Thursday, December 31, 2009

May your 2010...

...find you happy and healthy and employed

...bring you many moments of great joy

...introduce you to at least ten movies and ten CDs and ten books that touch and move you

...shower you with hugs and kisses from people who love you

...give you meals that comfort you and also food that makes you rethink everything you thought you knew about eating

...teach you new things about yourself--but without the pain that so often accompanies such lessons

...make you laugh until you hurt

...make you cry with happiness and joy

...let you experience the wonders of both giving and receiving random acts of kindness

...show you art that astonishes you

...give you the courage say "I love you" often and with meaning to those you love--and to fully appreciate the honest affection when they say it to you

...usher you and those you love safely into 2011

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Coming to a Balticon near you

Though none of this is yet set in stone, I thought I'd let readers of this blog be among the first to know that it's now extremely likely that at next spring's Balticon I'll be doing two different performances that I hope will be both fun and raise some money for RIF, Balticon's favorite charity.

The first is a reprise of the Liars' Panel, which I'll be moderating again. Last year's was a big success, and I'm hoping to raise even more money in 2010.

The second and, to me, more exciting news is that I'll be debuting there a new spoken-word show, the one I've mentioned previously here: Wake Up Angry, Wake Up Horny. This time, the con is hoping to give me an evening slot, which would be more appropriate given that the material will again definitely be for adults and not kids. I'll be selling t-shirts for this and the previous show there, and all profits will again go to RIF.

When I've worked out the kinks in this show, which will be all or nearly all new material, I'll have about two hours of tested stuff. At that point, my hope is to stitch them together (I'm designing them to work well as a unit) and perhaps try to mount a one-person show wherever I can find an interested venue.

Of course, writing and work take priority, but I'm determined to become a better and better spoken-word performer.

I'll plug these performances again when we're closer to the con, but I thought I'd break the news here. If you're going to be at the con or live in the area, please come by and catch both shows. I'm pretty darn sure you'll laugh and have a good time.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A funny thing happened in the shower the other day

No, it wasn't that. Nor that; just don't go there.

What happened is that I was thinking about the part of Children No More that I was about to write, visualizing it and hearing the dialog, and suddenly I realized, hey, that character would have wanted X earlier. That realization meant that the character would have done Y, which would have ultimately led to Z, and suddenly the basic plot of the fifth Jon & Lobo book hit me. Of course, laying the groundwork for that book required some small patches here and there in Children No More, but those changes cost me only half of a night's writing session--and they improved CNM by addressing the shortcoming that had initially struck me in the shower.

The title hasn't come to me yet, and I certainly will have a lot of plotting to do, but it's kinda cool to know the basics of the book I'm going to do after the book I'm going to do next (after I finish the current one).

I thought you'd want to know.

Now, go squeegee your third eye clean from those initial images; you don't want them bothering you later.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sherlock Holmes

Saturday night, after a lovely sushi dinner, a group of nine of us trundled off to see Guy Ritchie's take on Sherlock Holmes. I liked it a great deal, but I didn't love it, probably in part because my expectations were so very high that the film had very little chance of meeting them.

First, a quick run-down of some of the many strong points. London looked amazing, with every set and CGI'd backdrop quite splendidly grimy and yet still lovely and impressive. Both Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law were excellent, infusing their characters with depth and enough craziness and affection for one another to make them consistently interesting. Downey did an especially good job of showing us the madness and loneliness and overwhelming boredom that so plagued Holmes. The story functioned as it should, taking us to the mystic side and then ultimately, in proper Holmesian fashion, showing us the rational world behind the mystery. Guy Ritchie's typical odd cuts worked well, as did the occasional dive into Holmes' mind as he analyzed and visualized a sequence of actions before beginning it.

The main weakness, at least to my taste, is that Ritchie pushed the superhero angle too far--a complaint I did not expect to make. Though I'm a big fan of this side of the consulting detective, I also see Holmes as not quite the super-fighter and action hero that Ritchie portrayed here.

Still, that is a quibble about a delightful film that I quite enjoyed and that I encourage you to see.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Gaslight Anthem

Jennie turned me on to this band, and I've liked or loved every song of theirs that I've heard so far. I can't wait to listen to their CDs, which I've just acquired.

While checking them out, I naturally ran across and watched several times the following video. The song is great, and of course Bruce Springsteen's appearance is a huge bonus. What struck me most about Springsteen's performance is how happy he appeared to be, rocking out with these guys for the sheer joy of it.

Enjoy.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Generalissimo Francisco Franco is still dead

and I'm still not done with the first draft of Children No More (this in response to many questions via email). I am, however, marching ever onward, and I will finish the draft. I will then still have a great deal more work to do, but that work will proceed far more quickly than the first draft.

I will tell you that though I once worried that the book would be short, possibly under 90K words, I no longer harbor that concern. It'll definitely be over 100K words, a claim I can make with confidence because it's already over that count.

This novel continues to kick my ass, but that is probably only proper.

I'll let you know when I finish the first draft, but until then, no more status updates.

And that's the news.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

My Christmas Eve ended with my main computer in dire shape from a horde of virus and worm infections; I have only myself to blame for letting my NAV subscription lapse.

My Christmas began with my main computer, which had been showing signs of hardware issues, dying from repeated blue screens. Off to work for rehab it must go after my break.

Fortunately, I have a new main computer awaiting my setup, so I must only accelerate the schedule on it. And, of course, I do have three other active backup systems.

The in-progress Children No More is, of course, safe, backed up in many places.

Neither the computer nor any of the material stuff matters, though, not really. What matters most is always the people we care about. Seventeen of us are gathering in a few minutes at a long, funky, makeshift table downstairs for Christmas dinner. They matter a great deal.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

In anticipation of the Sherlock Holmes film

From the moment I first saw the trailer, I have been eagerly awaiting this movie. We won't see it tomorrow--we have other Christmas traditions that are more important--but we will be there Saturday night. A few folks have asked me why I cared so much, so I thought I'd answer the question here.

First, if the teaser is any indication, the movie is made of awesome. I love Guy Ritchie's work, I'm a huge fan of Robert Downey, Jr., Jude Law is a fine actor (though a bit cold on screen in most roles), and the Holmes cum action cum steampunk vibe is immensely attractive. If Sherlock Holmes as a character debuted in this movie, I'd want to see it.

More important to me, though, is the fact that I have loved the Holmes stories since I was a child. (I've avoided re-reading them for that very reason, but now I will probably go back and finally try them again.) They were among the very first stories I read as a very young kid, and they triggered lifelong loves of mystery, the power of the mind, superheroes, and science fiction.

I know the last two points may seem odd, because few would call the Holmes stories superhero or SF fiction, but in many ways they were. Holmes was the self-made superhero, the man who through his abilities and his efforts transcended his limits and became more than human. Similarly, in these stories Conan Doyle so perfectly portrayed the rationalist mindset that was a mainstay of at least Golden Age SF that when I started reading SF almost immediately thereafter, it felt like home. It still does.

Holmes also appealed so much to me because he was so clearly boiling and churning under the still surface he worked so hard to evince. His anger, his passions, his pain--all were eating at him, under control most of the time but not always, not always.

I've felt since the first of the Jeremy Brett BBC Holmes episodes that Brett was the perfect Holmes, but that didn't stop me from being able to enjoy repeat viewings of the Rathbone shows (yes, I still like them) or most of the many Holmes movies. I don't expect Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey, Jr. to unseat Brett, but I do believe that Ritchie's vision of the character and my own are not so far off from one another, and so I quite look forward to the film.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Check out the TED 2010 program guide

It's up on the TED site, and once again, it looks great. As I did last year, this February I'll make the trek to Palm Springs for what they're now calling the TEDActive conference, which is the remote session that watches the Long Beach talks live via simulcast and which has some talks on its stage and a variety of local activities. I'm sure the experience is not the same as being at the main TED, but I've been unable to get into that one, and I've enjoyed the two remote TED sessions I've attended, so back I go.

If you're free during that time and have about $5.5K to spare ($3,750 for the conference fee, plus hotel, plus airfare), I highly recommend the experience. It provokes a great deal of thought and a wide range of emotions in me, and I come away each year enriched. Being a TED speaker (either about fiction and the creative process or, more likely, about the ways Bill and I believe businesses can and should change) has become a goal of mine, and though like many of my goals it is one I am unlikely to achieve, I still hope for it.

If you are attending TEDActive, please look me up. I'd love to chat.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

An artist you need to know: Mikel Robinson

The Friday night of Thanksgiving weekend, a group of us bundled up against the cold and went to check out the Carolina Designer Craftsmen Show. I'd stopped going to this show about a decade ago, because every year it looked the same and little of what it offered was of interest to me. For the most part, that was true again, though I always find interesting the work of potter Steven Summerville, who in the interest of full disclosure is a friendly acquaintance and a very good friend of Jain's. As I was making my way up and down the aisles, though, I encountered the work of an artist whose booth in the rear left that made the whole trip worthwhile: Mikel Robinson.

Rather than attempt to describe Robinson's work in any depth, I'll let him do it via his Web sites: his main site, his blog, and his Etsy store. Suffice it to say that his art rocked me backward on my heels, then drew me forward for closer inspection. His multimedia assemblages repay close attention, and the emotions in them are strong but never cloying.

