The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic –

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

via The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic –

Pixar Story Rules in LEGO!

Alex Elyar on Slacktory has taken Emma Coat’s Pixar’s Rules of Storytelling and turned them posters illustrated with Lego for great visual results:

I’ve always heard that you can have one major co-incidence per story and the audience will generally let it pass. However, this rule is pretty good too!

I learned this one from doing Audio Drama, but it’s stuck with me while doing prose fiction as well. It’s a variant of the K.I.S.S. rule.

Good advice. As someone who is currently having a small bit of writer’s block, I plan to try this one after I post this!

Good advice for all creative people!

This is only about a third of the rules, go check out the original page for the rest of them. They’re worth taking the time to read (again!).


In Defense of the Male Miniskirt- Thoughts on the First Season of Star Trek:TNG

In Defense of the Male Miniskirt- Thoughts on the First Season of Star Trek:TNG

With the release of the first season of ST:TNG on Blu-Ray DVD in remastered sets this week, I thought I’d comment on what I think of as an overly maligned season of the show.

Nice legs!

There are many things that people tend to remember about the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They remember Tasha Yar, Wesley almost getting killed for stepping on the grass, uneven writing, Wesley saving the ship, wooden acting, universal hatred for Wesley, that damned clip-show episode, and of course the dreaded male miniskirts (and their female counterpart- the cheerleader outfits).

For many, it is a season they look down on, skip when trying to hook people on Star Trek: TNG, and generally say “it gets better later, I swear” to new viewers who are determined to start at the beginning. There’s no Borg, the Ferengi are like a completely different race, the Romulans make only a brief appearance, and Riker has no beard.

So what is there to like about Season One?

This is pretty much how I felt about it over the years, and it stayed that way until a couple years back when I went back and re-watched the first couple episodes in what could be called a curious case of nostalgia. (Someone had stuck them up on Youtube for a time, and I was curious, and feeling nostalgic.) I expected to find many things, but what I didn’t expect to find was a different show than I remembered.

The show I remembered as Star Trek:TNG was pretty much the show from Season-Three to Season Five, which for many people is the show they think of fondly when they think of ST:TNG. Season Three was jam-packed with winning episodes and was when the show basically turned from syndicated curiosity to “must watch TV” for a lot of people. That’s the point where it started to seriously become part of popular culture at the time, and Patrick Stewart was suddenly being considered TV’s Sexiest Man Alive.

It’s a great show, and it was this period that became the template for not only what would come after, but also Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and even Enterprise. For people of my generation, this period of ST:TNG was the high water mark by which most Science Fiction TV would be judged, and is only equaled by the mid seasons of Deep Space Nine in quality.

But, it’s not the same show as Season One.

Season One of ST:TNG was a testbed season, a season where they had no real idea of where they were going, so they just tried stuff and hoped it worked out. It also had Gene Roddenberry firmly at the helm, and despite his failing health, he did his best to inject his vision of the future into the show.

So they gave a writer’s bible to a bunch of people, let them put together scripts, and then tried to weave that into a show while at the same time attempting to create a whole new world for their viewers. Nobody (except maybe Gene, to a point) knew exactly what they were producing, but they had a vague idea and they set forth in that direction to find out.

They just knew that they wanted to create the future, and so that’s what they did.

Take the male miniskirt for example. It’s an outfit which pops up regularly in the background as the civilian crew (remember them?) wander the ship during peacetime and rush everywhere during times of trouble. It’s weird. It’s probably uncomfortable to wear. (The extras probably drew straws to decide who would have to wear it.) And it’s one of those things people just look back on and go “what were they thinking?”

And yet, I would argue that it’s one of the best costume choices they made.

I say this exactly because it’s weird, or more appropriately it’s unique.

When viewers saw crew wandering around in those things, their natural reaction was “boy, these people are weird!” or to be more precise “these people are not us”.  In other words, it made life aboard the starship Enterprise 1701-D different from life here on 20th century Earth. It made their culture not our culture, and made their ideas of what was right and wrong not our ideas of what was right and wrong.

Yeah it was odd, yeah they got rid of it pretty quick (just like the rest of the civilian crew idea), but while it was there it served as a reminder that we were looking at an alien culture to our own. One which could be new and interesting for us to explore as we joined them on a journey through the universe and beyond.

