Wednesday, November 30, 2005

One in the bag

JOUR 202 came to a close today. I still have two classes to teach in JOUR 319 because of the vagaries of classes scheduled on Mondays.

I have signed on with the agglomeration of screenwriters to which Nearmiss recommended me. Part of the application was a ten-page screenwriting sample. I sent in a bit from Sheep's End, from the assault on the bandit camp to the encounter with the old man. (Sound like Dungeons & Dragons? Well, if you like D&D, you will love "Sheep's End". It's what a good D&D movie would be like. Feel free to ask to read it. It will only cost you some notes of the not-bank kind.)

Anyway, Ian the big boss guy loved it, "very impressed", he wrote. Silver Pictures, are you listening? Ian offerred me work right away. So "By the Book" may go by the wayside. Until that's firmed up some, I'll continue to plot out "Book".

Alex has graciously geared down on the work he had for me. It's a slow period and I asked him not to look for make-work projects while I get down to my own writing. Working for him is teaching me a lot, is making me contacts, and is a blast, but it takes time away from my own writing.

Bonus Google search of the week:

The latest, greatest search to forward someone to my page is “a ten letter word that starts with e that is a part that closes the path to food to the trachea and lungs”.

This stuff cracks me up. And why the heck is someone who can’t think of “epiglottis” working on crossword puzzles?

(OK, folks - how many guessed “esophagus”? Losers! That is anatomically wrong, and only has nine letters.)

Monday, November 28, 2005

Squeak it!

I hadn't checked the mousetrap behind the TV cabinet for a while - since my daughters' Halloween party, I think. I did today. It had snagged a smallish mouse a while ago, judging by the smell.

Off to the store to buy more mousetraps, I guess.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

New project

Days after warning Liquid Monkey that I may not have the time to participate in the song-inspired feature project, an idea popped into my head. It had been cooking for a while, and is a project I've been making notes on for months. Thinking about the song crystallized the idea. The working title is "By the Book".

I'll keep the blog updated on progress, but I don't give away ideas for free - written screenplays, yes, but not ideas - so I'll keep the concept and characters under my hat for now.

The set-up is formed, the characters are formed, and the conflict is formed, but I don't yet know how the story will end. I'm hoping that will come to me as I get cracking on an outline. All my previous screenwriting has worked toward an established end. Other writers allow their characters to dictate the ending, but this is a first for me. I do know the conflict to be resolved - the protagonist will have to choose between faith and family - but I don't know which will win out in the end. I'm going to write this one with the sequence approach (thanks, Warren) and see what happens.

The story doesn't follow the song except metaphorically, extremely metaphorically. Make that ludicrously metaphorically. The song, the Greatful Dead's "Friend of the Devil", talks of a man with two women who is possibly in jail. My guy will not be a prisoner, but will be a penal security consultant. Well, he will be at the start, and only because of the song. I hope to move him to some more creative field, like architect or engineer, before this is over. Furthermore, I am interpreting his two families as home life and work life. See how I stretch the metaphor? Or should that be "allegory"?

In fact, I may leave the song behind entirely.

Bonus comment on my day:

A student interviewed me on blogs and journalism for a project in his TV class. I didn't have much memorable to say, and I've forgotten most of it. Two points I made were that there's no point in defining something as blog or not. Is Slashdot a blog? Is CNN's Web site? Both have links and allow comments and we can argue that they are blogs or not - but what's the point? They were around before the term "weblog", and if anything prove the pointlessness of such debate. What's an e-zine? What's a newspaper? The line gets fuzzy as you near the boundary of definition.

I remember the first Web-based personal journal I ever read. It was Bryon Sutherland's "Semi-Existence of Bryon". This thread at discusses the question of whether such a series of personal posts is a diary or a journal. No one writes "weblog" (coined in 1997) or "blog" (1999; see Wikipedia), but they are obviously discussing what we now use those terms to define.

The only thing that has changed is the development of specialized software and sites that make blogging a click-and-post process. But that's nothing to base a definition on.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

When popularity is a bad thing

I'm doing some preliminary planning for next semester, and I checked registration for my courses. JOUR 428/528 Online Publication already has 14 undergrads and six graduate students registered.

Go away! Don't you fools realize that I get paid the same whether there are nine of you or 25?

Another student is working on a video piece on bloggery and wants to interview me on Saturday. I'll try to be coherent. Maybe it's time to do that last Percocet.

I kid! I kid! I can't do the Percocet - Elvi and I are going out Saturday night and I plan to drink alcoholic beverages.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

House tangents

My favourite drama is "House", as faithful readers will remember. Last night's episode roller-coastered in quality for me, and gives me some nice opportunities to segue (if you don't know how to pronounce that, please leave and come back when you do).

