07 December 2009
I'll be making a sort of "behind the scenes" video explaining the dilemma presented by the Creative Commons license attached to the Nine Inch Nails song from their recent Ghosts album that was used in the first version of this video. It'll also be a sort of general overview as to the nature of the Creative Commons and how it relates to copyleft and traditional copyright.
Spiritually, I do prefer the NIN version, but this edition is more in line with the original goal of the project.
29 November 2009
To sum up an overall impression of this film: everything that I was afraid Star Trek would be, this movie is in spades. It's a dishwater-dull, contrived, and by-the-numbers action film that is only vicariously associated with a more well-known and established property, often along the lines of "in name only at best," for no better reason than to avoid being doomed to obscurity. What's worse is that Capcom's name appears three times in the film's opening credits, so their official involvement in this film would at least appear to be beyond vague attachment. Fortunately, for the sake of their reputation, this is not the case.
When discussing matters such as heart, intelligence, and integrity with action films, the question of how well the visuals and action sequences stack up and compare inevitably rises. Rather, are the film's faults overshadowed, if not forgiven, by the action sequences? The answer is no, as the fight scenes aren't even that well-choreographed or interesting to look at. They're so choppy and truncated with broken bones that mend themselves from shot-to-shot (not scene-to-scene, shot-to-shot), one would get the impression that as much got left on the cutting room floor as what got left in for the theatrical version. However, this was not the theatrical cut, but the unrated edition, so the notion of continuity errors being excused by deleted or trimmed scenes does not hold water; this is simply bad editing. When the montage of a film fails, it's often up to the mise-en-scene to take up the slack, such as the actors and their performances. This should be where the film shines as fighting games are nothing without their characters, but in fact, it's one of the film's biggest shortcomings.
Michael Clarke Duncan plays Balrog (Bison in the Japanese version of the original game, as explicitly and needlessly stated by the film's credits) and I have to feel sorry for him that his life (not just his career, but his life) will be haunted by his appearance in this film. Discovered at a gym by Michael Bay, Duncan has led a very successful career and has never, ever given a bad performance. Here, however, he gives the worst and most embarrassing performance of his career, which is really saying something given that the character of Balrog isn't all that well-defined in the first place. To call his performance hammy or camp gives it far too much credit, it is simply that unpleasant to witness. The sole saving grace, if it could be called that, to this atrocity of the actor's craft is that he's far from the worst in this film.
Bison (Vega in the Japanese version of the original game, as also explicitly and needlessly stated by the film's credits) is portrayed by Neal McDonough, whose look in this film seems to be aiming for some sort of hybrid between Robert Patrick and Ray Liotta that's been soaked in bleach for ten days and sent off to the Hitler Youth camp. Remember how in Enemy at the Gates, Ed Harris' character is portrayed in a rather sympathetic light for the first ninety minutes of the film, then does a full turnaround and murders a child, completely throwing our empathy out the window and replacing it with fully-justified and unapologetic hatred? Not only does Bison have a scene like that in the first ten minutes, but he has one every ten minutes from there onward. You could almost make a drinking game out of each close-up shot that shows his face with blood splattered on it. After the second time, even the most inattentive and distracted audience member would be yelling, "Okay, he's evil. We get it. Can we move on, please?" at the screen.
Chris Klein plays Christopher Nash, an interpol detective hot on the trail of Bison's crime syndicate. He is, without question, the low-point of this film in terms of actors. Each delivery of a line by him is so grating, jarring, and unpleasant that he makes Christian Slater's performance in Alone in the Dark look like Oscar gold.
With this many terrible performances together in one place, I'm starting to think I might be being a little too hard on these guys and overlooking a greater travesty here because, essentially, an actor is only really as good as the dialogue they're given to work with. Of all the elements that could be labeled as low points to the overall mess, the script is inarguably the source of it all. The dialogue is so unnatural, stilted, and one-dimensional that lines are not so much spoken as much as passively allowed to escape from the poisonous barbs that are the actors' collectively suppressed hatred for the audible print so far beneath them that a snake's belly in a wagon rut would be stratospheric by comparison.
Shortly after this film came out and before I'd seen it, Justin Marks, the 'audible typist' (I will not call him a writer), in an article featured on The Escapist, had expressed dread over his premature (if potentially, totally right) supposition that his upcoming adaptation of the Playstation title Shadow of the Colossus would "not be given a chance" because of not only his previous efforts at bringing Street Fighter back to the big screen after a long absence, but also because of the avid followers of Team Ico's magnum opus. I meant to write him a very angry letter that would be posted in the comments page of the article, but given that I hadn't yet seen The Legend of Chun-Li, I decided (it turned out against my better judgment) to give him the benefit of the doubt and wait until then to see if I'd have a leg to stand on. Now, I can take my stand.
I'm not going to pretend that screenwriting is easy; I write scripts, it's hard, and I don't even do it professionally, so I can't imagine the hardships and emotional traumas of having a paycheck riding on one. With Marks' statements, however, I have no sympathy anymore, and now that I have ammunition in the form of this film, I must now resurrect from the deepest, darkest corners of my memory that letter I was going to write telling him under what terms I would give his upcoming movie adaptation of one of my all time favorite PS2 games a chance to prove my preconceived notions wrong. It involved him buying me a ticket and me promising to not only reimburse him for the ticket if I was impressed by the movie, but buying another ticket on top of it to give to my ego, which will have been sitting next to me at the showing eating a giant plate of crow. I know it sounds like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm not; if he buys my ticket, and proves me wrong about his writing skills, I'll buy two tickets and even two copies of the eventual DVD release.
25 November 2009
G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was really good, beyond expectations by leaps and bounds. In fact, if the Transformers movies had been given this kind of care and attention, the world would be a better place. When it comes to the revivals of these time-honored properties and criticisms thereof, there's always an argument that crops up without fail between those who are eager with anticipation and those who are anxious with it. It goes something like this:
Eager: This is gonna be awesome!
Anxious: I don't think it's going to be any good.
Eager: Dude, it's based on a buncha toys, what do you expect?
Anxious: I expect at least what I got from the cartoon.
Eager: Like what?
Here's the long, but not that complicated answer to Eager's question:
I may not have kids, but I'm not old and/or jaded enough to forget what being one was like, and I know then as much as I know now that parents frequently and sadly underestimate them. Children are not sheep that have to be guarded from all the dangers of the outside world. They don't have to stick their hand in the fire to know it's hot, but that doesn't mean they're afraid of it, either. The point is, throughout history, certain groups of adults (of the not old and/or jaded enough variety) have acknowledged the fact that children see the world differently from adults, and therefore things that adults may regard as unsafe and/or damaging to children may not actually be so. This is how we get shows like Doctor Who, Thunderbirds, Starblazers, Transformers, G.I.Joe, Thundercats, Batman: The Animated Series, and Avatar: The Last Airbender, shows that are made for and aimed at children, yet never come across to them as remotely juvenile or condescending. Tom Clancy it is not, but it sits comfortably on top of pulp-era escapades like Sky Captain and The World of Tomorrow or Indiana Jones, sharing the same floor space as the films of Pixar studios and the James Bond franchise.
It's as intelligent as any Bond movie, and certainly as exciting. The characters are broadly drawn, yet just deep enough to be interesting. Relationships and origin stories are re-written, at times drastically, from their source material, but keeps a high degree of familiarity and integrity to elevate above a pale imitation.
Possible Spoiler: The makers left this film open for a sequel, but given the state both sides are left in at the end and the way certain beloved characters are resolved, I won't be disappointed if I don't see it or it never happens; This is a good film, let's keep it that way.
