Media Round-up for 11/03/2018

Altered Carbon

altered carbonAltered Carbon is a new Cyberpunk science fiction series on Netflix starring Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs, a former cop and rebel who has been in prison for over 200 years. In the world of Altered Carbon, human beings have become practically immortal: each person’s personality is stored in a disc in their neck (called a Stack) and that personality, unless killed in a particular way, can continue living as long as they can afford to purchase and maintain a body (sleeve). Sleeves are outrageously expensive, however, and lengthy lifespans are only really possible for the extraordinarily wealthy. Kovacs is freed from prison by one of the wealthiest people on earth in order to work on a murder case and we slowly learn his backstory as he is working to solve the mystery.

I wanted to like Altered Carbon, but I didn’t. Aesthetically, it’s incredible. The visual style of the world is gorgeous to look at but, in my opinion, it fails in most other aspects. I loved Joel Kinnanan in The Killing, but I found his accent work to be pretty bad in Altered Carbon and, while he’s been praised for his performance in the series, I thought it was mediocre at best. In fact, the quality of the acting in Altered Carbon was poor overall, though I think that Martha Higareda’s performance as Kristin Ortega was particularly egregious. Her line delivery is so consistently wooden that it’s a little embarrassing. Acting-wise, the best performances came from Will Yun Lee (as past Kovacs in a different sleeve) and Renee Elise Goldsberry (as Quillcrist Falconer and former love interest of Kovacs).

The story of Altered Carbon also failed to maintain my interest. I kept watching the show hoping for a real mystery plot to unfold, but I was ultimately disappointed. The development of the show’s main villain was handled particularly poorly as their motivations were so ridiculous and psychotic that I just couldn’t identify or sympathize with any of it.  If my boyfriend and I hadn’t been watching this show together, I would have scrubbed through at least half of it.

Jake Buvala – I Got a Dog, What was I Thinking

It’s no secret that my mother and I have been more than a little overwhelmed with our new puppy, Frankie. During out first week together, I had several ugly days where I hardly slept and my anxiety was getting the best of me.  I didn’t like Frankie, I wanted to send her back, and having her in the house was uncomfortable.  These negative feelings were making me feel horribly guilty.  I love dogs, I love animals and, right now, popular culture is telling me that Frankie and I should be having a magical relationship.

During that first week I spent a lot of time googling.  Unfortunately, a lot of the resources I found were just making me feel worse — like I wasn’t being consistent enough and generally like I was a jerk for having the negative feelings.  And then I found I Got a Dog, What was I Thinking.  Jake Buvala is a dog trainer and blogger over at 3LostDogs.  His e-book is an easy-to-read, quick and dirty guide to some of the more challenging aspects of bringing a new dog into your home, such as biting and chewing, crate training, potty training and other behavioural adjustments and issues.  The information in his book isn’t new and you can probably get it for free elsewhere, but the tone and attitude of the book were an enormous help to me and it’s probably the best $13 I’ve ever spent.

What Jake gets right is that he acknowledges that you and your new dog won’t be super best buddies immediately and that your relationship with your dog needs to be built over time.  It doesn’t make you feel guilty for making mistakes or for not loving your dog as soon as you bring them home and he provides a lot of useful information that has been terribly helpful to us.  If you find yourself in a difficult situation with a new dog, I’d recommend that you check it out!


A Moratorium on YouTube

In 2013, my New Years Resolution was to stop mindlessly watching TV after work.  At that time, I was living and working in Red Deer, Alberta and I had cable.  I didn’t have a huge package with loads of channels, but I did have the two most important channels (for me): HGTV and the Food Network.  Due to the shortage of jobs in my field (and also to my own stupidity) I had been unemployed for some time before moving to Alberta.  I was unaccustomed to working full time and, for the first few months that I lived away, it was a tough transition.  I found myself spending far too many evenings lounging on my couch, mindlessly watching House Hunters and Chopped.

These shows are fine and I still love watching HGTV and the Food Network, but I was getting bored.  I was spending hours watching TV shows that I wasn’t engaged in and didn’t really care about.  I wasn’t excited about watching them or experiencing any joy or happiness, I was just tired after work and wanted to be halfway amused without making any real effort.  This was, in my opinion, an enormous waste of time.

If you can manage it (and I definitely could at that point), time away from work should be spent doing things that make you happy.  Things to which you are devoting 100% of your attention and that are bringing you a great deal of joy.  It could be watching TV series or reading or knitting or playing video games or sports.  It could be spending time with your family or friends or your partner.  In my opinion, no free time is wasted as long as you’re wholeheartedly enjoying yourself.

