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Bullet Sunday 651

Posted on February 23rd, 2020

Dave!It's possible that I'm too busy to blog, but I just can't seem to say no, so welcome to a Very Special Edition of what I've been watching lately... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• The Witcher! I actually watched this when it was released and, thanks to having played the video games, mostly knew what I was watching despite the confusing timelines. But I wanted to watch it again so I could just absorb it for the amazing Dungeon's & Dragons spectacle it is. Seriously... even better the second time around. The casting is sublimely perfect. Henry Cavill is doing an uncanny Geralt of Rivia impersonation and 100% looks the part. Anya Chalotra is an even better Yennefer, whose story is actually one that required the smarter acting chops. What's surprising is just how beautiful the series looks. No expense was spared because Netflix knew what they had... and also knew the show would be compared to Game of Thrones. They apparently didn't want to lose that contest. And so long as they don't fuck up the ending, they'll easily win. All in all... The Witcher is well worth your time.

A poster for Netflix's The Witcher.

Showing on Netflix.

   
• Avenue 5! Comedy in sci-fi is a tough nut to crack... despite what amazing television like Red Dwarf, and fantastic movies like Galaxy Quest, and phenemenal books like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy might lead one to believe. So I was understandably cautious when the promos for Avenue 5 started floating around, but it has Hugh Laurie in it, so why not? Turns out, it's one of the funniest things I've seen on my television in a while. When a pleasure cruise on a starship ends up falling into a course that will extend the journey by 3-1/2 years, a fake captain and a fake crew have to manage the very real crisis to hilarious effect. The jokes fly fast and furious and almost all of them land. If you have HBO and want to get your funny on, here's the show for you...

A poster for HBO's Avenue 5.

Showing on HBO.

   
• Ragnarok! The only Ragnarok I care about is the Marvel movie Thor: Ragnarok, so I was going to take a big ol' pass on this Norweigian high school drama built around characters from Norse mythology. The result is mixed. There's a good idea here... and it will be interesting to see where they go with it... but having the spirit of Thor land in a kid so he can battle a modern incarnation of immortal frost giants (who are not-so-giant) is a bit of a snooze, and it feels like they are building it up to be more than it actually is. But who knows? If they dump enough money into this thing, then maybe it can be salvaged as things heat up in a second season...

A poster for Netflix's Ragnarok.

Showing on Netflix.

   
• Hunters! Like I would miss an Al Pacino series. This Jordan Peele series features Nazi hunters who track down hundreds of Nazi officers back in 1977 who are hiding in the USA and intent on starting a Fourth Reich. Obviously a highly-fictionized story, I found myself drawn to the characters (and a fantastic Pacino performance) but left a bit cold by the story. I've only seen the first episode, but will likely tune in as more are released. But if I want to watch a violent alternate history involving Nazi hunters, my first instinct will be to watch Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds again.

A poster for Amazon Prime's Hunters.

Showing on Amazon Prime.

   
• Twice Upon A Time! This French sci-fi series is about a man who gets a cube delivered to his home which somehow allows him to go back in time prior to his break-up with his girlfriend when he crawls through it. The concept is a good one... kind of a romance-oriented version of Primer... but profoundly plodding and boring. Not until the very last scene is there any sense of excitement, and it's the beat which leads to a cliffhanger. Which may or may not be resolved depending on whether or not they get a second season. Regardless, I'll likely take a pass. I just don't seem to care enough to tune in again...

A poster for Netflix's Twice Upon a Time.

Showing on Netflix.

   
• Dracula! Steven Moffat forever became a favorite television creator thanks to the hilarious series Coupling for the BBC. He then sealed the deal with some really good episodes of Sherlock and Doctor Who. So when it was announced that he would be tackling Dracula in a three-episode series spanning olden days right up until modern times, I was intrigued. And today was the day. It's a fascinating series in the first and second episodes... building on all the myths that make up the legend... but ultimately falters a bit when Moffat jumps ahead in time to deconstruct all that. Still... there's some good stuff here, brilliantly anchored by performances from Claes Bang and Dolly Wells. Next up? Moffat is tackling Jekyll!

A poster for Netflix's Dracula.

Showing on Netflix.

   
• Star Trek:Picard! I've already raved about how this show is defying my every expectation (and this coming from somebody who didn't like Star Trek: The Next Generation). But this latest episode where Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine finally truly arrives just kicks things up to an entirely new level. Partly because she's just so dang good... but mostly because the surprising twist at the end which changes the lame-ass, pansy-ass boring "utopia" of the Next Generation universe that always bored me... into something really interesting and great to watch. Cannot wait to see where this is all going.

A poster for CBS's Star Trek: Picard with Jeri Ryan as Borg Seven of Nine.

Showing on CBS All Access.

   
• Visible: Out on Television! This series about the history of LGBTQ characters on television was bound to be good just because it's a story that needs to be told. But Bruce Vilanch doing an impression of Paul Lynde was the best thing I saw all week. It's surprising... but not really surprising... just how recent LGBTQ characters are to television programming. Which makes this a fairly short but no less interesting series.

A poster for Apple's Visible: Out on Television.

Showing on Apple TV+.

   
And that's what I've ebeen watching this week.

   

Time and Tide and Time Again

Posted on February 20th, 2020

Dave!If there's one thing I'm certain of, it's that humanity as a whole is on the decline.

Today reeeeeeally drove that home for me. Vividly. And so I decided to go home and turn off the world for a while. Which would usually mean that I'd clean house, play video games, or build something, but I didn't feel like doing any of that.

