Archive for February, 2020

Let’s look back on four years of fun and adventure as leap day comes to a close!

February 29, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 29, 2020

How’s your leap day been? Feb. 29 comes no more than once every four years, so I hope you’ve had a special one!

Just think: Four years ago, we had no idea that Donald Trump would…

• lose the popular vote — by a lot! — but win the election;

• repeatedly kowtow to authoritarians such as Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China, Kim Jong Un of North Korea, Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Viktor Orbán of Hungary without raising a peep of protest from Republicans;

imprison migrant children at the border in horrendous conditions without raising a peep of protest from Republicans;

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DriveQuest: The hardware strikes back

February 28, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 28, 2020

My plan to add a network-attached storage device to my home computing setup and thereby create a personal cloud has yet to come to fruition.

I put in an online order for a network-capable hard drive on Thursday, Feb. 13; it was set to arrive the following Tuesday, Feb. 18. But after my post on this topic went up, I received an email saying that the NAS drive was out of stock and that I could cancel my order and receive a full refund.

I did so and instead bought what I believe is a slightly newer device made by WD, or Western Digital. It was a little bit more expensive than the item I’d originally bought. It came on Thursday the 20th.

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Yoko Ogawa’s ‘The Memory Police’ is a simply written novel that limns the ways that people and societies deal with loss

February 26, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 26, 2020

The basic premise of Yoko Ogawa’s short allegorical novel The Memory Police is utterly fantastic: On a large unnamed island, possibly part of Okinawa Prefecture, items and concepts vanish at sporadic intervals. But this foundation comes with a nasty twist: A paramilitary organization, the eponymous Memory Police, enforces these disappearances, destroying objects and imprisoning people who perpetuate any reminder that these things once existed or may still exist elsewhere.

Ogawa, in a 2019 translation from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder, renders this story in plain, straightforward prose. Her narrator is an unassuming young writer living in isolation in the home where her late parents raised her. Aside from an unnamed elderly man, the husband of her late nanny, and R, her editor, the writer has no friends; she only rarely talks with her neighbors.

The old man and the local library collect copies of her books, but they arouse no excitement and evidently go unread by anyone other than R. The writer does nothing to draw attention to herself, and she has no sense that anything about her life might be lacking.

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Short takes: ‘The Devil in Silver,’ ‘The Third Lynx,’ ‘Odd Girl Out’ and ‘The Eagle Has Landed’

February 21, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 21, 2020

Victor Lavalle’s 2012 novel, The Devil in Silver, begins in the early weeks of 2011 with a large, powerful man named Pepper being committed to Northwest, the psychiatric inpatient unit of the fictitious New Hyde hospital in Queens. Pepper isn’t really crazy; he’s just hot-tempered, and a little socially isolated. Three cops bring him to the hospital because it allows them to bypass an hour or two of unpaid overtime that they’d need to book him in jail for scrapping with them.

The system is hard to escape, Pepper discovers, especially after two altercations indefinitely extend what could have been just a 72-hour stint in the psych ward. He loses two months after being heavily medicated; even when his mind has fought off the drug-induced fog, the 42-year-old professional mover still thinks and moves and talks like an unsteady nonagenarian.

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J.J. Abrams caps an iconic space-opera franchise with the flashy but not necessarily compelling ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’

February 20, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 20, 2020

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the 11th entry in the blockbuster space opera, opens with a blast from the past. As the series’ signature opening crawl that follows the film’s title (see previous sentence) and episode number (nine) announces:

The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE.

GENERAL LEIA ORGANA dispatches secret agents to gather intelligence, while REY, the last hope of the Jedi, trains for battle against the diabolical FIRST ORDER.

Meanwhile, Supreme Leader KYLO REN rages in search of the phantom Emperor, determined to destroy any threat to his power…

Director J.J. Abrams, who directed the 2009 Star Trek reboot and its first sequel and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, among other projects, and who helped create the TV series Alias and Lost, thusly sets up the climax to the third Star Wars trilogy before a single planet, object or person appears on screen. If The Force Awakens, which launched the franchise’s latest trio in 2015, recapitulated George Lucas’s first Star Wars, retroactively titled A New Hope (1977), and The Last Jedi (2017) took The Empire Strikes Back (1980) as its template, then The Rise of Skywalker, released in December 2019, is here to replay 1983’s Return of the Jedi for audiences young and old.

