This Month's Reading - April 2015

Haven't read all that many pages this month. Still pecking away at the three tomes I've started, Don Quixote, Plutarch's Lives, and The Bible, but most of my time this month has been taken with trying to earn some Microsoft Certifications. Well, that and I discovered Marvel Heroes, which is like Diablo, but with Spider-Man. Naturally, a lot of my time disappeared. However, I did read a number of very short works, starting with two classics of youthful fantasy, Ursula K Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea and CS Lewis's Out of the Silent Planet.

Reading the two together makes a good case study in the two ways to go about world building. Namely, the right way and the wrong way. Le Guin is a grand master of world building. The world of Earthsea is patiently, enthrallingly constructed. Full of cultures and peoples, histories and mysteries. Her story exists fully inside the world she has constructed. Conversely, the world of Malacandra presented by Lewis is constructed the wrong way round. It is a world that exists solely for the sake of the story he wants to tell. The peoples and cultures are thin, transparently constructed things made to allow Lewis the chance to rattle off his social critique. Which is not to say Out of the Silent Planet is bad. The adventure is not entirely spoiled by Lewis's cloying moral lessons and his writing is frequently fantastic, particularly the segments describing intersolar space not as a cold, dead place but rather filled with light and heat. A beautiful synthesis of language and actual science. But, unfortunately, while space might not be his world comes across as rather cold and lifeless, particularly when compared against Le Guin's living, breathing worlds.

In addition to those two I started on some classics. This month, drunk off my first paycheck, I purchased the complete Penguin Little Black series. A set of 80, tiny books released by Penguin in celebration of their 80th Anniversary.  Comprised of poetry, short stories, and selections from larger works, each Little Black books is only about 60 pages. So as a fun, long term project I decided to read the whole set in chronological order. Since no Mesopotamian or Egyptian texts were included that means starting with the Greeks, and I've so far read the selections of Homer, Aesop, and Sappho. The Homer collected here is a couple short selections from The Odyssey, and Odysseus's wild antics are as entertaining as ever. Included here is the time he got a guy drunk, told him his name was Nobody, then stabbed him in the eye. Those wacky Greek sailors.
The short little parables of Aesop are surprisingly depressing. The ancient world was far less forgiving than ours. Many revolve around people having natural characteristics that cannot be changed. According to Aesop wicked people are born wicked and cannot be changed, and great peoples are simply born great and we should not waste time trying to join them. It's a perspective at odds with our cultures devotion to the ideals of redemption and personal growth. But, sometimes I worry that in some ways the ancients were closer to the truth than ourselves. Perhaps redemption and growth are comforting lies and we're more prisoners of our character than we like to believe. Maybe, but I think not.
Finally, Sappho. You may know her as the lady who gave lesbians their name after her lady-on-lady poetry so shocked the Victorians who rediscovered it. Strangely they didn't give the orientation her name, but rather that of her home island of Lesbos, although Sapphic is still an adjective for what you'd expect. In a more sensible world the term probably would have gone to bisexuality since at least a couple of her poems are about hot dudes, but I guess the Victorians really only focused on the bits that made them drop their monocles.

This Month's Reading - March 2015

As I Lay Dying by Faulkner. Great book. What really stuck out to me was the more ruminating, philosophical segments. Faulkner tackles some big questions. The nature of identity, the existence of a reality outside our perception, the tenuous connection between the present and the past. But, what makes it remarkable is that he does so entirely through the mindset and limited vocabulary of his characters. It's incredible to see such heady concepts wrapped in such simple language. Segments like this one, where Darl contemplates the imminent death of his mother Addie:

"In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I don't know what I am. I don't know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not. Beyond the unlamped wall I can hear the rain shaping the wagon that is ours, the load that is no longer theirs that felled and sawed it nor yet theirs that bought it and which is not ours either, lie on our wagon though it does, since only the wind and the rain shape it only to Jewel and me, that are not asleep. And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is. How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home."

