Reaching Out Through the Zoom Lens

Zoom Jazz Hands!

As you’d expect, our most requested pose. Special thanks to my sister-in-law for the screen shot.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: for the duration of the interim normal, all other human bodies are to be treated as walking land mines, held at a remove, and if one approaches you, go hide and let them detonate in someone else’s face instead.

In these extreme circumstances we’ve sometimes found ourselves doing things far outside the old, complacent, pre-fatality routines. Letting our hair grow into shaggy 1970s grotesquerie. Taking early morning walks around our neighborhood. Calling elderly relatives before they call us first. Posting on Facebook.

Our latest deviation from the norm: hopping on a communication technology bandwagon.

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Twitter Minus Twitter

This Tweet.

What was he thinking about? I’ll never know.

Twitter isn’t for everyone, but the designers have created a number of tools that allow users to shape their experience, curate their input streams, intertwine narratives, choose overall reading tone, defend themselves against the forces of evil, hide from polite disagreements, and, in my case, remove irritants. The tools aren’t perfect, but I appreciate their usefulness when it comes to surgically removing unnecessary ugliness and repetitive stresses that damage my calm. For me, internet moderation is a form of self-care.

Sometimes the results amuse me more than I’d intended.

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Memo from the MCC Errors & Omissions Department

The Shirt!

File photo of a souvenir my wife picked up from Indy PopCon 2015, where the special guests included Charles Nelson Reilly, TV’s Charo, and Joan Embry from the San Diego Zoo along with her amazing thirty to fifty feral pigs.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: I wrote at length about a six-part miniseries that my wife and I watched on Crackle called The Final Tsars, in which I couldn’t be bothered to open an extra browser tab and verify the full name of the ruler at the heart of the story. The next morning, our first conversation after “Good morning” was a firm reminder that his official stage name was, in fact, “Czar Nicholas II”. MCC regrets the oversight and is sorry if any Russian historians were offended, but we don’t feel like editing the affected entry because it would undermine one of its underlying points and two of its jokes.

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Yes, There Are Scenes During AND After the “Ralph Breaks the Internet” End Credits

Ralph Breaks the Internet!

Fun in-joke scene for the eight people over 40 who ever loved AskJeeves.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the original Wreck-It Ralph. Not only did John C. Reilly’s layered performance hit me squarely in the heart with that big act of would-be noble sacrifice in the climax, but it later inspired me to write a jokey Top Ten-style follow-up that remains one of the site’s most enduring “evergreen” entries to this day. 2012 was a fun year for me in a lot of ways, and it tickles me to remember that Ralph was no small part of that.

Alas, with great success comes the threat of sequels. Disney Animation hasn’t released a theatrical sequel since Fantasia 2000 graced IMAX screens 18 years ago. Someone up high decided it was time to break the streak with Ralph Breaks the Internet, which, to be fair, tops very nearly every direct-to-video Disney sequel ever. I would have to see Aladdin and the King of Thieves again to decide between the two. That’s faint praise, though. Even as I dwell on the phrase “direct-to-video Disney”, memories of Dan Castellaneta’s Genie, Princess Ariel’s daughter, and The Fox and the Hound 2 return and make me wince.

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My Entry in the Internet Peanut-Gallery Database

Charles Linn page!

It’s cool to see your name in print even when you don’t understand all the words around it.

When you make a longtime hobby out of turning words and pictures into hopefully entertaining compositions, more for the sake of self-satisfaction and human interaction than for lofty aspirations to widespread fame and/or corruptive fortune, it’s always a pleasant surprise when something you did — no matter how tiny or inconsequential it seemed at the time — somehow catches the eye of just the right person and creates an unusual opportunity you’ve never had before, never saw coming, have trouble explaining to others, but draw a bit of pride from anyway.

I’ve had a few such occasions pop up in my life. Another one of those odd little things recently happened for me. I think I now have enough to assemble my own checklist. It’s not long or dignified enough to call a bibliography, but if there were an Internet Peanut Gallery Database — like IMDb, but for nobodies like me — then my IPGDb page would presently look something like this:

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Our Privacy Practices Have Changed! Please Come Back Now, Europe?

Certificate of Completion!

We did it! We did it! Now someone tell our European readers we’re safe and legal again.

