Monday, March 29, 2010

Semi-Literacy Roolz

Now and again, a little rant is good for the soul. Therefore...

I get a call from Nextel/Sprint, my cell phone provider. "Meester Rainey, you (garbled-in-background noise) decision-maker for (garbled-in-background noise) account, we like to give you offer to (garbled-in-background noise) can I have pin (garbled-in-background noise).

"What?"

Repeat the above, shuffle the garbled-in-background noise cues a couple of words to the left and right.

"Sorry, I can't understand a word you're saying. Learn English, call me from a quieter setting, and maybe then we'll talk." Click.

I have an idea, Mr. American CEO. You run an American company. A crap-load of American folks are looking for work. Instead of collecting 900 times the amount your lowest-paid worker makes, settle for 500 times. Give up half your bonus. Re-invest that sum in your company, and look at how many people in the U.S. you could put back to work—who could then stimulate the economy in realistic terms; in other words, in enterprises that the average American supports. Bring your foreign call centers back home and pay reasonably educated, English-speaking Americans to call on me. Maybe then I'll part with some of my hard-earned dollars to spread the wealth. But not until. Far as I'm concerned, any individual who can't figure out how to make do with a few million dollars a year really ought not be breathing the same air as the rest of us anyway.

I did send a little missive to Sprint, by the way; the response was as frustrating-slash-hilarious as the original call: "I am sorry for the inconvenience caused to you when you receive the sales call and could not talked to our sales representative in detail due to the background noise. If you interested in any Sprint product, please reply in details. I provide you all the information regarding the services."

Semi-literacy roolz, yep.

Oy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Destroy All Monsters...Geocaching-Style


Too busy to blog much lately; taxes, writing, working the day job, and — perhaps to the approval of the local geocaching crew — creating a new series of caches with a daikaiju theme. It's titled Destroy All Monsters, after guess-which-1968-Toho-Godzilla-flick, and features 11 caches, each named after one of the monsters in the film — Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, Angurus, etc. Ten caches each contain a clue, which must then be put together to determine the coordinates for the final cache, aptly named King Ghidorah. They will be placed in various locations in northeast Guilford County, and range from park-n-grab micros to big honking ammo boxes in the woods. A couple of the containers will include special, thematically appropriate prizes for the first finders.

One or two of them might even be a little scary....

I hope to have it all completed by the end of the week and published at Geocaching.com shortly thereafter. I trust it will be... invigorating.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Florida's Outback


The Circle-O Ranch (Click photo to enlarge.)

Spent a wonderful long weekend in south central Florida at the Circle-O, a citrus ranch owned by my next-door neighbors' family. The majority of the drive down (about 12 hours) and the first full day there, the rain came down in blinding sheets, which made driving difficult and tedious—though it didn't stop us from grabbing a handful of geocaches. Happily, the next couple of days turned out warm, sunny, and pleasant, though we had an almost unsettling, rip-roaring wind coming through for hours on end. The house is surrounded by several hundred acres of citrus groves and pure wilderness, a.k.a. "the Outback," where you can find wildlife in abundance, including gators, armadillos, deer, otters, snakes, a variety of birds, and spiders as big as Kansas (I happened upon one as soon as we arrived; they're kind of hard to miss). There's also plenty of moo cows wandering the range—including a big old dead one right at the entrance to the Outback, although admittedly, this one didn't so much wander as lie around assaulting the olfactories.

During the rainy spell, we stayed indoors and watched movies, such as Sherlock Holmes, Exorcist: Dominion, and Rob Zombie's Halloween II, but once the sun came out, we spent the majority of our time on four-wheel ATVs, exploring the Outback, avoiding armadillos, and staring down moo cows. In between trips (which included several exceedingly cool nighttime excursions), we drove into Fort Pierce for some caching and a fine lunch at the marina. Also got in a spot of fishing, guitar playing, and campfire-building, all of which provided some very welcome relaxation.

Of course, the relaxation is done, and it's back to the salt mines, a portion of which has included working on income taxes today.

I hates me some taxes.

Anyhoo, the Circle-O has quickly become one of my favorite places on Earth, and I hope to get the chance to go back. Mini tanks to my young neighbors, the Workmans, for providing me the opportunity for such a rocking, relaxing vacation.

The front yard (Click photo to enlarge.)

Riding through the Outback (Click photo to enlarge.)

The hidden cypress grove (Click photo to enlarge.)

Paul wanted to ride where the bull was standing. The bull was standing
exactly where he wanted to. We ended up going around.
(Click photo to enlarge.)


Sunset over the outback (Click photo to enlarge.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DARK SHADOWS: BLOOD DANCE Recorded


David Selby as Quentin Collins (click image to enlarge)

Lisa Richards as Chandres Tessier (click image to enlarge)

David Selby and Lisa Richards recording Dark Shadows: Blood Dance
(click image to enlarge)


This past weekend, actors David Selby and Lisa Richards were in the studio to record my latest Dark Shadows audio drama script, titled Blood Dance. David Selby reprises his regular role as Quentin Collins, and Lisa Richards stars as new character Chandres Tessier. Here's the teaser from my Web site:

The year is 1929. Seeking a life free of the nightmares at Collinwood, Quentin Collins finds himself in Chicago, captivated by the city’s energy and the prospect of a new love. However, drawn into the twilight world of speakeasies and organized crime, he discovers even darker shadows that threaten to overwhelm both him and Chandres Tessier—the enigmatic woman to whom he feels drawn yet can’t be sure he fully trusts....

