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23 Apr 2008

I R Spammer!

General

There’s no security in email. In particular, there’s no way to prevent forging anyone’s identity. It seems fairly obvious when you think about how the technology works, but that thought process requires a little technical insight. Basically, I could claim my email address is president@whitehouse.gov and send email to anyone appearing to be from King George. There’s no way contested email should ever hold up in court. Of course, you can trace the headers and wonder why the President would be sending mail from a small town ISP in Texas, but that’s beyond the capability of most email recipients and even the header trail can be fooled.

Anyway, a lot of spam software picks legitimate email addresses to stuff in a message’s From: line. It helps the message get through one line of spam detection (needing a legitimate domain, though the user name portion doesn’t need to be valid). So a lot of the spam that’s sent appears to come from a real individual at a real address – although he or she had nothing to do with it.

Well, my turn came up this week. Apparently one of the botnet spammers picked up one of my email addresses, and thousands – likely tens or hundreds of thousands – of spam messages have gone out signed by iain@aint.com. I know this, not because I’ve seen the messages, but because I’ve seen hundreds of bounce messages from stupidly configured mail transfer agents. “Your message was unable to be delivered.” Usually with the reason that the server had determined that it was spam. Hell, if it’s spam, why compound the problem by returning it, you idiot?

So right now there are probably several thousand people reading email from me saying “Buy herbal Viagra!” or “Hi, sexy, I’m Suzanne, let’s talk.”

If this is my fifteen minutes, I’m not impressed.

09 Oct 2007

Bad Sci-Fi

General

A former cow-orker (there’s a reason for that construction…) sent me a link to a Something Awful article, The 22 Most Awful Moments in Science Fiction.

Most of it I agree with. Much as I love Dr. Who, the plastic chair of death is so bad it’s hilarious. In fact, to be really fair, probably half of the list should be taken up with bad Dr. Who moments.

I have always refused to watch Alien 3, for precisely the reasons in the article. As far as I’m concerned, Newt, Hicks and Bishop are still awaiting rescue with Ripley (though Bishop may need a little more rescuing, or some good glue.)

I think it’s very unfair about Babylon 5 (though not so much about the fans, where most of the venom was directed); B5 was an imaginative show that didn’t deserve to have its storyline screwed up by constant cancellation threats, and Crusade held a lot of promise. And the Three Laws are just as valid – in their context as a base for a fictional artificial intelligence, which is not the same as the machines that we’ve named “robots.” They’re not perfect, and even Asimov explored their flaws, but they have a well-deserved place in Science Fiction lore.

But then I never agree with everything about a “worst of” list, and it was funny.

However, it brings a thought to mind…

Much as I think Babylon 5 is one of the greatest series ever to have happened, I’ve finally realized that it’s time to let it go.

With great excitement, a few weeks ago, I bought the latest DVD. This is what I wrote to afore-mentioned cow-orker.

*On the other hand* – if you get chance to see the latest direct-to-DVD Babylon 5 production, “The Lost Tales,” don’t take it. Run away. Don’t let it do to the series what Alien 3 did to Aliens. (Except not for me, because I refuse to watch it.) I won’t offer to loan you the DVD, because that would be mean. The only reason I won’t throw the piece of crap away is that I might otherwise in the future be tempted to rent it to see if it was really as bad as I recall. If it’s in my collection, I don’t need to ever think about watching it again.

The writing was never Babylon 5’s strongest point – which is a strange thing to say, given that its stories were the best around. We forgave George Lucas’s horrible dialog in the original Star Wars, because the story was fun. When the story deteriorated in the three prequels it was much more apparent that the writing was really bad.

Babylon 5 had a vision. It didn’t have the write-by-committee feel of recent Star Trek series, where the stories were awful, and the dialog uninspired (though often superbly acted). Individual episodes were well-planned, and fit well into the main arc. When the series cancellation loomed at season four, the arc was hurried, and felt it – that really shows how well the show had been designed beforehand.

But the dialog was stilted and predictable. Characters were distinctive, but although they behaved differently, their dialog was largely the same. Same clichés and stock phrases. It’s been too long since I last watched it for many to come to mind, but “done, and done” does. If only Sheridan had spoken that way, you could see it as characterization, but several did.

