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Operation Caetle

I approached the text from my friend with timid excitement. He had just received a package, addressed to me, from China and I had no idea what it might be. There were no unusual payments made on any of my cards, either. Free package for Ryan! Awesome, right?

Unless it happened to be a sex toy. I have this completely baseless fear I’m going to receive an indecent, or even dangerous package through the mail. Luckily, that is like being afraid of piranhas; yes, we can agree they are scary, but when was the last time you saw a piranha? Barring an immersion therapy session gone horribly wrong, you can usually avoid piranhas without making drastic life changes.

I immediately thought of an episode of Criminal Minds and wanted to ask if Chris had jostled or tipped the package at all after receiving it. Also, avoid doing either of those things if possible, as it might activate the mercury detonator inside.

Thankfully, the package was not dangerous, illegal or sexual in nature. Unfortunately, it was not a hilarious imitation Lego, either. But it could have been any of those things. I mean, it showed showed up from China, how am I supposed to know what’s in it?

My friend’s description of the parcel didn’t clarify much, either. It was, “small and light,” which could still be a lot of different things. That could easily be a DVD, an adult DVD.

He suggested that maybe the order I made with an online, pan Asian market for knock-off merchandise finally came through.  I ordered a pair of knock off Dragon Force sunglasses and while, yes, I expected them to be terrible, here I was six months later with no sunglasses, period. Total waste of eleven dollars and sixty five cents. After a few days agonizing over it, I finally dropped by to visit and see what was in the suspicious parcel.

It was about three inches by three inches and light as a feather.

Oh, cool, so it’s definitely gonna to be anthrax, was my first thought. Nevermind the return address in China, that’s a smokescreen. That or it could be some very, very high quality opium.

My anxiety over opening the mystery package mounted. Naturally, we had both hyped up its contents with speculation. I think Chris wanted to know what was inside just as badly as me by the time I ripped open the envelope. The catch twenty two of the situation was obvious. Whatever happened to be inside was my responsibility.

For instance, I could dump a magic bullet out onto the table not ten feet from his parents, who are watching Jeopardy. Or, I could slink off to my car with an unopened package and let everybody wildly speculate what sort of crazy stuff I accidentally shipped to their address. Stuff I clearly knew about, otherwise why was I being so sneaky about it?

I decided to go with plausible deniability and open the package casual as Friday. If it turned out to be a bad thing, I would be appropriately, genuinely shocked and everyone could move on. Just throw away or flush whatever happened to be in the package and not call the police. Begin the healing process.

Instead, I became the proud owner of a “Caetle.”

And to be honest, for a few moments I thought the little tear drop shaped marshmallow was some kind of sex toy, one I couldn’t understand. The fact that its tote bag prominently featured a broken link to, “Caetle.net,” was not encouraging. Nobody on the internet seemed to have any idea what a Caetle was, save for Amazon.

A makeup blender, obviously, with its smooth, squishy consistency and shape of an egg that came to a sharp, but squishy point. Silly me, not knowing these things as a twenty five year old male. The good news was that my package did not contain anything explicit. The bad news is that I may never get those counterfeit sunglasses.

Furthermore, I’m pretty sure the website that never plans on sending my Dragon Force’s also gave my information to the mysterious organization that sent the Caetle. We will call them The Caetle Company for now, I guess? No…Operation Caetle. I like that better.

Operation Caetle is based somewhere out of China. I wouldn’t give you guys the actual address even if I remembered, but I threw out the envelope the Caetle shipped in and, no, I don’t remember. So, a small underground makeup operation in China and an Asian supplier for counterfeit merchandise… they might be connected.

So everybody is still telling everybody stuff about me, only they keep getting their facts wrong. If you ever did stuff on the internet, even in “incognito mode,” or “private browsing” – or wherever you do what you do – someone kept a record of it. Take some solace in the fact that nobody seems to be very effective at utilizing this information, they just like hoarding it.

Because, based on the things I searched on this online Asian market, and taking into account the entirety of my excursions into the World Wide Web, I have no clue where “makeup blender” came from. Perhaps there exists some ludicrous algorithm that takes up an entire chalkboard, fueled by personal information, and which divines the thing an internet pedestrian most desires. If so, they must have misplaced a decimal point or rounded wrong this particular time.

I do not need a makeup blender, China. Frankly, I am the least qualified person to be handling one, considering when I saw a Caetle my gut reaction was, how a person might pleasure themselves with it. If you guys want to anonymously email me free Kung Fu movies, though, then bring it on. Or sunglasses – I still haven’t given up on them.

It is also possible China knows a startlingly larger amount about Ryan Donovan than even I realize. My mother does work at a day spa and, as some women do, has been known to wear makeup from time to time – the spa also sells a lot of the same products she, herself, uses. Maybe, by cross referencing my address with her address and the products she orders for the spa she works at, this Asian market identified a potential mark.

From there, Operation Caetle was a go!

