Archive for category journal

Interactive Writing Conf – Autumn 2014

I want to put together an interactive writing conference, in an unlikely place. I have looked into the future, and it is will have been having going to happened, so I know it will shall have worked out, but not yet.

Do you know how I should get the thing started. Does it take some sort of LLC to reserve a venue, or can you just do it with phone calls and emails. Would you be available to show up, a year from now, plus or minus.

Might I invite everyone I can, and who else can be there, and how do you do a conference, in a year?

I’ve seen that it is has was been happened, but it still could not happen. But, it might have been actually did.

4-dimensionally,

Rob

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Doctor Who 50th Anniversary

Dr Who 50th Anniversary

Well, Steven Moffat swung for the fences and tried to write the Doctor Who episode of his life. He had a lot invested in it.

It turned out to be the best multiple-Doctor episode in the series history.

My one-quote comment, that I’ve been working on for a couple of hours now, is thus:

“That really was very good. That was really, really, very good. Indeed. With all “very”s pronounced in Tom Baker’s voice, as ‘veddy’. Looking forward to seeing it in 3D at the cinema next Monday night.”

Cheers, be seeing you

Rob

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For Uncle Al

2nd March 2o12
He

To all my Family,

I have not felt the pain of loss of a parent, or a spouse, but I do know the loss of someone inextricably wound into the fiber and pattern of my life. Someone closer to me than my dear Uncle Al–a childhood friend who did not make it to 40. It is a loss that still hurts.

I did not get to meet my Uncle Al past my infancy or early toddlerhood (at the latest). He appears in none of our home movies, and in precious few photographs. I always have understood how his professional career required him to live in another country most of his–and therefore my–life, but he was *always* a part of the family, actively, just as he still, in a new way, now, is. I wish, now, that we had spent a few minutes every family gathering that he could not attend sharing stories about him, that through hilarious anecdotes I could know him better, now.

My mother, who is a repository of family lore, has one favorite story about Uncle Al, that she often recounts; and I love to hear it, as it tells me so much about him. It goes like this:

At the Camp one summer, Uncle Al volunteers to do the grocery shopping. He returns with the beaming face of a little boy having procured the most awesome vegetable ever: a single head of broccoli, the size of a tree trunk, itself filling one whole paper grocery bag — the big kind. One can imagine him irresistably drawn to the most kingly stalk of broccoli in the world, delighted–while having no earthly idea how inedibly wooden a thing to cook for dinner the thing is going to be.

Smiling happily, having acquired vegetable awesomeness — that’s my Uncle Al!

I did get to hear Uncle Al’s voice on the phone, on one of my recent visits to the Camp. I was closest to the phone when he called for Aunt Kai. We spoke for fifteen seconds, but it was enough–to hear his voice, and to say hi–for it to be a small comfort now: Yes, we talked! How nice that is, how lucky. It makes perfect sense, in retrospect.

I searched my unconscious/pre-conscious memories — ie, I “let go” and just *felt* — just imagine-remembered — any and all feelings and impressions of my Uncle Al. I discovered definite avuncular feelings, fond and goofy, of this same man having chuckled with me, having read me a story, having rescued me from some bit of mischief or trouble that I was about to get into. A smiling face. Now being an uncle myself, to Andreas and Karen li, I know what an uncle’s affection feels like, and I always felt that from my Uncle Al, no matter how absent he was in person, from that time early on, until now.

Maybe, from Peter’s upcoming wedding on, we can use every family occasion from now on to share a few stories about Uncle Al, and about Grammy, and Grampy, and Winn Mayo, and indeed about all our family’s loved ones, and thus to help us all know them better, and love them always in the present tense, not in the past — because I know it will make them all still present with us, now and for ever after.

With love,

–Rob

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TV review – Dr Who (1996 tv movie)

I recently watched the 1996 television movie, the proposed pilot for a relaunch as a hybrid BBC-Hollywood venture, for the first time in a few years. It was much more interesting, and much less off-putting, to watch it now after having gotten used to the new series. In fact, it now looks remarkably fitting, square in place in the Doctor’s history (the only canonical adventure for the eighth Doctor, acquittably performed by Paul McGann) as a stepping stone, a bridge between the old series and the new.

