Friday, December 22, 2006

978-0-6151-3792-6

That being the ISBN for Finister. Score one—and a few more—for self-imposed deadlines. I'm telling you, all you budding authors, artists and/or whoever tries to 'create' something without externally-imposed deadlines: the only way to get it done is to impose the deadlines yourself and pretend that your life depends on sticking to them—which it might, in a certain sense anyway.

So, here it is. For those interested in the process, as it applies to lulu.com: the ISBN has been typed into the main body of the text and the bar-code added to the cover. The PDFs containing contents and cover were uploaded, I ordered a copy to approve, which will come to me in due course. Once I have the copy in my hot little hands, I'll hopefully will find no more errors of sufficient gravity to stop me from sending my approval, whereupon the book will be loaded into the appropriate databases and eventually appear as published by me on, for example, Amazon.

Anyway, my deadline for Finister was Xmas 2006, and that's apparently what it's going to be. So, allow me to pat myself on the back. I just made the pat official with a close encounter with Mr. Pinot Noir, my favorite buddy from Wineland.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Martial Arts Reflections (2): Tigers Don't Dance

During our training sessions with Sekiguchi Sensei October this year, many of the attendees, including the senior ones, suffered from overload. Everybody was moaning—discreetly, of course—about there being so-o-o-o much to learn, and how could we be expected to remember all this stuff?

Truth is there was a lot. Iaijutsu training—just the 'sword' part, ignoring such issues as tactics, strategy and philosophy—consists of a number of elements that interlink to form the whole of a 'style'. These elements range from the minutiae of drawing and cutting—and minutiae is the operative term here, for we're talking about such tiny details as the exact placement and sequencing of two hands as they reach for the sword—to elaborate sequences of steps and cuts (kata), either along or with two people. All in all, if one went through all the kata in sequence and at an appropriate pace, it amounts to something like 20-30 minutes of sustained performance.

So, yes, there was a lot, though I must confess that I found the plaints by some tiring and unworthy. Besides, at least in my book, it wasn't all that bad. It all depends, as things so often do in life, on sorting out what matters from what doesn't—to separate the invariants, the essentials and principles, from the surrounding complexities.

How to do that? How to detect the essential among the elaborate rituals?

Sensei wasn't much help, if only because he's Japanese and most of us weren't. On the other hand, I think the Japanese have the same issues. To sort out what matters from what doesn't is a 'life skill' that requires either that one has learned it or that one has an instinctive grasp of the matter; something below the level of conscious evaluation, but nonetheless functioning.

Sensei freely mixed advice on minutiae into the teaching of the elaborate forms; spending, I thought, enough time on this or that to make it clear to those who paid attention to such things, that here was something that mattered, while that could be done this way or that, but basically it was more 'style' than 'essence'. I don't know if he does this deliberately, knowing it is what he's doing and planning it that way. If so, I disagree with his teaching method, because most people just don't 'get' it. Cognitive overload doesn't lend itself to cognitive discernment. You got to tell people. This is a fact. I now there are a lot of teaching myths around in the martial arts field, but a lot of them are steeped in the contingencies of culture and history, and they are...well, let me be nice and call them 'ineffectual'. Western...disciples...tend to take on these same methods because of the mummery and mystique adhering to them. Besides, it's impolite to question, even in one's mind, the wisdom of a grandmaster.

It's all a lot of bollocks. Students don't generally 'pick up things along the way'; meaning that it is thought they will pick up the minutiae while having to focus on the complexities of some, essentially arbitrary, dance imposed by the style or the whim of the master—who might change his mind tomorrow and decide that in this particular kata we should now do this part this way, rather than that one; the latter being the way it was done up to the current moment. People lose the essentials in focusing on such trivia. This is true for beginners and advanced practitioners. The dance obscures the essence.

Am I saying that kata are useless? By no means, and to the contrary. They have the important function of serving as rituals for the transmission and keeping-alive of a given style. They also, and even more importantly, serve, especially for the beginner, as instruments to teach him or her essential skills—neuromotor skills, familiarity with the instrument that is a sword so that it becomes like an extension of one's body, and observational skills with an emphasis on mapping somebody else's body movements into their own; in other words activating and training their mirror-neuron systems. As such, kata are invaluable. The requirement for having them performed with precision and in a predictable way teaches the student focus and attention on position, movement, sequence and timing. Relating their performance to a narrative which supports the particular actions helps to establish the neural framework for precise execution. Into this framework one can then build correctness of minutiae—sooner, rather than later, because it is a neurobiological and ubiquitously observable fact that it's harder to unlearn an established bad habit, especially if it is minute and likely to exist under the self-critical radar, than not to let it become established to begin with.

Again, I know that some martial arts teachers think differently about this, but the fact is that they are mistaken. This is not a matter of opinion, but of paying attention—or not—of observable scientific fact. I am unapologetic in favoring, in this instance, the mindset of a scientifically-inclined and trained Westerner over that of the traditions of the East.

Th more complex kata invariably require the support of a more complex narrative to support their sequences. The natural consequence of this is that one ends up asking—maybe not aloud—"but what if..." What if the narrated fighting sequence doesn't proceed as told, and the enemy does this instead of that? As a result, complex kata invariably have some 'standard' form, dictated by the style's master(s), with numerous 'variations'. Said 'standard' may well change, with a former 'variation' becoming the 'standard'; and so on. This should make it clear to anybody that it is in the nature of kata that they are essentially arbitrary. What isn't arbitrary though are the minutiae, because they go to the essence of the forms. The simplest of kata therefore invariably reveal a practitioner's true skills and grasp of the essences.

Kata, in other words, should not be 'dance'. There may be some instances where they may be performed with the elegance and smoothness of dance, and indeed there is virtue in this, because it is in this flow that the practitioner's body—as opposed to his sword skills—learns balance, flow, power and again balance, balance, balance; and awareness of this moment and how it flows into the next, all at once. All skills of essence to the iaijutsu practitioner.

But when I say that they should 'not be dance', I really meant something else. Because dance is an aim—either for personal expression, ritual, social connection or performance. Kata should never be that, because the moment they are, they become just that: usually 'performance'; acting something out, as one has to when being graded. Of course, in that instance 'performance' in unavoidable, but what is tested here should be more the skill and stature of the examinee, not the kata itself. A kata screwed up because the one being tested forgot some element of a sequence or maybe the name of the form, but whose essential elements and minutiae were performed with skill and spirit, should be considered a kata performed successfully. A kata is just a framework for study and practice of what really matters. A dance has its own perfection as the ultimate goal. In that sense a kata should never be a dance.

The universe of martial arts often maps onto 'life' in general; in a simplified form—and often in drastically non-obvious ways. Iaijutsu and kata—especially complex ones, which involve a number of moves, all of which are meant to be executed with precision. Some folks are very good at these complex kata. They'll remember all the different variations on the standard and their intricacies; the names; maybe something about their histories; and lots about the narratives that go with them. They're even pretty good at executing them with a fairly good amount of attention to the minutiae—though I've yet to see even Sekiguchi Sensei himself pay full attention to and execute faithfully everything he teaches us when he launches into one of the complex kata whose point is the kata itself and its intricacies, rather than the fundamental simplicities of the essential elements.

'Attention' is a strange and often-mysterious thing; and to be consistently skillful at it takes a lot—and I mean a lot!—of focus, self-discipline and self-observation and constant...well, attention. Attention directed to one thing inevitably diverts attention from another; this is a consequence of the limited cognitive resources available to all of us. This is true throughout the cognitive system—sub-conscious and conscious—but it is especially true of the 'conscious' part of it, because, when you come to think about it, our 'conscious' capacity is amazingly limited.

The practice of 'intellectualism' and many of those pursuits considered expressions of 'culture' and 'civilization' are basically kata-dancing. When all is said and one, the dance is the aim and goal, though there is always a pretense of more purpose and meaning, such as that supplied by the narrative 'explaining' or contextualizing a given kata. For we are the stories we tell ourselves, especially when we forget that they are just stories. Then we get ensnared in a web woven by ourselves and those whose stories we choose to share and believe as being real.

Actually the thing is even more starkly absurd: those who perform kata-dance invariably are the very people who wouldn't dream of actually doing what they are pretending to do. Indeed, they would look upon the notion with the disdain they believe it deserves. They are indeed just pretend-Tigers—must be, because real Tigers don't dance! Real Tigers stop playing pretend-kill when they've grown out of being cubs. Kata-dancers think they're grown up because they're so good at kata-dancing.

