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Archive for December 2005

Sketch outline complete

I finished it.

Yesterday morning, five-year-old Child Three kept asking me to take him out shopping so that he could choose gifts for his sisters. We needed to pick up gifts for their California cousins (who are spending the holidays, ironically, in Montreal and Ottawa) also. We went out around noon, just he and I, first to the nearby Vallco mall. I suggested some wooden dinosaur models for Cousin One and a dragon/snowglobe crystal ball for Cousin Two, but Child Three rejected them. Although I was willing to settle, he held out for better choices. We had to hit a bookstore anyway, so we left empty-handed and headed east.

I lived in San Jose for four years, ending in 1997, so my recall of the pecadillos of Bay Area byways is spotty, but I eventually spiralled in on Valley Fair from the west (280), south (Moorpark), then the east (Bascom to Steven’s Creek).

Child Three chose a long, round Siberian-tiger-style Hello Kitty pillow/stuffed animal for Cousin Two and a Hello Kitty stuffed rabbit in a sweater and cap for Child Two. We got a book to feed Child One’s voracious book hunger. The hardest gift to choose was Cousin One’s. He has a bit of a learning disability and his mother forbids plastic toys. I found it hard to judge whether he’d appreciate a game or book or feel frustrated by it, but we chose a fun toy for him in the Discovery Channel store: a voice changer. It’s too bad the “Walking with…” DVD series was too expensive. I love that stuff, and what kid doesn’t?

My girls received their gifts yesterday as last night’s Chanukah loot. They loved them. The best part of the day was when Child Three and I pulled into the driveway after three hours of shopping. “I had fun with you today, Dad,” he said. Best part of the day.

Second-best part of the day was later finishing the sketch outline. I’ll print it out soon and today work on carving it more finely.

I found a superb crutch, which is actually what prompted me to post this morning. “By the Book” is the story of alleged emotional abuse and evolutionary biology. I know a lot about the latter (I double-majored in biology and anthropology at Rice, then spent a year at Yale in a geology Ph.D. program, on the road to becoming one of those dinosaur guys you see on the Discovery Channel) but little about the former, thank goodness.

I picked up a self-help book on emotional abuse. What a writer’s treasure! The thing identifies personality types – characters, in other words. In some ways, it’s plug and play. All you monkeys who need exposure to alien personalities and motivations ought to head right for the self-help shelves for an introduction to all kinds of twisted personalities.

Bonus early warning:

My birthday is in mid-January and I have my heart* set on this. Buy now and avoid the rush.

* My logical heart. My emotional heart would love a new desktop Mac or PowerBook.

“By the Book” progress

I have a few problems with my sketch outline. This is a step before a treatment, more a series of notes that outline the story rather than what is typically called an outline, usually a beat by beat measure of the scenes.

My original ending leaves the main character unsympathetic. Maybe that’s OK. More seriously, I’m having trouble getting there. Third-act difficulties are new to me; typically I suffer the more common second-act blues. I just have to slog through it for now. I have plenty of time for changes before the treatment is due in March.

I’ve also noticed that the story seems to switch focus. I start with the male lead and gradually pay more and more attention to the female lead. I don’t think that’s a problem if I can craft the third act to return focus to the male. The emphasis on the female lead is a subplot, then. Again, however, it puts pressure on my third act.

Today’s a day of thinking and perhaps writing if the solution comes to me.

The new monster monitor

God bless Craigslist.

I secured a never-used, never-opened GDM-5410 monitor, a Sony rebranded as a Sun Microsystems display. It has a beautiful flat Trinitron with a 0.24mm aperture grill pitch. I’m a snob, and I prefer the Mitsubishi tubes with shadow masks, but this monster will certainly do the job. I snagged it for $50 (US dollars). The full stats, and pretty gray/purple case, can be seen here.

The box says it weighs 84 lb and I don’t have a scale to verify that. I thought it would be more like 70 lb. A box of 70 lb would cost $25 as heavy baggage, above that to 100 lb will cost $50. It’s still a great deal.

A fastidious ticket agent will wield the double-whammy of oversize baggage as well – $80, I think – on top of the overweight. That will hurt, but you know what? Still worth it.

“Must Love Dogs”

You’d have to, to sit through it.

Because dinner ran late and all “Munich” shows seemed to start either 7:000-ish or too late for us at 10:30, we stayed in and watched – er, tried to watch “Must Love Dogs”.

Last night, we watched “Bewitched”, which had detectable levels of wit and charm, and certainly put a new twist on turning old sitcoms into new movies. Gotta hand it to those Ephrons. Nicole Kidman doesn’t hurt either.

But “Must Love Dogs”? I was ready to turn it off in the middle of the very first scene. The word that did it was “sis”. The Diane Lane character’s sister pronounces that word with enough emphasis to painfully reveal just how expository that whole kitchen scene was. It was awful. Elvi convinced me to give the movie more time, and what little John Cusack we saw made the next few minutes bearable, but when Diane Lane (no, I don’t remember the character’s name, and I don’t care enough to look it up) yelled at the butcher, that was it.

