Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Clone Wars: Amidala needs to eat a sandwich.

Andrew Leon at StrangePegs and The Armchair Squid are running "The Clone Wars Project," blogging about each episode of The Clone Wars' animated TV series.  They're way ahead of me; I'm only up to Episode 4. 

Episode 4: "Destroy Malevolence." I think the thing that stood out most for me in this episode is how much I'm beginning to dislike this animation.  It was Padme Amidala that did it for me.  Amidala looks like this in the movies:

But like this in The Clone Wars:

I get that it's an animation style, and a style it is, but not one I like.  I haven't yet gotten used to Obi Wan's weird beard:

Looking like it's made of wood, but this episode was the worst: Amidala looks skeletal, anorexic, sickly.  And weird.  It's like a walking stick put on human skin and then was animated.  It really bothered me throughout the episode, to a distracting degree.

The story itself was what I think of now as a prototypical Star Wars story: The Empire has a giant death machine of some sort, and Alliance has to destroy it, but first there are some adventures to get there, and then there's some sort of personal excursion into the death machine.  Star Wars has perfected that formula, and this episode hits all the marks.  It almost felt like it was a Star Wars knock off or mashup:  Instead of Han Solo having to fly through an asteroid field and avoid a giant space worm, Anakin must fly through a nebula filled with giant sting-ray-ish things.  Instead of the Death Star, there's the giant Star Destroyer Malevolence.  Obi Wan, Anakin, and the two droids sneak onto the ship while it's temporarily destroyed, reminiscent of the Death Star raid in the first movie.  Where A New Hope had Darth Vader bearing down on Luke at the climactic scene, General Grievous was bearing down on Anakin here at the end. 

Mostly, this episode felt lazy. It wasn't terrible but there was nothing too compelling about it, either. There wasn't any real character development, the action felt been there done that (and a bit of a foregone conclusion; for some reason, I never really doubted that they would destroy Malevolence. Hmmm.

Anyway, it wasn't boring enough to make me quit, but it was the weakest episode so far.  And to harp on it some more, I do wish they'd change the animation.  Bad artistry is too distracting from the storyline.  While I was watching it, I kept thinking back to the few comic book artists whose styles I knew by sight.  There was George Perez, who was my favorite:

I always favored the more realistic-ish artists, who didn't overly bulk their superheroes but also made them more or less lifelike.

But I could handle the more stylized art of Jack Kirby:

Which while not as realistic, at least wasn't distracting, and for certain comics (like Thor) the style worked really well.

Then there was the one I hated: Keith Giffen.  Giffen started out okay:

But as his style got simpler and more stylized, I liked it less and less:

 to the point where eventually I wouldn't buy comics drawn by Giffen. 

The art in The Clone Wars isn't that bad, but it's awfully close.

Daisies? I think they're daisies. Doesn't matter. Move on. (Picture of the Day)

Monday, July 27, 2015

10 Minutes About When You Should Quit Writing (And Other Things Websites and Blogs Made Me Think About)

I started "10 Minutes About" a while back when I couldn't find any good book podcasts or websites on the Internet, and decided that rather than be part of the solution I'd make it somebody else's problem. (That's how that saying goes, I'm sure.)

Since then I've actually found a couple of good sites/podcasts that talk about writing, books, and literary stuff in general in a way that's neither boring nor pretentious.

First the podcasts.  I actually tried my hand at podcasting a couple years back. How hard could it be? I thought. I had a digital recorder on my phone, and a voice.  Only the results were terrible, and I decided that unless and until I could actually do it right I wouldn't bother doing it all.

"Right" in terms of podcasting, at least for me, is hard to describe. Some podcasts are technically proficient but annoying to me.  Snap Judgmente and The Moth are very popular podcasts that I can't stand.  They seem like they're trying to hard.  I don't know how else to explain it.  There's a certain tone to people who try to hard to be entertaining, and both of those podcasts have it. Overly produced with hosts and speakers doing voices and the stories arranged just so.  They're what would happen if Wes Anderson made a movie about Wes Anderson doing a podcast about Wes Anderson movies.

At the other end of the spectrum are the podcasts that are more like mine was: terrible and lo-fi.  People seem to think (about blogs, books, podcasts, etc.) that if they can think/type/talk -- communicate in general -- that their communications are inherently interesting.  I don't know how many times I've struggled to read a post or listen to a podcast while thinking make it interesting!  It's not that the story has to be inherently interesting.  David Sedaris writes articles about looking at a turtle as he stands on a bridge, and it's interesting.  The Pop Culture Happy Hour people at NPR, who I used to listen to, also talk about nothing, and it's interesting.

