5 of 5 stars to Hail Mary by Andy Weir

I’m not usually a fan of constant flashbacks intermixed with the present, but this story was just too well done. I particularly enjoyed Grace’s character progression, though in a way, his first choice (you’ll know what I mean if and hopefully when you read it) didn’t seem to fit his character history, so the surprise twist didn’t land quite the way the author probably intended for me.

The scientific explanations the author included were technical enough that I felt like I was learning something without the mini lessons wrapped in the story becoming overbearing. It made me interested in learning more about science, which is cool. It made me interested in learning whether or not some of what he uses in the story is true or possible. It made me interested in space and what it will mean for the humans when we start thinking of ourselves as a species in competition with other species in the universe, or universes.

It’s sort of a backhanded compliment to humanity, but I think we could really come together when we have a common “other” to all turn against instead of each other.

Social Commentary in The Forever Purge

A promotional movie image for "The Forever Purge". The name of the movie is shown in big block letters in the top right. A heavily armed man wearing face paint and a cowboy hat with attached bull horns sits astride a horse wearing a horse skull as a mask and painted with the US flag.

We watched “The Forever Purge” a few days ago and I felt like it was the weakest in the series so far. The acting was good. The sets and costumes were amazing, though there were quite a few instances where scenes and shots were lined up and slowed down as if in anticipation of screenshots, Wonder Woman style, which is a trend that is starting to get tiresome.

The main problem I had with the film is that social commentary was just too heavy-handed and clumsy. At some points, I expected all of the action to stop, the character to turn and look full into the camera, and for a “So kids…” monologue to ensue. It was too preachy.

This movie was a deviation from the rest of the series, which focused on human nature and what people would do in severe circumstances. It was obvious that this movie was about Trump and Trump’s perceived cultural legacy, and it’s a shame to see how much Trump affected the minds of so many people.

I enjoy social commentary in movies, but make it a part of the movie itself instead of being explicitly stated. Make it complex and provoking, but let us figure it out as we digest the story and relate it to our own lives.

I’m tired of this idea that specific narratives and ideologies need to be shoved in people’s faces all of the time, baldly and without nuance. I’m reminded of the actions of certain groups who migrated from Twitter to Mastodon (Fediverse) after Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. They had an explicitly stated desire to politicize everything on Mastodon as much as possible with current and former US political issues. One user commented that Mastodon users wanted to have a quiet space to discuss hobbies and interests and they had to specifically disrupt that to amplify their message. How vulgar. How perverse. How ironic!

3 of 5 stars to Nights of the Living Dead: An Anthology by Jonathan Maberry

An image of the book cover of “Nights of the Living Dead”, edited by Jonathan Maberry and George A. Romero

This was my first book finished in 2023, though not my first book started and finished in 2023.

It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. As an anthology, it was kind of a mixed bag and it felt like a lot of the stories focused too heavily on the experience of being bitten and changing. It also has plenty of stories containing the classic horror trope of running towards danger when a real person in the situation would clearly go another way. Maybe asking for that to not be there is like asking for a red shirt to not die in Star Trek, but I prefer situations to play out in a believable way, for the sake of immersion in the story.

There were also quite a few mentions of the smell associated with zombies that I hadn’t really noticed in other stories about zombies, though it makes sense after hearing it, but it was odd that so many authors focused on it. To me, anyway, but maybe that’s just because it seems like an obvious thing. I wonder if it was ever mentioned in “The Walking Dead”? I don’t think so, but those huge zombie herds would certainly have dragged an odor with them.

This collection is pretty long and a lot of the stories are pretty short and forgettable, so I don’t remember them all. It felt almost like some of these stories were concepts or exercises instead of fully fleshed out ideas. By that, I mean there were logical gaps in the stories, even within the conceptual framework of a zombie outbreak, like being safe within a ring of fire but not having food available. Maybe that was intended? To emphasize the grimness and desperation of the situation? I don’t know, but I wanted more from these stories. Some of them felt like they could have been more, could have been better, but were cut short.

The one story that stands out to me is the one that takes place in the zoo. The actions of the protagonist are actions that I feel like I would have taken as well.

I’m going to try listening to some zombie podcasts on #audible to see how they are. I’m not quite over last decade’s zombie fascination. I think I’ll let that genre go for a few months though. I want to lean more heavily into fantasy and science fiction this year. It feels like I’ve been reading outside of my comfort zones a lot for the last few years and I want to settle into something more familiar. Something more positive for this year, maybe.

2023 needs to be a good year.

Jazz in Tompkins Square Park

Two men playing jazz in Tompkins Square Park on June 7th, 2019.

This park is located in Manhattan, in what’s now known as the East Village. When I was a kid, the park was filled with drug dealers, addicts, and needles. Now it’s a great place to go with music, dog runs, and green grass in the summer for sun bathing.