Over the past few days, internet users have been flooded with notifications from various websites, apps, and mailing lists they signed up for in a previous millennium, all declaring the official implementation of new updates to their privacy practices as mandated by the General Data Protection Regulation, Europe’s latest tool in the war on online shenanigans. At the core, it’s a good thing — European residents using computing gadgets should now have more insight and control into how their personal data is collected, stored, used, abused, and repurposed into fuel for the corporate engines that rely on us to be their consumer puppets. On a certain level it feels like an annoying form of paranoia, but this is the kind of response that occurs when multi-billion-dollar companies can’t give straight, morally upright answers to basic questions about what they do with all the 1s and 0s they harvest from our keystrokes.

As is wont to happen in the wake of radical societal upheavals, Comedy Twitter has been having a field day with the wave of emails, notifications, and pop-ups they’ve been receiving from organizations and proprietors desperate to comply and eager to keep their traffic from European visitors uninterrupted. I’ve laughed at too many to relay here without diminishing the effect, but some responses have been comedy gold.

Then tonight I found out even my own site was affected. I didn’t see that coming.

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Is There Room at the Table for the Fake Followers Among Us?

Buy Followers!

One of many robo-concierges polluting Twitter and willing to assist with your shallow self-image needs.

My favorite piece of journalism so far this year was just published January 27th over at the New York Times and struck a nerve in a number of places. In an epic-length article entitled “The Follower Factory”, the NYT plumbed the wobbly world of Twitter and those peculiar, insecure users who boost their Follower head count by paying a company actual money to bless them with hundreds of thousands of automated “bot” accounts that pretend they’re fans clinging on to their every tweet, for the purpose of making the paying customers look more popular. Some are piecemeal accounts, with profiles barely filled out. Quite a few are the product of surface-level identity theft, cribbing photos and usernames but with a character altered to make it unique (relatively speaking). They don’t praise you, go forth in your name, act as your “street team”, or interact with you or other humans in any meaningful way. They just Follow. They sit there, shut up, and act like you rule.

Companies such as Devumi cheerfully offer low-price options for ordinary web-surfing rabble like me, but they also bank some major cash selling bot followings by the hundreds of thousands to B-list celebrities, politicians, creators, reality TV dwellers, and others at varying levels of fame. The NYT named a few names I recognize — actor John Leguizamo, Chef Michael Symon, onetime MST3K guest star Kathy Ireland, and film critic Richard Roeper, whose Chicago Sun-Times reviews have been suspended pending their internal review. Of those who responded to requests for comment, a few buyers insisted it wasn’t them personally pushing the buttons, but an assistant or social media manager who bought a hollow audience on their behalf for PR strategy or whatever. Whether their deflections are true or not, boosts of fake fame are kind of sad. Granted, some personalities receive perks and bonuses from their corporate overlords based on the looks of their social media metrics, which means a return on their invidious investment is entirely possible. To them I imagine it’s all part of the Game.

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Our 2002 Road Trip, Part 1 of 5: A Special Sojourn for Star Wars

Star Wars party!

Anne with our companions Shannon and Katrina in a movie theater far, far away. Well, okay, admittedly it wasn’t far for them

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son rode along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. From 2004 to 2011 we recounted our experiences online at length for a close circle of friends. From 2012 to the present we’ve presented our annual travelogues here on this modest website for You, the Viewers at Home, which I’m grateful includes some of those same friends who haven’t quit us yet.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, we told the stories of our first three road trips together: Wizard World Chicago in 1999; a St. Louis science fiction convention in 2000; and the 2001 Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois. In 2002 we continued our convention streak with Star Wars Celebration II, which was held here in Indianapolis and saved us the hassle and joy of a road trip. We had a ball, stood in lines for actors from the first five movies, and were pleased to meet a dozen-plus friends we knew from the Star Wars message board that was like a second home to us for years. Great time, but not a road trip.

We remedied that two weeks later with an idea that combined elements from our first three outings: a major cultural event plus Star Wars plus internet friends plus driving hours away from home. Add a dash of MST3K and a bit more standard tourism than usual, and that’s the story of how we planned a five-hour drive for a four-day getaway to Grand Rapids, Michigan, to hang out with fellow fans and see Star Wars: Attack of the Clones on opening day. Twice.

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Road Trip Origins Year 2, Part 1 of 3: Internet Fandom Rendezvous 2000

Gateway program!

