Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Sci-Fi Lingo: No, I'm not talking about words like Ram Drive and Hyperspace. I mean terms that are commonly used in writers groups and writers workshops. Some samples:

"As You Know Bob"
A pernicious form of info-dump through dialogue, in which characters tell each other things they already know, for the sake of getting the reader up-to-speed. This very common technique is also known as "Rod and Don dialogue" (attr. Damon Knight) or "maid and butler dialogue" (attr Algis Budrys).

Plot Coupons
The basic building blocks of the quest-type fantasy plot. The "hero" collects sufficient plot coupons (magic sword, magic book, magic cat) to send off to the author for the ending. Note that "the author" can be substituted for "the Gods" in such a work: "The Gods decreed he would pursue this quest." Right, mate. The author decreed he would pursue this quest until sufficient pages were filled to procure an advance. (Dave Langford)

You Can't Fire Me, I Quit
An attempt to diffuse the reader's incredulity with a pre-emptive strike -- as if by anticipating the reader's objections, the author had somehow answered them. "I would never have believed it, if I hadn't seen it myself!" "It was one of those amazing coincidences that can only take place in real life!" "It's a one-in-a-million chance, but it's so crazy it just might work!" Surprisingly common, especially in SF. (Attr. John Kessel)

And the one I was guilty of for a long, long time . . .

White Room Syndrome
A clear and common sign of the failure of the author's imagination, most often seen at the beginning of a story, before the setting, background, or characters have gelled. "She awoke in a white room." The 'white room' is a featureless set for which details have yet to be invented -- a failure of invention by the author. The character 'wakes' in order to begin a fresh train of thought -- again, just like the author. This 'white room' opening is generally followed by much earnest pondering of circumstances and useless exposition; all of which can be cut, painlessly.

It remains to be seen whether the "white room" cliche' will fade from use now that most authors confront glowing screens rather than blank white paper.

Yes, I once wrote a story called "The Waiting Room." It ended up about the LA riots. To my credit, the revised version went back to when the story really started, and took all the characters into the waiting room. Unfortunately, the story featured roughly 50 independent characters in 2,000 words.

Or at least that's how it felt when I re-read it a couple of months ago.

Political Discussion: I hate forums for a lot of the same reasons I hate talk radio. But I'm also drawn to them for a lot of the same reasons.

Pretty big news came out yesterday about WMDs. Here's my version of how these discussions are going:

DubyaDude: Hmmm. It appears some WMD components have emerged from Syria. Some Iraqi-trained Al-Qaeda guys wanted to kill a bunch of people.


KerryChick74: I read in the newspaper last week that Bush only wanted to find the WMDs so he could use them on innocent Iraqis and take their oil. I think it was the New York Times or something.

DubyaDude: Um, but this is new evidence. This is a new news story from yesterday, and kind of a big deal. Did you even read the article? 80,000 dead would be like September 11th ten times over.

Patsy4Dems: So what, now you're implying I can't READ?? You're saying I'm STUPID? GAH!!! You really are hellspawn, calling names like that. Only STUPID, STUPID people call names.

KerryChick74: Oh, so now you're blaming Saddam for September 11th? It was proven unequivocally on a fifteen minute spot on NPR that Saddam and Al-Qaeda were arch enemies. They used to publish comic books in Iraq where Saddam and Osama would fight, just like Batman and the Joker. Saddam used to use Terrorist requests for WMDs as toilet paper.

DubyaDude: Look, as you've pointed out in other threads, we helped Saddam even when he was our enemy when we had to deal with an even greater enemy. And the only people these guys hate more than each other are Americans and Jews. Besides, the last guy who tried to blow up the world trade center holed up in Iraq afterwards. Why do we want to pretend Saddam and these guys weren't on the same page? That's myopic.

