Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Facebook Is Broken

Warning:  The following is a rant, so if you’re not in the mood, skip it.

Facebook is broken.  Yeah, I realize I am just the latest in a long, long line of complainers, but still.  I had planned on leaving Facebook this week.  This saddened me, because I actually use Facebook, not as a measure of popularity or a method for sharing my life (which, let’s face it, simply isn’t that important or that interesting.)  No, I use it as a way of connecting with dear friends from my past who are often too far away to communicate with easily in any other way.  Some are literally on the other side of the world (hello, New Zealand and Australia!!)  I also use Facebook in several of my hobbies, most notably to learn new techniques for prop-making and to see the handiwork of other people with the same interest, most of whom are far more talented than I am.  This is great, because it inspires me to try harder and do better.

In short, I use it, probably pretty much the way most of my friends use it.

But Facebook itself is making it an untenable option for these things.  And as I said, that saddened me greatly, because I only recently reconnected with many of those folks and then found myself preparing to say goodbye.

The reason, of course, is the new Facebook Messenger app.  Facebook wants to pull the chat function out of the standard Facebook app and make it a separate thing.  It would be bad enough that you now have to use two things where once you only needed to use one.  But the new thing, the Messenger app, invades privacy to an egregious degree.  

Facebook has always had issues with privacy.  They have access to your personal profile information, and, in the fine print, have the right to do pretty much whatever they want to do with it.  Some of that has changed over the years, as particularly invasive assaults were identified and made public, but the personal profile information is still in play.  All you have to do is load your Facebook page and you’ll likely see ads for the last product you looked at on Amazon, or eBay, or even ThinkGeek.  You’ll see promotions for the last movie whose showtimes you checked, or the last college where your high schooler wanted to apply.  It’s pretty scary, when you stop to think about it.

Facebook Messenger would be even worse.  The app requires that you give it “permissions” which include giving Facebook access to your texts, giving Facebook the ability to send texts on your device, and giving Facebook the ability to MAKE CALLS on your device.  Messenger would have access to find your mail and phone accounts, to use your personal contacts list, and to access ALL of your other text messages.

Let me say that again.  With this app, Facebook gets the ability to make calls and to send and receive texts ON YOUR PHONE OR TABLET.  And to read all your other mail.

According to Google Play, the app has “access to find accounts on the device, read contacts, access the user’s [account], as well as edit, read and receive text messages.  Other permissions give Facebook the ability to directly call phone numbers, modify or delete files on USB storage, take pictures and videos, receive audio, download files without notification, control vibration [on the device] and change network connectivity.”

Holy crap.  At least buy me dinner first.

So I was on the verge of leaving altogether, despite regretting losing the renewed contact with distant friends.  Then I stumbled across a fairly simple workaround, at least for now.

I only use Facebook on my iPhone’s internet browser.  I do NOT use the Facebook app.  Yes, it’s smaller, and more annoying, and a bit more cumbersome.  But the features and information that I want are there, and I have a lot more control over what my browser will and will not allow.  It certainly will never give the Facebook page access to my camera or let it send texts and make calls.

The Facebook app is gone from my phone and from my iPad, and for good.  And they have only themselves to blame.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"I'll See You In Baltimore!"

That's the slogan for the Baltimore Comic-Con.  As I've said here before, Baltimore is what San Diego used to be -- a three-day nerdfest celebrating all things comic book.  Virtually no Hollywood or television influence.  Sometimes a small indy gaming company will have a presence, and the cosplay has definitely grown and improved over the years, but it's really all about the comic books -- celebrating the stories and the characters, meeting and discussing with creators, and of course, doing some shopping so as to fill in the holes in that collection of, oh, say, your 1960's Green Lantern collection.

The whole family is going this time, hoping to meet some of our favorite creators, including old friend Jimmy Gownley who has achieved riotous success with his creation Amelia Rules! and Gail Simone, probably my favorite comics creator working today.  Gail Simone is a writer who has written some of the best comics of the last decade, including Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman, Batgirl, Birds of Prey, Secret Six, and Deadpool.  Her independent project with artist Jim Calafiore, Leaving Megalopolis, is in my opinion one of the great works of fiction of the past decade, never mind that it's a graphic novel.  Gail is my hero, not only for the strong female characters she writes, but for her deeply real characters and her fierce determination to include LGBTQ and differently-abled characters in her work.  I think that she's amazing, and apparently the comics industry agrees, because Gail is flying in from her home in the Pacific Northwest to deliver the keynote address at the Harvey Awards in Baltimore -- the comics world's Oscars.

