Do You Love Good Quality Original Movies?

Then go see Inception.

This is a test from Hollywood. Is it time to go back to producing big, original movies or do we continue to turn existing properties, like Marmaduke and View-Master into movies?

If Inception bombs we won’t see any big original movies for quite some time – unless they are funded by directors who can afford to do so, like James Cameron and George Lucas. You’re going to see more movies like Battleship and Disney rides? (See, I’m fair, they aren’t ALL terrible attacks on the art form)

So, go see Inception this weekend.

Not just for these reasons. See it because it’s supposed to be great. I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard good things. It is a gripping good sci-fi drama. It’s not as cerebral as you might think. It does ask a lot from the viewer, but there is a solid story that is easy to follow too. It’s Chris Nolan (Dark Knight, Memento) at the top of his game.

So, don’t just see Inception to help ensure that future movies will take more risks. See it because it will do this and because it’s an excellent film.

Go see Inception. And see it soon.

Getting Ahead to Fall Behind

By the end of last weekend I had most of the week of blog posts laid out. I felt pretty good. Finally, I wouldn’t need to cram in some time at night for a post the next morning.

And now it’s Friday. Oops, where does the time go?

One of the things I’m getting out of this is a deadline. Deadlines keep me moving. Whether they are aggressive or not, it doesn’t seem to matter. In college, I was a prolific writer. But no one ever taught us how to keep that momentum going. My advisor, in the class she taught, tried. She had a journal exercise. A page a day, turn it in at certain intervals to check that we’d been doing it. There wasn’t much to it, and that was part of the problem. There was no context. While the purpose was obvious, it was hard to really feel the gravity of it.

Perhaps part of the problem was the lack of rules. Write anything, just fill the page. It’s like asking someone what they’d like to eat, “Ah, it doesn’t matter. Just fill the plate.” What a pointless waste. Where’s the enjoyment in that? What art is born from that?

So that daily deadline lost importance. And it turned out, when I showed her my mostly empty notebook, it didn’t really have an impact in my performance in the class either.

But there is value in just filling your plate. Just writing whatever to fill a page is the basic nutrients of a writer. Just doing something creative is the nutrients of a creator. A friend recently talked about dabbling in different creative areas, moving on as soon as another one started to grab his attention. That’s just as important, if not more so, to the creative mind. Especially one that is being tended and nurtured.

We tell ourselves that these things are not important. If we’re not working on a novel, or painting, or composing a new song – whatever it may be – then we’re falling behind on our potential. Like so many things, that’s putting the destination ahead of the journey. You don’t even need a destination, but if you do, it’s perfectly fine to stop and doodle on the roses.

And that’s what I was missing from that lesson. The short stories and poems were easy because they fit into my image of the destination. Journal writing was hard because it seemed completely beside the point. The deadline also didn’t seem to matter, it was nebulous. There was the idea I could catch up, and then I found out the professor wasn’t enforcing it very hard.

But with this blog, I’ve got a deadline every day. Even when I relaxed a bit after getting farther ahead than I’d managed in the month and a half I’ve been doing this, I still had it on my mind. Although I wasn’t finding the time directly, I kept thinking of potential spaces of time. A little bit in the morning? This evening after work? A lump of writing on Sunday? More and more, gaps in my schedule become potential space to set aside to write. And a lot of that has to do with this being open to the public.

Let yourself get ahead. Find out what sort of deadline structure works for you. Maybe it’s starting a blog, or joining a writers group (or a group of another creative stripe). Perhaps you just need to wake up a half hour early and do something creative for a half-hour without stepping into your normal morning routine first. Find out what works. Try multiple paths. There is no wrong way except to prevent yourself from going any way.

If you have a structure that had worked for you, leave a comment about it and let me know.

Deal.

“Let’s meet up after work at the casino.”

Deal.

“Hey, you never showed up!”

Deal.

“I just wanted to play some poker with you. I brought a new deck of cards.”

Deal.

“Can you believe they were only two bucks?”

Deal!

