Category Archives: This & That

Understanding the Cultural Phenomenon of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Understanding the Cultural Phenomenon of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

Legendary international drag queen superstar and pop culture icon, RuPaul Charles, just snatched his third Emmy nomination for Outstanding Host for a Reality Program for RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is arguably the best show on television.  Maybe ever.  Hear me out.  The concept of a reality contest TV show about a bunch of men dressing up like women is revolutionary in its subversion of the cultural norms of our society.  Imagine just a few years back the possibility of such a program becoming popular with mainstream audiences.  It would have been inconceivable.  But, now everyone watches Drag Race.  Gays and straights, young and old, men and women.  Even my mom watches Drag Race!

Irreverently campy and fun

Why?  Because it’s fun.  It’s fun to watch adults – grown men, no less – play with colors and fabric.  It’s fun to openly celebrate music, art, comedy, performance, dancing, and fashion.  There is a freedom on display here that is wildly intoxicating – as if someone had let all the old, stale air out the room and let in the breeze from outside.  Gone are the deadly serious sexual mores that define the popular culture.  For the entirety of the show’s weekly 42-minute runtime, viewers get to depart from the mainstream to tumble down the rabbit hole – and what a gloriously irreverent and campy journey it is!

As these drag queens subvert the mainstream culture – which always adheres to such rigid views of gender, identity, and expression – they also manage to tackle some heavy thematic material: bullying, body image, homophobia, transphobia, AIDS, and trauma.  Contestants discuss coming out to their families, their transition as a transperson, financial stresses, and battling depression.  All this through the structure of a cheesy reality contest format.

The format of the show

Here’s how it works.  Contestants are assigned challenges.  There is a mini-challenge and then there is the main challenge, which usually involves fashion design or a performance of some sort, capped off with a runway walk showcasing an assigned fashion theme.  The drag queens are then critiqued by the judges, including RuPaul, and a challenge winner is announced along with two bottom performers.  Each episode finishes off with a lip synch battle between the two bottom queens.  The winner gets to move on to the next episode while the loser gets sent home.  It’s good fun.

Some of the most valuable and poignant scenes take place backstage in the workroom, where the contestants get dressed up and apply makeup.  Watching them get ready allows us to appreciate the difficulty of the transformation and the artistry behind the glitz and sparkle.  Apart from the disruption of gender norms, there’s also an element of social and economic transcendence as each contestant, usually, a small-time club performer in his hometown is given a national platform and is raised to the raised to the iconic status of having a recognizable brand.  Without this outlet, these men – many of them still in their early twenties – might never be able to rise so prominently and with such swiftness within the entertainment industry.

Something else – the phenomenon of the show

There’s something else about the show, too – something less easy to define.  The phenomenon of Drag Race is something few could have anticipated.  Can you imagine the pitch to the network (initially, it was Logo; the show has since moved to VH1)?  No show like it had ever been done.  It was surely a financial gamble but look what happened.  The timing was just right in the sense that the culture presented a window of opportunity for Drag Race to take root and expand in the public consciousness.  Part of that was undoubtedly due to Obama and the reaction against the conservativism of the Bush years.

The pendulum swung in the other direction.  Now, with Trump in office and the state of politics being what it is, the show feels more necessary than ever.  Drag Race gives people the permission to step outside the confines of their socially programmed way of thinking to derive pleasure from watching people flout convention.  Our guard comes down.  We get to live vicariously through the contestants.  In its purest sense, this is the supreme joy of drag.

Corrupting forces

However, a corrupting force has infiltrated and crashed the party.  The fandom surrounding the show has taken a dark turn in the form of viciousness on social media and cyberbullying.  Disliked contestants are met with vitriol and scorn.  On a macro level, perhaps this is the pendulum swinging back the other way.  Freedom and the tearing down of barriers lead people to instinctively seek out methods of classification and division.  It feels safer that way. I’m on his side, and not yours.  I’m rooting for him, and not him.  I hope he fails.  It’s as if the human psyche gets intimidated by freedom and love – yes, love – and we revert to our baser nature.

The show is plenty culpable.  The competitive nature of the program makes it ripe for this kind of rotten fandom.  It’s simple marketing.  In their effort to produce a compelling drama, the show encourages identification and classification.  So-and-so is the good guy; so-and-so is the villain, etc.  Contestants who go on the show and self-produce their image also encourage this kind of identification and classification.

Essentially, these marketing tactics serve to strip away the humanity and complexity of these contestants, so it becomes easier to direct our animus (and fanatic devotion) at them.  Drag queens, who have always had thick skins, can banter and battle amongst themselves.  The problem arises when the fans watching at home, most of whom are not part of that subculture, feel inclined to participate in the bitchiness by taking sides.  It’s vicarious living, yes, but it’s also somewhat presumptuous in much the same way that outsider involvement in family disputes is presumptuous.  It just isn’t right.  I can argue with my sister and curse at her; I’m allowed to do that.  It’s a thing between us. You, however, are not allowed to do that.

