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Sunday, May 19, 2024

My first foray into using an AI chatbot


No, I am still not going to "write" a blog post using artificial intelligence.  I'm sitting in front of a keyboard composing these words.  If you ever do see a product of AI being displayed, it's going to state as much.  Which is what I'm doing now.  What you are about to read is definitely the product of artificial intelligence.  It also represents the first time that I've used a "chatbot" to generate text.  Up until now I've avoided such things.  But as I'm currently involved in a project necessitating some familiarity with AI, there was little choice but to see what it is that I'm getting into.

A friend encouraged me to try ChatGPT.  I've been playing around with it since last night, firing hard at its walls.  And I have to say, I am intrigued.  One of the things I asked it to do was to describe the impact that the television series The Dukes of Hazzard had on high school football.  ChatGPT returned a thorough response in less than seven seconds.

This morning I tried something else: making the AI be "creative".  And now is where things start getting spooky.  The idea of a poem about the Orks from Warhammer 40,000 came to mind.  So I asked ChatGPT to compose some poetry featuring those wacky greenskins.

Here's what it came up with in the space of less than five seconds...

(I know I said previously that I wouldn't "copy and paste" an AI generated product, that I would only post screenshots.  I tried to make a screenshot with this but it was too big to fit onto one screen.  Sincerest apologies for that.)

------------------------------------------

 

"An Ode To WAAAGH!" 

by ChatGPT
05/19/2024 10:15 am EST



In the grim dark of the far future’s expanse,

Where hope is a shadow and death is a dance,

There roams a green tide with a hunger for war,

The Orks of the cosmos, in battles they soar.

 

With tusks sharp as daggers and muscles like steel,

They bellow and brawl with a fiery zeal.

Their laughter is thunder, their fury a storm,

In chaos and mayhem, their spirits transform.

 

Through rusted machines that clatter and grind,

They fashion their weapons, a savage design.

With choppa and slugga, they charge into fight,

Under skies burning red with the blood of the night.

 

WAAAGH! is their battle cry, echoing wide,

A call to destruction, no foe left to hide.

They’re born from the spores of a war-torn land,

To crush and to conquer with a brutish hand.

 

Gork and Mork, their gods of might,

Guide them through darkness, through endless night.

One brutal, one cunning, both deities grand,

In their name, the Orks spread terror unplanned.

 

Yet, in their chaos, there’s a unity fierce,

A bond of the battle, a truth they pierce.

For in every clash, in every raid,

An Ork’s heart is joyous, in war it’s laid.

 

So, heed the green tide, the Orks in their thrall,

For when they come knocking, it’s the end of it all.

In the far future’s expanse, where the strong will prevail,

The Orks march to WAAAGH!, their endless tale.

 

 ------------------------------------------

 

I have to admit, I am deeply impressed.  It's going to be very difficult to detect the use of AI already.  How convincing will it be even just a year from now?  What is going to happen to things like not only writing term papers and college theses, but also things like legal and business documents?  Would a minister delivering a sermon be found out if he had "cheated" with an AI chatbot?

AI can be a tool like anything else.  It can also be a crutch keeping us from discovering our fullest potential.  And in nefarious hands it can - and will - become a weapon.

As Yoda put it, "a dark place" this is taking us to.



Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Happy 80th Birthday George Lucas!

 

It was on May 14th, 1944 that a little boy was born in Modesto, California.  Growing up he was a restless young man, with no clear idea of what he wanted to do with his life.  He finally settled on being a race car driver.  But a near-fatal car crash a few days before graduating high school put a damper on that idea.

Our hero eventually decided he wanted to go to college.  He enrolled in a junior college and studied everything from anthropology to sociology to literature.  While there he began experimenting with filmmaking.  He then ended up at University of Southern California, choosing to continue his studies in cinematography.  And he discovered that he enjoyed it, a lot.  A series of student films followed, and many of them gained notice for their groundbreaking and breathtaking visuals.

The young lad graduated from college and tried to enlist in the Air Force.  Unfortunately his many speeding tickets, of all things, disqualified him.  He was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War but was again disqualified from service, for medical reasons.

He then returned to University of Southern California as a graduate student.  After producing the short film Electronic Labyrinth: THX 1138 4EB he came under the wing of Francis Ford Coppola.  It wasn't long after that when the young man was given the opportunity to make a full-length adaptation of his film, and in 1971 came the release of THX 1138.

It was not a box office success.

Undaunted, our hero decided he wanted to make a different film.  One drawing from his experiences coming of age in Modesto.  That became the genesis of 1973's American Graffiti: a film that has become as classic as any.

Then, around 1974, our young hero sat down with a pad of paper and began writing the first draft of what he roughly titled "The Star Wars".

And the rest, is history.

On this very special day, The Knight Shift and its eclectic proprietor wishes a Very Happy 80th Birthday to George Walton Lucas Jr.  A man who perhaps more than most in our lifetime has impacted the world in so many positive ways than can ever be counted.

And I like to think that he still isn't finished with his craft.

Someday, I hope George Lucas once again shows us something we haven't seen before.

