Thursday, March 30, 2017

VLC Player: Windows 10 Lacks a Native DVD Video Player

I don't watch videos on my Windows-based laptop very often, but recently wanted to be able to play DVD videos on a long road trip. Without realizing that Windows 10 had dropped support for playing back video on a DVD, I placed the DVD with a movie in the DVD player and was disappointed when Windows 10 did not know what action to perform on that DVD. When I next had a Wifi connection, I saw that Microsoft had a Windows DVD Player app offered for $15, but I decided to look for third-party alternatives first because the app's average rating is pretty low and I wasn't used to paying extra for an app to play DVD videos.

I found the useful articles How to play DVDs in Windows 10 for free and Windows 10 won't play DVDs unless you pay Microsoft $15. The first article succinctly states, "Windows 10 won't play DVDs natively, and Windows Media Center is gone." The second article reiterates this, "Microsoft chose to omit the Windows Media Center app from Windows 10, and it wants $15 for the new Windows DVD Player."

Both of the articles referenced above referenced the same freely available alternative to Microsoft's Windows DVD Player. The VLC Player is available at and the VLC media player was exactly what I was looking for. The VLC media player page describes it as "a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework that plays most multimedia files as well as DVDs, Audio CDs, VCDs, and various streaming protocols." The page also highlights that VLC media player plays numerous formats and codecs, is completely free, and "runs on all platforms" including Windows.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Fast Startup is Only Desirable When It's a Complete Startup

After upgrading a Windows 8-based desktop PC to Windows 10, I started seeing the regular error message: "Failed to connect to a Windows service: Windows couldn't connect to the Group Policy Client service. This problem prevents standard users from signing in."

This issue, as the message states, prevented users other than the Administrator from logging in or, if they managed to login, prevented them from doing very much. This was an intermittent issue that seemed to be occurring on an increasingly frequent basis.

I found the fix for this on the Windows 10 Forums thread Can't connect to Group Policy Client service where windowsmith advised turning off "Fast Startup." As documented in The Pros and Cons of Windows 10's "Fast Startup" Mode, "Fast Startup ... doesn’t always work perfectly, and there are some downsides that might convince you to turn it off." Turning off "Fast Startup" has led to a much more positive experience using our Windows 10-based desktop.

Several sites explain how to disable/enable Fast Startup including the post that helped me realize this was the issue I was facing. The gist of the approach is to use Start → Settings → System → Power & sleep → Additional power settings → Choose what the power button does → Shutdown settings → [uncheck] Turn on Fast Startup (recommended). I have "Fast Startup" checked/enabled on my Windows 10-based laptop (came from Windows 7) without any obvious negative issue, but "Fast Startup" seemed to cause far more trouble than any achieved benefit on my Windows 10-based desktop.

Since unchecking/disabling "Fast Startup", I haven't seen the "Windows couldn't connect to the Group Policy Client service" for over a week and I formerly saw it almost daily.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

My 20 Favorite X-Files Episodes

The popularity of the X-Files television series can be attributed at least to some degree to the unique combination of humor, mystery, creepiness, scariness, character development, and relationships development. Although the series may be best known for its overarching themes of government conspiracies primarily related to alien invasion, the series featured numerous standalone "monster-of-the-week" episodes that helped maintain interest in the series. Although many fans prefer the episodes that contribute to the overarching mythology, I found that I often preferred the monster-of-the-week episodes. This was reinforced in my mind as I created the list of my favorite 20 X-Files episodes for this post.

This post contains my twenty favorite X-Files episodes at the time of this writing, though the selected episodes and their order might change in the future. Characteristics that seemed prevalent in my favorite episodes included humor, creepiness, and monster-of-the-week stories that seemed at least remotely possible or relatively realistic. I realized that, for me, the creepiest and scariest monsters of the week are those who do not appear to be so on the surface (such as Tooms, Modell, Pfaster, and the twin Eves). This list does not consider the new episodes released in 2016.

