Social distancing, working from home, staying home, quarantined – here’s some things to do

This is by no means an authoritative list, but just some suggestions from me, someone who is normally an socially distant introvert. I’m trying to keep money to a minimum with this list.

Also, my brother from another mother, Derek Heidemann, has a few tips, suggestions on things to do, suggestions on things to watch. Remember, we’re all in this together, but ya know, 6 feet or more away.

Learning:

Raspberry Pi Starter Kit – been wanting to learn to code? or make a server? or a retro video game station? Amazon will deliver a fairly cheap kit to you (I provided a link), you get the Pi, a micro SD card, a case, and a power adapter – you’ll get processor heat sinks, but you don’t really need them. It’s a Pi 3, they’re up to Pi 4 now, but the kits are a bit pricier. Depends on how beefy you want things to be, but the Pi 3 is still a great little powerful computer.

Things to create with a Raspberry Pi:

  • Raspberry Pi Projects – these are some of the official ones from RPi themselves. From learning how to code to building a self-hosted website. The benefit is, you get to learn linux along with it.
  • Pi-hole – tired of ads all over the place, tired of having to install an ad-blocker on every browser/machine you have, Pi-Hole will act as a front-line ad blocker. Their instructions are pretty solid. You can download white and black lists of approved or blocked websites. Stop your smart devices from constantly talking back to home. All that fun stuff. Additional support: Pi-Hole Reddit.
  • RetroPie – RetroPie will run emulators and roms from pretty much every arcade and gaming system up to the PS1. NES/Sega/SNES being the prime targets. You’ll need a gaming controller of some kind, PS3/4, Xbox, 8-Bitdo, Logitech, whatever, they’ll work, the bluetooth connection can be a bit annoying to keep working. Additional stuff: you’ll probably want to google *system name here* roms.
  • Magic Mirror – if you’re feeling really ambitious and have access to power tools (which we generally don’t allow me to have access too…) this is a really cool project.
  • Instructables – a website that has a ton more projects. From making your own jukebox to weather stations.

Want to dabble in these things but don’t feel like buying a Raspberry Pi. Have an extra computer laying around? Download VirtualBox and you can create virtual machines to do most of this stuff with. Linux is free, I usually use Ubuntu. (Though I use a server, command line only version.)

Humble Bundle – a pay as you want site filled with cool stuff. They update their offerings pretty often, lots of tech resources. They also have a regular store where you can usually buy video games and what not. Book bundles tend to be pretty cheap.

Additional websites:

Khan Academy

Scholastic Remote Learning Materials

edX

LinkedIn Learning (this requires a subscription, check with your local library)

DuoLingo

Crash Course

National Geographic Kids

If you have more links, feel free to add them in the comments.

Reading:

Following up on education/learning. Reading!

Got an e-reader? Got an iPad or some other tablet? Cool, you’re set for lots of reading. I also recommend checking with your local library, some are closed to the public but are still bringing books to cars and such. Check with your local indie book stores or Amazon to have physical books delivered.

Kindle Book Deals – monthly and daily deals are shown here.

BookBub – create an account (free) and get customized recommendations on your favorite genres when books go on sale. Pulls sales from Amazon, Apple Books, B&N, and etc.

Have a library card, you have a few options for free!

OverDrive – ebook/audiobook lending through your library, just need your library card. You get up to three books at a time. There’s a waitlist, you might not find the most recent books available, but you can put a hold on it, like you would with a regular book at the library.

Hoopla – another digital lending option. Hoopla offers movies, music, books, comics, audiobooks. I like their comic book section.

Neil Gaiman’s Website – all around cool dude, Neil Gaiman has a bunch of free things on his site, short stories and what not.

Speaking of comics – you’ll want some kind of tablet device to read comics:

Comixology – It’s pretty cheap per month, if you go through the Comixology Unlimited option, and you can use your Amazon account. They run sales daily/weekly and if you have Unlimited you can get slightly more off. Unlimited has access to most of the major publishers, DC, Marvel, Image, Aftershock, IDW, etc. They sell brand new issues every week, like your local shop.

