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Month: January 2012

Stephen Fry on musical snobbery and classical music

Someone posted this on Facebook, and I quite liked it…

It’s a bit raunchy though, but it’s Stephen Fry. I would recommend listening to it, but not actually watching it, because the camera man will drive you insane. I don’t agree with his philosophical theories on the origins and purposes of dance, but that’s beside the matter. I’m not sure what the specifics are of the notion he is responding to, but I still agree with the main message… I think…

(And Mozart died before he was put in a grave…)

On morally-warped anti-bullying sentiments

I strongly agree in the wrongness of bullying in any form, but I’m also frightened and saddened by the number of morally-warped anti-bullying articles on the web. I don’t think it’s bullying that is the only cause of suffering in many situations. It’s also the fault of this emerging “complete sexual liberation” culture that’s encouraging young people to think about their natural sexual attractions in specific ways, such as:

1. It defines you, it’s part of you.
2. You should tell people about it and be completely open about it.
3. You should actively pursue it; you should not feel guilty in gratifying your desires as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.
4. People who don’t support this gratification are evil; it means they don’t support you as a person.

Each of these is so morally warped, it should not be surprising that many minds naturally struggle against them, shy away from even thinking about them at all, or agree with them so strongly that, when questioned about them, their minds bubble into a boiling rage.

Think about if, instead of sexual attractions, the four points above were about the natural feeling of envy. Who would agree that any of the four things listed above are good?

I offer these corresponding corrections instead:

1. If a desire pops into your mind naturally, it is not part of you at all. You had no choice in the matter. How can it be said to define you?
2. This is really just a precursor to number 3.
3. The idea is that if you harm no one, no harm is done. This is obviously false, as you can easily harm yourself just by letting your mind linger on the wrong sorts of thoughts. After all, a feeling of despair and self-doubt doesn’t directly hurt anyone else, does it? But who argues that that is OK? The next question is: how can fulfilling your sexual desires be harmful to yourself? That’s a huge question that, if one were seriously interested, one could Google around and find answers more carefully and logically written than I have time to write. But it should not be hard to understand why letting yourself be a slave to your uncontrolable natural desires rarely leads to good things in the long run, whether sexual, social, or material in nature.
4. This is just completely illogical. Otherwise there would be no such thing as forgiveness. (Well, I guess some people don’t even really believe in that.)

There are stories out there about young people telling their loved ones about their sexual attractions and then their loved ones being accepting, “I still love you,” and that’s it. Is that it? Are there no stories of parents and children having talks on the morality of sex? Of how one doesn’t have to fear being hated even in the case of strong moral disagreements?

Society is sliding down a pretty scary slope, and it’s all the more nightmarish because so many people are closing their eyes and smiling.

The digital future of music composition…

Some predictions about the future of music:

In the not-so-far-away future, anyone will be able to compose symphonies, concertos, string quartets, etc., with the quality of a Mozart piece. It will not be thought of as a special talent. Although computer software will not be required for this to happen, computer software will exist with the ability to aid the composer in this task, even doing the bulk of the work for them if they so desire.

With this software, a user will be able to let the computer do as much or as little of the work as he pleases. He will be able to input a melody and have the program orchestrate and flesh it out into a complete piece. He will be able to choose among the styles of various classical composers, combine styles, or create his own style. He will be able to choose the piece’s length and instrumentation.

There will be a “Compose Mozart Symphony” button.

Users will be able to compose musical pieces that go on forever, guiding them in realtime, instructing them to crescendo or switch themes or change keys whenever they wish; automated composing will have the ability to be truly interactive.

This will probably happen in your lifetime, in the next couple of decades… be prepared!

Peering over the Cliffs of Insanity

I will confess: my Animation Mentor classes have not been going well. They haven’t been going awfully, but my work is struggling. I’ve been in an anxious panic mode lately because I’m afraid my work is not going to be nearly good enough to send out to studios. But anxious panic mode only makes the work worse; it makes me work slower and more anxiously. It makes animating anything an awful tedious chore, when it should be fun and interesting. While animating, my mind focuses on other things I’d like to do: watch a movie, play a game, compose music, work on my novel, work on my cartoon series pitch, work on my melody generator, etc. Things I just hardly have any time to do… and when I do have time to do them, I do them knowing I’m eating into animation time.