Star Trek was better than I had expected. I was expecting some bland and generic science fiction drama that only vicariously uses the well-known name and occasional trappings to get attention (case in point, Battlestar Galactica). Fortunately, this isn't the case, but, by virtue of the movie's own metafictional admission, it is not to be an acknowledged part of the Star Trek universe. Don't get me wrong, I like this movie, and it's distinctly superior to the last two Star Trek films, but it can't really be a part of the greater whole. It's equally demanding of its acceptance by Trekkies as it is dismissive of its own place in regards to canon. In other words, it does just as much to be Star Trek as it does to not be Star Trek. What we have here, then, is a movie that has a love/hate relationship with its own audience.
Maybe that's why I liked it so much.
I've always had a love/hate relationship with the franchise, and it probably plays out like most middle-of-the-road Trekkies: The original series is equally fondly remembered by those old enough to see it at the time and those who came after, acknowledged by both as an unprecedented cultural landmark; The movies came and went, and we liked at least half of them; The Next Generation did the impossible, appealing to a new audience without coming at the expense of the old; Deep Space Nine was a welcome change of pace and scenery for the franchise, but wore out that welcome after the first year; Voyager wasn't much better, was practically ignored for it, and couldn't have died a quieter death; Enterprise was a competent enough return to form, but was too little, too late, and is tragically under-appreciated as a result.
Rather than do a full and proper review, list the problems I had with the film and its treatment of certain characters and concepts, comparing/contrasting them with what I liked, I'm going to give you a simple formula to use as a guide if you're unsure about seeing this film or what to expect going in:
If you LOVE Star Trek, you'll HATE this movie.
If you LIKE Star Trek, you'll LIKE this movie.
If you HATE Star Trek, you'll LOVE this movie.
18 November 2009
Okay, so Yahoo!Video is playing nice again after two months of giving me grief when uploading. I don't know if I'll keep the YouTube video active, I'm sort of divided on it. I mean, I know it's not earth-shattering, but when my video gets 20 views in a week while some self-loathing british brat who hates Modern Warfare 2 gets half a million in 24 hours, I suddenly get the impression that the YouTube audience is not for me.
Also, I'm working on a longer version of NAZCA, which will have a full copyleft license, barring any discrepancies with the new music I'm going to find (none of that Creative Commons nonsense). I'm trying to find a royalty-free recording of the Prelude to Wagner's Das Rheingold.
I'm also working on potentially two follow-up pieces to Digital Backlot, one taking a look at the animation technique known as rotoscoping (the Original digital backlot), and the second looking at the two films "The Fountain" and "The Fall" which were made in the last five years yet use only practical effects (making them, essentially, ANTI-digital backlot films).
09 November 2009
The Island was a pleasant surprise. This is probably Bay's best film, and that's saying something. Bay would make a great second unit director, and he has been so in the past. Unfortunately, for him to really have the freedom to shoot the kind of action scenes he wants, he has to be given the reins to the whole project. To make him a second unit director on a film would result in a very schizophrenic and uneven picture as very few directors' sensibilities would gel with Bay's trademark style. This is the ultimate tragedy of Bay's career, but he doesn't seem too disappointed by it. The Island, pigeonholed by certain, more elitist critics, as a modern re-imagining of the movie Clonus (better known as Parts: The Clonus Horror), does its supposed source material justice and beyond. Clonus, sadly, was not a particularly well-made film (as evidenced in part by its inclusion in the Mystery Science Theater film library) and it hasn't aged very well, either. Clonus could barely keep up with the science at the time, let alone the era's science fiction. In fact, I'd read a book about cloning published several years before Clonus' production that handled the subject matter better. Bay's usual lack of attention to anything not involving crashes and explosions is absent here, as the performances (even the most one-dimensional of them) are on par with any drama with less than half as many action sequences. If you're not a fan of Bay, and you haven't seen The Island, it may just be the one that changes your mind from a total write-off of his work.
Hero was brilliant, put simply. It, along with House of Flying Daggers, came with consistent praise and recommendation to me by friends, co-workers, and anyone else in my acquaintance who's seen the film. I had virtually no preconceived notions about the film, having only seen a few trailers leading up to the film's release. I knew nothing of its plot, but was very happy that it employed my favorite narrative device: Multiple Perspectives. Hero is about an assassination plot, told from at least two distinct viewpoints and even then in a variety of different variations. Each variation on the climax's preceding events is marked throughout by a dominant color (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, White). It sounds like a rather elementary way to tell the flashbacks apart, but it's very effective, and utterly beautiful. The only thing that honestly keeps me from taking a screen capture from nearly any frame of this film to use as my desktop wallpaper is is that it would mean taking down my current wallpaper, a publicity photo of actress Bai Ling (a little more on her later).
Able Edwards was... weird, but novel and certainly interesting. It's a low-budget vanity project combining two well-known figures, one fictional and one real: Citizen Kane and Walt Disney. In short, Able Edwards is about the clone of a deceased cartoonist-turned-business tycoon created to become head of a corporation operating on an orbital space station. The style is patterned after Orson Welles' classic almost to the letter, right down to the very typeface used for the film's title. Released in 2004, Able Edwards is probably the least-widely-known of the films that comprise the “Digital Backlot” cycle, accompanied by Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (featuring the lovely aforementioned Bai Ling) from the USA, Immortal from France (with a Slavic writer and director), and Casshan from Japan, among others. These films were all made using extensive amounts of digital backdrops and composites, to such an extent that few or no practical sets were built, with those that were serving more as references for the actors' benefit than the audiences' viewing pleasure.
I didn't say anything about Seed earlier because I'd only thought to include it at the last minute. This was the first Uwe Boll film I'd seen, and I had a little trouble actually watching it, but not because it's a bad film. Let me put it this way: Horror comes in three flavors which are Terrify, Horrify, and Gross-Out. Gross-Out's markings are pretty obvious, even if you've only heard of Hostel, Saw, or anything by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Horrify elements best described as “jump scares” the ones that play off your reflexes or get your adrenaline pumping (Alien, Jaws, any zombie film). Terrify is the hardest variety of horror to produce, and often the best results come from films outside what most people generally think of as belonging to the horror genre, as you don't have to be a horror movie to be a creepy movie (Jacob's Ladder, Flatliners, American Psycho). Seed is very much in the Gross-Out category, and that's by design, as Uwe Boll described the film in the accompanying commentary as “A horror movie for horror fans”. Like I said, Seed is not a bad horror movie. Far from it, it's at least as competent at what it does as the Saw movies or anything from Rob Zombie. I just happen to prefer suspense to gore.
There are more Uwe Boll films on their way through the combined efforts of Netflix, and I'm actually looking forward to giving them a go. Sure, Boll gets a lot of flack for his work and certainly for some of his more harsh statements about certain filmmakers and most filmgoers, but I try not to listen to gossip. I'll judge for myself his abilities as a director, and so far, from what I've seen, his only real fault is some slightly iffy casting (Tara Reid and Ray Liotta chiefly), and that's hardly something to hold against a director.
Along with Boll's work, the other films on the way are the aforementioned entries in the Digital Backlot cycle, Immortal and Casshan. I plan on doing a sort of video retrospective of the cycle, this being essentially the 5th anniversary of each of those films.
Thanks for reading.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [link]
Nov 9th: (will sit down and watch in a few hours)
The Island [link]
Able Edwards [link]
I had already seen Transformers (at the second run theaters... I felt I owed it to my inner child who ambivalently remembers being scared at the original animated feature to such an extent that I stopped watching after Starscream was disintegrated by Galvatron. That was just infuriating; I mean, they killed Starscream, he was my favorite. Oh, well, luckily he's turned out to have an immortal spark.) and while I was loath to give Revenge a go, my roommate thought the scene from the trailer where Sam tells Bumblebee about going to college was cute and wanted to see it almost purely on the power of that. I also thought it would make for an interesting experiment as she'd never followed Transformers as a kid (she was a My Little Pony fan) and had virtually no prior understanding of the source material. I don't think it really worked out as she was actually vicariously running a little experiment of her own to try and fathom, while we were watching, just what I'd hated so much about the first movie.
