Sunday, September 12, 2010

New poem: If I Die

If I Die

If I die of boredom,
let me lay in plain, brown dirt.
No stone, no box, no flowers.
Just earth and me,
worms and water,
roots and rocks.
Naked, prostrate, hands at sides.
Ten feet deep, please.

If I die of thirst,
bury me inside a tree,
sealed in scratchy bark.
Upside down, toes pointed up
toward Mosquito Moon.
Eyes sealed with moss.
A willow, maybe. I'm too far
removed from royalty for oak.

If I never die,
plant me in a chair. My old,
soft La-Z-Boy. Or the leather couch
we first made out on. The one
that palms your ass
like a catcher's mitt.
Facing East.
Towards the rising sun

Saturday, September 11, 2010


[wrote this poem three years ago. just re-found it. so...]


When the ocean gasped and fled
we were left with many dead

That Wednesday (Thursday in Japan)
when the sea just up and ran
the fishermen in fallen hulls
had one or two good raking days
of harvest. Bloated gulls
were everywhere and gorged
on mundane bass and trout
and monstrous, deep trench horrors,
eye-stalks poking out
of yellow, running beaks.

What had been beach
is now just sandy path between
two dirt worlds.
No spray, no salt, no scene
but earthy, constant fixity.

And you won't sing for me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My entry in the BoingBoing "Back to School" art competition

BoingBoing is having a "Back to School" art competition. You're supposed to take something that traditionally lives in the digital world (ie, on a computer or video game or what not) and render it using traditional, analog media. I thought about what I associate with computers... and the "progress bar" came to mind. Otherwise known as the "loading bar." Thus, the pics below. Click on 'em to see 'em bigger.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Prufrock out loud

OK. Two people I know (and respect very deeply) have now told me that they dislike T.S. Eliot, and, in particular, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock."

That is unacceptable.

In one case, it is because of a crappy high-school teacher. So there are negative associations. In another, it's because of being exposed to a recording of Eliot reading the piece himself; and, I agree, he isn't a good reader, even of his own work. He's rather monotonic and it all comes out sounding kinda the same.

Back at Cornell, I spent some considerable time preparing for a live reading of Prufrock. It's been what... 23 years or so... but I thought, in the cause of helping two people get, maybe, a bit closer to enjoying the work, it might be helpful to have an alternate reading available.

So... you know who you are. If this helps, fantastic. If it doesn't... well, it was fun to revisit the reading.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

It's talk like that which leads to plague, Ribblesdale.

[from the "many years ago and I just found this again on my hard drive while backing stuff up" department]

While visiting the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. with wife, stuffed ape and friend Neil, we had much joy viewing the works of John Singer Sargent. One of his large portraits was of an English peer, standing around in hunting regalia (see attached JPG). When Neil checked the title, he saw that it was a picture of “Lord Ribblesdale.” Neil promptly began to channel the spirit of the dead Lord and discovered that as a boy, Little Lord R. had been the subject of merciless derision at the hands of his headmaster. In order to free Ribblesdale’s spirit from this mortal coil, we (me and Neil) determined that we must “discover” all of the cruel taunts heaped upon the boy. Neil and I managed to scour the ghostly ether for the first 20 below, and the rest were later added to via email from fellow spiritualists the world over.

* * * * *

At last! The spirit of Lord Ribblesdale has been freed. The help of many kind folks has helped to ease the troubled shade of this 19th century British aristocrat. Here are the dismal pronouncements of Lord R's headmaster; the channeling of which has brought about a pleasing conclusion to Our Friend's time as an ectoplasmic haunt:

The original 20:

1. That's not for you, Ribblesdale!

2. Stop picking at it, Ribblesdale. You'll only make it worse.

3. Your father can't protect you here, Ribblesdale!

4. Ribblesdale! Front and center!

5. I don't care how much it hurts, Ribblesdale: stand up straight!

6. May we continue, Ribblesdale? Or aren't you quite finished?

7. I know you're aching for the scrum, Ribblesdale, but there'll be no rugby until you've scraped the gromulets clean!

8. Sleeping again, Ribblesdale? Well, it's the Beltine for you!

9. Hawthorne's already confessed, Ribblesdale.

10. You're a sorry excuse for a wee man, Ribblesdale.

11. What would the Queen say, Ribblesdale, if she could see you thus?

12. No more bread pudding for Ribblesdale. It's braken for him all week.

13. Back in the steeple, Ribblesdale, until you've done it right!

14. Don't change the subject, Ribblesdale. We were discussing your doom.

15. Well, well, well. Ribblesdale's human after all.

16. Class! Please observe Ribblesdale's effort. It should serve as a warning to us all.

17. Ten means ten, Ribblesdale! Not nine and a bit of skin!

18. Why should I concern myself with your survival, Ribblesdale?

19. No excuses, Ribblesdale! Find that boar!

20. It's talk like that which leads to plague, Ribblesdale.

21. And now for the final chunk, Ribblesdale:

22. It's the THINKING CHAIR for you, Ribblesdale.

23. Ribblesdale, you mangy excuse for a human.

24. Ribblesdale, Mr. Peanut needs a word with you.

25. You call those hands clean, Ribblesdale? More pumice!

26. Finish that plate of tripe, Ribblesdale. It's all you've got left.

27. Ribblesdale, what about the children???...They're so confused.

28. You smell of Stilton, Ribblesdale. You may as well be dead.

29. Don't deny me, Ribblesdale -- our fate binds us to this course!

30. Forgiveness, Ribblesdale? The irony makes me choke!

31. Eternity in hell is a tea interval compared to your company, Ribblesdale!

32. You've over-cleaned again, Ribblesdale. Return the dust to the firedogs.

33. Look, everyone! Ribblesdale has discovered his girlish charm!

34. This job calls for a wee, nancy little man, Ribblesdale. You're not up to it, yet.

35. Keep wheezing, Ribblesdale. I'm sure you'll get your second wind someday.

36. Find the artifact, Ribblesdale, and your medication will be returned to you.

37. I'd pitty you, Ribblesdale, but I don't have the energy.

38. There'll be the duece to pay, Ribblesdale, if it makes the papers !

39. It will be the salt mines for you, Ribblesdale!

40. Hmmm, Ribblesdale and Hawthorne . . . Hawthorne and Ribblesdale . . .

41. That's what they call it in the Army, Ribblesdale!

42. Sing all you want, Ribblesdale, it won't get you out of the dance!

43. Stop that bleeding, Ribblesdale!

44. And just who do think will believe THAT, Ribblesdale?

45. Whatever makes you think that you have to have two, Ribblesdale?

46. Your Mum doesn't work here, Ribblesdale. Man the pumps yourself.

47. Oh, we'll surely run that up the flagpole, Ribblesdale.

48. This time you've really split your knickers, Ribblesdale.

49. Anybody'd think that you were the first student who ever fell all the way to the bottom, Ribblesdale.

50. Is your name Ribblesdale or Clydesdale, young man?

51. You really try an old Headmaster's patience, Ribblesdale. Put down those crutches and report to the scullery this minute!

52. So the stove exploded while you were cleaning it, Ribblesdale? Hair is not essential to life!

53. Last night's Brusell sprouts is no excuse, Ribblesdale. We all know you did it.

54. Cease the carping, Ribblesdale? You've really dashed it this time!

55. Buck up Ribblesdale! Only fifty pounds left to peel.

56. Ribblesdale! That's only America's second favorite white meat!

57. Stop that at once, Ribblesdale, or I shall bring out the cat again.

58. Cheese was never intended for such uses, Ribblesdale.

59. Cease your sniffling and get back in the barrel, Ribblesdale.

60. Not now Ribblesdale. Wait until the cattle are finished.

61. You must write home and inform your mother how fortunate you were to have fallen on your head, Ribblesdale

62. Ten centuries of Ribblesdales, ending in you. What a sorry finish.

63. You give aristocracy a bad name, Ribblesdale

64. You give inbreeding a bad name, Ribblesdale

65. Thank you, Ribblesdale, for being kind enough to demonstrate for us yet another noble use for the human nose

66. Ribblesdale! Biscuits for you there shall be none!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Iron Man 2 not as bad as they say

Still, not great. But I saw it get panned worse than Transformers 2, and... that's just not fair.