Fortunately Netflix decided to tell me that there's a new offering called #CATS_THE_MEWVIE, which is a documentary about cats on the internet...

Mom and Jake

Yep. That did the trick.

Even if some of the people on this are nuts. Or assholes. Or both.

Ready to face the horror show that we call "Reality" again.

   

Bullet Sunday 650

Posted on February 15th, 2020

Dave!What in tarnation is happening here? There's no need to check your calendar... because an all new Bullet Sunday on Saturday starts... now...

   
• Red Sox! And so it begins... the team is converging on Fort Meyers for Spring Training, which begins full-squad workouts on Monday. Well, full-squad except Mookie Betts, who got traded to L.A. for some stupid reason (okay, it was probably to fall under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold for 2020, but still stupid)...

Mookie Betts running bases.
Photo from NBC Sports

I sure hope Boston has a better season this year than last year.

   
• 1917! If you know me, you know I love maps. This is so frickin' cool.

   
• You Better Work! As somebody who loves RuPaul, there was no way I was going to miss his new 10-episode series on Netflix...

From the trailer I expected it to be entertaining and funny. I did not expect it to be as deep, smart, and genuinely sweet and touching as it. Bonus: There's a lot of familiar faces popping up throughout, including many, many contestants from Drag Race. What sabotages the show is two things. 1) The kid is irrationally bratty and shitty at random times, screaming her head off for no reason. I have no idea why Ru and Michael Patrick King felt it necessary to go that far. And, 2) It doesn't have an ending and absolutely everything was left in the air with no resolution whatsoever. If Netflix doesn't give it a second season, viewers are screwed. Still, worth tuning in for.

   
• Miss Jackson! Janet Jackson Herself has announced that her new album and tour, Black Diamond, will be dropping this summer.

   
• Great Scott! These deep fakes are just getting more and more frightening...

Frightening because they are looking more and more realistic.

   
• Goo! If you did any kind of graphic design work in the 1990's, odds are you know of Kai Krause. His design tools allowed you to create some truly wondrous stuff... but had the absolute worst possible interfaces to get there. I never understood why they were so utterly wacky and nonsensical. Apparently, it was to spur creativity... to get people to just "play" with things until they were intuitively doing what they wanted to do. It never worked like that for me. I'd much rather have proper menus and tools that made it clear what was happening. Kai's Power Goo, for example, was just a mess. But it was Photoshop "liquify" before there was Photoshop liquify, and you have to respect that...

The weird interface for Kai Power Goo showing melty tools in a bizarre, almost random fashion

I owned absolutely everything Kai ever released. Used his tools all the time, even as I hated the way they worked. Even so, I found the story of his interface design an interesting read.

   
And that's Sunday Saturday Bullets.

   

Luke Perry and Love in Paradise

Posted on February 11th, 2020

Dave!The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences finally addressed the omission of Luke Perry from the "In Memoriam" segment of The Oscars telecast... tl;dr, they only have a limited amount of time so he got bumped to their website instead.

Now, far be it for me to tell The Academy how to run their low-rated shitshow, but they can shove one of those little gold statues straight up their collective asses.

First of all... Perry appears in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, nominated for Best Picture in the same fucking telecast. And he was glorious in it. Totally held his own against Leonardo DiCaprio in a fantastic, critical scene. You can't claim that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a great movie without acknowledging his part in it. Of which Quentin Tarantino said this...

“It was really fun,” says the director. “I had a couple of different roles I could have put Luke in. Luke was like, ‘I want to be on the Western show!’ Because he’s just a really great rider and he loves doing Westerns. When we did one of his big horse scenes, Luke slides the horse to the front of the saloon and all the other riders fall in alongside him. I was like, ‘Luke, do you want us to help you out? Do you want me to put a mark on the ground?’ He was like, ‘Quentin? You could take a dime and throw it in the dirt and I will land on that dime. The take you’ll use is when everyone else gets it right.’”

Luke Perry in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on his horse dressed up in a Western suit complete with cowboy hat and leopard-print band.

Second of all... THIS WAS LUKE PERRY'S FINAL FILM ROLE!!! How the fuck do you use "we were short on time" as an excuse when the guy's last film is a Best Picture nominee at the time of broadcast? Insanity.

Third of all... did I mention that he was in The Fifth Element? Only like ONE OF THE GREATEST MOVIES OF ALL TIME!

Luke Perry in The Fifth Element, leaning back in a chair while getting ready to tally Aziz, Light!

But anyway...

I'd like to end this diatribe on a good note, so here we go...

As you may or may not be aware, I am a Hallmark Movie fanatic who has seen hundreds of them. If you go to the main screen of Dave's Hallmark Movie Page and scroll down to FAVORITE MOVIES you will see Love in Paradise (2016) listed there. This is essentially "The Luke Perry Hallmark Movie" and I reviewed it thusly...

Hallmark Movie Poster!   
✓ Favorite Love in Paradise
(Winterfest • Emmanuelle Vaugier and Luke Perry • January 2, 2016)
Okay, come on, it's a Luke Perry movie! Say what you like about him, he's a surprisingly good actor and can make even the smallest parts something special (remember him in The Fifth Element?). In this one he plays a former Western movie star who's having to do TV commercials for beans in order to make a living. But when a family ranch in Montana calls him away from his pampered New York City lifestyle as a publicity stunt, both parties get more than they bargained for. This one is funnier than you'd think... mostly because Luke Perry has never been one to shy away from poking fun at himself and is just plain funny. As a fake cowboy trying to keep up with a real cowboy's routine, he plays it note-perfect. And you really can't discount Emmanuelle Vaugier as the straight-man, because she's terrific too. The romance is a bit forced, but the chemistry between the leads is flawless. I didn't even mind that this was yet another SAVE THE RANCH FROM EVIL DEVELOPERS story.

