Category Archives: geekery

Halloween Costumes

Alright, I’m going to get soapboxey here.   I don’t think little girls should be dressing up as Harley Quinn for Halloween.   It sends all the wrong messages, encourages all the wrong behaviors and sexualizes them way to early.

“But Sean!   It’s Halloween.  If we follow that logic, kids, even girls, can’t dress up as zombies, Jason, Freddy, werewolves or mad scientists.  Get off your soapbox and rethink your position!”

You’re right…I can’t decry all the Harleys and allow the slasher-flick characters.  Well, I can, with some explanation.  First, I need you to do an image search of Harley Quinn.  I’ll wait.    Ok, THAT is what I’m talking about.  If you’re 21 and hitting a club like that, more power to you.   If you’re 9…no.

Let’s take a look at the character of Ms. Quinn.  She was the Joker’s psychotherapist, fell in love with him, helped him escape and was treated truly horrible by him at every turn…only to fight even harder for his attention.  Everyone who every loved someone who treated them like crap and kept going back; she’s that times one million.   The version of Ms. Quinn that girls are dressing as is portrayed by Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad.  As good as Ms. Robbie is in the character (note: I haven’t seen the film, but what I have seen and been told, she’s FANTASTIC) she’s eye candy and exists, at least partially, to be gorgeous and lusted after by male characters.

Hey, I’m a dude, I like a beautiful woman just as much as the next guy.  This isn’t about objectifying adult women.

So, you have your 5th grader dressed as Ms. Quinn in her “Daddy’s Little Monster” tshirt (shudder) and pigtails and shorts and smudged makeup and baseball bat.  THINK ABOUT THAT!!!!   Is it not just the least bit creepy?   Anyone who knows the character is going to think of (in some order) her appearance in the film, her truly damaged psyche and that she’s essentially a battered lover with no self-esteem.

Really???   That’s appropriate?

“Um, Sean…is a werewolf, devil or axe murderer appropriate?”  

Yes, in context.   Not many of us are going to be identified by our horns, bloody aprons, chainsaws or rotting flesh.  Ok, a lot us dudes are going to have to deal with back hair, but that’s really very minor compared to what women will have to deal with.  These little girls are going to grow up being judged by appearance..and the more attractive they are, the better.   In too many ways, the things that identify Harley aren’t the things we want our girls to least identify with…especially at a young age.

“Why is it ok for boys to be violent characters but girls can’t be ‘sexy’ characters?”

Yeah, I know.  Part of it is our culture.  As a child you probably see mom or dad, brother or sister naked in a non-sexual way.    You (hopefully) don’t see Mom hack up the neighbor with an axe, or Dad turn into a wolf and eat someone.   Go to a movie and you’ll see people killing each other in ever more creative and violent ways, but a glimpse of skin is forbidden.

A few years ago there was a backlash against the Disney Princesses and how they were (up till not too long ago) passive characters in their own stories who were waiting for a prince.   Then came Mulan, Merida, Tianna, Rapunzel, Anna and Elsa; quite the opposite of damsels in distress waiting for a man to save them.  I TOTALLY get that!    As the dad of two girls, I want nothing more than for them to be self-sufficient.  Not in the man-hating “I don’t need you and all your Neanderthal habits” way, but in the “I can take care of myself.” way.

So where were these characters?   I saw some princesses (note: I’ll lump all princesses together as a relative positive role model) and the usual cats, hotdogs and hippies.  Didn’t see too many Reys or Supergirls.  Wonder Woman and Agent Carter were missing in action.  Unscientifically, I think there were just as many Harley Quinns as all female heroes combined.

Moms and Dads….pay attention.  The hearts and minds of our daughters are being won over by all the wrong characters.   We can, and need to do better.

*steps of his soapbox and goes back to his day*

 

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Black Widow IS a Monster: My Opinion

Alright folks, I’m wading into the deep in here.   Wish me luck.

