Archive for December, 2003

The Midnight Disease

Wednesday, December 31st, 2003

Holiday of the day: Happy New Year, everyone, and be sure to bum a few free rides on the T after 8pm!

St. Ignatius hasn’t helped me much yet, but after mailing off my latest Writers of the Future entry, I skimmed a new writing book at Brookline Booksmith: The Midnight Disease. Local neurologist Alice Flaherty tries to explain the biological basis of creativity, using insights gained from her own bouts of hypergraphia.

The author uses the association of creativity with epilepsy and manic depression to trace the creative spirit to particular locations in the brain. I skipped the intermediate chapters on writer’s block to get to the elusive muse. While she mentioned Julian Jaynes’ theories as well as the idea that the muse is the unconscious mind, her own position seemed to be that the muse is the unrecognized interior voice, not unlike the one that tells schizophrenics to kill kill kill.

Accepting for the moment that non-muse writing also comes from the writer’s inner monologue, it’s not clear to me how that voice is supposed to become something…alien. So the inner voice explanation has the same problems as the unconscious explanation - why is our unconscious or internal monologue sometimes recognizable as our own, and sometimes alien enough to call it a muse?

The trouble with scientific explanations is that they leave these basic issues unexplained, giving us only tautologies like the survival of the fittest.

Hallucination on Demand

Tuesday, December 30th, 2003

Geek fad of the day: CSS in RSS
Beagle news of the day: the foxhole theory

I was thinking of storyboarding my stories to help with my description problems. (Description is one of those skills fanfic doesn’t give you.) I probably got the idea from the storyboard extra feature on the Sixth Sense DVD. However, I found an entirely different approach to the visualization problem on rasfc (rec.arts.sf.composition) - read St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises for tips on rolling your own hallucinations.

Technically his advice is for visualizing the Passion, but apparently it works just as well for visualizing alien worlds and bloody space battles. (I don’t believe in space battles, but that’s a whole other issue.) I’ll have to try to spiritually exercise my brain for my next story.

Making Criminals

Monday, December 29th, 2003

FAQ of the day: The Mac DVD Resource FAQ
Kernel hack of the day: PowerBook fan fix

I’m up to Season 4 of Stargate, which, thanks to Veronica, I have on DVD. This is the most action my mac’s built-in DVD player has seen since I borrowed Contact from Dr. Deb. Even though I have no foreign region DVD’s, I’ve begun to wonder about nasty built-in DVD annoyances, like the FBI warning and trailers you can’t fast-forward past - just because I’m a geek. I also wanted to take a couple of screenshots for the Repository, but the OS disables Grab (the mac screen capper) when the DVD player is running.

There are software and firmware hacks out there to nullify or reset the region code on a mac. The best way I discovered to skip the FBI warning or take a screenshot, however, was with VLC. VLC avoids the normal DVD hardware restrictions by reading and decoding the DVD at the software level. Presto, screenshots!

The only trouble is, it may be illegal in the US. I own the Stargate DVD’s and the mac and the mac’s DVD player, and I’m not selling, ripping, or pirating anything, or making any money. And yet, VLC comes with a warning that using the decoding library may be a violation of the DMCA. So without doing a single thing that any reasonable person would consider wrong, immoral or fattening, I could have broken a law by downloading and running VLC, provided I did so. Nothing in this blog entry should be taken as an admission of guilt.

When I took a Peter Pan bus to an undisclosed location in Connecticut, the driver said that smoking was prohibited by federal law and that cell phones should be used only in an emergency. What constituted an emergency - say, the bus going off an overpass - was not specified. When I took the Bonanza bus to and from Fall River to see Mom, the driver firmly declared that smoking, drinking (alcoholic beverages), and cell phoning were absolutely forbidden on the bus. There are only two or three places in all of Massachusetts where it’s legal to smoke, so that law was familiar to the patrons. It was Bonanza, not Greyhound, so the likelihood of people getting drunk on the bus was low to begin with. The likelihood of people cell-phoning despite the absolute cell-phone ban was about the likelihood of people cell-phoning in the absence of cell-phone bans. I overheard a lengthy conversation in Portuguese as well as several other shameless cell calls.

