Friday, November 28, 2008

How Busy Was My Week?


Lemme see:

My in-laws -- wife's sister and her husband, two children, and her husband's mother arrived Friday last for a week bracketing thanksgiving

Saturday, I spent twelve hours wandering around doing panels, readings, and autographings, not to mention having coffee, lunch, and dinner with several people with whom I really wanted to connect, at Orycon, the local science fiction convention, and I missed several anyhow.

Sunday, we drove to the coast for a couple days -- us in the camper, the in-laws at a nearby hotel.

Just as we were leaving, I went to log on to check my email and my faithful Mac had a stroke and croaked. Hard drive.

Tuesday we came home and I spend much of the day going back and forth to the Apple store to see what was what. What was what was that the old computer needed more work than it was worth, being five years old, and I now have a new iMac to replace it. Same level of gear, but cheaper than last time. (For what I paid for my first computer, back in '84, I could have bought three of these, which have a hundred, maybe a thousand times the power and storage. Maybe a million.)

Tuesday into the night I searched back-ups and managed to get most of my files back. Lost Safari, trashed my address book, though I got part of the latter back. Couple other applications had to be upgraded, but I can 1) write and b) get online to send what I write to my editors. Everything else is second.

Wednesday, my brother-in-law Dave and I took his nine-year-old son to OMSI and spent four hours there. Saw an iMax movie, did a lot of hands-on stuff.

Thursday was Thanksgiving, and we spend all morning getting ready, had seventeen people here for turkey, six of whom were children, one teenager, the rest adults. Ate like pigs, washed dishes like galley slaves.

While chasing my niece trying to get my camera back, I tripped over the unseen dishwasher door and took a nice tumble onto my left knee. The good knee, fortunately. Well. At least it used to be good. It's a tad swollen now, but seems only superficially injured.

Four a.m. this morning, the in-laws went to the airport to fly back to Baton Rouge. We got up to see them off; fortunately, they had a rental car to drop at the airport.

I'm about to go walk the dogs in the cold fog; tomorrow, is #2 grandson's birthday party.

Never a dull moment.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fender Bender on the Information Highway

So my faithful computer crashed and died on Monday. Hard drive gave up the ghost, and after five years, I can't complain. Tech got what he could off the old box and I got a new one.

Most important stuff I had backed up. But there are always things you don't think about, and sure enough, those go away. (I had back-ups of my address book, and prefs for my browsers, for instance, but port them to the new system, which is no longer Tiger but now Leopard ate those right up. I should have made a text list so I could manually re-key them, and actually I have a couple of those, but they aren't up to date ...)

Still, I got most of what I really need -- book manuscripts and pictures, and I should be able to cobble together the rest eventually ..

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Heavy Movie Music

In discussing The Day the Earth Stood Still and Herrmann's wonderful orchestral theme, I was reminded of two other musical pieces that create vivid images for me.

The first is The Emperor's Ming's Theme, from the old Flash Gordon movie serial. It was from Franz Liszt's Les Preludes, and whenever Ming the Merciless showed up, the band cranked. Listen to it here, particularly the last section.

And the other is, of course, Vader's Theme, sometimes called The Imperial March, by John Williams. I can't help but think he was trying to evoke the same sense of dark majesty.

There are Miracles ...


... and then there are miracles: 19 November 1966 - 19 November 2008 - forty two years and still married ...

Monday, November 17, 2008

Two-Tone Malone - Louisiana Anthology

So I got little Mike's latest CD -- what he calls "Creole folk blues." If you like runnin' through the swamp music, guitar, harp, like that, check out Louisiana Anthology.

You can listen to a cut here.

And Even More Black Steel ...


Alan's new catalog is up. Look quick or you'll miss it:

Black Steel

Quantum of Solace/ The Day the Earth Stood Still


So, the new movie. As I saw it, it was a pretty good action flick. Chase sequences, fights, things going boom! A couple of girls. The tuxedo and martinis and Walther PPK all, but, well ...

Instead, however, of Daniel Craig saying, "Bond. James Bond." he might ought to say "Bourne. Jason Bourne ..."

Yeah, you have to see it if you are Bond fan, but my feeling was that the heart of the plot was left on the cutting room floor. There's no there there.

The movie picks up immediately after the end of Casino Royale, mere minutes after, and concerns for the most part Bond's desire to achieve revenge upon those people who offed his girlfriend Vesper.

There is a nefarious plot, a secret organization, and a villain, none of which are particularly compelling, nor memorable. There is a female agent with a scarred back and a history, and a perky station MI-6 paper-pusher in South America that Bond seduces and sleeps with -- something that occupies maybe twelve PG-seconds onscreen, and, of course, she winds up dead. (In an homage to Goldfinger, by the way, you'll know it when you see it.)

It all moves right along. Dame Judy Dench as M steals every scene she is in. Craig is a good actor and he does his part, but it doesn't feel like a Bond film. His one toy is a phone-cam. There are some neat computers at MI-6. Yawn.