The internet has been ablaze in the last week over Marvel’s new film, Avengers: Age of Ultron.  Several news outlets, blogs and the unwashed masses of Twitter have gotten all bunched up over the way Black Widow, Natasha Romanov is portrayed in the film.  The list of crimes accuses Marvel and Joss Whedon of giving female heroes less attention, making them secondary characters, and, in Romanov’s case, placing motherhood and monsterhood as opposite ends of the female spectrum.

I’ll admit they have some valid points on the first two criticisms.  I wish there were more female heroes for my girls to look up to. I also wish comics would dress them better.  I’m not of fan of how hyper-sexualized women are in comics, but at least the men are drawn with physiques just as unattainable.  (For real, I have pretty muscular legs and I can’t get my quads and hamstrings to ripple through chainmail.)

I have to challenge them on the last argument though.

To set the scene for the debate: (spoilers for the movie from here on out).    Black Widow is shown to have some level of control over the Hulk, a beauty and the beast dynamic.   At an afterparty, Romanov and Banner (the humans behind the heroes) have a romance beginning with Romanov as the aggressor.  She’s the take charge, confident one, while Banner is befuddled, shy and introverted.  They’re both holding secrets.   He pushed people away because of his habit of turning into a giant green rage monster.   Her spy training required her to do things that would have an effect on anyone, let alone a teenage girl.

Later, she presses him.   He barks that a relationship is a bad idea.  He can’t give her a family, can’t ever be safe, can’t ever be in complete control of his rage.   ANY father can empathize.  How many times have you lost your cool?   What if that meant turning into the Hulk?  Yeah, not a good situation.   She replies by opening herself up in a way nobody could see coming.  She was trained from a very, very young age (7?  8?) to be a KGB spy.  We’ve seen what the Black Widows are capable of (it ain’t pretty.)  As part of her ‘graduation’, she was surgically sterilized to “make sure nothing could even come before the mission.”   Banner is shocked, the audience is shocked.   As a young girl, not only was she made to be a killer, but a future that many of us would call the norm, was taken away from her.  She finishes by saying ‘you’re not the only monster on this team.”

Those 8 words set off the internet.  The argument is that her inability to be a mother makes her a monster.

That’s a load of bull!

They took away her ability to have a child.  They didn’t take away her ability to nurture, care and parent.  We actually see some of this with the Hulk.   Her ‘mothering’ instincts are on display with Hawkeye’s family, her relationship with Hawkeye in the first film, and I’d argue in every scene where she holds her own with the Avengers.   Come on, you’ve got a literal Norse god, a super soldier, a billionaire genius playboy: it’s amazing she’s not growing a beard being around that much testosterone!!!!

They took away her ability to have a child because seduction is part of the job.  You don’t want a bunch of pregnant super spies running around.  You also don’t want them prioritizing the pregnancy, a birthday, a soccer game, over the next mission.

 

So why is she a monster?

 

It’s a sum of everything.   It’s the psychological damage inflicted upon her as part of her training.  It’s the lengths she’s willing to goto,  to get what she needs.   It’s the the idea that since 7 or 8 years old she was cuffed to a bed every night, trained to kill, to fight, to manipulate and lie.  She wasn’t a person all this time, she was a tool of the government.   She can be anything she needs to be in order to complete the mission.

We’d all love to be a Norse God, a physically perfect human, or have the genius to build a flying suit of armor.  Would any of us want to cause millions in damage when we lose our temper, like Banner?   Would any of us want to be Black Widow?   Would any of us want to have to fight to get past that kind of baggage???   NO!  No way at all!  Romanov and Banner are monsters because of the monster they fight to control.   His is just easier to spot when it gets out.

So in that scene, she’s letting him know that he’s not alone.  He’s got someone on the team who knows exactly what he feels, and why.   They’ve got more in common with one another than they have with anyone else on the team.  Thor and Cap are incapable of being anything worse than insufferable good guys.  Stark is a jerk, but he owns it and tries to channel it into good things.  Hawkeye just wants to go home to his family and convert the dining room into an office for his wife.

