Justice League Review

Despite having been disappointed by every entry in the DCEU except Wonder Woman, I went to see Justice League this weekend. It’s easily the second-best entry in the DCEU, but that’s not really saying much. I thought it was fun, but I’m saying that as a superhero fan who has stuck with DC and Marvel both through some of the worst stories in the last twenty years. Details below will be spoiler-y, so I’m going to put in a quick non-spoiler list of thoughts before getting into details.

The Good:

  • Superman
  • The Flash
  • Aquaman
  • Wonder Woman

The Bad:

  • Old Man Batman
  • Cyborg
  • Steppenwolf
  • The Return of Superman

The Ugly:

  • Cyborg and Superman’s faces both look like bad claymation at various points throughout the film.
  • Some of the choices made as far as camera angles were questionable, especially in the current political climate.

The Spoilers:

Continue reading

Prayers and Law

Twenty six people were killed this weekend in a shooting at a church in Texas. Among many, many others, House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted about the tragedy. “Reports out of Texas are devastating. The people of Sutherland Springs need our prayers right now.”.  In response, actor Wil Wheaton (among others) fired back: “The murdered victims were in a church. If prayers did anything, they’d still be alive, you worthless sack of shit.” (Apologies for the language).

Wheaton has since walked back his tweet, saying that he intended no offense to people of “sincere faith”, and that his only intent was to point out the lack of action of the House Speaker in particular (and the GOP in general) on the matter of gun control.  That’s a pretty interesting interpretation, since the tweet said literally nothing about gun control or what the Speaker could have done to prevent this – all it did was call prayer useless and throw crude language around.

There are a few points I’d like to bring up about this twitter exchange, as a Christian and a libertarian.  Briefly, I’ll mention a couple of points from a Christian perspective:

Wheaton’s not a Christian, but he (and plenty of others) seem to have a misunderstanding about Christianity and prayers.  Ryan’s tweet was not about the safety of the people of Sutherland Springs – it was too late for that. Christians offer prayers in time of tragedy to ask God to comfort the survivors. I think that mentioning these prayers publicly on Twitter or Facebook is tacky, but many feel that it’s a way of sharing sympathy and support.

Also, Christians don’t expect safety here on Earth. A look at the Bible will confirm that. Christ Himself was killed, after all, and the Bible has plenty of other examples of apostles who were persecuted for their beliefs. We are told, several times, that we will be hated for our belief in Christ, and for Wheaton to act like this somehow disproves our faith shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what we believe.

The more interesting point to me isn’t what Wheaton believes about my faith (which is between me and God, and isn’t impacted in the slightest by any commentary from Star Trek actors) but what his later comments reveal about his own faith. Wheaton seems to believe that more gun control laws would have prevented this tragedy. Shooting people in general is illegal, and the shooter had been dishonorably discharged from the military, which is  equivalent to having a felony conviction on his record. It was illegal for him to have a gun, let alone shoot someone with it.

In closing, I’d like to add one more comment. Wil, the murdered people were already protected by law. If laws did anything, they’d still be alive, you worthless… well, you know the rest.

Bojangles’ Famous Thighs

A couple of months ago a Bojangles restaurant opened right beside the office building in which I work.  Even though it is close enough that I can smell the chicken on the way to and from my car in the parking lot, I very rarely go there to eat.  I don’t have anything against it per se, they make some fine chicken and fixin’s for sure.  After playing some basketball at a local rec center and not having anything for lunch upon returning to work, I decided to brave the 150 feet it takes to walk there and go get some famous chicken.

When I walked into the restaurant the place was actually pretty packed.  I had to wait in line while the customers ahead of me were making their choices.  On a big sign right beside the register there was a promotional flyer telling patrons that you could get a two-piece chicken meal with a side and a drink for only $5 dollars.  It must have been a pretty good deal because the people in front of me in line were all ordering it.  When the man, approximately 50 years old, right in front of me got to the counter, he ordered the two-piece meal but was very torn about what type of pieces he wanted.  After much deliberation he told the lady behind the counter he wanted two legs in the meal.  My initial reaction to this choice was to wonder who orders legs when breasts are still on the table.  Apparently he discovered his miscalculation as well because as soon as the words came out of his mouth you could see the regret on his face.

For anyone that isn’t familiar with this restaurant, the chicken at Bojangles is right in front of you when you are ordering.  The workers fill your plate or box from large trays of chicken sitting under heat lamps right before your eyes.  As the lady started to fill the man’s box with his now undesirable leg pieces, it apparently became too much for him.  He yelled to the lady, “what’s a thigh?”  I believe at this point she was slightly caught off guard by the question.  Frankly, I was also surprised that a man in his 50’s, who appeared to be a somewhat regular dude, wouldn’t know what a thigh was.  That’s when things took an unexpected turn.  I’m not sure if it was because of the way in which the man asked the question or being caught in the middle of preparing his meal, but the worker dropped his to-go box on the counter and proceeded to show the man where the thigh muscle was located on her own body.  Forgetting for a moment there were whole trays of chicken thighs available to her at an arm’s length from her current location, the quick refresher course on the human anatomy must have been enough for the man because he promptly changed his order to two thighs.

With my interest now piqued, it was my turn to make some big decisions.  I stepped to the counter, filling the vacancy left by the now delighted two-piece thigh customer ahead of me.  I placed an order for a two-piece chicken meal, specifying both to be legs.  As the lady proceeded to pick up a box and approach the tray of leg meat, I loudly inquired: “what’s a breast?”