At the opening of most of the Bond movies, there is usually a pre-credit sequence involving some spectacular action, at the end of which, you get The Sting. The Bond theme, with horns, that lets you know where you are for sure. Not this time. Bond's Astin Martin gets mangled and cars fly off cliffs and smash into heavy machinery and all, but where is The Sting?

Not there. They play something after the boat sequence, but I dunno what it was supposed to be.

The villain is ho-hum. His henchmen are snorers. The goal is a So what? There is some artsy cross-cutting between fight scenes and horse races, and the director or the editor needs to learn what a master shot is, and get a SteadiCam.

As an action movie, give it a B. As a Bond film, C-minus.

In the coming attractions, I did see the first trailer for the remake of the 1951 classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still, with Keanu Reeves starring as, one assumes, Klaatu.

The new Gort is twice as tall as the old model and evil-looking, but that was a perfect 1950's science fiction paranoia movie and they should no doubt have left it alone.

After fifty-odd years of fantasy and science fiction movies, Klaatu's ship and the way it operated is still the most advanced-looking and -working vessel of its kind to hit the silver screen.

For those of you who haven't seen it, TDTESS , in glorious black-and-white, is Edmund North's script, based on Harry Bates' 1940 short story, "Farewell to the Master." It's a classic study in xenophobia. The humanoid alien, Klaatu, lands his saucer on the mall in Washington D.C. Coming in peace to let us know where we stand in the galactic scheme of things, Klaatu is -- naturally -- shot by a nervous soldier within a couple minutes of landing. This was not a smart thing to do when the guy you plink hangs out with Gort, a big honkin' silver robot whose death ray gaze can vaporize guns and tanks with ease, and who proceeds to do just that. Had not the wounded Klaatu stopped him, Gort would have no doubt disintegrated Washington, and in Klaatu's place, I would have let him.

Klaatu survives and escapes, but continues to have a real bad vacation. As part of his demonstration of power, the alien brings virtually all electrical activity on the planet to a halt for an hour -- therein the title -- and that gets everybody's attention in a hurry. Along the way, Klaatu deals with politicians, the military, scientists (who are actually portrayed here as good guys) a jealous boyfriend, and a dippy kid who even Mr. Wizard probably couldn't stand. And from the way he takes it in stride, you know Klaatu's seen it all before.

But we humans stupidly persist in our paranoia, and eventually, Klaatu takes another bullet, ending up more or less dead. As the alien visitor fades, he directs the widow Benson, (who has come to know Klaatu as a boarder who fascinates her son,) to fetch Gort. The giant robot snatches the body, returns to the ship, and is able to heal Klaatu.

When the mortally-wounded Klaatu miraculously recovers enough to stand up in front of his saucer and finally lay it out for us, you could have heard a piece of stale popcorn hit the sticky theater floor: "It is no concern of ours how you run your own planet," he says, "But if you threaten to extend your violence, this Earth of yours will be reduced to a burnt-out cinder."

A burnt-out cinder. Now there is an image.

It was obvious this was no idle threat. Gort could kick ass and take names, and to make things worse, there were others like him out there. We wouldn't have a prayer if we didn't toe the line. By this point, I was rooting for the aliens and feeling like scum for being human anyhow.

The movie was a metaphor for our turbulent times, complete with Christ-figure undertones. Gort was not a robot to be screwed with, no sir, thank you very much, not even if you did know the secret phrase, "Gort -- Klaatu barada nikto . . ."

They don't make 'em like this any more. Too bad.

And no matter what they do, they won't be able to touch Bernard Herrmann's musical score: The deep throb of bass, with piano and harp arpeggios, and that spooky, really spooky, therumin. That baby sent goosebumps crawling all over me in shuddery waves when I first heard it, and the score holds up well after almost sixty years. We are talking serious monster music here, copied ad infinitum in subsequent movies and on the tube.

Maybe they can pull the remake off. I'm not betting on it.

Friday, November 14, 2008

lndiana Jones and the Army of the Dead - Cover Art



And go check out the artist's site -- that's Craig Howell, Cheeba Productions; the man can draw and paint something fierce.

Question for the Shooting Schools

I've been around boomware most of my life -- got my first BB gun at eight, first rifle at ten, and have probably owned sixty or seventy pistols, revolvers, rifles, and shotguns since, though I've sold most of those long ago. Fired a few subguns and assault rifles, even a cannon or two. I'm no expert, but I've done some minor training here and there, classes, range qualification for IPSC and IDPA and like that, got an NRA certification to teach basic pistolcraft, so I know which end to point where.

Wednesday is gun night on the Outdoor Channel, and recently, there was a show that featured house-clearing, from one of the well-known shooting schools. This is done in what is called a fun house -- a shooting range built for scenario training, to look like the inside of a house or office building. Lot of these around now, police, military, civilian versions. Designed to let you shoot and keep the bullets from escaping.

