Tuesday, April 30, 2019

April Words of Wisdom

The streets were dark with something more than night. --Raymond Chadler

A lie doesn't become truth, wrong doesn't become right, and evil doesn't become good just because it's accepted by a majority. --Booker T. Washington

There's no need to drive me crazy. I'm close enough to walk. --Unknown

Creativity isn't seeing what no one else sees; it's seeing what anyone else would see - if only they were looking. New ideas are born when we view life from a fresh perspective or peer at the world through another set of eyes.
--Steven James

The pain that you are willing to endure is measured by how bad you want it.
--David Goggins

We are born in one day. We die in one day. We can change in one day. And we can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in just one day. --Gayle Forman

Reality exists as an objective absolute - facts are facts, independent of man's feelings, wishes, hopes or fears. --Ayn Rand

Some people will never like you because your spirit irritates their demons.
--Denzel Washington

If you have a dream, you can spend a lifetime studying, planning, and getting ready for it. What you should be doing is getting started. --Drew Houston

It's amazing what you can accomplish if you simply refuse to quit. --Porter Stansberry

Rhetoric is no substitute for reality. --Thomas Sowell

I can feel my heart open up when I walk down a beach path and see the sea.

Train your mind to see the good in everything. Positivity is a choice. The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts. --Unknown

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining...researching...talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. --E.L. Doctorow (ashamed to admit, I was guilty of this in April)

The best way to teach your kids about taxes is by eating 30 percent of their ice cream. --Bill Murray

Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let bitterness steal your sweetness. --Kurt Vonnegut

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Recent Reading: "Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup"

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

This is the book that inspired the HBO documentary The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.

I had never heard of Elizabeth Holmes or the Theranos scandal until recently when HBO started airing the documentary. I watched it and was riveted. I think I've probably watched it half a dozen times so far, and will watch it another half dozen more at least. It's one of those "you can't make this up" kind of stories, all the more boggling because it's real.

John Carreyrou is a Wall Street Journal investigative reporter who got a tip that neither Theranos nor Holmes were what they claimed to be, and his dogged investigation and reporting is what finally toppled the company, revealing shocking and blatant fraud, lies, and deception.

Holmes dropped out of Stanford at the age of nineteen and started a company that she envisioned developing a method of running diagnostic blood tests with just a finger prick of blood, rather than the vials of blood that normally have to be taken via needle. A key part was not just the simplicity of drawing just a small amount of blood with a minimum of pain and invasion, but also of having the test run on machines of Theranos's design, which would test for any number of issues. Her ultimate goal was to put personal health care in the hands of the consumer, making it easy for them to give a small amount of blood and quickly receive results from a machine about the size of a home printer, rather than being at the mercy of the medical field and expensive labs. Holmes' ultimate goal was that Theranos technology would become as common in homes as Apple products. Which would have been great if it was possible.

For a variety of scientific and technological reasons, it's not.

Nonetheless, over the years Holmes was able to sell some of the most famous, successful people in science, business, academics, and politics on the concept, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars in investments in the process. In particular, she had a gift for holding older, successful, and influential men in her thrall. There's no sign that she ever offered herself up for favors, but she still managed to cast a spell over them.

Theranos's board boasted some huge names, including George Schultz, who had served under Presidents Reagan and Nixon and like a number of board members was a distinguished fellow at the Stanford think tank the Hoover Institute, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, General James Mattis (giving credence to Holmes's frequent selling point that the U.S. military was already using Theranos technology in the battlefield - a blatant lie), Rupert Murdoch, the Walton family, as well as a number of other prominent investors and other members of the Washington elite, including President Barack Obama. Holmes made appearances for Hillary Clinton on the presidential campaign trail and enlisted Chelsea Clinton as a friend. Vice President Joe Biden made an appearance at the Theranos facility in Palo Alto, California, and lavished praise on Elizabeth and her work.

