on Russians, sharks, bears, swimming, and who to trust

You, the average normal human, require a new hammer. You use it to fix up your house, apartment, hovel, or yurt. You have several options to choose from. But recommendations tell you that you can have the hammer made by a partially competent American maker at a reasonable price, or the cheap one made by a former KGB assassin. Which do you choose?

Well, I suppose if you lived in Russia you would pick the KGB guy. Or be made to pick the KGB guy. But if you’re not Russian why would you, or anybody else, choose the KGB guy? This question has always been on my brain as folks and organizations have chosen Kaspersky Labs to handle their internet security to the tune of half-a-billion active users.

I mean I somewhat get it, Norton, McAfee, and the many other generic Western firms are only above average at best. But what do you expect when the Internets sandbox is an inherently flawed security nightmare. That doesn’t mean you go running for help with Ivan, aka the guys who are directly responsible for much of the security nightmare. Unless you desire to make the counterargument that because Kaspersky is KGB, that it’s good business to ask the devil to guard your church because he knows how to mix it up, barstool style. But I don’t buy that argument. Eventually the devil will rob you and use your pilfered cash to buy cinnamon whiskey, his drink of choice.

Kaspersky is somehow considered respectable, which further proves the marketing goons of the planet can put a shine on anything and twist people’s brains with glorious abandon. Kaspersky advertises on NPR! So he must be legit, right? And since the beginning Kaspersky has tried to always prove they have an independent hand. Their claim is that Russian they are, doesn’t mean you can’t trust them. They’re separate and distinct from the functioning arms of the Russian state, honest. Eh, if they say so.

As far as my take, I think this Washington Post article sums it up pretty nicely. In particular:

“James Lewis, a cybersecurity expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said ‘it’s difficult, if not impossible’ for a company like Kaspersky to be headquartered in Moscow ‘if you don’t cooperate with the government and the intelligence services.’”

Yeah, no kidding. So if you or your business has put your trust in Kaspersky, well, you deserve what you get.

Hey speaking of failed trust, apparently a whole bunch of people actually thought Discovery Channel was going to get Michael Phelps to race a shark. Instead they just computer simulated it and Phelps lost. Because Phelps is a human, as in, a creature not meant to inherently swim in the water. Kind of like how a shark is. But I digress.

Did folks actually think they’d put Phelps in the water alongside a shark and race them in lanes? Do folks understand that humans can’t order sharks around like that? Gee I sure hope so. How did people logistically think this would occur? Why are they angry with Discovery Channel? How did they trust that this would actually happen?

The only thing I can think of is they’d capture the shark and chain it up like some kind of angry Star Wars arena beast. They’d have him in a lane in the ocean contained by two sheets of transparent aluminum. And Phelps would be on the other side. Then they’d fire the gun and release the shark. Only, but what if the shark didn’t swim forward and instead tried to turn around and attack the folks behind him? As in, the folks who’d just chained him up. Or what if the shark swam for a bit and then stopped? Or what if the shark busted through the transparent aluminum and swallowed Michael Phelps whole in an orgy of chum related violence? Or what if we get Kaspersky to race a 700 pound grizzly bear? Maybe his KGB training, Russian bear familiarity, and Vlad inspired judo can save him? But I doubt it.

Who not to trust? Well for starters Russians who say they’re here to help. And folks who claim a human can race a shark. Along with all other kinds of lunacy that just don’t seem to make sense. Kind of like most of the nonsense written on this degenerate blog.

You could adopt the tact of: trust no one. But instead, just use your common sense. We’ve all got it. It’s pretty neat. Go with that.

fun time

four creatures enter; one creature leaves

why do we enjoy some bad movies and hate the others?

So you catch three hotel movies across three days because you’ve lost your mind with work and they crank in at 13%, 6%, and 14% on the Rotten Tomatoes cult. Is your quality of life improved or degraded? Well, it depends. At home you’d suffer because there’s so much else to do. But in a ditch hotel that for cost purposes is at a place where you can walk nowhere, where your boss has the only rental car and won’t share, and so you’re just killing time? Well, it can work. And so it did.