The Death of the News Media: How Walter Cronkite Killed My Grandfather

Walter Cronkite dropped out of college in the fall of 1935.  He quit school to pursue a career in the newspaper business.  At the time, many people didn’t realize the true nature of Cronkite’s work.  My grandfather met Walter in…

Okay, I’ll be honest.  My grandfather, to my knowledge, never met Walter Cronkite.  This post actually has nothing at all to do with my grandfather or Walter Cronkite for that matter.  This is an example of how a writer can throw out a deceiving headline with a click bait snippet attached and get you to view something completely unrelated. This happens when a news organization gets desperate when they realize the industry around them has changed, oftentimes in a way that now makes them obsolete.  Instead of admitting to themselves that it’s not working, they instead double down in an attempt to hold on to years gone by.  Think I’m talking about OneStackMind.com?  I’m talking about the entire news media.  I’ll let you in on a secret bigger than Walter Cronkite: the news media is dying and no one wants to admit it.

Back in Walter Cronkite’s days as an anchor for CBS Evening News, he controlled the news.  His 30-minute television show was the face of the media for the entire country.  If there was a story worth hearing, it came from Walter Cronkite.  After Al Gore created the internet for us all to enjoy, some things were bound to change.  Now, instead of one large tube sitting in your living room floor, you have a vast series of tubes that allow you to query any piece of information you care about at any time you want to look for it.  You now have instant access to news, tailored to your likes and dislikes, sent to you through push notifications, triggered as they happen.  You definitely don’t have to wait for the nightly news to tell you what’s going on in the world today.

I think we can all agree that the first to die was the newspaper business.  I am predicting the next to go will be the 24-hour news cycle of cable television stations.  Do you remember when MTV was cool?  You know, when they played music videos and all?  Is MTV even still a station?  The 24-hour news stations are suffering.  Someone in a board room somewhere decided that the way to combat this whole internet fad is to turn away from objectivity and journalistic integrity.  The result is that cable TV news is now in the entertainment business where everything is “BREAKING NEWS.”  Its programming is filled with talking heads, who are nothing more than shock jocks trying to get people to tune in.  Literally, no one out there in cable news cares one bit about giving a balanced interpretation of the news.  The slow and painful death doesn’t stop with just politics; sports reporting has gone downhill along with the news.  ESPN doesn’t show highlights anymore, they get two former athletes to sit on opposite sides of a table from each other and purposely take different sides of an argument.  CNN, MSNBC and FoxNews are no different.  They are each in a nightly competition to see how many picture in picture, guest commentators can fit on one screen.

The main culprit in the ultimate demise of cable networks will be or is social media.  I am envisioning it going something like the photography business.  25 years ago cameras were expensive and very few people could afford professional quality equipment.  If you wanted family pictures, done you had to go to a studio, where you stood in uncomfortable poses, in front of hideous backdrops.  As the cost came down and the quality of cameras greatly improved, everyone became a part-time photographer.  Half ofmy friends on Facebook have photography businesses on the side.  I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing.  What I am saying, though, is that because of this phenomenon, there are fewer and fewer full time photography studios.  Along those same lines, with Twitter and Facebook everyone is now a makeshift news reporter.  If you see a car wreck on the interstate, you will pull out your phone and complain about traffic long before the local news even knows something has happened.  Why wait for the news to pull a smartphone video from social media and report it on their website?  Why wait for an interview with a celebrity or politician, when you can follow them directly on Twitter and learn what they ate this morning for breakfast?  You now can even get the play by play from inside the white house directly from the horse’s mouth.  It’s cutting out the middleman in a way that makes a lot of journalists very, very nervous.


I’m not saying anything earth shattering here that you don’t already know.  That’s kind of my point, actually.  Everyone knows it but the cable news just won’t admit it.  One day you will find yourself experiencing the dull pain that comes from listening to Rachel Maddow drone on for what feels like hours or Sean Hannity telling everyone how it feels to be a proud American, and you will think back to this article and realize these people are a far cry from Walter Cronkite.  And that’s the way it is…

The First 5 Things I’d Tell My 15-Year Old Self

People always say that hindsight is 20/20 or bemoan opportunities lost to the sands of time.  How often have you heard any one of the following?

This may be a little over the top, but I’m sure all of us have some sort of regret, especially if you gave the greenlight to the Ghostbusters reboot or, say, designed the Pontiac Aztec.

“If I’d only known then what I know now…”

“I wish I could go back and…”

“If I had it all to do over again, I’d…”

I’m sure that everyone of us have, at one time or another, had that thought or uttered those very words.  I mean who wouldn’t want to go back and clean up some things that happened way back when.  It’s a universal desire and part of being human.  I wanted to take a stab at this myself, using our “Five Off the Top” format here at OneStackMind.  Some ground rules were required.  For example, no sharing the winning lottery numbers or championship teams.  That’s cheap and lazy, Biff Tannen and you shouldn’t do it.  Secondly, while I wouldn’t call all of these items necessarily realistic, the assumption here is that I’m not trying to radically change anything in my life, ie. the lottery numbers. Maybe I’m just trying to make my arrival at my current situation a little smoother.  Finally, I tried to avoid any era-specific items.  This would include advice like don’t bet on the Buffalo Bills.  Ever.  British Knights are not really as cool as you think they are.  Stop pegging your pant legs.  Don’t get too attached to that Sega Dreamcast.  Things like that.  These decisions may have seemed important, but in the big picture, they really didn’t have the lasting impact that some other things did on my life.  (Okay, maybe the British Knights did.)