Not dressing up in costume this time, but I haven't been this excited for a con since I got to meet Stan Lee a couple of years ago.  In Baltimore, of course.  You can't get near the man in San Diego.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Right Back In It

...and for what?  One of the nice things -- perhaps the only nice thing -- about having such a little-noticed blog is that so few people see it when I need to get something off my chest.  This is one of those times; it's a mental-health dump purely for myself, so go do something productive with your time.  Go on, get out of here now, the both of you.

We're just back from vacation.  Friend after friend is talking about taking their daughters to college this weekend.  Mine will not be going back for what should have been her senior year.  Even if she had gone back, it wouldn't have been her graduating year.  She has only taken 12 credit hours per semester for her entire academic tenure (for a grand total of 72) and has only passed half of them.  Usually it's a feast-or-famine grade report, 2 A+ grades and 2 failures or incompletes.  Which breaks my heart, because this kid is as bright as they come.  I just don't know how things manage to go wrong with her every single year.  The first year we blamed the plethora of daily bomb threats her university received.  The second year we blamed on an unfortunate roommate matchup.  Last year, we had nothing, except for dashed high hopes.  So after much discussion and heartache we explained that we simply cannot keep throwing $30K a year at an education which is going nowhere.  My daughter is staying home when so many are leaving.  To her credit, she has found a job, a good one -- one that is still beneath her talents, in my opinion, and below what I think she is capable of contributing to society, but she is not sitting at home with her nose buried in the Internet, and that is a good thing.  She has a civil service job, with a pension, and benefits, and the potential for advancement into something truly worthwhile someday, and she earned it entirely on her own.  It gives her structure, and a feeling of some successful accomplishment even on the days spent entirely in the file room.  So overall, I'm glad for her, but still a little sad sometimes.

My wife is already back at work.  As I've noted here before, she's a physician with a specialty in Family Medicine; she's a primary care, first-line-of-defense doctor who does the most work for the least compensation.  Even more so because she is a woman.  She works entirely too hard.  After a 10-12 hour day at her office, she comes home and, once supper is over, enters notes into charts on her laptop until bedtime.  Between the new electronic medical records laws and the privacy laws here in our state of Pennsylvania, she must do this work unaided.  So while she is working on one side of the sofa, my daughter is on the other side, unwinding after her day by burying her nose in the Internet (see above!) on her own laptop.  I'm pretty much alone even when I'm in the same room, and I'm finding that it wears me down considerably.  My own depression has been worsening and deepening lately, despite counseling and tweaking of the meds.  Whether as a cause of the depression or as a result, my health has been really rotten lately.  This despite just getting back from a week's vacation where I essentially did nothing.  (See, the opening sentence of the previous paragraph was not a complete non sequitur.  You should have trusted that I'd get back to it eventually.)

Last night what should have been an emotional boost instead became something of a letdown.  After a chunk of the summer off, the church choir got back together for the first time in a while.  It should have been a fun reunion with good friends seen all too seldom in the past weeks.  Instead, for the first time our practice was held at our downtown church building, in a mildewed and vaguely smelly room, in a building I loathe, in a neighborhood in which I feel terribly and increasingly unsafe.  (On a side note, I used to feel a little better about the neighborhood because I thought we were somewhat shielded by the good our church does.  Then this past summer, a neighboring church was horribly vandalized -- its kitchen was damaged by a gang of teenagers, the very kitchen that feeds many in the neighborhood who are unable to find the means to feed themselves.  It meant that the whole neighborhood went hungry for a day or two.  So much for the veil of protection provided by a church that does good.  So much for, if you will, the idea of Sanctuary.)  While it was good to see friends, there was much talk of taking daughters to college (again, see above!) and new grandchildren, and other positive things which are not part of my life, nor are they likely to be any time soon.  And I was not encouraged by our meeting with the new minister, who does not seem to be the kind of humanist Unitarian I was hoping we'd have.  More like a mystical, spiritual maybe-former-hippie person who expresses herself in dance.  Still, many in the room seemed to like her very much, and these are people I love deeply, so we'll see how things go.

I'm doing what I can to keep myself afloat, emotionally.  As much as I loathe my daily routine sometimes ("It's Friday! Cut the grass as long as it ain't raining!") it gives me the same structure with a small sense of accomplishment that I hope for my daughter.  I do think it's what she needs right now.

