Writing Rant

Tuesday, April 06, 2010
I like to write. I've always made this patently clear. I also like writers who write well, but what does "writing well" mean, actually?

I recently left a comment at a writer's blog in which, among other things, I mentioned why I don't care for John Grisham's writing. My comment was summarily deleted. Why? The context of my comment was this: one professional writer (not the owner of the blog to which I'm referring) noted that it's common for readers, in online reviews of books, to criticize editors for writers' work. This writer wrote a blog post addressing that point, saying that writers, not editors, are responsible for what appears in print. What follows is my comment in reply to that statement:

I'll readily admit that I've done that before (but only in terms of what are obvious snafus and not because the book "sucks"), but it was also your blog entry, [name deleted], that later disabused me of that idea. I'll even admit that one guy I like to pick on most (regardless of how well he sells) is John Grisham.

When his book King of Torts came out, a friend recommended it to me, saying the writing was "smooth." I resisted even bothering to try to read it for months. Then, one day, while at a nearby book store, I picked it up off the shelf out of curiosity, and... well... to be quite blunt, Grisham's first sentence completely turned my stomach:

The shots that fired the bullets that entered Pumpkin's head were heard by no less than eight people.

There is just so much wrong with that sentence that the mind boggles. In the first place, "shots" don't fire bullets. Pistols and rifles do. A "shot" is the discharge of a pistol or rifle. The word that Grisham must've been looking for is "report," which is the sound of a pistol or rifle being fired. (For example, one possible way that sentence could've been written is: "No less than eight people heard the report of the shots that riddled Pumpkin's head." That construction gets rid of the misuse of "shot" as well as the passive construction at the end of the sentence, and I'm sure that even my version could be improved, as well.)

And then there is this sentence, which occurs later in the first paragraph:

Another, the neighborhood recycling fanatic, was digging through some garbage in search of aluminum cans when he heard the sharp sounds of the daily skirmish, very nearby.

According to this sentence, not only did Pumpkin get shot in the head multiple times, but apparently this happened on a daily basis. (Makes me think that Pumpkin oughta be a character on the TV show Heroes.)

When I first read these words, I used to say I didn't understand how an editor could let such inaccurate use of the language slide by. I've now changed my tune on that one thanks to you, [name deleted]. I'll gladly lay the blame for this nonsense firmly at Grisham's feet. I've read (or perhaps I should say that I've stomached) a couple of Grisham books (they gave me severe indigestion) and, sad to say, this sort of thing happens far too often in his books for my liking so I don't read his books anymore. I can't read them. What I like to call my "infernal internal editor" just screams so loud at Grisham's misuse of the language that it sets my ears to ringing.

That said, Grisham is clearly very successful, if I might state the obvious, and I may never attain to such heights myself, but I sure as hell can't bring myself to read another word of his. Neither can I bring myself to compromise my own writing to write to such low standards. In fact, I once quoted the opening paragraph of this book at Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's blog, and everybody had a good laugh at it.

For me, his books have become a sterling example of how not to write (although I'm sure that some positive lessons can be gleaned from his writing, as well). I'll also gladly suffer the blows that my attitude may incite, both now and in the future. Bring it on!

When I noticed that my comment had been deleted, the blog owner left a reply. Here, in sum, is what was said in essence (please note, what follows has been substantially reworded):

Take note: Attacking writers, especially bestsellers, is not permitted. Take caution.

All new writers have this idea in their head that bestsellers can't write well. That's a myth, and I'll write about it later.

All new writers tend to moan and groan that grammar and correct details should matter in fiction. They don't. That's a myth. I'll write about that, too.

I've still a lot of beef to grind.

Right. To be blunt, I don't have to be a published writer to know that this is complete and utter bullshit. Bestsellers are not unassailable. No one is. In fact, that's some holy beef shit right there that oughta be killed, if you ask me. There are professional novelists who write extremely well, and there are some who don't. Both write salable fiction, sure, and one might argue that saleability has nothing to do with the quality of writing, but why should the quality of writing be ignored?

As to grammar, in my comment I made what I think are extremely valid points and most editors worth their salt would agree with me. The only thing I said in relation to grammar had to do with passive versus active voice, and any professional editor will tell you that active voice should be used about 95% of the time. Further, I didn't say the sentence was grammatically incorrect, because it isn't. Passive voice is just as grammatically correct as the active, but in fiction the active is preferred far more than the passive. I think that most editors (I keep saying "most" because the owner of the blog to which I'm referring is as much an editor as they are a writer) would agree with me that Grisham's first sentence was a piss poor one. Sure, the man sells millions of books. Sure, some argue that "quality control" in writing is in the hands of the readers (not writers who are readers), but what does this really tell us?

