Endings: White Lines (2020)

Warning: Thar be spoilers ahead argh 🦜

Wow, two posts with my ‘final reviews’ theme. I’m on a roll! Don’t stop me now!

White Lines is a European crime drama that ends up feeling more like a black comedy at times. Admittedly, I even had to go research to confirm that it was actually intended as a pure drama. While this series of posts isn’t meant to be a full review, suffice it to say that once I decided the show was a dark comedy it made a lot more sense to me. I probably just lack the refinement of my European brethren.

At any rate, the series ends with a solid number of plot twists while wrapping up the suspenseful main story of a sister searching for answers around her brother’s sudden disappearance in Ibiza decades ago. (did you hear me pronounce Ibiza the correct way? good) Well…we find out who did it. In a surprise I only anticipated starting in the penultimate episode, it was his best friends. Specifically, in a group for 4 close friends, the two who were recently married took turns killing Axel, while the fourth friend was off his tits on heroin having a lovely homoerotic experience with a literal motherfucker.

Part of me feels like I should stop this review right there…I mean, what a sentence!

But there are other matters to attend to. My favorite part of the series was hands down Boxer. In reviewing his story, appearance (dark, brooding, Spanish rough n’ tumble type), and his purity I’ve made the only reasonable conclusion. Boxer is actually Jesus. I mean, in the final episode we see him tied up (the cross) and water-tortured (this is my blood) all while remaining fiercely loyal and forgiving to the love of his life…who is doing the torturing. Throughout the entire series he’s a calm voice of reason and insight, painted as a working man with real street smarts. Finding out he’s walked away from his life as fixer for the leading crime family on the island was the icing on the cake. His story reminds me of a new rose. We came to his story just as the bud has reached maturity and we get to watch as it opens and achieves its glorious, fragrant final form.

I don’t know if I can speak as well as the rest of the characters. Zoe’s dad…dead. Zoe’s marriage and relationship with her daughter…on the rocks (at best). Marcus…looking to take over the drug business (no lessons learned apparently). Oriol…confesses to murder (dgaf mode achieved). Really not a lot of redemption story lines the way I saw it. I mean sure, you could say the renewal of love between two aging Calaphats was touching, but you’re hard-pressed to find any other redemptive outcome of Zoe’s tornado-like path of destruction through this community.

No complaints though–I wasn’t watching this for the happy ending, and ultimately I found it satisfying, with no major plot line left hanging, and a decent amount of justice meted out.

Twists: 6/10
Satisfaction: 7/10

Endings: White Lines (2020) Read More »

Rolling Up My Sleeves

Well I’m a week or two into my plan to be a master developer/hacker…designer…uh-oh…

So maybe I’ve got some big picture things to figure out. It’s hard to know what you’ll love or hate until you try it, after all. Luckily, I’m enough of a noob that I don’t really need to make any hard decisions about my end goal yet. I have some idea of the direction I want to head, and the shared topics across all those fields is still plenty big.

As such, I’m taking a dual approach for now. First, I’m carrying on with my CS50 course. I’m a few weeks into it (and working with my brother on it now!) and thus far it has served as an excellent refresher course for general programming while also giving me plenty of new tips and tricks (I’d never coded in old-fashioned C before!). Beyond this course I’ve got several excellent free and online courses to continue with.

I’m on the right track.

Second, I’m learning by doing with a VPS I recently set up. Starting from a fresh Ubuntu install that doesn’t even have nginx or Apache installed has been a tremendous learning experience so far. For this side of my education I’m not quite as worried about being so slow and methodical. I set a task (install WordPress, for example), find a good looking guide, and jump right in. Copy/pasting code is fine here, and as stuff breaks I’ll dive in deeper at that point. In a worst case scenario I nuke the VPS from orbit (i.e. reinstall the OS) and start fresh. Setting up a virtual hosts file gets easier every time.

I’m on the right track. How do I know? Several times already I’ve found myself so absorbed in a problem that I miss meals. I find myself itching to jump back to continue my DNS experiments, or to finish going through the thread on Github related to the error message I’m getting about user permissions. Reflecting back I realize entering this flow state has been a hallmark of whenever I’ve found myself dabbling at the command line. Similarly, I’ve realized that there are very few other things (if any) that lead to this same state for me.

This realization adds to the general sense of excitement I’m feeling. I’ve read/watched story after story where the person talks about missing food and sleep as they lose track of time while working on a problem. I knew education wasn’t inspiring this level of fervor, and I wondered if perhaps this level of passion/commitment wasn’t available to me. Maybe only the lucky few find a true passion, I thought. Sometimes being wrong feels great.

Biggest threats to my plans now: dipping during the fade. In other words, I know that there’s no high which lasts forever. At some point I won’t want to finish the next assignment, fix the next bug. It’s pushing through on those days that will be the make or break difference for me in the long run.

But for now, in the short run, I’ll enjoy this initial sprint and flurry of activity 😀 Now…back to that virtual hosts file…

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Starting A New Career

I passed the 5 year mark for my Asian residence this past Summer. What started as a bit of an aimless wander has turned into a comfortable life, complete with domestic bliss and a good job. However, those who know me best will remember how I railed against the idea of working in education in my youth. Somehow, despite these youthful protests I’ve spent more time working in education (between GHP and my work in Vietnam) than in any other field.