The writer, Joe Straczynski (JMS to us loyal fans) had a brilliant imagination, but perhaps should have had his dialog reworked a little. We forgave him that because of the story.

In the final season, the main arc had been closed off early (because of the cancellation threats), and the side-stories that had been intended to continue within the arc had to be fleshed out independently. That didn’t flow well, and I think most B5 fans would agree that Season Five was the weakest of all. It didn’t help that the new station commander, played by Tracy Scoggins, spoke – in pauses – like – she was – reading from a bad – teleprompter. She was the worst actor the series had had, after Claudia Christian, Ivanova, who had been consistently excellent.

Now, consider Babylon 5 writing, like the fifth season, except take away any story arc, and any interesting individual storylines. Use Bruce Boxleitner, who suited the role but isn’t really that great an actor, and Tracy Scoggins, whose haltingly-artificial mode of speech is worse than ever. Drop the space scenes, because you have no special effects budget, and shoot everything as talking heads, with the story explained in interviews. I.e., throw away anything interesting about B5, and focus solely on its weaknesses.

While you’re at it, take Galen the technomage, but turn his enigmatic behavior around so that he appears as a psychopath rather than a thinker. So that even Peter Woodward’s presence isn’t sufficiently redeeming.

That’s “The Lost Tales.”

Admittedly it doesn’t violate the series in the way Alien 3 does, but it’s uninteresting, predictable, badly-written and badly-acted, which is a sorry epilogue to a great series.

Babylon 5, R.I.P.

29 Mar 2007

Synchronicity

General

A few days ago, before going out of town, I decided I wanted to listen to some old songs by Justin Hayward and John Lodge. The album Blue Jays was released in the mid-70s, when the Moody Blues was in hiatus. I’ve never liked it as much as a regular Moodies album, but some of the songs are quite poignant. “Nights, Winters, Years” by Hayward has the feel of an orchestral version of the old classic “Nights in White Satin,” and “Maybe” is one of Lodge’s more moving lyrics.

So I found it, and listened for a few days, and as I often do, drifted off to other similar material, finding Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn” (from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds album) on YouTube. That reminded me of one of my all-time favorite music videos, the Moodies’ “Your Wildest Dreams,” another Hayward song.

It took me a while to remember the name. I haven’t heard the song in months – years, perhaps. I had to dig through a discography on the net to figure it out. When I did, I went back to YouTube and found the video. (I won’t link it; it shouldn’t be there, and likely won’t be for long.) After downloading it, I watched it several times, and then of course got the song stuck in my head.

That evening I went to eat in the hotel bar. While I was eating, I decided that I had to clear my mind of obsessing about the song. Not only was it going around in my head, I could hear it in whatever the sound system was playing. So I listened for a moment – and I’ll be damned if after many months (at the minimum) of not hearing “Your Wildest Dreams” anywhere, the hotel music system was playing it. Right as I’d just found it and couldn’t stop hearing it.

That was a very strange experience. Really weird. On the other hand, sometimes it’s good to know that evidence of fracturing sanity really isn’t what it seems…

13 Mar 2007

Obsessive avoidance?

General

I haven’t played EQ2 in a month or more now. With the short story claiming all of my attention, I got out of the habit – but even now I’ve started mailing it out, I still haven’t played. I keep thinking about it, then I think, well, I’m not really missing it …

Now I’m beginning to think that avoiding EQ2 has become something of an obsession, and I’m not sure that it’s a healthy one, because I’m not doing anything else with the time I’m not wasting. I haven’t been writing – not of anything that’s progressing The Book or anything else useful, anyway. I seem to be going out of my way not to do anything, really.

Part of it is that I’m really having a hard time with work right now. I’ve been given a project that I hate, that’s late, that I don’t understand, and that won’t use any of the skills I’ll need to find a new job. I can see me working on applications like this for the next five years, then when I don’t have any choice but to find different work, I’ll have five years of working on ugly spaghetti code in a language no-one uses in an environment that was out of date in the mid-90s. No recent C++, Java or anything else that might distinguish me, and that I could, and can do better than most – currently. That won’t be true in five years.

