Category Archives: HBO

Abramanations Multiply

This is my current review for Star Trek: Into Darkness on the Rotten Tomatoes website;

It doesn’t matter if it premieres the resurrected Great Bird of the Galaxy himself, I won’t be going to see this film in a theater. This will be the first film in Star Trek history that I’m actually hostile about before I’ve even seen it, and one of three that I loathe ever having been created (FYI, it’s the last three) I cannot express the level of revulsion that I feel when I contemplate what kind of depraved acts will be enacted on the corpse of one my most cherished memories from another time. Better to just pretend it isn’t happening, I guess. 

I did catch a “edited for television” version recently.  It was every bit as bad as I imagined it would be, and then some.  Somehow the internet haters really failed to communicate just how ridiculous this farce of a film was.  I’m not sure how this is possible, but it is.  Magic blood.  A Khan that isn’t South Asian. Starfleet officers engaging in conspiracies, taking the lives of their own people when they fail to submit to aggression.   

That Khan failed to pervert the crew of the Enterprise in the TOS episode “Space Seed” because future man is no longer susceptible to terroristic threats of this kind is a philosophical achievement lost on the creators of nutrek and the Abramanator himself.

The number of violations of Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future are almost uncountable.  They will remain uncounted by me.  It was enough for me simply to confirm that the film was bad and not just bad Trek. 

My apologies to the ghost of Gene Roddenberry for having witnessed this narrative of depravity. 

The film rates half a star on the 5 star system. I can’t rate it lower than that or I would.

Having failed to keep up my end of the bargain and actually never watch the film, I felt I had to come clean and admit to my transgression.  This article isn’t just about Star Trek: Into Darkness.  I haven’t been a Trek fan for quite a few years.  I quit following the show or hanging around with fans of Nutrek ages ago, not long after declaring Star Trek dead in 2009. I have no interest in being an internet hater.  I have even less interest in spending time in the presence of people who like things that I think are unforgivable violations of the intellectual property of a long-dead inspiration.

I am quite happy sitting here alone in my office.

I am forced to revisit this subject because the abramanations continue, and the general movie-going population remains vacuously enamored of J.J. Abrams’ tripe.

I sat down and watched Star Wars VII a few weeks ago with the Wife. We had planned on watching that film on the big screen and we missed it because it left theaters within a month of coming out, quicker than any other Star Wars film in history. I distinctly remember saying;

Given what George Lucas has done to Star Wars, I can hardly imagine how Abrams could fuck it up more than he has.

When it was first announced that J.J. Abrams would direct that film. Having watched the film I feel I now owe George Lucas an apology.

I owe George Lucas an apology because Star Wars VII is just Star Wars IV told even more poorly as a story, while millions upon millions more are spent on meaningless effects sequences.  It is a marvel to watch from an effects standpoint (much like Mad Max 4) while being almost incomprehensible from a plot and story perspective (also like Mad Max 4) And since George Lucas filmed Star Wars IV with less money and with no example to script by, I have to conclude that his is the superior intellect when contrasted with the abramanator.

It is nice to be proven wrong on occasion, even when the proof takes a few hours out of my life and a few yards out of my intestines due to the indigestion caused by stress.  Stress caused by having to watch bad filmmaking being rewarded so lavishly.

I blame LOST.

I never did do a post series write-up on that show, even though (as the link illustrates) I was quite the fan, following all the crumbs and clues and waiting for the next episode and the next season with breathless anticipation.  Until the story stopped making any sense at all, sometime during season four. I doggedly continued to catch every episode even then, and bought the DVD collections for each season, trusting that somehow it would all make sense in the end.

Except it really never did.  LOST is singularly the worst written story arc ever to be completed in a television show. It is the only show that, having gotten to the end, I really wanted all my invested time back. Not only does the story not make any sense, but the finale attempts to make every possible fan prediction about what the island was, and how the characters survived, be true simultaneously.  It is the series that best manifests the truism trying to make everyone happy is the surest way to piss everyone off.

Every season following the third season became harder and harder to watch.  Far from being the finale that ruined the show for me, it was the reliance on tropes and heuristics to ‘sort of’ move the show along to the conclusion that most of us saw coming years before the confirmatory finale; the finale which so deflated everyone’s expectations about the meaning of it all.

