So, I took another six months off from adding anything to this site. However ironically, I’ve been a little busier than usual around here, despite a pandemic and soft quarantines and whatever else gets in the way for most people; for me, everything’s about the same as it was a year ago, or a decade, or slightly over twenty-four years ago when I started this site up in the first place.
Basically, I’m mostly sitting here playing videogames, and occasionally getting paid for stuff I already did.
I coulda written that sentence back in 1997, too. Though the games were smaller and slower, and I suppose I had fewer largely overlooked income streams back then. Also, I updated the site more often; back then, it was what ultimately evolved into social media: chatrooms and messageboards and technically a guestbook; a hitcounter making no distinction between Likes and Dislikes; more animgifs and less fullmotion videos; Princess Di dying instead of Prince Philip; that sort of stuff.
And I’m not just playing videogames this year: I’m also posting things to other sites and whatever. I don’t not exist; I just haven’t really been existing here.
I considered existing here more often, about a year ago. I saw someone around February last year writing up this thing from Italy, where the quarantine had already locked everything down, begging everyone else in the world to start keeping track of daily life—like, for posterity. It kinda sounded like a neat idea; it mostly sounded like selfimpressive pablum. I’m not some indispensable frontline multinational reporter getting the news out to the masses; I’ve never even lost a plane. So, to some extent, I wound up doing the opposite of that: reacting to the nigh global shutdown by writing into this site even less than before.
I suppose part of the problem is that this was never a place for microblogging. And damned near everything I’d have to talk about, regardless whether it’s worth actually writing down anywhere, would fit into a tweet. Or a webcomic. So, at the least, I’ve done another five hundred of those since this whole mess began. But…leaping into the backend of my flagship site to bang out some daily diatribe? Selfimpressive pablum. I just don’t need the attention that badly.
So. Let’s catch up, I guess. See if I can think of anything I’ve actually done in the last seven months or whatever.
Kinda went shopping. Which is actually oddly funny. In the last entry, I mentioned that I’d grabbed a Pixel4A after seeing an advert for it—despite being GenerationX and therefore basically immune to advertising. But I really kinda desperately needed pretty much any new phone, and that one looked okay. Also it looked cheap enough that, if it wasn’t okay, I’d be okay. And, if you’re curious: it’s okay; I’ve had it for six and a half months now, and nothing about it is causing me to think that need another new phone again yet.
Now it’s this year, and I got an advert I damned near ignored because it was trying to advertise something at me:
Relevant to my interests.
So, that happened.
I’m not quite sure how it happened. Apart from being immune to advertising, I’m usually immune to getting targetted adverts. I guess maybe I mentioned pianos at some point somewhere in social media. Or my microphone heard me playing something and told on me. Whatever.
It happened to show up at about the right time. Because, though I’ve got fifteen or twenty keyboards here, ranging from Yamaha to Alesis to Korg to Ensoniq to Casio, and from Pointless Toy [I still have the Casio SK1 I got for a hundred bucks in 1985] to Prosumer Instrument, none of them is quite…good. Anymore. Each has a different purpose, I suppose; but I could argue that the Yamaha DGX505 I’ve had for sixteen years now was probably the most immediately useful.
A shot from 2006, when my office was less messy.
And it’s was because, just lately, the keys have been getting sketchy. I don’t know if that’s because I’ve banged on them unreasonably forcefully every day since 2005, or because, when I’m not banging on them unreasonably forcefully, I’m letting them get dusty because the thing hasn’t got a cover. Or the cats jump on it a lot. Whatever.
I assume I can fix it. I took it apart to see what I was up against, and it all looks pretty obvious; I probably just need to take yet more of it apart and clean off whatever little connectors are in there and getting lazy beneath the dust.
Until or unless I can fix it, I’m kinda lacking in pianos operating the way I might expect. The rest are either less than eighty-eight keys, or they sound wrong.
So now there’s this Casio for $549 [about six, once taxes get yarfed all over it], which I went ahead and grabbed…eventually.
First, being against advertising, I didn’t wanna get it from the people bothering me with an advert. Call it spite. Or even just not knowing anything about them.
Second, I had this clever plan of hitting Guitar Center, despite not much liking them. It’s not personal; it’s just that everyone I know has grown to hate them over the years, for what’s probably some sorta good reason. But I figured that, pandemics notwithstanding, I could probably go in and play with one of these things—just to see what I thought of it.
So, that didn’t work. Because Guitar Center haven’t got any actually in stock, let alone on the floor to play with; you can only get them through their website. Because, apparently, everyone I know is right to hate them.
I could get one through their website. And, since they’ve got whatever Disabled Veteran Discount, and I’ve got Hunter, I could probably dodge the salestax and get back down to about $550.
Except that the process of proving DisabledVeteranhood to these people isn’t worth saving fifty-five bucks. So I ultimately just hit amazon.com.
Customer since 1998, because I made it fifteen years before I bought anything on the internet.
Then I had a few days of downtime while it wasn’t all AmazonPrimal; then it showed up. And then the punchline: it was mailed out from Sweetwater. Whatever that is. Apart from the people advertising the thing in the first place:
Well, played, Anonymous Spammers….
But, whatever: I’ve got that now, all unboxed.
About that: I actually considered unboxing the thing on video, to about the extent that I considered blathering throughout a pandemic. What got in the way mostly is that I wasn’t joking: that image from 2006 up there was about as unmessy as my office has ever been.
Because one thing that this pandemic has kindasorta led to has been Hunter pretty much living with me here in this room. Which is okay, all things being equal. Except that it’s not all that equal: she’s got her laptop in here, mostly as a CPU connected to a normal keyboard and one of my thirty-two-inch screens; then the microphone’s between us and we LAN a few games every once in a while. But the result is that my office, which is a little chaotic when it’s just me, now has an extra chair and every damned thing she just kinda piles onto the floor when she’s done touching it. Also a Yamaha DGX505 kinda leaning against a wall, so I can eventually drop a Casio S350 in its place, once there’s anything resembling enough room to carry it in here.
Which brings us to the Casio, which I didn’t record unboxing. Though I could probably just link to someone else talking about it:
This is about what I thought of it, too.
Just to add to that video [or to give you something of a tl;dr]: it’s not an expensive keyboard, being under a thousand bucks; but it kinda feels like it could be. I assume the keys are as plastic as any Casio has, but they’re textured and coated in a way that makes them feel more real. Not quite ivory—the piano I had as a kid was…illegal is a strong word, but it was certainly irreplaceable. It was made of elephants, is what I’m saying. But, like, earlier. The thing was an antique by the time I first touched it, keys yellowing and cracking slightly. Middle C had a small chip on the front edge, resembling a C; the E above it had two, which looked like an E. I think that actually helped me learn things faster than I might have on more modern an instrument.
Otherwise, it was a basic, irreplaceable, priceless grand piano. Dad had someone come out and tune the thing for several hours at a time, every couple months. Which always annoyed me, since it actually sounded a little better just as it drooped down by a couple of hertz—kinda more imposing and…echoey.
Of course, that piano was something of a…you know…piano. So, if Dad was playing the thing, I could hear it from the other side of the front yard. I assume that, if I was playing it, you could hear it from Madagascar.
Being not an attentionwhore, I’m not thrilled when people can hear me playing anything.
So, the SK1, for example, allowing for headphones [those spongey things that weren’t good, back in 1985], I was kinda happier with that little toy than I was with this nineteenth-century illegality echoing from the parlour to the eastern coast of Africa.
Then there were other and better keyboards, and the DGX505 that was good until it became sketchy in the last few months, and now there’s this Casio.
It’s basically a toy. Meaning that it’s got a dozen different pianos sampled into it, and then harpsichords and violins and drumkits and cars honking and whatever Casio always include in one of these things; Ferris Bueller could use it to call in sick. But, inasmuch as it’s a toy, it’s really close to what I’m used to, even now. The keys are weighted, which isn’t uncommon anymore; but they’re weighted gradually, making the lower ones feel heavier, down where the makebelieve strings would be thicker. The first thing I noticed was that I’m actually a little out of practise on real grand pianos, because the first couple octaves requiring more force was a bit unexpected.
Apparently as a result of playing whatever piano I had at my disposal since I was two years old, I’ve got perfect pitch. So, if anyone’s wondering whether the S350 happens to be about right, being a computer in the shape of a keyboard: it’s fine. Though, freakily enough, I’ve got the option to pitchbend the thing by something like two octaves. I haven’t done that yet, because it sounds kinda terrifying. But, if you’re tonedeaf or have relative pitch or whatever allows you to tolerate that, I suppose you could shift whatever scale down to, like, Geographical C and avoid the black keys. It just wouldn’t work for me: if the thing’s off by a couple of hertz, I’ll notice; if it’s off by dozens, that’s gonna be painful.