Now don’t get me wrong — I have really enjoyed this foray into teacherdom. There’s no doubt about it: teaching is hard. After 5 years of practice I still feel like a beginner — maybe just barely moving into the intermediate range now. I honestly consider education to be a field where (unless you’ve got a special gift or inhuman work ethic) you can’t consider yourself even “good” until you’ve put in a decade of practice. That said, I know folks who have taught for 10 years who are also quite sure they’re not good. So.

Doing hard things feels good, at least after you’ve overcome the initial trepidation and sense of drowning. That all passed a few years ago, and now I can walk into a classroom of any age/size and operate with comfort. It’s a confidence that gets shared across all other avenues of my life. Also, I expect that no matter what the future holds, being able to teach will always be a skill in demand.

I could comfortably continue to work my way up the skill/job ladder. There’s a lot of earning potential and exciting aspects to the future of education. For example, COVID saw a massive shift towards online offerings, which thrills me. After years in the Boy Scouts learning “leadership skills” I’m afforded ample opportunities to practice and build them with my current management position. The company I work for is wonderful, with an A+ culture of respect from the top to the bottom. But.

But for some reason I can’t shake the feeling that I’m not living up to my potential. Maybe it’s some Freudian slap making my cheeks burn when I hear my mother’s voice urging me to do something more. Maybe it’s just realizing there’s not a lot of connection between a math degree and managing a learning center. Perhaps its all my brilliant coworkers who are pursuing graduate degrees, setting an example of not resting on one’s laurels. Regardless of the cause, I’ve been racking my brain for the last 2 years (especially) in search of what’s next.

Two weeks ago it finally hit me. I’d eaten some THC gummies to enjoy the end of a hard-working week and in that space of creative flow I was walking from the kitchen to my room when I realized what I want to do next. I’d read an article a few weeks prior to that talking about the growing demand and lack of supply for cybersecurity experts. I guess my mind had finished processing this and connecting up all the wires because in that moment I had the mental equivalent of a cheesy Vegas neon sign light up: “Cybersecurity Career (Free Buffet)”.

I got started playing around with computers when I was 8 when our first Windows 95 PC appeared. I remember diving into every single menu and setting as a warmer, and then picking up some C programming books at the library, excited to join the fray of sexy, anonymous hackers. Well…admittedly I quickly gave up on the programming, but the tinkering never stopped. I ended up writing my first public program as a response to a project assigned in a middle school class, in QBasic. I don’t remember the details, but I remember working on it with my old man and the teacher giving me top marks with zero feedback, because clearly she didn’t know how it worked (thank god–I’m sure it was awful).

Over the ensuing decades (I’m 30, I can talk about living for decades now) I had many more little projects. An idea pops up, or maybe I’d just go through some tutorials online. I picked up the most basic of skills bit by bit, never really feeling like I was doing anything impressive, clearly aware of how I’d be ridiculed if I showed up at DEF CON with my paltry skills. I kept telling myself the story that computers were a hobby at most, and the dream of being some kind of computer wizard weren’t realistic.

Well…take one article on the growing need for cybersecurity, decades of tinkering and learning a wide (but shallow) range of basics, and the confidence that comes from buying a one-way ticket to Asia and building a career and you get…a sudden realization that one of my earliest childhood dreams isn’t actually out of reach.

But for the first time in a long time I know what I want to do, and I have the confidence and patience to get there.

I’m two weeks into researching next steps, and to be clear I’m still essentially a novice in any area that counts. There are many paths into the field, and many areas of specialization. If I’m lucky I’m 5 years away from being able to properly call myself an ethical hacker…by some more conservative measures it’s going to be another decade.

But for the first time in a long time I know what I want to do, and I have the confidence and patience to get there. I’ve got no specific goals around blogging, but I think it would be interesting for me to keep some records of the journey, so I expect I’ll have some more posts about things as I go. Stay tuned.

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Endings: House M.D.

Warning: Here be spoilers! Read on only if you a) don’t care about spoilers or b) are well familiar with the ending of House.

I’ve had an idea. I want to record my thoughts and feelings on different pieces of artwork/media, but I didn’t want to just do normal reviews. I was re-watching House for the second time and as the final season concluded my existence was punctuated by that special bittersweet melancholy that pervades in moments of finality. Whether it’s a great book series, an epic movie trilogy, or a silly procedural drama centered around a fake (albeit excellent) American accent, you can find that special feeling as you credits roll or last pages are turned.

So, let’s try this out.

House M.D., hereafter just “House”, is one of the shows I grew up on. Spanning 8 seasons from 2004 – 2012 I remember enjoying the paradox of a misanthropic healer immensely when I’d manage to catch an episode. I didn’t follow religiously though, and in a pre-streaming era it wasn’t as easy as it is now to make up a missed episode here and there.

