Monday, February 12, 2018

Norton Security's "Coming Soon"

I recently had the Norton Security installation on a laptop start acting strangely. When I explicitly opened it, the Norton Security window showed only "Coming Soon" where it normally would have had more and different information. An example of this "Coming Soon" page is available online in the Community forum.

This "Coming Soon" notice apparently occurs frequently for users of Norton Security because there are numerous forum entries on this and Norton Support has a message titled "Coming Soon" that outlines dealing with this. The referenced Norton Support message provides detailed instructions for addressing this "Coming Soon" message. The first recommended step is to "Run LiveUpdate" and restart the computer when the update has completed.

If running LiveUpdate and restarting the computer does not fix the problem, the next recommended step is to "Download and run the Norton Remove and Reinstall tool" (which is available at This step removes the current (old) version of Norton Security and re-installs a new version of Norton Security.

I, in effect, skipped to the last step because I thought I might have a virus or malware causing issues (they often attack the antivirus and security applications first). I approached this first by turning off access to the Internet from that laptop. I then downloaded the Microsoft Emergency Response Tool (msert.exe) on a different computer and ran it against the laptop. The "Quick Scan" found no issues, so I ran the really, really long "Full Scan" and it did not find any issues either. I then removed Norton Security from my computer manually and downloaded and reinstalled Norton Security and now it seems to work correctly. I probably could have saved considerable time and hassle to simply following the steps for dealing with Norton Security's "Coming Soon" that I later found online.

I never actually needed to call the Norton Customer Service line, but I did note that there are some seemingly fraudulent numbers listed on the web for Norton Customer Service. It's likely that calling one of those fake numbers would lead to scam similar to the Facebook customer service number scam I wrote about earlier. There is a Norton Customer Support number, but one should always get that number directly from the web site rather than via web search. As of this writing, "I see the message 'Coming Soon'" is listed as one of the "top solutions" that "other customers are asking." It is also one of the "Hot Issues and Fixes for Norton"

Monday, January 15, 2018

Universal Orlando Resort Express Pass: Money Does Buy Happiness

One doesn't need science to prove that money can buy happiness. One simply needs to attend Universal Orlando Resort on two of its busier days without an Universal Express Pass the first day and with an Universal Express Pass the second day to experience the happiness money can buy.

A Universal Express Pass shares some characteristics with Walt Disney World's FastPass+, but there are also some significant differences between the two. Both passes allow the holder of the pass to get on select (typically the most popular) rides in a separate line from the regular (or "standby") line. On the busier days at the respective resorts, there can be a significant difference in total wait time for those with these express/fast passes versus those without them. The difference in wait time tends to get smaller on days when the parks are not as busy.

One difference between Universal Express Pass and Disney World FastPass+ is that the two types of Universal Express Pass are good for at least one ride on each of the rides that have a Universal Express Pass line. The Disney World FastPass+ is ride-specific and the number of these passes available to each participant is limited to three passes initially and then more can be added per day one at a time as the earlier fast passes are used.

Arguably the biggest difference between the two types of passes is the cost: either type of Universal Express pass typically (exception discussed later in this post) requires an extra fee on top of the regular day pass for the park while Disney World FastPass+ passes are included in the day's admission.

We purchased "park-to-park" (passes that allow you to move between all Universal Orlando Resort parks on the same day with the same ticket) three-day passes to Universal Orlando Resort. [Harry Potter fans typically purchase "park-to-park" passes as these allow individuals to ride the Hogwarts Express train ride between Universal Studios Florida (includes Diagon Alley) and Universal's Islands of Adventure (includes Hogsmeade and the Hogwarts Castle).]

We purchased these three-day park-to-park passes from a third-party seller for $289 per person (or a cost of a little over $96 per day per person). We visited Universal Orlando Resort in the first week of January 2018, which is a busy time for both Universal Orlando Resort and for Walt Disney World. We spent time in both Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure on our first full day in Orlando so that we could experience the world of Harry Potter in both of those parks and to experience other rides in each of the parks. While the morning went fairly well, the lines got longer and longer in the afternoon. We waited a ridiculously long time for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem because riders with Express Pass were allowed in as soon as they arrived at the ride even while we had been waiting in the standby line for 45 minutes or longer. It became obvious then that our standby line was hardly moving at times to accommodate a steady stream of newly arriving participants with Express Passes.

I decided that I could not do two more days of Universal Parks waiting in longer and longer lines that were impacted by the number of Express Pass holders who wanted to ride that given ride. So, we splurged for Express Passes for our second full day at Universal Orlando Resort. The Express Pass (which does not include park admission and is on top of that price already paid) was $139 per person for that one day. That is not a typo: the Express Pass that doesn't even grant park admission cost approximately $43 more than what we paid for a day's admission to the park. In other words and to emphasize, we more than doubled our overall cost to attend the two Universal parks that second day. That sounds bad as I write it, but it was worth it! If you measure the value of your park attendance by the number of popular rides you get to ride, it was well worth twice the overall cost. We rode more than three times as many popular rides on the day with the Express Pass as we did on the day without the Express Pass. When you throw in the psychological and physical benefits of not wasting time standing around much of the day, it's even more valuable. In fact, if I have to do it again, I'll likely not buy a 3-day pass, but will instead buy a 1-day or 2-day pass and supplement it with the Express Pass.

