Monday, December 5, 2011

Whatever Gets Me Moving

Akane and I just finished watching Limitless on Netflix and I wasn't at all disappointed in the premise or execution. Really, it was a pleasant, if not confusing, surprise to find it on the streaming service -- hadn't the film come out just this year, maybe early summer? It's a distraction to check now, but I'm wondering if Limitless didn't do all that well at the box office. Sci-fi all too often doesn't, even when it stars Hollywood's Hot Young Thang, Mr. Bradley Cooper.

To tell the truth, Cooper's growing on me as a screen presence. He's versatile, playing comedy, dumb-as-bricks action and even some drama roles respectably well. And shit, can he nail the hyper-intellectual drugged-up jet set New York douchebag in Limitless like nobody else my mind can imagine. The guy speaks fluent French, too -- perhaps the source of his chops in this role. (I kid, I kid. Experience has taught me not to believe the prevailing public opinions about the French character.)

What I really enjoyed about the film (other than when Abbie Cornish used a little girl as an improvised melee weapon of last resort -- beautiful) was how it ended. That just can't be said about enough genre movies in my opinion. It had just the right amount of resolution to wrap things up for Cooper and Cornish's characters, yet doesn't leave so much dangling that there could have been a depressingly mediocre sequel. Thank goodness for minor miracles.

What's more, it left just the right amount of What Nows and What Ifs about the future of the movie's universe to set my mind racing and spark discussion between me and Akane. What is the fate of NZT, the drug that enhances Cooper's cognition? What will its effects be on society if/when it finally leaks? Will it widen or narrow the divide between the Haves/Have-Nots? Will it hasten a Singularity event?

I suppose the possibilities are...limitless.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Seventeen Years Later, I Am DONE With Star Trek: TNG

I've just finished reading James S.A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes, his first novel in the Expanse trilogy, and it's left my childhood love of Star Trek: The Next Generation in shambles.

It's a classic case of one media synergizing with the other at just the right time to give the consumer (me) a new outlook on what fiction could, or even should, be. The sea change in my mind happened suddenly and without willful input. Now, thanks to it, I may never watch another TNG episode ever again. (With the exception of Darmok and The Inner Light.)

Now, it really should be mentioned early that Leviathan and ST:TNG are in entirely different arenas of sci-fi, with the former falling into the "hard" sci-fi circle and the latter being a nearly perfect specimen of science fantasy. Leviathan takes place within the inner Solar System, mostly in the asteroid belt, and all the tech and physics are within our contemporary realm of understanding. Gravity is simulated by good, old fashioned acceleration, there is no faster-than-light travel, resources are precious -- that kind of thing.

But my issues with ST: TNG have less to do with genre and more to do with formatting and vision.

Mere hours after finishing the novel I had a spare 45-minutes and browsed through Netflix's ST:TNG offerings, deciding to screen Season 6, Episode 20, The Chase, after many years of missing it on late-night reruns. I recall the fond memories of it specifically from all those years ago. In this episode (and this is hardly a spoiler seeing as how this episode aired, dear God, eighteen years ago) Captian Picard's former archaeology mentor, Professor Galen, drops in and drops in the lap of the Enterprise crew a mystery spanning the entire Alpha Quadrant. Using DNA fragments scattered throughout biospheres across the region a computer program is extrapolated that turns out to be a holographic message. The ancient avatar's words are heavy indeed: its species was the first intelligent one in the galaxy and after finding no other life to interact with they decided to seed potentially fertile worlds with the foundations of life as a monument to their existence, so that other life could one day coexist.

This got me thinking about another episode, Relics, that guest starred James Doohan reprising his role as Scotty. In this episode the Enterprise discovers Scotty's old ship crash landed on the outer shell of a Dyson sphere.

Relics and The Chase were both part of Season 6, episodes 4 and 20, respectively. There was still another season of TNG before the ax came down on the series. Now, you'd think that discovering a stellar megastructure and the truth about the origins of life in our galaxy would each deserve their own storyarc, follow-up episode or even just a damn casual mention in the final season. Maybe it'll pop up in DS9 or Voyager? Nope. Nothing. Nada. Insert the Klingon word for "zilch."