The Story of Philosophy, Will Durant's little tour through the nine most important thinkers in the philosophic tradition, at least according to Durant. I really like this book. Highly recommended. The only caveat is that one does have to keep in mind that it was written in the 1920's and there is occasional bit of sexism or Eurocentrism. But, if one simply ignores those, the vast majority is fantastic. For each of the nine philosophers Durant gives a brief biography, about two chapters explaining their key theories, then gives a concluding summary and criticism. To summarize his summaries, the nine are:
Plato: Durant spends most of his time on The Republic, Plato's effort to imagine a perfect society. There are many objections and holes that can be found with the society Plato proposes, Durant zeroes in with accuracy on the fact that it has no room for change, but in essence it is the dream that society would run by its wisest members. Philosophers would spend millennia repeating that wish in different words.
Aristotle: The eternal moderate, Aristotle's pragmatic solution to Plato's eternal questioning of ethics is the simple golden mean. Considering ethics now solved, Aristotle mostly focused on the natural world, and for that we owe him thanks. He brought philosophical attention away from lofty ideals and toward actually trying to make sense of the universe. Unfortunately, he never overcame his aristocratic aversion to actual work and so while he was a great observer and categorizer he never bothered to test any of his theories. Coupled with centuries of dogmatic devotion to his erroneous conclusions this leaves him with a legacy that is, at best, a mixed blessing.
Francis Bacon: The true founder of modern science as the first to truly call for rigorous testing and questioning of beliefs before reaching any conclusions. Perhaps best summed up with his own words, "if a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin in doubts he shall end in certainties."
Spinoza: A slippery one to summarize. Durant has trouble with it and so I, going off only his summary, have very little to offer. But, what I understand to be the basic gist of his philosophy, or perhaps just the starting point to it, is that universe and God are one and the same, and that good and evil are just human prejudices arising from a lack of total understanding.
Voltaire: The great satirist and tireless destroyer of superstition. More of a destroyer of other, tyrannical philosophies than a creator of new ones. The only philosophy he truly advanced was one of basic freedom and dignity. Though, as always, anyone advancing such a radical agenda as that has an uphill battle.
Kant: The master of obfuscation, Kant's philosophy is famously buried under his convoluted grammar and invented jargon. Durant thankfully unearths it to reveal a clever response to David Hume's idea that consciousness is little more than a bundle of sensations pressed upon it by the outside world. Kant's main point is that the mind is not a tabula rasa written on by the world, but is an active agent fitting these sensations into categories. As for where these categories come from, Kant argued that they are innate, permanent and eternal features of the mind. Modern thought would tell us that these categories are built by experience from infancy onward, both ours personally and the species as a whole.
Schopenhauer: The world is will. This is Schopenhauer's central point. By will Schopenhauer means the mass of drives and desires that lies underneath conscious thought. That is his big idea and lasting legacy. That humanity is not after all ruled by thought, thought is only a tool we use to justify and satisfy our unconscious desires. It was a big idea, and an important one, though Schopenhauer runs it into pessimistic extremes. Also, this section is perhaps Durant's largest failing in the book. He spends pages calling Schopenhauer out on his undue pessimism, but moves past his radical misogyny completely without comment.
Spencer: Hugely influential in his time but almost instantly forgotten, Spencer's great work was to frame all of existence into a generalized evolutionary model. The idea that all things work upward from nebulous beginnings to complexity and eventual dissolution. The planet forms, life begins, intelligence develops, society emerges, then, eventually, all these things dissolve only to someday to be reconstituted into new and perhaps greater complexity. Remarkably, Spencer came up with the basis of this theory before Darwin, built on a Lamarkian basis, and is the true creator of the phrase "survival of the fittest." Tragically his very compelling theory was used by others as the basis for the crushing ideology of Social Darwinism.
Nietzsche: Advocated the necessity of struggle and pain as the key to improvement and ennoblement and called for an increase of these things in society. While enthralling, thanks largely to Nietzsche's considerable literary talent, ultimately the world has more than enough struggling and pain without anyone's advocacy for their necessity. Only self hating members of the privileged few, like Nietzsche, could think otherwise.

The Tao of Architecture by Amos Ih Tiao Chang. Turns out this book was originally titled The Existence of Intangible Content in Archetronic Based Upon the Practicality of Laotzu's Philosophy, and boy does it read like it. Steven Pinker talks about what is dubbed the 'Classical Style' of writing nonfiction. As he puts it the goal is to write as if you are addressing a friend of yours and merely wish to draw their attention to something they may have overlooked. Carl Sagan was a master of this style. This book is about as far from the Classical Style as you can get. This is some dense, obfuscating, pointlessly complex prose I have ever seen. Sentences like "Expression of composite association in architectural space requires denial of dissociable characteristics."
Why did I keep at it even though its scant 70 pages feel like 700? Because buried underneath his writing Chang has some good ideas in here. Like the simple observation that we instinctively turn away from featureless solids, like blank walls, but are drawn to empty fields of view, such as open fields or long corridors. The attraction of void. As he puts it, in one of his most lucid passages, "In emptiness and beyond emptiness, there is unfulfillment of expectation or curiosity to suggest definite direction ... Unreal as emptiness is thought to be, it serves as the reminder of direction."

This Month in Reading - February 2015

I was able to do a good amount of reading this month, which marks the end of my almost full year of funemployment. A period that included about five months spent exploring Europe, three months visiting family and friends and celebrating the great holidays of Thanksgiving and Festivus, plus two months looking for a job when not indulging hobbies. Sadly, this, my first post, may be my longest. I only got the idea to reflect on my reading now that I won't have as much time to do so.

This month I read The Death of Ivan Illych and Other Stores. Barnes and Noble's slim little paperback collection of Tolstoy stories. It begins with Family Happiness, one of Tolstoy's earlier works written in 1859, and then jumps to the eponymous Death of Ivan Illych and The Kreutzer Sonata, both written in the 1880s, before finishing Hadji Murad, Tolstoy's final story written in 1912. It's remarkable how different the later stories are from Family Happiness. All display Tolstoy's unique genius for perfectly capturing the looping, paradoxical nature of human thought and feeling. But, Family Happiness feels more true, more honest than the later works. It was written before Tolstoy's spiritual awakening of the 1870's, before he became deeply devoted to an ascetic, pacifistic way of life. While there is much to be admired about these beliefs, indeed they were an inspiration to Gandhi and MLK among others, it seems to me they had a negative impact on his fiction. The later stories are notably more moralistic, more obviously pushing forward a set of beliefs, and also notably more fatalistic. Ivan Illych seems to take the positive attitude toward the transformative power of death that only the faithful can identify with, and The Kreutzer Sonata is a penetrating analysis of the pain and suffering that's bound with love and lust but presents abstinence as the solution to this. It's surprising that Tolstoy, with his genius for understanding human nature, would preach such impossibilities.
But, to circle back just a little, I have nothing but praise for Family Happiness. A beautiful meditation on the stages of life and the elusive nature of happiness, and simply one of the greatest pieces of fiction ever written. I recommend it to everyone.