Fine, she’s divorced. She only wants one chicken breast. The butcher tells her she can have a whole chicken for 75 cents more. And she explodes over the fact that she doesn’t want to have three quarters of a chicken go to waste.

Hey, we have iceboxes now, by gum. And, as I recall, leftovers are the single person’s time-saver.

The clincher for Elvi was seeing the little boy smacked by a pole a scene later. His nose bleeds profusely, and he says “Oh, it’s a gusher!”

Ha. Ha ha. Oh, it’s a knee-slapper.

Elvi and I spent the next hour watching reruns of “The Simpsons” and “South Park” instead.

Hello, Silicon Valley!

Well, I made it to Sunnyvale. I arrived at my sister-in-law’s about half an hour ago. In an hour I drive to San Francisco airport to pick up the wife and kids.

I have nothing pithy to say other than to note that it seems impossible to find an aviation magazine in airports these days.

That’s not entirely a bad thing. I got the first act of “By the Book” outlined on the (second) airplane.

Ummm…. Do none of you Windows users see the Google ads and sidebar links or this specific to my sister-in-law’s desktop?

428 ready to rumble

I just finished the planning for JOUR 428, Online Magazine. Once I buckled down, it wasn’t hard at all. The second half of the course is grounded in the production of an e-zine, and my presence should be purely advisory.

If I train the students well enough in the first half of the semester, I can write movies in the second.

Speaking of which, there’s an outline awaiting me….

Wasted day

I obsessed all day over my failing monitor and its replacement. A new one is out of the question. It has to be at least a 21″ diagonal (known in metric Canada as a 21″ diagonal) monitor, because downgrades hurt worse than paper cuts.

The used monitors on eBay were disheartening. The shipping always gets you, and it looked like there was no acceptable screen for less than $150 (including shipping) to be had.

“Acceptable” is a key word. I am not an impulse shopper. I have to hunt down reviews and read testimonials and Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports wasn’t all that helpful – I could not access older reviews of CRT monitors, shoveled off to Limbo when the recent reviews of LCD monitors went live.

I’m a gamer, I need a CRT. LCDs still ghost too much with quickly changing images.

Then it occurred to me. I’m going to be in the US, so I could have a monitor shipped to my sister-in-laws and take it home with me. I spent the bulk of the day hunting down bargains. The best of the lot came from these guys. They have Cornerstone P1500 monitors for $99, with free shipping. Although not flat, it’s a decent monitor, but I was wary of the limited warranty. With monitors especially, you ideally should see what you’re getting. I kept hunting.

During a search for a review of some other monitor, the natural solution finally hit me.

I’m going to the Bay Area, the freakin’ most monitor-dense concentration of primates on the planet. And how do those primates discard used equipment? On freakin’ Craigslist. I’ve only read about a dozen stories on Craigslist over the last two weeks. The .ba folk throw used computer equipment at each other like monkeys throw feces. Check the link, the finely furred geeks hand out dozens of 21″ Trinitrons every week for a measly $40 apiece. And you can see a monitor in action before you hand over the cash.

I’m less concerned now. I just wish I’d thought of this before midnight. Allow me to share my belated wisdom.

Bonus apology to feed people:

I’m an editor, but a cocky one. That’s why you get multiple alerts.

My electronics are revolting

I have been the victim of some serious malfunctions in my office.

Yesterday, I sat down at my desk to find that my 21″ CRT monitor is ill. Along the left and right margins, the top third of the picture gets fuzzy as it goes up. The fuzziness on the left is orange and on the right is cyan. An additional symptom is ghosting of the image, particularly annoying in the top fifth of the screen.

Curiously, the orange/cyan effect is identical to the colour separation I get at extreme edges of my eyeglasses. If I look out the outer edge of the lens, I get the same orange ghosting; looking out the inner edge, things appear cyan. In fact, if I rotate my head 45 degrees away from the monitor and shift my eyes to look at it, the glasses compensate for the malfunctioning monitor.

This is an old monitor, and it’s going to cost a fortune to replace. I can’t work with my head at that angle.

A less expensive, but more annoying problem is the new cartridge of black ink in my Epson all-in-one printer/scanner/copier/coffee-maker. The ink just won’t flow. Sure, if I carefully remove the cartridge and shake it up, it will print four or five perfect pages – but I can’t keep doing that. It just tempts fate. I will end up with ink flooding the inside of the printer.

The least important and most fixable problem is a loose wire in my Thrustmaster RCS rudder pedals. It’s a simple matter to solder the wire back onto the pot, but first I need to find my soldering iron…. Without rudder pedals, I can’t play WarBirds, but I don’t need them for a tank in WWII Online, so it’s not a total crisis. In fact, I’m proud of two exquisite shots I made last night with the 75mm gun in my Panzer IV Ausf G. Twice I made first-shot kills on moving British tanks at a range of 1.8 km. I’m a proud grognard.

