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Monday, June 10, 2024

The announcement trailer for Gears of War: E-Day

I  very rarely play video or computer games anymore.  Mostly it's because of a lack of time.  And there are other amusements too, like having a miniature dachshund.  But that doesn't mean I don't have an active interest in the industry...

(I am currently trying to finish Fallout: New Vegas at last, whenever I'm having some downtime.  It's only been out since 2010.  Time to wrap that baby up!)

There is one game franchise that is especially near and dear to my heart though: the Gears of War series.



Maybe it's because each of the games seem to have coincided with some circumstance in my life.  Gears of  War was released on November 7th, 2006.  That was also Election Day of my first/likely last political campaign.  Then came Gears of War 2 two years later.  That game came out a few weeks after the worst thing that ever happened to me.  I had lost everything except a few belongings including, somehow, my Xbox 360.  That second Gears game provided a much needed distraction from myself.  And then in 2011 came Gears of War 3.  I think my girlfriend at the time found my excitement to be more than a bit amusing... like when I called her on the phone at 10 p.m. to tell her that I'd successfully defended Anvil Gate.

I haven't been able to play Gears of War: Judgment yet though.  Again, circumstances coincided and not the best of them at that.  And I haven't had much opportunity to get a more modern Xbox system, so the fourth and fifth of the main Gears series are still unplayed by me.

Maybe someday I'll get that newer Xbox.  Maybe it'll coincide with a new BioShock game (another game series I love immensely).  And based on what was released yesterday, I'm making it a personal goal to get that Xbox X or whatever it's called...

Behold the announcement trailer for Gears of War: E-Day.


As the title suggests this game is set during around Emergence Day, fourteen years before the first Gears of War.  These are considerably younger versions of Marcus and Dom.  We're going to see the very first attacks by the Locusts upon the humans of Sera and based on the trailer it's going to be brutal.

Gears of War: E-Day is scheduled to be released sometime in 2025, probably around the fall if previous games have been any indication.

Maybe this next game's release will coincide with happier circumstances.  For all of us.



Saturday, June 08, 2024

Dear Pat Sajak


Thanks for forty-one years of Wheel of Fortune.  You've been an awesome host and I've also enjoyed your writing whenever you've published something.

Anyone else feeling like the Eighties are finally over?

We'll miss you Pat.  Enjoy your retirement (and your new acting career I'm hearing about).



Thursday, June 06, 2024

"To remember": June 6th, 1944


 Company A, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division
wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach
(Calvados, Basse-Normandie, France)
on the morning of June 6, 1944.
Photo credit: Chief Photographer's Mate Robert F. Sargent


Today is the eightieth anniversary of the single greatest military maneuver in recorded history: the invasion of the Normandy coast by the Allied Forces.

No other words need to be said.  "D-Day" is all that is needed to evoke the boldness, the bravery, and the horror of that day.

I do however recommend that if you are ever in the Roanoke, Virginia area, a visit to the nearby town of Bedford and the National D-Day Memorial is highly suggested.  Bedford lost more sons at Normandy than any other town in America, which is why it was chosen to be the site of the memorial.  Here are some pics I took when we visited it in 2012...






 




Monday, June 03, 2024

In memory of a good man


The sad word came late yesterday evening that Dav Gerrells, who owned and operated Cafe 99 in Reidsville, North Carolina for many years, passed away after a brief illness over the weekend.  I used to eat at Cafe 99 when I still lived in Reidsville and Dav always made me feel welcome.  The man was a thoroughly great guy and he was an amazing cook.

Early in 2007 I entered a filmmaking competition for the Fox television reality series On The Lot.  Entrants had to make a short film and submit it for the opportunity to be a contestant on the show.  Friends and family encouraged me to take a swing at it.  It was a very trying and strenuous two weeks from initial concept to finished product but in the end "Schrödinger's Bedroom" was in the can and shipped off on DVD to Hollywood.

We filmed the first scene of the movie in Cafe 99.  It's been a very long time since I'd rewatched this.  Thought I would share it tonight, in Dav's memory.  His establishment really helped set the mood for the film.  There are quite a few people in this film who I've had the honor and privilege of knowing for a very long time, and I think that Dav makes his presence felt in it, too.