   
In the movie a big point is made about Luke Perry's character being a fake cowboy star who didn't know how to ride a horse. On his movies he had people to ride the horses for him, and he just pretended to mount and dismount. But, by the end of the story, he's a darn good rider and it made me wonder if Perry had to learn how to ride for the movie.

— queue the laugh track —

After Googling for an answer, I found out exactly what Quentin Tarantino was talking about. Apparently I missed the riding movie 8 Seconds (1994) where his prowess in the saddle was showcased. After reading his short interview in American Cowboy, I of course checked out 8 Seconds. The movie was panned by the critics, but adored by fans, and I can see why. Technically it wasn't great, but it had a lot of heart... and Luke Perry was at its center. From there I found other Luke Perry Westerns like Fine Step and A Gunfighter's Pledge plus a series of other Hallmark movies in the Goodnight for Justice series. The guy was a serious cowboy actor. Who knew?

And so... yeah... Luke Perry didn't get an on-broadcast mention in the "In Memoriam" section of The Academy Awards, but he was a dedicated and beloved actor for decades who ended his career in an Oscar-nominated movie. If that's not a qualification, I don't know what is.

And don't ask The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences because they apparently don't know either.

   

Bullet Sunday 649

Posted on February 9th, 2020

Dave!It's Oscar Sunday but I just don't care, because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...


   
• Crapple! Given my longstanding rant against Apple being complete and total assholes by sticking their customers with shitty butterfly keyboards for years before they FINALLY thought to replace them with something not-quite-so-horrible, this one's for you. It's at the 2-minute mark...

People think this is funny... but, but I'm the biggest Apple Whore I know, and even I was seriously shopping for PCs before the 16-inch MacBook Pro was released. I hope Apple is fucking embarrassed at this, because they should be.

   
• Gold! I used to do a big thing on the Oscars, but I stopped giving a shit when they kept rewarding the same old crap. This year it looks like things are on a better track. Here's my list...

  • Best Picture: Should Have WonJojo Rabbit, Won—Parasite. Not the least bit disappointed. Parasite was a remarkable film.
  • Lead Actor: Should Have Won—Jonathan Pryce, Won—Joaquin Phoenix. I have no desire to see Joker. It's not the comic book character and I don't care how many accolades it gets.
  • Lead Actress: Should Have Won—Renee Zellweger, Won—Renee Zellweger. That was a pretty darn impressive performance, even if I was kinda meh on Judy.
  • Supporting Actor: Should Have Won—Brad Pitt, Won—Brad Pitt. It's surprising that Brad Pitt actually lives up to the hype. I've been a fan since 12 Monkeys, and he should have won for Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds AND Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
  • Supporting Actress: Should Have Won—Scarlett Johannson, Won—Laura Dern. Dern is a fine actor, I just hate hate HATE the film Marriage Story. Complete crap. Jojo Rabbit, on the other hand, is genius.
  • Director: Should Have Won—Bong Joon Ho, Won—Bong Joon Ho. As a diehard Tarantino fan, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood should have ben a shoe-in. And he was, until I saw Parasite.
  • Animated Feature Film: Should Have WonToy Story 4, WonToy Story 4. I don't think this was as good a finale for the series as Toy Story 3 was, but it was a good story with mind-blowing animation by Pixar.
  • Animated Short: Should Have WonHair Love, WonHair Love. I liked all the nominees... and Kitbull was such a great short. But Hair Love feels new and timely in a way that made a huge impression on me.
  • Adapted Screenplay: Should Have Won—Taika Waititi, Won—Taika Waititi. This was the no-brainer of the night.
  • Original Screenplay: Should Have Won—Bong Joon-ho and Jin Won Han, Won—Bong Joon-ho and Jin Won Han. This was a tight race for me. I loved Rian Johnson's Knives Out, 1917, and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood... but Parasite felt truly original. Don't ask me why Marriage Story is here though. It's just people yelling at each other.
  • Cinematography: Should Have Won—Roger Deakins, Won—Roger Deakins. Despite not liking The Irishman even a little bit, I think the cinematography was great. And Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was gloriously shot. But 1917 was next-level, and I regret deeply not seeing it in theaters.

The love for Parasite, which would usually be thrown in the "Best Foreign Language Film" category (it still was and won there too), was a breath of fresh air. I didn't see it until last week or else it surely would have been one of my favorite movies of 2019.

   
• Mythical! If you haven't been watching Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet on Apple TV+, it's worth a look. Especially if you love video games. Apparently Rob McElhenney (who is at his most Rob McElhenneyist here) and Charlie Day consulted heavily with Ubisoft to get some semblance of accuracy even though this is a comedy about what goes on behind the scenes at a video game company. It shows. The show is absolute gold, and will easily make my list of favorites for 2020. It's not quite The Office or The IT Crowd, but it kinda draws from both...

The jokes come fast and most of them land well. I cannot believe that they got F. Murray Abraham. He has the perfect amount of gravitas for his part. But this is Rob McElhenney from start to finish and he's absolutely perfect.