You can say that it tells us that the story is really good and that readers don't give a shit about the quality of the writing, but you can also just as easily say that readers don't give a shit about the quality of the writing because they don't know any better. I don't think you can say, however, that a story's entertainment value and its saleability will necessarily suffer if editors and readers demanded better quality writing from authors. There was a day, after all, when that was true, and that would imply that the current state of publishing — by which I mean the final output that gets into the hands of readers — is in a state of decay. Does that mean that I advocate perfection? Hell no!

Was I saying that everything has to be grammatically correct? Not hardly. I know better than that. Sentence fragments are plentiful in modern fiction, but one must still be skillful at composing them to make sure that what one wants to say comes through clearly and without misinterpretation. In dialogue, you can kiss grammar's ass good-bye for the simple fact that almost no one speaks grammatically correct sentences all of the time. Speech patterns, favourite phrases, tones of voice, all that sort of thing is, in part, what marks one fictional character as different from another.

As to correct details, you can't argue with the fact that "shots" don't fire bullets. As to correct details, if I'm writing about weapons and I get details about a weapon wrong (features of the weapon, when it was made, the model number, the name of the manufacturer), readers who know better will be certain to write me scathing letters informing me of my screw up.

In a subsequent exchange between myself and the blog owner, the blog owner related an experience he had had with a professional editor/writer over the same sort of issue I've related here, criticizing in a bestseller a sentence he'd thought poorly written and grammatically incorrect. The editor/writer this blog owner had been talking to snorted at him, and he claims that when this happened, you knew you were in trouble. The editor/writer asked that the book be brought to him. He looked at the book, then asked the blog owner, “Putting aside the fact you think the sentence is wrong, why did this writer put that sentence in that spot at that point?” The blog owner says that it took him five years to get the answer, to understand what that bestselling writer had done and why. I've no problem with re-examining Grisham's book, to understand why Grisham had used that sentence and why he'd written it as he had done, but understanding the reason why something was done doesn't mean that I have to imitate a style that I think is disgusting.

Misinformation

Saturday, March 13, 2010
Well, this has been a most interesting experience, and as with the old Chinese curse my use of "interesting" doesn't mean "interesting good." Since I'd shared briefly in my writing blog about some medical concerns, I thought that now the whole ordeal is over, I'd share what happened.

I'd been experiencing some pain in the area where the bladder is located, as well as feeling the frequent need to urinate, which was the cause of my concern in my previous post. My doctor ordered a urinary culture to determine if there was a bacterial infection, and also prescribed Levaquin, an antibiotic, as a precautionary measure. Fair enough.

When I picked up the medication (which wasn't at all cheap, especially for someone who's unemployed — $155 for 20 tabs), I went through the literature included with it, and there was a damned long list of side effects, many of which I found scary, especially when it starts with the phrase: "can cause side effects that may be serious or even cause death." I love it when death is listed as a side effect. It's rather terminal to be a side effect, don't you think?

I called my doctor's office, expressed my concern. No problem, they said, you can hold off on taking the antibiotics until the test results get back. Meanwhile, the symptoms I'd been experiencing had subsided (after eliminating Diet Coke from my diet).

Yesterday morning, I received a call telling me the culture was positive and to start taking the Levaquin. The prescription was for two 250mg tablets per day for 10 days.

A couple of hours after taking the second tablet, I started to experience pain, tingling, numbness in my right heel/ankle. The tingling and numbness went away, but it took a while to do so, but I still feel a little pain, which has subsided, thankfully. It felt similar to the plantar fasciitis I have (which has to do with a tendon that runs along the bottom of the foot), only worse. (Plantar fasciitis can be painful, but it's something I can treat myself at home and without drugs. Stretching exercises, basically.) Tendon rupture or swelling of the tendon (tendinitis) is another side effect.

Then, when I went to bed, I had trouble sleeping and nightmares and so got little sleep last night (these are also possible side effects of Levaquin). The nightmares weren't scary, just dreams that were stranger than usual for me (whenever I remember my dreams, that is).