It was touches like this that gave Season One of ST:TNG a sense of grandeur that I would argue that later seasons of the show (and subsequent series) actually lack. The ship was a big place populated by lots of people, people whose lives were affected by the decisions Picard made. The producers made an actual effort to make us feel their presence, and even included them in plots, because it made the ship feel bigger. It was a ship that had over 1000 people aboard, and they went out of their way to make us feel that this was the case.

And of course, it doesn’t just stop with the crew.

Partially thanks to the fact that the writers on the first season didn’t have a clear vision of who was who and the overall “feel” of the show, each episode comes across as it’s own unique little sci-fi adventure. The characters are rough, simple, and more types than people, but the plots are different and interesting because they’re all trying to present something new. (In a sense, each of the writers had a completely different setting in their heads when they wrote the scripts, and brought those different takes into the show without thinking about it.)

Did it always work? No. But, because they threw all these different stories together, it really created a sense that we were getting a view of this ship and setting from different angles. You literally never knew what would be around each corner (Not “gaseous anomaly 24,547…”) and each new encounter felt like you were being given a snapshot of a larger world. They did small plots about Picard trapped in an elevator, and large plots about Federation-wide conspiracies, and each of them made the show feel bigger, richer, and more complex.

If I had to sum up the first season of ST:TNG into a single word, that word would be “potential”, because when watching it you felt that anything was possible. It was an open playing field, and it felt like the producers were doing their best to take advantage of that field to give you the best show possible. They didn’t quite know what they were doing, but they tried hard, and I would say this season had a lot of heart put into it.

It wasn’t slick, it wasn’t polished, but it was earnest and it set the ground for what would come later on.

It went where no-one had gone before.

In a male miniskirt.

Beat that, Captain Tightpants!


Sarnia Bayfest 2012: Alice Cooper and Iron Maiden

Last night I had the honor of attending my very first heavy metal concert at Sarnia’s Bayfest music festival. The moment my friend Richard Moule told me about the lineup to last night’s show, Iron Maiden and Alice Cooper, I wanted in. I mean, I’ve been an Iron Maiden fan since my friend Don introduced me to them back in University, and my admiration for them has only grown over the years.

And, finally after months of waiting, the day finally arrived, and we drove down to Sarnia to see them.

Overall, I’d have to say I was thoroughly impressed. Alice Cooper’s show was good (although I imagine he can do better when he’s not just the opening act), but seeing Iron Maiden in concert was an experience I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

It took a bit, but the energy that was going through that crowd last night was amazing, and it was hard not to get swept up in the show. My voice this morning in hoarse from singing along, and why not? I knew most of the songs they were singing off by heart, as did most of the audience, and that really made the whole show both personal and a real communal experience. They even turned the audience into a giant instrument at points, which during the song Fear of the Dark is something that has to be experienced to be understood, although I think this video can give you the idea-

Hear that chorus? That’s the audience, not the singers. So intense!

Would I see them again?

In a heartbeat! truly amazing show.

It’s just too bad they didn’t play my favorite song- Die With Your Boots On

The significance of plot without conflict – still eating oranges

The necessity of conflict is preached as a kind of dogma by contemporary writers’ workshops and Internet “guides” to writing. A plot without conflict is considered dull; some even go so far as to call it impossible. This has influenced not only fiction, but writing in general—arguably even philosophy. Yet, is there any truth to this belief? Does plot necessarily hinge on conflict? No. Such claims are a product of the West’s insularity. For countless centuries, Chinese and Japanese writers have used a plot structure that does not have conflict “built in”, so to speak. Rather, it relies on exposition and contrast to generate interest. This structure is known as kishōtenketsu.

Kishōtenketsu contains four acts: introduction, development, twist and reconciliation. The basics of the story—characters, setting, etc.—are established in the first act and developed in the second. No major changes occur until the third act, in which a new, often surprising element is introduced. The third act is the core of the plot, and it may be thought of as a kind of structural non sequitur. The fourth act draws a conclusion from the contrast between the first two “straight” acts and the disconnected third, thereby reconciling them into a coherent whole. Kishōtenketsu is probably best known to Westerners as the structure of Japanese yonkoma (four-panel) manga; and, with this in mind, our artist has kindly provided a simple comic to illustrate the concept.

Fascinating idea. Although I wonder if what works for a Kishotenketsu in short comic form works as well for a longer work?

