Friday, October 18, 2019

Book Review: Sea of Glory


Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery: The U.S. Exploring Expedition was penned by Nathaniel Philbrick, well-known for In the Heart of the Sea and Bunker Hill. This recounts the epic voyage of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, otherwise known as the Ex Ex. From 1838 to 1842, they explored Antarctica, then the Pacific—including Fiji and the Hawaiian Islands—and then Puget Sound and the Columbia River, going on land to explore what are now the states of Washington and Oregon.

The Ex Ex was potentially as significant as the Lewis and Clark expedition on land. But hardly anyone knows about it. And thereby hangs a tale.



I was astonished there was such an expedition, sailing from Virginia down to Antarctica—in wooden sailing ships! Then they went on to encounter Pacific Islanders, some friendly, some violent. Considering where I live, I had great interest in their exploration of the Columbia River. I had no idea the mouth of the Columbia is considered the third most dangerous river mouth to traverse in the world.

But why don’t more people know about this expedition? Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, who was in charge of the Ex Ex, was far too inexperienced a man to be in charge of such an epic voyage. By the end of the expedition, all his officers had turned against him. Wilkes was put on trial for his outrageous behavior. If any of his officers were more competent than he was, he would humiliate that officer in front of the men, give him reduced responsibilities, or put him off at a friendly port. By all accounts, he was an incompetent and a coward. Much of the expedition’s discoveries went unpublished.

If anyone thinks his side of the story should be told, by all means read Sea of Glory. But it seems to be the old story of the Navy taking a smart young man and unaccountably thrusting him into a position where he was in way over his head. For years. To Antarctica and back.

I have to say I found Sea of Glory depressing. A much more uplifting book is Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time by Michael Palin, which I reviewed here. This British expedition had competent commanders. There’s some sort of lesson here, don’t you think?

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Better Call Saul—with DeepFake


I previously blogged about DeepFake videos. At that time, they could not also fake people’s voices. (There is fake voice and lip-movement technology, but that is separate and incompatible at this time.) Now the fake videos are to some extent able to fake voices. If you watch the clip below, sometimes the words don’t match the lips, but the voice sounds real.

It features Trump’s face mapped onto Bob Odenkirk’s face. Since it has the Trump voice saying a nasty word, I'll just leave the link here if you care to explore it. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ho9h0ouemWQ&t=45s


The major concern as these fakes get better, is that we might see on the internet a video of President Trump or Kim Jong-un announcing they’ve launched nuclear missiles.

On a more mundane but personal note, are you eager for video banking? When someone can fake your face and voice, then tell the bank to transfer your savings to some account in the Bahamas?

And I would be remiss if I didn’t put in an excerpt from my novel Alpha Shift. Captain Christina Chechi is about to find out how badly her ship’s communications have been hacked.


A wall monitor gave a nonsensical message from Captain Akajima that didn’t mention her, Captain Chechi.

Arms at her sides, Christina made both hands into fists, hard, as if she were a teenager willing herself to grow taller. She raised one of them and tried calling the bridge.

A smiling picture of herself showed, wearing the wrong red dress. The image was an abomination of perfect hair, makeup, and costume, and it gave a winning smile as it said that all conditions were normal.

Christina hit the wall monitor.

She put her hands over her eyes and told herself to simmer down. Then she considered anew the general quarters alarms. This is not just about me. Even though she was captain, she was just one person, but communications in general had been sabotaged. They’re trying to take the ship. My ship.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Contest Coming Up Fairy Soon


A contest is coming up for aspiring writers. We are to write a short synopsis of a finished novel, then add the first two sentences. The winner will get a free critique from a professional editor of the first ten pages of the story. So here’s the synopsis, then the first two sentences will be below the picture. Let me know what you think.

