Monday, July 28, 2008

Everyone's a Comedian

Team Snout has been accepted to play in the Ghost Patrol Game! I mailed off our entry fee yesterday and reminded the team to keep any receipts they may have from the making of our application video.

This was Sean's response:
Re: Ghost Patrol Expenses

So far we've racked up:
$0 bedsheet
$0 ghostbusting gun
$0 foley royalties
$0 stale Pale Ale
$0 editing software
$0 YouTube hosting fees

$75 rental of shop vac by Acorn from the Treehouse
-$75 owed to Acorn for rental of shop vac by Acorn
Hence the title of this post.*

D pointed out that it's still July, and isn't that a bit early to be accepting teams for a Game in November? (Team Snout usually does it about a month before.) We speculated that GC may have wanted an accurate headcount before starting to build clues, or in order to book certain locations. I really hope we're not in for three months of pre-clues.


* I'm toying with the idea of putting rimshot and laugh-track sound effects on my PalmPilot for easy playback during the weekend. Don't push me.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Ghost "Busters"

Since everyone seems to be doing it... here's Team Snout's application video for the Ghost Patrol Game:

And, of course, outtakes and extras (warning: explicit language and adult references):

D and I weren't able to participate in the making of these videos, but we applaud our team's creativity and hard work! Especially Karl, who had to wear that gigantic shop-vac on his back, and Chris, who I'm hoping didn't need more than one take for that "slimed" shot. But what do I know? Maybe raspberry jam is good for the pores.


Monday, July 21, 2008

"...and it's called epMotion"

Because "boy band" is always the first thing that comes to mind when anyone says "automated pipetting."


Saturday, July 19, 2008

Stephanie Lenz, Copyright Hero

In case you haven't seen the news, Stephanie Lenz is the woman who is suing Universal Music Corp for issuing a takedown notice against this video of her kids, which happens to have Prince's "Let's Go Crazy" playing in the background:

From the San Francisco Chronicle:
The issue in Stephanie Lenz's lawsuit against Universal is whether the owner of the rights to a creative work that's being used without permission can order the Web host to remove it without first considering whether the infringement was actually a legal fair use - a small or innocuous replication that couldn't affect the market for the original work.

Lenz's lawyers, from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, say her 29-second video, with fuzzy camerawork and unclear sound, was such an obvious noncommercial fair use that Universal should have to reimburse her for the costs of taking it out of circulation for more than a month last year.
Back in December of last year, when The Richter Scales' "Here Comes Another Bubble" music video also ran afoul of a YouTube takedown notice, there was a lot of hand-wringing discussion within the group about how to respond. We actually consulted with EFF and other lawyers, but in the end decided that the potential downside of inviting legal action was too big. (The video currently on YouTube is "version 1.1," with the single controversial image removed.)

I'm definitely rooting for Lenz and EFF in this case. While the nuances are different from the "Bubble" situation, the basic premise is the same: the DMCA and other copyright laws are routinely abused, "fair use" is not well defined, and all of that needs to change.


The Last of Dr. Horrible...FOR NOW

All three parts of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog are now online! Watch it for free and risk slashdotting their site again, or buy it from iTunes for a paltry four dollars. C'mon, skip the Starbucks for one day and do the right thing.

Just in case you've been living under a rock and have no idea what I'm talking about, I refer you to Penny Arcade's Tycho, who describes Dr. Horrible as "a supervillain musical written by Joss Whedon, starring a bunch of awesome motherfuckers. Why are you still here."


Friday, July 18, 2008

Hancock and the Golden Wall-E

Yes indeedy, the summer movie season is here, and with it we have a spate of films that are overstuffed with special effects, action set pieces, and--somewhat surprisingly--story. But this is not necessarily a good thing.

The last three movies D and I have seen--Wall-E, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and Hancock--all suffer from an excess of good material. It's as if the filmmakers couldn't decide what story they wanted to tell, and just decided to blend everything together in the script-o-matic. The end results contain bits of interesting premises, but those bits are floating in a vaguely incoherent story-like substance. Or, to use another metaphor: too many dots, not all connected.

I wouldn't say any of them was bad, but you can probably wait for DVD to see for yourself.


The worst offender, in terms of underdeveloped story and character, is Hellboy II. I really liked the first Hellboy movie, which managed to preserve much of the feeling of the original comic while also adding its own flourishes. But for the sequel, director Guillermo del Toro went a little overboard on art direction and makeup design--there are some amazing creatures which appear on screen for less than five minutes.

I'm glad Guillermo is getting the budget to play with stuff like this, and the movie looks beautiful, but there are literally half a dozen different subplots which all get shortchanged along the way. If you're going to see any of these three films on the big screen, go for Hellboy II. It's gorgeous.

