4 tips to spot a phishing attempt in your email

Phishing is one of the most visible and easy ways for internet bad guys – referred to in the biz as “threat actors” – to separate you from your personally identifiable information, or PII.  PII is how a threat actor can compromise your business and personal accounts, steal money from you (by gaining access to your credit card(s) or bank account(s)) and even take over your identity – all in the name of fraud.

Phishing attempts – or attacks, if you will – use legitimate-looking email in the hopes that you’ll click on the link(s) in them. Once you do, you’re usually exposed to one of a small number of types of attacks (“threat vectors”).

One threat vector associated with phishing attacks is the installation of malicious software (malware) on your computer, either as an application that’s hidden from your view or as an extension in your browser. Either way, your computer now has what many people will refer to as a “virus,” but is in reality software designed to snoop on you and your activities, all the while looking for and collecting your PII. Vicious types of malware will even take over the operation of your computer, enabling threat actors to spread their malware in a way that looks like YOU are the problem!

Another – and frankly, far more common – threat vector from phishing attacks involves simply getting you to try logging in to what you think is a legitimate website. Take, for instance, PayPal, a web-based payment service used by millions of people around the world.  If you get an email that looks like it’s from PayPal, say, like this one I got just this morning…

Looks legit, doesn’t it?  Many people would just click on the “update your information” button and BOOM! YOU’RE COMPROMISED! Instead of insta-clicking on that button, though – or any other link in the email – stop and think.  Is what the content of the email realistic?

  • Do you even have a PayPal account?
  • Do you actively use it?
  • When is the last time you updated your information/profile/payment/address?
  • Have you ever received an email like this from any company before?
  • Will PayPall really restrict your account if you don’t respond within 72 hours? Have they EVER done that to ANYBODY you know before?

Now, before you click on that button (or link), there’s two other things you can check to see if you’re being phished or not.  First, the reply-to address.  If it’s something like “support @ paypal.com” then it just might be a legit email – but no guarantees.  Continue to be suspicious and investigate the email. If it’s nothing to do with PayPal at all, then be suspicious. In the case of the actual email I received (above), this was the return email address

Does that say PayPal? NO IT DOES NOT.  That’s a big-ass red flag right there. (Note: If all you see in your email program is usually “no-reply” and NOT the full email address, change that immediately in your email client preferences. If you use Apple’s Mail app, that process is Mail > Preferences > Viewing > UNCHECK Use Smart Addresses.)

In case the reply-to address checks out, you can check out a link before you actually click on it.  Mac and Windows computers both use “context menus” for many things; you may not know they’re called this, but I’m betting you know how to bring them up.  Hover your mouse pointer over the link (or button) and right-click on it.  If you don’t have a two-button mouse or a trackpad that understands the concept of right-clicking, hold down the “CTRL” (Control) button on your keyboard and then click the button. You should get a context menu, which (on my Mac) enables copying the link, as such:

Then paste the link into a text editor (TextEdit, WordPad, etc.) and see if it looks legit.

Well that certainly doesn’t look like a PayPal address!

Here’s some alarming information about phishing that may wake you up a little.

  • 1 in 12.5 million spam emails generates a successful phishing attack
  • 14 billion spam emails are sent every day
  • 76% of US businesses suffered phishing attacks in 2017
  • The average email account receives 16 malicious emails a month
  • Over 92% of malware is delivered via email
  • The most common phishing attacks are emails disguised as invoices (bills), delivery failure notices, law enforcement actions, and package delivery notices
  • The FBI says phishing attacks and other email-based scams cost US businesses over $676 million in 2017

By taking just a few moments before clicking on the link in that legitimate-looking email, you can save yourself from a whole lot of trouble. Be Smart: Shop S-Mart… and also protect yourself from phishing attacks!

Advertisements

2018: the year in music

It’s once again the time of year when I talk about the new music I’ve discovered or new albums that captured my attention (and my money). Yes, I am still that guy that buys CDs, and I don’t apologize for it. I probably listen to music on my computer or phone 95 percent of the time; CDs only get played in the car, and even then I might use my phone to listen to podcasts or something like that when I’m driving.

Let’s cut right to it then. I bought 20 CDs in 2018, probably a record low of some sort. Thirteen of them would be considered metal of some sort. There was also four EPs (short albums of 3-7 songs), including two from friends’ bands. One of the EPs was surf music, one album was pop-tinged classic-style rock, there were two jazz guitar albums in there and one bluegrass/folk/Americana album. Two CDs were from all-female bands, and one from a female-fronted band.

BEST NEW ALBUMS OF 2018

Ghost_-_Prequelle_(album)1. GHOST – PREQUELLE. It’s not even fair this year. Ghost’s new album is fantastic, everything you expect from the shock-metal band plus a bitchin’ saxophone solo in a killer instrumental track. Releasing “Rats” as a single ahead of the album’s release was a brilliant marketing move. I rounded out the year in a fashion by going to see Ghost perform at a large theater in downtown Richmond. I enjoyed the show greatly, but at some level it was about the spectacle, because there wasn’t a lot in the live show that I haven’t heard already by listening to the other Ghost album I got in 2018, Ceremony & Devotion, a two-CD live album. That album was a little disappointing because it was mostly like listening to the album versions of the songs with a little banter between them. Still, Prequelle – best album of 2018. There’s no standout tracks, it’s a fantastic album front to back. (It’s OK if you skip the opening instrumental intro though – I do!)

