Thursday, July 31, 2008

Musical hardware videos

Such marvelous technology at our fingertips and this is where it all leads ...

A Commodore 64 channels HAL ...

A hard drive does the Imperial March ...

And a scanjet printer is configured to play Vivaldi:


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Return to podcasting

You may or may not have stumbled onto Uncle Warren's Attic #53, now available in a podcatcher near you. But he made an announcement that I'm kind of pleased about, in that OMG-what-am-I-getting-myself-into kind of way.

UW, who launched into the podcasting world with his reading of my first tome, The Imaginary Bomb, will be doing the same for my novel under construction, The Imaginary Revolution. We have worked out a weekly schedule where he will read three chapters a week for eight weeks, beginning Aug. 10 with UWA #54 and concluding with a gangbusters UWA #61 on Sept. 28.

This is partly a shameless marketing exercise and partly an incentive to keep me writing the remarkable story of Raymond Kaliber and independent Sirius IV, which I plan to inflict on the world around mid-October. As such, it may remind longtime readers of the debacle that was The Imaginary Lover. The difference between that uncompleted novel and this one is that, unlike that one, I know how this one ends. In fact, I have the final chapter mostly written already. This puppy is coming. The only wild cards that could throw off the schedule are the day-job factor and unexpected life events.

Uncle Warren's technology has advanced a bit since he bragged about the wonderful analog system he used to record the I-Bomb. That iMac of his has capabilities to do things that would have been pretty unwieldy to accomplish with the old stuff alone — but the old stuff is still part of his system. So the new novel may sound, shall we say, different from the I-Bomb.

And it is different. It's not a sequel in the sense that the I-Lover was, although it does take place in the same future universe as the I-Bomb, and there will be some references to the events of the first novel, as the time lines of the two books intersect at one point. In the first book, the declaration of independence by the encampment at Sirius IV was a subplot that partially drove the action. In this book, that declaration is the main plot.

Alas, I have not figured out a way to bring Bob Whelan, Pete Wong and Baxter Hetznecker into this story, so this is not a continuation of their story. Do you have to have read The Imaginary Bomb to fully grok The Imaginary Revolution? Probably not — but if you want to buy The I-Bomb anyway, I ain't stoppin' ya.

I heartily suggest you visit or subscribe to Uncle Warren's Attic over the next couple of months if you haven't made it a habit already. The geniuses at Richardson & Bluhm are working hard to make it worth your while. OK, we're playing hard, actually, but the result is very similar.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

B.W.'s Book Report: Little Brother

I couldn't put down Cory Doctorow's Little Brother to save my soul. I have been tinkering with a collection of thoughts called Refuse to Be Afraid, and it turns out that Doctorow has already taken most of those thoughts and converted them into a page-turning thriller of a glimpse into our possible near-term future.

Four geeky 17-year-old friends are playing an intriguing Wi-Fi game when a horrendous terrorist incident goes off in San Francisco. Our main hero ends up spending some time in a dark custody that opens his eyes to the ways fear has converted many of our countrymen and -women into a form of terrorist themselves. He finds himself engaging in activity that could land him back in custody, but freedom has become more important than his personal safety and security.

This is An Important Book, but it's also beaucoup entertaining. As I said at the outset, I couldn't put it down. I knew I wanted to get up before dawn this morning to write, but I had to finish reading the book first, which brought me close to midnight. It was time well spent.

This one goes on my short list of essential reading. If you want to see where the US of A is heading — if we're not there already — read this book. Now, if not sooner.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

B.W. At The Movies: X-Files — I Want To Believe

I remain convinced to this day that one of the reasons Star Trek: The Motion Picture didn't work is that they waited until about 90 minutes into the thing before the soundtrack finally gave us a taste of the familiar Trek fanfare. (They fixed this flaw years later by using the ST:TMP theme as the Star Trek: The Next Generation theme — now the film feels very Trekky from the opening frames.)

The reason I mention this is Chris Carter did the right thing with his new flick The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Just about the first thing you hear after the 20th Century Fox fanfare is the seven-note theme of the TV series. You may as well be back home on the couch ready for another cool adventure with Fox Mulder and Dana Scully — and I have a strong feeling that's the approach they took to the entire enterprise.

I've seen more than a few reviews of this flick along the lines of "They waited six years to do another X-Files story and all they came up with was this?" I have to admit I had that thought a time or two watching this story about two old friends, colleagues and lovers. But you know what? In the end I was OK with that. It's a good, solid X-Files story, and you know how long it's been since we had one of those? When all was said and done, a good solid X-Files story has always been satisfying.

