Saturday, December 14, 2019

Movie Review: Richard Jewell

Richard Jewell is named after the security guard who spotted a backpack bomb in Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. He saved an immense amount of lives by running around, warning the crowd to evacuate. The movie tells the true story of how he was falsely accused of being the bomber.

Jewell fit the profile of someone who would plant a bomb to then become a hero by finding it: He was white, male, and had a lifelong dream of becoming a police officer. The FBI distrusted such wannabe cops. The local paper managed to get a leak of the investigation, then ran with the story. Because of that, the FBI was under pressure to resolve things quickly, so they ramped up the pressure on him.

If my description of the movie seems simple, it’s because the movie tells his story in a plain, straight-forward manner. There are no plot gimmicks or forced melodrama. It simply shows what happened.

Paul Walter Hauser should get an Oscar nomination for his performance. Hauser completely becomes Richard Jewell, a working-class hero who has no idea how to grapple with the forces out to destroy him. And Kathy Bates as his longsuffering mother is amazing as she shows the anguish she went through.

Clint Eastwood produced and directed. He has complete credibility for this sort of movie. Those of you who are old enough will remember the saying, “It took Nixon to go to China.” That is, President Nixon was so thoroughly anti-Communist before and during his presidency, he could go and open relations with Communist China without the American people thinking he was betraying us. In the same way, Clint Eastwood as an actor is most famously known as his Dirty Harry character, who had to unflinchingly use lethal force to deal with the worst of street criminals. Obviously, Clint Eastwood is not anti-law enforcement. But he can show how horrible things can become when law enforcement goes out of control.

One of the FBI agents does say something interesting in the movie. A profile is just “a jumping-off point.” It’s just a start, but then they need evidence. Watch the movie and see if they ever have any.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Pearl Harbor Day—A day that will live in . . . ignorance?

These were real conversations that took place years ago in a previous workplace on a December 7th. After all, the people I work with can’t be this ... Well, we’ll see. The conversations were so remarkable, I jotted them down at the time.

photo by Stan Shebs 

Worker: Do you know what the significance of December 7th is?
Co-Worker #1: No.

Worker: Think: What happened in December 7th?
Co-Worker #1: The stock market crashed.

Worker: You are kidding me! This is the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Co-Worker #1: Well, that was before my era. That was your era.

Worker: Wait a minute! I wasn’t born in the 40’s.
Co-Worker #1: Well, we didn’t study about that in school. We studied things like World War II.

Worker: Pearl Harbor was a part of World War II!
Co-Worker #1: Well, we didn’t study that. We studied about the fighting and stuff.

Worker: That was part of the fighting! That was how we got into the war.
Co-Worker #1: Well, I know.

Then, maybe a minute later:

Worker: Can you tell me what day is today?
Co-Worker #2: Your birthday?

Worker: No, what happened today, December 7th?
Co-Worker #2: I know what happened on December 8th. John Lennon died.

Still later:

Worker: Can you tell me what happened today, December 7th, in history?
Co-Worker #3: I don’t know.

Worker: Do you know?
Co-Worker #3: VJ Day?

Worker: Well, you’re the closest

What’s remarkable about these conversations is the co-workers show a level of intelligence, using words like “era,” remembering the date of John Lennon’s death, making a guess about VJ Day. But these people were stunningly ignorant about the obvious.

These conversations occurred before smartphones were around, so they can’t be blamed for lowering the IQs of these people. (This was from a very old piece of paper I unearthed while sorting through old things. It proved very timely for today.)

It reminds me of a girl in high school who was authentically dumb. (If this offends you, start your own blog and describe dumb guys.) In our junior or senior year, a huge map of Europe had been displayed on the chalkboard for the entire semester of our history class. It had the word “Europe” in large, black letters, curving across the entire continent.

public domain
Something like this, but with the letters larger and
going in a graceful curve across the continent

For some reason, she was standing towards the front of the class and staring at the map. She stared, stared, stared, looking increasingly confused. Finally she asked the teacher, “Where’s America on this map?”

The teacher paused for a moment to collect herself, then said calmly, “That’s a map of Europe.”

Without any hint of embarrassment or self-reproach, she said, “Oh.” She continued to stare at the map.

To her credit, she seemed to be well-liked.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Amazon Lockers vs. The Porch Pirates

Just to be upfront, I prefer ordering books from Barnes & Noble. But I have to admit, the Amazon lockers can be a lifesaver. Here in the Seattle area, we have a bad case of the porch pirates: Scummy people who steal delivery boxes right off a person’s front porch. They’re just looking for electronics or other valuables. If it turns out to be a book or DVD, these creeps probably just toss it. With Amazon lockers nearby I can go there, put in a code I was sent, and access my package.

Before that, three deliveries were stolen from my doorstep. One was a DVD that isn’t being made anymore. Water, starring Michael Caine, was one of the funniest movies ever made.

Sure, I can buy the horribly expensive copies left on Amazon, or some cheaper version that will only play on a German DVD player.

A book I lost that really irks me is And the Beagles and the Bunnies Shall Lie Down Together. This was a collection of all the Peanuts comic strips that quoted the Bible.

Wait. I saw just now I can get it again on Amazon for not too big of a price. See ya.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Return of the 50-Foot Woman

Okay, that title was to catch the eye. But I like how the giant movie posters have returned to the Alderwood Mall 16 move theater. For months, the giant frames for posters have been empty. Now the posters have returned for the holiday season. The walkway with a railing below the posters lets you know how big they are.

click to enlarge

I think one movie is meant for men, and the other for women. But which is which?

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Zombie Flash Mob

Redmond, Washington is the home of Microsoft, berry picking, and zombies. I’ll let you guess which is the scariest.

For zombies, the Redmond Town Center had the annual Thrill the World Event today. Just like last year (see my post), I got there early. I suddenly realized this fellow was in the back seat of the car next to mine. I’m not kidding.

People were just dying to get in there.

So here’s the official banner.

Quite a crowd showed up.

click to enlarge any of these pictures

Notice the non-zombie people on the upper level watching. Redmond Town Center is a nice outdoor mall with a large Marriot inside. I noticed a couple people walking by dressed very professionally, and other people just come to visit the stores. I heard one man ask, “Why are there so many zombies?

Here’s a zombie nurse.

And here’s another one. I could say the shadow on her face is symbolic . . .

. . . but really, she was trying to get the sun out of her eyes. 

The chiropractor was in. 

Seriously. Chiropractor. 

Here are some of the winners for best zombie makeup.

And here’s a zombie family.

The kids were moving around, so the mother’s face was blocked.

Maleficent was also there.

I think the zombies would have been afraid of her.

Edward Scissorhands and Kim paid a visit.

Isn't it weird when Wonder Woman photobombs your picture? 

How was your day? 

For my review of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, click here
[Permission granted to use any photo on this post, so long as it is labeled “Photo by Mark Murata”]

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.

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


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!


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”]


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