Shot on film instead of video, with the full deployment of single-camera setups and post-production work, it resembles the new series more than it resembles the old. I was quite surprised, though, to see a lot of evidence that the new series’ production team seemed to have taken a good look at it and used what it thought were good ideas, and many elements from the 1996 movie continue on in the look and feel of the new show. The Tardis interior, for one—with its warm lighting, support framework around the console, the console itself being a collection of almost steampunk clickety gadgets, and, especially, a somewhat antiquated monitor hanging from an adjustable arm above the console—seems to have greatly informed the production design of the new series, and is quite comfortable to see in this earlier form. It feels like the same Tardis we know from Eccleston through Smith.

Other bits of look and feel that have a certain continuity to them are more meta: the opening credits show the Tardis spinning and whooshing through a time tunnel, as they have since Russell T. Davies took over; likewise, the names of the stars whoosh out, slow down to pause in place, and then whoosh on past the camera. I’ve gotten so used to that in the new series it was remarkable to see that the ‘96 movie did the same thing (albeit with a terrible, cheesy choice of typeface). Several times during the show we see the Tardis whooshing in space, out over the Earth or elsewhere, in the same manner we do these days; the Tardis may dematerialize upon takeoff, but it most definitely still spins around in the physical universe as it travels.

Then there’s Sylvester McCoy. As one notable Who-blogger noted at one point, in his opinion the oddest thing about the ‘96 movie was that McCoy was in it at all. That they were starting to try to do a new thing with the series was okay with him; it was weird that they wanted to preserve the continuity to this extent. My memory was that he was barely in it: drinking a cup of tea, then getting zapped somehow I couldn’t remember, then regenerating in a hospital morgue. In fact, McCoy has quite a substantial presence for the first 15 or 20 minutes. He has only 3 lines of dialogue, so it’s mostly a silent role, but what they give him to do is interesting.

One has to think that McCoy had the option, certainly, of refusing to have anything to do with the movie. Instead, he looked at the script, and thought, Oh, well, this might actually be worth doing. Could be fun. He does get one last crack at playing the Doctor, which he wanted to do when the original run was canceled. And so, we are treated to a proper exit of one Doctor, the death of the seventh, and a proper regeneration story for another, the eighth. I say proper because it all plays out remarkably like the way regenerations have been handled in the new series. If the story took place on Christmas instead of New Year’s Eve, and set in Cardiff instead of San Francisco, by squinting at it one can here and there believe it to be a Russell T. Davies type story, with a lot of the same feel to it.

McCoy walks out of the Tardis after an emergency landing and is pelted with machine gun fire the moment he does, taking him quite by surprise. The Doctor never gets mowed down with gunfire when he pops out of the Tardis, so one can forgive him for not expecting any such thing. The bullets have missed his vital organs, but once he gets to the hospital, he’s the victim of having an alien phsyiology that human medicine simply doesn’t understand. Driven by his natural willpower, for there’s something very dangerous going on that he wants to get up and take care of, he wakes several times on the operating table, and they give him incredible doses of anesthetic. Mistaking his double-heartbeat for a badly fibrillating single heartbeat, they give him enough electrical shocks in the chest to stop both of them from beating. Once in the morgue, he finally regenerates—no thanks to the anesthetic, which nearly kept him from doing so.

After this, we are treated to the usual amount of the Doctor running around completely addled, even amnesiac, and saying dotty things that weird people out, before he finally settles down into his newest personality and gets on with it. Like I said, it’s all very familiar, especially after having seen this happen in the new series a couple of times now. It’s all well done; one wishes for slightly more humor, but it’s more authentically Doctor Who, modern Doctor Who, than I remembered. It seemed so foreign at the time, and one blamed all sorts of things on the American-tv-ness of it, but the new series has made a lot of it digestable. Even the Doctor riding a motorcycle (which isn’t that crazy, since Pertwee’s Doctor loved zooming around in vehicles), now that Matt Smith has been seen commandeering a fire engine, or kissing his Martha-Jones-like companion—she’s a medical doctor—twice (now that Tennant and Smith have had brushes with such gestures of affection themselves).