If you watched, you probably noticed the homage to Sherlock Holmes (if you didn't, please leave and come back when you have). If the 221B address plate on House's home were any brighter, it would have blinded drivers and pedestrians on what can only be Baker Street. The address is a blatant admission of the concept that Gregory House and James Wilson are modern interpretations of Holmes and Watson. I just wish that it had been toned down, literally. The sign shone like a spotlight.

The Television Without Pity community of "House" fans - of which I'm not a member - makes a big to-do over the ball on House's desk. It's a fuzzy pink and purple tennis-ball-like object, only it's about six inches in diameter. Nobody seems to be able to figure out where it comes from. They call it "the ball", and wonder about its origin. Foreman tossed the ball around in one scene in what I hope was meant to tease them.

Parts of the episode bothered me. Why did the doctors not wear masks when treating the AIDS patient? Do doctors not bother with that? Was it a concession to TV? And while having Chase have Cameron do the nasty was a great idea, would Chase really foolishly kiss Cameron? Sex - yeah, condoms will block transmission. But an open-mouth kiss?

What struck me most about that scene, by the way, was the music. Cameron was playing Goldfrapp, an obscure British couple who make haunting electronic alternative - and it's something I just happen to listen to in regular rotation. Click that link - it takes you to an online list of the music I play in my iTunes. Can you tell I DJed in the '80s?

Back to TV.... While watching last night, I disliked the scenes with House and Stacy. He loses his gruffness while with her, and the show drops in entertainment level. People do change according to the people they are with at the moment - ask Elvi how she thinks my brothers and I change when we get together - and on an intellectual level I can appreciate that, but I'd rather watch Hugh Laurie play either spiteful or comedic. The world doesn't need a less pretty Hugh Grant.

That's why the end of the show was so satisfying to me. It's not that the stakes have been raised by Stacy's guess - as trite as that was - that House looked in her file that satisfied me, but the knowledge that the soft and cuddly House has been put back into the closet for a while.

Bonus ammunition for opponents of socialized medicine:

I've lived in Quebec and the US, and what with my headaches and my kids, I'm familiar with both systems. ("Canadian medicine" is not an accurate description - provinces run their health plans independently.) I'm a bigger fan of the Quebec system, but it's not perfect. I have an ophthalmology consultation for my son, and the first available appointment is March 1, 2006. If it were an emergency, he'd be seen right away, but three months plus?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wrestling with computers

Days like this drive me crazy.

I spent the morning sulking because I gave Alex a synopsis rather than a story. I should be able to do better than that. He is driving me there, but I need to avoid frustration with myself. I do value most of the work he gives me.

I spent the morning finding new databases for JOUR 319's data-mining assignment. You'd be surprised how much work it is to find files to teach with. I've been using cutomized files from the FEC of political contributions and PACs the past four years, but these files come from the 1996 election year. It's time to update, to Canadian databases if possible.

The Canadian government is just too welcoming, however. Elections Canada maintains similar databases but lets you search them online. It pre-matches political donations and contributions so there's no work for the analyst - i.e. my students. And there are few other free databases available publicly to relate and analyze.

So I return to the FEC. The problem is that its database of contributions is 300-MB large. Even worse, the FEC only hands out the database as length-delimited files, meant for use in the crappiest database manager known to Earthlings, Microsoft Access. What I have to is first convert the FEC files to MS Access on the WIndows XP machine, export them as tab-delimited files, upload them to a FTP server, walk across the room, download them to my Mac, and open them in Filemaker Pro.

My wee Mac is only a 533 MHz G4, and takes 90 minutes to load the 300 MB database. Right now, it's sorting th erecords by state. In order to make these files a reasonable size for my students, I limit the data to New England states.

OK, so that's that, and it's a stressful, large chunk of day. On top of that, Alex asked me to solve a CSS problem for him. I did it - well, Elvi did it, mostly - and it took two hours, despite my l33t Web skillz and a copy of "Cascading Style Sheets: Designing for the Web".

The page had a number of defined styles, which finished up with:

.tag {
font-size: 9px;

The Technorati tag in the text was as follows:

<div class="tag">Tags:<a href="" rel="tag">screenwriting</a>

But the link inherited the style from other styles and would not appear white. I solved this with brute force:

<div class="tag">Tags:<a href="" class="tag" rel="tag">screenwriting</a>

Elvi had a more elegant solution:

#tag {
font-size: 9px;
#tag a {

and this in the body:

<div id="tag">Tags:<a href="" rel="tag">screenwriting</a>;

That worked for me on Safari (OS X) and worked for Elvi in Firefox (Win XP), but Alex couldn't get it to work. He's using my brute force method instead.

