2016 and 2017 Book List

It’s been a while (two years) since I posted a reading list… and now’s as good a time as ever.

2016 and 2017 were fairly busy years – a lot of change happening – so the number of books read dipped slightly. Life is finally leveling out so 2018 should be a return to form.

Without further ado, here is the list of books read in 2016 and 2017. As always, recommended titles are marked with an asterisk.

Fear the Sky by Stephen Moss

Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson

Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North *

Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg

Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick *

Hillary’s America by Dinesh D’Souza *

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

A Day in the Life of Ancient Rome by Alberto Angela *

Life, Animated by Ron Suskind

The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore *

No God but One: Allah or Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Hillbilly Elegy by JD Vance

The Butterfly Effect by Jon Ronson

The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

Paradox Bound by Peter Clines

Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson

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Characters at My Gym

I’ve been going to the gym for about four years now; which is just a local Anytime Fitness and not one of those LifeTimes (a gym so fancy they should call it a James).

In that time I’ve certainly run into a few “gym stereotypes” (the overly-sweaty guy, the grunter/screamer, the guy with the gallon of water); but nothing compares to the special assortment of personalities at my local gym. They’re not so much stereotypical as they are singular and eccentric.

There are plenty of average gym-goers; those who regularly (and inconspicuously) put in time. Naturally, this is the group to whom I count myself a member… however, maybe these people label me “the guy who’s been lifting for a while but hasn’t gained a single muscle”. Who knows?

Without further ado, I present: Characters at My Gym, starring (in no particular order):

  • A guy who works out while wearing sunglasses.
  • A guy who only uses 10 pound plates (even if he’s lifting 120 pounds… he’ll just use 12 ten pound weights).
  • A middle-aged woman who’s obviously there to meet men. [looks at you over the top of my glasses] Obviously.
  • Two guy/dude/bros who are super pumped to be lifting together and should probably just kiss.
  • A woman who sprints as hard as she can on the treadmill for about 30 seconds, jumps off, catches her breathe, then repeats.
  • An overweight guy who flexes in the mirrors after every lift.
  • Talkative Timmy.
  • Grunthos, the Flatulent (I don’t know his real name and am truly unable to get close enough to ask).
  • A guy who has convinced himself he’s America’s NEXT Ninja Warrior (spoiler: he’s not).
  • A guy who video tapes his workouts (brings a tripod and everything).
  • The couple I’m convinced works out together as a form of foreplay.

I’ve also come to the recent realization that, if I get to the gym before 8am on Saturday I can completely avoid the yoga pants with Ugg boots brigade. This group believes it’s very important to establish a routine; which is why they go every January.

Forgot Password – Help

Dear WordPress Support,

As the header implies I have forgotten my password.

Really, I never thought this could have happened – otherwise I would have written it down. As I’ve gotten older, and been required to provide a unique password every 90 days across multiple platforms, these things start to blur and eventually fade into the ether.

The sheer number of responsibilities of my personal life have recently abated, so I figured I should pick up blogging where I left off.

Alas, I am unable to log into my own blog.

Attempting to use the WordPress password reset feature doesn’t help because (and here’s where it get complicated) it’s sending an email to an address I haven’t used in three years.

I signed up with WordPress using shanesny@nsatel.net which is no longer an active email address. The reason why is suggested in this blog post from September 2016. Short version: we moved. My old ISP did not service the area we were moving to so I cancelled service with them.

WordPress kindly offers three ways to recover my free blog:

1). With a transaction ID (essentially a receipt for payment). Again, this is a free blog. I’ve never paid for anything; ergo I have no receipt.

2). With proof of activation; which would have been emailed to that account I haven’t used in three years …so, again… that’s a no. (Reminder: I dropped that email account more than three years ago. So, I have no access to those emails).

3). With proof of two-factor authentication.

I’ve highlighted what I believe is an important part of WordPress’ description above; the operative word being “if”. You would be safe in assuming I never set up two-factor authentication. I would now, though… if I could sign in to my blog.

With those three options exhausted I decided to reach out to you via Twitter.

Another form of verification”, you say?

Check it out. Here’s the picture of me from my blog’s “About” page side-by-side with a picture of me, taken this morning, in the exact same outfit I was wearing 7 years ago. C’mon, this is pretty impressive. Right?

Not impressive enough for your diligent Twitter team, apparently. They’ve made it abundantly clear that the do not take the matter of blog theft lightly; especially blogs as pathetically trafficked as mine (Sorry mom – I know you’re an ardent fan. Yes I’ll call you).

