Saturday, November 15, 2008

Possibilities and choices

Today's bit of fortune-telling is courtesy of "The Silicon Valley Tarot", an online reading of which is available at the Steve Jackson Games website. The thus-far-unnamed Hedge-hunter may well find himself on a character sheet sometime soon...


Instead of an oddment, today I have found a Hollow, a portion of the Hedge that someone... or several someones... claims as their own. Ranging in size from a small campsite to a sprawling estate, these areas are rarely unoccupied, and certainly wasn't in this case. The motley of Changelings had set up a camp drawing on the images of a traveling circus of mdoest size. After talking my way past their embarrassed lookouts (easing their discomfort with a few extra goblin fruit I keep for such occasions), their leader insisted that I accept the wisdom of their "seer". Imagine my surprise when, after ducking into a six-sided pavilion tent, I found myself facing a pasty-faced Wizened in a lab coat, manipulating what could only be an actual Babbage Engine.

The somewhat androgynous person turned from the machine to face me, adjusting the lenses on his (her?) goggles. "Come to consult the machine?" she (he?) inquired. The voice gave no clue as to gender; I set the issue aside as irrelevant.

"Your colleagues in the rest of the motley insisted that I speak with you," I said.

The "seer" nodded and gestured at a worn Aeron chair. As I settled myself, the seer opened a large, portable bookcase and extracted a bundle of worn, blue-tinted punch-cards tied with what looked like magnetic tape. The seer untied the cards and presented them to me in the usual manner for Tarot cards. "Meditate on your question. Shuffle the cards, choose three, and hand those to me," were my instructions.

Having made my indecipherable choices, the seer ran them through the Engine and informed me of the results.

"First is the Firewall. Protection, fortification, civility, courtesy, protocol. You're well fortified against the barbarian hordes." It took me a moment's thought to realize that this seer drew upon the symbols of mortal technology. It made a certain amount of sense, given the technological bent to most of the decorations, and definitely piqued my interest for the rest of the reading.

"Next is the Flame War. Two pedants, locked in mortal combat, scorch each other with fiery words. Angry, aggrieved, they wield their righteous furies in rhetorical joust. Insult, invective, profanity - they will stop at nothing until one or the other is humiliated or banished. Quibbling, hair-splitting, dogmatism, nitpicking." I considered whether any of my colleagues or contacts back at my primary Freehold would meet this description and made a few mental notes.

"Last is Encryption, inverted. Beware of subterfuge, ignorance. Things are going on behind your back. Can you afford not to know?" I sighed. My forays into the Hedge and research into oddments were, by and large, meant to keep me out of the idiotic games that the Courts played endlessly. While this particular symbol was hardly unusual for anyone who was involved at all in any Freehold, the fact that it was brought to my attention did not cheer me.

The seer approached a chalkboard and began to scrawl with a singularly noisy piece of yellow chalk. "Jet-set betrayals," the seer said, after a moment's calculations. "Is that a Chateau Margaux you're pouring there, or is it your life's blood? The plusher it gets, the deeper the grave. You may be saved, but you'll have to wash dishes."

I carefully recorded the seer's words in a notebook, then gave my thanks. The rest of the motley thanked me for my visit, offering a few words of advice about the most recent goings-on in the Hedge and the location of a nearby portal back to the mortal world. Perhaps it was time to return to the Freehold for an extended period?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Ranting about polls, not politics

Sorry, no oddments this time. I get the feeling that the Hedge itself has paused to sup on all the strangeness that the mortal world is generating during this 24-hour period.

Okay, let’s look past the politics for just a moment and look at these polls. I’m more likely to get a straight answer about Google’s page-rank algorithm, but I want to know who decides how to call each state as on this “board”. Take a look at these cropped screenshots from, taken as quickly together as my fingers could manage.

Frankly, this North Carolina shot strikes me as the most honest of the three. It shows that McCain and Obama are neck-in-neck, with 84% of the precinct results reported. 16% of the precincts remain, and it’s certainly possible that the lads will be scrapping for every one of those precincts.

Here’s one I just don’t understand. It gives Arkansas to McCain, with 55% of the results, as opposed to Obama with 43% of the results. All right so far, but the fact that 29% of the precincts have reported the results doesn’t seem to matter. Pause for a moment and review the previous example, then look at this Arkansas score again, and then explain how these two judgements can be posted on the same page from anyone, let alone on

To be fair, here’s one giving New Mexico to Obama with 56% and McCain with 43%... but only 12% of the precincts have reported! I may not have had stellar success when I was trying to learn statistics, but when 88% of a state’s precincts have not reported their results, exactly how can it be “called” for either side?

And, of course, the one that tops them all. As you can see, California is being handed to Obama with no results at all officially reported! What is going on here?

