Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Waking Up to the Sound of George Clooney Screaming

Yakov Smirnoff was in the middle of calling the play-by-play for a Slamball match when I woke up this morning.

The night before, I awoke to the sound of George Clooney screaming; I'd fallen asleep on the couch, shortly after putting Syriana on -- evidently there's a torture scene. I don't remember a bit of it.

Just prior to that, I'd finally made it all the way through Glengarry Glen Ross. I'd started it ages ago, but I never could get through it -- I kept falling asleep, probably because of all the rain scenes. Though all the endless variations of "Fuck you!" "No, fuck you!" Mamet dialog also gets pretty tedious.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

William Gibson's Thing for Damaged Experts and Ninjas

It was apparently a weekend for wakeup dreams -- Saturday morning's jolted me awake at the precise moment when I'd realized that someone had burglarized my (dream) house -- an idealized version of my parents' house. (The dream's tipoffs: It was far too tidy and had a Miata in the garage.)

I attribute the dream to some It Takes a Thief reruns I saw on Discovery last week.

Anyway, despite the fact that it was 5am-ish, I couldn't get back to sleep. So I finished reading William Gibson's Spook Country, which I had just borrowed and started.

I enjoy all of Gibson's works.* This one was a little unsettling because one of the protagonist arcs -- primarily Tito's -- doesn't reveal who the "good guys" are until very nearly the end. In fact, for a while it seems possible that Tito is helping terrorists set up a nuclear device or dirty bomb. It's that Le Carre novel-ish, morally ambiguous kind of thing.

Gibson's recurring themes are really prominent here. They include:

Mysterious, Wealthy, Oddly-Named String-Pulling Savants: Hubertus Bigend (also featured in Pattern Recognition) takes a more benign but essentially similar role to Cody Harwood in All Tomorrow's Parties and Josef Virek in Count Zero.

You can see the root of this in Neuromancer's Wintermute AI (though Julius Deane handles a bit of this in the early going).

Ninjas: While Neuromancer's Hideo is the only actual ninja (outside of the short stories), you can see the ninja qualities in the effortlessly efficient, ruthlessly competent others who dance elegantly through the world with catlike grace -- usually while killing people: Most notably, Molly (and the Panther Moderns) in the Sprawl Trilogy and Konrad the Taoist knifeman in ATP.

In Count Zero, Beauvoir represents part of this, though it's mostly Turner, a rougher, Westernized, more everyman version. Idoru's tomahawk-wielding ex-toecutter Blackwell is on the edge of this, as an even more brutal, not-quite-reformed-criminal variation. And I exclude Virtual Light's Loveless, as he's a bit too psychotic (and too easily beaten).

Alternately, in Spook Country's less fantastical world, we see the ninja manifest in Tito and his extended family of Russian-speaking Chinese Cuban spies, whose focus is espionage tradecraft, not assassination.

Damaged Experts: In Neuromancer, all the primary characters are damaged experts in some way -- Case, drug-addicted hacker; Armitage, insane Special Forces; Molly, ex-meat puppet assassin, though we can also see it to a lesser-extent in the supporting characters: Finn, agoraphobic fixer; Peter Riviera, speedball-addicted holographic artist; and Maelcum, ganja-addled space pilot.

However, the prime example in Neuromancer of the damaged expert is the Dixie Flatline ROM construct -- a dead man's expertise and personality hardwired into a cassette.

In Count Zero, the damaged experts are smaller roles (the Finn; Pye, the rarely-sober vet who sews up Bobby), until the appearance of Turner's reclusive backwoods tech genius brother Rudy), the brain-implanted Angie Mitchell, crazy space hacker Wigan Ludgate, the robotic boxmaking artist itself.

In Mona Lisa Overdrive, though we can see bits and pieces in other characters (AI guide Colin, hacker Tick, nurse Cherry), the primary role falls to Slick Henry, the memory-impaired robot builder, and his drug-abusing, former console cowboy patron Gentry. (Though the Finn has a cameo as a ROM personality construct playing oracle in a laser-armed, armored housing.)

It's been a while since I read the Bridge Trilogy books, but Virtual Light's Skinner sort of fulfills this role, though he's more of an oracle. We see damaged experts in Zona (and some of the other computer-dwelling otaku) in Idoru. And the prime example would be ATP's Silencio, the quasi-autistic boy, drawn out by his watch fixation, as well as Colin Laney, who's introduced with his nodal point fixation in Idoru, but who becomes truly damaged (and ultimately dies for his obsession) in ATP.

As to Pattern Recognition -- I'm not nearly as familiar with it as I am with the other books, though Hobbs Baranov, the former government cryptographer who provides information probably qualifies, as does brain-damaged Russian twin who is behind the footage (though she is also the mystery being solved).

