Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Muppets

is that rare movie that holds no surprises, tells you up front what it's going to do, and manages to do it so well that you not only stay entertained the whole time, you are likely to applaud at random moments.

The plot is simple: Bad guy (Chris Cooper) sets out to destroy our team of plucky heroes (the Muppets). With the aid of some new friends (Jason Segel, Amy Adams--who is wonderful in the part, and the newest Muppet, Walter), the heroes save the day, overcoming many obstacles along the way. You've seen it before a zillion times, and you'll see it again a zillion times.

Fortunately, the shape of a plot is never the important thing. What matters is how the particular work executes that plot.

The Muppets brings its classic mixture of wide-eyed innocence and corny jokes, many that only the grown-ups will get, to the task, and the combination works wonderfully.

I did not grow up watching the Muppets, nor did I watch them a lot with the kids. I'm not a huge Muppets fan; others with me knew songs and bits of schtick that I did not. Despite that ignorance, I had great fun watching this movie.

If you feel the need for some wonderfully entertaining silliness--and who among us can't use that from time to time?--catch this one in the theater.

Friday, November 25, 2011

I screwed up

I recently made the mistake of glancing through my Amazon reviews for Children No More--something no writer should ever do with her/his books. Sadly, that is not the error I am writing about. No, I have to confess something worse.

A comment from Richard Brice pointed out that I screwed up the way parachutes work. In researching the scene, I had talked to a few folks who had gone skydiving, and I'd watched some videos, but I had failed to consult anyone who really understood the process. I consequently spoke of a lift occurring when the parachute opens, but in fact no such thing happens. It feels like you're being pulled up, but the sensation is inaccurate. On most videos it looks as if the skydiver is going up when the chute opens, but that's because the camera operator is usually falling without having opened his/her parachute.

No, you do not go up. Instead, you just slow your rate of descent.

I hate making errors, particularly those I could have prevented.

I will, as always, endeavor to minimize them.

My thanks to Mr. Brice, because I have learned something useful, and people should call me out when I screw up like this.

Now, back to the book in progress.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A moment of Thanksgiving thanks

I am so very fortunate that I could write all day and still not be able to list all my blessings. Because this blog hangs off my writing site, though, I want to say thank you to a large group of people most of whose members I don't know: everyone who buys my books or comes to my shows.

It's amazing, really, if you think about it. I've been telling stories my whole life, writing and talking and generally taking an undue share of the attention space around me, and now people are kind enough to pay me to do so. Like every writer or performer or artist of any type, I always want my audience to be bigger, my books to sell better, my shows to require arenas, and so on; to steal a great line from my friend, Lew Shiner, there is never enough love in the room.

Sometimes, though, I manage enough perspective to realize that I am incredibly lucky that anyone is willing to read my words or listen to me talk.

Thank you, all of you, who do that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The best Google doodle ever

It's not the turkey we're enjoying today, though that is fun.

It's the Stanislaw Lem doodle that Google is giving some Europeans for the sixtieth anniversary of Lem's first book. (Thanks to Allyn for pointing me to this.) You can read about it here, and you can see clips of just the doodle itself, which did not come with music, on YouTube on pages like this one.

It's not just a doodle, either; it's an animated game. Check out the Easter egg explanation here.

Well done, Google folks.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On being grateful

Dave forwarded me this New York Times article. Go ahead and read it. I'll wait.

What I find most interesting about the article is not just the attitude it espouses, which I believe is a good one, but the fair amount of science behind it. The bottom line seems to be that we are wired to be grateful--and to benefit from expressing that gratitude.

That's very cool.

I'm always grateful when people do things for me, even small things. I try to express that gratitude, and I'm a big believer in the basic social niceties.

As I've thought more about my behavior, however, I've had to admit that I need to become much better at showing my appreciation. I need to both feel the gratitude and express it.

I'm going to do my best.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On the road again: Houston, day 2

Everything went well until I hit the airport for the flight home.

I stepped to the side to open my suitcase so I could take out the book I'm reading and change into more comfortable shoes. The lock was stuck and would not open. No, I didn't forget the combination; I have it noted in another place just in case. The lock simply wouldn't open.

Stuck in the suitcase was my small baggie of liquid items, each in the TSA-approved size. So, I passed through security nervously, but after some discussion about whether the liquids looked to be the right size, the TSA folks let me through.

The airport's only bandwidth on offer was a Boingo hotspot that was temporarily down. So much for work there.

Dinner was a bright spot: a very large and very tasty hot dog.

My seat on the plane proved to be on the bulkhead row in coach. It was at least an aisle seat, so I was hoping to be able to work. Alas, no bandwidth on the plane. No problem: I'd have some concentrated quiet time to write.

