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New Beginnings

Dear readers. It’s been a minute. I need to start by saying that the content you may have been accustomed to is no longer a part of my story. Because I’ve begun a new story. A new life. An amazing, wonderful, joy filled and fulfilling life. And I’m here to tell that story. To actually tell it RIGHT. And even to correct a few misplaced, misinformed opinions.

As you may have noticed from my header image, I’m happily engaged (well, the picture doesn’t show a ring, but we are), and soon to be married, to an incredibly special, wonderful, brilliant, beautiful, kind, caring and loving woman. A woman of God, of faith, of character, and of family. Family is one of the biggest parts of this story. Because I now have one to call my own — by de-facto adoption, step-parenting, “bonus dad”-ing, whatever you want to call it. I have the amazing challenge and opportunity and gift to help her raise her — now our — children. And I love being a father. I had an incredible example and role-model in my own dad, my own parents. I try to live up to that every day.

But this isn’t about my dad or my childhood memories of camping and playing with tools and riding on the back of the motorcycle. This is about the love of my life, J. (pictured, as noted, above!)

We met through church, in a sense through mutual friends but in another sense, entirely by God’s divine providence. She’ll tell the story much better than I can, but essentially, she was driving with her kids down Scott Road (the ex-burb street our church property sits off of) and felt the true-life pull of the Holy Spirit to come check out the church in the white tent.

Side-note, if you do happen to live in or be familiar with the area, we are not the spiritual-cult next-door with the large white tent and the mini-compound of mysterious buildings; we in fact no longer have a tent, but that’s another story for another time.

Anyway, there she was, checking out our church. (I say ‘our’ in the sense of myself and my parents and siblings, since we’d all grown up in it, even though said siblings had moved away and said parents were nearly ready to retire up north.) So, in an effort to welcome the new family, we, the ministry team (such as it was) took them out to lunch at a local pizza place after the service. Little did I know that a number of months later, we (J. and I) would be dining together at the same pizza joint, in much the same capacity — joining our ministry leaders in welcoming another new young couple to the fold.

Backing up a bit. The first time I actually got up the nerve to speak to her was when I noticed that she came to church unaccompanied, and I went to say hi. But the first time I really got to talk to her was when she got baptized a few weeks later, along with her second son, and we had a get-together BBQ at her house with our church friends. I remember being excited to go there and have a conversation with her and meet her kids. And let me tell you, even though we didn’t know we’d end up together, when I walked into her house, I felt at home.

So for one, we have God to thank, for bringing us together. For another, we have her former roommate, to whom she’d rented out her spare room after getting divorced. This person, as girls talk, had found out that J. was attracted to me, and when I helped this person with a computer issue, she said as much. Which of course gave me the courage-boost to ask her on a date!

And the rest, as they say, is ourstory. (Yes, I did just portmanteaux.) But really, all I mean by that is wait for another post, because this one is getting a bit lengthy. But I will leave you with this.

I am happy. I am blessed. I have found the love of my life. She is the most beautiful woman in the world. She has a deep, deep soul. A unique mind. A heart of grace and kindness. An incredible story of healing and of darkness to light. And she is mine. And I am hers. For the rest of our lives.

love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies, by Aristotle
,

In closing. There is an end to grief. There is a healthy, appropriate, and timely way to move forward and move on. You can, in fact, open your heart again. You can love. You can laugh. And you can be happy.

Life is for the living.

Anonymous

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Welcome (again)

Since WP’s ‘Page’ creator was being a recalcitrant child (to borrow a phrase from my Australian coworker — you’re required to read it in an accent, obviously), I’m writing this post to ‘stick’ to the top. You see, dear reader, I handed out a few impromptu business cards recently, advertising myself as a “small scale IT service”. Which really means I get to play with other people’s computers for money. And not much money, either, let’s be clear about that. Heck, sometimes I do it for free. But we’ll get to that in another post. Also there’s a lot of mansplaining “The Cloud”.

So, to anybody finding this page for the first time. Hi! Welcome to my personal site / blog / thing that I sometimes write stuff on. On which I sometimes write. Thank you grammar 101. You’ll find a lot of posts (that’s what you call a piece of writing in a blog, a “post”) about movies. But hopefully you’ll also find some humor, advice, and even a bit of tech help once in a while.

On to the point. Hopefully, I can help you (or someone you know) navigate this tech-infested world a bit better. This Zoom-tastic, TikTok-loving (God knows why), Twitter-ranting, post-millennial socially-distanced hellscape we call Earth.

Boy I sound a little doomy-gloomy, no? I promise I’m not always that way. In fact, I’m a goddamn ray of f*cking sunshine, most days. I’ve been described as ‘chipper’, by a friend and former colleague. (Not the Aussie one, but she’s never met me in person, so I can’t blame her.)

Anyway, here’s what I’ll leave you with. Contact me on social media or using either my blogs’ Contact pages. The one over here has more complete info. We’ll have a chat about what your technological pain-points are, and figure out if they’re something I can help with. And trust me, if they’re not, if you need a professional, I will be the first to tell you.

I don’t know everything. In fact I know very little about TikTok and Minecraft and how exactly Amazon seems to know what you’re thinking about before you even shop for it. (Actually that last one’s not too hard, but it’s still mind-boggling if you start down the rabbit-hole of human-machine relationship ethics, but I digress. Again.) But I know how to Google the heck out of stuff, because people a lot smarter than me have usually figured out the problem you’re trying to solve. I also love analogies. So if nothing else, I can at least explain to you how your computing device’s memory is like your stovetop and cutting board — the amount of food you can cook/prepare at once — while its storage space/drive/system is like your pantry and cabinets and fridge — the amount of ingredients and food you can store and keep long-term in total. Then you’ll have to stop me from ranting about how “Marketing ruins everything” because they call your phone’s storage its “memory”.

Oh, and use a password manager. For the love of all things holy. It can literally be a paper notebook, if you must, but please. Know your dang passwords. I can’t read your mind and I can’t hack your iPhone. It’s not that difficult to recover forgotten ones, so I can help walk you through that, but srsly. You’re not dumb, you’re not crazy, you just have way too many frickin’ things to remember. Password managers solve this specific problem and they solve it well. Get one.

Fifty percent of the time, it works all of the time.
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Facebook Chain-Posts

Seriously ‘Boomers. Just stop. Did you fall for those old chain-letters back in the day that came through the actual mail? No? Didn’t think so. So why do you continue to fall for the digital version?

brace yourselves copy-paste memes are coming
One does not simply WALK into a copy-paste meme.

Sure, I could provide you with links upon links upon links of why these don’t work and why they’re stupid. Even our old favorite myth-debunking site, Snopes, which has been around forever and was literally founded people of your generation, tells you it’s bogus.

But you’re not going to read those are you? You’re probably not even going to finish reading this article. So if you take nothing else away from this, just hear me once, right now, yelling this into my keyboard.

STOP POSTING COPY-PASTE SPAM, CHAIN-POSTS, AND FAKE NEWS. JUST STOP.

every time you copy paste a fb chain message god kills a kitten
and Satan tortures a puppy. But that’s just a normal Tuesday.

Now, for those of you who care to read further. There IS a reason this stuff “seems” to work. Because it’s true, if you and your friends do copy-paste that god-awful chain-post and keep it going, you will find yourself seeing posts in your feed from friends that you don’t normally see/hear much from. So perhaps you’re asking at this point, “Well Nate, if this works, why is it so bad and why are you saying it doesn’t work?”

Facebook is a social network. That means its primary goal in life is to make you interact with what they consider to be your social circle — your “Facebook friends”. Your main interactions with Facebook are via your “News Feed” (or just “Feed”). In your Feed, on any given day/hour/minute, there is literally too much content (too many posts & updates) to see “all at once”. So Facebook tries to do you the favor of “prioritizing” them. They tend to bump the more popular and more potentially “meaningful” things to the top. Like any other social network, it’s basically a popularity contest.

With me so far? Now, let’s think about what happens when you do that whole “copy paste this to your status and all your long-lost friends will come back!” nonsense. It’s roughly the same post-content each time. Which, to the robots at Facebook, means it’s the same “topic” or “story”. You’re actually encouraged to add your own words into the mix, too, which has another purpose that I’ll get to in a minute. But again, essentially, it’s the same “topic of conversation”. It’s now “trending content“.

So now that you and your friends are ON the same “topic”, you’re “talking about the same thing”, Facebook’s robots say “Oh look! They must want to interact with each other some more! I’ll bump up their posts in their friends’ feeds so they’ll show up near the top!” (Yes, robots use lots of exclamation points!)

Make sense?

batman slaps robin for asking him to copy-paste a facebook post
Even old-timey Batman knows.

Here’s why the spam-posts encourage you to change/add words. Because if they were all literally the exact same thing, Facebook’s robots would do something a bit different. They would consider it ACTUAL SPAM. And de-prioritize it (make it drop to the bottom of the feed). Similar reasons to why you’re instructed NOT to “share” or “re-post”, but rather, to copy-paste. If you merely shared/re-posted, you’d just be “adding to the noise”, and it wouldn’t be considered a “meaningful interaction” that Facebook wants you to have with your long-lost friends.

So what have we learned today? Facebook is a complicated beast, and technology in general gets more complex all the time. However, it’s not that complicated to spot a hoax, scam, spam, chain-letter, or any other form of ridiculous miscommunication that passes for content these days. Seriously. It’s NOT THAT HARD. Use your brain for a second, do just a teeny little Google search, and you’ll be just fine.

i don't always copy and paste, but when i do, i don't research it
Seriously, is Googling something really that hard?

But I know, I know you think I’m being dramatic. Too salty. Too angry. Right? What’s all the fuss about anyway, it’s harmless! And so what if it doesn’t work they way it says it does — it still made some of my friends show up that I hadn’t heard from in forever! Right?

Why the big querulous rant? WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?!?

Because it makes you look dumb, frankly. And it makes me look foolish too.

It makes you look dumb, because you’re admitting that you are technologically illiterate, that you’re prone to falling for misinformation, and that you’re likely a good target for more insidious forms of attack like social engineering, phishing, ransomware, and other scams (yes, like, actually involving real money!). You’re effectively drawing a big red target on your back that says “Look at me, I’m gullible and technologically fallible! You can probably bilk me out of some money if you know how to push my buttons just right!”

parody of facebook status update about dragging the earth into the sun
Because it makes about as much sense as THIS, that’s why. Also, I’ve got some ocean-front property in Arizona you might be interested in…

Furthermore, it makes me look foolish, because it means I, as a member of the technologically mature & innovative generation — the “Millenials”, even though frankly I identify more with Gen-X most of the time — haven’t done a good enough job at educating you on how all this tech around you actually works. It underscores the fact that we, collectively, as the people who build and maintain this tech, are increasingly and alarmingly leaving older folks behind, completely oblivious to their needs and limitations. I could go on about this, but I’ll have to save it for part 2.

So please. For the love of all things holy. Next time you see one of those silly copy-paste spam posts come across your feed, don’t do it. Ignore that urge. Instead, use those 3 little dots near the top-right of the post, and tap “Hide post”. This will help Facebook learn that you don’t like those stupid spam posts, and hopefully, if enough of you do this regularly, the fad will die off. And you’ll be a better ‘netizen’ for it. (That’s “Internet Citizen”, just in case you forgot.)

Otherwise, I’ll be re-posting this again next year. And the year after that. Until you get it through your thick skulls. Or die of old age. There’s always that to look forward to.

sam jackson from pulp fiction dares you to copy-paste
Do you know what they call a quarter-pounder with cheese in Facebook Jail?

Oh, but stay safe and healthy! =P

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COVID-19 Update

Because click-bait, why not. But seriously, who else is tired of these? Yeah, we get it, your PR team wanted to make sure your company looked good and seemed like they were making some effort to do “the right thing” in this pandemic crisis, whatever that is. You can stop frickin’ pretending now. We still see your commercials. We still see you selling your products to people who really don’t need them but are convinced they do by your partners-in-crime, the Marketing department.

Oh, and let’s be clear, I’m not talking about my company. My company’s business is doing fine, but that’s because we serve a fairly unique segment of the population and we’ve established ourselves as THE leader in our market niche. And we have a CEO who knows his shit and doesn’t pander to ignorance or FUD.

Let me put one particular company on blast. (Right, because I have SO MANY READERS, AMIRITE??) Partly because this turned into a rant-y text to one of my friends who works there.

boycott disney logo

Disney. Disney as the ultra huge mega-corporation that owns like 90% of the modern American entertainment industry.

Disney had, and still has, the resources to:

A) Make a massive difference in the fight against the pandemic. Mask & PPE production & delivery via repurposed factories and logistics resources. Scientific research funding and vaccine development funding. Etc.

B) Keep all workers employed WITHOUT re-opening the parks (said re-openings having led to new outbreaks and hot-zones). Rides and facilities still need maintenance even without customers. “Cast members” (gag me with a spoon) could have been outfitted to give virtual tours and rides to people who could watch and even participate from their phones or connected devices. Not hard to come up with this stuff, seriously.

And obviously any & all workers capable of performing their duties from home, should have been given the means to do so. For a company of that size, with such resources and innovation at its disposal, surely SOME kind of role-restructuring and digital transformation efforts could have turned the tide for even MORE workers anxious to remain employed yet unsure of their legacy job’s effectiveness-if-turned-remote.

But no. Disney has done nothing of the sort. They furloughed my friend, and hundreds of others like them. And that’s just a corporate office desk-job position. Imagine the ones in the trenches — the food service and sanitation folks, for example — lord knows if they even got their vacation hours paid-out before they were (likely permanently) shown the door.

The FACT that Disney has done nothing helpful — actually they’ve been harmful, as I said, by prematurely re-opening parks — is a reflection of modern corporate greed in our society, of which Disney is one of the biggest culprits and practitioners. Amazon, Facebook, and several others are right up there with ’em, so don’t get it twisted. But Disney is inarguably one of the worst offenders.

