Paging Dick Tracy: Pebble smartwatch review

pebbleThe Pebble smartwatch was born on Kickstarter, raising over $10.2 million to make it the most successful crowdfunding campaign ever. It promised a watch you could customize and use with all manner of internet-connected apps via a Bluetooth connection to your phone. When the campaign ended on May 18, 2012, the company got right to work on finalizing specs and setting up manufacturing lines for the 85,000 watches that were funded during the campaign and the thousands more that would be sold afterwards. As with most new ventures, their timeline stretched out due to difficulties but watches have finally started shipping in the last few weeks and mine arrived a week before I headed back to the rig, giving me enough time to have a thorough test run before having to set it aside for a few weeks. So how is it? Continue reading

WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME nominated for Foreword 2012 Book Of The Year!

WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME, edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood, has been nominated for the Foreword 2012 Book Of The Year in the Short Stories (Adult Fiction) category! Congratulations to all my fellow authors!

When The Villain Comes Home

Heroes can save the world, but villains can CHANGE it.

We’ve assembled a great mix of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Come with us while we explore villains of all stripes — sons and daughters, lovers and fighters, minions and masterminds, in this giant volume of thirty great stories by award winners, rising stars, and bold new voices. With masterful tales by: Camille Alexa, Erik Scott de Bie, Chaz Brenchley, Eugie Foster, David Sakmyster, Marie Bilodeau, Richard Lee Byers, K.D. McEntire, Peadar Ó Guilín, Jim C. Hines, Ari Marmell, Karin Lowachee, Jay Lake, Julie Czerneda, J.M. Frey, Clint Talbert, Rachel Swirsky, Tony Pi, Leah Petersen, J.P. Moore, Ryan McFadden, Todd McCaffrey, Erik Buchanan, Gregory A. Wilson, Rosemary Jones, Gabrielle Harbowy, Ed Greenwood, Mercedes Lackey & Larry Dixon, Chris A. Jackson, Steve Bornstein.

Damn Terrorists, Get Off My Lawn! – A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)

A Good Day To Die Hard (2013)
Director: John Moore
Stars: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney, Sebastian Koch

A Good Day To Die Hard is the fifth film in the Die Hard franchise. The original Die Hard premiered all the way back in 1988 and quickly became a classic action movie, launching Bruce Willis’s career as an action star. The series slowly went downhill from there with Die Hard 2: Die Harder and Die Hard With A Vengeance receiving lower and lower reviews. Live Free or Die Hard came out in 2007 after a 12-year series hiatus and was widely praised as being on par with the original. 20th Century Fox probably should have left well enough alone.

AGDTDH opens with a pair of Russians being corrupt at each other, then an apparently Russian guy shooting another Russian, and then John McClane in an NYPD shooting range chatting with a friend who gives him a file on his long-lost son (who until this moment was only a picture on Holly Generro’s desk in the first movie) who *gasp* is the apparently Russian shooter. That’s about as surprising as the plot twists get.

Is Moscow always this loud?From there we see Daddy McClane fly to Moscow, meet a stereotypical quirky cabbie, then get caught in the chaos that’s the hallmark of the Die Hard series. He’s supposedly flown to Moscow to see his son get his day in court, but when everything starts blowing up and going to hell he doesn’t turn into the man of action we expect to see in a Die Hard movie. Instead McClane just sort of stands around, squinting this way and that as if wondering where all that noise and smoke is coming from. When he finds his son escaping from the courthouse with another Russian in tow and other guys shooting at them, he doesn’t try to hustle them to cover or fight the shooters or offer to drive the getaway vehicle. Instead he stops and yells at him like he’s ten years old. Cue the car chase through morning rush hour traffic as McClane Jr and friend try to escape from the bad guys with John McClane chasing them both, all the while whining and complaining.

Eventually father and son are reunited and escape the bad guys and find some shelter only to have more bad guys show up and get things moving again. There’s a meeting to get an Important Thing with a double cross you can see coming a kilometer away. There’s more shooting, this time including a Hind attack chopper. The McClanes steal a car full of firearms and then hightail it to Chernobyl for a climax that involves sneaking around, questionable radiation problems, another double cross, a lot more shooting, and more helicopter hijinks. In the end, father and son fly back to the US and they and daughter Lucy (from Live Free or Die Hard) all walk off into the sunset.

Honk honk!The action scenes were decent enough, though I’m not sure they deserved the Die Hard name. The car chase in the beginning had tons of rapid-fire cutaways and camera zooms, but that didn’t help disguise the fact that it was just slow. There was a delivery van, a wheeled APC, and a flatbed truck. The chase was less about “drive fast and try to not hit things” and all about “hit all the things.” I’m pretty sure a sizable chunk of the movie’s budget was spent on cars to wreck just in the opening act.

