Saturday, June 5, 2010

Book review: Usurper of the Sun

I've been away from the blog for a couple weeks (so sad ...), but I'm back to do something new - a book review! Ok, review might be too strong a word -- perhaps, a book impression is better.

Book: Usurper of the Sun
Author: Housuke Nojiri
Translated by: John Wunderley
Published: 2003 JP/2009 US

Book Summary: The mysterious Builders have brought humanity to the edge of extinction; can they be reasoned with, or must they be destroyed?Aki Shiraishi is a high school student working in the astronomy club and one of the few witnesses to an amazing event—someone is building a tower on the planet Mercury. Soon, the Builders have constructed a ring around the sun, threatening the ecology of Earth with an immense shadow. Aki is inspired to pursue a career in science, and the truth. She must determine the purpose of the ring and the plans of its creators, as the survival of both species—humanity and the alien Builders—hangs in the balance.

Impressions: The novel is one of the staple concepts of sci-fi - a first contact story. However, it's more in the vein of Clarke, as in hard science in a fictional setting, rather than Lucas - fantasy in space. I love sci-fantasy books - warp gates, hundreds of aliens interacting, high adventure across the galaxy ... but, it's not even close to being realistic. And, the concepts that are explored, while possibly important, are extremely broad.

Usurper of the Sun deals deeply with the science surrounding awareness, intelligence, and cognition. While the physics and difficulty of space travel is presented in a highly believable manner (other than the speed of the spacecraft, though they remain sub-light) , the real core of the story is Aki and her passion to understand the aliens that they have dubbed the Builders.

I have to admit, I highly enjoyed the book. Between all the hard science, there was enough adventure to keep the plot moving. I did break down the book into chunks, as the concepts were worth dwelling upon, especially when deal with theories regarding self-awareness and intelligence that I had never been presented with before. To get the most from this book, you really have to open yourself to somewhat high-level conceptual frameworks. I wouldn't say it's difficult to read, however the concepts are more along the level of grad school than high school. However, they're presented well -- you're taught the information through dialogue and example rather than having an info dump or the author just expecting you to just get it.

It's hard to write about an author's style in translation, because you never know if the writing is more like the original author or the translator. Still, the book is well written and easily understandable - I never felt like something was lost in translation. Some of the dialogue had that odd floaty feel that seems unique to Japanese in translation; this may raise the eyebrows of a few readers, but the characters still feel distinct even though it is really just Aki's story.

I'm purposefully not delving into much of the plot other than the summary provided on the back of the book because you really don't know exactly what's going to happen. I had a few good guesses, and I was pretty close. Still, I was served with several surprises. The flow and all the events of the book seemed very natural -- even the extended time span the book covers.

That is, except for one event. One little thing happens in the book that, while it was set up earlier in the novel, still feels a bit like Star Trek -- you know, everything is going bad then suddenly Spock or Data says, "I now have this one piece of never seen before technology that will solve our problems, and it just so happens to be right here in my hand." Like I said, it was mentioned earlier, but that it suddenly works like it supposed to at the very last second feels a bit manipulative, but it didn't ruin the book for me. It was just one small, weak point in a very strong story.

Recommendation: Worth reading - especially for those liking real sci-fi.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Writing is actually more than just the story

Here is a conundrum that I often face: do I follow the naturalist path in writing or the artificial god route? If you've never really tried to write a sustained fictional narrative you may have never even have thought to consider this question. Me, I think about it all the time. Now, these terms are pretty much my own, because I'm not well educated in the lingo of graduate level literary studies ... so, let's start with my own little definitions.

When I'm talking about the naturalist path in writing, I'm expressing a desire to make the story (regardless of how crazy the situation may be) flow in a natural manner. This means the reader may not know everything that is going on and not every situation has a tidy ending. It's more like life. Sometimes, we just don't know things. Situations are sloppy.

You have to understand, when you read a story or watch a show where the situations seem chaotic and that it's like real life, the writer meant it to be that way. It was crafted -- it's something fake trying to take on the appearance of reality. When done well, it can really draw you into characters and make you a part of the story.

Another option is the writer as an artificial god, clearly manipulating the situation to make it simple or exciting or self-contained. As I mentioned, all stories are artificial - the difference here is that the writer doesn't really follow the pretense of the narrative being true to life. A lot of your action films follow this route - you create a circumstance that forces the main character to clearly define who they are, you create these set pieces that don't seem natural at all -- but they're really, really exciting. As a reader or viewer, you're overtly being manipulated, but when done well -- you just don't care, because it's so much fun.

Horror movies often follow this path: hey, there is some supernatural mofo stalking and killing all of us, but let's leave the group to go have sex in that secluded spot with only one exit. I mean, we all KNOW what's going to happen, but we accept it as part of the framework and go along with it.

So, I'm often torn by which path to follow. Most people prefer stories in the artificial god mode -- they like being taken on a ride, and they don't like to have to work for it. This is what sells and what is successful. Heck, some of my favorite books and movies definitely follow this route. At the same time, I'm so drawn to creating worlds where the reader just doesn't know everything, where things are spoon fed.

Anyway, the point of this post is just to let non-writers into what someone like myself thinks about when creating. Stories aren't just "there" -- writers have to make a whole bunch of conscious decisions on how to sculpt them.

