Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dear Internet…

Dear Internet,

You have a full keyboard in front of you. You, on average, have a total of four fingers and two thumbs to use said keyboard. It stands to reason that you would be more than capable of fully spelling out words such as “you” and “second” (as in removed at the last second").

What exactly makes you think it’s acceptable to use short hand like “ur” for “your” in public discourse? Not only does it make you seem dumb, it weakens your argument. Ur can be a German prefix meaning proto or primitive or it can mean a city in ancient Sumer, but it does not mean you’re or your. Just because you text that way to your friends doesn’t mean you should expose the rest of us to your typographical atrocities.

Language may be constantly evolving, but that is no reason to backslide into a series of ambiguous hieroglyphs just because you can’t be bothered to type a couple extra characters. Your keyboard has all those letters (and characters) for a reason. You’re a big boy now, you can handle it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

District 9; a Little Bit Kafka, a Little Bit Black Hawk Down

If I said more than that I might spoil it.

I’m not prepared to say that District 9 is the most amazing movie of the summer; I haven’t seen them all and I have had a torrid public love affair with Star Trek. What I am prepared to say is that District 9 is an incredibly well told story.

Director Neill Blomkamp is a master of the cinema verite style faux documentary. Much like Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project the shaky cam this-really-happened footage adds a visceral sense of truth to the film. But unlike the aforementioned movies which use a lack of apparent editorial influence to build credit with the audience, the documentary framing allows District 9 to present the truth while implying that there is an even bigger truth beyond that.

Because the framing documentary is “filmed” after the main narrative the interviewed subjects are able to drop hints about further events in the film. While not always obvious at the time these hints create nice “aha” moments when the connections are made, and it is these connections that make for a tightly knit story.

While there is one nagging bit of unexplained phenomena (a “liquid” that is apparently both a fuel and a toxin), ultimately there are few loose ends at the end of the movie. This isn’t to say that everything is cut and dry; there are plenty of ways to interpret what has and will happen, but that everything has happened for a reason.

This is the kind of story telling that writers, directors, and editors of all media and genres could learn something from. It’s Chekhov’s gun in action, where the details are meaningful. Just for that it’s a great film.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Award Winner

That "period piece" I wrote about back in March ended up paying off. I reworked it into a bit of flash fiction and entered it into the Boing Boing Gadgets Gadget Fiction Contest. I would have been happy with just an honorable mention but it turns out I managed to grab second place. The editing is a little rough but here is "The New Machine":

It was a cold February afternoon in 1854 when the defrocked Reverend Daniel Martin addressed his small New England town.

The circumstances behind the resignation of Daniel’s pulpit were not unusual and for that reason among others the former Reverend was still respected by most of the community. A year ago in August Daniel Martin led an attempt to use the legal system to free a visiting slave. When the courts ruled in favor of the owners, the slave mysteriously escaped. There wasn’t enough evidence to bring Daniel to a trial let alone convict him, but that didn’t stop the cries of “nigger stealer” from rising from the south, and on his part Daniel Martin did little to deny the accusations. For this Reverend Martin was made to resign his position in the church, and for this he retained the respect of many of the town’s residents.

You can read the rest at Boing Boing Gadgets.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Would you like to not have a beer? – A Poorly Worded Dialog

Do you want to view only the webpage content that was delivered securely? <Yes> <No>

This is the dialog that greets me in Internet Explorer 8 when I attempt to view images in Gmail or look at Google Reader items. It happens because I often check my email in coffee shops and other public networks and have told Google to sign me in securely. The issue is that the text content of an email is secure since it is hosted on Google’s servers while the images are hotlinked from another site. In principle it’s good practice to warn users when the supposedly secure site they are visiting has mixed content, but the wording is particularly awful.

Take a look at it again. It’s not asking you if you would like to view the insecure content, it’s asking you if you would like to not view it. That’s like a bartender asking me if I would like to not have a beer; it makes no sense, of course I would like to have a beer, but to get one I have to answer in the negative. In previous versions the choice that would do what you wanted and display the content was “no” and now the opposite is true. And there is the other sticking point: the default answer is “yes”.

I understand what Microsoft is trying to do here. They trying to stop users from blindly clicking yes and opening themselves up to a world of credit card fraud and identity theft. It’s an admirable goal but awkwardly worded (or cleverly worded, as someone at Microsoft must think) questions are not the best way of doing this. I’d much rather have multiple affirmations required to proceed (are you really sure you want to do this?) followed by an option to not warn me for the particular site again.

There is a way to remove the mixed content warnings altogether, but that just brings us back to a world where the wretched hive of scum and villainy that is the internet is free to trick you into believing that a site is wholly secure when it isn’t. There is a chance the Trusted Sites options may approximate the desired behavior but I’ve been met with only limited success. Until I get it worked out I’m left telling the bartender “no, I don’t want to not have a beer,” and that’s just wrong. 

