Sunday, November 30, 2008

Tree Trimming

Another video diary entry. Here's how Christine and I spent part of our day. (Music is from You Tube's audio swap.) View The Directors Cut with extra scenes!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What I'm Thankful For

Well, one of the things is that my pet, Miss Daisy, is hanging in and holding strong. It's been about five months since she was diagnosed with chronic renal failure.

Both Christine and I have learned to administer subcutaneous fluid treatments, which she requires daily. I wondered at first if it was worth it, but much of the time she is her usual self.

On her last vet visit the levels they test were holding OK. We coax and work with her to keep her eating, and I'm conscious--as we should all be with all interactions--that the time I have with her is finite. I try not be be aggravated if she wants attention or to sit on my keyboard or my lap.

That's life. This is a little video diary of Dee in her day-to-day environment. It's a wonderful world. (I'm playing Enya's "China Roses," under the at-home version.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Working Without Annette

So I'm reading the notes on a CSS and XHTML course I'm taking online, kind of a brush-up and a reiteration of those things CSS you might have figured out but haven't thought about for a while. 

I come to a line about "list-style-image." It's the code for putting tiny pictures in the place of bullets in a list. 

It's like the devil was whispering in my ear.

"Do it, Sid. Come on, use that line of code."

It's the curse of web developers everywhere. You've seen the horror of personal websites in which everything but the kitchen sink is thrown in. A weather bot on one side, transparent waves of snowflakes wafting across the home page.

"I've learned something new. I must put it on my website with all the other new things I learned last week, and my web cam pointed at a lizard in a terrarium."

List-style-image is not new, but I don't have a lot of occasion to use picture bullets on our corporate website. All serious, you know.

I probably would have just turned the page, but we have a fairly new and slightly edgy area of our intranet. It has super heroes with our corporate logo, created by my buddy Steven Butler, and it has a list of service principles. 

What does a list of service principles on an edgy site cry out for? Picture bullets!  Especially if, just sitting on your hard drive asking to be used, is an artist's rendering of an exclamation point--already sized to 32 x 32 pixels because it's the favicon. 

If in Japan the hand can be used as a knife, in Adobe a favicon can be converted to a png in a matter of seconds.

What you see
So I went to the WYSIWYG area of the service principles article, switched to the HTML source view and entered the style code, fought with the parser a few seconds and voila - my bullet points were small orange exclamation points.

On my computer. 

I have Internet Explorer 7 and Firefox to name a few of my browsers. I'm a web editor. After about eight years of war, our IT department conceded about a year ago that maybe I ought to have a few more network rights than the average clerical worker.

Everyone else in our sphere has IE 6. IE 6 really hates CSS. 

In IE 6, for some reason, my bulleted list pushed an entire right-hand column where the service principles resided, down under the page's central column.

Oops. Hope no one is looking. 

I excised the code and returned to a traditional bulleted list then popped over to a neighboring office to check the re-set on a computer using IE6.

And the column stayed under the middle column. 

I returned to the WYSIWYG editor and started to tinker with the code a little more. One of the secretaries came in then to show me an invoice. 

"What cost center should this newsletter go to?"

"I don't know. Whatever cost center we used the past 52 times we've done that newsletter."

The service principles disappeared. I wish I could make secretaries go away like that. I had to go find a project manager who had the original copy so I could put them back. (Always save a back up.)

Then the phone rang.

"Hello, Mr. Williams. We need to ask you a few questions so that we can renew your free subscription to Network World. Can you respond to which of the items on this list you might influence the purchase of in the coming year..."

Speaker phone - yes, no, maybe...

Meanwhile back at the train wreck
I cut and pasted from a .pdf to Notepad then to the WYSIWYG editor.

Service principles back in place. 

Column still at bottom of page.

"How many people are in your organization. More or less than one million? Slightly less than one million?"

There are people among those employees who have used the web before, so they are experts on web design, usability, demographics, social media and optimization of all kinds. I was convinced the were looking at the same web page I was trying to fix, while I was trying to fix it. I envisioned them preparing to call to "help" me by telling me an errant column was pushing to the bottom of the intranet microsite home page.

"Really? You don't like that? It's not aesthetically pleasing?" 

I went back to the HTML view and typed the unordered list code in exactly as it is supposed to be. No go.

Ahhh! Ahhh! Ahhh!

I e-mailed the guy who maintains the intranet server. He didn't respond. He's the guy who picked the free, open source content management system we're using. 

I made more adjustments. Nothing.

I tore locks of hair out. I wept. I gave up on pure code, cut the principles from the .pdf again with bullets represented with just text. 

I pasted that into the WYSIWYG window. 

Hit Save.

The column jumped back into place, and I quit playing with the code. Well enough alone and all that.

What's the moral of the story? Don't try new code without a sandbox. Sometimes the absolutely correct code isn't the right thing to do if everybody is using IE 6, I guess.

And don't do things on a whim, no matter how cool they'll look.