Ashley, a fairy, grows to human size and helps out in the war of the worlds when Martian cylinders land. Steam-powered war machines emerge, wielding heat-rays in their metallic tentacles. Although Ashley comports herself as a lady, she gathers her courage and flies near the head of one of the machines to help guide the artillery. But the resulting explosion separates her from her friends, leading to a lonely odyssey in war-torn England.  


On midsummer’s eve I stood on the central toadstool, gripping the bumpy surface with my toes. The moist air from the humus below clung to my bare skin, the warm mugginess attacking the elaborate curls I had styled for the occasion.

#

For a longer version, see this earlier blog post.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Copyright


It may surprise readers (and wannabe writers) that legally, writers do not sell stories. That’s how it’s described in everyday terms, such as selling a story to a magazine or selling a novel to a publisher. But in legal terms, what writers sell is copyright.

This can become extremely complicated. See my post on speakers at Norwescon on how publishers try to get the rights to audiobooks. They will also try to get the rights to movie versions, graphic book versions, action figures, t-shirts, etc. This all has to be negotiated. But it underlines the fact that what the writer sells is copyright to the story. In some contracts, the rights revert to the writer if sales of the novel fall below a certain point. And there are nightmare stories of a publisher going bankrupt, and writers have no clear path to recovering their copyright.

On the lighter side, the old Star Trek did some black and white publicity photos. They never copyrighted them. They are public domain.







Don’t know who this is? Watch an old show.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

300—Bad Dubbing


I don’t have much time for a post this week, so here is some really bad dubbing for the movie 300. 


On second viewing, they did match the lip movements better than I thought at first. I'll have to find some really bad example when I have time. 

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Name That Planet—Vili was Robbed


Okay, OR10 is not a planet, it’s a small body in the solar system. But it’s big enough to have it’s own moon. So The Planetary Society allowed people to vote on its name! Never heard of this? Get better news sources.

So the candidates were: Vili, Gonggong, and Holle. Vili was a brother of Odin and Ve, and the three of them defeated the giant Ymir and created Middle Earth in Norse mythology. Gonggong was a Chinese deity who caused floods. Holle was a Germanic fertility spirit.


art by Sokol_92

To quote The Planetary Society site, “Vili took the lead for a long while, but in the final stretch Gonggong surged, taking the lead.”

Oh, come on! Putting Vili and Holle in there split the Nordic/Germanic vote. I demand a recount!


VOTE MIDDLE EARTH! VOTE VILI!

Friday, July 26, 2019

Rutger Hauer Passed Away


Rutger Hauer, the great Dutch actor, just passed away. We’ll get to Blade Runner in a moment, but first I strongly recommend Ladyhawke. This was a Medieval fantasy that featured a young Rutger Hauer, a young Michelle Pfeiffer, and a very young Matthew Broderick.



The only disadvantage is they have bad synthesizer music for part of the background. Come on, where are the crumhorns?

So years later, we have Blade Runner. I never liked that movie. I know, how can I like and write science fiction if I don’t like Blade Runner? It had an immense influence on the grittier forms of science fiction here in America, and parts of it were flat-out copied in anime in Japan. For those of you who saw the theatrical version, the director’s cut is so superior, it is practically a different movie. Do yourself a favor and do not read any description or review of the director’s cut, because those hack writers tend to give things away.

And no, I don’t like the director’s cut, either.

But here is the haunting scene in Blade Runner. Rutger Hauer as the homicidal android gives his ending monologue.


“I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Game of Furries


The official trailer for the movie Cats is out, and the reaction is not pretty. Movie reviewers say they’ve never seen backlash against a movie trailer that is so purrfectly full of bile. I haven’t seen the stage musical Cats, but apparently it featured singers and dancers who had faux cat hair flamboyantly glued on, especially on their faces. This movie version features what look like humanoid cat creatures. Here’s your treat: 


I could make a few remarks, such as: And it has _____ playing herself. But I don’t want to get protested.

So . . . if people do not really look like cats, it’s amusing, but if people really look like cats, it’s creepy?