Whether this will do enough at the box office to justify any further sojourns is up in the air. I got the feeling the gang in charge tried hard to keep our expectations down, in hopes we'd sit through it, take it for what it's worth, and go home thinking, "You know, I liked that a whole lot more than I thought I would," and that's what we'd tell our friends, and they'd go and have a similar experience, and maybe we'd go back a time or two and buy the DVD when it comes out, and before you know it there's enough spare cash lying around to do another movie. I sure hope it turns out that way, because you know, I liked this movie a whole lot more than I thought I would.

And hang around through the closing credits. You may have the same reaction I had: "Why are they showing all these ocean scenes? There was no ocean in the story." The answer is cute and sweet (of all things) and you won't mind waiting for it.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Turnin' up the volume

So I punched the button and there was the familiar growl of "Born On The Bayou," the first thing I ever heard on a Creedence Clearwater Revival album and still my favorite CCR song. I reached for the left dial on my car radio and gave it a hard clockwise twist.


That got me to thinking how many other tunes are out there that I still HAVE TO PLAY LOUD EVERY TIME I HEAR THEM because of the adrenaline rush they give me. The only other one I could think of off the top of my head was "Born to Run." Maybe "Devil With a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Rocking Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu."

This probably is different for all of us. A few minutes later the station played "Purple Haze," and I imagined folks crankin' her up as soon as they heard that familiar opening riff, but as much as I love to hear that one loud, it doesn't have to be EVERY TIME. That's a select few for everyone, I think.


Empty nest

The mama bird sat on the nest on the drain pipe next to our garage for so long that we thought her eggs had failed to hatch and she'd lost her mind — weeks and weeks and weeks.

Then about a week and a half ago or so, we started seeing little heads in the nest.

One day, with alarm, we noticed mama wasn't around and the little heads didn't appear to be moving anymore. Wearing work gloves, I reached up and nudged the bill of one little bird, and nothing seemed to happen. Oh no! Did they die?

I sadly and carefully dislodged the nest and took it down — only to discover four miraculous little lives huddled together, not moving but definitely breathing in more than their share of oxygen. Fortunately, I had worked carefully enough that the nest fit back in its place perfectly and life went on. I was afraid I had ruined everything, but the mama bird continued to come and go and hover.

Wednesday, shortly after this photo was taken, the four little birds took turns hopping out of the nest, fluttering their wings as they perched on the pipe, and hopping back in — checking out the goods and practicing, clearly.

This morning, the nest is empty. I'll miss them, but mission accomplished: They're off to do what young birds do. Maybe one of them will be back next year — this is at least the third year in a row that we've had a nest next to the garage.


Sunday, July 20, 2008

First look: The Imaginary Revolution

It's kind of cheeky for me to be talking about my October book release when my July book is a week late, but I'm kind of pleased with the way this turned out, so take a gander, folks. Target date is Oct. 15.

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B.W. At The Movies: The Dark Knight

We got there a half-hour before showtime and still had to pick a seat from the leftovers. The numbers on this puppy are going to be huge.

The first thing that took my breath away was the trailer for Watchmen. I told Sweetie, "You've just seen what we'll be doing next March 6. Or at least you'll know where to find me."

But then ... what's with the bizarre trailer for The Spirit? The disconnect between this rendition of the pending film and Will Eisner's magnificent creation was palpable, IMHO.

Well, then, time for the biggest film of the year.

It's everything they say it is, whoever they are. Even the tiny minority who don't like it are right about The Dark Night — it's too long, too wordy, a little muddled, yeah, yeah. But oh my, it's the best Batman movie ever, one of the best comic-book movies ever, and maybe the best movie-movie of the year (although I sure did enjoy Iron Man).

The old comics geek in me is simply satisfied that the world will have finally seen The Joker as I remember him from Batman #1 — actually, as I remember him from my sadly deteriorated first edition of Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes, which I received for my 12th Christmas and will always cherish as one of my best Christmases ever. That Joker was, and now is again, the creepiest and most insane mainstream comic book villain ever conceived. Heath Ledger inhabits him as perfectly as any actor ever has or ever will — the hype was all true, this performance is the one that will define The Joker forever.

Aaron Eckhart does a very nice job as Harvey Dent, and director Christopher Nolan allows Eckhart to take Gotham's fighting D.A. into the place where Tim Burton never took Billy Dee Williams back in '89, to my everlasting disappointment. And Gary Oldman is a fantabulous James Gordon.