What Writers Can Learn from Doctor Who

Doctor Who has settled into a comfortable place in America again. Between The Sci Fi Channel, BBC America and DVDs not to mention audiobooks and other spinoffs, The Doctor is widely available on our shores.

His next appearance is a Christmas special in Britain, The Music of the Spheres, followed by a series of TV movies then a change of lead actor and perhaps format.  If you haven't come to know Doctor Who, and you're interested in writing, you should check out the Russell T. Davis-penned era that's drawing to a close.

Isn't this show about goofy aliens
It's replete with goofy aliens and strange story arcs to be sure, but it's also rich with character and relationships that are worthwhile for any storyteller to observe, especially any interested in penning tales with fantastic elements.

For those who don't know, The Doctor, the title is a bit of a joke, is a Time Lord, a race found on the planet Gallifrey. He's the last Time Lord as the new series opens, a "lonely god" as one character puts it. 

In the opening episode of the new series, The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston  and later David Tennant, he regenerates instead of dying)  meets Rose (Billie Piper), a twentysomething Londoner who's having a bit of trouble finding her way in the world.

After helping in defeating one of The Doctor's recurring foes, Rose joins The Doctor on his time- traveling TARDIS for adventures in time space. Turns out she loves traveling.

Time traveling
Soon they're jumping forward to the end of the universe--in what's probably an homage to early series writer Douglas Adams of restaurant at the end of the Universe Fame--visiting Charles Dickens in the past and dueling Daleks. They're The Doctor's arch enemies and source of his planet's demise.

That wanderlust trait for Rose is at the core of the first two seasons of the new series. For a stunning viewing experience, view those two seasons as one long, incredible story arc and study what tugs at the heart strings even as people with goofy faces and occasional flatulence put in appearances.

It's really fabulous and tear-jerking, and the supporting players in the mix enhance the adventures exponentially.

Watch for the relationships, the character nuances, the clever plotting, the foreshadowing. While there are many stand-alone episodes, most things are interconnected. There's also a chilling episode called "Blink" that's worth viewing for those interested in crafting subtle chills. Angel statues can be scary, I'm telling you.

It's really worth the effort of a few hours. Is there a writer on your Christmas list? Think about Seasons 1 & 2. 

That's not a hint. I have Seasons 1 & 2. I uh, could use Season 3. 

Christine, if you're reading this...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Quantum of Solace - A Shaken and Stirred Mixture

I'd heard mumbled comparisons with the Bourne films in reference to the new James Bond outing, Quantum of Solace. Those are not untrue, but nor are they pervasive. 

Action scenes never seem to get to quite the bone-crunching levels they did in Casino Royale, but they are frequent and kinetic, with a couple of early ones offering the blur and bash of Bourne. Things happen so fast your senses require a few frames to catch up. To me that wasn't disappointing at all because things were soon settled into a nice plot-to-action ratio with some Bond-cool chases and battles.

Fleming forever
Happily the new film follows the tone of the Royale reboot, with just a few light touches of past Bond flavor or twists on the old style. We get a red-haired character named Strawberry Fields, as Flemingesque a character name as we've heard since Holly Goodhead, and there's a repeat of the by-the-book--the book being Fleming's Casino Royale--cocktail recipe, which cements that as the replacement for "shaken, not stirred." It's actually a bartender who utters the description this time as a slightly-soused 007 asks "What am I having?"

There's also an homage moment with oil replacing a different precious resource and a set-piece ending both down-to-earth and as extravagant as the best of the set-piece endings in the Bond film canon.

Solace also offers a quality baddie in the person of Mathieu Amaric as Mr. Greene, less grotesque than a Goldfinger but almost as sadistic as Casino's Le Chiffre.

Daniel Craig remains fabulous and grim as bond in his second outing. He is Bond, without question. I'm up for more installments with him in the lead.

Overall, a nice mixture of new formula and old, and a nice early kickoff to the holiday movie season.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Looking Backward and Forward - The Time Tunnel

Re-runs of The Time Tunnel allow looking backward in more ways than one. 

It, of course, offers a return to various historic eras--via TV sound stage--in its plots of heroes thrust into out of control time travel.

As with every show from time gone by, it channels memories of when it was first viewed as well.

First viewing
I didn't see Time Tunnel when it was on network TV. Loved Lost in Space, also from Irwin Allen, but We just didn't discover it, I guess. 

However, though it lasted only one season, the 30-odd episodes worked for a weekly slot on one of the Baton Rouge, LA, TV stations, which we got on cable when I was a kid.

Educational opportunities
My old man and I must have found it while flipping the dial one Sunday after church, and periodically we'd tune in to catch scientists Doug and Tony as they hopped from one historic event to another--the fall of Jericho, the Alamo, the Titanic. My old man was better informed about the historic underpinnings so it usually allowed a little educational discussion along the way.

The heroes seemed to land at pretty much the worst possible times in history. Funny how those technical glitches in time travel apparatus work.

They were using the Time Tunnel--developed by the military industrial complex--pre-maturely in order to avoid a funding cut from Congress. Their activities were monitored by soldiers and scientists using one of the most impressive big-screen TVs on the Earth's side of Capt. Kirk's flat screen monitor. The Time Tunnel itself allowed viewing of but not communication with Doug and Tony, you see.

