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How to Ruin a Great Movie: Read the Crap Book

Great stories and characters, dulled by artificial intensity

9th of August, 2014 ·  1 Comment

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I have just about goddamn had it with post-apocalyptic young adult novels. I read Divergent, then took a break and read Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin, genius, and then headed into Divergent’s sequel, Insurgent.1 And I abandoned it about halfway through because it sucked. Which is a bummer, because the movie was really enjoyable.

But it didn’t have to suck. You can tell because, again, the movie was so good. It had so very much going for it: a very strong female lead, a good set of rules which the author followed faithfully, a richly colorful society with a history, a twist of evil human nature, and a subtle and slow-moving romance. Had those things sucked in the book, they’d have sucked in the movie.

And yet, the book sucked. It grated in much the same way The Hunger Games books grated. I didn’t even read the last one. Catching Fire. I listened to the audiobook while at work to power through the story and get it over with. God, that book was long.

The problem with the book is about 20 years in the making. I first noticed it when I was 15 and had this girlfriend who fancied herself  an author. Let’s call her “Jessica” because that was her name and it’s easy to remember. Jessica, like so many mid-teen idiots (myself included, let’s not get nasty, here) thought she was an author and she always wrote these mysterious, deep little essays that  made no actual sense unless you happened to be Jessica.

And she’d always make me read them and they always sucked but I always said they were awesome. I realized back then that they sucked for a great many reasons, and not just because she was a young author. No, worse than the pointlessness and narcissism was that it was always written in the first person present tense. They very problem I have with Divergent and Hunger Games.

First person is just  fine. Or, it can be just fine. Odd Thomas was great. InterWorld was great. This Book is Full of Spiders Seriously Dude Don’t Touch It was great. All were first-person. This Book is Full of Spiders in particular was first-person because  it’s a true story and it even had a part that was from the dog’s point of view and that was true, too. You can tell because you can’t make that kind of thing up.

Now that I’m actually reflecting on it, all three of those books had good points very similar to the good points of Divergent. Strong characters, good rules, a history and culture, and some romance (or, in Interworld’s case, no romance at all, which is almost  the same thing).

Anyway, none of those books were written in the present tense. Present tense, in case you don’t know, is writing as though everything were happening right now. An example follows:

Past tense, which is normal: Empty handed, I turned and ran. The Walmart security guy sensed that something was wrong and chased after me, but since he was about 50 pounds overweight, I quickly outpaced him and made it safely to the parking lot where my wife was waiting for her McDonald’s cheeseburger.

Present tense, which sucks: Empty handed, I turn and run. The Walmart security guy senses that something is wrong and is chasing after me, but since he’s about 50 pounds overweight, I quickly outpace him and make it safely to the parking lot, where my wife is waiting  for her McDonald’s cheeseburger.

Present tense sucks. It gives the narrative a sense of immediacy, but it’s a false sense. It’s like when, beginning in the 1990s, music started getting mastered too loud. All the levels were punched up higher. It gave the illusion that the music was louder, but it wasn’t. The highs were louder, the mid-range was louder, and the low end was louder. But that  doesn’t mean the listener can actually turn the music up louder. That’s still a function of the listener’s equipment. No, what it means is that the listeners ears get exhausted faster, even at lower levels. And so it is with present-tense writing. Everything is turned up louder, takes place more in-your-face than normal, even the stuff that’s just stuff.

Put another way, writing in the present tense is a cheap gimmick and is exhausting to read. And that’s why The Hunger Games and Divergent make for far better movies than they do books.

It makes sense that we’re getting these authors writing in the present tense right now. Jessica is of an age to have written a reasonably successful book by now.2 So why wouldn’t some publisher, also about the same age, not think this is a great idea and publish a great idea written horribly? The answer, of course, is that there is and they did and the world is poorer for it.

You should save yourself some misery and read these books the way they were meant to be read: on film. In the meantime, read some books written by non-hacks. Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Sue Grafton, John Wong, Clive Barker and Jim Butcher all leap to mind because all their books contain strong characters, great settings, stellar stories, and oh yeah, they can can all write.

  1. Fevre Dream is absolutely the better novel, and I recommend it to anybody who can read.
  2. For that matter, so am I. I just suck and don’t have a book in me.





White Athletic Socks: The Great American Lie

There is a reason we use workout clothes and that reason is sweat

9th of July, 2014 ·  2 Comments

Yesterday, I went for an impromptu run up Bishop’s Peak, a local favorite hiking spot. Everybody’s hiked it at least once, even if it was 20 years ago. For a while, I was hiking it weekly with Blaine. We’d complain about our wives, our work, and drink a beer and a shot of airplane vodka.

It’s the hike that got me into hiking and on the road — ha ha — to healthy living. So having a bit of frustration and at the prompting of my insightful and wise brother in law, I left work and hiked the bejesus out of that hill.

Actually, I ran as often as the terrain and my body would allow. Running up hill is really hard. That’s why people say it’s “an uphill battle” and why Hades made Prometheus push a rock up a hill every day for eternity or however long it was. Because it sucks.

Pushing my body to go up the hill for 40 minutes suddenly seems much less impressive based on pushing a rock up hill every day for eternity.

Never mind. It was satisfying and worth while. And it took only half the time, 20 minutes, to get from the tip-top back to my car. That’s why we say things like, “it’s all down hill from here.”

To be clear, I’m proud of my performance. It took only an hour to complete the round trip, and broadly speaking, I’m pretty sure you can’t do it. It’s the hard stuff that makes people proud.

And you know what else? I could have gone faster but for a whole damn slue of stupid obstacles that slowed me down.

