May 31, 2006

Passing it forward

Kelly had an interesting entry over at her blog from a couple of days back and she tagged me as part of Random Acts of Kindness. The idea is that you do one (or more) random acts of kindness, blog about it and then tag someone else so that they could do the same so that the acts of kindess spread out in an ever-widening circle of goodness :)

So Kelly tagged me and I was faced with an interesting dilemma – what was the random act of kindness I was going to perform and for whom? See, the problem is this – I’m a hermit. When John Donne said "No man is an island", he hadn’t met me :p Laurie and I are like twin islands which are only connected to each other and have not much contact with anybody else. Sure, we just moved into my parents’ place but my parents have gone on a pilgrimage and so aren’t here either :) So I finally decided to do several mini-random acts of kindness and hope that is enough :p

What’d I do? Well, first, I stopped watching the special features for "Neal ‘N’ Nikki" (that Laurie wasn’t interested in) and put "Scrubs" on so that Laurie could watch it with me :) Then, I began re-arranging some of my books which were lying all over the place. See, as I mentioned before, we had moved to my parents’ place last week and our stuff is lying all over the place. My Mom loves everything to be neat and orderly and hates it when things are piled up all over the place. I’d been putting off organizing the books because there are a lot of them and there just isn’t enough room to put all of them away neatly. I decided to get started on the job even if I couldn’t finish it last night :)

Then today, I started my Mom’s car in the morning because she’s gone for a while and her car has a problem with not starting after a few days if it is not regularly started up and left running for a bit because the battery runs down. I also wrote to some of the people over at Absolute Write and offered to help with setting up a temporary forum (if they are of a mind to do so) till they can either get their databases recovered or decide to go ahead with a brand new forum.

So now I’m going to tag a few people and ask them to do some random act of kindness and blog about it as well. You can do it too, even if I haven’t asked you to :p So go on, do something nice for somebody and then please do come back and comment here as well :)

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Posted by Fahim at 7:17 am  |  1 Comment

May 30, 2006

Masks and men

We watched "The Legend of Zorro" a couple of days ago. Now I was a big fan of "The Mask of Zorro" but the sequel? Well, it left me a little cold :p I think this might have something to do with the fact that the movie seemed to be (at least to me) a mishmash of what is "hot" at the moment. For instance, instead of the swashbuckling sword fighting that Zorro is so well known for, we saw Zorro jumping and swooping and rolling and gliding like a prize gymnast crossed with a show horse and an eagle :p Then the whole thing about Elena and Diego breaking up and all the ensuing hijinks seemed just a teensy weensy bit forced. But that might have just been me :) The best part of the movie for me was Diego and Elena’s son, Joaquin and all the trouble he gets into. Overall, the movie just didn’t stand up to the legend of Zorro that I know of.

On the other hand, we watched "Neal ‘N’ Nikki" yesterday and it totally surpassed my expectations :) I thought it might simply be an "experiment" by Yash Raj films. I had seen the beginning of the movie earlier and had not been very impressed. It had looked like something they’d come up to take Bollywood movies in a "new" direction. Dispense with the usual sugar sweet love stories and instead have something raunchier and much less inherently Indian. They did do all that, sure :p The movie is the most non-Bollywood type movie I’ve seen in a long time.

In Indian cinema, you hardly ever see any kissing let alone pre-marital sex or any kind of talk of sex. (Sure, rape scenes used to be big at one time but even then, that was for the sympathy factor rather than the sex factor and to build up the fact that the hero will eventually avenge the injustice :p) That particular trend has been changing. I can think of a few Indian movies of late which featured pre-marital sex or extra-marital sex. But nothing which just openly and joyously said, "this is all about sex!" I’m sure a lot of Indians (as well as Sri Lankans and others from the sub-continent) are going to be aghast at the movie and call it a perversion of culture. They are right on one level – it is. But at the same time, it is a fun romp. An unashamedly "guy" movie aimed directly at the younger generation.