It’s got a couple more standard things. Metronome at the thump of a button. The ability to lighten the keys from Normal to Lighter, and to Off; there’s even a Heavier mode, in case having to smash the lowest octave with a running start wasn’t resistant enough for me. MIDI and whatever.
And then there’s USB, updating the DGX505’s ultramodern CompactFlash Reader, which itself had just replaced the DGX500’s Floppy Diskette Reader in 2005. So, I think I might be able to record whatever I’m playing to a thumbdrive; I haven’t tried that yet, despite having had one in my pocket when I didn’t think to find out.
Then, also, the thing’ll USB to a smartphone, allowing you to control it from a touchscreen. Which might be good, since the DGX505’s keypad is missing from the S350: there’s just this knob you can twist to climb up through the pianos and into the trumpets and whatever. There’s a button you can hit to get quickly up into banks of things before twisting through however many types of bagpipes the thing’s got in there, but it’s not quite the same as just hitting Voice and tapping in 147 for the precise thing you’re after.
Honestly, at most, I’ve just been dialling up a couple spots to the Grand Piano or maybe one of the Octave Pianos from Stage Piano, to add a bit of weight to the thing; the rest of the seven hundred different instruments are largely needless, for my purposes.
There’s two different honkytonks, in case I want to hate myself.
On the topic of weight: there isn’t much. The whole thing’s twenty-four pounds. Or, in local terms, about one Morti the Cat. If I were a couple metres taller, I could mallgrab the thing and carry it around with me; there’s no problem at all clutching it amidships and onehanding it anywhere I’d want to go. Except for into my office. Which is messy.
The biggest issue of overall mass was in unboxing it, which I didn’t film. Because they’ve got packing these things down to a science begging for a Nobel at this point: in a shipping box full of bubblewrap and a box splitting molecules to secure the thing in styrofoam [with little hollows for the cords and musicstand and whatever] and a strip of ?plastic up against the keys to prevent less than eighty-eight of them from being depressed until it was removed. The thing doesn’t seem especially fragile once it’s out of the box and sitting on the bed where I started playing with it; packed up, it could probably be dropshipped from orbit without a parachute.
Instead, they forced the FedEx Guy to ring the bell and get a signature from Hunter. Usually, that guy just lobs things toward the house as though I wasn’t recording him being a useless lump.
Smile: you suck at your job.
As far as dust getting into the thing, that might be less of an issue: it’s actually got that furry felt bit at the back of the keyboard I haven’t seen on a digital piano before. I still might wanna cover the whole thing up when I’m not playing it, now that I know that’s a good idea.
And…that’s about what I know about it, so far. I’ll eventually get it here into the office—possibly amidst enough room to sit down and play something on it. And I might try to make more of a habit of coming in here and writing something. Or uploading a video of the thing. Or whatever.
For now, though: have a webcomic:
The rock only weighs a couple of pounds; it’s still really boring.
Monday 28th September 2020 03.23Published by Gremlin
So, I’m gonna do a couple of reviews here today—one planned for a while, and the other somewhat literally thrust upon me. And they’re not entirely unrelated, I suppose: one kinda led to the other, after a fashion.
Let’s start with the phone.
Or…let’s start earlier….
As a member of GenerationX, I’m pretty much immune to advertising. Like, adverts annoy me to the point that seeing one for something I already want can actually talk me out of wanting it anymore. I am in fact a little extreme within my generation: in 1987, I got talked into going to a Def Leppard concert by a buncha people who listened to the entirety of Hysteria in the car on the way there; by the time the damned show got started, I was ahead of my time in being sick of Joe Elliott. Advertising is a war of attrition, and I tend to win by ignoring the whole ideology.
Then, we plummet into Current Year. And, apart from everything arguably more important, a couple of things happened: my phone, which I’ve repaired and replaced and made concessions and excuses for since Twenty Somethingteen, became more and more irrevocably useless to me; and Alphagoogle, or whatever they’re called now, started spamming me from all corners of the ‘net with implorations beseeching me to buy the latest renamed Nexus6 smartphone. As what they thought was an incentive, they bragged that it was only three hundred and fifty bucks.
Still being a little uncommon within my generation, I don’t usually see cheap prices for things as more of a feature than a bug. If I want something [in defiance of any adverts begging me to stop doing that], then money is no object: if I can’t afford something I want, I can work out how to start affording it or stop wanting it; lowering the price to fix the problem seems sickeningly charitable to me.
And yet, here’s Goophabeta throwing all this manipulation at me about a new phone—the Pixel 4A—which is reportedly a newer, better, cheaper version of the Pixel 4, which was presumably a newer, better, pricier version of the Pixel 3, which probably followed a Pixel 2 that was newer than a Pixel, which—again—must have replaced the Nexus6 at some point.
All of which is to say that I didn’t really know anything about the history of this phone and its branded lineage. What I knew about it, now, early in September, was that it was basically a dollar a day for a year, ran on an octocore chipset, and pretty much necessarily worked better than my moribund LG MurderPhone.
And also that I could buy it today—today being about three weeks ago—and receive it in maybe the first week of October. Because the supply underperformed the demand, and there weren’t any actually available when I deigned to respond to a damned advert.
On that topic, I couldn’t just get one through TMobile; I couldn’t even get one by giving in and returning to Verizon. The only place I could get one at all [and this may still be true] was through DoNoEvil, Inc.
So I did. And then I waited.
A few days ago, they gave the thing to FedEx. Which, in my experience, means that they may have thrown it into an active volcano. But then, yesterdayish [Saturday, at this point], FedEx managed to get me my phone without forgetting to not eat it; and here we are.
Box is boxxy.
Doing anything really resembling an unboxing proved difficult, since the first shot I got of this thing was on my old phone; so was the second shot:
It was unbranded enough that it couldn’t even guess whether I really had a carrier.
And then I was done getting shots of the thing, because the new SIM I’d got in the mail a few days ago from TMobile replaced the one remaining in my LG and knocked the MurderPhone offline.
About the SIM: That’s about all you can add or remove in the 4A. There’s no expansion slot for a MicroSD Card; the battery is irreplaceable in any useful sense. It’s not really a waterproofed phone, so far as I know; but, once it’s up and running, it’s a solid monolith of borderline fixability.
Meaning that all fixability is internal. Software updates. Which became immediately available:
The update took about half an hour to download and install and optimise on TMobile’s relatively disappointing 4G.
Maybe not immediately. I’d had enough time in Android10 to get the battery mostly charged and poke around the interface enough to get used to a couple of things that were about to change. In Ten, the missing AppDrawer was effected by swiping up from the southern bevel; in Eleven, the whole process got moved to swiping up pretty much anywhere on the homescreen, which is better—especially once you’ve buried the phone in a kickstand case to protect the slightly rubbery polycarbonate shell.
The plastic shell and GorillaGlass3 from 2013 were one of the common arguments against this phone—or one of the reasons cited for its inexpense. The whole device is light enough to get people thinking that Googlygoogle Cardboard might start sounding viable after all. Officially, the whole phone weighs 143g—about five ounces. In the kickstand case I’ve sealed around it, it’s still under half a pound. So that’s pretty different than the MurderPhone I’m replacing, with its massive extended battery pushing its weight up to a pound and a half.
Which leads to another difference:
I’m losing one percent of the battery per hour, unless I use the phone for the next nineteen
At this point, it’s pretty much my fault that I’m spoiled. While the phone I’m abandoning weighs as much as a Motorola DynaTAC, I’m still used to it holding at a hundred percent for the first twelve hours or so; seeing the 4A lose one percent per hour seems like a freefall, to me. For anyone else, running the phone unplugged for a total of twenty-four hours would sound pretty reasonable; but, about the time I need to recharge it tonight at 9.15, I might already be tired enough to contemplate sitting in bed until dawn on Tuesday while the thing charges up again.
One problem I don’t have—or, do, but it’s not what I’d call a problem—is that the cheapness of this phone becomes most obvious if you hope to charge it wirelessly. Personally, I’ve got a couple cats who’ll soccerdribble a phone as far as the charging cable allows; they’d have the thing off the charging platfom and onto the floor within seconds of people looking away. So, for all anyone else might want wireless charging, I have no practical use for it.
Also useless to me is the fingerprint scanner on the back. Apparently, that’s a reversion from facial recognition at a time when people are usually wearing surgical masks out in the world. I want neither: if I have my phone locked up at all, I’m fine with tapping in a PIN to get beyond the lockscreen.
My lockscreen, with a shot of Hunter from ten years ago, when she was wearing a surgical mask for reasons
The lockscreen itself is a bit novel, in that it can be always on—there’s a sorta lowpower clock mode thing telling me what time it is, and temperature, and any recent alerts, before I turn the phone on to see the time and temperature and, really, whatever else is already on my smartwatch. But, if it doesn’t hurt the battery—freefalling or not—to have the information available at a buttonless glance, then I’m good with it.