If you recognize the logo that this program cover is aping, then you may appreciate who we met that year…

Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. My son rode along from 2003 until 2013 when he ventured off to college. From 2004 to 2011 we recounted our experiences online at length for a close circle of friends. From 2012 to the present we’ve presented our annual travelogues here on this modest website for You, the Viewers at Home, which I’m grateful includes some of those same friends. Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover, we told the story of our very first road trip together, an amateur expedition to Wizard World Chicago 1999.

Fast-forward one year later to July 14-16, 2000. While we remained best-of-the-best friends in separate apartments, we had begun pooling resources on select line items and seen our situations improve when she left McDonald’s after a ten-year stint and switched to an adjacent, much better-paying career track — call-center work for a major mail-order club. It was still customer service, but with 100% less grease and 0% chance of having to stand for hours at open drive-thru windows in zero-degree weather. Overall we were in slightly better standings one year after WWC when an idea for a second road trip walked right up, pinched my cheeks, and wouldn’t let go.

As with our inaugural outing, this would be another geek convention in a state beyond our own, with a guest list of well-known media personalities and hotel accommodations required. However, the proposal was far more ambitious in one groundbreaking respect: it would be our first time meeting people we knew only from the internet.

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The Desperate Search for the Rare, Elusive, Original Reboot Joke

Extreme Scooby!

All-new all-different Scooby-Doo art by DC Comics VP Jim Lee. To the EXTREME.

Just when you thought entertainment corporations had cooled down on the idea of rebooting their property catalogs, along comes a day like today to remind you to stop overestimating entertainment corporations. This morning Entertainment Weekly reported Hanna-Barbera has struck a deal with DC Comics — that bastion of work-for-hire literary integrity — to jump-start some of its most well-known characters as 21st-century comics for a new generation who doesn’t know them and/or an old generation that will shell out money for any repackaged remnants of their childhood.

The article linked above includes teaser images from DC’s planned reboots of Scooby-Doo (now with weapons and tattoos!), the Flintstones (realistic proportions + painful Stone Age puns = PROFIT), Space Ghost and Brak (no more Adult Swim irony, natch), and more. (Jonny Quest’s cast looks surprisingly unchanged, but we’ll see what happens after half of them are killed in the first issue.) The official press release offers additional details omitted from the EW summation, including the part where the Scooby Gang will be fighting nanites, which are now officially Over if they weren’t already. (Trivia undisclosed in the article: DC, Hanna-Barbera, and EW share the same giant parent company.)

It didn’t take long for Twitter to burst into laughter and kick off another round of reboot jokes. Within the first thirty seconds after I caught the news, I next saw other users lining up to brainstorm concepts for a grim-‘n’-gritty Yogi Bear, scoffing about a Jabberjaw revival, hoping Mighty Man and Yukk were up for grabs, and so on. By the time I got home after a long work day and in a better position to interact, I didn’t even bother checking Twitter because I assumed all the best jokes and obvious intellectual properties were spoken for, and my late contributions would be tired and redundant. What’s a sarcastic guy to do?

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There’s Nothing Wrong with Your Internet Connection. For Now.

Net Neutrality.

90% of the following message was provided as an unpaid courtesy by Battle For The Net. The other 10% is value-added MCC editing and reformatting.

* * * * *

If you woke up tomorrow and your internet looked like this, what would you do?

Imagine all your favorite websites taking forever to load, while you get annoying notifications from your ISP suggesting you switch to one of their approved “Fast Lane” sites. Think about what we would lose: all the weird, alternative, interesting, and enlightening stuff that makes the Internet so much cooler than mainstream cable TV. What if the only news sites you could reliably connect to were the ones that had deals with companies like Comcast and Verizon?

On September 10th, just a few days before the FCC’s comment deadline, public interest organizations are issuing an open, international call for websites and internet users to unite for an “Internet Slowdown” to show the world what the web would be like if Team Cable gets their way and trashes net neutrality. Net neutrality is hard to explain, so our hope is that this action will help show the world what’s really at stake if we lose the open Internet.

If you’ve got a website, blog or Tumblr, get the code to join the #InternetSlowdown at the official site. The Internet Slowdown official Tumblr also has a quick list of other things you can do to help spread the word about the slowdown.

Get creative! Don’t let us tell you what to do. See you on the net September 10th!

Net Neutrality.

* * * * *

Special thanks to Automattic, the talented minds behind WordPress, for supporting this effort all the way. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen them advocating from the front lines of the internet battlefield. If I could hug or high-five each of their employees personally, I totally would.

