Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review – The ABCs of Death

The good thing about horror anthologies is that bad segments tend to end quickly, giving their companions a chance to re-win the audience. But when the majority of the stories are genuinely awful, they overpower the good stuff. This set sports 26 entries, one for each letter of the alphabet. The first two got the evening off on the right foot, but after that it dived straight downhill. By the end I’d experienced way too many suffering animals, graphic toilet explorations and the like to be able to appreciate the diamonds buried in the shit. Verdict: wish I’d skipped it.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review – Star Trek Into Darkness

I didn’t hate this Abrams Trek anywhere near as bad as I hated the first one. I still prefer the cerebral drama of the original TV series (fear a movie that makes William Shatner’s high jinks look cerebral) over the noisy action sequences so popular with 21st century audiences, but I did at least appreciate the absence of Lost-esque time travel plot monkeying. I couldn’t quite decide if the presence of characters and plot developments from Wrath of Khan were a loving, playful tribute or just a desperate attempt at “anything you can do I can do better.” But overall I enjoyed this outing, at least when it wasn’t busy screaming in my ear. Mildly amusing

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Apple, are you kidding me?

Late last Wednesday afternoon I had what by now has become all too familiar: a Mac hard drive crash. Fortunately I learned my lesson after the first three times this happened to me, so this time I had a reasonably current backup. I lost just three or four days, almost all of it stuff I’d uploaded to the web already.

So the issue wasn’t data loss. The issue was the hard drive itself. The problem required a trip to the Apple Store (not exactly right next door), where the computer had to stay for three days. As down times go, that honestly wasn’t too bad. It was actually sort of nice to have an excuse to take a break from connectedness for a little while.

Plus the Apple “Geniuses” were nice to the verge of customer service overkill. One even told me that the company’s in-house code name for the computer I bought is the Ultimate. That made me wonder what their name is for the model with a few extras I didn’t get. Best not to know. I’d hate to think about people unwittingly using a computer known as the John Holmes.

My problem with all this (aside from this being the fourth hard drive crash in less than two years) was that in days gone past I could have tackled the repair at home. If the hardware was seriously torched (and in this case it may have been), then off to the store it would go. As I’d had it only a month or so, it was still under warranty. But at least I could have tried running some diagnostics and attempted to fix it myself before swapping in an expensive replacement part.

But in this brave new world that doesn’t happen. Because I needed to be able to boot from an external system disc so I could go to work on the internal hard drive. And do new Macs come with a CD system disc? They do not. Of course there’s a certain logic to that, as the new Macs don’t have disc drives. But I have an external drive that I use mostly to watch DVDs on the computer. So if I’d had a disc, I could at least have given it a try.

Another option would have been to use a Firewire connection to link the problem child up to an older, functioning computer that I happened to have downstairs. But Apple in its wisdom decided I didn’t need a Firewire port in my new machine.

Here then is the deal: in Apple’s imagineered vision, we’re all going to live in the cloud. We’ll store all our data in the cloud, connect to our peripherals via the cloud, watch movies from the cloud, do everything we do entirely from the fabulous world of the net-connected cloud. For the full effect, read that last sentence aloud while standing on your tiptoes, flapping your arms like a happy little bluebird and employing your most sarcastic tone.

In Apple’s defense, the cloud works great. Until it doesn’t. It provides us with all kinds of new possibilities. But if we rely exclusively on our net connections, we lose a measure of autonomy (not to mention opening our lives up to scrutiny by hackers at the government, corporate and freelance levels). At the very least, we appear to have surrendered the ability to opt in or out at our discretion.

So if Apple is going to watch over us like we’re a mass of ignorant children, then the corporation is going to have to make a bigger commitment to being a better parent. A few more geniuses in the design and assembly stages might save employing fewer at the customer service end. Just a thought.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A first from 8sails Press

Like most kids, I wanted to be any number of things when I was a kid. Superhero. Commando. Astronaut. Of course I had a few more down-to-earth ambitions as well. Engineer (not good enough at math). Computer programmer (no patience for it). Architect (see Engineer and Programmer).