Is it trashy? Yes it is. But it also has some fun moments and some really good scenes between the characters. The acting? The less said about it the better – if it could have been more wooden, the theaters would have been swarming with termites :p But I did enjoy the songs and half of them were in English and were sung very well …

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Posted by Fahim at 7:22 am  |  2 Comments

May 29, 2006

Scammers, spammers, agents and reagents

Yes, I’ve been gone for a few days while we moved house and things always seem to happen when I’m gone :p This time, one of my favourite writing forums, Absolute Write (AW), went down and a whole soap opera erupted around the disappearance of the site. Now the thing is, when there is drama of any sort, there springs up all sorts of stories (and versions) based on the drama. This one was no different. Let me try to be objective and present the facts and you can draw your own conclusions :p

It had apparently all started with the SFWA s list of top twenty worst agents – this is a list of scammer agents that writers need to look out for, ones that will rip you off and not actually do anything towards you getting published. Apparently, one of the agents on the list, Barbara Bauer, was offended at the fact that she was mentioned in one of the AW postings and had made a call to AW’s webhost asking that her name (and e-mail address) be removed from the forums. It looks as if Ms. Bauer has been dealing in this kind of intimidation tactics for a while but in the case of AW, the end result was that the site was shut down.

That was when the drama began :) Now keep in mind that I wasn’t there when all this started and so my account of events might not be the true order of events. That said, it looks as if the AW community and friends rose up in outrage at what had happened to the Absolute Write forums. One of the most vocal gatherings on the Net regarding this issue has been this post by Teresa Nielsen Hayden over at Making Light. The AW "community" alleged many things in the process. But first, bear in mind that a "community" is not a single individual but one composed of many individuals with different ideas, opinions and reactions. Personally, I feel that online, a "community" tends to veer towards "mob" at times – just because of the anonymity factor and because the larger, unspeaking portion gets overshadowed by the smaller outspoken ones who say certain things on behalf of the "community" that might not actually be the majority consensus if put to a vote.

Whatever might be the case, hard things were said about both Barbara Bauer and AW’s former web hosts. The twist in the tale here was the fact that one of the owners of the hosting company had been an active member of the AW community and had apparently done a lot to help out with hosting issues, according to this post by her husband/partner. As far as the "community" was concerned, the damning evidence was this post by the lady in question herself. Some took this to mean that she sabotaged AW in order to promote her own writing forums. On the other hand, the only thing said by the owner of AW, Jenna Glatzer, about this whole brouhaha was this. Of course, given that it probably is a legal matter now, you can’t blame her reticence but people being people, this certainly can lead to further speculation and further unfounded allegations.

What do I think? I don’t really know. I try not to be so quick to jump to conclusions ever since Passepartout on the cartoon version of "Around the World in 80 Days" said "Don’t jump to conclusions or the conclusions may jump on you" :p We all mostly like things to be black and white, to know who’s the saint and who’s the sinner. But the problem is that in life, things are never that clear cut. Sometimes we do something with good intentions but it goes downhill or we do something bad but it ends up bringing good results. Without knowing what was in somebody’s heart (and that only the person involved and God would know …), it is difficult to say what a person’s motive for doing something is.

I agree that pulling the forums so quickly and with so little notice was a bad stunt. But then again, from a web hosting perspective (I work for a hosting company) it is not unheard of for hosts to react strongly towards spamming/abuse complaints. On the other hand, that usually happens when the host has no real idea whether the client was spamming or not. In the case of AW, since one of the owners was actively involved with AW, they obviously knew what was going on. So it goes back and forth :p There are things for (and against) each point of view and I cannot sit in judgement. Each person has to make up their own minds as to who might (or might not) have been guilty.