There was also the appeal of Holmes as the first Silicon Valley billionaire female founder. Other women such as Marissa Mayer of Yahoo and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook had achieved great success in Silicon Valley, but they didn't found their companies. Holmes was the first and a lot of people were blinded to her faults at least partly because they wanted a female Steve Jobs, who Holmes would eventually pattern herself after, right down to adopting his iconic black turtleneck as her "uniform".

The problem wasn't that Theranos was trying to develop the technology to make Holmes's vision a reality, it was that even as it was attempting to do that - and failing miserably - Holmes insisted on selling it as if it was already developed and ready for implementation, signing multi-million dollar contracts for "wellness centers" with Walgreen's and Safeway, and trying to secretively provide the services before Theranos could deliver what it claimed it could. In fact, because its own diagnostic machines were faulty, the company quietly bought a number of commercial machines to run the tests. None of this was disclosed to customers. In addition, the finger prick method of drawing blood didn't provide the volume of blood necessary to run the tests accurately, so Theranos's labs would excessively dilute the samples in order to give them enough material to work with, but which often rendered the results dangerously inaccurate.

Although Holmes started the company on her own, she eventually enlisted a partner in crime - Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, who became both her boyfriend and second in command. It was a relationship she kept from the board and investors, but it wasn't all that was kept hidden. Security at Theranos was obsessive and paranoid. Holmes had bodyguards and there was bulletproof glass and military-level security teams at the company headquarters. Visits to the facility by both investors and investigators were carefully choreographed, as were faked demonstrations of the Theranos blood-testing machines. Large portions of the lab were only accessible to certain employees and visitors were kept away, usually with the excuse that Theranos was concerned that their "trade secrets" needed to be protected.

Sunny was a bully and a tyrant, Elizabeth was unreceptive to any employee who tried to bring problems to her attention, and as a result turnover at Theranos was high and frequent. The sheer inaccuracy of the blood tests was upsetting for Theranos employees, who were traumatized at the disservice being done to patients. Neither Holmes nor Balwani seemed to care; even as Theranos scrambled to deliver results while hiding the fact that they had to do it on commercial machines from other companies, the two continued to barge ahead and enlist ever more big name, deep-pocketed investors and to sell Theranos technology as something that was ready to deliver. Even the financial forecasts provided to potential investors were works of fiction, but between the Holmes aura and the impressive names on the Theranos board, no one ever considered the possibility that they were being intentionally misled about the company's technology and prospects.

Another bullying tactic the company used was forcing employees - current and former - to sign draconian non-disclosure agreements. In fact, Theranos employees weren't even supposed to discuss their work with family members. They also enlisted a major law firm to hound former employees, threatening to sue if they disclosed anything about the company, its technology, and presumably its less than stellar practices. One employee, Cambridge-educated Ian Gibbons, became so distraught over his experience with the company and being called to give a deposition that could have cost Holmes and Theranos some patents (and feeling that it would cost him the ability to find another job) that he committed suicide. Theranos's response to his death was to request that his widow return his company laptop and cell phone.

I think part of my fascination with this story is that I have a sister who - like Elizabeth Holmes - I'm pretty sure could be diagnosed as a sociopath. It's boggling to watch someone not just fudge the truth, but look people in the eye and just completely fictionalize things without the slightest hesitation or distress that would affect a normal person. Because that's what Elizabeth Holmes did. In fact, even after Carreyrou's initial article started the ball rolling on the crash and burn of Theranos, Holmes did interviews in which she flat-out lied in order to deny the charges raised in the articles about her company's practices and ability to provide the services they were selling.

I have to wonder how long Holmes would have been able to continue this charade if Carreyrou hadn't written his article. There seemed to be no limit to her ability to mesmerize investors and audiences, and bully anyone who challenged her, and even after being exposed has so far refused to admit any wrongdoing, even after Theranos paid out millions in damages and penalties. It's as if she genuinely doesn't think she did anything wrong, and that's flabbergasting.