20. Unusual Suspects (Season 5, Episode 3)
 "Your kung fu is the best."

The 100th episode of The X-Files is "Unusual Suspects" and this episode tells the story of how the Lone Gunmen met each other and met Mulder in 1989. The three Lone Gunmen (Langly, Frohike and Byers) appeared in several episodes before and after this one, but this 100th episode is the one that explains how they came together and how they started consulting with Mulder while he worked in the Violent Crimes Section (before his X-Files assignment).

19. Leonard Betts (Season 4, Episode 12)
 "I'm your mother and it's a mother's duty to provide."

The "Leonard Betts" episode provides interesting visual effects and imagery (especially makeup), a gruesome monster of the week whose motives and biological needs are somewhat understandable and for which we can experience a mixture of revulsion and sympathy, and the shocking revelation at the end of the episode that Scully has cancer ("I'm sorry, but you've got something I need."). There are also creepy images such as the severed head of Albert Tanner (Leonard Betts is an alias as is Truelove) moving its eyes and lips, Betts resurrecting out of the bloody water in the bathtub, and new Betts shedding old Betts's body. Dr. Charles Burks is a fun minor character in the X-Files that is in this episode (among others).

18. Chinga (Season 5, Episode 10)
 "Let's have fun." / "I want to play."

What makes the "Chinga" episode scary to me is watching Melissa Turner becoming increasingly fearful of her own daughter Polly and her daughter's doll Chinga. Melissa is forced to see people she cares about die moments before they die and knows that her daughter and her daughter's doll have something to do with it, but she cannot stop it, even when it's to herself.

Like "Eve" (also on this list), part of the scariness is the the ability of a young girl (under the seeming spell of a doll in this case) to be the cause of so much death around her. The thought of one being controlled by someone (or something else) to the point of committing significant trauma to one's own body is also frightening. As with many of the scariest of the X-Files episodes, the episode ends with the potential for Chinga to cause more havoc in other lives despite Sully's microwaving of Chinga.

17. Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man (Season 4, Episode 7)
 "Not even secrets of the darkest men are safe."

This episode fascinates me because it ties historical events together and associates them with the Cigarette Smoking Man in a manner similar to how the movie Forrest Gump ties one man's life to many significant events. The episode is relatively unique in this early part of the series in that it doesn't show Mulder (although his voice is heard) and only shows Scully in footage from previous episodes.

It's a great episode that would be significantly higher on my list if not for Frohike's description of the source of the story he narrates in this episode, "So far, this is based only on a story I read in one of my weekly subscriptions that rang a few bells." I think this implies that the events presented in the episode may or not have actually been part of Cigarette Smoking Man's life and may simply be the Pivotal Publishing's fictionalized version of the manuscript that appeared in Roman à Clef and of which Cigarette Smoking Man said, "This isn't the ending that I wrote. It's all wrong."

16. Small Potatoes (Season 4, Episode 20)
 "Scully, should we be picking China patterns or what?"

The episode "Small Potatoes" is perhaps best known for its humor, but it provides that humor in the context of the type of mystery investigation one expects with an X-Files monster-of-the-week story. Although Mulder identifies the suspect "monster" (Eddie Van Blundht with "a silent 'h'") early in the episode, the mystery remains of how Eddie did it.

15. Bad Blood (Season 5, Episode 12)
 "Prison, Scully. Your cellmate's nickname is going to be Large Marge."

"Bad Blood" is another X-Files episode that shows how good this series can be at intermixing humor with dark themes. It is funny to see how different Mulder's and Scully's recollections are of the same events and especially how they apparently view each other. Luke Wilson plays a significant role (Sheriff Lucius Hartwell) in the episode and his interactions with Scully (in both Scully's recollection and Mulder's recollection) are humorous.

14. Eve (Season 1, Episode 11)
 "We didn't do anything wrong. We're just little girls."

The twin girls featured in the "Eve" episode provide a chilling and "almost could be true" villain. These twin girls take advantage of their seeming innocence to fool adults around them, to kill one of the Eves that created them, and to almost kill Mulder and Scully. Their conniving and creepy natures make them, as a pair, an excellent and scary "monster of the week." The episode ends the same way that many of the X-Files episodes ends: with a creepy hint at what the future might hold (in this case for Eve 8 and the twins - "We just knew.").

