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Archive for February 2006

Tuesday’s child

Here’s what I’m doing today:

1) Delaying calling the orthodontist. The metal support on Child One’s headgear snapped and I have to find out how much it will cost me to repair. By cleverly putting off the call, I don’t have to pay.

2) Yawning. Elvi left me last night. You see, there’s this fancy microscope that goes ping at Universite Laval in Quebec City and she and two other grad students drove downriver to use it. McGill has one of these machines, but it’s broken – so I’m told – and these fine young minds need results for a conference in two weeks. Elvi’s coming back later today sometime – so I’m told. In the meantime, the kids took up a lot of time and I didn’t get yesterday’s allotment of work done until 2:30 a.m. today. I woke at 6:30 to get the kids up and off to school.

3) Wondering if I ought to have posted a draft of that page of “72 Virgins” while in process. It’s going to keep getting better. It better keep getting better.

4) Non-plussing. Shooting on “Time and Space” starts tomorrow in San Francisco – so I’m told. It’s raining there, so Marior will start with the interior shots. That’s my first work in production, and you’d think I’d be giddier. That’s not my style, though. I’m more the type to keep the highs from getting too high and the lows from getting too low. That joke was for Elvi.

5) Working on the upgrade of Alex’s Web site. I’ve chosen sections of his upcoming “Crafty TV Writing” for posting on the site. The book will be out this summer and is the best book I’ve ever read on writing for television.

6) Reading and posting to blogs so I don’t have to correct JOUR 319 spreadsheet assignments.

7) This is my impending afternoon and evening:
3:30 – leave to pick up kids at school
4:00 – kids leave school
4:30 – get home
4:45 – leave again with Children One and Three
5:00 – drop Child One off at her babysitting training course
5:15 – arrive at arena for Child Three’s hockey practice
5:30 – hit the ice with Child Three and numerous other kindergardeners and coaches
6:30 – leave the ice and undress Child Three
7:00 – pick up Child One
7:30 – Mardi Gras party at Alex’s with all three kids and possibly the wife

Sometime in there, I’ll have to feed the kids. It doesn’t leave much time for a nap.

Two pages

I spent Friday and the weekend on “72 Virgins”, including some rewriting. I thought it might be instructive to post the original and the first rewrite pass. I won’t tell you which is which, however. Which do you like better?

A moment ago, Bassil set off a bomb among these people in a market. Franco is a cop. Havah is a mother, Albert is a senior citizen, and Julia is in high school. That’s all the set-up you need.

  • This room is painted a shade of gray exactly 50% black and 50% white. There’s one door, closed.
  • Bassil, Havah, Franco, Julia, and Albert mill around the room, stunned and confused.
  • Havah realizes she no longer holds children in her empty hands.
  • My children! Where are my children?
  • Havah breaks into hysterics.
  • In confusion, Bassil looks around.
  • (in Arabic)
  • Is this Paradise?
  • Albert cocks his head as if listening for something. He takes a step, slowly. He takes a second step, at normal speed. The mere action impresses him.
  • Franco gains his bearings, as do the others, save Havah. Julia consoles Havah, calms her enough to stop the hysterics.
  • Franco quickly surveys the room, pauses his gaze on Bassil.
  • Do I know you?
  • Bassil responds with a blank look. Franco shrugs it off, then goes to inspect the door.
  • Albert takes a third step, downright frisky. He smiles. He performs a brief dance step, then a deep knee bend.
  • Franco opens the door. It opens outward. Incredibly bright light floods into the room from whatever is on the other side.
  • Startled, Franco quickly slams the door shut.
  • Any theories on what just happened?
  • He gets nothing but blank stares. Bassil might look a little sheepish, perhaps even guilty. Albert glides around the room.
  • Don’t know what just happened, but I like it.

