The fru-its, of the de-vil?

The Mephisto Club
The Mephisto Club

The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen

Rizzoli and Isles are back in their sixth adventure, facing off against a criminal who desecrates the corpses of his victims with occult symbols and strange rituals.  And if that weren’t enough to deal with, they find themselves haunted by an elite club of crime-solving amateurs who’re convinced that their serial killer isn’t just evil, he’s Evil. (“The fru-its, of the de-vil,” as the Church Lady would say.)  A few thoughts:

  • This is among the more gruesome murder mysteries I’ve read, on par with the elaborate set pieces in Angels and Demons.  I don’t read a lot of procedurals (mysteries that focus on police officers and follow the procedures of their investigations) so I can’t really compare this book to other similar ones.
  • I read this particular book because my mystery book club decided to read it.  I don’t usually choose to start a series in the middle, and I think it hurt my reading of this one — there was a lot of back story in the first half that I could tell I was missing.
  • Gerritsen continues in the tradition of feminist detective writers by integrating the personal lives of the detectives into the stories.  In this one, one of the detectives faces a home where her parents are separated and acting like teenagers while the other detective contemplates having an affair with a Catholic priest.  It’s not a cheery addition to the story from either side.
  • The titular amateur detective society that butts its nose into the story reminded me quite a bit of the Vicdoq Society from The Murder Room.  The crucial difference is that the real-life society of crime-solving detectives from around the world only gets involved in cold cases, and only with direct request from the principals investigating the case.  In this book, the Mephisto club wields its mysterious influence to get into the case.
  • The solution of the mystery was pretty good, with a bit of suspense despite the fact that the novel gives you the perspective of the murderer a couple times throughout the story.

In general, I don’t like serial killer novels and I’m not too big on police procedurals.  That said, The Mephisto Club is a well-written book for its genre, and the pace picks up in the second half of the book.

unable to save due to filename collision

How to solve the problem “unable to save due to filename collision” within Google’s Picasa.

It’s time for another exciting post in my series of tiny technical problems that might help someone far in the future.  Today, we will be documenting my experience with Google’s excellent Photo management program, Picasa.  I was working with a big set of photos, and went I went to save them I got this error:

unable to save due to filename collision

I searched around a bit and was eventually able to find someone who said they checked the folder where the pictures are stored (using the file explorer, not within Picasa) and discovered an errant .tmp file.  Delete that file and you’ll be good to go.

Tweets from 2013-04-21 to 2013-04-27

Weekend quick bits

  • Mel looks wackoI have now been trained as a Level one swim official for YMCA swim meets.  Go ahead and try to use a dolphin kick before you start your breast stroke pull out.  I won’t see it, but I will know you shouldn’t do it.
  • I forgot how crazy Mel Gibson looks in Lethal Weapon.
  • I am enjoying Cloud Atlas but still don’t get why everyone thinks its amazing.  Perhaps the second half will do it.
  • Re-watching The Running Man is a good idea, I think.  Jesse Ventura’s mustache should have gotten its own movie.

Evil Dead (2013) – Rants, Delights, and Picking nits

Having written my review of Evil Dead yesterday, today is the rants, delights, and nit picking session.  Needless to say, Spoilers ahoy!

Demon lady in the basement
This cabin comes with a trap door convenient to store deranged and possessed sisters

I will hand it to Alvarez and Sayagues that they didn’t fall into the stereotypes as deeply as one might expect.  This isn’t Cabin in the Woods.  But leave it to the hipster science teacher to open the book and read the forbidden words.  He tries to make amends, but that’s a lost cause fairly early.

I like the barely-there premise that the demon might only be able to spread through blood–the kind of zombie virus that emerges in the [REC] series (specifically, [REC]2).  This would have been a very interesting movie if they had gotten rid of all the door-slamming and other things that make the possession stuff stand out and had the possession work more subtly, giving Mia the murderous moments herself.  It would have been a much darker movie if the grotesquerie hadn’t been so pronounced.

