Black Mirror: The Future is Now

During a two week sinus infection, I recently binge watched the entire Black Mirror catalog on Netflix (only goes up to Season 3).

It’s a dis-topian view of how technology will shift our future in some very, very, very bad ways. Think technological nightmares.

But Black Mirror is not about tomorrow.

Black Mirror is about today – showing us the dark reflections of who we already are. Each episode simply makes it more literal in a future where technology and our use and reliance on it has corrupted a natural life.

Don’t read on if you are going to watch the series and haven’t. Plenty of spoilers.

In Season 1, “The National Anthem” (my least favorite episode) shows us the extend to where a politician will go to unnatural acts because of the whims of the people based on the real-time feedback of the people.

The only difference between this and today is the reaction time. We don’t have leaders who stand for principles. We have leaders who sway with public sentiment or only to protect the base of their power.

Fifteen Million Merits” imagines a world where people have become power sources by cycling all day (hey, not so bad) and manipulated by a pop-culture infrastructure to the point where there is no truth, no beauty.

Most of the billions of people on this planet work to survive on jobs which society needs but provide no actual purpose other than to feed the economic machine of growth. We’re mostly a planet of drones who have willingly given up any aspiration of having any real meaning in life. The second moral here is that anything that contains truth and beauty is quickly corrupted. Already there.

The Entire History of You” shows us the future of technology where everything in our lives is available on video, and the detriment to relationships and humanity.

Today, we as humans already use the past as a weapon against each other, and have since we’ve held long term memories. Our record on social media has already created a mine field of every thing we’ve ever said. There are claims that we’ll adjust and be more accepting, more forgiving, but the trend is still vilification or apathy.

Season 2 is even better. “Be Right Back” examines how AI and robotics will try but fail to narrow the gap of loneliness. A better and more beautiful short story about this was written by Adam Johnson in Fortune Smiles called “Nirvana.” In the end, virtual does not substitute for the real thing.

Today, we’re constantly trying to feel connected through social media rather than real life. We’re already poorer every day through the use of technology to connect us.

White Bear” is probably the largest melodrama of the bunch, where we see a future world where people are just voyeurs with no actual moral compass for what is going on around them. There’s a story within a story, both with the same point.

Self-explanatory. We’re already there.

The Waldo Moment” looks at how virtual entities can be corrupted to mean more than they should in all kinds of ways.

Yes. Every social media technology, ever.

The tale of “White Christmas” was one of the best because of the role of John Hamm, where we see technology used to both isolate us and invade our privacy when wielded by authority.

This is not new. Just new technology. 

Season 3 starts with “Nosedive“, where our social media reputation is paramount to every part of life, and a one-star rating can not just ruin your day it can ruin your life.

People today obsess about twitter followers, how many likes they received on a post, and live and die by their feed. 

Playtest” is one where I can’t really draw an analogy to today. Maybe just a cautionary tale about integrating AI deeply into our lives.

Not there yet, but we’re not going to have to wait too long.

Shut Up and Dance” takes hacking to a personal level, where it’s not just corporations but individuals who are blackmailed.

I’m covering the camera from now on when I commit social crimes on my iPad. (Just kidding)

San Junipero” extracts humanity into a digital form of afterlife where you continue as your avatar in a virtual world. The deep message here are prolonging life often creating more pain than good is sugar coated with a happy ending.

We do this today with medicine instead of virtual reality.

Men Against Fire” is one of the best episodes of the entire collection, where soldiers senses are augmented to see the enemy as less human, as diseased, in order to encourage them to fight.

This is what propaganda has done since it’s invention. The U.S. President did this throughout his campaign, demonizing individuals, entire races of people. He appealed to the hate in people, fed on the most base elements of humanity, and divided our country in ways it may take decades to repair.

Hated in the Nation” is my absolute favorite. The ending again could be removed and the darkness would be deeper. An AI is unleashed to kill whoever is getting the most negative sentiment on social media. The emotional damage of mud slinging becomes physical as people die because when they become the target of hate by others, and then their own hate is turned back on them.

Today the online world allows us to be our ugliest selves. I have seen friends from high school slander each other, seen them make statements that are uglier than anything I ever saw in the halls of the cruel institutions of teenage learning. 

Now I need to go check out season 4.

 

 

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The NT with my NT

The NT with my NT

My amazing niece (NT = “Niece of Titanium”) Bekah spent 10 days with me in the NT (Northern Territory of Australia). The trip changed my understanding of the country I live in, and created memories that will last a lifetime.

The origins

When I was about 12 years old, my family was vacationing in the “lower 48” (how we Alaskans referred to the rest of the country other than Hawaii), in Arkansas where my mom’s family was from. My brother, Steve, was working as an auditor for a large chain of department stories, and was working in Dallas. My brother flew me out to Dallas to watch a Cowboys football pre-season game. It was the first NFL game I had ever seen. I got to see how my brother lived, how he had his own apartment, how we could eat popcorn any time we wanted, and it was a glimpse of adulthood. While the walls of my bedroom were covered with posters of Dallas players (and cheerleaders), my brother is NOT a Dallas Cowboys fan, so this was an even bigger act of kindness. It was a wonder, a miracle to me at age 12, and looking back, it’s an even bigger one than I realized then.

A couple of years later, my sister was graduating from college, and she flew me out for the week before her graduation. When I was graduating from undergrad, the last thing on my mind would have been dragging a nerdy, awkward teenager around.My sister had left for college three years earlier and I had been the “only child” since then. We went around Portland, we threw a frisbee in a parking lot, we did lots of small things. I fell asleep during a party that was going on in her apartment. I woke up and realized three of her college (female) friends standing over me. I pretended to sleep.

Since I had no younger siblings, I began my own tradition with my nephews. Jonathon came out to Austin for a weekend, and it began a bond between us that has made us close to this day. Braden’s pain tolerance was on display during his trip to Austin, as he didn’t utter a word of complaint during our kayaking trip where he was turning blue due to the cold. When Benjamin came to Australia, he popped up on the surf board and rode it all the way in on his first attempt. I’m a lucky guy to have these three as members of my family.

My final Unclet (the correct plural of nieces and nephews for a male) is Bekah, who turned 14 this year. There are advantages of being the youngest, which include that the Uncle now lives in Australia and has actually figured out how to be a better host.

