Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Xmas Movie Marathon 2007

It's become a tradition for D and me to do an all-day movie marathon on December 25th each year. So yesterday, we stayed at the AMC Mercado 20 for thirteen hours and watched five movies:

Sweeney Todd
Juno
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
Charlie Wilson's War

Of those, National Treasure was the weakest, though I wouldn't say it was downright bad. It didn't pretend to be anything more than what it was: a bombastic spectacle, made up of increasingly ludicrous action scenes lubricated by increasingly gratuitous historical name-dropping. The ending practically beats you over the head with the setup for another sequel, but I'm not sure how much more early American chronology they can exploit before it just becomes too silly.

Walk Hard was broader than I expected, but absolutely hilarious with moments of pure genius. The scene with the Beatles--in India--is alone worth the price of admission. On the other hand, Sweeney Todd was actually less manic than most of Tim Burton's other films, though it is unrelentingly Gothic. In a good way. With song and dance!

Charlie Wilson's War was very good, though it suffers from the montage/time-compression problem endemic to "based on a true story" movies (and which Walk Hard lampoons brilliantly). And I predict Julia Roberts' wig will receive a well-deserved Razzie nomination, if not a win.

The best of the bunch, Juno, was simply amazing. Ellen Page, who was quite possibly the best thing in X-Men: The Last Stand, really hits it out of the park here, but there's not a single bad cast member. The screenplay is sharp, and Jason Reitman (Thank You for Smoking) totally spanks his old man in the film-directing department.

Other qualities of note:

It's a close call, but Walk Hard beats Juno by a nose for being most quotable (especially out of context). "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly... obvious."

Charlie Wilson's War has the funniest single scene, a signature Aaron Sorkin character-juggling merry-go-round during the titular Congressman's first meeting with the scruffy CIA operative played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Charlie Wilson's War also features the single creepiest sound effect. No spoilers here, but listen very carefully during the party scene at the end, when Gust hands Charlie the memo about Kandahar.

Best music is a three-way tie: Sondheim's score for Sweeney Todd is bulletproof, but not all the actors are great singers; Walk Hard parodies a variety of musical styles very well, but by the same token, can't be totally original; and Juno has the perfect soundtrack for its quirky tone, but it's a very particular style.

One last thing: We had to sit through that stupid National Guard music video five times, and I can say conclusively that it doesn't make any goddamn sense at all.

We're in LA for the next few days, visiting my family, which means we'll get the chance to see more movies--some, like The Savages, which weren't showing near Mountain View, and others, like There Will Be Blood, which hadn't opened yet. I'm also looking forward to checking out the ArcLight and the Landmark at Westside, to see how they compare with Cinetopia.

Hooray for Hollywood!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Watch Your Language

It probably says a lot about me that one of my favorite podcasts is Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. That, plus the fact that I took the time to double-check whether "for" should be capitalized in that title.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation (a gift from my lovely wife) and was tickled when Loren, an occasional contributor to this blog, forwarded an email titled "Pro-Serial Comma" from one of his co-workers.

Earlier this week, at my own workplace, a message went around about "The biggest typo in history." As usually happens on mailing lists, someone was delighted that anybody else actually read Language Log, and others followed up with their own favorite language-related sites, including:
As if I don't already have enough blogs to follow.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Ich bin ein bassist?

It may just be a faulty translation, but I'm amused that the Vanksen|Culture-buzz blog calls me a "bassist" for The Richter Scales. The post is, of course, about our wildly popular "Here Comes Another Bubble" music video--over 600,000 views on YouTube and counting!

In other news, my friend Jeff bemoans the similarity of his name to many others on LinkedIn. This inspired me to do a Google search for my own name, which showed up on a list of Sergey Brin's favorite books. Who knew?

The "professional 'headline'" on my LinkedIn profile is Polymath. I didn't choose that just to use obscure teminology, or to show off my vocabulary; it really is what I aspire to be. And none of the possible synonyms has the right connotation: "Renaissance Man" is a bit of a cliche thanks to overuse, and the even more esoteric "Homo universalis" is just asking for a beatdown.

I will be the first to admit that I'm not the best at anything I do. I'm not the best singer in the Richter Scales; I'm not the best writer in any forum; I'm not the best programmer at work. But I will argue that I am more well-rounded than many other people--and the distinction is that I don't just like a lot of different things, I do a lot of different things.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Richter Scales sing "Here Comes Another Bubble"

(EDIT 2007-12-20: replaced old video with new and improved version 1.1!)

It seems like everyone and his dog have already blogged about our music video, but just in case you missed it:



And, if you enjoyed that:
  1. Tell all your friends.
  2. Check out our previous music video, "Fine Line: Sub-Prime Decline."
  3. Visit our web site to hear more songs.
  4. Buy our CD, We Hate A Cappella.
  5. Come to our holiday concert next Friday.
  6. Lather, rinse, repeat!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Speechless

Actors support the writers' strike:



In other news:



Yup, I've finished my 50,000+ word NaNoWriMo novel for this year! I feel somewhat less successful and triumphant than the last two years, since I wasn't able to finish the complete story that I wanted to tell. But I did bring it to an abrupt, unsatisfying ending, which I understand is not uncommon for fantasy epics.

I also wasn't able to spend quite as much time writing this year, thanks to getting sick for several days early in the month and having other social commitments to honor, including a couple of TV Nights (D and I invite friends over to watch Heroes, three episodes at a time--thanks TiVo!) and a trip to Portland to visit our friend Mike and see the sights.

Just to bring this post full circle... Mike has a character named after him in the upcoming movie Case 39, starring Renee Zellweger, screenplay written by Mike's friend Ray. Mike would have preferred someone who looked more like himself to play the part of "Detective Mike Barron," but he supposes Deadwood badass Ian McShane will have to do.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Mighty Pencil

Best. Strike Video. Ever So Far.



See many, many more at United Hollywood, or all over YouTube.

I have to admit, this is my favorite part of the WGA strike. Who needs TV when you've got all this free entertainment on the Internet?

I Thought That Was Obvious

So I've been seeing ads everywhere for the movie remake of I Am Legend, for which the tagline is "The last man on Earth is not alone." On its own, a catchy phrase. Makes you think a little bit. But when combined with the poster image, it loses all its punch. See if you can spot the inconsistency below:



Am I the only one who thinks this is a problem? He's got a dog. Of course he's not alone. The tagline is trying to set up the whole movie, making it all mysterious and whatnot, and then you look down and there's the dog. With the man. Man + Dog = Not Alone.

