Saturday, December 29, 2007
Connor said, "How do they know that? Mars is far away."
FatSam paused the video. "Well," FatSam said, "we sent robots to Mars and the robots took pictures."
"So the robots know it then. But how do they know it?"
"The robots sent the pictures home so people could see them."
"Home to Earth?"
"But how do they send pictures home?"
FaSam had to think about it. "By radio, I think with little satellite dishes."
"You don't know?"
"I don't actually know everything."
"I know, Richard told me. Maybe it's like your phone, your cell phone, like if it was cell phones on Mars. Do the robots come home when they're done?"
"No, they stay there and keep taking pictures."
"Oh." Connor paused. "It's sad they don't get to come home. You can start the show again now."
Friday, December 28, 2007
The Lakers look better this year than they have since Shaq left. They're 18 and 10 and going into a showdown with the Boston Celtics on Sunday; I'm taking my 15 year old nephew to that game as his birthday present. (Kevin's an amazing kid: six feet tall, 200 pounds, a black belt in karate, bona fide tough guy who plays three instruments and gets straight A's in school...)
Kevin was my birthday present: he came home from the hospital on my 30th birthday. As a result, he's the only person whose age I always know without having to think about it; he's my age, minus 30.
The Lakers really do look good. The Kobe haters are having a field day with the fact that Andrew Bynum, who Kobe wanted to trade last year for Jason Kidd, has blossomed into a top-5 center (maybe top 3; only Yao Ming and Dwight Howard are obviously better than Bynum right now) ... I don't doubt for a second that Kobe's more than happy to have been wrong. The guy may be a screaming psychotic, but that's OK by me; he's a screaming psychotic who wants to win more than he wants to breathe. And whom the Lakers might get to keep, if things go on as they have. The Lakers are tied for third place in the Western Conference right now -- the only team in the West that's clearly better than them is the Spurs, who are getting older.
We've been here before: last year the Lakers were 18 and 10, got hit by injuries, and spiraled into 7th place and a first-round date with the Phoenix Suns. Who creamed them. But last year the Lakers were winning games by about 1.7 points on average; this year their margin is 5+. In basketball terms, that's huge. Only the Celtics, Pistons, and Spurs have a higher winning margin, and historically, winning margin is a better predictor of playoff success than won/loss.
This is the first Lakers/Celtics game in twenty years that really made me feel like the Lakers really needed to win it. I hope they do.
There's a website, ManyBooks.net, that's hosting the books and short stories I've published as e-books -- which is OK -- but they're also tearing up the texts, displaying them with ads, and converting the texts into non-rtf and non-pdf formats. I'm recasting the copyright notice on the books; there's a busier-than-usual discussion going on over on the Continuing Time mailing list (http://ralf.org/ to join) -- about how to handle the copyright to permit such things as printing a copy for personal use, while not permitting tearing or converting the texts in a for-profit context. Any suggestions would be appreciated, though the guys on the mailing list seem to have a pretty good handle on it. I'll recast the copyright notices, share it here and on the list, and then resubmit all the texts over at Immunity with the new and more explicit copyright notices.
If you run across anything similar anywhere else -- the texts from Immunity, converted into non-rtf or non-pdf format (or the texts themselves altered in some fashion) ... I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know.
I'll have AI War back from Bantam in January. :-)
This has been a good year, even with constant low-grade stupidity with attorneys. Still hoping for better next year.
For years now we've barely had a functioning television at our house. The results are good; my kids get As and Bs; none of them have had a C in a couple years now. A while back I got rid of all the video games; the Gameboys, DSs, Xbox --
For Christmas my sons got scooters, skateboards, bicycles, and Nerf guns. The Nerf guns probably aren't politically correct, and I don't care; they're running around out in the yard shooting at each other and having wars, but the important part of that sentence is, "running around."
Since their video games got retired they've watched more movies (we have a couple portable DVD players) and read more books, and gotten more exercise. I couldn't be more pleased.
Santa brought me a nice leather jump rope. I'm in "good shape" -- I can play basketball for hours -- but man, getting outside the areas where I'm fit, I'm in terrible shape. Jumping rope is hard. I still haven't gone 100 jumps without tripping.
I'd love to box again, but being blind in one eye, getting hit around the eyes is probably a bad idea. I told Amy I wanted to box again a while back, you know, midlife crisis and all, and after laughing a little too hard for my pride, she advised me to have an affair instead, because a probably-divorced Dad was better for the kids than an entirely-blind one ...
Fifteen years life insurance, payout of a million and a half dollars, costs $145 a month, at my age. The insurance agency actually sent a woman to my house to give me a physical. It was a little weird getting an EKG while lying on my 6 year old's bed, because his room was the only room in the house without computers to throw the portable EKG off ... the first EKG, taken in my office, showed that I was dead ... which would make some people happy, but fortunately was a false reading. :-)
Best movies I saw this year: 3:10 to Yuma, Enchanted, Bourne Ultimatum, Live Free or Die Hard. None of them perfect, but all of them very good. Bourne probably the best of the bunch.
Worst movies I saw this year: Smoking Aces is easily the winner, but probably only because I didn't go see Hannibal. Ghost Rider gets an honorable mention here.
Movie I downright hated: No Country For Old Men.
Movie that surprised me the most: Transformers. A Michael Bay movie that didn't actually bite.
Movie I saw for the worst reason: Resident Evil: Extinction. Because of Milla.
Movie that made me saddest: The Seeker: The Dark is Rising. And that's without having gone to see it.
Movie I felt most virtuous about not going to see: Good Luck Chuck. Despite Jessica Alba in her panties. I admit, I thought Jessica Alba, circa Dark Angel, had no career ahead of her once that show was done; she had a nice little jailbait thing going on, but once that was gone I figured she'd age the way Brittany Spears has. (And yeah, I know, "age" is the wrong word; they're both still young.) But despite being unable to act a lick, Alba's matured nicely and managed to generate a nice little career for herself. Bright girl and nice to see her doing well.
Alba is also, like me, from Pomona. Vanessa Bryant -- Kobe's wife -- is also from Pomona.
A year or two back I was in a Denny's in Pomona at about 11:00 at night. We were on our way up to Mt. Baldy and we stopped overnight at a hotel in Pomona. The family crashed, I couldn't sleep, and the Denny's was across the street, so I walked over and got a late meal.
You desire what you grow up seeing, so I've heard, and it's certainly true in my case. There was a parade of women through that Denny's -- and I mean white, asian, black, latina -- who just nailed the sweet spot on the curve where I'm concerned. Maybe once or twice a day, in my normal day to day life, some woman really catches my eye. There were at least a dozen of them in that Denny's, that night.
You can take the boy out of Pomona, but you can't take the Pomona out of the boy ...
People I'm sorry are gone: Molly Ivins, Robert Anton Wilson, Kurt Vonnegut, Lloyd Alexander, Fred Saberhagen, Robert Jordan, Madeleine L'Engle, Dan Fogelberg ...
And Evel Knievel. There are very few men I've ever really wanted to be -- Warren Beatty, Val Kilmer, and George Clooney at different times in my life -- but I did have a period, and so did every man my age, when I really wanted to be Evel Knievel. He was a mean bastard, by all accounts, but I don't hold that against him; the conversion to Christianity though, just this year, was bush league. Die as you lived, and I wish he had.
Best wishes to Terry Pratchett. He has early onset Alzheimers, which most of the people reading this list probably already know. Good luck to him -- he's the author I'm fondest of, if not the author I think most highly of. His works have been hugely entertaining and worth every dime and every minute of my time.
Incapacity is the only thing that scares me, at least on my own account. Being unable to check out when it's time frightens me. Cancer? Heart disease? No worries. They come, I diagnose, I wrap things up and go to sleep at the right time. I'd be sorry, but I don't think I'd be scared.
Quadraplegia, stroke, dementia -- the inability to control when I check out is about all I really find frightening in life.
Best wishes to everyone for 2008.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Who named the Mustang Cobra? Horses hate snakes ...
I believe I'm close to having AI War back from Bantam. I'll let you all know. Maybe for Christmas. Also, I want to publicly acknowledge the work Everett Kaiser's done proofing DR and TF ... his thoroughness is exhausting, remarkable, and slowing me down in getting the books out the door; but the books will be much better for it. I've had professional proofreaders who were no better.
My posts on Matt's forum:
Arguing in language that language is insufficient to the task is sort of a chump's game, but I'll do it anyway, since it's what I've got to work with.
This is going to take a few posts to get through, and I don't have time to write it all at once, so I'll start by laying the foundations of what I think I know.
