Photos of Smoking Writers – Back from the Dead

Not a huge post, but a break from all this blubbering about the book is nice.

Aldous Huxley. I’ve posted this one before but they were of lower quality:
Aldous Huxley smoking

Cristina Fernandez:
Cristina Fernandez smoking

Fran Lebowitz:
Fran Lebowitz smoking

H.L. Menken:
Fran Lebowitz smoking

Ian Fleming:
Ian Fleming smoking

John Maynard Keynes:
John Maynard Keynes smoking

Kurt Vonnegut:
Kurt Vonnegut

Murray Rothbard:
Murray Rothbard smoking

Road Dahl:
Road Dahl smoking

Stephen King. That’s Drew Barrymore with the match:
Stephen King smoking

William S. Burroughs:
William S Burroughs smoking

Of Art and Light – Pale Blue Scratch Email Newsletter #3

“Every artist dips his brush in his own soul, and paints his own nature into his pictures.” -Henry Ward Beecher

Even though Pale Blue Scratch will be a self-published book, I won’t be skimping on cover art. My friend Marcia Furman will be depicting one of the devices in a watercolor sketch for book cover. You can check out her watercolors here and her “normal” artwork here.

Though I wouldn’t say Pale Blue Scratch is outright speculative fiction, there are some strong elements of the genre present. One of them, more of a MacGuffin to the story than a necessary plot device (heh), is based on the Farnsworth fusor.

In the simplest terms, a fusor is a vacuum tube filled with some metal and gas that utilizes very high-voltage electrical currents. Depending on the type a fusor can give off a purple or star-like glow when activated. Since they “almost” perform nuclear fusion, fusors give off harmful radiation, though the device is a favorite of electrical engineering hobbyists.

Here’s links to two videos. One, a crash-course in building a rather professional, “nuclear” looking fusor in your very own home, and a second video of a demonstration of a much simpler fusor.

Watching either video will be harmful to one’s health but they may arouse curiosity…

How to Make A Fusion Reactor

My farnsworth fusor

Book Review: The Ghost Box

The Ghost Box is Mike Duran’s third full novel, about Reagan Moon, a journalist of the paranormal who gets caught up, to put it mildly, in some otherwordly happenings in SoCal. I don’t dabble too much in modern science fiction or paranormal (see below), so I can only really competently comment on Moon’s first person skepticism and its “enlightening,” a certain archetypal progression in literature.

Moon comes off as a middle-quality man: not quite a loser but not achieving any great heights, motivated by money (understandably, since he’s barely getting by) and by a vague promise of discovering the true circumstances of his girlfriend’s death. In this way, his willingness to play extra-legal paranormal investigator for a wealthy industrialist is merely an extension of his day job. Not a huge stretch of talent or character for Moon. That event comes after he dons the a certain pair of goggles and is presented with near-irrefutable sensory evidence of the supernatural. In this way, Box‘s theme is more about rationalizing a strained worldview than a material-world problem-resolution scenario.

Reading The Ghost Box is not an untoward experience: plot, style, pacing, and characterization are all on point. The only drawback for me personally was Moon’s voice. His cultural references and attitude were appropriate to his vocation and station in life but it took some mental adjustments on my part. I’m too used to reading first-person narratives like Casaubon’s exhaustive academic logorrhea from Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, or the gradual crescendos of horror in Lovecraft’s short stories. This is more of a personal preference than a character flaw (heh) in Duran’s style.

Having not read anything else of Duran’s prior—except for the Subterranea collection of stories, which I enjoyed—I didn’t know how this book exactly fits in with its predecessors. Additionally, besides Jill Domschot’s Anna and the Dragon, and a forgettable Christian spec-fic/horror novel (literally forgettable; I don’t remember the author, title, or major plot points) my frame of reference with respect to Duran’s peers is close to non-existent. Take this review as such, from a reference point lacking a certain context.

Disclosure: I was a beta reader for The Ghost Box, in addition to working with Mike in the past on some other projects of his. This novel was sent to me specifically for reviewing purposes.

Net Neutrality is a Bad Idea

I normally pay no attention to legislative news because, as Michael Corleone said, politics and crime are the same thing. Inordinately fixating on the schemes of social deviants does not reside in the realm of the sane. But since the issue of net neutrality has some personal impact as a software engineer, I have some level of interest in it.

Gary North has some good thoughts on it.

What if an Internet Service Provider wants to charge Comcast or Netflix more money, because it’s hogging the available bandwidth? The FCC says no.

This is the fundamental law of economics: “At zero price, there is more demand than supply.” The FCC denies that this law exists. So, it wants to slow everyone down by making sure that the big boys don’t get charged more.

Here is the law of bandwidth: “Bandwidth gets cheaper.” So, the growing pie will keep us all well-fed. If buyers are sellers of bandwidth want to negotiate, so what?

The telecom industry is, at many levels, very free from artificial regulation*, but by its very category, corporations—ISPs included—are regulated and enjoy artificial regulation in their favor. We don’t know what ISPs, both large and small, would be like if they didn’t benefit from government’s helping hand. The best we have are guesses and conjectures, some better than others.

I’ve heard that net neutrality is to ensure that “all information is treated equally,” which is a sentiment of beautiful nonsense. No one in the history of humanity in forever has treated all information equally. It’s impossible, and passing a law is not going to change fundamental human preference and behavior.

