Fwozen

It’s winter here, at least for local values of “winter”. High temperatures in the low sixties isn’t bad, but overnight lows in the low forties is a bit cooler than I like. And for natives, it’s downright frigid.

That means Sachiko is spending an unusual amount of time curled up in bed.
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Which is not to say that she’s asleep. The Skittercritter is still young enough that she hasn’t quite mastered the fine art of sleeping soundly.

Any little noise–such as a finger tapping a phone’s onscreen camera button–will bring her to full alertness.
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“Oh, dere you iz. Make wif da heats. I fweezing.”

“It’s sixty-eight in here.”

“Kelbin?”

“Right. Fine. I’ll turn it up a little.”  I figure any sign of science literacy should be rewarded.

Moana

Spoiler time!

Yeah, I actually got to see a movie during the first week of its release. Don’t get used to it; I doubt it’ll happen again.

Let’s bypass the discussion of cultural appropriation in regard to Moana. It’s relevant, but let’s face it: as a privileged member of the dominant culture, i.e. a white male, anything I say on the subject is automatically going to be suspect. And, to be honest, I don’t know enough about the culture in question to comment on whether it was used respectfully.

So, with that said, I can say that the legend of Maui as presented at the beginning of the film, and later revisited when we meet the hero, is self-consistent and feels like a unified whole, not something that was cherry-picked and grafted onto a pre-ordained plot. Kudos to the staff there.

A few things surprised me in how well they worked.

Based on the trailer, I feared that the pig and chicken would get tiresome. But the filmmakers used them sparingly: the pig only appears at the beginning and end of the movie*, and the chicken spent most of its time confined off-screen, only emerging to satisfy necessary plot points. Best use of a cute animal sidekick in a Disney film I can recall.

* I do have to wonder how the pig survived, though. With no fish and no coconuts, what did the villages eat while Moana was on her quest? It’s not like the film shied away from incorporating death–Moana’s grandmother and, in flashback, her father’s best friend–so why not one more? Handling it sensitively for the benefit of young viewers would be tricky, granted, but an element of “not all endings are completely happy” would have been an interesting evolution for Disney.

I was also worried about Maui’s tattoos. Again, based on the trailer, I thought they would be a distraction from the main story. Instead, they worked very nicely, serving as a way to bring out Maui’s internal monologue.

There’s no perfect creation, however, and Moana does have its faults. I’ll mostly refrain from nitpicking (millenia-old sailing canoes that need no repair work to be seaworthy?), but I do want to talk about Tala, Moana’s grandmother. My apologies to voice actress Rachel House and whoever the voice director was, but whatever effect you were going for, I didn’t think you found it. Specifically, I didn’t think Tala sounded elderly; to me she sounded constrained, as though she feared speaking. It put me off the character and in a couple of places, threw me right out of the story.

That’s unfortunate, but a worse problem had to do with her role in the story. It was fine in the early scenes: she served well as the necessary counterpoint to Moana’s father. And her illness and (off-screen) death and transformation into a glowing manta ray were well-handled, serving nicely as the final push to put Moana in motion and literally guide her outside the island’s reef.

But bringing her back at the climax of the story, especially in full-blown Obi Wan Kenobi mode, complete with blue glow, was unnecessary. Worse, it detracted from Moana’s final transformation from failed-quester-about-to-give-up to victorious hero. At that point, she shouldn’t need a push from outside; remember, she’s already heard all of the sentiments Tala presents here. How much more powerful would the scene have been if those same ideas had come from Moana herself? A trigger would be necessary, certainly, but not something that hands Moana her motivation on a platter. Perhaps the sight of a normal black manta ray as Te Fiti’s heart sank down through the water would have reminded Moana of her grandmother, leading her to remember those same key scenes from before and during her quest.

Despite my complaints, though, I will say that Disney has given us a rousing version of the Hero’s Quest tale, refreshingly free of a romantic subplot. There are only a couple of real audio attention grabbers–I’ll nominate Shiny and You’re Welcome as the most enjoyable–but the soundtrack as a whole is certainly above average, with no absolute stinkers to knock you out of your cinematic immersion.

Moana is well worth your time and admission.

A Small Silver Lining In an Enormous Black Cloud

About that mid-October posting hiatus…

To put it briefly, my father passed away on October 11.

We all knew it could happen at any time, but none of us expected it when it happened. I’ll skip the details; you don’t want to hear them and I don’t want to relive them. He had been dealing with cancer for a long time; let’s leave it at that.