During this episode, I think it was Shooting Gallery, instruction was offered to the show's reporter on how to open a door behind which you suspect might be an armed bad guy. You do it quickly, no hesitation, and then get out of the way so anybody inside and waiting doesn't have a clean target if he's got a gun.

Then, you sector the doorway, pie-slices, so you can peep without offering too much of your own body for the theoretically-hidden guy to blast. Soon as you confirm that there's a bad man in there with a weapon and you get a clean shot, you take it. Or, you turn around and run away. Mostly running is good, but if you have family in potential jeopardy, maybe you can't do that, which is why you are clearing the house anyhow.

Seems reasonable. I've seen several of these fun house how-tos over the last couple of years and there's a question that has been bugging me that I've never seen addressed.

I know these folks teaching know the difference between cover and concealment, and I also know that a half-hour TV show isn't going to give you the training you get in a week and a couple thousand rounds downrange. ("Cover," for our purposes here, stops a bullet from hitting you. "Concealment" hides you, but won't stop the bullet. If you are crouched behind a dumpster full of sheet metal scrap, it qualifies as cover. If you are behind an azalea bush, it doesn't.)

Most houses in the U.S. for at least the last fifty years have interior walls made of two-by-four framing underneath sheet rock. Maybe some paneling over that. If you quickly jerk the door open, the bad guy in the room is apt to notice that, and know that somebody is out there. When you don't immediately step into view, he -- if, for instance, he ever watches gun night or has seen a cops 'n' robbers movie -- is apt to figure that you have stepped out of view and are planning something he won't like.

So, since two panels of sheet rock offer as much resistance to a moderately-powerful center fire pistol as a wet paper bag does to your finger poking it, what is to stop ye olde bad guy from putting a couple rounds into the wall on either side of the door and potting you?

A jacketed 9mm hot load or a .357 Magnum round might go through the wall, you, the wall behind you, the fence, and still have a good chance at taking down your neighbor out walking his dog ...

Anybody here ever done a serious stint at Gunsite or Front Sight, some place like that? What do they tell you about this scenario? I'm not talking about the SWAT guys in full body armor going in hot, but the naked civilian who hears a bump in the night ...

Pure and Holy

When the Beatles flew off to India to study transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a lot of dope-smokin' acid-droppin' hippies went with them -- in spirit at least. George Harrison was the driving force who led the Fab Four onto the Hindu path because he believed that while psychedelic drugs would open a door into a spiritual realm, they wouldn't let you stay there, and he was looking for a way to do that. That sounded pretty good to a lot of us hippies.

If you weren't part of that generation and movement, it is hard to understand how much influence the Beatles had. Lennon's comment that they were bigger than Jesus wasn't true, but they did have quite the following.

At the time, we were living in a big ole clunky house on Geranium Street, on the edge of the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. My wife, two small children, our half-Shepherd, half-Great Dane, Cookie, and, from time to time, Uncle Jay and whichever of our hippie friends who needed a place to crash, and me.

The house was large, the rent cheap, because the place was soon to be torn down to widen the road. It was next door to Genesis House, a local hippie-run drug and suicide hotline, which is another story.

So, the Beatles were learning to meditate, and a goodly portion of young folks around the world wanted to do so, too.

Not coincidentally, TM teachers began quickly to appear throughout the land. An introductory TM lecture was scheduled for the student union, and my wife and I got a sitter for the kids and went to hear it. If John, Paul, George, and Ringo were into it, we were there.

It sounded wonderful. A path to bliss, harmony, a way to touch the cosmic all. We were ready to sign up, only, it cost a hundred and twenty-five dollars per person. This was in the day when that was more than a month's rent, and we didn't have it.

Why, we asked the lecturer, did it cost so much?

Well, he said, Americans don't value anything that is free, so we charge enough to make them want to get their money's worth.

Okay, that made a kind of sense, but still, it was beyond our reach.

We fretted about it. Maybe we could scrape up enough for my wife and then she could teach me. I could sell my motorscooter ...

While pondering the problem, we heard about another lecture. The Ananda Marga Yoga Society would be on campus, they were teaching mantra meditation -- which was the same as TM -- and guess what? It was free. If you had an extra five or ten bucks, you could put it in the jar, but if you didn't, no problem.

So we went.

The teacher, who was a hippie-chick in a white robe, frizzy hair, big smile, named Trigunavati, was out of New Orleans. We started the session with a Sanskrit chant, she laid out some ideas, and bam! we were hooked.

Our Indian guru was Baba, (Shrii Shrii Anandamurti) who was married to Ma, and they were pure and holy and fully-realized human beings. They had written a library of material, and it would be made available to us.

In the classes we learned yoga asanas and a generic mantra, which is a word you mentally intone while sitting quietly to meditate. Twice a day, we did asanas -- on a wool blanket, mind you -- and then sat for fifteen or twenty minutes in meditation.

Both of these activities are beneficial -- physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Because we had a big house, the weekly group meditations wound up there, and quickly, we became the headquarters in that part of the state. So there were were, members of Ananda Marga -- the path to bliss -- and just two inches shy of a cult.