Sounds creepy. Also sounds plausible, but who really knows? The internet is a weird place, especially the Chinese internet. I’m just glad it was the adorable Caetle thing I received and not a giant, Chinese dildo, since apparently they are a little fuzzy on my interests. I entrusted my mother with the Caelte, but here are some things I would like to receive, for future reference:

Dried kelp
Hair products with instructions I can’t read
Hook swordsBamboo from mountaintop
Panda cigarettes
Candy
Chow Yun Fat’s autograph

That’s all I can think of for right now. Please email me before you send me random stuff, also. I worry.

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The Twistiest Twist

I have to come out and say it, because nobody else will: I hate plot twist endings. With exception to a few really good, classic examples, I think the whole practice is at worst a massive cop out and at best a bad habit to get into.

Let me explain.

I am not saying that plot twists are bad. Plot twists are good writing. They keep the plot from becoming a deterministic, sterile purgatory where nothing surprising ever happens and the reader slowly slips into a coma. But plot twists are also a tool and, like every other tool that ever existed, can cause serious harm when used improperly.

An over reliance on plot twists makes a story feel as random as a round of Dungeons & Dragons:

“Oooh, looks like you guys encountered a dragon while in the magical portal that just appeared last turn. Everybody role for damage.”

Everybody rolls.

“Pretty good rolls, you guys, except that in this mythical netherrealm, its like golf scoring. Only those with the lowest rolls will escape the dragon’s hellfire.”

And, yeah, would you want to read a whole book of that? This laissez faire attitude towards plotting will also, often, make for a story that resists drawing to a satisfactory close. There are exceptions, of course, like (most of) the films of Guy Ritchie.

The same Guy Ritchie who made the two horrendous Sherlock Holmes films. He also made Revolver and there is a reason you never heard of it. It starred Jason Statham and not only did he have hair, he had long hair. I am serious, you can look it up.

These three movies all have a similar problem and that is a broken internal logic. They all had the wacky, twisty nature of a Guy Ritchie script trying to cope with a serious venture. Whether it be a confidence man on a revenge spree or trying to accurately recreate a Victorian era battle of wits, the parts that are supposed to seem really clever just feel weird and forced.

But its okay, Mr. Ritchie, because we also have you to thank for masterpieces like Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, RocknRolla and the fan favorite, Snatch. His writing is no more coherent and the internal logic of these movies is that there is no logic, but that plays in a comedy. Who cares if the line from point A to point B does not quite add up? All that matters is, “how crazy was point A?” and “can out believe that point B?”

So, while sporadic plotting can often suit a lighter, most likely comical narrative, serious drama kind of demands a more even spread of logic.

That is why big plot twists usually don’t work!

Think about a good plot twist ending? Like The Usual Suspects. This is one of those movies that should be mandatory, if only so you know what it means to be “Keyser Soze’d.” No spoilers, but it ends with one of those slap-bang, never-could-have-seen-it-coming plot twists and one I liked. My problem is with the entire rest of the film leading up to said plot twist.

It gets pretty bland. There are various capers, lots of macho infighting among the crooks and the ever expanding mythos of underworld super criminal, “Keyser Soze,” but for the most part, the plot is on the back burner. We go from caper A, to B, to C and nothing really changes besides the locations and a few characters biting the big one. Things don’t get juicy again until the ending that, hopefully, will blow your socks off so effectively, you pardon the entire first two thirds of the movie.

This does not mean that the writers, or the director, got lazy and copped out on the first two acts –  not at all. The problem was that since the success of the entire movie rested squarely on the third act, they couldn’t do anything to disturb their Faberge egg plot twist. All the characters have to fall in line and stick to a T with their designated roles. Can’t have anybody going unhinged and throwing off the big reveal.

The plot itself cannot move very much, either. Too much shifting around and the Faberge egg smashes on the floor. Then people start asking questions, like, “hey, how does that guy know that,” or “why does he always show up right after these things happen?” Hell, even the body count is timed with cold, Swiss precision, because certain people know too much and need to die.

This is my biggest complaint with big plot twists. Maybe you haven’t fully painted yourself into a corner by committing to one – no, you left yourself one specific, narrow path to tiptoe along to safety. Also, you have to carry that stupid egg with you the whole way and pray it doesn’t get paint all over it or take a tumble.

The other big problem, which The Usual Suspects has in spades, but almost universally haunts movies with never-saw-it-coming endings, is that people only remember the ending. In a discussion of twist endings, it cannot go unmentioned, you knew I would bring it up, so here we go: remember the ending of The Sixth Sense? And if you don’t, then go educate yourself.

Those of you whose opinions I still respect, the ones that did see the movie, great! You remember how crazy that twist ending was? Remember anything else? Anything? Like me, how little you actually remember of The Sixth Sense is probably blowing your mind right now.

The twist is so shocking and iconic that it actually steals the spotlight from the entire rest of the film.

Nobody remembers that M. Night Shyamalan really revitalized the supernatural thriller with some poppy, atmospheric direction, good acting and a smart take on the traditional ghost story. Years and films later, Mr. Shyamalan is still that guy who always tries to trick the audience with the ending. Not only has it overshadowed his genuine skills, but now we actually expect it. So, if there is a twist we will see it coming and if there is not a twist, it will disappoint us.

Pretty bad rap, huh?

