Friday, June 6, 2008

I'm so embarrassed

Yes, I am. Tonight, at my instigation and with the DVD I purchased, we watched that bit of Japanese cinematic majesty known as The Machine Girl. This flick is easily the most over-the-top, unabashedly fake, violent film to come along in ages.

Check out the trailer:

You know how trailers always contain the most excessive--violent, funny, whatever--parts of the movie? This one doesn't. There's more, lots more than what you see here.

I cringed. I laughed. I whooped. All of us watching the movie did--well, all except the two people who left the room either because the film was too much or they developed good sense; I'm not sure which.

I can't honestly recommend it unless you're the sort of person who's been wondering what would happen if Takashi Miike turned really violent, or how Grindhouse would have looked if Tarantino and Rodriguez hadn't surrendered so easily to good taste and restraint. If you are, though, you'll enjoy The Machine Girl.

I'm embarrassed to say that I did.

We're all a bunch of neurotic babies

"We" being writers, of course. It's true. We all necessarily get obsessed about the worlds in our heads, we all want everyone to love us (who doesn't?), and as a group we labor in the hopes of reaching goals that become meaningless if we even stray near them.

Sold a book?

When's the next one coming out?

Earned out?

What about the sales of the next one?

Made a list?

What about the bigger list?


I'm amazed anyone puts up with us.

This and other topics, by the way, were part of the long conversation that Lisa Shearin and I had over lunch today. We hadn't met before, but we both live in this area, we were both Compton Crook award nominees, and we're both in the very early stages of our writing careers, so meeting seemed the natural thing to do. I also felt it only fair to share a little of the award money by buying lunch. Lisa is serious about and focused on her work, and I wish her all the luck in the world.

For the other nominees--Joe, Sandra, and Patrick--if we're ever at the same con and you're interested, I'm buying lunch.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Slanted Jack is in the house

A box was waiting for me when I arrived home today. That's not unusual; you don't get a house as crammed with books, CDs, and DVDs as ours without having a lot of boxes show up. What made this box special was what was inside: my author's copies of Slanted Jack.

I'm biased, of course, but I think the physical book is a very strong package for an SF adventure novel. More importantly, it's a volume that should stand out nicely from other titles on the bookstore shelves.

For those who expect a little self-pimping, far be it from me to let you down: this novel is thicker than One Jump Ahead by almost a hundred pages, runs at a much faster pace than that earlier book, and would make a lovely gift for beach reading, summer reading, birthday, Father's Day, or any other event.

Okay, that's as much self-promotion as I can stand.

I am tickled to have the book, but it also reminds me that about eleven months from now I should be happy to be holding my author's copies of Overthrowing Heaven, a realization that then makes me gulp hard because I'm nowhere near done with that book. So, I'll go write a bit more of it now, as I will each day until I finish it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Moral complexity

Two recent stories about developments in brain technologies illustrate how complex even good news can be and suggest that we all need to be ever thoughtful in the years ahead and demand the same of our leaders.

The first story is about a paralyzed man who used only his mind to make his character in the Second Life virtual world walk. A piece of headgear monitored his brain waves and let him make his character walk simply by imagining walking. Pretty cool.

The implications are even more cool: if you can imagine walking and a piece of software can translate those thoughts into instructions that cause an avatar to move, then a more powerful program could make a walking robot take off. If that robot happened to be one in which you were riding, or perhaps even one attached to your body as prosthetics, then you'd be walking.

The second story is also about a machine interfacing with a human brain, but this one concerns a device that can tell which of a small group of words you're thinking about simply by monitoring your brain waves. The headline boldly proclaims this hardware/software combo a "mind-reading computer," and though it's far from that, it is a step in that direction.

Couple the two technologies, march forward a decade or two--or maybe a lot less if I'm being pessimistic--and you could have a system that would help the paralyzed, let us better understand language development, and provide serious insights into how the brain processes meaning. Good stuff, all of it.

Of course, these same technologies could make it easier for human-controlled physical avatars to walk through hostile territory and kill bad guys. Again, this might be good stuff, provided we use it only on bad guys, we have no bugs in the software interfaces, and so on.

Twist the viewpoint knob a few degrees, however, and you have a really powerful interrogation engine. As long as scanners are very expensive, only the truly rich--say, for example, the government--would be able to use them to read the mind of people under custody. Of course, if the devices appear to work, the free market will drive down their prices. Wait long enough, and the tech will migrate to the street, so that off-market mind readers will be doing half-rate jobs of deciding whether you get that new position at BigCo that you desperately need to pay your bills.

