Category: review

Roomba Review: “Not the Best” is Far from “Bad”

Over the summer, I had the chance to pick up a hand-me-down Roomba. Nothing cutting edge. (Specifically, it’s a 650 model, which you can still pick up refurbished on Amazon, though I don’t see unused ones being sold there.) I’d always toyed with the idea of having a Roomba, but I didn’t know how well they’d actually work. Getting one gratis was a wonderful way to find out.

What’s the verdict?

The bottom line is that Denisa and I are definite fans, and the house is certainly much better swept and vacuumed than it used to be.

To get into the weeds a bit, let’s talk about how our Roomba works. You’d like to think it’s got sensors and remembers where everything in the room is, developing a map and using cunning robotic intelligence to efficiently and effectively vacuum a room. You’d be wrong. Maybe the newer ones do that, but ours just has one directive: vacuum. It vacuums in a straight line until it hits an obstacle. When it hits that obstacle, it turns a random amount, and then tries to go in a straight line again. Sometimes that means it goes right back along the place it already vacuumed.

It is far–very far–from efficient.

However, the wonderful thing about the Roomba is that I am not doing any of the vacuuming. You set it up and walk away. When you come back a half hour later or whatever, the room is magically vacuumed or swept. (Or the Roomba is stuck. That also happens. But if that happens, you just unstick it and tell it to get back to work.) Essentially, the Roomba takes a job that could be done in ten minutes and gets it done in a half hour or more. On the surface, that sounds bad. In practice though, it involves 30 seconds of my time, and 30 minute’s of the Roomba’s.

And let’s be brutally honest. I don’t care about the Roomba’s time and concerns at all. I’m a total robot slave driver. So if it takes the Roomba a long time to do something, who cares? I had nine and a half minutes of my life to do something other than vacuuming.

There are definite areas where the Roomba is better at any vacuuming I could do, however. It goes underneath my bed, randomly zigzagging through dust bunnies I would be way too lazy to try to get through. Because it’s small and compact, it ends up wandering and meandering its way everywhere in the room, not just the middle where I always notice. Is the vacuuming job always perfect? Not necessarily, but it’s more than adequate. (Even Denisa agrees on this point, so you know it’s not just me making excuses.)

The Roomba struggles with some areas of our house. It’s an old house with lots of thresholds between rooms, and that can get it stuck. So we just block those areas off and have it do one room at a time. Yes, this means we sometimes have to carry the Roomba to a room instead of it just rolling itself there randomly over time. Who cares? I had to carry the vacuum there before, and the Roomba is way lighter.

Final verdict: I would totally buy a Roomba if and when this one breaks down. I’ve even though about buying one for the movie room upstairs, just so I could program it to clean there and then I could forget about it. (Not completely, of course. You don’t want to leave shoelaces where a Roomba might chew them. They love shoelaces. And be very careful if you have pets . . . )

I’m now looking into Roomba mops.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Respecting Different Tastes

In my review of Good Omens yesterday, I was quite vocal with all the ways I disliked the show. Ironically, reviews of things I really disliked are often the most fun for me to write, since I can really get into all the ways the thing disappointed me, and there’s no one there to say I’m wrong. (Just look at my review of Mamma Mia!, for reference.)

But after I posted the review, I was surprised to see so many people pop up in Facebook to disagree with me quite strongly. Not that any of them were rude about it, but it was clear the show has a number of strong fans. People who liked it about as much as I disliked it.

I think that’s wonderful, and I wanted to be sure to note that I never feel bad when people disagree with my reviews. It makes complete sense to me that in matters of taste, people will end up all over the map. That’s actually something I’ve never quite understood about online communities. Someone will express an opinion, and people will pile on to either support the opinion or refute it.

Opinions don’t need to be supported. Critiques do, but opinions don’t. If I say “I don’t like vanilla ice cream because it tastes bland,” then no one can come up to me and tell me it doesn’t taste bland. Not to me, at least. They can say they don’t find it bland, and that’s cool, because it means there’s more chocolate ice cream out there for me to eat. Someone liking a thing I dislike isn’t a problem, just like me liking something other people dislike isn’t a problem.

Now, if someone says, “I didn’t like that movie because it was too simplistic,” it’s certainly fair game to ask why they found it simplistic, especially if you disagree. But if they have reasons. then they have reasons. You can agree to disagree on what constitutes “simplistic,” but c’est la vie. What I really try to avoid is ever venturing into “anyone who likes _______” is a moron territory.

For example, I love board games. Really in-depth games that will take hours and hours to play. Games that make me think really hard to try and come up with a strategy to win. The other week, I was at a board game cafe with a friend, and we were playing a series of cool games. At tables around us, however, people were playing Pictionary, Rummikub, and Guess Who. Much simpler games.