I wanted a memorable experience for her, and selfishly I wanted to explore some part of Australia I hadn’t seen before. Since she was coming in US summer and Aussie Winter, the Northern Territory was the ideal place to visit.

But first, a word from our sponsors

This trip would not be possible without my amazing best friend Vic. He picked Bekah up in Los Angeles so she didn’t have to sit in the airport 12 hours between flights, and he picked us both up on the way back from Australia.

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Bekah, Elaine, Little Bryan, Vic

Sydney

We had two days in Sydney after she arrived, and a final day before she left. We hit a lot of great spots, including the Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb, dinner with Kara and Tiago at a small Japanese place, in the CBD The Australian Museum, akubra shopping, walking through the Botanic Gardens, the Manly Sea Life aquarium, dinner with the Buntings, and enjoying the Bastille day festival in Circular Quay.

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Bekah takes advantage of the free food in the Atlassian kitchen while being exposed to a global Atlassian “Town Hall.”

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Hanging out under the bridge before the bridge climb 

Darwin

The majority of our week would be spent in Kakadu National Park, so we flew to Darwin. We explored the small Charles Darwin park, and stayed at a holiday park just South of the city.

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Bekah didn’t like her picture being taken, so I had to take surprise selfies. This one didn’t turn out so well. My skills improved over the week.

Ubirr

Day two in the NT found the adventurous duo driving into the park and spending time in Ubirr. The indigenous artwork on the rocks were amazing – like chalkboards with white, red, and occasional yellows that had “x-ray” like pictures of local wildlife like barramundi and catfish.

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Rugged explorers of an untamed landscape

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Sandstone escarpments are the only element of topography around Ubirr and all of Arnhem Land

Arnhem Land River Cruise

Across from Ubirr is Arnhem Land, which is a Dutch word, since they were the first white people to visit this area of Australia, and why the indigenous word for white man sounds like “Bollander” (from hearing the explorers say they were from ‘Holland’). We took an afternoon boat cruise down the river, which was filled with crocodiles.

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There are days when I wish I had chosen “warning sign artist” as a career.

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Our guide, Tyrone, who grew up in the area and lives in Arnhem Land

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Another local, warming up in the sunshine

Jabiru

We stayed the night in a bungalow in Jabiru. It was probably my favorite place we stayed, though it took a long time for it to cool down at night.

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Bungalow sweet bungalow. Pretty cush with power outlets and a sink!

Arnhem Land 4wd tour

The next day we spent on a tour of Arnhem Land. Our guide, Richard, was phenomenal, and made a constant effort to help us understand how the people viewed the land around us.

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Richard helping explain that maybe tourists don’t know everything..

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Rock art showing the arrival of Dutch ships . “I’m sure these whitefellas can’t be that harmful to us, can they?”

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This rock was where young men proved they could be warriors for their clan, by throwing a spear and getting it to stick in the crevasse at the top. People pictured in the photo are not warriors of any sort.

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Jeffrey explains how indigenous artwork is created in this artists enclave. 

The Falls Tour

The next day was another day in a 4wd bus – “The Spirit of Kakadu 4wd Tour”. While the tour itself was much less instructional about the way of life of the people, and mostly about getting to two sets of gorgeous falls, and swimming in the waters below them, our guide Trevor was a fascinating guy.

Trevor talked about his childhood, being raised in a family with one indigenous parent – not completely accepted by either side. How he learned the language of his clan, his people. How he was instructed by elders dreaming and helping him know his destiny, and his animal spirit. And that his specific knowledge that he was given to learn, to help his people, and to pass on. And he shared that with us.

The horrors of what was done to the indigenous people still stun me. Children were beaten if they spoke their own language. The list of massacres is so long, and they believe not all are counted.

Aboriginal people were given the right to vote in 1962, Indigenous people were given the right to vote. Amazing what barbarians we were – and of course it took the United States three more years to given all races the right to vote. Indigenous people were first counted in the census in Australia in 1971.

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Maguk falls.

The waters of Maguk falls have crocs in them during other times of the year. Currently it is considered croc-free, meaning no crocs have been seen for the last 30 days.

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Jim Jim Falls. Curious about the name? It is named after the nearby Jim Jim creek. 

Swimming below Jim Jim falls connects you to the rock and water in way I can’t quite describe easily. The water is cool and your breath catches, the dark water below you flows right up to the stark walls of the encircling cliffs. You wish you could never leave (and that all the other people around you would leave). I need to get out of the city.

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I kid you not, this is a termite mound. The big bad wolf might try to blow your house down, these fellas could chew through it no worries.

Yellow River

The Yellow River was the absolute best part of the trip. We did the sunrise trip. So much of Aussie wildlife is nocturnal because of the heat, but in the early morning as the sunrises the entire wilderness opens up to reveal the menagerie of egrets, crocs, water buffalo, whistling ducks, snakes, black winged ibis, blue-winged kookaburra, and wallaby.

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It’s early. But not to early to sneak a selfie.

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The Sun Also Rises.

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A croc after performing the death roll, clenching an egret in its mouth

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The Yellow Water.

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The world is waking up. But the world has been awake for a long time.

Cooinda

We stayed two nights in Cooinda. The lodge there is fine, the food edible but not stellar.

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Before we left Cooinda, we walked to the Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre. The dry season is here.

Mt. Bundy Station

We stayed our final night in Mt. Bundy Station a converted ranch. The ranch has water buffalo, other cattle, and is a neat property to explore. But staying in the Cook House near the “pub” is not great if you want a good night’s sleep. The rest of the camping spots appear to be great and quiet.

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On the way to Mt Bundy Station, and old stamp mill in a Mining Park. My Uncle rebuilt a stamp mill in Downieville, California, so they have a place in our history.

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I can sense that you do not like the flies.

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An unforgiving country, where it’s never easy to survive.

Adelaide River Jumping Croc Tour

Our final event in the NT was a jumping croc tour.

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Getting an early start, we began the two hour drive towards the location. I stopped to take a picture of the sunrise. It was beautiful, but something seemed wrong. A few minutes later I realized it was rising in what I thought was the West. I was driving the wrong way. The next 2+ hours were “action-packed” and we arrived just after the boat had left, but the AMAZING people on the tour got the driver to turn back for us.