Then, there is the worst kind of plot twist, the one that completely negates everything that already happened, because it turns out none of it mattered. The film adaptation of the Stephen King short story, “The Mist” has one of those endings. (The weirdest part is that, in the short story, things come to a pretty mellow ending. The film’s ending is more… F’ed up, I guess is how I would describe it.) In written fiction, we have another Stephen King story that got a feature film adaptation, “Secret Garden, Secret Window.”

It had a really bad ending. It pains me to say, because on the whole it might be my favorite short story by Stephen King, but I prefer the story with the last ten or so pages ripped out and scattered on the floor of a home office. In the film version, Secret Window, starring Johnny Depp – with that  two toned hair every hipster wanted in 2004 – did a much better job with the ending. It did a much worse job with everything else, but thankfully cut out the unnecessary, “whoa there, pump the brakes, Stephen,” ending.

Because the twist ending makes “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” the typical horror story it is not.  Excluding the last few pages, there story has nothing supernatural going on. The shame of it is that Stephen King can write psychological warfare more unsettling than any creature feature, but he loves the creatures. To have a monster pop in at the last moment is almost like having Sweeney Todd end with a duet between The Creature From the Black Lagoon and Pennywise.

Which, screw the dramatic twist, would have been a way better ending.

Though, it is a defensible twist. The ending of “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” as one final micro burst of horror gave me the chills, I just think it also cheapened the over one hundred pages of lovingly crafted nightmares that came before it. How can you really complain that a scary story went for one scare too many?

And, seriously, it is still a really good story.

Some twist endings are inevitable. Some premises, like Shutter Island (much better book, btw), demand a big twist ending. Or maybe the twist just comes to you out of nowhere and it is so good. Too good not to use. If that ever happens, then definitely use it.

If you want to avoid shoving round pegs into square holes then, by the same logic, absolutely put the square peg into the square hole if you have it. Why would you not?

Just make sure it is the square peg and not a rectangular peg, or a rhombus peg. In writing, you have a lot more holes and pegs with lots of slight variations on shapes: oval pegs, equilateral, isosceles and acute triangle pegs, dodecahedron pegs – tesseract peg!? The list goes on and on.

Oh, and I was a ghost this whole post.

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I am a Drowning Shark

Only not in the predatory sense, the having rows of teeth sense, the being a marine species sense or the having fins sense and the smell of fresh blood is not a guilty pleasure of mine. I can get a little bristly if you rub me the wrong way, though I know I am not alone. The swimming thing is the only strong resemblance and nobody panic, I am not really dying.

Because, like a shark, I do have to keep moving or my mental respiratory system starts to seize; the prose starts stuffing itself full of empty calories (excess commas, weak verbiage) which I then have to burn off with more revision. This extra time spent revising pairs wonderfully with the wasted moments spent locked in a staring contest with a wordless word processor page. I’m falling back on the bad habit of using contractions, too.

I already spent about two hours on the can with this blog post, squeezing and clenching till I was red in the face and with nothing to show for all my straining. Not even a single idea. If one single week of vacation time can do this to the mind of a healthy twenty five year old male (that’s right, reader, the ninth of July, mark it in your calendar) then I do not know how the education system expects anything to survive a whole summer’s vacation of faffing. It never does.

Brain power is like a bottle of rubbing alcohol, one that you either use or leave or forget to put the cap on and then, poof, it’s gone by tomorrow morning.

Well, this morning as I sat and sat at the computer with my brain juices evaporating and my disposition getting worse and worse, it came to me that I could pull the ultimate writers cop out: write about having nothing to write about! It would make for a breezy little article that would not overtax my pudgy, wheezing brain cells and get the juices flowing for an actual post later on down the road.

Maybe in another day or two I will be ready to sink my fangs into some fresh meat. Today, though, I plan to keep a shamelessly narrow focus on the “writers block” angle.

I had a wonderful vacation and I saw Finding Dory, which I very much enjoyed. At the time it washed over me as light, mostly meaningless family fun. In hindsight, I often find overarching themes woven into the everyday, as if deliberately and today, in hindsight, Finding Dory gave me the key to punching through the writer’s block.

Just keep swimming.

Whether you are a struggling writer or a Blue Tang personified a la Ellen Degeneres, the message of never giving up, even when you are stuck… well, stuck with me. If half of life is showing up, then the other half is surgically removing your butt from a couch to get there. That and knowing that if you are a shark, and if you stay grafted to a cushion, you will die – and die the slow, ironic death of choking on the stuff that was supposed to be keeping you alive.

If this post is a rant, I apologize. To be frank, I did not write it for you, dear reader. I wrote it for me. My gills are quite congested and I need to hack up some of the – water, I guess? I don’t know if sharks have sinuses – debris caught in my gills, stretch my fins and et cetera. The lull between my last blog post and now is approaching two weeks and something needs to come out of me, even if it is just waste.

I promise that next time I come to the table, dear reader, I will have found something to sink my teeth into, something that has a little more fight in it.

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The Healing Powers of Wasted Time

The term “free wheeling” never made a lot of sense to me. I guess, mostly, it was because I envisioned some sort of wheel nobody has to pay to use, which sort of fits but not really. I doubt the saying refers to some kind of buy-one-get-one-free deal on tires. This morning, while thinking about the human mind (more particularly, my human mind) I think I finally understood.