In fact, the only thing I don’t like about the ‘96 movie—really don’t like, that is—is that the Doctor isn’t the agent of saving everything from destruction at the crucial moment. He doesn’t come up with a great, brilliant plan, he doesn’t rush around doing something cool just in the nick of time. When that moment comes, he’s shackled and inactive, and can do nothing more than scream impotently; his companion has to do the magic thingy, has to somehow know how to do it—and it requires rewiring the Tardis, making it an action plausible for the Doctor to do, and quite implausible for a random woman with medical school training to do. This lack of agency is a strange way to have written the thing. They wanted to show that the woman was a capable companion, I guess, but I don’t like a Doctor who doesn’t save the universe. I wish they hadn’t done that. Makes me want to re-edit the thing just to fix that part.

As for McGann himself, he’s got a good look (a bit Willy Wonka), a pleasant face, and a very strong voice that can go low when it gets loud. His Doctor does quite a bit of shouting, but the newer Doctors do that all the time, too. He is very much playing the same fellow as all the other Doctors, and his performance fits into the continuity as a bridge as well. Watching him, I can imagine him turning into Eccleston at the end of the Time War. In fact, it’s a bit sad to see him at the end of the episode—companionless, as his new doctor-friend decides not to come with him—alone and seemingly peaceful, but destined to face the worst and most traumatic events in the Doctor’s life, that will change him and how he relates to the Universe forever. In one of those fanficcy daydreams, it seems like it’d be nice to someday see the events of the Time War, and see McGann turn into Eccleston. I guess such a thing would only ever disappoint; we’re not meant to see those events, only hear about them as (now) backstory.

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Game review: Alan Wake

Replaying Alan Wake from the beginning so I can write about it. I only just started it over the weekend, but I had a headful of things to say about it. Yeah, I’m gonna kind of dump on it and nit-pick it.

On my first playthrough, I had the language set to Francais, so I was primarily reacting to the visuals (because I could not understand everything that was narrated or spoken). I gave the writing a lot of benefit of the doubt, but now I’m playing in English, and I was sort of taken aback by how reliant on redundancy it was. “Suddenly, the body was gone!” or whatever he says, after the body suddenly disappears, which we just saw happen. This is basic stuff. If this were the work handed in by one of my students* I would draw a big red line through it and make him write 25 different lines that are better than that. And he’d thank me for it.

The main problem of the opening cutscene (I have the game paused now just at the point when controller-enabled play begins) is that it is a cutscene. Let me explain. I have to make this same complaint every year that I judge the IF Competition games: A lot of the material in your intro tells us about a bunch of stuff happening, instead of letting us get to play it. Start the game earlier and let us play the intro. For Alan Wake, player-controlled play should begin right after the opening title, as soon as he describes having a dream where he’s driving at night. The players should be driving the car, even as the narration continues to play. Then when Alan Wake suddenly hits a guy who pops up in the middle of the road — BANG! It’s a scare for us, because we’re driving, and we just hit that guy! Then we could get out of the car, inspect the guy, hear more narration, react to the headlights in the car going out, react to not seeing the body there any more…

I mean, the only reason to make us watch that instead of getting to play that — like it never even occurred to the people making the game to make it interactive, it was always supposed to be this movie — is that they want to play at being filmmakers. So they do these swooping helicopter shots that I guess are supposed to be like the beginning of The Shining or something, and this particularly bugs me when it goes past the point where I said the game should start — that as far as the storytelling goes, Alan Wake is now telling us his dream as he recalls it. Why is he recalling swooping aerial view shots of his car instead of a first-or-second person viewpoint?

If you want to make movies, go and make movies. If you want to make videogames, make videogames.

At the checkpoint where I stopped last time. Alan and his girlfriend, whose name escapes me, because it hasn’t been properly taught to me I suppose, have just arrived at a remote cabin. She is apparently afraid of the dark — “She has a phobia, a fear of darkness…” as Alan tells us — which seems like a strange place to take someone like that. It also is reminding me of that Lars von Trier movie with Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, come to think of it.

There is some nice character animation done on the girlfriend’s face, but the effect still comes across of either puppets or blind actors. That second one is an uncanny valley effect, but the eyes of all these digital actors are greatly harming their impression of lifelikeness.