Also this month was The Roald Dahl Omnibus. While most remembered now for his children's fiction this collection brings together a few of his many short stories written for adult audiences. It shows the same wild inventiveness as his younger oriented stuff, but also his mastery of tension. His best, such as Lamb to the SlaughterSkin, Neck, and The Ratcatcher, are like finely calibrated pieces of clockwork. Inevitably ticking away toward some crushing defeat or humiliation, but how and for whom is kept hidden until the instant they strike home.

I read some science fiction of the golden age variety with The Voyage of the Space Beagle and Slan by A.E. von Voigt. Voigt seems to me almost the epitome of Golden Age science fiction. His prose is simple and barebones and his characters wooden and fond of directly announcing their feelings. But, you find yourself enthralled regardless because Voigt, like the best of those of the golden age authors, isn't afraid to dream big. Genetically engineered, vampiric super-cats; galaxy suffocating, sentient nebulae; secret, labyrinthine Martian colonies built by telepathic supermen bent on world domination. This is the stuff that keeps people reading this dull prose more than seven decades later. But, what truly makes Voigt the epitome of that particular brand of scifi that flourished in the 30s and 40s isn't his wild ideas. It's his preponderance of opinions. Every big idea is built around these opinions, transparently constructed so as to showcase Voigt's beliefs. This guy has got some opinions and you are going to hear about them.
The most upfront of these opinions is the belief that a new science would, nay must, emerge that would be the synthesizing of all other sciences. 'Jack of all trades' elevated to a rigorous discipline. This belief takes center stage in Voyage of the Space Beagle. Written in 1939, and remarkably presaging both Star Trek and Alien, Space Beagle recounts the adventures of the titular spacecraft and it's crew of scientists as they explore the unknown. It also features some improbably hilarious outdated jargon: all crew members are armed with 'vibration guns,' commonly referred to as 'vibrators.' The main character, Dr. Grosvenor, is the ships sole devotee of the new syncretist science, here named 'Nexalism', and the plot exclusively revolves around him solving problems that the rest of the crew, made up of close minded specialists, cannot. Conveniently, with each crises the need for solutions that only Nexalism can provide grows and grows, until in the end Grosvenor is forced to use the godlike knowledge Nexalism provides to brainwash the rest of the crew into giving up their foolish resistance to his brilliance. This segways nicely into Voigt's other big belief: that the masses cannot rule themselves and monarchy is the solution. This is the belief that takes center stage in Slan, a novel about a young Slan boy named Jommy and his lifelong quest to free other Slans from persecution. What is a Slan? They are a race of telepathic superhumans cruelly oppressed by the tyranny of the mediocre masses. How does Jommy go about this quest? Largely by educating himself in all fields of science, and especially by inventing mind controlling crystals with which he can control the pliant minds of ordinary folk.
You'll notice here that Voigt is by no means advocating that the world be run by the politicking kings of the past. No, the world should be run by a man of science. One who is not a specialist, but a more broadly learned aficionado of all sciences. Ya know, someone like A.E. von Voigt.

I received The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer as a most wonderful gift. It is gripping. I ended up reading it in one night, and let me tell you, this book is dark. It does not shy away from the abuse that is so central to the main mystery of Twin Peaks but which could only be alluded to on network television. It could be quite hard to read.
Sadly, it only presents a handful of new facets to the surreal mythology of Twin Peaks. It was written between the show's two seasons and as such it stays devoted to the original driving mystery of the show: who killed Laura Palmer. and has little of the more expansive mythology that the show developed, likely out of desperation to keep viewers, after that mystery was resolved in the second season. In a lot of ways this made me appreciate that much maligned second season in a way I hadn't before. While it's correctly criticized as slow and meandering without the driving force of Laura's murder behind it, in retrospect it's really where a lot of the experimental world building took place. The introduction of dueling 'Lodges', the government conspiracy of Project Blue Book, the bizarre philosophizing of Windom Earle. Much of what most sticks in my memory and I most love about the show was only made after the best was over.

Also this month was Southern Mail, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's first novel. Saint-Exupéry is one of my favorite writers so it's no surprise I loved this. The writing is beautiful as always, though, not surprisingly, this one doesn't quite hit the same depths of feeling and thought as Wind, Sand, and Stars or The Little Prince.