The literature included with this medication advised to contact your doctor right away if you experienced those sorts of symptoms. This morning, I did so. Once I called, it took 10 minutes for a registered nurse to get on the phone. After talking to her and explaining in great detail what was going on and everything leading up to it, she said she'd call a doctor and call me back, and advised me that it's rare that doctors will change a prescription for an antibiotic.

Thirty minutes later, she calls back. Per the doctor, my urine culture was negative, not positive! He advised that I stop taking the medication immediately, said that the symptoms that led to my doctor's visit in the first place might be prostatitis instead (my symptoms were consistent with that, in fact), and suggested that I have a conversation with my doctor on Monday.

Now, I'm not upset with my doctor for the wrong information I'd received, as that came through someone else at her office, but she'll definitely hear about this. Absolutely! At the least, I'm very glad to hear that the culture was negative.

People Are Stupid, No. 2

Friday, March 05, 2010
So, I'm reading a news article about the ship in the Mediterranean that was struck by those waves and then I turn my attention to the comments that follow. The first comment I see reads:

And that folks is why this girl will never go on a cruise....


I guess it's impossible for any car, bus, train, or airplane which this woman graces with her presence to have an accident, even a freak accident.

Immediately following is another brilliant comment:

i like how they said they had 1,350 people on board, and they sent all 1,350 people back home. 2 people dies so should be 1,348

Why would the cruise line keep the dead? The bereaved aren't allowed to take their loved ones home to bury them? So far as I know, commercial cruise lines don't bury the dead at sea.

And then, of course, there was this magnificently enlightening observation:

i feel that they should have been aware of the weather, and had told everyone not to be out there, sounds like they just didnt care, as long as they got the money, and thats not right, they should be held accountable,

Of course, everything is predictable and nothing is ever unexpected, not even rogue waves. Nosirree! And the solution to everything, even if it isn't predictable, even if it is unexpected, is litigation. This comment was obviously made by an American.

Some undoubtedly will object to that last comment. Whatever. I'm British-American (American-born, but more than half-Brit by blood). I'll comment on whatever stupidity I see. Stupidity is no respecter of nationality, and neither am I.

I may extend this series, if only to provide evidence of the truth of these Harlan Ellison quotes:

The two most common elements in the universe are Hydrogen and stupidity.

And . . .

The world is turning into a cesspool of imbeciles.


That sums it up quite nicely, actually.

People Are Stupid

Tuesday, March 02, 2010
I'm wanting to buy myself an air purifier. Some, obviously, come with ionizers installed. Some of the reviews I've been reading are nothing less than pure idiocy, saying things like "This model has an ozone producing ionizer."

If ionization produces ozone, then someone had bloody well better turn off all the fucking lightning storms around the planet! Good, strong lightning storms leave the air smelling and feeling clean and fresh because of the ionization caused by the lightning. There are too many ill-informed comments in reviews on air purifiers that contain ionizers. Your body ionizes the air you breathe, believe it or not, so the process called ionization can hardly be considered unhealthy.

What is ionization? It's a process whereby electrically neutral atoms are converted into electrically charged atoms by the removal or addition of electrons or other electrically charged ions. Admittedly, ionization is one means by which radiation is detected, but the ionizing of air particles has nothing whatsoever to do with the ionization of radioactive isotopes except for the fact that they share the process called ionization. We should be grateful for ionizing radiation, or we would not be able to detect it (with Geiger counters) and would suffer from more cases of radiation sickness. Radioactive isotopes have to ionize because they are, by nature, unstable, and the process of ionization produces stability (radium-226, for example, decays until it becomes lead-206). In this case, ionization produces equilibrium.

In air purifiers, ionizers act like a magnet, attracting to them the things you want removed from the air and they do this by changing the electrical charge of the particles in the air (which is exactly what happens with a lightning strike in a thunderstorm, and thus why the air after a thunderstorm smells and feels fresher and cleaner).

Plus, the simple fact is, we are always surrounded by ionization as it is always going on in the environment in many natural ways, some good, some bad — those that are "bad" are "bad" only because they can cause health problems (as with the ionization of radioactive isotopes — you know, radiation burns, radiation sickness, etc), but they're still natural because radioactive isotopes occur naturally.

There is too much nonsense going on and being said in the name of what is "healthy" and what is "natural" that those terms themselves have practically become corrupted. For example, the organization Greenpeace once campaigned to have chlorine eliminated from the economy (and probably still wants it done, even though not all processes that use chlorine are necessarily harmful). Sure, chlorine can be dangerous, but it's on the goddamned Periodic Table of Elements for Christ's sake! How do you eliminate something that's part of Nature? Any group, no matter what or how honourable their creed, can often drift into utter lunacy, and that's exactly what Greenpeace did in the case of chlorine.

