Guns N’ Roses LIVE in Tulsa, OK

Last night, 25 years after seeing them perform live for the first time, I got to see Guns N’ Roses perform once again, this time in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

My friend Tim is a big Guns N’ Roses fan. He and his wife Dawn along with Susan and I have seen the band live three times — in Norman, back in 2011; in Las Vegas in 2012, for Tim’s 40th birthday; and Tuesday night, November 17, in Tulsa. Additionally, even though we hadn’t met yet, Tim and I were both at the Oklahoma City Guns N’ Roses show back in 1992.

Throughout their 30-year career, the band’s lineup has been as volatile as vocalist Axl Rose himself. The original lineup from the band’s 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction (Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy, and Steven Adler) didn’t last long. By the time they played Oklahoma City for the first time in 1992, Izzy had quit (replaced by Gilby Clarke), Steven Adler had been fired (replaced by Matt Sorum), and keyboardist Dizzy Reed had officially joined the band. In the 17 years between 1991’s Use Your Illusions albums and their next studio album, 2008’s Chinese Democracy (a period of time once could easily write a book about), all of the original members of the band except for Axl Rose were long gone, and most of the musicians who had replaced those musicians had come and gone, too. By the time we saw the band perform in 2011, Axl Rose was the only original remaining member, backed by Tommy Stinson on bass, Frank Ferrer on drums, and three guitarists (DJ Ashba, Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, and Richard Fortus). This was the same lineup we saw in 2012 during the band’s Las Vegas residency.

A few years ago when asked if ever planned to tour again with the band’s original lineup, Axl Rose famously remarked, “not in this lifetime.” With original members Slash and Duff McKagan rejoining the band on stage, what better name than Not in This Lifetime for the band’s 2017 (and 30th anniversary) tour.

One thing about a Guns N’ Roses show is, anything can happen. In the 90s, shows were cancelled because Axl “wasn’t in the mood to perform.” In some instances, there were riots. Axl Rose has been known to leap from the stage and beat up fans. The band was notorious for taking the stage two or three hours late. (The ticket stub I have from the 1992 show says the show will begin “around 9:30 p.m.”) With Duff and Slash — someone Axl Rose refused to speak to for 20 years — back on stage, the possibility of the performance (and perhaps the band itself) imploding is very real.

Our tickets claimed the show would start at 8 p.m., and by 8:05 p.m. the lights had already dimmed and the band’s introduction video was playing on a series of large screens. This was the first sign that the Gunners may have grown up.

With a zillion-dollar production in motion, 2017’s Guns N’ Roses came off like a well oiled machine. With productions this size, very little (including the set list) is left to chance. My friend Tim followed along with his phone, telling us which songs were coming up next, when a block of songs from Chinese Democracy was coming up (a good time for a bathroom break), and, as the show went on, how many songs were left.

The the 2011 and 2012 shows we attended, it was never clear who the lead guitarist was. At the Vegas show, Richard Fortus, DJ Ashba, and Bumblefoot each took a turn in the spotlight with long solos and attempting not to step on one another’s leads during the songs. Last night, there was no question as to who the lead guitarist was. Richard Fortus is a fantastic and capable guitar player who, in all rights, has been a member of Guns N’ Roses longer than almost anyone else (2002-present), but when Slash walks to the front of the stage wearing his trademarked sunglasses and top hat and breaks into the opening riff from “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” even Fortus is smart enough to know his place is in the shadows, playing rhythm.

It’s easy to think that a bass player can be easily replaced, especially in a rock band like GN’R, but I swear, tracks like “Mr. Brownstone” and “Rocket Queen” haven’t sounded the same live since Duff McKagan left. Tuesday night, they sounded better than they’ve sounded in decades.

You would be hard pressed to guess everyone on stage was in their 50s based on their performance. Slash spent much of the concert jumping off of things while Fortus spun in circles and Axl ran from spot to spot. Seriously, the entire show, Axl was running at full speed (except when he was off stage, no doubt taking hits of oxygen).

At times when the band showed its age. Coming off a show the previous night in Nashville, it’s obvious that years of screaming and screeching has done a number on Axl’s voice. Rose uses every trick in the book, from dropping octaves to relying heavily on his cohorts to help carry the tunes, but even that couldn’t save him. While years of experience have worked in the favor of everyone else in the band, Axl’s voice simply can’t keep up. An hour into the show his voice was already showing signs of fatigue, and the band played for a total of 3 1/2 hours.

There were several pleasant surprises throughout the evening, including a tribute to Chris Cornell with a cover version of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun”), but for guitar fans, watching Slash and Fortus trading riffs during an instrumental version of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” was definitely cool.

