Sunday, October 13, 2019

My Review of Embrace Your Weird by Felicia Day

Embrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash CreativityEmbrace Your Weird: Face Your Fears and Unleash Creativity by Felicia Day
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To be honest, this book had me at "Written by Felicia Day," - but in retrospect even if I were unfamiliar with the author, I would be giving it a five-star review. It's a gem, a must-read for anyone in a creative field. Scratch that - it's a must read for anyone.

I chose the audio book, which as an added bonus is read by the author. This medium might make doing the exercises a bit more of a challenge, although a PDF is included to help make this easier. In full disclosure, I skipped most of the exercises, but whether you do the homework or not, you'll get a lot out of this book.

The author's quirky, humorous and charming writing style is as much fun as it was in her autobiography, "You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)." But style is only a small part of what's great about this book.

It's obvious from the first chapter that the author took on this project with one big goal - to help readers find their creative muses. Specifically, to help creators cut through all the little voices that tell us we're not good enough, smart enough, or talented enough to succeed. And in my opinion, she more than succeeded.

It's never easy to open up about your own mistakes, quirks and neuroses. Most of us spend our lives trying to hide those parts of ourselves from others. Instead, the author uses her own experiences as teachable moments for her readers. I admit to shedding a few tears during the section on shame, when she relates what has to be a highly painful personal experience that stuck with her through the years. It hit extremely close to home for someone who has spent way too much time with regret over past actions that everyone else has forgotten. But it was a powerful moment for me. You mean other people obsess over dumb things they did years or decades ago? Even highly successful people with acting and producing careers?

Yes, they do, and the author is not afraid to use her own experiences page after page to give the rest of us hope. She will gently guide you through ways to improve your own creative process while she shares tips on how to deal with shame, regret, and many more 'enemies' of creativity.

If you read one book on creating this year, it should be this one. In fact, if you read one book at all this year, make it this one. Buy it, read it, listen to it, whatever. You won't regret it.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

An open letter to the sysop who banned me from CompuServe in the 1980s

Hey, brother! I hope you’ve been well the past 30 years or so.

Well, to begin, you probably don’t remember me. That’s awkward. To be honest, I’d forgotten all about you, too. At least until a recent conversation with a friend about online forum moderation tweaked my memory. Ah, the things my friends and I discuss ...

I won’t waste too much of your time. It was 1984-ish or so. Pre-Internet, or at least any version of the Internet we would recognize. I had a Commodore 64 and my parents had just bought me a CompuServe modem. You may recall that ‘getting online’ was a big thing back then. Not to mention expensive - well, for me, anyway. For one thing, CompuServe charged by the minute. That was bad enough, but the small town I lived in didn’t have a local number, so I had to pay long distance charges in addition to that.

Exhibit A

Ugh. Now I have to explain long distance charges. You know what? I don’t. I’m sure you remember them as well as I do. Many a young lad in a long distance relationship spent all night talking to their boo, only to have the hammer of parental justice descend upon them when the bill came the next month.

And that bill would come. But before that - sometime after I got my modem but before my parents took my privileges away for running up long distance and service charges - we had our fated meeting, you and I.

Actually, it wasn’t me you talked to, not for the first half hour. Sure, it was my modem and my account. I’d had the modem for about a week, and had been messing around on different forums - or chat boards or whatever they were called back then. That’s really was all there was to do on CompuServe. I was getting a little burned out on the whole thing but still addicted to that beep-boop-booooo dial-up noise.

But no, this was my friend you were talking to. We’ll call him R, to protect his identity. I’m sure he’d confirm the story if I asked him, but since nothing is riding on it I’d prefer not to drag up his juvenile antics. He’s a very important person these days.

"R" and your author in an undisclosed location several years after the event in question.

R was visiting and wanted to try out my new stuff. So we fired up the old beep-boop-boooo and logged on.

One thing you should know before we go further is that R knew a lot about Eddie Van Halen. A lot. Probably enough to win an Eddie-themed Jeopardy round easily, even if he was playing against Eddie himself.

It didn’t take R long to find your channel - rockchat, or #rock, or rockytalk, or whatever name these things had back then. His eyes lit up and he dove right in.

In full disclosure, I wasn’t really paying attention, since I was eating Doritos or playing with Stretch Armstrong or whatever pre-Teens did in the early 80s when their friends were using their Commodore 64s. I was more of a go-along type kid, anyway. But he’s typing and typing and he’s like “hey, I’m gonna tell these guys I’m Eddie Van Halen!”

(Another thing about R is that, from time to time, he enjoyed messing with people.)

“Cool,” I said. Whatever. Dream your dreams, my friend.

Little did I know how big R was dreaming. Over a series of rapid-fire chats, he convinced everyone in the chatroom - a half-dozen or so Rock-n-Roll loving geeks - that he was, in fact, Eddie Van Halen. Eddie was bored with the long stretch of road between gigs and had decided to log on from his tour bus.

