether or not these people can really be considered Trekkies. You may think that's harsh, but this is scifi and I take it very very seriously. Thus, I've done what any true Trekkie would naturally do: I came up with a Litmus test. Here's my formula for evaluating whether or not your friends, family, and adversaries alike are honest Trekkies.

First, if they have not actually seen every episode of TOS and TNG they are immediately disqualified. I think you can make a case that you must have seen DS9, sufferred through the misery of Voyager and survived Enterprise, but I'm feeling generous today so we'll keep it to TOS and TNG. I should qualify this; if they have to think about it they've failed. I only lose track of Star Trek episodes after I've seen them more than 30 times. I once wore out a VHS recording of Relics.

Second, it should be a given they've seen every Star Trek movie ever made, period. There's no room to budge on this. Do not accept excuses that they skipped out on Insurrection or the Motion Picture as if that's tolerable. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!

Third, ask them what the best Star Trek movie is? Any pause before saying Wrath of Khan should be treated with suspicion. There's not much more I can say about this. If for some reason you disagree, I recommend you stick to Dr. Who.

Fourth, ask them what the best Star Trek The Next Generation movie is. First Contact. If you think I need to explain this, I hear the 1998 Lost in Space was fantastic. So fantastic in fact that neither Amazon or Netflix could get the licensing to offer it over their streaming services.

Five, ask them what their favorite TOS episode is. On this one I personally accept three answers. Sidebar: Top 10, 20, 25, 42 episode lists of Star Trek seem to be universally awful. Reject any list that attempts to order all the series together. Especially reject any list that actually includes a Voyager episode. For me the three TOS options I accept are:

  • Space Speed
  • Trouble with Tribbles
  • The Tholian Web

I've long debated adding Mirror, Mirror. In my old age I've become more generous so I'd take this one as an honorable mention and give the Trek-anidate a second shot to name one of my three.

Six, ask them what their favorite TNG episode is. Again, I accept three answers for this one:

  • Best of Both Worlds pt. 1 & 2 (There are times when I really think this should be the only answer I accept)
  • Unification (Reboot should have watched this and taken notes. This is how you tie in an old cast with style!)
  • Chain of Command (How many lights are there?)

Seventh, ask them what their favorite DS9 episode is. Did you think that because I didn't require watching all of DS9 in the first test you wouldn't be on the hook for it? Nice try. Any answer that's not from Season 6 is wrong. Period. My go-tos are Sacrifice of Angels and In the Pale Moonlight. This is arguably some of the best Star Trek ever written.

Eighth, and this is the last one, what's the worst episode of Enterprise? A Night in Sickbay. Sometimes I think this is the episode where Berman killed Star Trek. But hey it could have been worse, it could have been Voyager's Threshold!

Judge the Trekkies around you. Impersonators will not be tolerated, resistance is futile!

Bluetooth and the Survival of the Fittest

I am a strong believer that the power of the internet is best leveraged when it is used for funny memes, pictures of cats, and that really amazing video about Tom Brady’s balls. However, I feel that I need to break from my strong belief about the internet for a moment and instead bend it to my will and rant.

Recently while chatting with a friend I regurgitated a sentiment from a tweet I saw, or maybe it was on a blog I read or quite possibly a Podcast I heard. Honestly the source doesn’t matter, this is the internet and attribution died along with academic citations. Long live Wikipedia! I digress. So this sentiment was mine, despite having found it elsewhere. What was this profound sentiment you ask? Simply that while we have all this awesome technology that resembles the Science Fiction of my youth, I do not recall there ever being so many cords… Did you ever see someone charge Data? Or plug a tricorder into the wall? Where was Luke’s light saber docking station? At the time I was reflecting I considered this as a weakness of the evolution of technology. I believed that we had not yet achieved that synergistic point where real life and Science Fiction merged in an amazingly beautiful union where neither was distinguishable from one another.

Then I was driving today and I realized that if the evolution of humanity is determined by the survival of the fittest it’s actually those still yielding cords in their vehicles that will survive. It will be the heavily corded souls ruling the road that will define future generations. Which means Science Fiction is all a lie.

Bear with me while I explain. We are all worried about teen drivers (and some half brained adults like myself) texting while on the road with their mobile devices. This fear does not seem misplaced, especially when people are carrying devices so large that they must use two hands with them. Many states have even gone so far as to pass laws prohibiting using your mobile devices while in moving vehicles. As I’m sure you know, these laws are religiously followed and obeyed by all of man kind - at least any God-fearing Patriot. I postulate that texting while driving is hardly the thing we should fear most about today’s roads. It’s actually bluetooth!!! Years from now we will look back and realize that the rollout of bluetooth was actually a genocide stunting the growth of the population! There is nothing more perilous than to be in a moving vehicle whimsically believing in the dream that your car and some other device will communicate in perfect harmony. When this fails, and it always does, you find yourself speeding down a highway (or as in my case a far too narrow country road with steep ditches on either side) trying to reconcile why two devices which say they can talk to each other simply will not work! The rage builds up inside, you dismiss the heavily federally regulated dialog that says only passengers should pair devices in moving vehicles, and you fight the never-ending battle of bluetooth hell that rages all about the vehicle you reside in. And may God have mercy on your soul if there are more than one device involved in this awful union of technology.

Bluetooth will kill us. One by one we will succumb to stupidity on the road. Only the cord bearers will survive this awful twist of human evolution. Science fiction was all a lie. Wireless and charger-less devices have no basis in our technological future. They are simply a figment of a wonderful play of fantasy that is less likely to be realized than an ice queen who sings on mountain tops. Give up, just plug your damn device in.

Congratulations if you’ve made it this far. You are part of the few, the proud, those that can read more than 140 characters on the internet. Go buy yourself a beer!