Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sight Gag of the Day

And Overstock.com wonders why they're not selling more of these:

"Sleek and compact design," says the product description. Uh, yeah, I suppose you could call it that.

Monday, November 28, 2005

third time's the charm

I'm done. After attempting nanowrimo twice before, I've finally won. I've written over 52,000 words and pounded out what can-- generously, perhaps, but still-- be called a novel. My first draft of my first novel.

Oh, it's still got a lot of problems. I'd never be able to publish it in its present form. It's got way too many characters, most of them poorly written, and in Hollywood parlance, it's got some major structural problems in the second act. But I've written it. From now on, I can tell people that I've actually written a novel.

I feel good.

so predictable

Didn't I tell you that this would happen?
Although it features an almost entirely Asian cast, Rob Marshall's Memoirs of a Geisha has evoked anger and calls for a boycott among some of those who have seen advance screenings of the film in Japan and China, Reuters reported today (Monday). [my link -C] According to the wire service, some Japanese are outraged that the leading roles in the film are played by Chinese actresses Ziyi Zhang and Gong Li and Chinese-Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh. On the other hand, some Chinese are upset that Chinese film stars would favorably portray Japanese, who are still remembered for their brutal occupation of China in World War II. Reuters quoted one blogger as saying of Zhang, who plays the title role: "She's sold her soul and betrayed her country. Hacking her to death would not be good enough."

-- IMDb Studio Briefing

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Homer Simpson, PBS viewer?

We are, of course, all familiar with this classic epigram from The Simpsons:
"It takes two to lie, Marge. One to lie and one to listen!"
-- Homer Simpson
Indeed, this pithy aphorism has been quoted in such publications as the political rag Reason Online. It should, therefore, surprise none of us to hear it paraphrased with a straight face in FRONTLINE's "The Diamond Empire", a would-be exposé of the De Beers monopoly:
"[L]ike all deception, the person who's deceived plays a part in the deception, as well as the deceiver. It's not a one-person act. It's two people, the deceiver and the deceived, acting in collaboration."
-- Edward Jay Epstein, author, "The Rise and Fall of Diamonds"
And lest you think that marriage has mellowed my obsessive research tendencies: "The Diamond Empire" aired on February 1, 1994. Homer's declaration occurred in "Colonel Homer" (fansub title: "Lurleen on Me"), which aired on March 26, 1992. It is clear, methinks, which of Messrs. Simpson and Epstein merits the appellation "chicken", and which gentleman we may safely call "egg".

I said good day, sir!

Friday, November 18, 2005

"First, we'll need to find the nine stupidest people in the world..."

Today's nominee for Dumbest. Idea. Ever:
'A new reality TV show is aiming to pull off the biggest hoax in TV history - by persuading a group of Britons that they have been blasted into space...

'Nine people will be told they are set to visit the final frontier as space tourists and that in preparation they will undergo intensive training in Russia courtesy of the Space Tourism Agency of Russia, but in reality the groups will be "trained" for space in a disused airbase in a secret location in the UK.

'Unbeknown to them, their [space] shuttle will be a Hollywood creation, made originally for the film Space Cowboys...

'Channel 4 admits that the joke could be on them if the participants, who are currently being selected from a group holed up in a secret location with no contact with the outside world, cotton on to the stunt.'

-- 'Space Cadets hoax out of this world', This is London
You can already guess what I'm going to say, right? Well, here it is anyway:

How do they expect the contestants not to figure out it's a hoax when they experience gravity in space?


Of course, my biggest fear is that Channel 4 didn't even have to cross the street to find more than nine people who don't know there's no appreciable gravity in Earth orbit. I remember being terribly depressed when I read a 1996 news article about how badly American adults flunked an NSF science survey. 47% of you people don't know that the Earth orbits the Sun in one year? Unbelievable.

But I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised anymore. After all, the Kansas Board of Education just rejected nearly a century and a half of evolutionary science, by voting to teach Christian creationism (let's call a spade a spade, shall we?) "alongside" the theory of evolution. And the President of the United States even supported this position. The gorram President, fer fucksake.

When, exactly, did we fall through the looking glass? How is it possible for the most technologically advanced society in the history of the world to have so many citizens-- a majority, it would seem-- who don't know the first thing about the basic science that supports their quality of life?

That's not a rhetorical question. See that "comments" link below? Use it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

nanowrimo status: just shy of 30,000 words

I spent most of last night working on my NaNoWriMo novel, after also sneaking in a few mini-sessions during the day, and my word count is now up to 29,943-- slightly ahead of schedule. Which is good, because I won't have time to write at all for the next three or four days.*

It's also good because I've now gotten to the real meat of my story. In screenplay terms, it would be the middle of act two, when everything goes horribly wrong for our heroes and the central crisis reaches its peak. Actually, I'm probably not quite at the middle of act two yet, because things will get a bit worse after this.

