There I feel a little better…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I’m such a sucker at times. After enough eyeball impressions (usually in my Facebook feed), I might just buy anything that looks like it could help a writer toiling away somewhere. The ReMarkable Tablet that you might have seen advertised in your feed was just one of those new shiny objects that I just had to have. And because of the average lead time for a product review post versus just going out and seeing a movie to get my two cents in with my Flamethrower column, I fucked myself because I’m past the return date about two weeks after purchase.

To recap this not ready for prime time [expletive deleted] device promises that it will replace all the many variations of paper married to a trusty ballpoint pen, pencil or watercolor brush (for those so inclined). The ReMarkable is a white rectangle with dimensions (in Portrait) that suggest European A4 width and American Letter length that maximizes the piezoelectric tech of your choice of finger tap keyboard, or the write on screen ability of the recent Apple Pen that comes with later iPads. I declare the promises of buying fewer spiral notebooks overblown.

When I first got the thing about four weeks ago, I toyed with it. I play with every new toy at least once as soon as I cut open the shrink-wrap. I set up the device connecting to my home WiFi so I can email files to myself for storage. I charge it up and get ready stylus poised and write.

In this early session, I tapped the button for Portrait Mode like how we’ve been taught to approach any old pad of tear off Letter sized paper (short across the top and longer vertically towards your body). And I got busy with the provided stylus making letters and words appear in a variation of a College Ruled template (blank pages induce my text to alternately go up to the right or down to the right). Everything seemingly worked more or less as advertised in that choosing Pencil made words appear that I could later retype into something else.

As you might see in the photo, this writing tablet has three buttons across the bottom when you orient it in Portrait Mode. The left button is Page Back sending you to the previous page (if it exists). The center button is the Home Button sending you back to the home screen where your note files are saved and you can choose any of your existing files or start something new in which to work. The right button is the Next Page button that will either send the user to the next page in sequence or if you’re at the end of the file it will automatically add a new page to the end of the file.

During this early session, my natural right-handed wrist on the page pen stroke style induced over decades of dealing with book reports and essays for school did me dirty. My wrist would hit this Next Page button suddenly putting me on a blank page orphaned from the rest of my notes/writing. I would have to hit the right button to find where I’d left off. I begrudge literally every second I spend fixing something that I don’t have to worry about using older technology (paper).

The second thing I noticed about writing with the tablet is that the plastic stylus is thinner than I like. If you were to mug me for the pens in my pocket you would see that while I have choices within the same brand between wide barrels and narrow barrels. The only thin barrel design I have has an iPad rubber stylus tip on it. I believe reinforced by how my pen strokes make my elbow feel that wide barrels sit easier in my fingers. Or I could’ve just convinced myself of this allowing my mind to think they fit better.

My solution, if I liked the tablet more, would be to dig out some of the leftover colored gaff tape from my film production days and wrap up the stylus for a thicker grip. It didn’t get this far, so we’ll never know. My words filled up the screen despite the screaming tendons in my elbow.

In the second session conducted more recently, I solve the Portrait problem by turning the tablet sideways to the right and picking the Landscape variation of College Ruled lines. My hand now moves away from the Next Page Button. All seems right in my writing universe as I imagine trading off between my Elfinbook notebook (see post) and the ReMarkable both allowing me to feel more progressive and pro-tree than perhaps I really am. The smaller reusable notebook that uses photographed pages to create PDFs would be good for some uses and the larger ReMarkable, I could maybe use for larger drawings because I really like belly-flopping off the 30-meter platform at the Olympics when it comes to my pictures.

Both paperless technologies are predicated on being able to create PDF files of my notes to send or cut and paste into a folder on my computer, especially wallowing in the arrogance of believing in a historically relevant literary estate. I’ve commented on the reusable notebook saving things to PDF and how easy it is to combine pages into one document. I tried the same thing with this big first draft of my review for The Death of Stalin. Tried as in – “Do or do not, there is no try!” – or the similar, “I’ll try means I’ll fail!”

Sending this handwritten text to myself using my fairly standard WiFi connection failed miserably because the file size was too large in PDF. Really, three pages of handwritten text is too large when other mobile apps can handle huge PDF files by comparison? And you have to send files from the tablet itself because there isn’t a Share Files button on the companion mobile app.

Trying to save things, when I realized I had the option of sending the file using the Photoshop originated PNG format I did that. The file went through, but then I added too many extra steps reconverting to a PDF. And the full text didn’t go through so I would have to rewrite the review or type from the tablet.

Gee, Guys! I feel so happy knowing that I paid $678 for a writing tablet that fails miserably in all of the small ways like file management that I ended buying an unusable paperweight. Maybe I bought something I could put onto a starship bridge set? Or some other flavor of movie prop? Certainly, what passes for my ethics says can’t give this [expletive deleted] away and have the gift accepted in the spirit intended. I wuzzz ROBBED!