In an earlier draft of this, I was going to talk about how I could tell them exactly what is wrong with the eye positions, and how to set them correctly so that even if they don’t move they look more convincingly alive and alert more of the time on average. Then I realized, this could be a great specialized thing to say that one does, and to charge lots of money for doing it for about a year, until everyone catches on how to do it and stops hiring a special expensive guy who does it. Then I realized, hey, I can’t even prove I actually do know how to do this, I’m just extrapolating from what I know I can do to assume that this is the sort of thing I’d be able to do. How embarrassing it’d be to find out that I actually couldn’t do it, I just thought I could.

Anyway, back to Alan Wake. It’s not bad. I’m having a harder time this go-round thinking of things to really be critical about how they’re being done. I need to look back at my notes, which I left in my jacket, which is hanging in the closet. But if I go to get my jacket and put it on, I will start the habit-mechanism that will propel me out of the house to go get a cup of coffee, because that’s always what I do immediately after I put on the jacket. So before I read my notes, I have to ask myself: Well, do you? DO you want another cup of coffee right now?

—-One cup of coffee later… —-

When I left off the first time, I let Alan Wake just stand there outside his little cabin, so that I could watch his idle animation cycle. And it does, it cycles, but people put thought and effort into these things. It’s one of those things I like to do in a game, just to see what they did — not input any commands for a minute, and watch the character shift their weight and glance around. It doesn’t seem to have any randomized or weighted choice variety to it, it’s just a cycle of different things, about 15 seconds long or something. Here, all the casual-yet-concerned body language acting the mocap people did is once again undercut to a degree by the frozen eyes. Except, wait, they’re not frozen — in the idle cycle, Wake shifts his eyes to the side and then back again. So, it is possible to animate them at least that much. It helps, but it’s still not quite right.

I’m thinking of an algorithm, a method, for having eyeballs focus on the right things in an animation. Can you guess how I’m thinking of doing it? I don’t know how hard it would be to do, really. Surely someone would have done it by now if it were that easy.

Make that check out to JRW Digital Media, and I’ll get right on solving that for you.

I liked the scene where you run to safety over a rickety wooden bridge that blows away when you get across it; it worked dramatically while letting me steer myself. I also liked the Ferry scene, a contemplative, unhurried ride with a couple of conversational elements that play out automatically as you wander around. You get to watch the bridge go by overhead, and can find a couple of places to walk to, like up a set of steps, while Alan takes a phone call. It’s a very natural thing to do, wander around a bit while you’re gabbing on the phone, and I really enjoyed that they let me do that. This is what I mean — they could have decided to make this another cutscene, but why do that when you can at least offer a tiny bit of interactive exploration?

Alan starts to slow down and wheeze after a fairly short sprint. Well, he’s a writer, he’s not in good shape. However, that only happens when he’s in an action scene. If you’re just wandering around — and again, I like the fact that the game sometimes just opens its borders a little bit and lets you wander off. Before you go to the cabin, a cutscene leaves you on one side of a bridge, but you can go the other way, up the hill, back to where your car is parked, and walk back down again. This all happens with the sunset glowing its lovely “golden hour” glow, so it’s pleasant to take a walk around.

I do walk, in these games. I know a lot of people go through games full-tilt, but I like to sometimes role-play my movements, and when I’d walk if that character were me, I try to make the character walk. Some games are much walk-friendlier than others, both in how sensitive the control is to gentle direction input, and in whether they’ve even put a good slow-walk animation cycle in there. Sometimes it’s either you’re standing still or you’re going a funny staggered jump-walk where it’s vacillating between two digital states that don’t have an inbetween.

Someday we’ll need to invent digital-analog, so everything degrades smoothly. Patent application pending.

In other games, I’ve noticed that the bigger animation problem with walking very slowly is with follower NPCs. They are tailored to keep up with a PC who is going at a full run, and do a terrible marionette dance when forced to walk. So basically nobody has testers who like to walk slowly instead of running, is what I’m gathering. Oh well.

The Alan Wake game tries very hard to limit the amount of interactivity it allows in whichever mode (explore vs action) it happens to be in, so a lot of the buttons are “numb” — they don’t do anything at all when you press them. You kind of want them to, and they don’t, and that always makes me feel restricted or kind of off balance. I think I’d even prefer it if it made a little feedback sound that meant “this does not do anything” when I heard it, than nothing at all. Numbness. Don’t like.