The price of mainstream success

This is all a double-edged sword.  Certainly, there is a lot of fun to this set-up.  Fans of the show get bite-sized morsels of easily digestible drama, and that contributes to the ease of the show’s rise in popularity.  At the same time, it’s not a good look when LGBT fans – presumably the core audience demographic – who are supposed to know better than to be divisive and judgmental, then go out and enact some of the same transgressions against the contestants that the equal rights movement as a whole would protest against.

Perhaps this is the unanticipated price of mainstream commercial success – the result of taking a marginalized aspect of the culture and catapulting it into the national spotlight during the age of social media.  Life’s a trade-off, and there are always growing pains to be endured.  I’m not entirely sure that the show can effectively quash this unintended consequence.  They’ve tried to address it on the show by making cyberbullying a featured topic of discussion.  But will it ever go away completely?

Unified voices of inclusivity and love

It should be recognized that we need a show like this now more than ever.  People talk of an ongoing culture war.  I don’t know if that’s true.  It certainly feels true.  We need all the voices of inclusivity, freedom, and humor to be on deck, and that’s what this show is. A voice for progress.  Hostility and divisiveness threaten to hamper the power of that voice and possibly silence it.  Fans of the show, who are integral participants in the Drag Race phenomenon, have a responsibility to assess their attitudes and actions and realize that we are all on the same side here.  We are all part of that voice of inclusivity and love, and as such, we have a very real interest in making sure that voice remains pure.

Drag Race is a show to be celebrated.  RuPaul (along with the executive producers and main judges who make the show possible, including the amazing Michelle Visage, Carson Kressley, and Ross Mathews) fully deserves this Emmy nomination.  The future looks bright for this program, which is revolutionary and will be recognized as a pivotal point in television history.  How long the show will last and what becomes of it is really anyone’s guess, but, in a sense, isn’t that up to us?


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Matt Groening’s “Disenchantment” Coming to Netflix

Matt Groening’s “Disenchantment” Coming to Netflix

Matt Groening, that genius of animation, has created an adult animated fantasy series on Netflix called Disenchantment.  The series centers around the misadventures of Princess Bean, a rebellious and alcoholic princess, her elf companion, Elfo, and her “personal demon” Luci.

disenchantment

In true Matt Groening fashion, the twenty-episode series (that’s the number of episodes ordered by Netflix to start with) will feature an irreverent, witty brand of humor.  Trailers for the show reveal that the series is set in a medieval fantasy kingdom called Dreamland.

The humor here seems not unlike the tongue-in-cheek jokes of The Simpsons and Futurama, with plenty of cultural and political references thrown in for good measure.

The animation style is a bright and colorful two-dimensional artwork that is fun and interesting to look at.  If Futurama and The Simpsons give any indication, there will be plenty of sight gags involved.

disenchantment

The first ten episodes of the series are scheduled for release on August 17, 2018.  Happy binge watching!

 

The Top 5 Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen

The Top 5 Horror Movies You’ve Never Seen

These days, it’s a rare thing to encounter a quality scary movie that succeeds in delivering the goods.  If you’re as hardened a horror fan as I am, the state of modern horror can be discouraging.  Fortunately, we have seen a sort of mini-renaissance on the American market with recent high-quality productions through A24 and Blumhouse.  Innovative, original horror like “Hereditary” (2018) and “Get Out” (2017) give us reason to hope.  However, these gems are few and far between.  Resourceful movie-lovers can always revive their spirits with the classics.  Streaming old horror movies has never been easier with services like Shudder.  There’s some seriously great stuff out there guaranteed to give you the chills.  Here are some of the best creepy old movies that will probably be familiar to many cinephiles but may be new material for unsuspecting newcomers.  Watch at your own risk!

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

horror movies

Robert Mitchum plays a sleazy ex-convict who swindles lonely women before murdering them.  He finds his next victim in a woman played by Shelley Winters.  Her children’s frantic flight from the hymn-singing madman is one of the most suspenseful and astonishingly beautifully sequences in movie history.  The movie plays like a hypnotic fable with sinister, unclean overtones.  It’s a terrifying classic.  This was the only movie directed by renowned English actor, Charles Laughton.

The Innocents (1961)

horror movies

Deborah Kerr stars as the new governess to two creepy children who live in a haunted mansion.  Her intensely focused performance here is key to the film’s effectiveness as an unnerving, elegant, and hauntingly suggestive horror piece.  Adapted from Henry James’ classic novella, “The Turn of the Screw,” this movie sets the gold standard for paranormal movies, fixing on the beauty of its imagery to heighten the terror experience.  This is sophisticated horror.  Jack Clayton (who also helmed the classic film, “The Great Gatsby,” with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow) directs.

Freaks (1932)

horror movies

Director Tod Browning (who also directed the classic Universal film, “Dracula”) provides sensationalistic shocks and thrills in this nightmarish drama set in the world of circus freaks.  The movie is at its strongest when it exploits the imagery of physical deformity for the effect of horror.  To achieve this, Browning cast real-life circus performers to fill the roles of the freaks.  When it was test screened in 1932, a woman in the audience suffered a miscarriage and later claimed it was due to the shocking nature of the movie.  It was banned in England for thirty years after its release.  It was also banned in several jurisdictions in the United States, and because some of these laws were never repealed, it’s still technically illegal to exhibit this movie in certain areas.