It's really so much work. I'm tired just thinking about it! :)

Jennifer Knapp is back! Yay her! Here's a video from one of her recent live performances:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Any road works

I keep being confronted with the stupidity of mankind at the same time I'm trying to write something that actually portrays our race as getting it right in the end. Sometimes, that makes me feel like I'm taking a cup of water out of the ocean to lower the tide. There are just things about people I just don't understand sometimes.

I don't understand people that refuse to learn. I don't understand how people would rather be ignorant than learn something just because that information might force them to change their opinion. I don't understand how people can cling to falsehoods when presented with the light of truth just so they can remain angry.

I know this is all abstract, but every time my mind goes over specific instances, I feel myself getting angry and annoyed. I've been irritated all day over so much foolishness that I can see all around me that so many people seem blind to. What bothers me the most is that people can't seem to comprehend that there are things that they don't know they don't know. Think about that for a bit.

In any case, I'll leave you with a quote ... it's good thing to remember when we're lost, I think. Lewis Carroll said -- If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Binary Society

I'm a bit disturbed by how entrenched a binary society has become in our culture. By binary society, I mean, that as a whole, Americans see most decisions as either one thing or the other. You win or you lose; you're successful or you're not; you're with me or you're against me. This perspective is in everything that goes on in our culture.

In politics, you're a Republican or a Democrat, and you either agree with everything in that party or you don't. The concept of politicians talking, negotiating, and reaching a compromise seems to not have just become foreign, but a negative -- as if the politicians are selling out rather than arriving at a better solution.

However, this sort of behavior expands through everything. Look at online message boards, call-in shows, any place people express themselves. You'll see how people are determined to be either good or bad, no gray, they can't be a bit of both. I was talking with my girlfriend the other day about American Idol. You see people constantly pointing out how people from that show, other than one or two are failures. Failure is a pretty absolute word. The fact is, if you're in a creative field - singing, acting, writing, etc - and you can actually make a living doing your art, you are an unqualified success. However, success is now determined to be ultra-rich and mega-famous, or you lose.

Is it any wonder than many Americans, especially younger ones, aren't trying as hard? The definition of success is almost impossible to meet. The with me or against me culture batters people and tears them apart, unless you're either overwhelmed with apathy or completely lacking empathy.

It's no wonder that most other cultures are having problems understanding us. However, we've also helped form a world where our main export is culture -- so, sadly, many nations are starting to adopt our methodology. It's something we've always wanted, right? Well, the problem is, what happens when their opinion differs? They won't back down or compromise because we won't. It makes our world much less friendly and definitely more dangerous.

It seems to me the biggest danger facing America is extremism, not from without, but from within. We're breeding extremism and it's time to step back from that chasm and start talking again -- not as enemies, but as neighbors.

If you hear a politician from either side use the language of enemies when talking about opponents, send them an e-mail and chastise them. It only takes a minute. If enough people did it, this sort of behavior would stop. Playground behavior has to end, and we have to expect everyone around us to act like adults.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

You could even use a piece of chalk!

I just came across an interesting opinion piece on the Computerworld site regarding the iPad. The conceit of the essay is that the iPad is actually a good piece of hardware for creativity. Much of the noise regarding the unit was that it was only for content distribution and not creation - and, it's take quite a few hits in that regard.

When the iPad was first announced, I wrote up an entry regarding how I'd like to use it to write. I mentioned this in several places and received an awful lot of flak regarding those intentions. I don't really understand exactly why people were so threatened with the idea I might actually compose on an iPod, yet they were -- to the point of denigrating my interest in it.

The paragraph that struck me the most was this one:

In Japan, millions of novels have been written on cell phones. My great-grandfather wrote his Ph.D. dissertation with a #2 pencil. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Jefferson wrote their brilliant works with bird feathers. Yet the iPad's critics say creation is impossible using a device that would have been a Pentagon supercomputer 20 years ago. The computers that today's writers say are absolutely necessary for writing didn't even exist 10, 20 or 30 years ago. Is that when they think literacy started?

So, it's really kind of weird that people think that this device is somehow less capable of either creating an environment in which to be creative or generating the tools to allow someone to be. Anyway, you can check out the entire article here.

On to my writing -- the deadline-based screenplay competition I entered started this weekend. I have until Monday to submit a scene. I've been running a couple through my head since last night - so, I'll start writing them down today. The scene descriptor is so immensely broad that I don't think it does me any favors. I believe the more specific it was, the better I'd be able to do ... as it stands, it's so generic, people can just lift a scene from an already established piece and use it. Oh well.

I'm also scribbling a whole bunch of stuff in a notebook for something. Probably won't actually finish it for six months to a year, and I don't plan to talk about content at all until it's complete. However, I've settled on three themes that I'm weaving through every part of it. I may talk about that.

It's weird how that if you talk about a creative piece before you complete it, it can just die ... wither on the vine, if you will.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Well, it IS a game movie after all ...

Ok, this is a story from MSNBC -- and, it's so ridiculously absurd, I'm in shock. And, yes, the story IS serious:

Expect a solid performance from Jake Gyllenhaal in his new film, “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” (out May 28). Gyllenhaal took the role so seriously he stayed in character even when the cameras stopped rolling, according to an Us Weekly report.