Why season three?  Remember the season three cliff-hanger ending? (I despise cliff-hanger season endings. Loathe them. What happens if the stars die or back out of their contracts? Just pretend the viewers weren’t left hanging?) Charlie’s big sacrifice? Didn’t mean anything.  It might have meant something if the Oceanic 6 hadn’t then gone on to… What? Go home, become helpless invalids? Fail to raise children and then return to the island? Return to the island in the past (a past that the smart guy in their midst says can’t be changed) Return to the island and be blown up by a nuclear explosion (an event that historically didn’t happen) which traps them in a time bubble. For all eternity. With people they hate as well as the friends they love.

I hate to break it to this guy, but if you have to explain what the ending meant in order for people to get it, then it really wasn’t closure of any kind, much less a good ending for a series.  The only reason people still talk about LOST is because the J.J. Abrams is Hollywood gold for some inexplicable reason, and so people feel obliged to say nice things about the series that launched him to success.

I watched in disbelieving horror when Damon Lindelof was paraded out a few years back on The Nerdist, which was airing on BBC America at the time.  Held up as some kind of authority on time travel stories, taking apart what turned out to be better, more interesting stories that used the story-telling vehicle in question.

Damon Lindelof. An authority.

An authority on stories about things which most scientists will tell you are theoretically implausible, which is about as close to impossible as you can get a scientist to go.

Let me put it this way. My reading of time travel stories and watching time travel movies, being obsessed with the concept of time travel for as long as I can remember. My discovery of Doctor Who in 1972 on a hotel television screen in Denver colorado (on a channel called PBS that I’d never heard of) makes my left testicle more of an authority on time travel than Damon Lindelof or J.J. Abrams himself.  They so screwed up time travel as a story vehicle in every episode of LOST and in the Abramanation, making the story vehicle a distraction from rather than the method of telling the story that I can’t even begin to explain how they might fix it other than to tell them to go talk to actual speculative fiction writers about what they did wrong.

Which brings me to the real reason I started this post. I ran across a clip on Youtube (see, I said it was bad news) advertising an HBO series that riffs off of another movie and story that I grew up on. That would be Westworld.

This is one of those rare films I was allowed to go see as a child. What is most interesting to me looking back at it; this film and the Andromeda Strain mark the beginnings of my exposure to Michael Crichton, which ended with his death in 2008 and the novel State of Fear, which many people mistake for non-fiction. In the middle was Jurassic Park as a high note and the poorly adapted Congo as a low note (the novel was much better than the film) it seems that his imagination has served as punctuation marks along my journey through science and speculative fiction.

I liked the original film. It is quite campy now and probably barely watchable. I don’t know for sure.  What I do know is that the J.J. Abrams is highly touted as having a hand in the HBO series.


Which spells doom for the series from the outset, if you want to take my word for it.  I doubt that most people will, since most people think that Star Wars VII is a good film, so I’ll try to put it another way.

The watchability of this series will be in direct inverse correlation to how much actual control Abrams has over it. 

It could be a good series, I won’t be holding my breath.  I won’t be able to watch it anyway until it hits Netflix or some other third party site since I don’t pay for HBO any longer.  That is one fine trailer though. Gunshots and partial nudity. Deep bass vibrations in the music to amp up the fear. Lots of famous actor cameos. Hits all the marks that advertising executives require. Just like the trailer for Star Trek: Beyond. Haven’t seen that Star Trek either, but I might watch it. I might even pay to watch it. Someone else wrote and directed it, so it might be OK as an experience.  Remember, an inverse relationship to Abramanator control. The Star Trek trailer sports the Bad Robot logo, though. Not a good sign.

HBO is riding the crest of a wave that they hadn’t expected to be on.  Who would have thought that George R.R. Martin would hit it big on television, with HBO as a backer creating the adaptation of his long running A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series which only people who live in caves without the internet won’t recognize as Game of Thrones.

I am now obliged to offer an apology to George R.R. Martin as well as George Lucas. Not just because I’ve first mentioned him in this article about the dreaded Abramanations; but also because, unlike the rest of the family and probably the rest of Austin if not the entire US has seen, read or listened to his stories and I still can’t name one title of his I’ve read even though I distinctly remember sharing a table with him at an Armadillocon somewhere in the murky past.  For that, and for mentioning you here, I truly am sorry.

But HBO is the channel riding the wave now, as AMC was riding the wave of popularity following Breaking Bad and the first few season of The Walking Dead. We’ll just have to see if AMC continues to ride the wave with the next seasons of The Walking Dead and Better Call Saul (which I like more than Breaking Bad, but my liking things is usually bad for their continued existence. Just a word of caution) After the lackluster reception for the cliffhanger ending season 6 of The Walking Dead, they’ll just have to keep their fingers crossed.