Say I get a movie at home and folks say it’s good, but it ain’t, then I get angry. When I get a movie at the hotel and I know it’s bad, and it’s bad, I can just laugh at the movie and enjoy it. Then I’ve killed off a section of the multi-day six pack and at least about 90 minutes of my evening. Then I can read some and go to bed. One night closer to going home.

And so on my latest lengthy epic journey at one point I caught two movies in a Texas hotel and the third one the day after in Wisconsin. They were Black Rose, Extraction, and Last Knights. Three movies that nobody has ever heard of let alone watched. None of these three films ever hit the American theater. They were available to my eyeballs purely out of Netflix’s desire to throw content at you.

So where did this leave me? Black Rose is not really good, but holds your interest. Extraction extracted my brain. I actually enjoyed Last Knights, I mean I really liked Last Knights.

Why? Let’s get into it! Because why not? Oh my, I’m such a loser!

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Black Rose

From a bunch of joint American and Russian production companies you’ve never heard of comes 46 year old Alexander Nevsky’s masterpiece in which he directs, writes, and stars. Nevsky is apparently a former bodybuilder. Black Rose is not his first starring role nor journey into the movies, but it sure seems so.

The plot is brutally simple, Russian girls are getting killed in LA. The LAPD can’t get it done. Nevsky is a Russian cop who’s brought in as a ringer. He teams up with LAPD reject and former time assassin Kristanna Loken in a bid to stop the serial killer, before he kills again, and time runs out, for another Russian woman, and she is murdered, by the killer.

It’s everything you would expect it to be. We get dialogue worthy of 1987’s best action flicks, Nevsky has several (like seven) long montage shots of him walking on LA beaches, investigating Russian businesses, and shopping at the local K-Mart. Nevksy is a loose cannon. Loken is the more scientific analyst. They get Adrian Paul to play the Chief, which is backwards, but whatever it works.

But it’s the mystery that actually holds your interest. For whatever reason, Nevksy’s likely use of Soviet weightlifter drugs did not inhibit his ability to write a decent murder plot. I always love a good mystery that keeps you guessing until the last moment. Even if after you know the answer it seems dumb. And boy does the villain’s final answer sure seem dumb. But, I was into it, I wanted to know the answer.

My biggest problems with this flick are that there’s not nearly enough action and Nevsky is too much like 1980’s robot Arnold. When I’m promised a bad action movie, I need stupid action. Nevsky only kills like three people in this whole movie. I think a car only blows up once. There might be six minutes of combined action available. I guess Nevsky was trying to be serious with his work? But come on.

Also, Nevsky seems to think that acting like robot Arnold circa 1982 (before he could speak English) is the way to go. He spends the entire movie with a mask of the T-100. He doesn’t even really yell at the bad guys. It looks like he popped motion sickness pills before each scene. I’ll try not to get into him too much on this, Arnold only became charismatic on screen once he knew the language, but it makes the flick less fun when the main character is a block of wood.

Overall, we’ll give it two stars.

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Extraction

Do you like money? Who doesn’t. I know for sure Bruce Willis does. Because it’s the only explanation for his presence in this garbage flick. This thing barely qualifies as a functioning movie. It’s got a plot, characters, and they have like things in the movie, like cars and buildings. But that’s about it.

There’s the CIA, spies, people get beat up, whatever. I think this line actually appears in the film, “Sir, I cannot eliminate the target as we have not determined where the package is at this time. We should consult our latest protocol.” Did I watch it? Yes. Did it serve its hotel purpose? Yes. Is it one of the worst I’ve ever seen?

exlpoding planet recommendation

 

Last Knights

Why? Why do I like this movie? Apparently folks hate it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s well shot, has great acting, a good story that you don’t realize until like 3/4 of the way through is based off a classic Earth tale, and it’s different. As far as these sword films go, it’s done differently. Don’t let the foolish studio generated clickbait movie title fool you, the folks who made the film clearly cared. Why do we enjoy some bad movies and hate the others?