“Jake would chat with crew and visitors in a British accent,” according to an onset source who spoke to the magazine. “It was funny to hear this American guy talking in an accent when he wasn’t shooting. He took it very seriously.”

Ok, so a white guy in an American film is using a British accent to portray a Persian character, which, therefore, makes him a serious actor.

I'm having serious Tropic Thunder flashbacks ... at least he didn't go full retard.

Something else random -- an anime opening for you; this one is from Beck!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Not going boom is good

I want to take a quick moment to correct some erroneous beliefs about the nuclear reduction treaty that President Obama just signed. It seems that a lot of people haven't really looked at the treaty and are, instead, following Fox News on the subject.

The US stated it will not use nuclear weapons on countries that do not possess the capability. This is true. However, there are some lies about the the limitations of this treaty -- simply, the Republicans are stating that it will make us weaker because we can defend ourselves against Iran, South Korea, or countries threatening us with biological weapons.

This is false. First, any country that has not signed the UN nuclear non-proliferation treaty is fair game -- namely, Iran and North Korea ... so, they are exempt. Also, it's specifically stated that those countries that attack with WMD, primarily biological/chemical, are also fair game. Basically, all the treaty says is, if you don't have WMD and don't use them against us, we promise not to use them against you.

People, this is good. We want nuclear nations to agree to this. You don't want some tiny pan-Asian nation being nuked to the stone age in a proxy war, because that'll get us bombed ... and, friends, no one wins a nuclear war. No one. We seem to have become blase about nuclear weapons; we've forgotten that both Russia and the US have enough weapons to destroy the planet several times over. I think it's time we act like adults and stop bullying the weak kids on the playground

Anyway, very funny report below by Jon Stewart if you're questioning my picking on Fox News since he directly calls them out for ignoring the facts -- with proof. So, check it out.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Big Bang Treaty
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Saturday, April 3, 2010

An update on the pen

There haven't been any blog updates mainly because I had pneumonia. I've never had it before, didn't particularly enjoy it, and I would prefer never to have it again. You heard it here first kids: Just don't do pneumonia.

The two further screenplay competitions just closed out their submission periods, so now everyone is just waiting to hear back if they get to move on or not. For obvious reasons, this is a long process. I wouldn't be surprised if each of the contests got in the neighborhood of 1500 to 4000 submissions each. I can only imagine how brutal it is reading through all of those. Usually, the first cut is the top 10% of submissions. If I don't make that, I'll be pretty depressed. Usually, if you have decent writing ability, good formatting, and a capable story, you'll make the quarter-finals.

To me, that fact is scary. That means 90% of submissions are absolute and utter crap, to the point where the story isn't even cohesive. Then again, it never ceases to amaze me how many people THINK they are amazing writers -- I mean, they have deep-held beliefs that they are the next Faulkner or King, depending on whatever genre they're focusing on. Yet, they just plain suck. Why doesn't anyone ever tell them this? I mean, I don't want to hear that my stuff sucks -- but, I'd rather know than live in some dream world and waste my time.

I expect the first announcements will be made in June -- so, I have several months to stew. The winners will probably be announced closer to October/November. One of the contests, I don't have any reasonable chance of winning - I entered it because you get a screenplay analysis, which was very useful. My goal there is to make the semi-finals. The other has genre breakdowns -- however, the genres are much more broad than the competition I won. Still, my goal there is to finish in the top 3 of my genre. Hey, if I make the finals in the Thriller/Horror category, I'll be pleased -- but, I'd be lying if I didn't say I wanted to place in the top.

I still haven't heard back regarding the two stories I submitted for consideration for a couple anthologies. I'm not surprised. My experience with these things is that they always tend to run behind -- selection and editing is a lot of work, especially when people submit so much garbage. I have to admit, I do favor one of the stories over the other ... I kind of hope that one sells.

I'm still weighing my options about applying for a low-residency MFA program. At some point in the next few years, I'll have to start gearing up for what I guess they call your second career. I've taught before, and I'd like to do it again. I'm hoping that if I sell a few works and get my MFA, I'd be able to start prepping for that in some manner. One of the programs actually has a teaching practicum, so ... well, we'll see. I'm not really that anxious to get further into debt.

Anyway, that's my complete update on the status of my writing projects ... except, of course, for what I'm working on next. I hate equivocating, but I just don't know what it is going to be. It's a mix of procrastination, fear, and literally having too many subjects I want to work on. Wish me luck.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Today I'm going to write a short blog on how numbers are twisted and mashed before being presented to the public for digestion. I'm going to use the current health care debate as the basis as some new research that HAS been misrepresented. The whole purpose of this isn't to support or malign this topic, rather just to show everyone exactly HOW things get so messed up and how easy it is to misrepresent a statistic. Sadly, most people in the US don't have a very comprehensive knowledge of how statistics and the social sciences work. This is really too bad, as it's fundamental for understanding public opinion in a democracy.

Here is what is getting airplay today - this is from a CNN opinion poll:

As you may know, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate are trying to pass final legislation that would make major changes in the country’s health care system. Based on what you have read or heard about that legislation, do you generally favor it or generally oppose it?