The Devil-Doll (1936)

horror movies

It’s no coincidence that another of Tod Browning’s films appears on this list.  The man is an icon of horror movie history, and I imagine he had quite the twisted imagination to provide such nightmare fodder as this.  Lionel Barrymore (the great-uncle of Drew Barrymore) plays an escaped convict who disguises himself in old lady drag to sell life-like little dolls to the people who framed him.  The dolls, however, are actually miniaturized people who steal and kill.  The ideas on display here are quite creepy – criminality, revenge, scheming transvestism, black magic, and murder.  Some images are difficult to shake off.

Eyes Without a Face (1960)

horror movies

A bone-chilling French classic that disconcerts audiences with its combination of mesmerizing, surrealistic beauty and macabre surgical horror.  The movie plays like a poetic nightmare, a kind of grisly fairytale.  After causing an accident that leaves his daughter horribly disfigured, a brilliant surgeon goes to extreme lengths to right his wrongs.  He kidnaps young women and attempts to graft their faces onto his daughter’s ruined visage.  This movie has influenced countless modern horror films – from Pedro Almodóvar’s “The Skin I Live In” (2011) to “Goodnight, Mommy” (2014).

Honorable Mentions

horror movies

Certainly, there are plenty of other movies that could have made this list – movies like “Les Diaboliques” (1955), about a sadistic schoolmaster whose wife finally tires of his abuses and plots to murder him, and that’s just the set-up to this terrifically sinister thriller that I encourage you to watch at home in the dark.  Alone.  There’s also Carl Theodore Dreyer’s landmark film, “Vampyr” (1932), that is arguably the greatest vampire movie ever made.  Horror hounds should also check out the Japanese film, “Onibaba” (1964), directed by Kaneto Shindô, for its unflinching descent into prurient horror.  Another good one to check out by the same director is the haunting “Kuroneko” (1968).  You can’t go wrong with Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965), which certainly lives up to its title, about a young woman who slowly loses her mind in her claustrophobic London flat.  Horror connoisseurs get a cinematic treatment of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel, “The Haunting of Hill House” (1963), that is worthy of its source material in Robert Wise’s “The Haunting.”  Hopefully, this nowhere near exhaustive list inspires you to seek out more classic chillers to tide you over until the next horror masterpiece is released.


Some of these classic films and plenty of others are available to stream on services like Shudder, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video.  Let us help you get the most of your HD streaming experience and help you find the best Internet deals for fast, low-cost service.

5 Tech Must-Haves for Your College Dorm Room

5 Tech Must-Haves for Your College Dorm Room

Soon classes at your local college will start. Before that happens, you’ll be moving into your dorm room. If you’re lucky and live close enough to home, then you won’t have to get a dorm room. Or if you’ve found a way to score off-campus housing.

If not, then there here are fiveCollege tech must-haves for dorm living.

1.      A Good Laptop

You will be writing, period.

What kind of writing you do is up to you…or your professor.

You might write emails to friends and family, writing social media posts, or when you have time, that paper that’s due tomorrow.

A good laptop is essential these days. All room and board charges cover Wi-Fi, so you don’t have to worry about the bill.

Be it an Apple, a Dell, HP, Toshiba, or any of the other brands, make surer you find one with 8 to 16GB of RAM, as well as a good amount of storage. Low RAM means a slow computer.

I speak from experience as my college laptop was slow. This made for some frustrating nights as I tried to write.

2.      Virtual Storage

This never happened to me, but I remember a fellow college student running full on across campus to get to the computer lab. There was a paper due that was 70% of his grade and the class was in ten minutes. So he’d downloaded it onto a flash-drive and sprinted across campus.

Virtual storage wasn’t what it is today, but there were options at the time. Us poor college students couldn’t afford it though.

Get a free Gmail account and you’ll get access to Google Drive. This way you can work on papers, save a copy to Drive, and print them out anywhere you have access to your email.

Just make sure there’s a printer installed, filled with paper and ink.

Bonus

Although a little bit more expensive, get an external hard drive.

My wife, who wrote huge papers for her honors program, kept one and it saved her sanity on more than one occasion. While virtual storage is helpful, a solid backup is added peace-of-mind.

So save yourself the stress.

And that guy who bolted across campus to print out his paper? He dropped the flash-drive on his way and couldn’t find it.

Save yourself the anxiety and get virtual storage.

3.      Bluetooth Speakers

CollegeBack in my day, it was all about the stereos with multiple-disc interchanges.

I graduated before the iPod really took off, or the iPhone came out. Not by much, mind you, but yes, I went to college in a time when Discmans were still the “it” thing.

With smaller, and portable, speakers available, you have music right there with you, no matter where you go.

Create a playlist on your phone, pair with a Bluetooth speaker, and you can take this anywhere you go. Doesn’t matter if you’re studying or at a party, you’ll be your own DJ.

Check out JBL, Canz, Bose, Sony, and other Bluetooth speaker makers to find the one that works for you and your budget.

Another plus- if someone has a Bluetooth speaker in their room and you’re not digging the music, just pair your phone to it and play your own music!