Before I close out this post, I want to share one of my favorite photos of Lucas.  It's from the filming of American Graffiti.  Here is Lucas, sitting on the floor beneath the countertop at Mel's Drive-In, directing Ron Howard:


I just love the pose Lucas is in.  That, my friends, is directing with dedication.



Monday, May 13, 2024

Ever wonder what BioShock's Big Daddy looks like without the helmet? Ehhhh...

I've been a massive fan of the BioShock games (admission: I've never played BioShock Infinite) almost since the beginning of the series.  From the first moments of the original BioShock I was swallowed whole by this tale of sub-Atlantic horror.  To me the story of the city of Rapture is a fable, a morality play.  It is about what mankind is reduced to after consciously and willfully choosing against having a belief in God and the restraining morality He provides.  Man without God is a terrible thing, is what I've found in the BioShock games.  It's a theme I'm looking forward to seeing touched upon more in future games from the franchise.

Anyway, if you've played the first two games you're familiar with the Big Daddies: those hulking brutes in diving suits that lumber around Rapture, usually accompanied by the Little Sisters who they are programmed to protect.  The Big Daddy is the most iconic element of the BioShock series, heck it's on the front cover of the games.  And as you play you come to discover more about the Big Daddies, including how they are made.  At one point in the first game you have to put on a Big Daddy getup.

But somehow none of the games have shown us what exactly is inside a Big Daddy.  We haven't seen what it looks like underneath.  All we know is that the poor sap to be converted into a Big Daddy is flayed, chemically treated and them grafted and steam-sealed into the suit.  Yucko.

Well, Kate Harrold over at Gaming Bible has a story up in the past few days about what BioShock's Big Daddy looks like sans helmet.  This is something that PC Gamer's Andy Kelly first found three years ago but it's brand new to me.  The art is attributed to Irrational/Take-Two artist Robb Waters, so it should be considered canon.

Are you ready?  There's no going back once you've scrolled down.



You really sure about this?



Last chance to back out.



All right, let it be on your own conscience.



And here it is: a Big Daddy without the helmet...


Just plain disquieting.  Pretty nightmarish.  I don't know why it has a yellow glow deep within its cranium.  Some plasmid-altered remnant of a mind perhaps?  Those eyes, that translucent skin... eep.  I'll certainly never see those poor creatures the same way again.  For all the potential for brutality that the Big Daddies symbolize, they are very pitiable and tragic monsters who were once human.

And now I've just ruined your day.  Sorry about that.  Maybe.


Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Boy Scouts of America: 1910 - 2024


 

Those are the words that I first spoke as an eleven-year-old in the fall of 1985.  And I have done my very best to live up to them, every day since.

That is how I choose to remember what it is to be a Boy Scout.  They are the words that I made a lifetime commitment to uphold.

As of today the Boy Scouts of America is no more.  It is now "Scouting America".  Supposedly something for everyone.

Which is something that it can not be if we're going to be realistic about it.

This isn't the popular thing to say, but here it is: boys and girls are different.  They always have been and they always will be.  They have DRASTICALLY different needs physically, mentally, and emotionally. 

At their best the individual Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts movements address those needs admirably (I'm not passing judgment on one or the other).  I can see adult women leaders being accepted into the Order of the Arrow, and taking traditional roles in Cub Scout leadership, but young boys and young girls are vastly different from one another.

And that must be acknowledged and respected.  No offense meant to those young women who have earned the Eagle Scout, but that is the highest honor for a program that from its inception by Lord Baden-Powell has guided young men to be their best.  Girls need that kind of virtuous guidance also  Yes the two programs are analogous but they are not compatible.

But I saw this coming over ten years ago.  The Boy Scouts of America turned away from its noble virtues when it began allowing homosexuals into the ranks.  Those practicing perversion had already corrupted the Girl Scouts of America.  But the real prize was the Boy Scouts.  And now at last as of today, their conquest is complete.

Liberalism destroys everything it touches.  I honestly thought the Boy Scouts would forever be above that kind of corruption.  But alas, it was not to be.

I am going to keep the shadowbox up on my wall containing my Eagle Scout medal, my Eagle card, and patch.  I earned those, more than thirty years ago.  Nothing can take that away from me.

But I lament for those who now earn something that has come to stand for much less than it used to.




Friday, May 03, 2024

"Weird Al" Yankovic and me!

Earlier today I was going through a bunch of photos and came upon one showing me with "Weird Al" Yankovic: arguably the most successful recording artist in the history of pop culture.  I say that because not only has Al earned multiple gold albums and several Grammy awards for his work, he has also been part of many other endeavors throughout a career now going back more than forty years.  And awhile back  he said that he might still give us a song parody or two every year from now on (but I'm hoping he produces at least one more full album :-)

I could have met Weird Al in October of 1996.  My best friends in college were driving four hours each way between Elon College and Asheville to see a concert on the Bad Hair Tour.  Ed and Gary tried their best to get me to come with them.  But I stupidly stayed home because it was going to be very late when they came back from the concert and I just HAD to be up early the next day for history class.  That following morning I went by their dorm room.  And they told me that they had met Weird Al!  Ed's dad had called up a radio station doing promos for the concert and told them the hard-luck story about how his son was driving so far to see the show.  The station guys asked Ed's father how many backstage passes did he want.  And that's how they got to meet Al after the show.