Hancock, on the other hand, features some of the worst superhero-flying visual effects I've ever seen. I'm not talking about how Will Smith's character flies like the drunkard he is--that's actually a nice touch. I'm talking about the quality of the computer graphics and compositing. The lighting doesn't match between elements, and foreground object edges ring like crazy. It's surprisingly subpar for a big movie like this.

And even if you haven't seen the movie, I'm sure you've heard about the big left turn it takes in the second half. After reading a synopsis of the original screenplay (which was written in 1996 and titled--I'm not even kidding--Tonight, He Comes) and looking at the writing credits for the finished film, it seems obvious that X-Files alumnus Vince Gilligan smothered newcomer Vy Vincent Ngo's spec with half-baked mythology in the hopes of making it--well, something else. It didn't quite work.

D has a higher opinion of the final product than I do. I agree with her assertion that just three additional scenes would have filled in the biggest plot holes, but I don't think merely connecting the dots would have helped this movie to the next level. We never really find out who Hancock is--we do learn his origin, but we never get to know his character.

Wall-E has the opposite problem. The film has a nearly perfect first act. It starts with a show tune--"Put on Your Sunday Clothes" from Hello, Dolly--and introduces us to the titular robot with no dialogue at all. You could say this is the movie Pixar was destined to make; "Luxo Jr.," the animated short film that put them on the map, was all about making an emotional connection between the audience and an anthropomorphized desk lamp, using nothing but movement and a few sound effects.

Unfortunately, this film also takes a bit of a left turn halfway through. It's not quite as egregious as Hancock; in Wall-E's case, it's like the writers felt they needed to graft on a second story that featured more talking, almost as if they didn't have confidence that non-speaking robots could carry the whole movie. The addition isn't nonsensical or even a tonal shift, but it felt somewhat unnecessary and oversimplified to me.

Part of the problem is, I'm sure, that I've read much more science fiction than the kids at whom Wall-E is aimed. I know from generation ships and environmental apocalypses and mutinous ship's computers. It was fun to see the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Logan's Run and Star Trek, but I would have liked more exploration of the underlying concepts along with copying the imagery. These particular Big Ideas aren't new to me, so I want a little more depth in their presentation.

I know everyone is gushing about Wall-E, but I'm a bit disappointed with Pixar this time around. They usually spend years perfecting their stories and pinpointing the hearts and souls of their characters*, and I feel like they shortchanged their main character to spend time on a very standard, MacGuffin-fueled third act. There were so many other, more interesting things in the movie they could have developed. I'm still waiting for the next great science fiction film to come along and wow me.


* Cars is the exception that proves the rule.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

He Told You So

There's been a lot of to-do in the news lately about the economy--recession, financial crisis, yada yada yada. You know what? I heard all this back in May, 2007, from James Scurlock*, director of the documentary Maxed Out and author of the accompanying book.

Here he is, doing Q&A after a screening of the film at Google:

As with most non-Michael Moore documentaries, this one didn't really get a wide release, but it is worth seeing, especially now that sub-prime mortgages have melted down and everyone on Wall Street says the sky is falling. As my friend Mark says: "Debt is a four-letter word."


* Not to be confused with Morgan Spurlock of Super Size Me fame.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not Horrible At All

After being predictably slashdotted this morning, Act I of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is once again available for your viewing (and listening) pleasure. It's quite delightful.

If you hate streaming video as much as I do--and, more importantly, if you want to support the artists--I encourage you to buy the complete saga (parts 2 and 3 coming later this week) for a measly $4 from iTunes.

In related news, I also ponied up for a Daily Show multi-pass today--16 new episodes for $10, no commercials, auto-downloaded, and the writers get paid. Me likey. We haven't been watching for the past few months, but has John Stewart gone a lot more gray recently, or is it just me?

So far, our TV-over-Internet experience has been pretty good. We finished watching the most recent seasons of Reaper and House, and we've got My Name is Earl cued up. We don't really have a lot of free time while we're traveling, but after we settle down in Portland I'll probably shell out for Burn Notice and The Middleman (recommended by my friend Raj).

I haven't done the math yet, but I suspect paying for individual shows will also be more economical than cable or satellite. We were paying almost $80 a month with DirecTV, including HBO and TiVo fees, and even if iTunes or Unbox season passes are $40 a pop, we wouldn't have time to watch 24 shows a year--even if we could find that many programs we liked.

It's a little annoying that we can't download Medium and probably won't be able to get True Blood in a timely manner*, but we can always wait for DVD. Or make some new friends in Portland.


* Get with the program already, HBO!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Team Snout FTW

Following yesterday's tax notice, D called the California FTB this morning and set them straight--it was indeed a clerical error, and Team Snout is now officially listed as a non-profit unincorporated association. We can disregard the bill, and don't even have to file any extra paperwork! (Thanks to Loretta, Stephanie, and John at the FTB for their help.)

D also called the hotel at which we stayed in DC about an erroneous extra charge, so in effect, she just spent 45 minutes on the phone and saved us $1,100. w00t! Now we're going to go celebrate by running some errands and seeing Hellboy 2.