* I say “artificial regulation” because everything is essentially regulated, i.e., I buy one thing and not another when I go to the grocery store. What matters is who is doing the regulating and how they are doing it. Using the “artificial” qualifier is a way to conceptually separate a non-market, invasive regulation, as opposed to a market-based, spontaneous-occurring regulation that happens in the absence of central planning.

The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People – Pale Blue Scratch Email Newsletter #2

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your art.” -Gustave Flaubert

The protagonist of Pale Blue Scratch, Elisabeth, is known by her colleagues to be a bit of a impulsive decision-maker. This trait is somewhat at odds with her vocation as a professor, journalist, and member of a religious order. Her life was an inversion of the Flaubert quote above: reserved in her writing and spiritual pursuits, impetuous in leisure.

Via Galleycat, has an interactive chart that outlines the time spent by history’s most creative minds. Below is an image of the chart with all times activated. It looks like Franz Kafka didn’t like to sleep and Picasso quit his day job. - The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People Infographic

Pale Blue Scratch Email #1 – Back Cover Copy

Here’s the official back cover copy for Pale Blue Scratch, which got sent out to those of you on the email list last Monday morn. It’s no Amish Vampires In Space, but what is?

“I would disassemble this body and cast it onto the coronal burn of the sun if it means I get answers.” Thus proclaims the determined Elisabeth Reese, journalist, professor, and joke-cracking nun working in alternate history San Francisco. She has one goal: to rebuild a failed time machine that caused a lethal explosion during its initial demonstration.

With her reluctant protege, a young budding scientist, she searches for the machine’s plans left behind by its exiled inventor. But her pursuit is disrupted, threatened by area conflict. A faction of the deadly Dera Khadhra’a–the Red Sword–has been rising to power. Lead by the hulking Crazed Herald, Maalik du Mahdi, the Red Sword heed a prophecy that will culminate in a battle between two “one-armed wild men.” Du Mahdi is believed to be the first of the pair, while his counterpart could be anyone…even a small, peculiar nun from across the bay.

All Elisabeth wants is to witness the impossibility of time travel, but first she must battle the odds and fulfill the present. Part steampunk and part mystery, Pale Blue Scratch explores the conflict between the senses and logic, and the lengths one may go to resolve it.

Feign Interest in My Writing and Sign Up For My New Book’s Email List

There’s a sticky post at the top of the site (or go here) where you can sign up for the email list for my new book, Pale Blue Scratch. It’s currently being drafted but will soon be advancing to the later, less unattractive stages.

Most of what I send out on the list will be blog posts for the worldwide consumption but it won’t be until a week or so later, like all those deadlines at work you miss.

If you sign up or the list I will send out emails relevant to the book, which will include:

  1. Writing about the book;
  2. Book excerpts;
  3. Images with quotes from the book;
  4. Videos related to the story’s subject matter (hint: “zap!”);
  5. Information about crowdfunding for the book (because you need another person in your life asking for money);
  6. Nothing about what Hacksaw Jim Duggan is doing

If you sign up you have my guarantee that I will not bake you a pie or call the cops on you, although those things wouldn’t happen if you ignored the list anyway. However, I can be convinced to do these things if you’d like. The first step to convincing me is signing up for the email list. See how it all works?

Honest Movie Poster: Spirited Away

There are honest movie trailers and then there are honest movie posters. Here’s my honest movie poster for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Now get me some bath tokens!

Edit: The “bath house is a brothel” theory is contentious. It’s irrelevant to the story at large; just a point of interest.

Edit II: This poster is not a reference to child prostitution. Relax.


Scarlett Johansson’s Race and Ghost in the Shell

ghost_in_the_shell_motokoIf you’re my friend on Facebook you’ve seen me briefly whine about Scarlett Johansson’s role in the Americanized, live-action version of Ghost in the Shell (GitS). As I’ve said on there, I don’t care much about race qua race in most contexts, but within the GitS fictional world it matters a lot. Since both movies, the two series’ season and related movie, the recent mini-movie reboot, and (presumably) the manga, take place in Japan and heavily involve high-level government workings in a near-future Japan, the artistic pressure to match the race of the protagonists is present*.

Rupert Sanders, the director, could work the non-Japaneseness of Motoko Kusanagi, the main protagonist and Johansson’s role, into the plot. Kusanagi’s body is completely synthetic. Though the ethnicity of her cybernetic body has a Japanese appearance, she could conceivably have a Caucasian body since it’s not difficult to “change” bodies out. This doesn’t seem likely since this new film is going to be marketed to a more general audience than a GitS fanbase. The former demographic is not going to be concerned or even be aware of the discrepancy. Since the nature of human consciousness is a major theme, especially in the original film, Sanders could even work in some meta-counter-criticism of race by leveraging the a-ethnicity of the soul (however one may consider the nature of the soul to be).

But my main point in all this is that many Facebook commenters are calling the casting a “whitewash” of the source material. I wonder, though, if the people making this criticism would call the newest Annie film or Idris Elba’s possible casting as the new James Bond a “blackening” of the original, or if they consider a black Santa Claus a betrayal of a European tradition? Why would Johansson’s casting not be considered a win for diversity in a franchise that is traditionally very Asian?

* As far as I remember, all of the main, recurring characters in GitS except for Batou are Japanese. Batou is actually French, and presumably Caucasian. Might be interesting to track the casting of his character as well.