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

2015 Book List

As I write this year’s entry I realize that, for some reason, I began and ended 2015 on either side of our globe’s poles. Of the two, I found the southern tragedy (Shackleton’s) was far more interesting. Both were excellently written and exhaustively researched; I heartily recommend both.

Late in 2015 my wife issued a challenge for both of us: read one biography on every U.S. President; so I begin 2016 with Ron Chernow’s Washington. Never one to stick solely to one literary genre I’m mixing it up by also reading a book about an alien attack on Earth. Y’know, because entertainment.

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing *

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

The Men Who Would Be King by Nicole LaPorte

The Fold by Peter Clines

Armada by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (re-read) *

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Under the Dome by Stephen King

Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones *

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides *


Fear the Sky by Stephen Moss

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow


In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

(As always, asterisks denote recommended titles).

Liberty and Immigration

Europe has been very accommodating and accepting of Syrian refugees. In 2014 alone the EU welcomed 283,532 refugees; the majority arriving from Syria. In light of recent events, as well as additional well-documented attacks, why would we want to emulate what the EU has done? Have events of the very recent past not been enough of a warning? As of yet, the left’s strongest argument for America accepting Syrian refugees has been to quote a passage engraved on the Statue of Liberty – a gift to the United States from the country most recently, and savagely, attacked.

Lady Liberty was constructed in France, shipped overseas in crates, and assembled on the already completed pedestal. The statue’s completion was marked by New York’s very first ticker-tape parade and a dedication ceremony presided over by President Grover Cleveland in 1886.

The poem in question – written by a foremother of the Zionist movement – was added 17 years later, in 1903.

The Statue of Liberty was originally conceived as a memorial to our independence not a symbol of immigration. However, it quickly became so due largely to immigrant ships passing by and heading toward Ellis Island. It was the addition of Emma Lazurus’ poem that cemented Miss Liberty’s role as unofficial greeter of incoming immigrants.

I find it terribly ironic how the left encourages [demands] that we all be progressive forward thinkers instead of “bitterly clinging to the past”… but then relies on a 112 year old sonnet, written by a staunch supporter and advocate of the Jewish state, to support their argument.

The poem is beautiful – presented as a simple distillation of common sense and provisions for fair dealing that none but the wicked and ignorant could oppose – but it is not the law.

Don’t misunderstand, I am not opposed to immigration. The liberty-loving are not defined by ethnicity… but neither is everyone equally liberty-loving as is often assumed by many Liberals today.

President Obama claims that States unwilling to accept the refugees his administration will be bringing into America “must be afraid of orphans and widows“. I’ve seen the video and images of these refugees and it’s largely young able-bodied men. I’m sorry, Mr. President, but that’s not widows and orphans – that’s an army.

Immigration policy, who we allow into our borders, ultimately defines the citizenry [ie: the electorate] of the nation, as well as the political culture and future trajectory of the nation.

You get the immigrants – and the nation – you ask for.

2014 Book List

A little later than usual, but here it is: the list of books I read in 2014.

There are fewer books this last year, and the blog entry is much later than normal, due to a number of exciting events that took place in 2014. Namely, we bought a new house and moved more than 30 miles south from our previous location. Moving is normally a stressful and busy event. Ours was more so and a blog entry detailing our adventure is forthcoming.

Until then, please peruse this list. As usual, recommended titles are marked with an asterisk.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown *
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
Star Wars: The Last Command by Timothy Zahn
Last of the Blue and Gray: Old Men, Stolen Glory, and the Mystery That Outlived the Civil War by Richard A. Serrano
The Atlantis Gene by A.G. Riddle *
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell *
Life of Pi by Yann Martel*
The Atlantis Plague by A.G. Riddle *
Console Wars by Blake J. Harris
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Joyland by Stephen King
A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas
The Atlantis World by A.G. Riddle
Dream It! Do It! by Marty Sklar
The Martian by Andy Weir *
Christmas Eve, 1914 by Charles Oliver

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa by E.B. Sledge
Under the Dome by Stephen King