Ah, Sega Dreamcast, we hardly knew ye.










Here, then, are Five Things I Wish I Could Tell My 15 Year Old Self:

  1.  Enjoy Your Hair – For that matter, enjoy everything about your youthful appearance and health.  Enjoy having a high metabolism and low body fat.  Enjoy the fact that when you’re young being active and being out of breath can indeed be two separate states.  More than just enjoying your health though, try your best to preserve it because there’s nothing you can really do about preserving youth.  Push yourself, try things, set goals, not limits.  All the cheesy motivational gym slogans we see as a 41-year old, overweight pharmacist are indeed applicable to our lives.  It’s just much easier to apply them when you’re young and without children of your own to distract you and drain your lifeforce.  

Hey man! Let’s do some Crossfit!

  1.  Parent’s Don’t Always Know Everything – As a child, I thought my parents could handle just about anything thrown at them.  I thought that, whether or not I agreed with their rules and regulations, they drew their knowledge from some sort of mystical book of parental guidance or a vast pool of experience in all things.  As someone who has now achieved parenthood myself, I can say with a high level of confidence that they didn’t have any more idea what they were doing than I do right now.  I tell my wife from time to time that I always assumed I’d know more by the time life’s larger mile markers were passing by me.  Marriage, children, midlife crisis, choosing a phone carrier, these were all things I thought I’d be more prepared for when they arrived.  This is why I have two pieces of advice for my 15 year old self when it comes to parents.  First, value your time with them.  You are going to grow up and change and they are going to grow old and change.  Enjoy them and all that they are right now.  Second, give them a break.  Try your best not to be belligerent or smart mouthed or hateful.  Not necessarily out of some deeper goodness, although it is a very good idea to be kind to your parents.  No, you should treat your parents well because one day you yourself will be a parent, and they will be grandparents.  And they will spoil your kids and cause them to misbehave purely for their own enjoyment.  They will do this at every available opportunity.  So be nice to them now.  Maybe they’ll take it easier on you later.        

Notice the parenting technique: Dad with a look of calm reassurance, while mom prepares to shake the ever-living stuffings out of little Johnny.

  1. Stay in touch – In an era of social media this is something that we often take for granted today.  In fact, all of us probably have people we wish we could see a little less of via Facebook, Twitter and the like.  In the days of my youth, however, we still made landline phone calls, stopped by people’s houses and (gasp) wrote and mailed letters.  It did tend to make things a little more challenging than today, but still completely doable.  And yet, I can think of several people right off hand, that I’ve lost contact with over the years and, even in today’s environment of information overload, cannot establish their current whereabouts or a means of contact.  Some of these people were roommates, coworkers, fellow students or just good friends and all were very close to me at one time or another.  The thought of not knowing where they are or how to get in touch with them would’ve seemed silly, if not completely out of the question.  Even in today’s world, I would suggest compiling an address book full of names and locations and doing your best to keep track of those people.  I’ve always found Christmas cards to be a good way of making sure someone is still located where you last thought.  If you send one out and the address is still correct, you generally can expect to see one in return.  If you receive the card back in the mail, then you may have some work to do and some other friends to call.  Keep up with people.  You never know when you may want to get back in touch or pay someone a visit.   


  1.  In matters of romance, be more confident – Now I’m not saying you have to be some sort of ladies man or Lothario.  Nor am I suggesting that you immediately kick off the date with necking and some heavy petting.  No, what I’m suggesting is that you should appreciate the fact that on all your “dates” in high school, college and even early adult life, the female accompanying you is, most likely, just as nervous as you are, perhaps even more.  I spent the better part of every date that I was ever on with butterflies in my stomach the size of rather large pterodactyls.  It was rough.  I needed to be more confident in myself and just enjoy the situation that was in front of me.  In saying that, I’m certainly not implying that I would’ve somehow discovered some lost romance and ended up with a different spouse or anything like that.  (I’m required to make that disclaimer per the vehement – read violent – insistence of my wife.)  I’m simply saying I think I would’ve enjoyed myself more and I know that I would’ve definitely saved myself a great deal of anxiety.

Ideally, this would have been a shot of a typical Saturday night for me in high school. Somehow, that never materialized.

And speaking of anxiety…

  1. Relax – If I could give my 15 year old self just a single word of advice that I thought would impact “our life” more than any other, it would be to “relax.”  I don’t necessarily think that I was an overly nervous youngster, but I do think that I was a little on the anxious side.  My mom used to say that I took things too seriously and handled every difficulty as if it were the end of the world.  I do remember investing far too much time worrying about things and people that, in the grand scheme of things, were not as important as I perceived them to be.  That is not to say that nothing in middle school or high school or college was at all important, far from it.  I would just say that if I could have, at an earlier age, developed the ability to take a step back from a problem or worry and enjoy other aspects of my life in spite of it, I would have been a much happier young man.  I’ve heard the expression that “Worrying is like rocking in a rocking chair.  It gives you something to do, but doesn’t take you anywhere.”  I would agree with that sentiment and wish I’d have stood up out of that rocking chair more often than not as I grew into adulthood.  So, 15 year old me, just relax.  It will make you a happier individual and besides, you have to look cool when you’re sporting those sweet BKs.

The key to true relaxation and peace of mind truly begins and ends with a sweet pair of British Knights.

That’s the five nuggets of brilliance that I’d share with my 15 year old self.  What’s yours?  Feel free to comment and share your thoughts.  Also, give us a follow here at www.onestackmind.com if you can.  



