Thursday, December 8, 2016

Mad Hatting—The Correct Writing Environment

If you write for hours on end, you need the correct writing environment. I usually start with pencil and paper in a mall. Why? Because if I do most of my writing at home, I start to think of things I need to clean or throw out.

click to enlarge 

Then I enter my writing into my computer, correcting or making changes along the way. Yes, I use a desktop. I can’t imagine doing creative writing for hours on a laptop.

This makes it easy to research on the internet while writing. Can this lead to distractions? Yes. But discipline is not hard to maintain.

I managed to find a chair at Costco that fits me and is comfortable. Spend the money for a good one. This is not just for comfort—it’s your health.

And, of course, there’s the hat.

The one I really use has Bella, Edward, and Jacob on it. But their faces are so trademarked, they probably owe money to Stephanie Meyer when they look in the mirror.

Okay, I don’t wear it most of the time. But choose wisely, to match your mood.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Whiteboards as Science Fiction—Review of Arrival

This is not a negative blog. But when I saw people who should know better praising the movie Arrival, I thought my head would explode.

For this initial part, I’ll say that if you like the star of the movie, Amy Adams, she gives a magnificent performance. If you want to see two hours of her on the big screen going through an array of emotions, you will probably like it.

You just have to ignore the stuff coming out of her mouth or the mouths of the other actors. I am now going to be very skeptical of science fiction movies with A-list actors that are aimed at mainstream audiences. I can sum up this movie with one word: illogical.

Saturday, November 26, 2016


Dear Mr. Trump:

With the death of Fidel Castro, a historic opening that may change our part of the world for the foreseeable future will be in your hands.

The Cuban people are already in a state of transition, due to Raul Castro having been the de facto ruler of Cuba for some years, and the more recent Obama initiative of opening relations with that nation.

This is a small window of opportunity that may not be repeated in our lifetimes.

The Cuban people, now deprived of a dictator whom they have known for fifty years, wonder which direction they should go. The fact that Fidel Castro was largely a figurehead for the past several years does not change this.

They have tasted newer freedoms in recent years, and they do not want to go back to the past. They have been ruled by Communism all these decades, they have seen the failure of socialism, and they are sick of it.

The danger is they may want to lurch to the right. Having been used to having a strong man rule over them, they may want another, this time on the extreme right of the political spectrum.

If things go horribly wrong, they will end up being ruled by their equivalent of a Putin.

Now is the time to take diplomatic initiatives. Raul Castro must be told that to the extent he embraces more freedom in his country, to that extent he will be shown more favor by the United States.

Foreign aid is normally counter-productive, because it goes to the foreign governments, not to the people it is intended to help. But in this case, if Raul Castro follows through with true reforms and surrounds himself with comparatively moderate figures in his government, aid should go to him to help stabilize his government.

You have the favor of Cuban-Americans from the way you campaigned. Their older elements will be against showing any favor or giving any aid to the present government, but you can use your political capital, the same way President Nixon did when he went to China, to establish a new relationship with Cuba the same way he did with China, without being accused of being sympathetic to Communism.

Similar opportunities may be found in Venezuela, where their socialist economy is collapsing.

Do not let old enmities stay your hand. I did not vote for either you or your main opponent. But you will have this moment in time to exert your authority and power as president to attempt to prevent either chaos if their government collapses, or a new right-wing dictatorship, a mere ninety miles off America’s shores.


Mark Murata

pubic domain

Monday, November 21, 2016

Veterans Day—Belated

Here are pictures of the Veterans Day flag-raising at my company.

Active-duty employees were in uniform, while veterans wore civilian clothes. 

We were hoping for more of a breeze, but it turned out nice.  

Monday, November 7, 2016

I Voted

Perhaps you’ve heard that there is an election going on in the United States. Here in my state of Washington, all the voting is by mail, which I think is a shame. Here I am putting my ballot in a drop box at the Crossroads Mall, in a suburb of Seattle.

This wasn't to save postage; I just felt like doing it this way.

A man who was holding a child dropped his ballot off right before me. I think I delayed someone who came right after me by my taking a picture. We might have just happened to converge at the same time, since I don't know how popular this option is.

If we have a longshot outcome I’m hoping for, I’ll let you know how I voted. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Amazon Brick & Mortar—No Fooling!

Ever browse in a bookstore, then look online at on your personal device to see if you can get the books for a cheaper price? You really shouldn’t do that, since it could drive your local bookstore out of business.

But now you can have the same experience guilt-free at an bookstore I visited on foot. No, this was not some virtual experience. This physical store in Seattle’s University Village Shopping Center is one of only three they’ve built.

Inside, they have typical bookshelves. I looked over the science fiction and fantasy selections and saw they were noticeably different from what I see in the three Barnes & Noble bookstores I frequent. That’s because they base their selections on rankings on the website—obviously.

Each book has two prices: For instance, the list price for this paperback Alexander Hamilton bio was $20.00. But if you were an Amazon Prime member, you would pay the online price. Currently, that is $13.27.

I don’t think this is simply a way of driving people to become Prime members—it would be a hideously expensive way to do so. No, many people want to feel a book, weigh it in their hands, and leaf through it before buying.

But at some point in the sick, twisted mind of Jeff Bezos, did he plot on driving other brick and mortar stores out of business, to be replaced by his own? When he saw Borders go through its death spiral, did he know his secret plan was working? 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

No Helicoptering of Children

Not long ago, I saw parents escorting and staying with their elementary school children at bus stops. This is called helicopter parenting, a riff on how they’re said to hover over them.