Patsy4Dems Your calling me myopic only proves your own closed-minded myopic blind lack of vision.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Uppin' the Ante: The blogosphere just became a whole lot more interesting, all because this man's job put him into a position where it was convenient to start a blog (Yeah, I know, you all wish you had that job).

He's the undisputed funniest man alive. Bookmark him.

To Aid Your Dreams: The trailer for the new M Night movie is online.

Snagging the Intel: Sandefur poses a question on intellectual property: Should you be allowed to sue if somebody comes up with the same idea as you independently, but you came up with it first?

I'm reminded of Babe vs. Gordy scenario. When those two films came out the same year, Gordy got a rep as being a cheap rip-off of Babe that a rival studio had hurriedly cranked out in response to Babe's success.

In reality, Gordy was a project nearly three decades in the making. Tom Lester, cousin Jake from Green Acres, had been shopping around the concept for Gordy for a long time--the inital idea had come from working with Arnold Ziffell, the pig on Green Acres. Getting the movie made was his ultimate dream, and he finally got the picture greenlit with the original producers of Green Acres.

We all know the sad end of that story.

Does anybody need to be sued here? The folks that made Gordy, since Babe came out first? The folks who made Babe, since Gordy had been shopped around longer? Dick King-Smith, who wrote the book Babe was based on back in 1987?

The fact is, you can't copywrite ideas. Only the execution therof.

So where do you cross the line between similarity and rip-off? Lots of people have commented that Nightworld: Lost Souls is a shameless rip-off of Orson Scott Card's novel Lost Boys. But somebody else claims that the storyline exactly follows To Kill a Mockingbird.

I also wonder about historical stuff. Can a lady who wrote a book about the Amistad sue Silverberg for making a movie about the Amistad? Does history become my intellectual property when I write about it? If I write a book about you, and it gets made into a movie, which one of us deserves renumeration? Do you deserve renumeration to a book about you? Do you have intellecutal property rights to acts you have performed, which I chronicle in my book, the way you would to a work of art you created that I reprinted in my book?

I might try to answer these questions if it weren't two in the morning and I didn't have work tommorow. Besides, I haven't seen a single one of the movies I mention here.

But I've read nearly all the books.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Snagging the Clicker: I found my car was broken into last night. There was a baseball bat-shaped hole in the window on the driver's side. And the weird thing was, nothing seemed to be missing from my car. Not my CD player, nothing. Until I went to leave.

They'd taken the remote that unlocks the front gate so you could get in and out.

It didn't take a CSI team to unwrap this scenario--somebody got tired of waiting for somebody to come home or leave and open the gate. They were either a resident who didn't have a remote or a friend of a resident who didn't want to go back and trouble their friend to open the gate for them. So they broke into my car and took my remote. For a twenty dollar remote and the sake of "convenience," they caused hundreds of dollars in damage to my car.

I actually wasn't that bugged by it, though. I was more upset that it was going to cost me the money I was going to spend on a trip up to the workshop Dave Wolverton was going to be doing. But, as luck would have it, the workshop is being moved to exactly when I'm going to be able to afford it again. So it's all good.

But next time, if I promise to leave the window rolled down, will you put the remote back when you're done?

Get Your Movies! Get 'em Piping Hot!: Netflix is talking strategy, including the possibility of downloadable movies starting next year.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Home Court Advantage: Yeah, I watched Iron Chef America: Battle of the Masters, mostly for Alton Brown. I've never really been a fan of the original show--I watch food shows to learn, not to be wowed or suprised, and the breakneck pace of Iron Chef makes it hard to follow what's actually being done. Half the time you don't even know when they made half the ingredients in a dish because too much was happening at once.

This version still has all of those disadvantages, but it has a couple of advantages, too. The first is Alton Brown, who could talk about sociology and make it sound interesting if he wanted to. The second is the excellent voice-overs done for the Japanese chefs. A lot better than the voice-overs on the shows they air on Food Network.

