Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Speechless Tuesday

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Palace of the Fine Arts

One of the blogs I visit every day is Poetic Shutterbug, where consistently gorgeous images are posted, usually from that city of dreams, San Francisco. Check out this week's featured photographs from one of my favorite places on the planet: the Palace of Fine Arts, which celebrates its centennial in just a few short years.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Speechless Tuesday

Friday, October 16, 2009

Manuscript Update #3001

Turns out if I want to publish this manuscript it has to make sense. What a blow! Here I was going along with absolutely no doubt in my storytelling powers: here is a book, I told myself happily plunking at the keys, that tells itself! Thankfully I've had some savvy readers who punctured this particular word balloon in my head. The seventh draft is otherwise coming along nicely and I remain confident that it will be the last.

Seven drafts. It isn't an exaggeration that the pile of writing not being used far outweighs the stuff staying in. The temptation to follow a digression or random plot development to see where it lead repeatedly got the better of me in earlier drafts, because I didn't have enough of a feel for what worked and didn't work within the story as a whole. A lot of blind alleys were followed, and the words piled up. Who knows, there could be a sequel in that pile... but I doubt it.

The beauty being this far along is having a definite feel for what belongs. I'm able to dive deeper into character and plot development -and hey, why not embellish a theme or two? It's a big improvement over the months of floundering and fretting, doubting that I had any knack for telling a story. Trying times, indeed, and recent developments are a welcome sign of progress.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Handmade Tales

Since college, I've maintained a handwritten journal chockful of extras -clippings, collages, stories, pop-ups, comic strips. A question that came up every once in awhile was, for whom exactly am I writing the journal? Other than occassionally flipping through an old one to get a sense of perspective they reside in a dormant pile in my bedroom, and I can no longer convince myself that any kind of teaching potential is there; if anything, revisiting them is a masochistic exercise. Not that they are so awful, but it's something by me and too excruciatingly personal for any pleasure to be had.

In the spirit of journaling, several years I started following the Moleskine Notebook Experience. A consortium of sorts, Moleskine encourages and inspires journal keepers, writers of handwritten letters, and collectors of postcards. What got my notice was an early project in which members, upon completing a journal, would post them to each other and pass them through the mail. Though I have yet to participate (someday...), the idea seems really fun.

Now they have a touring collection of these journals that is making its way around the world, the latest stop in Tokyo. I'd love to be there to check it out!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Right out front: I'm not a parent, and I would never presume to tell parents how they should handle what they know best how to do themselves. I do have thoughts on things impacting kids today, and they are delivered from the easy repose of not having rugrats of my own and therefore of a speculative nature informed by surviving childhood, which was harder to do back in my day (back in 1857) than it is now.

A few years back I heard some big city parents groups were working toward eliminating playground bullies. Nice idea, and if you had asked my ten-year-old self how he felt, the response would have been resoundingly positive. I was tormented by older kids in grade school. One guy thought it was fun following me into the restroom and tossing a basketball over the stall door when I least expected it -fun! Upon reflection, did that experience really scar me, or was it, as the saying used to go, "one to grow on"?

There was also darker subject matter packaged for kids. Who can forget the lewd and offensive Wacky Packages, or The Goonies, with an ensemble of foul-mouthed kids on an underground adventure? As you hear oft-repeated these days, "They would never allow kids to see that now!" Another example is comic books on record.

A short series of comics-on-vinyl were released in the early seventies, featuring performances of popular Marvel characters. One of these was the swamp monster, Man-Thing, and on his record there were a number of dark elements, including murder, suicide, and macabre visions from beyond the grave. The story opens with a despondent clown killing himself over a lost love, and only gets darker from there. You can sample the first half:

They would never let kids listen to that now!

If you can't already tell, I don't feel that I came out a bad person because of these things -the reasons are much more complicated than bullying or macabre tales. This week the topic has been raised again of what is appropriate for kids, but in connection to a recognized classic of children's literature.

This Friday the impossible will happen: a film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are will be showing at a multiplex near you. Discussions are already happening whether this will be appropriate for the target audience. You can get all the dirt here, but I thought a quote from author Maurice Sendak was worth repeating:

"I would tell them (parents) to go to hell," the author told Newsweek when asked about the movie's fright potential. "That's a question I will not tolerate."

I can't blame him for being ornery. Anybody that's seen the trailer for the film, which is being touted as a reflection on what it means to be a kid, would be hard-pressed to say that it's too scary for children. Sendak may also be speaking to a larger point, that life is meant for living and though it isn't always a paradise for the young, they shouldn't be entirely insulated from the real world.