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© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Yet another movie that my inner cinema douche-snob doesn’t like that I remember so fondly…yup, that’s 80s fantasy classic Krull in a nutshell. Fortunately, after decades of yelling, slammed doors and long angry silences, my inner douche left for a Reno Divorce. I think deciding to like Last Jedi, the actual film in front of me instead of waxing craptological on any kind of hagiography about the real Luke Skywalker, finally did it.

When contemplating the story of Colwyn and Lyssa, scions of two warring kingdoms on the faraway world of Krull who must unite against the Beast, the douche isn’t far wrong. It is a silly movie for which serious analysis should be banned. And as often happens in movies like this, none of this actually matters.

I could point to the Glaive, the golden starfish-like Excalibur stand-in, that Colwyn (Ken Marshall) must wield against the Beast and his army of stormtroopers…er Slayers. In of itself, the Glaive represents interesting work on the part of the prop shop (lethal starfish shuriken? Need I say more?) and it should be just the thing for a bit of discreet wet-work on the person of the Beast.

But, like any magical super-weapon that will either destroy the Dark Lord directly or must be fried in Mount Doom in a high stakes game of Keepaway, there is much buildup about not using the Glaive lightly. However, Tolkien made sure to include moments where both Bilbo and Frodo were tempted by the call of the Ring and/or really desperate circumstances to use the Ring in a way that exposes the Ringbearer to Sauron. By contrast, we never really get to see Colwyn tempted to use his nuclear option and then go back to the longsword in his other hand.

This omission, speaking from an Edit Without Mercy mindset, works against the narrative when it should’ve acted more like a flying buttress holding up a Gothic cathedral wall. When most of the Beast’s foul plot revolves around toying with the captive Princess Lyssa (Lyssette Anthony) in his nightmare inspired Black Fortress intending to wear her down and accept his marriage proposal instead of Colwyn’s, having a moment where the good guy nearly blows the big game making a rash decision to reach for the big revolver at his belt could deepen the story.

As it is, the one thing the Beast well in his pursuit of the Princess was to aim a desperate widow at Prince Colwyn in camp with his bandit army. But, yes, 1980s fantasy movies not going there aside, the thread of aiming this woman at the Prince resolved itself with a too quick resort to the expected variation on the stalwart hero – “my heart belongs to another.” And maybe the Beast temporarily empowers this woman strong enough to force the usage of the Glaive (so we can tie these threads together)?

Speaking three decades later, another way to get more out of this scene where the woman relents from killing Prince Colwyn is to have the sex happen. Lyssa sees it as intended in the Beast’s magic mirror or crystal ball and…she forgives her future husband. The movie specifically told us that the marriage-alliance between Lyssa and Colwyn was her idea (possibly to avoid the ugly underbelly of fantasy and medieval woman used as pawns on the chessboard even in the less PC 1980s). Yes, they fall in love for reals when they briefly meet during their interrupted wedding ceremony. Tumbling the camp widow would hurt, but if Lyssa remembers that she offered herself up to save her world she can shrug and say something like – “obviously we have to talk, but he gets this one free.”

And bringing the bash-bash portion of this review back around to the not well thought out logic of the movie represented by the Glaive, I have an interesting nitpick observation. The golden starfish is an ancient weapon that represents kingship and good leadership on Krull. But, the Beast is an interstellar bad guy who lands his personal dark tower, The Black Fortress, on the planet intending the next phase in his galactic conquest. So other than the movie telling us so in a manner much like – “hey, look over there! A prophesy!” – how do we know that the Glaive will do anything remotely useful against the Beast?

I could go on bashing a movie, I’ve already said I like. But, it’s time to talk about has been continuously awesome about this movie since they made it. There are two or three major set pieces that do much to carry this movie. You tell me that the Gandalf stand-in, Ynyr (Freddie Jones), has to enter a giant spider web to confront his old tragic love, The Widow in the Web (Francesca Annis), for the location of the teleporting Black Fortress? Yeah, I’m in, especially since the stop motion white spider puppet was massively cool. And if you tell me that the adventuring party must saddle Fire Mares (super fast horses) in order to ride all night across a couple thousand miles of British and Italian exteriors doubling as the lush grasslands of Krull? Had me at hello.

But, while the fan of fantasy movies might come to expect such big moments, it is in the interactions between the party members where this movie almost breaks out from the strictures of a script that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. First off in roleplaying terms, it’s an odd party construction. There are, like, four variations of the wizard character class with Ynyr, The Green Seer (John Welsh), Ergo the Magnificent (David Battley) and youthful apprentice, Titch (Graham McGrath). Rounding out the party we have an army of bandits featuring before they were famous parts for Liam Neeson, Robbie Coltrane and Alun Armstrong as the leader Torquil.