The camera’s good, as phonecams go. Apparently, what money did go into a phone costing a week of working for minimum wage [that’s twelve bucks an hour, where I live] was to keep most of the elements from the cameras in earlier Pixels. So, out of the box, the camera’s decent; then there’s a NightSight cameramode which I haven’t really managed to test much yet. Rumour has it that it’s really good at getting stars at night; but I live in Denver, where we can see upwards of one star—named Sol—during the day if the western half of the state burning down isn’t producing too much smoke at the moment. I played with video a bit, mostly to test image stabilisation and colour saturation and whatever; otherwise, Hunter’s been getting random shots of the cats while the lights are off….
Hey, El: wanna go drag phones around all night…?’
‘No point, Morti: it’s not wireless charging.’
The cats’ll be okay: they keep dragging entire pillows out the bedroom door and into the corridor beyond.
By default—and I’ve left it this way for now—the 4A lacks any softkeys along the bottom of the screen. Instead, swiping up opens the AppTray; swiping sideways from the edges goes back, though the kickstand case gets in the way a little; swiping down exposes recent alerts and things like WiFi and the flashlight thingy. That sideswiping goes back from either side is good, since swiping right to left with the phone in my left hand only works some of the time. And the softkeys can be added back in if I want them; I just don’t care that much either way.
The one really weird thing about that is that, without the softkeys, there’s no way I’ve found to cascade whatever apps are currently running in the background, and then shut them down. If I’m concerned enough, I can track down individual apps and force them to stop; but, at this point, I have several dozen things opened but never officially closed, and it’s not hurting performance at all. So it’s not really a problem until it is.
Things I’ve got that I haven’t yet used include the physical headphone port, endangered species though that is. So, if I’ve got headphones that aren’t my wireless LG Tones, or I wanna patchcable the phone into the stereo in the car, or whatever, then I should be able to do that. So, whether it’s all a bug or a feature in a phone costing my Monthly Starbucks Budget, this thing has a few retro elements that I’d say should never have gone away.
In any case, I’ve been playing with this thing for a large percentage of thirty-six hours now. I’ve never killed the battery down as low as it was when I took the phone out of the box—sixtysomething percent, I think. The screen being close to six inches at 2.167:1 makes it a little smaller overall than I’m used to, meaning that it still fits in a pocket; and the selfie camera I don’t much want is drilled through the corner of the screen in a slightly distracting spot—though, since it’s significantly wider than 16:9, stuff streamed from netflix.com is a bit blackbarred already.
2.167:1 is somewhere between Jaws and Jurassic Park—which is itself a really good way of describing this whole phone.
And that’s pretty much the whole thing. It’s a phone that I don’t really regret buying, which replaced one I was regretting using; it’s got the advantage of costing too little to come prebloated with whatever branding and undeletable apps no one ever asked for—it doesn’t even remind me that TMobile is a thing in a startup animation. There’s no MicroSD to dump bloat onto, but it’s got 128gigs of space out of the box, and I was able to clone my MurderPhone over in a matter of minutes with a few dozen gigs of space to spare. The included USBC Cable is only a couple metres long, and getting more cables for this thing means making sure I dodge anything proprietised for Samsung or whatever; but it charges quickly and apparently lasts the entirety of a calendar day through common use.
Which brings me to my secondary review.
Because I got this phone. Got it all charged up and updated and full of little activities. I and LastPass and Chrome and whatever got through the thousand passwords to get into websites and games and whatever. And then I played with the phone until I got tiredish, at which point I kept playing with it. Until I finally passed out for an hour before waking up to go take a leak.
And then I came back and stepped up onto the waterbed as a shortcut; and the new sheets we just got slid perfectly out from under me, letting me fall what amounts to four and a half feet and smash my entire ribcage against the marginally padded wooden waterbed frame. There was some cracking. And, now, a dozen hours later, I’m still not doing too well at actually breathing without triggering an intercostal holocaust.
I’ll be okay. It should stop hurting fulltime by the end of the month; I can’t imagine it won’t be healed by Halloween. But here’s my strongly worded secondary review: Gravity Sucks.
Monday 21st September 2020 23.41Published by Gremlin
It just occurred to me that it’s been six months since I wrote anything into this site. Which may actually be the longest I’ve gone to date without adding anything.
The fact of the matter is that I haven’t really had a lot to mention lately. There’s still a pandemic; there’s still something of a quarantine; we’ve gone from the CDC arguing that people shouldn’t wear masks because nurses need them to warning that not wearing three masks and a scubatank makes the Baby Hitler cry, or whatever. Things are weird, and that’s all kinda entertaining; it’s just nothing much really to talk about, overall.
Saturday 21st March 2020 18.03Published by Gremlin
Lately, I’ve been seeing people recommend keeping some sort of historical account of…something. Presumably the events to date, though they usually imply that it’s only about the quarantine itself.
I’m not sure it’s really that simple. So, for my own part, I’m gonna call today Day Fifty-nine of the Pandemic.
The pandemic, if we’re imagining that this is for posterity, is this illdefined clump of loosely related, marginally linear events leading, so far, to today. So let’s cover the backstory first….
The backstory happens to begin about where the last entry to this site ended: the webcomic for the day happened to be called 2019-nCoV.
At the time, it was still a relatively unknown thing. Which is to say that, among normal people, there wasn’t all that much talk about it. It wasn’t precisely a secret, but…neither are most things few people bother knowing about.
It may be worth mentioning, just because all the people who never fell for Y2K also never did this, that it was generally being called the Wuhan Coronavirus at the time. It’s not precisely an inaccurate name for it; it’s just not something I’d call it. Because it’s ultimately just SARS-CoV-2: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus the Second. It’s SARS again, but in a different strain of coronavirid—one which causes CoViD-19: Corona Virus Disease, 2019.
It’s a little like HIV being what causes AIDS: one’s a virus; one’s a syndrome. The syndrome here is CoViD, caused by SARS-CoV-2.
That said, it’s a bit irrelevant. Which means it’s all that a lot of people seem to care about. But we’ll get to that….
For now, it’s the end of January; SARS19 is a thing. This coronavirus. By which I mean this coronavirus; because coronavirids aren’t really all that new:
Have a glance at the Lysol you bought a decade ago and then never used.
Of course, that image was graffitied over by an imbecile: this specific coronavirus is new. Lysol will kill it; but your immune system has never heard of it. So that’s worth noting.
As people heard more and more about what everyone was calling the Wuhan Coronavirus, we started to joke about it. Because it was a thing existing or occurring, and we joke about those.
Pictured: A Joke
And that was okay. Someone, somewhere, was probably offended; but you wouldn’t expect that Best Victim Evar to spell what it was offended about correctly. Ironically enough.
You think I’m kidding. But I’ve seen people bang hammers into their keyboards to whimper that it’s not the Chinese virus, it’s the corono virus.
I’m still getting ahead of myself. We’ll come back to the subplague in a bit….
At the end of January, the virus was on the map. Literally. It can be tracked in close to realtime at arcgis.com, where it’s currently about five minutes from hitting three hundred thousand confirmed cases worldwide:
Back in January, it was still limited to the general area of China:
I posted this to facebook.com as The Good Old Days.
So, we had that. And jokes. And, largely, little concern.
Like, we weren’t done joking about reactionary morons promising a nuclear war a few weeks earlier
And then January came to an end.
It’s not easy to decide precisely when the thing went pandemic. Officially, it wasn’t until about a week and a half ago—11th March 2020—that the WHO upgraded its status from…whatever series of epidemics. But, insofar as America is the damned world, the first case was confirmed here back on 20th January in Snohomish County, Washington, the day after a thirty-five-year-old who’d returned to the US from Wuhan started exhibiting symptoms and wound up in the hospital for them. But, broadly, we were considering the thing something of a pandemic during February: across the month, the thing raged from China and its suburbs into the rest of Eurasia, down into Australia, over to Africa, and into the Americas.
It was significant enough by the middle of the month, on the thirteenth, that the people at the real VA stopped Hunter at the desk to ask her if she’d been outside the country for any reason this year. She hadn’t.
By that point, the president—which for posterity was something of a minimally exceptional playground bully somehow elected as the nation’s spokesmuppet figurehead—was locking down borders [not really a new thing for him] to prevent people leaving China from landing in the States; his opposition—which for posterity were those geeks on the playground reciting the rules against bullying instead of doing anything to stop it—whimpered dramatically about the racism [for posterity: the misspelling of bigotry among selfimpressed playground geeks who imagined that only white people were members of the human race] inherent in preventing people from entering the nation at a time when people entering the nation were more likely to be carrying the virus. Fortunately, that stopped being a concern for the playground geeks once the pandemic got pandemic enough; then they whimpered that the playground bully hadn’t done anything to prevent people from China from landing here.