I won’t complain too much about my job; it’s provided me the money for tuition to learn animation in first place. But it’s the sort of job that can really drive you mad because you can’t really concentrate on anything. And I think most human minds cherish the ability to concentrate on something; to really get lost in a project. Even mopping a floor is a nicer job when your thoughts don’t have to be interrupted every ten seconds. And having your thoughts consistently interrupted mentally wears you down, so you don’t have as much drive or energy to do anything later on when you do have time. It would also be nice if I had more regular hours. As it is now, I can’t get into any sort of routine. It’s mornings these days, evenings these days, weekends these days. Blagh!

And then there’s the Animation Mentor graduation in California. Part of me thinks it would still be fun to go, but another part of me isn’t sure it’s worth the trouble, time, and money. I have yet to get to know any classmates as well as I would like; certainly not enough for a trip out to California to seem like something I must do. I’d rather save my money and try to get a pitch meeting for my cartoon series idea…

Anyway, fortunately, so I don’t completely fail out of Animation Mentor and/or go completely insane, I’ll be taking a leave-of-absence for at least a month and a half (maybe more?), starting two weeks from today. I can’t wait to have all that extra time to put into animation and polishing my shots. And hopefully the time and energy to pursue my other creative endeavors.

While I look forward to the leave, it makes these last two weeks of work complete torture. It’s like the last days of school before summer vacation — the mind can concentrate on little else besides the presumed luxury of the impending freedom.

In other news, I rewrote my novelette from 2009 called Dreamgiver, which is now out on submission.

I also caught site of this: Strange Chemistry Open Door 2012. A pro publisher accepting submissions from unagented authors? Definitely looks interesting. They’ll be accepting submissions during the last half of April 2012. So last week I posted on Facebook a request for first readers and sent the first half of my novel-in-progress Moonrise Ink out to five or six friends. My hope is to use their feedback to help me finish the book, then rewrite the portions of it that will need rewriting, and I’m pretty confident I’ll have a draft finished by April so that I can try submitting it. That doesn’t leave as much time for editing as I would like, but I think it may still be worth a shot.

Make high school mandatory?

Whenever anybody starts talking about solutions for education, I get very sensitive about how wrong they usually are. So when Obama said that he thought it should be mandatory for people under 18 to stay in school, I had trouble understanding why.

I suppose the theory is that they shouldn’t drop out of school because it will just make it that much harder for them to get a job later on. This is partly true, but I don’t think it’s just the lack of a high school diploma that prevents them from getting a job, it’s also the factors that went into them not getting a high school diploma.

I don’t personally know anyone who didn’t graduate from high school. But my guess is that when people don’t finish, it’s because they’ve got problems, both financially and emotionally, with their home life. I don’t see how forcing them to stay in an often prison-like environment until they’re 18 is going to help much. Even if they get their diploma, their backgrounds will hinder their ability to find a job.

Perhaps the other theory is that law enforcement will better be able to prevent drop outs from forming gangs and committing crimes? Eh…

I have already described a better solution in a previous post: If I were the God of Education. If educational institutions followed my system, high schoolers wouldn’t want to drop out in the first place. School would naturally be a fun and interesting place to work in, not the prison that it is today.

So… should we make it mandatory for high schoolers to stay in high school until they’re 18? To be honest, I don’t know. Ideally, no. I don’t think teens should be forced to do anything in general. But with all the other societal enforcements that are already in place, will a new mandate such as this ultimately make life better for them? Since I have no experience with an environment in which dropping out of high school was ever a possible option, I really can’t say. Which is not to say that I would immediately trust the opinion of someone who was from such a place; I just have little basis to form an honest opinion myself.

However, the idea that a law such as this is needed completely misses the point of the problem. The problem is not that high schoolers are dropping out of high school. The problem is why they’re dropping out. It would be wiser to search for and attack that problem.

The blackout that saved the Internet

Of course everybody has heard about Wikipedia’s controversial blackout in protest of SOPA. And while some may be quick to credit the online encyclopedia as our shining beacon of online freedom, let’s not too soon forget another little blackout that made a not-so-little impact…

That’s right, we’re talking about the blog of Joe Schmoe. And although the blog only had four regular readers, which included his Mom, his friend, and himself on another computer, when he decided to take his blog offline to protest the possibility of someone else taking it offline, the entire Internet was shaken.