I'm reminded of a quote from the film, Leon:

Mathilda (Natalie Portman): Is life always this hard, or is it just when you're a kid?

Léon (Jean Reno): Always like this.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Defend Blog Castle!

I had a dream this morning that my blog was a castle and it was under siege. Soldiers with carbines and shoulder-rockets came in waves, putting my defenders to the test. We withstood the assault, but barely.

When I complained to a friend about it, he gave this memorable advice: "Fortify your keep. Just add an XML moat and some hypertext ramparts."

The dream struck me as having a videogame reality about it -that is to say, something abstract was under attack by artificial intelligence. My blog was represented as a castle, and the waves of combatants were steered by a single source, malicious software that invested the AI with a single purpose: demolish the target!

To my mind, it isn't a stretch to envision something like this being possible. Take Second Life forward a couple generations and rather than stores and clubs, the structures could be personal milieus, caches of data belonging to one person including email accounts, banking and credit card information, as well as social network passwords and codes for your blog: in a few years (if not sooner) I could see my dream actualized into Blog Castle.

The metaphor is apt. Security concerns are rampant. Only last week the alarm was raised when hackers infiltrated thousands of passwords at popular email providers. Who wouldn't want something like a castle bristling with defenders to protect their online data?

What I find curious is that in the dream it was specifically Blog Castle under assault. Anything else contained therein was only implied. Do I have an unconscious notion of my blog as being a precious commodity? Only my therapist can say for sure, and as soon as I find one, I'll let you know what they say. It does invite speculation, though. What other type of metaphor might apply?

Blog as sinking ship leaps to mind. Posts keep it afloat and if neglected the ship starts a slow descent to the depths (as represented here by one of the more memorable images from a real videogame, Painkiller). One day you might log on only to find that your blog has vanished into the notorious fathom packets, where all obsolete data is translated to permanent cold storage. Might add a sense of urgency, wouldn't you say?

Speechless Tuesday

courtesy of Yulia Brodskay's paper typography:

Monday, October 12, 2009

Playing Dress Up

This little guy, found at a fellow blogger's fun site, is an inspiration for dress up. Whilst cruising for more -I still have nothing more than a tshirt for my costume -I came across some notables.

He doesn't look very worried, does he?

Beagles can be philosophic about everything.

Imagine what their kids look like.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Gamer DNA

Following a friend's example, here is the evidence of my gamer DNA as it has developed over the years, from the humble origins of Atari 2600 to the latest, greatest offering for XBOX 360:

Adventure was where it all started for me, a deceptively simple D&D quest complete with roaring dragons!

Anybody worth their spit at school had already beaten Pitfall within days of its release, the first offering from still-dominant game publisher Activision. Honorable Mentions: Yar's Revenge, Breakout

All my paper route money was regularly blown at the arcade, and who can say how many quarters I fed into Defender? Honorables: GORF, Major Havoc, Mr Do, TRON, Robotron, Rush'n Attack, Double Dragon

Early bonding occurred with Karateka with someone who remains near and dear -that's the magic of videogames, they are the ties that bind. Honorables: Wolfenstein, ZORK (You have been eaten by a grue)

Same friend, next gen: Treasure of Monkey Island was my obsession forever. The challenge of winning insult duels proved more than I could resist.

The First Person Shooter revolution, begun by immortal Doom. This also served as my intro to LAN parties, which meant a lot of sleepless weekends! Honorables: Marathon, Metal Gear Solid, Dark Forces

It's hard to estimate how influential Grand Theft Auto has been on videogames, and though Vice City was not their first 3D offering, it was like no game seen before. An 80's soundtrack married to shooting and driving? Pure gold, baby. Honorables: Prince of Persia, Jedi Outcast, Rez

Personal favorite: Painkiller. You are a soul blasting his way through Purgatory to be reunited with your lost love, with a dizzy array of amazing weapons and featuring some of the most beautful levels (snatched right out of history) to ever grace a desktop. The final level remains untopped for excellence.
Honorables: FarCry, Katamari Damacy

For storytelling, character development, and overall satisfaction, Half Life 2 simply has no equal. Honorables: Knights of the Old Republic, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, Black

Still humming right along at an XBOX near you, Fallout 3 has set new standards for RPGs and sandbox gaming. It continues to thrill and amaze with action, humor and pathos, all in equal doses. Honorables: Bioshock, Dead Rising, Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty 4

13 for Friday

Blog traditions! As I cruise my fellow Entrecard sites, sources of inspiration and fun, regular habits of other bloggers emerge. Wordless Wednesday was the first sign of tradition (if that's the proper word) I took notice of, on my wonderful but woefully idle-of-late sister site, The Rollerblog. Ever the contrarian, I incorporated this habit with Speechless Tuesdays, participating but with a spin. This week it came to my attention that another day of the week merits special blog attentions: Thursday, when you can find lists of 13 on many different and wildly variant pages, even one devoted entirely to the cause. Well, here I go again, stepping off the beaten path but showing myself not to be a total non-conformist. In the spirit of Samhuinn, I offer "13 for Friday", which makes more sense (to me) given the association the day has had with the number ever since, oh, the fourteenth century or so.