It's important to note that not every day at Universal Orlando Resort necessarily warrants an Express Pass. We were there on two very bust days, so the benefits of the Express Pass were more obvious. Universal bases the price of the Express Pass on how busy the day is. While we paid $139 per person for the Express Pass, the Universal Express Pass website currently states that these passes start at a much lower price than that, but those are for less crowded dates. This underscores the importance of one of the characteristics of the Universal Express Pass: you must specify the date you are buying the pass for when you purchase it because the price varies based on the date to which it applies. Less popular days are less expensive, but those may be the days you don't really need it as much.

Universal Express Passes currently are offered in different forms. You can buy an Express Pass that is park specific (not park-to-park) or you can buy an Express Pass that applies to all parks. You also choose between an Express Pass that allows you to use the express line one time one for each ride supporting Express Pass or the Express Pass that allows you to use the express line as many times as you like for any given ride ("Unlimited"). The flexibility to use your Express Pass in multiple parks costs a bit more than the one that is limited to a single park and the Express Pass that allows express line usage on any ride as many times as you like costs more than the Express Pass that allows use of the express line once per supported ride. When you mix these combinations of Express Passes with the fact that the prices are based on the day for which they're to be used, it's a bit tricky to summarize the prices of each feature/day combination. The best approach is to check out the web page for the various options for the days of interest. If the cost of the Express Pass is relatively low, this seems to be a fairly good indication that Universal does not expect the parks to be as popular that day as some other days with higher priced Express Passes.

Another consideration with Universal Express Passes is whether to purchase the pass in advance or to purchase it in the park on the day you're there. The downside of purchasing it in advance is that you can run into the situation described in the blog post "Never Buy Your Universal Express Pass Online" in which the author writes, "I ... was kicking myself all day long for buying the Express Pass online before we arrived. We never used them, as there were minimal lines for every ride." As this author states, it can be a wasteful expense to purchase an Express Pass if it provides no advantage over the "standby" line. However, the week in which she traveled (mid-February) probably had a lower than average cost for the Express Pass and that lower price is a good sign that the Express Pass might not be as useful. Express Passes are sold in the parks, so one could wait to see how busy the park is before purchasing the Express Pass. One caveat to this is that the parks are not as busy first thing in the morning, so what seems like a day in which an Express Pass would be of little benefit could change around lunchtime to a day in which an Express Pass is much more desirable.

If one knows that the Universal Orlando Resort parks are going to be busy based on historical data or on the prices Universal charges for Express Passes for a given day, there are some options to reduce or eliminate the Express Pass cost. One option is to purchase a "Park-To-Park Admission + Universal Express Unlimited Combo" that includes the admission tickets and Express Pass Unlimited (the one that lets you use the express line for the same ride multiple times). That "combo" price could possibly be less than what you'd pay even with buying the admission tickets for a cheaper price at a third-party seller and adding on the Express Passes separately like we did. The 2-day park-to-park admission plus Unlimited Express Pass would likely be sufficient for many peoples' needs to ride all their favorite rides multiple times in both non-water parks. We were able to ride all popular rides in both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida in the same day (and some of the multiple times) with the Express Pass Unlimited.

Certain (typically more expensive) Universal lodging packages include an Express Pass in the lodging package. While you will likely pay more for these lodging packages than some other (and especially third-party) lodging, you get the conveniences associated with the Universal lodging and arguably might not be much more expensive overall than buying cheaper lodging and the buying individual Express Passes.

Universal Express Passes are most desirable when they are most expensive (when the crowds are the largest). The riders with the Universal Express Passes can make the wait for those in the standby line much longer than it would be if there were no Express Passes. Express Passes are most desirable in the middle of the day. We did notice on one of the Harry Potter rides at close to closing time that there were little concern about whether one had an Express Pass or not as the employees understandably seemed eager to get as many people on the ride as quickly as possible without worrying about Express Pass status.

Universal Express Passes typically reduce the wait significantly for any ride during the middle of one of the busier days; they may not make as much of a difference first thing in the morning or before closing or on significantly less busy days. The advantage of the Express Pass, just like the advantage of Disney World FastPass+ passes, also depends significantly on how the queue is structured for a given ride. If the Express Pass line merges with the "standy" line early, the value of the Express Pass is lessened. The longer the two queues remain separate, generally the better the Express Pass will be, but it's difficult to know how the rides' queues are configured until you're in them and they can change structure frequently. Some rides have a dedicated separate Express line and those will typically offer the biggest advantage over standby.

One final consideration related to purchasing a Universal Express Pass is how much one plans to ride the popular rides. If one mostly expects to attend shows, shop in the stores, eat at the dining establishments, and ride the less popular rides, the Express Pass is likely not worth its cost. The Express Pass will be most valuable to the park participant who wants to ride the most popular rides more than the other activities offered in the parks.