I was shocked by Bobby Flay's constant victories--compared with the other chefs, he came across as amateurish, rushing about the kitchen, burning ingredients, cutting himself, asking to be reminded of things. But in the end, it's about taste and appearance, not about grace or smoothness of preperation. So he won both his contests.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Brainteaser: While searching for mind-stretching exercises, I came across this topic. It's a two year old post and probably people who were watching blogs two years ago have hashed this one out already, but it's new to me.

The scenario is this: You're a contestant on a Monte Hall-style game show, and you're shown three doors, behind one of which is Fabulous Prizes. You pick one. The host then opens up one of the two doors you didn't pick, and reveals the booby prize. So now there's two doors left.

The question is this: If he offers you the chance to switch doors, should you take it?

The surprising answer: Yes.

This is counterintuitive. Logic says that, from a probability perspective, it shouldn't make a difference. Two doors equals a fifty-fifty chance, right? So the door you're on is as good a door as any. Change, don't change, it makes no difference.

But that's forgetting one thing--when you selected the door, your chances of being right were only one in three. But if you switch doors, your chances of being right become one in two. You're increasing your chances of being right by almost 17%.

I'm sure you're still dubious. "The moment you open up one door, the odds of your door being right increase from 1 in 3 to being 1 in 2 automatically. It still doesn't make a difference which door you pick."

But in order for that to be true, he would have to open a random door. Remember--if there's three doors, and only one has a prize, there will always be at least one door without a prize, and that's the door he's going to open. So his opening the leftover door first does not actually change the odds of your initial selection. The information he's revealed does not inherently increase the likelihood of your choice being right--the fact that one of the other two doors was prizeless was a given when we made our initial selection. So our door is no more likely to be right now than it was before.

However, the door we DIDN'T choose has better odds. We know that, when showing a booby prize door, this door was not selected.

In other words, that door has a fifty percent chance of being the correct door, while my own door still only has a one in three chance.

Apparently testing bears this out.

UPDATE: I was thinking about how to reconcile the odds that the one door had 1 in 2 odds and the other door had 1 in 3 odds to come up with just one set of odds, when I realized I didn't need to.

For the same reason the odds are still 1 in 3 for the door you picked, the other door still has odds of 2 out of 3.

Think about it this way--imagine there were 10 doors, and you had opened 8 non-prize doors.

Odds are still only 1 in 10 that you're right, because nine out of ten times, it's going to be the other door that's right--only in ten times are you going to get the door right on the first try. So odds are 9 in 10 it's the other door.

Same way here. After opening one door, the other unselected door still embodies the 2 in 3 odds you were wrong.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Pirate Radio: I like Launch on Yahoo!. It's a music player that gives you access to a tremendous variety of music. You can rate by band, by album, by and by song, and then it plays the stuff you like, plus things it thinks you'd like based your ratings. Then you rate what it throws at you, and skip it if you don't like it. Iit ends up with a pretty good sense of what kind of stuff you want.

And I don't even use the pay version, which lets you set "moods," so it won't play that upbeat polka you dig if you're in the mood to wallow in The Cure. They just throw an ad at me after about every fourth song, but they're short and sweet and then you're rockin' again.

Good feature. Use and abuse.

SF, Fantasy, and Horror as Literature: Michael R. Collings has a website now. Dr. Collings writes academic papers on mainstream authors, including Stephen King, Orson Scott Card, and Clive Barker.

Implications of the Changing of the Guard: It seems a lot of people have decided that since the editor at Asimov's has changed, they need to resubmit stuff he turned down.

Poor Ms. Williams.