These are issues Banner and Romanov WISH they had.

Agree?  Disagree?  Are you Joss Whedon?   Let me know in the comments.

 

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How I Can Read your Old Text Messages; Pictures and all

If you paid any attention to the internet over the past few days, you’re aware of a pretty big celebrity hack.   A lot of blame has been passed around, Apple and ICloud, the celebs themselves, and others.   The thing is, Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence are different than you in one important way in this case:  more people want to see them naked, than want to see you naked.

What you do on your device with your significant other is your business.   If you put it on someone else’s server, there’s always the chance it could get out.  Doing a bit of research, it’s really frightening easy.   Follow me here.

Let’s say I’m a creep and I know you.   Maybe we work together, see each other at the local bar, or say hi at the gym.   I can stalk you on Facebook.  Come on people, we all do it…you know EXACTLY how much info there is about you on Facebook.  I find your profile, and you’ve locked it down pretty tight, except for your email address.   It’s a gmail or yahoo address.  Safe bet, you’ve reused that address for multiple logins.  Maybe iCloud?

Time for me to get to work.  Head over to iCloud, put in your email address and say I forgot your password.  SCORE!   I get taken to your security questions.   Mother’s maiden name?   Back to Facebook…look, your mom is your friend and she uses her maiden and married names.  You also tagged a picture at the family reunion with your uncle, who has the same last name your mom used to have.   Next question iCloud?   Street you grew up on.  Hmmm….where does Mom live?  Lets try that.  No luck…any #TBT pics?  “Me and the Fifth St crew, circa 4th grade”

I’m now into your entire Apple account.  With a couple of free tools online, I can download and open all your backed up phone and ipad files.  Those texts you sent to your SO late at night, and didn’t delete till the morning?  I got them.  Those pics you deleted.   Yeah, iCloud backed them up before you could delete them.   And what’s this?  Your contacts list?   Sweet!  You have some hot friends and I have all their email addresses now.  I also NEVER needed your password.

I use iCloud as an example, but Google, Dropbox, they’re all similar.

It’s called Social Engineering and the best passwords and security fail time and again.   Kevin Mitnick, a famous ‘hacker’ used to have a great trick to get into company networks.  He wrote a little program that created a login id for him on their network.   He put it on a floppy disc with the name “salaries.xls” or something similarly irresistible. He’s go to the company, talk to a secretary, security, anyone he could find and ‘accidentally’ leave the disc behind.   Soon, he was in.

How do you protect yourself?

First, like I said, you’re probably not Kate Upton.   Not as many people are trying to hack your stuff.  You can breathe a little easier.

Second, use 2 factor authentication.  Most services offer it, and what it does is give you a second level of security.  With iCloud, it sends a code to your phone or ipad that you have to use to complete the password change or recovery process.  It’s strong, but not 100% foolproof.

Third, don’t ever put your information in the security questions.   Put someone else’s.   Got a best friend, share security questions.  Got a favorite celeb?  Use theirs.  If you’ve got a great memory, make one up out of the blue:  Frothingsloshenton.   Nobody is going to guess that.

Fourth, be prepared for the worst.   There’s ALWAYS the chance someone’s going to get into your stuff.  Don’t reuse logon ids too much, and definitely not with financial stuff.  Yeah, its embarrassing if Reddit sees those ‘zesty’ pics you sent to your boyfriend, but it’s a real problem if someone can get into your back account and start making transfers.

Finally, accept that privacy is changing and you have to change with it.   If someone wants to break into your house, they’re going to, no matter how many locks you have and how great an alarm system.  Does that mean to never leave the house?  No.   Just be smart about how you secure your data and services.   You can’t eliminate the risk, but you can do a lot to lessen it.

For more ways, and another horror story on securing your online account, check this out.

 

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We need to Own our Technology Again!