For decades, Guns N’ Roses have ended their shows with “Paradise City,” and Tuesday night’s show was no exception. What was surprising, however, was when Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl walked out on stage to join them. (The Foo Fighters were playing the same venue the following night.) In the early 90s, the feud between GN’R and Nirvana (which Grohl drummed for) was pretty legendary, so to see Grohl out on stage, headbanging wildly while standing face-to-face with the guys from Guns N’ Roses was a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Who knows what the future holds for Guns N’ Roses. Most people (probably including the band) are surprised the guys are getting along as well as they are (and by getting along I mean, nobody has punched anyone else on stage yet). Who knows if the members of Guns N’ Roses will be on speaking terms five years from now, and whether they’ll be playing giant arenas, state fairs, or even be alive. I suspect last night’s show was as close as we’ll ever get to seeing the same lineup I originally saw back in 1992, and if those two shows bookend my Guns N’ Roses concert experience, I’m okay with that.

Set List:

  1. It’s So Easy
  2. Mr. Brownstone
  3. Chinese Democracy
  4. Welcome to the Jungle
  5. Double Talkin’ Jive
  6. Better
  7. Estranged
  8. Live and Let Die (Wings cover)
  9. Rocket Queen
  10. You Could Be Mine
  11. New Rose (The Damned cover)
  12. This I Love
  13. There Was a Time
  14. Civil War
  15. Yesterdays
  16. Coma (followed up with band introductions)
  17. Slash Guitar Solo
  18. Speak Softly Love (Love Theme From The Godfather) (Nino Rota cover)
  19. Sweet Child O’ Mine
  20. Wichita Lineman (Jimmy Webb cover)
  21. Used to Love Her
  22. My Michelle
  23. Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd cover)
  24. November Rain (“Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes)
  25. Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden cover)
  26. Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan cover) (with “Only Women Bleed” intro)
  27. Nightrain
  28. Patience
  29. Madagascar
  30. Don’t Cry
  31. The Seeker (The Who cover)
  32. Paradise City (with Dave Grohl)

Star Wednesday: LEGO Biker Scouts

The Biker Scout is arguably my favorite Star Wars action figure. Introduced in Return of the Jedi, the Biker Scouts (at least at first) came off as more elite than the typical bumbling Stormtrooper. Everything about these guys, from their helmets and armor to their unique pistols, was simply cool. To top it off they had super fast Speeder Bikes, on which they raced at break-neck speeds (sometimes literally) through the forest moon of Endor. Unfortunately, the Biker Scouts (along with the rest of the Empire) were overtaken by a small group of Rebel Commandos with help from an army of Ewoks. That doesn’t say much for their elite status.

Due to their popularity, certain figures are easy to collect. Every Star Wars collector has an abundance of R2-D2 and Yoda items and figures simply because so many of them were made. If you find yourself attracted to a slightly less popular character, you may have to dig a little deeper at garage sales to find the figures you’re looking for.

In the mid-to-late 90s, right after the special edition of the Star Wars trilogy hit theaters (but before Episode One: The Phantom Menace was released), Star Wars Merchandise once again began filling store shelves. The Power of the Force action figures, released in the mid-90s, were just the beginning. By the time the special editions were released, it was as if Star Wars had never left. Not only were there Star Wars action figures and playsets on shelves, but also drinking glasses, mouse pads, bouncy balls… and, among a thousand other things, Star Wars LEGO sets.

I got my first LEGO set when I was five years old. For a while I kept my LEGO bricks in a zip lock bag before graduating to a shoe box and eventually a Tupperware tub. Today my LEGO bricks fill a 22-gallon plastic tub. I’ve enjoyed LEGO playsets for a long, long time, and when they began releasing Star Wars-themed sets, naturally, I decided I had to own them.

The “7128 Speeder Bikes” LEGO playset came with two Speeder Bikes, a tree with a base, and three action figures (two Biker Scouts and one Luke). The set sold for $9.99 back in 1999, which would be a good deal today for the figures alone.

I own fifteen LEGO playsets from that same era, including two of this one. I have tried very, very hard over the years not to fall into the trap of buying two of the same thing (one to open, one to store), but in this case it appears I did. I probably realized at the time that I would be too tempted not to eventually open a Star Wars-themed LEGO playset, especially one containing Biker Scouts!

Both of the boxes I have for this playset contain $4.98 price tags from KB Toys. There used to be a KB Toys liquidation store I occasionally visited in Texas, which explains the bargain price. Based on that, it seems like I got a good deal — unopened versions of this playset are selling for $40-$50 on eBay today.

“Ha ha ha,” he said, when talking about selling Star Wars things.