“Instead of gambling to make money, I was thinking about selling drugs.”

Deal.

Mirrored Sands, Part 7

The rulers of the ancient Empire of the Cultivators
Were powerful beings.
And decadent.

The Bright Soul Order’s primary purpose
Was to prevent
And destroy
Any technology that could result in their return.

They call them the Corruptors.
They say their power was great enough to
Warp space and bend time.
They say that when they were overthrown,
They uploaded their
Minds
Directly into the energy field of space-time.

They say if we are not vigilant, they will return.
And this time, We
Will not
Be able
To
Stop
Them.

This level of technology is
Precisely why
Their ruins are so formidable.
If one could get past sealed entries
Internal security defenses would almost certainly stop you.

Kamuel Martek knew this.
He knew the tales and legends
Better than almost anyone.
He knew that only a few individuals
In the past millennia
Have managed to breach a ruin
And come out
And their names are legends for it.
Only a few survived, out of millions who
Must have tried.

Raim and his squad lead the way
As Martek considered all this.

They stood under the shadow
And saw
That the massive doors of the ruins, sealed permanently for the past thousand years,
Were open.

A deep blue glow pulsed from inside the ruins.
No silver dust
Touched the floors inside
In sharp contrast to the way
It coated everything else.

The first member of the squad of Stellars
Died
When a grid of lasers suddenly flared to life
And diced him in a slice of a second.
The second died soon after
As they tried to discover the trigger.
The third collapsed when trying a door
Life and thought gone
From his eyes.
An automaton
With saw blades for hands
Took three more
Before it was disabled.

Martek was not unfamiliar with violence
Even as a priest.
Though the violence of war was unappealing
And he was practiced in non-lethal techniques
He has been among soldiers and police
Doing their best
In hard situations.

But this.
This was too much.
They were down to three.
The puzzle of the open doors aside
Even if Jrak made it this far
He must certainly be dead.
It would be better to wait outside.
Damn Raim and his kill shot.

Martek was about to give the order to pull back.
However, they turned a corner and saw
Prichard Jrak.

He was wearing the same business suit he was wearing in the tape.
But his skin was glowing radiantly.
His eyes burned like stars.
He had stopped and turned his head
To look right at them.
“I didn’t do anything!”
He called to them.

“Then let’s talk.
I’m here to help,” Martek said.
But it’s not what he thought.
The legends said the Corruptors
Had bodies
Composed of plasma and flame.

“Don’t come any closer,”
Jrak said. Fear filled his voice.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”

“Then don’t.”
Martek said as Jrak turned and
Held his hand up to a panel in the wall.
A faint glow of energy flowed between his hand and the wall, and
Doors opened in front of him.

Raim and the last soldier ran after him.
Martek chased after them.
The soldiers dropped into a firing position and opened fire.
“No wait!” Martek said.
Too late.

Blisters of energy fire from their rifles hit Jrak
In the head, body, legs.
He flinched and grimaced.
But where huge chunks of flesh should have been burned away
And left gaping black holes
Jrak had only red welts.

He turned around and walked to Raim and his last man
Still under fire.
He grabbed the soldier’s rifled who let go of it, as it started to turn red and bend from heat.
He swung the rifle into Raim’s helmet, which cracked and fused with melted parts of the rifle.
Raim bounced off the wall and collapsed.
Jrak turned back to the soldier just in time to see him draw his service pistol,
But Jrak was still faster, grabbing the soldier by the throat and tossing him
down the hall.
The man landed with a crack. His neck laid at a disturbing angle.

Jrak stared down Martek, breathing heavy and tense.
“Walk away while you can, holy man. I just want to be left alone.”

Martek did not walk away.

Agribears, Part 3

I often get up early to watch them. Outside of my apartment window, looking through the city, I would see them moving slowly in the golden light. They say we have about sixteen agribears in the city. The exact total seems to vary by a number or two with each new count. Apparently their boughs blend in with each other from satellite photos and anything closer to the ground makes it tough to get around to them without them moving around. Even surveys sent out with a person monitoring one agribear each often comes up with differing results. It’s strange to think they move fast when we’re not looking or are able to escape our notice at times.