To honor the great annual harvest and it's singular day of celebration, here's a list of unique features of the season:

13. bundling into the car for a trip to the pumpkin patch!
12. crunchy leaves underfoot
11. every morning smells like rain
10. it's okay to scare people, even strangers, on purpose
9. thinking of a costume you've never worn that speaks to some inner truth that goes unexpressed the rest of the year
8. children coming out at night to play
7. carved pumpkins lining the neighborhood
6. fresh mushrooms!
5. hats
4. seeing your breath
3. the World Series
2. tree transformations, and
1. Summer gone, fire is again our friend

Lunar Smackdown

In case you missed it, this morning we crashed a rocket into the moon.

President Barack Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

I always thought you had to earn the Nobel Peace prize -is it awarded on the basis of hope now? With his current record, President Barack Obama will hope his way into ruling the world!

Obama himself declared in a Rose Garden statement: "I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments."

I'm concerned, as someone who desires peace and prosperity in ours and future times, that today's award is not only premature but goes to the wrong person. Why not award it to a leader who has accomplished something? Historic as Obama's successful campaign was, he has yet to bring substantial results let alone any kind of progress toward peace.

Then again, how seriously should we take a "peace" prize that was awarded to Yasir Arafat?

As we might expect, reactions across the spectrum are varied, with accolades coming strong from those who've received the award and blasts from all manner of pundits and politicos. Can't imagine Chicago is dancing in the streets.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Rehabilitation TV

Now we hear that Michael Vick is getting his own reality television show next year. This is how we treat criminals in the US, not only slotting them back into lucrative sports careers but placing them in front of cameras for special attention, in the name of rehabilitation. By watching Vick's new series, we are supposed to understand just how contrite he is and what a better man he's become.


I'm not against reformed criminals getting ahead in life. Even so, this smacks of rewarding bad behavior. Let's be clear. I'm not saying this is a card-carrying member of PETA. I'm saying this out of fear that we are seeing the first signs of new entertainment: rehabilitation tv.

Don't do the crime, if you can't do the prime time?

Because you know what this will bring. For a couple years we'll thrill at the reformed lives of once-hardened men and women, seeing them endure hardships at halfway homes (Real World, eat your heart out), open their first post-conviction bank accounts, restart careers where bosses and co-workers welcome them back without reservation -in other words, hitting all the verities with the kind of gloss and dross that is the standard for reality tv. None of it will be totally real, but captured on handheld cameras to give it just the right nudge into believability. For a couple years this will be top of the Tivo-style viewing fun for Nielsen-friendly families, who can point to Michael Vick as an example for their children.

But it won't last.

Soon, as with all things, the season(s) will pass and viewers will crave the next frontier of reality tv, which will lead us to... recidivism tv. Those we cheered on as new souls will backslide and return to their vile deeds, never out of sight of dogged and relentless producers and camera operators. They say Jon Gosselin was a bit of player until he met Kate; maybe he's an early adopter of popular entertainment to come.


Isn't this a great Halloween pumpkin? It's not just any blog where you'll find Battlestar Galactica fun like this.

The first costume in celebration of Samhuinn I remember wearing was that of a cylon. There's a photograph somewhere of me traipsing across the grade school playground, with a humongous tear in my leg.

This year I don't have cylons on the brain -because zombies have taken it over. The apocalypse will arrive the end of this month and I plan to be ready. 2012? That's years from now, who has the patience? I'm going in shotgun blazing and aiming for their heads. If I can blast their brains, maybe I can get mine back. Here's hoping for a cathartic Halloween!

(Can you believe I didn't make any cylons vs zombies jokes?)

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Speechless Tuesday

Monday, October 05, 2009

Proper Endings

Fret not, true believer, this is not my final post. Rather, we're concerned here with the manuscript and properly ending a story of the fantastic and (potentially) absurd. You'll see what I mean.