Marvel Unlimited – strictly dedicated to Marvel Comics, their reader is a tad clunkier and reading “runs” is a bit more complicated, but if you’re just looking for Marvel Comics, here ya go. They are up-to-date up to 6 months ago. $9.99 a month after a 7 day free trial.

Want physical comics or books:

Jetpack Comics – they’ll ship to you. I list them specifically because they’re one of my two comic shops I frequent.

Indie Bookstore Finder – most indie shops will ship to you, you get to shop and support local.

Scribd – they’re offering a free 30 days of ebooks and such.

 

Movies, Music, and TV:

I think we all know how to get movies and tv shows at this point. If you have recommendations on what to watch, rattle them off in the comments.

I do recommend PlutoTV pretty heartily though. It’s free, so there are ads, but those ads function almost like regular TV ads would. Lots of custom channels, Unsolved Mysteries, Saturday Morning Cartoons, etc. There’s an app on pretty much every device at this point.

Some recommendations:

TV:

A Million Little Things

Schitt’s Creek

Psych

Scrubs

Band of Brothers

ESPN’s 30 for 30

The Good Place

Brooklyn 99

The Office and Friends are constantly playing somewhere in the world at any given time of the day

Freaks and Geeks

Fringe

Veronica Mars

Warehouse 13

NFL Game Pass – free until May 31, just remember to keep an eye on it so you don’t get charged June 1.

 

 

Movies:

Here’s a link to my letterboxd account lists, I’ll start updating these again.

 

Music:

Between Spotify and Apple Music you should be covered. If you have neither, they run free trials and at least Spotify runs sales frequently.

If you have subscriptions to Sirius XM, I find the Spa channel super relaxing when you just need some chill time. You can program your Alexa/Google device to play SXM. Some of my favorite channels:

The Grateful Dead – XM 23

Spa – XM 68

Little Steven’s Underground Garage – XM 21

The Bridge – XM 32

Ozzy’s Boneyard – XM 38

Yacht Rock Radio – XM 311 – never to early to get your Yacht Rock on

Fly – XM 47

Real Jazz – XM 67

This is also a good time to start going down rabbit holes with artists and listening to all their music. Some of the more fascinating deep dives I’ve taken recently:

The Beach Boys – There’s pre-Pet Sounds and post-Pet Sounds and they’re practically different bands.

Billy Joel – he’s always constant, his song writing gets sharper and he really hit his stride on An Innocent Man.

Yo Yo Ma has been posting short videos on twitter with music to try to help comfort people.

Austin City Limits – PBS and ACL have unlocked a number of episodes for free!

Metallica Mondays – they aren’t as great as they used to be, but still, it’s free and it’s metal. \m/

JamBase Livestreams Calendar – JamBase is largely dedicated to GD, Phish, Umphrey’s, etc but they are keeping a live stream calendar going with all the, well, live streams happening daily.

 

Exercise: 

Bluebird Sky Yoga – found this in a quick search, free Yoga sessions, though a donation is welcome.

Daily Burn – they have pretty much everything and a 30 day free trial.

Bob Weir’s Gymming Playlist – what the legendary guitarist listens to when he works out.

 

 

Sports:

Ken Burns’ Baseball – PBS and Ken unlocked the whole thing for free. Looks like The Roosevelt’s, War, and National Parks are upcoming. Also, a passport pass is only $5 and gets you access to just about everything through PBS. Super worth it.

Fangraphs – wanna read a lot of really insightful articles about baseball and learn more about the statistics that we use? Fangraphs is tops.

Baseball Reference – baseball stats, scores, history, etc mostly look to see just how absolutely insane Mike Trout is and how crazy good Babe Ruth was.

 

Misc:

Sir Patrick Stewart – Patrick is reading a Sonnet a day (on his IG and Twitter) in a way only he can. Comforting voice.

Freebies If You’re Stuck at Home – another, more comprehensive list of free stuff to check out while we’re all at home.

 

Mookie Betts – Aftermath

*Warning, if you don’t care about baseball, you may want to just close the tab or whatever.*

Sounds like Mookie is about to drop the hottest mixtape of 2020, but really it’s the Boston Red Sox who just dropped a bomb. There’s a lot to digest about this whole trade with the Dodgers.