"Who makes your guitars?" "I do, of course."

They were skeptical at first, but R answered every question that they come up with (remember - no Google in those days) until they bought into it completely. By now, I’d gotten into it, and we were huddled around the keyboard, laughing and spinning wilder and wilder tales involving Eddie, David and the whole crew. At some point it occurred to us - to me, anyway - that we couldn’t ride this tiger much longer. The smart thing to do would be log off and just laugh about it. Maybe even come back a few more times for some more chuckles.

But I was starting to feel bad about it all. As a kid, I had a sort of always-turned-on guilty conscience that followed me around everywhere. I felt like whatever I was doing at the time was vaguely wrong - so when doing something that was actually wrong, like now … well, you get the picture.

I kicked R off the keyboard and was like “Hey, guys, my friend was pulling your leg, he isn’t Eddie Van Halen, he just knows a lot about him. Just a joke. Ha ha, pretty funny, right?”

Boy, were ya’ll mad.

OK, I get it. Kind of a dick move. You and your online buddies had every right to be mad. And honestly, you had every right to block me as you did. What we did was clearly ‘trolling,’ even though no one knew what that was back then, and probably a violation of your CompuServe forum rules as well. So, no hard feelings there. Not even for the many insults you hurled my way until R convinced me to log off and go do something else.

That’s the background. And I’m not here to judge or rehash old grievances - just wanted to say two things. First, and most important, you should know that I felt really bad about the whole thing. Not as bad as I felt the time I stole candy from that store and spent the next two weeks waiting for the police to come get me - but yeah, pretty bad. I was convinced I’d done something awful and was in capital-t Trouble.

Being banned from your group - as little as that meant in real terms, since I never wanted to talk about Eddie Van Halen again after a half hour - was like trying to play a game with an Intellivision controller with one busted keypad button. It was hard to get past it. That feeling of having done something wrong lingered on and off until the next phone bill came, at which point my parents made sure I had other things to feel bad about.

I never really got closure on this. And after all these years, I wanted to reach out and bury the hatchet. So! This is me showing remorse. I’ve learned a lot in the past 30 years, and one of the things I’ve learned is that you should never toy with people’s emotions the way we did. Actually I learned that pretty early - probably should have done this sooner, come to think of it. Oh, well.

The second thing I wanted to say. Dude - you got punked. You got punked by a couple of 13 year olds. This was 20 years before MTV came out with Punk’d, but you could have been on the first episode.

Pre-Mila. Pre-Demi, even?
I mean, really. Do you think a rock star was just going to show up on your message board randomly, on his way from one show to another? That Eddie was down with the message boards? That he wanted to spend his time in a chat room with eight people instead of pounding beers with Michael Anthony? Did you think that they had computers on buses back then - even Van Halen tour buses? At what point during this online chat did all this become believable to you?

You were a systems operator! A sysop, man! You were vested the weighty responsibility of managing this channel full of aspiring young rock and roll fans. You were supposed to be their mother hen, their protection against the cold, hard world outside, not letting foxes into your hen house. This was your dining room - and you let two pre-teens come right in, sit down at your table and make you look like a fool in front of your whole family.

Come on, man. What happened?

I’m sorry. Here I go again. You know what? This is on me, not you. You were the victim. We were the perpetrators. Well, mostly R. But, you know … I was there. So, again. Let me say I’m sorry.

Wait, did I not say that yet? Hmph. Well, I’m saying it now. I’m sorry for punking you and your crew. I hope you’ve had a full life, a career in the music biz or wherever your passion turned out to be, have a beautiful family and everything you ever wanted, and are looking forward to a long and well-deserved retirement in the Bahamas somewhere.

And don’t forget to catch that magic moment, and do it right now.

Stay chill, dude.


User MH4972a

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

In memory of Grace the ferret, April 2018-August 2018

I wasn't interested in getting a ferret. It was my girlfriend Rose who wanted one - and I just agreed to make her happy, really.

Pretty much my only experience with ferrets was a friend in college who had two. The only thing I knew about them was that they liked to escape places when someone left the door open. Since my friend lived in a trailer, and a lot of us smoked, there was a lot of going in and out, a lot of open doors, and a lot of ferret escapes. They seemed more of an annoyance to me than anything else.

 All of that changed when Rose brought Grace home.

You'd have to have a heart ten sizes too small not to fall in love with this.

What can I say about Grace? She was adorable, hilarious, and happy. She hopped around like a little spring (ferrets are often referred to as 'slinkies' or 'noodles.')

Gracie was our summer ferret. We got her in June and she was gone in August. She didn't even make it to four months. When she got sick, she fought for a week with every spark in her little body. We took her to three different vets, and none of them could figure out what was wrong with her. All they could do was keep her hydrated, give her antibiotics and run tests. Eventually, she just couldn't fight anymore.