We saw A LOT of crocs. Bekah has all the pictures here. But these crocs were big, and right up next to the boat.

Final day in Sydney!

On our final day in Sydney, we waited for lost luggage, then hit the Australian Museum. The next morning, it was off to the airport. We flew to LA together, then Bekah had a direct to DC while I was off to SF for a week of work.

65,000 years

Okay, now that I’ve written enough to exhaust the attention span of 99% of the people who would read this, we’ll get to the real story of the trip.

I can’t claim to have a deep knowledge of the indigenous people of Arnhem Land, or pretend to be able to understand what they have experienced. But they did teach me a thing or two.

The harsh climate of Australia created a fascinating system of life. Unlike the fertile crescent where 1 person could work and feed 10, then 100, then 1000 as technology emerged, Australia offered no such ability, so survival was day-to-day, month to month, and year to year. And the land was life. Yams, wallaby, water. And if you damaged the land, you suffered. One of the elders, Big Bill Neidjie wrote:

Old people say
‘You dig yam?
Well you digging your granny or mother
through the belly.
You must cover it up,
cover again.
When you get yam you cover over,
then no hole growing through there.
Yam can grow again.’

‘You hang on to this story,’ they say
So I hang on.
I tell kids.
When they get yam, they leave hole.
I say
‘Who leave that hole?
Cover him up!’
They say
‘We forget.”
I tell them
‘You leaving hole.
You killing yam.
You killing yourself.
You hang on to your country.
That one I fight for.
I got him.
Now he’s yours.
I’ll be dead,
I’ll be coming to earth.’

It’s incredibly simply, but incredible powerful. The stories, the legends of the rainbow serpent, the creation story, all the stories – they are lessons on how to survive. The missionaries called the people ‘Devil worshipers.’ How ignorant could we be? if they had listened, they would realized these were not stories of gods, but of life. Their ceremonies were not worship, but lore and lesson. Indigenous people burned the land to hunt and harvest. They learned how to live and created stories to teach the next generation how to survive, how to care for the land.

There is a story of ‘sickness land,’ a place to avoid because families who camped and slept there had deformed children. ‘Sickness land’ turns out to have large deposits of uranium. One of which has been mined. And the uranium from there went to Fukushima. The Elders laugh at us, we think we’re so smart with our technology. We’re not that smart. We don’t understand the most basic things about our planet and how fragile it is, and how we’re killing ourselves with pollution, plastic, and over-population.

They survived this way for 65,000 years.

We might not last another 10 days.

Instead of of a true leader, an elder, with wisdom, today we have an elected narcissist with no sense of right or wrong, without purpose, and yet with the power to start the end of all things.

I grew up in a small town, a few hundred people, and I played by myself along the river, in the forest, along the paths worn down by bears. Over the last 40 years, I lost my way. It’s time I started to find it again. But in simple ways, one step at a time.

Start covering the holes.

The cruelty of adolescence

The years of 13-14 were the worst two years of my life. My kidney disease, the loss of my father, the failure of two marriages – all of these were easier to handle than the two years of self-hatred and cruelty that is junior high and adolescence. Nothing make sense – your body is sending you natural signals that you are told are evil. You want to run forever, you want to sleep for days, you want to eat for hours, you are uncontrolled and boundless. The world around you rejects you. You are supposed to be on your way to adulthood and you are completely incapable. Yet your identity will be shaped by this cruel time. Will you carry your insecurities forged in the classroom and recess and inflict them on the next generation? Will your defense mechanism trained into you hour upon hour ever realize you don’t need to fight anymore?

I picked 14 as the age I wanted my Unclets to visit because of the difficulty of that age for me. An escape from some of the daily structure, peer pressure, parents, and everything we don’t know how to deal with.

Bekah was an amazing travel companion. Capable of entertaining herself, I think she was more at ease than I was. While I’ve worked years on building physical endurance for things like swimming or running, I have few skills or strengths when it comes to caring for another life, in being responsible for the survival of another. I found myself frustrated at times, even barking at Bekah for something that was my own fault, not hers. Ten days is a long time for any two people to spend together, and she’s an incredible kid, who knew when I needed some space. She laughs easily, her manners are better than mine have ever been, and she’s clear about what she wants or doesn’t want. Looking back, every time I was frustrated or tense or nervous about anything, it was always about my shortcomings, about my image of myself at her age, about my failure to care for her in the way that an Uncle should.

Don’t misread that – the time together was excellent, the adventure was unforgettable and I don’t regret a single moment. But it taught me about family and reminded me that I’m still carrying a lot of the useless baggage from when I was that age.

I’m a lucky Uncle to have the Unclets that I have.

On a separate note, I just made rice with spicy silken tofu for lunch. Meat, your days in my life might be numbered. It might still be a high number, but it could be a number.

Malaga: First World Transplant Games

Malaga: First World Transplant Games

My first World Transplant games was full of surprises. You get a small taste of what it’s like to be an olympic athlete, but mostly you spend the week in awe of what people with transplants can accomplish.

This is not a short post. Buckle up.

Note: All good photos credit of someone else.

This is serious competition

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Monty leaps across the finish of the 1,500 meters, one of the most dominant performances of the games

There are some very capable athletes at the games, including a former 400m Olympic runner. The times here are often what could win local or state age group events in their respective sports.

The competition in some sports creates make-or-break moments. Small decisions or events change outcomes massively. I have teammates who trained for half a year for one specific event, to have a wrong turn in the first 30 seconds take them out of medal competition. Many events have so many participants that they are single elimination. A bad draw means you’re one and done.

There are incredible turnaround stories. My friend from college, Andrew, and his wife Isabel were there. Isabel is a double lung transplant recipient (who also won gold in several events). Same thing for Kate, an Aussie teammate, who is a heart and double lung recipient. If that doesn’t make you want to do more with your life, I don’t know what will.

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I thought I was tough doing the individual medley. Kate did it with a heart and double lung transplant.

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Josh, who has limited vision, is guided by Jerry in the 1,500 meters (at a fast clip!). Keep up, Jerry!