On the other side of the fence, we have those in Dentistry and in the health industry (here in the U.S.) claiming that flouride is good for dental health. I have a problem with this. Water flouridation in Canada is a very contentious issue. Only 3% or less of European countries add flouride to their water supply. The history of water flouridation in the U.S. and its connection with the atomic bomb is, well, nothing less than astonishing. Why is it added to anyone's water supply? Why ignore that flouride was the key ingredient in the production of the atomic bomb? Why ignore the diseases known to be caused by flouride poisoning (higher rates of cavities, cancer, dental flourosis, osteoporosis, and others)?

And then you have those who have great concern over radiation and the danger of cell phones, etc. We are surrounded daily by radiation, like it or not. If we want to avoid all radiation, then someone had better call God and ask him to shut off the damned Sun.

Do you have electrical power? Then the power lines leading to your house, the power lines in your house, and every electrical device that you own is showering you with electromagnetic radiation. So much for your computer. So much for your MP3 player. So much for your flatscreen TV and your home theater system. Get rid of them all!

Do you use gas to heat your water, heat your home, cook your food? Heat is a form of radiation, and it can be dangerous, too. Get rid of it! Too much radiation!

Do you have a microwave oven in which you heat your food, reheat a cup of coffee? It does so using radio waves. I used to maintain microwave radios. Where the hell do you think the term 'microwave' comes from? The length of radio waves can be measured. Yes, they have a physical length. This is why there are short wave radios. Well, there are also microwave radios and the 'micro' in microwave means that the length of that wave is very short. Your food is being heated with a radio transmitter at a frequency of about 2.4GHz and at a power of at least 700 watts (or, more likely, 1000-1200 watts). (The microwave radios I maintained in the Air Force transmitted at a power of only 1-5 watts, by comparison.) Get rid of it!

No doubt you have lights in your house. Not only have you got electromagnetic radiation there (the electricity required to power the lights), but you also have the visible radiation called light! Get rid of it! It's radiation and all radiation is bad! Right?

Your car radio. You enjoy listening to the radio now and then, yes? When you're not listening to your MP3 player, that is. Perhaps you like to listen to the new digital radio. Same thing as microwaves, but it's in a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum. It's radiation, baby, and those transmitters are on 24 x 7 x 365.

Face it. Every day we are bathing in radiation, both natural and man-made. Get over it.

Cell phones. This is a radio, too. How else do you think you're able to call people without the aid of wires? What? Do you think this is fucking magic? Get a grip on reality, dude.

Some claim to have suffered from brain cancer because of their cell phones. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that the transceiver in a cell phone is smaller than the phone itself. Your phone has a speaker, a microphone, a battery, a keypad, a display, camera circuitry, an MP3 player, and is in many ways a miniature computer. Just how big do you think that radio transceiver can possibly be?

I'll tell you this, the power output of a radio transceiver is directly related to how big the transceiver is. Your cell phone's total power output is less than one watt. The power output of the cell site you're connected to can be an effective radiated power (ERP) of up to 500 watts per channel, but more frequently is about 100 watts. Cell sites have several directional antennas and they have to be all over the place if you're to have any hope of making a phone call wherever you happen to be.

Do you make your calls from inside your car? From inside your office building? What does that tell you? Radio signals can penetrate walls. They can only penetrate so much, however, because if there's a hill between your cell phone and the nearest cell site, you can kiss that call good-bye.

Now, keep in mind we're talking one watt or less for your cell phone and the supposed idea that cell phones can cause brain cancer. I want you now to consider that the transmitter that sends signals to the radio in your car is transmitting those signals at a power of probably 50,000,000 watts! (50 megawatts or millions of watts) And, at night, the power is likely to be more (because of Federal regulations). But is anyone suing them for brain cancer? Hah!

I'm trying to paint this as obviously ridiculous, but part of me wants to acknowledge that many people walk around with phones (nevermind Bluetooth headsets) attached to their ears constantly, and if anyone is to blame for brain cancer from a cell phone, why should it be the cell phone provider? You wanted the phone, right? You use it all the time, right? You're the one holding the damned thing to your ear, right? No one is twisting your arm to do this, right? (Do you really need to be on the phone so often? In the car? In the supermarket? Walking down the street? Sitting on the shitter? Why the fuck are you on the phone while taking a shit, anyway? If you call me while I'm on the can, I'll hang up on your ass. I've got other things to take care of, if you know what I mean.)