Poem: As somebody who I already linked to once today and who doesn't need any more links, thank you, pointed out, April is National Poetry Month. And since I already have the book in my hot little hands, I thought I'd post one of my favorite Bradbury poems, and encourage you to rush out and buy the book right now, right this minute, never mind that it's after two in the morning.


by Ray Bradbury

Doing is being.
To have done's not enough;
To stuff yourself with doing--that's the game.
To name yourself each hour by what's done,
To tabulate your time at sunset's gun
And find yourself in acts
You could not know before the facts
You wooed from secret self, which much needs wooing,
So brings it out,
Kills doubt by simply jumping, rushing, running
Forth to be
The new-discovered me.
To not do is to die,
Or lie about and lie about the things
You just might do some day.
Away with that!
Tomorrow empty stays
If no man plays it into being
With his motioned way of seeing.
Let your body lead your mind--
Blood the guide dog to the blind;
So then practice and rehearse
To find heart-soul's universe,
Knowing that by moving/seeing
Proves for all time: Doing's being!

Speaking of Late: So I also missed out on this trend. The one where you grab the closest book, open up to page 23 and post the fifth sentence in your Blog. This is hard. I think I am equidistant my entire bookshelf, but I shall see.

Ah. Two books sit nearer me on top of each other. The first:

"So you can imagine how astonished I was when I prowled through a free carnival exhibit and saw all those fetuses of humans and cats and dogs, displayed in labeled jars."

The second:

"Because you couldn't always tell from the surface, thought Marin."

The first is from Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury, and the second is from the anthology Spectrum 5, edited by Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, from a story called "Student Body" by FL Wallace.

Oh Yeah, Eh?: Fans of Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas's old McKenzie Brothers routine should check out their commentary on the Brother Bear DVD. It's a riot.

I don't know if the kids will get it. Maybe they will. I hope so. But if you remember their schtick as fondly as I do, it's like having a whole nother album to listen to.

Who's Donated?: Want to know which of your neighbors are putting their money where their mouth is? Head on over to and punch it up.

Wasn't surprised to see that in my entire zipcode, only eight people have contributed. Nor that only one contributed to George Bush. Nor that all the rest contributed to Democrats.

I was surprised to see that no one had contributed to John Kerry.

I guess everybody realizes he's got enough money.

(Heard about it from Kathryn Cramer, who has bloggrolled me. This delights me--she is co-editor of the "Years Best SF" and "Years Best Fantasy" anthologies, which have become a staple in our home ever since my wife gave me one of the early ones as a birthday present the year we met.)

Concert Review: As promised, I went and saw They Might Be Giants at the House of Blues in Anaheim last Friday. And I was really blown away.

See, They Might Be Giants' music is kind of obscure. Deliberately so. As they said about one of the new songs in their set, "We played all the stuff on our album for Clear Channel, and this song was their favorite. So we decided not to put it on the album. They can't handle us yet."

But the concert, in contrast, was extremely accessible. It was a rock and roll show, with talent. Yeah, it was smart, but it didn't lord it over you. What it tried to be was fun, and I think it did that in spades.

The venue was alright. It was great if you're tall. A standing-room only place that feels more like a club than a concert hall, it had a cozy feel to it, as long as you were downstairs and had the ability to see over everybody's head. I had both.

And the band was great. They're a full band now, with talented guitarists and a great drummer putting on a show that would do anybody proud.

They're also not above showing off--for a portion of the show, they hooked an old FM radio into the house sound system, and started at one end of the radio dial and played whatever happened to be on each station they came across. Wildly amusing, and not bad for a band whose band, ten-or-so years ago, consisted of a drum machine. And twenty years ago involved a long pole that would make a funny sound when they hit the end against the stage.

If you don't think you've heard of They Might Be Giants, they're the guys that sing the theme song from Malcolm in the Middle. They wrote the song "Dr. Evil" for one of the Austin Powers movies, and their songs "Clap Your Hands" and "Yeah Yeah" have been in some commercials. If you're old, like me, you might remember their videos from the early days of MTV, "Don't Let's Start," and some others, or the versions of "Particle Man," and "Istanbul, Not Constantinople" that were on Tiny Toons.

So despite my initial reservations, I now recommend the show to anybody.