I said “dealing with” rather than “fighting” or “battling” very deliberately. Dad disliked the phrase “battling cancer”. His opinion was that thinking about it as a battle gives the disease too much of your time and energy. Far better, he believed, to acknowledge the effects cancer had on your life, make the necessary accommodations, and spend your real effort on doing what you love.

And yes, those accommodations include seeing a reputable physician who can explain the treatment options, their possible side effects, and all of their possible outcomes. (Side note–and this applies to any area of medicine, not just cancer treatment: if someone tells you there’s only one possible treatment, that a treatment is guaranteed to work, or that there are cures that are being suppressed by the medical establishment to preserve their profits, that person is not a reputable physician. They’re either sincere but deluded or, more likely, a scam artist. Either way, do not entrust your life to them. End of sermon.)

In Dad’s case, doing what he loved meant, in no particular order, spending time with the family (and especially with his grandson), cheering for the Mariners, and writing. He did plenty of the first two, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

He began writing his biography of Brun Campbell after he started chemotherapy. Forgetfulness and fatigue are common side effects, and Dad had them both. In the spirit of accommodation, he worked around them. He’d always been a note-taker, so he took more–and more detailed–notes. He took rest breaks when he needed them.

And, much as he hated to let anyone see his work before it was finished, he allowed a few people he trusted to read early drafts of the biography. I was pleased and honored to be one of those people, and as it turned out, we enjoyed working together more than either of us had expected we would.

Let me take a step back in time here. Even thought Dad spent twenty-five years as a specialist in high-risk obstetrics, and did it very well, he never considered it his true calling. In 1995, he retired from medicine and devoted himself to his real career: storytelling. Not “writing”: putting words on a page was just the mechanism for telling his stories. With that background, you can see why he was pleased, flattered, and more than a little amused when I stepped away from the tech industry to devote myself to telling my own stories.

Dad was delighted when I asked him to be one of my beta readers, and he always had excellent suggestions for improving my novels. He had a great ear for characters’ voices. Whenever he told me “I don’t think he’d say that,” he was invariably correct.

In addition to teaching me to listen to my characters, he was always there to remind me that rejection is inevitable in this field, and that the proper response to a setback is a push forward.

That was his attitude to more than writing. He handled disappointing medical news–an elevated PSA, an uncomfortable or awkward side effect, a new shadow on an X-Ray–the same way: “Onward!” If he was very tired or achy, he might drop the exclamation point, but that was as far as he would compromise.

When Dad finished Brun’s story–and it was at least as much a story as a history; Brun lived his life wrapped in fiction, much of it of his own creation–he needed a new writing project. Dad wasn’t going to stop telling stories, but he was concerned about his stamina, unsure if he could still write an entire novel. He had been kicking around some ideas for a time travel story for several years, and he knew I had recently shelved a time-travel novel that wasn’t working out. (That’s one of those coincidences you can’t put in a novel, because your audience will just laugh at the unreality. Fiction is limited, but reality has more flexibility.) We had worked well together on the Brun book and he thought we could expand on that.

When he asked if I would be interested in collaborating on a novel, I jumped at the opportunity and put my current project aside. We discussed some ideas about the story, and on August 18, 2015, he starting writing the first draft of Chapter One of what eventually became The RagTime Traveler. We wrote five drafts over the next ten months–incredibly fast work by both of our standards–and on June 10, 2016, we declared the book complete.

The first draft took five months; the next four averaged less than half that long. Rewriting is always faster than writing. When we took stock at the end of Draft 01, we knew we had something solid. So we did the logical thing: we started making plans for our second collaboration. I wanted to do a baseball book, something set before the modern era, and it took Dad no more than a tenth of a second to agree. He had some story ideas and so did I, so we put them together, roughed out a very high-level overview of where we thought we were going, and then started Draft 02.

When we declared The RagTime Traveler finished, we sent it to Poisoned Pen Press. They had published Dad’s previous mysteries, and we figured they’d like this one. We didn’t wait to hear from them, though. We immediately started working on Mo’less Jones. When PPP requested some changes to TRTT, we put Mo’less aside long enough to do the rewrite, and then dived back into it.