Mar 19-21
Favor 39%
Oppose 59%
No opinion 2%

Ok, so imagine you're watching Fox News -- what's the talking point here? That Americans clearly did not want health care reform, right? The problem is that these statistics only refer to the actual question! Anything you're taking away from it is your own bias. Let me prove this to you. Let's look at the next question in the poll:

21. (IF OPPOSE) Do you oppose that legislation because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think it is not liberal enough?
Mar 19-21
Favor (from Question 20) 39%
Oppose, too liberal 43%
Oppose, not liberal enough 13%
No opinion 5%

Now, this changes the whole world view of the discussion -- we now see that 52% support health reform, just that 13% think that the bill didn't go far enough! Do you see how the original statistic in isolation manipulated your perception of the situation? Both stats are accuarate, but unless you have the second one, you're left with the impression that most of America is against reform, which is totally not the case. 52% are for, 43% are against, and 5% are undecided. That's a whole different world.

Anyway, you can see all the stats here.

By the way, I'd like to point out -- health stocks are up today. Clearly the business world saw the passage of health care reform as a plus. Just something to think about.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Blah Blah Blah

I'm feeling under the weather. Nothing beats getting really sick after having an extremely trying week where I was nearly overwhelmed by the stress of both my job and my relationships. It just goes to show that no matter how much you plan, chaos can enter your life at any point and toss you for a loop. In any case, both my happiness and health meters are registering in the negative currently. I used to mess with an old biorhythm game thing on an old computer -- I imagine my sine curve breaking its oscillation to dive below the screen.

There are a large number of things I would love to rant about, as well as many I'd love to rave about ... but, I just have no energy, which is quite sad. So, I'll leave it with a video of gameplay from the new Shin Megami Tensei game that is being released for the DS this week. If you're looking for a mature game where mature doesn't equal sex and drugs, this is a great choice!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

I choose you!

It's hard to believe that it's been 12 years since the first Pokemon game was released here in the US. The amount of hype surrounding the video games, the collectible card game, the TV show, and the toys was pretty crazy. Everything was constantly selling out. The funny bit was all the pundits commenting on how it would be a quick to fade fad. Nothing of such magnitude could be sustained in an ongoing manner. Kids would burn out on it. The shelves would be littered with the skeletal remains of the toys. Everyone would move on to something new.

Tomorrow marks the release of Pokemon Heart Gold & Soul Silver. If you want to count every game, there have been well over 40 Pokemon games released in the last 12 years -- and, these two will be one of the best sellers of March, if not THE best sellers. We're four generations into different Pokemon games, and the fifth is going to be released later this year. I'm picking up the games; my girlfriend enjoyed the last one, so we trade and play together. I have a nephew in college who will be getting it, and I have a nephew in grade school that will be getting it.

This one small window shows you exactly why Pokemon survives. It doesn't have an age group. There is something appealing about it to almost everyone that plays. Is it the spunky character you play? Collecting all the Pokemon? The battles? The story? Everyone finds something to enjoy.

If you've got to give a kid a game, Pokemon is an awesome choice. They have to read some, consider strategy, plan ahead, solve puzzles, explore -- I mean, it really works so many mental aspects, I can't see how anyone would find it objectionable. Now the game is going to come with a Pokewalker! You can add exercise to what the game promotes. You can download a Pokemon of your choice into a pedometer, and every step you take gives it a little experience and makes it stronger.

The longevity of this game completely fascinates me. I also know that I'm going to be in good company when I pick up my copies tomorrow. Here's a trailer for those of you not familiar with the the updated game:

Back to my writing. I'm still a bit confused as to what to write next. I thought I'd had it figured out, but one of my characters is pissed at being perpetually tortured in the limbo of unwritten novels and wants out. She's very pig-headed and hard to deal with, so I may have to let her out.

However, I think it'll be the least marketable of all the stories I want to write, but I may not have a choice. Sometimes, writing is a compulsion. If you don't acquiesce to the muse, your life becomes miserable. It's so weird, but anyone that has ever written, painted, or composed music because of a calling will understand what I mean. The rest of you are just going to assume I'm insane, which I'm not sure I could argue.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

They reboot comics -- can we reboot society?

I tend to post a lot on Kotaku, a major game blog for those who don't know. Today, a post went up regarding the lack of playable women in war games like Call of Duty. The piece inadvertently slighted the service of a lot of female service members by starting off with this line:

Women have been serving admirably in warzones for the U.S. military for about a decade.

Clearly, women have been serving and dying in war zones for far longer than a decade. It belittles those that sacrificed before 2000 almost as having not existed. Considering this site is read by a lot of teens and young adults, it really screws with our perception of history.

In fact, the first recorded woman fighting and being wounded in an American war is during the American Revolution -- she was given an honorable discharge by George Washington even though she had to pretend to be a man to do so. In any case, there is a long history of women being in actual battle zones - including WWII, Korea, Vietnam, up to current times (see Jessica Lynch).

To be fair, the writer corrected the intro line to "Women have been serving admirably in warzones for the U.S. military for years.", which is much better -- but, what concerns me is the misogyny that seems apparent within the thread I was posting. There were comments like:

So if in this modern age of blistering feminism, what makes you think that back before women suffrage women did anything pertaining to battle other than knitting up soldiers and flags?