But what we do have to realize is that what has happened has happened. No matter how much of a hue and cry is raised, the fact remains that AW is down for the moment. All that we can hope for is that both AW and its former hosts will be able to work things out amicably and that AW can go back to providing the excellent service that it provided to writers before all this happened. What the writers can gain from this is more awareness of the fact that there are scammers out there who will try to gain your trust and relieve you of the burden of holding on to all that hard earned money :p Above all, keep in mind that the Internet is not always a fair place – sometimes those who do good are the ones who get persecuted and those who persecute others or defraud others get away scot-free …

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Posted by Fahim at 8:00 am  |  2 Comments

May 23, 2006

Undone …

This is something Matt over at Fireflies in the Cloud came up with. (Actually, we are moving today and since I don’t have the time to write a post while in the midst of all the moving, I cheated and wrote the post last night – or it would be last night by the time you read it :p) He wanted people to post the first few lines from two to five unfinished stories that they had on their hard drive. My problem is, I can’t find anything that I can post :p

I don’t actually start stories and leave them unfinished – I’m too obsessive-compulsive for that :p That is, I don’t start writing a story and leave it unfinished. OK, maybe that’s not absolutely true. There is "Basement of the Universe" – my next novel, which I started and did not continue work on but that is only because I’m still working on "Honest, the Martian Ate Your Dog" – the first novel in that sequence :) So, hopefully, I will get back to "Basement" eventually. What I usually do do however, is to jot down an idea for a story or a fragment of a story and never continue with it. So I guess I’m going to post those fragments (and most of them are from around ’95 to ’97). The one exception to that is my first entry but I’ll tell that story after I paste the fragment ..

1. Pascal walked quickly down the rainswept streets of New Colombo. He dodged between the steaming stalls selling flash-fried squid and krill and the vendors hawking their cheap fabrics from Papua. His lanky figure strode with a purposeful feel to it, as if this was a man who had someplace to go, things to do.

2. The scene before Pascal seemed to disappear like a screen-saver at the press of a button. He realised that the holo-dream sequence that he’d been recording had been abruptly terminated but couldn’t for the life of him imagine why. He looked up in irritation from the contoured couch he’d been lying on at Rohit, the man who was going to buy the sequence.

So why’d I paste two fragments? That’s the story behind the story :p Actually, the above fragments are from "Jumpshock". A friend of mine, Afdhel Aziz, and I collaborated on this story at that time. The idea was that he’d write one segment, then I’d write the next and then he’d write another and so on. The first fragment was the opening segment written by Afdhel and the second bit was the part I began writing the story. It was a strange story set in a Colombo of the future. But it went nowhere since Afdhel and I began one-upping each other :p We weren’t working on a single storyline that we’d both agreed upon. Instead, we were simply taking the story where we wanted. He had some sort of a gangster tale in mind and I took it in a different direction by making his story just something that the character was dreaming up as part of a holo-dream sequence – I swear, I had not seen "Strange Days" at that point in time :p Anyway, the back and forth between us to gain control of the story made for some funny moments but not an interesting story … So it kind of just faded away.

However, now that I look at the story, it has some interesting ideas … and some not so interesting ones – mainly mine :p So I might actually want to dust it off and do something with it … I don’t know …

I did look at the other stuff I wanted to post but all of them turned out to be useless since there was nothing to it. They are all just story ideas – not actual beginnings for a story. I’m not even sure I want to use any of those ideas, let alone go posting them on the Net :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:01 am  |  4 Comments

May 22, 2006

Persimmons

I have recently had several cyclical threads and entries where I posted back to other entries. I don’t particularly like doing that a lot but if unfortunately, here is another one :p This one’s about the Dan Simmons post (I talked previously about this here and here). Hopefully, I will not talk about this particular topic again but since I have contemplated much about Dan Simmons’ motives for his April message and since he promised to reveal all in his May message, I just had to comment on the May message :)

Basically, Dan seems to imply that the contents of the April message wasn’t his thoughts (and of course, he wasn’t that kind of person) but that the message was actually him presenting the viewpoints of various other individuals. As an explanation (or excuse) for this method, he goes to quote a few other people (again) saying that the only way to learn is to explore what goes counter to your beliefs. However, what struck me most about the whole message was the fact that Dan does not actually say what he thinks or feels or believes – he simply parrots other people (taking extracts from other works to supplement his message) and so seems to be saying, this is what others think. However, whether he’s actually asking people to make up their own minds, or is trying to make up their minds for them, remains slightly unclear.