There are heaps of people who come to worlds who are not naturally athletic, and before transplant had never done sport of any kind. And yet, they are in the pool, on the track, on the court, on the bike. They know there’s not much of a medal chance for them, but they are there to compete, and to show the world what they can do. My biggest fear is that as the games get bigger, we lose these people – but they are the most important.

The athletes are human

Having a transplant certainly changes lives. And for the most part, I think it makes people appreciate the right things in life. But, under the pressure of competition and the emotion of physical exhaustion, we’re not perfect.

I saw great sportsmanship, with runners waiting for the other to finish. I saw the French 4×50 relay team put in a kid under 10 (he was up against me, I did beat him soundly). The entire area applauded people who were giving it everything despite not having natural athletic gifts. 1,000 examples of the spirit that the games should represent.

I also saw a few examples of anger, resentment, bickering, and poor sportsmanship, in almost all cases caused by poor officiating. When you have inexperienced volunteers running highly competitive events, you’re going to have problems.

While we should have been celebrating the great performances of the day, in cycling we spent 90 minutes waiting on bad decisions from bad officiating, poor judgement, and poor sportsmanship. It ruined the second day of the games for me. But this low spot was wiped away by the rest of the phenomenal week.

Come aboard, we’re expecting you!

I realized about a couple of days in that a good chunk of the Australian team seemed to have come to the games to play one or two sports like petanque, drink a lot, and tour a new country (versus doing lots of events all week and supporting other team members). Some team members and supporters were smoking, which shocked me. The “Fit for Life” philosophy must not have hit them, and some seemed to view the week like a cruise ship with a buffet and open bar. The gift of a second chance at life shouldn’t be squandered. Am I being judgmental? Yes.

How BJR fared

In March I was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia which meant real training was out for 2-3 months. I came into the games “undercooked” with a real lack of training and never having a full month of training since January without illness:

  • The longest run I had done in 6 months was 10K.
  • The longest swim workout in the last 4 months had been about 2K.
  • I had not been on a bike outdoors more than 3 times since March.

But even with that background, I felt great during the week – but I simply wasn’t fast. That didn’t stop me from having one of the most enjoyable athletic performances of my life, second only to my Ironman races.

5K road race (run) – I expected to run about 22 minutes, about 2 minutes slower than a year ago, and with the course short by about 500m, I ran a 20:30. So, right about what I expected. 14/32.

5K cycling time trial – Wow, am I slow on the bike right now. Not a surprise given that I know exactly how much power I can produce on the bike, and at the moment it’s just enough to run a medium sized ceiling fan at medium speed (two pulls of the chain). 8:17 for 4.5K, 25/30.

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The Aussie cycling team. Five out of the eight won medals in the cycling events, which were more competitive than ever. I managed not to vomit.

30K Cycling Road race – Each year I make a new mistake. This year it was not getting close to the starting line, because the lead pack took off like a rocket in the first lap, and I could never close the gap. This one error kept me out of the medals for the virtual triathlon. I recruited seven riders to join me, which eventually dropped to three or four of us who worked together for the rest of the race, encouraging each other in Spanish and pushing harder and harder. Carlos, Ivan, y Bryan – ¡un equipo muy fuerte! 22/35.

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Carlos, Ivan, y Bryan despues del 30K. ¡Mas rapido!

400m freestyle swim – Silver medal. About 45 seconds slower than what I’m capable of when I’m fit. The pain was delicious.

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Michael Walter from the USA with the Gold in Mens’ 40-49 400m freestyle. Some chump took second.  

200m Individual Medley – This was my big fear. I hadn’t done 50m of butterfly in competition ever, and had never done the IM even all through out high school swimming. I only did my first full 50m of butterfly on the Sunday before the games started. And boy, was this race ugly for me. Goggles came off during the dive. As soon as I hit the water, my brain went into freestyle mode and I began a freestyle kick, but immediately stopped it – and froze dead in the pool, so my butterfly began with zero momentum from the dive. I tore off the goggles as I flipped to backstroke, but was already a third of a pool length behind the leaders. Every turn, except for breaststroke to freestyle, was a thing of horror. Even with all that, I managed to be only 4 seconds behind my goal time (that I had set assuming I’d be able to train and be healthy). I’m mostly proud that I took on a new challenge instead of just sticking to freestyle events where I am much more competitive. 6/7

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Aussie swim team on day 2 at the pool. Everyone smells like chlorine and victory.

4x50m relay (swim) – Rod led it off like a champ, followed by Chris and Ethan. They stuck me with the anchor leg: I would like to remind everyone that I crushed a 7 year old kid in the anchor leg. 7/10

Swim Relay team before swim

Relays are simply fun. Ethan, BJR, Chris, Rod before the race.

4x100m relay (track) – I had completely forgotten I had signed up for this and was surprised to find out the day before the race. Bradley, one of our junior team members, was running on another team that was scratched, so I had him take my place. I am not built for sprinting.

4x400m relay (track) – I just said, I am not built for sprinting! But, possibly the most childish fun I’ve had in the last six months. I ran a 1:09, maybe 1:10. Faster than my fastest time (1:12 or 1:13 I think) as a 13 year old as I discovered track was not my sport. So over the last 33 years, I am 3 seconds faster? By age 68, I should be running a 1:07. This is probably where I had the most pride in being an Aussie – we ran in the second heat of the relay, which didn’t have the dominant two teams of GBR and Hungary, and the entire Aussie section was screaming. All the way around the track I could hear my name being yelled, and the entire stands shouting. It’s an amazing feeling. I made up a little bit of ground during my leg, but it wasn’t enough (and Monty did a phenomenal job of almost catching the super friendly South African team).

4x400 Relay team on track

The glorious Aussie 4×400 relay team (and Bradley who we let the kiwis borrow even though he’s faster than a few of us).

Just so I can find it later, here’s the actual race on video.

Virtual Triathlon – (they take three events and add the times up) I placed fourth in my age group (40-49) (having put up the best swim time and I think the 2nd best run but missed the peloton finish in the 30K road race so that knocked me out of any chance here).

New Friends

Of course you meet great people, who you hope to see again in the future. And, not a single American called me a traitor during the games, in fact several seemed very understanding given the current U.S. President of why one would want to be on the Aussie team.

