Sunday, October 19, 2014

Oh, For C#®!$+'s Sake!

This is going to be a very politically incorrect rant.  You have been warned.

It's no secret that more and more I really, really, really dislike Facebook.  One reason I dislike it so much is one I haven't shared yet:  it's the soapbox platform that Facebook gives to people that otherwise I like and respect.  This is what set me off today:

There is an assumption here that "of course all of my friends will agree with this" that I absolutely and viscerally resent.  It's right up there with those obnoxious "98% of the people reading this won't have the guts to repost it" messages.  It's bullying, and presumptuous.  Even when I agree with the message, I won't repost it, and it has nothing to do with how gutsy I might or might not be.

This one, the Halloween one, just rubs me the wrong way.  Not the overall sentiment, no; just the "holier than thou" attitude it reeks of between the lines.

Let me put it as simply as I can:  If your kid has any of the problems listed, you need to BE WITH him or her at Trick or Treat.  Please don't dump your political correctness into my lap.  THE KIDS RINGING MY DOORBELL ARE NOT MY PROBLEM.  It's the parents' job to deal with this, not the person handing out the candy.  A person, I might add, who could have just turned off the porch light and made you buy your own damned candy.

There.  I said it.  Yes, I'm an awful person.

Yeah, the kid grabbing a handful of candy may have poor fine motor skills.  He may also be a greedy little s.o.b. in sore need of some polite, gentle correction.  I will surely be nice about it, but I don't have to let it slide.  Then if Mom or Dad steps in and says, "I'm so sorry, but Timmy has poor fine motor skills," I can sympathize with them while I nicely ask them to give back a portion of the giant wad of Kit-Kats Timmy just seized.  After all, IT'S EVERYONE'S HALLOWEEN, right? So let's save a few Kit-Kats for the other kids, okay?

"Motor planning issues?"  I have no idea what in Hell those are.  I'm happy to choose for Timmy if too much of my home's heat is leaching out into the cold Halloween night.  Again, if Timmy is that limited, Mom or Dad needs to be there to tell me that Timmy prefers M&M's.  Same goes double for the allergy problem.  If all I have left is PayDays and Timmy has an anaphylactic peanut reaction just thinking about elephants, Mom or Dad needs to be there to spot for him.  IT'S NOT MY FREAKING PROBLEM!  But if Mom or Dad is polite enough to explain the situation to me, I'll gladly drop a few bucks into Timmy's goody sack instead.  At our house we actually make sure that we have a few bucks set aside for just such a situation.  Just because I don't have the "right" treat is no excuse for a kid to pull a face.  That's just rude.  And Mom and Dad should have dealt with teaching what is polite long before they all arrived at my door.

I'm also not some a-hole who snidely asks kids, "What do you say?" when I pass out candy.  (No, I saved that for my own kid when I took her trick-or-treating. You know, to teach her proper manners.)  Silence is just fine.  Ringing a stranger's doorbell to ask for a handout is terrifying enough.  And I don't give a flying jump at the Moon whether or not your kid has a costume.  I've been so poor as a kid that I couldn't swing a costume.  You ring my bell on Trick or Treat Night, you get candy.  Period.  That's how I do it, and that's how my friends and neighbors do it.  In my neighborhood, it wouldn't be Halloween if we didn't get a passel of uncostumed teens ringing the bell for a candy handout.  Half of 'em only barely mumble "Trick or treat," and maybe as many mutter a thank-you.  I don't care!  It's Halloween!  I choose to give out treats to whoever comes to my door.  For me, that's what it's all about.  In other words, if I had a problem with passing out candy, I wouldn't answer the door.