I admired his work enough that after the show I contacted him and bought some pieces. A bit later, I went to his apartment to pick them up. His wife, Kristina, met me and led me to their place, which is an awesome space in a repurposed old building. We chatted, I got to meet their eight-month-old son, and I learned that they are both cool people who are now on my big-group party lists.

If you're hunting for a last-minute Christmas gift or a birthday present, art is always a good idea, and you would be well served to check out Mikel's work.

Oh, yeah: and Jain's art balls, which I adore and which should be making her rich instead of selling only rarely.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Things that piss me off: Region coding on movies

I want to buy the Blu-Ray version of The Boat That Rocked, which is the British original version of what later appeared in the U.S. as Pirate Radio. I want this particular disc because it's a longer version of the movie, and I want to see as much of the film as director Richard Curtis will let me have. Multiple companies are willing to sell it to me. I have money. Everything is working as it should in a capitalist economy...

...except that I can't play the blasted thing on my Blu-Ray player, so there's no point in buying it. I live in the U.S., and this disc is coded for the European region (B, or 2).

Region coding is a stupid artifact of the desperate desire for control of movie studios, and it needs to die.

I understand the basic rationale: Region coding lets content providers (read: studios) set the prices, content, and release dates of discs differently for different regions of the world. In other words, it lets them attempt to control the market for their products.

What's wrong with this picture is that any fool with a browser and a little determination--which means most of the Internet-connected world--can find a store somewhere that's willing to ship them any product that store sells. Sure, that product will usually carry a premium shipping cost if it's coming from far away, but so what? That hurts no one.

As it happens, my situation offers a perfect example of when a studio might benefit from this control. The Boat That Rocked appeared in 2007, well ahead of its 2009 U.S. appearance as Pirate Radio. By keeping me from being able to play the Blu-Ray disc of the earlier film, the reasoning might go, the studio lured me to the theater. Well, in my case this was certainly true--but the studio would have made money by selling me the disc of the first film, so it would not have left the transaction empty-handed. Perhaps as importantly, it would have gained information, from me and from other buyers, on whether a re-cut of the film for American audiences was necessary or it could have saved the cost and offered us the British version.

What region encoding has really accomplished is to tempt me to illegally download a movie for the first time in my life. No, I won't do it, for the same reason I've never done it before: I believe in paying for the content I consume. I am, however, sorely tempted, and this cannot be what the studio wants.

I could go on and on, but the bottom line is that region coding, like all DRM, is a stupid idea that needs to die.

By the way, I've heard that not all studios actually bother to encode the Blu-Ray discs they label as being only for specific regions. If anyone out there owns the above Blu-Ray disc and has played it on a U.S. Blu-Ray player, please let me know, because then I'll happily give a merchant (and thus the studio) some more of my money for the original version of this wonderful film.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Avatar

Let's get the basics out of the way first:

* Go see it.

* Try to catch it in 3D.

* Unless your expectations are way out of whack with the kind of movie the trailer advertises, you'll greatly enjoy it.

* It has flaws, but they don't ruin it.
Now, let's get to some specifics.

The look is as awesome as you've heard. I've enjoyed many of the new crop of 3D movies, but Avatar is by far the best of them at using 3D well. Almost all of the time, Cameron integrates 3D into the shots, so it adds life and realism to the movie rather than serving to distract or simply screaming, "Hey, look, a 3D shot!" Even without the 3D effects, the movie is simply gorgeous. No alien world may ever prove to look like this one, but this is the way we'd like an alien world to appear.

The story is basic and predictable, but I believe that's intentional, because in Avatar Cameron is all about myth-making. He tells us so repeatedly, and the story operates best on the mythic level.

That said, the acting is better than most critics claim. Sure, some of the characters are too easy, especially the bad-guy military leader, but even he is wonderful to look at and so reeking of his character's single-minded focus that we don't tire of watching him.

Perhaps as important as all of those things, however, is one simple fact: Avatar is a game-changer that will become the standard to which we compare SF movies for some time. In the same way that Star Wars and The Matrix showed us things we'd never seen before and reset our expectations, Avatar raises the bar yet again and makes us realize just how good modern SF movies can look.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More sentimental than you might believe

After yesterday's post about Love Actually, I had a brief email exchange with Lynn in which she asked which parts of the film caused me to choke up with emotion. She mentioned the touching scene of never-to-be-fulfilled love when Mark (Andrew Lincoln) expresses his feelings for Juliet (Keira Knightley) via handwritten signs as a Christmas carol plays on a boom-box; the beautifully acted scenes when Karen (Emma Thompson) has to cope with her sudden realization in her bedroom and then later confronts her husband, Harry (Alan Rickman); the sight of Sarah (Laura Linney) sitting in her office at night talking to her brother as Karl (Rodrigo Santoro), the man she loves, walks away; and many others.

None of those scenes, however, nor any of the others in the movie that explore the complexities of love are what most move me.

Instead, the bits that most touch me are those in which writer and director Curtis deliberately ignores reality and focuses instead on instants of impossibly perfect love. To me, the most powerfully touching of them is the scene in the restaurant in which Jamie (Colin Firth), in halting and frequently incorrect Portuguese, asks Aurelia (Luciz Moniz) to marry him. The build-up for this moment is perfect: a long and ever-growing parade through the streets of Marseille as rumors emerge and mutate about the purpose of the insane Englishman. The music swells and alerts us that something majestic is happening, that what comes next matters, that what we are about to see is powerful.

Conventional wisdom makes clear that the proposal is too soon and the marriage unlikely to last. Jamie and Aurelia have known each other less than a month, they know nothing significant about one another, they have no common language--nothing about it makes any sense.

Except that they love each other.

In most movies or books, this scene might annoy me. Here, though, it stands as one among many tributes to the power of not only love, but of choosing every now and then, however briefly, to focus solely on love.

Those moments, when Love Actually steps into fantasy and shows us the potentially redemptive power of love and of seeing only love, even if only for an instant, those are the ones that choke me up.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Every Christmas

I watch Love Actually and Bad Santa. Tonight, in a wild and crazy move, we watched both on Blu-Ray. Damn, but they do look better in high-res.

Every year, the first fills me with emotion, and the second cracks me up. I am such a sucker for these two films.

I am also such a sentimental fool. The same scenes in Love Actually make me tear up and choke up each year, though I know them as well as old friends. I cannot recall another movie that makes me as happy as Love Actually.

Tonight, after watching it, I was thinking about why that was, why this film can affect me so strongly after so many viewings, and I decided it was this: Curtis, the director and writer, commits fully to a vision that he knows goes too far but that he invites us--nay, entices us--to share nonetheless. He is not saying that everything always works out, or that love conquers all, or that all romances will last forever. What he is saying is that love is out there, every minute of every day, happening in big ways and small all over the world, and that's it so powerful and so real that we should take hope from it and never forget it and know that always, always people will love no matter what.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

C. Bruce Hunter: R.I.P.

Bruce died on November 13. I didn't hear about it until today; that fact alone shows that we weren't all that tight.

But, damn, now he's dead.

When Bruce didn't show up for Thanksgiving dinner at the Drake's, we all wondered if he was okay and hoped nothing bad had happened to him; clearly, something had.

Each year, Bruce would come to the same set of our big parties--New Year's Eve, the Fourth of July, the pig-pickin', Thanksgiving--and we would chat a little. Never much; as best I can tell, he was socially awkward, and the two of us were definitely awkward around each other. Still, we'd exchange the odd joke--Bruce was always ready with a bad joke or ten--and talk about food, a shared love, or writing, another shared passion. At New Year's Eve, we'd play a game or three of pool. He wrote a large family history and books about Masons and probably a lot of stuff I never saw. He gave me signed copies of his books. He always brought a little something to share.

Mostly, though, he came, sat quietly alone, listened, was unfailingly polite, and was an odd but constant fixture in our strange little crowd.

When he left, we always shook hands, as we also did to mark the start of each of the past twenty or so new years.

I always had the sense that Bruce felt apart from everyone, almost invisible, and I probably contributed to that sense by not spending much time with him.

He wasn't invisible, though. He was quiet and odd, but he was visible: we knew him, we worried about him, and he's gone now. He was a man of the generation who almost certainly would have been deeply uncomfortable in the face of honest emotion from another man; a handshake was as far as anyone needed to go. So I'll say now what I never said to him and probably should have made clear.

However odd you felt, Bruce, however apart and alone you thought you were, you were a strange part of our stranger little group, and when you were with us, you belonged.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Things that piss me off: Glitter-covered cards

When a Christmas or birthday card arrives in the mail, I tend to think, cool! Someone sent me an actual paper card. So, I tear it open, check out the front, read the inside, and then even look at the back if the card is at all interesting. Most folks probably do the same thing. This approach works well for almost all cards...

..but not for those covered in glitter.

You touch one of those demonic creations, and your hand comes away covered in glitter. More falls onto your shirt, your pants, maybe even your shoes. If the light isn't good, or if you're in a rush and don't notice the glitter, then you start spreading it around your body and your surroundings. Glitter on your face. Glitter on your keyboard. Glitter everywhere.

You better hope you don't need the bathroom before you notice the glitter. If you do, you'll be sorry. Twilight myths to the contrary, some parts of you simply should not sparkle with glitter.