Early to mid 2019 was really nice. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been sick since that summer, and I’m just now starting to feel better. I want to start cycling again and spending more time outdoors.

I hope 2023 brings more opportunity and happiness than what we’ve grown accustomed to lately.

Mushin

“Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin…. Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. … The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identification with, [things] outside oneself.”

Christy Bartlett

The appreciation of something worn and used and well-cared for. The appreciation for what we have. An acknowledgment that real life is rough around the edges and everything is transient, and that transience makes each moment more meaningful. An acceptance of reality as it is instead of the idealized form that exists in our minds, and making the best of our situations.

Those are just a few things that come to mind when reading the above quote.

I’m enjoying Manjaro Linux

Trying to fix problems with Manjaro can be annoying, but it’s an ultimately rewarding experience. I feel like I’m learning something, and it’s nice to know that my hardware is running on software that isn’t trying to sell me something (like those constant prompts to try Bing and Edge built into the Windows 11 desktop).

I’ve had remarkably few problems with Manjaro. I was a little concerned about how Linux might behave, or how difficult it might be to use, especially after previous experiences with Ubuntu a few years ago. Not that Ubuntu is hard to use. Not now anyway. It’s just different from Windows so there’s a learning curve and back then it didn’t run much of the same software that I was used to. Manjaro has a reputation for being a bit more advanced or complicated, but I’ve found that it’s really the most flexible and easy to use, mostly because of the Arch User Repository. Instead of needing to use the command line to install programs, a lot of stuff is just available in the package manager (basically like an app store).

Manjaro has some issues with game support but that’s coming along pretty well now that Valve/Steam has been working on producing the Steam Deck, which I think runs on Arch Linux, which is what Manjaro Linux runs on as well. The critical moment was when EAC and BattlEye said they were going to enable Linux support. Of course, that really relies on game developers enabling that option in their games, but it’s still something, and it’s what’s keeping most of the major games with online components from running on Linux.

I bring all of this up because I was having an issue with my Bluetooth working on Manjaro and I was pretty happy to work through the problem and get it fixed on my own (with some online research). At some point over the last few weeks, the Bluetooth stopped working and I didn’t notice until I wanted to use my headphones to watch Netflix. The system was acting as if there was no Bluetooth adapter installed, but I use a combination WiFi and Bluetooth PCIe card. Specifically, a TP-Link WiFi 6 AX3000 PCIe WiFi Card (Archer TX3000E).

systemctl status bluetooth was reporting:

Active: inactive (dead)
Docs: man:bluetoothd(8)

xxxxxx matroshka systemd[1]: Bluetooth service was skipped because of a failed condition check (ConditionPathIsDirectory=/sys/class/bluetooth).

Maybe the issue popped up when I decided to be edgy and switched to kernel 5.16? I installed a few Bluetooth utilities and switched to kernel 5.10, but it still wasn’t working. I opened the case and poked the connectors on the hardware to make sure they were plugged in the right way and then all of a sudden it worked again when I booted up the computer.

Was a cable loose? Did it just need a few reboots for everything to settle in correctly like some other people mentioned on the Manjaro forums? Who knows. I’m going to leave 5.16 alone though, just in case that was the problem. I switched back to 5.15, which is going to be a long-term support kernel and I’ll just leave it there until another LTS kernel comes along. Unless there’s some really compelling reason.

It’s odd, though. Linux is getting a lot more support for gaming, while at the same time the global silicon chip shortage is making it nearly impossible to get GPUs at affordable rates. I hardly play games at all anymore and I’ve been putting more time into other activities, which is both good and bad. It’s not that I can’t play games, but when I know that I’m getting a substandard experience, it’s really hard to fully enjoy myself, and I’m not going to spend $1600 on a GPU that should be $400.

So, I’m putting time into other activities, like reading more and catching up on shows that I’ve been putting off. Also, meditating again, and hopefully I can get back to exercising regularly. I’ve been feeling pretty worn out and rough for the last 6 months or so.

Balance

An example of kintsugi, similar to or an expression of wabi-sabi. Photo by Riho Kitagawa on Unsplash

“Get rid of all that is unnecessary.

Wabi – sabi means treading lightly on the planet and knowing how to appreciate whatever is encountered, no matter how trifling, whenever it is encountered.

[…] In other words, wabi – sabi tells us to stop our preoccupation with success — wealth, status, power, and luxury—and enjoy the unencumbered life.

Obviously, leading the simple wabi – sabi life requires some effort and will and also some tough decisions.

Wabi – sabi acknowledges that just as it is important to know when to make choices, it is also important to know when not to make choices: to let things be.

Even at the most austere level of material existence, we still live in a world of things.

Wabi – sabi is exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom of things.”

Leonard Koren

I wonder about that last line. Did he mean, “freedom from things”? As in too many things? Or freedom to have things without being burdened by them? I suppose they’re both similar concepts.