In late September, PPP sent us a contract for The RagTime Traveler. (Side note: Any publisher’s standard contract is going to favor the publisher’s interests over the writer’s–that’s no different than any other field. So if you’re offered a contract, read it, be sure you understand it, and if there are any clauses you don’t like, negotiate. Maybe the publisher will make changes, maybe they won’t, but if you don’t ask, they certainly won’t. End of sermon.)

Dad and I had a few concerns, so we decided which ones were the most important and sent PPP a counter-proposal. While we waited for their response, we agreed what we would do if PPP didn’t agree to our requested changes–and kept working on Mo’less Jones.

PPP’s response was favorable, but Dad died while we were still working through the formal process of revising the contract and confirming the changes were correct before we and PPP signed it.

Dad was excited about seeing TRTT published. He and I had been making plans for publicizing the book right up to the week he died. He won’t get to see it, and many of those plans have gone out the window with his passing, but at least he knew it was going to be published. Small consolation, yes, but it does help.

The RagTime Traveler will be released by Poisoned Pen Press in June 2017. It’s already up for pre-order at some booksellers. Over the next six months, I’ll be posting updates, doing a cover reveal, and generally whipping you all into a buying frenzy. Consider yourselves warned.

Mo’less Jones is on the Disabled List. Dad was wildly enthusiastic about the way the story was developing. So am I, for that matter. But I’m not ready to face that next chapter. For the first draft, we were taking turns writing chapters. I finished Chapter Thirteen* the day before Dad went into the hospital and most mornings I wake up with a little voice in the back of my head saying “Maybe Dad’ll have Chapter Fourteen ready for me to read today.”

* My superstitious side insists there’s some significance in that, and refuses to listen to the rational side when it points out that nothing bad happened after we finished any of our previous Chapter Thirteens.

If you’ve lost a loved one, you know that kind of reaction is typical. So are the grief spasms when I find something interesting online and realize I can’t tell Dad about it, the more-than-usually fragmented attention span, and the days that are just plain unproductive. So I do the best I can in acknowledging the problems, making accommodations, and getting on with doing the things I love.

Until that little voice shuts up, Mo’less Jones is going to ride the pine, but I will tell that story. For now, his position (center field) will be covered by the solo project I set aside when Dad and I started The RagTime Traveler. Progress is slow, but it is progress.

“Onward!”

Thanks

It’s been a difficult, depressing year for many of us. Different reasons for different people, of course, but depressing none the less.

There are two ways to deal with downers*: work to mitigate them, and focus your attention on happier things.

* Let me be clear here: I’m talking about isolated depressing events. Ongoing depression is a completely different matter; one that has surprisingly little to do with specific occurrences, and that needs to be handled differently.

Some things you can work on: the result of an election, for example (right, British readers who didn’t favor Brexit?) Others, not so much.

So, with Thanksgiving approaching, take a couple of minutes to think about something you’re grateful for. Non-US readers, feel free to join in. Even if you don’t observe our holiday, there’s never a bad time to give thanks.

Last night we hit a major milestone.

Much as Rufus loves the neck skritches and tummy rubs, he hadn’t quite gotten behind the concept of laps. He’d flop on the floor of his enclosure for cuddles, and that was pretty much it. If we hoisted him into our laps, he’d stand nervously for a minute or two, then hop down and demand more pettings from the floor.

Then came last night. Maggie set him in her lap and…
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Yup. He settled in. He’d probably still be there if I hadn’t startled him by starting to sneeze.

Right now, warm laps and warm, snuggly cats to sit in them are high up on my list of things to be thankful for.

Equal Time

The last two Friday posts were devoted to Kaja. Since Rhubarb is her littermate, it seems only fair to give him some attention this week.

When Rhubarb is awake, he has two modes of operation.

Pensive
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I believe he’s thinking “I wish I could read clocks, so I’d know how long it is until dinner time.”

Alert
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He’s definitely thinking “Is it dinner time?”

Unfortunately for him, no, it wasn’t. Just time for me to shine bright lights in his eyes. Maybe someday he’ll figure out that Maggie is the person who feeds him.

Eat Up!

A smattering of food-related items for you today. No, I’m not on a diet–at least no more so than usual. Why do you ask?

First up: Some of my friends have been talking about the Fondoodler. The what?

Think of it as a hot glue gun optimized for kitchen use. Shove in a chunk of cheese, wait for it to come up to temperature, and pull the trigger. Spluuuuuuuuuuuurt!