Yes, "it's everyone's Halloween."  So could we please not PC all of the fun out of an already besieged holiday?  The religious nuts who are convinced that it's Satan's Birthday (because they apparently don't realize that "Halloween" is an archaic form of "Hallowed (as in "holy") Evening," but that's another column for another day) already make celebrating Halloween enough of a pain.  But I digress.  My point is, I'm already "nice" and "patient" when I answer the door, and I don't need a smug, superior-attitude reminder to behave that way.  I don't think anybody does.  The folks who do aren't the type who answer the door on trick-or-treat night.  They leave the porch light off and go to the movies, and good riddance.

What it all boils down to is, yes, I need to treat the kids who ring my doorbell with the respect and kindness I would want shown to my own children.  But it's not all on me.  The people trick-or-treating have just as much of a responsibility to treat me in accordance with the Golden Rule as well.

Because it's everyone's Halloween.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Fixing Facebook

A while back I complained about the way Facebook was forcing its Messenger app on all of us who used to like to check Facebook on our mobile devices.  The only alternative to the Facebook/Messenger one-two punch and its concomitant invasion of privacy was to use the browser on your device to see and use the full version of Facebook.  It is buggy as hell and frequently dies even on my iPad...but it's better than giving Facebook the right to send texts and calls on my phone, along with all the other nasty little hidden surprises and tricks that are used by the marketing tool which Facebook has become.

For about ten minutes it looked like something called Ello would actually have a chance at replacing Facebook, but that appears to have fizzled out for now, leaving us stuck with Facebook the way we were stuck with VHS and Blu-ray even though Betamax and HD were better.

So I guess we need to try to fix Facebook "from within," as it were.  Here's how I would want to begin if this were my private universe:

• I don't want to see any more photos of your restaurant food.  I'm glad you are enjoying your meal but I don't need to see it.  Now, if the lasagne you just made yourself looks like it should be in a cookbook, that I do want to see.  But if you like the look of the soufflĂ© you were just served at Le Bon Pain, just eat the damned thing.

• Please, no more reposts of other peoples' cat pictures or funny videos or whatever.  If it's not your own experience, keep it to yourself.  Everybody already sees what George Takei has posted.  Pretty sure we all see Upworthy and all the others too.

• No more pictures of your tattoos.  Please.  It's way too much information, especially those still-inflamed close-up shots.

• Please post nothing that starts along the lines of, "98% people won't repost this...."  You're right.  We won't.  I personally resent the hell out of feeling bullied even when it's to agree with a cause that I already support.  Post your own impassioned plea for vaccinating children, rescuing pit bulls, or sympathizing with those who suffer from depression.  It means so much more.

• Please do share your important life events.  I want to know what happened with your life and your family.  I want to know when your kids achieve something or say something cute.  Hell, I want to know when your cat achieves something or does something cute.  As long as it's YOUR cat, not some bloody generic Internet cat.

• If you are posting for a site or cause that I support, DON'T SPAM.  I used to be a big fan of pages like "Being Liberal" and "Doctor Who" until they began posting ten freaking times every hour, twenty-four hours a day.  It's enough to send you screaming into the arms of Fox News.  It's too much.  [EDIT: As I write this addendum early on a Sunday morning, 12 of the 20 most recent notifications posted to my Facebook wall are from Being Liberal.  TWELVE.  It's exhausting.]

I could go on, but this is already starting to spam you.  You get the idea.  Keep it about you and let the rest of us decide for ourselves which of the big, popular sites we want to look at.  It's you that I love.  It's you with whom I want to keep in contact.  When I want an "Ohh myyy" I'm perfectly capable of checking out George Takei all by myself.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

31 Days of Hallowe'en

One film for every night in October.  Go nuts.

(I remember seeing this turkey on the Million Dollar Movie as a kid in NJ.  Enjoy!)

(Another personal favorite.  You can't beat Bruce Campbell and his Boom Stick!)

(Fritz Lang's silent classic, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.")

(A lovely old film with an unexpected cast.)

(Absolutely my favorite movie on this list!)

(And we cap things off with the obligatory 1950's Giant Insect Fear Film!)

Have a Happy Hallowe'en!!!

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.