The math is clearly not on the side of the people running this board.
Unfortunately, publicity and page counts are. I mark this as just one more example of how poorly educated most U.S. citizens seem to be…

Full disclosure: I live somewhere in California. I very much wished to avoid declaring an allegiance to a political party before the election, because I feel that part of the election procedure violates the concept of a "secret ballot". I did vote for Obama, and I'm pleased as punch to have an end to the Republican nightmare in Washington. I'm also pleased to be alive on the day when the United States sheds its last vestigial racism where it really counts: putting an African-American into the White House.

Now, let's see how well Obama follows through on his promises...

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Credit where it's due

The "photo" attached to my blog is just one of several examples of the intersection between how I wish I looked, a costume I might someday be able to assemble, and a bit of how I actually look. My beard's a bit fuller and my hair only recently got trimmed to approximately this short length in the back; it's normally a bit more visible around the base of my skull. Overall, though, you could print out a picture of this character's head and my friends and relatives might see the resemblance. Or not.
The image is a sample of a 3D character called "Dark Guardian", available for purchase through Daz3D. Search for the specific phrase, or the general theme of Steampunk if you'd like a few other interesting things to play with. The Dark Guardian is a variation of the "C.I.S. Operative for M3" figure, created and likely copyrighted by Lourdes Mercado
The intellectual property rights in this instance are a little fuzzy, as far as I can tell, but I figure that as long as I'm not generating any money off the usage, nor am I costing the copyright holders any money, I should be safe.

Bringing my interests in 3D art into play, I wish very much that I had the time, equipment and skills to work on CGI. Daz3D has done a bang-up job in creating a graphics program and business model that brings the software and subsequent tools to the masses in a reasonably priced package, along with open forums for users to swap tips and finished products. G'wan over and look over the galleries, then look through the 3D Software section. Hint: Daz 3D is Free, no charge, nothing. Bryce, Carrara, Hexagon and Mimic will set you back a bit, but the whole shebang will give you the kind of CGI tools and toys that most Hollywood effects houses could use very well.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hollywood's greatest fear: truth?

My fiancee and I just got finished watching "The TV Set", written by Jake Kasdan. She put it in our Netflix queue because it looked funny, and because I'm toying with becoming a scriptwriter. We both thought that it was an interesting meditation on how a writer's idea for a t.v. series gets pecked to death by ducks, which in this case means that the network executives extract, piece by piece, as much originality and genuine humanity from a television series as they can. Perhaps the defining lines in the movie are uttered by Sigourney Weaver's character: "You can't be too original. Too original scares me." My memory's fading in my old age, so those may not be the exact quotes spoken or subtitled in the film, but the essence of the sentiment is clear: network executives only allow small doses of originality into their schedules.

In one sense, it's understandable, even traditional. Quite a lot of Hollywood's earliest films were based on classic theatrical plays (I don't know how many times Romeo & Juliet has been remade, but it's probably in the hundreds at the minimum... and that's only counting the versions in English...) for the very reason that everyone knew the stories. And even when television first came out, quite a lot of the early stuff was simple and unchallenging fare like comedy variety show acts or big-band shows. (I can't find quick answers to the question online right now; write in with your links and references!)

In another sense, however, it's a sad commentary on the entertainment industry and the audience. I'll not insult any special forces operatives or anyone on "the 100 richest people in the whole wide world" list, but I will say that I don't like to watch television shows about people whose lives are like mine. Worrying about whether to pay the rent or the utilities or the medical bills this month? Been there, done that. Forced to stick to a lousy job working as a subordinate to someone who couldn't find their... uh, coccyx with a map and a compass? Got the t-shirt. Utterly uninterested in attending a high school reunion? Yup. And yet, the vast majority of network television shows right now are built around those very questions.

"Hmmm, is that so?" I felt my cheeks tighten as I matched her gaze. "Let's consider that for a minute. You're afraid of originality outside of a fairly narrow yet poorly-defined comfort zone. Not enough originality and the network's ratings suffer. You're pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place, aren't you? Your entire thought process focuses on advertising and moving product. You are not concerned with telling a story. You are only concerned with making sure that the viewers Don't Touch That Dial! Even though history clearly shows that original product holds the lion's share of box office profits throughout the lifespan of the movie industry. I'll tell you what: you let me worry about getting the story told and I'll let you worry about marketing it, okay?"

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Memories, moods, habits, and a multi-billion-dollar industry

This oddment seems more similar to lichen than more familiar vegetation. It is usually found on the parts of parent vegetation closest to the ground and therefore easily ignored. The basic structure resembles vegetation like strawberries or mundane spider-plants: small pockets of slightly more dense material connected to the next by miniscule stalk-like runners. No two examples of this particular oddment are precisely alike in terms of coloration, scent, or other details, but certain types can be grouped by general 'theme'. Unlike invasive lichen encountered in the mortal realm, this oddment family does not actively infest nearby vegetation; rather, their presence (especially different types combining in the same oddment) can radically alter the emotional connotation of any adjacent oddment, and removing them can be a daunting task for even the most experienced oddment-cultivator.