Part of me wanted to be disappointed. There were so many so much better games for them to play. Why were they wasting time playing games that are so simple? But then I checked myself right away. They were spending time playing board games just like I was spending time playing board games. Our definition for a “good game” might differ, but why argue about that? Why not let each other love the games we love, and celebrate a shared love for gaming?

Anyway. This is just to say that if you ever read a review of mine and feel differently about the thing being reviewed, please feel free to speak up. Better yet, let me know why you felt differently. I don’t view it as an argument. One of us isn’t right or wrong. It’s a chance to try and understand another person’s viewpoint, and why they like what they like. As an author, the more I can get inside another person’s head, the better.

Thanks for reading!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

In Defense of Franchises: From Star Wars to Game of Thrones

I’ve been watching the fallout to the final season of Game of Thrones with no small amount of interest. It’s been fascinating to see how virulent the response has been from some quarters, including fans signing a petition for HBO to re-do the season(!) Yes, I realize many just view that as a way of showing their displeasure with the end of the show, but it’s still a strange way of expressing that, and it’s in line with fan response to other popular franchises like LotR/Hobbit, Star Wars, Marvel, etc.

One thing I really dislike these days is the trend of fans making up their mind on a show or a movie and then declaring it “good” or “bad.” To me, this is something that began with the Star Wars prequels, where there was this huge pent up demand for the movies, and then when they arrived, they were different than what fans thought they should be, and therefore bad. I fell for that the first time around, agreeing with many that the prequels were a travesty. But as time has gone on, and I’ve seen that same pattern repeated again and again, I’m not really falling for it anymore.

What’s the pattern? Easy. Take any popular show or film franchise. It has to reach a critical mass where there’s enough fans of the show to really be whipped into a furor. It’s also key that this show/franchise be lasting for at least a decade or more, since it takes that amount of time for fans to really conglomerate around various ideas. Build up expectations in the franchise until those expectations take on a life of their own. Then come out with actual films and television episodes and watch the inevitable fallout.

Fans are disappointed. Fans are enraged. The show was ruined. The movie destroyed everything they held dear. The director dropped the ball. The writers are incompetent. And never mind the fact that it’s the same creative team around the show or franchise. Fans start passing out the pitchforks and torches, and then they gang up on anyone who might go against their new canonical opinion of the work in question.

Don’t get me wrong. I 100% believe in the right of the audience to evaluate a show. Anyone who tells me they dislike the Hobbit movies or the end of Game of Thrones or The Last Jedi is totally entitled to that, and they can use whatever reasons they want. True, I might disagree with those reasons, but if someone reads a book and says “this character bored me” or “I didn’t think the ending was believable,” there’s no way to tell them they’re wrong. You can’t be wrong about being bored. You either are or you aren’t, and you’re the expert. (You can suffer from bad taste, of course, but that’s a different debate.)

What I dislike is when fans start to groupthink a franchise to death. They all get into an echo chamber and start reassuring themselves they’re all right. They reinforce their opinions until they’re etched in stone. So you still have the popular opinion that Lost blew its finale. Indiana Jones 4 was awful. The Last Jedi was done in by Social Justice Warriors. The Hobbit trilogy was a complete mess. And there are plenty of articles and videos produced to reassure anyone that opinion is the right opinion.

For the record, I enjoyed the Lost finale, had a great time through all three Hobbit movies, didn’t love Indy 4, and thought The Last Jedi was excellent. I also think this final season of Game of Thrones has been fantastic. (More on that in a moment. I promise.)

I think many of these franchises get to the point where a stunning, perfect finish that’s universally acclaimed is no longer possible. They just have too much weight to carry. With Game of Thrones, think of the thousands and thousands of hours fans have poured into the show, developing theories about what might happen, picking apart character motivations and tiny details that might have far reaching implications. Spending years building up love for certain characters and hate for others.

How can anything possibly live up to all of that? Especially in the heat of the moment. When you watch a show after the fact, all at once, you get a different feel for it. And many of the shows these days are designed to be binge watched. Last week’s Game of Thrones destruction fest felt absolutely brutal, but that was because we couldn’t just immediately move on to this week’s finale, which provided context for it. Take away that week’s worth of debate and discussion, and you completely change the response to the following episode.

Fans are now saying the show runners rushed the ending of the series. That it should have been three complete seasons. That the things that happened could have still happened, if only the show had taken its time to develop all of them adequately. Personally, I think what they’re noticing is a big part of the reason why George RR Martin has been unable to even write another book of the series, let alone finish it.