Compared to the 416,800 Male casualties, I'm pretty sure that 16 was kinda easy to miss.

Those were actually posted -- and there were more. It's amazing that the marginalization of contributions women have made continues even today. I'm sure to the families of those women killed, it wasn't very easy to miss.

Honestly, I just don't understand what's wrong with people in this nation. You're bad if you're gay. You can't contribute if you're black. If you're an intellectual, you're useless. If you're creative, you're dangerous.

Ugh ... just not happy with humanity today.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


My most recent short story is off to the anthology editors. I don't have very high hopes, unless they're open to a sorta good story that needs some pacing adjustments. Short story editors usually aren't. When looking at a novel, it's a lot easier to deal with those sorts of changes, but I'm not sure I'll be given that opportunity for this. So, it's time to move on. I want to write a quick ghost story based on Blackburn Burrow and submit that within the next couple weeks, then it's probably some Shiloh's Way editing before actually starting work on a new book.

I've written a pretty good amount of fiction over the last few months, so I'm happy about that ... but, I'm not convinced any of it is really good. Not only that, work is extraordinarily stressful right now as I'm responsible for way more than I should be, and I'm being asked to do some stuff way, way outside my job description. I really don't mind helping, but it's putting me in uncomfortable situations, and I feel like my core job is suffering because of it. I'm afraid these circumstances may be used against me during my review, even though it wasn't my choice to be placed in this situation. So, yeah ... stressful.

On a happier subject, there are a lot of fun games coming out this month. The Nintendo DS is going to have a HUGE month, too. Of course, the biggest release is going to be the new Pokemon update -- I'll be getting both versions so that my girlfriend and I can play together. Besides Shin Megami Tensei (awesome game, always), I'm looking forward to Infinite Space an awful lot. It's for the Nintendo DS, and it's a space opera RPG where you can find blueprints and build your own starships. You can even recruit a crew from over 100 people and then build a fleet. It just looks like a lot of fun. Check out the trailer below:

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What's in a name?

I have actually finished another short story. As I previously mentioned, next on the schedule was work on a new novel set in a new world, but I may actually try and pump out one more short story -- it'll kind of be a trifecta of stories for three different anthologies. I think I could adapt the opening of Blackburn Burrow into an interesting ghost story. I have another purpose for doing this. I'd like to establish the literary world of Blackburn Burrow to give me a bit more leverage if I ever get a chance to sell the screenplay. WGA guidelines state that a screenwriter maintains the literary rights to his screenplay -- however, often, these are signed away when the screenplay is optioned. If I've already published stories with the characters, that is more likely to come off the table.

Of course, that situation is kind of like wondering how to invest your lottery winnings -- fun to think about, but it's highly unlikely you'll ever have to actually deal with the situation.

In any case, this story is due to the editors for consideration by the 28th, meaning I only have a couple days in which to edit. A couple people have a agreed to read it, which is a bit embarrassing -- it's a mess right now. However, I really need feedback, so if any of you want to read it, contact me on Facebook or through e-mail.

It's so fresh off of being completed, I haven't even titled the thing yet. Usually, I have a title at the beginning or quite early on. Nothing has jumped out at me yet, which is a bit scary. It makes me wonder if the story isn't full realized enough. Oh well, everything is a learning experience. I'll just wait until I hear back how stinky it is from my friends and go from there!

Let me share my current OCD song -- meaning, I'm completely fixated with it. Besides name-checking all sorts of amazing people, it's got a really amazing, motivating message - no wonder Nike snagged it for a commercial. However, this is the band's video, not Nike's:

Friday, February 19, 2010

Did you hear the one about the Alaskan governor and the actress?

Does anyone else favor Julia Mancuso over Lindsey Vonn? The alpine skiing events have interested me the most in these Olympics mainly because of the rivalry between these two competitors. It's almost like watching an anime. No, seriously - Vonn is the technical skier while Mancuso is the more emotional. Yeah, Vonn had a hurt shin coming in, but Mancuso is a real comeback story - she'd had a bunch of injuries and hadn't really won a single thing all year while Vonn had been winning left and right.

Mancuso is now the most decorated US Olympic Alpine skier with 3 medals total - 2 silvers and a gold from the Torino games. It'll be really interesting to see how she does in her last two competitions. I'd love to see her medal in both. Come on, the girl was almost late to the opening ceremonies because she was playing DDR -- how cool is that? Anyway, interesting story on the two at this link.

Ok, now this is truly funny -- you know how Palin slammed The Family Guy for a joke where about a girl with Down's Syndrome going on date says her mother was the governor of Alaska -- the actress has slammed Palin back. Even better - the actress HAS Down's Syndrome. She responded:

I guess former Governor Palin does not have a sense of humor," she said in an e-mail to the New York Times. "I thought the line 'I am the daughter of the former governor of Alaska' was very funny. I think the word is 'sarcasm.' In my family we think laughing is good. My parents raised me to have a sense of humor and to live a normal life.

Here's the full story at CNN.

