Saturday, September 26, 2009

Zombies on a plane

Oh, yes, we did. Last night, after unhealthy helpings of safety cake as our first dessert course, a group of hardy zombie fans watched Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane. You can guess the plot from the title, so I won't go into any details on it. What you might not guess is that, despite a relatively slow starting sequence, the movie is better than most zombie films and quite a lot of fun.

Don't believe me? Fair enough, given my track record. So, to convince you, here are five things from this movie that should be enough to persuade any zombie fan to give it a try. (Warning: These are spoilers of a sort, but don't worry; the scenes in which they occur will still be worth watching.)

5. a Tiger Woods rip-off character using a golf club to whack off a zombie's head

4. a zombie seat-belted into an airplane seat taking out a fighter plane

3. a completely legless zombie hand-walking across a landscape that looks remarkably like Mars

2. umbrella-through-the-head-and-opening-on-the-other-side zombie-killing fu

and something no one wants to miss

1. a half-legged zombie nun on the attack

If your local video store doesn't have this fine feature film, you can find it on Amazon. Enjoy!

Friday, September 25, 2009

On the road again: San Francisco, day 8

I'm on the plane to DFW. We left SFO about half an hour late due to the need to repair some problem on the plane. Whenever that situation arises, I'm fine with waiting. If the plane isn't working correctly, I want them to fix it. If they can't fix it, I want another plane that is performing up to snuff. These feelings strike me as entirely logical, which is why I'm always amazed when I hear other passengers complaining and suggesting that the airline just let us board and take off despite the problem. Yes, I understand that some problems for which airline rules and/or FAA regulations require the airlines to hold planes are relatively minor, but still, if the rules say a plane shouldn't fly until the airline has fixed a certain problem, I'm willing to wait.

Last night, we went to see the Sendak on Sendak exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which was less than three long blocks from our hotel. It was a marvelous exhibit, with dozens and dozens of original drawings, both roughs and finished pieces. Two facets of Sendak's art particularly captured my attention.

First, he appeared to work almost all the time at scale or even below it. Most illustrators I've studied tended to draw or paint on a much larger scale than the printed final product, an approach that has the benefit of making the published version appear much more detailed when it's shot down to the smaller, printed scale. Sendak's drawings were frequently quite small and yet reproduced beautifully.

The second interesting aspect of his work was the wide variety of styles he uses. From illustrations with the simplistic lines and fuzzy edges of a child's drawing, to images as detailed and sharp and crowded as photographs, he adapted his approach to his subject matter and the style he had chosen for the book.

To me the best praise I can give any such exhibit is this: I left it a much bigger fan of the artist than I entered it. If you're in San Francisco, definitely check out Sendak on Sendak.

After our time in the gallery, we had planned to head to a Chinese restaurant that Bourdain had featured in the episode of No Reservations on SF. We were concerned, however, that we might not be in the mood for truly authentic Chinese food that night. We were walking down the street discussing this topic and our options for dinner when a guy in front of us turned and said, "Want to know where the best Chinese food in town is?"

We gave the only reasonable response: "Sure."

He then explained that it was at a hole in the wall called China First, which was a long cab ride away but quite worthwhile. His wife, who was Chinese-American, then turned and told us that the restaurant was both her favorite and the favorite of her parents when they visited from China. She even suggested a bunch of dishes we should try.

Having received such a spontaneous and unexpected recommendation, there was only one thing we could do: Go with it. We walked over to the Marriott, got in the taxi line, waited until we were almost frozen solid because taxis were scarce on the ground, and finally secured a ride.

Our cabbie proved to be a transplanted New Yorker with a wonderfully dry sense of humor, so the drive, though long, passed quickly in a flurry of jokes and commentary on everything from the surrounding areas ("I could let you out here, but you'd die") to the Giants prospect of making it into the playoffs ("the Fat Lady has warmed up and is holding a fork").

At China First, the one waiter--for about forty people, almost all of them Chinese-American--pointed us to a table, plopped down some tea, and eventually returned to take our orders. He raised his eyebrows at the sheer quantity of food we requested, but we assured him we were hungry.