Also, I wonder about the claim that Kishotenketsu are really without conflict. The chaotic element is an element of conflict that is still resolved. Kishotenketsu seem to run like a formula:

A is true. (Panel 1+2)

B is also true.(Panel 3)

This is how A + B (which are in conflict) resolve. (Panel 4)

Is there not still a plot of conflict and resolution there? The only difference is that the result tends to be co-operative rather than a single side achieving victory. It’s not the 3 act structure, but it is still a plot centered around conflict. Therefore, claims of the Kishotenketsu form being without conflict are untrue. At least this is how I see it.

via The significance of plot without conflict – still eating oranges.

TeaNoWriMo Update

Well, it’s been a week, so I thought I should report on how Teachers Novel Writing Month is progressing. I think I can sum the week up in one short video-

I had an idea in mind for a novel about a sleeper colony ship arriving at a new world and the problems that entailed, but apparently I was no where near as ready to write it as I thought I was. This turned into a lesson in the need for more pre-writing and less pantsing on my part. Sigh. I basically got started, hit a snag, and then spent the week trying to overcome the suddenly bout of writer’s block.

So, I think writing a new novel from scratch is out. However, as I have a few other projects that need finishing, I’ll just work on them instead and toss those onto the word-count meter to see how many words I can push out this month instead.

And next time, I won’t try something like this without a solid game plan. :-/


Penn’s Sunday School

When you hear someone say the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction”, they’re talking about Penn Jillette. The talking half of Penn and Teller is perhaps one of the strangest and most entertaining people alive, with more stories, and more weird friends than you can imagine are possible.

This is why I loved listening to his radio show on FREE FM out of Las Vegas, and why I was through the roof when I discovered he just started (In February of this year) a new weekly podcast/vidcast with his co-host Michael Goudeau called Penn’s Sunday School.

For example, this week he talked about breaking into an abandoned missile silo with friends a few years back, and the sheer horror of the sensory deprivation that involves. If I went through that myself, I think I would have been in stark bloody terror about 5 minutes in! Holy crap!

And yet, I have no doubt everything he’s saying is true, all of it.

I might not agree with all his opinions, but Penn really is one of the coolest people alive. Give it a listen!

Join us as Penn Jillette, Michael Goudeau, and YOU discuss the news of the week.

We’ll examine religious news, talk about monkeys, and anything else that seems funny or makes us mad. We’ll also take your suggestions for things you feel like talking about.

We will be running a live video feed from the Vintage Nudes Studio for people with the time and inclination to watch people sitting and talking. The live show will start at noon Vegas time most Sundays and will be available for download by about 7 PM Sunday evening.

via Penn’s Sunday School.

Do people really love cats? Or are they actually compelled to by brain parasites?

So here’s a weird thought- Cat Lovers are Cat Lovers not always because they naturally love cats, but because they’re actually compelled to be close to cats by a parasite they’ve picked up which is affecting their brains. Scary, eh?

Impossible? Not at all, from the article:

Why is it that the elite French perfumers (known as “noses”) and sommeliers (“upturned noses”) of the world spend so much of their time inhaling cat effluvia from expensive glass bottles? A guess: It may have to do with a mind-control parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. The tiny protozoan may be getting into our brains and tricking us into liking cats—not to mention certain perfumes and wines.

In a recent study, Czech scientists gave men and women towels scented with the urine of various animals—horses, lions, hyenas, cats, dogs—which they rated for “pleasantness.” Turns out, men who tested positive for Toxo found the smell of cat urine more pleasant than men without Toxo. For Toxo researchers like me, this was a shock but not entirely surprising. Why? Toxo does approximately the same thing to rats.

via Chanel No. 5: A brain parasite may be the secret to the famous perfume. – Slate Magazine.

Amazing Spider-Man Lives Up to its Name!

Like most people, when I heard there was a new Spider-Man film my initial reactions were “why?” and “too soon”. I mean, it’s been less than a decade since the Sam Raimi films and I consider Spider-Man a pretty tapped out franchise with all the recent animated series and films.

However, if Sony Pictures didn’t put out a Spider-Man film this year, they lost the rights to the character, so they whipped together a team and rushed this film into production to meet their deadline. (And considering how poorly Sony as a company is doing, they couldn’t afford to lose anything that actually made money!)

And I never thought I’d say it, but- I’m glad they did!

While this is in no way a perfect film, it is an (almost) perfect Spider-Man film. In fact, I’d argue that this may in fact be the best Marvel superhero movie to date, standing easily toe to toe with Iron Man or The Avengers.