Zac and Bryan

Zac, a triathlete who truly should move to Australia, is a great ambassador for transplant sport, and seems to know everyone

Malaga

Don’t go. It’s not really a place I’d choose as a holiday destination, ever. There are much better places in Spain.

Gold Coast, Newcastle

The next Aussie games are in the Gold Coast in 2018, and the next World Transplant Games are in Newcastle, UK in 2019. Unless something unexpected happens, I expect to be there.

Thanks

I owe a lot to so many people.

Of course it starts with my cousin Diane, whose kidney I carried around the road race, on the bike, in the pool, on the track, and every day for the last 13 years. Without donors, these events would be empty: no athletes, no lives changed, no second chances, no miracles. No incredibly well written and insightful blog posts.

Andy Kean not only helped me get in the right direction with butterfly, and he and Kayte were so supportive through my hospitalization and recovery. Tash, Vangie, Penny, Jill, and many others also helped me through pneumonia and multiple other illnesses over the last 3 months. My Aussie teammates were inspiring and incredible people. Cheers to Matty for organizing the AIS weekend in Canberra for the team. A special thanks to KP for being my constant voice of encouragement and giving meaning to what I do. And to countless others who wished me well and have helped along the way.

My first overnight stay since 2005

My first overnight stay since 2005

I haven’t stayed overnight in a hospital in over twelve years. Pre-transplant, I was all too comfortable in hospitals. The new nurse would enter my room at the start of her shift, and encounter a poker game between Neel, Dan, Mak and me. Often, Bear was there in the hospital with me. I had the full mission control set up, complete with laptop, DVD player (pre-Netflix streaming era, people), iPod, Kindle, and cell phone (not smart or mobile at that point). John and Kathy, living in California, made two visits in a year – my first day of diagnosis and a visit post transplant, in addition to being my caretakers while traveling back and forth to California.

Some of the most memorable moments of my life happened in the hospital that year. A visit from an ex-girlfriend while 1 gram of steroids played havoc with my emotions. A doctor in the E.R. hearing that my nephrologist had dropped by steroid dose dramatically mumbling “idiot” and shaking his head (time to get a new nephrologist). My friend Kiyon holding on to me as I broke down at the news that the second attempt at a transplant would be scrapped due to a poorly drawn blood test.

Post transplant, I had a nine-day stay to recover and get used to the rabbit hormone that was conditioning my immune system to not reject the miraculous gift from my cousin. A few months later I contracted CMV and collapsed in a room in my GP’s practice, leading to another four days in hospital to diagnose me.

Since that point, other than a few outpatient visits for infusions, removal of the stitching for my transplant, or the joy of a good, deep colonoscopy, I have not been the patient. And never overnight.

A Betrayal of Lungs

I’ve had pneumonia twice before. Once when I was 11, where the Yugoslavian doctor prescribed “whiskey” and didn’t understand my mother’s response of “teetotaler”. Another in the post-steroid withdrawals of my kidney disease.

On a weekend in March, I landed on Sunday, and Monday morning I was a complete wreck. Over the past 13 years I have a pretty steady pattern of sinus infections. Starts in the sinus, eventually goes into the lungs. This was different – right away my lungs were laboring, and I was coughing up all kinds of wonderment. A visit to the doctor, a few mild antibiotics (Australian doctors constantly under-prescribe meds for a transplant patient, US doctors tend to overdo it), and two days later things were only worse. A second visit and the doctor dispatched me to the Royal North Shore E.R.

Royal North Shore

My nephrologist is world-class, so being in the hospital where she practices was critical to me. The local Manly hospital is probably good for simple things but I’d still steer clear.

The E.R. at Royal North Shore was stunningly great. The admit procedure was top-notch, and as soon as they heard the word “transplant” everything changed. They put a mask on me, got me into a private space, and went to work

I did find out that I am allergic to an anti-biotic Keftrex, which caused me to gag and instantly refund the chicken Moo Burger I had just polished off. I chuckled when the nurse suggested the way to verify that I was allergic was to give me another dose. My friend Jill, a former ICU nurse, who had come to make sure they took good care of me, suggested that wasn’t such a great idea.

Eventually they admitted me to stay overnight, so my nephrologist could see me the next day

The stay

A hospital stay is usually (and hopefully should be) quite boring. I paced the halls, usually sitting in a chair outside my room to look at the Sydney skyline. I don’t wear the gown unless I am repeated threatened by the nursing staff, and only if the consequences are clear and dire (any mention of “catheter” as an “or else” and I’ll suit up).

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I wore it better

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What passes for nutrition

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Actually a really good poster board on kidneys.

After the first night they moved me from a private room to a shared room with four other people, which I thought was the point of private insurance, but I realized when you’re admitted to the public hospital (the only one with an E.R) you don’t get a choice. All good, the other person was a lot less healthy. My ‘roomies’ were four men older than 60, one who liked the TV at full blast, another who seemed to sleep all day, and another who seemed generally spaced out.

The TV loving bloke was berating a nurse about wanting to eat certain foods, that he was not supposed to eat. His accent was Eastern European and he has a tad abusive. I immediately judged him. I’ve been trying to meditate more, and sessions in the hospital definitely helped. Empathy has always been a challenge for me when I’m around conflict. The entire day I was in that room, I didn’t talk at all to the other occupants.

As I left the TV lover said “good luck!” That small amount of humanity made me realize that there I was, in the best health of anyone else in the room, and I hadn’t done a damn thing to make the lives of the people around me better.

Was that a deadlift, or just cleaned by a jerk?

After reading every OH&S (Operational Health & Safety) poster on ward 7B, I was familiar with all the proper ways to lift someone from one bed to the next, from the floor to the bed, from a skateboard to a salad bar, and every possible combination. Don’t be a hero, always have two people for a lift, never make eye contact with a badger, etc.

I exited the airport and shuffled along the sidewalk, waiting for a friend to pick me up. I was happy to escape the hospital, but felt like I’d just staggered out of the losing end of a prize-fight. A few moments later, I heard “Can you help me?” coming from the brush.

I looked around, and saw a rather large woman who had fallen out of her wheelchair and into the shrubbery. She explained she had left her hospital room to smoke (winner), and had tried to roll down the steep sidewalk (basically a hill) and gotten thrown out of the chair. Sigh.

