Thursday, February 21, 2008

Almost a Review: I Am Legend

To those who have read the book it will come as no surprise that the later half of does not seem to fit with the first half. That's where the plot deviates significantly from the general outline of the story I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. I am fairly confident that even people who did not read this 1954 novel will find it unsatisfying due to this change in tone.

My comparison is to a sugar coated pickle. This starts out as a downer survival story, man against hostile world in a fantasy setting (albeit dressed up in good science fiction apparel). Like a pickle this is not a sweet story and if the movie director or writer tries to bring in too much of a sweeter story it does not fit. It did not have to come out wrong; it could have become a bread and butter pickle, sweet and sour, but it requires it be made that way from the start rather than putting syrup over it afterwards.

I have never seen The Omega Man, the 1971 schlock thriller, but the plot outline on wikipedia seems to show this version of I Am Legend is closer to it than than book. Who knows why writers Akiva Goldsman (Batman and Robin/ I, Robot) and Mark Protosevich (The Cell, Poseidon) and director Francis Lawrence (Constantine) remade a fundamentally flawed plot. But they did along with its 90 degree turn towards a hopeful save the world (off screen) ending rather than what seemed to be happening up to that point. The whole point of I Am Legend up to that point and in the original story is "The last man on earth... is not alone."

There is nothing wrong with going in a different direction than a book, this happens in the making of movies and with some stories it is for the best. Some of my favorite stories would be dreadfully un-commercial and movies have to make money. However they should have done so for the whole movie rather than just the second half. It almost makes more sense to have the movie after a certain point be a hallucination or dream before the end.

Still, Will Smith in this role is quite good. He is realistically shell-shocked and the sort of person who could survive. His mistakes are natural ones rather than random stupidity that so many characters in horror films are compelled to make by the lazy writers. And there are lots of utterly horrifying moments in it where I wanted to get of the theater it was so scary. The scenes of a totally empty New York are... incredible. Fantastic work there that is well used/done. The monsters are not 'disbelief breaking' unrealistic, but they are too fast, too strong, and too durable in retrospect.

I recommend this movie to people who like other survival disaster monster movies like 28 Days Later, Aliens, or possibly even Mimic. With the caveat that all of these are probably better films than I Am Legend. It is not bad, it just is not a movie I would have been happy seeing for full price and so I cannot recommend it strongly.

Cloudy Eclipse

The eclipse was obscured by a layer of high thin clouds here in Denver when I remembered to go out and check it a bit after nine. It was still nice to see, but hopefully the next one visible from N. America will be more spectacular. I remember the one back during the World Series, that night was perfectly clear and I actually got some decent shots by propping up my camera on my car roof at work. I was still working for the bank then and working late due to end of month. I think I was printing statements. I could probably check my journal. I have no doubt I wrote about it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Almost a Review: Penelope

This is not an incredibly great movie that your life will be incomplete if you do not see. It is, however, a good movie. And it seems a shame that it looks like it will come and go without a ripple in the pond of common culture.

Classic fairy tale curse that goes awry when trying to teach a rich bunch of bluebloods a lesson, in this case a pig face on Penelope Wilhern (Christina Ricci). I am not giving anything away here since this is talked about in the setup of the movie. As is common with cleaned up fairy tales that will be appropriate for sheltered children there is a lesson to be learned, though in a way it is not the obvious one I thought they were aiming for. Which is good, a simple, "you gotta be yourself" isn't really that satisfying.

The weird thing is that unlike other fairytale movies this movie is full of beer drinking and other bad behavior (hence the PG rating) and isn't a schmaltzy as something like a Nanny McPhee. The feel of the silly action and weird characters is the same though. This is not a movie for lovers of splendiferous CGI or makeup, it is just solidly effective.

I recommend it more for adults than I would children, unless you don't mind your children seeing beer drinking, dumped servant girls committing suicide, and mild language. It certainly will not appeal to most teens as they will be far too cynical to enjoy it for as the light romantic comedy confection it is.

I would put it in the same category of entertainment as Shrek, but without the excessive and endless pop culture references. If you like oddball comedy like Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, Dead Like Me, or Into the Woods you might want to give this a chance. It certainly would brighten an afternoon and I found myself laughing quite a bit with it.

Penelope on IMDB (contains spoilers)

Monday, February 18, 2008

Vampire Servants

         – Or –
Why would a human work for a blood-sucking creature of darkness?

It would be easy to say it is all mind control. Far too easy. Mind control is like the fantasy sonic screwdriver. Can't explain why a person would do such a thing? Mind control! Or crazy.

But seriously, real world horrible people have ways to make humans do what they do. And I think they're more satisfying than the "applied phelembotium" or "handwavium" answers previously referenced.

First off vampires need people inside the conspiracy, after all they feed on blood and if they're not going to just make everyone forget using super mental powers then the human knows... or is dead. As I've discussed previously the vampire cannot kill everyone he feeds on or it would stand out like a statistical sore thumb not to mention bringing down the wrath of the local community. Even in downtown DC. But we've got two problems with one solution now. Naturally if you want to limit how many people know that you're a vampire you're going to use your mobile happy meals as minions as well at least some of the time.