The hike was impromptu. I was wildly unprepared for such an undertaking. I was wearing my hiking shoes that day, thank goodness, else I’m not sure I’d have gone at all. But I was wearing a standard t-shirt, some cotton shorts, my big brown leather belt, and white cotton blend athletic socks, which are a goddamn joke.

No athlete wears white athletic socks while performing athletics. Why? Because they are a terrible lie, that’s why. Cotton is a miserable material for socks. It gets wet and stays wet. And as soon as cotton socks get wet, they stretch out and get soggy and puddle up at the toe of your shoe. When that happens, you have to wiggle your toes weird to get the sock to sort of settle itself in the area under your toes, between your toes and your foot. And that’s if you’re lucky. If you’re unlucky, you just end up with half a sock bunched up in front of your toes making you wonder how the hell anybody put up with Chinese foot binding long enough for it to became a thing.

And if you happen to have had band-aids on your index toes because of a weird malady? Let me just advise you to stay the hell out of my gym bag right now because it is more disgusting even than my laundry basket when I was 15. I dread emptying it out for to do laundry.

Thank goodness I wasn’t wearing cotton underpants. That’s the stuff divorces are made of.

When I’m planning and smart, I wear wool socks. They shed moisture well, they don’t bunch up, and they stay springy around my delicate little piggies as I haul ass down the hills. Same with running. And biking. And having self-respect.

So why are these horrible socks marketed this way? Poly-cotton blends are super comfortable for loungewear, but for any kind of sport, they’re an unfunny joke:

Q: Why did the athlete wear white athletic socks?

A: Because he got duped!

But that’s not all! Stupid cotton again, I took off my shirt about half way up the hill because it was soaked, heavy, and chafing. I’m usually a keep your damn shirt on you idiot kind of guy, but I felt like I really didn’t have much choice. So when I got back to the car, I had no shirt because it was befouled. There was a left over bath towel from a trip to the pool in the back of the car, so I just wore that like a cape on the way home.

Seriously, cotton. Why are you everywhere?

The good news is it’s not all bad. When I got home, I dumped all my wet, gross clothes on the floor, got re-dressed, and took care of some errands. My dog was so happy about that. She laid right down on my stank clothes and made herself happily at home in her nest of my unique fragrance. I think I’m flattered by that.

Anyway, if there’s a lesson to be learned, I think it’s, “keep a gym bag in the car at all times for just in case.” Which is really just a variation on, “be prepared!” Which means I need to pack a bag with a change of clothes, gym clothes, shoes, a Swiss Army knife, some extra shoelaces, my spare glasses, a bottle of water, some Cliff bars, an iPhone cable, $100 cash in tens, sunscreen, a map of California, a Field Notes book, some pens, a Sharpie, a flashlight, a bus schedule, a bail bondsman’s phone number, a bag of USB cables, a calendar, and — above all — some wool socks. For to be prepared just in case I want to do anything at all out of the norm.





Not Getting Any Older

Forever 42, damn it

20th of April, 2014 ·  Comments

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Today would be my friend Blaine’s birthday if he were still alive. He’d be 44. He died as the result of a bike-car crash in which he wasn’t wearing a helmet. I still miss him a lot. I wish I were getting old with him.

It’s getting easier to go on with the day-to-day living. Entire days go by when I don’t think of him. But he also pops up at the weirdest times. I ran a super-tough 5K race yesterday on a local mountain. I was galloping down one of the steeper downhills — throwing myself down it, really — and it was thanks to hikes with Blaine and Christopher that I’d developed that skill. For a crazy instant, I wanted to invite him to run the race with me next year. I wanted to email him about my silly skill.

My birthday is coming up in early May. This year, all I want for my birthday is for you to donate a helmet to your local school. If you can, get a picture of you giving it to the principal so I can print it and hang it on the wall of my garage bike shop.

Blaine was one of the kindest, best, most flawed people I have ever had the privilege to know. It’s tempting to say my life is poorer without him, but that’s not true. My life is richer having known him. My life is richer having learned the lessons he taught me.

I’ve reposted the two big things I wrote when he died. I had to take them down because, generally speaking, people are horrible. But they’re back now. Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here1.

He’s never far from my thoughts — or the thoughts of the others who loved him. He played a huge role in our lives and was well-loved by all of us. I’m going to drink a giant beer in his memory today. And I’m going to wear my helmet on my bike ride tomorrow.

  1. I’m allowing comments again, but I have to approve them. So go ahead, Janet. I dare you to bitch about them again. And good luck convincing my boss to give a shit what I write.

Not Getting Any Older

20th of April, 2014 ·  Comments




Let’s Screw Up

I am always right most of the time

2nd of March, 2014 ·  1 Comment

One of my favorite things is telling people what to do. I’m qualified to do that because I’m always right about everything, except sometimes when I’m not.

I got called on that particular line of crap a day or two ago, and got to tell an excellent story about screwing up, which I will tell you now. Gather ’round.

When I got hired at my job at the glow stick warehouse, the warehouse was in shambles. There were cases of products not so much stacked haphazardly as dumped haphazardly sorta kinda anywhere. The work tables were nothing more than table tops laid across stacked cases of defective glow sticks.

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This is fine as a temporary solution, but it’s horrible as a long term solution. It’s also dehumanizing: “here’s your stack of garbage to work on. Get to it.” Build effing tables. Do it. You’re better than this.

So sayeth the Creig.

I went online and found a work bench design that made sense. I drew it out with dimensions and a list of pieces I’d need. I found a bucket of screws in the warehouse. I snagged tools from the other warehouse. I charged the batteries. I bought a drill bit. I cut wood. I paused to ship some glow sticks and make some coffee. I screwed it all together.

I screwed it up.