The first discovery in and of itself -- a fucking Dyson sphere! --is enough to devote a season to, at least. These hypothetical megastructures are pretty much impossible to build due to the model of physics our universe operates on. The material constituting the shell would necessarily need to have bonds stronger than the nuclear force to withstand the Coriolis effect. Just the surface technologies gleaned from studying such a structure would give whichever government could lay claim absolute supremacy over every species in the galaxy. Period.

And this thing is sitting in Federation space.

Heck, the Federation could literally move every member species' population inside it, have tons of room left over and never have to worry about attack from outside, because breaching the shell would be impossible.

So back to Corey's Leviathan and how it knits into this rant.

Leviathan climaxes with a discovery and an event that shakes the very foundations of human civilization. In this case I won't be specific, you'll just have to read it. The next book will no doubt begin with the consequences of said climactic events and build on that -- it's just basic continuity. ST: TNG has some smattering of consequence and continuity with the Borg and Q, then later on as the Marquis are introduced, but by and large it follows the same "monster of the week" format that the original series did.

That format is what Gene Roddenberry knew and loved, and he was involved with the conception and production of the series up until his passing. I get that. Afterward, though, the creative staff had a real opportunity to do something bold with the show and for whatever reason didn't do it. Maybe it was loyalty to Roddenberry's vision, maybe they were simply comfortable. This was right around the time seaQuest DSV and Babylon 5 -- well known for its grand five-season storyarc -- were spinning up and they had to know these shows would be competing for their fanbase.

OK, I'll concede that TNG being the ST follow-up Roddenberry had been trying decades to make probably swayed their decisions with creative direction. But what I don't understand, and what's practically a crime, is the introduction of a sort of Chekhov's Gun in the aforementioned episodes that really fails to "go off" with any effect in the larger Trek-verse. Obviously the discovery of a Dyson sphere or the progenitor to all life in the Alpha Quadrant should have changed the face of the known universe. Maybe the sphere builders were the species that seeded life. Where did they go? What other relics of immense grandeur did they leave behind?

It's these questions and possibilities, plus more, that rattle around in my head when I think of any TNG episode following Relics. So I'm swearing off the show FOREVER. If I ever watch another episode of the series (with exception to the prior allowances) I will rant so hard about its depiction of society in a post-scarcity economy that my jaw will fall off and blood will flow from your ears like a red Nile.

Pray that day never comes.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Like the Flash on Angel Dust

(Title inspired by #10 on this list.)

Lately I've become a bit lax about how I spend my Thursday and Friday early morning working meet-ups in Piedmont. At first I did blog posts here. That's all good and fine, I suppose. Then I tried studying Japanese, but the cafe setting, and particularly their schizophrenic tastes in music, isn't terribly conducive to information retention. Then I just had to devour Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, a genuinely delightful sci-fi novel(-ette?) that latched on like a brain slug.

Perhaps a better way to spend the time, though, would be to jolt my brain into being more proactively creative. How to go about doing that is the trick. Embarking on a grand, long-term project isn't much my style, but flash fiction--creating a story of perhaps just a few hundred words in length--is certainly up my alley.

With any luck I can publish the stories in a seedy anthology magazine, start a cult religion based on them and become the next L. Ron Hubbard!

Thursday, May 5, 2011


For early risers it's probably difficult not to think you live in some kind of Truman Show-esque staged reality. I say that as somebody who carefully observes a busy thoroughfare from a cafe window two times a week--perhaps not rich enough sample, but worth something. From this vantage point at 6:45AM the world bounded by my field of view is all but tranquil. The occasional morning jogger passes by, a police officer slowly buys and sips his coffee without any sense of urgency whatsoever and the only cars to pass by are brown econoboxes.

Then at 7AM everything changes in the blink of an eye. Layers stack on layers and the world gets real in a hurry. And brighter. Dog walkers join the joggers, who themselves have multiplied and started equipping themselves with gadgetry. Men in fedoras and woolen vests appear and peel back the pages of a newspaper. Slack-jawed, back-pack-toting students filter in for their cuppa. The vehicles change into sportscars, into European luxury sedans, into motorcycles. The bus that never passed by before passes by.