John McClane’s entire reason for going to Russia in the first place never really gels either. At first he goes because his estranged son’s in jail, but when he gets there he just keeps pissing and moaning about how he’s supposed to be on vacation. Jai Courtney does a decent job as Jack McClane but Bruce Willis just seems like a grumpy old man who just wants all the shooting and fuss to stop so he can get back to his pudding cup. Don’t get me wrong; he can still run-and-gun just fine, but I lost track of all the times he whined about something or grunted, “Jesus!” when the bullets were flying. Even his trademark “yippee kai-yay motherfucker” line is delivered with all the vigor of a man who just woke up from a post-Thanksgiving dinner nap.

It's Chernobyl, who's going to notice?The movie is almost 30 minutes shorter than any of the other four movies, and it didn’t really wrap things up so much as just run out of stuff to do. After the big pie fight at the end we’re simply treated to a slow-motion reunion of father, son, and daughter on American soil, as if the McClanes said, “Welp, we’ve pretty much blown the shit out of everyone and everything. Guess we’ll head home now.” I think Bruce Willis is still a fine action star, but after AGDTDH I think the Die Hard franchise has pretty much run its course.

Rating: 
It's OK - 3 stars out of 5

The Power of the Mask, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Be A Rock Star

Bristol Faire Front GateI started going to renaissance faires shortly after I got out of the Navy, after I met my wife. She’s been going to them since she was a child and was a regular performer at some of the ones in California for quite some time, going all the way back to the original Renaissance Pleasure Faire.

There tend to be three types of people you find at a renn faire:

  1. The Tourist: The Tourist is a regular joe. He shows up in regular clothes and wanders around spending money, eating giant turkey legs, seeing the shows, and taking pictures. The vast majority of people at a renn faire are Tourists.
  2. The Costumed Tourist: The CT shows up in costume, but they’re not really in character. They’ve dressed up to show off or perhaps to just fit in a little better, but they’re still carrying their bottles of Bud Light and wearing sunglasses.
  3. The Rennie: Rennies are into it. They’ve got the costume, they say things like “thee” and “good day sir” and “milady, if it please you” with an appropriate accent, carry themselves like the urchin or fairy or cavalier they’re dressed as, and in general act a part in the theme of the faire. These are the folks that have spent hundreds of hours (and dollars!) to tweak and perfect their costume.

The line between #2 and #3 is a pretty blurry one. At a faire you might see ninjas, monsters, knights in armor, Stormtroopers from the 501st, fairies, and a steampunk pirate gang. Some folks dress up in period-correct costuming but are just slumming, while those Stormtroopers are walking with weapons at the ready like they’re patrolling Mos Eisley. When I met my wife, she had a trunk full of costumes and a handful of personas she liked to play. I, on the other hand, was just a guy who liked to watch girls in corsets and chainmail bikinis. She tried to get me into it but I didn’t grow up with the faires like she did. Those periods of history never really interested me; we discussed character ideas and such but nothing ever really caught my interest. Eventually we ended up with matching costumes and she would turn the persona up to 11 while I would stand nearby with a stupid grin and manage a “thank thee” when I was handed change from a purchase.

There are three renn faires that are close enough for us to attend: Sherwood Forest Faire, Scarborough Renaissance Festival, and Texas Renaissance Festival (the nation’s largest faire). One of the things we like to do is browse the artists and shops. There are some people who sell cheapo gaudy blades from BudK and crappy Chinese-made kitsch but the majority of vendors are some seriously talented people, handcrafting everything from clothing to soap and perfumes to jewelry. A few months ago, during the opening weekend of TRF, I happened across the Artsmyths shop and found the Mask.

The Mask, rear quarter viewThe Mask, front viewThe Mask, front quarter view

They had a lot of masks at the shop but this one caught my eye from yards away. It was a unicorn but it wasn’t the usual sort of frilly white unicorn most people associate with fairies and rainbows. It was black with silver highlights, serious and masculine, staring down at me from a mannequin head. I’m always on the lookout for the unique and this practically had neon arrows pointing at it. I bought it on the spot.

foxes

Alphonse on the left, another costumer on the right. — picture courtesy of eschipul, on Flickr

I didn’t have any plans for it beyond displaying it at home, but my wife quickly pointed out that it’d be a pretty good basis for a costume. I’d long admired the costume of “Alphonse,” one of the “fox guys” who frequents the local renn faires. It’s a different sort of headpiece from the unicorn mask, a bit more realistic where my mask is more stylized, but the general idea was the same: dress up like a humanoid critter. I had the head, so why not give it a whirl and see what happens?