The funny thing is, my novel Alpha Shift has a brief scene that mentions something like this. A previous excerpt is here. My friends Erin and Grace can attest that I wrote this story before the movie trailer came out. (This is the bad guy reminiscing.)

#

Derk’s vision clouded with those times in the suite prepared just for him, with gin and vermouth in the precise proportions, and the women over six feet tall dressed head to toe in their skintight furry outfits.

#

As you can tell, my story is a cultural treat.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Ducks and Bass Fiddles in the Park


This is a little late, but I had a pleasant time in a park in Bellevue for the 4th of July. (Bellevue is a suburb of Seattle.)

First, there is a nice artificial waterfall which is quite popular. Here are some ducks in the top part. One duck is so comfortable, it’s standing on one leg at the lip of the fall.



Then a bunch of them get the same idea.



In the background are the typical inflatable play areas for children.

A nice moment was the presentation of the colors—the U.S. flag and the Washington flag. It was a very casual crowd, but most people stood for the flags.



I was pleasantly surprised that most people would still do that.

As usual, the Bellevue Youth Symphony Orchestra was to play. I noticed some bass fiddles being unpacked beside the stage. Among the players were a couple of slim young women.



They each hauled a bass fiddle up the steps to the stage.

The Bellevue Youth Symphony Orchestra was phenomenal. They play modern pieces in a stirring manner. And as usual, I took a picture from the back, since the park was too jammed to get a picture from the front.



Note the bass fiddles on the right.

Monday, July 8, 2019

So the news is out that some people vandalized the Cloud Gate in Chicago, more affectionately known as “The Bean,” by spraying graffiti on it. Since this is not a negative blog, I won’t spend time telling those idiots what chuckleheads they are.


Instead, here’s a reposting from my time at the 2012 Worldcon. 
___________________________________________________________________________


Worldcon, the world’s largest science fiction convention, was held in Chicago this year.  The convention hadn’t started yet, so I did some sightseeing on Wednesday.  This bas relief was just outside my hotel: 


I don’t normally see art like this casually on display. 

Further on, their Magnificent Mile featured Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture, often nicknamed “The Bean.” 


The Cloud Gate was featured in the movie Source Code, and you can see my review here.  Notice how the buildings are clearly reflected in the surface: 


People can easily walk beneath its curved surface: 


Beneath the center of it, the reflection seems much farther away than it really is. 


I became nervous there, because loud street noises reflected around inside. 

On the other side of the Chicago River is the NBC tower: 


I had spotted the peacock while walking from my hotel, and you can barely see it at the top of the picture. 

So here’s the Chicago River itself, looking towards downtown: 

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Piezoelectric Clothing


Here’s an excerpt from my novel manuscript Alpha Shift. Linda and Vox, whom we’ve seen in a previous excerpt, realize the ship is being attacked from the inside. They are arguing in a corridor.

Their dresses take advantage of the piezo-electric effect to use the body’s motion to charge specially-designed clothing. In my story, information can also be stored in the clothing.



Linda realized she was holding her fists in front of her. She lowered them. “I believe the nearest strategic point is life support station 3. I think we can both agree the air conditioning could use a little freshening up. Let’s see if our dresses agree on the route, of if they’re hacked, too.”

She tapped the sleeve on the upper arm of her dress to call up a route program. Since Vox’s velour dress had full-length sleeves, she had the ease of tapping her forearm. Ever since some drunken ensign on shore leave was found unconscious and stripped of his uniform—which had valuable ship’s information—military clothing was not allowed to carry much data. But so long as they had their dresses on, they could not get lost on the ship.

The sideways map on Linda’s sleeve matched the one on Vox’s forearm, showing the best route to the life support station. “At least our dresses haven’t been hacked.”

“Unless it is a coordinated hack, leading us to an ambush.” Vox showed no expression. “Shall I lead the way?”