13. Arcadia (Season 6, Episode 15)
 "Let's get it on honey."

Anyone who has lived with nosy and bossy neighbors in a covenant community or planned community can probably appreciate the humor and story associated with this episode. Mulder and Scully pretending to be married on their undercover assignment presents opportunities for humor that fit well with the humorous interactions with the uptight neighbors in the tightly controlled planned community called "Falls of Arcadia." This is another X-Files episode that mixes humor with dark themes. This probably wouldn't have made my Top Twenty if not for how much fun I had watching the episode poke fun at covenant communities and the neighbors' enforcement of each other following the CC&Rs.

12. Tithonus (Season 6, Episode 10)
 "Most people are idiots."

The episode "Tithonus" shares some commonality (especially in terms of themes) with the excellent episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (#6 on this list), but has enough differences in the story and in the development of the main character that is the subject of the episode to keep it interesting. As with Bruckman, the viewer feels a mixture of remorse and relief on behalf of Alfred Fellig when he chooses to suffer his ultimate fate at the end of the episode. The "Tithonus" episode features interesting removal of color from the faces of those who Fellig sees are about to die. The episode also features a great guest actor in Geoffrey Lewis, another common characteristic shared with "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" (which features Peter Boyle)

11. Paper Hearts (Season 4, Episode 10)
  "It's not your fault. It's my fault."

The monster of the week in Paper Hearts, John Lee Roche, is creepy, disturbing, clever, and seems potentially realistic. Roche seems to be controlling Mulder and Mulder's actions in sinister fashion throughout much of the episode and it's disturbing to see no remorse from Roche for being a serial killer of small girls. Mulder lets his overarching desire to learn about his sister Samantha overcome rational thinking and takes Roche out of prison in his custody. When Roche meets and interacts with a girl on an airplane while with Mulder and then later escapes Mulder's custody and kidnaps that same innocent little girl, you cannot help but feel Mulder's guilt and concern.

10. Drive (Season 6, Episode 2)
 "Big piles of manure."

With a developing Speed-like story and a great performance by future Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston, the episode "Drive" makes many of the "best X-Files episodes" lists. This episode is a reminder of how entertaining an episode contained almost entirely within a vehicle and consisting of dialog among two individuals can be. The episode starts with mystery that turns tense. The relationship between Mulder and Patrick Crump changes from mutual loathing to mutual understanding and a degree of respect for one other and this makes the end of the drive even more difficult for the characters and the viewers.

I also like the very end of the episode when Scully is trying to cover for Mulder with Alvin Kersch. Scully's comment as she leaves Deputy Director Kersch's office is very funny, timely, and easy to relate to.

9. Irresistible (Season 2, Episode 13)
 "Is your hair treated?"

Only three "monsters of the week" were featured prominently in more than one episode. One of these is Donnie Pfaster, who appears in both this relatively early episode and later in the seventh season's "Orison." Donnie Pfaster is terribly frightening because he is a serial killer who is very polite and seems passive and even gentle right up until the point he commits the murders. People share information and place themselves in dangerous situations with him because they trust him after his being so polite and seemingly passive. This and the fact that much of Pfaster's behavior seems more realistically possible than many of the monsters of the week, makes him a truly terrifying monster of the week.

Pfaster is so evil and has such a direct impact on Scully that he even gets under Scully's skin (so to speak) and causes her to lose uncharacteristically lose control of her emotions at the end of "Orison."

8. Dreamland (Season 6, Episodes 4 and 5)
 "You think I want to go back to that?"

The "Dreamland" episode is actually two episodes with Part 1 as the fourth episode of the sixth season and Part 2 as the fifth episode of that same season. I liked "Dreamland" for several reasons. I especially liked the humor surrounding Morris Fletcher [his interactions with Scully while in Mulder's body, his reaction to Mulder's life (or lack thereof) as he learned more about the body he possessed], and Mulder's interactions with Fletcher's wife and friends while in Fletcher's body. I also really liked the visual effects in the episodes. These included Mulder looking at himself in the mirror and seeing Fletcher's body moving around instead of his body and the images of things and people displaced and amidst one another.