And why? Why do they continue to operate this way? More importantly, why do they get away with it? Because they OWN your kids now. Everything your child loves to watch and play is, as I said, about 90% likely to be some product or offshoot or relation to Disney. Not only that, but their pockets are deep, and deep pockets pay the political bills. Think about it. Nobody in their right mind on Capitol Hill is going to want to regulate (or to the extreme, break-up and force restructure of) a gargantuan titan like Disney. They’re “Too big to fail!”, as we heard in the financial crisis of the late 2000’s.

Two quotes/sayings I want you to remember right now.

The fish rots from the head down.

and…

The love of money is the root of all evil.

Let me close on a positive note. The company I was going to order some audio equipment for the podcast from, Behringer, stopped making their products around March. Went completely offline. They’re not a huge corporation, and I’m sure they had to make some tough decisions about their workforce. But at least they tried to do what was right. Now I hear they’ve spun back up, at least in part, and the thing I wanted should become available soon. But that’s neither here nor there. Unless you’re a fan of the podcast, then it’s kinda exciting.

Be good to each other. See ya next time.

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Movie Wednesday: Midway

Let me take you back to an older time. A simpler time. When smoking was cool and airplanes didn’t have covered-glass cockpits. Before all missiles were laser-guided and computerized. When a ship-mounted anti-air gattling gun took 3 people to operate. When those “damn dirty Japs” sunk our battleships as they idled in sunny Pearl Harbor.

Reminder: I’m not endorsing racist slurs, I’m merely quoting the sentiment of the time, that point in history, so stop taking everything so seriously and read with CONTEXT.

N.

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midway main movie cover art
One of these things is not like the others!

One of the main takeaways from this film, for me, is how ploddingly slow war combat was in the 1940s. Compared to anything from this century, the difference is mind-boggling! The technology feels like another world, another lifetime. Which it IS, in fact. Most of those who were alive at that time, at least those involved with the war, have passed on. And this film is, in many ways, a tribute to them, their bravery and sacrifice, and their heartbreak. Roland Emmerich is certainly qualified to handle this material.

Who dat?

midway main character screenshot
Kill Japs and chew gum at the same time? No problem!

Oh look it’s Ajax from Deadpool! Yes, folks, that’s up-and-comer Ed Skrein, probably most famous for playing the tropefully-British-accented villain in our favorite anti-hero movie of the past decade. It’s interesting hearing him do an American inflection now… it definitely sounds less natural. Obviously, since his native tongue is the Queen’s English. Gotta respect the man’s work, though.

Speaking of actors.. Dennis Quaid really doesn’t pull this off well. Perhaps its the way they wrote the character, but I just don’t believe it. I believe most of the others, including Woody Harrelson’s Nimitz (which was a tough sell). I don’t know, maybe it’s just me. Nick Jonas ain’t winnin no prize either.

Do one thing and do it well

midway bomber-gunner
Open cockpits? Check. Manual aim? Check. Nick Jonas as a fearsome and relentless gunner? Umm…

But overall, Midway accomplishes its goal. It doesn’t focus unnecessarily on Pearl Harbor itself, but presents the tragedy with enough gravitas that we feel the motivation of our fallen brothers to seek righteous vengeance upon those who perpetrated it. It gives adequate treatment to the intelligence side of the equation — the “code breakers” — as well as the combat side. It even presents the Japanese forces and officers in a neutral and respectful light; in fact, it comes off as much less of a “rah rah, ‘Merica!” nationalistic stars-and-stripes-fest than many of its kin. So I respect that. Sure, it’s still an American film, but it doesn’t beat you over the head with patriotism.

The Verdict

One solid thumb-up.

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It’s a Hack! Part Deux

In today’s hack, we take a look at a slightly newer tablet than last time, and find out just how much more difficult it is to crack open an Android 7.1 “Nougat” device than it was just 2 major-OS-versions ago.

Spoiler-alert: I did NOT actually end up successfully removing the FRP lock. Instead, I insisted that the owner try harder to find the appropriate Google account info for the device. Which they did, thank God. I am currently waiting on them to set aside some time to walk through the remaining recovery steps.

N.
samsung tablet frp bypass quote easy-way
Spoiler-alert #2: THERE IS NO “EASY WAY”.

So instead of actually hacking (removing the FRP lock), this is simply a link-dump and giving credit to the sources that helped me get it back to a usable state.

Brief Overview

Now, you may be wondering, how is this useful? Well, dear reader, allow me to explain.

  • Scenario A: You need to factory-reset your tablet, but it’s been borked/bricked by some strange 3rd-party firmware or a bad update.
  • Scenario B: Like me, you’ve managed to use Odin to flash it to “factory binary” firmware (kinda like diagnostic/debug mode), but you forgot to store a backup of the actual firmware first (the one that a normal human can use).

As a reminder, the standard startup-button-combos are as follows:

  1. Recovery mode (standard): hold Home, Volume Up, and Power.
  2. Odin mode (aka firmware download/re-flash): hold Home, Volume Down, and Power.

We’ll talk about #2 first. This has a nice warning screen about how tech-y it is, so you can “abort mission” by pressing Volume Down if you made a mistake coming here. Otherwise, you hit Volume Up, and continue into “Odin mode”. From there, you use the Odin program on your PC to flash the firmware. Obviously, you need to have the tablet connected to the PC with a standard USB cable.

Recovery mode, #1, also looks kinda techy, with the black background and orange & blue text in a sort of old-school Matrix-y way, but it’s really not complicated. You have options like ‘Wipe data/factory reset’, ‘Wipe cache partition’, and ‘Reboot system now’. You navigate up and down with the Volume Up & Down buttons, and make a selection with the Power button.

What do you mean, Theoretically?

Again, I was not successful in actually removing the FRP lock (which was the goal and outcome of the previous post on this topic, albeit with the older tablet). But in theory, if you needed to go that route, this is a decent place to start from. Because if you make a mistake or “brick” the tablet, restoring the stock firmware should get you back to square 1, where you can try ‘hacking’ at it again.

Lesson 1

Always always always. ALWAYS. ALWAYS. Correctly sign out of and wipe your devices when you’re done with them (giving them away, throwing them out, selling them, etc). It never gets any easier trying to recover that stuff or work-around it to “break into” a device that you’ve turned into an expensive paperweight by forgetting your owner-login info.

This means, while your tablet is still on and accessible to you (i.e. you can unlock it, use it, get into Settings, etc.) — use the Settings menu to do the wipe/reset!! It varies slightly between devices, but it’s generally under Security somewhere. Just Google “<your device name> factory reset”.

Lesson 2

Get your account recovery options up-to-date and keep them that way. Same for your loved ones and relatives. Spouse, parents, etc. By setting up and maintaining proper account recovery options (alternate emails, phone numbers, 2-factor authentication), you can be reasonably secure and still able to work on someone else’s behalf in terms of device ownership and recovery.

If you’re not sure what I mean, drop me a line on Facebook, Twitter, or right here in the comments.

That’s all for now folks! Stay safe out there.

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Top 5 Underrated Actors, Part 2

And now the actresses! Oh, I mean, uh.. actors.. who are.. female.. because they identify as such. Right? K. It’s so hard to keep track these days.

Oh, and guess what? If that offended you, you’ll probably want to stop reading now. Because I’m going to comment on their LOOKS as well as their talent. BLASPHEMY!! CRUCIFY HIM!!!!

Rhona Mitra

bill nighy and rhona mitra in rise of the lycans
You KNOW what he’s looking at.

As a long-time fan of the vampire/werewolf universe, I should surprise nobody with this pick. She almost looks as if she could have fangs hiding under those lips, her mouth and cheekbones with that ever-so-slight jut in that one spot. And she’s gorgeous, of course. But more importantly, she plays a really convincing blood-sucker. I may have already mentioned the ill-fated show The Gates, and of course she played the great predecessor of Kate Beckinsale’s infamous Selene. We mustn’t type-cast, however. That’s the trap these kind of actors often fall into — they become “too good at” playing a particular kind of character, so they have trouble finding other roles. I hope that doesn’t happen to her. Looking over her IMDB page, I see mostly TV gigs, which kinda makes sense. I’ll always remember, though, hers were the first bare pair I saw on screen in Hollow Man. Good times.

Olivia Wilde

olivia wilde in the lazarus effect
He’s holding his Jew-fro’d head in his hands, in anguish, because he’ll never be even close to the same league as her.

Thirteen. That’s all I need to say, really. House gave us a lot of good stuff in its 8 year run. But one of the best things had to be skyrocketing this beauty to the big time. I mean sure, she had a few movies beforehand, and some TV gigs, but I feel like this made her A-list. As such, I wasn’t even sure if she belonged on this list, but she kinda hasn’t been doin a lot of acting lately. She’s been producing and other stuff, which, great for her, but I’d like to see more of her back on the other side of the camera. I mean, have you seen The Lazarus Effect? Just.. go watch it. Now. It’s phenomenal.

Kat Graham

kat graham as bonnie bennett
B*tch please.

More vampires. Well, she played a witch, but on a show about vampires. And honestly, she was one of the few original main characters that I could stand. Seriously, give me this firecracker over ANY of the Stephen/Damon/Elena/Catherine bore-fest. At least she wasn’t a codependent puddle. But where I really fell for her was when she did a guest spot on Ridiculousness — you know, the show where a washed-up skater and his buddies watch found-footage of people doing ridiculous things (and usually injuring themselves) and make fun of them? She had such a playful chemistry and a great attitude. Not taking yourself too seriously, remembering that you’re first and foremost an entertainer? Yes, more of that please.

Mila Kunis

mila kunis stares into your soul
I have no words.

Speaking of not taking yourself too seriously. This gem has been doing that since she was a teenager. Again, not really sure if she belongs on this list, but that Jupiter Ascending garbage was just so terrible that I feel like she deserves so much better. I wasn’t a big That 70s Show guy, but I did fall in love with her voice and her banter on the Family Guy DVDs, especially in the commentary tracks. It wasn’t until.. probably Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that I really had a crush. But it was all over with Friends With Benefits. I was hooked. Then, Bad Moms and The Spy Who Dumped Me? Thank you ma’am, may I have another! A lot of it is the attitude, the chemistry and delivery — but those smoky dark eyes and contagious smile certainly don’t hurt.

Kate McKinnon

kate mckinnon
She’s just plain fun.

And finally.. speaking of The Spy Who Dumped Me (hmm, I wonder if I have a review of it somewhere).. Have you met our ex-first-lady-slash-ex-presidential-hopeful? Oh, sure, easily confused, her SNL impersonation was that uncanny. But really, I could watch this lady do just about anything. She made the Ghostbusters reboot worth watching. Same for the sleeper-hit Rough Night with ScarJo — I mean, let’s be honest, I watched that for my favorite buxom blonde with a “seductive husky voice” (not my words; it’s right there on her IMDB profile), but I stayed for the Australian-accented antics of this comedically brilliant woman.

Enjoy! Leave me a comment if you watch any of these movies or recognize these ladies from other works — I’d love to see more.

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Movie Wednesday: The Invisible Man

the invisible man promo image
Reasonable. Perfectly reasonable for a handprint that’s not mine to show up on the shower door. It’s all good.

One of the first films I’ve seen this year that was actually released this year. I think. Well, put it this way. One of the newest films I’ve seen this year after the theaters closed due to the pandemic. God I miss the movies.

Anyway. Let’s chat, shall we?

The Setup

Unlike the H. G. Wells novel that inspired it, the antagonist here is a charismatic and insanely wealthy gentleman, whose fortune and status owed to his brilliance in the field of ‘Optics’, which is to say, vision and sight-related technology, like cameras and image processing and light manipulation. The protagonist is his battered, controlled, and (at first) entirely victimized girlfriend. Of course, she realizes how bad her situation is and makes a daring escape from their compound-like home (which apparently doubles as his optics lab, I guess.. when you have enough money, you just merge your work and living space into one bougie-hipster-fest of a mansion?).

old black and white invisible man character
Someone’s wasting precious toilet-paper…

She holes-up with a good friend of hers, sees her sister, and starts trying to live a normal-ish life. Douche-optic-sci-guy dies and leaves her a ton of money. His brother, a sniveling lawyer with a little too-convenient story of their own strange relationship, serves up the will. She celebrates with some well-placed generosity and seems to be doing well.

Great, I’m with it so far.

The Plot Thickens

But. Always a but. She starts sensing a presence. An unseen entity pulls off her bed-covers while she sleeps, and a pair of foot imprints, seemingly standing on the edge of the blanket as she pulls it back, jump-start the insanity.

So this is not what I’d call “pure horror”, but it’s more of a horror-thriller hybrid. And it’s very well-done. The characters are developed, the story moves at a good pace, and the building sense of fear and psychosis is demonstrated with the right amount of visuals, musical cues, and dialog. Some of the best bits are when Cecelia simply converses with the empty space in front of her, knowing it’s not truly empty, but unable to find even the slightest crack in the facade to prove otherwise.

We could draw some comparisons to Hollow Man here (first R-rated movie I ever watched, no joke!), with similar pacing and action. Although in terms of the targets of affection, I think Kevin Bacon got the better deal by far — Elizabeth Shue AND Rhona Mitra? Yes plz. (I might have mentioned her before.) That’s not fair of me, though — Elizabeth Moss is fine too, but her character here is supposed to look like she’s been through hell, because she has!

kevin bacon hollow man in hoodie
Agent Smith meets Gumby.

Look Ma, No Hands!

As we build toward the climax, a couple things go wrong. First, the injuries that C. inflicts on herself should have been much more life-threatening. Second, once we learn how the invisibility suit actually works, it stands to reason that it being shot with multiple bullets would cause some serious malfunctioning, not this half-baked “self-healing” technology that seems to keep our killer both lead-proof AND eye-proof without a flinch. But hey, maybe I’m behind the times.