Life support 3 wasn’t hard to find. A pile of bodies lay outside the hatch.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Batman – Robert Pattinson


Word is officially out. There’s a new Batman! The dark knight will be played by Robert Pattinson. Uh, Robert Pattinson?


photo by Nicolas Genin 

Do not get me wrong: Whether you like the first Twilight movie or not, it is a model for inciting incidents, try/fail cycles, and of course, the climactic moment when the hero desperately has to perform a forbidden act to save the day.

But it seems to me he lacks the gravitas to play Batman. He’ll have to bulk up a lot to play the part. I’m not sure millions of people will pay a lot of money to see him as the caped crusader.

What next, Kristen Stewart as Wonder Woman?


public domain 

That might attract a few people.

But who would play Superman?


photo by Eva Rinaldi

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Review - Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time by Michael Palin


Michael Palin’s chief fame comes from his being a performer and lead writer for the comedy group Monty Python. Since then, he’s served as the president of the Royal Geographical Society and has produced travel documentaries such as Pole to Pole.

In Erebus: One Ship, Two Epic Voyages, and the Greatest Naval Mystery of All Time, Palin chronicles the work of the HMS Erebus and her sister ship the HMS Terror as they explore the “Southern Ocean” and encounter the forbidding continent of Antarctica.



The Erebus and the Terror head down to Antarctica no less than two times, stopping back in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) and New Zealand to renew supplies. One of their first sights was of a wholly unexpected active volcano, which they named after their ship—Mount Erebus. To quote from one of the logs, “It would Shew first with a volume of Smoke, as dark as Pitch which would gradually become of a lighter hue and then the Flame would burst forth with great fury for some time.” Then there was the eerie wall of ice two hundred feet high, that seemed to have no end. “McCormick clambered up to the crow’s nest, ‘but could see no termination to the great ice-wall, which we have named the Great Southern Barrier.’” That was just the edge of what is now called the Ross Ice Shelf, named after James Clark Ross, captain of the Erebus.

At one point, both of these wooden sailing ships were completely locked in by ice. They made the best of it by going out onto the ice and performing plays to maintain morale! It is hard to believe these ships survived the ice, the waves, the lightning, and other perils.

Later, the Erebus sailed north in an ill-fated attempt to find the Northwest Passage. Palin has less to recount here, since he has to piece together what happened from scraps of information.

So some application for science fiction writers (if you’re not one, ignore this paragraph): If you’re writing about ships in space, you can profit greatly from reading this sort of non-fiction—especially of older ships. There are gripping scenes of near disaster from forces far mightier than these ships. The feel of awe from encountering a volcano or the wall of ice are essential for good adventure fiction. On long voyages, something like a hologram deck or live plays would be a must for crew morale. And of course, there is the friction among officers as to who will be chosen for the glorious attempt to find the Northwest Passage.

All in all, Erebus is a beautiful book. Palin does the Royal Geographical Society proud.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Norwescon III Supplemental


So as promised, here is the most beautiful cosplayer at Norwescon.

This is Torrey Stenmark. I’ve somehow become a fan along the way. Here she is as Captain Marvel.

[click to enlarge]

I was surprised she was able to make the costume so quickly after the Captain Marvel movie. She was on a panel in which she spoke quite conversationally about the Marvel Universe and costuming, despite being in such a heavy-duty outfit.

The next day, I saw a woman in an intriguing costume, complete with helmet. I asked if I could take a picture, and she immediately went into a pose.


Later, I realized they’re the SAME PERSON. It was Torrey again. This happened to me last year, when I took pictures of her as Power Girl, and I didn’t recognize her.


So I knew ahead of time she was going to appear as Galadriel this year. Still, I was stunned when she debuted.



She knows how to pose with gestures appropriate for the character.



This view from the back shows the elaborate work involved. Keep in mind, she makes the costumes herself.


Here she is, breaking character to show off her 1st Place award. And no one can deny she earned it.

[Permission granted to use any photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Norwescon II Supplemental


As promised, here are some of the cosplayers from Norwescon.