There are small errors, little details. A vehicle drives by, making an engine and tire sound from a completely different type of vehicle. Yes, it makes a difference. Oh, speaking of audio — this is another general problem I have with many videogames, the ones that do spatialization of audio sources within the game. I’m not sure what physics they’re using to make the audio modifications — maybe they’re exactly supposed to be how they work in the real world, with an inverse-proportionate dB drop-off of sound compared to the distance from the source, but it’s wrong to use that. It has to be tweaked, padded, stretched, into audio that’s “unrealistic” in how it’s calculated, but is more realistic to hear. People’s voices don’t disappear into the distance when I turn my back or even if I walk 15 feet away from them. They can sound a lot more present than that. Our brains and ears do a lot of cool stuff to make sounds work better in our heads than microphones do when they pick up point sources of audio, which is basically what you’re simulating when you run the absolute math on the localized audio. Everybody, stop doing that.

Well! That’s as far as I’ve gotten with Alan Wake, about 15 minutes of it, twice. Plus the hour it took to write up my thoughts. Non-billable hours, of course.

______

* I don’t actually have any students. Perhaps this is why.

,

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Movie review [chat] – Twins (1988)

Twins (1988)

Directed by Ivan Reitman. Starring Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Maury Chaykin.

The first thing that is apparent is that Danny DeVito was taking the opportunity to give a real, fully-formed, film performance. He plays an oversize character that somehow, due to the structure and balance of the movie, tone down the high-comedy and keep the whole thing real. By all rights, movie history should tell us that DeVito’s performance in Twins was nominated for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (rather than a nomination in the leading actor category, in one of those Academy maneuvers). He wasn’t, it doesn’t. Shame.

The movie has a creepy premise. It purports that the United States was running a secret government eugenics program to create the uber-human. Eugenics?! Isn’t that kind of a Na-… I won’t say it. But I thought it. How can you not think it?

That it’s supposedly at Los Alamos is hilarious, though; and not intentionally. It’s like they’re saying the Super Bowl is played at Wrigley Field.

So the secret program combines the sperm of 6 men of exceptional qualities, making a sauce out of them, and jimmying up Heather Graham with the genetic cocktail. Out come two babies: Julius and Vincent. Both are spirited away. The mother is told she had one baby, but that it was stillborn. Vincent is sent, anonymously, to an orphanage in Los Angeles. Julius, the super-baby, is raised on an island in the South Pacific by one of the program’s scientists. The laboratory is closed and locked. Time passes.

The moment Julius learns that he has a twin brother, he sets out to find him. Naive, book-learned, hulkishly strong Julius quickly tracks him down, only to become embroiled in Vincent’s troubled life. Everything comes out right in the end, and there’s a happy Hollywood ending.

You know, this would be a good start to a science fiction novel, where eventually it turns out that Julius is the evil one (he has no morals, only programming) and Vincent is the good one, and the story continues for these characters through the twists and turns of time and fate.

Instead, it’s just this one relic from an era of Hollywood that had strange, strange values. Or rather, it was reflecting some strange values already present in the culture. You can learn a lot from an era’s movies, if you look at them in the right way.

[movie]/01 Rob says, “hmm I just watched Twins”
[movie]/02 Rob says, “never saw it ever before”
[movie]/03 Rob says, “man, reagan-era high concept hollywood movies”
[movie]/04 Rob says, “heather graham, surprisingly, years before I would have otherwise said she appeared in anything”
[movie]/05 Rob says, “good performances, gaping plot holes they tried to spackle over with the occasional line of dialogue”
[movie]/06 Rob says, “but which at least shows that somebody went ‘hey, this doesn’t make sense that these characters would know to be here, what’s up with that? how do we fix that?'”
[movie]/07 Rob says, “scenes that seem obviously to be the kinds of scenes that come from quick reshoots after the first audience reaction cards come in”
[movie]/08 Rob says, “two pairs of writers credited for the script, out of no doubt dozens more uncredited work on the stew”
[movie]/09 Rob says, “strange insertion in the last 20 minutes of the movie of a corsican-brothers connection between the two, which doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t help anything, and suggests to me that it was a big part of someone’s earlier draft, that got whittled out and out and out until this vestige remained that nobody bothered to get rid of”
[movie]/10 Ellison says, “whoa, Heather Graham”
[movie]/11 Rob says, “yeah she’s there in a wordless 20 second cameo in the first minute of the movie as the young version of the twins’ mother”

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Very Superstitious

In which I read my Free Will Astrology horoscope for July 1, 2010

Have you been doing a lot of sweating and grunting from sheer exertion in 2010? Have you thrown yourself conscientiously into the hardest, smartest labor you’ve ever enjoyed?