We were wrong. He was right. We left about a third of the food.

What we did consume was tasty, different--in a good way--from what I've had in most Chinese restaurants, and warmly comforting on a cold, foggy night. I particularly enjoyed the hot and sour soup and the beef fu yung, both of which the young woman on the street had recommended.

Though none of us ordered seafood, the restaurant's claimed specialty, we did admire the gigantic live crab in the tank near the kitchen.

I'd give you the URL if I could, but I don't believe the place has a Web site.

I'd certainly go back there if I were in the mood for Chinese food. More to the point, it was a perfect story moment with which to end a long trip to San Francisco.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

On the road again: San Francisco, day 7

People who learn that I outline my novels frequently ask if things change between the outline and the final book. The answer is always "yes," but sometimes, it's more like, "Oh, hell, yeah!" This is one of those times.

For the section of Children No More that I'm writing currently, my outline is rather vague. It simply instructs me to write several types of events in a logical procession building up to a certain key moment. I've lived with this story in my head for a long time, so I assumed that choosing the right events to show in the book would be easy.

Boy, was I wrong.

As I knew intellectually but had not internalized, a great deal happens in this part of the story, in part because this section takes place over a couple of months. Most of what happens is boring and routine and so not anything I want to put in the novel. I also do not, however, want to include only the moments of high drama; that feels false. Picking the right scenes, the stretches of action that are relatively routine but that also contain exactly the right moments of action and of character change, is a tricky proposition. I think I'm doing it reasonably well, and I'm happy with the results so far (well, to be accurate, I'm as happy with them as I can be at this stage in a novel), but the work is not easy.

Of course, how easy or hard the work is should not matter to anyone but me. What matters is the end product, the quality of the book.

I am on the road, so I should comment on my time here, but like parts of any story, today so far has not provided much of interest to others. It's been all work so far--interesting work, but work nonetheless--and though tonight should contain some fun events, they haven't occurred yet. So, for now I leave you with those thoughts about CNM, and tomorrow I'll report on this evening's upcoming festivities.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

On the road again: San Francisco, day 6

Watching the demonstrations and keynote speeches at today's sessions, I couldn't help but be struck both by how much progress the computer industry is making and how much more I want it to make. As a group of us were discussing earlier tonight, and as I'll cover in some later entry, the problem with new tech is not what it does but all that it doesn't yet handle.

Dinner was at Sebo Sushi, which had come to our attention courtesy of Bourdain's No Reservations episode on San Francisco. We had to wait half an hour for a table, but once seated we had very good miso soup and far better than average sushi. I enjoyed all that I tried, though the standout was the butter fish.

Sebo Sushi doesn't offer dessert, so after our meal we headed over to Bi-Rite Creamery to try their ice cream. All the flavors we sampled were excellent, though Jeni's remains at the top of the ice cream hierarchy.

Conferences are always incredibly demanding, because they add to my normal workload and my writing the panels, speeches, and so on. I'm thus exhausted but keeping up. To the writing I go.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

On the road again: San Francisco, day 5

Today was work, work, and more work, so there's not a lot I can discuss. Lunch was with an old friend and colleague, which was very nice. Dinner was with colleagues at Restaurant Lulu, where the food was tasty but the architecture was better; the redesigned warehouse is a lovely space. I also liked watching the wood-burning rotisserie, the flames from the burning wood cooking the meat but never touching it. Fire can be quite mesmerizing.

Do you have any movies that you intellectually understand are bad but that you deeply love nonetheless? I certainly do. I caught the last ten minutes of one of mine, Streets of Fire, on TV the other night in the hotel. Everything about this skiffy-feeling, retro, rock fable is wrong, but the resulting mash-up charms me every time. Plus, the soundtrack is amazing--though much of it in the overwrought-but-still-works-for-me way of much of Jim Steinman's work. Simply catching the ending made me smile.

My mother was right: I really am easily amused.