1) Acting: With Last Knights we get Clive Owen and Morgan Freeman. They don’t disappoint. Both of them are superb in this flick. These guys have been in some terrible, terrible movies, so it’s not like their Shakespeare’s ghost or anything, but they both give it a great effort and it pays off. Their characters effectively suit their acting talents. I don’t normally like Owen, but in this film he’s great, probably the most I’ve liked him in a role. Freeman is Freeman, you know what you get, and I’ve always liked Freeman. Contrast that with Extraction where Willis looks like he’s hungry and can’t wait for the scene to end so he can go get a sandwich. I’ve already talked about Nevsky. The other two leads in Extraction failed middle school drama and/or one or both of them are MMA fighters which is why they were cast, I can’t remember which.

2) Unique: I won’t blow the whole plot by saying that this is a different sword slashing movie. In the first five minutes you realize this. This is (by way of Freeman’s narration) a multi-racial society ruled by a cast of knights that’s different from your usual feudal / medieval structure. They also go out of their way to create a different look to this world. The costumes, the sets, the way people behave is about as far from Game of Thrones or whatever Viking stuff you can get. Even their swords look unique. When Hollywood can only generate films based on characters that were first created in 1936, it’s refreshing to see a film willing to do crazy stuff and take risks. Yes, ultimately you discover that the film is based on an ancient tale, but it’s so subtle and revealed so late in the movie that the surprise is actually welcome and exciting. It sneaks up on you and you’re happy that you recognize the tale that you’re now in.

3) Interesting Dialogue: In the first twenty minutes we get great scenes where Owen talks to some page, Owen and Freeman speak, Freeman meets the villain, and so on. Whereas Black Rose and Extraction have dialogue written at the fourth grade level, Last Knights had me rewinding scenes so I could watch them again. It wasn’t necessarily because the dialogue was fast paced or that I didn’t understand what was going on, I just felt like I wanted to rewatch it immediately. I almost never do this. You can tell they went through a lot of trouble to write sharp, exciting scenes right up front. You may have met Owen’s character only seven minutes prior, but you already know who he is, what he’s about, and already you like him and are rooting for him. And who can’t root for Freeman as the wise revered father of the realm? Did Nevsky entertain me? Yes. Was I ever actually rooting for him? Nyet.

Catch Last Knights if you can. Catch Black Rose if you’re bored or something. You can bin Extraction.  Will you love Last Knights as much as I did? Or is this just a fluke? Well, on the Rotten Tomatoes cult the audience reviews for these flicks (unlike the critic reviews) have a disparity. Black Rose gets 10%, Extraction 17%, and Last Knights jumps all the way to 46%. So clearly I’m not the only degenerate in the audience who liked Last Knights so much more. I say give it a shot, and feel free to blame me if it bombs for you.

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the Giant Octopi are pleased

So I’m on a 737 full of live humans bound for Chicago Midway.  We’re all getting settled in for a quite brief flight of only two hours.  The flight attendant makes her usual announcements and then casually mentions that the aircraft wifi is not working.

About 1/3 of the plane gasps in frustration or offers a bunch of “ohh”s.  Kind of like if you’re at a hockey game, and the home team fires a shot that just misses and clangs off the pipe, and the whole hometown crowd yells “ohh”.  That’s what the plane sounded like.

I shook my head, and continued to read my paper magazine who’s design was originally modeled in 1632.  Apparently folks can’t do without access to the Internets for a whole two hours.  The Giant Octopi are pleased.  They’ve got humanity wrapped around their little finger.

At the time of this incident, Bezos, Zucky, and all the other Giant Octopi goons suddenly got the urge to smile.  They didn’t know why, but I did.