As you may guess from the presence of this many wizards, not many survive the movie possibly causing complaints from the Fantasy Wizard Union. In the meantime, the bandits have a lot of fun looking cool and being warmhearted even towards the budding mentor relationship between Ergo and Titch. And it is this gentility in the slow moments that does much for the experience of watching this movie.

Operating in parallel to the Ergo-Stitch relationship, we have a friendship between Ergo and Rell the Cyclops (Bernard Bresslaw). Initially, Ergo doesn’t like new things like tall one-eyed beings, but comes to see the man with the oversized shrimp fork as a friend and ally. It’s a pity that the film actually kind of left Rell on the table where he could’ve been more relevant in more scenes, but when he was there things worked better.

Director Peter Yates also gets some specific recognition for overseeing key aspects like production design and cinematography that do much to elevate the movie. Usually, a movie like this (1980s modest budget) would have highly noticeable shifts in how the brilliantly photographed grasslands, hills and mountains interact with the interior sets conducted on various Pinewood stages. Here the shifts land within the band for not so glaring, just go with it. It doesn’t matter whether Colwyn pulls the Glaive from lava or Ynyr carefully edges his way across structural support webbing going to see the Widow, great sets equal almost great scenes that just needed better writing.

That said Krull has a lot of charm and nostalgia to it that carries the day. And the real reason I won’t fully bash this movie into the realm of regretting buying the disk, is that I’ve already looted elements for my own work. In a book that doesn’t really exist anymore, a dragon attacks the city. The protagonist rides her own dragon home. The king and love interest and his retinue make use of a one time only rule that their horses will break the sound barrier to cross hundreds of miles before the dragon gets snippy. I can’t bash cool things to borrow. And now we close.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I suppose that you’re aware that I’m as susceptible to a Facebook ad for cool writer stuff as anyone (more if you figure that I get to tell you about it and write off these modest hits to my bank account on my taxes). So on my daily skimming of all things Facebook, mostly to clear the red numbers in the corner but occasionally to learn things from fellow scribblers, I come across the Elfinbook 2 notebook. A reusable notebook where you use a special pen and either spritz water on your screw-ups to erase them or you nuke the whole spiral notebook over a glass of water in the microwave to erase the whole book.

Probably because of not fully trusting Facebook retailers, I clicked over to enrich Amazon, yet again. I chose the smaller 6” x 8” size. Two days later, my book and pen arrive via special delivery (Sunday, Ducky) before going to a weekend writers group meeting at a library. I’m ready to rock and roll on the greatest of blog posts about hollow asteroid ships (Nah, hyperbole, Ducky, I left at least a couple threads on the table; fix it in post). What follows are my thoughts on whether or not I wasted $20.99 in my constant search for new toys.

I didn’t come to this purchase completely blind. A friend with whom I share time and tables in my most useful creator community has a notebook with similar capabilities. His is larger and might be from another company. I’ll ask him at some point, when both our notebooks are in the same place at the same time. At the time, I was experimenting with the Livescribe note capture pen (see post), so I recognized the layout of his reusable pages immediately. And then finding more reasons to go back to the good old-fashioned spiral notebook than to stay, I dropped the whole thing…until I saw the ad.

First off, I think I picked the wrong size. I’ve become extremely accustomed to the 6” x 9” paper spiral and I think it showed moving my writing hand across the slightly smaller writing area on each page. Sometimes my wrist bumped up against the plastic spiral in the center where this doesn’t seem to happen as much with a paper notebook. But, each new type of notebook is a bit like a new golf course, find the pin placement and hit a few lethal screamers before settling in for a good round. And these are, as they say, First World Problems.

While other notebooks that do the microwave to erase thing have pages with a plastic like you’re writing on a cheap placemat, this notebook’s sheets feel more like paper, however slightly. The literature and sales blurbs assert that the material is finely ground and milled stone. Stone? After mentally blasting out cool, my next thought is to start up with The Flintstones jokes – “so does it come with a much put upon prehistoric woodpecker breaking his beak as a dictation stylus, too?” Never mind, not much of a joke there.

The pages go with highly specific pens with water-based ink. This is how you get the ink to run freely like mascara when you’re done with a blog post, chapter or notes to self, concerning the next piece of music (still on that one). The makers thoughtfully provide you with your first Pilot FriXion pen, but say that any pen with similar ink will work for writing and drawing.

Later in the instructions that come on a cardboard insert at the front of the book, they tell you to never use oil-based ink or any of the solvents that can break down certain grades of that ink. Or in Real People Speak, dry erase pens and/or solvents like Goo-Gone basically void the warranty. Good to know.