   
• Starch! Wow. How come nobody told me that adding corn starch to scrambled eggs makes them taste like they've been slow-cooking for 30 minutes? This is reeeeeally nice. So creamy and rich. If you haven't tried it, these are pretty great. Also works wonders with omelettes. I will never cook scrambled eggs without it.

   
• NEWS: Antarctica logs hottest temperature on record with a reading of 18.3°C. That's 65°F, people. When I visited, there were many times I took off my jacket because Antarctica was too warm to have it on. I worry for the wildlife which calls this continent home. How is this going to disrupt their habitat and can they survive it?

Neko Harbor Penguins, Antarctica

Penguins are already having a tough time of it, and things look to be getting worse. And then there's polar bears starving in the Arctic. Troubling times for our planet.

   
• trAIn! Apple has put Artificial Intelligence "Machine Learning" in their iPhone and are making good use of it (especially with the camera). As time goes on, it's just going to be surreal how it changes our lives. Take for example this footage from Denis Shiryaev, which upscaled the video to 4K with machine learning and resounded it... Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat, by Auguste and Louis Lumière, 1896...

Looks old, but almost new. Here's the original footage...

We are really close to the unreal easily being mistake for the real, if we're not there already.

   
• Netflix Fix! And, lastly, apparently there is a God... you can finally tell Netflix to STOP AUTO-PLAYING FUCKING PREVIEWS WHILE YOU ARE TRYING TO SEARCH FOR SOMETHING TO WATCH! People have been complaining about this bullshit FOR YEARS and Netflix did nothing. Apparently somebody finally figured that customers were worth listening to... or maybe it's because many other streaming services are treating customers with a lot more respect by not irritating the ever-loving-shit out of them...

The preference panels in Netflix shwoing that you can disable the autoplay previews..

Apparently you set it once in your preferences and it goes into effect everywhere. I haven't yet verified this, but I sure hope it's true.

   
And that's a wrap, little golden statue dude!

   

Miss Americana

Posted on February 3rd, 2020

Dave!There’s a difference between "I really connect to your lyrics"... and "I’m going to break in."

I never gave much thought to Taylor Swift. Her music was originally Country, which I don't listen to. Then she dropped into the world of Pop music with 1989 but I wasn't "in that place" at the time, didn't like the single Bad Blood at all, and ignored it. When Reputation was released I didn't much care for the first single, Shake it Off and ignored that album too.

Then I heard the song Mean while shopping in a store somewhere and didn't know who sang it, but Shazamed it even though it was Country because I was hooked by the lyrics...

Someday I'll be living in a big ol' city
And all you're ever gonna be is mean
Someday I'll be big enough so you can't hit me
And all you're ever gonna be is mean

I made a mental note to take another look at Taylor Swift because that one song impressed me so much.

When I finally remembered to pull up her catalog on Amazon Music Unlimited while brushing my teeth one morning, the first song to come up was New Romantics...

Cuz baby I could build a castle
Out of all the bricks they threw at me
And every day is like a battle
But every night with you is like a dream

I remember just standing there, toothbrush in hand, toothpaste dribbling out of my mouth, trying to really listen to the lyrics, which were pretty great. From there I blew through all her music, consistently impressed with her songwriting, even if I didn't always like the song itself. But most of the songs from 1989 and Reputation I did like quite a lot.

Then the singles from Lover started dropping and I was suddenly full-on fan of Taylor Swift... putting Lover in the top spot of my favorite albums of 2019.

And now, just when I didn't think I could love Taylor any more than I already do, a documentary dropped on Netflix called Miss Americana...

I enjoyed it quite a lot. The film is an intimate look into the highs and lows of Taylor's life and gives a glimpse into her songwriting process (which is worthy of a documentary all on its own). There's also a good chunk of time devoted to Swift's decision to unleash her political beliefs, even though she knew full well what the consequences might be for her life and career. The scene where she's about to unleash a political tweet that changes everything was almost a hold-your-breath moment.

It would be really easy to watch her struggles and think "Oh boo hoo! Go cry into your millions of dollars because nobody cares!"

But any such snap judgements are made out of ignarance. Swift built herself a castle out of all the bricks that were thrown at her and earned her millions of dollars with hard work and talent. The fact that she uses her popularity and fame to speak out against bigotry and injustice when her life would be a lot easier if she just sat quiet and smiled is what makes Taylor Swift be Taylor Swift.

Even though she all too often gets burned for it.

And so... Miss Americana is recommended for Taylor Swift lovers and haters alike. If you have Netflix, give it a look.

   

Bullet Sunday 648

Posted on February 2nd, 2020

Dave!It's National Football Day, but it doesn't matter much to me... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• NED... NED RYERSON! I honestly don't care about the Super Bowl. I am not invested in football even a little bit. But I do like that companies are willing to spend all kinds of money creating commercials that I actually want to watch...

And, holy cow, would you look at this awesomeness...

After the Big Game is over, all the remaining commercials will be released. It's like Christmas for advertising nerds like me.

   
• Pringles! And then there's this, which I love for obvious reasons...

The second half of the new Rick and Morty season cannot get here fast enough.

   
• Happy Endings. One of the best shows to come along in quite a while for me is The Good Place. At least for the first two seasons. I watched the first couple episodes because I love Kristen Bell, didn't care for them, then said goodbye. Then one evening a number of weeks later I needed some background noise while I worked, landed on the show, and quickly became obsessed. Then they dropped one of the most mind-blowing season finales I've ever seen, left you wondering where the show could possibly go next, then topped themselves in the second season. I maintain that The Trolley Problem is one of my favorite episodes of all time of any show ever. And it's because it's filled with hilarious and brilliant moments like this...