In addition to the HBO documentary, there is also going to be a Bad Blood movie. It was recently announced that Holmes will be played by Jennifer Lawrence, and once you've seen Holmes in action it's great casting. Vanessa Taylor (Oscar-nominated for The Shape of Water) is writing the script. Gotta admit, as much as rarely as I see a first-run movie in theaters these days, I'll be first in line for this one. There's also a great podcast called The Dropout that covers the Holmes/Theranos story.

When Friday arrived, I tried to check in with Dr. Stewart several times in the morning but couldn't reach her. She called back in the early evening, as I was driving out to eastern Long Island for the weekend with my wife and three kids. She sounded rattled. She told me Balwani had tried to make her sign a statement similar to the one her colleagues had signed, but she had politely refused. Furious, he had threatened to drag her reputation through the mud if she appeared in any Journal article about Theranos. Her voice trembling, she pleaded with me to no longer use her name. As I tried to reassure her that it was an empty threat, it dawned on me that there was nothing these people would stop at to make my story go away.

Monday, April 22, 2019

I actually thought this was a joke from The Onion or The Babylon Bee when I first saw it

These kind of tweets started popping up this morning and I really thought this was going to be one of those instances when a story went viral because people thought it was real, only to discover it was a spoof. After all, today is "Earth Day". I figured it was an April Fool's-type joke.

It wasn't. He's dead serious. From the linked article:

"We're going to ban the classic glass and steel skyscrapers, which are incredibly inefficient. If someone wants to build one of those things they can take a whole lot of steps to make it energy efficient, but we're not going to allow what we used to see in the past."

And anyone who doesn't fall into line is going to pay big time. Because, you know, New York isn't already prohibitively expensive:

"If you don't do it by 2030 there will be serious fines, as high as $1 million or more for the biggest buildings."

Of course, with De Blasio being a holier-than-thou and not-at-all hypocritical politician who cares about Mother Earth and would never do anything to harm her (as he sticks it to people he thinks are doing just that) I have to say seeing this next part of the article prompted my not surprised face:

In the same conversation that he was touting renewable energy and reducing emissions, de Blasio also defended his use of a gas-guzzling SUV for his daily 11-mile trips from Gracie Mansion to his Brooklyn gym.

Of course he did. Powerful people always exempt themselves from the rules and restrictions they inflict on the peons. Remember when Obamacare was passed? Remember who was exempt from it? If you answered the President whose name it bore and the Congress critters who foisted it on the little people, you get a cookie.

Shameless entitled hypocrites, all of them.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Recent Reading: "The Crossing"

The Crossing by Michael Connelly (audiobook read by Titus Welliver)

Harry Bosch is now retired from the LAPD and working as a private investigator. He gets a call from his defense attorney half-brother Mickey Haller (aka The Lincoln Lawyer) to lend his skills to a case Haller has taken on, that of a supposedly reformed gangbanger who has been arrested for the vicious murder of a West Hollywood Assistant City Manager...who also happens to be the wife of an L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy.

Bosch is reluctant to get involved. The book's title refers not just to law enforcement's attempt to link the accused to the victim, to try and find the point where their paths crossed, but also the idea of a former cop working to help a defense attorney and the accused - i.e., crossing over to the other side of the equation, the dark side. But the possibility that Haller's client may be innocent means the real killer is loose and isn't being pursued, and that's not a possibility Bosch can just walk away from.

Despite overwhelming evidence against the accused, Bosch eventually signs on, mainly because he's become convinced that there is evidence that was overlooked. In particular he locks in on a missing, extremely expensive watch owned by the victim, a gift from her husband. What seems like a simple if senseless murder explodes into a tale of blackmail, extortion, prostitution, more murder, and two extremely bent vice cops. And while early on I felt like the fixation on the watch was pointless and almost annoying, Connelly of course spun it into the piece of evidence that helps Bosch crack the case wide open.