I liked the first part of "Dreamland" a bit more than the second part, but you really need to watch both together to get closure on the first part. I would have rated his episode even higher in my ratings if it wasn't for the fact that all the developments of the episode are essentially "undone" at the end like they never happened (although I like the touch of Mulder's apartment being uncharacteristically clean upon his return to it thanks to Morris Fletcher cleaning it, showing that not quite everything was undone). The "Dreamland" episodes shared characteristics of the overall mythology episodes and of standalone monster-of-the-week episodes.

7. Home (Season 4, Episode 2)
 "I think time already caught them."

"Home" is arguably one of the creepiest episodes of a television series known for its creepiness. It may also be the most stomach-turning and disturbing of all of the X-Files's episodes. It starts out creepy, it deals with creepy and traumatic themes, and ends with one of the X-Files's creepiest endings. This is the episode that I have watched least of all episodes on this list.

6. Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (Season 3, Episode 4)
 "How could I see the future if it didn't already exist?"

"Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" is a classic X-Files episode that makes it on many of the lists of top X-Files episodes for good reason. Peter Boyle's presentation of the character Clyde Bruckman is compelling and the viewer is able to understand the downsides of what at first seems like a "special gift" that Bruckman possesses. There is obvious and more subtle humor mixed with dark themes throughout this episode in a manner that is representative of the way the X-Files has mixed humor and dark themes better than almost any other television series. One feels both remorse and relief for Bruckman as this episode ends.

5. War of the Coprophages (Season 3, Episode 12)
 "Anyone who thinks alien visitation will come not in the form of robots, but of living beings with big eyes and gray skin, has been brainwashed by too much science fiction."

This is a fun episode with significant humor both subtle and obvious despite also having X-Files's expected dark themes. Scully has rationale explanations from her remote location for the various deaths that Mulder is investigating that keep turning potential X-Files-worthy murders into conventional murders. There is also the mutual flirting between Mulder and Dr. Bambi Berenbaum and Scully's obvious disgust with that burgeoning relationship.

4. Pusher (Season 3, Episode 17)
 "He is just a little man that wishes he were someone big."

I think the "best" (scariest) villains are those that take over ones thoughts and will power. This is what makes the Borg in Star Trek, the Dementors in Harry Potter's stories, and X-Files's Chinga and Pusher so frightening. It is difficult to watch the police officer crying out for someone to stop him from dousing himself with gasoline and lighting himself on fire and then see him do just that despite knowing he really doesn't want to do it. Like another scary X-Files character (Eugene Tooms), Robert Patrick Modell is not killed in this episode and the viewer has to fear that this won't be the last of the "Pusher."

Modell does return in the episode "Kitsunegari," which had some interesting special effects and decent story, but which I did not find as compelling, creepy, or scary as "Pusher."

3. Ice (Season 1, Episode 8)
 "We're not who we are."

Reminiscent of The Thing, the episode Ice has drama, mystery, and provides an early testing of the strengthening friendship and loyalty between Mulder and Scully. Between this episode and "Squeeze" (my #2), I knew I was hooked on the X-Files early in the first season.

2. Squeeze (Season 1, Episode 3)
 "All those people putting bars on their windows, spending good money on high-tech security systems, trying to feel safe? It ain't enough."

For me, Squeeze was the first truly creepy episode of the X-Files. Eugene Victor Tooms is one X-Files's creepiest villains and this episode, along with the 21st episode of this same first season ("Tooms") are stories that the viewer can feel are almost realistic. The closer they are to being plausible, the scarier the stories. When the "Squeeze" episode ends with Tooms still alive and with a sinister grin as he looks at the opening in the door to his cell for food, the viewer knows that this will not be the last time we see Mr. Tooms and that is frightening.

1. Humbug (Season 2, Episode 20)
 "probably something I ate"

Humbug was the 20th episode of the second season. This standalone monster-of-the-week episode featured all of the characteristics that the X-Files are known for, including humor, creepiness, mystery, and a twist at the end. Watching Scully and Mulder deal with and be embarrassed about some politically incorrect behaviors and language and watching Scully's illusionist ability with eating bugs are just two examples of the humor of this eclectic episode. I just flat-out enjoy watching this episode.


