Hey, wanna see a music video that I directed, shot, and edited? Well, here you go:
The song is “It’s OK” by Half Zen. Their first CD, “Wesoterica” (I have no idea what the title means) is going to be released later in February. The front man is a long time friend of mine from playing D&D in the 90s, and he started writing music a few years ago, then put together a band and recorded an album. Once he had the tracks recorded, he asked me to create a music video.
“But I have no experience with music videos, and essentially stopped videography and filmmaking a few years ago,” I said to Gresch. He wanted me to try anyhow, and there’s the result.
I’m gonna try to keep this short. Keep your fingers crossed.
I’ve got a long history with the Star Wars films, having seen the first one in a drive-in theater with my family the summer it came out 42 years ago. The original (Episode IV, it was later called) is my favorite movie of all time, and a few years back when they chose that to be the first major motion picture translated into the Navajo language (Diné bizaad) I was there for the public premiere.
For New Years Eve 2019 earlier this week, Brooke and I went to see “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker“. This concludes the trilogy of trilogies that George Lucas planned way back in the 80s. The whole thing finished without Lucas, of course, since Disney bought Lucasfilm and he wasn’t really involved in the final trilogy – the sequel films. But this has been billed as completing the big story arc that was started when “Star Wars” was released in 1977. So it holds some significance for me.
I walked away from the movie feeling a little stunned. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about it. I was glad the story line finally came to an end, of sorts. I was glad that a lot of loose ends were tied up. I really like the characters and the acting. But the film didn’t really come together for me. It didn’t feel like something I wanted to see again (that’s the same way I felt about Episode XIII). I wasn’t sure why I felt that way. So I turned to Red Letter Media.
Red Letter Media is a group of YouTube video makers who got internet-famous several years ago by doing a set of seven videos analyzing the film “The Phantom Menace”. The videos go into great detail about where the film fell short, and – most importantly to me as someone interested in film making – why George Lucas made all these terrible choices. The short answer is that there was nobody who had the ability or guts to tell Lucas when he was doing something stupid; due to his stature, he was surrounded by yes-men. The long answer is…well, just watch the videos. It’s 70 minutes of the best film analysis I’ve witnessed, delivered in a very weird package.
Anyhow, the Red Letter Media guys put out a 70 minute analysis of Episode IX, and I thought it might give me some insights. I was 100% right. It explained a bunch of things I missed. But most of all, it helped me understand in concrete terms why the film doesn’t really work that well. The short answer is that it was J.J. Abrams and he’s a bad writer and only a mediocre director. The long answer is…well, just watch the video.
Besides helping me understand my feelings about the film, Red Letter Media’s Half in the Bag review also surprised me. The guys kept talking about a film called “Marriage Story” with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. The movie reviewers were pointing out the irony of these two actors getting fortune and fame for being in dumb action movies and then turning around and doing a film nobody’s going to hear of that actually uses their acting talent. So Brooke and I decided to watch “Marriage Story” last night, and the Red Letter Media guys were right. It’s an amazing film, and puts the two lead actors in a whole new light for me. It was hard to watch at times. It’s a very emotional film, with amazing performances. You should make a point to watch it if you have Netflix.
Also, after watching the Red Letter Media review of Star Wars IX, I realized there’s one thing they didn’t mention about the sequel trilogy that was actually a good thing. Not once was there any mention of midichlorians or Jar Jar Binks. And that’s a good thing. I’m glad some parts of Lucas’ world have been swept under the rug.
Speaking of Lucas’ world, if you haven’t seen “The Mandalorian” series yet, I recommend that, too. It’s got all the good things about Star Wars, and none of the bad. Including midichlorians. I think small films and TV series are the future of the franchise. Disney has proven that Star Wars has run out of steam when it comes to major motion pictures.
What: My extended family was all gathering for Christmas. I have 2 teen nieces and 1 teen nephew and none of my family except 1 niece has ever played an RPG before, I decided my gift to them would be to run a Dungeon Crawl Classics funnel. After a lot of back-and-forth, I finally settled on Portal Under the Stars.
Why: The home we rented is high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, where there’s no phone service or internet. So the teens would be unwired for the first time in their lives, and we knew they would need some entertainment.
When: It ended up taking 3 separate sessions on 3 different days, due to short attention spans, newness to RPGs, and breaks for other Christmas and family activities.
How: I took the PDF of the map from the adventure in the rule book and had Staples print it on 36″ by 48″ paper. It was huge and took up the whole table, but was a good way to help people who had no experience with Theater of the Mind. The map cost about $72.
Who: Two nieces (17, 14), one nephew (15), my brother (43), my sister-in-law (43), and my mother (71). My girlfriend opted out in order to “keep some mystery in our relationship”. One younger niece is too young to sit still for that long, and my father refuses to wear his hearing aids so there’s no way he could keep up with the action. The oldest niece plays D&D 5 with her friends in high school, so knew sort of what to expect, but later commented about how much more difficult this game was.