Free wheels aren’t attached to anything else and when they do start rolling, they just sort of go to their hearts content and eventually perform one of those ever long sideways spins before coming to rest flat on their side. Unlike four wheels on a car or two wheels on a bike, free wheels do not have direction or clear purpose.

Which gives meaning to another saying I am very fond of: “Driving without all four wheels on the road.” Roll these sayings together and you have a rough understanding of how the mind I was pondering this morning works. All four wheels were not on the road, because one of the wheels went off on its own and got up to shenanigans.

From the standpoint of a mechanic – these metaphors of the brain as a car are too easy – fixing this problem was easier said than done. Once, a wheel flew off my car less than ten feet from my own driveway. I remember thinking, “Really, buddy? You couldn’t have waited another minute to catastrophically disengage!?”

All this, mind you, in broad daylight in front of two moms from the neighborhood with babies in strollers and a dog on a leash. The “free wheel” shot off the car, passed them and flew down the hill right as my drivers seat slammed into the pavement.

Somehow, I was out of the car faster than Jason Bourne, streaking down the street while also giving the ladies a polite wave and I caught that tire mid roll. Grabbing the thing almost put me on my butt, but I wrangled it. The neighbor across the street had also witnessed my shame, but instead of bringing a dog, a baby or a wide eyed stare to the situation, he brought a ratchet jack.

In this instance, the car gave me plenty of warning that my tire wanted to get out there, stretch its legs and grab life by the horns. I ignored it. Awfully odd, I would muse while on the road, how the front left side of my car is always shaking. We did just remove and rotate all of my tires without the supervision of a licensed mechanic, but I’m sure it’s nothing.

It was not nothing; the lug nuts on the front left tire had not been properly tightened and, every time I drove on them, the wheel was slowly wiggling its way towards freedom. So, in this instance, I did get plenty of warning that a free wheel was imminent and squandered the wide buffer of time afforded to me.

Of course, the reality does not quite measure up to the metaphor. Let me tell you, when you lose a wheel IRL, you will not get more than, say, two feet before you start plowing asphalt. You would be amazed how far your mental power steering will take you before you feel so much as a shake.

By the time the frame does buck, that wheel could be hundreds of miles behind you.

When did you lose it? Is it still rolling – or has it spun itself to a stop, like a top –  and what pried it off the axle in the first place? The past few days, nightmares had intruded upon my sleep and began grinding my gears, to keep the metaphors going.

But, for the life of me, I could not recall when or where my free wheel had discovered its independence. Sometime over the weekend. I would not say the nightmares “plagued” me, because none of them were especially scary. (Though having a gymnasium full of dodge ball enthusiasts – all acquaintances of mine – vanish into thin air while I spoke to a little boy about the recent renovations, proved oddly jarring.)

Maybe it was the two preceding dreams: one heavily influenced by a horror film I watched a few weeks ago and one where I accidentally cracked the shell of a ten foot turtle, who was my ward.

That morning, I was especially grumpy and groggy. The dreams had not been horrible, but they had robbed my rest of its restfulness. What was wrong? I pored through my car brain and, so far as I knew, things were the same as ever or better than before. Everything was in the glove compartment and I had  followed my maintenance schedule to a T.

Something was free wheeling and this is where the metaphor really starts to break down, because a mechanic has it much easier than a psychiatrist. Not that I went to a psychiatrist. I’m sort of a DIY kind of guy. Not only am I not a certified mechanic, but I try, blindly, to diagnose a machine that runs on six hundred cylinders, not six.

After lots of thinking, I decided that work stress combined with happy anticipation and the motivating pressure of maintaining a blog had made a couple of lug nuts squeak loose. Forward momentum took care of the rest. Now, to find my wheel.

Which I struggled with a little while longer. The wheel found itself in some overgrown ditch off to the side of the road, exhausted with freedom and missing its three amigos. Free wheels are often like that, striking off boldy, only to very quickly realize their limitations. Like most lost things, we do not find them any more than they find us.

It was by plain, dumb luck I happened upon the missing wheel.

As I have mentioned in one post and then another, I like Overwatch. For a week, computer troubles had taken it away and, in the proceeding days, I played catch up with my actual commitments and neglected the game further. I wanted to play, but there were bigger fish to fry.

Then, last night, I finally got back online and played a few matches with a few friends and was happy. I felt relaxed and, despite science says blue light and rigorous mental activity in the hours before bedtime are unhealthy, I was ready to lay my head down. That night I had two dreams.

In both, I played Overwatch and was absolutely on fire.

When I do these introspective posts, I usually try to include a “moral of the story” for you, dear readers. Like a show on Nick Jr., it would be nice to wrap the episode up in a bow. But I do not know what the take home lesson here is, folks, because I’m a DIY guy who does not guarantee his handiwork. I found the tire, fixed it back onto the car and am driving smoothly again. How I got there eludes me.

If you ever find yourself missing a tire, I can only advise that the tire wanted something the others did not. You will find the tire, if you retrace your steps and are willing to spend a little time in three wheel drive, so to speak, but I cannot say when or where. After you find the  tire, make it feel welcome and promise to spend more time driving roads it wants to go down. That is the best I can do.