When it comes to my Star Wars displays, there are big items, and there’s filler. These small Speeder Bikes make good filler, and can easily be placed in between or around other larger items on my shelves. Currently they’re on the shelf right next to my cable modem and wireless router, so every time I need to reboot one or both of those items, I find myself looking at these guys.

The Purple Star

This semester, along with two other classes, I began work on my senior project — a fiction novel. Each week, I write a new chapter for my novel and present it to the head of my committee. During our weekly sessions, my professor reads the chapter and provides me with immediate feedback.

Project is the intersection where form meets art. For two years I’ve been reading and learning about story structure, plotting, character development, and pacing. Project is where students write their own stories, applying the structures lessons we’ve (hopefully) learned. Next semester, after my novel is finished, I’ll present copies of it to three professors of the professional writing program. A few weeks later after they’ve had time to read it, I’ll be asked to defend my choices just like a dissertation. My stomach knots just thinking about that day.

I was a lot better at writing when I didn’t know how to do it. When I didn’t know how to write, the words sure flowed. Every single night I wrote something — blog posts, articles, short stories, reviews… heck, I even cranked out a couple of self-published books. When I look back knowing what I know now, it’s hard not to pick those things apart. That’s not to say that some of them weren’t good, but most of them contain flaws that bug me.

The first chapter of the novel I turned in felt forced. It was wordy and weak and didn’t have much to do with the novel’s overall plot. My professor didn’t say anything, but inside, I already knew. The second chapter I delivered was met with slightly more puzzled looks. On week three I left home with a third chapter for my professor to read, but by the time I got to her office I decided not to let her read it. Instead, we had a talk about going back to the basics — applying the lessons I had learned. She also told me I start my stories too early, which is true. I’m working on it.

After agreeing to scrap the first three chapters, I put everything I had into the next week’s chapter. I wrote, then second, and finally third-guessed myself. Originally I had taken a generic story structure and tried to write a novel that would fit inside those parameters. After that, I tried taking my story and cramming it into an established format. That didn’t work, either. After working and reworking, I had a moment of zen — or so I thought. I quit trying to force a poorly drafted story to work, stopped trying to force myself into applying rules that weren’t helping, and just wrote.

I just wrote!

It’s hard to explain what the difference was, but things started falling into place. I wasn’t sure I was doing things “right,” but at least it finally felt right. The story, plot, and scenes finally began to fall into place. I began to tell the story I wanted to tell. I separated my scenes and sequels, and made sure my scenes ended with a setback. I was no longer changing my story to fit the format; now I was simply rearranging things to fit the structure we had already learned.

When I met with my professor the following week, I was a bundle of nerves. I was so anxious to hear her feedback that I literally had to leave the room as she read my chapter, and returned just as she had finished reading it. Before giving me feedback, she asked what I had done different with this chapter. It all came spilling out. I told her (or at least tried to explain) what had clicked. I (politely and respectfully) began to rant about form — about structure, and plots, and characters. All of it. I told her about changing my story to fit into a cookie-cutter form, and writing a story to fit into a form. By the time I was done I had no idea what words were coming out of my mouth.

When I finally stopped talking I realized I sounded like a mad man, a fact my professor confirmed. Before I could say anything else, she asked if she could show me the corrections she had made to my most recent chapter. I hesitantly agreed, and she proceeded to flip through all fifteen typed pages, showing me that she hadn’t made a single mark.

She then flipped back to the first page and drew a star in purple ink at the top of my paper. After confessing she wasn’t entirely sure what I was so worked up about, she said this was the best chapter I had handed her over the past two years. “Do this a few more times,” she said, “and we’ll have ourselves a novel.”

I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, so I laughed while sitting in her office and cried a little when I got back to my car.

Whatever finally clicked, clicked good. Last week I turned in the seventh chapter of my novel, and while there have been a couple of weak and confusing plot points and lots of minor suggestions, it seems like I’m finally on track. I don’t know if the story I’m writing will have any mass-market appeal, but I’m enjoying writing it, and things finally seem to be coming together.

Star Wednesday: 3D Printed Weapons

Toy guns have been a staple in the lives of young boys for many generations. As a kid I owned army guns, cap guns, dart guns, Nerf guns, and even a rubber band gun, but I never owned any of Kenner’s official Star Wars guns.

There were three different guns in Kenner’s Star Wars line: Han Solo’s blaster, the Stormtrooper rifle, and later, the Biker Scout pistol. All three guns resembled the versions that appeared in the movies, and made electronic sounds that did not resemble the versions that appeared in the movies.

So while I didn’t have the life-size versions, I did, like every other kid, have the teeny-tiny weapons that came with the original 3 3/4″ Star Wars figures. Because of their small size they had much less detail than the larger versions, but they still resembled the weapons used on screen.