4.      Noise Cancelling Headphones

Dorms will be noisy.

Doesn’t matter the time of day, someone will be making noise.

Invest in noise-canceling headphones, it’ll help save your sanity.

You just never know when two guys next door will decide to pump up their sub-woofer to watch The Punisher. Even with headphones on, I couldn’t hear my own music. Therefore, noise-canceling would have been a good idea at the time.

Bose, Plantronics, AKG, and Beats are just some of the manufacturers who make noise-canceling headphones. And they come highly rated!

You can then shut off all outside noise while you study, or just listen to something other than your loud dormmates.

5.      A Smart TV

With smart TV’s so prevalent, you can find a good deal on one with good resolution and apps like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime.

This will help cut down on all the clutter you have to take with you. Your movies and shows will be in one place, allowing you to save shelf space for…other things.

Bonus

Get a Chromecast, Roku Firestick, or Apple TV.

These will make up for any apps or streaming services that don’t come with your smart TV. Or if you can’t get a smart TV at all, then you’ll have this as a backup.

Since most dorms come with Wi-Fi, you’ll be able to stream and download that way and never miss the next episode of your favorite TV show.

Extra Bonus

The greatest thing about college is all the freedom you get to enjoy.College

The worst thing about college…is all the freedom you get to enjoy.

You don’t have to figure it out on your own.

Dorm life has been a constant for millions of people for years. Some of those people have gone on to write books about the experience.

Find these on Amazon, Half-Price Books, BN.com, or download to your favorite eBook reader.

This way you can learn from other’s mistakes so you can avoid making the same ones yourself.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Published in 1954, detailing the exploits of a college professor who doesn’t want the job at all. It may help you get an idea of where your professors are coming from.

Free Stuff Guide for Everyone by Peter Sander

Everything is expensive these days. When you’re in college this will be a harsh reality to contend with. Get this helpful guide so you can find the best deals, discounts, or other ways of making your dollar go farther.

Goodnight Dorm Room: All the Advice I Wish I Got Before Going to College by Samuel Kaplan and Keith Riegert

A funny and honest look at college. This book helps you understand the realities of college, as well as the real world, as well as giving you hints on how to adapt to dorm living and get ahead.

Dorm Room Essentials Cookbook by Gina Meyers

Everyone has to eat. But cafeteria food gets old really fast. And eating out for every meal is not feasible. This cookbook clues you in on how to make snacks, meals, and desserts on a budget and in your own dorm room.

The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run Into in College by Harlan Cohen

If there’s a lot of people living in a close, confined space, then the numbers dictate that one of them will be weird. Handling roommates and dormmates is a part of college life. Best to get ahead of the game and buy this book.

The College Humor Guide to College by Ethan Trex and Streeter Seidell

Who better to guy you into college than the people who parody college living?

By taking the humorous route, the book is more helpful than actual guidebooks.

 

There are more titles like these available. This list will get you started.

Make sure you get these books and read them before classes start. This way you’ll be even more prepared for college than any high school prep class could have made you.

Download the eBooks, audiobooks, or stream them to your device with reliable internet. To do that, check out the best cable and internet deals. This way you’ll save some money before you jet off to higher education.

Saving Face: The New Facebook Birthday Donations Contribution Feature

Saving Face: The New Facebook Birthday Donations Contribution Feature

facebookIf any of your Facebook friends have celebrated their birthday recently, you may have noticed a shared birthday fundraiser post for a particular charity organization.  Just the other day, a friend of mine shared a post that read:

“For my birthday this year, I’m asking for donations to the American Diabetes Association.  I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me.  Every little bit will help me reach my goal.”

Another friend of mine posted a similar post just yesterday.  Interesting.  This Facebook feature has been around for a while, but I’ve only recently seen it used.  Turns out this is no mere coincidence.  Facebook is actively continuing its efforts to promote this feature.

Last year, Facebook introduced the feature, which allows users to select a charity organization, set a goal amount, and enter a custom message like the one above.

facebook

So why the sudden surge in popularity?  Recently, Facebook announced that it would donate $5 to every newly created fundraiser posted on a user’s birthday.  Users can select one of the 750,000 U.S. nonprofit organizations that have been vetted and approved for the platform.  There is no word on how long this contribution feature will remain in effect.

In November of 2017, Facebook eliminated the fees for nonprofits so that the full amount donated would go directly to the nonprofit.  This latest development comes at a critical time in the Facebook timeline of current events.  It comes on the heels of the Cambridge Analytica data scandal and the subsequent stock market plummet.

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It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that this latest development is an attempt by Facebook to save face with its users and help get them back in good graces.  In that sense, this is simply a marketing ploy. Only time will tell the ultimate effect of these branding efforts.

 

Is Facebook Losing Altitude?

Is Facebook Losing Altitude?

Facebook is having more tough times. Last week their stock dropped 19%, resulting in a net loss of $119 Billion. That’s “billion” with a “b.”

The once meteoric Facebook is having trouble with growth. That’s not surprising as they’re still recovering from the Cambridge Analytica Scandal from back in March. This forced the social media giant to implement new policies when it comes to protecting their users’ privacy.

This new direction for Facebook is proving problematic.