Oh, and this is a minor classic in terms of the Peanut Butter Sandwich Exercise that teaches you to be nauseatingly precise when giving instructions, but this cardboard insert that provides you with your instructions and access code for full use of the smartphone app doesn’t actually tell you to remove the insert before your first full microwave erasure. Pretty much I assumed that the wet mascara ink would bleed all over this insert and so I took it out to store it in the plastic bag earmarked for this notebook.

Picking up the thread of each golf course needs acclimation before you score well; writing with water-based ink creates a few logistical notes. In the same vein as an artist doing watercolors needing to bring or have at hand water to clean brushes, or thin and mix pigments, you’ll need a ready cup/bowl of water if you intend to erase your mistakes as you go. I licked my fingers and rubbed out what would otherwise be cross outs. I solved this stopping off at a supermarket for the smallest kid’s sippy cup I could find, or I’ll just have to live with notes that still have cross outs. Needing to buy extra gear means this notebook isn’t a perfect solution to the intersecting problems of paper waste and having the smallest thing in your bag, but it’s a start.

There’s a minor interesting point to make about created expectation and what comes out of the box. When I read the description for this notebook on both the Facebook ad and the Amazon page, I got the impression when they said “approximately fifty sheets, half lined and half blank for sketching” that I would get a notebook that alternated between lined writing/note pages and blank rectangle pages for drawing. I was worried that this would disrupt my flow with my writing, or that I would have to take time to draw in lines on a sketching page.

The copywriter doing these ads and Amazon pages basically skipped over showing any lined pages choosing too sketch pages. One of these side-by-side sketch pages had enough text on it that it could have been a text page fostering my wrong impression. What came out of the box is approximately 25 sheets of lined paper up front and the similar number of sketch pages in the back of the notebook, so I dodged that bullet. Still, I really don’t want to hire this particular copywriter.

At this point, you’re probably hearing the part about ink runs like mascara and asking the – “How do you preserve the notes and writing that matter?” – question. Elfinbook has thoughtfully created a smartphone app where once you add a special code from that cardboard insert, you rock and roll. Unlike the Livescribe where special sensors in the paper connect with the pen to save your PDFs to the app on the phone, this app simply has you take pictures of your pages with your camera.

The Elfinbook app automatically detects the frame of your page and prompts you to crop the page accordingly. After that you choose the best way to present the text in the most readable/printable way. You could do a batch capture to make multipage documents, but I don’t recommend this. Using the batch setting, yes, I did quickly take a frame of each page of my post. However, the auto-framing crop feature gets sloppy the quicker you try to process your notes. I found it easier to take a good frame of each page individually and merge the pages into one PDF document after the fact. It takes about the same amount of time.

All files are saved as PDF, which means that any smartphone app that likes PDF potentially wants these notes. There are a lot of these apps for the phone. What Elfinbook doesn’t do is process these notes for OCR into texts, emails or, more importantly, MS Word. In one part of their site, the Elfinbook people say they’re working on this capability. In others they already say that limited OCR is already a thing. Oh, right, the OCR requires a super-premium ($18/year) account. At least, my initial opinion is that the product is better than this laughably sloppy copywriting. And don’t get me started, again, on how the Livescribe’s OCR wasn’t fully ready for prime time in my opinion.

Would I use the notebook again and not just because it’s mine now and I’ll probably fail to send it back before the return deadline? Yes, I don’t see why not. As an object for my writer bag, it’s smaller and lighter than my regular spiral notebooks. The text saved to PDF comes out readable and ready to print. Having to keep the special pen handy when I’m already maxed out with pens in my pocket is a little bit of a thing. Bringing a sippy cup for the erase water is a bit of a thing. But, the best reason is at the end of the second paragraph; at $20.99 this notebook is an easy investment. And now, why aren’t you writing?

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

I didn’t know Thor was supposed to be funny. And then I saw Chris Hemsworth playing the part with a smile as he hung from chains in a hellish setting asking for a moment while his face swings around to converse/interrogate yet another threat to Asgard and Earth. “One moment…” After which, Disney, pretty much the only studio that can afford it, sets the superpower rumble to Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song. Yeah, it’s that kind of movie.

Thor’s return from this battle to Asgard with the monster’s horns only to see his brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) pretending to be Odin (Anthony Hopkins) enjoying a play about Thor and Loki’s recent conflict depicted in The Avengers and previous installments. A play written from Loki’s point of view. Thor exposes the fraud and brings his wayward brother along to Earth to find Odin. With the help of Dr. Strange, they find him in Norway, just in time for Odin to die releasing their previously unknown sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), from prison.