We know the problem has something to do with inheritance, but none of us know why the div class attribute won't penetrate the link in the first case? Anyone?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Some blogroll additions

I've added a new category of blogroll: Celebrity blogs. The list will remain small, because so few have any value at all, be it informational or entertainment. I've moved Roger Ebert's site there, where I think it belongs. I visit Wil Wheaton and Zach Braff's blogs every so often, but the addition was prompted by Scott Adams, who writes like I think.

Nearmiss is today submitting my name for the writer job that opened today. I will have to drop other work to make time for that, but what? Evrything I do now has some value: Alex gives me insight; NSD gives me steady dollars; Concordia is fun and profit. Looks like spec-writing and the Grateful Dead-based feature will have to go.

Today, the "Time and Space" short will ge a final pass, and I'll do the last review of other scripts for that project. Then I'll get down and dirty with the "Medieval" synopsis for Alex. Thank goodness NSD is again late.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Back in the swing

My house is nearly empty of visitors and I'm back at work. Fortunately, this was an easy week with respect to classes, so most of my work is related to screenwriting.

I have a final pass at "Time and Space" to get through. Nearmiss doesn't like the new ending we came up with - now with 150% more pathos! I don't like it either, but I think the distaste is more a function of how it is written rather than what is happening. It needs more room to breathe. I'll fix that up.

I have to get back to Alex stuff. I haven't done a thing for him all week.

Robert the director called me last week to ask for a printed copy of "Sheep's End". That's good and bad. Good because he said he enjoyed the first two pages. He wants a printed copy because it would allow him to read it away from power outlets. Bad because I was waiting on his notes before reworking it. I'm toying with putting a PDF copy up on the blog. Maybe the next draft....

The producer running the short-script project goes by LiquidMonkey at TriggerStreet. His next project is to have us writers create a script based on a song. By luck of the draw, mine is the Grateful Dead's "Friend of the Devil". An outline is due Jan. 1. That may be a problem. I also have to create JOUR 428 Online Publication for next sememster. I've never taught it before, so I don't have any material to cushion the blow. I do have outlines from previous years, but that's about it.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Oh, yeah - screenwriting

I haven't posted much about screenwriting lately.

Nearmiss and I gathered in critiques about "Time and Space" and learned little we didn't already know in our hearts. Our secondary characters need more motivation and chiseling. We decided to add more pathos to the ending, as well. I always take too much caution to avoid making stories too maudlin, but I think the punched up/in ending will make the point stronger.

On the other hand, we also received this critique (edited for brevity):

Time and Space was an excellent script, very well written and reminiscent of Rod Sterling and the old Twilight Zone episodes where ordinary people are placed in extraordinary situations that lead to an ironic twist at the end....

As all the characters were introduced one by one the consistancy of your clear, sharp descriptions drew us in even more and even though each one of the characters in this script was different right down to their core component, they were also alike and bonded with each other so well to fit the thematic substance of the script.... This not only allows the audience to also be drawn in to the unfolding events but it allows the audience to bond with and care for eachone of these highly unique people, individually and as a group.... well (fit) the study of contrasts/dynamics/psychology between the internal components of the character and the external circumstances that almost define him perfectly. What follows are also perfectly executed dynamics/psychology of each one of the characters as Sheldon attempts to contact them.... It all ties in so well with the thematic value of the piece. I loved the subtle social undertones and exploration of our place in the world, in our communities, in our hearts, our minds and the uncertainty of it all. Individually and collectively as human beings. I loved the exploration of how we sometimes lock ourselves in a bottle to erase suffering/reality. Your characters and their distinctions/disassociation set up the thematic message of labeling people as opposite poles so well and the consequences that come from that which are that to label people in such a way as pure and distinct is the quickest way to land on paths of destructon, individually and communually as well as turning a blind eye to reality, becoming apathetic, selfish. Envisioning a world in which wholeness does not mean escape but it means knowing each other accepting each other in our capacities as individuals and as societies coming together in humility and seeing one another for all of who we are, can we begin to know peace. Inner and otherwise. The ending of your script nails the theme where true understanding means being able to see ourselves and one another in our human complexity where good can only win over evil/negativity with the creative force of love that encourages cooperation rather than conflict and that harnessing negativity can be a powerful creative force.

Dang! We're genuises!

Nearmiss is taking the first pass on the next draft. I'll do the second. She says she trusts me. and doesn't need to see my changes. How quickly can you cast one-legged thug flamingoes these days? Is it still as easy as it was in the '70s?