In the director's cut of Tears of the Sun, almost at the end, the son of an, recently killed, African ruler and tribal leader tells Monica Belluci's doctor character that “in Africa doctors save one life at a time”. I'm glad that line went back in there, because, like a lot of other necessary story and background, it was nuked in the cinema release version. “One life at a time”: actually it goes deeper than that, because the saving of each life—the very attempt to save a life—must be preceded by a decision.

Can I? Should I? Need I? What will happen to me if I do? What will happen to the one I try to save if I do? What... And so on.

The same goes for kata. Or it should, if kata are to be anything more than dance. Every move, every cut, should be preceded by an instant of true decision. The paradox, if you will, is that, though the form is predetermined, one needs to execute it as if at each decision point it weren't. Awareness of each moment and what is, together with the possibilities of what is inherent in it, and the consequences of what will be if one does this or that.

But it rarely is. It's always the predictable dance, whose qualities are invariably adjudicated by form and per-form-ance; in the minds of spectators and usually by the practitioner him- or herself. There is an element in many of the dances where a pretense of decision-making is an element of the form itself, but it is pretense, just like the whole thing. Make-believe.

If there is a hidden meaning somewhere in what we do at the dojo, something concealed so deeply that we have to dig very deeply to unearth it, so deeply that people rarely persist with digging...can it be anything else but that Tigers don't dance?

The only evidence of this insight has come from folks, who by the standards of those who see martial arts as an expression of 'culture', rather than something more basic, qualify as...well, I think the word 'simple' is as kind as I can manage. I'm not talking about thugs who want to learn to be urban warriors; but folk who see their sword training, 'unrealistic' as it may be, as a tool to train/condition themselves to adopt, and a way to express in some physical discipline, a mind-set that to many nowadays would appear as laughably and embarrassingly archaic. A mind-set they sense, has no point for existence unless it is actually lived on a practical basis day-to-day. These folks might be surprised to hear that they've dug deeper than the kata-dancers, because they'd consider what they are doing and why they are doing it pretty much self-evident and not requiring that much complex thought or 'sophistication'.

The irony is, of course, that those who are in the habit of using complex thought, could easily get to the same place—if only they knew what place that is, or that it indeed exists.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The final version, I think...

Political spam

I've just been spammed by a political group using some tool—with somebody probably making money out of it—to trawl through blogs for some appropriate words that may indicate suitable targets. The request by the spammer—generated automatically, with some blank strings filled in, but general enough to indicate that it's been an automatic response—was for a sympathetic mentioning of a cause, and even a possible insertion of a link to a certain site, which espouses said cause.

I went to the site, which is a blog by an opinionated anonymous politician—or so it is claimed—who is basically just another politard, with opinions devoid of substance. At the same time he's one of those people the world could do without. Actually that goes without saying about all politicians, so maybe this was a statement free of value-added content.

For the record and to all loonies who would like to do the same: I will never advance any political cause in this blog. I have opinions, but if you want to find them, you will have to read between the lines in my novels. I doubt that even my close friends have any notion of where I really 'stand' on political issues. They make inferences, depending, as all people do, on their own biases; but I suspect that they are all quite misguided.

As for political spam...well I wonder if the religious kind will follow close on the heels of this crap. Not that I expect ever to be solicited by religioids—not with my opinions on the subject. Can you see the Church of the Great Cosmic God asking me to put a link to their site on this blog?

....

Time has elapsed. I have now stopped laughing.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Intelligence and Bias

Here's a freely-available book I discovered yesterday. It should be read by anybody interested in perception, intelligence and politics. It's called Psychology of Intelligence Analysis and, of course, it'll get you onto the CIA's watchlist, especially if you're some paranoid dimwit who thinks anybody's actually interested in them and gives a shit about their Marvelous Insignificance. The contents of the book can be downloaded as a PDF—or read on-line, of course—and it's among the most fascinating non-fiction material I've come across for a long time. Indeed, it serves as an elaborate expansion of this blog of mine. However, be warned, it isn't for skimming.

Those who would benefit from it the most, next to intelligence analysts, would be journalists. Not that I think they really care, but they should. After all, this book is about their follies and weaknesses and biases as well. I'm not even going to get started on historians!

Another interesting snippet I came across, with regards to that bane of human thought, called Attributional Bias, which is closely related to Egocentric Bias. The quote comes from Wikipedia and is unreferenced. However, in the light of some of the things from the CIA document above, it makes perfect sense.

There is some evidence that more intelligent and socially apt people are more likely to make errors in attribution.

In other words, and translated into plain English, intelligent and socially apt people are more likely to judge others based on unjustifiable assumptions. It's also known as 'prejudice'. I leave that for those of my readers who consider themselves 'intelligent' to ponder.

Monday, December 11, 2006

What's wrong with the world?

Nothing, actually.

Really. Nothing at all. — And, no, I am not going to reconsider that.

Thing is this: the only way something can be 'wrong' with the world, if there is a 'right' way for it to be. This would have to be something that's over and above the world, like some basic ordering principles that govern it. 'Right' over here. 'Wrong' over there. And somehow there's an assumption that any native of this universe of ours is in a position, and has access to the knowledge required, to tell which is which.

Can you really buy that? Think about it for a while...

Where did all this come from? Well, it was Ed, of course. Where else? Someone once remarked that everything he needed to know about life he learned in Stuckeyville. Sound kinda right to me. Call me simple, but there is more than just some halcyon-hyperborean ideal here. 'Simplicity' is an attribute of 'simpletons'; but it can also be taken to be an essence of sorts, extracted from the complexities of existence. I know that the intellectualigensia generally doesn't believe that this can be done, but that's because they incapable of discerning its existence. The fallacy of reasoning they are falling victim to in thinking like this here is related to the more familiar post hoc ergo propter hoc variety. It's like: "I can see everything. I can't see this, however. Therefore it cannot be visible (or even 'real')." Something along those lines. Someone of a less arrogant disposition would conclude that maybe they can't actually see everything.

Tough call, this one.

The fact that Ed was such an arch-'Amercian' show was probably the main reason why in places like NZ it didn't last long past the novelty stage, and was soon confined to off-peak time-slots and then dropped entirely at the end of Season 3. Added to this is the general wave of US-disdain endemic to NZ at this time in history.

Standing up for the US in New Zealand right now—saying anything good about it at all—is a tough proposition. One will instantly attract at the very least disdain and derogation, or at worst outright and self-righteous ire. A person I talked the other day, told me that she finds it impossible to watch US serials or movies involving anything 'military' or even faintly related to it, in the company of those she considers friends or with whom she happens to associate because of who she is and the circles she moves in. Doing so will attract such a predictable and instant flood of vitriol and smarmy audience reaction that it makes it impossible to even begin to enjoy the film/serial-episode in question.

The person in question is conflicted about this—which I consider a good sign. It means she hasn't bought into the general local zeitgeist; and that's always a positive thing. Nothing worse than believing what a vast majority considers self-evident, just because a majority thinks so. Still, it spoils things. It's hard to watch a cool serial like The Unit or a movie like Tears of the Sun, if it's done in a context and against the backdrop of relentless a media and public-opinion barrage about what bad people US soldiers are; how insensitive, brutal, stupid, arrogant...

The person in question it quite right when she points out that the image of the US is pretty much as low as it can get. For someone who likes the US and Americans it is disheartening to see them judged by standards that, applied to one's own country—and New Zealand is a definite candidate for comparison—would make said one's-own-country look none-too-good itself! But people will see what they want to see, and that's that.

As for me I responded by pointing out to my conversational partner that, if I looked for someone I could trust to stand beside me and mine in a time of need, and I had to pick them at random from somewhere, I'd probably throw the dart at a map of the southern US and at some place where I'd be likely to find some God-fearing gun-toting redneck country-hicks, probably overweight and qualifying—at least to the arrogant urban intellectualigentsia—as intellectually and politically 'simple-minded'. I certainly wouldn't try to find them in the cities of most of Europe, or the US, or Canada, or Australia or New Zealand.

