Author Archives: nate

DVI Question

OK, so, Polytropos HQ has been outfitted with some new computer equipment, including a video card in the desktop and a new LCF monitor on the, er, desktop. Both have DVI ins/outs/whatever for digital video, but the monitor shipped only with the good old-fashioned however-many-pin analog video connector.

I could buy a digital cable to take advantage of this new digital-ness. My question is: is there a point? In either picture quality or framerate or anything? It’s been so long since I’ve upgraded I find myself embarrassingly uninformed about such things that the moment.

Your wisdom is welcome.


I hoped to have all sorts of _Goblet of Fire_ movie thoughts up here today, but Ella was sick yesterday, so we had to cancel our plans to go. Next weekend, hopefully.

Liberia’s Election

Final results are a little ways away, but it looks like Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is going to be the “new president of Liberia”: She holds a solid lead with 56% of the votes counted over George Weah, international soccer star.

I mentioned Weah “a while back”:; at the time his potential as a unifying force in Liberia seemed pretty attractive. But the dark rumor I indicated back then — that Weah’s a front for some run-of-the-mill, bleed-the-country-dry political opportunists — is one that’s kept banging around. Who knows.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is a name I had forgotten, though when I first came across it in election coverage I remembered again. Hers was a household name even back in the mid-80’s when I lived in Monrovia. That she’s still around at all, having served as an opposition leader in politics across two dictatorships and untold years of civil war, is a testament to her tenacity if nothing else. And she’ll be the first woman elected as a head of state in Africa. That rocks.

Liberia needs to do so much to get back on its feet that it’s hard to know where to begin. The sine qua non of any long-term reconstruction, though, is a government that is not paralyzed by corruption. Liberia hasn’t had that in decades, but things are now looking hopeful in that regard.

Next big question: Once in power, will Johnson-Sirleaf ask Nigeria to hand Charles Taylor over to stand trial, either in Monrovia or in the UN Special Court in Freetown? Stay tuned.

An Open Letter

Dear Authors of Books for Children,

If you absolutely _must_ name a location in one of your books “Woodcock Pocket” — and I strongly suggest that you don’t — at the very least refrain from bringing up the name on every other page, forcing me to utter the phrase again and again while reading to my daughter.

Holly Hobbie, it’s too late for you, but it’s not too late for all the others, so I thought I’d mention it.

On the other hand, “Woodcock Pocket” would make a great name for a band.


(spoilers present a little further in, but you’ll be warned)

I went into Serenity expecting a really good, double-length Firefly episode writ large. It was that and more—it exceeded my expectations, and transported me entirely while I was watching. The quibbles didn’t occur to me until afterward.

So the film is a solid bet for any Firefly fan worth his or her salt, but that’s not surprising—the real question is how it will play with the unwashed masses. That’s a closer call, though anyone who doesn’t come out of it thinking it’s at least a pretty good movie is probably critically impaired. Still, I’m having trouble deciding what to recommend to friends who have yet to be exposed to the ‘Verse—go ahead and watch the movie? Or watch Firefly first? If it’s an option, I think watching the series first is certainly preferable. Despite all the expositional juggling that Joss Whedon performs to make the film an independent, separate entity—and he does deserve some sort of award for Most Artful and Riveting Insertion of a Wagonload of Exposition in the First Fifteen Minutes of a Film—the story is still very much a continuation of the plot of the series, and the scenes are rife with nuance that only those who already know the characters will catch.

If you don’t know the first thing about Firefly, the basic story of the series, its premature cancellation, and resurrection as a feature film can be found just as easily as actual reviews of the film these days. If you’re still mildly suspicious about the whole thing—maybe because the trailer made it seem like a made-for-TV movie with people who talk funny—then keep in mind these two things:

1. It’s the Language, Stupid—Characters in Firefly and Serenity do talk funny. Hear it long enough and you’ll realize that it’s a rich, detailed, internally consistent patois that’s a mix of Old West, South, Chinese, and that peculiar something that fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer having been calling “Whedonspeak” for years. Like all good invented languages it is buttressed by a fictional setting that has also been thought out in detail—it lives in a world that breathes. And Whedon just has a knack for the witty banter and the snappy exchange.

2. It’s the Story, Stupid—It’s not a bundle of character sketches with a plot that’s incidental. It’s not a paint-by-numbers formulaic tale of action. It’s not a self-referential winkfest that mistakes being ironic for being clever. Those things are as common as mud in modern storytelling. This is an honest-to-goodness good old fashioned story, and that’s a rare thing.

All the rest—the fact that it takes place on a spaceship, that it’s some sort of weird sci-fi/western hybrid—make the show and the film interesting, but it’s basic stuff like 1) and 2) that make them great.

So, the quibbles. There was one point about two-thirds of the way through the film, as our heroes are approaching a strange new planet, that the pacing gets a little off and the wind starts to go out of the plot’s sails. And this point happens to be at the same time that in this new setting—the strange new planet—the set seems very made-for-TV. A little spare, a little low-budget. I didn’t have any problems with the special effects in the film, but at this point especially and in a few others, the fact that Serenity was made on a very tight budget (at least, for a Hollywood sci-fi action flick) showed through.

And the plot, at a certain level, is is horrendously, even ridiculously rushed. Whedon takes the story he had started to tell over the course of at least one season of TV, and reintroduces it and then resolves it in the space of two hours. As someone who was eager to see the resolution of that story, this didn’t bother me overmuch, and didn’t even register while I was in the theater. But I wouldn’t be surprised if others like the film less because it feels like a TV story that’s been squeezed into a shorter span.

Note that I’m not using “TV story” pejoratively. TV, not film, is the medium where you have a shot at accomplishing the breadth and depth of story that you find in good novels. Films, simply because of their length, can only ever be short stories. The real win here will be if the box office success of Serenity leads to the reincarnation of Firefly.