When I was a kid, Radio Shack was the coolest store. I didn’t understand most of what I saw, but there were parts for electronics and computers and stereos all over. You didn’t have to buy a computer, you could BUILD IT. Keep in mind, this was the late 70’s and early 80’s when the homebrew computer movement was still alive to a degree. People just knew how to do things like solder and measure amps and volts and manipulate them to make LEDs glow.

Quick, how many people under 50 do you know, who even own a soldering gun?

Sad isn’t it? I know the world has changed and computing has changed, but look at what’s happened to us! 30 years ago, if your radio broke, you either fixed it yourself or took it to someone who could. If your phone breaks today, what happens? Judging by the number of people I see with cracked screens, you suck it up and live with it till your contract is up. There are places that will do the repairs. often for a sizable amount. We’ve chosen to either live with it or dispose of it.

I ran into this decision last week when my iPhone stopped charging. Paying $600 for a new one was out of the question. I could get my old 3G up and running and have a phone for the next 6 weeks. I could do without. I could get the charging port replaced for about $100.

I didn’t like any of these. So I hit up YouTube and found this video.  Wow…that looked so easy!    I hit Amazon for some parts, new charging port for $5 and a new batter for $20, plus the tools.   For less than $30 I’d have the parts to replace my charger AND my 2 year old battery that never seemed to last long enough.   But, could I do it???

Yup.   Took about an hour, but the phone was back up and running and working just as it had been.  Charges, has a better (still not great) battery life, and reaffirms to me that our electronics should NOT be disposable.

There’s movement out there:  The Makers.  In a lot of ways, it reminds me of what I thought Radio Shack was…a bunch of people buying cool looking parts to make their stuff do even cooler stuff.  What it really is, though, is owning their technology and not being afraid of it.   Most of us took basic electronics in school, and promptly were encouraged to forget it because Mom and Dad were NOT going to let you crack open the VCR or brand new computer running Windows 3.1.  Schools don’t offer much more…unless your on a vo-tech plan.

Heck, if it weren’t for my Dad and 7th grade wood shop, I wouldn’t know how to use a table saw, router or drill press.

Ok, I’m trailing from my point.    Not everyone has the courage to crack open their phone and fix the insides.   But more of us should.  It’s not difficult; the internet makes it easier that it would have been 30 years ago (no circuit diagrams to figure out.)  If you don’t want to, you should know someone willing to.   There used to ALWAYS been that guy who could fix radios and toasters, etc.   Where are they now?

Break the upgrade cycle.  Break the disposable device cycle.  Break your device and learn how to fix it.   You’ll be a better person for it!

 

 

 

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PA Spartan Race: 2014 Thoughts

Sometimes, you need to sit on things awhile before you comment on them.   This year’s Palmerton Spartan Race is one of them.

IMG_1270Holy Crap on the Cracker!

One does not simply do a Spartan Race.  If you’ve done a Warrior Dash, the local YMCA mudrun, and a couple of benefit 5ks, you can finish a Spartan Sprint….but it will have its way with you.  Just being clear here…these things are tough.

This was my 4th race and  I knew what to expect.   Spartan Race has a ‘be prepared for anything’ attitude, and they mean it.   There’s always a new obstacle or 3, different layout of the course, and fun ‘challenges’ along the way…you know, like hiking for 2 miles up a double diamond ski slope.   You get to the top and breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all downhill from there.  No, no it’s not.  It never is.  You’re going to descend through highly technical terrain, get wet, get muddy, scare yourself (if you’re lucky) and finish with the right to be REALLY obnoxious about it for at least a week.

Spartan Race, to me, has trouble balancing the “We want to get people off their couches” philosophy, with the “THIS RACE ISN’T HARD ENOUGH.  IMO DRAG A TIRE WITH ME” meatheads.   Some volunteers seem to want to mess with you, and they suck the fun right out of the race.   There’s one punk with a megaphone at the bucket o’rocks carry who was asking for an airborne bucket of rocks in his direction.  Then there were the volunteers yelling “You’re not going to do burpees on this.  You’re going to make it over, you can do it.”  They’re also cagey with the exact distance of the race.  Advertised as 3+ miles, I’ve been told everything from 4.9 to 5.5 miles.