We talked to Joe on Skype. “At first it seemed nobody noticed,” he said. “I spent several hours watching my Google Analytics in realtime, but nothing was happening. That’s when a realized I had to spread word of my decision.”

And spread the word he did. Joe tweeted his personal blackout, and posted broken links to Facebook and a Wikipedia article he wrote on himself which will probably be deleted soon due to lack of verifiable citations.

The news spread like wildfire. A congressman from Florida said: “I had never heard of Joe Schmoe. But when friends of mine began tweeting his broken link, I suddenly really cared about what he had to say. And of course I couldn’t find out what he had to say because he had taken his blog offline. I felt so ashamed. I’m now starting to really question everything I believe in. Clearly we can’t have this. These blogs are important for the nation, I think, maybe.”

“This is a real victory for us bloggers,” said another blogger who took his blog offline to protest SOPA. “It just goes to show that while the pen may be mightier than the sword, taking all the ink out of your pen is the mightiest of all.”

And Joe Schmoe isn’t through yet. He’s now planning to burn books to protest of book censorship.

“Censorship can’t exist if there’s nothing to censor,” Joe said. “We can show the men in Washington that if they keep trying to do things like SOPA, we’re all just going to not blog or look things up on Wikipedia or really do anything… oh, wait a second, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.”

In loving memory of Joe Schmoe (1983-2012)

More serious thoughts on SOPA

This is not a comment on SOPA itself, but a comment on other comments about it:

What has emerged on the Internet is this system in which people who want to help piracy, or who are at least indifferent to it, start websites which allow anonymous users to upload and share data. If that data is copyrighted, making the data exchange illegal, the owner of the website can say: “Well, it’s not my fault!” Well, yes it is; you’re the one allowing people to anonymously share data on your site. You don’t have to do that. I can understand the argument that you shouldn’t be swiftly punished for an infraction you weren’t even aware of, but I don’t accept the notion that all website owners out there are truly doing what they should to stop piracy, or that there’s not much we should do about it. If drug dealers are ridiculously easy to find, shouldn’t they be ridiculously easy to arrest? Yes, and they are. Hence their usual discretion. If piracy sites are ridiculously easy to find (which they are, just Google around), why aren’t they easy to stop? I don’t know. I’m tempted to say it’s because a lot of people just enjoy pirating stuff and eating up my bandwidth.

I think people get easily paranoid. Even now, people can leave drugs in your car and get you arrested. Or they could just go ahead and stab you if they wanted to hurt you. If we’re thinking worse case scenarious, the physical world already provides plenty of them. That’s what makes many of Hitchcock’s movies so compelling. But we’re used to living with those risks; if it’s a new digital risk, the worst case scenario suddenly seems more palpable, more threatening.

“The new Facebook is being created in a garage somewhere, and nobody will want to invest in it because they’ll be too scared that it will be shut down too easily! The Internet will die!” That’s ridiculous. Investors would have no choice. That’s like claiming employers would stop hiring people if our nation’s stupid degree system was retired, and the end of the world would follow. No. Employers are still going to need workers, and retiring the degree system would force them to change. If investors have to work within the confines of new anti-piracy laws, they will. They may upset about it, especially if they were hoping to go into the piracy business, but they won’t all suddenly just stop investing altogether.

Or: “My blog will be shut down because someone will post copyrighted content!” Yes, you’re little blog there is so important.

Then there’s the other argument that those who fully admit to being pirates often make: “If content providers would just give me access to their offerings at a reasonable price, I wouldn’t have to steal!” What they fail to realize is that if they all collectively just stopped consuming the content altogether, the content providers would have no choice but to change their distribution business. But that requires too much organization and discipline, which most people don’t have, which is why unions exist in the labor force — people can’t make intelligent collective decisions otherwise. (Not that unions always make intelligent decisions, but that’s beside the point.) And this digital content is not like food. You don’t need it to live. Maybe you should just do something more useful with your time? I just can’t sympathize much with your plight, and the legal leniency of piracy sites is not worth defending for your sake.

