Possibly made internet famous on an app I never use

The other day Jeff and I were returning from Save On Foods, carrying bags of groceries and walking along the mind of awful Brunette Avenue, where people drive at highway speeds (it is not a highway). I happened to notice one of the vehicles that blew past (actually, it was probably doing the speed limit) was an Apple Maps car. I’ve never seen one out in the wild before.

Now, I never use the Apple Maps app on my iPhone. It had a disastrous launch and I’ve never had a reason to go back and check the improved version, since Google Maps still works fine. But now I am officially part of an Apple Map. My face will be blurred out, but every time I check out a map of my neighborhood, there I will be. I’ll be internet famous!

The shiny new version of Apple Maps isn’t out yet, though. It’s coming in the next release of iOS, macOS, iPadOS and WhateverElseOS Apple comes out with. This should happen in September. I’l check back then, as that is when their version of Google’s Street View, called “Look around” (Apple is very bad at names) debuts. I’ll report back then and will sign autographs shortly after.

Book review: American Nightmare

American Nightmare

American Nightmare by George Cotronis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

American Nightmare is a themed horror story collection, with every story taking place in 1950s America. Ultimately the theme doesn’t add much to the stories, serving mostly as window dressing (everyone smokes, for example), and the stories themselves are a mixed bag, typical of most horror collections. This is not a bad read, but you might want to wait for a dale price to grab it.

Also in the tradition of horror collections, a lot of American Nightmare is Men Behaving Badly, with abusive husbands figuring prominently. The real monster is us. And also the tentacled horror in the lake.

Story by story:

Grandma Elspeth’s Culinary Enchiridion for Domestic Harmony. An abusive husband gets his just desserts (or dinner, rather) while the son watches with horror and wonder. But mostly horror. A decent intro to the book and is the first (but not last) to feature tentacles.

CHIAROSCURO. A weird tale that swaps between first person POV for scenes of a soldier in WWII and second person for the then-present day of 1958, as the former soldier and now-detective with an odd affliction that prevents him from recognizing faces, goes after a murdering couple that dresses as Raggedy Ann and Andy.

The author repeatedly references famous paintings to literally illustrate scenes, lending an odd sort of whimsy to the story, but it’s bloody and violent and ends with a lot of gunplay. It almost feels like it would work better as a longer piece, but it’s an interesting and surreal bit of mayhem.

Bow Creek: Kids living in a bucolic small town discover All Is Not What It Seems and those who see the ark underbelly either join or die. The End. Really. Slight, perfunctory and did not really do much for me. It tries to create a 50s horror movie vibe (and references the same), but it only partly succeeds.

Glow: Frustrated teen finds space rock that seems to have something to do with Cthulhu. Screaming (of others) follows. Not bad, but given the potential it seems to fall short.

Lucy’s Lips: Misunderstood high school girl leaves town, comes back with the circus, may have some ties to Cthulhu. Sort of features tentacles and might be trying to make a statement (not a nice one) about promiscuity, whether by accident or design. Did not grab me.

Pear People from Planet 13. As you might guess from the title, this is a comedic piece that riffs on the monster movies of the 50s. Weirdly gory and a little too on the nose, maybe.

Ghost Girl, Zombie Boy and The Count. A self-loathing killer meets some very interesting kids trick or treating. Another just desserts story, but written with some verve and wraps up appropriately.

The Two Monsters of Levittown. A clumsy attempt to address Nazis, racism, medical experimentation and just who are the real monsters, anyway? This could have worked better, but the writing is just too unsubtle, bludgeoning all of its points like a mallet to the skull.

Double Feature: What seems like a charming story about a teen couple watching a double feature at the drive-in descends into horror at the very end. It’s not quite a twist ending, but I was almost disappointed by it. This is one where I felt the journey was more interesting than the destination.

In the Blood: Totally Cthulhu, complete with the tentacles. Military experiments on soldiers prove disruptive to a nuclear family. Violent, gory, with that air of hopelessness one expects from a good Old Ones story. Despite this playing directly into expectations, it was just okay. The 1950s/Cold War setting could have been exploited better.

The Black Pharaoh of Hollywood. An ancient pharaoh (are there other kinds, really?) uses a desperate screen writer to return to the living. This was is well-written, but is undermined by an ending that feels forced, not earned, particularly in how the protagonist makes his decisions. Good, but could have been better.