We now arrive at the reason for this letter. At the request of Mark Jaquith, I am reaching out to WordPress Support.

All I ask is for the password reset notification be sent to one of my current email addresses. I will gladly update my contact info and fill out the two-factor authentication. Heck, I’ll even provide you with further personally identifying pictures if need be (how about a picture of me in the outfit above, with my older glasses, a clean shaven face, holding the dog mentioned in this blog entry?).

Interestingly, I am able to post new entries to my blog via email publishing. I was smart enough to set that up. Please note that email address has been CC’d on this letter to you; thus publishing this letter to my blog.

I appreciate your help and look forward to resolving this matter soon.

Parker Monroe (aka Shane)

Happy Birthday, Parker

This Blog turns five today.

While I have not been posting very much recently that doesn’t mean I have abandoned this blog. On the contrary, I actually think about it quite often – wishing I had the time to write quality posts. My life has changed considerably in the last five years and many of the events that have taken place will make for fantastic stories.

The fetching Mrs. Monroe and I used to gauge everything by our first four years together: Engaged at 19, married at 20, first baby at 21, moved away from our hometown at 22.

That was nothing compared to the last two years.

We bought and sold a home in early 2014 (which meant new schools for the girls). The wife began a new job in late 2014. We pulled the middle child from public school and transferred her to a new Charter School literally moments before the school year began (close enough that we ended up paying for two separate sets of school pictures). Then I changed jobs in March 2015. Our oldest enrolled in Post-Secondary Online College for her Senior year, graduated, and moved away to college. Our youngest is beginning kindergarten. I’ve finished off 70% of our new home’s basement and completed a major landscaping project. Oh… and we took a European vacation.

Why, yes. We have been busy.

Apologies for allowing my blog to sit for so long unattended. Many excellent stories to come.

The Farce Awakens

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was released on Blu-Ray and DVD today. Naturally, I stopped by my local Target to pick up a copy for myself.

Immediately upon entering Target you are assured that THIS is the place to scratch your Star Wars itch. If a product even bears passing resemblance to something (anything!) in the Star Wars Universe it has received a Force Awakens treatment. For example, Target will happily sell you C3PO coffee creamer and BB8 oranges.

Nevermind that, after this particular orange has been removed from its clever packaging (BB8 is cute, round, and orange… just like an orange!) it’s just an ordinary piece of citrus fruit. Unless you plan to drag that netted bag around with you – proudly displaying your on-trend styles – what you’ve got is an everyday, run of the mill, coated with food-grade lac-resin based wax, naval orange. Just like all those poor schlubs who bought the unhip non-licensed fruit.

On that note I will segue into the real topic of today’s blog entry.

Target is currently offering two versions of the Force Awakens Blu-Ray.

The model on the left will set you back twenty dollars; while the option on the right sells for $25. The difference? The packaging.

In truth, in addition to this “exclusive collectible package” Target’s version of the Blu-Ray claims to have “Over twenty minutes of bonus content”… which was already available on the [free] Star Wars mobile phone app. If these interviews and making-of featurettes aren’t already all over YouTube – be patient – they will be (likely before you can rush home and watch/re-watch this summer’s biggest blockbuster with your ultra-chic BB8 orange at your side).

By all means, feel free to spend an extra $5 on 20 minutes of video you weren’t going to watch anyway. When comparing the price-per-minute seeing the entire movie opening day in IMAX 3D cost less but don’t let that stop you.

And I’m totally sure you had HUGE plans for that exclusive collectible package – like, you were going to have it framed (behind archival UV-resistant glass) so you could properly show it off. There’s no way you were going to shove that box to the back of your entertainment center or let it gather dust on a media tower. Who even has those anymore, anyway?! Um, 1992 called and it wants its nestable disc organizer back. No, you’re hip and forward thinking. You plan on downloading the movie to your networked media server and safely storing (ie: shoving in a box under the stairs) the physical disc as a back-up in the unlikely event your entertainment drive would fail.

Either way – let’s face it – you’re never looking at that Blu-Ray clamshell ever again.

And I take particular offense with Target’s desperate use of the word collectible. These Blu-Rays are just about as collectible as the glut of comic books released during mid-90s. When everyone owns something the perceived value falls – because you can obtain another one literally anywhere. If these discs were numbered and limited to a very small print run (like Disney’s Treasures DVD sets) that would be one thing, but they’re not; making Target’s “exclusive” package the equivalent of DC’s Death of Superman. Worthless.