You know why I came away exhausted and loving the movie but not ready to proclaim it the greatest comic-book movie ever and ever amen? Batman, and specifically Batman's voice. Christian Bale does a terrific job, he's the best Bruce Wayne ever thrown up there, but when he puts on the costume he also puts on that voice. I don't understand why he has to affect that crushed-gravel, angry stage whisper when he dons the mask. It's a silly little thing, but it's also an essential and always-present annoyance, which detracts from the gritty realism of the movie.

Bottom line, though, anyone who loves a good action flick, anyone who loves a good psychological thriller, anyone who loves a great movie, needs to see The Dark Knight. To borrow a phrase from that other comic book leviathan, 'Nuff Said.

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Now this is fun

Now we need a version for Senator McCain. Anyone know of one?

Make one yourself. Thanks Brad via Wally.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mort Walker & 'the world's most popular art'

This Wall Street Journal article about Mort Walker and the National Cartoon Museum he founded makes for interesting reading, and there's a nice video slideslow/interview connected to it. It's also the most bizarre piece of reporting I've seen in a long time.

The reporter spends a few moments describing Walker, 84, the creator of Beetle Bailey, who has amassed more than 200,000 pieces of comic strip and comic book art, perhaps the world's largest such collection.
It also has been searching for a home. Worth an estimated $20 million according to the collection's curators, the collection was moved to a storage facility in Stamford, Conn., in 2002. Mr. Walker and his family have looked at dozens of homes for the collection ever since.
The story goes on and on, and waaaaayyy towards the end we discover something that's not hinted at in the headline or anywhere else to this point:
In 2007, Ohio State University Prof. Lucy Caswell, a former member of the cartoon museum's board of directors, began to talk with the Walkers about merging their collection with the university's own cartoon collection. The university promised the art would be available for all to see, and the Walkers finally decided that was the way to go. The art arrived in Ohio last month.
What the — ?!? The headline is "Beetle Bailey's Long March: Classic Cartoons Search for a Home." The subhead is "Strip's Creator, 84, Had Comics Collection Worth $20 million, and No Place to Show It." The only clue that this is an old story is in the tense of the subhead: "Had," not "Has." Talk about burying the lead ... !!!

An extremely bizarre bit of unnecessary misrepresentation. It's almost as if the story was written six months ago and the ending sloppily tagged onto the end — but Walker refers to the Ohio State agreement in the slideshow, so it's presumably a recent interview. Maybe someone at the WSJ decided they'd get more readers if the museum's quest for a home didn't appear to have a happy ending yet.

Weird writing decisions aside, it's still an interesting read. As Walker says in the slideshow, "Everybody in the world reads comics."


Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why I won't fly, Part 216

"Want some torture with your peanuts?" a column by Jeffrey Denning

A senior government official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has expressed great interest in a so-called safety bracelet that would serve as a stun device, similar to that of a police Taser®. According to this promotional video found at the Lamperd Less Lethal, Inc. website, the bracelet would be worn by all airline passengers (video also shown below).

This bracelet would:

• Take the place of an airline boarding pass

• Contain personal information about the traveler

• Be able to monitor the whereabouts of each passenger and his/her luggage

• Shock the wearer on command, completely immobilizing him/her for several minutes

The Electronic ID Bracelet, as it’s referred to, would be worn by every traveler “until they disembark the flight at their destination.” Yes, you read that correctly. Every airline passenger would be tracked by a government-funded GPS, containing personal, private and confidential information, and would shock the customer worse than an electronic dog collar if the passenger got out of line.
What a world. Whole article here.

One of the article's commenters poohpoohs the idea and says the device would only be used for transporting "detainees." Sure it would. At first.


Friday, July 11, 2008

The girl in my dream

She writes songs. In fact, she had the No. 1 song in the world. The words and melody struck so many people so deeply they had to own it and play it again anytime they wanted.

She lives alone on the second floor of a two-story building. Maybe it was above a storefront, I couldn't see the details outside. All I saw was a long hallway, windows along the one side and the sun coming in. But she didn't look out the windows. She lives alone and never comes out.

The dream was about recording an album and we started talking about her, and how she could come out of the apartment anytime she wanted if she weren't so scared. I remember saying that song has made her a millionaire but she can't come out. Why is she so afraid? What is she so afraid of?

I woke up haunted by the young woman. In the dream I was the musician making the album; we were between sessions, it seems, because the conversation was taking place outdoors, in a car. I was also the girl, because I remember that long hallway and the sunshine I couldn't bear to see and feel. The song has given her all of her material needs. All she needs now is to gather the courage and step outside. But it feels so comfortable in the apartment. She's simultaneously afraid to leave and aware there's nothing to fear. And the world loves her song.