One of the high teachers, Dadaji, came from India in his orange robes, to give us our personal mantras. Dadaji, to keep his karma clean, would not touch women. If one handed him a glass of water, he was careful not to make contact with her fingers.

Each of us went into the back room with him, one-on-one, and he would tune into our auras and then give each of us a new mantra, specifically chosen to match our spirits. If you had done any kind of dope for a couple weeks prior to meeting Dadaji, you were screwed, because he would see it in your aura.

He closed his eyes, swayed from side to side, and then your mantra came to him, and he told you what it was. This was a magical, holy Sanskrit word, yours alone, and it was never to be revealed to any other person, for that would render it inert.

Dadaji initiated us. Next time he came back, we'd get Indian names, if we were ready.

We were in high and holy cotton. Doing yoga, meditation, no drugs, no booze, clean living and on the path. Baba nam kevalam, om shanti!

Alas, the path to bliss is beset with obstacles.

One fine Saturday morning, as we were all sitting crosslegged for the group session and silently intoning our personal mantras, our big dog Cookie began barking outside. Part of meditatation was learning how to tune out extraneous noises, so I was trying to do that when, all of a moment, Cookie yelped and stopped barking.

Later, I found out that the reason for this was that Trigunavati, our mellow yoga and meditation teacher, had gone outside and kicked the dog. One of the students, sitting by the door, had watched as she did it.

I found this, as Darth Vader was later to say, disturbing. What kind of holy woman kicks dogs?

While we were digesting this, Trigunavati moved off to Boulder, only a couple weeks later.

Ananda Marga sent another teacher, a pimply-faced boy who wanted to put Baba's picture up for us to kowtow to as we arrived for the group meditation, and that didn't fly, either. We decided that we could manage our own sessions.

Meanwhile, back in India, Baba and Ma split up. Where I had been getting a newsletter every so often from them before, I now started getting two newsletters.

Baba's letter said, "Ma has fallen off the path. Disregard anything she has to say."

Apparently Ma had run off with one of the teachers -- I hoped it wasn't Dadaji -- and, according to the scuttlebutt, was living in unholy sin.

Ma's letter said, "Baba has lost his way. We are now the spiritual leaders of the movement."

At some point during a public gathering, followers of Baba and those of Ma came together, and began to beat the shit out of each other with their holy placards. Some of them died.

Baba was busted for murder. 

Sentenced to life, his conviction was later overturned, but still ...

This, as you might imagine, caused some consternation among those of us in far Louisiana.

The final straw came when, feeling somewhat disillusioned, some of us were having a discussion, using one of the texts we had been given. I came across my mantra in the book. I'd have to be careful, I allowed, not to read a section of the book aloud.

Me, too, one of the other students said. My mantra is in the book, as well.

Really? Which page?

No shit, so's mine!

The group gathered round.

Which paragraph?

Which line ... ?

It wasn't necessary to say the word, but we all knew.

Ole Dadaji, misogynist holy man that he was, had given us all the same personal mantra. (Which, for the record, was "Brahma," and fuck the spiritual warranty.)

That did it. The golden idol had feet of clay, and we were done. While the meditation technique was valid enough and useful, the organization had lost all credibility. Some of us continued to meditatate and do yoga, some of us blew it off. It was, as the old Trainex film strip lessons used to say, " ... a learning experience!"

Om ...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On the Benefits of Being a Crippled Martial Artist

For most of the current year, I have had a problem with my right knee. Torn meniscus that caused a wonderful stabbed-in-the-knee-with-an-icepick pain with any torque. I had surgery, and in theory, once it heals, it'll be almost as good as new. Not quite, of course, but with luck, close enough so I won't notice it much.

If you are a martial artist, it is easy, I think, to feel confident if you are fit, strong, fast, and trained. Take away some of these things, and that changes.

In our art, my teacher has a saying, "Your silat is only as good as your legs." By which he means that we have to do a shitload of leg training ...

But -- if your legs aren't so good, then what? Does that mean what you have is no good?

Since I've been dealing with this -- to a relatively minor degree -- since the spring, my answer is, no, it doesn't mean that. It might mean it isn't as good as it could be. Or, maybe it doesn't. Because if if you need a crosspoint screwdriver and all you have is a regular flat-blade, you can sometimes make do.

Fortunately, in our version of silat, the art is positional -- i.e., it is based not on speed and power, but on position and timing. Being able to dart about hither and yon like a gazelle is useful, but not always necessary. If I can see you coming far enough away, I might be able to hobble into a place where I can be ready when you arrive.

What that means in practice is that I have to pay better attention, because I need more time than when I was Nijinsky and could leap about with nimble alacrity.

One learns to compensate for handicaps. It is good to know that you can, and the best way to find out is to have to do it.

I knew this in theory, of course, since compensation has been part and parcel of my entire life, but the actual doing of it the last few months was a good lesson. Even if my knee heals and lets me get back to where I was before, learning how to deal with a nagging injury has been most useful. There are enough tools in the box so that some things can be substituted if necessary.

