Video: What does the 2016 election mean for telecom?

That was some election, huh? Last week at the NARUC annual meeting in La Quinta, California, I attempted to break down what President-elect Donald Trump means for telecom and broadband issues, at least from my perspective as as a reporter for Communications Daily. Spoiler alert: there’s still a lot of uncertainty!

Special thanks to my Comm Daily colleagues, who put together an excellent election issue… from which I stole liberally for the purposes of this panel! Also, thanks to Montana PSC Commissioner Travis Kavulla for skillful moderating and to my fellow panelists Ray Gifford, Bill Ritter and Devin Hartman for the great insights about what Trump means for energy issues.

Haunting ‘Secret Path’ Tells Tragic Indigenous History Through Art and Music

Secret Path by Gord Downie and Jeff Lemire

In 1966, an indigenous Canadian boy named Chanie Wenjack ran away from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School. He attempted a 400-mile walk home along the railroad through freezing weather, without knowing if he was even going the right way.

Through Chanie’s journey, Secret Path — an innovative combination of music and graphic novel available on Amazon as a paperback/MP3 download —  illuminates a darker part of North American twentieth-century history. Gord Downie of Ontario band The Tragically Hip wrote the words and music, while fellow Canadian and breakout comic book star Jeff Lemire drew the sequential art.

The first time I experienced Secret Path, I read the graphic novel with the music on in the background. The book is short enough to read within the album’s 41-minute running time, and is split into sections by song, so it’s easy enough to take this approach. Taken together, the music and art flow together well, with the images enhancing the words sung by Downie and the mostly acoustic folk rock bringing out the emotions in Lemire’s expressive character-work.

Since then, I have listened to the album quite a few times on its own. The music definitely can stand on its own. With the additional talent of Dave Hamelin from The Stills (another Canadian favorite of mine), Downie’s album carries the listener through the emotional highs and lows of Chanie’s walk, effortlessly evoking images of the boy’s tragic walk.

And as I listened, I found myself flashing back to the beautiful artwork by Lemire. I’ve been a fan of Jeff for some time — especially his more indie work like The Underwater Welder and Essex County, but also some of his writing credits for DC Comics including Animal Man. Lemire has a unique art style that I recall actually put me off the first time I laid eyes on it. But when I pushed ahead anyway, Lemire’s haunting compositions transported me to another world. From the first page of Secret Path, Lemire makes readers feel instantly sympathetic to Chanie’s plight. And he leaves us angry with the country that let such tragedies occur.

Angry, perhaps. But also glad that these fine creators have exposed this hidden history through such accessible storytelling. It’s beyond cool to see a project with such important purpose come together into an artistic masterpiece. What’s more, proceeds from the project will be donated to The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

So don’t wait — take the Secret Path. It’s a road worth traveling.

Time keeps pushing me on now

So here’s an end-of-summer jam you may not have heard. It’s “El Matador” by the band Semisonic. Yeah, those guys who did “Closing Time” and “Secret Smile.” This one is off their severely underrated follow-up, which was their final LP as a group.

It’s hard to believe summer is coming to an end. Also hard to believe this was my first full American summer since 2011. My wife and I moved to Australia at the start of summer 2012, which meant that it was winter there. We came back at the end of (American) summer 2015, got a lick of the sun, then dove straight into the autumn leaves.

I’ve had a productive year since returning to Philadelphia. After regaining my bearings (I can order a “coffee,” and no one asks what kind!), I spent the first few months doing freelance work for Technical.ly Philly and a few other places. I made a brief sojourn to India (and wrote a tech story about it). In March, I got a full-time gig at Communications Daily as their Philly-based states reporter.

On the creative side, I finished writing my third novel, had it analyzed by a Bat-editor and started pitching it to agents. I’m really excited to have you read it and hope to have a better idea of the release date by the end of this year. In the meantime, I wrapped up a screenplay of We, The Watched and a few new short stories. Speaking of my debut novel, you may have seen that I received an excellent review from Kirkus. And then an even better review of the sequel, Divided We Fall. That was pretty cool.

Lately, I’ve been looking with anxiety at my long-sleeve shirts. Soon I will get/have to wear them. We’re racing toward winter and the year 2017. I don’t know exactly what the new year will hold, but my aim is to make it a big one. As Semisonic sings in their end-of-summer classic: “Time keeps pushing me on now, and I’ll ride this wave to the end.”

P.S. If you like my novels, check out the show Mr. Robot. It’s a tech-fueled dystopian rush.

