Category Archives: Web/Tech

end user: greetings from the future of filmmaking

I took a few minutes away from working on Leverage and writing my short stories to turn in an End User column that’s all about some of the stuff that’s been on my mind since I started working on Leverage:

I’m in Portland, Oregon, shooting an episode of TNT’s prime time drama, Leverage.

Just about every night after we wrap I meet up with my friend John Rogers, who is the co-executive producer and head writer for the show, to have a beer and decompress after a long day on the set. Whether we talk about filmmaking, comic books, nerdy geeky gaming stuff, or technology, a common thread runs through our conversations: it’s pretty awesome to live here in the future, we sure are lucky to get paid to make stuff up and entertain people, and holy crap has the industry changed since we first entered it.

Leverage is totally shot in the future. We use the Red One digital camera, we watch takes right after we finish them to make sure nothing went wrong, and we get our dailies via secure internet connection anywhere we have computers and WiFi. John told me that at least once, they realized they didn’t shoot a single or needed a tighter angle to make something work, and were able to create coverage in post-production, which is done entirely on Final Cut Pro. During production, we could send pictures and updates from the set to Twitter and our blogs, and engage the audience in a direct and intimate way that is unlike anything I’ve ever done before.

I’m not going to lie to you, Marge, the future’s pretty cool.

wilco (the stream) happens

I just got this e-mail from Wilco HQ:

Well, we made it nearly a month with copies of Wilco (the album) floating around out there before it leaked. Pretty impressive restraint in this day and age. But the inevitable happened last night. Since we know you're curious and probably have better things to do than scour the internet for a download (though we do understand the attraction of the illicit), we've posted a stream of the full album at http://wilcoworld.net/records/thealbum/. Feel free to refer to it as "wilco (the stream)" if you must.

We also have our usual guilt abatement plan for downloaders. If you have downloaded the record, we suggest you make a donation to one of the band's favorite charities, the Inspiration Corporation — an organization we've supported in the past & who are doing great work in the city of Chicago. Information and donation button here: http://inspirationcorp.org/.

That's all. Enjoy the stream. Tickets for summer shows, etc. http://wilcoworld.net/tours/ Note that we'll be holding a free online midnight screening of the "Ashes of American Flags" film this Friday night (at both midnight US Central time and again at midnight Pacific). So get the popcorn or whatever together and be sure to log on and tune in on Friday.

Wilco HQ

This is so smart, and I hope Wilco gets some public recognition for doing this. Sure, they could play whack-a-mole and try to get it offline until it's officially released, but what's the point of that? It's impossible to win that fight; it just wastes a lot of their time, money, and energy.

Giving their fans a legitimate way to hear the album reduces the incentive someone would have to steal it, builds excitement and buzz for the official release, and acknowledges that Wilco's fans love their music so much, they (we) just can't wait. They even suggest a really great way for people who downloaded the album to get some kind of "I was sort of a dick" offset.

I really admire the way Wilco embraces their fans (and reality) when they do things like this. I'll be listening to Wilco (the stream) in about five minutes, and I'll be purchasing Wilco (the album) as soon as it's available.

On the off chance that anyone from the band sees this: Thanks for all of your music, guys. I love what you do, and it's really meant a lot to me.

my god, it’s full of unicorns

A little known fact about me: I'll do just about whatever my friend Chris tells me to do, just because I want to be popular*, so a half an hour ago, when he told Twitter to go to espn.com and type the Konami code into the search box, I stopped performing life-saving CPR on a hobo and did exactly that.

Here's what ensued:

Omg_fucking_espn_unicorns_fuck_yeah

Every time you hit a key after pressing enter, a new unicorn would pop up. It was so fucking glorious, I made sure it was the last thing the hobo saw before he died, because I knew he would have wanted it that way.

Whoever wrote that code deserves a medal. Whoever forced them to take the code out (almost as quickly as it was discovered) deserves a boot to the head**.

*not true.
** and one more for Jenny and the wimp.

hey, look, that’s me!

I was really happy with my appearance on KTLA morning news earlier this week, even if the HD really showed off just how profoundly fucked up my teeth really are.

If you have a minute and want to see me talking about books and technology and geek stuff, you can watch it at the LA Times Jacket Copy blog.

whenever i type “lions,” i have to make sure i haven’t accidentally typed “loins”

A friend of mine showed me the most awesome picture of a little Voltron toy I think I've ever seen. It had lions for hands.

This bounced around in my head for a moment, and I shared my great wisdom with Twitter, thusly:

Voltron with Lions > Voltron with vehicles. THIS IS SCIENCE AND YOU CAN'T ARGUE WITH SCIENCE. (and now, pot stirred, I'm back to work.)