Gee wiz people, read a book, talk to somebody, stare at the back of the tray table and let your mind wander.  Anything at all will do.  But do please unplug from time to time.

oh, no

I’ve connected through Houston Bush before, but that was years ago.  So I deplane and as soon as I get out the gate I notice there’s a bunch of small screens everywhere.  The normal waiting areas with rows of chairs were apparently replaced with tables.  Each individual seat had a tablet in front of it.

I didn’t think much of it at first.  I had a quick hour to grab food before the next flight.  I ended up at a place called Bam Bam for Vietnamese.  I sit down at the bar, and I’m face-to-face with another tablet.

Oh, no.

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It’s the future.  Today!

It took me about five minutes to realize no bartender was coming to see me.  I figured out on my own that to get a beer or order food I had to use the tablet.  Then I had to swipe my credit card right on the spot.

Even after you’re done ordering, there’s this still that evil screen right in front of you.  They continuously bombard you with ads, proposed money games, and whatever else.  You can’t turn the damn thing off, at least not that I could figure out.

The beer was local Texas good, they had a great banh-mi, and a so-so salad.  But I couldn’t get over the darn screen.  I want a quiet beer and meal.  And maybe to watch sports behind the bar.  Not get ads shoved in my face.  Note the company logos on the shot above from the many, many usual suspects of the Giant Octopi.  I should have put a napkin over the thing.

I’m an introvert.  So you better believe it’s a legit problem when I say I actually genuinely missed ordering my food and drink from a real live person.  To actually engage in conversation with a fellow human.

I eventually figured out the screen thing, but almost nobody else did.  Other folks coming in were exasperated with trying to work it out.  And they got frustrated as the one poor waiter had to walk them through it.

Business consultants told Bam Bam and Houston Bush that there would be friction during the “initiation period”.  But that eventually customers will get used to using this technology on a regular basis to order.  Then they can save 47% on restaurant personnel costs once all orders are handled in this electronic manner.

This is the future.  Every single moment of your time is one giant opportunity for somebody to shove ads in your face.  Everyone notice the new gas pumps?  Where they throw ads at you in the 49 seconds it takes to pump your gas?

Machines probably won’t totally take over every job.  You won’t see a full blown robot bartender.  Instead you’ll see various aspects of humanity removed from the equation.  Technology will destroy jobs on the margins.  Instead of six waiters a restaurant will have two.  What are the other four newly unemployed humans supposed to do?

If you believe the wizards of the future, technology will free those four people to go become artists, or learn a new trade like plumbing, or whatever.  What I suspect will happen instead is that society will generally continue to become poorer and more unequal.

When traveling, I don’t think I’ll do this again.  If I see a screen like this again, I’m walking away.  I’ll take my cash to a business that employs humans.  And if every bar stool on the planet has a screen one day?  I don’t know what I’ll do, but that’ll be a sad, sad day.

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The future can kiss my ass.

why is it only now that folks think Uber is evil?

I’ve always been fascinated by the selective enforcement of opinion some folks display. This is because, in general, I try to be somewhat consistent in what I say and do. Like all humans, I fail at this all the time, but I do try.

For example, for half-a-decade Uber has been the cool little thing for folks to use. It’s been the trendy, young, urban way to get around oh so many metropolitan areas. But now, all of a sudden, Uber is evil. Why?

Well, first off the impression was (incorrectly) that Uber had sided with Trump (that guy folks don’t like) against airport taxi drivers striking against the immigration plan. Then, Uber’s Overlord Travis Kalanick had flamed one of his own drivers with the oh so memorable line, “Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit.”

So now, folks want to delete Uber. There’s a hashtag or a messenger pigeon that says so, or something like that. Why?