We’ll start with a fairy.

[click to enlarge]

At least, that’s what she resembles. I assume she’s some sort of magical being.

Now we have someone who was all armored up.


Keep in mind, it’s not a real gun. Some attendees do bring edged weapons, and those are peace-bonded, using the same thick plastic used in plastic handcuffs.

Now we have a winged being.


I’m not going to assume this is a fairy. Use some imagination.

I’ll pause from the amusing narrative. Some of these folks work all year on their costumes. The attention to detail is impressive. If you attend a convention like this, the polite thing to do is ask permission to take a picture, then show it to the person after it’s snapped.           

I asked, but the I took this picture when her eyes were shut. (I actually kind of like it.)


Thanks to the miracle of smart phones, I could quickly see my error and take another one.


She was a good sport.

And here is the Star Trek couple.


They were as cute as they look.

Here we have an elegant woman.


I’m guessing such outfits are incredibly hot after a while.

This is a member of the sheriff’s office. For real. She was patrolling in the hotel.


They say they get mistaken for cosplayers.

She could always protect us from the Dalek.


It actually moved around at a good rate.

So tomorrow, I’ll have the most beautiful cosplayer.

[Permission granted to use any photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Norwescon I Supplemental


Norwescon is an annual science fiction and fantasy convention held in SeaTac (to the south of Seattle) each year. If you’ve never been to one, it’s a lot like other business conventions (except for cosplayers—more on that later).

For instance, there are many booths on the floor.


This one was for the Renaissance Faire.

And there are panels. This was one was on YA (young adult) writing. I don’t write that, but I like to go to such panels because the writers are so dynamic.



Fonda Lee, G.S. (Gabrielle) Prendergast, Marta Murvosh, and Brenna Clarke Gray. Marta Murvosh is asking aspiring writers to raise their hands. I couldn’t because, you know, camera. Apologies to Spencer Ellsworth, whom I couldn’t include in the shot.

Brenna Clarke Gray explained to me afterwards that YA has a maximum age of eighteen for protagonists. A protagonist age twenty to twenty-two would not work.

Novels with protagonists in their early to mid-twenties are called NA (new adult) by some. There is an expectation of a certain amount of sexuality, and if not, some discussion as to why there is no sexual activity.

Another panelist was Cat Rambo.


She emphasized that all writers need agents to read and understand the publishers’ contracts. Publishing houses try to get all the rights they can from the writer—for instance, rights to audiobooks. But if that publishing house has no history of doing audiobooks, the author needs to retain those rights or have the publishing house spell out in detail how an audiobook of the novel is going to be made.

But writers need to learn about contracts. Also, writers need to understand the agents’ contracts. Ultimately, it is the writer who signs the contracts and is responsible.

Rhiannon Held was also there.


She’s a professional archaeologist known for urban fantasy. Now she’s starting to do space opera.

The Artist Guest of Honor was Tran Nguyen.


Look at her art and be astounded. 

So my next entry will have cosplayers.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Conan Meets the Wizard of Oz


I was watching the movie Conan the Destroyer (not the first one, the reprehensible Conan the Barbarian), when I realized it had strong similarities to The Wizard of Oz. This might sound insane at first, but as I watched it again, the similar plot points were astonishing. Note that characters slide around, e.g., sometimes Conan is Dorothy, sometimes the Princess is. See if you think this is just coincidental. (The first few comparisons may seem unremarkable, but the whole is greater than the parts. And obviously, these are spoilers.)  



The Wizard of Oz starts with Dorothy running on a road.
Conan the Destroyer starts with soldiers galloping on horseback.

Dorothy descends from a tornado.
Soldiers on horseback descend on Conan in a plain.

Dorothy sings of over the rainbow (out of sequence)
Witch-Queen promises Conan to bring back the dead Valeria.

Dorothy greeted enthusiastically by Munchkins.
Conan greeted enthusiastically by crowd.