So, of course I did the right thing, which is to pick her up all by myself and drop her in her chair. It took every ounce of strength I had left in me, with lungs still being attacked by pneumonia. I’m lucky I didn’t drop her and have to watch her roll down the hospital driveway, and spend the next two years in court explaining why I thought this was a good idea.

Once in the chair, she exclaimed,”You’re strong! I’m 80 kg”. Maybe holding thirty helium balloons you are.

Yes, I hit the trifecta. Generous, judgmental, and decision-impaired.

Pick someone for comms

One the one hand, it’s really nice to have a lot of people care about you. On the other hand, especially when texts, Facebook, and other media are so easy, you can get a bit annoyed when word spreads you’re in hospital.

“Keep me updated” is not something you should ask someone who is sick, unless you are their primary care giver. A sick person needs to focus on getting well, not updating everyone in the world on their condition. “Let me know if I can help” is awesome.

I think when you don’t have a partner, people forget – if you had a partner, they would just contact your partner. When you don’t have a partner, they just overwhelm you.

Sending someone a message telling them you care – awesome. Sending someone a message asking them to do something, not awesome.

Still struggling

Two months later, I’m still not 100%. I’ve been sick twice since being hospitalized with my usual respiratory infection.

I spent a weekend at the Australian Institute of Sport, and their Chief Medical Officer showed a graph, with “Number of international flights” on the x-axis, and % chance of infection on the y-axis. The chart stopped at x=4, and y was 99%. And that’s with a normal immune system. In May, I’ve had five international trips (Oz->Spain, Spain->Poland, Poland->Oz, Oz-US, US->Oz) totaling 97 hours of travel time (airports + flight time).

The World Transplant Games are just three weeks away, and while I wish I was focused on training, I’m just trying to get healthy enough to get a few practices in before I get on my next flight.

My next option is to consider sinus surgery. While I hate the thought of surgery, I feel like I’ve tried every other option and one have one left.

The bigger picture

It sounds bizarre, but I’m lucky to have these problems. When I was being treated for chronic kidney failure, I took 20 pills a day and felt horrible. For the last 13 years I’ve felt great. When I was on dialysis, every night was a small battle. Now every night is untethered, not painful, and optimistic.

A similar perspective: Recently I’ve had to start wearing glasses again, mostly only at night, for seeing long distances. I could be upset about that, and dwell on this, but mostly I’m amazed that I had 13 years post-intralase where I didn’t have to correct my vision, and I can still function near 100% without glasses except at night. That’s amazing.

So despite all the trauma of the last 13 years and the last three months, I’m actually a lucky guy when you look at the big picture, when you look at the health care I’ve had available to me, when you look at the people who care about me, and when you look at the life I live. Now I just need to make the most of it, and stay away from hospitals.

A Shark, a Kangaroo, and a Koala walk into a cliff…

A Shark, a Kangaroo, and a Koala walk into a cliff…

I am slowly catching up on the blog posts I should have written since January! I have stopped posting to Facebook because, well, Facebook.

In late January (2017) my brother Stephen and his wife Donna came to Australia to visit me. While the trip meant a great deal to me personally, and the time with my brother was incredibly special, I’ll mostly cover the visuals and adventures of the trip.

Shark Tank

The big event of the trip was getting into a cage, about a 3 hour boat ride away from Port Nelson, where Great White Sharks could be found.

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You’re going to need a bigger boat. Oh, actually, yeah this one’s big enough.

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The cage that would separate the men (and women) from the sharks

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Why I will not be mooning the shark

After a few buckets of chum, and the head of a tuna were dragged through the water, the first white pointer appeared.

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A view from inside the cage

Over the course of the three hours, we saw three different great white sharks. There would be a wall of fish surrounding the cage, eating the chum that had been put in the water. Then you’d see a great white glide towards the cage. Cool, calm, collected. People say that they are intelligent. I believe a lot of animals are smart. I don’t know if I believe that about sharks. To me, they are simply ruthless hunting and killing machines.

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These are not small animals. The largest one could have been 4-5 meters long.

The strangest part of the entire episode was my reaction when I first saw the shark from the cage. I do a lot of ocean swimming, and there are small (less than two meter), harmless sharks where I swim. I had the strongest urge to leave the cage, to slip between the two bars and swim in the open with the great white. I was shaking when I got out of the tank and into the boat, the urge was so strong.

Kangaroo Island

Donna and I spent a day on Kangaroo Island. My brother had picked a hotel close to the ferry terminal so the day’s adventure was not as brutal as it was for people leaving from Adelaide.

We used Kangaroo Island Odysseys, where both the customer service as well as the tour were exceptional.  Our guide Nikki was all-knowing and a great human being on top of it all.

Despite it being called Kangaroo Island (and myths around the original of the animal’s name), they are not as thick as in other places in Australia. But, they are to be found in a lot of different places around the island.

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It’s those animals that can’t hop, staring at us again

Pennington Bay

We stopped off briefly for a walk along the beach near Pennington Bay.  The color of the water was spectacular.

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Lunch

The tour company has their own Heritage-listed natural bush property, that they continue to restore and develop. Lunch under the trees was fantastic.

Then it was time to walk under the koalas. Previous to this, I had only seen one or two koalas in the wild. By the end of our walk I had seen at least 30. They were often three to a tree. They didn’t seem bothered that you were looking up at them, idly giving themselves a scratch.

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We have incredibly small brains, but we live pretty great lives

Seal Bay Conservation Park

We finished the day by seeing a host of sea lions.

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If I had lips, I’d whistle

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Just lion around. First use of this joke, in history, ever.

Great Ocean Road

I’ve been on the Great Ocean Walk with a couple of friends four years ago, and so have been on the Great Ocean Road, but never stopped to look at all the amazing formations along the coast. 2017-01-27 08.39.42

Stephen and I had dropped Donna off at the airport in Adelaide, and I had mistakenly thought that the drive from Adelaide to Melbourne was beautiful the whole way through. Turns out the first 75% is actually incredibly dull and boring but we had CCR to keep us company among others. Once you hit Allansford the official road begins and the mind numbing highway ends. I would probably recommend just starting from Melbourne, driving to the end of the beautiful section, and then throwing yourself into the ocean.