And the other version:

  • An empty gray room that appears to be an exact 50% mix of black and white. A single door resides in the middle of one of the walls.
  • Bassil, Havah, Franco, Julia and Albert stand at the opposite end of the room from the door.
  • Confusion, Bassil looks around.
  • Is this heaven?
  • Julia looks about wildly.
  • Havah glances down to her empty hands. Panic strikes.
  • The children. They were just here a moment ago.
  • Albert smiles as he stretches.
  • Don’t know what just happened, but I like it.
  • Albert performs a deep knee bend.
  • I haven’t not felt my arthritis in years.
  • Franco surveys the room and pauses as his gaze falls upon Bassil. He tilts his head to the side as if trying to recall something.
  • Do I know you?
  • Bassil evades the question with a blank look. Franco shrugs it off as the door attracts his focus.
  • Albert moves toward the door. Franco, curious, follows. As the pair reach it, the door opens.
  • Bright light bathes the room from the other side.
  • Startled, Franco quickly slams it shut. He turns to the group.
  • Anyone have an idea as to what just happened?
  • Blank stares transform into looks of deep concentration.

There you go. Discuss.

Tech talk Thursday

Because the scribosphere is so wise and artsy, so many of us use Macs. Ever since NSD went comatose, I’ve been antsy to comment on tech developments, and here are two I can’t ignore.

The tech media this week reported a vulnerability in OS X security. It exists and while this exploit can work malicious deeds, a simple setting will prevent it from working.

The offensive item at hand is not a virus or Trojan, but a process. If you surf to a Web page while vulnerable and click on a link, Safari will download the file, which is a Terminal script. Terminal (the OS X command line interface) will open automatically and run the script. Somebody can do a lot of damage to your files and/or hard drive that way.

You can run a benign version of the exploit at Secunia. The process resembles the Widget vulnerability of two years ago that Apple patched in OS 10.4.1.

There are two easy ways to prevent the file from running automatically. You can run Firefox, which won’t automatically open files unless you ask it to. Don’t do that. In Safari, you need to check the setting of the “Open ‘safe’ files after downloading” box. Open your Safari preferences and make sure that box is not checked:

That’s it. You’re no longer vulnerable, although if you open the file manually, you will cause the script to run. Apple needs to secure Terminal more tightly.

You can read discussion at Slashdot for more opinions.

A second development that interests me as a teacher of HTML and online publication is the new Google Pages. Google has come out with an online Web design app and is willing to host any pages you create for free, up to 100 MB worth. It doesn’t get better than that. You can work on your pages in a WYSIWYG interface or in straight code. It doesn’t work with Safari, but you can use the latest Firefox in OS X and Google Pages will work fine. Here’s a small sample page I just mocked up.

If you look at the code, you’ll note that Google Pages relies heavily on CSS. Unfortunately, when you use the code edit feature of Google Pages, you can see the code for the entire page. You can only work div by div. That will limit the usefulness of Google Pages in my classes. I’m not sure whether or not you can upload previously coded pages for Google Pages to host. You can upload files, so perhaps you can. I’ll have to test that. If you try, please let me know with a comment.

Illness and frustration

I spent the better part of the last three days sick in bed with brief moments of energy. Look at the date and time of the previous post, for example. I was awake and lucid between 2:30 and 5:30 a.m. Sunday.

The cold/flu finally broke last night, but I came down with a migraine around 5:00 p.m. Two Dilaudid took care of the pain eventually, but not the associated nausea or gas. I didn’t get much sleep between the coughing and the gas. Some expulsion or another kept waking me up.

I read a script for Alex Sunday night, but I haven’t felt up to writing my own. Today, I accompanied Child Two’s class to a fun day of skating and tubing at Beaver Lake and now I feel crappy again. Maybe I shouldn’t live up to all my obligations.

I offered to read something for Robert the director by tomorrow. That I will do, but it means even less time for me to write this week.

I don’t want to post to the blog with just a summary of my health, so here’s a crosspost from a post of mine on the WarBirds forum. After solving some equipment problems, I tried WarBirds on Saturday for the first time in months. I am a WarBirds trainer, renowned for my knowledge of air-combat maneuvers and skill in the virtual skies. Here’s what I had to say about my Saturday session:

I really, really suck.