Watchmen was really good. In fact, at the risk of utter blasphemy, I almost prefer the movie to the comic. Don't get me wrong, if you've never read a comic book in your life and decided to read just one, it would at least be in my top five recommended titles (along with the Spawn/Batman crossover by Miller and MacFarlane and David Mack's contributions to Daredevil, which edge Watchmen out of the top spots).
I had a lot of problems with Wanted, much to the chagrin of my roommate, who's a huge Angelina Jolie fan. I'll write a full review and analysis on my Blogger page. Here's a preview of the introduction:
RM: What did you think?
MY: It was slightly better than I thought it would be.
MY: I was expecting a zero, and I got a three.
RM: Oh... kay...?
MY: The scale's out of one hundred.
RM: Tsh! Matt! It wasn't THAT bad.
MY: That's just it... (and that leads into the review)
One of the big problems of using a projector is that, unless you can dedicate an entire room to using it or black out all your windows, you're at the mercy of the time of day and the inherent lighting, so I have to wait to watch the other three movies (I'd watched Watchmen on my computer, which I really regret doing; it deserved better).
31 October 2009
NAZCA (NIN version)
OR: Nazcawhattheqatsi: Life as Funny Little Lines
Just something I threw together very quickly using (mostly) free elements. This came out of a conversation with my Dad wherein I mentioned the Godfrey Reggio film Koyaanisqatsi, which he said he'd never heard of. I was very surprised by this, so I decided to make a little rough approximation of one of my favorite sequences. I have to apologize though for the logo after the last image; I was using the LE version of this program because I was trying to work within its limitations as a challenge to myself, and forgot about the "branding" until I'd finished rendering.
The music is not by me (though I wish it had been), but by rock/metal group Nine Inch Nails, whose latest release "Ghosts" is available with a Creative Commons license, encouraging their fans to produce videos featuring its music. While I'm not a big fan of NIN, and even less of a fan of the Creative Commons (Copyleft is a good enough compromise between Copyright and Public Domain as is), but if a bunch of haughty headbangers want to play pick-and-mix with their creators' rights, I can't really hold it against them given Trent Reznor's justified lack of faith in the contingencies of "the public domain" or approximations thereof.
It's possible I'll revisit this, and it will have an original score instead of an existing one.
29 September 2009
24 September 2009
I don't expect things to be easy for me. I really don't. I know Murphy's Law is always looming overhead and I actually both appreciate and welcome the humility that comes with his tidings. When it comes to making videos, however, each and every one I make is a whole new challenge essentially no matter what process I take or how many times I repeat it. In short, I can't repeat myself, so I can't apply what I learn.
What's brought all this on is Yahoo! Video, the last people I expected this issue from. The past two videos I've made have been successfully uploaded to DeviantArt, no problems whatsoever. In fact, the only headache DA gives is registering to be able to upload videos in the first place; you can't just sign up for an account and start uploading. You have to upload a video to another site, then contact an administrator with a link to the video, and if they like what they see, your account is 'unlocked' and you'll be able to upload videos just like any other deviation. Video sharing sites like Y!Video and YouTube don't bother with such a formality and are more like the former description wherein all you need is an account. Y!Video, however and of late...
So the newer videos I'm making are more like V-Logs, so they're not really fit for DA. However, as posted in other weblogs (namely DA, but also Multiply, the new home of my Y!360 account), I have ultimately no desire to post anything of mine to YouTube. I won't go into exactly what makes up my hatred for the site beyond that for every five minutes for which I'm genuinely entertained or even moved by something there, there's an attached block of three hours for which time I'm bored out of my brains. To put it another way, remember when mp3.com and napster.com were new? Everyone seemed to think (and state in their ironic defense of those sites) that it will allow people to hear from small and unsigned bands or discover out of print records that may lead to being discovered or reissued by major labels, and yet the most frequently shared file was Metallica's black album, notably in print and far from obscure.
Back to the issue at hand: The problem is that Y!Video is basically not allowing me to upload any more videos. Sure, it acts like it's going to, albeit it first tries to throw me off by making the "browse" and "upload now" sections of the upload page look as if I can't select them. The only way I honestly knew that it was allowing me to browse a video was that it would open a window displaying my available files which I could then select. Once I select the video and hit "upload now" the screen grays out and we then see a progress bar where it presents the upload progress as a percentage. Five hours and it did not move past zero. Even on Dial-Up, zero percent at five hours for 100MB is a joke. This didn't used to be a problem, but now it is. For the sake of science, this process was repeated using Firefox instead of Opera with the same result. Then, we tried again using Opera, Firefox, and Internet Explorer on my roommate's windows machine. Same apparent lack of progress on Firefox and Opera, but Internet Explorer managed after six hours to get to 37% before an error window popped up saying "our robots advise that you try uploading later" (I don't remember exactly what it said, I was too angry). At first, I thought, maybe it's because I'm using Linux instead of Windows or Mac, but that can't be the case because DA and flickr's video section didn't have a problem (I used another file for flickr, because the video I want to upload is about ten minutes in length). Besides, all their warnings about non compatibility with Linux have more to do with playback than uploading, and I've been able to peruse Y!Video without any problems. I don't think it can possibly be the connection, either, because like I said, DA and flickr work just fine. Posting a question on Y!Answers has yet to yield a result (to be fair, it was posted only about an hour ago) and trying to get help through Yahoo! support yields no result as they'd rather try to guide me through troubleshooting steps having nothing to do with my problem than give me a way to contact someone and get a more direct answer.
So that's it, I've had it with Y!Video. All I wanted to do was upload a video and yet that is apparently impossible for no obvious reason beyond that of the purely arbitrary.
APPENDIX: On the subject of help from Yahoo!, what is the point of listing Help and Contact Us separately if they just take you to the same damned page?
01 September 2009
Okay, hereabouts is where we have some... unforeseen issues with the story. To put the whole thing in perspective, this story was written around 1998, maybe even a little earlier. I kept picking the thing up and putting it down, forgetting it for months at a time before picking it back up again, but around the second or third picking up, well...
Proto Sapiens are Grace's people. In short, they're humans who were abducted from earth thousands of years ago as a cheap (read: slave) labor force. By way of insurrection against or abandonment by their captors, these humans found themselves stranded on foreign worlds, often with distinctly different environments than earth's, causing them to adapt and develop in different ways. In the case of the Proto Sapiens (which, I'll admit, etymologically speaking, doesn't make that much sense, but it kind of sounds cool, so it remains the name), they're albino due to the cloud cover over venus. Because of the isolation from earth and incredible lengths of time following their departure, they've developed a completely new culture and language. The language is wherein the problem lies.
It's strangely very difficult to write 'bad english' because at worst it's racist (against whom in this case I have no idea) and at best it sounds silly. Unfortunately, while I dodged the 'race' bullet, the 'silly' bullet was dead-on... and the bullet was a brick hurled at mach one... and the hospital bed I was left to recover upon was a pile of bricks with a moth-eaten sheet draped over it....
What happened was Phantom Menace. Specifically, what happened was Gungans. I had effectively and inadvertantly predicted the diction and speech patterns of the most annoying alien race in the history of science fiction. I guess at the time it just sounded better in my head, the way Grace's grandfather spoke, but when Boss Nass of Gunga City opened his donkey-lips, out came the exact voice I'd heard in my head when writing the scenes with Arthur and Callie meeting the Proto Sapiens and when Grace reveals she knows a little more english than previously let on.