And now, I promise, we can be done with my nauseating, extended automotive metaphors.

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Dear Microsoft: A Love Letter

Chris, a friend of mine, often argued that revision was an unnecessary step for a disciplined writer. I have to disagree, because if I had submitted the rough draft of this post, it probably would have piqued the interest of homeland security. I am trying to get more followers, but not ones who work at the Pentagon.

The first draft was a vitriolic, bubbling cauldron of snake venom mixed with battery acid, which I planned to pour through Microsoft’s smug smirk and right down their throat. As I mentioned in my last post, however, Cortana might have already shared my rough draft with the powers that be.

If you can believe it, this is tame version.

In no uncertain terms am I disgusted by Microsoft. The only thing malfunctioning worse than their moral compass is the latest failure they are trying to cram down our throats, Windows 10. But as I said above, I also love them. You’ll see why. Without further ado, here is the epic tail of my experience with Windows 10. It begins with a prologue.

— — —

A naive young man with a freshly assembled PC – courtesy of Dan, another close friend – I loved Windows 7. After having to endure Windows Vista, a horrible operating system in its own right, Windows 7 came as a breath of fresh air. It actually worked! With a pitch perfect operating system and a well built computer, my dream of being a PC gamer had come true. About a month or two later, Windows solicited a fateful offer I simply could not refuse:

Would you like to upgrade to Windows 10, for free?

The popup in the bottom right corner of my screen promised it would not only blow Windows 7 out of the water, but also bear no resemblance to Windows 8, the latest failed experiment in the Microsoft canon. Hot dog, I thought. This is too good to be true! And I was absolutely right. It was too good to be true.

I got an impulsive shotgun wedding with Windows 10, an operating system I had never so much as met for coffee, and my waking nightmare began. Our honeymoon phase lasted about two month, during which I brushed off any issues I ran across as “quirks,” ones that would certainly be fixed with updates. One of these “quirks,” however, was so glaring it could not be ignored: my audio drivers.

Windows 10 could not make heads or tails out of the sound card inside of my custom PC. I tried updating  my drivers, reinstalling my drivers and switching to the basic audio drivers which came with Windows 10. On their website, Microsoft had a lot of suggestions and none of them resolved the issue. If I wanted to switch from my headset to my speakers, I had to restart the computer and pray that resolved the issue. Frequently, it did not.

This might seem like small potatoes, but as anybody who has gone through a divorce will probably tell you, if something your spouse does bothers you at the onset, it will only get worse with time. After just two months, I wanted to divorce myself from Windows 10. I tried to call customer service (always an Indian gentleman of varying fluency and knowledge) but they were no help. I posted my question to Microsoft’s forum and a moderator gave a canned response linking me to the same page of useless suggestions I had already gone through.

It was time to go back to my soulmate, Windows 7.

But we had a problem: apparently my hard discs had been formatted in such a way I could not reinstall Windows 7. No problem, I can just reformat them, right? Wrong. When reformatting did not fix the issue, I turned apprehensively to the “delete” option. Delete everything, operating system included, from my hard disc? That’s a very large gamble.

I got on the phone with India, by which I mean customer service, who to reiterate, was always in India. So, I chatted with India and he assured me that after deleting all of the partitions on my hard disc, I would be left with a blank canvas on which to paint Windows 7. I deleted, hit the install button and received an error message to the effect of, “your hard disc still isn’t compatible, lol!😉 ”

Very distraught, I relayed this information to India, who suggested I bring my computer into a Microsoft store for “paid services.” I had some harsh words for him, but the gist was, “you’ll be fixing my computer for free.” I must have been very persuasive, because India emailed me a ticket and told me to locate my nearest Microsoft store, which was thirty minutes away and in the dead center of the Westfarms Mall.

Imagine, if you will, a man carrying a computer that is almost thirty pounds and two cubic feet  – my baby is a big, beautiful woman – through a Macy’s department store, down an escalator and into the Microsoft store, where I then waited in line for five minutes. By the time I set my cinder block of a computer down on the counter, my clothes had soaked through with sweat and, through pants, I explained my situation and produced my printout ticket.

The friendly, fluent English speaker on the other side of the counter assured me they would have Windows 7 installed within a week and I was on my merry way. Five days later I received a confirmation email and raced down to the Westfarms Mall. The same amiable techie gave me my PC and a Windows 7 disc, which I lugged back to my car.

It would take almost a full year to realize that, in this brief interaction, Microsoft had sealed my fate.

— — —

Life was good. My computer ran beautifully again and I could game, type and watch pornography in peace. But on the horizon, storm clouds swirled, merging together into a torrential downpour of hurt and troubleshooting just waiting to greet me. It began with the familiar “Upgrade to Windows 10, for free!” popup. Reflexively, I closed it.

Over time the popup began to mutate. It got bigger and  more insistent with each iteration. It began to take up the whole screen. For a whole week or two, there was no “X” in the top right corner and instead of suggesting, the popup menacingly stated, “Schedule Your Free Upgrade,” as if I had no choice in the matter. Bewildered, I went into task manager and forcibly ended the task.

The “X” box quickly reappeared in the top right corner of the popup which had become an uninvited, but tolerated guest in my house. There was, however, a catch.