For one reason or another, I haven’t flown very much WB in the past year. I finally fixed my rudder pedals and put them on a non-skid base, so I thought I’d give it a go this weekend.

Turns out I suck.

Really suck.

I can’t master the field-of-view changes to zoom in for shots and I can’t hit anything zoomed out. Yes, it’s mapped to throttle buttons. This is something that has bothered me since I left WB 2. And I lose tracking with these large cockpit frames. I’m still not used to them.

I think I landed a few bullets on targets, but I can’t shoot anything down. That doesn’t matter so much, because I can’t fly.

I used to be decent at this game. I know energy fighting, and I know what the planes are supposed to do. But no matter what I fly, I seem to have the speed of a Zero and the maneuverability of a Jug (ed.: a P-47, a thundering locomotive of an aircraft). Everything in the sky beats me like a rug.

I can’t lag turn, I can’t lag roll, I can’t even follow cons with my views.

The only effective move I made this weekend so far was a hammerhead with a 190 against a Spit IX. But I missed the shot and slammed into the desert floor since my crappy hardware can’t display ground clutter and I had no idea I was so low.

Really, I can’t hit a freaking thing out there.

Except, apparently, the desert floor.

I tried Spits, 109F, 190A, P-40E – I suck in everything.

So if you shoot me down, tell me what I’m doing wrong – and don’t think you’re so Sierra Hotel because I’ve got trainer wings. Because, you see, I suck. You probably just suck a little less than I.

I don’t have the best hardware up there (G4 @ 533 MHz, with a 64MB Geforce 3 and 1 GB RAM), but I’m not going to blame my equipment. Fact is, I suck at this damned game.
Webs, OC 101 “Red” Squadron, Israel
Member, WarBirds Training Staff

Some who responded say it may indeed be my archaic Mac that’s at fault. Big help that is.

Bonus observation on last week’s TV:

Did you notice that both last week’s “House” and last week’s “Grey’s Anatomy” had patients who spontaneously orgasmed? I wonder if that’s coincidence or if both writing rooms look at the same medical journals for inspiration, and both found such a case in the literature.

Regardless, the “Grey’s Anatomy” patient was a sideshow for the doctors. She could be cured with some unspecified offscreen surgery. The “House” patient’s orgasms were an important symptom that led directly to the correct neurological diagnosis. “House” is a medical show. “Grey’s Anatomy” is a soap opera.

A cock and bull story

When Laurence Sterne, a pastor, self-published his “About the Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Esq.” in 1759, he became a sensation. He played with the conventions of linear storytelling in a manner 200 years ahead of his time. The story is written as an autobiography that follows Shandy’s life from the womb to, after many tangents, just after birth. The heart of the novel is the digression into other topics.

Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” is a movie based on the book, written by Frank Cottrell Boyce and Michael Winterbottom, and directed by the latter. It’s on its way to North American theatres. Boyce wrote “Millions” (directed by Danny Boyle, who did “Trainspotting”), which I recommend, and teamed with Winterbottom to create one of my favourite films, “24 Hour Party People“, which starred Steve Coogan, who is also a lead in “Tristram Shandy”. (I think I would like “Party People” even if I weren’t a fan of New Order and the Manchester sound.)

“Shandy” is a meta-movie, a movie about making a movie. Many of the actors play multiple roles. Coogan plays Tristram Shandy the fetus, Walter Shandy (Tristram’s father), and himself as an actor making the Shandy movie within the “Shandy” movie.

This is where it starts to get weird.

I don’t know Steve Coogan, but I do know that this isn’t the first time he has played himself in a movie. He played himself in Jim Jarmusch’s odd “Coffee and Cigarettes”. It may be more correct to say he played a version of himself – Coogan can’t possibly be that arrogant and off-putting in real life – and, if so, he sure can mock himself. He does a similar thing in “Shandy”.

Coogan honed the arrogant persona on his TV show, “I’m Alan Partridge”, although he played an unambiguously fictional character in that series – sort of. He allegedly based his Alan Partridge on Tony Wilson, the British journalist who covered, nourished, and by the end swamped the Manchester music scene in the 1980s. Wilson co-owned the Hacienda club and Factory Records. Ironically, or not, Coogan would portray Wilson in “Party People”.