So then, the challenge in continuing where I left off (which is about one or two chapters after part six) is finding a way to pare down or tone back the 'badness' of Proto Sapien english. Worst case scenario, instead of actually writing out the rest of the story, I'll just pull a jerk-move and write a summary of the remaining plot. Hopefully, I won't have to.
The jungle grew incredibly thick along the rest of the plateau's edge, yet Grace was able to navigate the creepers with the greatest of ease. I had to call to her to stop several times just so Callie and I could catch up. I am not sure exactly how far into the thick jungle we went, only that it was still night when we reached a clearing. At the far end of this clearing, our sight was greeted with, what had to be, Grace's home.
It was built into the side of the plateau and almost completely hidden by creepers. The only thing that actually made me notice it was its sheer size. It was a large, stone door about six or seven meters in height. When the three of us walked closer to the Cyclopean construction, a man leaped down from a tree at the side of the door. He was wielding a spear, which he kept poised at us until he noticed Grace. It was here that I saw he was dressed in exactly the same kind of suit as Grace. The only difference was that while Grace had one of our masks, the man's mask looked to be made from the hollowed-out head of a lizard. Had the suits been green, instead of brown, I probably would have mistaken the man for a lizard and torched him with my flame pistol. When the man saw Grace and put down his spear, he whistled something that I could only imagine was an inquiry. Grace answered his whistle and the man ran to embrace her. They parted and Grace pointed to us, whistling our introductions to her friend. The only parts of her introduction I understood were our names.
The man walked over to the door and pulled down on one of the creepers hanging over it. He gave it a sharp tug and the door slowly slid to one side. Grace motioned us to follow her inside and we obeyed. The man tugged on the creeper again and the door slid back, shutting us in total darkness. I turned on my flashlight and looked around the room. Behind us was the enormous door, and in front of us was a similar, large door. Waving the flashlight around the room, I saw that the walls were lined with a strange kind of plant I had not seen before. They resembled a toadstool, yet were larger and seemed to pulsate with a rhythmic motion.
I wondered if it would be safe to remove my mask. But, when I first tried to unstrap it, Grace grabbed my hands, shaking her head. She then pointed to the strange plants on the wall. I finally realized exactly what the pulsating action was. We were in a crude sort of airlock, and the plants were taking in the poisonous Venusian atmosphere and excreting breathable air. As I was explaining all this to Callie, the second door slowly slid open and I saw Grace remove her mask; the circulatory process was obviously complete. When she led us through the second door and down an enclosed ramp, a sight appeared before us that the early explorers could only have dreamed of; it was a full-fledged, underground civilization. Illumined by countless torches and stretching unbelievable distances in all directions, our eyes scanned the peculiar civilization. In addition to occasional structures of Cyclopean architecture, the village was composed mainly of small huts, about two meters in diameter, made from reeds and tall grass. In addition to small huts, there were similar structures that reminded me of Iriquois long-houses. Some of these long houses were a good thirty or forty meters in length. Callie then made the astute observation that the place was completely deserted.
Grace led the two of us to a 'commons' of sorts near a large central structure. She looked around at the seemingly deserted houses and whistled for a few seconds. Our earlier suspicions of the city being completely deserted were proven wrong as, slowly but surely, the entire population of the underground civilization emerged from the huts and long-houses. They were all dressed in the same style of brown, cotton-like undersuit that Grace wore. A large group of perhaps thirty or more walked toward Grace, at first looking awestruck and then overjoyed. Grace whistled to them, and they all whistled their own unique responses. Grace's whistling alone had not bothered me, but thirty all whistling at once was something I could hardly tolerate; It sounded like a dozen birds all singing slightly different melodies at once. Frankly, it was a discord I knew I was going to grow to hate. I saw that Callie shared my same feeling and even began mocking them by whistling her own little tune. Five of the group surrounding Grace wheeled on Callie with looks of bitter contempt on their faces, as though what she had intended as gibberish might actually have been an epiphet of some kind. Fortunately for her, Callie noticed the lascivious looks of the villagers and immediately ceased her mockery.
"Wow, a whole village of lab rats," she whispered.
"Will you stop calling them that!?" I snapped back, trying to keep my voice down. It was when I turned away in disgust to scan the now populated village that my vision was met with a sight that, to this day, remains fresh in my mind; mostly because it was so creepy. Peering out from one of the huts with a curiosity all too common among those of youth, a small group of perhaps seven children innocently observed me and Callie. I had just gotten used to Grace's ghoulish visage and now I was being stared at by seven more little ghouls. I tried looking around for something else to look at, something that would remove the image of those children from my mind's eye. However, I found it very difficult to shake the image and could not help but return their stares. Callie did not share my chagrin as I found out when I saw her making faces at the curious observers. I nudged her with my elbow, but she ignored me and continued to have, what must have been, the time of her life.
"They're just children," she said.
To say the least, I was incredibly grateful when Grace came over to us with her small crowd in tow. They gathered around us and gazed at us with looks that were actually a bit more tolerable and less terrifying than those belonging to the children. A few of them reached out and touched our black, leather uniforms and numbered helmets engraved with the Venus Crystal Company logo. I, of course, brushed away any hands which came too close to my flame pistol; I dare not imagine what sort of chaos may have erupted if one of them were to find out the pistol's power. To my amusement, I saw Callie give a food tablet to one of the on-lookers. Nearly everyone in the circle of observers had a good laugh watching the fellow attempt to swallow one.
They stopped laughing rather suddenly and turned their attention to a tall, uniformed man coming toward us from the direction of the large, central structure. He and Grace exchanged whistles, with Grace occasionally gesturing toward us. A look of surprise came over the fellow at one point in Grace's explanation. I can only imagine she was referring to when I had rescued her. As I recalled that particular incident just then, I realized that Callie was right in just how peculiar it was; lizards were not known for taking victims alive. They usually kill on sight and devour their victims on the spot. Again, I wondered if it had something to do with Grace's lizard skin uniform. One theory I had devised was that maybe the lizards had some natural instinct that forbade them from killing their own kind. However, this theory was immediately disproven as I remembered reading a report on the lizards describing how they would occassionally, particularly when food was scarce, devour the young of rival herds, not unlike certain species of African monkeys. I eventually gave up and concluded that it would simply remain a mystery that probably no one would ever solve.
Grace turned to us and the uniformed man walked over and greeted us. He then turned to Grace, whistled something, and walked back to the central building. Grace motioned for us to follow her, and we did. Our on-lookers eventually dispersed as we furthered ourselves from the circle and came nearer to the main building.
Once inside, we were led down a small corridor which opened up into a large room with a dais in the center. Behind it sat, what must have been, a very old man, probably seventy or so. The old man whistled rather ecstatically when he saw Grace. She was equally excited; she walked behind the desk and hugged the old man, kissing him on the forehead. Afterwards, she moved behind him and the he turned his attention to me and Callie. The uniformed man leaned over and whispered in the old man's ear.
"So...you save (he whistled Grace's name)?" Callie and I were astonished that the old man could speak our language. I nodded, shocked.
Grace leaned over the old man's shoulder and whispered, "Grace" into his ear.
"So, you save Grace?" he corrected himself.
"Yes, I did," I said, "Can I ask who you are, sir?"
The old man did not answer at first as he was trying to deceipher what I had said. He may have spoken english, but I learned he did not speak it well.
"I Grace's father's father....Grandfather. I Grace's grandfather," He said. "Names?" He waved his hands at us.