When I was a kid we didn’t have summer camp or timeshares or ocean cruises.  We had Sycamore.  That was where my paternal grandparents lived when I was young.  Their homeplace was located in the remote woods of Clay County, in central West Virginia.  Even by West Virginia standards, most of Clay County is remote.  My grandma and grandpa lived in some of the “remotest.”  It was almost an hour by car to the nearest town and a decent ride from their place to get back to a two lane road.  When you were there, though, everyday things actually seemed further away than that.  It was its own corner of the world and once you were in its grasp, it refused to share you with any other spots.  Sycamore, however, was more than enough.  It so occupied your time and thinking and senses as a child that there was no room for thoughts of what you may do back home or at school or at a friend’s house.  It was a wonderful getaway, never dull and a great place to be a kid.  It still holds a very special place in my memory and in my heart.

Just your typical downtown Saturday night in rural West Virginia.


To me, Sycamore was cricks, not creeks. It was dirt bikes and snakes and paths and fishing poles and hooks and bread and sand and cousins, always lots of cousins.  It was where we went most weekends to meet up with family and enjoy the outdoors.  But it was also Christmastime and cricks frozen solid in winter, full of crawdads, minnows and lizards in summer.  It was dew so thick in the mornings and evenings that it would soak your shoes completely through.  It was the powerful and stifling woodburning stove in the house.  During cold weather, the living room and kitchen were kept at approximately 7,000 degrees fahrenheit by the stove, while the adjoining bedrooms were 15 below zero. Sometimes a smaller, sweatier cousin would freeze solid, right to the floor during a quick trip to the bathroom.  


Sycamore was grandpa; his whistling and smoking.  His recliner on the front porch.  It was the white V-neck t-shirts and Dickies work pants he wore almost all the time and the way the package of L&Ms used to stick up out of his breast pocket like the crest on a blazer; bright reds and blues contrasted against the white background of the shirt.  It was waking up to the sound of his drinking coffee from the bottom of a white styrofoam cup.  His rhythmic slurping was our alarm clock.  


It was also affectionately known as “down the crick,” as in, “Hey, we’re going down the crick.  Wanna come?”  This was because you had to cross the same meandering, persistent stream of water three times before you arrived at grandma and grandpa’s place.  The crick continued to twist down the hollow until it poured out into the Elk River about seven miles away.  I have crossed the waters of that crick at so many crossings on so many vehicles over the years.  I have forded that stream on dirt bikes and four wheelers, in pickup trucks, side-by-sides, on foot and, as a young boy, in my dad’s old Ford Pinto.  The Pinto was perhaps the most exciting because when the cricks were “up” high enough it would take on water through the cracks in the car doors.  I’m not talking about a little leak or a trickle.  I’m talking about a flow so strong that even as a 7 or 8 year old kid the thought of “abandoning ship” occasionally crossed my mind.  I can still hear my dad, as we descended the bank to the first crossing, announce to my younger brother and I, “Okay, feet up!”  Then the water would roll into the black-carpeted back floor of the car.  Matthew and I would be sitting cross-legged in the seats watching gum wrappers and other debris bob around with our GI Joe men in the swirling pools below.  Looking back on it now, I’m amazed at how commonplace that all seemed to me. A car taking on water like that.  I suppose I should be equally amazed we all survived for years riding around in a Ford Pinto.

Ahh, the majestic beauty of the Ford Pinto. Exploding rear gas tank included!

As you meandered through the crick crossings and bounced down the rocky road, you would eventually come to Grandpa and Grandma’s gate, which was always open.  There, the dense trees opened into a rectangular grass field that was around the width of a football field, but at least two or three times longer.  The field was surrounded on all but one side by the tall, tree-covered mountains that West Virginia is known for.  On the fourth side, several tall Sycamore trees stood guard between the creek and a sandy car track that took you the length of the field to the crossing of another smaller creek and up past the faded grey plank garage to the house.  There was another small field adjacent to the house and a front yard area beneath a canopy of trees.  The front yard seemed to stay lush and green and shaded almost all year round.

There’s not a whole lot of “urban sprawl” in West Virginia. Generally speaking, we like it that way.

From there you were open to any number of activities to fill up a fall Saturday or long summer’s week.  Motorcycles, bikes, hiking (or what we called walking around in the woods), hunting, fishing, gardening, an early form of parkour (or jumping off stuff), exploring and a dozen other things awaited you on a typical day “down Sycamore.” The best part about it was that there always seemed to be someone else to do things with.  Rarely were you alone on your little adventures.  There was an almost endless supply of siblings and cousins to join you in passing the time.  At one point there were 19 first cousins in the family somewhere between the ages of 4 and 24.  That number does not include more distant relations such as second cousins, great uncles or not so great uncles.  It was indeed a family roster deep in potential partners in crime.


One rather interesting incident occurred when I was 9 or 10.  My brother Matthew and I were spending a summer week with Grandpa down the crick.  About midweek we were joined by my second cousin Heath who was a year younger than me and a year older than Matthew.  Heath’s father Nolan had also come along.  The three of us boys spent the days running, stomping and jumping around Grandpa’s place trying to find new and exciting ways to injure ourselves.  This, I’ve observed, is the typical pastime of boys ages 6-14. (My wife would say “boys ages 6 through forever” but I rarely, if ever, listen to her.)  Grandpa and Nolan spent their time in pursuit of more adult pastimes: tinkering with the tractor, trying to start the tractor, sitting on the front porch talking about why the tractor wouldn’t start, tinkering with the tractor again.  Yes, the days could be very demanding down the crick.