All that said, I don’t know enough about SOPA to comment on it specifically. The arguments, however, should’ve been centered around its details in enforcement and how to make sure it’s not easily abused, not its principle of making website owners responsible for content, or making shut downs easier to enforce. If you disagree with our need for such a bill, you’re either a pirate or an idiot.

I get to interview Sam Neill!

After watching the new show Alcatraz on Fox earlier this week, I was a bit disappointed. It wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. But then I thought… what does Sam Neill think? So I decided to call him up and ask him through my shady underground Hollywood connections (which as of now can only help me contact three people: Sam Neill, Andy Griffith, and Sean Connery, all of whom are supposedly part of a secret club that meet annually to play cards, exchange stories of the old days, compare accents, and watch cartoons).

So here’s my interview! Thanks to Sammy old pal!

Me: So. I didn’t think Alcatraz was all that great. But what did you think?

Sam: Oh, I don’t watch the things I’m in. But I assume it was very good. Maybe you missed something.

Me: Not possible. But let’s move on to the next question. What is it like working with all those other actors and actresses?

Sam: It’s great. They are nice people. In fact, one day one of them told a joke and we all laughed. It was really funny.

Me: What was the joke?

Sam: You wouldn’t get it. It’s an actor joke.

Me: Please?

Sam: No.

Me: OK. Let’s move on. Your character in Alcatraz seems like a good guy with a dark side. Do you think that deep down he’s evil? Or nice?

Sam: I think deep down he has a lot of issues. I wouldn’t call those issues good or bad. It’s all about what side you’re viewing them from, kind of like how a leaf is a lighter shade of green underneath it, or how some west-African frogs can change their sex from female to male in an all female environment.

Me: So what you’re saying is: life finds a way.

Sam: What? No.

Me: Oh. Now, how did you come to play this character in Alcatraz?

Sam: Well, it was actually Abrams himself who asked me. He came by helicopter and just waltzed into my trailer one day and opened a bottle of wine without even asking! I told him I was saving it, and he said: “For today!” And then, after promising to fund me for a further three years, I took the job.

Me: That seems very unorthodox.

Sam: You’d be surprised.

Me: When you ran into your trailer, did you knock any pants off your clothes line?

Sam: Yes, I actually did.

Me: Interesting indeed. Let’s move on. How many seasons do you think Alcatraz will last?

Sam: Well, Abrams, as a producer, is always thinking about the big picture. Maybe not all the answers and a sense of closure; that’s up to the hack writers, I mean, the writers. Abrams is a questions guy, because that’s the easy, I mean, that’s the Abrams part. So he already has about 796 questions that will come up in the first season alone. That will generate so much interest and excitement that I think this show will go on for at least 25 years just to answer those questions, or at least explore possible answers while introducing new questions.

Me: But — wait. Is the show inserting questions before the writers even know the answers?

Sam: Oh, I don’t know. As an actor, I just have to evolve.

Me: Interesting. So how does your character in Alcatraz compare to characters you’ve played in the past?

Sam: In some ways, he’s very similar. In other ways, he’s very different.

Me: Can you be more specific?

Sam: Well, just think about it.

Me: OK, now I see what you’re saying. Let’s go on. How does it feel to be working on TV instead of the movies? Do you feel less important?

Sam: No. I’m still the main character.

Me: I don’t think you are.

Sam: Well, what’s to be scared about? Just a little hiccup in the writing.

Me: I didn’t say I was scared.

Sam: I didn’t say you were scared.

Me: I know. Anyway, speaking of being scared, those criminals aren’t really that scary, are they? They’re more like a six-foot turkeys.

Sam: Turkeys, huh? Imagine you’re in Alcatraz and you spot a prisoner, and you keep still because you think his vision is based on movement.

Me: Why would I think that?!

Sam: And that’s when the attack comes! Not from the front, but from the sides! Whewsh! From the other two prisoners you didn’t even know were there. And you are alive with they start to eat, I mean, kill you. So, you know, try to show a little respect!

Me: OK! I’m sorry! Geez! One more question: if a certain trilogy is continued with a certain fourth film, would you be interested in reprising your role?

Sam: Ah, yes, of course! I have been dying to reprise that role! I dream about it all the time! It will be the best movie ever! Unfortunately I don’t think there’s enough interest, so I don’t think The Omen 4 will ever happen.