In Spook Country, the damaged experts are very clearly Milgrim, the psychoactive drug-addicted translator of idiomatic Russian, and Bobby Chombo, the obsessive-reclusive GPS-hacker who doesn't sleep in the same square twice. (Art expert Odile Richard is not damaged -- she's just French.)

Stay tuned for Part 2, where I talk about Gibson's tendencies towards the Nancy Drew aspect, as well as his peculiar manifestation of techno-fetishism.

*Note: I'm less familiar with his Bridge Trilogy and post-9/11 books (which presumable form the first 2 books of a trilogy to be named later) -- I couldn't even find my copies of Virtual Light and Idoru, which were at the bottom of a box until today. Why yes, I am procrastinating. Very badly.

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Sunday, January 13, 2008

IMDB Goofs and Trivia From the Dream I Had This Morning

I woke up from a dream this morning and couldn't get back to sleep (second night in a row), so I started this entry while the pages of my Sunday Washington Post were warming up.

Since it was a cinematic kind of dream, here's an IMDB-style Goofs and Trivia section for it (inspired by the [Something] Awful Movie Database):
  • Incorrectly regarded as goofs: Depending on the nature of the attack, diving behind a low concrete wall could provide sufficient protection from the flash, heat, and pressure wave of a nuclear detonation.

  • Revealing mistakes: Refugees fleeing from the aftermath of a nuclear explosion would not be so darn good-looking.

  • Plot holes: It is exceedingly unlikely that plague rats would appear so quickly after a nuclear attack. Unless they escaped from a lab or something.

  • Continuity: The season changes between winter and not-winter, seemingly at random.

  • Continuity: In the scene where Dad is shoveling the driveway, the snow changes from regular snow, to a sheet of clear ice (several feet thick) between shots.

  • Incorrectly regarded as goofs: The woman on the bus is seen using a Phillips-head screwdriver, then later stabs someone with it. Although a slotted screwdriver would generally serve as a better stabbing weapon, a Phillips screwdriver can be used in this fashion.

  • Errors made by characters (possibly deliberate errors by the filmmakers): My explanation of the difference between "species" and "genus," though wildly incorrect, is consistent with the long period of time since my last biology class.

  • Incorrectly regarded as goofs: Females can play video games, some at a proficiency matching, or even exceeding, those of males.

  • Director Trademark: [joelogon] Doesn't remember much else from the dream, and can hardly make sense of the illegible and unintelligible scrawl from the notepad.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

It Started With the Blackwater Wife and the World Gold Cabal

It's been an up and down day today (which, despite whatever time stamp shows, is still Thursday).

I woke up in the middle of a dream confrontation with a blonde cafeteria worker (who I think I'd seen recently guest starring on CSI) who was married to a Blackwater contractor and who was trying to add a $1.75 surcharge to my meal to offset the global conspiracy that's trying to corner the world gold supply.

(Maybe I should send that in as a Ficlet.)

Up and down. Call it a wash.

I was a few minutes late to my session at the outplacement center, which was basically "So You Wanna Set Up a Consulting Business?" I saw a few familiar faces, and it was actually pretty useful. I don't know that I want to go the full-time consulting/contracting racket, but I'm looking at my options. It's been a month since the layoff -- I'm starting to get bored, so I'm trying to actually, you know, look for a job now.


After that, I picked up a few groceries, got home around 1pm, and then... hit the wall. I just could not stay awake. I guess I should have stopped in and got that cup of coffee. I was fading in and out until about an hour ago.


In an update, after being balky yesterday, my new printer seems to be working again. On the one hand, that's good, and on the other hand, it makes me a little nervous -- hardware problems generally don't spontaneously fix themselves. So I'll need to keep an eye on it and decide if I'm going to return it or not.


Lastly, I see that Apple released its last Tiger update. As I still have the Leopard DVD sitting on my desk, I was debating installing it, since I was waiting for the first Tiger update, but lo and behold, it's out today. So no more excuses -- I guess I'll back up my drive and install it tomorrow.


Oh, and my credit card statement arrived yesterday -- I saw a 5 dollar charge from AOL. I'd had AOLbyPhone since forever (hey, freebie for internals) and forgot about it until I saw the charge. So I called to cancel. I think I got the Philippines call center -- the rep was very competent and courteous, and it went smoothly once I spelled my screen name using the military phonetic alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc). I guess I could have tried to get a refund of the last charge, but I decided not to push it.


A few folks are meeting out tonight, and I basically slept through Refresh DC, so I think I'll just stay in and keep a little bit ahead of the game today.

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