So you can do nothing, or just sit and talk, and be interesting.  But most people aren't, at least in the podcasts I listened to.  They were just people talking, people with unoriginal, uncompelling thoughts presented in a blah way.  I listened to about 10 different podcasts, each of which ended with my thinking you sitting around talking about stuff isn't interesting.

With that, I did find two podcasts of people sitting around talking about books 'n' stuff that were worth listening to.  The first is the Book Riot podcast.  There are three people on the podcast (the website has their names; don't ask me what they are.) I've only listened to two episodes of it so far, but both of them were pretty entertaining.  The latest one had the three discussing for most of the time their reactions to Go Set A Watchman, and while I don't intend to read the book (and find the story of how it got published way more interesting than the story in the book), the discussion of the book and its circumstances and how they reacted to it was pretty interesting.

The other podcast is All The Books!, and it's from Book Riot, too. Of the two, I so far like this one better.  It's just two women, discussing a bunch of books they've read or which are being released, or both. But they do so in an interesting and fun and intelligent way, so it's worth listening to.

The website, finally, is "Literary Hub," and I've only just discovered it.  I can't tell yet if it's a site that collects writing about books and writing from other sites, or if it has its own writers, or both, but it's been interesting so far.  There are articles on 'weird' fiction (like Vandermeer and Lovecraft and Gaiman), unappreciated authors, and things like the one I read today, "The Unemployed Life Of A Professional Writer," in which a poet/novelist/children's book author describes how she's trying to make a living doing that (she's been published, traditionally) while also trying to find full-time jobs to pay the bills.  Spoiler alert: it ends with her selling copies of her books at yard sales.

The writer, Shelley Leedahl, talks about wondering whether she should stop writing:

I was at a launch in Victoria recently where an author read in a T-shirt printed with his book cover image. Writers are making book trailers. I’ve read in an organic food market, with fruit flies buzzing around my head, and was damn glad to have the opportunity. Time to go where the people are—not just to libraries, and bookstores. It’s the hour for new audiences, and new sales’ strategies.
We try and we try. It’s exhausting. Honestly, I feel that if this book doesn’t make even alittle stir—and frankly, earn me even a modicum of income—it might just be time to stop scribbling.

My first thought on reading that was why? Why would you ever stop writing? But the more I pondered her actual situation: trying to land a job at Home Depot and get public assistance to buy steel-toed boots for that job, while also booking her own readings at friends' houses, the more I understood why she might, finally, decide to not write for a living.

And that made me wonder if I could just stop writing.  I have slowed down my writing a lot, especially this summer. I used to maintain several blogs plus write books and short stories.  This summer, I have written one short story.  Since May.  And I blog more, but nowhere near the level I used to.

In part, I feel as though I am written out.  I wrote a story a day for the past year, and I have been (slowly) editing that, and I did that while editing my book Codes AND starting a new firm back in January, and so this summer I've let myself slide a bit and done more reading at night instead of writing.

But even with that, I'm constantly thinking up ideas and jotting them down and thinking about what my next project might be, when I begin it.  I'm not sure I ever could give up writing, which of course is a silly thing to think because for years and years I never was a writer.

I wrote my first couple of stories in grade school, and then through high school I didn't write much at all, aside from some poems.  I didn't write until I was about 21 or 22 and took a creative writing class, and I don't even really remember why I took that.  After that, I wrote a bunch of short stories and two novels, and then didn't do anything again until probably 2005 or so.  Since then, the past 10 years, I've been pretty prolific.

But that's only 10 years, really, out of 46.  So to think I could never stop writing is to freeze myself in time, because the me that loves to write is the me that used to focus on learning musical instruments, or the me that spent an entire summer teaching himself card tricks, or the me that organized softball teams for a few years, and so on.

I'm not like the lady in the story; I'm not thinking about giving up writing, and when I don't write these days it's not because I find it too hard to make a living at.  But having read the story and spent the day wondering whether I could quit writing, I realized that I could. 