"I'm Arthur Cadmus."
"I'm Callie Muir."
"Venus Crystal Company," the old man finished my sentence.
"You know about the company?" Grace's grandfather was simply full of surprises.
"Yes, we been watching your peoples. You come. Kill lizard-things. Take crystals. Fly around in machines. Big noise."
"Well, we're sorry about the noise. But, if you've known about us being here, why haven't you tried contacting us?" I inquired.
"No need. You don't try to talk to us, we don't try and talk to you."
"I never knew your people existed until I met Grace. No one's heard of your race. Are you natives to Venus?"
"We've been here long time," he nodded.
"But, you can't breath the atmosphere?"
"Air used to be good. Now is bad. We live here for many generations. Fight lizrd-things. But not as good as you with flame guns." He laughed.
"Well, that which works. But tell us, Have your people ever used crystals?"
"No, they do no good to us."
"That's very interesting. See, where we come from, Earth, these crystals are very precious. We use them for everything. They produce an electrical charge when exposed to sunlight. We harness that electricity and use it to power...frankly, everything. That's why they send us here." I realized just how much I admired these people. I do not think anyone has ever considered what might happen if we did not have crystal power. Despite our dependence on the mineral, we never seem to realize just how much we take it for granted. Here, however, was an entire race of people who had learned to live without it and even cooperate with nature, such as those air-recycling plants in the doorways, or the lizard-skin suits.
"Maybe you guys should get together," Callie blurted out.
31 August 2009
I was considerably surprised at the fact that the whole time spent reaching the edge of the plateau was without incident. I had expected to see at least a few, or hear them at best; lizards were notorious for their long-distance sniping. Even the vicious plant-life did not hinder us in the least. We saw no carnivorous blossoms or curious mirage-plants. Consulting our map, I saw that we were very near to where the map ended and that we would have to rely on Grace's guidance. I stopped the rover and suggested we eat and rest before continuing. We had been going all day with hardly any stops, so the suggestion was accepted. We slipped the food tablets through our masks, sat back, and admired the sunset. Afterwards, I continued along the plateau's edge, using the rover's map light to illumine the chart. When I had finally run out of map to follow, I stopped the rover and looked to Grace. I pointed to the map and ran my finger along our path until it ran off the edge. I then pointed to her, hoping she would understand that I now needed her to guide us the rest of the way. She did not respond at first, but then unstrapped herself from the rover and climbed down onto the mossy ground. Callie and I grabbed the supplies and exited the rover as well.
I keep forgetting about the slightly quicker rotation of venus. I suppose I had only gotten about five hours of sleep when I hear Callie knocking at my door. I got up, stumbled over to the door and opened it to find a bright, cheery Callie, fully suited, standing in the hallway. I turned on the light.
"Ready, Arty?" I actually welcomed her cheery voice in spite of my mood.
"Yeah, in a few minutes. Is anyone else up, do you know?" I peered out into the hallway. I did not see anyone.
"I don't think so. Far as I can tell, you, me, and Grace are the only ones awake. Y'know, I think that you and I are the only ones who ever get up this early." She made her way into the room and took out from under her arm a small bundle which she put on the table. She opened the bundle, "All right, now, I got us some spare filter cubes for our masks, spare cartridges for our flame pistols, power cells for the crystal detectors, and," she produced a small box of food tablets and held it up like she was in a commercial, "breakfast, lunch, and dinner." She returned the box to the bundle and closed it up again. She then looked up from the table, sniffed the air, and suddenly became overcome with a look of repugnance. She looked at Grace and then at me, "I'm wondering if that's coming from you, Grace, or the two of you put together."
"I'm sorry?" I was not sure what she was saying; I still was not fully awake.
"This whole room smells like a jungle. I'm surprised I didn't notice it before." Grace had gotten up at this time and was making her way over to her uniform. Callie picked up the folded hide suit, took Grace by the hand, and took her toward the door. I grabbed Callie's arm.
"Where are you going?"
"The showers; she needs one. You could use one, too," not wishing to argue with Callie, I let her go past me and into the hallway with Grace in tow.
"All right, but keep quiet," I called after her.
"You know me, Arty."
"That's what I'm afraid of."
"I said I'll meet you in the rover garage," I hoped she had not heard what I had actually said. They disappeared around a corner and I made my way to the men's showers. I was back in seven minutes and saw that Grace and Callie had not returned yet. I slipped back into my leather suit and checked the filter cube in my mask. Having confirmed everything to be in working order, I gathered up my things, as well as Callie's bundle of supplies, turned off the light, locked the door behind me, and made my way to the rover garage. After placing the supplies in the rear compartment of the rover, I went over to the supply room and got a small air tent for us. The air tent would allow us to sit around without the aid of our masks. I returned to the garage, stowed the tent, signed out the rover, and waited for Callie and Grace. After only a minute the two arrived and took their places in the rover. Grace sat in the seat next to me and Callie took the back seat. I reached under Grace's seat and produced the spare mask for her to use. Once she had it on and we were all strapped in, I started up the rover and we were on our way.
We crossed the ravine without incident and came very near the location where I had found Grace and the crystal. I parked the rover where I had parked it before and unstrapped myself.
"Where are you going?" Callie asked.
"This is where I found Grace. I want to make sure that those two lizards I frightened away yesterday aren't back with reinforcements. I'll be right back." I took out my flame pistol and machete as I walked around the rover to the altar in the clearing. I found that the vegetation I had cut away yesterday had grown back. When I finally came to the clearing, I saw that not only were the lizards gone, but that the lizard I had killed the day before was already covered with moss and swarming with insects. Pondering if the lizards were simply lying in wait, I chanced a walk around the clearing. Of course, I kept my flame pistol poised the whole time I did this. I had walked the entire circumfrence of the clearing and saw that my suspicions of ambush were proven wrong. Satisfied, I went back to the rover and assured Callie and Grace that it would be safe to continue through that area and make our way to the plateau.
29 August 2009
Grace sat slumped back in the chair, looking at her hands for some time. Callie and I exchanged nervous glances until I finally broke the uncomfortable silence. I went over to Grace, took one of her hands, and put it on the map.
"Grace," I began, moving her finger to the camp. "We..."-I gestured to all three of us-"are going..." I moved her finger along map across the ravine, past the point where I found her, along the edge of the plateau, and eventually off the map as she had done before, "There." At first I did not know if she would understand, but seeing her smile at me was all the indication I needed that she knew my intention. Callie leaned forward and tapped me on the shoulder.
"You're inviting me along?" She sounded surprised.
"Well, I assumed that you would want to be a part of this," I replied. "Do you not want to go?" I ventured.
"No, no, I want to. You've stumbled onto something big, Arty, and I want to see what's out there too."
"Alright, we'll leave first thing in the morning," I proposed.
"How long do you think we'll be gone?" This had not occurred to me, I must admit. I thought a few moments before providing any kind of answer.
"A few days at least, I would guess," I said with a shrug of my shoulders. I noticed Callie's uneasiness, "I don't think anyone will notice our being gone. I mean, hell, Takehisha and Crow set out on a little expedition of their own and they were gone for over two weeks. Came back with enough crystals to pay their way back to earth. If someone asks, we'll tell them the same." Callie got up from her seat and made her way toward the door, her confidence in our little escapade now fully restored.