Despite me “calling it” before the last “mini-twist” was revealed (I’m trying to emulate K. here, but her gift for foreseeing story elements, plot-twists, and endings was absolutely astounding), I still enjoyed the fact that they went there. It helped bump C. over that last little ledge of neurosis, while giving her the motivation she needed to start actually fighting back.

That Ending, Tho…

But really. For all we’ve learned about Adrian, can we really believe for a second that he wouldn’t suspect her of being wired while they converse awkwardly over a reunion dinner? Or that he’d just LET her wander off alone to “freshen up”? Come on.

I did administer a few self-fives for predicting dialog just before it was said, so that was entertaining.

barney stinson self-five
You know, it’s not easy being this awesome.
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Top 5 Underrated Actors, Part 1

While enjoying some movies lately, and realizing I’ve missed on some epic ones, therefore taking the necessary steps to correct that (downloading it to my Plex library)… I realized that some of actors I truly enjoy seeing on the big screen are NOT your typical A-listers. Also, the fact that both of those movies feature Ewan McGregor is purely coincidence. COINCIDENCE I SAY!

Ahem.

Let’s get on to the list, shall we?

Disclaimer 1 (Feminists take note): Yes, these are all men; in Part 2, I will get to the ladies. K? So don’t flame me just yet. At least wait til you see my picks for the opposite sex. (OMG he used that word! CRUCIFY HIM!!!)

Disclaimer 2, this is heavy on the IMDB links. If you have a problem with that for some strange reason, just.. don’t click? Whatevs.

William Fitchner

william fitchner in prison break
You can’t hide from me, Michael!

The first of a few New Yorkers on this list, you may recognize him from, as mentioned above, Black Hawk Down, or Armageddon, or the TV show Prison Break. All excellent viewing choices. His voice and countenance are pretty unmistakable, once you’re dialed in to it. He brings an authenticity and sincerity to every character he plays, even when they’re ridiculously drawn. One of his lesser known (and highly underrated, and cut far too short of its potential) projects was a little ill-fated show called Invasion, about, you guessed it, body-snatching aliens invading earth. Which sounds, obviously, quite cliche, but he has a keen eye for suspense and personal drama, and that’s what shines through.

Paul Bettany

paul bettany in legion
*smoldering intensifies*

The token Englishman of the bunch. This guy can bring gravitas to ANYTHING. His role as the self-flagellating priest in The Da Vinci Code? As a fallen angel fighting for humans’ second chance in Legion? As the riotous Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale? Yes please; thank you sir, may I have another! Now, there is only so much one man can do. He couldn’t save the pseudo-dystopian-horror-Blade-knockoff that was Priest, God love him for trying (get it?? God? Priest? #ohbehave). But come on. He’s freakin Vision.

Kyle Chandler

kyle chandler friday night lights
CLEAR EYES, FULL HEARTS, CAN’T LOSE!

Another New Yorker! But you’d never have guessed it if you saw how flawlessly he pulled off that southern twang in Friday Night Lights, would ya? No, honestly, I defy you to watch that show and NOT get inspired and fired-up by Coach Taylor. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Oh, and the fantastic sleeper-hit, Game Night — sure, Bateman and McAdams are the stars, but you are absolutely drawn into Chandler’s rich-big-brother charisma like moth to flame. Funny enough, that movie also featured Landry from FNL as a creepy neighbor who takes things way too literally and way too seriously. Highly recommended.

Frank Grillo

frank grillo
turns out he actually IS a badass..

Our THIRD New Yorker of the bunch… wonder if that’s a pattern? Does it say something about me, or the actors I like? Hell if I know. Grillo is one of those guys that usually plays a similar character, but to a rare degree of perfection. It’s generally a cop or cop-like role, someone in some position of authority or enforcement — an Army guy, perhaps, or an investigator or an ex-somethin-or-other. The Purge movies, for one. That super short-lived series The Gates (Rhona Mitra ME-YOW!). And Prison Break, again.. hmm. COINCIDENCE! Also, End of Watch, amazing police-cam-style movie with a heart-wrenching finale. Amazing piece of work, that.

Michael Peña

michael pena meme from ant-man about 2020 disasters
plus Kobe died… and race riots… really, things can only go up from here, right?

Speaking of End of Watch, here’s our token Mexican. Oh stop. Really, I’m kidding. So sensitive, you people. But yeah, he’s amazing. Whether he’s knee-deep in the trenches of political intrigue in Shooter (moar Rhona Mitra.. hmm, ideas for Part 2 post starting to formulate!), making us laugh our our noses in Ant Man with his overly enthusiastic blitzkrieg-plot-recalls, or — spoiler alert — taking a bullet for his brother-in-arms in the middle of a gang-war-zone alley… He’s got my vote.

Honorable Mention

Not in the top 5, but here because he was the absolute PERFECT fit for this role — Death, in Supernatural: the one and only Julian Richings. Any other characterization of Death on-screen will be forever weighed against his, and I doubt they will measure up.

death in supernatural, snacking on pickle chips
He sure did love his pickle-chips. And, ya know, killing stuff. Cuz he’s DEATH.

Now go watch some movies! ❤

Xbox One S internal storage upgrade

Featuredxbox one hard drive example

This is mostly just a link-dump and credit where credit is due. I won’t bother repeating the whole process ad-nauseum.

The big kahuna:

User ‘XFiX’ is amazing.

XFiX’s (aka Tai1976 on this particular forum) more detailed thread about the PowerShell script bundle: https://gbatemp.net/threads/xbox-one-internal-hard-drive-upgrade-or-repair-build-any-size-drive-that-works-on-any-console.496212/

It’s worth noting that, because I do have so many drives connected to main main PC, I did have to manually edit one of the scripts in the section related to drive letters. Easy enough.

A little supplemental guide in case you run into errors or trouble.

(Note that I, however, simply went back and repeated the entire original clone process and it seemed to work the second time.)

A brief note from Microsoft on the offline-system-update process: https://beta.support.xbox.com/help/hardware-network/console/system-update-solution/offline-system-update

End-result: My Xbox One S is now running a 1TB Samsung Evo 860 SSD. Granted, it’s connected via a Sata 2 interface (3Gbp/s), not Sata 3 (like you have in the Xbox One X), so I’m not really getting that much of a performance benefit, if any. BUT, it sure beats replacing with another mechanical drive, because who the heck would even buy one of those these days anyway? (Yes, for huge capacity, I get it. Not for this use-case.)

Lesson: tinkerers and geeks are awesome!

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Movie Wednesday: The Island (2005)

Reader! It’s been too long. I figured that I should get back to what I’m good at… watching, and subsequently reviewing, MOVIES!

“Good at” is debatable.

Shut up, voice-in-the-head. Nobody asked you.

Anyway, today we’re talking about the 2005 nearly-a-box-office-flop dystopia-action flick The Island. Let’s dive in!

But wait. If you wanna be REALLY entertained, just go read this review. It’s bonkers. In the best possible way. It made me laugh way more than I laughed at myself while writing this.

Wow, you’re really shootin’ for the stars there, huh?

The Who?

On paper, this movie has a lot of good things going for it. The cast, for one — eye-candy ScarJo & EwanMcG, the incomparable Sean Bean, the gravitas-laden Djimon Hounsou. Okay I guess that’s mostly it. No, wait… why does this guy look and sound so familiar? This friend of Ewan’s character, in the lab with the tubes. With the almost-comically-large nose. His mannerisms, his speech… it’s like something out of my teenage years. OHMYGOD it’s frickin’ Neelix! From Star Trek Voyager! I KNEW that guy was familiar. Ha! Neelix…

The problem is, these two incredible (-ly good looking) lead actors are asked to play these very naïve, child-like humans in this artificially homogenized semi-futuristic environment, but they can’t quite make it seem real. And I’m sure it’s not entirely their fault — Michael Bay isn’t known for being a master of eliciting pure emotion, so much as he is for making big stuff go boom. But the dialog often feels stilted and off-beat. I could forgive it if it were consistent, because that would actually suit the narrative and the plasticity of the utopian environment; but there are contrasting moments that sort of take you out of the immersion and make you remember “Oh, right, these are actors. Acting.” I’m not saying that’s wrong, just that it should happen less.

Did you really think you could walk away without it?

The What?

Let’s talk about the plot. I mean, if you’ve heard of a book called “Never Let Me Go”, or been at any point exposed to similar dystopian stories — heck, even if you saw the trailers for this movie — you’d kinda have an idea of where things are going. It’s not that complicated. But you watch because you want to go on that journey — you want to be teased a bit, to experience a touch of mystery and a glimmer of uncertainty.

But you kinda just know, from the moment the camera pans past a classroom of fully grown adults reading “Dick and Jane” aloud as if they’re actually learning it for the first time, that something’s very Soylent-Green here. You get the tease, sure, and you’re supposed to be in shared-suspense with Lincoln as he questions all the delicate order and pristine-ness of his proverbial ivory tower. But by the time he crawls up that ventilation shaft…

It’s always a ventilation shaft, isn’t it?

And by the time he watches in horror as the new mother is injected with death-serum as her baby is carried off to another mother who looks exactly like her, waiting in a neat little room with her handsome husband and some well-appointed paperwork… You already knew. You saw it coming. At least, you did if you were paying any attention. And again, when you watched with disgust along with the computer technician (who IS in-the-know, of course, but doesn’t change the fact that he’s not thrilled with everything his employer does) — and by the way why does he need to be so gross and greasy? I mean really, talk about your stereotyping. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, watching in disgust, as they cut open the waterbed-sized embryonic sac to reveal a “newborn, fully-grown” human. Even that, you should have seen coming. Oh, did I mention spoiler-alert? Right. Spoiler-alert!

That’s really what makes Buscemi’s character so incredibly unnecessary. I mean sure, he befriended Lincoln (for some strange reason) — probably seems him like a son he never had — but there’s absolutely no need for his over-expository recital of the movie’s key premise to the characters who are sitting on his couch dumb-founded as if they didn’t just experience exactly what he’s telling them. I mean, I get that they’re immature, but are they really THAT dumb? Are WE? I’d like to think not. Yet this scene just kinda felt like an unnecessary condescension to the viewer, as if the filmmakers were saying “Here, we were just SO CLEVER, but we’re gonna get you caught up now so you REALLY know what’s going on.”

You mean we’re not real people? Just actors?!? LIES!!

The Why?

Now, the point of a dystopian story is always to turn the mirror on its audience, to ask “How far will you let science/technology/ideology/etc. go?” To present us with a grim picture of the future where some thing, in this case genetic science and biotech, is taken to the Nth degree for selfish reasons by the world’s wealthy elite, and ask us the proverbial question, “Was it worth it?” So we get that. It may be shoved down our throats just a bit, but we do get it. The film makes a noble effort to enunciate its message without sounding terribly absurd or preachy. Is it effective? Eh.

So we’ve made it this far without actually explicitly stating the plot. Ready? Are you sure?

They’re cloning humans to use as organ donors, so the wealthy original humans (who the clones are made from) can live longer and overcome things like liver cancer, heart disease, etc. Gross, right? But also… kinda neat. In theory.

Now of course we could get into the typical questions like “But do they have a soul?”, “Do they feel love?” etc. It’s all very dramatic and existential. Great. But remember, this is Michael Bay. The Mister Torgue of movies. Which means this movie was about 40 minutes too long, and the second half was largely a mish-mash of gunfire, large explosions, vehicular manslaughter, and bad dialogue screamed over LOUD NOISES. But hey, at least you get to see John Coffey wake up from open-chest surgery and go on a brief rampage.

No, I swear, it’s a surprise. Really.

The End

Length does not work in this movie’s favor. I was actually hoping it would end on a cliffhanger — and I don’t generally enjoy cliffhangers — but it would have felt justified, in this case. Like, the star-crossed clone lovebirds suit-up to go back to the compound and wreak havoc and try to free their soulless brethren, and maybe we get up to their dramatic re-entrance to the surgical facility with the suddenly-turned-sympathetic black merc at their side, and we freeze-frame with guns drawn and cue the music. But no, instead we have to endure another 20 minutes of explosions, running around chasing people, and this incongruous City of Angels conclusion with all the clones in their white track-suits staggering out onto the hilltop with the sun blazing on the horizon.

But obviously, we had to kill Sean Bean. So there’s that.

I thought you said you were done.

Now you might have read all that and thought, “Wow, you really disliked this movie, huh?” Not at all! In fact I quite enjoyed it. I just had lots of thoughts and words. So I had to get them out and share them. Would I recommend the movie? Yeah, if you’re into this sort of thing, absolutely. Would I watch it again and again? No, probably not. It’s not like Gladiator or Forrest Gump. It’s a popcorn flick. The fact that I didn’t actually consume popcorn while watching notwithstanding.

PS: The product placement was SO laughably awful, I almost didn’t even want to go there. I mean seriously, it’s ridiculous. iMacs, Xbox, Michelob, Cadillac, and MSN. Just… wow. And MSN was like, an important thing IN the plot. I mean sure they called it the “Information Directory”, but, good lord. Pathetic. In hindsight, at least. 2005 was a long time ago, maybe Google wasn’t really the colossus it’s become. My memory’s a little hazy, that was college.

Anyway. Cheers! And welcome back to movie-time. =)

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25 Years, Still Going Strong

Descent.

When I say that word, what do you think of? Perhaps the 2005 horror movie based in a cave? Good film. Not quite there.

Descent 1 intro briefing
Descent 1 intro briefing

“Prepare for descent…”

How about now? If you just got goosebumps up your joystick arm and tickly tingles in you trigger fingers, you’re my kind ‘a people. That’s right, my fellow four-eighty-six pilots, I’m talking about THE game. The game of the year; nay, of the decade. The one that changed shooters forever. The ever impressive.. the one-contained.. the often imitated but never duplicated oh shi–.. Descent!