The point being that when you make a law that’s extreme (people need to make cell phone calls from the bus to tell people they’re arriving - you don’t want to spend one extra minute hanging around the bus station in Fall River, believe me), senseless (I could converse with Veronica when she was with me, so why shouldn’t I be able to do it over the cell as well?) and impossible to obey (people have a Pavlovian drive to answer their cell phones), all you do is destroy what respect they may have had for the rule of law. When you make one law to be broken, all laws suffer. Next thing you know, they’ll be drinking beer on the bus, just because the driver forbade it in the same sentence as he did cell phones (and not nearly as emphatically).

There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted and you create a nation of law-breakers and then you cash in on guilt. –Atlas Shrugged

Idiots in Love

Sunday, December 28th, 2003

Feed frenzy of the day: anti-RSS feed discrimination

I had the opportunity to screen most of my mother’s chick flick collection recently, plus a couple of others here and there. They were all DVD’s someone actually thought were worth buying; in no case was that someone me. (I have no other directors beside M. Night Shyamalan.) The short story is: the oldest movie was the best one.

Notting Hill and What a Girl Wants were notable for their music-video sections. If I wanted a music video I’d watch MTV, thanks. Although there is one nice bit of camera work in Notting Hill where the seasons pass as Our Anti-hero is walking the streets of, presumably, Notting Hill, music-video interludes are mainly a directorial cop-out. If I’d sprung for the DVD I’d feel cheated at this sort of cheap filler. You can’t get away with playing a pop song instead of plotting the story in a novel, so feel free to dismiss my concerns as jealousy.

What a Girl Wants is Colin Firth; otherwise the movie was entirely undistinguished and the romance was just a subplot. Notting Hill was slightly better, though it did suffer from a touch of Idiot Plot. You recall the Idiot Plot. That’s the plot that would be solved in an instant if anyone on the screen said what was obvious to the audience. (Roger Ebert) The concept of an Idiot Plot goes back to scifi author James Blish: Any plot containing problems which would be solved instantly if all of the characters were not idiots. (See similar terms in the Turkey City Lexicon.)

Romantic comedies tend to feature a special brand of these Idiot Characters - people who would live happily ever after if they’d just stop acting like flaming idiots for five minutes straight. It’s hard to sympathize with Julia Roberts when she’s stomping all over the guy of her dreams, and the boy with the “kick me” sign on his back (Hugh Grant) only gets as much sympathy as he does because he’s pretty. At least it’s not hard to believe that a famous actress would be self-centered or a stereotypical Brit would be terminally self-effacing. The same can’t be said for Four Weddings and a Funeral, in which hapless Hugh gets himself caught up in Andie MacDowall’s drive to ruin her own life and those of everyone around her. The four weddings and one funeral don’t provide nearly enough character background to justify this level of idiocy.

Julia Roberts does better as a pining third wheel in America’s Sweethearts, mainly because she’s the sane one waiting for the Romantic Lead to get a clue. The major protagonists of idiocy are Catherine Zeta-Jones and John Cusack. Once again, Our Male Lead gets sympathy only for being cute, and the movie is funny only because of supporting cast members like Billy Crystal, Seth Green, and of course, her Julianess.

Speaking of Catherine Zeta-Jones, I didn’t detect even a smidgen of chemistry between her and Sean Connery in Entrapment. Maybe it’s that he’s old enough to be her great-grandfather, or maybe it’s that I never thought he was particularly cute. So he gets no sympathy from me, not even when he’s about to plunge off the Big Bank Building to a terminal-velocity death. (This was a Thomas Crown Affair rip-off with the same romantic subplot.) The end did surprise me, though.

The Wedding Planner started off so well, with very nice camera work and some snappy dialogue when Our Wedding Planner discovers that her new flame is also a customer. Unfortunately, like so many romantic comedies before it, this one gets bogged down in the middle when Our Characters must act like idiots to keep the movie going long enough to fill the required DVD space. The plot quickly degenerates into cliches, including the poorly done Italian family of the non-bride and her imported fiance. Matthew McConaughey gets by on his looks.