At one point in between the running and stomping, Heath pulled my brother and I aside.  


“Hey, you guys wanna do something fun?” he said, with a slightly devious smile.


Matthew and I glanced at each other with confused looks on our faces.  


“Jumping?” we said simultaneously.  Heath just shook his head and motioned for us to follow him. Whatever his idea, it had to be something really fun.


We followed Heath down to Grandpa’s old garage.  The garage didn’t look like much from the outside, but it stored a treasure of items for both work and play.  Cables, ropes and hoses were organized and hanging from hooks on the walls.  Rakes, shovels and hoes were leaned together in the corners.  Yes, from welders to log splitters, motorcycles to gokarts, this garage had it all.  Not all of it worked or would run for more than a few minutes at a time, but that was part of the fun.  


The three of us crossed the threshold into the shade of the garage where we were met with the smell of grease and musty dirt.  Just inside the door Grandpa kept several gas cans filled to varying levels with fuel.  Gasoline was like gold here and was to be cherished and conserved.  After all, the nearest gas station was almost an hour away.  There were some nicer metal and plastic gas cans mixed in with a few old milk jugs, all used for holding this precious commodity.  Heath selected one of the old milk jugs with just a tiny bit of gas left in it and out of the garage we went.

When you lived that far away from a gas station, one of these was worth more than we were.

These were the days before we had pollution or an environment to conserve, so a lot of people just kept old rusty oil drums or trash barrels outside and would burn extra cardboard or other trash instead of bagging it all up.  Grandpa had just such a barrel outside of his garage near an old chicken coop.  That seemed to be where Heath was heading.  Matthew and I both shrugged our shoulders and headed off behind him.


The drum was spewing a little smoke and what trash was left inside was doing its best to reach the “smoldering” level.  Heath twisted the lid off the old milk jug and poured the last trickle of gasoline in the barrel.  Immediately the flame burst to life and rose up to the level just above the rim of the container.  It quickly descended back inside near the level of the remaining trash..  


“C’mon Heath,” Matthew said, “we’ve seen that before.”


I shared a somewhat let down glance with my brother and we both turned back toward our cousin.  Sensing our disappointment, Heath now moved on to the real show.


“That wasn’t it” he said, his hands raising the now “empty” milk jug toward the top of the drum.  He turned the jug upside down and held the opening as close to the fire as he could for about 5 seconds.  He then set the milk jug down on the ground laying on its side, smiling all the while.


“Now, watch this!” he said.  Matthew and I bent over slightly toward the jug as Heath jumped into the air and with both feet stomped the milk jug flat.  At least I assume it went flat.  I couldn’t really see much of anything after the first second or two because my eyelashes were suddenly engulfed in flames.  It’s hard to pick out small objects when you’re trying to put out the aforementioned flames by blinking your eyes that fast.  


Looking back on it, we really should’ve had a better idea what to expect.  At the time, though, we just thought something exciting was going to happen to the milk jug…or maybe to Heath.  Whether he did it on purpose or it was just a result of dumb luck, Heath had pointed the opening of the milk jug directly at us.  (I have my own theories about this.)  When his feet hit the jug the force caused  a giant fireball to spew out of the container and head straight for us.  As I said, I didn’t have much time to look, but it seemed to me to be about as wide across as a beachball and growing by the nanosecond.  The flames washed over us in an instant and were gone just a quickly.  Unfortunately, our small minds had processed the incoming threat, but they weren’t so quick to give the “all clear.”  To put out the now dispersed flames, Matthew and I elected to skip over the “stop, drop and roll” technique and go directly to the “scream, jump in place and slap yourself silly” method.  This method works almost as well as the original, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re in the company of anyone outside of close family.  Even then I would suggest using it only around people who are healthy enough not to hurt themselves laughing really, really hard.


I’m not sure whether it was the screaming or the jumping or the giant fireball that alerted them to our activities, but we were soon joined by Grandpa and Nolan at the scene.  After the details were sorted out:  the gas, the gas can, the fireball, the scorching of our skin, we moved on to the punishment phase.  Nolan didn’t say much, he just set about pacing behind Grandpa and seething.  The three of us lined up facing the two angry men and waited.  This was only one of a couple times that I saw my Grandpa get mad.  It wasn’t pretty.


“What in the name…!  I don’t know which of you is dumber!  Who’s frizin’ idea was this?!”  Frizin’ (pronounced FRY-zen) was my Grandpa’s form of swearing.  I never heard him actually swear.  I assume this was his own little form of “self censorship” employed around us grandkids.


“But…” all three of us said in unison.


“I don’t wanna hear it!  I spend my hard earned money on a gas can and you fellas just go and burn it up!  What am I gonna do for keeping my gas now?!”  He looked at us.  We looked at each other slightly confused.


“But…”  Heath tried to interject.


“Aw, be quiet Heath!” uncle Nolan said.


“But dad!  We didn’t burn up one of his good gas cans, it was just a milk jug!”


That revelation seemed to lighten the mood significantly.  Grandpa no longer seemed like he was going to take the money for another gas can out of our hides. For his part, Uncle Nolan said nothing.  He just rolled his eyes and started back to the house, presumably to think some more on how to get the tractor started.


Not wanting to let us completely off the hook, Grandpa left us with one last piece of advice.


“Will you boys please, pleeaaaseee act like you got some sense?!”