One thing that does emerge as you read between the lines though, is that Dan Simmons has already made up his mind :p Dan Simmons, like so many others, seems to be convinced that there is an "Islamic" threat (or possibility of one). Sure, he throws around a few modifiers such as jihadists or Wahabbists from time to time but it is clear from the inferences he draws that he believes that Islam as a religion is aimed at sowing war and terror on the "infidels". He goes on to quote several verses from the Qur’an to support his point of view. What he forgets (and what most militant Muslims forget – or ignore for their own warped purposes) is that while the word is often translated as "infidel", what it actually means is "non-believer". It doesn’t sound as bad when you shout "Death to the non-believers!" though, does it? :p

I believe that the Qur’an is the word of God, given to his prophet – but that has nothing to do with this discussion. What is pertinent however, is that the chapters of the Qur’an were not revealed all at once. They were revealed at different times to deal with different situations. When a verse talks about "non-believers", it often as not is talking about *Arab* non-believers at that time as not. But of course, today, people twist it around (especially in translation since a word can have many different shades of meaning and the translator gets to pick which shade they want, even though that might differ from the original intent) and say it says "death to infidels" and that means Jews and Christians!

I am not trying to be an apologist for the terrorists who kill innocents in the name of Islam. That is wrong and there are no two sides to that. But what I do want to stress is the fact that though these people might call themselves Muslims, by the core beliefs of Islam, they are not really Muslims. So this is not an issue of Islam against the rest of the world or against the West but about human stupidity, greed, fear and prejudice against other humans. The biggest concern I have about Dan’s message is the fact that he is quick to label things. He labels the West as life-affirming and all of Islam (or most of it) as evil. This is fine and dandy if we lived in a rational world where people made up their minds by thinking about things logically. But no, we live in a world where people go about shooting people in turbans (no matter what their religion or nationality) because they might be Muslims – and mind you, this happened in the "life affirming" West :p

There are other things which are even worse which happens in the life affirming West that Dan ignores. But my point is not that the West is bad or that a country is bad or that a religion is bad – they are not. The problem is that people are not rational. They like to put labels like "us" and "them" on things because it makes it easy to know who to cheer and who to hate. When somebody who is supposed to know better (like the Islamic clerics that Dan talks about) comes along and tells them all these big name authors say that Islam is bad and that they are going to wipe us out, do you honestly believe that most of the people who read Dan’s message are going to stop to actually think if all of that makes logical sense? Or are they going to start hating something that they don’t even totally understand? Hating what we don’t know, we’ve never done that before, have we? :p

If you’re a writer, you should think about what you’re going to write. Perhaps try to present a balanced perspective. If you write a story and it sounds like vitriol, maybe you shouldn’t try to defend it by saying that before the World Wars, an anti-German story would have sounded like vitriol too. That you’re just pushing the envelope. If you’re a writer, you know that there is also something called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Of course, Dan says at the beginning of his May message that if you’re expecting polemics, apologetics, politics or reinforcements of your own prejudices, that you would be disappointed because his was a writer’s website. But then again, I thought a writer’s job was to write about what he feels – not what others think. But that’s probably just me :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:28 am  |  2 Comments

May 21, 2006

Ultra-vacuous

We have been waiting to get a good copy of "Ultraviolet" for a while now. I don’t know why we got interested in the first place – it might have been the fact that Milla Jovovich is in the movie or it might have been the DVD cover which shows Violet (Milla’s character) extending a strange looking sword. Or it might have been a cover blurb about vampires. I forget which now. But it really doesn’t matter since my title says it all, this movie really bites :p

Sure, it looks great as far as the visuals go but the story (which is non-existent) and the world and even the fights just don’t hold together. I have read that they cut over 30 minutes from the movie and that the director’s cut version will be more coherent. Let’s certainly hope so since this movie had nothing much in the way of coherence. OK, sure, it made sense in a linear kind of way but the events of the movie seemed to be there just to keep the story moving and to make things exciting and not out of any kind of logic :p