In the most recent issue of Wired [citation to follow when I get around to it], I found an article discussing the corporate interpretation of the phrase "better living through chemistry". In essence, the article focuses on one person's backlash against the "Prozac Nation" mindset, which proclaims any and all non-"up" moods to be anathema to the American Way... and therefore represent a potential market for goods and services. You may glance at your bulk-mail folder and assume that various pharmaceuticals intended for more intimate situations are the end-all and be-all of the companies responsible for such things, but apparently anti-depressants have been at the top of the industry's best-seller lists for the past five years or so. The subject of the article goes on to assert that certain "down" moods are just part of the human condition, and must be treated through the older methods of communication with one's fellows and honest introspection with oneself.

Figure that we still need expert opinions to determine when we're outside of this range, as well as establishing where this general range is for each of us. Figure that the pharmaceutical industry will not be able to provide us with chemical help for all of life's bumps and bruises and little disappointments... as well they should not. Figuring out that stuff on our own, or failing to do so when or as quickly as we may individually desire, is still something that can't be taken away from us. I may well wind up wishing to become an account in a blood bank (free lobotomy as part of the deal), but if I'm going to end up in such a state, I want to go into it all at once and of my own volition, rather than one capacity for emotion at a time.

Even if, for example, my capacity for regret is chemically damped, the rest of my life (of which my body is only a manifestation) will not stop providing the sources for regret, and it will simply show up elsewhere. A crude proof of this is available through basic research into various documented psychological illnesses with physical manifestations; when the body and/or mind are injured but the patient refuses to seek treatment, the symptoms worsen until the patient can no longer ignore them. Consider an individual whose capacity for anger has been chemically damped; the patient is no longer subject to raging physical abuse of his or her loved ones, but neither can they be motivated to change their circumstances by receiving abuse in turn. The anger response is simply not available, to the patient's detriment.

As any artist worthy of the name will tell you, emotions are not lights. While one can be visibly angry or visibly sad, the emotions are not only highly variable in strength, but change with little apparent provocation (at least in the eyes of those who are unfamiliar with the emotions and the person experiencing them). It will be a long time, if ever, before a mere pill can truly save us from ourselves on that level.

Friday, January 18, 2008

disposable consumerism

This oddment comes from a creeping vine that looks almost exactly like thousands of other examples. Different types of vine are usually found in close proximity to others, each with a highly variable pattern of coloration and shape. This variation often deceives the novice oddment collector into thinking that one particular type is significantly different from the others in terms of flavor, effect and so on, but with very little experimentation will unveil the uniformly poor quality of these fruit.
I'm old enough to remember when compact disks first hit the market, and when the players started at $100.00 a pop. I'm even old enough to remember when Betamax and VHS were neck-in-neck for the preferred format; the current kerfuffle about "BlueRay vs. HD" is just more of the same. Today's oddment stems from the fact that VCRs are now available for the low, low price of $20.00, and universal remotes for them are available for the equally low, low price of one dollar. This means that folk who are surviving on minimum wage today can fill their studio apartments with cheap versions of obsolete technology... which will break down on a regular basis, requiring such consumers to replace their crap on a regular basis. The products in question are deliberately designed so that repairing them is more trouble and expense than it is worth, which forces consumers to buy the next version of the same stuff, which is still basically disposable.

The only drawback is that, unlike the oddments of my imagination, cheap shoddy crap available at bargain discount stores does NOT recycle as easily as it should. And let's face it, when we live in an age when the American burakumin (look it up) pick through curbside recycling for whatever they can carry (in order to sell it for that day's meal and whatever's left over not quite covering their rent and utilities), it becomes obvious that there has to be a better solution...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Faith, Science and Cryptozoology