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rhymes with FAIL, Part 2

(In case you missed Part 1)

Guess what we got in the mail today?*

That's right, it's a notice from the California State Franchise Tax Board saying that Team Snout owes over a thousand dollars in back taxes! Also check out the dates: the FTB gave us only two weeks to pay up, and it took the USPS nearly two weeks to forward our mail correctly.

The phrase "good enough for government work" does not come to mind.

Anyway, here's the breakdown of the pound of flesh:

We're pretty sure this is a clerical error, since Team Snout is an unincorporated association, and $800 is the annual franchise tax due from any California corporation, limited partnership, or LLC. We already paid our 2006 taxes, which is where that $5.00 credit comes from, and the reason we established ourselves as an unincorporated association was to avoid these kinds of fees and paperwork.

Whatever. D, our team treasurer, is going to call tomorrow and sort this out. Wish her luck.

UPDATE 7/14: It's all good.


* Actually, our friends Sean and Crissy got it, since they're getting our forwarded mail while we're on the road, and they probably received it yesterday but didn't have time to sort their mail until today.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Headline of the Day

"Police Arrest Man After Shooting Him 9 Times"

I guess that would be the definition of adding insult to injury.

Thank you and good night!


It's Just His Name

I'm sure it's no reflection of quality. From all indications, next week's online supervillain musical Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog will be quite entertaining. But of course, with Joss Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris, and Nathan Fillion involved, how could it be otherwise?

Teaser from Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog on Vimeo.

This three-part extravaganza will only be (officially) available online from next Tuesday (7/15) through Sunday (7/20). Incidentally, I also keep a separate Google Calendar to track TV shows I'm interested in--usually I just mark season premieres or special events. It's gone a bit stale since we've been on the road, without TiVo or Entertainment Weekly, but if you're interested:


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Updated Things To Do

Because I know you're so interested (roll your eyes when you say that, pilgrim)...

I voted for the Hugo Awards at least four hours before the deadline on Monday. Yay me. I didn't have time to read all the nominees, but I got through most of the novels (I'd read two of them already) and all of the novellas and novelettes. I had also seen all of the long-form dramatic presentation nominees already. I didn't feel qualified to vote in any other categories--except Fan Writer, where I knew two of the nominees personally.

I just submitted my application for the SIE Alumni Mentor Program. So that's done. This is the first time they've done this, so I'm not sure what to expect as far as being accepted. But I figure it can't hurt to apply. It also got me to update my LinkedIn profile, which serves as my résumé these days. (Weirdness: LinkedIn seems to have removed the "self-employed" option on profiles, so I couldn't update the "aspiring screenwriter" section of my employment history without making up a company name. It feels like a bug, but I can't make myself care enough to report it.)

So, the new list (with deadlines):
  • Find and book a hotel room in/near Rapid City, SD. We're scheduled to arrive in the badlands on 7/26, for our visit to Mount Rushmore et al., and this appears to be the busy season there. D got a little overwhelmed doing legwork, so I'm taking over. Hopefully we can stay within our travel budget without compromising too much on amenities. (7/10)
  • Solve Ghost Patrol application pre-clues. It may be time to ask for a hint on these, although if GC is using them to weed out teams, they may not be very forthcoming. On the other hand, if we're already not having fun anymore... (7/18)
  • Audition for the Stanford Singer's Showcase. They want one to three mp3's of me singing, which I don't currently have since all our home computers got packed up in April. But our current hotel has pretty fast broadband, so I'm going to see if I can do a network restore from Mozy. Low priority, since the event happens in November and I plan to be busy with at least two writing projects that month. (7/20)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I'm Going to Paradise!

After a day at the International Spy Museum, D and I returned to our hotel room, where this email was waiting for me:
Dear Mr. Chen,

On behalf of the staff and the instructors, I'd like to welcome you as
a student to Viable Paradise, and say congratulations!

This letter is a written confirmation of your acceptance to the 2008
Viable Paradise Writers Workshop, aka VP 12/XII...
There's more to the message, but that's the important bit. I was too surprised to be excited at first, since I had just applied yesterday and wasn't expecting to hear back for at least a week. But I got over that quickly.

I'm going to Viable Paradise! With John Scalzi! And Elizabeth Bear! And Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden! And fellow Half-Life 2 enthusiast Steven Gould, who also wrote Jumper! I probably shouldn't ask him what he thought of the movie, but maybe I'll ask his wife.

I'm not well acquainted with the works of the remaining two instructors, Debra Doyle and James D. McDonald, but I plan to do some reading before September...

Finally, in case you're wondering, the manuscript I submitted with my application was the current version of "Working Graves," which started with a dream I had in 1999. The opening scene is still mostly intact, though I've expanded upon it since that first draft. And I made a few important changes from the draft I submitted with my Clarion application.