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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
I’m surprised by how well the story has held up, considering that it was written in the 70s.
I need to reread the part about the transformation in the desert, because I’m not sure how or if that really fit into the story’s world. It felt more like magic than science or evolution.
The author describes patterns of human activity that repeat over eons. He approaches the idea that people need to stay connected to the immediacy of life and human nature. Somehow, the story strikes me as being anti-technology and a call for people to be spiritual but not religious. There are also constant criticisms of the role of religion in creating excuses for, and a need for, violence.
The end of the story gave me some ideas about Shai-Hulud. Unless I really misread things, the goal of the Dune story is to describe replacing the big worm or driving force below the desert, which makes me wonder if this is a repeating cycle that has happened before.
Herbert draws heavily on various religions in the creation of his universe, so a circular conception of time and the embodiment of “divinity” in an actual character whose existence becomes the literal and spiritual foundation for galactic civilization would be right up his alley. It would also make for a really epic story.
The scale and complexity of the ideas the author is tackling grows in each new Dune book. Some people may not like it or understand a lot of it. I know I didn’t when I tried to read these books at 13, but they are thought-provoking and fascinating to me now, 27 years later and being much more well-read. There are obvious, like really obvious, references to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, but also hints of Hinduism and Buddhism as well.
For someone like me that has been interested in religions for their entire life, this series is exceptional.
“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” ― Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
I never thought I’d be this interested in a book that is all about a guy on his boat catching a fish. Of course, there are themes about the importance of community, tradition, dedication, and the reality that hard work sometimes ends in failure, but it’s really just a book about some guy getting into his boat and trying to reel in a fish for almost 100 pages.
And it was amazing.
I’ve read almost 800 books, not counting comics and manga and portions of books that I read for college, and after a while it seems like almost all books are basically the same story, just in different settings and with differently named characters, so it’s nice to read something a bit different for a change. I’m finding that I want to read classic literature more now when I want a novel because the books that have lasted tend to be books that focus on human nature and the human condition and I appreciate that the books are offering something deeper and more meaningful to me than just entertainment.
“You did not kill the fish only to keep alive and to sell for food, he thought. You killed him for pride and because you are a fisherman. You loved him when he was alive and you loved him after. If you love him, it is not a sin to kill him. Or is it more?”
I’m looking forward to the new movie version. I read the book when I was a teenager and again this year. It was and still is excellent, even knowing the real world cultural inspiration and background for the idea of the Fremen.
I was a little conflicted when I heard that they were going to remove the term “jihad” from the movie, but after reading the book again and thinking about it, I think it was the right move. The word has too many connotations and baggage now that didn’t exist when the story was written. Using it would give the movie meaning that wasn’t intended in the original story.
“It is bad psychology to tell people who do not believe that they are racist—who may even actively despise racism—that there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from being racist—and then ask them to help you. It is even less helpful to tell them that even their own good intentions are proof of their latent racism. Worst of all is to set up double-binds, like telling them that if they notice race it is because they are racist, but if they don’t notice race it’s because their privilege affords them the luxury of not noticing race, which is racist.”
This is the best book I’ve read that tackles the issues related to postmodernism and social justice activist politics, and it clearly expresses a lot of ideas that I’ve had myself but didn’t take the time to really research or fully articulate.
This should be required reading to graduate college. When I was in college, a lot of the courses I took relied heavily on postmodernism, identity politics, and social justice ideology, but I didn’t realize it because I didn’t have a name for it. Also, it was taught as fact and reality rather than just as a theory, or as the authors would say, as Theory, and it was part of everything from classes on sociology to government to history. At some point, I realized that things weren’t quite right, but you have to go along with what the professor is advocating if you want to be assured of getting a passing grade.
I’m really late to the party, the first book in the series having been published in 1997 when I was still in high school, but I’ve been borrowing the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series from the New York Public Library and I’m really enjoying them. I think I would have loved them as a kid but I was going through a phase where I was really into church dogma and the Harry Potter series was said to be evil and demonic because it supposedly encouraged children to engage in witchcraft.
Putting aside the question of whether witchcraft is real or not, I can see how the Harry Potter series was threatening to organized religion. It provides an alternative fantasy world that presents a set of moral values in a compelling way and, even when it doesn’t conflict with the church’s vision of morality, it competes for attention. I’d guess Harry Potter is probably winning that contest too, given the success of the books and movies and the ever dwindling levels of church attendance.
I wonder how much of the church’s problems these days comes from an insistence on biblical literalism? It’s been a while since I studied the Bible, either academically or religiously, but I do recall that many of the stories have parallels in other nearby cultures. For example, the story of Moses and the flood is essentially the same story as the Epic of Gilgamesh with modifications to fit the local culture. That alone should tell us that stories in the Bible were meant to be educational rather than literal history. It makes more sense to tell someone that they should be looking at a story in the Bible for moral guidance than to tell them to take it as literal word from God history and expect that story’s relevance to endure over any length of time.
And maybe that’s why Harry Potter does so well. We know it’s not word from God and we don’t face the choice of having to either swallow it whole or throw it out. We can instead appreciate it and think about it and try to apply it to our lives if it makes sense in relation to what we understand to be good and bad.
