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Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky.

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[20 Jan 2011|03:26am]
[ mood | hopeful ]

I've been thinking about the HBO show Carnivàle. Amazing show. I have to watch it again, sometime. The kind of things it did are in the same realm as what I'd like to do in fiction.

Only... Carnivàle failed. HBO cancelled the show after two seasons. Is there any hope for fiction that hits the same notes? I.e., urban fantasy strongly anchored to pop culture/pop politics/pop history/pop religion, with most characters being grotesques?

And I think: maybe. Because books can succeed with a smaller audience than TV shows. How many copies of a novel must sell for a publisher to be interested in your next one? 20-30k perhaps? But a TV show must rope in millions of viewers to be a success. So, my task is easier than that of Carnivàle's creators. I don't have to compete directly against Snooki.

And when you think of it, Tim Powers writes in that niche, so maybe it's viable.

I know, I haven't posted in months. I'm okay. I've been on Facebook some, as John Schoffstall. Friend me there if you're so inclined.

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Peter Pan [30 Aug 2010|12:15pm]
[ mood | blank ]

I've been reading J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, for the first time. Interesting, both in its strengths and weaknesses. Without much warning, the writing sometimes dips its toe into darkness, before quickly pulling it out again. And I was astonished to read that Tinker Bell, in Mr. Barrie's imagination, was 'embonpoint'. Tinker Bell! I had never imagined her as other than the Disney character design, as ectomorphic as Barbie. Oh, Uncle Walt, you took such liberties.

But Walt Disney's reimagining of Tinker Bell's three sizes merely reflected a broad cultural change in the esthetics of the human figure. The the first of the Peter Pan stories saw print in 1902, a time when 'chubby' still meant 'healthy'. The iconography of children in commercial art -- for example, the Campbell Soup kids -- reflects this. The Campbell kids were slimmed down in the early 1980's, but Tinker Bell preceded them by a generation.

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Virtual Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism [24 Aug 2010|09:45pm]
[ mood | impressed ]

On lolotehe's LJ: Virtual Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism

Very cool. Fascinating that it can do retrograde motion of the planets.

So much effort, for millennia, was put into understanding why planets sometimes move in retrograde, when the actual reason was very simple. That kind of thing makes me wonder whether the Standard Model, which (to the this non-physicist) seems like a Rube Goldberg mechanism tweaked with un-found particles like the Higgs, axions, WIMPS, and so forth, is just missing some major conceptual element that would vastly simply everything.

2 comments|post comment

[23 Aug 2010|10:53am]
[ mood | contemplative ]

James Patterson Inc.

via MetaFilter

I've read only one Patterson novel, Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, because I'm reading YA. It was... instructive. I'll have some words about it later.

1 comment|post comment

[22 Aug 2010|12:36am]
[ mood | pensive ]

Most Amazon review histograms roughly follow a power law distribution.

But now and then you find one that is Gaussian.

2 comments|post comment

Economics by the Dashboard Light [18 Aug 2010|01:50am]
[ mood | busy ]

Dept. of Economics by the Dashboard Light, Part III.

Remember this post?

Last Friday night, for the first time since mid-2008, my drive to work at around 11 p.m. was interrupted by a car carrier blocking the right hand lane of northbound Route 1 outside that Nissan dealership in Drexel Hill, PA.

The last two years have been economically difficult. I'm lucky to be in a fairly safe job, but I've been distressed to see multiple job losses in my flist. Unemployment is still around 9.5 percent, and last week US stock markets took to bed with a case of the vapors when non-farm payrolls rose less than expected and the Fed mused that we might need another round of quantitative easing. There are other reasons for worry: banks and private companies are sitting on hoards of cash, the banks afraid to lend, and the companies afraid to expand or add workforce. Individuals are still buying bonds (almost surely a terrible time to do that, with coupon rates at historic lows) and terrified to re-enter the stock market.

Taking the other side of the argument is the nighttime Nissan car carrier.

The National Bureau of Economic Research has not yet declared the current recession, starting in December 2007, to be over. The NBER is late about such things, and its findings are historical, not predictive.

I'm betting the car carrier knows something. I declare the recession to have bottomed, and the nation, and the world, to be on the economic upswing. I don't know how strong this recovery will be, or how long it will last. We had multiple recoveries in the 1970s which went nowhere, undercut by inflation, high taxes, oil price shocks, and global political instability. It could happen again. But at least for the moment, the economic plane has gained airspeed again.

3 comments|post comment

Briefly hospitalized [15 Aug 2010|11:41pm]
[ mood | aggravated ]

Incidentally, I'm now home after having been hospitalized for 24 hours. Most tests were normal. Condition improved. Further details later, at end of work-up, if warranted.