I mean, come on, Hollywood marketing drones. Don't you see how you're undercutting the whole premise of the advertising? You tantalize us with a question ("What do you mean, he's not alone? He's the last man on Earth! How can he not be alone?"), but then immediately allow for a lame and obvious answer ("Oh, I see, he's got a dog. So he's not alone because he has a dog. I get it.") Maybe I have a different sense of "alone" because I'm a pet owner, but there are a lot of pet owners out there.

Here's some free advice: You're supposed to make us wait for it, to get us all worked up because only seeing the movie will answer all our questions. This is just sloppy. It's like advertising LOST with a poster of an island and the tagline "Are they on an island?" I don't need to watch if the answer is right freakin' there in the ad.

I wonder if the I Am Legend ads are a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing--or, more likely, the marketing department not understanding what the writers were going for. "Great tagline! But we also need to show the dog in the poster. People like dogs. We need to attract that dog-owner demographic. What do you mean, it undercuts the tagline? Oh, you writers and your nitpicking! Get back to the salt mines and make some more words!"

StrikeDog is not amused.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Reality Bites

(EDIT: added screenshot below)

The latest Nielsen ReelResearch Survey (which I signed up for the last time I was in Las Vegas, and which has been a source of intermittent entertainment) contains a portion asking me which of these reality shows I would be most likely to watch, should the current writers' strike continue beyond January.



I want to emphasize that I am not making up any of this. I've only added links below for editorializing:
Million Dollar Password – A modernized take on the original game show. Regis Philbin will host

Moment of Truth – Contestants will answer personal questions while being connected to a polygraph machine

Duel – This game show has contestants going “head-to-head” for the opportunity to win a big jackpot

Clash of the Choirs – Celebrities go back to their home towns to establish an amateur singing group and these choirs compete live

My Dad is Better than Your Dad – Dads lead their families in fun competitions against other fathers and their families

American Gladiators – Hosted by Hulk Hogan, this show follows four women and four men as they take on contestants

Do You Trust Me? – Tucker Carlson hosts. Contestants who are strangers wager how much they trust one another

Dance War: Bruno vs. Carey Ann – The choreographer judges from “Dancing With the Stars” coach their own dance teams through a routine each week

Oprah Winfrey’s The Big Give – This show centers on the competition, drama and emotion as millions of dollars are given away to make a difference in people’s lives

Baby Borrowers – Five young couples ages 16-19 must set up a home and take on various stages of parenthood

When Women Rule the World – Participants are brought to a remote island where women have the opportunity to rule as they build a newly formed society

Amne$ia – In this game show contestants must answer questions from their own lives for money and prizes. Hosted by Dennis Miller

You want another reason to end the writers' strike? I give you twelve. (Thirteen, if you count "American Gladiators" and Hulk Hogan separately.)

Please, show your support for the WGA--go buy some pencils or something.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

It's real simple: WGA==Right, AMPTP==Wrong.

It really is that simple, folks. The good news is, the AMPTP has agreed to re-open negotiations with the WGA on November 26th, the Monday after Thanksgiving. And I'm encouraged by all the pro-WGA, positive press that's been hitting the mainstream in the last week.

As Mark Harris notes in his "Why the Striking Writers Are Right" piece for Entertainment Weekly, the WGA took a lot longer than it should have to get its message out--quite frankly, it wasn't nearly as prepared for its own strike as the other side was. But now that the writers are speaking out, in newspapers and magazines and on the Internet, their message is loud and clear.

Here's my favorite rebuttal from Harris' article:
The AMPTP's first response to this [proposal] was to waste weeks by advocating a complete abolition of the residual system. Why, they argued, should writers get paid anything for their work after it's released? Studio chiefs who are smart enough to know better even hauled out a tired old maxim attributed to the late MCA titan Lew Wasserman -- "My plumber doesn't charge me every time I flush the toilet" -- and repeated it in perfect Karl Rove everybody-stay-on-message lockstep.

Ugh. Lines like that give you a taste of what the entertainment world will be like if management ends up doing its own writing. Not to belabor an already disgusting analogy, but writers -- and directors and actors, who have their own renegotiations coming up -- aren't the plumber: They're the water. Without them, nothing goes anywhere, and you end up with a toilet full of...well, let's just say "reruns."
Zing! Long story short: WGA==Right. AMPTP==Wrong. It's that simple. Spread the word.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Lie Is Also A Lie: Primary Sources

It's the second week of the Writers Guild strike, and things are just starting to get ugly. Yesterday, the AMPTP went Godwin and dropped the word "blacklist" into a press release. The WGA responded with a concise and focused message:
Mr. Counter's charge is as offensive as it is untrue. To accuse the Writers Guild of America of blacklisting, when it was we who suffered the most from it in the past, is simply Mr. Counter's desperate attempt to divert attention from the fact that it was he who walked out of the negotiations, and it is he who refuses every day to return to the table. The WGA has an offer on the table and is ready and willing to meet with the AMPTP any day, anywhere.
If this was an Internet forum, the producers would already have lost the argument. But in the world of old media, the corporations that employ the producers also employ the newspapers, and it's unclear where public support currently lies.

I'm not going to tell you what to think. I'm just going to tell you what the writers and producers each want, in their own words. New Media Residuals are the main sticking point in this strike, so let's focus on that.

(Aside: it's probably not a coincidence that the WGA makes their contract proposals easy to read, in a plain text web page, while the AMPTP hides all their contracts inside PDF documents.)

Here's what the WGA wants, according to their Contract 2007 Proposals:
Non-Traditional Media Residuals

WGA Proposal:
We propose all TV and theatrical content earn a residual payment of 2.5% of the distributor’s gross for re-use on non-traditional media, including the Internet, cellular technology and any other delivery system not already covered in the MBA [Minimum Basic Agreement].
Let's do the math: that means, for a $1.99 iTunes download of a House episode, the writer would get less than five cents. Surely that seems reasonable? I mean, you wouldn't have any content if someone didn't write it; and if you're making money from that content, it seems fair to give the people who created it a little piece of the action.

Well, the AMPTP disagrees. Here's their proposal, as described in the Comprehensive Package they presented during negotiations on October 25, 2007:
11. Residual Payments for Theatrical and Television Motion Pictures...

(C) Add a provision to the MBA stating that there shall be no residual payments for the exhibition or distribution of theatrical and television motion pictures, whether in whole or in part, in new media (other than as set forth in the “Sideletter on Exhibition of Motion Pictures Transmitted Via the Internet”). For this purpose, the term “new media” means any digital distribution platform now known or which is hereafter developed during the term of the 2007 Writers Guild of America Theatrical and Television Basic Agreement, including, but not limited to, digital video on demand, alternative digital broadcast channels, Internet exhibition, PDAs, broadband and cell phones.
Translation: the corporations want to pay nothing in residuals. Zero, zilch, nada.

