Housekeeping – RSS Feed is Moving

Hello, dear readers.

I mean that…you’re really dear. I so appreciate all of you who take the time to read my musings here.

A long, long time ago when I started this blog, I set up an RSS feed with Feedburner. I’m going to be turning that off in a day or so. There aren’t many subscribers to that feed, but if you’re one of the handful, you’ll stop getting posts that way. You can plug the new RSS feed into your reader though, and carry on as though nothing ever happened.

Thank you for reading.

A Review of “This is How They Tell Me the World Ends”

Screenshot of the cover of "This is How They Tell Me the World Ends". by Ncole Perlroth.

This book was an accidental find. I stumbled onto an ad in the pages of a recent issue of the Atlantic and, let’s face, it the title grabs you. The rest of the title, “The Cyberweapons Arms Race,” sealed my desire to read this. The author, Nicole Perlroth, is a cyber-security reporter for the New York Times who covered the Edward Snowden leaks when they broke. I’m interested in how history tends to get lost very quickly, and so I’m always drawn to books that walk through history that I’ve lived. I remember most of the events that Perlroth discusses: Stuxnet, the Snowden debacle, to say nothing of more recent events in our tumultuous political time. I thought that I knew the details of these events. I was honestly shocked at how little I knew. The title of the book is designed to give one a sense of dread, I think, and I would say that it succeeds. You really can’t walk away from this book without a sobering sense of reality settling on you at best, and a sense of digital paranoia at worst.

Perlroth walks us through a detailed underground history of events that led us to the place that we inhabit today. She defines how hackers began exploiting software, traces a tangled web through the way that hacking was weaponized by the governments of the world, and how cyber warfare became commonplace. What I had never realized prior to reading this was that there is an underground market for selling exploits, a market that is extremely lucrative for hackers who want to monetize their time, hackers that are often, by Perlroth’s description, quite mercenary in their approach to doing business. She walks us through how the exploits sold by such hackers were used in some of the world-changing cyber-attacks of our time, such as Stuxnet.

What I appreciate, especially given that I work in web technology for a living, is that Perlroth never paints all hackers with a broad brush. While she never uses the standard terms to deleniate between “white hat” and “black hat” hackers, I think that she avoids this on purpose, because she wants to make it clear that the temptation to label these hackers as either good or bad is misplaced. Their lives, and their vocation, is just not that simple.

This book is remarkably well-researched. The reader experiences key events in the development of the cyber arms race: The Google hack, the election interference of 2016, the politics behind the development of Stuxnet…in deep detail that leaves you with new appreciation for the history behind our current situation. The end goal of this is to leave the reader with an unsettled understanding: we have, through a series of cultural events and technological innovations, set ourselves up for a painful failure, a failure that has the potential to be quite devastating.

Some of my favorite recollections from the author are her own close calls with obvious hacking attempts into her own life. If you’re not digitally paranoid now, you will be after reading these stories.

My biggest issue with the writing of the book is that, in order to achieve a certain tone, the author casually uses unprofessional language that I think detracts from the feel of journalistic integrity that the book should have. The quality of the research and storytelling still stand out, but I think that there would be a more authoritative perception had the author made different choices here. I also was not impressed with the quality of the Audible production: it was poorly edited and the narrator didn’t capture the cadence of the writing. This does not detract from the quality of the book itself, though.

Please do yourself a favor and read this book. Even if you do not have an interest in the topic, this is a subject that effects all of us in ways that we don’t even realize and, if the author’s predictions are correct, will come to impact us more heavily in the future. This is a heavy read, but you will be glad that you’ve experienced this history.

Thoughts on WandaVision

I know, I’m slightly late to the conversation on WandaVision. This isn’t because I watched it late, but because it took a while to unpack this series. Like most viewers, I found it a bit mystifying from the trailers, but I was intrigued from the first episode. This, I thought, is by far the quirkiest thing that Marvel has put on any screen, large or small, and yet held a sense of foreboding that something was just around the corner, something ominous. What I found as the series progressed, and as I’ve had time to ruminate on it a bit, is that there is a deeper theological undercurrent to this series than I’ve seen in any of the MCU to date.

Let me cut to the ending though: I loved WandaVision.

Comic book literature is sort of naturally given to feature length films, because it tends to contain huge battles between good and evil that are epic in scale. Arcs like Captain America’s backstory, or the Avengers, are well-suited to a series of large-screen films. We’ve followed them, loved them, found ourselves invested in them. If you’ve read comics at all, though, you’ll know that there’s more to the characters. Comics give space for the backstory of the characters, as well. They at times devote entire issues to conversations between incidental or secondary characters, developing not only those characters but others in the process. There’s room for dialogue, for the heavy introspection of someone’s thoughts. Were the screenplay writers to include this in every film, they would all easily exceed two hours. What we’ve seen with Marvel’s series at large, though (think of the Defenders series on Netflix) is that their episodic nature provides the writers with the room to unpack backstories, develop characters, help us to know these heroes (and villains) better. Think of the entire episode of Daredevil devoted to Matt Murdock revealing his secret identity to Foggy Nelson. That was incredible dialogue, and the viewer was so much more invested in both Murdock and Nelson after.