The life-size Stormtrooper rifle you see here (with a 3 3/4″ Stormtrooper for scale) is not the one that was sold by Kenner. It is a custom, 3D printed version of the blaster. If it looks simple and lacking in detail, that’s because it is. It’s essentially a scaled-up version of the tiny blaster that came packaged with the original Stormtrooper. To fit into the hands of those small action figures, the scaled-down weapons were often missing details (like triggers).

Through the “I Grew Up Star Wars” group (WWW | Facebook) I ran into a seller selling these 3D printed weapons. The guns were reasonably priced considering the time (I’m guessing at least a day per gun) and materials required to print them, although later after doing the math I realized in the long run it would be cheaper for me to buy my own 3D printer than to keep purchasing these things.

Did I mention I bought the Han Solo one, too?

I told myself at the beginning of 2017 I wouldn’t buy any more Star Wars collectibles, and for the most part, I haven’t. That being said, there’s something inherently cool about these guns. They’re big, but instantly recognizable as larger versions of the weapons that came with the vintage figures. Plus I had all that empty wall space above the closet door. Who can blame a guy for filling that space?

The best thing about the guns is, should Rebel scum kick down my front door, I’ll be ready for them.

The Wonderful World of 3D Printing

Last month I didn’t know anything about 3D printers, but the universe has a unique way of telling me when it’s time for a new toy. My friend Justin mentioned he could use something 3D printed. Then my friend Jeff also mentioned 3D printing. A blogger I follow, Rob Cockerham, bought a 3D printer. Then I bought a couple of 3D-printed Star Wars-related items online (you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to see those.) After recently selling my car I ended up with some spare money sitting in my bank account, and decided to take the hint from the cosmos and spend some of it on a new 3D printer.

What follows are a few questions I had about 3D printers, and the answers I have learned.

What exactly is a 3D printer?

A 3D printer is a device that prints objects in three dimensions. Instead of ink, it uses filament. The filament melts and turns into itsy-bitsy dots that stick together. In a way, it’s almost like a super accurate, computer-controlled hot glue gun.

Are the printers expensive?

My printer, the Creality CR10s, sells for $599. There are cheaper ones and ones that are a lot more expensive. (The first one I looked at was $4k.) Prices vary based on quality, size, and speed. Some printers can print two colors at once (most can only print one). Some printers have huge online support groups while others do not. I’m not advocating Creality printers one way or the other yet, as I haven’t had mine long enough to form an opinion yet.

Is the filament expensive? How much do things cost to print?

The first part of this question is simple. Rolls of PLA filament cost around $20 per kilogram. They come in a rainbow of colors. The answer to the second question is, “it depends.” Small things that are hollow obviously take less filament than big things that are solid. Before printing, the software gives you an estimate of how much filament your print will require.

How big is the printer? How big can it print?

The Creality CR10s has a print area of 300mm x 300mm x 400mm. That’s slightly less than 12″x12″x18″. (I should warn you that everything related to this printer is done in the metric system.) The printer itself is roughly 2′ tall and, including the controller box, about 2′ wide.

Is it fast?.

No. Printing something the size of a regular die took 15 minutes. Printing something the size of your fist might take 2-3 hours. Based on what I’ve read, it is not unusual for large prints to take 24 hours or more. Unless you like hearing internal fans blowing and tiny motors going “weee-weee-whirr-whirr” all night long, you might want to put your printer in another room. Because it has a MicroSD slot, the printer doesn’t need to be connected to a computer to print.

Was the printer easy to assemble?

No. The printer came “85% assembled” according to the seller. I watched a video on YouTube where a young lady assembled this same model in 10 minutes. It took me almost 8 hours. I could probably do the next one in 2 hours.

Is it easy to use?

Hmm. Define “easy?” To print something, at a minimum you are going to have to obtain a 3D model of the object somewhere, load it into another program, save that file to a MicroSD card, insert it into the printer, and then hope nothing goes wrong.

What could possibly go wrong?

The temperature of the bed could be too hot. Or too cold. Same goes for the extruder temperature. You could have cheap filament. The print bed might not be sticky enough. The bed might not be level. It might be too high. Or too low. There’s a ton of variables and options that have to be figured out through trial and error.

Here are the first two things I printed.

Come on, it can’t be that hard, can it?

Say hello to my new cat on the left, “Headless Harry.”

What software is required?

If you want to create your own designs, you can either build them in a CAD program (I’ve been using TinkerCAD) or a 3D sculpting program (haven’t tried that yet). You’ll also need a slicing program, which takes your 3D model and slices it into printable layers that the printer can understand. All of these programs I have used so far are free, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time over the past couple of days learning how to use them.

And finally…

What can I print?