These are the happenings of any morning in Anytown, USA, I know. The way they all activate at once, though, as if somebody has double-clicked a script to run at 7AM PDT on the operating system of the universe, that's what I find so incredible.

Remember Sim City 2 where you could zoom in close on the street and at some point you'd get close enough to street level and the citizens would populate slowly or quickly depending on the speed of your system? Who can say what the clock speed is of the universe's CPU, but it seems at least as fast as a Pentium 3 if you ask me.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Butterfly Effect, Not Starring Ashton Kutcher


All too often are we the victims of freak cause and effect rather than the beneficiaries. A butterfly flaps its wings in Madagascar causing a cascade reaction that ends in Frank Chu doing a haymaker on Gavin Newsome. San Francisco’s pretty-boy former mayor is pulled off by bodyguards, but pumps his fist at Chu to signify a forthcoming terrible revenge, perturbing the air currents just enough to result in tornados in Kazakhstan, killing fifteen and an innocent goat.

Somehow that changed for me recently, at least temporarily.

My recent chain of cause and effect goes something like this: A Friday night bar hop goes explosively wrong and results in (perhaps self-imposed) social isolation that, coupled with the geographic isolation of living in North Oakland, pushes me to get out and explore again. Less than a week later a massive earthquake rocks the Tohoku Region of Northeastern Japan and aid agencies, among others, scramble to respond. Benefits are had, money is donated, and three Japanese women in Albany organize an impromptu bazaar in a vacant storefront on Telegraph Avenue, in Berkeley.

One week later, after Sunday brunch at The Drunken Boat just a few doors down, I wander into the bazaar and out of the driving rain. Among the Neil Diamond records, Doraemon postcards and homemade lemon cupcakes I spot an old VIZ coworker I hadn’t seen in over six years. When she first landed at the company in 2001 I had an embarrassingly massive crush on her—almost as massive as my complete dorkiness that prevented any kind of relationship past being simply friends. We chat, reminisce about old times and agree to meet up for dinner in the near future. That happens once. Then it happens again.

Then I have a girlfriend in this ghost from my past, and she makes me feel happy for the first time in a good long while.

As I read over the above set of circumstances again it’s impossible to ignore where it could have turned out different. Zig where I should have zagged, Aunt Mary’s or Sconehenge for the meal instead of The Drunken Boat. What if I’d gone in before eating and she wasn’t there, or decided to heed the expired parking meter and drive off instead of chancing a ticket and entering the bazaar? It boggles the mind, really.

Thanks, Fate, you’ve been kind recently to this individual. Don’t do something to lose my trust in you, OK?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Ass Crack of Dawn

Confessions are hard, but I'm just delirious enough to squeeze this one out: I like getting up early. Not early like setting the alarm for 7AM. More like 5AM. I am a sick fuck, it's true.

I came to this realization last year, when Whiskey was still in Sausalito and I would rise at 5:30AM to make the final BART train to San Francisco an hour later that technically allowed bicycles. I've since learned that the conductors don't give two shits that bikes get on after 6:30--perhaps they too see the inherent injustice of singling out this group of green commuters for discrimination. Anyway, it's a magical thing to ride one's (awesome) bike through a mostly deserted Crissy Field and across the Golden Gate Bridge while the sun crests Mt. Diablo to the East. Don't knock it till you try it.

However, now that those days are behind me, I find I still like waking before the dawn and getting a move on. It's like stealing time back from the Universe--the early birds emerge from their apartments as the first inkling of light creeps in from the Prime Meridian, slip a razor blade between the dimensions of day and night and enter null space. In there anything's possible.

So, yeah, today I woke up at 5AM and will continue to wake at this hour every Thursday and possibly Friday for the next few months. Why? Craigslist is why.