Man, that irritated me. I designed it wrong. I built it sturdy and well, but the 2x4s on the side should be on the outside of the long 2x4s that are front and back. The result is that it was too long and too short.

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So I had to take it all apart and put it back together again.

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It was an easy mistake to make. I designed the table wrong, but put it together right. It just happens that right wasn’t right because I designed it wrong like a genius. Hear me and evolve.

But that’s ok because I was on the clock. Previous employees took table building time to practice their knife throwing skills which is way less good in the practical world. “Can accurately throw knife into cardboard box at distance of seven feet” is a worthless resume item. But bench building is building, and it’s a skill I can take anywhere to make benches with. I could totally go to your house and build a work bench now. You’d be all bummed out because you didn’t ask for it and now you can’t park your car, but I could totally do it.

Additionally, I just like working with wood. I’m poor, so can’t really afford make mistakes with my own supplies. So practicing with the boss’s materials while upgrading the warehouse is a win-win! If there’s a downside, it’s that I am no better at throwing knives than I was before I built tables.

Now, I understand that practice makes perfect. You can tell because of how good I am at being funny. Ten thousand hours, baby. I decided I’d build another table, but I’d do it right this time. I drew better plans. I designed a better table. I cut wood. I screwed it together.

And screwed it up again, FTW. I screwed it up the same way as I screwed up the first one!

I grumbled bejesus about that. I was so careful! How did I do it?

Friend Sarah had sympathy. She went out of her way to make me feel better. She used her kindness skills to say that if she ever needs a table put together wrong, she would call me first. I thought that was nice of her.

It turns out that I simply had a hard time visualizing that first step. So for the third table, I drew yet different plans with instructions: “Start here.” I got my third table right on the first try and it is glorious.1

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I want to build fourth table. We don’t need it, but I’m good at it now, and don’t want to waste my valuable and hard-won skills.

• • •

While I’m on the subject of building, I thought I’d share another project we did at work.

The boss has a lot of stuff he won’t get rid of. He should donate it or throw it away, but instead we store it in the warehouse until the mice eat it or pee on it or both.2 He keeps bringing stuff, and we keep having to store it, and we’re running out of room.

Another problem is we had a haphazard stack of shipping pallets taking up valuable space. So we put the two problems together. We made shelving out of pallets and put the boss’s stuff on top of it.

Two normal pallets on the bottom as legs, one super long pallet on top as the top. Then we did it again, to have a double-decker. A piece of crap plywood on the side for aesthetics3 and we’re set:

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All those boxes on the left are full of defective products that we don’t recycle because we save it instead.

Anyway, the pallet shelf is super cheap and super sturdy, and not the tinniest bit ghetto at all. But when there’s no budget for shelving or for extra trash dumps to get rid of the pallets, well, it’s not so bad. I may employ this in the future when I need giant shelves for some reason.

The pallet shelving was a Creig-original idea. So I was right again. I’d say it’s hard begin right all the time, but it’s not. It comes naturally. Except when it doesn’t.

  1. Where by “glorious” I mean “a table.”
  2. Mice are very stupid.
  3. That crap plywood is actually better than nothing. Nothing is straight chaotic ugly.

Let’s Screw Up

2nd of March, 2014 ·  1 Comment




The Worst Win Ever

You can't actually celebrate mediocracy

16th of February, 2014 ·  2 Comments

Facebook has always sucked for one reason or another and we all know it. From privacy settings to not wanting to be stalked by some high school friend to privacy settings, it’s crap. But, hey, guess what, I’ve got a new reason it sucks: you.

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What the hell is that? That is a call for mediocrity. That is a picture that mediocre people post to bring those who are striving for excellence down to their mediocre level.

Lest you not be sure what I mean when I use the word “mediocre,” let me let Google define it for you.

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What this means should be obvious. Unless you’re mediocre, that is. In which case, let me spell it out for you.

You being mediocre — of only moderate quality — is dragging everybody down and that’s not good. If we are ashamed of our excellences, we won’t excel. If we don’t excel, nothing will get better. Without having something to be proud for and shoot for, we all just sit on our asses and watch TV. Except if you win nobody’s striving for excellence, so the TV will all suck too, and we’ll just sit around watching the Kardashians.

Is that the world you want to create? Or maybe you’d like to congratulate me for achieving something that was really really hard and that I feel good for.1

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That’s the 240 pounds I bench pressed the other day. I weigh 170 pounds. That means I bench pressed 1.4 times my own body weight. I’m a mere 15 pounds away from my goal of 255 pounds. 1-½ times my body weight. That’s me, plus a pretty gruesome extra half of me, and it’s a goal that’s within spitting distance.

I’ve been working on this goal for more than a year and am excited at how close I am to achieving it.

But I didn’t post my achievement on Facebook. I didn’t share my excitement and pride because we don’t do that. Instead, we complain about work and illness and politics.

Great virtual world you’ve created. Well done.

  1. I am obviously not alone in this. But I have no idea who’s with me because they don’t post their achievements either. You suck.

The Worst Win Ever

16th of February, 2014 ·  2 Comments




Putting the Fun Into Functional

When is a 10-year-old box filled with silicon, plastic, and metal more than so much trash?

8th of February, 2014 ·  Comments

I really hope that the iPhone 6 features more storage. The 16GB base model just isn’t enough any more,  not for apps, data, and music.

So when a woman gave me a semi-recent iPod, I was pretty stoked. I filled it up with music and it was great. I had enough — and enough variety — to get me through an entire day of work and school. Alas, she asked for it back so her grandkids could use it on a road trip or something. And I was back to just my crappy iPhone.