They want to turn the clock back to the 1950s, when they could buy a show like I Love Lucy--which is still running today--and play it over and over again without ever paying the writers another penny. Viacom has been milking that cash cow for over fifty years, but the writers have gotten absolutely nothing.

Does that seem right to you?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Cake is a Lie

The pie, on the other hand, is quite delicious.



(Graphics by Adam Levermore-Rich)


The Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike began yesterday. The title of this post comes from John Rogers, who enjoys cake as well as the video game Portal, and has a lot to say about why the strike happened and what should be done to end it. I mean, a lot. All you really need to know is the tiger bit. (Maybe the clip from The Daily Show. It is, after all, the last new episode you're going to see for a while.)

Another John, Mr. August to you, is tagging his strike-related blog posts for easy reading. Over at Artful Writer, Craig Mazin and Ted Elliott are doing the same.

Elsewhere, Brian K. Vaughn and Ken Levine also discuss the situation which led to the strike. Jane Espenson and Lisa Klink talk about being on the picket lines.

Many others are posting at United Hollywood.

Last, but not least, here's the "Pencils Down" full-page ad in which dozens of showrunners pledge not to write during the strike.

I'm only a pair of eyeballs in all this, but the major issues seem pretty clear-cut. When the writer of a show only gets paid .3% for DVD residuals (royalties)--that's less than a third of one percent--something is hideously broken.

If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage. And now it ain't on the page. Deal with that, Hollywood.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Drooling Starts Now

News roundup:
Watch with Kristin - Best News Ever! Joss Whedon Spills Exclusive Deets on His New Series

Welcome to the "Dollhouse": Joss Whedon Returns to Television

Eliza Dushku Lures Joss Whedon Back to TV!

Joss Whedon preps Fox series: 'Dollhouse' to star 'Buffy's' Eliza Dushku
Now taking bets on whether there will be references to Henrik Ibsen and/or Todd Solondz in the pilot. I'm sure we'll see both before the end of the season, if it gets a full order--Fox only wants seven episodes to start.

It would really tickle me if Joss and Tim "13 episodes" Minear would start treating their partial-season new-series orders as full story arcs, and write them like BBC series. D and I just watched Jekyll, and while it had some problems toward the end, it was a solid six-episode structure. It was a complete series--nothing "mini" about it. Get with it, American TV! Less is more! Quality not quantity! etc.

Monday, October 29, 2007

I'm not your "pal"

Q: Why should I use the PayPal Security Key?
A: You shouldn't, really.

- my version of the PayPal Security Key FAQ
So I'm checking my PayPal account balance today, because I was supposed to get a refund from a merchant who couldn't ship a Halloween costume accessory in time, and I notice a sidebar image ad for the PayPal Security Key. It looks a lot like a VPN token card, so I click on the ad to read more about it. Yup, that's exactly what it is.

Just in case you've never had to deal with one of these things before: a VPN token is used for authenticating users to a secure network. The token is initialized by a network admin and displays a six-digit number which changes every so often. The same sequence of numbers is being generated inside the network, and changes in sync with your token card. When you try to connect to the network, you need to provide the current authentication token to prove that you're an authorized user.

But here's the thing. VPN tokens are annoying. They're chunky, they get lost easily, they're yet another piece of hardware you need to carry around. My company stopped using them altogether earlier this year, and life has never been better. (I'm only half-joking.) And PayPal actually wants their users to pay FIVE DOLLARS for the privilege of having to deal with this hassle? What kind of message does that send? "Hey, uh, so, our security is pretty good, but it's not, y'know, great, so maybe you want to add another security feature to your account? And, hey, it would be great if you could, like, chip in for that. Yeah."

To quote Dr. Evil: Riiiiight. Not gonna happen, sorry. And stop annoying me with those damn interstitial advertisements after I log in. Seriously. Just stop it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Woman On Fire

Did someone say synchronicity? I just read the first TPB collection of Greg Rucka's Wonder Woman run a few days ago, and now a huge swath of southern California is on fire.

Here's what the Flash and Diana had to say about fighting wildfires in Wonder Woman #197:
WONDER WOMAN: Let it burn.

FLASH: What?

WW: The forest needs this fire, Flash. It's how it grows, it's how it stays healthy. If you pull the air from it, you will seve nothing but the now to the pain of the future. The next fire will be worse.

F: Do you hear yourself, Diana? This isn't a new age seminar, it's a damn forest fire! We're wasting time--

WW: No, Flash. Let it burn.
Just to be clear, Wonder Woman is saying they should protect the homes, but let the forest burn itself out. This is a pretty standard firefighting approach, but I'm sure it still freaks people out to see huge fires burning within sight of their homes. My thoughts are with all the victims--which, thankfully, don't include my parents or my sister, who are nowhere near the actual burning.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fun With Cats

"There are certain things I am willing to do at home to save money. For example, I ask my wife to cut my hair. Something I won't do is reach into my cats[sic] asshole and wring out its butt juice. I'm willing to pay a professional for that."
- Penny Arcade

D and I are familiar with this phenomenon; Bayla, the older of our two cats, has had this procedure done several times at the vet, and we are very happy to pay for this service. Bayla also suffers at least one chronic condition which has been mentioned on House, but that's probably unrelated. I only mention it because it's fun to say "eosinophilic granuloma."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Instant Heroes

NetFlix should seriously be advertising the heck out of this: You can watch new episodes of Heroes via their "Watch Instantly" service, the same week they air. No DVR or advance planning required. Hooray for convenience! (The bad news is coming. Wait for it.)

The service had piss-poor selection when it launched earlier this year, but it's looking much nicer now. Unfortunately, and here's the bad news, the other problems still exist: you have to use Windows XP and IE6, deal with Microsoft's crappy DRM, and you have to stream the episodes--no downloading for later offline viewing. So Web 1.0. Are they gonna get a sock puppet mascot too?

But it's still marginally better than Amazon Unbox, which forces you to install additional software to manage their own proprietary DRM. Also, you don't have to pay-per-view for each show or movie on NetFlix; you get as many hours of viewing per month as the number of dollars you pay for your subscription.

In my case, that's seventeen hours, and much more than my actual free time per month. But it's nice to know that I could go online, fire up a browser, and watch Pan's Labyrinth or Time Bandits whenever I want. It's not perfect, but I've got to admit, it's getting better.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

13 Years Over, to be Exact

My hand stamp from tonight's They Might Be Giants concert at The Fillmore. They are getting more like a "normal" band as they age, and I do miss the days when it was just two Johns and a bunch of electronics, but they still put on a great show.