There were way too many logic problems and the story was so bad that I’ve almost forgotten most of it by now :) However, the logic wasn’t the only problem. This movie reminded me way too much of other movies for it to be just a coincidence. First and foremost, there is "Aeon Flux", which was released just before "Ultraviolet". There are a lot of parallels between the two movies and the two stories and while I didn’t think much of "Aeon Flux" either, that at least had a much tighter story than "Ultraviolent" … sorry, I mean "Ultraviolet". Actually, the movie doesn’t even deserve the "ultra-violent" moniker because while there were plenty of fights and beheadings and what not, leading one to think a lot of "Kill Bill", it just didn’t have the grittiness or the reality of violence that "Kill Bill" had. This was just imitation violence of the stylized sort which just leaves you yawning after you’ve seen the same thing three times over. (And yes, you do see the same fight at least three times in "Ultraviolet")

Of course, then there are the inevitable "Star Wars" comparisons. The single-combat, the way the swords suddenly shoot out into their hands from nowhere, all has a strong "Star Wars" feel to it. And to top it all off, you have the "Matrix" stuff added to the mix :p When Violet goes to the ministry (or whatever) and the security computer says "weapons detected – many" (which was a really stupid line for a computer), I expected her to do a Neo and Trinity right there. Of course, they didn’t show that fight but instead showed the results (maybe the fight was cut?). Others have also pointed out similarities to "Tron" in the motorcycle chase scene and while I could see it later, I didn’t actually notice it while watching the movie.

Basically, "Ultraviolet" seemed like a hodge podge of a lot of movies but it didn’t have enough story or character development for it to stand on its own. Of course, one reviewer on IMDB commented that "if story was the only thing that mattered, then you might as well stay at home and read a book instead and that this movie had sound and visuals and that mattered". Sure, if you want meaningless noise and rapid movement, you can stare at the highway all day and that should satisfy you :p But if you want an enjoyable science fiction movie, this might not be the one for you … unless of course, you want a movie to laugh at and pick to shreds :)

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Posted by Fahim at 6:38 am  |  No Comments

May 20, 2006

Days of meandering …

Yesterday was a tiring and hectic day :p No, we didn’t move, we just spent most of the day out shopping since Laurie’s sister was here on a sort of a flying visit :) We were out most of the day and by the time we got home, I was totally and utterly tired.

In the process of all that shopping, comparing, gazing etc. I came across a few things worth a mention. For instance, I think I have just switched my preferences for my next phone :p I had wanted to get the Sony Ericsson P990i as my next phone since it had all the features that I wanted. However, I have been increasingly aware of the fact that Symbian OS phones don’t seem to have all the apps that I’d like to see being available for them and that developing for a Symbian OS phone isn’t as easy as it would be developing for say a Pocket PC phone. At least, that’s how it has looked from where I stand.

Then, I came across the HP iPaq hw6500, which is both a handheld PC and a mobile phone! Now this device has all the capabilities that I can think of using (except for Wi-Fi and 3G) and it uses a variant of the Windows CE OS which makes development fairly easy! So, for instance, if I wanted a way to transfer my DVD database over to my phone so that I can carry it around on shopping trips, I probably will be able to do so much more easily on this device than I would on a Symbian OS based phone since I would be able to code the functionality in myself. So, I’m looking very hard at the HP iPaq hw6500 as an option but the lack of Wi-Fi access bothers me. I’ve looked at a couple of other similar handheld PC/phone combo devices but some of them lack a keyboard and others have those bulky (and annoying) antennas sticking out of them. So I guess I must continue to look if I want to find the ultimate phone device … or go with the HP iPaq hw6500 :p

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Posted by Fahim at 6:54 am  |  2 Comments

May 18, 2006

Blue bites the dust …

I’ve written about Blue Security, Blue Frog and the attacks on them by spammers before. The last couple of days, access to the Blue Security site and to spam reporting has been kind of spotty. Then last night, spam reports started bouncing totally. So I took a look around the net to find out what was going on. Imagine my surprise that Blue Security had simply given up and folded in the face of continued attacks by the spammers!