I heard no music in the dream, but I knew: It was a beautiful song.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

'We need rules' - hang on a second

Let's take this one first. The director of Fatherland Homeland Security said at the "Aspen Ideas Festival":
“We’re going to live with risk for a very long period of time. We need to develop a set of rules that are somewhere between complacency and hysteria.” – Michael Chertoff
Our rulers prefer us hysterical — we're easier to control that way — but they must appear to us as reasonable, so they make statements like this one. What exactly is the point between complacency and hysteria?

Complacency is a state of being utterly unprepared for the one-in-a-billion chance that a terrorist is going to try to board an airplane today. Hysteria is a state of such utter fear that innocent travelers are pulled aside and their bodily cavities searched for weapons. If the goal is a point "somewhere between" complacency and hysteria, why does the status quo tilt so merrily toward hysteria?

I recently stumbled onto a lovely piece of rational thinking I somehow have overlooked for almost a year. It's called "I Am Not Afraid" and is available from James Leroy Wilson and the Downsize D.C. folks. A cogent sample:
Here's what it means to not be afraid, here's what it means to fight a real war on terror, and here's what it means to win that war, instantly:

* It means that you do not participate in the public hysteria when terrorists attack, but instead react proportionally, placing the terrorist act in its proper place in the vast scheme of crimes, accidents, disease, natural disaster, and generic tragedy that is man's lot on earth.

* It means that you do not permit the politicians to feel terror on your behalf. It means that you discourage them from fomenting and exploiting hysteria to expand their own power at the expense of traditional American principles.

* It means that you view terrorism as a matter for international police work, under the rule of law, and not a justification for bloated government programs, reckless wars, or the shredding of the Bill of Rights.
That reference to the Bill of Rights is important, because it's the name of a very handy "set of rules that are somewhere between complacency and hysteria" that served us well long before there was a Department of Fatherland Homeland Security. If Chertoff and his handlers ever read the thing, their actions show utter contempt for it.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Duty to the state

“We have to change the definition of citizenship so you can't pat yourself on the back for paying your taxes, obeying the law, taking care of your family, and being a good voter. You have to be a public servant as a private citizen. The interdependent world demands it.” – William J. Clinton (July 5, 2008)

"The truth is we are growing more isolated in our communities because we are living more and more only with people we agree with. And we are growing more isolated in our political debates because we have access to more information than ever before, but we look at the television news and we read the Web sites of people who confirm what we think already. This is not good in a democracy.” – William J. Clinton (July 5, 2008)

“We’re going to live with risk for a very long period of time. We need to develop a set of rules that are somewhere between complacency and hysteria.” – Michael Chertoff, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security (July 3, 2008)

“Make achievement the constant and time the variable. If you look to other nations, this is what they’re doing. To achieve success, you’ve got to have longer school years. – Cory Booker, mayor, Newark, NJ (July 6, 2008)

“Public attitudes about our courts, they’re not good. … One-third of Americans can’t name the three branches of government. How are we going to solve our problems if we don’t know how the government works? We have to use technology to teach our young people about our government structures.” – Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (June 30, 2008)

Quotes culled from a press release about this year's Aspen Ideas Festival, June 30-July 6. In their words, "For more than 50 years, the Aspen Institute has been the nation's premier gathering place for leaders from around the globe and across many disciplines to engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times."

I hope to start commenting once I get my breath back. "We must be public servants as private citizens." Whew. "Rules that are somewhere between complacency and hysteria." Hey! Cut it out, I'm trying to breathe here ...

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Of course the book will be late

I had a cup of coffee with a friend the other day and told him I was writing a book called Refuse to Be Afraid. By the startled look in his eyes, I could tell that just the title strikes a chord.

These are timely times for such a message. The whole purpose of this drama we call a "presidential election" is to strike fear in the darkest depths of our souls, and offer one of these two champions as the solution. There are dark whisperings the price of gasoline and food will never go back down, and the economy will collapse within weeks. The news brings word daily of new deaths abroad, new murders on our urban streets, new layoffs in our businesses and industries, new sources of cancer in everyday foods and even in the air and water.

It's almost as if, perish the thought, our rulers had gathered in a room and decided that the little people needed a few lessons to remind them "why - they - need - us!" Well, we don't need them, and the source of their fear is that we will figure that out, take charge of our own lives and lead a peaceful life based not on their tyranny and fear but on, oh I don't know, "My freedom has no limit except so far as I don't infringe on your freedom" or "Do unto others as you would have them do to you."