D and I also saw In the Shadow of the Moon earlier today. It's a great documentary, even if you already know the Apollo program inside and out; it's not so much about giving new information as it is about seeing and hearing the astronauts themselves talk about it.

I was born after the last humans walked on the Moon, and I'm hoping I don't die before we go back.

 
Posted by Picasa

Saturday, September 29, 2007

It Belongs in a Museum!

Specifically, the NASA Ames Exploration Center. I've been living in the bay area for over a decade, and this was the first time I'd visited. What's wrong with me?

(In case you're wondering, the button rotates the SOFIA telescope array in a model airplane.)

 
Posted by Picasa

Friday, September 28, 2007

Advantage: Amazon

Earlier this week, Amazon.com launched their MP3 Music Store. In the three days since then, I've bought two complete albums from them--that's as many as I've ever bought from the iTunes Store, in more than three years. And I'm going to end up buying a lot more music from Amazon. You know why? Because they don't treat me like a criminal.

I hate DRM. I hated it when I first succumbed to the lure of the iTunes Store (convenient! fast!), but I had a good reason--I just couldn't wait to get the Avenue Q soundtrack. Note that I also bought the physical CD later, from Amazon, because I wanted a copy of the music that I could easily transfer to other devices later.

I hate that I can't burn more than seven copies of an iTunes-purchased song to a mix CD. I also hate that iTunes slaps me in the face with a pop-up dialog after the first few copies, but primarily, I hate the arbitrary restrictions.

Like this one: I can't "authorize" more than five computers at a time for my iTunes account, and I can only reset the list once per year. Why does Apple care how many computers I have? More to the point, if I have a dozen different machines, why doesn't Apple want me to use iTunes on all of them? Shouldn't they make it easier, not harder, for me to buy their stuff? Do they want my business or not?

Back in 2000, publisher Jim Baen started the Baen Free Library, a web site featuring free downloads of complete novels by various science fiction and fantasy authors. One of those authors, Eric Flint, wrote the introduction on the home page. An excerpt:
I'm not worried about [piracy], however, basically for two reasons.

The first is a simple truth which Jim Baen is fond of pointing out: most people would rather be honest than dishonest.

He's absolutely right about that. One of the things about the online debate over e-piracy that particularly galled me was the blithe assumption by some of my opponents that the human race is a pack of slavering would-be thieves held (barely) in check by the fear of prison sentences...

The only time that mass scale petty thievery becomes a problem is when the perception spreads, among broad layers of the population, that a given product is priced artificially high due to monopolistic practices and/or draconian legislation designed to protect those practices. But so long as the "gap" between the price of a legal product and a stolen one remains both small and, in the eyes of most people, a legitimate cost rather than gouging, 99% of them will prefer the legal product.
I've probably quoted this bit before, and I'm sure I'll do it again. It's a great argument against the very principle of DRM, and I wish it would get more play in the mainstream media.

The "price" of buying music in a digital format--whether it's MP3, OGG, or (preferably unprotected) AAC--includes ease of use. The whole point of having an MP3 collection is that it's easier to manage than a CD collection--easier to make copies for backup purposes or for sharing with friends, easier to search for specific songs and make playlists.

And the people who want to do all those things love music. We're not Sunday listeners; we're walking around with iPods and blogging about our favorite bands. We respect the people who make music, and we don't want to steal from them.

Amazon is doing more than offering a great new service; they're building goodwill. I'm already happy to fork over $80 a year for "Amazon Prime" (free 2-day shipping on most items), and in a world where brand loyalty is getting rarer every day, that's saying a lot. I trust them. And I like that they trust me.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

iPod's Surprising Lack of Usability

I'll keep a running list here of what I perceive to be shocking lapses of usability in the iPod. I find these on a weekly if not daily basis. Of all devices I've recently purchased, this has been such a disappointment, and frankly, a complete surprise given it's commercial success. Feel free to comment away.

1. Lack of a true shuffle.
  • It has TWO shuffle settings in two different menus. One setting can be set to "Shuffle OFF" and the second can be used to override it and start shuffle mode. But the first setting will still display "Shuffle OFF"
  • Shuffle doesn't truly shuffle randomly. Instead it hits every song once in the set. And if you put it on repeat, it repeats the exact same set again instead of reshuffling. It's the most simplistic shuffling algorithm possible.

2. No purpose-built tagging facility. Oft-mentioned on the web but still a huge pain point.
  • From iTunes desktop app, one needs to overload an existing field in order to tag.
  • Can't tag from the iPod player where most are likely to listen from.

3. Can't continue listening to music while browsing for new music.
  • When listening to music in the iTunes app, if you browse in the music store to an album or artist page, the player will stop, even though you haven't selected a sample track.
4. Can't move songs from iPod to desktop iTunes app.
  • I don't buy the piracy argument. There are ways of making this non-batchable that it would limit wholescale transportation of music. Besides, keep the precious DRM on the tracks and allow me to move them. I'm (grudgingly) willing to authorize another desktop to play the music if you'll just let me move my songs between my two laptops.
5. Can't sync iPod to two computers.
  • Palm has done a wonderful job of allowing sync between multiple computers, figuring out how to just Do The Right Thing. Apple can't? Not so hard to set a dirty bit, figure out which copy is most recent, etc.
  • There is increasingly a need for this. How many of you have different personal and work computers where you wish you could maintain not just your music but your meta information (smart playlists, play counts, unfortunately-ghetto tagging, etc.)
More to come, but for an audience who are passionately in love with music, iPod has sadly fallen short on so many opportunities.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Best Logline EVAR

Here's the official marketing blurb for the movie Rogue (2007):

"An American writer (Michael Vartan) goes on a wildlife boat tour in the Australian wetlands and is pleased to see that leading him into the wilderness is a hot tour guide (Radha Mitchell). However, his plans for romance as well [as] writing [are] set on the backburner when they're attacked by a giant crocodile with a taste for human flesh."

I mean, what more do you need to know?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

"Mandelbrot Set" Music Video

"This next one is a song about math. [crowd cheers] Wow, this is probably the only place in the world where that would get applause."
- Jonathan Coulton at PAX



(You can hear the complete song at Coulton's web site.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Flight of the Bowie

Okay, so I'm a few weeks behind, but I watched the "Bowie" episode of Flight of the Conchords last night, and musically, it's brilliant. Even better than the guest appearance by the man himself on Extras last year, I'd say.

And it really works because they don't even attempt to explain why David Bowie (well, their version of him, anyway) shows up in the episode. Bowie exists in a reality unto himself, and that's part of the joke. Total genius.

