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Leaving Live Journal

Aug. 4th, 2009 | 09:00 am

To all my friends who read this stuff; I'm shifting my blog activity over to Wordpress. If you're so inclined, read it here: http://nealskorpen.wordpress.com/

Also if so inclined, look me up on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/introvert?ref=profile

And Twitter: http://twitter.com/nskorpen

Cheers!

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Harry Potter 6 plus Trailer Trashin 2

Jul. 17th, 2009 | 02:41 pm

For a change, I saw a movie opening week. I won't include spoilers this time-- even if you don't care, I do.
In 4 words: best Harry Potter ever.
Better, even, dare I say it, than the book. I found the book incredibly aggravating when I first read it, less so on re-reading a couple weeks ago, but still kind of artificially inflated. The movie is of necessity shortened and tightened up, and it made for a much more sensible and interesting story.
But more than that...Harry Potter has always been something of a guilty pleasure, seeing as how it's aimed at younger readers. I've enjoyed the books, but part of me always feels I should be reading something more sophisticated. The movies have been pretty uneven for me. Again, I have the sense that I'm not the target audience, not quite enamored enough with the source material. The Half-Blood Prince is different. I enjoyed it unreservedly. The script is stronger, the directing is more subtle, but I think most of all the acting is hugely improved. Daniel Radcliffe struck me as painfully untalented in the first three films, but now he's come into his own with a vengeance. Despite all the tragedy and horror, it's just a joy to inhabit Hogwarts and hang out with the gang.

Before the movie we saw the trailer for Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. It looks really entertaining, but I have to voice the same complaint I always voice. If you're going to make Sherlock Holmes (or Godzilla, or Robin Hood, etc etc etc) then make Sherlock Holmes. If you're going to add a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with the the character, for Frith's sake make up your own 19th century detective and call him something else! I know, I know, then you couldn't cash in on the name recognition and branding. Tough!! Suck it!!!! If you're making something different, call it something different, don't betray the mythology!!!!!

I have the opposite comment for the trailer for Where the Wild Things Are. The Oregonian's Nestor Ramos had it right when he called the trailer so powerful and affecting, we can only hope the movie lives up to it. It strikes me what a different approach Spike Jonze is taking in adapting a children's book compared to all the Seuss-wrecking that's been going on in theaters. Sure, Dr. Seuss writes a wackier book than Maurice Sendak, but it serves nothing and no one to bury the source material's charms under a mountain of hyperactive uber-cool pop culture. I wish American studios would take a cue from Wallace and Gromit or Spirited Away. You can appeal to kids without treating them like idiots.

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Star Trek: a Non-Trekkie's Perspective

Jun. 12th, 2009 | 01:35 pm

As always, spoilers.

I'm not a trekkie. Not because I don't know anything about Star Trek-- I scored dismayingly high on a Trek trivia quiz recently-- but because I don't like it. I enjoyed the original series as a kid, but never became a dedicated follower. I suppose it started to seem silly and self-indulgent with the 3rd movie. I watched Next Generation in college with the rest of Bean Complex housing staff, but by the time Voyager came along I could not watch any iteration of the show. The whole thing just rubs me the wrong way. The military hierarchy, the deus-ex-machina pseudo-science (every problem is solved by re-routing and converting and diverting power, as if the Enterprise is made of Legos), the stiff postures, the orders barked and phasers fired without the least sense of tension....argh.

Star Trek (2009) is a whole new ball game. In the first ten minutes it achieves the impossible: making the quintessential scene of crew-on-the-bridge, confront-enemy-ship, pleasantries-end-and-firing-begins, actually exciting. From there is carries itself as a real movie, developing plot and character in solid fashion, rather than relying on automatic buy-in from a cult following. At the same time, from what I hear, the new movie manages not to alienate said cult-following, but delights them as much as, or more than, me. I'm sure I missed countless references aimed at the trek geeks, but the ones I caught were fun; the doom of the red-clad away team member, Kirk and a green-skinned babe, Captain Pike in a wheelchair, Sulu fencing, Scottie's signature line.

Quibbles: Kirk's mother is on the ship? And gives birth at the moment of evacuation? That was a little much. And honestly I feel like I've seen someone giving birth in every movie of the past year. The Nokia product placement was especially grating in a future setting. And just where was Kirk' mother when he enlisted in Star Fleet? I suspect there are some deleted scenes there.
Chekov was cool, but once Scottie shows up he seems redundant. Spock the elder was essential to the story, and really a tragic figure in the end, which was cool, but I felt there was one too many Nimoy scenes.
Everyone is awfully cavalier about creating black holes. I would think you'd want to be very careful about when and where you do that.

