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Showing posts from December, 2012

California as the world

I really wasn't planning on posting anything today but then I found this amazing picture. Basically this is a map distributed by Paramount in 1927 suggesting stand-in locales for movies. It hits many of my favorite obsessions:


MapsMoviesHistoryCreated Realities I would love to do a map of New England with locations that could stand in for the rest of the world. Is that even possible? My sense of this region is that it is in itself a coherent place with its own specific atmosphere but I guess you could find some pretty convincing arctic tundras. Saharan deserts might be a problem, however.
This might be more relevant than it actually appears. We the increasing popularity of augmented reality games (see Ingress), might there not be a push for realistic environments for certain parts of the game. How else would you do an ice level on an AR game without actual ice?

Credit to scientologist2 on r/movies

Year in Review: Everything Else

To wrap up my review of 2012, I'd like to put down some more personal reflections on what this year has meant to me.
This was the year I finished grad school. I am now on track for professional status at my school and, hopefully, a long career as a middle school history teacher. I arranged my last class, Fiction Workshop, to usher in a major change in focus in my life. No more education courses (for awhile, anyway) and a renewed focus on family and writing. I go to more of my wife's shows and less time shuttling between Salem and home. No other way to put it: life's gotten better.


I've gotten serious about writing. I'm basing this observation on the number of rejections I've been getting. Nothing quite focuses the mind on an endeavor like repeated ego-corroding, soul-searing form rejection letters for queries and submissions. I haven't even gotten to the point where my rejections are particularly helpful, three sentences and a thank you are pretty much the…

What I heard in 2012

Ah, music. I got tons of it this year and a significant portion was even released in 2012. My wife complained that a lot of the music I've been listening to has been 'samey' which is her usual complaint for plaintive indie rock. In truth, I definitely wanted to listen to a particular sound this year and with few exceptions I was able to find what I was looking for.

5) Dr. John: Locked Down. Dr. John has been around awhile, and has produced a kind of jazzy funk Zydego for most of his career. This album, produced with assistance from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys accomplishes a nifty trick, simultaneously retro and futuristic in sound. Only a few of the songs really stand out on their own but the whole album latches on with tobacco stained teeth and will not let go.

4) Cate Le Bon: Cyrk. I've listened to this album repeatedly and not been able to get to the center of it. It's not exactly mysterious, just off-kilter. The Lou Reed guitars chime along to Le Bon's f…

Year in Review: Movies

Okay, now a challenge. This year was filled to the brim with well-crafted, cinematically intriguing, visually masterful, thought-provoking, near-classics. Other than the film I've selected for my favorite, it's tough to imagine how many of these works will truly find a life beyond this year. I don't mean that they're forgettable, I just mean that they seem small, restricted, and part of a specific time and place or marketing campaign.

So with that in mind, I'll proceed after one last caveat. The films that follow are not meant as objectively the best films of 2012. I am not a film critic and I don't have time/money to watch everything out in the theaters. I didn't watch "Zero Dark Thirty," I missed "The Master," and I haven't had time for "Django Unchained" yet. These are simply the movies that I can honestly say impressed me the most or at least paralleled my experiences during the year in some meaningful way.

Let's go…

Year in Review: Books

On one hand, this list is the easiest to compile. I read exactly one book that came out this year: The Wrong Goodbye by +Chris Holm. It was very good and I'll talk it up again below but I'm going to start off by making a very serious New Year's resolution - I need to read at least five books published in 2013 next year.

Which shouldn't get in the way of the fact I enjoyed The Wrong Goodbye or take way from Holm's achievement. Sam Thornton is a Collector, the disembodied spirit of a man bound to a demonic debt, collecting the souls of the condemned for the powers of the underworld. The Wrong Goodbye is the second in the series and broadens the story by adding details to Sam's past, including introducing two fellow Collectors to the story. When one of these former companions steals Sam's latest assignment, he goes on a twisted road-trip across America to hunt him down. Like any good story on the road, the narrative is leavened by set-pieces, the inadvertent k…

Do you hear?