Here's Bret dreaming about "1976 David Bowie, from the Ziggy Stardust tour:"



And here's the first part of the absolutely fabulous "Bowie's In Space" music video:



My only complaint about the series is that outside of the songs, the comedy tends to be a little too broad. The gender role reversal in "Girlfriends" was hilarious, but the main characters--Jermaine, Bret, and band manager Murray--are played as complete idiots who wouldn't survive a New York minute in the real world. I don't mind that they're clueless, or naively child-like, but being so utterly vacant is starting to break the fourth wall for me.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Dollars and Sense

"$5 an episode?" asks screenwriter Alex Epstein on his blog. That's what NBC wanted to charge for their TV shows in the iTunes store, which Apple refused to do, preferring to stick with their current $2-per-episode price.

(Not to say I told you so, but I talked about this distribution method in my 2001 "Pay for TV" post. It's really only a matter of time before blind broadcasting--i.e., spewing content into the ether without knowing if anyone's actually watching--is a thing of the past.)

I'd love to pick a side here, but both Apple and NBC are being pretty boneheaded. I'm guessing NBC is already trying to figure out how to build their own online video store, but even if they do, it will suck. On the other hand, Apple needs to think about broadening its pricing horizons.

$5 an episode is too much, but Alex makes some good points about how consumers would be willing to pay a little more for the newest shows, and would be more willing to buy reruns if they were a little cheaper. You wouldn't sell stale bread at the same price as a fresh loaf; treat content the same way.

Look. If your show is any good at all, you're going to make money. We want to watch TV. We'll even pay for it. But don't get greedy! Push the price up too far, or make it too annoying to deal with your idiotic DRM crap, and people will just flock to BitTorrent.

UPDATE 2007-09-05: NBC is going with Amazon Unbox. No word yet on exactly what their packaging/pricing scheme will be, but hopefully Amazon can talk some sense into the peacock.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Also Overheard at PAX: Rated-MA Edition

If you're under 13, it's past your bedtime.

Seriously, kid, get outta here.


"My name is Wil Wheaton, and Jack Thompson can suck my balls."
- from the start of his keynote speech (download MP3)

"Any corporate lawyers here can suck it."
- a non-profit lawyer, before asking her question

"How firm do you like your tip?"
- Tycho, sleazing up Gabe's answer to an innocent Photoshop question

"Well, there's no barrier to entry..."
- Gabe, sleazing up his own answer to an innocent art student question

"Cockthirsty."
- Tycho & Gabe, having a Kevin Smith moment with the sign language interpreter


One of my favorite things about Penny Arcade is that they don't just use profanity; they are gleefully profane. They celebrate the myriad ways in which language can be made more colorful through the use of metaphor, analogy, or nearly musical sequences of primal vocalizations.

It's not cursing just for the sake of cursing--Tycho, the writer, uses all sorts of words to achieve his desired effect, and the juxtaposition of ten dollar words with drunken-sailor-speak only emphasizes the importance of his choices.

Is a game bad?
Is it shit (but not "the shit")?
Is it shitty?
Is it so godawful that it ruptures the very fabric of space and time with the sheer overpowering force of its mediocrity?

These, dear reader, are important distinctions.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Overheard at PAX

"This is the new E3."
- an attendee coming out of the exhibition hall

"Have you had breakfast? You look hungry!"
- the barker at the "Win Your Weight in Ramen" merchant booth

"They think they're going to be playing Karaoke Revolution. That's certainly what we told them."
- Gabe & Tycho, introducing Round 4 of the Omegathon

"OH NOES!"
- Jonathan Coulton, ad-libbing at a crucial narrative juncture during his performance of "Creepy Doll"

"There are a lot of DSes here, huh?"
- Jonathan Coulton, after witnessing a swaying sea of glowing cell-phone and handheld console screens during "Baby Got Back"

"See, now you're just a johnny-come-lately."
- Tycho & Gabe, denying the second request for photos on stage during a Q&A panel

"You can't say Bioshock."
- a questioner, making an amendment to "What's your favorite game?"

"It's gonna look real pretty."
- Greg Rucka on the upcoming Whiteout movie

Today was the last day of Penny Arcade Expo 2007, the first I've attended, and it was quite awesome. I'll post a more detailed account later, but Wil Wheaton rocked the house with his "we are gamers" keynote speech; Jonathan Coulton soft-rocked the crowd while opening the Saturday night concert; and Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik (a.k.a. Tycho and Gabe, respectively) killed whenever they were on stage, whether it was answering questions, considering strange requests, or drawing a Penny Arcade strip live.

In many ways, the event combined the best of both worlds: the glitz and professionalism of an industry trade show with the scrappiness and flexibility of a fan-run convention. This is a show created by gamers for gamers, and I expect it to get bigger and better, without compromise, for many years to come.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Go See THE KING OF KONG

Opening this weekend at the Lumiere in SF and Shattuck Cinemas in Berkeley: A most excellent documentary about two gamers competing for the world record high score on Donkey Kong!

I saw a screening of the film today, and it's more gripping than you might expect. Most impressively, even though it features some real nutters, it never pokes fun at them or the video gaming community or makes anyone into a caricature. A couple of people do come off as real jerks, but they dig their own graves.

The filmmakers are now working on a fictionalized version of the story for New Line Cinema, but here's your chance to see the real story, on the big screen, before it gets tarted up by Hollywood.*

ObURLs:
Showtimes
Official site
Interview with Steve Wiebe



* That said, my dream cast includes Tom Cruise as defending champion Billy Mitchell and Alan Tudyk as challenger Steve Wiebe. Alan would need to put on a few pounds, Raging Bull-style, and get a dye job; Tom could pretty much just reprise his character from Magnolia. With a beard.

Izzard and Hitchens: Separated At Birth?

Comedian Eddie Izzard on religion, from his 1999 show Dress to Kill:



And Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, at Google last week:



All things being equal, I'd rather pay to see Izzard than to read Hitchens' book--and I have. I don't much need to hear more about how Religion Is Bad (I've known that since high school), but I can always stand to be entertained.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Dyson's Fear

From my friend Jeff:

"The next word, but not the last word, in our little ongoing feud about climate change comes from Freeman Dyson: http://www.edge.org/documents/archive/edge219.html#dysonf"

I don't agree with all his points, but he does set a good example by asking all scientists to remain skeptical and avoid politics. Unfortunately, he doesn't do himself any favors by repeatedly calling himself a "heretic," which makes it sound like he's looking to be a martyr.