Me, I'm not so sure about.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Vacation, So-Called ;P

There's nothing quite like packing to go away for the week and receiving a phone call from your bank, letting you know that your credit card has been canceled because someone in Eastern Europe just tried to charge $119 worth of boner pills at a Walgreens in Illinois.  (Yes, this actually happened just over a week ago.)  I don't carry much in the way of credit cards, primarily to make identity theft easier to deal with for, not if, but when it happens -- but the timing on this was particularly inconvenient.  The bank promised to overnight the new card to my hotel.  It arrived four days later.  Luckily we brought enough cash to deal, but...geez.

The vacation itself was nice, once the finances got straightened out.  My wife loves the beach; I am a bit more "meh" about it, but I have a much easier time relaxing and being in my head wherever I am than she does.  Still, it was very nice not to have to cook, clean or worry about the household for an entire week.

Of course, like an idiot I dove in with both feet yesterday:  five hour drive home, four loads of laundry, cut and edge the lawn since I knew we were expecting rain today...I must have been out of my bleeding mind.  I can barely type this up, much less be any kind of productive today.

Still, believe it or not, it was a nice rest...and it's good to be back.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Fed Up With "Heaven"

What is up with this sudden resurgence of New Age near-death Heaven nonsense?  Movies like Heaven Is For Real and God's Not Dead, and books, including one from a neurologist, for crying out loud, are all touting the idea that there really is an Afterlife, that Our Loved Ones are "there" waiting for us, et al., ad nauseam.

People should know better than to trust the delusions brought on by a lack of oxygen to the brain.  I have no trust in hallucinations caused by dying brain cells, even those in a neurologist, who should know better.

I attribute most of our modern world's ills to religion.  I admit it.  Sunni vs. Shia, Hamas vs. Israeli, and every other variation thereon in the Middle East can be laid squarely at religion's door.  It's getting to be like the old Hatfields/McCoys feud, in that nobody can even remember what started it off any more.  And don't even get me started on abortion and meddling in Women's Health issues.  My God is better than your God.  My God's Messenger is better than your God's Messenger.  And I'm going to shove mine down your throat for your own good, whether you like it or not.

It's all a load of crap.

And it's never going to stop, especially not as long as we keep feeding the fire with fuel like the drivel that is Heaven Is For Real.

How the same species can put a wonderful robot explorer on Mars and still eagerly lap up this kind of crap makes me despair for our future.  Not that we have much of one, since a lot of climate change denial is either based on religious imperatives -- after all, their God did give them complete "dominion" over the planet -- or worse, is encouraged, because hey, after all, anything we can do to get the End Times here sooner has got to be a Good Thing, right?

We're worse than chimps.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Geek Summer 2014

We're only halfway through the summer of 2014 and it's already been an interesting time for geek culture.  There's been the usual mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, and San Diego Comic-Con International hasn't even started yet.

Definitely on the "good" side, it's been a really good summer for one of my favorite writers in comics, Gail Simone.  Simone has written for both of the Big Two comics companies, as well as some indie work and work for smaller publishing houses like Dark Horse Comics.  She is currently writing two of my absolute favorite books, Batgirl from DC and Tomb Raider from Dark Horse.  Sadly, she will be leaving Batgirl in a few issues over creative differences with the publisher, but her run on the book has been absolutely amazing, including the addition of Barbara "Batgirl" Gordon's transgender roommate Alysia.  I'm not a comics historian, so I can't state for a fact that Alysia is the first transgender character in comics, but she is certainly the first one in a major title from a mainstream publisher.  Simone's writing is thoughtful and deeply complex and personal and her characters are utterly believable, even in a setting which involves the lead character putting on a costume and going out to fight crime as a vigilante.  Her additions to this portion of the Batman canon will give other writers inspiration and material for years and years to come.

She is also the writer for Tomb Raider, a book based on the recent hit videogame which revitalized the classic videogame character with a complicated retelling and reimagination of the adventure which turned archaeologist Lara Croft into the badass character which has been depicted in the Tomb Raider games for over a decade.  The comic takes up immediately following the events in the game and is the sequel that gamers only dreamed about.  It's wonderful.  Search out Gail Simone's work, even if you don't read comics.  You will not be disappointed.  If you are, contact me here and I'll buy the book back from you.  But I think my money is safe.