First, all representational systems are incomplete. Science, math, any human language: incomplete. More, not capable of completion. Goedel. This doesn't mean that a given formal system can't be broadly useful, merely that there's inherent fuzziness in the system: a place where that system stops. (And it's important to be clear that I don't mean a place where the sysem isn't finished: I mean a place where it can't be finished.)
Second, the universe is fuzzy. This is the principle lesson of quantum mechanics. You can skip all the sci-fi stuff about the observer effect -- which isn't as weird as it seems; it just means that the universe is entangled in interesting ways, and the old trope about the need for an intelligent observer to resolve indeterminancy is apparently untrue -- but what is true is that quantum mechanics imposes a hard limit on the degree to which the universe is knowable. It introduces graininess into the observable -- fuzz.
Third, chaos is real. Almost all systems in the real world are non-deterministic and can't be predicted.
Fourth, even systems that are deterministic -- a tiny subset of the universe of systems -- are not necessarily predictable: for complex deterministic systems it can take more time to model and predict than the process takes to run. In a complex always-on system it's likely that you can't take an initial state, make a prediction, and be complete before the system has moved past the point that you predicted to.
Fifth, though capable of rationality, humans are not rational in their drives or desires.
People are capable of knowing the world through two means, reason and experience. You can take things like intuition and lump them under reason for the purpose of this discussion; something you know (and we assume this knowing to be accurate) without knowing exactly how you know it. Doesn't mean some processing didn't take place.
Experience is what's happened to you. I'm not interested in the argument about whether there's a real world out there external to your experience; water is wet, stones are hard, walk in front of a bus and stop bothering me. Maybe our senses are feeding us the Matrix; give me a test and I'll discuss it. Until then, the world is out there and we're all part of it.
The problem with experience is that no one has the same suite of them. This is due to two well-known principles:
1. Shit happens
2. You are unique ... just like everyone else.
The problem with reason is that experience is the subject matter of reason. Now, a valid experience is reading a book -- that's pretty discrete. Same words for every person who comes to it. But the text hits each reader differently because each reader is different -- unique makeup filtered through unique experiences. The lessons one person derives from reading Rush Limbaugh's "The Way Things Ought To Be" can be very different from the lessons I derived -- which were that Limbaugh is a mediocre thinker and not overwhelmingly honest. (Same way I feel about Michael Moore, to play both sides of that fence, though I'm more prone to agreeing with Moore's conclusions than Limbaugh's.)
On the two means people have for knowing the world, reason and experience -- experience diverges and therefore reason, working with the stuff of experience, diverges ...
... and all formal systems are fuzzy, and English or German or Chinese or French or whatever are all substantially worse than fuzzy, and the universe is both fuzzy and chaotic, and even systems that can be modeled, often can't be modeled in real time (meaning no feedback possible), or even in useful time (meaning no results at all possible before the generated results are useless.) People can know the world only through experience and by applying reason to their experience: but everyone has different experiences.
Matt responded with:
I'm right with you on the fundamental fuzziness of reality -- which is exactly what makes mathematics (for example) useful for some flavors of truth, but not for others. Attempting precision modeling of something inherently imprecise strikes me as being akin to picking up lint with a needle. Sure, you get some, here and there, with effort -- but if you want to get it all, it's much more efficient (and useful) to use other lint.
Before you go on, you might want to define just exactly what flavor of truth you're talking about. Are you a Pythagorean ("The universe is number") on this? Or a Platonist ("What we perceive is is a distorted image of the Universal Ideal"). Math = Truth guys usually fall into one of those two broad camps . . . though I'm sure there may be others. Are you talking about "truth claims" in the technical sense, of statements regarding verifiable fact?
Because the Pursuit of Truth seems to break down into two broad categories: the Search for Fact, and the Search for Meaning. I'm talking about the latter, and I suspect you're talking about the former.
And I responded:
I'm not a Pythagorean; the universe isn't number. I think that number theory is a kind of map, and that what the Incompleteness Theorem says is that the map isn't the thing. Not shocking, but worth noting.
I'm also not a Platonist. The error of the map occurs here too; Plato (or Socrates, channeled, whatever) assert that there's a universal ideal, a thing that exists independently of the real world, and that the real world is a reflection or ghost of that. Maybe, but we're back in Matrix-land now: give me a test. Until someone can, I call bullshit.
"Attempting precision modeling of something inherently imprecise strikes me as being akin to picking up lint with a needle."
Which is why there's statistics in the next post, when I get to it. We can't know any one thing in its entirety: but we can know approximations. The question becomes, how useful is the approximation? The Drake equation is an example of a good approach in one such area: How well do we know Elements A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and so on, in a given area: and multiplying them one upon the other we come up with Statement one, which says AxBxCxDxExFxG = a Probability of .85: Statement One is 85% likely to be true. That's both useful and true within the limits of what we can know.
How you apply that to an individual -- how you produce a Probable Truth (or Probable Fact) that's useable by individuals in their search for meaning, is a much more difficult question, but it's the one modern philosophers should be struggling with. Maybe someone out there is?
"Because the Pursuit of Truth seems to break down into two broad categories: the Search for Fact, and the Search for Meaning. I'm talking about the latter, and I suspect you're talking about the former."
Sure, we're back to the experience/reason dichotomy: is your Search for Meaning divorced from the Facts that surround you? If it is then any answer that makes you feel good suffices. Enough food, entertainment, orgasms, healthy bowel movements, call it a philosophy and move on.
There are only two root reasons to ever do anything: to enjoy yourself, and to help other people enjoy themselves. (Enjoy has to be defined pretty broadly here, and if I knew a better word I'd use it. Maybe "fulfill.")
The first is trivial; if your Meaning of Life can be defined in that context you're no better than an animal. (Though there are plenty of humans who could usefully confine themselves to that.) The second is as complex as it gets and is the place where an accurate set of Facts is essential.
That's all for now. I have the feeling I'm veering toward serious-drunks-in-college territory here, but as I've never had this conversation in public that I can recall, here it is. More as I write it.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The CIA goes first. Highly trained agents skulk silently into the forest, flitting here and there, tree to tree, quiet as ghosts. And ... twenty minutes later they coming stomping out of the forest, angry and embarrassed. "We can't find the bear."
So the FBI goes in. They crash into the forest knocking down small trees and frightening the raccoons, screaming "Go! Go! Go!" just as in your basic Michael Bay movie. After twenty minutes of knocking about ... they some sulking out of the forest, sullen as teenagers. "We can't find the bear."
A SWAT team from the LAPD goes in next, billy clubs swinging. They don't skulk, they don't run, they just walk in like they own the fuckin' forest, and vanish from sight. Only a minute or two passes ... and then there's a terrible eruption of noise, a bloodcurdling scream ... and a minute later the LAPD swaggers back out of the forest. Two of the cops are carrying the suspect ...
... a bloody fluffy white rabbit, who's screaming "OK, I'm a bear, I'm a bear!"
Saturday, December 15, 2007
Not of the players. Roger Clemens was on the juice? Good for him. He's won 7 Cy Young Awards. In 2001, at the age of 38, he started the season 20 & 1 ... no other pitcher in the history of baseball's done that. He won his 7th Cy Young at the age of 41 and posted his best ERA -- a remarkable 1.87 -- in 2005, at the age of 42.
Steroids did all that for him? Cool. Entirely his business if he had to buy new hats....
I don't have a problem with Barry Bonds (though he probably shouldn't have lied to the Feds, assuming he did.) I don't care that Barry Bonds was juiced when he broke Hank Aaron's home run record, or when he hit #72.
Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire (who I went to school with, who I played against in Little League, and who hit #62 a few hours from the moment my son Richard was born) ... I don't care that Sammy and Mark were juiced when they assaulted Ruth's home run record.
Here's the thing: everyone knew. Everyone who could conceivably have cared, knew. You knew. I knew. The players knew. The media knew. The owners knew. Mark McGwire turned into the Incredible Hulk late in his career? And my goodness, look how large Sammy is, and Barry, wow, he's about the size of a minivan and the police departments across the country are looking enviously at the size of his skull, envisioning the greatest battering ram the world had ever seen, if only Barry would cooperate: and the LAPD has contingency plans that don't actually require cooperation from Barry, remind me to tell you all my favorite joke some day. ("Okay, I'm a bear, I'm a bear!")