The one childhood fascination that stuck with me was writing. Of course this infatuation evolved a bit over the years. Thanks to my love of novels and short stories, I originally saw myself as an author of fiction. I first set foot on that path at 16 when I got a short story published in a small press anthology.

And then nothing. Though I’ve written fiction off and on for the last three decades, I’ve published none of it. Until now.

A couple of days ago, 8sails Press published a novella I first drafted several years ago and recently managed to edit and compose for Kindle distribution. Writing it was great entertainment. I even had fun designing the cover. So I hope readers will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

The official description: Sarah Upton and her parents are headed to the small fishing village of Innsmouth for a funeral. Before journey’s end, she’ll learn more than she ever wanted to know about her family, her heritage and the darker corners of the earth.

Fans of the work of H.P. Lovecraft will recognize a name or two in there. My story is a modern re-thinking of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” Though the novella contains a few references to the original story, you can enjoy it fully even if you’re unfamiliar with the source.

Thanks to an agreement with Amazon, this title is available only for the Kindle. In exchange for this restriction, the retailer is providing some marketing assistance. If you don’t actually have a Kindle device, fear not. Amazon makes Kindle apps available for free for a range of computers, tablets and smart phones.

And yes, the company also makes me charge for it. However, the price is an affordable 99 cents. My royalty is 35 cents per copy, so if you buy the book and don’t like it, I’ll personally refund the 35 cents you gave me and you can go out and buy yourself a nothing.

If you’re not inclined to mess with the whole Kindle thing, you can still read the first few pages on Amazon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Review – Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies

This is the first time I’ve ever watched a mockbuster back to back with the movie it’s coat-tailing. Naturally the comparison isn’t favorable. Bill Oberst Jr. turns in a good performance as the title character (the President, not the walking dead). But against the tide of ill-conceived nonsense, the good parts don’t amount to much. Before the story runs its course, we get Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, Teddy Roosevelt as a boy, and zombies that just sort of stand there waiting to be done in. Though I was pleasantly surprised by parts of the Hollywood take, this one was pretty much exactly what I expected. See if desperate

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review – Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

This was better than I thought it would be, which to be honest isn’t particularly high praise. When the title character performs the title task, this is a fun horror/action picture. I could do without the axe-twirling nonsense – seriously dude, are you a vampire killer or a cheerleader? – but otherwise the fight scenes were well assembled and the monsters were sufficiently creepy. However, trouble arises when the script tries to mesh fantasy and history. I was particularly put off by the notion that Lincoln started the Civil War because vampires were pro-slavery. Not that I’m against wholesale slaughter of Confederate vampires, two birds with one stone there. But it slows the plot’s pace down to a crawl until the bloodsucker slaying starts up again. Mildly amusing

Saturday, January 5, 2013

2012 - Some final housekeeping

At the start of 2012 I set two goals for 8sails, making one and falling just a tad short on the other.

The one I missed: adding 1000 new pages to the site. I figured with all the Survival Guide uploading at the start of the year that I might stand a chance of making it. Though that contributed an even 400 new pages, I still finished the year at 909 (including blog entries). Still, that’s an average of more than four per working day. Not too bad.

My other goal was to shoot more than 10,000 pictures, a mark I managed to clear with 80 to spare. The next big 8sails College project is going to be a photography text, and I need to replace the examples of other photographers’ work that I used to use in class with self-created demonstrations that could be uploaded to the web without violating copyright laws. My collaborator and I still have a ways to go, but we’re off to a good start.

Right before Christmas I also wrote the site’s 4000th movie review. When I hit 3000, I took a look back at what I’d reviewed. That was easier then than it is now, because back then I had a database of all the reviews allowing me to count the number of horror movies, comedies, dramas and so on. The database bit the dust in a hard drive crash, and I haven’t cared enough about it to rebuild the thing. So the view from 4000 is only “wow, that’s a lot of movies.”

Other than work on The Photographer’s Sketchbook, I haven’t set any goals for 2013. I’m going to let the year go wherever it takes me.