As for summer movies, the one I've been waiting for all summer is just a couple of weeks away now:  Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you had asked me ten years ago to name the least likely comic book to be made into a movie, Guardians would have been on the short list.  But here we are, and it looks great.  Review to follow once the picture opens on August 1st!

This week also marks the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of the Bat-Man in Detective Comics #27 back in 1939.  There are all kinds of events planned for the anniversary, including an appearance by Batman himself at my local comics store, Comix Connection on the Carlisle Pike in Mechanicsburg, PA.  I think it's pretty amazing that the character has survived through repeated reinventions of itself, even with the campy 1960's Adam West TV show.  Just about every Bat-book DC publishes will be out this Wednesday to commemorate the anniversary, as well as a variety of free Batman masks from the various eras and incarnations.

Finally, the thing that I am least looking forward to, the Batman origins television show due out from Fox this fall, Gotham.  I haven't seen it, and it may yet prove to be a pleasant surprise, but there a lot of little signals that are warning this fanboy to stay well away from Gotham.  Not the least of which is how the inevitable committee of writers is yet again (A) making seemingly unnecessary changes to the Batman story in order to put their own "artistic" spin on it, and (B) how they are in particular messing with one of the iconic Batman characters, Poison Ivy.  In the comics, Pamela Isley was the victim of harassment and experimentation by her mad scientist boss, the end result of which was her transformation into the ultimate femme fatale, Poison Ivy.  In Gotham, the character's name has been changed to "Ivy Pepper" -- apparently we viewers are too stupid to realize that Pamela Isley was going to be turned into Poison Ivy at some later point without her having "Ivy" in her name.  I can't tell you how much I hate this.  They kept Selena Kyle, who will become the Catwoman, and they kept Edward Nygma (yeah, I know) who will become Riddler, and Oswald Cobblepot, someday the Penguin.  Why mess with Ivy?  It just doesn't bode well.

There are some other things later on this year that I'm looking forward to, notably comic book adaptations for television like The Flash and Constantine.  But that's fodder for a later post.  Meanwhile, enjoy the rest of the summer, including all of the insanity that is Comic-Con which, as usual, I will attend only from the safety of my living room.  No overnight lines to get into Hall H for me!

And besides, Gail Simone isn't going either.  ;)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Post 9/11, No News Ain't Good News

At least, not for me.  It's almost 13 years since 9/11, and I'm finding that I have developed an interesting neurosis:  the longer I go without news in the morning, the more anxious I become.

On September 11th, 2001, I was at home, alone, with my wife at work and my daughter at her 4th grade class.  I was cleaning the house and had just turned on the television in the family room "for company" while I was vacuuming.  I don't recall what network was on; I think it might have been the Today Show on NBC, but whatever it was, the reporter had a view of the city behind him and I tuned in just in time to see the second plane crash into the Towers, live on TV.  (The only other time I saw anyone actually die on television was when I was in the 4th grade, and I saw Jack Ruby gun down Lee Harvey Oswald during that now-infamous prisoner transfer.  Needless to say, I did not cope very well with either one.)  Later in the morning I saw the Towers fall, fully realizing how many lives had to have been lost.  Later in the week I learned that a friend who worked at the restaurant at the top of the Trade Center narrowly missed being killed when he ran home to get the eyeglasses he had forgotten.  He suffered terrible survivor's guilt for this, and ultimately took his own life a few years later.  A devastating day for so many.

There are mornings when the three of us might like to sleep in and enjoy the quiet of the season, whatever season that may be.  But now, for me, the longer I go without checking the news, the more anxious and worried I become.  I worry that some new awful thing has happened, something that will change our world entirely and forever, and I worry that I am enjoying my peaceful ignorance at some horrible, horrible expense.  To the point where I am, in fact, enjoying nothing at all.  I try to cope, I really do, but I only find some peace when I turn on NPR and realize after a few minutes that nothing has crashed, the President is still alive, and to the best of our collective knowledge, no meteors or comets are about to crash into the planet and extinguish all life.

It's sick, I know.  It's a neurosis.  I'm not sure what to do about it.  I guess as neuroses go, it's relatively harmless, since the worst thing that happens is that I interrupt the peace and quiet of the morning to turn on Morning Edition to make sure that everything is still the way it was yesterday.  I will say that seeing the new World Trade Center building fill that awful hole in the New York City skyline on my last visit to the City helped quite a bit.  But I think I will never be able to spend the day completely unplugged from the news, not ever again.