This screenshot from Twitteriffic (with bonus Memories of the Future edit in the background) illustrates one of the reasons I just love using Twitter. These replies are captured exactly as Twitteriffic displayed them to me:

Lions vs vehicles qft

Okay, now I'm really going back to work.

in the country of the kaurava king

This made it past my mail filters last night:

This is youur penis: 8–o
This is youur penis on drugs: 8=====O

Any questionss?

He said. Yes, and he can beat any man in the country of the kaurava king (suyodhana) with all his followers an apportionment bill and carefully revise it of view. Insoluble conundrums of john's national zeal and lower stipendsthat a most interesting.

You know why spammers send these things? Because somewhere in the world, there is a guy, and that guy saw a subject line that said "Nothing can seduce women faster than aa…" and shouted at his monitor, "than aa what?! Than aa what? Tell me! Tell me! I MUST KNOW THE ANSWER RIGHT NOW SO THAT I CAN FINALLY SEDUCE WOMEN!"

Then that guy opened the e-mail, saw that little ascii drawing, and was shocked into silence. He sat there, alone, and quietly admitted to himself, "You know what? You're right. My pe–" a sob caught in his throat, and he faced the brutal truth. He didn't have any questionss, only sadness. "My penis looks just like this: 8–o and that is why I can't seduce women."

Redemption was just a click away, though! He grabbed his credit card, went to the website and placed an order, and started making plans for exactly how he and his new penis on drugs were going to walk down there, and fuck all of them sheep.

It's because of that guy that the rest of us get spam like this … but does anyone have the heart to tell him? Does anyone have the heart to take his dreams of seducing women with his 8=====O and dashing them into insoluble conundrums of john's national zeal and lower stipendsthat? Because that guy's life is already pretty sad, and I'm not going to kick that guy when he's downn.

Books I Love: The Hacker Crackdown

Now that we've figured out which one is Pink, allow me to welcome you to the machine…

In the late 80s, I kind of knew a bunch of people who were involved in what we called The Computer Underground. They weren't my friends, and I couldn't even tell you what their handles were (well, I could, but I won't) but I learned a ton of stuff about technology and other mysterious subjects by dialing into BBSes and reading the textfiles they left behind.

By 1990, I was spending less and less time online, while I continued to struggle with my existential acting crisis. I read books about acting, and all of them left me cold. I read books about filmmaking, and I just didn't care about them.

Then, in 1992, I saw this book called The Hacker Crackdown on the front table at a book shop. I was intrigued, and I started reading. After standing at the table for a long time and getting deeper into the book than someone who is standing at a table near the front of a bookshop should reasonably get, I bought the damn thing. I finished it within a day, and before a week had elapsed I had read The Cuckoo's Egg and Cyberpunk, the only other books on the subject that I could get my hands on at the time.

On one level, The Hacker Crackdown is about how the US Department of Justice launched a nationwide operation to bring down a bunch of hackers in something called Operation Sundevil, but it's also about a subculture and its people who remain misunderstood to this day. Most importantly, introduced me to a world where information and intellect were incredibly valuable, and it inspired me to learn all that I could about the online world I'd eventually call my home. On the way from there to here, I met a lot of the people who are in the book, and formed some friendships that lasted for years.

Cory Doctorow said that The Hacker Crackdown changed his life and it "inspired me politically, artistically and socially." He's not the only one. I can draw a very short and very straight line between reading this book and learning how to navigate the World Wide Web, which is what we called the Internet before you damn kids today were born.

In 1994, Bruce Sterling released the book online, and in 2007, Cory Doctorow recorded the entire book as a series of podcasts. If you want to understand how we got here, I'd say The Hacker Crackdown is required reading.

next time: the prince of wales

a few self-publishing resources

The positive response to Sunken Treasure has surprised and delighted me even more than the fantastic sales of both the print and PDF versions. As of this writing, PDF sales have vastly exceeded my expectations, and though print sales have slowed, they haven’t stopped. I’ve seen a direct relationship between PDF sales and print sales, which is awesome and totally validates what I’ve always suspected to be true, but I was too afraid to try on my own.

This isn’t the first time I’ve self-published, but it is the first time I’ve released a PDF, and used a print on demand service. The entire experience has been so wonderful, I hope I can serve as an inspiration to other authors who may be considering going this route.

In case I am, I thought I’d share a couple of resources I’ve recently come across, as well as two of my own, that may be helpful:

6 ways to publish your own book from Mashable

Just what it sounds like: six different sites that let you self-publish. I’m pretty much sold on Lulu, but it’s always smart to research as many options as you can.

Fixing the Pig Book Model from 1889.ca

This post is all about marketing, eBooks vs. print books, the 1000 True Fans model, and what to expect when you’re self-publishing. If you’re serious at all about not just being published, but actually earning something for your work, this is a must-read.