Add onto that a quality audit that has consumed my time documenting a process we’ll never use and I hate the whole situation. I’m supposed to work to a script for the auditor (should he choose me – “Geekachu! I choose you!”) to show that we’ve been using these practices all along. Now, I don’t really have a strong objection to pulling the wool over an auditor’s eyes; I guess maybe I should, but it’s not significantly different from what anyone else does. But when it comes to answering questions, I am extraordinarily bad at handling stress, and I’m not likely to give the auditor the picture they want. Lying isn’t in the skill set they hired me for.

So it seems that hating my job has become something of an obsession, too, and not one that has any constructive effect or creative byproducts. Maybe I should get back to my EQ2 escapism until I can deal with work.

16 Jan 2007

Active Obsessions

Games, General, Writing

One obvious problem with documenting obsessions – and one I did recognize up-front – is that when they hit, you don’t take the time away to document them.

So I haven’t written much since EverQuest II regained its grip. I’ve been away levelling up my characters, doing quests, obsessively wasting time. Some old friends have returned, one due to my persuasion (he was killing time in World of Warcraft, so I don’t feel guilty about dragging him back), and I’ve been playing with them some, doing the Christmas quests, making items and money in-game, and generally having a blast.

I had hoped that the discipline of maintaining this blog would help me manage my time when I got sucked back into EQ2 (or whichever game it would be), but that hasn’t happened. If maintaining the blog had required any real commitment, I would likely not have started it anyway.

My writing’s suffering. of course. I still am at a part of The Book for our critique group that isn’t going to change, so I can refurbish it a little and present it – but soon I’ve got to start making serious changes. I’m convinced now that the narrative is too linear, and I don’t know what to do about it. I introduced plot elements that stretched credibility in order to keep the plot from being simplistic; what I need instead is more story twists, and simplify the involvement of the antagonist(s).

I just finished a Robert Ludlum book, “The Ambler Warning“. He needs better editing, as do most authors as popular as he is, but he still writes a hell of a good thriller. A Ludlum thriller involves huge and unexpected plot twists, inexplicable background that you know will be explained, but can’t see how, and action-packed scenes all the way through. The Ambler Warning didn’t disappoint. It just makes me realize how far away I am from creating a powerful thriller.

I have had an idea for a Science-Fiction short story that I intend to write, if I ever free up the time to do so. I pretty much have it all mapped out in my mind now, it’s time to put pen to paper…

Current obsessions: (games) EverQuest II
(writing) SF short

08 Dec 2006

LOL

General

I loathe “leet” speak, and its variants. If someone asks me “do u need a grp” or “can u help” I won’t even acknowledge the question. I’m no spelling / grammar purist in the online world, but the laziness implied by leet and other forms of net speak just bugs the hell out of me.

LOL isn’t in quite the same category. It’s used by net kiddies, but it’s also used by people for whom I have a lot of respect. It crept in during the early days of AOL, and it’s made its way into mainstream online discourse, so I guess I can grin and bear it. I’ll use emoticons, which I know some people hate, but “LOL” – unless you’re actually laughing out loud – just seems out of place.

That’s really why it bugs me so much. Usually it clearly does not mean that you’re laughing out loud. More often it implies rudeness. “Laughing in your face” would be a better interpretation. As much hostility as LOL usually implies, I’ve grown to resent it, and have to work hard at not seeing a negative intent in the writing of those who use it with its original meaning.

So, having griped, the point of this – I recently saw a great message on the World of Warcraft forums. I’d link it, but the link will only be good for about two weeks until the thread expires, so I’ll just attribute it to Xhaos, a player on the Argent Dawn server, and paste it here without permission. ‘Course, this is all very specific gamer abuse of LOL, but the main points stand.

The term “lol” has to be the most misused of any in this game. I don’t believe for a second that the person sitting behind their specially made two-key keyboard is actually laughing out loud. Only you can prevent lol’ing. Please, exercise lol restraint and try not to be the proud owner of any of the following lol’s.