The King. An old woman/witch mails seeds that grow weird black oak trees that make people commit literal blood sacrifices. This one pays lip service to the book’s theme and is just weird. Nothing is really explained and sometimes in a horror story that’s for the best. There’s some characters-doing-things-to-advance-the-plot business here, which I hate more than weird black oaks that prompt blood sacrifices.

A Night to Remember. A cancer-ridden man in a dinner encounters a strange, possibly Lovecraftian fellow who has a message. The Titanic does not figure at all, sorry. This one goes for ominous and mostly works.

All the Marilyns. An unconvincing look at a smart young man who years to move beyond his small town and somehow turns into a murderous psycho. Maybe I missed the subtle transition, but it felt jarring and off-putting.

Looking back, it seems I didn’t care much for most of these stories. The majority are decent, but flawed in some way. You could probably do worse for a horror collection, but you can also do much better.

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The amount of writing I’ve done since posting Inspiration Cat™

After posting the cat to inspire my writing on June 7th, here is how much writing I have done (excluding forum posts):

None!

That’s right, Inspiration Cat™, as I am now officially calling him/her, has achieved the opposite. I have written no blog posts, no fiction, nothing at all except stuff required for work and a few errant words to accompany photos on Facebook, which I feel bad for doing every time because I believe Facebook is actively making the world a more terrible place.

Also, why isn’t there a competitor to FB that just provides a place to hang out with friends and family and nothing more? Come on, Silicon Valley billionaires, throw a few dump trucks of money at this while the world burns.

Anyway, I should be writing more. I’ve read books about writing more. I know all the techniques. There are no secrets. It’s about discipline and making the time, making the commitment. I can do all of these things right now, instead of watching people rant on the internet about the $999 stand for the new $4999 monitor Apple just announced at this year’s WWDC. By the way, I’ll have my own thoughts on this in an upcoming blog post.

So here it is, another blog post about how I’m not writing. If I put all of these posts together, I bet they would stretch to the moon. Or at least to the end of the condo.

I’m past making promises now. No more promises. If I write, I write. If I don’t, you can find me ranting about $999 monitor stands or searching for funny cat videos, or sometimes going outside and stuff.

The return of the quiet keyboard

Today I bought my second Logitech K750 solar-powered keyboard. I kind of broke the original version at work when trying to get it working with the USB receiver. But I got a lot of use out of it before my gentle destruction of it, so I’m not perturbed.

But you may be thinking (well, probably not), why would I buy one when I have the CTRL mechanical keyboard with the best keys ever? A good question! These are the features I wanted:

  • Wireless. I could easily swap it in and use it as needed.
  • Numeric keypad. This is one of those things I occasionally need.
  • Quiet. The keys are very quiet, making it the perfect alternative when even I get a little tired of the CLACK of a mechanical keyboard. It happens!

And that’s about it, really. The solar part is a bonus, because it means I never need to buy batteries. It was on sale for $20 off, so I decided to go for it. The only issue right now is the keyboard has a slight curve to it, making it a bit bow-shaped. This means that if I press hard enough on the keys or the board itself, it noticeably flexes, as most of the bottom surface is actually not flush against the desk. This is an issue I did not have with the previous model. It’s not terrible because the keys work with a fairly light touch, but I may still take it back. I’ll mull for now.

And so my vast keyboard collection expands by one more. In a way it’s good that my new PC’s motherboard doesn’t support Bluetooth (a baffling omission, really), as it prevents me from trying out any of the vast number of Bluetooth keyboards out there. Mind you, a $15 USB Bluetooth adapter would fix that…

Book Review: Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At one point I was ready to give this a three-star rating, but in the end the sheer enthusiasm of Neil Patrick Harris over the things he loves won me over…to three-and-a-half stars, which I can’t actually assign on Goodreads. But pretend I can.

The section that nearly lost me was one of the fictionalized segments where Harris assumes a super-macho sex stud persona and involves Harold and Kumar. It was kind of gross and while I ain’t no prude, I didn’t find it at all funny, just…gross.

And that’s the worst thing about this autobiography. It deliberately subverts the entire genre by presenting it as a “choose your own adventure,” so the whole book, save for specific sections, is written in the second person, with each chapter giving you options on how to proceed. It took a bit to get used to, but I didn’t really mind it in the end. And if you ignore the choices and just flip the page, you can read the whole book (or at least it didn’t feel like I missed anything).