2. MUSE – SIMULATION THEORY. This is probably the least metal album of Muse’s catalog. It’s almost like they set out to write a soundtrack album for a John Carpenter movie. Tons of electronic music, but Muse totally makes it work. What guitar is on the album is on point, and the bass and drums are thumpy and strong throughout. Muse’s music tends to be super dramatic, and Simulation Theory is no exception. An excellent listen.

3. UNCLE ACID AND THE DEADBEATS – WASTELAND. Their last album (The Night Creeper) disappointed me a bit, mostly because it wasn’t as awesome as Mind Control. Wasteland is about 95 percent as good as Mind Control. From my perspective, Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats are back with their most Sabbath-y sounding album yet, plus great production and good sounds all around. Call it post Sabbath, and yes, it’s that good.

4. STRYPER – GOD DAMN EVIL. This is Stryper doing what they do and doing it well. Twin guitars, great solos, soaring vocals, and everything you expect from middle-aged Christian metal maniacs. They’re kind of the anti-Ghost in every way if you know what I mean.

5. NOBUKI TAKAMEN – THE NOBUKI TAKAMEN TRIO. If you dig jazz guitar in the trio format (guitar, bass, drums), then you must get this album immediately.

THE REST

BLACK LABEL SOCIETY – GRIMMEST HITS. You gotta like BLS to like this album, but if you like BLS, you’ll love this album. It brings exactly what you expect from Zakk Wylde at this point, so if that’s what you dig, there’s no way you’ll be disappointed. Oh – by the way – it’s not a greatest hits compilation. It’s all new music!

SLEEP – THE SCIENCES. This album made a number of “best of 2018” lists, so I figured I better get it. It’s OK. I’m no overvwhelmed. It’s good, Sabbath-y sludge metal and they have a song called “Giza Butler” that mentions the gom jabbar, so I’m in. Still, I don’t know why it topped one of the best of 2018 lists – it’s good, but it’s not amazing.

I’M WITH HER – SEE YOU AROUND. I got this album because Sarah Jarosz plays on it and I think her music is amazing. I never heard of Sara Watkins or Aoife O’Donovan, but apparently they make I’m With Her some kind of bluegrass/folk/Americana supergroup. If you like any of those styles of music, you’ll dig this album.

7TH GRADE GIRL FIGHT – JUMP BACK/SUMMER IS OVER. Fun, engaging pop rock from Debra Guy, who I used to play with in Honeychuck. These two EPs came out less than three months apart, both in 2018, and you should get them. Check them out at 7thgradegirlfight.bandcamp.com.

MINOR 56 – MINOR 56. Dude. Atmospheric and psychedelic and weird and worth listening to on those days when you need a break from all the craziness going on around you. Check them out at minor56.com.

OK now, that’s it for the albums that came out during 2018 – but you know I got some albums that came out in previous years. Let’s get into those.

BEST ALBUMS I DISCOVERED IN 2018

Black_Sabbath_Heaven_and_Hell1. BLACK SABBATH – HEAVEN AND HELL/MOB RULES (1980/81). I have no idea why I didn’t listen to these albums until this year, but shame on me. “The Mob Rules” is hands down my favorite Black Sabbath song of all time, and all things considered it’s maybe the best song from this pair of Dio-led albums, but “Heaven and Hell” and “Neon Knights” sure give it a run for its money. I know there’s a lot of controversy around calling these Black Sabbath albums, and that’s probably why the boys called their touring band Heaven and Hell during the 1990s and beyond, but with the music behind Dio being classic Black Sabbath, I have no problem calling these Sabbath albums. They’re brilliant.

2. GOJIRA – L’ENFANT SAUVAGE (2012). L’ES doesn’t replace From Mars to Sirius as my favorite Gojira album, but DAMN it’s good. For a band I didn’t listen to until 2017, Gojira has quickly become one of my all-time favorite metal bands – even without guitar solos.

3. LIVING COLOUR – SHADE (2017). After reading something about Vernon Reid, I ended up on the Wikipedia page for Living Colour and discovered they put an album out last year! AND IT IS GOOOOOOOOD! It reminds me a lot of their 1993 album Stain, and I like that album a lot. Shade is heavy and melodic and angry and passionate and beautiful.

4. TEAMSTER – S/T (2015) + “Litany of Strength” (2018 single). Teamster’s drummer Sean Saley helped me and Steve Bowes out when we were working on demoing out the songs that would someday become the epic rock opera called FANTOMÉ. He played with Pentagram, then The Skull, but Teamster remained his hometown (DC) hardcore project. Their 2015 EP is well worth your hard-earned dollars. It’s a fantastic blend of punk and metal, with tight, aggressive playing and crisply written songs. “Litany of Strength” is a song they put out late this year, and it’s better than the stuff on the S/T EP. Check them out at teamster.bandcamp.com.

5. AJ GHENT – THE NEO BLUES PROJECT (2017). AJ played at the MOA rally in Iowa back in July and wow, what a great band. His EP is rock, blues, funk, soul and everything in between plus some great slide guitar playing.