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The twelve apostles, much like the three sisters, get all the tourist traffic, but I felt like the earlier formations were much more interesting.

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It is truly one of the seven wonders of Southern Victoria.

The micro-adventure

The micro-adventure

A normal Thursday at work. Six to eight half-hour meetings before lunch, a working lunch, and trying to get some work done amidst a handful of other meetings.

But, tonight, I would sleep under the stars.

The Beginning

One of my unmet goals for 2016 was to do a quarterly ‘micro-adventure’ with my friend Tash.

Finally, over a year later, we pulled one off.

The concept is that we don’t explore the world around us nearly enough. We are trapped in routine commutes, that our path through life is larger than a hamster wheel, but it’s still largely a hamster wheel and often difficult to tell one day from the next.

I can become incredibly comfortable with routine, with planning, with habit. Triathletes generally are – ask most members of my tri club what they’ll be doing Saturday morning and there is no question: a long bike ride.

Mastery, which is recently a topic in vogue, comes at a cost – dedication means repetition, it means the exclusion of other pursuits.

Personally my life has represented this in the extreme – more and more I have narrowed my life to fewer pursuits. Unfocused time became the first to go. A broad social life disappeared. Family faded in and out at times based on avalanches of guilt, loneliness, or love. Relationships could never fit into the focus of work and selfish pursuits.

While mindfulness is a concept I have discovered late in life, it doesn’t hold all the answers. The physical world is just as important as the space between your ears, and learning to combine both.

So now that I’ve built up this concept to the point where it sounds like it will save humanity, the most basic micro-adventure can be summed up as ‘an impromptu hike.’

Today when you talk to most people about camping, it’s an ordeal. Select your destination, plan your meals, find your gear, pack it all up, pick your trail, reserve your campsite, apply for leave to make it an exorbitant three-day weekend. All this means people don’t go camping that often, or that camping is the pursuit of the few that do it enough that the overhead is reflex.

I grew up camping, even in my own backyard. Summers in Eagle River, Alaska, meant getting the canvas tent and it’s external frame pack – which took one of us to carry the beast, and heading down to the Beaver pond to camp overnight. Three kids, early teens, running around a pond riddled area next to the train tracks. As the trains came by, we’d don bandanas and wave machetes and knives at the wide eyed tourists as they rolled by, sightseeing cattle looking at the Alaskan wilderness. A decade later, I rediscovered camping with friends in uni and even returned for a six week hiking trip through my home state of Alaska.

So the idea of re-introducing a bit of outdoor life into my ‘trapped in the city’ routine had instant appeal.

The Plan(ish)

While the idea was to be as spontaneous as possible, there was tension between being totally unplanned and having a complete disaster for our first attempt.

With my work and training schedule, there’s no such thing as ‘free time.’ So I had to start with picking a date. Once that was set, we started with the broad strokes plan:

We’ll meet after work, go to the train station, take the next train 90 minutes, then exit the train, then hike for an hour, and then sleep overnight.

Now, I live in Sydney, Australia – a unique place where this is possible. Most US cities have dangerous areas, or you could not reach wilderness within 90 minutes, or even in Queensland that wilderness might be filled with things that will kill you. So this is easier than it would be in other places.

Still, by the time we had boarded the train, we actually had decided to head South, to hike into the Royal National Park, and find a place to camp along the trail.

The Train Ride

Fish and Chips

The ride South went quickly. The guy sitting across from us talked about the great trails, wished us well, leaving 5 empty beer cans in his seat. That’s quite a routine for anyone’s commute.

We grabbed a fish & chips dinner before hiking into the park. There was way too much to eat, and always fearful that my metabolism and hypoglycemia will turn me into an angry idiot, I packed the rest of the chips away in their paper bag in my backpack. (This is exposition)

The Trail

Bush walk

The hike was fantastic. The trail provided only an occasional view of the horizon, but kept your attention on the winding, well maintained but not sterile path through rocks and trees. We were constantly on the lookout for places to sleep – looking for protected flat spots. There are no camping spots in here – what we were doing is technically illegal.

I love the phrase ‘technically illegal’ because it means the same thing as ‘illegal.’

We found a couple of places that would work out along the way, feeling the pressure of the race against the setting sun to try and reach one of the water pools in case we could get in a swim before going to sleep.

The Pools

Time for a swim

Hmm… Can’t see anything. Let’s jump in.

Finally, we emerged. The natural pools were there, in an open space, with flat rocks above. Before the sun set we found two flat spaces to camp. Then a quick change into swimmers, and trying to ease into the largest pool without breaking an ankle or scraping a knee on the slippery rock surfaces. The water was completely black, the bottom invisible. The water was cold, but in an invigorating way, rather than numbing or paralyzing. It required you to move, to breathe.

The notion that you could not see anything below you – how deep it was, whether the Aussie equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster was staring at your toes deliciously, whether there is a fresh water bush jellyfish species that your friends have failed to mention, or even whether your leg will get caught in some vegetation and this will be the tragic story of your life that is told. Isn’t imagination fun?

Time for sleep

Campsite

The sun set, forcing bedtime. We read, drank, had dessert, and departed to our “sites”.

Our packs were fantastically small – I had a small rock climbing backpack and Tash had something similar. It was warm enough that I had only brought a sleep sack, a small Thermarest, and a tarp. It turned out to be perfect as the night was warm. The rock surface was not comfortable but the tarp and Thermarest helped.

The larger your pack, the less mobile, the less flexible, the more stuff you’ve carted in with you. A minimalist activity is well suited with minimal stuff.

My eyes began to get heavy.

The Visitor

Bush rat

No hot chips for you.

I am sure that as soon as I entered the park, that the entire kingdom was alerted to the smell of a paper bag containing a half-kilo of hot chips. Luckily most creatures in the park are afraid of man.

As I was about to drift off, I heard a noise in the bush next to me. I knew it wasn’t large, no bigger than a house cat and likely much smaller. Tash had been talking about a friend who owned lizards on the hike in, and how they existed in the park. I listened for the foot patterns of the animal, as if somehow I would determine “aha! that is clearly a mammilian scurrying cadence and not reptilian!”

As the movement neared me, I turned on my flashlight trying to catch a glimpse. It scurried (or crawled or hopped?) back into the bush. Finally after much cat and mouse, I caught it in the light. It was a small rodent.