Target’s not the only retailer offering “exclusive” versions of this highly anticipated Blu-Ray. Best Buy, Walmart, and Disney all have their own over-priced versions… but Target is the only retailer offering extra content on the disc (the aforementioned 20 minutes).

Please, don’t let the hype fool you into paying extra for worthless extras.

Star Wars: Battlefraud

Let’s cut right to the chase: my PS4 arrived last Saturday.

I had been saving up my pennies (I literally had a mason jar full of pocket change at one point) as well as Amazon Gift Cards I’d received as gifts in order to purchase my new toy. When it arrived I was neck deep in a basement bathroom project I’ve been working on but finally found time in the evening to set everything up.

The bundle I purchased came with a code to download Star Wars: Battlefront (and four other “classic” Star Wars titles). After the brief set-up I proceeded to download my new game… a staggering 25GB file. Because we still have [are stuck with] CenturyLink DSL as our ISP Saturday evening internet speeds tend to reside somewhere between elderly motorist and caffeinated sloth… so, I ended up going to bed and letting it download overnight. Early the next morning I was seated in front of my TV happily slaying rebels in beautiful HiDef. I even grinned in wide geekish delight when I realized the front of my PS4 controller would glow red when I was playing as Darth Vader.

That said, I’m somewhat torn on this game. It’s fun – and really beautifully detailed (especially Endor) – but what-the-actual-crap is going on with the micro transactions?! It is not an exaggeration to claim that 75% of this game is locked down until you’re willing to pay extra. In fact, the term “micro” transaction may be a bit of a stretch because the absolute minimum you’re going to pay is $15.

Electronic Arts will argue that the Season Pass is available for $50; allowing gamers to buy all current and future Expansion Packs right now and never pay again. First, that’s pretty dang presumptive. Sure, dropping a fifty up-front sounds like we’d all be saving $10… but that’s assuming everyone agrees that these unseen expansions are worth $15 each. Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeros was hardly worth it’s full price.

Second… um, hold the bus… are we all okay with paying $110 for video games now? Is that the new normal?

No, actually it isn’t because (wait for it) it’ll actually cost you MORE than that. While this came as no surprise to the Xbox faithful it was a bit like a bucket of cold water to us PlayStation fans: if you want to play online you must have a PlayStation PLUS membership; which will cost you $45 per year.

For those not already doing the math in your head the disc costs $60. For that price we get some training missions and something I’ll refer to as “Arcade Mode” which allows you to fight off endless waves of Stormtroopers (or rebels, depending on which side you choose, but let’s be honest it’s still the same experience) across four different maps. FOUR.

If you want to play online where the vast majority of the gaming modes and maps are available – arguably the reason you bought the game – you’re in for another $45.

If you want to have access to the most amount of weapons, maps, skins, “emotes” (which is super lame), and anything else you don’t even realize you’re missing out on it’s another $50.

All totaled, that’s $155 for an online third-person shooter. Holy. Crap.

That seems excessive.

But, yeah, it’s beautiful and sounds great and what’s playable out of the box is totes fun.

Oh, and they guy who designed the Goazon Badlands map needs a new title like “Honorary Jedi Master” or something. Amazingly good level design!

Chronological Star Wars Canon

As you may (or may not) know, shortly after the purchase of Star Wars, Disney and JJ Abrams made the landmark decision that everything that existed outside of George Lucas’ six movies – something referred to as the “Expanded Universe” – was no longer canon. This meant that literally decades of stories were wiped clean; freeing JJ Abrams to tell his story without the burden of continuity errors sure to be brought up by nerds not unlike myself.

Naturally, this enraged quite a few people… but not me. My opinion was that the vast majority of the Expanded Universe was pretty awful. The one rare gem is Timothy Zahn’s excellent “Heir to the Empire” trilogy (colloquially known as the Thrawn trilogy). Zahn basically knocks it out of the park – proven by the fact that most Expanded Universe stories reference characters and events in this series as canon.

Well, not anymore!

Disney was quick to fill this void with new “officially in-canon” stories – and I’ve listed the major entries below. Enjoy.

Episode I: The Phantom Menace
Episode II: Attack of the Clones
The Clone Wars (ABC TV)
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
Lords of the Sith by Paul S Kemp
Tarkin by James Luceno
A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
Star Wars Rebels (DisneyXD)
Rogue One
Episode IV: A new Hope
Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
Battlefront: Twilight Company by Alexander Freed
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
Battlefront (PS4)
Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
Bloodline by Claudia Gray
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
Episode VII: The Force Awakens