The three of us nodded quickly without saying a word.  Grandpa started back to the house shaking his head.  Heath stood there grinning that same devious grin. Matthew and I rubbed the bare patches where our eyebrows used to be.  They say you never forget the smell of burnt hair.  I agree.  Especially if that hair is your own.  I’m happy to report that my eyebrows did in fact grow completely back just in time for my senior prom.

The roaring waters of the mighty Elk River. Please feel free to insert your best banjo music/Deliverance joke here, because yeah, we’ve never heard that before.


In years that followed, my Grandma would pass on and my Grandpa would sell his property and move out of Sycamore.  He settled in closer to one of my aunts and closer to civilization in general.  Grandpa would pass away a few years after the move and, for a while, Sycamore became a very small part of my life.  I grew up, graduated high school and college and eventually moved away from Clay County myself.  My parents were (and are) still there, so I would visit them often, especially once I had kids of my own.  Two of my uncles have property near where my Grandpa lived and we still meet up with family a good deal.  Every once in a great while something will remind me of those glory days of my youth and a smile will cross my lips.


My siblings and I have also been able to purchase an old church camp near where we all live.  Such was our fondness for Sycamore that we are endeavoring to turn this camp into a “Sycamore Part II” of sorts, for our children.  (This generation of cousins now numbers at 10.)  It does indeed remind me of Sycamore.  It has rocky rough roads, we ride motorcycles and side by sides and it even has a little crick running through the property.  The memories do come back thick and fast.


Occasionally, though, I may try too hard to bring back the memories.  The last weekend at the camp, my wife chastised me severely when she found me sharing an old trick with my daughters and some of their cousins.  I thought she overreacted.  I mean it was just a milk jug with a trickle of gas inside.  It wasn’t like it was the good gas can.  Besides, kids don’t need eyebrows in elementary school anyway.      


Listening Pleasures – Let’s Pretend

Do you have little kids?  Do you get sick of them watching the same stupid shows with no real plots?  How about in the car, do you have trouble getting them to shut up and behave?  Well I’ve got just the thing for you. . .

As I’ve posted about before, I spend a lot of time listening to Old Time Radio (http://otrrlibrary.org/index.html).  Several years ago I stumbled on a children’s radio program from the 40’s and 50’s called Let’s Pretend.  I was actually looking for something to listen to with my kids while putting them to bed.  With my kids it seems that music, or anything else really, keeps them up more than it helps them to go to sleep.  After randomly playing a couple stories my kids were immediately hooked.

The show was a 30 minute radio broadcast by CBS that started in 1934 and ran through 1954.  It used young voice actors in front of a live studio audience made up of little kids.  Each week the show does a different children’s story/fairytale.  The shows include well known stories such as Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Jack and the Beanstalk, Hansel and Gretel, etc.  It also includes a lot of stories that I hadn’t really heard before like Ondine.

Let’s Pretend 54-06-05 Beauty and the Beast.mp3

Let’s Pretend 54-10-09 Hansel and Gretel.mp3

Before I knew it, my kids were asking for Let’s Pretend.  They each have their favorite stories to listen to and all now know the Cream of Wheat theme song.  Check out the list of episodes available through OTRR and feel free to donate to this wonderful service.


The Lost Art of Syndication: My Top 5 Shows To Binge Watch

To finish what I started last month with my thoughts on the lost art of syndicated television (click here, in case you forgot), I feel I need a follow up post discussing the current state of television.  If you haven’t noticed a lot has changed since the 80’s and 90’s shows I wrote about previously.  With modern streaming services giving you easy access to whole seasons at a time, it has made every plot into an overarching story line.  Gone are the days of picking up a single episode of a show without asking yourself, “Who are all these characters I have never seen before?”  Or “Why does my favorite character not have any arms?”

I’m not just talking about your favorite shows that you like so much that you could watch them for a whole weekend.  I’m talking about shows that if you don’t watch them all at the same time, you spend most of your time Googling plot discussions to figure out what in the world is going on.  With these shows it is almost a requirement to be binge watched, or else they are impossible to watch.

With that said, here are my top 5 shows that I think epitomizes binge watching:



The Walking Dead – You would think a show about zombies killing people or being killed by people would be a pretty simple watch.  The reason that is not the case, is because this show is quite frankly a soap opera.  Did Glen just die in that dumpster?  Who is this Governor guy?  Where did this baby come from?  There is no way you could pick up a later season episode of this show and have any idea what’s going on without watching previous seasons.


Dexter – The inclusion of Dexter on this list is somewhat questionable.  The show has overarching story lines throughout but there is still a lot of consistency around the main plot.  Dexter is in the same job, the same office, and many of the same characters are around him through each season.  The show, however, likes to have a main theme for each season.  It will introduce a new arch enemy for Dexter at the beginning of the season and then build on that until season’s end.  At the beginning of the new season, there are always slight differences but the scenario starts over anew.

The reason I make the binge watching requirement for this show is because if you tune in to see John Lithgow, Colin Hanks or Mos Def without any backstory you are going to be completely lost.



House of Cards – I didn’t specify whether this was the British or American version but I guess both apply.  This show has twists and turns at every corner.  Main characters come and go, some even die from time to time.  The main character changes jobs pretty frequently, moving further and further up the food chain.

I could see someone turning on season 4 and wondering why Kevin Spacey’s hair is so gray, how he became president or why Claire is so annoying.  Scratch that last one from the list.  Claire is annoying from beginning to end.