For someone who is pretty much on the warpath with all things having to do with God and religion, as I am—for someone who does a fair amount of thinking about things that appear at best obscure to most people—this may sound like a strange choice which makes no sense. I'm going to leave the 'sense' for the next blog and the context of more reflections on martial arts; which, in this instance, provide an interesting context for explaining this. Suffice it to say here that, yes, to me it makes perfect sense indeed.

Back to Ed and America and what makes it quintessentially an American show. There are two themes underlying the story: 1) the Ed-and-Carol thing and 2) the returning-home theme.

(1) needs little explanation, and certainly doesn't make the show 'American'; but...

(2) ...'Stuckeyville' is a town that could only exist in America. There is no other place in the world where this kind of context could exist. That's because no other country on Earth is like America; configured by historical contingency as it is. Americans on the whole have a... sentimentality...that a lot of other nations would consider outright embarrassing. Americans, however, tend to embrace it—and this is their strength and their weakness at the same time.

Ed on the whole spent a lot of time telling stories about those strengths and weaknesses. And the bottom line, it seems to me that was little speech by Tom Cavanagh at the wedding of 'Ed' and 'Carol', in which he said what I quoted in a previous blog, about "what is and what should be".

This will stick with me. I know this for certain. It'll stick because it's so simple and so basic and so true. And in an oblique kind of way it could help us to understand about and navigate through this messy complexity of living and understand why "What's wrong with the world?" is such a terribly...wrong...question to ask.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Martial Arts Reflections (1): Samurai Do Smile

The facial expressions and miens of people performing iaijutsu kata correlate almost completely with the manner in which the kata themselves are executed.

This statement probably comes as no surprise, though it isn't something that one might have thought about at length. What may not be as obvious is the dependency of the performance on the facial expression. In other words, it isn't mere 'correlation' but 'causation'. This latter observation should not come as a surprise to those working in 'human cognition', but it's something ordinary folks tend to ignore. That it should also be ignored by the students of martial arts—who in general are a humorless lot, unfortunately—is a pity; for it screws up the quality and general performance of the kata, and basically everything else they do in the dojo. Of course, the whole matter transfers to life in general, and this is the general subtext here; so keep reading between the lines, even though we're talking about martial arts.

The lack of a sense of humor usually comes with an overinflated sense of the importance of what one is doing—either in terms of oneself or in a messianic sense. The first may degrade into egocentric monomania; the latter into monomania inflicted on the world at large. It's monomania either way. One of the disturbing things I observed during the recent training week with the visiting headmaster from Japan is the ponderous seriousness displayed by virtually all of the students, all of the time; senseis included. The response to moments of plain humor and funniness was always carefully hidden. I cannot recall a single instance of open laughter during the training sessions—excepting yours truly, who has a different view of these things.

This response is, I suppose, caused by either or both of two main factors: 1) that people think it might be disrespectful in some way, and 2) that they might miss something important and/or weighty if they actually laughed at something.

Thing is, they have a point. You've got to know when something actually is funny, and will be understood as being funny without likely offense. If you don't...well, 'painful embarrassment' is the baseline term here; with worse likely. You also need to continue to be alert, because there is 'training' even in the funny instances. When sensei took the piss out of me for my performance of a very fundamental kata (Shoden: Ippon-me Mae) he was trying to make several points with his exaggerations. The points weren't lost on me, and I would like to think that despite my merriment at the piss-take I took them on board. Thing is, now that he's gone, it's also become clear to me that the vast majority of those who stood by and suppressed their laughter—not motivated, I very much suspect, by a desire to refrain from hurting my delicate sensibilities or feelings, but for the reasons given above—actually haven't taken aboard, and actually plain forgotten, as if these things had never been said or demonstrated, the points sensei was trying to make. If they do remember them, I see little evidence of it, as old habits soon took root again, as they tend to. More about that in another blog.

Life is an irony factory.

There is some suggestion here—and I shall have to do some investigating of this when I get a break between getting books published and life in general—that there may be a link between the state of mind occasioned by merriment and the ability to learn/remember things. There is research suggesting that indeed, memory and what is memorized and how and how much it persists, correlates with the emotional state of the person experiencing an event. There are lots of explanations why this should be so, and I think we can take this as a given. A person in a 'merry' mental disposition learns better than a sad one or one whose emotions are dulled by indifference. Interesting thought. Doesn't say much for the way in which our institutions 'teach' people, does it?

Back to Samurai. When you see pictures of these guys, they're pretty much like don't-you-dare-smile. But, I suppose, it's usually that way—and was more so maybe when every bit of photography was a serious and ponderous business; and none of this 'snapshot' stuff! Assumptions about what they did when pictures weren't being taken, are probably lost in the mists of history forever. Maybe they took themselves too seriously as well. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they didn't smile all that much. Maybe that's partially why, ultimately, they became extinct—and now only live on as memories and in the shape of de-clawed Tigers, made to dance and perform like circus bears. Which will be the subject of the next blog on related issues; and especially on the purpose of martial arts training and the vexed topic of 'why kata?'—or not.

-----

In other comments on life as represented in stories:

Finished watching Ed, Season 4; downloaded from your trusty P2P networks. All's well that has a nice last episode, as Ed did. And there was a nice touch of scripting, and a thoughtful one. It pretty much expresses the way I feel about life—only replace the 'what should be' with 'what we'd like things to be like'.

"I've always believed that life is divided into two parts: what is and what should be. And that, with a lot of effort, some hard work, and maybe a little luck, there are moments in your life when the two parts touch. When what is and what should be are the same."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Getting closer

As usual, in terms of real time spent behind the computer—as opposed to just thinking about things—there's more work in the change from the last version to this one, than in the creation of the previous one. It may not be readily apparent that this is so, but it's a fact.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Finister cover: the image in context

Just to refresh the memories of those who came in late—like a buddy of mine, whom I happened to run into after some months of not seeing him, and who expressed complete ignorance about the existence of and subsequent disinterest at reading this blog.

What are friends for, huh?

Anyway, here's the image from the previous blog in the cover context.

Now, the question is—or may be for those who have followed cover-design related blogs of mine like this one: where in the scheme of the covers displayed in that blog does this one fit in?

Got to admit, I've cheated severely. This thing is a mix of photos, Poser figures and props and some hand-drawing. By the time I'm done—and I have some way to go yet, hopefully it will appear like all the components were done the same way; whatever 'way' that may appear as.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Finister Cover progress

For those interested, here's the current in-development picture. Getting close...

As a memory refresher, here's what I had in mind some time ago...

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Tarting up the transvestite




One Dan Mason is attributed with writing this bit of wisdom that has sustained me through many hours spent wasted sitting in front of PCs.

"Windows is like Macintosh in the same way that a transvestite is like a real woman. It's 95% the same, and actually what some people would prefer, but not really the same for those who care about small differences."

It's quite possibly the most intelligent thing said about the Mac-PC 'difference'—and, you've got to admit, the clip above, stolen from Apple (but I don't think they'll mind a bit), is like a video-version of Mason's dictum.

I'm writing about this because a few days ago, Radio New Zealand, in its 'business' news section, shortly before the 7 a.m. bulletin, gave the NZ manager of Microsoft a full five minutes to rant on about how NZers are not any more up there adopting 'new technology' and innovation. Indeed, this female executive—whose tone of voice and everything else reminded me of the equally strident and outright unpleasant NZ Telecom CEO—berated the listeners for said reluctance to 'innovate'. Translation: rush to buy whatever Nanoquish—pardon: 'Microsoft'—are trying to flog to the unsuspecting public as 'innovation'.

The occasion for letting this harridan come on and do the 5 minute infomercial was, of course, the launch of Vista in NZ. Now, I have seen and played with Vista—no! not like that, you pervert!—and, like everything Microsoft, it isn't 'innovation' but 'tarting up'. The transvestite got trendier clothes and makeup, but underneath its still the hairy ass of Windows 'NT', sagging, wrinkled, aging and as insecure as the Rhythm Method. The garments try to conceal the deficiencies, and you can't possibly ever even see—let along cop a feel of—the genitalia and any secondary sexual characteristics (unless you're a programmer, of course, and even they, I hear, aren't happy with what they're getting their hands on!), because there are so many layers of mismatched chastity belts that it looks like this cretin was pregnant with a mutant Alien, and now they've added the mother of all push-up bras, whose sole purpose is to make this thing's saggy man-breasts look like... ahh, no comment.