I'll be the first to admit that the finished novel-- at least, this first draft of it-- will be an incoherent mess. Up until this point, I've had the actual history of the real Apollo 8 mission to act as an outline, but now I'm completely making shit up. I plan to crib a little from Apollo 13, the movie (since I can use Jim Lovell, and who doesn't love Tom Hanks?), but I have no idea where the whole werewolf thing is going. Seriously. No freaking clue. Making it up with each paragraph.

It's an unfamiliar and freeing feeling, and I'm quite enjoying it.

* Tonight: Beauty and the Beast. Thursday: Richter Scales rehearsal. Friday: Harry Potter. Saturday: Hornblower dinner cruise.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The Television Revolution is at the Gates

What have I been saying, huh? The Television Revolution is at the Gates.

Now, I admit that I drooled a little when the new video iPod hit the streets. But then I peeped the specs, and wasn't so impressed. Half VGA resolution? NTSC video? No widescreen? Eh. I'm not saying I wouldn't enjoy having one, but I'd much rather have an Archos AV700 (and a compatible Dish 962 DVR, but that's another rant)-- or the real killer app, which I'm sure will, sadly, never happen: iTunes on PSP. Oh, if only Sony would fucking get it when it comes to digital media and hardware interoperability.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Globalization of Fiction

I just saw something that made me happy. It'll probably annoy and offend some other people, but that's their problem. I just watched the trailer for Memoirs of a Geisha.

I remember hearing about the book when it came out, especially the fact that it was written by Arthur Golden, who is most decidedly not female, Japanese, or a geisha. And I was happy then, because people were giving it good reviews based on the quality of the work, not because of any political agenda. (I suppose you could argue that divorcing the life of the artist from his or her work is a political agenda, but you could also argue that Paris Hilton is talented. I would disagree with you on both points.)

And now, DreamWorks has made a movie out of the book. In the movie, the titular protagonist is played by Zhang Ziyi, and two of the major female characters are played by Michelle Yeoh (Zhang's Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon co-star) and Gong Li. Note that all of these women are, in fact, Chinese, but are here playing Japanese characters.

Yeah, I can hear the activists complaining already. Which is funny, because I never hear anybody complain about a non-Irish actor playing an Irish character, or a non-French actor playing a Frenchman. Funny.

Here's my point: this is a story very much about Japan and its women, but it was written by an American man and is being made into an American movie with Chinese actors in prominent, starring roles. This is a good thing. And if you truly believe that people should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, you should damn well agree with me.

Another bit of trivia: parts of the movie were filmed at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga, where my good friends Sean and Crissy got married in May. Their celebration included an installation of Firefall, which is as close as you'll ever get to the Silver Age Planet Krypton. Very cool.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

I am writing a novel.

That's right, I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month for the third time, and hoping it's the charm.

Been going well so far. I haven't written every day, but I'm over 12,000 words now and I think I have a pretty clear trajectory for at least the next week. The basic premise-- which I would never pitch as "Apollo 8 with werewolves!"-- has been percolating in my brain for a while, and it's nice to be able to refer to historical documents as I go along, to keep my story moving along.

And before any of you space geeks start complaining, yes, I'm fully aware that I'm totally making stuff up in many places, including the personalities of the astronauts and their families, but you ain't seen nothin' yet. Just wait until the capsule reaches translunar insertion. Then, as Doc Brown says, you're going to see some serious shit. You thought Jim Lovell had it rough in Apollo 13? Just wait and see what happens to him in my novel-- and no, I won't spoil it for you.

The manuscript is barely first draft, and is sure to contain numerous internal inconsistencies as well as the aforementioned historical inaccuracies, plus spelling and grammatical errors. But if you're really interested, here it is: By the Light of the Moon.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Product of the Day: Ferret Hammock

"No words... No words to describe it. Poetry. They should have sent a poet. So beautiful. So beautiful... I had no idea..."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

More Letters to the Hill

Hey, this is fun. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Action Center makes it easy to send a letter to my elected representatives by email or fax, or even to print out a hard copy. Here's the letter I just submitted to Senators Boxer and Feinstein and Representative Eshoo:
Dear __________,

As a constituent and a proponent of innovation, I am writing to voice my opposition to legislation that revives the FCC's proposed "Broadcast Flag" regulation (47 CFR 73.9002(b)), which was unanimously struck down on May 6, 2005, by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Broadcast Flag cripples any device capable of receiving over-the-air digital broadcasts. It makes digital TV hardware more expensive and less capable, impeding rather than accelerating the digital TV transition. Worse, it gives Hollywood movie studios a permanent veto over how members of the American public use our televisions and forces American innovators to beg the FCC for permission before adding new features to TV.

Media companies are threatening an HDTV boycott unless a Broadcast Flag law is passed and implemented this year. This is an empty threat. Viacom made that same threat back in 2002, yet CBS (owned by Viacom) still transmits nearly all of its prime-time shows in HDTV, even without the Broadcast Flag. For that matter, even if broadcasters like CBS aren't willing to provide programming for digital television, there are plenty of innovative new content creators who will.

Don't give the FCC the power to issue government blueprints for future technological innovation. Please oppose any attempts that might give the FCC the power to disrupt technological innovation through the implementation of the Broadcast Flag.