"Well, Arty, you've made my day. I'll see you in the morning. G'night, Grace, it was nice meeting you." Callie waved at Grace as she exited the room and Grace returned her wave. The door slid shut and I locked it. I then went over to Grace and told her, as best I could, that we would leave in the morning; it was better not to leave at night because the lizards are more active at that time. She nodded her understanding and I led her to the bed. She stood by it and slipped off her hide suit, revealing a conservative, brown under-suit made of a fabric resembling cotton. She folded the hide suit neatly and placed it on the table. I removed my own leather suit and went to a cabinet under the bed. I removed a spare pillow and sheet, making my bed on the floor next to Grace, who had slipped herself under the covers. Before turning in, I walked over to the door panel and flipped the light switch. I went back to my bed on the floor.
"Goodnight, Grace," I said.
"G'night...Arty," she replied.
27 August 2009
I parked the rover in the garage, signed in, and carried my guest back to my quarters. I pondered if I should take her to a doctor, or at least to my superiors. My conclusion was not to; our local physician was away and my superiors would probably not have cared. When I came to my quarters, I set my guest down on the bed, removing her mask as well as mine. I figured I should return the mask to the rover as well as deposit the crystal, however, I feared leaving her alone. She was still unconcious and breathing quietly; the lizards had probably drugged her with those abhorred darts of theirs. Reluctantly, I finally left my quarters and went back to the garage.
Once there, I returned the mask to its usual place under the seat and then made my way toward the depository. I placed the crystal on the scale and watched readout numbers climb as the computer calculated the crystal's monetary value. It was a rather large crystal as was my final payment. I inserted my card, thus depositing the money into my account. Of all the crystal hunters, it seemed as though I was the most successful. This was partially due to the fact that I was the only one willing to fight the lizards. If I were to return to earth with what I had, I could retire. But, as I said, I have no real desire to return to earth.
When I returned to my quarters, I found the woman sitting huddled on the bed, awake and quite frightened.
She calmed a little when she saw me yet still backed away when I came near. I have to admit, in spite of her timidity, that I was actually quite frightened of her. She glared at me with those incomprehensibly pink eyes through strands of white hair. I continued to move nearer to her until I could extend my hand to her. I reasoned that anyone could understand this gesture as one of peace and sincerity. My reasoning served me well as she looked from my hand to me and then back to my hand, at which point she finally took it. I led her from the bed to a table right across from it. She sat down, I sat across from her and attempted to coax her to say something. After about five or ten minutes I gave up and went to the cabinet above the bed; I was hungry and I guessed she might want something to eat as well. Of course, I did not know if she would like the food tablet's bland taste; I know I do not. The food tablets are the most wretched excuse for food I have ever known, but they are all we get. I took out two tablets, swallowed one and handed the other to the woman. She looked at the tablet, turning it over in her hands. I resumed my seat across from her.
"Thank you," she finally whispered. I was shocked and amazed, to say the least.
"What?" I asked, making sure I heard her right. She reiterated her thanks and swallowed the food tablet herself, wincing slightly at the taste. I did not blame her. "What is your name?" I probed. She did not seem to understand, so I put my hand on my chest and said my name, "Ar-thur Cad-mus." Fortunately, she seemed to understand; she put her hand on her chest and said, what I imagine, was her name. Her name was apparently a rather melodious arrangment of whistles that spanned a length of about ten seconds.
She noticed my stupified look and returned it. I attempted to explain that I could not repeat her curious name and asked if I could call her something else. She did not understand. I reached across the table and put my hand on her chest.
"Grace," I said slowly. It took her a while get what I was doing, and when she did understand, she put her hand to her chest, repeated the whistles, then said 'Grace.' She reached over the table, put her hand on my chest, and said my name. I did the same and we both laughed. We understood each other.
I recieved a knock on my door followed by a painfully cheery inquiry, "Arty?" It was Callie; I recognized that sickly playful voice she uses that always makes me want to throw up each time I hear it. Grace looked worried, but I assured her that Callie was a friend. I got up and went to the door. I undid the electronic bolt and slid the door aside.
"Hi, Arty!" Again the voice. In addition to Callie having tendencies to possess an annoying personality, she is also incredibly nosey and intrusive. She looked past my shoulder and saw Grace. She seemed shocked at her albinism, but that cheerily rude disposition soon took over and manifested itself with the question, "Who's the lab rat?"
"She's not a lab rat!"
"I came over here to ask where you were this morning"-she gave me an all too exaggerated wink-"but now I see why. Where'd you find her?"
"Were you born sick and inconsiderate, or did it take years of practice?!" Having a word like 'inconsiderate' attached to her personality was the proverbial dagger to the heart to Callie. The hateful Callie dissipated and the good Callie resumed. A likeable Callie. A Callie I could actually stand to have around.
"Sorry, Arty," she began. She looked over my shoulder at Grace and said, "Sorry I called you a lab rat." Grace waved shyly, not understanding Callie's joke. She returned her attention to me, "So, where were you this morning?"
"I was across the ravine looking for crystals, fighting lizards, and"-I nodded to Grace-"saving her."
"From the lizards?" She looked disbelieving, "I didn't know the lizards took hostages."
"Neither did I, but there she was." I looked past her into the corridor, "Come on in; keep standing out there and we'll have half the camp lining up." I moved away from the door and let Callie go past me. She took my chair at the table and leaned toward Grace.
"Hi. Callie Muir," she extended her hand. Slowly, Grace took it and introduced herself. Callie inquired, "Grace...?" in hopes of finding out her last name. I explained that Grace was simply the name I gave her because I could not repeat her real name. Callie did not believe me, so I asked Grace to repeat the series of whistles she had related to me. I chuckled at Callie's look. She then suddenly became very fascinated with Grace's uniform. "What is this?" she asked rubbing her finger along Grace's arm.
"As far as I can tell, it's lizard skin, though I've never seen brown skin before; they're usually green." I explained.
"And what's with these markings?" She continued, half to me and half to Grace. I admitted my inability to decipher them. Callie then asked, "Where's she from?" I had not thought to try and coax this information out of Grace, and I thanked Callie for bringing it up. I went to a shelf above my bed and removed a large map of the surrounding venusian terrain, as cartographed by Matsugawa in the early expeditions to the planet. I laid it out on the table and pointed out various locations to Grace. She seemed to recognize certain major landmarks such as the ravine and the plateau.
"This is where we are now," I pointed to the camp and, with my other hand, indicated the room. I moved my finger along the map across the ravine to where I had found her, "This is where you were." I took my hand away from the map. Grace oriented herself by first pointing to the camp and then to the location across the ravine, and then she moved her finger away from that point and toward the plateau. She continued to move her finger along the plateau's edge until her finger went off the map. She clutched her fist, put her hands in her lap, and slumped back in the chair. She looked somewhat saddened, as though frustrated that Matsugawa had overlooked her home in his surveying. Callie and I looked to each other.
"I guess she's homesick," Callie ventured. I nodded in agreement.
26 August 2009
In order to help avoid this whole thing becoming a 'tech blog' (given all my rants about frustrations with technology), I'm presenting the first part of a story I wrote a few years ago. It's as close to 'fan-fiction' as I've ever allowed myself to write. It's set about 50 years after the events in my favorite (after Mountains of Madness and Colour Out of Space) H.P. Lovecraft story "In The Walls of Eryx" but only retains the setting. Not one of Lovecraft's better-known or particularly well-liked stories, it's one of his few and arguably only voyages into the realm of pure science fiction. Set on Venus, presented as a jungle planet like in the works of Kline and Burroughs, a power company from earth scours the planet searching for crystals that can be harvested for power while fighting a poisonous atmosphere, killer plants, and an assortment of savage fauna. Put simply, it's too rich of a universe to ignore despite its wild factual inaccuracies (Venus has a quicker rotation, it's a jungle planet, a crystal the size of an egg can be held in the hand yet be able to power Chicago for a year, and so on). I wrote the story many years ago, and while it exists complete in my head, only about half of it is actually written out, about seven chapters worth. It makes me cringe slightly when I read it as it is very amateurish, but I don't really want to re-write it either, and it's gotten me a lot of compliments from the few I've shown it to.