Ok, that’s not entirely fair. After all, my iPhone really is fine. It’s a great device, and I love it. I recommend iPhones to people who I love and respect because I want to share something I love with people I love. It’s the same principal that makes me invite people on hikes and encourage people (Tim, Dave, Jim) to get bicycles. The problem doesn’t lie in the iPhone being crappy, but in its relatively small capacity, only 16GB. As of this writing, I’ve only got about 4GB of music, 448 songs, on the thing. Today is an unremarkable day. It’s pretty representative of normal.

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Now that I’m actually writing this, I realize that 4GB is the same capacity as the original iPod Mini, the best-selling music player to date. That’s pretty solid. Huh. Well, in my defense, when that iPod was current, most people encoded music at 128kbps. Today, music purchased on the iTunes Store is encoded at 256kbps, twice the bit rate and twice the size. Back then, Apple advertised the iPod Mini as “1,000 songs in your pocket.” That same capacity represents only half the songs today, so it turns out this wasn’t a fair comparison at all and I owe myself an apology. Because historically, I’ve only got the equivalent of a 2GB iPod on my iPhone. 1

Anyway, I really liked having a big ol’ iPod. When it went away, I was sad. It’s tough using your communications device as a music device in a warehouse because it’s tied to the speakers. I know, I should be working, not texting. Doesn’t apply to my job. Besides, the iPhone is also my calculator, a necessary item when building desks during the slow times.

The point is it was inconvenient. I know, give me convenience or give me death, right? Yeah, but still.

So I tried using my iPod Shuffle. It’s 2GB and pretty cool, but it required too much planning. A four-hour shift represents something like five albums, about 50 songs. And You gotta have variety, right? It can’t just be Slayer, Venom, Machine Head, Fear Factory, Testament. You never know what mood will strike you. So you playlist it up, run the playlist out, and are then stuck with whatever else you happen to have. Sigh. No, only a proper iPod would do.

Fortunately, I had a broken one in my closet. This one, you know, from July 2004.

It was the last black and white iPod Apple made, and it was pretty cool. I decided I would breathe new life into it, and I did.

This next part is a little technical. If you’re my mom, you can sort of skip the next three paragraphs or so. What makes devices like iPods possible is miniaturization. Somebody along the way invented a hard drive that is only 1.8 inches wide. Once you’ve got that, the rest of the iPod is obvious, not including the click-wheel. The trouble is that hard drives — all hard drives, without fail — will fail. And if you’re talking about a hard drive that you keep in your bag and jostle around and occasionally drop, well, it’s going to fail sooner than later. And a lot of them did, and it pissed folks off. I remember because 10 years ago, when this iPod was new, I worked at a Mac store (not an Apple Store) and people were sad.

Apple eventually moved to using flash memory. Unlike hard drives, it has no moving parts, is smaller and lighter and more durable.

Since my iPod’s hard drive was broken, I decided that I, too, would use flash memory. The easiest type of flash memory to get is a camera card. So I bought the cheapest 32GB camera card I could find and a cool $10 adapter, and a new battery. The adapter and battery showed up on the same day, and I was impatient, so I put it all together with my spare camera card, a 2GB model.

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I filled it up with music from 2004 since that seemed appropriate. The first music I played on my new old iPod was Iced Earth’s The Glorious Burden, one of my very favorite albums of the year. God, that record is good. It holds up, too.

The first thing I noticed about the iPod is how bloody light it is. I’ve owned every model of full size iPod at one time or another, and this is easily the lightest one ever. It’s obviously because the camera card and and adapter — both made of plastic, and physically small — are much lighter than the old moving metal parts hard drive. Also, the mechanical whirring when you turn it on is gone. I’m glad it’s gone, and I miss it all at once.

The next thing I noticed is how ingenious the iPod is. The interface Apple came up with is positively genius, and it’s no wonder it absolutely trounced the competition. It has only five buttons and the ability to scroll infinitely. Its hierarchy makes sense. The only quibble I can think of is the use of the word MENU instead of the ↩ glyph. Menu? Menu equals back? How about the back icon equals back? Still. Once you knew that one simple rule, back by any other name is still back.

But I had an iPod again! It was great! It had the same capacity as my iPod shuffle!

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It was still kind of a pain in the ass, being so small. I had to update it every day in order to have new music for tomorrow. But it still felt good, and I knew the 32GB card was on its way. Obviously, it arrived — and a day early, thanks USPS!2

I’ve got it all put together and have been listening to it while writing this piece. It’s odd: it’s the same old music, but it’s somehow better when listened to on a device I labored over.

I think I’ll have to do it again. I’m officially collecting full-size iPods — and both iPods Mini. I’ll replace their batteries and their hard drives with camera cards and have a working, functioning iPod museum full of metal and punk rock. And bits of foam to keep the smaller camera card in place. Obviously.

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  1. The 256kbps songs sound better than the 128, so it’s worth it, in a way.
  2. The United States Postal Service gets a bad rap. those guys do a great job and I bet their percentage of mistakes is tiny — it’s just that they move an unbelievable amount of mail.

Putting the Fun Into Functional

8th of February, 2014 ·  Comments




How to be a Man

I had the best teacher

3rd of February, 2014 ·  Comments

This week’s topic in my Introduction to Human Services class is domestic violence. I watch the videos and read the text with more than a few tears in my eyes.

Women victimized by domestic violence who have children often make decisions about their relationships with intimate partners based on their beliefs of what will be in the best interests of their children. These decisions are not simple. A mother must determine how to protect herself and her children from physical danger. She also must contemplate how much she wants to uproot her children’s lives by fleeing to a shelter, changing schools, los­ ing financial security or having them see their father arrested.

My father was my roadmap to manhood. He taught me how to be a man. I am proud of, and happy with, the man I am today. More than anything, I have my own father’s example to thank for it.