Adam Bender reads… Totally Messed-Up Possible Futures for the Human Race!

My reviews of Pines, DMZ and Injection

He also reads other people's books.
ADAM ALSO READS BOOKS BY OTHER AUTHORS

When Adam Bender’s not writing, he’s reading. Or doing other stuff, maybe. I mean, he can’t just be reading or writing all the time!

But I digress (and switch suddenly to first person). Here is a selection of my latest book reviews on Goodreads. If you’re a Goodreads user, please follow me to keep updated on what I’m reading. You can even review my books if you want! The shoe is on the other foot now, eh?

Hm, that’s a weird expression. Oh well. Without further ado, here are three books about totally messed-up possible futures for the human race! Thanks for the nightmares, Blake Crouch, Brian Wood and Warren Ellis.


Pines (Wayward Pines, #1)Pines by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pines, book one of the Wayward Pines trilogy, is a fast-paced thriller with a dystopian twist. The writing is lean with short paragraphs and descriptions that wouldn’t look out of place in a screenplay (Come to think of it, that probably made the story very easy to adapt for TV). And while not totally original, it’s undeniably fun.

Crouch acknowledges the influence of Twin Peaks on his novel, saying that he wished to recreate the feelings experienced when he watched the David Lynch show as a boy. It’s obviously a big influence (right down to the name of the town — whoever named “Twin Peaks” could have easily named “Wayward Pines,” too). But I was also reminded a lot of the Wool series, particularly the explanation for what’s going on. There’s also some elements that seemed ripped from Tarantino, like the Kill Bill-esque nurse in old-fashioned uniform wielding big syringe (of course, Tarantino probably ripped this off of something else). But even if Crouch is taking elements from other creators, I must admit that I admire his taste in influences.

Look, this book isn’t going to be on a list of best American literature, but I can’t deny I had a lot of fun reading it. It’s not overly time-demanding, and I even read it free through Amazon Prime. Next time you need a quick dose of Twin Peaks-y dystopia, you could do worse than the Wayward Pines series.


DMZ, Vol. 1: On the GroundDMZ, Vol. 1: On the Ground by Brian Wood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A fast-paced introduction to an exciting dystopian future where America has entered a second civil war. As epic as that sounds, Wood keeps the focus on character to hook the reader in this graphic novel from Vertigo. It all feels very current, too, in light of today’s splintered politics.

Volume 1 just gives a taste of the overall story and feels very much like the introduction. It’s gripping all the same and left me excited to read more. I’ll definitely be continuing this series.


Injection, Vol. 1Injection, Vol. 1 by Warren Ellis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’d tell you what it’s about, but I think the author would rather you find out for yourself. This is one of those graphic novels where you don’t quite know what’s going on until the end, and even then you’re kind of like, “Well that’s messed up.”

I do have to give the creators credit for this — I read this in one sitting. Despite all the technical jargon coming out of the characters’ mouths, Injection never gets bogged down with a lot of exposition. And the artwork kept my eyes moving from panel to panel. But would I read Volume 2? I don’t know. Maybe if I saw it at the library.

It might be that none of the characters are that likable. They certainly have distinct voices, but … I found it difficult to really sympathize with or get behind anyone.

A warning for those sensitive to violence/gore: this book probably isn’t for you. It’s not that there’s a lot of action, really, but when the knives come out, they REALLY find their target, if you see what I’m saying.

If you’re a fan of Ellis and Shalvey’s excellent Moon Knight run, you might want to give this a go. But you may end up wishing you were reading a new volume of Moon Knight.


Well, that’s the end of today’s edition of Adam Bender reads … If you’ve read any of the above books, I’d love to hear if you agree or disagree with my reviews in the comments below! Or let me know what books you think I should read next!

Celebrate Sonic’s 25th Birthday with ‘Sonic Generations’

Sonic holding up three fingers
Nope, you’re older than that, Sonic.

It’s hard to believe, but it’s the 25th anniversary of Sonic the Hedgehog, that blue blur who gave Mario a run for the money (coins? rings?) back in the ’90s.

That was a time when Nintendo and Sega were big rivals, with the SNES head to head against the Genesis. I didn’t have much loyalty to either brand at the time. My first console was Super Nintendo, but I remember hungering to own a Sega Genesis. Sadly, my parents refused to buy me a second gaming system.