There were several more episodes of the X-Files that I wanted to add to this list and could have been persuaded into switching with some of the episodes on my list (particularly those in the bottom five). In particular, there are some episodes that tie into the X-Files mythology that I really enjoyed such as the pilot (starts off the whole thing) and final episode (summarizes the series' conspiracy developments and brings some closure) and some of the two-part episodes. Although my Top Twenty would probably change each time I was asked to create it, I feel like the twenty episodes listed above demonstrate X-Files at its best, at its creepiest, at its scariest, and at its funniest.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Maui: Highway 30 (Honoapi'ilani Highway)

The Road to Hana provides arguably the most beautiful drive in Maui and has even been listed as one of the 12 Amazing Drives Drives in the United States and is listed first in America's Most Scenic Roads. As impressive as the Road to Hana is, I found the drive and scenery along Highway 30 (Honoapi'ilani Highway) in west Maui to be particularly impressive in its own right.

Highway 30 forms forms an oval around the northwestern portion of Maui and includes cities and towns such as Wailuku and Lahaina. We didn't do the complete circuit, but mostly limited ourselves to the "reasonable" portion of this road (Wailuku through Lahaina to Kahakuloa). We had a few things we wanted to see on Highway 30 and felt like the day of the morning ride on the Atlantis Submarine and our visit to Lahaina was a good opportunity to see some of these sights.

Heading north out of Lahaina on Highway 30 takes one past fancy resorts near Ka'anapali Beach and Kapalua (Honokahua). As you drive north on Highway 30 past Kapalua, the view gets especially impressive as evidenced by the two previous images and the next photograph.

One of the highlights on this route is the Nakalele Blowhole. The next photograph shows that from a distance. We did not go closer because of time constraints based on the morning Submarine ride, lunch in Lahaina, and other activities planned for the day. If I ever get the opportunity to visit Maui again, I'd like to spend more time and get closer here.

Another highlight of this drive is the so-called Olivine Pools.

We only looked at the pools from above because it was a windy day and it didn't look like we'd be getting in or near the water in those pools that day anyway.

The Olivine Pools are another Maui attraction that I'd like to spend more time getting closer to on a future visit.

We ended our travel in that direction in Kahakuloa near the gorgeous Kahakuloa Bay.

The road is narrow (one-lane) for a bit here and falls and rises rather quickly.

The last photograph and the next photograph attempt to demonstrate this narrow road at this point, but the photographs don't do it justice. To get a much better idea of what it's like to drive on this section of Highway 30, see the YouTube video Honoapiilani Hwy.

We turned around at Kahakuloa Bay and headed back to Lahaina and ultimately to where we were staying in Kihei. However, I thought this drive from Lahaina to Kahakuloa and back was fantastic. We didn't complete the entire circuit and others have provided warnings about how harrowing it can be. These include Driving Maui’s Wild Highway and Death Road of Maui.

Like the Road to Hana, I found Highway 30 to provide exhilarating and inspiring views. Also like the Road to Hana, this route has its curves and narrow roads requiring the driver to focus sometimes on the drive more than the beautiful surroundings. This route is shorter than the Road to Hana and can be covered in less time. My suggestion for anyone visiting Maui for the first time is to do both!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Maui: Lahaina

Our primary reason for visiting Lahaina was to board the boat that would take us to the Atlantis Submarine from Lahaina Harbor. It was nice to have a motivating reason to visit Lahaina and presented the opportunity to travel a portion of the picturesque Highway 30.

Lahaina offers the Lahaina Harbor, but it also presents many other things popular with tourists such as art galleries, restaurants, and numerous shops (including small local shops, the Lahaina Cannery Mall, and the Outlets of Maui). Lahaina also features several places of historical note including the Pioneer Inn where we picked up our tickets for the Atlantis Submarine Ride.