I literally kicked myself in the @$$.  I've been a fan of "Weird Al" Yankovic since 1984, when I was nine years old.  And because of my pride I had missed the opportunity of meeting my musical hero.

I made a vow that someday I would make up for that, and meet Al in person.

Five years later, a week and a half before 9/11, I got to interview Weird Al via e-mail for TheForce.net.  That's how I already had his address.  In 2003 Al and the band were on the Touring With Scissors tour.  There was a performance scheduled for Charlotte, two and a half hours away.  I wrote to Al and told him about how I missed meeting him seven years earlier, and I humbly asked if there was a way I could make good on the promise I'd made to myself.

He wrote back a few hours later and asked how many passes did I need for after the show.

And that led to the very first time that I got to meet "Weird Al" Yankovic.  But it would not be the last!  So far I have gotten to meet he and his band four times.  I think it could be easily said that I've fulfilled my vow :-)

So I went looking for pics from the other times Al and I have met.  Unfortunately the photo of that first time is somewhere on another hard drive that I don't have convenient access to.  But I've got photo of the four other occasions.  I thought that it might be fun to put them together on one post.

This first pic is from 2010 when Al was in Knoxville,Tennessee.  And Al remembered me from seven years earlier!  Here we are together, with me wearing the shirt from our local theatre guild's production of The King and I.


The third time we met, it was 2011 in Charlotte during the Alpocalypse Tour  Here's Al and I and my girlfriend at the time:


A year after that Al and his troupe were in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Here is Al and my lifelong best friend Chad (the guy who introduced me to Al's music when we were in fourth grade) and me.  It has meant so much that Chad and I got our pic together with our favorite musical artist :-)


And finally, here's a pic from 2013, also in Raleigh.  Al had come to a bookstore there to promote his children's book.  Quite a few people came out to see him and have him sign their copies.  I had something for Weird Al to sign also: the vinyl Yoda puppet that I'd had since 1981.  Al always finishes his concerts with "Yoda", his parody of "Lola" by The Kinks, so I thought this would be a pretty neat thing to get his John Handcock on.  Al's eyes lit up when he saw the puppet!  He had one of these in his first special on MTV.  He was more than happy to sign it and he even put it on his hand to see if it would still fit (it did indeed):

Unfortunately I missed meeting him during the tour stemming from his Mandatory Fun album.  But Ed and me have seen Al perform twice since that last photo: during the Strings Attached Tour (which Al performed while backed up by a full orchestra) and then the second vanity tour in 2022.

You'll have to ask Ed how many times he's seen Weird Al in concert.  It's gotta be close to ten.

Who knows, maybe someday I'll get to meet Al again.  He has always been a super nice guy.  There needs to be more people like him in this world.

EDIT 5/17/2024: I finally found the very first pic of Al and me together!  From August 2003:


I'm wearing a "What Would Al Do?" shirt that I made myself.  He thought it was pretty funny :-)


Friday, April 12, 2024

Found this on Twitter tonight


 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

I'm three episodes into Amazon Prime's new series Fallout...

 "War.  War never changes."

Actually, Ron Perlman's voice for opening narration is pretty much the only thing missing from Fallout: Amazon Prime's new streaming show based on the legendary video/computer game series.  I was looking forward to what those first words would be.

But that can be forgiven, in light of how epically faithful a live-series adaptation of the Fallout saga is to the source material.  It's all here: the vaults, the stimpacks, the Brotherhood of Steel, the retro-futuristic look of pre-war America... Heck in the second episode we even see a live-action brahmin (the two-headed cattle seen in most if not all of the games).

So I've just finished watching the third episode, and it's pretty well established that Lucy (Ella Purnell) from Vault 33 is way out of her element.  Actually, just about all of the dwellers in Vault 33 are in over their heads.  They are basically touchy-feely types who believe the wasteland and its denizens will be won over by progressive concepts like teaching them Shakespeare and beginner's calculus.

Ahhh yes, the wasteland.  It's definitely in keeping with what is depicted in the games.  It's that helping of Mad Max-style dystopia colored with 1950s-ish aesthetics and a healthy dash of mutant monsters and trademark Fallout humor.  This ruined landscape two hundred-some years after World War III is no place for the weak of heart.  But it's absolutely spot-on filled in with trademark elements from Bethesda's games (speaking of which, I need to finish Fallout: New Vegas sometime, but real life keeps popping up every time I pick up from the most recent save point).

Fallout boasts a strong cast.  In addition to Purnell there is Aaron Moten as Maximus: an aspirant with the knight-like Brotherhood of Steel.  Then there is Walton Goggins as "the Ghoul", who is pretty much like the ghouls you encounter in the games, if one were also decked out like "The Man with No Name" from Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns.  Also featured is Kyle MachLachlan, who won acclaim playing Agent Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks as the Overseer of Vault 33.  And it would be a grave error on my part if I did not mention Michael Emerson's presence.  I became a great fan of his work on Lost and it's a delight to see him again.