Since Westworld isn’t likely to include nuclear weapons or time travel, it is probably a safe bet to watch it. A safe bet for HBO to back it. I’d be on the lookout for the Abramanator to find some way to include those devices in the show, if I had money on the line. If he does, take your money, run and don’t look back.  You’ll thank me for it later.

Adventures With Malware

I’ve been testing running Windows as a smart consumer for the last couple of years. Having bailed on attempts to run Linux without becoming a programmer; and having very little inclination to become a programmer just to run a computer as a user (although that mindset is slowly, ponderously, altering) I decided to just see if I can make Windows work in the limited fashion I’ve been using it of late.

Rather than installing 15 different programs to sniff all my information exchanges from the various networks I utilize as I have seen others do in the past, I decided that I would rely on the native scanners and firewalls that come with Windows now.

Confession time.  I don’t actually run Windows 8, 8.1 or whatever they’re calling the new Windows these days. Microsoft, cleverly figuring out that consumers skip every other release of their OS’s, have skipped calling their new 0S Windows 9 even though that should be the number on the release, and are calling it Windows 10.  Now, I haven’t figured out what version of Windows that Microsoft will deem LTS (long term support) next, so I’m not spending any of my limited funds on an OS that they put out simply to smother some fire that they inadvertently started.

I run what was on the system when it was sold to me (although I’m in the process of converting the laptop to Linux) and that version is Windows 7. I liked XP, stuck with it for as long as I could. XP was the last version of the OS that Microsoft deemed LTS, as was Windows 2000 before that.  Windows 7 has been a nice stable platform for several years, so I’ve stuck with it.

Starting in Windows 7 there were native malware and virus detectors.  If this wasn’t the first time, then it was definitely the first time I noticed them or was willing to rely on them.  Virus scanners seem to be in bed with malware writers of late; witness McAfee being offered on sites that are clearly on the fringe of respectability, when McAfee once upon a time was a legitimate virus scanner that I couldn’t live without.  Now if you rely on them or a Norton product, you’d be better off not finding the internet, if either of them actually let you on it.  So relying on a native Windows application that offered to screen malware and viruses seems as legitimate as actually paying someone else to keep your system virus free these days.

Realizing I was giving up ever visiting a porn site, or sharing a music file, video or anything more sophisticated than email, I set to work.  The native program in Windows was/is called Microsoft Security Essentials, and for the last two years, that has been the only program that I’ve run on this system that does anything related to malware screening or virus scanning.

When I go anywhere on the internet, I use a third party application to do it.  I never allow Windows to do anything aside from run programs which are native to this computer. This is a habit formed since I first started using Windows back in the 3.11 days.  Internet Exploder, er Explorer, has always been the most utilized vector for spreading malware, so I never use it on a website that I don’t trust completely.  Trust like the vault at my bank (and I don’t bank) So I use Firefox or Chrome, or whatever non-native browser that looks promising today, to go to websites.

Having been an MMO player for the last 5 years, I haven’t had a lot of use for porn or music anyway. MMO’s (Massive Multiplayer Online games) are notorious for sucking up all your free time.  The most challenging vector to manage, when dealing with online gaming, is how you get your addons updated. This is because every game has some cheat or other that you have to add to it in order to make it easy enough to complain about in online forums.  This process required a bit of legwork and investigation each time I changed addons or games.  There are addon managers that aren’t too shady, so if you are careful about what you click, read everything and check every toggle before you agree, you can generally lease your entire life to online games and not worry about anyone else stealing it.

Lately I’ve noticed that I’m beginning to have trouble reading.  This is the biggest challenge I face, being a compulsive reader.  Every now and then the eyes fail to track properly, the mind wanders and I miss a paragraph of text, forcing me to curse loudly, backtrack and start over.  Consequently I’ve taken to downloading a lot of content from Audible and various streaming media sites, taking care to make sure that the programs I’m using are pretty solid.

Most audio is only available if you buy it in advance. This is a battle I’ve been fighting since the days of MP3.com and corporate music’s foolish belief that they could stand in the way of file sharing.  To this day I strip audio that has restrictions on it, if I have a need to move it from some system that is recognized to one that is not.  Fortunately for Audible and my limited non-MMO free time, most of the systems I fiddle with these days are recognized by Audible or have Audible apps on them.  Consequently their heads-entirely-up-their-asses DRM remains on many of the latest works that I’ve purchased from them.  I don’t know why they still keep DRM on their files, Amazon has offered native unprotected MP3’s for years, which is why Amazon is about the only place I will buy music (rumor has it that iTunes now has unprotected MP3’s as well.  Too late Apple!) and Amazon now owns Audible.