I’ve been wasting too much of my free time lately, mostly on YouTube.

We have cable in our home, but I don’t use it.  Since I went back to work in 2016, I have replaced HGTV and the Food Network with YouTube.  If I can’t decide what I want to do or I’ve had a tough day at the office and I can’t be bothered to make an effort to entertain myself, I watch YouTube videos.  Like most folks, I have some weird things that I like (studio apartment tours, Van Life home tours, videos about Japanese food) and a slate of YouTube channels that I watch on a regular basis.  I will also sometimes spend hours watching videos about a topic I’d like to learn about.  Sometimes all this can be valuable time spent and can be relaxing, but recently I feel like I’m spending too much time watching recommended videos from my home page that I am not particularly engaged by or interested in.

I want to spend my time in treatment doing things that bring me joy and enrich my life.  I don’t want to waste my free time vegging out with YouTube.  From today on I am going to stop being so lazy and put more effort into having fun.  Here’s a short list of things I’ll be doing instead of watching YouTube videos:

Re-watching my favourite anime series

When I’m working, I often feel a bit guilty about watching shows I’ve already seen, reading books I’ve already read or playing video games I’ve already played.  I have a unique opportunity right now, however, to revisit some of my favourites.  I think that this will be fun, relaxing and a great source of comfort.

Playing simple video games

Normally, I play a lot of console video games; however, since starting chemotherapy, I have had significant issues with neuropathy in my hands and fingers.  This makes it difficult for me to play games on handheld consoles or using a controller.  Fortunately, I can still play simple mouse and keyboard games, such as as visual novels and adventure games.  I have a nice backlog of simple PC games already installed on my laptop that I hope to start playing soon.

Reading books

I often think that going to school for as long as I did ruined reading for me.  After finishing my two degrees, I associated reading books with work and not with relaxation.  I am ashamed to admit that I haven’t spent much time reading since 2008.  Since I haven’t been able to play video games the way I could prior to my diagnosis, however, I have been reading constantly.  My goal is to get through 2-3 books per month while I am in treatment.

Playing with my new puppy

We will be bringing home our new puppy from the breeder on February 19th.  I am assuming that house and obedience training will be taking up a good chunk of my time from that day forward.  I am so excited that I can hardly contain myself.  I have a significant update to share on our puppy situation, but that can wait until we get her home and settled.  Please look out for it.

There plenty of other ways that I can purposefully and joyfully spend my free time, but it is my hope that these will be my focus over the coming weeks.  I will still watch YouTube from time to time, but I don’t want to let it swallow so many hours from now on.  Do you sometimes feel like you aren’t spending enough of your free time doing things that actually bring you joy?  Do you have any YouTube guilty pleasures that you can get lost in for hours?  Let me know!  I’d love to hear all about them!


Media Round-up for 21/01/2018

The Blacklist

blacklistThe Blacklist is the first episodic law enforcement procedural that I have enjoyed in years.  I’ve been speeding through seasons 1-3 (I watched them some time ago and wanted a refresher) so that I can enjoy season 4,  If I had to compare the Blacklist to another series, I’d say that it’s quite similar to the J. J. Abrams spy drama, Alias.  I feel like Alias is much maligned these days, but it remains one of my favourite TV series of all time (the first three seasons anyway, after that it really does go downhill).  The Blacklist has a similar structure that I find to be highly entertaining.

The show features two main protagonists: FBI agent Elizabeth Keen (Meghan Boone) and Raymond Reddington (James Spader).  Raymond Reddington is a former high level US Intelligence officer turned notorious criminal (number 1 on the FBI’s Most Wanted list).  One day, he turns himself in to the FBI in Washington, DC with a plan to assist them in capturing a list of criminals (the Blacklist) that are so nefarious, the FBI is unaware of their existence.  Reddington states that the only FBI agent he will work with directly is Elizabeth Keen, a profiler who is, on that same day, just starting a new position with the Bureau.

Shenanigans and James Spader spy badassery ensue.  It’s pretty damned fun.  I’ve always enjoyed the monster-of-the-week plus interesting overarching plot format.  The supporting cast is good and, of course, James Spader is incredible.  A lot of the overarching plots are a bit ridiculous, but I’m a sucker for high drama.  I’d say that the only aspects of the show that grow tiresome over the first two seasons are the roller coaster relationship between Elizabeth Keen and her husband, Tom, and Elizabeth’s ever-changing feelings about Reddington.  The nature of their true relationship isn’t revealed until, as far as I can tell, season 4 and, in my opinion, this is drawing things out a little too much.  Elizabeth waffles between cursing Reddington, reminding us constantly about how evil he is, and then also clearly caring for him a great deal.  This is probably what any normal person would do in her situation, but it starts to grate a bit if you’re binge-watching.