Yes, and yes.

I hope so, because that would suggest you’re in rapt alignment with this year’s cosmic rhythms. It would mean that you have been cashing in on the rather sublime opportunities you’re being offered to diligently prove how much you love your life.

Okay.

The next six months will provide you with even more and better prods, Libra, so please find even deeper reserves of determination. Intensify your commitment to mastering the work you came to this planet to do.

*More* determination? Sigh. Fine, fine, mumbly-mumble…

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Health and Heaviness

health_and_heaviness.jpg

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On Prayer

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Comic: “So I Met Richard Linklater…”

New comic, autobiographical style. I suppose I was going for something of a Linklater-film-y feel to the storytelling. And it’s a Magnolia Cafe story, which is good.

SoIMetRichardLinklater_poster.jpg

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Rant: Leadership EPIC FAIL

Excerpted from the chat room where I hang out.

[obama-sux]/006 Rob says, “I am furious at the lack of action and leadership over stanching the oil spill”
[obama-sux]/007 Rob says, “EPIC FAIL”
[obama-sux]/008 Ryan says, “Yeah, it is ridiculous.”
[obama-sux]/009 Ryan says, “Complete incompetence on all sides.”
[obama-sux]/010 Rob says, “yeah”
[obama-sux]/011 Rob says, “I seriously feel fury”
[obama-sux]/012 Rob says, “all I’m hearing is bureaucracy instead of mobilization of every resource to stop an emergency and a crisis that redefine emergency and crisis”
[obama-sux]/013 Rob says, “if a patient is bleeding from an artery you stop the bleeding and then worry about lawsuits later”
[obama-sux]/014 Bishop asks, “What can the administration realistically do that is nt being done?”
[obama-sux]/015 Lionheart says, “I feel like I should be furious, but I think I may still be burned out by Bush outrage fatigue.”
[obama-sux]/016 Rob asks, “this was a test of obama’s ability to lead, and he totally fucking failed. 30 days and nothing? except more drilling permits issued? and waiting for BP to do something? and not letting Louisiana do something? and forming committees to look into it?”
[obama-sux]/017 Johnny says (to Bishop), “Top 2: 1) Nuke it. 2) Start shaving people.”
[obama-sux]/018 Rob says, “30 days of doing nothing about this obliterates my memory of bush doing nothing for 7 minutes on 9/11″
[obama-sux]/019 Rob says, “the entire southern coast is being destroyed”
[obama-sux]/020 Rob says, “and there’s thousands of people wanting to do something about it and people will sit idle in an anxious tizzy without someone to lead them, and our elected leader is not doing any leading”
[obama-sux]/021 Lionheart asks, “What has Louisiana been prevented from doing to contribute to the cleanup?”
[obama-sux]/022 Rob says, “they’re wanting to dredge sand and build a sand wall to protect the wetlands”
[obama-sux]/023 Rob says, “and they’re waiting on federal permission to do so”
[obama-sux]/024 Rob says, “and they sent a letter asking permission TWO WEEKS AGO to the white house”
[obama-sux]/025 Rob says, “I’ll tell you what they should do”
[obama-sux]/026 Rob says, “drop rocks on it, tons of rocks, 24 hours a day, for six months”
[obama-sux]/027 two-star says, “I’m not totally surprised. I remember early in the campaign Obama was all for coal liquification. Which would be terrible in terms of global warming consequences. He did eventually come around, but I think his instinct is to listen to energy industry folks with whiz-bang high-tech fixes.”
[obama-sux]/028 Rob says, “mobilizing every junk scow, frigate, private yacht, and rowboat, every rock quarry, every strip mining operation, every helicopter”
[obama-sux]/029 Rob says, “get james cameron down there with his submarines and 3d cameras”
[obama-sux]/030 Allen says, “rock!”
[obama-sux]/031 Rob says, “get every geek who knows how to write or play a videogame to work out how to drop rocks such that they land in the right place with the tidal currents”