I continue to slowly work my through The Bible. This month was the Books of Kings. Naturally enough it recounts the Kings of Isreal, picking up where the Books of Samuel left off with the death of David and the ascendency of Solomon. While the book briefly glosses over many kings that follow, Solomon is the only one who really stands out, though I was disappointed that he doesn't do much of anything besides the famous 'split that kid in two' incident. That and get a bunch of wives and a bunch of Gods. More Gods than he's allowed to have. Which is one. You can only have one God if you're the King of Isreal. Because of this Isreal gets split in two and no one who succeeds him, on either side, is any good. Probably because of this the book shifts gears and brings its focus back to the prophets, who get the thankless job of telling the kings how bad they are and how they oughta be running things.
We get in Kings one of the Bible's best passages I've yet encountered. When the Prophet Elijah goes to the mountain in despair and God visits him in a distinctly God way: "And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice." What a beautiful description of omnipotence! This is the Old Testament at its best.
Then, on the other hand, we also get some of the Old Testament at its worst. Elisha, the inheritor of Elijahs prophetic powers, is walking out of a city and "as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them." That's it. All there is to the encounter. Nothing before it, nothing after it. Just some kids making fun of God's prophet so two bears are summoned up to murder them.

Also, a side note, this month I began watching both House of Cards and The Wire. While not readings as such, there is some damn fine writing in here. Watching both together also has the added bonus of making me acutely feel my East Coast roots. Being familiar with the look of both cities really does make both feel more real. Though, of the two The Wire feels far more real, far less stylized. It is also the better show. House of Cards sits in the lofty company of Game of Thrones, supremely watchable entertainment derived from watching a cast of diverse, well rounded character compete in a Darwinian struggle, but The Wire ranks along with Breaking Bad in the very topmost echelon of television. Shows that are not just slick and watchable but also about things. Good and evil, crime and punishment, justice and freedom. From The Wire's very first scene we get a crash course in the themes that will play out. It shows the crime scene set up around a murdered man we learn consistently stole from every illegal game of craps he entered. Why did they let him keep playing when he always ran off with the cash? "Because this is America." Right from the beginning, the whole show in microcosm. How much crime do we tolerate because we're committed to the ideals of freedom?

Lastly, I want to take a second to talk about Kurosawa's High and Low. I don't think I've ever seen a better celebration of the power of dignity and decency. The character of Mr. Gondo, played by the always perfect Toshiro Mifune, stands with Atticus Finch as one of fiction's greatest embodiments of all that is good. Importantly, Mr. Gondo is not materially rewarded for his goodness, which is a change Kurosawa made from the novel upon which the film is based. Instead, we are shown that the reward for being decent is simply being decent. "Why should you and I hate each other?" Gondo says to the man who ruined him financially, but not morally. Kurosawa shows us that the reward is more than enough.

Some Thoughts on Twin Peaks

Serious spoilers below.

The Owls. One of the first things you learn about Twin Peaks is that the owls are not what they seem. What that really means is never quite explained, like so much else in the show. Many have concluded that the owls are the eyes and messengers of BOB and therefore wholly sinister. I disagree. The owls are not just the tools of BOB, they are how all the spirits in Twin Peaks see and interact with the material world. Both those from the White Lodge as well as the Black Lodge. The only denizen we meet from the benevolent White Lodge is The Giant. Similar to his humanoid form, when he interacts through the owls he is seen as an enormous owl. Major Briggs more or less directly states that he saw the giant owl before visiting the White Lodge, and in her Secret Diary Laura describes having one vision of an enormous owl. This explains the import Log Lady sees in her message to Laura that 'Some owls are big.' It is her cryptic and unhelpful way of trying to tell Laura that there are not just forces of evil in Twin Peaks, but good as well.

The Tremonds. Pierre Tremond and his grandmother are two of the most mysterious figures in Twin Peaks. They appear only once in the series, when Donna delivers a meal to the seemingly bedridden Mrs. Tremond. They are given a much larger role in the movie, most notably giving Laura the painting that allows her to visit the Red Room in her dream and receive Coops warning about the ring.
There has been much debate about the nature of the Tremonds, including one interesting theory that Pierre is a representation of a young Leland. I do not agree with this theory. I believe Pierre is a lesser spirit of the Black Lodge. Who is the grandmother? It is Pierre's host, similar to how Gerard is the host to MIKE. However, unlike Gerard and Leland, Mrs. Tremond has been a host so long she no longer has any resistance left in her. This relationship is most clearly shown in the scene with Donna, where Mrs. Tremond seems visibly afraid of both Pierre and the creamed corn on her plate. Pierre then vanishes the creamed corn into his hands. In the movie creamed corn was made the symbol of 'garmonbozia,' the pain and suffering of humans which the creatures of the Black Lodge feed upon. In the movie, during the 'meeting' that Philip Jeffries describes, we see MIKE and BOB talking at a table holding a large bowl of creamed corn. In the background sit Mrs. Tremond and Pierre, along with several other characters who are never seen before or since. At Pierre's feet, and no one else's, sits a smaller bucket of creamed corn. All this seems to imply that Pierre is a spirit of the Black Lodge and that Mrs. Tremond is not.
The question remains as to what role Pierre's is playing in the events of the show and film. His nature and his presence at the meeting imply that he is, or was, a familiar of MIKE just as BOB once was, though of a lesser variety. As such, in his actions he seems to be helping in MIKE's crusadge against BOB. This is why he guides Donna to Harold Smith and why he gives Laura the painting. It is however an open question whether he is still under the control of MIKE or if he seeks BOBs destruction for his own reasons.