This is not good for children. In ninth grade, I had to walk two miles to school. Part of it was up a steep hill. Here it is nowadays, with improvements.

It sure didn’t look this way back then. The steps were dirt, which turned to mud the first day I had to hike up it. Many of the girls were quite in distress over it. Later, they added crude steps in the form of railroad ties held in place by pipes that were hammered down. The pipes had no safety caps; just ends of pipes sticking up from the dirt or mud. We had to be careful not to jam our legs on them as we climbed.

Often I had to carry my alto saxophone case, which weighed thirteen pounds, in addition to my books.

Did I appreciate this at the time? No. Was it good for me? Looking back on it, yes. Not just in the sense of physical fitness, but in the sense of building character, which I now believe has to include physical challenges at a young age with no safety net. I never saw any parents escort their children up those steps. Now, parents drive their children to school when they could take the bus. I was shocked to find out some years ago that there were traffic jams around some schools because of how many parents dropped off or picked up their children from school.

But now look at that path. They have installed nice steps, instead of dirt. And there’s a railing. We didn’t need a railing as we toiled up and down with our books and musical instruments. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Can You Prove You’re Not Crazy?

Mitchell is a space navigator who wakes up in a mental ward with no idea why he is there. He overhears his captain saying to not let him remember what happened. Mitchell is told he has an incurable condition, so obviously he will never leave. But Mitchell knows he is not insane.

So begins “The Mind is its Own Place” by Carrie Vaughn, in this month’s September 2016 Asimov’s Science Fiction. (Sorry for the lateness of this post. If you can’t find this issue at your bookstore, you might try eBay.) Is Mitchell insane or not? The story is ambiguous at first, then the tension builds as he recalls bits of his memory.

I talked with Carrie Vaughn at the 2012 Worldcon in Chicago. She was very encouraging for my idea of a married vampire slayer. You can see an excerpt here, but of course, she’s not responsible for any lack of quality in my writing.

She wrote a young adult novel called Steel, and in the back is a helpful glossary on fencing terms. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And then she turned into Seven of Nine

Last night, I dreamt I visited a friend to watch the winding down of a Sherlock Holmes TV series. I walked down to her apartment in a red brick building in England, and I sat beside her on a couch as we watched. There were no behind-the-scenes insights; just the last episode with Sherlock in his deerslayer cap. 
public domain
The scene changed to me by myself in a large auditorium, I think in California. I was there for the winding down of Star Trek background scenes. A large, flat image of the moon was against the high wall towards one end of the auditorium, and a few people from Star Trek, including DeForest Kelley who had played Doctor McCoy, were standing on a catwalk at that level for the occasion, smiling and apparently reminiscing about the old prop. 
photo by Alan C. Teeple
The moon was almost twice as tall as a person, and a large clamp at the end of a lift was set to take it apart, piece by piece. It grabbed hold of the bottom and pulled, making a middle flap start to tear away from the rest, so it was obvious it was composed of cardboard sections with the image of the moon spread on top, perhaps on a plastic sheet. This definitely ruined the illusion of it being so realistic.
But that section of the moon wouldn’t detach. Kelley and the others had to look at each other and amble around a little on their catwalk to make up for the lack of action.
With nothing happening, much of the crowd dispersed. I wandered on the bleachers towards the other end and found Jeri Ryan, who had played Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Voyager, sitting by herself. She was dressed in ordinary clothes and had her blonde hair down. I asked if I could sit next to her, and she said yes. 
photo by GabboT
We chatted as a couple men at that other end stood at the top of a ladder, obviously in a dangerous way, to dismantle some red metal framework that was as tall as a basketball hoop. One of the men got down from the ladder, then part of the framework fell near him. Part of it must have hit his arm, so he cried out in pain. This greatly disturbed Jeri Ryan, so she stared at him for several seconds, a look of great concern on her face.
A couple other celebrities came by. One of them was Sylvester Stallone, who asked me a question about Star Trek. When I tried to reply, he talked over me, making fun of Star Trek as if it were a silly subject for children. Resentful, I realized that behind him in the distance was a placard of some Neanderthal-like people, and I was tempted to make a comparison, but thought better of it. 
photo by Towpilot
After they left, a large scaffolding structure rose suddenly in the middle of the auditorium, effectively cutting the place in half. The people controlling it showed some of the effects they could do, like making part of it shoot it up so it looked like it reached the ceiling. They proceeded to dismantle it slowly, piece by piece.
I said to Jeri Ryan in an apologetic tone that this was all anti-climactic, after the failure to take down the moon.
The scene shifted to Seattle, and we were inside some kind of Star Trek museum. The first part was on the classic Star Trek, and she laid her hand on a tabletop display showing drawings of two starships. They were very similar to the original Enterprise, and she looked puzzled that the ships had a different name on it. I knew that the Enterprise was part of a fleet that had several ships of the same class, and I watched to see if she figured it out. She remained puzzled, and we moved on.
We went through a number of exhibits, then we reached the one on Voyager. I said, “This should be familiar to you.”
She was standing to my left, and for a moment she was in her Seven of Nine persona: hair wrapped around her head, a metal implant in place of an eyebrow, and her figure more pronounced because she was in her skintight silver uniform with a corset underneath. She said nothing but simply stared at an exhibit, implacably.
When I turned to look at her again after an instant, she was back to normal. 
(There are no copyright-free images of Seven of Nine. Here is the link:
To see my Giant Dream, click here


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