I could either click “yes” to start my scheduled upgrade, or click the “X,” which would still lead to a full download and installation of Windows 10. It sounds crazy and illegal, right? No company would have the audacity to do something so blatantly misleading, right? Well, ever the innovator, Microsoft went there.

I cannot substantiate what happened next, but I swear to you, dear readers, that Microsoft deliberately sabotaged my PC.

I’m telling you Dan,” I said, panicked, into the phone. We were in a Skype call I could not carry out on my computer. Ever since the latest Windows Update, my computer would go into a deep, black screened slumber I could not awaken it from. “I did a virus scan in safe mode, tried system restore and nothing is working!”

“That’s so weird, I have Windows 7, too and this has never happened before.”

“Do you have automatic updates on,” I asked.

“Pfft, of course I don’t.”

We deliberated and eventually, at his suggestion, I went into the Systems window and found the problem: my copy of Windows 7 had somehow been deauthenticated. Dan suggested that maybe a clean install of Windows could fix all my woes and so I got ready to begin the familiar process of inserting a disc, restarting and navigating my way to “custom install.”

It was déjà vu all over again.

Just like last time, my hard disc was not formatted properly. I suspect that, in the eyes of Microsoft, there is no such thing as properly formatted. Like before,  I tried reformatting, to no avail. I looked to the “Delete” button and had a premonition. The ominous little button gave me the feeling that, whatever happened next, I would not get out of this unscathed.

Frazzled, I called up India, who had become harder to reach in the interim between my last PC debacle and now. Now, there was an endless, automated loop on Microsoft’s customer service line. A soothing, robotic voice took me by the hand, led me through a string of useless options, then thanked me for choosing Microsoft and hung up. This happened three times before I learned the trick.

The secret to defeating this trap of a system was to remain silent until Mr. Roboto got so confused he patched me through to India. With a human being on the other end of the line, I explained my situation and received advice that chilled my blood.

“Sir, what you are going to do now is that you will be deleting all of the partitions on your hard disc.”

I swallowed hard. “Are you sure – absolutely positive – this won’t screw up my computer? Because it’s happened before and -”

“No, sir. You will delete all of the partitions and this will leave the computer with one, un formatted drive, on which you will be able to install your Windows 7.”

“Okay, here goes.”

My gut screamed and plead with me not to trust this hard to understand gentleman. It reminded me I had been here and done this before and I ignored it.  I deleted the partitions, hit install and was met with the same laughing, satanic error message of old. Unlike the last time, I immediately went into a quiet, resigned rage.

“You just broke my computer,” I told him.

Very distraught, he asked what that meant. I explained. “Oh, what this means is that the Windows disc you have used is corrupted, sir. You will need to get onto your other computer and download Windows 7 to a disc or flash drive and then reinstall from this.”

I suppose all developing nations assume Americans are rich enough to own multiple of everything. I also suppose we have earned the reputation.

“I don’t have a second computer.”

“Oh….well, we could also mail you a new copy of Windows 7, but we will then need to charge you the retail price of” – I hung up.

Eventually, flying blind and aimlessly tinkering, I managed to get myself onto the internet and download Windows 7 to a USB drive. I was proud, I was excited and I was ready to fix a computer that had been down for three days at this point. I got the operating system up to speed and immediately slammed head on into a brick wall: where was my product key?

I checked the folder the techie from the Microsoft store had given me and it had an OEM number and a serial number, but no product key! Not to worry, I had run across an article online suggesting a software that could recover your product key from the registry of your computer…

Oh yeah, I thought with soul crushing bitterness. Defeat welled up in me like tears. India had me delete everything off of my PC, registry included. Whatever product key I used to have, its gone now.

After the amount of woe they had already put me through, the only logical next step was to get India back into the mix. I endured the requisite five minutes of Mr. Roboto repeating, “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that. Please, tell me how I can help you,” into the line. You can help me by shutting up. This time, India was no gentleman. He was surly, impatient and totally unintelligible.

We went back and forth, hemming, hawing and basically arguing. It turns out that Microsoft customer support exists solely for two purposes: delivering bad news and suggesting you buy something. It didn’t matter I had a Windows 7 disc issued by the Microsoft store and no numbers, OEM or serial, would fix my problem. I had to buy a new product key.

I hung up again.

We were now on day four, going on five, and I just wanted my computer back. My blog was withering on the vine, I was jonesing for Overwatch and the process of applying to jobs had come to a grinding halt. The lowest price for a Windows 7 key was about twenty five dollars off of a (legal?) site called Kinguin.com. Some of my fellow PC gamers might recognize the name; they offer suspiciously good deals on digital goods.

“Just upgrade to Windows 10,” Chris insisted.

He looked me dead in the eyes as I ranted and raved about how I hated Microsoft. Hated them for taking Windows 7 away from me, hated how they had tried to trick me into upgrading and for having the worst customer service to ever exist. I was having a tantrum.

His response was calm and sensible. “Dude, you gotta get over that. If you upgrade, you can fix your problems. I did and it’s good. They probably fixed whatever happened the first time you tried it.”