I did have one serious quibble: at one point Bosch, concerned that someone may be lying in wait for him when he returns home, makes a point of clearing every room of his house with his weapon drawn, then sets it down and goes out onto his deck without bothering to clear that area, and of course that's where the bad guy is waiting for him. I just don't see Harry failing to clear every part of his home. But overall, this just became one of my favorite Bosch stories. The intricate plot played out beyond what I expected and the bad guys in this one - the vice cops - are truly terrifying.

Bosch stood at the door, listening to the steps as Cornell and Schmidt walked away. He could feel his face burning red with humiliation. If they had checked him out it meant that everybody in the LAPD would know that he had crossed to the dark side. It would not matter to them that Bosch actually believed there was a good chance that the man accused of the crime was innocent. The bottom line would be that Bosch was now a defense investigator.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Recent Reading - "True Fiction"

True Fiction by Lee Goldberg

True Fiction is the first of Goldberg's Ian Ludlow novels (the second, Killer Thriller, was released in February). Ludlow is a pudgy, mild-mannered writer who has to become his slick, fictional super-spy to survive after a strangely familiar terrorist attack has him running for his life.

Ludlow is promoting his latest novel when there's a 9/11-type attack on a Waikiki hotel. His shock and horror when he hears of the event is different than most people's because the attack was his idea. Some time earlier Ludlow and several other writers were approached by a CIA agent who enlisted them to brainstorm possible terrorist attack scenarios, and Ludlow recognizes the Waikiki attack as one he contributed. When he discovers that all the other writers involved have recently died, he realizes he's next on the hit list and goes on the run with Margo French, a young woman who was assigned to escort him to his author appearances and is reluctantly swept up in his predicament.

Ludlow heads to rural Nevada to enlist the aid of Ronnie Mancuso, previously an actor on a show Ludlow wrote for who has become a survivalist. Mancuso may seem nutty, but his paranoid and bizarre preparations for the end of civilization as we know it (along with Ludlow's mental transformation into his protagonist) come in very handy in helping them stay one step ahead of their well-equipped pursuers.

Goldberg has a wicked sense of humor that makes the action fun as well as edge-of-your-seat exciting. And it made me beyond happy that one of Mancuso's old acting credits was Frankencop from Goldberg's novel My Gun Has Bullets. I felt like I'd somehow come full circle.

True Fiction is just a really terrific book and I'm looking forward to reading the next Ludlow story. In addition, Goldberg mentioned today on social media that he's putting the finishing touches on the third installment in the series, so there will be even more to look forward to.

"The CIA knows we're here," Ian said.

"Hell yes. Winter is coming." Ronnie came back to the Mustang, grabbed the RPG launcher off the hood, and headed out into the field toward some boulders.

"He is batshit crazy," Margo said.

Ian disagreed. He trusted what his heart was telling him. He was a fool to think he'd outsmarted the CIA. The only thing that had kept them alive this long was pure, dumb luck and it may have just run out.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Still one of the best things SNL has ever done

"I'm an executive order, and I pretty much just happen."

Kind of surprised SNL went there. I think they usually sucked up to Obama. And Kenan Thompson is so awesome in this. It would still be funny, but he really elevates it. Probably the best performance of a bill ever! SO! MANY! STEPS!!!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Recent Reading - "The Narrows"

The Narrows by Michael Connelly (audiobook read by Len Cariou)

Another older Bosch audiobook - I scored a trio of them from the Manhattan Beach Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago. That was a good shopping day.

Harry is now retired from the LAPD and working as a private investigator when he's called on by the widow of Terry McCaleb, an old FBI agent friend who has died under suspicious circumstances. The case puts him on a collision course with current FBI agent Rachel Walling, who is pursuing a notorious serial killer known as The Poet who has recently resurfaced. The fact that The Poet is also a former FBI agent who mentored both Walling and McCaleb back in the day is what causes the cases to cross over and introduce Bosch to Walling, who also turned up later in The Overlook.