(Edit: It turns out that I would need to place both Gmail and the site supplying the images on my Trusted Sites list. This is more work than I am currently willing to go through.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Star Trek

I saw the new Star Trek film over the weekend. Aside from a slightly missed beat in the big reveal I enjoyed every minute of it. JJ Abrams and crew truly paid the series more respect than most fans were willing to believe.

As I often do I went back and checked out reviews to see where my opinion fell. Most of the major critic’s opinions were in line with my own but Roger Ebert was not among them. Now, two and a half stars is not necessarily a poor review of a film but the fact that it’s half a star removed from Matthew McConaughey vehicle Ghosts of Girlfriends Past is more than a little troubling. Scores are only numbers and it was the text that truly bothered me, particularly the lede:

“Star Trek” as a concept has voyaged far beyond science fiction and into the safe waters of space opera, but that doesn’t amaze me. The Gene Roddenberry years, when stories might play with questions of science, ideals or philosophy, have been replaced by stories reduced to loud and colorful action. Like so many franchises, it’s more concerned with repeating a successful formula than going boldly where no “Star Trek” has gone before.

I think he’s got it all wrong. Firstly space opera is a subgenre of science fiction. Genre gaffes aside, The Star Trek series has always been a space opera. The warbling aria of the original series’ theme is practically a winking nod to this. Ebert’s argument may still be that the film is content to play within the safe waters of a subgenre, but I think he misses the point here too.

The idea that the new Star Trek doesn’t play with questions of philosophy is completely baffling. Star Trek is very much a film about destiny and identity. It’s difficult to go into any depth without spoiling the film, something I do not wish to do here, but suffice to say the theme is somewhat subtle compared to the main plotline.

If the subtlety of the deeper themes is the source of Ebert’s complaint then I need only point to the first series of films to make my argument. When the Star Trek films have tried to tackle weighty issues with  less subtlety we got The Final Frontier at worst and The Voyage Home at best. With Star Trek, as with anything else, symbolism is best when it doesn’t reach out and smack you in the face. The interesting musings should be the theme not the plot.

Ebert goes on to complain about some of the science, which he may not know is surprisingly plausible, and appears to have missed some of the plot in doing so (the away team must parachute onto a platform because the transporters are being jammed).  But none of this really matters, what matters is what I think, and what you think. As far as I’m concerned Star Trek is every bit as good as The Undiscovered Country and light years ahead of the abysmal Nemesis.

Friday, April 17, 2009


Thought about replacing this blog with one on Tumblr but it turns out that Windows Live Writer doesn’t support them because they use a nonstandard API. I love Live Writer, so no Tumblr for me. Don’t get me wrong I like a lot of what Tumblr has to offer; they have very clean blog pages with little self promotion (unlike Blogger) but I’ll be damned if I have to use their interface every time I want to write a post. This isn’t even saying that their interface is bad, it’s just easier for me to use a third party tool. Moral of the story is that standards are standard for a reason. If you don’t like it you should change the standard.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

PSA: Breath vs Breathe

I’m no Scripps finalist myself but there are some misspellings/typos that absolutely drive me nuts. Breath/breathe is one of those.

“…can’t remember how to breath…”

You draw breath and breathe in air. That little e on the end makes all the difference.

It’s one of those typos that often happen when the writer is trying to make a scathing remark and insult the mental capacity of the target and instead makes the writer look like an idiot. The next time you are writing a screed on a forum or in the comments section of a blog do yourself a favor an make sure you remember how to spell breathe.

Next time, u and you; one of these is a letter and the other is a pronoun.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Period Piece

I’m trying my hand at writing a story set in the mid 19th century (pre Civil War). It’s inspired by a historical figure so I felt that it was important to set the story in the same era. I’m really only relying on the period to impart a certain technological level and vague political climate so it’s not relying on as much research as something more deeply historical. Still I have a nice little folder of bookmarks to look at if I need a reference.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Raymond Zephyr: Investigator for Hire

Here's a little snippet of a story I'm working on. It's sort of a Lovecraft meets Noir kind of affair. The whole thing is finished and I just have to go back and make some edits. That'll probably take more time than I would like it to.

My name’s Raymond Zephyr, I’m a freelance investigator. That means I hang my shingle outside of a basement office that were it not for the four walls would be no more than a hole in the ground. An office is just a place to keep paperwork and accept deliveries and since I don’t believe in filing and never get packages I spend most of my office hours upstairs in The King in Yellow CafĂ©. It may be a dive bar, but it’s literally and figuratively a step up from my office below.

The Machine makes all of my appointments. It’s a juddering, clanking antiquity that was billed as a mechanical replacement for a flesh and blood secretary. The thing is more than capable of doing its job but the constant hum and subtle clacking of gears combined with an eerie metallic countenance proved to be too unsettling for the general populace. I find it to be convenient since The Machine tends to scare away all but the most sincerely desperate. Time is precious and I can’t spend it chasing lost puppies and nonexistent ghosts.