-The I didn’t laugh but I feel like something should be said-
“lol”

-The I actually laughed a little inside.. kind of-
“LOL”

-The Sandwich-
“lol how r u doing lol”

-The I don’t like confrontation but I still want to show how angry I am-
“why would u roll need on that.. lol”

-The ridiculous lol-
“omfglolzorzpwnbbq”

-The sneaky lol-
“lol, hey guys” < - (Did I catch a niner in there?) -The I don't care about anyone and I just want information and my grammar is terrible- "lol, soryr Imm in LFG and I no that wut is isn't 4 but pleae 1st ad trner lol!" -The lol seizure- "lol I know lol, did u see lol that lol, zomg lol, lol" -The please look at me because I think this class ability is amazing because I'm the one doing it- "lol 1k crit on earth shock, pyroblast, execute, etc.." -The, NO, please look at me response- "oh yeah LOL, 2k crit on earth shock, pyroblast, execute, etc.." -The most annoying lol- Crazytwinkies whispers: "man you are powerful, plz can I have some gold, lol" -The second most annoying lol- Crazytwinkies yells: "LOL Plz naked dance Party in " -The please have mercy on me- "Is anyone running MC and need some DPS.... lol" -The intruder- Crazytwinkies whispers: "lol" Crazytwinkies whispers: "mt, sorry" -The straw on the camel's back- "lolololololololololololololololololololol" -Last but not least- Lol whispers: "I'm your worst nightmare"

08 Nov 2006

yume miru

General

When I think of the things I obsess over, music is not something that comes to mind. Yet it’s probably as significant as any. The big difference being that listening to and obsessing over music doesn’t get in the way of most other things I do. I have my iPod, after all.

What it means is that the music I listen to is a narrow selection – not a narrow range, but the pieces I’ve discovered within a particular category – I listen to those over and over again.

Back in high school it was Tschaikowsky, Brahms and Sibelius, in about that order. Genesis (yes, they existed back then, with Peter Gabriel as front man), Focus (appropriately enough) and a few others. For a long time in college I listened to very little but “Crime of the Century” (Supertramp).

More recently it has been mainly anime music (of course). Before I saw .Hack//SIGN and got hooked on Kajiura Yuki’s soundtrack music, it was Final Fantasy X. Suteki da ne (isn’t it beautiful), the love theme / ending theme (and Yuna’s theme, in a modified version) still makes me sad. So did senyaichiya (1001 nights) (from .Hack//SIGN and .Hack//Liminality) for a long time. When I listened to it constantly, I had just quit EverQuest, leaving behind right around three years of memories and online friendships. Oddly enough, that’s just a little over 1000 days…

Don’t make the 1,000 nights disappear. I stand up to walk a lonely path.

I wanted to at least remember your gentle words,
remember the 1,000 nights that disappeared in a single night…

In a similar vein, I wanted to make a “farewell” video for my time in World of Warcraft. I had the entire thing choreographed in my mind. I was going to use asu e no brilliant road by angela, one version of which is slow and sentimental. I had it so completely mapped out that when I hear the song, now, I see Erice flying on a gryphon… I contented myself with writing a farewell story, and never did use the music, but I wish I’d been able to make the video.

I started thinking about this when I updated the “about” page for this blog. If Kajiura’s Kioku is the theme song for The Book, her soundtrack music for Noir and .Hack have been its soundtrack. I’ve listened to little else while I’ve been writing, and that’s still true as I return to the effort.

05 Nov 2006

The Book, version 2.0

General

Continued from The Book, version 1.5

So I was in a situation where I quite liked the work I was doing, but seemed doomed to one of two choices: throw away the romantic aspect of the story, or throw away the story itself. Neither one was appealing.

Then I saw Noir.

A lot of people dislike Noir for its lack of character development. There’s some truth to that, though I’d argue that within the context of the story, neither main character needs to change; what needs to change is the relationship between them, and that, it does. [spoiler /Moderate spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] In fact the entire concept of the Noir duo, in history, in Altena’s view, and in the understanding that Kirika and Mireille come to, is based on the relationship bond between the two.[/spoiler]

The change is subtle, and never explicit. It’s not necessary for the understanding that I reached that Kirika and Mireille are lovers, and some do argue that they’re not, though I’d say that there’s plenty of internal canonical evidence that says they are. It is clear that they come to love each other in some sense, and to have a deep respect for each other.