Evil Witch threatens Dorothy.
Witch-Queen plots to sacrifice Princess.

Good Witch sends Dorothy on her way.
Witch-Queen sends Conan and Princess on their way.

Dorothy acquires three companions: Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.
Conan acquires three companions: Thief = Cowardly Lion, Wizard = Scarecrow, Female Warrior = Tin Man.

Dorothy falls into a perilous sleep.
Princess falls asleep and is snatched away.

Confrontation with high gatekeeper of Oz.
Confrontation with wizard in high castle.

Dorothy and companions get spiffed up.
Princess and companions tend to each other’s wounds.

Dorothy meets the great big fiery head of the Wizard of Oz.
Princess walks into a great big mouth through blazing fire.

Attack of the flying monkeys.
Attack of the guardians of the horn.

Funny pratfall by Lion (out of sequence)
Funny battle of wizards.

Dorothy taken.
Princess taken.

Companions go after Dorothy.
Companions go after Princess.

Evil Witch prepares for Dorothy’s death using a red hourglass.
Witch-Queen prepares Princess for sacrifice using red wine.

Sneaking into the castle.
Sneaking into the palace.

Castle battle.
Palace battle.

Evil Witch killed abruptly.
Witch-Queen killed abruptly.

Dorothy brings Evil Witch’s broom to Wizard of Oz; confrontation with the Wizard.
Princess brings horn to evil god (out of sequence); Conan battles evil god.

Wizard gives gifts to each companion.
Princess invites each companion into her service.

Wizard tries to take Dorothy home by balloon; Dorothy steps out of carriage.
Princess asks Conan to rule with her; Conan goes off to find his own kingdom.

Dorothy returns home.
Conan eventually gains his own kingdom.



Obviously, Conan the Destroyer is its own story, with needless violence every so often. And the character of Bombaata, who betrays them, is unique to that movie. But do I think this proves the writers used The Wizard of Oz for their basic plot? Perhaps, perhaps not. At the least, it shows the lack of originality in Hollywood.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Astronaut Suit Does not Fit


Okay, March 29 was supposed to be a historic moment in space: the first all-female spacewalk. Astronauts Christina Koch and Anne McClain were scheduled to go out of the International Space Station—not as a stunt; it just so happened with the crew rotation that it would be two women and no man.

But Anne McClain decided to pass. She felt uncomfortable wearing the large spacesuit, and they only had one medium spacesuit, which Christina Koch would wear. See the account here.


Generic Spacesuit
photo by Adam Jones

One day they probably will have an all-female spacewalk—but not for the sake of being all-female. Whatever is practical.

So I’m going to use this as a lead-in for an excerpt from my novel manuscript, Alpha Shift. Christina has been badly hurt, but she has to pull on a flexible spacesuit.

#

Undressing was not difficult. Dressing was hard. The exo suit was a one-piece, bulky with compressed air on the back, that had to go on properly. A sloppy job would still be airtight, but it would crimp and pull tightly in the most private parts.

The most expedient thing to do was lie down on the deck. That eased her back while leaving her particularly vulnerable. Then there was the long effort to pull the thing on left-handed while twinging her tailbone and jarring the hot-and-cold packs on her right elbow and shoulder enough to pepper her vision with red spots of pain. Try as she might, she couldn’t help huffing and moaning with the effort.

In the end Christina  stood, reeking of bitter sweat, panting, suit not quite closed.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Your WiFi Password Hacked from Your Lightbulbs


So you have your WiFi password all secured, right? Now you feel confident enough to set up your smart light bulbs to go on or off or even dim at your command. If you’re really smart enough, you can set them to dim or brighten to match what you’re watching on TV, like reruns of Star Trek or your DVDs of Babylon 5. And everything is secure, right? Think again.






photo by Elgato

Your smart bulbs store your WiFi password. If you casually throw away these bulbs, any enterprising info thief can dumpster dive and derive your password from these innocent bulbs. And it pretty much goes downhill from there. This was pointed out by boingboing, but if you want the profanity-free summary, go to this forum.