Yes, this game will forever live on in my memory as the pinnacle of 3D gaming from my childhood. The mid-1900s saw some killer game releases. Top shooters included Doom, Quake, Goldeneye, Wolfenstein, Half-Life, Unreal. But NONE of these could hold a candle to the mind-bending stomach-churning six-degrees-of-freedom true 3D shooter that was Descent. Bonus, since it didn’t involve killing humans (and thus, no gore) — evil robots were the enemy here — it was perfectly acceptable to my parents for a young 9-year-old Nate’s innocent eyeballs. The sheer rush of adrenaline as the ‘bots tried to ambush as you barely escaped with evasive maneuvers and turned around to blast them to bits… Pure nostalgic gold.

Descent D1x-Rebirth level 1 Lunar Outpost
Descent D1x-Rebirth level 1 Lunar Outpost

“But what the blazes are you going on about”, you may ask. Excellent question. Please see YouTube. It’s not the absolute greatest representation of the true 6DoF potential, but you’ll get the idea. And if you get a little queasy, a little motion-sick, that’s perfectly normal. Anybody who’s never played one of these before is likely to need some.. perspective.

Open-Source Developers are Awesome

Here’s why I love developers. Gather a few of ’em together around something they’re passionate about, and watch magic happen. Descent is 25 years old this year. It was made for DOS and Windows 95, as well as a few consoles. Heck, I even have the original CDs from the “Definitive Edition” pack (re-released a few years later). But there’s no way in heck they would run on modern computers with modern operating systems.

Enter open source. Thankfully, the Descent 1 & 2 source code was released to the public at some point. That’s like Christmas Day to developers — anybody with any programming skill could now peek and tweak at the code, even rewrite it from scratch. Two separate projects — called “source ports” — spawned from that seed: DXX-Rebirth, and D2X-XL. The former is simpler and more true-to-form, retaining as much of the original gameplay look & feel as possible, while still enabling it to run on modern systems and adding a few nice conveniences for the 21st century player. The latter is more of a “let’s see how far we can take this” philosophy, in that the author has consistently added many changes and enhancements to the core game mechanics and graphics that, while some players find appealing, I personally take it as “noisy”. But due to its popularity, there are even a number of levels (aka ‘missions’) that will only work with this version. And don’t get me wrong, the work is impressive, by any developer’s standards.

D2X-XL gameplay on D1 level 1 revamped
D2X-XL gameplay on D1 level 1 revamped

A Legacy Lives On

As with most legendary hit games, a dedicated “mapping & modding” community sprouted up around it. To this day, DescentBB forums are active, and a few members are even still making levels. I even tried my hand at it a couple times. I remember almost begging my parents to buy the re-packaged game box because it included the “Descent Mission Builder” software that let you make your own levels. Hours upon hours spent manipulating cubes and flying through tunnels to test. But nothing compared to the fun of playing through the true masterpieces of level-design produced by the most prolific builders of the day — they pushed the game so far beyond what the creators originally imagined, yet likely dared dream of.

a waterfall from a custom level in Descent 2
A waterfall in custom level “Alhambra” for Descent 2

OMG I Must Play!

Then have I got a page for you! Includes download links and step-by-step instructions for Windows users. Bonus, it’ll soon include my own hand-picked custom-levels pack (so you don’t have to sort through the piles of crap that accumulated from half-baked “level contests” and “archive servers” over the decades).

A Challenger Appears

Overload, a spiritual successor to the Descent series, and involving the very founders of Parallax, was released in 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign. I haven’t played it yet, but from the footage and reviews I’ve seen, it’s right at home in this game-hall-of-fame.

Overload gameplay screenshot
Overload gameplay screenshot

So what are you waiting for? Catch me on Twitch and watch me play, or go download all the goodies and check it out yourself!

See you in the mines!

Favorite tagline of many hot-shot pilots and level-designers.
Featured

It’s a Hack! (Android tablet edition)

Recently I inherited an older Android tablet from a friend. It’s a Sprint AQT100, to be precise. It runs Android 5.1, aka “Lollipop”. For those of you unfamiliar with Android OS version history, that’s 5 major versions behind current, version 10 (in which they stopped publicly proclaiming them with cute dessert names and just stuck with the major #).

sprint slate 10 tablet
It’s an older tablet, sir, but it checks out.

However, like most old tech, it could still be useful given a little TLC and appropriately leveled expectations. Being that this thing is a bit light in the hardware department (1GB memory, 1.1GHz CPU), it’s not going to be playing the latest games or watching 4K Youtube. But for basic web browsing, ebook reading, note-taking, and email-checking, it should suffice.

The first things I did were a) fully charge it, and b) remove the old SIM card, via a little pop-off panel on the rear top left. Under this same panel is a micro-SD slot, in case I ever want more than the native 16GB* of storage.

*Actually works out to just under 10GB of usable storage, due to the space taken by the Android OS itself. This is universally true on all mobile devices.

The next and most important thing I did, as I do with all inherited/obtained/gifted devices, was factory-reset. On this device, and similar tablets from the past several years, if you don’t know the PIN or password, you can boot into “recovery mode” with a combination of button-holds while powering on.

Aside: I linked to a helpful article that walks you through recovery-mode-boot and factory-reset. It’s quite simple: Fully power off the device. Then, hold the power and volume-up buttons to power it back on and into “recovery mode”. To navigate the old-school-console-style menu (which definitely looks like something a hacker would use), use the volume up & down buttons to scroll up and down, and use the power button as the ‘Enter’ or ‘OK’ button.

Now, the problem was, this device was not fully wiped nor disconnected from the original owner’s Google account. Much like modern iDevices have the “iCloud activation lock”, it seems that Google devices have a similar lock, what they’ve called ‘FRP’ – Factory Reset Protection. The idea here is, if the device is lost or stolen, we want to make it more difficult for the finders-keepers or thieves to wipe it clean and call it their own. So even after using the hardware-button-driven approach to reboot to recovery mode and perform a factory reset, the device still requires the Google credentials of “a previously registered account”.

In this case, the previous owner was not reachable by any means. So I started the requisite Googling. I came across a lot of Youtube videos that involved various tricks like “disconnecting your internet right after it transitions from this screen to the next” (during the setup process), or using a computer with the Android SDK and an ‘OTG’ cable, or downloading mysterious APKs (those are Android app installer packages) from random strangers’ Google drives; and I just thought, wow, there’s gotta be a better way. And of course, there was.

Before I dive way down deep into the rabbit-hole, the brief summary overview goes something like this:

  • Open the camera from the lock screen, take a picture, and Share it to an app like Maps where you can go view a boring legal disclosures doc.
  • Use the built-in “Web Search” functionality that pops up when you select text in a document, to open the device’s native web browser to get to the Settings menus.
  • Use Protected Apps to launch Chrome to download and install two APKs.
  • Use the APKs to fire up a new Google Login screen that bypasses the FRP one.

So it’s really not that complicated, from a broad perspective, but as they say, “the Devil’s in the details”. Which is why I’m writing this!

Ready? Hold your nose and take a deep breath…

Enter this helpful post on the XDA Developers forum. Now, it’s not quite the whole picture, but the thing he calls out importantly is the fact that you need to go to “Protected Apps” to be able to launch Chrome once you’ve gotten past the Settings part and enabled ‘install from unknown sources’. You should definitely read the post, but I’ll bring you my excruciatingly detailed commentary here.

  1. After factory-reset (via the buttons method earlier), walk through the setup process until you get past the “connect to a WiFi network’ stage. Yes, you DO need to connect to WiFi so you can download stuff.
  2. Lock the screen. On most devices, this simply means tapping the power/sleep/wake button. On some devices, you’ll want to wait about 10 seconds before attempting to turn it back on (with the same button) for the next step, because there’s often a setting to “leave it unlocked for X seconds” for your convenience.
  3. Turn the screen back on (using that same button of course), and you should see the lock screen.
  4. This screen should have a camera icon near the lower-right. On my Slate tablet, I had to swipe it from right to left to open the camera. So, open the camera.
  5. Now that the camera is open, take a photo of anything (or nothing). Tap the photo’s thumbnail in the lower right corner after it’s taken.
  6. Hit the ‘Share’ button (it looks like a sideways-V with dots). Tap the ‘Maps’ app to share the photo via Maps (lord knows why you’d ever do this in real life…)
    • Similar steps (7-11) may work in context of another sharing app, but as most tutorials recommended Maps, I stuck with it, and had success.
  7. You’ll be asked for an account, but at this point you can ‘Cancel’ the sharing action and the Maps app should remain open.
  8. In the upper-left corner there should be a “hamburger” menu icon (three horizontal lines); tap that and tap Settings.
  9. Go to Terms & Privacy, then to Terms (possibly called Terms & Conditions).
  10. Hold your finger over a word in the boring legalese until it’s selected/highlighted.
    • Who’d a thunk that silly stuff would actually come in handy someday? =P
  11. You should get a pop-up at the top of the screen with options like ‘Copy’, ‘Share’, and ‘Web Search’. Tap on the latter, ‘Web Search’.
    • The point of all that was to get the device’s default web browser to open up. Because, unlike in, say, Chrome, your device’s native browser should allow you to navigate to its device Settings screen.
  12. So now, in the web browser, tap inside the address bar, delete whatever’s in there, and just type in ‘settings’. You should get at least one option that pops up below it, as a ‘suggestion’ — the ‘Settings’ screen. You will probably also see ‘Google Settings’, but you don’t need that right now.
  13. If you’ve been using Android devices, the Settings screen should be pretty familiar to you. Go to ‘Security’ (which is under the ‘Personal’ grouping), and enable ‘Unknown sources’ under ‘Device administration’.
    • This allows installation of apps from unknown sources, which is what we’re about to do. But DON’T PANIC! These are legitimate, community-vetted, well-known and respected sources. They won’t steal your cookies and mine all your private information. 😉
  14. Now hit the ‘back’ button in the upper left to return to the main Settings screen. (NOT the back button at the bottom navigation-bar of your device — that would be sad, because you’d probably have to repeat some of these steps.)
  15. Go to ‘Apps’ (under the ‘Device’ grouping). It will show you, by default, your ‘Downloaded’ apps. Don’t care. Go to the top right and tap the 3-vertical-dots icon (it’s a context menu).
  16. Tap ‘Protected apps‘. You will have to set a protection PIN or pattern — do so.
  17. Here, you’re presented with a screen that lists your main apps, one of which should be Chrome. Tap it once to check the box (that it will now be a ‘protected app’).
  18. Now, the line for Chrome should have a new icon on the far-right, which looks like a box with a diagonal arrow pointing up & right. THAT’s what we want, because that will launch the Chrome browser (as opposed to the native one), which will allow us to one-click-install our APKs (Android apps).
    • This is where a lot of the other online tutorials failed, because they assumed that you could just launch Chrome from the MAIN apps screens (like the ‘downloaded’ or ‘installed’ lists).
  19. And now we switch tutorials, to this lovely guy, at Step 14 to be precise.
    • More specifically, when you search the web for “Google Account Manager” and “QuickShortcutMaker”, you will want to make sure you download them from a good source. My personal preference is APKMirror.
    • When you search for Google Account Manager, make sure you also include the Android OS version you’re running. Mine was, as mentioned, 5.1. If you aren’t sure how to find this info, go back to the Settings screen and find the ‘About tablet’ (or ‘About phone’) section.
    • QuickShortcutMaker 2.4.0, which I will now abbreviate as ‘QSM’, should work regardless of OS version, but it probably hasn’t been tested on the absolute newest (9 and 10) because it’s not actively maintained by the developer. That’s ok, we won’t use it for very long, and we’ll get rid of it as soon as we’re unlocked.
  20. First, download the Google Account Manager APK. Chrome will prompt you on what to do with the file. Obviously, ‘Open’ it. This will get it installed. You don’t need to open the app itself, so just cancel/back to the Chrome browser screen you were on before.
  21. Then download the QuickShortcutMaker APK and do the same thing – ‘Open’ it and let it install. But this time, after it’s done, Open the App itself too, if prompted! If not, that’s ok. You can back-out to the Settings screens from before (Step 15-18) and go to the Protected Apps screen to enable QSM and then to launch it using that arrow-in-a-square icon.
  22. Here’s the real fun. On QSM’s ‘Activities’ screen, instead of typing in what they tell you, just type in “Type Email and Password”.
    • Pay attention to the fine-print below it — you do NOT want the one that says ‘Edu’, because that’s a slightly different flavor of setup than you standard personal device.
    • The one you want says, in full, com.google.android.gsf.login/com.google.android.gsf.login.LoginActivity
  23. QSM will take you to the next screen where it wants you to ‘Create this shortcut’ with certain properties. Don’t worry about all that; just hit the ‘Preview this action’ button to actually launch the action.
  24. Finally, FINALLY, you should have a screen that prompts you to enter your own Google Account credentials.
  25. Once that’s done, restart the device. It should resume setup from where it left off before, bypassing the “Enter a previously registered account” nonsense.

Phew! That was a lot of steps. But it’s really not as hard as it all sounds. I promise. And it’s less tricky than trying to shut off your whole internet at the exact moment a screen passes by (which I tried to no avail), or buying a cable and downloading a bunch of junk to your PC.

Good luck! Hope this helps someone out there.

Speaking of legal nonsense, it should go without saying that this is NOT ethically responsible unless you are the legitimate owner of the device in question. But you’re a smart reader, and you knew that already, didn’t ya?

N.

Movie-time: Starship Troopers

Featuredcropped movie cover of starship troopers

I’m doing my part!

Federal Propaganda

I’m back baby! And I finally understand those memes. Yes indeed, I’m talking about the one, the only, 1997 socio-political commentary disguised as big-budget sci-fi xeno-war Starship Troopers! And it did not disappoint.

i'm doing my part!
Yes you are, you little super-vaguely-ethic and kinda-androgynous thing you!

Do you want to know more?

Let me just start by saying the interjected propaganda bits are pure gold. It’s part of what elevates the film from your standard, near-B-grade sci-fi, to a legitimate topical satire. It doesn’t hurt that Barney Stinson is one of the scientists bandying about bug brutalization and badassery.