What I realized after watching it is – there is no strong or weak partner. Mireille’s somewhat the leader, in taking jobs and assigning tasks to Kirika, but the younger girl is the better killer, taking the lead when needed, and Mireille respects her skills and learns from her. In every key aspect, the two women are equals. And it works because there are no gender-based expectations placed upon them.

That is not to say that straight partners can’t be equals – of course they can. Nor to say that a gay pairing wouldn’t be likely to have a dominant partner. But in fiction, you’re either working with or against a stereotype, and both have their problems.

If Andy in my story were gay, she could still take orders from Malcolm, and be as snarky as she wanted with him, because she wouldn’t be in a relationship with him. If she had a love-interest, she wouldn’t be fighting a stereotype by being the dominant partner.

And that’s why Andy stopped being Andy.

Of course, she needed a new name. Using a gender-ambiguous name for a gay character is overdoing it. I wonder even if I’d been subconsciously thinking along these lines when I named her Andy – I already didn’t see her as a conventional girl. So Sara came into being, though she seems more of a “completed” Andy than a different person.

Now, finding her a love-interest within the context of the story – what would be the chance that a girl she encountered as part of the storyline would also be a lesbian? Well, it could happen, but coincidences are rickety crutches in fiction. More likely that she’d be straight. And that opened up a whole new avenue – cool, efficient, sardonic Sara being hopelessly in love with a straight girl.

That had so many interesting possibilities I dropped all of my other obsessions and got right back to writing – right up to a new novel-length draft.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
(writing) “Skeptics project”
(Currently reading) Wintersmith (Terry Pratchett)

04 Nov 2006

Another blog…

General

I’m wondering whether to make a public blog, and move this off to the side.

It looks like I finally have the chance to join a decent critiquing group – which is something I’ve been trying to find for over a year now. ‘Course, they all have blogs…

Having set this up, and hacking WordPress for the “Skeptics Project”, I’m pretty familiar with the tools, now, but I’m just not sure I have anything to say. But the idea of a two-layer blog, with a few public comments on the main and a less public blog of obsessions does seem like a decent plan.

Update: I’ve moved this blog’s URL. http://www.iain.com/ is now an “official” blog.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
(writing) “Skeptics project”
(Currently reading) Wintersmith (Terry Pratchett)

23 Oct 2006

The not-so-private blog

General

I lurk in the #simoun IRC channel (waiting for episode 17 still – it’s a release candidate now! And others coming up quickly…). In trading information with one of the channel operators, I gave him the email address that I use, plus my main email address (which is currently unusable, since I’m over 10,000 spam messages out of date). He said “oh, yeah, I think I was reading your blog recently.”

My response: “Oh, god, how?”

I know that this blog isn’t private. That’s why there’s nothing personal in here. But I didn’t expect it to be “discovered” for any reason so quickly. I guess the automated updating tools that keep blog space current work efficiently. Plus he was looking for entries about Simoun on Google’s blog search, which narrows the field significantly. Still, it was a shock.

I have two goals for this site: 1) my own amusement, and 2) a way to outline my thoughts as I head into version 3 of The Book. It seems (and has been, so far) useful to me to lay out the obsessions that have led to where I am, and that will both feed and distract from the process of creating the story I want to tell – and to do that in a sufficiently public way that I really have to think about what I’m doing.

That’s the main point to a blog, as such, rather than a diary or private text file. I wouldn’t bother to keep a diary up to date. I’ve tried it before, and it just doesn’t happen. After a few entries I’m bored, and what I do write is clumsy and self-centered. That may also be true here, but there’s a constraint to make my thoughts presentable, if not interesting.

So, yes, I know that this is public, and it’s true that the selection set that led to discovery was small (i.e. it’s not that small a world, still). Nevertheless, it’s a surprise to learn that it is so easy to be found.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Elfen Lied