I could push this analogy further, but, let's face it, like the Apple Ads, it would be just more cheap shots, taken at a company that seems incapable of distinguishing between 'innovation' and 'tarting up'. Microsoft have always been that way, of course. It is a testimony to the inanity and cruelty of market contingency—and another testimony to the power of salesmanship over substance and quality. And if anyone cares to ask why there are so many PCs, and how could so many people possibly be so wrong... Well, look at it this way: there are many more rats than people, too. And billions believe in God or gods, and... Ahh, never mind—I rest my case.

The thing is, Dan Mason is right. Try to put your finger on it and go through 'feature' lists of just about any kind, and really, you wonder what all the fuss is about. Big difference? Not! At least not obviously so—although just looking at the interface on the screen gives you a hint of what it means to be 'subtle', as opposed to in-your-face-garish. Otherwise though it looks like a lot of similar features, implemented in similar ways. But spend extended times of your life in front of a screen and, for someone like me—who's lost all patience with things that don't 'work' as I expect them to, or which make life any more difficult than it absolutely has to be—give me a Mac any day. Please! A transvestite is... well, a transvestite. Spend some time with him and the difference should become clear, even to the perceptually stunted.

And here's another thought, and this one's more serious.

A lot of people smoke. People have sued tobacco companies for deception, wrongful deaths and all sorts of evil things. Everywhere in the world tobacco companies suffer and end up paying out.

Of course, smoking is essentially a voluntary activity. Nobody's going to fire you from your job for not smoking. But try to tell someone that you find PCs objectionable... If I tried that, I'd be out on my ass tomorrow, unemployed in Greenland.

However, people also sue car companies for wrongful deaths and injuries. Car's aren't quite as 'optional' as 'smokes'. Imagine life without them! (I'm not talking 'ideal world' here, but 'reality', all right?)

Computers are pretty much in the same ballpark as cars nowadays; maybe even less optional. So I ask, because one should ask, just exactly how many people have been injured or killed—either as a direct result of interacting with, or through indirect but definite and traceable pathways of causation—by the use of Microsoft's operating systems? How many have—and again I am not joking—have committed suicide or fallen into depression as a result of having had to interact with that abomination known as 'Windows®™'?

Isn't it time for people to start treating Microsoft the way they treat tobacco companies? Computers used to be 'optional'; but not anymore. They have become integral and practically indispensable parts of our lives. And the providers of software, and especially of operating systems, which are the backbone of a computer's interaction with the user, aren't really providers of the 'optional' anymore. They have been pushed into positions of having a public responsibility. They may not like to have it put that way, but they love the fact that they are de facto in that position—and that goes for Microsoft above all others.

Therefore they should be held to account for what they produce; held to account over and above the kind of 'account' that comes with people making purchase decisions.

Should they not?

And to end, an optimistic note.

I am glad that Apple is in the position of the underdog. As Microsoft has demonstrated again and again, being in what amounts to a monopoly position, stifles innovation and creativity, and creates 'appearance over substance' situations. Apple cannot afford such complacency. They are big—huge, in fact—but dwarves compared to Nanosquish. They need to be innovative. They need to be in a position of creativity—even though the galling reality of Microsoft's rip-offs of ideas will be with them forever. Still, isn't it better to be in that position? Where can Microsoft go, except for into über-bloat-land? Even Bill Gates, who rode cynically on that wave of fake 'innovation' and his salesmen talents, now seems to have had enough of it and passes himself off as an altruist. Does anybody really believe that whatever he does to help anybody is going to compensate for the misery his company's products have inflicted on the world?

Some have called the Apple ads 'mean spirited', 'arrogant'; maybe even 'supercilious'. Well, way I see it, that's cool and as it should be. It's the innate 'arrogance' of a woman who knows she's a woman and not some cross-dresser. The arrogance of substance over knockoff.

This blog, like most of mine, was written on an iBook G4—now outdated, but still terminally cool and likeable.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Life and Death of a Torrent

OK, so this isn't exactly an accurate representation of the life cycle of a torrent, but it's close enough. Though I faked it up a bit, it's still a record of sorts; of something coming or becoming, if not 'alive' then at least 'active', after which it dies off, to disappear into the history of cyberspace events, never ever to be seen again in exactly this configuration through the network.

'Torrent' is one term to describe a blob of data, belonging together as a whole—like, say, the episode of a TV series, or a whole movie, or an MP3 song file. This bob is cut up into handy pieces, and is sent around the internet through a network of 'peers', all of whom act as recipients of those bits of the blob they need and distributors of those pieces others need. Eventually a blob will assemble into a whole; whereupon the user of the machine down- and uploading it usually removes it—after some socially acceptable interval and in accordance with peer-to-peer (p2p) etiquette from accessibility.

Torrents have widely varying life expectancies. Those associated with current TV episodes usually suffer a sudden surge of cyberspace visibility soon after the airing of the episode, and then die down remarkably quickly. Others, like South Park episodes, have an initial surge, but many of them don't 'die' down at all. South Park episodes have an amazing life expectancy, and there is a never-ceasing demand for them. The same goes for other 'cult' materials, especially sci-fi and generally outré series and movies. Next on my list is to find Seasons 2-4 of Enterprise! Great persistence also found me—as I have now mentioned several times—Season 4 of Ed, which wasn't exactly a torrent swamping every channel of the p2p universe; but there were enough folks interested in distributing and receiving it to keep it alive as a trickle, for long enough so I could get all the episodes. I've worked out that I distributed almost as much of these episodes as I received, and so I feel I've done my fair share of bandwidth trading.

What happens to a torrent when people have the blobs on their machines? That's a fascinating questions; or at least I think so. For the 'torrent' is not really the file itself, but the shared file! A torrent thus is a quantum of information and the action of said quantum being passed around some suitable network. The 'action' part is an essential component of the 'essence', if you will, of what a 'torrent' 'is'. And said action is the result and thought-made-into-action of the intentions of those distributing and receiving this information. In a way therefore, a torrent is also all of that: the thought, the intention, the action—if for no other reason that cessation of all these things means the cessation of the existence of the torrent.

The whole thing, as I said in my last blog, still leaves me wondering—if for no other reason but that I have a strong notion that this whole thing I was talking about above is in some way just another aspect of some basic way in which things in the cosmos are linked together—'existentially' speaking. As if somewhere in these observations, some secret, some implicit truth about 'existence' and the very nature of the 'real' and the 'factual' was lurking.

Which brings me to something else; briefly, because I want to go to bed. I had a conversation with someone today that almost became political, even though I didn't want it to, because I hold this person in fairly high regard, but our views of everything 'political' and having to do with 'world situation' things couldn't be more divergent. During the course of the conversation I made a comment about how writing stories teaches one—or at least teaches me—to appreciate that not only are opinions like assholes with everybody having one, but they are like pores—and the sweat coming out of our own never smells quite as bad as that coming out of the other guy's. (Yeah, I know, this analogy stinks.)

And he said something like, "Well, this [meaning politics] isn't like telling stories [but it's 'real']..." Stuff along those lines.

And it occurred to me that he couldn't actually be more wrong. Because politics is made by people and about people, and their lives and interactions and all that jazz; and how your organize them, or not, or dominate them, or not, or like them, or not, or hate them, or not, or xxx or yyy, or not. And all this is practiced by...people. Of course. And all these people do what they do because of the narratives that circulate through their heads, about this and that, and themselves and the universe and everything and nothing and why and why not. And all of these narratives, stories, more or less carefully constructed fictions, are why things are as they are. And none of these stories are strictly 'true'; but it would also be wrong to say that they are 'not true', because we have to figure out first and be precise what they are meant to be 'true' with regards to and what the context is in each case. And so on...

Oh, yes, my friend, you couldn't be more wrong.

How does this connect up with 'torrents'? Well, I don't know—yet, and maybe never—but I sense something in the implicit dimensions of this whole thing that binds them all together like the One Ring bound the Ring Wraiths.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Stuckeyville

Now that something like 95% of the 17 episodes of Season 4 or Ed have finally made it onto my computer—with only 4 left incomplete, and the %-downloaded are increasing steadily—it's time to catch up with the final season of a most encantada TV series. I made my wife watch the last three episodes of Season 3 with me—I did digitize them into QuickTime movies when they still played on NZ TV—and though it had been quite a while and many other TV series ago, it was amazing how it was like yesterday.