The Ring. Specifically, the green ring bearing the symbol of Owl Cave first shown being worn by Teresa Banks in Fire Walk With Me. It is found by Agent Chester Desmond under a trailer we later learn was occupied by The Tremonds. After finding it he disappears, and his disappearance coincides with the brief reappearance of Philip Jeffries at FBI headquarters. Jeffries describes a meeting between spirits of the Black Lodge where we see the dwarf, also known as The Man From Another Place and in this movie revealed to be MIKE or at least a part of MIKE, say the line "With this ring I thee wed." Later, in her dream, Laura Palmer sees the ring being presented to her by MIKE and Cooper warning her not to take it. At the end, Gerard is able to pass to Laura the ring while BOB is attempting to posses her. She takes it, and this seems to stop BOB's possession and so he kills her. What are we to make of this? Why does Cooper warn her away from the ring when it seems to save her from BOB?
Simply, wearing the ring makes a person the property of MIKE. This is how Chester is able to be taken by the Black Lodge and why Cooper warned Laura away from it. Even though it saved her from BOB, she is now under control of MIKE and this is why she is stuck in the Black Lodge along with Cooper. This is why BOB is forced to give up the garmonbozia generated by her murder to MIKE. This also means the garmonbozia generated by Teresa's murder belong to MIKE, and the scene where Gerard confronts Leland on the street may be because BOB did not give that garmonbozia to MIKE.
This brings us to the motivation of MIKE with regards to the ring. There are two possibilities. Either what he said to Cooper is true and he no longer wishes to do evil and hopes to stop BOB, in which case the ring and all his actions in the series are attempts to starve BOB of garmonbozia, or he was lying to Cooper, he is still an evil spirit and is simply competing with BOB for garmonbozia.
A side note, in the meeting with BOB, immediately preceding his "With this ring I thee wed" line, MIKE has the even more mystifying line where he comments on the green, formica table in front of him. I believe this is simply a strange way of bringing the viewers mind back to the green ring, cementing even more clearly the connection between it and the following line.

How to Fix Your Computer

That title may be a slight exaggeration. This will not tell how to fix absolutely everything, but, it's remarkable how many problems can be fixed in these simple steps. Do you think you have a virus? Is your computer filled with ads? Is an 'anti-virus' program you've never heard of constantly telling you to pay up? These things can (usually) be fixed with the following five steps:

1 - Boot Into Safe Mode with Networking

Safe Mode is a version of Windows where the number of programs running is restricted to the bare essentials. This means you can complete the following steps without the malicious programs actively trying to stop you, which is a very good thing. One way to get into Safe Mode is to hit the F8 key while your computer is booting up, before the Windows Splash screen appears. This should open up a menu from which you can select 'Safe Mode with Networking'. While this works, it's not the easiest way. The easiest way to boot into safe mode is through System Configuration. Simply open up your start menu and search for System Configuration, or, you can find it in your Control Panel under System and Security -> Administrative Tools. Once open just go to the Boot tab, then check the 'Safe Mode' box and select the Network option from the radio buttons. Selecting the Network option is important. This allows you to use the internet while in Safe Mode, which you will need. System Configuration is the preferred method to get to Safe Mode because it will keep booting your computer into Safe Mode until you change the setting. This is nice because the following steps will probably involve restarting your computer multiple times, and this way you don't have to hit the F8 key every time.

2 - Change Your Proxy Settings

This step counters a dirty trick that a lot of these malicious programs play on you. These vile programs will go into your internet browser settings and change them to reroute all your internet requests through their 'proxy'. In a nutshell this means that no matter what address you put into Chrome/Firefox/InternetExplorer the malware will reroute you to their own nefarious site. To undo this just open Internet Explorer and click the Tools button, then click Internet Options. Now go to the Connections tab and click LAN Settings. In the LAN Settings window simply unclick the box that says 'Use a proxy server'. You will also want to reset your Home page. Note: You need to be in Safe Mode to do this. If you do it outside of Safe Mode the malware will simply revert it back to their settings.

3 - Download and Run MalwareBytes

Now it's time to do a virus scan. In my experience no antivirus scanner comes close to matching the power of MalwareBytes. It is not an active antivirus program, at least, not without paying for it, so MalwareBytes will not actively protect you from infections. But, when it comes to performing a scan and removing infections, I have yet to see it beat. You can download it here, or, you can use the wonderful website Ninite. Ninite is simply a tool to make installing a variety of programs as easy as possible. Once you have it, simply open it up and let it run. You will probably need to restart your computer after it has finished removing whatever it finds. Make sure when you restart you once again boot back into Safe Mode with Networking.

4 - Download and Run AdwCleaner

MalwareBytes should have removed all the really malicious stuff from your computer, all the viruses and trojans and things of that nature. But, there's a whole mess of things that can be less harmful than viruses while still being a royal pain. These are called PUP's, standing for Potential Unwanted Programs. Things like adware and those aggressively annoying toolbars are all PUPs. For the longest time there was no easy way to remove these devils. They were the bane of my existence. Then AdwCleaner appeared on the scene and everything changed. Life was good again. You can download it here. Important note: do not click anything on that page, the download should start simply by opening the link. Simply install it and run the scan.