Monday, September 21, 2009

On the road again: San Francisco, day 4

At lunchtime today, I took a brief and brisk walk to clear my head. In the course of only fifteen minutes I saw a man begging for the last $0.99 of ransom money he needed to save his kidnapped wife, a woman lighting and then smoking a joint while sitting on steps maybe fifteen feet back from Mission Street, the drivers of two pick-up trucks screaming angrily at a bicyclist and then coming perilously close to smashing him between their vehicles, and many more interesting sights. San Francisco mid-day life is vastly more interesting than what goes on in my company's office park back home.

Dinner was at a perennial favorite, Max's on the Square. As usual, I had the utterly unhealthy and completely delicious patty melt. Though not quite up to the level of past patty melts I've consumed there, it was still better than any patty melt I've had anywhere else.

One of our group ordered Max's self-styled "gigantic" eclair for dessert, and the pastry that arrived was indeed huge, the biggest eclair I've ever seen. Half of it went home with my colleague in a plastic container; I was impressed that he could eat that much of it.

Children No More calls to me, and work starts early in the morning, so off to write I go.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On the road again: San Francisco, day 3

Last night's dinner, a nine-course tasting menu at the well-known and well-respected French restaurant, Masa's, kicked the butt of our Friday night meal. Though not world-class in taste or inventiveness, the food was delicious and beautifully executed. The service was definitely not up to the cooking, but we still had a very nice time and greatly enjoyed the experience.

The weirdest two things of the evening were the toile fabric chairs, a sample of which you can see here, and the couple who looked and sounded as if they had stepped off a bus from Idaho in 1956 and found themselves facing a high-end contemporary French menu. They were as nice as two people could be, but they were also clearly dazed and confused.

As we were waiting for a cab outside Masa's, I turned left and noticed this street sign. Just seeing it tickled me. I hope to see some of the Hammett sights when I'm back in the area in late October.

Today's signing at Borderlands Books was in many ways a bust: no one other than people who already knew me showed up, I thus didn't move many books for the store, and I ended up reading only to friends. I did share a few bits from Children No More, and everyone seemed to enjoy those pieces.

The trip, however, also produced many fine results. I finally got to visit the store, which I absolutely loved. The book displays are warm and inviting, and the selection is strong. The place is bright and friendly and in general the sort of bookstore I adore. I got to spend time with Jude, the manager and an absolutely wonderful woman, as well as some friends. Alan, the owner, arrived late due to World Fantasy Con business, but was able to chat for a while before we had to leave.

On balance, I'm glad I went, but I still felt more than a little like the failed beginning writer that in many ways I am.

On the walk back to the car, we stopped at several interesting shops. The one I most liked was 826 Valencia, the combination tutoring resource and pirate store. At TED, I'd watched Eggers win a TED Prize for the wish of helping others create more of these centers in other locations. When I'd watched the videos and listened to Eggers' pitch, I'd appreciated the notion and thought it a cool one. Walking through the place, however, I really got it.

826 Valencia is a wonderful implementation of a great idea. Had I as a kid wandered into this place, I would never have wanted to leave. As just one example of how nifty it is, off to the right, as you enter the shop, is a small red area with a low red-fabric ceiling, red walls, and three theater seats. You can't see much of it from outside. Inside, you can sit on a seat and stare at the fish in this tank, read the fun plaques on the wall, and lose yourself in the small world of that space. I did, and it made me very happy indeed.

San Francisco is a magical place; I can see why so many people come here, fall in love with it, and never leave. On the way to the car, after 826 Valencia, we passed a house with an amazing mural on its side. It wouldn't all fit in my iPhone's lens, so these two pictures will have to suffice to show you how cool it was.

Humphry Slocombe again figured in the day, as a group of us enjoyed many odd flavors. I tried Ancho Chocolate, Balsamic Caramel, and Cinnamon Brittle, the last of which was the winner of the most accolades from our team of testers.

Expect far shorter posts for the rest of this trip as my attention turns to tech work and the Intel Developer Forum, which I'll be attending the rest of this week. Though great fun and very interesting for techies, such as myself, I don't expect it to hold quite as much general interest as nifty murals, far-out ice cream, and so on.


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