All-in-all, I would recommend this show to pretty well anyone.  I know it’s difficult these days to justify trying out what looks like it could be a fairly standard police procedural (there are so many now and they’re mostly bad), but I think the Blacklist is definitely worth a try.  James Spader’s performance alone, in my opinion, is worth it.

Lisa Morosky – The Bootstrap VA

bootstrap vaAs I said in my Goals for 2018 posts, I am in the midst of evaluating my options for a career change.  Right now, I’m not completely certain as to what my plan will be, but I do know that I am interested in working online so that I can be more flexible and location neutral.  I am also at a point in my life where I feel like the best way for me to obtain real satisfaction in my career will be to start my own business.  One of the options that I have been considering is working as a virtual assistant.

Lisa Morosky’s book covers a lot of the basics that anyone would need to start a virtual assisting business.  I would say, though, that this book is an excellent and straightforward primer to working as a freelancer online in any capacity.  She has provided advice on productivity and project management software, tracking expenses, marketing and getting and keeping clients.  All this is presented in a package that is easy to read and loaded with links to resources for further reading.  I particularly like the fact that Morosky has clearly outlined business elements that a VA will absolutely need to have before starting their business, along with other elements that can be acquired or created as the business is growing and evolving.

I am thrilled that I read the Bootstrap VA at this moment.  It has provided me with so many ideas for how I can slowly start learning some new skills that will help me narrow down my goals.  The neuropathy in my hands has limited my options for what I can do with my free time, but I can certainly watch some webinars on social media marketing and search engine optimization and start working on my website.  It is my hope that, even if I decide eventually not to take the path of starting a VA business, I will be able to use a lot of what I learned from this book to find the right path for me.

Media Round-up for 14/01/2018

Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde_-_MelodramaLorde’s sophomore album, Melodrama, is one of the best I’ve listened to in a long time.  It’s a loose concept album about love, losing love, being heartbroken, being lonely, and moving on.  Her ideas are expressed incredibly well through tracks that will make you want to move and dance, but is also completely devoid of any kitschy party anthems.  It’s an incredible pop-but-not-quite-pop album, many of whose songs defy pop conventions.  The subject matter of the album’s most prominent ballad, Liability, for example, is not just about a lost love.  Instead, Lorde bemoans her painful loneliness and the fact that the people in her life are no longer interested in spending time with her.

When I first heard the album’s lead single, Greenlight, I instantly fell in love.  I didn’t listen to the whole album at the time, but that song was on every playlist I made after its release in 2017.  I was inspired to check out the album when I saw that it had been high on the top albums lists of many prestigious publications (Rolling Stone and Pitchfork, for example) and, in my opinion, Melodrama deserves all of the praise.  I would recommend this album to pretty well anyone.  Give it a try!

Key tracks: Greenlight, The Louvre, Liability, Hard Feelings, Supercut.

Style Savvy: Styling Star

pEhqGovKfF6EDqheI0HygwgTVOQH33NsI may revisit Style Savvy: Styling Star in a later review post once I have completed the main story, but I wanted to spend some time talking about it now because I’ve been playing it quite a bit over the past two weeks.  For me, there’s no doubt that Styling Star is the second best game in the Style Savvy series.  I don’t think that I could ever love a fashion game as much as I love Trendsetters, but Styling Star comes close.

I was not a fan of the changes that syn sophia made to the third game in the series, Fashion Forward, many of which incorporated elements of Nintendo’s popular Animal Crossing franchise.  I have never been able to get into an Animal Crossing game, despite several attempts.  As a person who typically works a full-time day job, I tend to dislike games that have real time clocks.  Due to the restrictions of my work schedule, I often play games at the same time every day, which means that there are many events and features in those games that are easy for me to miss.  Of course, I can always mess with my 3DS system clock, but in my opinion, forcing users to modify their systems to see what your game has to offer is poor design.

Styling Star retains a lot of the better additions to Fashion Forward (you can work in the hair salon, do makeup and design your own clothes) while returning to the addictive day/night cycle format of Trendsetters.  For me, this format makes it tough to put the game down — I’m always wanting to get to the next day to see what my accomplishments from the previous day will unlock.  They have also added a lot of new outfits and clothing items to the game, which I am very happy about, since I felt like the additions to the previous game were minimal at best.

Overall, I’m excited to keep playing Styling Star.  The main story seems like it’s going to be an interesting departure from previous games in the series, and I think that my character will have a significantly different role to play in how that unfolds.  Stay tuned for more on this game from me.