My dad was imperfect, and he made mistake after mistake, like all men do. But my dad learned from his mistakes. I saw him turn problems into learning opportunities. So rather than dig in his heels and stay the course, he and my mom rescued their children, removing us from the dysfunctional church we grew up in.

My dad was a gymnast in his youth, and a cyclist through his adulthood. He was never a muscle-bound jock, but he was enormously strong. He taught me to use my strength to protect and to strengthen my family, not to control it.

My dad showed me that men love their wives. Men do not own their wives. He taught me that men and women are not the same, but men and women have equal value. We need each other.1 Today, I am in a healthy, happy marriage with my wife, Cassandra. I would be nothing without her. I need her to be the best me, and my dad taught me that we build each other up, we don’t step on each other to get a rung higher. Just like I saw when I looked up at him with my mom.

My dad is kind — much kinder than I am. I am kind of mean about kindness: be kind or pay the price! It’s something I can improve on; I, too, am imperfect, but my dad also taught me that just because you can’t be perfect doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

I saw that my dad was respected by men who had no respect for anything. He earned that respect by treating them with respect. Thus, my dad taught me that all humans are worthy of basic human dignity and respect. Everybody has a story that’s worth hearing.

My dad made things, and put emphasis on being able to make things that weren’t there before. I saw him proud of his work, satisfied in a job well done. They are values I put enormous value on today. They’re something I’m teaching my daughter.

My dad read to me as a child, showing me that books are important. My brain works better today because of it. He also taught me that being a dad means patience and time. I am long on time, but not so good at patience. But I’m improving.

I saw my sister marry a man who is just like my dad in all the best ways. She married a man who I love and respect independently of her love and respect for him. Thus, I learned that I must be the best example of a man ever for my own daughter — I must show her how a man loves his wife — so that the bar will be high and, if I’m lucky, she’ll marry a man as good as my dad, as good as my brother in law.

My dad is my friend. My dad is my role model. My dad is still my hero, and still the man I want to be when I grow up.

  1. This isn’t anti-same sex. But he happens to be straight and so do I, so that’s that.

How to be a Man

3rd of February, 2014 ·  Comments




Guys Think Stupid

Reality never lives up to a guy's expectations

26th of January, 2014 ·  2 Comments

My friend Mike made a poster. I want to blatantly rip it off for a t-shirt.

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I have this vision of what would happen. I would wearing my shirt out in a bar type situation. I would be approached by a pretty girl.

 She’d have half a drink in her hand. The other half — and all of another, maybe two — in her belly. She’d be intrigued by my shirt and attracted to my open, friendly countenance.

Pretty girl: You’re right. I’m not doing it right — yet.

Me: That is one of life’s great tragedies. But it can be fixed.

Pretty girl: You know, there are a lot of things I do right. When I put my mind to it.

Me: You are the only person on earth who can prove my shirt wrong.

Pretty girl: Come on. I’ll prove it.

And I’m not alone. All guys basically think this way. We’re all wrong. What actually happens is that the pretty girls all stick together — there’s safety from dumbasses like me in numbers — and instead, we get approached by this guy:

He’s had 17 beers and has Dorito dust in the corner of his mouth and beard. He, too, recognizes that I’ve got an open and friendly countenance. Plus, I am a dude with a witty shirt, which means I am not much of a threat.

Sweaty guy: Fuckin’ cool shirt, bro. That’s fuckin’ — cool.

Me: Thanks.

Sweaty guy: But dude, I’m totally doin’ it right. [He grips and shakes his substantial belly.] I’ve been drinking beer since three o’clock. It’s all in here! So dude! Your shirt is wrong!

Me: Well, when you put it that way, I suppose you’re right.

Sweaty guy: Fuckin’-a right I’m right! [Here, he takes a swig of beer, and sort of sways as he stands. He puts the glass on the table and looks at me.]

Me: …?

Sweaty guy: Fuckin’-a.

Cold hard reality is a lot crappier than our hopes and expectations. Take hot lesbian action for instance. What the Internet has to say about hot lesbian action is totally different from what real hot lesbian action looks like. On the Internet, lesbians look like the hot girl from above. In real life, they all look like the sweaty guy.

So it is with clever t-shirts and, when we’re honest, everything, at least for guys. You take a cool picture and you expect people to be impressed. You write a great story and you hope it goes viral. You grow awesome facial hair and expect to get hit on. In reality, you do stuff and it has zero impact on the world, plus your life isn’t any better. But you are out $14 for the ineffective shirt.

The lesson, obviously, is “don’t try.” But that’s a crap lesson, so what other lesson can we come up with? Oh, I know. “Don’t be clever. Save your money. Get a dog, they’re always impressed. Plus, if you get a girl dog, you can post on Facebook that you’re watching a romantic comedy with a beautiful girl.”

Now go forth, my friends, with lowered expectations. You’ll thank me later.

 

Guys Think Stupid

26th of January, 2014 ·  2 Comments




Album of the Year, 2013

Year of the live album

5th of January, 2014 ·  Comments

This was an ok year for the kind of music I like. There were plenty of new albums by my favorite bands, but — weirdly — there were a ton of live albums this year. Maybe there’s something in the water. At least 11 bands that I listen to released live albums in 2013, and that’s quite a lot. There were only 5 last year. So this year, I’m naming an album of the year and a live album of the year. It’s more fun for me that way.

Here’s the deal. Last year, I did pretty good. I picked Ugly Kid Joe as number one, and Devin Townsend and Prong as runners up. Pretty good choices, as it turns out. Fear Factory as another runner up, less good. And the year before, I was clearly wrong picking Anthrax. The last time I listened to Worship Music was in May, and the play count is only 17. But the runner up, Nightwish’s Imaginarium, has play counts of 24 and I listened to it just last week.