Since am prone to forgetting even episodes of series that aren't necessarily 'forgettable'—there's so much else around after all—the fact that I remembered so well definitely signifies something.

Ed was a series built around a NY lawyer, Ed Stevens (played with demented seriousness by Tom Cavanagh), whose wife one day decides to sleep with a mailman—not 'the' mailman; just 'a' mailman, as Ed is fond of reminding people when the occasion arises—whereupon Ed packs his bags, leaves NY and his law practice (having been fired for a silly mistake that costs the firm a gazillion dollars), and returns to an odd little place called 'Stuckeyville', somewhere in Wisconsin, I think. There he happens across one Carol Vassey (Julie Bowen in her most sustained role), a girl he mooned over in school, though she apparently never noticed.

The spine of the series is Ed's single-minded pursuit of Carol, for a whole three seasons; with her fending off his amorous advances, even though the two develop a friendship that goes way past 'platonic'.

Oh, yes, and Ed buys the Stuckeyville Bowling Alley and opens a law practice in there. Of course; what else? He becomes the 'Bowling Alley Lawyer'. He also dresses up in a knight's armor and made a lip-synch video to impress the girl. Inter alia.

Ample material for story here, and the series makes the best of it. And I mean 'the best'. The cast of supporting characters rises far above mere 'quirkiness', as do the themes of the show. The dialogue is funny, and while the show is very sweet and outright romantic in places, it never degenerates into the trite. Even the most tender moments have you smiling lopsidedly, and the presence of one Warren Cheswick (played by Justin Long of the current crop of Apple's Mac vs. PC ads) ensures major cringe-factor moments; but these, too, are mellowed and taken off the mere-cringe by...'poignancy', I guess.

Season 3 ends on the roles of pursuer and pursued having been reversed for a few episodes (about time!), with Ed and Carol finally coming together. Still, I anticipate little let-off in the general pace. There are so many loose ends and unresolved issues that I wonder how they can possibly tie them all up in a mere 17 episodes.

Ed is less 'hip' than Gilmore Girls, with the writers having far less pretensions to being cool and up-to-date with stuff, and more concerned with the vagaries of human existence and choices and all that. The supporting cast really grows on you, and the solid spine/theme—Ed wants Carol—keeps the series on track and in focus. It's always in the back of one's mind; the central star that, even if you don't see it, keeps the planets from flying off into space, oblivion and lack of purpose. In that sense, as well as others, I found Ed even more likable than Gilmore Girls.

Ed is available as a set of DVDs comprising all 4 seasons; but that set is not cheap, and is not, I think, available from Amazon either, but some specialty place who must have made an arrangement with the producers to release it. So, if you missed it and you don't have the time and/or the money and/or the persistence to find it on peer networks, you missed it. Poor you. Of course, you might just not be interested. Well, that's cool, too. Still: poor you...

Next time: The strange world of peer-to-peer (P2P) networks, and the odd state of 'existence' of those bits and pieces of information, occasionally called 'torrents'—in the BitTorrent P2P network—that zip through cyberspace between widely distributed machines, and which eventually coalesce into completeness at their respective destinations. I detect similarities and analogies not just with neural descriptors, but also quantum physics.

Sheer happenstance—or another instance of a fundamental process at the heart of existence itself?

Who knows? Who cares?

Why can and do metaphors 'work' at all?

Remember that question? No answers from anybody, I bet!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Überlosergauleiter

This blog's been sitting there, waiting to be published for several weeks. Well, here it is, though I'll have to expand it someday soon. There's great potential in further exploration of the notion of Überloserdom.

Why this whole Überloser thing? Search me. The title popped into my head a while ago when contemplating the title of a blog from my daughter. And then, as so often happens, I began to notice Überlosers everywhere—or maybe that's not quite right; but I certainly realized that certain amorphously disconnected groups of people shared certain properties, of which Überloserhood is one...

So, you wonder, what the heck is an 'Überloser'??

An Über-loser is a quantum leap beyond what you might call a really serious 'loser'. I know a few of them. But if you think you can spot a loser a mile away and therefore will even more readily discern Überlosers... well, you'll need some guidelines, and here they are.

An Überlosergau is a place where Überlosers congregate, possibly in a habitat of sorts, or any 'congregational' place—or maybe it's more than that: the place they all secretly want to go when they die; or maybe even before that. And an Überlosergauleiter is the leader of whoever hangs around in the Überlosergau.

Überlosers are those evolution has neglected to pay due attention to; the unfortunate ones in the 'left-behind' tail of the evolutionary probability distribution. In the following I shall attempt a very initial and tentative profiling of the Überloser. I leave it to the reader to use imaginative extension to identify places qualifying as Überlosergaus and personages who may be Überlosergauleiters. The Überloser Theory of Evolution and Everything—a.k.a. UTEE, omitting the umlaut dots for simplicity—is in its infancy, having been created only a few days ago. However, it has all the potential of growing into a major paradigm with significant ideological dimensions and potential.

Actually, Überlosers are an über-quantumleap leap beyond mere 'losers', which Urban Dictionary—not generally a reliable source for sensible definitions, but this time there is a clean pebble among the excrement-coated rocks—defines as 'Someone who generally sucks at life'. There are heaps of the latter, but their conditions are usually...well, 'understandable'. The roots of their problems mostly lie in a fiendish synergy of genetics and contingency, the latter usually involving being raised in an L-Environment, also known as an 'LE'. There is, of course, a corresponding concept in the UTEE, known as 'ULE', with the meaning being obvious, even to Überlosers.

Life is a tough and complex game, and learning to play it never sees anybody achieve even remotely anything that might qualify as 'really-good-at-it'. Losers are just worse at it than others, that's all. Often their plight appear very unfair, lending credence to the notion that Mother Nature either doesn't give a damn or is too-often of an excessively foul disposition. The genetic and contingent crapshoot of life leaves behind a terrifying array of innocent victims, who, in the large scheme of things anyway, are just 'statistics', while at the same time, in the 'small' schemes of things they are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, husbands, wives, lovers. And in the end, somewhere along the line we all 'lose' of course, no matter when that is going to be. But that doesn't make us all into Überlosers; just folk who've neglected to find a way to kick death in the ass and show him the finger.

But, at any rate, it's not Losers we're concerned with here, but the quantum leap across that barrier into another dimension; that of evolutionary retardedness [sic].

This, as close as I can get it in this stage of early development of the theory of Überloserdom, is the situation. Evolution has brought the vast body of humanity—the area under the curve—to a stage where most of them, by criteria which warrant inclusion in a major 'study' and have no place in a blog, have certain 'properties' that distinguish them from non-humans. At the point marked 'now', most of them will be in that state. A few will be in a state of slight 'advance'. Most will lag behind in some aspect(s), for any number of reasons. And in the far tail-end—which I've depicted as tapering off rather rapidly, though I may be optimistic—live the Überlosers. There's a gray region where one can't be sure, but that like everything in life. It is safe to say that past a certain point Überloserhood is the dominant feature of the person situated there. Everything else becomes subsumed under that rubrik.

The fist issue to be dealt with now is, of course, a decent and at least partially reliable system for identifying these retards. Otherwise, friends, it ain't 'science', and I believe in science. I mean, even the Scientology Freaks—major Überlosers all—use scientific instruments! In order to be credible, the UTE paradigm needs methods and systematicities to raise it far above the Scientological level—without, of course, losing its potential mass appeal.

The problem with developing such a system is that Überlosers are such an amorphous group. A member may be identified by any number of symptoms—social, behavioral, professional, and so on—but it's like trying to identify a particular strain of a disease, if said disease shares symptoms with a hundred others. No symptom, and not even a collection of symptoms, can assure one of a correct diagnosis. It could be that comb-over; it could be the fact that s/he is sitting in a congregation listening to that preacher who tells his audience that God will provide them with a Merc, if only they give money to the the preacher's organization; it could be that s/he sells used cars; sits in parliament; completely and consistently passes the buck to someone else, up, down or sideways; denies the reality of evolution... None of this, or any other of a thousand symptoms is reliable. Indeed, one has to be incredibly careful not to just aim at one's favorite gripes and point the finger: "Nyah nyah, you're an Überloser, nyah nyah nyah!"