A story for which the world is not yet prepared [15 Aug 2010|10:56pm]
[ mood | enthralled ]

The remains of the largest rat ever found have been unearthed in a cave in East Timor. (Link to abstract, which links to pdf of full paper.) It was in the genus Coryphomys. It weighed 6 kg. It seems to have died out 2000 years ago.

East Timor, hm? Close... very close.

1 comment|post comment

The oldest whore on the beat [13 Aug 2010|10:04pm]
[ mood | amused ]

During the last meeting of the Nameless, we had some brief talk about writing fiction with an eye towards saleability. Do we call such a writer a prostitute? Or do we call them 'published'?

I lean towards the latter, but the question is not easily answered. It has clearly bothered many writers over the years.

I was reminded of it when I ran across this passage:

Joseph L. Mankiewicz, whose writing and direction of the backstage comedy-drama All About Eve provided us with another Hollywood high-water mark, and whose creative control over his own work should have suggested he might consider himself a kind of artist, turned the very idea into the setup for a self-deprecating punchline. "I am never quite sure whether I am one of the cinema’s elder statesman," he said, "or just the oldest whore on the beat."
—from a review by John Podhoretz in The Weekly Standard, of a new book by Sam Wasson about Breakfast at Tiffany’s
2 comments|post comment

Night of the Living Dental Dead [08 Aug 2010|08:19am]
[ mood | indescribable ]

The result of a root canal is a zombie tooth. After my last root canal, the ranks of zombie teeth in my mouth just rose to five. Scary.

I took both amoxicillin and Vic0d1n. Amoxicillin causes diarrhea. Hydrocodone causes constipation. The result was a state of blissful equilibrium, their side-effects fighting each other to a standstill.

I have seen the first sign of autumn. On the black walnut trees that ring my house like lonely sentinels black walnut trees, here and there on their palmate leaves, a single leaflet has turned yellow. Not many, yet, just a scattering over each tree.
3 comments|post comment

Tiny cannon. [06 Aug 2010|10:17pm]
[ mood | awake ]

via Metafilter.

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I can still read the writing on the wall [06 Aug 2010|09:05am]
[ mood | hopeful ]

I've been watching a grain index ETN, JJG, bounce off an invisible bottom at around 33 for the past year and a half. A couple of months ago it started to rise sharply. Now I discover why. It's wheat. Wheat futures are soaring because Russia has been experiencing the worst drought in 100 years. Wheat fields are actually catching fire and burning.

Yesterday Putin announced that all wheat exports until the end of the year are canceled. Even existing contracts are not being honored. Near term wheat futures were up limit yesterday.

My beaten and bruised MON Jan 11 and Jan 12 LEAPS, also known as the Long Call Position of the Sorrows, have actually started to wake and move. Is it too much to hope that my SSW and DSX might also benefit? If the Old World can't buy wheat from Russia, it must buy it from overseas, and they don't ship wheat in airplanes.

I am buying AGU, CF, ADM, POT, and CAT at the open. On margin.

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Breaking Bad [05 Aug 2010|11:15am]
[ mood | bouncy ]

Breaking Bad is a drama-comedy about a Casper Milquetoast of a character, Walter White, a nerdy middle-aged high school chemistry teacher, who through accident, cleverness, courage, and desperation, winds up as a methamphetamine drug lord.

The show has had three seasons so far, with a fourth scheduled. I've watched the first season. Breaking Bad is often fun, but not quite as good as it should be. Timing and pace are frequently off. Setting alternates between Walter's conventional suburban life and the drug-addled underworld into which he plunges. The drug-addled underworld is colorful, violent, exciting, and has great music and brisk editing. Walter's suburban life frequently drags. Teachable moment: the way to depict dullness is not to be dull.

The writing is not quite as clever as it should be. When a drug boss to whom he is trying to sell meth asks Walter his name, Walter replies, "Heisenberg." Sorry, that joke was stale decades ago. Dialog is frequently uninteresting. One-line jokes are stretched to fill a ten minute scene. Conflict often seems trumped up to fill plot dead time.

I notice from the Wikipedia entry that the show has won several Emmys, and that critics have raved about its acting, writing and editing. Acting, sure. Writing and editing? Nope, sorry.

One annoyance: the director opted to shoot indoor scenes with hand-held camera and no Steadicam. Result: shots constantly jiggle around the frame. Irritating and distracting. Lay down some tracks, please.

The show excels in set and costume design. It's sort a Queer Eye for gangsta learners and student meth users.

I had an overdose patient in the ER a few nights ago whose sartorial style reminded me a lot of Jesse Pinkman, a meth cook who goes into business with Walter. His hoodie was a LV-style print featuring dollar signs, skulls, hearts and guns. Here's a photo of his hat:

Breaking Bad definitely has its moments, but there's too much clumsiness and too many blown scenes to wade through to get to them. I'll be skipping the second season, and heading back to anime for a while.