Yeah, steroids are bad for you. So's booze in anything but very small quantities. So's cocaine, adjustable rate mortgages, and a career in the NFL. Mostly I don't worry too much about social hypocrisy; in tiny amounts, it's a lubricant that lets people get through their days without too much outright violence. No, your kid is not special, he's a little thug who's cruising to have his day as an LAPD Battering Ram, and that may be the high point of his entire miserable life. And your daughter's ugly and your husband keeps hitting on my wife until he gets drunk enough, after which he hits on me and I must say, this is only a modest improvement ....
But we don't actually say those things to people, because, you know, courtesy, or hypocrisy if you like.
Sports are valuable, are meaningful, only to the degree that they reflect life in some minor way. A basketball game between two Latin American teams I've never heard of is no more worth watching than a pickup game at my local park -- less so, I might learn something about a player I'm going to play against in a few games, watching the local guys. But a game between the Lakers and Celtics (Sunday, December 30, I'll be in Section 318) ... that's very different. That's an Epic Battle between Good and Evil, sort of the way the Dodgers and Yankees used to be an Epic Battle between Good and Evil, until O'Malley sold the Dodgers and Rupert Murdoch destroyed them, leaving only Evil behind: when Yeats wrote that the best lacked all conviction, while the worst were full of a passionate intensity, he was really writing about the Dodgers and Yankees (or maybe about the Dodgers and Murdoch: here's hoping Murdoch does for the Wall Street Journal what he did for my baseball team. I believe he's capable of it.)
... valuable and meaningful, I think I was saying, to the degree that they reflect life in some minor way. The technical exercise of a given sport is meaningless without someone to root for; Kobe Bryant is somewhere between the fifth and tenth best basketball player the NBA's ever seen (and the best playing today) -- but the astonishing skill he brings to the game, the fierceness, the dedication, are meaningless to observers unless they identify with it. (And, to be sure, the variety of ways you can identify are large -- "I Hate Kobe" and "I Love Kobe" are very nearly the same statement. "Kobe who?" is their opposite ...)
So we root. We cheer our guys on. And no one, no one anywhere in the baseball world, cared if the guys were juiced. Not really cared. Not cared because they cared about the integrity of the game of baseball. Push to shove, nobody thought this stuff damaged the game; that, the people who do love the game would have been up in arms about. When Bonds broke Aaron's home run record, I read at least a dozen sad, outraged, "this must have an asterisk" columns about it.
Really? Because ... Hank Aaron, for example ... came from a pure era. An era where men were men and people didn't cheat at the sacred game of baseball. Well, except Gaylord Perry. Who titled his autobiography "Me and the Spitter." And is safely ensconced in the Hall of Fame. So apparently cheating with vaseline is OK, it's just the cheating with steroids that's bad.
Certainly Aaron himself thinks cheating is bad. "Any way you look at it, it's wrong," he said about Bonds and Bonds' steroid use. So take a look here:
Good read, and good work by the author, whose name doesn't appear on the post. One of the things held against the steroid generation is how they got better as they got older, presumably because this was when they started on the juice ... and here are Aaron's stats:
Age HRs HR%
33 44 7.3
34 39 6.5
35 29 4.8
36 44 8.0
37 38 7.4
38 47 9.5
39 34 7.6
40 40 10.2
Pretty good work, for a guy at the age of 40: one home run in every ten at bats.
I've never heard it authoritatively stated that Aaron used either steroids or amphetamines. (Or to put it another way, I've heard it repeatedly, but not from someone I was prepared to believe really knew.) But -- and whether this is fair to Aaron or not I neither know nor care -- I think he did.
Tom House, who's mentioned at length in the Typepad post I linked to above, says that he thinks that baseball is cleaner today, "steroid era" and all, than it was when he played. I tend to think he's correct. Baseball players, at the professional level, are among the fiercest competitors on the planet. If there's an edge, they'll take it.
And it's OK with me. I'm not trying to piss on Hank Aaron's record; I don't care if he was juiced, or on speed, later in his career. I don't care if Bonds was, or Clemens, or any other player in the entire game. If you knew how many rules had been broken by men in Cooperstown -- and kicked out every damn one of them for it -- Cooperstown would be half empty. Or two-thirds.
They're adults. So are we writing about this, mostly. This is the bargain we all made, to look the other way, and I'm good with that. Thank you, Barry, Mark, Sammy, Roger, all of you: made the game a pleasure to watch during an era when the Dodgers barely got my pulse moving. And I'm sorry for any of the crap you're taking now: take comfort in the knowledge that the people judging you are, almost with exception, bigger hypocrites than any of you.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
I very much liked Foundation and Chaos. It has the Asimov feel and the Asimov tone, tied to genuinely (at least in the context of a Foundation novel) graceful prose. Bear bounces back and forth between Hari Seldon and the various forces of Daneel Olivaw. He opens with Seldon about to go on trial, and covers, in time, the same period as Asimov's very first Foundation short story. I'm not going to do a book review here -- but I will say that this is the novel, of the three, that felt the most like an Asimov novel. The plotting among the various factions of robots feels Asimovian, the final confrontation between mentalic humans and mentalic robots reminded me strongly of Asimov's Second Foundation faceoff between Bail Channis and the Mule, followed by the First Speaker and the Mule. The cleverest sequence has to be Seldon's trial: Bear recreates the trials as Asimov reported them, going into the motivations and backgrounds of the various characters in substantially more depth than Asimov bothered to, in his original short. It's a worthy expansion and a good read.
Foundation's Triumph, by David Brin
I enjoyed the Bear better than I enjoyed the Brin, and I enjoyed both of them better than I enjoyed the Benford. That said ...
I very much respect what Brin did here. He did what I'd have done in similar circumstances: it's evident from the work that he went back to the source, re-read Asimov end to end, took notes, looked at what worked and didn't work in Asimov's attempts to unify his storylines, took note of interesting questions left over from the likes of the infrequently read Empire books -- Pebble in the Sky and The Stars Like Dust and The Currents of Space. (I re-read Stars & Currents recently myself, and there are obvious and less-obvious references in Triumph to both of them.)
Brin even put together a pretty good timeline covering the events from Susan Calvin's birth to Foundation and Earth -- not the obsessively detailed timeline I'd pay money to see, but nonetheless -- writing this novel really didn't require the work Brin evidently put into it. I'm sure all three of these men wrote their novels from love -- they couldn't have made much more from the Foundation works than they made for their own novels, if any. But Brin is the guy whose work shows most clearly, and whose sympathy for Asimov's base work shines through most clearly.
I wish I liked the novel better. It's not Brin's fault I don't; it's too crammed with incident and ideas, and Brin doesn't take the time to slow down and linger with his characters. He has a lot to get in in this one novel, and might have been better served by two novels -- Douglas Adams stuck 5 or 6 books into his trilogy, I don't see why Brin couldn't have managed it. He doubtless had material, if not time or interest, for his own Foundation trilogy.
Next up, the novels of Steve Perry....
I'm going to edit TF and Devlin's Razor this weekend, and send them on to Immunity. Anyone with copy edits for either, please send them to me. Amy's reading a novel by Tanarive Due right now, and I'm promised a read of AI War's 1st half thereafter ...
I may have other good news about AI War soon. No promises.
I caught a little piece of The Little Mermaid, walking through Best Buy the other day ... Ariel singing "Part of Your World." I'm not sure there's ever been a purer expression of longing, put to music. Having seen Enchanted recently, I'd really like to watch The Little Mermaid again. I suspect my six year old's never seen it.
Still in court. (Going to be in court, one way or another, until Alan Rodgers dies, most likely. Cost of business stuff, there. Fortunately I expect to outlive Alan by thirty or forty years.) No complaints on my end, yet; the kids still haven't been forced to deal with Alan directly.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
"Early indications are that it very possibly could have been a domestic dispute," Paterson said.
I am not surprised. Having made one bad decision, such as living in San Bernardino, people are prone to make others.
The lesson here: don't go to San Bernardino. Just don't do it. Think of the children.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Not so Country. Country is a brilliantly conceived and executed piece of work. Tommy Lee Jones gives his best performance since Lonesome Dove -- and I'm a sucker for Tommy Lee; only Robert Duvall and Denzel Washington compare to him as actors in the last 2o or 30 years. Roger Deakins's cinematography makes you appreciate just how badly most movies are really shot. I'd need to go see the movie again to tell you in detail why the sound work and editing were so brilliant, but let's take it that they are. The movie is based on a novel by Cormac McCarthy that I haven't read -- but I read that the movie is very faithful to the book, and if so, the nihilism at the center of this movie is most likely McCarthy's from the word go.