A few things here:

1) Uber has always been evil

Since its beginning, Kalanick has always had a reputation (even within the Silicon Valley lifelines, which is saying something) of being a dirty asshole. For instance, once upon a time Uber got caught creating fake Lyft profiles which called for Lyft rides when nobody was actually there. Generally speaking, you would think one would like to purchase a product from a company that at least tries to conduct itself in a moral manner. But I specifically remember this incident getting largely ignored. I doubt anybody gave it even a second thought before they opened the app those few years back. Why was there not a delete Uber campaign back then?

Sure, Uber taxis were cleaner and their drivers polite and usually well dressed, but did folks realize that in most cases those same drivers were making substantially less money than a normal taxi driver? Or that Uber basically railroads them on costs and percentages? I have in my mind, a bunch of cool, hip youngsters. They go protest for a $15 minimum wage for fast food workers. They get back and forth from the protest, by taking Uber.

2) This is how Silicon Valley thinks

“Some people don’t like to take responsibility for their own shit,” should now become the motto of Silicon Valley. I’ve got some news for all you cool earnest young people with your cool trendy apps and expensive phones: everybody in Silicon Valley thinks this way. They just don’t foolishly admit it like Kalanick did. These are ultra-Type A people who believe that success or failure in Silicon Valley (aka Life) is almost entirely dependent upon raw skill. In other words, Kalanick is rich because he is awesome. Those who are poor or fail are not awesome. And it’s their own fault.

Generally I tend to believe in the idea that we each can make our own life. Success or failure is in our own hands. But I also acknowledge that there are various intangible factors that can shape how hard it is for folks to make it in life. Kalanick is the son or a marketer and an engineer and went to a private high school. Does he make Uber happen if he was born in say West Baltimore? Or how about if Kalanick was a recent immigrant who drives for Uber? But in Kalanick’s brain, it’s not like that. People who drive for Uber are losers. If they were winners, they’d take responsibility for their own shit and get a better job.

3) The cool factor

Again, it’s always been like this, but only now has Uber crossed over and is thus evil. Why? The cool factor. If you are cool, you can (mostly) get away with anything. Steve Jobs is basically considered a demigod. Apple is the cool of cool. But Jobs (in true Silicon Valley style) was also an asshole. At one point Apple got caught colluding with book publishers to cheat the price offered to consumers. Ostensibly it was to undercut Amazon’s growing market dominance, but it’s still basically a Monopoly Man moment. Apple cheated its customers. Jobs got caught sending e-mails to The Mini Monopoly Man himself in James Murdoch trying to boost prices. Guess what? Nobody cared.

People still think Apple is the coolest thing on the planet. Your average Apple junkie either never heard of this incident, or mentally just wrote it off. Oh, Jobs tried to cheat me? Eh, but Apple is so cool. My iPhone is the coolest!

I think it was the same way with Uber. But I guess, even cool can only take you so far. So now Uber is less cool, and perhaps even evil.

Hmm, Apple, take note!

we reaffirm our commitment to “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”

The goons of humanity who try and remote control other people’s lives are shockingly transparent. So when the Communist Party backed a movie they placed supreme faith in, gee, who would have figured they’d lose their minds when it turned out to be the terrible, mindless, bad action flick everybody expected?

Beyond my original thoughts on all this, I’ll simply put down the international failure of this movie to two concepts:

1) Zhang got himself trapped (as many a good filmmaker has) by the power of special effects. Since computers allow him to do anything he wants, he lets his mind go insane. Simple decent scenes become a mesh of digital action nonsense so disconnected from reality that the audience can’t connect with the movie. It’s like watching a bad video game or seizure inducing Japanese anime. You don’t feel anything. See the Star Wars prequels or the Transformers films for similar forays into the awfulness.

2) Despite (1), a whole bunch of movies succeed in this format and make a ton of money, see Fast & Furious. I think the Red goons wanted The Great Wall to make an insane amount of money. If it did, it would have been a critical first step of an organic Chinese blockbuster. The problem is nobody cared. Folks probably saw the terrible trailers for this movie and were like, “eh, whatever”.