Little wonder Fallout is so good, when the series is helmed by Jonathan Nolan - who I thought did a magnificent job as showrunner of HBO's Westworld - along with Fallout games head honcho Todd Holland as executive producer.  It's a practically perfect endeavor with everyone and everything falling into their proper places.  THIS is what a live-action adaptation of a video game is supposed to look like (no, I haven't seen The Last Of Us yet but I'd like to check that out eventually).  From the first episode Fallout the streaming series has sucked me in, just as Fallout 3 did when I first played it fifteen years ago (I played the first two games later on).

If there is a fault I find in Fallout the television series, it's the profanity.  I can't recall there being that much swearing in the games.  There's a modicum of cussin' in the Bethesda works, but not nearly as at times overwhelming as in the Amazon show.  Just because this is a series with production value on par with Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead doesn't mean the crew must go all-out crazy with harsh language.  But then again, I doubt it's going to be small children who are playing the Fallout games.  These are games for a mature audience and I can overlook the show's language, kinda.

 Otherwise, consider me a fan, and that's hard to pull off when I've become so jaded about entertainment in general that the only other thing I'm looking forward to is the final season of Stranger Things.

There are five episodes left in Fallout's first season.  I'm going to try to watch the rest sometime over the weekend, in between working on other projects.  If the following installments are as good as these three are, then I am already anticipating more seasons to come.



Happy Birthday Tammy!

It was actually a few days ago on April 8th, the same day as the solar eclipse.  Here's the pic I snapped of Tammy on her twelfth birthday.

 

Such a sweet little dog.  Tammy has been a little angel on four legs all these years.  I definitely could not have gone far without her company.  She keeps me going.  And she has saved my life more than once.  There's not a day that goes by that I don't thank God for her, and ask Him to please let us have many more years together.  I hope so anyway :-)



Saturday, April 06, 2024

We entered The Matrix a quarter century ago this week

I had seen the commercial that ran during the Super Bowl.  While browsing the magazines at Barnes & Noble I flipped through the pages of Starlog and ogled the photos, which had to be the most abrupt juxtaposition of images from a single movie I had ever beheld (martial arts, Giger-ish metal, what?).  But none of it made any sense.

Then about a month after The Matrix came out, I was having our weekly discipleship meeting with a friend.  And he was raving about seeing it the night before.  Brent tried his darndest to explain what he had seen, but it all went way over my head.  Something about Nebuchadnezzar and agents and red pills and... he went on.  I tried to reconcile it with everything else I had overheard others saying about The Matrix.  And there were quite a few who were talking about it.

Suddenly I felt like there was some arcane secret that I hadn't been let in on.  And I realized that here was something that I just had to understand.  To see for myself.

That came on Sunday night, two days after our discipleship time.  Brent wanted to meet up at the now-closed West End Cinema in Burlington.  We got there for the 9 o'clock show.  And for the next two hours my senses were assaulted by the most jarring spectacle that I could recall seeing on the big screen in quite a long time.  Without warning any of the buildup I'd had for Star Wars Episode I was a fast receding dot on the horizon.

I had seen The Matrix.  And nothing from the realm of filmmaking would be the same again.  I drove home that night, trying to digest it all.  But it was too much to take in.  I think it was for a lot of people.  My best friend from college saw The Matrix five or six times during its first run and made it the basis of a paper he turned in for a class.

Maybe I should have watched it a bit more too, instead of going to the theater to see The Phantom Menace nine times that summer.

The Matrix is arguably, and quite much so, the most influential movie of the past quarter century (geez, just sayin' it like that makes it seem like a lifetime ago... which I guess it is).  Did the word "unplugged" carry as much potency as it did before March 31st, 1999?  To say nothing of how the term "blue pill" has entered into the modern vernacular as derogatory slang.  And of course there were the action sequences: imitated but never duplicated.

I wound up buying a VHS copy of the movie.  The summer of 2000 found me working as a reporter in Asheville, North Carolina.  And then I was the one trying to explain The Matrix, this time to my editor.  I let him borrow my copy over the weekend.  He came into the office on Monday morning raving about how The Matrix was so much like what the mission of our weekly magazine was all about.  He had a light in his eyes, that I hadn't noticed before.  The Matrix became the topic of many a discussion we had in the weeks and months after that.  And come to think of it, I can't think of any other movie that has ever precipitated nearly as much conversation and reflection and argument as that film did.

I hadn't planned on getting a DVD player just yet, but my sister received one for Christmas and she won me over with its image clarity.  So the day after the holiday I splurged on a player too.  The very first DVDs that I bought were Blazing Saddles and The Matrix.  I've still got them, and the other night I put in The Matrix.  The quality of that standard DVD is still so sharp that the movie looks almost as good as would the Blu-ray or 4K editions.