None of the obstacles were THAT difficult.  I bailed on the rope climb because I was just SO tired.   I landed the spear for the second year in a row (my trick, just. throw. hard.)   The Hercules Hoist was a real challenge:  For a brief moment I wasn’t sure I could do it.  I’m disappointed there was no water slide this year.   The Tire Pull was fun.

I took issue with the cargo net monkey bars at the end.  You’re suspended about 10 feet over water (maybe 3 feet deep?) and mud.  Hand over hand it across the cargo net and ring the bell; then drop.    First, that’s a scary drop.  I wonder how many injured ankles came out of there.  Second: it’s one of the last obstacle in a very tough race.  It’s where the spectators are….you don’t want to fail in front of your family.  When I let go, I was mad at myself and Spartan Race.  Finally, if most people are failing the obstacle, AND the obstacle is at the end, maybe it’s not right for the homestretch.

I limped to the finish line thanks to some leg cramps.  Surprisingly, I saw a TON of people with cramps this year.   I emptied my Camelbak twice, had 3 GU packs plus electrolyte tabs.   I was greeted with a medal (1/3 of the Trifecta medal is attached this year), plenty of water, bananas, power bars, protein shakes and my lovely wife, daughter, and good friends Ed and Darlene.

Spartan Race needs to beef up their after-race party.   Props on the choice NOT to make the free beer Miller Lite (like last year.)   They have to give people a reason to stick around afterwards, though.  They need a better party/festival atmosphere.   For spectators, I’m told it’s brutal.  Once you check out the handful of vendors, there’s NOTHING to do.  For the price we pay, and the fact there’s a steep spectator fee, there really should be something more than  ‘watch out for the muddy people.’

Am I doing it again?  Of course.   That feeling at the finish line energizes you in a way you have to experience to understand.   I’m a Spartan, and that means something to me.

Arooo!

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PS:  Check out my Spartan Race 2014 Video

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Wine Snob Training

This past weekend, my wonderful wife and I celebrated out 10th wedding anniversary in NY’s Finger Lakes region.  We hit many of the local wineries, had an amazing time, and picked up some fun memories.   A lot of the wineries tend to blur together…partially due to the wine, but partially due to how they don’t really stand out from one another.   But, there were a few and I’m going to digress from the usual tech and fitness stuff and sprinkle in a few posts about wineries that really stood out for us.

Maybe it’s because I’m a trainer, maybe it’s how I’m wired; I’m always looking at how information is conveyed.  I’m observing how I or the crowd is being taught.  I got to see it done brilliantly at Silver Thread Vineyard.

You’ve heard people say “I don’t like wine” or “I only like red wine.”   You’ve probably also seen a stereotypical wine snob taste a wine and tell you where the grapes were grown, the type of soil, etc.  Silver Thread helps get you past the first, and strangely enough on the path to being the second!

How?  A Riesling Flight!

wine_flight

One of their options is to taste 4 of their Rieslings, each from a different vineyard.  One vineyard has a lot of mineral content, another is close to the lake, another is from a commercial vineyard and I don’t recall what (if anything) was unique about the other.

If you say you don’t like wine, chances are you haven’t had it in the right circumstances.  You had cheap stuff, maybe someone’s grandfather’s homemade jet fuel (not that THAT’S a bad thing), or one of the big 3 out of California: Chardonnay, Cabernet and Merlot.   (I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of Cabs or Merlot.  I thought I wasn’t a wine drinker because of them.)

When you taste the first Riesling, you taste Riesling; usually a bit sweet, crisp like a tart apple, maybe some pear flavors or a floral aroma.  Then you taste the next and HEY!   How’s that a Riesling from here when it’s clearly a different wine!?!?   That’s where the magic starts to happen.  You taste the first again…Hmm, this is almost citrusy where (sipping the second) this one isn’t.  Maybe it’s the minerals you’re tasting?  Move onto the third.  Okay, now you’re just completely messing with me!