For you fans of deals out there, especially the one's that love board games! You have to sign up for Tanga. They have a new deal every day that could really be anything at all -- but, they also have a new toys & games deal each day, sometimes you can get amazing deals on some awesome board games. Check it out - it's - there are also a bunch of fun time wasters there.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Retail Irritation #39 - the innappropriate associate

I just shut down an associate at 7-11, and I feel good!

Seriously, when I step into a convenience store in the morning, I'm trying to get a drink and maybe some sort of breakfast food. I'm focused on the work I have to do for the day and getting to my office. I'm not there to be entertained, cajoled, up-sold to, interrogated, subjected to snarky behavior, or failed attempts at humor. The store's responsibility is to sell me the goods I want and get me out the door.

My week has been the very epitome of hell. I've walked into someone else's minefield after it's already blown everyone up, and I'm being asked to put all the pieces back together. Let me point out: people don't like getting blown up. In fact, they hate it. So, every single client I'm dealing with is angry or screaming. I've worked 30 hours this week and still have 3 days to go.

I have to wait a significant amount of time in this store because of how much the clerk is talking to everyone in line -- in Spanish. Annoyed already. So, when I put down my breakfast sandwich, when she walks away, I'm very peeved -- she says, "What's wrong? We don't have a warm one?"

"I don't want one," I reply.

"Why not?"

Ok, this just plain pisses me off. Why do I, the customer, need to explain what I desire to purchase to anyone? What purpose could she possibly have for an explanation? This is the epitome of a useless question - no point to either of us and a waste of my time. However, I indulge her in an attempt to be kind.

"Because I have to walk back to my office in the cold, and I'm not going to eat it right now."

"I suppose that makes sense."

Wha?!!? She supposes? I could care less about what she thinks about this.

"I know what's best for me."

I say, attempting to conclude this conversation and finally get her to ring me up. Of course, the next statement is where she falls into epic fail territory.

"Umm ... no, you don't."

At this point, my concern for her feelings and position in front of her co-workers evaporated completely. I'm guessing this was some attempt at humor. However, humor improperly applied is a very dangerous thing, which is why it's suggested that you don't try to use it when dealing with customers. You never know how someone will take something. I very, very rarely get upset in public. Even here, I didn't yell or make a scene, however I did gather all my focus and stare into the woman.

"Stop it right now," I said, as I watched her shrink to about six inches. "I have a rough day ahead, and I don't need to deal with you."

People who don't know how to read people or deal with them should stick to work that doesn't force them to engage with others all day long, in my opinion. At what point did this woman think that anyone would find someone telling them that they don't know what is best for themselves to be funny? How hard is it for this woman just to stick to her task so there isn't a line all the way through the store? If you just want to talk to people all day, go be a greeter at Wal-Mart, but don't waste my time.

Rant complete.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Being racially colorblind doesn't mean being stupid.

One of my favorite animated series of the recent past was Avatar: The Last Airbender. The show was an exciting adventure, but it had this entire political and racial undercurrent that I thought taught everyone, not just kids, really important lessons without being preachy. In it, there are a bunch of different nations loosely based on real world locales - for example, the Water tribe was like the Inuit, while the Fire tribe was a lot like China, and the Air tribe seemed influenced by the people of Tibet. The show is much about political and racial intolerance.

Even more fascinating, almost all of the characters are portrayed as being from different ethnic backgrounds. The Water tribe is much darker than the others, for example. Which brings me to my issue -- a movie is being made, and we get this:

Two of the whitest people possible playing the darkest characters in the show -- a show about cultural suppression. Seriously - what were they thinking? However, it gets worse. These two white kids live in a tribe of Eskimos ... no, really - everyone BUT them has an ethnic background. Guess who else isn't white? Yeah, the bad guys ... so, villains and extras: dark skin -- heroes: white skin.

The movie may still be great -- but, I hate the message this is sending, especially when people of other than Caucasian ethnicity have such a problem getting roles in Hollywood -- they take a movie that is full of diversity and hand out the roles to white kids. It's irritating.

On towards my writing: I've had very slow work on my submission for the upcoming anthology. I've lost faith in the story, which almost always happens. It makes it very difficult to do the hard work of writing when you don't believe in what you're doing. I start to procrastinate.

I have decided that after this, I'll finish the rewrite of the ending to Shiloh's Way, possibly adapt the opening of Blackburn Burrow to a short story, then start on my crazy cross-genre epic. I don't even know what's going to happen in it. Exciting, no?

Last couple days on my poll! Please vote for which of the two names you think best suits an author!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

But ... but ... it DOES make sense!

I just received a screenplay analysis from a competition I entered. It was rather positive, I think -- however, they missed several salient points in the screenplay leading them to some erroneous beliefs about missing or lacking reasons for plot or characters choices. I'll have to look into it to see if I was too subtle or they just simply missed it. It could be either, really.

The funniest part is that they criticized the ending. Since I added on the ending (they called it "tacked on," which I can't disagree with), it's won a competition and gotten much more notice. Just goes to show you that no matter what you do, someone will like it and someone will hate it. I'll have to decide what to do with it - whether it needs to be left alone, amended, or cut. I have another analysis coming back in a few months, so I'll probably wait until then.

Although, the more I think about it ... the more I'm wondering how he missed the connections to the other points in the story. Hmm ... I'll have to ask a third party to read it, and then quiz them a bit about whether something makes sense. However, I have to admit, I didn't want all the answers to be spelled out - I wanted people to work for it.