Let’s take a look at this three-team trade:

Boston: Alex Verdugo and Brusdar Graterol (quite the jump, technically he’s from the Twins, but goes to the Red Sox by way of acquisition from the Dodgers)

Dodgers: Mookie Betts, David Price, and cash in compensation for taking David Price

Twins: Kenta Maeda

 

Simultaneously, the Dodgers traded Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling to the Angels for Luis Rengifo

 

The Dodgers didn’t have to give up really anything. Best of all, for them, none of their prize prospects.

As a Red Sox fan this is one of those things where you try to make sense of it, you try to rationalize it since the end of the 2019 season when we kind of all knew it was coming. You justify it in weird ways like: The Red Sox print money but it’s not liquid assets, Fenway is expensive to run, going over the luxury tax threshold is really bad because we drop down in draft order and other luxury tax penalties.

But it comes down to, Mookie Betts is one of the top three baseball players right now. It’s Mike Trout as the clear best player, arguably in history at this point already, Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts fight it out for spot 2. Not only that but Mookie was the best home grown player from the Red Sox since Ted Williams. There’s been others, Yaz, Fisk, Clemens, etc but Mookie was the ultimate 5-tool player who defied all odds for a short player. Not only is Mookie a great baseball player, but he shines off the field as well. Humble yet confident, a family man, a bizarrely good bowler, and a guy who goes out of his way to not publicize helping others (remember the food he had brought out for the homeless folks of Boston, that really only went viral because fucking Lou Merloni can’t keep his mouth shut).

The Dodgers bolster an already incredible team. One that has gone to the post season in the previous seven seasons. David Price helps stabilize their rotation. But Price and Boston have never meshed well, before in his Rays/Tigers/Blue Jays days and notably during his tenure as a member of the Sox. If there’s one good thing to come out of this is that there will be less media drama from Price, which becomes incredibly distracting.

All that said, let’s take a look at what the Red Sox got.

We’ll start with Alex Verdugo, as it seems he’s the “center” of this deal.

A 23 year old who has been on various top 100 best prospects in baseball lists. Drafted by the Dodgers in 2014, he’s supposedly got some of the best pure power in baseball. An arm in the field to rival JBJ.

But he comes with some red flags out of the gate. He’s 23 and he was sidelined for the last month or two in 2019 (his first almost full season in the majors) with back issues that are still lingering. Back issues for a baseball player can be a career killer, especially at such a young age. He also reportedly has issues with motivation and taking direction. The other largely major red flag is his involvement with a sexual assault that happened back in 2015 when he was in the minor leagues. He was with a group of other players and three women, one was 17 and she was sexually and physically assault. His involvement isn’t completely known but he was there at the very least. Some reports have mentioned he filmed it and put it online, some say he tried to stop the situation. In any case, it *has* to be something that’s addressed. I get being a stupid kid, but this is a whole different level than making racist comments and forgetting to scrub your twitter account. The Dodgers nor the MLB really looked into the whole situation and because Nick Francona (son of former Sox manager, current Indians manager, Terry “Tito” Francona) tried to get the whole thing investigated, he got shit canned from the Dodgers.

There are articles:

Dodgers After Dark

Sports Illustrated article about the situation Francona, and Gabe Kapler (former Sox outfield and minor league manager, former Phillies manager, current SF Giants manager, all around douchenozzle)

The whole thing is gross and gets Verdugo a scumbag tag.

Moving on…

Brusdar Graterol

A projected starter who throws 100+ mph and is only 21.

This looks to be the actual center piece of the trade for the Sox and at least almost certainly Chaim Bloom. He loves him some pitchers and based on his track record with the Tampa Bay Rays, is crazy good at drafting and trading for good ones.

Let’s look at Graterol’s pitches by way of Red Sox Stats twitter:

and

Pure filth.

As for how to say his name: BRUISE-dar GRAT-uhr-awl (thanks SoSH forum)

We don’t have a manager still, 4/5 of the rotation is marred by guys who are injured and we technically don’t even have a 5th starter. Ticket prices are up again, we’re being investigated for sign stealing in 2018. Just wonderful.