THE REST

L.E.O. – ALPACAS ORGLING (2006). If you love ELO, you’ll likely dig this album. I got it because it features Andy Sturmer, former drummer/lead singer for Jellyfish, one of my favorite bands. I’ll tell you this, though – you gotta love ELO to dig this album.

TONY MACALPINE – MAXIMUM SECURITY (1994). An instrumental rock/metal album from way back. I was talking about it with a friend, and Tony had been in Steve Vai’s band for a while playing keyboard and guitar, so I wanted to check out this album I used to have on vinyl way back in the day. It’s not as good as I remember it, but it’s fun, classical-tinged instrumental stuff.

REINHARDT & STETLER – LIVE IN DER STADKIRCHE (2016). Dual acoustic guitar jazz. If that floats your boat (it does mine) then you definitely need this album.

RUSSIAN CIRCLES – EMPROS (2011). Instrumental metal – not quite progressive, but close. Really good, lots of fun, lots of texture and layers to it. Well worth checking out one of their albums to see if you dig their style of music. I think they’re from Texas, though, not Russia.

SMALL TOWN TITANS – THE HYBRID SESSIONS (2017) (EP). I got this because of their fantastic rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” It’s the best version of that song I have ever heard. No contest. The rest of the EP is OK. Not great, not terrible. It’s well recorded and the singer has a great voice, but beyond that it’s fairly standard hard rock.

THE SURFRAJETTES – THE SURFRAJETTES (2017) + “Party Line/Toxic” (2018 single). All-female surf band. Good surf music, catchy and poppy and fun. Five songs of joy right here. surfrajettes.bandcamp.com.

That’s it for new music for 2018.

Not a terribly exciting year for me music-wise, and even less so when it came to movies. I’m not even doing a post on movies for 2018, it was that weak. See you next year with the best music of 2019!

WHAT I LISTENED TO IN 2018

gojira mars siriusThis one is a little more cut and dried. Here’s the list of top listened-to albums for 2018.

  1. Gojira – From Mars to Sirius
  2. Ghost – Prequelle
  3. Ghost – Popestar (EP)
  4. Black Label Society – Stronger Than Death
  5. Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
  6. John Williams – The Soloist
  7. Black Sabbath – Mob Rules
  8. Cutting Crew – Broadcast
  9. Joe Satriani – Surfing With the Alien
  10. Slayer – God Hates Us All
  11. AC/DC – For Those About to Rock
  12. Baroness – Yellow & Green
  13. Sevendust – Black
  14. Dead Can Dance – The Serpent’s Egg
  15. Alice in Chains – Jar of Flies
  16. Gojira – The Way of All Flesh
  17. Gojira – Magma
  18. Kaleo – A/B
  19. Mastodon – Emperor of Sand
  20. Queen – Jazz

Doesn’t look at all like my lists from previous years. The most obvious absence is Pink Floyd’s Animals, which is usually in my top 10 and this year doesn’t hit the list until #26.

the Richmond Times-Dispatch ends candidate endorsements … for now

Ending the endorsements of political candidates in every election cycle is an interesting move on the part of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Their endorsements have never meant much to me – after all, they always endorsed the Republican, I hate the two-party system, so why would it matter?  (here’s the column by Tom Silvestri, president/publisher of the RTD)

In 2016 the RTD endorsed Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president. They didn’t do it for any high-minded ideals (pun intended!), but rather because they were never going to endorse Hillary Clinton and they couldn’t bear to endorse Donald Trump. They felt like they had to endorse somebody because that’s the way it had always been done.  They even said Johnson could be a viable candidate if only people would give him a chance – which they have refused to do for other Libertarian candidates in the last two years. Indeed, Libertarian candidates are consistently left out of debates and media coverage by outlets both major and minor, including the RTD.

What the Richmond Times-Dispatch should have done was endorse nobody, and explained why. Just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you MUST do something.

Now, to another of Silvestri’s points, that they’re ending endorsements because it’s too difficult to explain the difference between the Editorial department and the News department in a newspaper, and to create an understanding that the News department can (and does) run opinion pieces that aren’t straight news.

I agree with Silvestri that this can be difficult, and one of the commenters even quipped that the Johnson endorsement caused him to cancel his subscription. There is clearly a disconnect between opinion and news is this country, with people – including many on Facebook and other social media outlets – conflating opinion with news.

When you can have pure opinion, news-based opinion, opinion-based news and straight news all in one publication, it can indeed be confusing to the casual reader. This is one of the greatest problems our society faces in the 21st century – we have become casual consumers of everything and as a result, we stubbornly refuse to put much thought into what we’re reading, watching or saying. Parroting the party line or screaming “fake news!” at every opportunity does nothing to further the discourse that drives our political system.

People forget that democracy, for better or worse, is less than 300 years old. It is still a fledgling system, and a difficult one to maintain at that. There will be ups and downs, highs and lows, bonuses and deficits, all to the benefit or detriment of much of the population.

Refusing to engage – as the RTD is saying it’s going to do in the future here – is abdicating one’s moral responsibility to the republic. That’s on us, the citizenship of the United States of America – every last one of us.