Hanging my shoulders and checking my ego at the door, I went home and began the download of Windows 10. Later the same night I installed it.

The audio drivers still don’t work. Apparently, it is a Herculean effort for Windows 10 to switch between speakers and headphones. Frankly, where do I get off, wanting to use headphones and speakers?

But I forgive you, Microsoft. Stepping back, I see the brilliance – the beauty – of the whole thing. You are truly a master of your wicked craft. I was ready to staunchly defend my computer til the bitter end. I would have gone so far as installing Linux – yes, you heard me right, Linux. But you beat me into submission.

You bested your most stubborn opponent. If you can defeat me, I have no doubt the other rebels will fall soon enough. We were living on borrowed time anyways; in your Terms of Service, you only promised to support Windows 7 until 2020. In my case, more like until 2016.

It was always going to be your way or the highway and though you are a tormentor, I can respect the grace and precision with which you drive the nails in. Of all the traits that exist, I think I admire tenacity most and you, Microsoft are truly, unabashedly, persistent. I tip you my hat.

Love,

Ryan Donovan

funny-girls-no-privacy-meme

The Bestseller Lives!

I am sure that my dedicated tribe of followers, all five of you, missed me terribly over the past week and I apologize for that. Believe me, I wanted to post – I had plenty of inspiration – but I was busy fixing a death blow rendered on my computer by Microsoft. Who, if you were wondering, I’ve unfriended.

Late last week, this tech giant squatted over my computer and unleashed such a giant digital turd that my computer was pinned beneath the smelly rubble for days while rescue workers tried tirelessly to free it. Now, I am stuck with Windows 10, so that distinct Eau De Microsoft will never fade. I’ll tell you the full story in my next post, because as unpleasant as the past few days have been, boy were they an adventure! And like all great adventures, they deserve a proper recounting.

Instead, I would like to take a brief moment to talk about internet privacy. You probably think, “Oh, so this is the appetizer before Ryan really digs into Microsoft.” Actually, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and the internet in general, deserve some leniency. Are they to blame for using the latest in technology properly, to its fullest potential and their own benefit?

Media and advertising go hand in hand. If you disagree with this – the principle of it, or the logistics behind it – then you, my friend, are kidding yourself. All advertising is information and all information is advertising. Think about Fox News vs CNN: both are “the news,” yet both are also very different takes on what constitutes “the news.” If a gay PRIDE rally happens today, one of those outlets will very extensively cover the event and promote it. The other will ask you, “what PRIDE event?”

This is advertising!

I’ll leave you, dear reader, to guess which of those two networks likes gays and which does not, but if you tune into one, you expect to hear about that rally. If you tune into the other, you expect the correspondents to push a finger firmly into each ear and start going “la la la la la” into the camera. The networks are tailoring their content to what their demographic, their marketing demographic, expects. This makes it easier for the network to push its own agenda and keeps us, their viewers, happy.

Because consumers get very upset when a product does not deliver on its promises – isn’t that right, Microsoft? Until recently, however, companies had limited means to determine what exactly their target audience wanted. They had to come up with a product and an ad campaign and cross their fingers. These companies conducted surveys and did research to determine whether the ads worked and if the product was marketable, but consumers were not at the table.

Like it or not, we are now.

We also love our seat at the table, despite all the whining, petitioning and Facebook statuses about how our information is ours. The irony. Have you ever  written a Yelp review, given a star rating on Amazon, Tweeted @ a company, or posted a Facebook status about how OMG, you just got the latest iPhone and absolutely❤ it? If so, you did not just take a seat at the table, you ordered dinner and asked to see a drink menu, too.

I get that we all hate online advertising, or the idea that prospective employers will look at our Facebook, even though they say they will not. At the same time, nobody forced any of us to give away any of this information. We volunteered it, happily.

You know that everything you put on any social media goes right to the CIA, right? Not in a secret, shady way, either. The intelligence community has long touted social media as a massive breakthrough in information gathering. Finally, instead of having to dig and pry and risk being bent across Congress’ knee and given a firm spanking, the CIA are having everything they need to know forwarded to them! If you think about the way most people use Facebook, it is already a platform for espionage, even to the layman.

Instead of having them pull out the big guns, I would rather the CIA just go through my social media. Considering this is an organization that can probably decrypt my email, use my phones as listening device and plug into an Xbox Kinect to watch me with full thermal imaging and heartbeat sensing, a social media scan is pretty tame. Since they won’t find anything, anyways, it saves me from the CIA going all 1984 on my ass.

For a society that has become used to flailing its arms and screaming every minute detail of our lives from the rooftops, when did we get so private? Its hipocracy. Look at me here, right now, writing a blog and posting it online. Do I get embarrassed when people read it? Yeah, a little, but I have to accept that if I put it out there, people will see it. Imagine if I got all huffy and told every reader, “ how dare you!? That was my private, public blog!”

Right now, I am debating which privacy settings to enable or disable on Windows 10.  Reading through the Terms of Service – because I am a sick puppy who actually reads those things – Cortana is about to learn a lot about me if I activate her. Then again, the buying and selling of my information is already an observable force in my life. Why fight it?

For example, after two Google searches, the internet is bombarding my brand new computer with Overwatch ads. Thanks Google, I thought we were bros.