I won't say that I became a fan of the Matrix saga as much as I did Star Wars (though I'm nowhere near as much into that as I used to be, no thanks to Disney's bungling).  And I'm kind of past the point where any franchise will probably grab me anymore.  But the world of the Matrix grasped hold hard and fast that spring night in 1999, and it hasn't let go.  I'll even vicariously defend the sequels except for The Matrix Resurrections because I haven't seen that one yet.  I think the biggest reason that The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions got panned is because they didn't end the trilogy as many if not most people wanted it to.  They wanted to see the machines completely destroyed, and that would have been wrong.  Neo came to understand that humans and machines shared too much in common than to see one side or the other obliterated.  The trilogy ended as well as is it could have: with the humans wanting out of the Matrix free to leave, and hopefully humanity and machines in a place where they can cooperate with each other.  It wasn't a perfect conclusion for all involved but it was the start of something hopefully better for the two factions. To me, that was a great ending to the saga.

So much else I could say about this movie.  But I would be remiss if I did not touch on a final thought:

Have we truly taken the Red Pill?  Or are we still plugged in, afraid to leave comfort and security?

As Neo said at the end of the film, "Where we go from there is a choice I leave to you."

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Fifty

First photograph
March 31, 1974
Moses Cone Hospital
Greensboro, North Carolina
 

For a very long time I've believed that if you can make it to fifty without once getting told that you're "middle-aged" it means that you'll never have to be a grown-up.



Ahhhhh, so Fifty, we meet at last.  I've been waiting for you.  You thought I wouldn't make it this far but you were wrong.  You're like One-Eyed Willie from The Goonies: you laid out your traps but I got past them all.  And now here we are.

I shouldn't be here.  The odds have been against me from the very beginning.  All the way back to that delivery room on a rainy Sunday night in 1974 when I emerged from my mother's womb.  Not moving, not crying, not breathing.  It was twelve minutes after being born before air finally filled my lungs.  Fortunately the doctor who delivered me was a very good one.  In lesser hands and without the equipment that got rushed to the room, I wouldn't be here writing about it five full decades later.

There have also been the many situations and events that have transpired throughout the course of my life.  Everything from horrible car crashes to getting shot at.  Any one of those could have ended the temporal traipsings of one Robert Christopher Knight.

And then, there is the dominant element of my life these past twenty-five years: living with manic depression (or bipolar disorder, as I sometimes still call it).  The disease that has destroyed so much happiness and chance for joy.  There is literally no counting how many times I've wanted to die and put an end to the pain forever.  Too many of those times I tried to act on that desire.  I should be dead dozens of times over by now.

Yet here I am.

Many people, especially men, dread the prospect of turning fifty.  They try to cut deals with the universe.  Attempt to bargain with God, that He will give them just one more iota of youth before it all goes downhill.  They try to reason with Death, begging it to stave off the inevitable a little longer.

That's not me.  I've never had the luxury of getting to have a "mid-life crisis".  For me these past several decades, there has been no promise of tomorrow.  There has been little hope for a future of lasting happiness.  My entire life all this time has been in a crisis mode of some form or another, with no time to lament mortality.

Maybe that's part of the reason why I'm feeling so good today.

I am in the best shape that I've been in, in my entire life.  Physically I'm in excellent condition.  My metabolism is that of someone fifteen or twenty years younger.  People all the time mistake me for someone in his early thirties: something I never cease having loads of fun with!

It's mentally that I'm feeling most accomplished about though...

Mentally I am better than I was ten years ago and I want to believe that I'm not as good as I will be ten years from now.  I take my mental health very seriously.  This isn't something you can simply take meds for and see a counselor every few weeks.  You have to WORK, and work hard, to get to that place where you can function and then maintain that.

I'll never be where I'd like to be mentally - bipolar disorder will almost forever be a lurking monster waiting to lash out from the shadows - but I've come very far indeed.  If only I could have been the person I am now, fifteen or twenty years ago.  It would have saved myself and others a lot of grief.

When you're much better at fifty than you were at twenty-five, that is cause for celebration.

What can I say?  I don't smoke and I only drink once a year, when I toast Dad's memory on his birthday with a bottle of his favorite wine.  Despite the disease I try to maintain an upbeat and cheerful and friendly demeanor.  People often tell me that I never meet a stranger.  I've never stopped wanting to learn new things: something that has proven advantageous in the new career that I've recently embarked upon.

(Wish I could tell y'all about that but I literally can't.  All I'll say is that it's a job that's perfect for me, in a field of expertise that has only recently come about.  And I'm getting to use much of my experiences and skills and education toward it.  That also is a reason why I'm finding myself happier than I've thought I've had a right to be.)

Mostly though, I have to credit God.  I could not have come this far without Him and the grace He provides.  Especially in these past several months I've drawn closer to Him.  I'm not holding things against myself as much as I used to: things that I'm even more understanding were beyond my control.  I don't blame God for those anymore.  We aren't promised an easy life.  As long as we are on this earth there will be sickness and suffering.  But God has been faithful.  He has brought me a long way through the madness.  I am absolutely thankful to God, for what He has done in my life.

Maybe it's fitting that this year my birthday is on Easter Sunday.  Because Easter is a day where we celebrate new life, the passing away of darkness.  I feel alive this day, in every possible way.

So, today I turn fifty years old.  I'm cherishing it with all abandon.  Remembering what has come before and looking forward to what is still to come.  Perhaps I'll make it to eighty-eight, and be here to write about seeing Halley's Comet for the second time in my life.  I asked God for that in 1985, when the comet's last appearance was a letdown.  Maybe the next time will be better.

