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.


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