Look closely at how frenzied the mother is as she watchers her kids stomping on cockroaches. Or how the mobile infantry recruitment tactics bear a striking resemblance to decades-past American armed forces ads. This isn’t a movie about noble humans fighting evil bugs. This is a movie about runaway big-militarized-government and ruthless imperialism, with a dash of blind nationalism for good measure.

And it’s surprisingly relevant, even today.

rico with orange bug guts on him
I killed it. ‘Merica.

Welcome to the Roughnecks!

If you start paying too much attention to the visual FX, you’ll probably say it looks a bit dated. Now, this was 1997, 1 year later than Independence Day, for example, so you may be onto something. But remember, too, that this was only the late 90s. So I would say, actually, go back and watch other sci-fi from around the same time, and you’ll find that it actually fits right in.

The war-time scenes, both in training camp and actual combat, are average at best. There is a decent amount of guts and gore, mixed with some tongue-in-cheek humor and interpersonal drama, and sprinkled with the standard lead-character heroics. However, you get frustrated with lack of tactical sense and storm-trooper-level firearm competency (that is to say, very little, for those of you who’ve never seen Star Wars). But again, this actually screams ‘parody’ to me, as though they did it this way on purpose to show how laughable most sci-fi action really is.

The characters are, generally, a bit one-dimensional. But some of the actors play it so well that you’ll forgive them for it. Like the drill sergeant and the stump-arm commander. Make no mistake, a lot of the acting IS quite bad. But is it bad.. on purpose? Think about it.

The enemy cannot push a button, if you disable his hand!

And can we just take a moment to acknowledge how incredibly forward-thinking this society was in one very small yet very significant way? Gender equality! The football team, the infantry, the co-ed showers. I mean, there was literally NO friction caused by the fact that men and women were completely equal in these environments. Hats off to that, my friends, hats off to that.

the cast agreed to do the shower scene only if the directory would film it naked too
[citation needed]

MEDIC!

Here’s the main problem I had with the character arcs and story. Right from the jump, Dizzy is framed as a strong, kickass woman who knows what she wants, and doesn’t put up with your crap. She proves it in bootcamp, and again in the field. And yet, spoiler-alert, her death scene is just so terribly weak. I mean sure, she also played up the silly schoolgirl crush on Rico, but she definitely wasn’t the lovelorn doe-eyed damsel. Maybe I’m reading the character wrong. But COME ON. “It’s OK, because I got to have you”?? PLEASE. And your competition is literally in the front seat, maybe even within ear-shot.

If I were to see this movie remade, and I had any input, this scene would be my rewrite. Oh don’t get me wrong, she’d still die horribly. But ol’ Carmen would be close enough to hear Diz’s very last words, which would be something to the effect of, “But hey, Rico, I rocked your goddamn world!”, sending that metaphoric knife-to-the-heart for Ibanez. And she would NOT beg that candy-ass of a man to “hold me” or anything as she drew her last breath.

diz gets spiked by a bug
I was also disappointed by the lack of Wilhelm Screams.

Come on you apes! You wanna live forever?

Two thumbs up, but beware the dated CGI and bad acting.

PS: OMG is that freakin Father Gabriel from The Walking Dead!?! IT IS!! Hah. Oh I can not see him as a soldier. But he tried, God bless him, he tried. =)

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A Random Assortment of Dreams

Driving. Driving at night. I’m in a crazy souped-up sports car. I literally recognize that I’m in a dream; I even remember that I’m sleeping in a motel (on the way up to visit Oregon, but that’s not part of the in-dream realization!). So I floor the gas and do all kinds of crazy Fast & Furious -esque tricks, even jumping over and through traffic. Nearly flying, I would say. I’m racing against… No one. Myself. Time.

Porsche 919 Hybrid (18), Porsche Team: Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, Marc Lieb
How cool would that be?

Cut scene.

I’m on a reddish desert landscape near an industrial complex of some sort. I’m talking to myself, in the dream. Acknowledging that it’s a dream. So meta. But the other self is a sort of fictionalized, almost Iron-Man-like figure. As if I’d created a robotic clone of myself. I almost said my own name. But it came out Ned. Or at least, it would have, if it had been audible.

mars outpost concept art
Like on Mars. Basically.

Cut scene.

I’m looking at a mirror. It shows my own face, yet quickly warps and distorts in shape and form. I know this is not real. I tell it to “shut up” and turn around, attempting to shatter the mirror in the process. I break through a glass wall, but find myself stuck in a cluster, or maze, of never-ending mirrors. They keep re-materializing, despite me repeatedly breaking them. Like a carnival-funhouse-turned-horrifying-nightmare.

hall of mirrors maze
Because THAT’S not at all creeptastic.

I soon find myself trapped between mirrors and unable to move, as my malformed reflection continues to warp and grotesque-ify. I never looked into the eyes until the last second. They became pitch dark and deep, like black holes. I struggled to breath and wake myself.

A false-start or two, but I finally awoke, gasped in a chest-full of real air, and took a drink of water. And then I wrote my dream notes. So that you could enjoy this post! ❤

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Dreamwalker 1

It begins, as most dreams do, in the middle of it. Meaning, you’re not really sure how you got there. It just.. IS.

gothic house interior living room
Looks… cozy?

The place starts to feel familiar as the walls and rooms start to solidify. You’re in a hotel; no, a bed-and-breakfast. A mansion that’s run like a bed-and-breakfast. The feeling of familiarity is fleeting and vague, yet you know it’s there. Like a word on the tip of your tongue that just won’t quite come out. 

You’re a ghost-like presence, a translucent being wandering the vaguely defined rooms and halls. This room has a secret passageway, which leads to… the pool! Oh what a glorious pool, with ornate marble statues and granite trim. Yet it is not for you. No, you slide back through the room and wonder how to keep yourself busy. You read notes in the guestbook, written to the innkeeper, with words of praise or suggestions. None of it is memorable. You find some dishes out of place and bring them to the kitchen to wash. Apparently you can hold objects, despite your less-than-corporeal state of being. 

But perhaps you aren’t so ghostly. You feel that you’re meant to tell somebody something. To pass on a message. Your gut tells you that you will be able to touch and be seen and heard by those you’re meant to see. A voice – is it your own internal monologue, or something else – waxes philosophic: “We are sometimes asked to put into words what no human should have to; and so, in the end, we decide it’s best not to.” Still, you must get a message to someone. 

You begin to talk with a man sitting by the pool – he must be the one you’re meant to speak with! He sees you and hears you. Your touch is cold but your voice is warm. The man is having lunch with his family near the pool. He attempts to introduce you to others, but not all of them can see. Not all are meant to see. One woman does feel your presence and hear your voice, albeit quite softly, if you rest your hand on her shoulder. But you are not here to tell her anything of importance. It was merely nice to be heard by more than one person.

Before you have a chance to convey your message to the first gentleman – nay, before you even understand what said message is supposed to be – you become aware of another dreamwalker. His presence feels unnatural. He resembles Joshua Jackson, the actor, for some strange reason. Your instincts tell you that his name is Danny. 

Suddenly.. “Danny’s bad. Danny’s BAD!” A young boy’s voice cries out. 

man running down a dark alley

Danny’s eyes darken to pure cold black spheres, and he lays chase to the boy. You now feel it is your duty to save the boy from whatever fate this Danny has in store for him. He only has one arm, you realize, in an abrupt and macabre revelation. 

You toss and turn through material and immaterial barriers as you try to catch up. You phase-shift through doors but have trouble keeping pace.

Alas, you awake too soon. You hope and pray that the young boy is safe, and Danny is merely a figment of someone’s imagination.

Please note: I have no qualms with anyone named Danny. Dream-interpreters would likely have you believe that there’s some trauma in my past related to a person with this name, but I can assure you there’s not. It is funny that, in most of my dreams, names are rarely, if ever, a thing that gets remembered. But I don’t usually write down notes immediately after waking up, either — in this case I did, by which I constructed this story. So take it how you will. Even if your name is Danny — I still like you, and I don’t think you’re a child-mutilating psychopath. =P

N.
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Positive? Not Really?

Today we have another wonderful guest-post from Arlene! Make sure to show her some support.

Scrolling through Twitter the other day, I had just responded to the announcement of someone’s positive news (may as well amplify it, correct?) and noticed a new notification. Most of the time, I will stop and read notifications — the habit has saved me from chasing more than a few messages down later. It was Mark Thompson responding to someone who was looking for a positive person on Twitter.

Being my usual self, I listed a group of people that I look up to, and that almost always have something good to say to those they choose to interact with. And thought nothing more about it.

It turns out, I was the one he was suggesting! ME! I’ve never looked at myself in this manner, and it was a shock. I almost responded “Not positive / not sure if this applies to me” with all seriousness.

My brain has been all over the place; job hunting will do that to you. Your emotional state varies depending directly on what other people say about you, because they are in control of your future. Also, I’d been getting ready to speak, recovering from that event, and making plans to do so again when circumstances shifted in the household and made me grumpy. But, I know I will enjoy these activities/engagements once I start them.

Is that it? Is it my awareness that I will enjoy something difficult, once I am going on it? And can and will express this openly, because I know sometimes it encourages people to hear that — after the anticipation of something, and the worry of all of what might happen — once it is time, the nerves vanish, and you (and I) can proceed with confidence.

Or is it a celebration of the accomplishments of those I don’t really know? If you’ve just gotten a new job, made a major life change, or even (and these are most important) figured out how to accomplish a task — these deserve to be shared! And I’m more than willing to do so.

Maybe I live by this Robin Williams quote a bit too much:

Putting a positive spin on things is a skill I’ve had to develop — and I’m glad it makes people feel better.

I heartily agree! Amplify the successes and triumphs of people in your life. Spread positivity and joy, even when you can’t seem to find it yourself. Sometimes that’s the hardest part, but it can also be the most rewarding.

N.
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Movie Monday: Men In Black 4

Sure, it’s called ‘International’, whatever. It’s still the 4th one.

frank the pug from men in black
No dogs were harmed in the making of this review. Except this one. But he did it to himself. He smoked too much, drank too much, stayed out too late, partied too hard.. you know how these Hollywood types are. I can’t be held responsible. No blood on my hands. Still, I’ll miss the little mutt.

Make no mistake, I’m a fan of the series. The original was, like many Will Smith blockbusters of the late 90s, a force to be reckoned with. The elegance was in the simplicity — Smith at his standard boyishly charming cocky rookie game, Jones as the weathered old wise master, taking on a big bad with the unexpected help of an innocent-victim-turned-almost-femme-fatale. Overseen by Rip Torn at his finest. And Vincent D’whateveryoucallit amped up the ick to 11.

Men in Black Mr Jones and Mr Smith
The original. Accept no substitute.

5 years later, we get a surprisingly decent sequel. Nearly a full cadre of the original actors, and some fresh blood like Rosario Dawson added a healthy ‘oomph’ to the second step in the series. Plus it’s always fun to see Puddy do something ridiculous. Now don’t get me wrong, it was far from perfect, but overall there’s more to like than dislike.

men in black 2 agent J and K in mailman uniform
Spoiler-alert: amnesia (duh)

Another decade, another sequel. The third installment was.. passable. Again, lots of positives. Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson; the touching story of how K first discovered J as a child [spoiler alert!]. A bit more negatives, though — the villain, for one thing. I just couldn’t get past his.. everything. I mean, ‘ick’ is one thing; ‘just plain gross for gross’ sake’ is another. But the “I can see all future possibilities at once and it’s made my brain a little frappuccino-y” dude was really cute, and as I said, the timeline intersection subplot was worthwhile. So would I watch it again? For sure. Would I watch it more than a couple times? Ehhh… maybe, but I wouldn’t be ecstatic about it.

men in black 3 young J with dad's pocket watch
Probably the best scene of the whole film.

Now, we come to 2019. First of all, good luck getting ANY of those people to come back for round 4. I mean, at least one of them is dead. RIP, Rip. (And yes, that was literally on Twitter.) Fair enough; I didn’t really expect to see them anyway. No, this is a departure from the trilogy. This is… well, it’s like a remodeled apartment. The same foundations, the same basic framework, but with a lot of upgrades and a fresh coat of shiny new paint.

For starters, our new headliners — Hemsworth and Thompson (Tessa, not Emma; no relation) — are pretty. But the great thing is, she (particularly) doesn’t need to flaunt it. As the thematic undercurrent alludes to, this is no longer a ‘boys club’. This is the “Men and Women in Black”. A bit unfortunately, she still goes a little schoolgirl ga-ga over him — at first. She doesn’t let it stop her from being a badass, so it all evens out. Props.

men in black 3 chris hemsworth tessa thompson
the beautiful people, the beautiful people…

Now, the villains are immensely superior to anything we’ve yet seen, which is both refreshing and expected. On one hand, we know it’s going to take a lot more to stop them from bringing about our doom; but we kinda had to know that going in, otherwise what’s the point of another sequel? The side-story and featured NPC aliens (that’s RPG-talk for “neutral party characters” i.e. ones that aren’t the main bad-guys but aren’t necessarily at the beckon-call of our heroes either), are pretty decent.

Finally, we have this whole ‘internal intrigue’ / ‘mole in our midst’ plot. To me, it almost seemed like they wanted to make H out to be the mole, but then they wanted us to think it was C, then finally ol’ crusty boss-man. Now, this may seem like responsible mystery storytelling, right? And yes, I get it; you DO want the audience misdirected before you get to the big reveal. Obviously. But that traitor-y vibe, for me, lingered a bit too long on H’s character. I’m not sure if that’s the filmmaker’s fault or mine. Regardless, the storyline definitely does its job in taking us on the journey to a happy ending. It just felt a little too forced.

The thing I’m missing, I think, is the heart — that spirit of wonder and mystery that propelled the first film forward in a way that only truly good sci-fi does. This was more flash than function; more spark than fire. BUT! Still enjoyable. Good times.

And damn if that scene where he picks up the hammer ain’t a perfectly executed self-trolling-cameo.. I mean COME ON! You can’t not love it for at least a few seconds.