Besides, it made me think about "Dune," which I've reread recently. And how one unstoppable being may be able to challenge not just the bad guys, but the entire status quo.

Give it maybe a C+.

Definitely want an entire movie where we get to see Scarlet Johannson kick more butt.

No deep thoughts tonight. Sorry. Too tired.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Always-on Web required to play single player game? WTF?

I only heard about about Ubisoft's new DRM scheme after it got cracked. But it just blows my mind.

For those of you who don't game (or don't play in worlds where copyright is a hot topic), DRM = Digital Rights Management. It's a catch-all for any technology used to (try to) keep people from pirating digital content of any sort. You find it on DVDs, CDs, CD-ROMs, eBooks, various audio files, etc. etc. Often, DRM schemes require some kind of authentication to restrict use of the material to one (or some finite number) piece of equipment. For example, when you purchase eBooks from many companies, you have to unlock the file on your eBook reader, smart phone, etc. with a code or connection to a server. The system verifies your device and unlocks the content. You can then read the book, listen to the song, play the game... whatever.

Over the past decade, using the Internet for DRM registration has become possible. Basically, you buy a game (either on a CD, DVD or as a download), and then your computer talks to the game publisher's computer over the Internet and unlocks the game.

This is a big pain in the ass for gamers who do not have an Internet connection. I know that doesn't seem like it would be a lot of people, but it's still quite a few. It also means you can't play the game, even if you have Internet access, on a second computer in your house that's not hooked up. I know a number of families where the gaming and entertainment rig (used by the kids) is kept separate from the official family Web computer, which is used by the grown-ups and for monitored access by the kids for studying, etc.

So it's a pain. As is all DRM. I don't think piracy is good/right, but as someone who doesn't mind paying for content, it's a huge pain. I bought a bunch of eBooks, for example, on the Mobipocket platform over the past 10 years, as it works on Palm and WinMobile devices. Now that I use a Droid... not so much. I can't read any of those 30-or-so books on my current phone. Because Mobipocket hasn't released an Android client and the eBook files are all locked. My wife is not reading one of the series I bought on my old phone (which is no longer a phone). But that's cold comfort.

So along comes Ubisoft and figures out a *better* way to really piss off its customers: a DRM scheme that requires you to be connected constantly to the Web while playing the game. Mind you... these are *single player* games! You against the machine. WTF?

Oh, and games are saved on their servers, not on your hard drive. Which, I guess makes sense, since you can't play the game without being connected to their servers.

At some point, publishers are just going to figure out that their losses from pissing people off with inane DRM (for example, I'm never buying another Mobipocket book) are greater than their losses from piracy. Since DRM doesn't stop pirates anyway.

Cheeses my grits, is what it does.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Flowers for Alcatraz

Spoiler alert: if you haven't read the book "Flowers for Algernon" or seen the movie "Control" and want to be surprised at all by either, stop reading now.

One of the things I love about Netflix is how I now watch all kinds of movies I never would have before; both via DVD delivery and (even more so) via the "Watch Instantly" service. When you're standing in a RL video store and are confronted with what is assuredly a pretty bad movie at a cost of $2-5 to rent, plus the pain-in-the-ass of bringing it back... no soap, polar bear. I've turned around and walked out of Blockbuster empty handed dozens of times because I couldn't justify the cost-to-value ratio of any of the junk I saw.