The movie debuts in America tomorrow. So I guess we’re about to find out just how dumb the American theatergoer is. If this movie makes $300M in the States, I’m moving to the Moon. But the Chinese theatergoer already figured this out, and they weren’t happy.

But hey, even though the movie sucks, it’s not the movie’s fault. But rather you, the viewer, who is wrong. Per The Economist, Xinhua (the Party mouthpiece) called the film “innovative” and accused online detractors of “giving it a hard time just for the sake of it”.

I’ll wear that appellation with pride. As I hope every Chinese citizen who rightly criticized this movie online will. We can’t let the goons control human lives. To the point that the bad, is made to be good. Just because they say so.

The question again, is can you make good art, a good movie when the Party is pulling the creative levers? I don’t think so. Zhang used to make great movies, when he was a rebel and against the Party. Now he’s a team player and the art is over.

I hope he learns from this, dumps the handlers, and goes back to making great films.

The Great Wall

Human actor plays medieval part in movie about aliens who got to Earth on an asteroid and attack once every 60 years. Eh, wait, what? Well, what could go wrong?

the bizarreness of modern work communication

You need something from somebody who sits 18 feet from you. How do you go about interacting with them? Normally you’d just go talk to them face-to-face, right? After all, a family member who is 18 feet from you inside your home is just a normal random conversation. Not so, apparently, within the dreaded confines of cubicle hell.

A guy three cubicles over has called me on the phone this week. Twice. I can hear him talking to me in one ear through the phone. In the other ear I hear him talking in the same room. It makes no sense. But other people do this too. They call each other in our bank of cubicles. I can hear them both phone talk like they’re standing next to each other.

This stuff has also occurred recently:

– The boss e-mails an employee who works 30 feet from him saying “come see me”

– The boss shouts from his office at somebody who works 50 feet from him asking if they’re in the office

– The other boss talks to somebody over a cubicle wall, and then says they’ll just instant message the work task instead of telling them

– People say they will respond to an e-mail, but then call somebody instead

– People will call you and make decent shit happen, but then ask you to send an e-mail to work out all the details again

– Folks will e-mail somebody who works 10 feet away asking a simple question

I think all this text messaging, Snapchat, mind meld, e-mail, Internets, etc, etc has destroyed normal human communication. Any one of the above scenarios is best handled by two people talking face-to-face. Instead, this easy straightforward method of interaction is devolved into a whole plethora of ineffective means. This ineffective nature increases stress and otherwise further harms an already unhappy place to work.

Just talk to people face-to-face. It’s better for all of us.

Or, just go off the rails. Whatever.

– E-mail your boss when you arrive at work saying “I’m now at my desk”

– Call the person who works in the cubicle next to you to say “Good morning”, then immediately hang up

– Instead of handing your boss a printed 53 page report with a face-to-face explanation, scan each page individually, then e-mail your boss the document as 53 attachments

– Instant message somebody 17 feet away and ask them their lunch plans, then regardless of their actual response, tell them to send you an e-mail calendar invite for lunch

– Put up a sign with skull and crossbones icons all over it that says, “today I can only be reached via e-mail”, and when people try and engage you in face-to-face conversation you just tap the sign without saying a word

– Bring a small bird into the office and inform coworkers you’ll communicate via carrier bird only, but never ever actually do this, you just have the bird in the office for months without ever using it

– Shout over the cubicle walls, “what day is today?”, “what’s the deadline for that bullshit product we owe to the boss?”, “where are my keys?”, “is the concept of anti-matter an oxymoron?”

– E-mail your boss, “I’m coming to see you”, before leaving your cubicle to go speak with her

– Write “I went to lunch” in your own blood on a single white sheet of paper, leave it on your desk, then dump a 28 ounce can of tomato sauce all over your cubicle floor and walls, then go hit the pub for about three hours before nonchalantly returning to work