Thank you for your attention.
Yeah, it's a form letter, but it's better than nothing. The point of this exercise is not to change the course of mighty nations-- I have no illusions about my utter lack of power in that arena. The point is for me to do something instead of just talking about it all the time.

Small moves, Ellie.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hey kids! Do not play catch with live ammunition.

I hate to sound callous, but after the headline Three die playing catch with grenade, Reuters actually says: "It was not clear why the grenade exploded."

Hello? Because it's a fucking grenade.

The more pertinent question is, why were two people who should have known better playing catch with a hand grenade?

I'm nominating them for a Darwin Award.

Letters to Capitol Hill

I don't usually write letters to my legislative representatives-- it feels marginally more useful than signing online petitions-- but I just read a news article that chills me to the bone. I've sent the following letter by email to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Representative Anna Eshoo (Democrat, 14th Congressional District of California).
Dear _____:

Yesterday's Washington Post contained a story titled "The FBI's Secret Scrutiny" which details that agency's use of National Security Letters (NSLs) to obtain private information not available through other, legal means. That article is available online at:


After reading this, it seems clear to me that NSLs are a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment guaranteeing U.S. Citizens freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Not only is the person under investigation unaware of his or her private information being disclosed, but the third party making the disclosure is barred from telling anyone else-- thus preventing any possibility of legislative oversight-- and the gag order never expires.

I would appreciate your attention to closing this loophole. It seems rife with potential for abuse.

Thank you for your time.
Thanks to Saheli Datta's blog for linking me up in the first place. IANAL, and I know nothing about politics, so I may just be venting here. But I feel better now. I feel better than James Brown.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Just Watched Serenity

The best gifts are the unexpected ones -- ones that become amazing. My friend Curtis gave me the Firefly series on DVD for my birthday. He had talked about this Western-meets-SciFi concept before where people speak bits of Chinese. It sounded novel but also sounded like it had high potential for gimmick. I also sat through more than several episodes of Buffy and Angel (created by the same writer that created/wrote Firefly), and found them over-complicated and snarky. So combined with a busy schedule, the DVD series laid unwatched for weeks.

Curtis doesn't let up easily though. "Have you watched it yet?" became his mantra. So I finally sat down to watch it. The first episode, then the second, and I think I might have finished the first disc of the 4 disc set by the time I came up for air. Astounding -- more than anything in recent history, he connected us with the characters. And though I had to endure the occasional snarky line and geeky feel, I was hooked.

The movie came out at a busy time in my life, so it's been a month or so, but I finally saw it tonight. I see some fledgling debates about whether the movie is only good if you've seen the series. I can't actually comment on that because try as I may, it's impossible to reflect on the movie as if I haven't seen the series. If you have seen the series though, DON'T MISS THIS MOVIE. It is not just a wrap-up.

Star Wars III Revenge of the Sith was supremely disappointing for me. I wasn't expecting a ton since the first two had fallen short of expectation already. But III was the worst of the three. Mostly because it was just a wrap-up -- a connector and nothing more. You knew were II left off and where IV need to start. So the writers or whoever guides the story just built _plumbing_ to connect the two. Short of Ewan McGregor's pivotal scene, I felt like most of the entire movie was a tragic waste.

I wondered though whether this was avoidable. There were so many questions to be answered, and the audience was demanding them, that it seemed the writers HAD to answer them. It was their last call. So they spooled them out.

Serenity manages to do what Sith did not -- PAINT us a story rather than type it out for us. Without spoiling the movie, Serenity does answer some questions and does give fans what they've wanted. But it does so in a story wrapped deeply in character and filled with surprise. Go see it Go see it Go see it. And preferably while it's in the theatres. So that's actually Go see it quickly.

By the way, Serenity doesn't answer all the questions. :-) Let's pray for a sequel.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Now that's comedy

The juxtaposition of the genteel and the vulgar always makes for a good laugh. It worked for Monty Python, it works for The Daily Show, and it is teh r0x0r on Penny Arcade.

I couldn't stop laughing at the second panel of "Felinity" yesterday, and I still lose it when thinking about "robot sea shanties or whatever that shit was."

And Gabe speaking at his old high school is priceless.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

I'm a winner

I love the Flick Filosopher, and the Flick Filosopher loves me. Or at least my caption.

Art vs. Artist

This morning's links took me from Neil Gaiman's blog to Wikipedia to screenwriter William Richert's web site.

Now, Richert may rightly have an ax to grind, but everything on his web site smacks of either sour grapes or self-aggrandizement. Okay, so you was robbed, but seriously, get over it. If you can't stand politics and backstabbing and the vagaries of fame and fortune, what the hell are you doing in Hollywood? I just can't shake the feeling that a bigger man would have moved on by now, and returned to focusing on his own art or actively working to change what he clearly feels is an unjust arbitration system in the Writer's Guild.

Deciding whether to care about Aaron Sorkin's personal life-- which seems to include a colorful array of hookers and drugs-- is left as an exercise for the reader.