Frankly, doing something just because it’s always been done is the #1 stupidest reason to do something. If you’re not doing something because that’s what needs to be done, stop doing it. Traditions are worthless, because all they do is tie you to a past that may not be worth repeating or frankly, even remembering.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.” The RTD’s Johnson endorsement in 2016 cause an identity crisis on many sides. Internally, I’m sure they struggled with it. Externally, the readership that had come to expect de rigueur endorsements of Republicans found themselves stunned at the change they saw before them, perhaps unable to process what had just happened.

Our society’s greatest problem right now is its utter inflexibility, the refusal of so many to even consider an alternate idea, opinion, practice or process. Think about it – if Copernicus had simply gone along, we’d have never accepted the idea that the Sun – and not the Earth – is the center of our solar system.

Finally, should newspapers even be printing opinion pieces at all?  Is it their job – their responsibility – to tell me how they think I should be voting?  Or is it their job to gather the facts, express them in a clear, concise fashion, and let me come up with my own reasons for voting for this candidate or that one.

One of the reasons so many people trash reporters and cry about this or that being “fake news” is because of the high opinion-to-fact ratio present in much of modern mainstream journalism. The difference between news and opinion has largely become obscured to the point of pointlessness. When opinion is mistaken for news, the result is what kids today refer to as “butthurt” – that is, a great sense of offense at the words being printed or spoken.  When news is mistaken for opinion, facts cease to matter and there is no viable path to Truth.

I wish I could solve this last problem with the snap of my fingers or the wave of a magic wand.  I know that is unrealistic, and especially so as long as some among us steadfastly refuse to acknowledge that their opinions are not fact and continue to refuse to regard the opinions of others as having any validity at all.

some things we need to work on

A particularly unpleasant exchange on Facebook prompted me to write this. Stay with me, I think it’s important.

Calling somebody a pussy needs to stop being a go-to insult aimed at emasculating somebody. As we all know, pussy is a slang term for vagina, and it’s used in context to indicate your impression that the object of your derision is somehow weak, feminine and unworthy of your respect.

In all seriousness, if you want to see the strength and power of a pussy, watch a child being born. You will have a new and heightened respect for how powerful a pussy is. In a problem birth, instead of failing, the pussy holds strong, and sometimes the skin around it will tear. That’s how strong the pussy is – it forces other aspects of the body to fail because it refuses to fail itself.

If you call me a pussy, then, I refuse to feel weak. I will feel powerful. I will feel strong. I will feel resilient. Birthing a child is something no man can do, and it is the single most powerful expression of humanity there is.

Serving in the military does not make you a better person than I am. Holding a commission doesn’t make you smarter than I am.  Enlisting doesn’t make you more patriotic than I am. Being willing to kill somebody our government has decided is our collective enemy doesn’t make you more willing to kill than I am – it just means you got paid to do it by the government.

Serving in the military does not automatically make you a hero, nor does it automatically engender respect. You must still serve honorably to be respected for your time in uniform. You must behave heroically to be a hero. There are actual heroes in this world who have never served a day in uniform, and there are those who gave their lives for their country. Every country has heroes, dead and alive, and it’s not stripes on their sleeves or insignia on their collars that made them such.

I was part of a military family for 17 of my first 18 years. I grew up on military bases all over the USA and Europe. I have seen heroes and I have seen goldbricks, and I tell you this – there are way more goldbricks than there are heroes in the military forces of any nation. I have met men and women who, under orders and compelled by our government, have rained death and destruction down upon their fellow humans. Some of them are heroes, most of them are not. Doing your job does not make you a hero.

Having a different opinion about national events and policies does not make you smarter, more valuable as a citizen or more important than I am. It also does not give you the moral high ground. Disagreeing with you does not make me a traitor, nor does disagreeing with me make you one.

Having an opinion is one thing. Defending it with hurtful words and threats is something else. It takes a lot to offend me, but once I reach that point, you better believe I’m going to say something about it.

review of Ghost’s new album, Prequelle

If you haven’t heard of Ghost until now, Prequelle is a good album to get started with. It’s not their best album to date – that honor goes to their 2015 offering, Meliora – but it is both excellent and highly accessible.

I’m not going to get into the theatrical aspects of Ghost, because they are irrelevant. Ghost is a band, that band put out an album, and this is a review of that album. You can look up any number of articles about Ghost’s stage show, legal problems and the alter egos of their leader and singer, Tobias Forge.

prequelleThe minute-plus album intro “Ashes” is, unfortunately, pointless. I’m not a fan of intros in general and have already deleted “Ashes” from my computer (through which I listen to most of my music). The only saving grace of “Ashes” is that it delivers the motif that returns at the end of “Rats” in a crushing riff.

“Rats,” then, is when the album kicks off – and does so with greatness, pomp, circumstance, joy and harmony. I may sound effusive here, but seriously – from the crisp drum intro to the crushing outro riff (bringing back the motif from “Ashes”), “Rats” is quite possibly the best mainstream metal song to come out so far in 2018.

Note I say MAINSTREAM metal – by this I mean accessible, widely popular, likely to be played on the radio, etc.