It felt a little like fate that day at Genuardi’s when I learned the grocery store had a lottery to give away a new Genesis core system. All you had to do to enter was fill out a form and stick it in the box. Naturally, I filled out five forms…on every shopping trip for a month.

I won! I figure it was either probability (I did stuff the ballot) or the store manager’s pity (“Wow, this poor Adam Bender kid REALLY wants a Genesis.”) Look, the important thing is that I got the Genesis. The first game I played Sonic the Hedgehog 2.

Chemical Plant Zone has one of the catchiest theme songs ever.
Chemical Plant Zone has one of the catchiest theme songs ever.

I loved the concept of Sonic. He was really fast, he looked cool and yet kind of angry, and his best friend was a flying fox — not like a massive Australian bat, but an actual fox who could fly! (Please note that this blogger was in elementary school at the time.) But I’ll be honest with you — I was pretty bad at this game. The level pictured above, Chemical Plant Zone, comes fairly early, and yet it took me forever just to survive the part where pink toxic water fills up over Sonic’s head and you have to get him out before he drowns. Plus, there was no way to save (this feature was pretty rare in the early ’90s), so Game Over meant playing the whole damn game over.

I got pretty far with the help of my friend Adam (yes, he was also Adam; no, he wasn’t imaginary). We’d take turns, switching off every level or when one of us lost a life. On one particularly brilliant day, we worked out that it was easier to focus if you muted the soundtrack. I don’t think we ever beat the game, though. But you know, even though there were so many times when I wanted to slam my controller into the wall, I can’t deny that game provided many hours of fun. And I guess I’ve always looked back fondly at Sonic since then.

I didn’t play much Sonic after that. I never got a Dreamcast, so I missed Sonic’s foray into 3D adventures. There wasn’t much incentive, either, since most of these new Sonic games received mixed reviews. Also, Sonic just wasn’t as cool as he used to be. Apparently, spunky mascots with ‘tude belonged to the ’90s.

Nowadays, there just isn’t the same fanfare when a new Sonic games comes out, which is pretty damn often. Maybe that’s the problem. Whereas there tends to be multiple years between each major Mario game (not counting various spin-offs, remakes, etc.), it feels like there’s at least two new Sonic games a year.

So when Humble Bundle recently announced a 25th anniversary Sonic bundle, you might say I was conflicted. One the one hand, it included Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and a bunch of other Sonics from that era — nostalgia! But then again, it also included a bunch of the newer Sonic games that I’d come to equate with mediocrity. Still, I could get them all for $10…

So I did it. I skipped lunch* and used that $10 instead for Sonic games. And guess what? I’m happy I did! Here’s the kicker: I say that not for the nostalgia of playing old Genesis games, but for the nostalgia-rama that is Sonic Generations.

I RECOGNIZE THAT! I RECOGNIZE THAT!
I RECOGNIZE THAT! I RECOGNIZE THAT!

In Generations, classic-look Sonic meets his 21st century update. You get to play as both, racing through classic side-scrolling levels as the old Sonic and grinding through 3D roller-coasters with the new one. Amazingly, both styles are fun!

I feel like Sega made this game just for old Sonic fans like me. The developer basically remade all my fond memories of Genesis-era Sonic with beautiful graphics, then added the modern platforming genre conventions to which I’d become accustomed. It’s the most fun I’ve had in a platformer since Kirby’s Epic Yarn, or maybe even Super Mario Galaxy.

Please note that I did not say Sega remade Genesis-era Sonic, but rather my fond (and possibly incorrect) memories of that Sonic. This is very deliberate, because the truth is that when I played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 again, I still nearly threw the controller at the wall. Not so with Generations! I’m not terrible at it! I can save my game!

Seriously, how did I miss this game when it came out?
Seriously, how did I miss this game when it came out?

Also, those same qualities that made Sonic a total badass in 1992 now make him … actually quite cute! The real shame is that classic Sonic has to share the game with the modern version, Sonic the still-dated-but-slightly-less-so Hedgehog. In fact, by embracing classic Sonic’s datedness, classic Sonic has somehow transcended into the less dated of the two hedgehogs! And here is a final sentence in which I use the word dated!

The crazy thing is that Generations came out like a million lame Sonic games ago (2011). And yet I missed it due to an assumption that if most Sonic games these days are just-OK, all of them are just-OK. I’m sure many of you have made the same mistake. But here’s the good news — you still have a chance to correct course and restore your positive memories of a gaming icon!

Happy birthday, Sonic.

*I didn’t actually skip lunch. That’s just crazy.