I finally figured out what “Twin Peaks” is all about

Unlike most folks, I never paid any attention to “Twin Peaks” until very recently.  When I read that a new season would begin filming — 20+ years after the original season —  on site near my home in Sammamish, WA, I figured I should check out the original show on Netflix to see what all the fuss was about.

After working my way through most of the original two seasons and spending countless hours letting it digest without trying to think too much about the plot or the meaning, I finally had an epiphany: “Twin Peaks” is basically “Portlandia” in subtler form.

SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this post assumes you’ve watched the show.  There might be spoilers from here on out, but probably none of much consequence.  Anyway, you have been warned.

For anyone who’s been living in a cave, “Portlandia” is sort of a caricature of various quirky stereotypes commonly found around Portland, OR.  If you’ve never lived in the Pacific Northwest or visited Portland, let me fill you in: everything in that show is absolutely true.  It’s probably funnier if you assume it’s all exaggeration, but I assure you, it really isn’t.  Somewhere in Portland, right now, there really is a nutjob riding a bicycle as if he has all the right-of-way in the world because he’s “on a bike here!”, and there really are snobs in a restaurant someplace asking their waiter to confirm that their chicken dinner was made from free-range chickens raised by a polygamy-practicing hippie cult.

“Twin Peaks” isn’t a comedy, and it doesn’t leverage sarcasm, but I’ve realized it’s got the same essence.  Every character, subplot, and aspect of the show is designed to make fun of Seattle-area culture.  The difference is that while “Portlandia” wants the audience (even Portland natives) to be in on the joke and have a laugh, “Twin Peaks” is more like an Andy Kaufman act: the joke is squarely on the audience, requiring one to step outside the whole thing to even recognize the meta-humor.

Let’s start with the title, “Twin Peaks”.  If that doesn’t scream “boobs”, I don’t know what does.  No, not the anatomical kind.  I’m referring to boobs, as in idiots, morons, weirdos, and gullible nincompoops.  The very title of the show is plainly saying what the show is about.

Seriously, stick with me here.  Allow me to explain further.

Think about the characters, and the premise, as they are set out in the pilot episode: a murdered girl, a grieving father, a small town sheriff, an FBI agent called in to help.  It all starts normally enough.  And yet, something is already a bit off, foreshadowing events to come: the music and acting are eye-rollingly gut-wrenchingly overdramatic.  The execution is more like a soap opera than a weekly prime time show.  Why would the director do it this way?  Because soap operas are widely known for taking themselves way too seriously, and we all know the only people who really take them seriously are complete dimwits.  The music and acting style clearly say: If you take this show seriously, you’re a gullible boob.

Well, don’t feel too bad.  It’s easy enough to be a boob for a little while, because things get weird gradually enough that you either don’t notice it starting to happen or you just keep suspending increasing amounts of disbelief.  In this way, many people have likened the show to “Lost”.  Except “Lost” got increasingly weird in large part because it went on for so many seasons and the writers never really knew where it was going.  “Twin Peaks” doesn’t feel that haphazard or accidental, partly because it never attempts to explain anything even halfway in the first place, and partly because it’s only two seasons long.

Every character in the show is the kind of kook nobody sensible would ever take seriously.  A woman who talks to a log?  An FBI agent who guides his investigation based on dreams about a dancing midget?  A town psychiatrist who always wears 3D glasses and is happily married to a Hawaiian woman who doesn’t live with him?  A rotund obnoxious white woman dressed as an Asian businessman?  An FBI boss who’s deaf as a post and yells at everyone?  A weird local band that plays trance-like music in an old biker bar?  A military man who claims to have been abducted by aliens?

And yet, time and time again, these characters and their nonsensical behaviors and explanations are flatly accepted by everyone else without question.  Oh, you saw it in a vision?  Okay, proceed.  Oh, your log saw what?  Ah, I see.  Oh, you’re an Asian businessman?  Sure you are, here’s your room key.  The tacit acceptance of total idiocy at every turn is itself a form of idiocy, and it in turn breeds even more idiocy.  People taking themselves, their own drama and weirdness, and each other way too seriously.  They even take their coffee and local pie too seriously.  It’s boobs blindly following other boobs.  It’s “Twin Peaks”.

The entire show is a giant twisted thought experiment: What if we took a seemingly normal premise, except we set it in an area where everyone’s a boob, and let it run its course a while to see what happens?  Hey, you know what would be really funny?  If the kinds of boobs the show is about didn’t even get the joke and actually took the show seriously!

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Stereoscopic 3D gaming is awesome

After purchasing a 3D-capable TV late last year, I wondered if I could use it for gaming in 3D.