In the meantime, I've a new career and I'm well underway with my book project.  There are a few creative irons in the fire (including a film story that I'm looking for a writing partner to help turn into a real screenplay).  I have my dog Tammy.  I have been blessed with some remarkable friendships.  I have family that I never knew about until a few years ago.  I still have hope, that God might let me have a little family of my own someday.

Fifty, here I am.  And I am delighted to finally meet you.

 

 


Happy Easter 2024

Made by my dear friend Bethany Myers and too beautiful not to share this Easter Sunday:




Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Lent 2024: A respite from blogging

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday: the beginning of the Lenten season.




There have been some years when I have observed Lent on this blog.  The first time, in 2006, I refrained from posting at all.  This blog was two years old then and it was a commitment to keep the content fresh and poppin'.  So no blogging for seven weeks presented a dire temptation to write something, to write anything.  But I believe that I came through it a better person, and a better writer at that.

Then two years ago I felt the need to participate in Lent again.  But this time I went in the dire opposite direction.  After leaving Reidsville in 2016 I let this site lapse a bit (for over a year and a half!) while I was getting things in my personal life taken care of.  I like to think that I came back to this blog a different and better individual.  But the damage was done and this site still hasn't regained the audience it once enjoyed.  Still, I write.  And I was writing with passion for Lent 2022: endeavoring to make one post each day during the season.  In the end there were 47 posts made from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday... and it was TOUGH!  But it was something that I needed to do.  God showed me that He hasn't let the gift He has given me lapse because of lack of use.  That was something I needed to see, and I am thankful that He bore me through it.

Now we are on the doorstep of Lent 2024.  And once again I am going to give up blogging for the next seven or so weeks.  It's going to take something dire to bring me back to this site until then (Joe Biden resigning or being removed from the presidency will probably not cut it).  I won't be actively looking for anything to post about.  But this is time when I will be writing.  I'm committing myself to finishing at least one new chapter for my book each week.  Hopefully more than that if the Muse is feeling kind.  In the past month I've written three major chapters.  I've let confidants read some of the work so far and without exception they wildly approved and said that they want to know more about my life story.  I'll give you this teaser: "When you're driving a few hundred miles to banish demons, you can find most of what you need at Walmart."

So I'm more or less going into "radio silence" on this blog.  Probably not so much on Twitter however: that will remain an occasional chronicle of my musings and observations.  I'm also trying to see if I can achieve having a thousand followers.  I want to think that it's possible by doing it the old fashioned way: "we uuuuurn it" (as John Houseman articulated the line).

Lent ends on Easter Sunday.  This year that falls on March 31st.  Which is an important date for me.  It will be my birthday and not only that but my fiftieth!  I'm facing it with pure abandon.  Too many people, especially men, treat fifty as something they must make a deal with God to avoid the ramifications of.  Me?  I'm thankful... DARN thankful... that I will have made it that far.  I should not be here writing these words.  By many accounts I should have been dead dozens of times over by now, especially by my own hand.  I have survived too much than to not be grateful to God and the people He has put into my life for helping to bring me this far along.  I don't know what the heck I'm going to blog about come Easter Sunday but I'm going to write the heck out of it.

So, that's what's going to be up for the next few weeks.  I won't have died (you'll know if if I do though, that is going to be posted on this site) or otherwise abandoned The Knight Shift.  I'm just focusing on spiritual matters more for the next month and a half or so.  And maybe as before, I'll come out of it a better person.

See y'all in forty days.



Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Happy 50th Birthday to Blazing Saddles!

It was on this date in 1974 that filmmaker Mel Brooks released his western spoof upon an unsuspecting world.  And comedy was never the same again...


It's probably the number-one movie that has been said "it could never be made today."  Which makes it all the more special.  Blazing Saddles is unadulterated political incorrectness as only Brooks and his crew could have made it.

How much does this movie mean to me?  I have owned a copy of it on every home media format going back to VHS.  It was the very first DVD that I bought.  Later on I bought it on Blu-ray and today I keep it loaded on my iPad Pro (along with the complete Star Wars saga, The Thing, and Airplane! among others).

There are two movies that I distinctly remember from early childhood and each of them was run on CBS (the network our family's television was almost always tuned to) every year: The Wizard of Oz and Blazing Saddles.  Try finding a broadcast network that would show it today though!  Even HBO Max is now carrying a "trigger warning" when you watch Blazing Saddles on it.

Well, so much that could be said about this film.  I think I'll celebrate today by watching it again for the hunnerd zillionth time.



Tuesday, February 06, 2024

A meditation upon Matthew 7:7

Every so often Matthew 7:7 comes to mind.  The verse reads (from the New International Version):

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
 
 It comes to the fore of my thoughts when I think about my own salvation journey.  How it progressed from being a person very angry and bitter toward God, to realizing that He could not have been responsible for what happened to me, to appreciating His beautiful design of the universe, to believing that I could not possibly be reconciled with Him... on until I finally allowed him into my life as my Lord and Savior.
 