Spoiler alert: it’s not quite over…

One thumb up. Have fun out there friends! ❤

Disclaimer: None of these images are mine and I never claimed any rights over/about/related to them whatsoever. 😉

Decisions Made

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Today we have another post from A. Show her some love & support. =)

Now look what happens.

I have been out of work for nearly three years, so I need to look at moving. I really don’t want to move too far, so I started shopping around in a nearby large city for positions. There have been a few that have shown interest, but nothing really has come of it.

So, I shall have to move on. But where?

I have a couple of offers of “a couch and a ride” into the nearest city, but that isn’t always the best idea. One, I know, has a lot of issues on their hands, and I’m uncomfortable adding to the burden, even for a short time. Guess I’m a softy.

There are jobs out there, and lots of them. Right now, the fact that I can’t get hired on at a fast-food place that was seriously understaffed has me doubting a bunch if it’s worth the risk. Then again, I’m a bit older than some of the folks there. The more-local place is just out of range of an easy trip for interviews, and that makes it difficult, even with video, to make sure I’m a good fit without some in-person feedback. This is what comes of both companies and candidates not being accurate with their descriptions and abilities.

I have gotten a listing of jobs, both remote/contract, and in the local area. I need to do something with them, other than stare at the link blankly. But there has been so much on my mind that coming up with a focus is near impossible. This is what it’s like — it is nearly a grief moving this far from home; I never have moved outside of the area I grew up in.

And having support for the time I would need to get established, and in a situation not worse than the one I’m in, is a help.

I guess I’m going for it. But still applying for closer positions, just for my mental comfort. And one of those positions is a possibility. So back onto the merry-go-round we go.

Wish me luck! ❤

red and yellow merry-go-round
Apparently these things cost thousands of dollars! Who knew? ;o)
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Under Fire, Once Again

Have I written on this subject yet? I feel like I have, but it may have been via Facebook or something. Apologies in advance for the language. You’re an adult, you can deal with it. =)

So here we are, in the aftermath of yet another series of deadly, tragic, terrorist shootings. Oh, they were white you say? THEY’RE TERRORISTS. Full stop.

There is no excuse, no rationalization, no equivocating. Just like the radical Islamic terrorists that suicide-bomb the gathering places of those they hate, so too did these white racist extremists assault and slaughter those who they hate, just as vehemently and just as irrationally.

Oh, the 2nd Amendment you say? Well guess what, you ignorant asshole. Assault, automatic, and semiautomatic weapons WEREN’T FREAKING INVENTED when they wrote that. So shove it up your NRA-loving ass. To be clear, I fully support your right to own a handgun and a hunting rifle, after passing a thorough background check, psych eval, and safety training. Heck, I want good people to be able to protect themselves. Concealed carry? Sure! If you’ve proven you’re mentally capable and fully invested in the greater good of society, awesome.

But you look me straight in the eye-holes and tell me that we should sell AK-47s and their ilk on the shelves of Walmart in Texas, or at Bass Pro Shops, with a straight face. Go ahead. Be sure to explain why, too; I’d love to hear it.

Oh, the shooters obtained them illegally you say? NOT THE POINT. Not even CLOSE to the point. Obviously, that whole issue is complex, and we’re not going to solve it by arguing about it on the Internet. But you know how else we won’t solve it? You know how else we’ll make literally zero, even negative, progress toward the goal of reducing this kind of violence and carnage? By doing NOTHING. Absolutely nothing. Just as we’ve continued to do for decades. Because our government is too damn lazy, and too damn full of themselves, and too deep in the pockets of super-PAC lobbyists, to be bothered to get off their old fat asses and do something real about it.

Oh, mental illness you say? Nope. Sure, you’ve gotta be pretty fucked up in the head to do this kind of thing. But there are plenty of mental patients who wouldn’t dream of it. No, this kind of behavior comes from one thing and one thing only: HATE. Pure, unadulterated, fear-based media fueled, fiery political and social rhetoric induced, intolerant, ignorant, bigoted, uneducated, unchecked and unbridled hate.

fear is the path to the dark side. fear leads to anger. anger leads to hate. hate leads to suffering.
No comment necessary.

Now I’m not a psychologist. K had that degree. I’m just a tech geek. But even I can understand that this is a complex and multi-faceted problem that requires critical thinking and hard choices. Mental illness, as a societal ill, is certainly a large problem that we need to wrap our heads around. But again, it’s not the point, and it’s not what we’re talking about right now. We’re talking about reinforced mentalities and behaviors of intolerance, bigotry, and hatred of fellow humans. And I’m too damn tired of this crap being swept under the rug as if it’s “not news” or “not something we can do anything about.”

You know what the families of these victims are really tired of? INACTION. They’re sick to death (literally) of their government representatives’ plain and simple lack of motivation to DO something about this shit. They don’t want your “thoughts and prayers”. They don’t need your tweets and your Facebook sympathies and your hashtags. They need vindication. They need to know that their loved ones’ deaths will not become yet another sad statistic in an ever-growing black stain on the American dream.

But they will. They already are. Do you know how long it takes for us as a society to “move on” from this kind of shocking tragedy? A day or two. Sometimes less. Isn’t that horrifying? We will have already forgotten about it by the time the next viral trend hits our feeds.

UPDATE: it’s already happening. Everybody’s moved on to this ridiculous “30-50 feral hogs” meme. Shameful. Disgustingly shameful.

Society is broken. Morals are broken. Justice is broken. Do we sit idly by and let it disintegrate further? Or do we stand up and cry out, “Enough!” and take action?

Write, call, and email your representatives. Tell them enough is enough. Action is the only acceptable answer.

And may the victims rest in peace. May their families and friends and loved ones find comfort in each other’s arms, and in their faith, of whatever sect or religion or creed they hold, in this time of unconscionable tragedy. And if you do know any of them personally, reach out and offer your love and support, in a concrete, compassionate, caring manner.

compassion is the wish to see others free from suffering -Dalai Lama
Foreign concept to most people, sadly. Especially politicians.

Privacy: An Abuse of Trust

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Recently, the news has been full of stories showing us that the information we have shared is no longer secure. Everything from user names, to full financial details of purchases, has become open to public scrutiny. We have lost trust in established social platforms, and are asked to confront the idea that, every day, whatever we do, wherever we are, our information, movements, and activities may be available to whomever wished to find them.

There are a few areas where a bit more oversight — in a world where nearly anything can be found — that would serve the citizens of the US better. There are still avenues that, due to regulations, can be used to harass, annoy, and cause future legal problems for those that the original intention was to help.

And I’m not talking the person in your HOA that thinks your grass is the wrong color. Those are an issue, to be sure. Having a regulated set of standards, in a time when it is quite possible that, say, newcomers to an area might lose their jobs (due to a shifting economy), without a way to appeal or range of options to remedy, is a sure way to not only cause resentment, but actually damage a person’s options for the future. I’ve seen some vindictive people that will gossip without foundation just because someone doesn’t ‘fit in’ with what they think the group should be like.

But that is a discussion for another time.

The example I’m thinking of is the reporting of suspected abuse of either children or the elderly. Those that are the subject of these reports, and the consequences of the action — or inaction — have affected multiple generations. Some of the reports have been actual issues, some are out of a sense of vengeance, and a few are based on legal or medical requirements. But all are treated with the same care, and are still dependent on the personal outlook of the investigator, and the ‘accepted’ but unstated standards of care that exist.

The departments receiving said reports, under whatever name, are not transparent in the least, nor do they seem to do verification. I know of a case where there were upwards of 20 reports within 24 hours — all done by three people. This lasted until legal action was proposed, because after multiple months of this, it had become harassment. I know that stopped it for this specific targeted person, but I know for a fact that the calls continued, and then the focus was shifted to another target.

One would think that after having the calls from a specific person — since the name of the reporting party had to be collected for potential future litigation, in this quantity — said agency would flag them as a possible vengeance caller. I know for a fact that that person continues to report to this day; so apparently multiple years of calls from this person is still not enough to set a filter/flag for possible bias. And we wonder why our courts and agencies are overloaded!

you are being watched warning-sign
Won’t you be my neighbor?
Um, no, not if you’re a dick.

The consequences of a proven abuse, even a minor one, are far-reaching. A lot of the complaints could be cured by access to a better job; which would give them the money to avoid working more than one job, and not having the energy to spend on fixing the problems. However, once that report is verified — even for something as minor as “the kids have dirty clothes’ — the parent is thereafter forbidden to work with any children, or elderly, and the parent(s) could be fired from their job instantly. Look at the options left — they are ones that require training, or are minimum wage. Which does not help.

Nor, at least here, can this ever be removed from someone’s record — so it has consequences even decades into the future. Even if the agency is satisfied, there is no provision to remove it, other than a short paragraph that can be added to explain extenuating circumstances. As far as I can tell, this is not provided routinely; it has to be specially requested.

This is not to say all such reports are false — far from it. But the theory that a 10 minute visit is enough to determine “this is safe” or not, on the level of care that is being offered, is a fallacy. In contrast to the above issue, there was one one young person being abused, by multiple people, and none of those sent to verify the situation saw anything wrong — and it was only when the child was old enough to not be of interest (to the abusers) did this cease. The parents have their actions vindicated, the child is damaged, and the future grandchildren, if any, will be not allowed to visit grandparents on that side — with good reason. I have little if any idea of what the parenting style would be for them.

These unspoken expectations are one of the areas that need to be spelled out, and provided, to those who have had reports made against them. For example, here where I live, I know it is ‘expected’ that you attend church regularly. There is no provision for those who work Sundays, or don’t have one of their faith available. Nor is this an ‘official’ requirement of the report-taking agencies. But I have seen that — even if all the things they state they want are done — if you don’t attend church, there is no chance that a (reportedly abused) child will be returned (from state custody), or the focus will be removed from your home, even if/when those reports were completely unfounded and false.

What’s the solution? I don’t have all the answers. But some sort of filter/flagging system on those that file reports needs to be made — especially if it is a person who is constantly doing so. Also, more training, and an awareness that your standards and biases may affect how you see things. Perhaps a note to all who call in that they will be summoned to court to account for their report, or charged with false reporting, might save many person-hours of both the agencies and the court system.

Honestly, the flat-out refusal to reveal who is doing the reporting, after many false reports, strips away one’s trust in both friends and neighbors, as well as the agencies themselves. At which point, they (the purveyors of constant false reports) have won. They can now directly influence how you act, like an invisible hand-of-God, an ever-present threat to your social standing should you fail to live up to their unspoken standards.

Not to mention the possible removal of children, who then find themselves expected to fit into a different family — and may not get to see their own for months — which, again, adds stress to all parties, and decreases the trust and bonds that may have been hard work to establish.

Now, if you see yourself in this story, and think “But I’m trying to help!”, please consider what your reaction would be if, out of the blue, you had someone show up on your doorstep, wanting to look around your house, asking invasive questions — and refusing to explain, other than “someone reported you”, why they are there.

man with clipboard at front door of woman's house
Hi, I’m here because someone reported you.. for BEING AWESOME!
-Said nobody ever. But wouldn’t that be nice?
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Rant: Google Photos

I don’t mean to go on a rant here.. Oh wait, yes I do. I’m about to moan & groan, whine & complain, and raise my angry fist and pitchfork at Google for their horrendously bad implementation of what should be — and IS, in another (or more unified) tech-ecosystem — a simple workflow (ordered set of related tasks).

The Workflow

Here’s what I want to do.

  1. Take pictures with my iPhone.
  2. Upload/copy them into {cloud account of choice}.
  3. Create a new {cloud account} photo album from my recently uploaded photos.
  4. Share that {cloud} photo album with family/friends/etc.

Sounds stupidly simple, no? WELL! This is a story all about how my life got flip-turned upside-down Google screwed this up, and how Microsoft actually did it much better.

Well OF COURSE you had trouble, you luddite! Everyone knows that you just need to stay within the Apple ecosystem and everything will be happiness sunshine kittens and rainbows!

Sheeple

Yeah.. no. That’s not the point. Apple exposes the same APIs to both of these other vendors, and as limited as they may be, Microsoft still did better in its cross-platform-usability-ness. Plus, this is 2019. No single vendor gets to mandate that tired old ‘walled garden’ approach anymore and hope to survive. So don’t gimme that nonsense.

First, the “good” implementation.

Now, when I go into the iOS Photos app, I can select many photos at once and hit a ‘Share’ button at the bottom-left of the screen. The list of apps to ‘Share’ with, or more accurately through, is dynamic based on how many photos you’ve selected. Microsoft OneDrive’s limit is 30. Wow, that’s cool! Some apps, like Mail and Notes, seem to have no limit (or at least a very high one). Sadly, Google Drive’s limit is 10.

But this is where I’d normally start Task 2. In iOS Photos, select pics, hit ‘Share’, and upload to {cloud service of your choice}. So as I said, with OneDrive, I pick 30 at a time and upload away. Great! And they get there FAST, too.

Now I go open up the OneDrive app. My photos are present, exactly where I put them. At the bottom right of the app, there’s the ‘Photos’ section (tab, screen, whatever you wanna call it). I go there, I select the photos, I hit the three-vertical-dots (‘Options’ is probably what they’d call it) at the top-right, I say “Create Photo Album” and give it a name. BOOM! I hit the Albums button, I select my new album, & I hit the ‘Share’ button (top-right again, just not quite as far to the right as the 3-dots). BAM! I can send it via text message, email, share it to Facebook, whatever. Life is good!

Now the terrible one.

Right, so as I said, the limit on how may pics from iOS Photos can be Shared to Google Drive is 10. Oh and guess what else? Google Photos isn’t even an option here. They literally didn’t integrate it. LAME.

But fine, I can do 10 at a time; I only have about 40 for the current project. So I select, hit Share, hit Google Drive, pick my folder to deposit them in, and go. And… sad trombone. Some of them failed! “Please try again.”