Sorry, folks, it don't work that way. If you do that, you're just putting yourself into the firing line of Überloserhood Investigators (a.k.a. UIs), who, I hope, one day, will be as common and socially obnoxious as, say, priests, politicians, pedophiles or serial killers.

I have determined that the first definite indicator of Überloserhood appears when someone, who's obviously not right in the head and really should be excluded from reproduction, declares that s/he's really a member of a group I'm going to call 'Überwinners'.

Maybe the curve isn't just a reversed version of the first and I was just being lazy. I suspect Überlosers think of themselves and being in a much more select group, not just at the tip of this large bunch of people-ahead-of-their-time or ahead of the current evolutionary 'average' point.

Thing is, of course, there are no Überwinners; and so those who think they are—for reasons ranging from the religious to the social-statuesque, from delusions of intellectual/spiritual advancement to those of artistic grandeur, from egomania to social-conscientiousness—thereby clearly identify themselves as a member of Überloserdom. Currently this is probably the most definite indicator of the condition; more reliable than all of the others, which, occurring by themselves or in association with other suggestive features, might be symptoms of other pathological mental conditions.

The identification of Überlodergaus is possibly somewhat more difficult; except for the easy targets, of course: congregations of vacant faced morons listening in rapture to some Überlosergauleiter propounding on everything from God to the state of the economy; and similar social configurations. But there are also the 'distributed' ones, where there seldom are 'gatherings' per se, but amorphous and widely-dispersed groups coming together during apparently innocuous occasions as listening to a prime-time bit of sleazy 'news' broadcasting and believing every word of it; or those who read 'elite' publications that purport to for better people than the common ruck of the intellectually unwashed. Or blogs for that matter. If there were a god, the first thing he ought to throw some lightning at is blogs. Of course, it's far too late for that. Nuking blogs would be like creating world-peace. Only way to do that would be to wipe out a large portion or maybe all of humanity. So, let's live with it.

In fact, let's live with the Überlosers, because, in case you haven't noticed and actually fell into my little trap of pseudo-rational bullshit, but the vast majority of us qualify for membership in Überloserdom—which means that I've not really succeeded in separating out a particular group of people, but merely certain tendencies of thought and behavior that are common to just about all of us—yes! even you, you elitist Überloser!—in some measure. In fact, what you just read was nothing but an exercise in 'Attribution', a phenomenon I have written about before. And anybody who folloed me along this path up to the previous paragraph or so, should maybe seriously investigate their own propensities to becoming victims to the Attribution Error.

I know, I know. It's hard. When one is awash—as seems to be the case in NZ right now; or is it that that I'm going through a phase of hyperawareness of it?—in Übersleaze at all levels and in all areas of life, and especially from those who would vehemently, indignantly and self-righteously deny it, one tends to want to find explanations; and Überloserdom is such a tempting one.

Alas, it isn't. It's just what people do.

Damn! And there I thought I had it all worked out...

Or maybe...

Nahh, couldn't be. Not if...

On the other hand...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Finister — for the curious...

Here's a PDF of Finister, as currently typeset. It has low-quality images, to decrease size, cannot be printed, and has a watermark on every page. Still, for those eager to get a preview... Consider it 'advance publicity'.

More Ice...



The Environatics have been comparatively silent about this. I suppose they don't want to be predictable and scream "Global Warming is coming!" as they do in that South Park cartoon, because they know a gazillion eyes will roll up in exasperation. They have also been...not entirely silent, but definitely 'subdued'...about the silly plans of Auckland and Dunedin to build billion dollar rugby stadiums at their respective water fronts, barely above current sea level. Not a political winner, I suppose, not even with the Greenie crowd around here. Excuse my cynicism, but...

Anyway, I am not known as an Environatic, so I can say it out aloud, and it is this: one day we'll look back at late 2006, early 2007, with all those chunks of ice floating by, and we'll know that they weren't just accidental harbingers of things to come. Right now everybody goes "ohh" and "ahh" and "wow; how cool is that?" But one day it won't be funny at all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It hath arrived!

This:
Long awaited, and this one is still to come. Right now the book will have to go into a queue, since I am reading something almost as good, though not illustrated, namely the 'first episode' in a series of fascinating novels set in a fantastic feudal Japan. Highly recommended. My daughter Julie gave me this for my birthday, and, yes, I am hooked.

Progress report on Finister:

I have actually uploaded a content PDF and a cover with a placeholder image where the image will be to lulu.com—just to check out thickness and general appearance. This depends on the number of pages, which determines the thickness of the spine, and that influences the spine writing; which in my original design turned out to be too wide—meaning 'tall', of course.

Finister's number of pages is fairly representative of those of the others, and the writing should not fit them all.

The cover picture of the planet itself may still acquire some cloud patterns; or not, depending on whether I want to go for a 'map' style, or what might look like an actual photo.



Another interesting issue was the layout and presentation of the maps inside, because these stretch over more than one page. Should one have a direct continuation or allow for some overlap? Right now I have opted for a little overlap, but the matter is still open for discussion. Actually, it's open for discussion until I slap the ISBN on it.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Conspiracy of Clusterf..k?

In the series Prison Break, which I blogged about here, the bad guys are members or agents/soldiers of a 'conspiracy' which, according to one character who is in the 'know', determine just about anything that happens anywhere. The members of said group, when we see them, are your typical bunch of cynical, egomaniac, rich men and women, who really see everybody but themselves as what it horror films is commonly called 'meat'; fodder for the monsters. Like the monsters of horror films they are so effective because everybody becomes 'meat' to them; all those things that those in positions of lesser or no power value and hold dear, fade into insignificance before the stark fact that, in the hands of the 'Company' or your average dinosaur, they are nothing at all.

The notion of such super-powerful 'conspiracies' that manipulate humankind's fate—and damn democracy and all that fatuous crap and nonsense, which is just window-dressing—is as old as civilization. This is particularly true of their apparent super-powers. In the days of old, when proper polytheisms ruled the world, these folks were demi-gods and resides on Olympus or in Valhalla or wherever. Egyptian kings were a bit more worldly, but still pretty much in demi-god territory. Other rulers and houses and dynasties of rulers throughout the ages and cultures assumed similar roles. Those deluded idiots who think for an instant that the modern versions are something in any way novel, obviously have no perspective on, or knowledge of, history.

When something goes wrong in the world, the 'conspiracies' are invariably blamed for it, being the handy scape-goats for attributing blame. That, ultimately is their function. They always have acted as, and still do, as devices of explanation of what otherwise might have no explanation—except, well, 'clusterfuck'; which is a general term describing the myriad ways in which things just go wrong because humans are generally unable to cope appropriately with the vicissitudes of contingency, as well as the results of their own mistakes, arising from the activity of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

In the ensuing melee, when everybody is trying to cover their asses and trying to blame someone else, fingers will be pointed at someone, and for the average Joe and Jane a good bunch of bad-guy conspirators are really cool targets. It's always been that way and will probably remain like it for the foreseeable future and beyond. That's why, one might argue, gods were invented to begin with. My personal theory is that religion is not innate, but basically a creation that grew out of a result of a fiendish synergy of the ubiquitous practice of 'attribution' and the development of 'society'; from ape-packs to 'civilization'. The only thing 'innate' may well just be a deep-seated notion that there are things we'll never be able to get our heads and hands around, and which are utterly and in principio out of our control.

As someone, whose name I've forgotten once noted: It ain't conspiracies; just cockups. But that's usually not enough. Our brain yearns for explanations, and if it can't find them, it'll make them up. This is a fundamental fact of psychology.

Having said all that, we must note that there actually are 'conspiracies', and always have been. Everybody trying to make their own situation better, by co-opting others to work with them, so that they all make their lives better, more prosperous and secure and whatever—to the detriment of another group, whose existence is implicit in the logic of the situation—is engaging in a 'conspiracy' of sorts. These activities are fundamental to the whole process of any kind of human civilization; or indeed any human social grouping at all. And if a bunch of rich and powerful folks get together to influence the politics of this country of that...Well, duh! What else did you expect? That they won't?

Does that make them into bad people? Well, if they are of the kind that's hunting down the escapees from Fox River Prison, then, yes, they are bad people. Cynical people. Nasty people. People I'd like to shoot in the head, if you ask me. And I'm sure that such people exist, and that they are just as cynical, or maybe worse, than depicted in that show.