Obviously the public demand is there or the cell phone companies wouldn't've littered the landscape with cell sites so that you could make a call from out of your ass if you wanted to (and some of you probably want to). You want want want, but when things go wrong wrong wrong, instead of taking responsibility for your own actions and choices, you blame blame blame. Dumbass.

People are stupid.

Master and Commander

Monday, February 01, 2010
Master and CommanderMaster and Commander, starring Russell Crowe and Paul Bettany, I saw months and months ago, so that when I chose to put it on my list of movies to see at Netflix, I completely forgot about it. No matter. It's still a damned good movie and I enjoyed seeing it again.

Dhammapada

Saturday, January 23, 2010
Teachings of the BuddhaI've had fun translating this particular passage into both French and Portuguese:

Dhammapada
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?

Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.

But once mastered,
No one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.
from the DHAMMAPADA, translated by Thomas Byrom


Dhammapada (en français)
Nous sommes ce que nous pensons.
Tout ce que nous sommes se pose avec nos pensées.
Avec nos pensées, nous faisons le monde.
Parle ou agit avec un esprit impur
Et le trouble vous suivra
Comme la roue suit le boeuf qui tire la charrette.

Nous sommes ce que nous pensons.
Tout ce que nous sommes se posse avec nos pensées.
Avec nos pensées, nous faisons le monde.
Parle ou agit avec un esprit pur
Et le bonheur suivra
Comme votre ombre, inébranlable.
Comment un esprit troublé
Comprendre le chemin?

Votre pire ennemi ne peut pas vous nuire
Autant que vos propres pensées, sans surveillance.

Mais une fois maîtrisée,
Personne ne peut vous aider autant,
Pas même votre père ou votre mère.


Dhammapada (em português)
Nós somos o que pensamos.
Tudo o que somos surge com nossos pensamentos.
Com nossos pensamentos fazemos o mundo.
Fala ou age com uma mente impura
E problemas irão segui-lo
Como a roda segue o boi que puxa a carroça.

Nós somos o que pensamos.
Tudo o que somos surge com nossos pensamentos.
Com nossos pensamentos fazemos o mundo.
Fala ou age com uma mente pura
E a felicidade vai seguir
Como sua sombra, inabalável.
Como pode uma mente perturbada
Compreender o caminho?

Seu pior inimigo não pode prejudicá-lo
Tanto quanto os seus próprios pensamentos, não guardado.

Mas uma vez dominados,
Ninguém pode ajudá-lo a tanto,
Nem mesmo seu pai ou mãe.


This comes out of a wonderful book I read a couple of years ago, titled Teachings of the Buddha, edited by Jack Kornfield.

The Bare Vault of Talent

Tuesday, January 19, 2010
I've an opinion I've been holding in for some days now, but I think it would be best to give it some air. The past few years I've had the pleasure of meeting — if 'meeting' someone online can be called 'meeting' them — several professional writers, folk who make their living at a keyboard. They've all been great people, without exception. When talking about the business, they're honest, which is important when one desires to ply one's living using things as nebulous as words can be.

However — you know there's always an 'however,' there's always an exception — there's one who has grated on me. I'll name no names. I see no need to. The one to whom I refer, their writing is sloppy, imprecise, and stylistically vagrant. This person's online persona, the way they interact with folk, is presumptive and unprofessional, lacking both grace and compassion.

Regarding the writing samples by this person that I have read, both online and in print, if such brute and muddy expression is capable of generating a full-time income, then either the vault of talent is bare or the bank of readers is bankrupt in their perception of good writing. I'm inclined to lay substantial blame at the threshold of the vault of talent: publishers can only withdraw from what they have in reserve, and if the reserve is diluted, polluted, and crass, one cannot fault the readers (unless they simply don't care — and I believe a significant number of them don't, so a small part of the blame lies there, as well).

Making Miéville Blue

Saturday, January 16, 2010
Over at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog, author China Miéville offers up an intriguing essay titled, "Why the Na’vi Are Making Me Blue," on the current fad of CGI in movies. He speaks in particular to James Cameron's hugely successful Avatar, as well as makes reference to Peter Jackson's work on the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies.