Not trusting that uploading the same pics again won’t result in duplicates, I pull out the trusty laptop, fire up the web browser, and head to Google Drive to check what succeeded and what didn’t. And I re-do just the ones that were missed. And then I wait. Because for whatever unholy reason, Google’s tubes are slower than Microsoft’s; the OneDrive wait was about 2 seconds; the Google wait is about 10, for all of the pics to show up online.

Cool, now for the album. So I have a folder in Drive with all these pics that I want to put into an album, but, uh… where’s the option to do that? Yeah, IT’S NOT THERE. Sad trombone #2. Oh go ahead, you can try to find it yourself. I’ll wait. While you’re there, check out this absolute garbage help-article that includes a pointer to the now-obsolete option that this article tells us is going away.

(Said pointer being, from drive.google.com, go to the gear (upper right), hit Settings, and enable “Create a Google Photos folder”. Don’t do it now; it’s obsolete, like I said!)

Confused yet? Great, we’re on the same page! To the Interwebs for answers! Oh god. OH GOD. They’re even more confused than we are! Somebody call Google. Wait… you can’t. You literally can’t.

Let’s back up and take a deep breath. There’s gotta be a better way, right? So instead, I go now to photos.google.com, hit the ‘hamburger menu’ (top left; yep, gotta love that lack of consistency!), hit Settings (the gear). AHA! There it is, the option to “Sync photos & videos from Google Drive”. Do we have liftoff? Eehh…

Okay yes, the photos are starting to show up at the top of my main screen (photos.google.com) — again, now I’m in laptop-land, not fiddling with the phone at this point. So I select the pics, starting with the little semi-transparent checkbox in the upper left of the first photo — then and ONLY THEN am I allowed to use my Shift key to select many at once. Then I hit the ‘Plus’ button in the upper right and say “Add to Album”. Give it a name, presto.

Ooh, I can actually “Add to new Shared Album” and immediately be prompted for who to share it with… but OH WAIT, this is on the laptop, I can’t send it in a text message. (At least, not without getting the link first and then somehow sending it to my phone, which is another process that’s way more complicated than it should be at this point in our tech revolution, but I digress.)

Let’s check things out from the iPhone again. So I open up the Google Photos app, and… WTF? Why do I see duplicates? Aaaahh.. Some have the ‘crossed-out cloud’ symbol, aka the ‘not in cloud’ or ‘offline’ symbol. Those are the ones on my device (my iPhone) ONLY, whereas the others (with no symbol on them) are in Google Photos cloud already.

Riiiiight.. cuz THAT’S not confusing for someone who wouldn’t know any better. So now if I wanted to create my new album to share, straight from here (the app), I’d have to be very careful about selecting the correct pics — the ones without the ‘offline’ symbol.

Fortunately, I’d already created the album using my web-browser on the laptop, so all I had to do was go to Albums, select it, hit the 3-dots menu in the upper right (horizontal, not vertical like Microsoft.. surprise!), hit Share, and do the usual (text message, email, Facebook, copy link, etc).

Don’t be confused by the list of Contacts that show up here either — those are your Google account contacts, not your phone’s. (Well, at least, not your iPhone’s, aka your iCloud contacts — people with real phone numbers that you can text. Your Google contacts are, most likely, just emails, unless you’re a super-nerd and keep everything in-sync between the two, which is just plain bananas!) (Apologies for the ear-worm.)

Hmm, now wait a minute, I have these photos both in Google Drive and in Google Photos. I’m pretty sure, if I read the help articles right (which is a big ‘IF’ because they’re, again, surprisingly baffling), they ALL (both) count against my storage quota. (Well, if I don’t go off and enable the ‘high quality’ storage option where Google claims to offer free unlimited photo storage if you let their robots compress your pics a little bit.) But anyway, storage. O noes! I better go to delete them from Drive. So I do that, just before half-heartedly checking Google Photos again to make sure they didn’t disappear as a result. Thankfully they did not. Phew.

Wow, is it beer time yet?

Seriously, does it need to be this complicated? Google, you got some smart-ass people working for you. I mean, some of the best and brightest. Can you maybe make some of this experience less terrible? Plz? K thx.

Haters Gonna Hate

Because I couldn’t resist just one more ear-worm. And because someone will inevitably say “Well you know Nate, you could have just done it all with iOS Photos and iCloud Photo Sharing and iCloud Shared Albums” and lah-tee-dah and tea & crumpets and matching space-grey turtlenecks and BLECCHHH. Not the point.

OK I’m done. Have a pleasant week everyone! ❤

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Movie Monday: The Hustle

Hey kids, it’s that time again!

What time is it?

Time for a movie review! Try to contain your excitement.

the hustle movie poster
Promises, promises…

High Expectations

Both of these actresses are fabulous. I mean, neither one is everybody’s cup o’ tea, but they have terrific screen presence and charisma. Just look at Ocean’s 8 or Pitch Perfect. There’s a lot of potential here, given the vast difference in their appearance and demeanor (as characters, specifically, but also in general). Although, let’s face it, Wilson is very much a character-actor and doesn’t have nearly the range that Hathaway does.

The trailers gave us some really good lines about women being underestimated and using that to their advantage, with some hilarious “Rebel blunders” to guffaw at. And while the premise of the master grifter teaching the amateur the art of the con is not new, it does generally make for compelling cinema, when done right. However, when you take that formula too far off the rails, you can end up in cheese-land.

Sub-par Results

The problem here is that we get too deep too fast.

That’s what SHE said!

Right, anyway. What I mean is, there doesn’t seem to be a truly compelling reason for Jo (Hathaway) to take Penny (Wilson) under her wing. We’re just kind of shoehorned into it, like “Yep, that’s the way it is now, keep that train a’rollin’!”. Similarly, the main motivator (turf war, really?) for their ultimate “gentleman’s wager” really doesn’t seem that crucial to the story. Nor does the target, the silicon valley whiz-kid. Again, taking a page from the Ocean’s trilogy, why not just compete for the sake of competition?

And then there’s the whole she-Gollum shtick, which just didn’t work for me. It’s nothing against the actors or the writing… They’re leaning too far into the whole “Rebel Wilson isn’t really attractive” angle. Right? But I get it, that’s the characterization — Jo is sophisticated high-class elegance and Penny is the opposite. I’m completely on-board with that; I merely wanted to see more variety in the cons, not the same few tropes replayed.

Happy Endings

Spoiler alert! No, just kidding. I won’t actually tell you what happened. I will say that it wasn’t that bad. It was a little unnecessary, a little forced, sure. But overall, fairly satisfactory.

The Verdict

Meh. The ~48% audience-score on Rotten Tomatoes feels about right. It’s not a terrible movie! It’s just not that fantastic either. Worth a theater visit or a $4.99 rental? No, definitely not. Worth a spot on your watch-list when it comes to streaming-ville? Sure.

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Just a Quick Note

Hi all, hope you enjoyed the guest post last week. I just returned from a week’s vacation, so at the moment I have no new posts to push out. I hope to resume my normal schedule by Friday. Twice per week is actually quite a difficult pace to maintain, so I think I’ll drop to just weekly, either Mondays or Fridays depending… (on what, no clue!)

Thanks again for hangin in there with me and for reading. It means a lot. Leave a comment if you have any ideas on what I should write about, or any questions or rants you’d like me to read. Love & light ❤

if my husky doesn't like you, i probably won't either
Someone should buy me this shirt.

Reaching Life Goals – One at a Time

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Recently, I found the list of goals I had made in high school, and despaired at the time. I took a look at some continuing education classes offered, both locally, and nationally. With overlapping requirements, as well as those things I didn’t have to have a degree in (like some of the gardening and basic education areas), I came to the conclusion that I would finish school sometime in my 80’s. And for one that is looking forward to a life full of excitement and learning, that was a bit much. So I tossed the list aside, and started studying only a few of the things there.

However, I’ve found a reason to start on one of those goals: I need to understand multiple languages. I had German, French, Italian and Spanish listed, because that was what was referenced in a book I was reading.

And yes, at that point, Esperanto would be simple. 🙂

Deciding on this, plus the potential of shifting location to near the Canadian border — and the probability that there would be those around me that spoke French — I started looking around for resources to learn. Having tried both Spanish and German in school, I knew that was no the way for me to learn language.

I found several resources, and a delightful assistant (not specifically in this area — he was trying to get me to express opinions, even if incorrect, so I could be taught) in Roman Podolyan, who was generous enough to share a video that encouraged me to start back on this list. And, I’m slowly applying it to other areas in my life.

There have been many other helps along the way — likely present all along, but since I wasn’t paying attention to them, they slipped by without making an impression. Now that I am looking for them, they are common. And welcomed!

So, I am working on getting at least one of those goals finished — and well before I’m 80! Also, there are many other areas that I have been able to say “Yes, I can do this” with the explosion of internet resources.

What have you always wanted to do, that you now notice that you are doing or working toward?

Movie Review: Hellboy (2019)

Featuredhellboy 2019 panoramic movie poster

It’s been 15 years since the original Guillermo Del Toro adaptation of the comic-book anti-hero Hellboy, a demon-prince-turned-good-guy who fights the forces of darkness for us here on Earth because he was raised to be SUCH A GOOD BOY! by his adopted father. And if that premise sounds cheesy to you, these movies are probably not your cup of tea. However, Del Toro is a master of his craft, and can turn just about anything into a decent movie, if not a visually striking and emotionally compelling film proper.

Have you SEEN Mama, Splice, or Crimson Peak? Go watch them. Srsly. Especially Crimson Peak.

So quite obviously, the remake/reboot/whatever-you-want-to-call-it drew heavy comparison and criticism for not “living up to” or “being as good as” its predecessor. Most remakes do. But this review isn’t about that (mostly). I’m also NOT a comic book reader; thus, I have absolutely no basis to relate either movie to their comic counterparts, nor to judge them based on how closely they resemble them. And frankly I don’t care. A movie is a movie, nothing less, nothing more.

Cool? Great, let’s get down to it.

The Good

There are a lot of things to like here in this 2019 reboot. The actors are charismatic and well-cast, and their chemistry is good. The creature design is stunning and otherworldly, in some ways harkening back to the Fae world of Maleficent, albeit with a much darker evil bent. With an R rating, we get a hefty helping of satisfyingly gory action and blood violence — the giant fights are super crunchy — all set against a thumping soundtrack that reminds us not to take it all too seriously. It is, after all, fantasy.

As most reboots do, it attempts to pay tribute to and acknowledge its origins. We get the infamous “horn-breaker” scene, the flashback to Rasputin’s occult-fueled demon-portal-opening (despite the horrible interjection of a completely unnecessary character; more on that in a minute), and even a direct re-quote with “Hey! I’m on your side!”

Then of course we have the inner turmoil of the Hellboy character himself — If he’s a monster himself, why does he fight monsters; does he really belong in this world? SO EMO. The dialogue and sub-story there is fairly satisfactory, if a little overplayed. I mean, he’s gonna have a tantrum at some point — that’s a given — but did it have to be so angsty? But ultimately he does, as we expect, lean on the teachings of his father and make the right choice.

so emo youtuber
Can you FEEL my feels??

The Bad

Unfortunately, there are plenty of things to dislike, too. Pacing and consistency of ambiance being one (or two?). Half the time I felt like I was watching a blood-pumping action flick, another third of the time felt like a grimdark horror-fantasy, and the other.. whatever fraction is left.. of the time, I wasn’t sure how to feel. It wasn’t necessarily jarring, but it was definitely noticeable. My favorite scene, though, by far, was the very end, where our three protagonists just rampage through a baddie hideout to the tune of Kickstart My Heart.

Secondly. Ugh.. CGI. When will Hollywood re-learn that “less is more”? Have we just lost the magic of practical effects and the kind of backbreaking work that went into VFX masterpieces like Lord of the Rings and The Walking Dead? I guess it’s just cheaper these days to throw everything at the supercomputers. And to be fair, it’s usually just fine. But there IS such a thing as over-use. The Star Wars prequels (1-3) did it, probably even before it was a trope; and here, it’s a bit over-the-top. And the problem, when that happens, is that it takes you out of the fantasy that you’re supposed to be engrossed in and enjoying.

A small nit. Plot-holes don’t generally bother me too much. But the amount of blood sweat & tears that went into finding out this key piece of information — that the Blood Queen would return to the exact same spot in which she was slain, to be reborn, was pretty ludicrous. I mean, was that not obvious to anyone, EVER?

well like duh
Ya think?!?

The Ugly

Speaking of ugly, Baba Yaga? Gawd, I needed to shower after her main scenes. Shudder. If they were going for gross, they really nailed it. Anyway.

I have two major problems with this movie. One of them is likely dismissed as “but they were being faithful to the comics” — again, don’t care, but that’s fine if it helps you. The other is such a teeny part of the movie that it’s not a deal-breaker; I just need to point it out because of how god-awful it was before I took a minute to purge it from my brain so I could enjoy the rest of the show.

Firstly, the likely-dismissed problem. Mixing too many mythologies. Good lord, am I watching a King Arthur retcon, a Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland, if you’re completely unaware) spin-off, or freakin’ Hellboy?!? Pick something and stick with it! The sword in the stone is now a key to the demon apocalypse? Really? And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the character of Alice, but did we need the explicitly emphasized call-out to the rest of the Carroll-verse? I think I could have lived without it.

Secondly, the teeny part that drove me bonkers for half a minute. In the flashback to Rasputin’s demon-portal-summoning-ritual, the Nazis are ambushed by an Allied hero named “The Lobster”. He’s supposedly this super-elite soldier-hero commando. But… OH. MY. GOD. The cheese on this character.. you could cut it with a damn Pampered Chef knife. “Beware my claws!”?? No. Just no.

Also, the body-count during this little scuffle (same scene) was unsatisfactorily low. Especially at the hands of the legendary evil assassin Karl Kroenen, who, while shown on screen, is not named nor hardly acknowledged; which again, is fine, since it doesn’t fit this narrative, but still! You know, he has blade-arms, wears a menacing black faceless mask, and is really half-machine and runs on some weird combination of pocket-sand and black-magic…

I’m not bitter, I swear!