Lost – This show is a little older than all of the others on the list but I can remember a time when it was the king of the water cooler conversations.  I never had the patience to watch it in real time.  I waited until after the show’s finale to watch my first episode actually.

For a show that basically starts as a revamped Gilligan’s Island it quickly is clear that it’s not made for syndication.  Even though there should be a limited number of new characters available since it’s an island, the show always has an influx of new spirals.

Even watching the show on Netflix within about a 6 week period I often found myself saying, “What the heck is this bunker they’re in?”




Breaking Bad – If I only had to choose one show for this topic, I think Breaking Bad would probably be my choice.  The main couple of characters stay the same but everything else about this show gets turned on its head at one point or another.  Walter and Jesse’s living conditions, romantic situations, and circumstances around their work changes from season to season.

There is enough detail in the stories that it would make it tough to pick up and watch later, without having trouble piecing together the action.





Those are my top 5 shows that are synonymous with binge watching, let me know yours…


Nerdstalgia: (Grand) Mother’s Day Edition

I’ve got more Microprose and Legend of Zelda articles in the pipeline, but this Nerdstalgia installment is a little bit different. It was inspired by a post at IGN about the nostalgia of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Where that author talked about gaming with his mother, my memories of gaming as a child are with my maternal grandmother 1. She played a lot of games over the years, but there are a few that we played together that stand out in my mind.

Dr. Mario

I’m starting with Dr. Mario for a couple of reasons.  The first reason is that it’s the game I remember her playing the most, but it’s also the game that caused the least amount of strife, which isn’t to say that it caused no strife at all.

Dr. Mario was a fairly simple puzzle game, originally released on NES and Gameboy in 1990.  The idea was that there were “viruses” on the play field that could be removed if they were paired with pills of the same color. It was a game that was very much in the same family as Tetris, but, unlike Tetris, there were levels and an “end” in sight: you needed to clear all the viruses to move to the next board, which would have more viruses and move faster.  Most importantly, there was one major difference for the NES version: competitive multiplayer.

Multiplayer worked with a split screen, with both players having access to their own separate board. Combos would send random pill pieces to the other player’s board, allowing you to spam them, giving you a slight advantage. That caused plenty of frustration and grumbles from both of us, but it was mostly friendly competition.

Dr. Mario is available on the Nintendo eShop as a Virtual Console title. The NES version is available on the Wii U, and the Game Boy version is available on the 3DS.

Super Mario Bros. 3

The World Map was the site of many strategic ambushes.

The third installment of the Super Mario Bros. was actually featured in a movie, The Wizard, before it was released in the United States in February of 1990. Unlike Dr. Mario, the multiplayer of Super Mario Bros. 3 was alternating and more-or-less cooperative, as players took turns clearing levels (or attempting to) while working their way through various kingdoms to track down Bowser and rescue the once-again-kidnapped Princess Peach.

Super Mario Bros. 3 featured a return to the type of platforming that was seen in the original Super Mario Bros., after a departure in Super Mario Bros. 2 (which wasn’t originally a Mario game in Japan, which explains the departure). It added some new enemies (including the Koopalings, who appear in several modern games) and some new abilities for Mario and Luigi, while removing Luigi’s ability to jump higher than his brother. At the end of each level, players were awarded a card. Collecting three cards would earn extra lives (depending on whether your cards matched or not).

I said the game’s multiplayer was mostly alternating and cooperative, and those cards play heavily into the exception. If the currently active player passed over the “on-deck” player on the map, the “on-deck” player could challenge them to an original Mario Bros.-style duel. During these duels, cards could be stolen from the other player 2. The winner of the duel became the active player, a fact that could be used to prevent your fellow player from accessing a bonus game in certain situations.

The frustration and friendly competition from Dr. Mario was somewhat amplified when playing Super Mario Bros., because the “betrayal” of an ostensibly friendly fellow player (read: grandchild) was, sometimes, considered cheating by my grandmother.

Honorable Mention: Uno

Before I get to the most divisive video game that my grandmother and I played, I’d like to give a quick mention to a classic family card game that was also pretty divisive. Uno is a fairly simple game, and I’m pretty sure every citizen of the United States over the age of 10 has played it as some point in their lives. At one point, when I was very young, I was frustrated by my inability to win consistently, and I attempted to stack the deck (literally) in my favor while shuffling for a new hand in Uno. I lost, despite my attempt at cheating, and I was caught, which caused my behavior in any game from that point forward to be viewed with more than a little suspicion, which probably contributed to some of the hostility caused by the last video game on my list.


Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to get a good picture of multiplayer Lemmings.

Lemmings is one of the first indirect-control, real-time games. It’s considered to be more of a puzzle game than a strategy game, but its gameplay inspired a lot of the gameplay of early real-time strategy games. Even more than Super Mario Bros. 3, Lemmings is primarily a single-player game. Most people who remember Lemmings remember it purely as a single-player puzzle game, and probably never played the multiplayer version much. Basically, the multiplayer game is played on a split-screen like Dr. Mario, but, unlike Dr. Mario, the players share a single map.  Usually, the players would find all their Lemmings entering the map in the center, and would have to work their way to one side or the other to find the exit. Each player had their own team of Lemmings, and the goal was to save more Lemmings than your opponent.

My grandmother saw this as something like a race, where you were competing as much against yourself as the opponent, and there wasn’t really much interaction between the two players. I saw it more as a game that had both offense and defense, and it was infinitely easier when your opponent wasn’t really playing defense. I’d take most of my Lemmings and go to solve the puzzle, but I’d manipulate one or two to travel the other way, usually after a short delay so they were mixed in among my grandmother’s Lemmings. I’d then alternate between solving the puzzles on my side of the map and subtly sabotaging my grandmother’s solutions (or not so subtly, if I could find a way to start killing Lemmings en masse).