I often feel like I’m trying to do too much in too little time and I’m constantly working to pare down what I have and what I do. I think that if I focus more precisely on the things that are actually meaningful to me, I’ll get more enjoyment out of life.

And, importantly, the paring down process helps me to fully realize what actually is important to me, because it removes things that obviously didn’t make the cut from my life and my mind.

Things that we own, plans that we worry about making or keeping, items on our to-do lists, they all have weight and are a burden on our minds, even when we’re not actively thinking about them. I want to live a life where I’m not constantly worrying about stuff and things that I need to do because the stuff and things that I need to do are proportionate to my ability to manage them in a meaningful way.

As an aside, the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic is really wonderful and worth the time to learn about.

“…my captain’s agency…” – Matrix Resurrections

Matrix Resurrections was ok. It was quite a bit better than I expected and I appreciated the self-deprecating humor in the scenes discussing a possible fourth Matrix video game and the direction it should take. I kind of wonder if the dialogue about it moving forward with or without Keanu’s approval was something that actually happened. It was kind of high brow, but in the right way.

The movie really fleshes out the relationship between Neo and Trinity in a complicated, thought-provoking way that fits into the world of the Matrix and makes me hungry for more of the story. I’m definitely going to be re-watching the original series again. The fight scenes were well choreographed, though it felt like they were relying very heavily on ‘look this is just like how it happened in the first movie’ for quite a few things, like the first “bullet time” scene. Speaking of bullet time, it was interesting to see that certain programs in the Matrix were able to utilize that in new and interesting ways.

Where the script falls off the rails is when, instead of just showing women doing things and being things because that’s how it is, an explicit call to Liberal Social Justice is made by adding the buzzword “agency” in the scene where Naiobi tells Neo to not take “her captain’s agency away from her”.

Why not just say, “Don’t apologize for her Neo. She can speak for herself!”?

It would have been more powerful and more real. Have you ever heard people in the street yelling at each other about taking each other’s agency away from them? Who talks like that? No one except Far Left activists and people caught up in the Academia mindset.

Presenting women in positions of authority should be done without apology or comment, as the way it just is, that women doing those things is ordinary, normal, common, etc, exactly the same way that men doing things is presented. The moment you add a political qualifier to the dialogue, you pull viewers out of the fantasy of the movie and detract from the possible impact of the scene. For me, it left me critical of the scene and then I started being critical of everything else in the rest of the movie, which left me enjoying it quite a bit less than I could have. Movies are ultimately entertainment, not soap boxes for political agendas. When you blur the line, you risk losing your audience.

I was also a little disappointed in the replacement actor for Agent Smith. He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t live up to Hugo Weaving’s portrayal. I also could have done without the bootleg Morpheus. That character being called Morpheus didn’t add anything to the story other than a call to nostalgia, though there were quite a few calls to nostalgia in the movie, both verbally and with cut scenes of footage from the earlier films. It felt like the directors weren’t sure the film could survive on its own without being propped up by the first 3 movies, which is a little weird, considering it’s a sequel and the viewers would, presumably, already be familiar with the first three movies. It was like watching one of those previous episode recaps but mixed into the movie itself instead of at the beginning.

>>>>Spoilers ahead<<<<

The Spoilers. Just kidding, but really there are spoilers below this.

Finishing the movie out by placing Trinity on a level with Neo makes sense for the plot of this particular movie, but I’m not sure it makes sense when placed alongside the original story line. I’d have to re-watch the original movies to be sure, but I was under the impression that Neo was “The One” because there could only be one “The One”. Maybe he was just The One that would have enough ability to manipulate the Matrix to balance the scales of power between humans and the machines. That wouldn’t necessarily preclude other people from achieving that level of ability, and varying levels of ability were hinted at by the people at the Oracle’s apartment in the original trilogy, but why would Neo and Trinity together create overwhelming power or trigger Trinity’s ability to act on par with Neo? Are they really implying that love is the magic ingredient? I mean, it’s a beautiful idea, but it doesn’t seem to fit the themes of the original trilogy.

Finally, the story felt a little loose to me in terms of restrictions on the movements of average freed people in the Matrix. Obviously, they had to take into account modern wireless technology and mobile phones, but if a land line wasn’t required to get in or out of the Matrix, what was the point of the hacked doors and mirrors? Couldn’t they just use WiFi to appear in the Matrix anywhere they wanted?

Another movie is implied by Smith’s getaway at the end and, hopefully, if more movies are made, the above questions will be addressed in a way that doesn’t turn the logic if the story into soup. There are a lot of criticisms here, but it was still fun and I’d watch it again after re-watching the original 3.

Also, and this is on a tangent, maybe, but watching this movie really makes me want to play Grand Theft Auto V again.