So this year, I’m trying to figure out what’s got the staying power. What can I pick that I’ll stand behind next year?

 

Vagabond · Michale Graves

Graves Vagabond

I can pick Vagabond by Michale Graves, that’s what.

The former Misfits singer has, since leaving the band, released lots of music that consistently grabs my attention and is worthy of many, many follow up listens. In Graves’ own words, “the album features 12 new and never before released songs that display my rock/folk/pop sensibility.” It’s true. These are extremely accessible songs that, as an album, seem to tell a story about love and loss and hope.

To my ear, it sounds like folk music with a super high-quality Ramones-like wall-of-sound production. Graves’ vocals are powerful and clean, but the album doesn’t sound like a vehicle for his voice. It sounds like a album of songs made by a tight band.

What it doesn’t sound like is the Misfits. Oddly, I can recommend this album to nearly everybody I know, including my dad, which is saying something. If my dad had his choice, I suspect he’d basically just listen to Enya 24-7 because as far as I can remember, her music has no drums.

Anyway, this music reaches in and stimulates a part of my brain and heart that I can really only think of as sentimentally. It’s the Critical Creig album of the year.

Key Song · All the Hallways • Album available on iTunes

 

Showtime, Storytime • Nightwish

Nightwish Storytime

I’m not gonna get fooled again. Nightwish released a live album? It’s gotta be the best, right? As it turns out, yes, that’s right.

Nightwish got started with a woman named Tarja Turunen on vocals. She had a mid-range, operatic vocal style. She was kicked out of the band and replaced by Anette Olzon, who has a higher, poppier voice, and with whom the band created their masterpiece, Imaginarium. I was seriously bummed when I found out she’d left the band. I figured that would probably be it for this band.

Oh, boy, was I ever wrong.

Former After Forever vocalist Floor Jansen is now at the helm and she’s amazing. I imagine it’s not easy singing in a band like Nightwish. You’ve got to have super heavy metal chops, but you’ve also got to have that etherial dreaminess required for the creepy songs. She’s got as much of both as you could want. (She also has all the sex appeal you could want.)

Floor sounds like Tarja — only better — on the old songs, and she sounds like Anette — only better — on the new songs. The rest of the band sounds awesome, and the setlist is fantastic. As a live album, it’s everything you want, and it’s an ideal introduction to this singer in this band. I can’t wait to see what the next album sounds like. I thought it would be hard to top Imaginarium, but with Floor on vocals and the energy evident in this, the Critical Creig live album of the year, I think it’ll probably be the Critical Creig album of the year in 2014.

Key Songs · AmaranthSong of Myself • Album available on iTunes

 

runners up

Lost Skeleton Returns · Michale Graves

Graves Skeleton

Interestingly, the first runner up to Michale Graves’ record is Michale Graves. He released two albums in 2013, and the other one, Lost Skeleton Returns, is much heavier than Vagabond.

I love this. It’s a bunch of Misfits and previous Michale Graves songs, re-recorded. They sound spectacularly good, and the Misfits songs — all of which still hold up on their own right — got a breath of fresh air. The new songs fit right in and sound great. My only complaint is that Graves’ first two post-Misfits albums were ignored — this is particularly criminal because one of his best ever songs, Seasons of the Witch, is only available in low-quality MP3. A re-recording of that would have been most welcomed. Oh, well.

Key Song · Seasons of the Witch Dig Up Her Bones • Album available on iTunes

 

Russian Holiday · Blaze Bayley

Blaze Russian

 

Blaze Bayley’s Russian Holiday is also a clear runner up. It’s sort of a live album, though there’s precious little audience noise. It’s guitar and violin acoustic interpretations of Blaze and Iron Maiden songs, and it’s wonderful. I only wish there were more songs. Sign of the Cross sounds great, but this record’s stand-out is One More Step, a song about never giving up. This acoustic version is so good, I cannot oversell it.

Key Song · One More Step • Album available on iTunes

 

Straight out of hell · Helloween

 

Helloween Out of Hell

I want to be pithy and say that Helloween released a Helloween album, and it’s great, but it deserves more than that. It’s an exceptional Helloween album. Doesn’t really break new ground or anything, but it’s a best of breed. Plus, the song Asshole is wonderfully funny.

Key Songs · AssholeWanna Be God • Album available on iTunes

 

Retinal Circus • Devin Townsend

Devin Retinal

This thing is incredible. It’s a live album, but it’s so much more than just songs played on a stage to an audience. It was planned for months, and follows a sort of a story. 

But that’s not what makes it amazing. Part of what makes it amazing is how well Devin Townsend’s songs translate to a live setting. They sound good, not compromised. Devin’s music tends to be incredibly layered and complex and I’d never really listened to his live material before. It’s actually kind of incredible.

But what makes it really really amazing is watching the thing. Watching the interaction between Devin and super talented (and let’s face it, super hot) Anneke van Giersbergen is a lot of fun. It’s available on DVD/Bluray, and many of the songs stream on YouTube, and it’s something else. It’s more song and dance musical production than mere concert.

Also, weird, all the guys in the band are bald.

Key Songs · All the songs. Criminy, this whole thing is just so weird and good. And it’s available on iTunes.

 

So there you have it. That’s the best. In all, it was a pretty good year for music. The mighty Black Sabbath released new material, and that’s awesome, but I’m still withholding judgement on it. Other mighty bands also released other solid music, but in my opinion, this is the top tier material. 2014 looks to start off super strong with an Iced Earth studio album, so I’ve got high hopes going forward. When there’s good metal, it’s hard to count the year as a total loss no matter what else goes on.