I worried, for a bit, tonight, whether realizing that I could quit was the first step in actually not writing anymore.  Sometimes I'm like that. I used to be way way more in shape than I am now.  When I lost a hundred pounds in six months back in 1993, I started on a fitness regimen that I stuck with for years.  Every other day I worked out, rain or shine, for at least 30-60 minutes.  I ran, mostly, running 5, 6, 7 miles even when I wasn't feeling that great.  (I once ran 6 miles and felt terrible the whole time.  The next day I went to the campus nurse and she said I had a terrible case of pneumonia. I nearly had to be hospitalized.)

One day, in law school, some friends called me up and asked if I wanted to go get a couple beers at the Memorial Union Terrace on Lake Mendota.  I said I had to go running first and might meet them later.  Then I was tying my shoes and getting ready to go and I thought Wait, why don't I just go? What am I in training for? Nothing.

That was the beginning of the end: it was a long slow slide to where I am now, helped by heart attacks and bees and asthma, but now I've put a lot of the weight back on and my idea of exercise is getting up to get the remote.  The realization that I didn't have to do something ended up with me not doing it as often.

On the other hand, knowing that I can quit at any time makes it easy to go on.  The last time I ever went running was about 4 months after my heart attack.  I went to the health club and just started jogging around the track, to see how far I could go.  I'd been walking and lightly jogging for four months and wanted to see how healthy I was.  Each lap I thought I could quit now but I guess I'll keep going.  I did lap after lap after lap, and got to 8 miles before I had to quit because the playroom was closing and I had to go get Mr Bunches and Mr F.  Otherwise, I might never have stopped running.

So I guess I could quit writing anytime I want, and it's too early to see how that knowledge might ultimately affect me.

That's way more than 10 minutes, but I was on a roll so I kept going. After all, I didn't have to stop.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I'm pretty much the best scientist I know, except for the part where I'm not actually a scientist and don't really know very much about science. Have I said "science" enough in this title? Science. SCIENCESCIENCESCIENCE enough.

There's a story on Geekologie this week about a 3-D printed house, which looks like this when it's almost finished:

According to Geekologie,
The company says it takes about 9 days to produce the modules. That is pretty impressive. Even more impressive considering the home is capable of withstanding a magnitude-9 earthquake and is constructed using a proprietary new building material that is "sourced from industrial and agricultural waste, is fireproof and waterproof, and is free from harmful substances such as formaldehyde, ammonia, and radon."

Now, I'm not going to do what I usually do and claim that someone stole my idea (they did) and that obviously those home-printers read my blog (they do). Instead, I'm going to point out why the existence of this house makes me a better scientist than pretty much every actual scientist, including Neil DeBuzzkill Tyson. The reason is this:


I say that because I originally envisioned using printers to build houses back in about 2009, when I wrote Santa, Godzilla & Jesus Walk Into A Bar.  That story (which you should read) told the origins of Xmas, which came about when Wenceslas built his "Xmas" machine.  The "Xmas Machine" was a version of a 'Santa Claus machine,' and either way is a machine that scientists hypothesize could be created which would take raw materials and convert it into finished products.

A 3D printer, although they didn't call it that back in 2009, when I listened to a "Stuff To Blow Your Mind" podcast about Santa Claus Machines, and learned that scientists feared Santa Claus machines, because not only were they worried they would simply replicate themselves (huh?) but also the podcast people said it would be "the end of design," that once we had machines that could make anything from simple raw materials everything would be homogenized and identical.

I thought exactly the opposite.  In an afterword to my book, I talked about Santa Claus machines and noted that once such machines existed, there would no doubt be apps that would let us print things in different styles:

Apps for our Machines would be huge, of course: You’d need an app for a ham sandwich, and an app for a car, and an app for a house, and machines of different sizes. Your average person, for example, would probably have a machine no larger than their refrigerator – for making household goods like clothes and meals and such. 

And then I said:

Contractors would have the big machines, to pre-form houses.


I love what I do.  And I love my life all the time and have almost no regrets.  But sometimes I think back on how little attention I paid in science and math classes, and wonder whether, if I could have foreseen how much I would love that stuff, how amazing it is, and I realize I might well have become a scientist if I'd done that.

For a while I seriously considered it, senior year in college.  I took an astronomy class and loved it so much I thought about changing my major and getting a degree in what would now be astrophysics.  But I was four years into a political science degree and already 26 and applying to law schools, so I didn't follow up on that.

I'm a pretty awesome lawyer.  But I think I would've been a pretty awesome scientist or engineer, too.