As I mentioned, with a program like TinkerCAD, you can build virtual 3D objects and then print them out. I haven’t actually printed this out yet, but here are some tiny risers I created for some of my collectible figures.

If you don’t feel like learning a CAD program, you’ll want to check out Thingiverse.com, a website with hundreds of thousands of free models available for downloading. Trust me, the people building those models are way better than me. This is a 3D printed version of Rick from Rick and Morty. Note that it didn’t print in color — the person who printed the model also hand-painted it.

Here’s the first thing I got to print correctly. It’s the Programmer’s Dice from Thingiverse. It’s a six-sided die with binary numbers on the sides. So far I have printed two of them — one for me (which had minor issues), and one for my dad. It’s no headless cat, but eh. I printed this with the white filament that came free with the printer. It would probably look better in a different color.

That’s about it for now. Between work, school, and home life, I know I won’t have as much time to play with it as I would like, but little by little I plan to explore and learn more about it works. I have a few real-life objects I plan to design and print as parts replacements in the future. Maslow said “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Right now, everything looks like it needs something printed to me!

Star Wednesday: Vintage Kenner Catalogs

It’s becoming difficult to remember a time when we weren’t constantly being bombarded with electric advertisements. The websites we visit, the applications we use, the television shows we watch, and the digital billboards on every corner display images and pitch products 24 hours a day. These printed Star Wars catalogs from Kenner seem old-fashioned in comparison.

Kenner included one of these catalogs inside every Star Wars vehicle and playset sold. The catalogs were updated to reflect new toys in Kenner’s toy line, and the covers were updated with scenes from the most recent movie.

If you wanted to know my inspiration for photographing my “Star Wednesday” items on solid-colored backdrops, now you know where I got the idea from.

I don’t know if the catalogs included pictures of every single toy available in the Kenner line, but it sure contained a lot of them — not just the ships and playsets, but everythign from electronic board games to the miniature diecast vehicles. Each catalog also contained an application for the Star Wars Fan Club which could be cut out and mailed in (along with $5).

I don’t know how many different catalogs were produced — maybe a dozen or so — but I still own three of the ones I had as a kid. Like so many other things, they weren’t considered to be collectible or, to some kids, even worth saving. Me? I loved looking through these mini-catalogs. They were the pictures that held you over until the Christmas edition of the Sears Catalog arrived in the fall. If you’re interested in revisiting these catalogs, they can be purchased on eBay for $10-$20 each, depending on condition.

50th Anniversary of Roger Patterson’s Bigfoot Footage

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the most famous Bigfoot footage of all time, shot on October 18, 1967, by Roger Patterson and his friend Bob Gimlin.

The first time I saw a still from Roger Patterson’s footage was in a Time Life book called Strange Stories, Amazing Facts. The book contained hundreds of one-to-two page supposedly true mysteries, both paranormal and otherwise. The infamous “frame 352” from the footage appears about halfway through the book. In that frame, Bigfoot looks back over her right shoulder directly at Roger Patterson.

I saw the footage itself either on an episode of In Search Of… or on the 1981 television special Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Monsters… But Were Afraid to Ask!. There was no YouTube back then, so you couldn’t watch things like on demand, nor could you replay it over and over, or watch it in slow-motion. The beginning of the footage is shaky (Patterson reported that his horse was spooked by the sudden appearance of the creature) but eventually the picture steadies and we get to see… something.

In elementary school, my first stop in the library was always the 001.9 section. That’s where all the UFO, Bermuda Triangle, and Bigfoot books were. While some kids loved Judy Blume, Daniel Cohen was my favorite author. I read and re-read all the books in that section. Every book in the non-fiction section of our library presented Bigfoot as real, and I believed them.

The older I got, the more those old legends began to fall apart. I was crushed to learn that the so-called Surgeon’s Photo (the most famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster) was confirmed to be fake. With advances in computers and digital forensics, most of the UFO pictures I hoped were real were also debunked.

Of all the evidence of all those unexplained mysteries, Patterson’s Bigfoot footage held up the longest. It wasn’t until after his death in 1972 that some of his associates openly began describing him as “a liar and a conman.” Over time it came out that Patterson and Bob Gimlin were in Bluff Creek collecting footage for their Bigfoot “docudrama.” It’s not outside the realm of impossibility that a guy filming a docudrama about Bigfoot might have access to a Bigfoot costume. It is also incredible (in the true sense of the word) that the two men rented a camera for only three days and managed to film a Bigfoot during that time. While early investigators noted Bigfoot’s unique stride and claim that no human being could cover the same amount of distance covered by the creature in the same amount of time, later studies have shown that Patterson was, at a minimum, “mistaken” when he claimed the film was shot at 18 frames per second (subsequent investigators believe it was shot at 24 frames per second). When playing the footage back at 24 frames per second, Bigfoot’s gait appears much more human.