Thor goes on a journey where he lands on a garbage planet. Fights the imprisoned Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) in the ring. Recruits him and the last surviving Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) to come home and fight for Asgard one last time. And then, because any movie that references the Norse myth of Ragnarok can’t avoid blowing up Asgard, Thor releases the Fire Giant King from the teaser to blow up Asgard taking out Hela in an act of Mutually Assured Destruction. The surviving Asgardians travel to Earth figuring that there’s got to be nice real estate in Norway that humans aren’t using at the moment.

This movie succeeds because the script intentionally plays to the qualities Chris Hemsworth has brought to Thor through four previous outings: humor and an intentionally naïve charm that allows the Norse God of Thunder to know everything will be all right. This time around he’s caught between the competing needs of one brother and two friends (if you play up the Jekyll & Hyde split of the Hulk as two personalities) he thinks of as the brothers he chose.

Thor has to navigate that Loki might not like the thought of Hela in charge of Asagard, but will still enjoy seeing Hulk beat the crap out of Thor in the ring. Similarly, Thor also has to tap dance between Hulk (the green guy) and Dr. Banner who each accuse Thor of liking the other half more than the one currently in the conversation. This leads to a wonderfully amusing four-way buddy story that also manages to inspire the disillusioned Valkyrie to clean herself up and rejoin the fight. So, actually a five-way buddy story with gladiator fights, gladiator revolts, space ships and things blowing up, the movie designed just for me.

If I were to find any fault with how this movie landed with me, I would say that what was actually on the page concerning Hela proved thin. While as a general rule good writing is required to get an actor’s best performance, every now and again a good actor just adds to the story. Cate Blanchett achieves this mugging her way through the character’s outrage and annoyance at being written out of the family history once Odin thought Asgard had conquered enough of the known Nine Realms. But, without Ms. Blanchett’s facial expressions at key moments we’d think that the filmmakers basically decided to just have Hela blow stuff up and move on.

The rest of the cast rises to the level required of a movie that needs to grow Thor into his true self. Idris Alba gets good time in as Heimdall as does Anthony Hopkins wistfully bowing out of Odin full of the regret at being unable to do more to stop Hela. But, for me director, Taika Waititi, brilliantly adds to the cast mix when he does double duty in the motion capture suit voicing and moving gladiator Korg, a rock being. This rebellious bundle of rocks speaks with a Polynesian/New Zealand accent and freely admits that his past experiences with successful revolutions is nil – “only me mum showed up.”

Technically speaking, this movie continues Marvel-Disney’s track record of effects and music that rolls up sleeves and gets to work. The most visually cool part of this spectacle has to be the fight between Hulk and Hela’s pet, Fenris the Giant Wolf. The Green Guy isn’t having any of the slobbering giant zombie dog throwing fists and generally trying to yank out the canine’s teeth. It’s the most notable battle in this movie, but there are others. Though for someone that’s actually read the overview books of Norse Mythology, it was a little odd for Heimdall to be absent from the Fenris fight. Perhaps Asgard’s gatekeeper took credit for the win after the fact. A setup for completely unnecessary fan fiction…

All of these pieces add up to a charming buddy road picture humorously touching the same bases as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, if you can actually think of Thor as George (the lines get blurred with Thor’s almost as equally considerable super-strength). The friends have a few scenes together where I’m surprised they didn’t share beer; it’s not like the never-ending beer teased in the mid-credit sequence for Doctor Strange didn’t make its appearance. Perhaps they were showing restraint because their friend, Valkyrie, has a trauma-induced drinking problem? A story element for the mythical not so Disney version of the movie.

So anyway the movie races to a conclusion of the embrace your fate variety of the type where Thor has Loki resurrect the Fire Giant King tossing his horned crown into a magic fire. Hulk, of course, didn’t get the memo leading to a funny moment and quite a few social media back and forths concerning imaginary dialogue cut from the first draft of the script. Basically, Thor promises Hulk there will be other “Big Monsters” to smash and that no, Asgard doesn’t need saving because they’re redecorating. Or not, it is a lot of extra words.

You can’t go wrong with fun movies like Thor: Ragnarok.

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

“Of course not, we’re family” – Drax the Destroyer.

And with that, we’re back with the dysfunctional family led by Peter Quill the Starlord (Chris Pratt) just a few months after saving the galaxy the first time. Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) plugs in the amp and air guitars while the rest wipe out an inter-dimensional whatever intent on stealing The Sovereign’s batteries. And this must simply be Tuesday.