All of these thoughts congealed in my head as I started to realize how the Weasleys were being presented in the books. They may not have fancy clothes and they may not always get along but they value what’s important in life: their kids, each other, friendship, and (in Molly and Arthur’s case) their kids’ education. In addition, even though they’re struggling they essentially adopt Harry into the family, so there’s a lot of love and charity being displayed there. They share even when there’s not much to give. They’re loyal. They do things together. It’s sort of a model for the proper behavior of a family, especially when it comes in such stark contrast to how Harry is treated by his aunt and uncle. The fact that both Harry and Hermione later marry into the Weasley family reinforces the idea that they represent an ideal family.
I’m only partway through the fourth book and I wasn’t really thinking about the story too deeply until now, but there’s really more in these books than shallow entertainment. I’m not really surprised. I don’t think they would have done so well if they didn’t have something substantive to offer readers.
I think I got my first mobile phone in 2001 or 2002 when I was 20-21 years old. It was a flip phone from Verizon that I bought in Hinesville, Georgia when I was stationed at Fort Stewart. It looked something like this:
In fact, it may have been that model phone. It’s been 18-19 years, so I really can’t remember exactly. I also don’t remember what the thing was costing me every month, though I remember it being significant.
Fast forward almost 20 years and cell phone bills are out of control. For me and my wife to have the Verizon Go Unlimited plan together, we were paying about $180 per month. Imagine that! For just two lines. That’s more than our electric bill most months out of the year.
We wound up on Verizon for two main reasons:
Our previous provider, Virgin Mobile, announced that it was going to stop supporting Android devices and switch to being an iPhone only service. (They later backtracked, but after I already left the service.)
We wanted to upgrade to new phones because big jumps had been made in camera quality, which is an important feature for both of us. Also, we both needed more storage space.
And so, we found ourselves in a Best Buy signing onto a bundle that included Verizon service.
That was two years ago.
Getting smart about billing
When our phones were paid off we started thinking about how to save money on our phone bill. We’ve been getting into minimalism, essentialism, and other -isms that promote focus, stability, and de-cluttering, Marie Kondo style. And while Verizon’s service quality was excellent, that bill was definitely not sparking joy.
But, what service should we replace Verizon with? We were used to unlimited talk, text, and data. I knew that MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators) worked pretty well from previous experience. MVNOs are basically prepaid services that run on the networks of major providers but under different names. So, I decided to start there and see what was available.
I went slogging through a bunch of different websites looking at different lists of the best value plans available. Most of those lists really suck, to be honest. It’s like they just looked at everything that’s available and then cut and paste some marketing material onto their sites so they could have a list of items and get clicks/pageviews for that sweet ad revenue. Apparently posts that are just lists of things do pretty well in terms of catching people’s attention.
I’m not going to bombard you with a list of services or make you check multiple pages to see content. Instead, I’ll just briefly go over what I personally looked at, what I went with (which was obviously Mint), and why.
My first instinct was to go with Google Fi. I have a Google Pixel 2 XL. It’s a great phone. It takes great photos and has plenty of storage. It runs the latest version of Android and gets updates directly from Google. So, I figured why not get service from Google as well? Short answer is that they charge too much and offer extras that don’t really apply to the average consumer.
Google Fi seems to be more targeted to people who are going to travel internationally frequently. Plus, it was about the same price as post-paid plans so I wouldn’t really save anything. Some of the more interesting extras that Google Fi offers, like automatically connecting to trusted high speed WiFi networks, are things that my phone does already because it’s a Pixel.
So, hard pass.
Verizon Visible looks like a really good service. It’s $40 bucks a month for unlimited everything. They used to have a data speed cap, but that was removed for a promotional period and would have applied to the life of our account with the service. We were already using Verizon’s service and figured it would be a piece of cake to switch over, but we hit a roadblock.
Verizon Visible claims my Google Pixel 2 XL is not compatible with their service. The phone that I’m using on Verizon is not compatible with Verizon? More like, Verizon Visible wants to push me to buy a new phone through them and give them more money that I shouldn’t have to.
So, no thank you.
I considered stuff like to Boost Mobile and Metro, but I just didn’t like the plans. They didn’t seem to be offering much for the price. That was when I stumbled onto Mint Mobile.
I’m going to be honest. Mint Mobile sounded pretty flaky and weird when I first looked at the website. I think what really threw me off was the idea of paying for multiple months in advance because that locked you in right away to something that might suck. The buy-in for the first 3 months is heavily discounted, but what finally sold me on giving it a shot is that the company is owned by Ryan Reynolds.
Maybe that sounds kind of stupid, but I figured that even if the service sucked for 3 months, it would be kind of neat to use a phone service owned by Deadpool for a while.
Mint Mobile Costs & Performance
So, I spent $120 + (normal) regulatory fees for two lines for three months of service with unlimited talk, text, and 8 GB of 4G LTE data per month running on T-Mobile’s network. We received the SIM cards for Mint about 3 business days after ordering them. The shipping was free.