It was difficult for me to cough up the significant additional money to purchase an Express Pass for our second day at Universal Orlando Resort. However, when I weighed the costs of getting to and staying in Orlando and the number of rides we got for the money and the time we saved, it seemed less obscene. My opinion is that the Express Pass has made it so that the standby line at Universal Orlando Resort is almost unbearable during the middle of the busiest days. By the way, we did not purchase an Express Pass for our third day at Universal Orlando Resort because we were only there for a half day (and the morning was most of that and was relatively less crowded) and because we had ridden every ride we wanted to ride multiple times with the second day's Express Pass (including riding Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts four times each).

The best plan is to go to Universal Orlando Resort when it's not very busy. The next best plan that I'd recommend to anyone going to Universal Orlando Resort during its busiest days would be to purchase a park-to-park pass with 1 day less than originally planned and apply that saved cost to an Express Pass for the day or days in the park. In other words, on the busiest days, one day with an Express Pass will beat two days without express passes based on the things that are most important to me.

I'll end with one last disclaimer: the weather was too cool in Orlando the week we were there for the water park to be open and most of the rides that people got wet in were either closed or had very, very short waits. The effect of this was that some of the people who otherwise would have been in those parks or on those rides were now in the same parks as us waiting in the same lines.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Facebook Does Not Provide a 1-800 Customer Service Telephone Number

Facebook does not advertise a telephone number for their customer service department. The best way to contact Facebook Customer Service is via the Facebook Help Center. As the How to Contact Facebook page states, "Unfortunately, there is no way to directly contact Facebook - you can't call, text, email, or otherwise speak to an employee or affiliate of Facebook. You can, however, use Facebook's Help Center to diagnose and report a problem with your account."

The Facebook Business forum includes a post called "How do I contact Facebook Customer Service?" that emphatically states (I'm adding the emphasis): "NOTE ON PHONE SUPPORT: We do not post a phone number for Facebook support. If you see a phone number for Facebook support, it is a scam." That post also provides links to Facebook Help on Keeping Your Account Secure and Avoid Spam and Scams. The Facebook Support Inbox is an appropriate place to contact Facebook support. The Facebook Safety Center also provides links to resources linked to using Facebook safely that includes information on hacked accounts (the best way to report to Facebook that you think your account has been hacked is to go to

The reason I am writing about this is because I'm aware of someone's Facebook account being hacked earlier this month and the approaches to dealing with that hacked Facebook account led to far more serious consequences than the hacked Facebook account by itself presented. It had appeared that a friend had sent a personal message on Facebook to see her video (it was a generic message and turned out to have been sent with nefarious purposes by someone who had hacked this person's Facebook account). When the video was clicked on, the recipient's Facebook account was also compromised. When that account started sending out similar suspicious personal messages to friends on Facebook, one of the recipients rightly observed that this indicated a hacked Facebook account. At the point of awareness of this hacked Facebook account, the best move would have been to report this to Facebook via

Unfortunately, the owner of this hacked Facebook account panicked when the alert friend warned of the account hacking. The owner of that hacked account searched on Google for "Facebook customer service 1-800 telephone number" and clicked on one of the links returned on the first results page. This linked-to page listed a 1-800 number allegedly for Facebook customer support and the Facebook account owner called that number. The people who answered the number sounded polite and helpful and quickly convinced the Facebook account owner to give access to the computer the account owner was using and then proceeded to install nastiness on that computer that resulted in the need for a complete wiping of the machine and re-installation of software. What started out as a hacked Facebook account with damage limited to what could be done with that account led to damage to the person's entire computer and the potential to have much more information lost if not handled quickly.

Here are current results of a Google search for "Facebook customer service 1-800 number":

I marked out the actual 1-800 numbers so that no one would accidentally use one of these numbers in attempt to contact Facebook Customer Support. It's also interesting that one of the results shown is for a customer called "CustomerSupportNumber" and I suspect that has nothing to do with actual Facebook Customer Service and all numbers listed there should be ignored (I'm surprised Facebook allows this account to exist and I intentionally do not link to it here). It is also worth noting that the first two results returned from the Google search appear to be fraudulent Facebook Customer Support pretenders because they do advertise a telephone number.

It seems easy to avoid problems like those discussed here, but in moments of panic and shock about a hacked account, it can also be easy to forget and fall into traps like those presented online by people alleging to be Facebook Customer Service and providing telephone numbers to contact them. In the case of Facebook, a telephone number advertised online should never be used. In more general cases, it's always best to find the contact number from the desired recipient's web site rather than from a Google search. In other words, the only telephone number for Faecbook Customer Service that could be trusted is one listed on the Facebook main page (look for, but even that can lead to a mistake as the "CustomerSupportNumber" account on Facebook purports to provide Facebook telephone numbers, but I am guessing those are no better than the ones returned by the Google search.

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!