Country is brilliant and will win awards, but it is the vilest film I've seen since Denzel Washington's Fallen, and before that, the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Fallen and Nightmare share almost identical failings: protagonists who, faced with a problem, do the right thing, struggle valiantly, solve their problems on the terms presented them -- and then fail due to plot machinations out of left field, nastiness for the sake of nasty. Anyone who's actually seen all three of these films (an interesting cross-section itself, I'd imagine) will find this a ludicrous comparison in most ways; though Nightmare and Fallen are both well-made movies, the best moments in either don't rise to the level of execution in the worst moments in Country. (Though a few points for Washington, who never embarrasses himself.)
Country is smarter than the other two by any measure, better made by any measure -- but equally empty at its heart. People are weak and there are monsters in the world, and sometimes no matter what, people die ugly, awful deaths at the hands of those monsters. That's it. That's the takeaway. No point in struggling, really ... and really, I wish everyone concerned with this particular piece hadn't bothered to.
Saw Enchanted on Saturday with my three sons. It's the best Disney movie since The Little Mermaid -- maybe better than The Little Mermaid, which I saw three times in the theater. The actress playing the lead is named Amy Adams; I've never heard of her before, but she's astonishing, playing a traditional Disney princess (animated, in the first scenes) ... who ends up in New York City and learns about complexity, first hand.
The core of the movie is contained in a single scene: Giselle, the princess, has been taken in by a handsome lawyer and his six year old daughter, and has gone about New York doing good, in a cute, charming, and essentially one-note performance -- and then has an argument with the handsome lawyer. In this one one fairly brief scene, Amy Adams takes Giselle from chirpy-happy Princess, through the realization of anger, to a sort of joy at the realization that she's capable of feeling anger, to a moment of attraction to the well-meaning if slightly nebbish dad, to shock and dismay at herself for being attracted to someone other than her Prince .... and sells it all. It's a flat-out brilliant sequence that for sheer bravura reminds me only of the bit in Mulholland Drive where Naomi Watts reads for a role -- once in character as a bad wanna-be actress, and then again all-out, reading the piece as well as Naomi Watts herself could read it. The Watts and Adams scenes are very different in tone, but they're both performances that are almost as much about the art of acting as about the stories they're advancing.
I'm a sucker for stuff like this, so take Little Princess as your marker -- if you didn't like that, you won't like Enchanted. I loved it.
[Edit: by Little Princess, I mean Little Mermaid, of course.]
In Denver I saw American Gangster. It's a good movie, not great. Washington's very good in it, but Russell Crowe gets the better role -- as he did in 3:10 to Yuma, for that matter. I do wish Washington would get that -- it's odd to say breakout role, given how consistently brilliant he's been over the years -- let's say defining role. His Best Actor Oscar came for what wasn't even close to his best work, Training Day; and he hasn't yet had that movie that people will point to, fifty years from now, as a great and defining work -- Bogie in Casablanca or The African Queen; Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones in Lonesome Dove; de Niro in Raging Bull or Taxi Driver; John Wayne in Rio Bravo or The Searchers; hell, even Harrison Ford in Blade Runner, to grab something from the little SF corner of the world. I could go on with twenty more examples -- Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window, Cary Grant in North by Northwest, Pacino in The Godfather; but you get the point. Washington hasn't had that movie yet. He deserves it, and I hope he gets it. Far from being too late -- Robert Duvall was nearly 60 before he got to play Gus McCrae.
Saw Beowulf by myself last weekend. Didn't bother going to a 3D showing, for obvious reasons, though you could certainly tell it had been designed for 3D. Overall, not a terribly good movie, but certainly a notable moment in the digitization of film. Angelina Jolie's naked in every shot, and she's onscreen several minutes. It's less arousing than it sounds, but is still a little startling for a PG-13 movie -- there's no way this film would have gotten less than an R with live actors. It's brutally violent, and, as noted, Angelina Jolie is naked for several minutes -- I doubt she'd have gone naked that long in a movie where it was her actual ass on the screen.
This has implications for porn, of all things -- wouldn't surprise me at all to find actresses selling off their virtual images to do things they wouldn't do themselves in a million years. I'm a little surprised Pam Anderson hasn't thought of it yet....
Beowulf is closer. It's not photoreal except in some scenes -- one shot out of ten, maybe -- but it's closer. Eyes are hard and they don't quite nail them here, but they're not glass, either, cloth and hair are good if not great, movement ranges from "should have put some damn jitter on that spline" to "could have been a person, really."
I've still got the scene and sound files for The Long Run pilot I was working on some years back. We lost our render farm at the time -- I was borrowing time on a render farm for a web startup -- and every time a new CPU iteration arises, by God, I'm tempted to unarchive those files and see exactly what it'd take to render those scenes today. We framed them at the time for 640x384 -- 80% of D1, which is 720x480; today you could probably render at 720P, and still look good on 1080P displays.
I've recently re-read Asimov. I've been working my way through my core literary history, in the last couple years -- I've written enough about who all those people and works are that there's no point in rehashing it. I'm close enough to the end that I re-read Asimov, who didn't impact me as much as some other writers -- the Robot novels, the Foundation novels .... a gap of 25 years, followed by the later Foundation and Robot novels, in which Asimov took a stab at tying together his two main series. (They always were related, though how the long-lived humans-with-robots turned into the short-lived humans-without-robots in the Foundation novels was never clear, or for that matter terribly plausible.)
Asimov's two great inventions were Psychohistory -- the idea that the future of humanity could be predicted, via sufficiently advanced mathematics; and the Three Laws of Robotics. I won't bother quoting the Laws -- it's unlikely anyone reading this blog doesn't know what they are, and if you don't, Google is a great tool.
The Grand Unification of Asimov's later years doesn't work. That's it, end of story. I suspect Asimov knew it, too. The more time and energy Asimov spent trying to shore up the discontinuities between the (by internal chronology) early and later work, the clearer it became that Psychohistory itself was thoroughly implausible, that there was no good mechanism for squeezing robots out of human society over really long spans of time, that the Great Forgetting that made humanity forget the actual existence of Earth, is home world, was really hard to sell ... and at the end, Asimov didn't sell it. (I'm reminded of a sneering reference to Asimov in one of H. Beam Piper's novels -- Lord Kalvan something-or-other -- in which one man turns the tide of history, and an observer thinks that this puts paid to so-and-so (not Asimov's actual name, but an obvious stand-in) -- to so-and-so's theory of historical inevitability.)
The later books have their pleasures, to be sure. Watching R. Daneel Olivaw interact with Hari Seldon may be fan service, but it's first-rate fan service. And odd as this may sound, watching Asimov struggle with the implications of his future history has very distinct enjoyment to it -- I don't think he succeeds in unifying it, but as Asimov notes in the forward to one or the other of the books, if they're not completely consistent, well, he admits he didn't plan for consistency to begin with. You have to admire Asimov's bluntness about his own work.
The guy really couldn't write text and for that matter didn't plot particularly well. He may be the worst popular writer I've ever read at the level of sentences and paragraphs and What Happens Next. But once you get past all that, and I do consistently get past it when reading Asimov, watching the mind at work is a real pleasure, and worth the time it takes.
The faceoff between the Mule and the Speaker of the Second Foundation, in the novel Second Foundation, still has a raw power to it today that the vast majority of all writers, anywhere and anywhen, can't begin to aspire to.
There's been a lot of sharecropping in the SF universe. I've done my share; I wrote 3 Star Wars shorts for relatively little money, and I'd happily have written them for free. (Well, I did -- there's no writing I've ever performed that paid as well as my programming work, hour for hour. At that level it's all been a matter of how much I could afford to lose for the privilege of telling stories.)
[Edit: such as, for example, my first marriage....]
Beyond that, beyond people writing for love, you get honest sharecropping -- people doing a fair job for the money with a given set of circumstances and characters, out of sheer professionalism, regardless of their love for the material. This describes plenty of Star Wars, Star Trek, Buffy, Xena, etc.
And then there are the whores, and there's nothing wrong with that, either -- if they're churning out the cheapest fastest text they can manage for the buck, well, it's an honest transaction; publishers who cared would hire someone else. Readers who can tell the difference will read someone else, and readers who can't tell, bless them, they've found True Love for cheap.
The Second Foundation Trilogy is something really unusual: three writers at the top of their crafts, sharecropping in someone else's universe. It's a sign of the reverence the field had for Asimov, and for the impact the original Foundation Trilogy had on the field. (It was, as Asimov notes reliably when he talks about the series, voted the greatest series ever at one convention or other -- not bad for a guy who wrote the first story at 21.)
The three novels are Foundation's Fear, by Greg Benford; Foundation and Chaos, by Greg Bear; and Foundation's Triumph, by David Brin. I'll write about the second and third another day.