Portrait of a Feckless Playground Geek
About that: throughout February, President Bully was scrambling to do pretty much whatever made the least amount of sense. Like appointing the Vice President [for posterity: a guy who pretended the universe had been created by a weirdly incompetent BondVillain six thousand years before the pandemic which was presumably also created by the BondVillain in its latest attempt at failing to rid the world of all the bad people who weren’t the Vice President] as the head of the Coronavirus Taskforce. Because the Vice President was the most qualified guy in the world for that. Or something. President Bully didn’t make much sense, really.
This neurosurgeon was just about almost as good.
Harder to lock down a date for than the beginning of the pandemic is the beginning of the quarantine—partly because, in a real way, it hasn’t actually begun yet. It’s possible that it never will. For reasons. We’ll get into those in a bit….
I might argue that the quarantine began to begin around the time the restaurants shut down. Here in Denver, that was—hilariously enough—on 16th March; it was therefore the day before half the town was planning to go to whatever Irishish Pub of variable authenticity to drink Guinness all night before threatening to give the virus what for. Meaning that, probably, it was pretty good timing.
Elsewhere in the world, and even within the US, the quarantines had begun earlier; some began later; a few probably haven’t begun at all, as of Day Fifty-nine. I do know that, elsewhere in the world, things are far more locked down than we currently are. Italy is basically offline; someone there posted a lengthy…well…Day X of the Quarantine thing, I suppose. It was a warning to nations still standing that, in the couple of weeks prior to publication, someone in Italy had seen all the same meaningless information about China and disregarded it as nothing that would ever affect him personally; now, on the day he was writing this whole thing down, he was effectively prohibited from going outside.
Here in the US, a few places are following that trend: New York is effectively shut down; California is ordered to shelter in place and stay off the streets; Texas, I’m told, is on lockdown—meaning that I’m expecting to hear a lot about most of their people stomping around with guns drawn while defying the police to do anything about it.
And, here in Denver, most places are closed. The restaurants are mostly locked up, though the drivethrough lanes are still open—last I heard. The mail is still being delivered; I actually had to get up a few minutes ago to retrieve a box from my porch after the mailman set it down and rang the bell before hurrying off to wherever mailmen go. UPS is still out there, delivering things. I don’t know what FedEx are up to; I haven’t tried to guess since they somehow took something I’d ordered from Louisville to Sacramento for a week before finally throwing it at my house and stomping away without ringing the bell to get my attention.
They never actually acknowledged delivery on the thing; I just managed to record Mister McStompy flinging it toward my doorbell camera as he was already turning to stomp elsewhere.
I wouldn’t go so far as to report that, last I saw them, the stores are all empty. Because empty is a pretty serious adjective. But, yeah: there are some kinks in the supplylines:
We hit Safeway on Sunday at five in the morning, when they opened; the Charmin Aisle was fully stocked at the time; I got a shot of Hunter walking through it five minutes later, when it looked like this.
And that brings me roughly to the present.
At present, things are…silly. But in not entertaining enough a way. Like, people are morons; but it’s less hilarious and more exhausting. It’s really just kinda boring. Which, arguably, is saying something. Partly because everything’s boring; also because little has really changed.
And I guess partly because I knew all this already. As people started posting their misspelled surprise at the lack of things to do in the apocalypse—the coronageddon—I was reminded of this zombiebook I wrote in 2004….
This is how we live now, but without the zombies.
On the bright side, I’d already had that file in memory, after I’d tracked it down a few days earlier. Because I’d predicted the map, way up above, in the same novel:
And, yeah: that’s Men without Hats, from 1987.
So that’s where we are. Somewhat. At least, it’s kinda how we got here. SARS, which got overblown by the media a few years ago, mutated; now, it’s still being overblown by the media, but actually kinda counts for something.
The media, wearing a BL4 BlueSuit, outside the BL4 Lab, in apparent terror that the unprotected cameraman is contagious.
The map, above, tracking the spread of the disease [reloading it, I’m now getting 303,180, globally], isn’t really tracking the spread of the disease; it’s tracking confirmed cases, as well as it can, occasionally backtracking and lowering the numbers for a while. And that’s partly because a presumed majority of infected are showing no symptoms yet and haven’t been tested for it; in fact, a large number of people who are showing symptoms haven’t been tested yet; and that’s partly because a large number of people who aren’t showing symptoms are being tested: a guy I know is in the hospital right now—probably dying—because he’s got unrelated pulmonary issues; but the doctors panicked and isolated him for tests, assuming he had this exciting new buzzword of a virus for them to squee their ways down the corridor and heroically submit to the existing pile. He lost out on three days, isolated and untreated, instead of getting anything done for his actual symptoms. His actual lung condition.
After countless playground geeks argued for a Universal Basic Income, the playground bully announced his intention to kick a thousand bucks to everyone who wasn’t a millionaire; in fact, it’s looking like the plan is to give twelve hundred bucks to that special group of people who made enough to pay taxes in 2018, but less than a hundred thousand that year.
Various corporations [for posterity: typically Evil Incarnate, if it had a logo] are bragging about all they’re doing for the little people: ISPs are claiming that they’re waiving latefees for a couple months, which I’m pretty sure means that, in June, when people still have no money, the ISPs expect the six hundred bucks for March, April, and May, but without interest; there’s been talk of outlawing evictions and postponing mortgage payments, but no one’s sure if that actually means anything; people are even clamouring for student loan forgiveness [for posterity: the playground geeks borrowed six figures to major in an elective and never got a job] because…like…thinkaboutit.
Events are all cancelled; musicians and comedians are livestreaming jamsessions from their basements for the Likes. Films slated for release this spring are going directly to streaming services, which was pretty much always about to happen. People are being asked, if not technically ordered, to sit at home and watch television while the last of their bread goes bad. No one’s sure what happens next, or how long next actually is.
For my own part…nothing much has changed. I’m sitting in my office, typing stuff into a website. I’m doing a daily webcomic. I’m playing videogames. I’m getting milk delivered. I’m sleeping ten percent of the time. I’m doing what I was doing a month ago, and a year ago, and a decade ago.
I’ve got food. I’d had food before things got weird, and there was little chance I’d get through it all before it spoiled. And, knowing that, I’d already stocked up on stuff that wouldn’t spoil, just so I’d have something to eat before going out for more food destined to spoil. I’ve got televisions and videogames and things to do all night. Almost nothing is really different, for me.
Then there’s Hunter; she’s insane. Like, she’s got papers. But, amusingly enough, that’s working for her. She’s gone long enough expecting the worst that, now that the worst is starting to take shape, she’s almost acting a little relieved. Like, she’s what’s suddenly becoming the new normal. She’s ahead of the curve.
Plus, she knows me. Which is about how far I wanna describe that right now. Just…look: an unrelated image….
I’m fun at Donner Parties.
For my own part, I’m not getting twelve hundred bucks for sitting here doing what I was doing last month—not if the cutoff is a hundred thousand bucks. Neither, I should mention, is a fair percentage of Denver, and a huge percentage of California and New York. We’re talking about places where the local poverty line is something like $130,000: beneath that, you’re on foodstamps. Which of course means that twelve hundred bucks doesn’t go all that far whether you get it or not.
The playground bully is pulling press conferences roughly daily, mostly to brag that no president has ever been a president on today before. His actual coronavirus expert looks like this:
‘How is this imbecile remembering how to stand upright while talking….’
The playground geeks are imagining that morality is intelligence, and that whimpering is morality:
On the bright side, once you learn that you’ve got egg on your face, you’ll get it into your mouth in no time….
And the playgrounds they’re playing on are closed. School’s out for summer; school’s potentially out for ever.
Schools are closed. What began as an early and/or extended Spring Break quickly became optional homeschooling through the end of the semester. And I’m not really seeing a reason to assume that there’ll be summer school to make up for that; I’m not aware of an indication that school will start up again in the fall.
People are talking about a quarantine as though it’s actually already begun, and as though, having begun without any real notice, it’ll last for two weeks. Keep in mind that that’s been the mood for a week already.
The police have officially announced that any crime lesser than active murder is off their radar. Don’t call them over stupid things. Which, personally, I agree with: I never do; I never have. But then I’m not sure we have the same list of stupid things. Though I do know that, in San Francisco, someone just uploaded a video of a guy walking into a shop and scooping less than $950 in ?pills into his canvas bag before walking back out to the street without concern:
Anarchy with sustainable grocerybag technology
If you’re wondering about the $950: that’s California’s threshold for grand larceny; steal less than that, and it’s a misdemeanour—and, therefore, don’t bother the cops with stupid things.
And it’s pretty much all stupid things.
The playground geeks are screeching that you can’t call a virus from China a Chinese Virus. Which raises some questions about West Nile. But which mostly raises the larger question: who do they imagine cares what they think. What they want. What they complain about with such fervent alacrity. Best Victim Evar. Words happen; stop listening if you don’t like them, you puritanical twats.
The playground bullies are back from their boating accidents and begging people on the other side of the planet to stop by and meet their Armalites. They so desperately want anyone to be afraid of them, or at least for Sam’s Club to get yeast back in stock so they can make their own bread at home like the survivors they hope one day to be. People with tattoos of Mel Gibson are sad because basketball got cancelled.