My favorite things: how the crew all found their niches as the crisis wore on, not necessarily the roles they were assigned. Rolling cameras giving outer space its 3-dimensional due. Vulcan emotionlessness being a cultural convention rather than a biological fact. Spock and Uhura. Using the alternate history theory to cut loose from the canon. Simon Pegg. The bridge! As a kid, I liked nothing better than imagining I was onboard a spaceship. The bridge reminded me why.

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Right and Left

Jun. 1st, 2009 | 11:15 am

There was this column in the Oregonian by Nicholas Kristof about a study of the different tendencies between self-identified liberals and conservatives. The upshot is, conservatives are more likely to feel disgust and respect for authority. Interesting I suppose, but in my experience, liberals and conservatives alike claim to champion the rights of the individual over the tyranny of the oppressor (government if the opposing party is in power; otherwise the tyrant is corporations, Hollywood, etc.)

In school I learned that Left and Right are two ends of a political spectrum, with a linear progression from one extreme (communism) to the other (fascism). From what few fragments of European political discussion I pick up, this model seems to hold true across the Atlantic. Not so in America. Our two major parties have more or less consistent platforms that are more or less in opposition much of the time, but both claim to be pushing for individual liberty.

The Libertarian Party argues that both parties are tyrannical, just in different areas; socially for Repubs, economically for Demos. They claim to be for freedom across the board, pushing government out of our bedrooms and out of our paychecks, thus transcending the Right/Left dichotomy. Strictly speaking, the Libertarian model verges on anarchy, more of a leftist extreme. Aesthetically, the Libertarian party is incredibly right wing. Their whole platform amounts to cutting taxes, which accounts for half of the Republican platform. (The other half is Evangelical morality, which also has it's own dedicated proponent in the ironic-name-trophy-holding Constitution Party.) (Biased? Me?) Plus Libertarians always exhibit a surly cynicism commonly seen in right-wingers. Compare the approaches of Rush Limbaugh and John Stewart and you'll see what I'm talking about.

I think about all this stuff, and I try to understand what people in America mean when they say Right and Left. Well generally what they really mean is Republican and Democrat, even though both parties all all over the political spectrum. But if the spectrum is a viable model, than people ought to fall somewhere along it, even if party platforms have been compromised and muddled over the years. So what does it mean in America to be Right Wing or Left Wing? It's not a matter of adhering to individual freedom. Lefties want everyone to be free to love who they want and plan their families. Righties want everyone to be free to do their work and keep their earnings. Each side would accuse the other of driving society toward fascism. Righties call it communism, but they're talking about Iron Curtain communism, not the philosophical principles at the left end of the spectrum.

So how can we define Right and Left? My latest theory is to go by what trips up our leaders. Righties want money. Lefties want sex. Discuss.

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"Lost" Season 5

May. 18th, 2009 | 03:01 pm

I haven't blogged about Lost since discovering Jeff Jensen's staff-of-researcher-fueled hyper-recaps, but why should the professional journalists have the only say???
Naturally, here be spoilers. If you aren't caught up on Lost, why would you read this?

There's no way the plane isn't going to crash. If Jack's effort to rewrite history succeeds, he won't have any reason (or means) to go back and rewrite history. That's just elementary time-travel fiction. Lost has worked too hard to maintain an intricate and solid internal logic to throw it all away on a scrap of pseudo-science about humans being the variable. Plus, as Marcie points out, erasing the plane crash would wipe out 5 year's worth of character development and relationships, and they have to know the audience wouldn't take kindly to that.
Miles gave them the out. The bomb is the incident. Oedipus fulfills his own doom. The explosion will send everyone back to their proper time and season 6 will pick up with phony-Locke and Ben and freshly stabbed Jacob (another line of narrative that won't happen if history gets rewritten. No way.) That's my prediction.

The fact that Bill (that's the name Marcie and I have given to Jacob's "do you know how much I want to kill you" companion, for convenience sake) was able to animate Locke started me thinking, maybe Bill's been animating every dead person we've seen come back. Christian, Charlie, Claire, Alex, Horace, etc. Well, maybe not EVERY dead person. John Locke has actually come back from the dead at least once. Jacob revived him after his fall out the window. Did he also revive him after Ben shot him?

I don't have the recall to tease it all out, but it leads me to this notion: Bill has influence over the dead, and Jacob has influence over the living. I keep coming back to this supposed war that's coming. I keep trying to assign the various factions (Dharmas, Others, Whitmore, Eloise, Shadow-of-the-statuesies, etc) to one side or the other, and it never works. There has to be a ton of motivational and cause-and-effect crossover going on between the different groups. But Jacob and Bill-- there's a manichean pairing up I can get behind. Maybe they represent the forces of life and death? It has a nice cosmic symmetry, but it's probably not the real secret.