I'm also including it because "In The Walls of Eryx" is where I get the name for my weblog.
VII, 13, Early Morning
I really hate Venus but I do not exactly miss Earth. Getting a job on Earth in this day and age is nearly impossible while there are always openings on Venus. My job is crystal hunting; it is actually about the only real job here. There are always openings usually for fear of the lizards. They do not exactly appreciate our being here let alone hunting what they claim to be their crystals. It is unfortunate that they do not understand the potential of the crystals. When the lizards find a crystal, all they simply do is put it on an altar and blindly worship it. Meanwhile, on Earth, the crystals are a precious commodity, especially after we learned that we could tap them for power. Crystal power has revolutionized technology.
I had set out about an hour before sunrise to begin my daily routine. I had calibrated my crystal detector and replaced the filter cube in my electrolyser mask. I had also leased a rover to explore the land across the ravine. A rover is small, inexpensive, solar-powered, and actually quite adept at navigating the venusian terrain. I was able to cross the ravine without incident. Almost immediately after I entered the deeper jungle, my detector began clicking incessantly. I knew there had to be a large crystal deposit within at least ten meters of my current position. I parked the rover by a tree and, with the detector in one hand, and my machete in the other, I began weaving my way through the creeper-stricken jungle. The jungles here on venus are like no other landscapes anywhere else; the incredible diversity of shades of green and various earthtones make for an all too dizzying array of wilderness. It was exactly ten meters distance from where I had parked the rover that I came upon a clearing possessing a small stone column adorned with a crystal. I knew this was bad; where there was an altar, lizards were sure to follow. I decided to remain in the cover of the underbrush until I was sure my attempting to seize the crystal would not be hindered.
My instinct served me well as within minutes, the all too familiar sound of hissing lizards came to my ears. From the other side of the clearing, two lizards emerged followed by another riding an animal resembling an Iguana. The two walking lizards each held a large crystal cradled in his arms. They went to the altar and gently set the crystals atop it. They then backed away and bowed their heads while their tentacles moved in rhythmic patterns. As they continued this ritual, the mounted lizard steered the beast toward my end of the clearing. It was when he turned to the right that I saw the net draped over the back of the beast. I soon found out that the net held a young woman. I saw her face through the net and not only saw that she was albino, but also that she did not have an electrolyser mask of any sort. It became clear to me that if the lizards did not kill her first, the venusian atmosphere surely would. I knew I had to do something. So, I clipped my crystal detector to my belt and drew my flame pistol. The mounted lizard soon climbed off the beast giving it a rather consensual pat on the head as he walked around to where the net was fastened. Now that all three lizards had their backs to me, I knew I had the advantage.
Setting my sights on the one by the net, I leapt from my hiding place and drove my machete into its back. I dared not use my flame pistol on this lizard for fear of hurting the woman. The shrill cry of the lizard alerted the others to my presence and they ceased their praying I leapt over the dead lizard and the net toward the advancing lizards. Now that the woman was behind me, I could use my flame pistol safely without endangering her. A quick burst of flame sent them into disarray and they scurried back into the jungle. I was sure they would come back, so I quickly cut away the net and took the woman up in my arms. It was here that I noted her uniform. It was of a brown, reptilian-looking hide with indecipherible markings on it. My assumption was that this lizard-skin suit was the reason for her capture as the lizards may have been offended by it. I began to turn back to the rover when I remembered the crystal. I went to the altar and dropped it into my satchel; I am not paid for saving lives.
When we got back to the rover, I set the mysterious woman down in it, reached under the seat for the spare mask, and carefully put it on her. Her once erratic breathing had quieted now. I was glad for this as I would now have a chance to find out more about this person. The fact that she was albino alone was intriguing enough to me, but the hide uniform and its strange markings made for an even deeper, more peculiar enigma. I started the rover and made my way back to the base.
09 August 2009
Addendum to title:
OR: Another Casualty of My Linux Loyalty.
Well, OpenOffice briefly disappointed me, but thanks to some wonderful people at Yahoo! Answers, I was able to work around it and publish my short story to its own page. I'll post a full entry later on the unbelievable headache I encountered when simply trying to copy and paste text from one file into another.
Here's the link to the story: http://matsugawa.freeservers.com/mjaladyhorse.html.
It's still got a few formatting issues, but like I said, I'm too tired to correct it right now.
23 July 2009
I was reading about the Unix Philosophy on Wikipedia, and one of its stipulations toward good program design is to store data in flat text files. Sounds simple enough, but it's surprising (or rather, it's not surprising given how programmers actually are) how complex that sort of thing can actually get.
People like to think Microsoft Works is an oxymoron. I disagree as I think it's one of the most competent word processors I've used since Appleworks on my old iMac. It's certainly better than feature-bloated Microsoft Word with its triple-figure price tag and myriad of features I honestly want someone to justify the need for to me. Seriously, what perilous problem was laid to rest by the onset of the latest version of MSWord? What award-winning novelist and finally got past his writer's block and completed his life's work? What disease was cured?
Anyway, I'd written some stuff in Microsoft Works and, without giving it that much thought, simply saved the files as "Works Documents" which didn't seem like a proprietary format at the time, much less a proprietary format that would end up giving me such a headache later. They were put on a flash drive and then basically left in a drawer for a few months. During those few months, I decided I'd had it with Windows and Macintosh and went the Linux route. I'd traded in Microsoft Works and Appleworks for OpenOffice, which so far seemed able to do anything the others could do... or so I thought.
Going in, there was no reason to assume converting the files would be such a problem, I'd written documents in Microsoft Word that I'd open in Appleworks without so much as a hitch. Earlier I'd written papers in MacWrite II before bringing them to Wordperfect which would then be brought to Appleworks. Sure, there might be a small issue with the formatting of the text (a paragraph suddenly not indented, double-spacing becoming single-spacing, and the like), but the point was every single word was there just like before.
This time, however, when I tried to open the Works documents under Open Office's Writer, the words were not there. Nothing was there. It could not open the file. Let's think about that: a word processor could not even begin to try and open a document, which was just words on pages, written by another word processor. At first I thought this was just some sort of Microsoft/Linux barrier, a kind of "migration deterrent" from Big MS to keep Little L out of its clubhouse, so I took the file to my roommate's computer. She didn't have MSWord or even Microsoft Works, but she did have Notepad and Wordpad. Strangely, the exact same thing happened; the MSWorks file could not be interpreted in any way, shape, or form by anything other than MSWorks (and possibly MSWord). Like I've said before, there wasn't anything even all that special about these documents, they were simply text, no pictures, no boxes, no graphs, no columns, no page numbers, no headers or footers, no nothing. All I could think was, "What's so special about these files that they need their own special format?!"
I then thought to myself, as I often do in these situations, "I can't possibly be the only one who's run into this problem. There has to be something I'm missing besides the possibility that I would have to either go back to Windows or at least present my roommate with the gift of MSWorks (which she might not have actually minded because she hated Notepad and Wordpad). There has to be a way to convert files like this." I did some searching and while I was relieved I found a solution (and a free one, I might add), I was still incredibly annoyed at how utterly convoluted the solution really was.