But they do and I roll my eyes and live with the frustration.

Still, it presents an obstacle to sharing files with family members once you’ve purchased them.  Technically you can share them, according to Audible.  But you have to share them on systems that are recognized, and you have to authorize the hardware with the software, hold your mouth the right way, sacrifice your newborn and leave a pint of blood.  Just a bit of a hassle.

Consequently I have resisted buying audible content that I actually have credits for, if I know I’m going to want to share that content with family members later.  That resistance has now officially ended my Microsoft only malware testing period.

The Wife expressed an interest in a particular work recently. Having just given a pint of blood last week trying to share an Audible file, I went out and found an unprotected copy of the work she wanted, rather than try that again. I did notice some odd behavior in the dialogs, but that reading problem I mentioned caused me to miss exactly what the prompts said.

Hilarity ensued, if hilarity involves 30 plus hours of digging malware out by the roots.  Malware writers are a humorous bunch. They piggy-backed a lovely bit of work in on my foolishness.  Calls itself Unideal. But it’s not just Unideal. It’s also Youtubeadblocker and a few other names aside.  Installed itself as a false virus scanner under yet another name. Runs banner ads across websites sponsored by Robin Hood. Specifically places ads in areas that Ad Blocker takes ads out of.

What is the moral of this story?  I don’t think there is one.  File sharing was never a crime for me, because the things I share I either end up paying for anyway, or never would have paid for in the first place because it wasn’t something I wanted after listening to it once.  The one time I’ve been caught torrenting (by HBO) was the time I was a paid subscriber (won’t be doing that again) who couldn’t actually watch the programs I was paying for due to faulty transmission by my cable provider. If you enjoy HBOGO now, you should write me a thank you letter. That service exists because of people like me.

DRM-free label
defective by design

Were it not for DRM on Audible books, I would have simply used credits that I have on my Audible account to purchase the work my wife was interested in directly. But because of suspicion and doubt, the nagging insistence that if payment is not secured in advance no payment will be made, you must step outside of the protected boundaries of commerce and make back-alley deals with less than desirable types.

Were it not for the backwards nature of copyrighted works, and the DMCA that protects them, it would be possible to take material that the copyright owner has abandoned on a previous format, update it to current formats and be able to charge for the time and effort spent transcribing the material (a service which does have value) without opening oneself up to punishing fines for daring to think that abandoned works deserve to be preserved.

Perhaps there is a lesson here about keeping your software and hardware up to date, but as a disabled person living on a fixed income, it’s a bit much to ask me to purchase new hardware and software every few years just so I can keep current.  I have a test license for Windows 10 which has been made available to me, and in the next few days I may be testing that software after I get my second drive running a version of Linux I can count on.

Robin Williams

“Keep a little bit of madness in you.  Just a little touch of it.  Just enough, so you don’t become stupid. A little madness will keep you alive, because no one in the world knows how to tax that.” – Robin WilliamsReality… What a Concept

I owned that work on cassette. It was one of my first purchases, if not the first comedy album I ever owned. I listened to it so often I memorized it, before the tape fell apart and I had to stop playing it.

I loved Mork & Mindy. Watched his appearances on Carson. Went to see every film he was in, just because he was in it, and for no other reason.

I was outraged at Dead Poets Society, though. (spoilers!)  I’ve watched it since, and I know now that I was wrong, that I shouldn’t have been so angry at the suicide portrayed in that film.  But at the time I felt it was a betrayal, that it was an acknowledgement of the darkness in the world, that the film let the darkness win, by killing what I saw as the main character, the character I identified with at the time. Worse, I associated Robin with the film, because I had gone to see it specifically because he was in it.

All of us fight our own inner demons. I’ve fought with depression for many years, longer than I can count. Menieres has only made it harder to cope with, but the darkness has been there for as long as I can remember.  So long, in fact, that I don’t even remember when I made the pact with myself (unlike others) that I wouldn’t contemplate suicide.

It’s a sad observation of human existence that suicides increase when someone else commits suicide; this is especially true of prominent figures.  Watching MSNBC’s coverage, I was struck by this when they flashed the numbers for suicide prevention on the screen.  I feel it is a shame that Robin let depression win; and as someone who fights depression, and who knows there are others out there engaged in a daily battle with it, I have to see it as letting depression win.  This is not a judgement on Robin, or an observation of failure on his part.