Yup! Basically $20 a month for talk, text, and 8 GB of data that isn’t speed capped. After the 8 GB you get slammed down to 2G but can use another 92 GB of data if you can suffer through 2G page loads. I’m not sure you could actually use 92 GB of 2G data in a month, actually, unless you were doing something nuts.
The price-point on the plan both delighted and terrified me. On the one hand, it’s a great price for what I was getting. On the other hand, what if the service was absolutely terrible because of the price I was paying?
Mint is able to keep their plans that cheap because they have themselves set up as a wholesaler. They sell multiple months of service at a time so they get a discount from T-Mobile and they pass those savings on to the consumer. They’re basically the Costco or Sam’s Club of MVNOs.
Passing on savings and helping consumers give a big middle finger to the major phone carriers is part of their marketing platform, though it’s a bit ironic since Mint runs on T-Mobile. The savings is real, though, and I’m enjoying it.
After the promotional period for the first three months, it’s $105 per line for another three months, or you can pay for a year up front and keep the promotional per month price. On my current plan it would wind up being $263.78 for a year of service, including regulatory fees and taxes. There’s also a $15 per month plan with 3 GB of data and a $25 per month plan with 12 GB of data.
I was a little concerned about the data cap, but I tweaked a few apps to not auto-play videos, stopped watching Netflix without the WiFi on at the gym, switched photo backups to WiFi-only, and started downloading my Spotify playlists while on WiFi. It only took a few minutes to run through updating app settings and I’m able to use the phone’s built in Settings menu to monitor each app’s data usage to see if I needed to make any additional changes.
Now, with 11 days left on my current 30-day cycle, I’ve only used 1.44 GB of data. That’s with regular use, including Google Maps, Waze Navigation, Transit, some Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Outlook, Memrise, and web browsing for news. I think the majority of my data usage before, which often hit 14+GB a month, was streaming Spotify with high-quality audio. So, the 8 GB 4G LTE data cap is really not a problem.
Caveat: I’m an Optimum Online customer and can automatically connect to Optimum Online hotspots around the Bronx. I also made use of LinkNYC free public WiFi and library/museum/business/transit free WiFi when available. Basically, I was more conscious about using free WiFi resources where before I didn’t give it any thought.
In terms of actual performance, I can see the difference between Mint and Verizon, but it’s not as severe as I expected. The calls are choppier in Midtown Manhattan, especially if we try to use Telegram data calling. If I try to play video over mobile, the quality isn’t as good and sometimes it buffers. At $20 per month, I feel like this is a fair trade-off. Almost everyone has some issues in Midtown and this is more of a T-Mobile coverage problem than a Mint problem.
The more serious issue I’ve noticed relates to data connectivity. If my phone has been connected to a WiFi network, mobile data often doesn’t automatically kick on when I lose the WiFi signal. I have to put my phone in Airplane Mode for a few seconds to force the data connection to activate.
I’ve seen this complaint repeated in a few forums and my wife’s phone has the same problem, so I know it’s not unique to my experience. On my wife’s iPhone, using the Airplane Mode trick sometimes works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes she has to power-cycle the device, which is time consuming and disruptive.
Other than that, the service works as well as I would expect from any mobile service.
In short, there’s no reason to overpay for mobile service unless you really want to or you just have money to burn. We decided to stop and switched to an MVNO and we were able to do that without compromising our quality of life in any serious way by switching to Mint Mobile.
In the process, we saved $440 in the first 3 months of service. After the promotional period, we’ll still save $110 per month compared to what we were paying Verizon. If we do the one-year up-front renewal we’ll save about $1624 compared to what we would have paid Verizon.
It feels like we’re paying a fair price for the service we’re getting instead of feeling ripped off every month.
Performance-wise, the issue where the phone occasionally doesn’t start using mobile data after leaving a WiFi network is aggravating, but not a deal-breaker. Not for me, anyway. The issue seems to be a lot more annoying with an iPhone, so keep that in mind.
Long-story short: unless something changes drastically, when my three month promo period is up, I’m going to buy a year of Mint Mobile service up-front. I’m going to play with data usage to see what I can get away with comfortably without hitting my cap and maybe I’ll move to the 12 GB plan so I can stream more spur-of-the-moment music, but I’m pretty satisfied with Mint Mobile so far.
A word of caution
Before you commit to changing carriers (buy a SIM or remove your SIM from your phone) do yourself a favor and do these three things first:
check to make sure that your phone is unlocked by calling your current carrier.
make sure your phone is compatible by using the tool on the Mint Mobile website.
make sure your phone hasn’t been IMEI blacklisted. You can find that out easily and for free by using the IMEI checker on T-Mobile’s website. If it has an issue it’ll let you know that your phone is blocked. I’ll write more about that in a follow-up post.
If you see that your phone is “blocked” or “blacklisted” using an IMEI checker, do not remove the SIM card from your phone until the issue is resolved. If you do, when you put any SIM card back into the phone (including the one you just took out), the service associated with the SIM card will check the IMEI blacklist and if your phone is on it, it will prevent your phone from activating and you won’t be able to use it again on any carrier.