No such luck. A father filled the window seat to my left, and he completely covered the middle seat with baby stuff. His wife and two kids were in the three seats across the aisle.

The row behind me held a father and two kids, with the mother and their other two kids on the opposite side.

The row behind that one held the same arrangement: two parents, four kids.

No kid in any of these rows was older than six.

All of them went off at once during take-off. We had an earache, several bored boys, and a variety of fights.

At no point during the next two and a half hours was there ever a single second when we didn't have at least one kid crying and two others fighting. Not once.

My favorite parent line: "No, Michael, I don't believe that Joey hit your thumb with his eye."

My favorite conversational snippet:

Child: Are we going to get a van?

Father: I'm not sure. We're going to get a vehicle of some type, maybe a van, maybe an SUV.

Child: What's a vehicle?

Father: Like a car or a van.

Child: Why didn't you say so?

Father: [sigh]

Child: What's an SUV?

Father: A sports utility vehicle.

Child: What kind of sports does it play?

Father: No, you use it for sporty things.

Child: What kinds of sports do you play with it?

Father: You don't play sports with them. You do things like drive off-road with them.

Child: Aren't you supposed to stay on the road?

Father: Yes. Don't worry about SUVs.

Child: What's u-til-i-til-i-tee?

Father: It's like a usage, a way you use something.

Child: But you said you don't use it for sports.

Father: Would you like me to buy you the cartoons they're playing on the screen here?

Child: Okay.
At least that part of the trip was fun, though it would have been more fun if the baby across the aisle hadn't been crying. If all the other kids had been quiet and just let this one grill his father, I would have been happy the whole flight. Alas, the conversation ended when the cartoons took over.

When we landed in RDU, I called the TSA airport office, which Gina had found and which is open around the clock. The guy there graciously said he would indeed try to open my bag with his TSA key. Of course, his office was in the farthest point in the opposite terminal from where I was.

When I got there, courtesy of Rana picking me up and looping around, the guy came out, put in his key...and nothing happened.

"That's strange," he said, "I've never seen it fail."

We tried many different combinations, but nothing worked. Eventually, we set the combination correctly, he held the key in the open position, and I pounded on the lock with the side of my fist--and one of the two zippers came free. A little more pounding freed the other.

I am so very glad to be home.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

On the road again: Houston, day 1

What is it with me and row-mates on flights? Today's flight found me on an airline with which I have no privileges but in an exit row window seat--not ideal, but pretty darn good.

An older couple were seated next to me, man on the aisle, woman in the center.

The woman's right arm was sprained and heavily bandaged. When the flight attendant came for the mandatory "can you open the emergency door?" question, the woman hid the bum arm under a jacket and lied that she could open and remove the emergency exit door should the need arise. I didn't call her on it because I was right next to the door, and I'm damn sure her arm wouldn't slow me.

The moment we took off, she and her husband brought out the snacks. A few seconds later, she started elbowing me in the ribs.

I moved as close to the bulkhead as I could and pulled entirely off the armrest.

She elbowed me some more.

I put my arm between us.

She pushed on it with her arm and elbowed it.

People have asked me why I don't verbally complain when these things happen. My answer is that nothing good comes of doing so and that I fear losing my temper. Recalling those questions, though, I decided to try today. I faced the woman and said, "Please stop elbowing me."

Her response: "Well, how else am I supposed to eat my popcorn and read?"

Her point was that with her hurt arm, reaching the popcorn bag between her legs meant her arm had to hit me.

I considered her answer rude and offensive, but I tried to rise above my initial reaction. I considered the question and after a few moments said, "I'm sorry for the difficulty, but I don't think it's reasonable that you keep elbowing me, particularly given that I'm as close to the bulkhead as I can be. Perhaps you could put down the book while eating the popcorn and hold the bag in your right hand."

She shook her head. "I don't like that. I want to read while I eat."

At that, she returned to her book and to elbowing me.

I stuck my arm between us and let her elbow it until she finished the bag of popcorn and took a nap.

I fought my anger the entire time.

The flight was otherwise good, though I greatly missed having an Internet connection.

After landing and getting the rental car, a process that is always slower than I like, we successfully navigated to our hotel. The bandwidth here is great, the best I've had this year from a hotel--and this is the least expensive hotel at which I've stayed for business. Bandwidth is frequently and frustratingly in direct inverse correlation with hotel price.

Dinner was at a nearby Rudy's, which admittedly is a chain but quite a decent one. We enjoyed brisket and jalapeno sausage, both of which were yummy.

I'll be here only until tomorrow night, when I fly home, but any trip that includes Texas barbecue is already a decent one.


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