Avatar

Wednesday, January 13, 2010
AvatarAvatar, starring Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, and Sigourney Weaver, is fabulous!

It amazes me the criticisms that some can concoct about any movie. I don't go to a movie to look for what's wrong with it. I don't expect any movie to be perfect — nothing is. I don't go to a movie to be preached at. I don't go to a movie to hear propaganda. Movies, novels, short stories, stage plays, television shows, all have one main purpose: to entertain. If it entertains me without anything else getting in the way of that, then I like it. Period.

I think critics trump up all sorts of reasons to not just praise movies, novels, short stories, stage plays, television shows, etc, but also to criticise them, because they seem to think that they'd short change their audience with a simple: I loved it. Go see it. Their frequently inflated reviews often serve only to justify their existence and purpose as reviewers.

Yes, I love movies that make me think. I'm not one who generally goes for mindless entertainment, but neither is there anything necessarily wrong with it, either.

One opinion I read faulted the film for being 'superficial' in trying to make several points, thus making its message 'diffuse.' 'It can't seem,' the author said, 'to decide if it is about environmentalism, colonialism, the war on terror, and so on -- phrases like "shock & awe" really throw you out of the movie by jarring you away from the story.' (The bit about 'shock & awe' may have been 'jarring' for the author of this opinion, but it wasn't for me. Many movies and television shows often use current terminology to make their stories easier for the audience to relate to. If the phrases don't fit the story, then, yes, there can be a problem. In this case, however, 'shock & awe' was quite appropriate, I think.)

In my opinion, this movie's message was quite clear, and it was successfully conveyed, too, and without being didactic — a huge plus! There were minor messages included in this visual concert, to be sure, but considering that it was 2½ hours long and that the point of any movie, really, is to entertain and not to educate, I think calling its treatment of those messages — both major and minor — 'superficial' is expecting a bit much. Roger Ebert says, 'It has a flat-out Green and anti-war message' — if you've not seen the movie, I wouldn't recommend following that link — and I agree with him.

In my view, any story — no matter what the medium — if it is handled well, conveys at least two different messages: that of the protagonist and that of the antagonist. As to taking sides, that all depends on point-of-view. Prose — novels and short stories — is, by nature, thoroughly imbued with point-of-view. A point-of-view has to be chosen. It can't be avoided. Movies, however, have more difficulty with point-of-view, as they tend to border more on reportage when compared to prose fiction. Movies are closer to a story viewed by an uninterested observer; their point-of-view is conveyed through actor portrayal (which can be subject to viewer interpretation and so isn't always reliable), through focus on given characters, and, more importantly — because this is the most reliable — through the message conveyed by the resolution of the story conflict. This is might be called an unfair comparison, but I think not. Each storytelling medium has its advantages and disadvantages and there is nothing 'unfair' in pointing them out. It's no more 'unfair' to point out that movies are more like reportage than to point out the disadvantage that prose has in having to rely solely on letters and words to create pictures in a reader's mind. Movies are more effective at that than prose for obvious reasons.

This is criticism of criticism, obviously, because I think too much of it is too damned self-important for it's own good.

This is a good movie. It's entertaining. The feats achieved through its 3D effects are well-worth the additional price you'll pay for the ticket.

KNOW1NG

Sunday, January 10, 2010
KnowingKnowing is, I think, a creepy, but excellent science fiction thriller that has the all-too-rare attributes of portraying events that are — except for the more speculative aspects — very possible. Definitely one to see if you haven't already.

The blurb for this movie reads:

Nicolas Cage stars in this edge of your seat sci-fi thriller as John Koestler, a professor who deciphers a coded message with terrifyingly accurate predictions about every major world disaster. Looking to protect his family and prevent future calamities, he enlists the reluctant help of Diana Wayland (Rose Byrne), daughter of the now-deceased author of the prophecies. His quest to understand the messages and his own family's involvement in them becomes a heart-pounding race against time as he faces the ultimate disaster.

Bucket List (Recap)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Back in January 2008, I posted a list of 25 items that I called a "Bucket List." In my original post, I referenced this article at the New York Times. The title "Bucket List" comes from the movie of the same title starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and is a reference to the idiom "kick the bucket." In other words, the items on a "Bucket List" are those things you wish to do before you start pushing up daisies, to use yet another idiom.

One of my goals for this year was to accomplish one of the things on my "Bucket List," so it only seemed appropriate to recap the list. To wit:

  1. Get a novel published/make my living as a writer.
    Technically, "get a novel published" is a dream, not a goal, as it involves something I have no control over. But "make my living as a writer"? I have some measure of control over that, as there are things I can do to move in that direction.