The cublings were released by the hundreds, if not thousands. Many kids had them, and for a couple of years they sold out as soon as a new litter was grown and put up for sale. There would have been millions if they had all grown, but that’s not what happened. One day, they got up and began gathering. In cities across the nation, in parks, in parking lots, dozens and hundreds of cublings wandered together. There are pictures from everywhere showing them merging together. Cublings climbed on each other and became one larger single entity. With each cubling, they turned into something bigger until they reached the size of the agribears we have today. It’s pretty sad to hear about the people who kept their cublings locked up inside, or restrained some how during the gathering. Each one of them that were held back died later that same day. Now, cublings aren’t very popular because they die after only a few years. I suppose that’s another reason why the market bottomed out on plant-animal hybrid attempts. What sort of side effects would the next breakthrough bring?

The pun is agribears started out small. My dad named his Smokey because he thought it was clever, but it was the third most popular name after Pooh and Yogi. He says sometimes he can see Smokey in the way an agribear looks at him. We’re not even sure if it’s the same one. Maybe it doesn’t need to be. They are so massive, yet so gentle. My dad says that you can feel the world is different with them in it, different as night and day.

There’s another pun that says the agribears were a big change. People my dad’s age never smirk, or snicker, or even roll their eyes when you say that, though. They take a deep breath and look to the horizon.

Agribears, Part 2

Like most people my age, we didn’t really pay that much attention to them. They were just part of the background. When I was about twelve, I was in a tree with a friend of mine. We were building a tree house in his backyard with pieces of wood we were able to find left over from his dad’s own home improvement projects. A bucket of assorted nails hung from a branch within reach as we worked on different sections. I pounded the nails as I formed the floor of what soon would be our ultimate fortress.

Despite their size, agribears move very quietly. I can’t be sure when it arrived, if it was attracted by the hammering or something else. When I reached for the bucket to get some more nails I extended myself just a little too far. Gravity took hold of me as I grabbed onto the rim of the bucket. There I was, my body held precariously over ten feet off the ground. My feet strained to support me as my hands clutched the bucket. I barely heard the bucket crack as it broke free, the handle tearing from the plastic body and the last thing holding me up along with it. The fall was quick, and I felt a firm snap in my arm when I landed.
As pain shot through my arm and I let out a scream of pain, I heard the rustling of leaves and branches. A wooden snout of an agribear was peering down at me before I fully realized that my arm was surely broken. I could swear it was looking at me, too. I know they don’t have pupils, their eyes being just the same color of tan bark as the rest of their body, but I felt it looking at me still. Its nose touched me and the pain was gone. Just as quickly as it came, its head pulled back, blended with the tree branches it had reached through, and then disappeared. My friend’s mom still took me to the hospital, but my arm wasn’t broken, or even bruised, and I felt fine.

Most people seem to think stories like that are made up. They don’t believe the agribears can heal people. But I’ve heard how busy hospitals used to be in the old days, and I don’t think they are less busy today because the agribears are stopping people from getting hurt. Like the doctor back then, he tried to convince me that the agribear must have caught me, that the shock of the fall made me imagine the pain as I was gently set down. I know what happened though. If only I could show that the agribears are much more than they appear.

Oakland Riots After the Mehserle Verdict De-Sensationalized

I’m not here to go over the verdict against Johannes Mehserle regarding the shooting of Oscar Grant was read yesterday. You can get more detailed news on that elsewhere.

I live in downtown Oakland, just a couple of blocks from the main street of Broadway. Needless to say, I was a little concerned about potential rioting and how widespread it would be. I’d been keeping a close eye on events as they transpired last night. Yobie Benjamin was a big help on keeping tabs on the ground.

Mainly I want to help turn down the sensationalism in the media. There are a lot of pictures of broken windows and grafitti. And there’s a lot of focus on the anarchists, and the smoke bombs, and police threats. That paints a poor picture of the true events.