I liked all the nods back to the original, from the trap door and demon below it to the infected hand, the chainsaw, and the car in the yard.  The one-liner at the end of the movie harks back to Evil Dead 2 as well.

I also enjoyed the brief nod to Ash at the end of the movie.  There are numerous discussions around the Internet about the idea that they will bring his character back in a sequel, which would be interesting and enjoyable.  But I’m unsure how the new style of the film would gel with the older ones — does Ash become less goofy, or does the series shift toward humor more?

Now a few rants:

  • My biggest problem with the Evil Dead has always been its confusing mythology and logic.  What determines when/how the demons can possess someone? Why is it hard for them to get the main character when they seem to possess everyone else with blythe ease?
  • This movie reinforces the idea that human beings can take an incredible amount of damage without falling over dead.  In particular, whole limbs are severed and tourniquets are NOT applied and the individuals continue hobbling around like it’s a skinned knee.
  • I couldn’t help but wonder where the people who wrote the book got all this detailed advice about dealing with the monsters.  And if the words in the book are the evil words that summon them, and the book is about how to get rid of them, Why write them down in the first place?  This is one time I’d say security by obscurity is a good strategy.
  • When is the ceremony at the beginning of the book supposed to have taken place?  I assumed decades previous, but the cats were still rotting in the basement.  And if you were part of the anti-demon cult (the ones who wrapped the book in barbed wire and a hefty bag), wouldn’t you, oh I don’t know, bury the book or something?
  • It also occurred to me that barbed wire is a difficult medium to use to hang dead cats from the ceiling.  What’s wrong with twine?  Maybe they were DEMON CATS.
  • Why did David think he could bring Mia back after he buried her?  How come death isn’t part of the sacrifice needed to quell the monster?
  • Why did the evil monster at the end rise?  Which “five souls” had it feasted on?  Did it have Mia’s soul even though she was brought back to life?  Perhaps the five were the four friends from this movie plus the MOTHER whom the girl at the beginning of the film was purported to have killed.

For me the creepiest part of the movie is the audio recording playing at the end of the film.  Yeesh.

Evil Dead (2013)

Evil Dead
Evil Dead

What happens when five young folks go to a cabin in the woods for some good old fashioned junkie detox? Nothin’ good.  Especially if they find a book full of ancient, horrible spells and drawings or something.  And then they read from it. (I also like the idea that at some other cabin there are Nice Dead who bake cookies and give ghostly foot massages.)  A few thoughts:

  • I’ve seen several reviews that refer to this movie as funny, or suggest that there are good one liners.  I think there are humorous bits in the film, but unlike Evil Dead 2 which roils with humor or even the original Evil Dead which is so extreme it becomes funny, this movie doesn’t do either of those things.
  • I agree with Brittany-Jade Colangelo’s post on Day of The Woman lamenting the lack of a strong female lead.  The promotions leading up to the film suggest an entirely different kind of female protagonist than the one we got.  There was some baddassery from Mia, certainly, but not much.  Only Mia’s brother had much to do in the way of moving the plot forward.  (I’ll also let Brittany-Jade comment on the infamous tree rape as well, something I always hated in the original and find horrible about this film too.)
  • The film suffers, some, from the resounding success of its predecessor.  The basic premise for the film has been thoroughly digested and reformed by the horror community, so it has a different flavor now than it did in the early 1980s.  Evil Dead returns to the genre with a straight face and benefits from it, mostly, but the fact that the underlying idea is tired makes it that much harder to compel the audience.
  • I’d say the movie hits all the right notes with its suspense and gore levels, and some of the body mutilations are stunning and creative.  As a stand-alone horror film it’s not bad.
  • The movie piles in reference upon reference, providing all sorts of secondary delight for the committed fans of the series.  I’ll address these a bit more in my post tomorrow.

Evil Dead is a solid, extremely gory horror movie with a lot to appeal to fans of its predecessors.  It’s not amazing or event great, but certainly good.  If you go in without stratospheric expectations, you’ll probably enjoy it.

Anglers in Springtime

This month, I searched the Flickr commons for photos with the word “springtime” in the title.  Here’s what I found.