This behavior was generally considered fair game by me (after all, you can’t cheat at a video game, outside of hacking; if the game designers allowed it, it’s within the rules), but was considered to be cheating of the worst kind by my grandmother. After a few games where I would promise not to screw with her design (and kept the promise), I would always slowly go back to my sabotaging ways. Eventually, she refused to play Lemmings with me anymore due to this fundamental difference of opinions about how the game was meant to be played.

To my knowledge, there is no place available to buy the original Lemmings for any of the systems on which it was released. All screenshots here were taken from my copy of the PC game, which I play primarily on DosBox (along with several other old Windows and Dos games that I can’t find anymore).

I know I’ve made it sound like my time playing games with my grandmother was full of fighting, but, honestly, even the “fighting” was with a friendly and loving tone (mostly). The nostalgia I get when I fire up Nintendo’s Virtual Console or my copy of DosBox is very strong, and I’ve found that I’m unable to play Dr. Mario with the music on because nostalgia starts to overwhelm me a bit. My grandmothers both contributed to my love of video games as a hobby, and I will always be grateful to them for that.

Rage Quit: “10 Concerts I’ve Been To, 1 is a Lie”

You may have seen the social media trend of posting a list of 10 concerts where 1 of them is a lie.  The idea is that your friends will look over the list and guess which one of the concerts you didn’t really attend.  On the surface it appears to be a harmless attempt at some entertainment, but, according to a CBSNews report, it could be THE WORST MISTAKE OF YOUR LIFE!!!

[insert commercial break cliffhanger riff]


Cyber security expert Dennis Nedry.

Let me start this rant out by first saying that identity theft, hacking and phishing attempts are all very real threats in today’s world.  I am in no way minimizing the risk of being frivolous with your personal information.  With that said, though, I feel like news reports like the one above are taking a real danger and marginalizing it by seeing the boogeyman everywhere you look.

The first sign to take notice of in these articles is when they trot out a “cyber security expert”.  It’s the equivalent of asking a car salesman at a dealership their objective opinion on whether it’s worth it to trade up to the latest model of car.  Cyber security experts make their money on the fears of their audience with respect to how hazardous the internet security monsters truly are to them.  They don’t really want hackers to lose all the time, because if your data was safe, then the experts would be out of a job.

“The first thing that came to mind was a phishing attack where they could see your preferences and probably glean some demographics info from your band preference and send an email that says something like free tickets to whatever band you said you liked,” Ingemi explained. “You click on it and then you’ve downloaded malware or a virus and they have access to your network.”

The CBS News writer then hammers home the point with: “Hackers could then get into your account by resetting your password.” 

I would like to point out that within three quick sentences, they just went from harvesting band preference data to resetting your password and taking control of your account.  That is some CSI level, made for TV, hacking abilities!  Never mind the fact that your entire Facebook page contains your preferences.  The entire idea behind a Facebook like or follow is to refine your newsfeed to the things you are interested in.  If all hackers needed to steal your account was whether you were a Lakers fan, a Patriots fan or a Yankees fan, then they don’t need a post from you to do it.  All of that information is freely available, if public, on your Facebook profile by pages you like or follow.

“When you forget your password to various things, one of the [security] questions is what was the first concert you ever attended,” Ingemi said. “Well, if you have that list you could do some reverse engineering to figure out what might have been the first concert.”

So, if by some slim chance on one of your accounts you picked a security question option that asks what your first concert was and you played the concert game with your friends on Facebook, then hackers have a 1 in 9 chance of “reverse engineering” (Wow, that sounds technical) a single security question on that account.  Forget the fact that there will be other security questions, usually 2 factor authentication through a code, and you will also be alerted to all failed attempts.

Let’s be honest here for a minute.  There is no chance of a list of concerts you may or may not have attended being posted on Facebook is ever going to play a part in your identity being stolen or accounts being hacked.  A person could gain more pertinent and detailed information from a decently worded Google search than they would ever get from a list of 10 concerts.  I know that, you know that, and CBS News knows that.  What CBS News also knows is that alarmist headlines involving social media trends and hackers makes for great click bait.  It also makes their older clientele strap on their tin foil hats and tune into the nightly news programs to find out how those evil Russian hackers know everything from their shoe size to their preference in deodorant.

“If you want to participate and you’re concerned about the security risks, Ingemi recommends setting your privacy settings to “Friends Only,” preventing strangers — and potential hackers — from accessing that valuable information.”

I am glad that CBS News finished the article with the first useful piece of information of the entire piece.  If you plan on sharing personal information (agree or disagree with whether concert attendance falls in this category), make sure your privacy settings are set accordingly.  You wouldn’t want ex-girlfriends stalking your page to know you ate Chinese last night.

I’m all for informing people about the potential risks of doing stupid stuff with personal information on the internet.  The problem arises when you continue to produce hysterical laden articles sourced by cyber security experts on a regular basis; you start to sound like the boy who cried wolf.  You either delegitimize the seriousness of the real issue or you make people so paranoid they fear doing anything on the wicked internet.  Neither of those are really that helpful to the people that need the internet to function on a daily basis and don’t want to have their private information targeted.  So, please feel free to keep sharing the concerts you’ve attended and quit clicking on CBS News articles.  You never know, it could be a link for adware…