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Saturday, October 31, 2020

Happy Halloween!

Hey gang, there's a new app for mobile devices called ReFace and it is amazing!  You shoot a selfie of your face and from there it places your mug practically seamlessly into footage from television or movies or whatever.  Thought for Halloween that I'd share this one of me channeling Jack Nicholson from The Shining.  All work and no play makes Chris a dull boy, after all...



Thursday, October 22, 2020

Richard "The Carpenter": Twelve generations of Knights

 Dad used to tell me that he didn't want to study our family tree too much.  "There's going to be someone there who wore a rope for a necktie", he would say.  In most part Dad was content with knowing his grandfather, Samuel Knight - born in 1887 - and not much further.

(Samuel's wife, Maggie Warren, was born in 1880 and died in 1979.  I'm old enough to remember her in her final years... and that's a pretty neat thing, to have known someone who knew Civil War veterans and was a young lady when the Wright Brothers flew their plane.)

With not much else to do with my own time these past several months, I thought it would be intriguing if I started to research our family history.  Quietly praying that there wasn't some scoundrel of ill repute back there anywhere.  And now I can say that ours does go back quite a bit and they left a trail behind them.

Knight family cemetery, Rhode Island

So it turns out that I'm the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson of one Richard Knight, aka Richard "the Carpenter" Knight.  Born around 1620 in the Norfolk, England area.  He came to the colonies circa 1640, at first in what is today New Hampshire.  But after "some legal trouble" - namely evading the authorities after being charged with theft - Richard left and settled in Rhode Island.  He was a carpenter, a miller, and a deacon.  He was also apparently a veteran of King Philip's War, because of the one hundred acres he was awarded following the conflict.  Richard had two wives, the second being Sarah.

Richard and Sarah had six children.  One of them was David Knight, my grandfather eleven times removed.  And it turns out that many of Richard's immediate male descendants were blacksmiths by trade.


Dad was a knifemaker.  He put together most of his equipment, including his forge and his power hammer.  He even welded together the anvil that he would bang and shape the blades on.  He made a lot of knives, more than we realized at the time of his passing.

And now it turns out that though he never knew it, he was following in the footsteps of our remote ancestors.

I've been finding information about some others along the family tree.  One grandfather was Thomas Jefferson Knight, born shortly after the Revolutionary War.  At least one family member fought in the American Revolution itself.  Thomas' brother, Absalom Knight (is that a bad-a$$ name or what?) took part in the War of 1812.  To the best of my research, one of my direct ancestors owned a slave: name unknown.  He willed the slave to his wife following his death.  So, there is that tidbit.   I haven't found any indication that anyone in my direct lineage fought in the Civil War, but it wouldn't surprise me if someone along one of the branches participated.  I say that because North Carolina sent more soldiers than any other state in the Confederacy, and Rockingham County provided more than its share of those soldiers.  So the likelihood that I've an ancestor who fought in the War Between the States is moderately high.

And it all goes back to Richard the Carpenter.  Who came to the New World and it sounds as if he lived an interesting life.

Who knows.  Maybe some bit of prior research eludes me.  And that it may be possible to take the lineage back even further.  But if not, I'll be content to be the scion of Richard the Carpenter.

I hope he would have been satisfied that I've tried to live a life even a little bit as illustrious as his.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Censored by Twitter

Well, it happened.  But from the looks of things I am in plenty of good company.

Last night I made a tweet on Twitter.  The now much-beleagured company that along with Facebook (is that a possible RICO charge?) has been censoring any mention of yesterday's New York Post story about Joe Biden and his son Hunter and their dealings with Burisma.  Among other things.

There is a photograph of Hunter Biden using a crack pipe.  Or maybe meth.  I don't know.  Meth would be a lot nastier.  But I know this photo exists.  I know because I have seen it.

So last night I made a Twitter post, along the lines of "the question that should be asked of every journalist, news outlet, and social media giant: Why should we trust you?"

Below that I added: "P.S.: there is a photo of Hunter Biden with a crack pipe."

I just checked my Twitter page.  That post has vanished.  Without warning or notice.

It's possible that a Twitter employee deleted it. It's also possible that they have adjusted their algorithms to automatically search and destroy anything negative pertaining to the Bidens.

However or whatever happened, it's not that big a deal.  I'm actually rather honored that of all the zillions of tweets flying right now about Hunter Biden, that mine was apparently targeted for termination.  The Twitter account page itself is still there (at twitter.com/theknightshift) but I wouldn't be surprised if that went MIA without warning sometime either.