I think the proper attitude is, "Yeah, I'm a crippled, slow, old man, but I can still take you out ..."

Fame, part II

Some years ago, I was the toastmaster at a convention at which the guest of honor was a well-known and prolific science fiction and fantasy writer. Nice, guy, did good clean work, but all if it had been in paperback. Finally, after a couple of decades and four dozen or so novels, he scored a hardback deal. He was so tickled he had his publisher send him ten or twelve unboarded copies of the novel, took them to a custom book guy, and had them bound in snake skin. More, for the first time, he got a featured review in Locus, SF&F's premiere critical magazine. Such that it is.

And the review, the first ever of his work there?

They panned it. Naturally. And as much for the notion that he wasn't one of the "literary" guys -- that what he wrote was pot-boiling junk food.

It was a good book. I enjoyed it. That it was in hardback didn't mean it was any better-written than the ones the writer had done in paperback. But to some degree, the hardback was about acceptance, maybe even vindication.

Everybody who produces work wants it to be recognized as having some value. If you are a cook, you want people to like what you do with the food; if you fix cars, you want them to run when you are done; if you are a writer, you want people to enjoy the tale you tell.

Getting nominated for an award by your peers or the public means that you reached somebody, and as much as artists say such things don't matter, they do. Not the award, but the acknowledgment. Somebody noticed.

In the book biz, hardbacks get more credit than paperbacks, just as mainstream writing gets more critical appreciation than genre. There is mainstream, then down the list are mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, westerns, romances, and so forth, if you believe the east coast literary elite.

For me, the highest praise I've gotten is that I've crafted a page-turner.

I'd be happy to win the Hugo or Nebula, but "Piss on you, you son-of-a-bitch, I couldn't put the fucking book down and was up all night!" is pretty good as accolades go ...

Stupidest Exercise Machine Ever?

Reaves sent me this link, and I had to pass it along. If ever there was a concept whose time has not come, this has to be it.

P.T. Barnum must be spinning in his grave like an atomic-powered gyroscope.

Behold:

Downside of the Internet

Bad for one's memory, the net. In the old days, if you needed to look something up, you went to the bookshelf, dug out the volume of the encyclopedia or the dictionary you needed, flipped through the pages, then read the relevant entry. 

If it wasn't enough, you trucked on down to the library and did more research. 

If you still needed more, you found an expert, called him or her on the phone, or bought them coffee and asked questions until you heard what you needed.

With the web at your fingertips and Google a default in the header on both my browsers, research is made too easy. If you already know how to look stuff up, you just have to be specific in your search terms. Since you can't really trust every site you see on the net, you do what the reporters are supposed to do -- you cross-reference items until you get three sources that agree, and preferably from "official" sites directly connected to the subject at hand.
FBI, CIA, the city of Jakarta, they all have websites. Wikipedia is useful, but you have to vet it, there are people with axes to grind and others who are simply poor scholars. 

If you need artwork for your header and you have developed a niggle with regard to copyright, then all you need do is add terms such as "image" and "public domain," and start your search there. (Not every image that comes up will be public domain, by the by, but you can winnow the search thus.)

I woke up in the middle of the night with a set of song lyrics grinding through my brain, from the song "And When I Die." I could hear the singer, the instruments, remembered most of the words, but the name of the group slipped my mind. Song was from the late sixties, so the fact that I had anything about it at all is remarkable, given Robin Williams' line: If you can remember the sixties, you weren't there ...

Couldn't recall the name of the band. It was right on the tip of my mind, but not coming to the fore. Oh, well, no problem. When I got up, I could google the lyrics. Who needs memory when the net has a billion pages?

As it happened, I arose, got my coffee, sat down, and while I was running through the lyrics in my head and getting ready to google, that song brought to mind another tune, "Spinning Wheel," which in turn called up "Go Down Gamblin'," and bam! I remembered -- Blood, Sweat & Tears.

(This was a group that, over the years, had roughly nine hundred and fifteen musicians in it and might still be out there for all I know. )

Don't get me wrong, I use the net for research frequently, and to a writer, it is a gift, but if you are sitting on a panel somewhere and somebody asks you a question and you don't have your laptop or iPhone handy, your expertise might be found wanting ...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Invisible Chair

What with one thing and another, I haven't been getting to the weight room lately. And since flexibility and strength are both parts of my knee rehab, I have been doing exercises at home. I do have a couple of barbells here, a lightweight one, about eighty pounds, and one somewhat heavier, but in the pouring rain, going out back to work the iron -- and plastic, since the lightweight one is a cheapo set -- isn't much fun.

So I'm doing bodyweight stuff, and one of them is the invisible chair.

Simple to do. Find a patch of wall that isn't being used and put your back against it. Put your feet out eighteen or so inches from the wall -- more or less depending on your height -- and slide your back down so that your thighs are parallel with the floor.

Hold it.