As for the privacy implications, well, hey, you didn't expect privacy to last, did you? (Oh, you did? Then you need to be thinking about these things right now.)

My point in all this is not just to indulge in science-fiction writer geekery, though I do admit to enjoying doing that. Instead, what I think we all must do is realize that developments like these are occurring by the dozens all over the world today as tech marches onward at an ever faster speed. We're going to need to think hard about the complex issues these trends will raise, and we're going to need our leaders to do the same. Six months from now, those of us in the U.S. will be electing new leaders. I suggest we do our best to choose those who show the greatest capacity for handling our increasingly complex future.

My dog is a cheesehound

If you haven't already met Holden, our family dog, here he is, in a picture from his birthday last year. Note his skillful disguise as a well-behaved pet.

Don't believe his innocent face. He's lying.

Yesterday, I bought a fist-sized hunk of Truffle Tremor, an amazing goat cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre, the folks responsible for Humboldt Fog and many other fine cheeses. Jennie had discovered this cheese at a local store and turned me on to it. Though expensive--my chunk cost thirteen bucks--it was such an amazing blend of velvety goaty goodness and truffle overtones that I plunked down the cash without hesitation and took it home for a Monday night taste test.

We put it on the counter tonight, sampled it, and agreed Jennie was right: it was amazing.

I then left with Scott to play ping-pong. (He had warmed up earlier and so kicked my butt. Most days, we're a pretty even match: though his skills exceed mine, I win more than I lose because I keep my emotions in better check during the game.)

Holden wolfed down the cheese.

When we realized it was gone, he was on his pillow, licking his paws. When I called his name in alarm, he looked up and belched. Then he smiled.

This is a whole lot funnier now than it was then.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Bad sushi and fashion overload

Last night, we trusted our local food critic, a guy I once considered extremely dependable, and visited Haru Sushi, a restaurant to which he had awarded four stars (out of a possible five). He had waxed almost rhapsodically about the wonderful creations of this fine establishment, so we set our faces for a sushi feast and showed up at the appointed time.

What a mistake.

Every dish I tasted was at best mediocre and at worst downright bad. The miso soup was bland and too thick. The salad of "field greens" literally was crunchy lettuce bag salad with a bland, thick dressing ladled on it. The negimaki, which should be delicate wisps of quickly seared beef wrapped around perfect little scallions, was instead thick pieces of charred beef caging thick scallions, all in a bland, thick sauce. Are you getting the "bland, thick" trend?

Then came the sushi. They were out of the Spanish mackerel, which the critic had praised. I tried ebi, which was bland but for a change too thin. I also sampled the unagi and the tamago, both of which were, yes, bland and thick--as was the eel sauce on the unagi. I saved for last the Kobe beef of tuna, the one thing you can always count on for high prices and great taste: the toro (fatty tuna). It was thick, chewy, and ice cold in the center. I've never tasted worse toro. I honestly didn't think toro could taste this bad. The only thing it shared with the other toro of my experience was its high price.

At the time, trying to be upbeat because I was paying a high price for this bad food, I labeled the meal mediocre at best. I'm telling the truth now: it was bad sushi.

We then headed to the movie: Sex and the City. I was familiar with the show and thought I knew what I was getting into. I was wrong. I was hoping for an emphasis on the sex part; instead, the porn here was about fashion. The garment budget was more than the GNP of the bottom fifty nations, no shoe had less than a three inch heel, and each handbag would buy a year's tuition at any university in the North Carolina system.



Worse, after two hours of watching more clothing lust than I'd ever imagined could exist, I realized that my gear had drawn entirely into my body. My manhood was gone. As the lights came on and the nearly full theater emptied--and we're talking a very large place with at least twenty percent males--I looked at the faces of my fellow men and knew from their saddened, zombie-like countenances that they were experiencing the same thing. There wasn't six inches of gear left in the place; the sheer fashion overload had neutered us all.

I went home, worked, watched the EliteXC MMA fights I'd DVR'd, read a crime novel, and went to sleep. When I awoke, I was back to normal.

Just in case, though, I'm now going to work some more, then watch the WEC MMA fights I DVR'd.

You can't be too careful.


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