It started with the verdict being read at about 4pm. Many Oakland businesses closed early. Many store fronts boarded up their windows. People went home. Bart stations were packed. They were holding people outside of the pay gates to prevent overcrowding of the platforms. So, imagine how packed the trains were.

Announcements that demonstrations were going to start at 6pm started going around. Some protesters showed up before. Protest sizes grew from around 100 at around 5pm to at least 1,000 (possibly around 1,500) by 7:30. There was a lot of anger and a lot of speeches. And a large police presence. The 12th street Bart station was shut down.

But it stayed pretty calm. People vented. The police didn’t interfere. There were a few arrests, mostly passive resistors in the tried and true process of getting arrested at a non-violent protest. The police did a good job of letting the people assemble, and not overstepping their boundaries. The protesters did a great job of not being overly antagonistic against the police presence. With all the high emotions and that it can only take one or two people to spark something off, and that this matter has Police vs People at the core, this was very well done. The worst I heard was an early incident of a rock being thrown, but that was it. Along with the anger, the common message in the crowd was: keep it peaceful, keep it non-violent.

As it got close to dark, people moved down to the police station to protest. Hundreds stayed though, and the police moved to clear the area. A lot of the newer arrivals as it got dark had their faces covered with black masks or bandanas, which is typical of anarchists. They weren’t there to protest. They were there to take advantage of the high emotions and the potential chaos. On the flip side though, were the remaining protesters. Many of them were shouting “This is our city, don’t ruin it!” to these trouble makers.

It’s clear that, despite the anger and the protests and the sheer outrage, no one was interested in public destruction or creating more violence.

As the sun set, things started to get uglier. Many windows were broken in a small area. Graffiti was sprayed with messages like “No Justice” and “Our Streets” around. Looting of a Foot Locker started relatively early. By the end of the day, a few more stores were broken into – a Rite Aid, a few jewelry stores, a Sears possible. Although outside of the footlocker, it sounds like minimal looting occurred in those other stores, if any, though. I also heard the police presence was huge, possibly even outnumbering the protesters.

So, when you see the pictures of a few “protesters” dragging burning garbage cans or standing in a dramatic pose, and all of them at night, take a look as ask if they might be protesters or trouble makers who came in from out of town. And as you see pictures of the clean up, broken windows and graffitti walls, keep in mind that these few incidents came after most of the over one thousand protesters left in peace, and are select images showing the clean up. You aren’t going to see pictures of the intact windows, except incedentally in the background.

Out of those thousands, there were around 80 arrests. Almost all of them were arrested peacefully and passively, making a defiant statement against those in power. Maybe a dozen or so did no go quietly. Well over 80% even when faced with arrest, did it calmly. Remember that too.

Our society is not perfect. But, when we treat each other with respect and in the interests of peace and non-violence, we can do good things even in times of raw emotion and anger, even when we have the power to silence those who are angry at us because of a terrible tradgedy.

Last night, the people of Oakland, the police of Oakland along with state police and other agencies, and even some of those coming in out of town to express their anger, they all tried to be perfect. And I think, they did a really good job of it. I hope the family of Oscar Grant gets the justice they need, and I thank those who came out in outrage and sorrow and resentment for doing their best to keep the peace.

We’re not perfect, but we can still try to be.

Agribears, Part 1

The pun is that the agribears started out small. My dad had a cubling when he was growing up. The pet plants were amazing to scientists, but most people didn’t think much more of them than some new craze. No different than the introduction of the hula-hoop or cell phones. Especially now that they watch over us, it’s just a part of everyday life.

But the bridge built between the plant and animal kingdoms was a remarkable breakthrough. The subsequent attempts seem to have gained more attention than the initial creation, announced by a new biogenetic start up company pushing some new idea of vegetable herds or pet flowers. None of them succeeded in producing anything. It’s those failed attempts that make them seem even more significant. Why would brown bear and maple tree genes combined create something so innovative when endless attempts at things like poodle roses or tomato cows result in nothing at all?