So of course a book called Refuse to Be Afraid could be like a hand grenade tossed into a crowded room — no, strike that, your honor — a book called Refuse to Be Afraid could be a lighted candle carried gently into a room that has been sealed off from the daylight for far too long. The reaction could be as, um, electric as my friend's.

And of course, then, the book will not be ready by July 15, my deadline. I am, after all, the fellow who wrote The Imaginary Bomb in 1988 and first published it this past winter. My collaborator is the guy who wrote The Adventures of Myke Phoenix in the early '90s and Wildflower Man in April 1996. Only this year are they all out there. How could we possibly publish a new book on time?

I do expect to complete it soon. This has been the dominant theme of this blog and may be perhaps the most important advice I can pass along in these times, and I do want to say these things and have them be heard as soon as possible. It will, however, be late. I hope and pray it won't be too late — I'd say I'm "afraid" it may be too late, but that would be a bit ironic, don't you think? The fearful little man holding a candle in the dark, hands shaking and saying, "I'm afraid I'm too late, but we all need to refuse to be afraid"?

While you're waiting, feel free to stare at the seven words at the bottom of my banner until they sink in a bit: Refuse to be afraid. Free yourself. Dream. That's the whole book anyway.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

An election party where nobody came

Well, it's been a quiet week in Freedomville, my hometown ... I sense a disturbance in the Force, or something. It's an uneasiness in a soul that has chosen not to participate in the charade we call a "presidential election." Or the anxiety, if that's the right word, is something other than that.

The discomfort must be something more than resigning myself to the fact that the two branches of the Party have presented the US of A with finalists in the presidential reality show who each proposes to be the dictator of our lives, improving only the efficiency of a safety net woven from chains that purports to protect us from cradle to grave while regulating, licensing or prohibiting nearly every known individual choice or course of action. Maybe it's something as easy as realizing that everyone who was voted off the island was also anxious to be our dictator.

But this is nothing new. Perhaps it's that this is my first "presidential election" since my disillusionment in this process became complete. I have reported to a polling place and voted for the Libertarian Party candidate for four of the last five of these exercises, which gave me some sense of empowerment. I never bought into the "if you vote for a third party, you've wasted your vote" nonsense. If you vote for someone who doesn't share your values or views in any meaningful sense of the words, THEN you've wasted your vote, I have always said. It's not about winning, it's about representation, and if the numbers show your viewpoints aren't representative, your views will be ignored. Or so I believed.

Now it seems clear that my views will be ignored anyway. And so I will join the majority that votes "None of the Above," who is not on the ballot. I have seen unopposed candidates fret because they received only 94 percent of the vote, wondering how they could have disillusioned as many as 6 percent. So I know the fewer people vote, the more it will get the attention of our rulers. The fewer people vote, the more it will trouble good men and women.

The dilemma is it's also true that the fewer people vote, the easier it is for a devious minority to maintain control, because all you need is 50.1 percent of a small minority to win the election. That's a motivation for voting for the "lesser of two evils." But the better choice between two evils is still evil. The only sane choice is neither, not one or the other.

I know and understand all of this, so why do I sense a disturbance in my heart? I wonder if it's something as basic as finally understanding to the core that the extent to which I am free has nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with the chains so many freely choose. The extent to which I am free is up to me. The extent to which I have not been free was my responsibility. Freedom is not something granted by rulers; it's an "unalienable right" that I have given away.

How do I get back my freedom? First I understand that I never lost control of it, I merely chose not to be free. How do I get back my freedom? I take it back, gently but firmly. One small step is to note that neither Barack Obama nor John McCain represents me in any way, shape or form. Freedom is not about having the right ruler. Oh, wait, yes it is. Freedom is understanding that I am the boss of me.

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Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Girls in Their Summer Clothes

Soundtrack: "The Girls in Their Summer Clothes," Bruce Springsteen

This is the time of year when a pair of sunglasses comes in handy. As women start to wear their summer clothes, it's embarrassing to have some sweet young thing notice that this middle-aged-plus lecher is admiring her. Yes, "The girls in their summer clothes pass me by" nowadays, but it is still a pleasure to watch them pass.

I think the average woman would be shocked (and perhaps even disgusted) if she realized how many times a day a man looks her way and assesses how much fun it would be to make love to her. At least I think that's true, based on my years of being inside the skin of a male beast, as well as conversations with other males.

It's especially true this time of year, with the girls in their summer clothes. Of course they pass me by, but it's OK; I'm just looking anyway — and thinking.

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