Depression is not cancer; or maybe it is. Cancer of the mental processes, perhaps. In any case, when the physical body fails (and it will, for all of us) then it really is over.  But when the mind gets trapped in that inward spiral, no one can break you out of it unless you want them to, unless you want to keep living. That is a choice you make.

I will not leave a body for relatives to find, to ask themselves “what did I do wrong” when it isn’t about them. It’s about me.  There will be no notes.  No questions.  Because (fate willing) I will not have to make that choice. I just hope I have time to write down all the things I think need to be related before that Mind That Bus moment happens.

Like Dead Poets Society. It’s not actually about the suicidal character; or rather, it not just about him. It’s about the mousy little guy who follows along for the whole film (my first conscious introduction to Ethan Hawke, another actor who’s films I try not to miss) never hazarding more than is required of him because he is too afraid to take that chance.  It’s about all the other characters, sucking all the marrow because they had a teacher who encouraged them to live life to its fullest. Because we’re only here for a brief moment, and then we’re gone.



I’ve meant to write a postscript to this one for awhile now.  On the revelation that Robin suffered from early stages of Parkinson’s, and that he had that road ahead of him clearly mapped out by others (including his friend Micheal J. Fox whose charity he donated to) I can easily imagine that he chose his time to leave rather than wait for the disease to rob him of his independence. Preferred to be remembered this way, rather than risk being the subject of pity; no longer able to ask people to laugh at him, with him.

That he had to kill himself the way he did is more an indictment of  current societal norms than it is of Robin Williams himself.  When you are stricken with a disease for which there is no cure, one that will slowly destroy what you were if not actually kill you outright, you are faced with some pretty hard choices.  One of them is the ability to say “Ok, I’ve had enough now. I’d like to just check out.” A choice which is denied to the sufferer in nearly every case; requiring those determined enough to seek solutions to the problem, to resort to cruder tactics than they would have preferred had they actually had a choice.

I am convinced that Robin Williams is one of those people.  Being denied the right to end his life legally at some point later, he chose that time and that place to act, right or wrong.  

For me, it was the wrong choice.  But then I’m not Robin Williams.  Never wanted to be him.  I just enjoyed his pointed wit, his ability to flit apparently effortlessly through characters; his willingness to laugh, and to encourage us to laugh, at his all too human foibles.  In the end, it was those foibles, those failings, that killed him.

We sat down and rewatched Dead Poets Society as a family last week.  Just wanted to see if his chosen ending for his life alters the way the film feels. In reflection, I think this film actually captures the real Robin; both the flashy in-your-face moments of characterization, and the quiet man who contemplates the meaning of life, tries to communicate the drive to find meaning to younger minds. In any case it holds up well, and I think I’ll have to dig up some of his other early works, dust off the Laser Disk player if I have to.  Re-experience his work again, while the pain is fresh.  Just to see if I can still laugh with him.  I think I need a good laugh.

“O Me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; 
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish; 
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) 
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d; 
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; 
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined; 
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? 
Answer.
That you are here—that life exists, and identity; 
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


I ran across this article submitted by Susan Schneider Williams (Robin Williams’s widow) to the journal Neurology. He apparently suffered from Lewy Body disease, undiagnosed until after his death. She discusses her experience with him in the final days of his life in the article and in this audio clip from the journal.

Although not alone, his case was extreme. Not until the coroner’s report, 3 months after his death, would I learn that it was diffuse LBD that took him. All 4 of the doctors I met with afterwards and who had reviewed his records indicated his was one of the worst pathologies they had seen. He had about 40% loss of dopamine neurons and almost no neurons were free of Lewy bodies throughout the entire brain and brainstem.

Robin is and will always be a larger-than-life spirit who was inside the body of a normal man with a human brain. He just happened to be that 1 in 6 who is affected by brain disease.

Not only did I lose my husband to LBD, I lost my best friend. Robin and I had in each other a safe harbor of unconditional love that we had both always longed for. For 7 years together, we got to tell each other our greatest hopes and fears without any judgment, just safety. As we said often to one another, we were each other’s anchor and mojo: that magical elixir of feeling grounded and inspired at the same time by each other’s presence.

One of my favorite bedrock things we would do together was review how our days went. Often, this was more than just at the end of the day. It did not matter if we were both working at home, traveling together, or if he was on the road. We would discuss our joys and triumphs, our fears and insecurities, and our concerns. Any obstacles life threw at us individually or as a couple were somehow surmountable because we had each other.

The causes of his suicide are far more complex than anyone could understand until long after he was gone. I’m just now (Oct. 2017) able to look back on him and his work with a calm dispassion. Finally over the emotional hurdle of his leaving us in this way.