When reviewing an adaption it's important to realize something. There is no true Les Miserables. Well possibly the novel, as it sprawls across hundreds of pages, and an equally bulky cast of characters. But that isn't really where "Les Miserables" comes from.

It is after all an adaption of a stage production and a musical. No one night will be exactly the same as the next, even assuming all of the actors are the same. One note might hold for a fraction of a second longer or receive a different emphasis. So when we approach a movie, which will be the same viewing after viewing, it's important to consider just what choices are being made. I've seen two live showings of Les Miz, one which placed a lot more emphasis on the spectacle of the Barricade and revolution. The other, somewhat more subdued, treated the events of the middle third of the story as a tragic backdrop to Jean Val Jean's passion play. The quality of the songs and story of Les Miz isn't …

Stocking Stuffers

No particular structure for today's posting, just a few things that have drawn my notice.

Read this article from the Daily Mail. Now, are you with me? This is more like it. First of all, the idea of capturing asteroids and bringing them into Earth orbit is an important step for any would-be space colonizing civilization. The possibility of a stepping stone for exploring the other inner system planets is even better. But let's not lose sight of the basic idea. Step 1: waltz over to a sizable space rock. Step 2: While talking softly to it, take a big trash bag, lasso it and bring it back to cislunar space. Step 3: Wash, rinse, and repeat.



As I understand it, the problem with space exploration currently is getting material and personnel out of the home world's gravity well. Basically every project has to be built to pass through several radically different physical environments just to complete a task. It's sort of like if early explorers had to explore the New World with…

Dark Age Now

Yesterday, Wayne LaPierre, president of the National Rifle Association gave his organization's prescription for solving the epidemic of gun violence in this country. As you no doubt know, Wayne's idea is recruiting armed guards for all of the nation's schools. Now, with an exaggerated attempt towards fairness, 40% of this nation's high school's have at least a part-time presence of armed guards or school resource officers. The NRA's proposal would go far beyond that, however, calling for retired military personnel and police officers at all schools, around the clock. I saw the figure of $80,000 to fund a full-time security professional for the 40+ hours necessary to watch out for armed shooters.

"The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," is probably the one quote destined live beyond this poorly received press event.

I'll say one thing for the utterance above, it has the virtue of simplicity. Mind-numbing, infuri…

My association with 12/21/12

I picked up my copy of this paper and pencil RPG about twenty years ago and played it throughout high school. If I'd been born a few years before, I might have played more DnD and a few years later and I'd probably have been sucked into Evercrack but this was better in my view: Magic and technology, side-by-side, with a character generation system that let you create pretty much any street samurai, battle mage, or rigger you wanted. The world of Shadowrun was deep, involved and printed in source books so cheap they pretty much disintegrated the second you looked finished reading through them.
But anyway, for me, 12/21/12 will always be the start of the fifth world, marked in the Shadowrun mythology as the date a dragon wakes up and flies around Mt. Rainier. Awesome! I will take that over some moldy misconception over Mayan calendar practices any day.
 This also marks the last few days in the year, which I've traditionally marked with a round of Year's Best lists (What…

Hobbit: Film or Movie

The only question I had sitting down for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, was not whether or not page 113 was faithfully adapted (I'm going to take a wild guess and say it wasn't), or whether or not three hours is a bit excessive for the first part of slim children's book (it is), or whether or not there's much point to the exercise at all (I think there is, more on that later). The real question in my mind was whether or not Peter Jackson would have settled for making a movie called "The Hobbit," or would he make a film called "The Hobbit."