  2. Learn to fly a plane.
    I've always wanted to learn to do this.

  3. See at least one Formula 1 Grand Prix.
    I'm a fan of racing, especially Formula 1, yet I've never been to one. There are two here in North America that I could easily see, one at Indianapolis, Indiana, and one in Toronto, Canada.

  4. Drive a single-seat race car.
    The sort of car found in Formula 1. There are places where you can do this . . . for a price.

  5. See, in person (not on television), all four tennis Grand Slams.
    U.S. Open in New York. French Open in Paris. Australian Open in Melbourne. Wimbledon in England. Those tournaments. The 'majors.'

  6. Finish visiting all 50 States.
    I’ve currently been to 39 of the 50 States in the US, which leaves only 11 for me to visit. They are, in alphabetical order: Alaska, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Washington.

  7. Visit all the countries in the European Union.
    I’ve already been to several, so why not the whole lot? There are currently 27 member states, of which I’ve already visited 8: France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The remaining 19 are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Sweden. Since there are other countries seeking to become member states, the above lists will change as the list of states grows.

  8. Visit any countries in Europe that do not become member states of the European Union.
    In other words, I want to see all of Europe.

  9. Visit all seven continents (North America [to include Central America], South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica) and the Arctic Circle.
    I’m naming and numbering the continents as I learned them when I was in elementary school. I believe they’ve changed this in the intervening years. It doesn’t really matter how they are delineated insofar as I’m concerned.

  10. Travel to at least 100 countries.
    Of course, I want to see more, but I want to set a specific number so that I know when I’ve achieved this goal. I’ll modify it once I hit 100.

  11. Learn to speak at least three languages fluently.
    This does not include English. Since I’ve already started learning French and Portuguese, they are two of the three. As for the third, I’m inclined to learn German, although Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish have risen up on my radar recently.

  12. Go shark-diving off the coast of South Africa.
    What better way to go shark-diving than with a shark, right? That’s what I’d like to do. :P Submerge myself in a cage, with toothy-monsters all around me. Doesn’t that sound like fun? Included with this is a desire to visit a certain shark in her homeland. Now I’m talking about a landborne shark, the sort about whom Shakespeare said, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” :P

  13. Experience zero gravity.
    This is cool, and very, very doable! It involves experiencing zero gravity in the same way astronauts do before they actually go into space, in a plane that is flying in what could be called a sine-wave pattern (or, technically, parabolic flight), to simulate zero gravity. You can learn more about it at http://www.gozerog.com/. At the moment the price of this is $4,950 (+ 5% tax), but it’s also the closest you can currently come to experiencing what space flight is like without the astronomical cost of actually going into space.

  14. Actually go into space (a low-Earth orbit, at the least).
    If commercial space flight becomes possible and affordable before I kick the bucket.

  15. See the Grand Canyon.
    And now I come to the most ‘touristy’ of my goals, which entails visiting — in person, obviously — significant tourist sites and natural wonders. I start with the Grand Canyon, in Arizona.

  16. See the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights).

  17. See the Great Pyramids.

  18. See Stonehenge.

  19. See the Taj Majal.

  20. See the Great Wall of China.

  21. See the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
    I accomplished this in 2008.

  22. See the Colosseum in Rome.

  23. See the Mayan Ruins.

  24. See Victoria Falls, on the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe.

  25. See the Great Barrier Reef.

As I noted in my original post: "This list is by no means comprehensive. It's more like a start. I've actually started coming up with more items to add, but I wanted a minimum of 25 to put in this post." This now gives me a post tied to this new blog template that I can reference for when I accomplish this goal.

Goals 2010

Monday, January 04, 2010
I've been wondering if I should do a goal post for this blog or not. One thing I hadn't considered when I decided to use this template was my goals, and where I'd stuff 'em. With my previous template, I had a sidebar in which to stuff 'em. I suppose I could stuff 'em in one of the three columns down below, but that'll likely mean rearranging things.

And then there's the goals themselves. I typically write a post rehearsing the previous year's goals, noting where I succeeded and where I failed, and I usually failed more often than succeeded. This year there shall be no rehearsal of last year's goals. I failed miserably. Enough said.