With apologies to Sir Donald Wolfit: Dying is easy. Science is hard.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Fight For The Future

Reflect, for a minute, on who America's grandparents are being taught to hate: Americans who do what Americans are supposed to do, what our founders implored us to do: debate vigorously and in the open, the meaning of the public good. They used to call these people citizens.
- Rick Perlstein, "FOX: time to fight back"


This has been covered in The Simpsons, but it's both appalling and totally unsurprising that FOX programs pander to both ends of the political spectrum. They're a corporation, established for the express purpose of making a profit. They're not supposed to care about anything but making a buck, the faster the better.

The good news is that capitalism encourages competition and innovation and all that good stuff. The bad news is that capitalism often gives people tunnel vision, making them focus on making or saving a little more of it to the exclusion of other principles.

Don't forget, money is just something we made up to make trading easier. Those colorful slips of paper are meaningless unless we all agree on their value. And the question of actual value is a much longer and more difficult conversation.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Worst. Game. EVAR

No, I'm not talking about the Ravenchase Great America Treasure Hunt, about which many of the participating teams have already complained.

I'm talking about the "secret illegal cross-country road race" depicted in the short-lived TV series Drive. I watched the final two produced episodes last night--mostly because of Nathan Fillion and Melanie Lynskey--and y'know, I wish someone would make a puzzle-hunt show which actually deals with the puzzles. If I want melodrama, I'll watch Gray's Anatomy.

Although it would be interesting to compare and contrast the event actually run by Ravenchase last week, and the one imagined by the producers of Drive. Let's see...

Ravenchase: required several hours of driving between checkpoints each day.
Drive: featured truckloads of green-screen "driving" footage every episode.

Ravenchase: used obscure ciphers and symbols like the Ogham alphabet to encode messages.
Drive: used ambiguous phrases like "Surrender USA" to indicate specific locations.

Ravenchase: allowed teams to take time penalties in order to get hints on difficult clues.
Drive: did not offer hints.

Ravenchase: changed their own scoring rules several times in attempts to make up for puzzles which hadn't been adequately playtested and often contained errors.
Drive: blackmailed players into performing mysterious and arbitrary tasks to satisfy the whims of the shadowy organization running the race.

Ravenchase: did not require teams to do anything illegal.
Drive: did I mention that the exact phrase "secret illegal cross-country road race" is spoken at least once per episode?

Ravenchase: no players were seriously injured, not even during white-water rafting.
Drive: one player, dead; one player, shot in the stomach; numerous others threatened.

Ravenchase: gave the winning team a model sailing ship trophy.
Drive: claimed that the winning team would receive a $32 million prize.

Ravenchase: ended at a bar in New Orleans, where teams partied until the wee hours.
Drive: didn't end so much as just stopped after six episodes, with nothing resolved. At least Amy Acker got a couple of lines.

~CKL

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Legends of This Fall

No, actually, it's not too early to start thinking about the fall TV season. Entertainment Weekly certainly doesn't think so. (Of course, this is also coming from the guy who has a modded 800GB HD DirecTivo, which is currently at 84% disk usage. I may be a little obsessed.)

I've mentioned before that I prefer "genre" TV, and I've recently developed a fondness for series that are just a little beyond normal--i.e., set in the present-day real world, with just one or two sf/fantasy elements to make things interesting. For example, House, which takes place in a parallel universe where the United States has universal health care and no patients ever ask how much all these crazy tests and procedures are going to cost.

These are the jokes, folks. Feel free to laugh.

Anyway. The EW viewing guide linked above lists thirty(30!) new shows in prime time, but I'm only going to talk about those which have genre elements.

Sam I Am (Monday, NBC) - Christina Applegate has amnesia! Yes, "the amnesia episode" is a long-standing TV tradition, but now someone has boldly gone and made an entire damn series out of this creaky premise! I have low expectations.

Journeyman (Monday, NBC) - That dude from Rome plays a time-traveling reporter who helps people. I think these comments from IMDb sum it up pretty well: "I liked this show before, when it was called Quantum Leap." "It's NOT Quantum Leap." "It's Voyagers!"

Cavemen (Tuesday, ABC) - Yup, those characters from the GEICO commercials have their own show. I'm dubious. I mean, I like the ads, and Phil Hartman's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sketch was fun, but every damn week? I dunno.

Chuck (Tuesday, NBC) - "A computer geek morphs into the government's most essential agent after downloading an entire server of secrets directly to his brain." Uh, yeah: I liked this show better when it was called Jake 2.0. And I didn't even like it that much then.

New Amsterdam (Tuesday, FOX) - NYC homicide detective happens to be immortal. And...? The promos I've seen are intriguing, but don't tell much about where they intend to take this premise. I'll watch.

The Reaper (Tuesday, CW) - 20-year-old slacker discovers that his parents sold his soul to the devil, and now he has to track down evil souls and send them to hell. Again, I liked this show better when it was called Brimstone, and that went away in a real hurry. (Let us never speak of GvsE. And no, Dead Like Me didn't ring my bell. Mandy Patinkin can't save everything.)

Pushing Daisies (Wednesday, ABC) - Dude can bring dead things back to life by touching them, but if he touches them a second time, they die forever. We've been seeing promos for this during the pre-show ads at AMC Theatres, and D thinks it's doomed.

Kid Nation (Wednesday, CBS) - The only reason I mention this reality show is so I can say: I liked this show better when it was called "Miri," and only lasted for one hour. Zing!

Bionic Woman (Wednesday, NBC) - The 500-pound gorilla. Really, is there anybody who isn't going to watch this? And raise your hand if you're also hoping for a Heroes crossover!

Moonlight (Friday, CBS) - I liked this show better when it was called Angel.

That's the lot. Nothing much new, but some potential here and there. What I'm really waiting for is midseason, to see how badly FOX screws up The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Oh, I anticipate a train wreck of apocalyptic proportions, I do. Make me a liar, Fish!

~CKL

Saturday, July 07, 2007

And speaking of food...

We saw Ratatouille tonight, and it did not disappoint. D didn't enjoy it quite as much as I did, because--in her words--"It's a rat!" Which I found amusing, because she and the protagonist rodent both enjoy heightened olfactory senses. She can often identify the ingredients in a dish by taste, and she can distinguish Coca-Cola from Pepsi by smell. I'm not even kidding here.

Anyway, Brad Bird is becoming one of my favorite writer/directors (as the French might say, an auteur). I didn't think The Iron Giant was all that great, but that was based on Ted Hughes' book anyway; The Incredibles and Ratatouille are masterpieces. Granted, both of those films were produced by the Disney/Pixar juggernaut, but that dedication to story and character is sorely lacking in most movies.

I wonder how (and what) Bird might do at another studio. The sad truth is, animated features still exist in a Hollywood ghetto, even though live-action films are using more and more computer animated visual effects. Consider: there were only one or two physical robot models built for Transformers, the horribly unnecessary Underdog is the demon spawn of Babe's talking animals, and just about everything in the last three Star Wars movies was (wait for it) animated. Except for the acting. (Zing!)