That sort of space is something that both Vision and the Scarlet Witch have been in need of since they debuted in Age of Ultron. Wanda Maximof’s story of one of trauma. Repeated trauma. She watches her parents die. She chooses to become an Avenger, and then her brother dies. She still tries to do what is good, and manages to find a strange an unusual love in the Vision, not only to watch him die as well at the hands of Thanos, but actually is forced to be the one to kill him. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Wanda is one of the strongest characters in the Marvel universe at this point, not just in sheer power level (we’ll get there), but in the will to even get up each morning and keep going after that amount of trauma. I’m not sure I would make the same decision.

Wanda, however does. The complication is that she is endowed with a level of power that she can’t even comprehend prior to this series, and, when her mind finally breaks under the pain of grief of loss, that power alters reality. The writers riffed on the House of M story arc from the source material, and walked the thin line of introducing the complexities of this scenario without ever allowing Wanda to become a villain. Because, at the end of the day, it just isn’t that simple.

What fascinates me about WandaVision is the theological implications of the story. This is ultimately a story of what happens when any one of us tries to play God. Wanda just wants an end to pain. She has no ill intent. So, she does exactly what any of us would do if we found ourselves in possession of an enormous amount of magical ability to alter reality to fit our will. Wanda departs the realm of hero, but never becomes a villain. She just wants a respite from her grief but, because she’s only human after all, creates a disastrous scenario when she takes matters into her own hands, even though (and this is important) she does so instinctively rather than intentionally.

I don’t want to throw out a post full of spoilers…you really need to watch this series if you haven’t. To continue the theological discussion, though, the best part of the story is that, in the end, when confronted with the decision to maintain the relief from sadness that she so desperately wants and deserves, or to let Vision, her one love, die yet again in order to free the innocent people around her from the prison that she’s inadvertently created, Wanda displays the nature of a hero and places the good of the many before her own. The pain that she’s feeling we cannot fathom, but she repents of her wrong doing and makes an effort to save the lives of others.

There are far more themes introduced in this series than I can explore here. We see an image of temptation by the evil one in the Garden in Agatha Harkness. We’re given a bit of time to ask the question, can a machine love, if we can create as we were created, and what the ramifications of such actions might be. There is so much going on in WandaVision.

WandaVision is the most original idea that Marvel has tried to date. Each episode is superbly written, perfectly performed, and full of layers of significance that one just doesn’t find in any series created in the U.S of late. If you’re a comics fan, and especially if you’ve followed the MCU at all, this is a must-watch. I wouldn’t recommend that this be a jumping-on point to the MCU if you haven’t, though. The good news there is that you have a lot of great material on which to catch up.

Cognitive Dissonance

I grew up in a small town. Actually, that’s an understatement. Where I grew up, a small town is where you went for excitement. I lived in this strange rural/suburban mashup that was too far away from anything to be in any way convenient. School, my friends, life….all a minimum of 30 minutes away. Except for our church. That was conveniently “just up the road.”

I exaggerate a bit. Not all of my friends were far away. I had close friends in my church youth group (yes, I’m part of that generation in which the youth group was a staple for any regular church-going family), and I had close friends in school, but the strange part was…they were never the same group, and they never mixed. There were a variety of reasons for that. Several of my friends in the church group attended private schools, and some actually attended my school but were just part of a different crowd. We all remember how agonizingly clique-ish high school was.

As I grew older, I spent more time with my school friends, because all of my extra-curricular activities were with them. I still attended church regularly, but I really never saw my church friends outside of service times or youth group. By the time I left for college, that group of friends had really dwindled into almost no one with whom I maintained contact. Such was life. Such was getting older, growing up, “coming of age,” as they say.

You see, I always wanted the excitement of the city. I couldn’t leave where I grew up fast enough, much to my family’s chagrin, and I’ve sought out urban areas in which to live as an adult. I remember returning home for a visit at one point, and needing to fill up the car. I drove for 20 minutes to a service station, at which I could just fill up without paying at the pump first…the honor system that I would go in and pay after. How quickly I had forgotten this life.


When we visited my parents two summers ago, my Mom needed help running some errands in an even more rural area than they live. I drove her out the winding country roads, over hills with sharp switchbacks and narrow passages in which you just sort of hope that you don’t meet oncoming traffic (although the term “traffic” doesn’t really apply there), until we reached our destination…a church on a hilltop.

It was a sunny, August day with a blue sky devoid of clouds. At the top of the hill, just a few hundred yards before the church, sat a man in a utility truck. I imagine he was on a lunch break. He was the only other person in sight within the expansive view in front of us. It was peaceful…birds chirping the only sound one could hear. I remember stopping to take in the scene, to memorize it. It was so very different than my daily life now. My father worked in those sorts of areas until he retired. He would tell stories of some adventures that he experienced, but he loved the remote-ness, the peace and quiet, I think because he was drafted into service during Vietnam and saw the world in a way he never wanted.