5 - Preventative Care

Time to boot back into regular mode. Simply open up System Configuration once more, go to the Boot tab, uncheck the 'Safe Mode' box and then restart your computer. Your computer should now be blissfully free of all the crap you had to deal with before. If the problem hasn't gone away you have a deeper infection than these simple steps could fix and you will need a more specialized approach. But, hopefully, your computer is clean, and now that it is let's take some simple steps to keep it that way. The first thing is to have a good anti-virus program. If you have Windows 8 you're in luck, it comes with very good Windows Defender built in. Just get rid of any other, less good antivirus programs you have such as Norton or Avast or, god forbid, McAffee and then make sure Windows Defender is turned on. SImply search for the 'Action Center' and there should be a large, friendly button asking if you want to turn on Windows Defender. If you have Windows 7 or below I recommend Windows Security Essentials, which is basically the same thing as Defender. You can download it from Microsoft, or you can again use NInite. It's also a good idea to update your preferred internet browsers and Java to the latest versions, again I recommend Ninite for that. The final step is to run Microsoft Updates.

Jaunting Part 9: Spain

The final leg of my journey took me through the Iberian Peninsula. You can hear me talk about it here.

The section of the trip that really drew my camera was the beautiful Moorish architecture of Andalusia. This set is from the Alhambra of Granada. The first photo shows an exterior shot of the complex, followed by a sample of the gardens and courtyards. It's difficult to tell in a picture, but the arches in the courtyard are covered in intricate arabesques and in person the eye picks up on it making the whole scene even more beautiful. The next two pictures show closer views of some of the arabesques, and the one after is a sample of the tile work. The final photo is a particularly incredible domed ceiling inside the palace.

After Granada I visited Cordoba, once the center of Moorish power in Spain. The first photo show's a waterwheel that dates back to the time of Caliph, and behind it is a bridge even older than that, built by the Romans in 1st Century BC. The next photo shows the exterior of the Cathedral of Cordoba. On this site was originally a Roman temple to Janus, which was destroyed by the Visigoths to construct a church, which was substantially expanded and turned into a Mosque by the Moorish Caliph, which was then turned into a Cathedral after the Reconquista. The third photo shows a section of the interior forest of columns. The last photo shows part of the cathedral nave constructed in the center of the building during it's last repurposing. While pretty by itself, the nave really does spoil somewhat the open feel of the rest of the columned structure. In fact, when Charles V, who authorized it's conversion into a cathedral, visited it and saw the nave he commented "they have taken something unique in all the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city."

My final stop in Spain was the beautiful city of Seville. The first photo here show's the aptly named Seville Cathedral, followed by views of the city and cathedral gardens from the bell tower. The last two photos show first a section of the covered market the ambles through the downtown area, followed by the Metropolitan Parasol. The Parasol was constructed in 2011 and is possibly the largest wooden structure in the world. Tragically, I only learned you can go on top of the Parasol after I left.

These three photos show the Plaza de Espana, built in 1928 when Seville hosted the World's Fair.

Here we have the Alcazar of Seville, a palace that rivals the Alhambra. The first three photos show the entrance, a courtyard, and the golden dome of the Hall of Ambassadors room. The next two show an ivied fountain and a guardhouse, both of which can be found in the expansive gardens. The final photo is of an underground section that provided a place of comfortable coolness during the hot days for the palace residents.

Lastly I visited Lisbon. The first photo here shows the ruins of Carmo gothic church, which lost its roof in the devastating 1755 earthquake. The next photo shows a typical Lisbon street, followed by a shot of the 25 de Abril Bridge. Sister bridge to the famous Golden Gate and named for the day of the fall of the fascist regime in Portugal. The last photo is from the top of the Belem Tower, an old fort by the shore.

And that's it. After Lisbon I caught a plane back to the States, my four months abroad come to an end. I have one last video where I review the contents of the backpack that accompanied me all that way, which you can find here.

Jaunting Part 8: Balkans, Istanbul, and Italy

The latest segment of my trip took me through the Balkan peninsula to the city of Istanbul, followed by a flight to Italy. You can hear me talk about it here.

Sarajevo was the highlight of my trip through the Balkans. The first in this set shows the Sarajevo City Hall and it's beautiful stained glass ceiling. This building was largely destroyed during the Serbian shelling and has only recently been restored. The next picture depicts one of the many Muslim cemeteries that dot the city. The following two pictures show the city itself and finally the last picture shows the street corner where archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, triggering the start of WWI.

The Westward segment of my voyage terminated in the city of Istanbul where I was finally able to see something I'd always dreamed of visiting, the Hagia Sophia. First constructed by the Emperor Justinian in 537, changed into a mosque by Mehmet the Conquerer in 1453, and finally turned into a museum by the Republic of Turkey in 1935 this building has been amazing people for one and a half thousand years.

But, upstaging the Hagia Sophia is the wonder situated just across the street. In a city of beautiful works the Blue Mosque is easily the greatest and ranks as the most stunning piece of architecture I've ever seen.

My next stop after a short flight was the Eternal City of Rome. We have here in order of construction: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, the Vatican, and the Sphere Within a Sphere sculpture inside the Vatican Museum.

The dome of the Florence Cathedral, the largest in the world until 1881. Second and third place went to the Pantheon and the Hagia Sophia respectively. The final shot is the city of Florence.

On Cool

There are those who care about cool, who strive for it. They never are. They row tirelessly in the direction of cool, never approaching, beat back by the tide.