We travel with the Guardians across the dark places of the galaxy searching for the pieces to a greater understanding of family. Starlord confronts his father Ego (Kurt Russell). Gamora (Zoe Saldana) makes peace with her sister Nebula (Karen Gillan), intent on murder because she could never beat Gamora. Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) pushes members of the family away. Yondu (Michael Rooker) acknowledges that he raised Starlord and bonds with Rocket. Lastly, Drax (Dave Bautista) develops a friendship with Mantis (Pom Klementieff). Family in all of its fractious variations.

I liked the movie. There a simple caveman statement that says how fun this movie has been over the several times seeing it, including finally ripping open the shrink wrap on the disk. I liked seeing a pack of warm and engaging interstellar misfits save the galaxy one more time and that Starlord met his godlike father and, like Captain Kirk, ultimately just wasn’t that impressed. I suppose it helps that they pretty much broke every ship they flew.

If I had to pick out highlights, I’d go with the slow moments between Starlord and Gamora as he emotionally sneaks up on her what with sharing the earbuds to his Walkman with her. Prodded by Drax, Peter convinces her to dance amid the popped out dreamlike explosion of color on Ego’s planetary surface. And of course Thanos’ first daughter doesn’t dance thank you very much and will resort to violence if this leaks. Still, it was a nice dance, a date even, a promise for the sequel.

The rest of the movie is a massively fun blur of action, one liners and exploding ships. This all leads to Yondu, exiled from the Ravagers for his past misdeeds concerning Ego’s children, accepting his fatherhood of Starlord – “I’m Mary Poppins, Ya’ll!” He risks his ship and crew because he has always cared about the boy who started out “small and skinny and could fit in places for thieving.”

This time around the songs on Starlord’s Mommy Mix Tape Vol. 2, while they do the emotional job required of each scene, went a little deeper into the catalogue from the era when Starlord was snatched from Earth. For someone who started paying attention to music released just a few years afterwards, it was similar to hearing Quentin Tarantino’s original use of Hooked on a Feeling (also a feature of the first Guardians), where a song had already been blasted off the radio and didn’t resurface in my hearing until the movies brought them back. So, yes, I have some song archeology ahead of me.

Films like this live or die with the villains. Kurt Russell simply let his entire career do the heavy lifting as Ego the Living Planet. The father figure that pretty much just elbowed Darth Vader in the ribs for the Worst Father Ever Award smiles and is almost convincing playing catch with Starlord using an energy ball that might blow up whole cities if care isn’t taken. And maybe he shouldn’t have told his son that he inflicted Meredith Quill with a brain tumor precisely because he loved her and he wouldn’t continue with his plan to remake the galaxy in his image, if she lived.

And then I just had an interesting thought that perhaps goes to an underlying hilarity of not only the MCU but the comics that inspired them. The galaxy seems overrun with two kinds of villains, the ones that match up against the more human superheroes and those that threaten reality, as we know it. Yet, few of these nefarious plots ever get underfoot with the next villain’s plan. So as we watch Ego try to inflict himself everywhere there is life with his smug demeanor, what does Thanos have to say about it? It’s important because we’re building up to Thanos’s turn on stage in Avengers: Infinity War. “Hey, Asshole, my galaxy to conquer and enslave!” Never mind, just the uber geek that needs restraining from his usual fan fiction impulses.

Anyway, Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2 is just a really fun movie.

Paging Harvey Dent…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

New writers sometimes demonstrate a huge bundle of raw nerves that after a while makes the rest of us want to avoid them until they’ve chilled out a little. Case in point, I recently Facebook friended a writer that ended up asking me variations of the same question at least five times – “Do you think I’ll do well?” I ran out of ways to say – “I don’t know, but part of your idea seems new enough to my hearing that you might have a batter than usual chance once you write the book.” And I had to wait until today to carefully compose the text that said I would always try to help them, but that repeating the same nervous nelly question over and over again seemingly trolling for a negative answer to look for a reason not to write, wasn’t winning them tolerance.

Writers that sell out to their muse and show up as often as they can to put words on the page learn fairly quickly to get past that initial stage of I can’t do this. Words appear on the page or they don’t (paging Yoda) and we learn to push aside our fear until after we have a manuscript, script or comic book script in hand. We’ve all been there. We come to know the fear as an illusion probably reinforced by scared, angry or jealous naysayers in our lives. It is sometimes impossible to convey this to a new writer until we realize that while we can be supportive, that we also can’t hold their hand as they write.

What does supportive look like? In the several Facebook groups I’ve joined, a writer asks a more technical question than the above writer and I and others answer. Someone asks about shifting the writing focus between two leading characters, the thread generally answers with many variations of – “sure, why not?” Another writer posts about reading a post that told what not to do when writing a memoir, things they had already committed to paper. Again the thread went with – “it’s your story and you should simply tell your story your way.”