Okay, maybe they should if Angelina Jolie wants them to do so, but that's another topic entirely.

Where was I?

Oh, yeah: glitter cards. I hate those things. If you intend to make one, coat it in plastic or use some new nano-polymer to secure every single bit of glitter to the paper so that it will still be attached when the sun dies and the planet has frozen into an icy lifeless mass. Take no chances: Do everything you can to ensure that every speck of glitter stays in place.

Don't make me use my sparkly fists on you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Yes, I'm that predictable

So I was sitting around today, thinking about what to write for the blog, when I realized that it was vital that people listen to two of my favorite Christmas songs, "Silver Bells" and "Christmas Is All Around." Almost as soon as that thought crossed my mind, another raced after it: I can't write that, because I've done it already. A quick search of my blog revealed that yes, indeed, I had: December 15, 2008--the same date one year ago.

I am so predictable.

Nonetheless, I'm right that you should listen to these songs, so go read and listen to last year's entry. Each tune is wonderful, in very different ways.

Enjoy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Desert Rain

A long time ago, Pat Murphy and I co-wrote a story called, "Desert Rain." Pat was by far the more senior and more skilled writer in this collaboration, and over quite a long period she dragged me into completing the piece. (The vast majority of its virtues are due to her, and its flaws to me.) We sold it to the Bantam original anthology, Full Spectrum III. Gardner Dozois reprinted it in The Year's Best Science Fiction, Ninth Annual Edition (my only story appearance in that series). I've always liked that story, and I greatly enjoyed and learned an enormous amount from working with Pat, who is now a friend I never see and often miss. As with most past work, though, this piece tends to fade in my mind next to the work in front of me.

Thus, it was with some surprise that I read last night an email message, which came via my Web site, from a guy at Carnegie Mellon (I'm not giving his name because I have not yet received permission to do so). He said I might be interested in the fact that he had a class take a stab at building the kinetic, music-playing sculpture that Pat and I (again, the best parts from Pat) had the lead character in "Desert Rain" create.

Here's a video of what the CMU team built. It take a over a minute to get going, but please wait and watch the whole thing; I think you'll be glad you did.



At the risk of emitting an unmanly squee, I have to say that I find this intensely awesome. It is very cool to see people working to bring to life a creation of our minds in a story we wrote so long ago.

Well done, CMU folks! You made my day.

And, Pat, should you happen to read this, thanks again for this story, for making this cool creation possible, for everything.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

UFC 107: How we fared

Balance is restored, and the universe is moving correctly again as I won the battle of the fight pickers: Kyle had 4 of 11 wrong, while I missed only twice. Of course, this was one of the easier cards to call--but we've thought that before and been wrong.

Anyway, on to the details. As usual, we'll go from the bottom of the card to the top. First, the undercard.

Kevin Burns vs. T.J. Grant

We didn't get to see this fight, but from what I've read it was a doozy. Dana White clearly agreed, because he gave it the Knockout of the Night award. Unfortunately, though both of us chose Burns to win, that award went to Grant, who TKO'd Burns as the first round was ending and thus put both of us down 1.

DaMarques Johnson vs. Edgar Garcia

The UFC showed this fight after the main event, and for about half a minute I thought both of us were correct in our choice of Garcia. He knocked down Johnson and looked in control. Then, Johnson hit him with an up-kick and pulled him into a triangle choke for the Submission of the Night victory. Johnson looked better than I had ever seen him, and Kyle and I were down 2.

Rousimar Palhares vs. Lucio Linhares

I said that better BJJ skills would lead to a Palhares win, and I was right, but barely. The UFC didn't show this fight, but from the descriptions it was back and forth until the middle of the second, when Palhares won with a heel hook. I had my first victory.

Kyle chose Linhares and so was down three.

Johny Hendricks vs. Ricardo Funch

Another fight we didn't get to see, but at least this time we called it right: we both chose Hendricks, who won a unanimous decision.

Four fights in, and I'm up to an even 2-2. Kyle is 1-3.

Shane Nelson vs. Matt Wiman

Wiman indeed won the decision in a three-round battle that was the last fight we didn't get to watch. Chalk up another correct call for both of us.

Wilson Gouveia vs. Alan Belcher

This fight probably should have been on the main card, but at least we got to see it. Despite lasted only 3:02, it earned Fight of the Night honors, because these two just beat on each other. Belcher TKO'd Gouveia, and we were now rolling with three correct calls in a row.

On the main card, we continued to roll--with one speed bump for Kyle.

Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve

At a few points in this fight, I thought Buentello had it. In the first round, when Struve was on Buentello's back, I thought Struve would finish him. Instead, the fight went the distance, and it was close indeed. Fortunately for me, Struve carried the majority decision. I still had only two misses; Kyle was up to four.

Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce

Fitch is rapidly becoming one of those fighters who drive Dana White crazy by not finishing opponents but whom he really can't cut because they keep winning. Fitch won a three-round decision. Kyle and I were right, though Kyle called annihilation, and I called decision.

Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida

Another fight we both called. I said Florian by submission in the third, but he actually finished Guida in the second after causing Guida what I would have called the nastiest cut of the night--until later. Florian keeps looking better and better, and in my opinion he deserves a rematch with Penn.

Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo

Mir blew through Kongo. For the short time the fight lasted, Mir looked better in every way. He dropped Kongo with a step-under left hook, then sunk in a guillotine choke.

Mir is back.

Oh, yeah: We both called this one.

B.J. Penn vs. Diego Sanchez

B.J. Penn is amazing, and he proved it once again with a completely dominant victory over a game Diego Sanchez. In the fifth, he hit Sanchez with a high kick that split open Sanchez's head and caused one of the worst cuts I've ever seen in a fight. The ref and doctor correctly called the fight. Penn looked completely fresh (and so did Sanchez at the start of the fifth, despite being battered). We both called this one, and Kyle was right that Penn again showed himself to be a transcendent fighter. Though I'd like to see Florian get another chance at Penn, I have trouble believing the outcome won't be the same. Penn is the best lightweight fighter in the world.

(As always, and even though we did pretty well this time, do not make bets placed on our predictions.)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

UFC 107: Picking the winners

Or not. I'm hoping I do significantly better than the last few times, but I've definitely been riding the fail train in picking for a while now.

A week ago, I watched the fights live in Las Vegas. Tonight, I'll watch them on DVR'd replay after my company's annual Seasonal Celebration. The ease with which we can hop about the world is always interesting.

Kyle and I disagree on only two fights this card, and one of the disagreements is a pick I made just to be contrary, so neither of us can win this one by much.

As usual, we'll go from the bottom of the card to the top. First, the undercard.

Kevin Burns vs. T.J. Grant

Mark: Burns has struggled against guys with great boxing skills, but he won't face that problem with Grant. Grant should have a submission skills edge, but Burns has shown that sort of paper advantage doesn't faze him. I have to give the nod to Burns.

Kyle: Burns has his back up against the wall after back-to-back losses to Anthony Johnson and Chris Lytle, but I'm picking him to win this one. He's done badly against strikers, but Grant is a submission guy. Burns can handle submission guys. His first win in the Octagon was a surprise victory over BJJ black belt Roan Carneiro, and I think Burns has the skills to win the ground game again against Grant.

DaMarques Johnson vs. Edgar Garcia

Mark: Garcia will win by KO, with Johnson leaving the UFC right afterward unless he somehow impresses before going down. Garcia's striking will be just too much for Johnson.

Kyle: Both fighters are coming off losses, so we might not see the loser of this match in the UFC again. Johnson looked impressive in his bouts on The Ultimate Fighter, but folded under pressure from James Wilks in the finale. He probably has a better ground game than Garcia, but lacks the ability to get the fight there. Garcia, on the other hand, is just a KO machine: of his seven wins, five are by KO or TKO. Expect him to add a sixth by finishing Damarques Johnson.

Rousimar Palhares vs. Lucio Linhares

Mark: I really want to go with Linhares here, because Palhares has never thrilled me, but I think the combination of Octagon Jitters for Linhares and better BJJ skills will lead to a Palhares win.

Kyle: Palhares is a more than 3-to-1 favorite in this fight. He's beaten guys like Ivan Salaverry and Jeremy Horn in the UFC while the only guy Linhares has beaten that I've even heard of is Sean "I may or may not have thrown that fight" Salmon. Even so, I'm picking Linares to win. Fights between jiu jitsu guys usually turn into sloppy boxing matches, and I don't see why this one would be any different. Linhares has six wins by KO or TKO. Palhares has none. Look for Linhares to stuff takedown attempts and swing for the fences.

Johny Hendricks vs. Ricardo Funch

Mark: Fans love matches between undefeated up-and-comers, and this is one of those. Hendricks is better both on his feet and on the ground, though, so he should win.

Kyle: Both fighters enter the cage undefeated, but Hendricks has faced tougher competition. He's coming off a first-round KO of Ultimate Fighter winner Amir Sadollah and as a two-time Division 1 wrestling champion he should have no problem keeping the fight on the feet. I pick Hendricks to win.

Shane Nelson vs. Matt Wiman

Mark: These guys are likely to get nasty with each other, but neither is likely to finish the other. Wiman is better in just about every facet of the game, so expect Wiman to win the decision.

Kyle: Nelson lacks the skills to finish anyone except other Ultimate Fighter also-rans. Wiman should send him packing out of the UFC.