Yes, even you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Virtual Road Trip: Over at Soviet Invasion Plan, I found out about this website, which allows you to view images of every inch of Pennsylvania's highways. I was not only able to spot the house my wife's parents live in, but I was able to recreate the drive from Grove City, through Mercer, to Sharon I used to take daily to get to work at Waldenbooks.

It went a lot faster on the web than in that '85 LeBaron I paid $500 bucks for.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Card on Stage: Over at Hatrack, Card's wife let it slip that a group of Orson Scott Card's short stories are being produced for the stage this fall here in LA.

Who's up for it?

Asimov's Editor Steps Down: Gardner Dozois has stepped down as editor of Asimov's Magazine of Fantasy And Science Fiction. That's pretty big news, so if it doesn't stir much emotion in you, you probably have too much of a life.

About the Woodward Book: I read the Clinton first 100 days book, and although it didn't seem that bad, after reading George Stephanopoulos's All Too Human I discovered it had really shaken some cages in Clinton's White House. Stephanopoulos may have been thinking of Woodward when he asserted that the only real media bias he ever noticed was towards finding controversy--either showing it or trying to stir it up.

Overall, the assertion is ludicrous. His own book chronicles the kid gloves Clinton was treated with during his 60 Minutes appearance, the coaching he got from the show's staff.

But in Woodward's case, the description is apt. We're getting what may be the most accurate depiction of the pre-war White House we'll ever see, but it's filtered through Woodward's desire to make as many waves with his book as he can.

In other words, hype.

Dude, I've Got No Faith In Dell: So who is to blame for my absence?

The wonderful folks at Dell. Who I have lost all faith in.

It turns out that Dell's customer service department is in India, and isn't actually owned by Dell. It's some outside company that has absolutely no connection to Dell whatsoever. This company has basically been told, "Take care of everybody," and given some ability to offer refunds and coupons.

However, there is one area in which they are absolutely powerless to help you at all, no matter how upset you are or how much you rant and rave and scream, and that's in the department of getting an actual product in your actual hands.

They'll give you discounts and coupons and whatever you need, but they have absolutely no comprehension of the idea that no amount of coupons or discounts are worth as much to you as having your actual computer working at your actual fingertips.

So I'd suggest Dell to two kinds of people. The first are people who never have computer problems. The second kind of person is the one who likes to be appeased when a problem happens rather than actually have their problems solved.

But for those of us who actually need our computers, try a local shop that can build it for you and has all the parts in stock. The guys there know what they're doing.

Which is more than I can say for Dell.

It brings me no pleasure to announce this. The entrepreneur in me wants to see companies succeed and get big and make its owners rich.

I even like, in theory, their "Just In Time" philosophy. But, in the end, it comes out as more of a "Day Late and a Dollar Short" philosophy.

The part, which was only a plug, and which I was told would arrive on or before the seventh, finally arrived today. So my wife's business, my stories, my bank book, all of which are located on this hard drive, finally opened back up to me today. In the meantime, I got to enjoy my coupons.

So I'm off to find some kid who didn't get a date all through college to build me a computer so I'll be okay the next time the next time this one tries to force me to run Michael Dell's gauntlet again (But sir, I said on or before! It could come sooner than that!).

Yeah. I'll keep my fingers crossed, but I'm not holding my breath.

It Could Be Worse: Alton Brown hasn't blogged in even longer than me.

Which of course, leads to the question of whether I should find time to blog at all.

He's probably spending his time making cool TV shows and riding his cool motorcycle.

Of course, I haven't been blogging lately either. I haven't even had a computer.

So what do I do with all my free time?

I actually had a couple of complete nights of sleep.

Which does nothing to carve my name into the echelons of history.

So I blog . . .

Friday, April 16, 2004

The Return: I'm back.

With a vengance.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Crap: Unfortuantely, it seems the reason they didn't update at the Homestar Runner site is that they were about to lose their domain name.