As a result of this uneven exposure in my younger days I returned to it years later to watch from beginning to end. Most recently I finished a complete re-watch for the second time. There are not many shows that I could tolerate twice, but there’s something about an extremely predictable procedural that hits a sweet spot for something to watch when you don’t want to think. Folding laundry has no better accompaniment.

At the conclusion of the series we see a few arcs tied up neatly.

Taub’s family of twins is seen united and happy complete with two mothers, a happy ending to a story of man who shirked relationship responsibility for many years of his life.

Chase inherits the diagnostics department, a few episodes after leaving the hospital with a sense of graduation. He’s cast as the son House never had, the longest serving staff member under House. We watched him grow and discover himself and what he wanted across the series. From a hot, surfing womanizer to a man with a few more wrinkles and a lot more depth, Chase exemplifies the idea that House’s improper methods can yield tremendous results if you can just learn when, exactly, to ignore him.

The major arc, starting towards the last 1/4 of the season centers around Wilson and his diagnosis with cancer. After a good college effort he finds out the cancer is terminal, and he has only five months left. House takes the news predictably horribly, and a fight ensues lasting a full episode between House (“don’t give up and keep taking horrible chemo so you get a few more months” and Wilson (“I’ve seen the end results of that too often to want it for myself”). The irony of a oncologist turning down treatments he’s prescribed countless times to others is ever present.

Eventually, House capitulates just as Wilson does. They both come to terms with things outside their control, and we reach the final episode with House having turned the spotlight of mind internal as he knows the real issue was never Wilson, but his own fears. The patient of the week is a heroin addict, and although the details are a little sparse eventually House ends up in a veritable crack den with this patient, high as a kite on some sweet, sweet opiates. What happens when House is particularly high? We’ve seen it time and time again: hallucinations, whee! House sees a steady stream of his biggest hits, starting with those who killed themselves over the course of the show, and leading up to Dr. Allison Cameron. A fire is seen burning in the background as they talk to him, and it grows steadily. Eventually Cameron’s bit of reverse psychology seems to do the trick, and he makes an effort to escape the burning building.

Meanwhile, alarms have been raised. House has been missing, sight unseen, for 2 days, and this just after he’s been told he has to return to prison. Naturally, the remainder of his prison sentence (6 months) is just enough to ensure he’d never see his best friend again. People assume the worst, knowing that House hasn’t always gone for the happiest of coping methods.

We come to the climax of the show as Wilson and Foreman show up outside the crack den. Wilson sees a figure emerge from the smoke through the glass of the front door, but before House (now clearly visible) can reach the door a beam seems to fall on top of him and the fire consumes everything within our (and Wilson’s and Foreman’s) view.

Cut to the funeral, and the greatest hits of House’s (still ambulatory) acquaintances say saccharine things about him. Wilson closes out the eulogies with nice comments…then pauses and starts to say true things about House: He was an ass!

It’s all sad, and poignant, and a bit funny watching Wilson disparage House, and then a cell phone buzzes. Surprise, surprise, Wilson sees a text with an acerbic message that could only have come from a very particular medicine man.

Cut to Wilson seeing House outside his apartment, and pointing out that House is in huge trouble for letting his death be assumed. House shrugs it off, and asks Wilson what’s next, looking ahead to five months of being the best best friend he’s ever been. Wilson smiles in a huge way and we come to our final scenes, flashing through the aforementioned narratives of secondary characters we had to wrap up.

In addition to Taub and Chase, Foreman is seen stumbling across House’s name badge in an auspicious location in his office. He pauses to think, confused, and smile grows across his face. “The madman actually did it.” Foreman, perhaps the smartest person House worked with understands what’s happened and is happy that House is alive, all their difficult history aside.

I think Foreman’s reaction is what I was feeling as well when we get to the final scene, a typical “into the sunset” affair with Wilson and House seen clad in leather atop classic chromed-out hogs. Wilson starts to make a request to House regarding his end of days but House cuts him off. They’ll deal with that when it comes, but today we’re living out our dreams as best friends. Someone who has spent years finding reasons to be unhappy in the moment has shifted his focus 180° to instead highlight the joys of life. He’s truly selfless, and even though maybe it’s just a short-term act to make Wilson’s final months happier, I felt that it indicated a truly changed person.

In the end isn’t it change that we want to see? A view from the peak is made more enjoyable when you can just barely make out the starting point below you. Similarly, in this show we see every character end up happier, stronger, and better off for having House in their life (that is, every character that hasn’t killed themselves). Is it realistic? Not at all. Should we even allow a story of a generally horrible human being end so happily? Maybe not–we don’t want people to think that saving lives, or any other positive thing justifies being an ass. However, if you had made it 8 seasons with House, you’ve given up on reality a long time ago, and if you’re going to enjoy a fantasy, why not make it end happily?

In the end, I think I took a few lessons or thoughts away from this series. One, everybody lies, but that doesn’t make them bad, only human. Two, that we can choose to let the world tear us down and make us angry, or to resist negativity and find happiness. And third, that this happiness is always going to be based on the people in our lives; our relationships define our lived experience perhaps more than any other thing.

Endings: House M.D. Read More »

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