More info at my Web site and at the Big Finish Web site.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

StellarCon 34


Doing the usual guest thing at Stellarcon 34, coming up this weekend in High Point, NC, at the Best Western High Point Hotel. Not sure of my entire schedule yet, but I'll be participating in the following:

Choosing a Publisher (panel), Friday, 8:00 PM

Allen Wold's Writer's Workshop, Saturday, 10:00 AM—1:00 PM

Cthulhu Take the Wheel (panel), Saturday, 5:00 PM

Horror, Oh, Horror (panel), Sunday, 2:30 PM

May have a reading and book signing somewhere in there, but don't have the schedule as yet.

The past couple of days have been for hunting rigorous geocaches. Yesterday, got two first-to-finds, one with a major terrain challenge. Headed down into the basin near Lake Higgins, knowing that, after all our recent precipitation, it would be something of a marsh. Heh heh...yeah. The marsh part was tough enough, but crossing a couple of streams was a real challenge. Crossed fallen trees, lattices of brambles, and set a new personal record for the broad jump, but sometimes there's nothing for it but just to go wading.

I must have made quite the sight when I stopped off at the grocery store on the way home. I'm sure I left a trail of muddy footprints and brier-covered fines all through the store. Quel rigeur!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Godzilla: The Original Japanese Masterpiece


Godzilla, King of the Monsters (Gojira, 1954)

DVD Description:
Released by Classic Media; additional material: Japanese and U.S. versions, trailers, commentary, documentaries, 12-page booklet

Directed by Ishiro Honda

Starring: Akira Takarada, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Momoko Kochi, Fuyuki Murakami, Sachio Sakai, Raymond Burr (U.S. version)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The original, 1954 Japanese version of Godzilla is surely my favorite monster movie ever. Maybe even my favorite movie ever. While most westerners equate Godzilla movies with hokey monsters, model cities, and bad dubbing, the original Japanese film transcends the genre that birthed it, and in its day, transformed that genre into something altogether new and different. Countless words have been written about Godzilla being a metaphor for the nuclear horror Japan experienced at the close of World War II, so I'll not belabor that point. While the U.S. version, with its added footage of Raymond Burr, retained at least a portion of the original's power, the Japanese version may be viewed through the same "serious" lens one would view Japanese classics such as Seven Samurai, Rashomon, and Ikiru, and find it in no way wanting. Despite some crudities in its special effects, the film's grimness and documentary-style narrative imbues it with a sense of real-world horror that no other monster film, Japanese or otherwise, has ever achieved. Its limited U.S. theatrical release in the early 2000s received almost unanimous accolades from critics, and in a sense, opened a lot of eyes to a product that most American viewers only thought they knew.

The intersecting stories of Emiko Yamane (Momoko Kochi), Ogata (Akira Takarada), and Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) propel the drama, but Godzilla is the fourth character in this relationship, affecting and influencing the human characters' every decision. Emiko and Serizawa are engaged, their marriage having been arranged when they were young; however, Emiko and Ogata are in love and wish to marry, but both have deep feelings for Serizawa and have no desire to hurt him. Serizawa, in his scientific research, has discovered an unusual energy force with the power to destroy oxygen molecules, and his dilemma is whether to use it against the monster and risk it falling into the hands of politicians — the one thing he fears more than Godzilla — or allow Godzilla to trample Japan unimpeded. It's his sense of honor as well as his compassion for Ogata and Emiko that motivate him to make the decision he does.

Tangential to the "love triangle" is the character of Dr. Yamane, Emiko's father and Japan's preeminent paleontologist, who fervently opposes the government's position that Godzilla must be destroyed, preferring that the monster be studied for its unique in its ability to survive both untold millions of years as well as massive doses of radiation from hydrogen bomb tests. Yamane is less susceptible than Serizawa to Ogata and Emiko's efforts to convince him that Godzilla must be destroyed, despite his recognition of the fact that Godzilla might inflict upon Japan a nuclear holocaust far worse than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Only toward the end, after Tokyo has been reduced to ashes, does he appear to be reconciled to the destruction of the greatest laboratory sample the world has ever produced.

The American version retains the better part of the original plot, but too much of the character development has been edited out to make room for Raymond Burr for the story to come across as more than melodrama. That's not to say the scenes with Raymond Burr, directed by Terry Morse, are totally superfluous; certainly, for American audiences of the day, relatively soon after World War II, having a recognizable American star to participate in the drama, in effect becoming the audiences eyes and ears, served to make the original Japanese story more palatable. While the added scenes are occasionally too obvious — especially when stand-ins are used for the original Japanese actors — they are played very straight, and oftentimes blend in surprisingly well. For all its flaws, the Americanization did allow much of the original to remain undubbed, and Burr's scenes occasionally add an additional touch of suspense, such as during the storm when Godzilla first appears on Odo Island.

While most American audiences would probably never know the difference, Godzilla's rampage in the original Japanese version is far superior, in that Tokyo has been wonderfully reproduced in miniature, with Godzilla making a logical and accurate progression through the city. To Japanese audiences, the reshuffled scenes must appear quite confusing. Having Godzilla attack at night was a wise move, since the darkness adds immeasurably to the sense of menace and also offers the practical advantage of concealing flaws in the effects. Regardless, Eiji Tsuburaya's work in this film is masterful, particularly when one considers the limited budget, the time constraints, and the fact that it was all new and largely experimental at the time.

Akira Ifukube scored the film and also created the ominous sound effects for Godzilla's roar and footsteps. Many of the themes that fans explicitly identify with Godzilla originated in this film, and it's all the more remarkable that Ifukube composed the score without having seen a frame of film. He was instructed to write music for "something big." I believe he succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expecations.

The Classic Media presentation is easily the best of their Godzilla DVD series. The Japanese and U.S. versions come on two separate discs, and each has an excellent commentary track by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski. Extra features include a documentary on the making of the Godzilla suit, a documentary on the development of the original story, trailers, and a 12-page booklet with an essay by Steve Ryfle.

Top recommendation.