You just tasted 4 of the exact same wine variety, from the same winery, but from different vineyards.  You can taste the difference from vineyard to vineyard and know why they taste that way.   You’re on the path to being a wine snob.   Never thought THAT would happen, did you?  When you think about it, it does make sense.  Do all burgers taste the same?  Does every vanilla ice cream taste exactly the same?  No, and why should wines?

Silver Thread is a small winery that does a huge service to its customers; it teaches them something about wine.   So many wineries shuffle you through like cattle, giving you whatever they can pour as fast as they can pour, it’s a treat to visit a place that wants to make good wine and good wine drinkers.

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Do We Hate our Heroes?

“I’ll give them heroics. I’ll give them the most spectacular heroics the world has ever seen! And when I’m old and I’ve had my fun, I’ll sell my inventions so that *everyone* can have powers. *Everyone* can be super! And when everyone’s super… (chuckle) no one will be.”

~Syndrome.  The Incredibles

Among my circle of friends, Man of Steel has created a LOT of discussion.  The common thread was a lack of ‘heart’.  All the parts were there, but it committed the sin of taking itself too seriously.  Make no mistake, the plot, characters and motivations were spot on.  The direction was solid.   It was just so serious.   Not a giggle, not a laugh, just bleakness.

This is a story about our ideal; a man with god-like powers who is completely uncorrupted by it.

We hate that and we have to bring it down.   Have we stopped looking up at what we can be and instead look up to see what we can pull down to our level?

Don’t believe me?   Read the news.   Who are our heroes?   Do we have any left?  While I don’t condone making sports figures heroes based on their actions on the field, do we have any left?    We’ve got a few hundred thousand (maybe more) military heroes, and we don’t cover their heroics.  We cover PTSD, the ones who crack, the ones who failed in their homecoming.   Go watch TV; the big shows, Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, A Game of Thrones.   The heroes aren’t always good guys, the bad guys aren’t always bad, and message is just so muddied.  Writing this, I can’t think of any ‘common’ literary heroes.

Even listen to a DC fan and a Marvel fan argue?  “DC heroes are too powerful, they’re boring, Marvel heroes are flawed, like the rest of us.”   “Marvel heroes forget about the joy of being a hero…I worry about paying the rent, I don’t want to read about Spiderman not making ends meet.”   Let’s not forget that it too FOUR X-men films before you saw characters showing off their powers to one another for fun.  Make Batman suffer, make him the villain in Gotham City!  Strip ’em of all but the pain…that’s what we want to see.

Is it the economic conditions of the past few years?   Is it a 24 hour news cycle that requires something newsworthy every 20 minutes?  Is it the peanut gallery dynamic of the internet? Is it the reality of “everyone gets a medal’?  Everyone gets to be ‘super’, so that no one really is.  When someone truly is a hero, it makes us uncomfortable, makes us question ourself…and we hate feeling like someone’s better than us.

Screw that.   Someone’s always better.  We need them to be!   If there’s any hope for our society, we need to have role models…we need to have people who do the things that make them better than the average folk.  We need to have someone who us what we can be!  Will they have human failings, absolutely!   Will they be a shining beacon of purity in all facets of their being?  No way.  Will they show us how strength, courage and hope can guide you out of the darkness?  You bet.

Do we hate our heroes?   I want to think we don’t.   I want to think that we hate the parts of us that don’t measure up, and choose to close that gap by finding common ground, or some flaw we can exploit  Sour grapes, nothing more.  “Nobody can be THAT successful in athletics without steroids.”  “All those stories were written when he was high as a kite.”   “Clark Kent is how Superman sees humanity.”

Heroes are our goals.   For anyone that’s EVER achieved ANYTHING, was it possible without a goal?

“Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed. Always hold in your heart the pride of your special heritage. They can be a great people, Kal-El, they wish to be. They only lack the light to show the way.”

~Jor-El, Superman

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