Here’s why.

Kite on a String

When Facebook launched, the concept of social media was still relatively new.

They were a kite on a windy day with maybe one or two other kites in the air at the time.

So Mark Zuckerberg sends up his new kite and the winds are strong. Before long, other people want to play with it as well. Zuckerberg, wanting to expand on the idea, allows them to attach a string to the kite. These new users then tell their friends about it and they want to attach a string.

What once was a kite that only Harvard students could attach their strings too, is now a massive one that’s got strings all over the world.

A good analogy for Facebook.

Like a real kite with over 2.23 billion strings, manning such a thing becomes unwieldy.

It also doesn’t help that the once clear sky is now full of other kites, with other strings.

When kites, and organizations, become that big, the people in charge stop seeing the minute details. They hire other people to take care of those things for them. They turn their focus to the bigger picture.

It’s no longer about a small kite with only a few million strings. When it’s that small, a handful of people can manage the day-to-day tasks of keeping the kite in the air and keeping the users happy.

It’s now about keeping something so big aloft, keeping the users happy, not letting other kites swoop in and cut strings, and making sure international governments are okay with that thing in their airspace.

The Cambridge Analytica String

Back in 2014, Cambridge Analytica, a political consulting firm in Great Britain, began to check each string holder. Or, to keep with the metaphor, they read the string- every strand.

Some strands are meant to be public. This is, after all, social media.

Some strands were not meant to be read by outside parties. Minor details like people’s personal information.Facebook

Cambridge Analytica read the strands and used that information in their consulting. This is unethical.

Worse than that, the British government argued that Facebook should have done more to keep something like this from happening.

Facebook has since been fined.

In reaction to the fine, they’ve rolled out new algorithms, procedures, policies, and methods of protecting people’s data.

To keep the kite in the air, in an ethical way, Facebook is working harder to keep people from reading all the strands in the strings that attach to the kite.

It’s a new direction.

Directing something with 2.23 billion users, be a kite or an organization, is going to take some hard work.

The Stock String

With the Cambridge Analytica Scandal three months old, Facebook released a report on the status of their kite-flying.

It did not sit well with investors.

Investors were worried about the decline in new users, and that new apps and policies had hurt revenue growth.

Facebook’s loss of $119 billion in one day may the biggest single-day loss in history.

Something that big may seem like writing on the wall for Facebook. The beginning of the end.Facebook

It may not be.

The Future String

To recover from the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, Facebook implemented a slew of new efforts to better protect users’ privacy.

For a while, it seemed as if every day there was a new notification on the newsfeed that “Facebook cares about your privacy.” That was why.

It’s calmed down now, but it’s not completely over.

These new measures by Facebook are a part of a larger shift in the company’s direction.

Now Facebook is working to keep their users’ information more guarded and use it less for advertising and third-party companies.

This direction means that ad revenues will go down, as already indicated in Facebook’s most recent earnings report. Couple that with the fallout from the Cambridge Analytica Scandal, and it’s natural that such a hit would happen.

Maybe not as bad as $119 billion.

For Facebook to stick to their goals of greater protection is admirable, if a little late in the game.

Investors and analysts aren’t too worried either.

While it was a one-hundred-nineteen Billion dollar drop, Facebook is getting adjusted to new internal policies. Advertisers and third-parties are still catching up as well.

With this new direction, Facebook is working to drive up engagement with their users’, a better idea than just inundating the newsfeed with ads. And when your newsfeed becomes less cluttered by these pointless ads, it’s a welcome sight.

Pull the String

With Facebook taking this new direction, the future is full of interesting opportunities.

A Shift in Social Media

Social media, for all its positive attributes, is somewhat annoying. Instead of interacting with human beings, we’re interacting with virtual representations of people.

This is helpful for staying in touch with people who live far away, or for celebrities and politicians. It’s not helpful for the people who are in the same room.

Facebook could be on the cutting edge of the next trend in social media.

Less time staring at a screen and more time doing the things that get posted on newsfeeds. How Facebook will manage to do that is anybody’s guess. Given the amount of brain power they employ, it’s well within their reach.

More Ethical Business Practices

FacebookFacebook got caught for doing something bad and is now trying to rectify the situation.

It’s a long road, but Facebook can stand as an example of what to do before a company runs into an ethical dilemma. And how to pay attention to third-party users and what they end up using the data for.

With the world becoming more and more digital, data seems to be the currency.

Not in the sense of blockchain and cryptocurrency.

In the sense that people’s lives are getting reduced to ones and zeros.

When everything about a person can simply be downloaded, the issue becomes “who can we trust.” Facebook is working to prove that they can be trusted with that information.

If they can pull it off, then they’ll be back on the rise as more and more people will entrust them with their personal data.

Tie the String

Before you can connect to social media, you must be able to connect to the internet.

By checking out the best internet deals, you can feel safe knowing you’re getting a secure connection with our providers. Because what good is it if you get the best speeds but are not confident your information is secure?

When it comes to that, you’re probably better off going outside and flying a kite.