I love this show. I love how after 5 years they're still raising more questions with each answer given. The story has gotten crazy complicated yet somehow stays buoyant and integrated and believable and enthralling. Can they bring it all together in the final season? The history of television would suggest no. The history of Lost would suggest yes. Maybe that's who Jacob and Bill really are; smart tv vs dumb tv. Vive la smartesse!

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Various Updates

May. 6th, 2009 | 04:44 pm

More on Peter and I at the Bike Expo here.
Also, full web publication of Island of the Moths starts today, here.
And finally, the store on my homepage is no longer quite so user-hostile, and features Moths issues 1-6 and new Introvert Manifesto t-shirts.
Cheers

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My Crash

Apr. 17th, 2009 | 03:07 pm

Let the record show that all businesses mentioned below provided excellent service and I totally recommend them.

February 10, morning: my computer makes a faint grinding sound it's never made before and fails to boot up. I power it off and try again, and it works. Problem solved, right?

February 10, afternoon: the grinding sound comes back and the computer freezes. Again I power it off and again it starts working. Looking back, I can't believe I didn't see red lights flashing, didn't hear sirens blaring, didn't burn all my crucial data to CD and rush my machine to the Apple store. But no. I just hoped the problem would go away.

February 11, morning: the computer will not boot up no matter how many times I turn it off and on. Won't even make the grinding noise anymore. Still, I'm not too bothered. It's a hassle, but I'll take it to the shop and they can fix it. They have ways.

February 11, 2 pm: my appointment at the Apple store genius bar. A guy who is about 17 plugs one of their mysterious devices into my computer and comes up with total hard drive failure. All they can do is replace the hard drive. He suggests taking it to Mac Shop Northwest, who may be better equipped to retrieve the data.

February 11, 2:45 pm: I manage to find the elusive Mac Shop Northwest, tucked in a back corner of a business/industrial park. They can give me a bigger hard drive, plus standard data clone procedure, for about $180. A guy who is about 12 takes my computer into the back.

I figure it will take them less than a week. Instead it's more like a week and a half. Meanwhile I still have work to do. In fact, work is just now ramping up after a two-month near-total slump. So now I'm using Marcie's laptop for email, editing photos at Vothy's house, and arrange to borrow Amy's laptop for Illustrator. Cybernetically speaking, I'm a drifting hobo.

Finally I get the call from Mac Shop Northwest. The new hard drive is in. They could not retrieve the data.

I go to pick it up and a guy who is about 8 explains it to me; the drive is in the process of failing, and while they have certain methods they could try, it would probably A) not work and B) damage the drive further. He gives me back the old drive and a brochure for Drivesavers, a data recovery service.

I call Drivesavers. Depending on how much they can recover, it will cost from $500 to $2400. At this point I'm ready to give up. I haven't backed up a thing since 2005 (again, looking back, I'm boggled by my own ice-blind negligence). It's a lot to lose, but it hardly seems worth two grand. Marcie feels differently. This is my intellectual property. She talks me into it.

I do a little research, and every data recovery service has similar prices. ADR has a location not two miles from our house, so I pick them. They have a $100 diagnostic fee, but no charge if they don't recover the data. It turns out the location is just a drop-off point and the drive will still have to ship to a clean room out of state, but at least I don't have to pack it in static-proof lambswool or whatever. By this time it's February 27. ADR promises results in 5-7 business days.

I've reloaded what software I have on disk, spent about $100 repurchasing other programs, rebuilt most of my address book, and gotten copies of a few of my images back from clients. I am a mostly functional artist again. Before all this started I was cruising on Island of the Moths, drawing 3 pages a week, but since the crash the wind has gone out of my sails. When I tally in my head the data banished to limbo, it really doesn't seem like that much. I can re-scan and recreate all my comic pages and merchandise. I did burn CDs of all my iTunes purchases-- why I was so conscientious about that and nothing else I can't imagine. Still, I feel torpedoed. I feel like I did when I broke my wrist and wore a cast for six weeks-- an acute sense of wrongness, all the worse because it could easily have been avoided. It surprises me how much I'm wound up into my computer. Not knowing how much (if any) I'll get back is oppressive.

A lot more than 5-7 business days go by. This is my one actual complaint about any of the service I received. ADR was very good about staying in touch with me, but I wish they had made it clear from the beginning how long the process might take. On March 26, I receive word that the data is unrecoverable.