Sadly, things started to fall apart in the third season. Then it all went to shit in the fourth and final season. I couldn't even watch it any more. But I tuned in to the final episode to see how it all wraps up... and was reminded of how good the show could be. That final moment which shows what becomes of you after The After was poetic and beautiful. Not enough to make me run back and watch all the fourth season episodes I missed... but pretty darn special. Really happy for shows that get a proper ending.

   
• iPad × 10. This past week the iPad turned 10 years old. It doesn't seem as though it's been that long since Steve Jobs introduced it to an unsuspecting world...

Steve Jobs unveiling the iPad at a computer event.

I remember the criticism vividly. A lot of people hated the name, equating it to a maxi-pad. A lot of people thought it would never sell because it was just a big iPhone that lacked any serious computing power. I was on the fence, but bought one anyway. Mostly because I liked the idea of it for travel. If there was even a chance that I could leave my laptop behind and carry the much smaller and lighter iPad with me, why wouldn't I? Sadly, the iPad didn't end up being the laptop killer I was hoping for. Not for my work anyway. It's getting closer and closer every day though. The first release of Photoshop for iPad was a grave disappointment, but I'm sure that's temporary. They'll get there eventually. I guess we shall see. Right now the only thing I use my iPad for is digital drawing and painting. And it's pretty great for that. My trial run at blogging worked okay, so perhaps in a year or two when the apps are right it will be exactly what I need it to be.

   
• BAYHEM! Some may question the wisdom of Netflix backing a dump truck full of money up to Michael Bay's house and asking him to make them a Michael Bay movie. I am not one of those people. Sometimes you just want to watch stuff exploding and things getting blown up in the most unrealistic and insane way possible and that's what Michael Bay delivers...

Doesn't hurt that they got Ryan Reynolds to star, and then let him totally be Ryan Reynolds. Or that they totally put the time, effort, and money into the epic location shoots or making the special effects look so good. For all the obvious reasons, the general consensus between critics is that they hated it. For even more obvious reasons, I loved it. Sequel please!

   
• Frozenless. Last night's Saturday Night Live had some moments. But this was the one that I had to rewind and watch over again...

But the best sketch of the night was the cold open...

No rational person thought that the Republicans would get behind an actual trial with witnesses and evidence and anything that makes a trial a trial... so color me unshocked that this is exactly what happened.

   
See ya next Sunday... when we won't have to worry about football again for 8 months.

   

Bullet Sunday 647

Posted on January 26th, 2020

Dave!I may be ankle-deep in sawdust, but here I am... because an all new Bullet Sunday starts... now...

   
• Push Back. The impeachment trial is absurd. There is overwhelming evidence of wrongdoing in a number of areas, and it's clear the president is exploiting his office for personal gain at every possible opportunity. But because Republicans in The Senate are 100% willing to enable his abhorrent behavior, he's going to remain in office. Which is why This post from Dan Rather is so important. "As many of us focus on the news out of Washington, let us not forget on these cold, winter nights, many are struggling with hunger and hopelessness. There are the lonely, the homeless, the sick, and scared. Service to others is a way to push back at the cynicism of our times."

   
• TEMPORARY! OH MAN! TIME TO STOCK UP MY FREEZER! YOU SIMPLY CANNOT BEAT THESE SAVINGS!!!

Mission Street Taco pricing... regular $1.89, NOW JUST $1.88!!!

As I've made known many, many times, I rarely buy anything at the grocery store that's not on sale. I build my meals around what I can find that's inexpensive. I very nearly grabbed these for taco night until I was like "Wait a minute! Aren't these usually about $2?!?" Stores are pretty devious. They expect people will grab something on sale without looking for how much it's on sale.

   
• Dance Dance Dance. A new bird has been discovered. It's feathers are like a black hole, absorbing most light. This results in a very cool mating dance you gotta see...

It's amazing that we keep discovering new animals as scores of others are going extinct.

   
• Scraps. It's hard to complain about working on the weekend when I get to set up my wood shop and build displays! I cut the pieces for a rack display I will assemble tomorrow, and now I am building a half-dozen little fruit-crate-inspired booklet displays. They will have a small standee sitting next to them with info and pricing...

Wooden display stands for small booklets.

As thrifty as I am for my own projects, I've doubly so when spending money for work. The stands had to be heavy so they wouldn't move... and deep so they wouldn't tip over. I made the tray part look nice, then used whatever scraps I had laying around for the back-stops since they don't show. Works like a charm, and they ended up costing a whopping $2.20 each. =sigh= Designing and building displays is the best part of my job. Wish I got to do more of it.

   
• Peanut Hell. Killing time until 10:00 so I can fire up the power tools... I'm watching SNL from last night with Adam Driver. The cold open takes place in hell where Flo from the Progressive Insurance commercials is visiting. She sold her soul to the devil so she could be on television forever. THEN can you guess what commercial comes on? Just guess! I hope that was planned and SNL contacted Progressive to have it happen, because that's genius.

Flo from Progressive in hell with Mr. Peanut and the guy who rote Baby Shark song in a Saturday Night Live sketch.

In other news... POOR MR. PEANUT! Guess he shouldn't have killed all those kids with peanut allergies!

   
• Art. I recently read a Facebook post by Rachael Eliot Barker that's so important to me that I am reprinting it in its entirety...