Me: Argh! Oh well. Thanks for your time!

Sam: After careful consideration, I’ve decided not to endorse this interview.

Me: So have I! *Do DO, do DO, do do DOOO do DOOO do DOOO*

Thanks for reading this interview.

On giving too much credit to literary fiction…

This struck me as a strange blog post. You might have to read the whole thing to understand my response. It says:

In my worlds, metaphors have to be consistent with the worldview of a character.

Then I wrote a story (out on submission now) where a metaphor got a little out of hand – in a cool way.

I suppose you could think about it like a piece of art that has the same color in multiple places across the composition. It’s almost like hiding a beautiful pattern in the story for the reader to find if they’d like – not letting it be the whole point, or letting it take away from the main conflict, but picking something that will play into the main conflict and allow the different parts of the story to link together. Even if a reader isn’t consciously aware of it, their subconscious probably will be on some level, allowing it to contribute to the “feel” of the story.

Um … yeah … um … how is that “literary” as opposed to “science fiction and fantasy”? (I don’t understand why the word “literary” is used to describe a separate genre of writing, as if all writing wasn’t “literary” but that’s a different issue. I don’t cringe at the word “literary” but I do cringe at it’s sometimes strange use.) All metaphors should add to the mood and tone of the story and the worldview of the characters. That’s the point of metaphors! That’s not a device borrowed from “literary fiction.” Similarly, using “extended metaphors” or motifs or recurring themes or irony or any other literary device does not mean that these devices come from “literary fiction” just because some writer doesn’t see them often in his pile of pulp sci-fi stories. The notion that use of this “literary stuff” should be surprising, or would be considered to be mainly from the realm of “literary fiction” just strikes me as rather silly.

In films, there are quite a few storytelling choices that can (and should) be utilized to help tell the story: for example, there’s the music (use of silence, use of rhythm, use of harmony and melodic themes), there’s the sound (what we hear and how loudly we hear it), there’s the cinematography (how characters and settings are positioned in a frame, how much space they take up, where they’re looking in relation to the camera, how the camera moves), there’s the editing (how and when cuts are made), there’s the color, lighting, costumes, acting choices, etc. It all adds to the clarity of the emotion the director is trying to communicate.

A writer doesn’t have so many elements to worry about, but it’s still all about (at least on its most basic level) communicating emotion. A good writer of any genre will use every element he knows to effectively communicate the emotions he’s after. (Though that effectiveness will still be subjective, of course.)

Secondly, the blogger writes:

And I’m realizing that while we may not intend to give things extra meaning, a lot of times those meanings sneak in anyway.

In a sense, yes. I think all artists naturally tend to work at least hints of their life philosophies and interests into all their artwork. But I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that “meaning” can be added without intent. If you didn’t intend it, then it’s not meaning, at least not on your part. It might be a pattern, but it’s not meaning. That doesn’t mean that the audience can’t get meaning out of it. Just because I find meaning in a piece of art doesn’t mean that the artist put it there, consciously or subconsciously. This is because meaning doesn’t come from artwork. Meaning is inferred by the pattern-finding mind of an audience member. If we wish to communicate ideas to each other, such as directions to the nearest gas station, we must use a language we both have already established patterns for in our brains (that is, we both speak the language). You do not inject meaning into sentences; rather you order the words in a feedback loop, so that the meaning you intend to communicate is reflected in the words and order you choose. The listener can not know your intent; he has to guess it based on the words and order you chose using the pattern-knowledge he already has.

It’s really not that difficult of a concept, but most people don’t seem to think like that. Most people seem to think meaning is injected into artwork and then extracted by smart-enough audience members. But then what if people disagree on the meanings they extract? Either one of them is wrong (or both are), or the artist can be said to magically inject beauty and meaning without intending to. I don’t understand how anyone can honestly accept this notion.

Anyway, that’s a complete digression…

Let’s see, new novel, new novel. What’s it about? A guy who loses everything, but finds his soul in Canada. Alright, cooking now. And the whole book is an e-mail to his daughter who’s dead. And his name will be Norm Hull, ’cause he’s just a normal guy. But not everybody will get that. That’s just for the scholars a hundred years from now.” ~Brian on Family Guy