2019 in Movies

I watched 137 movies in 2019. I started probably 250 or more. I’m really bad at finishing movies.

So what were my favorites?

In no real order:

  • Knives Out
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Booksmart
  • The Farewell
  • Fighting With My Family
  • Us
  • The Peanut Butter Falcon
  • Always Be My Maybe
  • Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror

Movies I really liked but weren’t my favorites:

  • Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Blinded by the Light
  • Shaft (2019)
  • Alita: Battle Angel
  • IT – Chapter 2
  • Late Night
  • Godzilla: The King of Monsters
  • Rocketman
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Ad Astra
  • Brittany Runs a Marathon

Most of those movies were fun and super enjoyable, in fact for Hollywood, it’s probably Tarantino’s best movie since Kill Bill Vol 2. But they didn’t hit the right mark for me. Everyone complains that there isn’t enough non-blockbuster/comic book/big action movies, but I think 2019 was filled with them. I still have a few more from 2019 to go, Little Women and Parasite, which is one of the half-started ones. Even movies I didn’t really care for, like Uncut Gems and Joker, were largely small movies that didn’t rely on 22 other movies or lots of lore. In fact Joker might’ve been better had it not had all the baggage that the Batman Joker character brings with it. This years movies were held down by some really great acting, even in lesser movies.

The ones that ended up on my favorites list, have stuck with me since I saw them. Here’s some quick thoughts on them.

I thought Booksmart was going to be a female driven copy of Superbad and it is to a point, but it’s smarter. The movie has actual meaning and character development. I’m a sucker for romantic comedies and if they’re well done and just different enough, even if the story is formulaic, I’m happy. Always Be My Maybe was that for me this year, we all know how it’s going to go, guy/girl meet, guy falls for girl but they’re just friends, she dates a bunch of jerks, they hang out, they discover they love each other, something happens where they’re mad at each other, something happens where they have an epiphany that they *do* love each other and the movie ends with a flash-forward of them together (engaged, getting married, or having a kid). But there’s enough emotion in Maybe and learning, even just little bits, about a different culture from my own (white dude in northern New England) and Keanu Reeves with a great soundtrack for me to love it and for it to stick with me. Plus, Ali Wong is in that rank of smart, talented, funny, and beautiful women (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, etc) and she wrote a great script.

I highly recommend Horror Noire, especially if you want to learn a little more about black people in horror films by black producers/writers/actors/scholars. It’ll make you want to seek out the movies they do like and recommend. In that history aspect, Jojo Rabbit shouldn’t really work. It sounds kind of offensive and anyone that I’ve told the synopsis to looks at me weird. A kid in WW2 struggles to find his place in Nazi Germany and has Hitler as his imaginary friend. It makes you laugh though, until it doesn’t, then it gets serious. Taika Watiti as Hitler is a huge middle finger to actual Hitler, (Taika is a Jewish dude from New Zealand) and he plays it wonderfully. Silly and humorous as JoJo’s fanaticism is pro-Nazi and then takes a darker turn as JoJo starts to question things. Watiti finds a way to make the rituals of being a Nazi (or part of any similar kind of cult/fascist regime) asinine and silly, example: there’s a scene where seven people Heil Hitler about 35 times in the course of like four minutes. I can’t recommend it enough. I have a direct connection, so it hit home for me too, my grandmother was born in raised in Nazi Germany and finally left in 1955.

Knives Out is a movie that owes a lot to all the great whodunits of yesteryear and puts a fresh twist on it. If you loved/hated The Last Jedi, ignore it and see how Rian Johnson plays in his own sandbox. Brick, The Brothers Bloom, Looper, Jedi, and Knives Out are all fantastic movies. Also, you cannot miss Daniel Craig’s absurd accent in the movie.

I really appreciated how we seemed to get some movies that showed other culture this year, The Farewell and Us being two of the more renowned ones. The Farewell is based on a true situation. Awkwafina plays a girl who finds out that her grandmother in China is dying and the family won’t tell her. It’s not that they just won’t tell her, it’s custom in China to not tell when someone is dying of cancer apparently. The connection between the girl and her grandmother feels incredibly real and genuine The acting is what really knocks this out of the park, but along with the acting we get to learn a little more about Chinese culture. Similarly, in Us, Jordan Peele shows us what a black WASP family might look like. Anchored by Lupita Nyong’o’s acting, playing herself and her darker self, complete with different personalities and voices. Her husband is the usual 50s style husband who competes with his white friend for “things”, be it a boat or car or whatever. He tries to be a good guy, a fun and funny dad, Danny Tanner-esque in ways. We see how that backfires on him and the family as they deal with their others.