Now? Bring on the junk. I've already paid my monthly subscription. And if I can't sleep because I'm waiting for my migraine meds to kick in, and need to do something brainless yet mildly attention-keeping... Netflix Watch Instantly. B-Movie opium on my computer or Xbox.

Which leads me to the film "Control," starring Ray Liotta and Willem Dafoe with smaller roles played by Stephen Rea and Michelle Rodriguez.

There are some actors I will watch in anything. Willem Dafoe is one of them. I just like him. I'm not claiming he's awesome or anything. But I just dig the guy's vibe. There are other actors who turn me off entirely. Ray Liotta is one of them. His presence in this film alone would have dissuaded me from picking up the box in a Blockbuster. Stephen Rea is a wash, as I think he has a certain charm... but not much acting ability. And Michelle Rodriguez maybe adds 5% interest as she has pretty eyes.

Note: the one actor who will ENTIRELY keep me from seeing a movie is Eric Roberts. I refuse to see anything with that man in it. Period. There's just something about him that makes me feel like if I have to watch him for more than 30 seconds I'll end up with hepatitis. I will admit that I saw "Batman: Dark Knight," which had him in it, but I didn't know about it ahead of time. Same with "Phat Girlz." Anyway...

So during my most recent migraine med waiting period, I streamed "Control." And I actually liked Ray Liotta in it. Which surprised the crud out of me. I was prepared to turn the thing off after 15 minutes because of my dislike for Ray. But he was playing a psychopathic killer (go figure) pretty well (go figure) and Willem kept me interested.

Here's the whole plot in 29 words. Sociopathic killer saved from execution by kindly doctor working on anti-aggressiveness drug gradually mellows out only to discover his transformation was predicated on a placebo and then dies.

I was reminded of the book "Flowers for Algernon," which I had to read three times in junior high. In that book, a mentally handicapped man is given a drug that makes him smart. For awhile. Then he goes back to the way he was, and we (young readers) are left with questions of morality, remorse, value and pets.

If you are standing in Blockbuster, I would still recommend you leave "Control" on the shelf. It ain't worth $3 and the cost of gas to return it. But if you can stream it, go ahead. I'd give it a solid "C" for "I shoulda 'C'-een the ending coming from a mile away."

Oh. Wait. If you read this far then you probably won't want to see it now anyway.

God love the Internet.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In which I change the plot of "Avatar" by less than 15% and improve it at least 250%

I keep coming back to "Avatar" in my head. Partly because new people in my life keep seeing it and then asking me what I think. They do this for a couple reasons: 1) I'm the avowed hard-core sci-fi buff of my crowd, and; 2) I write.

I was initially going to write three reviews of "Avatar." The first was the "the plot kinda sucks and is old and kinda sucks" review, which would give the movie a "B-" grade. The second was going to be the fanboi version that salivated all over the effects for an "A-." The third was going to be a semi tongue-in-cheek post-modern review in which the experience of being immersed in a 3D, CGI movie was linked to the plot of the film -- in that the main character is immersed in a 3D, CGI rig. The triumph of the "Avatar Man" over the "Military Man" was to be read as a fable of the triumph of social networking and technology over war, strife, bombs, bad acting and the obligatory, unrelated, "gimme" song that played over the credits.

Instead, what I'm going to do is improve the plot of the movie by around 250% by changing less than 15% of what happens on screen.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't seen the movie and want to be surprised, or if you think Cameron may take my ideas and re-issue the movie with my improved plot, STOP READING NOW.

OK. This won't make any sense if you haven't seen the movie, but here we go.

Setup: Same as before. Jake takes over his brother's Avatar in order to live among the blue people.

Background (revealed in conversation): Pandora was initially explored because our sensors picked up signature radiation from Unobtainium, an element that provides almost limitless power with no harmful waste. Earth is dying from a lack of energy to grow food, clean the water, etc. Unobtainium will provide the answer.