I very nearly dislike Foundation's Fear, and I speak here as someone who has Greg Benford as the best SF novelist of the last generation: Great Sky River and Childhood's End are the two finest novels the field has ever produced, IMO. (And, sure, YMMV, not that I care.) But what attracted Benford to this material I can't imagine. He's a better writer than Asimov (all three of them are) -- but if you're going to sharecrop in the universe of another writer, some basic respect for the other writer's tone, characters, continuity, and so on, simply seems ... respectful. Benford doesn't show much.
I can't give Benford too hard a time on tone: his voice is so strong that any attempt to sound like Asimov would probably be foolish. So he doesn't begin to try. He wrote a Benford novel, set in the early days of Hari Seldon's time on Trantor. (In between Asimov's novels Prelude to Foundation and Forward the Foundation.) And fine: Benford can't or won't mimic Asimov's voice (the other two do, to pretty good effect) ... but the novel is so glaringly out of touch with Asimov's core concerns that it's hard to pretend you're reading a "Foundation" novel. Nearly half the novel follows the adventures of a pair of AIs modeled upon Joan of Arc and Voltaire; the remainder, actually concerning Hari Seldon, casually violates the things we're told about Seldon and the people around him in Asimov's novels. A simple example because it's already 3 in the morning as I write this, and I'm getting up in 3 hours to drive to Irvine: in Foundation's Fear, Yugo Amaryl, Hari's friend and close associate and dedicated mathematician, is worked up about the political state in his home Sector; he's a Dahlite, the Empire oppresses the Dahlites, and Yugo's mad about it. Fair enough, in its way; when you met Yugo in Prelude, he's angry about his own personal state, about how he's been treated. But in Fear, Benford turns him into a Dahlite activist -- which directly contradicts Asimov's description of the character in Forward the Foundation, in which we see more of Amaryl:
Amaryl had seen him enter and was now approaching. Seldon watched him fondly. Amaryl was as much a Dahlite as Seldon's foster son, Raych, was, and yet Amaryl, despite his muscular physique and short stature, did not seem Dahlite at all. He lacked the mustache, he lacked the accent, he lacked, it would seem, Dahlite consciousness of any kind. He had even been impervious to the lure of Jo-Jo Joranum, who had appealed so thoroughly to the people of Dahl. It was as though Amaryl recognized no sectoral patriotism, no planetary patriotism, not even Imperial patriotism. He belonged -- completely and entirely -- to psychohistory.
I could come up with more, but it's late; let it stand that there are more. Perhaps more annoying than the places Benford ignores Asimov are the places he extends him -- there are no wormholes in Asimov's universe; Benford adds them. There are no AIs other than robots in Asimov's Foundation-era stories: Benford adds them. In short, he writes a Benford novel, and not one of the better Benford novels, using some of Asimov's characters. It's an interesting read because Benford's can hardly write without making points of interest, but it's a failure of a novel: Benford's essay at the end, on how the second trilogy came to be, is by a bit the most interesting thing in it.
The Bear and Brin novels are much better as extensions of Asimov ... I'm not going to write about them tonight, but I will somewhere in the days to come. Bear, in particular, nailed the tone -- if I hadn't known I wasn't reading Asimov, I might have thought I'd stumbled upon a really good Asimov novel with, by some cosmic accident, really graceful text ....
I really can't tell you how thoroughly I despised No Country For Old Men. Maybe I'll go see it again, just so that I can despise it with notes.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
My parents had to learn accept the equality of people with different skin colors, different ethnicities. I don't think it was difficult for them, and certainly there was no racist language tolerated at our house when I was growing up. I didn't hear about the Jewish conspiracy, the yellow breeders, the wetbacks stealing jobs, the criminal blacks -- until I was older, and then it was from people about whom I could make some pretty good judgements ...
I grew up in an anti-gay atmosphere. My Dad was a good guy -- but he looked down on the queers, the "three dollar bills." Didn't think they should be serving in the military, didn't want them in the locker room, thought there was something fundamentally wrong with them. He softened on that stuff later in life, but never got rid of it. (My mother's a remarkable woman -- never had a bigoted word about any human being she ever met or discussed, not in my hearing. The worst thing I've ever heard her say about anyone was "I guess she wasn't raised to be very thoughtful." My mother's had a difficult life in many plaes -- if you think no white people have picked cotton in this country in the last century, you'd be wrong; she did it at four years old, and remembers worrying that they wouldn't be paid for the cotton she picked, because her hands were bleeding and she was getting blood on the cotton. At four, and that's not the worst of what she endured. How she turned out as sane and wonderful as she did is a mystery to me, but I'm glad she did.)
At least in my late teens I was already clear that I thought gays should be permitted to marry, that it should be illegal to discriminate against them in jobs, housing, etc. Certainly I was aware of their existence -- I was pretty when I was younger, though I don't remember being tempted in those days. Certainly not by the men who were actually hitting on me -- even now I don't find men my age attractive, and back then the middle-aged men trying to get into my pants were simply repulsive to me. This goes to my "practicing heterosexual" description at this point in my life -- women my age are still attractive to me, and men my age aren't. Today even if I wasn't married, I doubt I'd be dating people in their 20s of either gender.
In my mid-20s I found myself with gay friends. One fellow in particular I ended up spending time with, and we hung out in a gay bar together. This buddy never tempted me -- but some of the guys in that bar did. Without getting into detail, let's call the thought the deed -- I suppose that could be compared to being an anti-semite and suddenly finding you're Jewish, or, under the "one drop" rule, to hating blacks and abruptly finding you had black blood yourself, some generations back. (Not necessarily that many generations, either -- light-skinned blacks have been passing for a long time, sometimes with their own families.) I got past it, and a few years later was pretty comfortable with what was going on inside my own head -- but it was an adjustment.
My kids won't need to make the adjustment. Other people's sexuality more bores them than otherwise -- some people are gay, or bi, or whatever, and some people like strawberry ice cream: what else you got?
So what comes next? When they're my age, what are they going to be having problems with, which of their assumptions are going to be challenged by changes in mores? Polygamy? Gender changes becoming more common, a la Varley's old stories? I don't see that in 30 years. Age of consent? I'm skeptical that's going to change -- it's gone up, not down, with every increase in the complexity of society; very few people at 18 today are functioning adults, with the complexity of modern society.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Good news/bad news, but way more good than bad. The right eye has gone off again, and is getting worse ... which of itself is almost good news. I used to be hugely right eye dominant. What's supposed to happen after you become visually impaired is that your brain learns to map the images from the two eyes back together, picking the good image from the remaining good eye as the dominant image. This didn't happen with me; I had too much light coming in the right eye, and my brain insisted on trying to look out of that, for the most part, for all the three years since this happened. So I wore the patch, which I admit I like much of the time -- but even liking the look, it's a pain to make sure you have it with you everywhere you go. But the option is reading with one eye closed, driving with one eye closed, etc. So I lived with the patch, liking it and being annoyed by it at the same time.
The right eye going further south has freed me from the patch, it appears. If my doctor fixes the eye up again and gets some light coming back through the eye again, I may have to resume the patch -- and I suppose I should hope for that; the better shape the right eye stays in, the better chance I have of getting the entire eye back some day, with stem cell research that looks encouraging in this area ...
But I won't be much depressed if it turns out that the right eye stays dark. I see better that way.
Here's the good news/good news part of this post, however ... when the eye went bad 3 years ago, I asked my doctor what the odds were of it happening in the left eye as well. He couldn't or wouldn't tell me at the time -- I asked him again this time, and after 3 years of seeing the eye (if that's what it was) -- he said the odds were good. I pressed him -- better than even money? One in ten of the left eye going bad? "Oh, no," he said, "less than one percent."
My head feels like I got hit with the flat of a shovel at the moment, but I've been happy about this all day. I can live with those odds. I've been making long-term plans for my kids -- you have to -- but I hadn't really been making long-term plans for myself. Too much up in the air. And now I can ...
It's good to be me.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I've been fuming since MS deactivated my main desktop with "Genuine Advantage" most of a year ago. Tuesday night my Vista notebook downloaded five patches and installed them. Since then that computer no longer boots. I paid $180 for that license, it runs on one and only one computer, and MS fuckity-fuck fucked me for having had the stupidity to pay to alpha test Vista on my production machines.
I am worn out with Windows. I will put up with them forever in my consulting work, because there's no choice, but I'm switching to Ubuntu on my main desktop and on the notebook, and I'll blog here about how it goes.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
If I haven't said so, and maybe I haven't, I really appreciate the time and energy people have put into this.