But are they the demi-gods they are made out to be? Who knows? I seriously doubt it. The only thing for sure is that there will always be people who have more power and influence than others—and that the people with the greater amount of power will always exist in smaller numbers than those with the lesser degree. This is the way the world is, was, will be; and the leap from oppressed to oppressor, from exploited to exploiter, from slave to master...

Don't underestimate the ready interchangeability of roles. Another lesson repeated again and again throughout history is how easily masters and slaves change roles, and how inevitably any social configuration will eventually gravitate toward the 'typical', which is a few in positions of power and many in positions of no power—all trying to conspire against the other to maximize their own positions in life.

It would be nice to think that as a species we can do better than that. However, I'm inclined to view the prospects of this happening anytime soon with a jaundiced eye. And I generally regard those who think that there are ways and means to make us become 'better' as possibly the most dangerous and deluded conspirators of them all.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ice



Well, if I'd had the spare cash for a $500/person helicopter trip...

Greenhouse effect or just something that happens every now and then? Whatever the reason, it's amazing anyway.

Monday, November 13, 2006

“A Good Year”

Click here to see my Amazon.com review of the movie. (If not there yet, check again in a day or so.) A lovely little flick that really made my day. Characteristically, there were only 4 people in the 6 p.m. show—and two of those were my wife and I. I suspect that's pretty much an indicator of how NZ is going to take to this movie. If the main protagonist were female and European it would, no doubt, attract many more; especially if the director also were French, Russell Crowe weren't in it, the movie were sold as an arthouse flick, the author of the original novel were a well-known NZ author, and the ending had an element of tragedy. Oh, yes, and a bit of an ecological message would also come in handy, with some implied US bashing even better.

But, no, it was made by Ridley Scott, he of the big-budget movies, who now has enough cash on hand to make his own flicks—and this one couldn't have cost him a lot, being filmed essentially in three locations: an office on London, a vineyard in Provence and a small French town. Every time some reviewer here talks about a Ridley Scott film the words 'big budget' or some variation on that theme creep in. Most film reviewers here don't even know about The Duellists; and even fewer have seen it—at least this is what I conclude from ample circumstantial evidence, acquired by listening to these pompous twits.

Hence the movie is going to tank in this country; and I'm glad my wife and I went out to see it on its first weekend, when we could sit in a massive cinema and without being disturbed by the crunchings and slurpings associated with large quantities of cinema goers consuming junk food. And, yes, we did have popcorn! And it really made my Sunday, because it was just...nice. 'Nice' without being 'medium'. Quality-'nice'.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

PRISON BREAK rules!

Prison Break is just about the best show on TV right now—next of course, to Gilmore Girls, which is a completely different genre, and House, which is different again. They easily beat even the last, and probably best, season of 24. There are other good shows, like the very cool CSI Miami and the just as cool NCIS, plus a few more. One of those not in that list is Lost.

The brief and synopsis for Prison Break's Season 1, from the IMDb, was this:

Lincoln Burrows is on death row for the murder of the vice president's brother. He insists he's innocent and only his brother Michael Scofield believes him. As an engineer who helped design the prison where Lincoln is being held, Michael takes drastic measures to help his brother. He gets himself arrested and sent to the same prison so that with his knowledge of the building the two of them can escape together. However, while inside, Michael discovers a massive conspiracy that is determined to see Lincoln's sentence carried out. Breaking out will be more difficult than he thought, but he's still going to try.


Out of that, with an array of varied characters, few of which were obviously contrived—except maybe for the drivers of the 'massive conspiracy', about which I'll talk in another blog—the writers and producers fabricated a series that runs almost under its own steam. I've just worked my way through eight episodes of Season 2, courtesy of BitTorrent, and the good news is that, now that the prisoners have escaped, it gets even better. The series is focused, crisp, with every character made interesting and engaging, sometimes in a positive, sometimes a negative, and in some instances very ambiguous, ways. Good people that you want to see live, die. The story never lets up. Every episode leaves you truly hanging for more. The stuff is compulsive and compelling.

I thought I was past being 'hooked' on TV series. Wrong! Prison Break is the ultimate hook, with barbs and all. I really want to know what's going to happen next; and it's not just about the kind of thing that left, and apparently still leaves, people watching 'what's going to happen' in the plain-silly Lost. Sorry, all Lost-fans out there, but it sucks; and if there's any lesson in that it's that it's a good idea not just to have a snazzy premise—which Lost had—but that, unless there's a rich pool of context that doesn't have to be contrived available naturally, a series is likely to drown in its own made-up contrivances, which are never as potentially interesting and engaging as endless mysteries manufactured by writers who have to churn out 'plot'.

Like everything, 'mystery' is best used sparingly and judiciously. It is very powerful, but you don't want to drown a story in it. Prison Break had just enough in Season 1 to make you wonder about why the whole shit with Lincoln went down. People went along to ferret it out. People did, revealed it to the audience, and often died as a result. In Season 2 the mystery has been mostly uncovered, its consequences developed fairly logically. Now the real mystery is how, with such a powerful enemy out to kill all the escapees—an enemy whose reach won't end even if they leave the US—can they possibly survive this? Very basic, very powerful; especially when you have a bunch of people you actually care about in some way—and some of whom have already died. The Joss Whedon recipe: kill off some nice people, just to make sure everybody gets the idea that you really mean it, and that nice people will die. But at least here their deaths have a point and advance the plot; rather than being random shock-value events to punctuate the treacle-like progress of a contrived plot, as is the case in Lost.

Prison Break also brings back the very welcome use of the tripod-mounted camera, or tripod mounted multiple cameras, and the sparing use of the 'Unsteadycam'. As I remember, the latter was first used as a pervasive filmic device in NYPD Blue, and subsequently spread like a disease throughout the industry. In The Bourne Supremacy is was used to the extent of making the movie into a, literally, nauseating experience. One of the reasons why don't watch the new Battlestar Galactica is the pervasive use of the device, and 24 is dangerously close to ending up on my hit list as well. Prison Break, on the other hand, uses the Unsteadycam just as it should be. Instead of trying to abuse it for the emphasis on drama that in its usual applications is either missing or needs enhancement. Indeed, unless you look for it, in Prison Break you rarely even really see Unsteadycam use—which is as it should be; because the use of a camera, which is first of all, the viewers point-of-view, should be like the use of words in a book or a movie music-soundtrack: it should enhance, but never actually be visible per se.

Well done. Compliments to all. I wish there were more of it.

I so hope that they manage to keep this up!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The way of peace is the way of war - parte tertia

'War is futile.'

Who wouldn't agree with this statement? Who couldn't? Every fiber of 'decency' compels us to—at least I would think so.

'Fighting is futile.'

Another one of those self-evident truths. Basically the same as the first. After all, despite the mystique and elaborate morality we have developed around 'the justice of war', it's still just fighting on a large scale: tribes of different persuasions and interests waving spears in the air and charging at each other.

'Learning how to fight is the precursor to fighting.' (Variants of this include: 'Learning how to fight encourages fighting.')

Many would hold this to be true as well. After all, if you're spending a significant time and portion of your mental and physical activities in learning how to fight, maim and/or kill, how can you not but become somehow a 'part' of the killing mind-set?

Yet, like everything else, it's not just 'true'. War isn't futile for those whose aims it achieves. Neither is fighting. And—harking back to our 5-day sword training session—sensei was very proud of the fact that the style of swordsmanship he practices, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu, was created not for the purpose of fighting, but of transmitting a cultural heritage; which admittedly is based on a fighting art, and whose narratives, told by sensei with gusto and at great length, all have 'fighting' rationales, occasionally of supremely paranoid dimensions.

But that's the way of the contextualizing narrative. There's no way you can avoid it; not unless you 'spiritualize' this whole thing—which is the equivalent of breeding what amounts to a Tiger without either claws or fangs and incapable of hunting and killing. Of course, even so MJER is a bit of a clawless Tiger, who gets fed on pieces of dead meat, rather than doing its own killing, or at least being a clawed Tiger still capable, physically and instinctually, of doing it. But it at least retains Tiger-dom, though personally I find there's no cause for being proud of this. It seems a bit fake; like theater. Actors in fighting plays; who then go out the next day to a pacifist demonstration against whatever kind of fighting or war currently catches their attention and ire.