There are those who do not care about cool because they know that they are. They have found the hidden current that pulls effortlessly toward the direction of cool. Some found the current after much struggle, some had the luck or talent to find it from the start. They are cool. They are boring. Their interests, opinions and goals pushed by this single current even if they care not where they go.

Then there are those who do not know themselves to be cool and do not care. They drift in and out of that current, moment by moment, unconcerned, for they steer toward a destination determined only by themselves and seen by no others. These are the interesting people. 

All cool people are alike; each unconcerned, uncool person is uncool in their own way.

Game of Thrones Impressions: Season 3

You can read my breakdown of season one here, and season two here.

Episode 1 Valar Dohaeris, or, Davos Lives!

Well that's a casual introduction to giants.

I like Margaery. She's a good Queen.

Davos has successfully gone from a rock to a hard place.

Episode 2 Dark Wings, Dark Words, or, Going Places

Brotherhood without Banners! Have I found my people? Are these the guys fighting for an egalitarian future for Westeros?

Queen Margery just keeps getting more likable. She's actually as smart as Cersei believes herself to be.

This episode Bran meets another magical kid. Not a fan of magical kids.

Episode 3 Walk of Punishment, or, Hands Down a Good Episode

I'm going to miss Hot Pie, but, it sure is nice to see someone on this show find a happy ending.

They finally addressed why Stannis and Mellisandre can't just shadow bang their way to success. Takes life force, doing it again would kill him, standard magic limit stuff. It works.

I'm really impressed by the way they introduce Catelyn's relations. The scene of them trying to set the funeral boat alight with the flaming arrow, and the younger's failure to do so, effortlessly tells us everything we need to know about these two characters, and their relationship, all in one entertaining scene.

That was quite an ending. I think I get why they did the rock music over the credits, to drive home the shock over the rather hands off approach of Jamie's captors. But, I don't agree with it. I found it so jarring that it actually pulled me out of the show rather than driving anything home.

Episode 4 And Now His Watch Is Ended, or, Seller Beware

Jamie is really going through some shit, quite literally. I hope he comes out of this a better person. There seems to be a theme in this show that goodness springs from hardship. The nobility of the Starks is attributed to the harshness of life in the North, Daenerys's kindness stems from a childhood spent in servitude, and Tyrion's tough life seems to have made him (so far) the only Lannister with a sense of empathy that extends past his family. In general the worse a character is the less they've had to deal with in their life. Jamie will be the test of this theme. Whether he comes out of this with a new sense of right or he's still up for pushing kids out of windows.

What happened to the other Stark kid? There's supposed to be two but the last few episodes the younger has gone the way of Cersei's kids. Speaking of which, ya know, for someone who can't shut up about how much she loves her kids we sure don't see them a lot.

Wow. Theon's savior was just bringing him back. That is some 1984 level shit. Fuck the Greyjoys. (I think he's being held by the Greyjoys? Still not sure what's going on there)

I feel so bad for Sansa. She really does not have a mind for subtlety. She does not belong at court.

Aww, man. The Brotherhood is religious? I wanted them to be social revolutionaries not zealots.

Craster's dead! Too bad the Nights Watch had to fall to pieces to make it happen. Really a mistake on the part of the Commander, should have known that your troops first loyalty will always and forever be to their stomachs. Try to stand between them and food when they're in the cold, starving and all you'll get is mutiny. Should have killed Craster himself and been a hero to his troops. It's not like your going to need him much longer anyway, you know an army of White Walkers is on its way.

Daenerys is now ready to steamroll the world. She's got an air force AND an army of super soldiers. There's no conceivable way anyone in Westeros could compete with that. Of course, that's why she won't get there for a long time I'm guessing. Long enough for Winter to truly arrive and the situation to look hopeless for everyone. Then she can show up and we can have a massive White Walker vs Dragon battle. Like somethin outa some kinda song of ice and fire or somethin'.

Episode 5 Kissed by Fire, or, Jon Snow Learns Something

The Brotherhood can bring people back to life? Well that's an advantage in war. Or maybe their leader is Wolverine.

As happy as I am to see Jon Snow get lucky, his segments are really getting dull.

Oh Rob, you were doing so well. Why must you start making mistakes now. How could you ever reason that executing the leader of half your forces is a good idea.

So we learn the reason for Jamie killing the Mad King. I feel like this was supposed to be a big revelation, but really was there ever any doubt the Mad King deserved to be killed? I already thought that killing the old monster was the one endearing thing about Jamie. But! The fact that the show is now building up his good side after all he's been through seems to support my theme hypothesis. Looking forward to future developments from the ole' kid crippler.

Marying off Cersei and Tyrion is some pretty good politicking on Tywins side. I understand why they'd be upset, but it's really not that bad a situation. Sir Tyrell is almost certainly not going to care what Cersei does. If she ever gets Jamie back I'm sure they could get back into old habits. Sansa already has a liking for Tyrion, since he occasionally went out of his way to help her, and she's already friends with his real girlfriend. If she had any sense she'd be thrilled to be positioned with friends and outside the reach of Joffrey. Of course, that relies on Sansa having common sense.

Episode 6 The Climb, or, That's Impossible

No one could actually do that climb.