First a few words on the difference between movies and films. A movie is entertainment, a film is art. A movie serves the purpose of filling seats to make money for a film studio, its success or failure can be determined by how well it convinces people to plunk down $10 to $15 for the chance to see the spectacle. Once the movie has been watched, it has been consumed, its meaning is no more significant than the…

Ingress

My friend Matt has recently become interested in the Google Augmented Reality game Ingress. I knew about as much as anyone else does by virtue of the promotional video:



But apparently there's a lot more to it. At the moment the game is in alpha, which in typical Google SOP means you have to get an invite to play the game. Atypically, acquiring an invite is less about finding someone you know who has it (ala Google+) and more like passing an audition. Basically, you can wait at one of the metered portals for an invite or send a cool picture, tagged with "Ingress" or one of the other popular hashtags for the game. This is my friends work:

https://plus.google.com/101002632394819121609/posts/XxQHHo6HEeQ

So it appears he was successful, nice work!

The actual play clips I've seen make it seem like a combination of geo-caching and Layers and also a bit of a road hazard, but still...very interesting.



Seriously I'd check out all four of the links below, there are some real…

Future Guidance

"No Flying Cars, But the Future is Bright" is an article that neatly sums up a few things I've been thinking about this week. Virginia Postrel wrote the article to talk about how the small incremental changes over the past few decades do add up to a big deal. The article itself was written in reaction to this piece, "Why We Can't Solve Big Problems," by Jason Pontin, in the MIT Technology Review. I'm not going to do a full summation of the two articles, you can choose to do that on your own, or not, but here are the bumper stickers:
Pontin claims that the reason the future seems to be been deferred, the reason that we have Twitter instead of Transcontinental Supersonic flights, is that we have lost our will to progress. For a variety of political, and cultural reasons, we have lost the will to think big. NASA has plans that could take us to Mars by 2030 if we only had the political will that existed in the '60s. Global Warming might not be so catastr…

Nerd Storm

I'll start off by saying today's post is going to be purposefully rambling. I've had an entire weekend of nerdery, and the only thing that one can do after such a weekend is bask in the afterglow.

 Went shopping yesterday for alleged Christmas gifts. I say alleged because when you hand select your gift -- no, let's go further than that -- when you stand next to the person buying the gift for you and obsess at great length about the storage capacity, color scheme, and screen protector options for said purchase, you are no longer going to be the recipient of a 'gift.' You are taking part in a transaction for a good to be received at some future specified date. Not that I'm complaining. The gift is pretty awesome.

From there, I went to hang out with friends and played "Brass," a European style board game our little group has been trying to play for about a year and a half. Check out the game for your self on this link if you're curious but I'…

The stories we tell

I had a much longer post about the events of yesterday, but blogger ate it. So that's very frustrating but I want to re-create some of what I was thinking about.

This roger Ebert interview (http://boingboing.net/2012/12/15/roger-ebert-on-how-the-press-r.html) came to my attention this morning and it seems like something I really should've mentioned as part of yesterday's post. Part of the frustration about gun violence is that it really isn't just one thing that causes them or would, presumably, help reduce them. It is a constellation of inter-related issues. The ready availability of guns. The gun culture we have in this country. The lack of access to good mental help for the individuals really need it.

And of course the media.

There is something sick about the repetitive nature of coverage in the media of gun violence. We see images of parents interviewed in the week of unspeakable tragedies, we see images of police and screaming children, we have an panel talki…

Meaningful action

My heart goes out to those affected by today's tragedy at the Sandyhook elementary school in Newtown Connecticut.

I am a teacher, and it's difficult for me to watch the news right now and not think about what I would feel as a parent, or an educator, or even just a classmate of those lost in this terrible attack. This is in itself an abomination, compounded by all of the other abominations that have happened this year through of gun violence. Seriously how can we allow this?I don't know why this kind of thing happens in this country. I don't know why there are so many troubled people certain that the only way that they can cut out the pain in their own hearts is by putting bullets through other people. I don't know why there are so many people so terrified of the citizens of their country that they'd buy guns designed to for purpose of killing other people. But I do know that this is something that happens in our country and pretty much our country alone.

I g…

The Art of Previews

Previews are an under appreciated art form. And they are an art form: anything involving the application of tremendous amounts of creativity, craft, and effort for the purpose of generating an emotional response is art in my view. So let's just put that aside for the moment.