My interview with the Lulu blog

I’ve posted this already, but I think it’s relevant, especially my advice for writers.

Five simple ways to just keep writing

Another oldie of mine, included here for the sake of completeness.

I’m sure some of you reading this have come across resources of your own that you’ve found useful. I’d love it if you’d be willing to share them in comments, so we can build a more complete and hopefully useful resource for anyone who wants it.

Adding:

Self-publishing review, which has a nice review of Sunken Treasure, as it turns out.

Cult of Done Manifesto. It totally creeps me out when something I’ve had rattling around in my brain comes out of someone else’s brain, better than I could have said it myself. (I especially needed to read this today, having experienced my first truly massive truly EPIC FAIL in a very long time early this morning.)

end user blog: the slacker media player (or, the good kind of nostalgia in the palm of your hand)

This month’s column for the End User Blog is now online for your enjoyment:

Kids, I want you to take off your jetpacks, and step out of your flying cars for a minute. Come sit down over here, and let Old Man Wheaton tell you a tale of a time when television didn’t have a pause button, renting videos meant actually going to a store – during hours that they set – and listening to the radio meant hearing the same 27 songs every two and-a-half hours, with ten to eighteen minutes of commercials every 60 minutes.

Now, I realize that some of you think I’m just making this up to scare you, but it’s true. We didn’t have any control over how we got our entertainment back then. We couldn’t skip songs we didn’t like, and we couldn’t tell the radio how frequently it should play certain songs. It was a different time, when nickels had pictures of bumblebees on them and the King of England would just show up at your house and expect you to make him a cup of tea.

Those of you who have grown up in a world where you have unprecedented control over your media (DRM, which is beyond the scope of this story, notwithstanding) may have a hard time believing that we who came before you would actually wait for a song we hated to go away, or sit through loud and obnoxious commercials and DJs because we knew a song we loved was coming up. I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true; that’s just how the world worked back then, and we accepted it without question.

Then it gets weird. Well, not really, but I can’t think of a better segue. Anyway, give it a read if you want to know what I think about the Slacker portable media player.

Warning: it’s way longer than I thought it would be, probably because I spent so long fighting my brain to actually let me write it, and once I beat my brain into submission, I couldn’t turn it off.

Geek in Review: The Musical Future

My Geek in Review this month is all about how weird it is for me to have existed in the world before and after … well, here, let me just quote myself instead of trying to rephrase myself:

My kids have never seen a floppy disc, heard the sound of a modem connecting, blown into a NES cartridge in the futile hope of making it work, or looked up an address in a Thomas Guide. I have experienced all of these things, and though I’m grateful that I don’t have to deal with them in any meaningful way now, unless I want to, it’s odd to me that, at just 36 years-old, I straddle this tremendous and significant technological rubicon, while my children can barely see it in on the distant horizon behind them, as they speed away on their jet packs and rocket bikes. I mean, they hardly remember cassettes, let alone cassingles, and occasionally I will consider this fact and quietly weep for them, alone, while they play Call of Duty against some stranger on the other side of the world in real time.

I am totally aware of living in the future, but I really feel it when I pick up my iPod, because music has been that important to me my whole life, and I have this crystal clear memory of standing at a MacWorld around 1992 with Paul Montgomery and Tim Jenison (who were my bosses when I worked for NewTek) and Tim had this little slab of RAM that was about the size of a credit card.

“One day,” he said, “you’ll be able to put a whole album on something this size.”

I saw a lot of cool stuff from the future when I worked for NewTek, but the way Tim presented this thing to us — not like it was something awesome that could happen but that it was something awesome that would happen — made quite an impression on me. It was at that moment that I became truly aware of how rapidly the world was changing, and how lucky I was to be living in it.

I wasn’t mature enough to consider it then, but I wonder if people have felt the way I did throughout history, just for different reasons: mechanical flight, telegraphs, telephones, atomic energy and weapons, home computers, stuff like that…

I’m looking at my iPod shuffle right now, and it’s about 1/5 the size of that thing, and holds dozens of albums. My regular iPod Classic, next to it on the desk, holds about 8000 songs, about that many pictures, and everything I’ve ever written plus about 40 eBooks. I can put both iPods in one hand and take them anywhere I want.

Think about that: I can put everything I kept in my room when I was 15 into the palm of my hand or into my pocket.

Well, except Cindy Crawford, but I hear that science is working on that.


(Please note that Geek in Review is hosted at Suicide Girls. There’s nothing NSFW on the news page, but the site will trip filters and get you a visit from your company’s IT guy, who wants to know why you’re looking at the same site he was. Don’t complain to me; you have been warned.)