Recently I've been a tad isolated and remembered that Craigslist has a location-specific events page, which I used to check fairly regularly. Typically it's a dry well, but every now and then there's something good. While perusing the listings over the course of two weeks one popped up over and over: a UC Berkeley grad student looking for a writing buddy to help kick their ass into gear to finish a thesis. Compelling, because I, too, want someone to kick my ass into gear and get writing/studying/thinking again. An ideal opportunity at first glance until one reads the fine print: the grad student is only available in the early morning. No wonder this ad's been up there for weeks.

So I took the initiative and responded, committing myself every Thursday, and possibly Friday, to coffee and writing at Gaylord's in Piedmont. My study buddy is Katie Somethingorother, a biologist studying antelope morphology in Africa.

Sitting here typing with her thesis in my peripheral vision I can't help but feel a tad melancholy about not pursuing a degree in one of the sciences. Of course, were that the case I wouldn't ever have met Chizuru, Rie, Mayumi, or any of the many of the other residents of Oita that have so shaped my recent life. And frankly that's an insult to their existence, so no more of that thinking.

On that note, I'm planning on opportunistically hopping a plane back to Oita in the next few months now that airfare is so low. Missed the registration for the Tour de Kunisaki race this year, though. Too bad. Oh well, there's plenty yet to get up to in Kyushu!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Tremble At the Culture-Corrupting Powers of Garrison Keillor!

The right wing has a long and illustrious history of batshit loony concepts of just what they think will reduce deficits and help balance national and state budgets, but the recent vote by the House to defund the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Public Radio is certainly the richest (pun intended) to come around lately. I had to really strain my eyes to find the CPB entry on the annual Death and Taxes infographic that illustrates where our tax money is spent. Slightly more money is spent on it as the Peace Corp--and that's not a hell of a lot in the grand scheme. Far, far less than one percent of the national budget.

A show of hands from anyone who listens to public radio: how many of us enjoy the two weeks every quarter when the hosts and announcers from our local NPR affiliate beg and plead for listener support? I, for one, feel sad almost every time Ira Glass guilt-trips some poor listener, or Jerry Neuman and Sandy Althouse dangle some trinket in front of their listening audience to entice them into donating. Serious journalists, it seems to me, should focus on their craft rather than on how they're going to get the cash to keep the lights on and the transmitter beaming over the airwaves.

Yeah, expect that extended by a week or more. Fucking joy!

The issue of CPB funding was a topic of discussion on last Friday's episode of Forum and the hosts invited both a rep from NPR and a blowhard from the libertarian Cato Institute to come on and discuss the issue. It was astounding, really. The Cato jackass made it sound as if the only thing holding back NPR from being the loudspeaker of the American Communist Party was that they were accepting federal dollars, and without that control rod the whole thing will meltdown into a glowing pile of sentient, unstoppable leftist goo. (That analogy brought to you by the still-ongoing Fukushima Daiichi situation.) He even insinuated that those left-of-center would like it--they'd have their respective version of Fox News. You have got to be kidding me...

Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said of his decision to vote for the withdrawl of federal funding, "Why should we allow taxpayer dollars to advocate one ideology?" By their statements and position on this issue I can surmise that neither Cantor or the Cato guy seem to listen much to their local NPR affiliate. I can be relatively sure of this because I listen to KQED daily, the NPR outlet in San Francisco, one of the most leftist places in the nation, and can say for a fact after having gone through their daily programming schedule that the one unifying quality virtually all their shows have isn't anything like leftist ideology or activism, it's plain, simple objectivity and intellectual enrichment.

Let's go down that list together for the date of March 31, 2011:

7AM, Morning Edition--News magazine program that covers broad topics of both national and international importance. Lightweight start-of-the-day stuff that still manages to be informative. Hosts do not offer up opinions on topics.

8:33AM, The Do List--Weekend events happening around the Bay Area. Host does not offer up opinions on topics. Oh, other than telling us the time and locations for all our Communist rallies.

9AM, Forum--Interview program that hosts authors, artists, politicians, musicians, etc. While hosts can debate factual data with certain guests, never do they push one political ideology or another. Listeners are invited to call in and ask guests questions or offer up commentary. Oftentimes these callers are opinionated, but that can hardly be held against the program.