There are also recipes, magic tricks and testimonials of sorts from others, ranging from Penn Jilette to Sarah Silverman. Some of these are obviously done for comedic effect, others are more sincere. Illustrations and script fragments, self-interviews and more complete the package and while I can’t say it all holds together as well as it should, Harris’s fondness for performing and the adulation he has for those he admires and loves shines through brilliantly. It’s this core, along with witty observations of show business that really make the book worth reading.

And yes, there is a little dirt along the way, as Harris is not shy about pointing out other actors who may not be…quite up to standard. Or drunk. Or both.

The photos at the end, especially from when he was trying to be a super cool “straight” twenty-something, are hilarious and well worth checking out on a tablet or computer where you can see them in glorious full color. Conversely, the photos of him with his husband and kids are cute enough to be used as stock photos of wholesome gay parents.

If you’re looking for an eclectic, sarcastic biography of someone who loves show tunes, this will fill your very specific needs. If you’re hankering for a more conventional biography, you may find this particular take a bit lacking.

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Run 608: Back on track(ish)

Run 608
Average pace: 6:23/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Start: 1:58 pm
Distance: 5:03 km
Time: 32:06
Weather: Sunny with high cloud
Temp: 23-24ºC
Humidity: 47%
Wind: light
BPM: 163
Weight: 166.9 pounds
Total distance to date: 4620 km
Devices: Apple Watch Series 2, iPhone 8

Today’s run was all about consistency. I headed out to improve on, well, every aspect of last Sunday’s not-so-great run and achieved this. Hooray! Here’s how today’s run was better:

  • Faster pace (6:23/km vs. 6:33/km)
  • Lower BPM, 163 vs 166
  • Did not have to stop and walk at all
  • Left foot was not sore
  • Had enough energy at the end to actually do a little running on the way home
  • Only one cyclist on the trail–and he was walking his bike (!)

And here’s a few small ways the run was a tad worse:

  • It was slightly warmer, but drier, and my mouth was so parched I actually thought about how I might want to carry water or gel packs with me during runs this summer
  • A tree had collapsed where the Conifer Loop connects to the main trail, forcing me to clamber over branches to keep going
  • A parks worker in a putt-putt car nearly mowed me down from behind. Seriously, those things are quiet and they are not driven by kindly old seniors.

In terms of pace, I started out at a slower, steadier pace of 6:16 and fell way back on the second km to 6:42. This is why I don’t check my pace until after a run–seeing that number would have crushed my spirit and tossed it into the lake.

But after that I was the model of consistency and apart from a brief stitch in my lower left side along the Cottonwood Trail, I felt fine, if not quite peppy. Today it felt more like just being out of shape vs. recovering from The Worst Cold Ever, so that was actually a positive. For the last three km, my pace was 6:20, 6:22 and 6:22 again. I found my comfort zone and stuck to it.

Overall, then, a perfectly fine follow-up where I achieved everything I hoped for. After last week’s dismal effort, I was pretty sure I would see an improvement this week, so the results aren’t unsurprising. They are still very welcome.

A pile of posts presented promptly

It’s been awhile since I’ve had to jam in a bunch of posts on the last day of the month to equal a one-post-per-day average, but it’s happened this month, because May was my official No Writing month. I just never realized it until I stopped writing.

This is post #31, so I’ve hit my quota for the month with just under two hours to go. Now to go off and think about better, less-meta things to write about.

Be careful what you joke about

Tonight I watched an episode of Mayday, a series I quite like because the detective work in solving airplane accidents fascinates me. This particular show featured a crew on a 727 chatting about not-flying stuff as they were waiting for take-off (a big no-no). One of them joked about crashing.

Then they crashed on take-off.

Be careful what you joke about.

Also, don’t get distracted in the cabin before take-off if you’re part of a flight crew and subsequently forget to change the flaps from the “plane will never get off the ground” position, especially when the take-off alarm system also happens to fail.

(Third episode of Season 18 listed as listed here)

Amusing cat image: Metaphor edition

This is an apt metaphor to illustrate my writing efforts in May.

I promise to do better in June, which is a pretty low bar, so I should actually achieve this.

May 2019: The Good and Bad list

  • Good: Body fat down slightly
  • Bad: Weight up for the month
  • Good: Actually went jogging
  • Bad: Run featured cramps, a sore foot and a bear
  • Good: Weather much nicer than April
  • Bad: Haze from Alberta wild fires
  • Good: Recovered from Worst Cold Ever
  • Bad: Worst Cold Ever
  • I’d rather not talk about it: The amount of writing I did over the past 31 days