And now for some spoiler-heavy observations. Stop reading here if you want to remain spoiler-free.

  • Loved the Operative. Nice embodiment of the Alliance’s over-enlightened pride. Great performance. And how refreshing it was to have a story where the villain is defeated, not by getting killed, and not primarily by being bested through violence, but by having his worldview changed. That sort of thing is rare for a reason—it’s hard to pull off, and I think it succeeded here, but narrowly.
  • The Deaths. Saw Shepherd Book’s coming a mile away, but Wash was of course a terrible shock. In terms of this story it works well, because it’s the first nail in the coffin of our heroes as they’re getting attacked by the Reavers. A few minutes later, as Mal is getting his ass kicked by the Operative and everyone else is wounded and the blast door’s not closing and the Reavers are coming, even though in my head I knew that somehow things were going to pull together, my heart was racing because I was terrified that everyone was going to die. And I don’t think that tension could have been established without Wash’s death to set things off. BUT, if the TV series is resurrected, or if there are more movies, Wash’s absence will be sorely felt. The marriage dynamic between him and Zoe was one of my favorite relationships in the series, and it won’t be the same without it.
  • Seems like in a lot of otherwise good movies these days, the action sequences are so frenetic and overcut that, while they convey the chaos and unpredictability of a fight, they make it too difficult to actually follow what’s going on in the conflict. Batman Begins is an excellent recent example. Happily, despite all the hand-cam cinematography, Serenity doesn’t fall into this trap. The action sequences were all very solid, but . . .
  • . . . as with the TV series, it was the quiet moments, the character interactions, and the one-liners that carried the day. It was inevitable that not everyone in the ensemble would get sufficient screen time. The place where I really missed it was Jayne, though. I wanted him to have one of his rare bouts of heroism somewhere there in the end, but he was never really singled out. It was also too bad that everyone had to get their Movie Star Bodies for the film version—both Kaylee and Inara were way more attractive with a little more flesh on their bones than they had here.
  • This is a story with very strong, up-front thematic content and maybe even something approaching a message, viz: you can’t make people be good, and when that sort of thing is attempted at an institutional level, bad things ensue. Love happens one relationship at a time. And while I never found the film preachy or hamhanded in conveying that stuff, it was a lot more up-front than in most storytelling you see these days, and while I’m not sure why, I found it quite refreshing.

    I’ll append more thoughts and/or links as they are discovered.

    UPDATE: Gary Farber’s recent Serenityblogging is here and briefly here. Keep checking back for more—I know I will.

Two Days Two Days Two Days Two Days

Two days ’till the “Serenity”: premiere. My hopes of re-watching all the TV episodes before the movie haven’t panned out, but Suanna and I have been hitting the highlights. Saw “Out of Gas”: last night. TV doesn’t get better than that.

All we need now is a babysitter for Friday night . . .

Had a shot at seeing an early screening, thanks to a “Serenity Blogger Bonanza” program put on by an outfit called Grace Hill Media. (“Jim”: brought it to my attention.) Here’s part of the email I got back from them:

Congratulations! You are one of the lucky bloggers to be chosen and confirmed for the screening of SERENITY for the time, date and the number of guests that you have requested. Please note, this confirmation DOES NOT guarantee you a seat at the screening.

To significantly increase your chances of getting into the screening, you MUST do the following:

* You MUST include the film’s synopsis on your blog (synopsis below) and you MUST link your blog to the SERENITY website (which has the trailer and production notes) and featured artwork. After you have screened the film, please discuss it on your blog. Please provide us the links to all of your blog posts on SERENITY at
* Print out and bring a copy of this confirmation.
* Arrive at the theater AT LEAST 45 minutes before the show begins.
* Upon arrival at the theater, please find a UNIVERSAL PICTURES representative and inform him or her that you are part of the SERENITY BLOGGER BONANZA. The Universal rep will then instruct you as to what to do next.
* etc.

Now, if I was going to whore myself out for anything, it’d be a _Serenity_ advanced screening, but something about the whole “do our PR for us and _maybe_ we’ll let you in” attitude rubbed me the wrong way. It’ll be funner to see it Friday with friends, anyway.

Nothing To Lose But Our Retail Chains

Big props to “Greg Costikyan”: for taking the plunge — he’s leaving his nice, stable job and starting to start a company, Manifesto Games, dedicated to supporting independent PC game developers.

He also plans to be open about the whole process, sharing the details of getting a startup going with the whole world via his blog. Should be interesting.

Kudos, Greg!

Small Press Expo 2005

The difference between attending a comics convention with a 9 month old and a 21 month one old is that with the nine month old, you can actually walk around, survey the booths, talk to people, and, y’know, _see_ stuff. With a 21 month old, though, you end up spending most of your time letting her burn off energy running circles in an empty conference room and trying not to lose sight of her as she follows the guy passing out free comics in an overcoat and rat mask all over the con. (Ella thought it was a bear mask, and so called him “Beah Guy.”)

So I didn’t experience as much of “Small Press Expo”: this year as I would have liked. Nevertheless, two purchases = two solid recommendations:

“Owly: Just a Little Blue”: — Andy Runton’s second Owly volume. Both autographed for Ella, now, and while she’s still a little too young for them, I have no difficulty enjoying them in the meantime.

“Max Hamm: Fairy Tale Detective”: — Just what you’d expect from the title. Well, maybe a little racier. The four episodes Frank Cammuso has written so far are now collected in one volume.

Some Friday Humor

“President Bush was asked yesterday for his opinion on Roe vs. Wade. He said he didn’t care how they got out of New Orleans.”

Hat tip to Chad Engbers; I don’t know if he was passing it along or made it up. Wouldn’t put it past him.