 The more that Twitter and the other "Big Tech" companies pull stuff like this to an increasing number of people, the more they are looking at having their protections stripped and being broken up.  It happened before with the phone companies.  It could happen again.  Nothing is "too big to fail".  I've wondered if anyone has considered that Facebook and Twitter have become means of communication between people, companies, and organizations like churches and civic groups.  Depriving people of that or banning them from participation is almost tantamount to obstructing delivery of the mail service.  Or denying phone service on the basis of personal political beliefs.

And of course, Twitter and Facebook are behaving not so much as platforms as they are publishers.  There is a vast difference between the two.  Big Tech is trying to have it both ways.  And it's wrong.

Well, as I said: it's no skin off me if the post was deleted or even if my entire Twitter feed is destroyed.  Who knows: maybe there's a class action lawsuit that could come of Twitter's antics.  I wouldn't mind getting in on that action.

EDIT 10/16/2020 8:26 am EST:  The tweet is back where it was.  Oddly, I looked at its interactions and it has only been seen twice.  The other night it got up to around 200 or so within a short period of time.  Not speculating, just making a note of that.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Star Wars: Squadrons has Chris feeling like he's 20 years old all over again

For the vastest part I have moved on past video games.  These days if I play any game at all it's going to be something like a rewarding round of Go against a human opponent, or the miniatures game Warhammer 40,000 (either of which provides for keen exercise of the tactical mind).  You know, something physical with tactile sensation.  A few months ago I reviewed Gears Tactics, but then again Gears of War for me isn't so much a game franchise as it is an epic tale (along with the BioShock games and Halo).  And that came when we ALL needed something to keep from going totally bonkers from COVID sequestration from society...

But about that same time came word of Star Wars: Squadrons.  Electronic Arts' foray into what seemed like the first truly dedicated Star Wars flight sim since perhaps X-Wing: Alliance all the way back in 1999.  Oh sure, there have been others involving an element of space warfare.  But the still much-beloved X-Wing series went beyond "aiming and shooting" by adding power management, ordnance selection and other elements that made it truly feel like you were responsibly flying a real ship.  And then there was how 1994's TIE Fighter somehow made you glad to be blasting those Rebel insurgents into space dust!

No Star Wars game like that has come about in the more than two decades since X-Wing: Alliance.  In fact, the entire flight sim genre has seemed pretty much dead or at best in deep coma.  Would one be welcomed with eager arms today?

Based on the wild reviews and raving word of mouth about Star Wars: Squadrons, the answer to that question is an emphatic "Yes!".  So yesterday evening I took the plunge and bought the game.

And now?  I have felt like a 20 year-old kid all over again, that very first night when X-Wing installed on my MS-DOS machine (running on a 486-SX CPU with 4 megabytes of RAM and a 70 megabyte hard drive... yes, I'm ancient).

Star Wars: Squadrons is the X-Wing games all over again, updated to the nth degree.  I've played through the prologue and just a few missions into the main game but that's been enough to bowl me over.  It looks so new, and yet it is so beautifully familiar.  The cockpit layouts look almost exactly the same as they did for the X-Wing games over a quarter century ago: if you ever played TIE Fighter, your first moments inside Squadrons' standard TIE will be a rapturous return to warm surroundings.  The ever-trusty X-wing starfighter looks almost precisely as it did circa 1993.  Even the cargo vessels - those boxy ships we all thrilled to scan for legal goods or Imperial war materiel back in the day - make a faithful return to form.

Maybe I'm missing it so far, but the ONLY aspects from the X-Wings series that I've found absent from Star Wars: Squadrons are the ability to direct more power to front or rear shields, and getting to cycle lasers between one blast or the (slower but more powerful) four blasts at once.  Or maybe they're in the game and I've missed them.  If it hasn't been implied enough already, I've felt like a wide-eyed kid in a candy store playing this game.  It's been reliving a phase of my life that was well before all of the griefs and heartbreaks came over the years since.

Who'd have thought that a video game could make someone feel so spirited again?

There is the single player story mode.  There is also a multiplayer cross-platform function, which I haven't tried yet but some friends are due to be getting Squadrons soon and we'll likely be playing it together.  Which, I'm looking forward to hooking up with them and shooting those Rebel scu... errr, Imperial swine out of the sky.  Until then, there's plenty of time to practice with the single-player campaign.

Game studio Motive deserves a heap o' praise for not just delivering a solid combat flight sim, but making what some are hailing as one of the best Star Wars games in a very long time.  And from me especially, they get mega high marks for tapping into the vein of the X-Wing series and bringing that same spirit back to Earth for a new generation of gamers to discover and enjoy.