On that note, I also enjoyed the retro logo at the end of Ratatouille's credits proclaiming that the movie was made using "100% Genuine Animation! No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film." That's how it should be. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Robert "cast of Tron doing bad Shakespeare" Zemeckis! I'm talking to you!

North Carolina

We're just here for the food.



Okay, not really. In addition to getting a little South for our mouths, D and I also puttered around downtown Raleigh today, checking out the capitol building and then ducking inside the Museum of Natural Sciences to escape the heat, where we saw our first-ever live sloth, up close and personal.

Later, we drove out to the Joel Lane House and Mordecai Park to get our history on. It was a little odd to hear our tour guides talk so matter-of-factly about how many slaves the colonial homesteaders owned, but considering all the memorials dedicated to Confederate dead at the state capitol, I guess people around here just learn to live with it.

Tomorrow: Temples, Tombs, and maybe some pomegranate wine.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Transformers: Spectacularly Okay

That's my two-word review, as requested by D when I came home from the movie on Tuesday.

My biggest complaint (minor spoilers): Did anyone else notice that the final shot was set in virtually the same location as the infamous "animal crackers" scene from Armageddon? And that the Autobots-hiding-in-the-yard scene was ripped off from Bad Boys? I mean, I knew Michael Bay had a limited repertoire, but when he starts repeating himself exactly... not a good sign for Transformers 2.

Otherwise, for a toy commercial conflated with GM ads and USAF recruiting posters, it was appropriately spectacular, but in toto just okay. One of my co-workers described it as "Independence Day with giant robots," and he wasn't referring to the release date. It's a fair comparison. Scattered storyline; sound-and-fury technobabble; lots of supporting roles, many of which characters never amount to anything real... but Shia's fine, Turturro's always good for comic relief, and Peter Cullen is Optimus Prime.

The special effects are damn good, but movies do not transcend genre by FX alone. The comedy was just this side of camp, but it worked. And there were some nice, comic book-y touches, which I suspect were thanks to original screenwriter and geek icon John Rogers. RepreZent, brutha.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Jane Espenson's Writing Exercise

I'm doing Script Frenzy this month, which means writing a 20,000-word screenplay in 30 days; and the magic words "quantity, not quality" also appeared in Jane's "I Guess He Really Can't Drive" blog post yesterday. So here I am to write some punchlines. Brace yourself.

First, with the set-up "Are you wearing that?":

MAN
Are you wearing that?
WOMAN
No, I just couldn't find another hanger.

MAN
Are you wearing that?
WOMAN
Why, do you want to trade outfits?

MAN
Are you wearing that?
WOMAN
Someone didn't do the laundry yesterday like I asked him to.

(Okay, switch!)

WOMAN
Are you wearing that?
MAN
What? Do these shorts not go with this bow tie?

WOMAN
Are you wearing that?
MAN
Barely.

WOMAN
Are you wearing that?
MAN
Well, I wanted to wear the Klingon costume, but I couldn't find the plastic forehead.

Okay, let's try the other set-up:

MAN
Is this ketchup?
WOMAN
As far as you know.

MAN
Is this ketchup?
WOMAN
No, it's "freedom sauce."

MAN
Is this ketchup?
WOMAN
Do I look like a food critic?

(Switch!)

WOMAN
Is this ketchup?
MAN
I choose to believe that it is.

WOMAN
Is this ketchup?
MAN
Sure, why not.

WOMAN
Is this ketchup?
MAN
We ran out of salsa.

Wow, some of those are really strange without any context. I almost want to continue writing the scene for a few of them.

~CKL

Thursday, June 14, 2007

US States Renamed For Countries With Similar GDPs


From the strange maps blog: US States Renamed For Countries With Similar GDPs. I find it highly amusing that this particular scheme renames Texas to "Canada" and New Jersey to "Russia." Those darn mobsters!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Meet the World

Art project by 25-year-old Brazilian Icaro Doria: Using national flags as graphics to communicate statistics about that country. For example, instead of a pie chart showing how many 14-year-olds in China are studying instead of working:



In the same vein, check out Gapminder World (requires Flash), which allows you to manipulate and animate statistics collected by the UN over the last 30 years. Pretty sobering stuff.

ObDisclosure: Google acquired Gapminder's "Trendalyzer" team and software in March, 2007.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Ancient Greek Espionage (and Girl Power)

From Cary's translation of Herodotus' The History, Book VII (Polymnia), Chapter 239:
When Xerxes had determined to invade Greece, Demaratus, who was then at Susa, and had heard of his intention, communicated it to the Lacedæmonians; but he was uanble to make it known by any other means, for there was great danger of being detected; he, therefore, had recourse to the following contrivance. Having taken a folding tablet, he scraped off the wax, and then wrote the king's intention on the wood of the tablet; and having done this, he melted the wax again over the writing, in order that the tablet, being carried with nothing written on it, might occasion him no trouble from the guards upon the road. When it arrived at Sparta, the Lacedæmonians were unable to comprehend it, until, as I am informed, Gorgo, daughter of Cleomenes, and wife to Leonidas, made a suggestion, having considered the matter with herself, and bade them scrape off the wax and they would find letters written on the wood. They, having obeyed, found and read the contents, and forwarded them to the rest of the Greeks. These things are reported to have happened in this manner.

I love primary sources. And I have to ask: why wasn't this bit in the movie?

Maybe Zack Snyder just isn't a big Alias fan. But dream with me for a moment: Just imagine, in the next James Bond movie, Daniel Craig's 007 seeking help from Helen Mirren (as Queen Elizabeth II, natch) to decode a mysterious transmission from an ally. I smell a buddy movie!

Anyway. I did enjoy 300, in the same way I enjoyed The Untouchables--knowing that they were both complete fiction coated with a thin veneer of history. Sean Connery's Untouchables character didn't exist in real life, and the Persian king Xerxes was not actually a hairless, effete giant. Just let it go. Even Herodotus has been accused of presenting a biased, pro-Athenian viewpoint in his writings. Facts can't compete with mythology.

~CKL

Which Movie Reviews Should I Believe?

Which Movie Reviews Should I Believe? Apparently, my peculiar tastes can only be approximated (with 87% accuracy) by Rotten Tomatoes.

That's all.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Can't Stop The Serenity: Silicon Valley


Got plans for Father's Day (June 17th)? Why not bring dear ol' dad to a charity screening of Serenity, the 2005 movie based on Joss Whedon's Firefly?