It turns out NVIDIA has a driver add-on for most of their modern video cards that will allow the video card to produce a stereoscopic 3D signal out to your TV.  It works with a lot of games to varying degrees without any special support needing to be built into the game, since it’s just a driver-level layer.  And when it works, it’s spectacularly immersive.  Borderlands 2, Trackmania 2, Distance, and many others look amazing… and I swear the real sense of depth in an FPS actually improves my aim and makes sniping a pure joy.

Everybody keeps talking about AR and VR headsets being the hot new thing out of E3, but then discussion inevitably turns to the state of software support.  I’ll tell you this: if Occulus Rift simply works with NVIDIA’s 3D TV Play driver out of the box, its users will immediately have access to a more immersive experience in many of the games they already know and love.

That alone would be the “killer app” that would drive mass-adoption.  Instead of having to buy a 3DTV (and deal with the inevitable ghosting artifacts that arise from left/right image “crosstalk” through the 3D glasses), just put on a VR headset and have an awesome 3D gaming experience.

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Steam voice chat won’t connect or work with in-home streaming enabled, but here’s a workaround

Steam (for Windows, at least) has this nifty “in-home streaming” feature that’s sort of like Remote Desktop for gaming.  It lets you use an underpowered PC in your house (like a laptop) as a thin client for your main gaming PC.

If this feature is enabled, and your Steam account happens to be logged into multiple PCs/devices, and you try to use one PC to start or join a Steam voice chat, it will refuse to connect (without giving you any helpful error message) due to a really obnoxious bug in the Steam client.

Here’s the workaround to get voice chat working:

  1. Log your Steam account out of ALL Steam clients on ALL PCs/devices.
  2. Now that you are completely logged out, have everyone else who was attempting to voice chat with you restart their Steam clients.  They must do this to “reset” their Steam clients’ knowledge of which Steam client you are using.
  3. Now you can log back into the Steam client ONLY on the PC you are trying to use.
  4. Now your voice chat will finally connect and work.

Hopefully Valve will get off their collective asses and stop dicking around with Linux long enough to fix this incredibly obnoxious issue impacting the majority (i.e. Windows users) of their customer base.

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Fix for Ubisoft UPlay bug: Unable to update Assasin’s Creed IV

Running UPlay as admin as others have suggested did not solve this for me.  Neither did changing the install cache location as others have suggested.  Here’s what DID work for me:

  1.  Exit UPlay.
  2. Manually delete the following two files:
    • c:\Program Files (x86)\Ubisoft\Ubisoft Game Launcher\data\273\uplay_install.state
    • c:\Program Files (x86)\Ubisoft\Ubisoft Game Launcher\data\273\uplay_install_tmp.manifest
  3. Launch UPlay.
  4. Click the drop-arrow next to the PLAY/DOWNLOAD button on AC IV and choose “Verify Game Files”.
  5. Once verification is done, the issue should be fixed and you should now be able to successfully update.

This appears to be caused by a bug in the UPlay app.

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Focusrite Scarlett USB audio interface: disconnection problems

A simple Google search on “Focusrite Scarlett disconnect” reveals this to be a common problem with no clear solution.  I’ve experienced and solved this issue on two independent PC+Scarlett setups, and both times it boiled down to the same problem: the USB cable.

Not only do you need an A-to-B cable specifically rated for USB 2.0 (or higher) compatibility, but you need to ensure it is a short cable (I’d say 6 feet max) with at least one good ferrite core around the end that plugs into the back of the Scarlett.  Ideally you’d use a cable with two ferrite cores (one around each end).  And do not use a USB extension cable or USB hub in between the Scarlett and the computer.

In case you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “ferrite core”, just plug the following search into Amazon: “USB 2.0 A to B ferrite”.

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Getting Windows 8.1 to actually sync with OneDrive / SkyDrive

Apparently you have to have UAC enabled in order for SkyDrive sync to actually work in the background like you’d expect on Windows 8.1.  Lame — I always turn UAC off because it’s horrendously annoying and I’m not a blithering idiot who randomly clicks “Yes” on everything without reading it first.

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I helped design and build the Windows 8 Start screen. Wow.

Looking back over my “Windows Wish List” posts and some wild hand-drawn sketches in a spiral notebook from 2008, it’s amazing to me to look back over the last 4 years and realize not only how many of my ideas have been incorporated into Windows 7 and 8, but also the fact that I helped make much of it happen by working on the Windows shell team. The Start screen in Windows 8 has several design elements that were originally mine: the parallax scrolling effect of the background (inspired by old-school video games like “Shadow of the Beast”), the notion of making a full-screen version of the Start menu, and a way of organizing or partitioning Apps, Settings, and Files. Another one of my ideas — pinning a website from Internet Explorer to the Taskbar as its own icon with its own jumplist — was picked up and turned into a feature in newer versions of IE. It’s surreal to now see the Start screen (which I spent 3 years helping to design and build) all over the news, TV commercials, and printed Christmas shopping ads. I guess while I was busy working my butt off, I really did manage to help change the world.

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