Album of the Year, 2013

5th of January, 2014 ·  Comments




Christmas Video, 2013

Quick version: lots and lots of short clips

27th of December, 2013 ·  Comments

We had a Christmas Eve party and my kid and I recorded clips throughout the night. Despite owning and using Final Cut Pro, I slapped the video together in iMovie in less than an hour. This is what I learned.

short clips

You don’t want a lot of long sweeping shots. You want short clips of people being silly. The long clips, I sped up or cut short. The trick is to have a lot of them, and that’s tough.

Get good help

My daughter and I are the ones who recorded most of this. My wife helped a bit, but she recorded tall video instead of wide video despite being asked a bunch of times to record wide video. You’ll notice if you watched the video that none of the tall video made it into the video. Know why? Because it’s stupid:

Tall-Vid-TVTall-video-tv-wide

“It’s easier to hold,” she said. And while that may be true, it’s also easy not to use a single clip she shot.

Which reminds me: get lots of people working on the project. The more the merrier. Everybody in my circles use iPhones, so it’s a piece of cake for me to import the video off their phones and onto my computer the following day. There are three major advantages to getting lots of people recording the same event. First, it’s less work for you. Second, you can’t be everywhere and see everything, so getting another perspective is handy. Last, it makes the viewer wonder who the hell shot all the video. It’s not a major advantage, but it’s also fun to get video of people recording video.

Edit well

I’m not going to say that my above video is a masterpiece, but it is fun and nice. I sped the clips up and cut them pretty short1 Pick fun songs for your soundtrack. It’s ok to do more than one. For this video, I got rid of all the audio from the clips and let the song and the action speak for itself. Sometimes, I’ll lower the volume of the music and let some of the dialogue from the video through, but didn’t do it this time. Because I was lazy.

Use apple products

Or not. Whatever. But I find that iPhone + iMovie = total piece of cake. I’m sure there are ways to do put it all together using Android and Windows, but I have no idea and I cannot imagine it’s anywhere as easy or painless as my method.

One last thing

Don’t let recording video prevent you from taking part in the party. Your job at a party or event is to have fun and participate. If you are hidden behind your phone the whole time, it defeats the purpose. So grab a drink and trust your family and friends to record you being silly while you’re taking a break.

  1. Some of my clips went too long, but it’s hard to edit video. Getting enough footage to fill the song wasn’t easy.

Christmas Video, 2013

27th of December, 2013 ·  Comments




Blaze Bayley Gifts Us With ‘Rock & Roll Christmas’

Merry Christmas to you, too, Blaze.

25th of December, 2013





‘If Only You Had Your Real Camera’

Andy Nicolaides on Medium Fist Eggplant:

I recently went on a very fun photo walk with my brother, in London, and took my trusty Canon with me. I also had another little something in my pocket as well. A certain something that is always in my pocket, come rain or shine. While time spent with my SLR is time that needs to be carefully planned, I wouldn’t even know the time without this. It is, of course, my iPhone.

I took one or two semi-decent pictures with my SLR, but my favourites were by far those that I took with my iPhone. The photos taken with the device were easier to capture, more convenient and easily shared via Flickr, Twitter or Instagram. The following image, while again, not amazing, took a few moments to take, and allowed me to capture the family, in awe of the beautiful building, in a far more subtle and suitable way:

I often share an iPhone image to Google+ only to be greeted by the words: ‘If only you took your proper camera.’ I’m always a little thrown by this statement. Not because I’m particularly upset or concerned by the comment, but, I guess, I just don’t get it. There seems to be a feeling around that the camera makes the photo, not the photographer.

The main place he and I differ is that I bring my DSLR — a 10-year-old Canon 5D Mk 1 — with me almost everywhere I go because I love shooting with it. Shooting with an iPhone is often handy, but it’s also often difficult for me to get my images looking good the way I know I could had I shot with the 5D.

In general, I shoot photos with my Canon, and I shoot questions — is this the type of chicken you want me to buy? — with my iPhone.

21st of December, 2013





Review: ‘Born With a Scorpion’s Touch’ by Calabrese

When faced with changing or dying, they changed

6th of November, 2013 ·  Comments

Calabrese Born with a Scorpions Touch

Calabrese, a band I once described as “The Misfits, if the Misfits were a new band today,” have made a change with this record. A big change. And they’re better for it.

Plenty of fans are going to hate Born With a Scorpion’s Touch, but I’m not one of them. I felt that Dayglo Necros, the album before this one, didn’t bring anything new to the table. It was sort of episodic. Any of those songs could have been on any of the band’s previous albums. They just did the same old formula. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t pushing anything forward or making a compelling case to buy it. You basically already had all of those songs.

Not the case with the latest offering.

The band still sounds like Calabrese, though perhaps a different interpretation of how they sound. Instead of channeling and improving on the Misfits, they added a bunch of hair grease and there’s a certain “cars and girls and danger” vibe going on. The horror punk isn’t gone — see Ride with the Living Dead — but it takes a bit of a backseat — get it, back seat? — to what sound like really excellently written and performed songs.

Maybe a little catchier than before, maybe not so razor sharp as before, maybe a little more musical than before, maybe even a little more accessible than before, the new Calabrese album is a damn fine one. That it’s a departure is both a surprise and most welcomed. AC/DC is the only band that’s allowed to produce the same album over and over, and Calabrese avoided dying by changing. And in this case, change is good.

Critical Creig Rating: A+ for not making the same record again, and also for making a great little record that’s fun to listen to.

Buy on iTunes or Amazon.





Santa Rosa Police Shoot and Kill 13-Year-Old With Fake Gun

The boy had the fake gun, not the cops. Obviously.

A 13-year-old boy walks near his home with a toy rifle. Two sheriff’s deputies roll up behind him in a squad car, spot the authentic-looking gun and confront him. As the boy turns, one of the officers fires several rounds, killing the boy.