Bonus Google trivia:

Somebody found my site through a Google search for “donkey chasing pooping man”. This blog is the second link. I remain proud.

Netsurfer update

I finished all my correcting, submitted grades, and I have a good grasp of what JOUR 428 will turn out to be. Time for a Netsurfer Digest (NSD) update, prompted by a letter from one of its writers.

In short, I still have no idea what’s going on with NSD.

Now, the long version….

The way NSD has worked is I get the sites and Arthur has handled the Breaking Surf (BS) selections. Those two tasks have been completed more or less independently for each issue, although I get the BS to edit and incorporate once it’s done.

In August, Arthur started slacking off, and fell behind deadlines for BS. We started getting out an issue only every two weeks. At the time, Arthur wrote me to say he was moving his girlfriend, and that was why he was extra busy.

But that pattern continued. Finally, in November, Arthur stopped communicating altogether. He won’t respond to e-mail or phone calls from writers (I haven’t tried to call myself).

While none of us is in this for the money, I don’t think Arthur has paid the writers in 2005. In the spring, he claimed that he was moving to a bi-annual payment schedule, but he seems not have paid that out either. I get paid monthly, and the last payment I got was in June.

Now, Arthur has missed paying me in the past, but he’s normally a responsible guy. He has always made up missing payments. I used to see Arthur regularly when I lived in San Jose. He was honest and forthright, not a bullshitter at all. I’m a dedicated misanthropist, but I liked the guy. He promised me that if NSD was ever headed for the drain, he’d let me know well beforehand. He’s always claimed that NSD had at least a year’s worth of cash reserve to buffer bad times.

Well, Arthur hasn’t made up this year’s missing payments, and he’s essentially unreachable. I got in touch with Bill Woodcock, who is a Netsurfer founding partner and who hosts the Netsurfer machines. Bill has also had trouble getting in touch with Arthur. Obviously, something is up, but I don’t know what it is. I try not to let my paranoid fantasies get too far out of hand.

Coincidentally, I will be in the Bay Area Dec. 24 to Jan. 4. Bill and I have plans to meet and hunt down Arthur. Come January, I expect that NSD will be a known dead issue or a known live issue – either way, no longer a mystery. If it’s dead, though, what do we do?

The options, for me, are:

1) NSD dies, and forget it. Personally, I would miss NSD, but I can fill the missing time and money with freelance work.

2) Start a new venture to replace NSD. The problem with this is that I’m not really too techy. Arthur is the guy who coded mailing and PERL formatting scripts and whatnot – I’m purely content. We’d have to find a technically adept partner, and maybe a venture capitalist or sponsor to dump a wad of motivational cash. Alternatively, we can start a blog-like NSD thing. We can have writers and editor/moderators. It’s the cheapest option.

There’s also guarantee of success. How much can we make in ads? Enough to make this worthwhile? It hurts me non-MBA brain to think about stuff like this, but – light bulb over my head – I do have a bright tech friend who is a newly minted MBA. Maybe I should run this by him, if there’s enough interest among you.

Anyway, I’ll post the results of Bill and Webs’s excellent adventure in January.

Feel free to e-mail me (address in my profile) if you want to get together for sedatives and/or animal protein in the Bay Area.

Bonus screenwriting-industry-related funny:

While researching JOUR 428 content, I found Web designer/former copywriter Jeffrey Zeldman, who posted this hilarious conversation he had with a network marketer over an ad for a miniseries. It’s Part 38 of a series of ads that never ran.

My brunch with Robert

In the interest of truth, we only really had espressos.

Robert liked “Sheep’s End”, and he had kind words for my writing. His favourite parts were Bren – everybody’s favourite part – and the way that I can evoke a scene in words and make the pictures appear in a reader’s head. That’s writing, and I am good at it.

What I need to work on is what I know I need to work on, so I felt his criticisms validated my self-evaluations – a critical skill, pun intended. I have enough emotion, but it’s the characters that need work. With the exception of Bren, Robert says, the characters are too cardboard, too cliche. I need to give them more facets, more twists and flaws, higher stakes. They are too honest and safe at the moment.

To Robert, the story was too plot-by-numbers. He understood when I told him that the script started as scenes written for a screenwriting course. That’s something I can fix in a rewrite – keep in mind, this is a first draft.

Lastly, Robert said I need to move some story from dialogue to visual. I understand what he means – a variation on “show, don’t tell”. I had been mulling over this for a while, and have a new beginning that will replace a mid-script scene. Robert liked the idea. It’s just not on paper yet.

It was a valuable morning. Robert thinks I should forge ahead with the character-driven “By the Book” rather than rework “Sheep’s End”. So I will.

Bonus weather report:

Snow. Lots of snow. Schools across the city cancelled classes. We’re supposed to get 40 cm (16″) today.

Bonus observation:

Denis McGrath yesterday changed the name of his blog from “Dead Things on a Stick” to “Dead Things on Sticks”. His paychecks must have fattened.

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