It's now April 17. I have a new desktop image, a new pharoh name for the hard drive (a personal tradition going back to 1994), a new directory structure that makes a little more sense. I'm slowly feeding CDs into my iTunes library, since copy protection won't let me download from the iPod. I finished Moths #6. I've rebuilt art for selling at Seattle Bike Expo and Stumptown Comics Fest. There's a lot more to rebuild.

All my old archived emails are gone, but that's probably okay. Some of my writing is gone for good. One story in particular I was building momentum on before the crash, and I'm struggling to get it back. A large part of me is glad we didn't have to shell out $2400. Needless to say, I'll be backing up everything from now on.

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Synecdoche, New York

Mar. 26th, 2009 | 04:01 pm

Critics are divided; it's either brilliant or garbage. So you knew I would like it.

In one of the movie's many illuminating throwaway moments, main character Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) directs one of his actors to "walk like yourself." Naturally, once told to he can't do it. That's how Caden spends his whole life; trying to walk like himself.

In typical fashion, writer/director Charlie Kaufmann creates a surreal storyscape that looks metaphorical, but isn't really. Like an abstract painting, it means what it is. The movie is unreal, yet truthful, accurate, and moving. If you've ever asked yourself, Who am I? and found that question leading to other questions (Why am I me? What is outside my consciousness? Why am I not someone else? What if I am?) This movie is that experience.

It's also sad. Really really sad. The most unbearable moment (it involves dying flowers) just flipped on my invincible reality-denying apparatus. I don't know what it says about me that in the end I found the movie uplifting. American Beauty had the same effect.

I won't say anything else, except I have to comment on the title. It's a running gag in the film that Cotard can't think of a good title for his theater piece. He keeps trying for something meaningful, resonant, ironic, poetic, but all his ideas are either too arch or too flat. Naturally, Synecdoche, New York is the perfect title that never occurs to him. I didn't realize until the characters started talking that the name of the town in New York is actually Schenectady. Synecdoche is one of 100 literary terms Miss Porter had us put on flash cards in AP English, and it's one of the half-dozen that actually stuck with me, probably because it's so aggressively artsy. As if you LJers didn't know, it means a figure of speech where a part stands for the whole (i.e. "all hands on deck.") Just like Cotard's warehouse set stands for Schenectady...until it also stands for New York, Berlin, the past, the future, self, non-self, truth, fiction, disintegration, and oneness with everything. Bloody brillliant!

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Bike Expo

Mar. 17th, 2009 | 04:50 pm

The International Bike Expo in Seattle went pretty well. I sold a few things, more than I usually do at Stumptown. Perhaps there's a lesson there. Our booth was out in one of the big circus tents, and happened to be right next to a gap in the ceiling draining water, but the staff kept it mostly under control. Friday night I was the warm-up act for Bob Roll, got to show slides and read excerpts from The Bicycle Book to a crowd of 300 or so. Got a few laughs. Saturday I gave another slide show to a crowd of 30 or so, this time all my own Cyclotoons. People seemed to like that one too.
I didn't get much of a chance to explore the hangar and other tents, but here are some folks who did:

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Watchmen - Good Enough

Mar. 10th, 2009 | 01:22 am

So Watchmen the movie is not as good as the book. That's true for 90% of movie adaptations.
Yes, there are misfires. The opening sequence is too enamored with the smiley button. Daniel and Laurie did not need to slaughter the muggers. A prostitute with any inkling of self-preservation would not hassle Rorschach.
But on the whole, Snyder pulled it off. He's true to the characters, true to the themes. The movie is not as subtle or complex as the book, but what do you expect?
I was surprised at how vividly the movie brought me back to the cold war of the 80s. I've read the book so many times that now I see only layers of technique, and don't feel the impact like I did as a teenager. I never really believed there would be a nuclear holocaust, but the notion that we could all be wiped out at any time suffused everything. It made me angry. Who did those maniacs think they were? What gave them the right to dangle my life by a thread? In the theater I found myself reliving that rage and fear that were just the background noise of the Reagan years.
The genius of Watchmen was always that while it subverts every superhero convention, wrestles with profound questions, and paints a bleak picture of human nature, it's still a fantastically entertaining masked-avenger romp. Snyder manages to keep all these elements in play, mostly by sticking to the source material like a shadow. Some are calling it slavish, but I wouldn't go that far. The handful of big departures from the book work well.
Watchmen achieves the one thing I really hoped it would; like the book, it demands to be taken seriously. Notice is given. Superhero does not equal camp. Moviemakers, putting your stars in masks does not give you license to insult our intelligence. Have some respect for these characters. Understand their mythologies. They are meaningful to us.

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