It’s always easier to spin out more plot lines. To complicate matters more. To answer questions with more questions. To deepen the intrigue and the mystery. But each time you do that, speaking as a writer now, you dig yourself a little deeper. Coming up with a way out of all those plot lines with something approaching a satisfying conclusion snowballs out of control, until the sheer weight of expectations leave you breathless and unable to continue.

Martin wants to be done with the series in 2-3 more books. I don’t think it’s possible to pull that off in a satisfying way. Because remember, the books are even more complex than the show.

Was the final season rushed? Certainly from a logistical standpoint. Where before, it would take weeks to travel anywhere in Westeros, by the last few seasons, people were zipping back and forth between locations at light speed. But from a stance of telling the story they wanted to tell, I think the creators did a great job.

I went into last night’s episode with no clue how they’d manage to pull off an ending I would be satisfied with. (For the record, I was fine with the Mad Queen storyline, because I found it totally in line with what Dany has been doing all along. Burninating the countryside. Burninating the peasants. The only difference between Meereen and King’s Landing (beyond sheer scale of destruction) was the fact that we were more familiar with King’s Landing, so the impact was more immediate and harder to ignore. (And as for scale, she’d been upping her desire to burninate ever since she came to Westeros. King’s Landing Dany was Dany Unleashed.)

But they pulled it off. The jump forward in time was a fantastic move, allowing them to complete the story without showing what really would have been unnecessary fluff at this point. There’s no need to show Gray Worm capturing John and then almost killing him, before being talked down by someone or convinced by someone else to hold off. I mean, sure, you could have done that, but that’s answering a question with another question. At some point, you need to just give answers.

Perhaps that’s why some are so upset about these shows. They love the questions, and so they hate when the ultimate answers are finally given, and they don’t match up with everything they’ve imagined might be the answer. What I loved about Game of Thrones was the fact that any character was fair game. Plot arcs might not be the plot arcs you assumed they were. No one was tied to any one destiny. From Ned’s beheading to the Red Wedding to King’s Landing’s destruction, it was all on the table, all the time, and it made for some exhilarating watching.

The show’s ending was great. It caps off a wonderful series. Not the best series I’ve ever watched. (That’s still The Wire.) But still an easy top 5. Just an incredible piece of work, and no amount of fan petitions are going to convince me otherwise. (That’s okay. I’m sure my post won’t convince them either.) If you don’t like a franchise, fine. But no need to scour the internet to band together and start petitioning for a rewrite. If you want to do something better, go do it.

I could go on for much longer, but I’m out of time. If you have specific comments or questions, I’m happy to answer them as they come up.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

The Best (and Worst) Things I Watched and Read in 2018

Another year in the record books, another chance for me to share with you the best and the worst of my media consumption. (In terms of quality, not content.) I once again had a goal of reading a book a week, and I continue to be very grateful for that goal. It’s a stretch for me to fit it in along with everything else I do, but it’s like hiking in a way: I’m sometimes haggard at the end of it all, but I’m very glad I took the time to do it.

Anyway. A reminder of how I rate things. It’s on a 10 point scale, where 5 is neutral. If I give something a 5, it means I neither liked nor disliked it. It was a fine way to spend time, but ultimately I would have been just as well off doing nothing, instead. It’s not a bad thing, but not a good thing. Does that make sense? A “1” means I loathed the thing. A “10” means it was one of the best things I’ve read or watched.

MOVIES AND TELEVISION SHOWS

I finished 94 movies and TV seasons over the course of the year. Of those 94 things, I awarded 8 perfect 10’s: Arrival, Coco, Napoleon Dynamite, Boardwalk Empire Season 5, GLOW Season 1, What’s Up Doc?, The Princess Bride, and Love Actually. Some of those were my second (or third, or seventh . . .) time watching them, but it gives you a sense of my taste (if you didn’t already have that already).

Since I’m just rattling things off, I thought it might be nice for me to give you the things I gave a 9, as well. There were 22 (I’m much easier to get a 9 from.) In order of consumption: The Big Sick, Newsies the Musical, La La Land, Boardwalk Empire Season 1, Boardwalk Empire Season 3, Get Out, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Joe vs. the Volcano, The Wedding Singer, GLOW Season 2, Warrior, The Post, Logan Lucky, The Sound of Music, The Good Place Season 1, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel Season 1, Elf, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Die Hard, How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, The Emperor’s New Groove, and Return of the King.

Some of those are great. There was just one or two things wrong with them that keep me from giving a perfect 10, though in the case of repeat watches, I’ve noticed myself being a bit harder on things the second or third time through.