(Some people still don't think of my life in terms like that. I suppose they will always think of me as an "atheist" even though I never truly did not believe in God.  They want me to be what THEY expect me to be spiritually.  I guess that's on them.  I know where I stand with God, and it depends on no other person.)
 
I very much appreciate Matthew 7:7.  It could almost be my life verse, if I needed one.  But for the past several years I've pondered it a bit more.  And I've come to also appreciate the promise it holds.  One that I believe is of great import to us as believers.
 
"Seek and you will find."  To me those five words are a PROMISE.  That whoever is looking for God is going to find Him.  That's irrespective of "our" expectations.  We are told in scripture that there are some who will not believe that they served Christ when they did good for others... but God knows their hearts.  He knows when they were and even now are right in spirit and aligned with His will.
 
We can know when we ourselves have found His grace.  We should trust others that they also have His mercy.  But all too often we have no idea whatsoever how far along a person is in his or her own journey, or even if it's begun at all.
 
This verse tells me that we should trust God and His perfect will, that all who seek Him WILL find Him.  At the same time, we should orient ourselves toward His will that much more, so that His light and love shines in our own lives.  That might be the only witness for Christ that some, maybe many, will ever see.  Some will see the relationship with God that they have been looking for.  Others who don't know what exactly what they are looking for WILL recognize it and want the truth of Him.  They WILL find that. God has promised it.
 
We should live so that we have something pure and holy that cannot be evaded and ignored.  So that others might see that, and want it in their own lives.
 
God made us as believers to be a big reason why people seek Him in the first place.  We should embrace that role He has appointed for us.


(Image from Bible.com)


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

God and mental illness: Why won't He heal my mind?

Obviously the notion entered my mind that maybe this could be an installment of the Being Bipolar series (which there may be much more material for coming soon).  But Being Bipolar is more about the disease itself, and is intended to be a resource for those looking for insight and information from someone who lives with that condition.

What I'm sharing now, on the other hand, has less to do with that aspect of my life than it does with others.  Although mental illness is certainly the precipitant.

It was twenty-four years ago this month that the symptoms of manic depression, or bipolar disorder, first began to manifest themselves in me.  At first it was wildly intoxicating, all the boundless energy and creativity that came seemingly out of nowhere.  I was still looking for a job post-college and failing in that but other opportunities were coming to the fore (like my time at Star Wars website TheForce.net, which gets a bit of interesting light shined upon it in the book I'm currently writing).  Long story short, I was bouncing off the walls with enthusiasm and optimism and sheer drive.  That those seemed to be peppered with moments of despair - like the horrible night that winter when I stripped off all my clothes and tried to freeze myself to death during a snowstorm with temperatures in the single digits - were inconsequential to how inflamed my uttermost being had become.

By early spring however, it was increasingly obvious that something was very, very wrong with me.

That was almost a quarter century ago.  But it seems like only yesterday.  In one way or another bipolar disorder has been in the background of everything that I have attempted or somehow accomplished despite the condition.  It has factored into my relationships (one of which ended in divorce), in my career history, in my choice to leave my old hometown... there has not been a single aspect not impacted by manic depression.

And all along, there has been one question that has been most on my mind: Why did God let this happen to me?

Two and a half decades later, I'm no closer to understanding the reason than I ever was.  But there has been a modicum of comfort to be drawn from scripture.  Second Corinthians 12:9 has the apostle Paul sharing with us that God told him "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'"  Or as my Uncle Nub once told me: "Maybe God let you have it because He knew you could take it."

The verse continues: "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me."  Which dovetails well, I think, with Romans 8:28, a verse that a colleague quoted to me yesterday:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

It has taken many years to come to this place, where I am no longer angry at God for allowing mental illness - something that at various times I have described as a "hell" - to strike me.  I better understand now that this is still a fallen world, and not all the medication and counseling remotely possible is going to change that.  I believe that God is the master Healer, and that there is no disease which is not without His power to alleviate.

But even so, disease happens.  It can occur within anyone, with all its nefarious varieties.  I suppose that I should consider myself blessed.  In two months I turn fifty and at my last medical examination the doctor told me that I've the health of someone in his early thirties.  Obviously God has let my physical well-being be good.  That is more than a lot of guys in my demographics get to have.  The only real physical malady I have is anemia, something that prevents me from being a blood donor anymore.  Perhaps sooner than later we'll get to the bottom of what's causing it, because I hate being out of the running with my friends who contribute blood.  But I digress...

With time has come understanding, and I hope a little wisdom.  And it has also brought with it an appreciation for my condition.  Had the economy not taken such a turn downward I might still be enjoying a career as a full-time peer support specialist with the state's department of mental health.  That is a job you literally must be crazy to have, I often tell those who don't know what peer support entails.  I was someone who made use of experiences and intensive training toward helping other people, who also have mental illness, and letting them have a chance at full and meaningful lives.  It was the most personally rewarding work that I have ever done and I would be doing it forever if that had been possible.  I got to be of assistance to a lot of good people.  Some of whom I still keep in touch with, just letting them know I still care about them.