Robert, the director I met at the shmoozefest, left me a message to say that he has no time to read the PDF, but he would like me to bring him a print-out. I'll do that.

In other Hollywood-related news, I have yet to call Bill, the man who wanted to hire me for research, or hear from him. I really ought to call him.

Warren has a nifty image of scribosphere blogs at his Screenwriting Life blog. Of course, I mention this because 101 is one of the windows - front and center, in fact. This post may be a direct result of that. I sure as heck haven't done any feature-writing lately. I haven't written a word since Alex took me under his wing. Part of that is also the start of school, but I really should be bleeding more words onto my hard drive.

Bonus 101 Squadron facts:

Category A - Sad: Slick Goodlin passed away in late October.

Category B - Cool: Brian Chersky is building a replica P-51 Mustang and is painting it in 101 Squadron colours. I'm helping him out with that. It's a 3/4 scale Titan T-51. He sent me a photo, but I'm waiting for permission to post it.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

New addition to the must-watch TV list

Sunday night has always been a good TV night for me, and I spend it now watching TV with my kids. We watch Fox/Global until 9:00, when the older two kids go to sleep.

At 9:00, I continue watching TV, usually. I'll sometimes watch "Family Guy" or whatever's on the (Canadian) Discovery Channel, but more often than not, I spend that half-hour with "Trailer Park Boys" on Showcase.

After "Trailer Park Boys", Showcase has a series called "Kenny vs. Spenny". I put aside time to watch it since discovering it a month ago.

It's a reality show of sorts. I don't usually watch reality television - I did watch the first seasons of "Survivor", "The Real Gilligan's Island", and "America's Next Top Model", but that's it. But this is fabulous.

Kenny Hotz and Spencer "Spenny" Rice are roommates, best friends, and deadly serious rivals. Each week, they compete to outdo each other in some bizarre accomplishment: who can drink the most beer without throwing up; who can stay naked the longest; who do old people like better. The loser must perform some humiliating task.

Kenny is a conniving jackass. Spenny is a neurotic shlemazel. Spenny has yet to win in any of the episodes I have watched.

Tonight's challenge was to determine which man old people like better. Kenny and Spenny each had to impress three senior ladies and win their favour. Spenny showed them a good time, with belly-dancing and a seminar with an accountant.

Kenny took the ladies for a manicure and invited them to his mom's house for tea, where they met his younger brother with Down's syndrome.

The ladies were impressed with how Kenny cares for and includes his brother, and voted 3-0 for Kenny as the man they liked better. Spenny was surprised to hear Kenny has a brother, but the audience wasn't. Kenny had hired a guy with Down's syndrome to pose as his brother to make him seem more likeable to the old ladies. Kenny's mother was in on it.

This is yet another symptom of the great Canadian TV renaissance - or is it just a naissance? "Corner Gas", "The Tournament", "Trailer Park Boys"... what a country!

The weekend ends

My uncle died last night.

The death was not unexpected (he's had metastasized cancer for two years), but I have to deal with two divorced parents (and one of their two spouses) and three siblings (and two spouses and two kids belonging to my sister) coming into town, all of whom want to stay in my three extra beds despite the risk of stomach-virus contagion.

Oh, and my father (whose brother is the deceased) does not get along with his newly widowed sister-in-law, so he's planning to sit shiva at my house instead of at hers.

It's a horrible occasion and my house will have limbs sticking out the eaves, but my family is always extremely helpful with meals and my kids when they are around.

Coincidentally, this morning, I went to the unveiling of my grand-uncle's stone. I was the only family member to attend, since I was the only family member for a thousand miles. My uncle's family was in Seattle, where they were grasping at straws with attempts to prolong his life.

Yesterday was very busy, again. I took the boy to hockey (last year's pics here) and then came home to make lunch for the kids. We all went out to buy a gift for Child Two's friend, and then headed off to the Royal Canadian Hussars open house. I tried to stop at a Tim Horton's to pick up my first coffee since Wednesday but discovered I had no cash on me. I had no time to stop to get cash, because I had to drive Child Two and two friends to a birthday party.

The map on the pamphlet that came with the invitation was horribly uninformative, and helped me turn a half-hour drive into an hour. I had a headache, too, despite 1,200 mg of ibuprofen over the course of the afternoon. Traffic on the way home was horrendous and took 90 minutes.

Child Three had been asking me to make escargot for days, so we stopped to buy two cans of snails. I sauted them in garlic butter. Child Three ate one. Child Two ate some, also. They left the bowl in reach of the dog, who ate the rest. By that time, I was already asleep. I slept from 8:00 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. this morning. It's too bad you can't bank sleep and earn interest.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Life in a Monty Python skit

Elvi is in Las Vegas for Stuart's wedding. It's a small affair this time, and she's best "man". The celebration part of the wedding will take place New Year's Eve in California, and we'll all attend that.

