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 Much of the expedition’s discoveries went unpublished.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.


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