And yet, I don't know of any awards for movie trailers, and very rarely do they get written up appreciatively for their own merits. Mostly, when trailers are referenced in media or popular culture, they occupy a strange crepuscular role as proxies for the topic people really want to talk about -- the movie itself.

I had my eyes opened to the idea of trailers as an art form, distinct from the cinema they represent, by an article I read a long time ago in the NY Times (back when I read the Times in dead tree form). By peeking behind the curtains of the production team that made the trailer for M. Night Shyamalan's "Signs," it became clear trailers aren't really about the movie. They contain…

To Speculate on Progress

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: The economics of the future is somewhat different. You see, money doesn't exist in the 24th century. Lily Sloane: No money? You mean, you don't get paid? Picard: ...We work to better ourselves.
Star Trek: First Contact (courtesy of IMDb)


What kind of future interests me in my writing? I started writing science fiction because I read the Foundation series, Neuromancer added some complications and then Star Trek went back on air. Those are the three big touchstones of my early writing life. Each of these worlds offer significantly diverging views on how the future might play out. Neuromancer, Gibson's protestations aside, paints a fairly vivid dystopia. Corporations rule the world, vast inhuman forces use people as chess pieces in incomprehensibly baroque intrigues. With Star Trek, the future is a sand-box, a stage from which the great personal dramas of individuals are played out. The moral questions are weighty but the tone is positive. Not every …

Exotic techologies

One thing that I certainly appreciated about Red Mars was its principled refusal to over-explain. Enormously complex and esoteric features of terraforming, interplanetary economics and life support were tossed off casually in the novel with nary a word said about them. Two technologies that I found particularly interesting (mostly because I hadn't actually heard of them before) were air miners and moholes. I thought I spend a posting looking at both of them. 

Air mining is very possible and is in fact one of the central things allowing the Mars Direct plan to function. Basically the idea is that a lander on the moon will be able to process the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to create consumables for a lift-off from the planet. Producing propellants is easy once hydrogen and enough heat have been applied (Sabatier's reaction.) However, in fairness, the air miners described in Red Mars are somewhat more flexible harvesting not just volatiles but also water, argon and magnesium.…

On Improving One's Quality of Life

It's actually pretty easy. After a few months of really enjoying watching TV shows on a friend's Netflix account, shows that I would almost certainly never be able to watch otherwise, simply go an get Netflix. I'm not writing this as an endorsement of anything other than good common sense.

I got a rejection today on "Seven Drawings of Dogs," a horror short story I've been shopping around recently. This one took awhile which was encouraging and the letter was pleasant enough, which was even more encouraging. Like I've been saying the only way I can guarantee not getting published somewhere is if I stop trying.


First draft done

Endings. A story doesn't end until it's ready but sometimes that ending's already happened. I realized that today in finishing my current story, which has the provisional title of "Broken Symmetry." My outline detailed a certain ending and plotted out every encounter backwards from that conclusion. Then I finished a certain section and realized, hey! this is a perfectly fine ending. All of the threads have come back. We've seen who the characters are. We perhaps don't know exactly what's going to happen to them, but we have a good idea. Better yet, the place I chose to end the story felt slightly off-balance, like the story could go on but the meaning of the story had already arrived.
That feels to me like an ending.


My Platonic ideal of endings begins and ends with the final three pages of "The Bear" by William Faulkner. In the conclusion, Boon Hogganbeck, a rough and ready hunter in the service of the narrator's father, has come across…

The Meaning of Terraforming

Terraforming is the process of turning a terrestrial body to an environment more suitable for human habitation. There are three planets in our own solar system that commonly mentioned targets of this process in order of increasing viability: Jupiter's frozen moon Europa, Venus, and, of course, Mars. A considerable amount of research has gone into whether or not terraforming is achievable or practical. One can also easily find debates on whether or not terraforming is morally or ethically supportable. A significant portion of the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson revolves around just that question. Moholes, genetically engineered lichens and deliberate meteoroid strikes are all described as techniques to add a few more millibars of atmospheric pressure, a few more degrees of heat to a cold, dead wasteland.