“Rats” has it all – a fantastic hook, a great chorus, beautiful vocal harmonies, a great guitar solo, a tight end, everything you’ve come to expect from Ghost’s best songs.

Following “Rats” is “Faith,” possibly Ghost’s heaviest song to date. It’s wonderful to hear them laying down a heavy groove with the typical soaring vocals over top. I read somewhere that “Faith” is a slap at the former Nameless Ghouls who were part of the band in past years and are now suing Forge for back wages, but in all honesty, I rarely pay attention to the meaning behind the lyrics of any band. I care about melody, not meaning.

Prequelle slows down after “Faith,” with an early power ballad, “See the Light.” It’s a good song, with nice piano playing and some little industrial flourishes before the guitars kick in, but ultimately it’s still a third-song ballad when I don’t really like to see a ballad on a metal album until track four. Yes, that’s a picky nit to jab at, but who’s writing the review, you or me?

“Miasma,” the next song, builds slowly and ominously into a slick tune fueled by riffs that would be at home on any of Ghost’s previous albums. The fact that it’s an instrumental gives me a little pause, wondering if Forge is trying to make a point that he’s more than just a singer, more than just what the television industry would deem a “shot caller.” Forge may be trying to remind people that he’s a musician first and foremost, and that whatever mask and hat he’s wearing is mere adornment for the show. What propels “Miasma” over the top, quality-wise, are the extended guitar, keyboard and saxophone solos that build in intensity to the end of the song. The sax solo in particular is brilliant – fantastically played, excellently recorded and precisely what the song needed. Having been in the position in my own career as a recording musician where I suddenly realized the reason a song wasn’t coming together was because it needed a saxophone solo, I commend Forge for indulging that particular need.

“Dance Macabre” comes next, and this is the song that’s going to separate Ghost’s previous fans from their future fans. “Dance Macabre” is not a metal song. It is a pure-D, full breed POP song, complete with thumping drums, romantic longing and a disco undertone that is absolutely undeniable. It evokes “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” and “Calling Dr. Love” by KISS, which is obviously one of Ghost’s biggest influences as far as their image and stage show go. I can absolutely see “Dance Macabre” becoming a Top 10 radio hit. It’s got a fantastic guitar solo, by the way, even if it is too short.

Back in the old days of LPs and cassettes, “Pro Memoria” would be the first song on Side 2, and it definitely has that kind of “reset” feel that flipping a record over had when you were a kid. It starts with gentle keyboard pads and strings, then turns into a beautiful, piano-driven power ballad reminding us that we are all mortal (“Don’t you forget about your friend Death,” etc.). Slick harmony guitars take over several times during the song, reminding the listener that Ghost is still a hard rock (at the least) band. It’s another ballad, but it’s a good one.

“Witch Image” gets things back to the harder side of the equation, with an almost grunge-like song structure (jarring intro, mellow verse, heavy chorus). It’s three and a half minutes of what Ghost does best – plus another harmonized guitar solo. I love Ghost’s guitar solos; in the fashion of bands like Queen and Extreme, they are often compositions within the composition and add to the overall musicality of the songs.

Did you know Forge is Swedish? In case you forgot, he includes another – much lesser – instrumental track called “Helvetesfönster.” Google Translate tells me this means “Hell Window.”

I think they’re right, too. The German word for window is fenster, and that’s pretty close to fönster. Further, the German word for Hell is Hölle, so if Forge was German, the song would be called “Höllefenster,” which is damn close to “Helvetesfönster.” I wonder if Ghost had it printed as “Höllefenster” on the German copies of the album.

Anyway, even though this is a campy instrumental, it brings back the melody motif from “Dance Macabre,” which is a nice touch. This song wouldn’t be out of place as the entreacte in the middle of a Broadway show. Excellent piano playing, though, no doubt about that. Still, it is the second instrumental on one album, when I’m not sure Ghost has done two instrumentals on the totality of its three previous full-length albums.

The last song on the standard version of Prequelle is “Life Eternal,” yet another ballad. YET ANOTHER BALLAD, I SAID!!! Three ballads on one album from a hard rock or metal band is a sure sign that they are angling for a more mainstream presence – and a million units in sales, no doubt. More power to them, I guess. At least it’s a good song – for a ballad. It’s very Ghost as well, with the typical guitar-driven tensions and vocal melodies (and harmonies) we’ve come to expect from the band. The best part of the song is the last minute, which features a gospel feel to it in a question-and-answer vocal part that is (in my opinion) too short.

Ghost then does another thing that drives me nuts on a CD – they insert 30 seconds of dead air before the bonus tracks start. I’m glad it’s only 30 seconds though, and not like what Tool has done on some of their CDs. Bands need to quit doing this. I dislike paying for dead air on an album.

At any rate – bonus tracks. I don’t know if I ordered the deluxe version or if this is just the typical CD that goes out to people who order the album from Amazon, but closing out my copy of the CD are two (bonus) cover tunes.

Before I tell you about these two covers, I have to say that Ghost may be doing cover tunes better than any other band out there today. I include Foo Fighters in that statement, and Foo Fighters do some excellent covers.

Ghost hasn’t put a cover on one of their full-length albums since their debut (Opus Eponymous), when they did an amazing, dark version of The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun.” They did an EP of five covers (If You Have Ghost, led by the Rory Erickson song of nearly the same name), and when they release their hit song “Square Hammer” as a single in 2016, they made it the lead track on an EP called Popestar, filling the rest of that disc with fantastic covers – including Eurhythmics’ “Missionary Man.” What I’m telling you is this: Ghost has a history of doing great covers of songs both obscure and common.

Chances are if you weren’t into Pet Shop Boys, a dance-pop band stupendously popular in the 1980s and – in case you didn’t know – still making music as recently as 2016, you never heard “It’s a Sin.” It’s a catchy song, no doubt about that, but when it gets the Ghost treatment, it’s elevated from catchy to downright addictive. It evokes everything keyboard and electric drum-heavy 1980s synthpop music was about and is a brilliantly executed cover song.

The CD closes with Ghost’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Avalanche.” I admit I know nothing about Cohen’s music beyond that song “Hallelujah” that’s been in just about every movie and TV show since it came out and has been covered both well and poorly by just about everybody, all over the world and YouTube. You can’t throw a rock in 2018 without hitting somebody who has either covered that song themselves or has a favorite version of it somewhere they totally want you to listen to. “Hallelujah” is like the Crossfit of cover tunes, and not in a good way.

Ghost could have (should have?) left “Avalanche” off the CD. It’s not a bad version, but it’s a bad closer. Closing on the upbeat “It’s a Sin” would have been greatly preferable, if for no other reason than listening to Forge struggle with the low melody on “Avalanche” distracts from the song’s appeal.

All in all, this is a good Ghost album. It’s a good album, period, and better than a lot of other stuff that’s come out this year. It’s not Ghost’s best album from my perspective, partly because of the weak instrumental towards the end of the album and the proliferation of power ballads. There are way worse things to spend $12 on, though, and if you like any kind of hard rock or mainstream metal music, you’d be well advised to get this album as soon as you can.

I give Prequelle an A, four stars out of five, an 8 on the 1-to-10 scale, and a hearty “buy” recommendation.

a chance encounter on the metro

The day started like many of my other commutes. Up at 5, out the door at 5.20, on the train at 5.50, train pulling away from the station at 6.

I slept fitfully on the two-hour train ride, relishing the chilly walk from the Amtrak station over to the Metro station. The brisk morning air counteracted the dour visages that greeted me on the Metro train platform. It took about eight minutes for my train to arrive, and I entered the second car from the front at the forward door, dutifully following the disembodied voice to “move to the center of the car.”

When I reached the center of the car, there she was, walking to the center from the rear door of the car. Lightning struck and a thunderbolt clapped when our eyes met, and everybody else on the train faded to a muted, mottled gray. All sound faded and the only thing I could hear was her voice as she said, “I’m Simone. Who are you?”

“Anthony,” I said, as sure of it as I was anything else in my entire life. “My friends call me Tony.”

“Well, good morning, Tony,” she said, her soft, blue eyes wrapping around my very soul and tearing it out. In an instant, we became one. I was Michael Corleone, she was Apollonia Vitelli. I was Romeo, she was Juliet. Lancelot and Guinevere. Paris and Helena. Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara. Eloise and Abelard. Napoleon and Josephine. In the entire history of love and lovers, never had two souls connected so completely, merged so quickly.

“But I’m married,” she said.

“I’m married, too, and I have kids,” I countered.

“Oh my God, so do I. I completely forgot my kids,” she said.

wmata

“I’ll ride the train with you to wherever you’re going, just … just don’t leave me behind. I couldn’t bear it,” I said.

We rode the train for hours, neither of us caring any more about family, friends, jobs or any of those important, life-defining things. All that mattered was that we were together. We discussed how difficult it would be to break our spouses’ hearts, disrupt our children’s lives – and yet, none of it mattered. None of it. All that mattered was the future – our future, together.

We discussed where to go and settled on Denver. She has family there, I have friends. It’s a good city, clean and modern and with lots of job opportunities. It’s in the middle of the country, sort of, so once the kids got used to the idea of us being together, it would be easy for them to visit.

“Stadium-Armory,” the train driver droned. “Last chance to transfer to the Orange and Silver lines.”

She looked deep into my eyes and said, “I at least have to go get my things from work, and tell them I quit.”

“Me, too,” I added.

“What stop do you need?” she asked.

“Court House,” I said. “Orange line.”

“I need a Blue line train,” she said, a single tear rolling down her cheek.

“There’s nobody else at this station. You’ll be lonely. I’ll wait with you,” I said. “I’ll wait with you.”

the transport net-youtube

“No, that’s OK,” she said, sadly. “I have a book. I’ll be OK.”

She broke our gaze to ruffle in her purse, finding what she was looking for and drawing a thick paperback from its depths.

“Pride and Prejudice?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she said. “I just love Jane Austen. I was even in a production of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ in college.”

“Is that so?” I asked as I shoved her in front of the train speeding through the station at that very moment.

NO PASSENGERS, the sign on its marquee read.

hey, 2018? you best not suck!

I suppose it’s traditional in the last week of a calendar year to reflect on the year behind and predict for the year ahead. I’m certainly not immune to that impulse, nor am I immune to the predictable impulse to make promises to myself on how to improve the next year. Maybe we constantly think that the previous year’s sucktastic aspects were somehow our fault, and if we just change our attitude (or latitude), those problems won’t come back.

Instead of trying to come up with something on my own that I could implement as a resolution for 2018, I put the question to my Facebook feed. My Facebook friends – some of whom I’ve known for many years & some I’ve never met in person – chimed in with some suggestions. Here they are, with some commentary. At the bottom will be my actual resolution(s) that I thought up on my own.

REJECTED

  • Don’t make resolutions. I get this – don’t set yourself up for failure & you’ll have nothing to feel bad about, right? As a thought experiment, however, resolutions can be fun and educational. (Learning about yourself counts as educational, right?)
  • Manufacture jenkem in my basement. I had to look up what jenkem is, and I will not be fermenting human waste inside the house – or anywhere else, for that matter.
  • Throat punch more people. While probably morally satisfying, throat-punching people could lead to prison time. Not interested.
  • Kick a dog a day. Funny, sure, but not practical. Where I live in semi-rural suburban Richmond, Virginia, kicking somebody’s dog could get you shot. Plus I like dogs. Other people’s dogs. My daughter wants to get a dog in the worst way, but I know how much work it is to take care of a dog and I’m not ready to commit to that yet.

ABIDE

This one-word suggestion was probably my favorite. I’ve seen The Big Lebowsky just once, and honestly, while I thought it was funny, it didn’t resonate with me in the same way it has for many of its fans. My favorite scene was the beach funeral. So, so funny!

At any rate, abide is somewhat of a mantra for the movie’s main character, and it can in many ways be seen as the central tenet of Buddhism as well. No – wait for it – and trust me. Buddhist philosophy centers around the interconnectedness of all beings and all things. Enlightenment comes from glimpses of the true nature of this interconnectedness. We achieve enlightenment by opening our minds to the true nature of the world around us … and to do that, we must abide.

Most of the suggestions I received I can subordinate under abide, and so I have.

  • Don’t be a dick and Be kind. Google’s mantra used to be don’t be evil. They’ve moved away from that, but in general I think don’t be a dick is a great suggestion. The world would be a better place if fewer of us acted more in the interests of positivity instead of selfishness, and selfishness is the root cause of being a dick. Being kind is the polar opposite of being a dick, so these two suggestions work together. I love these suggestions, and I do hereby resolve to do my best not to be a dick (and therefore be more kind) in 2018.
  • Do something nice for someone I don’t know and Pay someone a compliment each day. Two more complimentary suggestions, and both will take me out of my comfort zone. I don’t consider myself a particularly nice person – meaning that I don’t feel I go out of my way to make other people’s lives better in meaningful ways. My family, sure. My closest circle of friends, sure. My coworkers, sometimes (when it benefits the company). In general, however, I am going to struggle with this, but I will try!
  • Add value to the space & lives around me and Find wonder, joy & beauty in the world. These were suggestions that struck me deeply and made me sit back and think a bit. The person the former came from has had a hard couple of years when it comes to family, with both unexpected gains and unexpected losses. Their family has had to move a few times in the past few years, something that can be quite stressful on kids. That they took this tack – adding value – is abstract enough to encompass many things, and I think that makes it easier to achieve. Find wonder, joy & beauty is something I will definitely have to work on, but I love the sentiment behind it. We read and experience negativity on such a large scale that it’s difficult to find the good things in life. I will try to see the positive.
  • Learn & do new things and Think more about being than doing. Another great pair of suggestions. When we stop learning, we stop growing. When we focus more on the experience of something than what it does for us, we harm our own growth. While I won’t be jumping out of airplanes, I think it would be fun and educational to try things in 2018 that I’ve never tried before.
  • Have fun. Duh, right? We often don’t think about life in this fashion, however, so getting a reminder from a friend to have fun is refreshing. I do a number of things that should be fun, but the fun in them is often lost or missed because I’m focused on other things. I need to work on that.
  • Wear great socks. I have terrible fashion sense, even for a fat guy. I should work on that.
  • Use fewer plastic items. This is a fantastic – and concrete – suggestion. Plastic comes from petroleum, and anything I can do to reduce the use of petroleum products is going to be good for all of us in the long run.

PLAY LIVE (MUSIC) WITH SOMEONE AGAIN

(also Play more guitar and Play guitar (nearly) every day) It’s no secret that I retired from being in bands several years ago. I do not miss being in a band. I do not, in general, miss playing live. I do not miss the constant, complex management of interpersonal relationships it takes to hold a band together.

I do, however, miss playing. I miss recording. I miss making music with friends.

In December, I committed to playing a show with one of my former bands some time in the first half of the year. I’ll post details when I have them. To make sure I don’t suck when that show comes around, I’ll be practicing and getting my chops back. In addition, I have a new guitar arriving the first of the year. It’s what people in the guitar world call a Partsocaster.