A Freeway in My Back Yard is probably going to ship before AI War does, but AI War shouldn't be long thereafter. I am looking for some POD service to provide hardcopy for those who really want it, for all these works.
Freeway is a collection of everything short form I've written that's worth publishing. It includes some stuff I've published separately -- Old Man, On Sequoia Time, the Star Wars stories, NPR and other essays, the Ola Blue short I wrote (Leftbehind) -- and probably "Cities in the Darkness," the Camber Tremodian story that's sitting in half-finished form on my hard drive. There are also likely to be exerpts of other longer works, not all of which I promise to ever finish -- bits of some Continuing Time novels I'll probably never write, some scenes from the Speedfreak story I wrote as a teenager, the opening chapter of Sharp Teeth -- and the scene where Trent meets Melissa du Bois, exactly as written in the first draft when I was (I think) 17.
I may even bundle up "A Day in the Life of a Telephone Pole," which I wrote when I was 12. It's pretty awful, but you know, 12.
Monday, November 12, 2007
I've driven to San Bernardino, 200 miles roundtrip, way too many damn times to count. My family's out there, unfortunately.
Probably not doing this again. At 44 years of age the strain was real. Knees locking up, back sore, neck sore -- and that was before I got to Denver. This was my first trip to Denver, and it turns out that Denver is Hell on Earth.
It wasn't the people -- hi, Cody -- or the work. I won't name the company for a variety of reasons including the fact that I consulted for them in a set of buildings that for good reasons lacked the company's name or any other identifying mark ... but the work was interesting and the people were first rate.
But I couldn't breathe.
Denver is (famously) the Mile High City, officially 5280 feet above sea level. I've been higher than that -- I've been up near the peak of Mount Baldy in California, which is 10,000 feet -- but I've never spent more than a day there. I've spent the night in Big Bear, California, a few times -- that's 6,752 feet above sea level. And I drove to Mexico City once, which is up around 7000 feet.
But the week in Denver was the longest time I'd ever spent at high altitude. I didn't notice it the first day particularly, but the first night I had trouble sleeping despite being exhausted -- put it off to "too tired to sleep," which is rare but has happened to me before. The second night I woke up several times, irritable, missing having Amy in the bed with me -- the third night I woke up four or five times and realized that I was simply short of breath. It didn't get any better until I drove home, through Denver, Utah, Nevada -- Las Vegas itself is 4,000 feet above sea level. Las Vegas has always made me feel jittery and nervous -- which surprised me, because big cities don't; I've been to a variety of big cities and I cope with them fine. I'm from Los Angeles. I always wondered if I had some judgemental "people having too much fun" thing going on -- a puritan streak I hadn't suspected.
Turns out it's not a latent puritan streak -- I realized as I was driving through Vegas that I was still short of breath....
Outside Las Vegas, in a fairly short stretch, the 15 drops from 4000 feet to 2000 feet. Maybe it was psychological, but I found myself able to take a good deep breath, and feel I was getting enough air, since the first night I'd become aware of being short of breath in Denver.
Got home Saturday morning, slept most of the day, and spent Saturday evening and all day Sunday enjoying the feeling of being fit enough to walk fifty feet without gasping for air.
Monday, November 5, 2007
I used the word a couple years back on Lakerstalk and got jumped on by some people (friends) who said I was being disrespectful. This morning I read a long article about autism that concluded by observing that "retarded" was no longer an acceptable usage -- the journal "Mental Retardation" changed its name this year to "Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities."
Not saying they're wrong to make the change -- sensitivity is good, and if it takes a few more syllables, I'm OK with that. I'm broadly good with calling people whatever they want to be called -- if "colored people" want to be "negroes," fine. If "negroes" want to be "black people," fine. If "black people" want to be "people of color" ... actually that one sends sparks to shoot out my ears occasionally as the circuitry deals with the overvoltage of having been through that whole circle in one short lifetim, but I roll with it because, end of day, what people call themselves is their call, not mine. "Gay" instead of "queer" or "homosexual" or "lesbian" -- fine. Though I can't keep up with whether they're L&G or LGB or LGBT or GLBT -- I saw LGBTQQ the other day, which stood for "Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transexual Queer and Questioning" -- if they'll just stick PHATPIML in there -- "Practicing Heterosexual At This Point In My Life" -- I will happily pay dues. Or it could be "IKSRPBOTYAWAYLAB" ... "I've Known Some Really Pretty Boys Over The Years And What Are You Lookin' At, Bub?" (YWAKS? Which is of course: Ya Want A Knuckle Sandwich?)
It does all remind me of George Carlin's piece about how "shell shock" got turned into "combat fatigue" and then into "operationally exhausted" and then into "post-traumatic stress disorder" ... all the while the poor soldiers were suffering from the same damn condition. I understand why "colored" and "fag" and "retard" got shuffled out of the language, and I'm fully behind it all. But where the language has gained shades of gray, it's lost simplicity. That may be a good tradeoff (probably is) ... but the loss of "shell shock" -- and "old people," to borrow from Carlin again, who are now "senior citizens" -- can still be mourned, and I do.
Got some spam recently I think because of that Lakers-related post -- it was "buy tickets and gear" kind of stuff. I've turned on comments moderation for the moment. I'll give it a few days and turn it back off again. Mostly I don't like comments moderation -- slows back and forth down somewhat, IMO -- but if the blog starts getting a lot of spam, I may go to it. Steve Perry moderates his comments, which I assumed was because he was an old guy authoritarian: "shape up and spell correctly or else!" But maybe it was spam after all ...
Boston College lost this weekend, which was good. Unfortunately, the Patriots probably are the best football team in the history of the game. I can still hope, but they whipped one of the top teams in the history of the game, Manning's Colts, 24-20, in Indianapolis, after having being down 20-10 midway through the 4th, and after having suffered from some downright remarkable officiating -- the Pats set a franchise record for penalties in that game and still pulled it out, in the home stadium of the unbeaten Superbowl champions.
I still hate Boston. Most people only hate individual franchises elsewhere -- which would be the Celtics in my case. But after enough decades of pain, my specific hatred of the Celts turned into a generalized hatred of all of Boston. So I do hate Boston ... but not enough to prevent me from enjoying what the Pats are doing.
Every year about this time people start ranting ab0ut the Last Unbeaten Pro Football Team, and how they might end the season unbeaten ... and it never happens. (OK, happened once, 35 years ago.)This is the first time I haven't thought the people calling for a complete unbeaten season were delusional. I think the Patriots might do it. They're angry, motivated, and really, really good.
I'm on the road this week and have a post on that coming soon; I also brought along Devlin's Razor and Terminal Freedom, and should get them out to proofers this weekend.
And in my actual downtime (I'm only booked 40 hours this week, and have no wife or kids to distract me) I'm working on the 2nd half of AI War. Those of you I owe mail to, you should get it this week.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
One thing that's crossed my mind a few times is native RAID 5 inside hard drives -- most of what kills drives is head crashes, even today. If you've got a drive with three or more platters you could offer RAID 5 internally with a single drive ... as long as the heads are working on 2 platters, you're still functional.
This is a freebie to the hard drive industry. I'd never buy anything else, ever again.
I can't imagine why there isn't a "Fight Club" musical yet. I'll write the ad for them: "The first rule of Fight Club ... is you do not sing about Fight Club."
Fight Club is Jodi's favorite movie. I think it's a load of horseshit myself -- "we are the middle children of history" my butt -- but it is funny in places. It's already camp enough: it'd make a great musical.
I can't understand why there's a water shortage on a planet with so much water and sunshine. Is it that hard to build a system that lays water out in the sun and catches the evaporate?
How much electricity could you recover if you put pressure plates under the roads? Vehicle going over the pressure plates depress them, leaving the plates release the pressure and generate electricity. Maybe you could light the roads with it. You could even selectively light the roads with it -- only light the lamps around the spots where cars are actually passing and generating electricity.
For all I've written about flying cars, I'm not really ready to live in a world that has them. It's bad enough passing them on the side of the road on the hottest summer days: you can't drive up the 405 incline on the worst days of summer without seeing cars that didn't make it to the top of the Santa Monica mountains. Now picture them plummeting from the sky ... mothers with small children parachuting to safety ... "What is this on your parachute, Ronnie?"
The Martian Child is out this weekend. Looking forward to it, though early reviews aren't good -- there's apparently some creepy stuff about the kid, the "Martian Child." The Martian Child is Sean Gerrold -- called Dennis in the movie, which was his name when David Gerrold adopted him. Great boy -- I played basketball with him for about a year, 10+ years ago now, on weekends. He'd been through rough stuff (and gave David some difficult times) but he was incredibly bright and charming. I hope the movie brings that across.