Ah, what the hell. I must be insane. Here's some dumbass goals:

  1. Find a job.
    Goal: A–S–A–fucking–P!
    Yeah, employment would be nice.

  2. Lose weight.
    Goal: 150-159 lbs (68,0-72,1 kgs).
    This might actually happen . . . sometime during the next century! Of course, it would help if I actually did something to make it happen.

  3. Write.
    Goal: 250,000 words.
    At my writing blog, I've detailed a plan to help me achieve this with as little fuss as possible.

  4. Mythology course.
    Goal: Start it; finish it.
    Tried this last year; failed like a son-of-a-bitch, too. Don't like failing. I'm better than that. Don't like making excuses about it, either.

  5. Read.
    Goal: 30-40 books
    At least 20-27 must be fiction. The rest can be anything, fiction or non-fiction.

  6. Learn Portuguese.
    Goal: Start and finish Hugo Portuguese course
    If the past is any indicator, I'll probably do as well at this as at losing weight. Don't hold your breath on this one, though.

  7. Life Goals.
    Goal: Accomplish one item
    I need to review — and perhaps re-post — these. I know I've accomplished at least one of the items.

  8. Folding bicycle.
    Goal: Buy one. This year.
    Once I have a job, of course.

  9. Buy a new MacBook.
    Goal: Also this year.
    Also dependent on the job situation, obviously.

  10. Manual typewriter.
    Goal: This year, of course. This typewriter.
    Also dependent on the job situation, obviously.

  11. 4 x 6 Index Card Cabinet.
    Goal: This year, dammit! Only one, though.
    Or not. I'm not sure, but I thought I'd include this. I've actually come up with a different option that would cost probably as much as the cabinet, or possibly less.

  12. Metal bulletin board for the office.
    Goal: Eight 12" x 12" tiles.
    I'd like to mount them to the outermost door of my office closet. I've recently come up with a vision of how to further modify my office to better accommodate my writing aspirations, and it includes something like this (as well as that card cabinet above).

So, yeah. Now I've got to figure out how the hell to incorporate these into the 'dashboard' below. That should be fun . . . and interesting, too!

Defiance

Saturday, January 02, 2010
DefianceBased on a true story, Defiance is a powerful movie about the Bielski brothers — Tuvia, Zus, and Asael — Jews from Belorussia who started their own community, a refugee camp of freedom fighters in the forests of Belorussia, during World War II.

The blurb for this movie reads:

Daniel Craig (James Bond: Quantum of Solace) stars as Tuvia Bielski, an ordinary citizen turned hero, in this action-packed epic of family, honor, vengeance and salvation. Defiance is a riveting adventure that showcases the extraordinary true story of the Bielski brothers, simple farmers — outnumbered and outgunned — who turned a group of war refugees into powerful freedom fighters. Tuvia, along with his unyielding brother, Zus (Liev Schreiber, X-men Origins: Wolverine), motivate hundreds of civilians to join their ranks against the Nazi regime. Their "inspirational story" is a true testament to the human spirit.

Garrulus' Travels

Canada ::: England ::: France ::: Germany ::: Greece ::: Guam* ::: Ireland ::: Italy ::: Japan ::: Philippines* ::: Portugal ::: Scotland ::: South Vietnam* ::: Spain ::: Thailand ::: Turkey* ::: Wake Island* ::: Wales :::

LEGEND
Greece — countries where I've lived
Portugal — countries I've visited
* — airport layovers

Goals 2010

  • Find a Job
    date hired: —

  • Lose Weight
    GOAL: 150-159 lbs (68,0 – 72,1 kgs)
    current weight: 192 lbs (87,0 kgs)

  • Write 250,000 words
    53,177 | 21.27% compl.

  • Mythology Course
    date started: Mar 31
    date completed: —

  • Read 30-40 books
    — 20-27 must be fiction —
    11 — fiction
    7 — non-fiction
    18 — TOTAL READ

  • Learn Portuguese
    Complete Hugo Portuguese course
    date started: —
    date completed: —
    vocabulary words: —
    verbs: —

  • Life Goals
    goal achieved: —

  • Folding Bicycle
    Dahon JetStream P8
    date purchased: —

  • MacBook Pro
    13" 2.26GHz MacBook Pro
    date purchased: —

  • Manual Typewriter
    Corona Sterling/Silent of 1940s
    date purchased: —

  • 4 x 6 Index Card Cabinet
    date purchased: —

  • Metal Bulletin Board
    8 Umbra 12" x 12" Tiles
    date purchased: —

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