Wilson Gouveia vs. Alan Belcher

Mark: Expect fireworks in this one. These guys have a shot at Fight of the Night, and they have to know it. Belcher is a little better and likely to be in better shape, so I have to pick Belcher by KO or TKO.

Kyle: This should be a brawl on the feet between two decent strikers who aren't afraid to trade. Again, both men are coming off losses, so their UFC careers are in jeopardy. I give the slight edge to Belcher, since I think that his conditioning is better. Gouveia failed to make weight for this bout, which suggests that his training hasn't quite come together as planned.

From here we enter the main card.

Paul Buentello vs. Stefan Struve

Mark: The betting lines are even here, because Struve brings in the better ground game and a very long reach. Buentello wants to bang. If Struve had showed more boxing skills in his fights, I'd go for him without hesitation, but Buentello is a crafty veteran who just has to stay off his back and ultimately knock out Struve. I was all set to pick Buentello, but I noticed that Kyle did, and we have to disagree on something on the main card, so I'm going to take a chance and choose Struve.

Kyle: This is as close to a pure striker vs. grappler match as you're going to find in modern MMA. Buentello wants to keep the fight on the feet and knock Struve out; Struve wants to get things to the ground and choke Buentello until he taps. I give the edge to Buentello. He hasn't tapped to a submission since 2001. He should be able to stuff Stuve's takedowns and use his superior stand-up skills to win the night.

Jon Fitch vs. Mike Pierce

Mark: Pierce was so impressive in finishing off Brock Larson that I'm tempted to pick him, but as much as I want to go with this underdog, I can't. Fitch has stayed in the cage with GSP for five rounds; unless he's looked past Pierce, he should dominate the relative newcomer. I don't, however, expect a knock-out or decision, so Fitch should win, but probably by decision.

Kyle: Fitch by annihilation.

Kenny Florian vs. Clay Guida

Mark: Guida has amazing conditioning, a never-say-die attitude, and is fun to walk. He is and will remain about five guys away from the title. Florian, on the other hand, is an amazing fighter cursed to have B.J. Penn above him. Florian will win, and probably via submission in the third.

Kyle: Guida is a solid 155 pounder who's struggled against top-ten compeition, with losses to Tyson Griffin, Roger Huerta and Diego Sanchez. Florian is a great fighter who hasn't lost to anyone at lightweight except champions Shean Sherk and B. J. Penn. Guida will come in tough and with a fighter's heart, but Florian's superior technique and gameplanning should win the day.

Frank Mir vs. Cheick Kongo

Mark: Kongo is a powerful puncher with a very strong upper body, so he has a puncher's chance of knocking out Mir. Mir, though, looks the best he has since before the motorcycle accident, and in every way but striking is a far superior fighter to Kongo. Velasquez showed how to beat Kongo without finishing him; I expect Mir to follow that gameplan but then finish Kongo. Mir to win, and probably by submission.

Mir's biggest problem with this fight will come after it, because if the Tennessee Athletic Commission runs drug tests, it'll be very interesting to learn if Mir got a little help adding twenty pounds of muscle in less than six months.

Kyle: Between his July fight with Brock Lesnar and his December fight with Cheick Kongo, Mir has somehow packed twenty pounds of muscle onto his frame. Given his now 25-pound weight advantage over Kongo and Kongo's notoriously weak takedown defense, Mir should have little trouble bullying his opponent to the ground and finishing him there. How he'll fare if the Tennessee Athletic Commission does drug testing is a more interesting question.

B.J. Penn vs. Diego Sanchez

Mark: The wild card with B.J. Penn is his mind, not his talent. If he's been focused in training and cares about this fight, he will win it going away. When he's on his game, there's no one better at 155. Period. Diego Sanchez has to hope that Penn didn't take him seriously, didn't work much on his conditioning, and makes a stupid mistake when Sanchez takes him down, because Sanchez will definitely have amazing conditioning and be trying for take-downs. That hope, though, is likely to prove to be unfounded, because I think Sanchez is the kind of loudmouth that pisses off Penn. So, I pick Penn to win, and even though no one has ever knocked out or submitted Sanchez, my guess is that Penn will do it by submission.

Kyle: B.J. Penn is a transcendent athlete, like Mike Tyson or Lance Armstrong or Michael Jordan in their primes. Since he moved to lightweight, no one in the division has even made him work hard. Sanchez will try to use his superior conditioning to set a pace that Penn can't match and wear him out. But he won't be able to take Penn down and Penn's excellent use of his jab is likely to make boxing with him a frustrating experience for Diego Sanchez. Expect a long night for Diego, with B.J. Penn walking away with the belt once again.

I still want to be in Paris

The urge, which I first mentioned in this forum back on November 20, has not left me. At completely random times, I will find my mind wandering to images of the Left Bank at night as seen from Notre Dame. I suspect this strong urge will pass, but until it does, Paris will keep bubbling around in my psyche. Very odd indeed.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Age is not a good excuse

In the last few weeks, I've heard people ranging in age from 18 to almost 60 say that something they wanted to do was impossible due to their age, that they were just too old to write or get in shape or learn new skills or reach some other completely achievable goal.

All those statements were complete and utter bullshit.

Oh, sure, there are things you cannot do, like become younger. You're also unlikely to become a world-class athlete starting late in life--but you could still participate in almost any sport. In all the recent statements I mentioned, not once was the task in question beyond the capabilities of the person speaking.

None of us can do everything, but each of us can sure do a lot of things. We just have to be willing to work at them and make the appropriate sacrifices for them. If I don't lose weight, which I certainly need to do, it's because I didn't rank that task high enough in my priority list or wasn't willing to suffer enough for the goal, or both. I have only myself to blame for things I don't accomplish, and that's true for most of us.

I grew up in a Florida neighborhood full of retirees. Some moved there seemingly to die; they did nothing every day, atrophied in mind and body, and vanished. Others stayed constantly busy. You couldn't guess to which of these groups a person would belong by that person's age; some of the most vital were in their eighties and nineties, while some of the sitting dead were in their early sixties.

If a goal is too costly to achieve, or if you're too busy and value the achievement too low for it to be worth seeking right now, fine; we all make those choices all the time. Just don't use your age as an excuse.

The briefcase folds are gone

Someone in Wikipedia-ville caught on and removed the statement Sarah had made about the dewlaps of Brahman cows also being known as briefcase folds. Good on them.

I do hope, though, that the demon lords of wikipedia don't send their storm troopers to Sarah's dorm. That would suck for all involved.

Even though the term is now gone from all but this blog, I encourage writers everywhere to use it when describing dewlaps, particularly the dewlaps of Brahman cows. If enough of us do, perhaps one day we can make it reappear on wikipedia as a legitimate term. Wouldn't that be neat?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Random thoughts from the Las Vegas trip

When your body is causing tears in the seams of your spandex and flesh is hanging out of those openings, it's time to consider abandoning spandex--or at least moving up a size. Or two. Or three.

Glitter does not equal taste.

Comment from a cowboy (the rodeo was in town) to the woman with him upon seeing a pair of low-rise, leopard-skin pajama bottoms: "Honey, you ought to get you some of them sleepin' britches."

It would take me weeks to see everything that interests me in Las Vegas and the surrounding area.

Before those weeks were over, I would explode from all the food I had eaten.

Craftsteak has improved, and I now recommend it.

If you're willing to pay insane amounts, a Japanese A5 Wagyu steak cooked at a place that does meat well (as Craftsteak does) will be the best piece of meat you've ever put in your mouth. (You! Don't go there. Yes, I mean you.)

I'm still amazed at how many people don't know that wait staff and doormen/doorwomen live off tips.

I met my first cab driver who was born and raised in Las Vegas but started driving a taxi only a few years ago.

On any night I've ever been in Vegas, I've seen many groups of women walking around hotels wearing clothing so revealing it would be considered lingerie anywhere else.

I consider this a good thing, though note the opening spandex comment.

Drunk people are way funnier to other drunks than they are to those of us who do not drink. (Yes, I could make this observation anywhere, but I am rarely around drunks anywhere else.)

A scowling Patrick Stewart staring at your bed is not a good thing.

Lest it sound like I'm complaining, I had a great time, and I'd go back next week given adequate money and time. Fortunately for my weight, I'll be home the rest of the month.

Monday, December 7, 2009

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 4 - of shoes and airports

You might think that the emotional high point of a day in which you ate lunch at Thomas Keller's Bouchon, watched an early evening performance of Cirque du Soleil's Mystere, which was the first Cirque show I saw many years ago, and enjoyed a wonderful dinner at perennial favorite, Fix, would be one of those events, but for two of our party, you'd be wrong.

For them, the peak moments involved the acquisition of shoes--not just any shoes, mind you, but the famous (I am told), red-soled, Christian Louboutin shoes.

Jennie found hers at the Christian Louboutin store in the Palazzo's second-floor high-end fashion zone. Lisa's spoke to her from a shop in a similar part of the Wynn casino. Both pairs of shoes found new homes and left behind very happy salespeople.

To be fair, the shoes did look amazing on the two of them. In the taxi home from dinner, Lisa and Jennie created a shoe taxonomy that defined Lisa's as awesome and Jennie's as weaponized awesome. From the uninformed perspective of a guy capable of judging only whether the shoes looked good on the person wearing them (and my judgment in even those cases is probably suspect), I have to admit their classifications seem fair.

