Please Help Me, I Am A Fanboy

Well, I think we all knew that, but I don’t think we ever knew exactly how deep that river ran.

We know about me and movies – though there are bigger movie fans out there. I haven’t mentioned comic books much since that one comment about preferring that I talk about movies (I’m quite the sensitive soul, I assure you), but then again, I just don’t read them as much as I used to. The constant mega-events and reboots just wore me down, and I’ve largely turned my back on them.

The Usual Suspects

The Usual Suspects

And then the local comics shop that I visited perhaps once every three months opened up a shop much closer (the bastards) and now I’m an every-three-weeks-or-so guy. I don’t leave with many books. The titles I have hung onto are because of the writers more than anything. It’s the usual suspects – Kurt Busiek, Gail Simone and – especially – Warren Ellis. Well, there’s also The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, but that’s mainly because for years nobody believed me there actually was such a character.

If we’re going to drill down into the fanboy thing, the author we have to concentrate on is Ellis, whose work I was turned onto in that selfsame comic shop so many years ago. If you’re a comics fan, you’re familiar with his work: Stormfront, The Authority and multiple Marvel titles (including the amazing NEXTwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.) in the superhero genre, and more wide-ranging genre work like Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency and Planetary. He branched out into prose novels and TV projects, but keeps returning to comics. The weekly Web serial FreakAngels has wrapped, but his current series, still being published in floppy form, are Trees, Injection (which is my current obsession) and a new James Bond series aiming to take the character back to his Ian Fleming roots.

injection3The thing about serialized storytelling (which is the state of modern comics – the one-off single issue stories have seemed to all but vanish, though Global Frequency showed Ellis can also work very well at that form) is that each chapter has to find a way to stand on its own, while still serving the greater story. FreakAngels was good at that, publishing its tale in six-page gouts. Lately, Ellis really has gotten this down to a science, as each issue – I almost called them episodes – leads up to a final image that is almost always satisfying, but still causes the reader to say “Nooooooo! I want more!” I once snottily said that every issue of Injection was too short, but each issue is so densely packed with imagery that it takes time to unpack. Ellis (and his artistic collaborators, Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire) give us tiny glimpses at a vast tapestry of a story, and like FreakAngels before it, Injection is going to provide an even better experience when it is all of a piece.

(A few years ago I went back and re-read Neil Gaimin’s Sandman from stem to stern, and was delighted at the many pieces I had not picked up on a monthly basis, but now revealed themselves when considered as a whole.)

Ellis is a writer intensely interested in futurism, and he lived his life pretty openly in the digital realm, back in the days when most of us were piddling around with an AOL account. Mailing lists, Twitter, Instagram, he was there, finding the possibilities, experiencing and recording a vast new world. He’s slowed down on that as responsibilities multiply (especially to his own health – take care of yourself, dammit! We need you!), but he still has a weekly newsletter I look forward to each Sunday.

Squad Goals

Squad Goals

Now if all that wasn’t fanboy enough for you, Ellis also updates us about his work habits, what he takes with him on his travels for work purposes. And every now and then he will sing the praises of something that works really well for him and suddenly I have to have that thing because Warren Ellis uses it and thinks it’s cool.

20160218_113154Before I go any further, let me introduce you to this =>

I am the guy pushing 60 who’s still wearing cargo pants. The reason why is the right thigh pocket always has this kit in it. It’s an idea I saw on a Boing Boing post once, about a designer who always carried a pouch like this that had everything he might need on a typical day. Markers, measuring tape, small flashlight, the like. I thought, that is absolutely something I should do. Immediately went over to Amazon and bought the very same zipper pouch, the Maxpedition Micro Pocket Organizer. What you see poking out of the mesh pocket is one of Ellis’ gewgaws, the Nightcore Tube flashlight, which is rechargeable and insanely bright. The only drawback is also its strength: it is small, and once I lent it to my son, who immediately lost it. I lost no time in ordering its replacement, it is so handy. There’s also a lens cleaning cloth and a Swiss-Tech flat multi-tool, which is fairly useless but it was a gift from my flashlight-losing son. It’s meant to be carried in a wallet, but I already have too much crap in my wallet.

And in case you were wondering, this is the interior:

2016-02-18 12.56.25From left-to-right: 4-in-1 screwdriver, pencil, Leatherman 831207 multi-tool, 4-inch adjustable wrench, marker, Streamlight LED flashlight, and a clasp knife from my collection (which means at any given time I’m carrying three knives. Come at me, bro.) In the back pockets are yet another lens cloth and some braided paracord. I do like being prepared. The wrench and paracord are the only items I’ve never had cause to use. Yet.

Big deal, you’re thinking, you’ve found a kit that works for you, and it has a thing one of your favorite writers once said was cool. Yeah, you’re some fanboy.

We haven’t gotten to the Pebble yet.

SteelI was one of those people who wasn’t interested in the idea of a smartwatch. They seemed like expensive toys, way out of the reach of my pocketbook, like a sports car or a curved TV set. I had stopped even wearing a watch, because I had a smartphone and I’m almost always in the presence of one computer or another with a clock in the corner.