The junkjournalists don’t know which story to run anymore—the one about the Wuhan Coronavirus, or the one about them calling the Wuhan Coronavirus the Wuhan Coronavirus last month precisely the fake news they joke about being in reaction to being offended about being called fake news. FaceBook.com have tismic factchecking bots arguing that an article from The Onion is specious and snopes.com are bawling at the feet of the Babylon Bee. People are uploading videos of junkjournalists debating themselves dressed as what they were wearing in January against what they were wearing last night. And, sometimes, that seems to be a bluesuit out in orangesuit territory somewhere between Marcel Marceau being the only guy getting hurricaned in a light breeze and Gloria Vanderbilt’s kid standing intentionally in a puddle to report on flooding conditions a metre beneath the cameraman’s tripod on dry land.
It’s like everyone wants this to be anything but what it is, whether that’s better or worse. It’s like a level of boring terrifying enough to keep people awake at night.
And that’s just from what we know, which is a massive amount of information amounting to pretty much nothing.
So, I’m not sure what the hell is going on out there. Or if it’s basically the same everywhere. I gather from people online that it’s worse in some places, and even more boring in others. But then there’s a cultural bias: the playground bullies in one place will ignore a hell of a lot more than the playground geeks in another will leap online to be Best Victim Evar about.
It seems normal enough to me. I’m getting rumours that, if I skated over to Starbucks, they might not be open. The tables out in front of Safeway had laminated printouts a couple days ago, warning that I was breaking some quaranteeny law too stupid to call the police about by sitting there; I sat there anyway, and no one cared.
And I think that’s kinda where everyone’s landing on this. Everyone remotely sane, anyway. The playground geeks are whimpering that the end of the world affects the females who survive far more than the males who are likely to die; but everyone else is pretty much back to complaining about the same old things: that Creepy Joe stole the primary from Bernie, after Shillary stole the primary from Bernie, before Trumpy stole the election from the popular vote, after the Russian Bots gave the popular vote to NotShillary. Or something. At the moment, people are complaining that Creepy Joe is pretty much officially the nominated Playground Geek, and no one’s seen proof of life in upwards of a week; he may already have sniffed the wrong corona kid, and he’s being CoViDed to death somewhere in Antarctica—we dunno.
Even so, I get that people, however acclimated they’re becoming to all the weirdness, are all on different levels. I know a guy dying in a hospital because some idiot wanted his name on a test result so he could be one of the cool doctors; I know someone who disappeared six weeks ago after tweeting that she’d got a notice of eviction; I know people driving trucks sixteen hours a day to get Charmin from farm to table and tweeting that they’re entirely weary of the playground geeks blaming them for electing a playground bully; I know waitresses who are sitting at home with nothing to eat while trying to figure out how to get money from some unreachable DotGov when it had never occurred to anyone that their officially unskilled labour as essential personnel could ever be downsized.
If this were about me—and I guess it’s supposed to be, for posterity—I’d say that I’m fine. I’m doing better than most, in most ways: I’ve got food; I’ve got money for more food if more food exists; I’ve got a thousandscore games ranging from the AtariVCS to whatever came out for Steam yesterday. I’ve got thousands of films on disc, thousands more online to stream, and an infinity of YouTube.com to click around at. I’ve got what I’ve always had, really.
Wednesday 22nd January 2020 20.29Published by Gremlin
So, about three weeks ago, I mentioned that I’d probably be doing this on a daily basis. And then that’s not what happened. No real reason; I just got caught up in various other things, and haven’t really been back here to add anything lately.
Something to work on, I suppose….
Meanwhile, and unrelated to much of anything else, I had to take Hunter to the VA today. Sorta. Meaning that, the VA being too incompetent to treat people directly, they’d outsourced her to a semigovernmental clinic roughly within shooting distance of the Century Sixteen Cinema.
Which is either in Australia, or just in proximity to the incompetence of the Aurora Police Department
That, if you’re curious, may be what actually happens when the VA are too overbooked and understaffed to handle anything veteranadministrative and let disabled vets go to marginally private clinics after bleeding to death for the first month of abandonment. And we’d just been there a week ago, having scheduled a quick appointment, several months after scheduling the one for today, to get bloodwork done in advance of the one for today.
If that’s confusing, then you’re correct. It looks like this, in sequence:
Set appointment for the Twenty-second, months ago
Get a call, a week ago, mentioning that there’s no point coming in on the Twenty-second because blood is a mystery
Set an appointment for the next day, a week ago
Go in to have blood drawn, a week ago
Go back today to talk about blood
Which, on its own, doesn’t sound all that absurd. Like, reasonably, you could expect any given governmental worker with an IQ hovering up there near average to set an appointment like the computer says to do, then later notice that the appointment is to discuss things not yet in evidence. I mean: I wouldn’t trust these people with too sharp a spork; but it sounds good enough for governmental work.
Which brings us to today. Nearly. Unless we wanna talk about yesterday first.
Yesterday wasn’t all that thrilling; but I woke up at about noon, realising that I had to be somewhere the next day—today—at one thirty. And that’s always fun. Because I can’t just go to sleep within twenty-four hours of waking up; but, also, driving through Murderville to the outsourced clinic after being awake for twenty-six hours sounds unpleasant. So, to try to make that work, I just didn’t have any caffeine yesterday. Finally managed to fall asleep around sunrise; woke up at eleven; here we are.
Sat here not getting involved in anything too heavy for a couple hours, so I wouldn’t be locked into anything more interesting than driving into a part of town composed entirely of dust and scowls; then we left the house at about one, and got there at about one fifteen.
Unreleated funny bit: we left our neighbourhood alongside one of those Tesla Chargeycars. The cars that come out to recharge your electric vehicle after you forget how outlets work. Hunter noted that it was probably the worst job in the world: to hafta show up and recharge a car for someone who wants moral currency for buying a Tesla, and who can’t imagine whose fault it is that the thing doesn’t operate on perpetual motion.
Got to the clinic. Early. But okay. Inside; up in the lift; into the lobby of the VA’s little subdepartment.
Now we talk to a guy who looked like he’d have greeted us with Hey, VSauce—Michael here, if those weren’t big words.
Hey, Mysauce—Veekel h—damnit I almost got it that time!
Then there’s a bit of blathering, during which I give up and wander off to the chairs to sit down for the rest of time.
Eventually, someone screeches for Hunter from a door somewhere, so she gets up and wanders back; I’m still out here in the lobby, where there’s a television displaying a practical joke called Chain Reaction—ostensibly a gameshow designed to convince other nations that Americans are idiots.
You can see that they’re having a laugh with the inclusion of cocksure
And then time passes. And then it does it again. And, soon enough, passing is a habit that time has just picked up in recent years. So I go out to the car for a while.
Then I send Hunter a message, letting her know that I’ve gone out to the car:
You now know precisely what I know.
So, this seems like an unpackable moment….
If there’s a backstory to this, and there barely is, it’s probably this:
Hunter the Crazychick is—and brace yourselves for this—crazy. Like, she’s got papers. The Kennel Club confirm that she’s nuts. Not really in a bad way—at least, not for anyone else. But she’s got whatever Major Depressive Mumblemutter Syndrome Thing, which is both diagnosed by the VA and also why she would get to go to the VA for healthcare if they weren’t incompetent enough to outsource her instead to Mysauce here.
Largely unrelated to that established fact, she’s a foot shorter than I am. Which is to say that, when I make food—which is approximately always, since I’m the one who’s good at it—I make enough at a time for about a dozen normal people. Which works because, being abnormal and requiring three thousand kilocalories a day just to avoid losing weight while playing Minecraft, I tend to eat most of all that.
Then she eats a bit. Where a bit is something of a variable. Or two.
In cases, she eats a bit more than normal people would, because I’ve made a lot; in others, she’s stopped doing that because she was gaining a lot of weight.
As a result of the first instance, a couple years ago, she’d managed to get up to about a hundred and sixty-five pounds while being five and a half feet tall and female. This is what we scientists call pudgey.
So she stopped that.
Then, having stopped that, she started losing weight. Because that’s how food works.
Then, having lost weight, she went to Almost the VA and ended up sending me the messages centred above.
Not all at once, of course. As you may have divined, I went back inside to see what the hell was going on after I didn’t get a response for ten minutes. Partly because something like this happened once before, and an imbecile committed her to psychiatric observation for a weekend.
So, now I’m back inside. Veekel from Mysauce is busy turning slowly into selfloathing soy and doesn’t want to talk about big words like hostage and situation. So, and somewhat ironically, I’m beckoned over by what I’d describe as a wellmeaning hamwhale.
This is instantly awkward. Because I’m here to negotiate for the release of someone shunted off to mental health for being not a hamwhale. Ever had to talk to someone about someone else dropping down from the kurbweight of the first someone’s portside thigh? Because I have. Today.