2 comments|post comment

Smoky Violet [31 Jul 2010|05:46am]
[ mood | determined ]

I'm shopping for smartphones. No, I don't have one yet. Get off my lawn.

Browsing the Verizon Wireless website, I notice that the BlackBerry® Curve™ 8530 smartphone in Black is rated by users 3 1/2 stars. The BlackBerry® Curve™ 8530 smartphone in Smoky Violet is rated 4 stars. Same features. Same price. Same phone.

Well, that does it. I'm re-naming the POV character in my current wip 'Smoky Violet'. I'm titling the novel 'Smoky Violet'. I may name the character's home town 'Smoky Violet', and their favorite anime or Touhou character 'Smoky Violet'.

This is going to be a challenge, because the character isn't a stripper or a porn star, and is, well, actually sort of male.

But dammit, it's a tough market out there, and I need every edge I can get.

9 comments|post comment

Nostalgic for the future [30 Jul 2010|10:10pm]
[ mood | nostalgic ]

In the future, all women will be hot. So will all men.

Okay, so this is a trivial observation. But consider: genetic engineering is going lickety-split. In the not-too-distant future, we all may be able to choose what we look like. And who wouldn't choose to be hot?

Will we all look like pulp SF covers?

See, the definition of 'hot' isn't stable. It changes with every generation. Fashions of body and face change with glacial slowness, far, far more slowly than clothing fashions. But they do change.

If there had been pulp SF covers in Tokugawa Japan, the future's girls with guns might have looked like this:

But in two hundred years, the meaning of 'hot' has shifted a good bit.

I don't know what those LA police recruits (previous post) are going to look like in 2200. I wouldn't be surprised by anything. They will look back on today's Cosmo covers and advertising art, and think the people depicted look as strange and alien as a ukiyo-e courtesan.

1 comment|post comment

Girls with guns [29 Jul 2010|11:17pm]
[ mood | enthralled ]


posted here, who got it from here.

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[26 Jul 2010|02:37am]
[ mood | sad ]

John Callahan, quadriplegic cartoonist, is dead at age 59.

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The Devil, the proud spirit, cannot endure to be mocked. - Thomas More [23 Jul 2010|09:45pm]
[ mood | ecstatic ]

Comic-Con vs. Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.


I don't understand the 'Magnets' protest sign, though. Is there some connection between Fred Phelps and the juggalos that I am unaware of?

4 comments|post comment

I seem to be a rounding error [17 Jul 2010|08:53pm]
[ mood | annoyed ]

90 percent of particles in the universe are hydrogen, and the other 10 percent are helium. Everything else, including 6 million billion billion kilograms of Earth, is a cosmic rounding error.
—Sam Kean, in The Disappearing Spoon

Sam, it's even worse than that. Most matter in the universe isn't even hydrogen or helium, it's dark matter, whatever the hell that is. WIMPs, or something even more exotic.

Proponents of ID/Creationism sometimes say that the universe must have been created for humankind because it is so well fitted for human life. Obviously this is nonsense. 99.99+% of the universe is wildly unfit for human life, unimaginably alien, inimical, and lethal.

Well. The next obvious question must surely be: if the universe wasn't created for humanity, who was it created for? Or, if you don't believe in creation, what sort of being would evolve to live in such a place?

I have my own ideas about that, and a 12k of outline towards a novel, but it's going to have to wait on the 14k outline towards my current WIP.
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Moe meets management [15 Jul 2010|09:28am]
[ mood | amused ]

38-year-old Takeshi Ueno, came into a staff meeting waving a book about baseball with the picture of a gamine schoolgirl on the cover. It had the clunky title: "What if the Female Manager of a High-School Baseball Team read Drucker's 'Management'". Mr Ueno told his staff to read it...

As news of the novel travelled from office to café to home, its sales topped 1m. According to the publisher, the cutesy manga cover was aimed more at attracting salarymen than women. Yet almost half of the buyers have been female. What’s more, sales for [Peter] Drucker’s original works, such as “Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices”, published in 1973, have soared...

The unlikely catalyst for this cultish enthusiasm is a fictional teenager called Minami. Like many high-school girls in Japan, she becomes the gofer for the baseball team’s male coach. Unlike many of her compatriots, she is the kind of girl, as the book says, who leaps before she looks. Horrified by the team’s lack of ambition, she sets it the goal of reaching the high-school championships. She stumbles upon Drucker’s 1973 book, and it helps her turn the rabble into a team.

I'd watch that.

Full story at The Economist.
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