Then Ellis waxes rhapsodical about his Pebble Steel. Not once, but twice. And suddenly, ridiculously, I feverishly desired a Pebble. My life would simply be hellishly incomplete without one.

Fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on how you approach the story – the original version of the Pebble, only slightly removed from a successful Kickstarter campaign – is pretty affordable, especially if you buy it used. I thought $35 was a fair price to find out if it was actually as good as Ellis said, and I could actually afford that.

Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.

Baby steps, my friend. Baby steps.

The screen is not very bright – it’s a grayscale LCD e-paper display. It has an accelerometer so if you flick your wrist, a backlight comes on for a few seconds, so it’s usable in dark environments. It has various downloadable apps and watchfaces. It vibrates whenever you get a call, text message, or alert from any number of smartphone apps you choose.

Ellis likes it because it allows him to judge if he should engage immediately with an alert or if it is something he can deal with later without physically checking his phone. He claims it’s improved his phone’s battery life by one-half or more. And the Pebble itself, with that e-paper display, can go five days without a charge. It’s also waterproof, which starts getting into the realm of James Bond shit, unless you also have to wash dishes and it’s kind of refreshing to not have to take the expensive gizmo off when you do so. I even wore it into the shower once, just to prove I could. But that felt so freaky I never did it again.

After just a couple of days, I was sold on the damned thing. It turns out that pulling out your phone and turning it on just to see the time is actually a lot of wasted motion. It also appealed to me that I could see the weather and temperature outside if I chose the right watchface (that sort of functionality quickly supplanted the geeky novelty of the one that duplicated the Star Trek LCARS display). Yeah, yeah, I could just look outside but the Day Job is inside a server farm and I might as well be in Hitler’s bunker for all the windows I have access to.

Well, crap.

Well, crap.

The one fly in the ointment was that the e-paper display could get famously buggy, and I’d have to switch back and forth between watchface and an app to clear it out, sometimes several times. Well, I thought, that’s what you get for buying a used one. So I saved up my birthday and Christmas gift cards and ordered a new version of the one my hero wore, the Pebble Steel. The original Pebble felt and kind of looked like that first digital watch I bought back in the late 70s, all black plastic and rubberized watchband.

Here’s the thing, though: like I said, the e-paper display was notorious for its instability. The first Steel I got wouldn’t even charge (and the charger is a different configuration between various generations of the device, so I couldn’t even determine if it was the cable or the Steel itself). The replacement charged up, but the display was even worse than my original Pebble. After trying various remedies found on Pebble’s forums, I finally went straight to them, and they very kindly sent me a new Pebble Time, which was their current iteration. They also offered to send me another Steel if I preferred, but when you’re offered a First Class Upgrade, you take it.

The Time has a color e-paper display, and though the body is still plastic, it looks classier. There’s yet another charger, but this time the port is positioned to also accept something called smartstraps, which I think is putting me back in the expensive toy category. The Time already does everything I want it to, and more.

Pebble is my co-pilot. All you other co-pilots, out of the boat.

Pebble is my co-pilot. All you other co-pilots, out of the boat.

A major major advantage is that I mute my phone whenever I am shooting video, or performing in a show. I don’t always remember to turn it back on. I might have missed calls from my wife or my mother if it weren’t for the Time alerting me (I also take unseemly delight in looking at a phone number on the watch and pressing a button to sent it straight to Voice Mail). Sometimes I can’t respond to my phone’s reminder for me to take my evening meds, and I wound up forgetting to take them entirely. The Time allows me to set another alarm for every day to remind me to take my damned old man pills. The accelerometer tracks my steps in a day, so I can try to take more. I’m never going to worry about leaving my phone somewhere again because the Time buzzes whenever I pass out of Bluetooth range. It has a countdown timer and a stopwatch, both things I used to haul out my phone to access.

So yes, Warren Ellis was right about that one, too. It’s a terrific tool. I just hope the next time he finds something wonderful and useful, it’s back in the ten buck range again.

injection-3---review-142716We now return you to your regularly scheduled incoherent ramblings about cinema.

POSTSCRIPT: Judging from his Twitter feed, Richard Kadrey is now wearing a Pebble. I was doomed to this course of action in any case.

 

Absentee Landlord Writes In

You may not believe it, but I do try to post here at least once a week. That really doesn’t seem too much to ask, does it? A few hours a week, devoted to this little corner of the Web? Except that this hasn’t happened this month, and here’s why.