While all this is going on Bosch is also getting to know his young daughter Maddie, and gets the call from former partner Kiz Rider about rejoining the LAPD, which led to The Closers. Gotta say, it's a testament to Connelly's talent that even though I'm catching up on the Bosch novels completely out of order, I have no trouble keeping track of who's who and how they all play into each story.

The case takes Bosch from Los Angeles to Catalina Island to Las Vegas, then back to L.A. and even into the L.A. River. There were a number of clever reveals in the story and Connelly kept the tension high, but I wasn't sure I liked the very last reveal about McCaleb's death. I thought it was a bit of a reach. But there were a ton of things to love, so overall I enjoyed it.

I'm now starting on The Crossing, which is read by Titus Welliver, who plays Harry Bosch in the Amazon series. Welliver took over the audiobooks after being cast and while he has a great voice it's going to be weird not to hear Cariou, who did his usual fine job. It must have been a bummer for him to lose the Bosch audiobook gig, especially since he did such a great job.

There was a stillness about the whole scene that seemed ominous in some way. I had a real sense that I had come to the end of the world, a place of darkness. I wondered if this was where Backus had taken his victims, if this was the end of the world for them. Probably, I concluded. It was a place of waiting evil.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

BOOM. And not in a good way.

It just dawned on me that three months from tonight, I will be missing 4th of July fireworks in Marina del Rey for the first time since I moved there in 2012. And that sucks and I have only myself and my less than stellar life choices to blame. But that doesn't make it hurt any less or make it any easier to deal with. What was I thinking moving away from there? I waited 15 years to move back to the beach! WTF was I thinking moving away? I'm not gonna wait another 15 years, I can tell you that!

The fireworks show starts at 9pm. Three months from now, I'd be getting ready to head out to the channel for kickass fireworks in a place I love being in. Not so much now.

I miss that apartment so damn much. Still can't believe I just can't wake up and go home. Everything just feels so off. I'm so homesick.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Let's all go to the Dive-In!

So it turns out there's a Lake Travis, Texas waterpark that hosts "dive-in" screenings of Jaws each summer - with the audience watching while out in the water. From their site (bold mine):

Tickets to these On the Water shows include full access to Volente Beach attractions (Lazy Lagoon, The Sidewinder, the water slides and more), keepsake shark-ified inner tube, fireworks display and the thrilling, one-of-a-kind experience of watching cinema's greatest great whites with your feet dangling dangerously and deliciously in the water

I just have two words to say about this: HECK. YEAH. Whoever came up with this is going to need a bigger boat...TO HOLD THEIR MASSIVE PAY RAISE!!!

H/T to Delish for the heads-up, although they don't sound quite as taken with the idea as I am.

Just one of the most perfect movies EVER.

I have watched the first new Twilight Zone episode and I gotta admit...I was underwhelmed

CBS was kind enough to put the first episode of the new Jordan Peele produced Twilight Zone on YouTube for free and I succumbed to the temptation to see if it would even begin to live up to the work of Rod Serling, of which - disclaimer - I have been a lifelong fan. The short answer is no, it doesn't. The long answer:

The best thing I can say about "The Comedian" is that I thought Kumail Nanjiani did a terrific job as Samir, a decidedly unfunny but determined stand-up comedian whose career takes off when a legendary comic gives him some career advice that is both helpful and deadly. Samir is painfully earnest with his annoying political material that doesn't get a laugh from anyone (because it isn't funny), then maniacal as his sets begin to kill both literally and figuratively. Nanjiani's performance was the one thing about this episode that kept me engaged. The episode was also beautifully filmed. Very pretty.

Another positive is the use of the original Twilight Zone font and opening and closing music. I loved seeing and hearing that. I also noticed that Rod Serling's is the first name we see in the credits (and rightfully so). A lot of respect to Serling and the original was shown in the credits and as a fan I appreciated that. But when the opening and closing credits are the highlight of your show, that's probably not a good sign.