Just another case of Barack Hussein Obama’s jack-booted thugs taking away even your fake guns. It’s not like he’d even killed anybody yet. #StandAndFight #NRA

24th of October, 2013





11-Year-Old Arrested for Exercising God-Given Second Amendment Rights

Police in Vancouver, Wash., arrested an 11-year-old boy on suspicion of attempted murder after finding a handgun, 400 rounds of ammunition and knives at his school, reports said. [...] There were no reports of injuries and it was not clear who the alleged targets were.

Just another case of Barack Hussein Obama’s jack-booted thugs taking away your guns. It’s not like he’d even killed anybody yet. #NRA #StandAndFight #6thGrade

24th of October, 2013





So Happy Together

A photographer gets total strangers in New York city to pose together, somewhat intimately. I find it very inspirational.

23rd of October, 2013





Outrun Aging

Stanford researchers have found that running slows aging.

“The study has a very pro-exercise message,” said James Fries, MD, an emeritus professor of medicine at the medical school and the study’s senior author. “If you had to pick one thing to make people healthier as they age, it would be aerobic exercise.” The new findings appear in the Aug. 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Fries’ team began tracking 538 runners over age 50, comparing them to a similar group of nonrunners. The subjects, now in their 70s and 80s, have answered yearly questionnaires about their ability to perform everyday activities such as walking, dressing and grooming, getting out of a chair and gripping objects. The researchers have used national death records to learn which participants died, and why. Nineteen years into the study, 34 percent of the nonrunners had died, compared to only 15 percent of the runners.

At the beginning of the study, the runners ran an average of about four hours a week. After 21 years, their running time declined to an average of 76 minutes per week, but they were still seeing health benefits from running.

On average both groups in the study became more disabled after 21 years of aging, but for runners the onset of disability started later.

“Runners’ initial disability was 16 years later than nonrunners,’” Fries said. “By and large, the runners have stayed healthy.”

Not only did running delay disability, but the gap between runners’ and nonrunners’ abilities got bigger with time.

“We did not expect this,” Fries said, noting that the increasing gap between the groups has been apparent for several years now. “The health benefits of exercise are greater than we thought.”

I’m smug.

22nd of October, 2013





Being Scared Should Be Fun

Atascadero’s scariest haunted house has the most heart

14th of October, 2013 ·  1 Comment

IMG_0078

ATASCADERO — Chris Towers has been ruining Halloween with a haunted house since 1991, and this year’s promises to be the biggest, most elaborate haunt yet. This year, it will run on Wednesday, Oct. 30, Thursday, Oct. 31 and Friday, Nov. 1 beginning at 6 p.m. each night.

“It’s huge,” Towers said. “It’s taken over the bottom floor of my home. The front yard, the back yard, the side yard. It’s the last year we can do it at my house, it’s so big.”

Towers said that his haunt started small, back in 1991. It was little more than a haunted porch at his parents house in those days. But it’s grown and grown. Now he’s got actors, elaborate props, a world-class makeup artist and world class technology and gadgetry.

For instance, the haunt is appropriate for almost all ages thanks to closed-circuit cameras set up throughout. Those cameras allow actors to see who is next down the hallway — if it’s a family with young children, he said the actors would reign it in. But if it’s a gaggle of high schoolers, “they’re going to try to make them cry.”

It seems entirely possible. Veteran volunteer Cassandra Sherburne said that at last year’s haunt, a high school boy all but panicked at one point.

“After the zombitorium, in the door-knocker room, this boy didn’t know where to go or what to do,” Sherburne said, laughing. “His voice got  high, and one of the pretty girls had to remind him that leaving meant going through the zombitorium again. [Volunteer] Jim nearly exploded with suppressed laughter.”

Towers corroborated.

“I love standing at the end of the haunt, listening to what people say as they leave,” he said.

But it’s not just about scaring folks. A portion of ticket sales — $4 for adults, $2 for children 12 and under — is being donated to RISE, formerly the North County Women’s Shelter.

“Being scared should be fun,” Towers said. “If you’re at the women’s shelter, you’re scared and you’re not having fun. Look, Halloween is the one day of the year where you can be anything you want to be, and no one can tell you can’t.  We are proud to know that in partnering with RISE we will be helping those in need to experience that excitement.”

Thanks to ubiquitous technology, the haunt will accept credit and debit cards at the ticket booth, alongside cash. There will also be a donation bucket at the end, should participants wish to make an extra contribution after being terrified.

The haunt will take place off Cuervo Way in the Dove Creek community. Folks are encouraged to park on El Camino Real and follow the signs. For more information, go to www.tntterrors.com.

IMG_0094-2

Being Scared Should Be Fun

14th of October, 2013 ·  1 Comment




Bikes Outsell Cars in Spain for the First Time

NPR:

Higher taxes on fuel and on new cars have prompted cash-strapped Spaniards to opt for two wheels instead of four. [...]

“People are fed up to wait for the City Council to make bike lanes. Because when they had the money, they didn’t do it,” says Iván Villarrubia, a 36-year-old urban planner and self-styled bike activist. “And now that they want to do it, they don’t have the money.”

Villarrubia believes newcomers to biking should learn to share the road with cars, rather than wait for City Hall to build bike lanes. So far there are only a handful in the capital. “Long-term, to know how to share, to yield, to slow down — that’s the correct solution.”

I rode my bike to donate blood the other day. It wasn’t as harrowing as I expected it to be.

9th of October, 2013





Punk Band Films Porn On Westboro Baptist Church’s Front Lawn

I am 100-percent behind this. Anything to mock those hate-filled clowns.

9th of October, 2013