I handed out a page of 4 zeroes at random to each player.
After walking them through how to read a character sheet and answering
some basic questions, I told them to name each character and choose one
to be the leader of their group of 4. Then, with only a very basic intro
into dice mechanics, we dove right in. Out of 6 players, 3 of them went
through all their zeros before the end, leaving only 3 with survivors.
Like I said, it took us 3 sessions to finish.
Some amusing things I learned
I told the players to be creative about how they use their
possessions, hoping they’d get the idea of send the mule, duck, and
pony ahead into rooms before them to trigger the traps. But instead they
did things like “OK, what happens if I put my chalk in the empty chest?
OK, what happens if I stand on the chest now?”
I encouraged them to use their Luck, which they mostly
did. And that’s the only way they were able to defeat the warlord at the
end, as is probably typical.
Some were disappointed that they didn’t get to use all the Lucky Sign stuff, like the note that said you get a bonus on healing checks – “well doesn’t that imply I can heal people after they die?” And the older niece wanted to be a spell caster since she gets to do that in her D&D game. The idea of playing an average farmer in a dungeon was pretty strange for her.
They split the party into 3 groups, and even when I said
the key to “winning” the game is to not split up, they kept splitting
up. Experienced gamers never do that, at least not usually. It made it
really hard to keep the story going, but was also a practicality given
that there were 24 characters at the start. I think if I could do it all
over, I’d just give them each a single 1st level character instead of 4
There was clapping at the end, but the players immediately scattered, tired out from thinking and sitting, I think. However, one by one they came to me later and asked, “What’s the right way to get through this adventure without dying?” So they were still thinking about it a day later! I ended up giving away a few clues after the fact – spoilers I won’t repeat here.
It’s done. I just deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts. It was fun for a few years, but the relationship turned sour after one of us started lying to the other, then pretended to take steps to improve but just kept lying.
Separation took a few months of planning and preparation. Here’s the blog post I wrote about this process several months ago:
And now here is the result:
For those who want to get in touch, here is my contact info:
So what am I doing now for social media? Over the past 9 months or so, I’ve gravitated to a mix of Reddit, Twitter, my blog, and MeWe.
Reddit is great for complex discussions – not perfect, but way better than Facebook
Twitter is great for sharing quick thoughts that I used to put in Facebook posts
My old WordPress blog is great for sharing longer essays, recipes, etc.
And MeWe is a good way to meet other people with shared interests
I’m gonna explain an easy thing you can do to reduce your risk of being a victim of credit card fraud. I first read about this trick a few years back, and started doing it myself. I can say from first-hand experience that it works.
The Two Card Approach
The basic idea is this: Get two credit cards…
Use one of them only for online purchases. Leave that card at home 100% of the time. It will probably never be stolen.
Use the other card only for in-person (non-online, aka “brick and mortar”) purchases. If it gets stolen, it’s not as big of a deal.
Here’s how it works. The vast majority of credit card fraud is from people stealing your card details at the point-of-purchase. For example, there are credit card skimmers attached to gas pumps at the service station that record the details of your card as you swipe it to pay for gas. And untrustworthy workers at the supermarket, restaurants, etc.
On the other hand, online purchases are much safer. Despite the news stories you’ve read about criminals stealing data from websites, your credit card information is very safe in your web browser and at any online merchant, and every place in-between. It’s much more safe than when the card is used at an in-person (POS, of “point of sale”) merchant.
But what’s the biggest pain in the ass when you become the victim of credit card fraud? It’s that once your card is canceled by the bank, you have to go to all the vendors you do business with and update your card details with them. In my case, that’s Amazon, Apple, my mail-order pharmacy, the cable company, the power company, the phone company, and many more. So, it makes sense to give all those companies the credit card that is the least likely to be stolen, and use the card that’s most likely to be stolen only at places that don’t automatically charge my card every month, like the supermarket, gas station, etc.
Make sense? To recap:
Stays in a drawer at home
Stays in my wallet
Used for recurring payments and online stores
Used for individual purchases at brick-and-mortar stores
Problems and Risks
The two card approach isn’t perfect. There are some other risks and side-effects. For example:
The more cards you have, the worse your credit score will be. But if you keep the total number as small as possible, this shouldn’t be a major issue. So give up a couple department store cards and that second airline card, and instead get a second card for online use only.
If your credit is bad, you may not be able to get approved for a second card. Yeah, even with as aggressive as banks are about pushing cards on everyone, some people can’t get a second one, so this approach won’t work for them.