So Boyce and Winterbottom hire Coogan for “Shandy”, in which Coogan plays Coogan – a role he’s played before. And who shows up in the movie(s) to interview him? Tony Wilson, playing Tony Wilson. That’s beautiful.

The Web site for “Shandy” continues the theme. It’s a Web site about building a Web site. Look at the deleted e-mail.

Boyce is not mentioned anywhere on the site, and the credited writer is the pseudonym Martin Hardy. Variety tells us Boyce did that to effect an end to the working relationship with Winterbottom.

Bonus note on Andy Serkis:

The pre-Kong, pre-Gollum Andy Serkis plays producer Martin Hannett in “Party People”, although you won’t recognize him in that role, either.

Sick day

I dragged myself out of bed to let you know that I’m sick. It’s probably just a cold, but colds hit me much harder than you’d expect. Not me, though. By now, I expect it.

Concordia’s spring break – humorously called “Reading Week” in either optimism or denial – is underway and I have no sessions to teach next week. I hope to slam “72 Virgins” like a – well, er, uh, something or someone that can be slammed.


Some kind comments regarding what I write have come my way recently. Ken Levines comment in the post before this one made me giddy with delight. Well, it lifted my mood. OK, OK. It made me take my head out of the oven. And only for about 43 seconds.

I don’t remember if I mentioned this earlier, but a couple of weeks ago, I proofread a sitcom proposal for Robert the director. The prodco he approached turned it down, and now Robert wants me to come aboard as a co-writer. He had read my “Sheep’s End”.

I turned him down for a number of reasons, not the least of which is my dreadfully packed life (which somehow finds far too many games of Freecell shoved into its cracks, where far too many equals any amount greater than zero). Another reason I gave him was that I didn’t think I was ready for that sort of work. He wrote, “As far as the chops go – don’t under estimate yourself. You have more talent than you realize.”

I don’t mean to brag. It’s just a data point. But it feels nice. I need to be coddled every once in a while.

I still haven’t had time to do any screenwriting this week, although I’ve created coursework and blogged. I think I feel down when I can’t write, which just makes it harder to start writing, and I get stuck in a vicious feedback loop that involves playing Freecell to acquire that visceral thrill of accomplishment. The coddling is a nice boost.

I may be in a bad mood today because my brain let me down. I woke up with a great set up, or joke, or whatever you want to call it. I was all chipper with gratification from Ken’s and Robert’s words, and somehow I thought of a way to relate it to bonobos (a.k.a. pygmy chimpanzees) and bananas. Bonobos are the closest living relatives to humans, and will screw just about anything at any time.

I got out of bed, lost some fluids, gained some other fluids, and got dressed – and couldn’t recall what I was going to say. My great idea has not returned all day. All I remember is the punch line, a line of dialogue: “Like a banana? Let’s fuck.”

It’s not funny anymore, and I can’t get it back to funny.

Speaking of euphemisms for sexual intercourse (two and counting in this post), an online friend referred me to N53 32′ 19.47″ W001 20’48.82″ in Google Earth. Evidence of adolescent aliens tired of making crop circles?

(The remnant scientist in me feels obligated to point out that all crop circles are human artifacts.)

Bonus evolutionary biology:

I note in my site stats that someone in the UK did a blog search for the name “Darren Naish” and I suspect it was the man himself. Darren, in case you’re wondering why I would consider you a celebrity, once upon a time, I was a Ph.D. student working with John Ostrom, and Tom Holtz and I shared TA duties in his intro to paleontology class.

Darren recently posted a fantastic overview of advances in whale evolution in his blog. Whale evolution fascinates me for its scientific implications with respect to the evolution versus creation debate.

In Charles Darwin’s time, very few primitive whales were known and all were sea creatures. As a thought experiment, return to that time and consider what evolutionary biology would predict about fossil whalekind to be found in the future. Consider what creationists would predict about fossil whalekind to be found in the future.