Here's a shot of inside the house.

There are a lot more pictures of it if you're interested; click here. Also, go buy my book. It's the only Xmas book ever to feature a sexy cop, Godzilla, homicidal elves, handsome angels, and the Secret Army Under The Bed.  You could have Xmas in July!


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Friday Five: Five Bands I Loved When I Was Younger (That I Still Sorta Like I Think?)

I suppose YOU'VE never worn Darth Vader socks
as gloves? LA DI DA Mr High and Mighty.
Last week, Laws Of Gravity Liz threat-promised (it's a thing) not to inundate me with the bands she liked as a kid, apparently in retaliation for my talking about superheroes. Joke's on her: I have NO PROBLEM stealing people's ideas, hence this week's post, which is also inspired by my hearing the song Day By Day on the radio last week.  Or hearing about 15 seconds of the song before Mr Bunches turned the radio off.

"Why'd you do that?" I asked him.

"We don't sing along with songs," he said. "Only people on the radio sing." That is one of his many rules about singing, whistling, dancing, rhythmically tapping your thumbs on the steering wheel to the beat of Radar Love, etc etc.: These things are only done by professionals, on the radio or on stage. They ARE NOT DONE by Daddy.  It will dishonor him, something he learned by watching Mulan: when you do something he doesn't like, he says you have dishonored him, pronouncing the h in the word. Dis HAHN erd.

"Pronouncing The H" I think would make a good name for a band.  Anyway, here's the five:

1. The Hooters.  I have two distinct, and distinctly different, memories related to The Hooters.

One is listening to the song Satellite as I stood and waited for the bus outside my dorm room in November, 1987, my first semester in college.  It was very early, and I had to get to work at JCPenney, a job I wouldn't hold much longer after I dropped out the next semester.  But I remember that morning because the air was crisp and nobody was around and it seemed like Madison was entirely empty except for me. That semester was a tough one for me to adjust to, and the feeling of being entirely alone left me feeling peaceful.

The other memory is going to a Hooters concert a few years later, in the years during which I was a wastrel working nights at a gas station and generally hanging out doing almost nothing with my life.  We had gotten some tickets to the Hooters concert for free, I don't remember how, and I had gone with two of my friends, Mark and Rob, and also two girls.  One of the girls I really liked and had wanted to ask out.

When we were at the concert, we noted that the security seemed a little bit lax.  Rob said it would be 'totally easy' for someone to get on stage -- and we were in like the fifth row.  Then the girl said it would be totally cool if someone got on stage.

So I did it.  I edged my way up to the front row, and then to the side of the stage, and then got up on stage and walked towards the lead singer, who looked surprised but shook my hand before bouncers came out and led me off and then out the side door of the theater, leaving me to wait about a half-hour before my friends came out at the end of the concert.

I was feeling pretty cool, and I didn't (and don't) like concerts anyway, and I figured maybe I'd made some inroads with the girl.  She sat in back with me and Rob on the way home while Mark and the other girl were up front.  And about halfway home she started making out with Rob.

That's The Hooters for you.

2. Supertramp.  This was one of the first rock groups I ever liked, and I was only 10 when their album Breakfast In America came out.  I had that album on vinyl, and listened to it over and over as a kid, before moving on to their live double album Paris, which featured one of my all-time favorite songs, the Fool's Overture.

Nowadays I think they're only okay.  I don't know what the fascination was for me as a 10-year-old, but I listened to their music for hours.

I looked on Wikipedia and apparently most of the band is still together and touring. They don't seem to really have a pop culture presence, though.  I only ever had the two albums, but I remember liking It's Raining Again a lot, too.  Now that song's used (again per Wikipedia) during NASCAR rain delays.

3. The Cure. Another band that would almost be  an obsession, music-wise, and then almost entirely fade away was The Cure.  When I first heard In Between Days it was almost revelatory; there was something in the music's somehow wistful-yet-driving sound combined with the somewhat inscrutable lyrics that seemed to just grab me.  The Cure was music for kids who felt like they should be disconnected and surly but who couldn't really, because they were too comfortable and everyone around them was pretty nice.  What good is being a teen if you can't rebel against something? Teens need to rebel and if your life is a pretty okay one, your rebellions feel a little forced.

I was never a hardcore Cure fan; I got their greatest hits album , plus The Head On The Door, but that was about it. Still, I listened the beejeebers out of those songs.

