The Clarke Centennial

100 years ago today, in a small town in England, Arthur Clarke was born.

Perhaps he’ll always be best known by the public at large for 2001: A Space Odyssey, which is certainly how I was first introduced to his work. Later, when I had a chance to delve deeper into my Dad’s collection of 50s paperbacks, I came across Childhood’s End and later still, “The Star” — a very short story that nevertheless haunts me every time I read it (spoiler alert: I’ve linked to the actual story, so you should avoid reading it if you want a holly, jolly Christmas).

Clarke’s work is endless inventive and, at times, as distant as some of the objects in space he describes with ease. But as cold as he might seem to his individual characters, his work often shows a warmth and optimism about the human spirit. I suppose this conflict comes because while we see his characters such as Heywood Floyd or Robert Singh struggle mightily to do good, Clarke makes sure we never forget they are mortal with finite, mortal lifespans. Nevertheless, I always find myself drawn into his work.

I will plan to update this posts with remembrances that will surely come today. You can also hear what he had to say 10 years ago in celebration of his 90th birthday.

UPDATE (later that same centennial):

 

Fun with Nuclear Devastation

Growing up near Washington, DC during the Cold War left an impression on me. It could be that my dad, a physicist, had explained how the U.S. and Soviet nuclear arsenals were large enough to reduce the world to dust and have nukes left over to shake up the dust.

Okay, that’s a bit of hyperbolae. My dad would probably qualify my sentence by pointing out that the nukes wouldn’t obliterate the entire surface of the earth… and then he’d provide the exact square footage based on what he’d read and complex calculations he’d do in his head on the fly. That’s how he rolled.

But regardless of whether the entire planet would be flattened (it wouldn’t), it was very clear that, should World War III occur, where we lived would disappear in the intense fireball caused by multiple nuclear warheads.

That was pretty heavy to contemplate in elementary school.

There was an air raid siren near where we lived which, at the time, still went through the same monthly tests it probably had done since the Eisenhower administration. Of course, we grade schoolers did not know the finer points of such test schedules. Invariably the siren would roar to life while we were walking home from school and you felt the need to run for cover even though you were probably doomed.

So it probably comes at no surprise I caught many of the nuclear apocalypse-themed films and TV specials from Dr. Strangelove to The Day After to Threads to World War III. And yes, I made a point to see the TV version of Fail Safe live.

Sadly, even though it’s over 25 years since the end of the Cold War, the Doomsday Clock remains very close to midnight. I suppose you could accuse the Atomic Scientists of being dour, but they do more than just watch movies. They’ve put a lot of time and thought into this. And speaking of time and thought, I stumbled across a site created by Alex Wellerstein, a historian of science and technology.

Simply called “NUKEMAP,” it’s a devilishly comprehensive simulator of what would happen when any of a variety of existing nuclear weapons might hit  wherever you’d like Google Maps to specify. You can even project the radioactive fallout based on wind direction. It’s no hyperbolae to say that, had this site existed when I was a kid, I would have spent an afternoon or three going through all the scenarios I could think of… after confirming our family home would be reduced to dust in a full Soviet attack.

Because, if you’re going to contemplate the horrific destructive capacity of nuclear weapons, you might as well have a little fun. General Turgidson would.

You know he would.

You Don’t Know How Good Every Painting Is Until They’re Gone

They say all good things come to an end. In the case of podcasts and online video series, I suppose you don’t know how good a thing is until it’s gone.

So it was with some sadness that I took the time to read the postmortem by Taylor Ramos and Tony Zhou explaining how their YouTube series, Every Frame a Painting had come to an end. A friend and fellow fan of the series sent the essay to me and I had to pause before going through it in depth.

Yes, this is still a “Motivation Monday” post. Stay with me.

If you haven’t stumbled across this series before, it’s a lovingly obsessive look at the craft and technique that goes into making movie magic done by some lovingly obsessive creative folk.

I first got to know about the series with their piece on Akira Kurosawa:

 

Another favorite is about the “Spielberg Oner.”

Even though I’ve been a cinematographer for only a few projects, I know how much work can go into making moves like these look so organic and effortless. That makes me love them all the more.

And it also motivates me to go out and make something extraordinary. If you’re a filmmaker, go on and watch a few yourself. See if it doesn’t inspire you to approach your next project with more verve.

But don’t forget to read through the postmortem. It shows what level of love and dedication it took to make what these “nutrient-rich” videos packed full of insight. And it explains why they decided to move on.

But the motivation remains. Kudos to Taylor and Tony — and I know I speak for many when I say I hope we see you online again sooner rather than later.