X-Wing: Squadrons is available now for XBox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows.  I know it's on Steam for PC users and it may be for sale on the online stores for the consoles.  It's perfectly playable via keyboard and mouse but for a more realistic feel I'll recommend a moderately priced flight stick.  I'm using an older Microsoft SideWinder Precision joystick and it works perfectly fine.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Want to run for office? Here's how!

At the moment the vice presidential debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris is going on.  I'm sort-of listening to it, and for whatever reason tonight has me thinking back to the "debates" we had as school board candidates when sixteen of us were running for Rockingham County (North Carolina) Board of Education.  Though I did not win a seat, I have always been proud of my campaign and there hasn't  been a single moment's regret.  I had way too much fun throughout the entire process than to have been the least bit bitter about not winning.

So that sent me hurtling into the Wayback Machine(tm) of this particular blog.  Every step of the way during that run, I was chronicling it here.  And more than ever it strikes me that maybe this is a resource that others could benefit from.  I mean, there NEEDS to be good people willing to stand up and run for office in this land.  Could it be you?

Possibly, you don't know how to start.  Or it just seems too intimidating a task.

Listen, lemme tell you something: if an idiot like ME could run for office (and nearly winning), there is NOTHING that could or should keep YOU from running, too!

Here is the post that I made in February 2007.  It's a compilation of links to the various posts I made from the start of the campaign, on through when it was closed out a few months after the election.  There are also all the posts I made during that election day.  What DOES a candidate do when his name is on the ballots being cast?

It is my hope that others might find this, and take from it encouragement.  I was fortunate to have had friends (and some who became friends and indeed truly family) who "walked me through it".  Maybe that can continue on to others, through this.

Here is the complete list of posts made regarding my campaign for Board of Education in 2006.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

Review, kinda, of TENET

There is likely no disputing that Christopher Nolan is king of high-concept cinema.  With Tenet I am wondering if maybe he went for TOO high-concept.  It was ten years ago this summer that Nolan gave us Inception: a movie that I have watched many times since and continues to enthrall.

Tenet however, I might watch once or twice again.  Three times tops.  Just enough to try to figure out what the heck is going on.  Because there is some Grade-A gray matter warping at work in this movie.  The publicity for it has been clear that it's NOT a film about time travel.  Instead it's about "inversion".  Reversing the entropy of an object - or people - so that it appears that they are going backward when instead from the perspective of the object... say, a bullet... time is progressing forward linearly.  And I can understand that much.  But more exposition would have been appreciated.

It would have also helped matters if the sound wasn't overwhelming the spoken dialogue.  Straining to make out what the characters were saying became an exercise for the eardrum.  Was it deliberate?  I mean, it's a pretty discombobulated plot to follow along as it is.  Something about arms dealers and a fraudulent Goya drawing.  Distracting it with sound and fury just made things worse, intentionally or not.

But if Tenet has something going for it, it's absolutely the visual effects.  Nolan and his crew used a real Boeing 747 for this movie.  And the battle scene toward the end is incredible to behold if also bewildering to keep up with.  It's apparent that Tenet's production team went for practical effects whenever and wherever possible... and that's something I can definitely approve of.

I will give Tenet a score of 7 out of 10.  For comparison's sake I would give Inception a 9.5 out of 10.  Tenet is a strong effort from Christopher Nolan.  Unfortunately this time he came short of making the mark.  For further comparison's sake, a perfect 10 of a time-centric movie is the 2004 film Primer.  Produced for a miniscule seven grand, Primer proves that a solid high-concept movie can be made without a major studio backing it with a few hundred million dollars.

Thomas Sowell's take on Black Lives Matter

Twice in the past week, during the course of conversation with other individuals the situation with Black Lives Matter came up.  There was a lot that I tried - and failed - to convey, for various reasons.

But as it turns out, I really didn't have to try, because a mind far better than my own accomplished it with more weight and consideration than I could muster.

I have long been an admirer of Dr. Thomas Sowell.  His is an enormous intellect and our culture is more the better because he has chosen to share it with us for quite awhile now.  And it is this time which, I believe, his words are worth considering more than ever before.  A few days ago on his YouTube channel there was a video posted consisting of various clips of Dr. Sowell discussing the Black Lives Matter movement, along with its intellectual and philosophical underpinnings.  He consistently backs up his position with facts and citations, and over the course of eight minutes lays down his case.  That being: Black Lives Matter is destroying as opposed to leading to anything positive for the black American community.  And it is tearing apart our culture as a whole.

Here's the video.  It's well worth your time to watch.