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Items for Feb. 15, 2020: Lost pens, new pens, computer storage

February 15, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 15, 2020

Various items:

• Sometime over the last week, I lost a red pen. It’s not a big deal, I guess, but it was still annoying, especially because when I checked my office supplies at home I discovered that I didn’t have any red pens in reserve. I use red ink to mark questionable words and challenges while playing Scrabble; I also use them to mark attendees and the total number of players in late games when I work as a World Tavern Poker tournament director.

On Tuesday, Feb. 11, I went into a convenient office-supply store that’s part of a national chain; I had a $30 “e-gift card” for it. (This item, which I printed out at home, belongs in a different category than either a gift card or a gift certificate, as various cashiers and I learned in 2019 through trial and error.)

I wound up buying a four-pack of fine-tipped black pens for $10.98 and a five-pack of fine-tipped red pens for $7.29. I wasn’t out of black pens, but I have been searching for fine-tipped black writing implements. I can no longer find the 0.5-millimeter black rollerball pens that used to be stocked in every office-supply store.

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Poker postseason recap, winter 2020

February 12, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 12, 2020

Having scooped up a pair of tavern season points titles, I went into the two-week World Tavern Poker postseason with the goal of collecting some more trinkets.

The first postseason week, which began on Monday, Jan. 27, consists of tavern championships. Those who placed in the top 10 at that venue start these games with double stacks and can re-enter if they’re knocked out before a certain time. Top tenners only get one re-entry, and those who knock them out receive a bounty.

I held top-10 rankings in three venues, playing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday nights. I also qualified to compete, and did compete, at venues on four other days.

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Poker regular season recap, mid-summer 2019 though mid-winter 2020

February 11, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 11, 2020

Another six months, another World Tavern Poker season in the books.

This stretch was gratifying for a few reasons. I collected 11 tournament victories, which made for my second-best season ever. (I managed to take down 16 wins between September 2016 and February 2017.)

Even better, I found myself competing for a pair of tavern season points championships, both at venues where I serve as tournament directors. My Wednesday night race ended in something of a rout was fairly secure — I led by 495 points in the final reckoning — but the Sunday night race was determined in the final two games.

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My discovery in the dead of night

February 8, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 8, 2020

I went to bed on Thursday night. Technically, it was Friday morning. Nothing about the preceding sentences is unusual for me. What follows, however…

Every so often when I’ve been sleeping, my mind will rise to a state of semi-wakefulness. Often, this is because my bladder is insisting that I go to the bathroom but the rest of me just wants to stay in bed.

After all, who likes getting up in the middle of the night? It’s often unpleasantly cool outside the bedroom, if not outside the bed, period; this is especially true in the wintertime, even one as mild as we’ve been having down here in North Cackalacky.

Even worse, getting out of bed means waking up, and who knows how hard it will be to fall back asleep. Getting out of bed: What’s to like?

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Short takes: ‘Anvil of Stars’ and ‘Roadside Picnic’

February 5, 2020

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 5, 2020

I generally try to avoid reading books that are part of a series, because I fear the time and effort it might take to finish the entire cycle. So when I checked out a digital copy of Anvil of Stars, the 1992 science-fiction novel by Greg Bear, it was without knowing that it was part of a duology. And I definitely didn’t realize that it was the back half of the pair.

There was certainly some back story, and presumably some resonance, that I missed due to not having read The Forge of God, the 1987 initial entry in what Fantastic Fiction dubs (simply enough) Bear’s Forge of God series. But I trust that I got enough of the information I needed, especially given that Anvil evidently executes a very different shift in setting and story.

From what I gather, the earlier book — set during or a short while into the future of the time the story was published — chronicled humanity’s first encounter with aliens. The visitors, who mostly take the form of self-replicating needle-shaped vehicles, turn out to be very mean; by the end of the volume, they’ve destroyed Earth.

Fortunately for us, another set of robots is nipping at the heels of the Killers. These represent a set of aliens known as the Benefactors, who save a relatively small group of survivors. Most of these (fortunate?) souls live aboard an Ark orbiting Mars as they wait for the planet to be terraformed into a hospitable environment.

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