“The Internet’s Own Boy”: For Want of Information, a Light Was Lost

Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz, 1986-2013. (Photo credit: quinnums via photopin cc)

If RSS feeds, Creative Commons, Reddit, Tor, or Wikipedia are part of your everyday internet life, or if you cheered when SOPA was put to sleep, you can thank Aaron Swartz for helping make those possible. The deeply affecting new documentary The Internet’s Own Boy: the Story of Aaron Swartz retraces the path of one young man whose lifelong passion for freedom of Information — not pirating HBO shows or sharing porn, but for useful, scholarly, scientific, potentially world-changing, capital-I Information — took him through countless revolutionary contributions, creations, and crusades until his sudden, unforeseen, tragic end.

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Why I Shouldn’t Be Around Memes

Family and some friends may have noticed I’m not on Facebook often nowadays. Or maybe they haven’t noticed because so many other people aren’t on Facebook often nowadays, including said family and friends. Naturally I have a long list of reasons for this, because having long lists is this thing I do, but one of the more benign reasons in the middle of that list is I begin to have issues whenever I’m around memes, Photoshop jokes, partisan pie charts, Buzzfeed quizzes, and fake Morgan Freeman quotes. Since this is now 90% of what Facebook is, abstinence becomes a sort of self-defense.

Sometimes I can keep to myself while I’m catching up on recent events. Sometimes I lose control and make things worse. This most recent example was shared by a friend today:

The Doctor v. Twilight v. Harry Potter

Whoever made this doesn’t understand how lucky we were.

Right this way to see things go south!

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Internet Rape Threats?

Kenneth Rocafort, Teen Titans #1

The cover heard ’round the world. Art by Kenneth Rocafort.

Other working titles for this entry included “Why I Avoid Comic Book Discussions”, “Comics Industry Spends Easter Week Debating Baseline Human Interaction 101”, “Uppity Chick Dares to Critique Corporate-Approved Pandering”, and “Comic Book Fans Argue in Favor of Exploitative Art and Rape Threats”.

Earlier this week Comic Book Resources published an astute piece by a writer/editor named Janelle Asselin offering thorough, point-by-point analysis of the proposed first-issue cover to DC Comics’ upcoming relaunch of Teen Titans. Of all the aspects she skewered — perspective, anatomy, body language, energy level, demographic narrowcasting, complete lack of salesmanship toward new readers in general — one in particular struck a nerve with the audience at large: incredulity at the portrayal of a teenage character as an improbably shaped fantasy porn object.

Not that this is new to comics, mind you.

The issue in this instance: the complaint wasn’t from a stodgy old guy like me. This time, it was from a lousy dame, clearly speaking out of turn against her male superiors who need their super-heroes to look like this. It’s not enough to have genuine porn at their disposal for their eye-candy needs; they apparently want visual representations of the female figure in all media kept inflated and distorted at all times for the sake of their personal viewing euphoria.

And then it got worse…

What Buzzfeed Gets Wrong About Your “Geek Number”

Geek Quiz Results

My quiz results don’t tell me how many other geeks I outrank and are therefore useless to include on my resumé.

My Facebook friends love sharing internet quizzes out of the boredom of their heart, but I generally skip them on standoffish principle. Of those few I click on, I rarely finish because sooner or later I encounter a question with no right answer, no close answer, not even an answer I would pretend is right just to finish out the page. Alas, I’ll never know which Frozen character I am, which Hogwarts house would have me, how hipster I am, or which member of One Direction is my secret twin. I don’t want to know these answers, because knowing is half the defeat.

Then someone somewhere in the underground internet clickbait factories switched gears and decided to tempt us with checklists instead of quizzes, because they sound less like schoolwork. As a lifelong list junkie, I have a harder time walking past a checklist without ticking a few boxes, especially if I can pretend it’s for statistical science. And when Buzzfeed posted a checklist called “What’s Your Geek Number?” I’ll admit I was an easy mark. I gave it a whirl and wasn’t surprised at the results, or at the questionable test construction and the myth it perpetuates.

More on that myth this way…

Seven Handy Tips for Winning at Live-Tweeting

Blue canary in the outlet by the light switch...

If Twitter ever needs TV ads, its theme should be “Birdhouse in Your Soul”.

Thanks to the invention of the internet, the convenience of the smartphone, and the rise of Twitter as the premier social-media beachhead for You Are There instant commentary, now billions of internet users worldwide have the tools at their disposal to pay homage to Mystery Science Theater 3000 anytime they want. The process is simple: watch something on TV; type every single thought you have while watching; stand by for accolades.