When I was in high school, the closer I came to my senior year, I remember feeling more and more out of place at church. This wasn’t because I was losing my faith or anything of that nature, just that the culture of those people was waning on me, was one in which (I say to my discredit) I just wasn’t interested. There was a conversation from a couple of years prior that had been lost to the fog of memory for me until recently when it floated to the surface for some reason. One of my youth group friends pondered what would happen if there was a huge fight between the “city kids” and her friends. What would happen? Who would win? That conversation sat with me for a while. It felt symbolic, representative of a feeling that I had difficulty articulating, the embodiment of why I could never reconcile the two circles in which I traveled.

Is this where our differences come from? The cognitive dissonance between experiences causes a gap that we can’t bridge. I never connected these groups of friends not because of faith, but because of culture, not being mature enough at the time to see that faith can be a bridge between cultures. I walked in both worlds with much effort, not because of rare opportunity but because of determination. Now, when I return to visit, I understand the people there. I get how they think, because I was one of them, the same as I understand how people think where I live now because I’ve become one of them. The more we experience, the more we understand, the more we can hear. These experiences, these chances to see new things, have grown all too rare for most in a pandemic world, which only serves to exacerbate our divisions, because the inverse is also true. The less we experience, the fewer new things and other people that we encounter, the less we understand, the more isolationist we become. The deeper our divisions grow. The more we dwell on the differences of the unknown “other.”

As normalcy returns to us, I think the cure is fairly simple.

Anxiety and hatred aren’t formed in a vacuum, but…they will die in the sunlight.

Stories of Toys

A photo of my daughters' Toy Story collection.

Last weekend, we celebrated our youngest daughter’s birthday. I’m still slightly amazed at how old she is, but I think that’s a fairly universal experience among parents. When we asked what kind of party she wanted, she immediately decided that she wanted a Toy Story party. This wasn’t really a surprise given that it’s become her recent Disney + binge (don’t judge us…pandemic…). So, we ordered the supplies and scheduled a (very small and family-only, given the circumstances) birthday party. The party was delayed, though, because of New England weather that tends to mock such plans, and so we actually celebrated twice: the original date was just us, some cake and gifts from grandparents who were diligently on FaceTime to observe, and then the girls, of course, wanted to watch Toy Story. Because Forky was the subject of the day, they wanted to watch Toy Story 4, in which this character is introduced. So, we had some cake, and sat down to watch.

Permit me to pause here and describe what I know about Toy Story. I knew that it’s been around for a while, because I remember seeing the first move in theatres not long after I had finished undergrad. I didn’t appreciate how long ago until I looked this up and did the math. The original Toy Story was released nearly 25 years ago. So, first off, it’s enduring, and secondly….I’m old.

When my daughters began collecting toys from the movie, I knew there had been more than one, but figured it was one of those things in which Disney was just making more to continue to cash in on the first movie’s success. When Karen and the girls were visiting family out of state a couple of summers ago and she called to say they were headed out to see Toy Story 4, I remember replying something to the effect of, “Sheesh, there are 4 of those? What else can they do with that plot?” And that was the extent of my knowledge of the franchise.

Watching the fourth film, and then later that afternoon others in the series, with the kids, made me realize why. Sort of like Star Wars if you’ve ever tried to catch up on that universe, there’s a lot to Toy Story. And it’s actually really interesting. They’ve developed these characters over the course of the films, but there’s more there than just that.

I recently watched some of the documentary series The Toys That Made Us, which was like re-living childhood to me. Those toys…Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man, Star Wars…so much of that defined my childhood in so many ways. At first blush, it was that I was a collector, just as my daughters are becoming collectors now, but it’s more than that. When I think of those toys, and playing with them and opening some as Christmas and birthday gifts, I don’t so much think of the toys themselves. I think of my childhood, of the blessed journey that I had through my early years, the way that I was loved by my family and learned what family is about. I think of my parents, and what they did for me through those years. I’m motivated to give that love and support to my children, to provide for them as my parents did for me, to give them the most amazing childhood that’s within my power to give.

I ended the day of that small birthday party wistful. A lot of those toys that I grew up with as a child are still with me, either in storage or on display in my office. Many of them are invaluable to me, but not necessarily as objects…as symbols. When I think about those toys, or go through my old collection of them, I feel love. And I want to give love to my children. Love, not just stuff. These toys are serving as a symbol, in that they point to something larger than themselves, participating in that larger reality.

Part of what makes me enjoy Toy Story so much now is that it’s really a sort of love letter to those toys from my childhood, and all that they represent to me in adulthood. They manage to capture this experience that I’m having as an adult looking back, while looking at the present of my children. There’s a genius in the writing. I can’t help but think that these toys will be with my girls when they’re my age, perhaps sitting on a shelf on display, and that they will remember the loving home in which they spent their childhood.

That is my prayer.

To infinity, and beyond.