Anglers in Springtime
Springtime for anglers in … Germany?

From the Atlantic to the Pacific anglers are stirring in response to springtime’s call

Two thoughts on the Boston bombing and related events

First, the coverage of the Boston bombing on Popehat has been amazing.  The gang over there have been doing a bang-up job writing from new angles about the event.  My two favorite are:

security theater, martial law, and a tale that trumps every cop-and-donut joke you’ve ever heard” in which Clark wrote about the enormous waste involved in shutting Boston down for a whole day (except, apparently, Dunkin Donuts, which was explicitly asked to stay open to provide the police with food).

and “Richard Jewell Cannot Accept Our Apology” which reminds us of the famously maligned hero from the 1996 Atlanta bombing and the way the media and pretty much everyone else blamed him without reasonable proof.  Patrick wrote this the day after the bombing:

If the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and All Of Us, could get the Atlanta bombing so tragically wrong in 1996, they, and we, can do it today. In the days to come, it would behoove All Of Us to take what the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and their ilk, have to say about suspects and motives with a grain of salt.

Lest we find outselves owing someone a Richard Jewell-sized apology.

Perhaps the best apology we, All Of Us, can give to Richard Jewell is to be a little more skeptical of what we’re told by the FBI, and CNN, and NBC, and the New York Post, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution, and their ilk.

It will do Richard Jewell no good whatsoever, but it will make All Of Us better citizens.

In the aftermath of the violent gunfights involved in capturing the current suspects, it seems likely that at worst, the Boston PD and FBI have succeeded in getting dangerous people off the streets–people we presume to be the bombers as well.  The father of the boys is claiming they were framed, which seems bizarre given that they shot at the police and threw explosives, but if you were going to frame someone for this kind of attack, it would make sense to pick someone with a cache of guns and homemade explosives.

Second, in a similar sentiment to the one Clark expressed about the bombing, I’m surprised that the Texas fertilizer factory explosion hasn’t gotten FAR more coverage and raised FAR more concern than the bombing.  Because at its core, the bombing is an unavoidable part of living in free society–you cannot prevent bad people from doing bad things if they’re committed enough. It will happen.  But regulating industry so that careless accidents don’t happen? Hell yeah you can prevent that.

But our media seem much more interested in the unavoidable tragedy than the avoidable one.  I would prefer to see the media mania focused on the factory and the ramifications of our gutted regulatory bodies and their inability to enforce strong safety and environmental regulations rather than so much attention on the criminal act and its actor.

Schismatrix

Schismatrix
Schismatrix

Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling

Sterling’s novel follows a single mover-shaker through the turbulent politics and world of the far future human panoply spread across the solar system.  Over the course of about 180 years, we see the way humankind expands, the whole breadth of people descended from Earth humans.  It’s a good novel, with complicated ideas and good plot.  A few thoughts:

  • This novel fits the arc of “leaps forward” SF novels like Forever War and Accelerando.  The latter, particularly, owes a lot to Schismatrix.  In fact, when the space lobsters showed up later, I realized Stross was directly nodding back to this book with his space lobsters.
  • At the core of the book is humanity’s struggle between “shapers” and “mechs.” Shapers use genetic technology to alter their code for benefits.  Mechs use technological advances to do the same.  The conflict between these two rages throughout the novel, even as aliens show up and we get used to the wider universe.
  • I like the idea that when the aliens show up, the only ones interested in us are smarmy used-car-dealer types.
  • Sterling does a great job of developing long-term relationships between characters, establishing how things would change over decades as people drift apart and then back together.
  • Some of the extremes given to the different characters — particularly the horrible result of Lindsey’s former lover — are quite disturbing.

It’s not the happiest idea about how humankind will evolve moving forward, but it’s a good book nonetheless.

Tweets from 2013-04-14 to 2013-04-20

March music roundup

Each month, I build a playlist of music that I’m mostly unfamiliar with.  I usually get 2 or 3 albums from emusic, a couple from one of the soundsupply drops, and a few tracks from Daytrotter.