Can't Stop The Serenity: Silicon Valley benefits Equality Now, a non-profit group working to end violence and discrimination against women and girls around the world. Just $10 gets you in to see some Big Damn Heroes, and the chance to be one yourself.

But don't take my word for it:


Buy your tickets now at http://silicongulchbrowncoats.org/csts, and tell your friends and family! (If you can't make it to Silicon Valley on the 17th, check CantStopTheSerenity.com for a list of other dates and locations.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Dead Die Hard

Thanks to Kung Fu Monkey, I've had the Die Hard song running through my head for several days. So this week, I dipped into my laserdisc collection (yes, they still work, thanks for asking) and watched Die Hard, Die Hard 2, and Die Hard with a Vengeance.

Some spoilers below!

Now, I've always liked the original best, but I hadn't watched any of these films in several years, and it was shocking to see how bad the second movie is, and what a Frankenstein's monster the third is. I'm sure the upcoming fourth installment will be entertaining, but I don't hold out any hope that it will have any kind of consistency or real continuity with the earlier films.

The first Die Hard is, frankly, a historical document. I don't think even law enforcement personnel can carry unsecured firearms on commercial flights now, and you can only light up a cigarette at LAX if you're inside one of the smoking terrariums. Then there are the gas prices (77 cents a gallon for premium), the lack of cell phones or other wireless devices among the party guests... the list goes on.

But all that aside, it's a tightly wound suspense story. Sure, there are plenty of gunfights and explosions and stunts, but they all occur within the framework of a good narrative (based on the novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp). John McClane doesn't go looking for trouble; he does everything he can to avoid direct confrontations with the terrorists. He doesn't need to fight them to defeat them--he just has to interfere with their plans.

Everything in the first movie happens because of the characters, and even the supporting cast are crucial to the story. McClane's wife Holly, big bad Hans Gruber, and the sidekicks--LAPD Sgt. Allen Powell and limo driver Argyle--could all have been stock roles, just filling space or moving the plot forward to the next action scene, but the movie takes time to develop them so they're not just cardboard cutouts.

The second movie is a massive disappointment. I mean, it doesn't just suffer by comparison; it actively blows huge, overwritten, expository chunks. Not only that, but it doesn't even try to make the people matter; it's all about blowing shit up. Of course, given that it was based on a different novel, 58 Minutes, by Walter Wager, it's not surprising that the characters lose their way.

The third movie was originally a screenplay titled Lethal Weapon 4.

Perhaps the thing that bothers me the most is that the quality and intelligence of the dialogue diminishes almost geometrically in the sequels. The original is peppered with macho insults, but that turns into simple cussing in the sequels: everything is about masturbation in the second movie, and sodomy in the third. Apparently scarcasm has become too subtle for today's action heroes.

I will see the fourth one, Live Free or Die Hard, but I'm not too optimistic at this point. The original Die Hard revitalized the action genre back in the eighties, but I think we need something new, especially since special effects are a dime a dozen now with computer graphics and whatnot. It still hasn't gotten any easier to write a good story.

Monday, May 07, 2007

...and Washed the Spider Out

You haven't seen Spider-Man 3 yet? It's skippable. You really want to go? Try a matinee. As I said to D on Friday, it's not so much about "what happens next" as it is "some stuff happens." She called it a ride, which is also a good description. You don't really need to pay attention to the story, because nothing of real consequence happens; just enjoy it while it's happening. There's action, there's comedy, there's eye candy. Not much else.

I believe there are two major axes on which superhero movies can be charted: exposition and tone. Some flicks try to explain everything, and others just go for the fun. Too much exposition about how the Phantom Zone actually works will bog down your story; not enough exposition and your audience won't be able to suspend their disbelief. Take yourself too seriously, and people will get thrown out of the story; make everything into a joke, and they won't be able to engage in the first place. It's a delicate balance.

Spider-Man 3 falls somewhere in the bottom two quadrants: not quite enough exposition, especially in the Venom department, and with wild tonal shifts that undercut what the teasers and trailers were selling as a darker story than the first two movies. And even if there was a justification for each of the three villains to appear in this story, there wasn't a good reason to overstuff the movie.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Gone in 120 Seconds

D and I saw Next last night, and it's a good thing we didn't pay for it. (I used two AMC Gold passes I'd received as a thank-you for a special project at work.) The premise is intriguing--a man who can see exactly two minutes into his own future--but completely wasted on a total cheat of a story.

The credits claim that the film is based on the Philip K. Dick story "The Golden Man," but that's like saying Babe was based on Animal Farm. The short story is completely different, more ominous, thought-provoking, and just plain better.

That said, I do think there's the potential for a TV series based on Next--the final shot of the movie practically screams "THIS WAS A PILOT," and a good writing staff could take the premise and have a lot of fun with it. If Highlander and Stargate could redeem themselves on television, why not this piece of crap?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

LOLTrek

This link sent to me by Cary:
Let’s talk about lolcats. Lolcats, or cat macros, are a subset of image macros. They’re pictures of cats with captions typed across them. In essence they’re the “Hang In There Baby” posters gone feral...

I quickly realized that there are no long-form lolcat works. The closest is Spatch’s wonderful Cat Town, and it’s only a relative to lolcats. That set my fevered brain to spinning: what would a lolcat story look like? What if lolcats had a TV channel? What kind of shows would be on it?

The answer is clear: they would show Star Trek. [my link -CKL]

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

"Love Lucy"

My fourth 365 tomorrows story has been published:
Love Lucy

I'm always fascinated by the forum discussions, wherein I learn just how different my work looks to other people.

This story was inspired by LUCYinLA's video blog on YouTube, the creepy-but-train-wreck-fascinating RealDoll, and the painstakingly specific content ratings used in slash fiction. I didn't intend to present any particular moral or political view. I just wanted to explore the aftermath of a decision. As my wife likes to say: Actions have consequences.

I found writing the story very difficult, for two main reasons: first, because I had a lot to say, and trimming it down to 500 words meant that I had to abbreviate or remove a lot of detail. Second, the subject matter is very intimate, and imagining the main character's anxiety and anguish took a lot out of me, emotionally. (Perhaps not as much as the hijacking scene in Waypoint Kangaroo, but in some ways, just as badly.)

~CKL

Monday, April 30, 2007

I Am Not Stalking John Scalzi

So what if I happened to attend his talk at Google last Friday, and also wandered into his panel at the Festival of Books on Sunday? You can't prove nothin'.

While we were down in Los Angeles, D and I also saw Sleeping Beauty Wakes, the new musical co-written and performed by members of GrooveLily along with speaking and deaf actors. It's a fantastic show, and if you happen to be in that neighborhood in the next couple of weeks, you should definitely go.

~CKL