I finished Iain Banks' novel Excession -barely. It was a lot of work getting to that last page! Not because of length (500 pages) or lack of interest, but due to a payoff deficit: everything so painstakingly established in the first half went absolutely nowhere in the second. The major threat was not explained, and the B-plot turned out to be a rather maudlin romance. Here's a rough breakdown:

At page 200, we've met the central characters and the milieu is firmly established as a sprawling space epic with spaceships who communicate via chat rooms (the book was published in the mid-nineties);

by 300 the tendrils of a plot have become apparent and things have started happening;

then we hit 400...

I almost didn't get there. In the intervening pages from three hundred onward we are lavished with a glut of character backstory. At first I didn't entirely understand why this information was put on hold for so long; this was before I knew the stories and how unremarkable they were. The turning point for the romance was startling and could have huge impact, if it wasn't summarily revealed and resolved in a matter of three pages. Hmm and hmph! Given that this happened at page 373 rather than 73 meant that my expectations for dynamic character motivation were piqued out of all proportion; in the midst of so many amazing and provocative ideas (the author is a factory of neat concepts), it was disappointing to find that at the heart of them was a workmanlike love story.

I could have forgiven that and carried on in the spirit of l'amour fou, truly. But then, Banks had to go and insult me, his loyal reader, by dragging out to excruciating length the next logical plot development. Was he lingering in fine detail because the development was going to be another razzle-dazzle display of imagination? Would he reveal new dimensions of passionate love in a far-flung future?


On top of this, the main plot thread involving the potential destruction of the universe and all we hold dear in life, love, and pinball was wrapped up incoherently. I was more confused on the last page than when we first began, which one can only hope and pray was not the author's intention.

The moral of the tale? Love, invented a couple thousand years ago, is resolutely the same in a couple more millenia, and danger from beyond the edge of time and space will stymie all who behold it, not least prognosticative authors from Glasgow. Seriously, shouldn't there be some substance to future predictions? Am I too insufficient a geek be less than satisfied by a couple dozen gee-whiz ideas that constellate around a pedestrian, bewildering story?

Here's the thing: if you want to build a novel around cool ideas, do it elegantly. Don't bother pretending human love is at stake, when the love described is pedestrian at best, fictional at worst. I'm not so postmodern that I want my space opera to be about stuff that's fake.

The ending of my manuscript is regularly in mind whilst reading -why not? It's on my mind the rest of the time, too. Fear is a motivator; fear that it will be incomprehensible or come screeching to a halt with nothing more accomplished than a silly excursion into Halfbakedville. And though I'm not published, I know that the threat must be viable. This was driven home yet again at the end of Banks' novel, when I tasted anew the curious taste of defeat (it resembles peach yogurt). A talented, prolific writer who threw everything he had on the table but failed to make a good meal of it. If it could happen to Banks, why not a neophyte like me?

This is why I type out this review with heavy fingers, because it has refreshed that fear. Could it be that readers won't tremble and feel the angst of my platypus whisperer from Galtron-IX who promises to extinguish all hair dryers in the known quadrants of Robot Haven Zabulor? The impending triumph of evil is obvious, how could they not?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Workus Interruptus

Though socially inclined by nature, when it comes to work I shut that instinct down almost completely. It's a matter of concentration: experience has taught me that unless I focus on tasks of the day, my mind derails and my priorities go out the window and I am totally ineffective. The only instance this didn't apply were the years I was a barista, which are long behind me. Nevertheless, not everyone at the office shares my philosophy.

Across the aisle is one of the biggest blabbermouths in the vicinity of which I've ever worked. This person spends the bulk of the day on personal phone calls, the balance seemingly with visitors to their cube. Compounding the problem is a voice that operates at high volumes, doesn't require oxygen for fuel and cuts through all manner of physical and mental barriers. For love or money, there is simply no escaping the reach of this person's pipes.

This morning there was a problem with their mother, who was on the phone before sunrise complaining (evidently) about her husband's lack of hygiene. This conversation concluded with a hangup, when my coworker (apparently) laughed too much at their parent's griping. Immediately to follow were several calls to siblings to recount the scene, which was repeated no less than three times.

Why don't I plug my ears, or take the route of other folks and plant earbuds to blast music from my desktop? Sadly, this speaks to another deficiency in my character.

Like my espresso-slinging days, those in which I plug into my walkman or contemporary analogs are long gone. The fact of the matter is that I am far too attached to ambient sound -the random snippets of voices, sounds, emanations, etc that compose the aural atmosphere of a bustling office such as mine. I love being able to hear these things; unlike conversation, they enable tighter concentration and improve my due diligence.

Ah, but what a price of late I've had to pay! If only like my coworker's mother I could hangup on them and shut out the din and drone of an annoying gossip.