As Kyle observed, none of us had ever seen either of them (or any other woman, for that matter) speak with such unrestrained lust about anything else.

Today is, by comparison, rather less interesting and eventful, which is as I like travel days to be: wake up too damn early after too little sleep, check out, taxi to airport, wait and work on the floor at the gate, fly, go home, work, settle back into life. When a trip ends thusly, I considered myself blessed.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 3 - Kyle won the picks war again

We both did another lousy job of picking yesterday's UFC fights. Our only excuse is that many of the fights took surprising turns. In the end, Kyle emerged victorious. Here's the run-down, again going from the bottom of the card to the top.

Mark Bocek vs. Joe Brammer

We both called Bocek by submission, and he indeed won with a rear naked choke in the first round.

Dennis Hallman vs. John Howard

This fight was actually two battles in one. For the first two rounds and about 4:30 of the second, Hallman was in control, dominating on the ground and though not doing much damage, still clearly winning. With about 30 seconds to go, though, and Hallman on top on the ground but accomplishing nothing, the ref stood them up. Howard rushed in, Hallman forgot he was there to wrestle and avoid striking, and Howard knocked out Hallman with five seconds to go. Amazing.

We both picked Howard, and we were wrong almost the entire fight, but when it counted, Howard came through, and we both notched another correct pick.

Brian Stann vs. Rodney Wallace

We both chose Wallace to finish this one, so we were both shocked and concerned that we might have blown this one when Greg Jackson and some of his coaches walked out with Brian Stann. We were right to be worried, because Stann fought intelligently, dealt well with Wallace's take-downs, and pulled off the unanimous decision victory. Stann gave us our first wrong pick of the night--but not, alas, our last.

Justin Wren vs. Jon Madsen

We both chose Wren, and when the fight ended, we were both confident we had made the right choice. Unfortunately, the judges disagreed with us in what I believe was a terrible decision, and Madsen won. I had said there was always a chance that these two wrestlers would decide to box all night, and they did. Bad choice, Wren--and now we have two wrong selections.

James McSweeney vs. Darrill Schoonover

Kyle went for McSweeney, and I opted for Schoonover. I was wrong: McSweeney won by TKO in the third.

I now have three wrong; Kyle holds strong at two.

Marcus Jones vs. Matt Mitrione

In the post-fight interview, Matt Mitrione said he had "retard strength," and he showed his power tonight by knocking out Jones in the second. I'm not at all a fan of Mitrione, but he is a big, strong man who earned this victory.

Kyle is now down three, and I'm down four.

Frankie Edgar vs. Matt Veach

Edgar looked like he belonged in a lower weight class than Veach, and Veach clearly won the first round, but none of that mattered in the end as Edgar took over in the second ultimately submitted Veach. Only Gray Maynard should be ahead of Edgar in the line for a chance at the winner of next week's Penn vs. Sanchez lightweight title bout.

Oh, yeah: We called this one.

Kimbo Slice vs. Houston Alexander

We were both wrong about this fight in two significant ways: We expected Alexander to win, and we expected a slugfest. Instead, Kimbo won by decision in easily one of the worst fights I've seen in a while. Alexander ran from Kimbo most of the night, punishing his legs with kicks and staying safe. Both men gassed, and the referees gave the decision to Kimbo.

I'm now down five; Kyle, four.

Jon Jones vs. Matt Hamill

We both chose Jones, and he was indeed winning, dominating Hamill--until he hits Hamill with an illegal downward elbow strike and loses by disqualification. Somewhere along the way, Hamill appeared to have dislocated his shoulder, so we never saw the fight we'd hoped to see. Expect a rematch.

Meanwhile, though, I've now gotten a full six wrong, and Kyle has five incorrect.

Roy Nelson vs. Brendan Schaub

Nelson let us both finish on a high note as he beat Schaub. To our surprise, he knocked out Schaub in the first. I don't expect Nelson to be able to hang with the serious UFC heavyweights, but he's now under UFC contract.

Final tally: Kyle, 5-5; Mark, 4-6.

As always, the most important lesson of our picks is that you should never make bets based on them.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 2 - Our picks for the Ultimate Fighter Finale 10

(Kyle was the first to produce a draft of this one, so I used his text as the main body of this entry, then added my picks for each fight. Thanks, Kyle.)

An event like today's Ultimate Fighter finale really takes the fun out of picking fights. If you look at the betting lines on Bodog, only two of the ten fights have a favorite with less than 2-to-1 odds. Where's the room for insightful analysis? For gameplanning? For guesswork?

Starting at the bottom of the undercard:

Mark Bocek vs. Joe Brammer

Kyle: Bocek should be able to take Brammer down and submit him. This will be Bocek's sixth fight in the UFC, and he's beaten tough guys like Alvin Robinson and David Bielkheden. Brammer's never fought in the big show before, and this will be a major step up in competition for him.

Mark: Bocek should win this one, but the undefeated Brammer has a shot. Still, octagon jitters are likely to swing this one to Bocek, who will win by submission.

Dennis Hallman vs. John Howard

Kyle: Hallman's racked up a lot of wins in his twelve years as a professional fighter. But he peaked years ago, and his style leaves him vulnerable to strikes while he's working for submissions. Expect Howard to pound Hallman out.

Mark: This is one of those classic up-and-comer vs. veteran matches. Hallman certainly has a shot, but I expect him to lose in what will then prove to be his last UFC bout. Howard by decision.

Brian Stann vs. Rodney Wallace

Kyle: It's a battle of North Carolina fighters as Jacksonville's Brian Stann faces off against Salisbury's Rodney Wallace. Zuffa's been trying to put over square-jawed Marine Stann for a while, first in the WEC and now in the UFC, but they're hampered by the fact that Stann's a natural middleweight fighting a class too heavy and by the fact that although his brawling style leads to highlight-reel finishes, half the time Stann's the one being finished. Expect Team ROC's Rodney Wallace to take Stann down and beat him up on the ground.

Mark: From the research I've done, I think Wallace is way better than many people realize, and, unlike Stann, he belongs at this weight class. Wallace, though probably by decision.

Justin Wren vs. Jon Madsen

Kyle: Madsen's a great wrestler. Wren's a great wrestler with great submissions and a twenty-pound weight advantage. Edge to Wren.

Mark: There's always a chance that these two wrestlers decide to spend fifteen minutes striking, but I think eventually Wren will tire of that, take down Madsen, and ground and pound him. Wren by TKO.

James McSweeney vs. Darrill Schoonover

Kyle: This is one of the tougher fights to call. McSweeney's an evasive striker. I expect him to win the stand-up fight. If Schoonover puts him on his back, McSweeney could be in trouble. He'll try to chop Schoonover's legs out from under him to reduce his risk of being taken down. I pick McSweeney to win.

Mark: Schoonover is 10-0 in non-TUF pro fights (the TUF fights don't count against your pro record). McSweeney is 3-4. Schoonover may be distracted because he has go return to military service, but unless that messes with his head, I expect him to take down McSweeney and win there. Schoonover by ground and pound stoppage.

Marcus Jones vs. Matt Mitrione

Kyle: Jones came across as one of the nicest contestants ever to appear on The Ultimate Fighter. Mitrione looked to be one of the stupidest. Mitrione has better stand-up, and has a real chance to finish things on the feet. But Marcus should be able to fight smart, close the distance and get a takedown, at which point he can put his slick submission skills to work. Marcus Jones by tap-out.

Mark: Mitrione is big, fast, and has heavy hands. Jones is the better overall fighter, and once he has you on the ground you're in trouble. Unless he screws up, he should be able to get close enough to Mitrione to take him down and finish him. Jones by submission.

Frankie Edgar vs. Matt Veach

Kyle: This fight is just baffling. Edgar is one of the best lightweights in the world. Veach is a guy who's fought on one Ultimate Fight Night before, earning his biggest win yet over Matt Grice. Edgar should win this one pretty much any way he feels like winning.

Mark: Edgar is fighting one weight class too high. He doesn't finish people, but he's a great fighter. I think UFC Matchmaker Joe Silva picked this fight to give Edgar a shot at finishing and thus create another exciting lightweight title contender. Edgar will win, but it will be by decision.

Kimbo Slice vs. Houston Alexander

Kyle: Kimbo--no, I just can't bring myself to call him that. Kevin Ferguson and Houston Alexander have a lot in common. They're both brawling streetfighters who could beat the crap out of you or me, but who don't have the conditioning or the grappling skills to compete in the UFC. Despite the fact that they're both over 35, they're trying to transform themselves into real mixed martial artists, and I respect that. That said, this is going to be an ugly and exciting fight. Both guys are going to come out swinging, and somebody's going down in the first round. My guess is that it'll be Kimbo. I mean Kevin. He's been through a hard weight cut to make 215; he's not as fast as Alexander; and he hasn't had as long to adapt his style to the world of MMA.

Mark: If this one gets out of the first round, I'll be amazed. Kyle's analysis is dead on here. I think Dana White has managed to both give Kimbo a fight he can win and yet make sure he loses. Alexander by KO or TKO.