What were the worst things I watched? There’s not many of them. My time is valuable to me, and so if I’m not liking something, I generally turn it off. And I never rate something I haven’t read or watched to the end. But there were a few sub par media items that made it through.

Yongary (MST3K) got a 3/10. Wizards of the Lost Kingdom II (also MST3K) got a 3/10. Chappaquiddick got a 3/10. And that was it. There were also a few 5’s I gave out: Rogers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (much worse than I remembered), Split, Valerian, The Commuter, The Expanse Season 2, Topper Returns, and Absolutely Anything. All full of Meh.

BOOKS

Of the 52 books I read, I gave 5 of them a 10: The Handmaid’s Tale, The High King, Fuzzy Nation, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and Skyward (which I think actually should have an 11).

8 books got 9s: Divergent, Island of the Blue Dolphin, Zodiac, The Collapsing Empire, Taran Wanderer, On the Shoulders of Titans, Marathon Man, and A Case of Need.

I did give out some sub-par ratings, though I continue to withhold those out of professional courtesy. For the record, I read 18,699 pages over the course of the year. Not too bad.

SUM UP

Giving ratings continues to feel a somewhat arbitrary task, often dependent on how I’m feeling at a certain time when I watch/read/rate the item in question. But on the whole, it does a good job representing how I felt at the time of the rating and consumption, so I like doing it. I also like hearing people disagree strongly with me over ratings.

What things did you love (or hate) this year? Do share!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Netflix Series Review: The Frankenstein Chronicles

I’m a sucker for a good Sean Bean television show. So when I saw The Frankenstein Chronicles pop up on Netflix, starring Sean Bean as a policeman investigating a killer who’s been murdering children and stitching their corpses together in an unholy amalgam, I was intrigued. And when a friend mentioned she’d been watching and enjoying the show, I decided to give it a shot.

A reminder of my tastes, for those who might not know: I prefer plot to character studies, though ideally a great show will have both. But there are shows I’ve enjoyed but been unable to stick with. Justified is an excellent example. Great writing, solid characters, and I really had a good time for a couple of seasons, but in the end I lost interest, mainly because there was no big plot to keep me watching. Instead, it had smaller plots that masqueraded as a big plot.

Many shows will have a basic formula, and then repeat that formula week after week. House diagnosing strange illnesses. Michael helping out the victim of the week on Burn Notice. Monk doing crazy zany things while he solves the crime. To me, these shows are mainly relics of the Old Way of Doing Business. They stand up just fine for a once a week diversion, but when you binge watch them one after the other (or even just watch one per day), then it’s too easy to see the skeleton of the show. It starts to feel like each week was just a “find and replace” the same elements over and over again. Different zany situations. Different petty criminals. This can sustain a light show well enough, like a comedy, but anything more than that and I just don’t care to hang around.

So there are a number of shows left in the wake of my Netflix queue.

Frankenstein Chronicles has a couple of good things going for the first season. It’s only six episodes long, for one thing. Because sometimes the problem with newer binge-worthy shows is they’ll take a plot that can last five or six episodes and stretch it for ten or twelve. (I’m looking at you, Luke Cage.) Six episodes is long enough to really set up some interesting conflicts and have them pay off, without going overboard.

Second, it’s well acted. Sean Bean does a great job depicting a very confused man burdened with mounds of guilt, forced to investigate a crime he’s ill-equipped to understand. And there are cool supporting characters peppered throughout as well.

The story itself is intriguing, if perhaps a bit too tangled to follow too easily. There were unexpected twists I enjoyed, but others that left me bewildered. Some twists felt gimmicky, as if the show hadn’t taken the time to properly prepare me for what might happen. The best sort of twist is one that is totally unexpected, and yet feels inevitable when you look at it in hindsight. The clues were all there; you just missed them. Weaker twists come out of nowhere. They rely on information we had no knowledge of before they happen. In a murder mystery, this becomes more vital. You want to figure out whodunnit, and it’s upsetting if you weren’t given the right information to work it out ahead of time.

But this show isn’t really a whodunnit. It’s a mystery, for sure, but its success doesn’t rest solely on figuring out the culprit.

In the end, I enjoyed the show, and I plan on starting the second season next. I’d give it a 7/10. If you’re into broody English series with a vein of fantasy horror running through them, this is a good one to check out. It’s rated TVMA primarily for some gruesome scenes with corpses, and a couple brief shots of nudity. (Sean Bean’s rear end, pretty much.)

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. I’m looking to get to $10/month to justify the amount of time I spend on this blog. I’m at $8/month so far. Read this post for more information. Or click here to go to Patreon and sign up. It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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