I mention whose ride I am, and why I’m still in the zipcode and without a passenger. She looks in the computer, and we learn that the computer trusts her no more and no less with the following information: Hunter is still in the building.
It doesn’t mention whether she’s alive in the building. Or in one piece. Or allowed to ameliorate her way the hell out of the building. It’s just telling Hamwhale—and by extension me—that the molecules possessed by Hunter when we arrived remain in the area.
So, that’s a clump of words.
What the computer won’t tell Hamwhale is whether Hunter’s allowed to stop being in the building; or how long she’ll be in the building if she’s allowed to leave; or why she can’t message me back after ten—fifteen minutes, at this point. All the computer can tell Hamwhale is that she should keep assuring me that Hunter never teleported anywhere else after going through the door and into the back, where she very much still is.
It sounds like I’m joking. Like I’m exaggerating. I’m not. Hamwhale was seriously invested in explaining to me how much Hunter was still in the building. Whatever things were happening, however bad and stupid, however against Hunter’s will, the incompetence was, I was being assured, locally sourced.
So I go back and sit down for a long time; and then I go outside and mention that I got tired of having upwards of one 4G Bar on my phone; and you can probably work out the rest.
Hunter comes out, and we get in the car and leave; we head off to Starbucks, because why not.
And now I get the rest of the story. If we can call it that.
‘Everything in my bloodwork was fine,’ Hunter says, ‘So they couldn’t figure out what’s wrong with me, if anything.’
‘Right,’ I say.
‘And they wanted to do a colonoscopy to look for cystic fibrosis,’ she says.
‘Okay,’ I say.
‘And I don’t want that,’ she says, ‘so they compromise with a catscan.’
‘Ah,’ I say.
‘And then they sent me to Mental Health to talk about why I don’t want a colonoscopy,’ she says.
‘Why, that’s insane,’ I say, ‘To not want a colonoscopy. To fail to display a deep desire of colonoscopies.’
‘And then they scolded me for being unfat,’ she says, ‘Because, apparently, losing sixty pounds in two years is impossible.’
‘No it’s not,’ I say.
‘They say it is,’ she says.
‘It’s a pound every twelve days,’ I say, ‘It’d be an ounce a day, if you were made of metal.’
‘The doctor said that, if it were possible to just lose sixty pounds in two years by eating less and walking around more, she’d have done that.’
‘Like, she had an MD?’ I ask.
So I drive on, trying to imagine what in hell could be wrong with people that would allow…this level…of medical incompetence…even at Almost the VA…red light; look to the side:
You think they’ve got a medical school there?
I’m probably not supposed to phonecam things while parked at a red light. But that’s okay, because I don’t give a damn.
Anyway: we get to Starbucks. Meaning actually the Starbucks in Safeway. So now Hunter’s eating a chocolate doughnut with a glass of wholemilk chai. You know: about a thousand kilocalories. As a snack. Because she’s clearly anorexic, according to Your Social Justice Doctor.
And then we get home, where I do tomorrow’s webcomic:
Just in case I somehow don’t get back in here to write another one of these tomorrow.
And that’s what I’ve got. That’s roughly everything I know of the reasons behind Almost the VA keeping Hunter in the back for an extra hour while promising her that a Social Justice Medical Doctorate precludes the common sense that anyone could lose a couple pounds a month by eating less than three thousand kilocalories a day.
That’s the VA. Basically PelosiCare, minus the taxburden, outsourcing their incompetence to a clinic that’s better enough than the VA that they’re able to set appointments a few months in advance and tell you that losing a couple pounds a month only works for corpses.
Wednesday 1st January 2020 17.40Published by Gremlin
Loosely related to that, I’ve got the new site up and…shuffling. It’s not exactly not up; it’s just still got a couple of minor things waiting to be finished.
At the moment, that’s mostly just the column of currently blank placeholder images to the right; eventually, I’ll get them filled in with…something. That’s the trick: I haven’t entirely decided what to put there just yet. Generally, I just allocated the vertical space to, like, Offsite Links when I was mocking the whole thing up in Photoshop the other day.
Which is probably part of the problem. Presuming we’re calling it a problem.
I mentioned this in an index.html back in October, but I’ll go over it again real quick: somewhere over the last…twenty-three years—certainly over the last seventeen or so that this site has been more of a CMS thing than pure hypertext—things got a bit bloaty. And then more bloaty. And then kinda crashy. And, now, the old site barely loads at all. Partly it was just standard bloat—entries and images and whatever translates to several dozen gigabytes of junk—that I’d managed to upload and post since 1997; partly it was a combination of comments and—worse—users clogging up the database: for every approved user, which I’d personally looked at and ascertained had some reason to exist apart from posting links to malware in Central Eurasia, there were roughly a thousand kinda probationary accounts that the system was treating as users and that I was treating as things I’d eventually get around to looking at and ascertaining whether they were invading from Mxyzptlkstan.
So that never fully worked out.
Therefore, now, I’ve got this database on the server—still—that probably wouldn’t be a problem if it were at facebook.com; here, it’s all just one big useless mess that’s slowing down the whole domain: just trying to get the basic index.php to load while it’s looking for inclusions in the database is like pushing a 1959 DeSoto slowly down the street by throwing baseballs at it. Like…if you’ve ever tried that.
And, thus, I’ve pretty much just moved on from that database and the index.php trying to talk to it; now we’ve got a new one in place to fill up.
And, by we, I mean me. There are no comments this time. No users. Partly because they bloat things; partly because it’s a little redundant: if you wanna interact with something here, there are other ways to do it now. Which might be a little ironic: this site was what would later be called Web2.0 from the beginning, in 1997, with various ways to add content as a visitor; now that that’s something of a standard, you can just tweet about it, or respond in the comments at facebook.com, or whatever else.
It’s probably not a perfect solution, since we’re talking about offsiting interactions to various social media sites, current and forthcoming. But it’s a solution that allows the site to load at all; so, it’s better than the alternative, for the moment.
And it’s probably not the end result: I can think toward developing something here on the site with separate databases to offload the strain if and when things get nasty again. It just doesn’t sound like an emergency right now.
So. What else is new….
There’s what’s old, of course: at the moment, the only entry linked through the sidebar on the left is the moderately spoilerific thing I wrote up about the final StarWars film; it should also be linked beneath all this text as—at the moment—the only thing you can click on to see anything else. I had that in place while playtesting things, just copypasting the hypertext out of Notepad++ and throwing it into the backend to see how things looked with some content to fill out the blackspace [whitespace, but on a site that doesn’t murder your eyes in RGB by having a huge glowing background]; and, now that I’m typing in this entry as well, I suppose there’s no critical need to delete an entry from 2019 that wasn’t technically an entry when I wrote it. It’s fine.
And then news: just…I dunno. It’s 2020 now, which of course is dredging up the same old argument we get every ten years these days: happy morons squeeing that 1999 is ending, and we’re moving immediately into a new millennium that won’t actually begin until 2001; probably the same happy morons ten years later, flexing their lateblooming ability to add 2,000 to 1 by ackchyuallying that the Noughts won’t end until 2011; and now we’ve got a few billion dartthrowers going back and forth between two entirely different topics—the beginning of the Twenties and the end of the Second Decade of the Century—because what they lack in intelligence they make up for in morality, and what they lack in morality they make up for in feewings.
The short version is…remember how people used to be morons? They’re still morons; they just used to be, too. Or whatever Hedberg was talking about there….
Outside of this specific site—and therefore probably eventually linked to the right—part of the reason why it took me from October until now to throw together what shouldn’t be that difficult a website to code [where the larger part of the reason involved equal parts Minecraft and apathy] is that I’ve been devoting some time to resurrecting and augmenting the whole thing at CthulhuDagon.com. I’ve still got some more to do there, but it’s working well enough to mention already.
And…I think that’s most of it for now. Or, if there’s anything else, it’s not pressing enough to come to mind at the moment. But that’s good: it means there’s a chance I’ll actually have a reason to come back tomorrow and write another one of these. At the least, I won’t have the irksome excuse that writing one of these takes an extra hour of trying to get the system to let me into the backend in the first place.
Friday 20th December 2019 00.01Published by Gremlin
So, let’s start with the relatively obvious news: there’s kinda no news; I haven’t managed to get around to redesigning the site yet, so this is still just basic hypertext banged out into Notepad++ at the speed of thinking which word to type next. I’ll get to it, at some point; for now, everything’s just pure content.
Then, let’s move on to the point of today’s What’s New….
Which implies somewhat that this is something of a negative review. I’m not sure I’d go that far. The tl;dr here is that I didn’t dislike The Rise of Skywalker in any important way. But we’ll get to that.
A long time ago, in a cinema far, far away…I saw what was at the time this independent film called StarWars. That is to say that, while it was released by Twentieth Century Fox, roughly equidistant between a couple other standalone films about aliens—one being among the worst films ever made, and the other being among the best—it was ultimately a relatively minor spaceopera thing made by the guy who’d made American Graffiti, which somewhat unofficially gave us Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley and Mork and Mindy—and ultimately gave us the concept of sharkjumping.