Time is Not on Your Side. It is Your Personal Rashomon

As the year draws to a close, people invariably muse aloud about how fast the year has gone. Strangely, November was far longer for me than October. I’m not sure yet how December will shape up.

I decided to do some Internet digging about time and how people perceive it. I suppose I could go ahead and read some Marcel Proust since no one can properly summarize his masterwork, but I wanted something more on the scientific side.

I read about how time itself isn’t real certainly that time is subjective to each person. I tend to think of it as a lovely intangible. I was very interested to learn about how music affects our perception of time — and in general, I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading more about the study of time perception in the near future. It seems it often explores the nature and limits of what could be termed the Rashomon effect.

Eventually, I found a satisfying piece by Alan Burdick in the New Yorker that is, in the end, far more personal and philosophical than what I originally intended from a scientific assessment. So perhaps I’ll seek out that Proust after all.

 

 

Monday Motivation: You Doing You Creatively

I am overdue in continuing the “Monday Motivation” posts, so I thought it’d be an opportune time to note that sometimes it’s good to just do what you’re doing and keep on doing it. Especially for those of you in the middle of the slog that is NaNoWriMo: just keep truckin’. Don’t edit, write! As “they” say, the first draft is always garbage anyway and editing is another month.

One thing I thought of in terms of “you doing you” creatively is the fact that certain things are outside of your control. For example, sometimes people aren’t buying what you’re selling creatively… and it has nothing to do with the quality of what you’re selling (or you, personally). Mark Evanier mentions this as it applies to writers and actors in one of his excellent columns on rejection. As he points out, not every opportunity is an opportunity you’re supposed to get.

 

I’ve experienced both sides of this equation. On the submission side, I have and continue to get to be rejected both as a writer and an actor. I’m lucky on the actor front to often hear the voice-over spots I auditioned for that I didn’t get: many’s the time where I hear it and think, “Yup, they were going for something different than what I was giving.” It helps that I also get accepted as a writer and an actor from time-to-time, but it’s by no means guaranteed.

The flip side, doing casting or editing, I know the people Mark Evanier talks about who feel work should be guaranteed. The ins and outs of that are worth a whole other post, but the main thing I can say is, so long as you have an honest feedback loop in place to tell you how good your work is, you can and should just keep on doing your best and learning how to better that. Time and again I’ve seen that kind of self-aware, self-improving hard work be noticed and rewarded.

 

Living a Lie: Pumpkin Edition

Look, we all know it’s decorative gourd season. Pumpkins and, especially, “pumpkin spice” items are everywhere.

However, in the interest of sharing information and –let’s be honest– giving you a Halloween scare, you should know:

  1. You live in a world where clear pumpkin pie is a thing.
  2. In this world, pumpkins may not actually be pumpkins!

I mean, if you thought David S. Pumpkins gave you unsatisfying answers, wait ’til you get in the weeds on this. The weeds are full of Zima.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Tuesday Tech Tale of Terror: Sinister Smartphones

Really, I had to post something for Halloween, didn’t I?

Jean Twenge’s longform article in the Atlantic about the damage of smartphones has been making the rounds on my social media channels since it came out in September. It’s stayed with me perhaps because it’s another parenting conundrum to keep one up at night.

I was reminded of the article as well because of a recent piece in the Independent that pointed out how Bill Gates and Steve Jobs kept their kids low tech.

Hey, at least whatever parenting choice I make, they’ll be someone and some article to tell me I’m doing it wrong. So, there’s that.

Lots of Recommended Reading: Scripts for Days

Life in the offline world has been demanding much of my attention this past month, so I haven’t been posting as much.

I feel somewhat remiss in my Internet duties to pass along useful information and interesting things to read. With that in mind, I direct you to 50 screenplays made available for free from some darn fine movies, from “Alien” to “Up in the Air.”

Happy reading!

Flash will not be Savior of the Internet Universe

Okay, this is old news for most of you. It should be noted that –despite what I’m sure at some point were Adobe’s (and Macromedia’s) intentions– Flash was never going to be the savior of the Internet universe.

Nevertheless, if you need some good news this Friday, be reminded that Flash is will be, as of 2020, not just merely dead, but really most sincerely dead.

Fandom, Umbrage, and IP

I’ve been thinking of writing a longer post about fandom and perceived ownership — all the more so with the launch of Star Trek: Discovery.

Mark Evanier’s post, aptly titled “Creative Custody,” refutes the notion of fans “owning” comic book characters, but it can be applied to lots of other fan-beloved intellectual property (IP), such as IP that involves warrior races called Klingons.

Much of what Mark Evanier says could be said by someone who hasn’t been an avid comic books reader for about 60 years and a continuously working comic writer for about 40 years… but that authority helps.