They first were marketed as a new easy to care for pet. They were small, around two feet tall when they stood up, and their bark was extremely soft and fluffy. A few small branches poked out of their back and on top of their head with at most two or three leaves. Aside from resembling the shape of bears, they looked nothing like the agribears as they are now: the forty foot giants that slowly move through the city, the long snouts, and huge boughs thick with leaves that extend up out of their head and upper back. Though their bark hardened with age, they’re still pretty soft. They still have the same blank expressions that look peaceful, non-threatening, and neutral.

Thoughts on OnLive

OnLive promises to revolutionize gaming.

OnLive is a new online gaming distribution platform. Unlike existing other online game deliver services (such as Steam and Impulse), where you purchase and download games, OnLive skips the download process by streaming the games directly to you. When this was first announced, I knew it was the start of something big. Well, over a year later, it’s finally out to the public and you can put your name into the hat for the early subscriber program. They seem to be controlling the addition of new users to keep the system from getting overloaded, but the wait time for me was less than a day.

Though, I wondered. I know that this method of distribution will be big, maybe OnLive couldn’t pull it off. Maybe they’re ahead of their time. Friends much more knowledgeable than me about network data structures were extremely skeptical. If they were right, that was only a problem for today. In the next 5 or 10 years, internet speeds would be up to a manageable place. OnLive promised they could, but a lot of companies make promises abut goals they can’t hit.

To give you an idea of the technological hurdles, OnLive requires about an 80 millisecond latency between you, the user, and their server, which could be hundreds of miles away. Most internet usage, from email to streaming videos and FarmVille don’t have any latency requirements. Games that do, like online racing, shooter, and roleplaying games usually can function just fine in the 200 millisecond range, although often these games have local servers where you can find a very low latency. OnLive doesn’t have the advantage of letting users set up thousands of local servers spread around the world, so a target of 80 is an ambitious one.

The reason 80 is important is because they figure it to be the total milliseconds your brain will forgive. Much longer than that and it will become more noticeable that the response time is off. From a click on your keyboard or control, to the time it takes to get to their servers, processed by the game on their computer, then the display gets compressed and sent back to you, a lot of milliseconds are eaten up by all of that. There is not much room for a power outage in Nebraska or your neighbor to download the entire run of Hill Street Blues to get in the way of your game data.

I’ve been playing for a couple of days now. So, how is it?

The High Points

Well, I think they live up to their promises. I spent a lot of time in a shooter and a top down tower defense game. The speed and performance was nice. Although I’m only about 50 miles away from one of their server farms, still its nice to see that it works out of more controlled conditions. I noticed a bit of mouse lag in the tower defense game, but it was mainly when in the menu using the curse like a mouse. I suspect I’m a bit more sensitive to mouse hand-eye coordination, though. It never seemed a detriment to playing the game.

The interface is slick. Lots of video streaming and swooshing around. I really like their “background” interface which is a huge globe of streaming screens of individual play sessions.

And viewing those other players is much more compelling than I thought it would be. Jump into someone’s game and see what they’re up to. You might see some cool stuff. There’s also Brag clips, which are short videos you can make of your gameplay. You see some recent ones in any game’s menu, or browse them in general. It’s a cool way to show off accomplishments.

The potential for graphics is amazing. Because the software is not limited by your hardware, there’s the promise and possibility of future games that are developed with OnLive in mind. This means developers could take the graphics they display to a much higher level. Although something like this is a ways off. After OnLive becomes big and popular enough to influence the industry, then you’d need the development time, which would be at least one or two years. But still, it’s a cool prospect.

Multiplayer games hold a lot of promise too. First, if everyone is running their games at the same server farm, then there’s no worry about all that transmission to the player. Since all that’s coming back is video information, you could play games with a huge number of players. And future games would be able to take advantage of this in other ways, such as more complex interactions or detailed physics effects.