Defenders of the footage claim not even the best Hollywood special effects crews could have constructed such a believable and detailed costume, a notion most Hollywood special effects teams quietly snicker at. Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin frequently stated they showed the footage to executives from Disney and Universal Studios, both of whom said they could not figure out a way to duplicate such footage. Rarely retold is the interview with Rick Baker (who worked on the King Kong remake and Harry and the Hendersons) who said the costume looked like it was covered in “cheap, fake fur.” In regards to the footage, special effects legend Stan Winston once said, “it’s a guy in a bad hair suit — sorry!”

People have come out of the woodwork claiming to have had a part in the hoax. Phillip Morris, owner of Morris Costumes, claims he made and sold a Bigfoot costume to Roger Patterson shortly before the sighting. To prove his claim, Morris made another suit in 2004 and attempted to recreate the footage. Unfortunately, the 2004 suit looked nothing like the one in the Patterson film. Then there’s Bob Heironimus, a man who claims to be the person wearing the suit in the film. Heironumus has described the suit he wore in great detail, but his description does not match the description of the suit supposedly made by Morris. And then there was Cliff Crook (yes, Crook), a sculptor and Bigfoot investigator who claims to have spotted a zipper on the suit in Patterson’s film. Cliff Crook is best known for trying to pass pictures like this off as real:

If Roger Patterson was in on the hoax, he took his secret to the grave with him. Gimlin, his partner, remained silent about the footage until 2005, when, after 35 years, he began making appearances at Bigfoot conferences. Gimlin swears the footage is authentic.

There is always the possibility that both of them were duped. Ray Wallace of Patterson’s was an associate and fellow Bigfoot hunter. After he passed away in 2002, it was claimed that Wallace knew Patterson was dying from cancer, felt sorry for him, and told Patterson when and where to visit Bluff Creek and to “have his camera ready.”

Wallace’s claims have been disputed, as have Patterson’s, Gimlin’s, Morris’s, Heironimus’s, and everybody else’s even peripherally related to the Patterson footage. After 50 years, every claim regarding the footage has been proven both true and false dozens of times. Even if they found a gorilla costume hanging in the back of Patterson’s old cabin, it wouldn’t prove much of anything at this point.

My uncle Kenny lives in the Kiamichi Mountains, home of annual Honobia Bigfoot Festival. My uncle has walked all over those mountains and he’s never seen any sign of a Bigfoot. In fact, he’ll tell you he’s a lot more worried about running into Bigfoot hunters than he is about seeing Bigfoot. Secretly, each time we go down there to visit, the ten-year-old in me keeps one eye on the woods, just in case Bigfoot decides to make an appearance. Sadly, now that the entire world is armed with cell phone cameras, Bigfoot has become more elusive than ever.

100 (Questionable) Movies for $15

I love shopping on Amazon, I love bargains, and I love bad movies — so when I recently stumbled across Mill Creek’s latest 100 Movie DVD packs, knowing well and good that they were probably terrible, I bought them anyway (so you wouldn’t have to).

The three packs I purchased were 100 Greatest Cult Classics, 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Classics, and the one that originally hooked me, 100 Awesomely Cheesy Movies. Each pack sells for around $15 on Amazon, give or take a nickel.

Even if you’re not familiar with Mill Creek, you may have seen some of their compilations before. I know I have seen some of their 4-movie packs at Walmart and Dollar General, and maybe some of their 20-movie packs at Sam’s Club. Upon removing the wrapping from each one of these 100-pack collections, two 50-pack movie collections fell out. Apparently Mill Creek is bundling two of their previously-released 50-movie packs and marketing them as a single 100-movie pack. What’s odd is, the 50-movie packs have an MSRP of around $30, so bundling two of them together and selling them as a single $15 package makes about as much sense as, well, most of the included films.

In case you already have some of the 50-movie packs, the 100 Greatest Cult Classics pack consists of 50 B-Movie Blast and 50 Drive-in Movie Classics. 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Classics contains 50 SciFi Classics and 50 Sci-Fi Invasion. Finally, 100 Awesomely Cheesy Movies is actually 50 The Swinging Seventies and 50 The Excellent Eighties.

Each separate 50 pack of movies comes in its own thick clamshell case. There are 13 DVDs in each case; 12 of the DVDs are double-sided and contain two movies per side. Each DVD comes in a black paper sleeve with a clear plastic window. If you have your glasses nearby, you may be able to make out the titles of the films printed around the center hub of each disc. There’s no way to flip through the discs without removing all of the paper sleeves from the plastic case, which means if the movie you want to watch is on the last DVD, you’re going to be removing them all to get to it.