I found a website that gave me the option to upload a file and select the format I wanted to change it to. It was originally intended for reformatting picture files (.png, .bmp, .tif, that sort of thing) into JPEGs, but it could also handle a wide variety of text files. Here's the annoyance: after uploading my file, rather than simply download it again from the site (or at least displaying it in the browser window so I could just copy and paste or save as an HTML document), I had to give an e-mail address for them to send the converted file to. If that sounds petty, hang on because I haven't actually gotten to the annoying part yet. When I checked my e-mail and found the message from the conversion service, I was baffled and (here it is) annoyed that instead of the converted file being presented to me as an attachment in the message, a link in the body of the message took me to back to the original site and THEN began the download, at which I said, "Why e-mail me a link to the same place I could have just downloaded it from after uploading in the first place?" and went on to wonder what disease THIS system cured with its over-engineering. I was so flustered by the experience that when I stumbled across a forum discussion asking what man's greatest accomplishment was, I proclaimed with full conviction: PAPER!
Take that, proprietary file formats!
But the important thing is, I got the file opened in Open Office's Writer and I'm now finishing what I started. I'll post the link when it's done. It's a little work of fiction.
21 April 2009
Okay, so I've had an idea shot down by technical logistics, and I'm feeling let down by it.
Anyway, the idea was to post little multimedia artworks via MMS to various weblogs, including Evernote. The idea was that the MMS would consist of a photo or illustration (maybe even a video), a snippet of text, and possibly an accompanying sound effect or musical piece. It would basically be a sort of piecemeal, episodic approach to making short films, one segment or shot at a time.
Sadly, this was not to be, at least not in the way it was planned. For starters, when I sent a short video I shot to Evernote as an MMS directed to my upload e-mail, not only did the video not play, but the whole entry had a huge T-Mobile banner at the bottom of it, kindly (if loudly) reminding the reader that this message was sent by way of a T-Mobile handset. This probably wouldn't have bothered me so much if the video played, or at least if T-Mobile had slightly more fashionable colors than white and pink. It may have been passable on Evernote, but on Blogger, it would stand out like a sore thumb against my minimalist aesthetic sensibility. What's wrong with white text on a black background? It's far easier on the eyes than black on white. I'll admit I do like the earth-tone backgrounds a lot of people seem to be choosing for backgrounds, it gives the impression of parchment or papyrus, a nice homey and handcrafted feel.
So, anyway, with Evernote a failure, I tried again, this time with an image and posting it to Blogger. It was a public domain image, an Arthur Rackham illustration for Wagner's Ring Cycle (God, I love Valkyries). The only thing that showed up this time was the snippet of text below the image, even the ugly T-Mobile banner wouldn't load. It all sort of makes me think people have missed the point of Multimedia Messaging Services. They'll send to other phones and e-mail accounts just fine, but somehow posting it to a web page creates a whole new set of problems no one has anticipated.
What's really funny is that earlier today, I was helping a friend upload some pictures she'd taken with her camera-phone to her Flickr account. She's an Alltell customer, and not only did Alltell post each picture she sent twice, but it also included a third image consisting of the Alltell logo as a separate image. So, she sent three images, and got nine photos posted, three of which are just the same logo. Welcome to the internet, folks, where crap rolls downhill. Almost makes me wish Ragnarok would get here soon....
10 April 2009
And I lost my job.
Don't worry, there's a fallback, so we'll be fine.
Anyway, to cure my newfound boredom, I took up installing Ubuntu on my PC to see what all the fuss was about. I've used Linux and Unix based systems before; my N810 uses a Linux-based OS called Maemo and pretty much any OS on a device that isn't a personal computer (phones, DVRs, game consoles besides the Dreamcast, PDAs) has the Linux kernel somewhere in its silicon-based bloodstream.
So far, I really kind of like it. As long as not too much is asked of it, it basically performs well. My only real gripe about Linux (apart from what I'll get to in a minute) is the absence of a good digital video editing program. Seriously, between iMovie and Windows MovieMaker (along with at least five other similar programs I could name), there's absolutely no reason for their to not be a Linux answer to the challenge. Granted, there are web-based video editors, but the only one that was really worth its salt was JumpCut, which has closed its door possibly to allow its servers and resources to be used to help Flickr store its video uploads (both are Yahoo! companies). Sure, there's Adobe's Remix for Photobucket, but 1) I hate photobucket, and 2) it doesn't allow you uploads of your own audio files, limiting you to preselected soundtracks. I can understand the legal reasons behind this, but it still feels like a slap in the face.
Back to Ubuntu. For those unfamiliar with Linux-based operating systems, here's a little background information. Linxu operating systems are freely distributable and can be installed on any PC or even Macintosh, either alongside the existing OS, or supplanting it altogether. Applications are available through a kind of open market with apps being developed by small independent (many to the point of homebrew) developers with the technical skill to bring Linux Operating Systems like RedHat and Suse have come and (mostly) gone due to various issues revolving around technical support and the justifiable overhead required for such support, but Ubuntu is different because its benefactor, Canonical, has hit upon the brilliant business model wherein the OS itself is free but the technical support is a paid service.
Of course, I don't think I'd ever need their technical support, since most any problems with a PC can be solved by simply turning it off and back on again or, at worst, having to reinstall the whole shebang (which shouldn't even be that big of an issue, because you should be backing up your files anyway). Here's the ultimate boon of Ubuntu: reinstalling the OS (if necessary) is completely and utterly painless, not just because it's free, but because you don't have to worry about serial numbers or registration keys or requesting a boot-up disk from the company or any of those little annoying things that other companies (we'll just use Microsoft as an example) use to stamp out (read: encourage) piracy of an over-priced operating system plagued by more gremlins than every faulty mechanical device in the history of the entire planet put together. Canonical could care less about how many copies of your original boot-up CD you've made; they encourage you to put the OS on anything you can find, be it a CD or even a thumb-drive.
There are, however, some cons to beat down the pros. As I've said, the operating system is free and produced by independent developers with little or no actual overhead to run a proper support or (more importantly) Quality Assurance department. What this means is that, when you get an application for Linux, you're kind of taking a gamble because chances are, the program was written entirely by as little as one person with as little as absolutely no beta testing. Yes, Microsoft charges an arm and a leg for Microsoft Office, but that's because that price tag is keeping a lot of employees employed and families of employees fed and clothed. Put simply, you get what you pay for. Notable exceptions would include the Open Office suite, which was developed in part by Sun Microsystems, the guardians and protectors of the Java programming language that helps to hold the internet together. In other words, they're good people and you can trust them totally.
Expanding on the 'justifiable overhead' paradigm, the other inherent problem with Linux is that, without the benefit of a huge market share (Microsoft) or a fervent and dedicated yet eclectic fanbase (Apple), elaborate and complex applications like Digital Video Editors (Final Cut, After Effects, Avid), graphics programs (Maya, Vue3D, or even Terragen), and games (Call of Duty, Oblivion, Command and Conquer) are going to be either very few and far between on Linux, or non-extant altogether. In other words, Linux is going to basically find its core audience in casual users, people who would only want a PC for very basic tasks, like web-browsing, writing papers, making simple presentations for work, storing and managing digital photos, or anything else that wouldn't otherwise require a state-of-the-art graphics card or a lightning-fast processor or more RAM than the Swiss Alps.
And that leads us to the Catch-22 of becoming a Linux user. The only way to bring Linux to a casual user is to either:
1) buy a PC with no pre-installed OS, which is practically impossible (because the price tag of every PC includes the operating system, meaning that buying any PC regardless of which OS you intend to use puts money in Bill Gates' or Steve Jobs' respective pockets.)
Or 2) build a PC from individual components, which casual PC users wouldn't have the mindset to do in the first place (because then they wouldn't be casual; they'd then be a savvy, savvy?).
Netbooks (small, affordable PCs intended predominately for web-browsing) like the Pepper Pad or the Asus EeePC are a step in the right direction, but it's just not quite enough yet. So, here's hoping....