"Recently, there was a dust-up over The Comedian, a piece in which Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan taped a banana to the wall of a gallery and sold it for $120,000. A gallery patron made additional news by pulling the banana off the wall and eating it. Interviews made it clear that everyone involved was trolling. The saga was catnip to people who believe that conceptual art is full of shit.

Maurizio Cattelan is clearly full of shit, but his work begs the question: could an artist ever walk into a gallery with some snacks, say 'This may look like something I picked up at the bodega on the way here, but it is in fact my Art, behold my Art,' and NOT be full of shit?

In my opinion, the answer is yes.

My opinion is heavily informed by this 1991 piece by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) is a pile of free candy. Visitors are invited to take one piece of candy. Frivolous, right? The piece may be staged in any gallery that follows a few simple rules. The most important rule is that the pile should weigh 175 pounds.

175 pounds was the healthy weight of Gonzalez-Torres’ partner Ross Laycock, who died of AIDS.

González-Torres had a Roman Catholic background, and taking the candy is meant to be an act of communion. The patron partakes in the “sweetness” of Ross while participating in his diminishment and torturous death.

The decision to use candy has political significance. In 1991, public funding for the arts and public funding for AIDS research were both the hottest of hot-button issues. HIV positive gay male artists were being targeted for censorship. González-Torres was desperate to be heard, and part of the logic of Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) was that you can’t censor free candy without looking ridiculous. The replicability of the piece makes it indestructible; González-Torres had an intuitive, ahead-of-its-time understanding of virality that came from dealing with an actual virus rather than the internet.

I’ve never seen this piece staged, but I think about it all the time. The artist, sadly, is no longer with us. But we will always have the most brilliant, heartbreaking free candy to ever be heaped in a corner. The key to conceptual art is storytelling — how well can you tell a story without words OR a “proper” picture? The banana on the wall sucks because it doesn’t tell a story about anything but attention-seeking and greed. I can’t stand Banana Guy or the media coverage surrounding him because stunts like that make people close their minds to unconventional art and storytelling, which can be just as sophisticated and moving as conventional art and storytelling."

A corner in a white-walled art gallery. There is a large mound of multicolored candy piled up in the corner.

I always assume that there's a story like this behind every artistic endeavor. I may not understand it... I may dismiss it... I may not like it... I may disagree with it... and all that is okay. So long as it means something to the artist and not just a stunt, I can at least respect them putting themselves out there like this.

   
And that's it for Sunday bullets.

   

Star Trek: Reboot

Posted on January 23rd, 2020

Dave!I am a massive fan of the original Star Trek series. And the original cast movies too.

I did not like Star Trek: The Next Generation because it was just so boring. Aside from an occasional good episode, the lack of conflict on the ship and Gene Roddenberry's "new vision for the future" was a massive downgrade from where he started. Then Star Trek: Deep Space Nine came along and, while beloved by critics and fans, was somehow worse. Odo the non-shape-changing shape-changing alien? Quark comic relief? The Prophets? I mean, sure there was Avery Brooks, but holy crap. AND THEN, just when I thought things couldn't possibly get worse... Star Trek: Voyager. I was totally excited for it. At first. Enemies on the same ship? CONFLICT! Biomechanical ship? COOL! Stranded across the galaxy where survival is a constant struggle and no allies in sight? EXCITING! But then they ended up doing the same old Next Generation shit all over again and boring the heck out of me. Star Trek: Enterprise was a step in the right direction, but they burdened it with a "Temporal Cold War" that was a boat-anchor tied to the show in a horrible way.

Naturally, when CBS announced they were coming out with Star Trek: Discovery, I was skeptical. The cast was amazing (seriously amazing) and they looked to be doing something new, but the ship looked like shit and the early previews with engine spores and stuff looked like crap.

Boy was I wrong.

The first season of Discovery was phenomenal.

The performances and characters were incredible. The stories were cool as all getout. And the "big twist" was about the best thing to come out of Star Trek in decades. I loved just about everything about it. Critics said it "wasn't Star Trek" and hated on it terribly. This made me laugh my ass off, because it was easily the most "Star Trek" thing to happen since the original series! People who said it "wasn't Star Trek" were saying it wasn't "NEXT GENERATION Star Trek." Which, of course, was my favorite thing about it. The second season wasn't as good, but it was still worth watching.

And now there's Star Trek: Picard...

Star Trek: Picard movie poster with Picard at his vineyard with his dog as the sun sets.

Obviously I was not enthusiastic about the continuation of a show which I feel is the point Star Trek went terribly wrong. I like Patrick Stewart... like him a lot... but more Star Trek: Next Generation was not something I was interested in. Paying extra for CBS All Access to see it was the nail in the coffin. Except... I read more than a couple interviews with Patrick Stewart and other people working on the show who promised that it was not going to be more of the same old thing. They were doing something new.

Well, sign me up! Even though I was certain it was going to suck.

Boy was I wrong.

First of all, Patrick Stewart is phenomenal in this. He's playing up the age of his character rather than trying to act like he's twenty years younger. Second of all, my mind was completely turned around when Picard said the words "Starfleet was no longer Starfleet!"

Finally somebody understands what the show needs to be interesting. The story being set up feels like it's going to be entertaining. The cast they've assembled is great. The guest-stars from the old new generation seem like they will be used to good effect. And, oh yeah, the special effects are fantastic...

I have high hopes that the talent behind the show have an ending that's going to be worth it all.