[obama-sux]/032 Allen says, “I still think a tactical nuke is the way to do it”
[obama-sux]/033 Allen says, “oooo… tetris-shaped rocks”
[obama-sux]/034 Rob says, “a mountain of rocks will stop the oil, I guarantee you, and it’s pretty much 100% environmentally safe”
[obama-sux]/035 Rob says, “but we need to bury all of the BP equipment and tell them sorry you don’t get any more oil from this, and you’re not fucking drilling a second hole so that we have two geysers”
[obama-sux]/036 two-star says, “Yeah. BP has a serious conflict of interest here.”
[obama-sux]/037 Lionheart says (to Rob), “Rocks? That seems kind of like trying to plug an upturned firehose by dropping rocks into the torrent.”
[obama-sux]/038 Rob says, “it is obvious that BP is not doing well at stopping it because priority #1 for them is still getting as much oil as possible out of it so they can sell it and make money”
[obama-sux]/039 Rob says, “but that’s what they do, so I have less invective for them, because that’s the only thing they know”
[obama-sux]/040 Rob says, “but it’s why waiting for them to fix it is ludicrous”
[obama-sux]/041 Allen says, “but BP is such a green company!”
[obama-sux]/042 Allen says, “and by that I mean, their gas stations are painted with lots and lots of green paint”
[obama-sux]/043 Rob says, “earlier today I felt like recording a youtube video where I stepped into this leadership vacuum and said ‘my fellow americans, here’s the fucking plan.'”
[obama-sux]/044 Rob says, “I’m now picturing obama as the weedy lawyer guy who comes in spouting rules saying you can’t do this and that because of the rules and harrison ford punches him out with a knuckle sandwich to his glass jaw, sending his clipboard flying, and says, ‘Get the hell out of the way and LET ME SAVE THIS PATIENT'”
[obama-sux]/045 Rob says, “and the audience always cheers when that guy gets punched out for a reason”
[obama-sux]/046 Lionheart says, “Heh.”
[obama-sux]/047 Allen says, “man”
[obama-sux]/048 Rob says, “the bloated mediocrity of the health care bill passage wasn’t a test of his ability to lead, this was, and he failed”
[obama-sux]/049 Rob says, “ok, that’s all I have to say”
[obama-sux]/050 Lionheart says (to Rob), “Well, I find your argument somewhat persuasive.”
[obama-sux]/051 Allen says, “it’s not like the federal government has lots of experience with disasterous deep-sea well ruptures or their consequences”
[obama-sux]/052 Rob says, “dealing with an incredible crisis the likes of which never seen before is exactly the test of leadership”
[obama-sux]/053 Allen says, “though, it seems like he could step in with, I don’t know, a second stimulus check, or maybe government dollars to help subsidize Red Lobster’s endless shrimp platter which has not become prohibitively expensive”
[obama-sux]/054 Allen says, “er, now become”
[obama-sux]/055 Rob derisive snort/sigh

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Pro-fic and fan-fic

After spending most of the last week steeped in Series 4 of Doctor Who (a birthday present from my brother), that thing happened in my brain where it wanted to celebrate being flooded with tasty input by outputting something in kind. It just does this. It’s like an egg timer going bing and announcing a delicious meal is ready in the oven.

I had noticed, as I moved from watching the 13 episodes to listening to selected commentaries and watching the podcast documentaries, that my ears were attuned to scraps of information, juicy tidbits hungrily picked out and devoured, about the craft of writing for this particular series in the present incarnation. Just little things that Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat happened to say in passing, usually while other people were talking over them, that lit up a pathway for how you actually put a Who script together. It makes them less mysterious, less products of pure imagination and more about a couple of good idea seeds wonked into shape as a job you have to do. It’s a job I could now fully understand, suddenly, thanks to these morsels of information.