I saw StarWars on Wednesday 25th May 1977. The first time. Then I went back and saw it again. And a few more times. I had a friend at the time [as a completely irrelevant tangent, he died a year or two ago of causes probably unrelated to galactic civil war] who lived on the wrong side of the tracks, and therefore on the right side to have nightly boxseats for the drive in cinema; so, in the absence of sound [later, those places would get little FM Transmitters to connect a film’s soundtrack to your car stereo; at the time, they only had those rustly little squawkbox things on poles delineating muddy parking bays], we’d watch out his bedroom window and see the film again and again as the summer of 1977 droned along.
It’s 1977. And Lucas has made this film, just after the end of a war that America failed entirely to win for a decade. This has been mentioned elsewhere: a huge factor in the success of StarWars in memorial proximity to VietNam was likely that it was—while definitively a film about a war—a curiously optimistic fantasy thing with a soundtrack modelled after Gustav Holst’s Planets. Which, if that’s not a thing known well by The Kids Today, probably should be:
It’s been argued here and there that, if StarWars hadn’t been what it was, when it was—if it had been more like Jaws or Close Encounters or whatever cynical postwar sorta thing—it probably woulda flunked. Looking at the film critically, as something you didn’t grow up watching again and again because it existed, it was really something of a mess; it was largely incoherent, beyond the basic plotline of a goodguy hooking up with other goodguys to go up against a couple badguys who may have been working for a badguy referenced only as the emperor of the galaxy whose regional governors now had direct control over, like, starsystems no longer governed by some imperial senate that…there was a big sasquatch thing and a couple robots, and dogfights in space and exciting music. It was really something of a mess that only worked because it happened to work. It was throwing a basketball out of a moving car that happened to bounce off a wall before arcing up and going perfectly through the net a block away, because sometimes that’s what happens.
And that was kinda the end of the story. For a minute. Maybe not entirely; maybe someone got the bright idea to throw together an absurd clump of Carol Burnett sketches around a cartoon made entirely of nightmares to air on CBS toward the end of 1978; maybe Lucas considered filming Splinter of the Mind’s Eye as a halfassed sequel, if he could cobble together a couple million bucks over the next few years. But, for the consumerbase, StarWars appeared to be a single, standalone story augmented by a dozen actionfigures and some TShirts; you could get a StarWarsy baseballcard in bags of WonderBread.
I’ve still got this one in a box somewhere
I could also mention that StarWars got retconned as A New Hope—it got a new titlecrawl thing mentioning that it was actually Episode IV, further confusing people who’d been hearing for the preceding year that Lucas was off somewhere working on StarWarsII.
Again: it was something of a matter of timing. VietNam was over, and everyone was very tired. And the last time anyone hadn’t been very tired had been a couple decades earlier, roughly during Korea, when all entertainment in the world was radio dramas like The Shadow and serialised liveaction cartoons like Flash Gordon. That’s what Lucas had been spoofing with his standalone flick about a war in the stars. Now, in 1980, with hostages stuck in Iran for 444 days and a feckless peanut farmer’s presidency being threatened by the former governor of California and a newly independent candidate named Anderson, we’ve got a sequel not only to the thing we all saw three years ago, but to a trilogy implied to have existed when we weren’t looking.
Empire, to reiterate, was superior to StarWars. Initially just because it was new, and because Art Carney wasn’t in it. But, objectively, it was simply bigger and better and faster and more intense and whatever. It wasn’t perfect; I could rant volumes against this stupid film—from the brainless dialogue [A deathmark’s not an easy thing to live with] to the subplot requiring the Millennium Falcon to fly lightyears from Hoth to Bespin at subluminal speeds:
This makes no sense.
At this point, we’re getting kinda conditioned to something. It’s pretty much a cinch that, probably in 1983, we’re gonna see what’ll be called Episode VI—which, as we get closer to the expected release date, starts being called Revenge of the Jedi. Which is a little awkward for those of us who are already annoyed that anyone flew basically from Earth to Alpha Centauri beneath lightspeed in less than several thousand years; just at the moment, a probe we sent out toward the edge of the System of Sol, shortly after StarWars first came out without an episode number, is hurtling at forty thousand miles an hour and has only just made it past Saturn—a place you could get at lightspeed in just over an hour.
The retconned story, once Return of the Jedi came out on Wednesday 25th May 1983, was that Revenge of the Jedi was the fake working title of the Blue Harvest real working title of Episode VI; but that was retconned by the guy who thought that making the Kessel Run in a dozen parsecs made the Millennium Falcon a fast ship.
Jedi—because that’s what we call it—came out in 1983; by now, seeing the thing on opening night had become known as just something I do. Though, this time, it was a little different.
Even so, it wasn’t bad. The ewoks, which I only had a name for because that book had mentioned what they were called, were somewhat annoying; more annoying were the people who weren’t annoyed by them; and more fun was arguing with those people, who had to encounter me before realising that they were squeeing about these unblinking sharkeyed anthropophagous forestmonsters whose victims were reduced to empty helmets on which to bang out the rhythm section of whatever yubyub song.
Over time, it got old; I started thinking that Empire was better overall. Because Randall was right: all Jedi had was a buncha muppets.
1986 came and went; we got an incompetent sequel to that better Alien film from Fox, with the guy who’d plagiarised The Terminator from Harlan Ellison thinking that the best way to do a needless sequel to a haunted house on a starship was to make Rambo in Space.
StarWars came and went. It was come and gone. It was just over. The actionfigures dried up following a last ditch effort to release them with FruityPebble coins, just to get anyone to care.
I think I’ve got this in a box near a WonderBread card somewhere.
In 1995, and still before the internet was really becoming a place to find spoilers, rumours began to circulate about StarWars stuff coming back to the cinema. Which turned out to be something of a lie; what it actually was turned out to be marginally remastered copies of the three films we all knew about, possibly in 2.35:1 in addition to 4:3 [televisions were silly back then], to be released on VHS at SunCoast or whatever.
The future is now.
There were billboards all over Denver—and probably other cities—advertising these videocassettes. And the presence of those, and the cassettes themselves, killed for the moment any rumours of new stuff hitting the cinemas. For about a year.
The internet existed, but not very well.
To save you some time [are we still doing that?], it turned out to be the Special Editions. Which were pretty much the three StarWars films, but redone with JurassicParkish stuff in them. Cramming Jabba back into the first film, since he’d been cut when there had been no way to fake a convincing alien back in 1977; dewbacks that could walk around; XWings that weren’t just wooden models holding perfectly still in space as their SFoils opened to attack position. Improvements…overall.
As a matter of habit, I saw each of the SpEds on opening night as they came out toward the beginning of 1997—which means that I mentioned doing that here on this site at the time. Because the internet existed now.
There were, at that point, those of us who already knew what a prequel was, because Lucas had already made one in 1984: where Raiders of the Lost Ark was set in 1936, Temple of Doom was set in 1935. Which, for anyone capable of handling big numbers like those, meant that Indy probably wasn’t gonna get eaten by whatever alligators someone thought lived in India.
In 1998, we got a trailer, online, in RealMedia or whatever—possibly QuickTime— for Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Which began the hatred I’ve had for that stupid title which recently turned twenty-one years old. Is phantom an adjective? Really?
The problems with Menace were…they’re known. One was that I was exhausted—awake for forty-odd hours by the time I came out of the cinema at two something in the morning. And I was surrounded by people, of course: I’d got myself a ticket, obviously; I’d also grabbed another twenty or whatever limit they were imposing, so people showing up twenty-four hours after I had could get in too. And the immediate conversation with those people regarded how uncertain they were that they’d actually liked it.
That’s not to say that Menace was a bad film, objectively, as a standalone and first entry into a saga; it’s to say that it’s not what people were expecting to see.
Because the first film was now the fourth, implying that there could be three films from before the dark times; before the empire, there had been speculation for years that we could potentially eventually get a trilogy about the old republic and the Clone Wars [whatever that even meant] and whatever. Not, I should make clear, about Darth Vader as a kid; no one cared about Darth Vader as a kid. Few people cared about Boba Fett as a kid, while I’m on the topic. If anyone cared about anything—and, in hindsight, those people were idiots—they cared about things like Solo reportedly having known Fett back around the time he was meeting Chewbacca, or the actual events of the Clone Wars, or whatever Kenobi had been talking about in the first film. People wanted to see the galaxy before the empire took it over, they thought. They stated. They demanded.
For a good fifteen years there, to varying degrees of interest, people wanted to see the prequels and the events leading to the galactic civil war. Knowing only that the imperial senate had just been dissovled, and that maneating TeddyRuxpins would eventually VietCong the stormtroopers into their furry little stomachs, people had a perpetual interest in seeing the missing films in the saga and understanding what had happened across a thousand generations of jedi, or whatever.