Really looking forward to American Gangster, though. That's the best trailer I've seen in years. I'm going out of town on a contract this week -- I don't really like traveling, at least on business -- miss my family too much. But it does give you free time, usually. Maybe I'll get to see American Gangster while I'm on the road.
Looks like it's just time separating Kobe from his exit from Los Angeles. I remember a day 20 years ago -- the Dodgers had won the World Series, the Lakers had won the NBA Finals, and Los Angeles still had two football teams. (OK, one -- the Rams went to Anaheim in 1979, which is when I stopped rooting for them.) Now the Dodgers suck, the "Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" is so stupid it's had to tolerate --
"The La Brea Tar Pits" translates to "The The Tar Tar Pits."
"The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim" translates to The The Angels Angels of Anaheim."
No team that plays in Anaheim is an L.A. team, I don't care what they call themselves.
So we have no pro football, a lousy baseball franchise, a lousy basketball franchise (and the Clippers, too) ... the Lakers are a borderine playoff team with Kobe; without him they're likely to test the losing record of the 1972 Philadelphia 76ers, who went 9 and 72. There's a been a lot of static over Kobe over the years; on most of it I've had his back. But I'm ready for him to go now. No hard feelings, some relationships are broken and it's time to move on -- I'm friendly with 2 ex-wives and one ex-girlfriend, I can manage no hard feelings with a 6'6" basketball player I've never met. But the Lakers aren't committed to winning now -- can't believe I'm writing that, I've never, for over thirty years, doubted the organization's commitment to win -- but here we are, with the best basketball player on the planet in purple and gold, and a front office that's either brutally incompetent or consciously rebuilding while wasting that player's best years. The Lakers should pull the trigger, let Kobe move on, and get honest about the rebuilding process. It would cost them money -- a lot of money; those courtside seats are expensive, and even the ones up in the 300s aren't cheap -- but it's the right thing to do. (Well, no -- the right thing to do is to mortgage the future and win now ... but plainly the Lakers aren't going to do that.)
In Boston they have the Red Sox, the Patriots (probably the best football team I've ever seen) ... the Celtics reloaded with Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Kevin Garnett ... and Boston College is undefeaed and #2 in the BCS.
This is from "All Possible Worlds" -- Sam suspects that one of the Princes of his Order is a bad guy, and goes to see a psychic ... who warns him that dark forces are gathering, evil is coming ...
MAMA AGHABARIA: He comes from a dark land, a land of ancient evil.
MAMA AGHABARIA: Not all evil is related to the Celtics, Sam.
SAM: Is he from Boston?
MAMA AGHABARIA: As it happens.
God, I hate this.
My younger daughter ran her last race of the season today. She's short and doesn't have a long stride, so she runs cross country where grim, dogged determination helps compensate. It was great seeing her down the stretch ... a hundred odd people running, most of them out ahead of her at the start, and she just ran them down over the long haul, passing all the people who lacked her determination and wind.
I'm awfully proud of her.
Friday, October 26, 2007
NPR.org, April 3, 2006 · NPR Baghdad producer JJ Sutherland sends this dispatch from the dark side.
I get a call the other night. They've found four more bodies in western Baghdad. They're bound, hands and feet. They're blindfolded. They've been shot in the head. Their bodies bear wounds from beatings and electrical burns, and someone has used a drill on their flesh. That's just one phone call. I get a few more. Every night it seems, dozens of bodies turn up, both Shiite and Sunni, often killed in the same fashion.
And this one:
The 'Hunters' of Afghanistan
by JJ Sutherland
NPR.org, July 7, 2006 · News out of Afghanistan is often overshadowed by the horrible stories of bloody conflict in Iraq. But Afghanistan is no party either, with armed terrorists hoping to take down the fledgling government and American troops still patrolling the country. But, unlike Iraq, Afghanistan is at least safe enough for a war zone reporter and producer to venture out among the people. As evidence, I relay to you this lovely epistle, sent from blogger #1 JJ Sutherland, currently in Afghanistan:
I spent today in Kabul's bird market. A 10-foot-wide packed dirt alley walled by two-story mud shacks. The first floor is the store. There are birds of every type and color. Canaries, finches, doves, fighting cocks, quail... the ones with the needle looking feathers... the ones that are the size of your thumb... the ones that I can't even describe, let alone know the name of.
Jeff Smith wrote me (nice letter Jeff, thank you) asking when I was going to put a donate button up on the blog. "When I get around to it" is the answer (possibly this weekend, but no promises) ... but if anyone is really dying to donate and can't wait, using the yahoo domain account danmoran909 will work ... and thank you to everyone who feels this way. Unless someone tells me not to I'll post the donations, who from and the amount, and donations will be fed back into literary-related expenses.
It's genuinely touching to me that people are still hanging onto this material after all these years.
Amy and I are going to a concert tonight but I'll try to get her to read the 1st half of AI War over the weekend, and will send it on to proofers once she does.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
But if I were to own a bar, I'd want to institute a simple feedback loop -- you enter the bar, you stick your car keys in a device that combines a thumbprint recorder and a blood alcohol level test. To get the keys back, you get your thumb scanned and blow into the machine -- and if you're legal, it returns them to you. If you're not, it hangs onto them. (If I owned a restaurant that served alcohol, and it's not outside the realm of the possible that someday I might, I'd institute a 3-drink maximum per person. That might fly -- at least, dining there, you'd know that your fellow patrons were less likely to smash into you on your way out of the parking lot.)
The bar scheme wouldn't work. Any bar attempting to institute it would go out of business. People getting falling down drunk is what keeps bars in the black, and the drunks would move onto a bar that didn't care who they killed on the way home. It might work if all bars in a given region were required to install such a feature, though -- I'm liberal enough to think that's not a bad idea. Try it in one city and see if the death and accident rates from drunk driving decline.
What responsibility you have to your customers is an interesting question. I think alcohol should be legal -- I think heroin should be legal, for that matter, and marijuana and cocaine and speed and what have you; adults should be permitted to stick whatever they want to into their bodies, no matter how stupid I may think their conduct. As long as they meet their obligations otherwise, it's a personal matter and not properly a subject for public policy. And it's dangerous to get too self-righteous ....
Let's say that people who own bars are on questionable moral ground. (I'm not saying that, though I am saying I wouldn't care to own one myself.) But let's say ...
OK, obviously people who sell alcohol in other venues are on shaky ground. Ditto tobacco. And restaurants who sell milkshakes and cheeseburgers. Now, I'd like to own a cheeseburger shop some day -- "The Cheeseburger Factory: The World's Best Cheeseburger Technology." (My son Bram suggested "Cheeseburger Factory." I came up with "The World's Best Cheeseburger Technololgy.") Maybe in my old age, after I've put my last kid through college -- Connor will have his bachelor's degree about the time I hit 60.
Am I responsible for serving a cheeseburger to a fat guy? When he falls over and dies from a massive coronary, are my peanut butter shakes and medium-rare burgers with Tillamook Cheddar to blame?
Maybe I can help out. Maybe I can stick a feedback loop into the equation. Instead of having a drive-through, we have a walk-in restaurant ... with skinny doorways. Then you're tempting the Winnie-the-Pooh-problem .... sneak through on the way in, too fat to get back out again. Of course, that's its own sort of feedback loop, isn't it? We stick a treadmill by the door and charge by the hour ...
Had a pretty good conversation with Bill Stewart (copyright holder of The Ring) a couple days ago. It's many months down the road before I'm going to do anything with that material, but it may be that there's room to produce something that's acceptable to both of us. (Apparently I had harsh words about Bill Stewart at one point, and he asked me about it -- I have no recollection of having said anything about him, but I remember pissing off Lou Aronica, the publisher at Bantam at the time. That project, the book portion of it at least, was screwed up from Day 1, and I'd be hard pressed to say who made the worst decisions regarding it. (Well, besides me, for agreeing to do it.) But after me, it was some combination of Amy Stout, Lou Aronica, and Bill Stewart. I haven't spoken to Lou Aronica in years (no hard feelings at all, just haven't ever run into the guy) -- and as I noted, I ended up married and having children with Amy. So I think Bill and I are cool. He's a blunt guy, he'll let me know if we're not. :-)
I look back on that project, and for all the big brass cojones I had as a young man, The Ring was dumb even for me. It's based on Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung -- which I knew almost nothing about and had never seen except in bits and pieces. (The full run is 4 nights long.) I've been to two productions since -- a full run once, and the concluding night of another production -- but at the time, I had a fairly long screenplay, a $6,000 advance (I think), and three months. I missed my deadline by a month -- and ended up with a very long book written almost entirely in stream-of-consciousness first draft. And Bantam published it that way. A chance to repair that misadventure would be nice.