It was a lot of input. 13 hours, stretching to 20 with the supplemental materials. Steven Moffat’s 2-parter about the library had such a good script, was written so dazzlingly well, that I actually hopped up and down with joy at it when the episodes finished. “That man is the one to beat,” I said, or at least, match. That would have to be the goal, to write an episode as good as that. As wobbly as my self-esteem is, my sense of my abilities as a writer give me the gumption to believe that I actually can write an episode at that level of quality.

So yesterday, I had to go ahead and see what would happen if I wonk an idea of mine into shape as a Doctor Who episode. Extremely tentatively at first, I didn’t want to even write “The Doctor” or “sonic screwdriver” because it felt too much like writing fanfic, an activity that I tend to sniff at, because coming up with your own original characters and adventures for them to have seems like a better use of one’s abilities and time on the whole. In fact, I stole the seed ideas from another project I’ve been working on since this past spring. One or two times at least I paused while writing it to notice that parts of it seemed very Doctor Who episode-like.

I started with those and decided to see what it would all look like if I intentionally steered it towards being Doctor Who on purpose. It developed rather quickly and surprisingly from there, with ideas I couldn’t quite get to work together before now chunking together logically, and new ideas appearing every minute that made it all work better than it ever had in the original project, and a sense of “this feels really right” pervaded everything I wrote. In treatment form it seemed short, and yet in my mind I could see it like a whole episode on fast forward.

I wrote it in a blur in the morning then had another look before I went to bed, and I liked what I saw. There was a lot of snappy dialogue and a lot of Doctorish racing about, and some scary bits and some funny bits. There was a bit that reminded me of Russell T. Davies’s writing, and a bit that was very Steven Moffat, and even a bit that stuck out a little because it sounded like Douglas Adams. Picturing it in my head as a finished episode kept me sensibly in mind of the usual budget per episode, how many characters in how many costumes in how many sets, how many special effects would need to be done, and how expensive those might be. It was a bit dodgy on certain specifics, because essentially I was writing for a Doctor who has since been replaced by someone whose take on the character I haven’t seen yet, and for an unknown assistant. “Assume a female companion” I wrote in the upper margin, as a note to… nobody.

Well, right. Of course, what use is it to write this at all, even as a treatment? This is about the seventh time this year, about once a month since March, that I’ve cooked up something that I had virtually no hope at all of selling to the person or market it was aimed at, but I couldn’t help myself and I created it anyway, only to tuck it on a shelf and sigh. There are people around me who go mad when I tell them that I spend time and effort (and love) on projects that just go on the shelf, but imagine how I feel.

I mean, I have to be realistic. Along with my understanding of the craft of writing and storytelling — which I would love to demonstrate to such a high degree of professionalism that Steven Moffat (now the executive producer of the series) would exclaim, “I don’t know how it is that some guy in Texas of all places knows how to write for this series this well, but we’ve got to get some more scripts out of him!” — is an understanding of how they hire writers for Doctor Who. I believe that the proper way to go about getting that job is to live in the UK, have a UK agent, spend 12 or more years working your way up and writing for various BBC series, become known as someone reliable and a good bloke to work with. Then, if there’s an opening, which there are fewer of now that they’re going to a different format of a few movie-length episodes per season, perhaps the Doctor Who production office will give my agent a call and ask if I’m interested in writing for Doctor Who, and if I have any ideas.

Which I suppose would be a cool thing to do with my life, if I’d thought of it 12 years ago. Unless someone hands me a paycheck it’s just fanfic, and the world is full of people writing Doctor Who fanfic. They don’t take spec scripts for Doctor Who because they’d be inundated with well-meaning but unfilmable material. Moffat’s a geek himself, but he’s also a highly disciplined writer who’s earned his way into his current position the proper way, the way I just outlined. He doesn’t write fanfic, he writes real fic; he writes real episodes.

And so, on the shelf it goes. In a way, it helped me with the other project — if I remove everything I carved out to put into the Doctor Who treatment, the remaining ideas go together better, as if they had been wedged apart with things that only sort-of fit. So there’s a certain point to having gone through the exercise. Yesterday, my head was full of those words intended for that particular bit of writing, and now that they’re printed on paper those neurons that were all excited by it are resting again.

Actually, what’s in my head today are these words, for this meta-analysis of yesterday’s work, for whatever that’s worth. Had to get these down, too, so that tomorrow something else can shove its way to the fore.

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