2019 was a great year for movies. I’m excited to see what 2020 brings us.

The end is the beginning of the end – The Rise of Skywalker

Some quick thoughts – largely spoiler free – on The Rise of Skywalker.

star-wars-rise-of-skywalker---button-082019-03-1566704469507

The entire sequel trilogy has been a beat-for-beat take on the original trilogy. Even the much derided The Last Jedi, which is essentially the Empire Strikes Back of the sequels. I didn’t know what to expect going into see The Rise of Skywalker, I had re-watched The Last Jedi beforehand and really was struck by how much Rian Johnson was driving home the “there’s no one that’s one hundred percent good nor bad but people have layers” plot.

Considering how much it seemed that in recent press coverage the cast and writer/director JJ Abrams seemed to be trying to downplay The Last Jedi, I wondered how much the script would try to retcon some of the things Rian did. There are obvious moments that Abrams tries to “fix” what the whiny “fans” hated about Jedi, but it doesn’t generally hurt the movie. Abrams does allow for the continuation of the struggle in both Rey and Ben/Kylo Ren, but of course in the end there can’t be any ambiguity, and all is right with the world.

I tried to go in with an open mind. I just wanted a fun, adventure filled Star Wars movie and that’s exactly what I got. There’s lots of little callbacks to all the various movies, cartoons, comics, books, and etc. Kylo even visits Mustafar in the beginning of the movie, the location of the death of Anakin and the birth and future home of Darth Vader.

One spoiler: No – Baby Yoda is not in it. But the movie does touch upon something that The Mandalorian established.

There are fun new characters, a new droid, D-0, who is adorable.

The few things that I did find a bit odd. The issue of Carrie Fisher dying before this movie was even made. She just kind of disappears for most of the movie. Backtracking on Rey’s genealogy. Finn still being a largely useless character. Too much “we’ll just quickly auto-correct this issue” happens in the movie.

Overall the movie flows rather well, it moves, it doesn’t feel long, even though it’s the second longest of the series. In the spirit of Solo, it’s a fun adventure movie in the Star Wars universe. Which, at the heart of it all, is what Star Wars is about.

 

Anustart

Lately I’ve itching to talk about movies again. My twitter feed lets me sort of do that on a 240-character limit. But what about some good stuff, theory, study, essays, etc. Well, I’m not that smart, but I’m going to try.

But movie blogs are a dime-a-dozen. And you’re right, they are. What will make this one any different? Probably not much in the long run. Though, unlike a lot of the usual stuff, I do have a degree in Literature and Film. I studied film and got credits and then a degree for it. What a world, huh?

It’s been a while though. I haven’t kept up with a lot of criticism. I think film, music, book criticism is in an odd place. By-and-large because everyone can comment on it in micro-blogging format. No one feels they need to be told what to like, what to watch. Ultimately, I agree. I think a good critic should make you want to see a movie, but shouldn’t tell you overtly to go see a movie.

I’m quick at writing and horrible at self-editing. So, I’m going to have my partner, who got her degree in English writing and editing. She’s also much smarter than I am. But that should come as no surprise. I also want my meatier essays to be thoughtful and as such, it’ll take some time to get them up. In the mean time, I’ll most likely post some hot takes, talk about my love of boutique physical movie releases – what are some of the good labels and such – and more.

I don’t want to make any promises as to when I’ll have lengthy analysis and such up. But hopefully I won’t abandon this like I have with my old njgreenwoodreviews.wordpress.com site. I just felt like it was not a site I wanted to work with anymore.

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I also have interests outside of movies and music, namely baseball and dogs, so I’ll occasionally post about that stuff. Especially Boston Red Sox stuff.

Here’s a pic of my dog, Okie. She’s cute.

-Nick