And yes, that means I consider it better than the Raimi films with Toby McGuire. Although in this case, I’d say it’s a bit of Apples and Oranges. The Raimi Spider-Man films (or at least the first one) are homages to the 1960’s original comics, and retain that original 1960’s feel to them. They’re very stylized representations of the comic books brought to the screen, and have all the good and bad elements that implies.

This new film (I should say, New Films, since this feels very much like a first part/episode) is an adaption of the character and spirit of Spider-Man to film, and instead of trying to pull from the comics presents a more realistic and natural take on the story. One that not only works, but also frees up the character to be himself.

Andrew Garfield really does portray Peter Parker and Spider-Man like I’ve always imagined he should be. He has the perfect build, the right attitude, and comes across as a very real young man trying to deal with his own issues while also doing the right thing. They even get the Spider-Man banter right, which is something that’s pretty rare, and make it work on screen in a fun and entertaining way.

The performances in the film are all good, with Martin Sheen’s great take on Uncle Ben being a definite standout. I prefered the previous version of Aunt May to Sally Field, but she’s fine in the role. Dennis Leary is a passable Captain Stacey, and Emma Stone turns in a nice performance as Gwen Stacey. No complaints all around.

I also think The Lizard was an excellent choice for the villain of this movie, with hints of Norman Osborne lurking in the background. The Lizard (as shown) is a nice mirror of Spider-Man himself, and as they have similar powers makes a good sparring partner. He’s also a minor enough villain to make the ones that come after him seem more dangerous, but still a major threat.

In fact, the only things I found that raised a false note were pretty minor. I found the portrayal of The Lizard’s goals pretty murky and I didn’t quite like the ending.

(spoilers, skip to after the spoilers if you don’t want to be spoiled)

While The Lizard was chasing Spider-Man around the school, my wife leaned over and asked me “why is he after Peter?” and as I started to answer I realized that I didn’t really know. I knew how he’d found Peter, and I knew they’d already clashed twice, but I didn’t really know WHY the Lizard was there. Was it just revenge?  Was it because of the personal connection? Why was he there?

Also, they didn’t do a very good job of explaining why The Lizard wanted to turn everyone in New York into Lizards either. I know, he wanted to make humanity “better” and this was his crazy way of doing that. But, as it was presented he didn’t seem all that committed to the idea, it felt to me like he was doing it more because it’s what supervillains always do!

I’ll give an example- on the bridge he tracked down evil corporate executive because he was trying in his own way to stop him from using the serum to test on innocent victims. That was a clear, but indirectly presented motivation. But everything after that just became him doing things because he’s The Lizard, and that’s what that character does.

My other minor issue (much more minor) was the ending. If there’s one thing that’s constant, Spider-Man’s life sucks, and that’s part of his character and story. Raimi’s adaption captured that nicely. Here, we get the set-up for that (Peter can’t get together with Gwen), but then the film does a weird 180 and we get his English teacher spouting some B.S. about “all stories are about who you are”, and that promises are often broken.

This completely reeked to me of test audiences. I bet the original movie ended with the previous scene, and test audiences absolutely hated it, so the suits made them go and tack this extra little scene on at the end to show hope for the young lovers.

Nice going, guys. Peter swore on a man’s death that he’d keep hands off the guy’s daughter (which she psychically guesses in perfect detail) and now a week or so after he’s dead that promise is apparently “no big deal”. What an a**hole! Well, there goes most of the heroic side of the character out the window. It’s a typical attempt at a superficially “feel good” ending that actually isn’t good or in character at all. Which is why I say it smelled of being there to satisfy test audiences.

What’s even worse is that Peter is going to look like a super-a**hole when not keeping that promise later results in Gwen getting killed.

They would have been much better to just have Peter feel so guilty over her father’s death that he couldn’t face (or risk) Gwen getting involved in his life. He left Captain Stacey on his own, and he died because of that. More than reason enough for him to walk away from Gwen, and leave things between them troubled and open for the future films. It would be a heck of a lot more heroic than what we get.

(end spoilers)

Despite this, I have to say I really enjoyed this film. I went into it expecting the same-old, and instead found a fun film that presented a great take on one of my favorite superheros. . I really want to dig out some old Essential Spider-Man comics now and give them a read.

And that’s the highest compliment I think I can give it.