This idea gave me the metal tool to attack the problem of a vampire finding a minion and gave me four possible answers to the problem. First off people do crazy risk seeking things all the time for thrills or the pleasure. The vampire bite has been portrayed as pleasurable starting with Dracula. And even if the bite was not a good feeling a certain number of people would have the crazy idea the flirting with death would be neat, just look at the fascination with mass murderers and the groupies they can get even when in prison. Even without unearthly beauty they could end up with a fair number of (probably useless for most tasks) people wanting to be their Renfields.

Secondly there is good old-fashioned flattery and lying. "I've been looking for someone like you to spend eternity with." This exact sort of falsehood was used to good effect by the vampire in Vampire Tapestry by Suzy Mckee Charnas. Nearly everyone is susceptible to subtle flattery of the, "you're special" sort. Especially if backed up by wonderful presents 'proving' the vampire's devotion. Of course those presents are going to be recycled once the vampire gets what it wants... Hey if it works for high school cads trying to get into a girl's pants it should work for a vampire. Even better since past 'paramours' might not be in any sort of a position to clue in the present object of 'affection'.

Third, people can be pretty callous if they're not the ones getting the short end. No different than working for the mob, really. But it would be harder than a mob to set up for a variety of reasons. First off there is the fundamental lack of advancement problem for the inner circle who know about the vampire. The boss is never going to get old and retire unless someone helps it along. For some people this is just fine as it would represent security in an uncertain business. Heck, if somehow the human could verify that the vampire doesn't 'tie up' loose ends at the end of employment it could represent the ultimate in job security.

Throw in a little bit of moral ambiguity, excuses for their behavior (I only kill people who deserve it), and it starts to become reasonable in my mind as to why someone would be working for a vampire. Even if it is perfectly obvious to the vast majority of the population that they're evil, cursed by god, and all the rest.

Next time, the implications of going it alone or teaming up.

Avoid Inheritance Tax

I doubt anyone rich needs this advice, but in the United States it would be trivially easy to give an heir 2.5 million dollars tax free. Here's how it is done. In January of every year give $10,800 in cash or stocks to your heir to invest. Why this amount? Because it is $1,200 less than the annual limit for tax free gifts giving plenty of leeway so that a birthday or holiday gift does not mess one up later in the year.

If you are 30 and only expect to live to 55 this will mean, assuming 5% interest above inflation, that when you snuff it he or she will have 500,000+ in cash. Then you can give in your will $2,000,000 in cash or whatever to your heir without invoking the inheritance tax. Easy peasy. If you live to an unexceptional 75 you could give $1,823,793.56 and then the exempt amount for $3.8 million in total. With more heirs you could give more money. Your heir will have to pay tax on the interest earned from all the stocks, bonds, or whatever he buys to earn it in the intervening years, but avoiding inheritance tax is trivially easy. Provided the person with money is willing to think ahead about death and work on it in advance.

If the rich person is married it gets even easier because both husband and wife have a limit, thus $24,000 a year could be given away to each recipient under the current rules. Staying well clear of the limit gives $3,647,587.12 after 45 years, a reasonable assumption given that Mr. & Mrs. Rich would start to give the moment he or she is born. In the the irrevocable trust it goes and in the end he's got more money than most of us would ever know what to do with, almost completely tax free. And they can all do the same if he or she produces some Rich grandkids.

But if I were an immortal I would not do this to give money to myself. I've thought of a much better way than to keep farming identities and passing money on.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Punch It!

The hardest part of writing, for me, is still just getting my behind in the chair and just writing. Once I start not caring exactly how it is coming out the writing actually comes rather easily. I am a fast typist from years of online chatting and I actually spell fairly well for someone of my generation. Though I still need the help of the spell checker and never a month goes by without learning yet another word. There are just so damn many of the things!

Going back to a chat program without spell check is scary. I did that on connexion the other day an I felt like a performer without a net. Irrational, it is just spelling, but there it is. Our technological tools are a great comfort in performing tasks like this.

And I have spent far too long 'cat vacuuming' rather than writing. Both here to record my everyday events for my future edification and with my fiction writing. Time to get back too it. Thousands of things to do today, punch the keys like you mean it and then put on music to clean too!

Things I need or want to do today:
•Get in contact with people who signed up for DASFA at MileHiCon, particularly Lexa Gregor.
•Talk again to A from Connexion and see if he wants to come to DASFA.
•Clean apartment for DASFA party.
•Work on new entries in Quickbooks for work.
•Talk on the phone with fun people.
•Get a six pack of beer.
•Make cookies? Cookies go with beer, don't they?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Now It Is Over

Well all but. Unless Huckabee picks up every single Romney supporter he's not in the hunt to move this to a contested convention. But one of them dropping out was exactly what I was waiting for. So, McCain vs. Obama or Clinton.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

It Is Not Over, Republican Delegate Analysis

For the rest of February the states that will be having Republican caucuses and primaries are Washington - 37, Wisconsin - 40, Louisiana - 23, Virginia -63, District of Columbia -16, and Maryland - 37. This means for the rest of the month there are 216 delegates up for the Republican nomination and of them Wisconsin, Virginia, DC, and Maryland are all winner take and Washington is a variation. Louisiana is proportional. This is good and bad for McCain who needs 578 more delegates to lock the nomination. Louisiana being proportional is good because I think Huckabee will take a majority of that state in a walk. Huckabee is also in good position to take Virginia as there are not many moderate Republicans there, but it is open to independents, so who knows? Maryland is closed, but a wee bit more liberal.