Google Gets a Grammar Check

Google Gets a Grammar Check

For those without a Microsoft 365 account, Google Docs does a passable-to-decent job of creating a document. It comes free with all Gmail accounts as part of G-Suite, so it’s nice to know it’s there when a document program is needed in a pinch.

It has a big flaw though.

No grammar check feature.

Grammar Misses

There are those times when one is writing a document, that the words are flowing as fast as thoughts. The fingers blur over the keys.Google

And words appear on the screen.

Then comes the editing.

Reading along, sentence by sentence, discovering thoughts made tangible in a flurry of activity- but what’s this? Is there supposed to be an apostrophe for “its” or not?

Small mistakes like this, grammatically, happen all the time.

Thanks to grammar check features, they’re quickly solved and reduce the amount of time it takes to edit a document. As a writer, I speak to the helpfulness of these things as I have to write constantly every day for work and for pleasure.

Grammar check features, though helpful, are not 100% secure though.

Which is why having a second set of eyes is always a good idea.

For writers like me, however, this sometimes a luxury.

For Google to start implementing this feature into Docs means there will be another option available to match Microsoft Word. There’s no news of Docs becoming a fee-based service. That means another word processing application that can check grammar and spelling will likely attract a lot of attention.

Microsoft Word

Everyone knows Word.

It’s often listed under “required skills” on a job application.

Should you find yourself working in the publishing industry, you’ll discover Microsoft Word is the program you’ll end up working with the most. Queries coming in a format other than Word are quickly tossed out.

Word, as of this writing, has the most sophisticated grammar check feature available to the public. If you’re using the most recent version of Word, you’ll notice the double-blue lines underneath words or phrases that are spelled correctly. If they were misspelled, they’d have that red, squiggly line underneath.

No, the double-blue line is for grammar.

Left click anywhere on that double-blue line and a pop-up window will appear with suggestions that are grammatically correct.

Microsoft has worked on this grammar check feature for years. A big reason for its level of sophistication is because Microsoft launched Word back in the eighties. Ever since then, they’ve been working to improve the program.

I may not have been the best student in English (I was worse in math), but after years of writing, I can say with confidence, that my grammar is much because of my experience. It’s the same with Microsoft Word.

Grammarly

I work primarily in Word. The rough draft of this article was written in Word, in fact.

To post my work, however, I go through applications that don’t have Word’s years of experience to check my grammar.

As a hedge against possible embarrassment, I’ve signed up for the free version of Grammarly.

At first, my pride prevented me from doing this. I had Microsoft Word, after all, why go with a young upstart?

That pride, however, went away quickly when I realized there was no grammar check feature installed on the software used for our website. I hastily signed up for the free version of Grammarly.

Unlike Word, Grammarly uses an AI to check my work.

Grammarly, in their own words, uses a sophisticated artificial intelligence system to analyze each sentence.

Now, on every email, social media comment, or online form that I fill out, a spinning green circle waits for me to finish so it can check if I’ve been grammatically correct. Not politically correct, spiritually correct, but grammatically correct.

When done, it’ll turn red with a number on it, stating how many offenses to grammar that I’ve committed. I have yet to write something grammatically correct the first time through.

I guess I’m still human then.

Grammarly is helpful that way.

It does not, however, work with Google Docs.

Google Docs

Google Docs does have a spell-check feature. This is basic and easy to install. It’s simply a dictionary app hooked up the word processing program to check my spelling against its database of words.

Soon, Google will roll out their grammar check feature.

In the beginning, it will only be available to business customers. If your company uses Google heavily, then contact the G-Suite administrator to have it unlocked on your profile…that is, when it rolls out.

This grammar check feature doesn’t have the years of experience that Word has.

Instead, it’s based on Google Translate.

As it’s been described, Google will be using the same technology they use for their Google Translate app. This technology translates multiple languages, using machine translation. What Google has done here is plug in “perfect grammar” into the “translate to” field. Your writing will fill in the “translate from” field.

It’s a clever use of the technology.

How well it does in catching every grammatical mistake remains to be seen.

But, as some great writer said: “Nothing ventured is nothing gained.”

Maybe it was Chaucer?

On Writing

To me, Google Docs getting a grammar check feature is big news.

To others, it’s a passing piece of news. Those are the types of people who don’t check their Dictionary App every day to learn the “Word of the Day.”

Today it’s blinkered, by the way.

Having a program check your grammar as you write is a tool that does more for you than you realize. Before something like this existed, a real person had to sit and double check your writing. And they usually had a well-worn copy of a style guide sitting next to them as they did this.

GoogleAutomation has taken this away and AI appears to be taking it over.

Though this is good news, don’t mistake AI as the savior of writing.

While Artificial Intelligence can do things for you, it can not- try as it might- speak for you.

That’s something you do for yourself. And writing is a way to do that.

With a grammar check feature, whether it be in Word, Google Docs, or Grammarly, you can hedge against sounding idiotic. But, to sound genuine, that’s something that can only be done by you and no one else.

One last note, whether you write online, or write in Word and then copy-paste it into an online platform, make sure your internet is fast and reliable. Check out the best internet bundles to see what’s available in your area and how much you can save.

Then get to writing!