Some people who God has placed in my path at times, have been close to giving it all up.  Have gotten too close to the line separating want-to-live from I-want-to-die.  I've been there too, more times than I can possibly count.  And ironically I got to be the one who convinced them that their lives are worth living.  I got to be someone who saw how precious their existences are, when they could not see it themselves.

It's possible that a lot of people wouldn't be with us still today, had it not been for God letting me have a mental illness that put me in their place first.  But I don't say that to boast.  God can be glorified in even our worst weaknesses.  If some are still alive today, that's His doing and not mine.  I'm just the instrument He chose to use.

And I can and will be thankful for that honor.

I guess the catalyst for this post is that, recently, I did something rather foolhardy and potentially very dangerous.  I attempted to move out of the way of God from healing me.  Or in other words: I tried to be made whole by faith only.

And so it is that I went a few days without my medication.

There wasn't any one agency that led me to attempt such a thing.  At various times across the decades I've earnestly wondered if my faith in God was not enough: that maybe He would heal me if only I had more trust in Him.

I went off the meds and instead I threw myself into prayer and fasting.  I turned toward immersing myself in scripture.  I asked for prayers from others: something which has become a regular occurrence for me and indeed I do not believe that I would be here today were it not for prayers from people dear to me.  I covet prayer now.  Which is another irony, since once upon a time I would have likely laughed at such a notion.

I tried relying entirely on having faith in God, that He would deliver my mind from the torment of mental illness.

And in the end, He did not do that.

After two days being without the meds my thoughts began racing out of control, again.  But I tried to endure.  Sought to increase my faith.  I want to think that my faith in Him is strong enough that it weathered the torture without ceasing to trust Him completely.

I went as far as could be tolerated before going back on the meds.  Blessed relief arrived a few hours later.

So, once again, God did not heal me from bipolar disorder.

Or, maybe He did.  Maybe He still is.

We are told that Luke, the writer of the eponymous gospel as well as the Book of Acts, was a physician.  Doubtless he of all people understood the wondrous qualities of human health and self-care.  I don't know what medications were available circa 60 A.D., apart from a form of aspirin known to the ancient Greeks.  But Luke was in all likelihood well versed in their array and uses.  God gave Luke a capable mind and adept hands to be a healer.  Perhaps God was not dealing out divine intervention toward the healing of those in Luke's care, but He certainly was the ultimate Author of betterment and recuperation.

I have to believe that God gave us a beautiful thing in medical science.  Something that can not so much replace God's place in healing as it does complement it.  In the employ of those dedicated and devoted to the healing arts, medicine is by its very existence a miracle of God.  In its purest form medicine is a thing wholly given over to the betterment of life.

I can't possibly contend that medical science is something God would not want us to make the most of, if it means having better and more purposeful life.

What about when medical science fails?  I have friends who in recent weeks have each lost a loved one to disease.  Is that a judgment against medicine when it could not prevent their respective passing?  No, it is not.  As I said before, it is a fallen world.  Injury and illness have been a part of that imperfection for a very long time and barring God's intervention that doesn't look to change anytime soon.  Nothing is guaranteed.  We can only trust in God and His will, that things are going to work out for the best in the end.  And that's the absolutely best answer that I can give.  But I've seen His will work out well before.  I have to believe that His will, will manifest itself as something that gives Him the glory and proves to be of benefit to us.  God operates on a vaster scale of time than we can comprehend.  And even the failures of the best of our schemes will serve to honor Him, in the end.

Personally, I believe that this lifetime isn't all that we get.  There is more past that.  What form that takes is up to the person living it.  God knows who are His.  For the one who loves God, this life and its afflictions are not the end.  There is something better waiting for us still.  I dream of having a mind that isn't plagued by mania or depression or sometimes both at once.  That is coming, in the fullness of His time.  And that is a great comfort.

I'm not going to willingly go off the medications again.  I've tried trusting God to take my condition away from me.  For whatever reason, He has not done that.  But He has provided knowledge and wisdom and tools that can make the condition much more better manageable than it would be without those things.  Here I am on the cusp of fifty, and with each passing day I feel more like what it is to not have a mind turned against itself.  I feel younger today than I ever have, and it's because of what God has provided many scientists, researchers, and engineers with over the course of the centuries and especially the past several decades.

But of course, it never hurts to pray too.



Monday, January 29, 2024

I plan on wearing my Ghostbusters uniform on opening day of this

 New trailer for Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire dropped a few hours ago and I've watched it a few times now.  I'm getting a vibe that this might be the best film since the original.  It's hitting on all the right notes.  And hey, it even has the return of Walter Peck!

Watch it here:


 

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Reveal trailer for Indiana Jones and the Great Circle!

Word is breaking loose at this hour that Bethesda's new Indiana Jones game has finally been revealed...

Coming later this year it's Indiana Jones and the Great Circle.  Looks set pre World War II aka the "golden era" of the saga.  As for the "MacGuffin" of this particular adventure, there are hints of in in the trailer that went live a little while ago.

So let's take a look at it!


I'm not much of a video game player anymore (though I still want to eventually finish Fallout: New Vegas) but this might tempt me to get a new console.  Well, of course a new BioShock game would make me want that even more :-)