Fortunately, most of these movies are so bad you will likely have poked your own eyeballs out long before you get to the last DVD.

While only a fool would complain about the quality of 100 movies purchased for $15, I do feel compelled to question Mill Creek’s use of the terms “greatest” and “classics.” I can almost guarantee you that your personal list of the 100 greatest science fiction films of all time does not match Mill Creek’s, unless your list contains films such as Bride of the Gorilla, She Gods of Shark Reef, and the perennial sci-fi classic that makes everybody’s list, Eegah.

If you were expecting Close Encounters of the Third Kind or Star Wars, you may have chosen poorly.

Likewise, if you were hoping for any extra features — and I mean any — these are not the packs for you. These discs don’t contain subtitles. They don’t contain commentary tracks. They don’t even contain trailers. You get a menu that allows you to pick one movie, or the other. There are also scene selections — four per film.

Again, I’m not complaining — merely setting expectations. The movies are not remastered, there are no extras… I mean literally, it’s a bunch of movies in paper sleeves stuffed inside a big fat plastic case. So what exactly are you getting here?

Quantity. If you like b-movies, boy, you had better stock up on the popcorn, mister. We’re talking The Kidnapping of the President quality, starring William Shatner. We’re talking Death Machines, and Deathrow Gameshow. We’re talking Women of Devil’s Island, Voodoo Black Exorcist, and My Mom’s a Werewolf.

We’re talkin’ 1974’s Jive Turkey, you jive turkeys.

Some of these movies are available on YouTube. Most of them are terrible. None of them are “the greatest classics” by any standard imaginable. And yet, here they are — 100 movies for $15. Or, if you’re me, 300 movies for $45.

Videophiles, nitpickers, and people who know what wine goes with which dessert can safely pass these by. On the other hand, if you listen to the How Did This Get Made? podcast, enjoy watching films that make you feel like you may have had a stroke, or wish the guys on Mystery Science Theater 3000 would “pipe down” so you could hear the movie, well, buckle up solder, and get ready for hundreds of hours of terrible entertainment.

(For those who are interested, below is the complete list of movies included on each of these packages.)

Continue reading 100 (Questionable) Movies for $15

Vizio/WiFi Struggles

The earliest reference I can find to “PiVo,” the first PC-based DVR I built, is from 2007. Although I had ripped DVDs to my hard drive prior to 2007, after I set up PiVo, I went all in. I decided the future of home entertainment would be streaming movies, both over the internet and locally. I spent years converting my 1,000+ DVD collection into digital files — first as AVI files, and later, as technology improved, to MP4 and MKV format.

In 2011 we moved to our current house, and my little media streaming network hasn’t been the same since. When things work, they work, but sometimes movies buffer, sometimes they stutter, and sometimes the who thing locks up. I’ve changed so many pieces of the system that it’s been difficult to figure out where the problem lies, or really, exactly when it started.

When I started troubleshooting networks more than two decades ago, I learned the best technique was to start at one end and move to the other. I applied that to my own network, upgrading almost component along the way. When my array of four 2TB drives ran low on space, I replaced them with eight faster 3TB drives. I upgraded my external storage container from SATA-2 to the faster SATA-3, and upgraded my drive controller card at the same time. Eventually I bought a new server, and optimized it. It is no exaggeration to say I have spent thousands of dollars in upgrades trying to fix the problem.

The last piece of the puzzle was my wireless router. It was older than I remembered — 7 years, in fact — and so I thought it wouldn’t hurt to upgrade. I replaced my aging Linksys 2000 with a much more modern Linksys 7500. The new router has external antennas, new features, and is faster. It is a 100% improvement over my old router in every possible way.

It fixed my streaming problem. Finally, movies play without buffering or stuttering. My older 802.11n devices have a stronger signal, and my newer devices that use 5GHz are faster, too. After years of messing with my network, finally, everything was fixed.

And then, the living room television began randomly disconnecting from the wireless network.

Just to recap: my two WD Live boxes (the devices I use to stream movies to my televisions) are now working better. All three of our laptops, and the couple of desktops we have that use wireless, are working better. All four iPhones and both of our iPads are working better. My army of wireless Raspberry Pis are working better. Our two printers, which believe it or not are wireless, are working better. Every single goddamn wireless device in this house is working better.

Except for the living room television.

The Western Digital box I use has Netflix and YouTube apps, but so does the television. Susan and the kids like using the apps built into the television, because it’s less complicated and you only have to use one remote. I didn’t need to fix this for me. I needed to fix this for them.

I physically relocated the wireless router closer to the living room. That didn’t help.I changed the channel on the router. That didn’t help. I installed a device that reboots the router every day at 4 a.m. That didn’t help.