Jon Jones vs. Matt Hamill

Kyle: Jones has looked better and better with each fight. He's an amazing athletic specimen, and now that he's switched to training with some of the best light-heavyweights in the world at Greg Jackson's camp, I expect him to be unstoppable. Hamill doesn't really seem to have improved since he lost to Michael Bisping two years ago. Jones by KO.

Mark: Hamill hasn't changed much as a fighter since his start in the UFC. Jones was an exciting fighter who got smart and moved to New Mexico to train with Greg Jackson's team, one of the very best in the business. Jones should handily win this one by KO or TKO.

Roy Nelson vs. Brendan Schaub

Kyle: Schaub is big, athletic, and a good striker, though he needs a takedown defense other than hanging onto the cage for dear life. There were points in each of Roy's TUF fights where he looked like he might get finished on the feet. In each case he saved himself by taking it to the ground and smothering his opponents with his blubber. Expect Schaub to beat Roy up standing and expect Roy to take Schaub down at will. The big question is going to be whether Schaub can stand up again once Roy Nelson's weight is on top of him. The last three guys couldn't. I pick Nelson to win.

Mark: Nothing about Roy Nelson endeared him to me on the show. Sure, my body is sadly far more like his than Schaub's, but I still didn't like him. He won by using his size to subdue his opponents, and he was a smart fighter, but he also always seemed to greatly overvalue himself. All that said, the only way Nelson doesn't win is if Schaub has developed a take-down defense in the four months since he left the show. I really want to pick Schaub to win, and I hope he does, but I'm going to have to go with Nelson, probably by decision. In this case, though, I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, December 4, 2009

On the road again: Las Vegas, day 1

The purpose of this trip is to have fun while belatedly celebrating Kyle's birthday. Today certainly featured many fun events, including lunch and gelato in the Bellagio, dinner at L'Atelier Robuchon, the Cirque show, Ka, and banana cream pie at Emeril's.

Unfortunately, the day also included a 5:30 a.m. wake-up after two hours of sleep, a long, cramped airplane ride, and many, many hours of work. So, a mixed day, but overall, a good one.

I'd go into more details, but I'm exhausted and still must work more, so perhaps additional information tomorrow.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Enjoy the videos. Buy the album.

Blue Rodeo, one of my favorite bands, has put out a new album, The Things We Left Behind. You should buy it. You have no excuses, because it's available on Amazon.

Of course I already have it; I pre-ordered it from their site.

While you're making up your mind, enjoy these two videos of songs from the album.

The first, "One Light Left In Heaven," was a preview video for the album. Jim Cuddy goes all romantic on this one.



The second, "Arizona Dust," is both more playful as a video and as a song.



I wish they would play a show near here, but at least I have the CD.

You should have it, too.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

My Amazon Prime conflict

Amazon's Prime shipping program is an insanely wonderful convenience, particularly for someone who buys as many books, CDs, and DVDs as I do. If you don't know about Prime, it's a simple arrangement: You pay Amazon a $79 annual fee, and just about everything that Amazon sells comes to you with free two-day shipping. There's no minimum order size, so if you see a single paperback or a CD you want, you just order it, it ships the next day, and you have it two days later. Often, it arrives sooner.

I love it.

Amazon's Prime shipping program is drowning me in cardboard and shipping materials, wasting untold gallons of shipping fuel, and increasing my carbon footprint enormously. It also (all too often successfully) tempts me to make dumb impulse purchases. (No, I'm not including in this category Recon 2023; that one could be a winner. Maybe.) Yes, I know all of these bad aspects are the result of my use of the program, and I could wait to bunch orders, shop locally more often, and so on, but Amazon's great prices and this insanely fast gratification, coupled with the huge lack of free time in my life, make it irresistible.

I hate it.

How do I resolve this conflict? Right now, I don't; I just order whenever I feel like it, and I try to take small solace from the fact that our household recycles everything we reasonably can.

It does, though, often bother me.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

How do you react

to this trailer for Recon 2023: The Gauda Prime Conspiracy?



If you're most people, you laugh at the bad acting, the dumb plot, the terrible costumes, and the weak special effects.

If you're me or Kyle, who showed it to me, you note that Edith Labelle, a former UFC "ring girl," is one of the stars, accept that you watched Cyborg Soldier just for Rich Franklin, and know that, yes, you must watch this bit of SF tawdriness.

I've already ordered it on Amazon. It'll be one of the late-night films when Kyle next visits.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The art of raising prices without raising prices

I'm always amazed when businesses create new offerings that amount to ways to take more of your money for basically the same old product. I'm even more amazed when I agree to such scams.

Today, Southwest Airlines amazed me.

A group of us are heading to Las Vegas this weekend for the UFC's Ultimate Fighter Finale 10 (and lots of other fun stuff). We're flying on Southwest, in large part because it has the only direct, nonstop flight from here to Las Vegas. Today, Southwest emailed me that if I wanted to get to register for my boarding position 36 hours in advance--as opposed to the usual 24--I should sign up for the new EarlyBird Check-In feature. I did--and in the process had to pay an additional ten dollars per flight. So, Southwest raised my ticket cost by twenty bucks without ever changing the price.

Sure, I could have saved money and not opted for this feature, but then my boarding position would have been terrible, because everyone else who wanted a good seat would have already signed up. On Southwest, if you don't have a good boarding number, you can find yourself in a middle seat between Bubba the retired pro wrestler, who's now on disability due to excessive girth, and Grandma Liddly, whose Tourette's will be better soon and who is transporting a five-pound-bag of limberger cheese--a bag that has now burst open--to the home where her axe murderer son is under constant care.

I admire this particular scam, because it is such an effective trap, even though I also hate it. In any case, from now on, when I fly Southwest, I'll be paying ten bucks extra per flight.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Talking about writing

Ask most writers, including me, about a published work, and as long as the question is at all intelligent and not rude, they will talk until either you stop them or some basic sense of social decency kicks in. We all spend so much time living in the worlds of our fiction, and we're all so desperate for love and approval, that our own published work is one of our favorite topics.

So, why do so many writers, most especially including me, avoid talking in any substantive way about work in progress?

Part of the answer is that we want you to experience the story or novel as it is, with as few preconceptions as possible. The more we describe a scene or plot arc or other variable, the less likely the listener is to be able to come to that part of the piece cleanly.

Another factor is that we are aware of how whiny we sound. As I draw closer to the end of the first draft of Children No More, those around me on a daily basis are hearing more and more often my very real concerns that the book is too slow, too emotional, too this, too that--a self-indulgent bit of stupefyingly boring twaddle that no one should have written. Even though all those concerns are very real in my head, I know they sound like whining to anyone listening. I know they get boring and annoying fast. I know the listeners have no useful options, because they haven't read the work and I won't let them (because it's not done), and so, believe it or not, I try to minimize this activity.

Why do I do it all? Why don't I shut up entirely?

Weakness. People ask, and instead of staying quiet, I let my weakness overcome me, and I talk. Sometimes I do it even when no one has asked. No excuses.

Finally, one of the very most important reasons not to talk about a work in progress is that it is just that: in progress. It is changing, and anything we said on one day might have to change on the next. In my case, every draft improves the book, and sometimes in significant ways, so what I might say midway through the first draft might not apply at all to the final version.

So, given all of this, what can you expect from me in the future?

Probably more of the same. I'll keep trying to improve, but I'll also almost certainly keep screwing up. Sorry about that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

On Pirate Radio

I've now seen this movie twice and am ready to discuss it. First, though, the bottom line: I absolutely love it. I can understand how some would find it slow, but I did not, not even the second time; I loved every frame and left it wishing I could have seen the thirty-minutes-longer British version. I very much hope that cut of the movie becomes available on U.S. Blu-Ray.

The film is very much a love song to rock and roll from a man who grew up loving it. Curtis is a year younger than I am, and we clearly share the experience of a life spent caring passionately about rock. It's entirely predictable, therefore, that I adore this movie. I would guess that if you are not a rock fan, the film may not work quite so very well for you--but you should still see it.

One reason is that an equally strong part of Pirate Radio's emotional arc is a celebration of the intensity and the not-quite-real-world quality of being a college-age teenager. You're definitely in the world, away from home and on your own, and yet the responsibilities of adulthood have not quite caught up with you. These characters live isolated on a boat, their food provided by a loving and safe household-mother figure of a lesbian cook, and their income magically appearing from the kind of father (Bill Nighy) who could also be everyone's favorite dorm RA. I could keep up with this analysis, but it hardly matters, because those times are glorious times that are indeed worthy of celebration.

Most of all, though, this film is about art and its making. Alone in their own space, with distant fans listening and only occasional contact with others, these DJs are artists of the airwaves. They remind us of the incredible value of making art, even when that art fails to live up to our dreams, and of the vital importance of the young in re-stoking the artistic fires. Tellingly, though, the character who is most committed to this art, The Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), is also among the oldest (if not the oldest) of the crew. His presence reminds us that we never need to stop making art--nay, that we absolutely never should for as long as there is air in our lungs.

I've now seen this movie twice. Both times, I exited the theater high from the experience and more determined than ever to be a better writer and to write until I die. How could I not love it?

Friday, November 27, 2009

The overdue Odd Saturday report

Last Saturday was one of those days of excess that I love but cannot afford to do often. After sleeping late, we headed out to dip into the river of cheese (i.e., eat at a favorite local Mexican place, where the queso is plentiful and good, and the marinade on the beef in the fajita quesadilla steak is strong and flavorful). We then put in some Halo time, followed by a little work.