The Japanese, for whose culture I have an affinity that is both undeniable and puzzling—despite its very dark sides; though I suspect that here, too, we need the very dark to contrast with the very light, with these two riding on the opposite ends of the scales of the human individual and social psyches—have a tendency to de-claw things of 'nature'. MJER is one example. Bonsai is another. It looks like the real thing, in reflection or miniature, but it's been denatured, sometimes to the point of the grotesque. It's the Japanese version of what in Western culture we like to think of as 'refinement', usually considered an essential element, and its presence a reliable indicator, of 'developed culture'.

Of course, all too often 'refinement'—in art, architecture, literature, music, etc–merely papers over the deep cracks in a society's spirit. As an example of recent history one only needs to look at, say, Germany and Austria of WW1 and WW2; societies with exquisite 'refinements', but rotten to the core. At least as twisted-up and schizoid as Japan; and maybe more so.

There are plenty of other examples, needless to say. One might even argue that the greater the degree of preoccupation with aesthetic and social 'refinement' a society exhibits, the more it is likely that these things merely provide ever-thicker layers obscuring and trying to keep in check the bilge-elements. But that's just something one 'could argue'. I'm not doing it; but it's a thought requiring more than just a denial-response from those who pride themselves on their 'culture'.

Above all though, 'refinement' in the cultural sense tries to do this: remove the unsightly extremes of human nature, individual and social. Declawing the Tiger and at least blunting its teeth. Keeping it fed on a steady diet of meat slaughtered in horrific places that have all sorts of euphemistic names, but all of which are gruesome places of torture and death; tucked away in places where folks of refined tastes, eating in restaurants, serving the food to those who have completely blunted themselves to any kind of empathy with or connection to those creatures killed, never need know or think of what has contributed to putting this refined piece of dead-animal cuisine onto their hyper-civilized plates. (I've worked in a couple of slaughterhouses; so I'm not talking from the position of a 'theorist'.)

'Learning how to fight is the precursor to fighting.' It may be, but there's no actual logical if-this-then-that involved. Learning how to fight, when done in an appropriate framework of philosophy, will, to the contrary, at the same time ready one for the act, but also emphasize its undesirability. Creating preparedness for an event does not imply the simultaneous creation of one's acceptance of the event's desirability or appropriateness.

We bow to the sword before and after a dojo session. Not to worship it, but to remind ourselves that it is the thin line between life and death—for us or for someone else, be it enemy or those in our care we need to protect. To express our respect for an appreciation of the significance of this instrument, physically and metaphorically. To remind ourselves that the sword just stands for anything at all that we do; that everything can bring life and death; that everything we care to do should be done with respect, attention and seriousness. That there is always a dichotomy. That nothing is ever what it seems.

Like here:

From the Things You Don't Want to See department; possibly one of the most lethal battlefield weapons ever devised:



But if you're running away from something and this thing is not gunning for you but what chases you...

Could there be a more welcome sight?

Nothing is ever obvious.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Hang 'im high

I have been careful not to make political statements on this particular blog; preferring to leave people to infer my stance on 'current' issues from my novels.

Since, however, Tergan hasn't been officially published yet—though you may find it in installments in the VIE's CLS—I must at this stage leave you with a pointer at Jack Vance's Dragon Masters, whose ending probably reflects pretty accurately what I think should have been done in this case.

And that's the end of my comments on this particular subject.

By the way, here's another one of those 'tests' you can find on the web that purport to help you to assess your political inclinations and proclivities. I don't place much credence in the accuracy of these things, but of the three I've taken over the years, all produced by different interest groups and with different aims in mind, a definite pattern emerges. Both, my left-leaning and conservative friends will be horrified to hear this—each for a different reason—but a variant of the label 'libertarian-center-to-leftist' seems to be a recurring theme.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

The botton line is, we're not mice.

Aren't they just too cool for words?


And, with our few rose bushes going ballistic right now, here's a yellow one for a change...

...while I took a red one to work and placed it beside my desk, so it helped to rid the area of that typical 'office' smell that is as distinctive between different office environments as are the smells in people's individual homes.

And from our What the...? department, here's this; and from the Cool! department this.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Actually, it's '43'.

Well, well, well—long time no blog. Still all there?

To start with, check out this, this and this. Only in NZ, I shit you not...

The next thing of note is Aynia's current (at the time of writing this) blog and also visit the Bunny Suicide page. Please treat yourself. It's a hoot. I haven't laughed so much for a long time. The ingenuity of the guy is beyond belief. Gary Larsen eat your heart out! They are all very funny, but for some strange reason this one stuck in my memory more than the others. Ahh, the twisted connection in the human mind...

And I got the first pre-review/criticism/commentary of Tethys, first draft. Philip, as I knew he would, liked it, but made some cogent points. His comments point out a problem that I may well face again with other readers: readers forgetting important or even critical points from earlier novels. For example, things are happening here involving Caitlan and Ailin, but good boy that I am I've avoided extensive recaps, which I find tedious and I would like to think my readers do, too. I've always allowed them to find their own way from inferences and hints, which, together with the story, hopefully would work together to provide a fairly clear image of the situation and the context.

Here, however, I might have tripped up—even though I finished Finister on a hint so broad and obviously significant that it should gave stuck in the reader's mind. Or so I thought. But if someone like Philip, who is an intelligent, discerning reader (of course! he likes my books!) and a scientist to boot, forgets about this clue, which is finally achieving its payback at the end of Tethys, then maybe the same thing will happen to others. The loss of a major closure of a story that started about 1/3 into the story of Keaen...

That's not good. On the other hand, should it force my hand and start extensive artificial contrivances of endless dialogues or fatuous insertions of backstory-elaborations, just because someone missed the point? Will others similarly miss it? What does it all mean? What is the answer?

Philip suggested a recap of some salient points that might help the reader to understand this, but how can you recap such a foreshadowing, contained in less than fifty words, without essentially giving everything away wellbefore it happens? It's not meant to be known before it happens—but when it does it should be "of course; it's the only thing that could have happened". The unsurprising, yet unexpected, denouement.

Actually, I was planning on adding a recap, as I had done to the other sequels—though someone suggested, rightly I thought, that it should be in an appendix instead of as a 'Precursory'—except maybe in Finister, where it's much more important—such as not to become a potentially annoying preface for readers who have read the preceding parts of the story.

Anyway, I have to think about this. One solution—which I considered and discarded—is to issue the set of four sequels in a mere two volumes. The idea is tempting, but in the end I am not going to do it. The reasons aren't mercenary but aesthetic. The books were written at different times, and each time I myself had to figure out how the new story continued the previous one. I had an idea of the very wide sweeping connections, but until the sequels were written the outlines were nebulous at best. To squeeze them together into books that don't really belong together...nahh, I just don't like it. Still, I think the case for making sure that all the books are published in close sequence is strong. Philip also told me that he'd now like to actually re-read the whole series; which is a huge compliment, I guess. Taking all that to heart, I think I'd like to make an all-out effort to get the publication process under way a.s.a.p. and with alacrity.

This, despite the fact that, as usual, a gazillion other things have come up. Life's habit of timing things whimsically has again asserted itself. At work, my status is about to change—after many months of lobbying. I'll effectively end my activity as a technical writer and person responsible for looking after the internationalization of the company's software and direct my attention to developing what amounts to training video clips, to be used also for marketing and on the company's website. This will eventually become work that's partially contractual; especially the final section, where live screen captures are converted into professional looking videos.

At the same time, and armed with my new Sony HDR-FX1E—an object still looking for a name; something more personal than 'HDR-FX1E', and this being a suggestion from my daughter Aynia, who, I think, has a point here!—I am also going to actively pursue something I've done occasionally, for friends and acquaintances: the recording and production of videos of wedding—as well as any functions, basically. Plus there's promotional videos and anything else requiring recording of moving images and editing them together. My business website is still under construction, but this weekend I'm going to forge ahead to try and complete most of the pages to the point where I won't have to have the 'under construction' image there any more. So, anybody in NZ, and especially the South Island, and even more especially the lower part of the South Island—though I'd go and do this anywhere in the country or outside of it—if you know of someone who's getting married and thinking of getting it video-graphed, either soon or months in the future, please point them at my site and the contact details there. End of shameless self-promotion.

So, things, as usual are all happening all at once.

And, yes, the answer is, of course, 43not 42 as has been asserted by someone else. I leave it to the reader to figure out why.