In this instance, Cortana could have been a huge help. She would know the first thing I installed on Windows 10 was Battle.net for Windows, followed by Overwatch and then, only after the essentials, some superfluous things like antivirus software, a functioning browser and a word processor.

So, the next time Google, and all the other places I drop bread crumbs of personal information, got together, Cortana would have brought herself to the table, too

“Seems like Ryan is interested in Overwatch,” Google tells everyone in attendance. “I say we start blasting him with ads for it. All in favor say ‘I’.”

“Actually,” Cortana chimes in, stepping forward out of the mass of social medias and miscellaneous websites. “Ryan just installed Overwatch at some ungodly hour last night, so I think he’s good.”

It may not be what the consumer wants to hear, but Microsoft promises that Cortana can use the information you give her to help. That is not just hot air! Help advertise to you, naturally, but also to help companies figure out what you definitely are, or are not, interested in.

So maybe I will turn Cortana on and let her be my gossipy friend who I send out when rumors are flying, just to set the record straight. If everybody is already talking about me behind my back, I might as well have some input of my own.

But I will disable ads on her, because screw ads!

— — —

What do you guys think? (Again, probably all five of you.) Is all this information gathering too much, too little or just right?  Let me know in the comments below.

***Edit: Wow, you guys are amazing! 177 followers including Facebook and Twitter, not five! Still learning this whole “blogging” thing lol

22blades

You Learn A Lot When You Shave

But for almost five straight years I didn’t do it. This was fine, because my jobs didn’t really expect it and I convinced myself my beard looked “professional enough” for interviews. I’ve recently decided that not only didn’t it look “professional enough,” but that not shaving had begun doing more harm than good.

Because when you have a beard, there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes.

Women probably can’t relate to this (or maybe they can? Maybe you guys learn all kinds of things about the places you shave) but a beard makes the perfect camouflage. You don’t have to look at every last teeny, tiny pimple you have, or acknowledge that, maybe, one of those pimples left a pock mark that isn’t going anywhere. My skin has never been perfect and being able to redact almost half of its imperfections from the record brought me peace of mind.

It also doesn’t fix the the problem and, honestly, shields those problems from all your attempts to deal with them. Like little monsters from the black lagoon, the zits and infected pores just dive deeper when you try to wash, exfoliate and steam them. The beard becomes a shield not just for your frail self esteem, but for the thing attacking your self esteem. Its total complexion anarchy!.

On the plus side, my beard was squeaky clean and very well nourished. It was sopping up coconut oil twice a day like like a slob and leaving nothing at the table for my skin. When the time finally did come to shave, things got ugly.

Nevermind that I completely forgot how to shave. I ended up staring at the rotary razor like a caveman with an electric can opener and, like the caveman, nearly threw it in fright the second the thing turned on. When I did get up the nerve to press this three bladed buzzsaw to my face, it didn’t shave so much as rip.

Right, I reminded myself, trim your beard down first.

So I used the handy, flip up trimmer on the back of the razor, cut down all the hair and realized this wouldn’t make me feel sexy. I could already see some red bumps peeking out of the stubble. But I had come this far, so I carried on and gave myself a very timid, nearly half hour shave. My skin felt raw and chapped, looked pale where the beard had been, and was dotted – modestly! – with acne.

And the ingrown hairs! Another twenty minutes with the tweezers and I had weeded most of these seedy elements out of the neighborhood. If I had remember to pull my skin taught as I shaved, there wouldn’t be red razor burn along my jawline, making me look like I had just endured an unsuccessful hanging. The hairs I had plucked, in an attempt to spite me, only left more raised, inflamed bumps.

Onto the next step: witch hazel for aftershave.

Ouchie, but I was almost out of the woods. Scooping a generous amount of coconut oil, I slathered it on  and began to feel a little better. The toner hadn’t polled well with my pores, but the coconut oil was bringing the numbers back up. More importantly, I could see and feel the irritation abating.

For a week I had to suffer through this routine. Just go back to living the lie, I thought whenever I would bring out the dreaded razor. You used to be so happy! Instead, I carried on. According to Google, your face needs time to acclimate itself to close encounters of the sharp, spinning kind and repetition is the key – much like everything in life that’s neither fun nor easy…

Eventually, I acclimated. In the second week, I noticed things starting to come to a head and found that the man behind the curtain really wasn’t a big deal; my skin gradually got tougher and smooth to the touch; my cheeks stopped feeling like they had been waxed; I stopped looking like a Himoru Mansion tour guide. (I apologize, that’s a shamefully obscure reference to the video game Fatal Frame and poor gallows humor, to say the least.)

Though I still focused on my every, ruddy flaw, people around me liked this new look and the truth finally came out, like a well established zit.

Not only was the beard not “professional enough,” it turned out to be a sad, scraggly excuse of a beard. Everybody but me knew this to be fact, they just didn’t have the heart to say anything. I wonder how many jobs I lost because I showed up to the interview with that well manicured, but very patchy thing? I wonder if the few pockmarks I do have could have been nipped in their festering buds?

I guess the take home lesson is that when you have a problem, don’t grow a beard over it! Man up, or woman up, and shave!