Start out with thirty or so seconds, work up to two minutes, and when you can do that without falling over, you can begin adding weight -- small barbells in each hand, a pot of concrete on your lap.

Burns the quads, oh, yes, it does.

Har!

Back when I was very young and ignorant, I thought I wanted to be a commercial artist. On the back of a comic book, I came across an ad for the Famous Artists Correspondence School. There was a test -- a pencil sketch. Can you draw the pirate? It asked. Do so, and send it to us, and if we think you have talent, why, we'll accept you as a student and teach you what you need to know ...

I drew the pirate. Applied. And, to my amazement, was accepted. Being more cynical these days, I expect that if I put my dog's paw on an ink pad and then had him step onto a sheet of paper, that would more than qualify him to become a student, too ...

Six hundred dollars later -- a fair amount of money for a kid who was earning $1.25 an hour as a lifeguard --I realized I wasn't going to be a commercial artist, and while it was an expensive lesson at the time, cheap in the long run. For years, I kept the books around, eventually lending them out or giving them away until I had but one left, and that one was moth-eaten and roach-nibbled to the point I finally threw it out.

So, pirates ...

Most of us who blog, least the folks I know, have "borrowed" material for our posts. We've Googled the web, found pictures or cartoons we thought appropriate, downloaded them, and stuck them atop our columns. I have, and while I give attribution when I use stuff when I can find it -- who shot the picture or drew it -- that still is, in some cases, technically, a violation of copyright.

While I would never plagiarize written material and claim it as my own, I have used images, and while it is not quite the same thing, it teeters on an ethical edge.

Some images are valid, and permitted -- stuff in the public domain, such as the pirates dueling picture above; book covers, for reviews, and thus fair use; original cartoons, pix, or art offered freely on the web. Any pictures I shot, or got from somebody who doesn't mind if I use them.

Some of the images have been copyrighted material, and just because I can download and use them easily, I shouldn't do so. No, I'm not making any money on them, but that's not the point. If you break into a bank and steal a great wad of cash, then go out and give it away like Robin Hood, that doesn't absolve you of the crime. And while using a picture that is on the web isn't exactly grand theft, and probably more akin to shoplifting a pack of gum, wrong is wrong. It is a slippery slope.

Henceforth, unless I link a picture to the creator of it in some way that will offer him or her benefit -- here's an artist's image, and here is where you go to buy the work -- I'm going to try and avoid posting stuff that isn't fair use under the copyright laws.

This is brought about because somebody pointed me to a website wherein the owner has posted a slew of books he has scanned. This is quite illegal, and pretty quick, he won't be there, because a bunch of writers I know have already contacted lawyers and publishers who will insist that the e-book scanner stop -- or be sued into the ground. If you put up a Star Wars novel in copyright and it comes to Lucasfilm's attention, your lawyer probably won't want to take on the Imperial Legal Corps ...

(Can I get a musical sting of Vader's March here?)

Several of my books are -- maybe by now, were -- on this site, and places like this cut into sales. Why buy the book if you can download it to your reader or laptop for free?

However, since I have swiped material from others on the web and used it without or permission, then I don't get to scream too loud, do I? Pot calling the kettle black, sauce for the goose and gander, like that.

I am ambivalent about YouTube vids or other embeds -- I am merely linking to those, and what they allow posted is their problem. Fine hair-splitting, but I can live with that. If copyright owners don't want to see it on YouTube, all they have to do is say so, and it gets taken down.

Yes, this will limit what I can use to illustrate my rantings, but it is the right thing to do.

Dammit all ...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sipping From the Nile

So, my literary agency in New York City is captained by Jean Naggar, a bright and funny lady who has written a memoir. It is officially published on the morrow and I, and other folks who know her, are all going to buy a copy then, so as to give it a nice spike on Amazon.com. (For those of you who don't know, if a bunch of folks all buy a book on the same day, it gets a surge on Amazon's lists, and can be the bestseller in its category, which helps sales, and looks good on the cover of the reprint: "Bestselling Memoir."

If you are the kind of reader who enjoys such things, you might consider this book. From what I know about it, it is a fascinating story, and I am looking forward to reading it.

It's called, Sipping From the Nile, which is a passing good title, too.

Sales

So, checking in at Amazon.com today I saw this, regarding the paperback version of Death Star:

Amazon.com Sales Rank: #9,660 in Books (See Bestsellers in Books)

#22 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Series
#31 in Books > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Space Opera
#55 in Books > Literature & Fiction > Genre Fiction > Movie Tie-Ins.

What is interesting about this is that the book isn't being published until November the 25th, so nobody can get it for a couple weeks yet.

Reaves and I have high hopes for this one's sales, in that it is coming out in time for Christmas shoppers, and even at eight bucks a pop, is cheap entertainment. In a family of readers, a book can be passed around. And then you can take it to the used book store and get credit on another book.

Given the financial tenor of the times, cheap entertainment is a good thing.