The stunningly obvious: there was that Roger Ebert month burning me out on watching movies and writing about them, followed up by the local Independence Day festivities, which always serves to point up exactly how old I am and how many of my body parts have been busted over the years (fewer than Jackie Chan or Evel Kneivel, but then, I don’t feel their pain except in the most vicarious ways). I retreated to one of my older favorite activities: sitting in my easy chair and reading.

devil saidSo, for our first digression: I finished Richard Kadrey’s Devil Said Bang, the fourth Sandman Slim novel. I love Kadrey’s work – its punk tone, the characters, the dialogue. It’s Raymond Chandler for people who cut their teeth on splatterpunk and b-movies. If I have one complaint about Kadrey’s novels, it’s that his prose is so stripped down, eschewing even the idea of chapters, that his novel’s climaxes don’t have as much raw power as they deserve. His endings seem a little too tidy, with the exception of Aloha From Hell, which had a pretty remarkable game-changing denouement. I still look forward to Kill City Blues, out at the end of this month – his novels are great rides, and the pros far outweigh the cons.

gun machineWarren Ellis’ Gun Machine was taken up after that, which, while not as gonzo as his previous prose novel, Crooked Little Vein, is still a bracing, fiery beast of a detective novel. In one day, NYPD detective John Tallow loses his partner and opens the most bizarre case in the city’s history when he discovers evidence of a serial killer’s work going back 20 years: a room decorated with guns used in practically every unsolved homicide in that time. He’s aided in his investigation by two eccentric CSUs named Bat and Scarly, a very entertaining Odd Couple. Intriguingly, the killer himself seems to slip and slide between present day and pre-Revolutionary War Manhattan. The ending was a tad disappointing, but the characters are incredible, and it’s with a mixture of joy and sorrow that I find out Gun Machine is being developed for TV.

I needed something to fill my time between Gun Machine and the release of Kill City Blues (which I hope to tide me over until Lyndsay Faye’s Seven for a Secret comes out in September), when I remembered Andrew Vachss had a new novel out, Aftershock.

andrew-vachss-aftershockI’ve been reading Vachss for years, starting with his Burke books. He writes fascinating, dark books filled with compelling characters on the fringe of society. He’s also a writer who pumps a very large amount of his personal rage into his novels. Aftershock is very obviously based on the Stubenville High School rape case, and presents a new character, Dell, a highly-trained, emotionally-damaged mercenary trying to make a new life with the woman he loves (a former nurse with Doctors Without Frontiers who saved his life and his soul). Dell has the smarts and the skills to take on the people responsible for the rape culture in his new hometown, but is savvy enough to use the System to pull it up by the roots. Not my favorite Vachss novel, but I also have to admit I could not put the book down in the last 75 pages or so.

Well, that was a nice diversion. Now let’s get to the bad stuff.

There has, thank God, been an uptick in paying work this year. The hanging on by fingernails stuff was getting very wearying. That, you might point out, is good, and I agree. I enjoy having a little money as compared to no money at all. But. This also means I was able to pay for the labwork my doctor was insisting on. Oh, it was high time for it, I admit. I’ve been on blood pressure and two forms of cholesterol medication for the past year and a half. In my last bout of dental work, a routine BP check showed it to be running a little high, so that dosage needed to be looked at, blah blah blah.

When I received my copy of the lab results, I knew trouble was on the way. I had successfully gotten a couple of the cholesterol counts down, but one was still a little too high and my triglycerides were through the roof, and probably took out three jet liners on their way up. But there were other indicators that confirmed some suspicions I’d had for a year and more.

At my last eye exam, the optometrist said, “Hm, your eyes are dilating very slowly.” There was a lessening of sensation in my feet. My vision would be very blurry after waking up – when I managed to sleep. My blood pressure med is a diuretic, so I had to go to the bathroom more often, but I was doing that with ridiculous frequency. Constant fatigue was beginning to be a problem.

hmmm-diabeetus-you-saySo while the nurse practitioner was going over my results with me, she looked up and said, “Have you gone diabetic on me?” I could only say, “Sure looks like it, doesn’t it?” Following in the footsteps of my father and his father before him.

So I have more pills now. No insulin – at this point, we try to control it with pills, diet and (ha!) exercise, meaning I have to find one that doesn’t put me on the cane more than I already am. A lot of the lifestyle changes I had already made; I’m now working on stuff like reducing carbs and saying farewell to my beloved hot dogs. Sugar I largely cut out years ago. I stick myself for the glucometer twice a day; the initial outrageous readings have trended downward since.

The blurry vision has abated. I’m sleeping a little better. I may not have pep in my step but my mind seems clearer of late. It’s kind of like I was cocooned in some sort of white noise for the last few months and that’s finally diminishing as my chemistry normalizes.

Needless to say, this isn’t an experience I recommend. Just stepping into the field of glucometers was a nasty eye-opener, as those things and their test strips are based on the printer/ink cartridge business model. The first thing I did was search the Internet for a place that sold test strips at a quarter of the price of my drug store. My wife, who has years of experience as a diabetic, has been an invaluable resource to me in this time. I think she’s glad to finally have someone close to share this with.

fail-owned-wendys-failSo that took up quite a lot of my time (the saga of six separate trips to the lab? Won’t bore you with that story). Finally, in attempting to end this on an up note, I’ll say that a couple more writing projects have presented themselves. One won’t start paying off until next year, but another will this year – and the other writer backed out on this one due to time constraints, so I’m flying it solo – for more money – but that means my work there just doubled. My weekend acting gig has decided it is time to mount a new show NOW DAMMIT, so there goes even more time. My time management skills will get a workout, even if it’s not the kind of workout I need.

I’m still finding time to watch the occasional movie, though. Maybe I’ll even have time to tell you about those. Some time.