I'm consistently fascinated by extremists on both sides of the "faith vs. science" debate. One side says that there is a deity or deities ultimately in charge of everything, from the movement of galaxies to whether or not my dog gets cancer. The other says that there is a cause for every effect and that once we know (and control) every cause then there will be no effects we do not consciously bring into reality.
The fun thing about this debate is that, stripping aside the methods (prayer or scientific research) or the justifications (in the name of the deity of your choice or "Science!" itself), the debate is really about who gets to tell whom what is right. The religious folk want to be (back) on top of the heap, like when people could be horribly executed for not publicly professing allegiance to the proper faith. The scientific folk want to be the ones who say what is and is not correct, like how the 'elite' decide who may and may not participate in discussions about extraterrestrial life. All it seems to do is just reiterate that humans still like rigid hierarchies of "I am above you, but he is above me" as we have since the dawn of time. Negotiation and compromise remain difficult practices because "dammit, I want what I want, and I don't want you to have what you want, and if I can't get what I want, then I'll make damned sure that you don't get what you want, no matter who else may suffer."
Bringing it down a few notches from the eternial mysteries to issues somewhat closer to home, how about cryptozoology? Skeptics say that there is no evidence that Bigfoot or the chupacabra exist. Believers say that the evidence is incomplete. Me, I just point to scientific documentation proving that new species are being discovered every day, and that the coelecanth still swims. For those of you in my audience who don't wish to look up 'coelecanth' in Wikipedia, all you need to know for the purpose of this discussion is that scientific opinion held that these fish had been extinct for millions of years... until they were discovered in South America. Apparently, they taste awful; a challenge for you culinary explorers out there. But my point is that if a fish can survive for millions of years (and we KNOW that sharks and cocroaches have changed not a whit for at least that long), who's to say that something else has not?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Futures: changeable or locked?

Today's oddment comes fresh from an odd sort of bush that sprouts rich, blue foliage that faded... and shrank... slowly before my eyes. The fruit was a double-bulb of dry, leathery rind, and the fruit (which filled both lobes and had a thin spread in the tissue connecting them) tasted differently: there are no words to precisely describe the taste of the upper bulb, as it might have tasted of sparkling sweet or heavy bitter, while the fruit of the lower bulb had a consistency of flavor highly unusual for such things. I sucked on a few small, granular seeds for a moment, but they melted in my mouth with only the flickering memory of their texture and... something else. A fruit of time, the past and the future. Perhaps if properly prepared, it might grant a vision of times to come, or clarify the perception of times gone. I'll soon see...

Idle thoughts wander through the mind of a fellow in search of a job. Thoughts like: "If only I had a guaranteed-accurate ironclad date of exactly where and when my next job would be, along with the salary and the nature of the job."
Followed with questions like, "What if I knew for certain that I'd get a job that I knew would suck?" or "What is the range of accuracy for a prediction?"
Ran Ackels (author of Immortal: RPG, currently published by Jikkarro Enterprises) once opined that prophecy had a range, with murky but changeable on one end, and diamond-clear and utterly unchangeable at the other. So, when folk go to a medium or other such folk who claim to see the future, should the accuracy of the forecast be selectable? A certain Mr. Deegan ( allows his clients one question, which most of them waste by phrasing them to allow Deegan to accurately answer "Yes" or "No." And if there's a sliding scale, how should the consumer and the merchant establish the nature of that sliding? Hard-driving executive might be willing to pay top dollar for the clearest possible view of his future (which includes such delights as embezzlement, bankruptcy, a media-circus trial and a long, glamor-free stint in jail), but would he be willing to pay more for signs and hints about how his future might take another tack?

Might be an idea for a couple of stories in there...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Writers: An underclass?

I've been hearing an awful lot about the effects of the current Hollywood writers' strike, but next to nothing about the status of the strike. I'm not a Hollywood insider by a long shot, but I like to think of myself as a writer, so I guess that my opinions are a little biased (guess which side I support?) Having said that, I have to say that
  1. Hollywood experimented with movies that had no plot or scripted dialogue back in the 1930s. The results were something like a cross between a demo reel for technical folk (costumers, lighting, stage construction, etc) and a multi-million dollar party to which the viewers were invited to observe but not truly join. Audiences, as the saying goes, stayed away in droves. To Hollywood's credit, they aren't trying to replicate the experiment.
  2. Writers have been around a lot longer than Hollywood or television, and did just fine. Hollywood would do very well to remember that.
  3. Writers, regardless of their preferred medium (short story, t.v. series scripts... blogs... etc.) expect some kind of compensation for their work, and fair value for it. Nothing different than any other trade.
  4. The One-and-Twenty has opened many new venues for entertainment; e.g.: Internet and the proliferation of high-bandwidth connections, "live role-playing games" utilizing GPS functions in cell phones, and so on. There may be all kinds of ways to get a message or story to the audience, but the message itself still requires someone to write it.

In the end, the writers are still the ones who are responsible for at least starting pretty much everything Hollywood has produced. And if they feel the need for a share of the profits from Internet downloads, they deserve to have it.

Hollywood and network television executives take note: You will run out of reruns eventually. You will NOT break the power of the Writer's Guild(s?) Give up a smaller piece of the pie now, and you can go back to business as usual. The math just works out better for everyone involved: you'll get a smaller piece of each particular project... but more writers will be willing to let you work with their projects, which translates to more projects for you to work with.

I mean, come on, do you REALLY want American writers getting it into their heads that Canada's (or the U.K.'s, or anywhere else's) movie-industry offers a better deal for them than you do? Yes, you might miss out on the next Beavis & Butt-Head Do America, but you might also miss out on the next Titanic...