Having been at PCA/ACA in the last week of March and then taken a trip to Belize, I’m a bit behind in the normal monthly music stuff.  But I know you’ve been waiting eagerly to hear what music I listened to last month and what I thought of it.  So here you go.

Emusic:

  • The Mountain Goats, All Hail West Texas – John Darneil has a strong storytelling style in his songwriting, and this early album has a DIY effect that’s great.  I’m sure I’ll acquire more of these as we go along.  This time around I especially like “The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton” and “Color in Your Cheeks.”  I still like “This Year” an awfully lot.
  • Paul and Storm, “Nun Fight,” “Frogger! The Musical,” “Live” – Three more fine songs from P&S.  Frogger the musical is the funniest, as I already had Nun Fight live.    Live (as in “you must live”) was the song Paul and Storm wrote in the Masters of Song-Fu contest in the style of Jonathan Coulton.  JoCo produced, of course, the unstoppable “Big Dick Farts a Polka.”
  • Pete Seeger, “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “America the Beautiful,” and “This Land is Your Land.” – good folkie versions of these classics.  I particularly like Seeger’s “Frankie and Johnny,” which vibrates with pathos.  because emusic accumulates the amount you spend on the album each month, I’m slowly working toward the full purchase price for the five disc set of Seeger’s work.

Soundsupply:

  • Andrew Dost, Columbus – a strange mix of musical styles, best described as alt-pop, perhaps.  The whole album is about Columbus’ journey from Europe to the Americas.  It has the same wacky sense that I enjoy about Intercontinental Music Lab.  I think it’s a musical about Columbus, now that I examine it closely.  How strange.
  • Pianos Become Teeth, The Lack Long After – Not my taste at all.  This Soundsupply album features music laced with a shouty singing style that doesn’t work at all, with many songs too overwhelmed with noisy guitar to sound good at all.  Ugh.
  • Gobotron, On Your Mark, Get Set… – Straightforward alt rock.  I like the meditative quality of “I Don’t Forgive,” and the straight-up rockin of “Never Turn Around” works well.  My favorite song on the album, though, is “I Lied,” which has a strong melody.
  • Tall Ships, Ep + There is Nothing But Chemistry Here. – The heavy electronic sound of this band reminds me of Passion Pit, with similar anthem stylings and layers of music.   The songs all have strong melodies, but for some reason very few of them have vocals.  The ones that do have a mourning quality that I like.  Not bad.

Other music:

  • Cover Lay Down: New Folk – Zella Day’s “Seven Nation Army” is great; Radical Face does a meditative cover of “Nothing Compares 2 U”;
  • Daytrotter, 17 more songs from the best of the year list 2012: I like The Kernal’s jaunty evocation of Buddy Holly, “Mind Control”; “Call Girl Blues” by Diamond Rugs has a good groove, with a hint of 1970s soul music in it;  ;but Bhi Bhiman’s “Equal in my Tea” stands out as the most distinctive.
[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PQeA3D4qvnk]

 

 

Springtime Scene by the Fence outside Historic Trinity Church

This month, I searched the Flickr commons for photos with the word “springtime” in the title.  Here’s what I found.

Springtime Scene by the Fence outside Historic Trinity Church
I love you despite your hilarious 1970s clothing.

Springtime Scene by the Fence outside Historic Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall Street, Lower Manhattan 05/1973

A few more thoughts on Kickstarter

SF writer and excellent reviewer from Atomic Anxiety Mark Bousquet posted an interesting few tweets about kickstarter the other day, so I wanted to write a bit more about what I like about the platform.  First, here are two screencaps from Twitter.  The first is a few relevant tweets from MB’s feed and from my conversation with him.  The first list is reverse-chronological, the second is chronological.

twitter-convo2
Kickstarter tweets from MB
Kickstarter on Twitter
Kickstarter tweets from MB and me

I’ve already written about kickstarter a bit here, so I’m already appearing too much like a cheerleader, but here comes some more.  To start with, I can certainly see Bousquet’s point.  There is a big risk to choosing to finance a piece of art.  If you’re a mogul and deciding whether to spend some of your company’s capital on a project, you’d better know for sure what you’re getting in return.  You’re taking a big risk and expect big return.  As a consumer, you aren’t generally taking the risk that the product won’t get made, and with reviews and other means, you aren’t taking a big risk on the quality of the product you will buy.  (It’s also crucial to note that Bousquet makes clear he dislikes projects that abuse KS.  Not all KS projects.)