More background (revealed when Jake gets to Pandora): Turns out there's only traces of Unobtainium, but that the Pandoran's ability to commune with nature may be another way to save earth. Studying the race becomes much more important than mining. Military isn't needed to guard mining operations, but are waiting for the next ship to go back to Earth.


When, however, he is finally inducted into the tribe and gets to hang out under the Mother Tree -- whose yammayamma flux radiation whatsis makes scanners unable to penetrate the area -- he (or Sigourney... doesn't matter) discover that the tree has been "hiding" an enormous deposit of Unobtainium. It's all bunched up in the roots of the tree. Theory proposed by Siourney: the powers of the Pandorans and the tree come from proximity to Unobtainium!

Military Guy finds out about this and determines to take the Unobtainium back to earth to either be a power source, and/or fuel a renaissance of Eco-psychic power stuff, either of which would save the earth. IMPORTANT: Military Guy is NOT a total dick, he just wants to save Earth and its children. This wasn't at all stated in the actual plot, and the desire for the Magic Rock seemed to be only greed. Not as good a motive from a plot standpoint, especially stacked against genocide.


Military guy tries to get the Unobtainium, Jake helps the tribe protect the tree. The three has to survive, though. Why? Because, in the end, Jake -- upon successfully defending the tribe and tree -- communes with the All Mother and she reveals to him the place where the pods (spores, whatever) for Baby Trees can be found, and that rather than the trees living off Unobtainium, they actually PRODUCE it in the presence of an intelligence that values the whole ecosystem. IE, the tree gives off good junk when taken care of. We get the idea (from Jake's tree-mama dream vision) that if Jake et al can take the pod/spore/nut/seed/thing back to Earth, it will grow, produce Unobtainium, and begin the process of allowing humans to have eco-psychic powers.

So... how does that improve the plot:

  1. It gives the humans a decent reason to be spending huge time, effort and money on studying the Pandorans. In the original, it seemed like, "Why do they care? If they're just after the Unobtainium, why not just nuke the blue guys? It's a 12-year round trip to earth; that argues that anything brought to Pandora has to have a serious function besides pure research. Making the understanding of this culture preeminent to the success of the mission elevates the whole Avatar process from "side show" to "big top."

  2. It gives the human "bad guys" a reasonable excuse for genocide. Is this the first non-human intelligent race we've discovered? (not counting mice and dolphins, of course). That's a HUGE DEAL. Just going blam-blam willy nilly because their tree is sitting on top of expensive stuff is insanely juvenile. Bad guys with a decent moral reason (save the earth children) to be bad are more interesting than greedy bad guys.

  3. It makes saving the tree and the Pandorans an actual happy ending rather than a deferred tragedy. Why do I say the original ending was a deferred tragedy? Because if Unobtainium is expensive enough to warrant a 12 year round-trip interstellar jaunt, it's worth coming back for with a space ship full of neutron bombs or poison gas. Still need/want the expensive junk? Check. Still don't care about genocide? Check. Well, gas 'em from space. We'll see if the big birds can suck vacuum.

  4. It makes the point that good things come from the environment when you take care of it and cultivate (sorry) a relationship with the entire ecosystem. You CAN'T (long term) get Unobtainium by killing the tree; it's the goose that laid the sci-fi egg. You have to respect the tree, live with it, and then you get the good stuff.

We get to keep the majority of the movie intact, see? All the "learning from the Pandorans" stuff (which is cool) and all the fight scenes (which are cool) get to stay. All I'm asking for is a bit more ramp-up in terms of rationale for the expedition and Bad Guy behavior, and then a little more pay-off in terms of why doing the Good Thing produces good results.

I would see my version of the movie again. And I'd cry at the part when the general, just before dying, finds out that Jake can take the Mother Tree Nut home and save the earth.

As it is, I probably won't see "Avatar" again, or buy the DVD. There's not enough "there" there to warrant repeat viewings, and the mushy plot decisions made me feel like he should have spend $100,000 less on effects and $25,000 more on some script consulting.

Next time, James... call me first.