This is one of the stupidest culinary devices I’ve ever encountered. You need to slice your cheese into small chunks to fit. The nozzle is tiny and only does string shapes. You can’t use it to melt anything other than cheese. There are three separate pieces that need to be washed.

If you want melted cheese, you can do it on the stove just as quickly.

So why do I want one?

Ahem. Moving on.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a trend at restaurants. An obnoxious trend. I’m talking about the increasing use of inappropriate plates.

Excuse me. “Plates.”

It started with serving fries in a cone. What’s the point of that? All the salt and spices rub off of the fries and wind up in an unappetizing pile at the bottom of the cone. You can’t put ketchup on them.

Then it got worse.

Who thought using shoes, shovels, and random pieces of wood as serving vessels was a good idea? Far too many people, apparently.

Fortunately, there’s one brave soul out there chronicling the ugliness. We Want Plates is dedicated to shaming those who serve food “on bits of wood and roof slates, chips in mugs and drinks in jam jars.” Despite their deplorable prejudice against the Oxford comma, the site is well worth your time.

The Lego breadbasket is bad enough–who wants to risk the ire of the poor busboy who has to reassemble the basket after you succumb to the urge to play with your plate–but then there’s the avocado syringe. And the beef wellington on a guillotine. And, of course, prawns in a tree–with a rabbit.

I think I’m starting to understand how the Fondoodler could gain such a grip on the minds of the unwary.

Moving on to something more positive.

Juzo Itami’s 1985 film Tampopo is currently getting a new theatrical release with a restored print. Huzzah!

Tampopo is one of my favorite movies, and several lines have become family catch phrases.

A comedy, yes, but seasoned with just the right amount of tragedy.

If you haven’t ever seen Tampopo, you should be ashamed of yourself–and you should be checking for a showing near you.

Side note: Don’t let Fandango’s synopsis (“Milk-truck drivers (Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken Watanabe) help cook (Nobuko Miyamoto) with her noodles”) put you off. No matter what they suggest, this is not a film about cannibalism.

Listen Up!

By now, you’ve probably heard that new hybrid and electric vehicles will have to be factory-equipped with a noise-making system to ensure they can’t sneak up on pedestrians.

It’s not a bad idea, really, but this is definitely once situation where the devil will be in the details. And boy-howdy are there a lot of details.

Would you be surprised to hear that the actual rule runs to 370 pages? No, I wasn’t surprised either; this is a federal rule, after all. What did surprise me was that the summary is less than five pages long. Now that’s efficiency! But I digress.

One of the details I’m dubious about is the estimate of the number of accidents the rule will prevent. Next time you drive somewhere, watch the pedestrians. In particular, take a close look at the ones who step out into traffic without looking both ways. My bet is that most of them are wearing headphones.

I’m not suggesting the new rule is pointless. If nothing else, it will be helpful to the blind. But 2,400 injuries per year seems optimistic to me.

That aside, what I find most interesting about the rule is that it doesn’t specify what kind of sound the cars should produce. The rule sets out standards for minimum volume at various frequency levels and how the volume should change when the vehicle speeds up or slows down, but there’s nothing in those three hundred seventy pages that describes the actual sound.

Each manufacturer is free to choose whatever sound they wish, a long as all vehicles of the same make, model, and year use the same sound. Bets on whether some manufacturers will choose to use their advertising jingle as the sound? I suppose it’s too much to hope someone will use a voice saying “Hey, look out! Car coming! Damn it, don’t play in traffic!”

More seriously, given the need to vary the sound according to the speed of the vehicle–and the need to upload new firmware to fix bugs–manufacturers are going to hook the sound system into the same inter-car network system as everything else.

Lest anyone forget, many of the radio-based car hacks we’ve seen use the entertainment system as a point of entry. It’s clear that, to date, manufacturers haven’t given enough thought to separating components.

That being the case, how long will it be before hacks start appearing that let you take over the safety sound system and replace the factory-installed sound with anything you want? How long will it take before the RIAA starts suing motorists for “sharing music” by routing the output of the stereo into the external speaker?

Kaja!

Kaja was not at all happy with the picture I posted last Friday. She’s been complaining all week. I mean, she complains all the time anyway, but this week it’s been nothing but that picture.

So here’s a better picture of her. Gaze upon the loveliness that is KAJA. Please. I can’t take another week of this.

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Oh, and don’t look too deeply into her eyes. She’s an excellent hypnotist. Match stares with her too long and you may just find yourself sending her treats.