Talking to JJ Sutherland, intrepid NPR producer/reporter, about a novel based on his experiences in Iraq. He seems interested, and I certainly am -- he's been sending dispatches back from Iraq, to a private list, since the war began -- I don't know if I've mentioned those posts here, since every post has contained the request that his words and observations be kept private, which, for a journalist in a war zone, is an incredibly reasonable request. But it's astonishing, wrenching material. I think he's got something there, I do.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
We're probably a couple weeks away from the 1st half of AI War going to proofers, and a couple months away from the 2nd half, but progress is being made.
When I took this blog live several people requested a donate button. Now that the published CT novels are up, I'm going to go ahead and add one. If you feel inclined to donate, bless you, but there is no quid pro quo going on here -- you're welcome to download and share the books regardless.
Terminal Freedom should go relatively soon.
God help me, I'm talking to Bill Stewart, copyright holder for "The Ring." I'm not going to re-publish it the way it is, but if he's open to revisions, there may be a verson of that novel that I'm not embarrassed by, some day. I had ideas at one point for an expanded version of that novel -- Caine's rebellion followed by the bulk of "The Ring," told in more or less chronological order -- don't know if we'll get there or not.
Neither Bill nor I ever liked that book, but I'm unclear to what degree we agree on what we disliked. We'll find out.
Somewhere down the road "A Freeway in My Back Yard" will be published. It's a collection of essays and short fiction, including pieces that have never seen the light of day anywhere.
Monday, October 15, 2007
I've been a fan of Al Gore's for a very long time. Back in the day he wrote an article (at least one, maybe more) for Byte Magazine, on the "information superhighway" -- not a surprising phrase from him, since his father, Senator Al Gore Senior, was a big backer of the actual interstate highway system that's now one of the backbones of American commerce. We corresponded briefly about that time, and I recall thinking that this was one of the rare politicians who really got it. He got a ton of crap (most of it dishonest) for his phrase about "taking the iniative in creating the internet" -- which was badly phrased, but as much as anyone in government pushed for the modern internet, Gore did.
He's been out in front on Global Warming. Global Warming as accepted science has followed pretty precisely in the footsteps of the "disputed science" over tobacco being carcinogenic, and CFCs causing the Ozone Hole; long after any fair-minded person could see the truth of both tobacco and CFCs, business interests kept pushing contrary science, and that's where we are today with Global Warming -- and, as with the internet, at least as far as any politician out there, Al Gore was right first. He was brave at a time when George Bush had a 70% approval rating, in speaking out against the Iraq War -- at a time when Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and other spineless politicians were providing political coverage for George Bush. The arguments since then -- over Bush lying, missing WMD, and a variety of other issues -- almost obscure the core fact: the war in Iraq was the wrong war at the wrong time. (I was behind the Kosovo action, I was behind the war in Afghanistan: I am not a pacifist. Pure Gandhi-ist pacifism is either a brutally immoral philosophy that asserts that the rights of the innocent are worth less than the rights of abusers and murderers, or it's cowardice seeking cover. I admire Gandhi, but cf Turtledove, he'd have had a bad time of it had Nazis rather than Brits been running India during WWII.)
When I corresponded with Gore I urged him then to run for President (1990 or so) -- Gore had run once already. I volunteered to work on his campaign -- I hadn't done much politically at the time, though I ended up volunteering on two of Dianne Feinstein's campaigns. (I had written a draft of a speech for Gary Hart back in the late 80s -- he used almost exactly one line of it, about the lack of a real energy policy inevitably leading to American soldiers dying in the Middle East. Ironic, that.)
At any rate Gore passed, despite the once-in-a-lifetime chance to employ Dan Moran -- his son had been in an auto accident at the time. Instead a while later he ended up as Bill Clinton's running mate. I can't help but wonder what would have happened had Gore run in '92; he lacks Clinton's charisma, but he also lack's Clinton's many, many failings as a person and leader. Modern politics wouldn't be much less divisive today regardless, but we might all have been spared talk of the blue dress.
Hundreds of years from now Al Gore is likelier to be remembered than either the guy he beat in 2000, or the guy who dripped slime on him for the previous eight years. An Oscar, an Emmy, and a Nobel Peace Prize ... must be great to be Al Gore, right about now.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
"I have not."
"Can I check if he's in your room?"
"Yes, but then straight to bed."
Connor darted into Sam's bedroom. Sam heard him moving about ... a few minutes later Connor trudged back out into the office. "He's not there. I can't find him."
"Well, go to bed, and tomorrow we'll look for him."
"OK." Connor brightened. "I guess I can cuddle with my backup bear."
FatSam looked away from the screen. "Backup bear?"
"You know, like something that's not as good as something else is a backup. I'll cuddle with my backup bear and I'll be OK, and we'll find Fluffy tomorrow."
I don't know if it's related or not, but I had ridiculously large .pdf files being generated for Last Dancer, and incredibly slowly at that, on my main system; then Thursday evening the main box refused to boot. I've got the doc backed up elsewhere, so at a minimum I'll send the .rtf file out this week, and maybe the .pdf too if I can get around to setting up the notebook to generate .pdfs.
The .rtf file is the right size, anyway.
Monday, October 8, 2007
Not fun to live through, but great material.
My oldest daughter turns 18 in March. She's spent the last decade of her life in court and isn't intimidated by it in the slightest -- she would make (and may make) a great lawyer. She had some really intriguing observations about what's happened to OJ Simpson, recently.
I've generated the PDFs for Last Dancer and it'll go to Immunity today, though maybe late -- I've got to go out for a couple hours, and I want to see it render correctly on my & my son's handhelds before I send it. It's a much bigger file than it seems it should be, even with font embedding.
I've locked down the first half of AI War; I'm not touching that text any further. AI War at various times has had 2 to 5 differerent sections -- it's going out the door with the following:
1. Trent the Uncatchable and the Temple of Toons
2. The Big Boost
3. Live Fast and Never Die
4. The AI War
There was a lengthy chunk at one point about Mohammed Vane and his wife Selena -- it was most of a section called "The Lay of the Rose." Most of that's been ripped out. The material made Vance look bad -- and I've gotten more sympathetic to Vance as I've aged. (Always was somewhat sympathetic to him.) He's not a "good guy" in this draft -- he still does terrible things -- but he does them because, plausibly, he thinks they're the correct things to do, not because he's angry, which was what drove him in earlier drafts of this material.
The soldier fighting off the approach of Chaos is, unsurprisingly, a lot more sympathetic to me in middle age than when I conceived of him ... and this quote, which always seemed meaningful to me, seems more so, these days:
"Players"—the child, the actor, and the gambler. The idea of chance is absent from the world of the child and the primitive. The gambler also feels in service of an alien power. Chance is a survival of religion in the modern city . . .
-- Jim Morrison
Read what little there is of "Crystal Wind" for the first time in years and years. It sucks less than I'd feared. :-)
Dvan meets Trent ...
"Why did he keep calling me Clark?"
Jodi Jodi just looked at him. "You're bigger than ordinary men. Stronger, faster. Glossy black hair. Able to leap tall women in a single bound. And you're a newsdancer." She smiled. "You're a newsdancer from another planet, man. What were you expecting?"
Monday, September 24, 2007
Finagle's Law applies to movies -- going to see 3:10 to Yuma, no one asked me what I was on my way to see, when I'd have been happy to discuss it. Going to see Resident Evil, three different friendly people embarrassed me with that question.
Two black characters -- in one Sacrificial Negro bit the woman dies while protecting white people; the black guy (mild spoiler) ... dies after turning into a zombie and menacing a white girl. I still don't agree with Barnes about Unforgiven, but once you're sensitized to these tropes, it's depressing how frequently they appear.
On the upside, Milla spends the entire movie in a thin white t-shirt, and they must have iced her nipples before every scene. Worked for me.
The tiny bit of fame I've got has mostly not been enjoyable to me (and mostly not a problem, either, so no whining) -- but I did get this out of it:
MegaHAL: "TRENT REZNOR, MILLA JOVOVICH, BRYAN FERRY, DR.KIERSEY, GAVIN FRIDAY, DANIEL KEYS MORAN, ELFQUEST, THE KING JAMES BIBLE... THESE ARE SOME THINGS THAT ARE LONG AND METALLIC."
The Last Dancer should go to Immunity later this week. If anyone out there is still reading, drop me a line if you've run across anything.