The Low Points

The video compression isn’t the greatest. The experience is like watching a YouTube video full screen. Sometimes the quality is really good, sometimes it’s not. At one point, the artifacting left shadows of the video, completely blurring what was going on in part of the screen for several seconds. I was looking for a way to increase the resolution. It’s not intolerable, but it takes the oomph out of the potential for the graphics. Of course, I’m comparing to my beefy PC which was built with games in mind. You can get the same results on a super cheap laptop, and that’s pretty impressive.

The price is the only other negative comment, but it’s a pretty big one. The current offer going on is the first year is free, so there is that to consider. The rate after that is $5 per month for the special Founder’s program they are running. I haven’t seen a price listed for what it will be after the program, so I wonder if the offer is going to continue for an indefinite period of time (despite claims that it ends on July 15th). On top of that, in order to play any game, you need to buy or rent it. Rentals run about $4 to $7 for a 3 or 5 day rental, and most game prices seem to be $20 to $30 (although some are as low as $5). The combination of these two systems is baffling. And worse, a deal breaker. I’m happy to play the game demos that I can, but dropping money into a subscription system seems odd. It’s like paying for cable and discovering all your channels are Pay-per-View or Premium. Or going to a video rental store (remember those?) and finding out there is a cover charge.

Online is going to have to change one of those two factors. I’d be happy to pay a higher subscription rate for unlimited access to the games within. That sounds like a great plan. The other option is to not have any subscription rate. That’s fine too, but they would need to get the game prices lowered. If I get a game on a service like Steam, there’s no guarantee that Steam will be around forever, but if they do go away, I’ll still have that digital download. Apple going out of business doesn’t clear out your iTunes library. So, it’s a big psychological hurdle to overcome. Digital downloads are already avoided by some, but when you don’t even possess the data that you’re purchasing, it’s yet another step away. I’m not sure what I’m comfortable spending, but I know it’s not $30.

The End Points

It’s really great to see this service out. I’m glad to see the technology prove itself. But, their pricing system just might do them in. Hopefully they have enough invested to course correct if necessary. I had wondered what they would do, and my worst fears were correct. I worried they’d try to go both ways, but I figured the CEO’s vacillating answers were ambivalence, not an actual plan to take the worst of both options. Although I imagine that much of it is not in their control. Hopefully some publishers will get it and not price their games so high in this new system. OnLive would do well to try and force this, or better yet, get a couple of high profile, do whatever it takes to put them up for free, and really drive the numbers of people aware of the system and lining up to play.

Which is another point, I’m on their mailing list as well as following their twitter and I had no idea that the service had launched. They seem to be taking soft launch to a whole new level.

Mirrored Sands, Part 6

Ruins of the Cultivators
Are not uncommon.

They spread to every system
Known and forgotten.

They catalogued every world
Every scrap of rock.

Wherever they went
They built.
Whatever they built
They defended.

The ashes of their empire
Have long since been buried.
But many Synaptein,
Fortresses of incredible power,
Remained.

The Synaptein of Mirror
Rose from the sparkling sands
Casting a long shadow.
It’s not as if all who entered
Never returned.
But civilizations that lacked
The awful firepower
To destroy such structures
Did not have to add any additional deterrents.

Lieutenant Raim was not a fool
Or a coward.
But he was also under orders
Given by a man whose job
Was mostly behind a desk
In a temple.

So when he said:
“Our quarry just ran in there,
No doubt.
He vaporized the hull of a deep space trade port.
Somehow sneaking the explosives to do so
Without triggering any sensors.
He then escaped,
Commandeering an unknown vehicle.
After surviving the explosion while standing on ground zero,
Without any kind of vacc-suit before the explosion,
Crossing at least a dozen meters of screaming fresh vaccuum
To the nearest emergency sealed access portal.

“With all due respect, sir,
I need you to stay the hell out of the way
Of me and my men.
We are considering the target
Extremely lethal and dangerous.
I can’t afford your psalms
Or pleas of non-violence
Or non-lethal martial arts
To get in the way of our chance
At a kill shot,”
Lt. Raim was just trying to remove all the variables.

Martek stepped aside
And let the squad move forward
Into the thickening shadows.
If Jrak could survive this place
They had a lot
More to worry about
Than basic strategies.