I just made dinner reservations at Emeril’s New Orleans, his “flagship” restaurant. My department at work is going to New Orleans next month for a three day planning meeting. So I decided to lead a group outing to get some great food on the first night. I haven’t been to this restaurant before – only read about it. But I have been to one of Emeril’s other restaurants and everything there was outstanding. So I’m excited for some good gumbo and boudin balls.
I haven’t roasted a turkey in a few years, so I decided to do so for Thanksgiving this year. The past couple years, I’ve gone out for Thanksgiving dinner or bought smoked turkey breast from a BBQ joint in town. Since a lot of people seem to appreciate my food posts, I’m gonna share my menu with you here. And maybe some photos.
Here’s what I’ve got planned for the menu for today. It’s an extremely small gathering, which is good because my dining room table only fits two.
special secret small dessert treat for people who don’t like cherry pie (in other words, Brooke)
About My Cranberry Sauce
OK, so let’s talk about cranberry sauce a bit. I often make a cranberry relish dish from fresh cranberries, ginger, apple, and sugar. It’s served uncooked and cool, and is tart and refreshing. I wrote up the recipe here a few years ago. Last year I made a huge batch of that to take to dinner at my cousin Megan’s house. But I had a lot of fresh cranberries left over that I didn’t use, so I froze them.
This year, about a week before Thanksgiving, I pulled those frozen cranberries out and thawed them. But I wasn’t convinced that they would make good relish since the freezing process made them a bit soft. So I decided to make cranberry sauce for the first time ever. And since I now have an Instant Pot, I just had to use that.
A couple days ago, I put those thawed cranberries into the Instant Pot, along with a little water, some sliced fresh ginger, an apple cut into segments, some cinnamon powder, a cinnamon stick, and some sugar. I pressure-cooked the whole thing for 3 minutes, and then let it sit for a while after that. Once the pressure was released enough to take off the lid, I fished out the non-cranberry chunks – the ginger, apple, and cinnamon stick. Then I stirred it all together, as it cooled.
I was surprised at how thick and gelatinous the sauce became once I started stirring. That’s normal, of course, but I’ve never made jam or preserves or anything like that, so it was new to me. Then it went into a container to cool and rest in the fridge until turkey day.
That brings us up to Thanksgiving day. I ended up spending several hours in the kitchen, even though the menu was pretty simple.
Both the turkey and the gravy took longer than I planned. I think I ran into problems with uneven temperature in my oven. And I could not get the flavor of the gravy just right.
I think my favorite parts of the whole meal were the cranberry sauce and the turkey. Now, lots of leftovers! I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving.
Today in Denver it snowed a few inches and the high temperature was 28. So it’s perfect weather for some hot beef stew. For the first time in my life, I made Bun Bo Hue (or at least my imitation). If you don’t know, it’s a Vietnamese dish from Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. (Note: I’m spelling this the Anglicized way, because for some reason my blog site converts some Vietnamese characters to question marks. Here’s how it’s really spelled, in Vietnamese.)
I don’t have much experience making Vietnamese food, and I couldn’t get many of the ingredients in time to make a more authentic version, but I had a secret weapon that made all the difference.
Here is the secret ingredient. At this summer’s Dragon Boat Festival there was a little stand selling Vietnamese spice pastes, and so I bought this one. Combining that with a beef roast, bone broth, beef bouillon, and sliced white onion in the Instant Pot under pressure for a couple hours did the trick.
For garnishes, I had lime slices, cilantro, sliced red bell pepper, sambal oelek, green onions, and snow peas. I couldn’t find any bean sprouts since most supermarkets do not carry them any more due to contamination problems (E. coli, I think), and I didn’t have time to go to the Asian supermarket. So I thought snow peas would be close enough – crunchy and green. It worked.
It tasted even better than it looked.
I would definitely buy the spice paste again, if I ever see it. They were test marketing it in the US to see if enough people would buy it to make it worthwhile to put into supermarkets. And I have no idea how that went. But I sure enjoyed it, and have a bunch of delicious leftovers.
Since this past spring, I’ve been working to arrange composting at my condominium complex. And this week it starts to pay off.
Denver Compost Collective is an organization that collects food waste from apartment dwellers and takes it to their large scale composting facility. Then they give the resulting “black gold” to a local urban farm/food charity. The city has been encouraging composting the past few years, but if you don’t have a big garden, it’s tough to do. So this group fills that gap.
Here is me with my new bucket. I’ll fill it up throughout the week with food scraps (no meat or dairy) and then put it in my building’s parking garage for DCC to pick up Monday morning. They weigh each bucket, dump it into a bigger container on their truck, rinse the bucket out, and put it back in the garage.
In other news, I voted today. The ballot and issues were so easy this time I decided to do it while enjoying some quasi-legal recreational drugs. It’s great to live in Denver.