Everyone arrived about 4:15, and the festivities began in earnest.

First stop was Dorton Arena for a Carolina Rollergirls double-header. The opening game was a blow-out, with the visiting Dixie Derby Girls taking the Carolina Bootleggers 86 to 76. (The final score is closer than the game ever was.) Less than five minutes into the second match-up, however, we realized that we'd been seeing the junior teams before, because these women were faster, stronger, better skaters, and far more effective users of various strategies. The Steel City Derby Demons started with a 26-0 scoring run, and it looked for a bit like the home team, the Carolina All-Stars, were done. Carolina came back, though, to win it 144 to 143 in a truly exciting and excellent match.

We didn't see the last several minutes, however, because we had to leave to make our nine o'clock reservation for a dozen at The Pit. After several shared plates of Barbecue Fries and an additional couple of pans of cornbread, followed by heaping plates of 'cue, we were all so stuffed we could barely move.

We rolled into our cars and headed home, where through the combination of Spike TV's free broadcast and the UFC's PPV event, we were able to watch all but one of the fights. Somewhere after midnight, we took a break before the main event and tore into many pints of various flavors of Jeni's ice creams, as well as trays of two different types of cookies and the namesake bouchons from Thomas Keller's Bouchon mixes. Yes, cookies from mixes--but Keller mixes, so they were awesome.

When the fights ended and most of the crowd headed out, a hardy few of us stayed up for a little more entertainment, and then off to work I went.

It was a great evening, but, as I said, not one I could do very often.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm frequently grateful for many things, but today, like so many holidays, serves as a focal point for such thoughts. My life is better in many ways than I as a child had dreamed might be possible, and I am thankful for that. I have many nice things, for which I am also thankful.

Most of all, though, I'm thankful for two groups of people: those who care about me and allow me the privilege of caring about them, and those who make my writing possible (from the many folks in my life who have to put up with the emotional costs of my writing, to my publisher and distributor and salespeople and booksellers and all of the others involved in taking books to market, to the most important group of all, those who buy and read my books).

I hope you all have a great day and much to be thankful for, now and in the future.

Sarah alters reality

To many people today, including, unfortunately, a huge number of young students, the source for all knowledge, the definition of our consensual reality. is wikipedia. I find this frightening.

What's even more scary, however, is how easy it is to alter this particular reality.

While at the State Fair, Sarah asked what the folds hanging under a Brahman cow's neck were. I said they were called "briefcase folds," because there was enough leather there to make a briefcase. Amazingly, Sarah bought it for a few minutes--ah, the power of fatherhood!--and felt a bit betrayed when I finally admitted it was all a fiction.

Apparently, however, she's decided to spread that betrayal into the online consensual reality, because you can now see that very term in this wikipedia entry on the dewlaps of many animals.

I know I should discourage such behavior, and I realize I should probably have a fatherly talk with Sarah about playing such games, but right now I'm too busy laughing my ass off. Like father, like daughter. Hell, yeah!

(If the words "briefcase folds" aren't on the above page when you visit it, the wikipedia police caught Sarah. I'm sure she's sorry, and I doubt she'll do it again anytime soon.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Picture time!

Sometimes--and tonight is one of those times--the urge to show a few photos strikes me. These are all from the recent Portland trip.


Let's start with the creepy one.

I'm beginning to think there's a conspiracy to put these strange food statues in my path, so I can never last a week without encountering one. As the saying goes, just because you're paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get you--but would anyone choose this form of attack?











Staying with food, but now with truly excellent food, here's a shot of the end of my receipt from our dinner at Le Pigeon. If I didn't already love the place, I would admire it for this small touch alone.



The final two pictures are both the view out my hotel room window from the desk where I was working. This one is with the blinds down; I like how it cuts the night into horizontal lines.







I have to confess, though, that I like this one even better. Something about the vitality of a busy city at night always makes me happy.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

If you love contemporary music

then you could do a lot worse than check out this blog, which Sarah and her boyfriend, Ben, co-author. I have to admit that Sarah's song lists often serve to remind me of how little I know of contemporary music, but, hey, that's okay; I keep learning.

When I was a teenager, I couldn't do anything without music playing. From the moment when I was eleven and found and repaired a trashed AM radio, to when I spent all my saved money at sixteen to buy the best stereo I could afford, all the way to today, music, particularly rock and roll (in the broadest sense, not just the marketing label) has shaped my life and brought me joy. I'm glad Sarah and I share that trait.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Preliminary book covers for Children No More and Jump Gate Twist are online

Publishing is a long-lead-time business. The books that will appear in bookstores next summer are now (and have been for a few weeks) in catalogs that publishers' sales reps use to help sell their upcoming titles. One consequence of these long lead times is that publishers often have to design preliminary covers before they have the final art in hand. Similarly, artists have to create cover illustrations before they have the final book in hand; in fact, many artists must complete assignments without ever having the chance to have read a word of the book.

All those issues exist with Children No More, the fourth Jon & Lobo book and the one that I am still writing. To some degree, Jump Gate Twist has the same problems, because though both the publisher and the artist obviously have the two books this omnibus collects, they do not have the other material I will be adding to the collection.

All of this is to explain that the covers I'm about to show you are preliminary, not final but still publicly available.

First, check out the look of the draft jacket for Children No More. It's a very different look for Baen, a bit of an experiment, and I quite like it. I find the black-and-white basic composition to be very compelling, with the two art components nicely telling readers that this is indeed SF. I think it screams "big book," which I would love CNM to be. I hope readers feel the same way and pick it up by the tens of thousands (which would be some trick, because there's no way my publisher will be printing that many, but, hey, a guy can dream).

Next, in another very different look we have the John Picacio cover for Jump Gate Twist. I've heard from a lot of women fans, readers, and friends who liked my books that they did so despite their male-oriented (in the opinion of those folks) covers. The goal with this new treatment is a simple, blatant one: To package the two books to attract a broader female readership.

Is that crass commercialism? You bet.

Do I mind? Hell, no. I think it's excellent. I pushed for it. I want my books to have the broadest possible readership.

Even though what you're seeing is still very preliminary, not even done, and even though I know my pal John will greatly improve the final product, I have to say that I also greatly like this cover.

So, what do you folks think?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

UFC 106: How we did

In yesterday's entry, Kyle and I made our picks for last night's UFC PPV event. Today, I must report the results. Though I'll give you the fight-by-fight run-down, first, the two main points: Kyle kicked my ass with a two-fight edge where we disagreed, and we both sucked.

Here are the final stats for the ten fights:

Kyle: 5-5
Mark: 3-7
As I said, we sucked, and I sucked worse.

Now, on to the fights, again in order from the bottom of the card to the main event.

George Sotiropoulos vs. Jason Dent

We both chose Sotiropoulos, with me saying probably by submission and Kyle dropping the "probably." The Australian fighter indeed won by a sweet armbar.

Caol Uno vs. Fabricio Camoes

I picked Camoes. Kyle chose Uno. We were both wrong: it was a majority draw. I give neither of us a point for this one. I can't comment further on this fight , because it's the only preliminary we didn't get to watch, but I can say that I don't expect to see Uno in the UFC much longer.

Brock Larson vs. Brian Foster

We both chose Larson, and we were both wrong. Foster won by TKO in the second, and he was dominating Larson well before that time. Foster was very impressive.

Kendall Grove vs. Jake Rosholt

Another preliminary, another one we both missed. We called Rosholt, but Grove choked him with a triangle in the first.

Ben Saunders vs. Marcus Davis

Kyle chose Saunders to win by using his reach. I chose Davis as the superior striker. Saunders demolished Davis: He knocked out Davis in the first with knees.

At this point, Kyle led 1-0. I was worried but not overly so.

Then the main fights started.

Amir Sadollah vs. Phil Baroni

We both chose Sadollah, and indeed he won, though by decision after beating the living snot out of Phil Baroni, who simply would not fall.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Luis Cane

I said that it was always risky betting against a Nogueira, and I was right, because Little Nog TKO'd Cane early in the first. Kyle called for Nog by submission, but he still called Nog. Kyle now led 2-0.

Paulo Thiago vs. Jacob Volkmann

I really thought Volkmann could take this one, but it was a bad night to be from Minnesota: Brock Lesnar out sick, Brock Larson getting TKO'd, and then Volkmann dropping a unanimous decision. Kyle stuck with Thiago and at this point led 3-0.

Josh Koscheck vs. Anthony Johnson

We both chose Johnson, and we were both again wrong, as Koscheck eventually submitted Johnson in one of the sloppier (or dirtier, if any of the bad blows and eye pokes were intentional) fights in a while.

Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz

I went with Forrest, and Kyle opted for Tito. After three rounds, we all wanted two more, because no one had clearly won. Still, when the judges returned their decision, it was a split--in favor of Griffin. Finally, I won one against Kyle.

Kyle ended the night up by two.

The real winner of this fight was Dana White, who now has a ready-made main event--Ortiz vs. Griffin 3--whenever he needs it.