Sadly, the number of Twitter users who’ve parlayed their live-tweeting habits into fame and fortune without benefit of preexisting conditions is in the single digits. You might ask, how can this be? You’re using the internet, you’re saying what you think everyone is really thinking, and tens of people told you how special you were when you were in elementary school. Why aren’t your witticisms slaying all the other viewers? Why aren’t entire cities retweeting or Favoriting your bon mots? Why aren’t agents sending you offers? Why even bother paying for internet access if no one will pay attention to everything you do?

Calm down. Don’t throw a tantrum for the paparazzi. Someone out there still loves you. But you can’t tweet everything that pops into your head. Wait, no: actually, you can tweet it all. Really bad idea, though.

This way for Twitter tips that will change your life! I’m guessing!

Top 10 April 1st Headlines to Skip for Your Own Good

Grumpy Cat Hates Being Your Punchline

The unwilling special guest from our April Fools 2013 entry is still not amused.

Yes, Americans, it’s that time of year again. April Fools Day is back and still not abolished. That special day you’ll spend trusting no one, suspecting every good deed, indulging every paranoia, checking every inanimate object twice for spring-loaded traps, fasting to avoid surprise hot sauce or rat poison, narrowing your eyes at every internet headline and wondering which spawn of The Onion will be the one to catch you off-guard, damage your calm, and embarrass you in front of cute people. We here at MCC tried to warn you last year, and yet here you are again, trying to live through April Fools like a stubborn mule. I just don’t get you.

But would you at least take some precautions? You’ll feel much better about your day if you quash someone else’s pranks, dodge a few attempted pratfalls, and skip over your favorite news site’s fake headlines. With your sanity in check and your anxieties unprovoked, you’ll be cackling and preening while those annoying little rascals starve without the site traffic. Someone ought to teach them a lesson, so I’m dumping all the burden on you.

This way for your not-reading scorecard!

Please Crowdfund My Awesome New Project So I Can Pretend to Make Cool Stuff

Napkins Begone, Ultracausal Hygiene Science

Every good campaign has a catchy slogan. Pretend this is one.

Finally, after minutes of brainstorming ways to make a difference in this broken world, leave a lasting legacy, and accept money from strangers in exchange for pleasant-sounding promises, something has popped into my head that’s hopefully the magic bullet everyone needs, and by “everyone” I mean my bill collectors and I. I hope you’ll hear me out and then shower me with gifts so I can make my brand new dream come true if I work hard enough, the stars align, miracles happen, and no one stops to think anything through.

The Premise:

We can be certain of few things in life, but three of those things are these:

1. People want to kill fewer trees.
2. People will always be sloppy eaters.
3. People want phone apps to do everything for them.

The man who figures out how to combine those three arbitrarily chosen certainties will be the next man to rule the world. I agree with the puzzled look on your face that my path to world domination and self-esteem is littered with several obstacles, including but not limited to the laws of physics.

Intrigued so far? What do you mean no? Click here and learn more about it anyway!

Dear Event Promoters: Please Don’t Make Us Pick Your Twitter Hashtag for You

#ICC2014 #failtag

Ugh. Just…UGH. No, this won’t do at all. #ICC2014 #failtag

Midlife Crisis Crossover is coming to you live this evening from my living room while I’m in the middle of planning for our big day at the inaugural Indiana Comic Con on Saturday. (I’ve written about it here and here, so loyal MCC followers are well aware and waiting for it to be over with already.)

As part of my prepping, I thought I’d check in on the Twitter scene and gather impressions from the three-day attendees who edged ahead of us in joining the fray. I saw a fair amount of evidence that my sincere hopes for everyone to enjoy themselves are largely being realized. I’m looking forward to joining the discussion tomorrow myself.

That’s assuming I can figure out where the discussion is. Continue reading

21st Century Digital Fogey

Google Chromecast

Welcome to the newest addition to our family.

Every few years there comes another time in a man’s life when it’s time to upgrade to the next level of entertainment technology. While the old gizmos might work fine and haven’t broken yet, sometimes it’s time to escalate our media consumption anyway. It’s never easy for me. The older I get, the tougher it can be to shift my paradigms to keep up with the Kids These Days.

Another one of those shifts was implemented this past weekend. I’m never excited when they come to pass, but circumstances warranted it, the money was available, the price was unbeatable, and so far the performance is competent.

This way to keep up with the Joneses…

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