Saturday November 28, 2015

Be Thankful for Thread

I am a very thankful person.

That's not to say I'm fortunate, or blessed, or glad some of these crazy dreams of mine have panned out. I'm all of those things, too, but being those things isn't the same as being thankful.

Thankful suggests that I'm a person who is ready to acknowledge the work of others in making my own life better. Thankful means drilling down on good fortune, blessings, and gladness, and looking for the specific places where my indebtedness can be enumerated.

As a religious person, I'm always thanking God for things. But as a thankful person, I am mindful of the fact that God's hand in my life has been manifest through the hands of countless flesh-and-blood, Earth-walking folks; people who deserve better than to have their good works chalked up to a God in whom they may or may not believe.

One of Sandra's "minions," a man who now carries the Hypernode Media Corps of Volunteers challenge coin ("running with scissors for no money since 2006,") built a computer for me earlier this year. When it began blue-screening, he came to my home and troubleshot the problem using tools and methods I understood, but never would have figured out on my own.

The cascading levels of good fortune, gladness, and gratitude in this particular circumstance run for quite a while. I'm thankful that Chad helped me. Chad and I were both thankful that the problem was a single, easily-to-replace component, rather than the Mother of Boards. That was literally a "thank God" moment, but thousands of engineers, technicians, scientists, rare-earth-metal miners, and others stand in that chain and get credit for having built a Mother of Boards that did not fail.

I'm thankful that thousands of Schlock Mercenary readers have spent money on books, challenge coins, and impending role-playing-games, allowing me to afford tools like the one Chad built, and repaired. I'm thankful that their support has been generous enough that when Chad said he did not want to be paid for his time, I was able to insist, telling him that at this moment, that small sum would probably work harder for him than it would for me.

This in turn means that I'm thankful that my generous readers are gainfully employed, and have discretionary income. Without the people who pay them for the work they do, my own work couldn't continue.

So... an 8gb PNY DDR3 memory stick fails, and now I'm feeling indebted to literally millions of people? A few phrases leap to mind as possible punch-lines:

  • "That way lies madness."
  • "It's turtles all the way down."
  • "If you keep pulling on that thread, you are going to have to find a way to be thankful for not having a sweater anymore."

Gratitude is mind-opening, heart-expanding exercise in which you can examine a single thing for which you are thankful,  grab hold of that thread, and follow it all the way down. Follow the turtles past the madness, and unravel the whole sweater in order to understand how very many people in your life deserve a "thank you."

I say "you" here because this Thanksgiving I want you to try this with me (if you're not celebrating Thanksgiving, it's even easier, because you won't be distracted by mountains of food topped with pie.) Look beyond the grand, all encompassing "thank you" bucket. Pick one thing for which you are recently and intimately thankful. Hold tight to that thread, and pull.

It won't destroy the sweater. It will show you how many other people are holding onto that same thread, and when you've acknowledged them, and perhaps even personally thanked them, the sweater will keep you warmer. And if it does unravel, hey, now you know who to talk to about getting another one.

(originally posted at

The Peanuts Movie

The Peanuts Movie is weird, and I'm conflicted about it. I'll lead with this: it enters my list at #16, just a hair shy of the Threshold of Awesome.
I doubt very many of you will feel the same way I do.
I was ready to walk out of the film 20 minutes in. We were getting perfectly executed Peanuts jokes in 3D, and I found that so incredibly boring it was almost physically painful. But I stuck around, and at the 40-ish minute mark something different happened, and I was interested again.
By the end of the film I was quite happy with it. I've never had that happen before. I've never gone from "I may walk out" to "I am SO GLAD I STAYED."
Let's get technical for a bit.
I love Charles Schultz's work ethic, and his economy of line. I can stare at his line work for hours studying the way a nonsense squiggle becomes, in context, the delivery mechanism for a content-rich payload.  I was very concerned that this film would lose that.
I was happy to be wrong. The animators used the computer graphics to provide the context (heads, shoulders, doghouses, kites) and then used what I swear are digitized versions of actual Schultz-squiggles as mouths, eyebrows, and worry-lines. It was a brilliant melding of line-art and computer animation. I was mesmerized.
Most people won't be. Lines aren't really all that interesting unless they're at the beating heart of your career.
Charlie Brown's try-fail cycle is always kind of depressing. His best efforts are either wrong for the problem, or will be rendered irrelevant by something outside his control. The best kite-flyer in the world cannot compete with a kite-eating tree. Hours of practice kicking footballs mean nothing if the person holding the ball plans to betray you.
A story in which the protagonist continues to try in spite of this has power, and is worth telling. But Charlie Brown is always the punchline. Even his successes are ironic, and outside his control. I can only take so much of this. It's depressing.
Well, The Peanuts Movie gives us an Act II Twist in which Charlie Brown gets the success he always wanted. This was surprising, and fresh, and even though I knew it couldn't last, I was interested to see how a triumphant ending could be delivered.
Most folks don't watch movies this way, deconstructing them on the fly. Again, this was something I really enjoyed doing, but that experience might not be there for you. Especially not now that I've told you it's there. Umm... spoiler alert? Sorry.
The Peanuts Movie is a film for children under the age of ten, and it seeks to keep adults happy with nostalgia. Based on the reactions of the young children in the audience, it worked just fine. I heard a tiny voice exclaim in dismay "OH NO CHARLIE BROWN," and you know what? That was kind of awesome.
(cross-posted from


I'm trying to put my finger on why Spectre didn't work for me. The salient point is that I spent much of the film being bored, so obviously there was a problem.

In Casino Royale we were shown a young James Bond who was unmade and remade by betrayal. In Quantum of Solace we were shown that the brilliance of Casino Royale may have been accidental. In Skyfall, we were given a deconstruction and un-making of Bond as a nice capstone for a trilogy of Daniel Craig installments in the series. It was the perfect book-end opposite Casino Royale. The two films deserved better stuff between them.

And now Spectre comes along and undercuts Skyfall. It is set shortly thereafter, and it tells us that these other Bond adventures were all connected to a single underlying conspiracy, a massive confederacy of hitherto undetected mega-miscreants whose nefarious plans and dastardly schemes are finally coming to fruition.

That's a hard sell, and they tried to close the deal by giving us something just shy of a clip show.

It didn't work for me.

Most Bond films are a series of Green-Eggs-And-Ham set-pieces. "Would you, could you, on a boat? Would you, could you, in the throat? Would you could you on a train? Would you hey we're now in Spain." And so on. The best Bond films mask this by tying everything together with a multi-layered mystery, with reveal after reveal drawing us into the new locations. The worst ones find us coming to our senses in the middle of an action scene and asking ourselves why we're in Austria.

On to the good stuff:

  • Q gets the best line of the film. It's such a good line that I can't believe I've never heard it before. I wish I'd thought of it.
  • Dave Bautista is scary. He's even bigger and scarier in well-tailored suits.
  • The two big explosions were cool.
  • The set pieces were quite pretty, especially the Día de Muertos costumed crowd scenes.
  • The music. (I bought the soundtrack, which I think I'll enjoy much more than I enjoyed the film itself.)
  • If you love James Bond films, hey, look! This is a James Bond film!

Spectre enters my 2015 list at #21. Not awesome, not disappointing, and unfortunately not particularly memorable.

(cross-posted from

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