Dang, Little Finger finally became unlikable. I mean, I always knew he was ultimately in it for himself. Just like everyone else in this show. But, I thought he had enough conscience to at least feel bad about the things he had to do. Granted, that theory was already falling apart last season after his rather unsympathetic pep pimp talk to the crying Ros. But, there's a difference between rhetoric and action, and I'm sad to see what a monster he really is. I'd also hoped he had the sense to see the bigger picture and know that being rich and powerful in a stable kingdom is better than being the head of a failing state. Alas, Varys was right and Little Finger will indeed let the realm burn to rule the ashes. At least Varys seems to be all those good things I'd hoped Little Finger was. I think him and Margaery are currently the most likable characters.

Episode 7 The Bear and the Maiden Fair, or, That's Actually a Pretty Good Title Already

Tywin's the best. Not that I root for him, just that every time he's in a scene you know it's gonna be good. Somebody is going to get glared into submission, and when that somebody is Joffrey it's all the better. I'm trying to imagine Tywin and Stannis having a conversation and I just can't do it. The glaring is just too intense. I desperately hope they get a scene together at some point. 

Jamie is looking remarkable moral these days. While it's debatable, I don't think pre-amputation Jamie would have gone back for Brienne. So far my theme idea is holding up. Also, that former Maester mad scientist guy's got a lot of potential. I hope he sticks around.

Sidenote: the direction in this episode was really, really strange. Every conversation seemed to end on some sort of odd, lingering shot of nothing in particular and the CGI has never looked more fake.

Episde 8 Second Sons, or, The Other Wedding

Davos learning how to read is adorable.

Other than that, Tyrion and Sansa get married okay, Sam lucks into killing a White Walker and Daenerys befriends a creepy psycho. Not too much development. Though, learning that Daenerys doesn't speak Dothraki nearly as well as she thinks she does was a great little character moment.

Episode 9 Rains of Castemere, or, The Maroon Matrimony

Wow, John Snow totally just left Ygritte. Didn't see that coming. He's a bit of a jerk.

So. That's the wedding I've been hearing about. I'm impressed by Catelyn's dedication to making terrible decisions right to the very end. Pretty sure even the peasants of Westeros could have told you that Frey don't care about his wife. 

I guess the war is over now, with the North leaderless and plagued by pirates. I don't really feel like the show has much to drive it anymore. Arya needs to grow up and get her revenge, but that's been happening for like two seasons and unless it speeds up it can't really carry my interest. I really do not care in the slightest about Brans magical quest. I want to see Theon freed, but that's because I don't want to watch anymore torture, not because I care about Theon. Daenerys is still making things happen, but she's so far removed from everything else that half the time her segments seem more distracting than anything else. The Lannisters versus the Tullys, which seems to be on the horizon, could be entertaining but I don't really care which of them wins. What else is there? I guess I'll watch the next episode and see what it's got to offer now, but at the moment I feel my interest in this show deflating. It feels like every plot has stagnated, and rather than freshen things up the whole Red Wedding has just moved things even farther back. The Starks had always been on the losing side. Now they've lost. Not much of a story, that.

Episode 10 Mhysa, or, Daenerys Muad'Dib

Alright, I guess this show is still worth watching if it's finally ready to start up the war against winter. It's built up everyones hatred for each other to a fever pitch and then suddenly they have to work together. Should keep things interesting. Well played show, well played.

That ending, with Daenerys being lifted up by all the freed people, was really too saccharine for this show. I guess they wanted something positive after how dark everything else had just gotten, but it makes it feel even more like Daenerys is part of some totally different show.

So at the end of this season the award for least likable easily goes to the Orwellian fuck keeping Theon captive. Nobody deserves that. Not even the Greyjoys. I'd say the most likable characters right now are Varys and Queen Margaery. Hooray for capable, non-malevolent statesman. Tyrion remains as enjoyable as ever, though he hasn't been up to much this season. As for the other 'hero' Jon Snow has transitioned from boring to annoying. Hopefully the next season has something more interesting in store for him. Daenerys has become the obvious hero, and I do hope this show ends with her sitting at the throne, but she's starting to become a little too cartoonishly good. While it's hard to argue with the tactics of freeing slaves and therefore getting an incredibly loyal army, especially when they've already been trained as super soldiers, I do hope the next season has some hard choices to throw her way.

Jaunting Part 7: Prague, Vienna, and Slovenia

You can hear me talk about this part of my trip here.

Prague! Beautiful city. The second photo here is the Astronomical Clock I mention in the video. In the last photo you can see the Television Tower. That tower is visible from most of the city, a lot of people hate it I think it's kind of neat. Though, the tower is crawling with these faceless baby sculptures that are some of the creepiest things I've ever seen. Seems like such an odd choice to me, a building like that already struggling to justify itself, how do we make it better? Faceless babies!

Two shots of the Sedlec Ossuary and the quite scenic town it resides in. The sigil in the first shot was actually put together in the 1700s when the place was refurbished.

Vienna! Some interesting architecture: the Parliament, the Secession Hall, and the Hundertwasserhaus. The last four photos are from the Hapsburg Summer Palace.

Some quick photos I took of a few of the marvelous Hapsburg treasures.

First we have here Lake Bled in Slovenia. Second is Bled Castle which overlooks the lake, and the last are from my ascent of Mt. Stol which lies a few miles from the lake. My legs are still sore some four days later.