There’s very little really wrong with The Phantom Menace. And less, if you haven’t already been awake since Monday when you see the opening crawl half an hour into Wednesday. If there had never been StarWars before, and it had come out in 1999 like it did, I think it woulda been okay. But, after a couple decades of people getting their own ideas about what Lucas should make for them, it fell short of their expectations. A bit.
Plus three years. Opening night. Thursday 16th May 2002, weirdly enough. Attack of the Clones.
The film itself…I wanna be as charitable as I can.
Clones isn’t all bad. It’s just…I watched it again, two days ago, when I watched all of the films, leading up to Episode IX. And…Clones never needed to happen. Within the structure of the whole saga, Clones was redundant against the opening few lines of Episode III. The Sith with the Golden Gun is a guy who exists; Yoda probably has a lightsabre, ridiculous though that sounds. But, for all that necessarily happened in Clones to get the runtime up to a hundred and forty-two minutes…the film doesn’t exist for any defensible reason. Teen Vader is older now; he digs on this chick in her twenties; Boba Fett’s trying to happen; begun this Clone War will have had sometime after this thing ends, because it doesn’t really appear anywhere in the film itself. Attack of the Clones is if The Empire Strikes Back had been two and a half hours of setting up a base on Hoth until, in the final ten seconds, General Rieekan had said: ‘Approach the At-Ats do.’
I wanted to like Clones. I wanted at minimum to see it as a slowish point in the larger story. But it’s just really kinda miserable. Christopher Lee was, in life, just awesome; I always like seeing him in anything the hell else. Clones is just…useless. Vader slowly turning evil is great on paper; Clones is just…sleepy. Learning that the stormtroopers were originally clones, and designed by Palpatine to attack the battledroids as a sorta Afghanistan File to pressure the senate into appointing him as chancellor is good to know; Clones is just…it’s an advert that didn’t talk me into watching the cartoon.
Plus three more years. Opening night: 19th May 2005. A Thursday again. Even though 25th May 2005 was a Wednesday. I don’t know what people are doing anymore.
Which is kinda George’s fault for caring what Melvin thinks. Something, something, path to the dimside; forever shall it dominate your ability to remember what you’re doing.
And then time passes for a while, because time does that.
Which is both something of a quote, and also an extreme absurdity.
Disney have the means to make StarWars good. Presumably, they have the ambition. The interest. The intention.
Opening night: 18th December 2015. Friday, because whatever. Not for me: I saw it the night before. I do that sometimes. The Force Awakens.
Left to his own devices.
Force isn’t a bad film. Because StarWars wasn’t a bad film. It’s a safe film. It takes almost no risks. It makes the first film again, with better effects, and simpler plotlines, and dumber dialogue. It turns Solo into Kenobi, and Skywalker into Organa. Kinda. It brings in a couple of kids, with their modern lingo, and sets them in the same set of circumstances that we’ve seen before. And it works for about half an hour, until someone disneys all over the damned thing. I think what lost me was the bit on the Falcon when two overexcited imbeciles are outgasping each other on how totally they can’t believe they just did that. Please continue to reminisce for the audience about something we all saw occur back last time we took a breath.
Maybe it was Poe overexplaining his every thought on how Finn’s name should be Finn because actionfigures; maybe it was Finn rescuing Poe because it was the right thing to do. Maybe the whole thing is all disneyed over.
And some of the developments were just a given. Solo didn’t die because it did much of anything for the story; he died because that was the only way Ford would go near the thing. Which is moderately ironic, once we get into spoilers in a bit….
There’s a lot we could wish had been better in Force. But it’s time to move on….
That was the working title of the film that attempted to make it not okay to call Return of the Jedi by the name Jedi anymore. Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Porg. That one.
In part, I liked it because, while I was watching it, I knew that Melvin the Hall Monitor was gonna hate it. The little geek was gonna have an aneurysm over all the subversion of expectation, and whatever.
I could…here’s a quick shortlist:
I could go on. But, now, I don’t wanna.
The Pinkhair Manoeuvre really was neat to see. For those of us who hadn’t seen it in three other films, despite no one in the film being impressed by it.
There are things Melvin hates, of course: Skywalker tossing away his lightsabre…again…like he did in Jedi, or having hidden on a lost planet like Yoda and Kenobi already did, or bombs falling downward on a bomber with artificial gravity, above a starship imposing gravity, above a planet with lots of gravity—gravity exists in space, you stupid, stupid people…it’s kinda why we still have a moon.
SpaceBear was disruptive. To itself; to the story to date; to the story to come. And that’s about where we catch up to today.
It’s been forty-two and a half years since we began this story, seeing StarWars amidst the dying echoes of Watergate, at a time when the world needed optimistic fluff soundtracked by Holst to crawl its way back from VietNam. Since I watched a silent film through a window overlooking a drive in cinema in the summer of 1977. And it’s time for the saga to come to an end.
The Rise of Skywalker has a large number of things working against it. That’s a given.
Or they’re unconsciously mimicking the release of the Holiday Special in 1978. Dunno.
Third, Skywalker has to close out the Disney Trilogy, which still contains SpaceBear; this is a trilogy meant to be made whimsically by three different people with three different ideas, until the second one made what he made. So we’ve got that problem left to deal with.
Here’s what happened….
Then there’s the StarWars logo. Again. As ever. And: EPISODE IX; THE RISE OF SKYWALKER. THE DEAD SPEAK!
The hell what?
Is this…did Romero do this? What in hell is The Dead Speak, exactly.
Don’t do that.
Don’t be weird.
Because, the crawl unread and out of the way [imdb.com have it, so I read through it later], we delve into Robert Englund as Emperor Palpatated, his dead eyes refracting the meagre lighting through their cataracts and…I may hafta go back and see what this film was rated. Because this is just…weird. And creepy. And weird.
What in hell is going on here….
So, that sets the whole tone. There’s no guessing what in the film was even real. The whole thing was Jennifer Ruben confusing Richard Lynch with Harris Yulin for two hours.
Okay. So…Skywalker may or may not have even happened. But, if it did, then we’re looking for…the…MacGuffin Pyramid, so we can find the…reason we need that, so we can go to Endor and get the…and there’s this sorta lovecraftian deadspace world which might be in a nebula with…and Palpatine might exist…and stardestroyers are all deathstars now…and….
Solo sorta came back. But didn’t. Which is weird. Because it’s a weird film. And because Ford hates StarWars unless Solo is dead. Which he is. So I guess that’s okay. And Ren goes through the whole exact same thing where he knows what needs to be done but he doesn’t know if he can do it and it’s that he needs to throw his lightclaymore into the ocean and okay fine so that’s a thing that happens and why the hell did Palpatine have dead eyes I can’t sleep ever again.
There’s a lesbian kiss in the background of a scene; you won’t probably notice it; I only noticed it because I was on alert while watching for the next onslaught of weirdness from nowhere.
Threepio gets his memory blanked so he can translate sith stuff and forget all the weirdness we already saw. So that’s sorta funny, how he thinks a CG muppet he just met is his oldest friend.
We can’t Pinkhair Manoeuvre things because it almost never works, so everyone knows it’s a thing but no one ever does it because SpaceBear is fixed now.
Okay. So: spoilers. Yeah. Let’s rewind a tad….
So…kinda…not really. Instead, and without more explanation than saying so, Palpatine, when he was alive with more reasonable eyes, had a kid; that kid married a kid [maybe?] and those two had a kid who, if Palpatine had known, woulda been a threat to—
Which…granting that everything’s weird now…makes an element of sense. I get that part. I get that, after a fashion, taking a few random lines as gospel, Palpatine probably killed Darth Plagueis the Backstory and absorbed him. No idea why Vader didn’t then absorb Palpatine. Not sure whether Kenobi nearly absorbed Maul. I don’t know how these things work; I just know that David Lynch is gonna scream for weeks after seeing what I just saw.
So…that’s what happened. And it was weird. The guy who made Lost became…weird.
I don’t expect that, in the long term, this is gonna be much of anyone’s favourite StarWars film. Because it’s weird; because it had to undo SpaceBear; because it’s the Disney Trilogy. I’d say it did its job, inasmuch as it was allowed, in ending the Disney Trilogy in the way it had to be ended. I don’t know if it really needed to happen after Jedi had already ended the first trilogy, or after Sith had caught us up for the history of the galaxy. And of course Rogue One was needless FanFic, so we’re not acknowledging that—let alone Solo.
Abrams is good at what he does. But he’s got a couple things working against him here. Four, if you also include Kathleen and Kennedy.
And, Abrams is a kid. He’s not: he’s older than I am. But, relative to StarWars, he’s a kid. He’s building off of something he saw when he was ten years old. And he might not fully understand what world he saw that in.
And now we know what they were doing too. And they weren’t really all that good at it.
Thumbs up. But not really grinning. And really just kinda weirded.