My addition to this thread went like this – “I think you’re dealing with some memoir editor looking to shed work or something. If so, he needs a vacation not to take it out on the rest of us. It will take a while to get over this and try writing through it, see what happens.” Another favored response is – “write that fucker into the book.”

Getting back to the writer that most exemplified this phenomenon; I gave opinions when asked. When asked books or short stories, I said books suggesting that there seems to be more reward on the backend. When asked about a story element that modestly piqued by interest and led to the conversation shifting to Messenger and the repeated questions, I said I thought it would be new to other readers as well. At all times, I made sure I spoke from a place of opinion that admits I could be wrong, because promising brilliant success sight unseen and sight unread seems like I’m lying through my teeth. Not supportive at all.

And each time this writer needed to repeat a variation of the question, I did give variations of the answer. In one, I explained about how less than 10-percent of the whole American population reads consistently and that three percent of that first number is all it takes to be enough of a bestseller for the writer to make a living and have Hollywood come calling. I explained that while sociologists might think that to be terrible, the writer can look at it as being able to relax because appealing to your hypothetical one million readers is easier than trying to pander to everyone.

In every variation, I made sure to reiterate variations of you can’t know who your audience is until you write the book. I also tried at least one variation of your question requires me to make a guess that is a Red-Black or Heads or Tails bet against a market that changes every thirty seconds. Similar variations hit on the quote from William Goldman from Adventures in the Screen Trade – “No one knows anything.” I said things like yes, there are things you can do to give yourself better chances like good writing and better editing, but while bad books usually get crushed in this crucible so to do good books that did everything right. And still the writer needed to fish for an opinion that exposed their nerves.

I do completely understand about making that leap into the first book. I’ve written elsewhere about the scared family member that popped me out of a writing zone into the only complete (no words of any kind) Writers Block I’ve ever experienced that lasted eighteen months. And I’ve talked about crappy English teachers versus the couple good ones. And I’ve lived through the nasty backbiting on a film set that manifested, in part, with nasty comments (post to follow eventually) about not being “a real writer, just the guy with the money.” I’m still here so this is how I know things will nearly always work out if you can only shut up and do the work.

The writer expressing this much fear and excessive need for validation just can’t hear. They can’t hear that even without unique story elements, as this writer had, they should write the story anyway. They can’t hear – “Yes, Agatha Christie got to the They All Did It ending first with Murder on the Orient Express. We haven’t read your version.” They need to wallow in their fear as an excuse not to write.

After five repetitions of the inane question about doing well, I wanted to slap the writer around, hook up the parachute and throw them out of a perfectly functional aircraft. Tough love, all I have to give at this point. Mind the ground, Ducky. Enjoy the rollercoaster. Enjoy that your whole career is defined by the next coin toss and no one can shield you from failure. Enjoy that we’re masochists that want to do it all over again next month. As long as you please just write the fucking book!

What I assume is the port in question…

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

“I always find it interesting that pretty much every screenwriter is guilty of Conspiracy.” – Evil Stepfather #2.

Who is Evil Stepfather #2? He has a name, a Wikipedia page and, more importantly, children whom I’m glad I no longer have to call step-siblings that I don’t want back in my life by poking this bear, so Names Change to Protect the Guilty at all times. And as you may guess, I hate quoting something he said during a private conversation about my writing while visiting him at a Central California Club Fed prison, but he did have a point. We do cheerfully commit Conspiracy every day.

Case in point, after a bunch of months just being okay with the two or three Facebook groups that don’t mind me blasting around the links to this blog, I joined about six more groups. When I figure out how each group wants deal with most writers joining up to insure a larger cadre of readers versus maybe I over promoted my blog, I’ll get busy. Until then, there are posts to reply to that thankfully don’t involve the white noise that defines our age. One of which came from the thriller group…

A woman posted that she wanted to have a character kill off the victim by going for the nearly hundred-year-old classic of arranging a crash on a secluded road preferably with a sharp curve. She needed help because her research told her that cutting the brake lines is less of a thing that it used to be. One reply doubled down on the slashed lines suggesting jagged cuts to make it look good after the fact. Another reply suggested bleeding the brakes while providing instructions from Google to achieve the same effect. A third suggested advance knowledge of the route spraying an oil slick and then spraying ice over the slick to delay discovery.

So once you include my reply that’s five people that just got charged with Conspiracy, the original author for asking and the rest for giving an answer. Crap! Don’t get me started on jail! Luckily, as a practical matter for the administration of justice a charge and conviction for Conspiracy (fancy Legal-Speak for sitting in a room and plotting crimes with other criminals) usually, but not always, requires for there to have been a crime committed.