The thing all these romantic rejects have in common is the idiot characters. Maybe the target chick audience is supposed to believe that you can be an idiot and live happily ever after, too. Not being an idiot myself, I just can’t identify with Idiot Love. I prefer a real, live plot involving interesting, non-idiot characters, like Moonstruck. On the surface, it seems to have the same plot as several of the others - someone is engaged to the wrong person when the right person comes along - but Cher doesn’t get bogged down in slapstick and stupidity. There’s no pining away after anybody or sacrificing anybody’s happiness for the sake of the idiot who happened to propose first.

And, of course, everyone lives happily ever after.

Gratuitous Temari Post

Saturday, December 27th, 2003

Here are some gratuitous Temari shots. I made the kiri (chysanthemum) pattern on eight divisions, done two different ways on the two sides of the obi (belt around the middle). The green thread under the embroidery is DMC variegated tatting thread.
full frontal temari obi shot

Filking Season

Friday, December 26th, 2003

Badfic of the day: Bad Coffee by Miss Alena Louis Watts, Warren, Me. (1916)

Unlike Seema, I haven’t heard the dreaded Christmas Shoes carol, nor have I seen the movie. The songs of the season drive Veronica batty, but I don’t mind them. They’re easy enough to tune out after the first thousand renditions of Silent Night.

‘Twas the season to be filky, but now that I’m semi-retired I even ignored a challenge to filk a Stargate Christmas carol. Most of the good carols are already filks of old German drinking songs or of Greensleeves, so why refilk them? A filk is just a song about an unusual topic set to a stolen tune. Though the usual topic is science fiction or fantasy, deities being born under strange circumstances certainly qualifies.

But of course now the party’s over; the filking season will return at its regularly scheduled time next Thanksgiving. Until then, you might want to tune in to Filk Radio.

Lost Another One?

Thursday, December 25th, 2003

Mars is the Bermuda Triangle of space. The Beagle may have landed, but its call could not be completed as dialed. As of this evening, Beagle’s second phone call had also failed.

Why is it so stunningly difficult to land on Mars? No one has major problems with Venus (a favorite destination of the Soviets), Jupiter, or Saturn. If you look into it, the history of Mars missions reads like a Ray Bradbury story. The only logical explanation for these weird disappearances of entire spacecraft is that the Martians don’t want us there.

Cue Twilight Zone music…


Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

Rug state: on hold with most of the medallion done

I should have been born Japanese. Not only am I hopelessly addicted to sushi, but I’m also crazy enough to make temari in my spare time. I found my old temari supply hoard and started wrapping styrofoam balls and poking pins into them again.

At first I wanted to try something seasonal and sophisticated, a snowflake ball, but the flakes required too much embroidery - I hate crewel with a passion. So I switched my already-prepared complex 10 base over to the swirl pattern. That wasn’t going well, either; the instructions were somewhat unclear and, like the flake embroidery, annoyingly imprecise. I think the result looks messy, so the purple ball is back in the temari box.

Despite my temari experience, I think I ought to back off from the fancy balls, go back to Temari 101 and make a simple kiku.

Crafts at the Pru

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

I’m sure I’ve noticed before that the Star Market at the Prudential Center has gone missing, but it’s still a shock. I expected groceries, and instead I got an unexpected holiday craft fair. It’s outdoors, but otherwise a vast improvement over the anemic Harvard Square Craft Fair. Most of the stuff at the Pru is imported, though there are a few genuine craftspeople hawking their own wares, like the bookmark guy.

I noticed that the felted wool bags that my friend in NYC knows how to make are in this year. I didn’t buy anything, but I consoled myself for the loss of Star Market by window-shopping, then continued on my way. Sorry I forgot to blog about it last night, but there are still plenty of last minutes left for you last-minute shoppers.

‘Tis the Season

Sunday, December 21st, 2003

Weird science link of the day: Sunspots and Stradivarius
Boston link of the day: I Hate Boston, a displaced Midwesterner’s blog

If you saw thirty people in Santa hats staggering around town last night, that was my lovely sister Veronica and her crowd celebrating the Twelve Bars of Christmas. It’s a simple holiday tradition you can practice in any city with the required infrastructure - you visit twelve bars in one night. It’s the high point of the holiday season for Veronica - although New Year’s has the advantage of being after all the nuttiness is over.

I’m trying to convince Veronica to start her own blog. There’s a topic she could corner the market on, if she and her associates move fast. Blog, girl, blog!