(Of course, in order for us to make any money on it, given our itty-bitty piece of the royalty, it will have to sell better than ice water on a summer day in tropical Hell, and blow everything else off the top of the bestseller lists across the board. Which, we know realistically, isn't going to happen. But, like buying a lottery ticket is less about winning than it is in buying the brief fantasy that you could win, we can pretend we might hit #1 and get rich -- until the book actually comes out ...)

Inside-your-own-head fantasy is a wonderful entertainment. What if?

Whereas somebody who is dead broke might fantasize about buying a new house or a jazzy new car, paying off debts, putting the kids through school, writers I know get grandiose when they fantasize -- because they can. Observe:

So I write this book and bam! it takes off. Oprah loves it, the New York Times loves it. It sells six million copies in a one-day worldwide laydown. Top of every major bestseller list in sixteen countries.

My phone rings and it's a conference call -- Brad and Angelina are on the line, they love it, they want the rights so they can star in the movie, is ten million and a big piece of the net enough? and I shake my head and say, "Oh, wow, I'd love to work with you kids, but I just don't think you're right for it ... hold on a second, I have another call coming in" -- and it's Spielberg and Lucas, and the doorbell rings, and, oh, my, it's George Clooney and Will Smith duking it out to see who gets inside the gate first, and look -- it's Jennifer Aniston tapping at my office window ...

Harry Potter? Yeah, that series did okay, but compared to my book? Peanuts ...

When I have a fantasy, I don't mess around.

During the Great Depression, movies became very popular. Even though a nickel or a dime admission was relatively a lot in the 1930's, it was probably easier to come up with that than the current nine or ten bucks a pop each nowadays. Taking the family out for movies at the local cineplex, and factoring in popcorn more valuable than gold by weight, and soft drinks that cost more per ounce than French perfume, going to first-run movies is a somewhat spendy proposition these days.

I expect that a lot of folks are going to be staying home, reading used books or paperbacks, and watching a lot of television for the immediate future. If I wasn't swapping books in trade at Powell's, I couldn't begin to afford to read all the books I want to read ...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Wordstock


This picture was too good to pass up.
From The Oregonian's Gallery, photo by Motoya Nakamura.
A literate stormtrooper ...


So, I did my gig at Wordstock today. This is a gathering of book-folks who set up at the local convention center to promote, of all things, reading. Lot of booths, writers, editors, artists, even a comedian or two. The guy who plays the PC in the Mac/PC commericals? He was there. He used to be a literary agent, go figure.

I had a one-hour class on pacing for writers; did a reading; and an autographing. Good help from the volunteers who got me where I needed to go. Had a chance to visit with an old friend I haven't seen in a while, Phil Margolin, while in the VIP room.

I spoke. Nobody threw rotten fruit or veggies at me, and I had a fine ole time. Probably killed my chances of ever working for Lucasfilm again when I allowed during my presentation on the Powell's stage that I thought Jar-Jar Binks was the love child of Stepin Fetchit and a lizard ...

I did my dog and pony show, they laughed when they were supposed to laugh, and I got a nice author goodies bag from Powell's.

Of course, I drew some stares, as I was accompanied to the reading and autographing by a trio of suited stormtroopers, Darth Vader, and Princess Leia, along with an officer from the Death Star. My posse.

You know, when you walk through a crowded lobby with such an entourage, people get out of your way ...

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Television Effect

If you want to see what having even a crappy TV series based on your books will do for your sales, check out the New York Times Paperback Bestseller List for this week. 

Sookie Stackhouse's mama, Charlaine Harris, has seven Sookie books in the top twenty-five. Consider the fact that she's only written eight of 'em, and started doing them in 2001, and the eighth one (in hardback) is still #28 on that list. 
 

P.S. So I tuned it to see if it had gotten better, the show, and lo, the bar owner is not what he seems. I had him figured for a werewolf from the git-go, but nooo, he's a were-border-collie. 

Oh, man. 

Now the Truth Comes Out


So the election is over and Caribou Barbie has gone home. Now that it's done, things are coming out -- from Fox News, no less -- about Dear Sarah that are spooky-scary.
The woman makes a bowl of oatmeal look smart. And Donald Duck's rages look calm.

Africa is a continent? Which countries are in North America?

Can we get a "Duh ... ?" here?

Have a look at the Fox News vid ...

Yeah, okay, it's moot, but for those of you looking forward to 2012 and a chance to see Dear Sarah make a run at the White House, consider that if Fox News (which I've always thought was an oxymoron) is willing to say this in public, how bad was it really?

We dodged a bullet here, folks. No question.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Djuru Three

Those of you who are not Silat Sera folks can skip this posting. I'll try to explain in general what I'm doing and why, but it probably won't make much sense if you don't already know the sequence and why it works.

Still here? Okay.

In a recent discussion with a silat player who studied another branch of our art -- same system, different teacher -- the question came up about which djurus (short forms) would be the "deepest," (which I took to be the most useful) if we eliminated the first two forms, Djuru #1 and #2.

A slight digression: We have eighteen of these short dances. All of them are based either upon the first or second ones we learn, i.e., they begin with Djuru #1 or Djuru #2, and then add pieces.