The Verdict

One thumb up. Despite my criticisms above, it’s still a decent movie — if you go into it without lofty expectations and don’t try to compare it to Del Toro’s work. It’s a fun little supernatural action romp through vaguely familiar territory, mixed with some brand-new characters and blended mythos that feel mostly complete, if a little rushed. Reminds me a bit of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which had the good fortune of NOT trying to “live up to” any precedent or source material.

Plans for a sequel? The ending scene points to “maybe” — they discover an aqua tank with a nameplate that keen viewers will recognize as a reference to Abe Sapien, the half-man-half-fish character from the original film. However, due the abysmal box-office performance, it’s not likely to materialize. And that’s not a bad thing. =)

New vs. old. They each had their merits. And you can definitely see the maturation of costume-makeup.
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A Letter to My Favorite Band

And now for something completely different.

This is something of a love-letter, to the band that defined my teenage years and still, even into adulthood, continues to be on regular rotation in my playlist. A band that almost none of you have likely heard of, let alone have heard their music. They never received much radio play. Nor did they garner much media attention. Until they reunited and launched a Kickstarter campaign to tour and ultimately self-produce a brand new album, which at the time and in their particular market was nearly unheard-of.

Growing up, my exposure to music was, let’s say, sheltered.  Quite.  My parents pretty much listened to Country and Churchy music with little exception.  You’d think, having grown up in the 60s – 70s, they’d have at least a bit of disco or classic rock in their repertoire, but nope.  Randy Travis, Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Reba McIntire, Shania Twain, etc.  Now, as most children of the 90s did, us kids had a boom box — a combination CD player, tape player, and AM/FM radio.  And what did we do with this?  Mix tapes, obviously!  But it was never much of a “mix”.  I’d try to ask for the “jazziest” songs from the various western albums.  My dad even branched out to Steven Curtis Chapman and some no-name Christian soft-rap-rock-worship hybrid mess.

Then some of the other kids in the youth group introduced us to DC Talk, the Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, Skillet, and other acts of the late 90s contemporary Christian alt-rock spinoff movement.  This was where Switchfoot and P.O.D. got their start, you know; before they sold out to corporate or got caught with their pants around their ankles.  These were okay, but ultimately forgettable, like so many waves on the sand.

My friend Michael, from across the street, had an older brother, Brian.  One day when I was over, waiting for Michael to do something, Brian let me come check out his CD collection and his computer games.  I asked if he had any music recommendations, and he pulled out a few albums by this band I’d obviously never heard of called Five Iron Frenzy.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

I was in eighth grade; appropriate, since the first line of a verse in one of these songs was exactly that.  Brian loaned me their first three CDs.  I knew the parents would approve because they were a Christian band, but I’d never heard of this “ska” genre before.  Five Iron Frenzy’s album art was wonderfully done: deceptively simple hand drawings that held such deeper weight behind them.  I got them home to the boombox, and popped in the first disc.  From the blast of that distorted guitar chord, the blare of those horns, and that absolutely biting sarcasm of the intro track, ‘Old West’, I was hooked.  Between the boombox and a couple disc-mans (disc-men?), those CDs played dozens of times throughout my teens and early 20s.

In sophomore year, their next album came out, and boy was I excited.  All the Hype That Money Can Buy was the first CD I bought with my very own dough, hard-earned at the Burger King down the street.  Being a Colorado based band, they were heavily influenced by the Columbine school shooting, which shined through in the track ‘A New Hope’.  Once, in college, thinking I was being profound, I would sneak into one of those larger lecture halls and write the lyrics to its refrain on the big chalk board for the next attendees to find and ponder.  “Peace floods us, by hope we steer; our dark hearts salvaged, we live without fear.”  That line can still give me goosebumps.  Although, it’s not quite as impactful as the conclusion to The End is Near‘s ‘On Distant Shores’, which cleverly calls back to their second album’s final track, and builds to such breathtaking catharsis that I can still feel the lump in my throat every time I sing along with it. But more on that in a minute.

Later, in 2001 or early 2002, I was lucky enough to attend their concert at the Glass House in Riverside, CA.  I even made an iron-on tee with their name on it to wear to the show.  They were horribly late to start; I think we stood there almost an hour and half past the scheduled time.  But it was worth it.  Super high energy, loud, slightly mosh-y, and all my new favorite songs.  I would later come to realize that they weren’t all that spectacular as a live act — they tended to rush tempo during shows to get more songs out in a limited time, and the quality suffered a bit — but still, that was a memorable evening.

Let me take you on a little journey through the ‘FIF’ (as their fans affectionately abbreviated) albums themselves, in a small tribute to the journey of musical discovery that they sparked for me.

five iron frenzy upbeats and beatdowns album cover
The O.G.

The first album, Upbeats and Beatdowns, seethed with sardonic wit like nothing I’d ever heard before, in tracks such as ‘Old West’ and ‘Beautiful America’.  It juxtaposed nicely with the humble sincerity of ‘Where Zero Meets Fifteen’ and ‘Milestone’.  And heck if I don’t belt out those la-la-la’s from ‘Cool Enough for You’ every single time.  Sure, there were some throwaways, like ‘Combat Chuck’, and they suffered a bit from the lack of lyrical enunciation, like most third wave ska did at some point in their career, but it was pretty solid.

five iron frenzy
This one really sticks out to me.

That first album was good, but the second, Our Newest Album Ever, blew me away.  More cutting sarcasm in ‘Handbook for the Sellout’ and ‘Fist Full of Sand’, more silly antics like ‘Where is Micah?’ and ‘Oh Canada’, and more heartfelt sincerity in ‘Suckerpunch’ and ‘Second Season’.  This is where their own little inside-meme began with ‘Blue Comb 78’.  You could also see a developing theme in ‘Banner Year’, where for the second time in as many albums, they denounced the historically covered-up atrocities committed against Native Americans.  But the crown jewel has to be ‘Every New Day’, the final track, which takes upon itself the pressure of striving to be a good example of God’s love yet trying to just fit in with your peers, and builds it up only to release it again with the realization that it’s perfectly okay to not be perfect.

Most listeners, outside the die-hard fans, could be forgiven for forgetting about Quantity is Job 1.  It wasn’t really an album, technically; it was an ‘EP’, old-timey record-store lingo for ‘Extended Play’, meaning somewhere between an ‘Single’ and an full ‘LP’ album.  It mostly consisted of seven-ish tracks parodying all different musical styles with a ridiculous ‘Whose pants are these?’ mini-song.  The two shining stars here have to be ‘One Girl Army’, a sharp anti-chauvinism tune that gave their lone female member a well-deserved spotlight, and ‘All That is Good’, an encouragement to be more open-minded and think critically in the face of blind dogma.  Also, I used the innocently hopeful theme of ‘Dandelions’ as an inspiration for an English paper.

five iron frenzy all the hype album cover
So much ridiculosity ❤

Now, as I said, when their next album released, my anticipation was high.  When I brought home that maddeningly shrink-wrapped disc and its bright orange themed cover with a funny little picture of a white guy in a fro trying to dunk a basketball, I knew this was going to be good.  But I had no idea what I was in for.  It starts with some truly upbeat positivity in ‘The Greatest Story’ and ‘Solidarity’, and you can sense the Latin influence in some salsa-esque beats as their producer yips and yelps ‘Oi!’, culminating in the decidedly Hispanic-flavored ‘Hurricanes’.  We get some expected silliness, and a bit of hair-metal, in ‘Phantom Mullet’, and a self-deprecating banjo-twanged song about their home state.  Plus a batch of freshly crisp criticism of the church’s bigotry and inbuilt phobias in ‘Fahrenheit’ and ‘Four-Fifty-One’.

It wasn’t until ‘Giants’, the bleak outcry against mega-corporations’ takeover of society, that the subtly subversive hook truly sunk in for good.  I knew that I needed more.  And the title track ‘All The Hype’ surely delivered.  Followed by a seemingly random cover of ‘It’s Not Unusual’, which ends hilariously with Reese saying ‘more reverb!’ as his ears get pummeled by bad guitar outros.  Finally, we have the concluding tracks, ‘A New Hope’ and ‘World Without End’.  There is a palpable pain there from the school shooting that, in manifesting our worst fears, seems to have become an American trend.  Yet, it ultimately gives way to a heartfelt peace and love, expressed as a choral refrain with bells, for a reassuring sense that everything will eventually be alright.

The mature thing to do, I suppose… group portrait.

By this time, the band was maturing, knowing that the ska wave of the 90s was ending, so they made a small shift towards pop-punk (with horns).  If the previous album was a whimsical mish-mash of musical experimentation, this was a truly polished experience with a consistent theme and sound.  Vol. 2: Electric Boogaloo, as the name would suggest, signaled a reinvention, a sequel that would be different enough yet still true to its roots; and unlike the movie, not widely regarded as terrible.  This is the album that embossed their talents well, and established that they were not just some passing fad.  The self-deprecating humor returned in ‘Pre-Ex Girlfriend’ and ‘You Can’t Handle This’, the struggle of attempting to live a Godly life in ‘Spartan’ and ‘Eulogy’, and the inveigh upon immoral practices in the name of religion through ‘Blue Mix’ and ‘The Day We Killed’.  Much like ‘Giants’ in the previous album, ‘Vultures’, another blighting critique of excessive capitalism, tipped my fandom from a ten to an eleven.

Three years went by.  College, other musical discoveries, my palette shifting to classic rock.  Yet their special place in my heart never grew cold.  Unfortunately, through some bad combination of ignorance, busyness with college, and obsession with Warcraft 3, I completely missed the fact that they quit touring in 2003.  They released the double-disc set The End Is Here in 2004, a culmination of their last studio album and their final concert from their hometown of Denver.  I learned about it a few years later from a coworker, and while I was a little heartbroken that they were gone, I was absolutely enamored with the work itself.

Right from the start, the blast of ‘Cannonball’ kicks up your eardrums with aplomb.  ‘New Years Eve’ feels so incredibly true-to-life that I literally thought it was about me.  Of course there’s the usual fun antics with ‘At Least I’m Not Like All Those Other Old Guys’ and ‘Wizard Needs Food Badly’.  The searing criticisms, first of religious dogmatism/legalism with ‘Farewell to Arms’, then of fear-based news media in ‘Anchors Away’, still hit home more than a decade later.  And ‘Something Like Laughter’ serves up another faithful reminder that Feminism is not anti-Christian, and visa-versa.

Finally, we come to ‘On Distant Shores’.  At first, it sounds a little too upbeat to be goodbye.  But as it builds, the permeating theme of divine forgiveness in the face of failure, which ultimately defines much of their catalog, rings truer than ever before.  With such beautiful poetry, the pulsing acknowledgement that what we do with our lives is so often marred with selfish intent and shortcomings, cathartically transforms into that quintessential refrain from ‘Every New Day’, as both the listener and the band itself are invited to rest their weary heads in the solace of God’s infinite love and mercy.  In this understanding that every day we live is another gift — another opportunity to build up our fellow man and woman instead of tear them down, and to be that light, however dim or scratched or scarred, to a world that so desperately needs it.

Beautifully simple

Since then, I will admit that I originally missed out on their Kickstarter-fueled 2013 reunion and album Engine of a Million Plots.  Yet, thanks to that same coworker and fellow fan, I knew of it, and I gave it a solid listen.  So far, ‘Battle Dancing Unicorns with Glitter’ is my favorite song title of recent history, and it’s the one that’s stuck in my head at the moment.  ‘Zen and the Art of Xenophobia’ is perhaps their most biting critique of American cultural pitfalls to date, which feels hauntingly prophetic when you realize that it was written before the Trump White House.  And ‘Into Your Veins’ turns the self-parody up to eleven, as they proclaim to feed your addiction to their very words, knowing full-well that it’s a completely ludicrous notion.

Truly, Five Iron has always been ahead of their time.  And as they go about their mid-lives, hold down actual careers while balancing the occasional weekend concert or two, and reflect back on their glory days, I hope they will remember them as fondly as I do.  Because their music had soul, in a market where, ironically, that was lacking; and silliness, in a market that often took itself way too seriously.  It had an encouraging undercurrent of questioning the status-quo, which, however aged and comfortable we become with our tired traditions, is essential to an active mind and a productive person.  Above all, may they never lose sight of what made them great in the first place: love.  For each other, for God, for the youth, for people in general.  And for the sometimes thankless, seemingly futile task of trying to bring some spark of peace and hope to those around them.  Indeed, ‘It Was Beautiful.’

sunset at beach with palm trees

Dream Overanalysis

I recently experienced an interesting phenomenon, and wonder if any of you have as well.

I was having a dream which, like most of my dreams, occurred in my childhood home in Temecula. My buddy, who was ostensibly staying the night because we’re going on a vacation together soon (that part is true), had left his electric toothbrush running, and it was just sitting there buzzing on the staircase. As if he’d vanished into thin air. Sure enough, I call out for him and start looking around the house, and realize EVERYONE has vanished (parents, etc.). There were even the empty piles of clothes laying crumpled on the ground to prove it.

Here’s the fascinating part. My higher level brain actually stepped in and said “Oh look, a ‘nobody exists’ / ‘everybody vanished’ Twilight-Zone-esque dream.. cool, never had one of these before.” Literally. It also fought with the subconscious a bit at some point, where the latter was like “don’t go in there, it could be scary!”, but the higher thought said “full speed ahead, charge!”. Or maybe that was vice-versa. Anyway, it was REALLY interesting to me looking back on it — how those two different planes of consciousness worked and interacted with each other.

Dreams are weird, man. But also really neat. If we ever invent the technology to record and replay our dreams in vivid detail, I… well, we’d drive ourselves insane, realistically. But it could be fun! =P

a blue winter dreamscape with trees and mountains and a planet in the sky