CBS sure seems to think so... they renewed the show for a second season AND invited Whoopi Goldberg back, who's "Guinan" is one of the most interesting characters to come out of the old new generation. So fingers crossed.

Something else that was new today? Jay & Silent Bob Reboot...

Jay and Silent Bob Reboot movie poster.

I'm a huge fan of Kevin Smith's "Askewniverse" films... Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy, Clerks II, and (to a lesser degree), Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. And now we're getting the sequel, Jay & Silent Bob Reboot. To me it was a mixed bag. Sure it was great seeing all the characters again and it was pretty funny in spots (though a lot of the humor relies on the viewer having seen all the previous films), but it's almost reached a parody of the parody it was parodying and priority is put on famous cameos and injecting his wife and daughter into things rather than humor, insightful commentary on pop culture, and the characters that made me love the movies so much.

I was glad I saw the movie (worth the $10 price tag), but couldn't help but think that half of it was wasted. I am really, really hoping that Smith goes back to form with Clerks III instead of sabotaging himself again.

Kevin Smith needs to Picard himself instead of giving up more Voyager.

   

QNAP if You’re NASty

Posted on January 22nd, 2020

Dave!For years now... a decade really... I've been experimenting with setting up a personal NAS (Network Attached Storage) media server that's connected to the internet. There are a lot of reasons I'd like to have such a thing, but the big one is that I want to be able to access my vast photo library from anywhere on earth. If I'm in Germany and want to show a friend a photo of the Hard Rock Cafe Yokohama (something that actually happened) it would be great if I could do that. Sure I have the option of paying for a photo service, but then I have to convert all my images from RAW format and lose the ability to access/edit the original photo remotely if I want to.

So I purchased a 1 Terabyte single-drive, internet-enabled "WD My Book Studio" NAS back in 2010 with that in mind. Everything ended up being a total mess and didn't work at all like I was hoping. It's been sitting in a drawer ever since.

Fast forward to 2019 and I decided to try again. I used money I had saved in 2014 for a trip to Norway's fjords with my mom (that we never got around to taking) and purchased a QNAP TS415+ NAS and two Western Digital 8 Terabyte RED drives to put in it. The drives are mirrored in a RAID configuration so I don't lose any data if one of them dies. Note that there's a television remote. That's because this model has an HDMI port so it can hook up directly to a television...

Today I finally set it all up. It was fairly straightforward, though not the most user-friendly thing to do. It spent hours doing a "RAID resync" (whatever the hell that is), which makes zero sense. The drives were empty and freshly formatted. How can it take over 24 hours to "resync" NOTHING? Note that QNAP doesn't bother with beta testing their apps. If they did, somebody might have noticed that the displayed percentage overwrites the text label, making it tough to read its progress...

Before you can do anything, you have to set up a "Storage Pool" from your drives. I maxed my pool out at 100% of my available drive space, because why only use part of your drives? QNAP is pretty brain-dead when you choose to do this... it will endlessly pester you with alerts because it defaults to a threshold of 80% usage. Insanity. If somebody sets their pool to 100% of drive space, why not ask if you want to disable the threshold alerts? I had to do it manually. Sadly, after setting things up, my 8TB mirrored drive resulted in only 7.1TB of space available. No idea what happened to nearly a FULL TERABYTE of storage (this seems high for overhead), but whatever.

Anyway...

Rather than have to install a third-party app, I decided to give the QNAP "Qmedia" app a try on my AppleTV since it's the "native" application from QNAP. It is complete and total shit. Despite "pretending" to remember where you left off when viewing videos, it doesn't. You can't even fast-forward the video you're watching, which is mind-blowing. I have no fucking idea why they even bothered. Qmedia is useless.

I'd rather not have to switch television video input sources from my AppleTV every time I want to watch something off the NAS, but apparently that's going to be how this goes. So I grabbed the QNAP remote and went for it. First I had to install an app (of course) but no big deal. Then I actually tried to use the thing and it's a total clusterfuck. The "VideoStation" app is just a fucking web browser interface. It's difficult to read because it's not sized for a television. It's impossible to use with the included remote because the remote doesn't do anything. You have to plug in a mouse and keyboard to make it work.

There's an "HD Player" app that looks like it's geared more towards television displays and using the remote control but it's fucking useless too, having many of the same problems as Qmedia. It goes non-responsive constantly, doesn't allow fast-forwarding (pressing the up arrow to skip forward is not the same thing), starts at the beginning of a video even if you tell it to resume from where you stopped, has a shitty interface that makes sorting through a large number of videos a nightmare, has crap video quality that you can't adjust for brightness or anything else, and is an overall steaming pile of fail.

I swear, QNAP is the most ridiculous fucking company. Why bother to make claims of being a multimedia center that can connect directly to your television if it does THIS shitty of a job of it? The whole thing is a fucking joke.

Fortunately there's plenty of options for serving your media from a NAS if it has a computer onboard like the TS451+ does. The "big two" are Kodi and Plex. Kodi is open source and free. Plex is free, but you can support the project by paying to subscribe to "Plex Pass" for additional features (like being able to download media on your phone for local playback instead of streaming it). Most people I know who started on Kodi ended up with Plex, so I just skipped a step and installed Plex Server on my NAS.

For what it is, Plex Server is pretty sweet. It transcodes just about anything you throw at it. Including the RAW Digital Negative photo format from Adobe (DNG) that I use. Which means I don't have to save out JPEGs in order to access my photo library remotely. Nice! I need to work on settings for this, however, because Plex compresses things pretty heavily for transmission. This results in some ugly visual artifacts, banding, and color shifts...