**********

As always, the most important lesson you should learn from our predictions is this: do not bet any money based on them.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UFC 106: Picking the winners

Tonight's UFC PPV was supposed to offer a main event pitting the heavyweight champ, Brock Lesnar, against the undefeated challenger, Shane Carwin. Brock took ill, very ill, and ended up having minor (they say) abdominal surgery. Carwin used the time off to have some long-postponed knee surgery. Dana White thus had to scramble to fill the card with a worthy replacement, which proved to be the return of Tito Ortiz in a rematch with popular fighter, Forrest Griffin. All this drama yielded a card far weaker than the original but still one well worth watching--which is what we'll be doing tonight.

As we have done with several, though not all, of the recent UFC events, Kyle and I are going to make our picks. Last time, we sucked; let's hope we're more on the money this go-round.

We'll take the fights from the bottom to the top, saving the main event for last.

First, the undercard.

George Sotiropoulos vs. Jason Dent

Mark: Both of these guys are Ultimate Fighter alums who aren't ready for a main card. Sotiropoulos is dropping to lightweight for the first time and should be the bigger man. The Australian should win this one, probably via submission but possibly by decision. Either way, Sotiropoulos should have a winning lightweight debut.

Kyle: Both fighters have a history of winning by submission, but Sotiropoulos is on another level. When the fight hits the ground, he flows like mercury. Look for him to tie Dent into a human pretzel and win a submission victory.

Caol Uno vs. Fabricio Camoes

Mark: The oddsmakers are all over Uno, giving him a large edge over UFC newcomer Camoes. I think they're wrong. Camoes is going to be much bigger than Uno, show surprising striking skills, and surprise a lot of people by pulling off the victory, though whether by decision or submission, I'm not sure.

Kyle: Six years ago, Caol Uno was fighting for the UFC lightweight title. Now he's lost three of his last four fights.and he's on the prelims fighting a guy who's never been in the UFC before. Camoes has won seven fights in a row, but Uno is going to be a big step up in competition for him. Expect Uno to neutralize Camoes' attacks and hang on for a decision victory.

Brock Larson vs. Brian Foster

Mark: Larson lost his last fight, but I think he'll back in fine form tonight. He will simply overwhelm Foster, take him down at will, and ultimately either submit him or win a decision.

Kyle: Larson by whatever he chooses to finish the fight with.

Kendall Grove vs. Jake Rosholt

Mark: Kendall Grove has the motivation of fighting to stay in the UFC, but I don't think that will be enough. Rosholt is too strong a wrestler. He'll find a way under Grove's reach advantage, take Grove down, and probably win via decision, though a late-fight submission is also a possibility. Either way, Rosholt wins.

Kyle: Grove has lost three of his last five fights, and I see no reason why he should win this one. Look for Rosholt to use his superior wrestling to take Grove down and work to a submission victory.

Ben Saunders vs. Marcus Davis

Mark: If either of these two fighters hits the ground, it'll be because he slipped or was knocked out. They'll stand and trade, where Davis is better and will pull off the decision. This one could get fight of the night honors, because Dana loves to award guys who stand and trade.

Kyle: Davis is a heavy favorite here. He fought Mike Swick to decision a year ago, while Swick recently knocked Saunders out. But I'm picking Saunders to win. Like Swick, Saunders is tall for a welterweight. He's 6' 2" to Davis' 5' 8". Both men are stand-up fighters, and I think Saunders is going to be able to use his superior reach to punish Davis from the outside.

And now to the main bouts.

Amir Sadollah vs. Phil Baroni

Mark: Baroni swears he's a new man, but I don't buy it. I think the UFC created this fight to get Sadollah back on the winning track. Unless Sadollah screws up and lets Baroni tag him early, Baroni will gas, and Sadollah will win by submission sometime after the first round.

Kyle: There are a lot of unknowns in this fight. Sadollah tore through tough competition to win his season of The Ultimate Fighter before being laid out by an early punch in his first real UFC fight. Baroni has beaten down some top middleweights with his heavy hands, but is known for wearing himself out early and fading in the later rounds. Does Sadollah have a weak chin, or did his last opponent just get lucky? Will Baroni be weak from cutting all the way down to welterweight? I pick Sadollah to weather the early storm, take it to the ground and beat Baroni there--but it's all going to hinge on whether or not he can survive the first round.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. Luis Cane

Mark: It's always risky betting against a Nogueira, but I'm doing exactly that in picking Cane to win in what will be his welcome to the top ten fight. He's going to push Nogueira hard, keep it standing up, and ultimately win by TKO or KO.

Kyle: Cane has beaten Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Sokoudjou has beaten Nogueira, so if fighting skill were a well-ordered set you'd expect Cane to beat Nogueira. But the real world doesn't work that way. Nogueira is an experienced veteran who's beaten some of the best fighters in the world and he'll be well-versed in Cane's strengths and weaknesses. I expect him to get Cane down and pull off a submission victory.

Paulo Thiago vs. Jacob Volkmann

Mark: Volkmann is an undefeated wrestler who trains in the Minnesota home of such other great wrestlers turned MMA fighters as Sean Sherk and Brock Larson. Thiago is probably more well rounded, but I see Volkmann winning by decision after spending a lot of time holding down Thiago. That said, Thiago pulling off a submission victory wouldn't surprise me, but I have to pick, so Volkmann it is.

Kyle: Thiago's a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu expert. Volkmann's a former NCAA wrestler. Expect Thiago to spend most of the fight on his back, but to try to use his BJJ skills to keep from taking damage, to reverse the position, and to secure a submission victory. I think he'll pull it off. Thiago to win.

Josh Koscheck vs. Anthony Johnson

Mark: I hate having to call this fight. It's a classic striker vs. wrestler battle, with Johnson, the striker, having a big size and reach advantage. The oddsmakers give it to Johnson, but Koscheck has a clear path to victory: take him down, hang out there a while, repeat. The fight I want to watch is the one in which Koscheck can't do that and Johnson wins, so I'm going with my desires, not my head, and choosing Johnson by KO or TKO.

Kyle: I think that Johnson takes this. He and Koscheck are both huge 170-pounders with explosive power. Koscheck undoubtedly has a stronger wrestling pedigree. But he's adopted a sprawl-and-brawl style over the last couple of years that I think plays to Johnson's strengths. Look for Johnson to use his superior speed and reach to win it on the feet.

Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz

Mark: Griffin and Ortiz are both huge light heavyweights. Ortiz is, as you'd expect, doing all the talking ahead of the fight, and he's pointing to his injury-free status as proof that he is back. I've been an Ortiz fan off and on through the years, but I see him losing tonight. He's still running his own training camp, when he should be working with others to challenge him. His game is still what it used to be, when Griffin's has evolved dramatically. Griffin by decision, with a small shot at a TKO.

Kyle: Two and a half years ago, Tito Ortiz beat Forrest Griffin in a controversial split decision. Tito went on to trounce a geriatric Ken Shamrock twice, then lose to Chuck Liddell, fight Rashad Evans to a draw and lose to Lyoto Machida. When he walked away from the UFC in May of 2008, his stock was at an all-time low.

But while Tito's been away from fighting, events back in the Octagon have made him look better. Griffin, Evans and Machida have all gone on to win the Light Heavyweight belt, and only Shogun has done as well as Tito did against Machida. Tito used his long layoff to get his back fixed and says that he's now stronger than he's ever been.

I pick Tito to win this one. Tito's consistently underrated, but he's as good as any fighter in the 205-pound shark tank. If he's in shape, Tito should be able to consistently put Griffin on his back and ground-and-pound his way to victory.

**********

Kyle and I disagree on quite a few of these fights, so we'll be cheering for opposite sides on several occasions tonight. I'll report back tomorrow on how we did.

Friday, November 20, 2009

On the road again: Portland, day 5

As one who sees the highways at six a.m. only reluctantly, I'm always amazed to find them crowded. On today's drive to the airport, they were also slick from hours of rain, rain that continued the entire time I was in the rental car. None of this deterred the experienced Portland drivers, who whizzed along at 75 miles per hour on overpasses that arched high over the city--and that were marked with a 45 limit. The less than half an hour I spent in the car was thus vastly more stressful than any of the many hours I was in the air.

I'm definitely getting spoiled by connectivity on planes. During the first flight, I exchanged email messages with a prospect and set up a phone meeting, which I held from an Admirals Club in DFW. I also caught up on email, video-chatted (but with no sound, as I didn't bring a headset with a microphone), and was generally productive. I know the idea of using the plane time as quiet time is appealing, but the work would have been there when I'm landed, so for me the Internet access was all good.

The second flight was a more typical one with no Internet access, and I found myself complaining about it while on a call. Definitely spoiled.

Winter isn't even here yet, and already I'm aching to go to an island. Why are there no SF conventions in January on tropical islands? (That's a rhetorical question; cons need to provide access to a broad base of fans and fan budgets, and islands are rarely cheap.) Maybe I should start one.

No. One of my rules: Don't work on a con. Write.

And Paris. I really want to go to Paris. Ever since Sarah's concert in Duke Chapel, I've wanted to stand next to Notre Dame at night, stare at the wild crowds circulating on the Left Bank, and then plunge into them.

Tomorrow evening promises to be very interesting; I'll write about it at some point. As a teaser, let me just say that it involves roller derby, barbecue, big men fighting, and this season's special offerings from Jeni's ice cream.

Now, though, a certain book beckons, and so, as I do each day, to it I go.

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