Who was right?

Intercourse! I’m late for carpool!

Do you have to move to LA?

No, not if Len Blum is any indication. Len is a Montrealer and lives here. His wife is the principal of McGill University. Len wrote “Meatballs”. His most recent produced screenplay is the recent “The Pink Panther”.

The Gazette had an article on him today.

I don’t doubt that living in LA would help a screenwriting career, but Len is proof that you don’t have to be there to succeed. I’m toying with the idea of hunting him down for an interview on how to survive as a long-distance screenwriter.

In the meantime, enjoy the changes to the blogroll. Yes, Darren Naish is indeed a celebrity.

I hope I fall asleep soon. If not, I’ll have to blog about insomnia. And I still want to discuss personality and tastes at some point. I write that not as a teaser, but as a reminder to myself.

The bazooka goes boom

I wasn’t going to post on the finale of the two-parter “Grey’s Anatomy” I watched last night, but two things changed my mind. First was the ominous Google search that led one person to this blog: “why isn’t my bazooka tube working?” 101 comes in at number six on that hit list. I never before thought of including a “don’t try this at home” disclaimer on this site.

The other influence is the bump in traffic I got from mentioning “Grey’s Anatomy”. If you’re here because the blog mentions “Grey’s Anatomy”, welcome. And feel free to look around, because the site is much more than only drive-by comments on “Grey’s Anatomy”. So, enjoy the place, read the “Grey’s Anatomy” comments and the rest, and have a fun few moments. “Grey’s Anatomy”.

Now that you’re here, you’ll have to put up with me as I trash last night’s episode. The post-Superbowl first hour had its problems, as I pointed out last week, but at least it kept me interested. This week’s conclusion was far too soap opera.

It was an “and then” episode. Last week established what happened. This week kept pushing it: and then… and THEN… AND THEN!!! It went too far over the top.

The bazooka had cleared the wing of the hospital AND THEN the oxygen line was under the operating room with the bazooka shell!!! (All operating rooms have oxygen lines to them; not being an engineer, I question how large an oxygen tube needs to be to threaten to wipe out a hospital.)

The man in charge is feeling stressed, AND THEN he has a heart attack!!! But it turns out to be an anxiety attack.

Dr. Bailey’s husband is on the table in mortal danger, AND THEN his heart stops!!! But Derek pounds on his chest in one last desperate move AND THEN his heart starts up again!!!

It was too much. The danger was established in the first hour, and the second needed no further cliffhangers. In the Grey Matter blog (see blogroll to right), showrunner Shonda Rhimes describes how she meant the first episode to be male and the second episode to be female. This female episode lost me. It lost my wife, too. The show just doesn’t make my must-see list.

I don’t want to post without pointing out the good, as well. Although and perhaps because he doesn’t do much, George is a key perspective character in these two hours of TV. Eventually, he peps up the paramedic – and himself at the same time. He charges up, and motivates Dr. Bailey to have her kid there and then.

I did like the bazooka explosion. It seemed to be of the right magnitude – and note how the hallway contained it, just as an operating room would have. Shonda details all the testing that went into bringing her line – “…When the ammo explodes. When Dylan explodes.” – to screen.

Problem is, Dylan (the bomb squad guy) wouldn’t explode. He probably wouldn’t survive, but he would not have vaporized into pink mist. Three-and-a-half pounds of TNT is not going to turn a body to aerosol from one side.

And once the explosion occurs, there’s no exploration of that among the cast.

The best part of the episode was the end, and it recalled the first scene of the first hour. George sees the three women in the shower in life, not his fantasy. He sees why three women would shower together. It’s not fantasy. If there were more moments like that, the show would have kept me as a viewer.

Somebody poke that man

And this morning, Nearmiss and I get e-mail from Marior. He now thinks that the last round of changes he requested for “Time and Space” diminished the script thematically (I agree, they did), so could we please go back to the original scenes.

On the other hand, I was able to rework the ending to something I could live with, given the circumstances. I still like our original ending better, but it beats scaling fish for a living.

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