The story itself is simply a gimmick that's repeated over and over. There was one moment when the deadly power had an unexpected and heart-wrenching side effect (on the career of Samir's girlfriend) but that was the only such moment. Showing more complications like that might have lifted the material to a higher level. And our final sighting of Samir just didn't deliver the Twilight Zone-caliber jolt that was probably intended. It just didn't surprise me at all. I just had the thought that if I wrote "The Comedian" as a short story and submitted it to an anthology or publication, I wouldn't be all that surprised when it wasn't selected.

I also wasn't thrilled with the volume of foul language and distracting vulgar dialogue in the episode. Foul language doesn't offend me as long as it fits - and fits into - the material. I've been a South Park fan since day one, but the thing about South Park is that it's not funny because it's foul, it's funny and just happens to be foul. In the case of the new Twilight Zone most of it was unnecessary and took me out of the story multiple times. Think I'm a prude? Less than 3-1/2 minutes in, a competing female comedian ever so cleverly blows Samir off with the line, "Suck my vagina." I felt offended on Serling's behalf. Pretty sure Rod wouldn't have signed off on that line, even if he was doing the show in 2019. So much for respect.

Then there's Peele in the Serling role. He's billed as "The Narrator" but there's just no escaping the fact that he's basically playing Serling. His closing monologue in particular seemed unnecessary - yes, we saw that Samir started out as a nobody, then became somebody, then became nobody again. I loved Key & Peele, it was one of the funniest shows on TV and I was seriously bummed when it ended, so I'm not immune to Peele's talent. I also understand that he is now both a high-powered producer and a hot commodity. But if he wanted to do an anthology series, I don't know why he didn't just create one of his own. Why take on the baggage of having to live up to The Twilight Zone and Rod Serling? It's not like Peele has a problem attracting viewers on his own. He could have easily launched an original series without piggy-backing on an established property or having to live up to the legends of both TZ and Serling.

I think if we're going to learn anything from yet another take on The Twilight Zone, it's going to be that both Serling and the show were unique and cannot be replicated, and it's time to stop trying to recreate something that was one of a kind. Unlike the original, I can't imagine anyone tuning into the reboots decades from now. A while back I tried watching a couple episodes from the 1980's version and like "The Comedian" they were Twilight Zone episodes in name only. Nothing memorable. I can't imagine that decades from now, anyone will be tuning into a marathon that includes this episode the way we do for the original.

One thing that really struck me about this episode as I was thinking about it this morning is the realization that the new season of HBO's Barry debuted Sunday night and I've already watched that episode three times. As for "The Comedian", once was enough. And I'm not alone - as I type this, the episode has an anemic 6.6/10 rating on imdb.

As for the newest incarnation of The Twilight Zone, nothing about what I've seen or heard of it makes me want to pay for yet another TV service. I'm already paying for cable, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu, so I already have no shortage of monthly bills and great viewing options. I only watched this episode because it was free and I feel like I got what I paid for. I don't know why they didn't just rein in the language and put this on CBS where it would be available to more viewers instead of trying to use it to sell CBS All Access. But then, I just don't understand rebooting The Twilight Zone at all. It was already done, and it was done right the first time. Give us something original.

Monday, April 1, 2019

From The Department of You Can't Make This Shit Up...

This is just too funny. You might know Olivia Jade as one of the celebrity rugrats whose parents scammed them into a prestigious college. One of the interesting aspects of the scandal is that apparently Olivia was never all that interested in hitting the books in the first place, as she had become quite the online influencer and wanted to focus on that. She might want to rethink that non-emphasis on education thingy. Why? Her application for trademark of her beauty brand was rejected due to poor punctuation.

Back-to-school season...

My favorite line from the article: Now it appears that college wasn't the only application Olivia struggled with. Heh.

Famous idiots indeed.

Screenshot from Olivia Jade's Instagram. Yeah, this one is still up.