A visual comparison of an original photo of a sunset vs. the version Plex serves up.

Video works brilliantly from Plex BECAUSE YOU CAN ACTUALLY FUCKING FAST FORWARD THROUGH IT ON APPLE TV! Plex does a really good job of cataloging it as well. Thank heavens, because I'd light my QNAP NAS on fire if I had to suffer through their shitty apps. The only problem I've run across is having the video stop and tell me that my connection isn't fast enough, which is absurd because AppleTV is literally plugged into the same high-speed hub as the NAS! There must be some kind of setting for that I'm missing. Fortunately, it's a rare event.

I don't steal media. All the movies and television shows I have are on DVD/Blu-Ray or purchased on Digital. Well, with two exceptions... Cupid (the Jeremy Piven original) and Oh Grow Up! (one of my favorite shows of all time)... are not available to purchase. Lord only knows I wish they were, because my digitized versions of VHS tapes are really poor quality. I've used Vudu's Disc-To-Digital service to convert the bulk of my DVD/Blu-Ray collection to Digital legally. But not all of my stuff is available for conversion. Now I have the option of ripping them to the NAS and viewing them digitally no matter where I am via Plex Server. Technically, any time you break the protection on a DVD you are breaking the law, but that's a bullshit law. I would happily pay to convert them to digital if the studio who owns them would allow them to be converted. What I'm not going to do is buy the same movie all over again. Fuck that. I already paid for it, I should get to pay a small fee for a new format, not have to buy it all over again. And so... I have a small collection of DVDs ripped to my NAS temporarily until the studio allows them to be converted and I can pay for that. Plex does a great job of streaming from my living room to remote locations in HD. No, the video quality is not as good as what comes off of iTunes... especially if the iTunes version is 4K... but it's plenty good enough for my iPad or iPhone. I'm sure if I didn't have tons of security cameras flooding my bandwidth I could set the quality higher, but it's really not necessary.

Music streaming (local and remote) is handled quite well through Plex, and my SONOS system can address Plex directly. This means I can download all my music from iTunes, put it on the NAS, then drop iTunes Music Match and iTunes itself with no problem.

And so... bravo Plex.

I'm going to try out "Plex Pass" for a month and see if I want to upgrade to the lifetime membership for $120. Something tells me that's a purchase I will end up making. I certainly can't do without Plex if my alternative is the QNAP crap.

UPDATE: Yeah. Easiest decision to make to get the Plex Pass... the apps for streaming are included and you're helping the team behind it to keep developing the app.

So okay... the QNAP multimedia is bullshit. What about the NAS itself? Well, I'd love to report on that, but the minute I login, it either immediately disconnects me...

Make sure the NAS can be reached and refresh the page!

...or it allows me in but gives me a shitload of error messages. My favorite? Telling me it's running out of memory. If 2GB is not enough memory to do even the most basic tasks, then why ship with just 2GB memory? QNAP has their own version of Microsoft "Clippy" to break the bad news, which is a weird choice...

QNAP Robot Assistant

Even better? If you choose "optimize" he does a happy dance when he recovers 0MB of memory! Once I can log in again, I'll turn off and uninstall absolutely everything except the bare minimum I need (which includes Plex Server, of course), so I'm hoping that will fix these problems.

My NAS can act as a Time Machine backup for my Mac, but I really don't need that any more. All my data is stored in the cloud, so the only thing that would need to be replaced on my MacBook if it were destroyed are the apps, which I can just download from the developer again.

QNAP provides Apple File Services so I can access my NAS over my local network easily. Weirdly enough, you are required to install Windows File Services in order to install Apple File Services, but (luckily) you can kill the Windows File Services after installation to save precious memory and everything seems to work fine.

Speaking of memory... QNAP is happy to sell you more, but they charge outrageous pricing for the stuff. I mean laughably outrageous pricing. Far better to buy it yourself (which I'm guessing I'll have to do sometime soon if killing apps don't work).

Remote management and access to my files is a breeze thanks to QNAP's tools and a service they call CloudLink. The NAS talks with QNAP so even though its IP address may change, you can still reach it with no trouble.

And so...

  • I fucking hate the fact that QNAP doesn't really work as a media center as advertised. THAT'S WHY I PAID EXTRA FOR THIS MODEL!
  • Their video apps are worthless garbage that can't even do rudimentary shit like fast forward video.
  • They don't include enough memory to do even basic tasks.
  • Their HDMI television output can not be altered for settings like brightness, contrast, color, etc., which is no big deal considering it's fucking useless without decent apps for it anyway.
  • The included remote control doesn't control shit. And what it can control is garbage and doesn't work.
  • Their web interface is brain-dead idiocy that confuses even the most simple things.
  • Nothing about operation of the QNAP unit is even remotely intuitive. Nothing is easy to find and the byzantine menu system is difficult to use. The fact that they don't have an abstraction interface for moderately-experienced users makes zero sense. They ONLY want to serve the professional market? How strange.

I am still relatively new to the QNAP TS451+ NAS and the Western Digital RED drives, so I can't comment much about them. I can say that Western Digital are the only brand of hard drive that hasn't disappointed me so I'm hoping that trend continues. Also, despite the shitty media center aspects and overly-difficult controls, QNAP is highly respected in the IT industry. I just wouldn't bother paying extra for an HDMI port and remote that you will probably never use because their software is shit. Put that money towards a Plex Pass where it will do some good.

   

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