Catching up with the past
I'm getting the gaps filled in on episodes I've missed on Hulu. Who knew they landed in the belly of a moon rocket? I don't recall encounters with silvery, Lost In Space style aliens either. I think those must have been introduced to give ratings a boost with young viewers. Oh well.

The earlier episodes stand up surprisingly well. Irwin Allen knew how to stage a disaster after all, and he re-staged the Titanic long before he sunk the Poseidon.

It's good to watch again, almost like having my dad kicked back in his recliner at my side.

Extra reading

Friday, November 21, 2008

Absalom, Absalom!

I had the idea years ago that I should read more Faulkner, for my own edification if nothing else. "A Rose for Emily" is one of my favorite short stories, and you can pick up Faulkner novels and thumb through them and find brilliant passages, imagery that literally makes things real. 

I had trouble with Absalom, Absalom!, though.  Couldn't get through it in 1984 when I was just out of college and picked it up on vacation from my first job. I put it down shortly afterwards.

I'm older and wiser now, and recently, for school, I had to read it. Had to i.e. a course requirement. 

No way out. Useless to struggle.

OK, I possibly could have begged my advisor, but "had to" offered a nice push, and that's a good thing.

Masterpiece is the right term for Absalom, Absalom!, and while it's what might be called inaccessible, it's worth the effort to penetrate the long, winding sentences of Miss Rosa Coldfield, and to follow the exploits of Thomas Sutpen and his establishment of his plantation empire in Yoknapatawpha County, MS and the aftermath of his attempts to further his design.

His story is told not just by Rosa, his sister-in-law, who's sharing with 2o-year-old Quentin Compson, who gets a little further explanation of events from his father and finally re-examines events told in the first two thirds of the book for his friend at Harvard.

In the latter portion, events that we've already witnessed are illuminated, as if Poirot were explaining what was early seen but not understood, and it all transpires with a dark, Southern Gothic flavor that, if not chilling, is still disturbing in the way the best non-supernatural horror manages to be.

I recommend everyone pursue a degree that requires the reading of Absalom, Absalom!, or, if you're better disciplined than me, just pick it up and read.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To do list

Just finished my last creative packet for the semester for my MFA program. Got a few things I want to do now.

1. Koyanaskatsi on I'm ready to veg.

2. Finish The Weather Warden #3: Chill Factor. Started it right before the semester. Had to read so much for school, couldn't finish it.

3. Then The Open Curtain by Brian Evenson. Ditto, started a page or two before the semester. Couldn't finish before I had to start reading for school. 

5. Saturday, what a day, feelin' like the Fourth of July!  

6. Dexter Season 2.

7. Blogging with a little more frequency. I've been reading everyone and posting as I've had time. Hope everyone is doing well.

Oh, and how could I forget 8. The Colbert Christmas Special!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Autumn Toms

I'm not sure why, but my tomato plants have proven to be more prolific in autumn than they were over the summer months. They were most productive just before I had to leave town for a week in July, so my co-workers enjoyed that produce.

Until things get too cold, looks like I'll be harvesting. Some of my Cherokee purples may turn soon as well. 

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What's on the Ipod? - Footprints in the Snow

I crossed paths on MySpace with Black Pharaoh of the metal/Gothic band,  The Old Ones, appropriately of Providence, R.I. 

On their profile page, the really eerie "Footprints in the Snow" was playing.

BP was kind enough to share an MP3 with me, which I promptly added to a playlist.

It's a Lovecraftian tune that speaks of an eerie, unsolved mystery, coiling forward from one generation to the next. The haunted persona proclaims:

"Sooner or later the moment will come
When together with my reason, I'll lose my life,
Fighting against that merciless ghost
Ominous whispers in the darkness"

It has the unsettling quality of "The Shadow Over Innesmouth." It's a concise and open ended short story set to music, and it pounds with some of the same menace of a favorite of mine, The Gothic Archies.

Drop by the profile and  check out the playlist which also includes: "Funeral Song," "Spirits" and "Hall of the Astral King."

They're great tunes to get you in the mood for writing scary stories. 

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Secret Messages from My Cat

I'm not sure what my cat, Miss Daisy, is trying to tell me, but she typed a cryptic message into MS Word a little while ago:

"8999999999999999999 89999999999999999 8999999999999"

Maybe cats have some secret knowledge to impart, kind of like those looms they had in Wanted, only with more benevolent messages.

Or maybe it's something simpler.

"The laptop is warm. Go do something else. I'm sitting here."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Another good song

"In the unlikely story that is America, there is nothing false about hope." -- Barack Obama

Monday, November 03, 2008

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Weekend Chiller Theater

It's Halloween weekend, and The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror isn't on until tomorrow night, so here's a brief little chiller for the interim. 

It's a subtle and unsettling piece from blackdogfilms, and it's called There Are Monsters. Close the curtains, settle back and have a look. 

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