At a loss for ideas, I decided to hook the old router back up and connect only the television to it.

That didn’t help.

Literally, how could that not help? I had just returned things to the way they were before I started!

Shortly before putting my fist through the television, I remembered something. The other day when I turned on the television, I received a notification asking me to approve something. The television must have received a firmware upgrade. I checked online, and sure enough, Vizio recently upgraded the firmware of my television. A review of the television’s manual says that you cannot request an upgrade, reinstall an upgrade, prevent an upgrade, or roll back an upgrade. Upgrades are downloaded when your television is off (strange definition of “off”) and applied when you turn it on. No exceptions.

The symptoms, while not repeatable, are consistent. After 15-20 minutes of streaming directly through the Vizio television, the wireless network disappears. The green bars that designate signal strength are replaced with a triangle warning icon, and even in the setup menu, no wireless networks appear. Sometimes turning the television off and on fixes the problem and sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve reset the television back to its factory defaults, and even unplugged it for an hour. Nothing helps.

As part of my troubleshooting last year I bought an EnGenius wireless repeater for a dollar at a garage sale. It didn’t help my network at all (in fact it kind of made things worse) but I threw it in a drawer anyway. I pulled the repeater out of the closet, connected the television to it, and tried that. No help. As a last resort, I reconfigured the device to be a wireless bridge, essentially simulating a wireless network cable. I used a network cable to connect the television to the wireless bridge, and gave it a try.

It worked.

It worked!!!

I opened Stranger Things on Netflix and let it run for several hours. It didn’t lock up once! Even though my current configuration is using my wireless network, it’s bypassing the actual television’s wireless network interface. The problem is definitely with the television’s wireless networking, and definitely was introduced with the latest firmware update. If Vizio is bored and looking for a problem to fix, that would be a good place to look.

The Death of a Chair

A common phrase among writers is “butt-in-chair” time. Websites offering writing advice are particularly fond of the phrase. At its simplest, it means to write, you have to be sitting in a chair, in front of a computer. That’s hard to do for hours on end when your chair hurts your butt after only a few minutes.

The chair I’ve been sitting in for the past 30 years is the brown one you see above.

In the late 1980s, the oil business was booming in Oklahoma. Small oil companies and satellite offices for larger ones moved into town and were hiring like crazy. My mom worked for a couple of different ones during that time. When the bottom fell out of the market those offices closed as quickly as they opened, many of them liquidating their office supplies in the process. It was during one of those liquidations that we acquired several of those office chairs — two brown ones, and two olive-colored ones. They were old when we got them in the late 80s, and I’ve had the two brown ones ever since.

That means the chairs went with me to my first apartment in 1992, to Weatherford in 1993, to Spokane in 1996, and all the houses we’ve owned since then. Here’s a picture of Susan sitting in the chair back in 1993 while I was reading from a book and trying to hypnotize her.

The chairs weren’t without their flaws. They were easy to tip over; when they leaned back, they leaned back fast and hard. The top part of the chair wasn’t fastened to the base, which meant any time you picked the chair up off the ground it came apart in two pieces, usually leaking oil (or something) onto the carpet. Worst of all, there wasn’t much padding left in the seat. Still, they worked, and they got me through the late 1980s, the 1990s, the 2000s, and most of the 2010s.

Last year, Mason asked if he could move one of the two chairs into his bedroom. I let him, and a week later it was broken. He never quite confessed as to what torture he put the chair through in order to break it, but whatever it was, it must have been impressive as I’ve literally been abusing these things for thirty years and it never fazed them.

Even though the other chair remained strong, it also remained uncomfortable. My butt-in-chair time was leading to stiffness-in-back and pain-in-tailbone. I must have whined about it one too many times because for my birthday, Susan bought me a really nice leather office chair.

And it feels great on my tailbone.

I’m too sentimental and nostalgic as it is, and I have to draw the line at old furniture that hurts to sit in. As I look back at pictures of my old computer rooms, it’s amazing how many times the brown chair makes appearances. It’s never in the center of the frame or the subject of the picture. Usually it’s pushed off to the side, almost out of frame but not entirely.

When I first sat in that brown chair I was calling BBSes with a 1200 baud modem on my Commodore 64. While sitting in that chair I did my homework for high school (1989-91), Redlands Community College (1991-93), Southwestern Oklahoma State University (1993-94), Oklahoma City Community College (1999-2000), Southern Nazarene University (2004-05), and the University of Oklahoma (2015-17). I played guitar in it, wrote two books while sitting in it, and played lots of computer games from inside it. I’ve moved it to an apartment, to a mobile home, to Washington state and back, and to three different houses in Oklahoma.

Last weekend, after thirty years of loyal service, I moved it to the curb.