Ferrets love shoes.

She liked to chase everyone around the house. It didn't matter if you were a cat or a person, if you ran, she'd chase you. Rose's cat Milo would play with her all the time. My cats, not so much. Theirs was more of a terrified 'arghhh what is this wee beastie chasing me' type of running.

Grace and Milo taking a nap.

Someone I recently talked to about Grace told me, "I never thought I'd care about ferrets until my boyfriend talked me into getting one. I fell in love instantly." Which is so much like my own experience, it makes me think that this is pretty common among first-time ferret owners.

 A few quick facts that I didn't know when we first got her, if you're curious. If you're not, you can just skip ahead.

Ferrets are exotic pets - which really just means they're not a dog, cat, or goldfish - but they also have some very specialized needs. Not all vets know how to deal with ferrets, and some won't take them at all. Find a good vet near you that knows ferrets.

Consider getting your ferret from a local breeder rather than a big chain. The big guys churn out ferrets by the truckload, and there are some concerns about their breeding, neutering and de-scenting practices that I won't go into here. If you're interested, the information is out there. 

No ferret should be exposed to temperatures above about 80 degrees. So if you live in the South, you'll probably have to keep your ferret indoors most of the summer. 

Ferrets seem to do better in pairs than on their own, although Grace seemed happy by herself. 

Ferrets have been domesticated for thousands of years, which means they're a lot like dogs in that they really bond with their people. 

They can eat a wide variety of foods, but they are obligate carnivores like cats. Don't try to turn your ferret into a vegan.

You have to be careful with ferrets. They get into everything. They like to chew things, and they are naturally attracted to more valuable items. Grace preferred electrical cords, the mask to my sleep breathing device, and my headphones.

Ferrets love headphones.

There's plenty more to learn about ferrets. I'd recommend starting with a basic book like Ferrets for Dummies and going from there.

The joy that Grace brought us in her short time was worth the sorrow. Yes, we'd love to have had her for another 10 years. But it wasn't meant to be. She taught us so much. She taught me that I could fall deeply in love with a pet after only a few weeks.

Losing a pet you've had for that time can hurt just as much as one you've had for more than a decade. I've lost pets before, but never so soon, and - with the exception of a sick kitten when I was kid who died after less than a day - never one who was just a baby.

Maybe it was the intensity of Grace's sickness that made the loss so painful. After watching her fight so hard for so long, it was hard to let her go. It might have been easier had it been quicker, and there certainly would have been less tears had she never come into our lives at all.

One of the last moments I got to spend with Grace.

But I wouldn't trade the memory of her for anything. And I just hope she's bouncing around in Heaven or Valhalla or the Happy Hunting Ground or wherever it is ferrets go, squeaking and chewing up everything in sight.

Goodbye, Grace. We love you.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

My review of The Civil War, Volume 1 by Shelby Foote

The Civil War, Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to PerryvilleThe Civil War, Vol. 1: Fort Sumter to Perryville by Shelby Foote
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a fantastic book. It brings to life the battles of the Civil War and keeps the reader's interest. The problem with many historical books about large and complicated wars is that they either jump around too much and confuse the reader or get bogged down in the details of endless battles. This book strikes a balance that is unique in my experience. Highly recommend and can't wait to read the second one.

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Thursday, April 12, 2018

My review of Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America by David Wise

Spy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed AmericaSpy: The Inside Story of How the FBI's Robert Hanssen Betrayed America by David Wise
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An insightful look into the career of one of the most damaging spies in our nation's history. What made Robert Hanssen spy for the Soviets, and how did he get away with it for so long? The author's detailed and well-researched account goes a long way towards answering these questions. If you're interested in espionage and the FBI, this book is well worth your time.

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Thursday, April 5, 2018

My review of The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror by Garrett M. Graff

The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global TerrorThe Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror by Garrett M. Graff
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you're interested in the post-9/11 history of the FBI, this is the book for you. The author touches on many different aspects of the Agency's past, but focuses mainly on its new top mission after the September 11th attacks - the War on Terror. A detailed and informative look at the FBI under Robert Mueller and the Administrations of Presidents Bush and Obama. An eye-opening read.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

My review of Blood on the Moon by Edward Steers Jr.

Blood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham LincolnBlood on the Moon: The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln by Edward Steers Jr.
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A gripping and well-written look at the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. As the author mentions, most Lincoln books focus on his Presidency, with his assassination as an afterthought. As a result, many conspiracy theories have made their way into the popular stories of Lincoln's killing. Dr. Steers cuts through the myth and conspiracy to present a well-researched and highly readable look at Booth, Lincoln, and the other players in that historic crime. A must-read for history buffs!

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