Possible 5G Partnership Between Verizon and Apple and Google

Possible 5G Partnership Between Verizon and Apple and Google

According to a report from Bloomberg, Verizon is looking to partner up with Google or Apple to stream live television over its upcoming 5G service.  A partnership with Apple TV or YouTube TV could mean that those services will be offered at super fast 5G speeds, creating tantalizing content packages to rival those of the traditional cable companies.  Another reason to cut the cord.

However, don’t get too excited just yet.  These talks are still in their negotiations phase and are not guaranteed to result in a partnership.  Still, the prospect is alluring.  Verizon did announce today that they will be launching their 5G network in Houston during the second half of 2018.  The city of Houston is part of their four-market 5G deployment plan, which also includes Sacramento and Los Angeles.

Houston Mayer Sylvester Turner had enthusiastic words to say about the announcement: “We expect 5G will be a game changer helping us usher in a new wave of progress and innovation,” said Mayor Turner. “We’re delighted to be one of the first cities to bring 5G to our local communities and look forward to continuing our long-standing relationship with Verizon.”

Verizon is geared to become the first company to offer commercial 5G service, which promises to deliver faster speeds and lower latency.  It’s 100 times faster than your typical cellular connection.  With 5G, which stands for 5th generation technology, latency is expected to be as low as a millisecond.  The blink of an eye is between 300 and 400 milliseconds.

Apart from improved speeds and latency levels, 5G may also allow for new types of connections to occur.  When 4G was launched, it allowed for communication between two different types of devices – smart phones and tablets.  The technology may eventually lead to everything becoming “smart.”


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Trailer Round-Up: Movies and TV Shows Announced at 2018 Comic-Con

Trailer Round-Up: Movies and TV Shows Announced at 2018 Comic-Con

It’s been a busy time for pop culture news.  The 2018 San Diego Comic-Con showcased quite a few big movie and TV show trailers, and the Internet is all over it!  According to reports, Warner Bros. took center stage with their two-hour panel during which they revealed their lineup of upcoming movies: Aquaman, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Shazam, and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.  Other studios that gave us a peak at their slate of upcoming features included: Netflix, BBC America, and the Syfy Channel.  Here are some of the top trailers revealed at Comic-Con.

Aquaman

I don’t even consider myself a superhero movie fan, but I want to see this.  Two words: Jason. Momoa.  Woof.  What a hottie!  The trailer features a shirtless Momoa with glistening wet muscles that bulge tantalizingly like… I digress.  I’m glad DC is producing these standalone stories.  They are much more accessible to people like me who are not comic book literate enough to get the whole expanded universe concepts of movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  This movie looks fun.  The scene at the aquarium is giving me all kinds of Harry Potter feels (remember when Harry visits the zoo and the snake protects him from Dudley?).  The movie seems to have a sense of humor, which is refreshing.  Superhero movies, in their effort to sell their respective mythologies, run the risk of being so deadly serious.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald

Honestly, I’m all Harry Pottered out.  Don’t get me wrong; I loved the Harry Potter series, and I really tried to rekindle that magical feeling of excitement with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but I just couldn’t do it.  I’ve had my fill, and now, I’m ready to lay the whole thing to rest.  These offshoots attempt to breathe new life into the franchise and offer fans an opportunity to re-enter the wizarding world.  I suppose movies like this give die-hard fans life, but they give me the yawns.  Having said that, the movie looks spectacular.  It has an impressive cast headed by Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, and Jude Law.  I’m sure the movie will do fine at the box office.

Glass

I don’t get it.  I didn’t get what the big deal was with the end-reveal in Split, and I definitely don’t get what the big deal is with this continuation of the Unbreakable universe.  Maybe I’m just resistant to the self-aggrandizing, deadly serious mythology of these superhero movies.  Perhaps you have to love the superhero genre to really get into these movies, and I clearly don’t.  These movies just seem so arbitrary that it’s difficult to care.  I get that these movies are trying to take the superhero genre to a new place – a place where the mythologies are rooted in a very real, tactile, even mundane world.  Still, who cares?  I dunno.  I guess there’s just no accounting for taste.  Nonetheless, I know this movie from M. Night Shyamalan has fans licking their chops in anticipation.  I can make a prediction, though, just based off the trailer: Sarah Paulson’s Dr. Ellie will turn out to be a superhero herself.  Again, I’m sure this one will do very well in theaters.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Vera Farmiga!  She’s great.  Remember that nerve-jangling scene in Running Scared where she confronts the murderous pedophiles?  I think she is a vastly underrated actress.  Her presence in this movie is enough to gain my interest.  There’s also that kid from Stranger Things.  Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla was a snooze.  Hopefully, this one is better.  It’s pure spectacle – visual effects porn, basically.  I’m fine with that.  I just hope this movie has some fun with it.  These movies tend to be so solemn – lots of quiet, brooding moments followed by swells of epic action.  Where’s the fun?  Where’s the magic and childish joy of watching oversized monsters fight?

Nightflyers

George R.R. Martin describes it as “Psycho in space.”  I’m feeling it.  Somewhat.  The trailer, though deliberately vague, doesn’t exactly feel fresh.  It seems like standard space-horror stuff, but, I’m still intrigued.  What else can I say?  I’m more intrigued on account of it being George R.R. Martin material.  He’s a writer that I respect.  If it wasn’t for him, I can’t say I’d be very enthused by this.