11AM, Talk of the Nation--Much like Morning Edition, a news magazine program that covers topics of national and international importance. They host guests pertinent to whatever the topics are and invite listeners to call in. Like Forum, these guests can be opinionated, but that, baby, is freedom of speech.

1PM, Fresh Air--Purely interviews of authors, artists, politicians, musicians, etc. without listener call-ins. While Terry Gross can make her opinions known through the types of questions she asks never does she actively implore or lead her listeners to ascribe to one viewpoint or another. Frankly, I consider Terry to be little more intelligent than a tangelo and anybody who picks up on and follows her political wavelength deserve only bad things in life.

2PM, The World—Heaven forbid Americans find out about international issues and hear human interest stories from around the globe. Oh no, the Geoquiz is turning our children queer!

3PM, The Jim Leher News Hour—A news institution that’s probably one of the most solid sources of televised domestic and international reporting, this show is hard journalism through and through. Anchors will invite guests from all walks and across the political spectrum to participate.

4PM, Marketplace—It’s a show about money and what’s happening in the world of. Money: there’s nothing more Republican than that. ‘Nuff said.

4:30, All Things Considered—The day’s programming wraps with All Things Considered, another domestic and international news magazine show. This program somehow especially got on the nerves of right wing listeners, though I struggle to understand how. Michele Norris asks awkward questions that, on the very outside could be considered to have a leftist bias.

Let’s be very, very clear here: NPR has no voice—not a single one—that approaches the screeching volume or vitriol of an Olbermann, Beck, Malkin, Limbaugh, etc. Nor do they have any shows that overtly skew one way or the other. Or covertly, for that matter.

So, in conclusion, fuck you House Republicans. Fuck you and the money-covered Jesus unicorn you rode in on. You’ve nothing to stand on in this debate. Nothing.


Update: So, it's taken me a while to write this post. Distractions at every turn. Since I began, NPR's On the Media, at the prodding of Ira Glass, has explored the issue of liberal bias at NPR. The results compiled by a media watchdog group were fascinating. Once parsed, the data showed that not only does NPR give at least as much airtime to conservative issues as commercial news radio, in any given month their reporting is often well over half right wing issue stories. Right wing NPR listeners invited by the show to keep a log of whenever they found a story skewing left-of-center really couldn’t produce much compelling evidence to support their viewpoints. The saying “squeezing blood from a turnip” comes to mind.

As the Japanese would say, 根も葉もない.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Investment Bankers Might Not Be Human

Ladies, I suggest you vamoose from this here page for a calmer locale. I intend to speak of the secret world of manly things, a realm shrouded in shadowy secrets greater than those of the Mona Lisa's coy smirk or why urinal cakes are blue and taste so good.

Damn it, too close to my topic!

Communal restroom etiquette: comic gold to the stand up funnyman, but Serious Business to the considerate individual. Yesterday, while in the 20th floor men's room of 333 Bush, I ran into a situation that will haunt me to the end of my days.

The sound of urine hitting the porcelain wall of a urinal is a well known and comforting note (as we are all men here reading this now certainly you know that). World-class flautists have tried to capture the captivating resonance of it for decades, to no avail. Only the real deal will do.

While sitting down and dropping the kids off at this posh highrise's pool a man entered the bathroom and began his...recital, shall we say. All was going well, at first. The pitch was high and steady and the judges were already lining up to give the man a Grammy. Then, disaster.

*BLOOP*. What the fuck was that?

Imagine the sound of a rock with the approximate mass of a child's fist being dropped into a small pool of liquid and that was the sound I heard. I froze. Who wouldn't? Probably a lot of us freeze anyway when we're on the crapper and somebody enters the restroom. Playing possum doesn't take away any of the perceived shame from this natural act, but we'd like to delude ourselves into thinking it does.

Anyway, seriously, what was that sound? Did this man just painlessly pass a gall boulder? And then there's the etiquette matter: do you summon up the courage and ask "hey, is your urethra OK after that, man?" or do you just keep on trucking yourself, in private?

I'll send this scenario in to Miss Manners and get her opinion.