A case in point, the Ed Wood of the 21st Century, Uwe Boll just made a legally indefensible online assertion comparing his movie Rampage to the upcoming Dwayne Johnson action movie of the same title seeking redress in court. Mister Boll’s movie, when you look at the pitch, seems inspired by the earlier 1997 North Hollywood Bank Heist. The Rock movie is completely different.

The point for this post is that if time travel were a thing or if Mr. Boll had produced his movie before the big shootout, then the cops could go after him, in theory. Well, if you don’t also factor in that if you actually make a movie and can demonstrate the only connection between filmmaker and criminal getting ideas from that movie, there’s a First Amendment adjacent argument that the filmmaker didn’t intend to commit any crimes and just made a cool movie, thus is not culpable. Sound legal thinking, until perhaps the Orange One and his goons get ahold of the exceptions for use against writers likely to oppose him (Sorry! The white noise does leak through from time to time).

What are the exceptions? Organized crime figures have been convicted not only of conspiring to do the crimes of the past, but also the crimes of the future. Now those who are more paranoid than I am are already wondering if the Orange One will start sending out minions with orders to create the conditions that change the circumstances of writing a book into making the case for Conspiracy. Put another way, what would happen if Tony Soprano had filmed all of the meetings at the Bada-Bing Strip Club with the intent of cutting this footage into the ultimate mob movie that covers up the conspiracy? Entertaining legal performance art to be sure.

But, ultimately I’m more interested in how I metaphorically committed conspiracy this time around than anything else. You know, give suggestions to help an author drive a car off the road? My reply was this…

The killer has access to the car and uses the data/auxiliary port under the steering wheel to hack the data system.

Mister Jacobs, from where do you get your bloodthirsty ideas? Simple things really, like watching the guy from the Auto Club replace my battery.

My battery died a few days ago. It had lasted exactly as long as the original was warranted to last when the wagon originally rolled off the Toyota production line in Ohio, about three years. I decide to have the guy replace the battery on the spot. The car’s here. I’m here. He and his truck are here. Replace the battery now, don’t waste more of my time.

We chat. Part of the replacement process is that he dives under my steering wheel to hook in a patch from his portable battery to the Aux Port. This is supposed to keep certain settings that are held in the car’s RAM active while he changes out the battery. It didn’t work because I think the battery had been dead a while by the time he got there. You don’t lose the radio settings, the remote locks or the trip odometers, but you do lose the stored engine data. And the clock. Basically, because I haven’t been on the freeway since the replacement, I feel guilty that my MPG average only reflects my city driving.

So when the lady posted her need for murderous assistance, this was in the back of my mind. We don’t look under the steering wheel unless we dropped coins onto the driver side floor mat. I might have been vaguely aware that with all the chips in the engine monitoring system that there would be some kind of port to check things when needed. I hadn’t looked for it until the guy showed me.

I admit to the truth that most days I do a lot of guessing and then focus my research later and came up with this scenario. The killer inserts a flash drive or other similar data card that fits the port uploading the hack into the car. This is based on knowing that all USB ports after the 2.0 type provide both power and data access through the same opening. Thus, I reason out that car manufacturers would do the same thing with these ports. Reason out, not know for a fact that the power port and data port are the same things; again do all research after the first draft to save time.

Then it becomes about choosing which version of the murder by the hacked data system do you like better? Probably, most would go with a GPS hack intending mayhem from sending the victim to the wrong neighborhood. Seems like it leaves a lot to chance.

We’ve already seen TV episodes that assert that a villain can hack the electronics between turning the steering wheel and mashing the brake pedal and the intended results. At the moment, I’m not sure if this emerging trope is even possible because the steering wheel or brakes might be isolated from any other data systems in the car. It looks cool on TV, but until I do my own three minutes of research or see something from either White Rabbit Project or the new Mythbusters on the subject not buying it completely.

What I do know is that the chips in your car monitor the engine and can shut down the car when extreme conditions are met. For instance, if your car detects too much carbon dioxide in the wrong places the car may shut down early to save the engine. Now we’re cookin’ with murder gas, I think.

Use the hack to create fall sensor readings to kill the engine at the wrong time, like, say, directly in front of that tractor-trailer hauling a port container that might be tailgating. That was my plan. And then I got to thinking, that depending on how much mass and kinetic energy the truck brought, the airbag might be a problem.

So now the killer who already has access to the car to install the hack through the port also takes the time to switch out the airbag cartridges for ones that will deploy limp bags so it looks good when the cops look at the wreck, but still put the driver through the windshield. Ooops! I just douched up a sound plan violently executed today with a wrinkle that adds complexity and poor execution tomorrow. No one’s perfect the first time out committing the grievous crime of Conspiracy.

And I haven’t even gotten to the part about the other post where a quick check of the arsenic page on Wikipedia helps another author figure out the historical availability of the classic poison…two counts now.