This flaw may be a key plot point to one of my future stories. Do you want to sneak into a secure facility? Get one of the discarded lightbulbs (or something that seems just as innocuous), hack into the security system, then make sure the system doesn’t sense you. Just make sure you use your power for good.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Backstreet Like It’s 1999


I’m going to see the Captain Marvel movie for research purposes. It’s set in the 1990s, which they make very clear in the trailer by having her crash-land into a Blockbuster’s video store in the trailer. So . . . what’s the research?

One of my urban fantasy novels, Werewolf in the Fold, is set squarely in 1999. The following scene has James walking through the drab brown cubicles of his office—yes, that’s how they looked before the nicer gray cubicles came in. There are no werewolves in this scene. Or are there?

#

He passed a brown corner that had suddenly sported a bumper sticker that read “I am the Anti-Spice.” What? The Spice Girls had imploded a couple years ago. Now there was the crappy rivalry between The Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, which had led to the festering growth of other boy bands. James wanted to remark about being stuck making fun of an old fad, if only he knew the joker who had placed it there well enough to—

He felt eyes on his back. James looked over his shoulder at some cubicles near Robert’s office. A couple women were talking to each other, heads visible over the cubicle wall that divided their desks. But they were looking at him and grinning, as if they approved of his scent.


I AM THE
ANTI-SPICE




Thursday, February 28, 2019

Movie Review: Happy Death Day 2U


Happy Death Day 2U is a satire of slasher movies. If you saw the first movie (which I reviewed here), you’ll get some of the references, but it’s fine to watch as a standalone.

Tree (Jessica Rothe), the main character, had the misfortune of being targeted by a serial killer. Every time she died, she woke up on the same morning, to relive that day and get killed again.

But this time around she notices some details are different, like someone not walking into a room. Then she notices a lot of things are different, including who was in on the serial killings. But why? She discovers a few lab rats on her campus have bungled a quantum time machine, which has shifted her to an alternate universe.

So this time around, it’s not just a matter of screaming and running around to stop the serial killer to break the time loop. It’s a sideways hot mess as they guess their way around and through the multiverse.

The trailer showed too much, so here is an interview with Jessica Rothe with the quantum machine in the background.


Happy Death Day 2U is one of those rare comedy sequels that is funnier than the original. It’s especially hilarious to see how screaming mad Tree is when she finds herself in the loop—again. They changed the genre so that it is not just horror and comedy, but also science fiction. They not only play around with the wacky alternate reality, but it increases the tension with each attempt to solve the quantum dilemma.

The first movie rested entirely on Jessica Rothe’s shoulders. But now there are multiple people trying to figure out what is going on, each contributing to the humor.

Do not make the mistake of walking out when the credits roll. There is a remarkably long set of scenes after them, ala the Marvel Universe.

As a caution, Tree decided to kill herself a few times rather than getting murdered. Her suicides are funny, but if you or someone you know should not watch that sort of thing, be cautious.



Friday, February 22, 2019

Israeli Moon Mission


Today, Israel launched its first moon mission. If successful, the tiny spacecraft will make Israel the fourth nation to land a probe on the moon. (I would list the first three, but that would be telling.) It will also be the first time a private company landed a probe on the moon, as opposed to a government.

The spacecraft is named Beresheet. This is a transliteration of the first word in the Bible. In Western transliterations, it is usually spelled Bereshith. It means “In the beginning,” and that is the Hebrew name for Genesis.

Since I can’t get a public domain picture of the spacecraft, here is the first part of Genesis:



Since Hebrew goes from right to left, Bereshith, or בּרּאּשּיּתּ  is the first word to the left of the number 1. (There are too many dagheshes in the letters, but this is what I had to work with.)

So go to the moon, little craft. And the rest of you read Genesis. It’s good for you.


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