For us, the upper-body tools we believe we need for efficient fighting motions are all found in the djurus.

Legwork comes from a different part of the system, the langkas. In practice, they are usually done together, the hand- and foot-work, though that isn't required. You can do most of the djurus sitting in a chair.

The first two forms are the most important. Using the moves in them, you can probably take care of most of what you are apt to run into from somebody trying to punch, elbow, or kick you, and there are applications for groundwork and grappling, as well. Lot of material in them.

They are all useful, but I have a real fondness for a section of Djuru #3.

In the centerpiece of Djuru #3 is the move demonstrated in the vid, assuming it comes through. Very simple, but also very elegant. Of the dozen or so principles we think are important to learn from djuru practice, this simple move probably covers more than half of them. There's a lot more going on there than meets the eye, concerning highline, lowline, cutting the centerline, near-far, push-pull, backup ...

In fighting, simple is generally better than complicated. In the epinepherinic heat of a serious set-to, with the fight-or-flight syndrome apt to be in full battle mode, complex small motions suffer. That double-back-flip-twisting-triple-strike-and-kick technique that works so well in the gym will almost surely go south when your ass is on the line, so chances are very good that you will fall back on basics.

This is one of ours.

video

Michael Crichton


Michael Crichton
1942-2008

Writer Michael Crichton died yesterday, he was sixty-six.

Crichton, who trained as a medical doctor, wrote a slew of bestselling novels, and was the creator of the TV series ER. If you've been to a movie in the last forty years, you almost surely saw one of his stories: The Andromeda Strain, Westworld, The Lost World, Jurassic Park, Rising Sun, Terminal Man, Congo, Twister ...

His fiction books tended to be reworking of old science fiction themes muchly slicked-up and full of high tech. The mutant alien bug let loose, the robots gone amok, the Frankenstein concept, these were staples in the genre and many hardcore SF&F fans looked at Crichton's use of them as old hat. But he brushed them up and presented them to a mainstream audience who didn't know they were cliches, and he did all right.

For my money, his best book was non-fiction, Five Patients, written early in his career, about his medical training. There is a bit in it wherein young Crichton is sitting in a lecture hall listening to an anatomy professor speak on male reproductive organs that is memorable enough that it has stayed with me since I read it in 1970.

He was a very tall man -- 6'9" (206 cm), and a couple of his pseudonyms were plays on his height -- one was German for "tall man," the other was taken from a notable dwarf.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Monday, November 03, 2008

Knee-d to Know


Knee is doing remarkably well, according to my doctor, for ten days post-op. Got good range-of-motion, swelling is way down, no signs of infection. Incisions are clean and healing, and unless I have unforeseen problems, I should be good to go back to vigorous activity in a month or so. Okay to walk the dogs, stretch a bit, and all like that now.

There is some slight superficial nerve damage -- a numb spot lateral to the lateral incision, and some referred pain when I press on the medial incision. (Peripheral nerves in the leg run from medial -- inside -- to lateral (outside) and such neuritis is common after surgery, more so for ACL than meniscus.)

I won't be doing legwork for a while, no kneeling on that side until the nerves regenerate, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

The photos of the injury before and after were most interesting. The edge of the meniscus was tattered, looked kind of like a pair of cut-off blue jean shorts after you run them through the washer and dryer the second or third time. That was all trimmed off nice and clean, and in theory, I should be mechanically sound henceforth.

Well. At least the knee should be ...

Hummingbird Lights

So the rains have arrived ...

To deal with the wet and gray and offer a little cheer against the getting-dark-before-five-p.m. time change, we put a string of colored lights out under the eaves. Not Christmas decorations, you understand, even though they look exactly like Christmas lights, they won't be that until, well, Christmas ...

Fall festival. Anti-gloom lamps. Whatever.

Lights don't seem to bother the hummingbirds, one of whom just came to perch on the feeder under the colorful LEDs. You can see him there on the other side of the sugar-water bottle, and if you look really close, catch the faint hint of his ruby throat, which is how you know he's a he ...

Off to see the doctor for the follow-up my knee in a few minutes, means I either have to wear shorts, or go the nightgown route once I get there. Chilly out, but I'm going for the shorts.

Election is tomorrow. I voted last week. Win, lose, or draw, I did my part. If you have the right, you should, too.

The world is watching.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Fret Killer


Check out this guy, calls himself Fret Killer: Guy has a whole list of acoustic guitar vids.

Can't embed the videos for some reason, but click on this one and listen to his voice:

Daydream

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Kindle

Some of you have heard of the Kindle -- Amazon.com's electronic reader. Cost about US$360 list, has good storage capacity and battery life, and people either love or hate it.

Apparently, according to Boy Genius the v2 Kindle is about ready to debut.

The picture above is a side-by-side comparison, if BG isn't pulling our collective leg. Version 1.0 on the left, and v2.0 on the right.

Maybe not quite for me yet, but moving closer ...