But even if he (impossibly) took every delegate he'd still be short. So when does/can he win it? He'll be close in March when Texas -137, Ohio - 85 and Vermont - 17, vote for another 239 votes, total 455. But Texas is only winner take all if he can take a outright majority in the open primary. Can he? Each congressional district then gives its votes winner take all if a winner takes a majority in the district... Or proportionally otherwise. I do not see McCain taking Texas if Romney and Huckabee are both still in it. Maybe if one of them drops out... Otherwise Ron Paul takes his district and everything else is a patchwork. The very first date McCain could lock it up is April 22 in Pennsylvania which is a "Loophole" primary. I'll explain that some other time, but it means that the state could come down to whoever has the best machine supported by local politicians. But conceivable if Texas is especially split it could easy go to May on the Republican side as well. This isn't even close to over despite what the media is bloviating today.

Can Romney or Huckabee win? Not outright. But if one of them isn't secretly angling for Vice President then they could be hoping to go to a brokered convention and get it.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Small Gift to France

I love America. I love America with all its faults, but of course I love our moments of virtue better. In February I remembered one of those moments I did not love as much when the internet joke about searching for French Military Victories and having a 404 page come up. It was a natural for people who were upset with France for being against the Iraq-American war, but it seems unworthy of Americans to be this petty. We're better than this, or we can be. I want us to remember events like the victory at Yorktown where Frenchmen fought alongside Americans to secure our independence. True, Louis XVI (French King) only sent forces because he wanted to metaphorically stick his thumb in the eye of George III (British King). But a number of Frenchmen came that really did not have to put their necks on the line, as you probably know. Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette among other volunteers.

Perhaps for their birthday we Americans could change the rankings of the web search for "French Military Victories". It would not be a big thing, nothing like when the people of France gave us the Statue of Liberty for our country's birthday in 1886, but it would be nice. Ah, but you say that France's birthday isn't until July 14th, the famous Bastille Day. I know. But in order to do this we must be subtle and be thinking ahead, under three months might just be enough for something like this.

If you've not already guessed I mean to get searches for French Military Victories to point at an actually informative pages about French Military Victories. This will take careful building of links as that most famous of search engines, Le Google, now has some sort of system to prevent prank link bombing.

So how do we make this work right? Well I suggest that if you feel inspired please write something of your own about French Military Victories linking to one of my three referenced pages. (To make it easy I'll put some plaintext code down in the first comment.) If you feel uninspired and just want to link to the project link using an alternate phrase from the one we are promoting such as "A Small Gift to France", "Mishalak" (I particularly like variations on that one, heh), "Americans Being Nice" or something like that. Easy code down in the first comment, once again.

Anything you'd like to suggest? Good idea, bad idea? Yes I did try to get people interested once before, but I'm not letting this go this time. I want to do this and if other people do not want to join in I want to figure out why. How can I make this fun? And if you don't comment I may come to your blog and pester you! <grin>

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Fear of Pyrrhic Victories

One of the worst things about politics is one never knows if a campaign might end up being a Pyrrhic Victory. One so dearly won that we would have been better off not to have fought for it. But what can we do other than to proclaim the right as we see it? I dearly, dearly hope that whoever wins the American Presidency in 2008 will do a good job. I fear, of course, that someone good might get the nomination, but be so bloodied that he or she might then lose the election. Or that I might be wrong about fearing this. I doubt my own decisions both ways.

I will be going to caucus here in Colorado in a few days. I'm doing it for Barack Obama and I hope that my humble individual decision will be for the best, win or lose.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Why Vertical Farms Will Never Exist

Outside of a few niche applications, of course. Currently the number I'm able to find for actual crop land, as opposed to pasture land, average net returns is about $104.19 per acre in the United States. So for a decent economic return the cost of building/buying an area of land to grow crops on will need to be no more than about (104.19*30)=N*1.02^30-N, or $3,852.41. If anything that is generous since only the very best farmland in Ohio goes for $3,886 an acre. And a 2% return on investment over 30 years... that's just terrible. If you use the more usual 5% return the max drops to about $1000 an acre. There are 43,560 square feet in an acre... You probably see where I'm going. Even at $1 per square foot (I don't know of any skyscraper that rents for less than $30/square foot) it would be mind bogglingly stupid to build a skyscraper to even partially be used as farm space.

Now growing things hydroponically (is that a word?) or in vats in some suburban warehouse type space... that might be conceivable. But I shall laugh at the next 'futurist' that proclaims we'll be growing things on the sides of buildings.