Tynan costume, version 1.0

Tynan costume, version 1.0

I put together a costume from assorted pieces I’d collected over the years, making sure to cover all my exposed skin to preserve the illusion. I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t wear my glasses with the mask on, so anything past a few feet would be varying degrees of blurry. What would it be like to walk around like that all day? Would I get a headache after a few hours or could I go all day without a problem? A big slab of leather covering my face would reduce my voice to mumbles, so I decided to just stay silent and act out anything I wanted to get across. I decided going in that, just for laughs, I’d keep track of how many people wanted to take my picture that day, just as a fun way to “keep score.”

I quit counting after 100. I felt like a goddamned rock star.

Tynan costume, version 1.0

Tynan costume, version 1.0

Little kids would come running up to me. People would stop me to get their picture taken with me and a crowd would gather. Guys would high-five me. Some people asked me questions like I worked at the faire. Someone dressed up like some kind of nature spirit came up to me and started peering at me, in character, so I peered back until he “got scared” and ran off. At one point a gaggle of middle-school-aged girls surrounded me and started bombarding me with questions: Did unicorns live forever? Was I magic? Was it hot under my mask? (A lot of people asked me that, actually. No, it wasn’t.) As the day went on I had five requests to touch my horn and one request to dance Gangnam Style, all of which I politely refused.

It was crazy fun and surprisingly empowering. Where I was self-conscious before when confronted with someone else acting in character, now I could be bold, respond, play along, even be the one who started things with others. The Mask gave me the protection of anonymity, letting me play without fear of being judged, while it presented my persona to everyone else. I had more (and better) interactions and more fun in that one eight-hour period than in all the other times I’ve gone to renn faires in the last decade, combined.

So, my little experiment was a fantastic success. Every character deserves a name and I’ve picked “Tynan,” which the internet tells me is a Gaelic name that means “dark.” Seems a fitting name for a black unicorn. Plans are in the works to flesh out the rest of the costume over the next several months with hooves, a tail, and some more appropriate clothes. Sherwood Faire got underway last weekend and I’ll be going as Tynan this Sunday. Fun times ahead!

+12 Years And Still Waiting – 2001: A Space Odyssey

2001: A Space Odyssey (film)

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the good fortune to catch “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the theater a few weeks ago. I’d gone to see “The Hobbit” and they just so happened to be showing “2001” in XD Digital projection as a special one-day engagement. I’ve seen it before, of course. I think most nerds my age have. But it was always on cable, or VHS, or DVD, never in an actual theater. Cinemark‘s XD Digital presentations are pretty good, so switching movies wasn’t a hard decision to make. “The Hobbit” wasn’t going anywhere.

It was really something else to see Kubrick’s vision of the future again. The movie was released in 1968, a year before we’d put a man on the Moon, and here it was presenting a world where space travel was common enough that airlines (Pan Am, which doesn’t even exist anymore) had their own spaceplanes and hotel chains (a Hilton in the movie) were on space stations. It was all the more striking given the current state of spaceflight. The Space Shuttle, the “space truck” that was supposed to herald a bold new future of cheap space travel, is history now. There’s only been a handful of space stations since Apollo and certainly nothing that had anything like a Hilton onboard. With the demise of the shuttle program we’re going back to capsules with Orion. We’re still a long, long way from moonbuses.

Kubrick went to great lengths to make it as realistic as possible, but of course it’s all based on what was thought possible in the 60’s. Again, this is really interesting to see today because, in a way, this is a bit of a time capsule. We were going to the Moon and nothing was going to stop us! We had high hopes and high expectations; it was this mindset that prompted an integrated space plan that would culminate with a man on Mars by 1982 (it was in fact this plan that helped shepherd in the Space Shuttle). Heady times indeed.

Arguably the most successful space endeavor right now is Space X, an entirely private company, and it’s looking more and more likely that serious future space exploration will be primarily driven by private enterprise. There are companies with designs on mining near-Earth asteroids and more than one company that’s talking about putting people on Mars. Maybe, in this sense, Kubrick got it right. He was just a few decades early.

2001's Discovery miniature

2001’s “Discovery One,” shown launching a workpod. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was great to see Discovery One sailing past, thirty feet long on the big screen and stark white against the blackness of space, and to hear Also sprach Zarathustra thundering in true surround sound. There’s a reason “2001” is on so many “best movies of all time” lists. Kubrick went the extra mile with its special effects, with some taking more than a year to execute on film. The results can still stand toe-to-toe with some of the CGI effects of today, over 40 years later.

It’s a movie you experience as much as watch. There are long stretches at the beginning and end where there’s no dialogue at all, where we’re watching things happen in front of us without anyone talking or even (except in two cases) any sort of musical accompaniment to tell us how to feel. We’re dropped into this story with very little background and things are presented as status quo. Travel to the Moon for a meeting is as remarkable as catching a flight from New York to Miami, with in-flight meals and a movie. And once you’re there everyone’s wearing regular clothes, suits and ties, having a regular meeting where a guy stands at a podium to address people. Kubrick didn’t want flashy spaceships and uniforms and all the sci-fi trappings that were common in movies back then. He didn’t want to make fun of the future. He wanted to show it for what it was, or what it could be. Maybe people really will visit Jupiter one day. “2001” is still a great movie, but with the passage of time its sense of “what could be” has turned into “what could have been,” and that makes it a little bittersweet for me.

WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME Roundup!

I’m very happy to announce that WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle ebook format (other formats and purchasing venues are coming soon) and already has its first review on Goodreads, courtesy of Kris Ramsey! Thanks Kris!

Gabrielle Harbowy is running a series of blog interviews with the various authors in VILLAIN and the first three sets are available now on her blog:

WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME is the follow-on anthology to last year’s award-nominated WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME [ Amazon | Goodreads ], both by Dragon Moon Press and edited by Gabrielle Harbowy and Ed Greenwood.

Heroes can save the world, but villains can change it. We’ve assembled a great mix of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Come with us while we explore villains of all stripes — sons and daughters, lovers and fighters, minions and masterminds, in this giant volume of thirty great stories by award winners, rising stars, and bold new voices. With masterful tales by:

Camille Alexa – Pinktastic and the End of the World
Erik Scott de Bie – Hunger of the Blood Reaver
Chaz Brenchley – Villainelle
Eugie Foster – Oranges, Lemons, and Thou Beside Me
David Sakmyster – Prometheus Found
Marie Bilodeau – Happily Ever After
Richard Lee Byers – Little Things
K.D. McEntire – Heels
Peadar Ó Guilín – The Sunshine Baron
Jim C. Hines – Daddy’s Little Girl
Ari Marmell - Than to Serve in Heaven
Karin Lowachee – The Bleach
Jay Lake – The Woman Who Shattered the Moon
Julie Czerneda – Charity
J.M. Frey – Maddening Science
Clint Talbert – Birthright
Rachel Swirsky – Broken Clouds
Tony Pi – The Miscible Imp
Leah Petersen – Manmade
J.P. Moore – Lord of the Southern Sky
Ryan McFadden – Back in the Day
Todd McCaffrey – Robin Redbreast
Erik Buchanan – Cycle of Revenge
Gregory A. Wilson – The Presuil’s Call
Rosemary Jones – The Man With Looking-Glass Eyes
Gabrielle Harbowy – Starkeep
Ed Greenwood – A Lot of Sly Work Ahead
Mercedes Lackey / Larry Dixon – Heir Apparent
Chris A. Jackson – Home Again, Home Again
Steve Bornstein – The Best Laid Plans

…and another fantastic cover by Scott Purdy.

Announcing WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME anthology!

I’m extremely happy to announce I have a story in the coming sequel to the award-nominated anthology WHEN THE HERO COMES HOME, titled WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME. Congrats to all my fellow authors! Details below!

From Gabrielle Harbowy’s blog:

Ed Greenwood and I are also pleased to announce the table of contents for our follow-up anthology, WHEN THE VILLAIN COMES HOME – forthcoming August 1, 2012 from Dragon Moon Press.

Heroes can save the world, but villains can change it.

We’ve assembled a great mix of science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Come with us while we explore villains of all stripes — sons and daughters, lovers and fighters, minions and masterminds, in this giant volume of thirty great stories by award winners, rising stars, and bold new voices.

Camille Alexa – Pinktastic and the End of the World
Erik Scott de Bie – Hunger of the Blood Reaver
Chaz Brenchley – Villainelle
Eugie Foster – Oranges, Lemons, and Thou Beside Me
David Sakmyster – Prometheus Found
Marie Bilodeau – Happily Ever After
Richard Lee Byers – Little Things
K.D. McEntire – Heels
Peadar Ó Guilín – The Sunshine Baron
Jim C. Hines – Daddy’s Little Girl
Ari Marmell - Than to Serve in Heaven
Karin Lowachee – The Bleach
Jay Lake – The Woman Who Shattered the Moon
Julie Czerneda – Charity
J.M. Frey – Maddening Science
Clint Talbert – Birthright
Rachel Swirsky – Broken Clouds
Tony Pi – The Miscible Imp
Leah Petersen – Manmade
J.P. Moore – Lord of the Southern Sky
Ryan McFadden – Back in the Day
Todd McCaffrey – Robin Redbreast
Erik Buchanan – Cycle of Revenge
Gregory A. Wilson – The Presuil’s Call
Rosemary Jones – The Man With Looking-Glass Eyes
Gabrielle Harbowy – Starkeep
Ed Greenwood – A Lot of Sly Work Ahead
Mercedes Lackey / Larry Dixon – Heir Apparent
Chris A. Jackson – Home Again, Home Again
Steve Bornstein – The Best Laid Plans

…and another fantastic cover by Scott Purdy.

Preorder information will be available soon on the Dragon Moon Press website.