So here it is, from February 2007: "Schrödinger's Bedroom"




Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Last batch of AI-generated pictures that I'm posting


 
But it's time to move on.  ChatGPT has its fun uses but it's a tool, not a toy.

I would be lying if I said that I haven't had fun though.

So, here is the final bunch of artificial intelligence generated "art" that I'm putting on this blog.  Be sure to click the pics to enlarge them...

 

The Joker with a "Hello Kitty" bomb:


 

Eowyn, from The Lord of the Rings (I especially like the horse detail on her outfit):

 

Santa Claus with a flamethrower:


 

"The Horror of Taxation":


Young Al Capone:


 

Jesus confronting a Dalek (this was made for a friend who teaches Sunday school and I think he was going to use it for that):

 

The Hamburglar and his attorney (I tried to make this be Perry Mason but the AI refused to cooperate that well):


I told ChatGPT a few details about "wholesomely beautiful woman" and this is what it produced.  I like this picture a lot... except the eyes are so lopsided!


Second version of Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, fighting zombies:

 

I told the AI to generate "Indolence" and this is the result:


A Big Daddy from the BioShock video game series (very nearly identical to the actual in-game model):

 

Lyndon Baines Johnson as a Cenobite from the Hellraiser movies (decide for yourself if there's some commentary in this):

 

A Space Marine of the Ultramarines chapter (from Warhammer 40,000) battling a xenomorph (from the Alien film franchise):

 
 
 John Fitzgerald Kennedy had he lived to be 75:

 

And finally there is this interesting piece.  I instructed ChatGPT to "generate an image of a brown gorilla throwing barrels at a plumber with a mustache".  That's all I prompted.  This was the result:



At least, I intend for this to be all of the AI art that I am going to present on this blog.  I'm learning a lot from it though.  How to be an "AI whisperer" as one friend puts it.  You have to possess a bit of a creative mind to defeat the "guardrails" of the system.  I was completely shocked by the Donkey Kong image, and friends have created even more impressive pictures.

Anyhoo, hope you enjoyed these :-)

Edit: I was able to generate something that's a real grand finale...


Batman clashing with a Predator:



Tuesday, May 21, 2024

First images I'm generating with ChatGPT

Still playing around with AI, for the first real time ever.  Consider it research.  I'm getting professionally involved with an endeavor that is heavy on artificial intelligence so I'm having to see what the thing is capable of doing, exactly.

(I'm adamantly sticking to my policy of NO writing blog posts with AI.  If you see something written here and it's not otherwise stated, you can be assured that it is absolutely entirely written by me with my own gray matter.)

Yesterday I experimented with having ChatGPT compose a poem about the Orks from Warhammer 40,000 (the faction that I play whenever I do a game of 40K).  You can, errr... enjoy the results here.  Tonight I went further, so after upgrading to the subscription I started playing around with image generation.

The results are, ummmm... interesting.

Here's the one I'm most proud of: a dachshund sitting atop a Harley-Davidson motorcycle...

 

But here's the first one that I did off the top of my head: Ronald McDonald running from zombies...


Then there's this: a Dalek from Doctor Who holding a can of beer...

 

And finally we have what I tried to make it be the Joker fighting a xenomorph from the Alien movies, but it came out looking more like they're dancing...

Looks so easy but trust me, this is much harder than it seems.  I tried to generate a picture of Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies shooting at a giant deranged bunny rabbit.  That had some wildly off results.  I then asked ChatGPT to "Generate an image of a hillbilly" and it refused to do so, saying that it would violate its policies.  How does...?!?

No.  Nevermind.  I'm sure it's some ridiculous reason for that.

Don't know if I'll do more of these but at least now you have this peek into the disturbed mind that is Robert Christopher Knight's :-D

Edit 05/22/2024 1:30 PM EST: had some downtime today and I'm feeling extra creative so here are some more.

Bruce Campbell fighting off badgers with a chainsaw...


Two dachshunds in the style of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas...



General Robert E. Lee fighting a xenomorph (for some reason ChatGPT does a super good job rendering the monsters from the Alien movies)...



And finally (for now) here is Colonel Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scout movement, fighting zombies.  This sure ain't the Boer Wars!



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 five 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.