My alltime favorite song by them: Close To Me:

4. Orchestral Manoeuvers In The Dark (OMD):  Sure, everyone (of my age or so) knows them because they sang If You Leave for the movie Pretty In Pink but I liked them before that: Junk Culture was the first album I'd gotten by them, and I bought the next two before drifting away from their music.  Last year out of the blue I suddenly thought of them again and began listening to a bunch of their older stuff on Youtube. I thought about maybe getting the album Junk Culture again but then I thought eh maybe not now and then I browsed around on Amazon for other stuff and then I went to bed so that was that.

I think my reluctance to buy the music is a combination of factors.  First, I'm cheap.  Second, I've been going through a nostalgic period lately, and I figure it's because the last 2+ years have been so challenging, getting extremely tough and stressful at times.  I probably have been feeling nostalgic not just for my teen years (which, while not terrible were not all that great either) but for any earlier times because the good times are fun to remember and the bad times help me remember that I've gone through rough patches before.  So while I like to listen to some of the music from earlier times (and re-read books, and re-watch movies with Sweetie) during times like this, I don't want to make the music a permanent part of my life now -- if only because it can serve as a relief valve now and in the future, by remaining linked to earlier times rather than soaking into tough times.

5. Men Without Hats This one sort of isn't quite the same as the others because really I don't care about the group at all, and know almost nothing about them, other than they made The Safety Dance which of course I loved because: the 80s, and also and more importantly I know about them that they made the album Pop Goes The World! which is one of the greatest albums ever made, hands down, an album so great as to make me listen to it enough that now, almost three decades after it came out, and a good 20 years since I owned the album (I have it on a cassette tape somewhere in the box in my garage), I can still remember nearly all the lyrics to all the songs in order.  And this is me! I'm the guy who can't remember if he ate breakfast this morning. (I checked: I did.)

So really I didn't care about the group and I still like the song, and it doesn't fit in with the title of this post at all but who cares? The rules is there ain't no rules. *snarls, gets into car ready to race for pinks*.

I first heard the song Pop Goes The World sitting in a hotel room in Fort Knox, Kentucky, in 1987.  My friend Fred, from high school, had enlisted in the Army right after graduation, and had gone into basic training.  The weekend we went to visit him was his first break from basic, so me and two other friends (Bob and Flan, short for Flanagan, his last name) got into Bob's Camaro-- Bob owned a Camaro! -- and drove to Kentucky to visit him.  I don't remember much about that weekend other than how tired I was.  At the end of the trip, it was my turn to drive and we were going through Illinois in the middle of the night and I began to hallucinate, as I'd been awake for about 48 hours.  I thought there was a giant rock in the road and swerved to avoid it, steering us onto the shoulder before coming to my senses.  I woke up Bob and had him drive while I slept in the car the rest of the way.

But I do remember being in the hotel room and eating pizza and watching TV; I don't remember if we could drink in Kentucky or why we hadn't gone out on the town (or maybe we did and I've forgotten?). We were watching MTV and the song Pop Goes The World came on and the next day, after I was back home and rested, I went out and bought it. It's probably my second favorite album of all time. The only reason I haven't gone to buy/download it now is I can listen to it for free anytime I want online.

I know you probably won't listen to it but here's the whole album anyway:

You should listen to it, though. It's awesome.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

This guy has really thought a lot about BTO and Ace Frehley

I usually steer clear of reading comments on most websites because I hate people and they're stupid, but every now and then one catches my eye, like this one that I read when I listened to New York Groove on Youtube last night.

This is the comment:

Sky Marshall 1 week agoGood album. Even some of the lesser songs still had potential. Call me crazy, but with a bit of song writing tinkering, Speedin Back to My Baby sounds like it could've been a halfway decent BTO song. Never mind the fact that BTO hadn't made a decent record since Four Wheel Drive, back in 1975 and by 1978, they were already a Greatest Hits act, after only 4 albums. But, maybe if Ace had sold that song to BTO in 1978, they could have used it as a B-side and it would've inspired them to write a few more, classic BTO style hits, before they slid completely off the record charts. Anything would have been better than the crap they were putting out after 1975. But that's history. We will never know what MIGHT have been.

That is 100% the first ever BTO/Ace Frehley fanfiction I've ever read.

Also New York Groove is an awesome song that I used to roller-skate to and you should listen to it.