After the submarine ride, we sat down in Lahaina's Lahaina Banyan Court Park (also known as Lahaina Courthouse Square or Banyan Tree Park) to eat the lunch that we had packed. The massive banyan tree that is the focal point of this part provides appreciated shade and an aesthetically pleasing environment for enjoying lunch or a break from other activities. I was disappointed to see parents encouraging their children to climb and sit on this banyan tree despite signs stating that people should not climb it.

Lahaina is a popular tourist destination and I have read that its parking can be difficult. We had no issues finding a parking space because we were willing to use the paid parking, but we also arrived in the late morning. There did seem to be fewer spots available later in the afternoon and I can imagine it's more difficult to find spaces in more popular times than June.

A week in Maui is not nearly enough time to see everything in as much depth as it deserves. Although I enjoyed our brief visit to the town of Lahaina, I would have liked to have had more time to spend there than the few hours we had.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Maui: Atlantis Submarine

One of the activities on Maui that seemed to appeal to people of all ages in our group (from young child to older adult) was the Atlantis Submarine Ride. There is also an Atlantis Submarine Ride on Oahu, but the Maui one departs from Lahaina Harbor in west Maui. A boat takes passengers to the site where the submarine emerges from the previous submarine trip so that the riders can see what it looks like upon emerging. After the riders from the previous trip disembark from the submarine and step onto the boat, the riders for the next ride get onto the submarine and the submarine descends.

The submarine takes its occupants on a small cruise underwater (reaching depths of roughly 100 feet) and around an artificial reef arising from the intentionally sunken Carthaginian. The submarine captain does a nice job of attempting to maneuver the trip so that occupants on both sides of the submarine can see interesting schools of fish and other sights from their own side of the submarine. I felt like the cruise itself wa appropriate in its duration and it seemed popular with passengers of all ages.

I was very impressed with the organization and people running Atlantis Submarines Maui. They were courteous, professional, helpful, and made it fun for everyone. When I was pre-ordering the tickets online before we traveled to Hawaii, one of their representatives called me at home to make sure that I hadn't overbooked when I arranged for tickets for my own family and the family of my brother with the same number of family members and same last name. As I was explaining the two orders, the woman who called realized that I qualified for a generous discount that I had not been aware of and offered to apply it to our purchase. I found the service related to the excursion itself to be similarly helpful.

The photographs I have included in this post do not do the views of the underwater marine life and formations justice. Although there are a few things about the submarine cruise that appeal to children, it is still an interesting ride with fascinating views for the adults. For those of us who don't scuba dive, it's a great opportunity to see different things in water this deep than we can see when we snorkel.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Maui: Iao Valley State Park and Iao Needle

The Road to Hana is probably the best known part of Maui for being lush and green. However, Iao Valley State Park is very lush and green and is more easily accessible than the Road to Hana. Iao Valley State Park and its most recognized feature, the Iao Needle, can be seen in a matter of minutes, but offers additional interesting scenery that can warrant a little longer stay.

Iao Valley State Park features the Iao Needle, Iao stream, multiple and relatively easy small hiking trails, and lots and lots of green. The potential setting of mist and clouds in the vicinity add to the visually stunning scenery and make for many photographic opportunities.

As of this writing, Iao Valley is the #4 attraction on Maui according to TripAdvisor.

The parking lot is decently sized, but not enormous. Fortunately, the park can be covered in as little as half of an hour and, for most people, probably in not more than a couple hours, so parking spots should open up frequently as needed.

The next image shows the parking lot (and restrooms) from one of the short trails.

The short trail to the Iao Needle gets most of the attention, but there is another short trail that breaks off this trail and rejoins it later that has quite different sights to see. The next series of images show looking over the mini valley that break-off trail goes into and some of the vegetation and scenery down in that area.

The Iao Valley is lush and green because there's water everywhere. The air is humid and there are numerous streams and mini-waterfalls.

Iao Valley State Park offers the Iao Needle and numerous other visual delights. The whole thing can be seen briefly in less than an hour and more comprehensively within two hours. It's easily accessible from Kahului Airport (OGG) and some of the more popular lodging areas in Maui (5 miles/15 minute drive from Kahului and 15 miles/25 minute drive from Kihei). We enjoyed Snow Ice at Snow Factory in Wailuku after seeing Iao Valley and the Iao Needle.