I'm less sure of the thought given to what terraforming means in literature such as Red Mars. When an author or director or screen-writer includes terraforming within a st…

Arisia Panel

I was super excited this morning to see my listing for Arisia 2013: World Building in Role-playing Games. This was one of five panels I applied to, and probably either second or third in terms of my preference (there is a panel on the Future of School with my good friend David Nuremburg that I was angling for but alas as of now it appears to have not happened).

World Building is one of my favorite aspects of role-playing actually, the one the I spend the most time on and the primary reason I don't actually play characters as much. I paint maps, I construct histories, I build languages, I tinker with vanilla RPG rules to accommodate newly made races. I think one of the reasons I consider role-playing fun and writing a craft is with RPG's I'm devoting all my energy on things that I do not consider work at all. Writing, with the messy collisions of characters and plot, is more of a challenge. A good challenge but still...

I will be posting more about the panel, what I'm r…

A look back at Red Mars

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson was published in 1993 so in reading it I was very curious to see how how well the book has aged. I would argue pretty well but especially in terms of Mars itself, the book remains remarkably close to what seems to be the developing understanding of both the planet itself and the feats of engineering required to reach it. Partly I think this comes from the conservative approach to the planet and its exploration. Right off the bat, Robinson takes the very measured and, even today defensible view that Mars does not have and never had life even in microbial forms. While rovers and probes sent to the red planet are increasingly finding evidence of a warmer, wetter past, the evidence for carbon based life is highly debatable. More on that later.


Looking back to 1993, it's interesting to see how the book was received given the views about space exploration common to the time. The book would have been written primarily during the first Bush administration…

Falling into History

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson is a lot of things but primarily what strikes me is its insistence on being a novel. Not a book. Not a 'read.' Not a pulp tale or an epic space opera. Robinson clearly wanted to create something like the War and Peace of Speculative Fiction. Judged from that standpoint it would be tough to say Red Mars is perfect. Much like the only other book I've read from Robinson, Years of Rice and Salt, the first book of the Mars Trilogy has a reach that somewhat exceeds its grasp. However, I'm not going to judge this book against Tolstoy and I'm not even going to talk about it being Steinbeck in spacesuits.

Red Mars is about newness. It's about the future that most fiction that calls itself science fiction is not.



Every single paragraph stretches to say something original. The word 'novel,' comes from the idea that a book should talk about what is new. That's what novels once aspired to do. Not so much in style, but in raw cont…

Progress

Stories don't really follow directions very well in my experience. They jump in lines, shove other ideas out of the way. They barge right up to and demand to have an audience. Sometimes this works, the story says its piece and I can't shake the idea behind it until I've written it all down. Other times, when I set about trying to capture whatever manic energy attracted me to them in the first place I find a big emptiness.
My current story is definitely a budger. I wanted to spend some more time developing the world of the story, the back ground. But I barely set down the characters when the voice started to pop into my head. So now I'm nearly 2500 words and just trying to keep up. 
It's funny how things go.



Thoughts on Complex Organic Chemicals

It's a little early to say whether or not Curiosity's discovery of complex organic molecules constitutes a let-down or not. I think whenever information is teased in this way to the public: 'oh, the rover found something, but we can't tell you what it is just yet,' there's bound to be a feedback loop of speculation, official silence, and then even more speculation. The first rumors of organic chemicals quickly became sigs of microbes became like actual Martian fossils, right there on Mars! Now we're back to chemicals that might be organic. So, that's something. Unless it's just contamination from Curiosity itself which is always a concern.


I am actually ambivalent about the whole question over life on Mars. If we find it, of course that would be an enormous discovery, mind-blowing really. But if we never find life, I think in someways that might be nearly as significant.
The discovery of life on Mars would suggest that life is in somewhat common in …