From Tash’s site she wanted to know what in the world was going on. I told her a small mouse was around. The hot chips were certainly the draw, so I called upon my bear survival skills and broke a branch to hang my packback which contained the hot chips. Now, the nearest and best tree happened to be located a lot closer to Tash than me, which I swear I was not thinking about at the time.

The mouse stopped coming near my tarp. The next morning I learned that I didn’t fully deter him/her, but just refocused his attention on the new location of the backpack, so Tash had a few skirmishes of her own through the night.

The next morning, a google image search helped identify it as a bush rat. Tash was not happy that I had reported ‘a small mouse’ to find out it was a bush rat.

Morning

The hike out

The alarm went off, and we packed via flashlight, and quickly hit the trail. On the way out the trail looked different but familiar, the way that only a wilderness trail can have a completely different side in cloudy sunset or bold moonlight.

I felt full of life, half-sleepy, partially relieved, but mostly connected and at peace. We boarded the train back to the city, had breakfast at a cafe, and then parted ways to head to work. I showered, dressed, and began Friday. It was the best Friday I’d had in a long, long time.

Thanks to my friend Tash for introducing me to such an amazing, simple way to reconnect to the natural world.

The finish

Fast 8: The Stumble of the Furious

Fast 8: The Stumble of the Furious

Fast8Massive spoiler alert: If like me, you like to be radio silent before watching the latest installment of the greatest 10-episode cinematic masterpiece ever made or ever to be made, don’t read this.

However, if you have seen it, read on. Mostly this blog is catharsis.

While The Fate of the Furious (#8) is nowhere near as bad as Tokyo Drift (#3), it’s a big, big speed bump after the height reached by “Furious 7”. Buckle your seat belts, you’re strapped in for 136 minutes of poorly planned roads, turns that make no senses, and you’re definitely not going to end up where you hoped you would.

In every Fast installment, there are ridiculous (impossible) stunts, steely eyed one-liners that you can only hope to chuckle at, and the abuse of comic relief.  But things generally hold together. Fast 8 generally falls apart.

There are four serious, serious problems with Fast 8.

Letty and Dom

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From the first movie, their relationship created a tension – a strong woman loved by a strong man where both seemed unable to be captured by anyone, except each other. When Letty is thought to have died in episode 4, Dom is tortured. When she returns and does not remember their relationship, even their marriage, Dom is again tortured. The silver cross necklace is the emblem of their relationship, their marriage.

In Fast 8, they pull Dom’s fling from Letty’s “presumed dead” period out of the woodwork, give her a kid from Dom. Dom bails on all his friends and Letty to save this woman, even leaves his silver cross with them.

Then at the end, when everyone understands why Dom betrayed them, let a terrorist manipulate him, and prove that the ends do justify the means, Letty takes him back in less than a 10-second quarter-mile. Letty is tough – one of the drivers in the crew, not just Dom’s missus. In Fast 8 they turn her into someone without backbone or character.

Dom: “Oh, hey, so while I thought you were dead, I slept with this woman and turns out she had a kid and didn’t tell me until both of them were kidnapped in a space age AWAX-like airplane. To make things less complicated, she’s dead. But the kid is alive.”

Letty: “That’s cool. I’ll totally treat him like my own. Let’s have an outdoor meal to end the movie.”

There is no question to me that the worst part of The Fate of the Furious is how they spat upon everything interesting and meaty in the relationship between Letty and Dom.

Villian turned comedy sidekick

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Deckard Shaw was an awesome villain in Furious 7. Seemingly unbeatable at times, slippery and uncatchable, inhumane and willing to kill anyone in his way.

The idea that he joins forces with the Furious, and that Hobbs comes to respect him is a slap in the face.

Hobbs: “Oh hey you murdered a ton of people just trying to visit your brother in the hospital, you killed a ton of guys stealing God’s Eye to give it to a warlord, but you did some good things when you were in the military so it’s all good.”

Aaaaaarrrgggh. I can suspend disbelief on mountainside semi trailer oil tanker flips. I can suspend disbelief on jumping a car from skyscraper to skyscraper. I can suspend disbelief on cars holding down a military transport aircraft. I can’t suspend disbelief on a character you’ve built up that now you’re going to empty.

Cipher thin

The third  flaw is the paper-thin villain of Cipher. The wardrobe, look, acting, and cinematography around Cipher (Charlize Theron)  reminded me of the bad guys in “V”, the horrendous yet addictive Sci-Fi miniseries of the early 80s. The bad aliens devoured live animals, and they would always do these slow close-ups where someone is lowering a live mouse into their mouth as the dramatic music built up, far too slowly to actually be scary or terrifying, but mostly ridiculous.

That’s how every scene with “Cipher” feels.

The over indulgence of hacking tech also surrounds her and the crap plot elements that Cipher brings with her. Honestly it’s possible that #45 might have been a script consultant – “more Cyber!”

Opening scene

I won’t spent time on this, because it’s just not worth it. It’s rubbish. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish! Meaningless car race in Cuba? Some random new relative. Then the dude you beat appears later on the other side of the world to help out to some how tie this plot thread together? Yes, we did get the important car race, our required quota of Hello-Kitty-Ass, and Dom doing the impossible. But, it had no relationship to the plot whatsoever.

What was good

Fast8 Ice

  1. Stunts were great – Submarine ice chase was great. Zombie car chase in NYC was pretty awesome.
  2. The Deckard Shaw + baby carrier fight scene is action-film genious. The choreography plus cinematography – exceptional.
  3. Lucas Black (who plays the Gomer-Pyle-esque Sean Boswell) did not appear in this film. That was great.
  4. Roman was great. He’s always great.
  5. Lastly, I will tip my hat to having Brian’s name live on in the series, even though it’s as a result of a horrible plot device. Paul Walker, RIP. You deserved better than this film.

Overall did I enjoy Fast 8? Of course. I loved it. But I loved it a lot less than all the others (except for Tokyo Drift which I pretend never happened).

One more thing

The other CIA agent (Client Eastwood’s son) – it’s obvious he’ll be a character in future movies. Please don’t. I’m not going to mention his character’s name because I don’t ever want to hear it again.