Of course, on reading further, I realized that Blue Security probably had no choice. The spammer seems to have been bulldozing through everything in his/her path to get Blue Security to crumble. However, given the scale of damage caused and the number of companies and organizations that the spammer seems to have taken down, it makes me wonder as to why nothing is being done about this kind of thing.

The Internet has become the battleground of the future and the future is today. It looks as if any individual with the know how and the skill can simply hold any site on the Net hostage. Forget about little itty bitty sites like mine and yours, they can apparently hold multi-million dollar companies hostage. Nothing is safe anymore since if you are attacked, your host will probably drop you. And if you thought your host was safe, then maybe your DNS provider will drop you. Basically, if somebody doesn’t like what you say, they can take your site down and there is nothing much you can do about it. Sounds insane, doesn’t it? I guess this is just another facet of learning just how powerless we are in today’s empowered world :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:01 am  |  2 Comments

May 17, 2006

Moving blues …

We are getting ready for another move. When we were kids, we used to have to move like every couple of years since my Dad was in government service and the government doesn’t like keeping people in one place for too long. Over here at least, they believe that familiarity leads to corruption :p Basically, you get too established in one place, know everybody really well and then you start cutting corners and making allowances for your acquaintances. But that’s another story.

Because my parents moved such a lot when I was a kid, I should be used to moving myself. But I’m not :p I hate moving! I hate the work involved in getting everything together and the break in the routine while we pull up stakes and move elsewhere. When I went to the US, I took two suitcases with me and I vowed that I wouldn’t accumulate too much stuff because I wanted to be able to move quickly and without too much hassle. Four years later, when I wanted to come back to Sri Lanka, I realized how unsuccessful I had been at keeping my vow :p I had a house, a car, some furniture and lots of DVDs and books. So much for that!

When Laurie and I got married, it was the same story. We started out with about four suitcases of clothes and not much else. After moving houses twice (so far), we’ve got some furniture accumulated now and it is becoming more and more tedious to move because there’s a lot more stuff to be moved :p Actually, we got rid of some stuff after the last move because our current place was pre-furnished. So this move hopefully will not be as bad as the last one. But still, there’s all the little tears, breaks in the wall, the cracks that accumulate after a move that makes it even harder. Your stuff just doesn’t take a move too well and we have a lot of sensitive stuff :p Ah well …

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Posted by Fahim at 6:21 am  |  1 Comment

May 16, 2006

Up and at ‘em …

Do you ever have days when you feel as if you need to be up and about, doing something, anything, as long as you’re doing something productive? I get days like that often and what do I do? I usually code a new application or go hunting for new software on the Internet :p Yesterday though, I didn’t do either. Instead, we watched "Full Frontal" and I tell you, it was a horrible waste of time :)

For some reason, "Full Frontal" reminds me of "Syriana". It probably has the same anaemic, lackadaisical attitude towards storytelling. That might have something to do with the fact that there isn’t much story to tell :p It’s a weird, rather sloppy and self-absorbed story about Hollywood people. It also is a movie within a movie within a movie kind of thing – you know one of those conceits which sound much better when you think of it than when other people see it … kind of like one of my novels :p

We didn’t watch the whole movie. Oh no, a full evening’s worth of "Full Frontal" would have been too much for our frontal lobes to take! Instead, we watched half the movie and then put the rest off till tomorrow when our brains would have recovered sufficiently to undergo that kind of punishment again :p

Basically, it’s got the kind of assemblage of stars that you’d usually only see on a clear night or at the planetarium :) Plus, it was apparently done on a really low budget and the stars maintained their own costumes, hair and make-up and so on. I guess you get what you pay for though. Because this movie, it looks low-budget. But then again, it probably was a good thing because then they would have had less to lose than with a high budget movie since the only vision I can have of this movie is of it sinking like a block of concrete thrown in the lake :p

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Posted by Fahim at 7:00 am  |  1 Comment

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