Anyone want to read a genre-bending action-adventure-horror screenplay? If so, just post below or contact me on Facebook.

I've narrowed down my possible pen names for my writing to the two that received the most votes -- please pick the name you like best over at the poll on the right! It would mean a lot to me.

Just thought I would throw this video from Deep Space Nine in, since I'd pulled it up for a post on Kotaku. Garak is one of my favorite characters from TV ever - check this out, it's hilarious.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I ... I ... I kind of want it

Well, color me surprised - Apple announced a tablet that pretty much covers the bases of what I want. How weird is that? The big deal to me would be things like battery life, how easy it is to type on it, and whether it would indeed have a word processor. It turns out, it'll have excellent battery life (10 hours) and there will be a word processor for sale at launch (probably some apps, too). Here's the kicker, it looks like there will be a nice mechanical keyboard for it. The picture is from Engadget and shows you how it will work.

Setting up a laptop at a Borders or Panera is a real pain for me. I also hate having to fight for electrical outlets. This thing has enough battery life where that won't be a problem. It seems like a rather elegant solution, if it works the way I'm hoping it will. Hopefully the Apple store will get some demo models so that I can check it out.

I think the price is reasonable -- they have 6 models ranging from $499 to $829 with differences being in memory and 3g ability. All of this can easily be found online - so, check it out. I think I may end up selling my laptop and getting one. Here's the kicker, though -- while it seems really good for me, I'm not sure how many people it will really be appropriate for in the end. No way to know until it's on the market.

I do like that they have a well thought out plan to bring newspapers subscriptions right to the iPad. I could definitely see myself getting the New York Times on it. Apple already has an ebook store ready to go. Anything that sells more books, I'm all for! Anyway, that's my two cents. It'll be interesting to see what else comes out about it over the next few months until the release.

Vote in my poll! It's right to the side - I just want to know what you think would be the best pseudonym for my writing. A name can matter, so I want the best one to help me sell my books!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I think I can, I think I can ...

Note: Hey, don't forget to vote in my poll on the side bar -- I'd really appreciate it! Food for the Hungry also has people on the ground in Haiti helping out. Donate if you can!


Yay, it's rumor week! Lots of interesting things are being announced next week, so the rumors are flying fast about what will actually be revealed. Of course, the big one is what will Apple be revealing at their event on the 27th. The funny thing is, everyone is sure it's their new tablet -- but, Apple never said that. The hype has gotten so big, though they don't have a choice. They have to reveal one now.

So, is anyone interested in getting a tablet? If so, what do you want in it?

In my little fantasy world, I'd have a tablet that was easy to type on -- so, I could write on the go easily. I hate setting up my laptop; it's bulky to carry around. My handwriting sucks, even I can't read it. So, a tablet with a good interface would be brilliant. However, I don't see how, with current tech, they could do it. Touchscreen keyboards are too sensitive, you get errors a lot. So, I love the idea of it, but in practice -- I dunno.

As far as for content, I already have a PSP and laptop that can pretty much do anything with media. So, I'm not sure. I'll keep an open mind and see what they announce. I do like the rumor that they want to help old media - like newspapers - survive. If it becomes the default e-reader, I'll end up buying one.

The second announcement, although receiving far less press, is the new Capcom game announcement. It was shown with a graphic exclaiming the collaboration between Microsoft and Capcom like this: Capcom X Microsoft.

That's kind of interesting, because there have been many crossover games in Capcom's history, some have even used the same style image -- so, no one is really sure what's going on. Is it a game that uses both Capcom's and Microsoft's IPs? Is it just an exclusive game for the 360? I'm really interested to see what it turns out to be though. Rumors I've heard have been a crossover fighting game, an RPG using both characters from both companies, and even a new Killer Instinct game developed by Capcom on the SFIV engine.

It could easily be something stupid, too.

Of course, the real reason I'm writing this blog is to avoid doing any REAL writing. I want to work on my short story. I almost always get to a point in my writing where I feel like the story is worthless and I should just give up. It's a kind of nasty hopelessness that I don't really enjoy. It's really, really hard to work on something that you think is garbage, too. It really just comes from self-doubt and a lack of confidence. At some point, I'll just have to power through it ... right now though, it's powering my procrastination.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The computer should just type what I think.

I'm completely exhausted. To be honest, I don't really know why -- I just am. Work has been very busy. Mentally, my mind is stumbling over itself trying to get story ideas in order, prep screenplays, and diagram novels. Getting these stories right is a huge part of writing, however being exhausted doesn't help me get words down on paper.

On the plus side, I did get notice from the competition I was a finalist in - they're planning to start publicizing my win in the near future. It would be so nice to get some representation with someone that believes in me. I'm sure that would drive me to work far more diligently on my writing. I guess writing without that support is what shows character, though.

In any case, I am working on a short story now that I plan to submit to a small publisher for an anthology. It's very different from what I usually write, which seems to be what I say every time I write something now. Too bad our culture prefers to pigeonhole people -- he's an action star, she sings country, he writes mystery. I really DO want to write in all genres ... but, I guess to get published in all genres, you really have to earn it.