But the investor model has major limitations.  First, it skews conservative.  Because it puts all the risk in the hands of a narrow few, those few have to be absolutely sure about a project before the risk, and they expect a handsome return for taking the risk.  This has two effects, to my mind.  First, it means that proven projects and proven artists will get funding more easily and more fully than new or inexperienced ones.  It also means that the economics of the project depend on making a profit above and beyond what the artist needs to succeed.  We don’t just need to pay for the art and the success of the artist, we also need to pay for the risk the investors took.

By contrast, most Kickstarter projects ask the investors to give up the expectation of big profits.  They offer rewards that pay off in different levels of satisfaction and quality.  Usually the higher the investment level, the less monetary reward one gets for the support.  This is the part Bousquet seems bothered by, the idea that we little financiers are giving up the return on investment that the big guys would have gotten.

But I’d suggest that the well-crafted Kickstarter projects take advantage of the distributed-investment environment by diversifying the risk and reducing the needed profit.  For example, I invested in Castle Dice, a cool looking board game whose box-set retail price is about the same as any European style board game.  By taking the risk, I helped supply the capital that allowed for the game to be made.  Because there weren’t initial investors that would siphon off profits for having taken the risk, the game makers could produce a game and take away more profit than they would have had before.  This pleases me because it means they’re more likely to do another game like this in the future.

The long and short for me is that the diversified risk and low profit overhead allows projects to proceed that otherwise wouldn’t.

Them: Adventures with Extremists

Them by Jon Ronson
Them by Jon Ronson

Them: Adventures with Extremists
by Jon Ronson

It’s a little disconcerting how close Ronson gets to very scary people in this book.  But his point, I think, is that even the very scary people are just people.  Them details Ronson’s journey into the late 1990s and early 2000s subculture of conspiracy theorists, people who believe shadowy cabals of the ultra-rich control the world, and make decisions about the world-controlling process at a secret meeting each winter in a hotel and at a second yearly meeting, a satanic ritual in California.  A few details:

  • Ronson does a very good job of making the terrifying people depicted in his book look more like hapless buffoons that terrorists.  He also highlights how the people on the extreme left of the system are also bonkers.
  • I admire both his persistence and his bravery, to visit places and people who have, in some cases, set themselves up against everything he represents or stands for (or is, in the case of the Anti-Semitic KKK).
  • The blood drinking lizard chapter, about famous crackpot David Icke, is particularly compelling.  Ronson follows Icke when he comes to Toronto to speak about the fact that the world’s leaders are actually seven foot tall blood drinking lizards.  The local Jewish Anti-defamation League orchestrates a shut-down of his talks before learning that his talk of lizards isn’t code for anti-Semitic thought, but actually a fear of giant lizards.
  • I love Ronson’s self-deprecating writing style.  If nothing else, reading the book is worth it for the nervous self-terror that emerges as he wrestles with tricky situations, like “should I try on the KKK hood or not?” — he does.
  • The best part is that he does find a secret cabal of ultra-rich movers and shakers who meet twice a year.  They DO have policy discussions and have a ceremony in front of a giant owl.  The Bilderburg group does, as Ronson lays it out, seem to have a lot of power (at least in terms of their ability to draw together people who will later become important.  But it also functions like a rich old person’s frat party.

For much of the book, I couldn’t help but think of So I Married an Axe Murderer and Charlie’s nutty father.  So I’ll leave you with that.  All in all, Them, is a compelling, striking read with complicated emotional layers and a strong vein of humor.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPMS6tGOACo]

Tweets from 2013-04-07 to 2013-04-13