That leaves me home alone with the children from Wednesday to Sunday, and their extremely booked schedules cut into mine.

Wednesday, I picked them up at school at 4:00. Child One had animation class 6:00 to 7:30. Child Two and her friend had figure skating 6:30 to 7:25. I dropped them off - fortunately only two blocks apart - and took Child Three home for half an hour. In between the sessions of driving, I didn't have much time to cook, so at 7:00, the boy and I headed off to pick up a bucket of chicken. We spent a half-hour waiting to order. The unilingual French and dim cashier had trouble communicating with the unlingual Spanish customer who only had American currency.

It was a secret recipe for an extra-crispy disaster.

I got to the designated pick-up point for Child One at 7:40. I had decided to get her first because she was alone - Child Two had her friend with her. But I didn't see Child One, so I drove on to get the other two.

I packed them into the van at the arena and returned to seek Child One. As I drove by, I saw her sitting on the floor inside the building, absorbed in her reading and oblivious to the world. I wonder where she gets that from....

After dropping off Child Two's skating companion, we got home at 8:10. All got to bed by 9:00. That's five-plus hours of my day right there.

Thursday started with a splash, the splash of Child Three's vomit hitting the toilet bowl. Child One also said she was nauseated, but I was dubious - she's an occasional shirker. Both sick kids did have an appetite for breakfast, so I thought the vomit might be a one-time thing and piled all three into the van for the ride to school.

On the way, Child Three complained he was hot but, in reply to my question, said he did not have to throw up. I asked him to tell me if he had to, so I could pull over to let him do it outside. Two and a half blocks later, he told me.

I was driving on a residential street with cars in every parking spot. I pulled over by one driveway but a car started backing out, so I drove to the next driveway. By the time I flashed out of the driver's seat and pulled open the sliding door, my fantastic, dedicated boy had his cheeks puffed out and his hand over his mouth. Despite his effort, dribbles of vomit trickled down his chin. He held it until he left the van and let it fly onto the street. What a trooper.

I have to say, this was the least offensive vomit I've ever seen. The boy had eaten cinnamon ewaffles for breakfast less than half an hour previous, so what he produced looked and smelled as nice as cinnamon porridge.

A passing woman offered us a bottle of water. We thanked her and drove the girls to school.

The boy spent the day at home with me, which always cuts into how much I can work. He had some potato chips and apple juice in the afternoon, and kept that down. At 3:30, we went off to fetch Child Two from school. Child One had choir practice until 5:00, but she would come home with a carpool.

After picking up Child Two at 4:00, I took the two younger ones shopping for food - I made a squash soup for supper. I had the foresight to take a plastic bag with, in case Child Three lost it again.

Butternut squash - check.
Celery - check
Child Three complaining of the heat and looking flushed - check.

Between the onions and lettuce shelves, he threw up. But this spectacular child spewed every last drop into the bag. I've rarely seen such control. I went outside to throw the bag into a garbage can. I couldn't handle asking a counterperson to deal with a bag of vomit for me.

I cooked at home, fed the kids, and got them in bed. I got some time to myself at 9:00, but I was too burned out to work, so I instead lost a Bedford truck, a Crusader, and a Matilda in WW II Online. The infantry players in the game have got to learn to protect the armour from sappers.

Child Three seemed healthy this morning, and I dropped them off at school. I got home, read the paper, and got a call: Child One threw up in class.

So I went and got her. And then spent 45 minutes writing a blog entry.

It hasn't been a productive week. I wonder what the Jewish Brigade (virtual) is up to....

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Comedy tonight

The BBC had a pick-up from the Yorkshire Evening Post online for a week or so, which it has since deleted. The short article has already escaped, and is wending its way around cyberspace like a runaway dog.

Read it and then enjoy the public commentary, which the BBC allows to live on.

Bonus update:

This seems true, but old. The Museum of Hoaxes clarifies the situation.

Dare I hope?

Nearmiss sent me an encouraging note last night. A small band of TriggerStreeters is expanding the concept of the collaborative short scripts to features. In this exercise, we will work individually, but our features are to be based on a random song. Nearmiss wanted me to take part.

Better than that, Nearmiss said she was going to nominate me for a writing job with her production group. I don't know exactly what that entails - she's limited in what she can divulge by a confidentiality clause - but she thinks I would be a huge asset.

Dare I hope that I can make a few bucks at this screenwriting gig?