Oh well, I do have the story mapped out pretty well. It's much more dialogue intensive than I'm used to in fiction, as it's more about relationships, manipulation, and power than heroes and villains. I hope that's what is going to make it interesting.

And now for something completely different: I traded some games in on Amazon, but I have no idea what to get. Should I get books? DVDs? More games? I'm thinking about getting Sands of Destruction for the DS ... I'll put the trailer below and you guys can let me know what you think.

NEW POLL: Check out the poll this week ... with the prospect of soon selling some of my stories, I have to decide if I want to use a pseudonym or not. The right or wrong name can really affect how someone looks at a book. So, look at the list of names - pick the one you think sounds most literary or you like the most! The poll is anonymous, so you won't offend me!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What can you say?

Seriously, what can you say when one of the greatest catastrophes to ever occur in the Western hemisphere happens to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere? The facts are simple: due to the level of destruction and the level of poverty, the Haitians cannot help themselves. As bad as things are for us us economically right now, we are way better off than anyone there. Seventy-eight percent on all Haitians live on less than $2 a day. A day!

You CAN help. It'll cost you less than going to the movies. Swear off lattes for 3 days and you can cover this. A simple way to help is to donate to the American Red Cross -- info is on their site, but if you text 'haiti' to 90999 you'll donate $10.

I personally have an affinity for Food for the Hungry. They have a team in the area, too. You can donate on their site.

The truth is, as long as it's a reputable relief agency, it doesn't matter who you give to -- just give, even just a little. Just give.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Politics of Fear

I'm not going to spend too much time on this, because the idiocy of the comments are completely self-evident. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani publicly stated on GMA that the US had "no domestic terror attacks" under Bush. Click the link if you need more info.

Now, do you honestly believe a man like Giuliani forgot the 9/11 attacks or the fact that Bush had been in office 8 months? Do you think he forgot the shoe bomber attempt in December of that same year? No, he didn't. He's perpetuating the same kind of attack that the Republican party has for years. You make unsubstantiated claims that rouse the fear response in humans and motivate them to act irrationally. We as humans do, in fact, often act ridiculously when we're afraid. We often do things that are not in our best interest.

This is a plain and simple attempt to manipulate people. If it was a one time event, I could accept that he misspoke, but the entire Republican party campaigns on these terror tactics rather than actual solutions to problems. For example, Republicans totally attacked Obama for waiting three days to address the attempted terrorist attack on the plane heading into Detroit. Funny, when the shoe bomber attempted his attack, Bush waited six ... but, no one attacked him for that. Personally, I don't mind having a thoughtful president for once - and, one that acts faster than Bush.

Here's the real problem I have with the Republican party right now - the absolutely ridiculous hypocrisy they're engaging in. They want more government and less government simultaneously. The government should protect us from attack, but not regulate weapons. Government should tell women what to do with their bodies, but should stay out personal affairs. Government should control who can and can't marry, but government has no place in trying to keep it's people happy.

Instead of trying to legislate morality (impossible) or motivate through fear (deadly), the Republican party should start focusing on actual solutions to problems rather than trying to create new ones just to get elected. Rant done.

As disclosure, I'm a registered Republican and currently embarrassed by it.

Regarding my writing, I'm probably going to submit my short story this weekend, even though the date has been pushed to Feb. 28. It's just hard to start on something new while dealing with the old. I am going to submit my screenplay to one last contest; that will leave it sitting in two until summer. If I can make semi-finalists on those, I think I'd be able to make a good case to an agent to get representation. Well, that's my hope anyway.

As far as my next book, I had a sudden epiphany last night: the arrival of a new character. He's really what I needed to balance out the book, even though it gives me a really big cast. Basically, I'll have these 4 different groups/teams/individuals coming to the realization that there is a problem and working towards the nexus of the issue until they start to interact. It's almost like a survey approach to this world I'm creating. The reader will get to see a lot of different perspectives in a single book. If it works well, there could be literally four different series spinning off.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

... you moved the finish line again, didn't you?

I indeed finished my short story in time for the deadline only to have them extend it. Being a writer, it means a story is never done, so I'm going to work on it a bit more. They have a dual second anthology also coming up called Magic in Trafficking/Trafficking in Magic -- I think I have a pretty slick little idea for that one inspired by "Don't Stand So Close to Me" by The Police. No, really ... it should be fun. I love it when bad guys get their comeuppance, and that's what this one is all about. I'm also going to be trying to play a game of "hide the protagonist" in it, since I'm enjoying screwing with short story structure so much. Hopefully, you won't actually figure out who the protagonist is until the final scene.

Other than trying to finish off a couple games, I'm trying to stick to my promise not to play any more until my book is done. That'll be rough, considering I haven't started it yet, and I keep waffling on which one to write. I have so many ideas and not enough time. I'd love to sell a screenplay just to be able to write full-time.

However, three games came out this week that I want: Bayonetta, Divinity II, and Darksiders ... I only have giftcards to get one. So sad ... I may just have to go with the dragons in Divinity, though.

For those who haven't seen this, it's amazing - someone auto-tunes a bunch of scientists including Carl Sagan and Richard Feynman ... I honestly can listen to it over and over, truly awesome: