Documentary Night

March 21, 2020

My wife has belonged to several book clubs, sometimes more than one at once. And every month I would watch the drama unfold, about how the book sucks, or she won’t be done reading it by the next meeting, or it’s her turn to pick a book but she’s not sure what to recommend, or the next meeting is at so-and-so’s place which is hard to get to, or she’s hosting the meeting and needs to come up with tasty appetizers.

It all seemed very exhausting and not much fun. Over dinner one night (OK, it was June 3rd, 2014) with three friends, we decided that a guy-appropriate alternative was to watch a documentary every month – no prep time, and since we all lived in different cities, it would be a virtual event (no food prep, no pre-event cleaning, nothing but net).

Since that fateful dinner party we’ve watched 57 documentaries, plus 2 stinkers we aborted – more on that later. It’s been a great way to regularly stay in touch, and the group has grown steadily over the years to 27 members. In case it’s useful to others, below are some details about how it works.

The Movie List

It’s all on this Google Doc. The first three columns are the event date, who picked or is picking the movie, and the movie title with a link to a review, typically on Rotten Tomatoes. Column D had scores from the one time (back in 2017) we decided to review past movies and pick everyone’s top 5.

Column F has a list of contenders, which is useful when it comes time to pick the next movie. Column H was used for to remove movies from the list of contenders, but as the group has expanded, we’re not so worried about ensuring nobody has seen it, as that’s rarely the case. Instead, when the movie email goes out, if too many people respond with “seen it, skipping” then we’ll reconsider the pick.

When someone new joins the group, I’ll ask them if they want to pick movies. If they say yes, I add them into the rotation (column B), usually two months out, so they have a chance to watch some movies and get a better sense of what might work for the group.

Movie Selection

We have a general convention that the movie has to be available via either Netflix or Amazon (not necessarily Prime, but that’s better). We’ve made a few exceptions, for example if it’s free on PBS then that’s fine.

Total length should be less than 2 hours. From what I’ve seen, shorter usually is better, as documentaries that are significantly longer than say 100 minutes feel like they could be shorter with better editing.

After a run of depressing documentaries, it’s a good idea to pick something a bit more light-hearted. There are plenty of significant, serious and urgent issues in the world. But not every documentary needs to be the down-bound train.

Managing Members

We use Google Groups, and directly invite people. The invite message looks like:

Hi xx,

Welcome to the group!

We watch movies on the second Thursday of each month.

Beer call is at 6:15pm (Pacific) via Zoom (<zoom link>). You should have this app downloaded & working in advance, of course.

The movie starts promptly at 6:30pm (Pacific). Don’t forget to mute your mic while the movie is playing.

We usually hang out for 15-20 minutes after the movie discussing it (longer if it pisses Jono off, like after “Inequality for All”).

If you’d like to get added to the movie picking rotation, let me know!

— Ken

PS – See <link to editable Google Doc list of movies> for a list of documentaries we’ve seen, contenders for future months, and movies that have been black-balled.

This also will have your name & date for when it’s your turn to pick the movie, if you want in on that action.

Video Conferencing

Initially we used Google Hangouts, but even highly trained MIT engineers had trouble figuring it out. I’ve heard it’s gotten better. We also tried Skype, but that failed when we got to more than 5 or so people. In the end, Zoom has been a win. I’ve got a paid subscription that I use, so we don’t have any weird time limits on the video chats.

Scheduling

When we first started, we’d try to pick a night that worked for everyone. This became an administrative nightmare, as someone would have a conflict, and we’d be proposing alternative dates, and waiting for responses. At the end of 2017 it became so painful I stopped trying, and we missed a few months.

Eventually we decided to make it the second Thursday of every month, come rain or shine, regardless of who could or couldn’t make it. This has worked well, though our Valentine’s Day meeting was controversial.

I usually send an email reminder to the person picking the movie on the Sunday before the meeting date, and then send out a general email (via the Google Groups mailing list) to everyone on Tuesday. This looks something like:

Hi everyone,

Drinks at 6:15pm Pacific, movie starts promptly at 6:30pm.
The movie (recommended by xxx) is “Little Dieter Needs to Fly”.
It’s 74 minutes long, and available on Amazon.
See you soon,
— Ken
PS – The Zoom meeting link, as always, will be <zoom link>

The Ripcord

Twice we’ve watched documentaries that were just not doing it for the group. Via Zoom chat, it’s pretty easy to express opinions during the movie, and if the majority of attendees aren’t feeling it, we’ll call an audible and switch to something else. So I usually have a movie in mind that I’m pretty sure will work as a fall-back.

Summary

I’m sure I’m forgetting important details, but the above should be enough to help you start your own group, if the spirit so moves you. Enjoy!

 


Recovering from a VMWare Fusion Friendly Fire Incident

September 1, 2017

Yesterday I’d just completed a painful migration from an old Macbook Air to my new Macbook Pro. I went old-school manual due to the amount of cruft Migration Assistant had loaded the last time I used it; I guess after 10 years it was time to start fresh.

For one of my final tests, I launched VMWare Fusion (version 8.5.1) on my new Mac. It prompted me to enter my password, so it could “adjust some settings”. Which I did. Big mistake.

After about an hour of a spinning beachball, I force-rebooted the Mac. When I logged in, I got a dialog box saying my Library folder had to be repaired, with a Cancel and a Repair button. Clicking either of these immediately showed the same dialog again.

Based on this thread, it looks like there’s a really nasty bug in Fusion, where on Mac OS X 10.12.5 it somehow (by following a symlink?) changes the owner of everything on your Mac to root. That includes your user’s home directory. which makes the Mac unusable. I know the thread implies this is a very unlikely situation which also required a corrupted disk or some other problem, but I think that’s a bunch of hooey.

I wasn’t about to start over, so after several false starts, I wound up following this procedure:

  1. Boot the Mac in “single user mode“, by holding down cmd-S during startup. I had to select an account to use, but I didn’t enter a password – seems odd.
  2. This boots to a terminal UI, and after a few minutes the various startup messages ended. The fun part is that it’s using full resolution for the display. We’re talking 3 point text on my Macbook Pro. I’ve never felt so old, as I pretty much had to take off my glasses and press my nose against the screen to read anything.
  3. The terminal displays some helpful hints about what commands to run next.
    1. The first one is /sbin/fsck -fy, which checks your disk for corruption issues. That command was fine, and completed without issues.
    2. The second one is /sbin/mount -uw /. Unfortunately on Mac OS Sierra you have to provide a filesystem type parameter (-t fstype). I tried -t hfs, but that no longer works. After a fair amount of searching I found that Sierra uses the Apple File System, which I guessed was type “apfs”. Running /sbin/mount -t apfs -uw / worked, and my disk was now mounted.
  4. At this point I could list my home directory files via ls -l /Users/kenkrugler/, and I saw that they all had their owner/group set to root:wheel, which was wrong.
  5. I tried to fix them up via chown -R kenkrugler:staff /Users/kenkrugler, but this failed with an error about “kenkrugler” not being a valid user.
  6. This question on Super User explained that Mac OS X uses Directory Service, not the /etc/passwd file for keeping track of users. But when you’re booted in single user mode the Directory Service isn’t running. Luckily I found a folder that hadn’t been converted, which showed me the user as “501”, which is the raw id.
  7. Running chown -R 501:staff /Users/kenkrugler/ took a while, and reported a number of issues with files that couldn’t be changed, but in general seemed to work.
  8. Running exit returned me to a regular boot of my user, which worked.

So now I’m back in business, after only a few hours of pain and suffering.

 


Cindy’s iPhone Starter Kit

February 5, 2016

It’s Cindy’s birthday, and she’s all grown up now with her very own iPhone.