DRINK MORE WATER AND CONSUME LESS SUGAR

While I may have to soft-pedal Have cheese fondue more often and Eat waffles a bit, I think we can all agree that changing one’s diet is one of the resolutions people make the most often for the new year. It’s probably the one they fail on the most often, too. I am over 40 and overweight, so I know I need to pay closer attention to what I eat and how much (and how often) I exercise. I gave up soda on a lark in 2017 – I got tired of the constant caffeine headaches and sugar high-and-low cycles. I don’t drink coffee, but I usually have a cup of tea most days. I have been drinking more water, but I could always drink more.

CUT DOWN ON CLUTTER

This suggestion tied in nicely with Clean out & throw away one item a day. I’m not going to get into Swedish death cleaning or snuggle my stuff to see if it sparks joy, but decluttering a room is a great metaphor for life. We could all stand to declutter. I have too much stuff – physical stuff and metaphysical stuff. I need to engage in a thorough cleaning of my house, my space and my mind.

I’ve already started by clearing out thousands of old photos stored on my phone and organizing them so just the ones I want to see regularly are on there. The rest have been organized and move to a computer hard drive.

RUN TO THE HILLS

My friend who suggested this knows of my unwavering loyalty to the British metal band Iron Maiden, but I took his comment from a philosophical standpoint rather than a literal one. I need to Spend more time riding a motorcycle and Go somewhere I’ve never been. If I Have more adventures (see/do one new thing a month), I’ll easily be able to Run to the hills in 2018. I did zero travel in 2017 that wasn’t work-related, mostly because of my dire employment situation throughout the bulk of the year. It’s not that I didn’t have fun sometimes, but if I wasn’t going somewhere for work, I didn’t go. Period.

I already have a plan, something that was germinating in my mind. I’ve written it down, which lends things a more concrete aspect, and I’ll be working on a plan.

One of my friends suggested I Play more wargames – one of my hobbies that I’ve drifted away from in recent years for various reasons. He’s right, and I would very much like to liven that hobby back up a bit in the coming year.

THE THINGS I THOUGHT OF

I have to thank my Facebook friends for coming up with some great suggestions – even if I rejected some of them. Look at it this way, Paul – your suggestion I manufacture jenkem in my basement led me to learn something about the nature of hallucinogenic substances, the popularity of some of those things in other parts of the world, and how stories can explode on the internet despite little basis in truth. It was quite educational!

Before I asked for suggestions on Facebook, I already had three things that I wanted to work on in 2018.

PHOTOGRAPHY

I found myself using my phone more often than not in 2017, simply because I lost the desire to cart my big, heavy DSLR rig around. When I did lug it around – the work trip to Denver and Salt Lake City comes to mind – I hardly used it and subsequently resented the effort it took to haul it with me. Resentment led to less desire to use it, even though when I did use it, I still like it.

My friend & coworker Bill switched from Canon to Fujifilm a few years ago and has enjoyed his new cameras. He clued me in to a new camera Fujifilm was due to release in late 2017, the X-E3. I did some research and decided that could well be the camera for me, but when it came out, it cost over $1,000 to get the body and one of their kit lenses. After being savagely underemployed for most of 2017, I’m still a little gun shy when it comes to spending money, so I just couldn’t justify coming up off the money for the X-E3.

Instead, I did more research into Fujifilm’s X-series cameras and decided to pick up a used X100. It’s a fixed lens camera – meaning you can’t take the lens off and put another one on – and I got it for a couple hundred dollars. It’s not as powerful as my DSLR, but it’s just as flexible, and what’s more important is the thing weighs less than a pound. Early test photos are sharp and clean and I even pulled over while driving the other day to take pictures of something I saw on the side of the road. I haven’t done that in a long time.

I’m also planning to use up some of my remaining film stock in 2018, using my Fujifilm GW690. It’s looking like 2018 will be the year of the rangefinder, which I’m excited about.

IMG_7112

That’s the GW690 on the left and the X100 on the right. The GW690 is a big camera, which makes the X100 look even smaller.

USING LOCAL BUSINESSES

Like many people, I may be addicted to the (nearly) instant gratification afforded to us by Amazon. In 2018, I plan to back off from that – part of my decluttering process – and try to use more local businesses for my everyday purchases. Fewer chain stores, fewer chain restaurants, fewer chain gas stations, that kind of thing. It’s important to me to support my community – one of the main reasons I wanted to leave Fairfax County for someplace less developed and with less population density was to live in a community I felt needed my support. I live in such a community now, and I want to become more ingrained into its small business economy.

MOTORCYCLE TRAINING

My motorcycling skills are stagnating as I find myself riding for work more often than for fun. There’s nothing wrong with that, but much of my riding in 2017 was just to get someplace, rather than to enjoy being on a motorcycle. I found myself confused in a number of situations, unsure what to do, and I decided to do something about that in 2018.

My primary serious, concrete resolution for 2018 is to take four motorcycle training classes – two for road riding and two for off-road riding. I’m sure I’ll write about it, so you’ll know about it if I succeed or fail in this endeavor.

DONE

Well, that’s it for the 2018 resolution cycle. I’m going to try to be less of a dick, simplify my life in a lot of ways (including photography), hold down a full-time job for the whole year, bring & find joy, use local businesses, get some training, and in general take better care of myself. We’ll see how it goes – and thanks for coming along for the ride!

(Yes, mom, I will Call my mother and of course I will Tell my children I love them every day. Those things are easy!)

Fist