Shazam!

Yes!  Here is a movie that looks like it’s having fun with the superhero genre, and not in some tongue-in-cheek Deadpool kind of way, but in a pure, unadulterated way.  This is the kind of movie I probably would have been into as a kid.  It’s looks charming and lighthearted.  Finally.

Show Trailers

Here are some more trailers that emerged from Comic Con 2018.


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1 Cool Technique to Breathe Away Frustration

1 Cool Technique to Breathe Away Frustration

During those moments of extreme frustration, anger, or confusion, the worst thing someone can say to you is “calm down, just breathe okay!”

This isn’t sound advice.

“Never in the history of calming down has anyone ever calmed down by being told to calm down.”

This quote has shown up in various permutations across the internet. Be it Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or some other social media platform, someone has said this. Or put it in a meme.

Commanding someone to calm down isn’t going to work.

It’ll likely have the opposite effect.

Breathe

What to Do?

There is nothing wrong with getting angry, frustrated, or confused.

A weird push has gone out these days to “not let things get to you.” While that would be great, we live in an imperfect world. We’re imperfect people.

You’re going to get angry.

Don’t run from it.

(On the flipside, don’t use it as an excuse to get mad about anything and everything)

Instead, know that people, events, even movies, will make you angry.

When that happens, and it feels as if the whole world is against you…

Or you can’t believe someone can be that stupid…

Or the bottom fell out…

Breathe.

A “Secret” Breathing Technique

This breathing technique, believed to be popularized by the Navy Seals, uses a natural function of your own body to interrupt and reset your most powerful resource.

It’s your mind.

By breathing, adjusting the rhythm and pace of your breathing, your mind will react in a positive way.

At first, this was called a “secret” technique, but given there’s plenty of articles, posts, and even this clip-

-it’s safe to say the technique isn’t all that secret anymore.

What matters is practicing this technique and utilizing it when you read about yet another politician saying something stupid.

 

How to Breathe

Mark Divine, the author of the Time article above, dubbed it “Box Breathing.” (I’m not sure who came up with the technique, but it gained in popularity after that article)

Inhale for four seconds.

Hold your breath for four seconds.

Exhale for four seconds.

Hold for four seconds.

Repeat.

And continue to repeat until you feel your head clear.

(Tom Wolfe, the instructor in the clip, uses a five count. The four-count has worked for me. Try out both to see which one is more effective for you)

I speak from experience when I say that this does help, indeed, clear my head. Once my heart rate slows, I’m able to be more rational. I can recall a few specific times that I wasn’t “calm” after doing the Boxed Breathing. I was more rational though, so that’s a plus!

Make sure you don’t do a long count though. Unless you want to pass out. That would be a little extreme.

More Than Just Calming Down

Boxed Breathing, if you want to keep calling it that, is helpful for more than just clearing your head.

This technique is useful for stressful situations of any kind.

When I’m writing and the words just aren’t coming, I sometimes focus on my breathing to clear my head. Once my head is cleared, the words come easier.

It’s not a “magic bullet” for any sort of anxiety, but a tool to help take the edge off.Breathe

I’ve also used a modified version for running. Don’t do a four count, but a three or a two-count. I’ve tried it on runs before and even did it this morning to confirm this hypothesis. My head does clear a little and I’m able to work past the pain in my legs to keep going. This is how I’ve managed to improve my pace.

I’m no cross-country star, but it’s at least getting me through my half-marathon training. We’ll see if it helps when I run the entire 13.1 miles.

Boxed Breathing is also helpful for tests.

A nice little side-gig I had was proctoring tests. Texas has these standardized tests twice a year. For a good day’s pay, I got to proctor and monitor students testing.

One such student, whom I was informed had anxiety issues, would breathe in a certain rhythm. She started this before the test began and continued until she completed it.

Then she looked very relieved.

I’m not sure if it was Boxed Breathing, but it worked for her.

Prep

There’s no need to prepare for this, it just takes focus to time the breathing.

It can be used in anticipation of those special events where you know you can get aggravated. Start timing your breathing—in for four, hold for four, out for four, hold for four—and keep that up as long as necessary.

If you keep you breathing quiet, no one will notice.

Another situation you can use it in is when that “special” someone starts talking and your blood immediately starts boiling.

In for four.

Hold for four.

Out for four.

Hold for four.

Repeat.

They can keep talking while you work to keep your head clear. When they’re done spouting whatever insanity they take as fact, you’ll be ready. You can then add your opinion, or maybe not say anything at all.

And just walk away.

Boxed Breathing is a helpful tool that requires no extra gizmos or apps to use, just a little practice.

There are other breathing techniques, from the Navy Seals and other fitness professionals, that you can use to keep your head clear in the moment. Just make sure to bundle your internet first. Look for the best cable and internet deals in your area so you can save money, time, and frustration.

And the next time someone stupidly tells you to “calm down,” you’ll already be breathing and clearing your head so you can articulate exactly what you’re feeling.

As well as how ignorant they are.