After consulting with my own personal Apple Genius, I’ve come up with a list of apps that Cindy should purchase using the iTunes gift card we got her for her birthday. I’ve broken these down into a few different areas…

Word Games

Health & Fitness

Hipster Stuff

Useful Apps

  • Yelp – find good stuff nearby
  • Google Maps – sometimes better than built-in map app
  • Todoist – To-Do List/Task Manager

Happy iPhoning, Cindy!

 


Sufferfest at the Banff Mountain Film Festival

April 6, 2014

Every year we travel to Downieville to watch the Banff Mountain Film Festival movies as part of their annual tour. Downieville might be their smallest stop in the world, with a theater that seats about 200 good friends. It’s an hour drive on windy roads from where I live in Nevada City, but once we’re there it’s always a fun party, including the annual intermission frisbee-fest.

This year my favorite film was The Sufferfest, featuring Alex Honnold and Cedar Wright. You might remember Alex from all of movies and articles about the crazy free solo climbs he’s done, but Sufferfest is a different kind of adventure – he and Cedar climb all of the California 14ers, biking between the peaks.

What made it extra cool was that Schmed & I climbed these same peaks 20+ years ago, as part of a goal to summit them by the time we turned 30. And we also biked part of the way up White Mountain on our way to Barcroft right before Schmed’s knee surgery.

During the film they showed a shot of the register box on the top of Polemonium Peak, which I’d hauled up and installed in 1991. The register has a sad back-story. In 1988 Robin Ingraham was climbing with his friend Mark Hoffman at Devil’s Crag #8. A talus chute slid during their descent, and Mark went over a cliff. He was still alive, so Robin made an epic hike to get help (from back country ranger Randy Morgensen, see The Last Season) , but Mark didn’t survive the night. As a tribute to Mark, Robin started making summit registers, and I wound up getting a box from him for Polemonium.

Here’s me installing it back in 1991…

Image

And proof that it’s still there, from The Sufferfest movie…

Image

Good to see it’s still in place, as many of these registered have been vandalized, removed by rangers, or stolen over the years. There’s an article written by Robin Ingraham in 2008 about the history of registers in the Sierra Nevada, for those interested. What’s interesting to me is that Robin is strongly opposed to any mention of registers online, as he feels this gives would-be thieves more information about what to steal, and how. My views on this have evolved into treating registers more like prayer flags, which are left in place to fade as the years pass – I think historical records should be copied, but the originals left on the tops of peaks. If they get stolen, or water-damaged, or struck by lightening…that’s part of their story too, and someone will have to start a new register.


Project Vote Smart Rocks

October 25, 2012

I got a letter recently from Project Vote Smart, thanking me for being one of their original supports (beginning around 1990 or so). They also sent a nice pin.

Image

But what I really like is being able to go to their web site during this gnarly election process and find real data about candidates, instead of having to sift through the endless commentary that floods the news.

I realize they’re a small voice compared to all of the Super-PACs that are pouring money into races & ballot measures, but they also are one of the few rays of light I can find in the political landscape. If you’re a voter who likes to make their own decisions instead of voting the “party line”, I’d strongly encourage you to support them.

 

 


Can Ken Climb Aconcagua?

September 2, 2012

Schmed & I have decided to attempt Aconcagua this December.

Aconcagua

Which doesn’t leave much time for travel planning, setting up Big Data training in Buenos Aires, finding mule packers to help get gear up to base camp, and (most importantly) implementing a training regime appropriate for getting to almost 23,000ft.

We’re planning to make it a business-climbing-vacation trip, which means the family flies to Buenos Aires in mid-December, and we spend two weeks exploring the city and surrounding areas.


Grandama Dierker’s Button Collection

April 10, 2012

I grew up in southern California (Whittier), which is pretty close to Knott’s Berry Farm.

Back in the 1960’s, this wasn’t yet a typical theme park filled with roller coaster rides. There was a nice old-time feel to the place, with chickens and peacocks wandering around the parking lot.

We’d visit regularly, and every such trip included a viewing of The Button Collection.

My grandmother lived in Filer, Idaho and collected thousands of buttons over the years. Eventually an aunt finished off the collection and donated it to Knott’s Berry Farm, where it’s still on display.